(E) Eclecticism Within Neo-Paganism

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.”


23 thoughts on “(E) Eclecticism Within Neo-Paganism

  1. Pixie says:

    I agree that Eclecticism takes time to build up your own path. This is why when someone shouts from the rooftops they’re eclectic I tend to keep a distance until I’ve been able to suss out what they’re getting at. Most Neo-Pagans are really eclectic, we take bits and pieces of other cultures, other people’s rituals, gods and goddesses we often were not raised in and create our own rituals and beliefs. This is true for the most part across the board among those who say they’re Eclectic or not. I think though that it’s always good to remind people to be mindful about the things they take: be sure it’s a good fit, it’s right to take, and compatible with whatever is already working for you.

  2. Adrian Hawkins says:

    I think the difference you are getting at is the difference between being Eclectic and Syncretic.

    Eclectic puts everything in a room and calls it theirs.

    Syncretic puts everything in the room and makes some new out of it, that is wholely their own.

  3. […] It can definitely be confusing when one is first starting out, especially if one is going a more eclectic route, rather than looking to study within a specific tradition. In many ways being eclectic is actually the more difficult path, as you end up having to study a wide variety of cultures and traditions in an in-depth manner, rather than just focusing on one. For some things to consider when forming your eclectic practice, I would suggest reading Eclecticism Within NeoPaganism. […]

  4. deryckrj says:

    Thank you for this and the previous article you referenced. I enjoyed reading them very much.

  5. […] of paths out there, as well as the potential to choose an Eclectic path (which requires quite a bit more work than one would think), it can also be fun to learn about the different cultures and practices […]

  6. This piece is educational, based in merit and truth. I respect and regard this piece with helpfulness and light.
    Thank you-Nicole

  7. Dwarsdeur Antonia says:

    Wow. Judgy and self important… Won’t be sourcing information from here again.

  8. Brina says:

    I’m afraid this leaves me even more confused than ever, because now I have absolutely no idea where to start and settle down. I’ve been wandering around since I was 15, reading more than anything else, interacting…and just when I’ve begun to feel a draw, I’m now told that I may have to drop that lead where it starts.

    It’s very disheartening for someone who has been a seeker for so long.

    • Sephira says:

      What are you feeling draw to?

      • Brina says:

        I feel an equal draw to Buddhism and Celtic, not to fully settle, but parts of both paths appeal to me, because I feel they’d help me grow. Also, I have a huge attachment to the deities involved

      • Sephira says:

        I totally apologize for not replying to this sooner. Somehow, I missed it.

        Being drawn to multiple paths and multiple Gods is fine. Many people practice different things separately, without a need to combine them. Buddhism, in particular, is pretty open (or at least some paths of it are). There are many ways to incorporate Buddhist principles into one’s daily life and still cultivate a rewarding Pagan practice.

        “Celtic” Paganism is a bit more complicated. The term “Celtic” refers to a linguistic grouping, rather than one specific culture. So there are multiple religions/cultures that get lumped into “Celtic” even though they are distinct, individual (for example: Welsh, Scottish, or Irish). So figuring out which one, in particular, can be a little daunting. There are, however, Celtic Reconstruction paths, which can be a good place to start.

      • Brina says:

        However, I’m still rather lost on where to go, honestly. Another reason why I may be so discouraged. I have many people in the community to help, but I don’t believe any are really right for me as instructors or mentors, so I’m kinda alone. And books are always so contradicting because everyone is different. It’s just hard to find a good, neutral, objective starting point.

    • Luna says:

      Brina- don’t listen to haters trying to discourage you by their snobbery! This is not some VIP members only club! The beauty of Wicca is that you can create your own custom experience. Why not order a side of Celtic with your Buddhism, if that’s what YOU feel drawn too? Start by learning as much as you can about the customs you are most attracted to. Read !! not just one author, but as many as possible! Then you will come to your own conclusions about whether it’s right for you! Your spiritual path is yours and YOURS alone! I choose to be solitary because I don’t want people telling me what to do! Do what’s right for you so long as u harm none! Daily meditation, studying and getting out in to nature are my recommendations to start… I also recommend any Scott Cunningham and Amber K. Remember, never just blindly believe what someone tells you. Research multiple sources first, then make your own informed decision.

