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My Faith in 5 Days – Day 5: Why Faith Matters: What It’s Done for Me

Yesterday I shared a lot of detail about Hellenism, and hopefully shed a bit of light on a faith that is starting to see resurgence nowadays. Some groups have formed to worship, while others, like myself, are solitary. In any case, faith has given me back control of a life I felt encumbered and overwhelmed by.

Faith and the concept of religion confused me for most of my young life. I watched others who proclaimed to be faithful commit crime against their commandments, and clearly ignore the aspects of faith that they disagreed with or didn’t want to follow. I watched self-identified Christians skip church because of football games, saw self-identified Jews eat things banned by their book, and observed Muslims committing murder in the form of terrorism in the name of Allah. I knew that they weren’t all perpetrators, but as a rule-follower and general fussy-pants, it bothered me. I spent years not self-identifying because I didn’t want to fly in the face of their edicts. I studied faith like a research scientist, knowing I belonged to one, but unsure of which, and unwilling to give up just because I insisted on following the rules.

I read over my maxims at least three times a week. They’re in frames on the wall above my altar, and anytime I glance left from my seat on the couch, they’re there. Two, three, sometimes four words to live by, quick reminders of where to place my efforts, and how to contribute to the world instead of drawing from it. Faith and prayer isn’t a source of power or self-assurance to me. It’s a way to detach, to find peace in the maelstrom around me, and a way to guide my principles.

I don’t practice to gloat about it, or to have some interesting fact to toss out at parties. In fact, many people don’t know what my faith involves unless they ask. I don’t proclaim it, don’t wear a pentacle daily, and am not a part of a coven. In fact, when I tell people I’m a witch (a hedge witch, to be precise) they look at me like I’m about to jump on a broom and turn them into a frog. A hedge witch is simply a spiritual woman who practices a faith based in nature, and who aligns and worships a hearth, or hedge as it was once known, i.e. their kitchen and home space. Historically, hedge witches were medicine women, homeopathic healers, and the bakers of their towns. Being a witch, or knowing one, wasn’t a dirty secret or a scary concept. Those images were created by fearful and exclusionary faiths determined to change the minds of the masses.

It took a long time to find enough confidence to theoretically alienate myself from my Catholic family by identifying as a witch. Even now, many people around me just accept that I’m “different” without understanding or seeing the difference this faith has made in my outlook and life choices. I used to be sardonic, crass, spiteful, and even petty. I’d talk back, believe my opinion to be the only important one, and be so depressed because no one reached out to me. No one wanted to, because, if you understand or appreciate karma even a little, you’d understand what a waste of effort that would be. Only when I realigned did my outlook and attitude change. Now I seek the good instead of spreading the bad, and it’s made life and relationships much easier to put into perspective.

Faith should contribute, not restrain. It should teach, not scare or degrade. God/s, no matter which one/s, should preach patience, virtue, dignity and the value of life. Faith seeks to explain, to help its believers to cope, not to judge those who don’t follow or are outside their faith. Spreading good is the point.

So spread some good. Have faith in something, even if it’s just in yourself or others. It all matters.

My Faith in 5 Days -Day 4: How I Worship: Hellenic Traditions

Yesterday I talked about my sovereign and how I chose my path. Today, I’ll do my best to explain that path, as it’s an old and somewhat complicated one.

All faiths incorporate some set of behaviors it requires its followers to adhere to. For Christianity, the 10 Commandments would be an example. In the Quran, there are also rules for how to govern actions, make decisions and dress, in order to both show reverence to their deity and to be a model example of their faith. Hellenism is no different.

In ancient Greece, an oracle in the Temple of Delphi, by the name of Pythia, served as the temple’s priestess. The first Pythia was established in the 8th century B.C. and prophesies given by this figure, who came to be known as an oracle because of their accuracy, were said to come from the gods themselves, particularly Apollo. She was considered the most powerful, authoritative and prestigious woman in the classical world. The oracle is one of the most well-documented religious institutions of the classical Greeks. And this oracle is said to have provided the 147 Delphic Maxims that those of the Hellenic faith are to follow.

