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Kǽrnos created by Julia Passamonte of Venetian Cat Studio


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The kǽrnos (kernos; Gr. κέρνος, ΚΈΡΝΟΣ) is an earthenware vessel with one or more kotylíski (Gr. κοτυλίσκοι), i.e. little cups, for offerings, usually affixed in a circle. [1] There is no set number of cups. Examples can be found with as few as one receptacle or as many as twelve or even more. Sometimes the cups are affixed to a ring of pottery with animal-heads and pomegranates between the cups. Occasionally  there is a handle going across the center to lift the kǽrnos, although usually in the center there is space where something could be inserted. [2] The vessel may be found decorated in every possible way as there is no particular meaning to the kǽrnos other than it is a vessel to make offerings to Gods, usually in ritual, and the association of this vessel with the Mystíria (Mysteries; Gr. Μυστήρια). [3] In ancient times, the offering cups were said to filled with various panspæmía (panspermia = mixed grains; Gr. πανσπερμία) and other things such as honey, wine, and unwashed wool. [4]

Multiple-cupped offering vessels have been found at Kríti (Crete; Gr. Κρήτη) and there has even been found examples of such pottery in Christian worship. Nonetheless, the kǽrnos is particularly associated with the Mystíria (Mysteries; Gr. Μυστήρια) of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, and in particular, the Ælefsínia Mystíria (Eleusinian Mysteries; Gr. Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια). [5] Offerings were made at Ælefsís (Eleusis; Gr. Ἐλευσίς, modern Ελευσίνα) using kǽrni (plural; Gr. κέρνοι) in a ritual called the Kærnophoría (Kernophoria; Gr. Κερνοϕορία). Votive-offerings in kǽrni were also made to the Goddesses of the sanctuary. [6] It has been suggested that the kǽrni were worn on the heads of the dancing women at the Kærnophoría [7] and these kǽrni were ablaze. [8] The Ninnion Tablet, a red-clay pottery depicting the Ælæfsinian cult, has a depiction of a woman with a kǽrnos on her head. [9]

The two kǽrni in the photographs on this page are contemporary pieces made for the third day of the Anthæstíria (Anthesteria, Gr. Ἀνθεστήρια). Although created for this festival, they can be used for any ritual. One of the two kǽrni is marked with the Kirýkion (Kerykeion or Caduceus; Gr. Κηρύκειον) in honor of Ærmís Psykhopompós (Hermes Psychopompos; Gr. Ἑρμῆς Ψυχοπομπός); the other is decorated with ivy leaves and grapes for Diónysos (Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος). They have little caps on the cups as was seen on an attractive example of a kǽrnos from antiquity. The cups were constructed to be large enough to accept votive candles, or a tall candle can be placed in the center between the four receptacles, with offerings in each of the cups. They were lovingly custom-made by Julia Passamonti-Colamartino of the Venetian Cat Studio. Her pottery is produced using the same methods as in ancient times. It is fired in a kiln after the painting has been applied; while very lovely, they are not merely decorative, but intended for use. You can visit her website and see many wonderful pieces of hand-made pottery by clicking on this link: Venetian Cat Studio.

The Kǽrnos and the Alavastrothíki

Kǽrni must not be confused with another ancient vessel which looks quite similar; the alavastrothíki (alabastrotheca; Gr. ἀλαβαστροθήκη) is similar in shape to a 
kǽrnos but the receptacles are designed to hold little bottles of perfumes or unguents. These little vials (called alávastra [Gr. ἀλάβαστρα, plural of ἀλάβαστος]) did not have a flat bottom so they would be kept for storage in the receptacles of the alavastrothíki, a storage vessel not generally used for religious purposes.

NOTE: A list of abbreviations can be found on this page: GLOSSARY HOME.

Alávastos - (alabastus; Gr. ἀλάβαστος, ΑΛΑΒΑΣΤΟΣ) Lexicon entry: ἀλάβαστος [ᾰλᾰ-] or ἄλᾰβστρος, (, v.l. in
Ev Marc.14.3), globular vase without handles for holding perfumes, often made of alabaster. ἀλάβαστος (or -ον) is the earlier Att. form: Dor. acc. pl. ἀλαβάστρως:—neut. ἀλάβαστρον: pl. ἀλάβαστρα or -τα. (L&S p. 59, right column, edited for simplicity.)

- (alabastrotheka; Gr. ἀλαβαστροθήκη, ΑΛΑΒΑΣΤΡΟΘΗΚΗ) The alavastrothíki is a pottery vessel for the storage of little 
bottles of perfume or ointment. The alavastrothíki has many small receptacles arranged around the top of a post designed for the storage of alávastra (Gr. ἀλάβαστρα, plural of ἀλάβαστος), i.e. the little bottles.

Kǽrnas - (cernas or kernas; Gr. κέρνας, ΚΕΡΝΑΣ) Lexicon entry:κέρνας, , priest who carries the κέρνος. (L&S p. 943, right column, edited for simplicity.)

Kærnophorǽoh - (cernophoreo; Gr. κερνοφορέω, ΚΕΡΝΟΦΟΡΕΩ) Lexicon entry: κερνοφορέω, carry the κέρνος. (L&S p. 954, right column, edited for simplicity.)

Kærnophóros - (cernophorus; Gr. κερνοφόρος, ΚΕΡΝΟΦΟΡΟΣ) Lexicon entry: κερνοφόρος, , , priest or priestess who bears it (ed. the κέρνος). (L&S p. 943, right column, within the entries beginning with κερνοφορέω, edited for simplicity.)

