A few days ago, I was asked some very good questions: "[c]an you explain something about kharis, miasma, oíkos, and all those other terms? What I want to know is, were those exact words used by the ancient hellenes? And how do we know they used exactly those words?"

In the words of Paul Cartledge in 'Religion In The Ancient Greek City': "[p]erhaps the best that any translator/interpreter of Classical Greek religion can hope to achieve is [...] get across the idea that Classical Greek religion is 'other', desperately foreign to (in particular) post-Christian, monotheistic ways of conceptualizing the divine, then perhaps we should be well enough satisfied."

We have ancient Hellenic documents that list terms for the major religious actions and ethical standards. They are mentioned by philosophers or carved in the stones of temples. Sometimes we have more words for the same thing, or it depends on a context we are not aware of when which word was used. In general, modern scholars have come to a consensus on the meaning and application of certain terms based on the modern Greek language and the evidence presented to them. The Hellenic community has taken these consensuses and distilled from them terms that are used across the board to make it easier to communicate. Many of these are captured in The English Lexicon of Standard Terminology For Hellenismos. This document also has a very good introduction on universal language and the necessity to form one within the Hellenic community. From the document:

"There are also many English words and terms that are currently being used to represent Hellenic concepts that do not precisely correspond to the proper Hellenic concept. Efforts to redefine the English words to suit the Hellenic concepts have had limited success as the majority of the public as well as newcomers to the religion will still read the words and form their ideas based on the Standard English definitions of words as found in English dictionaries. For this reason, some of the more misleading English words and terms have been identified and the proper Hellenic terms and concepts have been imported into English. The Hellenic words and terms whose comparative conceptual meanings find a satisfactory equivalent in English have been omitted from the lexicon.

It is our hope that this lexicon will form the basis for the religion to have the same terminology and conceptual meaning in both Hellenic and English. It will simultaneously provide a very succinct and precise set of standards that will foster the common bond of meaning and language between us all." [p. 4]

This document provides a short description of the requested terms (and many others); for example 'oikos' has the following:

Pronunciation: Ēekôs
Singular: Oikos
Plural: Oikoi
Other Forms of the Word: Oikogenia: referring to the members of the Oikos
Common English translation: household, home
Translated definition of the word: OIKOS in its original form denotes simultaneously the house (building), the members of the family living within the OIKOS, the estate, the goods belonging to the estate and is inclusive of extended family, servants and employees. OIKOS also refers to the particular dynastical families such as the OIKOS Agamemnon or the OIKOS Herakleides, etc.

Documents like these give practitioners (and writers like me) the ability to adopt a universal language that can be taught and practiced. Were the terms used as categorized as we use them? No, probably not, but in a culture where everyone understood these terms without consciously learning them, there was no need to categorize like there is for us. As Cartledge hinted at: our diversity in culture and religion has made it difficult to speak of the Hellenic religion as the ancient Hellenes would have done. Too much has changed, and so we need these terms--which most certainly trace back to ancient Hellas.