This week we have looked at animal sacrifice and non-sacrificial offerings, mostly what to offer and why, and a little bit of how. Today, we’re going to look at some of the rules for offerings and what to do after the offering is done.
What to Offer
We have of course discussed meats and non-meat foods that can be offered, so we do know what foods to offer. But in the post about animal sacrifice we also discussed the myth about Prometheus and how it was decided how much of an animal was to be given to the Gods and how much was not. A similar rule applies when offering non-meat food products.
Ouranic deities are given partial offerings while Chthonic deities are given holocaust, or whole/entire offerings. This includes libations. So for example:
Ouranic offering. One apple is sliced into pieces, you offer the deity one (or more) slice of the apple and you get the rest. You fill an appropriately sized vessel with wine and water, to pour in libation you pour some of it out and you drink what remains.
Chthonic offering. One whole apple is offered to the deity (sliced or not), and you get none. You fill an appropriately sized vessel with wine, no water and pour the entire vessel in libation and have none for yourself.
The problem here is, piece and entire is kind of up to interpretation. Some things are easier than others. A piece of fruit, easy to figure out what entire is compared to what a piece is. But what of something like bread, what is an entire bread? Is it the entire loaf of bread, or does a slice equal entire? Not an easy one, and as I said – very much open to interpretation. Personally, I tend towards the slice one – I have offered up slices of banana bread for the Deipnon before. I could offer the entire loaf I suppose, but it’s not all mine, it belongs to my entire family including three children who really like banana bread. I cannot offer up their portions, as their portions are not mine to sacrifice. I can only offer up some of mine.
One way to ensure this isn’t a problem is, if offering things like bread, to cook your own. Small loaves of bread are entire breads and much easier to offer and figure out. Bake cookies – one cookie is a whole. Or, simply do not offer anything that is difficult to tell the difference between whole and piece. Of course, you can also do some divination to find out what is okay and what is not – and remember that while a slice of bread may be considered whole by a Chthonic deity, a slice of mandarine may be another matter.
Making the Offering
The act of actually offering your, well, offering, is not as simple as it may seem once you actually get into the doing of it. There a few options on what you can do, how to do it.
The more traditional way is to burn your offering. This can be done in several ways. Inside the home, you can put safe ethanol in a fire proof bowl, light that on fire and drop your offerings in there, ending with the libation which is likely to put the fire out. Elani at Baring the Aegis has a video tutorial showing this. Alternatively you can of course work outside with a wood fire, indeed setting up an altar and or shrine outside is a good idea. If you are fortunate enough to have a fireplace with a nice hearth, you could even set up the hearth as you shrine and altar area and use the fireplace for burning offerings.
This is more of an option for offerings to Chthonic deities, but some people do use this for Ouranic deities as well, because they see no other options. Make your offering outside in a small pit and bury it. Nice and simple. This has the added benefit of working as feed for any plants near to the pit.
Not everyone has the option to burn their offerings, usually because flame and smoke is not allowed in their home. And if they have no yard then burning or burying outside is obviously not a viable option. Thus it is that many of us do use a simple bowl method, which is simply placing the offering into a bowl that sits on the altar. Of course this has its own problem – what to do with the food afterwards?
Rituals in Hellenism tend to follow a specific but basic formula, whether the rituals are basic or elaborate. Now of course, the more elaborate the ritual, the more there is to it, but it will still follow the basic formula as well.
Preparation: May include bath or shower, making yourself neat and presentable, listening to music or meditating to ‘get in the zone’ and of course gathering everything you will need. Once everything is ready to go…
Procession: The procession is a telling part of Hellenic ritual, but to be honest I am not sure if it was so much a part of household practice – though it was certainly part of public rituals and festivals and the like. Nonetheless, the walk from somewhere in your house to your altar area is technically a procession if you treat it as such. You can even just stand at your ritual area, step back a step or two, pause and then step forward again in mini procession.
