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.
Patronage part one: personal patronage
Patronage is a pretty big thing in Paganism these days. I frequently a few Neo-Pagan places, and one of the most ask newbie questions is: 'How do I find out who my patron is?", or a variation thereof. There is nothing wrong with this; modern patronage is a thing, and I have experienced it myself. The interesting change in the last few years seems to be that patronage used to be the exception, now it is the rule. Any person new to Paganism feels they are doing something wrong if there isn't a God or Goddess tapping them on the shoulder right away.
modern patronage, in this context, is the support or encouragement of a patron, where the patron or patroness (and we will get to that) is a divine being. In these relationships, the active party is often the deity in question, who claims the passive human. Some will describe a sense of 'being owned' by their patron. The human becomes a conduit for the work and will of the patron in question, and is required to spend large portions of their lives in active service to that deity. The bond between deity and human is personal. This is what having two patrons meant for me when I was growing up (because They were there long before I discovered Paganism), and this is what the word meant when I first joined the (online) Pagan community. These days, the first part still applies; humans are approached by deities and receive their help. I see less and less of the latter part, unfortunately, and while I think patronage is a beautiful practice, it seems time for a general discussion and some ancient Hellenic examples of why the modern concept of patronage does not apply to Hellenismos.
"They say that after Athene's birth, she was reared by Triton, who had a daughter named Pallas. Both girls cultivated the military life, which once led them into contentious dispute. As Pallas was about to give Athene a whack, Zeus skittishly held out the aegis, so that she glanced up to protect herself, and thus was wounded by Athene and fell. Extremely saddened by what had happened to Pallas, Athene fashioned a wooden likeness of her, and round its breast tied the aegis which had frightened her, and set the statue beside Zeus and paid it honour. Later on, Elektra, after her seduction, sought refuge at this statue, whereupon Zeus threw both her and the palladium into the Ilian land." [3.12.3]
I wrote about the volatile way Brighid and I separated in the first few posts on this blog. Pallas Athena stepped back quietly when I finally put myself in service of the Hellenic Gods. I honor Her as part of Athena, but we no longer have a bond of patronage. Why? Because patronage is not part of Hellenismos, and it was not part of ancient Hellenic life.
Hellenism has its own beautiful system of kharis, and because of that, there is no need to bring in a modern concept like patrons. When we, in Hellenismos, petition the Gods for aid, we always do so with an offering. This offering can be incense, a libation, a food offering or anything else. It must be something tangible. Good thoughts and intentions don't count. This offering is given freely, joyfully, with pleasure, out of respect and love for the Gods. We ask what we feel we need--sometimes that's a new job, sometimes just a sentiment like honor and prosperity to the household--and never expect to be granted this request. Petitions aren't bribery. We give to the Gods and should They feel inclined to grand us our request, we thank Them by offering to Them again, to which the Gods might respond, to which we will sacrifice, and so on. This circular practice of voluntary giving is called kharis, and through it, we built relationships with all Theoi.
In ancient Hellas, there were priests; most of them were chosen through hereditary lines and often served short terms in the temple of a deity their family was connected to, either through the family line or by choice. There were also priests who chose to come into the service of a Theos or Theia; they were voluntary priests and they devoted themselves to the God(s) they were drawn to or especially thankful to. Neither type of priest would have worshipped only the deity they were in service to, and all would have attended state festivals, and most likely had a household practice that included a large number of deities. Note that the active party in these relationships is the human, not the deity in question.
There are a few (mythical) exceptions to this rule that could be seen as patronage: Athena was a guide and aid for Odysseus and his son, and many Gods were (temporary) aids of Hēraklēs. These were heroes, chosen by the Theoi to suffer a specific fate and to rise above it as heroes. If you are Hellenistic and you feel you are being divinely aided to make it through such a path then by all means, say you have a patron. If not, it feels like hubris to me to make that claim. Of course, there is a degree of personal viewpoint here (i.e. we can never judge the lives of others; what feels like an epic quest of hardship to you, may seem like a breeze to me and the other way around), so for safety's sake, I stick with my viewpoint that patronage has no place in Hellenism, because as much as our lives may feel like an epic journey, we are not all Odysseus.
I need to make one more remark before I end this post: could we please stop using the word 'matron' when the female version of the modern concept 'patron' is meant...? A matron is a married woman usually marked by dignified maturity (an older woman) or an established social distinction; a wife or widow, especially one who has borne children; a woman who has charge of the domestic affairs of a hospital, prison, orphanage, private school, or other institution; a woman serving as a guard, warden, or attendant for women or girls, as in a prison; the chief officer in a women’s organization; or a female animal kept for breeding. A patroness is the Christian or non-religious term for is a female being who supports, protects, or champions someone or something; a female patron.
Modern patronage is a beautiful thing; at least, it was to me. It taught me a great deal, and my patronesses were always there for me when I needed them, long before I gave sacrifice to Them, and long before I even realized that not everyone had reoccurring dreams about ancient Goddesses for as long as they could remember. I was never a good student for Them, and I never did Their worship justice; in Hellenistic terms, I never built enough kharis with Them for Them to invest in me the way They have done. And yet They did; They were there for me through all my childhood crap, and They only stepped back when They realized I was safe and secure in the religion I needed to be in; a religion where our connection did not fit into--and that was fine, They taught me all I needed to know. And now, I pay it forward, and I pay back the kindness bestowed upon me by the Theoi. I am where I am supposed to be, and I most certainly have the divine to thank for that.
Next post: professional 'patronage', and the difference with personal patronage.
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