This isn’t really a new post, I actually wrote it a while back, just never had anywhere to post it. I had come across an article, which truthfully I found appalling. The basic theme of it was mixing and matching to create one’s own path – which on the surface is fine…let’s face it, a lot of us are Eclectic and there is nothing wrong with that. However there is a right way to be Eclectic and a wrong way to be Eclectic, and unfortunately this article contained nothing that even remotely resembled the right way.
Creating one’s own path seems like a simple enough endeavor. You find something you like and you incorporate it into your practice… Easy as pie!!! Except it’s really not that simple, and there is one very important question we need to ask ourselves before we go any further… Do I have the right to make that practice my own? – is the culture or religion that I am drawing from, open to being appropriated by outsiders, or is it a path that is restricted only to members of the culture, or those who have met certain “entry” requirements (such as initiation).
I’ve touched on it directly in a previous post, however in most cases it’s a concept that seems foreign to many Neo-Pagans. The majority of the books they have read, have not only told them that “Wicca is whatever you want it to be”, they’ve openly encouraged that we take anything and everything that “calls to us”. So it can come as a shock to find out that not only is this not true, but doing so is extremely disrespectful not only to the people who are members of the cultures and religions we are drawing from, but to the very Gods which we claim to honor.
You may ask yourself why someone would willingly do such a thing, and the answer is three-fold. One as I’ve mentioned, the average book on “Wicca” or Neo-Paganism encourages such things, and (especially when one is just starting out) the assumption is that if a book is popular, that the author must really know what they are talking about. So there is no move (in most cases) to look beyond what that author says (or to question their authority to tell us such things), and in general what is written in these books is taken at face value. Two – we live in a society where there seems to be a HUGE sense of entitlement. We feel called towards something, an idea, a place, etc… and think that because we want it, it is simply there for the taking. So we go and take it, never realizing the damage that we are doing. Third is the fact that proper Eclecticism takes time – lots and lots of time. With instant technology all around us, we often assume that we should be able have whatever we want, whenever we want it. The idea that we might have to spend years of our lives pursuing the proper knowledge and experience is completely contrary to that expectation.
Being Eclectic the wrong way is simple – it’s like going through the drive-thru at your favorite fast food place. “I’ll take Wicca with a side of Norse and Celtic please…oh wait can you throw in a bit of Shamanism as well?” However doing it the proper way is much more difficult. It can (and does) take years, of not only studying a culture or religion, but in some cases actually practicing (or joining – if such a thing is possible) as a member of said group. The first thing you have to do, as I stated in the beginning, is determine if what you are trying to appropriate is even possible – Is the culture open (like the Norse) or closed (like many of the Native American ones are)? Is it a religion that is open to everyone (like Christianity), where belief in a thing, is all that matters; or is it one that has specific initiation requirements (such as Wicca), or purity standards (such as Kemeticsm), where the required practices are (in some cases) more important than specific beliefs?
If a culture/path is a closed one – you have two basic options. The first is that even though you feel pulled in this direction, you can do nothing more than admire from afar. It would be disrespectful in the extreme to take something that you do not have the right to take, or claim to be something that you are not, and so (at least in regards to this path) your journey ends here. The second option is to pursue proper entry/initiation into the religion or culture, if such an option is available. In regards to cultures, this may not be possible, as there are many where you have to be born and raised in them, in order to be a member. In some cases you can be adopted in, but that’s likely a fairly rare occurrence.
Once you have determined if you have the right to appropriate something, that’s where the real fun begins. In order to successfully mix two (or more) paths, one must have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of that which they are trying to mix. This means that you actually have to study the culture or religion extensively, reading source texts, lore, whatever you can get your hands on. Talk to other members of said culture/religion, go to open circles, or temple meetings (if allowed), etc… This may seem like a lot, but how can you know if two things can be mixed, if you don’t know what it is you are mixing? There is nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a deity that has been taken out of context, or seeing someone who has mixed the Gods of one culture, with ones from another – with whom they were (from a historical perspective) always at war with. Not everything works well together, and if done improperly, you end up with a practice that is continually working at cross-purposes, or worse.
I noted it above as well, but since I tend to see this in relation to Wicca more often than not, I feel it’s worth mentioning it in a bit more detail as well. Each culture/religion has its own associated myths and lore. To remove a deity from its own context and try to force it to fit somewhere it doesn’t belong, is not the best way to start off a relationship. It’s rude, and disrespectful to say the least. The Wheel of the Year, relates to a specific God and Goddess – it is not ok, to randomly stick Isis, Freyja, Ra, etc… in place of the Lord and Lady. Even if one is soft polytheist, one should always be working with the Gods within their own context. On that same note being Eclectic doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to actually “mix” practices. In general there is nothing that prohibits us from practicing multiple paths, so it’s usually best to keep our practices separate anyways. If you want to follow Neo-Pagan practices and Asatru as well, that is great – but you celebrate the Sabbats on one day, and Charming of the Plow on another. If you are circling with the Lord and Lady, it’s usually not a good idea to call other deities into your circle at the same time.
If you take away nothing else from my ramblings, I would ask that you please remember this… while I can understand completely the feeling of being called by/to something, if we take something that we haven’t earned the right to, we are ultimately disrespecting that which we claim to love and honor. Life is not always quick and easy, but we come out better for it in the end if we take the time to do it properly. And with that, I’ll simply leave you with my favorite quote…
“Faith is a journey, not a destination.”