Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Syncretic and Modern Character of the Hellenic Religion Today - Personal Thoughts (To be revised)

The ancient Greek religion was never a truly unified whole. Indeed, it was so diverse that many academics in the field of Religious Studies speak of Greek 'religions' [1].

Every region and era had significant differences in their expression and version of the Greek religion when compared with other regions and eras of Greece. The form of the Greek religion in Sparta was very different from the Athenian one, even during the same time periods [examples needed]. Of course, we wouldn't speak of a Greek religion if we didn't have major and important similarities and common ground. However, in this case, I want to focus on the differences to show and explain why I consider the modern Greek religion (especially Reconstructionist Hellenism) to be syncretic and truly modern.

Modern Hellenism is the product of centuries of historical and archaeological research and discovery as well as decades of theological and comparative religious studies. As a result, we have gained an accumulation of knowledge from nearly all eras and regions where the Greek religion flourished. This very fact is what makes Hellenism today a modern and syncretic product. But why?

The ancient Greek religion was alive and naturally evolving. Modern Hellenism is a rebirth from the sum total of known Hellenic information. Due to that, it unites a previously very diverse and regionally autonomous whole of religious versions and practices into roughly one homogenised, and thus syncretic, religious system. Obviously, variations will certainly exist (and they do) because the interpretations of the archaeological evidence and primary sources and the theories expressed by comparative religious studies are subject to opinion and diverging points of view. Also, the variable of actual religious experience modifies further the map of modern Hellenism, birthing almost as many diverse expressions (in its own unique and new way, through the filter of current times) as its ancient forefather.

This results in a religion with the Gods of the Archaic and Classical ages, the practices of the Hellenistic age and the religious understandings of the Alexandrian and later Roman eras. Also, it has the tendency of mixing regional practices, albeit with a prevalent disposition towards the, better documented, Attic forms (creating a peculiar practice of interpretatio attica).

Another difference is the introduction of philosophy in the religion itself as a kind of theology (possibly a remnant of Christian/dogmatic perception of religion, which dominated and still influences the young, modern Hellenism). This, in my opinion, is a faulty approach, since the various philosophers simply expressed and taught to their students (and not all followers of the Greek religion) their personal interpretations and beliefs regarding deity, the world, spirituality, religious practice etc.

The ancient Greek religion was a non-dogmatic, orthopraxic religion. Not an orthodox one, thus not rooted in belief but, rather, in practice and methodological piety. Indeed, in many works [citation needed], even of philosophers, it appears that the only 'real' - so to speak - requirement was proper, pious participation in the practical side of the religion. In other words, the public and household latreia. Understandably, this means that any given philosopher's theories cannot, in good conscience and historical accuracy, be used as theological treatises applicable to or religiously normative for all modern Hellenists and Hellenes.

It is obvious, I believe, when looking at these great differences even briefly, that modern Hellenism is indeed a product of this era and a result, a 'child' of the sum total of the ancient Greek religion and modern points of view and understandings, as well as, naturally, the influence of abrahamic monotheism and dogmatic approach in theological matters. It is not, therefore, a continuation or evolution, per se, of the old religion. Rather, it is a new 'beast' altogether: a phoenix born from the ashes of the old, dead creature and fed with new substances, creating a new being, not a true child and a continuation of the 'genes'.

Such a mix of information and methodology is, undeniably in my eyes, syncretism.



[1]: Burkert, Walter. Αρχαία Ελληνική Θρησκεία: Αρχαϊκή και Κλασσική Εποχή (translation by Nic. P. Mpezantakos & Aphrodite Avagianou, Kardamitsa Publications, Athens, 1993, - English title: Greek Religion: Archaic and Classic - Original title: Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche, Vol 15 of the Die Religionen der Menscheit series, Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1977.) Introduction, Chapter 3, p. 41, in the translated Greek edition

Thoughts on the Hellenic Religion

A few thoughts/theories on the Hellenic religion I wanted to post (my Latin might be a little rusty):

The Hellenic religion is divided into:
  1. Public or common worship/practice (henceforth "latreia")
  2. Household latreia
  3. Mystery cults
  4. Oracles (manteia)
The practice/worship (latreia) is divided into:
  • latreia ex modo
  • latreia ex genere
  • latreia ex subiecto
The notion of latreia ex modo refers to the method, the practical approach in the worship of the given powers-that-be (e.g. of the household, initiatory/mystery practice, public etc).

The notion of latreia ex genere refers to the kind, categorisation or grouping of the worshipped powers-that-be (e.g. celestial/olympian, chthonian, rural, primordial etc).

The notion of latreia ex subiecto refers to the which powers-that-be are addressed and approached through worship (e.g. heroes, ancestors, the dead, the Gods etc).

Friday, March 15, 2013

Supporting the Community

Community. A controversial topic. Do we have a community? Are we simply divided? Is there anything that ties Pagans with ATRs, Asian and Native religions? If you ask me, I'd say yes and no. However, I'm not going to analyse this subject now. I want to draw your attention, my readers, to something else, yet still connected to the idea of "community".

Projects. Research projects. Practical projects. Efforts, from outstanding people among us, to give, to provide, to develop and help grow. Projects like new books that satiate needs and fill gaps in our religions. Projects like new stores that supply us with much needed ammunition: both ingredients and materials and human connections. Even in this era of the Internet and insta-information, people still use stores, moots, cons and other physical places to hold events, meet people and further relationships and community spirit. It's irresistible, the allure of face-to-face contact.

Why am I telling you all this though? Ah, because I want to bring attention to certain wonderful efforts from people I recently "met" but who captured my interest and my mind. One of these is completed and you might ask, why bother mentioning it then? Because it's an excellent example of how much projects can succeed when they have our support - our collective support.

First is Tamara Siuda, an Egyptologist as well as founder and leader of Kemetic Orthodoxy, a reconstructionist branch of Kemeticism. Her project, the Ancient Egyptian Daybook, will be the accumulation of her long research on the ancient Egyptian calendar. Truly a marvelous book, both for academia and actual followers of the Kemetic religion. Her Kickstarter fundraiser concluded today with an astonishing $17,144, multiple times its original goal of $3,000! This unbelievable success was realised through the wider (Pagan and non-Pagan) community's efforts. We banded together, we spread the word, many donated. This shows that despite all our issues, problems and obstacles, we can be supportive, we can provide new, valuable material and more than anything, we are invested in our future.

And with this success, I want to inform you of a new project. Three amazing people are coming together to open a Hoodoo/Conjure store in Kansas City, Missouri. I personally know one of the three (sadly, only through the Internet - for now), the extraordinary Houngan Matt. However, I am also aware of Professor Ames and his work with Papa Matt on the Traditional Conjure Podcast. Unfortunately, I don't know Mambo Julie. I am certain though, that for Professor Ames and Bozanfe (Houngan Matt) to work with her, she must be a true and amazing person.

Donating to this fundraiser will help these three powerhouse practitioners open their shop (which will also have an online presence, if you're worried you won't be able to buy from them!). If you can't donate though, don't fret! Spreading the word is just as important!

Go then! Donate, promote, spread the word. Let us support and aid those among us who begin such aspiring projects! Let's all help make our community better and better!