“The Bacchants Are Few.”

Read Time: 8 minutes

An Introduction to Hellenismos

In his discussion with his compatriots immediately preceding his execution at the hands of the Athenian State, Socrates elaborated upon the nature of the philosopher’s life, and their general mentality regarding morality, conduct and death. In contrast to the average person that is guided according to instinctive impulse, the philosopher, he states, is provided fulfillment through the pursuit of Wisdom, rather than carnal concerns. Their interests originate from the soul, rather than those of the body, which are the precedent for all matters of discord and conflict within life, and for this reason, they perceive death, not with fear, intimidation or hesitancy, but with affirmation and confidence.

“ἡβῶν ἐγκρατής

When in youth, be self-disciplined.

μέσος δίκαιος

When in middle age, be just.

πρεσβύτης εὔλογος

When an elder, be reasonable.

τελευτῶν ἄλυπος

Upon reaching the end, be without sorrow.” — Delphic Maxims

He elaborates further upon the nature of Wisdom, and declares that it, in itself, is a purification rite, that properly prepares the soul for the pursuit of a virtuous life through courage, moderation and justice, otherwise called Arete; without wisdom, however, these things are rendered an illusion. There are, as he iconically declares: “Many who carry the Thyrsus, but the Bacchants are few.”

Similarly, the traditional polytheistic paths of Antiquity experience a familiar problem; many within neo-pagan reconstructionist groups adopt the titles of these respective traditions without understanding the fundamental nature of them; a plethora of “pagans” lack any knowledge pertaining to any particular tradition, and accordingly adopt the mantle of “Paganism” as little more than an aesthetic used to cultivate controversy. The term “Paganism” is too broad a word to refer to in this discussion because it covers an incomprehensibly vast quantity of different traditions and religions. For this reason it is necessary to specify the particular tradition and discuss the foundational tenets of Hellenismos in particular, to provide clarity and dispel uncertain ambiguity.

Nymphs of Parthenope, Charles Meynier. Circa 1827

I. It is polytheistic. Hellenismos primarily revolves around the worship of the 12 Olympian Gods,or Theoi: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Artemis, Apollo, Hestia, Hermes, Demeter, and Hephaestus. It does, however, also include the acknowledgement of the deities of the Underworld, the Khthonic Gods(including Hades, Hekate, and Charon) the ancestral spirits, the Titan deities(Erebus, Gaia, Atlas, Hekate, Styx, et cetera) the heroes(Achilles, Perseus, Theseus, Heracles, et cetera)and other Gods and Goddesses. The multiplicity of the Gods is logically consistent with the varying moral forces and archetypes that characterize our universe; Hellenismos does not, therefore, attempt to actively antagonize or oppose the belief in other Gods; rather, these deities are representative of the Hellenic people, culture, and perspective.

II. It is ethnic. The practice of Hellenismos originates out of a geographically-specific area, and is respective to the Greek culture during the Hellenic era, approximately 2,500 years ago(but with many traditions that precede that time period) beginning around the time of the establishment of the Athenian Democracy and leading up to the death of Alexander the Great. The acknowledgement and appreciation of the historical context revolving around the Hellenic culture is necessary to actively practice the tradition effectively.

III. It is orthopraxic. There are two classifications of religion, faith-based religions that are contingent upon a dogmatic belief, and Orthopraxic ones, that are exercised according to conduct and practice of life. Hellenismos is the latter, while the Abrahamic monotheistic traditions, particularly Christianity, are the former. Morality is not determined according to the coercion of an impersonal deity; it is cultivated through virtue, moderation, respect, modesty, discipline and a healthy affirmation tempered by humility and the acknowledgement of our own mortality.

IV. It is reciprocal. The practice of Hellenic ritual revolves around the reciprocation of affection and sincere love between mortals and the Theoi. We provide offerings to them in actions of adoration and devotion, rather than dogmatic necessity. Hellenismos is an erotic religion(within the context of spiritual intimacy and the soul’s adoration of the Gods.) It is not established upon coercion, force, or scriptural authority. It is the culmination of our efforts to express gratitude and exaltation.

V. It is in agreement with science. The first revolutionary scientific discoveries of Western civilization were accomplished by the Hellenists; Democritus was the first to create the Atomic theory; Anaximander, the second recorded philosopher in Western history, established the beginning theories of evolution and gravity, crafted the first three dimensional model of the universe, and theorized a helio-centric system. This same philosopher also discussed an eternal matter than permeates throughout all living things, the “Apeiron”, E.G. “The infinite, the boundless”. This is likewise proven by scientific observation via the law of conservation of mass: “Matter can be neither created nor destroyed, but it can be converted into another form.”
Contrary to assumption, the polytheistic traditions do not deny or reject empirical phenomenon; rather, we observe the universe and all of its mechanisms with a perpetual sense of awe and appreciation. Hellenismos deems Logos[logic & reasoning] a gift provided to us by the Gods. If anything, this cultivates scientific curiosity, rather than desecrating it.

VI. It is cultural, rather than dogmatic. Hellenismos does not revolve around any specific text for the sake of authority, but rather, encompasses the mythos, poetry, playwrights, art, architecture, philosophy, political theories, scientific discoveries and religious traditions of the Greek world of antiquity. It is not merely a religious idea, but an all-encompassing culture, and should ideally be appreciated in its entirety.

VII. It is not a faith. There is no Hellenic faith. We do not believe in the Gods as a matter of theoretical faith, blind assumption or dogmatic authority. Rather, we embrace them as living deities, in absolute affirmation. The Gods reside within a higher realm, which thoughts, virtues and transcendental ideas also occupy. All physical objects are mere representations of a higher universal ideal, as discussed in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; accordingly, the objects used in ritual are representative of those higher spiritual ideals of the Gods, and effectively serve as our mutual center of reciprocal communication with them. Accordingly, the metaphysical might manifest itself into the physical.

