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Or, "It's better to do nothing than to do it wrong."

There's been a discussion on one of my heathen groups lately that has made me think about one of the current issues in Hellenism.

Folks were talking about the Hammer Rite--which is something sometimes used to prepare a ritual space. It takes various formats, the one I'm familiar with is "Hammer in the north, hold and hallow this holy stead, etc." It has, to anyone who has any familiarity with Wiccan practice, at least something of a neopagan feel to it and supposedly was based on the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (or so I'm told). I've seen alternate ways to prepare the space where the dwarves of the directions, or the wights of various elements, are called beforehand. There followed some discussion of how its use had become less common over the years as more people learned that it has no real basis in ancient heathen practice, but some people and groups do still make use of it, because it's familiar, and because there's some question of whether it's functionally the same thing as the LBRP...anyway, so the issue thirty years ago was not only that the reconstructed faith was new and research had not developed as it has now, but that those folks who were trying to get it reconstructed were concerned with making information available so people could get down to the business of honoring the gods.

So while I still think that at some point you really need to put down the books and hold a ritual or remain an armchair reconstructionist, the folks who tend to put things off until everything is "just so" do have a point. Once something gets out into common practice, it's pretty hard to be rid of it, even if it's found later not to be accurate. There's been some discussion of just where some parts of Old Stones New Temples came from--that they may have been innovations rather than taken directly from original sources and, more to the point, that which parts were innovations may not have been identified as such. (Which is fair enough--it's going to be hard to hold a ritual without doing something new to fill in the missing spots, and we have to make our best guess based on the information we do have as to what to do. But the degree of innovation should be specified.)

Where I see a potential problem is here: right now Hellenic reconstructionism is pretty new, and the folks who are active in it are likely to be willing to change their practice if new research directs them in that way. Two things come to mind. One, that there isn't really a standard worshipping procedure now--the outline in OSNT is probably as close as anyone has come to having one, and I know as many Hellenes who don't use it as do. Eventually that'll happen--there will be more-or-less-established ways of doing ritual. Right now the religion is still fairly liquid, but eventually it will become more firm (although hopefully not solidify entirely) and there will be practices that are identifiably Hellenic recon. And two, as the religion grows, there will be a smaller percentage of adherents who do their own research, and a greater one of adherents who just want to worship the gods given a few basic sources.

These two factors mean that it's going to be awfully hard to strip away the "wrong" stuff in just a few years. Just as there are heathens who will continue using the Hammer Rite regardless of what new research brings--maybe because they learned their ritual structure years ago and have not kept up with new research, or because they don't have a strongly reconstructionist bent (when a reconstructed faith gets to a certain point, it will have to stand or fall on its own merits, and not everyone who joins up will do so because of a strong personal interest in reconstructionism per se) and don't care all that much about the original source, or because they feel that the function it performs is a necessary one in the modern context (no modern hofs or temples = no established permanent sacred space, thus the need to create new before ritual), or simply because the modern tradition (years spent doing ritual in a particular way) is more important to them than the ancient one--there will be Hellenic recons who stick to their original model for doing libations or whatever.

I don't really see a good solution, just saying what I think is likely to happen :).

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
weofodthignen
Sep. 1st, 2004 01:16 pm (UTC)
As a gyðja, I take this issue very seriously. But the questions need to be asked entirely anew for another religion, such as the Hellenic. Some would say they should be asked anew when going from Ásatrú to A-S Heathenism, even.

The central issue is--why do ritual? If it's first and foremost for the people--as some would argue the worship at Things was, and as may have been the case with the Athenian great festivals--then the question of accuracy becomes a question of how best to make people feel they are honoring tradition and their ancestors. If on the other hand it's at least as much for the gods, then one must ask oneself whether the gods would rather we blóted (or whatever it is in terms of the other religion) or waited till we could do it perfectly. What do they care about? Sincerity and the demonstration of love? Or every jot and tittle of carefully researched and scrupulously reconstructed praxis?

Those are the fundamental questions, and from them come answers to queries like what to wear and how carefully to wash before rites, what language to use, the balance between public and private observance for a "good" worshipper, and so on, as well as the things about how a rite is performed that you are focusing on here. It may well be that the answers differ between religions. Also, since that verse of Hávamál is less than clear as to what "ofblótit" means (incorrectly? excessively? in the wrong frame of mind?), heathens are deeply divided in this respect, and have good reason to be, sadly. (I suspect attention to details of "correctness" also varied considerably between eras and places; I would imagine viking bands blóted in a rough and ready, gusto-filled manner while there was probably at least one place in the long history of heathenry--maybe Uppsala?--where goðar performed elaborate ceremonies encrusted with centuries of rabbinical tradition.)

It's also complex because the nature of sacrifice is inherently complex, at least from the POV of a modern not raised in a religion such as Hinduism. How exactly the gift functions and how the giver and recipient interact is the kind of stuff even our priests have problems conceptualizing, and it relates to mystery. But this leads to confusion over the nature of the space involved. The Hammer Rite does indeed have its roots in a warding ritual. But do we need to ward blót space? To me that's the most serious indictment of the thing. But I have never heard it done the same way by any two people. And the ways in which many people do it, it is actually a calling (I won't say summoning or invocation, but magicians would). And although it's a little early in the standard blót outline, and creates redundancy later on--that's what a blót has at its center, after all. Inviting the gods. And that does set up a vé pretty damned efficiently. So in short . . . the Hammer Rite has morphed into something more heathen than its antecedents would suggest, and in the muddle of our relationship to blót, it's both rather well adapted to our needs and a useful barometer of how the particular group envisages blót.

...

