[review] The Urban Primitive by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein

urban-primitive-kaldera-schwartzsteinTitle: The Urban Primitive: Paganism in the Concrete Jungle

Authorship: Raven Kaldera & Tanin Schwartzstein
Publisher: Llewellyn International
Year Published: 2002, First Edition
ISBN: 0738702595

I first want to say that I scrapped my first draft of this review because, as odd as this may sound, I thought it was unintentionally mean, well beyond anything this book, which is full of problems, deserves. I also got really self-conscious that some might interpret it as a personal attack against one of its authors, Raven Kaldera, who I honestly want to like (he’s one of the few people amongst the FTM spectrum on FetLife who is seriously realistic about TS/TG issues, even if some of the things he’s written for the public about the TS/TG community and his own transition may seem problematic, especially out of context or if one is making a habit of projecting), and so I really wanted to like one of the few books published (only three, ever, that I’m aware of) about urban pagan and polytheist spirituality —as odd as I find it that some-one who proudly runs a rural homestead would get involved in a book about urban spirituality, I was optimistic, at first, and still believe that even the most awful parts were included with the best intentions.

Tanin Schwartzstein’s introduction is wonderful and very welcoming to those whose spirituality is urban-centred —dare I say, I even saw bits of my own experiences in the recollection and lamentation of a pagan community that dismisses the city as “cold” and spiritually “dead”, especially as one whose experiences are of anything but. I’m also convinced that she’s responsible for some of the best parts of the book that follows (though I assign equal blame for the worst parts, cos if either of them knew better, one of them should have caught it and revised).

I love that this book is written for those with limited income in mind, and offers detailed suggestions on the arts of dumpster diving, thrift store combing, and frugal resources that are not only kind to one’s wallet, but also the environment. There are several helpful lists in this book for herbs, incenses, stones, even colours, and their uses in different purposes. One of the best parts is even an entire chapter dedicated to common plants found in most cities in North America, and their purposes and meanings. Another list is even specifically for suggestions on budget-minded substitutions for scented oils, and suggestions on budget-conscious or scavenged items to use in rituals, like a piece of broken glass for rituals that need a blade and you don’t have a blade, or using stumps of candles rather than tea lights in travel kits for altars or shrines. Let me tell you, after years of looking through “pagan 101” books in the mid-1990s that made it seem like one needs a middle-class income to even start out as a Pop Wicca nub, it’s refreshing to see that, barely more than a year into the Twenty-First Century, there was finally a book that made it indisputably clear that ritual tools could be scavenged or otherwise obtained with little or no expense, and one needn’t be financially comfortable to practise pagan religions —sure, nothing beats what the ritual recommends, nobody is arguing that, but if you think burning herbs is “too expensive”, it’s really only cos you don’t know enough about where you live, and this book offers an adequate primer for that knowledge.

It’s also nice that this book is written for not just those who thrive in cities, but for those who live in the city out of necessity. I may not personally understand the appeal of rural life, but I understand the necessity on a fundamental level, and I at least understand that, for some reason barbaros to myself, there are those who prefer a pastoral lifestyle and may only be living in the city’s walls for the work, or school, or family obligations, so adequate coping mechanisms seem like a fair inclusion.

On the other hand, most of the lists are too similar to other lists I’ve seen in “Pop Wicca 101” sorts of books. While it’s nice that Kaldera has added bits to this book to make it seem useful to those whose spirituality is rural-centred but who live in urban lands due to necessity, a lot of this really does come off as a bias, making urban spirituality seem dangerous to the soul, and the city an inferior place to live; it’s really hard to get through a chapter without somehow getting a potentially subtle or downright blatant guilt-trip for living in the city, or some kind of nonsense “warning” about dangers only vaguely alluded to, with practically nothing to back up most claims about the alleged physical risks (aside from crime rates, which is easily searchable on-line) and some of the more obvious pollution risks, and let me tell you, not even the developed countryside is without its pollution and risks to the environment —do a search on The Dust Bowl, kids, it wasn’t a gridiron game, and over eighty years later, it’s still affecting the central United States. While the introduction is wonderful, even describing experiences similar to my own, the book that follows it flip-flops between celebrating the Urban Divine and blaming all cities everywhere for everything wrong with the world.

