A short introduction to Hellenic tradition
Written by Stilian Ariston, February 25, “2014”.
Last update: July 22, “2018”.
1. HELLENISMOS (ΕΛΛΗΝΙΣΜΟΣ)
Hellenismos is the indigenous cultural and religious tradition of Greece, and the worldview and ethnic identity of ancient and medieval Hellenes (Plethon, Marullus etc.). Hellenismos is an ethnic religion: “By Ethnic Religion, we mean religion, spirituality, and cosmology that is firmly grounded in a particular people’s traditions. In our view, this does not include modern occult or ariosophic theories/ideologies, nor syncretic neo-religions” (ECER: About ECER). Hellenismos is the official name of Hellenic tradition and way of life. “Hellenismos” and “Hellenic religion” are synonymous. The many terms Hellenic polytheism, Greek religion, Hellenismos, Hellenic ethnicum (“Heathenism”) etc. are different names for the same tradition.
The term Hellenismos “refers to the religion of ancient Greece that the Roman emperor Julian attempted to revive” (Barbara Jane Davy: Introduction to pagan studies, p. 156, Lanham, MD 2007). Hellenismos means “of the Greeks, Hellenism […]. II. use of a pure Greek style and idiom […].” (Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott: A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 536, 9th ed., New York 1996).
“The term ‘Ethnic Hellenic Religion’ means the sum of all views of the ethnic hellenes of the past, present, and future, about the cosmos, the gods, nature, animals and, humans. The Hellenic Religion is polytheistic, native, organic, and above all a natural religion. It was not created by one or more people, ‘prophets’ or ‘god-men’.” Vlassis G. Rassias: On the differences between ethnic Hellenic and christian religion, Greek article, retrieved: June 15, “2013”.
“Greek religion: religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Hellenes. Greek religion is not the same as Greek mythology, which is concerned with traditional tales, though the two are closely interlinked. Curiously, for a people so religiously minded, the Greeks had no word for religion itself; the nearest terms were eusebeia (‘piety’) and threskeia (‘cult’).” Encyclopædia Britannica: Greek religion, in: Encyclopædia Britannica Online, retrieved: June 15, “2013”.
The Hellenes are an ethnos. The word “ethnos” derives from the ancient Greek word éthos (“character, idiom, custom, behavior”). “Ethnos” means a group of people sharing a common ethos. A Hellene is someone who participates in Hellenic ethos: language, religion, way of life (“speech, and the shrines of gods and the sacrifices that we have in common, and the likeness of our way of life”, Herod., 8.144). The Hellenes are polytheists, or ethnici (sing. Ethnicus: “Heathen”), Hellenismos thus refers to Hellenic ethnicum (“Heathenism”). Since late antiquity Hellenes have been labeled with “Ethnikoi” (sing.: Ethnicus → “Heathen”) or simply “Hellenes”. Today, ethnic Hellenes are primarily known as ethnic Hellenes (→ “Hellenic by ethos”) or Hellenic Ethnikoi (lat. Ethnici: “Heathens”). The term “Ethnikos refers to those who live and conduct themselves in accordance with their native identity and values” (YSEE, FAQ 3). So, being ethnic Hellene actually means participating in Hellenic ethos (language, religion, way of life).
Ethnic Hellenes are the contemporary ancient Greeks. We are Greeks who follow the ethnic Hellenic worldview, virtue system, religion and ethos. (We use the adjective “ethnic” in the sense of native and indigenous, and because Hellenismos was formed by minoan-mycenaean culture. Therefore, Hellenismos is culturally specific, but not ethnically exclusive, which means you don’t have to be Greek to practice Hellenismos). Language, ethos, mythos, paideia and arete are the five pillars of Hellenic culture. Paideia is called “the process of educating man into his true form, the real and genuine human nature” (Werner Jaeger: Paideia: The ideals of Greek culture Vol. I: Archaic Greece, the mind of Athens, p. XXIII, third edition, Oxford 1946). Arete, on the other hand, is used as generic term for the Hellenic virtue system, but the word itself means “excellence”. Arete was and is “the central ideal of all Greek culture” (Werner Jaeger: Paideia Vol. I, p. 15).
