I remember the day it happened. I was in college, first freshman year, sitting with a friend of mine in the Union. We’d been talking about some of the people I’d recently met through him, and the secret community to which they all belonged. My friend had glanced around quickly before lowering his head and his voice and saying, “There’s a lot of Pagans around here.”
I knew exactly what he meant, of course – it was like the Greek gods. I’d read all the myths I could get my hands on and even tried out some of that Norse stuff when I was a kid, but didn’t like it as much. Sure, I knew what Pagans were, but I was sure that if people were making animal sacrifices in great, stone temples I would have noticed.
Of course I was at the same time completely right and completely wrong about Paganism. To learn, I soaked up Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler and a lot of much less substantive works. My early exposure was to a variety of Wiccan practices, which strengthened my love of the Earth and desire to defend the spirits of the land. My relationship with Herne and later, the Green Man, defined how I related to the world around me, but I was never a Wiccan. I enjoy Wiccan ritual and practice, and I respect that Wicca has given momentum to all manner of Pagan revival and reconstruction movements.
When I eventually discovered Hellenic polytheism, I was intrigued but not drawn to it particularly. Learning a new language is a pretty high barrier to entry for me, and the first group I met prayed in ancient Greek. It was also a couple decades after my interest in Greek religion had peaked, so I filed it away.
Starting this summer, though, I started getting clues that it’s time to take a second look at the religion of some portion of my ancestors. Little snippets of conversation about gods I’d never heard of. Flashes of insight . . . while watching Xena. Meeting a teacher who was offering a class in Hellenismos and didn’t mind using English. Having a conversation with Margot Adler, who started me and many others on our Pagan paths, and having her tell me, “I’ve always been a Hellenistic pagan, but it just wasn’t an option back then.
So in a way I’m beginning again, but more seriously this time, because for the first time in many, many years I feel like I’m not responsible for defining who it is I’m praying to. These gods have been around for a very long time, and I want to give them the latitude to be a bit set in their ways. I’m pretty okay with it. One of the things about Wiccanism which made it hard for me to anchor myself there was the amorphous identity of God and Goddess. They could be represented by specific deities, or be referenced by the broader terms developed in the 18th century like Great Goddess and Father Sky, but if the specific face keeps changing it’s tough for me to develop a relationship.
Of course, I’m mindful that without many years of exposure to Wicca, I wouldn’t have any basis of comparison. I’m grateful that it’s the right choice for so many people, because it’s also a visible conduit that helps all manner of seekers find what they’re looking for.
Now what I’m discovering is that it’s tough not to form relationships. I had originally believed that one god alone took the initiative to wave some ambrosia under my nose, but the more I meditate on it the more I see the work of several divine hands. There are certainly at least three that come to my thoughts almost daily, and I imagine that time will only expand those relationships. Just today I did some reading about Hermes, and how he comes to fill so many roles: luck, messages, soulbearing, thievery, cleverness. I was so intrigued that I bypassed Demeter and Athena to pray to Hermes, because he’s the one that whispers the messages of the gods in our ears. So without pressure, and in a very organic way, I’m learning how to talk to each of them.
The one book I have read every night since I began this path is Devotion: Prayers to the Gods of the Greeks – it has a selection of prayers in English to each of the gods, a tremendous help for me. The one big stumbling block for me right now is mastering the pronunciations of the gods’ names; even though I will be slow to learn ancient Greek, I want to get everybody’s name right. It’s simply about respect.