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Hellenism (Greek: Ἑλληνισμός), or the Hellenic Ethnic Religion (Ἑλληνικὴ Ἐθνικὴ Θρησκεία) (also Dodekatheism (Δωδεκαθεϊσμός) or Olympianism), refers to various reconstructionist movements that revive ancient Greek religious practices, emerging since the 1990s. Polytheistic reconstructionism is not a religion itself, but is the methodology for re-establishing a historical polytheistic (or pre-Christian) religion in the modern world.
The Hellenic religion is a traditional polytheistic religion and way of life, revolving around the Greek Gods, primarily focused on the Twelve Olympians, and embracing ancient Hellenic values and virtues.
- 1 Groups and self-designations
- 2 Hellenic polytheism
- 3 Reconstructionism
- 4 Political controversy and discrimination
- 5 Hellenic polytheism and Neopaganism
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Groups and self-designations
Hellenic Reconstructionism exists in Greece and in other countries. Leaders of the movement claimed in 2005 that there are as many as 2,000 adherents to the Hellenic tradition in Greece, with an additional 100,000 who have "some sort of interest". No official estimates exist for devotees worldwide.
There are no official naming practices for this religion, but there does seem to be an informal naming convention, based on academically accepted descriptive definitions, adhered to by groups and most individuals. Additionally, subgroups use a variety of names to distinguish branches focusing on specific schools of thought, or modern traditions focusing on the public practices of individual city-states. These subgroups can be described as denominations. Hellenism, the Hellenic tradition, the Hellenic religion, and Hellenic polytheism all can be said to be used interchangeably to refer to the religion, and are synonymous. The phrase Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism refers to the methodology used to revive the religion, but is not the religion itself. Dodekatheism and Olympianism are other names, though less commonly used.
"Hellenism" is a popular identifier, especially in English speaking nations. The word means (in ancient Greek) the civilization and culture of ancient Greece, but is also used in modern Greek to refer to the totality of the Greek people and culture. The term's use in religion stems from a systemization of Greek religion done by the Roman Emperor Julian. Its use to refer to modern revivalist Hellenic polytheism was popularized by Andrew Campbell, the author of Old Stones, New Temples.
The first Greek organization to openly support the religious revival of Hellenic religion was Ύπατο Συμβούλιο των Ελλήνων Εθνικών (Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes or YSEE), established in 1997, and is publicly active. YSEE is a founding member of the World Congress of Ethnic Religions (now European Congress of Ethnic Religions) and hosted the seventh annual WCER Congress in June 2004. YSEE is also a member of the European Union's action programme to combat discrimination. The organization primarily refers to the religion as the "Ethnic Polytheistic, Hellenic Tradition", "genuine Hellenismos" or simply "Hellenism" in English translations, and its practitioners as Ethnikoi Hellenes, "Ethnic Hellenes".
Another very active organization since its founding at 2008 is Labrys religious community. Labrys has focused primarily on the religious aspects of Hellenic (Greek) polytheism, avoiding antichristian rhetoric and politics, establishing weekly public rituals  and engaging in other aspects of practical promotion of polytheism like theater and music. Labrys has also promoted among Hellenic polytheists worldwide the need to actively practice household worship and the idea that family and community should be the starting points of religious practice. The community has been organizing since 2008 the largest festival in Athens and also actively participates and supports the religious aspects of the oldest Hellenic festival in Greece, Promitheia which is held every year on Mount Olympus.
Other Greek organizations, such as Dodekatheon (Δωδεκάθεον, Dōdekátheon, Of the Twelve Gods), the Helliniki Hetaireia Archaiophilon (Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum), the Thyrsos use a combination of terms interchangeably, including ἑλληνικὴ θρησκεία (hellēnikē thrēskeîa, translated as "Hellenic religion"), Hellenic polytheistic religion, and Hellenism.
In the United States and elsewhere
Outside of Greece, Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionist organizations began to emerge around 1998, with some individuals claiming to have been engaging in some form of reconstructed practice since the 1970s. Old Stones, New Temples (2000), written by American author Drew Campbell, was the first English-language book on Hellenic polytheism, and identifies "Pagan Reconstructionism," as originating from dissatisfaction with the level of cultural authenticity in Wicca and other popular forms of modern Paganism.
