Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Tony Mierzwicki, author of the new Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today.
Back in June, Tomás Prower (author of La Santa Muerte and the new Queer Magic) wrote a guest Llewellyn blog post titled, “Can Queer Magic Be Used by Non-Queer People?,” in which he correctly stated: “You don’t have to be Greek to develop a meaningful and potent relationship with the Olympian gods” as a parallel to non-queer people practicing queer magic. So, do you have to be Greek in order to practice Greek polytheism?
There are precedents for non-Greeks practicing Greek polytheism in ancient times.
The Panathenaia, which was the main annual festival to honor Athena Polias, was very much a statement demonstrating the unity and grandeur of Athens. The lavish procession included resident aliens and foreigners, women, and possibly even slaves. (Slaves brought into an Athenian household would undergo an initiation ceremony conferring protection on them by Hestia, goddess of the hearth. They would then be able to participate in household worship.) The Eleusinian Mysteries were available to anyone who could pay the fees. Only murderers and those unable to speak Greek were excluded.
In this day and age, Greek mythology is very familiar to us because, for hundreds of years, a classical education was standard throughout much of the Western world. It is still a part of pop culture, with even today dozens of movies being produced that are based on ancient Greek themes. As a byproduct of the widespread awareness of Greek mythology and history, more and more people have become curious as to how the Greeks venerated their deities.
The Greek deities are very much like humans in that they have weaknesses and strengths, but are much more powerful and are also immortal. They sometimes have their favorite mortals, but for most people it is important to secure their goodwill through a reciprocal relationship by providing them with devotion and gifts in exchange for blessings.
Veneration of deities can lead to us feeling a “calling” from one or more of them. This may take the form of visions, dreams, signs, or just a knowing that we have been selected. Deities select us for a relationship; we do not choose them. Having an intense interest in one particular deity does not guarantee being chosen, unless of course that interest is reciprocated. Not feeling a calling can either mean that we are missing the signs or that we should be focusing on all the deities equally.
Once a person feels their calling and initiates a relationship, who are we, as mere mortals, to stand in their way? Who are we to dictate who is worthy of such a relationship? Surely it is hubris to second guess the will of the divine?
In closing, it is pertinent to add that Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
So, yes. Non-Greeks certainly can practice Greek polytheism.
Our thanks to Tony for his guest post! For more from Tony Mierzwicki, read his article, “Discovering the Religion of the Ancient Greeks.”