      • Sephira says:

        No one is hating on anyone. And no one is saying that you CAN’T do something. The point – which you obviously missed – was to make sure that it’s an open tradition that can be taken from, and then do so (if you feel called to) in a way that respects the tradition being pulled from. If it’s a closed tradition, one’s options are simply a little more limited. Again, not that there isn’t a way to do it, it just takes a LOT more work. Eclecticism done properly isn’t easier. Honestly, it’s a lot harder. Anyone can slap shit together and call it a practice, and maybe it will even work for you, but doing so in a way that doesn’t honor the traditions one is pulling from is very disrespectful. But hey, if that’s the sort of relationship you want to have with your gods, that’s between you and them.

        Scott Cunningham, in particular, is just fine as a source. Keep in mind though, what is in his books (even though it’s labeled “Wicca”) is actually his own Standing Stones witchcraft tradition, and that none of his books contain any of the oathbound core portions of Traditional Wicca. I remember liking Amber K’s “Covencraft” well enough, but also what she talks about is also religious based witchcraft (and indeed her current website bio doesn’t even mention the word “Wicca” anywhere).

  9. Theresa says:

    I am also very new even though I feel it has been where I should have been all my life. It is very hard to know the right thing to do. I have read many, many books, and yes, they all say their way is the right way, yet all very different. Any further advise or direction is greatly appreciated.

    • Sephira says:

      Further advice would really depend on what exactly you are looking to do. So if you can let me know more about what you are interested in specifically, I can try to point you in a direction. For questions others have asked, you can always browse through the answers given here as well.

  10. Cailin Gavlik says:

    I wanted to thank you for your information. I am, and have been, wandering about for many years but now I am trying to a path that is home. I am well aware of closed religions and never drew interest in them, but what I have been wondering so much about is differentiating what is interesting to you vs what actually calls, and how, is possible could things be mixed. For example, I have always adored ancient Egypt and in particular liked Anpu/Anubis specifically, but as I got older I grew highly interested in learning about the Celtic and Norse deities. The last thing I ever wish to do is be disrespectful and I want to build as proper of a foundation for my spiritual home as possible. (Added: A am also starting my path into Witchcraft but I know that is not a religious act in itself. I am also about to look at the link you provided for Celtic Reconstruction Paths.)

    • Sephira says:

      Differentiating what is interesting to you vs what actually calls: In some cases, it can be fairly easy to differentiate – because the call is so strong you just can’t ignore it. I’d been interested in Norse mythology for years and had a certain fondness for some of the Gods, but it wasn’t something that I ever put any serious effort into (and still am not Heathen by any means), but one day I read something about a particular Norse Goddess, and it was like being hit over the head with a hammer. Almost instantly I felt called to do something pretty specific in relation to honoring her. I tried to brush it off, because I’m not that great at keeping up with stuff sometimes – not to mention this was a deity I knew next to nothing about (and there’s not much lore to go on anyways). But the thought wouldn’t go away. Day after day, until finally I was like… ok you win. And that was 3+ years ago and I still honor her and that’s my tale of being smacked over the head by the Gods.

      Unfortunately, it’s not always crystal clear like that. A lot of times, the call is subtle and can be mistaken for simple interest in something, or we can mistake general interest for a true calling. In either case though, I think the answer is kind of the same – pursue what interests you (in a respectful way). Meditate on it, talk to the Gods (if they are involved), and see what sticks. And the truth is, and this is why it’s always a good idea to be very careful how one words a dedication or vow to a god/ess, sometimes as we journey through life, our priorities change, and the call of one path may end up being stronger than the one we are currently on. It is in the nature of things to change, so it’s ok to research and study new things as time goes on. All we can do is try our best to figure it all out.

      how is possible could things be mixed: As to mixing, some people are better able than others to find ways of mixing cultures and pantheons, and if you (or they) are able to do that in a way that is respectful, more power to you. Personally, I think mixing and matching is pretty difficult to do the right way, and so in most cases it’s just easier to maintain separate practices. Because in most cases, attempting to force deities of one culture into the practices of another just doesn’t work out so well.

      So if you feel called to particular Egyptian deities, then you can create a practice that centers around those deities. And if you are called to other deities (Norse or Celtic or both, etc…), then you would create practices for those as well. Then it just comes down to putting together a workable ritual calendar, so you don’t get overwhelmed. So if you celebrate the Wheel of the Year (for example), then outside of those days, you might have different days for honoring your Egyptian Gods and then another set of days for honoring your Norse ones. Because in most cases, even if you might be celebrating something similar (say a harvest day, for example) how each culture did that may be vastly different, so you still probably wouldn’t want to try to call all the Gods into the same circle. I mean, some people are able to do this, but my personal perspective on that, is just that there are a lot of things that can go wrong, so why risk it?

