Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rituals and shrines 101

One of the questions I get asked most is 'how do I start worshipping [insert deity], and what should I offer to Them? What do I put on Their shrines?' Usually--but not always--question like this is asked by someone new to Hellenismos, and I thought maybe it was time for a general introduction to rituals and shrines.

The major difference between reconstructive religions and modern ones--especially Pagan ones--is the way worship is conducted. Individual worship of Gods as well as patronage is perfectly acceptable in modern religions, but in Recon religions and the ancient Traditions they were based upon, worship tends to be of the pantheon, not so much the one God or Goddess. As such, it is hard for me to answer questions like 'how should I worship Athena', or 'what do I do to honour Poseidon'; you do pretty much the same for both, and all other Olympic Gods as well--at least at it's core. The devil is in the details, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

I have mentioned before that there are five steps to proper, Hellenistic, ritual: procession, purification, prayers and hymns, sacrifice/offerings, prayers of supplication and thanks, usually followed by a feast and/or theater and sporting events. We can apply this to modern worship quite easily: procession (no matter how short), purification with lustral water (named khernips), a hymn, song or modern poem which praises and draws the Theos in question, a sacrifice of some kind--be it incense, (mixed) wine, meat or anything else--along with barley seeds tossed on the altar or into the altar fire, prayers or words of thanks, and--in communal rituals--plays, games, or (sports)-competitions. Within communal celebrations, the sacrifice can be some of the (raw) ingredients used to prepare the communal meal that will follow.

For those of you looking to honour the Gods with sacrifices that are not the above staples, make sure you are aware of the mythology surrounding the God or Goddess in question. In general, any sacrifice is acceptable--although probably not Traditional--but some plants/trees/fruits can be either extra special to the God in question (Laurel for Apollon, for example), or extra painful (pomegranate seeds for Demeter, for example).

We have great variety in ancient hymns that you can draw from to worship just about any deity; it's important, though, that in the context of the worship of one God or Goddess, you at least include those closest to Him or Her. In the case or Apollon, for example, don't forget His sister Artemis, His Mother Leto, His father Zeus, and Hera in placation. For Athena, don't forget Zeus, Ares, and Hera, and for--for example--Poseidon, don't forget Zeus, Amphitrite, and Rhea. Kronos if you are so inclined. Just never forget Zeus, ever. Also, in general, Hellenists offer to Hestia first and last.

Part two: shrines. An important note first: there is a huge difference between an altar and a shrine. An altar is one of those basic necessities within Hellenismos, and it differs from a shrine. Where an altar is a 'work space', dedicated not so much to a specific deity, but used to do the bulk of the (daily) rituals, a shrine is a devotional area where an altar might be located. In ancient Hellas, the shrine was usually a temple, the altar an actual altar, standing outside of it. Household worship took place at a multitude of shrines. Labelling something a shrine, does not mean you can't sacrifice at these spots in your home. In general, you decorate a shrine but leave the altar rather bare.

As for decorating your shrine: delve into mythology and go as wild as you want. In general, a light source and an offering bowl are staples, the rest is up to you. For Poseidon, the great Olympian God of the sea, rivers, flood and drought, earthquakes, and horses, you might look for the trident that is His symbol, appeased with fumigations of myrrh incense and the outpour of (sea) water. You could add images or statues of horses, Himself, and perhaps His wife Amphitrite to your shrine, and add seashells and anything else you can collect off of a beach for decoration. For Athena, I think owls would be a staple, Her weapon is the spear, anything with olives (including an olive tree) would be fantastic, etc.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Hellenismos is not glamorous; in general, you do the same thing over and over again with minor variations. That is what I love about it. It's simple, clear, and repetitive. Practice it like that and it'll become engrained into your person, and the Gods will become part of your daily life. That is the beauty of reconstruction. Remember this when you do your rituals and make up your shrines: practicality is a great good!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Homosexuality in ancient Hellas

Today, I found myself talking about homosexuality in ancient Hellas; the subject came up because we both identify as some version of LGBT, and I had just come out to her as being Hellenic. It was a civil conversation, and one I enjoyed very much. One of the things she said, however, stuck with me and I gathered some resources from my blog to counter it. She said, in relation to homosexuality in ancient Hellas, something I have heard countless of times before:

"Why or how was there are an issue with the homosexuality when your religion is a Greek thing? Hello?! That just doesn't make any sense."

Hellenic society was complicated when it came to sex; adultery was frowned upon, but most marriages were arranged and love was not a guarantee. The ancients saw sex as completely natural and--unlike many today--had no inhibitions and very few taboos when it came to straight up heterosexual sex. Anything else had societal stigma's attached to it. Heterosexual sex was defined by an active male and a passive female. Penetration was active, being penetrated was passive. Getting oral sex was active, while performing oral sex was a passive activity. There is a pattern there that is important, as it limited the socially acceptable interactions one could have. For example, men were stimulated to take on only an active roll and thus avoided performing oral sex on a woman (or man, but see below). Due to this dynamic, homosexuality was frowned upon as well; here were twe men (or women, but that's an entirely different dynamic and a longer story fr which there is very little evidence) who alternated an active and passive roll--something very much against society's rules.

Pederasty was a socially acknowledged erotic relationship between an adult male and a younger male usually in his teens, and was practiced mostly in the Archaic and Classical ages of Hellenic history. Due to the age difference and the societal function the practice served, this type of relationship was accepted and not considered homosexual. The younger partner was always the passive party and performed to role of 'woman' in the exchange, thus making it a heterosexual relationship between two men (as contradictory as that may sound).

Women--perhaps somewhat obviously--had far fewer freedoms when it came to sex outside of the marital bed, and their lives were far less often discussed. I highly doubt ancient Hellenic men had any idea what happened in the almost completely separate lives of their wives--especially in the richer layers of society, and especially in the big cities like Athens and Corinth. It would not surprise me at all if women found sexual comfort with each other or themselves on a regular basis, but evidence of that is slim to none-existent outside of Sparta from where there is even evidence of pederastic relationships between older and younger women in high societal circles.

Marriage was to someone of the opposite gender. You were heterosexual. Period. While members of both sexes may have shared their beds with someone of the same gender, this had nothing to do with the way they identified on the Kinsey scale. In ancient Hellas, what mattered was the role you played in bed. The males, especially when older or higher up in the hierarchy, were supposed to be the dominant ones, the active ones, while the women, the young and those lower in the hierarchy, the passive ones. Because of the age difference and the difference in social standing, the young male assuming a passive role was permitted in pederasty, but a grown man assuming that role was a social and sexual taboo. A wife who took charge in the bedroom would have been frowned upon as well. Especially within the marriage, sex served to make babies, nothing more. Prostitutes and concubines were still supposed to assume a passive, female, role, but I am willing to bet there were some exceptions to that rule.

I'm sure there were both people in ancient Hellas we would now identify as homosexual--and even those who practiced a homosexual lifestyle--and people who practiced what we could now call homosexual sex, but I am willing to bet most of them stuck to the societal rules briefly laid out here, and hardly wavered from them for fear of rejection. In a society where the group far outweighed the individual, it was even harder to go against the grain than it is today.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Match-fixing in ancient times

The Daily Mail recently came out with a piece on match-fixing during ancient wresting competitions. Although not specifically mentioned in the text, the sport in question was rather obviously Pále (πάλη), an event was similar to the modern wrestling sport--with three successful throws necessary to win a match. It was the most popular organized sport in Ancient Hellas and was the first competition to be added to the Olympic Games that was not a footrace. It was added in 700 BC. An athlete needed to throw his opponent on the ground, landing on a hip, shoulder, or back for a fair fall. Biting and genital holds were illegal.

