The term 'phyllomancy' stems from the Greek words 'phyllon' (leaf) and 'manteia' (prophecy). As such, it's not too surprising that this method of divination uses leaves to predict the future. There are many ways to practice phyllomancy (watching the way they burn, the way they fall, the way they float, etc.) but one method is very important in terms of the ancient Hellenic practice: divinition in which the voices of the Theoi are made appearant through the rustling of the leaves of an oak (or birch) tree.

[The oak tree oracle at Dodona]

Anyone who has ever sat at the foot of a tree and has listened to the wind play through the leaves knows there is no toher sound like it. It's unique and ever changing. To the ancient Hellenes the sound could also be prophetic. This was the case, for example, with the sacred oak(s) of Zeus at the sactuary of Dodona.

Dodona in Epirus, north-west Greece, lies in a valley on the eastern slopes of Mt. Tomaros and was famed throughout the ancient Hellenic world as the site of a great oracle of Zeus. The site was expanded in the Hellenistic period.

The oracle at Dodona was considered the oldest in Hellas, even if it was later replaced in importance by the oracle of Apollon at Delphi. According to Herodotos, in his Histories, the oracle was founded when two black doves flew from Thebes in Egypt; one dove settled in Libya to found the sanctuary of Zeus Ammon, and the other settled in an oak tree at Dodona, proclaiming a sanctuary to Zeus be built there.

"That, then, I heard from the Theban priests; and what follows, the prophetesses of Dodona say: that two black doves had come flying from Thebes in Egypt, one to Libya and one to Dodona; the latter settled on an oak tree, and there uttered human speech, declaring that a place of divination from Zeus must be made there; the people of Dodona understood that the message was divine, and therefore established the oracular shrine. The dove which came to Libya told the Libyans (they say) to make an oracle of Ammon; this also is sacred to Zeus. Such was the story told by the Dodonaean priestesses, the eldest of whom was Promeneia and the next Timarete and the youngest Nicandra; and the rest of the servants of the temple at Dodona similarly held it true." [2.55]

In Hellenic mythology the oracle was visited by notable heroes, such as Jason, who was told by Hera to place a protective branch from the sacred oak tree on the prow of his ship the Argo before he set off on his search for the Golden Fleece. In Homeros’ Iliad Achilles, too, called on the help of Zeus Dodonean during the Trojan War in order to protect Patroclus in his fight against Hektor. In the Odysseia the hero Odysseus also consults the oracle to discover if he should return to Ithaca as himself or in disguise.

Pelgrims came to the site and would write down their question on lead tablets, which were placed at the root of one of the many trees in the grove. The priestess would then go into a trance and listen to the wind as it played through the trees to distil the words of Zeus. They would then pass on this answer.

Although the ancient Hellenes believed strongly that the trees through which the Gods spoke had been chosen by Them specifically and thus had been made sacred, we can still direct our questions to the Theoi during sacrifice and then listen to the wind as it plays through the leaves of tall and majestic oaks to see if you can find meaning in the rustling. Who knows what you might pick up!
Hellenic Reconstruction is sometimes jokingly referred to as 'Athenian Reconstruction', as so much of our information about ancient Hellas was preserved in the city of Athens. As soon as you set foot outside the city of Athens, only a few 'hot spots' provide any information about ancient Hellenic life, and in between the hotspots, there is no information at all. The annual sacrifice at Erchia to Zeus Epoptes (Εποπτες) is a perfect example of this. Still, it is a sacrifice to the King of the Gods, and we will celebrate it on August 28, at 10 AM EDT. Will you be joining us?

 
'Epoptes' (sometimes 'Epopteus') is often translated as 'overseer' or 'watcher'; 'to look down upon'. Among the ancient Hellenes, the title of 'epoptes' was used of those who had attained the third grade of initiation, the highest, of the Eleusinian Mysteries; a religious cult at Eleusis, with its worship, rites, festival and pilgrimages open to all Hellenes willing to undergo initiation. The epopteia were--appropriately--charged with overseeing the proceedings at Eleusis, but seemingly received the name mostly because they had beheld the full mysteries of the Mysteries.

From the calendar we have recovered from Erchia, we know that the sacrifice to Zeus Epoptes was a pig, burned completely in a holókaustos, without an offering of wine. It cost the Erchians three drachmas.

