Web Analytics
LIBATION IN HELLENISMOS - ΣΠΟΝΔΗ
HellenicGods.org


HOME           GLOSSARY           RESOURCE           ART           LOGOS          CONTACT


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, 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, 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 and express our love and appreciation for them. 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 Ǽrohs, our offerings are meaningless, the smoke from our incense blows about and wine falls to the ground and never is savored by the Gods. Plátohn (Plato, Πλάτων) identifies Ǽrohs as a special Daimohn (Daemon, Δαίμων):

"He (Ἔρως) 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 (Ἔρως) 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 spondí (sponde, σπονδή). The libation is 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.

As outlined elsewhere in this book, offerings of any kind symbolize the interchange of Ǽrohs between Gods and the mortals who love them.

Do we drink some of the libation?

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). Other people disagree and pour out the entire libation to the Gods thinking that it is impious to consume the food of the Gods. Although there are exceptions (libations to the dead), this author was taught that generally, we dedicate the libation, make the libation saving some, and finally drink the remaining. This is implied in the below quotation of Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus; Ἰάμβλιχος):

"Perform libations to the Gods from the handle of the cup, to make the omen auspicious and to avoid drinking from the same part." [2]  

Drinking some of the libation is actually very important, particularly in the Orphic tradition. We are sharing with and participating in a type of communion with the Gods.


How to make a libation

Libations are made in a special section of the ritual reserved for this, performed in addition to any other offerings.

If possible, the participant should be standing up, out-of-doors, and the libation poured to the ground. Alternately, the libation may be made indoors into a receptacle reserved for this purpose.

The general procedure is to pick up the libation bowl with the right (receptive) hand. Next, while holding up the cup with both hands, we make a dedication to a God or several Gods or all the Gods, saying something like this


We dedicate this libation to khrismohdós Apóllohn and aithǽrios Diónysos and to all the happy, deathless Gods! [3] 

Next, transfer the bowl to your left (active) hand and gracefully pour out the liquid to the ground, leaving some in the bowl. The libation has been dedicated to the Gods. It is now their property, and some of this offering remains in your cup. We now drink and partake of what belongs to them, a type of communion.

You may then recite this prayer:

We drink the blood of Diónysos! May the Aithír of Zefs intoxicate our souls and transform us!

 Finally, drink the remaining liquid. In this, as in other types of offerings, we emulate the Titánæs (Titans, Τιτᾶνες) who partook of some of the flesh of Zagréfs (Zagreus, Ζαγρεύς) after sacrificing him, as can be seen in Orphic Theogony. We drink the Ikhóhr (Ichor, Ιχώρ), the divine blood of Diónysos (Διόνυσος), who is the fulfillment of the compassion and providence of his father Zefs (Ζεύς).

 

The libations made at a meal or sympósion

A very traditional group of libations are those made at a meal or sympósion (symposium, συμπόσιον), where the libation is made first to Æstía (Hestia, Ἑστία), next to the Agathós Daimon (Ἀγαθὸς Δαίμων), and a third libation (called "the lucky one") to Zefs Sohtír (Soter or Savior, Σωτήρ):

 

To Æstía Vasileia (queen, βασιλεία)! (pour a small libation)

 

To the Agathós Daimohn! (pour another small libation)

 

And to Zefs Sohtír I make these libations! (pour another small libation and drink some)

 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, χοή), a libation made to the dead or to khthonic (chthonic or earthy) deities, usually milk and honey, or sweet, dark-red wine. The libation to the dead is never consumed by those who make the offering. Traditionally, this libation is made from a vessel tipped over on the ground [4], unlike the spondí as described above. The hymn to Ærmís Khthónios (χθόνιος) is recited.

  

WHAT DO WE OFFER FOR LIBATIONS?

Oinos: wine

Wine (οἰνός) in general is symbolic of the divine Aithír (Ether, Αἰθήρ), which is the influence of Zefs' (Ζεύς) on the soul. The wine represents the Water-Fire-Aithír, the synækhís ousía (syneches ousia, συνεχής οὐσία), the continuous kozmogonic substance.

Dark red wine is symbolic of the blood, the Ikhóhr (Ichor, Ιχώρ) of Zagréfs (Zagreus, Ζαγρεὐς) or Diónysos; it represents the Jovian Aithír. We drink some of the blood of the God, a communion reflecting the mythology of Zagréfs being sacrificed by the Titánæs and partaking of his flesh. Thus, as Zagréfs undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes Diónysos, we too will be transformed and thereby conquer the sorrowful circle of births.

In ancient times, wine was mixed with water to reduce the alcohol content. There appeared to be conventions concerning how the wine was mixed. This author only mixes wine if one of the participants in ritual is a teetotaler, adding some honey to make it palatable.

 

Mælísponda: honey

Honey is golden, the color associated with all the Gods. Gold is like the sun which shines on the solar system, just as the brilliance of the Gods illuminates the entire Kózmos (Cosmos, 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, Νύμφαι). A drink-offering of honey is called mælísponda (melisponda, μελίσπονδα).

