Deepening Reconstructionism Locally

Over the years, I have become convinced that a deep engagement with the lands in which one lives is essential for those following a Reconstructionist path. Moving from an intellectual understanding of the gods and the source religion to an active relationship with the spiritual world in the here and now requires that one be fully present where one is. A lot of Recons tend to long for the land of their gods, and even the time when their gods were first worshipped – I have been guilty of this myself – but such focus on elsewhere can be limiting.

In fact, it is a more fully Reconstructionist approach to see the gods in the world around you. In ancient Greece, for instance, each region had its own traditions, its own versions of the gods (here Hermes is primarily a god of the gymnasium, there He roams the fields with the nymphs), its own festival calendar, and these things were often dictated by the landscape as well as the culture. If the Greeks traveled to a foreign land, they brought their gods with them and learned new things about them as the gods adapted to the local flora, fauna, weather, terrain and people.

In North America, for instance, I have felt Dionysos connected to the buffalo rather than the bull, as it is the native large horned animal. Sekhmet may manifest as a cougar in the north, rather than an African lion. Odin comes from a land of harsh winters, but what aspects will emerge in the desert? I am not suggesting that one simply imagine the appropriate associations – it’s not a game to play – but rather that one be open to a true experience of the gods as They appear in the world that one knows first-hand.

And it’s not just about the gods, either. Most if not all polytheistic religions are nearly overrun with spirits of earth, water, plants, etc. Those spirits exist everywhere on the planet. Some may be known and worshipped by a specific local religion (now or in the past), but all can be recognized by the attentive animist. Whether they be spirits native to this land, or those that came with the people who migrated here, it is important to honor them (in whatever way they prefer – to my mind, propitiating native spirits in the manner they are accustomed to is not cultural appropriation, but simply good manners; we don’t have to pretend to be Native Americans, we just need to pay attention to what the spirits want). Even if you are giving an offering unheard of in your source religion, to a spirit with a foreign name, you are actually performing a religious act within your tradition by doing so, as the ancients would never have ignored the spirits of the lands they traveled to and settled in.

One should become fully intimate with one’s local area, learning as much as possible about the ecosystems involved, paying close attention to the changes in the landscape as the seasons progress. This can be done even in an urban environment, which is never totally bereft of animal or plant life, and just as subject to the elements as anywhere. But it’s not enough to just study and observe. In my experience, the real magic happens when you begin to perform repeated ritual acts within that landscape, specifically acts that are inexorably tied to place.

For instance, there was a festival in ancient Greece for Dionysos that was carried out on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos. We do this festival on one of the buttes in our city – it is not nearly a mountain, but it is a place of power and strong spirits in its own way. After several years of climbing this butte on that night and echoing the potent ritual acts of the ancient tradition, I feel the connection to Dionysos by just looking up at it from afar. I will always love and even long for Mt. Parnassos – which is an especially holy place that I have been blessed to visit more than once – but my daily life is here, and it is much better to have Dionysos close by on our humble butte than thousands of miles away.

Returning to the same places in one’s local landscape over and over, honoring the same gods and spirits in the same manner, builds a bond between not only oneself and the divine entities but also with the land. All become intertwined in a beautiful way. You begin to see the spiritual forces at work in the world around you more easily. The gods feel closer, a more direct and present part of your life. You may discover new things about Them too, see Them in new ways, have experiences that spur you to create new festivals or cult centers based entirely on such revelations – which is exactly how it was done in ancient times.

And if you move, as we do much more often in these modern times than in the past, then yes, you will have to start again, but on the other hand you will have an opportunity to see your gods and your religious practice with fresh eyes. The Hermes I knew on the snow-packed roads of Montana is not quite the same as the one I interact with in the quirky streets of Eugene, Oregon, but both are true aspects of Him, and now I feel blessed to understand yet another face of one of my gods. And in fact, it took moving across the country (I’m originally from Maine) for me to open my eyes to the land around me, which I merely took for granted in the place I grew up.

Not only has my spiritual practice been powerfully enriched as a result of this deepening awareness and engagement, but in many ways I am now closer to practicing the ancient Greek religion than I was when I primarily identified as a Recon and spent more time reading history books than doing ritual in my environment. I offer the gods local wine and honey and grains now, rather than imports, and worship Them in groves and at streams that I can walk to from my home, rather than wishing I could be doing so in Greece (to be honest, I do still love and miss that holy land, but I love this one here as well). I hope to see more Recon-inclined polytheists doing the same, and building strong, localized traditions that will carry on the worship of the gods meaningfully and viably into the future.

~ by Dver on April 3, 2012.

