I get a lot of questions from readers, and most of the time, the answers are fairly short. When I feel the question or the reply would be valuable to others as well, I make a post with a collection of them and post them in one go. Today is one of those posts.

"Hi! I have a few questions about household worship... 1. In the home, does the Hestia flame need to be separate from the sacrificial fire? 2. How do you offer fruit to the Theoi in the home? Do you burn it/do all ouranic offerings need to be burnt? 3. Do prayers come last in a ritual? Which comes first, prayers or offerings? Thank you so much in advance for your time! It means a lot."

1. Back in ancient Hellas, most religious activities surrounding the household revolved around the central hearth, which was seen as the physical manifestation of Hestia. While Hestia has little mythology to Her name, Her worship was a vital part of ancient Hellenic religion. For one, Her flame connected every single Hellenic oikos to each other and the state. All the household fires were lit with a flame from the prytaneion (Πρυτανεῖον), the structure where state officials met and where the city kept a fire for Hestia burning day and night. Every single heart fire in the city or town was linked to that central one, and that central fire was linked to the city from where the settlers of the new village, town or city came. This network of fires, which were never allowed to go out, brought all Hellenes together. In modern worship, we very rarely have a fire burning at all times of the day, so many Hellenes opt to have a candle burning for Her (or a battery powered one when we leave the house). In modern worship we thus usually have a fire to Hestia burning during ritual as well as a sacrificial fire, but since the sacrificial fire is usually lit from the flame to Hestia, it is really an extension of Hestia's flame.

2. Traditionally speaking--which is what I practice, so that's the answer you're getting when you ask me things--yes, all Ouranic sacrifices should be burned. Sacrifices to heroes too, by the way, and even some Khthonic sacrifices were burned. The ancient Hellenes burned things (like sacrifices, incense, but also the firebrand to make khernips) because smoke was the only way the sacrifice reached the Ouranic Gods. That's how the sacrifice traveled to Olympos and how the sacrifice itself became sacred. Pure. Not burning sacrifices, traditionally speaking, is promising the gods sustenance and giving them an empty plate along with a message saying "just imagine it's food. I'm sure you'll feel full". Of course, I--and hopefully They--know it isn't always possible, but I do advocate burning sacrifices if at all possible.

3. Sacrifice was and is the highlight of Hellenic ritual. In ancient Hellas, communal sacrifices almost always included animal sacrifice. Worshippers processed to the ritual site, consciously leaving the mundane behind. The scent of incense would have filled the air, and hymns would have been sung. They cleansed themselves with lustral water (named khernips) and sprinkled the area and altar with it. All participants threw barley groats onto the animal, the ground and the altar to sow good fortune. The hymns would have continued until libations were made in or around the fire. This signaled the start of prayers. After the libation, the person who would kill the animal would have taken the knife and cut a lock of the animal's hair. Swiftly, the lock would be tossed into the fire as a warning of the impending sacrifice. The tension would have reached its height at this time and with a swift motion, the animal's throat would have been cut. All of its blood was collected and later dripped onto the fire or--in case of a smaller animal--dripped onto the fire directly. Women would scream, possibly to cover up the dying sounds of the animal, and then the tension would have most likely been broken and the ominous mood turned festive: while the entire animal belonged to the Gods, They saw fit to give much of it to Their followers for rare meat consumption. Then, Hestia received the last libation.

Modern worship is organized somewhat the same way as ancient sacrifice was. Perhaps needless to say: modern worship rarely includes animal sacrifice, although meat sacrifices are more common. We start with a procession (no matter how short) toward the altar, where we purify ourselves and the space around us with khernips. We also sow barley groats. This is not only a form of purification, it was the start of the process of kharis where the strewing of barley groats on and around the altar of the Theoi is like a spiritual sowing to reap the benefits of later (asked for through prayer later on in the rite). As such, the barley that we use is whole form, just like it is for actual sowing of the crop.

During the procession, songs are sung, and once purification is performed, a hymn is sung or proclaimed. Hymns are sung to please, to bring forth. It is a way to celebrate the deity in question, but also to make Him or Her more inclined to grant the following request. Prayers are next on the agenda. A prayer is carefully formulated to convey a message as persuasively as possible to the God, and was thus often spoken. The idea is not to please, but to request. They make use of the established and just now strengthened kharis to petition the Gods for aid. Where the hymn is an offering to go along with material sacrifice, the prayer is not an offering at all. To soften the request, prayers are often accompanied by the sacrifice--the main event of the rite.


"Do you think it's "reconstructionist" to honor specific Gods on the solstices and equinoxes? Like during your daily libations? Even though we don't know of any festivals that historically took place on those days, would it be "okay" just to add hymns and libations for certain Gods on those days? Maybe also do some secular seasonal decorating? What do you think?"

A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year (around 21 June and 21 December) as the Sun reaches its highest or lowest excursion relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. An equinox occurs twice a year as well (around 20 March and 22 September), when the plane of the Earth's equator passes the center of the Sun. At this time the tilt of the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun. In essence, during an equinox, the period of time the sun is down (night time) and the sun is up (daytime) is roughly the same. The ancient Hellenes observed these four points in the year, and because of that, the ancient Hellenic calendar is partly solar: the solstices and equinoxes are anchor points for the otherwise lunar calendar.

Depending on the city-state, one of these four points was picked for the start of the new year. Athens and Delphi had the summer solstice, Boeotia had the winter solstice, and Milet started out with the autumnal equinox, but moved the new year to the spring equinox around the end of the 4th century BC. This anchor point was the most important; the rest were used to check the accuracy of the calculations.

Is it reconstructionistic to honor specific Gods on the solstices and equinoxes? That depends on which Gods you honor on the equinoxes and solstices. We know there were festivals celebrated on or around the time of these anchor points:

The Galaxia was closely associated with the Spring/Vernal Equinox.
The Kronia was closely associated with the Summer Solstice.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated around the autumnal Equinox.
The Poseidea was closely associated with the Winter Solstice.

If you want to associate other deities with these dates, feel free, but honestly, with a calendar of roughly 70 festivals throughout the year, I personally do not feel the need to add modern ones.


"How do you celebrate Noumenia on the night before? The night before is the dark of the moon, in all reality, so shouldn't it be Hene Kai Nea? But Hene Kai Nea is the night/day before the dark of the moon, then Noumenia starts on the night of the dark of the moon and ends the next day. How are we celebrating the first sighting of the moon if we are doing it before the moon ever appears in the sky and we say the day is over before the moon has a chance to appear? That makes no sense to me."

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)

In general, you celebrate the Deipnon at night time on the day of the Deipnon, so after sundown on day one. Many Hellenists spent the day of the Deipnon (day two, until sundown) cleaning and taking out things like the recyclables; getting everything ready for the new month. The Noumenia starts at sundown on day two. Typically the bulk of the Noumenia rituals is done in the daylight hours, so on day three until sundown. Personally, I do a nighttime ritual on day two after sundown for Selene, as She is a moon Goddess and honoring Her when the first sliver of Her becomes visible is important to me. I also honor Her during the daytime on day three. At sundown on day three, Agathós Daímōn starts. The ritual aspects are usually held in the daylight hours, so on day four, until sundown.
I hope this makes it clearer!