This book also suffers from its constant use of vague claims, and almost never giving much, if anything, in the way of specifics to make for ease of fact-checking. The index is present, but not quite as comprehensive as I usually hope for a book of this length, and a proper bibliography of sources is practically nonexistent, so aside from the rare mention of other books and references in the text, there’s no real way to check whatever sources may have been utilised. Sorry, kids, but a “Recommended Reading” list (largely of books from the same publisher —curious, non?) is not the same as a Bibliography. Some quotes also seem like they might have been taken from an e-mail list or Usenet group or something, something I’ve discerned from the fact that the quoted person is unsearchable in a pagan context, and there’s a mention of an Internet group in the book acknowledgements, so confirming the backgrounds of the people quoted isn’t easy, sometimes even impossible —sometimes, that’s important, but to be fair, gven the context of many quotes in the book that fall in this potential category, it’s really not necessary. When it is necessary, on the other hand it’s something that really bothers me, and appears to be a trait of Llewellyn books that seems far too common, contributing to the negative reputation of the publisher amongst religious reconstructionists and academic pagans. And speaking of, I had hoped, knowing Kaldera’s background and that he’s also collaborated with Kenaz Filan, who I completely respect, that this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but I guess that’s what I get for hoping. That said, one of the best and most quoted people in the book is credited as “Beth Harper, Nashville witch”; I was incredibly disappointed to find her practically impossible to find on the Internet.

And this book makes a lot of really dumb factual errors that could have been avoided with a modicum of research. The one that really stands out for me, to the point that it just seems like a prime example of “making shit up in hopes of sounding smart” is conflating the Horai (Goddesses of time and seasons) and the Khorea (or “Hora”; a group of traditional circular dances from the Mediterranean and Near East) and attempting to link both to “sacred [prostitution]” (they use the word “harlots”), and explaining that it’s an etymology of “whore” and thus strip tease and erotic dance, as a profession, is directly descended from goddess worship (Chapter 5, page 50). Trying to decide where to begin on how much is wrong with that little “etymology lesson” kind of gives me a headache, because there is just so much wrong with it. Just to give you a taste of how wrong that claim is, there is no clear or even muddy etymological link between the Horai, or even Khorea, and “whore” —the word “whore” is descended from the Old Norse hora, meaning “adulteress”; considering that Kaldera is best known amongst pagan circles for his “Northern tradition”, I’m just floored at the fact that his understanding of his traditions’ languages is so sparse that he either didn’t catch that preposterous fallacy or, may the gods forbid, he desired to include it.

Of course, whether some Hellenists utilising religious reconstruction care to admit it or not, not only was there magic practised in ancient Hellas, but a lot of the “spells” and other rituals mentioned in this book bare a similarity to ancient Hellenic practises that are somehow “not magic” by the circular logic employed by some Hellenic circles, and can be easily adjusted to fit the standard ritual script of Hellenic practise. In the chapter on Protection Spells, the recommendation of drawing eyes, with oil, on windows and over the threshold of doors, even on the stairs, is not a far cry from the ancient Greeks putting apotropaic eyes on drinking vessels and heads of Gorgons at the threshold, this is just a modern, and argueably stealth adaptation of an ancient practise. Granted, you really need a good background in Hellenic practises to catch that sort of thing, but if this is your first time hearing of such a thing, don’t take my word for it, go check out apotropaic eyes in ancient Greece, and it’s clear that this simple little protection ritual is adaptable to Hellenic practises.

One of the complaints about this book that I see a lot from people on Amazon is the “Urban Triple Deities”. Now, obviously, I don’t acknowledge these “deities” in my practise, and I am sort of sceptical that something so basic as what’s described here is even a whole deity, and honestly, I really hate the illustrations for these six epithets, but who’s to say that these aspects don’t exist in existing deities? Knowing that Kaldera is a polytheist, I’m sure there’s intention that these simplistic figures can be aspects of existing deities, and knowing that Schwartzstein describes her religion on Teh FarceBorg as simply “pagan spiritualist”, there’s room to regard these as complete deities, if one so chooses. I can easily see traits of Hestia in Squat, “goddess of Parking Spaces”, whether it be your car or your bed, Skor, the scavenger goddess, strikes me as an epithet of Demetre or possible Tykhe, and Skram, Who warns you away from potential dangers, is a clear face of Hekate; Slick, the silver-tongued, works as an aspect of Hermes (something the book even suggests), Screw seems a simplistic, Neizchean aspect of Dionysos, and Sarge seems a sort of superficial Zeus or perhaps Ares. I also don’t see how most of these aspects of deity are specifically urban; having gone to high school in a rural area, I can assure you, rural people are no stranger to needing spaces, needing motivation, an anonymous lay, being in danger (I’m sure “Skram” might’ve been just as useful in Laramie, Wyoming, which has a smaller population than Adrian, MI, the latter being indisputably rural), or even scavenging (hello? gleaning, anybody?), but if this is a device that can open some-one’s eyes to these aspects and relevance to the city, then awesome.

