Scholars have labeled the Paganism of late antiquity as having been characterized by “gross” or “base” superstition. These scholars are generally correct as Paganism had certainly degenerated into something hardly recognizable by our great ancestors of the even more remote past. This situation was hastened by the advent of Christianity and its imposition upon the folk. They were left with having to practice their religion as best they could privately and secretly. This resulted in superstitious thought processes and an emphasis upon magic as opposed to reason and logic. In so many words, Christianity forced Paganism into a superstitious mindset among those who did not convert or only nominally converted. This is historical fact.
Sadly, today, there are those who have latched onto this form of Paganism and who seek to hold to it as some kind of standard that should be promoted. Because of the fact that they are not reaching back to the true beauty of ancient Paganism and Hellenism, they set, in my view, a bad example for others within our movement as well as for those who are looking at us from the outside.
Stagnating at this level is not what we as reconstructionists should be about. Instead, we should be about reaching for and embracing that more ancient Hellenic ideal – that which our more remote ancestors strove for in their lives. They used reason and logic to get there. Their religious authorities and institutions did not sanction a “do what you will” attitude. They did not promote magick as a first resort to anything; for magick is the first resort only to the superstitious and the uneducated. To dwell at that level is to miss the point and the beauty of Hellenism. It’s like going all the way to high school and then dropping out, believing that you already know all that you need to know. So, yes, one can “do what you will”; but one cannot do that and still claim to be a Hellenic at the same time. And I don’t care what deity or deities you worship.
This is the abyss that monotheism put us into; an abyss that we have to, with great effort, work to extricate ourselves from. Those who are determined to dwell in the abyss of superstition do a disservice to the Hellenics who seek to reach the standard of our ancestors as well as doing a disservice to those very ancestors. They set an example to those on the outside, which those on the outside naturally reject, as well they should.
In addition, there are those who seem to believe that their own personal “faith”, if you will, should count as just as valid as anything else that may be out there. After all, it works for them, doesn’t it? The logical fallacy in this is that if it is accepted as true and, therefore, as a premise, then we have no real standard other than, perhaps, the worship of the ancient deities. The true danger in this is that it is exactly one of the thought processes which can lead to monotheism. Suddenly one believes that one has received some revelation from one’s chosen deity that one thinks should be valid for the whole world. The logical extension of this is that one goes out and promotes it to the whole world as some sort of divinely inspired prophet. This is how monotheism has always started historically.
Let me state that no one, including myself, cares what a particular person believes or practices privately so long as it is not geared toward harming others. But just because it may work for one person does not, by extension, mean that it will or even should work for all others. That doesn’t make it suitable for the whole world! This is one main reason why Paganism and Hellenism were never meant to be practiced only privately. They were designed to be practiced publicly, communally. And even the worship of the household Lares was a public practice in that every good Roman household did so as a family unit. All participated in old, well-established, practices, and THIS worked!
The other side of the coin is that some seek to dictate what should be standard practice in a rigid manner. These polytheist fundamentalists are simply wrong on all counts, including logically. For they, just like the Christians, assume that there is some monolithic, pristine form of a given religion, especially Hellenism, that one can go back to and recreate. The fact of the matter is that there is still (and always will be) too much that is no longer known about the ancient religions for this to even be possible. So there are too many unknowns and other variables to consider. So the effort is, forgive the pun, fundamentally flawed.
Yes, we are all about the effort to try to reconstruct the ancient religions, including Hellenism. But there simply cannot be any sort of orthodoxy imposed upon the ancient religions even if they could be accurately recreated and reestablished, because no orthodoxy existed for them in ancient times. And imposing and orthodox system upon them would ruin the beauty that draws people to them in the first place. Part of that beauty is in the very variety within polytheism.
In short, both efforts are destined to failure, so it is important for us to search for a logical and reasonable balance which all can be drawn to. Otherwise, all of our efforts are ultimately futile.