Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 3 (archive 2011)

Interview with Lykeia, artist and poetess 

Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?

Lykeia: I am a Hellenic following Orphic tradition and a devoted follower of Apollon, as well as his sister to a different extent. I can say that things really started when I was 12 and I got my first book of Greek mythology (a gift from my teacher), but I did not begin to actively start worshiping the gods until I was 14 years old and via the public library discovered that there was modern worship of the gods in practice. Artemis was the first and foremost deity I worshiped for the larger part of my life, and while I did considerable reading of books written by contemporary pagan authors, I found myself more and more likely to read books of ancient religion, myth, and literature as I could find it. When I was in my early 20s I began to more actively recognize Apollon, initially under the epithet of Lykeios (which refers both to light and the wolf) but as time passed I discovered that more of my personal gifts and interests were more deeply connected with the domain of Apollon and experienced an increasing attraction towards that god. In my mid-twenties I expanded my worship to include the other Olympians and some other gods of Hellas which culminated into a trip to Hellas in 2008 where I had the opportunity to visit Delphi, Sounion, Mycene, Athens, and Olympia. Since then I have continued expanding my knowledge base of my religion and give active worship to the gods with my family. The gods that seems to get the most personal attention in my household seem to be Apollon, Artemis, Hera, Zeus, Poseidon and Aphrodite, though all of the Olympians are given cultus.

Skepoet: What is your academic background?

Lykeia: I hold a BA in history with a GPA of 3.56 with a minor in Literature

Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?

Lykeia: Well in pursuit of my BA degree I learned a great deal about historical research, so this taught me a lot regarding resources on how to find information that I have found invaluable for expanding my own knowledge. On the other hand, my minor in literature gives me an educational background to explore deeper into possible meanings of the literary works I read which is particularly useful for a lot of the plays. It also helped me (together with my history studies) to develop my own writing style in my sacred poetry and essays to communicate effectively what I understand.

Skepoet: The concerns for Hellenic reconstruction is often different from other reconstructionist traditions in so much that we have more complete sources that are also not influenced by Christian interpolation as strongly.   However, a lot of the mystery traditions did not leave records. Does this complicate your Orphic practices?

Lykeia: Not necessarily because I do think that a lot of valuable information can be inferred by insights that are offered. Much of the philosophies have a strong root in Orphics, and Aeschylus himself was an initiate of Eleusis (the mystery rites being founded largely by Orpheus). So I think that there is much material available if we look for it. Also the preservation of the Orphic house in Pompeii is quite interesting I think, and there is a beautiful altar from Gabii that matches astrological connections between certain gods and the symbolism of certain signs that were written off by a philosopher and astronomer from Alexandria. Forgive me that the name escapes me at this time. His writings, and the altar from Gabii illustrate the Orphic pairing of the gods that influences the progress of the soul, a progress which is represented by the sun moving through the signs, which is in represented in the journey of Dionysos through 12 levels (that seems to be reflected in a 12 stanza paean to Dionysos from Delphi…or at least it seems so to me as it illustrates the meeting between Apollon and Dionysos at Apollon’s altar on Olympos and the instruction thus delivered for Dionysos’ divine journey not unlike that which Apollon delivered to Herakles). So I do think that there are many clues to be found. The Orphic hymns themselves are valuable resources of insight, as are the orphic fragments.

I do think that there is much of value to be found if we look at it with a careful eye.

There are also people in Hellas who practice the Orphic tradition, and I had the privilege to learn from some excellent individuals there.

So for myself, I don’t see it hindering me at all, but rather offering a valuable insight onto myths and giving me a greater appreciation for the philosophies.

 Skepoet: This may be outside of your realm of knowledge, but how much do you think traditions that we do have extensive records for such as Neo-Platonists are helpful guides?

Lykeia:  Unfortunately that is outside the realm of my knowledge  I have read quite a bit of Plato but I am still working through the rather large volume of his collected dialogues, and still need to read Republic. And have a large reading list of other philosophers…I believe I plan on reading Proclus next and I have a book of Plotinus that I plan to get to eventually. So that said I am just at a very beginners level with the philosophy and don’t really have a lot of background to be able to comment on Neo-Platonists.

