If you know anything about me, you know that while I support reconstruction of pre-Christian religions, such as Celtic Reconstruction, Heathenry, Hellenic Reconstruction, and yes, even PIE Reconstruction, I don’t participate in them. There are a few reasons for this. The first and simplest reason is that this is not that time period. I find it fallacious that people assume they can reconstruct a religion from a thousand or more years ago and still have it be completely relevant to the modern era. Now, I’m not just talking ritual and pantheon reconstruction, I’m also talking about beliefs and practices, which sometimes includes prejudices and problems which do not match modern sensibilities. I’ve talked about ergi before, and how this aspect of Germanic society has impacted American society, but this is only one of many problems with trying to reconstruct an ancient religion in a modern society. What do you keep in? What do you leave out? What do you push for in the legal system, and what makes sense to leave behind?
Mind! I am not saying that my good buddy Magni and his Kindred hate gays or anything like that. What I am saying is that Reconstruction is hard to get right, and while the work may be worthwhile for some, I feel that for me, revival is a better use of my time. My first experiences with the Celtic Reconstruction community were especially disappointing: there were no issues with modern sensibilities clashing with the Reconstructionists’ attitudes, but the religion itself seemed dead, an extended thought exercise rather than a rebuilt, living tradition. When you spend more time arguing about whether a God or Goddess had this or that aspect than praying and meditating on that deity, I feel that something is wrong. It happens to a lesser extent in the Heathen community, especially where Freyja is concerned: the camps of War Aspect versus No War Aspect have gotten into heated debates when it has come up. Northern Tradition Shamanism, brought up at Heathen gatherings, will also spark long debates from time to time, especially about the gender of certain Jotuns such as Laufey.
With that in mind, I delve into some of the primary issues I have with Ceisiwr Serith’s Deep Ancestors, as well as what I intend to do or not do about them.
Gender roles are all well and good when speaking about the past. I am one of the first to admit that gender roles have been a huge aspect of religion and culture in several regions, Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, and Proto-Indo-European. The differences noted between male and female, as well as the ideals of right and wrong in the society, are part of the structure upon which that society is based. I get that. Yet, it seems to me that those among the academic and Reconstruction communities tend toward an attitude that basically amounts to, “If it was good for people hundreds or thousands of years ago, it should be good enough for people today.”
Serith points out a couple of these gender roles, not as something that was done in the past, but as something that the Wiks (village, church, local worship group) should assume. The first of these is the Reks, or “chieftain.” The office is largely ceremonial; it must be a male, and he even admits the office can be removed from any administrative duties. Okay, that’s fine. Then he moves on to the Fire Tender. The Fire Tender, should be, in order of preference: Wife of the Reks, unwed woman of marriageable age, a younger girl, a married woman, a boy, a single man, or a married man. [Serith, 104-5] Okay, so I an issue with how this is written up: Either something must be of a specific gender or it need not be of a specific gender. In the domestic cult chapter, Serith says, “The oldest woman in the family, the matr, is the tender of the hearth… she is responsible for the cult of Westya, assisted by the other women and girls in the family… Her role as keeper of the hearth makes her a very powerful figure: the true family altar is the hearth.” [Serith, 98] This makes it sound like the role of matr, as Fire Tender of the home, is no more changeable in gender than the Reks in the context of the Wiks. I understand the concept behind it, and the importance of it, but the author is essentially saying, “You cannot worship these Gods and work within this religion IF…” You apparently don’t need a female in the group to work PIE religion, but you damn well better have a man! *sighs in frustration*
For myself, in this case, I will be working on my own except for specific circumstances, so this really isn’t an issue for me in terms of actual practice. I don’t need a Reks, as I have no Wiks. If my gender-sliding isn’t enough for Westya, it isn’t like I have a “woman of the household” to turn to. I am going to speak with Westya and Dyeus Pter, if possible, to figure out the actual validity of rigid gender roles in a modern day revival of their faith.
This is partially interpretation on my part, as I haven’t actually ever spoken with Ceisiwr on the subject, but for a book “not written for those [i.e., Proto-Indo-European] scholars,” many of my compatriots in the Pagan community have said the book was “too dry” for them. I daresay that, unless you are already excited about the subject, as I was, it would be difficult for you to get through the book. On the one hand, yes, I do expect research to back up what you are putting forth. I expected a bit of academic jargon and dancing around to get to the point. On the other hand, one’s rituals should stir emotions, connect with the reader on some level other than academic. This book is published by the organization started by a guy who wrote an entire book dedicated to better ritual writing. This guy did more than just meet Isaac Bonewits, he worked with him, so I admit to being a bit disappointed in that respect. I admit, too, this is written before I have performed any of these rites, so I might be speaking hastily.
However, there are points of reason to my assessment. For example, I have already stated my love for PIE word reconstructions. Some of them are explanatory of things that English has no equivalent concept of. On the other hand, there is a reason why Martin Luther lobbied for the Bible to be written in other languages than Latin, and supported a German Mass: sometimes, foreign words get in the way of proper ritual practice, rather than enhancing it.
There is also the length of the rituals to consider. The longer a ritual lasts, the harder it is to maintain participants’ attention. I am not implying that we should cater to the lowest common denominator in terms of attention span, but the sheer length of the rituals (a ritual for purification, plus creating sacred space, plus preliminary rites, plus the seasonal rite, plus any particular workings) may cause issues.
For my performance of rites, I will start with the prescriptions in the book, if only because they give a foundation from which to work from. Where they do not work, I’m going to have to use my own experience in writing liturgy to modify or recreate aspects which don’t work well in ritual, or which run too long.
Neither of these issues are major obstacles, yet, so in the long run, this may be just acknowledgement of things that bug me more than important theological debating. However, the issues are presented here so that, if they do become serious problems, I know where and when they started.
- Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, by Ceisiwr Serith.
ADF Publishing, Tuscon, AZ Lughnasadh 2009 pp. 104-105
- Ibid. pp 98