The Two Primary Branches of Hellenic Religion

I’ve come to the conclusion that the modern state of the Hellenismos/Hellenic polytheism/Hellenic religionist (HP, for short) community is like the current state of my laurel — or that old pussy willow tree that one of the neighbours had when I was a kid in Toledo:

Above the roots that are shared by the entirety of the community, there are two apparent “main branches” split above an almost-nonexistent trunk. Each of these two has several smaler branches, and some of those branches are populated by even smaller branches.

The two Main Branches of the HP community seem to be “intellectual religion” and “spiritual religion”. Some people have measures of both in their approach, but almost everybody with measures of both is ultimately more of one than the other. There’s nothing really wrong with either approach — different people have different needs and fulfil those needs in different ways.

I therefore hypothesis that a majority of the perceived in-fighting amongst the HP community is ultimately derived from the intolerance a lot of people have toward those not on their own “main branch”. Now, now, my co-religionists on the “spiritual branch” aren’t off the hook — I’ve seen just as much intolerant speech from people on the Spiritual Branch, and I think the worst of it was a claim that “[Hellenic religion] without [philosophical mysticism] versus religion with it is like the difference between being a quadruple amputee and having all of one’s limbs, plus wings” — if you don’t think that’s a voice of intolerance, then you’re probably the self-proclaimed “mystic” who said it.

The Spiritual Branch also shows its intolerance for those amongst itself who would rather keep a lot of their own spiritual / mystical works private, often berating those who need a more private mystical aspect of their religion with accusations of “embarrassment” — once, I was even told, “you’re not spiritual, you’re a recon”, as if there is absolutely no room for introspection, reconstructed practises, and intellectual exercise within the Spiritual Branch.

I’m focusing mostly on this because at this point, everybody knows about those on the Intellectual Branch who preach a One True Way, but the One True Spiritual Way is almost never called out.

The whole “one true way” idea is ridiculous. Of course, even moreso are those who seem relatively well-read, but still fancy the idea that somehow all ancient Hellenes were doing the same things or at least following the same patterns. I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that there was a universal tollerance toward the mystery cults, or alternative philosophies, etc, among the ancient Hellenes, but there seems to be a far greater preaching of tolerance than there is today amongst modern Hellenistai.

Believe me, I can understand the want that many modern Hellenistai have for community, I really do, but forcing community by imposing certain preferences and ideals really isn’t the way to bring community about. Successful communities are formed, mostly through “organic” means (though sometimes intentionally), through shared experiences and ideas and mutual tolerances for areas of difference. Of course, by that definition, there is no true “HP community”, but instead a lot of little communities united under the idea that they all, in some way or another, honour the Hellenic pantheon.

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25 thoughts on “The Two Primary Branches of Hellenic Religion

  1. You know I agree with this because we've had this conversation before. Worshipping the same gods is not enough to make someone a co-religionist when everything else is completely different (including how you see those gods you worship in common). There really isn't anything wrong with either approach, but they are not the same and trying to hold on to the standards of the other doesn't make a whole ton of sense.

    Perhaps if people started recognizing that difference they might stop wasting time trying to police each other. I don't have a lot of hope for all getting along, but leaving each other alone would be a nice start. 🙂

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    • Yeah. It would be novel if people could actually get along well enough to be in the same room for short periods of time, but I'd be content if we all could just tolerate those who do things a little differently. Human nature seems too tribal for much else.

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  2. This was a very well written blog. My only criticism is the classification of these two groups as “intellectual” and “spiritual” because it implies what you seem to be arguing against… that one is automatically more or less spiritual and the other more or less intelligent. However, for the very reasons you stated (and Gavin's statement that "worshipping the same gods is not enough to make someone a co-religionist when everything else is completely different"), I have started to refer those practicing (what you call) the "spiritual religion" as Celebrants.

    Those who define Hellenismos as the traditional polytheistic religion of Ancient Greece are concerned with the ethics, practices, values, traditions, rituals, and texts traditionally associated with the Hellenic religion, and see religiosity inseparable from spirituality. Recons believe strongly that one needs to spend time studying the religion, practicing the rituals, and adhering to certain forms, and do not recognize those who do not aspire to orthopraxy as practicing Hellenismos.

