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Reconstructionism in Modern Heathenism: An Introduction

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Reconstructionism In Modern Heathenry- Josh Rood
Reconstructionism In Modern Heathenry- Josh Rood
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Date:August 5, 2014
Over the course of the last decade, the term “reconstructionism”[1] has surged forward as part of a very real movement within American heathenry[2].  The axiom of this movement has been a shift towards an approach that is quite different from those previously advocated in most mainstream circles, and it is helping to redefine and reshape heathen communities in very powerful ways.  The term “reconstructionism” did not really begin to circulate in conjunction with modern heathenry until the late 1990’s in America.  When Bil Linzie first published the article, “Germanic Spirituality” on July 11 2003 and followed it up with the first truly comprehensive analysis of reconstructionism in heathenry in 2004[3], the term was only just beginning to make headway.  Today the word is commonplace in heathen communities across the United States, and in many ways this is thanks to the research of Linzie and his contemporaries, who understood that in order for heathenry to be validated in the modern world it would need to be based upon historical reality.  Yet even with the rise of reconstructionism within heathenry and a decade of circulation, its definition and the concepts it carries with it are being stunted by misunderstandings and misrepresentations propagated by opponents and proponents alike.  The purpose of this article is to introduce a compact introduction to reconstructionism which will help dispel some of these misunderstandings and replace them with an understanding of what it really is.  It is also the intent of this article to provide the basic arguments as to why reconstructionism is an important approach to heathenism, and how this translates into the individual’s understanding of heathenry.

Before reconstructionism as it is can be discussed, some of the more prominent misunderstandings need to be addressed in order to explain what it is not.  The popular belief that reconstructionism is an attempt to recreate the “Viking world” and to recreate the objects and events associated with that is a misunderstanding which has given rise to one of the more common arguments posed against it.  That is “Ásatrúis a living breathing religion, and we should be focused on growing and developing instead of trying to go back in time or simply imitate rituals.”  The reality however, is that reconstructionism has nothing to do with ‘things’ or ‘events’.  The heathen reconstructionist should have no interest in rebuilding the “Viking world” or the “heathen way of life” as it was a millennia ago.  Certainly there are groups of modern heathens who choose to wear Viking Age garb during events and there are those that have attempted to construct particular social structures or imitate rituals exactly as they are described in history texts.  These should not be mistaken for the reconstructionism of heathenry however. That’s not what they are.  They are simply ‘things’ and ‘actions.  If reconstructionism was about imitating events, objects, or even rituals then it may well be renamed “reenactment” and it would indeed be a static and rigid pursuit.

It is also said of reconstructionism (as it pertains to heathenry) that it is the process of reconstructing an ancient heathen religion.  On the surface this would appear to be true, and it is to some degree, but this definition inherently omits any of the reality behind that process.  It fails to address exactly whatis really being reconstructed, and it neglects the process of how an individual goes about that reconstruction.  If it is a religion, then on what terms is it being reconstructed?  Is the religion being ciphered out of a vague understanding of an entirely foreign culture like broken jewelry out of sand and wired together to the shape and understanding of a modern American with a Judeo-Christian background?  If this is the case, then one cannot claim that the end result of this process is a reconstructed religion when it is