The Basic Framework for Hellenic Ritual
The purpose of rituals
First and foremost, it is imperative to understand why rituals are performed in general. The goal of the Hellene is to live a life of purity in the pursuit of virtue and communion with the Gods, by prioritizing spiritual values over carnal concerns. We accomplish this via rituals; the purpose of the ritual is to enter into a formal state of communion with the Gods, by purifying the physical body, as well as the soul, of all carnal impulses and distractions, so that the soul might enter into a higher state of consciousness and worship to efficiently exalt the Divine. While more casual offerings might be made in the form of small prayers, meditations, or the mere burning of incense, the ritual is the pinnacle of Hellenic worship, and a necessity in establishing a reciprocal relationship between ourselves and the Gods. The ritual necessitates entering into a spiritual state of consciousness by facilitating a formal, solemn atmosphere, by which the altar might provide a place of reciprocation between mortal beings and the Olympian Gods.
Ritualistic offerings and sacrifices are integral to Hellenic worship, as discussed here. Unlike monotheistic religions, those of the polytheistic traditions, especially Hellenismos, revolve around sacrificial praise. A question frequently presented to polytheists pertains to why sacrifices are rendered an imperative, given that the Gods are deemed perfect and without need. Sallustius discusses this in detail in the text “On the Gods and the World”:
“The divine itself is without needs, and the worship is paid for our own benefit. The providence of the Gods reaches everywhere and needs only some congruity for its reception…From all these things the Gods gain nothing; what gain could there be to God? It is we who gain some communion with them.”
It is understood, then, that the action of sacrifice and offering is beneficial to us, insofar as it cultivates within the Hellene/Philhellene a mentality of humility, transparency and Arete(virtue) as we offer our sacrifices to the Gods, not out of mere obligation or necessity, but in sincere love and adoration, because our souls possess the inherent desire to praise them. (The Hellene is the ethnic Greek; the Philhellene is the worshipper of the Gods who is not ethnically Greek, but has developed a sincere love for the Greek traditions. Henceforth throughout the remainder of this essay, the adherent of Hellenismos will be referred to as the Hellene, due to the aspiration of every worshipper of the Gods to become philosophically Greek, or Hellenic, irrespective of ethnic origin.)
Our relationships with the Gods are established entirely upon the basis of reciprocal affection, devotion, and divine Ǽrohs, or, the spiritual intimacy and love that causes our souls to gravitate towards the pure benevolence of the Gods. Finding within ourselves a mortal fallibility and insufficiency, we look to the Gods with the sincere desire to be taught a life of divine virtue(Arete), moderation and love by them, by pursuing the spiritual interests of the soul, rather than the carnal concerns of the body.
The core of sacrifices and offerings to the Gods, and the epitome of Hellenic worship, is illustrated within the form of Libations. These sacrifices are defined as liquid offerings that are poured out into a hearth fire, onto the ground, on tree roots, or into seas or lakes. The important aspect of the libation is the purpose and spiritual symbolism of this offering. Libations are the physical representation of 1) the “pouring out” of our prayers, sincere supplications and humble requests to the Gods as offerings; 2) a reciprocal communion between the divine deities and mortal beings, and 3) an act illustrating our devotion and humble love of the Gods. What has been poured out of a vessel cannot be returned to it, but, has, in a state of permanence, been poured out as a definite offering. Likewise, the prayers that we offer to the Gods are symbolically poured out and offered as an act of exaltation of the Divine.
All components of the altar are representative of higher spiritual ideals; the candle and incense are representative of Goddess Hestia, Goddess of the Home and Hearth fire; the statues represent the physical illustration of the Gods, who are incorporeal and transcendent; the knernips bowl represents the purification of the physical body and soul, and the offerings and libations(liquid offerings contained in a sacred vessel) depict the sacrifices that we offer to the Gods in the aspiration to establish with them a reciprocal relationship of Kharis(divine grace) and Eros(divine love).
While in ritual, the physical is elevated to a state of synchronicity with the metaphysical, and the consciousness is placed within a position of receptivity to the Gods. In order for a ritual to be effective, it adheres to the basic framework of Hellenic practice, which has been summarized in five central points:
Cleansing(Katharmos)- The first step of the ritual is incredibly important, as it establishes the precedent for the remainder of the process. Hellenismos rejects the concept of inherent sin, as it is described in monotheistic traditions, but instead describes Miasma, a type of inevitable carnal debris that becomes attached to human beings over time throughout our interactions and engagements with the physical world and participation therein; situations that are representative of the soul’s attachment to the physical world cause the collection of miasma, a few examples being childbirth or being around the deceased, engagement in sexual activity, or other forms of physical indulgence. Miasma is not deemed an inherently evil characteristic, but rather, one that is innate to human beings, and a potential obstacle that can obstruct our capacity to connect in direct synchronicity with the Gods. Therefore, it must be cleansed prior to communing with the Gods.
