I want to get this post out there because I've been reading some disturbing things on the internet, mostly in the Pagan community at large, but also in the Hellenistic community. It's rough out there right now. I have written before that I sometimes have a problem with the Hellenistic community, mostly because of its--generalized--disrespect and dismissiveness of the Neo-Pagan community (something Elaion seems to be mercifully without, I might add). As a member of said community--or a former member, if you adhere to the trend that Hellenismos is not part of the Pagan banner--I fully acknowledge anyone's experiences with the divine in its various forms. It doesn't matter to me if you're Recon, polytheistic, monotheistic, atheistic, humanistic or anything in between or outside of it. If you consider yourself Pagan, I'll be happy to stand with you under the umbrella.

Experiences of the divine vary. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way. Especially in our current--individualistic--society, everyone is encouraged to walk their own path. Part of that walk means figuring out what the Gods mean to you. To take the obvious example that led to the creation of this post: Pan. For us Hellenists, Pan is a panikos-inducing shepherd Theos; that's how He was worshipped in ancient Hellas. Now, within the (Neo-)Wiccan pantheon, Pan is the quintessential Horned God; a fertility God of the woodlands. I disagree with that in my practice, but that doesn't mean I will take your head off for worshipping Pan as such. The same goes for Hekate, who in ancient Hellas, was a protective virgin Theoi and not a necromantic crone--and definitely not part of a trinity. Feel free to worship Her as a crone, though, or Queen of Witches. The only thing that will annoy me is when you call me out for 'being wrong' in my worship of Her.

You see, if I respect you enough to encourage you to believe (or not believe, if that's your poison) whatever the heck you want, I would at least like the courtesy to be allowed to believe as I desire as well. As a hard-polytheist, my take on this huge difference is that the Pan or Hekate of (Neo-)Wicca is a different Theoi--or at least a different evolution/epithet of said Theoi--than the ancient Hellenes (in this case) worshipped. And that's fine. It's also fine if you think that's BS.

The message I'm trying to get to here, is that I might not agree with your UPG, but I feel you are very much entitled to it. Ancient Hellenes adopted and rewrote any God or Goddess they came upon to fit their pantheon, and that worked for them. I might be a Recon, but I'm also aware that times change. I have absolutely no patent on The Truth.

So there, my solemn oath that I'm not jumping on the hate bandwagon. I don't really understand it, I don't condone it, and if I ever see it in the comments to this blog, I'll speak up about it. I believe in temperance, respect, and everyones right to believe what they want to believe. The kind of hate in that link about Pan? It's not constructive, it makes us look like jerks, and it makes an enemy out of the few allies we have as a Tradition. With that attitude, we're going to make things really difficult for ourselves, and it will scare off seekers. No one wants to feel they need to adopt hate in order to 'fit in'. Again, everyone has the right to belief, do, and say what they want, and this includes spreading hate. Just not here, not in my space, and I will not join in. Don't expect me to, and never try to force me into it.
This morning, I stumbled upon a blog post on Mystical Bewilderment that sums up something I've been dealing with for a while as well: is it possible to have religious discussions with outsider polytheists whose religions don’t have the same belief systems or structures? Aubs describes conversations with practitioners of other (Recon) faiths about core concepts of these religions that simply never go deeper than face-value or that get bogged down in personal definitions of these terms. This leads to a disconnect in interfaith dialogue that seems impossible to get around. From the post:

"Based on the two above examples [hubris in Hellenismos, and Ma'at in Kemeticism], it is feasible to admit that certain concepts in various polytheistic circles just do not translate either well or at all. In the case of hubris, it does not exist in a Kemetic context. In the case of ma’at, it does not exist in a Celtic, Hellenic, or Nordic context. Each branch has confusing aspects to it, sure. However, the confusing bits aren’t all the same. (Wyrd seems to be a bit of a toughy for Nordic and Heathen practitioners, which doesn’t have a correlation in Kemetism, either, as far as I know.) And those confusing bits may not translate in any context outside of those particular branches. So, is it appropriate for me to muscle in, add a few comments, and walk right back out?"

I can probably provide a working definition for all these concepts, but I will never understand the core concepts of other Recon religions like someone of that faith understands them. Ma'at, for example, to me means the active endeavor to promote order (as opposed to Isfet--chaos). This means living to the letter of the law, fostering stability within yourself so you are not swayed by Isfet, and actively removing chaos from the world when possible (the famous shopping cart example comes to mind here). While I can grasp at the basics, I do not understand the concept as a Kemetic does, and I never will. I'm missing a cultural, historical and divine framework which would allow me to understand the concept as the ancient Egyptians did.

I think the crux of the problem lies in the research needed to enter--and indeed comment on--any Recon faith. There are those in Recon faiths--I have seen them in Hellenismos, at least--that feel research is not of the highest importance to live their faith; a simple understanding of the core tenets is enough to practice. I respectfully disagree. it's impossible to understand the core tenets without proper research. This means that you need to do the work: read mythology, and track down their sources, read archeological and academic sourcebooks, study anything you can find that even marginally affects your religion. This is why I know a bit about Kemeticism; there was a good bit of historic overlap between the two, and I want to know what that means for me and my practice. Without this theoretical framework, you're going through the motions, without fully knowing why, and I feel that does a disservice to the Theoi (in my case) and the Hellenistic community.

Interfaith dialogue is important, and it's easy to forget--I know I do--that 'Recon' doesn't necessarily mean we will all understand each other. In fact, I bet it's easier for Recons to converse with non-Recons than with each other. What we do is so specific. Explaining terms like hubris, miasma, kharis, and xenia to someone who does not know the Hellenistic framework is incredibly difficult, especially when that person has an entirely different framework inside their heads.

I don't think there is an easy solution to this. It's a good reminder, though, that there is more to interfaith work, and religion at large, than our own faith. Investing some time in the study of other belief systems helps us grow into yours, because it challenges us to solidify our own definitions. Without them, we can't communicate our religion to others, and if we can't do that, what's the point?
So, the reason for the research into this subject is a little grim: I'm looking to buy an ancient Hellenic coin to be buried with when I die. Not the cheeriest topic--and not an event I see happening soon--but I'm a Virgo, and I like things planned; I want that little coin filed away with my insurance company, along with my burial wishes. When that's done, I can put it out of my head and fully enjoy the rest of my--hopefully--long, long life.

As my research comes to a conclusion, I have learned a good few things, and I want to share these with you. The first is that it's possible to obtain an authentic Hellenic coin no matter the size of your wallet. They range from about €10,- to about €5000,- on the public market. For €10,-, you get small, often a little bit vague, coins made of copper or silver, coming from some of the smaller city-states; and in the higher price range, you get large silver or gold coins with beautifully detailed and preserved images, usually from Athens or likewise better known city-states. Needless to say, my wallet does not allow for one of the latter ones, but around the €40,- to €80,- range, I could fall in love with a few of the coins put up for online auction.

Now onto some historic research: there were many (read: thousands) ancient Hellenic city-states, and about half of them produced their own coins. The first coins are assumed to have been issued in either Lydia or Ionia in Asia Minor around 600 BC, although it's unclear why. Hēródotos (Ἡρόδοτος) wrote, in his Histories (I. 94):

"The Lydians have very nearly the same customs as the Greeks, with the exception that these last do not bring up their girls in the same way. So far as we have any knowledge, they were the first nation to introduce the use of gold and silver coin, and the first who sold goods by retail."

Yet, we know the first coins, from the Archaic period, were often crudely shaped lumps of electrum--a silver/gold alloy--which lacked refinement and were of varying weight. Hēródotos refers here to gold and silver coins and--although the ancient Hellenes called electrum 'gold' or 'white gold' as well--it could be assumed that the Lydians adopted an older practice, and Hēródotos was simply not aware of this. The question of 'why?' could also be posed, as Lydian society was based on agriculture and the pasturing of animals, rather than on commercial activities.

Like all ancient civilizations, ancient Hellenic city-states like Lydia had a bartering system in place, but perhaps those who traveled across Hellas for business wanted something to trade with that retained its value, no matter the city-state they were in. It's also entirely possible that a standardized payment method became desired for local business transactions, like the payment of fines, harbor taxes, and builders of large-scale endeavors like temples. Mercenary soldiers also required payment at the end of their contract, and payment in the form of food or pottery was very much impractical for those who traveled. A system of light-weight tokens with a set value was a good alternative. Yet, how does one establish value?

Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics (V, 5) writes:

"This is why all things that are exchanged must be somehow comparable. It is for this end that money has been introduced, and it becomes in a sense an intermediate; for it measures all things, and therefore the excess and the defect-how many shoes are equal to a house or to a given amount of food. The number of shoes exchanged for a house (or for a given amount of food) must therefore correspond to the ratio of builder to shoemaker. For if this be not so, there will be no exchange and no intercourse. And this proportion will not be effected unless the goods are somehow equal. All goods must therefore be measured by some one thing, as we said before. Now this unit is in truth demand, which holds all things together (for if men did not need one another's goods at all, or did not need them equally, there would be either no exchange or not the same exchange); but money has become by convention a sort of representative of demand; and this is why it has the name 'money' (nomisma)-because it exists not by nature but by law (nomos) and it is in our power to change it and make it useless. "

Eventually, the various city-states developed a system of coins with varying values, which could be compared to, say, shoes, a house, or the day wage of a soldier. The value of the currency of the ancient Athenians spread across Hellas--as the ancient Athenians were some of the best at making coins which were of almost identical weight--and as Athens' influence spread, the following values became universally know, and used in many of the smaller city-states near Athens who did not mint coins of their own. The Athenian base currency was the Tetradrachm. Other city-ctates had other base currency, like the stater at Corinth and Aigina, the litra in Sicily, and the shekel of Sidon, Tyre, and Byblos. Conversion was often possible, as can be seen to the side.

Like in current times, special coins were minted for special occasions from the fourth century BC on; some city-states only minted coins for these occasions, using the currency of other city-states if need arose. The famous athenian owl design (depicted to the side) was created after the victory in the Persian Wars, and serves as a prime example of a 'special occasion'-coin (most often used as propaganda). On these coins, the owl of Athens--the Theia Athena's sacred bird--was depicted front-facing, with wings outstretched, holding a spray of olive leaves--the olive tree being Athena's sacred plant and also a symbol of peace and prosperity--to show Athens' dominance but also its peace-loving nature. Only about thirty of these coins have been found, and they aren't for sale in the public market. If they were, you would have to spend about a million dollars to get your hands on one of the coins.

Like the owl and the Theia Athena, many city-states fell back on telling designs for their coins, which conveyed something important about them. Silver coins from Corinth had a picture of the flying horse Pegasus; coins from Thebes show a special Theban shield, a trident and a fish, and/or a kantharos; the coins of Aegina almost always showed a turtle; etc. The map below shows some of the many images used throughout the ancient Hellenic world. If you have a special bond with any of these places, you might want to look for a coin with the design favored by the people who lived in that area, should you ever wish to undertake a quest like mine. I might actually purchase one of the turtle-coins--as the owls are a little above my pay-grade--although I also like the coins from Kebren and Terone.

Comparative coins image credit: classicalcoins.com.
Table credit: greekcoinvalues.com
Owl coin image credit: counterfeitcoins.reidgold.com
Welcome to the second installment of the flora series. In this installment, I'll be talking about one of my favorite herbs, and one of my favorite myths: the herb mint, and the naiad Minthê (Μένθη). From Wikipedia:

"Mentha (also known as Mint) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae (mint family). The species are not clearly distinct and estimates of the number of species varies from 13 to 18. Hybridization between some of the species occurs naturally. Many other hybrids as well as numerous cultivars are known in cultivation. The genus has a subcosmopolitan distribution across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America.

Mints are aromatic, almost exclusively perennial, rarely annual, herbs. They have wide-spreading underground and overground stolons and erect, square, branched stems. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, from oblong to lanceolate, often downy, and with a serrate margin. Leaf colors range from dark green and gray-green to purple, blue, and sometimes pale yellow."

The mythology surrounding the mint plant is well known: it's tied to the beautiful naiad Minthê, who caught the eye of Hades and suffered either Persephone's wrath over it, or that of Demeter.

Minthê was the beautiful daughter of the river Theos Kocytus, the river of Lamentation which encircles the Underworld. There are two variations of her myth. The first dates back from the first century BC to the first century AD, and is recorded by Roman poet Ovid and Greek Strabo. Ovid merely hints at it, in his Metamorphoses, in a tale about Venus (Aphrodite) and Adonis he notes:

"Could Pluto's queen with jealous fury storm, 
And Menthe to a fragrant herb transform?"

Strabo expands on the myth a bit in his Geographies (8. 3. 14):

"Near Pylus, towards the east, is a mountain named after Minthê, who, according to myth, became the concubine of Hades, was trampled under foot by Corê [Persephone], and was transformed into garden-mint, the plant which some call Hedyosmos. Furthermore, near the mountain is a precinct sacred to Hades, which is revered by the Macistians too."

It thus seems that after Hades took Persephone from the surface, He fell in love again, and took Minthê as a lover. Persephone, jealous, and aware of Her status as Queen, trampled Minthê, either physically, or figuratively. To keep Minthê away from Her husband, Persephone turned the naiad Minthê into the unremarkable plant. It may have been Her, who added the sweet scent to the plant, but more likely, it was Hades, who wanted His lover remembered whenever the unremarkable plant was stepped upon. There is, however, another version, a later version, from around the third century BC. This version was recorded by Greek poet Oppian, in his Halieutica:

"Mint, men say, was once a maid beneath the earth, a Nymph of Cocytus, and she lay in the bed of Aidoneus [Hades]; but when he raped the maid Persephone from the Aetnaean hill, then she complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter in anger trampled her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth sprang the weak herb that bears her name."

In Oppian's version, inspired a bit by Strabo, it is not Persephone who transforms Minthê, but it is a side-effect of her punishment by Demeter, a punishment administered to her for boasting she would oust Persephone from the bed she had previously occupied with Hades. It is of interest to note that Strabo has added another sentence to his description of the mountain of Minthê:

"...and also a grove sacred to Demeter, which is situated above the Pylian plain."

Perhaps even more interesting to note is that kykeon (κυκεών)--the barley beverage preferred by Demeter, and drank by peasants--was made with mint, and used to break a sacred fast within the Eleusinian Mysteries. Kykeon was also used in preparatory rites for some of the most sacred--and secret--rites within Eleusis. As if this connection to Persephone, Demeter and Hades was not enough, mint was also used in funerary rites, along with rosemary and myrtle, to mask the smell of decay, but also--it seems--as an offering to the Lord of the Dead.

Mint is a humble plant, but a pervasive one. It shares many commonalities with its mythical counterpart, and every time I catch a whiff of the unique scent, I think of this myth. Seeing as I drink mint tea quite a lot, that happens wonderfully regularly.

Image taken from: Jessie's Art.
Alright, today, we're looking at an assortment of archeological news items from modern Hellas. there are the temples and other sacred places of our Gods, so why not indulge in the pleasure of their reconstruction, or get saddened by their immanent demise? Lets start with a call to stop the latter from happening first.

"A strange secret, a unique monument, lies at the heart of Thessaloniki at the Square Antigonidon. Behind the construction metal fences on the northeast side of the square is a unique treasure, which was well hidden for centuries. The uniquely beautiful temple of the goddess Aphrodite was erected in the square of the Sacreds in the area which is now the square of Antigonidon. The discovery from the 6th century BC was carried to Thessaloniki by King Aineias (Founder of the city of Aineia). Today this location is the suburbs of the city of Michaniona.

[...] The architectural and artistic value of the temple is immense. The temple can be saved and honored as part of Greece's rich history if its importance is realized and respected by the government. Cultural pride and history must be preserved and valued. Only one third of the possible artifacts have been excavated from this site."

This plea comes from the website of the group trying to save this precious monument from being buried. The government is looking to build on the land again, but the excavations are far from done. Even if they were, such a precious find should not be buried again. It should become sacred once more, dedicated anew to Aphrodite. For those in Hellas, or those who speak the language, there is a Facebook group to organize the rescue effort. Anyone can spread the message, however, and there is a petition you can sign no matter where you live. It can be found here. At the bottom, press the button to the left, the other deletes your entry.

In other, much more positive, news that broke a little while ago: the temple of Zeus at Olympia has been partially reconstructed. This temple, one of the prime Doric-style temples, once housed the world famous statue of Zeus, the twelve meters (thirty-nine feet) tall, seated statue of Zeus which was the focal point of Zeus' worship while it remained intact. The Archeological News Network reports:

"Up to now, only experts could make out the construction and the dimensions of the ruined temple. This is why, in recent years the German Archaeological Institute, on the basis of a 1992 master plan, has carried out numerous conservation and reconstruction works using the original architectural members which are preserved. Visitors of the site had the chance to get an idea of the third dimension of the building already in 2004, when a column was placed back to its original position. The second phase of the restoration has been successfully completed at the end of November 2012. The objective of this phase was to present the area of the western opisthodomos to the visitors in a most comprehensive manner."

