Polytheistic reconstructionism (or simply Reconstructionism) is an approach to modern paganism first emerging in the late 1960s to early 1970s, which gathered momentum starting in the 1990s. Reconstructionism attempts to re-establish genuine polytheistic religions in the modern world through a rediscovery of the rituals, practices and contextual worldviews of pre-Christian Pagan religions. This method stands in contrast with other neopagan syncretic movements like Wicca, and ecstatic/esoteric movements like Germanic mysticism or Theosophy.
While the emphasis on historical accuracy may imply historical reenactment, the difference between these two movements can be summarized as one of intent. Historical Reenactment seeks historical accuracy as a goal in and of itself. On the other hand, a Reconstructionist Neopagan views historical accuracy as a means to the end of establishing a harmonious relationship between a belief-community and the gods.
In short, the guiding principles of the Reconstructionist approach to the practice of Pre-Christian religion can be broken down as follows:
- The pre-Christian Pagans had a harmonious relationship to their deities.
- The rites and rituals of those Pagans were an essential part of the navigation and mediation of that relationship.
- If modern-day Pagans wish to re-establish a harmonious relationship with these deities, then these rituals and rites must be properly performed.
- To properly perform the rituals in the present day, modern Pagans must discover how and why they were performed in the past.
The term "Reconstructionist Paganism" was likely coined by Isaac Bonewits in the late 1970s. Bonewits has said that he is not sure whether he "got this use of the term from one or more of the other culturally focused Neopagan movements of the time, or if [he] just applied it in a novel fashion."
Margot Adler later used the term "Pagan Reconstructionists" in the 1979 edition of Drawing Down the Moon to refer to Neopagans who endeavour to revive or "reconstruct" an authentic pre-Christian religious practice through use of historically verifiable research in fields such as: archeology, folklore studies and anthropology.
Within Greater Neopaganism
Linzie (2004) enumerates the difference between modern reconstructionist polytheism, such as modern Hellenismos or Nova Roma, and "classical" paganism as found in eighteenth to mid-twentieth century movements, including Germanic mysticism, early Neodruidism and Wicca. Aspects of the former, not found in the latter, are as follows:
- There is no attempt to recreate a combined pan-European Paganism.
- Researchers attempt to stay within research guidelines developed over the course of the past century for handling documentation generated in the time periods that they are studying.
- A multi-disciplinary approach is utilized capitalizing on results from various fields as historical literary research, anthropology, religious history, political history, archaeology, forensic anthropology, historical sociology, etc. with an overt attempt to avoid pseudo-sciences.
- There are serious attempts to recreate culture, politics, science and art of the period "in order to better understand the environment within which the religious beliefs were practiced".
Emphasis has been added to show that the recreation of pre-Christian social conditions are done so with the intent of understanding the religious practices and beliefs, not in order to recreate or revive a pre-Christian society either to replace modern society or to exist in parallel to modern society. The latter intention would be more indicative of a Traditionalist or a Historical Reenactment approach, and not specifically a Reconstructionist Neopagan.
The goal of these methods is to create a set of rituals, rites and practices which facilitate a harmonious relationship between the gods (and other good spirits like Landwights or others) and the belief-community.
Reconstructionist Neopagans hope that this harmony both within the belief-community itself and between the gods and the community brings some kind of tangible or intangible good. As in Germanic Heathenry, proper offerings to the gods are thought to bring about "Peace and Plenty" (Ars Ok Friden).
The use of the terms "Pagan" and "Neopagan" to refer to polytheistic reconstructionists is controversial. Some reconstructionist religious groups take great issue with being referred to as "Pagan" or "Neopagan," viewing "Pagan" as a pejorative term.
Even among those reconstructionist groups who see themselves as part of the broader, Pagan or Neopagan spectrum, they may refuse the terms and their associations with the more problematic aspects of that community, such as eclecticism, cultural appropriation or Wiccan-inspired ritual structures.
- Bonewits, Isaac (2006). Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York: Kensington/Citadel. p. 131. ISBN 0-8065-2710-2.
- Adler, Margot (1979) Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston, Beacon Press ISBN 0-8070-3237-9. Chapter 9: Religions from the Past—The Pagan Reconstructionists.
- Linzie (2004), 5f.
- "Hellenismos FAQ (The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum)".
- Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes. "Pagans". Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes. Retrieved September 7, 2007.
- Adler, Margot (1997). Drawing down the Moon, page 282. New York: Penguin/Arkana. p. 262. ISBN 0-14-019536-X.
- Linzie, Bil (2008). "Reconstructionism's Role in Modern Heathenry" (PDF). Retrieved 29 September 2008. Cite journal requires
- Linzie, Bil (2004). "Uncovering the Effects of Cultural Background on the Reconstruction of Ancient Worldviews" (PDF). Retrieved 23 May 2015. Cite journal requires
- Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today ISBN 0-14-019536-X (1979, 1986, 1997, 2006)
- ecauldron.com: What is Pagan Reconstructionism?
- The Association of Polytheist Traditions While not strictly reconstructionist, APT is an educational group concerned with ancient historical religions as well as modern syncretist new age religions
- Neopagans vs. the Recons (beliefnet.com)
- The CR FAQ - An Introduction to Celtic Reconstructionism A consensus document, co-authored by representatives