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Constructing Identity and Divinity

Constructing Identity and Divinity - Constructing identity...

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Constructing identity and divinity: Creating community in an Elder religion within a postmodern world Jenny Blain Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology Mount Saint Vincent University Halifax NS B3M 2J6 email: [email protected] or [email protected] (An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the Qualitative Methods conference, Toronto, August 1997, INTERDISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVES: USING QUALITATIVE METHODS TO STUDY SOCIAL LIFE) Introduction In the present day an increasing number of people are drawn towards earth-centered ('alternative' or 'Pagan') religions: and the ways in which they seek for information are as diverse as the people themselves or the goddess and gods whom they name. Many practitioners, particularly within the Women's Spirituality Movement, state that they look primarily to 'ancient' religions and practices as suggested by archaeological findings from the bronze age, neolithic, or even palaeolithic. A further group relate their beliefs and practices specifically to mythologies and mythological texts (such as the Mabinogi, or the Icelandic Edda ), and archaeological findings, from Western Europe in a period of approximately one thousand years, from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries of the Common Era. Others may gather information on particular deities without being historically, geographically or temporally specific about practices. HYPERLINK "http:// www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/2171/heath.html" \l "%5B1%5D" [1] Various terms can be used to refer to the beliefs and their adherents, including "Earth Religions", "paganism", "alternative religions" and "prechristian religions". These cover many different approaches to spirituality and belief, whose adherents in general do not consider that their approach is the only "correct" one. Most pagans see others' forms of paganism as valid. Within this varied and varying mix of spiritualities, groups and individuals draw on narratives of (for instance) ancient Goddess worship, or ninth- century Heathenism, to demarcate who they are: to not only establish authenticity, precedents for practices, and status for group members, but provide individuals and groups with ways in which they relate discursively to Goddesses, Gods, Earth and community. Perceptions of earlier "indigenous" pagan religions provide reference points for identification and credentialling of not only group and individual practices and organization, but cosmologies and mythologies. Elsewhere I have differentiated three major sets of narratives, which provide a means to categorize the uncategorizable. First, accounts of an unbroken chain of practice,
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disrupted, and driven underground by the period of witch burnings. Second, accounts of practices as modern and as deliberately created, but as derived from, influenced by and possibly including survivals of early practices. This group of narratives includes accounts constructed from interpretations of archaeological findings, such as Gimbutas' concept of 'Old Europe'. Third are deliberate "reconstructions", though within a present-day context
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