And Who is Nyx?

She the mother of contradictions
The mother of Life and Death
The mother of Love and Strife
The mother of Light and Darkness
The mother of Friendship and Deceit
and Night Herself is the mother of Day.
She is the mother of the “dark”
The mother of Fears
The mother of Doom and of Criticism
The mother of Distress
The mother of Aging
and of Fate
and the Stars
She is the lynchpin of the Kosmos,
the order of the Theoi
that emerged from the death of Khaos
a phoenix of black flame

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[What’s That?] Miasma

So, Dver made this recent post about miasma, and I want to repeat something from it that seems very much worth repeating:

“Someone explained it to me once as a way of ensuring that we were fully engaged in worship; if we just experienced death, or birth, or even sex, our minds were probably occupied with ideas related to that and we weren’t giving our due respect and attention to the gods.”

That might seem like a nice thought, that once again makes it all about us and our internal landscape, but it has little basis in historical evidence. Miasma is not about how we feel about things. It’s a spiritual pollution, a FACT that happens regardless of our feelings. That spiritual pollution is anathema to many of the Hellenic gods. You may not like that, but it doesn’t change anything. Many of our gods tend to put a lot of distance between Themselves and the stink of mortality – which is most stinky during transitional times like birth and death. If it was just about our preoccupation, then there’d be no taint of miasma if someone close to you, but who you cared nothing for, died – but that’s not the case.

That’s one of those modern notions that just never sat well with me, because it just doesn’t follow logically.

This seemed like a minority notion about seven / eight years ago, when I first got into the community, and now seems a very close second to that disinfo of “miasma = lacking personal hygiene” that seemed to really take off with Pope No-Life and His Talking Butt-Plugs about five years ago. The idea that “miasma is that which distracts us from the gods and” seems pretty popular now, and I have to agree that it really lacks historical basis.

Now, I’ve probably just kind of passively went along with that in the past –in fact, I’d say my post about menstruation really does give a passive permission to the notion that miasma is at least sometimes about how we feel, when that just doesn’t fly with the history.

Miasma is spiritual pollution. If it’s there, it’s there whether we “feel it” or not. Your feelings may also be giving you a false positive –in other words, Judeo-Christian indoctrination about how your menses is dirty when (pardon the pun) bleeds over into your own personal feelings doesn’t suddenly give you a taint of miasma, nor will cramps and headaches. Your feelings might also give a false negative –maybe you’ve just had sex and now all your thoughts are on Aphrodite, or Eros, or Dionysos, well, unless you’ve been given a pass on that, too fucking bad, break out the khernips before approaching that shrine.

In general, the rules about what does bring miasma is pretty specific, almost absurdly so. If you’re a devotee, spouse, or slave to a certain deity, you may get a pass on some things, but not others, and you may have some additional taboos (one woman I know who is devoted to Artemis has been forbidden by her goddess from marrying, and though sex seems permitted, I get the impression that she needs more than a sprinkling before entering the temple room), but chances are still good that, if worshipping in an historically accurate Hellenic context, you’re still not going to be allowed to scrap all pollutive taboos.

Furthermore, what survives concerning miasma seems to at least mostly concern temples and public shrines, which are regarded as homes for the Theoi here on the face of Gaia. It’s also easy to interpret Hesiod’s taboos from Works & Days, as an extension of what counts as miasma for household worship –which makes sense, as the hearth basically functions a shrine to Hestia.

“Blood on the hands” or contact with blood is pretty much one that everyone agrees is miasma, but not all blood was the same, historically. Animal blood clearly was not a pollutant to the temples, or else there wouldn’t have been so much animal sacrifice —the mystery cults that maintained bloodless sacrifices being a noted exception, but the thing is, they are an EXCEPTION, not a part of the general inclusion. Furthermore, it takes more than just some khernips to wash out the stench of a murder from your soul, though getting your own blood on you (and maybe a co-workers, at most) the every-day abrasions from work in the fields, or at a tavern, or so on, as best as I can tell from what I’ve read, various ritual cleansings at the entrance of the temples probably took care of that –but if you lost a leg in battle, or a scythe accident or something, you obviously needed to heal to a sufficient degree first, and likely needed a more intense ritual. Killing in self-defence or in battle probably required a bare minimum at a temple of Ares (I gotta admit, i just don’t know much about this one), but to worship at a shrine to Eirene, you might need to do more than that before you had properly cleansed yourself. That said, as I’ve said before, there are apparently no historical taboos against menstruation in Hellenismos. If some-one tells you there were/are, they’re full of shit.

Sex, childbirth, and death also carry spiritual pollutants, in general, but there are exceptions. In some regions of Hellas, if a woman died in childbirth, it was standard practise to sacrifice the clothes she wore at the time at the local temple of Artemis / Eileithyia —this flies in the face of the general convention, but again, is an exception. The fact that funeral processions were a big thing in Hellas, and a pretty widespread practise, may seem to fly in the face of the conventional miasma associated with death, but the procession and funerary rites were outside the temple, and I can’t help but think that it’s a sort of ritual enactment of the soul’s journey via Hermes Psychopompos, one of few Theoi that aren’t believed to shun the dead. Miasma, again, is typically a taboo to temples and shrines.