      Witchcraft: Witchcraft, though in and of itself, not religious – it’s your practice so you can make your witchcraft as religious (or non-religious) as you want it to be. Many cultures have their own magical practices, so that’s always something to look into as well.

      • Cailin Gavlik says:

        I am thankful for your insight, particularly with your example and your response to my second question!
        When I say mixing, I didn’t mean conducting a ritual with all involved. I was just curious if it was okay to worship specific deities, on their own terms, while also wishing to do so for others! This is in part to my being hesitant to align myself with a strict religion/single pantheon when my interests are generally more on specific deities, or how time might change my feelings. This is all while being mindful of the different cultural importance such may hold. I also worry about this though (worshiping specific deities and not fully dedicating myself to a sect) for it might come off as appropriative? I could be still misinformed, as there is just so much information to try and go through. (Such as how some Celtic revivals of Irish and Scottish takes do have some Norse mixed in due to cultural mixing, or maybe some people only focus on a few select deities in their practice despite a large pantheon??)
        It is all just so much to think through, but I greatly appreciate your patience in helping others with their questions! I am very new to all this, and it is as exciting as overwhelming!

  11. Sephira says:

    As long as you are honoring your deities in a way that is acceptable to them, you should be fine. As I mentioned I’m not Heathen, even though the Goddess I feel primarily called to is of the Norse pantheon. But in general, if you aren’t called to a particular path/religion, that’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing that says you have to honor all the Gods/esses, though in some cases, you may find that even if you are only called to a particular one, associated ones tend to come along for the ride sometimes, just by virtue of their own relationships with the God/ess you are honoring. That doesn’t mean you have to fully take on honoring/worshiping them as well, but it’s a good idea to at least acknowledge them from time to time, rather than totally ignore them.

    In terms of how you honor said deity, traditional methods are, not necessarily “best” – but almost always a good starting off point, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way. I don’t honor my Goddess within context of Heathen ritual – I’ve taken what historical lore (not much at all) there is and the few bits of UPG that I have (and that others have had that syncs up with what I feel) and have created an e-shrine and a system of service/support (of sorts) that fits with who she is – things that she holds dear or is said to be a Goddess of. It’s hard to explain, but nonetheless it’s definitely not a traditional way of honoring the Gods in any way. But it’s what she asked me to do, so I do it. The best thing to do is talk to your Gods and ask them how to best honor them and/or try different things and see what pleases them and what doesn’t.

    Traditions and cultures that have some historical mixing, and especially if you can find written records of how those practices were conducted are good to look into. I think too though, and I know this is true during some eras of Christian conversion – many people embraced the newer culture, while still adhering to many of their old practices. So they would go to church, but then still have household shrines (in secret if necessary) to their own Gods.

    It all can be very overwhelming sometimes, and I think there is a tendency for those of us who are just starting out to feel a sense of urgency – like OMG I need to know everything as soon as possible. Or that we aren’t learning what we need to fast enough. But I would caution us all to slow down.

    One of my favorite sayings is: Faith is a journey, not a destination. It’s our experiences that shape what we know (in addition to the book learning we do), so take the time to have those experiences. Sometimes the path we are taking ends up being the wrong one, or not so much that it’s wrong, but as we go, there is another path that we come across that pulls our attention to it and the call to explore the new one is stronger than the call to keep our feet on the known-path. There’s comfort in sticking to a path we’ve been on for a while, but if we never check out the side routes, we might never discover things we’ve been missing out on either.

    The point is if you are feeling overwhelmed, slow down a bit. You have plenty of time to figure out what works best for you.

  12. […] Also, there is nothing that says you have to have a particular “branch” of magic. Witchcraft is just witchcraft. There may be some things that you feel called to work with more specifically, but that is just personal choice. There’s no reason not to study and use whatever interests you (assuming it’s not something that belongs to a closed culture/religion – in which case you need to make sure you are not appropriating something you don’t have a right to) […]

  13. […] speaking, as long as the cultures/religions you are looking to pull from aren’t closed ones then you are fine to create your own eclectic path from them. The key of course, is to make […]

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