I was going through a difficult time. Seeking advice from the Gods, I picked my Loeb’s copy of Aesop’s Fables, asked my question, and opened it to a random page. The fable that I had turned to was The Departure of a Well-Sated Guest:
A man was holding a fine dinner party in the city, after sacrificing. His dog met another dog, a friend of his, and invited him to come to dinner at his house. The other dog came, but the cook picked him up by the leg and threw him over the wall into the street. When the other dogs asked him how he had fared at the banquet he said: “How could it have been any better? I’m so giddy I don’t even know which way I’m coming out.”
I had asked the Gods if it was time to end my Hearth of Hellenism blog on Patheos.com and move on from the pagan community. The answer was clear, yes. Like the dog in the fable, this is not a party I should be at. I have come to terms that I do not belong within the pagan community. Below is my farewell letter with my last thoughts concerning the negative experiences that have brought me to this conclusion. I will also be addressing the junk history and misguided rhetoric that circulates in your community.
Purpose of Blog
The Hearth of Hellenism was my attempt to bridge the Greek community and pagan community. Seeing a lack of any representation from the Greek community, I took it upon me to be that voice. Just about everyone told me not to waste my time, but I wanted to try at least. I thought it would be worth wild to try and engage. Being Greek-American and having experience in the mind/body/spirit industry, I figured it wouldn’t be such a difficult task. I was wrong. There are many individuals who are hostile to Greeks and the mistreatment of others and including myself are inappropriate. For those who have enjoyed my blog and my work, you can thank these sour folks for ruining it for you.
Why I am Leaving
I am ending this blog and disengaging from the pagan community for my mental health. I have been cyberbullied, attacked beyond a tolerable level. I am unhappy and I am suffering. I do not want to be at the center of regular character assassination from a disgruntled Patheos blogger (Patheos would not do anything about this bloggers’ actions) and various acquaintances online with a personal vendetta against. Since I am not attempting to build a cult around myself, I have no issue walking away from the blog and ending my engagement with the pagan community.
My mental health has declined over the last year, especially the last 3–5 months, where I have been running on 3–5 hours of sleep a night. My interactions with the online pagan community have made me angry, frustrated, and annoyed by what I encountered. This cocktail of emotions and lack of sleep does not sit well with my Spartan temper; it resulted in a harsh online exchange. I used language which to other people’s standards, was unacceptable. I was angry because once again, I had encountered a stupid and arrogant statement concerning the Gods in a FB group. At this point, I had enough of the insanity and went off on that individual (who remained firm in their ignorance and arrogance).
Someone saw this exchange and posted about it and me in another FB group managed by a Patheos blogger, who openly has made slanderous remarks about me. Anyone who tried to stand up for me was shot down, ignored, and gaslighted. An “absolutely miserable human being,” they described me. Miserable? Well, yes, I have become very miserable. The poster sounded the alarms of the “fringe fascist lunacy” occurring that required action to stop the “nationalism” ruining “their faith.” Ugh this old shit again, it never goes away. They are projecting on to me their trauma from heathenry groups, yet again. “What else is new,” I said to the sound of one thousand eye rolls.
This episode highlights once again, my deep frustration of communicating with folks online who lack the proper education and cultural background to understand me and how I am operating. He “fancies himself an expert,” this commenter wrote. Well, I am a graduate student in history and am part of a community with a living tradition. Those who have been reading my blog regularly can decide what level of knowledge I possess. If you cannot investigate who I actually am before making your comments, well I am not dealing with rational people now am I?
I tried bringing to the table the skills of a historian and emic interpretations from the Greek tradition. Many could not see this, and at this point, I feel like I am wasting my time even trying to voice a Greek perspective. I noticed that the ones who do not want to hear me are the most violent in retaliation towards me. As a result, my work and my reputation are being negatively impacted and I just don’t have the time to deal with this BS anymore.
