Hellenismos literally means “imitation of the Greeks”, but it has come to be used to describe the Hellenic Polytheistic religion, since the Roman Emperor Julian (called by the Christians Julian the Apostate) used the term when he attempted to restore the old religion following the Emperor Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Etymological roots of the word are from the myth that Aellin, the son of Deucalion and Pyrra, founded the Hellenic race. Deucalion was the son of Prometheus and Proniis. Deucalion and Pyrra survived the great flood, and had sons who founded the major peoples of Greece. Aellion was the founder of the Hellenes.
Hellenismos, or Aellinismos, is about imitating the ancient Greek values of striving for excellence and virtue in life. To foster Aellinismos, one is encouraged to become cultured, to study history, music, art, dance, theatre, writing, and to develop skills and knowledge in all the areas we can. Our study of the arts is then further enriched by the presence of the Gods, who transcend religion and philosophy. We also strive to practice Xenia, or Hospitality, which is sacred to Zeus, , such that when the practices of others may make them seem as strangers to us, this does not exclude them from Aellinismos, especially when an individual has loyalty to Aellinismos, and we should treat them with hospitality, even if we do not agree with their beliefs.
One important aspect of Aellinismos is the idea of Aelefthaeria, or Freedom. The Gods are free and desire freedom for all beings, and it is because of that, that we try to imitate this quality of the Gods. Kartaeria, or Tolerance is a hallmark of Aellinismos.
The Greek word for religion is Thriskeia, but this refers to the organised worship and ritual, and outer belief in the Gods. Aellinismos includes Thriskeia, but is also about the way we live our lives, rather than simply the outer trapping of religion, and Aellinismos can exist independently of those outer trappings.
There can be said to be three categories of Aellinismos:
- The Outer Aellinismos – the rituals, myths, common Hellenic beliefs, traditional offerings, knowledge concerning the Gods and their worship. This refers to Thriskeia, and is generally what those who take a Reconstructionist approach are mainly interested in – reconstructing the practices, rituals and beliefs of Ancient Greece, reading the myths and stories of the Gods, learning what sorts of offerings were given to particular Gods, and imitating those practices.
- The Inner Aellinismos – This is the noble path that promotes the development of personal excellence known as Aereti. The development of wisdom and communication with Deity. This is what we strive for in the mystery traditions such as Orphismos. We try to foster Eusebia, a type of piety, a reference towards the Gods, our parents, the World, all Life, and the Cosmos. Through this we develop transcendent Araeti through committed noble actions and the worship of the Gods. This path involves putting philosophy into action.
- The Vast Aellinismos – The critical factor here is the way in which one conducts one’s life. Ritual observances and precise beliefs are superfluous to this, what is important is the practice of genuine philosophy in the sense of the pursuance of truth and wisdom, and having a “hellenic soul”, that is a soul that is on a committed journey to Araeti, regardless of the particular religion one is following. The Gods do not mind what we believe, as long as these beliefs further the progress of the soul and the souls of others who one affects. Beliefs (Pistis) are human constructs on the path to knowledge. Aellinismos is concerned with truth and Areti, and therefore free of doctrine, being only concerned with progress. Although Aellinismos is the worship of the Ancient Greek Gods, when we talk about the Vast Aellinismos, we acknowledge that only truth, only reality matters, and there are great souls in other traditions who live in truth and reality, who embody the heart of Aellinismos.
Aellinismos is about living a life that makes a difference and effects change for the better of society. The development of Araeti produces strength of character, the ability to prioritise their endeavours to further good government and to create better social institutions, and in times of great need, also to make heroic sacrifice to help bring into effect progress in the world. Araeti is about moral virtue, goodness, excellence of all kinds. Developing as a whole, rounded person – wise, cultured, knowledgeable, skilled, honourable, tolerant, and achieving our potential in all that we can, in order to not only improve our own lives, but to help to create a better world.