I came across a wonderful and insightful post by Kiya over at Peaceful Awakenings entitled Reconstruction is a Lie. Read it, seriously, it's good food for thought even if it's about Kemetic religion. I love the post and yet, I disagree with it--or at least, I disagree with her reasoning. LEt me set you up with the two most relevant bits:

"The illusion of reconstruction is that the process results in something that is “what the ancients/the ancestors practiced”. That’s the inner mythology. And that’s the lie. The big one. The imaginary comfortable place that lets people believe that they’re digging in to finding something secretly More True than what they had before. It’s comforting. It’s comfortable. It’s complacent. And it’s wrong.

[...] It’s construction. It has to be. There is no option otherwise, and perhaps the idea there might be is poisonous. It creates the idea that there is a true cultus, a true way of worship, that one group’s interpretation of the facts that have been recovered is the true way, that others are failures; at its worst, it unthinkingly copies the Christian notion of the fall from Eden: our ancestors had paradise (a “true” relationship with the gods) and fucked it up by changing traditions, whether by choice or force, and we must live with the terrible consequences of their sinful choice." 

This is 100% not how I define "reconstruction", how I imagine my practice to be, how I view reconstruction as a whole. In fact, reading the above explanation feels very...modern to me. Let's have a go at trying to explain why.

We can't practice like the ancient Hellenes did. Kiya is right, that is a complete lie. Animal sacrifice, massive group (city wide!) worship, festival days, Mysteries, etc., etc., there is so much that we don't have and we will most likely never have again. That is a fact. That is reality. Everyone who tells you they "practice like the ancient Hellenes did" is lying to your face--and if they aren't, point me to them! I will literally move to wherever they live that has a whole city full of Hellenists practicing exactly like the ancient Hellenes 2000+ years ago.

My definition of 'reconstruction isn't "[this is] what the ancients practiced". My definition is: "I understand why the ancients practiced the way they did, and the way I practice is true to that why." Reconstruction is a mindset to stay true to the fundamentals of your religion. It's understanding the do's and don't the ancient Hellenes put in place, it's understanding how religion, ethics, and philosophy interact to build a society and then translating the spirit of that into the present where you keep what you can and adapt what you can't.

I get a lot of questions from readers saying "I don't have [...], so can I use [...]?". Usually the answer is "yes", because usually it stays in the spirit of the "why". If you don't have laurel or olive leaves to make khernips, for example, use another type of leaf (one they had in ancient Hellas if you can manage) or even use a match. I see absolutely no problem with that. There is something I do have a problem with in this example, though, and it comes down to the same things: laziness and underlying disrespect. There are two replies I get a lot: "I can't do that because I don't have [matches, money, time to go to the store, etc.]", and "Can't I just use water?"

I rarely get annoyed with readers, but answers like that are exactly the reason I call my self a Traditional Reconstructionist and I differentiate between Traditional and Reformed Hellenismos. "Can I just use water?" is a reformed reply. "I don't have time to walk out my door and get a leaf" is a reformed reply. It's applying some things from ancient Hellas in your practice "just 'cuz", without making the effort to understand it. I don't mind that. How you practice is up to you. I just can't help you with it because it makes my head and heart hurt. I am a Traditional Reconstructionist. My whole practice, my whole life, is aimed towards understanding the "why" and building on that ever-growing foundation.

The ancient Hellenes burned things (like sacrifices, incense, but also the firebrand to make khernips) because smoke was the only way the sacrifice reached the Ouranic Gods. That's how the sacrifice traveled to Olympos and how the sacrifice itself became sacred. Pure. Burning something and dropping it into the water is what makes it khernips. Not using a burning something, anything, to make khernips is promising someone food and giving them an empty plate along with a message saying "just imagine it's food. I'm sure you'll feel full". I don't care that you don't burn the exact thing the ancient Hellenes did--that is not what Reconstruction should be about--it's understanding the "why" of it and being true to the spirit of it--because the ancient Hellenes did nothing "just cuz". Everything had a reason, and it's all tied up and interwoven with every other aspect of their life.

There is no True Way (tm) in religion. There just isn't. Reformed Hellenismos is equally valid as Traditional Hellenismos (which is, I suppose, closer to the label of "reconstruction" as discussed here). I don't think the Gods care either way--but I care. I care a lot about sticking to the "why", and in that way, yes, I am a reconstructionist. I am not a reconstructionist in the sense that if you time traveled an ancient Athenian here, he'd be able to jump in with my practice without some serious learning curve, but I know that he would understand it. He would see that--no matter how warped in the actual execution--the spirit of it is intact. The building blocks of his own practice are there, and he will be able to see I worked hard to understand and adapt his practice. That is what reconstruction is to me and it is absolutely possible! It just takes time, energy, and a willingness to learn.