Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.
Vengeance in ancient Hellas
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.
Then there is also the daemon Alastôr (Αλαστωρ), daemon of family blood feuds and the inflicton of vengeance upon a new generation for the crimes of their fathers. Where the Erinyes go after the perpetrator of the crime, Alastôr goes after the family of the perpetrator. In this regard, he is close to an epithet of a very familiar Theos: Zeus.
holocaustos. Zeus seems to have adopted the Meilichios epithet from an older chthonic serpent daemon or Theos. He is--like the Erinyes and Alastôr--an avenger of blood feuds between families. Yet, unlike the others, Zeus Meilichios is also a purifier. When someone avenged the murder of a family member by killing the killer--or even someone else from that family line--they could petition Zeus Meilichios with a holocaustos of sheep (although another four-legged creature would also suffice) and be cleansed of miasma caused by this murder. As a personal note, I would say that appeasing Zeus Meilichios would also get the Erinyes and/or Alastôr off of your back.
The vendettas Zeus Meilichios presided over were common in Homeric Hellas; like scholar John Gwyn Griffiths has stated: "Vendetta is a war, just as war is an indefinite series of vendettas; and such acts of vengeance are sanctioned by the gods". In a society where family matters often overruled the law, or where local law was set by local communities, it's understandable that taking vengeance into one's own hands makes sense. And so, the closest male relative to the murdered family member took it upon himself to reclaim the honor of the slain family member. This was usually the brother of the deceased, or their son.
How often this act was actually performed is unknown. If one counts the victims of war amongst those who died because of blood feuds, the number is huge; the Hellens fought a huge amount of wars. My gut instinct says that this practice was prevalent in ancient Hellas, and was most likely executed more often than we would like to accept in our current law-regulated society.
As I have said before: reconstruction of a religion is exactly that: reconstruction of a religion, not the full culture in which that religion was placed. This is not a call for Hellenics to go about murdering people (obviously!). Yet, the Erinyes and/or Alastôr can still be petitioned when seeking (judicial) vengeance upon someone who has wronged you or your family. The downfall of someone else is not a pretty thing to wish for, but there can still be situations in which it is called for--the decision to kill someone was most likely not taken lightly either--and Zeus Meilichios can still be petitioned to get rid of the miasma of the act of said vengeance.
Vengeance has become an ugly word. I'm not a vengeful person myself, and following the Rule of Three for nearly twelve years didn't help that any. Yet, in ancient Hellas, vengeance was seen as justice served. It was a punishment for a crime committed. It was serious business and was presided over by Theoi and daemons who were not to be messed with. They still aren't. I have spoken about wishing things for yourself, and how that is perfectly alright within Hellenismos. Sometimes, we wish for dark things, and that's also alright.
Image credit: Nemesis, Zeus Meilichios
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