The Daily Mail bases their findings on a the work of historians who have 'deciphered a contract dating from 267AD, between the father and trainers of two teen wrestlers competing in ancient Egypt. It says that Demetrius, the wrestler, must fall three times to concede victory in return for 3,800 drachmas, while other clauses reinforce the contract. The papyrus was discovered in Oxyrhynchus, in Egypt a century ago and has only just been translated by an expert at Kings College London.'

More from the article: Oxyrhynchus lies south-west of Cairo and is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt; it has yielded a huge collection of papyrus texts from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods of Egyptian history and among them are fragments of plays and the Gospel of Thomas. The city was built around a system of canals and inhabitants dumped their rubbish at nearby sand hills, including lots of written material as Oxyrhynchus was governed bureaucratically by the Greeks and the Romans. Archaeologists have discovered tax returns, census material, receipts, letters about religion, politics, military action and diaries, giving them a thorough picture of everyday life.

In 1896, two young excavators - Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt - from the University of Oxford began to excavate the site and combed through the rubbish. While they were concerned with finding works of high literature, they realised the importance of the discarded everyday material. Some 500,000 papyrus fragments are now kept at the university's Sackler Library; among them the account of match fixing.

The text does not reference ancient Hellas specifically, but it wouldn't be a stretch to consider these practices prevalent in ancient Hellas as well.

The match-fixing in question happened between the father of a wrestler called Nicantinous and the trainers of Demetrius who were set to wrestle in the final of the 138th 'Great Antinoeia', which was a series of games held during a religious festival in Egypt. According tot he contract, Demetrius would be rewarded with 'three thousand eight hundred drachmas of silver of old coinage' if he fell three times and yielded. He would still get his money if the judges realized what was going on and refused to give Nicantinous his victory. In case Demetrius backed out of the deal, his trainers would have to pay a larger sum of money to Nicantinous.

Winners of these types of competitions were often put up for life and honoured as heroes, so it paid to fix matches in this way. The sum of money, Dominic Rathbone, a professor at King's College London who translated the papyrus, says, would have been enough to buy a donkey at best. Why a written contract was drawn up is unclear.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The International Mental Health Research Organization 2014 Mounukhion cause

The International Mental Health Research Organization won this round as Mounukhion 2014 cause for Pandora's Kharis, with 64 percent of the votes! The organization is committed to raising awareness and funding neuropsychiatric research to find preventions and cures for severe mental illnesses, focusing on schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, within a generation. 100 percent of the money that is donated to them is dedicated to research.


With mental illness ranked as the number one cause of adult disability in America, affecting 1 in 5 adults, the mission of the International Mental Health Research Organization is to alleviate human suffering from mental illness by funding scientific research into causes, prevention and new treatments. The goal of research is to lead to cures, with a focus on schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and depression. To further this purpose, IMHRO:
  • Produces, supports, and builds awareness for fundraising events to raise money for mental health research
  • Directs funding to the most promising research by soliciting and selecting proposals in the area of prevention, treatment, and cure of mental disorders
  • Collaborates with affiliate organizations, people, and events worldwide to raise and direct funding—and minimize duplication of scientific effort
  • Works to build awareness of the scientific achievements and possibilities
The PayPal account is open to receiving your donations to this beautiful and worthy cause! The deadline for donations is May 1, and I thank you in advance already for them. All PayPal costs will be covered by Elaion so your full donation will be transferred to the International Mental Health Research Organization. Let's make this one count!

If you want to join the conversation, join Pandora's Kharis on Facebook.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Labour Series: the Gigantomachy and Prometheus

The last we saw of Hēraklēs, he was taking a breather and establishing the Olympic Games after capturing the Cretan Bull. Before Hēraklēs returned to vanquishing monsters to clear his soul of miasma, he became involved with two other, major, events: the war with the giants and the liberation of Prometheus. To quote from a post I did on the Giant and Titans:

The rise to power of the Olympians was not an easy one, in fact, under Zeus' leadership the young Gods had many toils and troubles to overcome before They became the dominant force in the universe. Two of those hurdles were the Gigantomachy and the Titanomachy, two events that were first depicted as separate events but became more entwined as the years went on.

