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The Four Pillars of Hellenismos

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"In my soul I know that those that accept the Gods by love, they shall be offered happiness."   Anonymous

"...a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong--acting the part of a good man or of a bad." [1]


The Scholar's View of Ællinismόs

This author has read many books and listened to numerous lectures on the subject of ancient Greece. Although there are significant exceptions, I must say that the religion that has been presented by many scholars bears little resemblance to what I have been taught by my teachers, the teachers who actually practice Ællinismόs (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός), teachers from Greece itself. Only a couple days past, I listened to a lecture by a scholar who presented the religion as distinctly ugly. He said that the ancient people believed their gods were petty deities who committed heinous crimes, that these gods had absolutely no compassion, and that they only pay attention to mortals at the behest of what amounts to a kind of business deal (sacrifice). Moreover, this scholar described the typical worshiper as highly superstitious with little idea of any kind of ethics, who had concepts of deity that were primitive at best. He presented the gods as though the mythology was believed by to be literally true. In later lectures, this scholar characterized the early Christians as being far more reasonable. I could not help thinking to myself, "And did these early Christians believe their mythology as literally true also? Did they believe that Balaam's donkey actually started talking, or that Jonah truly lived in the belly of a whale for three days, both as told in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) and the Old Testament?" I wonder if this scholar realizes how one-sided this presentation sounds to someone who actually practices Ællinismόs, and further, how grossly unfair these criticisms appear, knowing that this scholar must feel that he is quite safe from criticism, as it is generally believed that the ancient religion disappeared centuries ago and the contemporary scholar need never fear that he will confront a credible person with a different opinion.

Another lecturer described the ancient Greek religion before Plátohn (Plato, Πλάτωνas "just not impressive" in comparison to the ancient religion of Israel. The scholars should know better, and some actually do. Generally, scholastic books specifically about the ancient religion and the Mysteries, give a more generous view of the religion. To give but one example, we could briefly discuss one tiny aspect of the Ælefsínia Mystíria (Eleusinian Mysteries, Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια): the secrecy. These Mysteries were practiced for two-thousand years (possibly more), commencing hundreds of years before Plátohn was ever born. The teachings and practices conducted therein were kept in complete secrecy, shared with initiates only. Just why would the numerous initiates of these Mysteries keep their vow of secrecy if what they experienced was "just not impressive," as the scholar said? Why did these initiates take such a commitment so very seriously that the secrets were kept for centuries, such that we still do not know their content except in the most general way? How could anyone assume that such an astonishing feat was accomplished by individuals whose inspiration for such secrecy was a religion that was insignificant?

The scholars also like to point out that the philosophers of ancient Greece saw problems in their religion, that they criticized the myths and questioned many things. Did Plátohn, for instance, find the ancient Greek religion defective, or was he, rather, pointing to problems in the way people understood their religion? Careful examination of the dialogues will lead one closer to the second conclusion. Further, self-criticism is a sign of maturity and growth, not necessarily defect, particularly as regards to our subject. In any case, the scholars like to separate ancient philosophy from the religion. 19th century scholars like to see the ancient philosophers in an evolution away from polytheism gravitating towards monotheism, while contemporary scholars like to say that the philosophers, with their criticisms of primitive beliefs, tended toward atheism. Both these views say more about the biases of 19th century scholars in favor of Christianity and 20th century scholars in favor of atheism. Scholars are generally aware of the contribution of philosophy to history and rational thought, but when modern scholars are confronted by a philosopher such as Próklos (Proclus, Πρόκλος), they tend to dismiss his works as gibberish. Próklos is very difficult reading and it is obvious when you study him that his belief in the ancient Gods is absolute. This approach, combining immense scholarship and reason with actual belief, is not so much appreciated by scholars, who, not believing in Gods, may not wish to make the effort to actually understand what Próklos was saying. Even the Tímaios (Timaeus, Τίμαιος) and Nómi (The Laws, Νόμοιof Plátohn do not seem to be held in the same regard as the dialogues which do not so much imply belief in deity. And the Tímaios is very difficult, So why exert so much effort on something that you personally think is nonsense. The assumption of many contemporary scholars is that religion and theism, and in particular polytheism, consists of primitive beliefs concerning reality...but we hold a different opinion.

