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Jul. 10th, 2008 @ 10:46 pm Cultural Fixation

I am curious what other recon groups do in regard to culture.

In CR people have been going on for years that you have to learn a language and you have to be involved in the culture (which includes use of language) but in talking with some Asatru freinds I have to wonder.  Do other recon groups fixate on the 'living culture' as much as CR?  How do other groups approach the concept that there is a living culture that is decendant from the Norse/Germanic peoples, or the Hellenes, or whichever form of recon you are.


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Date:July 11th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC)
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I'm a member of Romuva - Lithuanian Pre-Christian Faith.

We do view it as very important to understand the culture of the ancient Balts and to know the language. I am fortunate as in I am fluent in the language, having grown up with it. It is difficult to understand the religious and spiritual beliefs of a cultural group if one doesn't understand the culture itself. For Lithuanians their greatest cultural treasure is the language, so yes, it is strongly encouraged that all those involved in Romuva learn the language.
Date:July 11th, 2008 12:22 pm (UTC)
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I suppose I'm something of a moderate in that I believe you are doing yourself and your religion a disservice when you do not learn cultural context and understand the extreme importance of it. However, I also believe that Norse paganism was effectively destroyed by the advent of Christianity, and the influence is too much to ignore in any of heathenism's modern interpretations. I think the same can be true for any reconstructionist religion, which is why they are reconstructions. :) Which brings me back to another reason it's so very important to study and live the religion as much as possible. At the same time, I'm quite content to enjoy some of the more pleasant aspects of modernity, such as equal rights for women, and I have no desire to bring back some aspects of Norse/Germanic culture that were prevalant back in the day.
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Date:July 11th, 2008 01:11 pm (UTC)
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Agreed, with my own twist. My family is Swedish on both sides and my mother came to the US when she was 21, so I grew up with a LOT of Swedish/Scandinavian culture and even know the language some. I think one of the reasons why some recons may fixate on the culture is due to a lack of a cultural identity when growing up. My take on it is this: yes, I'm Swedish, I know what it means, but it's not the alpha and omega for me.

I'm also Kemetic Orthodox, and in the House of Netjer there is a strive to understand both ancient and modern Egyptian culture, since you can still see some of the influence of the worship of Netjer in Egyptian Islam and Coptic Christianity. Then again I also think there are very few in the House who have Egyptian ancestry, and thus it's less of a concern than in, say, Asatru or CR.
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Date:July 11th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
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All cultures are fluid, those that survive are the ones that are not static. I take the same approach with regards to my Baltic Faith. There are certain mod-cons which I cannot live without, like a stove.

I think that a successful approach is a moderate one, with an understanding and love of the culture from which the religion/spirituality arose from and how it can be maintained as a living tradition in today's modern western world.

But I do believe that at the heart of it all is the understanding of the cultures from which our respective spiritual/religious paths sprang from. I cannot fathom following Romuva without understanding the culture -- i.e., why do we pray to Saule on a certain day? why is amber so important to Baltic women, and so forth. Cannot practice a religion in a vacuum -- the rich cultural tapestry is needed.
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Date:July 11th, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)
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I study both Old Norse and Old English as well as listen to FOlk music from both cultures. I research old recipes and (attempt;>) to grow crops familiar to my Ancestors. I Judge UPG by whether it is at least in the Spirit of the Surviving material. I Avoid conspiracy theories such as Christian Mystics knowingly changing Lore to Prevent pre-C Pantheons from conquering them.
I do not assume that all European CUlture is derived from Christianity either....
Date:July 11th, 2008 04:16 pm (UTC)
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I'd say it's not a big issue for most Hellenic polytheists. Sure, there is a living culture in Greece, but it is 99.9% Orthodox Christian, and the people aren't all direct descendants of the ancient Greeks anyway, from what I understand. Most of them don't want to be associated with the ancient religion, so why would I be overly concerned about them? I think it's useful to learn ancient Greek language, but have no reason to learn the modern Greek language (other than traveling to Greece on pilgrimage). Things might be quite different for those Hellenic polytheists who are actually of Greek descent or live in Greece currently, but for me it's mostly a non-issue. The only exception maybe being my interest in the Greek folk customs of the past couple hundred years, which seem to show some survivals from ancient polytheism - but again, that doesn't require me to become absorbed in the modern culture.
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Date:July 13th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
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Well just to prove that Hellenes don't agree about anything, ever...

There is a wide spectrum of response about this in the Hellenic Recon community. There are two people in our community who used to wrap themselves in the modern Hellenic flag, and insist the rest of it recognize Hellas as the fatherland, learn modern Greek, one of them went out of her way to date Hellenes, and I think she still has plans to try to become a Hellenic national.

The flag of Hellas has a big white cross in the middle, so some of us didn't go along with it.

