Ethnocentrism seems to be somewhat of a hot-button word in certain scholarly Pagan circles I run in. I merely let it drop from my lips and I see people squirm as if the mention made them pucker a bit.
Therefore I want to discuss what ethnocentrism means within Reconstructionist Polytheism. Ethnocentrism merely means “focused on one’s ethnicity”. Many beliefs and practices are ethnocentric.
For instance, the African Diasporic religion of Ifa is ethnocentric. Attend one of their rituals and you will not see Catholic saints venerated, nor will you see feasts of hot-dogs and french-fries offered to their Gods (Orishas). You won’t sing a Psalm, nor will you cast a circle thrice about. Their practices, beliefs, and memes are African, and this makes sense because they are, after all, an African religion.
When a Reconstructionist Polytheist says they are “ethnocentric” they are merely saying that they are focused and centered in the praxis and beliefs of their faith’s ethnic origin. An Asatruar follows only Teutonic philosophies and practices, a Celtic Reconstructionist follows only Celtic beliefs. This does not mean these groups are racist or wish to exlude others from practicing with them. It only means that if you are an Asatruar, then your philosophy and beliefs must revolve around the Teutonic ethos, there is no room for grab-bag specials or magpie eclecticism. The very word “Asatru” means “Faithful to the Aesir”, so, be faithful.
However, those practicing such ethnocentric faiths in the “Great Melting Pot” of America have a dillemma to face sooner or later: they don’t live in Iceland, Germany, Sweden or any other such country of origin. They live in America, where the land-spirits are different, the spiritual onlays are unique and the cultures differ vastly. Some in the Reconstructionist communities have reacted with seperatist notions, suggesting building an intentional community where the “folkway” can be kept pure.
I think this is fantastical reactionism. We needn’t cloister ourselves away, high atop a mountain to understand our ethnic Gods. We needn’t exclude wisdom from other cultures or ethnicities. I count among my dear friends and elders a Santeria practitioner, a South American medicine woman and other voices of cultural diversity. I have found that, while discussing things with them, learning from them, I discover new facets of my own folkway heretofore hidden in the fog of genetic memory.
Examine the practices of Palo, Santeria, New Orleans Voodoo, Southern Hoodoo, Appalachian Granny Magic, and Braucherie, and you will see how peoples before us have met the challenge of the “Melting Pot”. Each and every folk practice mentioned has a startling amount of eclectic hodgepodge contained within, however, these folk traditions have maintained their ethnocentrism. Santeria is very Hispanic, New Orleans Voodoo is very African, Braucherie is very German. The secret these folk traditions hold is that it is possible to be American, to thrill in and love the melting pot and all it’s wonderful resources, while still remaining true to your Gods and your beliefs.
One can still be Asatru and drink Tequila at Sumbel, one can still be Celtic Recon and curse an enemy with chili peppers. It is how the extant cultural influences are channelled and put to use that divides the magpies from the ethnocentrics. It is about mindset and internal philosophy. One must always ask, how would my ancestors interpret and utilize this new thing into their practices?
The only way to truly and correctly answer this question is to first make oneself wise and well-versed in ancestral thought. Read all the myths, stories and folktales, read all the historical and anthropological data one can find. Immerse yourself in the culture of choice, only then can you navigate the cultural labyrinth of America without stumbling.