Back in July, I already said that I would come to regret writing about xenia before we got to the 'X's. There really aren't a lot of words starting with an 'X' that relate to Hellenismos. And so, I'm revisiting the practice of xenia today. Xenia, as I wrote in my initiatory post about it, is the ancient Hellenic practice of ritual hospitality. A quote:

"Hospitality in ancient Hellenic was a complicated ritual within both the host and the guest has certain roles to fill and tasks to perform. Especially when someone unknown to the host came to the door, the ritual held great value. This ritual practice of hospitality was called 'xenia' (ξενία) and is described a lot in mythology. This, because any unknown traveler at the door could be a Theos or Theia in disguise or they could even be watched over by a Theos or Theia who would pass judgement on the host."

Today, I'm expanding upon my previous post about ritual hospitality with some tips about modern interpretation of the ancient practice. Society has changed, after all, and those wishing to actively practice xenia will find themselves in situations where they will want to assume the best in strangers, but who must safeguard themselves against abuse of all kinds. We are practicing an ancient, sacred, honor-bound, ritualistic tradition, but the other person--unless Hellenistic themselves--most likely is not. And so, when the doorbell rings, and a stranger asks if they can use out bathroom, we hesitate. And rightly so. In the original post, I spoke about the modern ideas of hospitality:

"In contemporary culture, hospitality has lost much of its meaning and practice. Gifts are brought for the host these days, refills are in the fridge, staying for dinner is only possible if you have and appointment, etc. Bringing back some of the old hospitality customs might not be a bad thing at all. It would sure bring us closer as a community and, really, it would be wonderful to knock on the door of a house when you're in need and know that you would receive all the help the host can possibly give."

In my post about beggars in ancient Hellenic society, I wrote that beggars performed a very important--cleansing--task for those who allowed the beggar entrance and food. How much miasma was removed, depended upon how much you gave to the beggar in question. This was a ritual--a strong, always returning, everyone-was-aware-of-it-and-knew-their-part, ritual. It was part of ritualized xenia but there was much more to it. Also in that first post:

"[a] guest should not have to wait to be greeted, they must always be accepted into the house and offered the best of everything, an inquiry as to the nature of the visit is delayed until the guest has eaten, recovered from the journey and sometimes--as found in other sources--has bathed and/or slept. Often, everything is set aside to help the guest with his or her quest because it was assumed no man or woman left their home unless they really had to.

Next to this, there are two other important rules concerning xenia; the guest is expected to be courteous and not be a burden to the host and, and this is very important, the host must give the guest a parting gift--a xenion (ξεινήιον). The more valuable the gift, the better."

Can these values be carried over into modern day practice? Much of it can be. Make your home a place people want to visit. Make it homely, keep it clean, and keep the pantry stocked with enough food to feed your family and an extra mouth. When a guest comes over, invite them in. Offer them drinks and remember to ask if they desire a refill. Alternatively, allowing someone who has been to your home before free access to your fridge and pantry is a sign of trust and hospitality as well. When it's time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, offer them a place at your table. When night falls, offer them a place to sleep that includes bedding and a clean towel. Keep a couple of spare toothbrushes, so those who sleep over unexpectedly can brush their teeth in the evening and morning. They get to keep the toothbrush, of course.

Introducing parting gifts may be difficult, but perhaps there is 'a bottle of wine you wouldn't be able to finish anyway', or a 'piece of jewelry you bought for them but you hadn't gotten a chance to give'. Alternatively, consider taking a gift with you every time you visit them as a kind of delayed parting gift, or speak of your intentions to present them a parting gift and follow through. If you don't feel drawn to it, there is no need to reinstate the practice, of course. If you are visited by other Hellenists, it may be a special addition to your relationship.

So how do we deal with strangers? Courteously, for one. If someone comes looking for aid, pay attention to them. Secondly, know places which can offer help. If you don't want strangers using your bathroom, is there a shop nearby where a non-customer can make use of the bathroom, for example. If it's something you need to get from inside the house, ask them to wait outside. Standard safety precautions. Being a Hellenist asks you to trust the world around you, but not in so much that you must put your well-being or that of your family at risk. Consider beggars, who were left on the threshold. Give what you wanted to give when you return, just be friendly and inviting about the whole thing; xenia is eighty percent attitude, and twenty percent physical acts.

In ancient Hellas, most of the worship was done in temples. We turn to our own homes for worship today, so we suddenly find ourselves in a position where xenia applies to the Theoi as much as it does human beings. Much of what I wrote above also applies to the Theoi: keep a clean house and an inviting attitude, present gifts to the Theoi, and make them feel welcome. Practice katharmos every time you enter the space set aside for the Theoi. Be respectful, and aware of mythological no-no's. Offering Demeter pomegranate seeds around the time Persephone departs for the Underworld, for example, is not encouraged.

All in all, the practice of xenia is as much ancient ritual as it is common sense. It's the cookie you got with your tea when you visited your grandmother, it's the friend who you know you can crash with when you suddenly find yourself stranded, it's the neighbor who comes to invite your for coffee and cake when you have just moved in, and it's the house where you know you'll get a good Halloween haul. Xenia is about being friendly and inviting to the world, and about being in it. In modern society, we all have our own little islands on which we function, but xenia was a component of a society where community mattered. It's that focus that still drives xenia today.
Some constellations have huge mythological backstories, others do not. I'm starting to realize that those who are best know--like Aries and Cancer--have tiny backstories while some unknown constellations--like Argo Navis--have huge ones. Cancer's mythological backstory can be found in the myth of Hēraklēs, and today, I'll present you with the whole story.

Cancer is a tiny constellation which consists solely of dim stars. Finding it in the night sky with the naked eye, and unaided by someone who knows where it is is virtually impossible. Yet, the small crustacean must have been important to be immortalized.

In ancient Hellas, Cancer was called Karkinos (Καρκινος), who was an individual crab or crustacean. Hēraklēs, son of Zeus and the mortal Alkmene (Ἀλκμήνη)--who was a bane in Hera's life, simply for being born--was stricken mad by the Queen of the Gods and killed his five sons by his wife Megara (Μεγάρα), oldest daughter of Kreōn (Κρέων) of Thebes. When he was released from his madness by a hellebore potion--provided by Antikyreus--and realized what he had done, he cried out in anguish, and went on a long journey to cleanse himself of the miasma caused by these killings.

First, he visited the oracle at Delphi, who, unbeknownst to him, was whispered to by Hera. The Oracle told Hēraklēs to serve the king of Tiryns (Τίρυνς), Eurystheus (Εὐρυσθεύς), for ten years and do everything Eurystheus told him to do. Eurystheus gladly provided Hēraklēs with these labors--ten of them, one for each year--and eventually ended up adding two more, resulting in the Twelve Labors of Hēraklēs. Hēraklēs was told to: slay the Nemean Lion, slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra, capture the Golden Hind of Artemis, capture the Erymanthian Boar, clean the Augean stables in a single day, slay the Stymphalian Birds, capture the Cretan Bull, steal the Mares of Diomedes, obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon, steal the apples of the Hesperides, and to capture and bring back Cerberus.

On his second labor, slaying the Lernaean Hydra, Hera send Karkinos to distract Hēraklēs while he fought. Unfortunately for the animal, Hēraklēs wasn't very impressed. He either kicked the animal so hard, that Karkinos flew so far into the sky, he can hardly be seen, or he squashed the crab, and Hera placed him into the sky for trying. She did, however, dim his stars because he had failed at his task.

The constellation Cancer is visible at latitudes between +90° and −60°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of March.
So, I can post this with a really long introduction, or a really short one. I'm going with short today, because it's not about the actual video anyway. I've been playing Mass Effect 3 for most of the free time I have this week (thus eating into my reservoir of unpublished but finished blog posts in the process) and I ran into this lovely parallel between the game and my practice.

In the video (time code 3:40 - 4:30), you see Liara (blue alien) gush about a unique discovery: a living, breathing, species of a Prothean, 50.000 years after they were supposed to go extinct. She paints them as intellectual, as aiding the species that were still in development in the time of the Protheans and a general good guys. It should be noted that Liara is the foremost expert on anything Prothean. When the main protagonist, Shepard, questions if Liara isn't coloring the Prothean with her racial brush, Liara agrees that's probably true, but that the evidence supports her claims. After the Prothean has been recovered, Liara has a chance to talk to him (time code 20:40 - 21:50), and to say he--and Prothean society--is nothing like she expected, would be a huge understatement.