In the previous chapter, though, ancient deities are addressed. Again, I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the space constraints the authors were working with, and to their credit, they acknowledged that the deities mentioned were described in overly simplistic manners and further research is best. On the other hand, there is no shortage of statements made that even a casual, but genuine relationship with a deity could easily prove false. I’m sick of people assuming Apollon only digs classical music, and saying “[He’s] not interested in rock or rap or hip hop … [play] classical music, or He’ll frown” just after suggesting propitiating Him in a record store (Chapter 5, page 49), is more than a bit contradictory —seriously, people, if He’s the God of music, why limit music for Him to a single genre? In my experiences, Apollon really loves Nick Cave. I doubt that Thoth is simply “the Egyptian god of writing” (in fact, Wikipedia suggests I’m right about that). Zeus and Odin? Not the same deity. I really have to argue against the notion that Athene is the primary Hellenic goddess associated with science museums —not only is the name of the Moisai in the word “museum”, Ourania is specifically associated with astronomy, and Kleio’s domain of “history” can logically extend to natural history and evolutionary sciences. Saturn has nothing to do with “karma”, and I had to raise an eyebrow at the suggested association with the IRS —at the very least, an explanation of the logic employed would have been nifty.

One of the other problems with this book is the regular language that seems awfully Americentric, as if the whole world of Llewellyn Worldwide begins and ends with the United States. Not only is this book available at regionally domestic pricing in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, my own copy came from a UK seller via eBay (but it’s also a US copy), and Schwartzstein’s FaceBook profile states that it’s been translated into Russian. I wonder how well the suggestion that those who live along “the West Coast” fault line should worship Poseidon as a bringer of earthquakes translates to readers from Moscow? Or in Australia, where it’s the North Coast that gets more earthquakes?

Why can't we see his hands?  Gods above, why can't we see Morrissey's hands??

Why can’t we see his hands? Gods above, why can’t we see Morrissey’s hands??

What’s so wrong with simply saying “anyone in a city near a fault line should supplicate Poseidon”, especially considering that those along the North American West Coast tend to get a higher ratio of reminders of their fault line than most other people? Why force the rest of the Worldwide readers to have to mentally adjust what they’re reading? In the immortal words of a Double-Double fucker named Steve1, “America is not the world”.

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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.

While I’m obsessing on urban spirituality for the mo’…

It’s a fan video, but the song is wonderful.

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.

Facts & Fallacies About Urban Spirituality

FALLACY: Urban spirituality is about hating the wilderness and / or rural lands.

FACT: Urban spirituality is simply lacking a spiritual connection to the rustic lands. We acknowledge that the rural lands are necessary, and we acknowledge a dependency on them for survival, but the celebration of said is kept to a minimum, and is never a lifelong focus of the urban spiritualist.

FALLACY: Even people with a deep spiritual connection to cities must get out in the woods every so often for their physical and spiritual well-being!

FACT: That really depends on the person. Some do, others do not. People with allergies to pollens tend to avoid rural and wooded lands as a precautionary measure for their physical well-being — and sometimes, all the antihistamine in the world can’t prevent an allergic reaction, sometimes one even has an allergy to allergy meds. While one cannot deny the higher concentration of pollutants in urban areas, recent studies now suggest that the biggest contributor to both urban congestion and local pollution is actually people commuting from the suburbs. In large metropolitan cities, a proportionately very high percentage of people use public transportation as their primary mode of travel, when compared to that percentage in smaller towns (which seldom even have decent, if any public transportation), a majority of cars on the streets of Chicago at any one time are most likely to belong to people from the suburbs who’d rather ferry themselves in inside their little status-symbol-on-wheels rather than taking the Metra in from Aurora. If you want to reduce pollution, become a farmer who ventures out to the city a few times a month, or move to the city and get a transit pass.

