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Author Topic: Hero Worship in the Modern Day  (Read 5396 times)
Melamphoros
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« Topic Start: June 29, 2008, 03:26:15 pm »

I sometimes hear the term "hero" applied to people of various walks of life including police officers, firefighters and professional athletes.  "Hero worship" has become a synonym for the adoration of various individuals but mostly celebrities.

How does what I described compare to the ancient Greek cult of the heros?  What makes a hero today in contrast to how the ancients used the word?

Would a hero cult as was practiced in ancient Greece be adaptable to modern practice?  Why or why not?
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« Reply #1: June 29, 2008, 04:02:28 pm »

I sometimes hear the term "hero" applied to people of various walks of life including police officers, firefighters and professional athletes.  "Hero worship" has become a synonym for the adoration of various individuals but mostly celebrities.
How does what I described compare to the ancient Greek cult of the heros?  What makes a hero today in contrast to how the ancients used the word?
Would a hero cult as was practiced in ancient Greece be adaptable to modern practice?  Why or why not?

I have never been into Hero Worship. That is to say I don't idolize sports figures, movie stars, rock stars, etc. They are just people.

But, I have do have my own "Personal Saints" list. To me these are my everyday Heros:

George Washington Carver - because I would never have survived parenting without peanut butter.

Shigeru Miyamoto - for the invention of Zelda & Donkey Kong

Mother Teresa - for reminding me you can change a small corner of the world

Amelia Earhart - for making me understand as a child that women can grow to do whatever they want



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« Reply #2: July 09, 2008, 08:14:48 am »

I have never been into Hero Worship. That is to say I don't idolize sports figures, movie stars, rock stars, etc. They are just people.

I don't think "Hero Worship" in the Hellenic sense is the same as what you're talking about here.  (And the question was definitely phrased from a Greek standpoint, and posted in the Hellenic SIG, so that's pretty clearly what's being asked about.)  I mean, that is a valid use of the phrase, it's just not the way Melamphoros was using it.  Hero worship in the Hellenic sense would involve the mythology that has sprung up around heroes--people, not gods, but people who have done great things, who were great people, etc.  Think Heracles or Prometheus here.  It's more than just "OMG, that guy is my hero!!!11!!!1!"; it's an integration of the hero into the mythological (and theological?) system.  I'm sure there are other people here who can tell you in much more detail what the difference is; that's just my newbie attempt at noting the difference.  Smiley

...Which also speaks to Mel's original question, I suppose, about how the term has changed today.  I think that it would be difficult for a lot of what is called "hero worship" today to be used as it stands now in the same way I understand the hero cults of ancient Greece to have fit into the religion of ancient Greece.  There hasn't been time for a lot of them to build up the kind of...  mythological weight?... that I'd normally associate with that.  Reach a little farther back into the past and you'd have more chance.

I actually wonder if Amelia Earhart wouldn't be a good example of someone who might possibly work in that role.  I think I need more info from someone who knows more about the whole subject of hero worship, though.
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« Reply #3: July 09, 2008, 10:57:33 am »

I sometimes hear the term "hero" applied to people of various walks of life including police officers, firefighters and professional athletes.  "Hero worship" has become a synonym for the adoration of various individuals but mostly celebrities.

How does what I described compare to the ancient Greek cult of the heros?  What makes a hero today in contrast to how the ancients used the word?

Would a hero cult as was practiced in ancient Greece be adaptable to modern practice?  Why or why not?

Hrm...my reply isn't going to be specifically applicable to Hellenic Polytheism, and I apologize in advance for that, but I think that the term "Hero Worship" as it is used is pretty distant from the Greek cult of the heroes.  Like Star said, these heroes enter into the mythology to the point that they are indistinguishable from it (like the Biblical Sampson, but with less bad juju).

Honestly, I think the closest thing I've seen (on a small scale) to hero worship in the Greek sense occurs in Christian fundamentalist churches, where pastors can attain an almost cult-like following among their parishioners. 

