Going back to the theme of beginning a devotional practice, I wanted to go over some things that I’ve learned during my few years in the Hellenic Polytheist community and beginning my devotional practice. These are some things I wish I had known going in and don’t necessarily get written down anywhere, so I wanted to get them down in print. I hope they help you as much as reflecting upon them helps me.
1: Devote yourself to the gods, and also to people.
Being in a minority religion, even if you’re just dabbling, can be intimidating, especially in reconstructionist groups (you know, homework and all that). The gods make great leaders, but because of their transcendent, often aloof nature, they don’t always make the best of companions. The gods aren’t friends after all (imo anyway); who has the time when there are wars to start, a million newborns to watch over, etc.? My advice? Find some friends, even if you only talk online. If you can converse via letters, the phone, or (good gravy) even in person, all the better. You don’t necessarily have to be good friends or agree on everything; a simple study buddy can be a great help. Getting through the Iliad is tough, even for a hardcore student. But imagine if you could read it book by book with a partner and discuss the themes, anecdotes, and minor myths contained therein; it could even be fun. In a religion with homework, a study partner is almost essential.
2: Keep a diary and record your experiences and offerings you give.
I’ve always found diaries a tedious undertaking, because writing without an audience just bites at the practical side of myself. However, if your goal is to become pious and more aware of the ineffable, a diary can be a powerful tool. The ancients used to keep ledgers containing lists of offerings they gave to the gods, both to organize the gods’ property, and to keep track of the gifts passed back and forth. If your ledger was in the red (the gods gave you more than you gave), maybe you could try pushing it toward black again with a libation or other offering. My advice: keep track of your blessings. It’s a great way to keep humble and put meaning into the offerings you give back.
3: Start slow.
If you try to offer to all twelve Olympians, the other gods, the titans, and other spirits, ancestors,heroes, and perhaps foreign deities, you’re going to go crazy. And broke. If you’re like most folks, you probably aren’t super wealthy anyway, so don’t worry about commissioning statues or building temples just yet. Pick one or two gods and start there. Students often give to Athene, and many folks follow Dionysos or Hekate. Also, don’t worry about being a full-fledged scholar. Yes, the recon groups are a bunch of stuck-up know-it-alls sometimes, but you will pick things up pretty quick if you pay attention. Besides, scholarship will come; you’ll read or hear some epithet or reference in conversation and want to know more. If you feel guilty about not offering to one god or another, be assured that some kind priestly person is offering on everyone’s behalf. Once you get into a comfortable routine, then add to it. A great way to start is to follow the simple monthly regimen given at HMEPA, which follows the ancient Athenian calendar (add Ares to day five!). Add to it as needed, and remember to keep your notebook handy!
4: Be patient and persevere.
Remember above how I wrote a lot of people are into Dionysos or Hekate? Well, I’m not really into either. At all. I feel called to Ares, who isn’t exactly the most popular god, either in antiquity or today. Most books have only a tiny section devoted to the god, and will rarely fill a chapter in even the most exhaustive books. It took me about four years and almost $100 to find an obscure dissertation about Ares’ cult. And Ares was an Olympian. Feel called to Nyx, Haides, or Harmonia? Good luck finding sources. They exist, but they are few. Don’t let that get you down. Information, both historic and nuministic (in the form of UPG and oracular announcements) can come to light at any time. Don’t be afraid to ask around and dig deep into whatever you find.
5: Pack your big-kid underpants.
The Hellenic community is filled with a lot of very smart people with very strong opinions that are often backed up by heaps of evidence, which can be great for a lively debate, but not for making friends. Between passionate reverence and cold, analytical study, little room can be left for empathy or sympathy. I’m a hardass and I know it. It’s important to remember that often times, a sharp jab at an idea or comment isn’t a jab against you personally. Most recons, in practice, often act too coldly to really be personal. If you make it personal though, do bring the Greek fire, because you can bet someone else will. Eris and Ares love the infighting, or as I like to call it, the crucible of awesomeness. If you are the sensitive type, you may have trouble, but if you stick with the like-minded, stick up for yourself, and refuse to succumb to trolls, you’ll be just fine.
6: Don’t forget the gods.
It can be easy to get wrapped up in debates about the validity of magic, which edition of whatever book is best, and exactly how much UPG is too much. Sometimes, you get so wrapped up in the academics and debates you get burnt out and forget the central focus of Hellenismos: revering the gods. They are the most important part. If you have to deviate from the books because your god told you to, everyone can bitch, but they can’t stop you. I disagree with the practice of magic, but there are plenty of people that do it and I can’t do jack squat about it. Does it interfere with my worship? No. Should it? Never. The gods are most important, and if they find anything particularly offensive, they’ll probably let the offender know before you. Seriously, don’t forget the gods.