Doctrine, Dogma, and Catchy Phrases

I see a lot of people reminding others of the importance of Arete, or the need to follow the Delphic Maxims. For those of you who do not know, they are the supposedly most important core values of Hellenic Polytheism, and there are varying numbers of them as people understandably customize which ones they believe most important. Some of them include Arete (striving towards one’s best), Eusebeia (honoring the Gods), Sophia (the pursuit of knowledge), and Kharis (mutual relationship with the Gods of offerings and answers). I won’t go into too much depth on those since many have written more adeptly on this issue.

The Delphic Maxims are sayings inscribed at the archaeological site of ancient Delphi. Their authorship is contested, although there are some mythical explanations. John Oposopaus in his Oracles of Apollo mused that they may have been part of an oracular system, and even suggests his own method of using the Maxims for divination.

The pillars and Maxims both contain great wisdom, don’t get me wrong. If you’re a beginner Hellenic Polytheist, they’re definitely worth a look. But there is no reason to assume that most people in Ancient Greece followed either, and even less reason to obligate anyone to follow them now.

Delphi was for a long time controlled by different leagues — the Amphictyonic League (Athenians, i.e., people who weren’t even from the Delphi area) and later the Delian-Attic League. This means that, like much of the writings we have left to our devices, the Delphic Maxims are very much a tool of politics and product of their specific historical and political atmosphere. It’s a lot more obvious with some maxims than others, such as #95, Γυναικὸς ἄρχε — rule your wife. It seems a bit unnecessary to me to think of the Maxims or the so-called pillars outside of things to personally strive to.

Equally important is that by ‘modernizing’ the Maxims or whatever else, you remove the source from its context and in the process attempt to revise history, intentional or otherwise.

As for the pillars, it really depends on who you ask and which pillars they use, which I think should already say something about their necessity. That said, almost everyone I’ve spoken to, myself included, agree that Kharis and Katharmos (ritual cleansing) are essential. Take this how you will. Personally, because the pillars were a neo-pagan invention (as far as I can tell Timothy Jay Alexander came up with them), I don’t care much for them, but they nonetheless contain wisdom. The Nomos Arkhaios does bother me, however, given that it is a Reconstructionist-oriented pillar in a set of recently, American-invented pillars.

It should be common sense that decency and self-improvement are not the responsibility of religion. As atheists often say, one does not need religion to be a decent person. I really do not see the necessity for finding pillars or making dogma like the Christian Church has. It is especially puzzling because the same people who disdain Christians also necessitate such traditional structure. Also, on that note, some Christians forego such specificity whatsoever regarding central dogma and focus on the main lessons of Jesus. I think there is something to be learned from that — structure is not necessarily helpful and is arguably more harmful in the context of religion.