These 147 aphorisms (or general truths or principles) are inscribed at the Temple of Delphi, placed there by a Pythia sharing Apollo’s wisdom, or potentially the Seven Sages of Greece between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., depending on who you ask. In either case, these aphorisms, including the most famous one “Know Thyself,” have endured through the millennia and are still used as a yardstick for modern Hellenism. As there are way too many to post here, you can view the 147 Delphic Maxims online with a quick search. I suggest doing this, as they include gems like, “find fault with no one,” “be accommodating in everything,” and “work for what you can own.”

So, I know what you’re probably thinking… “Really? 147 rules for one faith?” Yes, it’s a lot, but they’re easier than you think. First, don’t think of them as rules. They’re more like ‘suggestions.’ They’re there to guide, to motivate and to help the worshipper recognize where to place attention or blame. Second, there are negative maxims like “shun murder” and “do not be discontented by life,” which I find refreshing. It’s okay to hate things as much as it’s okay to love other things. Without hatred, love would be a lost concept, so it makes sense to have some prohibitions among the maxims. Lastly, these maxims were written in order to give ancient man a sense of duty, and were inscribed after being passed down verbally to the illiterate masses. Because of this, a few maxims are repetitive and redundant. Reinforcing those maxims helped non-readers retain the important stuff among the vast amount of teaching.

Some Hellenic believers also go on pilgrimages to Greece as part of their worship. Others, like myself, are more solitary, and instead offer gifts in the form of votive offerings on the Hellenic holidays that celebrate Poseidon. In truth, Poseidon only has one holiday a year, Poseidea, which is in winter, but I also celebrate the Hellenic New Year, which is in mid-summer. That June holiday is dedicated to the hearth, and because of my background in cooking and kitchen business, I think it’s an important one to celebrate. On both holidays, I try to get to some body of water (ocean, lake, pond, etc.) and offer traditional Greek shows of wealth, like foods, precious metals and oils. I say a few prayers, thank them all (and especially Poseidon) for their graciousness, and leave the biodegradable items behind. In the past, certain sects of religion offered animal sacrifice; however, modern followers, or reconstructionists, like myself don’t find this practice humane or necessary so we offer other items that don’t involve bloodshed.

I’ve adopted an alternate religion, one that Americans don’t typically recognize on their calendars. I don’t, therefore, celebrate the religious holidays that have become American holidays in the past few centuries, like Christmas and Easter. My family does, as they still identify as Christian, so I participate only as a gift-giver and celebrant. I can bake a Yule Log [which is a symbol of Polytheistic faith by the way], enjoy their company, and still celebrate my own holiday when it rolls around. Unlike many modern American holidays, Hellenic holidays are lunar, meaning they follow the movement of the moon to dictate what day they fall on, rather than the Gregorian calendar. For example, Christmas is always December 25th, but Poseidea, because it’s marked by the first new moon after the winter solstice, can fall any time between mid-December and mid-January. My husband, because he’s wonderful, holds onto my holiday gifts until Poseidea rolls around, which can sometimes take weeks after the Christmas holiday has passed. We’re the only ones on the beach when it’s blustery and cold, but it’s still beautiful.

I hope this answered some of your questions. As with any religion, there are gray areas and areas for debate. Consider replying or emailing jillmariedenton@mail.com with your questions.

My Faith in 5 Days – Day 3: Footsteps of My Faith

Yesterday I described mono- vs. polytheistic faiths, and self-identified as a Hellene. Hellene, or Hellenic, refers to the people of Greece, and the Hellenic faith refers to the belief in the ancient gods of Mt. Olympus/Ancient Greece.

“Wait, wait, I thought you said you were Italian and Spanish. How are you Greek?” Ah, my families immigrated from Italy and Spain, yes, but their roots came from elsewhere. My father’s family settled in Alicante, Spain after sailing west from the Greek Isles. When this happened exactly, I’m not sure, but many people in the ancient Mediterranean sailed from coast to coast, immigrating as war, famine or discontent spurred them on. That area of the world has been a melting pot of faiths and cultures long before modern record-keeping, and my father’s family shifted to the eastern coast of Spain and settled there for a few centuries before leaving to find the American dream in the early 1900s.

