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About Hellenic Polytheism

by Eleni Vamvakari
*Please note that, despite being born and brought up in America, and lacking Hellenic blood, I am
a Greek patriot and nationalist, and unless otherwise stated, my works are written from that
I usually save this section for the end of the essay. But I would like
to preface this with a note. The following is a very basic introduction
to Hellenic Polytheism, the religion that I follow. This is not a
scholarly work on the modern practices of said faith, but is based upon
my own personal observations, and its linguistic style departs slightly
from my usual formality. I have tried to be as fair in my
representations as possible. If you feel that I have inaccurately
described something, please comment with an explanation. If you would
like to delve more into this topic, there are many good sites on the
internet. I always recommend the following essay for those considering
either following The Gods or gaining more information on the varieties
of practices and beliefs of the religion. While the site on which it's
posted is not exclusively Hellenic, the author has written a set of
questions and descriptions that is well worth the read.
That said, let us begin.
The most basic definition of Hellenic Polytheism is a belief in The
Gods and Goddesses of ancient Greece. Yet it is also far more than
that. We are a very diverse group of individuals, just as you would
find in any other religion, perhaps more so. We hold beliefs ranging
from liberal to conservative, from traditional to new age. We don't
even agree on one set name for our faith. You'll often see things like
Hellenic Polytheism, Hellenic Paganism, Hellenismos, Hellenism, Hellenic
Reconstructionism, and/or Hellenic eclecticism, depending on the person
and/or branch you ask/study. Some people leave out the word Hellenic
entirely, preferring dodecatheonism (worship of the 12 Gods),
Olympianism, or something else to denote their faith. One of the things
that holds us together is our belief in the gods of ancient Greece.
However, even that differs among people and groups. Some of us see them
as symbols, while others see them as literal beings and still others see
them as forces of nature. I personally see Them as individual beings,
complete with Their own personalities etc. Outsiders to our faith often
ask how we can follow Them,, given some of the stories in our myths.
I've heard this so many times that I feel it's necessary to explain how
a large number of us feel on the subject. The Gods are not mortal, and
cannot be judged by human standards, nor by humans themselves, who lack
full understanding of Them. Many of us feel that the myths should not
be taken literally, but are meant as instructional guides for life. So
we do not believe that The Gods literally live on the physical Mount
Olympos. Furthermore, we were not made in Their image, and They did
not, as in Christianity etc, make us to be the centre of the world. We
are not important in the grand scheme of things. So while I may have a

bond with Hermes, for example, that doesn't mean he can't turn around
and ignore me or that he won't demand more of me. The sacrifices etc
help, but they don't guarantee that the gods will pay attention or grant
our wishes. They just make it more likely. Most of us believe that
it's wrong to demand anything from Them or to believe that we have any
power over them. I personally find those who do this to be blasphemous
and hubristic. In contrast, asking for things, in a respectful manner,
particularly if you are willing to work for them, is not only acceptable
but encouraged
Some of us are reconstructionists (or recons), trying to follow the
old ways as much as modern life will permit, some are middle-of-the-road
(strict Hellenic pantheon but may not do the rituals etc... we have many
festivals), and some are eclectic, following different gods/goddesses
and mixing religions. , I follow a strictly Hellenic-based faith,
though I'm not as traditional in my devotions as I would like to be. I
am also very much against eclecticism, where people pick gods at random,
from various pantheons, and worship them, usually without truly studying
either Them or the cultures where They originated.
Most of us make some kind of offerings to the gods, like the daily
portion of food set aside for Hestia the guardian of the hearth and home
at meal times or a sacrifice of food/clothing/time (perhaps to a
charity, shelter etc). Many of us write hymns for a prayer answered by
a given deity or as a prayer to one. Some of us have altars or even
shrines set aside for various deities in our homes. Very few of us
offer animal sacrifice. In fact, I've only met one or two who did.
Those who do are usually hunters, who then eat the food, or farmers, who
raise our own animals in a humane and respectful manner.
While there are many online groups devoted to our faith, we are mostly
scattered throughout the world. This means that, though some of us are
able to worship together, many of us are, by necessity, solitary
practitioners. Some of us follow an ancient calendar (usually
Athenian/HMEPA, as that's the most complete one available today), while
others create new holidays. Those who follow the HMEPA often adapt
festivals to fit their circumstances, particularly those which involve
observance with a large group of people. Some also change the dates
when they observe various holidays, due to their location in the world.
For example, an Australian would celebrate a summer festival at a
different time from an American.
We believe in morals, ethics, and virtues, but we don't have a
specific book containing them, as do the monotheistic religions. The
reconstructionists among us often turn to texts such as Homer's Iliad
and Odyssey, Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, and the Delphic
Maxims. Those who follow a more philosophical and/or mystical approach
may turn to texts such as the various works of Platon, the Orphic texts,
or the writings of Selustius and/or the Roman Emperor Julian. Those on
this end of the spectrum often believe that the study and understanding
of philosophy is essential to our religion. Personally, I view them as
two separate things, particularly when it comes to late antiquity and
the Hellenistic period. Many of us develop our morals and so on from
either life experience or other sources aside from and/or including our
religion, both past (when applicable) and present. None of us, at least
none whom I've met, support the subjugation of women, , though our
beliefs on exactly what a woman's role is may vary from person to

