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Reconstructionists and Traditionalists
Jul. 10th, 2008 @ 10:46 pm
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August 3rd, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
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.