First, before this discussion begins it must be noted that Hellenismos, as a religion, makes no statement to the validity of other religions and their practices. It also does not make a statement as to the validity of the beliefs and practices of the various Celebrants who may worship any or all of the Greek Gods in a non-traditional way. Hellenismos is the reconstruction of the traditional polytheistic religion of Greece. Those who practice this religion, and work for its restoration, are only making statements as they relate to Hellenismos. Therefore, those of you reading this who a Wiccan, Neodruid, Neopagan, or some other religion that may incorporate the worship of Greek Gods into your practice, the religious opinions expressed herein have nothing to do with you. If you want to find offense in them, look inside yourself as to why.
After several days of heated debate, over several forums, I can finally give a summation of the events, and the religious opinions behind them. Agree or disagree, they are what they are, and there is no denying them. To be a Reconstructionist means being open-minded enough to allow the facts shape your opinions, not having your opinions shape the facts. Tradition and orthopraxy are essential aspects of the Hellenic Religion. Anyone who denies that denies the religion.
A person asked whether homophobia was an apparent aspect within Hellenismos on the MysticWicks Pagan Community Forum. His declaring of the Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum was homophobic relates to the fact that they, as an ultra-traditional Hellenic religious organization, denied homosexual couples, couples where at least one person is infertile, or couples beyond child-baring years to have a religious wedding ceremony. This organization keeps to the fact that traditionally, marriages are between a man and a woman for creating a family.
This organization also denies homosexuals, and anyone affected by an abnormal medical condition (both for different reasons) from serving in the offices of public priest or priestess. For homosexuals the issue seems to come down to the modern paradigm observed by the majority (or at least a very vocal minority) is outside the acceptable paradigm, based on Ancient Greek culture, acknowledged by this organization. In the case of an infertile individual, candidates for the office of public priest were unblemished, in good health, and without physical defect. This means any person with a serious medical condition is ineligible for this public office.
We all know the Greeks were not homophobic. What we are getting here is an ultra-traditional application of the correct worldview for both marriage and public priests. Homosexuality was a separate issue from marriage, and marriage was for the purpose of family and linage. A Greek simply did not forsake traditional marriage for a same sex relationship. The issue of marrying people who are sterile runs along this same thought.
Regarding public priests and priestesses, the rules for such positions are rather clear. With Hellenic ritual, it has to do with the symbology within ritual, and the use of symbols within cultural contexts. The idea that a priest or priestess is to be unblemished, in good health, and without physical or mental defect comes from the perception that like attracts like. A successful ritual attempts to imitate the higher realities, and mimic the quality of harmony through the symbolism of the expressions and worship. As Sallustius noted, “All congruity comes about by representation and likeness; for which reason the temples are made in representation of heaven, the altar of earth, the images of life (that is why they are made like living things), the prayers of the element of thought, the mystic letters of the unspeakable celestial forces, the herbs and stones of matter, and the sacrificial animals of the irrational life in us.” This is at the root of the idealism within Hellenic thought. Virtue brings us closer to the Gods; vice takes us out of their light. A public priest or priestess fits into that symbology, and using an ‘inferior’ person in that role diminishes, or even negates the effectiveness.
In ancient time, couples who were not blessed with children would have been seen as receiving negative kharis from the Gods. This means something about them personally placed them in disfavor. A person in disfavor with the Gods is therefore ineligible for the public office of priest or priestess. Today, we know this is a medical condition, but a medical condition such as this still disqualifies a person.
The basic idea behind a priest or priestess being unblemished, in good health, without physical, emotional or mental defect, and of good moral standing is based on good history, an understanding of Greek ritual, symbology and idealism, and the fact that a priest or priestess is our representative to the Gods. They are to be an example of everything good in humanity, and our potential. They are a representation of excellence. If a person exhibits signs or physical manifestations of gluttony, laziness, or any other characteristics not representative of Greek ideals, then they have no business being a priest or priestess.
