Reconstruction, not Anachronism

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.


Reconstruction, not Anachronism — 9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Embrace Reconstruction, Not Anachronism « Metalgaia

  2. I really like this post because I think too many people get caught up in the details of the past – so caught up that they lose the spirituality of the whole thing. Even our Pagan ancestors had different time periods of dress, culture, rituals etc. Even if Christianity or Islam had never come along, our ancestors probably would’ve still changed their ways over time. It’s most important to remember the sacredness of the Earth – not what outfit you’re going to wear for ritual. I posted a link to this post on my blog

  3. I don’t own any anachronistic clothing, but I do assign an intention to clothing (as I do most other things). For instance, if I’m going to practice trancework or meditation, I wear the same blue summer dress, and just putting it on makes me feel relaxed and loose.

    (Maybe I’ll post this comment on reddit later, it’s currently down 😛 )

    • The way we dress can help set our minds in the right frame for the actions we plan to take. There’s an old saying “Dress for success.” What we wear can have deliberate meaning, and period clothing can serve very useful purposes, but we have to remember that this is a modern faith and that our ancestors didn’t play “Stone Age Dress-Up” to practice their religion. When I started practicing Ásatrú in 1997 I came out of a Wiccan background so it didn’t seem at all odd to me at first that people were putting on anachronistic garb for religious purposes. As time progressed, however, it seems like a lot of us started to figure out that dressing in a respectful manner, even in modern clothing, was the better course of action because we could be so easily distracted by “getting the look right” that we forgot to get the rite right! I’m not disparaging those who choose to wear anachronistic garb for religious activity. I just want to have the discussion about the reasons for it and what it is and what it isn’t. So far, the results have been very positive.

  4. I disagree with the critic of historical dress. We as Europeans (or European-descended) people practicing our traditional folkways should be just as free to wear our traditional garb- Wherever- as a Hindu from India or an Arab from the Middle East or a Native American is to do so in the modern world. Few people see them as strange for doing so, but for some reason, Westerners aren’t allowed to do so, according to some unspoken rule. No one thinks an Arab in desert robes is strange, so a European in a tunic also should not be deemed strange. I fully support all attempts for us to bring back ALL aspects of Heathenry.

    • The difference here is that the clothing you describe is current fashion for those groups of peoples. They aren’t putting on archaic clothing. They are wearing what they would normally wear. For us, “Viking clothes” aren’t part of our modern world. It is anachronistic and as such must serve a purpose. Playing dress-up isn’t a good enough purpose for me to do it. If it’s good enough for you, go right ahead. As my concluding paragraph stated, there are reasons to be anachronistic, and all of those reasons serve a purpose. If you feel more connected, go right ahead, wear ancient styles of clothing. I’m not going to tell you that it’s wrong. I’m just saying that I see no reason to do because I don’t live 1000 years ago and don’t dress like that. I don’t see Heathen customs as being stuck in the past and that we need to reject the last 1000 years. Some people do.

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