[Welcome to our weekly column, Talking My Path. Here, polytheists, witches, and Pagans of any tradition are invited to discuss and celebrate their spirituality in a series of five short questions. If you would like to participate, don’t hesitate to email us at email@example.com.]
ev0ke: How do you define your particular tradition or path? Does it have a specific name?
VW: Hellenic Reconstruction or Hellenismos is what the path is called. The devotees are Hellenistai. It is based on the religion of the ancient Greeks as practiced before the Roman Empire.
ev0ke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits are honored in your tradition?
VW: The Olympians are the chief deities given cultus in my tradition, but there are rituals honorin, the nymphs, fauns, centaurs, and other spirits of nature. There are also household deities called daemons (not to be confused with demons from other traditions), and I have personally done rituals for the Titans (the parents and aunts and uncles of the Olympians) as well as the Protogenoi, such as Nyx (night), Phanes, Khronos, and others.
There are also rituals honoring ancestors, and heroes.
ev0ke: Among the various festivals and holy days celebrated in your tradition, which is the most important to you, and why?
VW: Among the ancient festivals, the ones I celebrate the most are: Thargelia, a festival around May honoring Apollon; Apaturia, a festival in honor of family and clan, which includes members of the same guild (this one has no real set date, as historically each city decided on their own); and Khalkeia, a festival in honor of crafts honoring both Athene and Hephaestos.
Modern festivals based on what can be learned from ancient writings that I celebrate are: Anadikia, a day-long festival in honor of the three realms, e.g. the Olympians in the morning, the nymphaea and nature spirits in the afternoon, and Chthonic deities such as Hades, Queen Persephone, and Hekate at night. Protelia, a festival in honor of the Protogenoi, based on Hesiod’s writings. Lampteria, a festival for Dionysos the light bringer; I celebrate this one on Thanksgivings Day. And Heliogenna, which has been celebrated by a few of us for a few years now; conducted over the Yule holiday, it marks the shortest day of the year and the return of Helios the next day.
The group I belong to also holds a libation to a different God each month, on a recurring yearly schedule: Hera in January, Aphrodite in February, Hephaestus in March, Artemis in April, Apollon in May, Zeus in June, Athene in July, Hermes in August, Demeter and Persephone in September, Poseidon in October, Ares in November, and Dionysos in December.
ev0ke: Which texts, websites, or other resources would you recommend to someone interested in your traditions?
VW: Unlike many other reconstructionist religions, the ancient Greeks have been the study of scholars for a long time, so there are many translations of the myths (both Homeric and Orphic), along with many scholarly books on the religion itself. Of these older scholarly studies, my own favorites are Gods of the Greeks by Karl Kerenyi and Greek Religion by Walter Burkert. A good collection of the myths is Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths: The Complete and Definitive Edition.
Some ancient works that should be read are Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, and the Homeric Hymns. Reading some Plato is good, too. Also Greek Nymphs: Myth, Cult, Lore by Jennifer Larson and Old Stones, New Temples by Drew Campbell. Graves, Burkett, and Kerenyi have more books, as well, dealing with various cults and specific gods and rituals. And there are more ancient writings, of course.
The website I’ve found the most valuable over the years is Theoi.com. Lots of basic information on the gods and many sources to check to further your study.
ev0ke: Is there anything you would like to add, such as creative projects you are undertaking, festivals or events you will be attending, and so on?
VW: I want to mention here that Hellenismos isn’t about doing research, it’s not about how many scholarly books you’ve read or how many papers you’ve written. It’s about practicing the religion, giving cultus to the various Theoi, in a manner in alignment with how it was down in ancient times. It is a religion not of orthodoxy, but of orthopraxy. It isn’t what you believe, but what you do, and this doesn’t just mean during rituals and festivals, but also how you live your life day to day. It’s about greeting Helios at sunrise and saying a prayer to the Theoi. It’s about pouring a libation to Hestia at the beginning of every meal. It’s about living the virtues talked about in the Delphic Maxims. some of which are arete (reputation), xenia, (hospitality), kharis, (reciprocation), and eusebeia (piety).
The ancient Greeks didn’t just celebrate a religion on specific days, but lived it each day, sort of how Christians are supposed to in these modern times. Hellenistai should also practice daily in everything they do, and say. Honor, duty, appreciation of beauty, and a constant striving to be better are at the foundation of Hellenismos.