OFFERINGS TO GODS IN HELLENISMOS
TRADITIONAL AND APPROPRIATE OFFERINGS IN
HELLENIC POLYTHEISTIC RITUAL
"...to make libations and to sacrifice and to offer first fruits according to the custom of our fathers, purely and not meanly, nor carelessly nor scantily, nor above our ability, is a thing which belongs to all to do." (from the Ængkheirídion of Æpíktitos [Gr. Ἐγχειρίδιον Επικτήτου] Chapter XXXI: Piety, as translated by George Long in 1888.)
Misunderstandings Regarding Offerings
Are We Required to Sacrifice Animals to Gods?
When people envision the rituals of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the religion of ancient Greece, they conjure images of animal sacrifice. There is at least one scholar who claims that in order to practice the ancient Greek religion with authenticity, one must sacrifice animals on the altar. We do not sacrifice animals to the Gods. Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς) the great reformer and theologian whose tradition we follow, expressly forbid animal sacrifice, because we should help the less evolved souls. Pythagóras (Gr. Πυθαγόρας) and many others suggested offerings of frankincense and other nice things to the Gods. 
Do We Need to Propitiate the Gods?
Under ordinary circumstances, we do not propitiate or need to appease Gods, because the nature of the Gods is completely good and they are not petty despite some mythology that may imply otherwise; they never desire to harm us and are by nature favorably inclined towards us. 
As a worse case scenario, there are people who believe that you can do evil deeds and that by simply making offerings, we can appease the anger of the Gods. But this is bad thinking. Plátohn in Nómi (The Laws; Gr. Νόμοι) is very matter-of-fact concerning such an idea:
Can I Obtain Favors from the Gods by Making Offerings?
If it were true that you can produce gifts from Gods by simply making offerings, this would be as if you had some kind of power over the Gods and that by simply following a formula, you could make them do your will, so there is a problem with this line of thinking. It can be found in the ancient folk religion, that people would make a type of business deal with a God, promising an offering if a gift should be received. For instance, an individual might pray, "If my leg is healed, I will sacrifice a lamb." There is no question that such a religion existed in antiquity as numerous examples can be found in the literature. But are the Gods merchants who look forward to receive payments for services they render? Is not such an idea an attempt to profane the divine? It is unkind and ungenerous to look with disdain on worshipers who engage in this type of offering, but it is also useful to question whether such a practice is appropriate or even realistic or efficacious. Is there a way to make offerings that reflects a deeper and more sublime perspective?
Why Do We Make Offerings to Gods?
In the beginning centuries of Christianity in Europe, the act of making offerings was discouraged. The Christians believe that sacrifice or offerings are unnecessary because the death of Jesus was more than sufficient of an offering. The animal sacrifice of the Jews was ended with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. If Christians and Jews do not make offerings to their God, why do we make offerings to Gods? The Gods do not need or demand offerings. The idea of offerings as a "business deal" is questionable, and our offerings cannot force the Gods to bestow favors. If all this is true, what is the purpose of making offerings at all? What is the meaning of our offerings?
