Worshipping the ancient Greek Gods

The different gods of Ancient Greek polytheism and how they are worshipped

What makes me a Greek polytheist today in the twenty first century, is exactly what made an ancient Greek a worshiper of the Hellenic Pantheon.

Greek polytheism today has to follow an a long-established pattern and the blueprint of our religious practise is the sacrifice, the offering.

The sacrifice played an important role in Greek religious devotion, which was practised and repeated more than once a day by a Greek polytheist and involved more than one divinity. There were the state’s sacrifices in honour of the city state's main divinities and their cults as well as the private sacrifices in honour of the household gods, the family ancestors and the demes’ heroes and local gods. So, which of these two aspects of religious practices was the most essential in the ancient times and how does this apply today?

In order to answer that question we should first visit the ancient world and try to step into the shoes of an ancient Greek citizen at a specific location in Greece. We must not overlook the fact that every community had its own divinities to worship and every altar and / or temenos had its own cult.

On the basis of this fact Greek polytheism was an extremely diverse religion in its notion and practice.

There were not just twelve gods but, on the contrary, thousands of divinities worshiped throughout ancient Greece.

For that reason, I will select a citizen of the Erchia Demes, located near the area of the new international airport of Athens.

Erchia provides us evidence of its religious calendar, in which we can see what our ancient friend worshiped every single day throughout the year. He had the opportunity to be involved in sacrifices for statewide divinities, such as Athena Polias, gods of small distance districts, Demeter Eleusinia, local deities, Epops, Menedeius and Heroines and Pan-Hellenic gods such as Apollo Pythios. But what the calendar does not refers to is the most essential aspect of our Erchian friend: his household's religious activity.

Household worship is indeed what makes an individual a part of his community, is the alpha and omega of the Greek polytheism. It is not just the local demes’, Pan-Hellenic and state-wide divinities that he should or could worship, but it is also the everyday worship of his household divinities and of his ancestors.

Zeus Kteseios, Zeus Herkeios, Apollo Agyeus and Herakles Apotropaios were the deities of an Athenian oikos (domicile). The performance of the necessary rituals of the household divinities by the household keepers was not just a matter of responsibility but an identification of his status as a legitimate member of the society. If we had to ask him where his estate is, we should query as follows: where is your Zeus Herkeios?

The worship in the oikos was a part of the everyday life. Sacrifices were offered on numerous occasions such as daily meal, demes and polis’ festivities and family celebrations, symposiums etc. Household worship, therefore, is the only connection with the modern Greek polytheism today. Whilst, state and community’s cults were optional, on several occasions, the Greek domestic religion was obligatory. Household religion remains today the main religious practise for every single Greek polytheist.

Today that community and state cannot hold such communal Greek divinities and cults, I feel that the household worship is the only practice of contemporary Greek polytheism which can be still linked with the ancient Greek religiosity at Erchia and anywhere else in ancient Greece.

Nikolaos Markoulakis holds degrees in Social sciences and Social research. He is the director of the Markoulakis Publications, editor-in-chief at the scholarly based, peer-reviewed Journal of Hellenic Religion and the educational periodical Sparta.
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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia