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Why do we make offerings to Gods?

Libations are offerings to Gods, usually in formal ritual. Before we can discuss libations, we need to have an idea of why we would want to make any kind of offering to Gods at all.

In Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, the progressed soul is attracted to the great beauty and goodness of the Gods. This attraction is called Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως). Our Ǽrohs immediately gains the attention of the Gods, who have been awaiting our invitation. Why do the Gods await our invitation? It is because there is a great law that the Gods do not violate our freedom and our conscience; they do not impose themselves on us. But when the Gods feel our Ǽrohs, this is an invitation to enter into our life, and there is an immediate flow of Ǽrohs back from the Gods to us. When we make offerings to Gods, the offering actually represents the Ǽrohs flowing back and forth between Gods and men. We make the offering because we desire to honor them express our love and appreciation for them. And this is also the reason why we drink some of the libation or eat some of the food offerings, to represent the Ǽrohs
 which we receive from the Gods
. Without 
, our offerings are meaningless, the smoke from our incense blows about and wine falls to the ground and never is savored by the Gods. Pl
átohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) identifies Ǽrohs as a special Daimohn (Daemon; Gr. Δαίμων)

"He (ed. Ǽrohs) interprets between Gods and men, conveying and taking across to the Gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the Gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and Mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love all the intercourse and converse of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on." [1]

Generalities concerning libations 

Perhaps the most common offering to the Gods is the venerable libation, the 


(Sponde; Gr. Σπονδή). The libation 


a measure of some liquid offered, usually during ritual, such as wine, milk and honey, even fine oil, poured out ceremoniously on the ground, or to a receptacle on the altar, or cautiously into a fire.  

There are differing opinions about how to make libations. Some people pour out most of the libation, and then drink the remaining, similar to an animal sacrifice (the meat being consumed by the participants while the fat and bones are given to the Gods). But other people disagree and pour out the entire libation to the Gods. Although there are exceptions, this author was taught that generally, we drink from the bowl, and then make the libation. This seems to be confirmed by Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus; Gr. 



"Perform libations to the Gods from the handle of the cup, to make the omen auspicious and to avoid drinking from the same part." 


As outlined in the introduction to this essay, offerings of any kind symbolize the radiation of 


between Gods and the mortals who love them. We drink this gift and then to honor and express our love and gratitude, we pour some back to the earth. 

The general procedure is to pick up the libation bowl with the right (receptive) hand, while standing, and to drink some but not all of the contents. Next we address and pray to the God while holding up the cup. You may use a formulaic prayer or just speak from the heart. 

Then gracefully pour out the liquid with the left (active) hand. The libation is made in the offering section of ritual.

Of course this is formalized, but we must always keep in mind the true meaning, apart from the formality, as with anything in ritual.

The libations made at a meal or 


A very traditional group of libations are those made at a meal or sympósion (symposium; Gr. 


, where the libation is made

first to Æstía (

Hestia; Gr. 


), next to the Agathós Daimon (Gr. 

Ἀγαθὸς Δαίμων)

, and a third libation (called "the lucky one") to Zefs 

Sohtír (Soter or Savior; Gr. Σωτήρ)


To Queen Æstía!  (pour a small libation)

To the Agathós Daimohn!  (pour another small libation)

And to Zefs Sohtír I make these libations!  (pour out the remaining libation)

Eat the meal and at its conclusion, the final libation is made to Æstía.

Libations to the dead or the khthonic deities

Yet another type of libation is the Khoí (Choe; Gr. Χοή, Χοἁς, Χοαί), a libation made to the dead or to khthonic (chthonic; from the Greek χθών) deities, usually milk and honey, or sweet, dark-red wine. The libation to the dead is never consumed by those who make the offering.

"Libations to the dead were generally threefold, and usually consisted of honey, oil, and wine; or honey and milk or water, oil, and wine; but whatever the constituents of the threefold libation were, honey was always one of them. The inscription on a golden plaque, found in southern Italy, runs: 'The dead is thrice offered a drink; a mixture [honey-mixture], milk and water.' " [3]

"The choe involves the complete tipping and emptying of a larger vessel which may be held or may stand on the ground." [4]  

This can be compared to the Spondí where the libation is made in a controlled fashion, slowly pouring to the ground from a bowl or jug

