Intro to Hellenismos

Hellenismos is the practice of ancient Greek religion in the modern day world with ancient influence upon any or all of the following: liturgical structure, prayers, offerings, every day life, the mythology, and last but not least, the Greek gods. It is a religion which is often reconstructionist in its methology. Reconstructionism is a practice in which academic information is relied upon as the foundation of the practice, though its members often vary on how much they rely upon said sources versus modern information. I think that the best definition of Hellenismos that I’ve found so far is up at Sponde! so I have no wish to requote them here.

Reconstructionist religions are based upon the idea that a religion can be revived if enough of its practices were brought back into the modern day world. This can be looked upon from various angles. Certainly we want our practices to be as true to the ancient world as possible, but quite a bit has changed. As our religion grows in numbers and strength, we will be making choices along the way of what practices need to be tweaked slightly in order to accommodate the modern day world. These choices are currently being reflected in various cults, thiasoi, and organizations that are emerging from the Hellenismos communities.

One practice that reflects a choice to accomodate the modern day world we live in is animal sacrifice. We no longer have the burden of having to kill in order to survive, and in most cases it’s not practical to do our own animal slaughter. Clearly we cannot do such practices in the modern day world without having a hunting license or owning a farm. The meaning of the practice of animal sacrifices has been lost in the age of supermarkets and grocery stores. We have someone else kill the animal for us, and after it undergoes a long industry process, we buy slabs of meat in a store in a way which does not connect us to the killing of the animal, or even its treatment while it was alive. (I am not taking a stab at people who eat meat, even though I am admittedly a vegan.)

In the modern day world, to truly follow the example of our ancient
spiritual ancestors, we need to employ a mindfulness about what we eat and how we eat it. Meals for the ancients were sacred occasions, and the first bite of the meals often went to Hestia as an offering. Whether we take bits of our meals and leave them as offerings
to our gods, or say a prayer over what we eat at each meal. At the very least, it would connect us with that memory that we are reliant upon death in order to live, and to keep us humble.

Our religion relies upon much knowledge of academic information and ancient authors that we are often required–or feel that we are required–to read a very long list of authors and books to the point where we could buy stock at and As we continue to grow, it is my hope that we have more beginner’s resources made available by those who have already done the research so that people do not feel overwhelmed by the volumes of reading that they would have to do in order to become a Hellenist. Perhaps in these beginning years, people like myself can continue to do the research and make websites like these so that someday, future members of our religion will not have to. They could read a single book or a single website, and have access to festivals, prayers, liturgical structure, and even information about the gods. However, it is unlikely that we would remove the requirement to read altogether. New information is being unearthed on a regular basis. What was commonly accepted twenty years ago could be disproven through new studies and archaeological digs. For example, we once thought that the ancients were full of it, and there were no gas fumes at Delphi that the Pythia breathed. Due to recent findings, we know that the ancients did indeed know about the fumes, and that they were present.

It is on that note that I wish to add that if anyone finds something on my website which needs correction due to something that you have read via an academic work, please bring both it and the work to my attention, and I will correct it. You can contact me here.

As we continue to go through our religion, research it, and reconstruct it, we must keep aware that what we do will not necessarily be perfect. We may even have to change, add, or remove what we have put into it. We know quite a bit about the state religion, but not nearly as much on personal practices of the religion. For that, we need to read works by ancient Greeks and the details of their lives. Socrates libated every drink he drank. Others like Proclus and Sappho had a devotion to a particular deity in a way that we would term today as a “patron deity” relationship. These practices and more need to be thoroughly looked into, and the words of the people must be read and understood in order for us to have a sense of what it was like for them, and to bring that spirit, that essence, into the modern day world.

For those who are particularly drawn to a patron deity, it is highly recommended that they do what most of the ancients would have done: become a priest and act in the community. Perform rituals, do acts on behalf of the god for others, whether that is medicine, writing, mantic arts, hosting festivals–do it. I truly feel that there is a difference between “I rather like this particular deity” and “Oh my goodness, this deity is everywhere I go and is in every aspect of my life! I couldn’t shake Him/Her no matter how hard I try! I must do something about this, but I don’t know what. S/He must be my patron deity.” This is how, I feel, that priesthoods begin. And in the modern day, we do need representatives of our religion for life passages, spiritual needs of the community, and to interact with others outside of our faith.

Living practice is the foundation of reconstructionism. With as much book reading and research as we do, we must go out and live our religion. Primarily, our time must be well spent doing devotions to the gods, offerings and prayer on a regular basis, and secondarly, to be an active member of our religious community in order to share knowledge, experience, and ideas. This does not mean spending one’s day posting to newsgroups and emailing lists about the right and wrong way to practice; although time spent with the community is not only a valid way to be involved in the religion, it is utterly crucial. Our community is scattered around the world, and while local groups are and have formed and I am lucky to be a part of one, not everyone else is so fortunate. Our biggest obstacle to our
religion at the moment is also our biggest ally–the Internet. It has
brought us together to learn things from people whom we ordinarily would never have met, and that information we may never would’ve obtained otherwise. But it also has given an impersonal face to our community. To truly bring our religion out into the world, we must be as active offline as we are online–in fact, even more so.

Another obstacle is that in ancient times, there was no central authority on Greek religion. We had no central calendars, central festivals, central or holy texts–everything varied according to locale. So what we do to bring our faith into the modern day world must bear this in mind, and we must embrace the idea that we need to have a broader, big picture understanding of ancient Greek religious thought and incorporate those using modern and local customs. It is my hope that this site will help others to do that and lose their fear of the lack of what they may perceive coming in from a more mainstream faith as a lack of overall structure.

“How far we are justified in speaking simply of Greek religion is, of course, a question which arises even within the limits of the period defined: each tribe, each locality and each city has its own tenaciously defended tradition, general religious movements are then recorded, and finally religion itself enters a crisis with the rise of philosophy. Would it not be more correct to speak in the plural of Greek religions?”

-Walter Burkert, Greek Religion

Greek polytheism 101