Morality, Beliefs, and Ritual

Piscinus, over at the Religio Romana Cultorum Deorum yahoo group, recently reviewed “Ancient Supplication” by F. S. Naiden. Published by Oxford University Press, 440 pages and a bit pricey at $45. for the paperback edition, although cheaper used copies are available. A worthwhile book according to the review given by Piscinus. He concludes the review by noting that “There is a lot more in this book than the little attention it will receive warrants.” 

Piscinus provides several interesting quotations from the book:

“The modern tendency to neglect the act of judgment in favor of ceremony does not lack for an ancient precedent. According to diverse ancient sources misguided worshippers might evince the same tendency. They would perform a ceremony – in particular, they would bring the gods gifts – but would forget that the gods would evaluate them and might require more of them than a gift.”

“Socrates says that a good man and a god do not accept gifts from the wicked – thus rejuecting many, if not most – offerings to the gods. The notion that the wicked may give gifts to appease the gods meets with rejection too, for other passages show that gifts are no more acceptable for this purp0se than for any other. In the same vein, Isocrates says that rites would help a good man in the gods’ favor more than they would help a bad man. Aristotle says that the rites alone would never satisfy the gods, a worshipper needed to be deserving.”

“They object to supplication by the undeserving – to the performance of a ceremony when moral requirements have gone unmet. They want ceremony and morals to conform to one another.”

Piscinus provides a number of his own comments in the course of the review that are of value:

“People who insist that Roman ritual for the Gods may be performed by people who do not believe in the Gods, by people who are impure, immoral, and who act without true good intentions, simply do not know what they are talking about.”

“Ritual purity, as Cicero tells us, has everything to do with a guilt-free mind that results only from ethical responsibility and morality.”

“Roman ritual without belief is to be condemned.”

“Performance of Roman ritual without living an ethical life is to be condemned.”

“Performing a Roman ritual without being a moral person is to be condemned.”

“Anyone with an intrinsic perspective of the religio Romana would easily understand that this is the case. Why would the Gods ever listen to the prayers of someone who does not believe in Them, or who is a wicked person and thus would have only wicked intentions for offering sacrifice to the Gods? And why would any cultor want to have such unbelievers, immoral, or unethical people offer sacrifice on their behalf? Only someone outside the religion would advocate something different or hold that immoral actions would be overlooked by the Gods.”

I say, well said, Piscinus. I will also say that these comments by Piscinus are equally applicable to Greek, Egyptian, Caananite, Babylonian, and all the other ancient religions that are being revived today.

In a conversation in the Neos Alexandria yahoo group V. Valerius Volusus made a valuable observation: “I’ve seen classical polytheists attacked by Christians who accuse us of having no beliefs arguing from the common notion of classical orthopraxy or ritualism. However, that is a complete misunderstanding of what orthopraxy means (it’s a modern classification). Orthopractic piety does not imply that we have no systems of belief and formal theologies. Indeed, it was classical polythists who invented the very theological approach that Christians later coopted for their own purposes. The difference is not that we don’t have beliefs and doctrines concerning the nature of the gods and the place of humans in the divine order, it’s simply that we have no problem with heresy (hairesis). Heresy is anathema to political totalitarian regimes, but in the ancient world choice with regard to belief was considered to be perfectly acceptable situation – since rightly anything said about the gods can be no more than human and fallible speculation. On the other hand traditional rituals were considered to be more-or-less “set in stone”. The standard of piety was not based on beliefs, but on meeting traditional duties towards the gods using the correct ritual forms. Indeed, some stoic philosophers classified the virtue of piety as being the expression of justice towards the gods.”

“So, in terms of making a transition from an”orthodox” worldview like Catholocism or the various Orthodox Churches, it really comes down to whether we can accept heresy (haiesesis: choice, schools of thought) as the natural intellectual order for frail human beings who, when all is said and done, can claim diddly-squat when it comes to a knowledge of divinity.”

Well said, Volusus.

Published in: on August 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm  Comments (6)  
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Towards First Steps in Theology

Elemental Steps in Comprehension. Or, Building Blocks in the Development of Theology. Or, Awareness of Existence.