Skepoet: What do you see as essential reading for Hellenic pagans?

Lykeia:  I think any of the poetic literature is a great place to start. It is a great way to see how people saw the gods, usually played out through myth since a great many of the tragedies are based in myth whereas the comedies tend to go more into other areas of the socio-political arena with more “contemporary” (for the time) pieces. But even the latter has a great deal of information buried within it in regards to their contemporary worship and beliefs. In short I think it is a great way to get a more personal dialogue about the gods through the lens of the author. I am particularly fond of the work of Aeschylus and Euripedes, as well as several plays of Aristophanes. As for poetry the Orphic and Homeric Hymns and general work of Hesiod are at the top of the list, followed by Aclaeus, Pindar and  Kallimachus. Naturally this includes the epic poems of Homer and the Argonautika of Apollonios of Rhodes. Really any ancient poet brings a great wealth of information in a most beautiful form.

For history (including mythic history) I would recommend Apollodorus’ The Library, The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus, the History of Herodotus, Pausanias’ Description of Greece, Plutarch’s Lives, and Xenophon’s various works, not to mention the Geography of Strabo.

For philosophy a good place to start is with Plato and Plutarch, the latter’s writing on the delay of divine justice is fascinating, and what I have read of Proclus is rather valuable but since I haven’t gotten that far into my philosophy reading this list is much shorter.

I really don’t have any contemporary authors to add to this list since most of my reading time is taken up with the abundance of ancient text, many of these which can be found as free downloads at Googlebooks in older out of copyright additions. There is so much to read from ancient texts it seems to me like the very best place to start.

Skepoet: How do you find sacrificial rituals working within your tradition?

Lykeia: There seems to have been at some point (and perhaps still ongoing) debate about the appropriateness of sacrificial rituals. As an Orphic I do not and would not consider offering an animal sacrifice. In fact I am developing an offering blend for my own rituals based off of an offering that was used for Elean sacrifices made from wheat and honey. That said, I personally have no problem with the concept of others performing a ritual sacrifice, particularly since in most occasions (with the exception of chthonic rituals) a large portion of the sacrificed animal was consumed by the participants…so that sounds more like a barbeque done in a religious festive spirit than what I imagine is usually connotated from the word “sacrifice”.

It does seem that there are folks do an abbreviated form of this, especially since many of us in this day and age, and the advent of the refrigerated grocery stores, have the skills necessary to slaughter and butcher animals. So it is not unheard of for people to purchase meat for sacrificial ritual. . . .which always makes me think of a scene from major league that involved a bucket of KFC in place of a live chicken. It is all good.

So to make a long answer short, whereas I wouldn’t do it I have no issue with others who make that a part of their rituals and can see how it would be a nice addition to their socio-religious spirit not only in sharing this food stuff with the gods but essentially enjoying a barbeque together in community spirit.

Skepoet: Are there areas in which Reconstruction of ancient practices are difficult for you or in a modern context?

Lykeia: I  think one of the most difficult things is that in modern times most of us do not live in large communities for celebration and worship. Though the domestic worship was a very, very important part of Hellenic life, the public festivals are an element that most of us do not get the opportunity to enjoy. Since I have no fellow worshipers outside of my family my domestic worship is all that I really have, and therefore I often find myself modifying festivals that would have been historically participated in on a large scale (with processions, music etc) in a very limited fashion adapted for a single worshiper or pair of worshipers.

This includes such activities as the weaving of Athena’s veil for the Panathenaea which was done by numerous girls working cooperatively together. As such because we lack the real life social community that was historically part of Hellenic festivals, it also removes us, and most significantly the next generation of Hellenic children, such as my daughter, from having these beautiful landmarks in their development marking their passage into adulthood. Many of us come into our religion as adults, and so have more or less come to terms that there are certain things which we won’t be able to experience personally, but it is unfortunate that they are also amiss from the development of our children when many of the festivals were participated within by boys and girls, and youths and maidens.

