Ares in Chains

One of the things that I think is important to discuss in the onus of the recent sexual abuse allegations within the pagan community is the theological importance we levy to our gods. Sannion touched on this briefly, but I wanted to expound on the myth of Ares’ trial for the retributive murder of Hallirhothios and the story’s theological and instructive value to both the polytheist community and pagans who assert archetypal philosophies.

 

Ares Kills Poseidon's Son

 

The myth is summed up as follows: Hallirhothios, a son of Poseidon, rapes (and this time in the myth, rape definitely means “sexually assaults”) Ares’ daughter Alkippe. Upon learning of the assault, Ares kills Hallirhothios. Poseidon, of course, is pissed, and so brings Ares to trial. Assembled before the rest of the gods, Ares and Poseidon give their cases, and the gods acquit Ares of wrongdoing; the place of the trial is renamed the Areopagus and becomes a place where the Athenians try capital cases.

 

This myth is significant for a variety of reasons. First, it sets up the first case of truly justifiable homicide. If you rape someone, it is justified–and some would say necessary–to kill the rapist. This precedent has trickled down to our modern legal system, where rape is a capital crime in places that have not abolished the death penalty. Even in places that have, many courts consider homicide in defense of self or another during the course of a sexual assault to be justified.

This is of course not to say that we can just go out killing abusers and rapists with impunity; you will go to jail if the homicide occurs after the fact, and of course the accused is still entitled to a trial. False accusations, though very rare, do happen, which is why courts can only justify violence in self defense during the commission of crime against you, and even then, self-defense laws vary from place to place. For more information about self-defense law in the US, follow this link.

 

Secondly, this myth demonstrates why it may be prudent to incorporate Ares’ cult into our community. It would be a slap in the face to victims to say, “Oh, if you only prayed to Ares more, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.” I’m not saying that nor would I attempt to. However, I feel that the sort of culture that Ares’ cult perpetuates, one of responsibility and care for victims, would be beneficial to the entire community.

Ares teaches us that “no” means “no,” and that the consequences for transgressing those boundaries of consent can and should be met with the most severe consequences. He teaches that someone will have the victim’s backs; by not fulfilling Ares’ promise (see below), we insult him and his charges. Ares can also bring courage to victims, and inspires the vulnerable to strengthen themselves when the strength of those charged to protect them fails. He is compassionate towards women and children, and his mythology attests to this. Yes, Ares is a violent, bloody god, but he is only wrathful towards those that transgress the law and make war.

Archetypically, Ares represents the upholder of laws and the protective father. Therefore, rejecting even the archetype of Ares is nonsensical for me. Ares, whose voice is louder than a thousand men, does not encourage silence. His companions are Justice and the Furies, those who send abusers to their doom. Make no mistake, the modern artistic depiction of Justice is dead wrong; Justice sees everything, carries a sword in her right (read [traditionally] dominant) hand, and keeps Ares, Oath, and Furies in tow.

 

Lastly, I feel this myth creates a morally binding promise between society and the innocent victims of abuse to advocate and seek retribution upon those who commit violence against the innocent. It describes a natural law, higher than any statutory authority, wherein victims must be made whole through justice. We can worry about PR and image and community structures AFTER we have begun to care for the hurt.

So please, don’t leave Ares in chains. We as a community cannot afford to break Ares’ promises. So hail Ares, that he may be at our backs and led behind Dike to the betterment of all.

Breaking Silence

I’ve spent the last month or so abiding by a silence of sorts. Ares told me to be sparing with my words, so very few of you have heard them. I have been working dutifully on my art and improving myself for the duty I believe my god is preparing me for. Honestly, that means walking more with Ares’ consort than the war-god. However, I’m taking some time to write because it is Veteran’s Day.

I both enjoy and despise Veteran’s Day. One the one hand, I get to celebrate the hundreds of people I was fortunate to meet in the course of my service. I was lucky to be assigned first to a joint-service base for training and later to ISAF/NATO and travel to many places. I’ve traveled to 25 states in the US and did missions in over 25 separate countries doing combat overwatch, drug interdiction, counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, border enforcement, and even humanitarian relief work. I worked with operators and soldiers from all the services as well as the English, French, Dutch, Afghan, and Danish militaries. I’ve developed a closer relationship with the Marines as opposed to my other sister services because of my assignments, but I have dear friends in the Navy and Army, too.

