Book Review: Tony Mierzwicki’s Hellenismos (2018; Llewellyn Publications)

Tony is an acquaintance of mine, whom I have never met in person, through the California Fellowship of Isis community. I know that he has published another work on Greco-Egyptian magic but this is my first exposure to his writing.

Mierzwicki, Tony. Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2018. Mass-market paperback. 275 pp.

This book is meant to be a Polytheist primer for devotees of the Gods of Olympos. Unfortunately, I think it misses the mark in one key aspect. While the content overall (ranging from basic religious concepts of the period to an overview of ancient Greek history to the blurry distinction between “religion” and “magic”) is extremely well-researched and organized efficiently into 12 chapters and 4 appendices (the latter include a handy Greek pronunciation guide and a survey of major occultists’ adaptations of Greek thought into their workings), the majority of the book exhaustively details the religious calendar of the ancient city-state of Athens. (So if you sided with the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War, screw you, ha ha!)

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Regrettably, the chapter on how to actually establish a personal devotional practice to the Deity or Deities you most wish to serve is one of the shortest chapters of the book. Therefore, in a sense the book is rather misleading: if I were an absolute beginner looking to find concrete steps on how to start cultivating a relationship with ancient Greek Powers (and, again, the book narrowly focuses on the 12 Olympian Deities), I would be seriously disappointed after buying this book due to the paucity of practical information. Mierzwicki does, to his credit, stress the importance of physical purity in the devotee and in one’s worship environment. He also stresses that providing daily meal-based offerings is an easy way to stay mindful of the Gods and ensure consistency in one’s personal religious devotion to Them. However, the shockingly brief section on Setting Up an Altar (pp.59-60) ranks among the most uninspiring prose I’ve ever read in my life, about as engaging as an income tax form. Mierzwicki’s writing style does come across as rather flat and business-like: “It appears that the optimal direction to face when addressing deity is the east” (p.60). Who wrote that…a Polytheist priest passionate about his vocation, or an accountant?

Paradoxically, while relying upon mounds of academic research to present his content, Mierzwicki urges his readers to avoid doing the same in their quest to understand the ways that the ancient Greeks thought and worshiped, seeking to adapt those beliefs and practices to our current postmodern age. Mierzwicki believes that, instead of throwing themselves into research, devotees should make themselves receptive to forms of Unverified Personal Gnosis, or one-way messages from Deities “that add vitality to personal practice” (p.64).  While I certainly don’t frown on UPG myself, I think a balance of solid theory (based on book-learning) and practice are the twin pillars beginning Polytheists should build their devotional foundations upon.

In short, this book will be a decent addition to the libraries of Hellenic Polytheists who are already established in their cultic practices. And to anyone with even the slightest historical interest in the religious calendar of ancient Athens, Mierzwicki has you covered!  For an absolute beginner to Polytheism, Hellenic or not, I would recommend instead Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction (Sanngetall Press, 2014). That has the how-to steps Mierzwicki’s book lacks.

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