I had an interesting conversation with a friend tonight, discussing setting up a reconstructionist tribe/group/whatever. While I, and the tribe to which I belong, are firmly in the reconstructionist camp, I can also say that it’s not enough to be reconstructionist.
Any group that is reconstructionist in orientation has to, unfortunately by default, take a side in the major fault lines in Asatru today, and have a strong answer as to why reconstructionism is compatible with those stances. Some of those fault lines include:
- Folkish vs. universalist
- Lokean vs. anti-Lokean
- Gender roles
- Radical individualism
- Sacral kingship
Those answers do not, however, need to be “reconstructionism supports this decision.” It can be as simple as “the lore is silent or contradictory on this issue, but we as a group have decided X.” And that’s perfectly okay, especially since there are so very many gaps in our understanding of how our ancestors did things. It must always be done with the understanding that, if new evidence comes up, it will be duly considered, of course, and the door remains open to changing the way things are done. That’s one of the cornerstones of reconstructionism; being open to new evidence, and willing to change one’s beliefs and practices based upon that evidence.
One of the (justified, in my opinion) criticisms of reconstructionism is that we recons tend to be more interested in research than in practice. It is indeed a potential pitfall, and I offer my own tribe’s example as a way to avoid it. We follow a traditional holiday calendar, and tend to eschew modern holidays, “days of observance”, and things that are imported from Wicca such as the Eightfold Wheel of the Year. But we also do a lot of things that have nothing to do with strict reconstructionism; we have trips to folk festivals, movie nights, nature hikes, etc. Nothing that would, on its face, be considered “recon”.
The fact that we are reconstructionists doesn’t mean we cannot add to our practice, as long as we don’t contradict what our ancestors did. Too often, radical political ideas, or other far-out positions on any of those fault lines mentioned above, run up against the historical record. But short of extreme positions, there’s a huge spectrum of middle ground on many of those issues that can accommodate a reconstructionist approach.
So (to take the most prominent example), while I cannot point to any place in the sagas and say “this says blámenn should worship their own ancestral gods” (tortured arguments by the ultra-folkish to the contrary) I can also not point to anywhere that explicitly says they were welcomed into Norse societies as fellow worshipers of the Aesir (tortured arguments by the universalists to the contrary). Thus, there is ambiguity, and that is where modern sensibilities must fill the gap, and those must be decided by each individual or group.
It’s great to say that you’ll be strictly neutral on all such things, but I guarantee you will be forced to deal with it the first time someone insists on adding an “inclusivity clause” to your charter, or someone tries to hail Loki at sumbel. You cannot hide from these issues if you’re going to be anything other than yourself and your family. That’s why they’re so prevalent in modern Asatru as divisive issues.
Ultimately, within a reconstructionist framework, where you come down on those fault lines is immaterial, as long as you’re:
- Not contradicting what we know of our ancestors’ practice, and
- Are open-minded to change your own views in the face of new evidence or compelling interpretations of existing evidence