Coming back to the topic of homosexuality, their ultra-traditional position is not one that I hold myself, but I did defended the right of Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum to practice their religion within the set of parameters they see fit. While I do not agree in total with the way this organization applies the worldview to their modern adaptation, I fully support their right to preserve and protect their ancestral and cultural practices, values, institutions, tradition, rituals, and way of life in their own way.
As is typical, the normal cast of characters, most of who don’t even claim to be practicing Hellenismos, went to work labeling both the Societas Hellenica Antiquariorum and myself as intolerant bigots and homophobes, who were working outside the pre-Christian mindset. Some people have just convinced themselves that the pre-Christian world was a leftwing-environmentalist-feminist-homos
That said, things change and times moves on, but we don’t just change for the sake of change. We do not just change because someone claims his or her “feelings” are hurt. There is nothing wrong with a religion espousing the ideals of family. The public aspect of the Hellenic religion would not have existed without the household. The household religion would not have existed without the family. Hellenismos is a family centered religion, regardless of whose feelings are hurt by it, feel left on the fringes, or want to try to recreate it in their image.
As this debate then spread over several websites the question then became, what is the opinion of the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes (YSEE)? Their religious opinions, being the largest Hellenic Polytheist organization and holding a super majority of practitioners, are the most authoritative, and seems to be sought even by those who work to discredit them. There emerged within the discussion a South African expatriate, currently living on the island of Lesbos in Greece, who implied knowledge of YSEE’s opinions (or lack of opinion). Also, she stated she was working on a group of rituals for homosexuals that she thoroughly expected to be approved by the Council. Included in this list of rituals was a same-sex commitment ceremony that would be made available as an authentic and traditional same-sex wedding ceremony, and there were those she addressed who became excited at the idea of a wedding ceremony they could have that would be traditional and authentic.
The reality is the worldview is the worldview, and the orthopraxy is the orthopraxy. Vlassis G. Rassias, the General Secretary of YSEE, has provided us with their official position:
YSEE respects all kind of diversity, is also member of the EU Committee for Greece against discrimination, and for this reason has repeatedly become the target of insults and slander by close minded, racist and far right people.
Us, seeing like our ancestors the marriage as chiefly a CIVIC matter, we do not object any kind of civic contract between two individuals of any sex, aiming to provide them the legal rights concerning pension, heritage, social security and so on.
On the ritualistic level though, since the marriage symbolizes the sacred union of two opposite elements (male-female, Zeus-Hera) for further “demeourgia” (creation, “birth”), we perform marriage rituals only between people of the opposite sex.
When asked a follow-up regarding commitment ceremonies to be used as same-sex wedding ceremonies, he stated:
I think I was clear enough: YSEE respects homosexuals, it does not deny membership to them, not even priesthood, and the same it respects people that may have other forms of sexual expression, YSEE does not examine the sexual orientation, we polytheists are friends and not enemies of the human sexuality like the monotheists are.
Our stand for only heterosexual “religious” marriages is only ritualistic, I think I was clear from the beginning.
If we change even once our ritualistic Tradition then there will be no Tradition (ritualistic, I repeat!) at all, because then we’ll have to perform marriage ritual also for a polygamist with 5 brides, also for a nudist couple that may want to be blessed nude, also for a BDSM couple that may want the one part collared, and so on.
This is the fact of the matter; adaptation must be done in such a way as to not create an intentional conflict with the traditional religion. As Sallustius stated, laws and judgments came into existence to prevent us from erring. Therefore, our modern adaptations should not deviate from the course, aim, or purpose of preserving and restoring the traditional Hellenic religion.
The choice to judge these groups as homophobic will be a personal one. Fact remains, religions have the right to preserve their ancestral and cultural practices, values, institutions, tradition, rituals, and way of life. Religious freedom is at least as important as recognizing identical rights, protections, and privileges for the family structures of same-sex couples. Human rights are basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, and we do not preserve the liberty and freedom of one group by stomping on the liberties and freedoms of others. Regardless if others adopt YSEE’s religious opinions and philosophical positions on this matter, to practice Hellenismos requires an adherence to tradition and the worldview. No one has made a moral judgment against homosexuality, and their support is behind recognition of legal same-sex marriage by the state.