A very good friend of mine is a Celtic Reconstructionist, focusing on Irish tradition and folklore. We recently had a long discussion about why he refuses to join any organizations around the Atlanta area. His objections boil down to the consistent mandate for “ritual garb” like long robes and how he simply finds these things to be impediments to his experiencing his faith on a deeper emotional level. Additionally, the style of dress isn’t historically accurate. Instead, it’s very Victorian in the depiction of “druids” and bears no semblance of reality to what the people actually wore. In short, his is a modern faith rooted in the past but it is not an anachronistic faith that is trying to look the part as someone else envisions it. We both concur on the idea that our ancestors didn’t play dress up and put on clothing that predated their time, only that they put on nicer clothing than the everyday wear.
This is, frankly, exactly how I see our faith. Over the last 15 years I have watched how the style of dress has changed from an expectation of pseudo-Viking clothing for blót to blue jeans and t-shirt as the preferred attire. While I’m happy to see the anachronistic elements die off, we aren’t playing Viking after all, I am also somewhat sad to see the growth of such casual dress. Dressing nicely, it doesn’t have to be fancy or even a suit or heels, was always taken as a sign of seriousness and respect. I’m not advocating for slacks, polished shoes, and a button up shirt and tie just to go to blót. I’m simply talking about dressing in a nice enough fashion as to demonstrate seriousness and respect.
There are other elements of anachronistic behavior that often puzzle me as well but I do understand their presence, just as I understand wearing special clothing. It provides us a way to ignite the mind and the senses. It lets us for a visual and emotional link to the times and places we look to when rebuilding our troth. It provides context and ethos. None of this is a bad thing, especially for those of us who don’t have a lifetime of experience from a Scandinavian or Germanic culture. What we must be careful to do, however, is not let these thematic elements become a substitute for serious devotion and we must not permit them to become interfering elements that isolate us from the realities of our world and our needs today.
There are some very good uses for anachronism that hasn’t been fully discussed yet but ties directly into personal reasons for anachronistic elements. When we do a public blot, particularly at Pagan Pride events, the costuming and paraphernalia doesn’t just add context, it is the context. While we have to be sure not to instill an inaccurate impression that this is always how we look, these “High Blót” moments can be powerful tools for getting outsiders to understand that our heritage, our cultural past, is part of who we are today. It also works as a tool to encourage people to participate in other cultural elements, like folk dances and singing of folk songs, that are part of what we are as a people that we don’t always do. The costuming provides permission as well as context and this is something we need to be aware of because it is such a powerful tool. If we are going to use anachronistic elements we need to make sure that our religion and our identity as modern people remains intact, despite the costuming. After all, the Norse of the Viking Age didn’t play “Vendel Period” when it came time to make the sacrifices.