Frustrations and Identity

Frustrations and Identity

I discussed some of my frustrations of being a polytheist ‘down under’ in my introduction post, but I’d like to continue that theme in this. I identify foremost with Hellenic Polytheism, I put particular empathise on classical age Athens, but in the last year I’ve been exploring other Hellenic regions, dates and cults for a basis of my personal practice.

But there is a dilemma. Regardless of where I look my faith is based on seasonal changes, time and location. It was never a global religion to the extent of latter monotheist faiths, so these paradigms were not corrected in its history. I’m stuck in a position of trying to keep my practice as close as possible to historical sources, but also unable to experience certain aspects of it because of the physical differences of my land compared to my faiths homeland. These issues are added to by the fact that I am a solitary practitioner and so far have no one else to rebound and discuss these problems with.

Obvious differences in the Southern Hemisphere: seasons are backwards to the north. During Greece’s summer it’s our winter, etc. Australia’s seasons seem to extend more than the north too, for example our summer starts in December and peaks between January through to late February, depending on drought conditions it can go on for another few months. Our native trees are evergreen, rarely do we experience extreme winter conditions like snow or below zero temperatures. The sun moves from a northward position from right to left, the moons crescents are inverted from the north and many northern star constellations are not visible from our side of the world. By time we are usually ahead of a day too, (compared to America) so I perform my rituals in advance to others.
These factors play a part in my personal practice. As of writing I’m not sure how to resolve the issues and usually practice rituals based on the Greek calendar (provided by Hellenion) or festivals organised by the Thiasos I belong to.

Over the years of my development I have found myself becoming more and more sensitive to my environment, with nature itself. For example: I find it awkward mourning the descent of Persephone when the flowers are budding up from the ground and the days are becoming warmer. In the last few years I have been disconnected from the idea that I’m a reconstructionist and felt a serious push to establish my own methods of worshiping the gods. This to me is where the term polytheism comes in handy.

Identity is a question. Why do I feel a need to identify myself as part of a particular faith? Why make a distinction from Neo-paganism, reconstructionist or polytheism?

For myself it is realising that under my circumstance it is impossible to reconstruct my religion outside of its homeland. Adapting and changing my worship titters between neo-paganism and reconstructionism. I have to play with UPG (Unverified personal gnosis) to honour my gods in a way that is appropriate for my environment. I wish to maintain as much of my faiths origins as possible, so I prefer to use the term Hellenic Polytheist to both give a boundary in my personal rituals and also a freedom.

This is why I think identity is important for me. Why I consider myself a Hellenic Polytheist. It places a structured and well organised constriction of my liberties, but also grants me the ability to change my practices without encroaching to far from its origins.

So what about history? What identity did the Hellenes have? Anyone with a basic grasp of ancient Greek history would know that the identity of the peoples changed depending on time and location. The names we now assign to people of certain periods of history were not the identities the people would have had while living. For example: the people of pre classical dark age are generally labelled as Mycenaean. It is possible that these people are those featured in the Iliad. Homer had a vast range of names of certain tribes in The Catalogue of Ships, so we can surmise that their identity was based on tribal and cities states. Each with their own traditions, practices and myths. Even names of deities became merged or were totally different from the next city along.

As these people became more prosperous they sent out colonies outside of the Greek mainland, establishing cities all throughout the Mediterranean. From the Levant, to Italy, North Africa, Spain etc. These colonies brought with them their myths and traditions but as they mingled with the indigenous people they adapted and changed. Identities became merged and traditions altered.

As far as I’m aware the Ancient people never had an name for their faith, certain terms like Hellenismos, Dodekatheism, Hellenism etc. were established in latter times to create a distinction from other cultures. Especially monotheistic cultures like the Jews who detailed their own struggle for identity in the Maccabees. In that text it describes this in detail, claiming that the post Alexander Hellenic Seleucid Empire attempted to convert Jews to the Hellenic way, which resulted in a Jewish revolt that separated their traditions. From my point of view the Hellenics would have no distinction themselves, religion was religion – faith is faith. According to some accounts Alexander actually visited Jerusalem and honoured the Jewish god at the Temple. Apart from political reasons, I doubt that Alexander would have had any religious or moral issues with doing this. He’s world view was polytheistic, he was simply honouring the local god. Worshipping or honouring one god did not mean you were converted to that religion or denying the existence of other gods.

In the same sense the term Hellenic is actually a generic term for the overall arc of cultures that lived in and around the Mediterranean that shared similar languages and culture. Again with freedom, this term allows me to look past from my Athenian roots and explore other regions around the area.