The Gigantes were a tribe of one hundred Giants born of Gaia. Some say their father was Tartaros, others that they were born from the blood of the castrated Ouranos. They aren't considered Gods, but fall under the label of 'monster', like the Gorgons and the Hekatonkheires. Hesiod, in his Theogony describes the birth of the Gigantes:

"Then the son from his ambush stretched forth his left hand and in his right took the great long sickle with jagged teeth, and swiftly lopped off his own father's members and cast them away to fall behind him. And not vainly did they fall from his hand; for all the bloody drops that gushed forth Earth received, and as the seasons moved round she bare the strong Erinyes and the great Giants with gleaming armour, holding long spears in their hands and the Nymphs whom they call Meliae all over the boundless earth." [177]

Hēraklēs was alive and mortal for the Gigantomachy, and of course, he fought on the side of the Olympians, earning him great honour with the Theoi for his skill and bravery. Diodorus Siculus writes in his 'Library of History':

"After this, when the Giants about Pallenê chose to begin the war against the immortals, Heracles fought on the side of the gods, and slaying many of the Sons of Earth he received the highest approbation. For Zeus gave the name of “Olympian” only to those gods who had fought by his side, in order that the courageous, by being adorned by so honourable a title, might be distinguished by this designation from the coward; and of those who were born of mortal women he considered only Dionysus and Heracles worthy of this name, not only because they had Zeus for their father, but also because they had avowed the same plan of life as he and conferred great benefits upon the life of men." [4.15.1]

Afterwards, Hēraklēs has one more task to fulfil before he can return to his quest for redemption: free Prometheus. Prometheus, long before was given the task of creating man and his brother Epimetheus was ordered go give good qualities to all creatures of earth. So did Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus shaped man out of clay and Athena breathed life into him. Epimetheus spread swiftness, cunning, fur and wings to the other animals but ran out of gifts when he came to man. Prometheus remedied the situation by allowing men to walk upright and gave them fire.

It soon became apparent that Prometheus loved man more than the Olympians. When Zeus decreed that man must give sacrifice to the Deathless Ones, Prometheus stood ready to aid humanity. He butchered an animal and divided it in to piles; the bones and fat formed one of them, the good meat wrapped in the hide of the animal, the other. Zeus vowed that he would abide by the choice He made now, and picked the tasty looking pile of bones. Zeus was angered but could not take back his vow. What he could take back, was the gift of fire, and this he did.

Mankind suffered greatly without fire and Prometheus travelled either to the sun or Olympus to reclaim fire for his beloved mankind. This, of course, angered Zeus even further and so he devised a plan. First, he imprisoned Prometheus. He ordered Hermes to tie Prometheus to a mountain and had a giant Eagle come every day to eat his liver. As an immortal, Prometheus' liver grew back over night so his torment was endless--well, nearly endless because many, many, many years later, in one version of the myth Hēraklēs took pity on him. Diodorus Siculus again:

"And Zeus, when Prometheus had taken fire and given it to men, put him in chains and set an eagle at his side which devoured his liver. But when Heracles saw him suffering such punishment because of the benefit which he had conferred upon men, he killed the eagle with an arrow, and then persuading Zeus to cease from his anger he rescued him who had been the benefactor of all." [4.15.2]

Next up on the Labours of Hēraklēs series: the horses of Diomedes!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hellenic art by award-winning illustrator Glen Mullaly

I'm sorry, but I'm still not up to posting anything worth reading, so I'm going to leave you with this art I stumbled upon on-line because I actually had an emotion reaction to it. They are so beautiful, and the artist so very talented. Traditional? Perhaps not, but beautiful none the less. Artist: Glen Mullaly on Etsy, all works for sale.