Now, replace 'Prothean' with 'Hellenic' and you see the point for this post. We know a lot about ancient Hellas, and the civilization ended far less than 50.000 years ago, but it is a reminder to keep in mind that what we think we know, is actually knowledge we inferred through writings, pottery, and other discoveries at archeological dig sites. We interpret the information the best we can, but in the end, it didn't come to us from a living, breathing, Hellenic, and that's something we should never forget.

PS: sorry about the dress, the video was not recorded by me, but by youtube user Johnsen1982.
When you adopt Hellenismos as a religion, you suddenly have a lot of extra festivals on the calendar. Funnily enough, that's the thing people are most shocked about. In addition to the fancy festivals, however, the Hellenistic base of worship is the monthly lunar calendar (the 'Mên kata Theion', 'sacred month'). Today, I'll present the basic, Hellenistic, monthly calendar. It's constructed from various ancient sources, and is recognized by many Hellenists today.

First Decad - Waxing Moon - Mên Histámenos
1. Noumenia - Selene, Apollon Noumenios, Zeus Herkios and Ktesios, Hestia, and the other Theoi of the Household
2. Agathós Daímōn - Agathós Daímōn
3. Tritomênís - Athena
4. Tetrás - Aphrodite, Eros, Herakles, Poseidon, and Apollon
5. The Erinyes, Eris, and Horkos
6. Artemis
7. Apollon
8. Poseidon, Asklēpiós and Theseus
9. General holy day to honour the Theoi; special day to the Muses, Helios, and Rhea

Second Decad - Middle Moon - Mên Mesôn
11. (1.) The Moirae: Klotho, Lakhesis, and Atropos
12. (2.)
13. (3.) Athena
14. (4.)
15. (5.) Dikhomênía - The Erinyes, Eris, and Horkos
16. (6.) Artemis
17. (7.)
18. (8.) Day of purification
19. (9.) Day of purification
20. (10.)

Third Decad - Waning Moon - Mên Phthínôn
21. (-10) Eikás - Apollon
22. (-9)
23. (-8) Athena
24. (-7)
25. (-6) The Erinyes, Eris, and Horkos
26. (-5)
27. (-4) Triseinás - Impure day
28. (-3) Impure day
29. (-2 -- omitted in Hollow month) Impure day
30. Triakás, Hene kai Nea (Hekate's Deipnon) - Hekate and the dead

Celebrating these sacred days is usually done with a libation of diluted red wine and a hymn to the Theos or Theoi in question. An offering of incense may also be appropriate. Noumenia, Agathós Daímōn and the Hene kai Nea are special celebrations which are celebrated more abundantly. The days of purification are linked to miasma, and katharmos should be applied on these days. Due to the influence of the Underworld on the last days of the month, they are impure, and major celebrations are rarely held on these days.

Hellenic months were either twenty-nine or thirty days in length, since the moon orbits the earth in roughly 29.5 days. Hollow months had twenty-nine days, full months had thirty. The ancient Hellens chose not to alternate the hollow and full months according to a set schedule ("Hekatombaion is a hollow month"), but instead, the duration of each month was declared just before month's end. The thirtieth day was always included; in a hollow month, the twenty-ninth day was left off of the calendar.

Certain days bear special names, based upon their placement within the month. Noumenia (First of the month), Agathós Daímōn (Second), Tritomênís (Third), Tetrás (Fourth), Dikhomênía (Mid-month--on the full moon), Eikás (Twentieth), Triseinás (thrice-ninth (27th)), and Triakás (Thirtieth).

In ancient Hellas, days in the first decad are labeled 'the [number] of the waxing moon', or 'the waxing [number]'. Days in the second decad are labeled 'middle [number]', either from 'middle first' to 'middle ninth', and then on to 'early tenth', or from 'middle one and tenth', to 'middle nine and tenth', then on to 'middle twentieth' (or 'early tenth'). The proper labeling of the last decad is 'the [number] of the waning moon', or 'the waning [number]', but they could be counted back from the coming new moon. 'The waning third', for example, is often considered the twenty-third day of the month, but could be interpreted as the twenty-eighth.

Note that the ancient Hellens started a new day at sundown the day before. Instead of starting a new day at midnight--or in the morning--like we do today, they started it at sundown of the previous day. This means that--when applied to modern practice--the Deipnon starts on the day of the suspected new moon, and the rest follows after, to the total of four days. For more on this, see this post about the Deipnon, Noumenia and Agathós Daímōn. Today, November 27, 2012 is the middle third of Maimakterion, in the forth year of the 697th Olympiad; until the sun goes down, then it's the middle fourth of Maimakterion.

Also important to note is that monthly and annual festivals were rarely held on the same day. This means that every month had an opening and end section where very few--if any--festivals were held, and then the body of the month where festivals stacked (especially around the Athenian new year). Exceptions could be made if the Theos honored during the monthly sacred day corroborated with the Theos honored during the annual festival. The days that we know counted towards days where no festivals were held are bolted in the above list. 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 21, 23, and 25 may have counted as well.

Modern day Hellenists tend to celebrate annual festivals and monthly holy days on the same day, but I'm strongly contemplating returning to this festival calendar. The timing is not that hard to get right, after all, and it would be a good Recon practice. Hopefully, this post provides you with a starting point for, or expansion of, a fulfilling monthly worship schedule.
Sorry guys, this will be another blogger reaction. Tomorrow, I'll be back with some good, Hellenistic, postage, but Star Foster over at Pink Beyond Pink got me thinking and because I couldn't figure out what I was thinking, I had to write it down. This is the end result of that thought process. Forgive the chaos, please.

One of Star's latest posts is titled 'Jam Tomorrow: Do We Worship Power?' The core of the post is to question if we--as religionists and/or polytheists--base our worship on the amount of power a Deity has, and if so, if that's the most productive way to go about it. As she states:

"There is nothing new about wanting to worship a god that can kick every other god’s ass. There were ancients who were concerned with that very thing. But when no god is omniscient or omnipotent, and every god has their limitations, does worshiping the Chuck Norris of gods really serve you well? Does it improve your life? Does it make you a better person? Does it build community?

Seems to me it is much better to worship the gods because they are exemplars of virtue. Your gods should reflect your virtues. Saying you are a Thor’s man should say something about your character."

I agree and vehemently do not agree, all at the same time. It's highly confusing. I agree in that I've never understood the desire to place one God (or pantheon) above another in terms of power or reach. Zeus rules over the Theoi, and it's stated that He is the most powerful of all. Awesome. Yet, when He took His privileged position too far, the other Theoi rebelled and They cast Him down for His hubris. Power is only of influence when you have a reference to compare it to: if no one steps up to that plate, you're still powerless.

Also, religion is not a pissing contest. I practice my faith because I believe there are beings more powerful than me, who could--potentially--make my life better, but could far more easily make it worse. I offer sacrifice to these beings because--simply by being more than me, and better than me--They deserve to be worshipped and sacrificed to. It's a natural order thing to me.

I'm a Hellenist. My worship focusses on an entire pantheon of dozens, even hundreds, of Protogenoi, Theoi, Daímōns, heroes and other immortals. While some hold more power, They are all treated with the same amount of respect, love, fear, and consideration. I don't have a patron, and while I may have more or less affinity with certain Immortals, I would never neglect the worship of any of Them, nor would I place the worship of one or a few above the others, outside of the hierarchy established by the ancient Hellens. To do so would be hubris, and I think we all know how I feel about that.

As for honoring Gods because They are exemplars of virtue... It may be the phrasing, but I have difficulty with this. For one, all Theoi have Their epithets. Domains range from the destructive to the protective and back again. Does that make them virtuous?

Until the rebellion, Zeus seduced every beautiful human specimen He laid His divine eyes on. Most of the male Theoi have mythology which focusses on an act of rape on Their part. Hera's jealousy is legendary. Nearly all female Deities--although a case could be made for all--let the male Deities dominate Their lives. The Theoi are so human in Their failings (from a modern standpoint!), that They can hardly be considered exemplars of virtues.

Then again, Their 'flaws' hardly make Them unvirtuous: They still teach a lot of them: temperance, prudence, justice, courage, etc. The trouble with the Theoi and Star's statement--for me--is that all Theoi teach these virtues. All of them have virtues in Their 'base' and in Their various epithets. Choosing one above the other seems counterproductive to the spirits of reconstruction and polytheism. That having been said, there are a lot of people in Paganism--and most likely Hellenismos as well--who do not share my vision upon this issue, and so I understand where Star is coming from.

