Universal religion and ethnic religion

One way of categorizing religion is to compare universal religions with ethnic religions. A universal religion is a religion which, although it may have originated in one geographic place, has the tendency to spread into other areas and become part of the culture of the region to which it has spread. An ethnic religion, on the other hand, is said to stay in the area of its origin and not be able to infuse itself into the culture of other geographic areas; it is limited to the ethnicity of its birthplace. Thus, while universal religions are said to welcome people of divers ethnicities, ethnic religions reject those outside of their indigenous or national group.

Universal religions have traditionally been linked to founding personages, examples being Jesus with Christianity and Mohammed with Islam. This characteristic is contrasted with the idea that ethnic religions seem to arise as if from the soil of the lands of the people who practice them. Religions with founders are associated with evangelism, hence the spread of their doctrines, while ethnic religions are said to have no compelling interest in proselytizing.

When this author was in Catholic high school in the 1960's, we were taught that there are only three universal religions, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, and that all the other religions of the world are ethnic religions. I doubt that scholars would say the same in 2018. The concept of universal religion is associated with the Dutch theologian Cornelis Petrus Tiele (1930-1902). It is suggested by the author of this present essay that Dr. Tiele's ideas are due for revision.

Ællinismόs is a universal religion by its very nature

Students of Ællînismόs (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, must eventually confront the famous theogony of Isíodos (Hesiod, Ἡσίοδος). This revered author describes the origin of the universe. Likewise, there are other theogonies, such as that attributed to the great theologian Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς), which also outline the origin of the universe.

Various ancient literature speaks of the great Gods dwelling on Mount Ólymbos (Olympus, Ὄλυμπος), a known place in Greece, but only simpletons in antiquity believed they actually lived there. The palaces of the highest of the Gods were said in the mythology to be located on this mountain, including that of Zefs (Ζεύς) himself, but no one in ancient times believed that he is merely the ruler of Greece. Indeed, he is the ruler of all the Earth and beyond, to the ends of the universe. He is called ýpatos (ὕπατος), the highest. Zefs is not merely the highest divinity of our religion, he is the highest and most supreme divinity in the entire Kózmos (Cosmos, Κόσμος). A similar logic can be applied to the Olympian Gods who hold dominion over the Natural Laws by which the universe functions. Therefore, Ællînismόs must, by definition, be a universal religion, and not merely a religion for ethnic Greeks.

The place of ethnic Greeks in Ællinismόs

Nonetheless, despite the fact that Ællînismόs is a universal religion, ethnic Greeks will always retain a special place. They occupy a unique and venerable position, for it was their ancestors who first understood religion as we know it and developed its practices, and preserved so much of what we retain today. Currently, the greatest teachers of the religion are in Hellas. But the Gods do not only dwell in the mountains of Greece. They are the Gods of all people and have dominion over everything. Therefore, Ællînismόs and its practices are applicable to all people, all races, all ethnicities, and this is one of the reasons for its sublime majesty. In this era of growing nationalism, there are some Greeks who try to deny the religion to people outside of their ethnicity. It is understandable when we find Greece attacked from all sides, that a precious possession of theirs, a birth-rite of the Greek people, their very religion, is being stolen from them, but it is not really true. I have been told by the greatest of the Greek teachers living this very moment in Athens, that Ællînismόs is for everyone, the religion of the Kózmos. Greeks, by sharing their religion, glorify themselves. And to Greeks who feel threatened by this, be it known that those of us who are not of your blood, but who love the Gods, are also Philhellenes, friends of the Greeks, a new generation like those of the great war for independence, those like Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In any case, the idea that the ancient Greek religion is for everyone, and not just for Greeks, is an ancient idea. The Berlin Papyrus, Papyrus Berolinensis [13044 V] lines 4-9, a text about the abduction of Pærsæphónî (Περσεφόνη) dated 2nd or 1st century BCE, clearly states as much:

οὓς ὀλίγα Μουσαῖος ἐπα-

<νορθώσας κατέγρ>αψεν· παρέδωκεν δὲ 5

<τὰ Ὀρφέως ὄργι>α σέβεσθαι ῞Ελλησίν τε καὶ

<βαρβάροις, καὶ κ>α<θ᾿> ἕκαστον σέβημα ἦν ἐ-

<πιμελέστατος περὶ> τελετὰς καὶ μυστήρια καὶ

<καθαρμοὺς καὶ> μαντεῖα.

