Posts tagged ‘Hellenismos’

Celtic vs. Mediterranean Polytheisms

In pan-polytheistic online discourse I frequently see assumptions about polytheism from different cultural or philosophical types of polytheists. For better understanding of where I’m coming from as an Irish polytheist, a previous post compared Celtic & Germanic polytheism. This is an attempt to compare Irish polytheism and a little about continental Celtic polytheism with polytheistic religions bordering the Mediterranean, specifically I’m thinking of Greece, Rome and to a lesser degree, Egypt.  These are generalizations referring to several spectra of cultures that existed (and still exist just in different forms) across a long time period. Feedback, corrections and critique are welcome and I’ll make note of changes.

Differences

Theology– Our theolog(ies) are very much up to us as contemporary revivalists to discover and develop. Beings in our lore and literature are not easily categorized as gods, ancestors, heroes and spirits of place. There is much overlap between them. It’s debatable how much particular gods were euhemerized by monks or whether the Irish Dindsenchas- that explains the legendary origins of place name or the tales of Mythological Cycle are more authoritative.  Even the question of whether a particular being is friendly or not towards humans can vary by place or even specific person! For example, Balor is a monster thought to symbolize the dangers of the late summer sun being too hot and threatening the harvest. He was defeated by the god Lugh in battle, the young, many skilled god who brings the harvest. But in the folklore of the Tory Islands the two were reversed and it was Balor that was honored!  The Good People are for the most part avoided and propitiated but certain individuals do make treaty and develop a relationship with a spirit or group of spirits. Sometimes these people are called fairy-doctors and act as an intermediary between the spirit and a local community.

Departmental Deities– I often hear people in Irish/Gaelic/Celtic pagan or Druid groups explain to newcomers that “unlike the Greek or Roman pantheons we don’t pigeon-hole gods into departments like god of love/sun/thunder.” Fair enough, but that’s also not an accurate description of either Greek or Roman religion. It’s an oversimplification that might fit a specific cultus at a given time or for your classical mythology class, but not for all times, places and practices. This is also the case for Irish gods. There also isn’t a fixed, organized pantheon with a set hierarchy, no “chief god” and the family trees of the gods and other beings contradict each other in different sources. You know, like in Greek mythology!

Purity– there is a concept of ritual purity, but it doesn’t seem to be a emphasized as it is in Greek and Roman polytheism. Here is an essay discussing concepts of purity/impurity in Gaulish polytheism.

Hubris (or hybris  in the original Greek)- isn’t really a concept that exists in Celtic religions. There are certainly boundaries of respectful and disrespectful behavior in general and in ritual specifically, particularly related to hospitality and reciprocity. Threatening the gods or spirits, especially with weapons or use of iron in general (esp. towards the Good People) are all certainly ill-advised. Boasting, especially among warriors was as common as it was in ancient Scandinavia. The consequences for going too far with boasting were social and sometimes legal in nature, resulting in a loss of honor and possibly being publicly satirized.

Images– statues and images in continental Celtic territories seem to be mostly a later Roman influence and earlier images seem to be syncretized or influenced by Thracians and Scythians. I occasionally come across the assertion than the Celts had a taboo on divine images, but that is likely a projection from Abrahamic laws against idolatry. That said modern Celtic polytheists do typically use various images for the gods in worship.

Lack of primary sources from pre-Christian times- as with most Germanic & Slavic traditions, we don’t really have anything recorded directly by polytheistic Celtic peoples themselves, We have secondary sources from the Romans who were fighting or trading with them, and later ruling over them but of course these have some built-in biases.  Texts written by monks in Ireland recorded native literary traditions and combined them with classical and Biblical references. Christian era folklore & customs end up being really important in Gaelic & Brythonic traditions because they give us more of an idea of everyday spiritual practice of regular people, particularly towards local spirits and the dead. Reconstructing continental Celtic religion involves study of archaeology and comparative linguistics, religion and mythology.

Similarities with Kemetic religion (from my limited knowledge of it!)

-Strong belief in afterlife, alternate realm, though in Celtic cosmology typically there is an Otherworld existing parallel to our own that is partly afterlife realms, but many other realms belong to gods and the Good People.

