Friday, August 29, 2014

Pandora's Kharis raised $100,- for The Trevor Project

Pandora's Kharis is proud to announce that our monthly fundraising has raised $100,- for The Trevor Project, America's leading organization in providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24. The Trevor Project is determined to end suicide among LGBTQ youth by providing life-saving and life-affirming resources including our nationwide, 24/7 crisis intervention lifeline, digital community and advocacy/educational programs that create a safe, supportive and positive environment for everyone, and we can help them do that. Please read below a letter of thanks by The Trevor Project's CEO and pitch your cause for next month on the Pandora's Kharis Facebook page.

Dear Pandora's Kharis:

On behalf of the nearly 100,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth served by The Trevor Project each year, we are deeply grateful for your financial contribution.

Your gift of $100.00 supports our life saving and life affirming for LGBTQ youth. Your support not only enables us to continue the important work of our 24/7 crisis and suicide prevention Lifeline, but also enables us to expand our community and school educational initiatives and operate our online LGBTQ social network, TrevorSpace.


Abbe Land
Executive Director & CEO

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why polytheism matters in reconstructionism

I am currently reading 'Coping With the Gods - Religions in the Graeco-Roman World' by Henk Versnel. It's a book published in 2012 which 'investigates how ancient Greeks could validate the complementarity of dissonant, if not contradictory, representations in e.g. polytheism, theodicy, divine omnipotence and ruler cult'. It's fascinating reading, and I wanted to share with you a bit from the start of the book, about polytheism and the foundation of its divine framework.

Versnel starts his book by investigating polytheism, putting forth two seemingly opposite viewpoints as represented by Walter Burkert and Jean-Pierre Vernant, both acclaimed scholars of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. All students of Greek religion, he says, stand in debt of at least one of these two protagonists, many of both. This is true, I think. Burkert was included in the first few books I ever read on the subject, and Vernant stands proudly on my bookshelf to this day.

These two scholars have differing views on a very important topic: is a pantheon of Gods founded in chaos or--what Versnel calls--kosmos, and can you define a God from a pantheon separately from it? Burkert states that:

"[A] polytheistic world of gods is nevertheless potentially chaotic, and not only for the outsider. The distinctive personality of a god is constituted and mediated by at least four different factors: the established local cult with its ritual programme and unique atmosphere, the divine name, the myths told about the named being, and the iconography, especially the cult image. All the same, this complex is easily dissolved, and this makes it quite impossible to write the history of any single god."

Vernant views a God quite differently:

"A god is a power that represents a type of action, a kind of force. Within the framework of a pantheon, each of these powers is defined not in itself as an isolated object but by virtue of its relative position in the aggregate of forces, by the structure of relations that oppose and unite it to the other powers that constitute the divine universe. The law of this society of the beyond is the strict demarcation of the forces and their hierarchical counterbalancing. This excludes the categories of omnipotence, omniscience and of infinite power.

Versnel concludes from this the following:

"Significantly, the only conviction which the two scholars do share, namely the idea that it is impossible to adequately define one single god in isolation from others, precisely reveals the gulf by which they are separated. Vernant explains this aporia by his conviction that no god exists (hence: can be described) in isolation from other gods. Together the gods construct, as we have seen, “the polytheistic system as a rigorously logical ensemble, designed for the purpose of classifying divine capacities and powers.” Burkert, in his definition, avoids these terms, and gives a radically different reason for his inability of fully describing one god in isolation: each god as an individual is defined by a number of characteristics, dependent on variations in time and place. These characteristics, however, are variables associated in untransparent and seemingly arbitrary shifts with a great number of other gods. While for Vernant the coexistence and relationships of gods are the conditio sine qua non for an individuation of each god, for Burkert the very same pluralist variety of gods and their transformations constitute the germs of the potentially chaotic nature of Greek polytheism."

So, how do you define a God if you try to define Them without the boundaries placed upon Them by Their pantheon? How does a single God influence the foundation of the entire pantheon? And, if it is impossible to define a single God without referring to their pantheon, does that lessen Their power? Burkert finds that the domains of Gods bleed together in such a way that the boundaries between the Gods shift, lessening their individuality and--in a way--their power. Because these domains overlap so much--many Gods boast healing powers, many Gods watch over sailors, many Gods guard the home, etc.--a single God needs the other Gods to fully blossom and define themself. Because these domains shift and bleed so much, an entire pantheon is at risk of falling into chaos.

