Showing posts with label Paganism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paganism. Show all posts

Humans Aren't Gods, and Pagan Groups Need To Stop Telling People They Are

Many people come to Paganism out of a longing for the old Gods, to find community where they otherwise would not, and to reach their own unique sense of purpose and achievement. Most people find the Gods, their purpose, and equally important, themselves. These are all fantastic things. 

But perhaps in an attempt to raise people above the levels they came from, or out of delusions of grandeur, or perhaps even out of actual belief, there are Pagan systems that tell people they are Gods, equal to Gods, work with Gods, and are the same as Gods. 

Whenever I hear someone say they are a God, or that some other person is a God, if prompted I always say, "Oh, yeah? Make it rain." I don't respond this way to be a jerk, but to wake them up to an important reality that can become dangerous to neglect.

Our religious and social ancestors had no problem with worship or religion. In fact, to the Greeks, there was no word for religion because life was religious. They were not Christians nor Abrahamic, and yet, they still realized that their Gods were greater than themselves. They still prayed, worshiped and sacrificed to them because they held status, power and wisdom far above their own.

Humans are not the same or equal to the Gods. If we were, we would not be called humans. We do not take their places nor work with them, because we are not on the same levels at all. We are mortal, we hurt, we bleed, and we die. Gods do not. 

The idea that Pagans did not worship is simply incorrect at best, and a lie at worst. However, it did not mean they saw themselves as degenerates. Quite the contrary, they could be Heroic to the point of eternal glory. Simply put, the Gods had their place and mankind had theirs. Nothing deplorable about any of it.

There are many reasons humans should not consider themselves Gods, but here are the core ones to my mind.

1. Humans simply aren't. Truth has a place in human life.
2. It gives a false sense of achievement; people don't have to do anything else in life.
3. It can create dangerous self-righteous authority over other people and things.
4. Self-harm can follow from thinking you're something you're not.
5. To not give the Gods their proper place is an affront to the sacredness of Divinity.

It does not matter how big, strong or successful you are, you are not a God. But you also don't have to be. Who in the world ever thought or assumed that human beings couldn't be great as a human? 

Ikaros was, mythologically, among the first two men to achieve flight. That in itself was greatness. But because Ikaros failed to understand his proper place and tried to soar higher than a mortal should, he fell and drowned. 

It was not that he didn't reach greatness, but that he didn't acknowledge what greatness was for a man. He had achieved all a man could, filling his cup of glory to the top, if only he hadn't tried to make it hold more than it naturally could.

Imagine it. He could have brought the knowledge of flight to mankind, made himself rich, loved and admired for eternity. There would have been nothing inglorious about his life. If only he had understood the difference between Gods and men.

"Didn't some of the Heroes become Gods after death?" Yes, but it was after they had transcended the physical realm, and many of the Heroes were part Divine to begin with. And not all Ascended people are Gods either. They are more powerful than physical humans, but still not Deities. 

In closing, I will say that when it comes down to personal belief, should others really concern themselves with that? I'd say normally not. If someone believes they are Superman, who cares? But if they put on the costume and go to jump off a building, should we as a community tell them that they are indeed Superman and to go ahead? 

In the Goodness of the Gods,
I'll see you at the next Herm down the road,
Chris Aldridge.

How Can Reincarnation and Ancestor Worship Coexist?

Many believe in reincarnation, and we also love to venerate, worship and call on our ancestors, the latter is certainly a structural part of not only Hellenism, but several Pagan/Polytheistic religions. Sometimes I even invoke deceased family members I personally knew in life; not many, but a few rare ones on occasion. For example, my grandmother on my dad's side who always loved me. If I pray to her, it's normally for peace (and it works, by the way). But in any case, there are those of us who wonder how the two belief systems can work together. If the soul reincarnates, how are our deceased there to hear us? How does John exist if John is no longer John but someone else entirely?

First, I think we should consider the fact that, at least in Hellenism, reincarnation is not the only form of the afterlife. In fact, I'd venture to say that it's new to Hellenism in terms of widespread community belief. In ancient times, most people believed in the Underworld (Realm of Haides), the Isle of the Blessed, and for serious offenders, Tartaros, as the destinations for human souls. Although Tartaros is probably not considered an eternal punishment, but largely a place of atonement before one can move on. Remember, in The Odyssey, Odysseus travels to the Underworld and interacts with His dead mother (a family member), and she doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

However, even if in a small measure, there does exist an ancient source for reincarnation explicitly. At the end of the 10th book of Plato's Republic, we read the fantastic story of a solider named Er, who had a near-death-experience and returned to tell about the spectacular worlds of the afterlife. He spends a significant amount of time discussing the reassignment of human souls into other lives. No two ways about it, that's reincarnation. In my view, there are three possibilities. One, reincarnation is not the only afterlife. Two, reincarnation is the only afterlife. Or three, there is no reincarnation, but I think most would reject the last two. However, what if the second one is true? How then could there possibly be logic and reality behind Ancestor Veneration?

I think that the soul is a universal being and a universal reality, not bound to only one manifestation. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, so some part of our passed loved ones or ancestors still exists in a notable form. To us, it may appear confusing, but to the vastness of Divinity and existence itself, it's rather non-issue and simple. Just as we cannot comprehend the universe beyond our telescopes and spaceships, but the universe itself sees and holds it all completely. In terms of Ancestor Veneration, I think of the soul in the example of a caterpillar. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly, but still has caterpillar DNA that can be studied. Or you might think of it in terms of growing into different life stages, but still knowing the past. I, for example, am no longer a student at my first college, but I can still tap into that manifestation. I can remember myself, the experiences, the knowledge, and to an extent, return myself to it to help others. The person I used to be, never completely leaves. 

But as always, I have the wisdom to say that I may not know. What I know for certain is that I believe that reincarnation happens and that it's never stopped me from praying to and feeling the presence of those who have passed on before me.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Building A Safe and Effective Outdoor Shrine

No one's happier than a Pagan or Polytheist with yard space. I know I certainly was when I bought my first home. I was already marking out where I would place my temple's shrines and altars, in the rather vast space that had enough room for dozens if I chose. But once you begin a permanent structure of this importance on your property, you may find that it takes a little more work and preparation than initially thought. For this post, I will primarily use my outside shrine of Athena Pandemos as an example, which is pictured above. Feel free to scroll and refer back to it at your own will.