On the other hand, it makes me uncomfortable when people thank me for my service, because at the end of the day, most people don’t know what they’re thanking me for. I was in a unit tasked mostly to watch Marines and call targets for them. While we never pulled triggers on the enemy, we nonetheless arranged the fighting according to the machinations of the war strategy and needs of the commanders on the ground. We were as the watchful eyes of gods, but we were not gods, and we lost plenty of good Marines and Brits. So no one can thank me for that. And you can’t really thank me for “doing what needed done,” because by the time I hit my combat unit, few back home believed in the war. The only people who really deserved thanks are the dead, and my family and friends who gave me up to the Machine.

That all being said, please wear your red poppies and give a supportive pat on the back to your military friends. Teach those who ask you about its meaning. If you’re feeling particularly generous, maybe you can send a few bucks to my favorite charity, Soldier’s Best Friend. They rescue dogs and train them to care as service dogs and companions for wounded warriors who are having trouble adjusting due to TBI or PTSD. I know my own little dog, while not a SBF dog, has helped me tremendously. And for the love of Ares, don;t you dare thank me for anything, or a pox on your house 😉 Hail Ares!

Dividends Part I

Some days it amazes me how a little effort gets one a long way–a spark creates a raging fire, a smile a date, or some whispered words a swelling wave of action. I have felt acutely aware in recent days just how the littlest things reverberate and cycle up like electricity in a capacitor, causing tiny currents to grow into palpable and powerful surges, enough to move entire groups of people. This is of course how reciprocity–a cornerstone of both Hellenic religion and human interaction–works.

I read a great article earlier today which, though vulgar, made me really think about the community as it is changing now. Some folks may not think it has changed much, but for me it has. I have changed in relation to it, too. I don’t want to jinx it, but it *almost* seems like the polytheist community is -gasp- growing up and into its own. How do I know? To take a leaf from John Cheese’s article:

#5. We’ve Become Embarrassed of Our Past Selves (And Then We Let It Go)

When I started in Hellenismos about five or six years ago, it was because I was tired of eclecticism in neopaganism, which seemed to be a common thread to many other Hellene’s conversion stories. At the time, I was definitely embarrassed about my roots; I was definitely a Silver Ravenwolf kid. A part of my still cringes writing that, but when I really reflect back on it, that woman did more to pique my curiosity in alternative religion than any other author I know. That’s me letting go. That’s not the end of the story, though. I was a very aggressive in my anti-eclecticism in my early days as a Hellene. I knew a lot of other youngish firebrands who were the same way. Eventually, however, I noticed a lot of people started to mellow out. At least in the circles I currently associate in, we’ve (mostly) moved past breaking things down into building things up.

 

#4. We’ve Started Double-Thinking Our Actions

 

From my contacts with polytheists, I know a lot goes unsaid and undone. I’m always cautious before committing words to the page; it’s tough to balance what I feel everyone should know about Ares and what I personally feel about things. We’ve begun to really acquire a self-awareness of how our actions affect others in the polytheist community. As Cheese’s article states, “You know you’ve made a huge step toward adulthood when you start regularly thinking about how your words and actions affect other people. Especially when dealing with anger.”  There was a huge upset over the summer regarding the effects pop-culture has on paganism/polytheism which led to the Silent July protest. The ripples caused by that protest are just now returning to the center from the edges of the blogoshpere. What amazes me is that, for the most part, the Silent July event did more to cement our small community’s values than talking to folks ever could. By writing letters instead of blogging–by writing letters in a physical medium rather than typing–I got to know other polytheists more than I could by reading. It’s that sort of intimacy that creates the environment necessary for building real relationships, which in turn creates real community. Sometimes that means caring even when you could care less (because there’s really only so many times you can read about how utterly awesome my chihuahua Chloe is).

