Kratos: The Hellenic Tradition (Prometheus Review)

Having previously reviewed Mimir: Journal of North European Traditions, I was looking forward to reading its Greek counterpart Kratos: The Hellenic Tradition. It is similar in scope to other books edited by Gwendolyn Taunton, but the depth of material presented here seemed to extend further than that presented in Mimir, which I reviewed previously. Presumably this is because research material on Greek mythology and religion is much more accessible.

Gwendolyn Taunton’s Not Dead but Dreaming: Oneiromancy and Necromancy in the Hellenic Tradition throws us deep into the unchartered territory of the subconscious explaining the roles of necromancy and dreams in ritual use. Taunton takes it one step further to show how the world (and subconscious states) of dreams and death are linked together. This is a deviation from Taunton’s usual work with religion, and instead throws us into a deep, dark and somewhat terrifying domain of the occult, mysteries, prophecies, oracular heads, and communication with the dead. From our descent into Hades via caverns and eerie lifeless lakes, we learn how the Greeks used both rituals and the landscape to open portals to the world of the dead or how master magicians could free the soul from the body during dreams.
This is then followed up by Damon Zacharias Lycourinos and Those Who Wander in the Night: Magoi amongst the Hellenes. Again, this is a very occult based article studying the origins of magic in Ancient Greece, and he argues for more sensible definitions of certain terms in academia. This again references forms of early Greek magic via Shamanism and necromancy so it ties in very nicely with the first article.

Then it is out of the occult world and into philosophy with a reprint of Nietzsche’s inaugural speech on Homer and Classical Philology. This is nicely followed up with another article by Taunton on the The Black Sun: Dionysus in the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and Greek Myth which tackles a topic that is often left unexamined – exactly how much of the Hellenic Tradition is in Nietzsche’s philosophy, and how close is his idea to the original conceptions of Apollo/Dionysus? Quite a lot apparently.

Then we move onto the first of two articles from Kallistos – The Sacred and the Profane in Hellenismos, which explores the Hellenic Tradition from the perspective of Mircea Eliade’s theory on the Sacred and the Profane. I thought this was very interesting and contributed a great deal in terms of practical knowledge, because it establishes the Hellenic Tradition as a living Tradition with just as much claim to religious power as any mainstream one. The second one by Kallistos, Foreign Gods, Syncretism and Hellenismos was equally fascinating and explained that when it came to incorporating new deities, the Greeks seemed to absorb them and reshape them quite quickly.

I also greatly enjoyed both of the articles by Christos Pandion Panopoulos – Hecate from Protector to Witch Goddess: Her Passage from Classical Greece to Modern Times. I found this intriguing as before reading this, I knew little about Hecate. I knew she was popular with people interested in witchcraft and had assumed she had a lot to do with this role, but the author sets this popular misconception straight and explains that her original role was a much more powerful one, and that this identification with witchcraft is comparatively recent. His other article, Hellenic Household Worship provides us with a clear insight into the daily religious life of ancient Greece, and how religious believes were incorporated into the household. This piece is also strongly of interest to those interested in reconstructing religious practices, and I recommend it to them.

Then there is one more article from Gwendolyn Taunton – Death and the Maiden which takes us back into the underworld again, to examine the role of Persephone and her connection to Hades. This is an interesting piece which also touches on some aspects of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Tara L. Reynolds also writes about Persephone in her article, Aphrodite and Persephone: Passion and Rebirth , which explains the roles of these two very different goddess – one being the feisty Aphrodite, the other the innocent Persephone. Reynolds contrasts the two deities nicely in her piece.

Finally there is a piece by the fascinating Eamonn Loughran of Hellfire Club fame on Raising Apollonius, which returns us back to the occult setting established in the first articles, where we are taken on a tour de force of the famous magician Apollonius’ s works and how they relate to the perspective of Hellenic paganism.

Overall this is a fascinating collection of articles which encompasses the Hellenic Tradition in its full glory – magic, mythology, forbidden rites, hidden mysteries, great philosophies, wonders of archeology, sacred power, the social and cultural implications and even how these have been passed down to us via other works. Because the content is diverse there will be something new for everyone in it. The real strength of the book though, is in the research on ancient Greek magic. The theory behind this is quite complex and unique in its application. It throws a whole new angle on the use of ritual magic which is not found in other authors. If the theory is true, then much of our understanding of magic is it is understood today is completely wrong.

Source: The Prometheus Review