Hellenism (religion)

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Symbol used by Hellenism followers.

Hellenism (Ἑλληνισμός, Hellēnismós) is a religious movements which revive or reconstruct of ancient Greek religious practices from antiquity. Hellenic religion has manifested itself as legal bodies in Greece through Hellenic Ethnic Religion[a] or Ancient Hellenic Religion (Αρχαία ελληνική θρησκεία, Archaía ellinikí thriskeía); in the USA through Hellenion.[1] More broadly, Hellenic Polytheism describes groups, and individuals who "reinterpret and reinvent ancient Greek religious practices and identities."[2] Olympianism (Ολυμπιανισμός, Olympianismós) and Neopaganism (Νεοπαγανισμός, Neopaganismós) are used by the Greek Orthodox Church in a derogatory manner, while the term Dodekatheismos (Δοδεκαθεϊσμός, "religion of twelve gods") is used by both Christian critics and some polytheists.[2]

These comprises various religious movements which revive or reconstruct ancient Greek religious practices, and which have publicly emerged since the 1990s. In 2017, Greece legally recognized Hellenic Ethnic Religion as a "known religion", granting it certain religious freedoms in that country, including the freedom to open houses of worship and for clergy to officiate at weddings.[3]

Naming and terminology[edit]

There are no official naming practices for labeling religious expressions deriving themselves from the Hellenic or Hellenistic culture and history in one form or another. The ancient Hellenes did not have a word for 'religion' in the modern sense.[4] Likewise, no Greek writer known to us classifies either the gods or the cult practices into separate 'religions'. Modern scholarship that speak of religions of the ancient Greeks, are applying a modern category in a modern way.[5] Instead, for example, you see Herodotus speak of the Hellenes as having "common shrines of the gods and sacrifices, and the same kinds of customs."[6]

Some informal naming conventions have developed since the formation of the first Hellenic religious organizations in the 1990s, based on academically accepted descriptive definitions. Hellenism has be employed as a religious identifier for Hellenic religion in the same manner as say Christianity is understood to mean Christian religion. This conflation of Hellenism with/as Hellenic religion in the Anglosphere is the result of English translations of primary sources from Antiquity.

The word Ἑλληνισμός appears in writings of three authors, Sextus Empiricus (c. 160 - c. 210 CE), Diogenes Laërtius (3rd century CE), and Roman Emperor Julian (331 – 26 June 363). In Sextus Empiricus' "Against the Professors", a criticism of professors of all arts and sciences, Ἑλληνισμός is translated by Robert Gregg Bury as "hellenism".[7] Ἑλληνισμός is not employed in a religious manner, it is used in context of proper Greek grammar. Likewise in Diogenes Laërtius' "Lives of Eminent Philosophers 7.1. Zeno", Ἑλληνισμός is once again used to talk about Greek language, not religion. In the English translation by Robert Drew Hicks it is rendered as "pure Greek" and "good Greek."[8]

"Ἀρεταὶ δὲ λόγου εἰσὶ πέντε, Ἑλληνισμός, σαφήνεια, συντομία, πρέπον, κατασκευή. Ἑλληνισμὸς μὲν οὖν ἐστι φράσις ἀδιάπτωτος ἐν τῇ...."

"There are five excellences of speech—pure Greek, lucidity, conciseness, appropriateness, distinction. By good Greek is meant language faultless in point..."

Understanding Julian's usage of Ἑλληνισμός arguably has been lost in translation. The word appears in his letter to Arsacius, High-priest of Galatia. The translator, Wilmer Cave Wright rendered Ἑλληνισμός as "Hellenic religion" in the opening sentence where Julian complains that "The Hellenic religion does not prosper" like he desires.[9] The explicit religious nature of the letter, could be the reason why Ἑλληνισμός was translated as "Hellenic religion" for textual comprehensibility, it is inconclusive at this time. Because of the choice in translation, English speaking polytheists claim Julian used the term to define Ἑλληνισμός as traditional Graeco-Roman religion.[10]