-the concept of Ma’at -meaning roughly justice & order in a cosmic sense reminds me a lot of An Firinne- which means truth in Irish, cosmic order with a moral dimension

-The ritual role of kingship, relationship to people and the land. This does not necessarily mean a need for a contemporary king/queen, but the concept of kingship/queenship and sovereignty is key to cosmology. Were Celtic kings/queens deified after death, as with pharaohs or some Roman emperors? Not as a rule that I’m aware of, naturally they’d be important ancestors, founders of particular dynasties, kingdoms, chiefdoms, clans were historically viewed as family patrons, and this practice has been continued with the revival of polytheism with key ancestors.

There are a couple more common pan-polytheistic topics that I am unsure of. What do we know about expectations of piety in pre-Christian Celtic societies? In Ireland, which is the area I’m most familiar, our sources of information about ethics are Brehon law, a system which continued with some modifications long after Christianization, and advice for kings on good behavior. I will have to check them to see if anything is said about piety. But my general feeling is that a sense of piety would be pretty different than a Greek or Roman one. Celtic traditions overall strike me primarily as animistic in character and secondarily polytheistic, they are more primal and localized and tribal. Those elements are definitely in place in both Greece and Rome especially in earlier periods and even later on in certain aspects- the cult of Dionysus seems like something Celts would totally be down with. Whereas Greece and Rome seem more primarily polytheistic.

October 13, 2018 at 8:40 am 7 comments

Hellenic Polytheist/Pagan Blogs

I have sections on my blogroll for Celtic/Druid and Germanic/Heathen, but the rest are blobbed together in Pagan & Polytheists. I’m renewing an interest in Greek & Roman stuff (back when I was more into Hellenic stuff, it was the heyday of Livejournal & Yahoo-groups.)  Making note of what deities/cultus they focus on, location if known, and other spiritual interests. Please let me know if you want to be added. This list includes Hellenic polytheists & pagans of varying traditions, levels of reconstruction etc.

Aspis of Ares– Pete, SE Michigan

Baring the Aegis– Elani Temperance in the Netherlands, Elaion member

Beloved in Light– Lykeia in Alaska- devotee of Apollon & Artemis, Shiva & Parvati

Bull-headed follower of a Bull God– ADF Dionysian

Drinking from the Cup of Life– Lon Sarver, Dionysian in Bay Area, CA

The Dionysian Artist– Australia

A Forest Door– Dver, spirit-work & multi-trad polytheist, see also her website BirdSpiritLand for a nexus to all her sites.

Greek Revivalist Mommy

Hellenic Hearth– Lena, devotee of Hera & eclectic kitchen witch

Magick from Scratch– Thenea, ceremonial magic/mysticism in Hellenic context- not Recon

The Minoan Path– Laura Perry (not recon, but cool ideas!)

Mists to Open, Mists to Bind– Jan Avende, Hellenic Druid & ADF Priest

The Modern Hellenist– Alejandro, Boston, Mass.

Oaken Scrolls, 4 of Wands– Melia Brokaw, ADF Hellenic, devotee of Zeus

Of Thespiae– Ruadhan J. McElroy, Ann Arbor Michigan, devotee of Eros, Boetian focus, hedonist philosophy

Necropolis Now– Caroline Tully, Ph.D candidate at the Centre for Classics & Archaeology at the U of Melbourne, Australia (Greek, Egyptian and other content)

Never Unmindful– Alexei, local focus, social justice

Queen without a Court– Apollon devotee

Soneillion V

Soul Bites– Mysticism & Craft

Strip Me Back to the Bone– Jolene, Poseidon devotee

Suz Muses

Temple of Athena the Savior– Amanda Artemisia Forrester, Greco-Egyptian Pagan, Alexandrian witch, homesteader & templekeeper

True Pagan Warrior– T.P. Ward, devotee of Poseidon & Ares, Friend/Quaker

Under Two Trees– Mestizo paganism in multi-cultural, post-colonial Manila, Phillipines, Greco-Roman focus with indigenous Filipino, Hindu, Buddhist and other influences

Tumblogs– Gah! why does this have to be pink text on white background?

Hellenic groups

Elaion– Quite active!

