Woo, boring and informational post ahead!
(not that my other posts aren’t either of these…this one is just more so ;))
So, say you’re new to paganism (specifically, here, a reconstructionist path) – or aren’t, but haven’t done as much research as you’d like. You know that there are things out there that you want to read, things that would be a good deal of help to you and your path, but you really have no idea how to go about doing the research.
Wellll…let’s start with terms. There are three main ones for source material bandied around the pagan community at large, themselves taken from years previous of academic research: primary sources, secondary sources, and tertiary sources.
Maybe you’ve heard of those before – I’m willing to bet that you have. But what do they mean? Let’s take a look!
Primary sources are those sources that are either artifacts or writings from the members of the religion that you are researching. These are considered the best sources for research. For paths that are reconstructions of ancient religions, these are going to be old, very old, and in a different language. So as a Roman reconstructionist, I would primarily (hah!) be looking at sources written in Latin and classical Greek, from authors such as Cicero, Varro, Virgil, and Ovid (just to name a few). A Hellenic reconstructionist might look at works from Homer (though there are, as I understand it, some people who don’t like using “his” works as primary sources), Hesiod, and works by/about the philosophers.
The published translations do not count as primary sources – those are secondary sources, which I’ll get to in a second.
Obviously a challenge of this would be learning the language that you are trying to translate, but there is another problem: bias. Several (read: many) sources come from Christian authors who weren’t exactly writing to be faithful to the original practices, and so you get biased opinions and odd distortions of the religions. That’s not to say that they should be ignored, however: just taken with a grain of salt and thoroughly combed through.
Secondary sources are where your translations of the primary sources come in. These can sometimes be just as hard to read as translating the original material itself (19th-, early 20th-century English, anyone?), so make sure that, if you do go this route, you get a translation that you can actually understand.
These can be best defined as “interpretations and evaluations of primary sources” (thanks, UMD library page!), so published scholarly works on artifacts would count under this heading as well.
Tertiary sources and beyond are works that take bits from the primary and secondary sources and put them together. So these are things like dictionaries and textbooks – which makes it all the more confusing since those two things can also be considered secondary sources!
So now that you know about these terms, how do you know what sources are good and which aren’t?
In general, I’d say that all primary sources are worth looking at. Secondary sources…depend on the translator, and same with tertiary sources. You want to make sure that they’re published by reputable people or departments (such as Oxford, Loeb, etc.) and not by dubious people with names like Silver Ravenwolf.
A good way to go about looking at secondary sources is to look at one good author (Georges Dumezil, for example, who was a fairly modern scholar interested in Etruscan and Archaic Roman religious practices) and see who they cite. That’s a good way to gather up more authors to read, but remember to always keep in mind that once you get past the primary sources, things may become a matter of opinion – so don’t take everything you read at face value.
Happy researching :]
Finished just in time…loud downstairs neighbors have cranked up the ’80s music