Treating the Gods as invisible vending machines of multi-colored awesomeness has never sat well with me. I believe it's this mindset Star is critical of in her post. And--when you practice a Recon tradition like Hellenismos--she is critical for a good reason: hubris. Yes, yes, I already came to this conclusion. I will come to this conclusion again and again, because avoiding hubris is one of the (if not the) most important corner stone of Hellenismos. If you commit acts of hubris, all the other pillars are out of the window. You're, pretty much, done.

In my opinion, looking at Gods--or at least the Theoi--as bastions of virtuousness reduces Them to a one-dimensional image just as much as considering Them divine vending machines of quick-fix solutions. Both focus on a single part of Them, and miss the big picture of Their greatness. For me, both outlooks focus on what the Deity or Deities in question can do for you, and not the other way around; something I find incredibly important in my practice.

Still, if I had to choose, I would much prefer someone looking upon the Theoi as exemplars of virtue, than as vending machines. I'd also be much less worried about their health and general well being. Help me make sense of my thoughts, please. What are your thoughts upon Star's post and my response?
Crystal Blanton, over at Daughters of Eve, recently wrote a very moving blog post called 'Discovering my Inner, Nappy Headed Goddess', about her struggle to come to terms with her beautiful 'black woman hair'. In it, she addresses a sore point for the Pagan community, that I--as a long term polytheist--never understood: the Pagan need to whitewash every God and Goddess. Most deity images--especially those of women--depict the Goddess at hand as white, thin, with long, flowing hair, and wearing an equally flowing dress; even when the Goddess in question is most likely not white, thin, with long, flowing hair, and wearing an equally flowing dress. I quote from Blanton's post:

"My hair got me to thinking about what my image of the Goddess is and what I have visualized her head of hair looking like. While I don’t always visualize the Gods as one image or being, I think it is natural for humans to conceptualize the divine as an image that is similar to the image in the mirror.  What I find to be amazing is the automatic programming that happens unconsciously, leading us to believe that the face of divinity is fair skin and with flowing hair.  It is the conditioning of the Americanized version of “right” that seeps into the mind and implants itself.  It is these same images that infiltrate ethnic cultures and convince them that acceptable American culture means leaving behind heritage for a more mainstream image."

There are entire studies on this, done with children of different ethnicities. Often times, children of any ethnicity will pick the white doll over the colored doll, and draw themselves one or a few shades lighter than their actual skin color. This goes back to research done by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark from 1939 to 1950. Those are the kinds of things that make me weep for society.

Back in the Pagan world, though, there is a subconscious desire to depict any Deity we--especially Caucasian people, like myself--identify with, as white, and as light as possible. This is, of course, bullshit. I admit that the God and Goddess are sun-kissed white in my mind, but the separate Deities of the various pantheons very much look like the perfect specimens of the ethnic group, they are most closely identified with. The Theoi aren't white, Their skin is a beautiful olive hue. Like the modern inhabitants of Hellas, They have strong, full, hair (black or dark brown unless otherwise specified), thick eyebrows and a characteristically strong nose. The women are thin and finely shaped, the men muscular and proud, not because that's the current vision of beauty, but because it was so in ancient Hellas.

While it's perfectly understandable for a Goddess like Brigid or a God like Thor to be depicted as white, the Kemetic Gods--like Isis, Set and Osiris--are most certainly colored (if they represent as humans at all). Deities like the African Asa, Imana, and Juok and most likely about as dark as they come, just like Asian Deities will look Asian (with different traits depending on their home ground). The list goes on.

The ethnicity of the Gods matters. It tells us something about Them, it helps us to relate with Them, and helps us establish contact. Even if you're not a Reconstructionist, social structures still apparent in the modern society these ancient deities were worshipped in, tells you something about the culture in the time when the worship of these Deities was wide-spread. Also, whitewashing is incredibly disrespectful to humans, let alone Deities.

Research shows that children as young as three or four years old can and will discriminate based on skin color. Around ten years old--when peer pressure sets in--children will (re)define their ideas about racism and people of other ethnicities. While never set in stone, it's hard to change these thought patterns after that time. It's not odd we want to paint everything with the racial brush we were handed at birth, yet it's not something I would encourage. There is so much beauty in ethnic differences, and it would be a shame to throw that away over comfort levels, fear or ignorance. Perhaps none of the people who read this will recognize themselves in this post. Perhaps some will. It's a simple reminder of the beauty of diversity, not a lecture. Do with it what you will, but keep it in mind the next time you go through Google's image database in search of images representing Deity and all you come up with is thin, white, women in flowing dresses, showing too much cleavage, and young, white, men.

Image credit: Karen's Whimsy

I may not be very happy with Facebook, but sometimes, It's an excellent medium to get smacked upside the head with something you've been denying yourself for far too long. If you haven't clicked the video to play yet, please, do it now and stop reading for a moment. Just watch, listen--truly listen--and dig down to into yourself to see if the message applies to you. I'll wait.

Society can be a horrible thing. It's given us a great many things--shelter, safety, supermarkets--but it has also taken a lot away from us: community, freedom, and the right to choose outside of pre-designed boxes, for example. Wether you're a man or woman, you should want an office job these days, with good pay, so you can buy a nice house. You should want to work nine to five, take an half an hour lunch break with your colleagues and when you get home, you should want to watch T.V.. Within Paganism, this doesn't necessarily hold true, but it does in most western countries in general.

I have always, proudly, called myself a feminist. I will fight for women's rights, I will kick glass ceilings until something--either the glass or my toes--gives, I will stand up for equality between the sexes. I will do a lot to ensure equal treatment of men and women. Yet, I am also a homemaker. I love to take care of my girlfriend--who, in Hellenistic terms, is totally my wife--I happily clean, cook, make our house a comfortable place to live in and my girlfriend's life as comfortable as possible.

I understand many feminists--as well as mainstream society--would balk at this information, and even more so when they hear I would happily submit myself to the gender roles of ancient Hellas, where I--as a woman--would not have been allowed to leave the house save for religious occasions, and very rare shopping sprees. It seems to go against the modern notion of feminism, yet, I have always seen feminism as the fight for equal treatment and free choice of all genders. It also goes against modern society, where being a mother or homemaker has somehow become less worthy.

This video made me think hard about what I want in life. If money was not an issue, this is what I would do for the rest of my days: I would write, be a homemaker, build a temple to the Theoi, build a small library on the same ground, and teach seekers about Hellenismos. I'd organize reading classes on the classics, the Theoi, and anything else anyone might be interested in. I would celebrate the festivals within the temple walls and at the altar outside of it. I'd be a priestess to whomever comes looking for one. I'd spend my days taking care of my wife, the temple, the Theoi and--perhaps--a child. Since I was fourteen years old, this vision of the future has changed very little. 

Unfortunately, money is an issue. My girlfriend and I do want a nice, cozy, home, so we need to pay for that in some way. I'm not selfish--or brave--enough to ask her to take that on alone. The best I am hoping for right now is a part-time job which pays decently and allows me to see the sun rise and go down every day. I loath office work, especially in winter. Yet, to make some extra money, I will be adding three more days of work to my three or four day work weeks this December and January. This means six or seven day work weeks. The thought alone is enough to make me cry. Yet, such is modern life. It has its perks, and its failures. I remain hopeful for the future, and remember the temple to the Theoi, my part-time job where I can see the sun rise and go down every day, and my cozy home which I will keep for my wife and child.
Ancient Hellenic society was notoriously strict about who was part of it and who was not. If you were not a citizen, you were either a doûlos--slave--or a métoikos, more commonly referred to as 'metic'. All three classes had their parts to play in Classical Hellas. In Athens, about half of the population were doûlos and métoikos. Métoikos were citizens of other Hellenic cities and beyond who came to Athens because of the unique opportunities the metropolis offered. Doûlos who bought their freedom also became métoikos. Because of their skill sets, métoikos were welcomed with open arms in Athens, but they very rarely became neutralized citizens; the best they could hope for was to become an isoteleia. As an isoteleia, they were freed from the liabilities the métoikos had. Former slaves never received either status; isoteleia or citizen.

Many famous contributors to Athenian culture and Hellenic history--like the philosopher Aristotle and the painter Polygnotos--were not Athenian citizens. Many builders of temples, as well as some of the richest businessmen and women weren't Athenian citizens. Egyptians, Cypriots and Phoenicians, all came to Athens and founded their own districts, with temples in which they could pray to their own Gods. Xenophon, in the Constitution of the Athenians, states:

"For this reason we have set up equality between slaves and free men, and between metics and citizens. The city needs metics in view of the many different trades and the fleet. Accordingly, then, we have reasonably set up a similar equality also for the metics."

