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.

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Elani Temperance

Elani Temperance

Elani Temperance is a twenty-seven year old woman, who lives with her partner in The Netherlands. She has been Pagan for a little over twelve years and has explored Neo-Wicca, Technopaganism, Hedge Witchery and Eclectic Religious Witchcraft before progressing to Hellenismos. Although her home practice is fully Hellenic, she has an online Neo-Pagan magazine called 'Little Witch magazine' (www.littlewitchmagazine.com) in which she and several co-writers try to cover the whole gamut of Neo-Paganism. Baring the Aegis is also on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BaringTheAegis

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I think I mentioned before that priesthood in ancient Hellas was a lot different from priesthood as we understand it now. In the modern (Pagan) interpretation, priests serve a mostly spiritual role; they serve the religious community as a vessel for or to a God or Goddess. The primary tasks of a modern day priest(ess) seem to be to serve the community, to spread the gospel of the God(ess) in question and to offer access to the God(dess) in question.

In ancient Hellas, the role of priest(ess) was a largely temporary, governmental, function. The profession of priest could be bought, and usually only lasted a few years at best. Minding a temple was almost exactly like minding a house; clean-up, clean-up, clean-up. In fact, religious celebrations weren't led by the priest(ess), but by the magistrate or other high ranking government official. The sole task of the priest(ess) was the animal sacrifice, but that was vitally important.

During most festivals, an animal was sacrificed. It was the job of the priest(ess) to pick out the animal, lead it to the altar and bless the animal. Especially the latter was a job only a priest(ess) could perform, because they were especially well versed in liturgy, and because a failure to preform the exact rites would result in a failure of the sacrifice.
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When I turn on my T.V., the first thing I see is a beautiful man or woman, talking to an equally beautiful man or woman. I open a magazine and all I see is Photoshop. It's not easy to live the ideal, these days. Still, we should count ourselves lucky; even without mass media and Photoshop, living up to the ideal may have been a lot worse for the ancient Hellens. Instead of mortal men and women, they took their cue from the Gods.

Beauty was a great good back in ancient Hellas. Physical prowess, good health and beauty were virtues which were highly sought after and greatly admired in others. In fact, those who possessed these traits, were considered blessed by the Gods. In a society of strict gender roles, many traits were valued for both men and women; physical beauty, for one. Clear thought, another. The ability to speak eloquently and convincingly, a third. Odysseus says to Euryalus:

"How true it is that the Gods seldom grace men equally with their gifts, of mind, form or speech. One man is meagre in appearance, but the gods crown his words with beauty, and men delight in him as he speaks sweetly in modest eloquence, conspicuous in a crowd, and looked on like a god as he crosses the city. Another seems an immortal, but his words lack grace."
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In the spirit of sharing more about the Hellenic festivals, I'm combining two of the coming ones in this post; three if you count a reference to a past one I hadn't talked about yet. Like I said on Sunday, I really only pay special attention to the festivals that resonate with me. This is not picking-and-choosing--because I try to at least offer libations to the stars of every single festival--but simply a matter of practicality.

I have to accept that I am a solitary Hellenic, which is a bit of an oxymoron. Like being a solitary Wiccan, being a solitary Hellenic is really not possible. Hellenismos is a community religion, like most of the Recon Traditions. Yes, you can focus solely on household worship, but in my view of the religion, you're practicing only half of it if you do that. The festivals made up a huge part of ancient Hellenic worship. With around ten festivals that took place outside of the home every month, it's hard to ignore that they mattered very much.

I feel it's very important to honor the festivals in my own small way, and I have come to realize that the festivals really make me long for a Hellenic community of my own. For a lot of the festivals, the entire city or town--especially in Athens--celebrated. Men, women, children, slaves, free men, everyone. There were special festivals for nearly all of them. Two women-only festivals were the Stenia and the Thesmophoria.

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  • Janneke Brouwers
    Janneke Brouwers says #
    Hallo landgenoot! Ik wist niet dat er Hellinisten waren in onze koude kikkerlandje, en die dan ook nog eens een blog hebben op Wit
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    Hallo Janneke, leuk om een landgenoot te spreken! Ja, er is inderdaad in ieder geval één Helleniste in Nederland. Als Helleniste v

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I don't write about Hellenic holidays enough. There are many Hellenic festivals every month and most I only observe with libations, offerings and hymns. I don't have the manpower or time to do most of them justice. On top of that, some just draw me more, like the Kronia and the Panathenaia ta mikra. Today, the seventh day of the month Pyanepsio, is the Pyanepsia, and because it's based solidly in mythology, I am a big fan.