Halls of Hera– Dedicated to the worship & study of Hera- Oakland, CA

Hellenion– U.S. based, mostly online

Hellenic Round Table– Discuss monthly topics with other Hellenists!

Neokoroi

Neos Alexandria– Greco-Roman-Egyptian syncretism

Pandemos– San Francisco Bay area collective of practitioners from diverse backgrounds, approaches and communities, united for the purpose of honoring the Hellenic gods and celebrating Hellenic culture.

Treasury of Apollon– Devotional order for Apollon

Archived Blogs (Year of last post listed)

Ariadne in Exile– 2016, Aridela Pantherina, Bacchic Orphic tradition

Boukoleon– 2015 Starry Bull Thiasos- Magna Graecian (southern Italian Greek colonies) Orphic Dionysian cultus

Flaming Thyrsos– 2014 Kenn, in Coventry, UK , a devotee of Hekate,  Dionysos & Prometheus

Frankincense & wine– 2015, British, interested in lay monasticism

Hestian Lily– 2014 Lily, a devotee of Hestia & witch

Smoke from the Temple– 2014

Sightless Among Miracles (2013) , and Executive Pagan– Erik Dutton’s blogs- Longtime online acquaintance- from back in the days of Beliefnet Pagan forae- he was one of the people that came up with the idea of Religio Americana

Tending the Hearth of the Gods– 2013  Nom de Internet: Patch

Obey the Gods– 2013

Aithaloeis Theos– 2012 A space dedicated to Hephaistos

Pagan Reveries– 2012- some good stuff about poet ancestors/heroes

A Twisted Kind of Ingenue– 2012-Had to add this one after seeing this on about page: The ingenue is most interested in disability rights, the autism acceptance movement, anti-kyriarchy (the patriarchy is so passe), trans rights and acceptance, neurodiversity, young adult literature, simple living, paganism, fusion and tribal bellydance and avoiding medical bills.

Memories of Pain & Light– 2011

January 17, 2016 at 5:57 am 2 comments

Hellenic Ethics

I noticed one search phrase used to find my blog was

“what is Hellenismos rede?” referring to the Wiccan Rede, “An harm it none, do what thou wilt”. (There’s also lots of debate among Wiccans and Witches about how that should be interpreted, whether it should be emphasized as a form of ethics, yada yada other Not My Religion, Not My Problem Issues. Just an FYI though, in case you go onto a forum thinking the Rede and/or the Law of Three are universally agreed upon things even among Wiccans let along greater Pagan-dom.

Anyhow, Hellenic religion & philosophy historically existed in many diverse forms, and does in its revival as well. There is no one source of ethics- the Delphic Maxims, a group of sayings traditionally attributed to the Oracle of Delphi which exist in various numbers, translations and interpretations are commonly cited as a source of ethics. The two most famous are “Nothing in Excess” (or moderation in all things) and “Know Thyself”. Be careful, as there a lot of watered down pop culture and New Age-ified forms of these. Your best bet is to be aware of different ethical philosophies and virtues that existed at various times in ancient Greece and the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking/influenced) world- what was considered more “mainstream” in a particular context, and what was more radical? Then how is this relevant in a modern context? Look at opinions held by different Hellenic polytheists, but think for yourself, and consider their different influences, focus on particular cultus, philosophies, time periods, city-states etc.

Of Thespiae- Maxims of Delphi– Ruadhan J. McElroy is focuses on the Boetian region, is a devotee of Eros, and a Hedonist (a Greek philosophy not in the modern sense of the word)

Baring the Aegis- Delphic Maxims– Elani Temperance is a member of Elaion, a Hellenic polytheist organization

 

January 12, 2016 at 1:02 am 2 comments

Getting Started in Various Polytheisms

If you aren’t sure what tradition you will be following (or creating!) this is a nice way to compare things a bit before you dive head-first into something! Remember also, that polytheist and animist practice doesn’t have to be based on a particular cultural tradition- either historic or living. One example of a modern, polytheistic religion is the Otherfaith, involving worship of eight Gods and a multitude of spirits. Though I’m not a follower myself, I find it fascinating to watch the development of the Otherfaith, the reflection of human diversity in their Gods (or rather are we reflections of the Gods?) and my discussions with Other People has added a lot of insight in my own attempts at finding modern inspiration.