Outside of Athens, métiokos were not treated as equally. Of all the poleis, only Corinth had a decently seized population of métiokos. Their legal status is unknown, however. In Sparta and Crete, foreigners were hardly ever allowed to stay.

Back in Athens, métiokos, while welcomed, were disadvantaged from the get-go. They had to register their status within a month of arrival. They had no political influence, were not entitled to governmental aid in case of emergencies, the could own no farm land or real estate unless they were given special permission by the government, and they were not allowed to procure a contract with the government to work the mines. They were, however, expected to enter the army, and pay taxes if they were wealth enough, like citizens. On top of that, they also had to pay a métoikos poll tax--the metoikon--which was twelve drachmas ($ 720,-) a year for men and six for women, as well as another special tax--xenikon telos--if they wanted to set up a stall in the market place.

Like doûlos, métiokos did have access to the judicial system; they could both prosecute others and be prosecuted themselves. Unlike citizens and very much like slaves, métiokos were not allowed to represent themselves; they needed a citizen to vouch for them--a sponsor, called prostates. For a freed slave the sponsor was automatically his former owner. Métiokos were entitled to take part in religious ceremony. Like slaves but unlike citizens, métiokos could be made to undergo judicial torture. The penalties for killing a métiokos were not as severe as for killing a citizen. Although doûlos could become métiokos, it was fairly easy for métiokos to become doûlos; a failure to pay the metoikon tax, not finding a citizen sponsor, causing trouble, marrying a citizen or claiming to be a citizen themselves could all cost them their status.

The term 'métiokos' began to lose its distinctive legal status in fourth century BC, when métiokos were allowed to act in the court without a prostates, and came to an end in Athens, when the purchase of citizenship became very frequent. Until that time, citizenship was a guarded treasure. While citizens, métiokos and doûlos were indistinguishable in appearance and behavior, society functioned largely on their separation.

Xenophobia is a dislike or fear of people from other countries or of that which is foreign or strange. While it may seem that the ancient Hellens weren't xenophobic, they did have an extreme urge to merge the foreign with the local. While doing that, they kept the locals firmly protected in a privileged bracket of society. Xenia was a sacred duty, as well as a sacred right, and it applied to citizens, doûlos and métiokos alike. Politics, protection and judicial rights, however, were entirely different matters, and if you weren't born into citizenship, attaining these rights was virtually impossible.
In this part of the constellation series, we'll talk about the unclear constellation of Boötes (Boōtēs, Βοώτης), the herdsman. The ö (or ō) serves as a diaeresis, not an umlaut, meaning that each 'o' is to be pronounced separately. Who the constellation represents is about as clear as who the constellation Auriga represents: not clear at all. The options: Arcas, Ikários, and a random ploughman who drove the oxen in the constellation Ursa Major, are the most likely contestants.

The constellation's name means 'oxen-driver'; the ancient Hellens saw the constellation we now call the 'Big Dipper' as a cart with oxen. Logically, this view influenced the meaning given to the constellation by Ptolomy. Who this ox-driver was, is unclear, though. It may have been Boötes himself, but in a society where agriculture was a way of life, the ox-driver stands for every ox-driver of ancient Hellas; the base workman of society. Boötes may also have been the man who invented the plow and was placed in the sky for his contribution to ancient Hellenic society.

A second interpretation for the source of Boötes is given to us by Latin author, Gaius Julius Hyginus (64 BC – AD 17) is that of Ikários (Ἰκάριος), a grape farmer from Athens who was trained by Dionysos. Ikários is not to be confused with Íkaros from mythology, the son of Daidalos. This Ikários was such a fine winemaker that he could produce wine so strong, those who drank it appeared to be poisoned. His skill turned out to be his undoing; Íkaros was killed by those who drank his wine, thinking the wine maker was out to kill them. His daughter Erigone was taken to his body by the family hound, Maera, whereupon both she and the dog committed suicide by hanging. It may have been that Dionysos was so angry over the murder and the following suicides, He punished Athens by making all of the city's maidens commit suicide in the same way. Zeus, stricken by the events, placed all of them in the sky; Ikários as Boötes, Erigone as Virgo, and Maera as Canis Major, Canis Minor or the star, Procyon.

The third explanation on the story behind the constellation, is that the constellation represents Arcas (Ἀρκάς), son of Zeus and Kallistô (Καλλιστω). After Arcas was born, Hera caught wind of the affair and turned Kallistô into a bear. Alternatively, Kallistô was a priestess of Artemis, and Artemis punished her for losing her virginity by turning her into a bear. Because of the metamorphosis, the boy was raised by his maternal grandfather Lycaon. Due to his close relation with the Theos Zeus, it came to be that Zeus ate at his table one night. Lycaon decided to test the King of the Theoi, to see if He was worth the title. To accomplish this, Lycaon killed his grandson and prepared a meal with his remains. Zeus realized what had happened as soon as he was served the meal and was beyond angry. Lycaon was transformed into a (were-)wolf and Zeus restored His son's body and life. When Arcas grew up, he went out to hunt and found a beautiful bear. He chased her through the woods. The bear--his transformed mother Kallistô--ran towards him as soon as she recognized her son. Arcas was terrified and raised his bow to shoot her. Zeus intervened swiftly and placed Kallistô and her son in the sky. Kallistô became Ursa Major and Arcas either Ursa Minor or Boötes. A furious Hera asked Tethys to chain the two to the night's sky, so that the constellations would never sink below the horizon and receive water. The Hellenic name for Boötes, 'Arctophylax', can also mean 'Bear Watcher'.

Boötes is visible at latitudes between +90° and −50°. It is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of June.
Yesterday was Transgender Day Of Remembrance. I would have posted this post then, but today is a day on which the ancient Hellens honored Hermaphroditos, and it seemed more appropriate somehow to save this post. While I'm a cis-woman--and happily so--I know some awesome transgendered or otherwise genderqueer individuals, and I want to honor those who have lost their lives to hate--as well as celebrate those who still pursue happiness despite these horrible crimes. In true Baring the Aegis style, I'll do this by sharing the myths of some intersexed, gender-shifting, gender-merging or otherwise genderqueer individuals.

I must, of course, start with Hermaphroditos (Ἑρμαφρόδιτος), who is the child of Aphrodite and Hermes. He became a minor deity of bisexuality and effeminacy, and was portrayed as a female figure with male genitals. In the myth told by the Roman poet Ovid, Hermaphroditos was born fully male. As a young man, he wandered the lands and encountered a nymph, Salmacis (Σαλμακίς), in her pool. Salmacis fell for the boy right away, tried to seduce him. Hermaphroditos rebuked her, but she still jumped him when undressed for a bath in her pool. As he tried to fight her off, Salmacis cried out for the Theoi to let them stay forever merged--upon which the Theoi agreed: the two fused together, becoming the first hermaphrodite. 

I've mentioned before that Ovid's myths aren't reflective of ancient Hellenic mythology--and in Hellenic myth, Hermaphroditos was either born with both male and female part, or he was simply very feminine in that he had pale skin and was very delicate, while still possessing the strength of a male. Especially in the latter case, there is a beautiful gender duality in Hermaphroditos that I much appreciate.

Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' is the source for a few other Hellenic-inspired Roman myth: the myth about the immensely strong warrior Kaineus (Καινεύς), for example, who was born as a woman named Kainis, and asked to be transformed into a male after being raped by Poseidon (or Hermes). Poseidon agrees, and makes Kaineus impervious to mortal weapons to boot, making him a capable warrior. Kaineus is mentioned in ancient classics like the Illiad, but without the gender-shift. In the Illiad, he is one of the earlies heroic, and extraordinary, warriors.

Another of Ovid's metamorphoses happens to Teiresias (Τειρεσίας), the blind prophet from Thebes. There is more Hellenic support for this myth, however. As the story goes, Teiresias was out one day, and came upon a pair of snakes, who were mating in the bush. He swiftly hit them over the head with a stick and killed both of them. Hera witnessed his actions and was not pleased: she transformed Teiresias into a woman. After recovering from the shock, Teiresias accepted her fate and married. She also became a priestess of Hera to make up for her crime. Eventually, Teiresias had children and a decent life. Yet, when he came upon another pair of mating snakes seven years later, he either clubbed them to death again, or left them alone. Either action let to another change of sex: Teiresias was male again. How his husband dealt with this is unclear. In a later myth, Hera blinds the prophet when he is asked to settle a dispute between her and Zeus: who enjoys sex more, male or female. Teiresias, who has experienced both, must side with Zeus: women most definitely enjoy sex more.

