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EXPERIENCING GODS IN ANCIENT GREEK RELIGION
ATHEISM AND BELIEF
FEELING AND SENSATION

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Personal and Impersonal Gods

Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, is the worship of many Gods. How charming and fantastic are the stories which reveal their character! Mighty Zeus reigns forever alongside beautiful Hera, and hosts and hosts of deities flank them in a magnificent hierarchy. How glorious it all seems, such that we would like to believe it all, yet it would seem that a rational person must relegate these stories to the realm of fantasy. Are the Gods real? These are ancient stories from a religion whose practice we are told has expired. Yet these stories persist in our literature; they are compelling and it is not so easy to completely dismiss them. And, of course, this is our religion, so we have a special relationship with these stories of Gods. The deepest and most profound understanding of Ællinismόs is found in what are called the Mystíria (Mysteries; Gr. Μυστήρια). The Mysteries speak of personal Gods. This means that the stories of our religion reflect something real, but what exactly does this mean?

The tradition holds that there are a variety of classes of deity. Some of these deities are impersonal, i.e. without consciousness. For instance, the ideas of great majesty are divine. Examples of such ideas are Justice, Compassion, the Four Boniform (Cardinal) Virtues (Courage, Temperance, Justice, and Wisdom), and many others.

The personal deities, on the other hand, are sentient beings with consciousness. They are living beings who have awareness and they can act and respond. Examples of such personal deities would be the Olympian Gods Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων), Ártæmis (Artemis; Gr. Ἄρτεμις), Athiná (Athena; Gr. Ἀθηνᾶ), and Poseidóhn (Poseidon; Gr. Ποσειδῶν), etc. And there are hosts of other of other deities who share this characteristic. The personal deities can "hear your prayers," as it is explained by the teachers of our religion.

Atheism and Belief

There are individuals who cannot accept any belief in personal Gods at all, whether it be one God or many; this is atheism. Buddhists use the term non-theism because they do not have the aggression we find in many atheists. Buddhists arrive at the conclusion of non-belief through the use of reason. In antiquity there were many educated people who denied the existence of Gods, some of whom wrote treatise's expounding their views. Indeed the whole gamut of experience regarding belief and non-belief is present in ancient writing. Yet it would seem that most people from the classical world had some belief in the Gods.

Then there are individuals who are suspicious that there may possibly be a personal God or Gods, yet they are not sure; this is agnosticism. Often agnostics are quite friendly in their position. Many of them would like to believe, but their honesty prohibits them from doing so.

And, finally, there are people who do believe in personal Gods. These people are often viewed with contempt by atheists who cannot fathom how a reasonable person can believe in something which, to them, appears absurd and devoid of evidence. How do such people come to believe in Gods? ... is it through some kind of logic? ...or is it something else? Obviously, if you are born into a family which practices religion, you are inclined to accept the beliefs of your parents. With the ancient Greek religion, most participants do not come from families who believe in the ancient Gods, yet somehow they come to believe something which was not taught to them by their parents, parents who are often hostile to these beliefs. Yet by some means there are people who come to believe in the ancient Gods as personal deities with consciousness.

It is this author's opinion that you cannot rationally prove the existence of Gods, but there have been many arguments proposed in an effort to do so; one of the best can be found in book ten of The Laws (Νόμοι) of Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων). Cicero also wrote an excellent dialogue (De Natura Deorum) on the nature of the Gods which includes proofs of their existence. While these are splendid works, the arguments have defects, and this author has found similar flaws in every such proof he has read. 

