What is 'Eclectic'?
Explanation, dictionary style:
Somebody who is eclectic, selects from various doctrines, methods or styles those parts she considers the best. The word also denotes a whole, constructed from pieces obtained from various sources.
Definition of a Sort.
Eclectic Pagans form a large group, consisting of people with widely different religious views. This 'denomination' or 'group'...
is not easily definable and one could say that the only feature binding it together is - being eclectic.
Very simply put, Eclectic Pagans are Pagans who do not adhere to any given tradition (1) and/or religion, but build their own religious world view out of pieces they have picked from
different traditions and/or religions, adding to the mix - when they see a need - features they have developed themselves. Those Eclectics who do consider themselves as belonging to a given Pagan religion, combine features from the different traditions of that religion, often adding also features derived from elsewhere. Many 'basic Pagans not belonging to any religion' are some grade of eclectics. Many of them identify themselves simply as 'Pagans'.
Eclectics are often solitary, but there are also eclectic Pagan groups, for example Wiccan covens. For the sake of clarity and simplicity, i will be concentrating on Solitary Eclectic Pagans more and more as i go on.
Mental Images on the Subject . . . .
I played a game of word association with some fellow Pagans, asking them to tell their first thoughts on the words 'Eclectic Solitary Pagan'. Answers were quite interesting... Here are a few selected ones:
- 'Unrestrainedly rootless free-thinking individual'.
- 'The 'pick and choose' mentality of consumers'.
- 'Potpourri. Some mixtures are great, some are awful and some that I think are eloquent, can in my sister's opinion resemble an unchanged kitty litter box'.
- 'Eclectic: Chooses the pieces best fitting to herself, just like everybody else does, but doesn't feel the need to attach themselves to any given religious group. Still wants to put
some sort of 'label' on herself. Solitary: Doesn't practice her religion officially with any given group of people. Primarily practices alone. Pagan: Gods only know'.
- 'Light bulb'.
These comments give some kind of clues on how an Eclectic Pagan is understood and what an Eclectic Pagan is religiously speaking. Or, then again, they don't. Pick and choose yourself.
Taking a Closer Look.
Nine words the Eclectic Rede attest:
Steal what works, fix what's broke, fake the rest.
The 'Eclectic Rede' above describes the basic starting point quite well. As a typical Eclectic, I grabbed it along at some point of my journey (the Eclectic Rede was originally written by Steve Storm (2).
At best, the end result is a working and on a personal level very satisfying whole, which can in some cases even lead to the birth of a new Pagan tradition/religion, if there are others thinking the same way. At worst, the end result is a conflict-ridden mishmash of different parts glued together, which simply does not work in practice, nor on any level.
For some, the eclectics' religiosity which draws from many sources, may conjure images of a person with a full-blown fluffy-bunny attitude of the worst kind, a person who wants everything to be oh-so-wonderful and therefore chooses "all the best bits" from all religions available. Using a very simplified and somewhat made-up example: One picks angels from Christianity (believing that angels are first, foremost and only kind and wonderful guardian angels), 'an it harm none' from Wicca, Karma from Buddhism ("I can't do anything remotely resembling bad, because that would mean I get bad karma"), the omnipotence of crystals from New Age ways of thinking, all 'nice' gods and goddesses from different old Paganisms, cool names from the American Indians etc. At the end of the day, the only thing connecting these different pieces is that 'everything has to feel good, right here and right now'.
Oh well, these people do exist and a combination like this can really be the right one for some of them (at least for a while). However, Eclectic Pagans are a much more varied bunch and should not be painted with a broad brush because of how some of them are, especially as there are 'bunnies' in practically every religion. In many cases, an eclectic world view requires quite a lot of studying. An Eclectic Pagan can't, in a time of need, just pick up Spiral Dance, Book of the Law, Satanic Bible, Mahabharata or the Eddas and do what the book tells you to do, but she has to take into consideration the viewpoints and approaches of the different religions and traditions influencing her religiosity and think which would fit the best for the solution of the problem at hand, or the accomplishment of the duty to be done.
For many Eclectics 'how' is not the most important question, but 'why'. By questioning, asking, listening to other people's experiences and thoughts and constantly learning something new, one is better able to find out what fits and what does not. By studying widely (not just in depth, but not excluding in depth studies either), one can avoid the 'religious cut and paste syndrome' and be able to create something new and meaningful from pieces that could otherwise seem disconnected, even if that means new and meaningful only on the level of one person. Creating something new from pieces does not mean that the Eclectic would hold herself higher or better than her sources, or that she thinks that she's actually creating something brand new and unique - as if nobody else had ever thought of combining factor A with factor B. The question is more of a made to measure mix from available sources. Many others may have made their own mixes from the same ingredients earlier on, but those are theirs.
