Tag Archives: Hellenic polytheism

Hellenic polytheism

Mead and Metal

In these times of decadence where the price of our labour is turned into an abstract digit on a computer screen, where we can walk into supermarkets that house every conceivable produce we would ever want, we tend to forget the significance of the objects around us. Imagine a fantasy world where if we wanted a computer we would have to make it ourselves down to every microchip, or at least, knew the person who made it. Now picture that for everything around you. Do you think we would be such a disposable society if we had such intimacy with objects?


What I love about studying ancient polytheist cultures is that everything around these people was part of a never ending cycle of narratives, layers upon layers of mysteries that explain the holy significance of things we wouldn’t even think for a second about now. For example how on earth does honey become associated with the sun and stars? What do swaddling clothes (a long forgotten tradition of binding infants to pacify them) have in common with fermenting? What does mead have to do with metal? I believe that through exploring these unusual mysteries we can get a glimpse into the thoughts of our ancestors and a greater understanding of the gods. Hopefully I’ll touch on some of those secrets in this article.

As I’ve mentioned before, alcohol was of major importance to developing civilisations for factors other than recreation. Its foremost practical purpose was it allowed impure water to be safely consumed and also prevented water from being spoiled while navigating the seas. Thereby, alcohol allowed larger cities to flourish and exploration and trade to spread. It also held a religious significance in its mind altering nature; its euphoria was seen as something divine. We associate Dionysos as being the god of wine but he is the god of honey too, with mead being a popular drink throughout Greek history. Dionysos is attributed by Ovid 1 as being the creator of honey and is often described with honeyed words from honey coated lips, wielding his Thyrsos pointed with a pinecone dripping with honey.

Karl Kerényi dedicates a fascinating and complex chapter to honey and mead in Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, where he explores the religious significance of mead. In linguistics honey and intoxication have been connected since the birth of language:

“The original Greek words for “to be drunk” and “to make drunk” are methyein and methyskein. Rarer and later is oinoun “to intoxicate with wine.” Echoes of methy signify “honey” not only in a number of Indo-European languages but also in a common Indo-European-Finn-Ugric stratum; for example, Finnish mesi, metinen, and Hungarian mez. German Met and English “mead” signify, “honey beer,” and these words have exact parallels in the Norse languages.” 2

Kerenyi continues to explain that mead was developed early in the Aegean, before the introduction of wine, indicating that the production of mead coincided with a celestial calendar which followed the star Sirius (the Dog Star).

“It seems strange to us that the four cardinal points of the solar year-the two solstices and two equinoxes-the summer solstice should have been chosen as the beginning of the year. With it begins the hottest period of the year. The days begin to grow shorter, the nights, longer. Men yearn for the night.”

The Sirius calendar originates from Egypt with the rising and falling of the Nile which corresponds with the Dog Star, a system introduced to Greece via the Minoans and who used natural sun caves to measure the year. The caves around Crete were considered sacred spaces of the gods as often their birth place or place they were brought up and protected in. It was in these places people found mystery, miracles, initiation and epiphany. Of the few animals that inhabited these caves were bees with their honey considered the either the blood or food of the gods – ichor or ambrosia.

“Before they were domesticated, bees had often been found in caves. With their sweet food they were the most natural nurses for a Divine Child who was born and then kept hidden in a cave. The archetypal situation that nature offered was taken into the Greek myth of Zeus.” 3

Before the cultivation of bees, the primitive people of Crete would ‘steal’ the food of gods and place the honey in leather sacks. Men stealing the sacred food of the gods was maintained in myth:

“The cave is inhabited by sacred bees, the nurses of Zeus. It is further related that four foolhardy men wished to gather the honey of the bees. They put on bronze armour, scooped up some of the honey, and saw the “swaddling clothes of Zeus.” Thereupon their armour cracked and fell from their bodies. Zeus was angry and raised his thunderbolt against them, but the goddess of fate and Themis, goddess of the rule of nature, restrained Zeus. For it would had been contrary to the hosion if anyone had died in this cave. The four honey thieves were transformed into birds.” 4

These sacks were kept in the sun and in time became alcoholic. Consuming the sacred substance was then confirmed as a miracle by the mind altering euphoria that was guided by the light of the sun and stars. These sacks were named ‘korykos’ 5 and were associated with the swaddling clothes of the gods which were held in such holy regard that they were featured in caves where gods were said to be born throughout Greece. Just as the clothes transformed the babes into developed gods, it too turns water into an epiphany inducing liquid.