One particular person has it out for me, and others have commented to me to say that there seems to be a personal grudge. Beyond this one person, others also have taken issue with me. There are two main reasons for the retaliation I have received. The first is financial. Hearth of Hellenism was a project of generosity since; I did not make money from this blog. I wrote out of my love for Hellenism and a desire to share with others a Greek perspective. The problem is that some do get paid for their blogging, and when money is involved, there will be fights because if one person is offering something of better quality for free, why listen to someone else? Maybe I was ruining someone’s cult of personality and or brand as the Hellenic ‘expert.’ Because in the pagan community, a person who only references Burkert’s Greek Religion is applauded as an expert, while a Greek-American graduate student is gaslighted and is the victim of character assassination for having nuanced perspectives.
Secondly, truth be told, I ruin the pagan party. Greeks, in general, tend to ruin the pagan party. Hellenism is not something out of context for us, it is in proper context for our times. It is not alien or foreign to us. The majority of Greeks are not ‘trying out’ different pantheons and finding one that ‘speaks to us.’ We are not hopping from one culture to the next, from one God to the next until we find something comfortable like a pair of shoes. There is a fundamentally unique experience and relationship for a Greek compared with everyone else. It is hard to express this feeling, one Greek described it to me as the “weight of history on top of you.”
Unlike others, we are not here to practice witchcraft — Hellenism is not a magical path. The Greeks I meet that are seriously involved in Hellenism are not reading magical books, nor did they come to Hellenism from Wicca or Witchcraft. They are not playing around on pagan Tumblr. Some became inspired to following Hellenism after reading the Iliad or Plato’s dialogues. Pop culture does not penetrate Hellenism as it does for the general pagan population. Your references, terms, language, and outlooks are lost on Greeks. This will always lead to problems in communication and interactions.
Even your Christian experience is not the same as a Greek’s former Christian experience and no not all Greeks grew up faithfully blind to Orthodox Christianity and were influenced by it. This common rhetoric in the pagan community of “you all are Christians” (designed to ignore us and place everyone on equal footing) is worn out and cannot possibly describe a universal experience applicable to all Greeks, that would be a stereotype. For many, our seriousness is way too heavy for them, and it just ruins their fun.
The Fetishized Greeks and Hellenophobia
What do you do with people who ruin the party and step on your toes? Smear them, delegitimate them, deplatform them, silence them, and more. Some try to push us aside as illegitimate by pointing out how we fail to perform to their fetishized version of what we ought to be. We are not here to fulfill a fantasy built up by the books. We all live in the 21st century, act like it. It was this exact issue about a fetishized Greece that created anti-Greek sentiment (Hellenophobia) in the modern world.
Western Europeans arriving at the newly Ottoman liberated Greece had their high expectations ruined by reality. The white western Europeans, having placed the Greeks as the bedrock of their civilization, were not happy to find not so white faces in Greece. The only conclusion then must have been that the people occupying Greece in the 19th century were not related to the ancient Greeks. Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer is the most famous example of a proponent of the discontinuity theory:
The race of the Hellenes has been wiped out in Europe. Physical beauty, intellectual brilliance, innate harmony and simplicity, art, competition, city, village, the splendour of column and temple — indeed, even the name has disappeared from the surface of the Greek continent…. Not the slightest drop of undiluted Hellenic blood flows in the veins of the Christian population of present-day Greece. (Geschichte der Halbinsel Morea während des Mittelalters)
These racial ideas have haunted Greeks ever since. In the USA the KKK targeted immigrants from southern Europe including Greeks. From the Forgotten History: The Klan vs. Americans of Greek Heritage in an Era of Hate and the Birth of the Ahepa
Many Greek-owned confectioneries and restaurants failed financially or were sold at sacrificial prices to non-Greeks because of boycotts instigated by the Klan. Greek establishments doing as much as $500 to $1,000 a day business, especially in the South and Midwest, dropped to as little as $25 a day. The only recourse was to sell or close.
The Klan often bolstered its boycotts by openly threatening or attacking customers entering and leaving.
A Klan Imperial Lecturer told Klansmen in Spokane that Mexicans and Greeks should be sent back to where they came from so that white supremacy and the purity of Americans be preserved. Meanwhile, in Palatka, Florida, a Greek immigrant was flogged for dating a “white” woman.