The first step is, of course, rather obvious; finding a suitable or preferred location. For me, my terrain is flat and, in most places, easy to lightly modify with gardening and digging tools. But generally speaking, you want to try and pick a spot that is as independent of outside influences as possible. For example, don't build next to the main road or near a sewer or trash container. The reason for this is because your shrine stands a conceivable chance of being involved in an accident or a desecration. Someone could go off the road and run over it, or contaminants that will create miasma may filter in. My Athena shrine is in my fenced in backyard, among the natural trees and foliage. The only religious structure I have ever built close to my main road is my Boundary Marker because of its function, and I am actually looking at moving it up to my door or steps. Luckily, nothing has happened to it.

Second, you must first place a structure for the shrine's statue to stand upon, and also choose the proper tools and elements by which to firmly install it. Storms will come and bring strong winds along with them. My Athena statue stands upon a Greek Ionic column. Now the other important thing to consider is the material that the column and statue are made out of. Do not use cheap alabaster columns that you can find at craft stores. They will quickly rot in the face of the elements. Even if you paint them, it doesn't matter. They are just not designed to stand up to weather. My column was purchased from a designer that specifically equipped it with weather resistant materials. It is a hard, very durable plastic, but not a cheap one. Its looks, weight and design makes it cost around $150.00. But consider the investment. You will never have to replace it. If you can't afford one, there are other options I will get to a bit later. Your statue, likewise, should also be able to resist the outside weather. There are Greek and Pagan suppliers who make them, and can be found easily online at affordable prices.

The column's base rests in the ground, inside a small hole dug specifically for it to fit in. For a hole this shallow, however, simply putting the dirt back on top will not be enough to hold it against strain unless it is placed within an enclosed area where wind will have a difficult time directly hitting it. For the completion of the base, fill the hole with quick drying cement, which can be purchased extremely cheaply at hardware stores. The kind I have used successfully is called Quikrete. Pack it down, wait for it to dry, and cover it up with the excess soil. As an extra anchor, I also placed a concrete block on the ground on either side of the column, so that if a strong force does begin to push against the base, it will have a harder time uprooting it to the point that it would harm the statue.

Third, place the statue on top of the column with a base sealant. I use E6000 to glue the top of the column and the bottom of the statue together. An abundant amount will greatly secure it against mishaps. You don't want to just stand the statue and leave it without an anchor. Especially if it's a large, expensive one like mine. You want to make sure it cannot be easily toppled, which brings me to the last section of this outline.

You'll notice the nice garden gate that encircles my Athena shrine. That's not just there for decoration. It serves two vital purposes. The first is to close and section off the shrine as sacred. The second is to protect it from overheard dangers, as there are trees directly above it. We don't normally think about it, but a falling branch or even a sturdy twig can destroy or damage the statue or column. But in the case of mine, the falling tree would impact with the iron gate and be unlikely to penetrate. The gate may need replacing depending on the strength of the object, but the shrine will be saved. A strong garden gate of this kind will run you at least $200.00. However, depending on the size of your statue and its location, you may not need it. If you look at the picture and take notice to the altar that is used for sacrifice to Athena, you'll see that it is simply made from straightly stacked concrete blocks. These blocks can also be used in like manner to build a pedestal for the statue, saving you cost on the column, and their immense weight will be enough to keep them in place by themselves. Although you should take note that I do not know if glues such as E6000 will bind to concrete. However, I am sure there are sealants that will. Ask the people at your hardware store. Once you have built the stone column and placed the statue on it, use much smaller blocks or stones, or some other very hardened material, to construct a small shelter around the statue. You must also make sure that said structure won't collapse or fall away. Of course, if you build the shrine away from any direct dangers, you don't need a cover at all. My Artemis shrine looks to the open sky and does not have an overhead for that reason. The protective barriers only need to be in place if there are exterior dangers possible.

The shrine should now spend time being cultivated by you, the builder and devotee. There's more to a place of worship than just stone and iron. It's sacred to the God it represents. They can even spiritually visit it. It is a holy place for their holy presence, and a center for your supplication for their bliss, blessings and wisdom in your life. Therefore, make it welcoming and devoted to the God. My Artemis shrine will have a fresh pine tree in its precinct this year, dedicated to Her as the Goddess of forests and Her immortality, as pines do not lose their green. The more you love and grow the shrine, the more, I think, you'll be surprised at how the God shows their presence there. After I had built my Athena shrine, an owl took up residence somewhere in the nearby trees and sometimes hoots at night (an owl is Athena's sacred animal).

When you get down to the bottom line, a shrine is really a place where you show a God or Gods how much you love them. It is one of their homes, one of their sacred areas, and one of their universal places for you to welcome them.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

How To Build Your Own Pagan/Polytheistic Community

For 10 years, I have successfully owned and operated my own ancient Greek temple as its Head Priest, eventually building a physical temple location and sanctuary in Machesney Park, Illinois. I have called my temple simply "Temple Of The Greek Gods." Over the years, people have asked me for advice on how to build their own temple or Pagan community in their area. These inquiries have compelled me to write this entry. I can tell you from experience that it takes strength, knowledge, and wisdom to run a longstanding or lifelong community. You have to truly want it. If you do, then let's begin.

Who Are You?

The first question is, who are you? You may think it's an easy question, but you'd be surprised how many people struggle with their identities. What is your religion? Are you positively sure that's what you are and you're not going to change it? Are you certain this is your lifelong path, your true identity? You'll need to make that ultimate conclusion. If you have any doubts whatsoever, consider waiting until you are positive. Exploration is fine, and you will only benefit from it.

Secondly, what kind of religious or spiritual community do you want to establish? Obviously, I speak from an ancient Greek viewpoint, so mine would be a temple. However, I feel that any Pagan or Polytheist can use this information to their advantage. So what do you want to build? A Temple? A Coven? A Grove? A Church? Exactly what is it?

