As usual in my spheroblog world, there is a larger conversation going on in my Google reader made up of seemingly unrelated posts on the Horrors of Eclecticism*. This Wild Hunt comment thread has some choice examples – one commenter describes eclectic pagans as “childish, self-centered, erratically ignorant, too busy with the trappings to bother with the substance, and lacking in seriousness about the serious things.” (to which I can only say – nuh-uh! Am not! You are! because, really, what else can you say to that… )
My opinion on the eclectics vs traditionalist argument is that it’s largely illusory and is the sort of thing people talk about in order to avoid working on their own path, whatever it is and however they settled on it. In my experience, it’s mostly the sort of thing that gets squabbled about in online forums and blogs but has no real bearing on the way people actually practice in real life. If I’m working with a group that does things one way, I’ll do it their way and be glad to take part (or not, depending,) but when I’m at home before my own altar, I’ll do it my own way. Right now, “my own way” is an eclectic mashup of practices I’ve gleaned from RJ Stewart, Orion Foxwood, JM Greer/AODA practices, Welsh folk tales, American hoodoo, the gods themselves, the fairies, and my own heretic heart. They work REALLY well for me. Amazingly stupefyingly satisfyingly well. That’s good enough for me. If they stop working I’ll look around for something else.
So. This is not a post where I defend my approach and acknowledge its shortcomings or stick up for my fellow eclecticists who may have an even more dizzying range of sources than I do. That post is certainly in my future, but this isn’t it. No, this post exists only to ask a question. The question is aimed at those who consider the eclectic approach to be the Wrong Way to Go About Things. My question is:
Who gets to be the Authority from whence Tradition is derived? I never can get an answer to this from the traditionalists. Well, I can from some of them – some shoots of paganism can point back to a founding figure or a lineage or a document that is the source of all wisdom. And that’s good as far as it goes, I guess, but where did that person get their authority? I mean the question sincerely and respectfully to anyone who considers themselves a traditionalist pagan (if any of y’all read my blog, which is probably kind of doubtful, now that I think of it) –
Who is your authority for the practices of your tradition? Why that one and no other? The answer can’t be “well, I do the practices because they work for me” or “because my heart tells me that this is the right and true way for me” – that might very well be your answer, but if it is, you’re just as eclectic as I am. What you’ve chosen to focus on is narrower than what I have chosen, but the control apparatus – the self, the heart, and divine communication – is the same. Presumably, if it stopped working or the gods guided you somewhere else, you’d follow. You eclectic pagan, you. So that can’t be it. The traditionalists who put down eclecticism seem to have something else in mind, some other authority outside the self and the gods, some other locus of control. So what is that? Where does it come from? And why that authority and not some other?**
eclectic paganism: an approach to modern paganism that focuses on what is spiritually fulfilling to the individual practitioner, where a wide variety of influences are brought together into a personal practice.
traditionalist paganism: an approach to modern paganism that focuses on established sets of practices and beliefs and emphasizes adherence to an encoded tradition.
**I mostly ask because I have never found a “tradition” of any kind that was totally satisfying for me – I always add on and tweak and whatnot until I have something that isn’t the tradition anymore. I don’t see that as a character flaw anymore because, as I said, what I do is working for me,but I’m really interested in the mindset that can go the other way. Because I don’t have it. Recently, I was reading some genealogical stuff on my ancestry and came across a reference to one of my great[n]-grandmothers, who lived in central Vermont in the mid-1700’s. All that was recorded of her, besides her name, was that she was a faithful church member who disagreed with the pastor on every occasion and kept her own eccentric religious interpretations for life. So I think it’s genetic…