The opisthodomos (ὀπισθόδομος) of a temple, usually refers to the back room, where secret rites to the deity of the temple were performed. The extent of the reconstruction was quite severe; stone blocks and drums--parts of the pillars--were removed and placed where they would have stood before the destruction of the temple. After this, the spacial dimensions of the temple--and the opisthodomos in particular--became visible. Next, the site was completely cleared of weeds and stone blocks partly reconstructed, to help visitors imagine how the monument would have looked in ancient times. The reconstruction of the stone--with stone mixtures of various thickness, as well as titanium reinforcements--also helps to preserve the ancient blocks for the future.

While the temple of Zeus at Olympia is nowhere near a working temple, and the word 'reconstruction' should not be taken as 'rebuilding', the work that was done most certainly allows the visitor to get a feel for the opisthodomos. For more details on the reconstruction, please see visit The Archeology Network's website.

Image: view of the Temple of Zeus after the restoration works. Image credit: DAI
Two days ago, I made--what in my world is--a big step: I joined Elaion. It's an Hellenistic group that introduce themselves as follows:

"Elaion is a religious organization committed to re-establishing the ancient Hellenic religion (known as Dodekatheism, Hellenic Reconstructionism, Hellenismos) to its rightful place in society.

Our motto enshrines the values of "piety, tradition and virtue/excellence" as key principles of the organization. We seek to be pious and honorable in our thoughts and actions and virtuous in our relationships with mortals and immortals as we strive for excellence in keeping with traditional Hellenic polytheistic practices."

Unlike Hellenion, which I investigated previously, and joined as a spur-of-the-moment-thing, I took nearly three months before I felt I was in a headspace to apply to Elaion. From what I gather, Elaion is smaller in full- and affiliate members, but has much more of a Traditional focus; a focus I have as well. While not always a guarantee, you can be pretty sure that Traditionalists have a stricter and more academically-inspired path than Reformed Hellenists. From what I have been able to tell, alternate paths are accepted, but the main focus is Traditional Hellenismos--or Dodekatheism, which they prefer--and that makes me very, very happy.

So far, I've exchanged a few e-mail with the group on the public mailing list, and they have been very welcoming. I even ran into a Hellenistic acquaintance. So far, I'm very happy with my decision. It was--is--time for me to form a more constant connection with the Hellenistic community. I love my own blog, my brilliant readers, and the community I do have, but standardized Hellenismos is still something I'm striving for, and Elaion might be a way for me to find that structure.

So, I'm going to see where this goes. When I've gotten used to the group, and I feel I want to continue with Elaion, I'll contact the Membership Council and request an application to become an affiliate member. If that goes well, I might even go for my second application and petition to become a full member, hopefully taking on some responsibilities within the organization itself.

I probably do not have to stress what a big deal this is for me. I'm excited about the future, and greatly looking forward to getting to know the Elaion members better. I'll keep you guys informed about how I'm doing. Nothing will change here, I'll keep on posting just like I've done since the start of this blog, but I did want to let you know that I have Elaion on my mind at least for the coming weeks.

PS: this post is also Baring the Aegis's 250th published post, so another milestone today!
"On top of the Acropolis, the oxen are released from the temple of Zeus Polieus. Outside, put out in sacrifice to the mighty Protector of the City, lie cakes on a table, and the oxen sniff them readily as they are herded past them. Nearby, two women with bowls of water in their hands stand by a man who is sharpening an axe and knife, using the water sporadically to cool and clean the blades. They watch as the third oxen in line reaches for one of the cakes with eager lips, devouring the sweet product merrily. One of the nearby men shouts at the ox, and--enraged at the cow's desecration--rushes to the man who is sharpening his weapons. He grabs the double-bladed axe and with one big swing, ends the life of the ox. As the ox falls dead on the ground, the Ox-Slayer realizes what he has done, and drops the axe in mortification. As fast as his legs can carry him, he flees the scene. 

Those who have witnessed the events rush to butcher the slain animal and sacrifice it properly to Zeus Polieus. All who witnessed the slaying, eat the flesh of the murdered ox. The hide of the ox is stuffed with hay and sewn closed. The filled skin is put in front of a yoke, out in the field. Afterwards, a hunt begins for the murderer of Zeus' sacred ox. He is found, eventually, and brought to trial. The man says it was not his fault he slew the animal; the man who had been sharpening the axe should not have been there. If he had not been there, he would never have been able to slay the ox. And so, the sharpener is heard. He, also, pleads innocence: if the women with the water had not been there, he could not have sharpened the axe, and he would not have been there. The women are called to explain themselves. They, too, claim the death of the ox is not their fault: they would not have been there if the axe had not needed sharpening. And so, the axe is heard, as well as the knife used to cut up the animal, but the objects remain silent. Because they will not defend themselves, they are found guilty of the murder of the ox, and as punishment, are tossed off of a cliff, into the sea below."

Every year on the fourteenth day of Skirophorion, from the time of Erechtheus (1397 - 1347 BC) to--at least--the second century AD, this odd ritual was reenacted. It was called the 'Bouphónia' (βουφόνια), and was part of another festival; the 'Dipolieia' (τὰ Διπολίεια), a feast in honor of Zeus Polieus (Zeus of the City). Philosopher Porphyrios (Πορφύριος) (234 - 305), a Neoplatonist, in book two of his 'De Abstinentia' (On Abstinence) writes the following on its origins:

"...And Diomus, who was a priest of Jupiter Polieus was the first that slew an ox; because, when the festival sacred to Jupiter and called Diipolia, was celebrated, and fruits were prepared after the ancient manner, an ox approaching tasted the sacred cake. But the priest, being aided by others who were present, slew the ox." (2.10)

"The ox, therefore, being killed, Diomus, whose anger was now appeased, at the same time perceived what kind of deed he had perpetrated. And the ox, indeed, he buried. But embracing a voluntary banishment, as if he had been accused of impiety, he fled to Crete. A great dryness, however, taking place in the Attic land from vehement heat, and a dreadful sterility of fruit, and the Pythian deity being in consequence of it consulted by the general consent the God answered, that the Cretan exile must expiate in the crime; and that, if the murderer was punished, and the statue of the slain ox was erected in the place in which it fell, this would be beneficial both to those." (2.29)

"From that time also, even till now, during the festival sacred to Jupiter, in the Acropolis at Athens, the sacrifice of an ox is performed after the same manner. For, placing cakes on a brazen table, they drive oxen round it, and the ox that tastes of the cakes that are distributed on the table, is slain. The race likewise of those who perform this, still remains. And all those, indeed, who derive their origin from Sopater [Diomus] are called boutupoi [i.e. slayers of oxen]; but those who are descended from him that drove the ox round the table, are called kentriadai, [or stimulators.] And those who originate from him that cut the throat of the ox, are denominated daitroi, [or dividers,] on account of the banquet which takes place from the distribution of flesh. But when they have filled the hide, and the judicial process is ended, they throw the knife into 
the sea."(2.29)

Various authors name various people to commit the first slaying; Porphyrios names Diomus, priest of Zeus Polieus; Theophrastos (371 – 287 BC), a student of Aristotle, names a man called 'Sopatros' as the culprit, a métiokos who occupied a farm in Attika; and Androtion, a Hellenic orator from around 350 BC names a man called Thaulon as the killer, although he offers no more details than his name. The myth remains largely the same, though; the man in question slays the ox, flees, and is pursued to stand trial--usually because a drought or famine plagued Athens afterwards and an oracle (usually the oracle at Delphi) decreed that the punishment would only be lifted once the culprit was brought to justice. In all versions, those who witness the murder of the ox eat of the ox's flesh, and otherwise perform tasks in its processing. In most versions, the ox's skin is filled with hay and put in front of the plough. In almost all versions, the axe is eventually blamed for the murder, and destroyed--usually by tossing it off of a cliff; only once, is the axe aquatinted in tribunal. Porphyrios goes on to describe the ritual above and then writes:

"An inquiry therefore being made into the affair, and Sopater [Diomus], together with the deed, having been discovered, he, thinking that he should be liberated from the difficulty in which he was now involved, through the accusation of impiety, if the same thing was done, by all men in common, said to those who came to him, that it was necessary an ox should be slain by the city. But, on their being dubious who should strike the ox, he said that he would undertake to do it, if they would make him a citizen, and would be partakers with him of the slaughter. This therefore, being granted, they returned to the city, and ordered the deed to be accomplished in such a way as it is performed by them at present."