He (Orpheus) composed the hymns, little things which Mousaios restored (to memory)

and wrote down. But he received them

from Orphéfs: the secret rites of worship, for both the Greeks and the

barbarians; and that in every act of worship (one should) be

attentive concerning the rites, mysteries, and

purifications and oracles.”(trans. by the author)

When the text says “for both Greeks and the barbarians,” the term “barbarian” or βάρβαρος referred to someone who could not speak Greek, someone who was not of Greek heritage. In other words, the religious hymns, the rites, the mysteries, purifications, and oracles were meant for all people, regardless of blood or even language, and that means that the entire religion is for all people.

The spread of Ællînismόs in the Hellenistic era

In antiquity, Ællînismόs easily spread wherever there was Hellenic influence and this was most obvious in the Hellenistic period after the conquests of Alǽxandros (Alexander, Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας) the Great. The religion manifested in different forms throughout the Roman empire and beyond, adopting itself effortlessly to the religious customs of the areas where it became absorbed, typical of universal religions. And this was easy and uncomplicated in the religious culture of antiquity where all religion was far more tolerant than what we are accustomed to in the 21st century.

The appeal of the teachings of Orpheus and the Mysteries in the spread of Ællînismόs

Orphéfs (Orpheus) is called the Theologian. The period in which he lived is of such great antiquity that many scholars question whether he was a historic person, but the ancient Greek religion holds him in awe as the great reformer who explained the origin of the universe, the origin of the Gods, and, indeed, the origin of ourselves. His is a gentle teaching known as the Mysteries. These teachings had and still have great appeal in a difficult and unstable world, for these teachings speak of the great compassion of Zefs (Ζεύς), and of how he devised a plan to free us from our misery by sending his divine son Diónysos (Dionysus, Διόνυσος) to deliver us from anguish. The religion teaches that Diónysos has come for all those who desire him, to transform them and free them from the sorrowful circle of births (κύκλος γενέσεως). This is the providence of the king of Gods and men, the design and solution of Zeus for all his creatures, not just for a few.

Ællînismόs beyond the antique era

After antiquity, the religion was heavily persecuted by the Christians. Our temples were destroyed or converted into churches, and many who held our beliefs dear eventually were forced to abandon them. Others were driven underground into precarious secrecy. Practitioners of the religion entered a long period of trial. Despite the enormous effort to dismantle and exterminate our religion, it still exists. The greatest of those who practice it are very strong. And beyond the practitioners, other forms of the religion persist. The mythical stories of our Gods, our philosophies, and many, many of our religious beliefs persist through the Christian era to modern times, for even the Christians cannot ignore the truth found in our religion, and knowledge of Ællînismόs and its mystical stories has traveled to every place on earth. This could not have happened without the universal nature and appeal of our religion. The roots of Western civilization are intimately tied to our religion. Even beyond the West, Ællînismόs envelops the world. Its flavor permeates everything everywhere and in all eras, for the deepest meaning of our religion is truth itself, and truth will eventually conquer brilliantly. Truth is patient, for it is confident and needs no support. Truth needs nothing and truth does not need anyone to believe in it. Truth is entirely self-sustaining. The heart of Ællînismόs is the embodiment of truth and when human beings glimpse its genuine meaning, they are instantly attracted to it, and this is why it has universal appeal. The ancient Greek religion is a universal religion, and arguably, it was the very first universal religion.

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.

PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, 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: 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

Transliteration of Ancient Greek

Pronouncing the Names of the Gods in Hellenismos

This logo 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 Gods. In 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).

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