Baring the Aegis: Hellenismos
Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.
A few days ago, I was contacted through Facebook about the proper steps within Hellenistic ritual. I promised to write a post about it and here we are.
I have mentioned before that there are five steps to proper, Hellenistic, ritual: procession, purification, prayers and hymns, sacrifice/offerings, prayers of supplication and thanks, usually followed by a feast and/or theater and sporting events. Today, I want to delve into this deeper, in order to gain a greater understanding of where this formula came from.
Crystal Blanton, over at Daughters of Eve, recently wrote a very moving blog post called 'Discovering my Inner, Nappy Headed Goddess', about her struggle to come to terms with her beautiful 'black woman hair'. In it, she addresses a sore point for the Pagan community, that I--as a long term polytheist--never understood: the Pagan need to whitewash every God and Goddess. Most deity images--especially those of women--depict the Goddess at hand as white, thin, with long, flowing hair, and wearing an equally flowing dress; even when the Goddess in question is most likely not white, thin, with long, flowing hair, and wearing an equally flowing dress. I quote from Blanton's post:
Ancient Hellas was brimming with active temples, where many came to sacrifice, plead and vow. The sacrifices are the most famous of the votive action and I've mentioned them--especial animal sacrifice--on lots of occasions. Yet, of equal importance were the votives and thank-offerings ancient Hellens donated to the temples they frequented.
Today, I'm expanding upon my previous post about ritual hospitality with some tips about modern interpretation of the ancient practice. Society has changed, after all, and those wishing to actively practice xenia will find themselves in situations where they will want to assume the best in strangers, but who must safeguard themselves against abuse of all kinds.
Some constellations have huge mythological backstories, others do not. I'm starting to realize that those who are best know--like Aries and Cancer--have tiny backstories while some unknown constellations--like Argo Navis--have huge ones. Cancer's mythological backstory can be found in the myth of Herakles, and today, I'll present you with the whole story.
When you adopt Hellenismos as a religion, you suddenly have a lot of extra festivals on the calendar. Funnily enough, that's the thing people are most shocked about. In addition to the fancy festivals, however, the Hellenistic base of worship is the monthly lunar calendar (the 'Mên kata Theion', 'sacred month'). Today, I'll present the basic, Hellenistic, monthly calendar. It's constructed from various ancient sources, and is recognized by many Hellenists today. Note, that this schedule was conglomerated with Hesiod's auspicious days, so--for example--the thirteenth of the month is sacred to Artemis, and a bad day for sowing.
First Decad - Waxing Moon - Mên Histámenos
1. Noumenia - Selene, Apollo Noumenios, Zeus Herkios and Ktesios, Hestia, and the other Theoi of the Household
2. Agathós Daímōn - Agathós Daímōn
3. Tritomênís - Athena
4. Tetrás - Aphrodite, Eros, Herakles, Poseidon, and Apollo
5. The Erinyes, Eris, and Horkos
8. Poseidon, Asklēpiós and Theseus
9. General holy day to honour the Theoi; special day to the Muses, Helios, and Rhea
Ancient Hellas is one of the oldest and most important wine-producing civilizations, with evidence of production dating back 6,500 years. Because of the climate, soil and the native vine stocks of the Hellenic islands, ancient Hellenic wine was of great quality. It was a major trade good throughout Europe, and was grown throughout the Hellenic nation--in what is now modern day Italy, Iberia, Sicily, and the south of France. People as far away as modern-day Austria and Russia, as well as many other ancient societies--like the Etruscans, the Phoenicians, the Celts, the Scythians and the Romans--were influenced to some extent by the ancient Hellenic wine making business and culture. But how was wine used in ancient Hellenic ritual?
In this part of the constellation series, we'll talk about the unclear constellation of Boötes (Boōtēs, Βοώτης), the herdsman. The ö (or ō) serves as a diaeresis, not an umlaut, meaning that each 'o' is to be pronounced separately. Who the constellation represents is about as clear as who the constellation Auriga represents: not clear at all. The options: Arcas, Ikários, and a random ploughman who drove the oxen in the constellation Ursa Major, are the most likely contestants.
One of the most important and confusing of the many Hellenic festivals is the three-day transition from month to month. Although unlinked, the Deipnon, the Noumenia and Agathós Daímōn are held on consecutive days, around the new moon. Especially the placement of the days is hard to get right; at least, it was for me.