Ultimately the concept of identity is a human manifestation. I hold dear the traditions of the people I look at, but in the end it comes down to Polytheism and honouring the gods. Going by my UPG I seriously doubt that the gods are disconnected or disturbed at my changing of rituals to cater to the environment that I live in and simply appreciate the fact that I honour them. I’m constantly learning, adapting and changing just like the history of Hellenic Polytheism. I believe it is a blessing to have this ability in faith, I know so much but there is always so much more to learn and explore.

That is an honour in itself.

The Gargarean

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  1. FWIW, in your position I’m pretty sure I would just flip the traditional calendar – making the festivals aligned with the actual seasons you’re experiencing, rather than the month it would have been in ancient Greece. So many of them are based on agricultural or seasonal occurrences. And reconstruction should be about the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law – in other words, we need to come from a place of “why did the ancients make their festivals like this” rather than just copying them directly.

    Btw, just thought I should mention – while I get your point about mourning Persephone, all indications point to Her descent being during the hot, dry summer, when nothing grows in Greece (similar to Australia perhaps, although obviously not simultaneous?), rather than the fall/winter, when many people think it is. That seems to have been due to some scholars who assumed that THEIR (British, usually) dead season was the same as Greece’s. Not to mention that most of the flowers She is said to have been picking at the time of her abduction flourish in the late spring, not the fall. So actually, when the days are getting warmer and the flowers are budding, it will soon be time for Her descent.

  2. I find it awkward mourning the descent of Persephone when the flowers are budding up from the ground

    Well, if you follow the Homeric Hymn on this point, she actually was taken in the spring… she was out with her maidens picking flowers. So, if you make your observance in the fall (as I do, for reasons explained below) then you’re actually closer in some ways!

    I faced the same dilemma you are writing about here a number of years ago (around the early 2000s), and I came the same basic conclusion: that, for me, it was more important to honor the Gods in rhythm with the environment I actually lived in, rather than artificially perpetuating a calendar based on a fairly different climate. At the time I was trying to follow a more or less Recon approach to my worship, but it really wasn’t working for me. While my Wiccan days were long behind me even then, with that background and a few years in ADF Druidry I had deeply internalized the “wheel of the year” festival cycle, to the point that it just felt wrong when I tried to follow the Athenian calendar – like I was faking it. Really, more than anything, sticking to the Greek calendar in such a different place put me in mind of the Jewish tradition of praying for rain during the dry season in Israel, regardless of what the actual weather is doing where they actually are. Nothing against that, I fully understand that they are connected to that land in a way that I just am not to the land of Greece – but it rang a lot of the same bells for me.

    So, after a lot of internal struggle and prayer, I came to realize that “Revivalist” was a more accurate descriptor of my practice than “Recon”, and suddenly a lot of things fell into place. I am deeply connected to the land and the seasons here in the southeastern US, and I am also a product of my culture and personal history. Samhain is when it just feels right and proper to honor the dead, and I make my observance of Her descent in conjunction with that. (And I celebrate Her return at Imbolc, since around here that’s when the very first flowers are starting to come up.)

  3. You could take a cue, via several leaps and bounds, from another tradition, i.e. the Irish tradition, which actually suits your situation quite well.

    The Irish thought of one of their Otherworlds as being “beneath the earth,” and whether this meant “under the ground” or “on the other side of the [spherical] earth” is debated; but, it appears that some continental Christians thought the latter during about the eighth century CE. They felt that a certain Irish Christian teacher, one Virgil (probably Fergal originally) of Salzburg, who taught about these “people beneath the earth,” was talking about Antipodeans who lived on the other side of the globe, and they cited him for heresy for a variety of reasons I won’t get into. Of course, he turned out to be “right” if one considers the spherical earth version, and as a result he has had a good reputation in Australia!

    But, one of the other things that happens in the Irish Otherworlds is that the seasons there are reversed as well. In one tale (Echtra Nerai), as a token that Nera has been in the Otherworld, he is given the fruits of a different season to take back with him to prove that he’s been to “the other side.”

    If you think of your interestingly exilic and isolated state as “the otherworld” in some sense, then why wouldn’t it be possible for the flowers to be coming up when Persephone disappears from the lands on the other side of the earth and begins to appear in your own geographic location? There’s nothing which says she can’t be in the Underworld of Hades and the “Down Under-world” of Australia at the same time, is there? 😉

  4. There’s nothing which says she can’t be in the Underworld of Hades and the “Down Under-world” of Australia at the same time

    True! The need to pin things down to a specific point in the (perceived) linear time-stream is all about our limitations anyway… my belief, at least, is that on a deeper level She is eternally Maiden *and* eternally Queen, always and at the same “time”.

  5. thegargarean

    Apologies for my tardiness.
    I wish to give an overall thanks for the comments so far. They have been very helpful to me and I really appreciate the suggestions and corrections.
    Please keep them coming!

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