Rekindling of the Hearth of Hellenism - A Return to Worship of the Greek Gods
Europe is in the midst of a pagan revival. Across Europe, different cultures are attempting to revive their pre-Christian religious heritage. Greece is no exception. Although the movement is small, there is a religious movement attempting to revive the worship of the ancient Greek gods. One name for this revival of the ancient Greek religion is Hellenismos, or simply Hellenism. Many followers of this new religious movement refer to themselves either as Hellenes or Hellenists.
Reconstructing an Ancient Religion
This is not the first time that there has been an attempt to revive the ancient Greek religion. The first attempt was by Emperor Julian, the last pagan Roman Emperor who ruled in 361-363 AD. Emperor Julian is famous for having ordered the reopening of pagan temples and being initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries at a time when Christianity was already becoming dominant in the Empire. Julian also attempted to use Greek philosophy to create an organized theology for the ancient Greek religion to compete with Christianity.
Emperor Julian started a religious reformation of the empire. (FlagUploader / Public Domain)
Today, there is no one way to practice Hellenism. Hellenes are unified more by their approach than a centralized theological framework or set of practices. Those who practice Hellenism follow a reconstructionist approach in which they try to recreate an ancient religion based on archaeological evidence and historical records. They try to reconstruct the practices and beliefs of the religion so that it is as close as possible to the historical religion, while still adapting the religion to modern society and values. Hellenes rely on classical authors including Homer, Porphyry, and Sallustius. It is possible that the ancient religion was continually practiced to the modern day in some pockets, but since these are isolated cases that probably do not reflect the religion in its entirety, some reconstruction is still necessary.
Beliefs and Practices
Although there is no one way to be a Hellene, there are some common practices and beliefs based on present knowledge of ancient Greek culture and religion. The Hellenes worship and honor the Greek gods including Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Ares, Hades, Hestia, Artemis, Apollo, and Athena among others. Worship can be performed in temples or in open spaces. Many parts of the religion are also carried out in a household context.
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Zeus, Athena, and other ancient Greek gods and deities, Athens. (Dimitrios / Adobe)
In ancient times, animal sacrifices were regularly offered in Greek temples. Modern Hellenes are more likely to offer foodstuffs like grain, wine, and fruit. Additionally, clothing can be offered which will be blessed and then distributed to homeless shelters and other humanitarian organizations.
Hellenic Theology and Ethics
Hellenism, although it is based on the ancient Greek religion, is still a fairly young movement. As a result, not as much thought has been put into the theology and ethics behind Hellenism. There has nonetheless been development of thought regarding the religion mainly based on the writings of ancient Greek philosophers and ethicists. Hellenic theology appears to be derived mostly from Stoicism, Platonism, and other schools of Classical and Hellenistic Greek philosophy.
One way to look at the gods is to look at them as ordering principles behind nature that make existence possible through creating cosmic harmony. They have no needs and do not depend on humans for their sustenance. They also give freely expecting nothing in return. According to Sallustius, their essence is eternal and unchanging. Greek myths about the gods and heroes are often taken to be symbolic and to reveal deeper truths about the gods.
Existence through cosmic harmony. (Yuriy Mazur / Adobe)
Hellenists also adhere to the humanistic values and ethics of the ancients Greeks. A central virtue is piety which is essentially a personal commitment to the gods and actions that flow from that commitment. Other important virtues are moderation, hospitality, and self-control.
One way to look at prayer in Hellenism is to see it as having essentially three roles, veneration, giving of thanks, and making petitions. Appropriate petitions are considered to be petitions for what is good and necessary, which generally means what is necessary for survival or to make a living, such as a stable job. It also means things that are considered morally and ethically desirable such as justice. In this view, Hellenists should only pray for what they need or for what is morally and ethically desirable for humanity in general. Prayer for individual wishes and desires is discouraged.
Most Hellenists are politically inactive, but there are some who have been very vocal in criticizing the Greek Orthodox Church. These Hellenists also desire to create an identity for Greece not based on Christianity. Many Hellenic organizations, however, focus instead on the practices of their religion and have no quarrel with Christianity or other established religions as long as they are allowed to practice their revived ancient faith freely.
Greek Orthodox Church - Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator / “ruler over all”. (Soerfm / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Hellenism and Western Civilization
Hellenism as a modern religion is relatively new, but the philosophy and tradition on which is it is based represents the earliest of Western tradition. Many of the values celebrated by modern Hellenists such moderation and self-control are also values considered important by Western culture in general. Also, although the Greek gods are no longer worshiped by most Westerners, they still are iconic in Western culture and representations of them in art and sculpture abound. Since much of Western civilization is based on Greek civilization and many ancient Greek values are also Western values, it could be said that all Westerners are Hellenes in a sense. The Hellenic gods are also the gods of the West even if only in a limited or metaphorical sense for most Westerners.
Top image: The king of the Greek gods, Zeus. Source: zwiebackesser / Adobe.
By Caleb Strom
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