 

#3. We’ve Stopped Following Through on the Desire to Break Shit

This one goes back to the whole pop-culture debacle, too. While Cheese is correct in saying it’s mostly a guy thing, it can occur with women, too. Remember a year or so ago when some polytheist women started veiling and were called regressive, damaging to women’s rights, and even racist for somehow marginalizing the plight of women forced to veil in the Muslim world? Because that happened. Yes, trolling still exists, but in my experience at least, things have died down or gone underground. Part of my struggle as a devotee of Ares is certainly about using a blanket “kill them all” solution to communal strife, because it’s not a practical (or even really desirable) solution. As I mentioned earlier, we’re beginning to move away from breaking things to building things, as evidenced by the Polytheism Without Borders project and Thessaly Temenos’ Hellenic Revival.

 

#2. We Learned Ways to Make Responsibility Suck Less

This is really more of a mish-mash of individual achievements lately. A lot of folks are stopping talking about creating community and are doing it. While the two projects above certainly are the largest and ambitious so far, there’s a lot of little stuff going on, too. Community building is a long, tedious process, one which we are all responsible for. Silent July really helped this when everyone decided to write letters. Yes, we created a new responsibility/chore for ourselves; writing a letter means taking time out of a busy day, buying paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps. That’s right, we had to spend money–a book of stamps costs around $20 right now, pens can be up to $5, and a ream of paper or box of envelopes are about $2. If you’re like me and like to write everyone at once, that means sacrificing about an hour or two of your day. But you know what? That shit is worth it. There’s no better feeling than opening up the mailbox at the end of the day and finding something other than a bill, a fistful of ads, or some stupid notice from the VA telling you something you already know. It makes the effort and the expense worth it. The mutual obligation and responsibility also create shared experiences and esprit de corps, two very necessary elements in molding a group of very different people into one cohesive whole.

 

#1. You Realize That if Something Happens to You, Other People Are Fucked

A lot of people don’t know they’re important to other people. Part of the reason we  as a species record and pass on information is that we’re mortal, and any day can be our last. Even in cases not involving mortality, things still change or come to an end. Some people stop blogging, and if you’re the only one who’s got the info on a particular subject, everyone loses out if you somehow go missing. I’m not sure if any of you have noticed, but for one reason or another, the voices of Apollon’s worshipers have gone pretty quiet lately, at least for the blogs I follow. I’ve been contacted by folks as far afield as Brazil and France saying they thought they were the only ones who worshiped Ares. I’m glad there are more Areisian voices out there, but I feel bad when I don’t post enough, because there is a desire out there to learn about my god. For those of you that were members of the Hellenismos.us forum, it was pretty disappointing when it was shut down for (silly) political reasons involving its creator (thankfully a few folks there created the Olympianismos forum instead). Its nice to see that a lot of polytheists are noticing this and are doing more to spread the knowledge and experience around, as well as mentoring and supporting each other.

 

 

Don’t think that because you aren’t writing a blog, starting an event, or creating artwork that you aren’t integral to the community. There are plenty of polytheists I interact with on Facebook or other places that don’t write, but they do support me and I in turn support them. Just because it was religion that brought us together doesn’t mean we don’t have other things to talk about. Plenty of you are parents, which I’m not. Some are artists, some are cooks, others are students. You want to know what Lady Imbrium I talk about most? Goats. I really look forward to her letters because I love hearing about her goats and the rest of the farm. She’s doing some pretty awesome stuff, and supporting her outside of the religious sphere is my duty and privilege as a friends. In the end, no matter what you do, that’s what community building is all about: support. Keep doing good work folks.

S**t I Wish I had Known

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.

 

 

 

My Response to “Polytheism without borders”

If you haven’t read “Polytheism without borders” over at the House of Vines yet, I encourage you to do so. If you’re really feeling lazy (and it’s okay, I get like that), the jist of the post is about starting a time bank, wherein people pay each other for different services using a “time dollar”, which is essentially an hour of your time. Neat, eh? Now, it’s not really necessary to quantify things into time dollars or how much one service is worth over another; the point is to create those reciprocal bond between people that we already try to create with the gods. Sannion ends his post with two questions: “What do you need and what can you give?” There were some great responses. A lot of people have writing experience, another has convention organization skills, etc. A Lot of people were simply looking for people to be there. I figure it would be most appropriate to create a post instead of a comment on the post, mostly because I hate super large comments, and because it would give me an opportunity to explain in detail what I can offer.