And lastly, what kind will it be? Even Polytheists and Pagans have denominations and paths. A Hellenic temple can be either Reconstructionist or Neo-Pagan, or like mine, a place for anyone who wants to worship the Greek Gods (although the temple rites and beliefs themselves are traditional and Reconstructionist). Not only do you need to know your religion and the kind of organization you want to build, but also where the area of focus is going to be within said community.

Write The Laws

ByLaws are necessary for any legitimate organization. Not only are they going to make your operations run smoother, but most states require ByLaws in order for them to recognize the organization. Think of it as your organization's constitution. Take your time, sit down, and write out everything you want the organization to uphold and follow. Create the clergy office, ranks, membership, and codes of conduct for all actions that the organization will or could take. For an example, see my own temple's ByLaws by clicking here.

Create A Physical Establishment

There are 2 main steps to creating a physical establishment. The first is to make a physical building or gathering place. It doesn't matter how small it is, or even if it's just a place in nature that you all go to from time to time. You have to start somewhere, and from that point, you will continue to get new ideas and find new opportunities for material growth. When I first started my temple, we didn't even have a place to gather. It was just a cheaply and often badly made wordpress website in High Point, North Carolina. From there, as I moved from place to place with my family, we rented and bought places that had extra rooms and grounds that could be used for temple purposes. 

The second is to be active as clergy. As a Priest or Priestess, not only do you run your organization, you are spiritual support for your members and friends. Besides operating the organization and leading its rites, decide what services you will perform for people. Examples: Rites of Passage, Marriages, Funerals, Blessings, Counseling, Prayer Requests, Public Speaking. If you are always there for your people, they will grow to trust and respect you. They may even come to love you. However, always be humble toward others. I have also seen this as a problem in some Pagan circles. People with high positions or experience, can get cocky and obnoxious. Be humble, compassionate and have an open ear to others. Have your own beliefs, but never ever think you know everything. People will be completely turned off by you.

Consider Incorporation

A number of religious organizations file Articles of Incorporation with their states. Each State has its own requirements, but it basically puts you on file with the State. The government recognizes you as a real entity, recognizes you as its clergy, and is a pathway to 501C3 status. Incorporation is not required at all, but it could be beneficial.

Keep Leadership Closed

I feel this is one of the most important qualities of a Pagan organization today, and that is what I call closed leadership. Over the years, I've seen too many Pagan groups that have been ripe with power grabs, and in the end, some of the organizations were just decimated. Let it never be open to interpretation, debate or vote that you are the one and only owner and head leader of the temple. If people don't like it, let them leave. Do not tolerate anyone who tries to seize power or authority in any way. Kick them out. If and when you do decide to appoint lower level officers to help you in the functions and duties of your organization, take time to know them. Only ordain and allow people into control who you have no reason whatsoever to distrust. I have operated my temple for 10 years. To this day, I still only have 1 lower officer who I have ordained. He works as the 1st Priest of my Cabinet. As Solon would have said, don't be hasty to make friends.

Keep All Forms of Drama Out

Whether it be clergy, members or friends of your organization, don't allow drama to enter it in any way. For instance, if I see someone on my temple's Facebook page insulting, disrespecting, or even laughing at a post in a way that is obviously meant to cause offense, I ban them without question. Not only will keeping drama out of your organization make it stronger and more credible, it will create a far safer and welcoming environment for people who are sincere. You also want your organization to be taken seriously, which will not happen if someone sees bickering and fighting.

Don't Be Political

The United States and the world have an array of political ideologies, and neither one fully agrees with the other, sometimes even violently or abusively. You yourself, or anyone in your organization, can be political on their own and in their own name, but do not bring it into your organization. I myself can be quite political privately sometimes, but I have never posted any of it on my temple's Facebook page or made it a part of my temple speeches or rites. As an example of what is political, think of it this way. Talking about LGBTQ rights is perfectly fine. Talking about how dumb a politician is, is political. As a Priest or Priestess, you want to be a humanist. You don't want to make anyone feel excluded or in danger when they come through your doors. Do not talk political, nor make a political belief part of a membership or clergy requirement. The only exception would be people who espouse hate. Always kick hate out without question, even if they do it on their own time. Someone who is a member of a hate group for instance, should have no place in your organization.

Open a Serious Website and Publish Serious Writings

There is nothing quite like a professionally made website for an organization. It will help people find and learn about you. You also do not have to spend a lot of money on it, you simply have to make it look professional and organized. My temple's site is operated through blogspot, and costs a whole $12 a year to keep active. Keep things updated on it, and post seasonal newsletters. My personal website and blog is also hosted by blogspot, which brings me to the next point. One does not have to have a separate website for this. That's just the way it happened to work out for me. But write and publish serious writings on your religion, your religion's history, and even your own personal experiences on a regular basis, and post them on your website. Your writings are theological and philosophical sources that will help others in your spiritual community find guidance and place. Whatever kind of site you open, for the love of the Gods, make sure you purchase your own domain. I hate it when I see places still attached to things like "freewebs" or "blogspot." If you're not serious enough to spend $12 a year on a domain, what does it show to others?

Hold At least 3 Public Events a Year

My temple holds at least 3 public events a year. That's the advice I would give to others as well. It doesn't matter what kind they are, but hold enough throughout the year that you are regularly active. If you go too long without doing anything, people will think you have closed or aren't serious.

Do Not Rely On Generosity

Truth be known, if I had waited for others to help me fund and build my temple, I would still be waiting. My entire temple and sanctuary and everything in them were paid for and built entirely by me. No matter how many products and services I have offered, there has never been anywhere near enough money to create anything that I have now. Unfortunately, you can only rely on your own labors to build the things you want. It's perfectly fine to be open to donations, but don't let that be any source of income for your organization, unless you manage to turn it into a multi-million membership. 