41 Responses to “Deepening Reconstructionism Locally”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement ‘it is a more fully Reconstructionist approach to see the gods in the world around you’ and like you, I see Anubis manifest in the foxes that roam London at night, wailing, rummaging everywhere and sneaking around.
    I don’t think less the Pantheon one follows (though the Egyptians, much like the Greeks, brought their Gods with them and learned more about them wherever they went and sometimes, even bringing back what they learned and applying it back home – for instance the blend of Hathor with aspects of Ishtar/Astarte) but more being aware of the world around you and merging fully with it, blending in so to speak.
    Thank you for this post, it’s great food for thought!

  2. I absolutely agree. When I look for my connection to the Horned One, I’m not looking for white stags of European lore, I am looking towards the thunderous herds of elk in the Cascades. And when I look for Dionysus, I find him both in the wide farming valleys and the hill-side vineyards in Eastern Washington. I sort of feel like you have to make a temple when you bring gods over the lands, by recognizing them in your surroundings- they’re trying to reach you through that doorway.

    • I sort of feel like you have to make a temple when you bring gods over the lands, by recognizing them in your surroundings- they’re trying to reach you through that doorway.

      Nice way of putting it!

  3. It makes sense yes, but I must admit it does not come easily to me. Ever since Persephone reached out to me …I have been trying to discover her in local landscape. But theoretically I am struggling. How does one distinguish between the local gods/spirits and the very well adapted foreign ones? To what extent do gods travel, and to what extent are they tied to their own eco-system? And is there a point where a god has changed so much, he/she is a whole different and separate god altogether?

    Underneath all these questions, I think, is a fear of making religion random. I do not mind so fluidity, one cannot escape it really, but I do feel a need for personal consistency.

    I am one of those people who actually live in North-West Europe, which climate coincides with the wiccan’s wheel of the year. I always thought it was important that the gods I worshipped where embedded in the land. (It wasn’t as much about ancestry, I feel that Europeans generally are less concerned with ancestry than Americans) So when looking for Persephone in a Dutch landscape, I do feel strange, and I wonder weather I am not looking at another god’s domain.

    • Perhaps one can compare it to importing a foreign species into a delicate ecosystem?

    • How does one distinguish between the local gods/spirits and the very well adapted foreign ones?

      Maybe you don’t. Does it really matter? As far as I’m concerned, what matters is to recognize the spirits’ existence, to honor that, to give them gifts. True, knowing what type they are would help with the latter, but you never know about individual spirits’ tastes anyway. My method is always to go out and see who is around in the landscape, approach and acknowledge them, make tentative offerings and see the response, adjusting as needed. Alternately, for my nymph festivals I simply go to the spots where those types of nymphs live, lay out the traditional nymph offerings, and invite them to join me if they are there. Maybe some of those spirits who show up are not “nymphs” per se – it doesn’t really make a difference.

      Maybe you *are* looking at another god’s domain – surely there were gods indigenous to that region – but that doesn’t mean you can’t worship Persephone there, and make sense of Her where you are. An aspect of Persephone, after all, dwells always in the Underworld (if you notice, She is always there when the heroes descend, not just during the fallow time of the year), which is below us all.

      • Thank you for your ever wise words. Does it really matter? Probably not🙂 And Persephone’s association with the underworld does make it easier for me. After I had read this I just lied down on the soil in the park and I felt comforted by her presence. And I knew it was a spot she could appreciate. I should do this every time I am overcomplicating theological questions.

  4. Thank you.

    • Partly inspired by your own posts/comments, so thank you!

      • I had a feeling this may have been inspired by sudden “huzzah” moment. But, thanks for taking the time to write an entry about it. It’s all been futzing in my brain since I read this and I’ve started a related blog post.

        Expect a ping back.

  5. Thank you for posting this. I know you’ve talked about this before here, but I think this is an excellent post that makes a great case for “well yes, that’s how it was done in that land, but what about HERE. you *LIVE* HERE.” It’s not always drastically different, but in some cases it is.

  6. This is a brilliant post, and leads to all sorts of other interesting questions!
    As an interesting point to throw in there – I used to live by the sea and now I don’t. I tried to make a relationship with Nehalennia from where I am… but it just didn’t work. Not because She wouldn’t respond or such like, just because She isn’t here in this place. Sadly I had to accept this in the end.
    Going to have to go away and think some more about this post, and probably post something on my blog and link up to you here if that’s ok?

    • That’s fine with me!

      Yes, it’s true, sometimes gods just aren’t present in a particular place. It can be upsetting, but it’s a good reminder that it isn’t just all in our heads, They are real beings with their own existences.

  7. What a wonderful post! I also think that maybe, we tend to impose limitations on the gods that do not, in fact, exist. There is simply no reason to think that the power of the Greek Gods (as one example) is in any way lessened once one crosses the border and leaves Greece. The gods may not be omnipotent or omnipresent, but that does not mean they reach a particular national boundary and say “Nope, sorry, can’t go there, have a nice day!”

