Pagan Paths

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.

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The pillars of Hellenismos

Timothy Jay Alexander is one of the most visible Hellenics out there. He has written a couple of introductory books and is active on-line as well as off-line to promote Hellenismos and educate people on its ideology and theology.

Alexander has identified seven pillars of Hellenismos which practitioners should adhere to and which will help identify and understand Hellenismos for the non-practitioner. These pillars are:

  • Ethike Arete - the practice of habitual excellence (ethics)
  • Eusebia - reverence, loyalty, and sense of duty toward the Gods (of Greece)
  • Hagneia - the maintaining of ritual purity by avoiding miasma
  • Nomos Arkhaios - observance of ancient tradition, (religious) law, and customs
  • Sophia - the pursuit of wisdom, understanding, and truth
  • Sophrosune - the control of self through deep contemplation
  • Xenia - adherence to hospitality and the guest-host relationship

I like these pillars. I have my own, and there are only four:

  • Eusebeia
  • Katharmos: the act of being ritually clean
  • Kharis: the act of giving to the Gods so They might give something in return
  • Xenia
Our pillars match up well; I group Ethike Arete, Nomos Arkhaios and Eusebia under Eusebia, call Hagneia Katharmos and distinguish Kharis from Eusebia. The only thing my pillars don't seem to cover are Sophia and Sophrosune. As these are all encourage in the ethical system of Hellenismos, I felt no need to. They are grouped under Eusebeia as well.

Alexander's pillars are clearer than mine, I think, and this is why I wanted to share them with you. Now, Alexander is not the be all and end all of Hellenismos. He has his own opinions, which I largely agree with, but there are a lot of other voices in Hellenismos, who speak a lot of truth to me as well. Hellenic Reconstruction is young and fluid. A lot of battles are still being fought. A lot of terms are still being defined. Any practitioner is encouraged to keep an open mind and to think for themselves.

Coming from a Wiccan or Neo-Wiccan framework, Hellenismos is hard to understand. The differences in religion, practice and study are huge. They would be with any recon Tradition.

I visited a semi-pagan festival over the weekend and had a good conversation with an Eclectic friend whom I love dearly. We found that the major differences were in religion. Within Hellenismos, you need to believe in the Gods. Not as archetypes, not as energy which takes on different facets to different groups of people, but as Gods with Their own personality, Their own influence on this world. Alexander's pillars focus on this a lot; anything you do, you do to be worthy enough to approach the Gods and you strive to be worthy enough to approach the Gods because They are divine beings who should be worshipped as They will rule your life, regardless.

Having pillars to hold on to is a fantastic tool for fledgeling practitioners. What they don't tell you, however, is the gravity you should place on each of the pillars. I doubt anyone distributes their practice equally between all pillars; you filter what is most important to you and practice the others in passing. This is why I have only four pillars, with one pillar containing most of Alexander's pillars. These are the pillars I have built my practice around.

Even if you're not Hellenic, you undoubtedly have your own pillars within your practice and/or worship. They can be anything; practicing divination, celebrating the Wheel of the Year, engaging in interfaith activities, sociopolitical activism; anything, really. These pillars are the basis of your faith and they matter. I feel identifying your own pillars is important for any Pagan, regardless of Tradition. If you have pillars you'd like to share, feel free. I would appreciate it. If not, I encourage you to at least give it a thought. You never know what you might learn about your practice.
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Tagged in: Hellenic Hellenismos
Elani Temperance is a twenty-seven year old woman, who lives with her partner in The Netherlands. She has been Pagan for a little over twelve years and has explored Neo-Wicca, Technopaganism, Hedge Witchery and Eclectic Religious Witchcraft before progressing to Hellenismos. Although her home practice is fully Hellenic, she has an online Neo-Pagan magazine called 'Little Witch magazine' (www.littlewitchmagazine.com) in which she and several co-writers try to cover the whole gamut of Neo-Paganism. Baring the Aegis is also on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BaringTheAegis

Comments

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Tuesday, 07 August 2012

    Elani,
    Your construction "pillars of practice" is one of the best religious memes I've heard in a long time. Mind if I use it?
    With respect,

    Anne

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Tuesday, 07 August 2012

    Of course not, Anne! Go right ahead.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Wednesday, 08 August 2012

    Overall, I like Alexander's pillars, too. :) The only one I find problematic is Nomos Arkhaios. Hellenic culture/s covered a broad region, geographically and chronologically. The rites of fifth century BCE Sparta are just as Hellenic as those of third century BCE Athens and first century Alexandria. And some rites are incompatible with contemporary culture or climate (specific seasonal rites, for instance).

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Wednesday, 08 August 2012

    Thank you for your comment, Rebecca :)

    I understand where you're coming from. I don't think Alexander limits his practice to any one region. Personally, I follow the Attic calendar as much as possible but there are celebrations from other eras and regions I find myself drawn to. I have no trouble incorporating these festivals into my practice.

    As for the festivals which have lost its meaning due to climate or because the practitioner does not live in (ancient) Greece; these are a lot harder and it's one of the points I meant when I said that Hellenismos isn't set in stone yet. Personally, I practice the festivals on the days they were held, even if these hold no relation with my climate. I figure the Theoi are used to a celebration on that day so who am I to disagree with that? Yet, I also understand that for people who are now going through winter would feel very odd to practice some of the festivals which are coming up.

    As for the festivals which have lost their meaning due to culture (or which simply can not or may not be practiced in ancient form); for these I improvise. Especially the festivals which called for animal sacrifice, I can't practice. So I buy some of the finest meat of the animal which was sacrificed and I offer this, either as a partial offering or a holókaustos, depending on the God or Goddess offered to.

    Is it perfect? No. If I am completely honest, I would love to move to Greece, form a new Hellenic community somewhere near the coast and practice Hellenismos as it's supposed to be practiced. But I can't, so I adapt. And it kind of sucks.

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