Myth versus Religion

A common sticking point about Hellenic Polytheism for both those following it and critics has been the nature of our myths. “Why worship a god who is so violent!? Aren’t they supposed to be role models??” and “I love the Theoi and worship all of them except Zeus because these myths…” are two sides of the same error.

Historical Angle

Ancients didn’t take myths for fact because they knew Homer or Hesiod or someone else mortal had made them. There is plenty of proof for this, but one example I like is in Plato’s Republic, where Plato’s (characterization of) Socrates critiques how poets have depicted the Theoi and calls for a total censorship in the fictional, ideal city. Aside from the innate moral question, we have here a genuine, contemporary voice recognizing the fault in the myths and their mortal origins.

Curiously, the Adonia in particular reverses the progression of the myth of Adonis it is based off of. The ancient Athenians celebrating this festival, then, saw a need to honor the myths while not being strictly bound by them and using it for symbolic rituals about agriculture and growth. I recommend The Garden of Adonis by Marcel Detienne for a very in depth analysis of Adonis’ mythology and the Adonia overall.

Furthermore, ancients would have known just like we do that myths conflict each other(at least to some extent, but Herodotus surely must have pondered this often). This means even if one version was correct, then another would be false. Unless…they were not meant to be taken literally.

Which brings me to my next point.

Ancient Entertainment

Theaters of ancient Greece are well known to most. Obviously they were used for plays which often depicted myths. Songs seem to have been important in ancient Greek culture; hymns were sung, not read. So ancients saw myths as entertainment in an era before books. It still could have questionable morals and affect children like violent video games are feared to do (Plato would oppose those too). Thus ancients, or at least philosophers, probably knew the myths weren’t to be taken for their word.

So what do we do?

In terms of alternatives to seeing myth as straightforward truth, one could take them as allegorical truths, or go from the more anthropological perspective and think about how ancients sought to explain natural phenomena. In the former, it would benefit one to read myths and ponder the lessons ancient Greeks were being taught in each. In the latter, one could say the Theoi are the energies or forces behind those phenomena, orchestrating larger patterns and so on, capable of overlapping each other and interacting with us.

Whatever the path you decide to take with it, it’s highly recommended to read historical books at least to some degree so that you know what you are doing or basing your practice off of.

Floundering about with only the guidance of the myths is like a Christian Bible-thumper who doesn’t know how to pray or what the church is.

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Pagan Pilgrimmage

Last year, I went to Greece. It was awesome. It was beautiful, from the trans symbol painted onto cement pillars in Athens to the cats strolling in ancient ruins. I felt power and time. I felt Kronos’ power, perhaps. I definitely felt Apollo and perhaps Persephone, when I visited some of Their respective sites. Oddly enough, I don’t think I felt much of Athena, but perhaps I was ‘numbed’ to Her presence by mainly staying in Athens, Her city even now. Even though I may not have felt Her explicitly, seeing the Parthenon tower over the buildings is still breathtaking! Was it something about those stones? Or was it the sheer energy of Delos, and the stranger clad in red who seemed to teleport back with us? Or perhaps was it the sheer joy I felt on the boat rides there and back? I don’t think it was any singular one of those things that told me Apollo was there. I don’t know if the stranger just walked very fast. But the holiness was strong, and I found myself trying to cover the whole island in a few hours. Even though I was with people who didn’t know about my faith, a family member remarked that the island had a feeling to it, that someone was there. It was an oddly pagan remark for someone avowedly atheist (spiritual, however).The grandeur of the temple to Zeus Olympios at Athens, or rather what remains of it, impressed upon me an awe that seems to serve as a larger metaphor for what I feel for the Theoi: respect, love and appreciation. I think it’s not necessary for everyone to visit ancient sites, but if you have the chance, it’s great. For me, being at the actual places where ancients worshipped felt like a magnification of my usual interactions with the Theoi, and the sort of feeling I get when one of Them is present could be stronger.If you can’t, hopefully there is a museum near you with archaeological artifacts, for the simple reason that museums are cool and seeing old things up close is a unique privilege.