Never Become Discouraged

The most important factor in keeping a minority organization above water is to never become discouraged by anything. You will have times when you feel like the project is going slow, you might even be bored at times. But keep focused on the larger picture, and that is the life and purpose of your organization. Even if you have a low membership, use your sources to reach out to interested people and teach about your religion and philosophy. That's why you're there, not to be the most famous. When I started my temple's Facebook page, I had to work for years before it reached the thousands of supporters it has now. My page has over 3,000 likes, which for a religion as small as mine, is outstanding. I even beat some of the local Universalist churches.

In the Goodness of the Gods,

Happy Building,

Chris Aldridge.

The Day The Gods Wiped My Slate Clean

It's an understatement to say that I've had a great many struggles in my life, but on a cold day, it manifested into the internal monster that had been consuming me for a long time.

For what seemed like weeks and months, I pulled myself through an agonizing world that had no spirituality; I couldn't feel anything. I felt that my past errors as well as my own negative thinking about things, had put me in disfavor with the Gods that might take great feats to repair, something that I was terrified I wouldn't be able to do satisfactorily. I suppose we all have the fear of failure, an anxiety that haunts the back of every human mind. But some might say that mine flooded my head completely. I was so scared that I was incredibly far gone. The ancient Greeks call it miasma, and I'd say I was certainly covered in it.

Many times did I beg the Gods in prayer to pardon me of my past and shortcomings, but the pain and dread continued. Then there came the early morning hours of that fateful day, quite possibly around 3 am, I am unsure, but some time in the opening times of the day after midnight. During the previous day, I had fasted until sundown as a sacrifice to the Gods. According to some, fasting itself lifts you out of the physical ailments and into the spiritual world. I was able to narrow the sleeping time frame down using when I went to bed and awoke. In my dream, there was a horrific monster in the form of a shabby and dirty woman chasing after me. Demonic? My own inner anguish manifesting? Both? I don't know, but it was certainly one of the most terrifying dreams of my life.

I fled from her as fast as I could, but she never went away. Then, very suddenly, a group of people, male and female, dressed in normal clothing, came to my aid. The next thing I knew, I was standing on a bridge, looking down into a vast stream, and in that stream my friends stood with the evil woman lying on her back. I said, "Just grab a limb and pull." They ripped the woman apart, and as her skeletal remains washed down stream, I said, "Into the depths of Tartaros, I send you back!" 

The dream ended by the top of her pelvic bone being placed in my hand. As the day went on after the dream, or some might say a nightmare, I felt as if I had recovered from a sickness. I just knew that the Gods had come and wiped everything away, all the things of my past and put it behind them and myself. As if, Never think of it again, begin a new day. Now was the time I could restart. I no longer felt an ounce of negativity, fear, guilt, or a separation from the Gods. My spirituality had been restored. But I couldn't figure out the meaning of the pelvic bone, so I consulted the best oracle I knew to help me interpret the dream, my wife. It turns out that it's a symbol of personal power, and that when it was placed in my hand, the Gods gave me back control over my life. What's more, the bone actually came from the monster. I had been given triumph over it completely.

I decided to tell this story for two main reasons. Firstly, to dispel the myths and individuals who want to portray the Gods as cruel, uncaring, and having little interest in the prosperity of humans. They are absolutely fascinated by us and want to see us at our best. The Gods knew how badly I was hurting and they didn't want to see me go through it anymore. Second, the Gods wiping away my past shows their immense love for humans because, one, they cared enough about my turmoil to free me from it, and second, even as they were wiping it all away, they knew future mistakes made by me would likely follow, because no human is perfect. Yet, they still chose to be with me now and in the times to come. They didn't see me as a problem but as a potential.

You're never in too deep, that's the lesson I would tell others about my experience. Additionally, the Gods are always there, they always adore you, and they always want to help you. You may lose connection because you turn away, but you'll never lose it because they turn away.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

The Falsehoods Of Christian and Jewish Persecution in Rome and Egypt

History is ripe with crafting, especially by those who have the privilege of writing it, and Christians have taken the reins for 2 millennia. Among the most common claims are those of Christian and Jewish persecution at the hands of mean old Pagans. It bothers me because, for one, it's either false or exaggerated, and two, it's used by some modern Christian leaders to arouse hatred against anyone who doesn't follow into the kind of society and government they want.

Top Egyptologists now agree that there is no evidence that the Jewish or Hebrew people were enslaved by Egypt. They did not build the pyramids; paid workers did, and the construction of highly religious state monuments would not have been given over to slaves. It would have been assigned to people heavily steeped in the state religious order, not slaves who were outsiders. The people who built the pyramids were, one, Egyptians not Jews, and two, were not slaves. Of course, the Jewish people may have indeed had contact with Egypt. If you read the Old Testament, the adoption of ancient Egyptian religious ideas cannot be denied, but the Jews were likely a warring power that was eventually ousted from the Egyptian kingdom, and if there were some captive Jews in Egypt, they were likely not mainstream slaves or servants. However, despite these facts, modern Jewish and Christian leaders continue to propagate the story of Exodus not as myth or belief, but as historical fact. But to be fair, some modern Jews have acknowledged that Exodus is in the realm of myth. It simply isn't factual history, not only because there's no evidence for it, but because we have evidence directly to the contrary. The alleged travel doesn't even make sense. You can use Google maps to see that it takes about a week to walk from Egypt to Israel. Why did it take Moses and the Hebrews 40 years? There's a reason that Moses and the story of Exodus haven't made it into a single reputable history book to this day, because they are baseless.

The Jewish people have most certainly faced real persecution in their history, but it wasn't from Egypt. In fact, their greatest persecution ever in the history of their world came at the hands of a professed Christian named Adolf Hitler who had 6 million of them murdered.

"My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter against the Jewish poison." - Hitler, April 12th, 1922 at Munich.