Thus far, Hellenismos is not simply a “religion and cosmotheory. It is a certain form of human consciousness and an everyday ethos” (Rassias). The myths are also very important. By studying them we obtain a relationship with the gods. We need mythology in order to approach their presence and being. As practioners of Hellenismos we can’t discard the myths, because they are the “reflections” of reality on the souls of the Greeks. Myths are not fairy tales, they rather teach a certain truth in a simple and understandable way. They can be found in the core of the way Hellenes perceived the Cosmos. “Every Myth hides within it one of many profound symbolisms. Mortals are invited to seek and research them according to their quality, which is dependent on their Understanding of the Cosmos and Education” (YSEE, FAQ 25).
Orthopraxy, the full restoration and loyalty towards indigenous Hellenic culture are some things all Hellenes and Hellenic polytheists have in common, regardless of whether they are platonists or stoics. Hellenismos is polytheistic, cosmotheistic and animistic. It’s not a universal religion, but a culturally specific one. “Hellenismos, in its deeper meaning, is the noble path that promotes the development of personal excellence known as aræti (arete; Gr. ἀρετή, ἈΡΕΤΉ). It is a way of life, working with the natural world by means of Natural Laws, through the worship of the pantheon of Gods of ancient Greece, in particular, the Twelve Olympians, and examining life through means of genuine philosophy” (HellenicGods.org).
The YSEE, Thyrsos and the Labrys Community are the main Hellenic collectives. YSEE is a foundation member of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER). The purpose of the ECER „is to serve as an international body that will assist Ethnic Religious groups in various countries and will oppose discrimination against such groups.“ Hellenismos is an cultural and religious alternative to the Occident, Orient and Romiosyni.
2. THE GODS (ΘΕΟΙ)
The gods of the Hellenes are the well known Greek gods of Homeros and Hesiodos. But Hellenes also honor heroes such as Achilles and Heracles, and nature daemons (daemons are benevolent beings between the Mortals and the Immortals).
The chief gods of Hellenism are:
The gods (Greek: theoi) are natural beings, existing within the universe, unaffected by time and space. They are asexual, impersonal, eternal beings, possessing knowledge and immortality. As cosmic forces (Greek: dynámeis) they are unalterable and incorporeal. They are not separate from the first cause nor from one another (Sallustius). They aren’t archetypes, personifications or persons (Jean-Pierre Vernant, W. F. Otto). The residence of the gods is Olympus (or “metakosmia”). By “Olympus” we don’t mean the well-known Mount Olympus which lies between Thessaly and Macedonia. In Olympus “no wind beats roughly, and neither rain nor snow can fall; but it abides in everlasting sunshine and in a great peacefulness of light, wherein the blessed gods are illumined for ever and ever” (Homer, The Odyssey, Book VI).
“Our Twelve Gods are also called ΟΛΥΜΠΙΟΙ (‘Olympioi’, The Olympians) not because, as many want to believe, they dwell on Mt. Olympus, as the mountains with this name numbered not one but eighteen throughout the Hellenic World. This is just a poetic conception, similar to the one that wants Pan to dwell in the forests of Arcadia. The word ‘Olympus’ comes from the verb ΛΑΜΠΩ (‘lάmpein’, shining). Our Twelve Gods are the ‘Shining Ones’, and the real ‘Olympus’ is not a geographical but a spiritual place, where the Gods really exist” (Vlassis G Rassias: Hellenism: What we believe, what we stand for).
The ancient population of Greece named these beings “theoi” (“gods”) because of their functions and activities. Herodotus, 2.52: “They called them gods (Theoi, disposers), because they disposed and arranged all things in such a beautiful order.” The gods obtain and maintain the cosmic harmony, the natural diversity and the laws of nature. They’re “found within the Cosmos and are concerned only with its perpetual expression, subject to Logic and Anangke (i.e., Necessity). Anangke is the natural and moral Cause that inevitably compels Nature into a rhythmic energy that regulates all that has occurred and will occur. Hence, a Cosmos without Logic is incomplete, which is why the Gods voluntarily submit to the Cosmic Laws that have been shaped from within it” (YSEE, FAQ 21).
In Hellenismos the “living Cosmos has emanated from within itself and is eternal. There is no external ‘Cause’ that created all from nothing. The Gods are self-reliant and conscious forces, who are multiple expressions of Unity, emanate from within it and serve its perpetual path” (YSEE, FAQ 19).
Greek religion is minoan-mycenaean in origin (E. O. James).
