This is a FAQ on Hellenismos which will probably be under frequent updates. Please feel free to submit any questions that you feel belong here.
- What is Hellenismos?
- What is reconstructionism?
- What is polytheism? How it is different from Wicca?
- Do you have to be a reconstructionist in order to worship the Greek gods?
- How do you become a member of your faith? Do you have to be initiated in order to be a member of your religion?
Beliefs and Practices
- Where do you learn about this? I thought that not much information survived on the ancient practices of many Pagans.
- What do you believe about your gods?
- Do you honor the Pagan/Wiccan holidays (Beltaine, Samhain, Solstices and Equinoxes)?
- What holidays do you celebrate and when?
- How do you pray?
- How do you do a ritual, and how is it different from a Wiccan ritual?
- Do you have priests and priestesses?
- Do you have to be a male to worship a god or a female to worship a goddess, or to be their priest or priestess?
- Are people in the LGBTQIA+ community accepted in Hellenismos? What is the general consensus?
- Does Hellenismos have a system of values and ethics like the Wiccan Rede, Ten Commandments, et cetera?
- I don’t have a patron deity and I want to practice Hellenismos. Is this bad? Should I get a patron deity?
Issues and Hot Topics
- Do you practice magic? Is the practice of magic required in order to be in Hellenismos?
- Does being a reconstructionist mean that you can’t do anything new in your practice?
- How does Hellenismos feel about animal sacrifice?
- Do you find that Hellenismos is overly reliant on “source” material and not enough on inspiration and “practicing from the heart”?
- How do practitioners of Hellenismos regard mysticism, mantic arts (divination), and “personal experience”?
- Do you have to be ethnically Greek in order to practice Hellenismos?
- How do people feel about the Mysteries? Are there any practitioners who are trying to bring them back?
What is Hellenismos?
Hellenismos is the study and practice of ancient Greek polytheistic religion in the modern day world. It is also known as Hellenic/Greek reconstructionism, Hellenic/Greek polytheistic reconstructionism, Hellenic/Greek reconstructionist Paganism, et cetera. Members of our religion call themselves Hellenists, Hellenic/Greek pagans, Hellenic/Greek polytheists–you get the idea. These are many names and descriptives for what is essentially the same thing. As our community grows and matures, we may settle on a single term or we might not. For now, I’ll be using these terms throughout this FAQ so that people become familiar with them.
Hellenismos is a term used by the Roman Emperor Julian who tried to revive the ancient religion in an increasingly Christian nation. Those who are interested in Julian may want to check out The Julian Society.
What is reconstructionism?
“Reconstructionism” reflects an attempt to bring back ancient religions into the modern era by taking as much as we can from what we know of the ancient practices and beliefs and incorporating them into our every day lives. It is a means to an end, and technically we have done all of the “reconstructing” that we need to do and have more than enough information and insight at our disposal. It’s time now to actually put it in practice and not be afraid of what is “right”.
What is polytheism? How is it different from Wicca?
Polytheism is the worship of multiple deities. As for the second question, it depends on what type of Wicca. There are in all honesty two different broad branches of Wicca: neo-Wicca, which is a generic form of paganism popularized and made into a religion by Scott Cunningham and others who have done their best to write about it for the masses without betraying oaths, and initiatory Wicca AKA British Traditional Wicca (BTW), which is more of a series of many, many traditions which are all individual mystery schools in their own right. There are many neo-Wiccans or non-initiatory Wiccans who are polytheistic, and BTW allows from anything from hard polytheism to atheism within various traditions. The two deity structure is more akin to “patron deities of the tradition” itself vs “these are the only gods we worship”.
There are non-initiatory and initiatory Wiccans who honor the Greek gods as polytheists, and even BTW traditions which have at the core of their tradition Greek gods vs Welsh, including the Chthonioi-Alexandrian Wiccan tradition. There are non-initiatory Wiccans who may incorporate many or no practices based on ancient tradition in their personal practice, and there are reconstructionist Hellenists and Hellenists in general who are initiated into one or more BTW traditions.
