Pagan counter-enlightenment: “Witchcraft with the Greek gods”

In his article or, more precisely, series of reviews of “Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods” by Jason Mankey and Astrea Taylor, Angelo Nasios provides another important example of how paganism distorts the history, language and religious views of other cultures for money, power and prestige. Hellenic author Nasios is known for combating cultural appropriation of Hellenism in paganism and the spread of false information about Hellenic history and religion. He holds a MA in Ancient History and a BA in Religious Studies, and is therefore in the wonderful position of being able to dismantle the pagan propaganda against Hellenism, as he demonstrated in his video response to pagan colonialist “Aliakai” (see here) and his review of The Secret Texts of Hellenic Polytheism by occult author John Opsopaus (see here).

The pagan and New Age industry makes money off distorting and appropriating our culture. There is, of course, nothing new about the insight that this industry thrives on cultural appropriation and alienation. That is, after all, the reason why so many Hellenes take a stand against these movements. Paganism has become a synonym for fakelore and misinformation. However, in this particular case it appears that the pagan movement has surpassed itself. The list of flaws is sheer endless: from methodological errors, incorrect quotations and semantic confusion up to lacking contextualization, wrong statements and biased conclusions, everything can be found in this book, which is more than badly researched even for pagan means.

Nasios made great efforts to analyze the text in order to determine which means are used to sustain the arguments made by the authors. He checked the quotations and citations against the original works, the accuracy of the historical claims and relevant implications. He also provided the correct context in which important details shed a different light on the subjects treated in the book. His conclusion turns out to be particularly austere. “I find the whole process of appropriating Greek myth in this situation, as a scholar, interesting, but as a Greek, it’s creepy.”

The authors‘ history-related claims are quite misleading. Even simple, basic things such as the drawing of a timeline ended in disaster. Nevertheless, I have no doubts the book will be commercially successful, since it swims on a huge wave of cultural “McDonaldization” and it is aimed at a special audience. Given the number of bizarre interpretations and logical errors, one has to wonder if there are any editors at Llewellyn Worldwide at all. This leads us to the undifferentiated and contextless use of the terms “magic” and “magick” in the book; Mankey and Taylor make no distinction between these terms and the Greek concept of magic, which is, as we will see, highly problematic since the pagan and New Age notion of „magic“ cannot be applied to the fields of history.

Nasios notes: “Taylor is being anachronistic, that is, applying modern words or ideas onto the past where they don’t exist, when she writes, ‘ancient Greeks used magickal practices.’ Magickal is a modern occult term that originates with Aleister Crowley. It is not a term used in the study of ancient religions. So no, historians would not say ‘ancient Greeks used magickal practices’ because magick and magickal are not terms recognized in ancient history/classical studies. Making this claim and using a citation that does not back up the premise is messy and misleading […] From a Greek view, mageia (magic) is deployed to identify/label practices seen as unwanted from within Greek religion. There is more that can be said; I am being brief. […] These forced links between modern magick and ancient magic are constructed to validate and legitimatize magick as the same thing as magic and bridge the modern witch with the ancients. […] On page 131, a spell to summon Ares was written by Taylor. The spell is used when you need courage. Taylor instructs how to call upon Ares and release him.  To me, this is just a spicey affirmation. It is not magic to chew on something and do visualizations – though that may be what magick is in modern witchcraft. See the distinction? The thing in the spell that is magic to a Greek is the premise that you can summon and release a God. That idea and language is mageia to Greeks […].”

But the responsibility for this untenable blend of misinformation and misperceptions lies not only with the authors, but also with the publisher. From an ethical standpoint, this does not exactly cast a good light on Llewellyn Publishing.

Some Anglo-American pagans and New Agers, like for example pagan YouTuber “Aliakai” and her colonial followers, interpret the Hellenic resistance against pagan colonialism as “folkism” (which highlights their own ethnocentrism) or “cultural gatekeeping” (as if there is a universal right of entry), which is not only an open disregard of the right of the peoples concerned to self-determination, but also victim blaming and thus totally in compliance with the ethos of this particular byproduct of monotheism. However, their accusations are insubstantial and a distortion of reality itself. In this regard, Anglo-American paganism differs greatly from its continental European counterpart. Continental European paganism has also its flaws, such as the instrumentalization of Germanic mythology or Hellenic history for ideological purposes by some groups, but, on the whole, they are much more serious and their behavior toward otherness displays respect.