I will be brutal in what I say here with one disclaimer: not all Christians are like this (in fact, outside the Bible Belt, it's quite possible that not MANY Christians are like this), but those who are DESERVE this brutality.  The cult of pastor-worship only "works" because it is practiced by small-minded individuals too lazy to learn for themselves and too brain-washed to question anything the pastor says.  These individuals want to be told what to think, and they want to feel justified in their small-minded hatred of others.

Consequently, my view of "hero worship" cults is somewhat tainted.  That being said, these people are only allowed to enter into a small demographic's mythology, so they don't necessarily qualify as religion-wide hero-worship.

It's certainly possible that a cult of hero-worship could center around a truly great person (such as Mother Theresa), but it would have to center around a person who would not abuse their position of influence and adoration (and those I have thus far seen have most certainly abused it).  In fact, someone like a Mother Theresa or Ghandi could almost be said to fall into a universal hero-worship, beyond the boundaries of belief...so maybe true Hellenic hero worship does still exist. Cheesy
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« Reply #4: July 09, 2008, 01:59:34 pm »

Would a hero cult as was practiced in ancient Greece be adaptable to modern practice?  Why or why not?

Given that I've attended a hero cult celebration with a local Hellenic group, I'm pretty sure it's possible. Wink

Here in Massachusetts there's a civic holiday marking the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington, Concord, and Menotomy.  On that day, a Hellenic group meets in Boston, strews barley and pours libations to the gods and heroes (of the R.War battles and of the Battle of Marathon) at the feet of the statue of George Washington.
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« Reply #5: July 09, 2008, 02:26:57 pm »

Here in Massachusetts there's a civic holiday marking the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington, Concord, and Menotomy.  On that day, a Hellenic group meets in Boston, strews barley and pours libations to the gods and heroes (of the R.War battles and of the Battle of Marathon) at the feet of the statue of George Washington.

Now this is what I was thinking about.  And I think that a national hero such as Washington is pretty much the closest thing today to what the Greeks called a hero.

However, I think context is important as well.  The Greeks treated the rituals honoring the heros the same as the rituals honoring the gods.  In other words, they thought that if they gave the spirit of the hero offerings it would protect the polis.  I'm not quite sure if George Washington's spirit would protect Boston or even if it has the power to do so Wink
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« Reply #6: July 09, 2008, 02:40:43 pm »

I'm not quite sure if George Washington's spirit would protect Boston or even if it has the power to do so Wink

Why not?

I wonder if the answer to "why not" is at least in part because of changing cultural attitudes between ancient Greece and modern America.  In a modern world it may sometimes seem superstitious and even silly to call on a long-dead founding father for help, whereas in ancient Greece perhaps it was more a matter of course.  So, then, if those attitudes are getting in the way of "authentic" hero worship, it would seem we have two choices.  Drop it entirely, or adapt it to something that does work.

I guess the question is, how far can we change it before it's no longer an adaptation but a completely separate practice?  Where is the line between merely honoring the heroes of our past and actively worshipping them?
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Melamphoros
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« Reply #7: July 09, 2008, 03:12:58 pm »

Why not?

I don't know if a human spirit is strong enough to do so but YMMV.  Plus you gotta think that someone from a Christian background (who may or may not have been a deist) may not answer a group of pagans in a ritual.  Religion aside, if we are going to be authentic to how the ancients did it, than I don't think that a national hero would work because there was no sense of nationalism in antiquity.  The only one who came close to a national hero was Herakles and the myths say he became a god after he died.

Going with this, the heros were often connected to a polis and they were worshiped at the site believed to be their graves.  The nearest city to Washington's grave is Alexandria, Virginia and not Boston (and Alexandria wasn't even a city in Washington's lifetime).

This is giving me a thought that I may need to put into the ideas pool.

Quote
I wonder if the answer to "why not" is at least in part because of changing cultural attitudes between ancient Greece and modern America.  In a modern world it may sometimes seem superstitious and even silly to call on a long-dead founding father for help, whereas in ancient Greece perhaps it was more a matter of course.  So, then, if those attitudes are getting in the way of "authentic" hero worship, it would seem we have two choices.  Drop it entirely, or adapt it to something that does work.

