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A Crisis of Faith by Eleni Vamvakari I will say, before beginning, that this is one of the most difficult essays

I have ever written. It forced me to examine myself and my beliefs, and to admit some very painful truths. But it is also something which has been building up for many years, and I am glad that I was able to write it and now, that I may share it with you. Perhaps, you can offer me advice, or maybe, you have gone through something similar, in which case, this may help you. Either way, I ask you not to judge me until you have read this through to the end. I believe that I am having what my theology professor, who was a Jesuit priest, called a crisis of faith. Only mine does not revolve around whether The Gods are real, for I am sure this is the case. My crisis is, rather, a personal and complex one. I grew up with no religion. My family was Roman Catholic in name only. I was baptised when I was a baby. Then, at the age of eight, after most local churches said they'd call us back and never did, and one rejected me due to my blindness, I had my first (and last) communion out of town, and that was it. From then until the age of 19, my only beliefs were in some kind of higher power that I couldn't name, and in the spiritual realm. I began to experience the world of spirits at the age of 14, and it has remained the one true constant in my life, offering me sollice in times of need, hope in times of dispair, and more. Please do not take this to mean that I hear voices in my head, think that I have some special powers, etc. It's just that I can usually tell when a mortal spirit is present by feeling coldness on my back, and at times, by experiencing emotions, and/or smelling certain scents that were associated with the spirit in life. It's a family tradition, as my grandmother, who is now in that realm, and my mother both had their own encounters, some more intense than mine. At any rate, I found Hellenic Polytheism in December of 2002, while looking up something else Greek. I was not seeking religion of any kind. But I felt drawn to Athena, due to Her love of wisdom, and the story of Arachne that I was told years before, in school. I, too, loved weaving. I also enjoyed the story of Persephone, though since I was told it, again in school and at a young age, I didn't learn about the rape aspect until many years later. By February of 2003, I had decided to become a Hellenic Polytheist. It's at this point in the story that I usually say "and I've never looked back since then", and while I haven't done so, in the sense of regret or wondering what my life would have been like without The Gods, I must admit a few things here. When I started out in this path, I was first aided by a woman named Druansha. She has since moved onto more newage things, but I must always thank her and her page for welcoming me and giving me advice in those early days. I will never forget the time when I told my communion story to a Hellenic group and they said "do you really think The Gods care if you're blind?" That touched me, and stayed with me, and for the first time in my life, I felt truly welcomed somewhere. I also had a book, "Old Stones, New Temples", by Drew Campbell. It contained all sorts of information on The Gods, rituals, festivals, and more. It seemed to be just what I wanted. For awhile, I was truly fascinated by our faith, and asked all sorts

of questions. Then, I began to notice a lot of fighting on one of the groups, so I left. I found another one, which was far more reconstructionist in it's outlook. I liked this, but by now, I was already heavily involved in my interest in rebetika, a style of Greek music. I was also in school, having discovered The Gods during my second year of college. As time passed, I began to feel less and less connected with my faith. I believed in The Gods, but after my Greek and Roman Mythology classes in college, I rarely read our sacred texts. I started saying a group of prayers, basically blessings for those (both living and in the spiritual realm) in my life, at night. These I created, and I remained dilligent here for many years. But eventually, I even became lax about those. If I asked a deity for something, though, I would always try to give back, by writing a poem, hymn, or story, or by doing something in His/Her name. I performed a few very small rituals asking for healing of loved ones, and a large one, on 21 April, 2012, for the nation, but that was all. I don't follow our calendar, don't make sacrifice at meals, and even after ten years of following The Gods, I still don't have any kind of altar to Them! At the same time, I always felt that something was missing. I wanted to be a reconstructionist, yet the true desire to do so just wasn't there. I lacked the passion and motivation necessary for it. So I tried to become active in various religious groups, hoping that I could somehow capture that inspiration. But I found more conflict, in the form of varying theologies and attitudes about the nature of The Gods, how They should be worshiped, and even how They and our faith should impact our lives. I have always viewed things, religiously at least, from the Homeric/Hesiodic perspective. As I read, I became more frustrated. Not only did I find some who shared my views, but also newage eclectics, Wiccans, and fan fiction types, as well as those rooted in ancient tradition, which, nonetheless, clashed with all that I thought of our theology and faith. These included Neoplatonists, Orphics, mystics of various kinds, etc. The more I read from them, the more confused and frustrated I became. Why, I wondered, didn't they follow the old ways? But on the heels of that always came my next question. How could I accuse them of not following the old ways when I don't even read our texts or do rituals? At least they're well-read! But it's constantly being said, from all sides, that Hellenic Polytheism is not a religion of hard doctrines and universal texts. Even though I was not brought up in a religious household, I still expected at least some of these things when I began following The Gods. I like instructions and unity. At least as much unity as a group scattered across the world can have. I'm good at initiating projects, but not at sticking to them on my own. So the "anything goes" mentality first annoyed, then angered, and finally perplexed me. I cannot personally comprehend, much less agree with, the idea that we are basically many faiths under one name. It reminds me too much of The United States of America, which claims to be one country, but which has different laws in different states. The nationalist in me extends to my religion. I believe that a nation should be united, and so should the given members of a faith. Certainly, there could be different branches, but they should also have their own groups. Some have argued that this is a bad idea, since we are a small group on the hole. But to me, it makes more sense that those with similar views should band together. Yet I only know of one or two reconstructionist groups which meet my definition of the word. These are Elaion and

