Thursday 12 April 2012

Orthopraxy, orthodoxy and what makes a Celtic Reconstructionist...

My good friend and colleague Treasa posted a really thought-provoking article called The Meaning of Ritual over on her Mo Thearmann blog a while ago now (I've been busy...), and it has some really well thought out points there. And then, with the discussion of what CR is and what defines a Celtic Reconstructionist, there's another post by Treasa, What is Celtic Reconstructionism, or How do I know I'm a Celtic Reconstructionist? I think they're both worth a read and pertinent to the discussions that have been going on recently.

I think a large part of those recent discussions is about whether one interprets CR as being primarily an orthodoxy or orthopraxy, even though it's not something that's been explicitly discussed much. The whole orthopraxy versus orthodoxy debate, as far as CR is concerned, can get quite heated sometimes (but what's new, eh?), but I'd point out this paragraph from Treasa's Meaning of Rituals post, where she says:
The religiosity of Gaelic Polytheism is not defined by a system of beliefs (though shared belief does have a place); rather it is a collection of rites, rituals and observances. This is what makes Gaelic Polytheism orthopraxic rather than orthodoxic. While belief is important, what is even more important is what we do and how we do it.
Quite. While what we do is surely based on what we believe, the believing is nothing without the doing; it is our actions that define who and what we are, not to just to others - the community - but between ourselves and our gods as well. I've been struggling to really understand what orthopraxy is all about, and why debates like this tend to get so heated, and whether or not it's all that important anyway. It's just a word, right?

Well, words can be powerful, can't they? I think - in chewing things over - I'm finally getting to grips with it and coming to realise that it's perhaps a bit more important than I've ever really appreciated before now. It's pretty fundamental, really, even though nobody likes that word much these days.

Whereas orthodoxy ultimately involves an emphasis on observing the correct forms of ritual - like the Catholic Mass, say - as the means of expressing right belief, orthopraxy eschews the quibbling over ritual formats being performed to the letter, and instead emphasises the the observance of proper behaviour. This is seen in ethical terms as much as ritual or liturgical terms, and this feeds into the proper observance of tradition in general. It's not so much doing things in the prescribed manner, it's the observance of them in general that matters. Or, to sum it up:
While orthodoxies make use of codified beliefs, in the form of creeds, and ritualism more narrowly centers on the strict adherence to prescribed rites or rituals, orthopraxy is focused on issues of familycultural integrity, the transmission of traditionsacrificial offeringsconcerns of purityethical systems, and the enforcement thereof.
In that sense, an orthopraxic religion must do, but it doesn't have to be done in exactly the same everywhere, every time (although arguably the bit about observing and maintaining tradition does feed a certain sense of guidance in how things should be done, albeit allowing for more wiggle room than orthodoxy). In an orthodoxy, on the other hand, failure to observe strict ritual formats, and so on and so forth, leads to heresy. Like I've said before, tradition is incredibly important. Integral, in fact. So an orthopraxy doesn't mean you can just make it up as you go along, or just "do stuff" no matter what that is (as some critics have said), because by emphasising tradition and cultural integrity (etc), orthopraxy ensures that there are at least some sort of checks and balances as far as how things are done.

Naturally, when "cultural integrity" and "issues of family" (which we might extend to "community") are a part and parcel of what defines an orthopraxy, we might say that these are obvious candidates to look to as sources for those checks and balances; not just referring to the cultural focus of what it is we're doing, but maintaining the integrity of that culture.

Ultimately, it's not the scholarship or the act of reconstructing that that defines what or who we are. It's the living. As far as I'm aware, that is - and always has been - the point of Celtic Reconstructionism and the wide variety of paths that form the branches of the same tree. We are what we do, and as far as that goes it's not just the practice and articulation of our beliefs or faith, but how we act based upon those beliefs and practices. That's where the "ethical systems" bit comes in, and it all goes round in a circle and comes back to family and community. If we are missing some of these things then...well...

Who are we?


Treasa said...

Maith thú! I couldn't agree more (but I believe you knew that *wink*). GRMA for linking my posts, a chara.

Hamadryad said...

Very useful link here and in the previous post. Diolch /Thank you

Seren said...

You're welcome. And hi Hamadryad, thanks for commenting, it's good to meet you :)