Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rev. M. Allyson Szabo

 Hello and Happy Saturday!

I wish to thank Barry Bell for his interesting and informative interview of last week. Thanks so much for sharing with us Barry!

Today we have a new interview so please welcome Rev. M. Allyson Szabo. Allyson is a Hellenic Polytheist and I know you'll enjoy her interview as well!

Here Is Rev. M. Allyson Szabo's Introduction:

I am an Interfaith Minister, graduated this year from the two year
ministry program at The New Seminary in NYC. I have been a practicing
Hellenic polytheist for about 6 years now. Prior to that, I considered
myself "pagan" and before that, Wiccan for many years. I have been a
priestess for over 20 years now, and a lay minister for most of that. I
have taught classes to both the public and to private classes on
religion, meditation, tarot reading, divination in general, and many
other subjects. I perform weddings, funerals, and many other religious
services as an Interfaith Minister, and embrace the good in all faiths
while seeking to drum out fanaticism and extremism.

1) What religion do you practice?
I practice Hellenic polytheism. For those who may not be familiar with
the terms, this means that I worship and honor the ancient Greek gods
(the Hellenic part) and I believe that there are many gods both within
and without the specific religion I practice (the polytheism part). I do
NOT believe that "all gods are one" (that's called monism, and while
there's nothing wrong with it, it isn't my own belief), but I do believe
that the Divine Powers talk to one another in ways that are far beyond
our understanding.

2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If
you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you
practice prior to converting?
I would say that I am a convert, I suppose, although that isn't really
quite true. I have always believed in the feminine divine, and that
there is more than one Divine Power in the universe. Since I was a
little child, I have felt a strong pull to Hecate (a Greek or Thracian
goddess who watches over childbirth as well as magic and graveyards). I
did not realize that the deity I felt pulled to was Her, however, until
much later in my adulthood. I was 17 when I began practicing Wicca on my
own, and 18 when I began formal training as a Wiccan priestess. About
six years ago I realized that the majority of gods I worship and honor
happen to be Greek, stumbled upon the Hellenic online community, and the
rest (as they say) is history.

Prior to practicing any of these faiths, I was brought up in a (rabidly)
atheist home, where religion was treated as a disease that ate at the
mind and made one weak. My mother tended to do things like burn
religious books and punish me for attempting to learn about any
religion. It was... not a pleasant upbringing.

3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie.
Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining
differences between the degrees of observance?
There are different sects of Hellenism. There are some people who claim
to be practicing "pure" ancient Greek religion, but like with most
extremists of ANY religion, they leave out the parts they dislike
(ancient Greeks practiced a lot of animal sacrifice, for instance).
There are others who practice a very lax version of Hellenism that is
more akin to Wicca or generic pagan practices with a patina of Greek
pasted on. I would say that the defining differences are the time and
effort put into the practices in question, and the level of personal and
private education one has done.

4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you ((ie.
Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal) ? Why did you choose this
degree of observance?
I'm somewhere in the middle. I believe that in order to be Hellenic
polytheists, it's important to read the source material (Plato, the
Sages, Aristotle, etc.), and to understand the culture and religion of
ancient times. However, I don't think it's necessary to make animal
sacrifices or go around with my hair covered at all times. Hellenic
polytheism is a *reconstructionist* religion, meaning we are taking the
very good records of our ancestors and rebuilding them into a modern,
living faith. This means that the faith must fit into the world in which
we live, a word that shuns animal sacrifice most of the time, and that
has a decidedly bad view of women with their hair covered. This doesn't
mean that I don't engage in these practices, but more that I keep them
for sacred times rather than daily living.

5)What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what
happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment?
(such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
Ancient Hellenes believed that the soul went into the Underworld, under
the rule of Haides and Persephone. The more offerings and attention made
or paid to a person who had died, the better their life would be in the
Underworld. A person who was not buried correctly or who had no family
to make offerings and sing praises, would become a shade, a mere shadow
wandering in the depths of the earth.

That said, my *personal* belief is that our time in the Underworld is
not infinite, but limited. I believe that we rest, learn, perhaps
comfort the souls of family or friends who are grieved, and then are

I do not believe in Hell, per se, but I can see how some would come to
understand the Underworld as a place of fire and brimstone. Those who
lived evil lives must undergo purification before being allowed back
into the "spiritual gene pool" and fire is as good a metaphor as any.

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they
do not, why?
I don't believe in Heaven anymore than I do in Hell, as a specific
place. Nothing is permanent in our world, not even death. Some people
have such a strong belief in punishment that they almost subject
themselves to it. Belief is a strong thing, and can influence what we
experience both in life and after death. Heaven, to me, would be working
through enough incarnations to merge with the souls of others and
perhaps be born on another plane entirely (think 'planet' or 'star
system' or something along those lines). I don't pretend to know, nor do
I think it makes any difference to what I do in THIS life.

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
My religion is flexible, allowing for worship of many gods. It doesn't
dictate who I must give honors to, and as a result I am also a worshiper
of Jesus of Nazareth! My religion matches my long held beliefs about the
world and life and death, puts a strong emphasis on morality and ethics,
and holds up civic duties as a religious necessity.