You can find the ritual for the sacrifice here, and if you would like to join our community page for it, come on over to Facebook here. We would jove it if you could join us!
 The Greek Ministry of Culture announced the conclusion of the 2016 excavation season at the Minoan palatial complex at Zominthos by the Greek Archaeological Society under the direction of Mrs. Efi Sapouna-Sakellarakis. A magnificent 150-room structure of the Minoan era came to light. Digging also unearthed some beautiful finds, all of which will be showcased in the new Digital Museum of Anogeia.
 
 
The latest excavations at Zominthos showed that the Neopalatial complex, whose main building phase dates to c.1750 BC, extended over an even larger area during the earlier Old Palace period (c.1900 BC) when the Minoan palaces were first constructed. It is thought that the earlier structure comprised some 150 rooms and was two (and in some place three) storeys tall.

Corridors, stairways, new pillared halls, polythyra (a system of doors set next to each) and skylights have been added to the majestic complex during the course of this year's excavations. The walls, which in places are preserved to a height of 2.5-3 metres, were covered with frescoes portraying plant, animal and architectural themes painted on thin plaster and reveal a particular sophistication.

The building has two and three storey-rooms in some areas, while some of the chambers have desks around the permitter, a feature that leads archaeologists to believe it was occupied by prominent people of the Knossos dynasty. Another feature the gives supports this is the fact that an area for religious gatherings was also present in the large building. A plethora of bronze religious items, like double edge axes, incense cups, statues and other items, possibly used in the religious chamber, were also unearthed during the excavations.
 
With its typically religious character, the Zominthos complex enabled the descendants of the Knossian Dynasty not only to control the Idaion Andron, but to also mobilize the products of the mountain (wool and medicinal herbs) and export them to the markets of Egypt and the Near East.
Apart from the areas of habitation and the public spaces, several workshops were also identified, including a pottery workshop with a huge kiln, a rock crystal processing facility, and a metal-working furnace.
 
After the destruction of the Minoan complex, sometime after 1450 BC, the same place was settled by the Mycenaeans 100 metres to the northeast. The Romans later built a military barracks on the site.

The Ministry of Culture also announced the opening of an innovative digital museum, erected by Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki with the assistance of the Municipality Anogia, showcasing the history of the excavations and findings from Zominthos and the Idaion Cave.

For sources an many images of the finds and structure, go here and here.
The 21th of Metageitnion, Hera Thelkhinia was honoured at Erkhia. Hera Thelkhinia, Goddess of Charm. Will you join us in honouring Her on August 24, at the usual 10 am EDT?


We know very little about this epithet of Hera, and it is often confused (including by yours truly) with 'Telkineia', missing the  'H'. The epithet Telkinios (Telkineia) is used for Apollon, Hera, and the Nymphs. It is linked to the island of Rhodes and either to metalworking or storm, at this point in time I truly am not sure. Metalworking would make sense, after all Hephaistos is the son of Hera.

In the Erkhian calendar, however, the epithet of Hera is Thelchiniai (ΘΕΛΧΙΝΙΑΙ), with an 'H'. The only references to this epithet is ‘charm’ and ‘charming’, not metal working. H. W. Parke, in Festivals of the Athenians' writes on page 179:

“Hera besides her festival with him [Zeus] had a sacrifice alone on the 20th of the same month under a title which seems to mean ‘Goddess of Charm’ (Thelchinia). So in Erkhia she may have included in her sphere the functions of the classical Aphrodite who was not worshipped in the deme.

The ritual for this sacrifice can be found here, and you can join our community page here.
I get a lot of questions from readers, and most of the time, the answers are fairly short. When I feel the question or the reply would be valuable to others as well, I make a post with a collection of them and post them in one go. Today is one of those posts.


"I'm wondering if the goddess Kybele plays a part in your worhsip/practice of Hellenismos. If so, can you point the way to any hymns or prayers? I'm having a very hard time finding anything. I found something from Pindar but only in Greek... which is Greek to me. Other than that option, are you familiar with any other epithets than mistress of the animals (of which she was one of many apparently) or mother of gods? I read that she was invoked in Athens as a protector of the city, but no hymns..."

Kybele is originally a primal nature Goddess worshipped in the mountains of central and western Anatolia. Ancient Hellenes who settled in those regions identified her most often with Rhea but also with Gaia, Demeter, Artemis and even Hekate. Her original cult was too barbaric for the ancient Hellenes to adopt whole. As such, I do not usually include Her in my worship; I honour Rhea, Demeter, Artemis and Hekate Themselves instead.