A myth of which only fragments have survived is the story of Siproites of Krete, who saw Artemis bathing in the woods one day, and was changed by her into a woman. Why this exact punishment was placed upon Siproites is unclear.

The last myth I'll retell today is the one about Leucippus (Λεύκιππος), who was born female to Lamprus and Galatea. Lamprus had warned Galatea that he would only accept a male child, so when Leucippus turned out to be female, Galatea hid the gender of the child from her husband and raised Leucippus as male. Of course, once Leucippus reached adolescence, her gender became hard to hide. In some versions of the myth, Leucippus fell for the girl next door, making it even more prudent that Leucippus became the male she wanted to be. And so, Galatea went to the temple of Leto and prayed to turn her daughter into the son she had promised her husband. Leto, moved by the mother's plea, did as she was asked. The people of Phaistos, there the myth took place, honored Leto by her epithet 'Phytia' (to grow, φύω), in reference to Leucippus' newly grown penis. The people of Phaistos also founded a feast called the 'Ekdysia' (undressing, ἑκδύω), because Leucippus was no longer forced to wear women's clothes. It also became custom for the women of Phaestus to lie next to the statue of Leucippus before their wedding.

I doubt the ancient Hellens had any concept of the term 'transgendered', or even related to it--I think the societal gender roles were too strict too even question if your sex matched your gender. Yet, gender and sex were definitely themes in mythology. There are many more examples. To my readers I would ask to become trans* allies--if you are not already--to speak out against injustice, to stand up against hate. Too many people are killed, beaten up, sexually or verbally abused over trans* issues. It's time for the hate to stop, and to remember those who have already lost their lives while living the life they were meant to live. Stop violence, end ignorance, fight hate. Remember.

"Avoid fifth days: they are unkindly and terrible. On a fifth day, they say, the Erinyes assisted at the birth of Horkos whom Eris bare to trouble the forsworn." -- Hesiod, Works and Days (802-804)

Yesterday was one of those days; you know the type, when you know the second you get out of bed that you should have stayed in it for the rest of the day. I'm probably one of the most optimistic, gentile, people you will ever meet, but I went through the entire day with my claws out. I don't like myself when I'm that way, but then again, Hesiod did warned us about the fifth days.

I wrote about the auspicious days of Hesiod before; the special days in a month where things should or should not be done. The fifth, fifteenth, and twenty-fifth day after the new moon are unkindly days, days where staying in bed is probably advisable. Strife (Eris, Ἔρις) bore the daímōn Oath (Horkos, Ὁρκος) on a fifth day, and it's easy to get caught up in angry words and false promises on these day.

After my transition into Hellenismos, I started noticing that the fifth days of the month were--indeed--never my friend. Some where merely neutral, but most were days I would have loved to take back and do over (with my head under a pillow). Do the fifth days bother you as much as they do me? I'm just happy the day is over. Artemis--whom we honor on the sixth, sixteenth and twenty-sixth day--always graciously evens out the crazy of the fifth. Offering Her libations of sweet, red, wine is something I do gladly--thankfully--every month.
I have mentioned before I am a great fan of Hesiod. The 'Theogony' and 'Works and Days' are absolutely fundamental in my practice and Hellenismos at large. The Myth of the five Ages, as laid out in 'Works and Days', speaks to my imagination. I have spoken about the Ages before, but never in great detail. Today, I will remedy that situation, I'll try to place the Ages in historic context and discuss Hómēros' contradictory viewpoint.

The Ages are part of 'Works and Days' (Erga kai Hēmerai, Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι), a didactic poem written around 700 BC. It is a farmer's almanac and giver of moralizing advice on life. Most famous are the story of Prometheus and Pandôra, and the Myth of Five Ages. Hesiod distinguishes five, separate, Ages where the Gods made a form of mankind; the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Heroic Age, and the Iron Age.

Golden Age: "First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Kronos when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods." -- Hesiod

The Golden Age was the only Age over which Kronos ruled. It was mankind's greatest Age; an Age in which they had it all. They remained young until the very end. They were never sick. The earth gave them everything they needed. None needed to work. They lived like Gods or kings. When Zeus overtook his father in the Titanomachy, this Age ended, and those who lived in it, died out. They became daímōns, who still watch over mankind. Roman Christian priest, Saint Jerome (c. 347 – 420), contemplated Hesiod's Ages, and decided the Golden Age was from 1710 to 1674 BC.

Silver Age: "But after earth had covered this generation -- they are called pure spirits dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth; for this royal right also they received; -- then they who dwell on Olympus made a second generation which was of silver and less noble by far. It was like the golden race neither in body nor in spirit. A child was brought up at his good mother's side an hundred years, an utter simpleton, playing childishly in his own home. But when they were full grown and were come to the full measure of their prime, they lived only a little time in sorrow because of their foolishness, for they could not keep from sinning and from wronging one another, nor would they serve the immortals, nor sacrifice on the holy altars of the blessed ones as it is right for men to do wherever they dwell. Then Zeus the son of Kronos was angry and put them away, because they would not give honour to the blessed gods who live on Olympus." -- Hesiod

From this point on--with one exception--mankind's demise lay in its hubris. Those who lived the Silver Age refused to honor the Theoi. They remained childlike for a hundred years, and then lived short lives because they were reckless; they squandered the gifts of the Theoi. Zeus' wrath buried this incarnation in the Earth, but because they were blessed by the Theoi, they were still given an honorary place in the Underworld, at the Isle of the Blessed. Saint Jerome placed the Silver Age from 1674 to 1628 BC.

Bronze Age: "But when earth had covered this generation also -- they are called blessed spirits of the underworld by men, and, though they are of second order, yet honour attends them also -- Zeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen race, sprung from ash-trees; and it was in no way equal to the silver age, but was terrible and strong. They loved the lamentable works of Ares and deeds of violence; they ate no bread, but were hard of heart like adamant, fearful men. Great was their strength and unconquerable the arms which grew from their shoulders on their strong limbs. Their armour was of bronze, and their houses of bronze, and of bronze were their implements: there was no black iron. These were destroyed by their own hands and passed to the dank house of chill Hades, and left no name: terrible though they were, black Death seized them, and they left the bright light of the sun." -- Hesiod

Yet again, the next Age was less honorable than the one before. The Bronze Age race was cruel and blood thirsty. They murdered each other before they could reach their prime. They valued only murder, and their own possessions. They killed each other until there were none left. Hades claimed their souls, but they left no  legacy, they fulfill no duty upon earth. In their dishonor, their names and deed are forgotten. According to Saint Jerome, the Bronze Age ran from 1628 to 1472 BC.

Heroic Age: "But when earth had covered this generation also, Zeus the son of Kronos made yet another, the fourth, upon the fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god-like race of hero-men who are called demi-gods, the race before our own, throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Kadmos at seven-gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus, and some, when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen's sake: there death's end enshrouded a part of them. But to the others father Zeus the son of Kronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and Kronos rules over them; for the father of men and gods released him from his bonds. And these last equally have honour and glory." -- Hesiod

Hesiod breaks his recounting of the ethics of mankind to insert the fourth Age; the Age of heroes and the main body of Hellenic myth. This is the age of Odysseus and Troy. Because many mythological founders of cities, temples, and other great sites and ideas lived in this Age, it was necessary to break the ethical structure of Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron, to include this Age here--Hesiod lived in the Iron Age, and many who claimed origins in mythological heroes, lived in his Age as well. It was, therefor, prudent to set this Age apart from the others. The race of the Heroic Age was far nobler and far more respectful of the Theoi than the race of the Bronze--sometimes referred to as 'Brazen'--Age. The heroes of the Heroic Age rest easy, too, on the Isle of the Blessed, ruled over by Kronos, and eating the bounty of the Earth (much like those of the Golden Age, in fact. According to Saint Jerome, this Age ran from 1460 to 1103 BC.

