Hellenismos – a living, modern religion

Hellenismos – a living, modern religion April 6, 2011

One of the criticisms that neo-Pagans make about revived or reconstructed religions such as Hellenismos is that we live too much in the past and that our religion isn’t a living, evolving and relevant spirituality. That we are slaves to the past, treating our religion as a museum piece. Frankly, sometimes this can be true. Sometimes we do spend too much time with books, losing ourselves in the minutia of the past. It can be difficult to see the relevancy of rituals and concepts from 1500 years ago as being valuable and vibrant in a much different time, place, and culture.

But this is how we see it – why reinvent the wheel when you can put some air in the one you’re given and get back on the spiritual path? There were reasons why our ancestors interacted with deities in the way that they did. Because it worked. It’s spiritually fulfilling. It makes sense. It allows for a deeper connection with deities and the world around you. It has meaning and depth and beauty. It is timeless. It vibrates in our very souls. But the key is to regularly engage in rituals, observances and practices. To adhere as close to what the ancients did, in order to learn from their wisdom and experience, and then to translate that into a slightly more modern form that is still ‘true’ to its origins.

I ‘toss the barley’ and am humbly grateful to do so. I pour wine as a libation, the same as my ancestors did. I feel sacred Hestia in the flame that burns in my hearth and in my heart and I reap the benefits of my careful tending to the flame. I pray before my home altar, make offerings to the Agathos Diamons, and ask Hermes to guard me as I venture out of the protections of my home. There is a spiritual rhythm to my life that gives me great personal strength. My household worship practices, such as cleaning out the entire house and getting rid of all broken or wanted things each month on the Deipnon, improve the quality of life for all my family members. These ancient rituals have profound meaning that I would have missed if I had dismissed them as old and pointless.

So what does an old, musty, revived religion like Hellenismos look like in action? Take a look at this wedding ceremony, recently conducted in Greece. The forms of the ritual are thousands of years old, but I dare you to say it has no relevancy or value for modern Pagans.  Every action and word is bursting with meaning and one builds upon the other.  It looks right.  It feels right.  And that’s why ancient Pagans performed these rites long ago and that’s why we do them today.

My thanks to Labrys, a group of practicing Hellenic Pagans in Greece, for passing on this video. (Read their site in English here, including a run down of the marriage ceremony) And congratulations to the happy couple. May Hera and Zeus bless their union and may Hestia bless their home with comfort and harmony!

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  • RevAllyson

    Interesting. I don’t know that it was specifically Hellenic in nature. The tying of the wrists does not, to my knowledge, occur within the Greek and/or Roman rituals of marriage. Pretty, though, and if it suited them then that’s wonderful!

  • RevAllyson

    Interesting. I don’t know that it was specifically Hellenic in nature. The tying of the wrists does not, to my knowledge, occur within the Greek and/or Roman rituals of marriage. Pretty, though, and if it suited them then that’s wonderful!

  • Thank you for this! I lean more toward Recon than not even though I am not very active… this gives me more food for thought :)

  • Thank you for this! I lean more toward Recon than not even though I am not very active… this gives me more food for thought :)

  • Cara

    It was very Hellenic in nature. Burning of a lock of hair of the bride in offering, the barley, libations, feeding the bride and groom special foods – all are and were important elements in a Hellenic wedding ceremony.

    I think minor elements such as exchanging rings or tying a ribbon around wrists is part of that “then to translate that into a slightly more modern form that is still ‘true’ to its origins.”

  • Cara

    It was very Hellenic in nature. Burning of a lock of hair of the bride in offering, the barley, libations, feeding the bride and groom special foods – all are and were important elements in a Hellenic wedding ceremony.

    I think minor elements such as exchanging rings or tying a ribbon around wrists is part of that “then to translate that into a slightly more modern form that is still ‘true’ to its origins.”

  • Sunweaver

    I cannot tell you how joyful I feel when I’m reminded that there are others out there who worship the Theoi. Knowing it is one thing, but seeing it is quite another. Blessings to the happy couple!

