As part of the Beginner's guide to Hellenismos, I would like to discuss heroes and hero worship. 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.

Hero worship was very specific and it's a concept that translates with more difficulty than straight-up deity worship. In essence, heroes are the bridge between mortals and Gods. They were born mortal (although often with a bloodline to the Gods) but through their deeds, they were rewarded with immortality themselves. They became Gods. Still, the lessons they teach us are all mortal lessons. Heroes were honored more than worshipped, and we do that today as well. So heroes, like Gods, can be called on for counsel and aid, and like the Gods, you can establish kharis--a bond of ritual reciprocity--with them. But they don't judge us, not like the Gods anyway, because they were all just like us once.

Archeological evidence suggests that hero worship was closer to khthonic sacrifice 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.

Although linked, hero worship in ancient Hellas was not the same as ancestral worship; heroes and heroines transcended family bonds. That said, ancestor worship was performed in a khthonic manner during state festivals but as hero worship when at home. This can be explained by surmising that ancestors were considered heroes to the family and they were missed. As such the character of their remembrance was khthonic. It was also possible to honour the family line and it was actually a part of the celebration of Agathós Daímōn, the third day of the month. The goal was not to honour the people in the family line but to express pride in your blood and bring about good fortune as stemming from the family line. This type of worship was closer to hero worship and was performed at a separate shrine or at an offering pit outside. These sarcifices were generally wholly given as well and could either be an animal or, more commenly, unmixed wine.

There were regular state festivals organized for the dead (nekysia) and for the forefathers (genesia) as there were for the heroes. Unlike with rites to the heroes, on such days, graves were adorned, offerings of barley broth, milk, honey, unmixed wine, oil, water and the blood of animal sacrifices were given in the form of khoai--fully poured out libations. Graves often had bottomless amphorae placed on it on hollow columns. The libation was poured into this and seeped down into the dirt to 'feed the dead'. Heroes were not considered to be dead, they were considered to be raised up as Gods. To worship them in a khthonic manner would have been inappropriate.

Heroes and heroines were considered to be raised up to Olympos and as such to have become Gods. They were, however, never revered as Gods. They were considered part of the tapestry of life: ideals to live up to, reminders of hard times in the past, and some were remembered as reminders against hate. Others were remembered for contributions to society, or for a whole scope of other reasons that made their lives important enough to remember.

In a modern Hellenistic context, hero worship translates very well. This applies to both the ancient Heroes like Theseus and Atalanta but also to modern ones like Martin Luther King and Malala Yousafzai. More importantly, perhaps, it also translates to people in your own life and your own community; the founder of the food program for the poor in your neighborhood, the man who stopped a robbery, the woman who saved a child from drowning. These are events that change lives and communities.

There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world; anyone who stands up against that, who goes out and does something extraordinary, needs to be honored and thanked, both when they are alive and after they have passed. There are people who change our lives and communities--we all know them. Remember and honor them every once in a while, for their actions, for what they taught you, and for what they have inspired to bring into the world.