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Eclecticism a.k.a. The Salad Bar Hypothesis

Author: Talitha Dragonfly
Posted: August 10th. 2008
Times Viewed: 5,934

The television was on in my bedroom the other day. I wasn't really paying attention to what was on. It was something that my husband was watching. I couldn't even tell you what program it was, or even what it was about.

But one sentence jumped out at me from across the room. One of the characters in the show said, "Religion isn't like a salad bar where you can pick and choose what you want, and leave the rest behind."

To be perfectly honest, it unsettled me quite a bit. This very much sounded like accusatory scolding I've received in the past, and not just from people of mainstream religions. I've also been told this by some of my fellow Neo-Pagans in reference to my Eclecticism.

I silently thanked the Divine for allowing me to hear this television show's sentence first before anyone else could use it on me and claim originality!

But why did it bother me? What about this statement sent my thoughts rattling around in my head like a pair of dice in a cup?

I chose to throw those dice, loaded or not, and carefully considered why what had been said was getting to me.

I'll admit it. I often look to people who claim to follow one of the mainstream religions yet seem to live their lives in complete opposition to their faith's core beliefs, and I'll silently scold them for not adhering to what they are supposed to be doing. Take for example the Catholic girl who goes to church on Sunday with her boyfriend, yet takes birth control pills because that Sunday-best dress gets tossed onto the floor in the back seat of her boyfriend's car every Friday night.

Paganism can be like that, too. There seems to be the opinion that there are things that we as Pagans are supposed to be doing. I recently read one online group accusing that anyone who chooses to follow a mixed pantheon is "exploiting" other cultures' beliefs. "How can you put Cernunnos and Kali on one altar?" they gasp in honest horror. "They were never intended to be put together, and the gods surely would be offended by such a haphazard combination."

The Salad Bar Hypothesis rears its ugly head.

So why do I think that it's wrong for the Catholic girl to be engaging in premarital sex, yet it's perfectly all right for me to define what it is to be Pagan for myself through Eclectic practices? Isn't this two-faced of me?

What makes me different from that Catholic girl is simple: Knowledge. She is ignorant not only about all the different beliefs of all the world's cultures other than her own, but she is bound to be totally and completely ignorant about her own religion as well. How many Catholics, or people from other religions for that matter, actually take the time to do a little research on the origins and true history of their faith? How many of them instead choose to just accept what's rattled off to them by society, church, and equally naive family members?

The same can be said for a good number of Neo-Pagans. How many of us have done any kind of genuine academic exploration of the true origins of our myths, gods, practices, and beliefs? How many of us could be accused of simply adhering to what's been written in "officially" sanctioned books authored by only a handful of opinionated modern writers? How many of us have bothered to get down to our true roots?

The poor girl can hardly be blamed for throwing her panties to the wind. She is acting on natural instinct and hormones. Her official faith simply does not and cannot offer her any support other than to say "You're SINNING!" No wonder she can't follow the rules. Perhaps instead if she was made to feel more like a Goddess and an equal in the equation of the Divine instead of an inferior female, she might make different choices than getting bonked in the back of a beat-up Geo Metro. Or, on the flip side of the coin, she might be more at peace with her decisions.

But still she "sins". She's grazing at the Salad Bar, and not following the rules of her faith.

One of the things that first attracted me to Paganism was the joy of freedom. There is no suffocating dogma for me to blindly obey, and no official "bible". There are no hard-fast rules, no holy commandments written in stone for all of eternity, and no divine thunderbolts to zap me if I get anything wrong.

A whole new world was opened to me. To ME! It had fully become my right to explore spirituality in a way that had personal meaning for ME, free from the shackles of simply performing what was most comfortable and strategically viable for the masses. And it was a world that I intended to explore through fresh new eyes that had had the veil of obedience and ignorance fully lifted. This new approach was revealing some things that were spectacularly miraculous to me.

I am not simply taking bits and pieces of what I like, and disregarding all the rest. To me, Paganism is ENDLESS. There are no limits to where my spirituality can take me. Totally absent are any "No Entry" signs to different images, symbols, and inspirations of the Divine. The entire Universe is mine to explore. And I choose to go wherever I am called.

I'm not picking and choosing from one single religious tradition. I'm embracing EVERY possibility of the Divine that reveals Itself to me. I'm not disobeying any rules. I'm simply figuring out that there really are no rules.

I am free.

In closing, I would like to offer a definition of what I personally believe it is to be Eclectic. It is not the following of any one single system of belief or Tradition. It is instead finding inspiration in many different yet complimentary systems. It is not a grab-bag approach to spirituality. And it certainly is not grazing at the Celestial Salad Bar.

It is celebrating the universal common grounds of what it is to be a human being contemplating the Divine, and finding the answers absolutely EVERYWHERE. It is this one woman's humble action of sitting under the night sky filled with stars and realizing that no single person or group of people can ever know all of the answers. But together we can try.

And it can be fabulous.


Talitha Dragonfly

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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