    Hellenismos is absolutely a living, growing faith and one thing I would like to see develop from this growth is a movement toward making Hellenismos more accessible. Sometimes it seems as though you need a degree in Classical Studies to follow this path and while there is a wealth of information, much of it is deep in the primary source material or scattered around the internet and in various other sources, so many of us fumble along with no clear understanding of what it is the ancients did and why and how this translates into modern worship. I don’t want a dumbing-down of our faith, but rather a better starting point for the isolated practitioners amongst us.

    *Living* must also mean *evolving.* As we look to the worship of the past, we must also look forward to what we would like Hellenismos to be in the future and to the needs of the present. This is true for any path, of course, but Hellenismos has its own unique obstacles.

    All this said, the process of learning and discovery can be devotional in and of itself. It has been and continues to be so for me, but I want to make the path clearer for the next generation and that’s what I strive to do as part of that devotion.

  • Sunweaver

    I cannot tell you how joyful I feel when I’m reminded that there are others out there who worship the Theoi. Knowing it is one thing, but seeing it is quite another. Blessings to the happy couple!

    Hellenismos is absolutely a living, growing faith and one thing I would like to see develop from this growth is a movement toward making Hellenismos more accessible. Sometimes it seems as though you need a degree in Classical Studies to follow this path and while there is a wealth of information, much of it is deep in the primary source material or scattered around the internet and in various other sources, so many of us fumble along with no clear understanding of what it is the ancients did and why and how this translates into modern worship. I don’t want a dumbing-down of our faith, but rather a better starting point for the isolated practitioners amongst us.

    *Living* must also mean *evolving.* As we look to the worship of the past, we must also look forward to what we would like Hellenismos to be in the future and to the needs of the present. This is true for any path, of course, but Hellenismos has its own unique obstacles.

    All this said, the process of learning and discovery can be devotional in and of itself. It has been and continues to be so for me, but I want to make the path clearer for the next generation and that’s what I strive to do as part of that devotion.

  • Sara A.

    Firstly, I like most of this article a lot, especially the wedding ritual. But…

    Reconstructionist religion IS “neo”-Pagan, by definition. It’s not a direct continuation of an old religion, or a syncretized version of same, which is what paleo-Pagan and meso-Pagan would be. All those terms were coined by Isaac Bonewits and have been in use that way for decades; it’s only recently that reconstructionists have taken to using the term as if it doesn’t apply to them as well. I don’t think it’s productive, as it tends to occlude the fact that most all of the Pagan religions, including Wicca, are reconstructions of what people *at the time* thought pre-Christian religion was like (even if they turned out to be wrong about some of it).

    I’m also curious to know when people have made the criticism that reconstructionists are stuck in the past. This seems like a straw man to me; Pagans in general look to the past.

    I would like to know more about tossing barley and the Deipnon; I hang around with Hellenics a fair amount, but don’t know what either of those things refer to.

  • Sara A.

    Firstly, I like most of this article a lot, especially the wedding ritual. But…

    Reconstructionist religion IS “neo”-Pagan, by definition. It’s not a direct continuation of an old religion, or a syncretized version of same, which is what paleo-Pagan and meso-Pagan would be. All those terms were coined by Isaac Bonewits and have been in use that way for decades; it’s only recently that reconstructionists have taken to using the term as if it doesn’t apply to them as well. I don’t think it’s productive, as it tends to occlude the fact that most all of the Pagan religions, including Wicca, are reconstructions of what people *at the time* thought pre-Christian religion was like (even if they turned out to be wrong about some of it).

    I’m also curious to know when people have made the criticism that reconstructionists are stuck in the past. This seems like a straw man to me; Pagans in general look to the past.

    I would like to know more about tossing barley and the Deipnon; I hang around with Hellenics a fair amount, but don’t know what either of those things refer to.

  • Ridetbred

    the fact that every detail may not be ‘authentically aunciente’ doesn’t mean that the ritual as a whole isn’t deeply and significantly ancient and extremely hellenic. the libations, the barley-tossing, the sacrifice of the lock of hair, the burning of the offerings, all of them are very well documented.
    like most of us, i’m sure the beautiful couple in the video added in elements that resonate and have significance for them.
    exactly as i do in my religious practice.
    khairete
    suz

  • Ridetbred

    the fact that every detail may not be ‘authentically aunciente’ doesn’t mean that the ritual as a whole isn’t deeply and significantly ancient and extremely hellenic. the libations, the barley-tossing, the sacrifice of the lock of hair, the burning of the offerings, all of them are very well documented.
    like most of us, i’m sure the beautiful couple in the video added in elements that resonate and have significance for them.
    exactly as i do in my religious practice.
    khairete
    suz

  • Sunweaver

    I’m filing the serial numbers off of “authentically aunciente” and claiming it as my own.

