News: “Reconstructionist pagans are reviving the polytheistic religions of the ancient Greeks, Druids, Egyptians, and others”- Beliefnet.com

Parthenon from west

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For those unfamiliar with the modern movement towards reviving ancient polytheistic religions, this article is for you:

Reconstructionist pagans are reviving the polytheistic religions of the ancient Greeks, Druids, Egyptians, and others- Beliefnet.com.

It was written back in 2004 and these religions are still going strong.  Here is an excerpt describing the movement to reconstruct the ancient polytheist religions into religions for modern practitioners living in today’s cultures:

Reconstructionists are a group of neo-pagans-people who look to pre-Christian cultures for their faith-different branches of which worship the gods of ancient Norse, Roman, Egyptian, and Druid peoples. And while scholars say their numbers are only a fraction of the neo-pagan community, they also say they are a vibrant illustration of the rejection of traditional religion in the United States. And, in a curious boomerang effect, they are part of a movement away from the more eclectic forms of neo-paganism, like Wicca, taken up by pagan pioneers in the 1960s and 1970s.

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The Nature of the Theoi (Gods)

Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-fi...

Image via Wikipedia

1. Do the Immortal Olympians exist? Do other deities exist (i.e. HadesPersephone, Hekate, etc.)?

All of the theoi exist.

I would categorize myself under panentheist (gods permeate all of nature, but exist apart from nature as well), animist (I believe some things that are complex enough have a soul, like my car, although it is NOT a god), and a form of “hard” polytheism called henopolytheism (devotion to one pantheon without denying the existence of other gods outside of that set – I believe in, but do not follow, my husband’s path in which he is devoted to the Norse gods of his ancestors). With “hard” polytheism described as believing that there are distinct and literal gods and goddesses (or forces) in multiplicity with unique personalities who aren’t reducible to one force or being. I don’t think They are limited to the Olympians, either.

2. Of those beings that exist, can they interact with the world (e.g. cause real world changes)? Do they?

Yes. Sometimes They come to us in our dreams and influence us there. In-fact, the gods of dreams are said in the Orphic hymns to deliver messages from the gods. Sometimes the theoi take the personage of someone we know, or even a stranger, to test or guide us. Sometimes they take the role of natural forces that change the world in a direct way. However, different gods will interact more or less with the world and with us. Hestia is content to stay by the hearth, while Hypnos comes to us nightly to bless us with sleep, and hopefully, I hope I will not meet Nemesis in my lifetime – but acknowledge that She has every right to touch it should I stray from the just path or succumb to hubris. Her sister, Oizys (Anxiety and Guilt), is one that I’ve contended with since adolescence, and has motivated change in my life. Other gods once interacted with the world, but no more, like many of the Titans.

3. Of the beings that can and do interact with the world, are they concerned with the fate of mortals? Are they concerned with individuals or only groups?

It depends on the god and on his or her generation. With each generation, Their focus is more specific, and they are more approachable and take more direct influence upon specific mortals. Apollon inflicts plague upon many, while people pray to his son Asklepios for cures.

4. Has this knowledge of Hellenic history changed (or enlightened) your religious beliefs? Of the beliefs of the different periods, which do you feel is closest to your own beliefs? In what ways?

Yes. A scholarly approach, and the content gained from it, enrich my beliefs and give them shape and substance. But this is tempered by the practicalities and needs of modern life. I don’t have enough knowledge yet to distinguish very much between the different periods, but I lean towards the pre-Christian and pre-monotheist emphasis that replaced religion with philosophy.

Modern Views on Pre-Hellenics

1. How do your own practices relate to those of the pre-Hellenics?

The more I learn, the better I can answer this question. I give sponde in spontaneous thanks, made in good faith as part of a prayer and promise of more sacrifice if the god(s) answer my prayer, or as part of a routine ritual or celebration. I also resonate with the ancient practice of sacrificing artwork to one or more deities. I find natural settings moving in the same way the pre-Hellenics did, I imagine. I might witness a clear day after the rain, smell the clean air, see the sun lighting vibrant leaves, and feel truly alive. At times like this, I pause and acknowledge it – with a kiss on my fingertips, a drink-offering, and perhaps say out loud, “Oh, you are beautiful.” or “Thank you for this beautiful day.” I also have erected an altar to Gaea and Zeus in our home, as well as an image of above the stove/hearth which itself I consider both an embodiment of her and an altar itself.

Ambrosian Iliad, Achilles sacrificing to Zeus

Ambrosian Iliad, Achilles sacrificing to Zeus Image via Wikipedia

2. What is the relationship between deity and the natural world? Do the gods control physical phenomena, do they personify it, or do they have some other relationship?

It depends on the deity. Chaos, Nyx, Gaea, Uranus, the Titans and some of the gods after them like I think are embodiments of the ‘natural world’ and concepts. Mnemeosyne can’t be anything but Memory, for example; compared to Apollon who is light, music, archery, and plague. I think it would be a stretch to say that Chronos literally ‘controls’ time if He was subdued by His son. Rather, I think that because Zeus overtook Time and exiled Him, the gods became time-less or ‘distanced from time’ and thus unaffected by Him directly.

However, with each generation of the gods Their spheres of influence become more complex and overlapping. As Yvonne so eloquently says, “Poisidon is the horse and Athena is the bridle.”, there is more control involved with each successive generation, and in a way of speaking, more consciousness that rises out of that realm (at least, that which we can relate to). That is why it’s easier to pray to Asklepios than it is to Apollon, and Apollon compared to Zeus, and Zeus compared to Uranus, etc. They become more personable and thus more like personifications.

3. What is the significance (if any) of the origin and history of a deity?

The origin and history of a deity is a lot like the origin and history of a word. For example, in Old English a ‘reeve’ was a royal official responsible for keeping the peace. A reeve of a shire (county) was a ‘shire reeve‘ or Sheriff. Knowing the roots of a word deepens our understanding of the word. It is so with the gods. Understanding Their roots enables us to understand Them more deeply. By understanding Their origins, we can also understand what They might embody or personify in the modern world.

Which god should I pray to when my computer breaks down? Should it be Hephestos for His realm of all things metal-work? Or should it be Hermes for His realm of speed, commerce, and communication? Examining Their roots enlightens us as to Their root meaning or root concerns, and therefore, how They apply to us today (or how we can apply to Them).