Stealing Hellenism: The Erasure of Greeks by NeoPagans

Greek gods hellenism

Cultural appropriation is nothing new when it comes to Hellenism; Greek culture and identity are constantly appropriated in different ways, some minor and some major. We are all familiar with the decades-long controversy over the Parthenon Marble, the most well-known example of cultural appropriation of Greek culture. The British Museum remains firm against the reunification of the Parthenon Marble, claiming the sculptures are “shared heritage” in the museum’s Trustees’ statement.

The British Museum’s attitude is not a sentiment unique to them; their attitude reflects antiHellenic rhetoric that Greeks deal with all across the diaspora. Similar sentiments can be found in a place you might least expect or know existed, in the alternative spirituality communities such as Paganism and Witchcraft.

You may be shocked to learn that Hellenism has, for some years now, been slowly turned into a faith-based neo-Pagan religion in the United States and other countries across the world thanks to Mind, Body, Spirit publishers, and online social media influences and self-proclaimed “Hellenists” and “educators.” Some consider themselves “Hellenes” or “Hellenists” simply on the ground of their faith in the Greek Gods.

Greek City Times spoke with Angelo Nasios, the writer of the Hearth of Hellenism blog and podcast on Substack, concerning this lesser-known cultural appropriation that he wants the diaspora to be aware of. Angelo is a graduate with a Master’s in History and has spent several years understanding the Pagan appropriation of Hellenism.

GCT: Why should Greeks care if neo-pagans are appropriating Hellenism?

Well, it's a much broader question concerning identity and the sanctity or importance of its constituent parts to the Greeks as an ethnic group, in this case, as a minority ethnic group on the fringes of 'whiteness.'

Hellenism is not a religious label for Greeks (Hellenes). Rather, it is a word that expresses a multitude of elements that constitute our identity. Hellenism or Hellenismos refers to our entire ethnos and the diaspora. Hellenism expresses our arts, aesthetics, language, customs, lived historical and daily experiences, actions, and tragedies. We are, collectively, the only ones who can or should be able to define or alter it. We are its generators and carriers.

Allowing non-Greeks to impose their views or interpretations on it is to relinquish control of our narrative and part of our sovereignty. Think back to when the "Macedonia Issue" first started. Was it just a naming dispute? Or did it come with subsequent claims on culture, territory, and ethnicity? We acted too foolishly and not decisively enough.

A couple of decades down the line, there is a Northern Macedonia as a sovereign state and several claims from its own fringes upon Alexander the Great and the overall culture and history of the ONLY Macedonia that ever existed from a Greek perspective.

Similarly, the "Parthenon Marbles" aren't just rocks chiseled centuries ago that the British can have because their illegitimate transaction with the local Ottoman officials is a legally binding act we must respect. They are part of who we are and part of our heritage. They were not given up by us as a sovereign nation but rather sold off by our conquerors to a willing collaborator without our say.

YouTube content creator offering “Hellene” membership level on Patreon. Creator removed it after they received complaints of appropriation of ethnic identity. Creator was unaware that Hellene is an ethnonym.
YouTube content creator offering “Hellene” membership level on Patreon. Creator removed it after they received complaints of appropriation of ethnic identity. Creator was unaware that Hellene is an ethnonym.

Cultural heritage, therefore, tangible and intangible, should mean, and for many Greeks, it does mean a lot. The placement of 'Hellenism’ in its correct and proper context is just as important as the placement of those marbles in their rightful spot next to the rest.

Especially when we see that the arguments used to chip away and usurp aspects of Greek heritage are always the same, only recycled and repurposed differently depending on what is being appropriated each time.

It is always a mixture of downgrading the importance that said article should have for the Greeks, their inherent inability to do it justice themselves, the bringing of our right of ownership over said heritage into doubt due to an alleged loss of genetic or other connection to it during Byzantine or Ottoman times, and a very colonially peppered assertion of the other side's "superiority" and ability to "improve" and take care of it better than we can.

This horrible, noxious cocktail of attitudes and views towards the Greeks is nothing new and is rooted in antiHellenic sentiment going back even to medieval times when perceptions of the Greeks as an eastern and therefore debased people were the norm and fed much into Catholic Germano-Latin propaganda as the Holy Roman Empire of the West competed for legitimacy and prestige with the Byzantine East. Those attitudes inevitably trickled down into politics and popular perceptions that were to color, subsequently even academia and popular culture.

We have been unable to wrestle control of our narrative from Anglo-Saxon hands since the Fall of Constantinople. We have constantly been white-washed, critiqued, picked apart, and re-purposed to serve as a neutral palette upon which the West decided to base its own culture without the nuisance of having to 'pay royalties' in terms of at least nominal respect and basic politeness.

Now imagine that this time, they are reaching for the very word that characterizes all Greeks, irrespective of creed, including atheists: Hellenism. The "-ism" of the Hellenes. All Hellenes. And that somehow, we are to relinquish that word and allow it to be molded into whatever bored suburbanites want it to mean. What would that mean for us when we become a people unable to safeguard our ethnonym, our definition of all things pertaining to us?

This is not about anyone's right to put a face and a name on the divine and pray to it. Zeus, Jesus, Allah, there are Greeks out there who call it different names. Yet, on the basis of their historical experiences and memories, the common thread that unites them all is the concept of "Hellenism," a word that imbues one with the recognition that we are kin. Our origin is to be found in the same historical narrative from which we sprang, and some of us even diverged from it.

