This blog post is the third installment in a very loose series focussing on the practice of reconstruction. The other parts can be found here: Standardizing Hellenismos and Thinking like a Recon. In this third--and probably final part--I will talk about trying to figure out which practices should be reconstructed, and which should not be. I can't speak for all Recon faiths on this, and I can only offer my opinion on Hellenismos. Others will disagree. In order to illustrate some of the points in this post, I will use the ancient practice of animal sacrifice. I have spoken about the practical and ethical difficulties of reviving that practice before, but it is such a fantastic example, I can not ignore it.

With the disclaimer out of the way, lets get on with this post, shall we? As previously discussed, Reconstructionist faiths work on a basic premise: those who practiced it first, practiced it best. If we want to worship these Gods, we should do it in a way which the Gods are used to and expect of us. Yet, society has changed. Other religions have come and gone. People have changed. Some practices have no place in current society but... how do we decide which practices should or should not be revived? And is it really up to us to decide this?

There are a few factors which influence the decisions of modern Recon practitioners when it comes to answering these questions. Influencing factors are current laws, the time period which the practitioner is trying to reconstruct, if the practice was part of the culture or the religion and--somewhat unfortunately-- the preference of the practitioner.

Modern day laws
Some practices from the source culture and its religious practice are simply forbidden in modern day. In the Netherlands, the sacrifice of animals at a home or temple altar without properly anesthetizing the animal first is one of these practices. It's understandable; killing a creature that is aware of being killed results in a bloody and painful mess. In ancient Greece, the animals weren't anesthetized before slaughter but a case can be made that, as animals in ancient Greece had to be willing participants, anesthetizing them after they have walked the required procession should not interfere with the validity of the sacrifice. A license is required, however, and this raises another need for dedicated clergy who are willing to invest in the time and money to go through this process. Other examples include (family) vendetta's in which murder is standard practice and slavery.

The time period
Which practices to reconstruct is largely dependent upon which time period you are trying to reconstruct. To go back to animal sacrifice: the practice was prevalent in the beginning of the Hellenic period and continued on into Roman times but the practice did lose favor with scholars along the way. The later one gets in time period of practice, the less need there is to reconstruct the practice of animal sacrifice.

Culture or religion?
The most important question to answer is this one; was the practice part of the culture or the religion? Of course, separating the two is hard. Especially in ancient Greece, religion was so entwined with daily life, they would not have understood that there was a difference between the two. Every single practice, for them, was tied to the Gods and Their worship. We try to reconstruct the religious practices of the ancient Greeks, not their culture. For us, the distinction can be made, although some issues remain hard to decide upon. Here are some points to look at:
  • Were there Gods directly responsible for the practice?
  • Did the practice have a deciding influence on festivals and/or household worship?
  • Was it a job for clergy?
Two examples: animal sacrifice was practiced for all Gods, although no single God or Goddess was responsible for the practice. Animal sacrifice was incredibly important on both festivals and household worship and although the common man could do it, in large scale festivals, the task of sacrificing an animal fell to clergy. Animal sacrifice could be considered a practice that needs constructing.

Slavery was not overlooked by a specific Deity. It was a major influence on Greek culture but festivals and household worship could take place without them. Priests and priestesses were almost never slaves. Slavery can be left in the past as it did not influence religious practice directly. 

Personal preference
Personal preference goes both ways; either it can lead to the incorporation of ancient practices which could be left in the past, or it can lead to the exclusion of ancient practices which should not be left in the past. Both have their reasons and they largely depend on individual practitioners. If Hellenismos is ever standardized, the very core of practices need to be filtered out. These practices must then be adhered to in order to call the practice Hellenic. Any other practice should come with a recommendation, either to encourage the practice or discourage its use. Doing this would clear up a lot of confusion but also leave the practitioner free to shy away from practices they do not agree with or incorporate practices they don't. Animal sacrifice would be a good example of the first, the tending of a continual flame for Hestia an example of the latter. 

The question remains if it's up to us to decide what the Gods require of us. By trying to sort out which practices were part of culture and which were part of religion, this question can be avoided for a number of issues. In my opinion, those who truly wish to follow a Recon path do not get to decide which practices they are comfortable with or not. Yet, that statement is too black and white. Our personal practice depends not only on our ideas but also on the opinions our family, friends and general community have of us. Butchering a pig in your back yard--even with anesthetics--will not go over well with the neighbors. If there is a dedicated (and secluded) Temple space available, this issue may be resolved but for most of us, that is not the case. 

Reconstruction is hard. The two cultures are often irreconcilable and our ideals and knowledge about the world has changed. Still, it's a worthy struggle to decide for yourself how far you are willing to go for the Gods you worship. As  Recons, we walk a fine line and there are many people, Pagan and non-Pagan, who do not understand our religion. These struggles do not make the religion any less valid, though, and there is definitely a place in the modern religious landscape for Recon Traditions.
I have been enjoying the wonderful world of web-series for a couple of days now and it got me thinking; there are web-series for every minority you can think of so why don't we have one? If we do, please let me know in the comments and I will eat these words for tomorrow's breakfast. Seriously, though, there are (NSFW) web-series about super heroes, people with a disability, geeks, video games, lesbians, gays, washed out actors, you name it. Where are the Pagans?

A web-series is a series of short episodes about a certain topic or focussing on a specific person or group, created specifically for viewing on the internet. With all the diversity and the many stereotypes we either embrace or feel the need to debunk, we could surely make a good web-series? Here are a couple of proposals for those with the ability to act, some extra funds, time and a camera:
  • [Reality-based] A teen finds an esoteric bookshop and picks up a Neo-Wiccan 101 book, leading to a journey through the many Traditions under the Pagan banner with each episode focussing on a different path.
  • [Dramatized reality or minor supernatural] A young person finds their family's Book of Shadows and in initiated into the rites of their family. We see them dealing with their newfound path in life while keeping up with school, friends and a changed worldview. The amount of supernatural might rely on the budget.
  • [Reality-based] A sort series where different (fictional) people are followed while attending the same Pagan festival. Can be humorous, as Pagan festivals tend to bring a nice erm... variety of people.
  • [Reality-based] We follow the meetings and life of a coven/grove/etc. as they go about their religion and life. Could also be a focus on a single Pagan household.
  • [Humorous reality] A series that focusses on Pagan stereotypes, one at a time, showing what these stereotypes would actually look like if they were (excessively) true. Broomstick flying, Devil worship, wanting to live in renaissance times, tree hugging, etc.
  • [Supernatural] a group of Pagans come together to battle [insert forces of evil]. Priests and Priestesses are backed by their Gods, Witches bring Magick to the table, druids rally the powers of Nature, etc.
Can you think of more Pagan web-series concepts? Is a Pagan web-series even a good idea?
During the writing of yesterday's post on Reconstruction, an example of my changed mindset came to mind which I couldn't find a place for in that post. I told you all before about my path. Most of my religious life was spent as a Neo-Pagan or some form of Eclectic Witch. I enjoyed it a lot and some practices were so engrained into my life, I only realized I had them when I transitioned to Hellenismos. One of these practices was to buy (almost) only second-hand religious items for my practice.

The thought process behind it was that, everything I stumbled upon, be it boxes, chalices or books, was provided to me by the Gods. The only things that were exempt were my Athame, candles and incense. Especially in the case of books, I felt that the books I found in thrift or second-hand stores were the books I was supposed to find at that time in my life and religious practice. I took them as signs. In true Neo-Pagan manner, I also didn't haggle on the cost of any item I bought for religious purposes. It was a wonderful way of magickal living.

As I transitioned into Hellenismos, however, the change in mindset caused me to drop both practices without conscious thought. I knew what my path was, now. I didn't need that specific type of guidance. I left general Pagan books on the shelve that I would have bought only a week ago. With my new shopping list in hand, I still found myself in a veritable Elysium of possibilities. I also couldn't think up a single reason why I shouldn't try and haggle when the opportunity arose. In fact: it seemed like a perfectly valid Hellenic thing to do. And all of that over the course of, maybe, a week.

Treasure hunting is still a favorite pastime. I'm still a sucker for second hand stores and I love to buy older, second hand, books. I have found some absolute gems, even for my Hellenic path. A beautiful version of the Odysseia, Greek mythology books, Grecian urns, offering bowls, keys, hair pins; you name it. Once thoroughly cleaned, both physically and ritually, they are beautiful additions to my practice. I still believe that those finds are divinely inspired; everything I find is a gift and is treated as such. But I also buy things I need.

I buy books from the internet, I bought some hand towels and some statuary to quench my thirst for knowledge and help my practice along. As for haggling: why not? Not doing it made sense in the Eclectic system I had operated in but the fist time I was confronted with the possibility of doing it, I was somehow sure that the ancient Greeks would have haggled until their dying breath. Gods know that the modern day Greeks did it when I visited Greece as a child. I'm sure we silly tourists paid about four times what the vendor would have accepted for the trinkets we brought home.

