One of my favourite things about Hellenismos is the concept of kharis. Kharis, in Ancient Greek, can be translated as joy, grace, and kindness. To me, it’s when your inner happiness is so radiant that it bubbles out and touches others – after all, aren’t the most contented people often the most generous? In the case of religion, almost every community offers kharis to other people in the context of charity, or religious giving. What I love about Hellenismos is that, in a slightly different way, we offer it to the Gods as well.
Every religion has its own view on what a relationship to the Divine should be like. In the Abrahamic faiths, God is infinitely above mortals and should be worshipped. In Wicca, the Gods are helpful forces that one can work with in order to achieve a goal. In Hellenismos, our relationship to the Gods is based on religious reciprocity. Give to a God, and you are more likely to receive in return. (Not always, of course. Sometimes the Gods have their own good reasons not to help. The key is that a God to whom you have sacrificed is more likely to help than one to whom you haven’t.)
This is where kharis comes in. Research shows that happiness and thankfulness are intertwined, and in the case of religion, this is most certainly true. Giving thanks makes me happy, and when I am happy, I give thanks. I make offerings to the Gods. If my offerings please them, then they, too, are happy and look upon me favourably. Then, when I need help or guidance, they are more inclined to give it to me. This makes me happy, so I give thanks. It’s like a vicious circle of kindness. Give, receive, give some more. That’s kharis.
The best thing is that I can see it in my everyday life. Hermes, for example, is a God that I had almost no relationship with one year ago. The first time I prayed to him was in July 2014, just before I moved to a new country on the other side of the world. Now, I offer to him regularly, and interestingly enough, the areas in my life where I have been most blessed, these last months – work, communication and travel – are all related to Hermes.
It’s also in the little things. Just yesterday, I was in a hurry and couldn’t find a scarf I wanted to wear. I was sure I’d left it next to my bed, but it was nowhere to be found. Hermes being the God of thieves, I figured a quick prayer to him couldn’t hurt. I found my scarf five seconds later. I don’t pray to the Gods very often about trivial matters, but when I do, it’s nice to see that they’re willing to help!
I love kharis. I love how it’s founded on what I value most – kindness, happiness and devotion. I love how I was introduced to it, one year ago, when I was slipping from eclectic Paganism to Hellenismos and asked which God was my patron. The answer was so simple. Kharis.
At the time, I thought it meant that Kharis, who is also a Goddess, was watching over me. Now, I understand another meaning. Patron Gods of people aren’t a Hellenic concept – patrons of cities are, and of professions and even of heroes, but not of common people.
But kharis is. To build a relationship with a God, build kharis.