In the US, the Hellenic polytheist organization Hellenion also identifies its practices as "Hellenic Pagan Reconstructionism" and emphasizes historical accuracy in its mission statement. Additionally, the group uses the term "Hellenismos" (Ἑλληνισμός, Hellēnismós) to describe the religion. Hellenion does not provide official membership numbers to the public, but an unofficial estimate of 43 members can be determined for 2007, though this number can only give the roughest approximation, as Hellenion offers hardship waivers to those who cannot afford the typical membership fees. In early 2010, the organization reported 1 demos (fully chartered local congregation) and 6 proto-demoi (start-up congregations not fully chartered with less than 3 members) established, which offer rituals and other events for members and frequently for the public as well. Two of the six proto-demoi cannot be independently verified to exist. Hellenion offers legal clergy training, basic adult religious education classes, and other educational/training courses for its members.
Another American group, Elaion, uses the term "Dodekatheism" (Greek: δώδεκα, dodeka, "twelve" + θεϊσμός, theïsmós, "belief in the gods") to describe their approach to the Hellenic religion. No reported numbers for current membership levels are known to exist.
Other terms in common usage by Hellenic polytheists include "Greek reconstructionism" and "Hellenic Traditionalism".
In Brazil, in Portuguese language, there's the website of RHB - Reconstrucionismo Helênico no Brasil, built since 2003 by Brazilian members of Hellenion and other international groups, such as the American Neokoroi and the Greek Thyrsos.
The religion of Classical Greece was polytheistic, practiced in the area surrounding the Aegean Sea, continuing traditions of the Late Bronze Age Mycenaean period, and from the 4th century BC evolving into Hellenistic religion dominated by mystery religions. Emperor Theodosius I issued edicts outlawing many forms of Hellenistic worship at the close of the 4th century.[dubious ]
The cult practices of the ancient Hellenes extended beyond mainland Greece, to the islands and coasts of Ionia in Asia Minor, to Magna Graecia (Sicily and southern Italy), and to scattered Greek colonies in the Western Mediterranean, such as Massilia (Marseille). The ancient Greek concept of divinity was generally polytheistic. Religious practices varied from place to place, but all Greek peoples recognized the twelve Olympian gods (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Hephaestus, Athena, Hermes, Demeter, and Hestia or Dionysos). Other gods and heroes were also prominent in Greek mythology.
The most widespread public act of worship in ancient Greece was sacrifice, whether of grain or the blood sacrifice of animals. Adherents of the various deities sacrificed animals specific to the god or goddesses being worshiped. Sacrifices served multiple functions: one might perform a sacrifice as the culminating act of a public religious festival, before an important undertaking to gain the assistance of the gods, or as part of a rite of passage. The temples of the Greek religion generally were not public gathering places where people gathered socially for collective indoor prayer; most temples held little more than a cult image of the deity and the accumulated votive gifts, which might amount to a treasury.
Votive gifts were offered to the gods by their worshipers. They were often given in thanks for benefits conferred by the gods, in anticipation of future divine favors or to receive oracular advice from the god or goddess. They could also be offered to propitiate the gods for crimes involving blood-guilt, impiety, or the breach of religious customs. They were kept on display in the god's sanctuary and then usually ritually discarded after a set period of time.
Modern Hellenic Polytheists typically perform bloodless sacrifice or meat/bones from animals that have not been killed in situ. Consumable items such as fruit, vegetables, grains, and sweets are offered instead. Religionists make votive offerings in a similar fashion to what we know of the ancient practice.
In modern terms, the ancient Greeks had nothing which could be called a systematized theology. The art, literature, and even architecture of the time abounded with images and accounts of gods and heroes, and expressed a generally understood symbology. Hesiod's Theogony provides a polytheistic creation myth and a wide-ranging family tree of the Greek gods.
Very late in the history of classical religion, the Neo-Platonists, including the Roman emperor Julian, attempted to organize the classical religions into a systematic belief system, to which they gave the name of Hellênismos: the belief system of the Greeks. Julian also attempted to organize Greek and Hellenistic cults into a hierarchy resembling that which Christianity already possessed. Neither of these efforts succeeded in the limited time available. Finally, the public practice of the Greek religion was made illegal by the Emperor Theodosius I and this was enforced by his successors. The Greek religion, stigmatized as "paganism", the religion of country-folk (pagani) - other scholars suggest the force of paganus was "(mere) civilian" - survived only in rural areas and in forms that were submerged in Christianized rite and ritual.