person. We're generally open-minded and we encourage people, both in

and out of our religion, to ask questions about the gods and each other.
We're firm believers in education. Not everyone is a scholar, but
everyone should try to learn something in life, whether it's a trade or
an academic pursuit.
Despite the name of "Hellenic Polytheism, not all of us are natives of
Hellas (Greece) or of Hellenic ) descent. Our views on the modern
nation range from not caring, to only involving ourselves when something
ancient is in question or at stake, to mild political involvement, to
full-fledged nationalism. For the record, despite my lack of the blood,
I am a Hellenic patriot and nationalist, to the point that my interest
in modern Hellas often outweighs that in ancient.
Since some of us use the term pagan to describe ourselves, people may
develop a stereotype of all Hellenic Polytheists as practitioners of
magic, casters of spells, and followers of other mystical and/or new age
beliefs. Those of us who are of the reconstructionist variety usually
don't practise any kind of magic, except possibly the Orphics or other
mystics who base their practices in history. Eclectics and those taking
a middle path often do, to varying degrees. I don't practise any kind
of magic, though I do believe in divination. Still, I usually consider
that separate from my religion. Those coming from other pagan
traditions may feel that it's necessary to have a patron god. This is
not necessarily true. Some have these relationships while others do
not. Some even change patrons or lose them entirely. Many strict
reconstructionists dismiss these ideas as modern.
We don't usually believe in a heaven/hell concept, though there are
good and bad places in The Underworld, and I certainly wouldn't want to
go to Tartaros. However, some of us may take varying viewpoints on the
afterlife. Some just say that they have no clue what it's like and
won't presume to know. This is one of those areas where I differ from
traditional teachings, as I believe that certain spirits come back, due
to unfinished business, others cross over into the spiritual realm
(whatever that may be), and still others are reincarnated. But my
personal views are based on experience and parapsychology, rather than
religion. We have priests and priestesses who help in times of need,
sometimes by oracle and sometimes just by being there, or performing
marriages. These do not, however, give sermons as do priests in the
monotheistic religions.
As for me, even after ten years, there's still a lot that I don't
know. This is largely because my interests mostly lie in modern Hellas,
as I've said. As a result, I don't study as I should, which is bad, not
only religiously, but also as a patriot. Hopefully, I will change this
soon, and begin to worship more properly and learn more about the
ancient culture and our faith.
At any rate, that's us in the nut shell. Feel free to comment and to
ask questions and I'll answer to the best of my ability and/or direct
you to sites which can.
If you've enjoyed this essay, and would like to read my other works,
they can be found here. As always, please feel free to comment on and
share any of them. A wide variety of topics are discussed, so there's
something for everyone.

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