I know other people, who have made connections with Hellenic nationals, go over and visit and worship with them, etc. Others hope to make those friendships and try to learn modern Greek.

Most of us are suckers for the Hellenic festivals, even when held on church grounds.

As to ancient culture? I think for a lot of us, we didn't just get hooked by the gods, some of the art or culture intrigued us. It's hard to tease out the passionate history major's keen interest from religous questions at time. For example, a big picture book I scored on a child's life in southern Greece had some interesting insights into menstruation (and nursing) which is relevant to miasma.

When I became president of Hellenion, I shifted along the spectrum of response. Sure, I have an uphill struggle learning languages, and am painfully aware I was butchering the Attic pronunciations of things. (Thus I keep the linguists on Spoken_Attic very real). So modern Greek? blarg! low return on investment. The land may house our oldest temenous, but other than that.... why bother? The vocal Hellenic nationals who pop up on our lists are kinda hard to work with. (rather shrill)
Once president of Hellenion, I realized if there really are 5,000 practicing Hellenic nationals.... it's tragic I can't converse with them. The worlds just roll off my daughter's tounge, so I joke I am going to get her to learn Greek and be my translator.

Recently there was a huge uproar in our community over a mis-translated word. An ancient text should have been translated with Attic, but koine was used instead. "falling short of the mark" was translated as "sin". For a lot of scholars, it's giant "who cares" and was published in an academic journal. An essay on sin was writen, and the author didn't want to back off the essay with an "opps" despite heaps of people saying "hey! we know you didn't make the translation", and an abundance of evidence that it's a concept foriegn to ancient Hellenic religion. Those of us who have studied the culture, lifted a huge eyebrow at the translation, and took it back to the translator.... hence the mistake caught.
My point in mentioning this is that sometimes knowledge of the pre-Christian culture and language really does pay off.
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Date:August 3rd, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
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Rather late posting to this, but I'm fairly new, so forgive me.

Understanding the culture, including how it's evolved, I feel is an essential component to being a recon. As an Aztec Reconstructionist, there really isn't much choice in the matter since cultural norms and beliefs revolving around fate, death and divine involvement in even painful aspects of life have direct roots in Precolumbian cosmovision. Even with syncratic Christian practices in rural areas of Mexico, the pessimistic worldview held by modern Mexican indigenous groups directly mirrors Late Postclassic primary sources in tone and scope. And, while it's one thing to read about it, its another to read an academic survey from only 20 years ago that demonstrates that the same ideals are in place 500 years later.

Although I will say that much of the original Aztec culture has been destroyed, it's very essential that the ethnographic accounts of modern Nahuatl speaking people is taken into consideration. While I suppose it's possible to reconstruct a religion based entirely on primary source material and archaeological interpretation, that, in itself, is missing half of the picture. Likewise, reconstructing an old religion based on hard evidence alone also overlooks the human component present in the living religion, even though what remains may or may not resemble the predecessor in any manner. I feel it's incredibly important to pay attention to the living religion, however it's equally important to understand that what is living now most likely isn't the same as it was back in the day.

The truth is, most Recons, regardless of faith, did not grow up in the culture where their religion comes from. Some have, but most haven't. One of the problems Aztec Recons deal with fairly frequently are American born and raised people of Mexican decent who genuinely think they know how things go down in rural Mexico though they've never been there, and even 500 years ago in Tenochtitlan, based on genetics alone. It's hard to explain to these people that DNA doesn't dictate knowledge, nor does it give them the prospective of a rural Mexican growing up submerged in the culture. The same goes from some Asatru I've talked to. So, really, I think this is a problem for Recons across the board to one degree or another; people who seem to think that genetic heritage equals actual cultural equivalent, even when they grew up a world away in a completely different environment.

Well, since we didn't grow up in the culture most likely, what do we do? I'm an anthropologist who specializes in the areas of my religion, so the answer is pretty easy for me. I don't have a choice but to learn Spanish and, eventually, even modern Nahuatl. Most likely, I'll be forced to learn some Mixtec, too. But, even if I live down there for the rest of my life, I'll never fully understand. However, I can grow to better appreciate the living culture the best I can and, when that culture presents me with something that is pertinent to my religion, I will have the tools to reasonably use it in my Reconstionist practices to fill in a blank, elaborate on an old belief, or otherwise make use of it. However, most recons aren't in the position I'm in. While I don't think speaking the language is as important as understanding it as a linguist would (ie. understanding why some words exist and others don't) I do feel that modern ethnography should be read so that you at least get a feeling for how the religion changed and/or stayed the same. While not everyone can submerge themselves in the culture, everyone can pick up several books, read them and, despite researcher bias, get a general idea for the modern people and how they relate to the past.

Just my long two cents.