Porphyrios, who was an avid proclaimer of vegetarianism, has two interesting theories: that the ancient Hellenes only sacrificed bloodless offerings to the Theoi before Diomus killed one of Zeus Polieus' sacred oxen, and that is was a criminal offense to sacrifice domesticated animals (like plow oxen) to the Theoi, because these animals had been exposed to us human for so long that they became 'too human' to sacrifice--to do so, and to eat the meat of them, was cannibalistic, according to Porphyrios.

Interesting in this myth and ritual are the miasma occurred in the sacrifice, and the guilt that is evident in it. Mind, this version of the myth stems from the second century AD, and is undoubtedly colored by its time. The death of the ox is always described as 'a kill', or 'killing'; it's not a 'death', or 'sacrifice'. The kill only becomes a sacrifice when the animal is cut up and properly offered to Zeus Polieus. Diomus goes into voluntary exile after his kill--a clear sign that what he has done is a crime, but perhaps not in the way we might look at it; that Zeus Polieus was angry for slaying one of His sacred animals, but more because of the type of animal he has killed, a crime against humankind, not the Theoi--and when he comes back, the community shares the blame for the kill. In Porphyrios' vision, everyone who commits sacrifice and partakes in the meat of an animal, is tainted in some way; they are fundamentally impure--tainted, with miasma.

In true mythic fashion, it takes a drought or plague, as well as an oracular message, to symbolize the ethical struggle of the Athenians: the corruption of morals Porphyrios (and others like him) subscribed to the Athenians in the start of the sacrifice of (domesticated) animals and the relief of said guilt when the Bouphónia became a ritual to relief such guilt and pollution. It's even possible that the few lonely participants in later versions of the annual sacrifice--because sources indicate this festival became rather obscure in later years, and thus likely to be visited only by those who had familial roles in it--absolved this miasma and guilt for all Hellenes who committed animal sacrifice. Of course, these priests might have had absolutely no clue why they performed these rites; it was tradition to do so, and the rite was overseen by a very important Theoi, so they acted it out, year after year.

It seems to me that there is an underlying theme to this myth, and its subsequent festival: that an animal which is slaughtered by a man alone, is killed, yet an animal which is slaughtered by a group becomes a sacrifice. Not really a great case for abstinence of animal flesh, but my take on the myth, regardless. I come to this conclusion from Diomus' demand to become a citizen in exchange for sacrificing the oxen in years to come--a role inherited by his family line, sources say. By joining the Athenians, it is not just Diomus who slays the animal each year, but the community. It's another form of The Blame Game, which is also played with the axe and knife; because everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. No longer is animal sacrifice the act of one man, but it is an act everyone is involved in, because everyone has a part. No longer is one man polluted by the act, everyone is, and because of that, no one is truly polluted by the killing of an animal--when that animal is subsequently sacrificed tot he Theoi.

Although the community shares the blame, the entire ritual is aimed at relieving this blame: in most versions of the myth, it is a métoikos who commits the crime, the ox, the axe, and the knife that is used to cut up the animal, are equally to blame for the death. In some versions of the myth, the animal is buried like a man. The weapons are ritualistically tossed away. There is a term in psychology which applies to what happens in the Bouphónia myth; a term now mostly used in the setting of (domestic) violence. The term is 'reciprocal violence'; it pertains to the cancellation of guilt when two parties inflict the same thing (upon each other or together). In the case of domestic violence, it relates to the notion that partners psychologically cancel out the pain they inflict upon each other, reasoning it away as saying 'but I did it to', or 'he/she did it first, but I did it as well'.

Here, we see the same cycle; everyone is 'to blame' for the death of the ox, simply by being there, and in order to break the circle, an inanimate object--which, obviously, can not defend itself, thus the cycle can not possibly continue--it chosen to bear the blame, thus relieving it off of everyone else. The blame (and miasma) is placed on either the axe alone, or the knife as well, and relieved by destroying the object(s) it is placed upon. I'm reminded of the dog that was sometimes sacrificed to Hekate at the Deipnon--touched by all members of the family so miasma was transfered onto it--although it seems irreverent to compare Porphyrios' main case against animal sacrifice with an animal sacrifice. Yet, it is also telling that the animal is 'resurrected', in a fashion, by stuffing it and putting it back out on the field, in front of a plough. By denying the murder happened, the whole reason to blame anyone is taken away. It's the ultimate break of the cycle.

The Bouphónia is an ancient ritual, archaic even in classical times. Much of it founding is lost to us. We do know that animal--and prior to that, human--sacrifice was committed for a long, long time, probably way before Diomus slayed this fabled ox. Exactly what function it served to the ancient Hellenes, we will most likely never know. When June rolls around, it's most likely best to simply celebrate the Dipolieia, and not the Bouphónia. A simple libation to Zeus Polieus will do. If you feel the need, you could always perform a version of the Bouphónia where no animals are killed, but a (clay or wax) figurine is slain, sacrificed, and the blade that killed it (also clay or wax) is destroyed. If the festival did have to do with the relieving of guilt over animal sacrifice, reenacting the Bouphónia might be a pleasant ritual for those who practice some form of it. Again, I stress that this is one of the few festivals that one can simply leave in the past. It served a purpose we are not sure about today, and while the sacrifice was important to the ancient Athenians, the worship of Zeus Polieus on the same day was more important, even then.

Image source: ox.
Three days ago, I stumbled upon an article by the Telegraph titled ''Spiritual' people at higher risk of mental health problems', written by the paper's medical correspondent, Stephen Adams. In the article, Adams writes about a study done by University College London's professor Michael King on 7,403 randomly selected men and women in England who were questioned about their spiritual and religious beliefs, and mental state. King's conclusion:

"[...]people who had a spiritual understanding of life had worse mental health than those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual."

I read the article, noticed the limited research and the even more limited details that made it into the article and I dismissed both the research and the article. I moved on. I wasn't going to write about it at all... yet it has not let me go, and so I must write about it, in the hope of getting it out of my system.

My biggest problems with the article is that it only relates the 'highlights' of the study; for one, it doesn't give a definition of 'spiritual', nor does it mention which religions qualified as religions within the range of this study; something of importance to the Pagan community which (potentially) supplies people from all three categories of this study. I would be very interested to see if there were any Pagans in the sampling at all; the article mentions that the research let the participants categorized themselves as non-religious, spiritual, or religious. The author goes on to say that those who label themselves as 'religious', "attended a church, mosque, synagogue or temple'. I know a lot of religious Pagans--myself included--who don't visit any of these places for worship. Of course, any detail from the study beyond the few random grabs from the conclusion would help to give more legitimacy to the article.

As for the study itself; needless to say I have some issues. For one; a study with such a broad and potentially far-reaching conclusion, the research sample sure is a little small. Just shy of 7,500 people is a considerable sample size, but without a proper break-up of the various ages, socio-economic backgrounds, religions, etc., all I can think is that 'England'--the central and southern part of the island of Great Britain--is a very homogenous sampling. Now, perhaps, the researchers did specify that their research was only applicable to England itself, but if not, a comparable sample from other (wester, if you so desire) countries would not have been amiss. Also, from the article, the research claims a pretty sold causality between spirituality and mental disorders, but doesn't look at a reversed causality, or even any other factors that might lead to a higher risk of mental disorder. It's like saying that people who like the color blue have a higher disposition towards mental illness, because the research showed that that was the favorite color of the people with these illnesses. 

I would love to have a look at the full research; see what the researches really meant and how they came to it. If anyone knows where to find it, I would love to be linked to it. 

As it stands, I can only place one more note: a worry and raised eyebrow at Pagan media who pick this up as 'evidence' that religion is 'better than' spirituality. Look, I'll be the first to say that I want to believe (in) this research; everyone wants validation. Yet, I know some atheist and 'spiritual but not religious' people who are some of the sanest, and happiest, people I have ever known. I also know religious people who are unhappy every day of their life, who fight against mental illness on a daily basis. For me, religion offers a framework for my life that--most certainly--keeps me sane. It gives me the strength to fight through the hard times, and gives me daily moments of pleasure and gratitude. This research changes the lives on none of these people, including mine, and if anyone wants it to have a bigger impact than it has, the researchers needs to release more details, and above all, redo the research with a far larger, broader, and more widespread, sample size. 