Many of us can trace our origins to the Mediterranean area, even as far back as Pangaea (this word is Greek in origin, in fact). My family was no different, and my predilection for Hellenic faith came over on the boat with my ancient ancestors. Faith isn’t always acquired by “nurture;” sometimes it’s “nature” and this was the case with mine. I was polytheistic by birth, and it just took years for me to figure it out, to clear away the teachings of Catholicism and to push back the fear of not following it and of the damnation thereafter. Eventually, I was able to open myself to the voice inside, and faith became clear after that.

Hellenistic faith began in 300 B.C. or so, and predates the Roman Empire and the spread of monotheistic faiths in Europe. Twelve Olympic deities, or gods said to reside on Mt. Olympus as part of the Greek Pantheon. Those twelve gods were worshipped with statue and symbol, and had structures and temples dedicated to them, many of which still stand today. Those who practice modern Hellenism, or Hellenismos, can choose to worship one god above others, identifying them as a patron or sovereign. Many feel that they were personally summoned to the faith by this god. While that god may be their sovereign, they continue to worship the other eleven gods and follow the Delphic Maxims. More on that tomorrow.

I was always a water baby, at home with the ocean breeze on my cheeks, and could always rely on the surf to calm me. I was always drawn to horses, also, though not to ride or train them. And in 2008, I finally was able to discern and single out my patron god one night when my world seemed to collapse around me. I was in a dark place, unsure if any single movement I made was the right one. The people around me had set me aside and I felt alone. I’d been reading religious tomes trying to find faith I could lean on, but was still dissociated. Lying on the floor, meditating to calm my racing heart, I could see myself on the edge of a cliff overlooking a tumultuous sea. When my body fell forward, I actually accepted impending death, but just as I imagined reaching out to the jagged rocks, I felt strong arms catch me, lift me back to the cliff and set me on my feet. Turning back, I faced a middle-aged man, bearded gray and with wise aquamarine eyes, standing in the water but towering over the cliff. He offered me peace and a chance to follow him to find calmer seas without a single word.  I didn’t need a second to think it over, and when I sat up, climbed onto my bed and thought back, my fate was sealed.

My sovereign’s monument stands at Sounion, on the southern-most point of the Attica region of Greece, where his dedicated followers and acolytes studied millennia before I was born. Now I seek to visit and to worship there myself someday. Poseidon claimed my soul, pointed me in the right direction almost a decade ago, after years of wandering and doubting. Now it seems so natural, it’s hard to remember the years I spent without him.

And I follow the Delphic Maxims and offer votives in thanks. More on that tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

My Faith in 5 Days – Day 2: Polythe- and Me: A Brief History

Yesterday I told you about how I began life as a Catholic. Catholicism, or Christianity, is a monotheistic faith. Mono means one, so one god exists in their eyes; one sovereign responsible for everything around and beyond us. Judaism is also monotheistic, though it’s been around about fifteen-hundred years longer than Christianity. Islam has been around for about fourteen-hundred years, and is the third of the major monotheistic faith systems.

On the other side of this coin is polytheism, or the concept of multiple gods, each responsible for delegated responsibilities of creation. These faiths include Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Neo-Paganism. Polytheism was a very common trend in religion prior to more modern interpretations like the monotheistic faiths I mentioned earlier. In ancient times, man used gods to explain natural phenomenon, and identified those figures, giving them human characteristics and images in order to worship or abhor them.

Quick side note, I will never refer to any polytheistic person as a “pagan.” This word is Latin in origin, and simply means “villager” or “rural person” in a rustic sense. As Christianity spread, the word was used to identify those who were outside the faith, those who they considered heathens (that word was used, too). No one self-identified as a pagan until the 20th century, though, not until Neo-Paganism grew as a religious movement. The reason I don’t refer to a polytheist or non-Christian as a pagan is not because of any dislike or deep-seeded issue. It’s simply because there are monotheist pagans, and so the term just means “yokel” in my eyes.