And so, two things that were cornerstones of my practice, gave way to an entirely new viewpoint. It are these sort of changes I was talking about, where everything you previously believed in, loses its meaning to give way to a new way of thinking and a new set of practices. It's an odd but miraculous feeling. A wonderful way of magickal living, all the same.
I have written before about the differences between general (Neo-)Wiccan/Witchcraft Traditions and Reconstruction. In that blog post, I focussed on the practical, on the part you can see. This is not the most important part of Reconstruction Traditions, though. It's a part of it, but it only exists because of a mental component. It's this component I want to talk about today.

In general, 'reconstruction' is the practice of rebuilding something. This can be a crime-scene, a broken vase or any number of things. In Paganism, Reconstruction means the practice of reviving lost religious, social and practical practices from a specific time period or people. It is not that different from reconstructing a vase, actually, and I will be using that analogy a lot today.

Imagine this; long ago, a potter made a vase. He needed to make one because he had something which needed a holder. He shaped it in a specific form, inspired by his culture and need, and when the shape was done, he decorated it with imagery that was also culturally inspired. Somewhere over the years, the vase broke into a dozen pieces. There was no need for that particular vase anymore, so no one put it back together. Now, people need a holder again, and it seems logical to put the original holder back together instead of making a new one, because the first one functioned very well. They realize that in order to put the vase back together, they need to understand the culture and whatever was going on in the head of the potter who made it; without that knowledge, they won't be able to figure out how the pieces fit together and they can't restore the imagery without knowing what the potter created in the first place.

This is the basic idea of a religious Recon practice; religion was practiced, it got lost and now we try to piece together that ancient practice because we feel a need to revive it and serve the Gods in a way which They are familiar with. In order to do that, we need to look at the whole of the culture in which the religion was practiced. If we don't, we can't answer a lot of 'why' questions and we miss the nuances of the religious practice in its hay-day. In short, this is why I go on about slavery, hounds, children and other issues from ancient Hellenic culture; how the ancient Hellens thought about these issues was influenced by their culture and thus helped shape their religious practice. I need to know these things in order to practice my religion.

Recon practices are, of course, offset by other Pagan practices. To go back to the vase; practitioners of modern Pagan faiths saw the fragments of the vase, realized they could make such a thing as a vase but felt no need to make that vase to serve as a holder. They created their own from the many different fragments found, inspired by modern culture. This vase is as beautiful as the restored one, but there are a lot of differences between the two.

Anyone who wishes to adopt a Recon Tradition needs to realize that not only your practice changes, but your entire outlook on life and controversial issues might change as well. In most cases, adopting a Recon Tradition means leaving a part of your autonomy behind. You place yourself firmly under the rule of the Gods. They rule you and your life, so most of your day will be spent appeasing Them. You will do this with daily rituals, by including the Gods in every aspect of your life, by offering regular sacrifice, by abstaining from practices They frown upon and by striving to incorporate the qualities They hold in high regard into your own life and person.

Adopting a Recon practice means studying a lot. Not just about the Gods in your pantheon, but also about the people who worshipped these Gods first. What they strived to create in themselves and their society, are assumed to be the things the Gods value in modern day practitioners as well. By adopting the mindset of our religious ancestors, we strive to become better servants to the Gods. I realize that for many people, this submission to the Gods is hard to deal with. I see it in reactions I get from the community on this blog but also in reactions to the adoption of ancient practices which are controversial into general Paganism, like veiling.

I have always submitted to the Gods so the changes weren't that impressive, only the form changed. I have, however, become more aware of what I do, say and believe in. Miasma has become a major influence in my mental and practical religious life and, because my main shrine is in the bedroom area of our little home, I do worry about mooning the Gods on occasion. Other than that, though, I have no difficulties with a Recon faith. I still call myself a feminist while trying to copy the virtues of women in ancient Hellenic life. I still call on the Gods when I am in need of guidance but the form has changed. I still don't drink, do drugs or smoke. I was not forced to adopt any practice I can't stand behind; I understand why they matter and that is enough for me to adopt them.

Applying modern ethical or religious standpoints to the practices of the ancient Greeks is pointless; even modern Reconstruction has very little to do with these ethical and religious standpoints, although society-at-large is an influencing factor. Trying to sort out which practices to bring back and which to leave in the past is a subject which deserves its own post so allow me to save that for a future date. For now, let me end this post by saying that I greatly enjoy reconstructing my old vase. It's battered and missing some bits and pieces, but with every post, with every book I read, with every voice I hear, it becomes more complete. Hopefully the differences between Recon and non-Recon faiths have become a little bit clearer with this post. Honestly, I'm still trying to figure it out myself; it's all part of my vase.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen the inside of a lot of museums. The summer holidays do that to my life. About half of those museums were museums focussing on the Hellenic, Roman, Egyptian and/or Islamic periods in our history. Needless to say, the Hellenic parts interested me most.

I saw pieces of temples to Artemis and Athena, visited the Pergamon and marveled at a lot of pottery from ancient Hellas. It was marvelous... and I felt no religious connection to any of it. In fact, I was shocked at how little connection I felt to it at all. It was as if the many visitors had sucked every drop of authenticity from the very stone. As if the worship which took place on and around these stones lost even the echo of their previous function. Worse still, I looked for clues on how to practice my religion and found none.

Seeing these relics of the past drove home just how lost the ancient Hellenic religion is to us. It cemented my resolve to revive it in a form which fits into this cultural framework. I also realized there is no going back to the past. The temples of old are gone. The grander of those days is lost to us and that is a depressing thought.

I realized, as I walked around these relics, I had hoped for a revelation. I had hoped for guidance from the Gods or those who worshipped Them. It's not that my girlfriend and I didn't try; we had a lot of fun fussing over the female statuary to figure out how these women had wrapped their clothes as we had tried to figure this out for a dress of mine a while back. We must have looked quite the pair, walking around the cases, arguing amongst ourselves, trying to sort out which part of the garment was what and how the heck it stayed up at all.

The first museum, I walked away from with a feeling of being cheated. I had hoped that this museum would give me clues into Hellenic household life I had not unravelled. I had hoped that I could have seen how the Gods were worshipped in Their temples. I had hoped for a lot of things, and although what I saw was beautiful, it was not that. So much was lost over the years. So much was stolen, destroyed, broken, burned or any other number of things which has hidden these clues in obscurity.

By the time the second museum came around, I still hunted the museum for clues but I enjoyed what little there was a lot more. These were things created and touched by my religious ancestors. That should be enough to fulfill the longing. And it is. It's the best I can hope for.

I visited the Acropolis in Athens when I was ten. I have pictures somewhere but I can't find them now, else I would have added one. All I remember is wearing a Gods awful multi-colored blouse and a red baseball cap. I also remember being very impressed by this temple, which had somehow managed to survive through the centuries. I wonder if I would be able to reclaim that sense of wonder if I went there today. I know now how much was lost and what little has actually survived. I wonder if I have become too cynical to appreciate the wonders.

I walk away from this summer with two thoughts clear in my mind; as Hellenics, we need community and we need Temples. We need accessible houses of worship where we can come together and combine our knowledge. I'm a broken record on this one, but we need a uniform way of practicing. So much has been lost to us and the individualistic worship that is so prevalent in the religious landscape Hellenismos operates in, will only serve to scatter the little that remains.

I will always be looking for clues; it's in my nature, but at the same time, I have a steady home practice, beautiful literature and an on-line community to fall back on. It may not be perfect, it my not be complete, but it's there. Remnants, like the old stones. I just need to see it through the eyes of new muses.
A few days ago, I got into an interesting discussion with PaganSquare founder Anne about Hellenismos in general and slavery in particular. The discussion focussed on what should and should not be part of Recon practice and slavery, obviously, was one of the things we both thought had no place in it. I realized, though, that not everyone may know what slavery entailed in ancient Hellas and the many difference there are between the ancient Hellas form of slavery and the modern history version of the same practice.

Now, first off, I do not condone slavery in any way, shape or form and the whole idea of people owning people has no place in current society. This blog post is not about slavery in current time. I will get back to this a little later on, but no modern Hellenic in their right mind would think to bring that back. And even if they did, there are laws against that sort of thing now. 

With that out of the way, indulge me as I paint a picture of slavery in ancient Hellas. First, its prudent to describe the life of ancient Hellenic slaves, as slaves, too, could acquire rank and even slaves of their own. The word 'slave' wasn't known in ancient Hellas, in fact, the first mention of the word dates back to the seventh century C.E.. A Hellenic slave was called a doûlos (δούλος), which would translate best as a 'servant' or 'serf'.  In ancient Hellas, doûlos were the working class. They were teachers, farmers, shop owners, herders, doctors, city militia, cleaners, etc. Because many performed a public service, they had a house of their own as well as a salary. Household serfs were called oikétês (οἰκέτης) and lived in the house of their master who was called a kyrios (κύριος). The female head of the household was charged with teaching--and keeping order amongst--the household serfs.

