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Author Topic: On the term "Syncretism"  (Read 2017 times)


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On the term "Syncretism"
« on: May 22, 2020, 11:43:16 am »
Hello all,

I'm sharing this thread from Twitter as a conversation-starter. Bordeaux criticises "syncretism" as the only term used for combo-religion, and proposes a couple of synonyms with slightly different nuances - so that we can use more than one word to discuss this phenomeon, approaching it from different angles and with a different kind of emphasis.

I'm pretty sure I learnt the term "syncretism" from the Cauldron back in the day. I want to emphasise that the intent isn't to criticise or start a fight, more like...because this is a term used a lot here, I thought it might interest people as it interested me :) and be a conversation starter.

What do we all think? Are these alternative angles/words useful? Are there other synonyms for "syncretism" which you use, and why (or in what contexts) do you prefer them?

(Somewhat unrelated, but I was talking on my personal tumblr last night about complex/contradictory genders (like agender lesbian or genderqueer man), and that we could understand them in two different ways:
  • The first being like a cake, with separate ingredients mixed into a new whole where you can no longer see the original ingredients
  • the second being like, a pile of different coloured tissue paper, glass or acetate tossed on top of each other, creating a wholly new colour in the center, but with the original colours all visible at the fringes, and existing in a definite Order; one of my friends suggested the layers of a musical piece, and that works nicely too, where there's a complete new thing in the center but you can pick out the differences between the bass line and harmony too.

I mention that because it feels relevant to looking at syncretic/hybridised/creole deities and religions, in terms of whether...the outcome is a kind of cake, or a pile of layered (but partially see-through) coloured glass.)

Over to you!

[Edited by Jenett for code reasons - turns out you just need to put the URL for a tweet in and it will auto-embed without additional code]
« Last Edit: May 22, 2020, 12:41:12 pm by Jenett »
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Re: On the term "Syncretism"
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2020, 09:10:58 pm »
What do we all think?

You've got a good point that we use syncretism today in neopaganism to mean several different things.

There's syncretism of cultures and religions; we might refer to the practices of the Ptolemies as "syncretic" in this sense, or many African diasporic religions. Both of those are distinct in their own way (the former was an example of powerful figures reshaping religion to cement their own political sovereignty, and the latter an example of a culture subject to genocide trying to hold on to its roots) and could, if you like, be further distinguished with new terms. I believe that's what the tweet you linked is discussing. The point there seems to be that these different cultural circumstances should be considered when we make our terminology, and that's something perhaps worth exploring, although "syncretism" could still be an umbrella term.

However, "syncretism" also has a related but distinct meaning as applied to the gods themselves--it highlights their ability to swap identities and combine with each other. Sometimes this is within a cultural milieu, as was explicitly the case in ancient Egypt (with its complex web of carefully studied syncretisms) and implicitly the case in Hellenic Greece (with its attempts to smooth out regional differences to create a pan-Hellenic mythos). Other times it's between or among cultural milieus, as with the famed Isis of a Thousand Names. Should we use a different word for this? If so, do we also divide that word between intranational and international (for lack of better words for the time period) syncretisms?

I can see arguments for coming up with new words for the sake of precision, but I can also see how some would consider it unnecessarily confusing, given that all of these uses point to the same thing: the peculiarly fluid nature of the Divine and how it is reflected in human culture.

Are these alternative angles/words useful? Are there other synonyms for "syncretism" which you use, and why (or in what contexts) do you prefer them?

To discuss the latter type of syncretism--the swapping of hats amongst gods--I sometimes talk about "shared aspects" rather than invoking the word syncretism.

I have also been known to simply give up and use the term deityblort to refer to my Powers.
"The peacock can show its whole tail at once, but I can only tell you a story."


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Re: On the term "Syncretism"
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2020, 07:18:20 pm »
"syncretism" also has a related but distinct meaning as applied to the gods themselves--it highlights their ability to swap identities and combine with each other.

This is how I usually think of the term. There are a couple of different sub-categories; in one, deities merge into a new entity (like Voltron), and in the other, they're considered different forms of the same being (like Transformers).

Tags: syncretism 

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