Part I, Awareness: I am. You are. They are. It is.

Part II, Experience: Experience begins and awareness expands. Things and events happen. Situations develop and change. Interactions occur. Knowledge is acquired.  The gods reveal themselves.

Part III, Initial Conclusions: The universe exists. The gods exist. Humans exist.

The universe is eternal. The gods are immortal. Humans possess a degree of immortality.

The universe is dangerous, but not malevolent. The universe is chaotic, changeable, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, but order and stability also exist.

Published in: on January 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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A Definition of Polytheism


By John H Carlson, originally published in Scroll of Oplontis in September, 1991 ce.

The word “polytheism” is derived from the Greek words “polu” and “theos”, which mean “many” and “god”. Polytheism is defined as a belief in the existence of many gods. It is the idea that there are many divine powers. It is the idea that divinity ultimately resides in many separate entities and beings.

There are many gods and goddesses. The gods are the greatest and most powerful beings. They are wise and just. They are immortal. They are worthy of respect and adoration.

The gods have many forms and they can reveal themselves in many ways. They are both immanent and transcendent. They are present in the elements and forms of being. They are manifest in the forces of nature, in matter and energy, but they are also transcendent beings not bound by any material form. The gods can reveal themselves in the human mind. They can appear as human or other beings, as plants or animals, or as material objects. There are no limits of form or being upon the gods and goddesses. They are what they choose to be.

Divinity is multiple and various, both in appearance and in reality. No single god or goddess hides behind all the multitude of divine forms. The gods and goddesses are objectively real entities whose existence is not dependent upon the beliefs or actions of lesser beings. They are not archetypes. They are not imaginary symbols of human activity or of the human mind. They are not symbolic representations of natural events and processes.

The gods and goddesses are real. They exist. Their wisdom and power give shape to the world. Their beauty and grace will last forever.

The gods and goddesses are free and independent beings. They are equally divine. They are not controlled by any other entity or power.

The gods and goddesses are pleased when lesser beings freely acknowledge their existence and offer them respect and worship. They do not need or require this acknowledgement. The all powerful gods and goddesses need nothing. They create whatever they desire.


Commentary on October 4, 2010 ce: This particular definition of polytheism was an attempt to express my own thoughts, opinions, and beliefs about the existence and nature of the gods. It is more or less culturally neutral, although it does fit with the religious concepts of the ancient Greeks and Romans, as expressed through their mythology, poetry, ritual activities, and art. Although this definition was written nineteen years ago, it still expresses my essential and basic beliefs and opinions about the gods. 

All true religion is ultimately based on experience rather than on the written word, but nevertheless the written word can be very useful in describing what experience has revealed. Ancient religions did not generally have formal statements of belief or theology. If people were performing a ritual to Zeus they would not have started the ceremony by saying “I believe in Zeus”. It would have been silly, since, obviously, if someone didn’t believe in the existence of Zeus , then that person would not be participating in a ritual to Zeus or asking for the god’s blessings. Nevertheless, formal statements and explanations of theology can be very useful when defining a group of religious concepts and practices as a religion. Ancient Greek and Roman culture did not as a general rule incorporate specific named religions. Groups such as the Orphics and the Pythagoreans are a partial exception to this observation but only a partial exception. The Orphics and Pythagoreans had their own specific teachings, but these groups were still part of the mass of beliefs and practices that form what we call “ancient Greek religion”.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 8:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Scroll of Poppaeus

So, here I am with a blog, wondering what to do next.

So, on November 12 I decided that this was not going to work and erased everything.

Then on November 13 I decided to try again and restored everything.

As originally stated, this is the blog of Quintus Poppaeus Sabinus, the name I prefer to use for my cultural and religious activities. I am an adherent of Classical Polytheistic Paganism, the syncretic blend of Greek and Roman religion that was the primary religious system of the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial eras. I am also interested  in Egyptian religion and Graeco-Egyptian syncretism.

I have a considerable interest in the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, and Egypt, and particularly in temples and sacred art.  

This blog is also an Internet outpost of Antoninia, the Antonine Imperium, a sort of phantom pagan empire that I created a while back.

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 4:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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