Hellenismos and the term «paganism»

The Western culture still uses the term paganism to refer to ethnic religions, ignoring the fact that these were not «religions» in the modern sense of the word but rather part of man’s ethno-cultural identity. The ancestral cults were also part of the sociopolitical order of one’s country. «Paganism» was invented by early Christians to belittle or «describe» those holding on to their ancestral traditions as uncivilized, uneducated country bumpkins, despite the fact that Hellenismos, for example, evolved within the poleis, the Greek city-states, into its final form and many Hellenes of lived in big cities such as Athens, Antiochia or Constantinople. «The very notion of paganism was invented late, to persuade people that something else, a very different something else, existed and deserved to succeed. That’s when the historical narrative we inherit was first constructed, to give that something else a credible backstory. […] identifying pagans are a much later development, indeed a modern invention» (James J. O’Donnell: Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity, New York: Harper Collins, 2015, p. 5, 253). This means, there was no such thing as «paganism» before Christianity invented it. From the Hellenic point of view, however, there are additional reasons why this term is to be avoided: it reduces an entire ethnicity to a mere religious community, the Hellenic identity to its misunderstood religious aspect.

In addition to that, «paganism» also implies a unity of all ethnic religion, which could not be farther from the truth. Today’s notion of «paganism» derives from the Romantic period and occultism, relying on Christianity’s false interpretation of ethnic religions. The term is also used as a self-designation by religious movements that arose from occultism. These include, inter alia, the New Age movement and neopaganism. Occultism, the New Age movement and neopaganism are byproducts of Western Christianity, all of them are deeply rooted in the Western world and totally incompatible with Hellenic culture. Yet some members of these movements, among them also anti-Hellenes, refer to themselves as «Hellenists» or present their New Age beliefs as «Hellenism.» The result is confusion because people develop a false impression of what Hellenism is.

Basically, «paganism» can mean anything and nothing, especially in our times where people avoid being exact and unambiguous. Therefore, using the alien term «paganism» to define ourselves is not in our interest, otherwise we would encourage anti-Hellenism and conspiracy theorists who try to brand Hellenismos as «neopagan» and occult. It would also be dishonest: we are Hellenes. Not «pagans.» «Paganism» meant nothing to Hellenes, has never been part of our language or history. This has its historical reasons: the term the Christian church used to designate Hellenic religion and other cults practiced in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire where Greek was the dominant language, was not «paganism» but «idolatry» which is still in use in Greece. In the final analysis, there is no reason for Hellenes to use «paganism.» It would be for all kinds of reasons wrong, ethically and historically. Furthermore, anti-Hellenism, ethnocentrism and the practice of cultural appropriation in paganism has led to an anti-pagan attitude, especially among the Hellenic diaspora.

There are also strategic reasons why it would not be wise to use the term «paganism»: in order for the Hellenic re-Indigenization movement to succeed, we must get rid of the monotheistic colonization of our imagination, leave its terms and the meanings they transport, its stereotypes and clichés behind. Defining ourselves by Christocentric terms would leave us back to Christian slavery. Why would we do that? Our goal is the very opposite. Freedom. But we can reconquest our minds only if we reclaim our language.

We are Hellenes just like the Lakota are Lakota. Indeed, Hellenismos could only be «pagan» in the sense suggested by Pierre Chuvin, namely as the «religion of the homeland in its narrowest sense» (P. Chuvin, A Chronicle of the Last Pagans, p. 9, Cambridge, MA /London: Harvard University Press, 1990). In Greek, we have a much better word for such religions. It is called ethnic (εθνική θρησκεία → ethnic religion). Of course, people are free to describe themselves as «pagans.» We have no problem with that. But we would not want to see this term used on us. However, as long as we know what and who we are, people can call us «devil-worshippers,» «pagans» or «idolaters» as long as they want. It will not change a thing, since we are Hellenes «as is demonstrated by our language and ancestral education» (Georgios Gemistos-Plethon in his letter to Manuel II Palaiologos). «Paganism,» on the other hand, has no language, no history, no people, because it does not exist. It is irrelevant to Hellenism and to history itself.

«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›.» (Supreme Council of the ethnic Hellenes, Frequently Asked Questions about the Hellenic ethnic religion and tradition, no. 24, last time checked: July 10, «2013»).