I always think it funny when people refer to “ancient paganism” or “reconstructionist anything” because paganism didn’t exist to an Pre-Christianity person. It would have been exactly what my grandmother called what she taught me, “This is what we do.” No explanation of religion or faith or anything like it. It was simply what you did to get along in life. You made offerings to your family spirits, you, maybe acknowledged there are greater beings that might or might not be blamed for interfering in human lives. You did spells to manifest what you believed best to take care of you or your family. (See Lares and Penates) Something like invoking prosperity or protection. But the concept of a religion would never, ever have come into it until quite late. This is partly why some cultures didn’t pay much attention to the monotheists, it didn’t make any sense to them. They could see their deities and the effects it had on what they did or did not do. Even the Romans only went to the Temples because the calendar said so. No punishing god or goddess would “get” then if they didn’t go unless you were a Vestal Virgin.
Because we come from a Judeo-Christian indoctrination in our culture, belief is way over emphasized. I don’t think the ancients would have known what a belief was. You know what you know or you don’t. There was no “believing in some mysterious super being sitting in heaven somewhere judging your every move” so why do pagans think they need a) a belief system and b) a religion organized to deal with that made up by someone other than yourself, belief system. Do what you need to do because you believe (oops! Should have said ‘know or decide’ ) it is the correct and right thing to do at the time.
Uh, oh, this puts us in the personal responsibility realm. Yeah, you have to be responsible for deciding what is ethical and what is nice. There is no codified behaviour just a set of good practices such as being mean and nasty just begets more meaness and nastiness. Probably why ol’ Confucius first stated the Golden Rule way before Westerns thought of it.
Americans and Western Europeans and their colonies come from cultures where Christianity has been allowed to define the culture and that culture says that religion comes from an external place. If you follow a modern pagan lifestyle it suddenly has to change to an internal model. YOU decide what you do.
If you want an external religion then modern paganism is not the place for you. No one is going “save” you or forgive your transgressions especially since you know before you did it that it was the wrong or mean thing to do. So you shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
The Reconstructionists can only reconstruct the formal religion practiced in temples or worship centers. If you want to reconstruct what an everyday non-priestly person would have done you have to look to folk traditions and practices because that would have been what the non-priests would have been doing and are still doing regardless of what any church tells them. If you are interested in Celtic folk practices I recommend looking at the Carmina Gaedelica and reading around the Christian saints and substituting the deities and heroes that were probably originally there. Most of the ones for Brighid need very few changes.
Every culture has folktales and faery stories that can give you ideas on what the people did in their own home. The most easily accessible is the Ancient Egyptians or Roman cultural practices because they wrote extensively and in the case of the Egyptians we have tombs on every level of society.
But you don’t need to reconstruct anything if you don’t wish to do it. Make up your own traditions and practices. It’s you and your family, no one else has to know you talk to the faeries in the back yard every full or new moon because it really doesn’t matter. It only matters that it works for you. Nothing more and nothing less.