    • There is simply no reason to think that the power of the Greek Gods (as one example) is in any way lessened once one crosses the border and leaves Greece.

      Indeed. Certainly the ancient Greeks didn’t think so! I’ll also propose that such power might be (in this world at least) even *stronger* in other lands where They have active worshippers, rather than Their old cult sites which are abandoned, turned into churches, or historical artifacts. At least, that’s how I felt the first time I went to Greece – I expected to feel Them so much more at Their old sites, but often felt Them absent (the exception being Delphi, but there’s a difference between a place of Power and just a place there was once a temple).

      And yes, I agree – what do They necessarily care for our arbitrary political boundaries?

  8. I envy you the better records of your tradition. 😉 Or, do Greek Recons argue just as much as Norse ones?

    • As someone who found her way to Loki (and has found herself touched by other Norse deities as well), I think that I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s really not possible for there to be Norse Reconstruction, at least not until and unless we discover some treasure-trove of pre-Christian written works. The Eddas are, unfortunately, contaminated with Christian ideas and beliefs. I use the word “contaminated” in a very specific sense here in that those who want to try and reconstruct true Norse religion and spirituality cannot consider the Eddas as pure, unadulterated primary sources of knowledge and information. I have many wonderful Christian friends, and I do not consider the Christian religion as a contaminant in and of itself, only that if the main sources being used to attempt to reconstruct a method of worship are written by followers and believers of another religion, then those sources must be suspect in terms of accuracy (some contamination may be deliberate, and some is no doubt purely accidental).

      • I agree that Norse Reconstructionism must rely much more on UPG and direct living experience and practice than its meager source material. Perhaps at that point it’s no longer Reconstructionism but “revival” – although I often find the arguing over terminology kind of pointless. None of us will ever know for certain that we are accurately reconstructing anything, what should matter much more is whether we are appropriately worshipping the gods, regardless of how it was once done. How it was once done merely gives us a good starting point, the accumulated experiences of many who went before.

        • Yes, the past informs us as it is where we were but the ship is going FORWARD. Thank you, that was well said.

    • Oh gods, Greek Recons argue immensely! It’s a large part of why many of us left the lists and communities long ago. In some ways I think the wealth of information just gives us more to nitpick over.

      • Oh, ok. That makes me feel better. I keep wondering why so many Heathens seem to be acting jerky.

        • It seems to be all the Recon traditions, sadly. Part of it IMO is a lot of strong-willed, smart people getting caught up in intellectual exercises rather than focusing on getting out and actually worshipping. Part of it, I think, is that we mostly interact online and that form of communication seems to breed rudeness.

          At least the heathens have more community building stuff going on – large regional organizations, gatherings, quality journals. Hellenic Recons have been around almost as long, but have never really managed any of this. I’m not sure why.

    • Kemetic recons argue just as much, too, I’ve found. There’s so many different interpretations to go into. Thousands of years of religion with whopping changes from period to period (f/x the religion of Old Kingdom Egypt was not the one practiced in New Kingdom Egypt, though similar). And then we have no information on how the common people did it, just how the priest’s did…


      So, we Kemetics feel your pain, as well.

    • Or, do Greek Recons argue just as much as Norse ones?


  9. […] Deepening Reconstruction Locally by Dver. Share this:FacebookEmailTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  10. […] I feel like this post, this post, and this post are much more eloquently written expressions of a lot of what I’m […]

  11. I have struggled with being a Recon for the past eight years. Recently I transformed my mode of thinking to something a bit more living. I realized that I was interacting with a living being, and not with dead stone. There are two things I see. One is much like you mention here. Different people and cultures will have different interpretations. I reached a point where I realized that even a goddess will evolve, and offer a different message for a different age. That message can only be obtained when I mystically interact with her, and allow her voice to interact with historical voices.

  12. […] there has been a lot of talk about gods in the land around us (see: here and here). This has inspired me to write about a place where I felt the gods on a very up close and personal […]

  13. I just wanted to let you know. I shared this post on the pagan forum I belong to and we’ve been discussing it since. If you click the link, I’d like it if you could read the response by user, monsnoleedra, as she made an interesting point, but since I am not you, I couldn’t really comment. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you’re getting all out there in the Internet [because of me].

    • Thanks for sharing my writing over there. I’m going to respond here to that user’s comment, and you’re welcome to copy my response at the forum.

      Associating an animal, for instance, with a particular god in no way takes anything from other gods who are associated with it. In fact, even within pantheons certain animals are often associated with more than one deity. A lot depends on context. So if I see a buffalo as in some way Dionysos, it does not mean the buffalo as a species cannot also be (or even primarily be) a Native American god. The spiritual worlds are multiple layers upon our own, and complex.