The Pyanepsai (Πυανέψια) was one of the many harvest festivals of the season, but instead of focussing on the actual harvest like well know Pagan harvest festivals like Mabon, the Pyanepsia focusses almost completely on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Theseus (Θησεύς) was fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, whom had both slept with his mother Aethra, and was thus destined to become a hero. In order to claim his rightful place as ruler over Athens, he had to uncover his father's sandals and sword from under a stone in his mother's birth land where Theseus grew up, and bring it to his mortal father. He did, taking the long and dangerous route over land, and fought many Chthonic creatures and mortal bandits in the process. This was long before he would vow to bring down the Minotaur and thus, set in motion the events that led up to the strange festival of Pyanepsai.

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Like the Pentagram of Wicca and Witchcraft, and the Mjölnir of Asatru, Hellenismos has its own symbols. Symbols are used for a couple of reasons; identification, for one. When I see someone wearing a pentagram, I almost automatically assume they are Pagan as well. Flashing my pentagram ring usually gets me a smile and a knowing glance. I like those encounters.

Although the chances of running into another Greek Recon are slim here in the Netherlands, I am invested in the symbols of Hellenismos none the less. But what are they? Besides the obvious representations of the Theoi, there are a few, but we'll look into the Theoi first. Most Greek Gods and Goddesses are associated with a specific animal or item. Wearing Their favored symbols on a necklace of bracelet is a good way to feel closer to Them. From myth, this is a (non-exhaustive) list of the Theoi and their favored animals.

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  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    I've always been fond of the dodecahedron (twelve-sided Platonic solid) in relation to Classical paganism. It's referenced by Plat

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Welcome to part two of the constellation series. As you can see, I'm trying for an alphabetical order in these but I might sneak one in if I forget one of them. Which I will. Anyway, the second sign we'll be looking at is Aquarius.

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Control anger (Θυμου κρατει) is a Delphic Maxim that seems so simple: don't get mad. But it's not about that. Controlling anger is about knowing when you can show your anger, and when you can not. It means stepping back from your emotions to understand the words and actions of the other person. There is a time and place for anger, but more often, anger has no place at the current time.

Think of anger as a wildfire: once it burns, it burns everything in its path. You can try to extinguish it, but without specialized tools, stepping out of the way is better for your health. But some fires are lit and carefully controlled. The fire still burns hot, but can be guided. Their purpose is to promote life. It is this control this maxim teaches.

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  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg says #
    Thank you for this. It's an especially good reminder at this time of infighting and blogger rage tactics in the community.

There are many ways of sacrificing to the Gods, but none are as prevalent within Hellenismos as a poured sacrifice. As Hellenics, we have two general types of libations at our disposal; a sponde (Σπονδή) or a khoe (χοαί). Both are poured sacrifices, libations, but the practice differs, as does the goal. Before we look at these, it might be wise to discuss why we sacrifice in the first place.

A sacrifice to the Gods is a way of bonding, of kharis. It's a way of showing our devotion to the Gods and bringing Them, actively, into our homes and lives. It's a way of acknowledging Their greatness and recognizing our loyalty to Them. Practically, this means that whatever the sacrifice, it should be given with this kharis in mind. It should be given with love, dedication and with respect to the bond between immortal and mortal.

On to the sponde: a sponde is a libation given, partly, to the Deity or Deities offered to, and partly drunken by those given the libation. Most sacrifices, especially animal sacrifices, worked with this principle, called thyesthai (θύεσθαι). They are appropriate for the Olympic Deities. There are two types of sponde: one used as a toast--usually to Hestia and/or the Agathós Daímōn--and one as a general libation.

