Friday, August 1, 2014

Greek police officer arrested on smuggling charges

Under the right circumstances, I can understand why people commit actions that are labelled crimes; if you are a mother and you can't feed your kids, I understand why you would steal food, for example. Actions like these expose the faults in a money-driven society that sometimes forgets about the humans who try to operate in it. I have no respect at all, however, for looters and smugglers of ancient artefacts.
Million-euro marble statue seized by Greek authorities
A photograph released by the police shows the ancient statue
[Credit: To Vima]
A police officer from Greece's antiquities protection department has recently been arrested on suspicion of being part of a smuggling ring that was trying to sell an ancient marble statue worth an estimated 1 million euros (1.35 million dollars). The 49 year old officer was arrested with eight other suspects, following raids and searches at 11 areas in greater Athens and two others in towns in central and northern Greece, or so the Archaeology News Network rapports.
The image above shows the almost intact 1,900 year old Graeco-Roman era statue of a male figure that the police officer was trying to smuggle out of the country. The statue measures 65 centimetres (25.5 inches) from head-to-knee, and has been kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens since it was seized.

There have been more seizures of smuggled or about-to-be-smuggled items over the last few months--and years, really. Some of these artefacts have been stolen from existing art collections while others have been illegally excavated, going straight from the ground into an underground network of smuggling and sales. Ancient artefacts form a lucrative business because--apparently--many people are willing to pay for them even when they have no idea where the artefacts come from. Or maybe--and that worries me more--they do. Sadly, any straight-from-the-ground artefact that reaches the underground market will not be catalogued, will not be researched, will not add to the fount of knowledge we already have of the ancient culture it belonged to. As a Hellenist and lover of history, I find it nearly impossible to wrap my head around these practices and I am pleased that raids and searches are being conducted to put an end to these practices. At least this police officer didn't get away with his crime.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Video collections post

I am currently completely swamped with work and writing press releases and rapports has sapped me of all my writing juices. I need a day off to recover a little, so with your permission I am going to leave you with a compilation of all the videos I have ever done on Hellenismos and a request: If you have a topic you would like me to do a video on--something that lends itself better for a video than a written post--please let me know? I would love to do another video but I have zero ideas. Thank you!

How to prepare khernips
A short video on how to make khernips, the lustral water used to cleanse yourself with in Hellenismos.
More information: khernips

How to pour libations
A short video on how to offer libations, in this case, a sponde.
More information: sponde

How to make a kathiskos
A short video on how to prepare a kathiskos, the small jar filled with foodstuffs which is stored from the Noumenia (first day of the lunar month) until the Deipnon (last day of the lunar month) in a shrine to Zeus Kthesios.
More information: how to prepare a kathiskos

Making Manna
A short video on how I make manna, one of the prescribed incenses in the Orphic hymns.
More information: making manna

My Altar Space (requested)
A requested video about my altar space.
More information: my altar space

Ancient Hellenic clothing
A relatively lengthy video on hellenic clothing and how to pin the right look.
More information: ancient Hellenic clothing

Noumenia Ritual
This is a video with some highlights of a Noumenia ritual I did. My apologies for the sound issues--especially during the sacrifice to Artemis--it was supposed to be 16 degrees Celsius and suddenly my camera was out in 26 degree weather, full in the sun. Apparently, it will turn you into a smurf on speed when it overheats.
More information: Noumenia ritual

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A recorded ancient Hellenic sighting of Halley's Comet?

Guys, GUYS, you know I am a huge space geek, right? I was raised on science fiction books, my dad used to tell me star myths, and I have pretty much seen any science fiction movie in existence. So, why did I not know that there were mentions of Halley's Comet in ancient Hellenic writings?

Okay, so, astronomy lesson! Halley's Comet is a short-period comet, or periodic comet, meaning it is a comet that has a orbital period of less than 200 years. It is visible from Earth every 75–76 years. Halley is the only short-period comet that is clearly visible to the naked eye from Earth, and the only naked-eye comet that might appear twice in a human lifetime. Halley will make its next pass in 2061, and it has been doing this for many, many, many, years.