That could be a reason.  When taking things from the Greek religion and adapting it into modern practice, I think that context may be one of the adaptations. 

Going with what I just said, now that there is a sense of nationalism, the entire US claims Washington as not only one of its national heros but possibly as its main one.  Here in the 21st century US, we honor our national heros but we don't worship them as the Greeks would.  So I guess that practice may seem odd, but then again worshiping Greek Gods is probably considered odd to many people Cheesy

Quote
I guess the question is, how far can we change it before it's no longer an adaptation but a completely separate practice?  Where is the line between merely honoring the heroes of our past and actively worshiping them?

I'm interested myself in how others respond to this, but my answer would be that in worshiping, you're (general you) asking for something in return.  In honoring you are simply remembering them and their accomplishments.
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« Reply #8: July 10, 2008, 02:39:21 am »

this is not terribly unlike a thread i saw at another website regarding a Santeria store in the DC area which sold votive candles dedicated to "St. Pancho Villa"...

http://www.brightglowcandle.com/home/bgc/page_202_9/pancho_villa.html

at first i thought how ridiculous this seemed, but then i equated it with the Hero cults of ancient Greece and thought "eh, why not?".
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« Reply #9: July 10, 2008, 11:43:40 am »

Plus you gotta think that someone from a Christian background (who may or may not have been a deist) may not answer a group of pagans in a ritual. 

Well, true.  Is there, then, anyone that we could call on who would be likely to answer?  Or does the idea of a modern-day hero cult end there, because no one would answer?

Quote
The only one who came close to a national hero was Herakles and the myths say he became a god after he died.

And he was the son of a god to begin with, anyway.  Good point.  I don't think most of our national heroes are claiming divine birth, or are claimed to have become divine after death.

Quote
Going with this, the heros were often connected to a polis and they were worshiped at the site believed to be their graves.  The nearest city to Washington's grave is Alexandria, Virginia and not Boston (and Alexandria wasn't even a city in Washington's lifetime).

I'm not familiar enough with hero worship, I need some help here.  Did the polis they were connected to necessarily have to be where their grave was?  (I mean, I recognize that that's the way it makes the most sense.  But people don't always get buried where they lived, do they?)  How, if at all, did the worship of the hero change as social/political boundaries changed?  (By which I mean to address the question of "what if the city wasn't there when he was alive".)

Quote
I'm interested myself in how others respond to this, but my answer would be that in worshiping, you're (general you) asking for something in return.  In honoring you are simply remembering them and their accomplishments.

Hm.  Interesting.  I'll have to give that more thought.
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« Reply #10: July 10, 2008, 09:55:06 pm »

I don't know if a human spirit is strong enough to do so but YMMV.  Plus you gotta think that someone from a Christian background (who may or may not have been a deist) may not answer a group of pagans in a ritual.


* snip *


I'm interested myself in how others respond to this, but my answer would be that in worshiping, you're (general you) asking for something in return.  In honoring you are simply remembering them and their accomplishments.


Burkert wrote in Greek Religion that a would-be hero's fame (or infamy) was probably a more important factor in the minds of worshippers, than a lifetime of virtuous deeds, when a decision was made to practice historical hero worship. Upon death, a hero (even if he or she was a monstrous person in life) would be charged by Hades with avenging wrongs and protecting the innocent.

Someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, as bizarre as it seems to us, could be forced by Hades to spend a long, long, time protecting people from people like...well, himself.

On a different subject, my vote for a hero to protect Boston and all of New England would be Thomas Morton, the 'Pagan Pilgrim'. Even if he really was a liberal Christian, his open-mindedness in life makes me think that he wouldn't mind leaving Elysium for a bit to help some modern-day people from the land he loved.
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« Reply #11: July 10, 2008, 10:44:30 pm »

Someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, as bizarre as it seems to us, could be forced by Hades to spend a long, long, time protecting people from people like...well, himself.

This has always seemed fitting to me.
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