On rites, terms and the tradition

Many people, who understand Greek, may have noticed that the Hellenes don’t use the word «rite» when it comes to religion, even though the correct execution of the sacrifices constitutes the actual core of our ancestral cults. The reason for this is simple: we don’t have a word for «rite.»
«Telete,» the word we use in contemporary Greek, just means «to accomplish, complete, end» something; it is only used in order to facilitate communication with the non-Hellenic world. Orthopraxia or orthopraxy, on the other hand, is simply a verbal expression of the fundamental principle of correct practice. But it gets even harder: many of us don’t even use the word «threskeia» (religion), when we communicate internally. Not to mention «faith,» a word we don’t use at all, since Hellenismos has nothing to do with «faith.»[1]
So what words do we use?
We have two basic terms for the ancestral cult, and both of them are very difficult to translate correctly: «ta patria» (pl., ancestral customs, ways, what has been passed down by the ancestors) and «ta nomizomena» (pl., customary practices, notions, conventions, the norms we uphold when it comes to worshiping the gods, daemons and heroes).
Beside these, there also three other terms: «eusebeia» (Latin: pietas, piety), the Greek word for «religion,» «latreia» (cult, worship), and «ta eiothota» (pl., conventions, customs, what is done or carried out customary = the sacrifices), which is used very rarely.
«There is no ancient Greek word for ritual; the closest equivalents are perhaps ta nomizomena (customary things) and ta patria (ancestral customs). The basic components of Greek ritual practice include various forms of sacrifice, libation, and the offering of gifts to the gods; purifications, processions, dances, and competitions held in festival contexts; hymns and prayers; and divination.»[2]
patria» is by far the most common and popular term.

It may also be interesting to know that «ta patria» involve the concept of orthopraxia; the correct practice is not engraved in stone tablets or written in holy scriptures, but passed down from generation to generation. The correct practice is the practice «kata ta patria» (in the ways of the ancestors or according to the ancestral custom, or tradition, as we may say today). Honoring the gods means practicing «ta patria.»[3]
But «ta patria» are not the same for all Hellenes; it depends on which tribe (phyle) and clan you belong to.
Therefore, «ta patria» of the Athenians differ from those of the Spartans, thus we have cults practiced only by certain tribes, clans or families. «Greek religion» is the sum of all these cults, the sum of the religious practices and ideas of the Hellenes. In ancient times, there were only a few cults common to all cities or Hellenes. What contemporary historians of religion say about the Roman religion is in a certain sense also true for Hellenismos:
«The Roman world had neither a single Roman religion nor a single central religious authority but a multitude of authorities, rules and concepts that formed a global whole which, however, was not amenable to one and the same authority.»[4]
However, Roman religion and Hellenismos are no exceptions in this point.

All or almost all ethnic religions are structured on a local and regional basis, and only then on an ethnic basis (= concerning all members of an ethnicity), all or almost all of them are inhomogeneous because the ethnicities themselves are inhomogeneous, for they are composed of many tribes, clans, families and other cultural or linguistic subgroups (such as the Hellenic phratries).
I encountered people who don’t recognize the ethnic religions as «real religions,» precisely for this reason, their natural diversity, which, we have to say, is not the result of personal likes or arbitrariness, but historically grown conditions. People tend to associate polytheism, as ethnic religions are also referred to, with arbitrariness or «whateverism.»
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Tradition has in Hellenismos a totally different status and meaning. It is connected to our very being, our history and language, customs and political institutions, the way we live and the way we die. What the West calls «tradition,» «religion,» «culture» and «identity» is combined here into a single unit («ethos»).
We don’t change tradition on a whim just as we wouldn’t cut off our hand without a very serious reason. Anything else would be dangerously arrogant and intentionally nonsense.[5] Even Epicurus, the philosopher who taught that the gods do not reward nor punish man, sacrificed to the gods, in order to, among other things, uphold the tradition.[6]
In ethnic religions, especially in Hellenismos, everything has a concrete symbolic or physical meaning, everything is inextricably bound up with everything else; outsiders may not be able to see or understand that. The members of the traditions concerned, on the other hand, are aware of the meanings behind the symbols, gestures and words. They speak to their psyche. (We all have such experiences. We see something and know immediately what it means or what we should do, without the need of explanation. It is the internal perspective.)

I even came across an article that says that Hellenismos has no ethical principles or religious rules. A cursory glance at our religious calendars suggests otherwise. Orthopraxy does not mean that everything else is insignificant or irrelevant.
Then again, other people refuse to acknowledge ethnic religions as religions because of their lack of «faith;» they are apparently unaware that we are dealing here with a different type of religion. Faith-based religions are only one aspect of the phenomenon we know today as «religion.» Both types of religion, ethnic and faith-based, have many things in common, it is just that they have a different understanding of these things.
For instance, in Hellenismos prayers and sacrifices are not mystical or spiritual experiences but physical acts. In Christianity, prayers are an expression of a personal devotion or «faith.»
«Real religions,» and by this they mean Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are also not homogeneous. Perhaps they would be homogeneous if they did or do everything by the book, I don’t know. But the fact is they are not, they’re only (more) homogeneous in comparison to ethnic religions, whose inhomogeneity reflects the polymorphy of the ethnosphere just as the polymorphy of the ethnosphere itself reflects the polymoprhy of the biosphere.
Thus, the
inhomogeneity and historically grown diversity of the ethnic religions is natural par excellence.

[1] «Pistis,» the word modern Greek-speaking Christians use for «faith,» meant originally «trust.» Hellenismos still uses this word in this sense, for trust is one of the four components that govern our relations with the gods (Porph., Letter to Marcella, 24).
[2] Jennifer Larson: Ancient Greek Cults: A Guide, New York: Routledge, 2007, p. 5.
[3] Piety is to honor «god according to the customs of ones homeland» (Porph., Letter to Marcella, 16-19, 23).
[4] John Scheid, in: Gnomon 2003, p. 708.
[5] «First, then, for his attitude towards religion; his deeds and words were clearly in harmony with the answer given by the Priestess at Delphi to such questions as ‹What is my duty about sacrifice?› or about ‹cult of ancestors.› For the answer of the Priestess is, ‹Follow the custom of the State: that is the way to act piously.› And so Socrates acted himself and counselled others to act. To take any other course he considered presumption and folly» (Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.3.1).
[6] Papyrus Oxyrhynchus I, 215.