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.
Hellenismos, as a modern Recon Tradition, is young. It's only a decade or two old and while it's starting to get off of the ground and come together, there are a lot of issues which have not been worked out yet. I broached this in my post about suicide and I want to delve deeper into it today. There is a promise of greatness in Hellenismos, but unlike the slightly older Wicca and its younger cousin Neo-Wicca, Hellenismos can't function on a 'coven-by-coven'-basis. This means it needs a doctrine.
The definition of Paganism I use is the one from the Cauldron;
Emphasis on 'self-identifies'. If you feel your practice fits under the Pagan banner, you are free to call yourself Pagan. It's not a protected term like Wicca is, and Hellenismos should be. Above, I stated that Hellenismos can't function on a 'coven-by-coven'-basis. What I meant to say with that is that the few Hellenic organizations there are can, of course, function wonderfully on their own, but they will both be practicing something different; their own versions of Hellenismos which are, most likely, incompatible. They don't form a whole, a unified religion. They would practice on that 'coven-to-coven' basis which, in my opinion, does not work with a Recon tradition.
Hellenismos does not have the luxury of being a 'do as thou wilt' religion. As a Reconstructionistic Tradition, Hellenismos has source material it needs to draw from in order for it to truly reconstruct anything. I have spoke to you about my problems with reconstruction before but it bears repeating; I greatly believe and fear that reconstruction is only possible within the confines of modern day society, thus limiting its validity by default.
I think there are three things which stand in the way of standardizing Hellenismos; modern day individualistic society, a language barrier and the religious origins of its members.
Society at large is moving more and more away from community to individuality and from local to global. This means that everyone has an opinion about everything and very few people still feel comfortable 'limiting' their lives by accepting a doctrine in it. This is one of the reasons why the Churches are emptying out slowly and Paganism is finding its membership growing.
As for language; the ancient Greeks spoke Greek. The most organized Hellenic organization out there today, πατο Συμβούλιο των Ελλήνων Εθνικών (the 'Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes'), is in Greece and most of their communication is in Greek. Needless to say, this limits the rest of the world greatly in accessing sources.
The religious origins of a practitioner are incredibly important, especially if they were raised with a different religion than the one they wish to practice now. It's hard to shake off the framework, mindset and practices from your life before Hellenismos (or any other religion, really). Hellenics coming from an Orthodox Christian background, from a Christian-then-Pagan background, from an Atheist background, from the background of any other world religion, or from a pure Pagan background will all have incredibly different ideas about deity, about practice, about devotion, about anything, really. The big things you can shake pretty easily; you accept new deities, find out how a ritual should work and practice that, you buy new tools, do a little research and voilá! Hellenic! Or not?
While not a huge fan of Timothy Jay Alexander, he does raise several good points in his books and on his website(s) that deserve further study. In this blog post, for example, he asks a couple of questions about what should and should not be considered Hellenismos:
- At a minimum, how many Greek Gods need to be worshiped for a practice to be Hellenismos, and which ones?
- Does every practitioner of Hellenismos have to honor Hestia? How about Zeus?
- Is there a specific ritual style?
- Can rituals be innovative? If they can, when does innovation cross the line?
- Can a person cast a circle?
- Are sacrifices and offerings required?
- Is there a specific ethical system?
- Are there specific sacred texts?
- Can new mythologies be incorporated?
- Is there a specific festival calendar or calendars?
- Can you create new festivals? If you can, what are the limits? Are there limits to what is appropriate?
Good questions, right? I can answer these questions from my own viewpoint but the next Hellenic over would probably answer them completely differently.
This might be a bit controversial but... I believe that in order for Hellenismos to work as a unified religion, we need a global organization of international, elected, clergy members and three--in this example, simplified--handbooks, supplemented by the ethical and scholarly works so important in Hellenismos;
- Hellenismos 101: the Religious Basics
- Hellenismos 102: the Practical Handbook of Rituals, Festivals and Daily Devotionals
- The Huge Book of Hellenic Mythology
All those who wish to call themselves 'Hellenic' should read these books, practice it for a year while documenting their progress, preferably under a mentor or a local Hellenic community approved of by the organization, and then take an entry test. Membership of the organization would come with the perks of access to temples--made possible by government money as well as the mandatory annual tithing of all members--as well as a community of like minded Hellenics, access to on-line resources like the ancient works, modern books on Hellenismos and essays and articles written by clergy, access to clergy when needed and a shiny new label.
This organization would have to start making the hard decisions concerning issues like the ones above but also about abortion, suicide, euthanasia, drug use, religious basics, animal sacrifice and any other of a huge number of issues humanity struggles with. Members are free to disagree with the standpoint the organization takes but may not oppose it openly while still a member. Discussion about the subject is not opposition. The organization would also be in charge of forming community networks in different countries and giving members the ability to meet others of their faith.
They would be in charge of the formation of uniform rituals for births, deaths, suicides, festivals and any other event that requires ritual and they need to decide which of these rituals need to be watched over by clergy and which should be household affairs. On top of that, they would be responsible for the Public Relations of the religion and for the construction of Temples to the Theoi in any country with more than [set number of] followers. This number also needs to be decided by the organization. I believe either the organization's leader or the majority of its ruling counsel should be Greek.
This is only a very rough sketch but it gets the point across; in my opinion, the construction of a Recon Tradition like Hellenismos needs an organizational body and a set of rules to follow in order to call yourself a member. There is a reason the Abrahamic faiths aren't Pagan; they have a set doctrine that does not lend itself to Paganism at all. Their success is in that doctrine. There may be a huge number of denominations but they all default to a basic set of believes which keep them under the Christian banner. I have no problem in admitting that I feel Hellenismos would thrive in a framework like the one described in this post.
Perhaps the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes can be the organization I have tried to sketch out. They do incredible work in trying to get recognition for the religion and are even active on an international level--with charters in the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany and Brazil--but there are many battles still to face in their home country. Right now, Hellenismos isn't a recognized religion there, with prevents them from getting financial support as well as halts initiatives to raise Temples, although there was a Temple built just outside of Thessaloniki in 2009.
However Hellenismos is going to evolve; we are now at that point in the religion where all members need to start paying attention to that big picture. Right about now, we start setting up the foundations for the future of Hellenismos and the entire religion can still come crashing down if handled incorrectly. I think yesterday's post should be warning enough of that. Losing a religion with the beauty and potential like Hellenismos again would be, to me, an eternal shame.
Unrelated to this post, I also want to express my gratitude for the kind words I have been blessed enough to recieve over yesterday's post. Your words are humbling and I am both sad and strengthened to read that many of you have felt judged by the Pagan community. It's not a good thing but it need not be a defining factor of the beauty that is Paganism, as long as enough people practice tolerance.
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