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Went to Pagan Coffee Night tonight, which is always fun, and occasionally thought-provoking. Tonight it was. We were discussing Troy (which I have not seen, but several of the folks there have) and that led into discussion of the bases of reconstructionist religions--literary and archaeological evidence--and that led into a discussion of the question "If, tomorrow, new evidence turns up that is contrary to what you have known about the religion you are reconstructing, how would that affect your beliefs (and practices, presumably)?"

It's an interesting question, and we discussed it for a while. I think (although I suppose you couldn't know for sure unless it happened) that very little that could turn up would be likely to change the core of my belief, but that certainly the details would be open to reinterpretation. I think that would be the case.

I also think that such a thing would be more likely to affect those folks who take a very fundamentalist approach, such as the Edda-thumpers who consider Ragnarok to be more literal than figurative. For example, Loki: there are plenty of heathens who not only avoid dealing with Loki in their personal practice, they don't think there is a place for him in heathenry at all. The two sorts of reason I've heard for not dealing with Loki are the moral (since, if you take the lore literally, he is destined to betray the Aesir and side with the etins at Ragnarok, it is a bad idea to have any dealings with him at all) and the historical (since there is no evidence of a Loki cult in the historical record--no temples, no recorded worship, no places named for him--he was surely not a god any more than any etin and should not be treated as one). But what if evidence turned up that Loki did have a cult following--that the ancients did honor him in some fashion? Would the folks who leave the sumbel when someone toasts him have a change of heart? Or would they maintain their present position? Or would it depend on the reason they don't deal with him in the first place--might it be that the historical folks would change and the moral folks would not?

Another thought comes to mind, and that is that this sort of thing has happened in the past. Think of all the goddess-worshippers who built a theology upon the theories of Marija Gimbutas--when those theories were thrown into doubt (and they are no longer in favor among her academic community, haven't been in some time) did they abandon them? Some did, I'm sure. But you still see plenty of folks who believe in a near-Utopian prehistoric matriarchy, and take any criticism of it very poorly indeed.

Hell, think of Christianity and evolution. For a lot of people, Darwin turned their world upside down. And now? Well, more liberal Christian sects seem to have little trouble with it, finding that evolution does not conflict with or contradict their non-literal interpretation of Biblical lore. The fundamentalists, however, deny it, refuse to include it in their view of the world, and that's where "creation science" came from--because a literal interpretation of their Bible does find it to be a problem.

Very likely the same thing would happen among the recon communities if something new and surprising were to turn up.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
kai_ta_loipa
May. 20th, 2004 03:14 am (UTC)
Not just in recon communities, but in their corresponding academic circles as well -- new evidence is rarely well-received if it doesn't support that which is already accepted as Fact.
hearthstone
May. 20th, 2004 03:48 am (UTC)
That's probably true a lot of the time. And understandable. But at least the mechanism exists for change to happen in academia.
kai_ta_loipa
May. 20th, 2004 03:53 am (UTC)
This is true, though sometimes it seems as though that mechanism is nothing more than retirement of the old guard, which can take generations... when I was in geophysics, there was a research project I wanted to do that was kind of "out there", and a professor actually had the gaul to tell me that I wouldn't be taken seriously because I was 1) too young and 2) a woman.
hearthstone
May. 20th, 2004 03:13 pm (UTC)
Geez. Well, I suppose that it might help to be somewhat established in the field first (so that your peers know that you have a grasp on the existing material) but for anyone to imply that age or gender would be a factor...hm, was this character perhaps 1) old and 2) a man? :)

As for the pagans, though, I think that while recons may be no more prone to holding on to the familiar than any other group, it is probably more of an issue for them because history is more or less the basis for the religion. Not that it's the whole of it, but if someone is insisting on building their faith on disproven theories, that's a big step away from the basic principle.
kai_ta_loipa
May. 24th, 2004 09:23 pm (UTC)
hm, was this character perhaps 1) old and 2) a man?
How did you guess? ;)

I agree with you, and I like to think that most recons are intelligent enough to behave accordingly, but I also suspect that there are some who would rather deny new facts than change their ways. (As an example, though not exactly appropriate because they are not recons, the neopagans who still insist on believing in idyllic ancient matriarchal societies despite those theories being disproven.)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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