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Eclectic traditions [1]

What do I mean by an Eclectic tradition?

Eclectic practices are hard to define, perhaps because they are so...darn..eclectic. They can't claim a specific, ancient, tradition (like the Druids), they don't have a specific founder and liturgy (like Gardnarian Witchcraft), heck, they may change their Gods and Goddesses every time they gather for ritual.

Eclectic traditions can best be defined through their participants and the practices of those participants.

Eclecticism can mean that the participant's practice is an accumulation of different influences, ranging from Native American to Celtic to Asian, with the participant drawing from each tradition as they are inspired and comfortable. Conventionally this type of practice is called syncreticism, where many different cultural and religious paths are the inspiration for a particular path's practices.

Gardnarian Witchcraft is an example of an eclectic tradition under this definition. It incorporates elements of traditional Craft, Masonic and Ritual Magic ceremonies, and Goddess worship into its practices. While we can say its eclectic, a more appropriate term for it would be syncretistic, as it has a core set of practices, some of which are drawn from other traditions. Paganism is inherently syncretistic, but Eclecticism incorporates syncretistic into its underlying practice.

In an Eclectic practice the participants can follow different paths but the celebration, the coming together, allows for a lot of variety in how the rituals and celebrations are conducted. Sometimes celebrations and rituals are done by drawing from traditional Witchcraft, while at other times you might put on a ritual drawing from Asian or Native American traditions. Each member celebrates the other members rituals and observances, because individually it is unlikely they will find a group that would celebrate just their tradition. Some may even find the cross pollination that occurs during such rituals to be a nice way to expand and extend the experiences of following just one path.

Eclecticism provides a very concrete Pagan experience. Historically European Paganism was open to incorporating many different traditions and ritual elements into its observance. Gods and Goddesses could be transformed into local deities, or could be simply added to existing pantheons. Little or no jealousy or consequence was to be had for observing rites to a different God or Goddess. While they may not have gone so far as to have a different observance every week, in practice it is unlikely most groups would go that far with their Eclecticism anyway. In most cases a central "core" of beliefs and practices forms the baseline for an Eclectic group. This is usually Celtic/Wiccan Paganism with its wheel of the year, and Celtic Gods and Goddesses. Other practices hilite and leaven this baseline.

In Eclectic Paganism everyone's path is celebrated as unique paths, ones that speak to individuals within the group. The group itself only adheres to broader and more encompassing values such as earth-centeredness, multiplicity of deity, or immanent experience of the divine. Individuality, in belief, experience, and practice is central to Eclecticism.

Contemporary Eclectic Paganism, if done well, can provide an opportunity to grow that is very different from, but no less compelling, than the single path or coven experience. By participating in, and possibly helping construct, rituals from a variety of paths the participant is exposed to a range of styles, beliefs, and ritual practices. Because Eclecticism draws on the experiences and paths of the participant members it is inherently democratic. Everyone at one time or another can have the opportunity to lead in ritual, as all practices become woven into the overall tapestry of the group's practice.

The experience of incorporating member's practices and rituals into group experience also has consequences for initiation and teaching. Inherent equality leads to an informal progress of experience within the group. More experienced members see the advantage in mentoring and assisting less experienced members in developing and putting on rituals, both for pragmatic reasons (effort is spread around) as well as spiritual reasons (a greater variety of experiences and opportunities). While eclecticism does not immediately imply democracy, when all are capable of leading, influencing the group automatically becomes important in getting things done.

Lack of specific mentoring opportunities does limit the individual's ability to advance in more esoteric traditions. However much of the learning that occurs in group practice involves managing people, developing group awareness, and maturing spiritually. These, and other, maturing traits cross over many different types of practices, allowing more spiritually mature members of the group to help along the less mature, regardless of their particular path.

Likewise initiation is not an inherent part of Eclectic practice. Initiation is important for three reasons: the change that occurs in the initiate, to impart hidden knowledge, and formal recognition of progress in leadership within the group. In a group that follows a variety of traditions and paths, the possibility for "hidden" knowledge is unlikely. The whole point of the eclectic group is to share experiences and ritual, and esoteric or hidden knowledge gets in the way of that. Likewise recognition of leadership in the group is taken care of by the participation in a democratic process. Since the ritual leadership is democratic, it is not far from democratic participation to democratically elected leadership. Elected, electric, get it?

The loss of the experience of initiation is a significant shortcoming for electric practices. The trade-off is that participants get to experience a wide range of traditions and practices, without being locked into one path. The multiplicity of experiences has to make up for the lack of initiation in an eclectic tradition.

No tradition is perfect. But with an Eclectic practice you can draw from the best of all the traditions, and share insights from a variety of paths. Sure, you lose some focus, but in exchange you get to participate in a wide range of traditions.


[1] Eclectic is defined as "selecting the best in various doctrines or styles". Of course "best" is defined as "what you like".


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