 

What I need: Honestly, there isn’t much I need except for someone (or multiple someones) to keep me on track with projects, keep me inspired, keep me moving forward, etc. Basically, I need a wife minus the romantic/sexual overtones (a real wife is nice, but I’m not a very romantic/sexual person, so yeah). I’ve tried doing commissions and things in the past, or sitting down to write, and then I flounder, mostly because I get lazy and/or bored. I’d be happy with people who call or text every once in a while to make sure I’m working, giving me ideas for projects, or just keeping me company while I work. Part of what I hate about doing art is that I don’t have people to do it with. Just having someone talk at me whilst carving or sketching is extremely beneficial.

Another thing I would like would be some rural knowledge. I would totally do the whole farm thing if I were able. Homesteading is something I’m very interested in, and I’ve talked to quite a few folks via snail mail about the subject lately.

 

What I can offer: There’s a lot I can offer, really. I guess this would be best displayed as a list.

1: Organizational skills

Being in the military and being used at all three levels of warfare (strategic, operational, and tactical) has given me a pretty good understanding of what makes a good organization, what makes one bad, etc. I’ve been a squad leader, a quality controller, a funeral detail member, a combat readiness instructor, as well as the vice president, public relations officer, point-of-contact for pagan students, and sergeant-at-arms for the largest student chapel program in the Air Force. I’ve been a leader and a follower. I’ve got extensive experience in public speaking both from my time in the Air Force and my current job as a tutor, where I give lectures about research and writing. Having worked at both the federal and state level, I’m a whiz with forms and paperwork.

2: Research skills

As an analyst and now a student, I have a knack for finding things out. I have a damn good memory for things and can usually find an answer to just about anything. Being a student at my college comes with lifetime access to their subscription of databases and journals, which is awesome. It doesn’t cover every journal (alas, no Pomegranate for me), but I can look a lot of things up. It was through my school library that I was able to find my most valuable Ares resource. As a former analyst, I’m very good at finding what is important in a given dataset, and how to organize said data into graphs, charts, etc.

3: Writing & Language skills

I’m a former Arabic linguist and English tutor; I literally get paid to be a grammar nazi. I am good at breaking down sentences and other constructs. I also can teach. Most of the focus of my tutoring is directed towards ESL students. I’m good at recognizing whether a mistake is a result of ignorance to the rule or a superposition of differing grammars (as English has a few of its own, even native speakers do this).

4: Sculpting, etc

While I currently don’t do commissions like Lykeia, I do have experience in the art and am willing to guide others in making their own creations. Small-scale metal casting in pewter is relatively inexpensive (you can get started at around $100 and make a few pieces) and can be done on a stove-top (I suggest outside on a camp stove  for safety).

5: Pugnaciousness

I’m good at being a jerk. This might not seem like a skill, or if it is, it’s one that many people thing is overabundant. I’d say the difference is that my dickishness is cold. It can make me seem cruel, but sometimes you need someone to slap you when you get all hysterical–I’m that guy. Other times, you just need someone to make a cold-hearted decision, like those thought experiments about choosing one group of people to die over another; I’ve had to make those kinds of calls before. I’m good at being a bad guy, I guess, even if it’s just part of posturing. I guess that’s why Ares is my god of choice.

 

A Little Musing (and foul language, just an FYI)

So I just broke out the good whiskey (Crown XR for those who care about such things). Why? Well I have a few reasons. For one, this is my third post for the day, and for me, that’s a lot. Secondly, because Sannion is driving me to drink. In a good way. This is toasting whiskey, so a toast to him.

He wrote a great post about writers in the community, and how basically everyone is full of crap. It definitely left me with a kill-the-phonies vibe ala Catcher in the Rye. There are days when I can’t tell when Sannion is being a jerk or when he’s being serious. Maybe like me he’s serious about being a jerk? It doesn’t really matter, because all I’m doing is gabbing. And he f**king called it.

So anyway, he was wondering where all the other folks in Hellenism are at. You know, people who aren’t writers. The sad thing is, while it may be his fingers doing the typing, there’s a part of me that’s damn sure he’s not the one speaking. Sannion is the tool of a god. You don’t have to believe it. I’m not even sure I believe it, but there’a a part of me that knows I’m right (because I usually am). We need to start doing things. We need to really come together if we want to create a community. I’ve seen the posts everywhere, too, so you can’t say, at least nominally, that you don’t want it.