Illness was also generally considered miasma to most temples, but it was common for people with certain kinds of sicknesses to leave an offering at shrines to Asklepios.

Lastly: Miasma has nothing to do with personal hygeine. I really have no idea where that little bit of disinfo started, but it needs to stop, like, yesterday. (ETA – 16 April 2013) OK, so upon reading a bit more, I seem to have a fair hypothesis on wher this confusion might stem from. See, for centuries, there was this belief that “poisoned air”, or similar, caused sickness; around the 19th Century in the UK, maybe as early as the 18thC (CE, of course), this collection of practically worldwide belief of “bad air = cause of certain diseases, like cholera” became colloquially known as “miasma theory”, in a similar manner that the worldwide phenomenon of spirit-workers became known as “shamanism” or animal guides as “totemism”. This re-purposing of the word “miasma” basically took it out of a spiritual context, and in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the “poison air” hypotheses basically became replaced with the current “germ theory”, that is, diseases caused by foreign bodies, from the bacteria on unwashed hands to an assortment of vira. “Miasma as disease theory” has NOTHING to do with the spiritual miasma of ancient Hellas, and conflating the two is no less ignorant than nonsense like “Artemis and her consort, Apollon”, or something. (/ETA)

The act of ritually washing the hands and face before entering the temple, or before approaching the household shrine, has practically nothing to do with bodily cleanliness. Khernips is all about a physical ritualisation of spiritual clean-up. It’s preparation of the soul through a ritual on the body. At some temples, you wouldn’t even get a personal khernips bowl, an image popularised via dramatisations on The History Channel, but sometimes a priest or even a neokoros would just toss water, or do other purfication rites on people in the procession into the temple –yes, even people who’d clearly just finished up some manual labour and couldn’t make it to the baths in time. If miasma was simply about “personal hygeine”, then surely these temples were committing great blasphemies, non? Of course not, don’t be silly. Logically, if the ancient Hellenes knew the religion better than the average nub on the Internet, then clearly those temples knew what they were doing with regards to miasma.

Now, you’re certainly free to say “I don’t care about religious reconstruction, this is all irrelevant to me”. On the other hand, if you DO care about reconstructed practise, you can’t just go picking and choosing which rules of miasma you like and which ones you don’t —reconstruction is about rebuilding from existing evidence, and you need a fair knowledge and understanding of the evidence before you can evaluate whether or not it applies to your practise. When you know what does and does not qualify religiously as miasma (pro tip: I’ve only given the most common situations and a few exceptions), only then at some later stage can you really evaluate the subject.

To recap:

Miasma has nothing to do with what’s on your mind, or whether or not you feel spiritually prepared enough to approach the Theoi. Miasma, if present, will exist regardless of what’s on your mind, and regardless of how you feel about it.

Miasma has nothing to do with your personal hygiene. Miasma is spiritual pollution. Rituals to cleanse miasma are there to ritualise the cleansing of ordinary pollutants from ourselves before entering ritual space. The fact that the most common of such rituals is to wash the hands and face (and sometimes feet) still doesn’t make it about personal hygiene, and the fact that we just washed ourselves is merely a byproduct of the spiritual cleansing.

Miasma rules, as they existed in ancient Hellas, mostly pertained to temples.

Miasma rules were not monolithic in ancient times, there is no reason to see them that way, now.

Certain devotees might have more or less taboos, similar to (though not necessarily the same as) miasma; this is a matter between them and their gods.

If you don’t care about historical accuracy, religious reconstruction, etc…, you’re perfectly welcome to scrap the idea of miasma altogether —but if reconstructed practise *is* important to you, then it really makes no sense to pick and choose.

Honey badger don’t give a shit about your miasma.

(ETA on 27 July 2014)
Cos this has been recently referenced in places, I figured I’d take advantage of this opportunity to inform people reading this for the first time that I’m raising funds for my upcoming move back to the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.

I’m also giving away Heathen goddess prayer cards.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Another Year, Another Hellenistai Wiki

So, just out of curiosity, am i the only one who’s noticed that the Wiki at has been unuseable for a couple months? Yeah, didn’t think so (but if I’m wrong, please say something).

Long story short, DreamHost offers several site software packages as “One-Clink Installs”; in theory, the installation of these software packages onto a website is fully automated and requires the DreamHost user, such as myself, only “one click” to install it. Well, that’s a great idea, but unfortunately, MediaWiki —the software developed by Wikipedia developers and the software that I’m using to run the Hellenistai Wiki— does not work that way. Seriously, it’s far more complicated than i have patience for, and updating it requires me to log in through a client with the site’s IP, and doing all these things, and maybe I gotta read entrails or something, too. I’ve tried several times to complete the update of the software, only to get incredibly frustrated at the first or second step, cos something that sounds simple turned out to be incredibly complicated, and fuck that.