VIII. It is sacrificial. The key tenet to Hellenic ritual is the practice of sacrifice and offerings; we do not make offerings due to any necessity that the Gods require, but rather, as both a physical and metaphorical gift representing our adoration, love and devotion to them. There is no coercion, force, or dogmatic obligation, but rather, the expression of a sincere love; this form of Eros is what establishes a reciprocal relationship between ourselves and the Gods. The primary method by which we make offerings to the Gods is through libations, the ritualistic pouring of liquids into a hearth fire, the ground, or upon tree roots, to symbolize the solidification of the words that we have spoken in our prayers and supplications; they have been stated in confidence, and have been poured out, in definite declaration. Thus, our sacrificial libations signify our words having been poured out upon the altar of the Gods. Libations primarily consist of red wine, but may also consist of milk and honey, water, or other substances, depending upon the occasion and respective God.

IX. It is communal. Hellenismos is centered around communal worship and the collective celebration of the Gods in the Polis(city). Accordingly, many of the most famous celebrations were within the context of communal worship, whether they be the Eleusinian mysteries(that revolved around the agrarian worship of Demeter), or the annual festive celebration of Goddess Athena via the Panathenaea in the city of Athens. Given the drastic cultural changes of the modern day, we do not currently possess the resources to exercise communal worship to the same degree as the ancient Greeks; our worship, then, emphasizes worship within the Oikos(household), which was, and is, incredibly significant in the Hellenic traditions.

X. It is a way of life. Hellenismos is not merely a religious belief, validated by a strict set of scriptural commands or dogma, but an entire way of life. It is common for monotheistic religions to discuss that theirs “Isn’t a religion, but a relationship”, when in fact, they deem dogmatic fundamentalism that dominates every aspect of life with a militant authority to indicate a “lifestyle”. In contrast, Hellenismos encompasses a philosophy, art, political science, and culture that extends beyond just a religious ideology; rather than discouraging inquiry and human curiosity, we embrace the Socratic spirit of debate and discussion, over antagonism and polarity. 

On Hellenic Morality

The Delphic Maxims provide a framework by which the Hellenist might emulate morality and virtue. Although there are 147 aphorisms provided in the Maxims that were given through the Oracle of Delphi, and, through extension, are attributed to the God Apollo, they can primarily be summarized within a short list.

I. Act in humble honesty, avoid Hubris.

II. Be generous in spirit.

III. Respect your ancestors.

IV. Practice discipline and moderation.

V. Be pious and honor the Gods.

VI. Avoid slander and unjust conflict.

VII. Be fair and pursue justice.

VIII. Practice control in expense.

IX. Demonstrate empathy for the unfortunate.

X. Revere and defend your Nation.

Above all, these tenets summarize the behavior of the Hellenist, in terms of their perception of themselves, behavior towards others, and moral responsibility towards their nation. These general principles illustrate the ideals of the Hellenic life.

The Human Being and their purpose

Prometheus Creates Man in the Presence of Athena, Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse.

Hellenismos discusses this physical realm, the Cosmos, within the context of it being an extension of the sacred, immortal True Being. This spiritual, transcendent system is complete, omnipresent, and whole within itself; From this spiritual singularity, the True Being experiences a multiplicity that subsequently manifests into various forms, thus producing the various deities- the Titans and Gods. 

Accordingly, the physical realm is the portion of the True Being which has attained the state of organization and order, in contrast to the unorganized chaos outside of it(defined in the Hellenic mythos as tartarus, E.G. a dark void, in the creation mythos). The physical Cosmos is representative of two planes: the tangible, mortal one, and the higher spiritual realm that is eternal. The Gods are not created beings, but emanations of the Eternal being, of which we, and all of the Cosmos, are likewise a part, albeit on a different plane, given our mortal boundaries.
Humans possess the capacity to emulate the ideal characteristics of the spiritual ideals that the Gods embody, through the establishment of reciprocal relationships with them via offerings, libations, sacrifices and prayers. We are instructed according to their divine wisdom and purity, in how to live a life in accordance with the organization of the Cosmos and attain a higher degree of spiritual intimacy with them through the practice of Virtue, or Arete. Although the mortal instruments that we currently occupy will, in time, fade, and pass away, it will return to the rest of the universal matter(via the law of Conservation of Mass), and likewise, our souls return to a higher plane of these spiritual ideals, the forms. All of physical matter possesses, in this way, an eternal connotation, as solidified by scientific discovery; our souls, likewise are a part of that eternal true being. Through the practice of moderation, discipline, magnanimity, transparency, generosity, sacred love and humility, we might draw ourselves closer to the presence of the Gods, and in so doing, order ourselves, physically and spiritually, in an appropriate way to commune with them. This is the primary goal of the Hellenist.

In an age that is characterized by chaos and cacophonic disorder, societal dishevelment and spiritual disease, political polarity and cultural conflict, many are searching desperately for an answer- for spiritual fulfillment, for passionate purpose and meaning, for joy. Hellenismos, for those who have invested the time in studying it, has proven to be a path that provides that fulfillment. Ours is a religion of joy, of completion, of happiness and exuberance, of health and affirmation, of strength and fortitude, of tenacity and resilience. In a world of unhappiness, violence and resentment, Hellenes(both ethnic and philosophical) bear the moral responsibility of working towards building a more beautiful reality in the Goodness of the Gods. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.