"Choai were usually poured at the grave, either on to the steps supporting the stêlê or possibly over the shaft. The liquid could be in either mixed or unmixed form, but whichever the case the ingredients were always the same: honey, milk, water, wine and oil. ........ Before pouring out the choai, the celebrant commended both himself and his gift to the dead, thereby issuing the latter with an invitation to attend the rite being enacted in his honour. Assistance was sought in contacting the ghost of the deceased through the mediation of Hermes, Gaia and the other Gods and Daimones. There followed a prayer to the dead which took the form of a general request that they be kindly disposed (preumeneis) towards their family and dispatch bounty (esthla or agatha) to the world above in requital for the offering being made." [5]


Wine in general is symbolic of the divine Aithír (Aether; Gr. Αἰθήρ), which is the influence of Zefs(Zeus: Gr. Ζεύς) on our soul. The wine represents Zefs and Water-Fire-Aithír, the Synækhís Ousía (Synechis Ousia; Gr. Συνεχής Οὐσία), the continuous kosmogonic substance.

Dark red wine is symbolic of the blood of Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεὐς) or Diónysos, and also represents the Jovian Aithír.

In ancient times, the wine could have been stronger than that which we have today, therefore they mixed it with water. There appeared to be conventions concerning when the wine was mixed when it was used in libations. This author only mixes wine to dilute the alcohol if one of the participants in ritual is a teetotaler, adding some honey to make it palatable.

Honey is golden, the color associated with all the Gods, because this color is like the sun which shines on the solar system just as the enlightenment of the Gods illuminates the entire Kózmos (Cosmos; Gr. Κόσμος). Further, you can preserve things in honey and, therefore, it is symbolic of the immortality of the Gods. Honey is produced by bees, symbolic of the Nýmphai (Nymphs; Gr. Νύμφαι). A drink-offering of honey is called Mælísponda (Melisponda; Gr. Μελίσπονδα).

Milk represents Queen Íra (Hera; Gr. Ήρα), as explained in the following mythology. While Íra was asleep, Zefs (or Ærmís [Hermes; Gr. Ἑρμῆς] in another version of the myth) conspired to have the infant Iraklís (Herakles; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς) suckle her breast, but she awoke, and suddenly beholding the infant, she was startled and flung milk throughout the universe, forming the galaxy, the Kozmic forces. [6] Milk represents Íra and Earth, the Mæristí Ousía (Gr. Μεριστἠ Οὐσίἁ), the divisible kosmogonic substance.

Milk and Honey
The offering of milk and honey is called Mælíkraton (Melikraton; Gr. Μελίκρατον). While milk and honey is an appropriate offering for Gods in general, it is also a traditional offering to the dead and, when used in that way, should not be consumed by those making such a libation. The milk and honey is libated in hopes of giving immortality to those who have passed. It is also offered to the Gods in funerary offerings. Honey is called the food of the Gods: 

"... some persons have thought that the nectar and ambrosia, which the poet pours into the nostrils of the dead, for the purpose of preventing putrefaction, is honey; since honey is the food of the Gods. On this account also, the same poet somewhere calls nectar golden; for such is the colour of honey (viz., it is a deep yellow)." [7] 

Honey preserves, hence represents immortality. In the Odýsseia (Odyssey; Gr. Ὀδύσσεια) of Ómiros (Homer; Gr. Ὅμηρος), the Mælíkraton is one of a number of substances used to revive the dead: 

"Thither, prince, do thou draw nigh, as I bid thee, and dig a pit of a cubit's length this way and that, and around it pour a libation to all the dead, first with milk and honey (μελικρήτῳ), thereafter with sweet wine, and in the third place with water, and sprinkle thereon white barley meal." [8]

What should we do with the libations after ritual is over? Please visit this page:

Proper Care of Offerings in Hellenismos

(For a list of abbreviations: GLOSSARY HOME PAGE)

Æpiliví - (Epiloivi; Gr. Ἐπιλοιβή, ΕΠΙΛΟΙΒΗ) An Æpiliví is drink-offering, Epic.Alex.Adesp.9 vi 26 (pl.), Orph.A. 547,603 (both pl.).  (L&S p. 644, left column)

Khoí - (Choe; Gr. Χοή, ΧΟΗ. Also Χοἁς, Χοαί.Khoí are libations made to the khthonic deities or to the dead.  
- Lexicon entry (edited for simplicity)pouring out of liquid, drink-offering, esp. made to the dead or over their graves (opp. λοιβή, σπονδή made to the Gods), χοὴν χεῖσθαι νεκύεσσιν (where it is mixed with milk), of honey, wine, and water, poured out in succession, Od.10.518. 2. rarely of libations in general. II. generally, stream—Mostly poet. (L&S p. 1996, left column)

Liveion - (Loibeion; Gr. Λοιβεῖον, ΛΟΙΒΕΙΟΝ) The Liveion is a cup for pouring libations(L&S p. 1060, left column, within the entries beginning with λοιβ-αῖος)