Using a very mundane example: It depends on the skills of the cook and the time taken by her, whether the end result is a new gorgeous meal - or does it look like the cook got lazy and just mixed together the ingredients of the appetizer, main course and dessert?
On a Road to Somewhere, On a Road from Somewhere?
For some people, being eclectic is just an intermediate phase on their journey from one point to another. After giving up the faith of their parents and/or the faith they were taught when they were children, they enter a seeking period. Their process of defining their own religiosity often starts with negations, for example:'I am not a Christian'. After this, they find a larger reference group to feel connection with: Pagans and Neo-Pagans.
During the course of religious search, the seeker studies several different Pagan religions, picking and choosing from each one some aspects she finds to be most important to herself. Little by little, the seeker begins to form an eclectic view of life, which reflects her. After a while, after learning more, the seeker may start to feel connection with one of the many Pagan beliefs and starts to concentrate on that. With time, the seeker realizes that she is no longer a seeker, but somebody who can call herself as being part of a given (Neo-)Pagan religion, saying: 'I am ****!'
An eclectic religious view may also be the end result of traveling from one religion forward. (I am using the word 'forward' here with no value-setting about forward meaning better. What i am referring to with this word here is moving to something more fitting on a personal level). Wicca, with its many traditions and varied roots can be used as a good example here.
Somebody who has this far identified herself as Wiccan, starts to research the roots of her religion closer and finds out that she has entered a phase where she can no longer truthfully (as in being truthful to herself) call herself Wiccan. She has studied for example Thelema, Celtic Paganism and other religions where Wicca - depending on the Wiccan tradition - has drawn from. With time the Pagan who has formerly identified herself as Wiccan realizes, that she has walked further and further away from the Wiccan views and has started to value more some of the aspects she has found in the roots of Wicca. She then organizes these aspects to form a new whole. Unlike when still Wiccan, the nowadays Eclectic Pagan may emphasize quite different aspects of the religions and paths that influenced Wicca (traditional and more Neo-Wiccan) than the aspects adapted to Wicca.
Then there is a third kind of people, the eternal seekers, the forever walkers of their own paths. These people may not even believe in ever getting 'there', of ever becoming ready to call themselves practitioners or believers of any given religion. Their path is one of ever ongoing search. They don't feel the need to belong to any defined religion, but find it more important to build a whole that expresses their own religious needs as well as possible.
How much Can/Should One Mix Traditions/Religions Before One is an Eclectic?
Opinions on where one stops being a follower of one tradition/religion and starts being an eclectic vary. A British Traditionalist Wicca may be of an opinion that if somebody belonging to tradition A starts incorporating aspects of tradition B - never mind from a totally different religion, it's time to stop calling oneself as belonging to tradition A. At the same time, somebody else may happily define oneself as Christian Wiccan. The borderline is, as you can see, fluid. This is the case especially with individual people and their self-identification, even though for an outsider it may be rather easy to say 'that person over there is actually more of an Eclectic Pagan than anything else'. When it comes to my Christian Wiccan example, one can wonder if a person like this actually an Eclectic Pagan at all, or somebody with an eclectic religiosity. After all, one of the religions incorporated is anything but Pagan.
To end this short piece - jokes on Eclectics:
Q: What is the difference between an Eclectic and an ethical Eclectic?
V: References. (3)
Why did the chicken cross the road - Eclectic answer: Because it seemed right to her at the time. She used some Egyptian style corn and a Celtic sounding word for the road and incorporated some Native American elements into her Corn-name, Chicken-Who-Dances-and-Runs-with-the-Wolves
(1) Tradition : In this connection a branch of a Pagan religion (for example Wicca), like Gardnerian and Dianic Wicca.
(2) Lisa, who is herself an Eclectic, wrote the quite fitting Eclectic's reference: "Part of this may be stuff I stole from somebody somewhere at some point of my life. Part I made up myself. Part may be divine revelation (thank you, Goddess!) and I really don't know how to tell the different parts apart. Then again, I may remember everything from my past life, where I was Gerald Gardner. That, of course, would explain my Eclectic tendencies, wouldn't it."
(3) Taliesin of Earthstar