If you were a citizen of ancient Hellas, you strove for honor. It was earned through hard work, through arete, through excelling in combat (usually for men), athletics (men and women), science (mostly men, some women) and/or exacting vengeance upon those who wronged you, your family, or your country/city state.
I am in debt. Even when I do not count my study loans, I'm chronically--but not deeply-- in the red on my bank account. I don't have credit card loans, however, and I don't owe money or goods to anyone. I have had a tough year, but it's slowly getting better. Although I work, next to getting an education, my income does not cover all my costs. I am extremely lucky, though: I have a working partner who will gladly jump in and cover costs until my education is done and I can get an actual job that pays the bills.
I don't like being in debt. It's against the spirit of Hellenismos--or at least the two were antagonistic in ancient Hellas. Debts were paid off at the Deipnon--the end of the month--and those who could not pay them became serfs to their creditors. It was one of the main ways a citizen could become a slave.
It sounds a bit harsh, becoming a slave because of a missed payment. Yet, is modern life any different? Am I not tied to all people, companies and foundations who pull money from my bank account on a regular basis? Will not strong men and/or women show up on my doorstep if I can not afford to pay my bills and take items I own to pay off the debt? If all else fails, won't the government take my freedom? Aren't all of us a little enslaved to a economy which requires monthly contributions for protection, huge debts for housing and education, and for an ever-increasing number of people; financial support from their government simply to eat and have a roof to sleep under?
Through a fellow blogger, I came upon an article about an author's loathing for the Pagan sellers of all the Witchcraft stuff one can buy. The post boiled down to saying that monetizing your faith takes power away from you, and simply buying your equipment will lead to hollowed out rituals. The post is here.
There is a long discussion in this from the Witchcraft perspective, but I'm not going there. I'm not going there because I left that path behind and the more I look back, I realize what a tangled--but beautiful--mess it is. Instead, I'm going to write about this from the Hellenistic point of view and take you back to Ye Olden Days when the Ancient Hellens still practiced their faith in their temples.
Religion was entwined with daily life to such an extend that you'd be hard pressed to find a pottery seller who had not depicted one or more of the Theoi on his work. Near just about every temple was a stand which sold small statues which one could sacrifice to the Theoi at said temple. Every temple complex had a treasury where the various gifts of the devoted were stored. Religion, back in the day, was big business--as it should be. It helped instill the presence of the Theoi in daily life.
Welcome to another installment of the constellation series. I'm on a mythology binge so I thought it was time. As the fourth constellation, I have for you Argos Navis, a collection of constellations which together form the ship Argo, on which the Argonauts (Argonautai, Ἀργοναῦται) sailed to find the Golden Fleece.
The legend of Médousa (Μέδουσα) is one of the hardest myths to deal with out of ancient Hellenic mythology. It tells the story of a beautiful woman, who got raped by Poseidon, and gets transformed into a hideous monster who can turn people to stone just by looking at them, by Athena, because of it. She spends the rest of her life trapped on an island, in isolation, while brave warriors try to kill her for her head, which will still turn people to stone once cut off. Perseus eventually does so and gives the head to Athena to place on her shield. The circle is complete and Médousa is dead, after a lifetime of horror which was not her fault to begin with.
I came to Hellenismos from a Wiccan Rede-filled path. I sent years not asking anything from the Gods for myself. The closest I ever got was asking to grand me the strength to aid someone else. I realized even back then that the Rede was limiting the magick I practiced, so I stopped practicing it all together. I never subscribed to the 'love and light' mentality. When I transitioned to Hellenismos, letting go of the Rede was like a weight had been lifted. Suddenly, I had the freedom to ask for things I needed badly in my life, without feeling guilty. I didn't expect the Theoi to grand any of my pleas, but They did, in most cases.
One of the Delphic Maxims is to 'pray for happiness' (Ευτυχιαν ευχου). It's one of the maxims that were so opposite to the practice I left behind, it felt positively alien. You can imagine how my first sacrifices went. To give you a hint, it went a bit like this:
"Blessed Goddess Hestia, Goddess of home and hearth, accept these offerings of incense sweet and barley white. If my offerings please you, and you erm... you... wouldn't mind spending a little time on my family, please keep us safe and erm... we could really use an opportunity for work and money because things get tight and well... okay, I'm rambling, I'm sorry. Please, don't be offended. I'm sorry, I'll go away now."
I got better at it; pretty fast, actually.
I go on about kharis a lot on this blog, and rightly so. Kharis, the reciprocity between us and the Theoi, is one of the cornerstones of Hellenismos. In fact, I think it may be the goal of Hellenismos as a whole. If not, why bother? And I don't mean any disrespect by that, not to Hellenics, and most definitely not to the Theoi. But isn't it true that we sacrifice and are pious because we need something of the Theoi? Part of it comes from the goodness of our hearts, but mostly, we would like some divine aid when we really need it. At the least, we practice so the Theoi won't smite us.