    On the other hand, Celebrants seem to feel validity of one's beliefs is expressed in inspired actions of the heart, and not concerned with ritual format, tradition, ethics or ideals, and use what they "feel fits," tossing out what seems awkward to them. Very simply, the values and judgments of the two groups are mutually exclusive and ultimately incompatible.

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    • I didn't write this as another platform for you to get your digs in on others, you know.

      Very simply, the values and judgments of the two groups are mutually exclusive and ultimately incompatible.

      Very simply, your belief that these two branches have traits which are mutually exclusive is a false one. If you knew even half of what you may think you know about my religious life, honey, your head would spin.

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        • No, see Tim, what's amazing is that you can say that without a hint of irony.

          Furthermore, I'd like to know what you believe this "common ground" to be. I don't deny that we definitely have some, but judging by the post to your playground, you've completely missed my point, and repeatedly so.

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      • Personally, I find it hilarious that some people think the moment you start having mystical experiences, you're going to stop throwing the barley and getting right down to the rough sex right in front of Athene's shrine. That is wrong. Nearly every spiritual Hellenist I know still prays and performs ritual in the same way "intellectual" Hellenists do. If someone believes orthopraxy is what makes a Hellenist, these individuals are still following it and shouldn't be devalued.

        The two groups aren't mutually exclusive, as you said, Ruadhan. I think that the best foundation to a spiritual person's "religious house" is an appropriate grounding in the historical and traditional practices of their religion. Likewise, a lot of people with solid foundations find that their recon practice supports a more enthusiastic experience of the divine.

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    • Not really. Seems more like Intellectual HP and Spiritual HP aren't mutually incompatible. Your definitions of them are, but 'intellectual' and 'spiritual' approaches can actually be combined, and thats where the middle-ground people come from.

      Why do you think that you can either drown yourself in ancient culture *or* throw everything out – does the idea of a middle-ground threaten you somehow? You can follow your heart in a traditional format, and that falls under neither of your definitions.

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      • Laria_a, that is one of the big reasons that I disagree with calling these two groups “intellectual” and “spiritual.” Despite an explanation, people will draw their own conclusions of what "intellectual religion" and "spiritual religion" means, as if the ancient religion was devoid of spirituality or those who are 'more spiritual than religious' lack the intellectual prowess to practice Hellenismos. In fact, it really has nothing to do with how intellectual or spiritual a person is.

        The great schism between Ruadhán and myself is our level of inclusiveness. Celebrants may have occasion to borrow from Hellenismos, but they don't practice Hellenismos, and in my opinion are not a branch of Hellenismos.

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  3. Ruadhan, I agree with you to a certain point, (but I definatly do not agree with the terms intellectual and spiritual because it implies that one lacks the other) However I do not see these two religions based on the same roots. They are two seperatd trees, each with its own roots, one stems from the ancient greeknreligion, the other from neopaganism. You are suggesting that the relationship between the two religions is like Catholism and Orthodox Christianity, when in fact the religions are more like Christianity and Christian-based Satanism. Christianity is a religion based on tradition and was established 2 millenia ago, while Satanism is a brand new faith (relatively) vaguely based on Christianity. The two main trees are Hellenic Reconstructionism (Hellenismos) and the New Hellenic Religion (Neo-Hellenicism).

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    • I agree with you that those terms are problematic, for exactly the reasons that you said (that it implies one approach is not intellectual, the other not spiritual). If this is ever to branch out beyond speculative talk on someone's blog to actual labels people use, something else would probably have to be used. And Tim's insulting terminology won't fly either.

      The rest of this is little more than assumptions that you are making.

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    • However I do not see these two religions based on the same roots. They are two seperatd[sic] trees, each with its own roots, one stems from the ancient greeknreligion[sic], the other from neopaganism[sic].

      Source? My roots aren't in "neopaganism[sic]". I know Gavin's aren't.

      So please, by all means, back this up with facts. Opinions only hold as much water as the facts supporting them will soak up. Your opinion seems rather empty here.