I’m still holding out hope that my humanoid meat-based housemate, who does this sort of thing for a living, can make it work, but I’m not going to rely on that. Fortunately, Wikia, a popular community wiki site that hosts a lot of fandom wikis, does all the backend stuff for me, and I can just be all “la-lalaaa!! I’m updating the wiki pages and that codey stuff works cos sprites and pixies!”

So the wiki is now HERE:

…and I’m going to be grabbing as many pages off the Digital Archive Wayback Machine as I can over the next couple of weeks, reformatting it all manually (cos of the way the private wiki was set up, to only take updates from users with certain permissions, has cut off the edit pages from my access), and if anybody wants to volunteer their time to help me out, that’d be great! Great, great, GREAT!!!

Oh yeah, and did I mention that the forum is back open? I know I did.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Demetre and the Palace of Kadmos

When I C&P’d that section at the beginning of the first of my posts about Demetre, I was immediately reminded of my first post about Ares.

Kadmos and the Ismenian Dragon.

In that first segment, it seems that legend has it that Kadmos’ legendary palace became Thebes’ first temple to Demetre, which suggests that —assuming Thebans did, in fact, habitually syncretise Demetre with Erinys Telphousia— that while Kadmos’ task earned Ares’ wrath, it was still within the will of Demetre. This also solidifies my thoughts on Demetre as a Great Mother of Civilisation and sustainable urban planning. It also speaks to the kind of mother She truly is: While She certainly has Her loving and nurturing aspects (as should be obvious), She’s also pragmatic and realises that sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good, and sometimes what She has begotten is standing in the way of progress and must be eliminated.

While Her rural associations are impossible to escape, so too are Her urban aspects, as I noted before. Likewise, just as much as She values tradition, She also wills progress.

I’m now reminded of a bit from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, suggesting that while every other deity in the Hellenic pantheon was borderline useless to Man, it was Dionysos and Demetre, agricultural deities, who stood alone in being beneficial. As problematic as Hamilton’s dismissal of other deities is, I can certainly see some similarities between the two, especially in Their domains of “opposing” values somehow united in harmony through Their guidance.

This comes back around to Kadmos, who (modern scholars argue) was initially a unique Boeotian cult hero, and later was syncritised with a Phoenician adventurer. From that story, the still-later symbolic mythology arose of Kadmos inventing the alphabet and introducing people to agriculture (further linking Kadmos and Demetre), and also becoming wedded to Harmonia, which is argued to symbolise the union of an “Eastern” love of learning with a “Western” love of beauty. How Kadmos’ mythology truly developed is lost to time, but the symbols clearly reiterate a union of apparent opposites, and also closely associate the hero with Demetre. Considering this, it therefore makes perfect sense that his palas was soon converted to a grand temple to Demetre.

Now, the archaeology only debatably confirms some of the folk beliefs about Kadmos, including the origin of the alphabet coinciding with the founding of Thebes. The Phoenecian alphabet wasn’t introduced to Hellas until after the estimated date for the Trojan War. While the modern Hellenic alphabet is clearly descended of Phoenecian script, a far older text, called “Linear B” amongst those who study these things, is on tablets that have been found in a disproportionate abundance in and around Thebes, and so this may coincide with Herodotus’ relaying of Kadmos’ founding of Thebes, and bringing his knowledge with him, as significantly pre-dating the Trojan War. Unfortunately, few symbols of Linear B, at best, resemble any form of the Hellenic alphabet known today, but clearly the Linear B writing system was widespread throughout Thebes.

Considering that this became widespread in Thebes from a most-direct origin of the palace of Kadmos, again, this seems to symbolically reiterate the associations of Demetre with Civilisation and urban development —no civilisation in Earth’s history, living or extinct, has ever developed cities without a system of writing. By this, we can infer that writing is also sacred to Demetre; oral tradition is too easily manipulated and can be problematic in its attempts to learn history. After all, the Cyrenaic school was on to something in pointing out that the only true source of potential knowledge we can have is experience, but they were also sceptical of this knowledge in that we cannot truly know the experiences of everything that led up to what we experience; thus oral history seems especially superficial. To gain a better understanding, if not true knowledge, of history, we can learn from the paper trails (and, in this modern era, other recordings) of what happened; this experience is, too, superficial, but has greater potential for understanding than oral traditions alone. Again, we see Demetre as a Goddess of balancing Tradition and Progress in a harmonious and sustainable whole.

