20 August 2008

Syncretism, Or, The Fight Not Worth Fighting

There seems to be some talk about religious syncretism around the pagan blogosphere lately. And I've found it worthwhile to jump into the greater discussion. Now, I debated in high school, so I like to define key terms before I start shooting off my mouth. According to Wikipedia
Religious syncretism exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. This can occur for many reasons, and the latter scenario happens quite commonly in areas where multiple religious traditions exist in proximity and function actively in the culture, or when a culture is conquered, and the conquerors bring their religious beliefs with them, but do not succeed in entirely eradicating the old beliefs or, especially, practices.

Jenavira over at Essais has recently reviewed a book which includes the subject of religious syncretism. According to her review the author misses the mark.
But he never gets syncretism, never seems to be able to move beyond “but that's not how Christianity works” and “but that can't really be real,” even though he obviously really, really wants to.

On the flip side, Celestite from A Pagan Tapestry takes a pretty strong stance against the syncretism of Wicca and Christianity.
How can you possibly be honest in your beliefs and say that you believe in both?
I know it is hard for some people, but you cannot walk these two spiritual paths at the same time.

Okay, cue the shooting off of the mouth. On the one hand, I can almost understand the frustration of seeing someone supposedly "pervert" one's personal religion but I have to throw my lot in with the pro-syncretism side. For one thing, no religion is entirely "pure". There is no such thing as a religion that is not, at least in some part, influenced by others. And we all know that when a religion is influenced by another various things, traditions, ideas, etc., get "borrowed". Even if the influential aspects died out hundreds, or thousands, of years ago and their meanings have been largely forgotten they're still there.

While I'm not a Christian or a Wiccan I can empathize with the desire to mix the two. After all, many of the Christian holidays are pagan in origin and those same pagan holidays make up the eight festivals of modern Wicca. I can clearly envision a Wiccan celebrating Christmas. Hell, for a few years I considered myself Wiccan and did just that. Trying to convince others to keep the two completely seperate seems a little, well, desperate to me. It stinks of some deep and unresolved issues with Christianity that one might be trying to distance oneself from. (Not that I'm a psychoanalyst or anything, this is just the coinage of my brain, to mutilate Shakespeare.) And just to be clear let's not forget that Wicca itself is a syncretic religion which draws on Celtic traditions as well as Rosicrucian, O.T.O. and other paths. Wicca itself is a perfect example of religious syncretism.

Now let's forget about Wicca and Christianity for a moment and consider other syncretic religions. How 'bout Voodou? Yes, it's a religion, not just a practice for those three of you who don't already know that. And it's a beautiful mix of African, Roman Catholic and American Indian traditions. What about the blending of the ancient Greco-Roman pantheons? What about the deities borrowed from Roman provinces that became established figures in the Roman pantheon? Can you say Cybele? What about Jewitchery, Rastafari, etc., etc.? The list goes on and on ad infinitum.

My point is that railing against religious syncretism is pointless; it's like trying to break a dam with a toothpick. Its rich history goes back to the dawn of spirituality. In fact, syncretism makes up the larger part of religious studies. You can't have religion without some form of syncretism; that's what some people just don't seem to grasp. That's why I made this rant, er, post; I'm here to help.


THE Michael said...

I have no problem whatsoever "distancing" myself from Christianity, having endured an early life as a Catholic by virtue of baptism (would have been nice to be ASKED if I wanted to be branded like a damn cow as a Catholic) and indoctrination by Terrorist Penquins with rulers. Wicca is something I entered into with both eyes wide open and have found peace with it as a belief system to live with of my own accord. Of course, I examine everything about my new religion with a very critical eye, and I even glance sideways at many of my peers for what I percieve to be sheer nonsical practice of new-age nonsense, but overall the core of this religion speaks to me and does not oppress me the way the hyprocritical dogma of the Pope, Inc, has.

This is not to say that I cannot be influenced by some other FLAVOR of paganism in my honoring of the God and Goddess, but the rede fits my need pretty much on it's own in my never ending quest to not simply give up and become a sell-out atheist. As far as any brand of Christianity is concerned, I refuse to allow myself to be put back on my knees in the service of a monster manufactured by power hungry humans who seek to subjugate women and indigenous cultures.

Livia Indica said...

Wow, I guess Catholicism really is a pretty intense thing. Thanks for sharing your passionate viewpoint; very interesting.

murciƩlago said...

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Be blessed by the Goddess

Livia Indica said...

Wow, thanks. I'll go check it out.

Griffin said...

"Wicca itself is a syncretic religion which draws on Celtic traditions as well as Rosicrucian, O.T.O. and other paths. Wicca itself is a perfect example of religious syncretism."

Maybe modern Wicca, but not the original Wicca. The original may well have been syncretic, but not involving Rosicrucian which was later.

"What about the blending of the ancient Greco-Roman pantheons?"

There wasn't a blending. The Romans conquered the Greeks at one point and took their pantheon and made it their own. Any such blending has happened much later by others who may not have fully understood what was going on!! Wedgwood is a prime example, but there were plenty of others.


Terrorist Penguins??!!! Love it! Took me a while to realise you meant nuns. Tho' they definitely should be called terrorist penguins from now on. I see Pingu with a ruler and a tough look on his face... ulp! Also, don't forget the Spanish Inquisition... who nobody expects!

Livia Indica said...

"Maybe modern Wicca, but not the original Wicca. The original may well have been syncretic, but not involving Rosicrucian which was later."

History tells us there was no "original Wicca". Wicca was invented by Gerald Gardner and first became popular in the 1950s. There might have been witchcraft in the past but it wasn't called Wicca and in no way resembled it.

"There wasn't a blending. The Romans conquered the Greeks at one point and took their pantheon and made it their own."

Actually, you've got it backwards. The ancient Greek and Roman religions first converged during the 8th century BCE when Greeks first colonized Italy. By the 1st century they were so closely intertwined as to be termed Greco-Roman. By that time they were nearly identical.

Griffin said...

Sigh... clearly I've been reading the wrong books... again! My understanding was that the Greek pantheon was first and then the Romans nicked it and changed it. You mean I've been harrumphing over the Romans for no reason all this time?!

Ahem... sorry Romans. I know that during 5 BC the Romans were duffing up the Britons tho', so harrumph to the Romans! They were also having a go at the Gauls... except for one small village that held out against the Roman invaders of course!

I've recognised bits of 'Wicca' from British myth and folklore... which is why I assumed there was an original Wicca. Clearly there was only original wicker... and Wicca followed... ahem. I am now blushing and retiring to read again!

Livia Indica said...

Well, you're still kinda right. The Romans did eventually borrow most of the Greek pantheon.

Riverwolf said...

Great post, Livia. I found your site through "Witches and Scientists" by Genexs, by the way.

I agree with your take that no religion is pure, despite what the faithful will tell you. Why such a need for "purity" (if that's even possible?).

One reason I left Christianity is because people kept telling me: "No, you can't believe that. No, you can't pray that way or incorporate that ritual. You're not doing it right!"

This may sound harsh, but the truth is, there is no absolute "truth." The world is what we say it is, every single one of us. So why not have a little fun and make it as meaningful as we can? If that means pulling from other traditions, I see no problem with that as long as we're sincere.

Livia Indica said...

So glad you found your way here Riverwolf, glad to have you. Isn't Gene's blog awesome?

You are so right, sincerity is the most important thing, much more important than "historical purity" or historical accuracy. In fact, and I know I may piss off some recons with this, but I find that SOME of those who are slaves to history are sometimes lost in the details and forget the simple things like sincerity, devotion and love for the gods and all the wild. Thanks so much for your comments.