The path of an eclectic is by its very nature a hard one to describe. Simply put an eclectic builds their own path by adopting and modifying ideas, concepts and practices, either from other belief systems or from sources as diverse as fiction and family tradition. As such an eclectic's path is a very personal one and also one that is unlikely to be duplicated elsewhere.
A common criticism levelled at eclectics in general is that they treat the world's religions as a buffet, browsing the menu and taking only what they fancy. As a result it is implied that they cheapen the credibility of the people who genuinely practice an existent path. Some go even further and brand the eclectics as too lazy to commit themselves to the pursuit of a 'true' faith and even that they insult the very gods they purport to honour.
I would have to admit that there are people out there who follow a path made up of a tangle of different ideas and practices, which may even at times, be contradictory in their meaning, but this is not necessarily a true picture of eclectics in general. Many eclectics are very particular about what they incorporate into their paths, they don't just pick something because they like what they see, they actively evaluate the reasons behind the practice and only include it if they feel that it is right for them. Often once the reasons for a particular action are known, a personal variant is worked out that may have little apparent similarity to the original, but which achieves the same result while fitting smoothly within the host path. A successful personal path could be said to be one where the actions and meanings are fully understood by the person and that all said aspects of their path fit together without any glaring clashes.
A remark often made by those who follow a traditional path is that there is no authoritive regulator of what is or isn't relevant to a personal path, other than the person whose path it is. They dislike the fact that some may work with a selection of deities from differing cultures, even dare I say it, from the Abrahamic faiths, and justify this only by saying that it is their path and it works for them. Or perhaps an eclectic may be seen to be following only part of a traditional practice while ignoring the rest, replying when asked, that it is not relevant to their path.
Well this again is often true, but I would counter that if you try and work with gods who do not get on, or who feel that you are paying them improper respect, you won't get very far. Likewise it is alright to only follow parts of a tradition, but only if you can explain in detail why you discard the rest; not so much of an 'it isn't relevant' but more of an 'it isn't relevant because...'
Indeed for many a personal path is in fact a very hard path to forge. The very fact that you do not have a guide as to what you should or shouldn't include means that you must commit yourself to endless study and constant re-evaluation. Rather than follow a single mythological cycle you must become acquainted with many and rather than understand one culture you must study a far larger field. When someone who is prepared to do the background work puts a personal path together, it becomes a valid and strong belief system in its own right. If they actively commit themselves to gaining an understanding of both the cultural context and mythological histories of their sources their knowledge and understanding can be the equal of someone who actively follows the source path.
While it is true that not every eclectic will put the effort in to creating a seamless whole out of the patchwork of concepts and actions that they adopt, it must be accepted that there are those that do either from the start, or over time, and that their resultant paths are a worthy representation of their faith.
I am not Wiccan, Druid, Hellenic or Norse,
I don't follow others I chart my own course.
I'm Pagan I say, when asked of my faith,
But that defines little, so seemingly safe,
Until when they question just where I belong,
My tune although similar is not the same song.
Should I kowtow to them and find a known path?
Why should my views cause them to laugh,
And scoff at my faith that has no tradition?
Do they feel that this is some kind of sedition?
To my beliefs I will keep a firm and tight hold,
Resisting all taunts and not pigeonholed.
But I know I can take it, my beliefs they are strong,
Though I still can't help wishing to feel I belong.
But if I convert to one historically 'real'
I betray myself, and my gods too, I feel.
So rather than join in, I'll stay solo with pride,
And walk my path gladly, my gods at my side.
© Kev the Cosmic Fool 2005