Moving onto Rome is a far stickier subject, but nevertheless, something the Christian church has exaggerated. The evidence for Jesus is smoke-screened enough for me to question if he even existed, but let's just say he did and he was simply a religious leader. Chances are, he wasn't punished for his religious beliefs. He was probably executed because he attempted to overthrow the Roman government. Rome was ripe with new religious cults popping up literally by the day. Rome did not mind accepting new Gods into its Empire. The idea of a new or non-Roman God was not, in itself, automatically rejected. In fact, when Rome conquered an area, one of their acts would be to invite the God of those people into the Roman State. While some may have been at odds with one another sometimes violently, even the Jews eventually excommunicated the Christians from their community in 90 CE. But the 313 Edict of Milan gave everyone freedom of religion, including Christians. However, the problem was that the Christians did not want religious freedom. They wanted religious dominance, and refused to allow Jesus to be worshiped alongside other Gods.

But the Christians had a problem. They weren't having much luck converting the general population, so instead, they appealed to leaders in government, who came to admire Christianity because of its ability to control massive amounts of people. Once governments had been Christianized, the forced conversions began, one of the most famous being under the rule of Theodosius I who outlawed the old Pagan and Polytheistic religion, closed down temples, and killed adherents who refused to convert. The Vatican itself likely sits on top of the Temple of Mithras that was there before, and what temples they didn't destroy, they reserved for the purpose of converting them into churches. The only non-Christian religion that remained legal in Rome was Judaism, likely because it was the predecessor. It must be made clear, on the basis of hard historical fact, that the ancient religion left through the immense force of government, not the people. If the early Christians just wanted to be free to practice their religion and nothing else, and most people willingly converted as they would want the world to believe, then why did they feel so threatened that they had to eradicate any religion that competed? Obviously, this would have led to conflict between Christians and the people they tried to impose upon, and would undoubtedly create "persecution" of Christians and their attempt at a religious dictatorship in Europe.

One of the greatest heroes of early Christianity, Paul, was also known for having his hands soaked in the taint of persecution himself when he spent two years in Ephesus warring against the Temple of Artemis and massively burning ancient Greek and even Jewish texts. He eventually fled to Macedonia after the local population rose up against him because of his criminal activity. The Christians couldn't remain safe in many places due, in large part, to their refusal to respect the rights, freedoms and properties of other human beings who didn't agree with them. Their establishments would go on in their early history to continue the persecution of non-Christians and Pagans, one of the most tragic being the brutal murder of the renowned Hypatia of Alexandria at the hands of a Christian mob assembled by the local Bishop. The more and more the Christians gained control, the more violent things became against non-Christians.

One of the biggest claims of persecution from early Christians was that they were punished for refusing to give tribute to the State religion of Pagan Rome. This is a dishonest statement. Everyone at that time was required to pay proper homage to the State, not just Christians. It wasn't as if it said that only Christians had to do it. It was law, and no matter what your religion was, you were not above the law. I agree there should have been more religious freedom than that, but there wasn't an organized effort to only pick on Christians. Anyone who didn't obey the law was reprimanded. It would be like me refusing to pay my taxes and then claiming that the State came after me because I'm Pagan. When in reality, it's because I didn't obey the law, and it wasn't like the Christians ushered in a Utopian time of freedom when they took over. They persecuted far worse anyone and anything that didn't accept their religion or its laws and church. Only in recent history in places like Rome and Greece have followers of the old religion been able to safely be open about their beliefs without being persecuted by the Orthodox powers, and to this day, some individual Christians still carry out violent attacks on Pagan and non-Christian gatherings and properties in various places around the globe.

As an historian, it would also be false for me to sit here and write that there were never any early Christians who were persecuted simply because of their religion. Of course there were. There have always been people who faced oppression for their beliefs, even Pagans at the hands of their own States. Everyone should have the inalienable human right to believe and live the way they want. But the idea that the Christians were the holy peacemakers of the world who never hurt anyone, and the Pagans were the evil monsters who wanted to kill them all and subjugate mankind to barbarism, belongs in a Christian fiction novel, not in a history book or on the podium of any legitimate speaker.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Work Cited
* LaBorde, Sharon, Following The Sun: A Practical Guide To Egyptian Religion, 2010. Print.
* Ellerbe, Helen, The Dark Side of Christian History, Morning Star Books, 1995. Print.
* Jones, Prudence, Pennick, Nigel, A History of Pagan Europe, Routledge, New York, New York, 1995. Print.
* Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1985. Print.
* Spivey, Nigel, The Classical World: The Foundations of the West and the Enduring Legacy of Antiquity, Pegasus Books, New York, New York, 2016. Print.

Everyday Environmentalism For The Pagan

As Pagans, and lovers of Nature, we all care about the environment and the Natural World around us, so it's no wonder that many of us consider ourselves strong environmentalists. However, one problem is that the world is a big place, and it's easy for us to find ourselves overwhelmed. But in ancient Greek times, each person, citizen or priest was responsible for their specific precinct, city, sanctuary or temple alone. One person couldn't run the whole Greek land, but with each person doing their part in each little section, the whole land vibrated. I have incorporated this idea into my own personal environmentalist efforts, and I encourage all other Hellenes and Pagans to do the same. Take a look at the picture on the right. This is a very small section of forest behind my home that I decided to sponsor, if you will, and I take regular trips through it to make sure the forest floor and trees are clean. 

On the outside, a forest like this may look presentable and fresh, but you would not believe the amount of trash I pulled from it just today. Look at the picture on the left. And by the way, that big plastic bag I used to hold all the trash was also found in the forest. The forest has two major issues that it has to deal with. One is, of course, careless humans, and the other is the fact that it stands next to a public dumpster, so there's the possibility that trash could accidentally blow through it and land in various places. 

Upon noticing the area being in need, I walked out there and worked as long as it took, releasing much sweat and pain, but eventually I recovered the landscape, and at the end, I praised Artemis and declared my labor as an offering to Her and the woodlands and forests She loves so much. I don't consider just stone and brick structures to be temples of the Gods, but also the woods, rivers, fields, and so on. These things over which the Gods rule are also their temples and sanctuaries, and that's why I, and all Pagans and Hellenes, should work to keep them clean, safe and protected. It took only about 30 minutes of my time, and it didn't require superhuman abilities or machines. Yet, I still cleaned up this entire section of forest all by myself using only my hands, a large bag, and devotion in my heart. I hope all of us will find the same in ourselves for the world around us.