As for spiritual well-being, a lot of urban spiritualists actually experience a spiritual unbalance in rural lands. Sometimes, this unbalance can be settled by merely entering a city.

FALLACY: Ancient cities were NOT “urban” by modern standards! Ancient cities were far more connected to the green lands around them!

FACT: The above statement could not be any more false. Ancient cities were typically loud, smelly, polluted, cramped, and hotbeds of criminal activity. Sound familiar? Heck, I just described 1960s Detroit. Sure, the technology wasn’t to the point it’s at today, so the ancient concept of industrialisation sure was different, but that’s the only real difference.

Furthermore, the idea that ancient cities were somehow so much more connected to the rural lands, if only for a source of food, might make sense in print at first, but if you really dig into the history, you’ll discover it’s also false. Food shortages in Rome were relatively common compared to food shortages in even major cities just prior the Industrial Revolution. It was a common tactic of war for one city to cut off trade routes to the city they were battling with, specifically to cause a food shortage for civilians and manipulate the politics to their favour. If there was even some deep physical connection between the cities and the farmlands back then, then how was it so relatively easy to cause famine in the cities? To say things like the above statement is simply nothing more than romantic notions about the relative spiritual “purity” of ancient people compared those of us in the modern age based on false ideas and pure ignorance of ancient realities.

Yes, there is a clear emotional disconnect between the average Amerikan city and its source of food —your typical Amerikan store-bought meats are faceless, limbless, and clothed in styrofoam and clingfilm, but the shelf life of meats being what they are, I can guarantee you that not a single major U$ city is more than a couple hours drive (tops) from a slaughterhouse, and even New York City still has an operable meat-packing district. The biggest physical disconnect that modern people have from their food source is basically all the cheap imported grains and produce, which have longer shelf-lives, especially if it’s things that can be packed in tins and airtight jars, dried, or otherwise preserved for longer shelf-life.

That said, the average middle class Greek or Roman had at least one slave doing their shopping —at ancient Rome’s peak, it’s said that there were more slaves than freepersons within the city limits— so there was still a clear physical disconnect between one and one’s food —if one was free, and even if not, there was a political disconnect. And even the ancient urban freeperson working-class still tended to pay some-one else to do the dirty work of slaughtering and feathering chickens, tilling and harvesting beans and barley, and so on.

If you break down the basics of ancient versus modern realities, is there really miles of disconnect between the city and the countryside now, in comparison to then, or is it more like only a few steps? And how important are those steps, really? I’d wager if the average rural pagan truly believed those steps were all that important, there would be far more pagan homesteaders than there currently are now —and even then I’d still wager that some would be (and are!) urban spiritual.

FALLACY: There is no historic or mythological basis for urban spirituality. Everybody knows that!

FACT: Wrong! Fortunately, I don’t see or hear this one all that much, because even the most cursory skimming of any relevant text will show that there are, indeed, deities and spirits that the ancients believed were connected to their cities, there were religious festivals that were connected to the cities, and even Pan, the most rustic of the rustic gods, was believed to inhabit the alleyways of ancient Athens.

FALLACY: There’s no such thing as urban paganism! LOL! Everybody knows that “pagan” means “nature religions”!