In writing this, I hope to have put it out of my mind for once and for all. Sorry for the Hellenismos-break.
Today--at dusk--the Lênaia (Λήναια) festival starts. This three-day festival honors Dionysos and has a multitude of links to the Lesser Dionysia. In fact, it's been described as an urban version of the Lesser Dionysia, but without the grander of the greater Dionysia.

The Lênaia is held--roughly--at the coldest time of year in Hellas. It's dedicated to Dionysos Lênaios (Ληναιος, of the wine press), and is almost undoubtedly a fertility festival, which was celebrated to encourage the earth to thaw and soften, and become ready for sowing. It is said that the Lênaia celebrates the birth of Dionysos--or at least the version of His birth from Zeus's thigh, but this is most definitely not a supported theory by the whole of the scholastic community. This festival is tied to Dionysos' role as Year-Daímōn in which He was conceived at Agrai, located on the banks of the Ilissus River on the Hellenic peninsula near Athens. The word 'Agrai', pertains to both the place name and the rites of Dionysos held there--most commonly referred to as the 'lesser Mysteries' (20-26 Anthesterion). Another reason for the name of the festival might be the female revelers that often partook of Dionysos' worship and were named Maenads, or Lenai.

The Lênaia was an ancient, local, mostly Athenian, festival, although it was locally celebrated elswhere as well. In Athens, no one from another city could attend. This was partly an inevitability, seeing as the seas at this time were the most dangerous of the year. It's documented that the Lenaion--most likely a theatre outside of the city or a section of the Agora--was the stage for the Lênaia, and might have been the earliest shrine of Dionysos at Athens. Eventually, the Theatre of Dionysos was built, and the Greater Dionysia became the main festival for the performance of drama, but tragedies and comedies were also put on during the Lênaia. In fact, they were the main event.

At the public level this was primarily a theatrical and civic affair, and the city invoked the god Dionysos in his role as bringer of wealth and the blessings of civilization. The festival might have started with a procession from the wilds outside of Athens, into the civilization of Athens itself. During the procession, the Daidukhos (Torch-bearer) yelled, “Invoke the God!” and the celebrants responded, "Son of Semele, Iakkhos, Giver of Wealth!”. (Parke, Festivals of the Athenians, p 104–4) This procession might have played out (parts of) the early myths surrounding Dionysos, where He and his revelers came to His cousin Pentheus, but were imprisoned. Dionysos broke Himself and His revelers out, and tried to explain His worship to His cousin. Yet, Pentheus would not listen, so Dionysos left him to his anger. He took His followers--including many local women, including Pentheus' mother and sister--to the hills. When Pentheus pursued Him, He drove the women mad. To them Pentheus appeared to be a moutain lion. In a berserk rage, they attacked him, and his mother--who was first to reach him--ripped his head off, while the others tore off his limbs.

At midnight on at least one of the days, revelers took to an all-night ecstatic dance, dressed up and bearing various musical instruments (the thyrsus, castanets, tambourines and flutes, primarily). They danced in front of a representation of Dionysos, usually a simple post, dressed in a man’s tunic, with garlanded branches like upraised arms, and with a bearded mask of Dionysos. It's this bear that often discourages scholars from interpreting the Lênaia as a festival to celebrate Dionysos' birth. Wine was a large part of the dance and stood on a table in front of the idol; generally, this wine was the last of the old.

There were massive parades through the streets during the days, which were led by the Archōn Basileus and the officials who oversaw the sacred ceremonies of the Eleusinian mysteries. There were speeches by political figures, awards were given to outstanding citizens, veterans and their families, and business was discussed in the open, and with gusto. Tragedies and comedies were performed, but comedies were the main focus. While the plays were wonderful, many people looked forward to the household part of the festival more, though, as it was encouraged to get at least somewhat tipsy and ward off the cold in bed with your partner.

It's interesting to note that during the midwinter celebrations of Dionysos, a group of revelers roamed Mount Parnassos at Delphi (we mostly know this from an account where they had to be rescued off of the mountain when a blizzard struck), and it is attested that every second year, the Delphic women were joined by women from Athens. The Lênaia might have been the main Dionysian festival for these Athenian women.

The Lênaia starts at the twelfth and ends either on the fourteenth or fifteenth of the month. Personally, I feel it ends at dusk on the fifteenth, as that would make up the full three days attested to (from dusk on the twelfth, to dusk on the fifteenth). It can be celebrated with wine, by seeing a show or movie, and by spending some time in bed with your lover--in fact, it's much like the Haloa festival in this regard. It's a festival mostly aimed at having a good time, and enjoying the good things in life, despite the cold outside. Offer wine to Dionysos, and dance for Him, if you feel so inclined. I'm pretty sure He would appreciate it.
Okay, before someone goes off about animal rights, this is not a post to promote animal cruelty of any kind. This is also not a post to promote taking a knife to some poor goat's neck and ending his life. Thirdly, this is also not a post to encourage anyone to break the law. This is going to be an open discussion to try and find a way to bring animal sacrifice back to Hellenismos (because, yes, I feel it has a place there), but do so without infringing on any of the points listed above.

It's been a while since I went on about animal sacrifice. I must return to it, however, because it was a major part of the Hellenic religion for centuries, and as a Recon of that religion, I feel the need to find a way to incorporate it in modern practice. Your milage may vary, and that is fine. I understand the hesitation, and if the thought of animal sacrifice makes you somewhat queasy, please feel free to come back tomorrow.

Alright, so, we have already established that in most countries, animal sacrifice is regulated by law, and in most cases, it can not be done unless you have a special license and are operating in a building set aside for this purpose. This makes practicing animal sacrifice, as the ancient Hellenes practiced it, impossible. Putting that aside, are there alternatives that are acceptable?

This whole post is going to come down to intent: why did the ancient Hellenes partake in the practice of animal sacrifice? Were these reasons solely religious or was there a social element to it? If we--as modern Hellenists--want to bring back the practice we must ask ourselved: was animal sacrifice done for the act of killing, or the act of giving? I'm getting ahead of myself here, however.

We obviously cannot ask the ancient Hellenes themselves why they partook in the practice, so here is my take on the reasons for animal sacrifice within Hellenic religious life. I would obviously love to hear yours:

Hellenic animal sacrifice was done for a multitude of reasons. It was an act of devotion, an act to establish hierarchy--the Theoi are higher than mankind, but mankind is higher than animals, who are equal to each other--a social bonding affair, a nutritious necessity and tradition. First and foremost, sacrifice of any kind was given out of piety, out of a desire to please or appease the Theoi. I have pondered previously on the enormous sacrifice the killing of a domesticated animal was for the average Hellenic family. From that post:

"Can you imagine what an impact an animal sacrifice had on a family? They offered an animal they often couldn't really miss to the Gods out of piety. They took a blow to their income of money, supplies or food to honor the Gods. Often they got to keep the meat but can you imagine the depth of devotion it would take a poor family to sacrifice even a single animal in a holókaustos? With our supermarket society, that sort of sacrifice is absolutely unknown to us."

The animal that was sacrificed might not have been an animal the family could spare, but out of love, fear or--and I will get to this--tradition, they sacrificed the animal anyway. The meat that was distributed at festivals or private sacrifices was--in general--the only meat the average Hellen ate. It was considered very bad practice to butcher an animal outside of the formalized structure of sacrifice, and such--but this opinion might be colored by modern times--each animal was valued enough to be made sacred. In fact, for state festivals, the horns of an animal (if it had horns) were usually gilded and the animal cleaned thoroughly before being led to the altar. Animals who resisted were never sacrificed, and part of the rite entailed sprinkling water on the head of the animal to get him (or her) to 'nod'. That way he or she 'agreed' to be sacrificed.

Now for the social aspect; lets look at some of the rules concerning animal sacrifice. For one, it was largely done in groups only--either at state festivals, or in the home, with the entire family. The joined procession was a huge part of the ritual leading up to the sacrifice, and it often took the work of multiple people to stun, kill, hold up, drain, butcher, and sacrifice the animal. Anyone who was not involved with the actual sacrifice got to offer incense or barley on the altar--in essence making them part of the sacrifice. After the sacrifice--in case of a thyesthai, anyway--the remaining meat was cooked on the spot, and eaten communally before nightfall. The Theoi were given the thigh bone wrapped in fat; this was tradition. There is actually mythology that explains it: Prometheus' trick on Zeus, which made Zeus pick this sacrifice over the tasty meat. One of the shoulders of each of the animals sacrificed was given to the priests/priestesses as payment for their service, and this was the only part of the animal that didn't need to be eaten or sacrificed  before nightfall.