Bee hives were not exclusively for collecting honey either, as perhaps an equally important product of hives is the wax. The surrounding civilisations of Greece may have illuminated the night with candles so we could continue to draw the associations of bees, heat and light from there. However there is little indication that candles were popularly used by Greeks, who preferred instead oil lamps. There are a number of reasons for this; Greece was a major producer of olives and olive oil so as a natural resource it was practical to use oil instead. Beeswax has historically been an expensive luxury item and would have been uncommon in lower and middle class homes. The only alternative to bees wax is tallow, animal fat, which is unpleasant to burn because of the smell.

In regards to the ancient Greeks wax can literately be seen as the flesh of the gods, but the relationship of heat and light is different from candles. Greeks were the pioneers of complex figurative sculpture and perfected a method of bronze casting called the lost wax process.

At art school I minored in bronze sculpture and learnt that bronze techniques have not changed since ancient times. I quickly fell in love with wax as a medium as compared to water-based clays it is relatively stable and also malleable. Unless exposed to extreme heat, such as being left in the summer sun, wax will not melt or disfigure. It can be kept forever.

The lost wax process is simple and genius: one sculpts an object in wax, it is then moulded in a terracotta slip that is fired in a kiln, the wax drips out as the mould is simultaneously cooked. All that is left is a hollow mould ready for bronze to be poured into it. Afterwards the mould is smashed apart and the wax figure is reborn as a metal object that will last forever.

Wax and bronze continue to share an uncanny physical relationship: the heating and cooling of both is similar, for when bronze is poured into a mould its liquid form is a higher volume than the solid cool state. This means when poured into a mould it will expand and constrict, picking up all the detail. Wax goes through the same process and is able to pick up incredible detail, even finger prints. In this regard, copying bronze (counter casting, transference to wax and remoulding) produce identical statues without any size distortions or alterations.

After the bronze statue is complete it is then covered in wax as a finish, as is still practiced today. The green and brown patina that we associate with the look of bronze is the same as how we now envision Greek marble to be always white. Most Greek bronzes were melted down and destroyed and those we have in museums were usually discovered buried or in shipwrecks where they inherited the brown or green colouring from the exposure to the elements. In classical times bronzes would have been highly polished to the point they gleamed like gold with a thin layer of wax polish to protect the metal from oxidisation from the air. To maintain this polish, especially for statues exposed outside, they would have been constantly maintained by polishing and waxing.

The connection between Dionysos and Hephaistos is known in Greek mythology usually attributed to Dionysos being the liberator of the labourers’ burden. According to myth the two gods enter Olympus together, but I believe their relationship goes further with this connection between bees and bronze. As mentioned these substances used in bronze-making have an interconnected back-and-forth affinity. On top of that, the process of bronze making is similar to that of the production of mead: benign substance from bee hives, transference into container, heat, holy transformation (rebirth). Indeed it can be argued that the mould of the statue is as the swaddling clothes of gods, in both function and appearance.

In Delphi there is a legendary artefact called the Omphalos. It is a carved domed stone said to be the same stone that Rhea fooled Kronos with when he was eating his own children and made to appear like the swaddling clothes of Zeus. The Delphi oracle presided over this stone when giving her prophecies and it was kept as a holy symbol as the centre of the world. It appears just like a mould used for casting bronze statues. Also like a mould, the Omphalos is hollowed out. We don’t know for sure what religious purpose the stone served, but I speculate based on the idea of the korykos, that it was a vessel that held the blood of the gods in the form of alcohol. This is further evident in other cultures that still maintain Omphaloi, such as the one found in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which in appearance has evolved into a cup or grail. 6