Vernant views this differently, saying that the way the domains of the Gods bleed and mix is exactly what binds the Gods together into a whole. It's not chaos but kosmos: a universe created by interlinkage in which all the Gods rely on each other to form a cohesive whole. As Versnel says, when we ask whether the Greek pantheon was chaos or kosmos, this does not mean that the two terms should be necessarily conceived in Vernantian or Burkertian terms. What it means is that it is important to keep these two viewpoints in mind when studying the ancient Hellenic religion and the people who practiced it. These are two ways of looking at something that simply was--without explanation or guide. There is no indication that the ancient Hellenes thought of their belief system as either chaotic or kosmologic. It's modern reasoning applied to ancient practices--but as such, it does matter.

To get back to those questions posed two paragraphs up, I don't think you can adequately define a God without referring to their pantheon. I can tell you that Athena is perceived as female, that she represents thought before action, that she is a virgin Goddess, and that she is associated with Athens. What I can't tell you is why. Without being allowed to refer to the framework in which She resides, I cannot explain to you who her mother and father are, and why that matters to her dominion over intelligent thought. Without referring to Hēphaistos, I cannot tell you how I know she is one of the virgin Goddesses. Without mentioning Poseidon, I can't tell you why She is associated with Athens. Her relationship to people, Gods, and places in mythology--as well as (local) cult worship--are what makes Athena the Goddess that She is. So if I were to take her outside of this framework, I feel She would, indeed, lose much of her power. In this way, a single God defines an entire pantheon, because everything is connected. Take one God out of it, and--as Burkert says--the entire pantheon would fall to chaos. As Vernant illustrates, though, you simply can't take a single God out of the pantheon, and as such, these is no chaos--just kosmos.

Polytheism is the belief in many Gods. Those who reconstruct the religious views of an ancient culture often do so with a single pantheon in mind--a single framework in which they operate and worship. This is why Reconstructionist need to worship the pantheon as a whole: you simply can't worship one God, or three, or eight: all Gods need every other single God in the pantheon to fully blossom and come into Their power. Burkert and Vernant are right in saying that these forces work together, and while Burkert's dissonant may not hold true in an established pantheon, it most certainly can in household worship. I'll end this post with a quote by Versnel, who states the following about the ancient Hellenes, and which is good advice for every modern practicioner of Hellenismos:

"Greeks (that is: some Greeks) pushed frontiers in their quest for consistency, coherence, unity, rationality, order. The Greeks never lost an awareness of living in a dissonant, pluralistic, diverse reality. One specific feature of Greek culture, as opposed to our modern culture, is that it displays an unmatched capacity to unashamedly juxtapose the two, tolerating glaring contradictions and flashing alternations."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Metageitnion updates

A while ago, I decided that on the day of the Hene kai Nea, I'd post a monthly update about things that happened on the blog. It's a little late this month, and I think I skipped one, but here we are again.

Changes to the blog:
Anything else?
Pandora's Kharis, a charity circle for and by Hellenistic Polytheists, was launched a few months ago and is currently collecting for The Trevor Project. If you want to donate, you have until tomorrow! Join us on Facebook if you would like to pitch a cause for next month!

Are you looking for an online shop to buy incenses and other Hellenistic basics from? Try The Hellenic Handmaid on Etsy.

That is it for the last month's updates, as far as I can remember. Have a blessed Deipnon!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Despotiko excavation reveals more of the sanctuary of Apollon

The Archaeology News Network reports that excavations on the uninhabited island Despotiko, west of Antiparos, have yielded very important finds that are informative as to the topography, the extent and spatial organization of the sanctuary of Apollon at the area of Mandra.

Despotiko excavation reveals majestic shrine
Clay antefixes from the roof of an Archaic building [Credit: TOC]

There are significant indications that in prehistoric and ancient times the island--due to its central position among the Cyclades and the large Despotiko Bay--played an important role in maritime communication routes. The strait separating Despotiko from Antiparos only has a minimum depth of about one meter, with the intervening islet of Koimitiri. This extreme shallowness of the strait suggests the possibility of a link between Antiparos and Despotiko in former times.

Archaeologist Giorgos Kouragios (21st Antiquities Ephorate) has worked the site for the past seventeen years, and has revealed revealed an extensive and rich archaic sanctuary probably founded by inhabitants of Paros. The center of worship was a protected courtyard, which dominated the marble prostyle temple with a colonnade with seven columns of an approximate height of seven meters. Next to this, he discovered a ceremonial dining area and a ritual altar.

This year's research unearthed, very close to the entrance of the sanctuary, a large new building. The excavation of the building wasn't completed, but it became clear that it had a complex ground plan with at least five rooms, based on the findings dating back to the classical period. The identification of the building, first shows the continuous operation of the sanctuary during classical times and also the large extension and the complex spatial organization, which reflects its widespread reputation and large numbers of visitors, both in archaic and classical times.