Okay, back on target. The premise of faith on a religious level means suspension of disbelief on some level. In order to believe that your god (or gods) created and now controls the world around you means you proportionally disagree with science’s explanation of existence. This causes a great debate between the faithful and the scientific, one I tend to avoid at all costs. I understand and appreciate the scientific explanations man has been able to uncover in the past few millennia. What once was considered the act of a god is now the work of cell structure, quarks and weather fluctuations, written about in medical journals or on academic websites. Science has made amazing progress. It’s something that my pedestrian mind can’t comprehend on its best day. I believe in my god, whether others question my sanity or not, and I believe that my patron listens to, responds to, and respects my duty, in spite of how others feel about my actions.

I hope I was able to shed some light on this for you. Tomorrow, I’ll go into exactly how I worship and how my faith, the Hellenic form of polytheism, works.

My Faith in 5 Days – Day 1: How I Got Here

Close your eyes and imagine the concept of faith. Do you see a statue of some gilded figure? Maybe it’s a book you see, or a building you correlate with prayer. It’s possible that the word faith doesn’t bring any religious image to mind, or that, when you think of faith, you imagine people around you, the people you believe in. Faith comes in many forms and fashions, whether religious or not, and I get quite a few questions about mine. I’m hoping that, by the end of the week, I’ll have answered most of them.

This past winter, as a holiday gift, my husband bought me an altar. Up until then, I’d simply kept my religious paraphernalia in a sealed box I’d consecrated. Now it all sits out on display in my living room, facing northeast, as it should. It attracts attention, both curious and suspicious, when new souls wander into our home, but I do my best to answer their concerns and to strive to be a living example of my faith’s benefits.

I was born and raised Roman Catholic by a partially Italian and partially Spanish family. Both sides were churchgoers, both sides brought into the faith by their relatives before, and I spent many a Sunday morning huddled in a pew, flipping through hymnals or looking for something interesting to play with in my mom’s purse while she quietly hushed my siblings and me. I learned to revere the statues around me, the books the parishioners prayed over, and to acclimate to the community of the faithful. I must say, there was something comforting about being in that room with those familiar strangers every week. A group of people coming together for a shared purpose is beautiful, whether religious or not, but that was the only part I seemed to enjoy. The concept of Christ ending his life for me, and the giant cross that hung over the marble altar in our church, adorned with his suffering mannequin, dripping blood and fretful tears, brought about a guilt and an anxiety in me that I couldn’t then describe.

When my parents divorced in my late single-digit years, church stopped happening. The comfort I’d found in being part of something larger than myself ended abruptly. I was still in Catholic school, though, so I heard all about how divorce wasn’t okay in the church and was questioned about where I was on Sundays as they passed into Mondays. Around that same time, I experienced a trauma in my family, one that changed every heartbeat after it, and faith seemed like a lie for a long while after that. In fact, I was lost in my own head for about five years after that dim December evening, and by the time I emerged and found consciousness again, any faith I’d had in the Catholic religion had vanished into the ether.

Nowadays, I follow an ancient polytheistic tradition (discussed on Day 2), laden with quite a few maxims to follow (discussed on Day 3), and founded on man worshipping the bounty around him and mirroring the grace of the deity on a daily basis. I’m not alone in my pursuit of ancient faiths, either, and many misnomers will be addressed later this week. It may not be for everyone, but in an effort to show you what I’ve gained and to clarify for those still a little put-off by my altar, I’ll detail my journey over the next week.

Consider the courage it takes for someone to admit faith, especially in a religious cause, to an unforgiving and science-based world at large. That’s your homework assignment tonight.

Coming up – My Faith in 5 Days

Hi all,

Next week, I’ll be rolling out a new, week-long set of articles on my faith. Without giving too much away, it’ll give me the opportunity to explain something that quite a few people question, and hopefully inform you of a faith that, perhaps, you thought was long gone.

In anticipation, I’m preparing for questions and concerns. It’s been years since I adopted faith as a daily routine, and something I feel strongly about, though it’s not obvious in my actions or lifestyle. I certainly hope you share your thoughts when the time comes. I don’t fear the judgment, don’t take comments on it personally.

See you all Monday!