Mortals, Ǽrohs, and the Gods
In Ællinismόs, 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 demand our worship. But when we discover deity and find it beautiful and are attracted to it, this is an invitation; we are inviting the Gods into our life, and there is an immediate flow of Ǽrohs back from the Gods to us; the Gods feel our attraction and perceive that it is beautiful. Therefore, when we make offerings to Gods, the offering actually represents the Ǽrohs flowing back and forth between Gods and man. When we feel the great Ǽrohs surging toward us from the Gods, we desire to express our gratitude and love. We do this by offering the Ǽrohs back to the Gods. That is why we make the offering, whether it be a libation of wine, incense, or whatever one wishes. The offering represents the Ǽrohs or attraction to the beauty of the Gods, and it represents the Ǽrohs flowing from the Gods to us, that we receive from them and return to them in order to honor them and express our love and appreciation for them. This is the reason why we drink some of the libation or eat some of the food offerings; we are receiving the Ǽrohs as well as offering the Ǽrohs. Without Ǽrohs, our offerings are meaningless, the smoke from our incense blows about and is never savored by the Gods:
The Genuine Reciprocity of Ællinismós
There is an idea commonly held by both scholars and practitioners (both contemporary and ancient) concerning Ællinismόs, the idea that our religion is a religion of reciprocity, that we make offerings to Gods who in turn bestow benefits, in other words, quid pro quo or do ut es, "I give so that you give back to me." But as discussed above, is not this a distortion, a perversion of the beautiful meaning of a genuine offering? Yes, Ællinismόs is a religion of reciprocity, but it is not that we are expecting gifts from the Gods. It is reciprocal because Ǽrohs flows freely back and forth from man to Gods to man to Gods, etc. It is action which is spontaneous, natural, and bountiful. The physical offering represents our Ǽrohs for the Gods. It is not a "bribe" or payment for an expected gift. There is no "magic" such that one could make an offering and force the Gods to act; as a matter of fact, such an idea would seem to be impious. Rather, we make offerings because we love the Gods and desire to express our love.
What is Appropriate as an Offering to Gods?
Through the history of our religion, there are many things which have been used as offerings. On this page we will outline some of the traditional offerings used in Ællinismόs to express our Ǽrohs for the Gods.
In general, anything pleasant may be offered to the Gods, but the most traditional offering for us is laurel leaves. They are sacred, particularly to Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων) but also to all the Gods. Laurel is known to absorb much light in photosynthesis, symbolic of the brilliant light of the Gods, who are by nature all-enlightening. The laurel leaves are placed in the foreground of the altar. Try to use fresh laurel, not dried. If you cannot buy fresh laurel at the market, consider growing a laurel tree in a pot (if you do not live in a warm climate where you may be able to grow one out-of-doors). They are very easy to grow. (See this page: Sacred Plants and their Cultivation) Or course, if you cannot obtain fresh laurel, the dried leaves are satisfactory.
One leaf is a sufficient offering for one person. If you have a large enough group of people, the leaves are offered one by one from each participant, first one leaf on the left, then right, left, right, forming a wreath as in the picture below.
For more information regarding the mythology and use of laurel in Ællinismόs, please visit this page: BAY LAUREL - DÁPHNE - ΔΑΦΝΗ.
Bunches of flowers or even petals of flowers are appropriate offerings.
It is traditional to offer incense to the Gods. HellenicGods.org has several pages related to this offering: Incense
All kinds of food may be offered to the Gods. Anything pleasant and good: fruit, grain, milk, honey, cakes, cookies, etc. Obviously, food offerings are not "eaten" by the Gods; they are symbolic of our Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως), our love, our attraction to them. If you have a ritual fire, some of the offerings can be offered up in the flames, but it is nice to have an excess of offerings such that after ritual, the remaining offerings should be shared amongst the participants. Also, it is good to leave food offerings outside for wild animals to eat; our aim is to benefit those souls who are less developed. It is not necessary to dig food offerings into sacred ground and it is unfortunate to waste the offerings to Gods.