  • Sunweaver

    I’m filing the serial numbers off of “authentically aunciente” and claiming it as my own.

  • Sunweaver

    I love Bonewits’ works and his entire attitude about Paganism. I’m particularly fond of NeoPagan Rites. I think Recons are just using terminology differently and that it isn’t necessarily a positive or negative judgment. It’s simply a distinction between attempts to recreate an older and well documented religion and those completely new religions such as Wicca and related paths that may draw from older sources, but have theology and practices that have been essentially created from scratch within the last century.

    It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. Early NeoPaganism was an attempt at Recon, at least in spirit, but the gaps in the knowledge of those early practitioners were so wide in regards to pre-Christian religions indigenous to the British Isles, that by the time those gaps were filled with stuff that seemed to make sense, it became a new thing entirely. The difference for Recons is that Greek, Roman, and Egyptian practices are so well documented that there are fewer gaps to fill. The difficulty then lies in translating those practices to modern worship. Using Bonewits’ definitions, yes, Recon paths are NeoPagan.

    Barley is often used as a sacrifice, as is a libation of wine. Wool is also offered in a similar fashion. Wine, barley, wool, and other gifts are commodities that are representative of the relationship between the gods and us human people. Diepnon means “dinner,” so my understanding is that it is a sacred meal. I adore sacred meals because calories consumed in the worship of your deity or deities of choice don’t count.

  • Sunweaver

    I love Bonewits’ works and his entire attitude about Paganism. I’m particularly fond of NeoPagan Rites. I think Recons are just using terminology differently and that it isn’t necessarily a positive or negative judgment. It’s simply a distinction between attempts to recreate an older and well documented religion and those completely new religions such as Wicca and related paths that may draw from older sources, but have theology and practices that have been essentially created from scratch within the last century.

    It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. Early NeoPaganism was an attempt at Recon, at least in spirit, but the gaps in the knowledge of those early practitioners were so wide in regards to pre-Christian religions indigenous to the British Isles, that by the time those gaps were filled with stuff that seemed to make sense, it became a new thing entirely. The difference for Recons is that Greek, Roman, and Egyptian practices are so well documented that there are fewer gaps to fill. The difficulty then lies in translating those practices to modern worship. Using Bonewits’ definitions, yes, Recon paths are NeoPagan.

    Barley is often used as a sacrifice, as is a libation of wine. Wool is also offered in a similar fashion. Wine, barley, wool, and other gifts are commodities that are representative of the relationship between the gods and us human people. Diepnon means “dinner,” so my understanding is that it is a sacred meal. I adore sacred meals because calories consumed in the worship of your deity or deities of choice don’t count.

  • tailmon12

    I’m Greek and I consider myself a Hellenic Pagan. I’m not a Recon per se, since I do not wholly reconstruct the ancient ways. Instead, I use them as a basis and inspiration and after much thought and research modify them according to my (modern) needs and understandings while trying to remain true to tradition – at least, a logical version of it.

    Another reason I do not consider myself a Recon is due to my prevalent practice of Witchcraft which is generally frowned upon by the majority of Hellenic Recons. Still, I worship the Hellenic Gods, I am devoted to a Hellenic deity (Hekate), I serve and honour Them. I follow a number of ancient holidays, I uphold the household workings and interact with the old spirits of the land.

    I’m a Hellene, in nationality, culture and religion and damn proud of it! :D

  • tailmon12

    I’m Greek and I consider myself a Hellenic Pagan. I’m not a Recon per se, since I do not wholly reconstruct the ancient ways. Instead, I use them as a basis and inspiration and after much thought and research modify them according to my (modern) needs and understandings while trying to remain true to tradition – at least, a logical version of it.

