On Worshipping Humans

I think there is a significant difference between worshipping a hero from mythology such as Atalanta or Herakles versus a historical figure. Ancient Greeks considered heroes from their area to be a sort of communal ancestor. Mikalsson notes that in Ancient Greece, “Because a hero’s cult was centered on his real or imagined tomb, the hero was bound, unlike a god, to one locality. He usually would have only one sanctuary, in only one city-state, unless two or more states laid claim to his bones. Because his heroön was accessible to the offerings of only the residents of that state, the hero’s activity and influence would affect, at most, only that state and perhaps only the immediate neighborhood in which his heroön was located. (Ancient Greek Religion)”

This is where it gets tricky for us non-Greeks. I still pray to heroes sometimes but the connection is different and fainter. Herakles went to Olympos and became immortal, but other heroes died a mortal death. So I personally just admire the way they lived instead, and consider them mythological, not historical, beings. That doesn’t preclude them from possessing an attractiveness to us through their stories, nor does it necessarily preclude them from having powers (if deified).

In my time online, however, I have seen people worship much more historical figures in the name of Hellenic paganism.  I think it’s disrespectful and inappropriate to worship someone not from ancient Greece who was not also a Hellenic pagan as a hero.

I’ve also seen people applaud Alexander the Great or Julian. First and foremost, I am a firm believer that it is crypto-fascistic to worship emperors. This comes from my unique lived experience as a Japanese person where deified emperors were enforced (as they usually are — monarchs don’t tend to be accountable to the people, and state religions are handy political tools) led to imperialism, fascism and violence. Although I will repeat forever that Shinto is not pagan nor “polytheist” (or any other rigidly defining Western term!) I find State Shinto from the 20th Century era of Imperial Japan to have some disturbing trends in common with say, the pre-Christian Roman Empire. This isn’t to compare the scale of violence committed in either period, but rather to point out that kings who are turned into gods tend to be horrible people, and their godhood is a political pawn to further nationalism.

Secondly, Alexander the Great sucked ass. Emperors in general are bad, inherently, but ones that wage wars are even worse. I really don’t understand why imperialistic, colonialistic murderers are so hyped up (wait, I do: racism and imperialism!). Emperor Julian was also an imperialistic murder who oppressed Christians and arguably was anti-Semitic as well. Ask any Classicist online and surely they’d give you reasons why both were at least kind of assholes.

Back to my earlier point, though.

State religion is inherently oppressive, IMO. Shinto proves my case quite well, as does more complex cases like the modern US and its Protestant/Puritanism written into the founding texts. Without venturing too far out of my area of knowledge, State Shinto is the period of Shinto where the emperor of Japan (most infamously, the Showa emperor) was deified and seen as a descendant of Amaterasu Omikami. The US made the emperor announce his human-hood after Japan’s defeat in WWII in the so-called Humanity Declaration (though he was still emperor afterwards, Japan became more democratic). It’s worth noting that the imperial clan, through power (and probably politics) made its clan kami Amaterasu Omikami the ‘supreme’ kamisama and also made her the only sun kami (Origin and Growth of the Worship of Amaterasu, by Matsumae Takeshi).

Though I personally find no wrong with Greek reconstructionist hero cult, it does bring up this question for other acts of worship of past mortals: if you deify real people, what negative things have they done? And how does this factor in to the deification, if at all? Is the deification itself a denial of the very real complexity of human nature (good and bad)? I don’t have an answer to this, either. I feel very weird whenever I enter a shrine or temple and the kami/buddha enshrined within is an emperor or daimyo, but I find myself being notably more comfortable when it’s someone like Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar.

広告

Respectability and gatekeeping

I have really mixed feelings about the word “gatekeeping”. I prefer to say “elitism” because of the tendency for lots of (mostly online posters) to use gatekeeping as a catch all word to shut someone down without addressing the actual arguments at hand or pointing out the harms being done (if any). It also usually is anti-intellectual in nature, and well, as an American person, I’m all too familiar with the effects of that…flat earthers and so on stem from that sort of hostile relationship between society and academia (especially lower class whites who get radicalized etc etc).