Modern theology is synthesized from a variety of ancient texts, including but not limited to Sallust's On the Gods and the Cosmos and Hesiod's Works and Days. Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient philosophers also contribute to the modern movement's theological base, in addition to scholarship on mystery schools such as the Orphics and Pythagoreans.
Beliefs and practices
Hellenic polytheists worship the ancient Greek Gods, including the Olympians, nature divinities, underworld deities (Chthonic Gods) and heroes. Both physical and spiritual ancestors are honored. It is primarily a devotional or votive religion, based on the exchange of gifts (offerings) for the gods' blessings. The ethical convictions of modern Hellenic polytheists are often inspired by ancient Greek virtues such as reciprocity, hospitality, self-control and moderation. The Delphic Maxims, Tenets of Solon, the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, or even Aristotle's Ethics each function as complete moral codes that a Hellenic Polytheist may observe. Key to most ethical systems is the idea of kharis (or "charis", grace), or the reciprocity between humanity and the Gods, between individuals, and among community members.[dubious ][need quotation to verify] Another key value in Hellenic Polytheism is eusebeia, often translated as piety. This implies a commitment to the worship of the Hellenic Gods and action to back this up.
There is no central "ecclesia" (church/assembly) or hierarchal clergy, though some groups (i.e., Hellenion) do offer training in that capacity. Individual worshipers are generally expected to perform their own rituals and learn about the religion and the Gods by reference to primary and secondary sources on ancient Greek religion and through personal experience of the Gods. Information gained from such personal experiences is often referred to in Hellenic groups as "UPG" (Unverified Personal Gnosis), a term borrowed from Ásatrú.
In polytheism, Reconstructionism is a methodology which attempts to accurately base modern religious practice on culturally and historically genuine examples of ancient religious practices. The term is frequently used in the United States to differentiate between syncretic and eclectic Neopagan movements, and those based on the traditions, writings, history, and mythology of a specific ancient polytheistic culture.
In contrast to the eclectic traditions, Reconstructionists are very culturally oriented and attempt to reconstruct historical forms of religion and spirituality, in a modern context. Therefore, Kemetic, Canaanite, Hellenic, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic Reconstructionists aim for the revival of historical practices and beliefs of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Canaan and Phoenicia, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Celts, the Germanic peoples, the Balts and the Slavs, respectively.
Political controversy and discrimination
Modern Hellenic polytheist organizations are "revivalist" or "reconstructionist" for the most part, but many adherents like Panagiotis Marinis from the group Dodecatheon in Greece, has stated that the religion of ancient Greece has survived throughout the intervening centuries, and that he, himself, was raised in a family that practiced this religion. Whether or not they believe that the Hellenic polytheist religious tradition is continuous, there is evidence that Greek Hellenic polytheists see the movement as an expression of Greek cultural heritage, in opposition to the Orthodox Christianity that is overwhelmingly dominant in Greece. Dodecatheon and YSEE both use the terms "traditional", "ethnic", and "genuine" to refer to their religious practices, and YSEE is a founding member of the World Congress of Ethnic Religions. Greek polytheist author Vlassis Rassias has written a popular series of books on "Christian persecutions against the Hellenes," and the "Church of the Hellenes" organization goes so far as to call for the wholesale extermination of Christianity, while the Athens based group Ellinais emphasizes "world peace and the brotherhood of man."
Another controversy is regarding the use of the terms "Hellenic" and "Hellenism" or similar. The recent use of the term Hellenismos as identifier for the ancient Greek religion or its modern reconstructed forms by some of its adherents today.
The 2004 Summer Olympics stirred up several disputes concerning Hellenic polytheistic religion.
- Professor Giorgos Dontas, president of the Archaeological Society of Athens expressed public outrage at the destruction of ancient archaeological sites around the Parthenon and Acropolis in preparation for the Games.
- Prior to the Olympic Games, MSNBC correspondent Rehema Ellis in a story called It's Greek to Me: Group Tries to Restore Pagan Worship documented the vandalism and arson of a bookstore in Athens which sold books promoting ancient Greek religion. She also interviewed several adherents who were upset about the current state of affairs in Greece. Ellis said: "A contrast in this place where the Olympic Games were created to honour Zeus - now those praying to the ancient gods are criticized for putting too much faith in the past."
