Reconstruction is the tool with which Heathens rebuild their modern worldview and beliefs from the arch-Heathen worldview. Despite being vital to modern Heathenry, reconstruction has been frequently neglected or misunderstood. One cannot separate reconstruction from Heathenry; calling oneself a reconstructionist Heathen is redundant. Not all that incorporate arch-Heathen gods, concepts, and art are Heathen. For instance, some neopagans will give worship to the Æsir or honor the landwights, but will ignore arch-Heathen cultural views. In fact, many self-described Heathens are more properly neopagans, because they’ve not used reconstruction to define their worldview. This is either due to a misunderstanding of reconstruction, or a disregard for it. While there’s little that can be done to address the latter, we can try to amend the former. For that, let’s use an analogy.
Imagine that a thousand years from now a collection of 1954 Hudson Hornets is discovered by an archaeologist. All these models are in similar condition, however they will not start. They are missing pieces of their engines and the interiors have been gutted. Records from this time period on American automobiles is scarce now, most data having been lost in the ensuing time. Three enthusiasts each purchase a vehicle, hoping to “restore” it.
The first enthusiast removes all the remaining pieces of the the engine, cleans up and restores pieces of the automotive body – mostly with materials not found in 1950’s America. They attempt to make it as visually perfect as possible, while replacing the engine and moving parts with modern equivalents. The enthusiast then takes it to car shows and discusses the history of automobiles in general, using as many terms as he can that are from the 20th and 21st centuries. He also dresses in what he believes is “motorist” fashion, typically a Nascar driver’s uniform.
This is reenactment. For a time Heathenry could be mistaken for reenactment, before the internet was available outside of major universities, let alone in everyone’s pocket. Reenactment can be solid introduction to Heathenry, depending on how they restored the body, and the perspectives learned on the methods used to create objects used in everyday life of that time period. Unfortunately left alone it only exists as a veneer.
The second enthusiast restores the car with a mixture of modern parts and parts from other vehicles (both within the same period and from elsewhere), often removing the old. The interior is replaced so as to make the driver as comfortable as possible, while the exterior is customized to their taste. In the end, the car looks vaguely like the original, but has a number of details that are from other makes and models and is powered by an engine that is almost completely modern.
This is neopaganism. Unlike Heathenry, neopaganism is customized to the individual. Ideas, themes, concepts, and beliefs are pulled from a number of sources, frequently modern ones. For them, it is more about creating a belief system that is in line with the worldview they already hold. Neopaganism will often look like Heathenry, using the same gods, many of the same terms, and so forth. Yet closer inspection will note that the individual engages in beliefs or actions that are not recognizable to the arch-Heathen.
The third enthusiast examines all existing examples of automobiles from that time period, and through trial and error fits them together, fills in gaps of knowledge, and materials used on the vehicles and compares to what is used now. Replaces the vehicle with original parts when possible, or fabricates new parts that worked as the original when necessary. Spends years studying all aspects of automobiles, often sees their work used by others – sometimes correctly, sometimes not. Borrows research findings from others working on similar ancient vehicles. At times encounters resistance to changing or adapting to new discoveries that are made from commonly accepted methods being used by most. Other times it is silently adopted by all. Eventually they are able to make the vehicle run and be used as it was during time it was built. At the same time, they ensure all of its parts are up to modern code, so that they can use the vehicle publicly without breaking the law or causing unwanted attention.
The third enthusiast is a reconstructionist. They combine many of the ideas of the first two, but add and expand upon the methods they used for their conclusion. They have to adapt to changing attitudes when newly discovered data is found, contradicting previous assumptions they may have had. They use a list of modern sciences that crosses anthropology, history, architecture, archaeology, agriculture, linguistics, and others to rebuild a framework and give context to their view of the world they live in.
Reconstruction in Heathenry can be incredibly frustrating. We frequently learn that previously-held beliefs may not be accurate to the arch-Heathen worldview, or that certain notions of modern-day life may not have existed then. It is a process through which we constantly have to build and rebuild our worldview, and it is a great deal of work. But to be truly Heathen, and to be recognizably so, it is necessary. And while it can be frustrating, it can also be rewarding. The knowledge gained, and the connection made with one’s ancestors in the pursuit of that knowledge, are worth the effort made.