Iron Age: "And again far-seeing Zeus made yet another generation, the fifth, of men who are upon the bounteous earth. Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth. The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another's city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis, with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil." -- Hesiod

Hesiod placed himself in the Iron Age, and regretfully so. The Iron Age is a moral continuation of the Bronze Age, not the Heroic Age; those of the Heroic Age were far nobler. Men of the Iron Age bicker amongst themselves, there is no respect for parents, for guests, or the Theoi. Bitter war rules, and those who have the strength to cease power, do so without hesitation and without caring about the lives of those they oppress. It is a bleak Age, because those of the Iron Age are even more wicked than those of the Bronze age: they will not end their own lives. Either the Theoi will end this Age, or They will retreat from it, leaving the race to fend for themselves. Saint Jerome found this Age to match his forth century AD world, and figured it still ongoing.

I pose a question: are we a part of the Iron Age? There are still many wars, and much strife amongst mortals. Yet, it could also be that Hesiod's fifth Age has come to pass--the Theoi had forsaken mankind for a long time, as mankind turned to other Gods--and we are now--as the worship of the Theoi comes back slowly--in a transitional period towards a new Age, an Age of remembrance of the old Hellenic ways and their Gods. A better Age than the Iron Age... or worse, perhaps, depending on what we do with it.

There is one more thing I must address: daímōns. Hesiod's Ages speak of only one race who became daímōns; those of the Golden Age, yet those of the Silver and Heroic Age also received many honors after their passing, and they were held in high regard. In fact, Hesiod encourages the creation of shrines for the Heroes, so they do not have to wander aimlessly. Hesiod makes clear distinction between the Theoi and daímōns: the Theoi are Gods, daímōns are members of the Gold Age who gained immortality. This differentiation is much less pronounced in the writings of Hómēros, where God and daímōn is used virtually interchangeably.

This difference led to a misinterpretation of the nature of the race of the Silver Age: they became dangerous daímōns in the eyes of later writers (like Plato), and eventually the demons of Christianity. Yet, neither Hómēros or Hesiod ever intended them to be so: all daímōns were pure and Immortal; they acted as a policing force for humanity. Daímōns fulfill an important role in mythology and life: all aspects of life can be overseen by Deathless beings, without taking away from--or needlessly adding to--the portfolio of the Theoi.

This is the myth of the five Ages, as written down by Hesiod. It was interpreted and re-interpreted many times, and we may never truly know what Hesiod intended when he wrote his masterpiece. His work leaves many questions, one posed in this post. What is your take on the Ages? In what Age do we live? And what can we do to break the downward spiral of Hesiod's expectations so we come into a better Age than the Iron Age when it passes? Also, how will we name it?
One of the most important and confusing of the many Hellenic festivals is the three-day transition from month to month. Although unlinked, the Deipnon, the Noumenia and Agathós Daímōn are held on consecutive days, around the new moon. Especially the placement of the days is hard to get right; at least, it was for me.

The Deipnon (Hene kai Nea)--or Hekate's Deipnon--is celebrated any time before the first sliver of the new moon is visible. In practice, this is the day after the new moon. The Noumenia is held the day after that, when the moon has become visible again, and Agathós Daímōn the day after that. It is important to note that the ancient Hellens started a new day at sundown the day before. Instead of starting a new day at midnight--or in the morning--like we do today, they started it at sundown of the previous day. This means that--when applied to modern practice--the Deipnon starts on the day of the suspected new moon, and the rest follows after, to the total of four days. Confused yet? How about a schematic. In this example, we'll assume that the sun goes down at six P.M. on all days.

Day 1: 
All day - (suspected) new moon
6 P.M. - start of the Deipnon (Deipnon night)

Day 2:
All day - day after the new moon
6 P.M. day 1 to 6 P.M. day 2 - Deipnon (Deipnon day)
6 P.M. - start of the Noumenia (Noumenia night)

Day 3:
All day - second day after the new moon
6 P.M. day 2 to 6 P.M. day 3 - Noumenia (Noumenia day)
6 P.M. - start of  Agathós Daímōn (Agathós Daímōn night)

Day 4:
All day - third day after the new moon
6 P.M. day 3 to 6 P.M. day 4 - Agathós Daímōn (Agathós Daímōn day)

This difference in perception is especially prudent when you--like I--feel the need to celebrate the ritualistic part of the Deipnon and Noumenia at night. It means that I can't hold my night time celebration of the Deipnon on the day of the Deipnon (day 2 in the schematic), but need to do it the day before the day of the Deipnon (so on day one, after 6 P.M. in the schematic).

Hekate’s Deipnon is the traditional time to end the old month and prepare for the new one. In ancient Hellas, the Deipnon was celebrated with a Supper for the Titan Hekate--made up of leek, egg, cakes, fish, unions and garlic--and set out at the outside shrine to Hekate, and then placed at a crossroads as an offering to Her--Hekate Trioditis, Goddess of Crossroads--and the vengeful spirits who were in her following. In addition to placation, the Deipnon is also a time of purification; in ancient times, a dog was taken in, touched by all members of the oikos so any lingering miasma was transfered to the dog. The dog was then sacrificed in a holókaustos. This was most likely not a monthly thing, but only performed when the household was troubled. As Hekate's sacred animal is a dog, the sacrifice also served to regain, or keep, Hekate's favor upon the household. The house was also thoroughly cleaned so the new month could start fresh the day after. Debts were repaid on this day.

Of course, I'm not going to sacrifice a dog. For one, it is against the law to do so, and my girlfriend would leave me the second I tried. She still won't watch Beethoven because--apparently--the dog gets mistreated somewhere along the way. Anyway... my Deipnon celebration is as follows: at sundown (as per a wonderful Google Calendar), I gather the Supper and place it at the shrine to Hekate with Her Hymn (Orphic Hymn 1 (or 0)). I then go about collecting the remnants of sacrifices I have made in the month past--most of which I have already collected in an urn under my main shrine at the start of every new day--from my various shrines. Then, I set the bowl on the ground in front of my main shrine, throw barley into it, purify myself with khernips and add ethanol to the offering. While reciting the Orphic hymn to Hekate, I place a previously fabricated wax dog figurine onto the pile of left-over offerings, and light the sacrifice with fire from Hestia's candle. I then take the offering outside where I leave it to burn itself out. The dog will have melted away--taking the impurity of the household with it--and I let the offerings cool down before collecting them in a jar.

With the last daylight, I take the burned offerings, the Supper, wine, a banana-leaf plate (because it degrades very easily, a requirement because you don't get to take the plate home), and a special sacrifice (usually incense or lavender) to the 'crossroads' outside my house, where the garden meets with the street. I recite Hekate's hymn again, and add prayers to take the old, the shame-filled, the impure out of the home, as I have taken these offerings out of the home. Then I pour a hansom libation of undiluted wine on the ground near my offering and turn around, walk away, and do not--I repeat, do not--look back, as it is said we will take the impurity--as well as a slew of vengeful spirits--back home if we do. I make sure to be inside before dark, and try not to go out again if I can help it.

Once home, I empty my kathiskos, and clean my ritual tools and shrines. The next day is all about cleaning. I do laundry, dishes, vacuuming, mopping, etc. I also pay any bills left unpaid, as well as get all those odd jobs and chores done I've been avoiding this month. I try to get one major cleaning or sorting project done on the Deipnon; clean the oven, the cupboards, etc. I offer a hymn (Orphic Hymn 8 or Homeric Hymn 32), something sweet like cakes and/or honey and libations to Selene after dark, because--in the cycle--this is the only night of the Noumenia and I feel Selene, the personification of the moon, is best worshipped at night, especially because we celebrate the first sliver of the new moon.

The next day (day 3, Noumenia day), in the morning, I offer the same type of sacrifice to Apollon Noumenios (Orphic Hymn 33, (parts of) Homeric Hymn 3, or Homeric Hymn 21), Hestia (Orphic Hymn 83Homeric Hymn 24, or Homeric Hymn 29) and Hermes (Orphic Hymn 27, (parts of) Homeric Hymn 4, or Homeric Hymn 18). I also refill my kathiskos and offer a hymn (I tend to choose Orphic Hymn 14) to Zeus Kthesios, as well as incense. The goal of the Noumenia is to start fresh, and to honor the household deities. It is a day of family, family meals, and the celebration of the new month. Part of that celebration can be to prepare for the new month by planning out important events--religious or secular--and writing them down, preferably with the whole family present.

Either that night after sunset, or the day after, day four (Agathós Daímōn day), I offer incense, libations of unmixed wine and a hymn (I am partial to Orphic Hymn 72) to the Agathós Daímōn, the serpent household spirit, who brings good fortune, honor and wealth to the oikos, and ask it to watch over my family, keep honor in our family line and to let our family name be forever remembered through their deeds, and mine. I may also read out the list of events and goals for the new month to the spirit, so they may help me with it. After that, I'm ready for a new month.

