The ancient Hellenes had an odd view of blood; for one, they made a very clear distinction between human blood and animal blood, and ascribed powers of pollution and purification to it. It's a fascinating--if not somewhat dark topic--and I'd like to take a moment to discuss blood and blood rituals in ancient Hellas today.

To a modern practitioner, 'blood' most likely has a negative connotation to it; it's considered miasmic, after all, at least the blood of humans. Miasma--the lingering aura of uncleanliness in regards to a person or space through which contact is made with the Gods--is a constant concern for the modern practitioner, and judging by the amount of purification rituals and methods we have available from the ancient Hellenes, it was for them as well.

Human blood has connotations of death; bleeding is a human thing, a weakening, an act that brings us closer to death even though we may have only cut our thumbs. We still spill our life's blood. While the ancient Hellenes studiously avoided talking about menstrual blood and the menstrual cycle of women, this reasoning is exactly why I feel menstruating women were most likely barred from religious rites: especially to the men who dictated these rules, a woman loosing blood would be a terrifying thing; a literal bloodletting and something that brings the woman closer to death and more in tune with her humanity. Miasma are those things that taint us as human while we long to be in the presence of the Gods, and take it from me, very few things make a woman feel more humbly human than suffering through her period.

Animal blood in Hellenism has an entirely different connotation; not only was it a religious sacrifice, but it was used as a purifier as well. During an animal sacrifice, the animal was killed by a blow to the head or the slitting of the throat. Even if the animal was killed by a blow to the head, the throat was slid afterwards, and the blood was collected. Some blood was sprinkled on the front of the altar and poured into the fire as part of the sacrifice; a representation of the animal's life force, and along with the barley groats that were tossed into the fire previously, a purifier.

Animal blood as a purifier was especially important in the ritual absolution of murderers. If we look at the Eumenides by Aeschylus, we can see how Apollon has purified Orestes of the murder of his mother by killing a swine and holding it out over him, letting the blood of the animal drip down over his head and hands. In this regard, the blood serves to make visible the blood guilt--Orestes is literally covered in blood, more so than he ever was during or after the murder of his mother--and then have something physical to wash away, taking the blood guilt with it. It's one of the many steps of Orestes' redemption which is only complete when Athena absolves him, but it starts with the presentation of a substitute to the daimons of vengeance, and the physical manifestation of blood guilt.

"Taught by misery, I know many purification rituals, and I know where it is right to speak and equally to be silent; and in this case, I have been ordered to speak by a wise teacher. For the blood is slumbering and fading from my hand, the pollution of matricide is washed away; while it was still fresh, it was driven away at the hearth of the god Phoebus by purifying sacrifices of swine. It would be a long story to tell from the beginning, how many people I have visited, with no harm from association with me." [276]

This link between blood and the tension between death and life shows more often in Hellenic mythology; the blood from the vein on the left side of Médousa's head was allegedly capable of killing, but Asclepius, a great healer, used the blood from the veins on the right side of the head for saving lives. Dionysos--a God very close to the cycle of life and death due to his troubled birth--was intricately linked with blood. There are many stories on His birth, but two are of importance to this post. In one, he is born from Semele and Zeus, and while Semele is pregnant with Him, Hera plants seeds of doubt in her mind about the father of the child truly being Zeus. Semele asks Zeus to reveal Himself to her in his true form, and when he is left with no other option, He does so, killing her in the process. Zeus takes pity on His child, and takes Him into either His thigh or testicle, where He is eventually born from.

In the other version of the myth, stemming from Krete, Dionysos is the child of Zeus and Persephone (or Demeter). In this version, Dionysos is born, but ripped to pieces by Titans, under orders of a jealous Hera. Zeus smites the Titans, but is too late to save anything of Dionysos but His heart, which He gets implanted into His thigh like the first myth, or implants into Semele.

In both versions of the myth, Dionysos is twice-born, hence his epithet 'Dimêtôr' (Διμητωρ). Dionysos was considered a fertility God, but also closely related to nature's eternal cycle of birth and death. The ancient Hellens considered the moment a plant--especially the grape--began to grow for the first time after being planted its first birth, and counted its second birth when it became laden with ripened fruit. As Dionysos is so closely related to  the grape vine, it was Dionysos Himself that was considered being born once from the earth and again from the vine--and as such, wine was literally his blood. Many of His festivals allude to this, and the wine so copiously drunk during them often has a bitter connotation because of it.

There are many hidden references to blood in Hellenic mythology and ritual. It's both a corrupter and a purifier; a gateway to birth, and to death; a manifestation of the divine and of humanity. This is only an introduction on the subject--at best--but I hope it at least serves as something to ponder on.