Perhaps there have been Hellenic hymns written especially for Kybele, but I don't know of any. The same goes for Her epithets. I am sure She had more local ones but in general, I assume many of those to Rhea, Gaia, Demeter, Artemis and Hekate apply or can at least be used to honour Kybele. I do know of Roman Emperor Julian's Oration to the Mother of Gods from which you might draw some inspiration? It can be found here.

~~~

"Hello! I was just wondering if you could explain the difference between a shrine and an altar. Thank you!"

An altar is one of the basic necessities within Hellenismos, and it differs from a shrine. Where an altar is a 'work space', dedicated not so much to a specific deity but used to do the bulk of the (daily) rituals, a shrine is a devotional area where an altar might be located. In ancient Hellas, the shrine was usually a temple, the altar an actual altar, standing outside of it. Household worship took place at a multitude of shrines. Labelling something a shrine does not mean you can't sacrifice at these spots in your home. In general, you decorate a shrine but leave the altar rather bare.

~~~

"Are there sins in Hellenic polytheism similar to Christian sins? I understand that hubris is condemned but is there some list of defined sins? Or is it more obscure and up to interpretation. Thank you."

Sin is defined as a 'transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate', often regarded as either 'deliberate disobedience to the known will of [the Abrahamic] God, or 'a condition of estrangement from [the Abrahamic] God resulting from such disobedience'.

Sin is a Christian issue, which is made clearest in the punishment of sin: once sinned, a devotee is barred from Heaven--the supreme goal--until he or she repents. Repenting is 'to feel remorse, contrition, or self-reproach for what one has done or failed to do', and includes 'an admission of guilt for committing a wrong or for omission of doing the right thing; a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong or the omission where possible'.

The concept of sin has no place in Hellenismos. There are things you can 'do wrong' in Hellenism, but because of the way the concept of sin works, it can never be applied to the Hellenic religion: we are not working towards the goal of an afterlife. Mythologically speaking, we know that we will inevertably end up a shade in the realm of Hades. Only if you have done something incredibly inexcusable (kill, chop up and serve your son to the Theoi, for example, as Tantalos did), you might be punished in Tartaros. In general, we will walk the dreary Fields forever, while some of us--those who have done extraordinary deeds in life--will end up in Elysium, but that is a rare honor indeed.

Within Hellenismos, we try not to do wrong--or better, we always try to do right--by the Gods. They are the major influence over our lives and we live largely by Their will. As such, fear of the Gods is a cornerstone of the faith, but it is not meant in the Christian sense where any sin committed is seen by God and jeopardizes you place in heaven; here it is meant as a reminder of kharis: that the Gods look favorably upon those who honor Them properly. The implication here is, of course, that they do not look favorably upon those who do not honor Them properly, and this is correct. Yet, committing hubris does not automatically mean that you will be punished by the Theoi; it simply means a drop in kharis. A drop in kharis is restored by fostering more kharis.