I conclude that Kadmos was, thus, most likely a unique Theban hero later syncretised, and that this Theban hero, in all the feats attributed to him, was doing Demetre’s Work on Gaia’s face. Though the alphabet he introduced did not stand the tests of time, we cannot blame because a slightly younger script managed to flourish and Theban pride attributed it to him, anyway; the exacts become less important when the intention still manages to flourish.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Hearts, the Baby Virus, and Butts

Silphion was an herb popular in the ancient Mediterranean for both its flavour and its medicinal qualities, aiding in ailments such as cough, sore throat, indigestion, warts, and (argueably most popularly) as either a contraceptive or an abortificant (likely the latter). The exact species is unknown to modern people because it was said to have been virtually extinct by the time of Nero, with Pliny reporting that one of the last stalks was given to the Emperor as a curiosity. Some anthropologists with a speciality in related fields suspect that silphion was of the genus Ferula, possibly a relation to “giant fennel” (not a true fennel) or wild carrot. According to some legends, it was a gift of Apollon.

Silphion was important to the economy of Cyrene, in Libya, so much so that a stylised silphion seed-pod was minted onto Cyrene’s coins at one time. The extinction of Silphion was said to have been a major component in the decline of Cyrene, for clearly even the gifts of the Gods must be used wisely, in moderation and under the assumption that no matter how abundant at any one time, immoderate exploitation of these divine gifts will render its amount finite.

Despite the clear record that suggests the classic “heart shape” dates as far back as Cyreniac coins depicting a stylised silphion seed-pod, the Catholic church is very insistent of otherwise, stating that the symbol of two arching curves joined at the underside in a symmetrical down-facing point originated with Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque’s vision of “the sacred heart of Jesus, depicting such a symbol encircled in thorns and with a flame spurting up from its cleavage. Unfortunately, Marguerite Marie Alacoque didn’t exist until the 17th Century, and there is a clear record of this symbol dating long prior.

The implications of the stylised silphion seed-pod / classic “heart shape” being associated with romantic love and sexual desire is that with its use as an abortificant, it promoted the notion of sex for pleasure and and expression of intimate longings. Personally, I also find it no small coincidence that siliphion was an economical staple of Cyrene, the philosophical seat of the school of Aristippus of Cyrene, or Cyreniac Hedonism —Hedonism being named for Hedone, the Goddess of pleasure and delight, and as a mythological daughter of Eros, Her pleasures are most often seen as the sensual1 delights. This shape thus belongs to Erote Apollon Anteros —or perhaps, considering the fate of siliphion, Apollon Anteros-Dysdaimon?

…but people, being either ignorant of older associations with the symbol, or simply unsatisfied with it as an explanation, have suggested alternate origins for the symbol for centuries:

To the het men and Sapphic women who read this blog, onsider this my Secular Valentine's Gift to you; I'm not likely to post random full-frontal female nudity again.

It’s the cleavage of breasts.

It’s a stylised vulva.

It’s the pubic mons.

It’s the stylised buttocks of Aphrodite.

Or, simply: It’s a borked-up drawing of the heart organ of the human body, nothing more.

These are great explanations, and some of them have more prominent fans than others (feminist writer Gloria Steinem seems a fan of the vulva/public mons hypothesis, and included it in an introduction she one wrote to The Vagina Monologues; the writers on ABC sit-com The Big Bang Theory seem fond of the “stylised buttocks” idea, and inserted it as semi-random trivia spouted by the character Sheldon Cooper). That’s the great thing about symbolism, it doesn’t need an historical basis to ring true for a person, if you feel with your soul that it represents a thing, and this thing can connote these meanings, then it does, and no-one can tell you differently, except perhaps if the discussion steps outside the personal and steps more into the context of cultural and historical facts.

It’s still a powerful symbol, and like many symbols in our lives, far more ancient than most people are aware of.

1: Not necessarily sexual, but this is often the implication.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Gaia comic

Mother Gaia by *humon on deviantART

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Good news for Hellenic women and “teh dredded m00nbl00dz”

It’s not miasma.

I’ve reasoned this before, but didn’t feel arsed to citing a source before.

Today, I was looking through old threads in a LiveJournal community, and came across a thread discussing this topic, and some-one in the comments said they could cite quotes from Walter Burkert on this, that menstruation ≠ miasma. I had Greek Religion literally sitting in front of me as I came across that, so I decided to look it up.

Interestingly, the index contains no reference words to “menstruation”, so I decided to search Google Books for this keyword, and there is very little. Indeed, the most direct reference is AN ENDNOTE. The note is to the following passage on page 78:

The Indo-European word for sacred, hagnos29 is defined and narrowed down in Greek through its opposition to defilement, mysos, miasma. The conception of specifically cultic purity is defined by considering certain more or less grave dislocations of normal ife as miasma. Disturbances of this kind are sexual intercourse,30 birth,31 death, and especially murder. … Curiously, the hagneia may even involve a prohibition on bathing: the contrast with everyday life or some future act of cultic purification is more important than obvious cleanliness.

That last part included for what should be painfully obvious reasons.