FACT: First off, I get this more often than some people are likely to believe —both explicitly and implicitly. The fact of the matter is, anthropologists tend to refer to any pre-Christian and / or polytheistic or animistic religion as “pagan” —including the religions practised in large, nay metropolitan ancient Mediterranean cities including Athens, Alexandria, and Rome, so clearly from an anthropological sense, there is such a thing as “urban paganism”. Furthermore, there is even “urban paganism” in a modern sense, though it is a very small niche market of pagan publishing. I only know of THREE “general neo-poagan” books ever published that relate specifically to urban spirituality and practise: The Urban Pagan: Magical Living in a 9-to-5 World by Patricia Telesco, City Magick: Spells, Rituals, and Symbols for the Urban Witch by Christopher Penczak, and The Urban Primitive: Paganism in the Concrete Jungle by Raven Kaldera & Tannin Schwartzstein; the first of these is out-of-print, the last of these is so heavily steeped with an unapolgetic bias toward rural spirituality that I cannot, in good consciousness, recommend it because it celebrates many of the false beliefs illustrated above (and not to mention many others unrelated specifically to urban spirituality). I haven’t yet read City Magick, now in its second edition, but I hope it’s at least slightly better than Urban Primitive, with regards to its portrayal of urban spirituality —even if the rest of it is, as the sole one-star reviewer on Amazon states, “New Age pot-pourri rubbish”. It’s also been so long since I’ve read Telesco’s book, and I lack my own copy for reference, that I simply cannot give it a fair assessment —though, for what it’s worth, I remember it being somewhat better than Kaldera and Schwartzstein’s implicitly impugning portrayal of urban spirituality. Compare this to the literally dozens and dozens of books about “pagan gardening” and “finding the divine in the woods” and how much even the most ostensibly generalised neo-pagan manuals will dedicate to hailing the rustic and woodland divine to the point of practically ignoring the divine urban.

FALLACY: There is no need for urban spiritualists to feel so left out —the pagan community is very open-minded and welcoming to ALL!

FACT: The reasons for the urban spiritual market being so small and still so biased toward rustic spirituality are clear to any pagan or polytheist with a sense of history and a well-rounded lived reality: The neo-pagan movement really hasn’t moved past its initial 19th Century Romanticism that disproportionately celebrates the countryside and “getting back to nature”. As such, there is very much a self-enforced standard in the modern neo-pagan community of “city = BAD!!!! >:-( country = Good! :-)” —and nearly every pagan / polytheist I’ve personally met, self included, who has dared to proudly declare their lived reality of completely lacking any spiritual connection to the rustic lands has voiced being blamed for all manner of societal ills that really have nothing to do with urban life (including things that even rural people are no strangers to, like racism or sexism and war), being told one’s spirituality realities are false, and sometimes simply being clearly actively ostracised from the local community (sometimes in kinder ways than in others). While many pagans insist that they’re open-minded when the reality is that there is really very little open-mindedness when it comes to urban spirituality. While many pagans may have a justifiable complaint that too many outside the pagan and polytheist community assume we’re all barefoot hippies dancing in the woods, there is precious little done to combat that self-perpetuating stereotype: Just go to pretty much any pagan Internet forum, and the header image is more likely to be some kind of wooded glen or “green and fertile valley” than it is to be some benign and unassuming symbol (though these are often-enough incorporated into the image). Go to any given pagan or polytheist blog, and you’re very likely to see something similar.

If those who most-easily fill a spiritual void in an urban place rather than in the countryside feel like there’s little to no place for them in the pagan community, then what reasoning is there to assume that this is a baseless assumption rather than an expression of one’s own lived reality? It’s not like there’s a shortage of good and excellent guides to pagan camping in favour of pages about “pagan couch-surfing” or “pagan squatting”. It’s not like the celebrated image of the pagan community is a priest at the immense library of the metropolitan ancient Alexandria, or Diogenes living on the streets of Athens rather than a kindly-eyed witch in a cottage in the woods, or a stag-horned God in repose in a shaded part of the forest. It’s not like the worldwide community of self-identified pagans has done much, if anything meaningful to broaden its image from “nature-worshipping neo-romanticists” to “all manner of pre-Christian polytheism from erudite urban spirituality to nature-sensitive rustic worshippers”.

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.

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.

Painting

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.

30-Day Paganism Meme: Day 1, Beliefs – Why Hellenismos?

Why Hellenismos?

Well, the “tl;dr” version that I usually give people is “because these are the only deities who’ve ever been receptive to my worship”.

The long version goes something like this:

I was raised in a predominantly pair of Anglo-/Catholic households. My father was Catholic, though raised Episcopalian (and would often trash-talk non-Irish Catholics), my mother was raised in Catholic churches, but only because my maternal grandparents were so entrenched in an Anglican identity that they had a sort of pseudo-nationalistic issue with the Episcopalian church, and my grandparents had a more influential hand in raising me. I went to Catholic school, but on a choral charity, and while I went through first confession and communion, I was never forced by my father to have a confirmation when I was about thirteen, cos at that point, he had remarried and could tell that I preferred my step-mother’s meeting house (she was Quaker), and making me go through a confirmation that I wasn’t into would have been a greater heresy to him than letting me go to Meeting House — plus, even though I never formally threatened to, I think he was afraid that I’d make a scene if he made me do it.