When you have accomplished the work, you will feel amazingly good about yourself. You might even come to discover wonderful natural places that you never knew existed around you. It may also even give you a great sense of pride and belonging in your community. I know when you're laboring, it gets frustrating to think of the fact that you wouldn't have to be out there if people weren't so stupid, and that you will probably have to go out there again in the future because of them. But pray for those people, and be a good example and role model for them. The world is full of followers, not leaders. We need more of the latter.

Note that when deciding to sponsor a piece of natural land that is not specifically your own, make sure that you have permission to be on it. If the land is owned by a private person or company, just ask. Most people probably wouldn't mind giving you permission to clean it up for them. 

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Theseia ~ A Way To Celebrate The Oktober Rite

On October 8th, Hellenes everywhere will recognize or celebrate the ancient Festival of Theseus, the founder and Hero of Athens and her democracy, and the slayer of the infamous Minotaur monster who devoured innocent young girls and boys of Athens until Minos met the only man who wasn't afraid of him, Theseus.

Years ago, or so it seems, I constructed a rite to the Hero that anyone can practice, not only during Theseia, but any time they like throughout the year, the purpose being to honor and worship the Hero and bring His presence into one's life and/or home. Permission is granted to the Hellenic and Pagan community to use this rite whenever and wherever they like, so long as credit is given to me, its author.

1) To begin the Rite of Theseus, place in the center of your shrine or altar a statue of Theseus, or a picture or representation of the Hero. Do the proper cleansing of the altar, the offerings, and yourself.

2) Light the flame of the altar, which can be as simple as a candle, and recite the following declaration, "I light the flame of the altar, to burn bright with the Spirit of Theseus of Troezen, Hero and King of Athens and the mighty slayer of the Minotaur, Founder of festivals and the unity of the people who gather in His presence."

3) Bring forth and recite the journeys and times of Theseus with the following recitals, and offerings or gifts placed after each reference or invocation.

Journey to Athens
"The long, lost son of Aegeus He was, born in blessed Troezen, and lifting the great stone to find the gifts His father had left behind, and taking them into His possession, the great sword and sandals, to make His journey to blessed Athens, that He may reunite with His father and claim His birthright. Along the way, many enemies and evildoers did He encounter, and thus He slayed them that they may be punished, and the Hellenic people freed. O' Theseus, who brings rescue from evil and ruthlessness, I welcome you as a Savior, and to you sweet fragrance must be given.

(Light The Incense)

Destruction of the Minotaur
"Sailing the beautiful Aegean, Theseus on the sea, mighty Sailor, He bravely traveled to the island of Minos to free the people of Athens from the tyranny of the Minotaur and the oppression of the Minoan monarch. He confronted the half-man, half-bull monster in the endless labyrinth, and struck the beast dead to the floor of the maze. Never again would Athens yield and submit, for Minos now knew the power of Athena's people. Theseus who brings us salvation from tyranny and oppression, I welcome you as Liberator, and for this greatness, a great libation should be poured to you."

(Pour the Libation)

Unification of Attica and the Founding of Panathenaia
"To the region of Attica, scattered and divided, Theseus brought the Union, both of land and people, into the great State of Athens. He founded its historic democracy which has since inspired the free world, He created its brilliant festival of Athena's people known as Panathenaia, and He pushed Athens to the heights of its most glorious and influential times. I welcome you, Theseus, as the great Unity, the Founder of free government, and the Father of our festivals, and in that honor, I give you a beautiful fabric of my home, robes given for a King, to see you with delight and wrap your statue/image in beauty."

(Wrap the Cloth Around)

4) Grand Invocation
"O' Theseus of Troezen, Hero and King of Athens, slayer of the Minotaur, lead me to victory over the monsters in my life, free me of tyranny, and bring me to liberation, through the goodness of the Gods, and the grace of Athena's blessed City."

5) Closing Prayer
"As I bring my holy and sacred rite to a close, I give thanks to Theseus for hearing my prayers, delighting in my gifts, and blessing my home and life with the goodness and freedom that He brings. As Athens declared, Nothing Without Theseus."

(Blow Kiss of Love To The King)

Final Note- Consider finishing the rite or the day with a feast in honor of Theseus.

Also know that I wrote a book on Theseus some time ago. Consider purchasing a copy if you would like to learn more about Him by clicking on this Link.
Theseus: His Life, Mysteries and Virtues
In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Finding Altars In Nature

In the Pagan community, we often talk about building shrines and altars, but have we ever considered that there are natural altars everywhere around us, that nature Herself has built? It is great that these things exist and that we can find them, since Pagan spirituality is often if not entirely connected to Nature and the Natural Universe. There are essentially four main kinds of natural altars that I myself have come to identify in the soils of the world. The first on the right is one of the most common. You may have to click the picture to enlarge it that you may see the structure, but it's an above ground root system that has ascended a significant portion above the soil. Offerings can be left in the narrow spaces of the roots, or if a libation, drenched over the roots themselves. Water or flavored water is recommended for this kind of altar. Alcohol or too much milk may be bad for the plant system. 

Now because the root system is part of a tree, the natural soil, and perhaps a forest, there are certain Gods tied to them, and these would be the best Gods to honor at these places. The Gods include Artemis, Pan, Demeter, Dionysos and Gaia, or generally speaking, the Dryads or Forest Nymphs. If a specific tree like an oak, olive or laurel, very specific Gods such as Zeus, Athena and Apollon can be honored successfully, since those trees are directly sacred to these Deities. You could even honor local Elemental Spirits at these places by pouring libations to Gnomes or Elves for instance, since they are known to be dwellers of roots and trees.

The second place in nature that makes a great altar, although sometimes requires some assembly, is a rock formation, like the picture on the left. As far back as ancient times, and still today, Pagans and Polytheists used/use stacks of natural stones as altars over which they pour libations. In my own religious past, I've also burned incense upon them. Some formations, obviously, are quite larger than others. You may encounter a massive protruding ledge or boulder in a park or forest, or as with the picture, you could simply come upon a few small pebbles that can be stacked or brought together into formation. Some people have even taken stone to craft their own unique altars, likes ones I have seen at Pagan sanctuaries. A raised stone or rock surface is a natural altar. Any God, Spirit, Hero, Deified Mortal or Ancestor can be honored upon these structures.