Endnote #31 references a German essay (“Die Gebrauche der Griechen nach der Geburt”) and summarises:

Menstruation is understood — even medically — as purification (katharsis); the cult take notice of it only insofar as a number of priesthoods are expressly reserved for older women.

I was able to find the original German essay, but since I don’t read German (and only have the vaguest comprehension of spoken German in art films) I relied on Google’s translation abilities, and needless to say, Google borked it up good, so I’m going to take Burkert’s summation of this as it is. After all, Greek Religion was originally published in German, and with English being a Germanic language, this arrangement of nouns and such is not something that can be easily borked in translation by a human translator. So, yep, menstruation is the vag washing its hands, as it were.

So, there you have it: Menstruation is not, Not, NOT “miasma”, and anybody who says it is obviously hasn’t even cracked open what’s generally regarded as a definitive text for Hellenic reconstructionists — or perhaps just never read it thoroughly, or is just too stupid to understand what he read.

And for those of you who didn’t gather from the last part of the quoted passage, “ritual purification” isn’t merely approaching the Theoi with a physically washed body — indeed, ritual purification varied by cult, so while mainstream poleis cults had khernips stations at the front of the temples for suppliants to douse their hands and faces before entering the main area, this is but one example of what hagneia entails.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

More on the word “Pagan” and the Inter-Pagan&Polytheist community

(Expanded from a comment responding to my last entry)

I still have so many really mixed feelings about this issue. On one hand, I can see some remaining usefulness in “pagan” as a vague label. I’ve also had a lot of experiences with people who know VERY little about suffixes and prefixes and root-words in the English language, and so the word “polytheist” has honestly puzzled them until I finally gave up and said “OK, whatever, forget that: I’m an ancient Greek-styled pagan” — I still feel the need to add a few modifiers to make it clear that I don’t do Popular Wicca or somesuch, but that’s what gets the point over to some people.

The standard dictionary-definitions of “pagan” are indeed vague: An Abrahamic religionist’s “not us” word — hell, even the Puritans eschewed Christmas customs as “too pagan” (and indeed, many are rooted in Roman pre-Christian customs), and Evangelical Protestants like Jack Chick deride Catholicism as “pagan” (and thus “Satanic”). Looking at basic Muslim interpretations of Jesus as a prophet, I’m sure to some Muslim schools of thought, Christianity is “pagan” in its veneration of a “god-man”.

The dictionary also typically tells us that “pagan = polytheist”, especially ancient polytheisms that were mowed down by Christianity. Now, this is where the etymology gets loaded. “Paganus”, in Latin, means “country-dweller” or, in common use “hick”, “redneck”, “hillbilly”. This was adopted by an early militarised Christianity to deride those living out in the hills as somehow “too uncivilised” to convert willingly, and was quickly adopted to apply to especially stubborn polytheists in the cities of the ancient Roman empire. Whether or not “paganus, as in hill-billy” was used specifically to deride the differences of practise of rural polytheists in the Græco-Roman world, or was just used as a general, all-encompassing derision of rural folk by urban folk is a nuance that is occasionally debated by degree-toting linguists and language geeks alike — but the fact is clear: One who was “paganus” in Rome is one who was derided by the many.

This is where I see a lot of people defend use of the word “pagan” as a “reclaimed word” in the same style that “bitch” and “cunt” have been reclaimed by a certain hipster caste of feminists, or in the way I have a t-shirt with “FAGGOT” written across it in pseudo-Swaorvski crystals, or how I’ve seen a few trans women self-apply “tranny” — but when we go to the etymology, and compare to what I do, and where my spiritual connections are strongest, we can see clearly that I’m an “urban dweller” — so, like the few trans women I see who self-apply “tranny”, but remain appalled by the trans men who dare to1 what business do I have to self-apply, as one of a city-based practise and urban-strengthened spirituality, a word of derision for those of the country? My Quaker (Christian) step-mother may have more of a right to “reclaim” the word “pagan” than I do!