    Another reason I do not consider myself a Recon is due to my prevalent practice of Witchcraft which is generally frowned upon by the majority of Hellenic Recons. Still, I worship the Hellenic Gods, I am devoted to a Hellenic deity (Hekate), I serve and honour Them. I follow a number of ancient holidays, I uphold the household workings and interact with the old spirits of the land.

    I’m a Hellene, in nationality, culture and religion and damn proud of it! :D

  • tailmon12

    Deipnon refers usually to Hekate’s Deipnon, a custom/meal that is performed during the dark of the moon (right before the actual New Moon, which is the first visible slice of the moon) which is the end of the month for most Hellenists (since most follow the Athenian lunar calendar). It’s a meal in honour of Hekate and the leftovers are usually left at a crossroads or similar intersection to be consumed by stray animals and homeless people. It also has a connection to the dead, such as the ancestors and the Restless Ones.

    http://sites.google.com/site/hellenionstemenos/festivals/hekatesdeipnon

  • tailmon12

    Deipnon refers usually to Hekate’s Deipnon, a custom/meal that is performed during the dark of the moon (right before the actual New Moon, which is the first visible slice of the moon) which is the end of the month for most Hellenists (since most follow the Athenian lunar calendar). It’s a meal in honour of Hekate and the leftovers are usually left at a crossroads or similar intersection to be consumed by stray animals and homeless people. It also has a connection to the dead, such as the ancestors and the Restless Ones.

    http://sites.google.com/site/hellenionstemenos/festivals/hekatesdeipnon

  • Ridetbred

    i’m just like you in that i don’t *wholly* reconstruct the ancient religion (which varied widely depending on time and geographic location) and i do practice witchcraft.
    but i consider myself a recon. since there wasn’t One True Way, and the ancients (as near as we can tell) were perfectly fine with incorporating practical, regional and inspirational variations to their worship, i think that my modern innovations are completely in keeping with custom.
    if the ancients had hibachis, lighters and recorded music, they’d most likely have used ’em.
    khairete
    suz

  • Ridetbred

    i’m just like you in that i don’t *wholly* reconstruct the ancient religion (which varied widely depending on time and geographic location) and i do practice witchcraft.
    but i consider myself a recon. since there wasn’t One True Way, and the ancients (as near as we can tell) were perfectly fine with incorporating practical, regional and inspirational variations to their worship, i think that my modern innovations are completely in keeping with custom.
    if the ancients had hibachis, lighters and recorded music, they’d most likely have used ’em.
    khairete
    suz

  • Sunweaver

    I like to think of myself as a city-state. In the city-state of Sunweaver, we worship thus and such way, which may be somewhat similar to the way they worship over in Ridetbred and considerably different from how they do things in tailmon12, but since we all worship the Theoi, it’s all good.

  • Sunweaver

    I like to think of myself as a city-state. In the city-state of Sunweaver, we worship thus and such way, which may be somewhat similar to the way they worship over in Ridetbred and considerably different from how they do things in tailmon12, but since we all worship the Theoi, it’s all good.

  • Cara

    Here is a quick and dirty on Hekate’s Diepnon: http://sites.google.com/site/hellenionstemenos/festivals/hekatesdeipnon

    As for Neo-Pagan, some Pagans do use Bonewits terminology and some do not. It is not a cut and dry thing. However – there is a large and real difference between those who are ‘recons’ and those who are ‘Wiccan-esque’ Pagans. So much so that many recons do not think of themselves as Pagans at all. Personally, religiously, I have more in common with the Hindus that I know than the Wiccans and Wicca-influenced Pagans that I know. Yet I still see myself as part of the Pagan community.

  • Cara

    Here is a quick and dirty on Hekate’s Diepnon: http://sites.google.com/site/hellenionstemenos/festivals/hekatesdeipnon

    As for Neo-Pagan, some Pagans do use Bonewits terminology and some do not. It is not a cut and dry thing. However – there is a large and real difference between those who are ‘recons’ and those who are ‘Wiccan-esque’ Pagans. So much so that many recons do not think of themselves as Pagans at all. Personally, religiously, I have more in common with the Hindus that I know than the Wiccans and Wicca-influenced Pagans that I know. Yet I still see myself as part of the Pagan community.

