Posted by: Ruadhán Q. McElroy | October 5, 2008

“What Is Hellenismos?” and other questions answered

Hellenismos, in English, is a broadly-defined term for Hellenic (Greek) polytheistic religion. The worship of the Gods of ancient Greece is basically Hellenismos.

What Is “Hellenic reconstruction”?

Religious reconstruction, forst off, is a method of worship that places an importance on the use of the practises described by both primary sources, ancient writers, and secondary sources, modern scholarly and archaeological writers, in one’s own practises. Now, despite what some may have one believe, as long as one is, in fact, incorporating ancient practises into one’s religious practises, one is using a reconstructionist methodology, to some degree. Religious reconstruction, even amongst modern “pagan” circles, is more-or-less a sort of “fringe” method of practise, meaning that only a handful of people use it. Furthermore, despite what some may like to believe, there is no central authority on what “is” and “is not” “Real™” reconstruction. For most people who use a reconstructionist method, it’s simply a sliding-scale methodology:

  • Some turn to ancient practises first, and if a workable practise is available, will adopt that before creating a practise anew.
  • Some turn to established modern practises first and then refine them with ancient practises.
  • Some people create mainly new practises based on what ancient peoples practised.

The only real “rule” for religious reconstruction is that ancient practises be both considered and somehow adapted. Ergo, Hellenic reconstruction turns to solely or predominantly the ancient practises of the Hellenes (Greeks).

Now, some may argue that only ancient practises should be used, and others criticise that kind of thinking because, frankly, it doesn’t make sense to those who criticise it.

First off, not all ancient practises can or should be adopted by modern worshippers — even in ancient times, practises that were seen as morally or ethically repugnant as morals and ethics changed between, say, archaic Greece and Classical Greece, were dropped. It thus begs to reason that ancient practises that seem morally questionable to modern society shouldn’t be held onto just for the sake of “historical accuracy”, but should replaced with new practises to reflect current moral and ethical standards. Very few people who have adopted a reconstructionist method of worship advocate the reinstatement of practises that would seem cruel at least distasteful today.

How important is history to those practising in a reconstructionist method?

Many who have adopted a reconstructionist method do so because they are fond of history and respect traditions. Generally speaking, if one wishes to apply a reconstructionist method to one’s practises, one should at least attempt to gain a fair understanding and knowledge of the historical practises of ancient peoples.

Now, the late, great Oscar Wilde once wrote, “any-one can create history, but it takes a great person to write it.” Derek Jarman’s film Jubilee addressed the issue of the subversion of history. Then there’s the old adage that “history is written by the victors”. History is largely open to interpretation, because those who understand it best understand that history is recorded with a bias, anything else is journalism. 😉

Events and practises were widely chronicled by ancient authors, and these are, of course, important to modern practitioners, but many texts remain fragmented and, even among those that aren’t, translations can be dubious toward the integrity of the original text. Take the word “keltoi”, the ancient Greek word that became the modern “Kelt” or “Celt”: Many people, including modern Classics professors (who really should know better) translate this word to meaning “barbarian” or “savage”, in modern English, but newer translators now feel that “the secret people” is a better translation of “keltoi”; regardless, this author has found no definitive translation from the ancient Greek for “keltoi”, though it can be concluded that its translation to “barbarian” in modern English is probably the farthest from accurate, as the Greek word “barbaros” was an ancient term itself, indeed, the root of the modern “barbarian”, and was a widely-used term that simply meant “one who does not speak Greek”, so even Romans and Egyptians who didn’t speak Greek could, in theory, be “barbaros”, Keltoi who could, would not.

History is easily written and more easily read, but it is also easily misunderstood, misinterpreted, mistranslated, and used for dubious purposes. One who speaks as an authority on “history and historical accuracy” should be, in all fairness, regarded with more caution than one who maintains an open mind toward history — and this is a reality that is especially important to religious reconstructionists because a love for and desire to better understand history is usually what draws persons to a reconstructionist methodology.



  1. Well said, Ruadhan. 🙂

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