Syncreticism: When is it useful, when is it hurtful?

So I’ve been mulling over the next topic to bring up.. and this important one popped into my mind. As someone who worked primarily as an eclectic in some sense until relatively recently, it was always something that I continually took to be a subject of high importance as I approached my workings.

Syncreticism is best and most quickly described as the ‘Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, … , especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.’. This  means in the terms of Paganism and Occultism the combining of different spiritual beliefs, and often actual practices, of  various traditions at the same time into a new form.

Commonly, these traditions are originally discrete practices or currents,  unconnected in any manner, separated often geologically, culturally and temporally, but slowly became incorporated into each other over time. An example of these types of hybrid beliefs which can grow from the merging of two forms of belief are possibly best found in the New World. Here, a myriad of  religions exist which arose from the combination of multiple belief systems. An easy case to point to would be something like Santería, which is the result of a  mixture of Yoruba, Native American and Catholic belief systems.

In modern Pagan and Occult circles, it can be often seen that there are high degrees of syncreticism, no doubt as the result of the easy access  to information caused by the coming of age of the internet. Whilst some of this works, and works well, other examples (which I won’t point out as causing offence isn’t the sake of the blog..) clearly does not, and in my opinion causes more harm than good.

So where do we draw the line? Whats helpful, and whats hurtful? Unfortunately, drawing that line is  on a very case by case basis.

A low level syncretic approach I would argue is vital. The search for analogues of your own practices and beliefs in other, differing currents allows for an insight that would otherwise be lost. Looking at other currents allows for each practitioner to potentially see where it intersects with his or her own teachings, which in turn allows for the revelation of new ideas and relations which may have, in a broad sense, have an enriching effect on their own beliefs and practices.

In this way, the philosophical insights from those other currents can be incorporated into ones own and potentially allow for its expansion and growth by challenging, confirming, or placing a different light on ones own beliefs.

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As soon as we begin leaving this territory however, things become much murkier and difficult to assess. When it come
s down to taking different rituals and mythological/theological ideas from different currents and combining them into a new form that utilise this ‘home brew’ , I would argue there is a very large possibility of utter disaster if it is not thought through with the most utmost care.

Even very ‘similar’ currents on the exoteric level can be significantly different on the esoteric level, causing  substantial problems in the long run. In the best case where two mostly incompatible currents come together, one element becomes dominated by the other, and becomes passive, having little effect in enriching the original tradition.  In the worst case however, the new combination just serves to show extreme disrespect to the currents being ‘forced’ together, and will either be entirely ineffectual or even harmful to the practitioner/practitioners who utilise it. The last is most likely to come from attempting to combine two very disparate belief systems.

An example of this to make the point clear is that, as someone who works with Hecate I would never use the name of Kali or Inanna for example within my tradition. Although connections between them exist, and one could even make a convincing argument that they are faces of potentially the same force, it would be wrong to use them within a ritual context as each face comes also with its own individual signature which marks it as its OWN current. This signature is influenced by the culture, and time period, it was originally conceived within and will undoubtedly come with additional influences which do not allow for them to be combined within the same working or potentially even the same framework.

The exception, I would say, is if the practitioner of a current was told otherwise through direct spirit work, with his or her Gods  or equivalent. Such instruction, if from a genuine source, should not be resisted as multiple, new, powerful ideas, concepts and paths have arisen from this process.

In conclusion, I do believe that overall Syncreticism is a highly important part in what makes Modern Paganism and Occultism feel alive and dynamic. It has definitively enriched my own practice, which will be seen throughout my further blog posts. However it is something that must be approached very carefully, with proper thought given to the above considerations without haste, recklessness, and disrespect to the traditions involved.

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