      I am definitely *not* saying that such-and-such indigenous deity is *actually* a Greek deity (the way many Greeks did – I’ve never been comfortable with that, as a hard polytheist). I’m simply saying that the manifestation of the virile, horned, animal Dionysos in North America appears as a buffalo in my experience rather than a bull. I am not saying Dionysos is THE buffalo god here, by any means. It’s just another one of His masks, that’s all.

      It’s therefore not like going to Hawaii and saying Pele is Vulcan. Pele, as I understand it, is the volcanic mountain itself, not just a goddess of all volcanoes. That mountain is who it is. But a Roman Recon might go and feel the presence of Vulcan, also a volcanic deity, nonetheless. I doubt they’d think Vulcan was a direct manifestation of that precise place, though. Both Pele and Vulcan can exist, and They can both even be present in Hawaii, but Pele will obviously have the much stronger connection to the place, and to that specific crater especially. Likewise, I worship Dionysos on the nearest butte in my city, but I do not consider Him to be the butte itself, and there are many other spirits who reside there who are in no way Greek.

      To my mind, if you already have a tradition that has called to you and you have immersed yourself in, you do not have to set it aside to worship the indigenous local gods, just like you don’t have to actually worship any particular gods in your pantheon. You can respect and acknowledge Them without setting aside your own gods for Them, unless They come to you directly. But land spirits are not tied to a people or culture, but to the land itself. Therefore, they are part of everyone’s tradition, in a sense, if those people are wise enough to recognize them. The reason to look into indigenous customs is not to adopt their religion, but simply because they spent hundreds of years with some of these spirits, and probably learned a thing or two about what those spirits wanted.

      (Look for my post tomorrow about Land Spirits where I elaborate on this more – funny, since I wrote it yesterday before seeing this.)

    • Ok, reading further comments by that user, I have more thoughts.

      For one thing, I think they are too quick to merge Coyote and coyotes, for instance. If one were to think that Loki might have some kinship with coyotes, because of the trickster qualities of each, that does not mean Loki is Coyote, a specific spirit/god. It does not take anything from the reality of Coyote to see a connection between His animal reflections and another deity. Many spiritual realities can exist simultaneously.

      The user makes a good point about learning how the native peoples understood and interacted with their environment, but I think we can take that too far and assume that those peoples are the authoritative source on the landscape, rather than also experiencing it ourselves, directly, and with our own spiritual understandings. Like everyone, the native peoples saw things through their own cultural lens, so their world-view may not be entirely applicable to us just because we live on lands they once lived on. It’s a factor to consider, to be sure, but we should not automatically supplant our own experience with theirs.

      After all, if the user is correct, we should all just be trying to practice the indigenous religion of wherever we live, and I personally would not choose that over the gods that have reached out to me and been with me over the years (in several different locations, after all, which would have necessitated several different conversions, since the various tribal religions were all quite different). That’s even assuming one could do that – many tribal religions have vanished leaving few records.

    • What the user says about the deer and Artemis is exactly my point. A deer may be just a deer. It may be connected to Artemis, even if it’s in North America. It may be connected to some native deity or spirit. Context is important, and one takes it into consideration in concert with whatever impressions or communications one directly receives at a spiritual level. So if you pray to Artemis and a deer appears, it’s probably Artemis. If you’re out honoring the local wights and a deer appears and you have cause to think it’s more than just a chance happening, then maybe it’s a manifestation of those local wights. Multiple spiritual realities (as opposed to what another user on that forum was describing, where they see the god’s domains as very discrete, never overlapping – that’s very different from my experience obviously).

  14. […] the comments to a previous post, in which I advised pagans to become well acquainted with their local spirits, someone brought up […]

  15. I don’t have much affinity for reconstructionism as it is typically embodied, but I can find nothing in this description to disagree with, and appreciate the well-written article and comments. Insofar as I view my connection with the ancient druids primarily as one of sympathy – we both have the same object of our affections (the oak) – I can now see some points of similitude with the recon framework. Thank you.

    • I think the Reconstructionist approach is often extremely limited in its understanding of exactly what it means to reconstruct, not just a set of rites and myths, but an entire worldview. But there are some of us who are attempting to do just that, and the end result is a more vibrant, living religion.

  16. […] than in the printed format, but wanted to share it with you all anyway. As a sort of follow-up to Deepening Reconstructionism Locally, this is an example of how I connect and combine an ancient place-specific tradition with the […]

  17. […] matter much more eloquently and at greater length then I will do here, among them Dver, who wrote two posts (at very least!) on this topic that are of especial note, and which I recommend anyone and […]

  18. […] Deepening Reconstructionism Locally […]

  19. […] Read the full article […]

  20. […] So Dver has a post about this like a million years ago and it helped me to see my gods in the world around me. Though I find their stance on a lot of shit highly problematic, the point in entry is good: […]

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