Criminals and unplaceable serfs were sent to work in the mills, mines, or as ship crew members. This was back breaking and dangerous work and comes closes to the image of slavery we have today. Women and sons of vanquished foes were often unfortunate enough to end up in one of the many brothels. Although many serfs worked in the mills, mines, and brothels, even more worked as artisans in the cities, in factories or for a household, where their work was appreciated and friendships with free citizens could even form. 

In the Odysseia, Odysseus and Penelope are seen performing tasks their servants should have done and their son Telemachos treats (and literally calls) Odysseus' serf Eumaeus as a grandfather. Eumaeus, in turn, continues to work for his master Odysseus even though he is away from the home for twenty years. In fact, after Penelope and Telemachos, Eumaeus may the the one grieving the most over Odysseus' disappearance--along with Odysseus' nursemaid Eurýkleia.

In democratic city states, the doûlos were protected by law and their masters were urged to care for them and treat them as fellow human beings. If a serf felt they were being mistreated by their master, they could seek asylum in a temple and request a new master. Murdering a doûlos was an equally severe crime as the murder of a free man. No servant could be executed on a whim; a court ruling was required. For a serf to be executed there should be a special reason imposed to the court. Any serf could buy his freedom for a certain amount of money and the state itself sometimes freed its slaves on their own accord. Usually, this was for war purposes. Despite doûlos outnumbering free citizens, no slave uprising was ever recorded in the democratic city states of ancient Hellas. There were, however, recordings of slaves running away.

Of course, this all sounds a bit too positive. These conditions were prevalent in democratic city states but outside of those, life was hard for serfs. In Sparta, for example, serfs could be executed at will and were worked hard. Revolts happened on occasion. Punishment was prevalent, even in the democratic city states, and lashings were common place. Even if that wasn't the case, a huge portion of serfs were 'barbarian' men, women and children who had been kidnapped from their homes in non-Hellenic territories or who had lived for centuries on the land that the Hellens overtook.

There were many ways in which a citizen or non-Hellenics could become a serf:
  • They might have been born into slavery as the child of a slave
  • They might have been captured during war time
  • They might have been captured by pirates or bandits; if the ransom was not paid, they were sold
  • They might have been orphans, found and taken in
  • They might have been unable to pay of a loan, thus becoming enslaved to their creditor
  • They might have been sold into slavery by their family who needed money
  • They might have been kidnapped and consequentially sold into slavery
Some of these automatically set a kyrios for the doûlos but many more were bought by citizens. Owning slaves was so ingrained in society that not owning a slave was considered bad practice. Many small landowners owned at least one serf, sometimes two. Larger, richer, estates could hold up to a dozen servants or even more. Prices for a slave varied; children brought in about fifty drachma ($3000,-, if calculated from the day wage of 1 drachma = day wage of $60 today) but strong or trained serfs averaged out at around 170 drachma ($10.200,-) and a slave with leadership abilities or rare skills could cost up to 300 drachma ($18.000,-). Of note should be that a state slave 'earned' around three to four obolus a day, equating to roughly $30,- to $40,- a month, and a skilled artisan around one drachma. Rare skilled artisans or those in authority positions could earn more. The price of the slave's freedom was the average market price.

Once a household serf was bought in a democratic city state, he or she was brought to the house and courted like one would a newly-wed wife. This often happened with gifts of nuts and fruits. There was a ceremony in which the oikétês was placed under the protection of Hestia. They were then trained and put to work under the supervision of the matron of the household. Female serfs often bonded tightly to their matron, as they accompanied her everywhere she went and they were often sounding boards to her problems. Serfs were allowed to keep their own religious traditions intact as long as they also worshipped the Theoi. They celebrated festivals with the members of the household and were allowed to partake in sacrefices. They were even allowed to initiate into the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Athens, oikétês enjoyed great freedom and many artisans were indistinguishable from citizens. Visitors often complained of this because no serf would step out of their way to let them pass.

Of course, serfs were lower in standing than citizens. They could not enter the Gymnasium or the Public Assembly. They could not use their own names, but were assigned names by their master. These were often names that indicated their enslaved nature like Dromon, Geta, Manes or Xanthias. They were not allowed to represent themselves in court, get married or enjoy a regular household life. Slaves were allowed to give testimony in court but they were always tortured to get the information out of them, even if they would tell their story willingly. If a serf managed to buy their freedom in Athens, they were seen as métoikos; resident aliens. Their former Kyrios became their patron and would still represent them in legal affairs. Métoikos also had other limitations but that is food for another post.

This post is becoming entirely too long so I am going to end it here. This is but a small introduction into the lives of slaves in ancient Hellas and I will most certainly revisit it at a later date. I had promised to express the modern Hellenic views on this kind of slavery, however, and so I will.

As I put forth in the aforementioned discussion with Anne; Hellenismos strives to re-create the religion of the ancient Hellens, not the society of the ancient Hellens. Of course, these were very much linked and sorting out which issues can be let go of without damaging the core of religious practice, is an ongoing struggle. Hellenismos is not standardized and there isn't a central body to make these decisions for its followers. That said; slavery in ancient Hellas was a tool to push forth the democracy. Because serfs executed the undesirable tasks, citizens could focus on politics, art and philosophy.

Nowadays, society is layered enough without the 'need' for slavery; those who wish to pursue theology, philosophy, politics or art can make a career out of it. There was no slavery for the sake of slavery in ancient Hellas, so we can say that in modern day, we have outgrown the practice. There would be absolutely no need to bring it back now. This even goes for house serfs; we can now hire cooks, cleaners, nannies, etc. We no longer buy their lives, we buy their time. The system has evolved and the word 'slavery' has no place in it anymore.
I was going to write something completely different for this Pagan Blog Project post but it didn't come off of the ground. I was over-thinking everything I was writing so for this post, I am just going to write from my heart again, even if it's not overtly Hellenic. I'm going to be writing about the little, negative, voice inside our heads and hearts and how to quiet it for long enough to be brave.

I was not born to blog or journal. I love to write, but I mostly write to be someone else for a while. This is why I love to role play. Still, I did some pseudo-journalism a few years back and I enjoyed that very much, but even then I realized that I have difficulty writing about topics I am not an expert on. I'm scared every time I hit 'publish', but I hit it none the less.

Honestly, I never thought I'd be blogging for so many of you. It makes me very feel very happy, very blessed and it also scares me shitless on days when I write about something emotional, controversial or about the Hellenic community at large. I am not an expert at Hellenismos. There are a lot of people who have been at it longer, practice in a group and/or who have come to a consensus on issues. I just read a lot. I practice a lot, too. I have my daily rituals, my festivals and my books. If you're struggling with some (online) bravery issues as well, then maybe I can offer some words of guidance and encouragement.
  • You may get negative feedback when you do something in the public's eye, but you lose out on a lot of positive feedback if you don't.
  • You have the right to speak and act, just like everyone else.
  • What you say or do, matters.
  • You may get it wrong, on occasion, and that's alright. You don't have to be perfect. Apologize, research, edit if you must and move on.
  • What you need to say, only you can say.
  • It'll feel like a small victory every time you make it through
  • I promise it'll get less scary. As I approach my hundredth post, there is only fear at the controversial topics.
I wrote about the fear of failing before, and I told you that, whenever I fear something, I turn to the Gods and heroes of my faith for solace and a confidence boost. It helps. In fact, it's a wonderful way to integrate the Gods into your life. As i wrote in that post; think of the men (and woman) on the Argo, heading off to Colchis to procure the Golden Fleece. Think of Herakles, standing in front of Eurystheus' throne as it's proclaimed he must complete ten (or twelve) labors to redeem himself after murdering his children in a psychotic break induced by Hera. Think of Perseus, who must have stood in defeat as his stepfather Polydectes proclaimed he must bring him the head of Médousa. They did it, and so can you.

All in all, that little voice inside our head is important. It warns us of when we go to far. Yet, it should not hold us back from doing the things that matter to us, our community, our Tradition and our world. Fear gives bad counsel and often times it's completely unnecessary. So the next time you need to say or do something you fear, just do it. No one is perfect. There is a lot of name calling and hating going on in the Pagan community but all in all, Pagans are awesome, intelligent and understanding people. The One True Way-ers are few and far between and usually have less bite than bark. So no fear, be brave, and quiet that voice inside your head that tells you you can't, shouldn't or must not do something. It's wrong.
Today is my birthday. I'm now officially twenty-seven years old. Today is a busy day so I'm doing a short one, one of the Delphic Maxims series I have been doing on my blog for a while.

A little less than I week ago, I discussed the Delphic Maxim of  'be grateful' (Ευγνωμων γινου). Today I'm addressing a related maxim but one with a very different reasoning behind it; 'do not be discontented by life' (Τω βιω μη αχθου).

