Hellenism is the polytheistic orthopraxic religion of the classical Graeco-Roman world. The term of Hellenism was first coined by Emperor Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus to refer to general Graeco-Roman religion. Broadly speaking, it is a polytheistic religion that believes the Gods are unchanging, unbegotten, eternal, incorporeal, and not in space.
Hellenism proper began after the death of Alexander the Great and the spreading of Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean. Hellenistic and Hellenized culture interacted and mingled with local cultures throughout the region and created new, diverse traditions. Due to this diversity, there is no one “Hellenistic” faith, and that’s okay. Rather, there is a grouping of shared cultural faiths. Something common among all forms of Hellenism, however, is the importance of ritual practice, as ritual animates belief.
Hellenism continued on for centuries, even after Christians took control of the Roman Empire and begun bloody persecution against Hellenism, all the way into the Dark Ages. The Greek region of Laconia in particular resisted conversion for an extended period of time and the last public Hellenes were the Maniots in 875 ACE. Although publicly it was seemingly defeated, it continued on for several more centuries among intellectuals. Michael Psellos (c. 1017/1018 – 1078/1096) was accused of, and likely implicit in, being secretly a Hellene, and the renown Hellenic philosopher Gemistos Plethon (c. 1355 – 1452/1454 ACE) wrote a piece, the Nómoi, which called for the reorganization of the Byzantine Empire and the return to Hellenism. Plethon founded a Platonic school in the Peloponnesian city of Mystras which is said to have had students often praying to statues of Hellenic deities.
Hellenic Revivalism, Contemporary Hellenism, and simply Hellenism refers to various religious movements that revive ancient Graeco-Roman religious practices publically, which begun emergence during the 1990s. It makes use of reconstructionist methodology through academia to reconstruct classical Hellenism to form a new living tradition and uphold proper practice.
It is primarily a devotional or votive religion, based on the exchange of gifts between the divine and mortals. The ethical convictions of modern Hellenic polytheists are often inspired by ancient Greco-Roman virtues such as reciprocity, hospitality, and moderation.
Hellenes worship a large amount of deities, which includes the:
- The Ouranic/Dii Superi, or Olympian, deities
- The Khthonic/Dii inferi, or underworld, deities
- The Protogenoi, or primordial, deities
- The Titans
- Nature spirits (Nymphs, Nereids, Dryads, etc.)
- Ancestors and ancestral divinities (Lares, Penates, etc.)
Individual practice varies widely. Some Hellenes may not focus their worship each day upon every member of the pantheon, while others will give direct urgent prayer requests to all of them. They may feel closer or more distant to some Gods, or may adhere to Mysteries that focus on a particular deity and their retinue. However, Hellenes show respect to all the deities by being polite and gracious to all of the divinities equally, for they are like kind masters, teachers, fathers or guardians who put us on the right path.