In Ancient Greece, oikos was the word for the home, the household, and the family. Usually the three went hand in hand: members of the family and their slaves formed the household, and they all lived together in the house. Back then, people only had one oikos. You were born into your parents’ one, then you would leave it when you married and build your own, and the cycle would repeat itself with your children. In the modern world, however, things are a little different. The definition of a family has changed a lot over the past fifty years, and as a Hellenic polytheist, the question I find myself asking is: what is the modern oikos?
A bit of backstory: when I was fifteen, my parents divorced. Though I was a follower of the Gods at the time, my interest in Hellenismos was not at its highest point, and I didn’t think much about the significance of my parents’ separation on my spiritual life. But when I went back to visit them last June, it suddenly hit me. When I prayed for the protection of my oikos, did I mean my mother’s, or my father’s? Was my oikos my mother’s house, or my father’s house, or the people within both of them? Was my father’s girlfriend a part of my it, and did that change depending on whose house I was staying at?
Now that I live in a flat with other people, the situation has become even more complicated. By definition, the oikos should encompass all the people who live inside the house – family members and slaves alike – but the people I live with are neither family nor slaves (as you may have noticed, slavery is against the law in this day and age). Do they still belong to my oikos?
Where one word used to express three concepts, now we have three conflicting meanings. Those who belong to my oikos in one sense of the term don’t belong to it in another. So what does the word mean? Does it even mean something nowadays?
After a lot of thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that to me, the oikos is in its religious sense is the place and the people that I ask Hestia to watch over. It’s where – and in front of whom – I’m comfortable to be myself, to let my hair down (I practise hair-binding) and to make offerings to the Gods I love. I don’t define it by the walls of the building I live in, nor the people I share it with; for example, at the moment my oikos is my bedroom, and that’s all. Maybe, with time, it will expand to the rest of the flat and the people who live here, but in the meantime, it’s just not “home” enough yet.
I don’t have an ultimate definition of the modern oikos (maybe we, the Hellenic community, should work on one) but I do know this: home is where you make it. Wherever it may be, wherever you may invite Hestia to dwell, make it home, and you will have your oikos.