How to Practice
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HOW TO PRACTICE BYZANTINE PAGANISM
1. Establishing a Personal Connection with the Ancient Classical Goddesses and Gods
Building a personal
connection with deity is the foundation of all spiritual practice. An easy
way make this connection within Byzantine Classical Religion is to learn
something about the ancient deities of Greece and Rome, who are eternal and
remain easily contactable today.
ON THE GODS AND
A great benefit of reaching out to the ancient deities in the Classical way is that you can tap into the specific power and wisdom you need, forming a connection that is truly specific and direct. Regarding Deity as a formless mass with no specific perspective has been alien to all the world for most of its history. Ancient polytheism is spirituality at the personal, individual level. Do you wish the wisdom and power of Love? Reaching out to Venus and Aphrodite is a direct spiritual current to Love in it's post powerful spiritual essence. Do you wish for Wisdom? Reaching out to Minerva and Athena will bring you to Eternal Wisdom. Each of the Goddesses and Gods have their own realm in turn, and you can be a part of ALL of those realms as you desire.
As you learn about the Gods, you
need only reach out to them with your mind and spirit. Prayers and rituals can
help to organize the interactions between yourself and the Classical Deities but
it is the basic connection between you and the ancient Goddesses and Gods which
is the key.
As you seek to know and interact with the ancient Goddesses and Gods, you will find the most personal and basic way to do this is with personal prayer. When you truly desire to reach out to the ancient Deities they will surely see and hear you, and you can communicate with them silently or by speaking to and with them. Personal Prayer was the last bastion of Classical Religion, because no matter what physical rules are imposed on you by others, your mind and spirit are always free to reach out to Deity in the way that works for you.
Prayer is a great place to begin interacting with the various Goddesses and Gods. When you feel the need of spiritual power and wisdom, ask for it. While Classical religion involved very specific rituals, personal prayer in ones own words was always a part of human interaction with deity. "Talking" with the Goddesses and Gods can be a liberating thing... through it you realize that you are not alone in the world and that the powers of the Heavens always surround you and can be part of your life at need.
In addition to personal prayers you create as you go along, you might also wish to compose specific prayers to a Goddess or God to do more than once. Such prayers were recorded in the ancient world and we will try to present some of those as well.
III. HOUSEHOLD WORSHIP
After personal prayer, the most basic method of worship in the ancient Classical world was to have a religious altar in the home, to provide a set "place" to make deity welcome in ancient life. In the Roman world, each home has a Lararium, or home altar, where the Gods that were connected with the family were worshipped. In a very real sense, each home in the Greco Roman world was a Temple... and this was one of the great strengths of ancient faith. The Temples were regarded as a home in which the Gods could reside... but they were also manifest in each and ever house, making religion a personal as well as public affair. Priesthood presided over the connection between the Gods and the State... but there was no need for priesthood to be a barrier between private individuals and deity. Each person was in a sense their own Priest and Priestess... making a spiritual connection that was personal and deep.
We will provide instructions on specific ways to set up a home altar, and the most common religious tools used there, in another section. For the moment, the important thing to know is that in Byzantine era Classical Religion, you are very welcome to have your own religious space and be in charge of your own religious rites... blessing your home and life in the most direct way possible.
The ancient Greeks and Romans
completely understood that the Goddesses and Gods are beings of Spiritual
Energy, and that they can take any form, or no form as they choose. However, it
was believed that often the deities would show themselves in human form to
better connect with people. Thus we have the "traditional" images of the
Goddesses and Gods... from Jupiter and Zeus as a bearded man on a throne, with
Eagle and Thunderbolt, to Minerva with Helmet and Shield, to Venus as a soft
woman of great Beauty.
Images of deity are convenient "tools" which give an easy focus for interaction with deity. When you do prayer or ritual focusing on a statue it becomes easy to perceive that the Goddesses and Gods are in fact huge spiritual powers, and the images of the Gods are in a way simply portals which help open up larger spiritual connections.
