Archives For hellenismos

While I now live in Minnesota, I was born and spent my early childhood in Nebraska. Most of my extended family still lives there and I visited often over the years since I moved away. Like most Nebraskans, Husker football is a strong part of my life. It’s something that ties us together, no matter how far we roam, and exemplifies the culture of the state. As a Pagan, I recognize the value in honoring the land you’re tied to and recognizing how its ethics shape you. I joke that the yearly trip to watch a game at Nebraska’s Memorial stadium is a pilgrimage to the Motherland. Except it’s not really a joke. I didn’t realize, until years later, that the culture I grew up in – that of Nebraska – was so similar to the ideals of the religion I adopted – Hellenismos.

So how does Husker football and Pagan ethics fit together?

Arete is translated as striving for excellence and it’s one of the main ethics of Hellenismos. Arete is doing the best you can and has little to nothing to do with competition against others or winning. It may happen during a contest or may result in winning, but that’s a by-product. Striving for excellence isn’t something you do in one area of your life, it’s for all areas of your life.

Inscription at Memorial Stadium, Lincoln Nebraska [photo credit Cara Schulz]

Inscription at Memorial Stadium, Lincoln Nebraska [Photo credit :C. Schulz]

Carved into two places on Memorial stadium, where the Huskers play football, is one of the best definitions of arete that I have ever found: “Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory.”

It’s perfect.

The quote was written by former Nebraska professor of philosophy Hartley Burr Alexander. It both describes the culture of Nebraska and continues to shape it. Every Nebraskan knows those words by heart. Especially the last bit, “In the deed the glory.”

Arete is finding the glory in the deed.

I recently read a book that is filled with men living their lives striving towards excellence. It’s called What it means to be a Husker edited by Jeff Snook, and it contains the remembrances of 50 former Nebraska Husker football players from the 1920′s and beyond. Each player has a few pages in which they talk about what playing for the Huskers was like, what it meant to them, and how it changed their lives. Yes, it’s a book about football and, no, arete is not only or even primarily about sports.

Each story, each man’s life, is a case study in arete. Not just in sports, but in life – in their ethics; in their spiritual life; with their families. How the ethics and culture of the coaches and the people of Nebraska shaped them.

The book starts with Glenn Presnell in the 1920′s and continues on with remembrances by players grouped by decades in each chapter.

You read about Kaye Carstens, named All-Big 8 in 1996, who felt overwhelmed and out-classed when he left the small town of Fairbury, Nebraska to play in Lincoln.

“Football taught me a lot of discipline and hard work and what it takes to succeed, especially with the right coaching staff. … It takes more than talent. You have to put the effort in and that carries into your your business life as you get older. You have to make things happen. It doesn’t happen if you just sit out on the doorstep and watch.” Dr. Carstens graduated with a degree in medicine and practiced family medicine in Omaha.

You also learn about striving for excellence after you hit bottom. Bob Newton was an All-American for Nebraska in 1970 and went on to play 11 seasons for the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks. After his pro-career ended he entered a treatment facility for alcoholism.

He wrote to Husker coach Osborne letting him know what happened and that he was trying to turn his life around:

Coach Osborne immediately wrote me back with words of encouragement and support. In fact, he stated that once I got on my feet, he wanted me to come back and finish my undergraduate degree and work as a graduate assistant coach. Six months later, I reenrolled at Nebraska as an undergraduate student at age 34, and two and half years later, I achieved my degree. Coach Osborne always put a high emphasis on education, and I think he was probably more proud of me going back to school at that age and achieving my degree than he was of all my football accomplishments.

Dave Rimington, who played Center for Nebraska from 1979 to 1982, writes one of the best paragraphs on arete in the book. “The wins and losses, because we played so many games, I don’t remember as well. But all that hard work toward a common goal, with those people who became like brothers to me – that is what I’ll never forget. In reality, that’s what made you work so hard – I never wanted to let down the guy next to me.”

Striving for excellence isn’t just found in the coaches and players, it’s found in the fans. Husker fans are widely regarded as some of the best fans in all of college sports.