The third place for a natural altar is one of my favorites, and is probably very easy to locate if you live in an area with forests or a good tree population, and that is a simple tree stump, left over after a tree has fallen or been cut down. The picture on the right will give you a good example. Many may think of stumps as being quite large, but they can be of any mass, big or small. They make great natural altars because of their often flat surfaces and various openings, which can be used to receive libations, or hold offerings or burning incense on their surfaces. Because they are attached to the ground, you could even designate and ordain such a place as your worship area if it rests on your own land. And once again, it's very fluid in spirituality. Anyone can be honored upon them. 

Finally, the last natural area is not so much an altar, but rather a depositing area, and that's a natural hole in the ground, like the picture on the left. Offerings can be left in them and libations poured. Since it's basically the beginning of a tunnel underground, Chthonic or Underworld Gods should be honored through them, such as Haides, Hermes, Persephone, Hekate, and Charon. Spirits of the dead such as Ancestors, Passed Loved Ones, and Heroes can also receive offering here. And Nature Spirits or Elementals can be offered to through underground regions, such as Dwarves. However, there is something very important to remember with these places. Make sure you can see the bottom of the hole, that the floor of it is visible. This probably means that no small animals live in it, and therefore you won't risk drowning a poor creature or being bitten by it. If there is a bottom that is visible, this won't be a problem. Even if the small opening is the home of a creature who is presently not there, the liquid will soak down into the earth and not bother them when they return. It would also be a great place to burn incense in. If you still don't feel comfortable doing it, you can always dig your own small opening in the ground for temporary use.

There is as well something called a tree clearing, a place in a thick forest that has no trees, where trees are noticeably absent. You can see trees around you, but there is perhaps a 15 to 20 foot radius where there are none. These will normally be marked by lush grass, flowers or other natural growths, and are great sanctuaries for Pagan activity. These areas are naturally formed, not man-made, which is an important factor. There are some places in the forest where the trees just didn't grow or grow as much, and this is a proper clearing for the Pagan. An immediate or recent man-made clearing is not natural, and therefore not Pagan. It could even harbor negative energy or angry Spirits. A man-made clearing will usually be identifiable by the presence of freshly cut wood, downed trees, and no vegetation. The ground will usually be covered in mud or straw. While the forest and plants can and will return over time, it's not an immediate place to revere or enter.

With all that being said, it's also entirely possible to build a natural altar yourself from natural material, such as digging your own burrow like I said, arranging stones, or even stacking loose roots or sticks themselves. When I lived in Thomasville, North Carolina and was just starting to get into Paganism, I actually built an altar to Artemis in the forest beside my home, which I still have records of in an old Witch Almanac I had at the time. It was a collection of three massive and hollow branches that had somehow ended up twisted together on the forest floor. I creatively propped them up against a nearby tree near its base, and from there, I declared it to be an altar of the Forest Goddess Herself. As far as I know, it is still there 10 years later.

Don't forget that you can use the locations of the structures, and the structures themselves, to focus on Deity. You have the examples above in the 2nd and 5th paragraphs, but there can also be a number of other things to consider. For example, if next to a well, spring, river or ocean, invoke Poseidon, Aphrodite, Amphitrite, and/or the number of fresh and saltwater Spirits and Nymphs, such as the Nereids (saltwater) or the Naiads (freshwater). If near a place of forge, workmen or craftsmen, honor Hephaistos or the Creation Forces known as the Kabeiroi. If on or near a place where battles took place, Ares or the Spirit of courage Alke. If certain animals inhabit the area, like female cows who have not yet given birth, focus on Hera. There are a number of identifications all around a given place if you look.

There are a few notes to remember about natural altar areas. For one, root systems, trees, groves and burrows can be dwelling places or sanctuaries of Nature Spirits or Elementals. It's important to show proper respect when approaching these places and doing things in or around them. Be hospitable not presumptuous. In ancient Greek times, not only were the Gods everywhere, but also Spirits at every corner. Finally, use common sense safety measures. Although highly unlikely to cause a spreading fire, make sure you don't leave burning incense unattended, or try to roast something upon dry wood. Keep the offerings simple and manageable, staying always respectful, and it will remain a wonderful place to engage the Pagan Universe.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

The Controversial Subject of Animal Sacrifice

It's no secret to history, and no doubt to any logical mind, that the ancient Polytheists (not just Greeks) participated in the practice of animal sacrifice to their Gods, and not in small amounts. At the Panathenaia, for example, Athena received a sacrifice of 100 oxen, which were then used in a great banquet to feed the worshipers. There are also vase paintings from around 500 BCE that show bulls being led to the altar of Athena for sacrifice, with the Goddess lording over the procession. While people in mainstream society, and even many modern Pagans, may find the act to be cruel at best, what does animal sacrifice really entail? What is the reality of it all? Are we really appalled by it, or are we just being reactionaries to something that has been made taboo? Is our condemnation of it real, or manufactured?

I think I am first safe to say that most Pagans, and Hellenic Polytheists like myself, do not practice animal sacrifice today for a number of reasons. One, the expense. Two, many of us don't feel the need or the desire to go through such pains. And three, there's no need to sacrifice an animal when any meat you like can be picked up fresh at the grocery store and placed on the altar of the God you wish to offer to. It is far cheaper, far less burdensome, and far less messy. We are just as, if not more content, by pouring libations, burning incense, and giving general foods and goods to our Gods. On the other hand, there is also no law in the United States that forbids the sacrifice of livestock for religious purposes. The US Supreme Court ruled, by all 9 Justices, that animal sacrifice for religious purpose is protected under the 1st amendment during a case involving the Floridian city of Hialeah and resident worshipers who preformed animal sacrifice.

