Questions about Elaion
Elaion means ‘olive oil’, which is traditionally used both in anointments, and as fuel in temple lamps.
Our motto ‘Eusebia, Paradosis, Arete’ translates as ‘Piety, tradition and virtue (or excellence)’. We seek to be pious and honorable in our thoughts and actions, in keeping with traditional Hellenic polytheistic practices. The three principles in our motto are inseparable, as to be pious, one must respect tradition and practice virtue; in keeping tradition alive, one honors ancestors and Gods alike by excellence and virtue; and in being virtuous and striving for excellence, one must show piety in religion, and one must honor the traditions of old.
We believe that any organization must be relevant to the lives of its members. For that reason, Elaion plans to serve the needs of members by providing resources for the establishment and growth of worship groups, and to support members in their spiritual lives.
Questions about Dodekatheism
Dodekatheism is a name for the modern revival of ancient Greek religion. It is a word that is used commonly within Greece to describe adherents to the practices of worship and religious living according to ancient Hellenic values, ethics and spirituality. Dodekatheism, as a way of life, is both mainstream and community-minded, and concerned with living a good and pious life.
In the modern world, some revivals of the Hellenic religion have typically been concerned with the esoteric or mystic aspects of our religion. In Dodekatheism, true happiness (Aristotle’s eudemonia) is more than ‘self-realisation’ or ‘self-fulfillment’. It involves a meaningful engagement with your community and the world around you. For that reason, we champion a worldview with ethics and reciprocity at its core.
The basic Hellenic principles include themis (sacred law) and moira (portion, fate), which establish the appropriate distinction between humankind and the Gods. It is on this basis that we reject occult or ‘magical’ beliefs and practices. We understand Dodekatheism to embrace a wholehearted dedication to the great and holy Gods of Hellas, and a willingness to live ones life in accordance with the principles of piety, tradition and honour.
Such a worldview necessarily precludes any allegiance to such things as magic, occultism, ‘neopaganism’ (as related to Wicca and its offshoots), and Christianity. In the same spirit of the apologists and polemics of late antiquity, we view these things as variants of atheism: denial of the Gods. Any system of belief which either denies the existence of or assigns an inferior position to the Gods is incompatible with Dodekatheism.
Magic that is not acceptable within the Dodekatheist life includes “ceremonial magic”, Wicca, “witchcraft”, Hermeticism, “theurgy”, or any practice in which a person believes or attempts to enact their will using human “magical” powers, or most especially the divine powers of the gods at their command. We do not accept this as pious behavior, nor do we think that it is conducive to healthy spiritual practices.
Whilst we acknowledge the importance of the Mysteries, and the role played by mysticism in the development of Hellenic philosophy and religion, these practices are not central to Dodekatheism. Elaion believes that the Mysteries need not be pursued; they are not a spiritual ‘formula’ that experimentation will eventually rediscover. We should simply perform the rites of our forbearers. Whether such a festival becomes a Mystery is not up to us – it is up to the Gods.
Many come to Dodekatheism because of an attraction and fascination with a particular god or goddess in the Greek pantheon. It may be because the activities or myths associated with this deity are dear to a person, or it may be because of a dream or a religious experience. What these people have in common is a realization, based on the exploration of this deity, that the Gods are real. And that brings them here. Devotion is a beautiful thing, however, as the Delphic maxim tells us ‘Nothing in extreme’. It is important that we honour the Gods appropriately. Gods are the patrons of towns, nations, professions, or even families, but they are not the patrons of individuals. We cannot know the will of the Gods, we cannot assume to be the ‘beloved’ of any of them.
Divination and oracles had an important place in traditional Greek spirituality, however, the ancient Greeks understood that divination was not altogether reliable. It was plagued with the same problems then as it is today; fabrications, hoaxes, unscrupulousness and inaccuracy.