Sannion also talked about leadership, and went into it more with Suz in the comments (she’s pretty great, even if I’ve never really gotten to interact with her much). They talked about how people get pushed into leadership, and how that never works out well for people. There’s a problem with leadership though. It has to be wanted. But it’s a catch-22, because we inherently mistrust the people who want to lead. We have cautionary tales about groups that became insular because of self-aggrandizing leaders. I get that and that sucks, but here’s the deal: if someone doesn’t want to do a job, are they going to do a good job? Hell no. One of the reasons the military works so well (and let;s face it, it works better than anything you civilians can really imagine, even when it doesn’t) is because you don’t get to pick your leaders. If you get a shitty commander, you deal with him or her until another one comes along to replace them in two years.

I’ve thought about starting groups before, but I put up with too little bullshit to really make that happen. I’m what you’d call a hyper-conservative. If I could, I’d go back in time to Sparta, then throw myself from the cliff because I have psoriasis, and the Spartans wouldn’t have any of that shit. I really live up to my name’s etymology, and I’m as unmoving in my positions as a stone monument; it literally takes a force of nature to get me to move. Don;t get me wrong, I know what I’m doing and I have the experience, but even if it’s something a community might need, my impatience for stupidity wouldn’t allow it.

Part of the problem is due to the nature of the internet. Sannion talked longingly of days past when people got to get together to do ritual and yada yada yada. Then the internet happened and we were given choices. Choice, contrary to what republicans (the system advocates, not the party) may posit, does not actually make people happy, especially when we get all the choices the internet offers. Don’t like Hellenion? Join Neokoroi. Still not a fan? How about Elaion? There are (or at least were) plenty of groups, fora, and mailing lists. So what happened? Choice happened. The days Sannion and Suz and the other folks miss–they had one choice: participate or be alone.

I can say I’ve tried not being just a writer. The truth is probably less than that. My ego is even disappointed, and there isn’t enough collective data-space in the world to fit my ego. Also, as nice as it would be to be a “professional pagan”, that doersn’t pay the bills, and I’m not the kind of person who is okay with merely getting by. Maybe that’s why I love Ares so much: the world really is not enough. So I guess I’ll go out and start taking things over. Gotta make the big man proud after all. And Sannion, if you’re reading this, I owe you a drink, and you’ll have to come out into the world to get it.

PBP: C is for Conservatism

So instead of posting my first C post for the Pagan Blog Project late, I thought I’d post it early. I wanted to talk about the idea of conservatism in religion and how that relates to both reconstructionism in general and Hellenic reconstructionism in particular. Keep in mind throughout though, that I’m talking about religion, not politics (though you can infer/extrapolate what you will).

Now, for starters, I’ll come out and say it: I’m religious. I’m not spiritual, I don’t get the tinglies in the presence of the ineffable, and I certainly don’t get into the idea that religion is something “someone just made up, man.”

Religion is inherently conservative. That is to say that religion is systematic (follows rules or guidelines[aka traditions]), resists rapid and unnecessary change, and establishes or provides a cohesive and continuous narrative for a group of people. So what does this all mean? Well, let’s break it down, bit by bit.

All religion is systematic. It has structure, and often a rather old one at that (more than just a couple generations). This means that a religion has certain definitions, values, behaviors, and expectations; they are a culture unto themselves. As a religious movement, paganism and its subsets represent a shift, both in terms of worship and overall culture. However, within paganism, recon movements such as Hellenismos, Heathenism, Romuva, etc. represent a more conservative strain of religiosity than other paganisms. In particular, recons have a wealth of culture and tradition, both material and immaterial (artifacts and text/intellectual material); this is not to say other paganisms do not have this–recons simply have more, both in quantity and in terms of antiquity and concreteness. Recons have an advantage because they can, with a certain degree of academic certainty, understand what our spiritual ancestors did and thought, because they left that culture with us.

This is especially true in Hellenismos. Comparatively, we have more knowledge of what the ancient Greeks did, religiously, than we do about the first generations of Wicca. The Greeks (with maybe the exception of outlying colonies and the Spartans) were prolific writer and chroniclers. The mild climate of the Mediterranean meant artifacts did not deteriorate as fast as they might have in places like Britain or the Holy Land. Even Christianity wasn’t as harsh on the physical remnants as Islam was in the Middle East. Scholars even used classics like the Iliad to teach Greek (and why paganism was inferior to Christianity, but that’s a different story for a different day).

