What is Hellenismos?

Hellenismos is a term being used in more than one way in the modern world.

The word means Hellenism, which is a word used to describe the culture, religions, language, and customs of the Greek people who call themselves Hellenes. This means that the term Hellenism includes the ancient and modern peoples of Greece, and the various religions and customs that have come about in that land. In paganism, however, Hellenism refers to the ancient polytheistic system of religious belief, custom, language and ritual that flourished in Greece and the surrounding Aegean and Mediterranean world from prehistoric times to the conversion of Rome to Christianity. More narrowly construed, the word refers to the religious beliefs and practices of the Hellenic people from the time of Homer, roughly 800 BCE to the times of the conquest of Greece by Rome.

Hellenismos is a broader term than Olympianism or Dodekatheon (Religion of the Twelve Gods) because it is inclusive of all the variants of beliefs and theology in the Hellenic World which had a broad range of cults and practices.

Being Hellenic
Quoted from: Hellenion.org

We are a diverse group of Hellenic polytheists, sharing the common goal of living a life, both common and individual, of piety and proper respect for the gods of Olympos and ancient Hellenic tradition.

We share ideas, passion for Hellenic Reconstructionism and its gods, and mutual dignity.

We bring libations, offerings, incense, and humility before the Deathless Ones.

We value liberty, tradition, ethical behavior, curiosity, tactful candor, honor, and common sense.

We work to support present and future Hellenic polytheists by sharing research, providing for religious needs of family and community alike, and establish a stable presence on which to found a lasting future for the practice of our faith.

We light the sacred flames, pour the wine, sing the hymns, and restore long-neglected tradition well worth preservation.

Whatever the world may think of us and what we do, we know we are bravely moving forward with what we know to be right. We know that we are not gods, and need no reminding that we are merely human.

We are merely human, but we are human! We have minds capable of compassion as well as research, wildness as well as reason, humor as well as piety. We are capable of understanding geometry, law, philosophy, art. We are capable of contemplating our own existence, its end, and questions of how one should live one's life in between.

We respect one another's right to learn, think, and choose. But we come together, lending each voice in one chorus.

Our diversity does not drive us apart, but adds to our perspective. Together we are more than we would ever be in separation.

The Mystery Cults
Quoted from "Ancient Mystery Cults" by Walter Burkert(1987).


The mysteries of Eleusis were devoted to two goddesses, Demeter the grain goddess, and her daughter Persephone, aka Perephatta, aka "the Maiden," Kore. It was organised by the polis (city-state) of Athens and supervised by the archon basileus (the king). It is well attested in inscriptions, excavations, iconography and literature around Athens. According to the myth, Demeter searches for Kore, who has been carried off by Hades. Kore finally comes back to Eleusis. The ritual involved the great autumn festival, the Mysteria, a procession from Athens to Eleusis, ending with a nocturnal celebration in the Telesterion (hall of initiations) where the heirophant revealed the "holy things" (literally, "heirophant" means "revealer of holy things"). Demeter gave Eleusis two things: grain as the basis of civilisation, and the mysteries which held the promise of "better hopes" for a happy afterlife. The ritual was, of course, exclusive to Athens and Eleusis, and not held elsewhere.


"The god of wine and ecstasy was worshipped everywhere; every drinker in fact could claim to be a servant of this god." However, the mystery layer of cults involving Dionysus has been confirmed by the gold tablet of Hipponion, mentioning the mystai (initiates) and bakchoi (initiates of Dionysus) on their way to the netherworld. There was no center for Bacchic mysteries, spread as they were from the Black Sea to Egypt and from Asia Minor to southern Italy. The Bacchanalia, the most famous, was suppressed in 186 B.C.E. by the Roman senate. There was a high degree of variability within the Bacchic mysteries. The dismemberment of Dionysus, for example, was sometimes connected, but we cannot be sure that it connected with all of the mysteries. They were sometimes connected with "Orphic" people perhaps adherents of Orpheus the singer (see added information below regarding the Orphic Mysteries - not part of Burkert's writings).

Mater Magna

The Mother Goddess came from Asia Minor and traces all the way back into the Neolithic prior to the invention of writing. Her proper title was Mater Deum Magna Idaea, though the Greeks called her Meter. The most notable feature of the cult were the eunuch priests (galloi) who castrated themselves. Their representative in myth was Attis the consort of Meter (who is castrated and dies under a pine tree). Based in Pessinus, it arrived in Rome in 204 B.C.E. during the Hannibalic war under the command of oracles, and the proliferated from there. Different forms of secret rites (teletai and mysteria) existed, most famous of all was the taurobolium known from the second century C.E. where "the initiand, crouching in a pit covered with wooded beams on which a bull was slaughtered, was drenched by the bull's gushing blood. (p. 6)"

Isis and Osiris

The Greeks had given prominence to Isis and Osiris among the Egyptian gods from the archaic age onward, identifying them with Demeter and Dionysus. During the Ptolemaic period, they added Sarapis (Osiris-Apis), but it gave way again to Isis later. Many sanctuaries with Egyptian gods and Egyptian/Egyptianising priests were established, particularly the temple of Isis at Rome under Caligula. According to Plutarch's On Isis and Osiris, the myth is that Osiris is killed and dismembered by Seth, and then searched for and reassembled by Isis who then conceives and gives birth to Horos. The mysteries themselves are extensively described in the last book of the Golden Ass by Apuleius.


An ancient Indo-Iranian deity, attested from the Bronze Age onward, his name means "the middle one" in the sense of "treaty" or "promise of allegiance." The specific mysteries of Mithras are not found until about 100 C.E., and its relation to the Iranian religion is not yet solved. It held its initiations (with 7 grades) in caves and had sacrificial meals there. The depiction of Mithras slaying the bull always occupies the apse of the cave. Its iconography is "surprisingly uniform, with many symbols, but the concomitant myth is not translated in literature. (p. 7)" It was usually associated with the Roman legions and merchants or officials of Rome.

The Orphic Mysteries

Orpheus was the son of Calliope and either Oeagrus or Apollo. He was the greatest musician and poet of Greek myth, whose songs could charm wild beasts and coax even rocks and trees into movement. He was one of the Argonauts, and when the Argo had to pass the island of the Sirens, it was Orpheus' music which prevented the crew from being lured to destruction.

When Orpheus' wife, Eurydice, was killed by the bite of a serpent, he went down to the underworld to bring her back. His songs were so beautiful that Hades finally agreed to allow Eurydice to return to the world of the living. However, Orpheus had to meet one condition: he must not look back as he was conducting her to the surface. Just before the pair reached the upper world, Orpheus looked back, and Eurydice slipped back into the netherworld once again.

Orpheus was inconsolable at this second loss of his wife. He spurned the company of women and kept apart from ordinary human activities. A group of Ciconian Maenads, female devotees of Dionysus, came upon him one day as he sat singing beneath a tree. They attacked him, throwing rocks, branches, and anything else that came to hand. However, Orpheus' music was so beautiful that it charmed even inanimate objects, and the missiles refused to strike him. Finally, the Maenads' attacked him with their own hands, and tore him to pieces. Orpheus' head floated down the river, still singing, and came to rest on the isle of Lesbos.

The Greek Orphic Mysteries, a cult that flourished in the 6th century B.C.E., believed that Orpheus created its sacred texts. Orphics believed in redemption, and the ability to change one�s life and become pure. They believed that their souls could only join the divine if they were free from blemish, so they were forbidden to shed blood or eat meat, and they were taught to act as Dionysus did.