One Mage’s Opinion: We Are All Eclectic!
I have no spirituality. Or at best I am a dabbler and a dilettante. At least that is what some people both within and without the Pagan community think of me. Why is this you might ask? Simple; because I am what is known as an Eclectic Pagan.
An Eclectic Pagan is one that has shaped their beliefs and practices by drawing from a wide array of ideas, systems, and practices. An Eclectic might work with a Patron Deity from a Greek Pantheon, yet might do magickal workings in the style of a Shaman, and regularly practice Buddhist style meditation. Or in the case of my own particular practices they might take ideas from Quantum Physics, Pop Culture, and Eastern Philosophy and blend them together (I’m also part of another not greatly loved Pagan sub-community, but I’ll tell you a bit about Chaos Magicians in a future article). Most Eclectics are so because they have never found anyone particular belief system that quite worked for them, so rather than edit themselves to fit a system, they edited the systems to fit themselves.
There are many in all spiritual paths that would have us believe that we are freaks and outcasts and that we are Paganism’s weakest link. Sadly this includes many of our fellow Pagans. But here’s a dirty little secret that none of them want to talk about. We are ALL eclectic.
Let’s start with the definition of eclectic that I am using, which is taken from thefreedictionary.com
Eclectic: ADJ 1: Selecting or employing individual elements from a variety of sources, systems, or styles.
Is there anyone in the developed world that does not do this? Few if any. Ask any Christian if they do EVERYTHING commanded in their bible and most will admit they do not. Some will try and excuse this by saying that the things in the old testament were meant only for the Jews etc, and yet there are other parts of the old testament that many Christians will insist are still God’s word, such as the ten commandments. Any non-Judaic religion that is based on what is commonly referred to as the old testament, with an expansion added can be seen as eclectic. But even within Judaism there are many different varieties, some are super orthodox and probably come the closest to following their set of beliefs to the letter. But I suspect that even within the more orthodox communities there are some who keep some traditions more strongly than others.
Meanwhile in the Pagan community there is practically no one who is not picking and choosing their beliefs and practices to one degree or another. Some of this is a matter of a lack of reliable information, even with the attempts made by scholars of many different disciplines to give us a glimpse into the world before Christianity appeared there is still so little that we know for sure. Add to this the simple fact that the world has moved on since times past. Say for example we had proof beyond doubt that ancient Romans cooked babies to make a magical gruel that they ate for festivals. Well no sensible person would consider that a desirable part of their practice. Even the most ardent reconstructionist would tell you that while knowing as completely as possible what ancient practices were for a path, it is important to understand that paths core values so they can be honored in a way that is respectful of both tradition, and modern sensibilities.
So if we are all eclectics why does eclecticism have such a bad name?
There are really two main reasons, one is external to eclectics as a group, and one is internal coming sadly from within our own ranks.
The first reason is that there are some people who seem to have a misguided belief that anyone who has not contorted their life to fit into a singular belief system is somehow lacking. Less sincere, less spiritual. This has always struck me as more than a bit childish. As if the person holding such a belief, thinks that since they chose way X everyone else must choose that way as well. These kinds of people thankfully tend to be a minority, but sadly a very vocal one.
The second reason has to do with a horrible practice by a sub group within eclecticism that is also in a minority, but an unfortunately often high profile one. I call them lazy liars and cultural appropriators. These are people who while they do not wish to put forth the effort required in reconstructionism (and have no doubts reconstructionism takes great effort, as does eclecticism if one is going to do it right, but the types of effort are often different in ways both subtle and gross) wish to cover themselves in the authority conveyed by claiming intimate knowledge of ancient practices. So they take a bit of general knowledge, combine it with their own ideas, and then proclaim themselves experts. Then quickly they are exposed for their lack of true in depth knowledge. They will often wave their hand and claim that it doesn’t matter, or they will then try to dodge by saying that they are “insert name of co-opted tradition” Eclectics.
This is wrong, and offensive. But it is also not true eclecticism A true eclectic is very careful to admit the limits of their knowledge, and careful not to apply labels to themselves they have not earned. This is why a true eclectic might talk about making use of shamanistic practices, but try very hard not to call themselves a Shaman. It can be a fine line sometimes to be sure, and even the most aware of eclectics will sometimes slip up.
But the important thing I think is for all sides to be as patient, understanding, and forgiving as possible. After all no matter what path any of us may be on, we are each walking it one step at a time.
But that’s just one Mage’s opinion.