Answer: Greek questions
As a nice tie in with my recent miasma post, here are two questions I received regarding Greek matters:
“How important is accurate reconstruction of ancient Greek practices to your work and how do you reconcile that with a modern weltanschauung? How important is it to stick to one cultural source – in your case, Greek? Or do you/have you successfully intermingled different cultures?”
I’d say that for me, the important thing is understanding the ancient Greek mindset, and specifically how, over hundreds and even thousands of years, the Greeks came to understand their gods and how to worship those gods. When that conflicts with modern sensibilities, I will usually err on the conservative side unless receiving some kind of direct indication from the gods Themselves that a change is okay.
However, I do not tend to reconstruct every little detail, the why is more important than the how for me. So, for instance, we know the Greeks honored the gods with many festivals, and we know what kinds of activities tend to make up a festival and the various reasons festivals were created. But many of the actual ancient festivals do not make sense for us to be celebrating now, because they commemorated ancient events that no longer have relevance, or were specific to a certain locale, or something like that. So a good deal of my festivals are newly invented, and even the ancient ones have a lot of new elements thrown in, but I try to keep to the spirit of the foundational concepts behind them.
I do not exactly intermingle different cultures, but different cultures inform different parts of my practice. As far as external worship, these parts tend to stay fairly discrete – I do a Greek festival for Hermes, for instance, and it is thoroughly Greek in nature and entirely about Him. However, on an internal level, I certainly can’t keep the gods in the boxes I might like to make for Them, and after nearly two decades of devotional worship and then spirit-work, it’s all become a bit messy. That’s a real practice for you. For example, I fought against it for a long time, but Dionysos is rather tangled up with my personal spirits at this point, who are absolutely not Greek. The implications are somewhat intimidating, because it’s not as if these entities would even have run into each other were it not for me, here in the middle, honoring all of Them. But nonetheless, Dionysos is the opener of the door, and if one’s primary magical practice involves spirits from another system, He’s probably not going to say No, I won’t open you up for Them, only for someone Greek, you know? So it all becomes connected.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to take styles of worship from, say, the Germanic side and apply them to Him just because I do both (unless He specifically asks me to) – I respect who He is and what He has indicated His preferences to be over the long stretch of time of humans worshipping Him, and by and large we know those preferences thanks to Greek culture. So it’s not about cultural purity for me in some abstract way, it’s about acknowledging the wisdom of accumulated tradition.
Matt G asks:
“As someone who is a spirit-worker working with Greek spirits, what “kinds” of spiritual work do you consider to be “things the Greek Gods/spirits teach,” and what spirits would you advise people to seek out as teachers if they feel called to a particular work.”
Well, technically most of the spirits I work with aren’t Greek, actually. The “spirit-work” side of my practice is dominated by certain personal spirits who are not culturally bound at all, though They have ties to certain northern European traditions. However, as I said above, things tend to bleed into each other, and I guess you could consider some of the work I do with the Pythiai, for instance, to be spirit-work, or with Trophonios, or with the nymphs. And there are aspects to my relationships with all three of my primary deities – Dionysos, Hermes and Apollon – that fit into this too.
There are specific things that specific Greek deities and daimones teach – for instance, a certain type of incubation, or a certain flavor of ecstatic madness, or a certain liminal power – but I don’t know that they are significantly different from what could be taught by the divinities in any other pantheon (at least within the broad spectrum of European traditions – since beyond those there tend to be greater cultural and spiritual differences). The details of techniques will change of course, but the overall concepts can be quite similar.
As for which Greek gods/spirits to seek out, that really depends on the topic. While I’ve never personally encountered Her, I’m sure Aphrodite could have some useful things to say about love magic, for instance. But in my personal experience, I’d say Hermes is probably the most practically helpful deity in regards to magical concepts and activities, especially divination and omens. The nymphs of any place can be great allies in bridging the distance between ancient Greek tradition and one’s present physical location – a bit of nympholepsy can jumpstart a broader spirit-work practice that is firmly rooted in the land one inhabits.
But really, I think it’s most important to figure out what you want and then find the most appropriate source. When I got serious about the Delphic style oracles I do, I ended up spending a lot of time with Trophonios and the Pythiai and even the Korykian nymphs, because They are all deeply tied to that work and the history behind it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend contacting Them to anyone just interested in oracular work overall, it would depend on context. I would note, however, that one shouldn’t overlook the less popular or well-know theoi or daimones, of which there are hundreds in the Greek tradition. In fact, those without any modern cultus are often the most helpful because They are not busy with anyone else, and you can develop a very intense working relationship.