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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Patronage part two: professional 'patronage'

In part one of this two part series, I wrote about personal patronage in the ancient and modern context. Today, I want to talk about professional patronage (i.e. Apollon as the patron of the arts, and thus prayed to by artists). Personally, I think the only thing that professional patronage shares with the practice of personal patronage is its name--and we will get to that in a second. 
The interesting thing is that none of the academic sources at my disposal make mention of this practice under the term 'patronage'. Patronage in the context of ancient Hellas seems to focus on the non-lineal bond between two people--a patron who took care of a client or slave in a material, financial, or emotional way. 'Patron' to mean the support, encouragement, or privilege that a deity bestows upon those practicing a profession or living in a city is a Christian term, which refers to patron saints. Patron saints are regarded as the tutelary spirits or heavenly advocates of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person. Taking this description would give you, for example, Athena as the patron of Athens--but outside of Christianity, the proper term is 'tutelage'; a tutelary deity.

A tutelary, or tutelar, deity is 'a guardian, patron, or protector of a particular place, geographic feature, person, lineage, nation, culture or occupation'. Both tutelary and tutelar can be used as either a noun or an adjective. As such, Athena is the tutelary Goddess of Athens, or the tutelar of Athens--but because we are so used to 'patron(ess)', 'tutelar' does not have quite the same ring to it.

The easiest way to find out the tutelary domains of a deity is to look up where they were worshipped and what they were associated with; this is why studying epithets is so important. An epithet is an attachment to the name of a God or Goddess, used to indicate either a specific domain of the Deity, a specific origin myth or region from which the Deity came, or an entirely different entity, through either domain or origin. As such, if we look at Apollon, we get--amongst many others--the following:

  • Apollon Thearios (Απολλων Θεαριος) 'Of the Oracle'
  • Apollon Lykios (Απολλων Λυκιος) 'Of the Wolves'
  • Apollon Dêlios (Απολλων Δηλιος) 'Of Delos'

These three alone make Apollon a tutelar (or, in the Christian terminology, a patron) of oracles, wolves and of the island Delos in the Aegean sea. As such, people who identified with these domains would feel drawn to a certain deity; shepherds might pray to Apollon to keep the wolves away from their herd. Citizens of Delos would more than others keep Apollon in their personal prayers and festival cycle because Apollon personally watched over their lands. Those who came to visit an oracle of Apollon (like in Delphi), would pray to Apollon Thearios to send them a message; those who had received an oracle of Apollon might keep Him in their personal prayers, as a continued form of thanks giving for His aid.

All of these relationships would adhere to the format I described last week; a person living in Delos might place more emphasis on the worship of Apollon, but he would not limit his worship solely to Him. He might proudly declare that Apollon watches over him because he is from Delos, but he would never consider himself outside of the reach of the other Gods--not for aid and blessings, but also in the sense of punishment and retribution.

In the spirit of completeness, I should mention another type of tutelary entity: the personal daímōn of an individual from birth to death. This personal guardian spirit, the personification of a person's conscious, or even their muse seems to be a Neo-Platonic evolution of Hesiod's classical daímōns, popularized by Socrates (and his followers), who described his personal daímōn in his trial. From Plato's Apology:

"You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign I have had ever since I was a child. The sign is a voice which comes to me and always forbids me to do something which I am going to do, but never commands me to do anything, and this is what stands in the way of my being a politician."

There is a danger in defining Deities by their tutelary domains, mostly because many get left out for simplicity's sake. It's far easier to see Apollon as solely the tutelar of arts and oracles, but His reach extends way beyond that. He is a healer, an averter of evil, a hunter, the possessor of beautiful hair, and many, many other thing. Just like all other Theoi, Apollon's reach is not limited to the domains prescribed to Him by his epithets; these are just the domains he is best known for.

The ancient Hellenes called on those deities they had the most kharis with for aid; Poseidon might not be known as a healer, but with enough kharis, He might still heal you--either by Himself, or with the aid of one of the Theoi known for Their healing abilities. Poseidon, under the title 'Asphalios' (Ασφαλιος), was worshipped in several towns of ancient Hellas as the God who grants safety to ports and to navigation in general. The people in these towns would have built kharis with Poseidon through His epithet, and might also come to Him for aid in other domains--even if Poseidon was not known to have tutelage over these domains.

The tutelage of a deity is important to be aware of, but easy to get hung up on. The difference with the modern concept of personal patronage is also fairly large; personal patronage describes the personal bond of a person to a deity--something very rare indeed in ancient Hellas, and hardly applicable outside of mythology--while tutelage, or 'professional patronage', describes the domains over which a deity holds sway, as defined by spheres of influence and/or places of worship, and those who worship Him or Her in that aspect. This is also why tutelage was not included in last week's post.

I hope I have made my interpretation of this concept clear enough, and any misunderstandings are dealt with. If not, there is always the comment section.

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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' ( in which she and several co-writers try to cover the whole gamut of Neo-Paganism. Baring the Aegis is also on Facebook:


  • Jamie
    Jamie Wednesday, 14 August 2013

    I think I will use the term 'tutelage' from now on, as the commonly-used modern Pagan term "Patronage" really does not seem to apply.

    Thanks again for shedding some more light on the Hellenic concept of kharis for us, especially in relation (and contrast) to divine patronage. I've had similar thoughts about this matter, but I truly appreciate the post because your knowledge of the lore is greater than mine.

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Thursday, 15 August 2013

    I would mot certainly encourage the use of 'tutelage' as opposed to 'patronage' when discussing ancient practices :) I should clear up a lot of confusion. You are very welcome, and I thank you for reading. I am glad you found the post(s) enjoyable and educational.

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Thursday, 15 August 2013

    Thank you that is a helpful distinction.

  • Matt G
    Matt G Tuesday, 18 February 2014

    This doesn't sound right to me. When I look at Catullus' "Carmina" in his first poem he addresses "patrona virgo" specifically in the sense of "virgin patron (of the poetic art)," depending on your interpretation either Athena or a muse. Perhaps none of the academics studying Greek religion use the term patron in this context because it's a latin word and the Greeks had their own term? There is however a clear precedent in the Roman texts for just such a use of "patronus/patrona."

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