8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
I have a wide variety of holy days, and sometimes I celebrate them and
sometimes I don't. The most important holy day for me is the day on
which I celebrate Hecate's Deipnon, performed on the night of the dark
of the moon each month. At its most basic, it is an offering of a small
meal (usually a portion of my own dinner) offered at a crossroad (I have
always managed to find a small "path crossing" in a private area for my
practices), along with the sweepings of the house. Halloween has come to
be a large celebration for Hecate as well, although that is a thoroughly
modern practice.

I also celebrate the Equinoxes (times of balance of day and night) and
Solstices (longest day and night) in various ways, again mainly modern
constructions based on what we think the ancients might have done. I
take time each year to celebrate Anthesteria, which is complex in
practice but is basically a three day festival blessing the new wine for
the year. Rural Dionysia has people perform dramatic plays in honor of
Dionysos. Thalysia is a festival honoring Demeter and Persephone which
was held around August or September in ancient times but which I now
celebrate around Thanksgiving (the application is similar while the date
is slightly off).

There are literally thousands of holy days that can be celebrated by
those who honor the Hellenic gods and even in ancient times they were
not ALL celebrated. Most worship was informal and done in the home at
small family shrines, and large festivals were dictated by the
city-state in which you lived. I base many of my own holy days around
celebrations that are modern and have to do with the place in which I
live, mimicking the practices of my spiritual ancestors.

9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
Most definitely! I have very close friends in many different faiths.

10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of
their holy days? Please explain why?
I do so whenever I can. I believe in all gods, and even though I do not
worship them all (an impossibility!), I can honor that other people do
so. When my friend Rabbi Rachel Barenblat invited me to her Rosh
Hashanah services, I was tickled (though unable to go due to moving,
unfortunately). I have attended Quaker services, Christian services of
many flavors, Jewish services, Wiccan, generic pagan, and interfaith
services as well. To me, to honor Divinity in all its forms is an act of
faith and love.

11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
I have complex beliefs regarding the burka and Islamic laws. While I
*strongly* believe that people should be allowed to practice their
religions unhindered, up to and including the wearing of the burka, I do
not believe that anyone (religious or political leader, parent, teacher,
etc) should dictate what another should believe, wear, do, say, or pray.
I have met women who choose to wear the burka, and while it isn't
anything I would do, I have talked to them long enough to understand why
it is important for them. However, I also know (in some cases from those
same women) that there are women out there forced into the wearing of
the burka, and it is not their choice. Nothing that is forced on you can
possibly (in my opinion) have religious significance other than

Islamic laws are like Wiccan laws or Episcopalian laws. They touch on
the daily living rules that people choose to follow. The moment those
religious laws touch the laws of the land in which you live in, though,
the land's laws must take precedence. For instance, if a woman chooses
to follow Sharia law and chooses to wear a burka, that is her choice. If
she does not choose it and someone attempts to force her to do so, that
becomes a matter of abuse, and touches the law of the land (at least in
North America!) and Sharia law is superseded. If someone seeks succor
outside of their religion, claiming force, then it's no longer a
religious matter.

12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi,
iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
In ancient Greece, women did hold places of power, although it varied
greatly between the city-states. In modern Hellenic polytheism, women
are allowed and encouraged to hold offices, although there are not many
organizations that are formal enough to allow for vetted priests or
priestesses at this time. For me, it is very empowering, very fulfilling
to be able to stand not only as a minister on paper, but as a priestess
in power and joy.

13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you
There are times when worship is segregated, yes. There are some
festivals that are meant only for men or for women, and to me it seems
quite appropriate. The feasting and revelry is something people can do
together, after the rituals are done with. The majority of celebrations
are not segregated, though, and anyone is welcome to attend.

14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much
thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way
your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
In ancient times, religion was what you did, and philosophy was what you
believed. It wasn't really necessary to make decisions based on your
religion. This is very much how I see my Hellenism today. I had my
beliefs about abortion, gay marriage, polyamory, and other 'touchy'
subjects long before I came to Hellenic polytheism. That said, my
religion does affect my daily life quite thoroughly. I don't make
offerings every day, but I try to make some of my actions each day
become an offering to my gods. When I cook, I will take a small amount
and set it aside for my gods, for instance.

15) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your
I rather expect my children will marry outside my personal religion,
simply because there are so few Hellenic polytheists out there! It
doesn't bother me in the least. What I care about is whether my children
are acting out of love and honor, and whether they believe the faith
which they adhere to. Anything done in love is a religious and spiritual
act, in my eyes.

16) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to
Nope. I think I've explained that well enough above.

17) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why?
ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you
agree with them or not?
There are some people who claim to be the voice of Hellenismos online,
and I strongly believe they are not. Regardless of religion, extremism
is a dangerous thing and dissuades people from logical thought and
truthful self-examination. Hellenism is no different, and we have our
fanatics and loud minority as well. I do NOT agree with them or their

18) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
I have been exorcised in a restaurant (many years ago when I was a
practicing Wiccan), although I don't really see it as a hate crime. I
have been stalked online for years (long enough that it's become
something of a running joke at this point). At no time have I truly been
the target of a hate crime, though.

19) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
Never. I gain such strength of character and soul from my beliefs and

20) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
Yes it does. I could not have made it through the last few months (end
of a relationship, moving, graduating from seminary, etc.) without it.

21) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
I do, and I think I largely covered it in the question about death. As
to why I believe in reincarnation, I have memories of previous lives.
They're vague, not horribly useful, and no I wasn't Cleopatra or Marc
Anthony, but those memories are very poignant. Could they be inventions
of my imagination? Sure... but so could you. ;)

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