“Breaking Tradition” is Redundant

September 14, 2018 at 12:02 am 1 comment

This is Part 2 of Modernity vs. Tradition in the Topics in Polytheism series. The previous part was about the concept of Modernity.

When I see historically informed Pagans & polytheists talking about breaking with tradition, or reclaiming/going back to tradition or being a traditionalist, they really need to clarify what they mean. Which tradition, how do you define what it is, or is it really just your projected idealized concept of Ye Olden Days? Which parts of Ye Olden Days, be they real or imagined are you trying to revive? An ecological matriarchy? Feudalism & monarchy? Gender roles & family structures? Food & clothing and other necessities that you & your village grew & made yourselves? Which parts of postmodern life & thought are you considering to be not authentically spiritual/culturally pure enough in the Decline/Decadent/Degenerate Formerly Great White West?

It’s OK if there’s some romanticism and nostalgia mixed in with other motivations, I admit that’s the case for myself. It’s just important that we admit it & examine our biases critically. I’ve long ago accepted that my religious-cultural reclamation and revival projects would always entail a long list of problematic faves. Every individual and group will need to decide what we are comfortable with, and where we draw the lines.

Even before we talk specifically about polytheistic religions, just with my cultural upbringing there are so many layers of tradition broken long before I was born, and my inherited culture is a patchwork quilt, as it is with most other Americans, and many of them inherit far more frayed and tattered quilts than I do, many with the trauma of colonialism, genocide, slavery and war.

Many people who started the country in the first place wanted to return to an idealized & likely non-existent original pure version of Christianity. Or they were radicals trying to break away from traditional social/economic/political structures. Or some combination of the two, like the Quakers.

There’s being from the Western United States specifically, having that conscious sense of being different from the East, a tendency towards informality, it’s an accelerated version of some general American tendencies of rugged individualism. It reminds me a lot of the assumptions certain American Heathens make about self-reliance, like they are project Thoreau back into the Eddas. Many of those notions are in fact, quite wrong, lots of collaboration was needed between pioneers and yes sometimes with American Indians- most of such interactions were negative, but some were positive or at least neutral. Likewise, an individual surviving on their own in Viking Era Scandinavia is highly unlikely, in fact abandoning criminals in wilderness was a standard punishment. I think what they really mean is a local community striving towards self-sufficiency and each person pulling their own weight. But I’m not Heathen so I won’t further try to decode their intent.

At any rate, as the child of liberal Baby Boomers from long assimilated families, most traditions are long gone and not passed down to me. Even in the case of both sets of my grandparents, several of them moved or had parents that had moved from another part of the country (or in my grandfather’s case, from Canada) so their roots in the area weren’t very deep. And all of them had the major disruption of World War II. Much as we Yanks might idealize how much easier it would’ve been to have been born or raised in the lands of our gods’ origins, for most Europeans of course both World Wars were huge disruptions that caused huge changes in what even Americans think of as “European-ness” and related ethnic nostalgia. Not that it’s really one big cultural blob, but just for simplicity’s sake. So we’ve all inherited different sets of mis-matched cultural & spiritual furniture and dishes.

Relevant older posts of mine for additional context/clarification:

Reconstructionism and American Culture

Authenticity: What’s Traditional Anyway?


Entry filed under: American, Topics in Polytheism. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

Topics in Polytheism: Race/Ethnicity Diasporan Song and Story

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Melas the Hellene  |  September 14, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for raising this question of great importance. When I chose the title of ” traditional polytheist” and first began to promote what may be called “traditional polytheism”, I sought to distinguish it from movements of polytheism which I believed were too grounded in the present modern framework of thought as well as culture and therefore not concerned enough with ancient tradition in general. This might sound rather vague (I grant you that) if you try to examine the position more closely in its details. I am well aware of the multiplicity of “traditions” that have existed during polytheism’s long history as well as later. What I aimed at, and still do, is the discovery and promotion of a purer form of polytheism that lacks substantial influence from monotheism and modernism together with other older defective systems and ideas (imperialism, philosophy, etc) that led to that decline. Now I have long been in deep reflection about what period of polytheism’s history provided the most favorable and balanced form of polytheism—it is a topic I’m still delving into and a rather arbitrary one, you might say. You’ll probably wonder at the same time why I’m grounding polytheism into the past so much rather than the current time we are alive in. My answer would only be this: I believe sincerely and strongly that polytheism in itself (correctly and originally practiced) is inseparably connected to the social and cultural milieu of ancient times and thus seriously incompatible with what I call “modernity”. Again, this is an arbitrary position on my part, you might say, but it is one I’m certainly willing to maintain, defend and promote with good reasons. I am considering writing a new series about the history of the decline of polytheism, which will be explaining my very complex position on this point further.


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