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Remember when I called out for a Pagan web-series and even described some of the characters I would like to see? I think MTV and I are somewhat on the same wavelength because they just put out a national casting call for an episode of True Life, about youth who are 'occult enthusiasts'. According to their ad, they are looking for:

"...'anyone who practices Wicca, Satanism, alchemy, astrology, ESP or other mystical sciences' or those who feel they can 'tap into unseen spiritual forces.' Those who are interested in the study of 'the Kabbalah or Esoteric Christianity' are also invited to participate; the show is presently seeking males and females ages 17-29 who take their occult practices seriously, regardless of societal views. The casting call will remain open for a one year period and closes on Sept. 10, 2013."
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  • David Salisbury
    David Salisbury says #
    There are many 2nd gen (and some 3rd gen) Pagans around now adays. For someone who was raised that way, they could easily be in th
  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson says #
    With the age cap set at 29, I doubt any elders could sign up. On another related note, I recently saw Natib Qadish represented (we
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    True on the Elders. I will be happy with people who have been practicing 10+ years, though, although that's no guarantee for quali

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I greatly enjoy looking at the night's sky although I can barely make out any of the constellations. As a new and regular series on Baring the Aegis, I want to share with you my study of the mythology behind various constellations. Today, I'm starting with Andromeda.

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  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    I love stellar mythology, as well. I find it rather ... uncomfortable, though, how little agency Andromeda has in this story. Eve
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    I wrote about the role of men and women in Greek myth before* and noted then, that is wasn't the most balanced. Androméda did end

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The reign of the Hellenes lasted for roughly 650 years. During that time, several major changes took place within the culture and religion of these people. Trying to reconstruct all these practices is not only impractical but also impossible. As a Hellenic Recon, it therefor becomes important to find out which classical, Hellenic, period speaks to us.

Within modern Hellenic Recon, three periods in the history of ancient Hellas stand out and in this blog post, I take on the basics of each and try to explain their differences on practice:

  • Archaic Period (800 BC - 480 BC)
  • Classical Period (480 BC - 323 BC)
  • Hellenistic Period (323 BC - 146 BC)
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Next Wednesday, the people of the Netherlands are going to vote on their new government. We have a slightly different system than some other countries. On wednesday we get to cast our vote on one of twenty-two parties. They range from Christian parties, to parties who fight for animal rights, the rights of workers or to parties who simply take a left or right wing approach to all issues. With our votes, the parties divide 150 literal seats in government. The biggest parties will try to come together and get a majority, or--and this has not really worked well in the past--the smaller parties come together to form a majority.

For weeks, my T.V., radio, roadside and randomly generated internet advertisements have been spamming me with messages of the various parties. All are trying to get my vote. One thing is sure; voting is difficult. Whomever we vote for will have to come to an agreement on staying or leaving the EU, on providing financial support to Greece, on putting together a way to minimize our economic deficit so the EU won't fine us, on fines for students who take more than the set amount of years for a study, and many, many, many other, difficult, issues.

I have been debating myself on which party to vote for. What I haven't been debating is the decision to vote. Because I will vote, no matter what. I strongly believe that the right to vote should not be wasted. As a young woman, I wouldn't have been able to vote even a hundred years ago... and if I lived in ancient Hellas, I most certainly would not be able to.

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Of all the differences between Recon paths and other (Neo-)Pagan paths, I think the notion of hubris is the most controversial. Sure, everyone who works with Them, respects the Gods but there is a big difference in the respect--and fear--level between Recons and non-Recons.

I'm not exactly sure how this is for other Recon paths but for Hellenismos, avoiding hubris is the foundation of faith. Hubris, in dictionary terms, means excessive pride or arrogance and comes from the Greek (hýbris, ὕβρις). For me, hubris is not an adjective but a verb. It describes the act of willful or ignorant refusal to comply by the will of the Gods.

Within Hellenismos, the Gods rule supreme. We are here to serve and honor Them, and in return, They provide us with what we need to survive. This practice of kharis is one of the pillars of Hellenismos. But it's there in all other pillars as well.

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  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson says #
    I enjoyed this post, Elani. In Natib Qadish (Canaanite religion), we have similar views. We see the deities rather like kings and
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    Thank you for your kind and enlightening words. I agree completely; it is almost exactly the same within Hellenismos. I'll write a
  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson says #
    I look forward to reading your post on magic, Elani.

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We have already established that certain doom is sent by the Gods and should be suffered through. But there is another kind of doom, sent not by the Gods, but by fellow men. And against this, one is absolutely encouraged to fight.

As human beings, our anger, envy and spite can result in what is known as the Evil Eye; a curse upon another usually transferred by a look. We might not even intend to harm the other person but we will, regardless. In ancient Hellas, this occurrence was as real as the sheep that grazed the fields and the slaves that worked the house. Interestingly enough, the belief in the Evil Eye--or 'bad eye', as it's translated into Greek--is still upheld in modern Greece.
 