In addition, Hellenismos contains a principle that stretches back to the most archaic times, that of Nomos Arkhaios, which translates to the “ancient way”. While the Greeks often switched governments, technologies, and laws seemingly at the drop of a hat, religion was one thing that stayed relatively consistent across the board. While the cult of a single god may differ from location to location, even then were the behaviors normative. Animal sacrifice, libations of wine, the tossing of barley–all these behaviors were standard, and most still are.

This brings us to our next topic. With rare exception (mostly neopaganism and church schisms), religions are resistant to unnecessary,  rapid, or arbitrary change. For instance, once Christianity cemented its doctrine following the Arian controversy and the subsequent Council of Nicaea, it went through a rather homogeneous period that lasted until the Great Schism 600 years later and then the Protestant Reformation about 400-500 years after that. Islam split at the very beginning into two factions, and since then, the two have remained doctrinally and practically (the five pillars, etc.) the same, with exception being the various schools of jurisprudence.

This is not to say that change doesn’t occur. Reconstructionism is not a methodology in which one “copies” the past; it recreates practices based on what one can academically and logically deduct a people would be doing had the advent of Christianity not interrupted the evolution of a given religion. For instance, we could deduce that, given time, most cultures would abolish slavery. A good example for this natural progression of change is found in Judaism, which is one of the oldest continuing cultures. The Hebrew Bible fully condones slavery, and yet it is not practiced by Jews today. Times change, and religions do, too. However, there are groups that even resist change from within. This can lead to schisms, which are natural. In Hellenismos, I personally differentiate between Hellenes based upon the amount of rigidity in their practice and the time period they focus on; “archaic” Hellenes might focus solely on historic offerings and allow less syncretism, while a “Hellenistic” Hellene might allow for a high degree of syncretism or improvise more in their practice.

The most important role of religion, however, is the creation and propagation of a shared narrative for a group. Through myth, doctrine, shared values and behavior, and history, religion helps to create an identity to which people can belong, satisfying one of the strongest urges of the human animal. Take Judaism for instance. They begin, in their eyes, as chosen by their god and suffer trials both divine and mundane. They celebrate the Exodus, mourn the diaspora and holocaust, and even though they may live in many nations of Gentiles, their shared stories, values, and behaviors make them a separate culture. This is something of a weakness for paganism, which has no common narrative, and struggles to create one due to valuing the individual over the group (my observation and opinion). For Recons this is less so, because we can fall back on the narratives of our chosen cultures, but there are still huge gaps, both chronologically and in evidence. Again, Hellenismos is luckier than others in the amount of material it has to fall back on, but this may still not be enough for some cults (like that of Ares).

That is, folks, why I am religious. While I see why people may ascribe to the description of “spiritual but not religious”, I can see no value in it for myself, or the continuation of paganism as a movement. I suppose that is why I left Wiccan-style neopaganism; for me, it had no real structure, no narrative, and too much fluidity. I’m religious, not spiritual. It’s not about me, it’s about the Gods. The way, in my opinion, religion should be. That is what I think lies at the heart of religion, the answer to why religion is conservative: it has order.

I pray that Ares, the Stern Governor of the Rebellious, can help bring religion back to the masses. Maybe then we can achieve our goals of erecting permanent, physical temples for the gods, where we may worship them as they require and deserve. I hope that we can then pass our religion, our traditions, even (dare I say) our rules to our children, and them to theirs. We need to embrace religion and continue creating our narrative, but we can only do that if we stop changing things simply to suit our fleeting preferences and settle on at least some basics (which is the sage we’re currently at, even if it pisses everyone off). May Ares, the Rallier of Men, rally us to achieving this goal. May we have the courage and prescience to pass down our traditions instead of setting yet another generation spiritually and religiously adrift. Ares, and the other gods, can help us get there, but we have to do this for them. The gods help those who help themselves; no amount of wishing will get us there. If we don’t agree, we have to realize we don’t have to. As the past shows us, schism is natural. If you can’t find voices that harmonize with your own, sing louder sing softer, or sing somewhere else. The gods, in my experience, despise indecision, Ares most of all. Ares will guide you, you just have to have the courage to let him.