Ultimately, who has that self-ordained right to claim special powers and authority over the God and to pass on messages as if the God had spoken? Dodekatheism emphasises that the Gods speak to us in many ways, and empowers us to worship directly and in meaningful ways. Those practicing divination should be aware of the potential consequences, and be encouraged to explore other means of understanding the will of the Gods.
‘Reconstructionism’ is an approach to pre-Christian religion that incorporates academic research and historical accuracy. Our spiritual practices certainly fall within the bounds of ‘reconstructionism’. However, our approach to Dodekatheism takes ongoing academic research and incorporates the spirit and intent of ancient practice. It moves the focus from ‘what you do’, in terms of ‘accurate’ in rituals and practices, to ‘the spirit and essence of ritual practice’.
In Dodekatheism, the most important aspect of a religion is that you find consonance with the ‘inner life’ of our theology. The values and beliefs that are central to Hellenic spirituality should also be central to you, or else it seems that the religion may not be a good fit for you and your life, no matter how ‘historically accurate’ your ritual practice might be.
Questions about ancient Greek religion
Finding a label for ‘ancient Greek religion’ in the modern world is difficult because the ancient Greeks did not have a word for religion. They referred to practice and service to the Gods that demarcated it from the religious practices of other countries. Greek religion was (and is) an integral part of daily life and the spiritual flux of new influences and spiritualities. There was no sense of it as a being separate from life.
‘Hellenismos’ is a word coined by the Emperor Julian in the 4th century AD. He was the first to refer to a ‘Hellenic way’, which, at the time, encapsulated pre-Christian religion and the legacy of Greek philosophy and culture. Recently, Julian’s ‘Hellenismos’ has been popularized as a way of referring to the revival of ancient Hellenic religion in the West. This presents some difficulties, since, in modern Greek, it translates roughly as “Hellenism, the Greek nation.”
When Elaion was founded, we used to term ‘Hellenismos’ to refer to ancient Greek religion. However, we came to feel that it’s limitations were overwhelming. It is based on a historical misunderstanding and a linguistic mistranslation. The word “Dodekatheism” has been used for some time within and outside Greece to refer to ancient Greek religion and we feel that it is important for those of us outside Greece share a common name and identity with our co-religiosts in the homeland of our spirituality.
Over the last fifteen hundred years, evangelical monotheism has gone to great lengths to stamp out religious diversity wherever it has found it. Western culture no longer practices its indigenous religions; we have no culturally based alternative to Christianity.
In the West, people who seek a religious life are faced with a poverty of choice. Pre-Christian religions have had a resurgence and bring with them tradition imbedded forms of meaning, including different conceptions of the self, the soul, and the ‘good life’. They allow us to sanctify a world that has succumbed to nihilistic demythologization. In our own lives, we have found pre-Christian religion to be a powerful and rejuvenating force. For many centuries, Dodekatheism has lived on in the ancient Classics, the arts, music, and literature. It is interwoven throughout Western Civilization and it is time the Gods are honored for their many blessings and incredible contributions to human civilization.
Dodekatheism circumvents many of the pitfalls of modern religions. There is no centralized power structure, no ‘sacred book’, no coercive notions of ‘salvation’ and ‘sin’ and no arbitrary rules governing behavior or ethics. Instead, Dodekatheism incorporates all of life and is a broad framework with a huge number of points of reference; it is the responsibility of the individual to make the connections that are meaningful to them.
We live in an age of ‘Do-It-Yourself’ spirituality, in which the individual must glean not only their spiritual needs, but how best to meet them. If this did not offer enough challenges, spirituality has been covertly colonized by capitalism. Increasingly, people are trying to fill the religious void in their lives with seminars, workshops, books and trinkets.
Dodekatheism is an ‘organised religion’ that promotes a fertile inner life, without the dogma and coercion that we have come to associate with religion. It also eschews the need for ‘self-creation through consumption’ that has come to characterize modern spirituality. Dodekatheism provides the ‘first principles’ for a stable spirituality, but it is the responsibility of each individual to incorporate and build from there. Luckily, Elaion offers a spiritual community who can support you through that process.
