Thursday, February 04, 2010

Are Epiphany Dreams Found only in the Past?

The Bryn Mawr Classical Review's book-review feed recently served up a review of William V. Harris's Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity
The reviewer writes,

Some combination of [cultural expectations, generic demands, and the imperatives of performance and publication.], Harris argues ...  accounts for the relative frequency in antiquity of the epiphany dream, in which an authoritative figure visits the dreamer and makes a significant statement, and for its rarity in the post-Enlightenment West.
He goes on to argue that if readers say that they too have epiphany dreams, it don't prove nuthin':

No doubt some reader of this review is now saying, "But I had an epiphany dream just the other night!"  That is the problem with studying dreams:  one must work hard to free oneself from dependence on anecdote and from the powerful attraction that dreams have for those who dream them.  Appealing to concepts of "selfhood" or "personality" will only reinforce these tendencies by compelling the question, "What does this dream tell us about you?"  Harris chooses instead to concentrate on ancient descriptions of dreams and reports of actions based on them.  This is a book about dreaming, not about dreams; that is, about behavior and experience in antiquity, not about the ancient self.

If I tell it, it's only an "anecdote," but if someone back then wrote it, it's a "description" and thus useful? But if you act upon the advice of the dream, does that count?

"Epiphany dreams" are not common, but when you have one, you know it.

My example (oops, an ancedote!) was a dream that--at a time when I was not consciously thinking about it--told me to quit my job and go to graduate school in religious studies.

When I awoke with the dream-voice echoing in my ears, I knew that "some god or daemon" had spoken. I immediately started researching university programs, thinking without irony that now I knew what was meant in those biblical accounts of "the Lord spake unto Abraham" or whomever.

Someone or something sure enough spake unto me, and I knew I had to follow the instructions. Or else.

Anyone else had a real epiphany dream? Show of hands? Yes, I thought so.

As to the academic study, there is, I have learned, an almost-complete disconnect between the academic study of ancient Paganism and the study of contemporary polytheism, Paganism, etc.

The former people are mostly in Classics and history, they have an academic heritage a couple of centuries old, and they publish in their own journals, attend their own conferences, and so on.

The latter field only began to take shape in the 1990s.

Some study of ancient Pagan religion does sneak into the Society of Biblical Literature, and when the SBL goes back to having its annual meeting together with the American Academy of Religion's meeting in 2011, maybe, just maybe, there might some crossover.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dancing Homer

Via Sannion, links to a site of choreographers who attempt to reconstruct ancient Greek choral dance. (Scroll down for videos.)

Here dancers and drummers perform
while a rhapsode declaims the Catalog of Ships from the Iliad.

I suppose it's one of those interesting ideas that goes into the "But we'll never know for sure" file. (Or does it smell too much of the lamp?)

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Greek Orthodox Cover-up of Parthenon Defacing

Via Richard Bartholomew: Orthodox clergy in Greece demanded -- and got -- removal of a film segment in the Parthenon visitor center that showed their predecessors smashing Pagan statuary, etc., centuries ago.

UPDATE: (Via Jason) The museum backed down and is restoring the original film.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gallimaufry with Confusion

• The latest weird search query to bring a visitor to this blog: "Is New Mexico a polytheistic, monotheistic, or animistic religion?" Hello? New Mexico is a state. No wonder that for years New Mexico Magazine has had a standing column on geographical confusion called "One of Our 50 is Missing."

• A
TheoFantastique [Morehead] : Cinema has also changed in its depiction of the witch. Are fairytale depictions as in Harry Potter, as well as those which depict the empowerment of the feminine perhaps the most common modes of expression in contemporary film?

Carrol Fry: Yes, the empowerment of the feminine is the most popular adaptation, whether the film is supportive of critical. I’m sure this has to do with attracting an audience for the film. But Pagans might well feel that Hollywood slights their spiritual paths by concentrating nearly exclusively on feminist Wicca, and then just on the most sensational elements. By the way, there’s a strong subtext of feminist Wicca in
that no one much notices, most obviously in Sophie’s (named for Sophia from the Gnostic tradition) blunders into a Wiccan ceremony in which her grandfather is “drawing down the moon” as a coven ceremony. There are a few other witch films that are not part of the culture wars, romantic films such as I Married a Witch
and Bell, Book and Candle that are neither the silly version of witches (that have nothing to do with Neo-Paganism[sic]) such as the Harry Potter novels and films nor adaptations of Wicca.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Seeing the World with Greek Eyes

"I am a Greek born 2,381 years after my ancestors built and dedicated the Parthenon . . . . I am telling Greek history outside the conventional Christian worldview," writes Eaggelos G. Vallianatos, author of The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes

Born in a Greek village, Vallianatos came to the United States as a young man and earned a doctorate in history at Wisconsin. He has written three other books on globalization and agriculture.