We are all told our fate soon after we are born. At night, the Moirae (Μοιραι)--better known as the Fates--enter the room where the newborn lies and they whisper their destiny into their ear. They are the only ones who can do this, as they have spun the threads that make up our fate. Mothers can invite the Moirae by leaving offerings on a table in the nursery. If they wait long enough, the Moirae will appear and, while they enjoy the offerings, will tell the faith of the child. The most well known myth surrounding this event is that of Althaea and Melaeger, who are told that Melaeger will only live as long as the log in the hearth remains unconsumed. Althaea hurries to extinguish the log but eventually kills her son by burning the log.

Fate, although set, is not unbendable. Odysseus was destined to return home to Ithaca, and although the Gods did everything to stop him, he eventually returned home. Myth suggests that, if Zeus really wants someone's faith to change, He can make it so. Yet, overall, our fate does not change. We do what we must, die when we must, live through what we must. We can plead to the Gods to lighten our load when it's too much to bare, but this Maxim reminds us that, if we would ask for anything, it be the strength to bare what we were given, because what we were given, was given to us by the Gods.

To be discontent with life is to question the will of the Gods. It's hubris. Because of this it's dangerous. The Maxim may seem close to 'be grateful', but it's far more severe. It's a warning, not a reminder. So, perhaps, the next time you feel like cursing the Gods or your bad luck, you will remember the Moirae and this Maxim and think twice.

For more Delphic Maxim discussions, go here.
A few days now, I have tackled controversial topics on this blog so to give everyone, including myself, a rest, I'm going to tackle a good old fashioned ancient Hellenic topic; the peculiar place of beggars in ancient Greek society. After all, of all professions there were in ancient Hellas, the profession of beggar is, perhaps, the most difficult to understand.

A beggar, or ptóchos (πτωχός), was both a welcomed and a loathed sight at the gates of ancient Greek cities. According to some sources, most notable Hesiod's Works and Days, being a beggar is a profession, equated with potters and minstrels. They performed a public function simply by being who they were and doing what they did. But what did they do?

In Hómēros' Odysseia, Odysseus is dressed as a beggar when he heads home, so his wife's suitors won't kill him on sight. He then runs into Antinous, one of the least noble of all of Penelope's suitors who tells him and his guide Eumaeus:

" ‘Eumaeus, the famous, why on earth did you drag this fellow here? Haven’t we vagrants enough already, beggarly nuisances to ruin our feasts? Isn’t it enough for you that they all crowd in here, swallowing your master’s stores, without you inviting this wretch too?’

Eumaeus, the swineherd, you answered him then: ‘Antinous, noble as you are your words sound ill. Who searches out foreigners himself, and invites them home, unless they are masters of some universal art: a seer, or physician, or architect, or perhaps a divine minstrel who delights men with song? Such men are welcome throughout the boundless earth, but no one would invite a burdensome beggar. You are the harshest Suitor where Odysseus’ servants are concerned, harshest of all to me: but I don’t care as long as loyal Penelope, my lady, and godlike Telemachus live here.’ "

Eumaeus seems to indicate that a beggar is not sought out and brought into a home. That, however, does not mean that being a beggar is not a profession. But what function did beggars fulfill in society? Why would he be welcomed in the house? They take food and drink, smell foul and generally don't keep their mouth shut. Yet, beggars were welcomed into a home. Most were glad to have them. This, of course, ties in heavily with Xenia; ritual hospitality. I wrote before about beggars in relation to Xenia but focussed only on the many occurrences in myth where Gods and Goddesses disguised themselves as beggars to test their hosts. Besides that, any wanderer, beggars included, are protected by Zeus Xenios.

There is a very specific ritual surrounding beggars who come to the home. The Odysseia is very clear about the role of both kurios and beggar and most likely reflects actual practice. Lets look at this ritual, step by step:
  • The beggar comes to the house, wearing the mandatory beggars' outfit (rags, staff and a beggars bag) and sets himself down against the doorpost, rubbing his shoulders against it to indicate discomfort while he waits to be acknowledged.
  • The kurios comes to to the door to offer the beggar a share of his food.
  • If a feast is held, the beggar is then encouraged to go from person to person to beg for more.
  • The beggar thanks the kurios and begs to plead to Zeus Xenios about the kindness bestowed upon him by the kurios and does so, asking for prosperity for the household and kind viewing of the kurios.
  • The beggar then visits the tables, asking for food. He receives his share but continually begs for more, until the guests are angered into striking the beggar or throwing objects at him.
  • The beggar takes this abuse and meanwhile accepts the food gifted to him. When he has made his rounds and his beggars bag is full, he returns to the doorpost and eats, blessing those who have given freely and cursing those who did not, or who abused him. 
  • Those who did not give him enough or who abused him eventually come to the beggar to offer more to him, usually some of the best meats or sweetest treats, if he will perform a task or tell a story. In most cases, this means beating the other beggars who have showed up for the feast.
  • The beggar accepts the challenge and performs it. He then receives his treats and eats them, taking his blessings from the appeased guests.
  • The beggar then leaves or finds a place to sleep on the property where he will not bother the guests, who will hear no more of him after the sharing of food is done.
The custom is an odd one; beating up a beggar who is a willing participant to the abuse and one who may not strike back. This series of exchanges can be boiled down to a single practice; purification. The beggar becomes a scapegoat to load onto the impurities of the kurios and his guests. He comes in to take not only gifts and abuse but, through them, impurity. When he leaves, the impurity leaves as well. This is also why a beggar is not invited to the home, like Antinous says, but is still a welcome sight at it. Inviting a beggar would be to invite the impurities of others into your home.

Those who have read my blog for a while know the importance of katharmos and the cleansing of miasma in ancient Greece. The beggar's function was thus two-fold; he ridded the giver of his miasma and even went a step further by asking the Gods--and Zeus Xenios, specifically--to bless the giver. All the giver had to do to receive this blessing was put up with the smell and behavior of the beggar long enough for him to be appeased. Once the sharing of food was over, the beggar caused no more fuss. That said, it was the task of the beggar to eat and drink everything offered to him. Nothing could be saved for later or refused; it was part of his role as purifier to consume everything offered to him--and that was usually a lot.

The life of a beggar was not an easy one and many endured injury during this ritual. All dangers of the road were part of his life, but he served a useful role in society. He was a purifier but also a warning of hubris towards the Gods. Often, beggars shared their life's story, how they had ended up on the streets. Others listened and were reminded of the role of Deity in their lives, and that of fate. They gave freely to appease them and minded their step. Many gave out of sympathy for the beggar, as well. Eumaeus says it best when he allows Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, inside his humble home;

"Stranger, it would be wrong for me to turn a guest away, even one in a worse state than you, since every beggar and stranger is from Zeus, and a gift, though small, from such folk as us is welcome."
Interestingly enough, I had already written half of this post when Anne commented on yesterday's post, mentioning that practicing by UPG, to her, is more important than practicing by the ancient sources. I've been thinking about UPG a lot lately, in the same thought stream that produced yesterday's post of standardizing Hellenismos.

I have a love/hate relationship with Unverified Personal Gnosis (or UPG, for short). On the one hand, I believe, with every fiber of my being, in the knowledge I have been made privy of by the Gods. I believe in my experiences and they are sacred to me. They run anywhere from synchronicious events to detailed biographies and some of them I will never share with anyone, they were that special. Throughout my practice, I have allowed UGP to push me forward in my path. Much of what I know, have done or now practice is directly related to a UPG event, this blog and Little Witch magazine included.

On the other hand, there is UPG out there that contradicts mine, that I personally think is completely incorrect or that questions everything I believe in. Needless to say, this is UPG I struggle with. I can't view it as invalid; I respect everyone's path too much for that, but where does it fit in with my believes? We are talking about the same Gods, right?

One of my major struggles with UPG is that the mere mention of it often seems to cut short any form of discussion about the subject or, and I find this more worrying, UPG gets used to prove a standpoint. The problem with UPG is that it, by its very nature and definition, can't be verified. It can therefor never be used to give credit to or discredit a viewpoint or hypothesis. I can't rightfully say: 'Athena's eyes are blue'. What I can say is 'I believe Athena's eyes are blue'.

Within the Hellenic community, UPG is almost completely ignored. It may play a role in individual household worship but does not enter into the religion at large. Only UPG from the ancient Hellens is used to base the religion on. I think it's valid to say that anything the ancient Hellens did, was based upon UPG, too. Oracles made predictions, rulers made declarations and myths came into being to explain why certain days were special or how major spheres of influence came to be. That stream that sustains the community? That's Arethusa, who got transformed into the steam in order to escape from Alpheus. Why are there seasons? Because Demeter makes it so in her grief over Persephone.

These myths are either completely made up or revealed through UPG to those who dealt with these phenomenon. I prefer to believe the latter. Once into existence, these UPG events became part of daily life, of mythos and of Deity. Shrines were erected, rituals were decided upon. UPG upon UPG until doctrine formed and the belief spread. Some rituals never traveled further than a village or two because the UPG applied only to a very specific event or phenomenon. Others traveled the whole of Hellas.

I wrote about my wish for UPG to be included in modern day Hellenismos a couple of months ago. While the sentiment still holds true, I realize that my viewpoint has changed since then. I think it's fair that UPG doesn't play a part in Hellenismos. It's incredibly sad for these lines to end but as a pure Recon faith, modern UPG can not be included because it would muddle the lines between old and new.

