'Our Relationship With The Gods & Personal Growth' - According To Pindar At Least!.

This abridged version of a longer article written about Pindar's faith and practice is posted to Tropaion in connection with my former post regarding the conundrum of the need (or lack of it) for a modern day organisation to represent those many thousands of people, like me, who still worship the ancient Gods of Greece and choose freely "Helenic Polytheism" as their spiritual path...............

............ The Greek poet and philosopher PINDAR (518 - 438 b.c.) was born just outside Thebes, and the legend tells how one day bees dropped honey on the child's lips from when on he composed and sang the most beautiful songs for the Gods.

Although very well known throughout the Greek world during antiquity, little detail is known about his personal life. His fame and high regard can however be demonstrated that when Alexander sacked Thebes many years later, he spared the house of Pindar. Even long after his death, each night in Delphi, as the shrine of Apollo was closed, the spirit of the poet was summoned to dine with the God, and Pindar was uniquely given his own chair in the temple to sit on. No-one else was ever afforded this honour. Quite some compliment I would say.......

In addition to Pindar’s widespread fame as a poet, he was also a highly regarded philosopher and the following is a short summary of his thought on religious "growth and personal development", which I have found very useful personally when considering what it means to be a follower of the Greek Gods, what our relationship is with these Gods, and how we might grow in our faith with them. Many modern day Hellenic Polytheists worry (too much in my personal view) about the ceremonies and rituals they do for their Gods - especially when many worship alone, in the absence of much historical record, and the absence of any credible modern day organisations of any substance to advise them.

Pindar suggests foremost the idea of “phillea”; that is, the idea of a personal "friendship" with our chosen God. Hellenic Polytheists are in my view, very lucky that they can enjoy this special friendly relationship with their God (with Apollo in my case) and talk (pray) to him as they would a respected friend - e.g. standing up and not on their knees, and certainly not in fear. Pindar suggests the idea of prayer as a way of talking to Apollo and the other Gods. He suggests that people can and should pray honestly, talk simply, privately, and intimately; as indeed they would to their closest of friends. Secondly Pindar suggested the importance of a "personal" special place (sacred place) where the faithfull go regularly (maybe weekly or monthly) to be close to their God. (e.g. To the park, to the woods, by a beautiful lake etc.) The idea is that we go to this special place when “we” need to be particularly close to our Gods. The Gods are close to us whenever they want, but a "sacred and special" place helps us to focus our thoughts on them. Also, extreemly important, is a special place for the Gods in our own homes, where we can turn our thoughts to the Gods on a more regular or daily basis.

Sacrifice, offerings and libations (the pouring of wine) are also important aspects of our worship according to Pindar. We should remember that good friends don’t need expensive presents or people to show off about how much they paid for the wine. The little child who gives a doll as an offering to the Gods, and says something simple and sincere, is likely to be appreciated as much by our Gods as the person who performs complicated rituals and prayers and gives lavish offerings "for other people to see". Sacrifices and offerings to the Gods can take many forms: from writing a poem or a song, to a good deed or little help for someone here and there on behalf of the God or Gods one follows. Offerings do not need to be thought of as necessarily just prayers and libations.

As indicated above it is acceptable to create prayers of one's own, and indeed for modern day Hellenic Polytheists this is often necessary in the absence many original ancient prayers. According to Pindar at least, and I believe as demonstrated in the life of Socrates, our religion is essentially a personal thing - a personal relationship with our chosen God and best friend, a personal spiritual path. No real need for big crowds of people - complicated rituals or man made dogmas on how to live your life. This should all gradually become apparent with your relationship with your God, and the reading of the many ancient texts that we have. Larger festivals honouring the Gods with other people are nice, but they are not as important in many ways as the personal friendship one has with their chosen God on a daily basis at home, or at a special sacred place one visits regularly.

Pindar also believed that "epiphany" with our Gods was a reality - a real experience often in private - and more or less should be expected from time to time by those who follow the simple religious practice he suggests above. For ancient and modern day Hellenic Polytheists, epiphany is not just something that happens in a Greek myth or other religious text, but a real and normal part of our religion and religious life.

Pindar was born just a few years before Socrates and their lives overlapped. For sure Socrates would of known of Pindar and his philosophical thought, and I like to think that Socrates would of very much approved of what he knew of Pindar since they appear to have had similar outlooks to how Hellenic Polytheists should live and grow in the faith.

As mentioned above - this post to Tropaion was made to prompt discussion of the need (or lack of it) of a modern day organisation to credibly represent Helenic Polytheists. This, as said, is one of my many "personal conundrums" in this area, since it appears (according to Pindar at least) that Hellenic Polytheism should essentially be a peronal or household religion.
James Head (aka O'Dell)
(email: jamesdelphi2000@yahoo.co.uk)

Footnote: I am most grateful to Agis who is taking his Ph.D. on Pindar at Cambridge University in the UK for giving me this "distillation" of Pindar's religious thought whilst sitting on a crowded bus in Athens.