Traditional versus Reformed Dodekatheism

Elani Temperance, 2015

The ancient Hellenes worshipped their Gods in a way they did not even have to think about. They were taught by their parents how a ritual was supposed to be conducted and what a festival looked like. Kids learned how to act in temples, and they played their parts in the sacrifice. The ancient religion varied from place to place and when details of a festival or rite changed, they changed because the polis wanted them to. The ancient Hellenic religion(s) were greatly tied to the ancient Hellenic culture(s). Yet, there were overarching ideals and ritual acts that a man traveling from Athens to Kos would recognize if he walked in on a festival there. In fact, it’s likely he would have recognized the festival and could share in its intent. Perhaps not its execution, and perhaps not all the time (because of local mythology and deities), but most of the time, and in most of its execution. It’s this overarching religion we search for in Elaion; the bare bones.
Now, bare bones are not enough to make up a full practice. They just give us basics; how to act in ritual, for example, and a basic calendar. The fact that we purify with water and barley groats before rituals would have been recognizable in many parts of ancient Hellas as well. After this, there is room to incorporate local ancient customs or to focus your home practice on a single God and Their close family. This fleshes out your practice and makes it yours. For Elaion, it’s important that members accept our bare bones religion as the foundation of their communal worship (and for most who come to it, it already is or it feels completely natural to do so), and fill in the rest of their practice with customs that would have been recognizable to the ancient Hellenes. For one this can mean the syncretic worship of Rhea-Kybele, for another a more ‘Spartan’-focussed path; we would applaud and encourage both because these are ways of thought mirrored by a subset of the ancient Hellenes.
What we don’t encourage are the incorporation of practices that are either completely new or were derived from ancient Hellas with so many steps in-between that it’s become completely unrecognizable. The incorporation of modern witchcraft, for example, or patron Gods as defined by modern Paganism. Wiccan elements are also not encouraged. Because there is no way for us to reconstruct the Mysteries in a way that the ancient Hellenes would have recognized, we also choose not to incorporate them in the foundation we try to share with our members. All of this goes for the shared practice of our members, but we do hope that once they understand why we choose to worship this way, they will keep their household worship Traditional as well.
‘Traditional’, to us, thus means to practice Hellenismos in the spirit of the ancients. We keep in mind that man from ancient Athens and with everything we do, we wonder if he would recognize what we are doing as the worship of the Gods he worships at home. That does not mean you need a big altar out in your garden (although we do encourage it), and this doesn’t mean you need to hold daily ritual (although we do encourage it), and it doesn’t mean that you always have to worship in a group or with your family (but we do encourage it). It means that whatever you do, you keep that man in mind and wonder if he would recognize what you are doing as an adapted and modernized version of his faith.
‘Traditional’, as such, has nothing to do with practices that link back directly to ancient Hellas; no one is claiming to trace a lineage back or to in any other way have a direct line into the ancient Hellenic religion. We take what we know from scholarly and original work and make a generalized framework that can be built off of and adapt that to modern culture. Then we flesh out our practice with ancient practices and ancient ways of thought that resonate with us.
To get back to the intent I mentioned earlier; your practice is Traditional to us if you adhere to the above: ancient practices in a modern context where the bare bones are as close to generalized ancient religion as we can make them. If you wilfully bring in modern elements from other religions or traditions, we consider those parts of your practice Reformed, and there is no value judgement in that. All we ask is that you keep those parts of your practice out of communal worship and discussions because we feel they do not add to the understanding of the ancient Hellenic religions–which is what we chose to ‘reconstruct’ in the context of modern society.
I want to make clear that we don’t really care about the Reformed part of a person’s practice—and we all have those parts. We care about the Traditional part. There is no finger pointing and superiority complex; we just want to talk about the parts we do share together: the bare bones and the ancient customs that we fleshed them out with. We have only made the distinction between Traditional and Reformed to be able to highlight the Traditional part of a person’s practice and to have a name to call that by. ‘Reformed’ for the other part was just that; a name to use for the rest.
I hope this makes the distinction between the two clearer, and that it gives substance and context to the terms. For us, the value in using these terms lies in more easily finding likeminded people to share worship with. If a person reads the above and thinks: ‘Yes, this Traditional practice is exactly what I do, except for [this part]!’, then they might feel inclined to join Elaion to find other people who worship that way. If, on the other hand, a person reads the above and thinks ‘Oh Gods, that’s so restricting! I would never be able to fit in!’, then they will most likely choose not to join Elaion and make us all a bit happier in the process. Simple as that.
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