3. HELLENISMOS AND “(NEO)PAGANISM”
Hellenic religion is an ethnic religion. Therefore, Hellenismos can’t be associated with “neopaganism” or monotheism in general. It was developed within the ancient Greek poleis and its structure was formed by them. Hellenismos neither maintains contacts nor collaborates with occult and “neopagan” groups. On the contrary, Hellenic organizations solidarize and work together with other indigenous religions and traditions across the globe. “Neopaganism” evolved from 20th century occultism and it’s been influenced by freemasonry, quabbalistic and christian mysticism. Hellenismos, on the other hand, is an ancient worldview, has been influenced by platonism and stoicism and, owes its present existence especially to Pletho and to the Hellenes of the middle ages. It has its own cultural roots.
Actually, Hellenes are not “pagans” at all. In modern society, this term often refers to ancient or native religions, because it was imposed upon them by monotheism. Just like christianity imposed itself by the fire and the sword upon the Greeks, Romans and native Americans, it also imposed the “term” “paganism” upon them. The ancients never called themselves “pagans”. This means that the term “paganism” itself is an alienation. “The term ‘Pagan’, which in the original Latin is derived from Paganus (peasant), is yet another insult used by the victorious Christians since the 4th Century, to belittle what remained of the Native Religions. They used this to label all those remaining loyal to their Ethnic Traditions, to imply that they were uneducated and uncouth villagers. The term was used for centuries in most European languages to refer to the Ethnikoi. In the 20th Century, it was reintroduced with the suffix neo (viz. Neopaganism), by various Christian-inspired devotees of Esotericism and the New Age. ‘Neopaganism’ doesn’t concern us. It may even be a manufactured ploy to detract from the current world rule of the so-called ‘Monotheists’.” (YSEE, FAQ 24).
Anyway, though some american “neopagans” claim to be Hellenic polytheists, they are not Hellenic polytheists “but rather members of the so-called Wicca or other ‘neo-pagan’ groups who are simply disguised as ‘Hellenists’ for reasons that exist hidden within the depths of their own minds. Obviously we are not interested in having any relationship with these people. Our tradition, religion and values should not be exploited in any manner, in much the same way that no other ethnic Tradition, Religion and Values should be exploited” (Wojciech Jan Rudny interviews a constitutional member of the Supreme Council of the Ethnikoi Hellenes).
“Neopaganism”, occultism, the New-Age-Movement and other parachristian paths simply don’t concern Hellenic culture.
a. In modern Greece the term “Hellenes” means people of Greek origin.
b. Meaning of the Term “Ethnicum”:
The religions of the Gentile nations of antiquity
(in the senses: Gentile): from Late Latin ethnicus, from Greek ethnikos
c. Hellenic organizations state that it is the duty of all mentally healthy humans to fight for natural diversity and against all systems trying to abolish the ethnicities (by destroying their ancestral ethos), their pluralism, diversity and traditions for the sake of homogenization. In Hellenism “religion” stands not alone but is an aspect of the general ancestral ethos. It is the identity created by an ancestral ethos we call ethnicum. And ethnicum has nothing to do with political parties or modern ideologies such as Leninism or Nationalism, which are “products” of the christian world unknown to ancient Greece. “Nationalism is a modern movement.” (Encyclopædia Britannica: Nationalism, retrieved: March 7, “2014”.
d. When it is said in a Middle English text written before 1400 that a part of a temple fell down and “mad a gret distruccione of ethnykis,” one wonders why ethnics were singled out for death. The word ethnic in this context, however, means “gentile,” coming as it does from the Greek adjective ethnikos, meaning “national, foreign, gentile.” The adjective is derived from the noun ethnos, “people, nation, foreign people,” that in the plural phrase ta ethn meant “foreign nations.” In translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, this phrase was used for Hebrew gym, “gentiles”; hence the sense of the noun in the Middle English quotation. The noun ethnic in this sense or the related sense “heathen” is not recorded after 1728, although the related adjective sense is still used. But probably under the influence of other words going back to Greek ethnos, such as ethnography and ethnology, the adjective ethnic broadened in meaning in the 19th century. After this broadening the noun sense “a member of a particular ethnic group,” first recorded in 1945, came into existence (The Free dictionary: ethnic, retrieved: June 15, “2013”).