Friday, May 02, 2008

Comparative studies, CR, and mysticism

Erynn Laurie's Searching for Imbas blog has a new post discussing the issues with attempting a more mystical Celtic pagan path. It discusses some of what I've been touching on the last couple of days in regards to cross-cultural studies and process. I remain glad Erynn started this blog. She's been a strong advocate of CR since she started out referring to it as a "NeoCelt" path, and the more information that gets out presenting the diversity of CR, the better. We'd be worse off if only one set of voices was heard.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Authenticity and the modern neopagan

The irony of arguments amongst reconstructionist pagans that come down to whether someone's authentic or not has been driven home to me lately. I'm not talking about the perfectly valid attempts to get people to stop claiming a tradition they've only practiced for ten weeks is the way the ancestors did it when we have no proof of it. I'm referring to how, once you get to where people are working with the lore, the culture, and their own inspiration, some people seem to think they can decide if you're doing it wrong and they're doing it right. When you don't know how X was done, being sure someone else's method of approach is faulty because it disagrees with your own interpretations is the best way to be considered didactic and dogmatic.

I don't know if it's possible for any CR to say they practice a truly authentic Celtic spirituality, especially not one that's true to the pre-Christian Celts. We're all bringing in outside influences, learning the cultural norms, figuring it out as we go along, and are never going to get to the heart of what it was like before the Christians showed up. We can't. We don't speak that form of the appropriate language. We don't live in that environment. Can we get something useful to modern times out of our struggle to understand? Of course. If it wasn't useful at the start, we'd all go do something else. But don't be fooled into thinking any of us will ever have a lock on what's accurate past the cold facts in a book. We can only work the ways the gods move us to follow and keep faith in the rightness of our own path for ourselves. We don't have to agree with others who use the same methods if our facts coincide. Where our paths overlap, we have common purpose and community. Where they do not, we have diversity.

Those who would attempt to sow dissension in the ranks because of disagreements over approach or the individual voices of the gods, ancestors and spirits who speak to each of us will have their works treated with the due and proper respect they deserve. Those who reach for a balanced sense of priorities and speak truth will receive their right reward as well. So I pray to the gods, so I ask it be. So shall it be done.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pure as the driven slush

How do you stay true to a cultural tradition when that tradition itself is subject to change? I've long seen comments about being careful how to approach culturally based religions. The issue of not showing it sufficient respect gets balanced by being careful not to treat it as if it's trapped in amber.

Is it possible to be a purist about a culture that's a Heinz 57 thanks to multiple invasions and cross-cultural integrations? I've been told it's wrong to look at a culture, freeze it at a moment in time, and decide that's the only right space to work in. Can't disagree with that.

So how is it when I look at the Celtic cultures as a living, breathing entity that has changed, will change, and is as clean of outside influence as a used air filter, I wind up finding out I'm doing it wrong because I'm looking at the cultures that influenced it as well as ones that parallel it in some areas?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Defining the membership

It would seem that there is a small but fervent movement amongst a minority within the Celtic reconstructionist community to define anyone whose practices include more traditions than CR, regardless of how separately they may practice them, as not being truly members of CR. As I am someone who practices both CR and Umbanda, this naturally has me interested. I don't think of myself as affected, mind. I don't think the parties responsible for spreading this particular poison are qualified to make this sort of judgment call. They will claim all sorts of reasons why they are, of course. That sort always does. Ironically, the CR FAQ does not decree this particular separation. I should know; I was there when the language was set down and agreed to by all authors and primary contributors. Would it be fair to say that someone who insists on claiming someone can't be CR if they are also practicing a second faith tradition isn't really CR themselves? Or would I be sinking to their level? Not that it matters in the long run. I know what I am doing and how I am doing it. I don't need the approval of someone who is neither teacher, close friend, nor family member to say what or who I am.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Trust and reputation

I've had a lot of cause recently to contemplate the value of matching words to deeds. I'm plagued with one form of this issue. I get great ideas and then allow myself to be distracted from bringing them to fruition. It's a fear/ADHD/bad habit trifecta that I'm slowly working to overcome. It has an impact on how I'm perceived. I'm not painting myself as some great elder, but reputations are built, not granted.

What has me moved to say more than "I'm flighty" to whatever audience I still have is how I've had pokes from more than one direction lately about the standards to which I hold people who present themselves as leaders in the pagan communities I have contact with. It's not so much that I need to change them as I need to express them. They may change later, but that's how it is with opinions. I'd like to think this set of standards will only need minor tweaking over time, though.

This one's kind of a throwaway that I wish was more obvious to more people, but based on some discussions I've had, I need to point out the issue of image. Dressing for respect doesn't have to mean suits and business dresses. It would, however, tend to involve sticking the wizard's hat into storage for at least some public events and learning how to pull off the eclectic look in a fashion that doesn't resemble a historical re-enactment costume cop's idea of a nightmare.

Age doesn't always bring wisdom. I've had people claim I should treat certain older pagans with more respect because of what they did 40 years ago when everything they've done since that phase of usefulness has carried the aura of self-aggrandizement and suckering the rubes. I remain unconvinced. While I find the "one bad act cancels out a lifetime of good ones" approach people often take with volunteer labor to be more than occasionally ridiculous, the reverse is always silly to me. If you look at a stopped clock and insist it's not stopped because you only remember the two times a day it's right, you're doing it wrong.

Then there's the issue of authority in a tradition. Duration of personal practice can often mean you have a decent grasp of a tradition's ins and outs, especially in one with a set corpus of practices. If the tradition is still in the "fly by the seat of our pants" phase, this is harder to establish. This is when I look at who is setting up the healthiest combination of guidelines and building tools for others to work with. The health level is also gauged by how they respond when people use the same or similar tools to get to different conclusions. Analyzing the logic and/or willingness to recognize that the same thing doesn't work for everyone shows a security in one's viewpoint and practice. Emotional reactions, whether passive-aggressive or outright insulting if not somewhere in-between, lead me to wonder if the self-proclaimed elder is fantasizing while counting their gray hairs again. This also winds up linking back to the "what did you do recently" vs. "what did you do X number of years ago" argument. Consistent visibility and sound guidance are more important to me than simple duration of presence.

The authority issue is also related in my mind to whose opinions are significant. This can be more personal than general in scope, but the broader gallery of observers does speak up from time to time in almost anyone's life. The standard I'm working on applying more assiduously is "solicited over unsolicited, solicited from people who are currently guiding my education over those who aren't, and consider the reputation/behavior of all of the above regardless of degree of solicitation." J. Random Blogcommenter who claims to know better than me about some point of Celtic practice without sourcing their citation will not sway me much. If JRB turns out to be a Ph.D. in Celtic Studies who had a memory fault as to the name of the book they'd read, I'll at least try to do some legwork myself to see if I can find what they're talking about. But if Dr. JRB is also a known troublemaker, even if the cite is accurate, I will look at it with a sharper eye.

If I were to keep a mental list of "Top Ten Ways Neopagandom Could Improve," stricter standards for who to trust as valid instructors and sources of criticism would be very high in the rankings. But pinning that sort of list down is an activity I'd rather do when I feel like amusing myself with pie-in-the-sky fantasies that don't involve the CA state lottery.