Archive for Syncreticism

The Pitfalls of Syncretism

Posted in Necromancy, Occultism, Paganism, Wicca with tags , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2014 by Sypheara

It was some months ago now, almost a year, when I first began writing posts for the blog. One of my first posts was on Syncretism, the practice of incorporating elements from different, sometimes vastly different culturally beliefs, into your own. I went into describing how I believe this can be highly beneficial, but it must be done in a considered way, to avoid insensitive cultural appropriation and combining elements that do not, fundamentally, belong together.

I was recently doing some reading on several blogs I and a few readers here frequent, when I came across a post by a writer on Mixed Family altars. This intrigued me, so I thought I would give it a read through. Needless to say, what I read gave me some cause to concern due to in my eyes, its inaccuracy and bad advice.

What follows is therefore my own take on it. I have copied the original text below – I felt like reblogging it, or otherwise identifying the original poster would have made it more of a clash of personalities / conflict rather than about any discussion over content. I have no desire to spoil someones day, but merely highlight something I feel is important.

+++++++Original Post+++++++

Mixed Family Altars

Not all pagan keep permanent altars in their homes, and sometimes its because not everyone follows the same path. You can, however, provide a mixed family altar where everyone can combine their beliefs in one place.

You will need;

Mutual respect. Even if someone is Christian, you should respect that path and if they wish to set up a cross or similar religious symbol. Sharing respect strengthens family bonds, and helps encourage one another in their spiritual path.

Candles. If you worry about fire, you can also use the flameless candles. Its for the mood, to symbolize enlightening and energy.

Offering plate (or bowl, basket or other container). Here is where family can put prayers, promises, offerings, and other items in a single space for the Divine. I would suggest including a small pad of paper with pencil so members can jot down words when the need arises.

Offerings can often take many forms such as food, drink, incense, prayers, promises, shiny things, and intentions. You could even put money, and then the family can vote on where to send and which charity.


Season and holiday symbols. For instance, a spring altar might include eggs, flowers, but also crosses, and symbols of Christ’s resurrection.  A winter solstice them can include symbols of the god, but also a nativity scene.

The family altars becomes a special place where members can individually or as a group, gather together for prayer and spiritual expression.’



‘Pillar’ by Johfra Bosschart

There are numerous problems with the above approach, which I believe presents incorrect information. Firstly, it presumes that every belief within the household can be combined, despite the different cultural, theological, and philosophical teachings that may run through the different currents presented upon such an altar.

For example, lets consider that in one household, one partner is a follower/dedicated to Hecate, and another is a Catholic Christian. A combined altar, as above would combine statues of the Goddess, alongside images of of Christ on the cross. We can ask a simple question, and say that, if we look at the teachings of both, would this be a logical altar to work with?

With some thought, the obvious answer one would arrive to would be no. Hecate, as Supreme Goddess, would not want to share her altar (her altar it being, as it is dedicated to her in some manner) with an icon of the solar cults which have seen her own and her followers suppressed for the past two thousand years and longer. On the opposite, why would the solar eternal God of the Bible, which specifically forbids witchcraft and worshiping idols, want any kind of altar, specifically where one would be placing such an idol on it specifically breaking his own teachings?

Even if we follow the mantra that all Godforms are just that, forms that are veils over the actual, real spirits and gods, then it follows that we would choose veils which can be combined, can merge, can empower the altar and through it, our connection through the harmonious symbolism to the actual spiritual forms of the Gods and Spirits themselves. Creating a confused, non workable amalgamation works for neither party, and does not have any real power behind it.

Even within seemingly harmonious combinations, trouble can arise. I discussed this with a friend, asking  him for his advice to clarify whether it was possible to practice and to some extent combine the practices of the teachings of a particular cult of Death alongside that of the Primal Craft. He was in agreement with my hunch that it could, but even so there was room for error. He has since discussed how others, coming to the same conclusion, tried to combine these beliefs and create a shared altar for both Saint Death alongside Hecate, and that those people received an astral backlash for attempting to combine not the work, but the dedication together in one amalgamation.

When we realise that the Gods are not there solely for us, solely to supply human needs and wants and neither created up  by our own minds and fantasies alone, it becomes easier to see how these issues could be serious and could cause very real problematic situations. The Gods and Spirits must be respected, each one worked appropriately with as little assumptions made about them as possible.

To return to the post, mutual respect within shared households for other peoples spiritual paths, unless they are overly extreme, dangerous or invasive, is vital to maintaining good and open relationships between people. There is no reason why, in the above example, a space could not be set aside in the house and two smaller, separate altars constructed. If the Christian wanted to work with Hecate or leave offerings to her, he could at her altar, and vice versa, without creating the conflicting space. This would allow both people to partake and interact with the others path, to some extent, and learn about how it is important to the others persons life and would still allow the same, shared practice sought after in the initial idea.

In addition, this would, in my eyes, garner more respect than the combined altar method. Approaching someone else spirit or ruling god, outside of your own comfort zone, shows respect to them and their beliefs rather than insisting upon your space necessarily encroaching upon theirs. It also enables both people to walk their own paths as well, utilising the altars for the personal dedications to their ruling gods and spirits without the confusing influence being enforced upon them by a shared altar projecting a mixed current.


Candle, photographer unknown

A lesser problem in the post is also the mention of the candles. Here we see a demonstration of the modern belief that a symbol can replace an actual object in worth. This is not correct, and is not fair advice without clarifying what is lost by this replacement. Actual candles are made of a variety of substances, all of them organic in some manner. When burned, these act as an actual, energetic offering outside of just being simply to set a mood for a human participant. This is a thoroughly necromantic practice – the energy of the animal product is being released as consumable energy, as a real, powerful flame that radiates a strong heat.

Conversely, electric candles are at best, a very poor substitute, the energy being used for them being generated by some chemical reaction (zinc and manganese dioxide reacting with each other in the case of alkaline batteries). These do not have the same effect as actual candles burning a wax that has been produced from or by an animal. For safety they are, of course, preferred, but this comes at a large cost in their worth as an offering, and I would not recommend them unless they were the only choice due to some kind of regulation. If housed in proper holders, the chance of fire is exceedingly small, with a bit of care.

This assumption is typical of some neopagan practices, which do not respect folk belief and instead concentrate on intention alone. Intention is a very powerful tool, but when combined with actual, physical objects that contain magical properties, the results of any operation will be heightened exponentially. It is also to be said that some operations are impossible without being grounded with corresponding physical materials as without them the correct gates / avenues for the spiritual power to egress will not be opened.

Many people that work with the plant spirits for example, would be able to tell you that much if not all of their current relies on personal experience with not just the plants spirit, but also its physical form.

With the above said, it comes back to the point that we must realise our magickal practices and beliefs should not be an escape into a solipsistic fantasy. Instead, they should be grounded in real contact, utilising whatever methods work for the practitioner.

I’d be interested to see what other people think on this subject, so feel free to fire up the comments section.

Cheers for reading,


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

Posted in Occultism, Paganism with tags , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2013 by Sypheara

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.


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.