I have a problem with people referring to modern polytheist practices built from past dead folk spiritualities as “reconstructionism”. I cannot say with any certainty that that term is accurate. In its stead, I posit the term Redactionism. Let me explain why.
Reconstructionism and revivalism of dead religious lineages will forever have a very obvious drawback. No matter how dedicated we are to gathering sources and making sure our theories are historically soundproof and not anachronistic, we are always going to be missing major elements of epistemology, worldview and thought practice, the meanings behind doing what you’re doing. At best, reconstructed religions are mere pastiches of once lively traditions of human condition and experience, at worst, many of us are playing dress up and would be better placed in the SCA or at a Ren Faire.
Our research may be impeccable. We may have hoards of primary sources but we can never ever step back into the era we are reconstructing spiritual principles and practices from and we can never ask those people to explain the whys, whens, wheres and hows with any accuracy. When a generation of folk die, a whole world of spiritual life and homesteading dies with them. We are a patchwork, and it may be a more accurate description to call Reconstructionism the practice of Redactionism.
Let me explain, I like to cook. I like cooking historical medieval recipes. We have many many secondary sources of recipes but rarely primary sources. In the off chance that you come across a medieval recipe that is as close to the original as possible, it is usually a redaction written by a 17th or 18th century writer or historian(one of which is Samuel Pepys). Redaction is a form of editting in which multiple sources are combined and altered and stitched together to create a single document(a more modern usage of this terminology refers to the act of deliberately editing a document to remove sensitive information but that is not the way I am using this word). Thus we get singular recipes built up of several different versions of one. Often the sources are smudged, aged or missing words. We must therefore fill in the blanks. Reconstruction is much like this. It is a stitching together of sources and ideas to create singular modern practices. We are forced to fill in the blanks and “redact” the elements in order to create a cogent and cohesive whole that is workable and applicable in the modern world.
Sometimes, redactioners add their own spin on things, splicing their own elements into a document. A good analogy for Paganism would be the ever perennial UPG. It could also refer to our need to fill the blanks with our own interpretations. This is what makes our religions spring up with life once again. It makes them dynamic and living, certainly, but not historically accurate and true to primary source and essence. Popular examples are 1001 Nights and the Talmud. Both are redactions and the latter is used as a religious text. The bible could also be considered a religion version of redactionism, as per the Nicaean Council.
Reconstructionism is an inaccurate term for the practice of redacting sources and creating modern religious and spiritual practices from aged sources. We cannot reconstruct a religion that has been dead and has been separated from us by several generations and lineages with any amount of reasonable accuracy and call it a reconstruction of an ancient practice. It is best described as a redaction. Often one may find quotes that are edited, and spliced together into paraphrased redactions that are not faithful to the original spirit of the original text, and often even misattributed. This is often what it is like to try to wade through reconstructionist religious theory. We would be better off to call a spade a spade and see our practices with infant eyes. To see a thing for what it is, an effort of redaction but nevertheless lively and burgeoning tradition. Honesty is in this regard is much lacking and sorely needed. It’s like Einstein didn’t actually say those words you’re reading on a facebook .jpg.