One of my favourite TV shows is Rome. It has faults as in simplification of historical events and for dramatic purposes expanded on real characters which boarders on fantasy, but in general it is an entertaining and beautiful TV series. What I really enjoyed is the depictions of Roman religion, how it was not something that was enforced by a doctrine of rules (well not always) but how it was pervasive in their culture. Every breath, every word, every action was given to the gods. This concept is presented in the show intro, with Roman graffiti and murals coming to life on the streets, illustrating the myths.
In the first episode one of the lead characters ,Titus Pullo, is thrown in prison. He makes a series of prayers for his release while drawing a phallus on a board as a foci. This is a naturalistic ritual, he is performing an act of devotion in a situation that is dire.
The themes of causal personal worship continue throughout the series, we see examples of household worship, casual communion, crafting one’s own icons etc. We also see formal rituals, the long tedious forms of cleansing and devotion. Therefore ritual protocol changed between circumstances.
Nowadays in the Hellenic polytheist community, we attempt to replicate devotion as it were in Ancient times, however the sources we go by are what was expected by priests, initiated and nobility / royalty. These are highly formulaic with set expectations. They were so important to ancient authors merited recording them.
This is the issue with us today. We get bogged down with recorded sources and begin establishing doctrines and protocol based on formal ritual. When in reality of ancient people their forms of devotion would had been a lot more casual, relaxed and personal.
The major issue here is with new comers. Often mentors prescribe a set of ritual acts, of how to give prayer that is based upon known formal ritual. Whereas for the ancients it was ingrained in their culture, it was a natural language to them, which just like every day conversation changed in manner depending on circumstance. This is not something that can be taught easily to newcomers and presents a challenge to mentors. Thus they go with formal methods.
I have mixed feelings about this, it’s better to play it safe, but also I fear we are setting the bar to high and ultimately intimidating the new. It’s unintentionally establishing an orthodoxy when it does not belong in our religion. Lastly, a common complaint from newbies is that they are scared that they will “do it wrong” and don’t do anything at all! This is sad and a sign of failure on the mentors part.
What I strive to do as a mentor is encourage a personal development first. I encourage those I’m teaching to first establish their own method of communicating and progress from there. Core concepts of spiritual cleanliness, ritual gesturing, mediative thought, ritual protocol etc., should be set aside for later date. I instead give suggestions of what you *can* do, not what you *should*. Then proceed from there.
All of it is true, we do have a praxis, a manner of speaking to address the divine that is important to give respectful devotion. Yet to start out I believe we should first establish a platform for casual communication and teach one step at a time.