As the Byzantine Era progressed, statues of the Goddesses and Gods became more dangerous to own in the home. Those who continued the ancient faiths later moved to the veneration of Icons as was common for Christianity in the Eastern Roman Empire... and there are records of this practice being "discovered" and dealt with harshly by the Church when found.
So, while you can certainly interact with the Classical Goddesses and Gods in pure spirit, it is convenient, and certainly traditional to incorporate their images into your spiritual life if you wish. There are many images of the ancient deities still extant in both statue and picture form, and reproductions of them work well in any home altar.
In the ancient Classical world, rituals and ceremonies were used to give structure to the interaction between humanity and deity. There were traditional rituals for both the public worship by the community, and the private worship of the individual. As time continued, the traditional forms of these rites became valued to the point where it was felt that the correct form of ritual was crucial. If a ritual worked well when done in a specific way, it seemed right that the ritual should always be done that way to ensure success. In Rome, it got to the point where a ritual would be halted and started again from the beginning if a single word of a traditional public rite was done wrong!
However, we know that Classical religion continued long after most of these rites were destroyed and lost. While we value tradition greatly we can be assured that spiritual connection happens no matter what. The Goddesses and Gods are living Spiritual beings, and they certainly understand sincerity and intent as well as traditional form.
Most of Byzantine era Classical Religion was done in the home, so most of its ritual is done in the home at the household altar. It is believed that the rites done by each family were individual in many ways. While they would have all followed a traditional overall format, all Classical households did not use the same words in their rites! We also know that even many of the home rituals were lost over time as it became dangerous to have a visible altar even in a private home. Personal prayer and rites created by individuals eventually became the normal course of Classical religion as it continued.
We feel that while ancient traditional rites have great importance on many levels, it was proven over time that religion could continue even without them. There is room for "new" rites to be created and that each of us is always free to speak to the Goddesses and Gods in our own words also. We are alive, the Gods are alive, and the interaction between us must be alive and growing as well.
In the ancient world, Philosophy was the study of the interaction between humanity and deity and spirit. The philosophers of Greece and Rome sought to understand the nature of the Gods, the nature of Man, the nature of the World, and how all those things interacted to manifest creation.
In the modern world Philosophy is considered at best a mental exercise in theory. In the ancient world, Philosophy showed how to live and interact with the Gods and the World in the best way possible to bring happiness, virtue, knowledge and strength. It was very much like an active blueprint for how to live life, and become a better person.
While not everyone in the ancient world was interested in Philosophy, this spiritual science became very important in the Byzantine era. It was a way in which the ancient values and virtues were continued, and it helped give meaning in a world that was rapidly changing. Those who valued Philosophy were much more likely to be secret practitioners of the ancient Classical faiths. The ancient wisdoms usually made more sense than the new theologies, and gave more direction and comfort. Philosophy kept the ancient flame of the Classical world alive for many centuries.
Neoplatonist Philosophy was by far the philosophical school which did the most to preserve ancient religion. It preserved much of the wisdom of the Gods and the spiritual freedom which the Western world had held during the Greek and Roman Empires. Neoplatonism was preserved and even expanded in Byzantium and continues to be a part of the Byzantine Era Classical Religious path.
VII: COMMUNITY AND PUBLIC RITES
While in most places, Pagan ritual and community was forbidden and destroyed in the Byzantine World by the 6th Century CE, there were a few places where it continued. In the city of Mistras during the late 1400's, Pagan community and public ritual was even re-founded, as those who followed the Neoplatonist Philosopher Gemistus Pletho began to publicly worship at ancient statues.
The foundation of Byzantine Era Classical Worship is private prayer and home ritual, but pubic rites are certainly encouraged where possible. The goal of exploring this era of Classical Religion is to not simply keep the flame of spirit alive as it was, but to nurture and expand it once again!
Public Classical Rites in Byzantine Paganism will of course be much like the public rituals of ancient Greece and Rome, with the exception that it is no longer the religion of "the state" but is instead a public manifestation of the community of those who follow this religious path. In short we recognize that we are "one of the world religions" now, and our public rites are the rites of our religious community as it is in other faiths.
© Copyright Byzantium Novum, 2014