That having been said, I can see a denomination of Hellenismos forming where UPG is allowed, where myth builders and oracles come together to stretch out the Divine genealogy lines and get revealed the name of the grand daughter of Hēphaistos who rules over modern technology or the name of the son of Hermes who guards those who travel by plane. I would love to know if Hēphaistos is still married to Aphrodite and if Persephone has driven her husband nuts yet.

There is a time and place for UPG and, as long as everyone is clear that this is (modern) UPG, there is absolutely nothing against using it in your practice, even in a Recon faith. I think we all do that, just by having a certain idea about a Deity and interacting with Them. We get to know Them, and sometimes we see a different side of Them than described in mythology or experienced by others. Sharing this with others is a good thing but, especially within Recon Traditions, it's important to know that others may--and most likely will--disagree. And that's alright, because they have received their fair share of UPG events too.
Hellenismos, as a modern Recon Tradition, is young. It's only a decade or two old and while it's starting to get off of the ground and come together, there are a lot of issues which have not been worked out yet. I broached this in my post about suicide and I want to delve deeper into it today. There is a promise of greatness in Hellenismos, but unlike the slightly older Wicca and its younger cousin Neo-Wicca, Hellenismos can't function on a 'coven-by-coven'-basis. This means it needs a doctrine.

The definition of Paganism I use is the one from the Cauldron;

"A Pagan religion is a religion that is not Jewish, Christian, or Islamic and self-identifies as Pagan."

Emphasis on 'self-identifies'. If you feel your practice fits under the Pagan banner, you are free to call yourself Pagan. It's not a protected term like Wicca is, and Hellenismos should be. Above, I stated that Hellenismos can't function on a 'coven-by-coven'-basis. What I meant to say with that is that the few Hellenistic organizations there are can, of course, function wonderfully on their own, but they will both be practicing something different; their own versions of Hellenismos which are, most likely, incompatible. They don't form a whole, a unified religion. They would practice on that 'coven-to-coven' basis which, in my opinion, does not work with a Recon tradition.

Hellenismos does not have the luxury of being a 'do as thou wilt' religion. As a Reconstructionistic Tradition, Hellenismos has source material it needs to draw from in order for it to truly reconstruct anything. I have spoke to you about my problems with reconstruction before but it bears repeating; I greatly believe and fear that reconstruction is only possible within the confines of modern day society, thus limiting its validity by default.

I think there are three things which stand in the way of standardizing Hellenismos; modern day individualistic society, a language barrier and the religious origins of its members.

Society at large is moving more and more away from community to individuality and from local to global. This means that everyone has an opinion about everything and very few people still feel comfortable 'limiting' their lives by accepting a doctrine in it. This is one of the reasons why the Churches are emptying out slowly and Paganism is finding its membership growing.

As for language; the ancient Hellens spoke Greek. The most organized Hellenistic organization out there today, πατο Συμβούλιο των Ελλήνων Εθνικών (the 'Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes'), is in Greece and most of their communication is in Greek. Needless to say, this limits the rest of the world greatly in accessing sources.

The religious origins of a practitioner are incredibly important, especially if they were raised with a different religion than the one they wish to practice now. It's hard to shake off the framework, mindset and practices from your life before Hellenismos (or any other religion, really). Hellenists coming from an Orthodox Christian background, from a Christian-then-Pagan background, from an Atheist background, from the background of any other world religion, or from a pure Pagan background will all have incredibly different ideas about deity, about practice, about devotion, about anything, really. The big things you can shake pretty easily; you accept new deities, find out how a ritual should work and practice that, you buy new tools, do a little research and voilá! Hellenistic! Or not?

While not a huge fan of Timothy Jay Alexander, he does raise several good points in his books and on his website(s) that deserve further study. In this blog post, for example, he asks a couple of questions about what should and should not be considered Hellenismos:
  • At a minimum, how many Greek Gods need to be worshiped for a practice to be Hellenismos, and which ones?
  • Does every practitioner of Hellenismos have to honor Hestia? How about Zeus?
  • Is there a specific ritual style?
  • Can rituals be innovative? If they can, when does innovation cross the line?
  • Can a person cast a circle?
  • Are sacrifices and offerings required?
  • Is there a specific ethical system?
  • Are there specific sacred texts?
  • Can new mythologies be incorporated?
  • Is there a specific festival calendar or calendars?
  • Can you create new festivals? If you can, what are the limits? Are there limits to what is appropriate?
Good questions, right? I can answer these questions from my own viewpoint but the next Hellenist over would probably answer them completely differently.

This might be a bit controversial but... I believe that in order for Hellenismos to work as a unified religion, we need a global organization of international, elected, clergy members and three--in this example, simplified--handbooks, supplemented by the ethical and scholarly works so important in Hellenismos;
  • Hellenismos 101: the Religious Basics
  • Hellenismos 201: the Practical Handbook of Rituals, Festivals and Daily Devotionals
  • The Huge Book of Hellenic Mythology
All those who wish to call themselves 'Hellenists' should read these books, practice it for a year while documenting their progress, preferably under a mentor or a local Hellenistic community approved of by the organization, and then take an entry test. Membership of the organization would come with the perks of access to temples--made possible by government money as well as the mandatory annual tithing of all members--as well as a community of like minded Hellenists, access to on-line resources like the ancient works, modern books on Hellenismos and essays and articles written by clergy, access to clergy when needed and a shiny new label.

This organization would have to start making the hard decisions concerning issues like the ones above but also about abortion, suicide, euthanasia, drug use, religious basics, animal sacrifice and any other of a huge number of issues humanity struggles with. Members are free to disagree with the standpoint the organization takes but may not oppose it openly while still a member. Discussion about the subject is not opposition. The organization would also be in charge of forming community networks in different countries and giving members the ability to meet others of their faith.

They would be in charge of the formation of uniform rituals for births, deaths, suicides, festivals and any other event that requires ritual and they need to decide which of these rituals need to be watched over by clergy and which should be household affairs. On top of that, they would be responsible for the Public Relations of the religion and for the construction of Temples to the Theoi in any country with more than [set number of] followers. This number also needs to be decided by the organization. I believe either the organization's leader or the majority of its ruling counsel should be Greek.

This is only a very rough sketch but it gets the point across; in my opinion, the construction of a Recon Tradition like Hellenismos needs an organizational body and a set of rules to follow in order to call yourself a member. There is a reason the Abrahamic faiths aren't Pagan; they have a set doctrine that does not lend itself to Paganism at all. Their success is in that doctrine. There may be a huge number of denominations but they all default to a basic set of believes which keep them under the Christian banner. I have no problem in admitting that I feel Hellenismos would thrive in a framework like the one described in this post.

Perhaps the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes can be the organization I have tried to sketch out. They do incredible work in trying to get recognition for the religion and are even active on an international level--with charters in the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany and Brazil--but there are many battles still to face in their home country. Right now, Hellenismos isn't a recognized religion there, with prevents them from getting financial support as well as halts initiatives to raise Temples, although there was a Temple built just outside of Thessaloniki in 2009.

However Hellenismos is going to evolve; we are now at that point in the religion where all members need to start paying attention to that big picture. Right about now, we start setting up the foundations for the future of Hellenismos and the entire religion can still come crashing down if handled incorrectly. I think yesterday's post should be warning enough of that. Losing a religion with the beauty and potential like Hellenismos again would be, to me, an eternal shame.
When I first placed myself under the Pagan banner and started coming out, I had already gotten a good couple of coming outs about my sexuality under my belt. The process of tap-dancing around the subject, broaching it casually and then saying the actual word was not unknown to me. Not one to back down from any challenge, I have held some sort of presentation or talk about Paganism in front of my school classes since highschool. I was always more of a 'lets-get-this-over-with-so-we-can-all-go-back-to-our-lives'-kind of girl.

Because I have always been outspoken about my religion, I have lost the company of a good few I would have loved to call friends. Because of this, I tend to come out as a lesbian and a Pagan in the first five meetings with a person. That way, we both know the score and it saves me a lot of heartache. So far, people have been incredibly understanding about both. Highschool was a bit of a mess but mostly about the gay thing. The Pagan thing, they didn't understand, didn't know how to tease me with and thus ignored. When I got older, 99 percent of the reactions ranged from excited to intrigued. That one percent of negative feedback is completely neglectable to me.

I am incredibly sad to say that most flack I have ever gotten about my religious believes has come from the Pagan community itself. When I was Neo-Wiccan, I was 'fluffy', when I was a Technopagan, I was 'disrespecting nature' and 'angering the Goddess' for accepting technology in ritual. When I was a Hedge Witch, I 'didn't know enough about herbs' to be one. When I was an Eclectic Religious Witch, I was 'lazy' and 'a pick-and-choosing thief'. Now I'm Hellenic, I'm 'elitist' and 'in disrespect of nature' again. Honestly, I can't win. Whatever I do, for the majority of Pagans, I will never be 'Pagan enough'.

