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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So many teenage girls don’t want to identify as girls any more. And who can blame them?

Among internet-literate teenagers, gender has become the primary way to challenge the mores of older generations.

On the bus back from the cinema, a conversation drifted over from the back row. A mother questioning, curious, her speech accented; her teenage daughter, with perfect RP, fielding her inquiries with the exasperated patience that flourishes between the ages of 13 and 21.

“No, Mum, you’re a cis woman because you’re the gender you were born as.”

“OK. And what about Lily?”

Lily – or, perhaps, Daisy or Rose – was a school friend who was now using the pronoun “they”. The heavy overtone of the daughter’s forbearance was that these were matters her mother could not understand.

Among internet-literate teenagers, gender has become the primary way to challenge the mores of older generations. I know four journalists – London-based, middle class – whose children have announced that they do not consider themselves to be girls. It seems too many to be a coincidence. And if pained teenagers are now explaining gender fluidity to their mums on the 108 from Millennium Leisure Park West, you know the idea has truly gone mainstream.

We should welcome young people challenging gender, an arbitrary system that has acquired the status of immutable human nature. Name almost anything now associated with women – high heels, long hair, the colour pink – and you can find a time or place when it was considered masculine. And just as feminists once fought for “Ms” alongside “Miss” and “Mrs”, people should be allowed to take gender out of their honorific altogether and go by “Mx”. Getting used to “they” as a singular pronoun is harder but not impossible. Language evolves.

However, there is more to the current Gender Revolution than upending our assumptions about the “correct” names or pronouns or hobbies or appearance for men and women. In the past few years, the word “transsexual” has dropped out of favour – it is considered impolite to reference sex – in favour of “transgender”. But this obscures the idea that to cross definitively from one gender to another requires surgery and a lifetime of synthetic hormones. For trans men, it’s top surgery – breast removal – and, more rarely, a phalloplasty to make a penis, plus testosterone (“T”), which lowers the voice, hardens fat to muscle and unleashes any latent male-pattern baldness. For trans women, oestrogen (HRT, used off-label) can be supplemented with breast implants and a procedure to skin the penis and invert it, creating a neovagina and clitoris.

These surgeries are non-trivial – I have a friend undergoing the latter this summer and she will be housebound for two weeks afterwards, with a 12-week recovery period. Infection is always a risk. For her, it’s a life-saving intervention: she says she simply would not want to live in a male body.

But 80 per cent of gender-nonconforming children do not grow up to be transsexual; many emerge as happy gay men or lesbians content to live in their birth sex. A strange taboo has sprung up about mentioning this, as if the way that some people do not turn out to be trans invalidates the experiences of those who do. It should not.

But separating dissatisfaction with the social constraints of gender from body dysmorphia is vital. Because we have smudged together the categories of “transsexual” and “transgender”, is every youngster who questions their gender – and, frankly, every youngster should, because gender is restrictive bollocks – getting the message that they must bind their breasts or tuck their penis? I wince when I read oh-so-liberal parents explaining that they knew their toddler son was a girl when he wore pink and played with Barbies. Is there really anything so wrong with being a boy who wants to dress up as Elsa from Frozen? Or a girl who would rather be outside getting muddy than wear skirts and be “ladylike”? Toys and children’s clothes are becoming more gendered: when I was young, we played with Lego – not “Lego” and “Lego for Girls”. As we have shrunk the boxes, is it any wonder that more and more children want to escape from them?

In the year to March 2015, the Tavistock in London – the only specialist gender clinic in the country for under-16s – saw 697 children. This year, it saw 1,419. The largest surge has been among girls aged 14 and over and it is this group I feel most personal affinity for, because, if I were growing up today, I would be among them. A few years ago, I found a textbook from my junior school, with three sentences that floored me: “My name is Helen. I am nine years old. I am skinny.” And the truth was, I was skinny. I had a bowl haircut and wore culottes. Then puberty hit and I piled on a few stone in a year. Taut pink skin turned to lumpen fat and mottled flesh. And everyone had an opinion about it. I was trapped inside a body that didn’t feel like mine any more.

Many of my school friends felt the same way. Some tried to escape through vomiting or starving. Others were part of that charmed cohort who became lissom, beautiful, golden; their parents felt a different sort of ­worry and they were treated to sermons about getting into strange men’s cars.

I won my body back by defacing it; at least, that’s how my parents saw it. An earring, then two. And another. Then piercings that no one could see: nursing each one like a wound or a child. Salvation through pain: a metal bar through cartilage that couldn’t be slept on for a month. A tattoo that hurt like hell. Pink hair, ebbing to orange in a shower that looked like Carrie. And finally – finally – a body that felt like me.

I tell my story not to belittle anyone else’s, or to imply that they have chosen the wrong path. If you cannot live in your body, then change it – and the world must help you to do that. But if you feel crushed by society’s expectations, it might be that there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s something wrong with the world.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad