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.

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Do not be discontented by life (Τω βιω μη αχθου)

Today is my birthday. I'm now officially twenty-seven years old. I told Anne I was twenty-seven already so she wouldn't have to change it a few weeks later. Shhh! Anyway, today is a busy day so I'm doing a short one, one of the Delphic Maxims series I have been doing on my blog for a while.

A little less than I week ago, I discussed the Delphic Maxim of  'be grateful' (Ευγνωμων γινου). Today I'm addressing a related maxim but one with a very different reasoning behind it; 'do not be discontented by life' (Τω βιω μη αχθου).

We are all told our fate soon after we are born. At night, the Moirae (Μοιραι)--better known as the Fates--enter the room where the newborn lies and they whisper their destiny into their ear. They are the only ones who can do this, as they have spun the threads that make up our fate. Mothers can invite the Moirae by leaving offerings on a table in the nursery. If they wait long enough, the Moirae will appear and, while they enjoy the offerings, will tell the fate of the child. The most well known myth surrounding this event is that of Althaea and Melaeger, who are told that Melaeger will only live as long as the log in the hearth remains unconsumed. Althaea hurries to extinguish the log but eventually kills her son by burning the log.

Fate, although set, is not unbendable. Odysseus was destined to return home to Ithaca, and although the Gods did everything to stop him, he eventually returned home. Myth suggests that, if Zeus really wants someone's fate to change, He can make it so. Yet, overall, our fate does not change. We do what we must, die when we must, live through what we must. We can plead to the Gods to lighten our load when it's too much to bear, but this Maxim reminds us that, if we would ask for anything, it be the strength to bear what we were given, because what we were given, was given to us by the Gods.

To be discontent with life is to question the will of the Gods. It's hubris. Because of this it's dangerous. The Maxim may seem close to 'be grateful', but it's far more severe. It's a warning, not a reminder. So, perhaps, the next time you feel like cursing the Gods or your bad luck, you will remember the Moirae and this Maxim and think twice.

For more Delphic Maxim discussions, go here.

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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 Friday, 24 August 2012

    Happy Birthday, Elani!

    This short post exemplifies one of the (many) ways in which traditional/recon religions differ from modern ones like Wicca -- belief in in the immutability of Fate. For a post-Enlightenment modern, the concept of wyrd or fate seems hopelessly dreary and outdated. If one's destiny is set, that argument goes, what's the point of striving?

    This point also nicely highlights the reason that spellwork seems to have a highly suspect reputation in recon/traditional faiths, since magick can easily be seen as a way to set one's own will in opposition to that of the gods. The entire concept of a pre-destined fate cuts directly against the dominant (at least in America) concepts of meritocracy and bootstrapping one's way to success through one's own will and effort.

    But belief in Fate may be a welcome anodyne in a post-modern world of chaos and choice-overload; placing responsibility for outcome outside of the individual and (back) in the hands of the gods. Of course, a belief in Fate can also cut directly against attempts at social reform by arguing that "things are the way they are because the gods will them to be so" and thus provide a perfect rationale for social conservatism.

    It will be very interesting to see how this develops as reconstructionism continues to develop.

    (For a longer discussion on this topic, please see our interview with Robin Artisson in Witches&Pagans magazine issue #24.)

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Friday, 24 August 2012

    Thank you, Anne!

    Within most recon traditions the question of 'why are we on earth?' or 'why are we alive?' hold absolutely no meaning. We are here because the Gods put us here. They have a plan with us. We are here to see what that plan is and it is not our place to doubt it or even consider it.

    And yes, the practice of spellwork and/or magick is mostly considered hubris. There was magick in ancient Greece but it was seen as a negative; something to ward against. This is why the 'evil eye' charms are still so prevalent in Greece. Hekate, for example, was not a 'Goddess of witchcraft'; she was a 'Goddess who warded against witchcraft'.

    As for fate causing social conservatism... Isn't that already the point of a Recon faith? Especially in one so ethically inspired as Hellenismos? That said; as a (very!) minor religion, I doubt this conservatism will have a large scale influence.

    Thank you for your reaction!

  • Theresa Wymer
    Theresa Wymer Friday, 24 August 2012

    Happy birthday!

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Friday, 24 August 2012

    Thank you!

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Friday, 24 August 2012

    Well, as you say "as for fate causing social conservatism ... isn't that already the point of a Recon faith?" gave me pause. There are many practices (slavery, to take an obvious example) which was an integral part of ancient Hellenic life, but which (presumably) modern Recon Hellenics do not wish to reinstate. So how does a modern Recon practitioner make an evaluation as to which aspects of the ancient culture to embrace, and which to leave behind? I'm not asking you this to poke at you (on your birthday, no less!) so feel free to say "ask me tomorrow," but I'm fascinated by your viewpoint and it's philosophical (and political) implications. (I'm a huge sociology of religion hobbyist, and this is right up my alley of interest.)

    Respectfully yours,

    Anne

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Friday, 24 August 2012

    I enjoy a good theological discussion, on my birthday, no worries ;)

    I think it's important to remember that modern Hellenic Recon strives to re-create the religion of the ancient Greeks, not the society of the ancient Greeks. Of course, these were very much linked and sorting out which issues can be let go of without damaging the core of religious practice, is an ongoing struggle.

    Once again, I would refer to my post of standardizing Hellenismos a few days back. So much has not been worked out yet. Surely, no one would think to bring back slavery. But, indeed, where does one draw the line? Which practices does one take a collective stance on and which ones does one leave to the individual practitioner or the household?

    What I meant to say with that statement is that the core of reconstruction is a conservatism of ethics and practices, as portrayed in a pre-Christian culture. That does not mean that one blindly adopts every practice from that culture; many of them were just 'part of life'--slavery for example. Our society has evolved past the point of slavery but in ancient Greece, having slaves was mandatory and natural. I will write a post soon about slavery in ancient Greece because it really was quite different than, say, the slavery practiced in modern history. Still, no one in their right mind would think to bring it back into practice now.

    At any rate; slavery was not tied directly to religion (in as far as you can speak of religion in regards to ancient Greece; religion was just... life). Leaving slavery behind is therefor easy-ish. Animal sacrifice is a much tougher point to argue. Many modern Hellenics are against it but it was incredibly tied to religion so... if we want to practice a Recon faith, can we leave it behind? In my opinion, we can't. But there is no central organization to make the decision for everyone so everyone decides for themselves.

    It's a bit of a mess ;)

    Gods bless,
    Elani

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Friday, 24 August 2012

    **even on my birthday

    Sorry.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Friday, 24 August 2012

    Life is messy, no worries. Have a great b-day!

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