For those wondering, I have been a practicing Pagan for twelve years, thirteen if you count my 'year and a day'. I started at thirteen. I was young but not stupid and what I was looking for was religion, not spirituality. From there on, I progressed a lot in the search for something to bring me closer to my faith, to a point where I honored the Gods I knew to be there in a way that worked for me. I was always aware that the way I believed was my way, and there was no one who was obligated to believe the way I did. As such, I have bit my tongue on more occasions than I can count. But I believe in temperance. I believe that everyone has his or her opinion and is entitled to it. It's our divine right; not even the Gods can make us do something we don't want to do. Then why is the Pagan community trying to make me?

The Pagan community at large preaches tolerance a lot but because it's a religion of individuals, tolerance is a hard thing to practice. There is a deep seeded hatred against Christianity in our collective hearts. It's clearer within some than in others but it's there. I guess it's because some came from a Christian background, because some blame Christianity for the oppression of Paganism, because Christians killed nine million Witches or because Christians are preventing us from practicing our faith. Of course, all of that is a matter of perspective, some based on falsehoods.

The early Christians were persecuted. They were hunted and sometimes killed for their faith in a 'false God'. The odds of any of the millions killed in the Burning Times being Witches, as we understand the term, is incredibly small and the only ones preventing us from practicing our religion are we. Of course, no one's experiences are invalid. I am simply saying that there is another side to every single coin.

Within Hellenismos, there is a raging hatred against Christianity, and a disdain and anger towards Neo-Paganism, that keeps me from seeking out others of my faith. I understand where it comes from; in Greece, probably 98 percent of believers are Orthodox Christians. Being a minority of, maybe, a couple of thousand against a religious majority like that is a frightening thing. Losing your job, your friends, your family over your religious choices... I think it would harden me too. As for Neo-Paganism; there are times when I, too, want to bang my head into the wall a couple of times when I hang around message boards or Pagan festivals too long. Yet, there is beauty in these paths as well. And even if I thought that someone's path would lead to their doom or the doom of the world; who am I to interfere in their rightful pursuit of truth?

The thing is, I don't see how replacing 'One True God(s)' with another 'One True God(s)' is going to change anything. The persecution might switch for a couple of thousand years but after that, it's the same thing all over again. I wish we could all let go of 'One True'. Then there would just be God and Gods and we could finally stop trying to carve out a place for our religion from someone else's hands and focus on creating a space for ourselves separate from the religion of others. There really is no going forward if we do it by making everyone else look bad. It keeps our eyes on the past and stands in the way of moving forward, of coming into our own.

Tolerance is, and should be, a verb, a noun and an adjective. It's something active, not passive. It's a continual work in progress within ourselves. It cancels out our hate, our fear, our judgement and our ego. It's a worthy struggle and can be a glue, a bridge, between Pagans, as well as between Pagans and non-Pagans. If we let it.
I woke up this morning with absolutely zero inspiration. It happens every once in a while when you write a blog post every day and try not to work ahead as much as possible. Zero inspiration gives me the opportunity to look around and find something that I simply love to do, to read or to watch and blog about that. As I've been on a Falling Skies binge lately, trying to fill the void of the Olympics, that show fueled this post, although it's not much about that show.

Falling Skies, if you will indulge me the introduction, revolves around the survivors of an alien invasion as they deal with the constant threat of the aliens, the threat of humanity driven to the brink, and the challenges of reconstructing civilization.

I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories and a big fan of their respective series, movies and books. Anything from Falling Skies, The Walking Dead, Carriers, Resident Evil, The Hunger Games, The Books of Amber (books preferred), The Stand, Dark Angel, and The Book of Eli, to games like Fallout, books like Orson Welles' War of the Worlds and even T.V. series like Lost. But it's not all about entertainment; it's about a very important (religious) question: what would you do?

If civilization as we know it came to an end right now, what would you do? How prepared are you? I admit that people with a gun might have a tad better odds of survival than myself, well, at least if the world goes to hell in hand basket due to some kind of alien invasion or zombie apocalypse which renders any rebuilding of a government useless. If our civilization's downfall is more a matter of our economy crashing, the power switching off permanently, global war, or something as basic as an epidemic that kills all but a few... well... then that gun might come in handy but the government would remain intact and it's probably more important that your mortgage is paid off.

I didn't want to write about violence, though. If pushed to the brink, we will all do things we might never have expected of ourselves. I'm not diluted enough to say that, when presented with a world like that, any reservations about guns I might have will go right out the window. If pressed to survive or die, I would fight to survive, no matter the cost. No, I'm musing about the times in-between fights, about the difficult decisions, about dealing with other people. If you could only carry a single backpack with you, and most of that space was reserved for food and an extra pair of undies, would you sacrifice precious space for religious items? Would your religious items be the first in the pack?

I've been trying to imagine myself in that type of situation and see which of my practices would survive. Many of them would be improvised, of that I'm sure. I have spoken before about the importance of finding the base of your faith. The items I use now, are mostly too heavy to lug around. The clay offering bowl, the jug for khernips, the ethanol I use to burn my daily food offerings, I would not be taking those with me if survival meant constant travel. I'd try for some barley but I'm not sure my supply would hold out or if I wouldn't get hungry enough to eat it. Incense? Not likely. My flame keeping I would let go of right away but I would try and have a candle burning for prayers and offerings. Dragging along a candle or a few tea lights and a matchbook would be a small sacrifice.

But I guess it's the little things that matter; what's on your mind. For me that would mean staying ethical, staying kind to strangers, sharing what little I have and offering praise and sacrifice to the Gods. I don't think I would lose faith but unless you're in that situation, well... there is no way of knowing, is there? On Falling Skies, there is a young Christian woman who continues to practice her faith despite raised eyebrows. She says grace before her meals, she prays for the wounded, she goes to church meetings on Sunday. She is grateful for every day, even the bad ones. She finds glimmers of hope.

I think religion in a situation like that, post-apocalyptica, you either lose faith or lose yourself in it. There are no half measures. You either believe, through the hardship, through the loss, through the pain to see beyond it, or you give up on Him/Her/Them. I think that happened for a lot of religious people after the first and second world wars; they couldn't imagine that their God(s) had abandoned them in such a way, and so they stopped believing. Or they resented Him/Them so, that they could not bring themselves to worship Him/Them any longer.

As for Hellenismos; the Gods have always chosen sides. Look at Troy; on the side of the Hellenes were Athena, Hera, Hēphaistos, Poseidon and Hermes. On the side of the Trojans were Aphrodite, Apollon, Ares and Artemis. Zeus, Demeter, Hestia and Hades remained neutral. As for a post-apocalyptic world right now; They would probably be on the side of humanity in case of an alien invasion but beyond that, all bets are off as far as I'm concerned. There would be a lot of appeasing from me, of that I am sure.

I know there is a Pagan consensus on not evangelizing but I feel no reservation about evangelizing about Hellenismos. I would most likely try and offer faith to those who have lost theirs. Religion is a binding force, a  force that can push your spirits upwards, provide courage, stability and hope. It makes one feel special, protected. It might just get you through another day when the world around you is falling apart.

Of course, the event of a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion is unlikely, but with the economy as it is, civilization won't be going through a good time any time soon. The economy hasn't collapsed yet, but it might, and I'm not knowledgeable enough to imagine what the world will look like when it does. What about when we run out of fossil fuel? Everything we depend upon runs on that. What if traveling long distances became impossible? How would the world change?

These stories present the far end of the scale, but we're moving further up the scale every day. It's a good thing to get your priorities straight even without taking a dive off into the deep end of conspiracy theories. As for me, practically, there is not much I can do right now. If civilization ends tomorrow, I'm in for a world of hurt. I have nothing to my name, no practical survival skills to speak of. I have my faith and my mind. I'm a quick learner and I have hope. It will have to do; if I lose faith, I have nothing to get me through another day. So that is why I can't imagine losing it; I would need it too much.
Today's Hekate's Deipnon and I have a lot to do for it so I'm keeping this post brief. Since my progression into Hellenismos, I have started to consider language in Pagan practice. Although I am Dutch, I have nearly always practiced in English. I love this language; it's softer, more poetic, more fluid than Dutch. It has synonyms that make sense. 'Practicing in English' became part of my practice. When I set out onto the Hellenic path, I naturally started practicing in English. I can't read or pronounce Greek yet so it made sense. Since about a week, I am not so sure anymore.

I tried an on-the-spot translation into Dutch of my daily prayers and hymns and felt a deeper connection to Deity than I had felt before within this practice. I started wondering why that was as I stumbled through my translations this week. I think... that especially Hestia appreciates my Dutch prayers and hymns because Dutch is the language that is spoken in this household. It's part of our Oikos. I'm not sure the others care very much.