No, you do not. While it helps to know how the Greek gods were honored in ancient times to get a better sense of how they are in general, having a mostly or completely modern practice is totally okay. The reality is that we can never be 100% true to how they did things in ancient times because we no longer live in that world or in those cultures. The only important thing is honesty in regards to what you do, and not claim that something is ancient when it is not.
Even as a reconstructionist we are allowed to evolve, and frankly we should. I daresay it is required for us to grow as a faith.
You become by doing. There is no initiation because this is not a mystery school or mystery religion, although there are those among us who have chosen to become initiated in similar or compatible mystery schools and traditions as our own way of honoring the gods and growing as Hellenists spiritually.
It honestly depends on the practice and which sorts of Pagans. Thankfully the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians actually wrote stuff down and much of those writings survived. For that reason, Hellenists have it much easier than other polytheistic faiths based in the ancient era.
It is still true that we have lost information over time, and there is no unbroken lineage or line that can give us a sense of how things would have evolved had we known more about other polytheists who remained polytheist even after the conversion to Christianity. We have to use a combination of common sense, guesswork, and ingenuity to determine how things would be handled today given the changes in circumstances.
I can answer this for myself, and get into a little of what was traditional back in ancient times. I personally am polytheistic and believe in the existence of all gods, of all pantheons. I have described myself as “not being a pantheon snob”; I’m just particularly focused on the Greek gods because it’s where I feel the most at home.
In ancient times, the Greeks mostly saw other cultures’ deities as being the same as theirs but essentially wearing different faces. This belief is referred to is syncretism, and it’s very different from a lot of the modern day “hard polytheists”.
Answered on the festivals and holidays page here.
See the festivals and holidays page.
Beautiful question, and I cover the more formal approach here. It can be as informal as going up to a particular god’s altar and ranting at them, or talking to them in my head. In short, like pretty much any other faith in that regard, but we do have our formalities and ritual as well.
It depends on the Wiccan ritual as some traditions have similar elements as ours including the ritual cleansing of hands, circumambulation, etc. I cover some example rituals here.
We do have people who have been fortunate enough to have found an outlet within their local and/or online communities to be able to serve as a priest/ess of a particular god, or for a particular ritual cycle for their local group. In ancient times, not all priests assumed roles for life and they would rotate for the season, tradition, etc. It depended on the festival and the function. For instance, I serve as a priestess of Apollo in my community as a lifelong role, but I have also served as a priestess of Persephone for a ritual cycle not unlike the Eleusinian Mysteries in my own local group.
People can either be recognized by others, a formal organizational body, and/or self elected but in the end you are by doing regardless of what titles you hold or do not hold, period the end.
Hells to the no, and I realize that a lot of that gender polarity crap comes out of certain initiatory British Traditional Wiccan lineages. Thankfully there are movements under way in some of those traditions to do away with it while others already formally have (such as Chthonioi-Alexandrian).
In ancient Greece, it didn’t matter what gender identity you had although some priesthoods depending on the role fell to a particular gender. The role of the Oracle at Delphi for instance fell to women, and they were all dedicated to Apollo.
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway for people who need to know and be reassured: the vast majority of people in the Hellenic polytheistic community are extremely pro-LGBTQIA+ rights and are friendly to all regardless of race, gender identity, sexuality, physical ability, etc. We have had a number of prominent transgender, genderfluid, and non-binary people among us who have served us as our leaders, mentors, peers, and writers. I myself fall under the asexual umbrella.
Not even Wiccans agree about the Wiccan Rede, but that’s a whole other can of worms I don’t want to cover here due to its lack of relevancy. 🙂 But as it was in ancient times, there are no central texts, no central authority, no holy works we can point to as being pivotal. There have been various voices among the ancient Hellenes that we can look to, especially when it comes to philosophy. The Delphic Maxims are a good example of some of those and even some of them are outdated for the modern era. My particular favorite among them however which remains true to this day is the idea of striving for arete, or excellence as a virtue. Always be a better version of you than you were yesterday, always remember that it is good to be a good person, and there is no better way to honor the gods.
