Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored, by Sarah Kate Istra Winter.
Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored delves into the many aspects of the revival of Greem paganism, from its ancient roots to its modern practice. It is written for the person new to Hellenismos, and for the person who has been practicing for years, as well as for people outside of the religion who are interested in learning more. It covers not only the basics of worship, but also how make the ancient religion relevant to modern time, cultivate relationships with the gods and other divinities, and create a deeply satisfying spiritual life.
The emphasis of this book is on the conceot if kharis – the reciprocity so implicit in the practice of Hellenis polytheism. From the simplest devotional act, to prayer, to divination, to mysticism, the principle of of reciprocal favor governs the heart of this reliigon and lets each worshipper encounter the gods on a real and profound level.
I wish this book had been written when I first entered Paganism. Greek mythology is what began my path (a Witchcraft magazine is what gave the path a name, “Paganism”). Beginning at, I can’t even remember exactly how old I was now, 13 or so. Back in 1999 or 2000. Anyway, beginning at such a young age, I certainly could have used a book like this to help me on my path. But it was still 4 or so years away. And now it’s 16ish years later and I finally find it. I wonder how different my path would have been, from then to now, if I had this book in the beginning. Ah well.
It’s not without value though, even now, so many years later. I have discovered several interesting little snippets of information, and many great ideas.
I was impressed with this book from almost the first page, when I read this:
“Throughout this book, I will give my own ideas and opinions on how best to approach the practice of Hellenic paganism. There are myriad of viewpoints on how to revive this religion; mine is only one.”
What’s so special about that little quote from the book? It’s something I rarely read in my beginners books when I first started in Paganism – “This is only my view, there are others” – is missing from many of our (Paganisms) books. And it creates a lot of problems, with newcomers making assumptions that we are all doing, thinking, believing and practising in the same ways. This book begins in a way so as to prevent this from happening. I love that.
Sarah Kate Istra Winter has written this book in a way as to be approachable – in a way its like reading a blog. Not to mean it is unprofessionally written, no I mean it is personable, it speaks to you rather than at you – it’s not some dry and dusty list of facts to memorise. It’s a discussion. But it is still professional. I love that too. It makes it easier to retain what information you are reading.
But it is a short book. It’s not thick, and then on the inside it doesn’t last for as long it might seem either. It has multiple appendices, which take up a little over a quarter of the book. Not that these are not also valuable, mostly they are. The appendix which shares the results of a survey given to Hellenics is interesting too, if a bit old now.
So it is a short book. But, given the content, I am not sure if it could have been longer anyway. You can only stretch the information in it so far, trying to extend it further would perhaps have made the book not so good. It manages to be somewhat comprehensive, for all it’s limited length.
It’s not a step-by-step guide on how to be Hellenic, it doesn’t give you precise instructions on how to perform this ritual for this deity. But it comes pretty close. It’s overarching, it’s about Hellenismos, not one or two specific deities, so it would be impossible for it to have information specific to you and your practice, Nonetheless, Sarah does share examples of some of her own practices and ideas, as well as examples from other Hellenics – so you do get an idea of how it could be adapted to your own path.
And of course, you don’t have to take on every idea for yourself. I, personally, only skimmed over the parts about ecstatic states and prophetic trances – these things hold no value to me, so I didn’t really find it that interesting or necessary to read. Others would perhaps love those parts and be less interested in the things I found valuable. That’s fine, and the book itself says, frequently, that you have to make your own choices – the point is to at least consider the information within and make your decisions based on the knowledge you gain.
Overall assessment of Kharis.
I really like this book. It’s short, which was a little disappointing, but it is full to the brim for all its length. It’s personable, easy to understand and enjoyable to read. It is helpful and even if you use none of the ideas it presents to you, it at least shows how others may be doing it. And how can it be a bad thing to understand other Hellenics?
I would recommend this book to
Hellenics – new and experienced, I have been quasi-Hellenic for 16ish years and still found value in this book. So being experienced doesn’t mean this won’t be helpful, or at least interesting to you.
Those with an interest in Hellenismos, modern and ancient. While the book focuses on modern practice, it has information about ancient practice as well, and how we view that now.
Those who work with at least one Hellenic deity or entity on even an occasional basis. This book may help you gain some ideas on how to work better with that deity.
Any Pagan. Yes, I think this could be of interest to almost any Pagan of any path. You might not use the information it presents, the ideas, but you may still find it interesting to learn how others might be doing things.
I haven’t been able to find this book in ebook form, but it is readily available in dead tree format.
Book Depository (more $ for the book, but free shipping, which is a killer on Amazon for Aussies).