Reconstructing Rites: Conor’s Super Duper Method

Many people who wish to reconstruct a ritual or revive a holiday often are at a loss as to where to start. This is especially true for newcomers to Hellenism. Reconstructing a rite is a multi-step process, you don’t simply look at one book and one source and just do a 1:1 transfer. You gotta feel it man. What follows is my own method for reconstructing a rite and it is by no means the only one.

STEP 1: Identify the holiday you want to reconstruct. And focus on it. 

Maybe this step seems kinda self-evident to many folks, but you have to start somewhere. The second part is especially important, y’know the whole ‘focusing’ thing. I know I personally have a problem with getting too excited/ambitious and trying to reconstruct six billion holidays all at the same time. Focus is important, if you don’t focus you wind up with a lot of unfinished ritual and holiday proceedings that really just aren’t worth anything. Without focus you waste time and energy.

STEP 2: Locate sources which speak about your holiday.

This one is one that a lot of people end up accidentally skipping. Not because they don’t have any reference material. . .but because they only use one reference instead of acquiring multiple sources to synthesize. The more information you have the more fleshed out you are going to be able to make your observance. That being said, it is astoundingly easy to get obsessed over having as many sources as possible and instead of reconstructing the rite you just kinda research. . . forever. I recommend at least 3 sources if possible. I put a personal cap at 6 to prevent myself from getting crazy but you should set limits that work for you, as long as they utilize more than one source.

STEP 3: Discern what the essence of the holiday is.

Before you begin putting the meat of ritual action it is very important to discern the “spirit” of the holiday and its essence. While it is true that some holidays were basically sacrifices done with a little more umph and pomp (pun intended) many had an underlying theme beyond being an extra polis wide sacrifice for a special reason. As outsiders to the culture (and this includes everyone alive today. No one has an emic perspective on a culture that existed 2500 years ago) this may prove a bit challenging but we can at least get the gist of what they were driving at and translate it into something meaningful for the modern person.

taken by Cathy Beckett
taken by Cathy Beckett

STEP 4: Look at what they did and ask “can we?” 

Look at what the ancients did to observe. By this point you should have read your sources (or at least the section containing your holiday) at least once. What actions did they take? In which ways were these actions exceptional? In which ways were they standard? Do actions which appear exceptional occur in any other holidays or are they unique to only this one? Some examples include the inversion roleplaying done on Kronia or the washing of Athena’s statue on Plynteria.

The hard part is deciding on what you should bring back. You cannot do everything that the ancients did. Most of these actions we simply do not have the space, resources, or manpower to do as much as we wish otherwise. And while it may be tempting to reconstruct a rite for a group far larger than what you have access to, think of things in terms of what you currently have. If it is only you and some non-Hellenic friends who may not understand the intricacies or subtleties of what you are doing, work with that. If you have a group of ten Hellenists you should probably start playing the lottery, that is damn good luck, but you should also construct the celebration with that in mind.

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At this stage you should also look at what they did for the offering and sacrifices on the day and see which events and actions were done immediately before, during, or after the ritual so you can determine timing for them. Many holidays have a central sacrifice and other activities performed on the day (races, theatre, games, etc) that do not necessarily occur in direct conjunction with the ritual.

You will likely find that most stuff you will need to modernize. Chariot races are kinda hard to do now, so what other competition could you do instead? We have access to a plethora of competitive activities in the modern West, including but not limited to board games, video games, foot races, touch football, target shooting, well you get the idea. My point is, even if we can’t do the exact same thing, we can still capture the spirit of the activity in the modern age. Most of the times these activities are suitable replacements, but it never hurts to have a diviner double check.

STEP 5: Construct the ritual 

As previously mentioned, most holidays will have an associated ritual. You should have at least a bare bones idea from your gathered sources on what your ritual should look like. You’ll also notice a general pattern in most rituals. I notice it going something like Pomp/Procession –> Purification –> Initial evocations and offerings –> Hymns –> Prayers –> Offerings –> Eating and Closing. Sometimes there are more than two sets of offerings done, sometimes there are additional elements but when in doubt this is the pattern I use and it has served me to great effect.

Again, you will likely not be able to perform the ritual exactly as the ancients did. In addition to writing the actions, prayers, greetings, hymns, etc, you will need to make a list of what offerings you are giving. I suggest you also make a list of why that particular offering is being given to that particular deity. Does it have symbolic importance? Has it been revealed through a diviner or through your own divination that you need to give that offering? Does it fit in with the spirit of the holiday? If you just chose it at random you might want to reconsider that choice unless you can find a good reason for including it.

As you are writing, consider how many people you will need. What is the minimum? What is the maximum? Are these numbers realistic? What happens if you can’t meet your minimum? These are very important questions to consider as you write your ritual.

Also consider what you are going to serve to guests as refreshments after the ritual and keep in mind whatever planned activities you had for the holiday. Make sure people are aware of these after ritual activities so they don’t feel pressured to join in on something they are uncomfortable doing.

If you expect there to be a lot of people there make sure there is some way for them to get involved in the ritual. Rituals that don’t allow for non-officiant participation will likely not get return visitors.

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STEP 6: Decide where it will be held.

Will the ritual be held at your house? At a park? At the UU Church? Where works for the ritual and activities you have planned? If you can’t find a space suitable for your ritual, what can you revise to make due with what you have? Finding space can be difficult but not impossible, many UU Churches will lend space. Heck, I’ve even heard of Presbyterian and Episcopalian Churches lending space to Pagans as bizarre as that sounds. After you decide the location and have permission from relevant parties, send out invitations for folks you’d like to have attend. Make sure there is some way for them to RSVP so that you have a vague idea of how many will show, and count on a quarter of those who have RSVPed to not show up. Don’t be offended or disappointed, this happens with any and every event. And remember, it is better to be oversupplied than undersupplied in terms of food, refreshments, and offerings.

