Apologies for the radio silence since the first of the month. I’ve recently moved out of my old dorm and into my new home for the next few months of summer, started up summer classes and work again, and fallen a bit ill. (Nothing terribly exciting, just a sore throat and fever combo which scored me close to twelve hours of sleep last night.) I have quite a bit of spiritual work to catch up on, as you will see from the series of Dedicant Path posts I’ll be posting today and tomorrow. I think that just goes to show how much this blog does for me as far as staying on track goes. 🙂 Anyway, enough rambling – onto the (short) post proper!
ADF requires close reading of three books over the course of the Dedicant Path: one broad overview of Indo-European studies, one examined history of modern Paganism, and one in-depth study of the Hearth Culture of your choice. We are free to choose any books from this list that catches our fancy, and I have chosen to read Nigel Pennick and Prudence Jones’ A History of Pagan Europe. I have a fair amount of time in which to read this book, but I suspect to have it done by the end of the month. This is one of the DP requirements I’ve looked forward to the most; I absolutely love books and adore reading. There’s absolutely no such thing as being too well-read
What I appreciate most about ADF is the emphasis on scholarship without veering into full reconstructionism. (Though I’ve read on the discussion lists that at least some members take a more reconstructionist stance with their ADF path than do others.) I have no problems with recons and myself highly value that approach to spirituality. The problem is, I’m just no good at it! My personal tastes have always leaned more towards eclectic, even when I considered myself a Christian all those years ago, and despite how much I’d love to throw myself into Ásatrú I feel like I’d make a mess of things. (For those who don’t know, Ásatrú was my introduction to Neo-Paganism nearly five years ago. While the Norse gods and I have grown distant, they and their faith holds a special place in my heart.) On the other hand, I do think there’s such a thing as too eclectic for my tastes and I’ve certainly had to shy away from others and their practices because there just wasn’t enough structure and substance for my tastes. Furthermore, while I’m only moderately interested in the faiths of my ancestors, I think that correct history and scholarship absolutely matters. I can’t swallow down false history by understanding it in a “metaphorical” context; entire rituals have been ruined for me on the basis of incorrect claims of historical accuracy and links to the past. (Interpreting Artemis as the hypersexual full-moon childbearing Triple Goddess gets me every time.)
ADF strikes a good balance between reconstructionism and eclecticism with enough wiggle room for those who lean in either direction. What does this have to do with reading books? Everything! No matter your religion or your approach to spirituality, critical reading is a skill you can never stop polishing. We all know people who struggle in questioning the reliability of books and websites – or, to be more charitable to others and more focused on ourselves, we (I, certainly) remember our first forays into religious education, perhaps with some winces of our own. When I was a child no one told me I could question my Baptist upbringing; I either believed in the Truth or I was damned to hell. Once I struggled out of that mindset I found myself confused and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information when it came to researching Paganism. I didn’t believe everything I read – my painful breakup with Christianity taught me better – but I knew it would take a long time before I myself could figure out what constituted a good book and what was just crap.
Whether your religion is based purely in instinct or research or some mix of the two, it never hurts to hone that inner critic towards constructive use. Not only will you learn more solid information without having to go back and edit out the bad bits later, you’ll also develop more of an understanding of how to articulate and approach your own religion – and that can never be a bad thing.
How important is scholarship and history to your own path? Do you tend to favor your head or your heart when it comes to religious expression? Which books helped you hone your inner critic, either for good or for ill?