Spotlight on traditions: An evening with Pietas – Comunità Gentile
Note: Stefano Ciotti contributed to this story.
ROME – This week, The wild hunt had the great pleasure of meeting Pietas – ComunitÃ Gentile, the Italian organization Religio Romana. TWH spoke with members, priests and the head of the organization and pontifex maximus, Giuseppe Barbera Hermes Helios, in Rome at the organization’s Temple of Jupiter, the first such structure built in the region since Late Antiquity. Pietas is a reconstruction of ancient priestly and religious rites of the Religio Romana, and recently received official recognition by the Italian State.
Pietas is based in Rome and has branches in cities across Italy, including Bologna, Genoa, Milan and Palermo. Its new status allows it to function as an umbrella and charitable religious entity for its Greco-Roman religious affiliates. The temples are built in places where Pietas has a thriving community. They have expanded their presence over the past decade, adding a temple to Minerva in Pordenone, a temple to Apollo in Ardea, and another temple to Apollo in Palermo. Ardea Temple is best described as a temple complex with significant room for expansion.
HermÃ¨s HÃ©lios welcomed us and invited us to participate in one of the rituals of the organization in Jupiter. (Helios uses the name “Hermes Helios” in religious contexts, while “Giuseppe Barbera” is his secular name.) He and his colleagues gave us a tour of the temple space, noting his additional votive alcoves on Mars, Juno, Venus and Apollo, as well as the Lares. He pointed out the plants spread throughout the temple and their associations with various gods, and he patiently guided us through the modest grounds. We have also had the privilege of participating in the elevation of a Pietas member to the priesthood.
He added that the Greco-Roman tradition was a tapestry, a mosaic of political, religious and cultural traditions from all over the Mediterranean. He noted the contributions of Egypt and what is now modern Spain to this tapestry, which brought an influx of new ideas and even different approaches to divinity and worship.
Helios does not hesitate to say that Pietas relied on Hermeticism and other more modern occult philosophies. He describes the practice as a reconstruction rather than a complete revival of the original, as many practices of the past have been lost. But Helios makes a distinction between ancient practices and modern reconstructions, noting that spiritual development is firmly the goal and that the reconstruction and revitalization of ancient practices can be brought to modernity. He and others suggested reading Marcus Aurelius to begin a spiritual journey.
âHumans are immersed in nature and share direct contact with nature,â said Helios, describing the teachings of Pietas. “That is, nature is not a lifeless matter, as other traditions might suggest, but a rather vibrant living thing.” He further stated that Pietas had learned, through conversations with other traditional religions, including those in West Africa, how these religious views “insist on respect for nature, respect for other humans. and respect for other religious researchers “.
Helios said he saw a deep interreligious connection between many ancient traditions and an opportunity to learn from each other. “In our tradition,” he said, “we see a singular event that led to many such as the origin of the universe, and although many came from chaos and order.” He added that we continue to see cycles of chaos and order in our modern lives.
Duality is a central and continuing concept in the Religio Romana tradition which helps the Pietas community to understand the world. âWhen we are sick, we recognize the value of health more deeply,â Helios noted. He viewed the Roman and Hellenistic stories of gods and heroes as stories that help us better understand our place in the world and how to act within it.
In many ways, modern people are simply rediscovering traditional cultural knowledge that has been passed down through the millennia. Helios says this sometimes includes ideas that we think are modern, like divorce, which we know existed in ancient times. Pietas, he says, offers an opportunity to “jump deep into the past to better understand the present”.
Helios explained that Pietas is built on the concept of mos maiorum, Latin for “ancestral customs” or “way of the ancestors”. The term month refers to a set of practices, while maiorum is the superlative adjective. The mos maiorum was the dynamic code of Roman tradition, referring to the honored behaviors of Roman life.
Having said that, Helios explains that the practice of Pietas is very personal. âThe individual strives to develop and strengthen his genius [sense of self and purpose] with ritualistic work and an ethical life, defined as the search for truth, honesty and fairness. The organization’s motto is nosce te ipsum – “know thyself” – which is written throughout the temple grounds. âSelf-knowledge is what focuses our practice and leads to personal and spiritual development,â explains Helios. This knowledge adapts the soul to its relationship with nature and its phases, including the relationship between ourselves, the sun and the moon.
Regarding the PietÃ term itself, Helios was quite passionate in saying it was akin to a spiritual ecstasy that stems from devotion and veneration of gods, traditions and ancestors. Cicero describes pietas as “justice to the gods,” and it was the cardinal virtue of heroes like Aeneas, the legendary ancestor of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.
Challenges with the Catholic Church
As we discussed interfaith activity, we asked questions about the relationship between Pietas – ComunitÃ Gentile and the clearly dominant Christian presence in Italy, in particular the Catholic Church. Helios noted that challenges were indeed present.
âAs you can imagine, when new traditions emerge and receive praise and attention, older traditions take note,â he said.
Helios and other members of the community noted various minor acts against Pietas, including an attempt to label the Temple of Jupiter as an illegal structure under code enforcement. “For her part,” Helios said, “the Italian state and the city of Rome have left us alone, acknowledging these complaints for what they are, discrimination.”
However, certain practices were not authorized. âAnimal offerings are illegal in Italy,â Helios said. âEven if you explain that the donated animal will be consumed by the community, the act is illegal and rejected,â he said. âThey would prefer the animal to be slaughtered first and then purchased after slaughter. This is a curious arrangement, as most mainstream religions consider the animal sacred, and care is taken to minimize suffering, unlike what happens on factory farms.
The Catholic Church strongly supports this view that animal offerings are and should be illegal because they want a singular representation of their moral code. âWe must not forget that they wanted paganism to be abolished and that they were working towards that destruction,â Helios said. âThis insistence on what is illegal pursues this goal. “
What’s next for Pietas
Pietas – ComunitÃ Gentile is expanding. It is proven to be the fastest growing religious community in Italy. As such, it extends its presence and creates alliances with other traditional practices, notably those of Greece. He continues to build local communities and temples as needed to support priests and local adherents.
The group released a new version of the book Pietas, an introduction to Roman traditionalism, written by the pontifex maximus under the name of Giuseppe Barbera. The book is available in Italian and has been translated into English by linguist Ilenia Contessa, rector of the Temple of Apollo in Palermo. Contessa is also responsible for the Pietas International group.
The new book is available from publisher Mythology Corner and can be purchased from various retailers, including independent booksellers.
When asked what the next step was for Pietas, Helios and the others at the Temple of Jupiter unanimously responded, âcontinue the journeyâ.