Thiasos Olympikos. It seems to me that, even though I'm not a proper reconstructionist, The Gods answer my prayers. If it really doesn't matter how we worship or what we believe, why go through the elaborate rituals, rites, and so forth, of our faith? In 2010, I developed an interest in The Revolution of 21 April, 1967, and in our national saviours from then, as well as from the 4th of August Regime (1936-41). As I learned, I became a follower, and started to truly pay attention to Hellenic politics, which wasn't difficult, as I was already interested in them and the nation as a whole. This brought me into conflict, yet again, with many of my coreligionists, who felt that such views were wrong. I began expressing my views in these groups, sometimes at appropriate times, and sometimes not. I found that my passion for not only The Revolution, but for all modern Hellenic things far outweighed my interest in The Gods and in ancient Hellenic culture. The more I tried to ignore and deny it, the more I found it to be true. For one who claims to be religious, I am not as moved by the ancient texts as I should be. The thing which moves me, out of all of the books I have ever read, is the Memoirs of General Makriyannis. While I have only found the introduction and first chapter of the book translated into English, they can touch my soul in ways that nothing else has ever done. I feel at one with that great hero. He can bring me to the hights of joy and pride with his patriotism, and to the depths of sadness, as I realise that what he was writing about, all those years ago, is still happening today! Likewise, when I read the words of our saviours, even through a poor Google translation, I am touched. This is why I wish to learn Katharevousa fluently, once I am comfortable with Kathomiloumeni, so that I can understand them for myself. At the present, I'm in the intermediate level. While I enjoy the religious texts, , and get excited by ones with action in them, they're still not the same for me as books on our history, even from ancient authors! The closest I have ever come to being truly touched by a religious text is when reading certain hymns to The Gods, particularly the Homeric ones. Even then, though I always thank and ask blessings from "all The Gods and Goddesses who rule on Earth, above, and below", I really only feel close to Athena, Hermes, and Aphrodite. I tried, several times, to get close to Hestia, but for whatever reason, it never worked out. Compounding all of this is the belief, held by some, that one must read and/or study philosophy in order to truly be considered a Hellenic Polytheist. While I have no issue with philosophy itself, and while I did take two general courses in the subject in college, my interest in it has never really gone passed Socrates (the man and his methods of questioning, not Platon and the words that he put into his teacher's mouth). Furthermore, I see the philosophers as being part of their own field, not religion, even though some of them discussed The Gods. That said, I do intend on reading them, as they are part of our history and may help me add authoritative substance to my own ideas. My morals, ethics, and virtues developed as a result of my personal experiences, observations, and logic, and are now, if anything, being at least partly shaped by our national saviours. I have never looked to religion, not even the sacred works of Homer, Hesiod,, Solon, or the Delphic Maxims, for guidance. So the idea that it is necessary for me to read not only those, which I greatly respect as moral instructions, but also the views of people with vastly different theologies, and try

to incorporate that into my faith, makes no sense to me. Some have told me that Hellenic Polytheism is a life style, which I have never understood. I can see being an ethnikofron (nationalist) as a life style, in that I hold myself to higher standards of behaviour, thought, and action. Perhaps, this is what is meant here as well. It's not that I don't believe in The Gods, as I said at the beginning of this essay. I recognise that They are in my life, and that without Them, nothing is possible. But I don't incorporate my faith into my daily life in the same way as I do modern Hellenic culture. I am willing to be imprisoned, persecuted, and even to die for my country, but not for my religion. This is why, while I do not hide my beliefs, and will discuss them openly, if a law was made that I could not do so, I would follow it. But if a law was made that I could not celebrate patriotic holidays, study our history, or speak our language, I would protest it. Likewise, I do not believe in direct democracy, or that we need to return to being city states. But there are those who consider this part of the "Hellenic worldview", and say that if we don't believe these things, we are not truly Hellenised. My response is always that we are not ancients. We live in the world of today and follow The Gods as closely to the ancients as we can, but with natural exceptions for laws and cultural changes. The final point that I must make is in regards to the hatred that many of my co-religionists feel toward Christians, and the intensity with which they fight for our religious rights in Hellas. Whether I like it or not, I was born and brought up in America, and have never really come into any serious conflicts with Christians. Certainly nothing life-changing. So I'm sure this has something to do with my views. I have also known many good Christians throughout my life, and while I do hate the ancient ones, I also recognise that no one living today, on either side, is among them. So I am greatly annoyed when any mention of Christianity is met with contempt, and even things which are not Christian in themselves are deemed "Romioi" by those from Hellas, who do not consider modern "Greeks" to be "Hellenes". As much as it agrevates me that so many nonGreeks who follow The Gods have no regard for modern-day Hellas, it is at least somewhat understandable. But when native Hellenes talk of our religious rights and freedoms, knowing perfectly well that people are literally dying of starvation and suicide, losing their jobs, living in homes with no heat (if they still have homes at all), and having to give their children to orphanages so that they can eat, it makes me downright angry! Their idea of nation is completely different from mine, as their's is based on the ancient models and mine is based on the modern. Needless to say, we each see our side as correct, and that of our opponents as wrong, and it leads us into debates, even in topics which should be religious in nature! All of this leaves me with mixed feelings. Where do I belong? Can I be a Hellenic Polytheist and a nationalist at once? Do I really fit in? Even though I believe in the Gods, is it right for me to continue to honour Them in the way that I do? If I don't feel as strongly toward Them as I do toward my country, why can't I walk away? Do I fear some kind of punishment? If the answer is no, and I believe it is, do I just fear that I will lose the perks that come with believing in Them i.e. if I ask for something, it's given, and I give back, then I can ask for something else? Am I afraid that, if something bad happens, say an