The phrase Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism refers specifically to the methodology used by some practitioners to recreate the religion based on academic sources, rather than the religion itself, and not all Hellenic Polytheists are reconstructionists. Other organizations, such as Dodekatheon (Δωδεκάθεον),[11] the Helliniki Hetaireia Archaiophilon (Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum), and the Thyrsos (Θύρσος) use a combination of terms interchangeably, including elliniki thriskia (ἑλληνικὴ θρησκεία, 'Hellenic religion'), Hellenic polytheistic religion, and Hellenism.[12][13]

Other terms in common usage by Hellenic polytheists include "Greek reconstructionism" and "Hellenic Traditionalism", but the two are not synonymous.[14] The American group Elaion uses the term "Dodekatheism" (Greek: δώδεκα, dodeka, 'twelve' + θεϊσμός, theïsmós, 'belief in the gods') to describe their approach to the Hellenic religion, stating that the term "has been used for some time within and outside Greece to refer to ancient Greek religion and we feel that it is important for those of us outside Greece share a common name and identity with our co-religiosts in the homeland of our spirituality", and that the term 'Hellenism' is linked too closely in current use to the modern Greek nation.[4]

Concepts and values[edit]

Prominent concepts include, but are not restricted to: Eusebeia (piety), Arete (virtue), and Xenia (hospitality). These are rooted in the various ancient Greek values concepts that they look to for guidance and inspiration from the Tenets of Solon, the Delphi Maxims, the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, Epicurean Philosophy, the ethics of Aristotle, Stoic Philosophy and more.[15]


Eusebeia (εὐσεβής) is often translated as piety or reverence towards the gods,[16] it can also be translated as right action. The focus of Eusebeia for modern Hellenists is on action on how to honor the Gods and Goddesses rather than on particular set of beliefs. Practicing Eusebeia is an important and key ethic for many modern Hellenists.[17]


Arete (Ἀρετή) means virtue, excellence, and Moral Virtue.[18] For a number of Hellenists, cultivating Arete is considered one of the highest things to cultivate and focus on for modern Hellenists and that cultivating it will lead to a good life.[19] Modern Hellenists believe that by living up to one's full potential. Cultivating Arete for modern Hellenists implies improving all aspects of their life and thus improving their soul[20]


Xenia (ξενία) is the concept of hospitality and is sometimes translated as 'guest-friendship' or 'ritualized friendship'.[21] It is an institutionalized relationship, rooted in generosity, gift exchange, and reciprocity; fundamental aspects of xenia.[22][23] Historically, hospitality towards foreigners (Hellenes not of your polis) and guests was a moral obligation. Hospitality towards foreign Hellenes honored Zeus Xenios (and Athene Xenia) patrons of foreigners.[24] In aristocratic circles, as early as the Homeric epics, it was as a sort of fictitious kinship, cemented not only by ties of hospitality and gift exchange but by an obligation to promote the interests of the xenos.[21]

Legally, xenia was a charge of bastardy. Attic lawsuits apply it to accuse someone of citizenship fraud perpetrated through marriage fraud. The Periclean citizenship law of 451/450 expanded the definition of bastardy to include the children of unions between Athenians and non-Athenians.[22]


Hellenic polytheists worship the ancient Greek Gods, or the Hellenic pantheon, including the Olympians, nature divinities, underworld deities (chthonic gods) and heroes. Both physical and spiritual ancestors are greatly honored. The gods exhibit both universal and local qualities. For the Greeks, "their gods were at the same time universal, found everywhere and powerful over the whole world, and intensely local, manifesting themselves in particular places."[25]


Offerings and rituals[edit]

Offerings and libations are considered sacred integral acts within worship.[26][15] There are several types of offerings that are performed, sacrifices, votive offerings and Libations.

without sacrifices prayers are words only; but accompanied with sacrifices they become animated words; and words indeed corroborating life

Hellenists are divided upon the question of animal sacrifice. Some are fine with the practice,[15] while others do not engage in the practice at all.[27] Some instead offer symbolic food of the animal that is sacrificed instead of the animal, often though not exclusively fruit, breads, or cakes.[28]