Purification: Make some khernips, which is done by dropping a flaming herb or piece of wood into a bowl of clean water (salt, spring, tap or a mix). Using the khernips to wash your hands and sprinkle it over your face and head and over your altar or working area. Then it’s common to scatter some barley around on the altar as well.
The Ritual: In italic text are the parts that aren’t necessary for basic rituals.
– Light candle/s, can recite hymn to Hestia here, She who gets first and last of all offerings
– Light incense while reciting hymn to the deity or deities of the ritual
– More hymns can be done here
– Make offering, can offer first piece to Hestia, then offer to other deity/deities
– If praying or requesting anything, do so during the offering
– If this a Ouranic ritual, you can now eat whatever wasn’t offered
– More hymns can go here, as well as any other aspects you have added to the ritual
– Pour libation, with or without hymn or prayer
– If this is a Ouranic ritual, you can drink the remainder of the libation now
– Extinguish candle and say farewell and thanks, however you deem fit
So for your most basic ritual, the formula is very simple. Preparation, procession, purification. Candle, incense with hymn, libation, farewell. For the basic ritual, such as a daily one, a shower or bath may not be necessary, especially if you do morning and evening daily rituals – I mean, there is such a thing as showering too much, it’s not great for your skin! However, dressing neatly in clean clothing, brushing your hair and teeth and washing your hands is still a good idea.
And of course many of us have our extra bits for ritual usage, so if you cast circle or shield yourself and your area in some way before rituals, you should of course do that when you feel it is appropriate within the above ritual format – obviously after the preparation but before the ritual itself. The same applies for other things, opening the circle, dropping the shield/s, grounding yourself etc.
After the Offering
If you bury your offering there is no real aftercare to worry about. If you burn your offering, however, you will have ashes and perhaps small bits and pieces of food left over to deal with. Thankfully the ashes and leftover bits and pieces are actually very easy to deal with – they are typical offerings to Hekate on the Deipnon. Any pieces of offerings that end up accidentally on the floor or elsewhere they shouldn’t have ended up are also able to be given on the Deipnon, as are the barley grains left around everywhere.
But the bowl offerings are different. When you place an offering in a bowl, without burning it, without burying it, you are left with entire offerings that belong to specific deities. There are options, suggestions, but in truth none of them are perfect and in the end it is up to the individual as to what they are able to do and are comfortable with. I will present some of them, and some of my thoughts on them.
Eat it yourself. Don’t. If you are offering to a Hellenic deity, They own the offering you give Them. Do. Not. Eat. It.
Throw it in the bin. Please don’t, it’s just so disrespectful.
Leave it on the altar. Well, I mean if you want. But yuck!
Leave it until later. Some people leave it until they can burn it, bury it or get someone else to do so for them. A viable option, unless it takes too long and it gets all yucky.
Compost it. If you have compost, then this could be an option. I guess I see no real problem with this one, but I am sure some would – so it is very much an individual choice here.
Leave it in nature. This is a favourite option, to leave the offering somewhere in nature. Some people even have a specific place for this in their yard, a square or something with plants where they leave offerings and make libations. Alternatively, some wild area would work if you have no yard. Both nice ideas. But be careful, not all deities may be okay with sharing Their foods with the animals. Also on a more practical note, be careful the offering isn’t poisonous to any wildlife and won’t attract the wrong type of wildlife.
Throw it in a blender. Throw the offering in a blender, mix with some water and turn it into a smoothie type thing. Pour that in nature (or on a pot plant), where there is little risk to animals, or to offending the Gods by sharing it with animals but it will also feed the plants. It is also less messy than having, say, whole loaves of bread sitting all around the place. This was an idea I thought of the other day, in truth I do not know how I feel about this idea, if it’s good or not – but I should present it as an option anyway.
Well that’s everything for this post. I hope it’s been helpful – I know I am merely one of many to have done a post like this, but I think that the more of us doing these posts, the easier it is for those needing help to find it. If you want to read further on this then take a look at some of the links below.
Temenos Theon – Ritual for Single Person
eCauldron – Standard Ritual Outline