The most common offensive against accepting regional variations is the concept of patrioi nomoi, which is best translated as, “the way of the fathers”. The idea that the one’s ancestral ways are the best ways is an idea that is present within most religions, polytheistic or not. While the idea of one’s parents’ religion being the best religion is steadily falling by the wayside, not more than 100 years ago the spirit of the idea was present in the minds of the Christian West. In ancient Athens patrioi nomoi was used as justification for many practices and ways of doing things, and in the Roman Empire things weren’t so different. Yet the concept of patrioi nomoi is ultimately stifling and dangerous for polytheistic religions trying to rebuild themselves. Foremost, the idea neglects the fact that things don’t really fall stay with the ways of the fathers forever. New festivals are instituted, practices change, and ideas change. This change or idea of change is underplayed or denied altogether but it is present in every culture no matter how conservative they are. On top of this, colonies usually neglected many of the festivals and rites which their fathers performed due to their new location(s). Clearly the concept of patrioi nomoi was applicable for a certain citizenry and only in the context of that polis. Separations of time and distance resulted in changes.
Patrioi nomoi has yet another significant issue embedded within it, inevitably it creates a closed off and potentially racist religion. It justifies current practices and modes of thinking through an appeal to the ancestors participating in these modes of thinking. Right now we are only the first, second, or third at most, generation of polytheists in our modern context. And guess what? Patrioi nomoi is already becoming an issue. It manifests itself as racism within Heathenry, Hellenism, and sometimes Kemetism that insists that in order to practice [x] religion you have to be Northen European/Greek/Egyptian/etc or else the gods really won’t listen to you. While many of the people espousing these views don’t explicitly state patrioi nomoi as their justification, the spirit of the idea is there. They justify their practices through an appeal to their [greatx100] grandmother/grandfather’s practice of the religion and, covertly or overtly, state that if you don’t share in that lineage you shouldn’t share in that religion. This is only after maybe 3 generations. If we continue to instill the spirit of patrioi nomoi in our communities we run the very real risk of creating communities which are racist in many of their justifications at worst and at best we trap ourselves in a box with no room to grow. Patrioi nomoi may have been a great concept and worked to bind the city together in ancient times but for modern polytheists it has little place outside of maybe being a personal justification and not one which should apply to the larger community.
The other big argument for the abhorrence of regional variations in our various polytheistic faiths seems to be a fear of personal and interpersonal disunity. In our highly mobile societies this fear is a bit understandable, if an individual moves from Texas to California they are going to have to adjust to a new climate, new regional culture, new laws, and new flora and fauna. Adjusting one’s religious practices to the local community, or even to the new climate can be a daunting task already in the face of so much newness. It is easier then to simply take the stance that all inspiration and execution should stick as close to possible to the source material. On the other side of the coin the individual may actually be rather adept or unafraid of adapting their practices to their region but much more worried about not knowing the rites or ways of the new community into which they will integrate. Briefly, even if the individual has decades of experience, they will be the “new kid” who will inevitably reminiscence about the way the did things at their old school, err, in their old community.
These are understandable fears but like all fears they need to be done away with. Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Hindus all have to put up with regional variations and reintegration into new communities and they are much more institutionalized than we are, which slims down many of those regional variations, but regional variations still inevitably exist. So we need to lose the fear and lose the malice towards people who do things a little bit (or a lot) differently from place to place, state to state, nation to nation. Within Hellenism these variations are going to be even more pronounced and more frequent due to the wealth of source materials we have to draw upon and our lack of any real institutionalization of the religion.
Ultimately I find variations to be a source of strength and the surest sign of a truly lived in religion. Adapting festivals to one’s region, such as the Thesmaphoria or Anthesteria, and creating new, carefully thought out, rituals as a reaction to your land, environment, strengths, and illnesses in your society is not some sign of perversion or subversion. It is just the opposite. It is a sign of strength, of vitality. It is a demonstration of our iron will to press ever onward and ensure the survival of the worship of our gods for the next generations. The real perversion, insult, and shame lies in the elevating of archaeological records and texts to the status of some holy books which must not be erred from instead of treating them like the tools they are. They are informative, helpful, and enlightening but yes, they are still tools. They are not the beginning and end of our religion and our rituals. They are only our beginning. They are suggestions and not decrees.
Our Hellenism, our religion, in the end will be a vastly different one from the practices in classical Athens. But then again, the practices in classical Athens were vastly different from the practices that existed in Byzantium.
Variation is not a dirty word.