Ultimately, I do feel like, in many ways, I’ve simply “conceded” to the pagan community, because I have very little in common with most pagans. Now, there have been some great strides in “inter-Pagan” communication in the last few years, but this has been largely on-line, and considering that I do occasionally encounter pagans off-line who have never even heard of The Wild Hunt, I’d wager that this re-education and re-forming of the meanings of “pagan” is a privilege of pagans who take advantage of regular Internet access. I’m also still very recon-oriented and a lot of what Drew Jacob noted about still feeling a disconnect from the “recon community” feels true for me, as well — my main differences with them feel easy to point out, but there’s still a community Status Quo that many Big-R-Recons like to maintain that I feel kind of misses the point. I’ve also taken note of YSEE spokespersons have said on the Hellenic_Recons e-mail list, espousing that “YSEE does not practise reconstruction”2, setting themselves apart as something distinct from what a lot of “Recons” in the Anglosphere Status Quo-ify, I find myself unable to help but wonder if there isn’t something maybe to the sparse claims I’ve seen from citizens of Hellas that maybe there are a few unbroken traditions that survived Christianity similar to how many pre-Chrisstian Gaelic and Brythonic traditions survived. I also am hesitant to “reclaim”, as YSEE members and supporters have, “Ethnokos Hellene” for myself because, as a supporter of the S.H.A.R.P.s (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), I am extremely conscious of the fact that the modern English “ethnic”, rooted in the ancient Hellenic term “ethnikos” (plural, “ethnikoi”), will often carry connotations of Neo-Nazism or more casual racisms and fascisms — I have enough clashes with other Mods and with tradskins that this term, which sounds awfully similar to “ethnic” at a casual listen, would give me more grief than my British self-identity, my loyalist stance on the Ulster situation, and my residency on North Amerikan soil already does. I make no secret of my religion at Mod & Skin gatherings, and have occasionally brought my small Apollon bust to nights I’ve DJ’d (indeed, He is the Moddest of our Gods), so I’m already pretty weird among a lot of people whose religious leanings tend toward existential atheism, agnosticism, and “social Christianity [or, far less often, Judaism]” — I don’t need people falsely accusing me of Nazi sympathies because they didn’t notice a slight difference between an ancient Hellenic word and a modern English one. “Pagan” can then become a minor bonding moment among other Mods and Skins who have similarly eschewed atheism, agnosticism, and social Abrahamism, even if we have nothing else in common (indeed, I’ve only personally encountered, on-line, two others — one was an initiate of Traditional Wicca, I forget about the other, but I want to say she was softly polytheistic Buddhist) — but in this context, it’s not about a religious experience, but usually a moment of jest amongst a handful of people in a arts-and-fashion-based subcultural tribe.

Maybe if I find the ancient Aeolic equivalent of “city-slicker”, I’ll adopt that as my defining religious term — after all, I seem to have only the vaguest claim to “pagan” considering the history and etymology. I’m not a “country dweller” and my spirituality is urban — I feel the closest to the Theoi and Daimons in large cities, and my spiritual feelings are weakest when out in the countryside or woodlands. It’s easily argued that I have as much right to “re-claim” the word “pagan” as I have, as a gay man, to “re-claim” the word “sapphic”. But at the same time, it’s proven occasionally useful when conversing with those coming from a more mainstream religious culture — outside the on-line pan-pagan community, the word “polytheist” still seems pretty sparsely used. “Polytheist” is the best generalised description of my own beliefs and practises, and though I do occasionally use “pagan”, that use is definitely a concession because it says precious little about my beliefs and practises, and in the “pagan community” tends more often than not to imply things about what I do that I typically do not.

The usefulness I have in the pagan community is little: I enjoy several blogs and occasionally meet other Hellenic polytheists that I “click” with. I definitely can get behind the socio-political goals of the pagan community, so that’s another good use I have for it. That’s really about it. Religiously, I have little in common with the overwhelming majority of pagans, so it makes little sense to say I’m a part of the “pagan community” as a whole, rather than “a socio-political supporter of many pagan goals and ideals”.

Still, it’s very mixed. In the last few years I’ve conceded to the term “pagan”, I’ve made few strides in my (albeit feeble) attempts at building a community around Boeotian polytheism — indeed, I seem to have made a greater stride at that in careful SEO-mancy via blogging. While I cannot deny that the Abrahamic overculture will always see my religion as “paganism”, no matter what I call it, admitting it is not necessarily a whole-hearted adoption of the term: It is nothing more than a sign that I live in Reality™.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, really, what words I use for my religion — what matters is what I do to honour the Theoi.

1: This has a lot to do with the way mainstream cisgender uses the word “tranny” to put-down trans women and even cis women who are especially tall, square-jawed, wear heavy make-up. The word “tranny” is misogynistic in the overculture, and has clear implications outside of “reclaimed word” contexts: This person is a “fake” woman. This implication is truly the most-comon use of the word, and trans men have as much right to “tranny” as gay men have to “dyke” or “carpet licker”.
2: Message #4840 of Hellenic_Recons yahoo!group archive

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

So, I’m really not that invested in the term “Pagan”, eh?

I’ve read a few of the recent posts around the pagan blogosphere on the relevance of the word “pagan” and the “pan-pagan” community. Normally, I try to eschew simply re-stating the thoughts I share with others, especially if they’ve done a perfectly adequate job — and indeed, many already have.

My first forays into “the pagan community” as an adult were very focused: Hellenic polytheism, Hellenismos, the religion of the ancient Hellenes — and about a dozen or so other terms, some of which have been downright goofy (like “gentile Hellenes”, as I noticed a few people tossing around for about ten minutes, in Internet Age™). By and large, it stays that way. I read a few “pan-pagan” blogs, or at least the few I consider intelligent-enough (well, OK, I read The Wild Hunt and it’s “family blogs” and Patheos: Pantheon, and occasionally, I’ll read something else), but I don’t really go to “pan-Pagan” events, and I find most “pan-Pagan” message boards to be equal parts dull and insipid and occasionally incredibly irritating (the primary exception being The Cauldron; The Pagan Forum isn’t bad, but it also is lower in activity than some).

