Reader question time! I had answered the question below already in two Pagan Blog Project posts, but I thought I'd combine them into a handy reply for you all.

"Hello! Just out of curiosity, how do people choose one God to worship and why? I am new to Hellenism and I am really wanting to learn more! Thanks in advance :) "

Patronage is a pretty big thing in Paganism these days. I frequently a few Neo-Pagan places, and one of the most asked newbie questions is: ‘How do I find out who my patron is?”, or a variation thereof. There is nothing wrong with this; modern patronage is a thing, and I have experienced it myself. The interesting change in the last few years seems to be that patronage used to be the exception, now it is the rule. Any person new to Paganism feels they are doing something wrong if there isn’t a God or Goddess tapping them on the shoulder right away.

Modern patronage, in this context, is the support or encouragement of a ‘patron’, where the patron or ‘patroness’ (and we will get to that) is a divine being. In these relationships, the active party is often the deity in question, who claims the passive human. Some will describe a sense of ‘being owned’ by their patron. The human becomes a conduit for the work and will of the patron in question, and is required to spend large portions of their lives in active service to that deity.

Patronage is not part of Hellenismos, and it was not part of ancient Hellenic life. Hellenism has its own beautiful system of kharis, and because of that, there is no need to bring in a modern concept like patrons. When we, in Hellenismos, petition the Gods for aid, we always do so with an offering. This offering can be incense, a libation, a food offering or anything else. It must be something tangible. Good thoughts and intentions don’t count. This offering is given freely, joyfully, with pleasure, and out of respect and love for the Gods. We ask what we feel we need—sometimes that’s a new job, sometimes just a sentiment like honor and prosperity to the household—and never expect to be granted this request. Petitions aren’t bribery. We give to the Gods and should They feel inclined to grand us our request, we thank Them by offering to Them again, to which the Gods might respond, to which we will sacrifice, and so on. This circular practice of voluntary giving is called kharis, and through it, we built relationships with all Theoi.

In ancient Hellas, there were priests; most of them were chosen through hereditary lines and often served short terms in the temple of a deity their family was connected to, either through the family line or by choice. There were also priests who chose to come into the service of a Theos or Theia; they were voluntary priests and they devoted themselves to the God(s) they were drawn to or especially thankful to. Neither type of priest would have worshipped only the deity they were in service to, and all would have attended state festivals, and most likely had a household practice that included a large number of deities. Note that the active party in these relationships is the human, not the deity in question.

There are a few (mythical) exceptions to this rule that could be seen as patronage: Athena was a guide and aid for Odysseus and his son, and many Gods were (temporary) aids of Hēraklēs. These were heroes, chosen by the Theoi to suffer a specific fate and to rise above it as heroes. If you are Hellenistic and you feel you are being divinely aided to make it through such a path then by all means, say you have a patron. If not, it feels like hubris to me to make that claim. Of course, there is a degree of personal viewpoint here (i.e. we can never judge the lives of others; what feels like an epic quest of hardship to you, may seem like a breeze to me and the other way around), so for safety’s sake, I stick with my viewpoint that patronage has no place in Hellenism, because as much as our lives may feel like an epic journey, we are not all Odysseus.

'Patronage' in the context of ancient Hellas seems to focus on the non-lineal bond between two people—a patron who took care of a client or slave in a material, financial, or emotional way. 'Patron' to mean the support, encouragement, or privilege that a deity bestows upon those practicing a profession or living in a city is a Christian term, which refers to patron saints. Patron saints are regarded as the tutelary spirits or heavenly advocates of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person. Taking this description would give you, for example, Athena as the patron of Athens—but outside of Christianity, the proper term is 'tutelage'; a tutelary deity.

A tutelary, or tutelar, deity is ‘a guardian, patron, or protector of a particular place, geographic feature, person, lineage, nation, culture or occupation’. Both tutelary and tutelar can be used as either a noun or an adjective. As such, Athena is the tutelary Goddess of Athens, or the tutelar of Athens—but because we are so used to ‘patron(ess)’, ‘tutelar’ does not have quite the same ring to it.
The easiest way to find out the tutelary domains of a deity is to look up where they were worshipped and what they were associated with; this is why studying epithets is so important. An epithet is an attachment to the name of a God or Goddess, used to indicate either a specific domain of the Deity, a specific origin myth or region from which the Deity came, or an entirely different entity, through either domain or origin. As such, if we look at Apollon, we get—amongst many others—the following:
  • Apollon Thearios (Απολλων Θεαριος) ‘Of the Oracle’
  • Apollon Lykios (Απολλων Λυκιος) ‘Of the Wolves’
  • Apollon Dêlios (Απολλων Δηλιος) ‘Of Delos’
These three alone make Apollon a tutelar (or, in the Christian terminology, a patron) of oracles, wolves and of the island Delos in the Aegean sea. As such, people who identified with these domains would feel drawn to a certain deity; shepherds might pray to Apollon to keep the wolves away from their herd. Citizens of Delos would more than others keep Apollon in their personal prayers and festival cycle because Apollon personally watched over their lands. Those who came to visit an oracle of Apollon (like in Delphi), would pray to Apollon Thearios to send them a message; those who had received an oracle of Apollon might keep Him in their personal prayers, as a continued form of thanks giving for His aid.

There is a danger in defining Deities by their tutelary domains, mostly because many get left out for simplicity’s sake. It’s far easier to see Apollon as solely the tutelar of arts and oracles, but His reach extends way beyond that. He is a healer, an averter of evil, a hunter, the possessor of beautiful hair, and many, many other thing. Just like all other Theoi, Apollon’s reach is not limited to the domains prescribed to Him by his epithets; these are just the domains he is best known for.

The ancient Hellenes called on those deities they had the most kharis with for aid; Poseidon might not be known as a healer, but with enough kharis, He might still heal you—either by Himself, or with the aid of one of the Theoi known for Their healing abilities. Poseidon, under the title ‘Asphalios’ (Ασφαλιος), was worshipped in several towns of ancient Hellas as the God who grants safety to ports and to navigation in general. The people in these towns would have built kharis with Poseidon through His epithet, and might also come to Him for aid in other domains—even if Poseidon was not known to have tutelage over these domains.

I need to make one more remark before I end this post: could we please stop using the word ‘matron’ when the female version of the modern concept ‘patron’ is meant…? A matron is a married woman usually marked by dignified maturity (an older woman) or an established social distinction; a wife or widow, especially one who has borne children; a woman who has charge of the domestic affairs of a hospital, prison, orphanage, private school, or other institution; a woman serving as a guard, warden, or attendant for women or girls, as in a prison; the chief officer in a women’s organization; or a female animal kept for breeding. A patroness is the Christian or non-religious term for is a female being who supports, protects, or champions someone or something; a female patron. If you have to make use of the term ‘patron’, and want to refer to a female deity, please don’t call her a ‘matron’? Pretty please?

Before I ditch the soapbox: the tutelage of a deity is important to be aware of, but easy to get hung up on. The difference with the modern concept of personal patronage is also fairly large; personal patronage describes the personal bond of a person to a deity—something very rare indeed in ancient Hellas, and hardly applicable outside of mythology—while tutelage, or ‘professional patronage’, describes the domains over which a deity holds sway, as defined by spheres of influence and/or places of worship, and those who worship Him or Her in that aspect.