Surely it must be true that many, if not most people in ancient times had a somewhat simplistic view of religion. This is true in modern Christianity as well. If you study the common people of Buddhist Asia, you will find their understanding of Buddhism is rudimentary and simplistic. Genuine Buddhism is non-theistic, but many adherents practice a type of theism more common with polytheistic religions. Western scholars know that there is a difference between what many common practitioners believe and what the Buddha taught. One of the principal reasons scholars must admit that there is substantial merit to Buddhism is that they confront living representatives of the tradition who will not allow them to diminish their religion. Before the 20th century, books were sometimes not so kind to Buddhism, describing the religion as a type of negativism. The scholars did not have such easy access to living teachers at that time, nor did the Buddhist teachers have such easy access to the Western scholars. In our modern world, there are Buddhist teachers everywhere as well as their students. Criticism of the religion cannot escape the eyes of practicing Buddhists who not only can read the texts but have learned how these texts are interpreted and practiced. Consequently, there are now many Western scholars who have a much more nuanced and realistic idea of genuine Buddhism. But this is not so easy with Ællinismόs. Those in Greece who practice the religion do not feel comfortable teaching publicly, where for well over a millennium there has been severe consequences for doing so. And both in Greece and in the West, for many, many centuries Ællinismόs was interpreted by exclusivistic Christian scholars, convinced of the superiority of their own religion. Indeed, Christianity has persecuted and condemned the ancient religion, despite appropriating much of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy into their theology. This legacy has not quite disappeared. Nonetheless, things have been improving, albeit slowly. Scholarship in Greece is a bit different, but there seems to almost be an "iron curtain" between the Western and Greek scholars, which, if dissolved, would likely improve understanding of the ancient religion.


THE FOUR PILLARS OF ÆLLINISMÓS

If you want to learn how to propitiate Gods and obtain favors from them; if you wish to learn the secrets of burning incense and engaging in all kinds of exotic ceremonies; if you desire the secrets of how to read omens from the flight of birds; if you wish to learn magic, witchcraft, and divinationor if you desire to participate in the drunken sexual indulgence of so-called Bacchic orgies...all these things and more: you will find none of this here. 

It is certainly true that a superficial popular religion existed in ancient times; one can clearly discover this in the historic literature. Nonetheless, there was, and is, a deeper religion. It can be discovered in the teachings of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς), the great reformer and theologian (θεολόγος) of the ancient Greek religion. Orphéfs is regarded as the founder of all Mystíria (Mysteries, Μυστήρια). Quite simply, the Mysteries are the deeper meaning of the ancient Greek religion, its very heart. Well then, what is it and how are we to proceed? We do so by means of the Four Pillars of Ællinismόs.

1. 
Aköí (akoe, ἀκοή; pronounced: ah-koh-EE)

Ællinismόs is a way of life, not a faith blindly believed, not a set of doctrines to memorize. Yet there are traditions, stories, and ideas which are the background which inspires interest, curiosity, and wonder. Aköí means "things heard;" it is the tradition. By means of aköí we learn the origin of the Gods, the practices of our religion, and the philosophical viewpoints. Because of an ability to perceive things of beauty, we suspect the validity of our religion. Our intuition tells us that there is great wisdom to be found here. Because of this, we begin with a simple trust in the tradition; we learn all the mythology and practices with some confidence in our teachers. We accept these things as part of our heritage and allow ourselves to be influenced by their richness.

At some point, these "things heard," like everything in human experience, must come under the eye of critical thinking. Belief, which in Greek is pístis (πίστις), is subjective conviction. It is not genuine knowledge, for which we use a different word, æpistími (ἐπιστήμη). Belief, as taught by Plátohn, is inferior. Ællinismόs is not creedal. We are not required to believe anything, unlike exclusive religions. There is no catechism. Nonetheless, we must begin somewhere. When we come to this religion, we begin by simply listening, for a very long time.

All the many pages of this website are aköí, "things heard." No text can magically deliver your prayers to the Gods; no text can cause wisdom to illuminate your mind; no text can make you a virtuous person. Akoí, the tradition, provides hints and suggestions, like a finger pointing. We must do the actual work ourselves, with the help of the Gods, of course, but we must work to achieve this. And we must be very careful to distinguish the difference between knowing many facts, becoming scholastically learned, and actually having wisdom. Nonetheless, aköí are ideas, and the Hellenic ideas are very powerful seeds which have enormous potential, which, when planted and tended to properly, can become strong and mighty victories.