Not only do thousands of primary works survive from the period of pre-Christian Greece, but academics and historians have been writing on the topic of ancient Greek religion for centuries. In recent decades the study of Greek religion has grown substantially within Classics Departments at major universities throughout the world. There are ample resources available to assist you in your exploration of ancient Greek religion.
One needs to be critical with all sources, because not all published works have the same depth of research or incorporate the most recent evidence (even by academics or ancient writers).
Greek religion was one of the most dominant religious forms of the pre-Christian Mediterranean period. The Romans incorporated aspects of Hellenic mythology and practice into their own religions at a very early period, however, they represent two very distinct religious traditions.
Religio Romana extends a number of Hellenic concepts beyond the bounds that a traditional ethnikoi would recognize; where Hellenic interaction between mortal and God is characterized by a ‘compact’ or flexible system of exchange, Roman ritual is highly contractual and there is great pressure for it be word-perfect, since it represents a legal agreement between god and man. Where Dodekathiesm recognized the deification of mythological heroes in recognition for their great works, the Roman Religion, tightly welded to the mechanisms of politics, commonly deified its emperors and authority figures as Gods. The household Lares and Penates honored in Rome were also absent from any Greek house.
The word ‘pagan’ originally referred to country-dwellers, living on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. It grew to have connotations of ignorance, as those ‘country bumpkins’ were out of touch with the latest cosmopolitan trends. And finally, it came to mean those ‘ignorant’ of the ‘true religion’ of Christ. The term has since been embraced by a number of new religions, those based on the ancient pre-Christian ones. Dictionaries define ‘pagan’ as anyone who is not Christian, Muslim or Jewish – and by this definition, we are pagan. But the original meaning is quite irrelevant to us, and this is why some have chosen not to embrace it.
We are not an ‘earth-based’ religion. Our festivals sometimes honour the seasons, and sometimes, they do not. Hellenic religion celebrates our lives and our diverse unity with the world around us, not simply the cycles of the year.
Like all religions, Dodekathiesm is more then its rituals and practices; at its core is a common worldview. This worldview precludes allegiance to all ‘neopagan’ permutations that practice magic, or that fail to accord proper respect to the Gods, or other people. Conversely, Dodekathiesm has much in common with other polytheistic faiths such as Hinduism, Shintoism, Asatru and Kemeticism. These consonances offer rich territory for cross-fertilisation.
There are some native Greeks who feel this way, and you should be aware of this. One should also be aware that the term ‘Hellene’ means simply a Greek person – not necessarily a Hellenic Polytheist. For this reason, we discourage the use of this term to describe ourselves, unless one is actually Greek.
Elaion does not discriminate based on ethnicity or race. We do ask that members respect and take an active interest in the culture their religion comes from.
The modern world understands religion as doctrinal – that is, ruled by its sacred stories and words. In contrast, our relationship to mythology is distinct from the way that, for instance, a Muslim would approach the Koran or a Christian their sacred texts; our stories are not revealed to us by God, but were created by man ancient poets and writers in their attempt to approach the divine. Greek religion is constituted by a dialogue between different mythologies reflecting poetic imagery and the religious practices that surround them. Mythology is related to action and relationships, but it does not tell us what to do.
The ancients wrote of the immorality of the Gods in myth. Plato wanted these myths wiped out; they were, he claimed, the lies made up by poets. Some myths are violent, and some are sexist, much like the culture they came from (and the culture we live in!). However, simply depicting them in myth does not endorse them. By raising these issues, our religion acknowledges their impact on our world, and provides us with a framework for dealing with them it recognizes all aspects of human life and how best to deal with them.
As with any mythology, the key to understanding is to read between the lines. Myth attempts to explain profound truths – truths about humanity, truths about the Gods – but by necessity, it can only do so using our flawed mortal language. The Greeks knew the Gods as integral with the world around them and, in their own language, from their own cultural view, they tried to explain that relationship. There is truth in the myths.