Revivalist polytheism or polytheistic revivalism is a religious methodology that exists in contrast to both polytheistic reconstructionism and polytheistic eclecticism or eclectic paganism more generally. For the purposes of contrast, I feel that it is valuable to first describe the other two religious methodologies in a concise manner, and detail the issues with these approaches that have necessitated a revivalist methodology. In the context of contemporary polytheism or modern neopaganism, the reconstructionist methodology is an approach that seeks to faithfully reconstruct ancient polytheistic religions in a manner that is agreed to be feasible in modern times by those who practice it. The eclectic methodology – most typified by pagan religions like Wicca or Druidry, as well as various occult traditions like Thelema or Chaos Magick, is an approach that seeks to build polytheistic practice in a manner that serves the personal, revealed and often esoteric insights that are deemed important by a given tradition.
With respect to reconstructionism, there is, unsurprisingly, a tendency towards rigid adherence to whatever material is preserved from the ancient past within a given culture. Many reconstructionists treat these limited survivals as completely universal – with little regard for practical concerns, or the value of innovation. Often times, the only things that are left in the past are things that are universally objectionable, or impossible to perform in a modern context. This attitude also creates unnecessary requirements for certain rituals, and extends into the way that groups are organized. A significant amount of reconstructionist groups have endeavored to create quasi-governmental or tribal organizations as a necessary requirement for engagement with other polytheists, and this has also opened the door for groups to become not only overly bureaucratic, but deeply partisan and even blatantly extremist on either side of the aisle. Some reconstructionists seem to use these traditions as a way to project their own insecurities – rooted, in many cases, in the unresolved traumas they experienced from monotheistic religions that they bring into polytheism.
In much the same way, eclecticism often produces spaces for unprocessed emotional distress to be projected into superstitious adherence to religious dogmas. But instead of dogmas centered on complex and bureaucratic reconstructions, eclectics often treat the new religious philosophies of their given faith as unquestionably true, and frequently get into fights with militant, orthodox reconstructionists, who try to forcefully establish more historical polytheistic beliefs in an unproductive manner. But despite how open and egalitarian many eclectic claim to be, they often form a lot more rigid social hierarchies than the reconstructionists do. This often manifests as infighting over status within covens, groves, orders or other organizations, and can be just as petty as any squabble within a mock government or tribe. Born out of romantic ideals, it’s also unsurprising that many eclectics, and the groups they belong to, foster a culture of rebellion. On it’s own, this rebellion has great value, but such a focus has also devolved many communities and produced a lot of the same kinds of radicalism that certain reconstructionist groups suffer from.
Revivalism, in a broader polytheistic context, sets itself apart from both reconstructionism and eclecticism, but greatly values elements of both approaches. In revivalist polytheism, great value is placed on having a historically correct understanding of ancient polytheistic practices and culture – free of the esoteric dogmas of eclectic traditions. That said, revivalism places a strong emphasis on personal gnosis, as long as it is not collectively enforced, and endeavors to synthesize modern polytheistic practices that focus on what is relevant in contemporary society. Revivalists start with historical survivals, and form personal household cults or localized ritual groups with their own adapted, modified polytheisic practices. Whereas reconstructionism emphasizes the structure of ritual and eclecticism often emphasizes what they deem to be the hidden meaning of those practices, revivalism focuses on the spirit of polytheistic practice, and incorporates whatever rituals or doctrines that serve that purpose – on both an individual and local group level.
Though revivalist polytheism or polytheistic revivalism has a very open methodological approach, there are certain guiding principles that I think are of great value to its implementation – for all inclined polytheistic practitioners drawn to this alternative.
The most fundamental principle of revivalist polytheism is the concept of gnosis or personal gnosis. Unlike with the concept of UPG among reconstructionists, the unverified nature of personal gnosis is not viewed as a social ill that needs to be done in moderation like food or drink – nor is it something that must conform to the esoteric precepts of a given eclectic tradition. Gnosis is something that is formed through every factor of religious practice and devotion, and focusing on this prevents us from succumbing to rigid dogmas.
One of the notable aspects of the revivalist approach is the concept of religious synthesis. Whether or not a revivalist focuses on one culture, separate cultures, or a syncretism of many, revivalists value the synthesis of ideas that are not strictly defined by history or esoteric doctrines. Most importantly, synthesis values the combination of the old and the new. Revivalism are not shy about incorporating anachronism into their practices – both in service to devotion and in service of the unique, practical, everyday necessities that a polytheistic lifestyle presents.
Vitally important to revivalist polytheism is the concept of metamorphosis or personal change. As an extension of personal gnosis, revivalist polytheists are concerned with whether or not their rituals and related beliefs help further personal growth – both for themselves, and for the people they share spiritual fellowship with. How this is defined varies from person to person, but it is the principle that most reflects the value of personal autonomy and wellness that has come to define modern discussions of spirituality. This is something that should be embraced.
Revivalist polytheism greatly values personal religious expression, and the tendency towards ungainly, bureaucratic or tribalistic spiritual groups are considered to be a direct and fundamental hindrance to revivalist polytheists. What is preferred instead, when groups are formed, is balanced, decentralized, local and egalitarian ritual groups that are focused on the unique, granular circumstances of the people who are a part of it. This focus, in large part, extends to online communities – which are often most in need of a more balanced framework.