2. Thæouryía (theurgy, θεουργία

To many people, the word thæouryía is defined as magic, but genuine theurgy is devoid of magic.  Much has been made of the word but the philosopher Damáskios (Damascius, Δαμάσκιος) says very simply:

"... theurgy ... is the worship of the Gods..." [2]

Anyone, in any tradition, who is doing ritual and worshiping the Gods is practicing theurgy. Thæouryía is, quite simply, communication with deity through ritual. 

Orphismós (Orphism, Ορφισμός) is an erotic religion because it is based on ǽrohs (eros, ἔρως). This attraction is a divine force. When the soul is ripe, she is given an opportunity to experience the beauty of divinity, and is attracted (ἔρως) to it, by nature. The Gods feel our ǽrohs and are deeply touched by our beautiful souls. They move closer to us, much closer, and an exchange begins. This interaction between Gods and mortals, when it occurs in a formal setting, is called thæouryía, communion with the Gods through ritual.

The word thæouryía literally means "divine work." In ritual, we participate in the providence of Zefs (Zeus, Ζεὺς), the highest us all the Gods, and we partake in his divine work, which is compassion. In theurgy, we celebrate and reenact the theogony.

3. Philosophía (Philosophy, Φιλοσοφία)

In the deeper understanding of the religion, we attempt to practice philosophy, but what is philosophy? The etymology of the word is: φιλο (love) + σοφία (wisdom): the love of wisdom. In general, we are talking about the intellectual work of challenging our preconceptions. We are speaking of the intellectual work which endeavors to discover genuine truth and wisdom, rather than the philosophy which tries to justify and defend pre-accepted positions. In other words, we attempt to be rational and logical, in a very big way.

Much ancient Greek philosophical texts written after Aristotǽlis (Aristotle, Ἀριστοτέλης) involved expanding, explaining, and justifying the ideas of his teacher, Plátohn (Plato, Πλάτων). When we speak of philosophía as one of the four pillars, we are not talking about the study of other people's ideas and conclusions. Rather, we are interested in what happens before conclusions, if conclusions are even possible. In other words, when you have an existing belief or idea, and your philosophy is to defend that idea, to find a way to make that idea impregnable, rather than to uncover the actual truth concerning any particular idea, we question such philosophy.

As for scholastic philosophy beyond antiquity, the great bulk consists of Christian examination of the meaning of their own religion, with the assumption of the supremacy of their tenants. Indeed, the Christian philosophers attempted to prove the existence of their monotheism and create a theology around this idea, borrowing the theories of Plátohn, Aristotǽlis, Plotínos (Plotinus, Πλωτῖνος), and others to assist them. But the foregone conclusion is always an affirmation of their faith. Such formal philosophy extends from antiquity until, roughly, the Enlightenment, when the confines of religious restrictions on beliefs and ideas began to seriously deteriorate. This author admits that this summary is not entirely fair, but generally, this is the case.

Self-justifying philosophy, whether pagan or Christian, is different from the raw philosophy of Sohkrátis (Socrates, Σωκράτης). Using the Socratic Method (ἔλεγχος), we attempt to expose and defeat the ego
[3]. What do we mean by ego? It is that which takes sides and skews arguments in defense of preconceptions, rather than actual perception of reality as it is. This is an extremely difficult philosophy but essential for real progress. Therefore, on one hand we say that there is that which is taught (aköí), and on the other hand, the actual experience and understanding of reality. From this point of view, most philosophy, even pagan philosophy, falls into the category of aköí, "things heard" ... an essential first step, but a step which must be transcended. Religion, without this raw philosophy, is faith-based, insubstantial, and insignificant, and like that described by the many scholars who try to divorce the philosophers from our religion.

Why are we even concerned with this kind of philosophy? Why don't we just leave ourselves alone? Living in the world, we act, and we act based upon our perceptions. If our perception of reality is skewed and incorrect, then our actions follow, and we act badly. But if our perception of the world is accurate, we are able to act with good effect. Without accurate perception, quite frankly, we do not actually know what we are doing. To know what you are doing is fundamental to the practice of religion and it is the obligation of all good men.