Despite having grown up with an obviously very devout father, my mother was never that into it, and I never really was, either — church was where I went to sing and develop my love of tacky art. I rarely paid attention to the mass, and since I was never quizzed on it, I had no interest in doing so.

I first learned that there were options besides Christianity when I was five and my sister started dating the HK Chinese exchange student, whose family is Taoist and retained a lot of the Chinese polytheistic traits in their household religion and mixed in some Confucianist philosophies (for some reason, I didn’t realise that there were still Jewish people until I was seven and my father bought The Sound of Music on VHS, and I got a lesson about Nazis from my mother and grandmother, I guess I just believed, until then, that after Jesus “rose again”, Jews converted — like I said, I was seven). The Chinese are pretty well-known for their very personal approach to religion — take what works for you, and as long as it doesn’t make you a burden to those communities, have at it. This strikes me as a tad ironic when you consider that the reason that Chinese Communism works for China is that their society was very Collectivist to begin with, but then I suppose this kind of makes a little sense when you consider that you can best serve the collective when you’re at most peace with yourself, and so an individualistic approach to religion can work for a collectivist society in that sense — but I digress. It was shortly after my sister married Chan when I was six (yep, pretty much right after she finished high school, as she’s about thirteen years my senior) that I started becoming conscious of other religions, but not really looking too much into it, if only cos of the hissy-fit my father put up that his step-kid “married a heathen”.

Now, in my Catholic school, as I said, I was there on a charity program, and my family was pretty poor, even for the charity cases. My father dumpster-dived and our larder had Government Cheese, Government Peanut Butter, and these ominous cans of Government Pork — my mother was a registered nurse, but my father was an odd-job man throughout the 1980s, I have a younger sister, another half-sister (who spent summers and alternating school holiday weeks with us), and after Nik moved out, we often had a couch-surfer (usually my father’s sister Karon, occasionally one of his AA buddies), so my mother’s salary didn’t go very far, and when she lost her hospital gig, the Salvation Army Rehab Clinic she then worked at paid even less. A couple of the nuns at St. Adalbert felt sorry for me, this gifted kid (both in voice an with a 157 IQ) from a dirt-poor family, who had barely any books of his own. I was often offered doubles of less-popular titles or “beaten up, but still readable” copies from the donations to the school library; one of the nuns offered me a copy of D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths when I was about eight, and yeah, it was a little below my reading level, but I took it because I loved the paintings that illustrated it. Eventually, I started reading it, and fell in love with Apollon and Hermes and Narkissos, the Gaia & Ouranos painting has made a lasting impression on me and how I regard Them. Their version of the Judgement of Paris and the war with Troy I don’t recall as being as Bowdlerised as it could have been (but then, it’s been years since I had a copy of that book, so don’t quote me on that). It broke my heart when my mother told me that the Greek gods “weren’t real” and that even the people of ancient Greece “eventually learned better” — which I now find rather odd, as my mother’s typical views on religion were rather agnostic.

Like I said, my mother’s words were kinda crushing, and so I was just kinda spiritually flailing. When my parents divorced, that was ugly, and at least at my Catholic school, I would have been better off as a bastard than with divorced parents, socially — if it wasn’t for the fact that I already didn’t get the appeal of Catholicism, I would have rejected it right then and there, cos kids can be fucking ridiculous. I saw all the after-school specials, I knew that what my parents were doing had no reflection on me as a person, but try explaining that to a bunch of vicious tykes your own age who can’t stand the fact that your teachers are reminding them all that you’re smarter than them, oh, and add to that the fact that you’re a runty kid, so yeah, I sure was popular that year. Still, aside from that, I knew Christianity and I didn’t fit, cos a lot of it made no sense, especially when you start getting to the arguments that “Jesus = Son of God = God”:

Did you watch the video? That’s seriously how much sense all of that shit makes. It’s one big logic fail, and when you have a ten-year-old pointing this out to his father, and the only explanation he can offer is “but it’s true”, serioiusly…. Needless to say, at about the age of eleven or twelve, I started looking for a new religion fast. The problem with that is, at that age, no matter what kind of a genius you are, the books in the adult section are dry and boring, and trying to find adults willing to tell you about things like that without parental consent are rather hard to come by — nay, impossible. Thankfully, this was the 1990s, and so I had a then-primitive Internet (accessed by the Lenawee County Public Library, after a heart-breaking move from Toledo, Ohio, a city which I loved very much), which gave me access to all sorts of lovely things.