Sin is an important concept but it is unrelated to Hellenismos. One should never feel guilt for doing wrong by the Gods--only, perhaps, sadness for not doing right. Sin and guilt have no place in our religion, although they have a place in many of us as our Western societies are often drenched with Christian values and morals. It's important to untangle yourself from these subconcious influences to live an authentic Hellenistic life, which is not better than an Abrahamic one, only different. And the differences count.

~~~

"I often follow the monthly calendar you have based off of HMEPA. Most often, that lines up in a lunar sense even though I'm on the other side of the ocean. However, the new moon on September 30th is before sundown for you and after sundown for me. I believe that would mean that I would celebrate the Deipnon one night after you if going by the moon. If I'm trying to be recon, would it be inappropriate to just go with your calendar instead of customizing,moving everything for the month a day off?"

Every once in a while, we run into ‘Reconstructionist problems’. In general, these are issues that would not have been an issue in ancient Hellas, but are one now because of societal, practical, or economical reasons.

A little background: Hekate’s Deipnon is a religious celebration that takes place on Hene kai Nea. Hene kai Nea basically mean 'old and new’, and takes place any time before the first sliver of the new moon is visible. In practice, this is the day after the new moon. The Noumenia is held the day after that, when the moon has become visible again, and Agathós Daímōn the day after that. It is important to note that the ancient Hellens started a new day at sundown the day before. Instead of starting a new day at midnight–or in the morning–like we do today, they started it at sundown of the previous day. This means that–when applied to modern practice–the Deipnon starts on the day of the suspected new moon, and the rest follows after, to the total of four days. For more information on this, please see here. For those of you who have issues reading the Hellenic calendar at all, please see here.

In general, the placement of Hene kai Nea is easy: check the date and time of the dark moon, and at sundown afterwards, the Deipnon starts. Every once in a while, though, there is a complication: because of the moon’s cycle we end up with a situation where,if we hold the Deipnon at the time of the dark moon, we are a little too early and if we hold it the night after, we are a little too late. There is an added complication: many of us follow the HMEPA calendar as a basis for our practice and as a concensus, the HMEPA calendar is divided equally in 29 day months and 30 day months. This was much less applicable in ancient Hellas (especially Athens) where days were dropped or added where needed to accommodate festivals, wars, public events, and anything else. If the ancient Hellenes needed a little time before the fourth of the month, they just repeated the third day.

Because we all work off of the same calendar, we can’t just drop or add days in our practice, or at least if we do, we need to reallign ourselves somewhere, preferably right away. Where the ancient Hellenes would have pushed the entire month back if they needed an other day and taken off a day at the end, we would like to celebrate festivals together in a way, so if we remain out of tune, we will end up with three possible dates for a single festival; one on the actual date, one a day earlier because of a dropped day, and one a day later for an added day.

So, let’s look at this practically. If you follow the HMEPA calendar, you’ll be a little early but you’ll automatically be aligned with the rest of the world. If you push the Hene kai Nea back, you need to cut a day in the beginning of the month to fit the month into the 29 day/30 day cycle we stick to in modern times. The third day of the month is set, so you would have to drop the Noumenia to make a 30 day month fit.

The choice, really, is yours. There is no right or wrong answer, there are only practical ones. If you want three full days like usual, you need to put the Hene kai Nea early. If you don’t mind being out of alignment with the rest of the word from now on, just push it back and don’t remove the Noumenia. If you want to push the Hene kai Nea back and you don’t want to be out of alignment, drop the Noumenia (or, alternatively, a day later in the month but you’ll be out of alignment until then, including festival days). The perfect example of a Reconstructionist problem, isn’t it?

~~~

"Is there a way to properly dispose of khernips? For some reason I decided my first batch ever should have essential oils in it and now the khernips' smell is extremely overwhelming. I have to dispose of it but I don't know how without disrespecting the gods."

Dispose of khernips--lustral water used in ritual to cleanse yourself with--in a pot or outdoor pit. Use the same spot every time. You can also use this spot to dispose of other offerings. Ancient temples had these pits as well (and they are now our main sources of information about the types of sacrifices that took place there).
Will you be joining us at 10 AM EDT on 22 August to celebrate the female heroes that we have so plentifully in our religion?


The ancient Erkhians honoured the Heroines twice a year, once on the 19th of Metageitnion, and once on the 14th of Pyanepsion. Certain heroines--like Basile--were worshipped separately from the group as well, most likely because they were local heroines instead of universally accepted heroines like Atalanta, who hunted the Calydonian boar, slew Centaurs, and defeated Peleus in wrestling, or Kallisto, who was an Arcadian princess and hunting companion of the Goddess Artemis. The Heroines received a white sheep in sacrifice, of which the meat was partly sacrificed and partly eaten by those who came out to sacrifice. The skin of the animal went towards the priestess.

Heroes and heroines have a special place in Hellenismos, as they had in ancient Hellas. These were humans--most with at least a part divine heritage--who were considered so brave, so skillful, so extraordinary in their lifetime that they became revered. Some were priests or priestesses of a temple, some excelled in battle, others were skilled healers or good rulers. Once they passed to the realm of Hades, their names were remembered at least once a year on a special occasion, because the ancient Hellenes believed that if the name and deeds of a person were remembered, they would live forever and potentially look out for those they had looked out for before.

Archaeological evidence suggests that hero worship was closer to Khthonic sacrifices in execution than Ouranic ones the further back in time you go; especially in the archaic period, it seems that hero worship consisted of destructive sacrifices--sometimes in the form of a holókaustos where the entire animal was burned, sometimes in a sacrifice where only a part (most often 'a ninth' of the animal) was burned and the rest remained on the altar for the heroes to eat from until gone. The sacrifices were generally burned in an offering pit known as a bothros. The food offered to heroes consisted of meat, blood, and 'food eaten by men' like grains, fruits and other every-day dishes. These were usually offered to the heroes on a table--known as a trapeza--and the heroes were sometimes offered chairs or a bench to sit on. As time went on, the living began to eat part of the meal laid out for the heroes, joining them in celebration.

