30-Day Paganism Meme: Day 1, Beliefs – Why Hellenismos?

Why Hellenismos?

Well, the “tl;dr” version that I usually give people is “because these are the only deities who’ve ever been receptive to my worship”.

The long version goes something like this:

I was raised in a predominantly pair of Anglo-/Catholic households. My father was Catholic, though raised Episcopalian (and would often trash-talk non-Irish Catholics), my mother was raised in Catholic churches, but only because my maternal grandparents were so entrenched in an Anglican identity that they had a sort of pseudo-nationalistic issue with the Episcopalian church, and my grandparents had a more influential hand in raising me. I went to Catholic school, but on a choral charity, and while I went through first confession and communion, I was never forced by my father to have a confirmation when I was about thirteen, cos at that point, he had remarried and could tell that I preferred my step-mother’s meeting house (she was Quaker), and making me go through a confirmation that I wasn’t into would have been a greater heresy to him than letting me go to Meeting House — plus, even though I never formally threatened to, I think he was afraid that I’d make a scene if he made me do it.

Despite having grown up with an obviously very devout father, my mother was never that into it, and I never really was, either — church was where I went to sing and develop my love of tacky art. I rarely paid attention to the mass, and since I was never quizzed on it, I had no interest in doing so.

I first learned that there were options besides Christianity when I was five and my sister started dating the HK Chinese exchange student, whose family is Taoist and retained a lot of the Chinese polytheistic traits in their household religion and mixed in some Confucianist philosophies (for some reason, I didn’t realise that there were still Jewish people until I was seven and my father bought The Sound of Music on VHS, and I got a lesson about Nazis from my mother and grandmother, I guess I just believed, until then, that after Jesus “rose again”, Jews converted — like I said, I was seven). The Chinese are pretty well-known for their very personal approach to religion — take what works for you, and as long as it doesn’t make you a burden to those communities, have at it. This strikes me as a tad ironic when you consider that the reason that Chinese Communism works for China is that their society was very Collectivist to begin with, but then I suppose this kind of makes a little sense when you consider that you can best serve the collective when you’re at most peace with yourself, and so an individualistic approach to religion can work for a collectivist society in that sense — but I digress. It was shortly after my sister married Chan when I was six (yep, pretty much right after she finished high school, as she’s about thirteen years my senior) that I started becoming conscious of other religions, but not really looking too much into it, if only cos of the hissy-fit my father put up that his step-kid “married a heathen”.

Now, in my Catholic school, as I said, I was there on a charity program, and my family was pretty poor, even for the charity cases. My father dumpster-dived and our larder had Government Cheese, Government Peanut Butter, and these ominous cans of Government Pork — my mother was a registered nurse, but my father was an odd-job man throughout the 1980s, I have a younger sister, another half-sister (who spent summers and alternating school holiday weeks with us), and after Nik moved out, we often had a couch-surfer (usually my father’s sister Karon, occasionally one of his AA buddies), so my mother’s salary didn’t go very far, and when she lost her hospital gig, the Salvation Army Rehab Clinic she then worked at paid even less. A couple of the nuns at St. Adalbert felt sorry for me, this gifted kid (both in voice an with a 157 IQ) from a dirt-poor family, who had barely any books of his own. I was often offered doubles of less-popular titles or “beaten up, but still readable” copies from the donations to the school library; one of the nuns offered me a copy of D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths when I was about eight, and yeah, it was a little below my reading level, but I took it because I loved the paintings that illustrated it. Eventually, I started reading it, and fell in love with Apollon and Hermes and Narkissos, the Gaia & Ouranos painting has made a lasting impression on me and how I regard Them. Their version of the Judgement of Paris and the war with Troy I don’t recall as being as Bowdlerised as it could have been (but then, it’s been years since I had a copy of that book, so don’t quote me on that). It broke my heart when my mother told me that the Greek gods “weren’t real” and that even the people of ancient Greece “eventually learned better” — which I now find rather odd, as my mother’s typical views on religion were rather agnostic.

Like I said, my mother’s words were kinda crushing, and so I was just kinda spiritually flailing. When my parents divorced, that was ugly, and at least at my Catholic school, I would have been better off as a bastard than with divorced parents, socially — if it wasn’t for the fact that I already didn’t get the appeal of Catholicism, I would have rejected it right then and there, cos kids can be fucking ridiculous. I saw all the after-school specials, I knew that what my parents were doing had no reflection on me as a person, but try explaining that to a bunch of vicious tykes your own age who can’t stand the fact that your teachers are reminding them all that you’re smarter than them, oh, and add to that the fact that you’re a runty kid, so yeah, I sure was popular that year. Still, aside from that, I knew Christianity and I didn’t fit, cos a lot of it made no sense, especially when you start getting to the arguments that “Jesus = Son of God = God”:

Did you watch the video? That’s seriously how much sense all of that shit makes. It’s one big logic fail, and when you have a ten-year-old pointing this out to his father, and the only explanation he can offer is “but it’s true”, serioiusly…. Needless to say, at about the age of eleven or twelve, I started looking for a new religion fast. The problem with that is, at that age, no matter what kind of a genius you are, the books in the adult section are dry and boring, and trying to find adults willing to tell you about things like that without parental consent are rather hard to come by — nay, impossible. Thankfully, this was the 1990s, and so I had a then-primitive Internet (accessed by the Lenawee County Public Library, after a heart-breaking move from Toledo, Ohio, a city which I loved very much), which gave me access to all sorts of lovely things.

Now, for some reason, I got an idea in my head that since my family is Northern Irish, English, and Cornish, I was going to go with some flavour of Celtic polytheism — and hey, I was able to find information on that on-line. I printed out some info on Celtic ritual, deities, a few holidays, and I attempted for a few years to learn about and commune with those gods and goddesses. For three or four years, in private, I tried and failed, and ultimately got a message I interpreted as a very firm “No”.

There was a big agnostic/atheistic dry-spell for me (more about that on Day 21), and this reached a sort of climax after I had spent two years in several different cities (though mostly Los Angeles; Cadillac, Michigan; and Chicago), I was in Charlottesville, Virginia, and had all but solidified a decision to move back to Ann Arbor (a move I still insist is temporary, despite now entering my sixth year back) and had one doozy of a week, so I bought myself a new set of clothes in an attempt to cheer myself up, and when I got back to the apartment of the friend whose couch I was staying on, I discovered she wasn’t back yet, and I had forgotten the spare key to get in, and it was starting to rain. I started muttering this really hopeless little prayer to Zeus, as that was honestly the only name that popped into my head, and as I was wrapping it up, my friend’s boyfriend came out (apparently he had overslept and was running late — but I had assumed the place was empty, so I didn’t knock) and the rain let up to a bright sun.

When I returned to Ann Arbor, I was stubborn for about the first year, and gave very little mind to the Charlottesville incident, but the important growth there was that I had pretty much stopped identifying my religion as anything I had previously done before. Then one night in 2005, on my computer, I was reading some batshit gay-related site a friend had sent me, and for some reason, the only thing that stuck with me was the Greek references and how this prompted searched for Hellenic polytheist groups. I found Kyrene’s site and joined HellenicPagan, Neokoroi, and Hellenic_Recons pretty much instantly, then KyklosApollon and other groups, and that’s how I ended up in the Hellenismos community.

But that’s not the question — the question wasn’t “how”, it was “why?”

The fact of the matter is, the only philosopher who ever really appealed to me was Diogenes, so the “virtue and ethics” that many Hellenists go all chest-thumpy on matter a whole lot less to me — plus, there’s a quote that Kyrene has always kept in her sig-file on the e-mail lists that always stuck with me:

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” -Marcus Aurelius

…I’m not into intellectual masturbation, and that’s what I see from the overwhelming majority of the people stressing the importance of philosophy (especially Platonic philosophy); just a bunch of gas-bags who’d rather chest-thump and argue, and look down on every-one while trotting out maxims that include “down-look no-one”. Obviously, it’s not the philosophy that draws me.

The community, I’ve learned to live with. As far as I’m concerned, the on-line Hellenismos community that I’ve come to be a part of is really not that much different from my own family (which, unlike the Hellenic community, I am thankfully estranged from): You’ve got members who love each-other, members who aren’t crazy about each-other but can still get along, members who barely put up with each-other, members who outright can’t stand each-other. I like to think I’m some-one who has settled into a position that most people aren’t crazy about me, and a handful have grown to love and accept me for various reasons; there are only a few people I consider myself close to, but like I said, it’s kind of an ersatz family — but I wasn’t really looking for that, either.

I’ve also tried to intellectualise polytheism versus monotheism; the best explanation I’ve come to is that if we look at the universe as beginning with One, and that One was a perfect deity, then becoming Two and then Many was not forced upon One, or that would mean either a) that One was never One to begin with, and/or b) that One would be imperfect to just fall into becoming Two; therefore, becoming Two and then Many was a perfect decision, and Many is what is perfect. Even male-male pairings in birds will adopt eggs so that Two can become Three, then Four, then Countless.

Ultimately, it was always about the gods for me. It was the gods who piqued my interest when I was a small child. It was the gods who made their presence known to me in their own ways. It’s the gods who I feel are assuring me that I’m “at home” with worshipping this pantheon.

Maybe I didn’t realise it at the time, but I first started to feel the presence of Apollon and the Mousai when I started singing, and even when I was singing Catholic hymns, it was Them I was worshipping — i only became conscious of this later.

