Baring the Aegis: Hellenismos
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.
This blog post is the third installment in a very loose series focussing on the practice of reconstruction. The other parts can be found here: Standardizing Hellenismos and Thinking like a Recon. In this third--and probably final part--I will talk about trying to figure out which practices should be reconstructed, and which should not be. I can't speak for all Recon faiths on this, and I can only offer my opinion on Hellenismos. Others will disagree. In order to illustrate some of the points in this post, I will use the ancient practice of animal sacrifice. I have spoken about the practical and ethical difficulties of reviving that practice before, but it is such a fantastic example, I can not ignore it.
With the disclaimer out of the way, lets get on with this post, shall we? As previously discussed, Reconstructionist faiths work on a basic premise: those who practiced it first, practiced it best. If we want to worship these Gods, we should do it in a way which the Gods are used to and expect of us. Yet, society has changed. Other religions have come and gone. People have changed. Some practices have no place in current society but... how do we decide which practices should or should not be revived? And is it really up to us to decide this?
There are a few factors which influence the decisions of modern Recon practitioners when it comes to answering these questions. Influencing factors are current laws, the time period which the practitioner is trying to reconstruct, if the practice was part of the culture or the religion and--somewhat unfortunately-- the preference of the practitioner.
Modern day laws
Some practices from the source culture and its religious practice are simply forbidden in modern day. In the Netherlands, the sacrifice of animals at a home or temple altar without properly anesthetizing the animal first is one of these practices. It's understandable; killing a creature that is aware of being killed results in a bloody and painful mess. In ancient Greece, the animals weren't anesthetized before slaughter but a case can be made that, as animals in ancient Greece had to be willing participants, anesthetizing them after they have walked the required procession should not interfere with the validity of the sacrifice. A license is required, however, and this raises another need for dedicated clergy who are willing to invest in the time and money to go through this process. Other examples include (family) vendetta's in which murder is standard practice and slavery.
The time period
Which practices to reconstruct is largely dependent upon which time period you are trying to reconstruct. To go back to animal sacrifice: the practice was prevalent in the beginning of the Hellenic period and continued on into Roman times but the practice did lose favor with scholars along the way. The later one gets in time period of practice, the less need there is to reconstruct the practice of animal sacrifice.
Culture or religion?
The most important question to answer is this one; was the practice part of the culture or the religion? Of course, separating the two is hard. Especially in ancient Greece, religion was so entwined with daily life, they would not have understood that there was a difference between the two. Every single practice, for them, was tied to the Gods and Their worship. We try to reconstruct the religious practices of the ancient Greeks, not their culture. For us, the distinction can be made, although some issues remain hard to decide upon. Here are some points to look at:
- Were there Gods directly responsible for the practice?
- Did the practice have a deciding influence on festivals and/or household worship?
- Was it a job for clergy?
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