[Photo Credit: Steve White/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Steve White/Flickr]

Opposing fans are welcomed to Nebraska and treated as guests. If you’ve been to games in other states, you know that yelling, spitting at, or ignoring fans of other teams is closer to the norm. Husker fans go out of their way to show you the sights, give you tips on where to park, eat and stay. They are as friendly after the game, win or lose, as they were before the game. Husker fans live the Greek ethic of xenia – hospitality.

Nebraskans are passionate about the Huskers. I’ve overheard a table full of elderly women eating breakfast reciting stats going back decades and debating the merits of the recruits rumored to be in the stands that game day. Husker fans don’t just know their own players and coaches, they also know the players and coaches of the opposing team. They stand and cheer for most of the game. And every single game since 1962 has been sold out. This is the longest sell-out streak in college ball, and they play in an outdoor stadium. I’ve been there for winter games, the swirling winds are brutal. They travel to out of state games and regularly turn the opposing team’s stadium red with their sheer numbers in the stands.

This level of knowledge and passion allows them to fully appreciate excellence in field play. You expect that to be directed at the home team, but they also acknowledge excellence displayed by opposing teams. One of the first games I attended as an adult was a rare home game that we lost. The stands were very quiet. Then something happened that I took as normal, but startled the celebrating opposing fans sitting right below me. Husker fans stood up and began clapping. The opposing fans asked why we were clapping and I heard the man next to them answer, “Your team played some very fine football. We’re clapping for them.”

This culture of arete, In the deed the glory, permeates into all areas of Nebraska. I won’t say the state, or it’s people, are perfect. I’m also sad to say Nebraska is changing a bit. I’ve heard booing in the stands and the culture of Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini are not the same as what Tom Osborne created. But they still strive. And that’s what counts – for football and religion.

 

With all apologies to Charles de Lint for borrowing his column’s title, here are some recently released and upcoming books that I think readers of The Wild Hunt will be interested in checking out.

510U4nBPTUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“A Million and One Gods: The Persistence of Polytheism” by Page duBois: Page duBois, Distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego, author of “Out of Athens: The New Ancient Greeks” has a new book coming out in June that comes to the defense of polytheism. Quote: “Many people worship not just one but many gods. Yet a relentless prejudice against polytheism denies legitimacy to some of the world’s oldest and richest religious traditions. In her examination of polytheistic cultures both ancient and contemporary–those of Greece and Rome, the Bible and the Quran, as well as modern India–Page duBois refutes the idea that the worship of multiple gods naturally evolves over time into the “higher” belief in a single deity. In A Million and One Gods, she shows that polytheism has endured intact for millennia even in the West, despite the many hidden ways that monotheistic thought continues to shape Western outlooks.” Considering how few mainstream-marketed books we get that really address polytheism, I’m sure this work will generate a lot of conversation in our interconnected communities. Out June 2nd, 2014.

91veuvg9rzL._SL1500_“Walking With The Gods: Modern People Talk About Deities, Faith, and Recreating Ancient Traditions” by Dr. W.D. Wilkerson:  Speaking of polytheism, here’s a new ebook, out now, that looks at contemporary Western polytheists. Quote: “In spring of 2011, Dr. Wilkerson began interviewing contemporary Western polytheists about their religious practices. The point of her research was to discover how “faith” is defined in a polytheist context, and to demonstrate how the experiences of polytheists constitute a unique type of religiosity that deserves to be taken seriously. It was anticipated that there would be between 20-30 interviews, but before the three years of research and writing were finished, over 120 people participated in this large-scale ethnographic study of emerging polytheist religiosity. As the research demonstrates, contemporary Western polytheists are intimately concerned with the business of connection: actively and deeply engaging with their Deities, ancestors, land, and community, and living a whole and fulfilled life within that nexus of connection. This theology differs significantly and substantially from the concerns of the pervasively monotheist culture in which they are immersed. More importantly, these differences raise important theological questions about our culture’s assumptions regarding Deity, faith, religion, nature, and humanity’s relationship with each.” Some of the interviews include folks we know, like P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, and Erynn Rowan Laurie. Ebook available now, print edition due May 1st.

41CZYjUVvOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Spirited Things: The Work of ‘Possession’ in Afro-Atlantic Religions” by Paul Christopher Johnson (editor): This new collection of essays, edited by Paul Christopher Johnson, author of “Diaspora Conversions: Black Carib Religion and the Recovery of Africa,” tackles the sometimes complex topic of possession within African religions. Quote: “The word “possession” is trickier than we often think, especially in the context of the Black Atlantic and its religions and economy. Here possession can refer to spirits, material goods, and, indeed, people. In Spirited Things, Paul Christopher Johnson gathers together essays by leading anthropologists in the Americas to explore the fascinating nexus found at the heart of the idea of being possessed. The result is a book that marries one of anthropology’s foundational concerns—spirit possession—with one of its most salient contemporary ones: materiality. The contributors reopen the concept of possession in order to examine the relationship between African religions in the Atlantic and the economies that have historically shaped—and continue to shape—the cultures that practice them. They explore the way spirit mediation is framed both by material things—including plantations, the Catholic church, the sea, and the telegraph—as well as the legacy of slavery. In doing so, they offer a powerful new concept for understanding the Atlantic world and its history, creation, and deeply complex religious and political economy.” Out May 9th, 2014.

jhp530b85f08e66f “Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On” by Trevor Greenfield (editor): It would be fair to say that the publication of Gerald Gardner’s “Witchcraft Today” in 1954 was a monumental moment in modern religious history. Not only launching Wicca into the public eye, but sparking a much wider Pagan revival. Now, on the book’s 60th anniversary, Trevor Greenfield at Moon Books has collected a number of voices in an anthology celebrating and examining the ramifications of this work. Quote: “In the sixty years following the publication of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, new paths have appeared, and older ones emerged out of the shadow of repression and illegality, to express with a new and more confident voice their beliefs and practice, and share, with a steadily growing audience, their knowledge, their certainties, their questions and their vision. This book is a celebration of some of the many paths that Witchcraft/Wicca has taken and of the journeys that people have embarked upon.” Vivianne Crowley calls the book a “fitting tribute,” and I’m sure there’s a lot here for those interested in Gerald Gardner’s legacy. Out June 27th, 2014.

Other Pagan Books To Look For:

Do you know of some recently released or upcoming books that should be spotlighted here? Leave a comment or drop us a line and it may be featured in a future edition of this series. You can find previous installments of this series, here. Happy reading! 

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Top Story: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, who recently scored a major judicial win in their ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, is seeing the fight extended further as Catskill appeals the decision to let the case go forward.

As we reported in February, Judge Pulver’s decision was a big victory for the self-described witches of the Maetreum, who argue that the town treated them differently from other religious groups when it placed their Palenville property on the tax rolls [...] Despite the appeal, Judge Pulver, who held a preliminary conference in the case yesterday, has set a date for a bench trial. Pulver will hear evidence in the case and rule on it himself on July 20.”

Here’s a statement from the Maetreum of Cybele on the town’s appeal.

“We learned this past weekend that the Town of Catskill appealed the Judge’s decision to the New York Appellate Court. We believe this is their last ditch effort to avoid having to legally grant our exemption for 2011 as the deadline for them to decide on that is fast approaching and the decision left no grounds for denial since the Board of Assessment Review refused the invitation to tour our property last year meaning they have no direct knowledge of how we use our property, literally the only wiggle room they had.”

This is an issue that Catskill is going to fight to the bitter end, and is breaking their budget in the process. While they continue to fight for pennies from the Maetreum, mega-retailer Wal-Mart seems to have no trouble getting a big tax break. I guess it’s about priorities.

Heathens Gather Near Paganistan: PNC-Minnesota interviews Brody Derks of  Volkshof  Kindred about Heathenry and the upcoming Northern Folk Gathering near the Twin Cities in June.

“June 10-12, we have this event, the Northern Folk Gathering, it used to be called the Midwest Thing, but we have changed the name. Registration includes three days and two nights of cabin camping. We have open activities, and a Saturday night feast. It is at St Croix State Park at the boot camp. This is just outside the Twin Cities. We having folk coming in from Kansas, Michigan, and other parts of the country.