A little bit like Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick's A History Of Pagan Europe, his book moves from a general discussion of Greek religion through the conquest of a disunited Greece by imperial Rome to the fall of the empire as seen by Greek historians, lingering on the late Christian emperors' persecution of the Pagan "Hellenes," those who saw Greek literature, culture, and religion as intertwined.

One appendix discusses and rates works by many noted classicists. Vallianatos likes Robin Lane Fox and Ramsay MacMullen, who "[makes] some difference to our understanding of the dreadful record of Christianity in the Mediterranean," but has no use for Polymnia Athanassiadi: "Her Christian bias shines through in everything she says about Julian." And so on.

As its title suggests, the book is passionate. I have read only as far as Chapter 4, "The Treason of Christianity," because I can take it only in small doses. But I will continue all the way to the end, believe me.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Theoi Project

The Theoi Project is a site for "exploring Greek mythology and the gods in classical literature and art. The aim of the project is to provide a comprehensive, free reference guide to the gods (theoi), spirits (daimones), fabulous creatures (theres) and heroes of ancient Greek mythology and religion."

Want a family tree of the gods? It's here. And here is the cultus page for Hekate.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gallimaufry at Cleo's

¶ Everything about Cleopatra. (The famous Cleopatra was actually the seventh ethnic Greek queen of Egypt of that name.)

¶ Everything about Alexander the Great.

¶ Those and more web directories at Isidore of Seville.

¶ Dianne Sylvan's "list of things I don't/do care about." As one of the comments said, it would make a good poster. (Via Executive Pagan).

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Most Advanced--But Vanished--Pagans.

Everyone has their favorite vanished Pagan civilization, I suppose. The Minoan civilization is one of mine.

Tropaion links to a Discovery Channel video about the destruction of Atlantis. The basic idea -- that "Atlantis" was Santorini (Thera) and Crete -- is not new, but the computer recreations of their cities is excellent. (Bonus: Greek subtitles.)

The Egyptian material at the end is most interesting as well.

A volcanic eruption bigger than Krakatoa, tsunamis, and earthquakes. How well could we handle that combination?

Bonus: This Flash animation shows all the empires and nations of the Middle East. The Minoans don't appear, but they would be contemporary with the Egyptian empire. (Via Hecate.)

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Animal Sacrifice and Authenticity

Last month Classics scholar Mary Beard suggested that contemporary Hellenic Pagans were not quite authentic because they omitted the centerpiece of ancient Paganism: animal sacrifice. (I discussed her critique here, and she responded.)

Orthodox Christian blogger Rod Dreher's recent post--and especially the comments--pretty well illustrate just how squeamish today's population--even omnivores--are about the idea of animal sacrifice.

Other than followers of Afro-Diasporic religions (Santeria, Candomble, etc.), only a tiny number of contemporary Western Hemisphere Pagans perform animal sacrifice.

(Muslims typically perform animal sacrifice for the festival of Eid ul-Adha. Christians, as one of Dreher's commenters points out, believe that Jesus' death ended sacrifice. Jews would not agree, but having centralized their rituals at the Jerusalem Temple--which was then destroyed--they moved to a different religious model.)

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Thursday, February 01, 2007


• A federal judge won't let the Veterans Administration wriggle out of the lawsuit over grave markers for Wiccan veterans.

The Guardian, a British newspaper, covers the Greek Pagan renaissance.

For years, Orthodox clerics believed that they had defeated Greeks wishing to embrace the customs and beliefs of the ancient past. But increasingly the church, a bastion of conservatism and traditionalism, has been confronted by the spectre of polytheists making a comeback in the land of the gods. Last year, Peppa's group, Ellinais, succeeded in gaining legal recognition as a cultural association in a country where all non-Christian religions, bar Islam and Judaism, are prohibited. As a result of the ruling, which devotees say paves the way for the Greek gods to be worshipped openly, the organisation hopes to win government approval for a temple in Athens where pagan baptisms, marriages and funerals could be performed. Taking the battle to archaeological sites deemed to be "sacred" is also part of an increasingly vociferous campaign.

The article mentions James O'Dell, who also appears in the documentary I Still Worship Zeus.

What happens in Greece first may happen next in the UK or elsewhere in Western Europe. A number of British Pagans have borrowed the rhetoric of American Indian activists about sacred sites and about ancestral remains stored in museums.

• After a couple of years, this blog seems to have been removed from BeliefNet's "Blog Heaven" site, where it used to appear in the "Other Faiths" category at the very bottom of the page.