Research in archaic building D, one of the most important buildings of the sanctuary used for worship was made ​​entirely of marble, with a marble colonnade of four columns in front. Unearthed beneath that building was an earlier building, and a large quantity of pottery from the geometric period (9th-8th century BC) with large quantities of burnt and unburnt animal bones, such as horses, pigs, sheep, goats and poultry. These findings are of particular importance because they are more consistent with the earliest evidence of religious practice in the sanctuary of Apollon as early as the 9th century BC, the same place where in the 6th century BC they built the monumental temple.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy birthday to me!

Well, yesterday. As you know, I don't really celebrate my birthday, but I had a little brunch, my parents and my girlfriend's parents visited, and my girl made me a lovely dinner last night. It was quiet and easy going, and I enjoyed it. I didn't get a chance to write, though, and today, I am starting my new job, so I don't have the time to get anything up. So, until tomorrow, how about I leave you with a little something about the influence of the ancient Hellenes on mathematics?

"Often called the "birthplace of civilisation", Ancient Greece heralded numerous advances in philosophy, science, sport and also mathematics. Over six centuries from 600 BC a group of revolutionary thinkers -- from Thales, Pythagoras, Democritus and Aristotle to Euclid, Archimedes and Hypatia of Alexandria -- formalised the rules and language of modern mathematics.

For Greek thinkers, maths wasn't simply a means of calculating amounts but a way of testing reality and understanding the true nature of the world around them. Indeed, Pythagoras is believed to have coined both the words "philosophy" ("love of wisdom") and "mathematics" ("that which is learned"). In turn, Euclid came to be known as the "father of geometry".

At the heart of this new understanding, was the concept of "the proof", developed by Euclid in what is commonly regarded as the most important and successful mathematical textbook of all time -- the "Stoicheion" or "Elements". Built upon the axiomatic method, mathematical proofs were a way of testing assumptions by building up a mathematical argument using self-evident or assumed statements (or, "axioms").

It is this methodology that formed the foundational language and logic of modern mathematics throughout the world. Indeed, Euclid's Elements was widely used as the seminal maths textbook right up until the start of the twentieth century."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Diversifying the screen

Back in 2010, Syfy aired exactly one season of Caprica, a spin-off prequel of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, it takes place about 58 years before the events of Battlestar. For those of you unfamiliar with Battlestar Galactica, it was a science fiction series that ran from 2003 to 2009 and focussed on the fallout of an all-out war between humans and the cybernetic life forms (Cyclons) they created and which turned on them. Caprica shows how humanity first created the robotic Cylons.

I love Battlestar, and I recently re-watched Caprica to my great enjoyment. What makes these series unique are its settings. In this universe, humanity is divided between The Twelve Colonies of Man, also called the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. The names of the colonies' tribes and the planets they live on were borrowed from the Zodiac, so, for example, there are Caprica (obviously), Tauron, and Sagittaron.

The mainstream religion on all colony planets is polytheistic, with a mixture of Hellenic and Roman Gods. It is the state religion of the colonies; government oaths refer to the Gods, and on the Twelve Colonies, public museums housed artefacts of the Gods. Some people are devout believers, others are atheists, and most fall somewhere in the middle; all three viewpoints are accepted more or less equally. Monotheism is seen as unnatural. In fact, the rise of monotheism is one of the major issues in Caprica, and the Cylon religion is monotheistic, making both series extremely religious. They even flirt with religion in the official promo material, as seen above.

The Kobol Gods have the same names and characteristics as the Hellenic Olympic Gods and the show makes references to Zeus (as well as Jupiter), Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Ares (as well as Mars), Artemis, Asklepios, Atlas, Hekate, Hephaestos, and Apollo. The Kobol Gods are morally refined and are believed to watch over and intervene benevolently in the lives of the just. The characters on both shows pray to the Gods on a variety of occasions, and the human characters exclaim 'oh my Gods', while the Cylon characters use 'oh my God'.

Re-watching Caprica led me to question--again--why there isn't more religious diversity on TV and in the movies. If a character even is religious, it's usually some flavour of vague Christianity that never has them in church but has influenced their world view to such a degree that they end up struggling with their ethical framework whenever something goes wrong. Even science fiction--traditionally a genre in which the status quo gets explored through slightly distancing stories about aliens and robots--is very lite on religion.

Seeing as the US (and to a lesser degree Canada and Australia) are the major sources of (home) entertainment, and about 75% (more or less, depending on the poll) of US citizens are Christian in some form or another, I understand why. I get it, I do, but I wonder sometimes if people will really get upset if a Hindu character gets introduced somewhere, or a Witch, or a Hellenist. By 'introduced' I mean 'belongs to that religion, but it's not a whole storyline. They just are a member of that faith, and they relate tot he world through the ethical framework of that religion'. You know, like the vague Christianity that is continually on my TV.