Of course, I would rather practice in ancient Hellas. I got myself a home study course and will be attempting to learn as much as I can on my own before taking a language course. It's not mandatory in Hellenismos to speak Greek but I would love to be able to read the hymns, myths and plays I base my practice on in their original language and form. Translations are lovely but there is always artistic freedom. Besides, for me, it's the language of the Gods.

I realize that this is mostly a Recon issue; I never worried about this when I was still a practicing Neo-Wiccan or Eclectic Religious Witch. Yet, I do now, and I wonder where you stand on this. Is language an influential factor in religious practice? Should you adapt your language used for the Gods who are worshipped? If you have an opinion on this, I would love to hear it.
Two days now, I have tackled very heavy subjects in general, as well as for me personal. It becomes wearisome to write about such topics, so today, I'm writing about puppies. Well, hunting dog, but they were puppies once, so it counts. Also, as this is a Pagan Blog Project post, I should explain that there are no words starting with 'Q' in Greek because the letter does not exist in the language. 'Quarry' is the closest I'm getting so it will have to do.

Dogs had a very special and particular place in ancient Hellenic society. The Hellenic word for 'dog' is 'kuón' (κύων), and there were a couple of breeds that were favored. First and foremost, the Molossus, a now extinct species of dog related most to the mastiffs of current times, enjoyed great prestige. Another favorite was the Laconian, which was especially popular in Sparta. The Molossus was most often used as a guard dog, while the Laconian was the go-to hunting dog of the time. Also known were the Cretan, a Laconia probably crossed with the Molossian; and the Melitan, a small long-haired, short-legged lap dog.

Even back then, hunting dogs had to be purebred, which made buying a hunting pack an incredibly costly affair which came with a lot of prestige. Quarries for the Laconian hunting dogs were often wild goats, deer, and hares. For the more dangerous animals like boars and even humans, the Molossus breed was chosen.

Dogs used for the hunt had to have very different qualities than those needed to guard a house, herd, field or person. There are no existing Hellenic sources of traits looked for in either type of dog, but Marcus Nemesianus, a Roman poet, has the following to say about breeding good, strong, dogs which almost certainly applied to Hellens as well:

"... you must choose a bitch obedient to speed forward, obedient to come to heel, native to either the Spartan or the Molossian country-side, and of good pedigree. She must stand high on straight legs; with a comely slope let her carry, under a broad breast, where the ribs end, a width of keel that gradually again contracts in a lean belly: she must be big enough with strong loins, spread at the hips, and with the silkiest of ears floating in air as she runs. Give her a male to match, everywhere similarly well-sized, while strength holds sway, while bodily youth is in its joyous flower and blood abounds in the veins of early life. For burdensome diseases creep on and sluggish age, and they will produce unhealthy offspring without steadfast strength. But for breeding a difference of age in the parents is more suitable: you should release the male, keen for mating, when he has already completed forty months: and let the female be two full years old. Such is the best arrangement in their coupling. Presently when Phoebe has completed the round of two full moons since the birth-giving womb fertilised by the male began to swell, the pregnancy in its due time reveals the fruitful offspring, and straightway you see all round an abundant noisy litter."

For hunting dogs, swiftness was paramount and for guard and shepherding dogs, Marcus Varro, a notable Roman scholar and writer, advised the following: a large head, drooping ears, thick shoulders and neck, wide paws, thick tail, a deep bark, and be white in color so as to be more easily recognized in the dark, were important.

Of course, only the best in the litter were good enough to become hunting or guarding dogs. As such, the first litter of any bitch was done away completely while the second litter was (at least) halved so only the strong survived. After this, Nemesianus advices any breeder or buyer the following:

"You will be able to examine the strength of a puppy by its weight and by the heaviness of each body know in advance which will be light in running. Furthermore, you should get a series of flames made in a wide circuit with the smoke of the fire to mark a convenient round space, so that you may stand unharmed in the middle of the circle: to this all the puppies, to this the whole crowd as yet unseparated must be brought: the mother will provide the test of her progeny, saving the valuable young ones by her selection and from their alarming peril. For when she sees her offspring shut in by flames, at once with a leap she clears the blazing boundaries of the fire-zone, snatches the first in her jaws and carries it to the kennel; next another, next another in turn: so does the intelligent mother distinguish her nobler progeny by her love of merit." 

It sounds a bit harsh but I'm pretty sure no puppies (or their mothers) were harmed in this process. When the proper dog is selected, there is still the matter of naming them, and there was a definite science behind this process. Xenophon, a historian, soldier, mercenary and philosopher who lived in ancient Hellas, advices the following:

"Give the hounds short names, so as to be able to call to them easily. The names are significant of the colour, strength, spirit, sagacity or behaviour of the hounds. Hebe and Psyche are still in the list of bitches' names, and modern equivalents of several of the other names are in use, e.g. Lance (Lonché), Sentinel (Phylax), Ecstasy (Chara), Blueskin (Oenas), Crafty (Medas), Hasty (Sperchon), Vigorous (Thallon), Impetus (Hormé), Counsellor (Noës), Bustler (dog) or Hasty (bitch)."

When you have aptly named your dog, they still need to eat. As they didn't have Pedigree, the ancient Hellens had to improvise. Ordinary pups recieved barley bread softened with cow’s milk or whey, but more valuable puppies eat bread soaked in sheep or goat milk. Puppies who would grow up to hunt game recieved a little blood from the type of animal the pup was supposed to hunt. Grease stained bread, other table scaps and meat broth were also dog food favorites. After a sacrefice, dogs got special treats in the form of roasted ox liver coated in barley meal. Of course, a bit of the meat from any hunted animal was given to the dog who helped hunt it.

There are actually a lot of myths featuring dogs. The most famous are probably Atalanta and her hunting dog Aura (Breeze), Odysseus and his hunting dog Argos (who, after waiting for his master for twenty years, dies after seeing him return home) and Actaeon, who is hunted and killed by his own hunting pack after being transformed into a stag upon seeing Artemis bathe.

Artemis is associated with a lot of dog-related mythology. As the Goddess of the hunt, she is often depicted amongst her own hunting pack. Another Goddess associated with dogs is Hekate. She is often described as being of dog-shape or tended to by dog. The dog was also her favored sacrificial animal and the meat of the dog was eaten solemnly. That it was eaten at all is a testament to Hekate's rule extending even beyond the Underworld, as Khthonic (Underworld) Deities often received their sacrificial offerings in a holókaustos. A famous Underworld dog is, of course, the three-headed Kerberos who guards the entrance gates.

Dogs aren't a requirement for the modern practice of Hellenismos, but they are a nice throw-back to life in ancient Hellas. Modern Hellenists take in a dog for any reason a non-Hellenist might; companionship, guard duty, hunting, education or simply because they are so very, very cute.
So, I wasn't going to write about this. It irks me when I feel the need to respond to the latest community fad. But it got under my skin and now I feel the need to offer my perspective, biased and unpopular though it may be. I am talking about the latest issue of guns, gun possession and gun control that's doing the rounds.

I could write about the Pagan perspective of this, I could give you an opinion the ancients Hellens may have had on guns, but I won't. Because guns aren't a 'Pagan thing', they are a human thing, crossing the boundaries of religion and politics. Trying to explain why guns should be allowed or banned by citing religious or political reasons only serves to muddle the subject and provide excuses to hide behind. So what came before and what follows is all my opinion. It's not Hellenic, it's not anything but me, on my soapbox.

It started with a post by Literata, writing about the toxicity of guns to their environment. Then another blog post arose, written by Lauren DeVoe. This time, the post was in defense of gun possession. What I am about to write is not about these authors; they are merely sharing their own side of the coin. As I will do. This is about the issue at large.

I wrote about war and the military life before. I grew up in a household which abhorred both, as well as the possession of guns. No one I know owns a gun. It's harder to get one here, although it is possible, and we have had our fair share of assholes shooting up malls and politicians. Thankfully we have been spared a large-scale school shooting so far.

The Netherlands has strict gun control laws and most often, the weapons used in shootings here were procured illegally. This does not make them any less deadly. In my opinion, gun possession leads to only two things in the end; death and/or civil disobedience stemming from a (false) sense of superiority.

The problem with guns is that any idiot with a liter of vodka in his or her stomach can fire a gun into a crowd and hit at least one person, especially if that gun is an automatic rifle, if they have access to it. It's a lot harder to do the same with a knife or baseball bat. Guns kill from a distance, which makes them overpowered, unfair and, most of all, incredibly deadly. This also sets in motion the vicious cycle; in order to defend against a gun, you need a gun. It becomes an eye-for-an-eye mentality which only ends when one or none are left standing.

People buy guns for home protection, automatically accepting the fact that they might one day end up taking a human life. Even that mental step is completely beyond me, but what I hear even more is that when 'they' come knocking, the gun possessor will be ready to stand up for their rights--even if those knocking are the people who have sworn to uphold that very law the gun possessors are so adamant about.

Would I sit idly by, waiting to be persecuted for being any of the minorities I am a part of? No. I would not. But I also wouldn't try to shoot my way out. And really, if police officers or military personnel came to your door to drag you away, would you try and take as many out with you as you could before they kill you in front of the family you bought that gun for to protect? And who are 'they', anyway?