Daniel W. Graham and Eric Hintz published about a (possible?) ancient Hellenic sighting of Halley's comet in the Journal of Cosmology, 2010, Vol 9, 2130-2136. In the introduction they say:

"The regularity of the orbits of comet Halley has made possible the determination of its visits backwards in time through the Middle Ages to antiquity. Computer models have provided correlations between reports of comets back to the second and third centuries BC and astronomical records of the Babylonians and Chinese. So far the earliest probable sighting is the return of 240 BC, confirmed by Chinese observers. Thus far ancient Greek records, which do not contain systematic diaries of heavenly events, have not been considered in this connection. One famous event recorded by Greek philosophers and historians is the fall of a meteor in northern Greece in 467/6 BC. At the time of the meteor, a comet was visible. This coincides with the retrodicted appearance of comet Halley in the summer of 466 BC. Using computer models we examine the probable path of comet Halley on that return and find it is consistent with reports about features of the observed comet. The philosopher and scientist Anaxagoras is said to have predicted the fall of the meteor. One ancient source corrects this confusion and allows us to see how the Greeks combined theory and observation in this case." 

In the article they go on to list the various accounts, and go into the ancient scientific explanations put forth by the ancient Hellenic greats. In the end they never prove that the comet Anaxagoras of Clazomenae predicted, Daimachos saw, and Aristotle reported on was, in fact, Halley's Comet, but they make a very strong circumstantial case. Enough for me, at least, to get very excited over--because obviously the ancient Hellenes saw this phenomenon, but if they have actually written about it, that solidifies the links from our time to theirs. something like that will always get me excited.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cheimarros Tower is getting a make-over

I am always happy to report when money is invested in the restoration and preservation of ancient monuments. Cheimarros Tower is a fine example.

The Cheimarros Tower on Naxos (Credit: GTP)

The tower of Cheimarros is a point of reference for Naxos, the largest island in the Cyclades island group in the Aegean. It's 15 meters tall and was built at the end of the 4th century BC for defence purposes. It was made of local white marble without a binding agent and with great skill that indicated the high quality of stone carving in the classical antiquity.

The strong defensive character of the tower is verified by its height and the presence of only one window at a height of 10 meters off the ground. The tower was built with a double wall; the exterior wall is built by big local marble plinths, while the interior is built by stones of different size with connectors in between. The walls are connected at regular intervals by side-arch bricks, which stand out unrefined, exceeding the interior face. The gap between the two faces is filled up with a mixture of clay and boulder. In the interior of the building there is the ground floor and three further floors connected with a marvellous marble staircase. It is estimated that along with the roof the initial height of the tower was 18m but its shape isn’t certain. Finally, the tower is fenced with a 35 meter long wall.

The tower is a well-know tourist attraction and it's well known amongst the residents, who even have a local folk song for it:
"o kardia mou pou se tharrou, san ton pyrgo tou Cheimarrou"
"Oh my heart, you take courage, like the Tower of Cheimarros"

The Cheimarros Tower was declared archaeological site in 2011 along with two adjacent Byzantine churches, a part of an ancient road and part of the Tower's fencing wall. The tower will be restored following the approval of the Central Archaeological Council.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Magic in Hellenismos?

This blog is very lite on talk of magic, and that is for good reason: I am of the rather strong opinion that modern witchcraft has no place in Hellenismos--especially when that witchcraft is defined as acts which allow humanity influence over their lives and those of others, outside of the realm of the Gods. I call anything else 'praying', and if you need tools for that, than I take no issue besides the fact that it's non-Traditional--save for when it is. Recently I was asked about magic, though, so I've collected some existing words from this blog into a more cohesive blogpost on the subject. The question was:

"Did the ancient Hellenes practice magick? Is it ok to practice magick as a Hellenic polytheist? If so, is it then better to keep the Theoi out of the practice even though it involves their relms for example Poseidon and sea magic or Demeter and earth magic. Why is this a taboo subject in Hellenismos but not in Asatru for example. The Nordic people saw their Gods as the source of magic. Is this opposed to our ideas of the nature of the Theoi? Yet again we can never know their true nature."

Something I often hear about the ancient Hellenic religion, and prescribed about its modern equivalent, is that there was no magic in ancient Hellas. This is true. It's also a lie. It all depends on your definition of magic, and for the purpose of this reply, we are going to see magic as a form of prayer and ritual, conducted outside of the usual ritual steps. The Theoi were always invoked, but for magic, the sacrifices were usually to the khthonic, or Underworld Gods. When reading this post about a very specific subset of this type of magic, try to disassociate it with the modern use of the word: the same goes for 'spells', 'cursing', and 'binding'.

The ancient Hellenes were a competitive people, and struggled with many of the issues we do today: the urge to perform well, the desire for justice to be served, and a need for love. Prayers for these things were made often, usually in their normal ritualized form at the house altar. If these requests were made against, or at the expense of another person, however, they were generally taken out of the realm of regular worship and kharis, and into the realm of the khthonic. The preferred form were katadesmoi.