At this point, I want to focus on a Delphic Maxim for a second: 'give what you have' (Εχων χαριζου). I've always felt that this maxim relates to offerings and animal and votive sacrifices in particular. As stated above, sacrificing an animal was a rough thing to do, for the state as well as a single family. Some state offerings were over 300 cows; even for a wealthy city-state like Athens, that was a huge investment. The maxim says to give what you have, not what you want, or can afford. It puts a focus on the act of giving--possibly more than you can spare.

So, here is my question: if I managed to find a local butcher who would kill a pig for me, let me go home with the pig largely intact, and some of its blood in a container, would it be acceptable to offer that pig--either solo or in a group--to the Theoi? To walk the procession with that pig's blood in an offering bowl and sprinkle it on the altar, two others carrying the pig, and cutting out a thigh bone, wrapping it in fat, and laying it in the altar fire, followed by the rest of the participants, throwing incense and barley? I've looked it up, and an organic suckling pig is about € 100,- to € 150,-, which is a major financial investment for me. Would that be enough? Because legally, ethically and practically, it's the closest I'm going to get to the animal sacrifice of the ancient Hellenes.

Personally, I feel that sacrifice in ancient Hellas was largely an act of giving, not of killing. As such, we are free(r) to find 'loopholes' in the sacrifice clause. With blood to sprinkle and meat to sacrifice--preferably in the shape it originally came in--would the Theoi be appeased?

Do any of you practice animal sacrifice? And in what form? For those who practice Hellenismos, would you be comfortable participating in the setting I have just described? As you can read, I'm still struggling with animal sacrifice, but I think that I could live with the 'loophole' I set out here. As for the Theoi, I'm not sure. I would have to attempt it to see. Perhaps it is time for an all-out festival, preferably with more people involved. Oh, how I long for off-line Hellenistic community...
When I was a little girl, my favorite book was the Dutch translation of Michaels Ende's (originally German) 'Momo and The Grey Gentlemen'. Together with the main character from comic series 'Yoko Tsuno', my ethical system and basic personality got its foundation from Ende's main character Momo. If you haven't read this book--it's from the writer of 'The Neverending Story', if that helps--please pick up a copy. It was written in 1974, and describes well... exactly our current society.

At any rate, I wasn't going to talk about the book. I was just reminded of it because this constellation shares its name with one of my favorite characters--after Momo, of course--from the book: Cassiopeia, a tortoise which can communicate through writing on her shell and can see exactly thirty minutes into the future. The Casseopeia this constellation was named after, however, has nothing in common with the lovable tortoise; Cassiopeia (Κασσιόπεια) was the wife of Cepheus, king of Aethiopia and mother of Androméda. She was placed in the sky as a punishment for her boast that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids; the father of the Nereids, the sea God Nereus, heard Cassiopeia's prideful boast and brought his grievance to Poseidon. Poseidon ruled in favor of Nereus and sent Cetus, a huge sea monster, to ravage the coasts of Aethiopia. Cepheus, desperate, visited the Oracle of Apollon to hear how he could solve the suffering of his people. The Oracle told his that Nereus would only be appeased when he sacrificed his daughter to Cetus.

Eventually, Androméda was rescued from her fate by Perseus, on his way back from defeating Médousa. He took her off and left Cassiopeia and her husband to the fate of Poseidon, who would still have His revenge. As such, He took both Cassiopeia and Cepheus up into the sky and placed them near each other in the heavens. His fate for Cassiopeia was far crueler than the fate He had in store for Cepheus, however, because Cepheus had had nothing to do with Cassiopeia's original declaration, and he had done everything in his power to make things right afterwards. We will get to Cepheus' fate at a later date, but I'll tell you of Cassiopeia's fate today; Poseidon palace her close to the North Celestial Pole on her throne, spending half of her time clinging to it so she does not fall off. In old portraits of the constellation, she is seen as either tied to her throne--which most often resembles a torture device--or desperately clinging to it. Later on, she was depicted as holding a mirror (or palm leaf) to show her vanity.

As it is near the pole star, the constellation Cassiopeia can be seen the whole year from the northern hemisphere, although sometimes upside down. To use latitudes; the constellation of Cassiopeia is visible at latitudes between +90° and −20°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of November.
It's been a while since I tackled one of the Delphic Maxims. Today I wanted to talk a little about Delphic Maxim number 106: be grateful (Ευγνωμων γινου). Gratitude is getting pretty hard to come by in this day and age. It requires the ability to regard the actions of another in such a way that you let go of your own preconceptions and desires.

As humans, we tend to want things, lots of things. Yesterday, I was looking at a video of 'The Marshmallow Experiment' on Youtube. It went a little like this: a child of a relatively young age, was sat down in a chair in front of a table and given a marshmallow on a plate. He or she was then told that, if he or she did not eat the marshmallow before the tester came back, the child would get a second marshmallow, and would be allowed to eat both. If the child ate the marshmallow, he or she would only have gotten two. What followed next were twenty excruciating minutes of children trying their hardest (usually, some gave in right away and ate the one marshmallow) not to eat the marshmallow. It's an exercise in delayed gratification. Here's one of the videos I watched, because it's pretty darn cute.

The point is: we want things. In the core of our being, our Id is running around like the little Sultana monster (I'm now realizing that might be a Dutch thing, but go with it), looking for food, shelter, love, stability, riches... whichever you desire the most. Somewhere along the way, the desire to have something might start to overrule our social graces; we become entitled. Because of our histories, our brains, our money, our place in the hierarchy, we are entitled to certain things other might not have or ever get. Because we're better, or wiser, or prettier, or whatever. We start to place ourself above others and are no longer grateful for the things we have and get, because we feel we deserve them for some reason.

This maxim asks us to remember that we are entitled to nothing, beyond what our thoughtful actions provide for us. What we do get--within that measure but especially outside of it--needs to be accepted in gratitude. This maxim ties in with kharis, xenia, most of the pillars of Hellenismos. It relates to mankind, just as it does the Theoi. What we receive from Them is valuable, and should be acknowledged as such. It's why we give sacrifice and votive offerings; we realize that fortune, as well as misery, comes from the Gods. 

So here is a reminder: to look about your life and see if you are grateful enough for what you're getting, either from your loved ones, your acquaintances, your enemies and--above all--the Theoi. Never become entitled. Especially towards the Theoi, it leads to hubris, and the Gods do not reward that kindly.
Over at Llewellyn, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Witchcraft, Wicca, Pagan, and magickal books, Elysia has written a fantastic post on a recent change in the BISAC category codes used to index books by genre. Books on the religious side of Wicca have recently moved from 'Body, Mind, & Spirit / Witchcraft & Wicca' (OCC026000) to 'Religion / Wicca' (REL118000). The BISAC code for 'Body, Mind & Spirit / Spirituality / Paganism & Neo-Paganism' (OCC036020) has also moved into the 'Religion'-section, under 'Religion / Paganism & Neo-Paganism' (REL117000). The code 'Body, Mind, & Spirit / Witchcraft' still exists.

This is huge, people. Especially with that the discussion on 'Pagan vs. Polytheist' raging in the blogosphere, this news has cemented a belief I've held forever. This belief is also the reason I'm staying out of the debate, thank you very much, and it is:

"(Neo-)Paganism is an umbrella term, applied by those inside it, but defined by those outside of it, covering only those paths and religions to whom the following two attributes can be applied: relatively new, and considered 'fringe' by the general population."

Paganism has been around for such an amount of time, the term is no longer new. We've come together and put the label out there. People might still consider us fringe, and they might still think we're a little bit weird, but there is a distinction being made by the BISG, who maintain these codes, and thus by the general population, that we are not New Age. As a whole, we are religious. The term 'Paganism' has been--and I think it always was--defined not by those in it, but by those passing judgement upon it from the outside.

The people over at BISG must also have looked at the current Pagan landscape and thought 'Wicca has become household'. It's no longer new. It might still be fringe, but people know about it and think they know what it's about. It's proved itself to the general population, and as a reward, it gets to move out of the wonderfully murky waters of Paganism and move in with the big boys of Religion as a religion of its own.

I seriously feel this news should be celebrated with a coming of age ceremony.

