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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Hubris, Recon and Hellenismos

Of all the differences between Recon paths and other (Neo-)Pagan paths, I think the notion of hubris is the most controversial. Sure, everyone who works with Them, respects the Gods but there is a big difference in the respect--and fear--level between Recons and non-Recons.

I'm not exactly sure how this is for other Recon paths but for Hellenismos, avoiding hubris is the foundation of faith. Hubris, in dictionary terms, means excessive pride or arrogance and comes from the Greek (hýbris, ὕβρις). For me, hubris is not an adjective but a verb. It describes the act of willful or ignorant refusal to comply by the will of the Gods.

Within Hellenismos, the Gods rule supreme. We are here to serve and honor Them, and in return, They provide us with what we need to survive. This practice of kharis is one of the pillars of Hellenismos. But it's there in all other pillars as well.



Ethike Arete - living an ethical life, as proclaimed by the Gods in, for example, the Delphic Maxims
Eusebia - the actual practice of honoring the Gods, a huge part of which is piety
Hagneia - being ritually pure, out of respect to the Gods
Nomos Arkhaios - bringing back the old practices and customs out of respect for the Gods
Sophia - bettering yourself so as to better serve the Gods and not offend them through ignorance
Sophrosune - controlling yourself and your actions so as never to cross any of the other pillars or the Gods
Xenia - being inviting to guests under the protection of Zeus Xenios, as it is the Gods' prerogative to send us whoever they want. As Euripides describes in Medea: "What God or Deity listens to you when you are a perjurer and deceive Xenoi [foreigner or city-guest]?"

I have read on some Hellenic websites that the Gods do not intent to harm us in any way. They wish to help us better our lives and would never punish us. I think there is overwhelming evidence of the contrary in ancient Hellenic practices, in mythology and in modern day UPG. Odysseus spent twenty years simply trying to get home because he had pissed off the Gods with his hubris; hubris killed many mythological people, amongst which all fourteen of Niobe's children, Tántalos, and even Íkaros, who flew too high towards the sun; many festivals included elements of appeasement; and building only on my own UPG experiences, I have definitely been told to remedy a situation in which I was displaying unintentional hubris, or else. Saying that the Gods will never (or always) do something is a clear example of hubris, to me.

Being aware of hubris comes with a certain fear of the Gods. When talking about this to non-Recon practitioners (even when I wasn't Recon myself, yet), I often encounter either a knee-jerk reaction as this reminds them too much of the Christian faith or I'm told that the Gods are beings of pure love and light. Every time someone says the latter, I feel Hades' head exploding and can practically envision Ares punching someone, just to prove them wrong.

To me, the Gods are their own beings, far more powerful than we are. We are not divine, we are mortal. One finger snap from Them, and we're toast. I know others see this differently, but it is the foundation of my faith and practice. It is why I offer to the Gods, why I practice the pillars, why I go through my days in the way that I do. I go out of my way to avoid hubris, judging by the ancient sources and mythology. I keep my mortality firmly in my mind. It's not the (religious) life for everyone, but it is mine.

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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