It has a few different aspects. It is a gathering of tribes. The Chieftains do gather and and have meetings. We are part of an alliance of people, tribes, of the Midwest. We come together and make decisions that influence the road that Heathenry takes in the Midwest. There is also a lot of workshops, information about Anglo-Saxon cultureKari Tauring will be presenting song and Stav. There will also be events for the children. We have plenty of children centered events, and we very much welcome children.”

Derks also talks about why they don’t use the term “Pagan,” and his time as president of the University of Minnesota Pagan Society.

Analyzing Satanism’s (Alleged) Rise: TheoFantastique interviews Jesper Aagaard Peterson, a Research Fellow at the Dept. of Archaeology and Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who studies modern Satanism, about the recent rise in exorcisms and claims of explosive growth among Satanic groups.

“Regarding the rise of Satanism, that depends on how you define it. The article you mention calls it a “surge” and a “revival”. It is true that the 1990s and early 2000s saw an increase of interest in Satanism alongside Witchcraft, Neopaganism, and other religious currents with roots in esotericism and occultism. This has to do with the general re-enchantment of the West in the past 50 years (an enchantment that never really went away, actually, but that is another story), which has developed in dialogue with popular media. It is also true that Satanism is more visible and more accessible because of the Internet, and that it flourishes on the de-regulated arenas the Internet provides. On the other hand, membership figures are hard to come by, and should be seen in relation to degrees of affiliation – a majority of witches or Satanists are tourists or dabblers, and only a small minority affiliate with a group and/or develop a long-term engagement. It is likely that more people are attracted to Satanism than before, and they are more visible today, but actual members still amount to thousands and not millions. In any case, where I differ from the article’s conclusion is in the effect of mediated religion on susceptible youth. Watching a movie, accessing a website or participating in a discussion forum does not automatically make you a Satanist, and it certainly does not make you possessed.”

The conversation here was sparked by a Daily Telegraph article about a six-day conference being held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. According to organizers and exorcists there’s been a “revival” of Satanism and that “the rise of Satanism has been dangerously underestimated in recent years.” For all my exorcism-revival coverage, click here.

The Shrine That Survived: CNN reports on Buddhist/Shinto shrine at Otsuchi that survived the tsunami and a fire.

Stories about indigenous faith traditions from Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami have been somewhat rare, so I’m glad to see this story emerge. Strangely, this story was posted to CNN’s Belief Blog for a short time, but was then removed. I’m not saying there were any nefarious motives, but I do wonder why that happened. Internal turf battle? Editorial decision? As for whether this was divine intervention, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Reconstructed and Engaged: Over at Patheos.com, the PNC’s own Cara Schulz writes about Hellenismos and why a reconstructed ancient religion makes the most sense to her.

“But this is how we see it – why reinvent the wheel when you can put some air in the one you’re given and get back on the spiritual path? There were reasons why our ancestors interacted with deities in the way that they did. Because it worked. It’s spiritually fulfilling. It makes sense. It allows for a deeper connection with deities and the world around you. It has meaning and depth and beauty. It is timeless. It vibrates in our very souls. But the key is to regularly engage in rituals, observances and practices. To adhere as close to what the ancients did, in order to learn from their wisdom and experience, and then to translate that into a slightly more modern form that is still ‘true’ to its origins.”

Cara also links to a video of a wedding ceremony conducted by Hellenic Pagans in Greece. Showing how ancient traditions give a depth of meaning to these important milestones of life.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Kala Noumenia!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 23, 2009 — 14 Comments

Hello, good readers of the Wild Hunt. I am Sannion, a Greco-Egyptian polytheist affiliated with the group Neos Alexandria, and a resident of the fine city of Eugene, Oregon where Jason will presently be making his home. In his absence he asked me to fill in as a guest blogger here, and as luck would have it the day that was allotted to me happens to be the Noumenia of the Makedonian month Gorpiaios (or Metageitnion if you’re going by the Athenian name.) Noumenia means the festival of the new moon, which the ancient Greeks considered to be the appearance of the first sliver, something that can take some getting used to if you’re more familiar with the astrological reckoning of new moons.

