Misconceptions of Pagan Reconstructionism and ADF

Misconceptions of Pagan Reconstructionism and ADF October 25, 2018

Reconstructionism is a methodology, not a religion. My religion is Celtic or Gaelic Paganism. We may call it Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, but that is giving our religion a middle name after the method which we use to arrive at facts and best guesses about our pagan practice. Calling our religion Druidism or Druidry is problematic. Our Priests are Druids; their practice is Druidry, but not everyone is a priest. Saying the entire religion is called Druidism is like lumping all Catholic tradition under the name Priestism. In Celtic Paganism, not everyone is a Druid. In Germanic Paganism, not everyone is a warrior, or gothi, or vulva.

I practice my Celtic reconstructionism in an ADF context. Reconstructionists generally reserve the label of Druid and apply it only to those servants of communities, students of liturgy and song, counselors and thinkers, scholars and teachers.

In ADF, there are two schools of thought, ‘everyone is a druid’ is the first, with the second being, ‘our clergy are our druids’. The second school of thought is a conscious representation of the unconscious truth that has always existed within ADF, that is to say, if the clergy are present, then they will be the ones to oversee the rites to ensure that they are culturally in line with tradition and lore. Our druids are our men and women of the stole in every sense. Because they are the people most prepared to make the sacrifice.

The first and second schools of thought seem to stem from the way ADF uses the mystery and romance behind the word druid. ADF tries to apply that romance to a new order of clergy representing the men and women of the gods, the poetic sacrificers of all Indo-European hearth cultures. But the first school seems to combine the impulse to distinguish itself from Wicca and the rest of neopaganism. Therefore, magical people seeking Celtic magical practice often call themselves druids. However, in Celtic speaking areas, magic was practiced by all layers of society, even down to the waulking charms. Not everyone can be a druid, or poetic sacrificer because that requires a specific set of skills rendered after many years of study and practice.

In a reconstructionist methodology, the seeker of truth and wisdom aims to eliminate fanciful bias, that may or may not arise from practice, in preference for what is real. Like druids, recons are truth seekers. To seek truth, you must distrust even your own knowledge. Its the only way to get away from our own bullshit.

Adherence to draconian standards, or fear to invent things, is not a requisite of reconstructionism. Reconstructionism does not refer to the reconstruction of iron age paganism. Many people outside, and inside ADF, let their tendency to defend their favorite thing, those who do not move the rocks and plow the soil of the self enough to see past the label’s initial assumptions. It’s this succumbing to bias from which we try to get away. So it works out in our favor that people think we are draconian revivalists of an ancient religion that can’t be exactly revived. It works out because it acts as a filter through which people who want the truth but aren’t seeking it through bias removal cannot pass.

Reconstructionism does not refer to the reconstruction of iron age paganism.

But to simplify it, Reconstructionism seeks to discover what we know about Iron Age paganism and project that forwards as if Christianity never existed in pagan regions, to arrive at a sensible modern religion that includes only the best aspects, into a modern context with our current level of progress and problems. Since this is what ADF seeks to do in its vision statement, I often argue with great success that ADF is an Indo-European reconstructionist church operating globally. And it would be the biggest one too.

The reconstructionists who would disagree with that statement are those who do not approve of the suspension of the use of reconstructionist methodology to arrive at certain practices. These mostly center around the Earth Mother and the Gatekeeper. These two issues aren’t unsolvable. One is an assumption that many people make due to today’s educational system. Because earth refers to our planet, people view the Earth mother as the spirit of the entire planet. This, however, is a mistaken assumption because one can easily worship the Dirt Mother(i.e. Nerthus, Anu, Jord). And through druid apologetics, we can forget the history behind where ADF got a gatekeeper practice, and start a new using the methodology. We might arrive where this article takes us. Or we might simply look to our Vedic hearth cultures where Agni brings the other gods forth.

As at man’s service of the Gods, Invoker, thou, Son of Strength, dost sacrifice and worship,
So bring for us to-day all Gods together, bring willingly the willing Gods, O Agni.” – RV 6.004.01

Part of the reconstructionist methodology is the precedence for the creation of practices. If we fill a hole with a modern thing, it has to have precedence for it proving there is a hole there. But, if a student finds precedence for a better way, the priest must work it into place if the precedence is strong. The is one reason we avoid setting customs at all without precedence because once we start doing them, our group will likely not want to change them very often. One side avoids temporary fixes and would rather wait for Celtic scholars to put forth a work or theory on the matter. I think that the only rubric that matters, in the end, is that the ancestors recognize what we do as made from components of Celtic culture.

