A short introduction to the Hellenic tradition
Written by Stilian Ariston, February 25, “2014.”
Last update: November 25, “2019.”
1. HELLENISMOS (ΕΛΛΗΝΙΣΜΟΣ)
Hellenismos is the indigenous cultural and religious tradition of Greece, but also the worldview and ethnic identity of the ancient and medieval Hellenes (Plethon, Marullus etc.). As a religion, 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 the Hellenic tradition and way of life. “Hellenismos” and “Hellenic religion” are synonymous names. Hellenic polytheism, Greek religion, Hellenic ethnic religion, Hellenismos, Hellenic ethnicum etc. are different names for the same tradition and should therefore not confuse people, especially since the Hellenes perceive their religion, identity, worldview, language and way of life as a unity. 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). The word itself 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 ‘Hellenic ethnic 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 ethnic 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”). The Hellenic religion is scientifically defined as the “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”). Greek religion is Minoan-Mycenaean in origin (Ε. Ο. James: The Cult of the Mother-Goddess, London 1959).
The Hellenes are an ethnos. The word “ethnos” derives from the ancient Greek word éthos which means “character, idiom, custom, behavior.” An “ethnos” is 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 ethnikoi (lat. ethnici), meaning bearers of a specific ethnic identity based on a specific ethnic ethos, tradition and religion. Hellenismos thus refers to Hellenic ethnicum or religion. Since late antiquity, ethnic Hellenes have been called “Ethnikoi” or simply “Hellenes.” Today, they are primarily known as ethnic Hellenes (→ “Hellenic by ethos”) or Hellenes Ethnikoi. 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 Hellenic actually means being Hellenic by ethos or 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 original Greek sense of the word, meaning as synonymous to ancestral and “of the ethnos,” but also because Hellenismos was formed by the Minoan-Mycenaean culture. (Therefore, Hellenismos is culturally specific, but not ethnically exclusive, which means you do not 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” (Vlassis G. Rassias). The myths are also very important to Hellenes. By studying them we obtain a relationship with the gods. We need mythology in order to approach their presence and being, and to understand Hellenic imagination. As ethnic Hellenes we cannot 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 their education” (YSEE, FAQ 25).
Orthopraxy, the revitalization of the Hellenic tradition and loyalty towards indigenous Hellenic culture are basic characteristics that all ethnic Hellenes have in common, regardless of whether they are platonists, stoics or members of a different school of philosophy. Hellenismos is polytheistic, cosmotheistic and animistic. “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. The YSEE is a foundation member of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER, formerly WCER) and represented Hellenismos at the Parliament of the World’s Religions 2018 in Toronto, Canada. 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.” The principal aim of Hellenic collectives is the full restoration and autonomy of the Hellenic ethnos, its identity and tradition. Ethnic traditions can only be either free, that is, autonomous, or unfree and subjected to foreign value systems or ideologies (for example to the main ideologies of modernity, i.e. conservatism, liberalism, nationalism, internationalism, which are understood by many ethnic Hellenes as “political monotheism”). This is, among other reasons, why autonomy is so valuable to ethnic Hellenes. “The Hellenic tradition is, like any other ethnic tradition, only accountable to itself and does not depend on what others think about it” (Vlassis G. Rassias, from a lecture that was held at the Hellenic philosophical institution Hekatēvólos on June 9, 2018, in Athens, Greece).
The most important Hellenic collective is the Supreme Council of ethnic Hellenes (YSEE), which is a nativistic movement. A nativistic movement is defined as any “conscious, organized attempt on the part of a society’s members to revive or perpetuate selected aspects of its culture” (Ralph Linton: Nativistic Movements, in: American Anthropologist. Vol. 45, Nr. 2, 1943, p. 230). People’s economic situation, philosophical affiliations, political standpoints or sexual orientations do not concern Hellēnismôs. Ideologies, political parties and artificial modern opposites (such as nationalism-internationalism, capitalism-leninism etc.) are irrelevant to Hellēnismôs, for these things have no place in ethnic religions. It should be clear by now that Hellenismos is not only religion, since it addresses the whole human being, it is culture, tradition, religion, worldview, philosophy, language, identity, virtue system and a way of life, and at the same an authentic 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 their ancestral Heroes, such as Achilles and Heracles, and the nature daemons (daemons are benevolent beings between the Mortals and the Immortals).
