Thus did he pray, and Apollo heard his prayer. When they had done praying and sprinkling the barley-meal, they drew back the heads of the victims and killed and flayed them. They cut out the thigh-bones, wrapped them round in two layers of fat, set some pieces of raw meat on the top of them, and then Chryses laid them on the wood fire and poured wine over them, while the young men stood near him with five-pronged spits in their hands. When the thigh-bones were burned and they had tasted the inward meats, they cut the rest up small, put the pieces upon the spits, roasted them till they were done, and drew them off: Then, when they had finished their work and the feast was ready, they ate it, and every man had his full share, so that all were satisfied. As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink, pages filled the mixing-bowl with wine and water and handed it round, after giving every man his drink-offering. (Homer Iliad Book 1.513 (456), trans. Samuel Butler)
And so we read the description, oft repeated in Homer's Iliad, of a blood sacrifice, burnt, offered to the Gods, and shared with the participants in a great feast. In the contemporary world of Hellenismos, this type of offering is not possible nor is it desirable.
We find the idea of animal sacrifice horrifying, yet the practice was far more compassionate than the contemporary slaughter of livestock in food production, aspects of which can only horrify those who know the procedures taken. The animals from which you find meat in today's markets were not killed in a manner that would have been viewed as humane in ancient times. The ancient sacrificial animal was killed in a way which was believed to be as painless as possible.
Animals who resisted sacrifice were thought of as unsuitable. It was believed that an animal would willingly give up its life for the God, as strange as that may seem to modern ears. There is a similar custom and belief in Native American culture. The western plains Indians would approach a herd of buffalo at some distance and wait until one of the beasts approached them, of its own free will, and that was the animal which was taken as food for the tribe. Now that buffalo have been reintroduced to the plains, Native Americans have revived this custom. A radio documentary was made about the buffalo and the Indians. To the amazement of the maker of this documentary (NPR), he observed a buffalo actually leaving the herd and approaching the crew, just as the Indians had claimed it would. The Native American who worked with the producer claimed that this phenomenon happened every single time they approached the herd for food. A rather astonishing story.
So, now, returning to ancient practice, "The elaborate procedures required for a blood sacrifice show how seriously and solemnly the Greeks regarded the killing of animals for sacrifice. The victim had to be an unblemished domestic animal, specially decorated with garlands, and induced to approach the altar as if of its own volition. The assembled crowd had to maintain a strict silence to avoid possibly impure remarks. The sacrificer sprinkled water on the victim's head so it would, in shaking its head in response to the sprinkle, appear to consent to its death. After washing his hands, the sacrificer scattered barley grains on the altar fire and the victim's head and then cut a lock of the animal's hair to throw on the fire. Following a prayer, he swiftly cut the animal's throat while musicians played flute-like pipes and female worshipers screamed, presumably to express the group's ritual sorrow at the victim's death. The carcass was then butchered, with some portions thrown on the altar fire so their aromatic smoke could waft its way upwards to the God of the cult " 
In ancient Greece, most meat used for food was obtained from animal sacrifice. For the poor in particular, sacrifice was the only way they could obtain meat. Meat was a rare commodity in ancient Greece, not the daily ration we are accustomed to.
Is Blood Sacrifice Essential to Hellenismos?
It has been asserted by some scholars, as a criticism of our contemporary communities, that only those who participate in blood sacrifice are practicing the genuine Hellenismos, the ancient Greek religion. This is false, which can be proven from plentiful evidence in ancient texts, evidence of which such scholars should be fully aware. Contemporary teachers in Greece generally forbid the practice. We do not make offerings of animals on our altars, nor did Orphefs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς, ὈΡΦΕΎΣ) and his disciples (as is the creator of this website). 
Although blood sacrifice persisted through antiquity, there was some movement to end the practice. It is believed that Pythagoras not only prohibited blood sacrifice to the Gods (which, according to Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras equated with murder) but promoted complete vegetarianism. "Iamblichus writes that Pythagoras abstained from eating meat and respected altars that were not tainted with blood." Timaeus of Tauromenium, the historian, reports that Pythagoras was involved with worship at the altar to Apollo Genetor at Delos. No animal was allowed to be sacrificed at this altar. Pythagoras recommended that figures made of barley-flour, honeycombs, and offerings of frankincense be made instead of blood sacrifice.  And it is not only Pythagoras who prohibited blood sacrifice. 
Burnt Offerings in the Contemporary Hellenic Community
In the Orphic tradition, animal sacrifice is strictly forbidden. Nonetheless, there is still a place for burnt offerings in contemporary Hellenic worship. For important holidays such as the Anthæstiria, it is appropriate to have a fire for making offerings. Traditional offerings such as honey-cakes, panspermia (a gruel of all kinds of seeds), pancarpia (composed of all kinds of fruits), and any other food offerings and can be placed directly onto the coals. Laurel leaves from ritual can also be given to the sacrificial fire. If the fire is planned well, frankincense and other incense offerings can be made on smoldering embers. You can make libations directly into the fire if you very careful not to burn yourself. (Alcoholic beverages such as wine may ignite as they hit flames or embers and lunge toward you along with scorching steam.) Other libations such as milk and honey will not extinguish a strong fire.
This author uses a very large antique hibachi (it is not a "cauldron" as a visitor suggested) with holes drilled through the bottom to bring in more air, but there are many other possibilities. For those with property, a permanent installation can be inspiring and aesthetically pleasing. Consider using natural wood charcoal, obtainable at many hardware stores in very large bags, which contains no contaminating chemicals. Pour some olive-oil on the charcoal ten minutes before you light it, allowing it to soak into the wood. When olive oil burns, the fragrance is not appealing; you can add some frankincense-oil or myrrh-oil to the olive oil for special occasions. Just before you light the sacrificial fire, add some common lighter fluid used for barbecue. Take a votive candle and get fire from the Æstia-lamp (Hestia-lamp); use a toothpick to ignite the coals.
