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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was going to write something completely different for this post but it didn't come off of the ground. I was over-thinking everything I was writing so for this post, I am just going to write from my heart again, even if it's not overtly Hellenic. I'm going to be writing about the little, negative, voice inside our heads and hearts and how to quiet it for long enough to be brave.
I was not born to blog or journal. I love to write, but I mostly write to be someone else for a while. This is why I love to role play. Still, I did some pseudo-journalism a few years back and I enjoyed that very much, but even then I realized that I have difficulty writing about topics I am not an expert on. I'm scared every time I hit 'publish', but I hit it none the less.
Honestly, I never thought I'd be blogging for so many of you. It makes me very feel very happy, very blessed and it also scares me shitless on days when I write about something emotional, controversial or about the Hellenic community at large. I am not an expert at Hellenismos. There are a lot of people who have been at it longer, practice in a group and/or who have come to a consensus on issues. I just read a lot. I practice a lot, too. I have my daily rituals, my festivals and my books. If you're struggling with some (online) bravery issues as well, then maybe I can offer some words of guidance and encouragement.
Today is my birthday. I'm now officially twenty-seven years old. I told Anne I was twenty-seven already so she wouldn't have to change it a few weeks later. Shhh! Anyway, today is a busy day so I'm doing a short one, one of the Delphic Maxims series I have been doing on my blog for a while.
A little less than I week ago, I discussed the Delphic Maxim of 'be grateful' (Ευγνωμων γινου). Today I'm addressing a related maxim but one with a very different reasoning behind it; 'do not be discontented by life' (Τω βιω μη αχθου).
We are all told our fate soon after we are born. At night, the Moirae (Μοιραι)--better known as the Fates--enter the room where the newborn lies and they whisper their destiny into their ear. They are the only ones who can do this, as they have spun the threads that make up our fate. Mothers can invite the Moirae by leaving offerings on a table in the nursery. If they wait long enough, the Moirae will appear and, while they enjoy the offerings, will tell the fate of the child. The most well known myth surrounding this event is that of Althaea and Melaeger, who are told that Melaeger will only live as long as the log in the hearth remains unconsumed. Althaea hurries to extinguish the log but eventually kills her son by burning the log.
A few days now, I have tackled controversial topics on this blog so to give everyone, including myself, a rest, I'm going to tackle a good old fashioned ancient Greek topic; the peculiar place of beggars in ancient Greek society. After all, of all professions there were in ancient Greece, the profession of beggar is, perhaps, the most difficult to understand.
A beggar, or ptóchos (πτωχός), was both a welcomed and a loathed sight at the gates of ancient Greek cities. According to some sources, most notable Hesiod's Works and Days, being a beggar is a profession, equated with potters and minstrels. They performed a public function simply by being who they were and doing what they did. But what did they do?
Interestingly enough, I had already written half of this post when Anne commented on yesterday's post, mentioning that practicing by UPG, to her, is more important than practicing by the ancient sources. I've been thinking about UPG a lot lately, in the same thought stream that produced yesterday's post of standardizing Hellenismos.
I have a love/hate relationship with Unverified Personal Gnosis (or UPG, for short). On the one hand, I believe, with every fiber of my being, in the knowledge I have been made privy of by the Gods. I believe in my experiences and they are sacred to me. They run anywhere from synchronicious events to detailed biographies and some of them I will never share with anyone, they were that special. Throughout my practice, I have allowed UGP to push me forward in my path. Much of what I know, have done or now practice is directly related to a UPG event, this blog and Little Witch magazine included.
On the other hand, there is UPG out there that contradicts mine, that I personally think is completely incorrect or that questions everything I believe in. Needless to say, this is UPG I struggle with. I can't view it as invalid; I respect everyone's path too much for that, but where does it fit in with my believes? We are talking about the same Gods, right?
Hellenismos, as a modern Recon Tradition, is young. It's only a decade or two old and while it's starting to get off of the ground and come together, there are a lot of issues which have not been worked out yet. I broached this in my post about suicide and I want to delve deeper into it today. There is a promise of greatness in Hellenismos, but unlike the slightly older Wicca and its younger cousin Neo-Wicca, Hellenismos can't function on a 'coven-by-coven'-basis. This means it needs a doctrine.
The definition of Paganism I use is the one from the Cauldron;
Emphasis on 'self-identifies'. If you feel your practice fits under the Pagan banner, you are free to call yourself Pagan. It's not a protected term like Wicca is, and Hellenismos should be. Above, I stated that Hellenismos can't function on a 'coven-by-coven'-basis. What I meant to say with that is that the few Hellenic organizations there are can, of course, function wonderfully on their own, but they will both be practicing something different; their own versions of Hellenismos which are, most likely, incompatible. They don't form a whole, a unified religion. They would practice on that 'coven-to-coven' basis which, in my opinion, does not work with a Recon tradition.
When I first placed myself under the Pagan banner and started coming out, I had already gotten a good couple of coming outs about my sexuality under my belt. The process of tap-dancing around the subject, broaching it casually and then saying the actual word was not unknown to me. Not one to back down from any challenge, I have held some sort of presentation or talk about Paganism in front of my school classes since highschool. I was always more of a 'lets-get-this-over-with-so-we-can-all-go-back-to-our-lives'-kind of girl.
Because I have always been outspoken about my religion, I have lost the company of a good few I would have loved to call friends. Because of this, I tend to come out as a lesbian and a Pagan in the first five meetings with a person. That way, we both know the score and it saves me a lot of heartache. So far, people have been incredibly understanding about both. Highschool was a bit of a mess but mostly about the gay thing. The Pagan thing, they didn't understand, didn't know how to tease me with and thus ignored. When I got older, 99 percent of the reactions ranged from excited to intrigued. That one percent of negative feedback is completely neglectable to me.
