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Proper Care of Offerings to the Gods 
in Hellenismos, the Ancient Greek Religion

HellenicGods.org

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AFTER RITUAL, WHAT SHOULD WE DO WITH THE LIBATIONS, FOOD OFFERINGS, SPENT CHARCOAL, etc.?

In the rituals of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, we make offerings to our Gods. These offerings consist of various substances: leaves of bay laurel, fruit, flowers, incense, libations of wine and milk and honey, etc. But when the ritual is complete, what are we to do with these offerings? The Gods do not consume the fruit or wine; all these offerings are symbolic. Insofar as the symbolic aspect of the offerings, they are sacred, so they should be treated with respect. At the same time, as with everything in our religion, we use common sense.

Ideally, libations should be made out-of-doors at a protected area of your property. Traditionally, libations were made in a type of ritual pit called a Vóthros (Bothros; Gr. βόθρος). In modern Greek, a vóthros is a cesspit for sewage, but in the ancient language, it could refer to any kind of trench; the term was also used for a ritual pit, in which case we capitalize the word: Vóthros. Sometimes the Vóthros was designed into a building with an outdoor drain, so that participants in ritual could easily make libations indoors, as in the Iærá Ikía (Gr. Ἱερὰ Οἰκία), the Sacred House outside the Sanctuary of Dimítir (Demeter; Gr. Δημήτηρ) at Ælefsís (Eleusis, modern Ælefsína; Gr. Ἐλευσίς).

If you offer wine, milk and honey, fruit juice, etc., these materials sour as they accumulate, they create odor, and attract insects as well. To allow this is disrespectful to the Gods. Although libations are sacred, they consist of organic material subject to natural laws. For a practical solution to this problem, about once a week, wash a shovel or a pitch-fork, turn the soil and break it up, allowing air to enter. This alone will greatly reduce any odors. 

It is a common but unethical practice to remove the top-soil and sell it when constructing a new home. This practice destroys the natural balance of the soil, eliminating most of the organic matter. If this is the case on your property, consider removing the bad soil and replacing it with good top-soil. Alternately, you could improve the porosity of the earth where you make libations with the addition of organic matter. Adding organic material to the soil is a good idea for this area in any case, even with good top-soil. This can be accomplished in many ways, with the addition of leaf-mold or peat moss being common materials. Initially add a considerable amount of organic material to the soil. This will have great effect, and with the weekly turning of the soil, add more organic material. There is a company that sells shredded bay leaves at a much lower price than whole leaves, still not exactly inexpensive. [1] It is not necessary to use bay laurel at all; it is just a nice thing. Adding any organic material is good and will improve porosity. The organic material also contributes to the natural break-down of the foodstuffs in offerings. The addition of organic material and turning the soil weekly should completely eliminate odor.

The picture to the left is the libation area at the home of the author of this essay. The ground is surrounded by a wrought iron edging to prevent people from accidentally stepping into the libation area. As described above, every week, weather permitting, the iron grating is removed and the soil is turned, adding some organic material to give the soil a pleasant fragrance.


Another way to offer libations is to pour them directly into a fire used for worship, of course, out-of-doors. Libations in general, wine, even non-alcoholic liquids such as milk and honey rarely extinguish the fire; they vaporize upon hitting the coals and billow up in offering to the Gods, leaving, seemingly, nothing behind. You must be aware when you make libations into a fire, particularly with wine, the flame can rise quite high. Even the steam from an offering of milk can scald your hand and arm. Therefore, you must be careful if you make your libations into the fire or do not do so at all. In any case, most people cannot have a fire every day for their libations. 

If you are in a situation whereby it is impractical to offer libations outside, have a bowl large enough for all the libations from everyone present. After the ritual, respectfully pour the bowl containing everyone's libations in the special spot outside. If you have no place whatsoever outside, try to save them in jugs and give them to a friend who owns property, or go to a place in the woodland. Do not wait so long as to allow mold to form in the bottle. With serious thought, you should be able to find a way to properly offer the libation. Or course, for some individuals it may be impossible to offer the libations to the ground at all. If this is the case and if you have absolutely no choice but to pour the libations into a sink, find a way to do so respectfully, perhaps with the recitation of a short prayer or hymn, or make another type of offering.



Food Offerings

Food offerings are shared with the participants after the ritual or left out-of-doors for the animals.
 On my property, I find that possums come and the offerings and lap up libations such as milk and honey. You may discover that other animals do this as well. I would not prevent them from doing so. Consider the story from Iródotos (Herodotus; Gr. Ἡρόδοτος) of the boys who took sanctuary in a temple of Ártæmis (Artemis; Gr. Ἄρτεμις) to escape becoming eunuchs. The priestesses left offerings for Ártæmis, knowing that the boys would eat them and survive. [2]

Food offerings can also be burnt on a ritual fire.



Spent Charcoal

The charcoal remaining after offering incense (or from burnt offerings) is similar: when the ritual is complete, when the coals are burnt through and cold, what do you do with the remainder? You can place it on the ground at the same place where you make libations. The spent charcoal can also be dug into the libation soil and have a good effect, reducing the souring of the earth from the libations. You can very quickly turn a spent charcoal briquette into the libation soil in just a few seconds. If you turn the soil every week with a shovel and add the spent briquettes, this earth will begin to develop a nice fragrance.

Another excellent alternative is to save the spent charcoal. Wait until the coal is completely cool and take a fork and by pressing it into the briquette, you will turn it into ash. Keep this ash in a jar. Eventually, you will have a considerable amount of ash. You can take this ash and place it into the bowl of an incense burner; you will find that, if you have enough ash as a foundation, you can place a freshly lit charcoal tablet right on top of this, and the ash will provide exactly the right amount of air under the briquette to enable it to burn through properly without going out. In time you will have too much ash. The excess can be given to friends or placed on the ground and worked into the soil as described above.

Again, if you have no choice, you could wrap the spent charcoal nicely in a paper towel and respectfully dispose of it.



Míasma and the Disposal of Offerings

There has been some talk on the internet that one must be very careful of míasma (Gr. μίασμα) when making offerings, that the offerings are sacred and should not be allowed to be contaminated. Following this logic, some people believe that you cannot allow animals to eat the offerings or that you may not place offerings where anything could happen to them to desecrate them. Naturally, we try our best to be respectful of the offerings, but the things that happen in nature are just that: natural. They are not a míasma. As stated at the beginning of this essay, the offerings are not consumed by the Gods: they are symbolic. So we do our best and place the offering in a pleasant area, but we avoid being superstitious and unnaturally obsessive.



NOTES TO THE TEXT:

(ABBREVIATIONS can be found on this page: Glossary Home.)


[2]  "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)


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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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