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.

"In a video about Khernipd you talked about that you're supposed to have a shelf. Can i ask you why that is? I'm new to Hellenismos :)"

Ah, yes, the famous shelve. As far as I can tell, the shelve is a much-used item in Hellenismos. In 'Oh My Gods!', a recent documentary on Hellenismos, the shelve makes an appearance, for example. It's reminiscent of the niche in the wall that was used in ancient Hellas and serves to elevate the worship of the Theoi from the ground.

In ancient Hellas, an altar was called a 'bômos' (βωμός)--properly signifying any elevation--with an 'epipuron' (ἐπίπυρον)--a movable pan or brazier--used on top of the bômos so it could serve as an altar for burnt-offerings. The household hearth was used to make sacrifices as well, and thus served as an altar of sorts.

These altars were used for sacrifices to the Ouranic Theoi, but were rarely--if ever--used for sacrifices for the Khthonic Theoi. An 'eschára' (ἐσχάρα) is the term for a low-lying altar used in burnt-offerings for heroes, demi-Gods and (nature) spirits. It was sometimes located under the bômos. For Khthonic Theoi, an offering pit--'bothros' (βόθρος) in Greek texts--sufficed, although They were sometimes worshipped at an eschára as well.

Personally, I think a shelve works fine to worship to the Olympic Gods, but so does a table, chest, or anything else that you have handy. There is traditional and there is practical, and unfortunately when it comes to altars these days, what is practical is not traditional.

So, short answer: you use a shelve to elevate your worship off of the ground. Can you elevate your worship any number of other ways? Yes. This depends on personal preference.

"Would you say the orphic and eleusinian mysteries are a necessary part of hellenic polytheism? Im scared that I dont know anything much about them."

Let me start off by linking you to a very extensive introduction on the Eleusinian Mysteries I wrote a while ago. You can find it here. Orphism--a mystery cult or religious philosophy which claimed descent from the teachings of the mythical hero Orpheus--was mostly connected to Demeter, Persephone, Dionysos, life after death, and reincarnation.

As with all mystery cults, participation was optional. Many people took part because it assured some semblance of safety surrounding the afterlife, but definitely not everyone was initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and while Orphism was widespread as well, it most certainly was not universal.

Personally, I am hesitant about engaging in mystery cults. The whole idea of them was to follow a very strict set of guidelines to achieve a very particular goal. Since huge portions of these guidelines were lost to us, it seems futile to engage in the practice. That said, these cults have brought forth beautiful works of poetry, have introduced concepts that resonate easily with me and many others today, and there is certainly wisdom in them.

You do not have to follow mystery traditions to be a Hellenist. I know people, however, who try to reconstruct them. They do this because they feel drawn to this way of worshipping, and that's wonderful. Personally I believe everyone should feel free to worship in the way they want, and if that includes mystery traditions, then so be it. It's not for me, however, and it doesn't have to be for you either, if you don't want to.

"I'm interested to hear your feelings on using wine in ritual when you or someone in your group has issues with substance abuse. What would you use as a replacement?"

I grew up in a household where substance abuse was a big issue and I have always refused to drink alcohol, do drugs, smoke, or even drink coffee. Wine is the traditional libation liquid; as drinking water was often stagnant, wine was used to purify it, and mask the taste. All men, women and children drank water which had some wine added to it. Wine was believed to be a healer--and it is--so everyone drank it, sometimes more when they were sick. Now, that is the Traditional side of it; what you do as a modern Hellenist is allowed to differ due to the complications of our current society. One part of that is finding substitutes if wine is not something you want to consume--or can't consume.

I would never force anyone to drink wine if they have addiction issues. As wine pretty much was the ancient Hellenic equivalent of water, water is a good replacement. That said, it may feel a little to plain and personally I enjoy the fact that I libate wine because it has ties to the grape vine and Dionysos. So, as a replacement, I would suggest plain grape juice--as pure and sugarless as you can find it. It still has the same ties to the Gods, but without the alcohol. This is also what I used to do in my Eclectic Religious Witchcraft rituals when minors were around, or recovering alcoholics.