Sunday, 10 April 2011

Deep thoughts on' stuff...

Reconstructionism has a bit of an image problem.

On the one hand, some might say that it's the path of choice for Those With A Big Stick Up Their Butt™; and so as such, inevitably much of our time is spent in bickering about just who has the biggest stick. On the other hand, some might say that reconstructionism is too backward-looking (and I actually saw this said on a druid forum, no less. I found that kind of ironic) - and perhaps what's really meant is that the study of the past is over-empasised at the expense of actually experiencing any sort of meaningful practice in the present. I suppose this moves us on to the gripping hand - that reconstructionists are far more interested in reading books, and the resulting intellectual wankery, for their own ego rather than anything else. Thinking about it, I suppose that ends up taking us back round to the first hand of bickering about whose stick is biggest.

Have I just made a gigantic circle-jerk analogy? Oh dear...

But let's not forget the snobbery. As a reconstructionist, not only is my stick bigger, and shinier than yours, my books are better and more obscure, and I have more qualifications/years of experience/better teachers than you do, and by the way, you can't be a reconstructionist because UR DOIN' IT RONG.

It's unfortunate, but sometimes - maybe more often than anyone's willing to admit - these problems can dominate what anyone of us are actually trying to do. In some places, reconstructionism is a dirty word, simply because of our reputation, and there is a sort of Us and Them view of reconstructionism, from those outside of the community insofar as they view reconstructionists, but also within the community insofar as they view non-reconstructionists, and even whether one is seen as having a big enough stick to qualify as actually reconstructionist or just a poseur.

With Celtic Reconstructionism, truth - Truth - is something that is held to be a core value. It is something that is strived for, but something that is ultimately subjective. Therein lies the problem, to a certain extent, especially in terms of the recent discussions I've seen going on about Mystic Reconstructionism, which have been both illuminating (in terms of what's been said on the matter) and unfortunate (in terms of the almost inevitable side-helping of bickering). I'm coming to the debate a little late, I guess, so maybe I'm not one to judge on that front, because I didn't see how it all unfolded at the time.

I've written before about my struggle with mysticism. Mysticism, to me, is something that's essential to any path, but as someone who likes the books, the research, the extrapolating from sources that I can cite, I've had a hard time getting comfortable with something that is less concrete, even as someone who's previously been inititated into a mystery tradition, and experienced such mystical revelations as the initiations I was subject to.

In the end, though, as much as it's been something I've wrestled with at times, it's something I've found to be freeing as well. My experiences are my own, and sometimes they don't make sense; mysticism itself isn't a logical process, first and foremost, because it comes from somewhere unseen. Because I'm a reconstructionist, while I see that mysticism is a key element of how I experience my spirituality, how I approach my spirituality is one that is primarily informed by what can be known (or perhaps, more accurately, extrapolated) from the sources. But that's not the be all and end all of it, because as a Celtic Reconstructionist the sources that help to inform us aren't all that explicit, or transparently pre-Christian in origin.

The first stop, then, is what can be known. What we can't know, we have to rely on UPG to help guide us, and for Celtic Reconstructionists we have to rely on a healthy dose sometimes. In this respect, not everyone is going to agree with how one approaches and extrapolates from the sources, and forms into actual practice. I'm well aware that I'm not the strongest ritualist, for example, and in part this is perhaps because I'm weaker on the (perhaps being as comfortable with the) mysticism element of practice than others within the CR community are.

A lot of the disagreements, though, seems to be centred upon the degree of which UPG is emphasised, and the way in which it is applied personally, or shared with others. In the debates, 'mysticism' seems to be seen as synonymous with UPG, and that's something I can get on board with in some ways, because in my own practices, any mystical revelations I may experience are just that - extremely personal. That's why it's difficult for me to see the problem in terms of these things being shared - or not being shared as I've often seen it lamented. I may share them with a few people who I know and trust; I may share them with a wider audience if I feel the need. But ultimately, they're not something that generally has any meaning or value except to myself, and this in itself is perhaps why it's been so difficult for the CR community as a whole, or (perhaps more relevantly) CRs within specific cultural contexts, to agree on commonalities of practice.

This all comes back to certain problems emerging - accusations of snobbery, intellectual wankery, and so on. Sometimes - maybe more often than anyone's really willing to admit - these accusations are justified (and to be fair, pretty much all of these problems aren't unique to reconstructionist groups, it's just the kind of sticks, books and qualifications are slightly different if you go elsewhere. You like Scott Cunningham?! You're self-initiated? What's your lineage? Who's your High Priestess? You can't possibly be Wiccan...In this respect, I've had the exact same sort of arguments as a Wiccan as I've seen in the reconstructionist community).

The unfortunate side-effect of all this is that when bickering flairs up within the various reconstructionist communities, points can get lost in discussions because people start taking it personally, and/or start arguing from ego, and the discussion turns from actual debate to defensive back and forths or (worse) simply point-scoring. That's the difficulty of online discussions - it's difficult to interpret tone, and that can make things seem more blunt and snarky than they might have been intended.

So where does that leave anyone? Community can be - and should be - a wonderful thing. There is something deeply wrong with a community when civil discussions can't be had without accusations flying, due to ego, paranoia, past experiences and hurts, or whatever. We as a community are never going to grow up, mature, evolve in healthy way if that's all these discussions end up as.