An example of this is when we formed HearthStone Grove, we used Mannanan as a gatekeeper, however, we now ask Brighid to dwell within the fire and pour forth from the well, while we open the gates. The shift was pretty easy. We see the fire as the same being as ‘The Red One of Great Knowledge”, while his daughter, “The High One”, dwells within the hallows opening them as ways, not gates. We originally worshiped the Earth Mother but have moved to honor two different land goddesses. Neither of which is the spirit of the entire planet.

The primary goal of our methodology is to learn as much as we can about the Iron age paganisms which we study and to envision how they would have evolved while practicing what we think it would result in today. This means we don’t want to recreate and live in Iron age villages. Some of us do have a cautious technophilia and live on or maintain farms. Others live in cities and pay no mind or have no interest in rural lifestyles. Celtic Reconstructionism and Paganism are for a full range of diverse people.

Any form of Indo-European paganism is going to be predominantly polytheist. However, you will have theists of many kinds. Polytheism is a natural extension of animism that grew alongside it. In that way, the gods are merely the tip of the hierarchy of the spirits of the cosmos. In India, godhood is synonymous with spirithood. This doesn’t oversimplify matters; it stretches out a plural spectrum of godhood from the souls of bugs to the gods who brought order to the Cosmos, so it nuances matters.

Everything we do is toward and within a modern context Celtic, Norse, Greek, Roman, Slavic, Vedic or Baltic religion. We look at what we know and conceive of a trajectory of what would have become as uninterrupted paganism in a modern setting.

Recons “mix customs with meditative, ritualistic, ecstatic practices” and use “Old manuscript sources, regional folklore”(CR FAQ) and use and create neo myth through bardic studies. We prioritize this prior knowledge(gnosis) and wisdom over what the gods tell us in visions and practice. This gnosis is commonly known as Unverified Personal Gnosis(UPG).

UPG is the last thing that informs a recons worldview and practice. Also, UPG is where crazy people, evil cult leaders, and abusing priests try to speak for the gods or as the gods. But above all, none of us want to fool ourselves. We go for repeatable experiences which we share with one another to recognize which are common, and that is when we start to make significant, inspired knowledge together.

We all want to be effective teachers to everyone in our tribes if your path is like mine as a Draoi or Drui. We start with being compassionate, virtuous, pious, and seeking Fírinne(Truth). Therefore we distrust even the gods and spirits and what they tell and show us in trance work. When our UPG fits with our other studies, we accept it. When we have the same UPG as another person, it becomes a Shared Personal Gnosis, or SPG. You may even verify it later, and then it just becomes knowledge.

Pagan Reconstructionism is the first use of the term as applied to a methodology of arriving at practices to express religion. Reconstructionism was first used by the founder of ADF, according to the oral tradition of the old guard of neopaganism. It was later applied to other faiths using the same approach in their cultural paradigms and applied to the past religions of similar nature. Reconstructionism, in general, was started in the 1960s on the East Coast of the United States. ADF was initially referred to by our founder as ‘eclectic reconstructionism’ which no one took seriously. But Indo-European reconstructionism applies well. Celtic Reconstructionism was first formed by C. Lee Vermeers and Erynn Rowan Laurie.

Sources

CR FAQ
Druid’s Progress
Drawing Down the Moon
ADF Website
Bonewits, Isaac (2006). Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism

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  • In Sobrietas Veritas

    Celtic Reconstructionism is a tradition in itself. The idea that it is “just a method” came later, and is still only an opinion held by some adherents. The consensus statement on the founding, signed by the people you misattributed, is here: http://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html#howstarted

    While it arose collectively, Vermeers and Laurie came in later, after organization began on the Internet. They also co-signed this.

  • Chris Godwin

    It’s a tradition of the use of the methodology. It leads to religious practice but no practice can be labeled strictly CR, so while billed as a tradition it could never have been one. Here is an experiment, which Samhain customs are strictly neodruid and which are reconstructist? When comparing two traditions you’d have an answer. But when comparing scholarship styles you do not get an well formed answer. But maybe you can prove me wrong.

  • Matthew Griffing

    I really appreciate this article. It helps to see how others view the relationship between the two practices.

    It especially helps as it can be quite difficult trying to consider Celtic Reconstructionism as a religion of its own, seeing as discussions between self-described Reconstructionists tend to lack a consensus about who isn’t reconstructionist enough, much less on any particular defining doctrines.

  • Did you mean to write “vulva?”

  • Rebecca Marjesdatter

    I’m sure “volva” is what was meant.