- The Greek Society of the Friends of the Ancients objected to the commercial use of Athena and Phevos as the official mascots of the 2004 Summer Olympics held in Athens. They felt that the caricatured representations of the Greek Gods Athena and Phoebus were disrespectful and culturally insensitive. In a BBC Radio interview on June 26, 2004, Dr. Pan. Marinis President of the Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum said that the mascots:
- "mock the spiritual values of the Hellenic Civilization by degrading these same holy personalities that were revered during the ancient Olympic Games. For these reasons we have proceeded to legal action demanding the punishment of those responsible."
- In May 2006 an Athens court granted official recognition to the veneration of the Ancient Greek pantheon. Referring to the ruling, Father Eustathios Kollas, who presides over a community of Greek Orthodox priests, said: "They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past."
Hellenic polytheism and Neopaganism
While there are some neopagan groups and practitioners that make associations with Greek deities, many forms of neopaganism do not require practitioners to dedicate themselves to a specific pantheon, ethical code, or worldview. Many Neopagans see the deities of diverse cultures as being different expressions of one goddess and one god, or even, ultimately, a single godhead (see Neopagan concepts of the divine and Wiccan views of divinity), this is different than the view of most Hellenic polytheists, especially reconstructionsts.
Magic is a source of much controversy within Hellenic circles. Some find the practice of any magic irreligious. Magic is not often used within a reconstructionist framework as there is little academic material to suggest that it was used widely in ancient religion.
Most Hellenic polytheist groups unequivocally state that reconstructionism is not the only correct method of reviving the Hellenic religion, but do identify a practice as Hellenic only when it embraces the humanistic values and ethical virtues of the ancient Greeks, demonstrates loyalty and reverence toward the Greek gods, and uses a religious structure that would be recognizable to an ancient Greek. These groups make a clear distinction between themselves and the Neopagan movement, and identify some 'Hellenic' groups as "simply disguised as 'Hellenists' for reasons that exist hidden within the depths of their own minds." 
- Greek mythology
- Religion in modern Greece
- Roman polytheistic reconstructionism
- European Congress of Ethnic Religions
- Greek Folk Religion by Martin P. Nilsson ISBN 0-8122-1034-4 (1998)
- Athenian Religion: A History by Robert Parker ISBN 0-19-815240-X (1998)
- Greek Religion by Walter Burkert ISBN 0-674-36281-0 (1987)
- Demolish Them by Vlassis Rassias ISBN 960-85311-3-6 (1994)
- "Some still put faith in gods of the past" by Kimberly Winston, Chicago Tribune Aug. 20, 2004
Hellenic polytheist organizations
- Sodalitas Graecia (English and Greek)
- Thyrsos - Hellenes Ethnikoi (Greek and English)
- Labrys (available in Greek only with some text in English)
- Dodekatheon (available in Greek only)
- Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum (English version)
- Orphic Platonism
- Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes (YSEE) (English version)
- Australian Ethnikoi Hellenes (branch of YSEE)
- Hellenes Ethnikoi in Canada (branch of YSEE)
- Supreme Council of National Greeks America (branch of YSEE)
FAQs and articles
- The Cauldron Hellenic polytheism FAQ by Andrew Campbell
- Hellenismos.us - a Hellenic Polytheist community portal with articles, blogs, and a forum.
- Kalash: The Lost Tribe of Alexander the Great - a possible continuous Hellenic Polytheistic tradition.
- Tropaion: researching ancient Greek religion - an academic-based weblog studying and researching Hellenic polytheism.
- Frequently asked questions about the Ethnic Hellenic religion and tradition by YSEE
Hellenic polytheism in the news
- Pagans fight for divine rights of old Greek gods (Scotland on Sunday, September 21, 2003)
- International Religious Freedom Report US State Dept. investigation into religious freedom in Greece (2004)
- International Religious Freedom Report US State Dept. investigation into religious freedom in Greece (2005)
- NPR reports on "Return of the Hellenes" movement (with audio) (August 5, 2004)
- Letter From Greece: The Gods Return to Olympus (Archaeology Magazine, January/February 2005)
- Group tries to restore pagan worship MS-NBC (August 2004, interview with YSEE members during the event of "Olympic" Games in Athens)
- Ancient Greek gods' new believers (BBC)