Hesiod (Works and Days 770) designated the Noumenia as the holiest of days, and it appears to have been among the oldest and most widespread of the Hellenic religious observances. Its antiquity is attested by the fact that Homer mentions it in the Odyssey (21.258) – a significant fact when we consider that he names only one other religious festival in his epics. Furthermore, the Noumenia continued to be observed well into the Christian period, since we find bishops in Byzantine Egypt during the 5th century railing against those who continue to light lamps and burn incense in their homes for the ancestral gods and spirits on the new moon.

The sacred nature of the day can be seen in the fact that no other festival was allowed to fall on the date in Athens and no legislative assemblies of the ekklesia, boule, or tribal associations occurred at this time. In fact, all important business was suspended as we learn in Plutarch’s 25th Roman Question – though it seems that the markets may have remained opened.

Generally, it was seen as a day to stay at home and celebrate with the family. Sacrifices were made to Apollon, Selene, Hera, Hekate, Hermes, Hestia and the household gods. The domestic shrines were cleaned and then wreathed with flower-garlands, and then incense, wine, and cakes were offered anew to the gods. (Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Food, 2.16)

The Noumenia is perhaps just as popular and universal for contemporary Hellenic and Greco-Egyptian polytheists as it was for our cultural ancestors. Ours is a diverse community, and though we may have different festival calendars, honor different gods, and even employ different methods of worship – most of us still do at least something to mark the Noumenia. Here are some examples of how different people in the community celebrate this day:

Here is a Noumenia ritual from the group Neokoroi. Here’s another ritual, by Timothy Anderson. Here’s Miguel Oliveira’s thoughts on the Noumenia, and a lovely hymn he wrote for the occasion. Here’s another hymn written by Lykeia. Here is Allyson Szabo (author of Longing for Wisdom) talking about her Noumenia experiences. Here’s some more commentary from Gede Parma, and finally some from Kenn.

In keeping with that, I would like to share some of my own thoughts about this day and how I celebrate it.

To me the Noumenia is a time of new beginnings, of renewal. Each month we are given a chance to start over, to get it right. Living in this fast-paced, hectic world with endless distractions, frustrations, and demands on our time and attention, it is easy to lose our way, to forget the things that are important to us and sometimes we may even become estranged from our gods. We may have set out to maintain a regular religious routine, or to make important life changes like eating better, exercising more, watching less television and the like – only to have life get in the way. It is easy to feel discouraged, to see all the missed opportunities and our life slipping away from us. But the Noumenia provides us with an opportunity to stop, get our bearings, connect with the divine, recharge our spiritual batteries, and renew our commitment to living the sort of life that, deep down, we have always wanted to. It is a time to clear away the old and outmoded, all the things that are cluttering our lives and holding us back, so that we can make room for new and wonderful blessings to enter them.

That is why the first thing that I do on the Noumenia (if I have not already done it on the previous evening, which is the deipnon or dinner of Hekate) is a thorough cleaning of my apartment, from top to bottom. Admittedly, this may not strike some as a particularly spiritual act – but it has taken on great significance for me. There is something deeply rewarding about all of that physical labor, especially when I use the time to think about all of the mental and spiritual “junk” that I need to remove from life as well. It is also a devotional act since by filling my home with numerous shrines to my gods, I have invited them into my life and agreed to share my space with them. The gods should not be subjected to dirty laundry, stacks of dishes, clutter and dust – and in truth, neither should I. By making my home neat and orderly, a fitting place to receive my gods – I am making over my life in a similar fashion, for one’s home is, after all, a reflection of one’s own being. I have noticed, in fact, a strong correlation between my mood and my surroundings. When the place is messy and disgusting I tend to feel stressed, anxious, and sullen – but when it is sparklingly clean and well-ordered (or as close as it gets to that, because come on, I am a guy and a bachelor after all) my heart is light and my mind soars more freely. After I have cleaned my apartment, paying special attention to my shrines and the clearing away of any offerings I may have left on the altars – I begin a series of devotions that can last anywhere from an hour to the remainder of the day.