Before I climb completely down from my gyðja soapbox here . . . several of us have been talking for a while about forming a totally accepting heathen organization. Somewhere where the degree of one's reconstructionist accuracy, for example, would not be judged as to adequacy or pointed to as freaky, but would simply be an interesting difference to discuss with other heathens. Interested? You and Dan may consider yourself invited to the e-group: see the description at www.groups.yahoo.com/group/heathenthing , and if you join the group you will get sent a copy of the file with the few rules.

Frith,
Marion
hearthstone
Sep. 1st, 2004 10:17 pm (UTC)
Hmm...Hellenic religion did seem to have a division between religion for the people (the festivals and other aspects of polis religion) and religion for the individual (mystery cults and individual worship--after all, new gods had to come from somewhere!) and the purpose of each was quite different. Most of the Hellenic recons who keep away from mysticism are focusing primarily or solely on a recreation of polis religion.

One definition of piety used by the ancient Athenians says that it has to do with keeping as closely as possible to the ways established by the ancestors; whether that was the sole definition or even the primary one, I'm not sure (and of course I can't remember the specific source right now).

But do we need to ward blót space? To me that's the most serious indictment of the thing.

Another hmm...are we warding it or are we making it sacred somehow? If the former, it may indeed be pointless--if the latter, well, maybe not. I know that the ancient heathens had the notion of a place held sacred but as far as I can remember that was marked by what you could not do in the space rather than what you must do to it. And we lack, for the most part, places to worship which are already made sacred--so I do perceive the need, at least potentially.

several of us have been talking for a while about forming a totally accepting heathen organization. Somewhere where the degree of one's reconstructionist accuracy, for example, would not be judged as to adequacy or pointed to as freaky, but would simply be an interesting difference to discuss with other heathens. Interested?

Yes, definitely--joined the group and will try to catch up on the archives although it may take a while :).
weofodthignen
Sep. 1st, 2004 11:12 pm (UTC)
That distinction between polis religion and private religion--did the private include household gods like the Roman lares and penates, or was it always mystical?--is a good example of why these questions have to be asked anew for each religion. I'm not at all sure there was a similar wall of separation in ancient heathenry, although yes, the blóts at Things were partly to uphold community, and the blóts for victory, the king, and a good harvest were community, later national, obligations.

And similarly with that definition of piety--which would settle the argument about how much accuracy in reconstruction matters! I don't know of any parallel statement in Germanic lore. The only statements about people being very religious that I can think of have to do with blóting frequently and generously. The two traditions may well differ radically on this.

I'm not saying creating sacred space isn't necessary! Yes, that's what a vé is and we must blót in a vé of some sort (although I don't think it's necessary to hallow the altar or the space itself every time, unless they have been mundanely used since the last time). But that isn't the same thing as warding--it's making an inviting place for the gods (or if you prefer to think of it in human terms, getting people focused on them), not protecting the space from evil influences. That's the big difference between a blót circle and a wiccan circle. What I find fascinating about the hammer rite--which originally did come from that magical warding tradition--is that many of the ways I have witnessed it being done are actually calling the gods. They've crossed over that line. OTOH there are those who do both as separate and lengthy steps, as if we have to make a safe vacuum and then populate it . . . but I digress '-) This is the kind of thing priests like to discuss. But that was what I wanted to say--that warding is not a necessary part of blót and is a different thing from hallowing/making a vé.

Glad you joined--speak up with any questions or issues :-)

Frith,
M
hearthstone
Sep. 2nd, 2004 12:52 am (UTC)
That distinction between polis religion and private religion--did the private include household gods like the Roman lares and penates, or was it always mystical?

No, not always. There were a number of different ways people worshipped in their homes, small shrines to Hekate, Hermes, and various ones to Zeus. These were household practices--but there was crossover there--for example, a citizen running for office was expected to have a particular altar/shrine to Zeus and another to Apollo in his home, as having these marked him as a good citizen. Other smaller groupings, such as the phratries (kinship groupings of a sort) were also important. But many of the religious practices that were primarily individual, or benefitted the individual (rather than the family) were mysteries.

One problem (well, IMO it's a difficulty :)) is that while Hellenic recons do have more information than most recons, most of the information is from Athens and most from a particular point in Athens' history. And Athens at this time was particularly city-centered, or at least region-centered--the leaders had a great interest in the people's loyalty being to the city. The festivals primarily benefitted the city as a whole--and of course, the citizens received those benefits as a result. But it's a difficult model to transfer to the modern world, moreso, I think, than the heathen model which (at least in its common form) seems to be more small-group-oriented.

And similarly with that definition of piety--which would settle the argument about how much accuracy in reconstruction matters!

To some extent it does, I think, and it's certainly a very important source for traditionalist Hellenic recons--although I wouldn't be surprised if this were something considered part of one's duty to not only the gods but to one's city. But I need to do more research, dig up the original sources, before I can clarify this for myself. But it isn't the only reference to piety taking the form of making offerings regularly and reliably (I'll try to dig up the source later), so I'm not sure there isn't at least a grain of similarity there to the heathen practice.

What I find fascinating about the hammer rite--which originally did come from that magical warding tradition--is that many of the ways I have witnessed it being done are actually calling the gods.

I'm not sure I've seen it done in that way--you could possibly interpret it (the way I know if) as calling on the protection of Thor, but I've not seen anyone mention the gods at that time (although I have been to heathen rituals that started out with something suprisingly close to calling quarters! :)).

Maybe it's because I came to heathenry via neopaganism and have been to quite a few eclectic Wiccan-based rituals, but my impression is that while the basic hammer-hallowing has some of the form of the Wiccan practice, the intent is different.

I'm looking forward to reading the list--so far the archives are pretty interesting!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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