No one from BeliefNet informed me that my blog was given the boot; I just happened to notice.

When I asked what was going on, someone named Tim Hayne, editorial project manager, said that it was unintentional and tried to make it look like it was my fault for changing something at this end. (Don't tech-support people always try to make problems look like the user's fault?)

Ten days have gone by, but nothing has changed. You won't find Letter From Hardscrabble Creek in Blog Heaven. (Maybe there is a Blog Limbo somewhere.)

But the URL of my site feed has not changed. So I have to wonder if someone at the supposedly interfaith BeliefNet site just cannot stomach an outspokenly Pagan blog.

It's their site and they can run it the way that they want. But why can't they be honest?

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

New Paganism is not Old Paganism

Mary Beard, noted Classics scholar from Cambridge University, writes that today's Greek Pagans are not practicing exactly what their Hellenic ancestors did.

It isn’t entirely clear what this group (“Ellenais”) believes; but it is clear that, whatever they say, it bears very little relationship to ancient Greek religion. You can tell that already from the rather charming prayer to Zeus to bring about world peace. From an ancient point of view, whatever myths are peddled about the “Olympic Truce”, there could hardly be a less likely divine candidate for putting a stop to war in the world.

Her slightly patronizing tone aside, so what? Religions do change--even while their adherents insist on continuity with the past.

I have great respect for Beard as a Classics scholar--I own one or two of her books--but I suspect that she has not given much thought before to new religious movements until she decided to give her opinion on this new development in her blog.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Greek Pagans Worship Publicly

Members of a Greek Pagan group were able to perform a ritual at the temple of Zeus in Athens yesterday.

One of its leaders, Doretta Peppa, a writer who calls herself a high priestess [sic], told the BBC the temples were built to respect the gods and now they were going to be put to their proper use.

Ms Peppa said she had been given official permission to use the temple, but there were fears that the culture ministry, which administers the site, might give way to pressure from the church.

According to the longer CNN report,

[The group] Ellinais was founded last year and has 34 official members, mainly academics, lawyers and other professionals. It won a court battle for state recognition of the ancient Greek religion and is demanding the government register its offices as a place of worship, a move that could allow the group to perform weddings and other rites.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Greek Pagans Press for Temple Access

After a long struggle and some victories in their quest for religious freedom, contemporary Greek Pagans continue to seek the right to worship the old gods in the temples that were built for them.

Now it is the turn of the Temple of Zeus in Athens.

"These are our temples and they should be used by followers of our religion," said Doreta Peppa, head of the Athens-based Ellinais, a group campaigning to revive the ancient religion.


Peppa's group, dedicated to reviving worship of the 12 ancient gods, was founded last year and won a court battle for official state recognition of the ancient Greek religion.

Those who seek to revive the ancient Greek religion are split into rival organizations which trade insults over the Internet. Peppa's group is at odds with ultra-nationalists who view a revival as a way to protect Greek identity from foreign influences.

They can't even agree on a name for the religion: One camp calls it Ancient-Religion, another Hellenic Religion.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

More on Book Design: The Best Iliad Cover Ever

Walking through the enormous book exhibition at the AAR-SBL, I stopped at the booth of Parmenides Publishing, publisher of Classical philosophy and literature.

In conjunction with Stanley Lombardo's audio recordings of his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, they had the print edition
which I had not seen before.

The famous D-Day photograph and the word "Iliad." It stopped me cold. What a brilliant juxtaposition of image and text. It was a Nietzschean moment of "tragic pessimism." I suppose that I will have to buy that translation.

Give the designer an award.

UPDATE (23 Dec. 05): With the book now in hand, I see that the cover design is credited to Brian Rak and John Pershing. The photo, "Into the Jaws of Death," is simply credited to the U.S. Coast Guard, as I already knew.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Helenic Paganism on DVD

Contemporary followers of traditional Greek religion got some attention during the recent Athens Olympics, and a new documentary film (made before the games) should help more. (For my earlier posts, see also here and here.)

I Still Worship Zeus, a recently released feature-length documentary film directed by Jamil Said, includes footage of rituals, games, music, and interviews, including a funny "average Athenian in the street" segment in which Greeks are asked whether or not the ancient religion has survived into this century. (Their responses are all over the place.) The film seems to focus in particular on the Dodecatheon (12 gods) group. The soundtrack is a mixture of English and subtitled Greek.

In particular, the film deals with Greek Pagans' experience with social discrimination and denial of religious rights by the national government, even while they position themselves as the "true Greeks."

The film's web site offers clips and still photos. A copy of I Still Worship Zeus on DVD is US $20; send email to "" for ordering information.

Buy yourself one for Candlemas, the festival of intellectual renewal.

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