Gun ownership for protection seems like a logical thing to do. I understand wanting to keep your family safe, I really, really do, but I also trust my government and the police force. This might sound like a very naive thing to do to some, but that is what we pay them for, so I might as well trust that the government and its police force have our protection in mind. I don't need a gun, I can use a burglary alarm, a phone and my hiding skills. Also, I can be pretty sure that whomever enters this house will not have a gun... because you can't get them here unless you're willing to jump through a bazillion hoops. Of course, this might be different where you are, and you may live far away from the protection of a police force, but it also stands to reason that no common burglar will visit your house if you're that far out into the wilds.

When I think about guns, gun possession and gun control, all I see flashing before my eyes is this:

and this:

and this:

and any of a hundredth other examples. There is no blame to place here; those who fight for second amendment rights to own a gun are not responsible for this, but there is a cycle at work here. There is demand, so there is supply. And that supply is available to any who pay enough.

And no, people who use their gun(s) solely for hunting and property protection but who lock up their guns any other time will mostly likely not go around in a murderous rampage. I get that. But this sense of entitlement to a gun--for whatever reason--leads to the availability of guns for those who might not be mentally stable enough to know the difference between proper gun management and murder.

I realize that had I been raised differently, in a different country, with different experiences, I would feel differently about this. But I wasn't. I was raised in a pacifist household, with the realization that people, if pushed to far or under the influence of enough mind altering substances, will do the stupidest things. And yes, I think that the stupidity of the few should influence the many. I believe that in banning the private possession of guns, many deaths by those (temporarily) beyond the scope of they mental facilities can be prevented.

With this, I don't just mean large-scale shootings like these videos but also kids, who shoot themselves toying around with a gun left around the house or thrown away in the bushes, people who fall into a bout of depression and shoot themselves because the weapon is easily available, bystanders or shop employees who get shot during robberies, husbands shot by wives, wives shot by husbands, family members who are mistaken for burglars. The list goes on.

Bullet wounds kill; instantly if the shooter is good or lucky. There are no take-backsies or do-overs when someone is shot. I trust myself to do the right thing, but I still won't own a gun. I couldn't live with myself if I accidentally shot someone or my carelessness caused the death of another. I don't want guns around my loved ones, I don't want them around my future children and I don't want to go out into the streets in fear of getting shot by someone holding a grudge towards a 'them' I may be a part of.

And no, for me, buying a gun to alleviate that fear is not the answer. What the answer is? Beyond the destruction of every distance weapon out there and the banning of further construction of one, I don't know. What I do know, is that that ban on guns is never going to happen; because we are all afraid. Afraid of the big bad outside world, of our neighbors whom we don't know or understand, of our individuality which caused us to lose our community. We fear what we see on T.V., what we see in games, what we picture in our minds. So we try to make ourselves feel safe, and for some, that means owning a gun. And I, no matter how hard I try, do not understand that, because in doing so, you become someone whom I fear.
I got back from my city trip to Berlin late last night and I had planned on writing about some experiences from that trip, but I received my daily e-mail from a friend who informed me that his wife's cousin had taken his own life unexpectedly, and that his life was pretty hectic right now because of it. He would therefor need some time to get back to me. After that, the concept and act of suicide was set firmly in my mind and I could write about nothing else. So here is fair warning; this post is about suicide, it touches on depression, my interesting childhood and my opinion on suicide. If any of these are triggers for you, I would ask you to come back tomorrow. Also, and I will get back to this, depression lies.

I grew up in a household where the threat of suicide was prevalent. When I mentioned moving out, when I got angry, when something went wrong (especially if it was something I had caused--or for which I was blamed), I was stopped and the emotions repressed by a veiled or outright threat of suicide by my mother. I used to be angry about that, but as I got older, I understood that it was simply her only way to deal with the depression and personality disorders she was struggling with. She did try once, and it was a horrible experience for all involved. After that, though, I think she realized that no matter how miserable she was, she wasn't really going to go through with it. The threats only stopped when we agreed that she was only allowed to call me with a suicide threat if she really meant it. She never spoke of it again.

Through my experience with suicide, I have developed a very low patience threshold for people who use (the threat of) suicide as an excuse to get attention. For people in my social circle who honestly feel they might commit suicide, I am there. All I ask of them is that they ask for help if they need it. I will gladly give it. I'll get up in the middle of the night for weeks to talk them off of any ledge they might be on, but I need honesty and I will not be guilt tripped into helping them. I did that for at least ten years. I'm a very decent human being. If you need me, in any way, I will be there for you. You don't have to lie. But if you simply need attention, if you need a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell you what a miserable life you have and act shocked you have even considered the act of suicide, I am not the person to go to. I'm the person you go to for help, and to get you help.

That having been said, I understand depression. Everyone goes through rough patches but sometimes it seems impossible to get back out of them. Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess, suffers from a multitude of mental disorders and for those who are struggling with anything that might lead to depression or suicide, you need to watch her talk through her fear and pain, and offer some fantastic words of wisdom I would never be able to give in her video on it. The main message, though? Depression lies, do not trust it. Ever. It lies, and when the depression lessens, you will be able to see that. So it's important to imprint upon yourself that depression lies, so that when life is so dark, the only thing you can think of is to end it, you can hold on to that.

The ancient Hellens had a different attitude towards suicide--and life--than we do today. In general, suicide was an accepted form of death and it even became an accepted form of capital punishment. Athenian philosopher Socrates was condemned to death for 'refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state' and for 'corrupting the youth.' He died by drinking down a cup of poison hemlock.

In Hellenic myth, suicide has different causes for males than for females. Males often take their own lives out of shame, fear of disgrace, self-sacrifice, grief or the loss of honor. Women kill themselves mostly out of grief over the death of a male child or husband, out of shame or through self-sacrifice although their self-sacrifice is often for different reasons and by different means than that of males.

Shame is a prevalent motivator for suicide for both men and women in Hellenic myth. The sources of shame vary greatly, between the sexes but also within the sexes. For women, rape is the most common source of shame. For men, shame comes often from a loss of honor. This can occur when they are slighted in the distribution of bounty (like Ajax), when they commit sexual acts with their daughters (like Clymenus) or because of 'ugliness', like Broteas, who in some versions of mythology is said to have burnt himself because he was ashamed of the way he looked.

Grief is by far the most common motivator for women to take their own lives. In ancient Hellas, women were almost solely in charge of raising children. Their lives consisted of taking care of the hearth, her husband and her children. Any status a woman had, was tied in with her husband. Women in ancient Hellas were groomed to function in pairs. It was because of this that a widow was passed on to another male as soon as possible. For a lot of women in mythology, loosing their husband or male child proves too much to handle. They kill themselves our of grief, fear and/or the promise of an undesirable husband. For women, dying with their husbands was considered a virtuous thing to do. Alcyone, for example, hears of her husband's death and drowns herself. Laodamia, threw herself on her husband's funeral pyre. When Anticleia, mother of Odysseus, is sure Odysseus is dead, she kill herself to end her suffering.

There are also fathers who kill themselves when they lose a son, and husbands who commit suicide when they lose their wife, although it occurs much less frequent than for mothers and wives. Aegeus, thinking his son Theseus is dead, dives off of a cliff. Orpheus, in some versions of the myth, does not leave the Underworld when he loses his wife for a second time, but walks back to die himself.

Stepping away from mythology, suicide became a more frowned-upon practice as time went by. Pythagoras and Aristotle, for example, were against the practice. Pythagoras believed there were only a finite number of souls so suicide upset the balance. Aristotle was against suicide because he felt that the community suffered a loss. A lot later, with the arrival of the Christians, suicide became an act of the Devil.

I doubt Hellenics have reached a consensus over suicide yet. We might, in the future, but for now our societies, our personal experiences and our own (political) preferences influence our views more than our Reconstructionistic practices.

I have actually thought about suicide, and assisted suicide, a lot, both before and after transitioning to Hellenismos. Becoming a priestess has always drawn me. Assisting the sick and dying is a part of that. Unless things change dramatically over the years, I doubt I will ever be called to aid someone I do not know personally, as they decide to end their own life with the help of a physician. I am in favor of euthanasia and I would gladly help a person going through it by praying with them, offering to the Gods in their name and pleading to the psychopomps to aid them on their journey to the Underworld. I would gladly give them the funeral rites their family might be unaware of. I would also do the latter for those who committed suicide.

Some may call suicide hubris. I can see where this idea comes from and I think I agree with it. Offerings to appease the Gods would be a necessary part of Hellenic funeral rites after a suicide; after all, you have taken yourself from the Olympians. Yet, I feel Hades would welcome the soul of someone who has committed suicide, regardless. I don't think He would judge a person at all on committing suicide. That having been said, please read the part of this post about not committing suicide again. Once you're dead, you're dead and although the Underworld isn't that horrible a place, no one should wish to leave the sunlight before their time, no matter how hard life can get.