There are those who love the classical world, who love the history and the mythology, and want to somehow participate in the religion, but they cannot in honesty believe in personal Gods. One solution is to view the Gods as archetypes, principles, or concepts. Thinking in this way allows a rational religion. The idea of archetypes incorporates a conception of divinity, a power or idea superior to the mundane, and this has some merit. Yet to classify all the Gods as archetypes is a friendly type of atheism, at the very least from the point of view of the Mystíria, which teaches that the most important of the Gods have consciousness and that their function in regards to human beings requires this consciousness, particularly as regards the fulfillment of these teachings. Yet it must be freely admitted that people who cannot accept such ideas are necessarily at fault. Indeed, this author is convinced there is actually nothing anyone can do to convince someone of the existence of Gods. The atheistic view is rational. People perceive the natural world, do not see convincing evidence, and come to the atheistic conclusion.

We hold philosophy as one of the very pillars of our religion, and to be rational is a requirement of philosophy. Since the atheistic view is, for those who have actually done the work, rational, how can we justify belief in Gods? If the existence of Gods was obvious, everyone would believe in them. Do we just want to believe in a pleasant fantasy or is there some other legitimate means, perhaps beyond reason, by which some people come to believe in Gods?

The Gods are material

The theology of Orphismós (Orphism; Gr. Ορφισμός) is materialistic, not in the sense of hedonism, but in the literal sense. Specifically, the tradition states that Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς) taught that everything which exists consists of material (Δαμάσκιος First Prin.123c bis {i. 317-19 R.}; = Orphic fragment 54). This position differs considerably from the Christian point of view, which places deity on a separate plane from the material world. The opinion of Orphism is that "spiritual," as being something immaterial, is illogical, for if it exists, it must consist of something. If the spiritual does not consist of something, it cannot exist, and if it consists of something, that something is, by definition, material. Therefore, if the Gods exist, even they consist of material, for there is nothing which exists which doesn't. 

Because the Gods are material, we can sense them

It is because both we and the Gods consist of matter, that there is the genuine probability of great intimacy between mankind and deity, for we are of the same substances (οὐσίαι) as the Gods. It is not that they are of one kind of substance and that we are made of another kind of substance: both the Gods and everything else all consist of the same substances, the same materials. How do we perceive things in the material world? ...through our senses (αἰσθήσεις). Because the Gods are material beings, we have the potential to sense them, to feel (ψαύω) them. With what organs of sense can we feel the Gods? It is through the aithirial garments (αιθερική χιτῶνας) which surround the soul (περί πνεύμα). The aithirial garments also consist of matter (οὐσία). These garments are, actually, the means by which we are truly able to feel and communicate with anything at all, even beyond the traditional senses. But can we sense the Gods? ...can we feel them? Yes, if we are sensitive people and if Gods are present and desire their presence to be known.

You can feel the other by dropping our defenses

Between the soul/body and the outside world are the aithirial garments by which you communicate, but these garments are not a barrier, exactly the opposite; they are a type of sense-organ. Nonetheless there is something else which forms a barrier between oneself and the other. This barrier is created by the mind to protect oneself. In order to communicate with the outside, to truly communicate, this barricade must come down, and if it comes down, you have the possibility to sense others fully, to feel them. But if you genuinely feel others, it is inevitable that your perception becomes empathetic and you will develop compassion (ἔλεος). This creates a new challenge, for when you give birth to compassion, you let the others in, and there is the probability of danger, and this probability is very, very real. 

Most people have some experience of dropping this wall. For instance, when you truly fall in love, the wall drops for the object of your affection, and very typically, the wall drops...at least a little while...for everything. You suddenly fall in love with everyone, and with the world. Everything is suddenly beautiful. But if you remain open, you also begin to feel the tremendous pain of others, their love, hate, and indifference...for the world is on fire.

The wall is the illusion of ego (not in the Freudian sense, but in the common sense) and one of the prime functions of the Mysteries is the dismantling of this wall, but you must be willing to do so, for you have freedom. If you are not willing, your progress becomes very slow, because of nature. And even if you are willing, it is not so easy, and there are natural limitations. For some individuals, it is almost impossible to drop that wall except by the tiniest of increments. 