Katadesmoi are relatively small tablets, inscribed with a desire asked of the Theoi to fulfil. The Katadesmoi that have survived were generally made out of very thin sheets of lead, which were then rolled, folded or pierced with nails. Wax, papyrus, stone, precious metals, and precious minerals would also have been used as a medium. Some katadesmoi were accompanied by a small doll representing the intended victim or even a lock of their hair, especially in the case of love spells. In general, the katadesmoi always included the name of the intended victim and the name(s) of the appropriated Gods--most often Hades, Kharon, Hekate, and Persephone. Exceptions have been found, of course.

There have been around 1600 katadesmoi found around the whole of Hellas, and the practice was wide-spread. In fact, for the Olympic Games, competitors had to vow to Olympian Zeus that they would not cheat, and curse their opponents. Divine retribution would befall those competitors who did. A large percentage of the katadesmoi found contained love spells ("I want [name] to love me beyond all others"), or legal desires ("May [name] stumble on his words in defence of himself"), but many other ill wishes have been found.

Katadesmoi were usually deposited where they would be closest to the Underworld: in chasms, pools of water, wells, caves, temples to the deity in question, buried underground, or placed in graves. The latter was usually a special form, however, and the katadesmoi placed with the dead were usually requests to avenge the death of the deceased.

In general, katadesmoi were used out of desperation: regular channels had been exhausted, human courts would never convict the perpetrator of a crime, or the murderer could no be found. Pleading with the Gods--who knew more, saw more, ad had a much farther reach--was considered the only alternative to get justice. This was even the case in many love spells. Katadesmoi were not made willy-nilly: there needed to be a strong incentive to make one.

One other such incentive was the fear that a katadesmos curse had been placed upon you. In this case, the subject of the curse could make their own, and ask that the perpetrator of the katadesmos may suffer for it, and that his or her katadesmos may have no effect at all, except maybe to backfire on them. In this case, the katadesmos acts as a binding curse.

There is magic in the Classics as well; the most famous witch in Hellenic mythology is undoubtedly Kirkê (Κιρκη)--better known by her Roman name, Circe. She is the woman whom Odysseus comes upon on the island Aiaia, who turns his men into pigs, and keeps Odysseus with her--and in her bed, no less--for a year before she helps him get back to his quest to return home. The account of Kirkê is one of the founding myths for the modern witch stereotypes: she is the evil temptress, free with her sexuality, and freer with the magic that women possess by nature. She seduces Odysseus while beguiling his men, transforming them into docile animals--de-humanizing them, and stripping them of their masculinity. In the end, Odysseus overcomes her, and leaves, outside of her grasp forever. At least, that is the modern interpretation of her character.

Kirkê, in the time of Hómēros was not evil at all, yet she was dangerous. Kirkê, when looked at through the lens of ancient Hellenic society, is Odysseus' superior by far. It may seem a bit off-topic to go into this, but I must to make my point. Kirkê is the daughter of the Sun God Helios--which makes her a Goddess in her own right, but a more accurate term would be 'Nymph', putting her in control of nature. Her pedigree--by default--means that Odysseus can never master her, as Odysseus may be the favourite of the Gods, but he is not divine himself.

So, what of her magic? Kirkê is a Goddess whose powers manifest through herbs; what she does to men is not much different as many other--more powerful--Gods do unto humans as well with just a thought; Hellenic mythology is full of humans who get turned into animals (or plants) for their protection, or for the protection of the God in question. It's important to note that in the Odysseia, Kirkê's 'victims' are happy and domesticated; they are friendly and curious to visitors and Kirkê alike.

Kirkê's status over Odysseus takes her away from being a witch in the modern sense; she is a Goddess, and as someone lower in standing, Odysseus' wishes are something she can take into advisement but only needs to agree upon out of a sense of honour, not because her magical hold over him has broken. She never controls Odysseus--the moly potion/herb Odysseus is given establishes that--and they work out an agreement where they are on roughly equal footing, with Kirkê forever having the upper hand, but bound by her personal honour and oath to Odysseus. Her magic--her divinity--is made a moot point between them.

The Odysseia gives plenty of reasons why the words 'witch' and 'witchcraft' are dangerous for modern interpretation. These powers--and those that use them--are established as divine, taking these powers fully outside of the realm of humanity. Yes, there was 'magic' and 'witchcraft' in ancient Hellas and its mythology, but not in the way we know it now; this was divine magic; a manifestation of a trait major Gods manifest with a thought. These lesser deities require a medium to manifest their powers--especially in the case of Kirkê--but their powers are still the powers of a God. This is exactly why I feel we, as Hellenists, should pray to the Gods for any aid we might require, and blessings we would wish upon our lives; to practice magic ourselves would be to equate ourselves with the (minor) Gods, and Hellenismos is clear upon the status of humans: we are human, not divine. To practice magic is to practice hubris, and that is decidedly dangerous in a Hellenistic context.

Again, I want to stress that this concerns Traditional Hellenismos--as everything on this blog does. That is my practice, and it is what I understand best. If you want to practice magic; go for it. Who am I to tell you can or cannot do something? As for Asatru; it's hard--and in my opinion useless--to compare ancient cultures like this. The people were different, the thoughts about the divine were different, and unless you are a soft polytheist who conflates all Gods and Goddesses, lumping them and their culture together is detrimental to all Gods in question. Again, my opinion. Magic is a touchy subject in Hellenismos because it borders on hubris, and as a Traditional Hellenist I find myself shying away from everything that could possibly induce hubris and damage my kharis with the Gods. I gave up my magical practice--as sporadic as it was--once I progressed into Hellenismos. It's a personal choice, but one that was very clear for me. How you decide is up to you.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Petition to help YSEE

You may recall that a long while ago, a petition made the rounds to help πατο Συμβούλιο των Ελλήνων Εθνικών, the 'Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes', become a governmentally recognised institution. The organisation, also called 'YSEE', is in modern Greece, and if you have ever looked through the YSEE website, you are well aware that its members have a pretty rough time in their homeland, trying to re-establish the ancient religion.

Modern Greece is a very Christian country, and any attempt to practice a different religion--let alone reconstruct an ancient one--is met not only with resistance, but violence, property damage, and a great deal of threats. On top of that, the Greek government refuses to recognize Hellenismos as a valid religion, making it hard to receive funding for temples and celebrations, protection of its members and facilities, and opportunities to worship at the ancient sites. To help aid the Hellenist practicing in Greece, Stylianos K. created an on-line petition for those who supported this cause to sign. His plea:

"Please Help the ethnic Hellenes in Greece to get their native tradition recognized as a Statutory corporation and having equal rights, just as every other native tradition should have in the EU. Help the native hellenic tradition and religion, because it is the tradition which gave us democracy, liberty of speech and Humanism."

The use of these online petitions is debatable, but a new round of petition signing has commenced and if your name is not on there yet, now is the time to do it. The goal is to get to two thousand signatures, and the petition is well underway. Take a moment out of your day and sign your name here. It might not help but it certainly won't hurt.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Religious or spiritual, or both?

Recently I was asked if I define as religious or spiritual, or both, and I found myself with an easy answer but a lack of words to explain why. As such, I decided to make a post out of it (because that is what you do when you are a blogger--you fill the page with your ramblings). Anyway, I'm religious. Always have been; that's what got me into Paganism: the belief (or desire to believe) in the Gods and to worship Them to the best of my ability. I am also of the firm belief you can't be both but that you can practice both, regardless. This depends on your definition, though, which means I should give that a go.

The definition of 'religious' that resounds most with me is 'believing in a God or a group of Gods and following a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects'. In general, this means you accept the worldview laid out before your by those who designed or furthered the religion; you can be critical of this world view and tinker with it a little to fit your own views, but in general, you will accept the beliefs of the group.

'Spiritual' is the hard one; the definition of the term that resonates most with me is 'the personal, subjective, dimension of religion'. A spiritual person, in my opinion, defines their own religious boundaries, creating their own worldview and definition of the divine. A spiritual person has made the conscious decision not to be attached to a specific set of religious rules, allowing them greater freedom to define rules of their own. They may find inspiration in existing religious worldviews but feel uncomfortable adopting the whole of it because it conflicts with their own views or simply does not feel truthful to their reality.

I think the conscious choice we make between religious or spiritual defines our viewpoint and the label we adopt. You can be religious and follow a specific religious framework, be religious and not follow a specific framework for whatever reason, be spiritual but practice a religious framework, or spiritual and practice a spiritual framework. You identify as one or the other, though.

When I was just starting out with religion, I didn't have a specific framework in which to pour my religious views; many religions resonated with me and I had many views of the divine that refused to be bound into a specific school of thought. I wanted to be religious, though. I wanted that framework. That is why I never labelled myself as spiritual, and I still don't. I am now a religious person who practices a religious framework, but I was religious to start with.