There are many festivals throughout the year that many seek to celebrate, where the dates are often set by the lunisolar Attic calendar.[29] The festivals typically commemorate events in Greek history, honoring deities that the festivals celebrate, and connote spiritual themes. The celebrations incorporate religious themes, arts, sacrifices and offerings, family get togethers and feasts. Popular sacred days are Deipnon, Noumenia and Agathos Daimon.[29]

Hellenic festivals include:[30][31]

Relationship to ancient Greek religion[edit]

The majority of modern historians agree that the religion practiced by the ancient Greeks had been extinguished by the 9th century CE at the latest and that there is little to no evidence that it survived (in public form at least) past the Middle Ages. (In certain isolated areas it survived until the 12th century, see Tsakonia and Maniots) [32] The majority of modern Hellenistic organizations outside of Greece view their religious praxis as "reconstructionist" and sometimes as "revival." In Greece, and in its diaspora, the revival of Hellenic religious expression is typically only part of a larger social movement of re-Hellenizing Greek identity in a comprehensive way, not only religious.[2]

Emically speaking, "revival" accurately describes the religious activity occurring in Greece (and its diaspora) since one of the main hallmarks is group gatherings and public festival celebrations. Etic observations from a distance by classical scholars, describe contemporary practices as inauthentic and therefore irrelevant or remain open on the issue. British classicist Mary Beard dismissed Greek worshipers, saying, "until these eager neo-pagans get real and slaughter a bull or two in central Athens, I shan’t worry that they have much to do with ancient religion at all."[33] American classicist, Sarah Iles Johnston affirmed contemporary practice. "The bricolage and re-imaginings of contemporary Pagans is not entirely different from that of ancient Greek religious culture and that even classical scholars inevitably re-imagine the gods."[34]

Revivalists view Hellenic Polytheism as a living, changing religion. Hellenic Revivalism allows room for practitioners to decide what feels right to them, and to adapt historical religious practices to modern life.

Reconstructionism is a methodology that attempts to accurately base modern religious practice on culturally and historically genuine examples of ancient religious practices. The term is frequently used in the United States to differentiate between syncretic and eclectic Neopagan movements, and those based on the traditions, writings, history, and mythology of a specific ancient polytheistic culture. In contrast to revivalist traditions, Reconstructionists are culturally oriented and attempt to reconstruct historical forms of religion and spirituality, in a modern context. Therefore, Kemetic, Canaanite, Hellenic, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic Reconstructionists aim for the revival of historical practices and beliefs of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Canaan and Phoenicia, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Celts, the Germanic peoples, the Balts and the Slavs, respectively.

Most Hellenic polytheist groups unequivocally state that reconstructionism is not the only correct method of practicing the ancient Greek religion, but do identify a practice as Hellenic only when it embraces the humanistic values and ethical virtues of the ancient Greeks, demonstrates loyalty and reverence toward the Greek Gods, and uses a religious structure that would be recognizable to an ancient Greek.[35][36][37][38] These groups make a clear distinction between themselves and the Neopagan movement, and identify some 'Hellenic' groups as "simply disguised as 'Hellenes' for reasons that exist hidden within the depths of their own minds."[39]

Some adherents, like Greek Dodecatheon member Panagiotis Marinis, have claimed that the religion of ancient Greece actually survived throughout the intervening centuries, and some claim they were raised in families that practiced this religion.[40] Whether or not they believe that the Hellenic polytheist religious tradition is continuous, there is evidence that Greek Hellenic polytheists living in modern Greece see the movement as an expression of Greek cultural heritage in opposition to the dominant Orthodox Christianity.[41][42]


Early reconstructionists[edit]