The ancient Hellenics prayed to the Theoi for everything. They prayed for health when someone got sick, they prayed for wealth or food when they were poor, they prayed for protection when they were in trouble, they prayed for courage and honor in battle, and they prayed for guidance in times of turmoil. In short, they prayed for happiness. Small statues were found in shrines with inscriptions of wishes, very often for fertility and/or protection, especially for Goddesses who had those domains in Their portfolio.
This maxim is a stark reminder of the ancient value of kharis, and it proved very liberating to me. How do you feel about this maxim? Does it go against what you've been taught or does it match what you've been practicing?
Alright, so on to the video tutorial. In the spirit of the Deipnon and Noumenia we have just celebrated, I am going to show you what to do with, and how to prepare, a kathiskos. As I will explain in the video, the kathiskos is a small jar filled with foodstuffs which is stored from the Noumenia (first day of the lunar month) until the Deipnon (last day of the lunar month) in a shrine to Zeus Kthesios. It's purpose is to protect the pantry.
I’ve very grateful for all of the on- and off-blog posts to me about the question of evil. It is gratifying to know that I’m being read. Before we go deeper into specific subjects, I want to take a step back and gain some perspective on our project. This blog is an experiment in what is technically called Systematic Theology. It is systematic in that it endeavors to cover core issues pertaining to a religious tradition, here Pagan, in an orderly, coherent, where appropriate rational, and hopefully complete way. This is different from Practical Theology, which has to do with applying theology to life (although we’ll do some of that too). Practical theology has a variety of sub-disciplines like pastoral, political or liturgical theologies, dealing with theology in the context of the practitioner’s service to a population, or in application to political or social discourse, or with respect to ritual practice, respectively. But now, I want to talk about the idea of theology itself.
A long time ago, I promised to look closer into the act of rape in ancient Hellenic mythology, and despite that promise, I haven't written about it in a cohesive way since. It's a difficult topic and while that doesn't usually hold me back, it's also a topic about which a lot is written but nothing is proven beyond a doubt. Paraphrasing the available information leads to an incomplete picture, but I'm going to do my best.
This post is inspired by a comment on yesterday's post, where I, amongst others, describe how Zeus raped Hera so He could marry Her. Understandably, this didn't go over well. Rape is a terrible act, a shameful act, with dire consequences for all involved. It's 'the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse'.
Dr. Susan Deacy, in her excellent essay 'The vulnerability of Athena' describes three categories of rape in myth: parthenoi (maidens--those who are unmarried) who reject normal female activities and wish to remain unmarried, parthenoi who are lured away from the paternal oikos, are raped and give birth to remarkable offspring, and rape as a representation of marriage.
Welcome to part three of the constellation series. I think I forgot to mention that I'm basing this series off of the works of ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy. He set out forty-eight constellations, based in Greek myth, of which some are still recognized to this day, and others got broken up or otherwise rearranged or added in the years that followed. The next is Ara: the altar. It's still a recognized constellation.
Back on my own blog, I asked my readers what they would like to read from me. I was wondering what they came back for and if I was somehow not filling a void I hadn't even thought of. As it turns out, my readers were pretty happy, but they would like to hear more about my personal practice. I can understand; I am not good at talking about that, so I rarely do. As a result of that feedback, I made two videos about Hellenic basics: preparing and using khernips, and pouring libations.
For both these videos goes that the way I do it, may not be the way everyone does it. It's the basic steps that matter most. So without further ado: here's a video of me preparing and using khernips, and below, a video of me pouring libation. Sorry about the quality, my phone seems to have some trouble focussing. I promise any future videos will be stable.
Society is an ever-chancing construct, influenced by the people living (in) it and changing those people in return. What was socially acceptable as little as ten years ago, may not be socially acceptable today. Smoking in public spaces, for example. Imagine going back hundreds of years to a society much unlike our own. Most of what we do today would have been taboo then, and much of what was daily practice then, is taboo today. This post will serve to highlight some of these taboos, from both sides of the coin. Please, remember this post is all in good fun; some of these practices may seem barbaric, but that's your culture speaking. For the ancient Hellens, it was absolutely normal: it was their culture and no modern Hellenic would try to bring back practices which are now against the law.
On to the taboos!
Greek food is best known for the heavy amounts of meat, fish and tzatziki, but did you know that many of these dishes go back centuries? Here are some of the dishes the ancient Hellens would have eaten as well.