In Indiana, the state most politically controlled by the 1920s Klan, burning crosses were ignited in the yards of outspoken Hellenes. Unprovoked beatings of Greeks were not reported to police lest another beating soon follow. Others were warned of dire consequences if they spoke Greek in public, even in their own business establishments.
Hoosier Democrat and Republican leaders actively discouraged naturalized Hellenes from filing for public office, forcing them to run as Socialist Party candidates. Fearful Greek Orthodox Christians indefinitely postponed impending plans to organize parishes. To avoid constant confrontation, long and difficult to pronounce first and last names of Greek origin were shortened or changed to more acceptable Americanized versions. False rumors spread by the Klan about supposed unsolved murders of Greeks in other states produced the desired dread.
The Klan Grand Dragon of Oregon said in a spirited speech in Atlanta: “The Klan in the western states has a great mission to perform. The rapid growth of the Japanese population and the great influx of foreign laborers, mostly Greeks, is threatening our American institutions; and, Klans in Washington, Oregon and Idaho are actively at work to combat these foreign and un-American influences.”
Probably the most blatant hard-line bullying, almost humorous, occurred in Pensacola, Florida. A Klansman handed a note to a Greek restaurateur which read: “You are an undesirable citizen. You violate the Federal Prohibition Laws and laws of decency and are a running sore on society. Several trains are leaving Pensacola daily. Take your choice but do not take too much time. Sincerely in earnest, KKK.”
Deconstructing the Pagan Historical Narrative on Cultural Appropriation
I mention this to segue into the historical narrative some promote concerning Hellenism and Greeks in relationship to cultural appropriation. As a student of history, I can tell you that all history is narrative. All historians build stories about the past by the selection of sources; giving voice here and denying it there. The story created in the pagan community by some of the louder voices demonstrates severe historical amnesia. Their narrative claims that ancient Greek culture cannot be appropriated. I have heard it all. One common argument that is thrown around is the “you guys conquered the world; you can’t cry appropriation now.”
Yes, cultural appropriation is occurring in the pagan community with its consumption and regurgitation of Hellenism. I rather talk about why people deny its reality than explain how it is happening. The denial is more serious and damaging.
In Kathryn Gottlieb’s Cultural Appropriation in Contemporary Neopaganism and Witchcraft there are some interesting details pertaining to the issue of cultural appropriation.
One of the primary arguments about cultural appropriation is that it represents a continuation of colonialism. When people appropriate, they are perpetuating old oppressive systems, and exercising their power over people who have traditionally had their power taken away… cultural appropriation shows the considerable amount of entitlement inherent in Western culture, as well as certain underlying assumptions about what is and is not important. To appropriate another culture is to show an incredible amount of entitlement. The inherent message of cultural appropriation is that the colonizer gets to decide what is important, what they are allowed to take, and what other people should feel about their taking it. The appropriator has absolute power and derides the person they are appropriating something from for having an opposing opinion. It is a subtle but nonetheless potent display of colonial power — power so deeply ingrained in society that it can be very difficult to even notice when that power is being used.
Many pagans with the good intention of not wanting to appropriate to avoid being part of colonial oppression think Greek religion is a neutral ground where there are no victims. Some, however, exploit and twist history to fit their selfish desire to do whatever they want without any weight of responsibility to anyone else. A tradition onto themselves is what many want to be, free from accountability to the past or to future generations to come. The modern Greeks are a challenge that some pagans must shake loose to free themselves of any and all criticisms from Greeks. To escape the problem of cultural appropriation a historical narrative been crafted in which ancient Greeks were:
· A non-exploited people.
· The original white imperialists.
· Greek culture is part of the foundation of Western Civilization.
These three main points are reason enough for someone to feel ok entering and doing whatever one desires with Hellenism. I disagree. Yes everyone is welcomed but proper dissemination is required so that you receive something meaningful and not randomly created by your imagination. Worship of the Gods is free for all, but the Greek tradition is specific and has a context. It is not something to be tinkered with recklessly by random people with “foolish opinions” as Sallustius would call the lot of you. Yet even with this liberality, people wish to ignore us because we are an inconvenience. Few want proper instruction and dissemination — they want “do whatever feels good” that is not Hellenism. Let me address these three points.
· Greeks are a non-exploited people
This argument always excludes history after antiquity. It is the ancient Greeks and their culture which were not exploited. This is easily debunked because, in reality, once Rome took over all the Greek kingdoms in the east, Greek political autonomy came to an end, beginning with the death of Cleopatra. It is common to think of this thing called the “Greco-Roman world,” but that was not a real thing. Greeks were subjugation to foreign Roman rule. Before this total loss of sovereignty to the Romans, many Greeks were taken to Rome as slaves, many became tutors to the children of Roman aristocrats.
We like to think of a unified thing called ‘Greco-Roman’ culture because there is a lot of cross-pollination and think that well everything must have been ok between Greeks and Romans. It would be foolish to assume that descent civility meant that Greeks were immune from Roman law. What do you think would happen if a Greek philosopher criticized too strongly the cult of the Emperor? Heads would roll.
These details (the nuances I love to bring light to) is not made a big deal about in the historical narrative in the west because both Greece and Rome are the bedrock to “western civilization.” No one wants to rock those foundations too hard.
The biggest example of the harm done to Greeks in antiquity was their persecution by the Christians. No one ever points out how it was because of Roman subjugation that Greeks could not defend themselves from Christian mob attacks. The emperor commanded the legions and if he desires not to help the Greeks or other non-Christians, how unexploited were they (and everyone else) really?
The original white imperialists
This idea uses too many modern terms. The Greeks did not think of themselves as white, nor did they think they were imperialists. Greeks were seafaring people; they built trading ports called emporia and colonies. These colonies were not imperialistic, do not compare them with England. The term emporia is applied in two ways in the ancient sources so that we can distinguish between cities that have emporia, and a city that is an emporion. The characteristic of both types of emporion is that each existed to promote cross-cultural trade. Athens’ Piraeus is an example of the first type of emporion. An example of the second type is Naukratis in Egypt. The best literary source we have for Naukratis is Herodotus 2.178–179. In 178 Herodotus describes the founding of this port of trade.
Amasis became a philhellene, and besides other services which he did for some of the Greeks, he gave those who came to Egypt the city of Naucratis to live in; and to those who travelled to the country without wanting to settle there, he gave lands where they might set up altars and make holy places for their gods. Of these the greatest and most famous and most visited precinct is that which is called the Hellenion, founded jointly by the Ionian cities of Chios, Teos, Phocaea, and Clazomenae, the Dorian cities of Rhodes, Cnidus, Halicarnassus, and Phaselis, and one Aeolian city, Mytilene. It is to these that the precinct belongs, and these are the cities that furnish overseers of the trading port; if any other cities advance claims, they claim what does not belong to them. The Aeginetans made a precinct of their own, sacred to Zeus; and so did the Samians for Hera and the Milesians for Apollo.
Greeks were not going around conquering the world, they were trading. Non-Greeks they encountered who were kind and accommodating such as Amasis were called philhellene (friend of Greeks). Alexander’s conquests originally were meant to take care of the Persians an old revival for the Greeks. Things did get out of hand with Alexander in the long run. Even with Alexander, it is sloppy and inaccurate to apply modern contexts of imperialism (and applying the conditions from contemporary examples) onto the Greeks as a whole and to paint them all as “white imperialists” it is an anachronism and once again stereotyping an entire people a certain way. It is misleading.
Greek culture is part of the foundation of Western Civilization
The idea of “western civilization” and Greece’s placement as its ‘cradle’ is itself the very construction of colonialism and is one of the worst forms of appropriation because this notion was formed and promoted not by Greeks themselves but by western powers to legitimate their own cultures. Throughout western European history, there is a consistent pattern where classical culture is used for the creation of new unique cultures by plucking out what is useful in a nonholistic way. The Italian Renaissance was the only genuine attempt to revive classical culture holistically, the Renaissance occurring in the northern nations were defining their own unique cultures apart from Italian and classical influence.
I, along with other Greeks, have been gaslighted when we object and raise concerns over the issue of cultural appropriation and the ways pagans abuse Greek culture that hurt us. We want to have a serious conversation but some have shut the conversation down using two tactics:
White people cannot be oppressed, modern Greeks are white so they cannot be oppressed or appropriated from or abused.
