There is a basic, fundamental problem with reconstruction.
At best, we have a pile of cracked bricks.
We don’t know what the bricks originally built, really. We have some ideas, scraps of plans here and there, stories about how it was done Back Then, and a whole lot of theories, but fundamentally we have a pile of bricks.
And a pile of bricks is not a terribly satisfying or useful edifice, so of course we want to build something with that pile of bricks. So we sketch out a notion of what the construction project is, we pack up our bricks, we mix up a bucket of mortar, and …
… well, where did we get the mortar from?
There are times I feel that reconstruction is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster process. All these sewn-together dead bits, looking for the spark of life to make it sit up again and praying that it doesn’t spin out of control because it’s a bit of a misshapen mess.
So of course we try to pick our mortar carefully. We want to match its tones and qualities to what’s being built, to make something beautiful as well as powerful. We explore the edges of an eclecticism that denies that it’s eclectic, snagging bibs and bobs to hold our poor broken bricks in place and seal the gaps between them.
Different people pick different things, depending on what they want to build, depending on what they want to be able to do. For example, I’ve known a lot of people who did cross-training in African Diaspora Religion, for example, because they wanted knowledge and skills for working with spirits and Powers in possessory ritual. (Not just Kemetics, those, either.) Sometimes this led to syncretic work; other times the skills could be pulled a bit loose of framework and something built around them that was actually oriented in the existing lore and knowledge of the original reconstruction, and thus provided a solid framework to build something. Even if that something might not be precisely what the ancients did.
Then there’s the stuff that people pick up that they’re not necessarily aware they’re snagging. The most obvious pagan-specific thing would of course be the people who come in with assumptions rooted in the popular forms of Wicca, wanting to know who ‘the god’ and ‘the goddess’ are in a polytheistic situation, or what to do for sabbat-of-the-season. (At least the northern European reconstructions occasionally have suggestions for those holidays, as they often mark a couple of them.) But there’s other stuff that people don’t necessarily notice, because they’re not aware of how much of their assumption about “religion” is leavened with Christianity – whether it’s a base presumption of universality, or a congregational model, or even just wanting to have a religious marriage ritual.
I try to track my mortar, and have reasons for all of it. Some of it I have poked at in greater depth than others. Some of it is on my “when you get to this part, study here” plate. It’s a wide-ranging collection of stuff, from the historical development of rabbinic Judaism to the ritual logic of tribal animism from Burkina Faso to the nature of kami in Shinto to the effects of diversified theology including a tension between one power and many on the living religious traditions of India. Further, as I am not only a reconstructionist, I find that my interpretations, though not my facts, are heavily influenced by the nature of my Craft studies.
Which puts me in a different interpretive position than, say, a reconstructionist who wants to patch with a different set of things, or has a different set of dual-trad things to deal with. (I’m not the only person who has noted parallels between Kemetic theology and Shinto, for example, and some people go way more in depth than I have.) I haven’t snagged anything from African Diaspora religion, for example, and I suspect I’ve got a lot more Judaism in my logic than many would have considered….