Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy, Orthopsychy

To start with, let’s get some definitions.

Webster’s Dictionary defines orthodoxy asa : conformity to established doctrine especially in religion”; this term coming from the Greek orthos “right, true, straight” and doxa<dokein “opinion, praise, to think” (orthodoxos – “having the right opinion”).

Orthopraxy is defined as “conformity to established tradition and practice”; from orthos and praxis “action, way, activity” (orthopraxis “doing the right actions”).

Orthopsychy is not in any dictionary, but the etymology gives us the aforementioned orthos, combined with the familiar word psykhe (psyche), which is defined as “soul, mind, breath, life”; thus, orthopsykhe – “living the right life,” which I would expand as “conformity to one’s appropriate and vital place in existence.”

But what does all this mean?

Orthodoxy is the most common of the orthoi in modern religion, with three of the top five world religions focusing primarily (or exclusively) on it. They are, appropriately, known as Religions of the Book, basing their belief systems on codified scriptures and teachings. Anything that goes against the canonical standard is flamed, often literally, from book-burning to burning people at the stake. Constant vigilance is necessary to stop the seeds of heresy and dissent, a natural outcome of independent thinking. Thus, orthodoxic religions have often resorted to mental, spiritual, ethnic and cultural oppression to keep everyone in line. Monotheism is the natural breeding ground for orthodoxy, with its emphasis on singularity, though it can be found in other systems that have had contact with monotheism, or have emerged from monotheism in the modern age.

Orthopraxy, on the other hand, is most often found in culturally-based polytheisms. With an overabundance of diverse spiritual beings and concepts, there can be no strictly defined canon; thus, the emphasis instead focuses on what the people actually do. Orthopraxy is thus often tied up with ritualism, or the emphasis on correct/common rituals, but can also extend to cultural aspects such as ethics, virtues, ways of life, language use, and the arts. Adherents of orthopraxic religions, particularly the cultural reconstructions, therefore tend to focus on cultural immersion, researching and living the traditions and conceptions of whatever ancient culture the religion is devoted to.

Both of these fall into a particular trap – in their attempts to be “pure,” they ostracise and revile (and sometimes outright attack) those who may not fit the accepted mold. Orthodoxic religions have been persecuting their minorities for most of their entire existence; orthopraxic ones, however, often claim to be inclusive because they do not hold to a standard of belief (though, too often, what is defined as “right action” boils down to “what I personally believe is right and what is natural to me,” with someone who may trigger uncomfortableness in the mainstream being just as persecuted as they would be by orthodoxic practitioners.)

What may be the underlying problem with the two orthoi above is their emphasis on external validation. In orthodoxy, right belief is defined externally to the practitioner, based on scriptures that may have little to no bearing on their actual circumstances or needs; in orthopraxy, right action is also defined externally, often by adherence to a particular set of lore and history, or by what is deemed appropriate by “the community,” again with little to no consideration for the diversity of people’s backgrounds, needs and interests.

But there is another way, I think. If one uses the definition of soul presented by such figures as Bill Plotkin, namely “a thing’s ultimate place in the world,”* then the religious focus turns away from external validation to internal validation. Suddenly, the orthos becomes individual, with the inclusive idea that each person’s orthopsyche will almost certainly be different from anyone else’s, even if they share a common belief system or practice, because each person’s ultimate place is unique to them. No tree is the same as any other tree; likewise, no person’s religious experience will ever be the same as someone else’s, though some may be similar to each other.

Waincraft, in some senses, is inherently orthopsychic, in that it allows for each person to experience the Powers of the Land, Sea and Sky with their own senses and filters.

May we all live right-souled.


* Plotkin, Bill. Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008. 30-31. Print.

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