The issue, therefore, here is not to try and get a Greek Christian, a Greek Muslim, or a Greek Jew to care what a non-Greek does with Zeus, but rather that what they do is not to be called Hellenism, that they are not Hellenes and that what they do is not part of the grander narrative of Hellenism until such time that they join the "Hellenikon" in the same manner that Vlachs, Arvanites, Laz, Thracians, Syrians and other groups of 'others' did.

It is historically and factually incorrect; it is an imposition upon all Hellenes and a mockery of our sacrifices that ultimately earn us the right and privilege to identify as such in brotherhood with each other.

What anyone does in their home does not concern us, nor should it concern any rational human being.

Many people across the ages have come into contact with the Hellenic spirit, and they have thus been influenced by it as we have been influenced by theirs. That is healthy and promotes a free-thinking society by infusing it with novel ideas.

We, therefore, do not argue with those who derive inspiration from Hellenic narratives and motifs.

The problem begins when those inspired by Hellenic culture seek to own the narrative that inspires them while at the same time seeking to supplant the original carriers of said narrative or weaken their claim to it because the newcomers have thus arrived uninvited. They want their pick and share of what is most sacred to us.

It is invasive and reminiscent of older colonial marauding behaviors popular amongst western Europeans who frequently saw it fit to snatch cultural artifacts from the hands of those they deemed unworthy to possess their forefathers' heirlooms.

We could say a lot more about this, but I hope that the readers understand why it is important for Greeks to care and do more to protect "Hellenism" and, yes, even Zeus from this walk-in-the-park, casual usurpation. It usually precipitates far more serious future events and faits accomplis.

GCT: “What evidence is there of this/what does this theft of Hellenism look like?”

There is plenty evidence of Hellenisms’ appropriation by Pagans. There are different places to go and investigate, the one I think we should focus on right now is the mind/body/spirit publishing industry where the appropriation is blatant. Books such as Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today by Tony Mizerzwicki and published by Llewellyn in 2018 is the perfect example.

Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today by Tony Mizerzwicki and published by Llewellyn in 2018
Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today by Tony Mizerzwicki and published by Llewellyn in 2018

We have a book literally titled Hellenismos which intends to instruct the reader on how to practice Greek polytheism. The author explains why he used Hellenismos as the word to describe the revival of the ancient Greek religion, as a homage to the fourth century CE Emperor Julian:

So, why is the revival of the ancient Greek religion being called Hellenismos in this book?

The ancient Greek religion endured political upheavals over the centuries, but the death knell was finally sounded when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 CE.

Under a succession of Christian emperors, the Roman Empire was progressively Christianized and all pagan religions were gradually suppressed.

The only exception was Julian, who became emperor of the Roman Empire in 361 CE. During his short two-year reign ending in 363 CE, Emperor Julian attempted to replace Christianity with officially revived traditional Roman religious practices, central to which was the practice of what he termed “Hellenismos”—the legacy of Greek philosophy, religion, and culture. It is as my token of homage to Emperor Julian that the term Hellenismos is being used. (Mizerzwicki, 6)

This is problematic because Hellenismos already has an understood meaning for Greeks, it does not refer to a faith-based religion of the Greek Gods – Hellenismos/Hellenism signifies Greek culture broadly. The author says so himself, when speaking about Hellenismos in Late Antiquity, points to this complexity of Hellenism when he writes that it is the “legacy of Greek philosophy, religion, and culture.” However, the book is geared towards teaching people the author’s understanding of what ancient Greek religion was and how to do it today, under the banner of our identity- Hellenismos.

People unfamiliar with Greek culture today, who read books like this (and other forms of media that repeat these ideas) won’t likely know how Hellenismos is already used by Greeks today and some in fact, when you tell them we still use the word, respond with the notion that Greeks don’t get to decide the meaning of Hellenismos, since it has already been used by Pagans for a while now.

Below is an example of YouTube Pagan who styles themselves as a ‘Hellenist’ and claims ‘Hellenism’ for herself since it is ‘how those of us who worship the Theoi refer to our faith.”

YouTube content creator and self-described “Hellenist” defending Pagan appropriation of Hellenism
YouTube content creator and self-described “Hellenist” defending Pagan appropriation of Hellenism

Imagine this, Greeks not being the ones to define the word that signifies their own culture, identity, language, and history and must share the word with Pagans who use it to denote their ‘faith.’

GCT: What can we do about this problem?

Speak out against the appropriation. Our silence contributes to the problem. I do my best to review the books being published for problematic materials.

I contacted Llewellyn, a major publisher in the alternative spirituality industry earlier this year and informed them that there was something offensive, in my view, to the entire Greek community, in one of their recently published books.

The publisher did not apologize for the offense, their response to me was:

“As you note, Llewellyn is not an academic publisher. Many of our titles are intended to appeal to readers interested in exploring modern Paganism and Witchcraft and our hope is that they inspire people to continue researching and exploring their spiritual path. I appreciate the attentive thoroughness of your review, and that you share related scholarship and different resources with readers. Please be assured that our editors and authors are aware of your comments and suggestions”

This response is unacceptable in my view. I hope more Greeks and our allies put pressure on publishers in the alternative spirituality industry to be receptive to the concerns of our community.  I think the best thing for Greeks to do is to right now is to familiarize themselves with the content by looking for it on social media.

People can also subscribe to my free Substack if they want to stay informed on this topic and other topics concerning Hellenism.

READ MORE: MAGNA GRAECIA: March of the Dionisyan Cult in Crotone, Italy (VIDEO)

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024