This is how I perform these very important festivals. Others do it differently, I'm sure. A modern invention is to give either food or money to a charity, or a food bank on the Deipnon. This practice is based on a quote from Aristophanes' comic play, 'Plutus'. In a debate between Poverty and the character Chremylus, Chremylus says:

"Ask Hekate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month and that the poor make it disappear before it is even served."

It's not the most... clear of statements. Some take it to mean that Hekate is fine with the poor eating Her offering, others assume those who took Her Supper were hungry enough to brave even the dread Goddess Hekate and Her spirit entourage. I'm partial to the latter, so I do not donate food or money to charity on the Deipnon. There are a lot of other days to do that on which will not potentially piss off Hekate.

All in all, the Deipnon is probably my favorite Hellenistic holiday. I love the sense of closure it brings, and the way I get things done I would otherwise avoid indefinitely. I can be very good at putting my head in the sand some days. My respect for Hekate most certainly blows that out of the window when the Deipnon comes around. How do you celebrate the ending of the old month and the transition into the new one?
Incense is a religious tool that spans many religions. The ancient Hellenes used it strictly as an offering to the Theoi; it was not used to set the mood, or because it made the oikos smell nice. It was a sacred offering that carried its sweet smell up to Olympos. From the Orphic Hymns, we know what types of incense a select portion of the ancient Hellenes sacrificed. I'll go through the list of incenses used in the Orphic Hymns today.

Aromatic herbs (ἀρώματα): aromatics are any woods, plants, or flowers which release a pleasant odor when burned. Examples are bay-leaf, chamomile, chrysanthemum, jasmine flowers, laurel, lavender, myrtle,  rose, sandalwood, verbana, etc. The Theoi who were offered aromatics: Adonis; Astraios; Athena; Ceralian Mother; Dionysos Trietericus; Eros; Erinyes; the Fates; Morpheus; Hera; Hestia; the Horai; Leukothea; Melinoe; the Nereids; Nymphs; Okeanos; Perikionios; Physis; Rhea; Sabazios; and Selene.

Frankincense (λίβανον): frankincense is tapped from the Boswellia sacra tree. The bark is stripped off, and the tree 'bleeds' tears of frankincense, which are allowed to harden before being cut off. There is great variety in quality--color, purity, aroma, age, and shape--and, thus, in price. Generally speaking, the more opaque resins are the best quality. Theoi who were offered frankincense: Ares; Boreas; Corybas; the Kourêtes; Dikaiosynê; Dike; Fortune; Helios (+ manna); Hēphaistos (+ manna); Herakles; Hermes; Mnemosyne; the Muses; Notos; Ouranos; Tethys; Themis; the Titans; Zephyros; and Zeus (+ manna).

Manna (μάννᾰ): we already discussed manna (and it's ability to singe your eyebrows off) before. The working theory is that manna is powdered frankincense. The Theoi who were offered manna: Apollon; Artemis; Astrapaios Zeus; Eos;  Erinyes (+ storax); Genius; Helios (+ frankincense); Hēphaistos (+ frankincense); Hygeia; Liknites Dionysos; Nike; Palaimon; Silenos, Satyros, and the Bacchai; Thalassa; and Thanathos.

Myrrh (σμύρναν): myrrh is harvested in the same way frankinsence is, and is commonly harvested from the species Commiphora myrrha. Myrrh gum is waxy, and coagulates quickly. It becomes rock hard very fast, and becomes glossy. The gum is yellowish, and may be either clear or opaque. It darkens deeply as it ages, and white streaks emerge. The Theoi who were offered myrrh: the Nephelai; Leto; Nereus; Poseidon; the Protogonos.

Storax (στύρακα): the word 'storax' is an alteration of the Late Latin styrax.  In the Orphic Hymns, it is called 'sturaka' (στύρακα). If you buy storax, today, you will find gum from the Liquidamber styraciflua. This was not the tree ancient storax was harvested from. You may also find the powdered bark of Storax calamitos (black styrax)--with or without vanilla added--marketed as storax (and incorrectly identified as Styrax officinalis). The modern benzoin, from the Styrax genus, comes closest to the storax of ancient times--specifically 'Styrax benzoin'. The Theoi who were offered storax: Demeter; Dionysos; Erinyes (+ manna); The Graces; Hermes Chthonios; Hippa; Kronos; Misa; Proteus; Prothyrea; Semele; and Zeus.

There are a few others who are mentioned once or twice. I will list them below:
Et Varia (Various Odours, ποικίλα): 'Mother of the Gods' (Rhea), Pan
Grains (no beans): Gaea
Poppy (mækonos): Hypnos
Saffron (crokon, κρόκον): Ether
Torches (Firebrands, δαλούς): Nix

Buying all of these is pretty expensive, but you don't need to use much to get a lot of fragrance out of them. If you don't buy the high quality incenses, you should be able to buy a small reserve of all of these for around fifty euros, less, if you find a bargain. Burning the incense is another matter entirely. On a coal is the preferred method, but this involves a lot of smoke and clean-up. For small offerings, I suggest a simple teaspoon with one or two tears, heated over (Hestia's) flame, or simply lighting the aromatics. For large offerings, the ethanol I use for my libations works well; add the tears or aromatics to the edges of the ethanol, where they can catch flame, and they will release their scent. If you have a fire going, you can simply toss the tears or aromatics in.

Incense was--and is--a precious sacrifice. Few could afford all of these incenses back in the day, so don't feel bad if you can't either, or can only afford to give a little. Then again, it should be a sacrifice; if you can afford to buy all these incenses in bulk, it's hardly a sacrifice to offer one or two tears. Make it count for your life, and your wallet. Make it count for the Theoi.
Ancient Hellas is one of the oldest and most important wine-producing civilizations, with evidence of production dating back 6,500 years. Because of the climate, soil and the native vine stocks of the Hellenic islands, ancient Hellenic wine was of great quality. It was a major trade good throughout Europe, and was grown throughout the Hellenic nation--in what is now modern day Italy, Iberia, Sicily, and the south of France. People as far away as modern-day Austria and Russia, as well as many other ancient societies--like the Etruscans, the Phoenicians, the Celts, the Scythians and the Romans--were influenced to some extent by the ancient Hellenic wine making business and culture.

Ancient Hellenic wine was sweet and aromatic. One form--called Retsina--includes pine resin and has a very special, although acquired, taste. In ancient Hellas, the resin was only added to the wine because the lid of the amphorae were sealed with it, but modern Retsina has the resin added to it directly. The range of ancient Hellenic wine was broad; from inky black to dark red, red, light red, or white. It was never drunk undiluted; the ancient Hellens considered the drinking of undiluted wine to be barbaric.

Drinking was usually done by men at a symposion (συμπόσιον). A symposiarch (συμποσίαρχος), a wine-mixer, was put in charge of mixing the wine. He made sure to keep an eye on the intoxication levels of those attending and adjusted the mix accordingly. Mixing was done in a krater (κρατήρ). The name comes from the word 'kerannmi': 'to mix'. Sources state that the best mix--depending on the wine, of course--was one part wine to about three or four parts water, but a dilution of 1/20 appears in the writings of Hómēros. In the wintertime, wine was diluted with pristine snow for a cleaner taste.

The art of winemaking was not perfected in ancient Hellenic times. The quality of the wine was variable; there were wines which stayed fresh for at least a decade, but a lot of wines turned moldy very fast. Most of the wines lasted around a year. Because the wines were drunk soon after they were made, most wines gave the drinker a pretty severe headache in the morning. This was another reason the wine was diluted.

As drinking water was often stagnant, wine was also 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.

Wine was rarely drunk during dinner, but only after. Drunkenness was frowned upon, and three small kylix' of diluted wine was often all that was allowed for a grown man. In general, that is less undiluted wine than a single standard wineglass of modern time. Around 375 BC, the Hellenic comic poet Eubulus’, in his play 'Semele or Dionysos', made Dionysos state:

"Three bowlfuls only for the wise I measure,
The first to Health, second to Love and Pleasure,
Third Sleep--this those believed to know what's what
Go home to bed after; the fourth is not
Our own but outrage's, the fifth uproar's,
The sixth is mixed for serenading whores,
The seventh for two black eyes, eigth for a writh,
Ninth for the blues, tenth for a raving-fit
So bad you're outlawed. Thus one little cup
Too often filled can trip the drinker up."