So, how is this related to paganism? Well, lots of pagans hurl accusations of gatekeeping or elitism, while others counter with “fluffy bunny” and the like. I think elitism is inherently bad — you aren’t smarter or a better person because you have a PhD. A lot of people with PhDs don’t get jobs anyway because capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and so on. PhDs mean jack shit on their own, they don’t qualify you to be an expert. I question the monopoly on experthood anyway since white cishet people tend to be nominated the “experts” in any and every field, including Indigenous studies.

Just because a pagan author has a PhD doesn’t mean they are trustworthy, correct or even a good person. I feel like society has ingrained in us that someone with credentials is instantly trustworthy, knows what they’re talking about and a liberal/progressive person. This isn’t the case, and can be seen pretty easily when you see how sometimes people have PhDs in completely separate fields and use that to feign expertness in another, or are straight up fascists with a doctorate (i.e. Krasskova). I’ve also noticed that a lot of Twitter pagans like to over-use jargon, in such a way that it makes their social media basically inaccessible to anyone without a Philosophy degree.

On the other hand, anti-intellectualism is a real and concrete trend I’ve noticed in New Age and Pagan spaces. It’s understandable because a lot of academic writing is inaccessible to people who aren’t students and know at least some of the lingo, but on the other hand it makes it a free-for-all of information and that’s how you get people claiming to be Hekate’s son or whatever.That’s the new aim of my blog, in part, because I’ve only got one foot in that conventional academic structure (for now, I don’t know about the future!). I find a lot of academia pretty hard, but I also am fortunate enough to have the ability to access a lot of material.

I guess the ideal is a balance between using academia and not relying so heavily on it you get sucked into inaccessible jargon and elitism; you don’t want to completely make shit up and revise history either.

Piety and Impiety

I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter use “impious” as an insult, accusing certain behaviors or people of being impious. I don’t feel like it’s really a smart way to have any conversation (attaching an insult to someone doesn’t mean they’re wrong or have no good points to make). Aside from that though, there’s a more troubling undertone to this.

Imipous assumes that the people (let’s say PP for shortness’ sake) know what piety was in Ancient Greece (or Germany, or whatever), and that said piety was uniform throughout the land. My main area of knowledge is pre-Hellenistic Greece so I won’t try to pretend like I know anything about other ancient European societies, but I know that for Greece, there was a gap between what say, Plato believed, and what laypeople may have believed (Did the Greeks Believe in their Myths? Paul Veyne).

Basically, it’s an infantile no-true-Scotsman fallacy combined with a serious lack of historicity.

Animism from a Hellenismos Perspective

I have been thinking a lot about animism recently as I engage in ancestor reverence and think more about the state of our ecosystem.

 

While Hellenismos is not an ‘earth-based-religion’ per se, it is arguable that Hellenic Polytheism originated from some form of prehistoric animism which left its traces in nymph and naiad worship, along with the anthropomorphization of rivers in myth. Nymphai are the nature; by honoring Them you honor the earth. Some of the more ‘major’ Theoi such as Poseidon or Hestia are often represented or felt in the sea or the hearth fire. Ge, in a non-Wiccan context, was in ancient times depicted coming out of the earth. She is the earth in the same way Selene is the moon and Helios the sun.

I feel as though the Theoi are the energy behind natural workings, but even this angle does not change the fact that by honoring Their manifestations as flowers, dirt et cetera, you honor the Theoi Themselves.

 

We Need To Talk About Astral Projection

So, something that’s been bothering me is how many people rely solely on astral projection for experiencing the Theoi. I don’t personally think it’s wise to use only one method to contact the Gods, although a primarily preferred method (i.e. tarot cards) is natural.

The more core problem is that astral projection has been unsupported by science. The accuracy of what you see is debatable if the mundane isn’t even viewable accurately. Experiments and individual cases have been disappointing on the ability to remote view via projection. It has been compared by scientists to imagination, or dreaming (I’d say daydreaming). Here’s a more rhetoric and logic-based rebuttal.

I won’t be the first person to say it’s not recon as far as Hellenismos goes. But it might not be valid at all, and for people in Hellenic Polytheism, science often matters, as it does for me. So for those of you who prize astral work, I urge you not to rely on it and to instead cross-check what you learn with any experience, both with other methods and with historical context.

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.

 

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.