When you suddenly feel dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous or every muscle in your body starts hurting for no apparent reason, it is most likely that someone wished you ill, either consciously or subconsciously. It is then prudent to think back and find the exact moment the bad eye was given. It could be a compliment given, a present received or it could really be just a glance from across the street. Children and women are considered especially susceptible to the bad eye.
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  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson says #
    We, too, in Natib Qadish have a concept of the 'enu, the Eye. We've been lucky enough to have a 3200 year old text preserved that
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    Thank you for your reply, Tess! It's fantastic you have a text like that. We don't have the actual words that were used, but I'm v
  • Merle Moss
    Merle Moss says #
    and it was 'little red rings', = WASN'T 'little red rings',

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This blog post is the third installment in a very loose series focussing on the practice of reconstruction. The other parts can be found here: Standardizing Hellenismos and Thinking like a Recon. In this third--and probably final part--I will talk about trying to figure out which practices should be reconstructed, and which should not be. I can't speak for all Recon faiths on this, and I can only offer my opinion on Hellenismos. Others will disagree. In order to illustrate some of the points in this post, I will use the ancient practice of animal sacrifice. I have spoken about the practical and ethical difficulties of reviving that practice before, but it is such a fantastic example, I can not ignore it.

With the disclaimer out of the way, lets get on with this post, shall we? As previously discussed, Reconstructionist faiths work on a basic premise: those who practiced it first, practiced it best. If we want to worship these Gods, we should do it in a way which the Gods are used to and expect of us. Yet, society has changed. Other religions have come and gone. People have changed. Some practices have no place in current society but... how do we decide which practices should or should not be revived? And is it really up to us to decide this?

There are a few factors which influence the decisions of modern Recon practitioners when it comes to answering these questions. Influencing factors are current laws, the time period which the practitioner is trying to reconstruct, if the practice was part of the culture or the religion and--somewhat unfortunately-- the preference of the practitioner.

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  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    If I may be permitted to interject once again from the Théodish perspective on Reconstructionism, animal sacrifice (Old Norse blót
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    Thank you for your reply! I am sorry that I am responding to it this late; I had a bit of a tough weekend. I really appreciate the
  • Rose
    Rose says #
    I think a great example of how to modernize Hellenismos is to look to the Jewish and Catholic religions. Recently we had a reform

I have been enjoying the wonderful world of web-series for a couple of days now and it got me thinking; there are web-series for every minority you can think of so why don't we have one? If we do, please let me know in the comments and I will eat these words for tomorrow's breakfast. Seriously, though, there are (NSFW) web-series about super heroes, people with a disability, geeks, video games, lesbians, gays, washed out actors, you name it. Where are the Pagans?

A web-series is a series of short episodes about a certain topic or focussing on a specific person or group, created specifically for viewing on the internet. With all the diversity and the many stereotypes we either embrace or feel the need to debunk, we could surely make a good web-series? Here are a couple of proposals for those with the ability to act, some extra funds, time and a camera:

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  • Maggie DeMunda
    Maggie DeMunda says #
    There is, after a fashion. Through Witchschool.com. They have different video series.

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During the writing of yesterday's post on Reconstruction, an example of my changed mindset came to mind which I couldn't find a place for in that post. I told you all before about my path. Most of my religious life was spent as a Neo-Pagan or some form of Eclectic Witch. I enjoyed it a lot and some practices were so engrained into my life, I only realized I had them when I transitioned to Hellenismos. One of these practices was to buy (almost) only second-hand religious items for my practice.

The thought process behind it was that, everything I stumbled upon, be it boxes, chalices or books, was provided to me by the Gods. The only things that were exempt were my Athame, candles and incense. Especially in the case of books, I felt that the books I found in thrift or second-hand stores were the books I was supposed to find at that time in my life and religious practice. I took them as signs. In true Neo-Pagan manner, I also didn't haggle on the cost of any item I bought for religious purposes. It was a wonderful way of magickal living.

As I transitioned into Hellenismos, however, the change in mindset caused me to drop both practices without conscious thought. I knew what my path was, now. I didn't need that specific type of guidance. I left general Pagan books on the shelve that I would have bought only a week ago. With my new shopping list in hand, I still found myself in a veritable Elysium of possibilities. I also couldn't think up a single reason why I shouldn't try and haggle when the opportunity arose. In fact: it seemed like a perfectly valid Hellenic thing to do. And all of that over the course of, maybe, a week.

