Reconstructionism is the attempt by modern peoples to reconstruct part of an ancient culture in the context of modern life. Reconstructionists rely heavily on historical materials, classical literature, and intellectual treatises to learn as much as possible about the culture or religion they wish to reconstruct.
This is quite common in Native American culture, especially the mid-Atlantic area. In this area, many Native Americans turn to history classes and anthropology classes to learn about their culture’s history and tradition. They also read eveything they can get their hands on. This is because they are separate from the culture they wish to reconstruct, much the way Celtic and Greek Recons are. We are reconstructing ancient Greek religion through history, literature, archaeology, art, etc in an attempt to worship the Greek Gods as closely as they were worshipped in ages past.
This is different from eclecticsm, another modern movement, in that it doesn’t make things up as it goes along. Eclectics mix cultures, pantheons and histories without a lot of regard for historical accuracy, while Recons are serious sticklers for historical accuracy. For example, Gardnerian Wicca allegedly holds Aradia, Cerrnunos, and Hekate as the “big three”, if you will. Aradia is Etruscan, Cerrunnos is Celtic, and Hekate is Greek. With the limited exception of those Gods adopted by the ancient Greeks and made their own, modern Recons do not accept this ideology as it recreates a system of worship as opposed to maintaining cultural accuracy. Modern Witchcraft is quite eclectic for the most part…a lot of “worship whatever Gods you want, however you want, accuracy be damned”. As a matter of fact, many fundamentalist Wiccans balk when asked to cite sources or give reasons/explanations for inaccuracies as they don’t have any.
There are several benefits to Recon as opposed to eclecticism. First of all, I personally feel the Gods better appreciate it. As separate distict entities, I somehow doubt that the modern eclectic movement pleases them. Many myths and histories have become distorted as a result of eclecticsm…this leads me to my next point. Recon is also beneficial in as far as it put me in touch with the culture which created the religion that honors my Gods. This isn’t some pseudo-mystic mumbo jumbo like that which is found in many eclectic practices….this is the religion of the ancient Greeks honoring the ancient Greek Gods I have loved for as long as I can remember. These benefits are obviously personal to me, as opposed to beneficial to the Greek Recon community as a whole, but I feel that many eclectics play act. They get an inflated sense of ego because of their initiate status, put on thier robes, call their circles, etc, without truly understanding what it all means. I have come to learn that while steeped in history and culture, Recon is a very personal experience to the extent that it tries to remain a “peoples religion”, or not focused on initiation. With the exception of certain mysteries, anyone who can read can follow this path if they so choose. You don’t have to be a third degree whatever to truly experience the religion. Plus recon emphasizes integrating daily devotions and religion into ones daily life, which is always a good thing!
The biggest problem however, is that when there are gaps in the history, we kinda have to guess what the ancient Greeks would do. Not always easy in some cases. As an example, Ares is a Patron of mine, but there is very little written about Him, and what is sucks (I’ll be blunt, lol). What this forces me to do is use a little poetic license. I know recons do not frown on that so long as one recognizes it as such, but it is a problem nonetheless. Personal gnosis is important in any religion. In some cases, it just depends on how the Gods speak to us as individuals. Obviously there are certain practices however, that are impractical. For example, I really do not have the money, strength of body (or stomach), or available space to sacrifice bulls and goats in my apartment. Not that i have a problem with this, I love meat. I ‘d probably just be in violation of several state laws and local ordinances, in addition to the cleaning costs, injuries to self, etc. But that’s ok. Our culture, which is based on Greek culture, has evolved. There are any number of things I can do instead…wine, incense and candles being my personal faves at this time. We also have to keep in mind, while ancient Greek religion was relatively civic, modern culture is very private. I don’t have a group of people to engage in ritual with, and that’s ok. It’s what in my heart that makes my faith, and all the other stuff is just an expression of that faith.