Title: What is Eclectic Paganism?
Eclectic paganism is an interesting faith. It is a highly individual faith and is in no way organized. Eclectic paganism can be described by simply using the definition of paganism (any faith not centering on the worship of the God that revealed Himself to Abraham) and combining it with another prohibitive definition, that the practitioner does not subscribe completely to any single religion or tradition. This means that eclectic paganism, like paganism as a whole, is defined mostly by what it is not. Therefore, it never seems to appear the same way to more than one individual at a time.
Eclectic paganism is a highly individualized faith as each practitioner must determine for themselves exactly what their faith will consist of. Each eclectic must discover for themselves how the spiritual universe is laid out. They must discover for themselves if there are deities and if so, how many and what form they take. They must decide what their practices will be and how they will honor their beliefs. When using symbols, they chose symbols that have specific meaning to themselves, not specifically as a representation of a religion, but as a representation of some aspect of their personal spirituality.
That means that among eclectics, there may be polytheists, monotheists, pantheists, animists, atheists and any number of perceptions of the divine. Among eclectics there may be those who practice witchcraft, shamanism, acts of sacrifice, acts of prayer and also people who have no outward display of their faith. To be eclectic does not mean that one must create ones own religion or spirituality strictly from scratch, as humans sharing a human mind and living in a human society, I doubt such a thing is even possible. No, eclectics explore and examine the traditions, religions and practices they feel most drawn to and adopt and adapt elements, sometimes even large portions, as their own, often combining these influences into a self-styled spirituality.
That brings me to the definition of "eclectic":
1. composed of elements selected from a wide range of styles, ideas, or sources: the eclectic wine list includes bottles from all round the world
2. selecting elements from a wide range of styles, ideas, or sources: an eclectic approach that takes the best from all schools of psychology
a person who takes an eclectic approach [Greek eklegein to select]
eclecticism n (Collins Essential English Dictionary)
It is my opinion that an eclectic has a responsibility to understand, as deeply as is practical, the sources from which they draw their faith. After all, how can you be certain that you are not X faith unless you understand what parts of X do not fit into your worldview and experience to the point where you would be able to say "I am not X, but I believe Y based on my experience and exploration of X and in comparison with my experience and exploration of the world." Or at least, I should say, this is how I frame my own faith as an eclectic pagan.
I also believe that mysticism plays a big part in the way that an eclectic pagan moves through the thorny world of religions. Eclectics, or at the very least I, frame my faith based on personal experience and observation and use a mystic approach to streamline my faith. It is my goal to know my path as an individual and to do this, I reach out to the divine and the spiritual world using a number of methods and use my experiences and often my own logic to judge what things I believe and what activities will be involved in my spiritual practice.
1. belief in or experience of a reality beyond normal human understanding or experience
2. the use of prayer and meditation in an attempt to achieve direct intuitive experience of the divine (Collins Essential English Dictionary)
Many pagans use a mystic approach and teach the core values of eclecticism even in their own specific traditions. I see the core values of eclecticism to be as follows:
1. Individualism - If it does not work for the individual, there is no reason to continue to follow a particular practice or belief. This may involve logical disputes, conflicting beliefs or simply a lack of meaning or deep feeling about the practice or concept.
2. Tolerance - That each other individual has a right to their own path and it is not the duty of the pagan to instruct or correct the beliefs of others, though guidance and teaching, especially if sought, may be offered. It must be remembered that there are an infinite number of paths to the divine and each individuals path is theirs, alone, to tread.
3. Self-education - That each individual must educate themselves as fully as possible about the traditions one uses as sources. This may mean asking that ones teachers verify their sources and seeking out a number of sources on the same subject to verify the facts. It is the responsibility of the eclectic to know how their individual beliefs and practices might differ from the beliefs and practices of their sources.
4. Respect - This goes along with tolerance and self-education... One must learn as much as one can about ones sources out of respect and tolerance for those who practice it today and historically. It is fine to adapt the practices of another faith to ones own uses, that is what eclectics do, but it is highly disrespectful and dishonest to then attempt to teach that ones own adapted methods and concepts are the same as the ones taught by the source religions.
Though many pagans may agree with these core values, it does not mean they are all eclectics, and there may be some eclectics who take issue with what I've written here. That's OK, this is just my interpretation of what eclecticism means and I'm willing to cede that perhaps it's only what eclecticism means to me. I've also noticed there are many corrolations between eclecticism and what is known as "Chaos Magick" which is a form of magickal practice which emphisises experimentation and individual performances. I think these connections come from a similar mystic approach. I, myself, do not consider myself a chaote, though I would not be apposed to their methods.
All in all, eclecticism is difficult to define. Some people use it to describe a pagan who draws their inspiration from only one faith, but does not follow all the requirements, practices and beliefs of that faith. Sometimes, it seems to be a catch-all term for anyone who has not chosen to affiliate themselves with the name of a specific religion... all these things work. The term is not, and should not, become a defined, organized way of being faithful. It represents a free-thinking, free-spirited sensibility. To be an eclectic pagan, one need only to be a pagan, perhaps with eclectic taste.
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