A few days ago, I was contacted through Facebook about the proper steps within Hellenistic ritual. I promised to write a post about it and here we are.

I have mentioned before that there are five steps to proper, Hellenistic, ritual: procession, purification, prayers and hymns, sacrifice/offerings, prayers of supplication and thanks, usually followed by a feast and/or theater and sporting events. Today, I want to delve into this deeper, in order to gain a greater understanding of where this formula came from.

There were many religious festivals in ancient Hellas. Some were attended my men only, some by women only, some by men and women, some by adults only, slaves were sometimes allowed to participate, etc. It depended upon the Theos or Theia in question who could participate. Roles in the festival were usually determined by your position in Hellenic society. The elite were given high honors during most festivals, citizens were always in the front of the line, slaves took what they could get, and the list goes on.

"The Theoi have blessed the glorious city of Athens with a comfortable blanket of warmth and a clear blue sky. Helios' bright rays light and warm the way even in the early morning chill. On a hillside a way's away from the city gates, families arrive in groups, chatting merrily amongst themselves. All are dressed in their finest clothes, a wreath on their heads. The women's hair is intricately styled in the latest fashion, and while the children run loose, they stay close to their husbands, fathers, or adult sons.

The city officials and priestesses of Athena gathered at the hillside at dawn, going over the last of the preparation for the annual festival in honor of Athena, patron of the bright and beautiful city of Athens. Once the majority of citizens have arrived, and Helios's bright rays light up the walls around the grand city, a loose procession is formed. Hymns are sung, and the Goddess Athena is praised by all who have gathered. They sing of Her glory, Her continual aid to the city. They will their voices up to the sky, to Olympus, and pray for Athena's eyes on them, so She will follow them into the city and its temples.

They move through the city gates--priestesses and government officials first, then hierarchically down to the lowest allowed to participate in the rite. Along the procession are fourteen oxen, adorned with garlands, which will be sacrificed to the Theia at the altar. Thousand of men, women, and children move along the landscape and into the city. They pass through the gate, go through the streets, up to the Acropolis. As they pass the gates to the sanctuary, they sprinkle themselves and the ground around them with lustral water. The oxen get purified as well. Purified, they approach the altar.

On the altar burns a fire, and many others are lit around the temple square. The worshippers assemble at the south of the altar. Solemnly, the oxen are led to the altar, while a choir sings another hymn to Athena. From inside the temple, the statue of Athena looks on as Athens' magistrate takes to the west side of the altar, and raises his hands to the sky. He recalls all Athena has done for the city, Her greatness, Her help. He calls Her by Her many epithets. He then asks Her to continue to look favorably upon the city and to accept the sacrifice of fine oxen given to Her in supplication.

The priestesses carry baskets of barley forward, towards the oxen. They speak the necessary blessings, and pull from their baskets a sharp blade with a solid handle. In a practiced move, they knock out the oxen. As they fall to the ground, the priestesses kneel next to them and cut their throats, collecting their blood in bowls which are handed to them by helpers. Expertly, the animals are butchered and the thigh bones, wrapped in fat, are placed on the altar fire, along with hands full of barley. The smoke of the sacrifice rises to the sky, and reaches Athena, who is pleased.

The animals are butchered and the meat put on spikes and roasted, or cooked in a pot of water, over the various fires. The organs are roasted over the altar fire and presented to the highest city officials. While the meat is prepared, the citizens compete in sporting events, perform or watch plays or pass the time in other ways appropriate to the festival. The ritual part may have been completed before noon, but the festivities last the rest of the day. The food is shared amongst the attending and everyone enjoys a day off in the presence of their savior and patron Theia."

Because of this structure, modern worship is organized the way it is. Procession (no matter how short), purification with lustral water (named khernips), a hymn, song or modern poem which praises and draws the Theos in question, a sacrifice of some kind--be it incense, (mixed) wine, meat or anything else--along with barley seeds tossed on the altar or into the altar fire, prayers or words of thanks, and--in communal rituals--plays, games, or (sports)-competitions. Within communal celebrations, the sacrifice can be some of the (raw) ingredients used to prepare the communal meal that will follow.

If some of these steps are still confusing, I would recommend watching some of the video tutorials I have made, because most of the steps feature in them. Especially the video on making khernips and offering libations should be helpful to new or confused practitioners of Hellenismos. If anything is still unclear, the comment section, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, or my e-mail (see above, left) are handy tools to get in touch with me for more information or source material. The search function to the left may also help. Good luck!