Practicing Hellenismos as a non-Greek?

There are still many people who ask: «Is it strange for a non-Greek to practice Hellenic religion?» or «Can I be a Hellenist, even though I am not Greek?». Others were put in a position where they feel the need to justify themselves for being Hellenists.

It is true that Hellenic religion is an ethnic religion. But this only means that it is a culture-specific religion, not an ethnically exclusive one, though there are cults which are exclusive to specific tribes and local communities, not all cults are open to all, and birth alone decides which gods we are obliged to honor. After all, our first duty is to honor our ancestors, ancestral gods and heroes, which means, for example, a Pontic Greeks‘ first loyalty is to Zeus Soter and Zeus Stratios, while an Athenian’s first duty is to Athena Pallas. What does this mean for non-Greeks? Are they prohibited from practicing Hellenic religion? Is it necessary to be Greek in order to practice Hellenic religion in the Hellenic way? The answer has to be no.

No, you do not have to be Greek to practice Hellenic religion. No, it is not odd for a non-Greek to follow the Hellenic tradition. However, we do not seek converts nor do we engage in proselytism. In general terms, we are open to all people of good will who respect our tradition and culture, though the pronoun «we» must be taken with a grain of salt, since this text cannot speak for all Hellenes. It must also be mentioned that Hellenismos is not a mere religion: it is the wholeness of Hellenic ethos (or «culture»), including its eusebeia (or «religion»), virtue system, customs, philosophy, language, history, politics, music, dance and ethnic identity. Hellenismos is a way of being both at the individual and collective levels which covers each and every aspect of human life.

Hellenic religion is not a religion in today’s sense of the word but rather part of our ethnic identity in the same way as the temples are not only temples but also part of our culture of memory. The same goes for our communities. The Hellenic communities are not merely religious communities but rather safe havens where our people especially our children can safely express their ethno-cultural identity, their Hellenicity, without having to worry about discrimination or others misunderstanding them. They provide places to gather, socialize, play, celebrate, learn, teach, exchange advice, meet members of different tribes, and feel safe and secure in a friendly environment. Therefore they are careful, who they let in or trust.

There is also a difference between practicing Hellenic religion and being a Hellenist, since a Hellenist is a person of non-Greek descent who is Greek in language, religion and way of life (ethos), meaning it is a person who has Hellenized himself. So, a Hellenist is much more than just a person who practices Hellenic religion. And it is yet a completely different issue to worship the Greek gods or some of them outside of the Hellenic context, which, as long as the respective practices and groups are not labeled «Hellenic,» does not concern Hellenismos.

If someone wants to practice our religion or to «open himself» up to Hellenismos, he is welcome to do so. But we do not try to convince other people or persuade them into our ancestral religion. Whatever the case may be, as a Hellenist you do not have to defend your choice to strangers. You can, of course, explain the reasons for your choice, if you wish to do so; but you do not have to. You are not responsible for people’s stereotypes, clichés and prejudices, not responsible for the content of people’s mind. Many times we say one thing but others hear something different (especially in our era where people are too busy interpreting to listen), but it should be clear that other people’s willingness to misunderstand your arguments is not your problem. Often it is not things themselves that are wrong or weird, but people’s understanding of them, which is connected to the view they take of them.

So, yes, you can practice Hellenic religion and even approach Hellenismos, if you respect the Hellenic people, their collective dignity and right to self-determination. The only thing you need is willingness to listen, learn and understand.