We often read of animal sacrifice in the ancient world, but Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς), whose tradition we follow, prohibited the killing of animals. Traditionally, cakes were made into the shape of animals or other things, to be offered to a God. This can be accomplished by making cookies and using cookie-cutters, easily available on the Internet and at some cooking stores. Sugar-cookies are ideal for this, made with a bit more flour and then spread out with a rolling pin. The commercially available mixes are fine and you can decorate the offerings as you believe would please the God. These cookies are appropriate for major festivals such as the Twelve Days of Dionysos or the Sacred Autumn Equinox. Offer some of the cookies to the God; if you have an offering fire, the votive cookies can be placed directly in the fire. The rest can be eaten by the participants and some left for wild animals. Things can be added to the cookies, such as little pieces of bay-laurel for Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων), etc.Here follows a list of animals and other things associated with Gods, in particular the Twelve Olympian Gods and Diónysos. Many of these shapes are already available as cookie-cutters and others can be constructed oneself (see below for ideas on making your own cookie-cutters):
Æstía (Hestia): Swine; Flame or Fire, Kettle
Áris (Ares): Eagle Owl, Serpent, Vulture, Woodpecker; Spear, Warrior-Helmet
Ártæmis (Artemis): Bear, Deer, Dog, Guinea fowl, Quail, Wild boar, Guinea fowl; the Moon, Bow & Arrow
Íphaistos (Hephaestus): Crane, Donkey; Flame or Fire, Hammer, Anvil
Íra (Hera): Cow, Crane, Cuckoo, Lion, Peacock; Lotus-staff
Poseidóhn (Poseidon): Bull, Fish, Dolphin, Horse; Pine-tree, Trident
Athiná (Athena): Crow, Little Owl; Warrior-Helmut, Winged Boots, Winged Helmut
Aphrodíti (Aphrodite): Goose, Hare, Sparrow, Turtle dove; Apple, Rose-flower
Apóllohn (Apollo): Dolphin, Mouse, Raven, Swan, Wolf; the Sun; Laurel-wreath, Lyre, Bow & Arrow, Tripod
Ærmís (Hermes): Cattle, Hawk, Sheep, Tortoise; Kirýkeion (Caduceus; Gr. Κηρύκειον)
Zefs (Zeus) Bull, Golden eagle, Lion, Wolf; Oak Leaf, Lightning
Dimítir (Demeter): Beehive, Bees, Gecko, Serpent, Swine; Wheat-Ear/Sheaf, Torch-staff
Ílios (Helios): Rooster, White Horse
Asklipiós (Asclepius): Snake; Serpent-Staff
Diónysos: Bull, Donkey, Goat, Leopard, Lynx, Serpent, Tiger; Thýrsos (Pine-cone Staff; Gr. Θύρσος), Grapes, Ivy
Ǽrohs (Eros): Hare; Apple, Rose, Bow & Arrow, Wings
Ækáti (Hekate): Dog, Weasel; Twin-Torches
Iraklís (Hercules or Heracles; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς): Lion ; Knurled-Club, Lion-skin
Krónos (Cronus): Ox, Bees, Beehive
Rǽa (Rhea): Lion
Here are a couple sources of cookie-cutters:
You can also make your own cookie-cutters:
VOTIVE OFFERINGS: A dedicatory or votive offering is some kind of gift, usually an object of some kind (it can also be a promised act), offered to a God after a prayer request has been fulfilled, or sometimes the gift is offered before the attainment of one's wish, in hopes of its fulfillment. The Greek word for a votive offering is anáthima (Gr. ἀνάθημα). In antiquity, such offerings were usually set up in a temple. In current usage, the anáthima may be set up in a shrine near the home altar. The suppliant can offer small gifts, pottery or bronze, in the shape of an arm or leg or other part of the body in hope for healing; this was traditional in ancient times in the temples of Asklipiós (Asclepius; Gr. Ἀσκληπιός). A suppliant may offer a ceramic such as a kratír (krater; Gr. κρατήρ) etc. dedicated to a beloved God and placed in a place of honor. A statue of something dear to a beloved God may be given as a present, such as in the picture on the left, a bronze deer for Ártæmis (Artemis; Gr. Ἄρτεμις)
THE ÆRMÍS (HERMES) JAR: Some people have a practice of placing a sum of money in a jar whenever they have good luck, the proceeds to be distributed to those in need.
SONG, POETRY AND DANCE: Those who are inspired make songs, poetry, and dance to the Gods. These can be offered during the offering section of ritual.
