Author Archives: Melas the Hellene

About Melas the Hellene

An ethnic Hellene and traditional polytheist seeking friends and discussions within the scope of polytheism and its communities in the world. I am curious to learn everything about the history, nature, and standing of polytheism in general. Being a strong advocate of traditional polytheism, I will point out the faults of neopaganism as well as monotheism, and when necessary, expose and reject them openly. Website: traditionalpolytheist.com

Polytheism is a vague term that needs classification

The etymology of the term “polytheism” is insufficiently descriptive, even as it attempts to establish a clear difference from monotheism. While it is by no means useless or misleading, especially in the classification of general religion, it can be of some disservice to serious polytheists who are interested in the extensive and complex history of polytheism, either for ritual practices or theoretical understanding. Being among that number, I have always found some sort of difficulty in expressing my socio-religious views to other polytheists or explaining historical, cultural and socio-political developments regarding various ideas in and forms of polytheism. I needed to introduce adjectives like “traditional” or “regional” or “indigenous” which did not go far enough. And it seemed wrong that there should be a term such as “animism” for a distinct yet simple worldview, but only one term to denote various and profound stages of polytheism’s worldview. Anthropologists often hold that polytheism arose after the discovery of agriculture, but this did not explain its development or forms. I noticed also that many misunderstandings and misinterpretations among practitioners and thinkers resulted from the vagueness of the term “polytheism”, perhaps giving an impression of the fragmented and weak state of the movement. Since worldview is of paramount importance in belief and reconstructionism, natural distinctions resulting from distinct historical traditions should be classified properly. To this end, I will introduce four new terms, inspired by social anthropology; in these the worldview is immediately apparent from the etymology of the term. Since religion is a socio-cultural phenomenon bounded by place, it seems reasonable to be guided by the anthropological terms that classify human societies, i.e. band, tribe, chiefdom (simple, complex), and state. For this reason, the etymology addresses the geographical scope of the society that held such a worldview, namely, village, city, confederation/union, and world/universe. Hence, kometheism, politheism, koinotheism, and cosmotheism. Below is a table in some detail. 

Table

N.B. Three points to make. First, it might seem contradictory to place both monotheism and “polytheism” within cosmotheism, but this is necessary in view of the common origin of both systems of beliefs. Monotheism appeared during the evolution of a particular set of universalized ideas and syncretic circumstances within an expanding and competitive world grasping for an explanation of reality and hoping for an end to the pains of imperialism. It shouldn’t be thought that since monotheism denies all Gods except one, it is therefore of a totally different cast. The evolution of monotheism itself and the continuing the polytheistic remnants within it are proof against this rather simplistic opinion. Secondly, the four stages of polytheism are obviously not exclusive in descending order. Every cosmotheism will contain certain elements of the three previous worldviews, although not in a consistent or even manner. Lastly, I hope it will be understood that this is not an attempt to account for the development of Gods in material terms. Gods are real, but the earliest conceptions of them (before a tradition is made) depended on the nature of the experiences and lifestyle of those who first established the connection, as dictated by the natural environment and culture. The Gods, theoretically speaking, are not fully known to us. Animism is probably the closest we can reach because the natural and supernatural are equivalent, leaving little room for uncertainty as far as divine presence and experience is concerned. But polytheism later added new ideas and practices (mirroring changes in society) that can be compared to a mantle or cloak which covers the God, giving that God a more particular appearance or function for the convenience of distinct cultic practices and purposes, but simultaneously (because the God is covered) making that God somewhat less accessible to our conceptual understanding (hence the development of monotheism and later atheism).

Our natural environment is under serious threat

Today there was important news on the latest and perhaps most comprehensive study thus far about the poor state of our planet’s natural environment. Earth’s diversity, beauty and balance is being marred at the hands of ever-expanding and ambitious human systems. There are many titles for this dangerous revolt against nature: modernism, imperialism, westernization, globalization, capitalism, humanism, industrialism, materialism and Protestantism*. But let words be as they may; the essence is in what is happening and how it can stop. The study goes into dreadful detail such as the loss of 100 million hectares of forest from 1970 to 2010, the endangerment of 25% of all animal and plant species, the explosion of urban population/middle class and the consumption that goes along with it, the pollution of global waters with 300-400 million tons of industrial waste (including plastic) every year, and the decline of natural ecosystems by 47% on average. The authors, who penned a summary for politicians and leader, warn that a transformation in our way of life and thinking must occur before the decline can be controlled. More particularly, they advise that the notion about what constitutes a “good quality of life”, usually is determined by quantity of consumption, must change, as also related notions about the “limited paradigm of economic growth” that seeks to elevate everyone into an equal level of supposed prosperity. The authors add that “Then we must restore nature and drive innovation. Only then will we leave future generations a healthy and sustainable planet.”

