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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When is Recon, Recon?

Yesterday, I wrote about my experiences at Pagan festivals and I got a lot of thoughtful and understanding replies on it, both on Facebook and PaganSquare as well as off-line. It got me thinking about my Recon Tradition and how Recon I can make it. This was also inspired by a comment by Rebecca Buchanan on another post of mine at PaganSquare whose thoughtful reply made me scratch at an itch I have been refusing to scratch for a while now.

Hellenismos is a Recon Tradition; it's founded upon religious practice, as practiced by the ancient Hellens in a culture where this religious practice blended in effortlessly. Myself, I'm not Greek. I don't live in Greece. I'm a lesbian woman living in a culture which is incredibly far removed from that of ancient Hellas. I also practice alone and I have to substitute a lot of practices and sacrifices with something socially acceptable.

I'm going to say something now that I do not take lightly but I do stand behind. If practiced correctly and without prolonged suffering for the animal, I am in favor of animal sacrifice in religious worship. In all honesty, I think it's a beautiful practice. I would not relish the kill at all, and I think that if I ever had to do it, I would really, really struggle with it. But I would do it, out of respect for the Gods and because it was part of the practice of the ancient Hellens.

For those of you who say that even the Greeks turned away from animal sacrifice; they did, but only in the end. Animal sacrifice was practiced for centuries. Most of the festivals have a sacrificial component to them; anywhere from a single pig to a hundred cows. The meat was distributed fairly within the community and the first cut went to the Gods--unless it was a holókaustos, then the whole of the animal was sacrificed. For many families, this sacrificial meat was the only meat they ate.

Can you imagine what an impact an animal sacrifice had on a family? They offered an animal they often couldn't really miss to the Gods out of piety. They took a blow to their income of money, supplies or food to honor the Gods. Often they got to keep the meat but can you imagine the depth of devotion it would take a poor family to sacrifice even a single animal in a holókaustos? With our supermarket society, that sort of sacrifice is absolutely unknown to us.

This is just one example of why I think it's almost impossible to practice Hellenismos as a Recon Tradition within our society. I can give you at least two dozen more. How about xenia; offering anyone access to your home, washing their hands, drawing them a bath and giving them food without asking what they came to do. Then, when they get ready to leave, you offer them some of the most precious things you own. I'm pretty sure my IKEA delivery guy would think I'm absolutely nuts. Or what about pledging an offering of wine on the ground before every meal to the Daímōns of the home? I'm pretty sure my girlfriend--or the floor--wouldn't appreciate that very much.

So we perform an incredible feat of mental athleticism; we say that Hellenismos is a modern Reconstruction Tradition and we take out everything that's inconvenient under the guise of 'modern practice'. I have a problem with that. Not a problem I can fix, but a problem none the less.

Of course xenia is still practiced if I only invite people inside my home whom I trust and who want to come in. I can offer them a drink and snacks, everyone can stay for dinner at my house and if they want to, I will make them a bed and invite them for breakfast. I can entertain my guests with good conversation and a movie. Xenia will be practiced... but it's not xenia as practiced by the ancient Hellens.

In my reply to Rebecca, I said the following:

"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."

And I mean it. Both the moving as well as the sucking, I mean it both. I try to adapt my practice the best I can; focussing on household worship more than the festivals. I find a personal connections to the Gods which I can share with my non-religious girlfriend who tries to accommodate a religious household as much as she can manage. I practice xenia in a modern setting. I integrate ethics, study and piety in my daily life and try to live a religious life by integrating and involving the Gods into everything I do. In the mean time I look for ways to practice a more Recon form of Greek Recon; a Tradition that I truly love.

A large part of Greek Reconstruction is practicing with other people, so if anyone knows Hellenics in the Netherlands, do a Hellenic a favor and nudge them my way, alright? Perhaps together, we can kick Hellenismos up a notch.

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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:


  • Rose
    Rose Thursday, 09 August 2012

    As more of an eclectic Hellenic I search for ways to bring an ancient idea into the modern world. I have a hard time thinking along the lines of a strict Recon for several reasons. However, I do think that the act of sacrificing an animal to the Gods is something that lessens our own society. I think everyone would be more respectful of the meat they ate if they had to kill it first in a ritual setting that honored the Gods and the animal for it's sacrifice.

    I do see your point too. And it makes me squirm in thought. That kind of sacrifice to the Gods implies that 1) The Gods are real 2) The Gods need whatever was sacrificed and 3) burning it or pouring it on the ground actually transports it to Them. I have a really, really hard time believing this. As an eclectic Hellenic, I will take to the tarot cards to speak with my Goddesses about it. :)

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Thursday, 09 August 2012

    That correction does bring a different light to that sentence ;)

    As a pretty darn hard polytheist, I truly believe in all three points you raise. This is why I will always at least offer meat for celebrations which required an animal sacrifice. I always feel it is insufficient, but it's the closest I can get. I also try to get my meat from a local farmer who butchered the animal him/herself.

    I also think our community would fare a lot better if we still killed our own animals before eating them. Honestly, I think it would be more humane than what the meat industry is doing to them. Any creature is sacred, offering their life force and flesh to the Gods is the ultimate sign of respect for me.

    On that note, it is also said that the Hellens only sacrificed those animals who walked out from the herd towards their sacrificers. Something to think about, at least.

    Thank you for your reply. Enjoy your reading!

  • Rose
    Rose Thursday, 09 August 2012

    OY! This sentence: However, I do think that the act of sacrificing an animal to the Gods is something that lessens our own society.

    Should read: However, I do think that THE LACK OF the act of sacrificing an animal to the Gods is something that lessens our own society.

  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson Friday, 10 August 2012

    As a qadish (a practitioner of Natib Qadish, Canaanite polytheism) I understand where you're coming from on a number of points. If I were to practice *exactly* as the ancient Canaanites practiced, I would need the collective wealth of a city, and I would end up eschewing modern concepts such as anti-slavery and anti-child labor laws, as well as modern conveniences such as plumbing and refrigeration. I think that's what some people have a difficult time understanding about "reconstructionism": it's a method, an approach. It's not a precise reenactment. And we try to keep track of what is modern from what is ancient.

    As far as animal sacrifice, I try to explain it to some as similar to a "Christmas goose" or an "Easter ham". It's a meal at which you gather the family or the community together, pray over the meat, make an offering, and consume the rest.

    So here's a question: Do you offer kosher or halal meat at times? Kosher and halal have strict guidelines on how the animal is cared for and dispatched--which is better, in my opinion, than most slaughterhouses which use "stun" tactics. Problem is kosher and halal are prayed over in honor of a different deity.

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