ǽrnos - (cernos or kernos; Gr. κέρνος, ΚΈΡΝΟΣ) Lexicon entry: κέρνος, εος, τό:—also κέρνος, ου, : pl. κέρνα, τά:— earthen dish with small pots affixed for miscellaneous offerings; wrongly expld., = λίκνον. (L&S p. 943, right column, edited for simplicity.)

Kotylískos - (cotuliscus; Gr. κοτυλίσκος, ΚΟΤΥΛΙΣΚΟΣ) Lexicon entry: κοτυλίσκος, , Dim. of κοτύληlittle cup:—also κοτυλίσκη, ; κοτυλίσκιον, τό. II. a kind of cake. III. pit used for sacrificing to Earth. (L&S p. 986, left column, within the entries beginning with κοτύλεα, edited for simplicity.)


Abbreviations: Liddell & Scott abbreviations can be found here: Abbreviations etc. for Liddell & Scott. HellenicGods.org abbreviation list can be found on this page: GLOSSARY HOME.

[1] Lexicon entry: κέρνος, εος, τό, Ammon. ap. Ath.11.476f, Hsch. (pl.):—also κέρνος, ου, ὁ, Sch.Nic.Al.217: pl. κέρνα, τά, Poll.4.103:— earthen dish with small pots affixed for miscellaneous offerings, Ath.l.c., etc.; wrongly expld., = λίκνον, Sch.Pl.Grg.497c. (L&S p.943, right column)

[2] For many examples of kǽrni, visit this page: kǽrnos - Google Search

[3] Entry: κέρνος [n.] 'earthen vase with nipples all around, used in mystery cult' (sch. Nic. Al. 217; Ammon. and Polem. apud Ath. 11, 476f and 478c; H. (Etymological dictionary of Greek Vol. 1 [EDGI] by Robert Beekes with the assistance of Lucien van Beek, 2009; from the Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series, Brill [Leiden, Boston], p. 680)

[4] Athínaios Nafkratítis (Athenaeus of Naucratis, Gr. Ἀθήναιος Nαυκρατίτης) describes the vessel thus: "Kernos, a vessel made of earthenware, having in it many little cups fastened to it, in which are white poppies, wheat, barley, pulse, vetch, ochroi, lentils; and he who carries it after the fashion of the carrier of the liknon, tastes of these things, as Ammonius relates in his third book On Altars and Sacrifices. (Athin. XI. 52, 476f)

Further, he states: "Polemon in his treatise On the Dian Fleece says, 'And after this he performs the rite and takes it from the chamber and distributes it to those who have borne the kernos aloft"...the contents of which are: "sage, white poppies, wheat, barley, pulse, vetch, ochroi, lentils, beans, spelt, oats, a cake, honey, oil, wine, milk, sheep's wool unwashed."  (Athin. XI. 56, 478d)

Both the above translations as found in Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion by Jane Ellen Harrison, 1903; found here in the 1991 Princeton Univ. Press edition on p. 159.

[5] "The sanctuaries of Demeter have yielded a special type of a vase known as the Kernos.  It is very characteristic of our site and of the Eleusinian cult, and it was taken as evidence of Kretan or Minoan influence.  In spite of differences, the Kernoi can be compared to Minoan multiple pots and as Nilsson remarks 'nobody denies the connexion, although about a thousand years intervene between the Minoan and the Greek (Eleusinian) specimens.' [M. P. Nilsson, Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, 1950, 2nd ed., p. 452] This chronological difference, we believe, excludes Minoan influence; if it existed, we would expect to find such vessels in the early strata of the Sanctuary of Eleusis.  To date not a single fragment has been found in the prehistoric strata of the site, and we can conclude that, in later years, this peculiar vessel was developed at Eleusis independently...In exactly the same manner, the Kernos of the Christian worship was developed independently..."  (Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries by George E. Mylonas, 1961, Princeton Univ. Press; 1969 paperback edition, p.17)

"The presence at Eleusis of vessels with κοτυλίσκοι, that is, small bowls, proves the influence of a cult of Rhea--or the original kinship between the two cults.  The small bowls can be grouped around the vessel containing the kykeon (ed. a special drink consisting of barley, water, and mint*).  Wine was not permitted to be present, and they could not contain fire, because they were closed at the most λύχνα, 'candles,' on both sides.  But the κοτυλίσκοι could also be only apparent bowls, so shallow that they assuredly contained none of all the things that Polemon listed.  In the Mysteries of Eleusis these bowls were not eaten out of!  They were vestiges from the cult of Rhea." (Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter by Carl Kerényi 1960, trans. from the German by Ralph Manheim, 1967 Princeton Univ. Press edition, p.185; *kykeon definition on p. 40)

[6] "Apparently the vessels were used to hold a variety of cereals, representing a panspermia, that were being offered to the Goddess by the initiates in a service known as kernophoria; the worshipers could later partake of these cereals in remembrance of her benevolence to humanity and with the belief that they shared with the Goddess her bounty.  In later years kernoi of a votive character were apparently made to be dedicated to the Goddesses and often these were made of marble or with symbolic little cups attached to the body of the vessel." (Ibid. Mylonas, p.222)

[7] Ibid. Mylonas, p.257.

[8] "In regard to the dance in which kerna were carried, I know that they carried lights or small hearths on their heads." (Pollux IV 103, in the translation found in Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter by Carl Kerényi 1960, trans. from the German by Ralph Manheim, 1967 Princeton Univ. Press edition, p.184)

The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The 
Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kosmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς). 

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.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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