The Deipnon (Hene kai Nea)--or Hekate's Deipnon--is celebrated any time before the first sliver of the new moon is visible. In practice, this is the day after the new moon. The Noumenia is held the day after that, when the moon has become visible again, and Agathós Daímōn the day after that. It is important to note that the ancient Hellens started a new day at sundown the day before. Instead of starting a new day at midnight--or in the morning--like we do today, they started it at sundown of the previous day. This means that--when applied to modern practice--the Deipnon starts on the day of the suspected new moon, and the rest follows after, to the total of four days. Confused yet? How about a schematic.
I've been pondering hubris again. Hubris--to recap--can be described as the act of willful or ignorant refusal to comply by the will of the Gods. It's a serious offense to the Theoi, and the Theos Nemesis had and has a full time job in punishing those who commit it.
When I started out on the Hellenistic path, I took to the web. I visited several forums, some of which were completely Hellenistic. It was a short visit to most of those; Hellenismos can be very fledgeling-unfriendly. Those new to the faith are warned that they must not perform ritual until they fully understand what they are doing, they must not... well... do a lot of things. It seems most of those 'do not's' are linked to hubris; the Theoi will punish those who perform Their rituals wrong, because the fledgeling practitioner thinks they don't have to study in order to approach the Theoi.
It's a nice sentiment, but I don't think it holds especially true. This is personal opinion, but it is based upon our basic societal and biological structure--the same one the ancient Hellens helped build: it's not hubris if you perform the rituals to the best of your abilities and the best of your knowledge. This includes having done your research, of course, but we all miss things.
Unless stated otherwise, nothing in this post is drawn from ancient sources. Most of it isn't even UPG. It's a thought exercise that popped into my head and won't leave anymore. To get it out, I'd better write it down and share. Way back when (when the Pagan Blog Project posts had only hit the 'G's), I wrote about genealogy of the Gods. I ended that post with the following:
I still feel that way. I still wish for a line that continues onto now. But, seeing as we don't have that, I'm going to make another mental leap. I'm going to see who of the Theoi would oversee some of the modern marvels, should They be willing to adopt them.
There are many well known chariots and charioteers in ancient Hellenic mythology. All of the Theoi have one, and Helios and Apollo use one to bring light to the world. Hades kidnapped Persephone with His. Pollux and Castor were very skilled at driving the fast, light, open, two-wheeled conveyance drawn by two or more horses. Helios lost a son when he let his son Phaethon (Φαέθων) drive his chariot for its morning track through the sky. Phaethon flew too close to the earth and scorched it all; Zeus then cast him down with a lightning-bolt. Yet, these are not the charioteers the constellation is associated with. In this next installment of the constellation series, we will look at the Divine child the constellation refers to... and a few others, because the constellation Auriga has had many interpretations over the years.
I talk about Delphi a lot; the place speaks to my imagination and every time I pull out my Tarot cards for a session, or ask Apollo to grand me a divinatory dream, my mind flashes back to it. I have written about how a session with the Pythia would go. I have also talked a lot about the Delphic Maxims, and some about the site of Delphi. What I haven't talked about a lot is its history...and its future. This is what I will do today.
As legend goes, a shepherd herded his flock up the side of Mount Parnassus. The sheep came upon a chasm and seemed to lose their minds. They started jumping around, and darting about. When the shepherd went to inspect the chasm, he fell under the influence of gasses that welled up from it. He lost all his worries and cared not about the time. He simply wished to remain there and gleam the knowledge he felt at the edges of his mind.
When he did not return, his family went to look for him. They took him home and put him to bed. Everyone was worried by his strange behavior, but he seemed to be calmer when the morning came. Yet, the shepherd's behavior had not returned to normal. He was able to foretell the future. Soon, word of the shepherd's ability, and the chasm, spread. People came from far away to either talk to the man or go to the source. Yet, those who visited the chasm lost their minds as well, and sometimes even jumped in the chasm.
Before I start, allow me to take a moment for some blatant promotion of fellow blogger Star Foster's radical experiment: getting money for a blogging day job. She's absolutely worth it, so please check out her plea and IndieGoGo campaign!
Alright, on to the post!
Because I'm both a lesbian and a Pagan, I get send a lot of things people think I may find interesting. I love it when people do this; most of the stuff is really good, poignant, or simply hilarious. One of the things that got send to me a lot is the new UK series Switch. I guess this is because I blogged about Pagan characters we would like to see, and Pagan webseries.
