Timothy Jay Alexander: Practicing Hellenismos with an Open Mind

Published: Jun 16th, 2008

Recently, on a private forum, I made a statement regarding the lack of open-mindedness that generally existed in the Popular Neopagan Culture, and these comments were associated with a conversation about New Age Neopagan individuals and groups who identifying as Hellenismos. I quoted another person who states, “Open-minded people go out of their way to conform their beliefs to the evidence. Closed-minded people go out of their way to conform the evidence to their beliefs,” and used that to support the statement, “Reconstructionists go out of their way to conform their beliefs to the evidence. New Age Neopagans go out of their way to conform the evidence to their beliefs.”

I am addressing this here in my blog, as I do many questions presented to me, because I feel a responsibility to do so. I have written books, have this site, and make public statements promoting and educating people about Hellenismos. Anyone who places themselves in a position of authority by publishing material (online or off), or mentoring those seeking guidance, must explain statements and be completely open. If you are not up for public scrutiny, keep your beliefs and practices to yourself.

On a side note: I really do dislike how most “Hellenic” lists are closed and invisible to the public. It makes it seem as though we have something to hide, and that we have nefarious motives. There is nothing to hide. There is nothing about Hellenismos that needs to be kept hidden. Open your lists and forums to public viewing.

Many New Age Neopagans confuse being open-minded with accepting every bit of unreasoned nonsense that comes down the pike. There is a very good book called The New Thought Police: Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds by Tammy Bruce, a liberal, a lesbian, a feminist activist, and a Democrat. She talks about the very real close-mindedness of the left, who have convinced themselves they are the only ones truly open. The book could easily be adapted to talk about Popular Neopagan Culture.

A Reconstructionist must be open to the evidence from the religion being reconstructed, while a Neopagan picks and chooses which evidence “feels right” for them. Therefore, as an example, there is never a question in the Reconstructionist’s mind whether they should or should not make regular sacrifices and offerings. The question is how can they be adapted to the modern world, or if something like animal sacrifice is adaptable at all, and what should replace it if not. The Neopagan can choose to say it does not “feel right” for them and reject sacrifice and offerings without rhyme or reason, and are completely closed to that evidence stating that this was a defining aspect to Hellenic practice and why.

Another much more common rejection is to Hellenic ethics. A Reconstructionist knows that ethics is an essential part of practice. Neopagans who don’t want to hear about virtue and vice will just choose to ignore it, make some claim of ethics being too Christian, or some other such nonsense, or worse… give it lip service. Again, they just close their mind and refuse to accept the evidence they just do not want to include in their personal religion. From my own experience, once the talk of ethics moves from being abstract concepts to real world application, all of a sudden the New Age Neopagan feels they are being judged. They want ethics to be subjective so they can do what “feels right” for them, and refuse to accept the objective reality of virtue ethics. Promiscuity is vice. Obesity is vice. Addiction to drugs or alcohol is vice. One is never to pursue those things that only appear desirable, but with sound reasoning, one must do those actions that are truly advantageous.

The New Age/Neopagan perspective one man’s correct practice is between him and his Gods. They approach religious obligation as what “feels right” to them. This is not true when we are talking about the Hellenic tradition. The orthopraxy is defined by the known practices of Ancient Greece. It can be said the within the Reconstruction of the Hellenic tradition there is a good deal of latitude for festival creation and the like, but there are certain things that just cannot be compromised if it is to still be Hellenic.

There is a quote that goes something like “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” I would add extremism in the defense of truth. Words have meaning. The phrases Hellenismos, Hellenic Polytheism, Hellenic Paganism, Hellenic, Hellenism, Hellenistic, et al each have clear meanings. Complete a Library of Congress Catalog search (or just use Google Books) for information on these subjects and you are directed to information on the Ancient Greek Religion and Hellenic Civilization. Being closed-minded is being closed to the very real fact that what defines the Hellenic movement is Ancient Greece and Hellenic Civilization. Any arbitrary denial of Hellenic practice, thought, or ethics, or the eclectic blending of Hellenic tradition with other practices bastardizes the movement when one refuses to segregate himself.