The etiquette of the symposium required that when the first krater of wine was served, a libation was made to Zeus (or the Agathós Daímōn) and the Olympian gods. Heroes received a libation from the second krater served, and Zeus Teleios--the Finisher--(or Hermes) from the third, which was supposed to be the last. Plato, in his 'Symposium', addresses the proper place of wine in relation to the worship of the Theoi:

"Socrates took his place on the couch, and supped with the rest; and then libations were offered, and after a hymn had been sung to the god, and there had been the usual ceremonies, they were about to commence drinking."

As a Hellenist, I tend to ponder the details. It's clear that these types of regular household libations were done with mixed wine. In the Odysseia, Echeneus states:

"Come, Alcinous, it is not right and proper that a stranger should sit there in the ashes of the hearth, while we all hold back awaiting your lead. Raise the stranger to his feet, and seat him on a silver-embossed chair, and let the heralds mix the wine, so that we may pour libations to Zeus as well, who hurls the lightning and follows the footsteps of holy suppliants."

Yet, what about the more formal rituals? In 'A Companion to Archaic Greece' by Kurt A. Raaflaub and Hans van Wees, it is mentioned that unmixed wine is reserved for the Theoi, yet A. Henrichs states (p. 47):

"...Greeks shaped a 'negative' (part of a) ritual by a reversal of normal practices. Other means would be the absence of wreaths; libations of unmixed wine, water or oil instead of mixed wine; or the dark colour and/or holocaust of the sacrificial victim instead of a sacrifice ending in a banquet."

This seems to indicate that rituals and sacrifices to the Ouranic deities and/or positive occasions were performed with mixed wine, while Khthonic deities and/or negative occasions were performed with unmixed wine. This view is supported by Hómēros who writes Circe advising Odysseus how to perform a libation to the dead:

"Draw near then, as I bid you, hero, and dig a trench two feet square, then pour a libation all around to the dead, first of milk and honey, then of sweet wine, thirdly of water, sprinkled with white barley meal. "

When Odysseus does as he is told, nowhere is it mentioned that the wine is mixed. It is simply offered up as sacrifice, straight out of the jug. It makes sense that a khoe should be unmixed; same as with a holókaustos, all of the sacrifice--in its purest form--should be offered. Taking Henrichs' theory about reversed rituals--something also discussed in Harrison's 'Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion'--it would then seem that libations within Ouranic festivals were performed with mixed wine.

One can not write about wine in ancient Hellas and not mention the Theos of Wine Himself: Dionysos. Throughout the year, four major festivals are dedicated to Him, and one in particular was full of wine. The Anthesteria was held annually for three days, the eleventh to thirteenth of the month of Anthesterion. The festival centered around the celebration of the maturing of the wine stored at the previous vintage, whose pithoi were now ceremoniously opened, and the beginning of spring. The three days of the feast were called Pithoigia (after πίθοι 'storage jars'), Choes (χοαί 'libations') and Chytroi (χύτροι 'pots').

On the first day, the pithoi were brought to the city and opened in the temple of Dionysos. On the second day, all temples were closed, except that of Dionysos. Social order broke down on this day--as slaves were permitted to celebrate alongside everyone else--and there was a drinking contest in the afternoon where three liters of wine were drunk in complete silence. Whomever finished first, won. On day three, everyone joined in a procession to the temple of Dionysos, where the festival ended with the wicker burning of a huge phallus. The slaves were also told to go home, as 'the Anthesteria had ended'.

All in all, wine was a social, religious, and economic highlight of Hellenic society. I'm not a big wine drinker, as it's usually too strong for me, and I don't drink alcohol outside of ritual anyway. Yet, I have tried diluted wine, and the more watered down it is, the more I like it. I get why the ancient Hellens were looking forward to their symposions so much; wine, women and good music. What was not to like?

Image source: kylix
I'm a geek, and I love video games. They give me a chance to empty my mind, get rid of frustration, distract me from anything bad going on, and make up for the lack of role playing games in my life. They are also a great devotional to the Theoi, if you pick something to play with Them in it. For one, it just sets your mind in the Hellenistic mood; even if the mythology is bad, you are still thinking of the Theoi, trying to find the flaws, and smiling at inside jokes made by the creators of the game. This is why I'll share with you my top five Hellenic mythology inspired computer games.

5. Rise of the Argonauts (PlayStation 3 / XboX 360 / PC)

Rise of the Argonauts is an action role-playing game surrounding the myth of Iásōn and his Argonauts as he searches for the Golden Fleece. As taken from Wikipedia:

"In Rise of the Argonauts, the player assumes the role of the protagonist, Jason, a Greek king. Jason's bride, Alceme, is assassinated and Jason avenges her by killing the assassin. He seals her body in the temple where they were supposed to marry, which becomes her mausoleum. After that, Jason discovers the only way to bring back his wife is to obtain the Golden Fleece, which can restore the dead. Traveling to Delphi, Jason learns from the Oracle that the only way to tread the road to the Fleece is to find three descendants of three of his patron gods: Hermes, Ares and Athena. The descendant of Hermes is found on Saria, Athena's on Kythra, whereas Ares' is located at Mycenae.

After convincing all of them to join him, Jason travels to Delphi again and learns that the Fleece is in Tartarus, the Hell of the Greek Underworld. After obtaining it, Jason sails home to revive Alceme. He confronts Pelias, his traitorous uncle. During the course of the game, Jason will face Blacktongues, who are behind Alceme's assassination, Ionians mercenaries, mythical beasts and other characters, but he won't be alone."

So, not mythologically accurate at all, but definitely fun to play.

4. God of War (PlayStation 3)

I'm not really a God of War fan myself, but as it's so solidly set in the right mythological universe, you can't really leave it out, right? The game is--very loosely--based on Hellenic mythology, and is set in Ancient Hellas. The player controls the protagonist Kratos, a Spartan warrior in the service of the Olympian Gods. Kratos is tasked by the Theos Athena to kill Ares, the God of War, who, it is revealed, is responsible for Kratos accidentally killing his wife and child. As Ares ravages Athens, Kratos embarks on a quest to find the one object capable of stopping the god: the legendary Pandora's Box. There are several expansion packs: God of War II, God of War: Betrayal, God of War III, God of War: Ghost of Sparta, and God of War: Chains of Olympus.

Age of Mythology is a real-time strategy game, which means you need to build towns, gather resources, create armies, and ultimately destroying enemy units and buildings. Age of Mythology follows an Atlantean admiral, Arkantos, who is forced to travel through the lands of the game's three cultures, hunting for a cyclops who is in league with Poseidon against Atlantis.

Arkantos advances his tribe through four Ages: starting in the Archaic Age, up to the  Classical Age, the Heroic Age, and finally, the Mythic Age. There are three playable civilizations in Age of Mythology: the Hellens, Egyptians, and Norse. Each civilization has three deities such as Zeus, and Aphrodite. You choose your 'Major God' at the start of the game and pick a new 'minor' one when you advance an age. It's a great game, but not as historically and mythologically accurate as Zeus: Master of Oplympus (see below).

Official product description: "Zeus: Master of Olympus is the sixth game in the award-winning Impressions City Building Series, which has sold over two million copies worldwide. Zeus: Master of Olympus, set in a mythological ancient Greece, serves up a world filled with the likes of Hercules, Athena, Ares, Medusa, the Minotaur, and many others. Players build and rule Greek city-states while summoning heroes and gods to protect their land from monsters and other Greek cities. 

Build and rule beautiful city states to help Hercules defeat the Hydra or help Odysseus win the Trojan War. Make powerful allies, get involved in the affairs of immortals of the Greek Pantheon and even meet Zeus, the Father of the Gods himself! You have the power to build cities, summon heroes, and complete mythological adventures in ancient Greece."

If you like city-builders, this title is for you. It gives a fairly decent look at ancient Hellenic life and the mythology is also (pretty much) spot on. The expansion pack Poseidon: Master of Atlantis focusses--you guessed it--on Atlantis and daily life there. 

Is it the best game of the bunch? No, probably not, but it is the game I have had the most fun with. Titan Quest is an action RPG in which you can play as either male or female (which is a big deal for me). In Titan Quest, the world has been overrun by beasts and creatures--drawn largely from mythology--that are terrorizing the countryside wrecking harvests, burning temples, invading villages etc. Communication with the Theoi has been cut completely and can only be restored when the monsters are driven off. In the expansion pack, you get send to the Underworld by Zeus, to defeat Hades (and that's bloody difficult!)

So, there you have it: my top five Hellenic mythology inspired computer games. Are your favorites amongst them, or did I forget some?