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I have written before about the differences between general (Neo-)Wiccan/Witchcraft Traditions and Reconstruction. In that blog post, I focussed on the practical, on the part you can see. This is not the most important part of Reconstruction Traditions, though. It's a part of it, but it only exists because of a mental component. It's this component I want to talk about today.

In general, 'reconstruction' is the practice of rebuilding something. This can be a crime-scene, a broken vase or any number of things. In Paganism, Reconstruction means the practice of reviving lost religious, social and practical practices from a specific time period or people. It is not that different from reconstructing a vase, actually, and I will be using that analogy a lot today.

Imagine this; long ago, a potter made a vase. He needed to make one because he had something which needed a holder. He shaped it in a specific form, inspired by his culture and need, and when the shape was done, he decorated it with imagery that was also culturally inspired. Somewhere over the years, the vase broke into a dozen pieces. There was no need for that particular vase anymore, so no one put it back together. Now, people need a holder again, and it seems logical to put the original holder back together instead of making a new one, because the first one functioned very well. They realize that in order to put the vase back together, they need to understand the culture and whatever was going on in the head of the potter who made it; without that knowledge, they won't be able to figure out how the pieces fit together and they can't restore the imagery without knowing what the potter created in the first place.

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  • Robert Scott
    Robert Scott says #
    Very good points which I think apply to any variety of recon, thank you.

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Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen the inside of a lot of museums. The summer holidays do that to my life. About half of those museums were museums focussing on the Greek, Roman, Egyptian and/or Islamic periods in our history. Needless to say, the Greek parts interested me most.

I saw pieces of temples to Artemis and Athena, visited the Pergamon and marveled at a lot of pottery from ancient Greece. It was marvelous... and I felt no religious connection to any of it. In fact, I was shocked at how little connection I felt to it at all. It was as if the many visitors had sucked every drop of authenticity from the very stone. As if the worship which took place on and around these stones lost even the echo of their previous function. Worse still, I looked for clues on how to practice my religion and found none.

Seeing these relics of the past drove home just how lost the ancient Greek religion is to us. It cemented my resolve to revive it in a form which fits into this cultural framework. I also realized there is no going back to the past. The temples of old are gone. The grander of those days is lost to us and that is a depressing thought.

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Dearest Elani, You have just described *exactly* the way I felt at Glastonbury Tor. I went there, having cut my Pagan teeth on no

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A few days ago, I got into an interesting discussion with PaganSquare founder Anne about Hellenismos in general and slavery in particular. The discussion focussed on what should and should not be part of Recon practice and slavery, obviously, was one of the things we both thought had no place in it. I realized, though, that not everyone may know what slavery entailed in ancient Greece and the many difference there are between the ancient Greek form of slavery and the modern history version of the same practice.

Now, first off, I do not condone slavery in any way, shape or form and the whole idea of people owning people has no place in current society. This blog post is not about slavery in current time. I will get back to this a little later on, but no modern Hellenic in their right mind would think to bring that back. And even if they did, there are laws against that sort of thing now. 

With that out of the way, indulge me as I paint a picture of slavery in ancient Hellas. First, its prudent to describe the life of ancient Greek slaves, as slaves, too, could acquire rank and even slaves of their own. The word 'slave' wasn't known in ancient Hellas, in fact, the first mention of the word dates back to the seventh century C.E.. A Greek slave was called a doûlos (δούλος), which would translate best as a 'servant' or 'serf'.  In ancient Greece, doûlos were the working class. They were teachers, farmers, shop owners, herders, doctors, city militia, cleaners, etc. Because many performed a public service, they had a house of their own as well as a salary. Household serfs were called oikétês (οἰκέτης) and lived in the house of their master who was called a kyrios (κύριος). The female head of the household was charged with teaching--and keeping order amongst--the household serfs.
 
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  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    Are you familiar with the Theodish practice of "thralldom"? They have essentially taken the ancient practice and turned it into a
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    Even before checking out that link, I have to tell you that I literally woke up my girlfriend with my giggling at the use of the w
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Thanks for an interesting post, Elani; the only part I didn't get was the disclaimer in which you disavowed the practice of slaver

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