Read the whole article, please, because Elysia lists a couple of very good points and fears about this move. Next, however, she lists something I wanted to talk a bit about. It concerns the polytheists (in the Pagan vs. Polytheist debate) but it got me thinking:

"In light of the ongoing and recently refreshed division of polytheists who shun the word Pagan*, well… um… hate to tell you all, but there is still no code under Religion or under Body, Mind & Spirit for Polytheism. There is Atheism, Theism, and Deism under the Religion category, but they have no room for polys. Where do polytheists see themselves five years from now?"

Well, there is always 'Religion / General' (REL000000) or 'Religion / Ancient' (REL114000) but, again, this is one of the major reasons I still call myself Pagan: others see me as such. Not what I wanted to discuss, however; I have another request: can we get a 'Religion / Reconstructionism', please? As much as I adore finding the hand full of Hellenistic books out there under 'Religion / General'--where they have always been, I might add, with books on ancient Hellas located at 'History / Ancient / Greece' (HIS002010)--I would love it even more if there was a 'Religion / Reconstructionism', or even a 'Religion / Paganism & Neo-Paganism / Reconstructionism' category for us to develop into. This seems like a realistic five year goal.

As a ten year goal, I'm setting my sights on 'Religion (/ Paganism & Neo-Paganism) (/ Reconstructionism) / Hellenismos). In order to get that to happen, though, we're going to have to churn out a lot more books, and we have to buy them as well. We need to publish at the major (Pagan) publishing houses. Above all, we need to get our religion out there so the non-Hellenist and the non-Pagan knows who we are and what we do. We need to become validated, connected, and synched--in the eyes of the general public, just as much as in our own eyes.

I, for one, and happy for the moves. Those who consider themselves 'spiritual but not religious' might not be. As Elysia writes:

"[P]erhaps we need to take a step back and define whether we [as Pagans] are, in fact, practicing religions vs. practicing spirituality?"

That, my dear readers, might be the crux of that other debate out there, the debate on defining Paganism. The general population sees us as religious, but a good bunch of us do not. If paganism does get torn in the middle, shouldn't that middle be defined by this debate, instead of the 'Pagan vs. Polytheist' one? And if so, who should move out? To stick to the BISAC codes: do we want to move (Neo-)Paganism fully back to the 'Body, Mind, & Spirit'-section and give religious Pagans spaces of their own under 'Wicca', 'Polytheism', 'Reconstructionism' and/or 'Religious Paganism', or keep the 'Paganism & Neo-Paganism'-code for the religious Pagans and create a separate code for the non-religious folk?

Also, isn't that what has already happened with this move? Under 'Body, Mind, & Spirit' are still: Afterlife & Reincarnation, Ancient Mysteries & Controversial Knowledge, Spirit Guides, Astrology, Channeling & Mediumship, Crystals, Divination, Dreams, Entheogens & Visionary Substances, Feng Shui, Gaia & Earth Energies, Healing, Hermetism & Rosicrucianism, I Ching, Inspiration & Personal Growth, Magick Studies, Meditation,  Mysticism, New Thought, Numerology, Occultism, Parapsychology, Prophecy, Sacred Sexuality, Spiritualism, Shamanism, Supernatural, Extraterrestrials, Unexplained Phenomena, and Witchcraft. 'Neo-Paganism & Paganism' has--for all intents and purposes--been removed from this category, although the category is still there; the code has been removed and can thus not be used.

We'll see how this plays out. I'm sure it will provide plenty of fodder for the Pagan debate cannon for a while to come, though. As stated, I am happy for the move, and grateful to Elysia for bringing it to my attention. I doubt much will change in the Pagan community, but it's a nice philosophical change, none the less. How do you feel about it? Will it have ramifications for Paganism in any way, shape or form? I would love to hear your thoughts.
An altar is one of those basic necessities within Hellenismos, and it differs from a shrine. Where an altar is a 'work space', dedicated not so much to a specific deity, but used to do the bulk of the (daily) rituals, a shrine is a devotional area where an altar might be located. In ancient Hellas, the shrine was usually a temple, the altar an actual altar, standing outside of it. Household worship took place at a multitude of shrines.

Labeling something a shrine, does not mean you can't sacrifice at these spots in your home; every Hene Kai Nea and Noumenia, I offer libations of mixed wine and incense at my shrine to Apollon, Hermes and Hekate, every Noumenia, I offer mixed wine and incense to Zeus Kthesios at His shrine in my kitchen, and ever Agathós Daímōn, I make a libation of unmixed wine at His shrine. As explained previously, I don't have an outdoor altar; I have one indoors, and it also houses my continual flame to Hestia. It's at this shrine I do the bulk of my worship--it's my hearth. It has my offering bowl, and is very deity-neutral, just to make sure everyone I give sacrifice to might feel at home at it. It's located in my bedroom shrine--the actual space, decorated and kept clean for the Theoi.

My altar is not the altar the ancient Hellenes would have used. For one, it's not outside--something I'm grateful for as it's snowing outside at the moment--and for another, it's not made of stone. I don't make a fire on top of it--a good thing, seeing as it's made of wood--but have to use a bowl to do so. In ancient Hellas, an altar was called a 'bômos' (βωμός)--properly signifying any elevation--with an 'epipuron' (ἐπίπυρον)--a movable pan or brazier--used on top of the bômos so it could serve as an altar for burnt-offerings. The household hearth was used to make sacrifices as well, and thus served as an altar of sorts. It was named after the Theia of the home and hearth: 'hestía' (ἑστία). Some state-owned altars--especially when they were simply large fires--were named 'hestía' as well.

These altars were used for sacrifices to the Ouranic Theoi, but were rarely--if ever--used for sacrifices for the Khthonic Theoi. An 'eschára' (ἐσχάρα) is the term for a low-lying altar used in burnt-offerings for heroes, demi-Gods and (nature) spirits. It was sometimes located under the bômos, and was sometimes used for sacrifices for the Khthonic Theoi. For Khthonic Theoi, an offering pit--'bothros' (βόθρος) in Greek texts--also sufficed. The term 'eschára' is sometimes used to indicate the corresponding projection at the top of a bômos that held its own fire--so where no epipuron was used. Becasue of this, the term 'eschára' is controversial but still correct in relation to the previous.

Lets look at these altars in a bit more detail; first the bômos.

In ancient Hellas, and always in sudden emergencies, altars were made of earth, turf, or stones collected on the spot. In the Archaic and Classical periods (600–323 BC) most altars were made of stone, either monoliths or built of cut blocks, thus was usually the case for stationary altars built at temples. The sides were sometimes decorated--and if they were decorated, the decoration was usually pretty impressive--but the altars were usually plain, apart from an inscription naming the deity the altar was dedicated to.

Most bômoi were isolated cubes, around one meter (three feet) high, but there were altars which were far larger. When I went to Germany, I visited the Pergamon museum and got to see the second century BC altar they house there for myself. Its foundation is approximately 36 by 34 meters (118 by 112 feet) at the base, more than 6 meters (20 feet) high, and decorated with an elaborate frieze, about 120 meters (394 feet) long, showing the Titanomancy. The upper area, accessed by a wide staircase, was framed by a colonnade and here the actual sacrificial installation was placed. Needless to say, this type of huge altar was most often exception than rule.

The sacrificial altars were either square or round, sometimes with an indentation on the top for a fire, or sometimes with a hole, leading down to an eschára. An altar for libations or blood sacrifice could have a drain for the liquid. The indentation--or even the hole--could be used to steady an epipuron. The materials used were often limestone or marble, stones not very resistant to heat, and thus, an epipuron was used to protect the bômos below. Even with that, the sacrifices would render the altars black from soot on the top and spotted by the blood on the front, and from time to time they had to be touched up with stucco or lime.

The epipuron was usually a brazier, often with either one or three feet, and made of precious metals which could withstand the heat of a fire or the coals used to burn incense. In household worship, epipuron seem to have been used as altars, without the bômos to put it on. This meant that these portable altars made of metal, stone, or terracotta were used in household worship instead of, or in conjunction with, the hearth of a house; hestía. Whether these domestic altars were used for full-scale animal sacrifice is uncertain and the offerings made here were probably cakes (especially at Noumenia), incense, libations, and perhaps cooked food. In houses where there was no fireplace, an epipuron could serve as a heat source.

The altars themselves were used to burn the meat from animal sacrifices, incense, or bloodless offerings like cakes, fruits and breads. Pieces of meat were sometimes placed on top of a fireless altar as a gift for the Theoi, and were taken by the priests or priestesses later that day for their own consumption or to burry. On some altars, blood sacrifice was forbidden; the bômos of Apollon Genetôr ( 'the Begetter') at Delos, for example. In all cases, the sacredness of the altar was fundamental. Anyone seeking refuge at an altar was promised protection of the Theos that altar and shrine were dedicated to. To take a fugitive from the altar by force was sure to cause the wrath of the Theoi on those who took him or her. Killing a person near an altar caused severe miasma and would lead to purification rites. Most likely, the altar would be out of commission for a period of time.