So let's break the subject down simply. Mostly no one becomes offended or repulsed if I tell them that I am going hunting. They have no problem with me loading a rifle and putting a bullet through a deer's heart, and afterward, breaking his body apart and using it for meat. They don't think twice about it even if I decide to stuff and put his head on my wall when all is said and done. However, if I put a religious meaning onto it, then all of a sudden, the exact same act becomes an offense. Why? Why is it more wrong to chop up a chicken for my family while praying to a God, than it is to simply chop it up without prayer? It's ridiculous to suddenly make killing an animal a horrid offense the minute it becomes religious, but totally fine if there's no religion attached. The animal dies either way. The only difference in the actual act of killing is that the Pagan may offer the animal to a God as well.

Animal sacrifice, in my view, actually gives the animal more respect and honor than simply putting them through a conveyor belt in a killing house. With the religious aspect, the animal is made sacred and treated with the utmost respect because it is being given to the God. Even more honor is bestowed by the fact that the animal will likely be used for good purpose once the sacrifice is over, such as the oxen at the Panathenaia, instead of being killed for mere sport like many hunters do these days, or being massively killed on farms for mere profit. These are the people and places that truly do dishonor to the animal and commit the horrid acts. They exploit the animal in every way imaginable, and could not care less how close they bring the creatures to extinction. The Pagan or the Polytheist who gives the animal to the God cares for the creature far more than your average, mainstream butcher or hunter. The animal is seen as a sacred gift to the Divine, and a salvation to the people by the food and service that its body gives.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Artemis Is Not A Vegetarian, An Abortionist, or A Man-Hater

Some people in the modern Pagan community (though not the norm), are ripe with their own versions of the ancient Gods, which in itself isn't a bad thing. But when they basically create their own Gods and give them ancient names and images, that's when I find myself compelled to say something. One of the most common of these has to do with Artemis. She's one of the most commonly-adopted Deities by Neo-Pagans and Wiccans. While these people are a minority in the community, there are still Pagans who want to start a culture, gender or race war within Paganism. Therefore, being a historical Hellenist and someone who has worshiped and studied Artemis since 2009, I want to set the record straight about the Goddess. These are not opinions, these are facts of religious and cultural Greek history.

Claim #1 - Artemis Is Against Hunting
The argument that Artemis is against hunting or meat eating should, in and of itself, be an obvious ridiculousness from the start. She's the Goddess of the Hunt. The first sentence of the Homeric Hymn to Artemis calls Her the "slayer of stags," and talks about her chasing and striking down the wild beasts. To say that Artemis rebukes hunting or opposes the consumption of game that was killed in ancient times specifically for eating, is a blatant historical falsehood.

Claim #2 - Artemis Supports Abortion
Whatever your views on abortion are, that's not the concern here. Not everyone has the same beliefs on the issue. Some are pro-life, some are pro-choice, and some are moderate; I understand that. But to say that Artemis revels in abortion, is simply not supported by anything other than someone's own personal theory. Artemis is the Goddess of childbirth and the protector of infants and children. She carries no historical epithet that refers to Her as an abortive Goddess whatsoever. She fiercely protected the weak and vulnerable. When Atalanta's father threw Her away at birth, it was Artemis who came and saved Her life. Another manifestation of Artemis is the legendary Artemis of Ephesus, which is a multi-breasted form to symbolize Her as "the Great Mother." The ancient Greek religion, in many cases, took a stance against abortion itself in some of its main cultural declarations. For example, the famous physician's Hippocratic Oath, which swears before "all the Gods and Goddesses" to not give an abortion. People in ancient Greek myth who harmed children were also dealt with very severely by the Gods. A good example would be Lycaon, who dismembered a young boy and tried to offer the remains to Zeus, who was so repulsed and offended that He wiped out the entire Bronze Age of Greece.

The historical fact of the matter is simply that Artemis never possessed a title, epithet or function even remotely similar to abortion. Quite the opposite, actually. 

Claim #3 - Artemis Is A Matriarch Who Hates Men
This idea mainly comes from a misunderstanding about Her refusal to take a husband and the death of Actaeon. While She did not marry, She always remained in recognition of the Supremacy of Zeus, the King of all the Gods. In fact, She sought His permission to remain chaste. She did not take it upon Herself to make the decision without Him. She also never decided that She was going to run everything. Zeus was always Her dear Father and the Ultimate Authority. All of the Gods, male and female, called Zeus the King. It wasn't as if the male Gods weren't expected to revere Zeus. The King was the King because He was King. It's that simple. While women worshipers today can find a great deal of independence in Her Divinity, She does not think of Herself as the ultimate ruler, or that She has a natural right to be at the top of the rule because of her gender, as a Matriarch would. The fallacy that people have here is the idea that one must be a gender-supremacist in order to be free, strong and independent. Nothing could be more untrue. One can be those things without crushing the opposite sex. Artemis is strong, powerful, wise, free and independent, but She doesn't try to usurp Zeus as we would think a Matriarch would, nor does She feel that He is a threat to Her own greatness or Her own rule over Her domains. There is no competition or war. To call Artemis a Matriarch, is to basically call Her a sexist, and the Gods are far above such human pettiness. 

As far as the man-hating label She routinely gets tagged with, this comes from the myth that the hunter Actaeon secretly spied on Artemis naked in the forest, and after She spotted him, turned the hunter into a stag and his hounds attacked and killed him. This probably had a far broader ancient meaning. Artemis didn't like sex, and therefore, did not want to be sexualized, and sexualization in those days was largely portrayed between male and female. But Artemis had and still has many male worshipers who show Her proper respects and don't end up on Her bad side. In fact, I built a sanctuary to Her in my yard and She was one of the main Gods I prayed to for help in saving my son's life when he was born prematurely. I am doing fine and so is my boy. I don't think we need to get so caught up in gender that we make everything about gender or sexism. Why can't we be great together?

There's nothing wrong with having UPG in your own private religious life, but to make it a universal declaration of the religion or the Deity, is quite another matter. In closing on this issue, I think back to something Susan B. Anthony once said. "I distrust those who know so well what God wants, because it's always the same as their own desires."

In the Goodness of the Gods,