Doughtheism Revisited (Or: Let's us Pagans keep pointing fingers)

This came from a Christian church's website. Oh, irony.
Every now and then, I go back through my articles, the ones I've turned into shows and published on Witch Vox especially. (For a full list of the latter, you can click here.) Recently, given a lot of the talk in social media and the pagan blogosphere, I've taken a hard look at my articles concerning the nature of the divine. There's been quite a bit of name-calling and finger-pointing and general derision in our little community as of late, and I'd like to weigh in on the matter.

See, I have to live with the fact that I'm the same guy that posted The Pagan Secret - an article in which I decried modern deities and called for worshipping traditional gods/goddesses as close to historically accurate as possible - and Playing with God-Doh - in which I pretty much recant the former article and open up deity to a bit more interpretation. However, almost 2 years after writing the latter article, I still say I pretty much stick by its message.

The problem that many people seem to have, especially those that consider themselves "traditional, reconstructionist, reclaiming" or some other word I don't know that means doing things by the book/by historical veracity/rules rules rules wheeeee is the idea of 'historical accuracy'. We should be worshipping deity exactly - or as close to exact as we can legally/logistically get - how he/she/it was worshipped way back in the long, long ago. Here's the thing about history: It's not just a specific time in a specific place pointing to a specific meaning. There're a few reasons for this that I'd like to go over.

History is really, really big

If you were to ask a child about historical events, they would think in terms of days or months - maybe MAYBE a couple of years. If you were to ask the typical adult about history, depending on education and context, you might get a few decades to a few hundred years with a vague notion of certain big cultural events that happened "a really long time ago". However, if you ask a scientist about historical events, you start talking in segments of time so large that they kind of hurt the brain to think about unless you have a bottle of excedrin and very special training. And, it even depends on the kind of scientist you ask. Ask a geologist, and they talk in certain yields of time that make my brain hurt thinking about. Ask an astronomer - or anyone who studies the universe - and they talk in lengths of time for which words simply do not do justice to express just how large these amounts of time are and make my brain melt and leak out through my earlobes if I attempt to fathom them for more than a few minutes.

Luckily, in my time here at the Riot, I've had the opportunity to talk to all sorts of folks. People who deal with cultural history, social history, religious history, and scientific history. If nothing else, it reaffirms my ideas I proposed in the article on Doughtheism. To say that someone isn't worshipping a given god or goddess correctly and with historical accuracy has the inherent fallacy of supposing that the deity in question materialized into the minds of man fully formed without any origin other than that supposed by the culture being discussed. Just about any religious historian will point out that no god or goddess came from nothing - except, of course, in myth, which we're not dealing with here.

Which history would you like to replicate? Which culture's appropriation of the deity, and in which era of time that the deity was worshipped are you discussing? Was Athena worshipped the exact same way over the entire time she was a Big Name Goddess over in the Mediterranean? Are you sure?

The farther back in history we go, and the more ancient a deity you talk about, the harder it is for us to know all the facts, to know exactly how, when, why, what, who, and where this deity was worshipped. Historians make really, really educated guesses. But, at the end of the day, even the best historian is making an educated guess. Most of the sciences based on these kinds of guesses - we call them hypotheses. And, until we invent time travel, we cannot know for certain.

Everyone, everywhere does it all the same.

To go back to a point a couple of paragraphs above, it should be noted that even if you can nail it down and say, "Ok... I am going to worship the Nog as It was worshipped in ancient Egypt, exactly 5237 years ago." If you take even that specific of a snapshot, there's another fallacy: you're assuming everyone at that time worshipped in the same way. It's the problem of whoever happens to find themselves as being the current generation in history to assume everyone before them was simpler, that they did everything in much the same way. This is very, very true when it comes to religion/worship. If we look back at what we know of Thoth, for example, you'd get a generalized view of how the deity was typically worshipped, why, when, etc. But......

Let's put our thinking caps on for a moment. (Mine is red, if you were wondering.) If you were to take a snapshot just of September 2012 in the United States, would you get consistency of worship or understanding of deity if you were to compare folks from the west coast and east cost, north and south, midwest and big city, regarding the question: How is the Christian god worshipped? Or, even, How SHOULD the Christian god be worshipped?

Short answer: no, you would not. 

So for us to assume that we know how an entire culture worshipped a deity is a fallacy. It's plain wrong. It's oversimplifying a people who were not simple. They were just as complex as we are. (Maybe even more so, because they had to remember we have Wikipedia to remember things, and look how well that's working out.)