Contests of various types were conducted as offerings for Gods, as an entertainment for Gods, at all the major sanctuaries in antiquity. The games were held in honor of the God to whom the temple complex was dedicated. The most famous of these contests were the pan-Hellenic Olympic Games in honor of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς). The contests were mostly athletic, and you can still see, for instance, the ancient racetrack for horse/chariot racing at Dælphí (Delphi; Gr. Δελφοί), the seat of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). But there were many types of contests for wrestling, boxing, and other athletic skills. There were also competitions of poetry and music. Such a contest, both athletic and musical or literary, was called an Agóhn (Agon; Gr. ἀγών) and the participants competed for a prize called the áthlon (prize; Gr. ἆθλον). Funerary contests such as these were also held as commemorative offerings for beloved warriors such as Akhilléfs (Achilles; Gr. Ἀχιλλεύς). Agóhnæs (agones; Gr. αγώνες, plural of ἀγών) have been held in modern times on a much smaller scale, the author seeing mostly poetry contests for particular Gods.
OFFERINGS CAN BE MADE IN A SPECIAL VESSEL, usually associated with the Mystíria (The Mysteries; Gr. Μυστήρια), called the Kǽrnos (Kernos; Gr. Κέρνος)
AFTER RITUAL, what should we do with the libations, food offerings, spent charcoal, etc.? Please visit this page:
TERMS CONCERNING OFFERINGS (Under Construction)
Ágalma (Gr. άγαλμα, ΑΓΑΛΜΑ. Plural is Agálmata; Gr. Gr. Αγάλματα, ΑΓΑΛΜΑΤΑ) Ágalma is a cult-image or sacred statue. An Ágalma can be seen as a votive offering dedicated to the God represented by the statue.Æpivatíria - (Epibateria; Gr. Ἐπιβατήρια, ΕΠΙΒΑΤΗΡΙΑ) Lexicon entry: Ἐπιβατήρια, (sc. ἱερά), τά, Æpivatíria are sacrifices on disembarkation, Lib.Decl.6.37. (L&S p. 624, right column, within the entries beginning ἐπιβᾰτ-έον)
Agóhn - (Agon; Gr. ἀγών, ΑΓΩΝ, Plural αγώνες) Agóhn means contest or game. Here we are speaking of games not as an entertainment, but as a religious offering, as in the familiar pan-Hellenic Olympian (for Zefs; Gr. Ζεύς) or Pythian (for Apóllohn; Gr. Ἀπόλλων) Games. These were games conducted as a gift to the God, for which one competed for an áthlon (prize; Gr. ἆθλον). Agóhnæs (agones; Gr. αγώνες) were conducted at all major shrines for deities. The contests were athletic, but could also be musical or poetic. Agóhn, which also means a "struggle," is the etymological root for the English word agony.
Anáthima - (Anathema; Gr. Ἀνάθημα, ΑΝΑΘΗΜΑ) Anáthima is the Greek word for a votive offering, a dedicatory gift set up, usually in a temple, in gratitude to a God. This gift is the fulfillment of a vow made to this God after a prayer-request has been answered. The Anáthima can also be given ahead of time in hopes of the fulfillment of a prayer-request. The word Anáthima was twisted by the Christians to mean a gift offered to evil, because the Christians vilified our Gods. Later, the word was used in the church to designate someone who had been condemned to eternal damnation. But in truth, the Anáthima is a beautiful thing, a gift of love for a God who had compassion for you.
Pankarpía (pancarpia; Gr. Πανκαρπία, ΠΑΝΚΑΡΠΙΑ) Pankarpía is a traditional offering consisting of all kinds of fruits.
Panspærmía (panspermia; Gr. Πανσπερμία, ΠΑΝΣΠΕΡΜΙΑ) Panspærmía is a traditional offering of a gruel containing all kinds of seeds.
Tælæstíria - (Telesteria; Gr.Τελεστήρια) A Tælæstíria is a thanks-offering for success. (L&S p. 1770, right column)
Telesteria - See Tælæstíria.
NOTES TO THE TEXT:
(ABBREVIATIONS can be found on this page: Glossary Home.)