As said, altars were located in front of the temple, not inside it. If a temple did have an indoor altar, it was almost always used for bloodless sacrifices. The bômos almost always faced east, in front of the temple. If a temple was replaced by another, the altar usually remained in place. In some cases, this led to a misalignment of temple and altar. The altar of Athena Polias and the Erechtheum on the Athenian Acropolis is a great example of this. It was doubtful this was seen as a huge problem, though.

Bothroi--offering pits--were usually dug when the occasion called for it, and closed up afterwards. It seems that in some instances an epipuron was also an acceptable altar for the Khthonic Theoi. As written previously, the Khthonic Theoi received special nighttime offerings of black animals, unmixed wine and special libations of milk and honey. Animal sacrifice was always done in a holókaustos--a sacrifice where the entire animal was burned and none of the meat was saved for human consumptions. It makes sense this type of sacrifice was done in an enclosed space; the temperature would have gotten high enough to burn most (if not all) of the animal.

Another term for a Hellenic altar one might find is 'thusiastérion' (θυσιαστήριον). It is used mostly in context to later, Christian, texts where the thusiastérion described illicit pagan altars to the Theoi, as offset by the 'proper' altars to God. Needless to say, I won't be using it much, simply because the ancient Hellenes did not.

The above list is non-exhaustive, but gives a decent overview of the terms and types of altars used by the ancient Hellenes. There was, of course, variation in actual practice, and a good few altars broke this mold. For modern Hellenists, it's a good starting point for the construction of an (outdoor) bômos.
For those of you who, like me, are not blessed with the ability to write poetry beyond the level of an eight-grader, or for those who simply wish to draw they eyes of the Theoi by reciting poetry--or actually singing the hymns if your mastery of the Greek language allows it--which is familiar to Them, hymns form a wonderful addition to your practice. The oldest, and most well know, of the hymns are undoubtedly the Homeric ones, with the Orphic ones a close second, but there are many more out there.

  • Homeric Hymns - a collection of thirty-three Hellenic hexameter poems in epic style well known from Hómēros' Iliad and Odysseia. They range in length from three to five-hundred lines, and were composed in various time periods, by a variety of--now largely anonymous--authors. Hómēros might have actually written some of them, Pamphos might have penned the 'Hymn to Demeter', and Cynaethus of Chios might have penned the 'Hymn to Apollon'. Most of the poems were written between 800 and 300 BC, a few of the shorter poems are clearly from the Hellenistic (third or second century BC) period, and the Hymn to Ares was probably added to the whole in Roman times. Who actually combined the thirty-three is unclear. The first and second hymns ('To Dionysos', and 'To Demeter') were lost for a long time, until a chance discovery in Moscow in 1777 unearthed a fifteenth century manuscript with the two poems largely intact. The 'Hymn to Apollon' was noted down on the walls of Artemis' temple at Delos, and was most likely a large part of the festivals held there for Apollon. For all Homeric Hymns, go here.
  • Orphic Hymns - a collection of eighty-seven short religious poems composed in either the late Hellenistic or early Roman (first or second century AD) era. They are based on the beliefs of Orphism, a mystery cult or religious philosophy which claimed descent from the teachings of the mythical hero Orpheus. The Mysteries were mostly connected to Demeter, Persephone, life after death and reincarnation. From the Orphic Hymns also comes a list of which incenses to offer to which deity. For all Orphic Hymns, go here.
  • Hymns of Kallimachos (Καλλίμαχος) - a lesser known collection of poems, written by Kallimachos of Kyrēnē (Κυρήνη, Cyrene), who was a Hellenic poet and scholar of the Library of Alexandria. He rose to greatness around the third century BC and was the author of a large number of works. Unfortunately, only six hymns and sixty-three epigrams have survived to this day. Kallimachos despised the 'outdated' poetry type of Hómēros and wrote many testimonials against it. His hymns are, therefor, different to the eye than the Homeric and Orphic ones. For the complete hymns, go here.
  • Delphic Hymns - two musical compositions from ancient Hellas, dating back to 128 BC. They were recovered from the walls of the treasury of Apollon at Delphi, and were most likely performed in His worship at the Pythian festival. The first of the hymns was written and composed by Athenios, son of Athenios, the second by Limenios, son of Thoinos. For the first hymn, go here, for the second, go here.
  • Hymns of Proklos - Proclus (Πρόκλος) was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, one of the last major Classical philosophers. He was alive from 8 February 412 AD to 17 April 485 AD), and while a very late addition to this list, he wrote five beatiful hymns about the Roman Gods, which can be interpreted for the Hellenic ones as well. The surviving works consist of two hymns to Venus (Aphrodite), one to the Sun (Helios), one to the Muses, and one to Minerva (Athena). The surviving hymns can be found here, in both Greek and English.
  • Hymns of Mesomedes - Mesomedes of Krete (Μεσομήδης ὁ Κρής) was a Roman-era Hellenic lyric poet and composer of the early second century AD.  He was a freedman and court musician to the emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138 CE), and created  three hymns and fifteen poems which have survived to this day. The hymns to Nemesis, the muse Calliope, and the Sun can be read here and listened to here. I am partial to this translation of the 'Hymn to Nemesis'.
  • Hymn to Aphrodite - This most wonderful hymn was written by Sappho (Σαπφώ) as she was struggling with love. It's unique in that it shows both petitioner and Aphrodite Herself. I am partial to this translation.
Every now and again, I get asked to share what, exactly, I do in my daily devotionals. I always, respectfully, decline, but I would like to take the time to share why I say no. The short answer is that I'm simply not comfortable sharing my personal--private--practice. I will gladly share an overview with you, either in writing or in video, but I won't put a camera on my time spend with the Theoi.

The biggest reason is that I'm simply not willing to put The Truth out there. I'm fine with giving a general indication of procedure, as taken from the various resources that are out there, but my personal practice is not the One True Way™. It's my way, influenced by the time I have, the place I live, the level of privacy I have (or don't have) and a mountain of other factors that have led me to this point. How you practice will be influenced by all those factors as well. We can both take the general way to prepare khernips and offer libations, but we will always do certain things differently. I encourage that, and feel that in putting my practice out there, I'm limiting you in finding yours.

Here, I must share that I'm not against someone video taping or photographing my rituals. I've performed public rituals where pictures were taken, and I've even held ritual for the sole purpose of getting pictures taken. In the latter case, a student from Belgium contacted a friend of mine with the request to photograph a witch's rite for an assignment. After a few e-mails with the student--who seemed genuinely interested and respectful--my friend contacted me and two others to do a ritual together that the student could photograph. We all agreed. One of the women got sick, but the other three showed up. While we drove to the location, I listed some clear instructions:
  • We do our rite, and you get to take any shot you want, as long as you don't step into the circle
  • After the rite, we will pose for you, if so desired, but during the rite, you need to be quiet
  • No do-overs
The student agreed and as soon as the circle was drawn--this was in my Eclectic time, obviously--we forgot all about her. That was the key; we performed a beautiful and powerful ritual for the God and Goddess, and someone was there who took photographs from a distance. The focus was on the God and Goddess, not the camera. It's the same for the public rituals I've led; those who came weren't students, they were people who mostly came for the potluck lunch and the chance to talk to other Pagans. Most of them weren't even some flavor of Neo-Wiccan/Eclectic. There was no danger of spreading The Truth.

I don't feel a camera takes anything away from the ritual at all; it's not some 'the energy will be sucked from the rite'-thing, but if I worry more about my posture and explaining what the heck I'm doing than about properly petitioning and thanking the Theoi, something is most certainly taken away from the rite.

I care about intention; if you're just going through the motions, it doesn't count in my book. That's why the ritualistic things I do in front of the camera do not count. As such, I can't show you more of my practice, because when I engage with the Theoi, I engage. I can't worry about a camera then, and I will if the sole purpose is to post it online. Going through the motions while involving the Theoi goes against my principles... and so I won't. 

That having been said, if I ever host a public, Hellenistic, ritual, I'll make sure someone tapes it for everyone to see. I'll be back with a video tutorial soon. I got sick and most certainly did not feel up to it. With life slowing down and my health returning, I'm good to go again. If you have any requests other than my step-by-step personal practice, I would love to hear it.