I read a lovely article today by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus which discusses the concept of belief (doxa) as one that is experiential and refers to an intimate level of trust. I found this particularly moving because this one of the things that makes doxa such a beautiful part of our relationship with the gods. Getting to know the gods may start with an analytical “well this seems reasonable, or I find it profoundly moving for x reason” in which case one may begin to get to know gods that make sense to them on a logical level or via other attractions, and yet belief itself seems to be intimately connected with how we experience the gods in various ways, it what makes more comprehendible to us in our daily lives, our spiritual development, and in our limited understanding of the workings of the world and cosmos. Doxa is not, in my opinion formed by creed, it is not so just because we are told it is absolutely so and to trust it without experience but on the authority of another. Rather, doxa is, again in my opinion, born in the heart as a kind of spiritual infant that is conceived in even the smallest contact between the self and the god (or goddess). It is this experience which inspires a feeling of trust and devotion to a god (s) or goddess(es) in question. Naturally because this is something that is born from individual experience, its expression will also vary in degrees of intensity and the form it takes. It keeps the flame kindled for the gods on the internal altar of your soul during our daily mundane activities, and is nurtured by regular exposure to experiences with the gods through devotion, prayer and ritual. I don’t see it as something to comfort one in a relationship with a distant deity who is vastly irregular, but rather a natural part of an ongoing continuous relationship with the gods.
As a child I had no connection to the religion of my parents. It didn’t make sense to me on a logical level and did not touch me on an emotional or experiential level. It was alien and seemed to rely entirely on external ministry. As a child I read a myth, and saw the beauty and complexity contained within the myth, even as it frustrated me with my inability at that time to unravel any of its complexities. It was the myth of Actaeon, and though it is hardly a sweet myth, I saw something of the nature of Artemis which sparked an attraction….not doxa but rather a reaction that inspired me to seek her to see if I would develop a relationship with her. Attraction is not love in relationships after all, although it is a fundamental starting place, likewise attraction towards the gods is not doxa although that too is a great place to start. So I begin to do small things to honor her, to tentatively reach out and discovered her in my small way over time. Apollon came a few years later on the heels of his sister I discovered as an adult that one twin was never afar from the other and through Artemis I gained my first experiences with Apollon that developed even further. Oh the flames of my beloved lord, the heat! No experience has ever been like the experiences I have had with Apollon.
This of course was occurring around a time when I was honoring Aphrodite because I noticed through experience that she is rather active. For a long time these were three principle gods of my home, the first two through attraction and experiential doxa, and the latter just from the doxa as I had no real attraction to Aphrodite. However, despite the fact that I didn’t incline towards Aphrodite, the experience of her is what generated the whole heartedly belief in regards to her. And so it has happened gradually with various gods of my household. Logically I know that they are there due to tradition and by the means in which the gods interact, but my belief in each was inspired by interaction with them one by one.
I think that there is a difference between holding doxa, about having belief, in the gods that are attached to your worship by experience, household and ritual, and honoring those which are attached by tradition on their auspicious days. The latter case often opens the door for the former to occur, and often the latter is done out of respect to those gods we do have a relationship of doxa with. There are many gods that I say that I understand the role the god plays traditionally (the collective doxa of the tradition that is) and appreciate it, I understand the way this god is connected to such and such gods that I love. In honor of the gods that I love I extend gratitude by giving offering to this other god, their relation. From there it can potentially grow, or so it seems in my own experience, to an point of experience with the god. Hermes, case in point, is one of the gods that I had taken longer to develop any kind of experiential doxa with, whereas Dionysos, Poseidon and Helios were all relatively early. There are other gods, such as Pan, that I have admired, but that I have yet to experience and so lay more on the periphery of my regular worship activities that are connected to my own doxa.
As such belief is an essential, but also profoundly personal, part of Hellenismos as it forms a bond between us and the gods, and between the gods and our children and their children through continuous establishment of this relationship in our households. This is not say that all experiences are the same, or that all are in the form of some kind of calling because subtle is often how the way is shown. In my youth, though Artemis upholds often seemingly violent characteristics in nature, I also experienced her compassion through a very subtle experience. A butterfly, its wings bruised and torn laying helpless, easy prey for any bird or to be crushed beneath a foot. I plucked that butterfly carefully from the ground, and why I did so an understanding came as I watched that small butterfly crawl up to where I held a small handful of bluebell flowers, that whereas death is part of nature an inescapable that the sweet mercies, while it cannot stave off death, can bring pleasure to those moments of life as few as they are. For this small butterfly it was a flower on whose nectar its kind feasts. So I set it in a flowering bush with prayers and continued on my way that it could enjoy the beauty and sweetness for what short moments it had left. This may sound like nothing by the words, but in the experience there was so much more to it than what I can verbally express. I was fourteen years old at the time, and that was one of the initial profound experiences that developed my doxa in relationship with Artemis.