Monthly Archives: December 2011

Syncretic Electric

Practically, I have come to define my approach to worship as Syncretistic Classicism. The more I read about the culture and religions of the ancient world, the more I come to understand how interconnected they all are. I personally feel that we, as Modern Pagans, have this urge to find a pure line of descent for our religious practices. I think that a lot of this is a result of many of our upbringings in the Big 5 faiths, which, on the surface, appear to have strong single, unified narratives stretching back thousands of years. Though, it is important to realize, as even a brief foray into the history of the Early Christian Church will show, that this is certainly not the case. All of the major religions currently extent have suffered a series of dramatic transformations and schisms through their lifetimes, and their interactions with other cultures and belief systems had dramatic impacts on their development. Modern Christianity bears very little in common with the religion practiced by its earliest members. I feel that it is important, as Modern Pagans, to have an understanding of the fluidity of ancient religions.

The religions of the ancient Mediterranean, what we think of as Classical Antiquity, were deeply intertwined. Partially because of the literary and art historical narratives which have been built up over the passing centuries, we seem to have lost track of that. We do have these conceptions that the Gods of Ancient Greece were uniquely Greek, the Roman’s uniquely Roman (though adapted from the Greek, but still somehow discreet, as if they erased their predecessors with their emergence). This was simply not the case, however. Cults of various regional deities spread throughout the Mediterranean, drifting far from their origins and coexisting within the established structures of other religions, in some cases becoming integrated into them: the Isis cult seems to have spread as far as the British Isles. When we claim to worship the Old Gods, we need to understand that these Gods did not live in a theological vacuum. The Old Gods lived shoulder to shoulder with each other, their demesnes overlapping and interpenetrating. What is the true Roman Religion? Well, at what point historically do you decide was the most purely Roman of all of Roman history? Do we count only the early Etruscan faith that preexisted Greek contamination? Do we take the religion of the Late Roman Empire, with all its deified Emperors and Egyptian influence? Let us not forget, either, that Christianity became the state religion of Rome.

Therefore, in my practice, I try to keep myself intellectually honest, with an understanding that to the ancients religion was not necessarily an impenetrable unchanging edifice, but a fluid and syncretic thing, constantly absorbing, repulsing, and always interacting with its neighboring cultures. I do not mean to make an excuse to sloppiness in worship, however. A good deal has already been said about approaching one’s Gods in culturally appropriate ways. Research and cultural understanding are vital to any healthy spiritual practice. However, I do sincerely believe that it is important to allow oneself to maintain fluidity and adaptability within one’s practice and spiritual experience.

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