During the 18th century, several notable authors and freethinkers embraced Ancient Greek religion to some extent, studying and translating ancient works of theology and philosophy, and in some cases composing original hymns and devotionals to the Ancient Greek pantheon. The English author John Fransham (1730–1810) was one example, considered an eccentric by his peers, who was also referred to as a pagan and a polytheist. In Fransham's 1769 book The Oestrum of Orpheus, he advanced a theology similar to that of the Neoplatonists: that the first cause of existence is uncreated and indestructible, but not intelligent, and that the universe is shaped by "innumerable intelligent powers or forces, 'plastic and designing,' who ruled all sublunary affairs, and may most fitly be designated by the nomenclature of the Hellenic theology."[43] Despite his apparent belief in the Hellenic gods, Fransham does not seem to have been particularly devoted to their worship. According to an 1875 profile in Fraser's Magazine, Franshem's "libations to the Penates found their way down his own throat, and when he sacrificed a fowl to 'Esculapius it was usually in the form of chicken-broth for his supper."[43]

Another example of an 18th-century literary figure who may have considered himself a Hellenist was Thomas Taylor (1758–1835), who produced the first English translations of many neoplatonic philosophical and religious texts. Taylor was widely known as the "English Platonist", and rumors existed that he had produced anonymous pamphlets advocating a return to a sort of pagan religion (these rumors have been debunked by modern scholars[44]). Though the extent of his actual devotion to Ancient Greek spirituality remains unknown, brief descriptions written by others about him tend to portray him as a sincerely devout polytheist.[43] One such sketch, written by Isaac D'Israeli, describes Taylor delaying answering his door until he has finished his mid-day hymn to Apollo, and reports that his study contained a hanging globe of clear glass, representing Zeus, that scattered sunbeams he would use to read and write, shifting his position in the room to follow them throughout the day.[43]

His work inspired a limited number devotees.[43] The most notable was Godefroi Izarn, the Marquis de Valadi, a young member of a wealthy French family who adopted a "Pythagorean mode of life". In 1788, Valadi traveled to England in order to convince an unnamed "gentleman of eminence in the literary world" to become the head of a new Pythagorean sect, assuring him that Valadi would help him find numerous followers.[45] He refused, and suggested Valadi learn Greek and become the head of the sect himself. Valadi began his studies at Glasgow, where he learned of Taylor, to whom he wrote in a letter:

"My determination was to go and live in North America, and there to keep a school of temperance and love, in order to preserve so many men from the prevailing vices of brutal intemperance and selfish cupidity ... There I would devoutly erect altars to my favourite Gods: Dioscuri, Hector, Aristomenes, Pan, Orpheus, Epaminondas, Pythagoras, Pluto, Timoleon, Marcus Brutus and his Portia, and above all, Phoebus, the God of my hero Julian ..."[43]

Valadi paid Taylor to live in his house and study under him, but his tenure as Taylor's disciple was short lived. He returned to France to fight in the French Revolution in 1789 (he reportedly said, "I came over Diogenes. I am going back Alexander."), and was executed by guillotine in December 1793.[45]

20th century[edit]

In the early 20th century, several neopagan groups were formed, often incorporating elements of ancient Greek religion and honoring Greek gods, but with heavily syncretic elements drawn from Hermeticism and 19th century folklore studies. Most prominent of these modern traditions are Thelema and Wicca, though Feraferia (an American tradition founded in the 1970s by Fred Adams) places heavier emphasis on a more Hellenistic style of worship and on the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods.[46] One Wiccan organization in the United States, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, began to host a spring festival based on the Eleusinian Mysteries in 1985, which has continued to be held every year through the present day.[47]

During the 1970s, some began to reject the influence of Hermeticism and other heavily syncretic forms of Greek religion in preference of practices reconstructing earlier or more original forms of Hellenic worship. Early revivalists of Hellenic religion tended to be individuals working alone, and early attempts to organize adherents into larger groups failed. The first successful revival attempt was made by the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes (or YSEE). In 1993, a variety of adherents to the Hellenic religion in Greece and elsewhere came together and began the process of organization. This resulted in a "Hellenic National Assembly", initiated at a gathering in southern Olympus on the 9th of September 1995. The process culminated with the formal establishment of the YSEE as a non-profit in Greece, in June 1997.[48]

21st century and official recognition[edit]

2004 Olympics controversy[edit]

The 2004 Summer Olympics stirred up several disputes concerning Hellenic polytheistic religion.