Liví - (Loibi; Gr. Λοιβή, ΛΟΙΒΗ) The Liví is a religious pouring, a drink offering or libation(L&S p. 1060, left column, within the entries beginning with λοιβ-αῖος)

Mælíkraton - (Melikraton; Gr. Μελίκρατον, ΜΕΛΙΚΡΑΤΟΝ) The Mælíkraton is a libation of milk and honey made to the khthonic deities or to the dead.  
- Lexicon entry (edited for simplicity)drink of honey and milk offered as a libation to the powers of the nether world; also, a mixture of honey and  water(L&S p. 1097, right column)

Mælísponda (Melisponda; Gr. Μελίσπονδα, ΜΕΛΙΣΠΟΝΔΑ) - The Mælísponda is a libation of honey.
- Lexicon entry: μελίσπονδα, drink offerings of honey, μ. θύειν Plu.2.464c, 672b, cf. Porph. Abst.2.20. (L&S p. 1097, right column)

Phiáli Mæsómphalos - (

Phiale Mesomphalos; 


Φιάλη Μεσόμφαλος, ΦΙΑΛΗ ΜΕΣΟΜΦΑΛΟΣ) libation bowl.  It has a central area which is raised so that the fingers fit underneath to hold better.

Prokátargma - (Gr. προκάταργμα, ΠΡΟΚΑΤΑΡΓΜΑ) Prokátargma is libation before sacrifice. (L&S p. 1484, right column, edited for simplicity.)

Spondeion - (Gr. 

Σπονδεῖον, ΣΠΟΝΔΕΙΟΝ) 

The Spondeion is the cup from which the 

Spondí (the libation) is poured(L&S p. 1629, left column)

Spondí (sponde or spondi; Gr. 


πονδή, ΣΠΟΝΔΗ

) - The 


 is the general name used for a libation.  

Lexicon entry:

σπονδἠ, ἡ, (σπένδω) drink-offering, of wine poured out to the Gods before drinking; a drink-offering to a God. 2. pl., σπονδαί a solemn treaty or truce (because solemn drink-offerings were made on concluding them. b) esp. the Truce of God during the Olympic games; during the Eleusinian Mysteries. (L&S p. 1629, right column)

Spóndix - (Gr. Σπόνδιξ, ΣΠΟΝΔΙΞ) The Spóndix is one who offers a Spondí (libation). (L&S p. 1629, right column, within the entries beginning σπονδ-ή) Cf. Spondophóros and Spondopiós.

Spondokhóï  - (Gr. Σπονδοχόη, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΧΟΗ) The Spondokhóï is a vessel used for making libations. [16]

Spondophóros - (Spondophorus; Gr. Σπονδοφόρος, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΦΟΡΟΣ) - The Spondophóros is one who offers libation. (L&S p. 1629, right column, within the entries beginning with σπονδο-ποιέομαι) Cf. Spóndix and Spondopiós.

Spondopiós - (Spondopios; Gr. Σπονδοποιός, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΠΟΙΟΣ) The Spondopiós is one who offers libation. (L&S p. 1629, right column, within the entries beginning with σπονδο-ποιέομαι) Cf. Spóndix and Spondophóros.


[1] Platóhn Sympósiun (Symposium; Gr. Συμπόσιον) 202-203, translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1892; found in the 1937 Random House edition of The Dialogues of Plato, Vol. I, p. 328.


Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus; Gr. 


 from The Life of Pythagoras, translated in 1818 by Thomas Taylor, edited for readability by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie in The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, 1988 Phanes Press, p. 78.


The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore by Hilda M. Ransome, Dover, 2004, p. 120.

[4] Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, 1985, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., p. 70.

[5] The Greek Way of Death by Robert Garland, 1985, Cornell University Press, p. 115

[6] Hyginus Astronimica II:43.

[7] Porphýrios (Porphyry; Gr. Πορφύριος) The Cave of the Nymphs7, trans. Thomas Taylor, Thomas Rodd Publ., London England, 1823, pp. 181-182.

[8] Ómiros (Homer; Gr. Ὅμηρος) Odýsseia (Odyssey; Gr. Ὀδύσσεια) Book 10.519 (10.571 Fagles numbering), trans. A.T. Murray 1919, found here in the 1976 Harvard (Cambridge, MA) and Heinemann (London, England) edition entitled Homer: The Odyssey, Vol. I, LCL 104, on pp. 381-383.

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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 kozmogonic 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). 

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Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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