Further, the stone is often directly related to a hive, and the priestesses of Delphi who presided over the Omphalos, when giving prophecy, were called the Delphic Bee. 7 The Homeric Hymn IV to Hermes hints at bees, prophecy, since it states that Apollon learnt the art of bird prophecy from Bee Maidens: Melaina, Kleodora and Daphnis and grants their gifts to Hermes:
“But I will tell you another thing, Son of all-glorious Maia and Zeus who holds the aegis, luck-bringing genius of the gods. There are certain holy ones, sisters born — three virgins gifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassus. These are teachers of divination apart from me, the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak truth; but if they be deprived of the gods’ sweet food, then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight your heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do, often will he hear your response — if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia, and tend the wild roving, horned oxen and horses and patient mules.” 8

In Samothracian Mysteries we see the three gods Apollon, Dionysos and Hephaistos come together with their association of the Korybantes, a group of armoured warriors that protected Zeus as a child. There also seems to be a parallel with the birds myth mentioned above with the honey thieves.
The Korybantes are shown clad in armour and dancing, clanging and bashing their shield and sword to drown out the cries of the babe. Their dance is an integral part of the mysteries. Bees have a unique method of communication that involves dancing and buzzing their wings, often to communicate an alert to defend the hive… are the Korybantes the bees of Zeus?

Strabo 9 claims that the Korybantes are made up of separate groups of the sons of Hephaistos and Apollon. Details of the Samothracian Mysteries are sketchy, at best, but the sons of Hephaistos are the Kabeiroi (Cabiri), ecstatic dwarves often depicted as satyr-like daimons in the act of making and consuming wine. They are talented smiths that grant blessings to sailors, as well as the caretakers and guardians of the phallus of Dionysos-Zagreus after he is dismembered by the Titans.

It is at the Samothracian Mysteries that the founders of Thebes, Kadmos and Harmonia, met and later wed. Their most renowned daughter is Semele, the mother of the Olympian Dionysos, but Autonoë is also of interest as she was married to Aristaios (Aristaeus), the son of Apollon and the first cultivator of bees.

As with many agriculture heroes that invented and taught the mysteries of cultivation, there are differing myths of how Aristaios domesticated bees. In the theme of this article the most interesting story begins with his natural hives being destroyed by an irate Orpheus after the death of his wife. Aristaios, unhappy that he lost his hives approached the Delphic prophetess for guidance, and she said that he would find bees and honour on the island of Ceos. Aristaios followed her advice and arrived on the island to discover the natives suffering a terrible pestilence. The hero set aside his quest for bees and helped the people by honouring Zeus Ikmaios and the Dog Star, Sirius. He sacrificed bulls to both gods and from their flesh came tamed bees and honey that healed the people of Ceos and brought the cool winds and rain, thereby inventing the New Year festival dedicated to domesticated bees at the rising of Sirius. 10

This is just a minor sample of the nuances of the interwoven tapestry of honey in myth and serves a point to demonstrate that a substance many consider common and mundane was actually part of a rich and complex narrative that resonated with peoples’ identities and faith.
Although what we know of myth is just a fraction of what was told in the past, we are the first people in history to have a compiled database of stories from these people. We have access to hundreds (if not thousands) of unforgotten tales that hint at the nature of the human psyche which allows us to empathise with our ancestors and grasp at their knowledge of nature and the divine. It is through these myths that we can find hints at the mysteries and re-establish what has been forgotten.


A special thank you to Emily Kamp for her constructive criticism and Linda Spencer for the use of her photos.


1 Ovid, Fasti III 736

2 Kerényi, Dionysos, 38

3 Kerényi, Dionysos, 31

4 Kerényi, Dionysos, 30-31

5 Kerényi, Dionysos, 45:

“The cave was called Korykion antron, “cave of the leather sack” – the most famous of all those places in and outside the Greek world that were named after the korykos, the container for liquids used in fermenting honey and, as we have seen, associated with a Cretan cave of Zeus.”

6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre#Catholicon_and_Ambulatory
Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%9F%D1%83%D0%BF_%D0%B7%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%BB%D0%B8.jpg

7 Kerényi, Dionysos, 49 via Pindar, Pythia IV 60

8 Homeric Hymns, Trans. By H. G. Evelyn-White, IV. To Hermes.

9 Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 20 – 22 Trans. Jones

10 Kerényi, Dionysos, 39



Fig1: Bronze being poured in moulds at my art school, credit: Linda Spencer, used with permission.
Fig2: Left:  “Omphalos in Delphi archeologic museum” credit: Юкатан, 2009 CC licence.
Right: Fired moulds being removed from kiln, credit: Linda Spencer, used with permission.