To Construct or Reconstruct.

Drawing it back to the modern, North American (and European to an extent) ideas of historically accurate worship of a deity whose time in the spotlight was X number of thousands of years ago. 

There are those of us that want to worship deities as closely to historical accuracy as we can manage. For those that are in this category, we (hopefully) pour over as many peer-reviewed, academic, well-sourced texts on hour deity/pantheon/culture of choice to understand not only the deities, but the cultures behind them. We endeavor to understand why these deities were needed and what their purpose and importance was to that culture. We absorb facts and dates and figures and information and try and live by it. We spend quite a lot of time scratching our heads over conflicting historical accounts and attempt to rectify modern science and knowledge with the culture under whose tutelage we find ourselves.

On the flip side, there are those that are more loose with deity. In this category, we acknowledge that notions of deity evolve over time and worry more about the experience of working with that deity than ensuring that every fact and figure be followed. We believe that the divine isn't so concerned with whether we're wearing the right thing or saying the right thing or laying our altars out in the right way. They're just concerned that we're doing it. 

When it comes to the divine, neither camp is right, and neither camp is wrong. It's impossible to tell whether the reconstructionists are doing it right and/or getting a more spiritual experience than the modern interpreters. 

But let's point fingers anyway.

The problem comes when one group points to another group, when one person calls out another person, and says 'You're doing it wrong.' The problem comes when a reconstructionist tells an interpreter that they're not properly worshipping a deity, and then attempts to make them feel bad about how they've chosen to worship. The problem is when an interpreter looks at a reconstructionist and says, "You can't know you're doing it right, so you're probably doing it wrong. You should give up." 

That's not constructive. That's not helpful. It just serves to create division in an already divided, incredibly tiny community that doesn't need anymore divisiveness. None of us are god. None of us has sat down with the divine and gotten an empirical list of do's and don'ts. (Snarky comments about your afternoon tea with the Morrigan aside, you haven't.) 

Hell, we can't even agree on the spelling for most of our deities, and we've somehow gotten over telling one another we're spelling the names wrong. Why can't we get over whether a tool dedicated to a goddess is made to standard or a candle blessed in a god's name is being burned correctly? 

So, I call out to you Reconstructionist! I challenge you, Modern Interpreter! Let it go! Lay down the snark and stop pointing fingers. Let's not rally our band of like-minded friends/followers and tell another person or group how awful they are at worshipping the divine! 

At the end of the day, we're all just guessing anyway. We're all just hoping and believing. We're taking a leap of faith in something we can't see and can't touch. We're putting the infinite in a box with a man-made name and man-made attributes. So, in a sense, one could say we're all doing it wrong. Given that...let's make the most of it, shall we?

A final note: I bet it's times and arguments like these that make the agnostic/atheist Rioters out there glad to stay in the agnostic/atheist category.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte


  1. This is exactly why I refuse to label myself other than 'eclectic'. I'm tired of all the finger-pointing. It takes time and energy away from what I'd rather be doing: nourishing my spirit.

  2. Love this. I lean towards reconstructionism, but I know that that's a misnomer - there's no way to reconstruct an ancient religion, and the deities and practices of my particular ancestors have mainly been lost in the mist (damn those oral cultures). That doesn't mean that those of us who feel called to work with spirits who say they're ancient shouldn't do research into whatever history and archeology we have access to, though.

    Every group points fingers. I do some Neo-Druidry and some stuff inspired by CR. The Druids point fingers at the reconstructionists. The reconstructionists scream insults at the Druids. The arguments they use are *exactly* the same ones the Christians use, ironically ('you're not doing what the early church did' - 'you can't know what the early church did and we're doing what's appropriate for today' - etc, etc).

    Everyone does in-group out-group boundary maintenance. I think we even do it when we refuse to participate - isn't there something inside us always saying 'We're better than this argument because we see a more realistic viewpoint'? There is for me, a lot of the time. Solution: I get back to doing what works for me.

  3. Sophia is so right in the "I get back to doing what works for me" aspect. I do too. I just cannot get caught up in all that...stuff. Maybe I am too lazy or maybe I just am too disinterested or maybe I just don't care about the arguments and the who is right.

    I feel like, in the end, if you believe in what you believe in you are whole. And so a part of the universe. so, again, whole. And really is there anything else?

    Now, about that Nog. I WANT him. LOL.


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