You can find the ritual here, and join our community page here. We have added some of the other main Hellenic Goddesses to the ritual as well. Feel free to add more of our Goddesses and heroines to your own ritual, especially if you feel close to Them! This ritual will be a celebration of the feminine power in our religion!
I'm not always active in the online Hellenistic community but I get tagged in a lot and I do read that. I also get and answer a lot of questions from you. What I sense in many of your posts is a kind of fear about faith. Fear of the judgement of the Gods; a sense that the Theoi are always watching and ready to strike. Fear of the afterlife (or, perhaps, lack of same). The ancient Hellenes struggled with this as well. How do I know? Because there is a word to define the opposite of that fear: that word is ataraxia.

Ataraxia (ἀταραξία) is a Greek term used by--amongst others--Pyrrho and Epicurus. Ataraxia is the Greek word for equanimity, sometimes translated as imperturbability.  It generally translates as tranquility, serenity, or peace, and it’s the telos or goal of all wholesome ethical philosophy. In Epicureanism, ataraxia was synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person. It signifies the state of robust tranquillity that derives from eschewing faith in an afterlife, not fearing the Gods because They are distant and unconcerned with us, avoiding politics and vexatious people, surrounding oneself with trustworthy and affectionate friends and, most importantly, being an affectionate, virtuous person, worthy of trust.

Ataraxia is satisfaction with life as it is here and now, not seeking its perfection but accepting its limitations and never minding them. It’s the mental aboveness of one who’s learned to be happy and to live in a pleasant state always, regardless of conditions. Ataraxia is unconditional pleasure in living.

Note that ataraxia is not about eliminating doubt, but about eliminating the cause of the mental distress people experience when doubts assail their minds. This cause contains a desire for the certainty of knowledge coupled with a belief that such knowledge is possible; and when we desire something, we always desire more of it. The practice of ataraxia requires the acceptance of the inherent uncertainty of most of our opinions and calls us to stop searching for answers that do not exist in our world and can never be attained.

Epicurus insisted that ataraxia is a mindful, positive state of peaceful abiding which can be cultivated through certain disciplines, including the cultivation of deep gratitude to life, to nature, to one’s teachers and ancestors. Sextus Empiricus supplies an example of ataraxia:

"The Sceptic, in fact, had the same experience which is said to have befallen the painter Apelles. Once, they say, when he was painting a horse and wished to represent in the painting the horse's foam, he was so unsuccessful that he gave up the attempt and flung at the picture the sponge on which he used to wipe the paints off his brush, and the mark of the sponge produced the effect of a horse's foam. So, too, the Sceptics were in hopes of gaining quietude [ataraxia] by means of a decision regarding the disparity of the objects of sense and of thought, and being unable to effect this they suspended judgment; and they found that quietude, as if by chance, followed upon their suspense. [Outlines of Pyrrhonism 1.28—29]

How do we benefit by accepting a basic human ignorance? The reason is pragmatic. We benefit by releasing debilitating mental agitation. Where knowledge is unavailable, we can only make a choice. The those who practice ataraxia choose not to choose in cases where there are no clear conclusions and opposing positions continue to be asserted even while everyone knows they cannot all be true. The benefit is in letting go of any and all doubt an fear of that which will always remain uncertain.

Stoicism often made use of the term, as they too sought mental tranquillity and saw ataraxia as highly valuable. In Stoicism, however, ataraxia is not an end to be pursued for its own sake as it is in many other philosophical schools. Rather, it is a natural consequence that occurs in a person who pursues virtue.

Ataraxia is very important in Hellenic philosophy and in Hellenismos today. Christianity clings to many religious terms we use today--including the word ' religion', which is often seen as synonymous to Christianity. It's concepts of fear of Deity and death live on in many of our minds, even in those minds that were not formed by Christian ideology. In modern times, practicing ataraxia includes becoming aware of this influence and letting it go in favour of more ancient ways of philosophical thinking. In modern Hellenismos, ataraxia is an almost necessary practice to apply in order to get ethically and philosophically closer to the ancient Hellenes and through their way of thinking, the Theoi.