This is a document desperately needed to alarm and propel the world to action. And yet, in spite of earlier warnings, the world still seems to go its own way. Then there is a hidden truth: the West, which consumes most of the world’s resources, is doing  well to protect its own natural environments, while causing other poorer nations to destroy their natural environments either to provide for Western consumption or to compete with Western standards. The high Western demand for Palm oil that is destroying many forests in Indonesia is an example of the former and the Chinese obsession with economic growth and the middle class is an example of the latter. How will this end? I doubt that “innovation” will help; it sounds like a decorated excuse or a expedient means to maintain the status quo and avoid serious reduction of comfort. Even worse, I am afraid that more innovation will lead to more complications of the original problem. Far better is changing the mentality about what a “good quality of life” means and instituting serious policies that go beyond the short-term ambitions of political parties and leaders. And surely the spreading of polytheism, along with its inherent veneration for the natural world, can greatly contribute to the effort. I hope this futile wrestling with the Gods ends, because it will only cause our own misery, if not extinction when things go too far. I had rather have myself, my progeny and all other people live on for many thousands of years to come, in harmony with nature and at a basic level of subsistence**, than to enjoy everything we desire for a few centuries or decades. To ensure this legacy must become our foremost duty and priority. The Earth, with all its manifold divinity, is eternal and can bring forth other life if we rebel and threaten her well-being continuously.

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* Monotheism would be too general a term here, especially considering that the earliest Jews and Christians held views that opposed civilization. The story of the Tower of Babel, though unknown in polytheistic tradition, matches with the shared story of the Deluge. Utnapishtim is the Mesopotamian equivalent of Noah. Later monotheism took on an imperial character, chiefly at the hands of the Christians and afterwards the Muslims. But it was the species of Protestantism that did the most harm precisely because it was driven by the middle class what with all its innovations and energy. Hence the “Protestant work ethic”. And yet we have the irony that the revival of polytheism owes a great deal to this Protestant diligence.

**Which was consistent with historical conditions. Nowadays it is called “poverty” with heavy connotation in order to encourage the wealthy to allow others “less fortunate” to share their high position. Perhaps the opposite direction is wiser? Or even better, meeting at the middle somehow. In any case, great (uncomfortable) action will be needed.

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#4): The North Wind and the Sun

Fable: 

The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed fontaine-09that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.

Moral:

Laconically put: Persuasion is better than force!

 

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#3): The Man and the Satyr

Fable:

A Man and a Satyr once drank together in token of a bond of friendship being formed between them. One very cold wintry day, as they talked, the Man put his fingers to his mouth and blew on them. When the Satyr asked the reason for this, he told him that he did it to warm his hands because they were so cold. Later on in the day they sat down to eat, and the food prepared was quite scalding. The Man raised one of the dishes a little towards his mouth and blew in it. When the Satyr again inquired the reason, he said that he did it to cool the meat, which was too hot. “I can no longer consider you as a friend,” said the Satyr, “a fellow who with the same breath blows hot and cold.”

Moral:1959.4559-MF[1]

Although originally used to reproach the innate contradiction of humankind or to warn against the friendship of dishonest people, this fable is profound enough to allow of a different interpretation pertaining to polytheists. The satyr here can be seen as the one at fault, because he does not understand the complex nature of existence and culture. Indeed, the satyr here can be best compared to monotheists who insist on absolute moral dualism and condemn the grey shades (i.e. relativism) of a polytheistic worldview in favor of an extremely biased black and white one. Just like the satyr, a monotheist would not comprehend (for example) why both Achilles and Hector, even though they fought against one another, are both considered noble warriors while also not being altogether perfect.

A common misconception about ancient ancestors resolved + a personal story

The other day I saw an intriguing video entitled “Are all Europeans descended from Charlemagne?”. I had known that Charlemagne, who lived around the year 800 CE, was an ancestor of many royal and noble lineages in Europe, but the thought of him being a common forefather of many millions of people seemed impossible. Nevertheless, the video shows clearly that the farther back one goes, the more ancestors there are; the number doubles every generation. So, at generation one there is two ancestors (parents), at generation two there are four ancestors (grandparents) and at three there are eight (great-grandparents), and so on until you reach generation 40 (around 800 CE) where there are 1,099,511,627,776 ancestors. The number is vaster by far at 2000 years ago. The narrator points out that because there weren’t a trillion people living back in 800 CE, there is a very large portion repeated ancestors within that total number. The vast majority of people lived and married locally, hence the very high possibility of mild to moderate inbreeding, although within healthy levels. But it would only take one outsider intermarrying at some point to add so many more ancestors to one’s lineage, and this must have happened for most people, except (as the video shows) for those geographically isolated by mountains for example.

