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Evolutional Greek Paganism

Evangelos Rigakis

The following is an edited transcript of a talk given

January, 2011 Austin, Texas, U.S.A.

at the Biannual North Austin Pagan Weekend Workshop



In school we are taught about Greek gods but we are only told of the 12 gods of Olympus, the Titans, and a small assortment of others who were very popular. If you would do just a little research, you would find many others. Through my own personal research I found just over 124 different gods and goddesses. By naming so many different gods shows that the ancient Greeks believed everything to be divine. Even the legendary Orpheus, the father of ancient Greek Theology named everything as divine, right down to things like the law was thought of as divine.

What we know of history is what we learn from our history books. Now when talking about history I have learned that there are two kinds of history; there is academic history and then there is something called actual history. Academic history is what is taught in our high schools, colleges, universities, and institutes. Academic knowledge of history is in dire need of updating and revision. Over half of what they state as historical fact has been falsified by archaeological discoveries since the end of the twentieth century. It has built up such a momentum now that you can give me any history book and I would be able to mark off, like a check list, that’s wrong, that’s wrong very easily. They will not update the history books because that would mean money and, most importantly, would also involve a lot of politics. There are certain governments (I won’t name them because I am not accusing I am just relaying) who profit from the way history is now and they will do anything to keep it that way.

Those who care more about history than politics have left academic history behind and sought out actual history. When dealing with actual history there are certain rules, one being: Do not study works on ancient Greek history written before the 1950’s. Something happened in 1952 that really changed Greek history as it was known to them back then.  Up until the 1950’s we had discovered two forms of writing in ancient Greece, something we called the Alphabet and an earlier writing called Linear B. Linear B is made up of a number of linear characters, the most complete collection being up to 88 characters, I believe. The difference between the alphabet and Linear B is basically in the alphabet we have one sound for one character/letter and with Linear B we don’t have a single sound but a syllable for each character, such as ka, ga, da, ma and so on.

At this point there is a question:

“Do the characters change the writing of the language?”

Yes, writing a word using the alphabet would be very different than writing the same word but in a syllabic script. The language doesn’t change, just the way the language is written. A good example would be the name of the goddess Demeter, in Linear B her name would be De-me-te-ra, which would be four syllabic characters instead of seven letters.

Now before 1952 they believed that Linear B or the syllabic script was a different culture, not Greek, an Indo-European race. By the year 1950, two gentlemen were working together to decipher Linear B and around 1952(?) they succeeded. Chadwick and Ventris discovered that the language of Linear B was the same language of the ancient Greek alphabet, Greek. So what happened in ancient Greek history? We went on the recorded script to dictate the age of a culture. And so they went from believing the ancient Greek culture’s beginnings with a 900 b.c.e. alphabetic script to a 2200 b.c. syllabic script.

That is a tremendous leap wouldn’t you say?

Yeah but wait a minute, doesn’t it seem a little ridiculous to mark the beginnings of a whole culture or race of people by the oldest piece of rock with writing you have of them? I am by far no scholar or expert but you don’t need to be to understand that a culture to get to the point of writing does not happen overnight. As a matter of fact it takes thousands of years and the Greek culture can be traced to, at least, the beginnings of the Neolithic era.  The Neolithic era is when the people came out from the caves and down from the mountains, began living in dwellings of their own making and discovered farming. When that happened we had the beginnings of culture, because of the beginnings of families, clans, tribes. The end of the Neolithic era is marked by the beginning of the Bronze Age. The Bronze age is better known as the discovery of metallurgy, which in this area began in 3000 b.c. In mythology this is translated as the Neolithic era being the time of the Titans and with the Bronze age came the time of the Olympians. So the ancient Greeks believed that their ancestors were from the age of the Titans. If they would only look at the remains in general they can at least see that there was a continuous population since long before they discovered written script to communicate. In fact there are remains in the Greek area that date back to well into the Paleolithic era, we’re just talking about the Neolithic right now. The Neolithic tribes found in these areas developed into kingdoms and by the beginning of the Bronze Age became the ancient Greek city-states like Thrace, Sparta, and Thebes. The Greeks came from several Neolithic tribes, such as the Pelasgians and the Kabiri. But their religions, spiritual beliefs originated solely with the Kabiri. The Kabiri are both a prehistoric people and divinities. Though the Kabiri are the most important deities of all the ancient Greek gods, they are the least known of them all. Even the ancient Greeks considered the Kabiri their own ancient gods, they were the gods before the Titans. So ancient even to the Mycenaean Greek they were held in such reverence that they were kept secret. In Greek mythology they are considered chthonian (underworld) fire deities, companions of the Great Mother. Common mistake made here is considering the Great Mother to be Demetra. No it is not the goddess Rhea, it’s Gaia, Mother Earth. A discussion on the Kabiri is very involved, and I’m sure I will be mentioning them again and again. So let’s move on please, I had promised myself not to turn this into some sort of history lecture.

We need to redefine our terms or at least update them and take some different perspectives of some of these terms. We need to do this from the start so that when we use these terms everybody understands the meaning and how they are used. There are actually many terms that need to be redefined, so many that I would think it could fill a nice sized glossary. Though I will take issue with a couple of terms just to give you an idea of perspective. The term polytheism is normally defined by its literal translation, poly-theism many-gods. But gods is actually a crude translation of –theism, to the ancient Greek this term would simply mean divinity. Therefore, can’t we then define polytheism as the belief in many divinities? So now we can see that all religions are really polytheistic, even the sworn enemy of paganism.  Just because you decide to call the gods angels, archangels, etc. you’re just playing with words, for example the archangel Gabriel the Herald of God is simply the Hebrew translation of the god Hermes the Messenger of the Gods. A session of Christian ranting followed this and then…Another term that needs to be redefined or at least clarified is Greece or Greek. People are usually astonished when they hear that there was no ancient country called Greece (ancient meaning before Christian era or b.c.e.). Take up a copy of the famous story The Odyssey by Homer, of course what you will be looking at is a translation of the story into the English language. In it you will read how the Greeks went to war with the Trojans but if you would take up the original ancient Greek copy of the story, nowhere do you read the word Greek (Ellinas) or Greece (Ellas). Instead the word used to describe them is Achaeans which loosely means alliance, allegiance. In fact the Trojans were themselves an Ionian colony, and therefore Greek. There is no ancient country called Greece, there were several countries, all in relatively the same area, which shared the same language and believed in the same gods. They are what are called today the city-states , like Sparta, Thrace, Thebes, and Athens. These are the countries that had developed from the Neolithic tribes of the area. They did not collectively call themselves Greek (Ellenes) until well after Roman rule, definitely A.D. (after Christ). So then why do we call them the ancient Greeks? The answer is simple, it is a modern matter of convenience to collectively call these peoples Greeks instead of their individual ethnicities. I mean really, without specific reference but Greece is relatively a new country, declaring itself a country in 1821 when we had the end of 400 years of Turkish rule. Before Turkish rule it still was not Greece it was the Byzantium Empire. Therefore it would be wrong to call them ancient Greek religions or pagan traditions; rather they are Spartan, Theban, Thracian traditions.  

…in the past ten years or so we have been seeing more “Greek Pagan” groups forming, and many books written on a Greek tradition…now the very first problem is when we westerners think of a pagan tradition we normally associate it being made up of a series of seasonal festivals, rites of coming of age, rites of marriage, and the like, but when you would open one of these books written on a Greek pagan tradition you don’t find that at all, no what they find is this tradition to follow the 12 Gods of Olympus or a certain one god.

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…….they may have believed in many gods and goddesses but they didn’t worship all of them. even though the “city-state” was devoted to a certain deity each household was devoted to other deities, along with the “state” deity, for example dad was a really good soldier and so they would throw in the goddess Athena, and mom has her way about her as a soothsayer, so they would also throw in the god Apollo, everyone had their own personal devotion. There were many reasons behind the selection of the god or goddess that country (city-state) would be officially dedicated to, a famous story is that of Poseidon and Athena who competed for a people in Attica, Athena won and the city-state became known as Athens. Other reasons would be for example the people of Thessaly were farmers, their lands were flat whereas most of the Greek region is very mountainous, and therefore the official god was the goddess of agriculture Demetra.

As I said before mythology is a form of recording history, the trick is to decipher mythology, take mythology from a historical perspective, not just Greek mythology but all mythologies. The ancient Greeks were a very spiritual people, you could say that they were a very religious people. They didn’t practice their religion; they lived their religion, right into their daily lives. This is the greatest lesson on spirituality that we learn from the ancient Greeks. As in many things, religion was very different in ancient Greece than what we are used to in western religions. For instance, they didn’t have churches with clergy to perform religious ceremonies like marriages, baptisms, blessings, etc. We do read of priests and priestesses in ancient Greek writings but they did not serve the people, priests and priestesses were completely devoted and served a certain god or goddess only. So the question is who performed these religious rites for the people? Other than visiting a temple of the god or goddess necessary, for example for a wedding you would visit a temple of Hera perhaps or a Sanctuary of the Kabiri, essentially though the people themselves performed these rites, most commonly it would be the head of the household.  Baptism is a very ancient practice in Greece though I didn’t realize how old until I researched it and traced it back to mid Neolithic times. Throughout the ages baptism has taken on many forms before coming to the common notion of immersing an individual in water. Water is not the only medium for baptism and it certainly is not the original mode. Above all else the Neolithic Greek held fire to be most sacred, it took center stage in the Neolithic Household, they would not accept a child as part of the family until the child was taken three times round the central fire, these were the beginnings of Greek baptism. What I am really trying to show you here is how very complicated Greek paganism can very well be; there is just so many things to discuss: the Oracles, the Mysteries, the various philosophies,

But what it really comes down to is this…

All we want is just a Greek Pagan Tradition that is in accordance to our own modern notion of a pagan tradition. This means we certainly do want the same kind of rites as other pagan religions, we want seasonal festivals and wedding ceremonies, baptisms, the whole thing. By going as far back as I did, I was able to see the traditions on a much larger scale, an evolutionary scale, seeing how they began and how they evolved. Now the opportunity presented itself, to truly continue traditionally we must evolve the traditions, to fit our own needs. Evolve not revive or reconstruct because evolving would require fitting the ancient spiritual ideals with modern spiritual ideals. Where if we would just revive or reconstruct, then we would merely be mimicking ancient spiritual practices. In doing so, all those who revive or reconstruct the ancient traditions miss the whole point behind the traditions altogether. I believe the point the ancients were making was that their tradition is something that is alive and growing. Everything that is alive grows, anything that grows also evolves. This is precisely what I set out to do in 1988, I had moved from Canada to Greece, where I had the opportunity to research the ancient Greek traditions first-hand. I befriended many archaeologists who allowed me access the remains that were not open for public viewing. And then of course going to the actual sites themselves was a real big eye-opener, even the Neolithic remains were unexpected. I was surprised to find out that there was an actual Neolithic culture; I said to myself isn’t the Neolithic really a caveman, you know…stoneage?lol  Well apparently they were not cavemen, in fact the reason they are called Neolithic is because they came out of their caves and entered their own self-made dwellings, initially huts. Well that was my mistake but generally that is what people think of when they hear Neolithic. Anyways, when the call came for a Greek pagan tradition, I was ready.

Another mode of evolution may also to be found in the ancient Greek mythologies themselves. The ancient gods were all based upon family or generations of gods, the best known were the Titans, and the Olympians. Mythology teaches us that mortal mimicked the life of the gods, mortals learnt their marriage rite from the wedding of Zeus and Hera. This tells us that the generation of gods depicts the generation of the people of that given area. But a generation of gods is much different than a generation of mortals. Taking mythology from a historic perspective and placing the two generations on an evolutionary scale we find that a generation of gods is equal to an age or era of mortals. We find that the rule of the 12 Olympic gods began with the discovery of metal, historically that would be the Bronze Age which in the area of Greece began in 3,000 bce. Before this age Greece was in the Neolithic era, and who ruled before the Olympians? The Titans of course, so the Neolithic culture of Greece were the Titans. But who was before the Titans, and who comes after the Olympians falls into the category of the lesser known mythology of these people. The Titans came from chthonian fire gods called the Kabiri. Chthonian means of the underworld which means that these gods came from under the earth. So before the Neolithic is the Paleolithic which is when the Kabiri reigned; with the discovery of fire. Now, who reigned after the Olympians things get a little hairy, the ancients wrote that it was to be Dionysus who was to rule after Zeus. Unfortunately, Dionysus became a wanderer and never assumed the throne of Olympus. For three hundred years many tried and failed, until a foreign power brought in a foreign god to rule the people and they called him Christ. So the throne of Olympus has remained empty for nearly two thousand years. It is rumored that we have a new era upon us, the truth is that it has been changing for at least the past two hundred years or so. To then the question who is to reign after Dionysus? Logically his heir. Did Dionysus have children? The answer is yes, he married a mortal woman by the name Ariadne. They had many children, but always the first-born of Dionysus and Ariadne was always kept secret for many reasons. Just outside the city of Thebes (in Greece not in Egypt) there is a Sanctuary of the Kabiri. In the ruins of the temple of the Kabiri there were found vase paintings depicting the Mysteries of the Kabiri, naming the different kabiri. Here we find the first-born of Dionysus, here in Thebes the son of Dionysus was called Pais, whose conventional name is Mythos. Interestingly enough one of those spreading the rumor of a New Aeon is Aleister Crowley and his Book of the Law. Curiously enough, Crowley calls it the Aeon of the Child, the crowned and conquering child, and Pais, in Greek means exactly that “Child”. Now I have studied the old crow and his writings and though he was a recognized master in many things, his Greek is extremely poor. I highly doubt that he would have ever heard of Pais, nevertheless according to the Greek succession of Pantheons, this New Aeon would have to be the Aeon of the Child

When studying the ancient Greek pagan traditions there are certain elements that are common throughout all of them. The most prominent is surmised in the two words engraved above the entrance to the temple at Delphi, the words “Know Thyself”. Even though many believe this whole “Self Discovery” trend is a new thing, labeling it as New Age thought, in fact it is not new and is really what all the ancient Greek pagan-way traditions were all about. Therefore, this is precisely what this contemporary Greek pagan tradition is all about, finding Self. It is not a tradition for the masses but for the individual. Even the eight seasonal festivals are formulated for a single person to practice. I guess you might say that it is a tradition for the solitary but when two or more get together it becomes a community. The tradition is flexible enough to go from solitary to communal but always the underlying foundation of the tradition is upon the solitary, the individual. This actually forces the individual to personally tailor the traditions, which is another great lesson on religion we learn from the ancient Greeks, not to follow the tradition but become the tradition, you are the tradition. Greek pagans follow the ancient Greek traditions but their religious beliefs are as diverse as there are stars in the sky, tailored to each individual. Although I follow a Greek tradition, still my religious beliefs do not only incorporate the Greek but also a variety of many different religious and philosophical thoughts. We are not limited to just the Greek Pantheon but in each of our individual practices we freely include any deity that suits our purpose. So is that really a Greek tradition, it’s only Greek because I base my festivals on Greek lore and my mode of practice is Greek.

I wanted to develop new mysteries, a new mythology, there is a new Greek mythology, it’s not really new, they’re just stories of deities that you would have never heard of, even modern-day Greeks and know. For example the Kabiri, the Kabiri were fire deities who were companions of the Great Mother, depending on what era you’re looking at the Great Mother was either Demetra, Rhea, or my personal favorite, the great mother of all is Gaia, earth…the Titans came from the Kabiri, since the parents of the Titans have always been said to be the goddess Gaia and the god Uranus (Ouranos), the word gaia means earth and the word Uranus means sky. What the ancients were telling us was that the seed of life, the father came from the sky and impregnated my mother and your mother too. I found it very interesting that this father sky mother earth is also in Native American traditions…

So now we have a Greek Pagan tradition with its festivals and rites. I personally got legally married with a Greek Pagan wedding. It was truly amazing, ancient Orphic hymns to Demetra and Athena were recited, there was a binding, there was fire, there were the wreaths on our heads and the dance around the altar, and it was really beautiful. It was done openly in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania, which would have never been possible in Greece. Greek pagans in Greece still practice mostly in private.

So that’s what I did, I sat down and developed a Greek Pagan tradition and now we have eight festivals, we have marriage ceremonies, we have house blessings, individual blessings, we have Oracle services and a lot of other little things. Right now we are only few in a big city here but the tradition has been worked out. I decided to call it Threskia, I didn’t want to call it the Greek Pagan tradition even though when I would refer to it that is what I call it. I call it Threskia because the word actually means “religion” and if there is a message that this new Greek Pagan religion is trying to put across, is that it is all about your religion, not my religion, your religion…the Mysteries and the tradition, the new tradition is all geared towards one specific end, to “Know Thyself”, just like it is written at Delphi when entering the temple…so its all geared towards knowing yourself, coming to yourself, even the seasonal festivals are geared towards learning, connecting with your Self. The formula of the eight seasonal festivals is the Cycle of Life, specifically the life cycle of daemona…daemona in ancient Greek means “the Divine Self”, so when I say Daemona I mean to say the Self, the Soul (Psyche), the Primal Self. Now in the Orphic tradition, the Self was symbolized by the egg and surprisingly there was a tradition in North-Western Greece during the Spring Equinox Festival they would bury an egg in the Ground, in the Mother, the Fall Equinox came around and they would dig up the egg. Now I took that and ran with it and I said if you would bury an egg, you would be burying the Self in the Mother, Mother Earth, you would be waking your inner self by bonding with your Mother… so now everybody gets themselves an egg, no not a real egg, we have a lot of beautiful eggs, made out of a variety of beautiful materials that you can get, I personally love this one egg that I found made of amethyst…so what a Threskian would do is bury the egg during the Spring Equinox, on the Summer Solstice a libation is given up to daemona the seed that ferments within the Mother. The following Equinox you dig the egg up and keep it in a certain place in your house. Every pagan has a little altar in their house, and on this altar you would put this egg. You would see it every day, and every time you do you’ll think of your own daemona, your Self. You will be saying to yourself that this egg is an actual physical piece of my Self. In this way you baptize it everyday to be you, your true self. The more you establish the transformation of the egg and your soul, what will eventually happen is that you will consciously wake to your inner self. That’s what you want to happen, you want your higher self to start talking to your conscious self and then growing from there spiritually.…everything we do is to find out more and more about our Self…the ancient Greeks did not believe in their religion they lived it in their daily lives…the word religion…whatever beliefs you have this is how you should conduct your life, the gods are all around us, whether you call them gods, saints, angels, energies or whatever, they are all around you, all you have to do is be a little more observant… yes and unlike all other traditions we don’t have clergy, we don’t have priests, the ancient Greeks didn’t need them so we don’t need them either, … so I carried that over into the present tradition…because I wish to abolish hierarchy, I think hierarchy is the downfall of all organized religions, this is not an organized religion, we don’t have a headquarters, we don’t have churches, we don’t have anything, we are individuals who just follow a Greek tradition, having common beliefs but personally tailoring them to ourselves… we don’t have priests or churches so we don’t take donations…I’m not pagan I live pagan, the way I think is a pagan way of thinking…and I believe all your ways are pagan ways

…and as in all traditions we even have our own symbol…This Star that I wear here around my neck is a Greek Star called the Star of Nyx. The star is really the Ying Yang of the western world, it’s actually two pentagrams that come together and make a hexagram…how?...because you have the upright pentagram and the inverted pentagram, the upright is white and the inverted is black, the upright is positive and the inverted is negative, so if I were to push the one pentagram into the other and then flip that on its side we would get a hexagram, the positive and negative united and so expresses balance, and so is our symbol to identify Greek Paganism by…. tape cuts off