Hellenic Paganism is interesting but not thorough. The author, Samantha Leaver, shares how she performs household worship and introduces Hellenic ethics and faith. She acknowledges she is a fan, not a scholar of Greek Classics. Her practice is one of devotion and belief in the Theoi (Greek Gods). There is a struggle between writing for an audience that knows nothing and an audience with prior knowledge. Leaver seems to be fairly well read but the work lacks citation, is full of personal opinion and is more focused on personal gnosis than scholarship.
For those less familiar with the Hellenic path, Leaver’s writing can be a little confusing. She did not explain that Hellenismos is a religious organization so at first, I thought she was describing a path or movement rather than a specific sect. Leaver advises that some in Hellenismos consider spells inappropriate as it is an effort to bend the will of the deities. The ancient Greek Magical Papyri is nothing but magic so this seems incongruous to refuse to do any magic as a matter of principal. The author who is also a practicing witch doesn’t follow this recommendation. I would have liked to know how she reconciles this if she feels it is important enough to mention.
Leaver’s practice is influenced by her location in the United Kingdom and her membership in a coven. Her practice of Hellenism is largely a home-based practice. Most of her group ritual activity is with her coven. She is a hard polytheist and says she believes in the existence of all gods, not just Greek Gods. She aligns the British Wheel of the Year to ancient Greek religious festivals. Someone who is not British or has no ties to Wicca or Witchcraft would not do this.
The introduction to the Delphic Maxims could have been longer and I would have liked her to include more viewpoints on this than that found on the webpage of Hellenismos. The Delphic Maxims lie at the core of the beliefs and even if some are confusing to modern ears, understanding them seems essential to knowing the beliefs of Hellenism.
The discussion of worship practices includes home altars, Hestia, offerings, the concept of miasma and debts and an introduction to the basic structure of ritual with preparation, procession, purification, ritual and libation. The Greek pantheon is introduced with up to a few pages describing each deity in the dodekathion. Leaver goes into some depth on the concept of using calendar days associated with different deities to honor them. I wish the author spent more time on the concept of miasma. The information on ritual was basic. No rituals or hymns are in this book.
Leaver states that she does not see the Greek myths as being a part of the religion because the stories changed over time. She says because the ancients enjoyed a good story and they changed stories, that this made the myths more like popular literature than a basis for religious belief but she doesn’t back this up with scholarship. I was baffled by what she believes about the Theoi if the myths are not the backbone of that belief. I wonder if perhaps the author is judging the myths based on her modern perception and a lack of information. She says her interest in Hellenism began with an interest in the Eleusian mystery cult. The mystery cults required initiation and revealing their secret was punishable by death. For this reason, we do not know much about what happened and what initiates learned. The content remains mysterious. I suspect the truly faithful had a much more nuanced and complete understanding of these myths than the general population who never formally studied them.
This book is best for someone desiring a window into the worship of a fellow Hellenic. It feels like a personal journey that has begun and is in progress. The writing is enthusiastic but sometimes needs to be fleshed out more or just thought through more. This book is likely to be of most interest to those already exploring Hellenism.
~review by Larissa Carlson
Author: Samantha Leaver
Moon Books, 2020
pp. 104, $ 10.95