Angelo Nasios illustrates once again, Hellenes and pagans represent different worlds and value systems, and we also strive for different goals. The things Vlassis G. Rassias wrote in his well-known article on the differences between the Hellenic ethnic religion and Christianity can be implemented one-to-one to Hellenism and paganism, particularly since paganism arose from occultism (“Western esoteric tradition”), which in turn is a byproduct of Western Christianity. I therefore have taken the liberty to reword the relevant passage from Rassias‘ article by replacing Hellenic ethnic religion with Hellenism and Christianity with paganism: “There are numerous differences between Hellenism and paganism. However, we will explain only a few of them here in order to make the abyss of difference that exists between these two sides understandable; a difference which creates not only diametrically opposite and conflicting perceptions of things, but also diametrically opposite and conflicting types of man with diametrically opposite and conflicting ways of life” (Vlassis G. Rassias: Οι διαφορές της Ελληνικής Εθνικής Θρησκείας από τον Χριστιανισμό).

As ethnic Hellenes, we have an existential interest in the regeneration of our ethos, and thus we are committed to rehabilitating our culture, history and religion. We speak up for ourselves, correct false notions, share information and show to the world who we are. The groups mentioned above do everything they can to make our ways approachable, usable and exploitable for them. On top of that, they use the ethnonym “Hellenic,” our ethnonym, to name the religions they create by drawing on academic texts. That is where our focus lies. Occultism or paganism itself is none of our business. Hellenes only enter the picture, so to speak, if the claims being made are directed at Hellenism. “I have made clear that whatever Witches do in Witchcraft isn’t of any concern to a Greek like myself. Witchcraft is its own tradition and has its own standards and rules,” says Nasios.

It is only logical and normal that, as Hellenes, we are concerned to clear up stereotypes regarding our culture and to eliminate centuries-old lies about our religion, in short: to enlight the public about our ways. They, on the other side, want to reduce our ways to a commodity and then sell it to the masses, engaging in counter-enlightenment to the detriment of Hellenism and other indigenous cultures. To this end, they draw on historical misinformation, cultural distortion, omissions and pseudo-philological means in order to demonstrate the supposed validity of certain positions, interpretations and conclusions. (And no matter what some pagans think, ethnicities are in no way obliged to accept this situation.)

In doing so, they not only harm Hellenic interests, moreover they represent the exact opposite of Hellenism’s organized effort to regenerate itself and revitalize its ethnic identity and political and cultural institutions. Against this backdrop, it is by no means an exaggeration to say that paganism represents the counter-programme to re-Hellenization, as the Hellenic re-indigenization is called. Many things claimed to be “true” about Hellenism and its history are based upon interpretations, lack of understanding academic language and wishful thinking. After reading just the first chapter of Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods, Nasios can only shake his head. “I am frankly tired of much of the nonsense in it.” For someone trained in history, this book seems to be an impertinence.

In spite of, or rather by reason of all that, Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods is a shining example of how Anglo-American occultism, paganism and the New Age approach history, ethnic religions and especially Hellenism. And that is the problem with these particular byproducts of monotheism. Everything begins right here: the appropriation, colonialism, commercialization, exploitation and alienation. It is a two-thousand-year-old circle of reproduction, recycling and reconfiguring of notions, stereotypes and behaviour patterns which has developed itself into culture, politics and religion, or as we say, cultural, political and religious monotheism. Paganism is only one part of that ethos, which, at the end of the day, is what truly makes the difference between Hellenism and paganism.

To us, it is all about the collective dignity of our people, the rehabilitation of our culture, information and self-determination, the control of our own fate as an ethnicity, culture and linguistic group. To them, the spiritual colonialists in occultism, paganism and the New Age, it is all about their individual spirituality (which is not necessarily a bad thing), position, privilege, money, and control over other people’s culture. But, much more importantly, it is their decisions, actions and attitudes that define them as enemies of Hellenism, because they aim for nothing less than to assure that our right to self-determination is striped away from us. If they were successful, Hellenism would be under foreign rule again. However, if Hellenes successfully achieve the aims of re-Hellenization, we will revitalise, even heal our ethnic identity in all its variety and fully restore our collective dignity and cultural autonomy.

Then, colonialists like “Aliakai” will find themselves in the very unpleasant position of facing the strength and united counter-offensive of all Hellenic people. For despite our differences and “family” disputes resulting from differing dialects, local traditions, regional cults and sub-Hellenic tribal identities, we are united by our common Hellenism. And this has always been the source of our strength, solidarity and resilience.

It is the source of the strength that allowed our ancestors to drive Xerxes out of Greece, to liberate Ionia and break the Persian sea-power. It is the strength that allowed Plethon to stand up against a whole autocracy. And it is the source of strength, steeped in love for freedom and firm determination, that will allow us not only to face but also overcome this new threat to our freedom and our way of life. For we are never alone, our ancestors are always with us.

Angelo Nasios, Review of Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods by Jason Mankey and Astrea Taylor:

Part 1 – Review of Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods

Part 2 – Review of Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods

Part 3 – Review of Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods

Part 4 – Review of Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods

Part 5 – Review of Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods

Conclusions – Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods by Jason Mankey and Astrea Taylor