Hellenic polytheism

Fearful Presumptions by the Pan-Pagan-Community on Animal sacrifice

As a result of a pan community debate there are some ill-conceived fearful assumptions about animal sacrifice which need to be addressed. I want to focus on two:


1. A presumption that public relations will be harmed in regards to paganism.

I hate to break this to you, but the public already think we’re freaks. Most acknowledge this and call for education to the public, but I don’t agree. Despite what the public thinks of us our numbers grow (even though I also don’t think that should be our goal). We’re mostly an educated bunch of outsiders. We read text that most common people have never heard of, we write on blogs that most common people will never read. We perform rites that most will never understand.

Pagans (as an umbrella term) have been attracted to whatever path because *I believe* the gods have chosen them to follow that path. I know some may contest this, (“I’m a person that follows my free will!”), but that’s how I feel about it.

Lately there have been newcomers, mostly very young, who have been introduced to paganism via popular culture, ie. Percy Jackson books and films or the Viking production etc. This is when it’s our turn to become mentors and educators. Education is indoctrination and it happens in stages and the first stage is made by students want to learn. The newcomers have climbed over the wall of mainstream culture and religion and stand at the start of the long path. They also bring with them aspects of their previous culture, that’s what we have to teach them about.

Regardless of what we do, whether it be animal sacrifice or performing bloodless pagan rites at Stonehenge, someone is going to contest us, is going to try and shut us down, is going to associate us with their perception of evil.

Lastly, animal sacrifice should be for the gods, and only that. It should not be a statement to any mortals including yourself, your friends, or “the public”.


2. Presumption that animal sacrifice will encourage animal abuse, akin to ‘satanic’ practices.

We live in a fantasy violent culture. Last week I watched a very fun film that was a satire of sorts in regards to ultra-violence in horror films. Scenes where a pretty blond gets her head chopped off, where bear traps are used as grappling hooks lodged into peoples backs, etc. My emotional response? Laughter, fun, enjoyment.

Am I cruel, am I evil? The point that this film is quite popular is proof the general public is desensitised to fantasy violence, but we’re not violent on mass. My reaction is shared by the majority as we are generally smart enough to know that this is not real.

Reading a news article about some stupid teenagers performing ‘Satanic’ animal sacrifice that involves torture and cruelty results in anger from me. My reaction is shared by the majority as we are generally smart enough to know that this is reality.

When you read about these cases things like movies and video games are cited for being the cause. But it is not, nor is our fantasy violent culture. There is something *wrong* with these people and regardless to what they are exposed to they will do it. A movie might be inspiration but it is not the cause. There are other motivations, other influences such as sexual or physical abuse, mental illness, drug abuse that are affecting these people. They can get inspiration from any catalyst.

Given that all this discussion has been made by people who are well educated, who have dedicated time, passion, love into constructing concise arguments for our right to perform animal sacrifice I doubt a disturbed teenager is going to get confirmation to be cruel from our writing, or even have the patience to read it. Especially when there are more easily assessable media to be used for inspiration.

In the extreme case that something like this does happen it is our responsibility as caretakers of our faiths to stamp it out, and to contest mainstream media that is blaming us for the actions of someone troubled. That should be the only time we try to educate the public on who we are.

To end:

Even if an animal sacrifice is performed in public, it is still private. We’re minority faiths, a public rite by my understanding is only attended by people who are aware of what is going to happen, and they should be informed of the decorum to be followed before it happens. A group of people performing a sacrifice in a truly public space is not being respectful, and this is something that I would object to. Likewise I’d object to people posting videos and photos of the rite; this animal is sacred, revered, and should be respected. Its life belongs to the divine: your ego should not be part of it. You nothing to prove to anyone but the gods.