Now, for some reason, I got an idea in my head that since my family is Northern Irish, English, and Cornish, I was going to go with some flavour of Celtic polytheism — and hey, I was able to find information on that on-line. I printed out some info on Celtic ritual, deities, a few holidays, and I attempted for a few years to learn about and commune with those gods and goddesses. For three or four years, in private, I tried and failed, and ultimately got a message I interpreted as a very firm “No”.

There was a big agnostic/atheistic dry-spell for me (more about that on Day 21), and this reached a sort of climax after I had spent two years in several different cities (though mostly Los Angeles; Cadillac, Michigan; and Chicago), I was in Charlottesville, Virginia, and had all but solidified a decision to move back to Ann Arbor (a move I still insist is temporary, despite now entering my sixth year back) and had one doozy of a week, so I bought myself a new set of clothes in an attempt to cheer myself up, and when I got back to the apartment of the friend whose couch I was staying on, I discovered she wasn’t back yet, and I had forgotten the spare key to get in, and it was starting to rain. I started muttering this really hopeless little prayer to Zeus, as that was honestly the only name that popped into my head, and as I was wrapping it up, my friend’s boyfriend came out (apparently he had overslept and was running late — but I had assumed the place was empty, so I didn’t knock) and the rain let up to a bright sun.

When I returned to Ann Arbor, I was stubborn for about the first year, and gave very little mind to the Charlottesville incident, but the important growth there was that I had pretty much stopped identifying my religion as anything I had previously done before. Then one night in 2005, on my computer, I was reading some batshit gay-related site a friend had sent me, and for some reason, the only thing that stuck with me was the Greek references and how this prompted searched for Hellenic polytheist groups. I found Kyrene’s site and joined HellenicPagan, Neokoroi, and Hellenic_Recons pretty much instantly, then KyklosApollon and other groups, and that’s how I ended up in the Hellenismos community.

But that’s not the question — the question wasn’t “how”, it was “why?”

The fact of the matter is, the only philosopher who ever really appealed to me was Diogenes, so the “virtue and ethics” that many Hellenists go all chest-thumpy on matter a whole lot less to me — plus, there’s a quote that Kyrene has always kept in her sig-file on the e-mail lists that always stuck with me:

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” -Marcus Aurelius

…I’m not into intellectual masturbation, and that’s what I see from the overwhelming majority of the people stressing the importance of philosophy (especially Platonic philosophy); just a bunch of gas-bags who’d rather chest-thump and argue, and look down on every-one while trotting out maxims that include “down-look no-one”. Obviously, it’s not the philosophy that draws me.

The community, I’ve learned to live with. As far as I’m concerned, the on-line Hellenismos community that I’ve come to be a part of is really not that much different from my own family (which, unlike the Hellenic community, I am thankfully estranged from): You’ve got members who love each-other, members who aren’t crazy about each-other but can still get along, members who barely put up with each-other, members who outright can’t stand each-other. I like to think I’m some-one who has settled into a position that most people aren’t crazy about me, and a handful have grown to love and accept me for various reasons; there are only a few people I consider myself close to, but like I said, it’s kind of an ersatz family — but I wasn’t really looking for that, either.

I’ve also tried to intellectualise polytheism versus monotheism; the best explanation I’ve come to is that if we look at the universe as beginning with One, and that One was a perfect deity, then becoming Two and then Many was not forced upon One, or that would mean either a) that One was never One to begin with, and/or b) that One would be imperfect to just fall into becoming Two; therefore, becoming Two and then Many was a perfect decision, and Many is what is perfect. Even male-male pairings in birds will adopt eggs so that Two can become Three, then Four, then Countless.

Ultimately, it was always about the gods for me. It was the gods who piqued my interest when I was a small child. It was the gods who made their presence known to me in their own ways. It’s the gods who I feel are assuring me that I’m “at home” with worshipping this pantheon.