STEP 7: Sweat the details. . .but only a little bit. 

Many people who choose to reconstruct rituals from ancient sources obsess over every single detail being as historically accurate as possible. This is unwise. When you fail to account for what is necessary for modern living you can easily end up with a ritual that feels less like an act of devotion and spirituality towards the gods and far more like a mere historical re-enactment, akin to something one might find in a “Taste of Ancient Greece” re-enactment village. Or something. The details are important, but getting every single detail in line isn’t necessarily going to make for a more fulfilling ritual experience. In fact, it might detract from it or even cause you to forgo performing the ritual altogether. Every person or group who reconstructs a ritual will have their own variations, their own quirks and idiosyncrasies and that is okay.

We are many people worshiping many gods in many places, doesn’t it only seem natural that variations should arise?

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Things I’m Digging/New Post on Patheos

This one is about FEAR and LOATHING in DENTON.

Okay no, just Fear during a Denton storm. Read it if you love me <3

AND HERE ARE SOME THINGS I’M REALLY DIGGING RIGHT NOW

Kero Kero Bonito is pretty fun. This song makes me happy

Katya, from RuPaul’s Drag Race is my current hero. I recommend her series RuFlections but be advised they are VERY NSFW.

Lastly, Strange Hellos by TORRES is a wonderful song that gives me a music boner. Sexually.

AND THE LOGO AT THE TOP IS ALSO THE LOGO OF THE KOINON AND IT WAS MADE BY THE SUPER AWESOME MARKOS GAGE.

Conor’s Top 10 Tips for Young Pagans

1) File your taxes on time 

2) 0007874235187_500X500

3) Remember that vegetables are a sometimes food but beer is an all the time food. 

4) When you lie awake light at night, remember to contemplate the futility of existence. The sheer terror of non-being will really give you that get up and go in the morning! 

5) Forgive people but only forget if they buy you things

6) Read at least two books a month so people will think you are smart and sleep with you

7) In debates just talk louder than the other person. This means you are right. 

8) Never do drugs unless you really, really, really want to

9) Giving me money won’t make you feel good, but it won’t not make you feel good

10) Don’t feed them after midnight: Turtles-7716

(untitled)

I don’t want to disappoint you
Meet your ex pec tations
But please let me point you
A bit of mis di rec tion
I say I know my lines, my lines
And that’d make it easier to believe me
I say I know my lines, my lines
But I would never trust me

Are the Gods Important to Polytheistic Religions?

Yes.

This is an example of a clickbait title. The answer to the question posed by the title is obvious, yet you click anyway hoping in your heart of hearts that the content will contradict the obvious answer, probably so you can argue it with the author or become indignant. One of the two. This has been a PSA, don’t fall for clickbait and don’t post it to social media sites because if you do I’ll be waiting under your bed when you get home and play soft rock anthems from the 70s while you try to sleep.

Grateful for my industriousness in exposing the evils of clickbaity headlines? Consider donating to my Indiegogo campaign so I can make it either Many Gods West or auditions for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I forget. 

Don’t Forget

People are important.

Let these three words be inscribed now and forever, people are important. Yes, the gods are important too, vitally important, but if we keep telling ourselves “fuck people” and focusing solely on our own relationship with our deities, how will we survive? I’m concerned with our survival, Pagans and Polytheists as a whole. I’m concerned with building something for the next generation because I want to have kids and I want there to fucking be something there for them, understand? So when I hear “people aren’t important, fuck people” I say “fuck you” because here is the damn truth, without people we FAIL. Our work becomes nothing, our stories are forgotten, and another generation must desperately try to cobble together something from the remnants of what we did. The gods are mighty. The gods are great. People are important. Community is important. Building something is important.

Surviving, that is important. If you aren’t concerned with our survival for future generations then what the fuck are you doing? Why do it? Then even service to deity becomes an inherently selfish act. It remains about who you are, what you do, no care for the future generations.

I am young. I am angry. At the world I’ve been given with the problems I will inevitably face. With the world that my kids will in turn be given. They will have to put up with rising oceans, climate change, resources crises, and what if I bequeath to them a religion which has become inert because it has forgotten the value of people, the wonder that they bring and how the gods express their gifts through them? I’ve grown uninterested. . .disgusted even, by theologies and ideologies which forget the value of the human and their gifts. Which think it is okay to neglect your fellow so that you may progress (spiritually? I don’t know).

People are important. Not the most important. They disappoint. They betray. They forget. But they love, they communicate, they carry on and they are the only damn way our traditions are going to survive. You will die. And no matter how damn advanced and learned you are, when you die that knowledge dies with you if you haven’t taught another. If you’ve forgotten the vitality of the pupil then what are you doing? If you’ve dedicated your life to a deity but have their worship die with you, what have you done? Your knowledge has fled from our Earth and could not be carried forward for just one more generation.

People are important. Drill it into your head because without that constant reminder echoing through your head we disappear. . .again.

Why?

You love me
It is true and I don’t know why
You love me
I’ve shown you things that you only thought
Existed in fairy tales and texts books
Other people, never home
Persistent, persistent I grind unwillingly, unknowingly
Yet you remain

You love me
I don’t know why
I become a tempest of emotion
Set off for no reason, no timing
A storm brought on through no provocation
I’m indignant, not at you, at myself
How can I be calm?

You love me
Why?
Hands caress flesh
One road meets another
In your grasp doubts fade away
Gasping our love into the night

You love me
Why does not matter