Those of you who pay attention to my personal blog, Twitter and what-not probably already know that this last few weeks, my life has been consumed with finishing up this novel I’ve been working on — and for several months prior, I’d been wrought with a sort of spiritual turmoil due to a reconstructive surgery, wherein a grafting failed and I had to get a re-grafting nearly nine months later, just to look like a human being again. I’m not happy about the last part — but the book is generally welcome drama, and I’m very proud of the ways the Mousai have guided my word-smithery.
Then there’s the Hellenistai forum, which is kind of in a class by itself. In fact, I appointed my friend Renee (a very smart and proud self-identified recon-lite Hellenic pagan — join the forum and read her intro for details) as a temporary forum admin while I took a hiatus to crack down on the last-minute revisions to my novel. All worth it, even if I did wake up no less than three times one night last week due to nightmares that the forum was turning into a Lord of the Flies-like scenario. (First time I woke up, I’d received a frantic call from Renee to help her delete two dozen accounts registered by one girl who missed the name-change request thread and then registered two-dozen or so accounts cos she couldn’t decide which new forum name she wanted; second time, in my dream I’d received another frantic call from Renee cos her girlfriend, Gavin, had flipped her shit at somebody on the forum, prompting a mass exodus from the forum by many people, and we had to e-mail them all personally to beg them to come back. Strange times….)
But on a more serious note, if this forum has taught me nothing else, it’s taught me that… well, the Hellenic polytheist / Hellenismos community in Hellas is actually much saner than a certain other forum had led me to believe — at least if the two resident Hellenes on the forum are anything to go by. In fact, I think the Hellenic community in the $tates (and elsewhere) can learn something from this.
1) Be tolerant of other people’s practises. Seriously, this isn’t rocket surgery. There is plenty of room for argument about the modern direction revived ancient practise should take, but there really is no need to be a dick about it. If somebody is not identifying their religious practises as Ethnokos Hellenismos, Hellenismos, Hellenic reconstruction, or simply as being wholly revived ancient observance, then they’re obviously not subject to the standards implied by those who do identify their practises as such. If somebody is defining their practises as picking up from the Hellenistic period onward, then obviously it’s going to be somewhat different from somebody who prefers to pick up from the Classical period.
Sounds like just plain good sense, right? Well, it never ceases to amaze me how many Amerikans will sit and build straw-men and slippery-slopes over something that just seems simple. Fact of the matter is, those who claim there practises as A when they’re actually doing X are still pretty rare. Even if they get more populous, it’s generally easy to be able to tell who’s talking out of their arse by doing a cursory amount of research on Google Books, for starters.
Now, it’s my personal opinion that some nit-pickers actually have the common sense to see and understand this, but would rather turn their personal issues with one or two people into a veritable crusade for their own sort of One True Way-ism — which, again, ignores the fact that even in ancient Hellas, “one true way” was as foreign a concept as worshipping the Gods of the Cherokee Nation. Were there some similarities between the practises of Boeotia and those of Attica? Sure, but there were also plenty of differences that Athenians regarded as barbaric of the Boeotians, and Boeotians regarded as pretentious of Attica. There’s nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade, but make sure it’s a spade first before you take the risk of committing an intolerance.
2) Note to classical philosophy buffs: your ways are not superior. It says something when a significant portion of the Hellenic community $tateside can claim that they’ve met only one NeoPlatonist (at best) that they’ve liked. I don’t know what it is about NeoPlatonism that attracts dickweeds, but seriously, I’ve only come across one NeoPlatonist in the last five years who wasn’t a total jerk about it, and I keep forgetting that she’s a NeoPlatonist. At this point, the rest of us are all well-aware that Christianity was heavily influenced by NeoPlatonism, Orphism, etc… — if only cos you won’t shut up about it. Some of us don’t have an adversarial relationship with Christianity and simply dislike it on its own merits, and some of those merits simply happen to cross over with NeoPlatonism or whatever other school of classical philosophy that you’re being a dickweed about. Don’t be a dickweed to those who simply have their own philosophies that they’ve arrived at and are getting along with just fine — it’s rather unbecoming of one who supposedly has this super-evolved soul.
If classical philosophy works for you, excellent. Feel free to share why and how, but please leave your pretensions at the door.
3) Terminology wars are pretentious, silly, and distracting from what’s really important: our practises. This is one of those things where the line is kind of blurred between what’s shared opinion and what’s an objective fact, but I’ve noticed, as have others, that those more interested in engaging in terminology wars are those who’ve said next-to-nothing, at best (though usually they say absolutely nothing) about their home practises. If you’re more concerned about what other people are calling themselves than with cultivating practises and sharing those experiences with others for the sake of building community, then there is something wrong. If you’re doing more perpetuation of terminology war than community building, then there is something wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, the occasional argument of what constitutes This or That is all well and good, that’s how these things become defined, but when the discussion stops being constructive debate or spirited argument, and turns into something ugly that drives people away from the community, the problem isn’t that those who were driven away are “inherently un-Hellenic”, the problem is that your priorities need to get some serious overhaul.
Now, are there nut-bags in the community as it is in Hellas? Of course there are. There are nutbags everywhere. At least one person I know said she had an experience with one small group of people in YSEE who outright told her that because she’s of Syrian ancestry, that she had no right to practise the Hellenic religion. Now, I know of others who’ve had completely contrary experiences with YSEE, stating that despite having no traceable Hellenic ancestry, YSEE members have been tolerant and welcoming — so obviously that one person was unfortunate enough to run into a few nutbags.
I’m not saying that the community in Hellas is perfect, and I’m not saying that it’s inherently better than it is $tateside, at least not totally. But the few Hellenes in Hellas I’ve encountered have been sane and tolerant, within reason. I think certain factions of the Amerikan Hellenic community needs to keep that in mind — unless, of course, such people are all too happy to be seen as nutbags who care more about waging personality wars over a personal vendetta than they do about the religion.