As far as I am aware, the religious framework of Battlestar and Caprica was never an issue. It was there from the very beginning, gradually intensified, and became a major plot point a few seasons into Battlestar. It was perfectly acceptable. I think the Battlestar poster above caused some controversy as it depicts a re-imagined 'Last Supper', but that didn't stop the show's creators from pushing the envelope even further in Caprica, where monotheism is depicted as a fringe cult from the planet Gemenon, one regarded as disruptive and potentially hostile. Throughout both series, believing in only one God pretty much meant you were the bad guy. No one seemed to care.

So, where is the religious diversity on TV and in movies? It's a question I have often asked myself in light of many minority issues. Where is the racial diversity? The sexual diversity? The gender diversity? Why are most characters I see cis gendered, straight, white, (male), able bodied, thin to super skinny (for women, mostly), monogamous and vaguely Christian? To be honest, I'm getting a little tired of seeing the same characters over and over again, and I think there are a lot of stories left to be told, and I think some of those stories can very well be seen through the lens of religious diversity. We have seen in Battlestar Galactica and Caprica that it can be done, so... where are these series? These movies? There characters?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jonathan Jones: 'give back the Parthenon Marbles'

I sweat I don't want to keep bringing this up, but there is something equal parts frustrating and hilarious about the train wreck that is the discussion about returning the Parthenon Marbles. A quick search on the blog brings up five blog posts dedicated solely to the discussion. There is a basic post about the issues, a piece on the British museum that decided to show off the Marbles, and a piece about a new campaign by Greece to get the marbles returned, which was backed by UNESCO. Then the 'Monuments Men' spoke up about the issue, and now, the Archaeological News Network reports that British journalist Jonathan Jones speaks up about retuning the marbles.

north frieze of Parthenon sculpture
Part of the Parthenon marbles. [Credit: Laurie Chamberlain/Corbis]

A tiny recap: the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, is a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin obtained a controversial permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.

The Parthenon Marbles acquired by Elgin include seventeen figures from the statuary from the east and west pediments of the Parthenon, fifteen (of the original 92) of the metope panels depicting battles between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, as well as 247 feet (75 meters) of the original 524 feet (160 meters) of the Parthenon Frieze which decorated the horizontal course set above the interior architrave of the temple. As such, they represent more than half of what now remains of the surviving sculptural decoration of the Parthenon. Elgin's acquisitions also included objects from other buildings on the Athenian Acropolis: a Caryatid from Erechtheum; four slabs from the parapet frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike; and a number of other architectural fragments of the Parthenon, Propylaia, Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Treasury of Atreus.

Jonathan Jones is a journalist for The Guardian. In his piece on the marbles, he states the following:

"Where do the Parthenon sculptures really belong? To get to the just, right, sensible answer I have to start from my opening claim: this is the world's most beautiful art. It has only a handful of rivals in the highest rank of artistic achievement – think Leonardo da Vinci, think Michelangelo.
[...] The sad truth is that in the British Museum, the Parthenon sculptures are not experienced at their best. For one thing, they're shown in a grey, neoclassical hall whose stone walls don't contrast enough with these stone artworks – it is a deathly space that mutes the greatest Greek art instead of illuminating it. So if the British Museum wants to keep these masterpieces it needs to find the money to totally redisplay them in a modern way.
[...] Or, it could give them to Greece, which has already built a superb modern museum to do just that. The great thing about the Acropolis Museum's display of the Parthenon sculptures – which currently includes pieces left by Elgin, plus casts – is that it makes it easy to see how the sculptures fitted on the building, and how they work as an ensemble. It also has one advantage London can never rival – you can look from the sculptures to the museum's glass wall and see the Parthenon itself, making a sensual connection between the art and its architectural home."

Jones follows these sayings up with a personal account about seeing the marbles, being enticed by their beauty, and feeling frustrated at their treatment. The piece is one of Jones' most commented upon pieces as of late, with nearly 900 comments. Most of those comments are snarky to downright hateful, and they all regurgitate the tried and true issues: 'they were stolen -- 'they weren't stolen', 'they will be treated worse in Greece, just look at the economy', 'Greece should buy them back', etc.

The more I read about this issue, the more I realize that nothing is going to happen to the Parthenon Marbles. In my opinion, they're not going anywhere. Period. Britain is making money off of them, Greece is in no position to demand anything at the moment, and truthfully, the last thing the issue needs is another debate. Most of the commenters also agree that Jones' commentary is not exactly constructive to the issue, but if anything, it at least keeps the Marbles fresh in the mind.