I am not a reconstructionist.
There. I said it. I feel better now, I think.
I was strongly drawn to reconstructionism in the beginning. It seems so academic. (The fact that most academics would find what reconstructionists do rather… inaccurate and confusing, is an entirely different issue.) It seems so clear. Got questions about a deity? The answers are out there, waiting to be uncovered by (usually amateur) archeologists/linguists/folklorists/mythicists.
Except they aren’t. And I feel, increasingly, that this is not a way to do religion or spirituality.
I love looking for clues in the stories of the land. My deities can all be spotted there, or at least, shadows of them – including Baoi (Beara), Dovinia/Duibhne (of the Corca Dhuibhne people), and the Three Sisters (Lasair, Latiaran and Gobnait-who-is-sometimes-Inghean Buidhe-or-sometimes she’s-one-of-the-others-and-sometimes-she’s-Crobh-Derg). But they are, as you can see even when I just try to say their names, not all that easy to pin down. The Three Sisters are deeply rooted in the land around Cork and Kerry, and if you ask the locals about St Latiaran, they will know who you mean, and they will tell you stories about her that you’ve never heard before. But these deities also have precedents across the water and across Ireland. Does that make them any less local? No. It makes them a far bigger mystery than they first seem. The clues are there, but they will slip out of your hands when you try to grasp them.
I’m getting tired of other deities being conflated with mine, and ‘texts’ (medieval ones) being used to ‘prove’ things about them to me. I’m tired of being asked to believe that romantic stories are a record of historical belief. There are many ways to do reconstructionism, which is a method, not a religion. But I think that most of those ways are flawed. If we start looking for a ‘pure’ truth about our gods and the ‘culture’ that they came from, we’ve already lost ourselves to ideologies of purity and nationalism that worry me immensely. Which isn’t to say that pride in one’s cultural origins isn’t a thing. Just that we have to play very carefully with it.
My gods cannot be imprisoned by words on a page. They emerge from the land, and from my relationship with them. Anything else is a beautiful puzzle that will never be solved, a mystery that you could chase forever. It’s a beautiful mystery, but it is not for chaining down in words or creeds. The fairytales of others are not our religious source material. And we certainly shouldn’t be saying how those others get to use them.*
[*This comment comes from a depressing response I saw from some reconstructionists on the subject of modern druidry in Ireland and whether it is acceptable or not…]
It’s modern folk belief that I’m interested in now. That which those who live in the lands of my goddess believe about her, and that which those who have taken her stories elsewhere believe in her. That’s far closer to what she is than a medieval poem about one of her many past lives, before had she turned to stone and returned to life a thousand times. Those stories can be beautiful inspiration, but only land and relationship (with gods and with people) can bring me closer to who she really is. And in that, bring me closer to who I am.
It’s the beginning of the week leading up to Latha na Callich, a Scottish folk acknowledgement of the Cailleach. Not my Cailleach, because how can your god ever be the same as my god, when we are not the same? But it’s a day that Baoi is OK with me, personally, using to acknowledge her. Annually, this my Holy Week. Beginning the week before, on St Patrick’s Day, I cover my head, sit at my shrine, and listen. I’ll have a bonfire in the garden this week, to honour St Lasair of County Cork, who I consider a deity of early spring (late though I am with her commemoration). I will ask what the Forgotten Gods want me to do in the world this year, as the sun returns.
And that’s why I am a Druid. Because these are new ways, not old ways. We are the priests of forgotten people and forgotten gods, and we will never re-member them as they once were. We can only re-member them into new forms, new myths, new ways. If I start thinking I can tie them down with words and creeds and literalist stories, then I have lost my way. And only the land and its spirits can bring me back to myself.
I’m taking my mother and my grandmother to Cork this summer. My grandmother hasn’t been back for years, and I think she’s looking forward to going back and seeing family (though it’s really hard to tell with her!) My relationship with that land is ongoing, but distant. I’m a foreign cousin who comes and goes, not a daughter of the land. The relationship that those who live there have with that land, and with its goddess, is totally different from the relationship of us as visitors or observers of it. We don’t know all the secrets that they know. We don’t know all the stories that they know. We don’t know all the alleys leading down to the sea, and all the rocks on the shore, and all the dark hills rising above, and all the little villages hugged by the embrace of a mountain goddess. And that’s fine, and good, and right. We are all shaped by the lands, cultures and lives we experience ourselves, today. There’s some Irish diasporic in me, but there’s more modern British melting-pot and cheerful London sprawl. There are many ways to know and encounter gods and spirits. They’re pretty big, really, and they contain multitudes.
For now, I’ll be here – right here, where I am. Back being an urban druid, in a modern world. A druid shaped by many landscapes, including (but not limited to) the stones and concrete of London, the deep green of the Derbyshire hills, the mystical shores and mountains of the Beara peninsula, the ordinariness of the Torquay seafront, and (grudgingly) maybe even the dusty desert towns of Israel.
And may the gods and spirits of all these lands walk with me.