  • Professor Giorgos Dontas, president of the Archaeological Society of Athens expressed public outrage at the destruction of ancient archaeological sites[which?] around the Parthenon and Acropolis in preparation for the Games.[49]
  • Prior to the Olympic Games, MSNBC correspondent Rehema Ellis in a story called It's Greek to Me: Group Tries to Restore Pagan Worship documented the vandalism and arson of a bookstore in Athens which sold books promoting ancient Greek religion. She also interviewed several adherents who were upset about the current state of affairs in Greece. Ellis said: "A contrast in this place where the Olympic Games were created to honour Zeus - now those praying to the ancient gods are criticized for putting too much faith in the past."
  • The Greek Society of the Friends of the Ancients objected to the commercial use of Athena and Phevos as the official mascots of the 2004 Summer Olympics held in Athens. They felt that the caricatured representations of the Greek Gods Athena and Phoebus were disrespectful and culturally insensitive.[50] In a BBC Radio interview on June 26, 2004, Dr. Pan. Marinis President of the Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum said that the mascots: "mock the spiritual values of the Hellenic Civilization by degrading these same holy personalities that were revered during the ancient Olympic Games. For these reasons we have proceeded to legal action demanding the punishment of those responsible."

Recognition and Places of worship[edit]

In May 2006 an Athens court granted official recognition to the veneration of the Ancient Greek pantheon. Soon afterwards, on 22 January 2007, the Hellenist group Ellinais held a ceremony at the historic Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens. It was the first such rite performed at the temple since the ancient Greek religion was outlawed by the Roman government in the late 4th century.[51] The ceremony involved participants dressed as ancient warriors who left their swords and spears outside the sacred site, in order to represent the laying down of arms before the Olympic games. The BBC referred to the event as a show of "intentional publicity". The event caught the attention of the Greek Orthodox Church. Reporters at the event suggested the church might step up their opposition to the legitimizing of Hellenism. Father Eustathios Kollas, who presided over a community of Greek Orthodox priests, said: "They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past."[52] Despite the 2006 court ruling, the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports continued to disallow ceremonies of any kind at archaeological sites, and some early 21st century Hellenic rituals therefore took the form of protests. In August 2008, a group of adherents, again organized by Ellinais, gathered at the Acropolis both to give libations and other offerings to the goddess Athena, and to protest the removal of architectural pieces from the temples to a new museum at the site.[53]

The first modern Hellenic temple dedicated to the Hellenic Gods was started in 1994 just outside Thessaloniki in the village of Oraiokastro and completed in 2009. Another temple, dedicated to Alexander and the Earth opened in the nearby village of Mesaia in 2019.[54][55][56]

A modern Hellenic temple in Athens is still in the planning stages, in the meantime worshippers meet at a temporary temple at the headquarters of the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes (or YSEE) at an apartment building on Aristotelous street in central Athens.[57]

In 2017, the Greek government finally recognised Hellenism as an official religion, over 1600 years after the Ancient Hellenic religion was banned by Emperor Theodosius I.[58]

Modern groups and demographics[edit]

Ritual performed by members of the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes.

Hellenism originated in and is practiced in Greece and in other countries. Leaders of the movement claimed in 2005 that there are as many as 2,000 adherents to the Hellenic tradition in Greece, with an additional 100,000 who have "some sort of interest".[59] No official estimates exist for devotees worldwide. Outside Greece, Hellenic religious organizations began to emerge around 1998, with some individuals claiming to have been engaging in some form of traditional practice since the 1970s.[60]

Priest performing ritual.

The first Greek organization to openly support the religious revival of Hellenic religion was Ύπατο Συμβούλιο των Ελλήνων Εθνικών (Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes or YSEE), established in 1997,[61] and is publicly active. YSEE is a founding member of the World Congress of Ethnic Religions (now European Congress of Ethnic Religions) and hosted the seventh annual WCER Congress in June 2004.[62] With branches also in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany, their level of real world public activity, and actual membership levels, the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes can be argued to be the defining lead organization for the public revival movement. YSEE is also a member of the European Union's action program to combat discrimination. The organization primarily refers to the religion as the "Ethnic Polytheistic" or "genuine Hellenism"[63] and its practitioners as Ethnikoi Hellenes, "Ethnic [National] Hellenes".

