What Is Hellenic Polytheism?

by | Hellenic Polytheism

What Is Hellenic Polytheism?

Hellenic polytheism is a modern polytheistic religion that focuses on reconstructing ancient Greek religion. It has also been called Hellenism, Hellenismos, and Greek Paganism, among other terms.

The Gods

As Hellenic Polytheists are reconstructing ancient Greek practices, the gods we believe in and worship are the Olympians and related gods such as Zeus, Athena, and Apollo.

Most people, regardless of their beliefs, have likely heard of the Olympians. These are often thought of as the twelve main gods of ancient Greece, and include:

  • Zeus
  • Hera
  • Poseidon
  • Athena
  • Hermes
  • Apollo
  • Artemis
  • Demeter
  • Hephaestus
  • Aphrodite
  • Ares
  • Hestia or Dionysus

But these are not the only gods. There are also the Titans, who ruled before the Olympians. And there are the Cthonic gods such as Hades and Persephone, who hold domain over the dead and the afterlife.

There are other types of deity as well, which we might call spirits or sometimes daemon. Examples of daemons include nymphs, or specific spirits like the Agathos Daemon.

Principles & Values

There is no absolute set of commandments in Hellenic Polytheism like there are in other religions. However, we have two main sources for our principles and values:

  • From the Delphic Maxims
  • Derived from various sources such as the works of Hesiod and Homer

The Delphic Maxims are are set of rules that were carved into stone outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. They include rules and principles like ‘know yourself,’ ‘respect the gods,’ and ‘nothing in excess.’

From other sources, in particular from Homer, there are two principles that stand out the most: Kharis and Xenia.

Kharis is the reciprocity at the heart of our relationship with the gods. We give offering to the gods so that they might give back to us when we are in need. It is about developing an ongoing relationship on built on favour.

Xenia is best translated as hospitality and relates to the guest-host relationship. There should be an understanding and respect between guests and their hosts, in all forms.  This extends to any beggar, traveller, or stranger.

“But here’s an unlucky wanderer strayed our way, and we must tend him well. Every stranger and beggar comes from Zeus.”

– Nausicaa, The Odyssey

Practicing Hellenic Polytheism

Hellenic polytheism is more orthopraxic and orthodoxic. This means there is a greater emphasis on right practice than right thought.

So, right action in worship and day-to-day life is more important faith than just having the internal belief that the gods exist.

The simplest and most common method of practicing Hellenic Polytheism is with a daily devotion to the gods. This typically involves some sort of cleansing, saying a prayer to the gods, and giving an offering.

This is likely to have taken place in the household in ancient Greece. Yet, we also know that there were many festivals and celebrations throughout the year.

Most of what we know about festival worship comes from the Athenian calendar and includes annual celebrations such as the Panathenaea and Dionysia. We also know of monthly rituals like Hecate’s Deipnon.

Afterlife & The Soul

There are a few different beliefs about the afterlife in Hellenic Polytheism.

It’s generally believed that when someone dies, their soul or spirit is taken to the Underworld. What happens after that depends on individual interpretation and beliefs.

Some believe that all souls of the dead will dwell in the endless Fields of Asphodel, also called the Asphodel Meadows.

Others believe there are three ‘levels’ of the Underworld:

  • Elysium, where souls of heroes and other great people rest
  • Asphodel, where most ordinary souls will wander and rest
  • Tartarus, where the souls of those who angered the gods will suffer

And some belief in a cycle of reincarnation. This belief typically involves souls drinking from the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and one of the five rivers of the underworld, until they forget their previous life. At this point, they will be reborn to begin the cycle again.

Where To Learn More

Hellenic Polytheism is a broad religion with no single, fixed way of doing things. Even historically, practices varied between cities, cults, and households.

This is a brief overview of our faith. You can subscribe to this blog to learn more, but I would encourage you to do your own research.

There’s a lot of information out there, some incredibly useful and valuable, some less so. Keep in mind who the author is and see if you can corroborate what they’re saying with other trusted sources.

To get started, I recommend reading the works of Homer and Hesiod, and having a look at the resources I work from. 

 

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