In case anyone hasn’t noticed, I’m not a reconstructionist. I could go into the reasons for this in plain English, but I’m in the mood for some food metaphors today, so here goes.
Let’s say you want to make a cake, say, one your grandmother made when you went to visit her all the time, or whatever (adjust this metaphor to suit your family situation) and you want it to be as close to the original cake as possible. So you start assembling your ingredients, and so far everything is going well until you hit a snag–for whatever reason, you don’t have one of the ingredients on the list. Maybe it’s because whatever your grandmother used just doesn’t exist anymore in that area (an example would be margarine with the dye in the package) or perhaps an ingredient that is plentiful in her country of origin isn’t available in yours. You have a few options: you can import the needed ingredient, or you can substitute that ingredient for one that’s more readily available.
Next comes the actual preparation. Now, if you were actually trying to re-enact the process that your grandmother used to make cake, my bet is that it would take you a very long time (starting with having to churn butter, milk cows, gather eggs….). However, I’ll be merciful and say that you’re allowed to use modern appliances. Once the cake is all done and in the pan, you’d better hope to gods that your grandmother put down how much time it would take to bake the cake (and at what temperature) or even if she put down measurements at all (luckily, I have mom around to consult when my grandmother forgot or just didn’t see these details as important).
Now, stay with me, because here’s the kicker….
You could have all the right ingredients, prepare it the exact way grandma did (with a wood stove and everything) and sweat and slave over it all day….
….and it still wouldn’t be your grandmother’s cake.
The fact of the matter is that it is your cake, and will always be your cake, and no matter how often you say “but this is how
the ancestors grandma did it” the fact is that it is still your cake, created in 2012 with equipment and ingredients from 2012.
Now, I know that many reconstructionists will say that they don’t go so far as to track down all the companies and import all the ingredients necessary to make a cake, nor do they confine themselves to using only those techniques that would have been used when baking the cake. Even the most hardcore of hardcore reconstructionists realizes that it’s impossible to accurately reconstruct every aspect of cake-baking as it was done way back when.
What I do find problematic, however, is when some say “This is a cake recipe, how DARE you turn it into muffins!” or “You added dates instead of raisins? WTF?” or assuming that one recipe is the only way to make a certain cake, even when we have evidence that other grandmothers were using other recipes during the same time period. This is all assuming that everyone’s grandmother left them a complete recipe, and that everyone can read the chicken scratch that passes as handwriting. This is also assuming that every recipe your grandmother ever had was written down.
I think this last part, more than anything I’ve said, is what turns newbies away from reconstructionism. There’s a lot of dogmatism and craptastic attitudes among a certain segment of the reconstructionist community, and I think that is what hurts Heathenry way more than the “fluff bunnies” everyone likes to gripe about–and then they turn around and wonder why more people embrace Wicca. Um, really?