  • Merle Moss
    Merle Moss Wednesday, 05 September 2012

    I (Purple-Astral-Magma) don't know why it list me as a 'guest', I signed up in order to make this comment.
    You certainly have the right to believe whatever you wish to believe, and pursue your religion in whatever way works best for you - - - I just have no idea why you would have the ideals that you post you do about pride AND make such a pride-ful post. First of all, let's make sure we are talking about the same word: Hubris (rhymes with debris, yes?) If you are talking about 'Hoo-briss', nevermind. There wouldn't be any point in talking. But if you are talking about 'Hoo-bree', what a Christian would call Blasphemy, we can talk. I think the difference here is basically citification. In cultures that have cities as their main focus, the Gods and Goddesses are not only incredibly powerful, but they are distant from mortals,, and the link between mortal activity or regard and the effective power in the material world of these beings is at least overlooked, if not actively hidden. In cultures where the main focus is villages or towns, the Gods and Goddesses are indeed amazingly powerful; but they are close, familiar,, their foibles are known and relied upon, if not celebrated. The link between mortal activity and regard with the effective power in the material world of these beings is well-known and purposefully used all of the time, realizing that just as we need them, they need us. To look at the value of 'fame' to Deities, take a look at the tales of young Zeus and Pan when, like most of the Astral-level beings of that time and place, they were 'just' titans. As their tales were told and retold, they became famous, Zeus more than Pan, and as they became famous, they became more powerful and took on the aspects that the humans spent time and energy focusing on. The early Greeks knew what they were doing, and made Zeus the 'king of the Gods' in order to control the less predictable Gods and titans. A bunch of Deific messing about with women was a small price compared to the chaos before Zeus became king of the Gods. But, that is my perspective and need not be yours. Back to Hubris - - - it isn't just 'excessive pride', it is presuming to speak for the Gods or to rebel against/ defy them. I recognize that you have run into a bunch of New Age or Fluffy Pagans, and you have my condolences, but that doesn't mean that all of us believe "the Gods do not intent to harm us in any way. They wish to help us better our lives and would never punish us." or "the Gods are beings of pure love and light." This is one of the reasons that I have looked on the trend to get involved in Pagan religions and avoid learning magick with trepidation. The Greek religion was, for most Greeks, like the Celtic one (except in cities like Athens, etc) in so far as Deific familiarity and exchange-of-power were concerned until they interacted a lot with the Persians and learned to grovel. They taught their Gods that mortal groveling and regard was their due, and those Gods have no problem 'punishing' or enforcing on normal mortals. But Mages and Story-tellers have the capacity to rewrite reality. You can't really be an effective Mage, and grovel to some other-worldy being. Deities have learned to treat us with 'kid gloves', and rightly so.
    .....I can't tell you what to believe, and I wouldn't want to if I could. I'm just trying to show you that there are a lot of sets of beliefs on these issues, a lot of different points of view. They are all equally true and non-true, depending on who is trying to use them. I don't really know how you would showcase a difference in your own belief from the beliefs of others without sounding/ seeming proud - - - if you aren't proud of your beliefs, why would you show them to others at all? If you are proud of your beliefs, how can lack of 'excessive pride' be one of them?

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Tuesday, 11 September 2012

    I'm sorry for getting back to you so late; I had a bad weekend. Thank you for your lengthy reply and for sharing your thoughts on this post.

    Upon re-reading my post, I understand how it could come across as pride-ful. It was not intended that way. I shared my viewpoint, as an Hellenic Recon. I understand that viewpoints may vary across the board and some (most?) will probably be completely opposite of mine. This is my interpretation of the worship of the Theoi, as based on the practice of ancient Hellenics. I will leave you yours, though.

    As for my statement on 'the Gods do not intent to harm us in any way', I specifically wrote that I found this view on *Hellenic Recon* websites, which is why I voiced my opinion as I did. How those outside of the Hellenic Recon faith view the Theoi is not up to me to judge upon in any way. But I am allowed to voice what happens in my head when I hear something like that. This is, after all, my blog.

    I realize you come to this as a Mage and I understand that you view the Gods entirely differently than I do. For you, groveling would be out of the question and I understand that. I suspect this is a large part of why you practice the ways of the Mage and not the ways of a (Hellenic) Recon. Our viewpoints differ. I probably disagree as much on your viewpoint as you do on mine. I am fine with that.

    I can see how I might have failed on this in this blog post, but on the whole, I try to inform others of my Tradition without undermining theirs. None of my blogposts are (personal) attacks of any kind. I give information for anyone who might be interested. If a blogpost is something you are not interested in, you are free to stop reading at any time :)

  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson Tuesday, 11 September 2012

    I enjoyed this post, Elani. In Natib Qadish (Canaanite religion), we have similar views. We see the deities rather like kings and queens, and ourselves as subjects. In Mesopotamian religion (Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian), they go a step further: people are seen as being the servants to the deities.

    In regards to pride, Canaanite texts tell of the youth Aqhat had a great deal of pride when he received his wondrous bow from the craftsman-god Kothar-wa-Khasis. The goddess 'Anat wanted the bow for herself and demanded that Aqhat give it to her. He tells her no, and taunts her a little bit. He ends up getting snuffed. In another Canaanite tale, the prince Yatzib seeks to usurp his father's throne when his father is ill: his father recovers and curses Yatzib. Basically these tales inform us that the Canaanites believed excessive pride isn't a good thing.

    As far as understanding how the deities and magic relate, in the PGM often the deities are commanded. A qadish views this as inappropriate. A priest would not perform this kind of magic; only a layperson would. This would be an "unofficial" form of magic, and could as such be held potentially liable depending on what the magic sought to accomplish. Besides, the trick to good magic (in a Canaanite view) is to put oneself in sympathy with the deities. If one is trying to command or coerce, one is not in sympathy.

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Friday, 14 September 2012

    Thank you for your kind and enlightening words. I agree completely; it is almost exactly the same within Hellenismos. I'll write about magick in Hellenismos some time soon, because there was magick, but it all went through the Gods, and had nothing to do with magick as we understand it today. Any other form of magick was frowned upon.

  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson Friday, 14 September 2012

    I look forward to reading your post on magic, Elani.

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