Note: This article was originally posted here on The Cauldron's message board where is sparked the "reformed recon" sigs.
Why Reconstructionist Religion Does Not Always Work
I'm going to say something that is going to upset a number of people, but after much thought, I've come to the conclusion that Reconstructionism can be a dead end for certain types of religion: specifically more highly organized state religions — like the religion of ancient Greece.
The main reason should be obvious. The highly organized state religions of ancient civilizations cannot really be recreated without large numbers of people in one location with a lot of money to spend building temples, supporting the priests of the Gods who maintain those temples, and recreating the often lavish, state-supported festivals of those religions.
There is also the problem of context. In ancient Greek religion, each city-state had somewhat different important deities and festivals tailored to the history (both mythological and real) of their city. Detailed records only survived for Athens so most Hellenic recons focus on Athens for their religious calendar and festivals — even though they do not live there and some of the festivals held in Athens really only make sense if you live in ancient Athens.
A third problem is difference in culture between the classical era and the twenty-first century. It's not just obvious things like the fact that men and women are equal today while women were definitely second class citizens in most of ancient Greece, it's seeming minor things like not having anyone home for many hours during the day to safely keep a home fire burning or the rigid work schedule of work weeks and weekends that makes holding a large number of religious festivals during the work week almost impossible for most people.
For years I've watched recon-oriented Hellenic groups try to do the nearly impossible: recreate ancient Hellenic religious practices with a tiny membership scattered across the world. Why do these groups try for the near impossible? I honestly do not know, but I think it is because to do otherwise isn't "recon enough." Doing less would be slipping toward Hellenic-favored Neo-Wicca or something else obviously not Recon.
Therefore, from what I've seen, you end up with a large number of people interested in Hellenic Paganism and in worshipping the Gods of Ancient Greece joining one of the various Hellenic Recon groups. Most members drift away after a year or two because these organizations generally offer only a place to talk and the hope of some type of regular (and practical) religious observances sometime in the future.
Does it have to be this way? If one is trying to recreate the religion of classical Athens, I suspect it does for all the reasons listed in the first few paragraphs of this editorial. But what if one were to drop this somewhat unrealistic goal and try to create a Hellenic religion for the modern world? I'm talking about a middle road between trying to reconstruct an ancient religion and grafting the Hellenic Gods on to some generic neo-Pagan ritual. There is a lot of area between those two extremes, after all.
Reformed Hellenism — Off the Top of My Head
I started thinking about this idea yesterday and I have already thought of a way to start a practical Hellenic religion that would work without the need for large groups or lots of money for festivals, that would work without requiring its members to become scholars of Classical Greek Religion to do anything, and yet try to remain true to the spirit of Ancient Greek religious belief and practice. If I can come up with an outline of something minimal, but workable in 24 hours, I suspect that with a bit of effort some type of "Reformed Modern Hellenic Paganism" in the middle ground between strict reconstructionism and generic neo-Paganism is quite possible.
Here's the basic outline:
Major Festivals (One a month, normally on a Sunday)
There are 12 months in a modern year and 12 Olympic deities, so have one festival a month honoring each of the Twelve. These festivals would start simple, but could be added to as the religion grew. They would be feasts (very true to ancient Greek practice) with some type of sacrifice to the deity being honored and the reading of some of the myths about the deity and/or the hymns to the deity. Perhaps part of the day could be dedicated to activities in the deities areas of interest as well. These festivals could be done by a family or a small local group (if there are enough Hellenic Pagans in the area). No need for lots of people and lots of money.
Minor Festivals (3 or 4 a month, the Sundays not a Major Festival)
1) Minor feast with sacrifice/libation to deities important to family/group
2) Study of Hellenic myths and/or philosophy.
2) Some type of home fire to Hestia (perhaps real while someone is home and symbolic when no one is home?)
3) Libations to a different deity each day.
4) Divination when needed
I agree that this is simple, but I think it is better to start with something simple that can be done by just about anyone truly interested in worshipping the Greek Gods than something so complex that it scares people way. After all, as time goes on, one can always add to a simple start.
Is this one "one true way" to do a modern Hellenic religion? Of course not. The fact that it is just a very basic outline I thought up in 24 hours should make this obvious. But it is a starting point. A starting point that is actually doable instead of a wish and a hope for "someday" (when there are large numbers of members of our religion in every city so we can recreate Athenian festivals without looking silly).
1) I realize that the lists of the twelve Olympians vary. The exact deities and which month their major festival would be is something that would have to be decided.
2) Sunday was picked for festivals because it is one of the two weekend days that most people are likely to have off from work and because it seemed more appropriate to honor the Gods on the first day of the week (Sunday) than on the last day of the week (Saturday).