Hellenic polytheism


Animal sacrifice is a big issue in modern polytheistic and monotheistic faiths. The issue of if we have a right to kill an animal in the name of our god / gods. I believe this issue is way too complicated for me to express in a simple essay. No, something like a book would be fitting: exploring the history, social development, culture, theology, needs for survival, modern developments and philosophical decadence we are privileged to in western culture.

So I’ll hint at things.

I was born in country where many of our parents killed their own animals for dinner. I was raised at a time where they didn’t need to kill their own food because a brand new sparkling supermarket sold every cut of meat of every kind of meat conceivable in cling wrap, hygienic looking polystyrene trays. Australia is a young nation, it is only 115 years old, it’s first colony was founded in 1788 and earned recognition as an independent commonwealth nation in 1901. With my often obscure/ skewed concept of history accounted for, I think it’s safe to say: we’re babes.

When my mother’s family settled in a so called resort town founded as a naval base in the 1960’s there was nothing but prefabricated houses surrounded by swampland and a dirt road. The nearest general store was 2 kilometres away (roughly 1.2 miles) often the trek was made by foot. The general store only had bare basics, eggs, meat, milk had to be either ordered or made by self-effort.
The next generation, as in my generation never knew this, we never knew that even in the 1960’s most households had an outdoor ‘dunny’ where the entire families waste was collected and disposed of by an early morning shit collector. We are spoiled and deprived of cultural responsibilities that led to the same exposure of death that our parents experienced in their childhood. However, some were not forgetting. Even as growing up in the 1980/90’s it was not uncommon for a sizable suburban house to have a chicken coop and a yearling sheep in the backyard. It was also not uncommon for these families to lament the missing of “Betty” a day before the most scrumptious Sunday roast.

Even in modern times my culture still practices home growing livestock in suburban environments. While not something I was exposed to directly as a child, there are many I know who have been and they still practice it today. Our concept of animal slaughter is dependent on culture, but if we start saying silly things like: ‘that is in the past, we’ve moved from that time, we don’t need to kill because others do it for us.” I’d question you and your justification for an inhumane meat industry that results in ‘products’ in a supermarket and distancing from traditional standards of development in animal husbandry.

Every other day I walk into my sparkling neon lit supermarket and think, what’s for dinner? Often I see a hygienic looking polystyrene tray of meat, the meat itself appears nothing like the animal it came from. It is deprived of all identity as a creature. I don’t salivate over an animal, but a perfectly presented product. It’s very easy to forget that a life was lost for this product, it’s a habit that I try to avoid. As I am preparing the meat I do actually think of the animal, the processes and suffering it endured for my meal. It disturbs me. If you drive a couple hours outside a main city in Australia you are confronted by the sight and smell of massive livestock trucks carrying hundreds of sheep to the slaughterhouse. In the last 24 hours of these animals life they endure torment and terror, their meat becomes filled with all kinds of biological chemicals released by fear impulses. I am a meat eater, but I do avoid most red meats because of this. I also note a difference in meats that are not killed in this manner, such as home reared sheep and kangaroo (which are hunted in the wild, not farmed). I’m conscious of the source of the meat and have a moral issue when consuming it, but I also find myself ill if I do not consume meat at least once a week. As I mention when discussing culture, I was raised in a typical Australian suburban family, a traditional meal is ‘meat and three veg’ my body is dependent on this and if I do not eat some qualities of the diet I was raised with I get ill. I’ve had vegetarian friends tell me that saying that is bullshit, but it is true. Likewise for eating certain foods I was not raised with, for example spices and chilli make me sick, I love eating them, but I’ll be sitting on the toilet for an hour the next day, with cramps and a burning ring of fire if I eat something that is consider mild by others.

What has this to do with animal sacrifice? I try to understand others through empathy, sometimes I fail at this task but often I can understand how a person comes to an opinion by considering their background and history. The above information about my cultural background should be enough framing to get that I come from a different culture and have a different view on livestock. When it was announced that the Thiasos I belong to will performed animal sacrifice I had no moral compunction because of my background, because of how I was raised, because it’s a part of my diet. I detest animal cruelty, I’m often outspoken because I protest against horse racing or any use of animals for leisure or entertainment, but I also believe that meat consumption is a necessary part of our biology. I believe without consuming meat humans would not had evolved into what we are today. In most cases animal sacrifice in ancient culture was a communal justification for killing an animal for a feast, the guilt of eating meat was forgiven because of the manner of killing, by deifying the creature, by relating it to a god, therefore the people were consuming the meat of god. These ritual views are still kept in essence in Christianity where people say grace before a meal or when they take part in the Eucharist ceremony.

