There are a number of expressions that come to mind. Reconstructionist, that is seeking to properly understand and grasp within its original cultural context, our ancestral practice. Rebuilding our altars, once only a metaphor, and now actual construction. We seek to return to something that was taken from our ancestors years ago, and through the efforts of our later ancestors, something we have regained the right to return to.
Heathenry as a religion, as a community, has gotten both mature enough, and large enough that we have not only the luxury of thinking about where we draw our inspiration, but perhaps we have a requirement to do so. Where do Heathens look for inspiration?
To be a Heathen is to be a paradox. We are the simplest of people, yet how we come to be so is complex. Ours is perhaps the simplest path to walk, yet it is the one that requires the most work, and will cost you the most comfortable assumptions. Once you have lived this way for a while, it is as hard to think about living any other way as it would be for a raven to remember life before it could fly. We didn’t start that way, and maybe its as valuable for the eldest soaring high above us as for those perched uneasily at the side of the nest contemplating that first dive.
Our worldview accepts that we stand in the middle of nine worlds, in a place shared by the living and the dead. It should be no surprise that we ourselves stand with eyes looking into two different worlds, while standing firmly rooted in a third.
We look to the past with one eye. We seek to learn the lessons our ancestors understood, truths that sometimes cannot even be contained in the languages we retain in this generation. We seek to understand how our ancestors viewed their world, their challenges, their responsibilities, and their relationships. We know that we have wandered far from what our ancestors would have viewed as a proper balance in our lives and wish to more fully understand their own understanding of themselves.
We stand in the present, both feet firmly planted in this world, not the past that was, nor yet on any path of the yet to be. We stand in the now, wholly and fully creatures of our age, but if half of our vision is fixed in the past, where is the rest?
We look to the future with our other eye. Where we looked to the past to find our responsibilities, to find our reasons to make choices, we look ahead to find our duties. We stand in the present, but we understand and accept that our duties to those who came before us cannot be paid to the dead, but must instead be paid to the living, or the yet to be born. We stand in the present with both feet, and we cast our eye towards the future, so that when our hands are turned to the tasks of today, we do so ever mindful of the requirements of the future.
We are not peoples of the book, we have no Bible like the Abrahamatic faiths, for our ancestors never found one right way to live. They lived in a world that embraced change, that accepted that right answer for tomorrow might well be different than the right answer for yesterday. They understood that what could be taught was how to ask the right question, what they sought to preserve was the way to see where you stood, the price that was paid that you could stand here with the choices that you have, so that you could decide for yourself which choice would make it better for those who followed after.
We are products of all that went before us, but we add to that all the choices that we make, all the challenges we face, and all the ties that bind us to each other.
Above all else, this is what we look to the past to remember; we do not ever stand alone. We are all tied together, from the most distant sacred ancestor to the last of the descendants yet unborn. We are woven together by the ties we forge in this life, ties of blood, ties of shared struggle, ties of shared friendship, ties of shared obligation. We are tied to the land and waters whose life sustains us, we are tied to the spirits that arise from that life. We are tied as well to the greatest of the wights, the holy gods whose opinion on our efforts at reconstructing a healthy practice in our time I trust is as filled with humour and tolerance as anything else.
I have no doubt that we do much that our ancestors would consider wrong, much else they would not have enough understanding of the world we face today to understand, but perhaps it is good to remember that much we do, they would both understand and approve. We do not live in the world that they did, and the break between their time and ours is to great to simply reach back and carry on.
We do not seek, as the radicals of Christianity and Islam do, to turn back the clock, to deny the gains we have made as people and nations. We seek to go forward, but to go forward sustainably, sanely, and most of all, frithfully. Our ancestors lived in a time of great change, and changed with it. We seek to learn to embrace the change as they did, while retaining the sense of who we are, and what is important.
We look to the past to learn how our ancestors asked the right questions. We stand without fear in the present, accepting our responsibilities to the future. One eye cast to the past, so that they eye we cast to the future may hope to see the right questions, that our hands in this present time can help to weave a future our ancestors would be proud to see, and our descendants would be pleased to inherit.
Like the raven trying to explain flight, it sounds terribly complicated. Like the ravens in flight, once experienced, it is hard to imagine ever living any other way.