It will likely not surprise anybody to learn that I am not a reconstructionist. This is partly due to the fact that the gods I worship (Cernunnos, and Anglo Saxon deities) don’t have a lot written about them. We don’t actually know very much – and when it comes down to it, I trust my own experiences of Cernunnos far more than I trust scholarly speculation. The speculation is interesting, and it often coincides well with my experiences, but it is not something upon which a relationship can be built.
This page, for example, is very interesting. It contains information about some of the artefacts through which He has come to the present age. It doesn’t tell me whether He laughs, whether His worshipers would have approached Him with fear or delight or both. It doesn’t tell me when His holy days are, or how He might like to be worshiped. It doesn’t tell me these things because we don’t know.
We don’t know the songs people sang to Him, we don’t know where they left Him offerings. We don’t know whether they ran towards His holy places or crawled there on their knees. This is the kind of information upon which relationships can be built. This is the kind of knowledge from which a religion can grow.
He deserves relationships. He deserves worshipers willing to engage with who He is now instead of who He might have been millennia ago. He deserves devotees who love Him, who are willing to discover who He has become, what He cares about now. You cannot love someone if you are unwilling to know them. You cannot love someone you have only heard others talk about, someone you have only read about but never experienced.
I am aware, writing this, that not everyone communicates with gods in the way that I do. You do not need to. You do not need to be able to hear Their voices, you do not need to ever have seen Their faces. The gods can communicate with you in other ways. Before I ever heard Cernunnos’ voice, before I ever had any idea that such a thing might be possible, He was able to communicate with me. He can communicate in sudden feelings – in one instance I was at His shrine about to pour out an offering to Him (mead, I think) and something felt jarringly wrong. I brought whisky to the shrine instead, and the horrible wrongness dissipated.
I know that some people think that if they can’t hear a deity’s voice then they are completely headblind and no deity can communicate with them at all. This is simply not true. I know that sometimes the way I (and others) speak about communicating with the gods makes it seem as though all of this communication is in direct words and is immediately understood. This is also not true. It is easier to say “Cernunnos told me X” than it is to relay the series of signs and coincidences that lead up to the moment where suddenly I get it. I only very rarely hear direct words from any of Them.
Oh look, I’ve veered off on a tangent. Sorry about that. I think it’s relevant, though. Strict reconstructionism encourages us to think that all we can know about our gods is contained in dry scholarly work and it simply isn’t true. I do think that the dry scholarly works are important, but that’s because I think that anything that can deepen your understanding of a deity is important.
That’s the thing, though. Anything that can deepen your understanding of a deity is important. If you worship a god of the hunt, then hunting may deepen your understanding of that god. If you worship a god who is an archer, then archery may deepen your understanding of that god. Seek out the things that might deepen your understanding of a deity you worship. Seek out all of them, the experiences, the historical information, the opinions and experiences of that deity’s devotees. Seek out all of these things, and you will start to form a coherent picture of who that deity is. That is someone you can build a relationship with.
I think my approach to polytheism can best be described as historically derived. I started out worshiping the gods I worship based entirely on the historical information that I could find, and I think that was a good starting point. I don’t want to throw the useful-information-baby out with the dogmatic-adherence-to-archaeological-speculation bathwater, but I value my own experiences just as highly as – sometimes more highly than – historical and archaeological information when it comes to my devotional practice. Archaeology cannot tell me that Cernunnos likes me to sing for Him but doesn’t much care whether I pour Him libations. Experience can.