One of the books I’m reading as I learn about Hellenismos is Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored by Sara Kate Istra Winter. Early on in her discussion of modern Hellenism, Winter notes that a minority of Hellenic groups feel that the religion should be reserved for those of Greek blood. Okay, I’m covered; one of my grandparents was born in Greece. However, it’s a story I’ve heard before and I don’t personally support it, even though I probably would make the cut.
In the early days of my Pagan seeking I was interested in Native American spirituality, particularly because I feel a strong tie to the eagle, and in the USA the eagle is associated with three things: patriotism, motorcycles, and Native American cultures. (I know that this is not very precise, but it’s exactly what I perceived at the time.) Since my Wiccan teacher didn’t have a strong shamanic background and my shamanic teacher came from a Norse tradition, I turned to a friend of theirs for advice. I knew that this man was a member of a tribe in Canada, and I told him that I was interested in learning more about the ways of his people.
He was gentle in his rebuke, but nevertheless he told me, “you should follow the traditions of your people, and leave ours to us.”
The next day I attended the handfasting of my teachers, and this particular Native American presided as high priest in the Wiccan ceremony, since he’d been practicing that faith for many years and was much respected. Typical for my thought patterns, the irony of this didn’t dawn on me for some years – by his reasoning, Wiccanism should only be practiced by the British.
|Modern worshipers at a Hellenic temple|
I can understand where the rationale comes from – in bygone days religion was taught by one generation to the next, and that means it’s a family affair. However, for good or ill we’ve mucked things up with our moving about and mixing up the genes, and also by taking up lifestyles that discourage an interest in the gods. Our souls are much less likely to be born into a family that follows the faith that we belong in than they were centuries ago. If there is to be a test to determine worthiness to worship in a particular fashion, I submit that it should be divine rather than scientific – let the gods choose their own, in their own way. DNA analysis is not the way to discover one’s true calling.
Of course, this mindset is nothing new, as Winter points out in Kharis. Isocrates said, some 2400 years ago, “The name Greek is no longer the mark of a race, but of an outlook, and is accorded to those who share our culture rather than our blood. (p 32)”