Another side note: Ever heard of the satirist Stephen Colbert? He coined a term called “truthiness.” Truthiness is used to describe things that a person claims to know intuitively without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

Many believe there is “danger” in speaking about the reality of certain individuals and groups, and it will create unproductive conflict or tear “the community” apart. The only danger with inciting conflict within the community is to those who have created kingdoms based on the intentional distortion of Hellenic practice, thought, and ethics. The real danger for us as a community is not exposing those who place themselves in the role of guru for eager minds looking for teachers and mentors. Hellenismos does not change because a person decides she wants to be eclectic and not “limited” by Reconstruction. Hellenismos does not change because some guy wants his unique mishmash blending of Greek, Egyptian, Thelemic, Discordianism, Christian, and African tribal practices and beliefs labeled interchangeably Hellenismos, Greco-Egyptian Syncretism, and Reconstruction.

Truth in advertising is all I ever asked, and to have groups clearly state their approach and methods. What does this cause? …gasps and shock that someone could even ask such a thing. It is all reminiscent of when I posed the question should Hellenic Reconstructionists in America do more to delineate themselves clearly from Popular Neopagan Culture, as those in Greece actually do. The same shock and horror came. Why? It is all about image over substance. These individuals and groups want to call what they do Hellenismos and/or Reconstruction, but what they want to be are New Age Neopagans. They see prestige in being able to validate what they do with a link to one of the greatest civilizations known to humanity, but want the boundlessness of New Age Self-Spirituality. It lacks virtue, honor, and integrity.

I have always stated that what a person believes and practices in their personal life is just that, personal. If someone wants to make offerings to the Great Pumpkin they are more than free to do so, and who am I to judge. Once that person enters the realm of public discourse, and tries to assert that Great Pumpkin worship is Hellenismos, then they rescind the right of anonymity.

A religion is, by definition, a group that shares a common moral code, practices, values, institutions, traditions, rituals, texts, and a core belief. Without these characteristics, there is no religion. The spread of false information by anyone who claims identity with any group is wrong, not just with religion. Analyzing information and the enforcement of right behavior is the action undertaken by any responsible group. This happens at every level of society and involves any collection of people unified by a set of beliefs, values, or purpose.

Once these individuals give up their anonymity, and begin promoting and educating people on what is Hellenismos, Reconstruction, or anything else for that matter, they have opened themselves up to scrutiny. It is their responsibility to represent themselves properly and what they do, and it is their responsibility to disseminate accurate information regarding the subjects they claim to be an authoritative source.

Some say let the Gods handle these wrong doings, but once a person enters the realm of public discourse and wants to promote, teach, and mentor impressionable minds, it is no longer between them and their Gods. How exactly do we think the Gods would handle their dissatisfaction? … lightning strikes? …floods? …tornadoes? I have seen people who have had one issue after another popup, turning their lives upside-down, but they are unwilling to fathom that it may be the Gods trying to give them a wakeup call. Alternatively, is it unreasonable to believe that the Gods may actually work by inspiring a person with enough fervor to speak out against deceit and deception? Personally, I would never be so hubris as to make claims that I speak for the Gods, as others have, but the idea that the Gods would work mundanely is not an unreasonable thought.

We need to choose whether we want to have the Hellenic tradition stand on its own, or be gobbled up into the Neopagan mega-religion. Is Hellenismos going to be a reconstruction of the Ancient Greek religion, or just Neopaganism shrouded in Greek trappings. The cry by some is that publicly discussing these very real issues will cause divisiveness and splinter “the community,” but it is little more an empty emotional plea. Their choice is to do what is most agreeable over what is best. Their solution to this problem is to continue with the status quo, allowing the distortion of Hellenismos to continue, and eager minds being taken advantage of. I am not here to change the hearts and minds of those firmly implanted in New Age Neopaganism. I know that will not happen. My goal is to insure that enough factual information is made public someone new will be able to delineate Hellenismos from New Age Neopaganism.