  • NorseAlchemist

    I agree, as an Asatruar, I find that the ancient ways are so very fulfilling. It is true that sometimes we who are reconstructing do get bogged down in details, but I think that too is necessary. We Have to know all the details, even the small ones, if we are to understand everything we can about our ancient paths. The way I look at it is this, if the first, second, and maybe even third generations get bogged in the details of the past, but learn them well enough that we can transmit them to the generations that follow with the fluidity that such information was passed on in the past, then so be it. What matters isn’t just the Now, but also the future. If the sacrifice we make is our time and energy now so that our children’s children can live as our people were meant to before the God of Abraham forced his religions upon us, then I will gladly make that sacrifice. I seek that my path and the ways of my people should last till Ragnarok and beyond. I am but one person in the chain, strong and important I might be, but that just make my sacrifice all the more important.

  • NorseAlchemist

    I agree, as an Asatruar, I find that the ancient ways are so very fulfilling. It is true that sometimes we who are reconstructing do get bogged down in details, but I think that too is necessary. We Have to know all the details, even the small ones, if we are to understand everything we can about our ancient paths. The way I look at it is this, if the first, second, and maybe even third generations get bogged in the details of the past, but learn them well enough that we can transmit them to the generations that follow with the fluidity that such information was passed on in the past, then so be it. What matters isn’t just the Now, but also the future. If the sacrifice we make is our time and energy now so that our children’s children can live as our people were meant to before the God of Abraham forced his religions upon us, then I will gladly make that sacrifice. I seek that my path and the ways of my people should last till Ragnarok and beyond. I am but one person in the chain, strong and important I might be, but that just make my sacrifice all the more important.

  • (Umm…. I had a lengthy response, so lengthy that I thought it better to share it as a post on my own blog and then share the link here, so as not to bombard the comment thread. But… it seems sharing a link automatically flagged my comment as spam? Is there a way to share my thoughts without getting plunked into the spam folder? Sorry for bothering – and if it turns out that the comment went through after all, please feel free to delete this one!)

  • (Umm…. I had a lengthy response, so lengthy that I thought it better to share it as a post on my own blog and then share the link here, so as not to bombard the comment thread. But… it seems sharing a link automatically flagged my comment as spam? Is there a way to share my thoughts without getting plunked into the spam folder? Sorry for bothering – and if it turns out that the comment went through after all, please feel free to delete this one!)

  • There are also more kinds of Pagan than the Recon/Wicca duality suggests. I am not either, yet my particular religious tradition has roots in England and Wales that preceded Wicca by almost a century. Other Pagans draw from many contemporary sources as well as looking to religions of the past, and owe much to the modern environmentalist and feminist movements, yet they do not call themselves either Wiccan or Reconstructionist (and many have similar qualms with the term “Pagan” for being overly associated with both). If Recons wish to distinguish themselves from Wiccans, I think it’s all right to use the term Wiccan. But the term “Neopagan” does mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and it’s easy for it to feel like a derogatory (especially when it’s not capitalized).

  • There are also more kinds of Pagan than the Recon/Wicca duality suggests. I am not either, yet my particular religious tradition has roots in England and Wales that preceded Wicca by almost a century. Other Pagans draw from many contemporary sources as well as looking to religions of the past, and owe much to the modern environmentalist and feminist movements, yet they do not call themselves either Wiccan or Reconstructionist (and many have similar qualms with the term “Pagan” for being overly associated with both). If Recons wish to distinguish themselves from Wiccans, I think it’s all right to use the term Wiccan. But the term “Neopagan” does mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and it’s easy for it to feel like a derogatory (especially when it’s not capitalized).

  • Khaire!

    I think those of us who favor a more recon path should speak up more about practice instead of seeming to focus on getting the little details all correct. Without practice, how are we any different from armchair scholars?

  • Khaire!

    I think those of us who favor a more recon path should speak up more about practice instead of seeming to focus on getting the little details all correct. Without practice, how are we any different from armchair scholars?

  • Well written and insightful.

  • Well written and insightful.

  • Ridetbred

    many of us do! see hellenion, neokoroi, kyklos apollon and others for examples of recons without sticks up asses.
    :) khairete
    suz

  • Ridetbred

    many of us do! see hellenion, neokoroi, kyklos apollon and others for examples of recons without sticks up asses.
    :) khairete
    suz