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  4. No one ever implied that either one of you roots are stemmed in neopaganism. However, if you don't identify with Hellenic Reconstructionism and you worship the Hellenic gods, then in fact, your religion is automatically neopaganism. Due to the fact that you are worshipping the Hellenic gods in a non-traditional, hence new manner. The fact that it is a pagan religion makes it a new pagan religion worshipping the Hellenic gods, hence neopaganism.

    If, however, you want to argue, for only the sake of argument then find someone else, I'm done arguing with old, bitter men.

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  5. Oh no, Gavin! You get it all WRONG! Can't argue with anything Timmy says, or you might as well be taking a dump on the shrine of Zeus! Can't be throwing plucked chickens at Tim's theories, nosirree….

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  6. If you don't feel like arguing, stay off blogs where you're not welcome. Its not like we want to waste our time arguing with an immature child who likes to think he knows more than he really does.

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  7. Why throw chickens when I've just taken a nice dump that's only going to go to waste (I know, that was terrible, I apologize). 😛

    Once again, thank goodness His Holiness is here to tell you and I what we *really* meant.

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  8. Indeed.

    Of course, he's not exactly "unwelcome" here, his peanut gallery comments are just unnecessary.

    Anyway, it's kind of cute how Tim now has his own eromenos — it's an Athenian tradition! It makes him even MORE Recon!

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  9. As with most people, I feel that these terms aren't quite right, although I know they're working terms. Hellenismos is a term that even the ethnikoi have said cannot be claimed for those practicing strict ancient reconstruction because ALL Greeks have a claim to it. THUS, as all except Tim and several of his closest followers want to believe, those of us open to innovations such as me not marrying a man, or moving the Kronia to a time when it is more appropriate due to climate or, you know, modern times.

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  10. I hope Timmy realises I never once said he was completely wrong about everything — I really do. I have, though, said repeatedly that while he's often enough factually correct and even sometimes has a point behind his batshit, he's far too concerned with twisting things to suit his own agenda. Even this time, where it seems pretty clear to you and I that I'm calling out ALL "one-true-wayism", even from those with a "predominantly spiritual" appreoach, he's decided to decry as evidence that … he's correct in saying everybody but a True Recon™ is just making it up as they go along, are NeoPagans™, and "NOT practising Hellenismos"?

    Hey, I'm not knocking the free advertisement he gave me on his forum — and at least those who have no real agenda to push are able to see what I've said here.

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  11. Well, hey, the good side of this is that now he's being extra super-tiger-dragon blatant in how apt he is at missing the point entirely to twist things around to suit his own agenda. In fact, the quotes i provided are some somebody who is very much a traditionalist following a mystical-focused Neoplatonism. I myself temper an incredibly weird "spiritual" focus on my brain-meats with rationality and a traditional approach to practise. To run with my tree metaphor, I'm on the spiritual side, but a low branch very close to the divide — I'm not on one of those far out branches or twigs.

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  12. Sorry, Tim, you can't butter me up with a fada on the second "a". If you really believe that's the root of the animosity between us, then may I ask if you're on opiates? Vicodin, being a synthetic opiod, still counts (take it from one who knows).

    You also seem to keep missing the bus when even YSEE even points out that the Ethnikoi don't claim a monopoly on the term "Hellenismos"; you're the only one, as far as I've seen, who both self-applies the term and claims a monopoly on who should and shouldn't use it. Even your own divide of "celebrants" and "traditionalists" (or whatever you said the other faction is; frankly, Scarlett….) existed as such in ancient Hellas and were an relatively accepted part of the societies. Why pluralise "society"? Well, for starters, even the Ethnikoi acknowledge that the idea of a unified ancient Hellenic society is a bit of a modern myth as, even as things became a bit unified against the Romans (simplified for length — yes, i know it was a bit more complex than this), the thirty-odd tribes of Hellas more-or-less retained their local identities amongst themselves.

    While in general, I tend to agree that there is a "Greek way" and ways that are not, your own basis for this definition seems incredibly schizophrenic. On the surface, you exalt YSEE and their own definitions of things, but in conversation with you about even basic terminology, you interpret things in such a batshit direction that it becomes impossible for anybody but your own acolytes to actually discuss things in a reasonable manner.

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