Switch is a television series about a group of four girls who live in London, deal with boy/girl trouble, jobs, and friendship. Most of that dealing is done through magick, because all of them are witches. A few days ago, I caught up with the series, of which three episodes have aired. I didn't have high hopes for it, and most of my fears were realized, but I have found I like the girls, and the stereotypes aren't offensive.
The fifth constellation Ptolemy made famous was the constellation Aries: the ram. Obviously, this constellation is still recognized by modern astronomers. For the story of the constellation Aries, we have to go back to the Argo Navis: the ran the constellation resembles was the very same ram that carried the young king Phrixos to the palace of Helios before he could be killed in a plot by his step-mother.
The myth of the ram with the golden wool is part of the myth of Iásōn. Phrixos (Φρίξος) was the son of Athamas, king of Boiotia, and Nephele (a goddess of clouds). His twin sister Helle and he were hated by their stepmother, Ino. So hated, in fact, that Ino burned the local crops and asked for an oracular message to see if the Theoi were angry at her husband's people. She bribed the messengers to tell her husband that the Theoi were, indeed, angry at him. To appease Them, Phrixos and Helle had to be sacrificed. Pious Athamas did as he was told, but just before they could be killed, a ram with golden wool appeared by order of Nephele, and carried the children off.
The ram flew over the ocean and Helle looked down. Spooked by the height, she fell off of the back of the ram, leading to her death. The stretch of water she fell into was called the Hellespontos (Ἑλλήσποντος), literally 'Sea of Helle', a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It was later renamed Dardanellia (Δαρδανέλλια).
The ram, unfortunately did not get to live a long, healthy life. As soon as the ram delivered Phrixos to the palace of King Aeëtes--the son of the sun god Helios--on Colchis, it was sacrificed to Zeus. Its golden fleece was hung from a tree in a sacred grove of Ares, guarded night and day by a dragon that never slept. Iásōn eventually slew the dragon with Mēdeia's help and took the fleece back to Iolkos. The ram, after being sacrificed, was placed into the sky by Zeus.
The constellation Aries is visible at latitudes between +90° and −60° and is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of December.
If you were a citizen of ancient Hellas, you strove for honor. It was earned through hard work, through arete, through excelling in combat (usually for men), athletics (men and women), science (mostly men, some women) and/or exacting vengeance upon those who wronged you, your family, or your country/city state.
I am in debt. Even when I do not count my study loans, I'm chronically--but not deeply-- in the red on my bank account. I don't have credit card loans, however, and I don't owe money or goods to anyone. I have had a tough year, but it's slowly getting better. Although I work, next to getting an education, my income does not cover all my costs. I am extremely lucky, though: I have a working partner who will gladly jump in and cover costs until my education is done and I can get an actual job that pays the bills.
I don't like being in debt. It's against the spirit of Hellenismos--or at least the two were antagonistic in ancient Hellas. Debts were paid off at the Deipnon--the end of the month--and those who could not pay them became serfs to their creditors. It was one of the main ways a citizen could become a slave.
It sounds a bit harsh, becoming a slave because of a missed payment. Yet, is modern life any different? Am I not tied to all people, companies and foundations who pull money from my bank account on a regular basis? Will not strong men and/or women show up on my doorstep if I can not afford to pay my bills and take items I own to pay off the debt? If all else fails, won't the government take my freedom? Aren't all of us a little enslaved to a economy which requires monthly contributions for protection, huge debts for housing and education, and for an ever-increasing number of people; financial support from their government simply to eat and have a roof to sleep under?
Through a fellow blogger, I came upon an article about an author's loathing for the Pagan sellers of all the Witchcraft stuff one can buy. The post boiled down to saying that monetizing your faith takes power away from you, and simply buying your equipment will lead to hollowed out rituals. The post is here.
There is a long discussion in this from the Witchcraft perspective, but I'm not going there. I'm not going there because I left that path behind and the more I look back, I realize what a tangled--but beautiful--mess it is. Instead, I'm going to write about this from the Hellenistic point of view and take you back to Ye Olden Days when the Ancient Hellens still practiced their faith in their temples.
Religion was entwined with daily life to such an extend that you'd be hard pressed to find a pottery seller who had not depicted one or more of the Theoi on his work. Near just about every temple was a stand which sold small statues which one could sacrifice to the Theoi at said temple. Every temple complex had a treasury where the various gifts of the devoted were stored. Religion, back in the day, was big business--as it should be. It helped instill the presence of the Theoi in daily life.