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.

"Hello there. I have always felt a weird connection to the old greek gods, even when I was a child and now that I am an adult I finally want to try out my spiritual side. I finally want to try out something, maybe a prayer or ritual, but I don't want to offend the gods on accident. So, do you have a tip for me? I really need your help..."

First off, let me say I am very happy to hear you are looking to find a way to start honoring the Theoi--the Hellenic Gods. I can understand how this could be daunting. I'm going to provide a few links to get you started on some reading and watching and from there on, I think you'll be more able to ask direct questions for which I might provide the answer.

The Beginner's guide to Hellenismos: Introduction
The beginner's guide to Hellenismos: Traditional versus Reformed
The Beginner's guide to Hellenismos: Ritual and sacrifice in Hellenismos
The Beginner's guide to Hellenismos: Ouranic versus Khthonic

These should get you started on the basic theory and thinking behind the practice of Hellenismos. then there is the practical side. For that, I'd like to reffer you to some of my videos, which show some of the basics. If you would like to read more about ancient Hellenic ritual and prayer (and adapting it to modern times), please see these two posts: Ancient Hellenic festival rituals, and their modern day versions and On prayers and hymns.

I want to leave you with a last link, one on hubris. You express a concern of 'doing it wrong'; I don't believe in that. This post explains why and it might offer some comfort and encuragement.

"I was wondering about the liquids used in libations. I currently use a dark red wine for my morning and evening rituals as well as for most of the festivals What I was wondering about was when it would be more appropriate to use something other than wine as a libation. I've read several conflicting accounts where the dead and Chthonic deities are not given wine as a libation and others where it is instead un-mixed wine. Also, how do you determine if a deity is chthonic?"

Ouranic deities tended to receive wine libations that were mixed with water. Khthonic deities received either wineless libations (water, milk, and honey, usually), or wine libations of unmixed wine. 'Ouranic' is a term that applies to Theoi and practices who reside or that are associated with Mount Olympos, home of many of the Theoi. As such, Ouranic deities are also referred to as 'Olympians'. 'Kthonic' refers to deities or spirits of the Underworld or the earth, and the rituals associated with Them. Then there are some we know from the ancient writings.

So, some examples: Apollon (ouranic) recieves mixed wine libations. Gaia (kthonic, earth) recieves water libations (usually khernips), or milk, or honey. Water for the nymphs (kthonic, earth), unmixed wine to Persephone (kthonic), milk (usually kykeon) to Demeter (kthonic, earth), etc.


"Just a few days ago was the Diasia, in honor of Zeus Meilichios. I've read that sacrifices to Zeus Meilichios are made as a holokaustos. This got me wondering, when else would you make offerings as a holokaustos? For the dead, certainly, but where else would such a sacrifice be appropriate, and how do you decide when to perform it in lieu of the more common sacrifice where you consume a part of it?"

Some definitions first: worship in ancient Hellas typically consisted of sacrificing at the altar with hymn and prayer. Holokautein (ὁλοκαυτεῖν) were sacrifices in which the sacrifice--domestic animal, fruits, cakes, wine, etc.--was utterly destroyed and burnt up, as opposed to thyesthai (θύεσθαι), in which the sacrifice was shared with the Gods in question and one's fellow worshippers. In the case of a latter animal sacrifice, the edible parts of the sacrificed animal were roasted or boiled and distributed for festive celebration, whereas the inedible parts were burned or placed on the altar, those being the Gods' share.

Let me now say that there is no list; well, I could probably make one but that would be highly impracticle and I would most likely forget two thirds of divinities and others who recieve(d) sacrifice. I can make a general working formula for you though: Ouranic deities (so any deity (!) who lives on the Earth, on Olympos, or in the sea) were honored with thyesthai. The Khthonic, or Underworld, deities, malign deities, heroes, the dead, ghosts and nymphs and their ilk recieved holókautein.

This distinction is very black and white, but there were variations, especially between city-states, but sometimes even within a single city-state. Context was important, but as a working model, the distinction above is useful. So, why this divide?

Sacrifices to the Ouranic deities were given to establish kharis: the act of giving to the Gods so They might give something in return. It's religious reciprocity. It is important to realize that even a sacrifice where the worshippers share in the sacrifice is essentially a holókaustos: the entire sacrifice is given to the Gods in question, but as part of kharis, the Gods do not take all of it, but give part of it back to Their worshippers to sustain them and reward them for their worship. So the entire sacrifice is property of the Gods as soon as it is dedicated to Them (a procession to the altar is sufficient for that, but hymns and prayers aid this proccess), but They share it with us. This way, kharis is established right away: I give to You, You give to me, and so we sustain and honor each other.

For holókautein, I am going to disregard the nymphs for a bit and come back to them later. Kharis need not be established with Khthonic deities: for us humans, we will go to the Underworld regardless of good standing. As with Ouranic sacrifices, the entire sacrifice belongs to the intended force as soon as it is dedicated to them, be it Underworld Gods, or the dead in any form (heroes, after all, are dead as well). As humans, we try not to get in contact with the Underworld, as it brings miasma with it: miasma describes the lingering aura of uncleanliness in regards to a person or space through which contact is made with the Gods.

If we were to partake from food that belongs to the Underworld (because we gave it to its deities), we would take something of the underworld inside of us, and as the myth of Persephone clearly states, this means you would become part of the Underworld itself. In my opinion, this is the main reason why we give holókautein to the Underworld deities and the dead.

As for the nymphs: they are a story unto themselves. We have very little factual information on the worship of nymphs. We know it took place, we know they receive libations (mostly of honey and water), and we know they had sactuaries which were sometimes tended to full time by self-appointed priests. There are, however, many forms of the nature spirits we call nymphs. Some are Ouranic in character, some Khthonic, so it varies what kind of sacrifice they got and get. Even more so, some source material (including Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles) features libations of water and honey to non-specified nymphs, but which seem to have an Ouranic character. As such, I tend to give holocaustal sacrifices to the nymphs, just to be on the safe side.

"What are your thoughts on libations to Heroes? Is there any difference in the ritual or offerings from the template you presented in your video? It feels appropriate to me to make offerings in honour of Emperor Julianos and Hypatia of Alexandria, and I want to be correct in going about it."

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 Haides, their names were remembered at least once a year on a special ocassion, 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.

Although linked, hero worship in ancient Hellas was not the same as ancestoral worship; heroes and heroines transcended family bonds.Archeological 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.


"This might be a stupid question but, well... How do you burn your offerings to the Theoi? I use ethanol (96º) as fuel, but libations, when poured, even small quantities, just put the fire out. Constantly refueling and relighting the fire distracts me from ritual and I'm considering just not burning my offerings, but I'd like to know if I'm doing something wrong. Thanks in advance!"

For me, the answer is to use a healthy pouring of ethanol, a small measure of liquids per libation, poured out along the edge so it can slide in from the side, and to use small chunks of sacrificial material when solid. The shape of your bowl might also have something to do with your issues: fire needs oxygen. In a narrow, high bowl that is a lot trickier than with a wide, low bowl like I use. Also: this issue was the exact reason Hellenic worship is supposed to include the whole family (at least). That way, one person can tend the fire throughout the ritual.