By Patti Wigington,
Many modern worshipers honor the gods of ancient Greece.Image © Getty Images
Many Paths, One Term:
The phrase "Hellenic polytheism" is actually, much like the word "Pagan", an umbrella term. It is used to apply to a wide range of polytheistic spiritual paths that honor the pantheon of the ancient Greeks. In many of these groups, there is a trend towards the revival of the religious practices of centuries past. Some groups claim that their practice is not a revival at all, but the original tradition of the ancients, passed down from one generation to the next.
Hellenismos is the term used to describe the modern equivalent of the traditional Greek [hellenic] religion. People who follow this path are known as Hellenes, Hellenic Reconstructionists, Hellenic Pagans, or by one of many other terms. Hellenismos originated with the Emperor Julian, when he attempted to bring back the religion of his ancestors following the arrival of Christianity.
Practices and Beliefs:
Although the Hellenic groups follow various paths, they typically base their religious views and ritual practices on a few common sources:
- Scholarly work about ancient religions
- The writings of classical authors, such as Homer and his contemporaries
- Individual experience and intuition, such as personal gnosis and interaction with the Divine
Most Hellenes honor the gods of Olympus: Zeus and Hera, Athena, Artemis, Apollo, Demeter, Ares, Hermes, Hades and Aphrodite, to name a few. A typical worship ritual includes purification, a prayer, ritual sacrifice, hymns, and feasting in honor of the gods.
While most Wiccans are guided by the Wiccan Rede, Hellenes are typically governed by a set of ethics. The first of these values is eusebeia which is piety or humility. This includes a dedication to the gods and a willingness to live by Hellenic principles. Another value is known as metriotes or moderation, and goes hand in hand with sophrosune, which is self-control. The use of these principles as part of community is the governing force behind most Hellnic Polytheistic groups. The virtues also teach that retribution and conflict are normal parts of the human experience.
Are the Hellenes Pagans?
Depends on who you ask, and how you define "Pagan". If you are referring to people that are not part of an Abrahamic faith, then Hellenismos would be Pagan. On the other hand, if you're referring to the Goddess-worshipping earth-based form of Paganism, the Hellenes wouldn't fit that definition. Some Hellenes object to being described as "Pagan" at all, simply because many people assume that all Pagans are Wiccans, which Hellenistic Polytheism definitely isn't. There's also a theory that the Greeks themselves would never have used the word "Pagan" to describe themselves in the ancient world.
Hellenic revivalist groups are found all over the world, not just in Greece, and they use a variety of different names. A Greek organization is called the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, and its pracitioners are "Ethnikoi Hellenes". The group Dodekatheon is also in Greece. In North America, there is an organization known as Hellenion.
Traditionally, members of these groups perform their own rites and learn through self-study of primary materials about the ancient Greek religion and through personal experience with the gods. There is usually no central clergy or degree system as found in Wicca.
Holidays of the Hellenes
The ancient Greeks celebrated all kinds of festivals and holidays in the different city-states. In addition to public holidays, local groups often held celebrations, and it wasn't uncommon for families to make offerings to household deities. As such, Hellenic Pagans today often celerbate a wide variety of major festivals.
During the course of a year, celebrations are held to honor most of the Olympic gods. There are also agricultural holidays based upon harvest and planting cycles. Some Hellenes also follow a ritual described in the works of Hesiod, in which they privately offer devotions in their home on designated days of the month.
More About Greek Paganism
- Recommended Reading List for Hellenic Pagans
- The Mighty Gods of Olympus
- The Pagan Origins of the Olympic Game