“First, whenever you come to your house, offer good sacrifices to the eternal gods.” – Hesiod
Primarily, what makes us Hellenic Polytheists is the honoring of the Olympic deities. The Olympians (also referred to as the Immortals or the Deathless Ones) are six gods and six goddesses. Usually they are Aphrodite, Apollo, Aries, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hephaistos, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Poseidon and Zeus. Substitutions can be made but there are always 12 deities. We try to honor each Olympian at least once a year but give special attention to one or two “patron” deities and to the deity that protects our community. We also believe in other deities, such as the Chthonic deities, and healing deities, for example, and we typically honor them in specific times of need (i.e. to Persephone to kindly receive a loved one’s spirit at their death, or to Asclepios for a speedy recovery after an illness or surgery.) For very personal needs and protections, we sometimes honor the spirits of our ancestors, folk heroes, and lesser deities (daimons). For advice or knowledge, we sometimes pray to messengers (angelos) or minor deities such as the Muses. We are also called Reconstructionists because we research and try to worship, as near as possible, in the manner of the ancient Greeks. However, we don’t have any specific dogma or clergy that dictates what we believe and how we should practice those beliefs. In all things, we are encouraged to think for ourselves.
CLERGY AND PRIESTHOOD
As in ancient times, we believe that any person can offer sacrifices and prayers to the Immortals and can lead religious rituals. The first level that may be considered as a sort of “clergy” is the religious club (demos in our modern structure). These are people that meet regularly to worship and study religious subjects. A few of these have already been recreated and, in the future, there will be more. Within the local Demos, one or more people might emerge in the role of the leader of worship. If this person has recognition or status within the local community, they may be referred to as the Keepers of the Sacred Items (called iereus or iereia). These are the caretakers of our religious items and the leaders in our worship. The only clergy recognized by Hellenion to represent the national organization in religious and legal matters is the Theoros. These people have been examined by Hellenion and have proven their knowledge of the rituals and religion of Hellenic Polytheism. All of our clergy choose one or two deities that they represent. We don’t have any generic clergy. For our rituals or festival events with a large number of attendees, members of the congregation may act in specific ritual roles such as libation-bearers (spondeforos),carriers of sacred water (udroforos), scribe (grammateus), sacrificer (mageiros), treasurer (tamias), torchbearer (dadoukhos) and sacred herald (hierokhrux).
Our most basic guiding principles are “Nothing to Excess” and “Know Yourself”. The first means we should sample anything in life that isn’t excessive by its very nature, but we should not overindulge in anything. The latter means we should always learn, make our own decisions, be responsible for our actions and, above all, know that we are not gods. Altars, shrines, and temples are places that honor the Immortals and to offer sacrifices and libations. Shrines, which are set up at home, may be dedicated to specific deities, or may receive offerings for all deities. Some examples of small altars are the Apollo Patroos which guards the main entrance, the Zeus Herkeios which guards the courtyard, the Hestia which is the hearth at the center of the home, and the Herm which protects travelers. Our sacrifices are meals that are shared with the community and with the Immortals. A libation (sponde) is a drink offering that is shared with the Immortals. Prior to any sacrifice or libation is a ritual cleansing (khernips) which may be as simple as washing hands in salt-water. Each ritual or festival usually contains a purification, a sacrifice and several libations. Our prayers usually take the form of either a bargain with an Immortal or a simple adoration. A well-formed prayer has three parts: the identification of the deity and their past deeds (invocatio), the identification of the worshiper and their deeds, past or future, that make them deserving of the favor (parsepica) and, third, the request (preces). An adoration may only have the first part which is typically called a Hymn.
Our rituals all follow a similar structure and usually resemble an old fashioned picnic. The first part is a procession (pompe) from a central location to the home, park or sanctuary where the ritual is to be performed. A small gathering might simply use a procession around the home, or from the kitchen to the living room in an apartment, for example. At the entrance to the ritual area, we purify ourselves by washing our hands in saltwater. Then we do our opening libations by drinking a little wine (or grape juice) mixed with spring water and then pouring a little on the ground. Opening libations start with a libation to Hestia, followed by libations to one or more honored Olympians, followed by a libation to the Olympians as a group. Next the sacrifice is prepared (the food is cooked) at the same time as any activities are attended. These activities could include athletics, theater, singing or musical performances. When the sacrifice is prepared, we consume our portion in a feast and completely burn the portion for the Immortals (for meat sacrifices, this is the bones, skin and fat). Finally, after cleaning the area, we perform closing libations in the reverse order of the opening libations (Hestia is always the first and the last as she represents the home and the community).
CALENDAR AND FESTIVALS
Our festival calendar is lunar and there is usually one festival each lunar month, honoring a different deity.There are a large number of festivals to choose from as different cities had their own set of festivals that they observed. Our demos has chosen the Attic festivals for our standard calendar as it is the one we know the most about but, as in ancient times, each demos is free to create their own festival calendar. Some of the more common Attic festivals are:
- Panathenaia is a celebration of Athena’s birthday and a celebration of the community.
- Eleusinion is a celebration of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and Asclepius, god of health.
- Apaturia is a celebration of family and clan (both natural and adopted).
- Chalkeia is a celebration of Athena, Hephaestus, arts and handicrafts
- Dionysia is a celebration of Dionysus and the performing arts.
- Thargelia is a festival of Artemis & Apollo; purification of the evils of last year and planning for the next year.
Text © Hellenion 2002