I am incredibly sad to say that most flack I have ever gotten about my religious believes has come from the Pagan community itself. When I was Neo-Wiccan, I was 'fluffy', when I was a Technopagan, I was 'disrespecting nature' and 'angering the Goddess' for accepting technology in ritual. When I was a Hedge Witch, I 'didn't know enough about herbs' to be one. When I was an Eclectic Religious Witch, I was 'lazy' and 'a pick-and-choosing thief'. Now I'm Hellenic, I'm 'elitist' and 'in disrespect of nature' again. Honestly, I can't win. Whatever I do, for the majority of Pagans, I will never be 'Pagan enough'.
I woke up this morning with absolutely zero inspiration. It happens every once in a while when you write a blog post every day and try not to work ahead as much as possible. Zero inspiration gives me the opportunity to look around and find something that I simply love to do, to read or to watch and blog about that. As I've been on a Falling Skies binge lately, trying to fill the void of the Olympics, that show fueled this post, although it's not much about that show.
Falling Skies, if you will indulge me the introduction, revolves around the survivors of an alien invasion as they deal with the constant threat of the aliens, the threat of humanity driven to the brink, and the challenges of reconstructing civilization.
I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories and a big fan of their respective series, movies and books. Anything from Falling Skies, The Walking Dead, Carriers, Resident Evil, The Hunger Games, The Books of Amber (books preferred), The Stand, Dark Angel, and The Book of Eli, to games like Fallout, books like Orson Welles' War of the Worlds and even T.V. series like Lost. But it's not all about entertainment; it's about a very important (religious) question: what would you do?
Today's Hekate's Deipnon and I have a lot to do for it so I'm keeping this post brief. Since my progression into Hellenismos, I have started to consider language in Pagan practice. Although I am Dutch, I have nearly always practiced in English. I love this language; it's softer, more poetic, more fluid than Dutch. It has synonyms that make sense. 'Practicing in English' became part of my practice. When I set out onto the Hellenic path, I naturally started practicing in English. I can't read or pronounce Greek yet so it made sense. Since about a week, I am not so sure anymore.
I tried an on-the-spot translation into Dutch of my daily prayers and hymns and felt a deeper connection to Deity than I had felt before within this practice. I started wondering why that was as I stumbled through my translations this week. I think... that especially Hestia appreciates my Dutch prayers and hymns because Dutch is the language that is spoken in this household. It's part of our Oikos. I'm not sure the others care very much.
Of course, I would rather practice in ancient Greek. I got myself a home study course and will be attempting to learn as much as I can on my own before taking a language course. It's not mandatory in Hellenismos to speak Greek but I would love to be able to read the hymns, myths and plays I base my practice on in their original language and form. Translations are lovely but there is always artistic freedom. Besides, for me, it's the language of the Gods.
Two days now, I have tackled very heavy subjects in general, as well as for me personal. It becomes wearisome to write about such topics, so today, I'm writing about puppies. Well, hunting dog, but they were puppies once, so it counts.
Dogs had a very special and particular place in ancient Greek society. The Greek word for 'dog' is 'kuón' (κύων), and there were a couple of breeds that were favored. First and foremost, the Molossus, a now extinct species of dog related most to the mastiffs of current times, enjoyed great prestige. Another favorite was the Laconian, which was especially popular in Sparta. The Molossus was most often used as a guard dog, while the Laconian was the go-to hunting dog of the time. Also known were the Cretan, a Laconia probably crossed with the Molossian; and the Melitan, a small long-haired, short-legged lap dog.
I got back from my city trip to Berlin late last night and I had planned on writing about some experiences from that trip, but I received my daily e-mail from a friend who informed me that his wife's cousin had taken his own life unexpectedly, and that his life was pretty hectic right now because of it. He would therefor need some time to get back to me. After that, the concept and act of suicide was set firmly in my mind and I could write about nothing else. So here is fair warning; this post is about suicide, it touches on depression, my interesting childhood and my opinion on suicide. If any of these are triggers for you, I would ask you to come back tomorrow. Also, and I will get back to this, depression lies.
I grew up in a household where the threat of suicide was prevalent. When I mentioned moving out, when I got angry, when something went wrong (especially if it was something I had caused--or for which I was blamed), I was stopped and the emotions repressed by a veiled or outright threat of suicide by my mother. I used to be angry about that, but as I got older, I understood that it was simply her only way to deal with the depression and personality disorders she was struggling with. She did try once, and it was a horrible experience for all involved. After that, though, I think she realized that no matter how miserable she was, she wasn't really going to go through with it. The threats only stopped when we agreed that she was only allowed to call me with a suicide threat if she really meant it. She never spoke of it again.
Through my experience with suicide, I have developed a very low patience threshold for people who use (the threat of) suicide as an excuse to get attention. For people in my social circle who honestly feel they might commit suicide, I am there. All I ask of them is that they ask for help if they need it. I will gladly give it. I'll get up in the middle of the night for weeks to talk them off of any ledge they might be on, but I need honesty and I will not be guilt tripped into helping them. I did that for at least ten years. I'm a very decent human being. If you need me, in any way, I will be there for you. You don't have to lie. But if you simply need attention, if you need a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell you what a miserable life you have and act shocked you have even considered the act of suicide, I am not the person to go to. I'm the person you go to for help, and to get you help.