Hello all and welcome to the inaugurating post of the Temple of Athena the Savior!
My name is Amanda Sioux Blake, although you can just call me Amanda. I am the Templekeeper of the real-life Temple of Athena the Savior, Alexandrian Tradition. We are a Greco-Egyptian Temple in the tradition of Alexandria, Egypt. I am new to the world of blogging, but hope that you might find my humble scribblings enlightening.
Alexandria was founded by, of course, Alexander the Great on his campaign against the Persian Empire. The three main ethnic groups in Alexandria were the native Egyptians, Greeks, and Hebrews, but everyone passed through Alexandria. Many Romans, Syrians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Canaanites, and others called it home. There were even people from as far-flung places as India, Britannia, and Gaul / Germania (modern-day Britain and Germany, respectively). The syncrethic system of worship that grew up out of this incredible city is now called Greco-Egyptian Spirituality (or Greco-Egyptian Polytheism, Greco-Egyptian Paganism, or simply Hellenistic Paganism).
Historians like to divide up history into different ages with neat little start and end dates. Realistically, it’s usually not so clear cut. There’s no exact day that the Dark Ages turned into the Renaissance. But it’s not so with the Hellenistic Age. That’s how influential Alexander the Great was. In eleven years, he completely changed the face of the Greek world, so much so that we can definitely speak of the Hellenic Age before 332 BCE, and the Hellenistic Age after 332 BCE. Few single men have had such a massive impact on history.
Unlike most conquerors of that era, Alexander allowed the conquered to keep their own religion, language, and culture. He saw the great beauty and mystery of Egyptian religion, and he had a great respect of the Gods of Egypt. He worked to create bridges between these two peoples. Alexander had a vision of a world that was not divided by what race, nationality, or social status you born to, which God you chose to worship, or what language you spoke. He built roads which crossed his vast empire in an effort to facilitate easy travel amongst his various citizens. It was Alexander who first imagined a universal world.
Alexander died at the age of 32 on the 10th or 11th of June in 323 BC. He left no children and had not named a heir. The historian Diodorus claims that as Alexander lay dying, his companions asked him who would rule as his heir. His response, and last words, was “tôi kratistôi” – to “the strongest”. However Diodorus is the only one. More historians say that when Alexander died he was too racked with pain and delirious with fever to say anything coherent. His wife Roxanne was pregnant, but at the time there was no way to tell if she would carry to term. She had already had one stillborn child by Alexander, and a leader was needed now. The infantry and most of his soldiers supported Alexander’s half-brother. And of course there were more contenders for the throne. The resulting fighting and squabbling of his generals and advisers led to 40 years of war, breaking the empire in fourteen different kingdoms, but only four major power brokers.
Alexander was a great man. He had many virtues, but also many flaws. I don’t want anyone to think I’m completely idolizing him and glossing over his darker side. Especially near the end of his reign he became paranoid and even his closest companions began to worry that he was “melancholy-mad”, as the term was at the time. But myself and others feel that his failings as a man (we all have failings, do we not?) do not negate the grandness of his vision. He was a visionary beyond his times, and we can exult his good qualities and attributes without glossing over his flaws and mistakes. When I light incense to the daimon of Alexander the Great, it is not worship of the mortal man himself, but the immortal qualities and virtues he exemplified. A person’s daimon could be called in modern terms their guardian angel or guiding spirit, but it was also a part of them, their higher self or the divine part of their spirit. I also light incense to the daimons of our presidents and leaders, praying that their daimon will help them lead to us in the spirit of wisdom and peace. But I don’t want any confusion on this matter, as I’m certainly not worshiping President Obama! Similarly, we all have our own daimon to guide us. The Romans differentiated between a man’s geniius and woman’s juno, but it’s the same concept.
The Agathos Daimon, or “good spirit”, was also worshiped as a singular entity, sometimes given the title and full status of a God, sometimes not. As we will see, there was often very little distinction between the levels of God, demi-god, spirit or Heros that we so often like to make.
This idea of worshiping a great person’s higher spirit, but not the person themselves, is something we will go into more detail at a later time. We’ll also learn more about Alexander’s life and death in the next class. We will cover many of these subjects in more depth; this first class is a basic introduction to these ideas.
For now we’ll focus on one of Alexander’s generals, Ptolemy, who took Alexander’s body to Alexandria to rest and become his successor in Egypt and part of northern Africa. Situated at the mouth of the Nile River, the city was in a most strategic and fortunate position to become a hub of activity and society. Ptolemy set about creating his great Library of Alexandra. He collected all the important texts from the Greco-Roman world, but also many Egyptian papyri as well. Ptolemy never learned to read hieroglyphs, but hired a large number of Greek-speaking Egyptian scribes to translate as many works as possible. The manuscripts collected ranging from the scientific, to the literary, and even religious. Even the Jewish scriptures, both the Torah and the Talmud, were translated from Hebrew so he could read it. Although he shared them with the world and housed them safely for posterity, Ptolemy was a scholar himself. He took great delight in studying many subjects, and he wrote extensively, including many volumes on geometry.
Many of Alexander’s former soldiers settled here. Often they took Egyptian wives, so the cultural mixing began right from the start. More settlers came to Alexandria seeking a new life, a fresh start. Anyone from anywhere could come to the city and reinvent themselves. It was an individualistic city, where the old idea of the person as ONLY an extension of the family clan lost it’s hold. Although they clung to their love of their ancestors, they now saw themselves as individuals first. Scholars and philosophers flocked to the great Library. Many scientific and astronomical discoveries were made there, and knowledge of kinds was not just archived, but grew. Every kind of artist imaginable set up shop, so it soon become a thriving cultural center. Playwrights, painters, potters, sculptors, writers and musicians and dancing-girls all came to bask in the light of the Pharos. Of course merchants saw where the wind was blowing and soon followed to provide the necessary goods and services that the new people would need. Soon wanderers, gamblers, vagabonds and the exiled came to seek their fortune. The Gods smiled on the fledgling city, and the crops were bountiful in the first years of Ptolemy’s reign (a good omen, which would have been very important to the Egyptians – it was one of the most important tests of a new Pharaoh’s reign), and it soon become a thriving cultural center.
So welcome, dear reader, to the adventures of a modern Greco-Egyptian-(Roman) Pagan, a devotee of Athena, author and poet. Thank you for stopping by, and may the Gods of Greece and Egypt smile on you can all your endeavors.