For as much as I find it hard to interact with other Hellenes (I’ll get to that in a mo’), I find it ten times harder to keep my head around most people of other paths, especially very individual-focused paths. The few articles I posted to WitchVox, several responses I got in return, though well-meaning and generally positive, offended me on many deep levels that left me wondering if they’d even read the article, much less the person information I’d posted in my WV profile about my path — one quote that especially sticks out in my mind, in response to an article about Urban Spirituality where I mention the compatibility with my own path, was from a woman and she had congratulated me on “discovering [my] goddess forms in a concrete place” — I had made no mention of such, first of all, and only have the vaguest idea of what that might mean, that I find it hard to imagine why she felt the need to congratulate me on something she had no real idea if I’d ever done.

I have some local friends who some may refer to as “scene pagans” as opposed to “religious pagans”. Before moving to the area, I spent a weekend at the house of one of them and was met with flabbergastion that I’m in an automatic habit of burning incense daily — now, I’ve since re-thought the idea of bringing said into another person’s home before assuming it would be fine-and-dandy, but the feeling of my throat leaping gutward never quite shook, and the tension felt when at first it was assumed by the friend in question that I was somehow just randomly lighting things on fire in the guest room was immediately clear. To me, this is “what pagans are supposed to do” — to them, this was something pretty far “out there”, especially as it was simply a Friday and not a religious festival for either their tradition or mine.

While I clash with other Hellenes, this is usually just personality clashes, or arguments about nuances of belief or interpretation of primary sources — the kinds of arguments that even a lot of people in the same sects of Christianity or Hinduism may have (as a quick example: I’ve met Hare Krishna who advocate veganism, and I’ve met those who prefer to be semi-vegetarian, eating mostly vegetarian, but occasionally having meat, especially if offered some as a guest in another’s home; my father, though generally easily described as Irish Anglo-Catholic had been married four times, including two divorces, and supported abortion in many circumstances that even many other abortion-permitting Catholics would have found excessive). Little, if anything I do, will seem “foreign” to the average Hellenistos or Helleniste. Where we differ is regional focus (I prefer the Boeotian region, while most seem to be focused on Attika, and at least a highly visible minority may be described as “Hellenistic”), semantics, philosophy (Diogenes, FTW!). We don’t tend to differ in what we do, and we don’t tend to differ in the broadest areas of belief. We have a generally shared mythology and religious culture, even if the details may serve as bone-picking moments.

Now obviously, I disagree with the sharp and strict sense of “separatism” that some vocal Hellenists seem to favour — I don’t give honour to Aegyptian deities, and I don’t generally give much thought to Roman deities outside of Britannia, whom I’ve adopted strictly as an ancestral deity or daimon, but I generally don’t mind Hellenic syncretics, and simply regard them as another sect or as giving cultus to deities whom I simply do not. As said Burkert, “Polytheism is an open system” and it’s hard to have contact with so many cultures and their gods without seeing the occasional deity who simply can’t fit into a mould previously set by one’s native pantheon, and thus finding a moment where one may consider that deity’s validity. And, like Sannion, I find it peculiar that so many who seem to give emperor Julian so much regard fail to take into account that the man’s own religious practises would be “eclectic” by the standards said people have established. I can live with where Hellenes and I tend to differ, whether I like said people on a personal level or not, but it becomes harder to find a comfortable area of common ground with the average American individuality-focused pagan.

In theory, I have no real problem with Eclectic practises — again, it’s usually just something that I simply don’t do. I know that Eclectic and other individuality-based pagans can take that approach intelligently, and give some amount of respect to cultural traditions whilst creating something unique and spiritually valid. Where it becomes problematic is when it’s assumed this is the “Gold standard” for the pan-Pagan population — and indeed, every time I’ve ventured into certain more-unsavoury areas of said community, I find people taking things and tossing them together all willy-nilly, a downright perverse sense of pride in collective anti-intellectualism and anti-academia, and an acute lack of self-examination with some ideas that, at best can be a sign of unhealthy narcissism and, at worst a charlatan. The _michigan_pagans e-mail list features people who will mock you for any amount of book-learning (outside certain publishing houses often decried as “fluffy”), and also boasts a moderator who will harass you over personality differences — apparently some find an informed spirituality “incredibly shallow” or one that “can’t possibly be real” and some men in their late forties with have such a downright infantile response to men in their twenties being so flabbergasted at the “enforced fluff” around one that after the latter unsubscribes, the former will forward the latter every single nasty post made by list members to the now-unsubscribed party, requiring one to alert Yahoo to the harassment.