I honestly believe that my prayer to Zeus in Charlottesville was answered by Him.

I don’t remember when I first started communicating with Eros, but somehow I know that He’s always been a part of my life, even when I wasn’t yet aware that He was there.

Sometimes the “how” makes little sense to me. I have no real Greek family background (unless you’re one of those whack-a-doodles who believes that the Hellenes and the Keltoi share more in common than a Proto-Indo-European background, like the Milesians of Anatolia are the same thing as the Irish mythological Milesians [seriously, I’ve seen this from some people]), and it’s not like I have a background in Popular Wicca or ADF or even Norse paganism. I didn’t get a classics degree (no, I dropped out of an English major), and aside from Diogenes, the ancient philosophers are of little interest to me, and I’m more of a Diogenes groupie than one who follows his teachings to the letter (after all, I like my possessions too much to free myself of them) — though I have no problem with those who genuinely use Hellenic philosophy to truly better their lives.

The history, though it’s something that Western culture likes to chest-thump about, is still truly fascinating to me, but it’s not just the history for me. Ultimately, it’s about the Gods, the Heroes, the Daimones, all of these faces and personalities that weave their very essences into the universe and drive it. The gods were how I learned about this religion and all of its own facets and tribal sects, and the gods will be here long after the philosophies are forgotten or rendered redundant, and long after all else has ceased to be. They are the deathless ones, and I’m a part of this religion not to chest-thump and wank intellectually, but to worship those deathless ones.

Maybe not every single facet of my life is entwined with religion, but ultimately, I live this life for them, and on their gifts, and I recognise that, and I love them for it, so that’s why.

Now why I came to the Boeotian tribes was ultimately my love for Eros. His cult led me to learning about Thespiae and Boeotia, which led me to an ever-growing love of those tribes. There is no way for me to do things in perfect replication of ancient Boeotia, but I can make it as close as I can, and that’s all I’ve ever tried to do.

List behind cut:

0. Intro to meme
1. Beliefs – Why Hellenismos?
2. Beliefs – Cosmology
3. Beliefs – Deities
4. Beliefs – Birth, death and rebirth
5. Beliefs – Sacred sexuality
6. Beliefs – Divination, mysticism and various woo shit
7. Beliefs – The power of prayer/reciprocity
8. Beliefs – Festivals
9. Environmentalism
10. Patrons – Eros
11. Patrons – Apollon
12. Pantheon – Mousai
13. Pantheon – Adonis
14. Pantheon – Nyx & Kybele
15. Pantheon – Every-One Else
16. Nature spirits, Khthonoi, & The Dead
17. My ways of worship
18. Community
19. Hellenismos and my family/friends
20. Hellenismos and my love life
21. Other paths I’ve explored
22. Hellenismos and major life events
23. Ethics
24. Personal aesthetics and Hellenismos
25. Favoured ritual tools, and why
26. Any “secular” pastimes with religious significance, and why
27. How your faith has helped you in difficult times
28. One misconception about Hellenismos you’d like to clear up
29. The future of Hellenismos
30. Advice for seekers


11 thoughts on “30-Day Paganism Meme: Day 1, Beliefs – Why Hellenismos?

  1. I always enjoy hearing the story of how people came to their gods, especially when it involves all sorts of interesting twists and turns, and yours did not disappoint! I sympathize with your love-hate relationship to the community, and your indifference to philosophy – thankfully one requires neither to properly honor the gods.

    I'm very much looking forward to the other posts in this series. These are important topics, and I'd love to see others tackle them as well. Who knows, maybe you'll inspire more people to write about them!


    • Thanks. 🙂 I know I've told this story before, but honestly, I never tire of telling it — especially the part about the nun inadvertently introducing me to the Theoi. It's probably my favourite real-life example of irony.


  2. Pingback: 30-Day Paganism Meme: Day 2, Beliefs – Cosmology | Of Thespiae

  3. Pingback: 30-Day Paganism Meme: Day 3, Beliefs – Deities | Of Thespiae

  4. Pingback: 30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 4 ~ Beliefs – Birth, death and rebirth | Of Thespiae

  5. Pingback: 30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 6 ~ Beliefs – Divination, mysticism and various woo shit | Of Thespiae

  6. Pingback: 30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 7 ~ The power of prayer/reciprocity | Of Thespiae

  7. Pingback: 30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 9 ~ Environmentalism | Of Thespiae

  8. Pingback: 30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 8 ~ Beliefs – Festivals | Of Thespiae

  9. Pingback: 30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 5 ~ Beliefs – Sacred Sexuality | Of Thespiae

  10. Pingback: 30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 11 ~ Pantheon – Moisai | Of Thespiae

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