One of the first questions you might encounter as a newcomer to paganism is, "Are you Eclectic or Reconstructionist?" Eclectics like to embrace many different spiritual concepts into their spiritual path regardless of origin or historic significance. Reconstructionists want to practice a version of paganism that is as close as possible to historical reality. In my experience, most Wiccans are Eclectic. Other spiritual paths such as Druidism or Asatru (Norse paganism) seem to attract more Reconstructionists.
The viewpoint of an Eclectic might be something like this: “I am a twenty-first century pagan and my spiritual practice is a blend of concepts that I find personally meaningful and effective.” An Eclectic has no problem with celebrating the sabbats, which draw from the ancient Celtic cycles of the harvest, but also studying the chakras, which come from Hinduism. The concepts may come from vastly different cultures and time periods, but the overriding significance to an Eclectic is that they both work and are useful to a modern spiritual seeker. Why not embrace them both?
A Reconstructionist, however, might disapprove of Eclectics who practice a New Age concept as chakra balancing. To a Reconstructionist, a strictly historical paganism is meaningful precisely because it connects to a certain culture and time period – say, ancient Britain. Many Reconstructionists are drawn to their type of paganism because they find great emotional and spiritual significance in reconnecting with the spiritual path of their ancestors. A concept such as chakras, no matter how intuitively appealing, will not resonate as deeply with Reconstructionists if it was not practiced by their ancestors.
The question of whether someone practices as an Eclectic or a Reconstructionist is probably of more concern to Reconstructionists than to Eclectics. Let no Reconstructionist convince you that his or her way of practicing paganism is closer to "real" paganism than a more Eclectic approach. The ancient world is shrouded in the distant past before the time of written language, and no one nowadays can know for sure exactly how the ancestors worshipped.
Full disclosure time -- at heart, I consider myself more of a Reconstructionist and that is why my version of Wicca leans toward Asatru. At the same time, I don't feel like Asatru is an exact fit for me as it would be if, say, I were of Icelandic ancestry. My ancestry is British, both Celtic and Anglo Saxon, and it feels personally significant to me. At the same time, I am fascinated by comparative religions study, and I would never want to close myself off to a useful concept such as chakras. But while I might find myself experimenting with concepts that fall outside of my cultural heritage such as chakras, they may not reach me on a deeper emotional level or be part of my core practice. But I can stand in the position of either an Eclectic or a Reconstructionist and understand each viewpoint. Probably most strict Reconstructionists would consider me closer to an Eclectic!
At its worst, the question of Eclectic-or-Reconstructionist can be a divisive point within the pagan community. I mean, who cares? We pagans should have more things in common than things to disagree on. Each of us must follow his or her instincts to become either an Eclectic or a Reconstructionist; in my opinion, each path is equally valid, just different. You might resist being tagged with either label. You might start off as one and end up as the other. You might have phases of practicing one way and moving into the opposite approach and then back again. But it helps to consider the two approaches if only to be informed when you hear about individuals within the pagan community who identify as either Eclectic or Reconstructionist.
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