You know, in spite of how much people in the HR community love to cite Emperor Julian as the earliest source for the word “Hellenismos”, I’ve never once seen anyone cite where in Julian’s surviving writings this word comes from.
That’s right: Eight years in and active in the Hellenic Polytheism community, I have never once seen anyone definitively or even vaguely describe where Julian first used and / or defined “Hellenismos” —which seems pretty damned odd for a bunch of people who claim to love going back to the actual ancient source material. Could I go to Julian myself? Yeah, maybe, but I’m having enough of a time reconstructing pre-Epicuran Hedonism and Empedoclean Pluralism, and frankly, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other reason besides possibly sourcing the word “Hellenismos” that I might have to read Julian for the first time since high school. Now maybe if I had a source on this from someone, I’d feel up to fact-checking, but here’s the thing: Nobody does.
It’s quite possible that I just missed it, or wasn’t paying attention that day, but I still find it pretty remarkable that, pushing into a decade in the community, I’ve never once seen anyone state anything more about the etymology of “Hellenismos” than a simple “the word is credited to Emperor Julian” or similar. That’s very strange, and it’s something that actually occurred to me maybe a year ago.
Something else that recently occurred to me is that I guess at some point, people decided that my kind of recon was now going to be called “revivalists”? Thanks for telling the nutters that they win! He said, voice dripping in sarcasm. You know, thanks for that. You want to let the reenactors have “Hellenic polytheism”, too? Nearly six years and change since Tim “Annoying Dipshit” Alexander and his cadre of mini-dipshits, and NOTHING HAS CHANGED. I’ve been a recon since long before he showed up and, practically overnight, published his first two books, and then spent nearly two years working to undo the way people had been talking about themselves and the community since 1997 — do the maths, that means “reconstructionist religion” had been broadly defined for about TEN YEARS, then *one* sanctimonious horsefuck shows up, and a few months later, I was already finding myself in conversations with people who’d been in the community about as long as me (so about two years, at that point), and were suddenly saying things like “I’m not going to call myself a recon, anymore. Tim Alexander and his ilk have ruined the word.”
While I’m all for words meaning things, broad definitions are completely valid, too. Reconstruction, definition 4, “something re-created: something that has been re-created from the evidence available” — the implication is that parts are going to be missing, or never known. And since this is a religion, practiced lovingly by devotees and and those who just faithfully believe that the Theoi are there, this reconstruction is more Renn Faire than SCA — or rather, think of it as reconstructing a n older house after a fire (an analogy that has seriously been used by the community for decades now): You may have to use a different kind of wood, you can’t do the wiring just like it was when it was originally built (especially if the house pre-dates 1990), cos the electrical code had been updated, and the plumbing may need to be updated, too. If the house predates 1980, you won’t be able to find lead-based paint or asbestos, anymore, and chances are good that you’ll agree that’s a good thing. Likewise, you don’t cook over a fireplace, and even the most “hardline recons” are going to agree that adaptations have to be made to practice Hellenismos in this day and age, and if they don’t, they’re either delusional or liars. Since practices have to be adapted to modern life for basics like fires and animal sacrifices, and I doubt even *most* “hardline recons” are offering retsina rather than marvodafni, the only argument I can think of for saying reconstructionists can’t support same-sex marriage within Hellenismos, for example, or Hellenic folk magic (or reconstructed Hellenic witchcraft –yes, I’m even familiar with a Greek-language Yahoo group for those reconstructing ancient Hellenic witchcraft) are people who simply haven’t read enough.
Additionally, the notion that only certain kinds of recons get to call themselves recons, in practice, tends to imply that only a certain brand of Neoplatonist following the Attic festival calendar is a recon, and frankly, that’s such a huge load that I can’t imagine even where to begin to dissect it.
Which brings me to the notion of how “Hellenismos” is supposed to be defined. The definition often attributed to Julian is “the Hellenic way”, and that’s certainly a fair definition, as the “-ismos” suffix is typically translated as an Hellenic equivalent of “-ism” (makes sense), meaning “system or practice”. That said, in the modern Hellenic language, the word “Hellenismos” is so broadly applied as to include the Orthodox church. Obviously this is something that the crazy people aiming to very narrowly define both Hellenismos and Hellenic reconstruction tend to ignore — curiously, while often simultaneously including an almost fetishistic misrepresentation of YSEE (YSEE are not a reconstruction group, representatives of YSEE in the Hellenic_Recons Yahoo group describe their practise as, “NOT A RECONSTRUCTION, BUT AS IT CAME TO US FROM THE 15th TO THE 20th CENTURY, THROUGH THE “STRATIOTI” TRADITION” — yes, in Caps Lock) and / or a borderline Atheistic revamping of the religion passed down from the same school of Western Classical Studies as Edith Hamilton, and not to mention a complete chauvinism of Platonism and Attic practise.
So what does it mean to practise “the Hellenic way”? Well, look to the reconstructed ritual script, look to the culture, and look to Hellenic philosophers. Adapt where needed. I can guarantee you, there are people in the Orthodox church who support same sex marriage rights, or support a woman’s right to abortion — you can be a progressive and practise Hellenic RECONSTRUCTION (if you call yourself a “revivalist” cos you’re progressive, be my guest, but I was calling myself a recon long before you were even in this religion, and I will *not* let the idiots rape my religious identity). Pick a region of ancient Hellas, or practise Panhellenism. I’m not going to lie, syncretism is probably always going to be a touchy subject for a lot of people, as is dual trad, but the common Hellenic syncretic practises are historically justified. No, you don’t have to be a Platonist. No, you don’t have to put a stick up your arse.
…and that’s what Hellenismos means to me. I hope I get an A+.