 

Gála: milk

Milk (γάλα) represents Íra (Hera, Ήρα) Vasileia, as explained in the following mythology. While Íra was asleep, Zefs (or Ἑρμῆς in another version of the myth) placed the infant Iraklís (Herakles, Ἡρακλῆς) to suckle her breast, but she awoke, and beholding the infant, was startled, jumped up and flung her milk throughout the universe, forming the galaxy, the Kozmic forces. [5] Milk represents Earth, the mæristí ousía (μεριστἠ οὐσίἁ), the divisible kozmogonic substance.

 

Mælíkraton: milk and honey

An offering of milk and honey is called mælíkraton (melicraton, 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 never 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)." [6] 

In the Odýsseia (Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια) of Ómiros (Homer, 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." [7]

 

NOTES:

[1] Συμπόσιον Πλάτωνος 202-203, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892.

[2] Ἰάμβλιχος Life of Pythagoras, trans. Thomas Taylor in 1818, edited for readability by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie in 1919.

[3] Khrismohdós (chresmodos, χρησμῳδός) means “oracular” and is an epithet of Apóllohn, who is the voice of Zefs (Ζεύς) on earth. Aithǽrios (αἰθέριος) means “ethereal,” of the aithír (αἰθήρ), and it refers to Diónysos being the aithír, the wine, the action of Zefs on earth. These two Gods, Apóllohn and Diónysos, are, respectively, the voice and the action of Zefs on earth. The Gods are happy (μακάριος), sometimes translated as “blessed.” And finally, the Gods are deathless (ἀθάνατος), they have transcended the sorrowful circle of births (κύκλος γενέσεως) and do not have mortal bodies.

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

[5] Hyginus Astronimica II:43.

[6] Πορφύριος The Cave of the Nymphs, 7, trans. Thomas Taylor, 1823.

[7] Ὀδύσσεια Ὁμήρου Book 10.519 (10.571 Fagles numbering), trans. A.T. Murray 1919.

 

GLOSSARY OF WORDS ASSOCIATED WITH LIBATIONS

Æpiliví - (epiloibi; Gr. ἐπιλοιβή, ΕΠΙΛΟΙΒΗ) a drink-offering (Orph.A. 547,603)

Ikhóhr - (Ichor; Gr. Ιχώρ, ΙΧΩΡ) Ikhóhr is the golden fluid flowing through the veins of Gods. The libation of dark red, sweet wine is symbolic of the blood of Diónysos. Nónnos refers to wine as Ikhóhr. (Διονυσιακά Νόννου 12.292 and 12.316)

Khoí - (choe; Gr. χοή, ΧΟΗ) libation made to the khthonic deities or to the dead.  

Liveion - (loibeion, λοιβεῖον, ΛΟΙΒΕΙΟΝ) a cup for pouring libations.

Liví - (loibi; Gr. λοιβή, ΛΟΙΒΗ) pouring, a drink offering or libation.

Mælíkraton - (melikraton; Gr. μελίκρατον, ΜΕΛΙΚΡΑΤΟΝ) a libation of milk and honey made to the khthonic deities or to the dead.

Mælísponda - (melisponda; Gr. μελίσπονδα, ΜΕΛΙΣΠΟΝΔΑ) a libation of honey 

Phiáli mæsómphalos - (phiale mesomphalos; Gr. φιάλη μεσόμφαλος, ΦΙΑΛΗ ΜΕΣΟΜΦΑΛΟΣ) a particular type of libation bowl having a central area which is raised so that the fingers fit underneath to hold the cup more securely.

Prokátargma - (procatargma; Gr. προκάταργμα, ΠΡΟΚΑΤΑΡΓΜΑ) libation before making sacrifice.

Spondeion - (Gr. σπονδεῖον, ΣΠΟΝΔΕΙΟΝ) cup from which a spondí (the libation) is poured.

Spondí - (sponde; Gr. σπονδή, ΣΠΟΝΔΗ) the general name used for a libation poured out to Gods.  

Spóndix - (Gr. σπόνδιξ, ΣΠΟΝΔΙΞ) one who offers a spondí (libation).

Spondokhóï - (spondochoe; Gr. σπονδοχόη, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΧΟΗ) a vessel used for making libations.

Spondophóros - (spondophorus; Gr. σπονδοφόρος, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΦΟΡΟΣ) – the individual who offers libation.

Spondopiós - (Gr. σπονδοποιός, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΠΟΙΟΣ) the individual who offers libation.



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

Proper Care of Offerings in Hellenismos



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.
Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.
How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.



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 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). 



PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this HellenicGods.org, you will find fascinating stories. 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 often 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.


SPELLING: HellenicGods.org uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself. An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website. For more information, visit these three pages: 

PHOTO COPYRIGHT INFORMATION: The many pages of this website incorporate images, some created by the author, but many obtained from outside sources. To find out more information about these images and why this website can use them, visit this link: Photo Copyright Information

DISCLAIMER: The inclusion of images, quotations, and links from outside sources does not in any way imply agreement (or disagreement), approval (or disapproval) with the views of HellenicGods.org by the external sources from which they were obtained.

Further, the inclusion of images, quotations, and links from outside sources does not in any way imply agreement (or disagreement), approval (or disapproval) by HellenicGods.org of the contents or views of any external sources from which they were obtained.

For more information: Inquire.hellenicgods@gmail.com

For answers to many questions: Hellenismos FAQ

© 2010 by HellenicGods.org.  All Rights Reserved.


HOME            GLOSSARY            RESOURCE             ART           LOGOS            CONTACT