The original art is pencil on paper, colored and textured with a mix of digital and gouache techniques.

Friday, April 18, 2014

PBP: Interpretation of signs

Divination played a fairly large role in Hellenic every day life. Oracles given directly, like at Delphi, were rare and called chesmomancy. All other forms of divination practiced in ancient Hellas were performed by seers, not oracles. Seer staples were divination through the spotting of birds (ornithomancy and augury), dream interpretation (oneiromancy) and animal sacrifice (hieromancy, haruspicy, empyromancy and extispicy), but other forms of divination were definitely used, including cledonomancy (listening to words spoken by a crowd), oneiromancy (divination through the reading of birthmarks) and phyllorhodomancy, the reading of the sound rose petals make when slapping them together with your hands. The biggest difference between oracles and seers was that oracles gave long answers which usually needed some for of interpretation while seers usually answered yes-or-no questions.

Divination of any kind was rarely turned to, to predict the future. To desire knowledge of the future was considered hubris. Instead, oracles and seers were petitioned to help answer questions about the present or to advice on a decision which had to be made in the very near future. 'Shall I go to war?', ' Shall I put my sheep out on the high pasture?'. Most often, oracular questions were posed in a way which made it easy for the God(dess)--and the seer--to answer; they did not ask 'Shall I go to war?', they asked 'Don't you think I ought to go to war?'. Most likely, the answer of seers (and perhaps even oracles) depended on the offertory; if it was large enough, the answer was 'yes', if the offertory was dissatisfactory, the answer would be 'no'.
Seers, in general, were considered touched by the Gods, and their gift was passed down through the blood line, often traced back to famous seers from mythology. These mythological people were considered gifted with the gift of sight and interpretation, and it could be passed by blood all the way down to the then-present. Some seers managed to make a good living from their job, others not so much and were rushed out of cities and towns when the answers they gave were not the desired ones.

In modern times, divination has become a game everyone can play. There are some who still position themselves as seers or oracles, but in general, many of us perform at least one type of divination, and all of us keep our feelers out to maybe find out what the Gods want from us--be it sacrifice, taking or not taking a job, going or not going somewhere, etc. There is an art--a skill--in interpreting signs, and it comes with a lot of practice. I remember starting out many, many, years ago and thinking everything was a sign while doubting every sign I got. In general, I have discovered a few things about interpreting signs:
  • Almost always, that sign you think you have gotten is either some random occurrence without meaning or your inner sockpuppets talking to you
  • It doesn't matter if it's the inner sockpuppets or it's simply a bird flying overhead; if you feel you must or must not do something in your gut, then do or do not do it--the opinions of the Gods matter, but yours do as well
  • Saying you speak for a certain God had best come with a boatload of proof
  • Making fun of someone who says they speak for the Gods is never okay
  • It's okay to believe someone speaks for the Gods, and it's equally okay not to make use of their talents if you don't believe--or even if you do
  • Divination is a beautiful practice, but it's hard to find true meaning in--mostly because of said needed skill and the inner sockpuppets; use divination as a guide, not a law, if you make use of it at all
  • Don't be afraid to interpret (or misinterpret) signs; the Gods will steer you right eventually, and most likely you won't even notice
  • Go with your gut; always go with your gut--an always be respectful to the Gods and those who serve them
Divination is a hot topic in the Hellenic community, mostly because of the historical foundation the practice is built upon. I rarely--if ever--use divination, but I do listen to my gut all the time. If I feel someone requires sacrifice, I'll do it, if I feel I'm meant to do something or walk away from something, I do it. Are those the Gods talking to me? I don't know, but I tend to believe they have instilled in me the qualities and wisdom to figure out my own life, and I have faith in Their willingness to steer my actions whenever I do something incredibly stupid. Interpreting signs is hard, and you will get it wrong many times over; that's fine. Keep at it, and once day you'll find the delicate balance between hope and faith.