I begin by lighting candles and incense and pouring libations for each of my household gods. I spend a little time at each of their shrines, reciting poetry and hymns, praying aloud from the heart, or just talking to them in a casual manner. Then I just bask in their presence for a bit, enjoying the beautiful sight of an active shrine full of offerings, thinking about my gods and spirits and what they mean to me, going over past encounters I’ve had with them, and what I hope to do for them in the future. If I have an ongoing oath to them, I will renew my commitment to it and think of ways that I can live up to it over the month to come.

After I have done this for each of my household divinities I next turn to the remaining gods of my rather large multicultural Greco-Egyptian pantheon. This is actually one of the most important things about the Noumenia for me, the opportunity to touch base with all of the other deities. Over the years I’ve managed to collect a smallish pantheon of gods and spirits who receive the bulk of my attention and devotional practice. These are very important gods to me, and I deeply enjoy the intense and personal nature of our relationships. But the other gods are important too, and worthy of my honor even if they haven’t made their presence as strongly felt in my life as the core group that forms my personal pantheon. So on the Noumenia I take some time to honor them as well, making collective offerings to the bunch of them, reciting brief prayers to individual gods, and generally I pause to think about them for a while and all the amazing things they have done and continue to do in our world.

After this I go into a quiet, meditative state, just sort of letting myself be in the presence of the divine. I often come away from this feeling peaceful, calm, collected – ready to face the challenges of life, grounded in an awareness of the all-pervading presence of the my gods and spirits. It doesn’t matter what else is going on in my life – all the anxieties, fears, frustrations and doubts just melt away in the face of the gods.

After that I will sit with my calendar and make plans for the upcoming month. I look at the festivals that are approaching and think about what I would like to do for them and the supplies I’ll have to gather to celebrate them properly. I go over my writing and creative projects, and any other plans I may have either percolating in my brain or carried over from the previous month. I think about my life and what I need to do to make it better. In short, I plot out the rest of the month, making concrete plans of action, because honestly, I’d never get anything done otherwise.

At that point, it’s usually pretty late and so I make myself a lavish dinner, feasting in the company of my gods and sharing a portion of the meal with them. Then I make a final offering and go out for a walk, usually going on a long, circuitous route that ends up at one of the nearby parks where I do a lot of my outdoors worship. As I stroll through the dark city streets I let my gaze drift up to the heavens and note the lovely sliver of moon, just barely visible through the darkness – yet full of such promise and potential.

This is one of my favorite parts of the Noumenia – and in many ways, one of the most important. By anchoring my religious calendar to the phases of the moon it helps me connect with the cyclic powers she contains as well as the rhythms of nature which are all around me. It’s so easy to lose sight of this, to get caught up in the manic intensity of our modern lives. So much is going on all the time, a thousand tiny things constantly clamoring for our attention, that we’re often not aware of anything outside of our own heads. Weeks can pass by in a blur, and half the time we wouldn’t even know what day it was without the anchors of what show’s on television or what trivial thing is happening at work. The earth and the moon, however, run at a slower pace, possess a deeper and more sacred wisdom, and I have found that pausing to take note of that, slowing myself down enough that I am then able to attune myself to that more divine motion is an incredibly rewarding thing. Many people find it hard to follow the lunar Hellenic calendar, especially at first. But I find it well worth the effort. These energies are real and powerful, and life runs much more smoothly when we slow down enough to be aware of them, open ourselves enough to be conscious of their influence in the world around us – and the world within us as well.

And that, dear friends, is how I celebrate the Noumenia. Often we talk about the more theoretical aspects of our faith – our conceptions of the divine, the importance of ethics and building up community, the interpretation of ancient texts, and the assorted controversies that plague our diverse communities – but I think that it is also important to discuss what we actually do for the gods, how this feels and what all this means to us today as modern practitioners of ancient faiths. Hopefully I have provided some small glimpse into the religious life of a Greco-Egyptian polytheist here in the hinterlands of Oregon. At the very least I suspect y’all won’t be complaining that my entry was too short.