Having an outdoor ritual fire for special occasions such as Thargilia or Pyanæpsia is an extraordinary experience which seems to bring the various aspects of these great holidays together. Perhaps there is some ancient memory in our souls that these fires invoke.
After making your offerings, when the ritual is complete, when the coals are burnt through and cold, what do you do with the remainder? Offerings to the Gods are sacred and what remains should be treated with respect. Any food offerings should be shared amongst the participants or left out-of-doors for the animals. For the rest, I suggest digging the remainder (spent coals, flowers, etc.) into the ground where you make daily libations.
For more information on offerings, visit this page: Offerings to Gods in Hellenismos
Unaltered natural charcoal is difficult to use indoors for burning incense, but is an excellent choice for the burnt offerings of outdoor altars. This charcoal is not impregnated with salt-peter (as in self-lighting charcoal). It comes in irregular shapes due to the fact that it is made from actual branches of trees and shrubs. The most economical way to buy it is from your local hardware store in large bags (usually oak-wood), should they stock it. You can use hookah charcoal, elegant but very costly, perhaps appropriate for a very special occasion. You will find some exotic woods amongst these suppliers, woods such as lemon and olive. Here are some sources:
Another option is to use common firewood, or firewood on top of coal. This method can be the best, particularly if you find large, thick pieces of firewood. These bigger pieces take some time to become immersed in flame, making possible the placement of incense offerings. In any case, every precaution should be taken to avoid burning oneself.
NOTES TO BURNT OFFERINGS:
 Thomas R. Martin from An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander
 "Again, the practice of men sacrificing one another still exists among many nations; while, on the other hand, we hear of other human beings who did not even venture to taste the flesh of a cow and had no animal sacrifices, but only cakes and fruits dipped in honey, and similar pure offerings, but no flesh of animals; from these they abstained under the idea that they ought not to eat them, and might not stain the altars of the Gods with blood. For in those days men are said to have lived a sort of Orphic life, having the use of all lifeless things, but abstaining from all living things." Plato Laws VI, 782, from the translation of B. Jowett, 1892, found in the 1920 edition, Oxford University Press, p.541.
 This paragraph summarized from pp.40-41 of The Gardens of Adonis by Marcel Detienne, 1977 (English version), including the quotation.
From Porphyry's The Life of Pythagoras, 36, in the translation found on p.130 of The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library (the text is unclear whether the translation is by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie or Morton Smith), 1987 edition, we find further confirmation of these ideas:
"When Pythagoras sacrificed to the Gods, he did not use offensive profusion, but offered no more than barley bread, cakes and myrrh, least of all animals, unless perhaps cocks and pigs. When he discovered the proposition that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle was equal to the squares on the sides containing the right angle, he is said to have sacrificed an ox, although the more accurate say that this ox was made of flour."
From Iamblichus' The Life of Pythagoras, 24. Dietary Suggestions, from, again The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, 1987 edition, on p.84:
"Specially, however, the most contemplative of the philosophers, who had arrived at the summit of philosophic attainments, were forbidden superfluous food such as wine, or unjustifiable food, such as was animated, and not to sacrifice animals to the Gods, nor by any means to injure animals, but to observe most solicitous justice towards them. He himself (HellenicGods ed.: Pythagoras) lived after this manner, abstaining from animal food, and adoring altars undefiled with blood."
From Diogenes Laertius' The Life of Pythagoras, 12. Diet and Sacrifices, from, again The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, 1987 edition, on p.145:
"...for as he even forbade men to kill animals at all, much less would he have allowed his disciples to eat them, since they have a right to live in common with mankind.....The only altar at which he worshipped was that of Apollo the Giver of Life, at Delos, which is at the back of the Altar of Horns, because wheat and barley, and cheese cakes are the only offerings laid upon it, as it is not dressed by fire, and no victim is ever slain there, as Aristotle tells us, in his Constitution of the Delians. It is also said that he was the first person who asserted that the soul, revolving around the circle of necessity, is transformed and confined at different times in different bodies."
Nonetheless, the views of Pythagoras regarding animal sacrifice are not certain. From Diogenes Laertius' The Life of Pythagoras, 18. Personal Habits, from, again The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, 1987 edition, on p.146: "All the sacrifices which he offered consisted of inanimate things. But some, however, assert that he did sacrifice animals, limiting himself to cocks, and sucking kids, which are called apalioi, but that he never offered lambs. Aristoxenus, however, affirms that he permitted the eating of all other animals, and abstained only from oxen used in agriculture, and from rams."
 "Her (ed. Aphrodite) they propitiated with holy images and painted animal figures, with perfumes of subtle fragrance and offerings of distilled myrrh and sweet-smelling frankincense, and pouring on the earth libations of golden honey. Their altar was not drenched by the (?unspeakable) slaughter of bulls, but this was the greatest defilement among men -- to bereave of life and eat noble limbs." (Empedocles Fragment 118(128), translated by M.R. Wright from his book Empedocles: the Extant Fragments, 1981, found in the 2001 edition on p.282)
Xenocrates of Chalcedon, the friend of Plato, was compassionate and not only kind to men but showed pity for many brute animals. One day when he was sitting out of doors a sparrow pursued hotly by a hawk flew into his lap. He welcomed the bird and hid it in order to protect it until its pursuer went away. When he had calmed its fear he opened his cloak and let the bird go with the comment that he had not betrayed the suppliant. (Aelian's Historical Miscellany [Varia Historia], Book 13.31, trans. N.G. Wilson, 1997, Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library, p.439)
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.
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