'Our Gods and Goddesses Are Closer to Us'
How modern pagans are reviving the polytheistic religions of the ancient Greeks, Druids, Egyptians, and other civilizations.
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Jennifer Guimaraes, a 22-year-old Las Vegas homemaker and mother, says the internet is vital to her worship of the Greek gods. She and her boyfriend, also a Hellenic reconstructionist, founded Thiasos Dionysos, an online discussion group dedicated to the Greek god of wine and agriculture with about 60 regular participants. Members exchange information online, but worship on their own.
Guimaraes, who came to the Greek gods after a period practicing Wicca, says tapping into the ancient rituals of the past brings a sense of authenticity she has not found in other religions.
"Even though a lot of people consider it a dead religion, reconstructionists approach it in a way that it is not dead. It is personal. If you crave some sort of tradition, this is where people are going to look for it."
It isn't just the Greek gods that are enjoying revived interest. There are Egyptian, Norse, Roman, Celtic and Druidic reconstructionists as well, with small groups of six to thirty people meeting in places as varied as Texas, California, Florida and Illinois.
Paula Ashton is a 35-year-old executive assistant in Chicago and a member of the Kemetic Orthodox faith, a group that worships the Egyptian gods. Kemetic Orthodox recently made the leap from online community to a physical one with the opening of a temple in Joliet, Ill.
"It seems to me like I have personal relationship to my god," Ashton said of what draws her to her faith and the goddess known as Aset, or Isis. "She is looking out for me. Then I look at strangers and they, too, have a personal connection with their god, be it Jesus or whoever, and we are all connected. We are all part of this. It helps me understand strangers better. It helps me understand humanity better. It helps me get in touch with the rest of the world, it helps me be more compassionate."
In Walnut Creek, Calif. Stefn [CQ] Thorsman is "steersman," or chief executive, for the Troth, an organization of affiliated "kindreds," or small groups, and solo practitioners of Asatru, a form of Norse reconstructionism. Thorsman, a stand-up comedian, said one of the appeals of Norse polytheism is that it reveres the divine in all things, living and inanimate, male or female.
"Our gods and goddesses are closer to us," he said. "We don't grovel before them. We stand before them. We don't look to them for perfection. Just as there is male and female in all of nature there, there is male and female in the spirit world. Having a male, all-seeing, all-perfect, very angry and vindictive God just did not call to me."