Sensing the Gods

The exact same process of feeling other people is the very means by which you can sense the Gods. It is by dropping your defenses that there is the possibility of experiencing the divine. When the wall drops, you see beyond yourself and are given an opportunity, a glimpse of the divine. It is only when this barricade comes down that you can clearly glimpse deity, a perception which is very beautiful. When you perceive something beautiful, it is only natural to want that beauty, so you move towards the God. That desire is called Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως). It is also a type of permission, for the Gods do not violate your freedom. They do not violate the barrier which you have constructed. However, if you, of your own free will, dismantle the barrier, you are given an opportunity. And by desiring that beauty, you grant the Gods permission to approach. When the wall comes down, the Gods understand that you have underwent some kind of struggle, and your openness and vulnerability are very, very beautiful to them. They, naturally, also want beauty, so their desire or Ǽrohs flows to you, and a great exchange commences.

Conclusion

Our religion is a sensual, erotic (ἐρωτικός) religion, for you feel Gods who are material beings of great majesty, and when you perceive their beauty, you desire it. But first you must sense them, feel them. It is for this reason that people discover that they believe in Gods. They believe in Gods because they can feel them, they can sense them. It is actually not a rational experience; it is a sensual experience. And how do you engender such an experience? How do you feel, how do you sense the Gods? You do so by undoing your defenses and allowing yourself to touch and to feel them, and allowing them to touch and feel you. We take that risk. And this is all possible because we live in a universe based on sensation (αἴσθησις) for everything which exists consists of material which can be felt.

Often people tell me that they have believed in Gods from childhood. My teacher explained that the correct attitude in approaching the Gods is to acquire the innocence and imagination of a child. Children are vulnerable. As adults, we have learned to protect ourselves. Nonetheless, without that vulnerability and empathy, we cannot experience the Gods, we cannot feel them. 

It is said that people in the fine arts...actors, dancers, painters, etc....often find it easier to learn to feel. In reality, if you are unable to do so, you will likely fail in those careers. Recently I have been enjoying some of the wonderful documentaries of Dominique Delouche. Monsieur Delouche has captured on film the great ballet dancers of a previous era, great artists like Danseur Étoile Nina Vyroubova and Serge Peretti, aged and no longer able to perform, but teaching the lovely young dancers. To witness them mentoring these students is a huge lesson in sensitivity and a very beautiful thing to observe. To merely watch the face and hands of Vyroubova is to understand how to feel. Those educated in the world of ballet know that from the birth of this art-form in the Renaissance to modern times that Apollo, as leader of the Mousai, is recognized as the Lord of Dance; watching these documentaries, you can see that he is also the Lord of Sensitivity, the Lord of Feeling (Κύρος Αἰσθήσεων).

I have observed through years of study with my teacher a very consistent reality. On the one hand, she technically explains the religion, the theology, but when she speaks of the actual practice of the religion in daily life, she consistently talks of helping others, of participating, and of interacting in society, and doing things to make a difference in the world, to make a difference in other people's lives. The distinct emphasis is that one's way of living in society is ultimately more important than any theology you may have accumulated. The theology is, ultimately, a type of symbolism to help the human soul understand how to feel the world and how to live in the world. She recommends as a powerful illustration from the realm of literature, the magnificent novel of Victor Hugo, Les Misérables. You begin to desire to help others, because you first feel them. You feel the others when the fortress of ego falls and you become sensitive and empathetic to the other, and when this develops, the soul simultaneously gives birth to the capability to sense the divine.

The wise man imitates the Gods. And what are the Gods doing? They are engaged in fulfilling the providence of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς), the mighty father of Gods and men, who has sent his son Diónysos (Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος) to free us from the sorrowful circle of births (κύκλος γενέσεως). Thus wide-eyed Zefs showers us with his living compassion, for he is completely open and feeling us, the creatures who are suffering; and we, when we can feel them, help our fellows, for it is divine to do so.


To more fully understand this page, please visit this link: The Materialism of Orphism.


The story of the birth of the GodsOrphic 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.


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; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase 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 Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς). 



PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as 

 

, 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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