Religion and I have always had a weird relationship. When I was younger, I grew up as a non-practicing Christian who only sometimes said prayers, but even then, it was only when I needed something. When I was a little older, maybe twelve or thirteen, my brothers and I were all baptized as Lutheran, but that was my only tie to the religion.
I suffered a lot of heartbreak and trauma in my younger years and it made me wary of religion and of a God that my maternal side loved. I was hesitant, I was scared, and above all else, I was angry. I became an atheist who defied all concept of religion, even going out of my way to not celebrate Christian holidays with my family. I was very angry at a supposed all-seeing, all-powerful, and all-kind God giving me the life that I had - one filled with one tragedy after the next. I was angry that God hated me for being queer, a concept I was still ashamed of at the time, and it hurt me very deeply. I wanted nothing to do with religion and that's how it stayed for a really long time.
In my late teens, something changed. I watched a spoken word video by Jefferson Bethke called "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus", and it made me question a lot of things. For example, I questioned if it was truly the Christian God that I hated, or if it was the cruel church and its followers. I resonated with a lot of what Bethke talked about and it was my first introduction to agnosticism, otherwise known as simply not knowing if a Divine exists. This was followed by a video in which Stephen Fry is in an interview and the interviewer asks him what he would say to God when he reached Heaven.
Fry laughs for a moment and gives a reply of, "Bone cancer in children? What's that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world where there is such misery that is not our fault! It's not right. It is utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?"
It struck me though because he said something else. "Now, if I died and it was Pluto, Hades, and if it was the twelve Greek gods, then I'd have more truck with it because the Greeks didn't pretend to be human in their appetites, and in their capriciousness and their unreasonableness; they didn't present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, All-munificent."
I didn't know it then, but this was my first real inkling of who the Greek Gods truly were. Sure, I had read Percy Jackson and fell in love with it, and I had devoted my life to studying the classics, but having it spoken out like that was when it all clicked in my head: If I were going to be religious, I would worship the Greek Gods.
This wasn't the end of that, though. When I went off to college to study history, specifically the ancient Greeks and Romans, the loves of my life, my baby brothers, were placed into foster care. I had no control over it and it shattered me. I became a shell of myself. There was nothing I could do, and the state wouldn't even let me talk to some of them. When I tell you that even though all of my trauma and abuse, this hurt more, I mean it with a deep sincerity.
I was out of my mind with grief. I cried every day, I begged the state every day, I pleaded with anyone I could. I only had one option left - one that I swore I would never do. I prayed.
I didn't pray to the Christian God. He had already shown me that my brothers and I meant very little to Him. Instead, I focused my prayer to Hestia, the Greek Goddess of the home, the family, and the hearth. For hours, I pleaded with her, crying on my bruised knees, and begging her to help me.
Two days later, as if by a Goddess, my mother called and told me that I was now on the list of approved callers that my brothers could talk to.
Was it a coincidence? Maybe. Was it the work of a Goddess who had been through thick and thin with her own siblings and was now the protector of the family? I think so.
This started my love and devotion to the Gods.
I know what some of you may be thinking. Heck, even Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, fails to see why people would worship the Gods and he wrote over a dozen books on the children of these Gods. It's hard to understand, I know, especially with all the bizarre mythology that comes with it.
In order to explain it cohesively, I've compiled a sort of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about my experience with it. Let's get started, shall we?
Q: Do you really believe in the Greek Gods? Do you believe in them as physical entities?
A: Yes, absolutely, to both. My belief in the Gods is as real to me as it is to Christians and their god. They are physical entities who know of me and have a relationship with me.
Q: What comes with worshipping the Gods?
A: To a beginner, a lot. To me, still a lot, but it's easier to manage. I remember how viciously overwhelmed I was by everything. There's holidays, rituals, offerings, hymns, etc. It's all worth it to me, though.
Q: Rituals? Offerings? What's that about?
A: If you do research, which I suggest you do, you'll realize that my answers don't match up with other people, so keep that in mind.
Anyways, many Hellenic Polytheists will tell you that the Greek Gods require offerings and that the relationship between the devotee and the Divine is a mutualistic one that benefits both sides. I agree with this to a point, but the Gods do not need our offerings in order to thrive. Even then, an offering does not have to consist of objects because the Gods are not materialistic nor are they petty Gods. An offering of love, of devotion, of kindness, works just as well.
That being said, I do offer the Gods material goods, such as milk, olive oil, coffee, wine, and other goods. This is usually for when I pour libation to the Gods. Personally, I do it every two weeks to a month, depending on which God(s) or Goddess(es) month it is. If it's more than one God or Goddess, I'll do it biweekly or as needed.
I also burn incense when I pray. I try to pray every morning, but sometimes I'm in a time crunch and I have to do it before bed. Either way, this is when I share my love and respect for the Gods.
Once a week, I do a serious ritual. At this time, I clean myself and my area, especially around the place in which I'm praying, of pollution. I cleanse myself with blessed water that I burn a few twigs over and then dip my hands into it. Instead of drying my hands, I wet my face with the remaining water, drip it over my head, or rub it on exposed areas.
I sprinkle salt around the praying zone to rid it of bad energies that do not need to be there when I have a private moment with my Gods.
If I need assistance in my life, this is where I ask of it. I try to stray away from asking for specific things because the Gods know more than I do, know my situation more than I do, and know what I need. For example, if I am worried about academics, I will pray to Athena with something along the lines of, "O Goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus and nurturer of wisdom, I ask for your assistance". Not only am I able to see Her in little things, but putting my trust in Athena to help guide me has made me feel better about expanding my trust to others.
All of these are different for different people, and some devotees will recite pre-written prayers to the Gods. I don't feel comfortable with that and I prefer it to be more... spontaneous. It makes me feel closer to the Gods, but this in no way means that others are wrong in their prayers.
Q: What is the biggest difference between your Gods and the Christian God in your opinion?
A: Personally, I see the biggest difference in the way of how they treat humans. From my experience, I was told I was going to go to Hell for not believing in the Christian God. Then, it was that I was going to Hell for being queer. As I saw it, I was going to Hell either way and people had the audacity to be hostile towards me about it. The Christian God was truly going to punish me for not believing in him when he has shown me all my life that I shouldn't.
On the other hand, in Hellenic Polytheism, you're going to the Underworld no matter what. You are not punished if you do not believe in the Greek Gods, and there is a sort of safety in that. It is a comfort to me to know that my Gods love me, even given all that I am.
Q: Do you have to pray to all of them or do you only pray to a few?
A: Ah, there's one of the differences between Hellenic Reconstructionists and Hellenic Revivalists. Reconstructionists try to be as historically accurate as possible to how the Gods were worshipped in Ancient Greece, and that means worshipping all of the Gods, usually at once. As a revivalist, I'm telling you to do what works for you. If you can fit it into your life, do it. I have personal Gods that I turn to most - Persephone, Apollo, Artemis, and Hestia - but I do worship, at the least, all of the Olympians (including Hades and Hestia) when I do my libations.
Q: How do you know the Gods are real?
A: This is a valid question, and the short answer is that I just do, much like the Christian Gods do. I feel them all around me, blessing and loving me with all they have.
When a shiver runs down my spine during a test, I know it was Athena and I know she sits by me.
When I'm talking with the person I'm in love with, the warmth in my chest is Aphrodite blessing us.
The smell of the rain and the sound of the thunder and the soft feeling I get is Zeus reminding me that I am real and that I am here.
The bubbling feeling in my heart when I've had just a bit too much wine is Dionysus sipping on his own next to me.
The Gods are all around me. They aren't just revolved around my life, they're intertwined with it. Every aspect of my life goes back to them and I try to always thank them for it. When the flowers bloom in Spring, I thank Persephone and Demeter for their love of nature. When I meet a stranger who takes my breath away, I thank Hermes. When I watch someone craft something with their two bare hands, I thank Hephaestus. It's the little things that make them real.
Q: How do you know what rules to follow? Are there any rules?
A: To my knowledge, the only real rule is that of Xenia, which is the idea of hospitality and generosity. There is no written text like there is the bible, but I take things here and there from Homer's poetry, The Iliad, and The Odyssey. One of the main concepts is how to treat guests and it all boils down to being kind, generous, and helpful when you can be (which is always). I try to live by it as much as I can, and I believe I am honoring the Gods when I do so.
Q: Is the mythology real? Do you believe in it?
A: Yes and no. The mythology is real in the way that most stories are real - and by that I mean, there's an underlying tone and message that is real. They are also written by poetic storytellers, so the truth of their stories are unknown.
The Gods have a lot of skeletons in their closets and it can't be denied. They have done some really awful things, but I do believe that as the world changed and emerged into a new time, that the Gods did, too. I believe they are capable of forgiveness, of change, of guilt, and many other human capabilities. I believe the Gods are loving and kind, and do things with enlightenment as the intention.
Q: Can you direct me to more information?
A: Yes, yes, yes! Absolutely!
When I first started, I bookmarked three main pages where I got my information from. The first was a blog ran by someone named Lizzie. They helped me the most, I think, because they are a revivalist as well, and do things in a manner that fits their life.
I also have Hellenion, a website dedicated to the Hellenic faith and provides tons of information about the religion. They even have a calendar of the holidays and days of worship!
Finally, I have another website called HellenicGods that provides a Q&A just like this one to explain things further.
My religion is important to me and will continue to be for the rest of my life. Growing up felt empty, and the Gods provide me with love, blessings, kindness, and more control in my life. Worshipping the Divine, the Greek Gods, has made me into a better person, has brought out the best in me, and I couldn't be more grateful.
I guess darkness serves a purpose: to show us that there is redemption through chaos. I believe in that. I think that's the basis of Greek mythology.
- Brendan Fraser