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The question then arises as to which ancestors matter most to us. If everyone was related to everyone else within a continent, if not the whole world, around 2000 years ago, how can we speak specifically of Hellenic, Gaulish, Germanic, or other ancestors. The answer here lies in one’s genetic makeup, which can also be backed by facial features. I may have several trillion ancestors 2000 years ago, but only those that lived within the areas in which my parents were born are most important to me, because there is direct indigenous descent. Facial features tell a wonderful story about ancient times. It is always interesting when we find a doppelganger somewhere suddenly or point out how a cousin of ours resembles us (I have such a cousin). But now that we have forensic archaeology, the possibility of seeing our ancient ancestors face to face is now a reality to be celebrated. I remember, several years ago, when I first discovered the Fayum Portraits, I spent a whole hour or more looking through them and exclaiming every now and then: “I remember seeing that face somewhere!”. In fact, I showed a particular portrait to my dad, knowing who exactly it resembled, and I quizzed him on who it was (my dad and I have excellent visual memories and never forget faces). When he gave up, I told him it was an Egyptian workman who had carried rubble at our house once and then we shared a laugh! Another one, resembling my dad’s mother to some degree, made him tear up.

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In the course of time, my curiosity drove me to discover more facial reconstructions from the past. Because the number of these are still very scarce, especially from ancient times, I was absolutely dumbstruck and overjoyed when I found not only one but two facial reconstructions that resembled my father, and both derived from his ancestral lands, Greece and the Near East/North Eastern Egypt. The Greek reconstruction is of a Mycenaean noble warrior from Pylos who lived 3500 years ago and the Near Eastern face is a reconstruction of an average Canaanite/Jewish man from the time of Jesus. See below for the remarkable intermediate resemblance.

4fbfcdbcda38af0f8de2fd8c03f2bf37[1]ΚουρεCanaanite

 

It’s needless to say, my dad was quite glad, but (not being too fond of history) not as much as me!

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (#2): The Fox and the Grapes

Fable:

A famished Fox saw some clusters of ripe black grapes hanging from a trellised vine. She resorted to all her tricks to get at them, but wearied herself in vain, for she could not reach them. At last she turned away, hiding her disappointment and saying: “The Grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.”

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Moral:

Taken metaphorically, this interpretation can be presented to polytheists as follows. Beware of blaming the Gods when you are unable to fulfil your presumptuous attempts of reaching their height, knowing them fully, keeping company with them, or attributing divine titles to yourself, because you can’t and you shouldn’t.

Lessons from Aesop’s Fables (introduction and part 1):

Although stories exist within and derive from particular peoples and cultures, they contain truths that can be understood by all others. This is perhaps nowhere truer than in Aesop, a Thracian or Lydian slave living in Greece, whose old stories are simple, moralized and a little obscure, creating the perfect conditions for rich interpretations and profound lessons. They have also influenced storytellers from other cultures, such as Rome and India. These fables have been told to children for generations, but even adults have enjoyed and learned from them, and the complexity shows that they may well have been originally written for adults. An old post of mine demonstrates how a fable saved the early city of Rome from further rebellion. Since this is the case, and since Aesop wrote in ancient times, there is a special place for polytheists within his fables. In this series, I will be posting select fables and offering, as well as receiving in the comment section, didactic interpretations that are suited to polytheists in general or to our current circumstances in particular. I have long looked forward to this series and I hope it will be of some benefit. Now let’s proceed to the first fable and moral.

The Old Man and His Sons

A father had a family of sons who were perpetually quarreling among themselves. When he failed to heal their disputes by his exhortations, he determined to give them a practical illustration of the evils of disunion; and for this purpose, he one day told them to bring him a bundle of sticks. When they had done so, he placed the faggot into the hands of each of them in succession, and ordered them to break it in pieces. They tried with all their imagestrength, and were not able to do it. He next opened the bundle, took the sticks separately, one by one, and again put them into his sons’ hands, upon which they broke them easily. He then addressed them in these words: “My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, uninjured by all the attempts of your enemies; but if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.”

 

Moral:

I can think of two interpretations here. The first is to compare the sons to the various individual polytheists today. In this case, the unbreakable bundle is a community that comes together strongly and, in spite of (natural) disagreements, compromises towards a necessary unity that would otherwise be weakened by monotheistic or modernistic influences. The second interpretation would be to liken the sticks to individual communities or groups of polytheists that are safer together than apart during a temporary period of larger instability. These sticks are separate and may be colored differently (in the sense of social and cultural distinctions), but put together they serve their purpose for the time being until the danger passes. The father represents our various ancestors and regional origins. Our ancestors are calling us to unite in order to pass on their ways and serve their Gods together as they did. Let us do so. If circumstances force us to be alone for a while, let’s always look and work for the earliest opportunity for unity and community.