General

A list with lots of resources- Pagan 101

Polytheism 101: Building a Shrine, Offerings, 

Devotional Primer– advice from an eclectic heathen

Keeping a Daily Practice: 7 Keys to Success by Dagulf Loptson

Daily Devotions– suggestions for each day of the week. On the main blog page, she posts each day the day of the week activities as well as hymns for deities/spirits associated with that day of the month, festivals etc.

Indo-European Polytheisms

Guide to Gaelic Polytheism

Longship– Beginner’s Guide to Heathenry- pan-Germanic

Roman Polytheism

Non-Indo-European polytheisms

Natib Qadish– Canaanite polytheism

Daily Prayer

Kemetic Polytheism (Egyptian)

Kemetic Starter Guide

Ritual

Hinduism

Super Simple Daily Puja

Shinto-

Shinto Resources

Non-historically inspired polytheisms

The Otherfaith

Modern American Polytheism– this can be combined with various other pagan/polytheist traditions.

June 10, 2015 at 9:53 pm 7 comments

Influence of Monotheism

I just read an interesting post by Agrikosos in which she makes an extended analogy of the online pagan/polytheistic communities being like a universe with a an invisible influence in the center- a black hole. Monotheism.   This influence is inevitable and unavoidable,  we need to recognize and admit when it is present, and work around it.  All too often, I think we see suspicions of Pagans with an interest in aspects of Christian or Jewish mysticism while avoiding seeing ways other Pagans are influenced by the Big Three.

I remember  a Hellenic organization called Elaion* that arose that took the position that patron gods were not proper eusebeia (piety) that modern Paganism had adopted the idea from Jesus is My Personal Savior/Therapist style American Protestantism, and ancient Greeks had patron gods of professions or families or cities, but not individuals. Much of the Hellenic polytheist community has rejected this view, citing ancient precedent- Sappho’s relationship with Aphrodite for example.  We do have very limited information on the practices of everyday Greek peasants, most of our evidence is of state cults and mystery religions. It may be that patron deities are more common in modern practice, and I do think monotheism probably is a major reason for that. I think patron deities are a valid practice (not just due to historic basis) but I do think they are over-emphasized in modern paganism. I see a lot of beginners asking on forums how do they find (or choose) their patron?  You don’t just “find your patron” so easily and you might never have a patron in your lifetime.  But that’s OK. Since these are New Religious Movements after all, there are going to be many more eager converts with intense mystical experiences. Many prophets and godspouses and shamans. More than there probably will be, later as our religions mature.

Our attitude towards texts is also very much a legacy of the People of the Book. We are the People of the Library**.  Never enough books!  This may be more pronounced among reconstructionists in particular, though some Wiccans certainly like to quote the Rede and the Law of Three the way Christians cite the Bible. They’ve got nothing on Heathens though. Good Gerd, those saga sluggers!
For one, we rarely take our myths literally. There are some that are more historical (or pseudo-historical)
We also only have the shards left from ancient writers, Christian monks, many pieces are missing. And so when putting together the picture, it is going to be distorted both by the absence of those pieces, and by the perspectives of the writers- we hear mostly from poets and nobility, not farmers, from Christians or contemporary warring cultures (Romans writing about Greeks or Celts) we get misrepresentation. And modern scholars all have their own biases, and almost none of them are revivalists of the religions themselves.

After writing all this I realized something. The black hole isn’t monotheism. It’s atheism- the absence of monotheism. Monotheism is a big star exerting a gravitational pull, and pagans who live in more secularized parts of the world are more affected by the black hole.  For many of us, an even more distorting influence on our value systems is actually capitalism and hyper-individualism. More posts on those topics!

*Initially when writing this I wasn’t sure if Elaion was still around, but I am pleased to see that they are. I am all for there being a diverse range of practices and organizations available in Hellenic polytheism, just as there was in the ancient world.

**The People of the Library quote has been attributed to Stephen Posch, whom I’m proud to claim as a Twin Cities elder.

February 11, 2014 at 10:16 am 3 comments


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