I don’t have a patron deity and I want to practice Hellenismos. Is this bad? Should I get a patron deity?
They are neither required nor are they non-Hellenic in nature. Because this is a fairly broad, misunderstood, and involved topic, I encourage people to read my post here.
And now, it’s time for my favorite part: tackling controversy:
I personally do, as do some others. Not everyone believes in it or its use, let alone practices it in Hellenismos. It’s not only not required but mentioning it can erupt into a heated discussion in many a forum. Some will argue that it’s non-Hellenic when numerous texts exist stating otherwise while some just find it silly. I will argue that a) it is most definitely not non-Hellenic and b) you are welcome to your own beliefs and practices on the subject.
Too many people, IMHO, are overly concerned with these things:
- Not being confused with Wiccans. Heck, there are those of the Wica who don’t want to be confused with Wiccans. I’m not terribly concerned with it as much as I think there’s too much misinformation on all sides to deal with this topic in an effective manner 99% of the time.
- Wanting to be accepted by the mainstream. Which, guess what: we never will be, and I honestly couldn’t care less one way or another. I made my peace with that a very long time ago.
- Holdovers and previously existing ideas and prejudices stemming from having been raised in certain Christian ideas. I do not come from a Christian background myself and have been a polytheist for most of my life, but I see the patterns when they emerge.
No, otherwise absolutely no one could possibly be a reconstructionist and we may all just quit right now. 🙂
It’s normal for “convert syndrome” to kick in when you first join a new faith, and have anxieties over wanting to do everything correctly, appropriately, etc. I think the temptation in “reconstructionism” is to treat it as the religion as opposed to merely a means to an end.
My advice: don’t worry about it, don’t stress over it. Just do the thing, and honor your heart.
Conflicted, open to debates, and to be blunt lots of shouting. I would argue that in the modern world where you can go into a supermarket and buy a slab of meat vs having to kill and butcher an animal in order to eat that the concept has lost all of its meaning. As a vegan myself, I see no need for it. There were bloodless offerings made in ancient Greece all of the time and in some places that was the standard. On the other hand, if done humanely on farms where it is legal and done properly is far more humane than contributing to factory farming.
Simply put, it’s just not necessary. This is one example where the times have changed and moved on, and we must do the same in order to continue to grow and exist as a faith.
In our communities it can be, yes. We need to stop arguing and discussing scholarly material and Just Do The Thing. A lot of us have already done and are doing so. This site is up in order to help out people who are new to the tradition and want a good primer without having to wade through all of the discussions, debates, and books. You don’t need, nor should you feel that you need, a PhD in the Classics in order to be a part of this faith. That’s just stuff and nonsense.
It’s all so simple. Rituals are so simple. There’s almost nothing to them. They can be as elaborate or as short as you feel that they need to be, but the bare structure of them is just insanely simple.
We can do the thing. You can do the thing. Just don’t overthink it. 🙂
Like the question of magic, with varying degrees of desire to be a part of it, acceptance, and overall understanding.
Fact: all religions have in them room for personal gnosis. If that’s your thing, do the thing. Live for the gods and be yourself, that’s all that really matters.
Nope, and the organization I helped to found over at Hellenion deliberately named ourselves after a Greek temple built in a foreign land. We come from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and countries.
Mixed feelings, mainly because there’s really no way to “bring them back”. You can bring back inspired versions, but ultimately in the end it will be a new tradition–and that is okay.
There are practitioners who are trying/have created initiatory mysteries around the Greek gods, usually within their own local communities and groups. This isn’t something that can be done online as there’s a huge physical, face to face component which must exist in order for there to be a genuine experience, so this has limited us. But it’s not impossible.