I practice Hellenismos, the reconstructed worship of the gods of ancient Greece, or Hellas. While the variations within that tradition are incredibly diverse, I think it’s safe to say that kharis is universally Hellenic.
Kharis is nicely defined in the book of the same name by Sarah Kate Istra Winter. While she presents several definitions in the front, the one that is most apt here is from Burkert’s Greek Religion:
“Men live by the hope of reciprocal favour, charis. ‘It is good to give fitting gifts to the immortals’ — they show their gratitude.”
This is not a quid pro quo deal, where I pay a god a particular price and get a favor in return. In fact, one day not so long ago I found myself thinking in that fashion, bargaining with a particular deity that I would make a certain offering if a particular event took place as I desired, and I brought myself up short, and then apologized profusely. I vowed to make the stated offering regardless.
The event I was desirous of did indeed occur as I had hoped, and that’s an important point. I do not pay my gods for favors, I make them offerings out of devotion or love, or both. Do we feed and clothe our children to guarantee a nice nursing home placement, or because we love them? It may seem like a distinction without a difference, but to the gods, it’s written plainly on our faces.
When I approach my gods with offerings and ask nothing in return, I am much more likely to receive the blessings I need, rather than those I want. Those blessings do come, and they come powerfully, when I pay honor in this way. It’s a simple system, and it works.
This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.