illness or bad setback in my life, that I won't have anyone to whom I could turn if I give up my faith in The Gods? And are any of these good reasons to continue honouring Them? If this is not the right path for me, then what is, or am I better off with none for the time being? I cannot answer these questions. But writing this out has helped me clear my mind, if nothing else. Maybe, that's the first step on the road to understanding. Commentary As I continue along this path of self-examination and general questioning, I'm finding that it's more than just my nationalism that is causing this strange disconnect between my faith and myself, but I can't seem to place it. Two odd things that keep coming back to me are that The Gods seem to answer my prayers, regardless of whether I practise rituals, sacrifices, etc. This baffles me, as I thought part of religion was orthopraxy. If we do these things to please The gods, and They still answer us, even when we don't do them, what does that mean? Do They know that I'm struggling? Do They find my simple hymns, public thanks, and occasional libations or food sacrifices to be satisfying? I've been following our faith for 10 years and still don't even have an altar! I can also view things from both a secular and a religious perspective. For instance, the nature of The Gods. I have always said that, as mortals, we cannot truly understand the divine, so It comes to us in ways with which we can relate. Yet I have chosen to follow the Hellenic pantheon, so I worship said deities in it. Usually, that's fine. But tonight, I was put in an odd position of answering an innocent question about whether or not The Gods were modeled after us. I said that it was all in the wording. If The Gods were modeled after us, that must mean either that we created Them or that They appear to us this way. But if we are modeled after The Gods, it means that They created us. Religiously, I hold that view. But I can also look outside my religion and give the earlier answer on the nature of the divine. I also have different views of the afterlife from those of Hellenic Polytheism. It's almost as if I work for a company, where at times, I speak on behalf of them, but at times, I speak as myself. This sort of duality is confusing. Then, we get to the myths. Which ones do I follow? Each city state also had different focuses, rituals, and calendars. Which of those do I choose? I never think in local terms, and I don't like all the contradictions. I like clarity. So do I just take them all as stories, or different ways of seeing The Gods? If they're strictly alegorical, then it changes my relation to The Gods, and indeed, Their relation to the world. I don't believe in worshiping a bunch of symbols. If I wanted to do that, I'd honour our flag and the phoenix! Finally, I wonder, will doing rituals and/or involving myself more in religious discussions help lessen the gap that I feel between my faith and my daily life? This is what I'm trying to find out. To that end, I'm participating more in the various groups of which I'm a member. I'm trying to learn more about the ancients, both culturally and religiously. I still get frustrated with myself, though, because it feels academic. I can see myself doing this as a patriot, so that I

can learn more about the culture of Hellas. But that religious spark isn't there. Should it be, or am I on the right path? Can I come to The Gods by another means, or must i wait for Them? Perhaps, They will remain there but distant from me, until either I need Them or am truly ready to welcome Them into my life, along with all of the responsibility that intales. Maybe, I need to get myself together, both as a nationalist and as an individual, first. I also wonder if my blindness plays a role in this. So much of our faith is visual. Obviously, sighted people don't see The gods walking down the street. But they can see statues, paintings, vases, and even things that The Gods control and/or that are Their symbols, like the sun, moon, stars, oceans, animals, etc. It's easy to follow someone when I can hear his voice, or even read his words. But to me, The Gods are abstract, like colour and light. I can feel the sun on my face and hear thunder (there's a storm outside as I write, which inspired this add-on), but is it really the same? Maybe, I have to consciously make more of an effort to "see" The Gods in my life than do my sighted peers." Upon making these comments, I was then asked why I separate The Gods from my nationalism. I responded with the following. "I just never really thought of putting the two together. I know they care for Hellas, but the War of Independence was mostly fought by Christians. If there were any followers of The Gods there, they couldn't exactly make themselves known. Plus, our national saviours were/are Christian. But I also tend to do this in general. That is, I don't link The Gods with things, even though I know that They must be a part of them. I see things in a secular way, most of the time, and I think that's part of my problem." If you've enjoyed this essay, and would like to read my other works, they can be found here and at the below Facebook link. 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. Essays Categorised