As best as I can tell, once I start travelling outside my own tight-knit community of Hellenes for the “pan-Pagan community”, there is little incentive for establishing common ground. Even “ex-community, please-don’t-call-me-Hellene-I’m-my-own”-types are noticeably different to interact with than the “spiritual anarchists” than dominate, well pan-Paganism, likely because of that commonality of experience, not just with other Hellenes, but with dealing with pagans on the outside of that community — they seem to understand what the other “doin’ my own thing” Pagans are doing wrong when interacting with recons, and so have a relaxed approach to sane recons (and tend to avoid the nutters). Furthermore, I’ve noticed a trend, whether this is relatively new or long-established, I cannot say, of “scene pagans” who tend to be more eclectic and “religious pagans”, who tend to be more recon in practise*. You know what I mean when I say “scene pagan”: They tend to venture out to public rit and maybe even set up a shrine or altar for major festivals, maybe even go to regular pan-Pagan meet-ups, but even on deeper glance, it’s apparent that spirituality and practise are dead last in their approach to religion, behind going to events and conventions, behind “polyamoury” circles, behind organic foods, getting wasted, and so much else. What makes them “pagan” seems rather superficial, and it’s like “pagan” is the new term for “hippie”. This is different from those who may be deeply religious but make efforts to keep different aspects of their lives “superficially separate” — after all, a deeply religious or spiritual person naturally is influenced by their religious culture in all other aspects of their lives; and obviously quite different from those who are deeply religious and very obviously flaunt their religion’s influences on one’s life. I know it’s not my place to judge, but most of the people I tend to designate as “scene pagans” will actively eschew religious or spiritual discussions, even when things are obviously going to remain civil, and give no real signs of even having a religion except a few times a year — and some of these people are quite lovely folk, but I just tend to have even less incentive to look for any religious or spiritual common-ground, and am always left wondering just what got them interested in paganism, anyway.

As for the term “pagan” itself, as I’ve said before, I’m not married to the term at all. I think it’s become a little too “unloaded” in recent years and don’t blame any one pagan grouping more than any other for this. While, ideally, I’d like to retain a “rather Victorian” impression of the word, I lament that I cannot. Perhaps this is due to ultimately coming to paganism as an adult, and an adult long-jaded by a perceived superficiality of the “pagan” community? I know not, and ultimately, it matters not, because even if I came to Paganism in my idyllic youth and stayed pagan through into adulthood, and thus retained a benign mental image, this isn’t the common mental image held by the overculture, and this isn’t the common mental image held by most within the “pagan” umbrella. The cultural drift is, at this point in time, quite deeply rooted — perhaps in time, it will loosen, and perhaps continuing to fiddle with it will loosen, or perhaps the root will react by digging itself deeper, as a means to try and protect itself. I care not for strategies to get rid of this trend, cos I’m not especially bothered by it — after all, “polytheist” means something, and even in ancient times, when “paganus” was especially pejorative, it was vague.

So was there a point to all this? Probably not. This may, in fact, just be another cantankerous polytheist shouting into the cold unforgiving (and not to mention paradoxical) Khaos-Kosmos of the Internet that is both a formless void while being everything and anything, and this shouting is destined to fall on the ears of a few. Perhaps it will be the start of yet another useless bickering. Perhaps I’m just putting too much thought into what’s essentially nothing, what with this widespread meme that somehow words don’t actually mean anything. If anything, I hope that perhaps religious communities are being and will continue to be forged for the better.

*as always, these are not absolute judgements, there are those of each in each group

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.


It’s been a while since I’ve done a painting for the theoi — perhaps tellingly, my last one is Narkissos, left unfinished after my surgery in 2008 went awry.

I’ve been feeling the push to paint again quite recently, and the image I’m getting is for Britannia, and will most likely be in watercolours — indeed, one of the main things holding me back this last week is the search for where I unpacked my watercolours to.

“But Ruadhán!” you might wish to interject with, “That’s not a Hellenic goddess!”

Well, I suppose in the strictest sense, you’d be correct, but my reasons include ancestor-worship (definitely an ancient Hellenic practise) and the name “Britain” ultimately comes from Hellenic etymology. Of course, I’m only really justifying myself in public because I’m sure my #1 fan would love nothing more than to use this and the forthcoming painting as “evidence” that I’m somehow “not practising Hellenic religion/reconstruction” anymore, possibly ever (as he’s done this to others in the past, for lesser reasons) — which is hilarity-on-a-stick, true, but best to make such lunacy apparent from the start, den eínai?

My envisioning of Britannia is based part in the traditional Roman and part in the Mod subculture, and may even seem reminiscent of a certain scene from Derek Jarman’s Jubilee — and I’m sure at this point, you probably have the same mental image I do, especially if you’re familiar with my painting style.

One thing that I regret not posting about this year is my ritual and prayer for my re-envisioning of Shrove Tuesday as Pancake Feast of Britannia and St. Patrick’s Day as Bacon & Cabbage Feast of Hibernia. I intend to remedy this, but at a more seasonally-appropriate future time.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.