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LIBATION IN HELLENISMOS - ΣΠΟΝΔΗ


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Why do we make offerings to Gods?

Libations are offerings to Gods.  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. That is also why we make the offering, because we want 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
. But it must be kept in mind that without 
Ǽrohs
, our offerings are meaningless, the smoke from our incense blows about and an empty libation falls to the ground and never is savored by the Gods:

"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]


Libation 


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

Spondí 

(Sponde; Gr. 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, or into a fire (being very careful as the fire can flare up from wine; also the instantaneous release of hot steam can burn skin).  


There are differing opinions about 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 with this practice and pour out the entire libation to the Gods. Although there are exceptions, this author was taught that for the general libation, we drink from the bowl, and then make the libation. This seems to be confirmed by Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus; Gr. 

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 [from which the liquor was poured out]." 

 [2]  


The idea of drinking some of the libation is very special in our tradition. We make libations or any offerings, because we love the Gods. Offerings symbolize the radiation of 

Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως) 

between Gods and the mortals who love them. We drink this gift and then to honor the Gods, 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. 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.


Another type of libation, one made at a meal or sympósion (symposium; Gr. 

συμπόσιον)

, where the libation is made to

 
Æstía (

Hestia; Gr. 

Ἑστία

), the Agathós Daimon (Gr. 

Ἀγαθὸς Δαίμων)

, or other deity. Here the libation is bit like a toast and is usually wine. A small libation is made to the God and the participant drinks the rest. There is a tradition of making a libation to 

Æstía

 before and after a meal.

 

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.

"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]



What is Libated

Wine
Wine in general is symbolic of the divine Aithír (Aether; Gr. Αἰθήρ) of Zefs' (Zeus: Gr. Ζεύς) influence on our soul. Dark red wine is symbolic of the blood of  Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεὐς) or Diónysos

In ancient times, the wine is believed to have been much stronger, 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 when one of the participants in ritual does not drink alcohol, adding some honey to make it palatable.

Honey
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 Kósmos (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 nymphs.  A drink-offering of honey is called Mælísponda (Melisponda; Gr. Μελίσπονδα).

Milk
Milk represents Queen Íra (Hera; Gr. Ήρα). While Íra was asleep, Zefs conspired to have the infant Iraklís (Herakles; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς suckle her breast (or Ærmís  {Hermes; Gr. Ἑρμῆς} in another telling of the myth), but she awoke, flinging milk throughout the universe, forming the galaxy, the Kosmic forces. [6] Milk represents Íra and Earth, the Mæristí, or continuous, Substance (Gr. Μεριστἠ Οὐσίἁ). 

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. It 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 Odyssey, 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



Definitions of Greek words
(For a list of abbreviations: GLOSSARY HOME PAGE)

Khoí - (Choe; Gr. χοή, ΧΟΗ. Also Χοἁς, Χοαί.Khoí are libations made to the khthonic deities or to the dead.  

Lexicon entryχοή, ἡ, (χέω) 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, S.OC469, 1599. II. generally, stream, Ἀχέροντος ἄρσενας χοάς Id.Fr.523.—Mostly poet. [10]

Mælíkraton - (Melikraton; Gr. Μελίκρατον, ΜΕΛΙΚΡΑΤΟΝ) The Mælíkraton is a libation of milk and honey made to the khthonic deities or to the dead.  

Lexicon entryμελίκρᾱτον, Ion. μελί-κρητον, τό, (κεράννυμι) drink of honey and milk offered as a libation to the powers of the nether world, χοὴν χεῖσθαι πᾶσιν νεκύεσσι, πρῶτα μελικρήτῳ, μετέπειτα δὲ ἡδέϊ οἴνῳ Od.10.519, cf. SIG1025.34 (Cos); μελίκρατα γάλακτος E. Or.115; also, a mixture of honey and waterHp. Aph.5.41Arist.Metaph.1092b29Com.Adesp. 128, Antyll. ap. Orib.5.29.7, Gal. ap. Orib.5.14.1, cf. Sch.S.OC481Thphr. HP9.11.2; μ. θερμόν POxy.1088.61[11]

mælispontha (melisponda; Gr. μελίσπονδα, ΜΕΛΙΣΠΟΝΔΑ) - The mælispontha is a libation of honey.

Lexicon entry: μελίσπονδα, drink offerings of honey, μ. θύειν Plu.2.464c, 672b, cf. Porph. Abst.2.20.
  [12]

Spondí (sponde or spondi; Gr. 

σπονδή, ΣΠΟΝΔΗ

) - The 

Spondí

 is the general name used for a libation.  


Lexicon entry:

 
σπονδἠ, ἡ, (σπένδω) 1) 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. [9]

Spondokhóï  - (Spondokoi; Gr. Σπονδοχόη, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΧΟΗ) The Spondokhóï is a vessel used for making libations. [13]

Spondophóros - (Spondophorus; Gr. Σπονδοφόρος, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΦΟΡΟΣ) - The Spondophóros is one who offers libation. [13]

Spondopiós - (Spondopios; Gr. Σπονδοποιός, ΣΠΟΝΔΟΠΟΙΟΣ) The Spondopiós is one who offers libation. [13]



NOTES:

[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.

[2]  

Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus; Gr. 

Ἰάμβλιχος)

 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.


[3] 

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.

[9] L&S p. 1629, right column.

[10] L&S p. 1996, left column.

[11] L&S p. 1097, right column.

[12] L&S p. 1097, right column.

[13] L&S p. 1629, right column, within the entries beginning with σπονδο-ποιέομαι.


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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 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). 



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