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Working in Diverse Traditions

by George Franklin for RQ

For our theme section this issue, RQ features articles and interviews from Reclaiming Witches who also practice another spiritual tradition.

When we began work on this section, we initially contacted people who are involved in Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Santería, and Candomblé.

Several of these are in fact represented in these pages, and others will be featured in future issues. But as this theme section took shape, what seemed to come to the fore were articles on working with the Orisha, a complex group of traditions originating among the Yoruban people of West Africa and practiced today throughout Latin America and many parts of the U.S.

(Although our articles focus primarily on working with the Orisha, the issues raised here are relevant to working with other living spiritual traditions such as Buddhist, Hindu, or Native American.)

Many of the traditions and pantheons that Reclaiming works with are mere vestiges of their ancient forms. For instance, the Mediterranean pantheons that we know via Greek and Roman mythology are little more than (often obscene) fairy tales built around what were once living religions. And while we have some intriguing acquaintance with Egyptian and Sumerian deities through the deciphering of ancient texts, these divinities are no longer the objects of a widespread practice.

Even Celtic gods and goddesses, who maintained a shadowy presence through the Christian centuries via folk traditions, today are the subjects more of speculative reconstructions than an unbroken lineage, as recent scholarship (Ronald Hutton, Prudence Jones) has shown.

With Yoruban traditions, the situation is strikingly different. Brought to the "new world" by slaves, adapted to new conditions but never completely submerged, the veneration of the Orisha is a living, evolving spiritual practice.

Compounding the situation is the fact that most Reclaiming Witches are of European heritage, and many who work with the Orisha are of Indigenous or African descent. The Orisha are not the first element of these cultures to be threatened with appropriation by European people.

Those of us accustomed to Reclaiming-style eclecticism, to resuscitating ancient deities and adapting them to modern needs, have to learn to approach living practices in a different manner, or run the risk of racism and cultural appropriation.

We hope that these articles help ground discussions of how Reclaiming Witches, whose assimilation of diverse traditions provides such a spark to contemporary Paganism, can approach Earth-based traditions that are still alive today.