Temperance, Wisdom

Cytherean Devotee

When Plato compared temperance with wisdom, it caught me off guard. In America, Temperance brings about names of pilgrims and Calvinists, and alcohol down the drains. Its a virtue, I could tell you as much, but I could not sings its praises if you asked. It seemed antiquated, like log cabins and women named Patience.

However in Charmides, Plato speaks of temperance and wisdom as if they are the same. While modern hellenic polytheists might translate this to a greek name of a pillar, i prefer to think of it as it remains in english. Temperance, moderation and restraint, unilaterally recieved praise by Socrates, Charmides, and Critias. The act of balance in hellenismos does not get tossed aside like in western culture. Today we often forsake health, both mental and physical, for more. More money, more joy, more more. This is not always by our design, those for whom the…

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Personalizing a Group Religion

I often see ancient Greek religion referred to as a group or community religion. The question I find myself asking often is, how does one go about adopting that to modern, solitary worship?

The practical solutions depend on your living setup, of course. Hestia’s flame may be a candle instead of a fireplace for the whole oikos. Any processions may be yourself and perhaps a friend walking outside to pour out some libations.

But is it better to go solitary? Obviously, there is no simple answer to this question. That said, I share in the distrust held by many of organizational religions. This stands true for whatever religion it may be; Hellenismos included. I recently found out that YSEE, one of the bigger Hellenic Polytheist groups, is homophobic as shown by one of its apologists, Timothy Jay Alexander. Yes, he’s the guy who wrote the made-up Pillars of Hellenismos. And yes, he is a homophobe. Side note – this guy’s LJ is a laugh, but he also gives off major predatory vibes.

Back to YSEE: they let out a fash-y smell before, with their “please be sorry for us we are always the victim” narrative repetitively glued all over their YouTube and homepage sites.

I don’t like to spend money on membership fees. That’s a big barrier to me joining basically any Hellenic Polytheist group. I know people out there who probably want to who can’t afford it. There’s also the question of where these funds go as well.

 

So why bother paying for a group that might end up being shitty and instead do solitary worship, discussing and hanging out with people outside your faith instead of confining yourself to your small circle? That is the solution that I have arrived at, at any rate, and it has been working well so far.

 

Magick and Hellenic Polytheism

In light of recent events showing YSEE’s homophobia, I was looking into another major group, Elaion. On their Magic and mysticism page from 2004 by ‘Carolyn’, there are some interesting points made, often quite poorly. Here are my answers to them.

Of course one is always taught that magic works in the most natural way possible, so if you are performing a spell, be sure to also work for your goal in ‘mundane’ ways too. Apply for that job, and then work your spell. When the job is yours, do you have magic to thank or your other efforts? And if the spell only provided confidence, that does not support the reality of magic.

This is how magick works, according to a good chunk of witches I’ve spoken to. I’m somewhere near this mindset as well. If you expect levitation or such, then all Carolyn does is show her gullibility and lack of solid points. This is what we call a reach, in my opinion. Not to mention that there is more than one theory of magick, so her not knowing this means she’s criticizing something she only grazed the surface of!

In Homer (and in the Homeric Hymns), men do not know when they are being affected by Gods, even when the Gods are indeed directly in front of them. Only ‘divine Odysseus’ (as he is called by Homer) has knowledge of Athena’s aid, a testament to his true heroic nature. But not all men are heroes – that is what sets the hero apart is his greatness compared to most men.

This is a very uncritical way of taking the myths. Do the good people at Elaion make it a standard to take Homer word for word, even when he contradicts Hesiod or other writers? Even if I did take the myths literally, this seems to imply that Odysseus is the only ‘real’ hero. Sketchy.

 

I hope you all enjoyed this quick post!