A polytheanimist Thracian perspective on creating, rebuilding, and embodying ancestral religions as living traditions in the 21st century. Religion as life, life as spirit, spirit as being.
Reconstructing Religion, Reconstructing Relation
I was raised with the understanding that religion is, at its core, a thing that exists in order to facilitate relation between a person and something other than that person. This relation manifests in a myriad set of expressions and forms, from the most obvious and essential of relating to the divine powers, to the (perhaps equally important!) social side of relating to your corporeal community, and a thousand shades of grey between these two polarities. Religion that does not promote, facilitate and structure a person's relation to something which is both bigger than and at least in some way separate from themselves is, by my definitions, not religion at all.
My father, a Protestant Christian preacher, taught me – drawing upon the philosophies of his grandfather, also a preacher – of a "trinity" of religious relational foundations which was altogether a different thing than the usual "trinity" spoken of in Christianity. He taught me about the equal importance of relation with the divine (or invisible) world, relation with the human (social, communal) world, and relation with the natural (physical, visible, non-human) world. This, which in so many ways served as the first three swings of the machete through the heavy brush obscuring the paths of my own polytheistic religious calling, was my first encounter with truly ancestral wisdom.
The inherent requisites of this three-fold paradigm are clear: for relation to the gods, relation to humanity, and relation to the natural world, one must accept that all three of these are real. "Belief" (orthodoxy) is of less importance than practical acknowledgment (orthopraxy,) whether through full submission or reluctant choice to not contest or challenge these things. Belief can certainly be helpful (or even preferable) in many cases, but one does not need to believe in al-Girtas to be in relation with them! A second essential and perhaps more subtle requisite postulation is the suggestion that these three-tiered worlds can indeed relate back to you.
This concept of religion-as-relation is one that I find must be at the absolute foundation of the pursuit of reconstructing religious structures from the pre-modern age. Religious relation is not all that different than regular old human relation in some ways. While we would all love to meet our best friend or our one-true-love in some revelatory and electrically (divinely!) charged moment that sets the pace and tone for all the moments to follow – and some of us have! – the reality is that all relationships, be they platonic, romantic, sexual, devotional, or even competitive, require work and disciplined maintenance. This is just as true of religious relations (to the gods, to community, and to the natural world) as it is of romantic relationships, whether born of practical pursuits or startstruck revelations. Without maintenance of some kind, all relations – just like every other sort of system – eventually fall apart.
The practice of maintaining religious relation is the central practice and primal discipline of religion. The practice of maintaining right relation to your deities is the core aspect of the theistic branch of religion, while the practice of maintaining right relation to your kin is the core aspect of the communal branch of religion, and the practice of maintaining right relation to the natural world sums up the third primary area. Falling out of balance with any one of these – which happens to everyone! – is falling out of balance with your religion overall.
In reconstructing the religious traditions of our ancestors, we are in some way acknowledging a draw not only to their gods and rituals, but to their means and methods of relation. To proceed in this pursuit without embracing the fundamental relational qualities of the ancient and indigenous world, there is little to separate a "reconstruction-based religionist" from a "religious reenactor" who can merely disrobe from the dressings and trappings of anachronism at a ritual's close and be done with it until next time. To be in true and living relation with a religious path – which is to say, to be in right relation with one's divinities, communities, and natural world – is to never be done with the living of it, and never stepping "out of costume" (so to speak.) To be in true and living relation, one must acknowledge religion as life, just as one must acknowledge the practical and transcendent presence of the gods, of their community, and of the natural world itself within their every moment.
Welcome, perhaps belatedly, to my new blog. I'm excited to begin using this space to share my thoughts, views and experiences on the subject of the living religious traditions of our ancestors, who walked this world long before us, and walk it still beside us, and indeed quite literally through us. I am a spirit-worker living on the West Coast of the United States, a priest in the Thracian religious traditions, and an initiate and student of West AfricanOrisa-Ifa. My recent ancestry is primarily northern European, and hailed from (and around) the Balkan Mountains before that. I am the third-generation of my family to be born in this country, and I do my best to honor the local spirits and ancestors of this land. My Thracian ancestors found and guided me in my youth to connection and relation with the gods of our ancient past, and I have spent my life exploring these relations and doing my best to be their dutiful servant, as spirit-worker, warrior, and priest. It is my hope to use this blog to share their wisdom, as I have learned and lived it. In my next post, I will say a little bit more about them, and our religious traditions.
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