The Hellene begins the ritual by lighting a (natural) candle to facilitate the hearth fire; incense might alternatively be used as well. Miasma is cleansed through the creation of Khernips, or, Lustral(purified) water. Traditionally, this is created by collecting pure spring water(but other forms of purified water may prove sufficient) within a sacred vessel used only for this designated purpose, and, after lighting bay leaves aflame, extinguishing them within the water. Through this combination of the elements of water and fire, the former representing the washing away of impurities, and the latter representing the burning away of insufficiencies and moral blemishes, khernips is created. After this is done, the Hellene washes their hands and face, and dries with a towel. This process is the purification of the body and physical representation of the purification of the soul. One might also sprinkle the water and barley over the altar, to sanctify it for the sacred rite.
Exaltation- One must always approach the Gods in a state of humility, worship, and genuine adoration. Before any other Gods are called upon, the Hellene, first and foremost, honors Goddess Hestia, Goddess of the home and the hearth. Hestia, one of the 12 Olympian Gods, resides within the hearth fire of the home, which traditionally provided light, illumination and life to the household. She is also the Goddess who taught the sacred rites of the Gods to man. Accordingly, we honor her before any of the other Gods and Goddesses. Our posture of praise is to stand, with hands raised towards the heavenly realm of Olympus, when we call upon the Gods.
The Hellene may recite a prayer to Hestia, such as the Homeric or Orphic hymn to her(the Homeric and Orphic hymns may be used for all of the Olympian Gods and Goddesses as well).
Meditation- After the body and soul have been cleansed, it is necessary to likewise prepare the mind to enter into a state in which it might attain a reciprocity with the Gods. In order to do this, the Hellene steps back from the altar and, in a pious, meditative state, contemplates on the purpose for the sacred practice, that being, to enter into a sacred, pure state of mind, so that they might be more efficiently prepared to commune with the Gods. When this is complete, they are prepared to exalt the Gods.
The Orphic hymn will be used here as an example:
“Queen Æstía daughter of mighty Krónos,
You dwell in the center of the home with your vast everlasting fire,
Purify the initiates of these rites,
Inspire endless youth, wealth, benevolences, and holiness.
You are the dwelling-place of the blessed Gods and the strong support of mankind.
Eternal, many-formed, beloved, and verdant.
Smiling, happy one, accept these offerings with kindness,
Breath upon us weal and soothing health.”
Supplication: After expressing our humble appreciation and gratitude to the Olympian Gods(Hestia, in this case) we might ask for their assistance in whatever it is that we require need of. For Hestia, we call upon her to provide guidance of our prayers and offerings that will be made throughout the ritual, as well as asking her to occupy the hearth that has been provided on the altar.
Sacrifice: After these prayers has been made, the Hellene pours out the first libation in honor of Goddess Hestia. The vessel is picked up with the right hand, held up towards the heavens with both, and dedicated to the Goddess, after which it is held in the left hand to designate it as an offering, and poured out gradually upon the ground/hearth fire. After this initial offering to Goddess Hestia is complete, the same process is continued with whichever Gods/Goddesses the Hellene seeks to commune with: Exaltation via prayer, sincere supplication in discussing our needs, and the offering of libations as a sacrificial form of worship. After this has been performed to the intended Gods/Goddesses, the ritual is closed in the same manner by which it began: with a prayer to Goddess Hestia, in expressing appreciation for her having facilitated the ritual, and pouring out the final libation to her. What remains of the libation can then be consumed by the Hellene, as a symbolic communion between ourselves and the Gods.
In this circumstance of offerings and libations to the Khthonic(Underworld) Gods and Goddesses(Hades, Hekate, Charon, Styx, etc), these libations, known as Khoe, are performed in a different manner; the hands are not raised towards the heavens when in prayer, but point downward with the palm toward the earth; when libations are poured, they are not gradually poured out, but dumped out abruptly, with the entirety of the offering being emptied; none of these libations are ever consumed by the Hellene. This is also the method by which offerings are made to the ancestors and Greek Heroes(Perseus, Achilles, Theseus, Heracles, etc).
Rituals are an imperative, integral portion of Hellenic worship, and it is according to these practices that the Hellene establishes reciprocity with the Gods, and in so doing, pursue a life of virtue and philosophy.
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