To sum up, philosophy is the third pillar of Ællinismόs. It is the mechanism by which you challenge your preconceptions and develop the courage to change your mind when you discover that your ideas and views are incorrect, and to then live your life accordingly. It is, perhaps, the most difficult of the pillars.

4. Arætí (Arete, Ἀρετή)

The endeavor to achieve virtue is how we try to put our religion into practice. Virtue in Greek is arætí. There are different understandings of the word. It has been translated as “excellence.” We are not talking about the "pursuit of glory," as many people seem to define it. Nor are we looking for an Aristotelian list of various excellences, although such a journey may help in our pursuit. Arætí is not quite the same as the Latin virtus, which is more virility and strength.

Arætí is the source from which all the various virtues or excellences are generated. Plátohn says that that virtue is a type of harmony of soul, a type of consent between one's emotions and one's reason
[1]. Plátohn identifies four principal manifestations of arætí: courage (andreia, ἀνδρεία), temperance (sohphrosýni, σωφροσύνη), justice (dikaiosýni, δικαιοσύνη), and wisdom (phrónisis, φρόνησις and sophía, σοφία). They are known as the four cardinal virtues of classical antiquity [4]. Compassion (ἔλεος) is actually the most important virtue, but without courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom, compassion is not attainable. Compassion is the providence of Zefs. It is what he means for us and what he desires his creatures to emulate.

The achievement of arætí is putting one's own ambitions aside in favor of those which reflect the natural laws. Thus, the acquisition of arætí necessarily involves the development of perspective in relationship to one's place in the Kózmos. This realization must be put into action, which has the effect of developing the human conscience. The realization of personal arætí is a function of the progress of the soul. Without virtue, knowledge of the facts and figures of Ællinismόs is of minor significance.

We have said above that our tradition is an erotic tradition, based on the attraction to beauty, but our tradition is also an aretaic or ethical tradition. We develop arætí and it gushes forth. Virtuous action flows naturally as a result.

In our religion, we talk of Gods and their worship; why then is arætí considered so great? What does it have to do with our worship of the Gods? The achievement of arætí is the most pleasing gift one can give the Gods. All the various traditional offerings...the incense, the flowers, the fruit... are all lovely, but they are symbolic. Arætí is exceptional because it makes a real difference in the world. The Gods love virtue and when we struggle to acquire it, great notice is taken. They are deeply moved and endeavor to help us achieve our aim, and they stand by our side.

Summary 


In conclusion regarding the Four Pillars of Ællinismόs, it can be seen how this functions. 1. We discover religion and, by hearing and learning (aköí), we enter the tradition. 2. We discover beauty and develop a relationship with deity (thæouryía). 3. We attempt to become rational people by means of the great struggle which is philosophy (philosophía). 4. And finally, we take all these things and integrate them into our lives, developing virtue (arætí), which enables us to become conscientious and compassionate people who make a difference in society.


 
There is a course of study available  

If you have a serious compelling interest, please write: inquire.hellenicgods@gmail.com. The classes are free. To participate you must be at least 18 years of age. You must be willing to start fresh, at the beginning, without preconceptions, regardless of your previous background. You must be willing to talk, either in person, by phone, or by Skype, at weekly intervals. 


NOTES:

[1] Ἀπολογία Πλάτωνος 28a, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892.

[2] Φιλόσοφος 
Ιστορία Δαμάσκιου 1.4. 

[3] Ego, not in the Freudian sense, but the common conception of ego, as the misunderstanding of the mind regarding its relationship with the Kózmos. Ego is the deception which believes that the universe revolves around oneself. "Egotism is a passionate and exaggerated love of self, which leads a man to connect everything with his own person, and to prefer himself to everything in the world." Alexis de Tocqueville, trans. Henry Reeve, 1838.

[4] Νόμοι Πλάτωνος 964b and Πολιτεία 427e.



The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.
Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.
How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.


 
The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian GodsIn front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).



PLEASE NOTE:
 Throughout the pages of this Glossary, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

SPELLING: HellenicGods.org uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself.  An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website.  For more information, visit these three pages: 

Pronunciation of Ancient Greek        

 

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