YSEE uses the terms "traditional", "ethnic", and "genuine" to refer to their religious practices. Hellenic polytheist author Vlassis G. Rassias has written a popular series of books on "Christian persecutions against the Hellenes," and the "Church of the Hellenes" organization goes so far as to call for the wholesale extermination of Christianity,[64] while the Athens-based group Ellinais emphasizes "world peace and the brotherhood of man."[65]

Founded in the United States in 2001, Hellenion[66] identifies its practices as "Hellenic Pagan Reconstructionism" and emphasizes historical accuracy in its mission statement.[67] The group uses the term Hellenismos (Ἑλληνισμός, [elinisˈmos]) to describe the religion. Hellenion does not provide official membership numbers to the public, but an unofficial estimate of 43 members was made for 2007 and approximately 100 members for 2017.[68] though this number can only give the roughest approximation, as Hellenion offers hardship waivers to those who cannot afford the typical membership fees.[69] In early 2010, the organization reported 1 demos (fully chartered local congregation) and 6 proto-demoi (start-up congregations not fully chartered with less than 3 members) established, which offer rituals and other events for members and frequently for the public as well.[70] Two of the six proto-demoi cannot be independently verified to exist. Hellenion offers legal clergy training,[71] basic adult religious education classes,[72] and other educational/training courses for its members.[73]

Another American group, Elaion, was founded in 2005 after members of other groups grew dissatisfied with what was, in their view, a de-emphasis on Hellenic ethics, philosophy, poetry, and art, and a re-emergence of "occult" doctrines among some practitioners. Elaion aimed to create an organization that emphasized ethics, piety, and "right-living", which they initially termed "Traditionalist Hellenismos"[74] No reported numbers for current membership levels are known to exist. Among the various modern Stoic philosophical groups, many equate Zeus with Divine Providence, or Divine Logos. Among the modern Epicurean philosophical groups, Society of Epicurus[75] accepts the ancient, naturalistic, polytheistic view of the Epicurean gods as one of three legitimate modern interpretations of Epicurean theology.

Another active organization based in Greece, the Labrys (Λαβρύς, [lavˈris]) religious community was founded in 2008. Labrys has focused primarily on the religious aspects of Hellenism or Hellenic polytheism, avoiding anti-Christian rhetoric and politics, establishing weekly public rituals[76] and engaging in other aspects of practical promotion of polytheism like theater and music.[77][78][79][80][81][82][83] Labrys has also promoted among Hellenes worldwide the need to actively practice household worship and the idea that family and community should be the starting points of religious practice.[84] The community has been organizing since 2008 the largest festival in Athens and also actively participates and supports the religious aspects of the oldest Hellenic festival in Greece, Prometheia[85] which is held every year on Mount Olympus. The Labrys religious community has published a book.[86]

In Brazil, there are some Hellenic religious groups, in different states. In addition, in Portuguese language, there is the website of RHB - Reconstrucionismo Helênico no Brasil,[87] built since 2003 by Brazilian members of Hellenion and other international groups, such as the American Neokoroi[88] and the Greek Thyrsos.[89]

See also[edit]


Related systems and religions

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  1. ^ Ancient Greek: Ἑλληνική ἐθνική θρησκεία, romanizedHellēnikḗ ethnikḗ thrēskeía, Attic–Ionic pronunciation: [helːɛːnikɛ̌ː etʰnikɛ̌ː tʰrɛːskěːa], Koine Greek pronunciation: [(h)ɛlːeniˈke ɛθniˈke θresˈki.a].
    Modern Greek: Ελληνική εθνική θρησκεία, romanizedEllinikí ethnikí thriskeía, pronounced [eliniˈci eθniˈci θrisˈci.a].
    Latin: Hellēnica gentīlis religiō, Classical Latin: [(h)ɛlˈleːnɪka ɡɛnˈtiːlɪs rɛˈlɪɡi.oː].
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Hellenic polytheist organizations[edit]

FAQs and articles[edit]

Hellenic polytheism in the news[edit]