Culture affects our concept of morality, In Greece when these sacrifices happened people would had been used to life and death. As a community they raised the beasts themselves, they saw them born, they fed them, treated them when ill, they killed them, they ate them. There was an intimacy that only livestock farmers know today. We live in a time of decadence where our guilt for killing an animal is non-existent because the creatures are slaughtered somewhere else and we see their meat as nothing but a product. This moral laziness does not just include the meat industry, look around you right now. Look at the objects on your desk, think about the thing you’re sitting on. Tell me, do you know where it came from? Do you know every person that made that object? Do you know the suffering, the living conditions of those people?

I know you will say no.

Go into your kitchen, look in your pantry look at the oils, the spice holders, the baskets you keep things in. Do you know how these things were collected, farmed, manufactured, produced? Do you know the people who created these things you consume? Do you know the countless situations that produced these products for your consumption? Do you know the ethics behind each development?

I know you will say no.

Ancient Greece was a small world. The distance from my mother’s house to the general store in the early 1960’s would had been the difference between language and culture in ancient Greece. People knew each other and they knew the circumstances of buying a product. There was an intimacy that they had with things we’d consider trivial. Back to your pantry, look at your oil bottles – plastic clear bottles with a sunny looking flower or olive label with a bright trademarked logo right? Do you love that bottle of oil so much you want to be buried with it? Do you want your spice jars, wine bottles, plates and cups to go in your coffin?

I know you will say no.

The Greeks were materialist people, but they were not a consumer / disposable culture we are now. Even objects that were traded from foreigners held a different significance compared to what we experience today. Everything had a value and they worked bloody hard to have those things. They had such a intimate relationship with everything they owned it was sacred, they went to the grave with these objects. Including that oil bottle in your pantry.

I feed my cat twice a day from cans of metal that would had been considered precious in Greek times, I throw the cans in the bin. His food is made up of meat, if I fed him anything otherwise he would not eat it, nor will he live. Cats are carnivorous, their bodies cannot process most plant stuff. (If I find out someone is feeding their cat on a vegan diet, I will report them to the authorities.) I feed my cat more meat in a week than I eat in a week. I feed my cat more than I feed my gods. There is no moral outcry? There is no issue of senseless killing by doing this. My gods are not my pets. They are not make believe concepts or archetypes, they are divine beings that I love dearly. Certainly, I love them more than my cat, I love them more than myself. But suggestion of performing a live sacrifice to them is regarded unethical?

It is possible that this sacrifice by the Thiasos of the Starry Bull will NOT be consumed by humans. My first reaction to hearing this was disappointment at the idea the meat will be wasted. But it won’t be. I quickly reminded myself of that when I thought about it. The gods are very much real and this offering is deserving to them. With all of the above about our disposable materialism every devotions I give to the gods can attract the same moral outcry as killing a beast and giving it’s body whole. I pour libation to the gods almost daily, the wine has animal products in it. Is that a waste? Is that unethical? I use incense exported from a third world country – most likely harvested by children, is that unethical? I offer fruit that has been exported from China, I cook and dedicate meat to the gods and dispose of it after a day. Every day I ‘waste’ a product that has resulted in some suffering of a creature or person for devotion of my gods. There is no moral outcry about that.

The offering:
Myself and many others were rightfully concerned about how this sacrifice will be performed. The person doing the killing explained the plans in depth when it was announced. I was concerned for the welfare and the method of performing the ritual but was satisfied by how it was described. It appears those involved know what they are doing and are considerate towards the creature. What was described is far more humane than what is standard practice in the meat industry today, with high regard for the animals wellbeing. Really if I protested it, I would have to face up to my daily living practices of eating supermarket meat, from pouring wine libation, to throwing out that plastic oil bottle, to feeding my cat.

Further reading and information:


Hellenic polytheism

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.