Therefore in short it seems that we are missing the social celebration that not only brings people together in honor of the gods but is part of the spiritual development of all of us as we pass through certain periods of our lives by traditional ritualistic roles that would have been engaged in whether that be the matrons of the city tending to the city hearth for Hestia, or girls dancing as bears for Brauonia. The socio-religious portion serves in part to mark our physical development which echoes the spiritual progress of the soul from infancy to maturity and as such this festival atmospheres are social recognitions of this process.

Skepoet: Do you think the geographic distance between Hellenics is a problem for the community to overcome?

Lykeia: I don’t see it necessarily in the light of something to overcome, but rather a fact of life at this point. Where most people choose to settle rarely has anything to do with fellowship in worship, (sadly those who would like to move for being close to fellow worshipers are often in the situation of economic feasibility) but is often based on other factors, though we all hope to find this fellowship in whatever locality we are living. This tends to be easier with some religious communities than others. Ideally I think most of us would like to have a real life community as something to aspire towards and hope for, but in the end the most important is the domestic worship and we may have the good fortune to find other interested parties to worship with. One issue that keeps us small is that Hellenismos is not typically widely known of, therefore those who love the gods of Hellas are usually unaware that we exist and fall in with other religious groups. It might be easier to foster local communities if we are a bit more visible. Granted we have alot of self-published writers and even a few private publishing presses through amazon.com, not to mention an assortment of websites, but most of these resources are less likely to be found in generic searches. Not that there is anything wrong with the resources that we have, we just need to make the person effort to make ourselves more visible so folks know that hey we are here and this is a possible direction you may find fulfilling if you love the gods and culture of Hellas.

Skepoet: What do you think of the current status of Hellenismos oriented organizations? Do you belong to any?

 Lykeia: It seems to me that many of the various groups and organizations are experiencing a bit of a lull, part of this may be due to the rising popularity of social media such as Facebook, or people being more inclined to find people locally to connect with, or may be do also to economic pressures which reduces a person’s access to available internet. There may be a lot of factors contributing to a decline in online organizations. That said, because resources such as Facebook have been come more and more mainstream I think people are relying less on organizations to find peers, but are connecting with each other via these social media outlets by which you can communicate with a broad number of people effectively.

For this reason it seems that online organizations are fairly obsolete unless they can provide some kind of service behind which people can get together for the benefit of worshipers. While organizations that were net-working focused were extremely valuable in the past they seemed to have outlived that kind of usefulness and would survive better if they could focus on community projects and services.

As for groups, I am a member of several such as Neokoroi (I write for their quarterly ezine He Epistole), and Kyklos Apollon. I was a member of Hellenion but my membership has lapsed temporarily until I am in a position to be able to renew my membership.

Skepoet: Are there any trends right now you find particularly worrying in the community?

Lykeia: I wouldn’t say that there are any trends that problematic, at least not that I have seen. Perhaps the biggest thing that has been remarked upon is that a lot of new people tend to feel intimidated or unwelcome based on a kind of scholarly level that many worshipers prefer to keep to. But that seems to be more of an interpersonal problem since the problem usually comes from people who lack a bit of diplomacy in dealing with others and will challenge anything that is posted as fact but unsubstantiated. Therefore new people, who really have no in depth background other than bits and pieces of information they have picked up here or there and no idea of what is expected within the group, can potentially feel jumped upon and attacked and will judge the whole community based off a bad experience with one or two individuals.

I have noticed that there is a lot of more academic discussion than anything else which may intimidate some people or make them feel that it is an academic community rather than a worship community. I believe this is because a lot of people enjoy talking of their religion and sharing new things that they have learned, but less talk about their own rituals or what they do.

Skepoet: Anything that you would like to say in closing?

Lykeia: In closing I would just like to say that Hellenismos is a lifestyle (because it is more than just religion but an entire way of life) that is full of beauty, containing layers upon layers of meaning in the myths, and within that we can find a wonderful balance between scholarship, experience and personal spirituality. And perhaps one of its most redeeming features is that Hellenismos is not JUST a nature religion but it is a religion that is in accordance with nature and its laws while embracing the goods of civilization, as well as providing for the progress and benefit of the soul. That it is such a vibrant way of life is probably why I have been in love with the gods for 15 years now, without a day of indecision or uncertainity, and see myself having this same love grow over the following years of my life to whatever length the fates are kind enough to grant me.

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