I consider myself extremely fortunate that I was born into a diverse, multi-faith family. I have seen throughout the world how religion can tear entire societies apart. It is used to justify horrific violations of human rights, to encourage ignorance, to deny scientific truths, and to keep people separated from each other, drawing a false line in the sand between "us" and "them," forgetting that we are all human beings, and we are all trying to live the best way we can. But, I have also seen people on the brink of self-destruction, people who are confused, or afraid, or directionless, find new meaning in their lives by embracing something higher than themselves; a philosophy, a faith, a creed. I have seen this happen to people no matter what particular religion they have embraced. The common thread between those who credit their religious beliefs for making their lives better and inspiring them to help others do the same seems to be that, while they have embraced a particular faith, they acknowledge that what works for them may not work for everyone else, and they take a "live and let live" approach, without the ultimate vanity of believing their faith is the only one that anyone should ever have or practice.
Growing up with a variety of viewpoints around me, I was never taught that bigotry. I was encouraged to find my own way, to find something that I can believe in and that can give my life a sense of meaning and purpose. It didn't even have to be religious in nature, I was simply taught to observe the world around me, develop values and character, and seek my own personal truths in regard to questions that cannot be answered in concrete, physical terms. So that is what I did. By the time I was 12 or so, I had embarked on a desperate search for something I could believe in, and that would not force me to compromise my intellect, or what I know about the physical world to be true. That pretty much ruled out any form of fundamentalism! Even with those off the table, it was not an easy search. Other circumstances in my life, my experiences with domestic violence, betrayals, and prejudice (for a variety of reasons), sometimes left me questioning my own ability to know any kind of truth, and there were times when I felt I should just give up. For about 3 years, I called myself an atheist, because I was so frustrated, and could not even develop a definition of "God," or "Gods," let alone decide whether or not I believed in it/them! A huge factor in my struggling was that, very often, I was letting other people define things for me rather than using my own eyes and brain and define things for myself. My mistake was in attempting to find a definition of spirituality that belonged to someone else that I could latch onto, rather than look at the world around me, and let the definition form in my own mind and soul. It was when I changed that mindset, and allowed myself the opportunity to trust my intuition as well as my intelligence, that the world of spirituality began to open up for me. I threw myself back into studying with this new goal, and I reached a level of understanding of the Divine that was deeper and more fulfilling than I ever thought possible!
In January 2012, at the age of 28, I finally refined my beliefs and embraced my path. Long before then, I had pretty much decided that some form of Western, non-Abrahamic (outside the monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), spirituality was the way to go for me. This is commonly known as Paganism, or Neo-Paganism, and it is a very diverse, eclectic community that acknowleges the individual's ability to find spiritual truth that is applicable for them. PERFECT! I felt a huge pull towards this community, particularly the segment that advocates Reconstructionism, the attempt to recreate, in a modern context, the ancient practices of pre-Christian religious societies in Europe and elsewhere. The connection to my ancestral past was very appealing, and I felt like I was truly on to something. Given my love of philosophy and the examined life, I suppose it was only natural that I would skew towards the Greek half of my heritage, and embrace the Hellenic worldview and religious practices. I seek to recreate, as accurately as possible, the rituals and prayer customs of Ancient Greece, and study the mythology of the greek pantheon of gods, The Olympians and various nature deities as recognized in the ancient world. My view of the nature of the gods themselves is a pantheistic one, seeing the gods as one and the same with the natural phenomena and concepts attributed to them. This makes me a bit of a rarity even within the already tiny minority of Hellenismos (Greek Reconstructionism). There are some Hellenes who would say I am not a "true" Hellene myself by virtue of the fact that my belief in the gods is not necessarily literal, even though my practices, the way I pray, the offerings I make, the celebrations I honor, are all Hellenic in origin, and my devotion to them and to the Gods is just as strong as anyone else's. I accept this. No matter what anyone believes, there will always be those under the same umbrella or title ("Pagan," "Christian," etc) that say they aren't doing it right, and thus aren't "really" one of them. That is on them, though, not me. I am ultimately accountable to my truth, not theirs. If there is anything the journey down my path to a spiritual home taught me, it is that!