Maybe I didn’t realise it at the time, but I first started to feel the presence of Apollon and the Mousai when I started singing, and even when I was singing Catholic hymns, it was Them I was worshipping — i only became conscious of this later.

I honestly believe that my prayer to Zeus in Charlottesville was answered by Him.

I don’t remember when I first started communicating with Eros, but somehow I know that He’s always been a part of my life, even when I wasn’t yet aware that He was there.

Sometimes the “how” makes little sense to me. I have no real Greek family background (unless you’re one of those whack-a-doodles who believes that the Hellenes and the Keltoi share more in common than a Proto-Indo-European background, like the Milesians of Anatolia are the same thing as the Irish mythological Milesians [seriously, I’ve seen this from some people]), and it’s not like I have a background in Popular Wicca or ADF or even Norse paganism. I didn’t get a classics degree (no, I dropped out of an English major), and aside from Diogenes, the ancient philosophers are of little interest to me, and I’m more of a Diogenes groupie than one who follows his teachings to the letter (after all, I like my possessions too much to free myself of them) — though I have no problem with those who genuinely use Hellenic philosophy to truly better their lives.

The history, though it’s something that Western culture likes to chest-thump about, is still truly fascinating to me, but it’s not just the history for me. Ultimately, it’s about the Gods, the Heroes, the Daimones, all of these faces and personalities that weave their very essences into the universe and drive it. The gods were how I learned about this religion and all of its own facets and tribal sects, and the gods will be here long after the philosophies are forgotten or rendered redundant, and long after all else has ceased to be. They are the deathless ones, and I’m a part of this religion not to chest-thump and wank intellectually, but to worship those deathless ones.

Maybe not every single facet of my life is entwined with religion, but ultimately, I live this life for them, and on their gifts, and I recognise that, and I love them for it, so that’s why.

Now why I came to the Boeotian tribes was ultimately my love for Eros. His cult led me to learning about Thespiae and Boeotia, which led me to an ever-growing love of those tribes. There is no way for me to do things in perfect replication of ancient Boeotia, but I can make it as close as I can, and that’s all I’ve ever tried to do.

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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.

After the shower

shower prayers and ritual

The following came to me, pretty much as-is, fresh from my shower:

I shave my face in honour of Apollon
Preserving the face of an eternal kouros
Keeping the passions for life and art and love
Eager to learn the wisdom of self-betterment

I, too, care for my hair in honour of Apollon
Its strands long in honour of The Eternal Kouros
May its length take my passions and desires
On the breaths of the Anemoi to yourself
And the Mousai, high on Mount Helikon
And may you all instruct me how to mould my passions
In the ways that best honours You.

I perform these tasks daily before my mirror
Which reminds me of how the Thespian youth,
Narkissos, finally wept, and may He, as a beautiful Daimon,
protect me from destructive self-love.

[extinguish candle lit before shower]

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.

Bedtime prayers

I have my evening devotionals, which are taken partly from the outline offered by Drew Campbell to Hellenion (link); the slight changes i have made are:
1) where is says “Hymn to patron/matron deities, I keep it simple: Eros and Apollon. Apollon was the Theos whose reverence “brought me back” to Hellenic polytheism, and Eros is He whose cultus I feel ever so slightly closest to. If this makes Them “patrons”, then fine, but there are several reasons i don’t apply that word to my relationship with Them.
2) at the point in the outline for “supplications and thanksgivings”, I first offer a simple praise to many Thespian and Theban deities and legendary kings.
3) I don’t offer the Orphic Hymn to Zeus, but instead a prayer of my own device to Zeus, as king of the Gods and thus God of kings, and to Posiedon, the mythological father of Boeotus, for whom Boeotia was named.

As I crawl into bed, I turn on some music (an old habit going back to my childhood; when i was very young, my mother used to sing me to sleep, and later she got in the habit of putting on a record or turning on the radio), and then I wind my watch and my alarm clock. As I wind them, I say this prayer:

Holy Khronos, Father of Time, I ask that you see these ieces run as they should, and not a minute too fast or too slow,
And I ask that The Most Revered Moirai, Mothers of All Destinies, please see that i may have the honour to wind them again.

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.