  • In Sobrietas Veritas

    You’re entitled to your opinion, but it is not the consensus one. Please correct the misinformation about the founding. The correct, consensus statement is in the link to the CR FAQ, co-signed by the authors you cited: http://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html#howstarted

  • In Sobrietas Veritas

    Well, since you won’t clarify the statement about the founding, it looks like you’re committed to posting misconceptions, after all.

  • Gordon Cooper

    “Celtic Reconstructionism was first formed by C. Lee Vermeers and Erynn Rowan Laurie.”

    No.

    Erynn and I distributed our second choice term from our West Seattle living room c. 1992 after a long series of discussions on Usenet, GEnie, Delphi and PODSnet. I’m aware that the TdD ritualists in New England did similar research, paradigm and ritual building a decade or more earlier. I know some of them, and have cited them over the years as sources of inspiration. Their work convinced me it was possible if not easy.

    Isaac disliked the ideas around CR intensely, and said so frequently on GEnie, often around the presentation of the Un-course Erynn and I wrote and distributed it there.

    She and I further articulated the ideas through the Cauldron of Poesy Lectures (then book), The Hedge School Tapes, and well over 150 thousand words between GEnie, Delphi and the like. We wrote, organized and ran what was likely the first 3 Realm CR event in the late 1990’s in a State Park in Washington, with the Chosen Chief of OBOD and his family, a Bay area Seidr Priestess and a ritual and drumming crew pulled from our friends in the Greater Seattle magical community.

    For my contributions, the approaches I brought were mainly pulled from my extensive training in classical California Spiritualism, the methodologies I’d learned as an Anthropologist, and my experience of having lived in the Southwestern US desert as well as Rota, Spain. The twenty or so years of experience I then had inside the modern ‘Craft currents filled out the rest.

    I wish we’d gone with “Celtic Umbanda” as a description instead. It sounds less highfalutin.

  • Gordon Cooper

    No, it was designed as a methodology. That it became a religion came later.

  • “Celtic Reconstructionism was first formed by C. Lee Vermeers and Erynn Rowan Laurie.”

    Whoa, now. While I have been active in its pursuit, I’d hardly say that I formed it. I am proud to have helped shape it over the years, along with others, but there were several people in several parts of the world—mostly (but not exclusively) the US and Canada, not coincidentally, but that’s another discussion—who were developing the ideas independently at around the same time, during the era of the ’80s and very early ’90s. Names like Sean O Tuathail, Tadhg MacCrossan, and others were more important in forming the ideas. Erynn was certainly among those, but I was more akin to her student, arriving to build on the work that she and others had already done.

    The term itself has been pretty reliably traced to an article in the late ’80s by Saigh Kym Lambert and Kathryn Price Theatana, almost certainly based on the “pagan reconstructionists” term originated in Drawing Down the Moon. It was adopted primarily because it was hoped that people would be turned off by the clumsiness and, frankly, ugliness of the term and no one would want to co-opt it as a result. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way, but life is strange. And don’t get me started on the “eclectic reconstructionist” oxymoron that Isaac Bonewits tried to launch, to much deserved derision.

  • Yeah, I’m gonna have to agree with you here. Some people have tried to tie the methodology to one single religion, but it started out much more anarchic and dispersed than that. There have also been years of clarifications of terms that affect various formulations that have been made over the years.

  • The idea that Celtic Reconstructionism is a singular tradition is one that we four collectively repudiated, too (“Because we have no one central authority, we have many ways of approaching the material and our practices…”): http://www.paganachd.com/faq/basic.html#nobible As ideas have been clarified over time, the idea that it is a method rather than a religion has proved to be one that covers everyone without excluding any unnecessarily, while also allowing the term to have a meaning other than an identity-based one, though of course many people use it as an identity instead. As I recall, there was an attempt to define a unified CR-based tradition as “Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism” in deliberate distinction to just “Celtic Reconstructionism”, an attempt which I was recruited to assist. What became of that effort? I haven’t heard much about it since the Wikipedia article was hammered out in its basic form.

  • Gordon Cooper

    Organization didn’t begin on the Internet. Strictly speaking it started on PODSnet, GEnie and Delphi. USENET posts came into it c. 1992.

  • Searles O’Dubhain

    The gods come to a person and their people as they will. There is not one stream, nor are there infinite streams. Owning an idea or a state of being within one’s self clearly shows that the selves are being ignored. Recent history demonstrates this and will continue to do so. The greater experience is to acknowledge that being an individual recognizes the individual within others. Its history is like a cheap motel on a football game weekend. Lots of parties are happening, yet the weekend is defined in its mythology as only the rooms where one has been. When all the roommates compare parties later if at all, then the experience becomes more real. Why else would the gods call to a person if not for that?