White is a modern social construct, and the label did not apply to Greeks in the USA until around after WW2. You cannot force a label onto someone to shut down a conversation that is inconvenient for you. This conversation is not about “white people” it is about Greek people and Greek culture.
Applying the rhetoric from contemporary US politics and racial issues onto an area which it does not apply is a dishonest attempt to silence your opponent. The trap that is being set up with this argument is to get us to say white people can be exploited or oppressed to make us sound Alt-right. This is not about white people; it is about Greek people and Greek culture. Forcing all Greeks into “whiteness” and having a meltdown when its applicability is questioned expresses how white supremacy works through you. “Folks have a meltdown whenever it’s time to examine what it means to be “white” because the culture of white supremacy has always dictated that whiteness is the only identity that requires no examination. — Bree Newsome Bass.
Please take a moment to read what Bree Newsome Bass wrote concerning this topic. In a nutshell, if you tell me, “you’re a white boy, sit down,” you “gaslight in pretending they aren’t aware of what whiteness is and how it operates.” Very slick of you but I see the trick.
Modern Greek history/experience does not count because those are Christians not polytheists.
Certain pagans want to avoid and do shut down any conversation of modern Greek suffering because it is very inconvenient to the “exploited free” rhetoric. Aside from Christian persecution against Greeks in antiquity, which was an ethnocide that accompanied many deaths, later history has also been unkind to the descendants of the ancient Greeks. You do not get to ignore the descendants, “taking the gifts of the ancestors without a commitment to their descendants” is cultural appropriation as per Starhawk. What happened to the descendants? Here are some things.
- Failure to pay the jizya could result in the pledge of protection of the Christian’s life and property becoming void, facing the alternatives of conversion; enslavement or death.
- Every Christian community was required to give one son in five to be raised as a Muslim and enrolled in the corps of Janissaries, elite units of the Ottoman army. There was much resistance to this. For example, Greek folklore tells of mothers crippling their sons to avoid their abduction.
· External Influence
- Bavarian prince Otto becomes “King of the Hellenes.”
- Worsened taxation situation.
- Popular heroes of the Greek revolution who opposed the Bavarian-dominated regency were charged with treason, put in jail and sentenced to death.
- Religious and ethnic targeting of Greeks by the Turks between 1914–1922.
- Deaths range between 289,000 to 750,000.
- Turkey invaded north of Cyprus in 1974 and occupies it today.
- Forced Greek Cypriots out of their homes, displacing them.
When you tell me that all this mentioned above and the more which I cannot include is irrelevant to the conversation of cultural appropriation you are perpetuating the “continuation of colonialism” by expressing “certain underlying assumptions about what is and is not important” and exercising “your power over people who have traditionally had their power taken away.” You cannot demand me and other Greeks to erase our history because it is irrelevant to you, it is relevant to us. We do not divide our history and leave it by the door when the conversation concerns Hellenism. We live with our collective traumas and how you abuse our culture, any part of it from any period, will be understood and informed by our entire experience.
You do not get to dictate how we ought to feel. We are allowed to be angry and call people out of their BS when the Greek Gods are sexually fetishized, their images are sold for profit, the hymns used for magic, and how you teach others. We can tell people that meme they posted is inappropriate because it crosses a line which profanes something deeply sacred to us. We get to say no when people’s advice to others is “just do whatever you want” — you do not get to play with Hellenism, or consume it like potato chips and tell us to shut up when we object and ask to be heard and taken seriously. Your whateverism as Hellenism is BS.
You sure as hell do not have the right to shut down Greek objections to what we see as insanity and the complete disregard for our culture. Writing us off as “alt-right” or “nationalists” because we ruin your party of whateverism which you parade as Hellenism demonstrates how much of a colonizer you. Your privilege is on full display and it is disgusting.
If after reading this you continue to ignore Greeks and our genuine concerns and complaints and right us off or silence us you will be considered by me to be selfish, malicious and the vilest kind of person the earth could produce — an ungodly person.
As for the people who supported me and to the nice folks in the community I have met, I thank you and welcome your continued friendship.