First, some basics: the main diet of the ancient Greeks consisted of bread, olives, olive oil, figs, cheeses, fish, squid, grapes, apples and other fruits, and honey. Meat was expensive and thus rarely eaten. Domesticated animals were only eaten after being sacrificed to the Gods. To not do so was barbaric and impure. Also considered barbaric was to drink wine which was not watered down and to drink milk. Breakfast and lunch consisted of bread dipped in wine, with olives, figs, cheese or dried fish added to the lunch menu. Dinner usually consisted of vegetables, fruit, fish, and possibly honey cakes, but which dishes survived to this day?
Fasting is a very ancient phenomenon. In fact, an original starting date can not be given. Still, fasting--for the purpose of this post--should be distinguished from its non-voluntary counterpart of going hungry due to a lack of food and/or resources. Fasting is the act of voluntarily withholding food from your body for a longer period of time than you would normally be without it. As today is the second day of the Thesmophoria, I'm fasting.
I have fasted in the past, finding it a very useful tool for purging my body, clearing my mind and regaining focus on the things that matter. After a fast, I am more aware of what I put into my body and of the signals my body gives me. After a fast, I take better care of myself. My girlfriend hates it when I fast, and not just because I'm a little bit cranky the first day. She thinks it's unhealthy to go without food, but regulars fasts have actually been proven to be very healthy, if you do it right. There is a method to fasting, and it depends greatly on the length of the fast.
I think I mentioned before that priesthood in ancient Hellas was a lot different from priesthood as we understand it now. In the modern (Pagan) interpretation, priests serve a mostly spiritual role; they serve the religious community as a vessel for or to a God or Goddess. The primary tasks of a modern day priest(ess) seem to be to serve the community, to spread the gospel of the God(ess) in question and to offer access to the God(dess) in question.
During most festivals, an animal was sacrificed. It was the job of the priest(ess) to pick out the animal, lead it to the altar and bless the animal. Especially the latter was a job only a priest(ess) could perform, because they were especially well versed in liturgy, and because a failure to preform the exact rites would result in a failure of the sacrifice.
When I turn on my T.V., the first thing I see is a beautiful man or woman, talking to an equally beautiful man or woman. I open a magazine and all I see is Photoshop. It's not easy to live the ideal, these days. Still, we should count ourselves lucky; even without mass media and Photoshop, living up to the ideal may have been a lot worse for the ancient Hellens. Instead of mortal men and women, they took their cue from the Gods.
Beauty was a great good back in ancient Hellas. Physical prowess, good health and beauty were virtues which were highly sought after and greatly admired in others. In fact, those who possessed these traits, were considered blessed by the Gods. In a society of strict gender roles, many traits were valued for both men and women; physical beauty, for one. Clear thought, another. The ability to speak eloquently and convincingly, a third. Odysseus says to Euryalus:
In the spirit of sharing more about the Hellenic festivals, I'm combining two of the coming ones in this post; three if you count a reference to a past one I hadn't talked about yet. Like I said on Sunday, I really only pay special attention to the festivals that resonate with me. This is not picking-and-choosing--because I try to at least offer libations to the stars of every single festival--but simply a matter of practicality.
I have to accept that I am a solitary Hellenic, which is a bit of an oxymoron. Like being a solitary Wiccan, being a solitary Hellenic is really not possible. Hellenismos is a community religion, like most of the Recon Traditions. Yes, you can focus solely on household worship, but in my view of the religion, you're practicing only half of it if you do that. The festivals made up a huge part of ancient Hellenic worship. With around ten festivals that took place outside of the home every month, it's hard to ignore that they mattered very much.
I feel it's very important to honor the festivals in my own small way, and I have come to realize that the festivals really make me long for a Hellenic community of my own. For a lot of the festivals, the entire city or town--especially in Athens--celebrated. Men, women, children, slaves, free men, everyone. There were special festivals for nearly all of them. Two women-only festivals were the Stenia and the Thesmophoria.
Like the Pentagram of Wicca and Witchcraft, and the Mjölnir of Asatru, Hellenismos has its own symbols. Symbols are used for a couple of reasons; identification, for one. When I see someone wearing a pentagram, I almost automatically assume they are Pagan as well. Flashing my pentagram ring usually gets me a smile and a knowing glance. I like those encounters.
Although the chances of running into another Greek Recon are slim here in the Netherlands, I am invested in the symbols of Hellenismos none the less. But what are they? Besides the obvious representations of the Theoi, there are a few, but we'll look into the Theoi first. Most Greek Gods and Goddesses are associated with a specific animal or item. Wearing Their favored symbols on a necklace of bracelet is a good way to feel closer to Them. From myth, this is a (non-exhaustive) list of the Theoi and their favored animals.