"Hi Elani! I have a question for you.. I need to have a shrine by my home's door to protect it, but I don't know which Theoi it should be for? I've heard something about Zeus Herkeios..? can you help me? Thank you!"
Ancient Hellenic homes were simple structures, made from clay, wood, and stone. The roofs were covered with tiles, or reeds, and the houses had one or two stories. Most houses were small, just a few rooms, with a walled garden or yard in the middle. Others, like the house above, were much larger. They were not solely homes, but often doubled as offices, shops, entertainment areas, and as a place of worship. In many cases, a large wall with a single door connected the house to the street, while insuring maximum privacy tot he occupants of the house. Rooms at the front of the house often served as store rooms or work shops. Other rooms in the house served as bedrooms, as a kitchen, bathroom, and smaller store rooms.
The courtyard of the home often held a bômos, a free standing, raised, altar where the majority of household worship took place. Some houses also had a wall niche, an indoor worship area, either in a room especially designated for worship, or in the main family room. These altars were used to worship the Ephestioi (Εφεστιοι), the most personal of the household Theoi. These almost always included: Hestia, Zeus Ephestios (Overseer of the Hearth), Zeus Kthesios, and Agathós Daímōn. Worship of these deities was highly personal, and many other Theoi could be added to this worship list.
Hestia was represented by the hearth fire that was always kept burning. If it went out, the male head of household would go to the prytaneion (Πρυτανεῖον), the structure where state officials met and where the city kept a fire for Hestia burning day and night, for a new flame. All fires in the house were lit from this one fire, so Hestia would watch over everything and everyone inside the house. Zeus Ephestios was and is a more active defender of the home. He shields the actual structure of the house. Where Hestia watches over the occupants, Zeus Ephestios guards the very walls, the roof, the floor, and any possessions inside the structure. He was worshipped at the main altar.
Zeus Kthesios guards the pantry, and was honoured there as well, where he had his own shrine, often adorned with a kathiskos. Agathós Daímōn and the ancestors were also worshipped at the main altar, although they may have had small shrines to themselves, especially in the case of wall niches.
In the courtyard of the house, the Herkeioi (Ἑρκειοι) were honoured: those of the herkos or front court. Most notably, this was Zeus Herkeios (Ἑρκειος), protector of the enclosure of the house. And just outside the house, and especially near the gate to the street, small shrines and altars were placed in honor of the less personal protectors: Apollon (sometimes in his epithet of 'Aguieus' (Ἀγυιεύς), protector of the streets, public places, and the entrances to homes), Hermes Propylaios, Hekate, and especially in Sparta, the Dioskouroi. Hēraklēs sometimes took the place of Apollon.
Zeus Herkeios' altar stood in the courtyard and He, from the inside of the house, protected against anyone wanting to harm the house or the family living in it. These altars were most often pillars, on or around which the offerings could be placed. Hermes, Apollon, and Hekate were represented by a pointy four-sided post. The top was reserved for Apollon, the bottom often held a niche where Deipnon offerings could be placed to Hekate, and Hermes' face (and sometimes his genitalia) was sometimes carved into the post. Hermes sometimes got his own post, called a 'herm', which was a rectangular post, with His face carved on top, and his genitalia carved out on the front.
As I noted in last year's post about household shrines, it's not always possible to reconstruct these altars and shrines. The lay-out of our houses are often different from that in ancient Hellas--and even in ancient Hellas, there were many different types of houses--and the culture has changed. We don't have herms on our front lawns anymore, nor an altar for burnt offerings. Modern Hellenists have had to adapt to the changing times. There is nothing wrong with this. Many amongst us have moved the worship of the Herkeioi inside our homes, to shrines near the front door. Here we pray for the same things as we would do outside, and we can still place our Deipnon offerings here. Most of us can find some space for a kathiskos in the kitchen, and many of us have a shrine to the Theoi where we can burn a candle to invite Hestia, and give burnt sacrifice to the other household deities. Shelves now often replace wall niches. How you figure out your own shrine set-up is up to you. What matters is that you honour the Theoi.