 ".... 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." (Plátohn [Plato; Gr. Πλάτων] Nómi [Laws; Gr. Νόμοι] VI, 782, from the translation of B. Jowett, 1892, found in the 1920 edition, Oxford University Press, p. 541.)
Also, please visit this page: Burnt Offerings.
 "Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him." (Plátohn [Plato; Gr. Πλάτων] Politeia [The Republic; Gr. Πολιτεία], Book II, 379; DPI p. 643)
Also, please visit this page: The Goodness of the Gods.
It can be argued that there are many instances in ancient literature where Gods are propitiated through sacrifice. There are extreme actions which could arouse the anger of the Gods or cause them to withdraw assistance. But the examples given in mythology where individuals arouse petty retribution from Gods for actions which, in some instances, are not even done deliberately, are not to be taken literally. An example of this would be when Aktaiohn (Actaeon; Gr. Ἀκταίων) accidentally observes Ǽrtæmis (Artemis; Gr. Ἄρτεμις) bathing naked in the wood. As is typical in these types of myths, the "victim" who is killed or punished has qualities that are connected with the deity in question. Aktaiohn is a hunter, like Ǽrtæmis. He has his dogs. The dog is symbolic of the Agathós Daimohn (Agathos Daemon; Gr. Ἀγαθὸς Δαίμων) which Ǽrtæmis uses to hunt down the beautiful souls. And Aktaiohn is transformed into a stag, an animal connected with the Goddess, and is devoured by his own dogs. In mythology, when a God kills, the God deifies: always. But using common logic, it is completely impossible for a God or Goddess to be petty as they are beings of immense enlightenment. And it must also be understood that the ancient understanding of Gods and worship was not always correct with the common people, as has been pointed out by Plátohn in the Evthýphron (Euthyphro; Gr. Εὐθύφρων) and elsewhere. Nonetheless, there is plentiful evidence of historical personages who felt that they had aroused the anger of Gods for one reason or another, often for not having fulfilled a promise made in request for some favor. Perhaps a general would ask for a victory in a battle and promise in return to build a temple, later after the battle had been won, realizing that the temple had not been built in a reasonable time and that it appeared that the Gods had withdrew assistance, the temple would be built and a propitiating sacrifice be made. So there may be instances where the Gods can be angered or withdraw their help, but usually these cases are particular or extreme. It must be understood that Gods have enormous understanding of human psychology and, frankly, are rather capable of predicting our actions before we even make them. So the way they understand our actions is different from the way we perceive their understanding.
 Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) Nómi (The Laws; Gr. Νόμοι) Book 10.905.c-906e, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892, as found in The Dialogues of Plato, published in 1937, by Random House (New York, NY USA), where this quotation may be found on pp. 647-648.)
 Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) Sympósion (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.
 "It happened that Periander, son of Cypselus, had taken three hundred boys, children of the chief nobles among the Corcyræans, and sent them to Alyattes for eunuchs; the men who had them in charge touched at Samos on their way to Sardis; whereupon the Samians, having found out what was to become of the boys when they reached that city, first prompted them to take sanctuary at the temple of Artemis; and after this, when the Corinthians, as they were forbidden to tear the suppliants from the holy place, sought to cut off from them all supplies of food, invented a festival in their behoof, which they celebrate to this day with the self-same rites. Each evening, as night closed in, during the whole time that the boys continued there, choirs of youths and virgins were placed about the temple, carrying in their hands cakes made of sesame and honey, in order that the Corcyræan boys might snatch the cakes, and so get enough to live upon. And this went on for so long, that at last the Corinthians who had charge of the boys gave them up, and took their departure, upon which the Samians conveyed them back to Corcyra." (Iródotos [Herodotus; Gr. Ἡρόδοτος] Histories, Book III, Chapters 48-49, in the translation by George Rawlinson, 1910, as found in the 1997 edition on pp. 247-8)
(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.
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