The chief gods of Hellenismos are:
The gods (Greek: theoi) are natural beings that exist within the universe, unaffected by time and space. They are asexual, impersonal, eternal beings, possessing knowledge and immortality. As cosmic forces (dynámeis), the multiplications of the True Being (ontos on) they are unalterable and incorporeal. They are not separate from the first cause nor from one another (Sallustius). They are not archetypes, personifications or persons (Jean-Pierre Vernant, W. F. Otto). The residence of the gods is Olympus (or “metakosmia” according to Epicureanism). By “Olympus” we do not mean the well-known Mt. 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).
3. HELLENISMOS AND “(NEO)PAGANISM”
Hellenic religion is, as has already been said, an ethnic religion. Therefore, Hellenismos cannot be associated with Neopaganism or similar para-Christian paths. It was developed within the ancient Greek poleis that formed its structure. Hellenismos neither maintains nor has maintained relations nor collaborates with occultist and neopagan groups, some of which have expressed anti-Hellenism and racist attitudes towards ethnic Hellenes in the past. On the contrary, Hellenic organizations declare solidarity and work together with other indigenous religions and traditions across the globe. Neopaganism arose as a romantic movement from occultism and has been influenced by Freemasonry, Kabbalah and Christian mysticism. Hellenismos, on the other hand, is an ancient worldview that has been influenced by its own philosophical schools, mainly Platonism and Stoicism (especially Pletho), to which it owes its present existence and form. It has its own cultural roots, recent history and imagination. In general, we can notice that there is no link between the ethnic religions, both unbroken and revitalized, and Paganism or Neopaganism.
Actually, Hellenes are not “pagans” at all. In modern society, this term is to designate ancient or ethnic religions, because it was imposed upon them by monotheism. Just like Christianity imposed itself by fire and by sword upon the Greeks, Romans and native Americans, it also imposed the problematic “term” “paganism” upon them. Our ancestors have never called themselves “pagans,” it is not even a Greek word. By studying this word, we can easily understand that the term itself is and creates 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). For more information on this you can refer to: The term «paganism» and Hellenismos.
Anyway, though some American Neopagans claim to be Hellenic, they are not Hellenists “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). If ones replaces the words “Indian” and “Lakota” in the “Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality” by “Hellenic” and “Hellenes,” one will get the Hellenic stance on the desecration and expropriation of Hellenic tradition, whether practiced by spiritual colonialists, nationalists or other modern ideologists.
Neopaganism, occultism, the New-age-movement and the other emanations of western European monotheism simply do not concern indigenous Hellenic culture.
a. In modern Greece, the term “Hellenes” means people of Greek origin.
b. Hellenic collectives have stated many times 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 diversity and traditions for the sake of the homogenization of the ethnosphere.
c. 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 ethne 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”).
d. Ethnismos (lat. ethnicum, engl. ethnicism): ethnicity, ethnic identity, cultural consciousness, but also polytheism, ethnic religion and tradition (formerly “heathenism” and “idolatry”). Ethnismos is a complex term that is very important to ethnic Hellenes. We use it in order to express ethnic identity based on our ethnic religion, virtue system and language, because we perceive our ethnic identity, religion, way of life and language as a unity. Ethnic Hellenes use the Greek word ethnos in the original (etymological) and Greek sense of the word. The term Ethnos stems from the term ethos (character, custom, way of life). Therefore, ethnos means a group of people with a common culture. The adjective “ethnic,” also Hellenic in origin, is used by ethnic Hellenes in the Greek and original sense of the word, too, meaning as synonymous to indigenous, autochthonous, native, polytheistic, ancestral. The western European or modern semantics of the words “ethnos” and “ethnic,” and the concepts behind them, are rejected by ethnic Hellenic people (for example, that of “race,” a concept unknown to Hellenes. “Phyle,” the word modern Greece uses for this western European concept of the 17th century, comes from ancient Greek and means originally “tribe” or “clan.” The “phylai,” tribes or clans, are social or political subdivisions of the ethnos).
e. Useful links:
Declaration of ECER: http://ecer-org.eu/about/declaration/
Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes (YSEE): https://ysee.gr/index-english.html
Hierophants of Hellenic Religion: http://www.hellenic-hierophants.blogspot.com
Best books on contemporary Hellenismos: https://hellenismos.org/2014/11/07/best-books-on-contemporary-hellenismos/
A Greek Alphabet Oracle: http://web.eecs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/LAO.html
Official Definition of Greek gods: http://www.scribd.com/doc/101447018/Official-Definition-of-the-Greek-Gods