The winter solstice is when members of the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus and Pan celebrate the Kheimenia, which is a busy festival that tips the hat to an oodle or two of ancient and modern celebrations. We were unable to gather together and each of us was given the opportunity to celebrate separately. For me, setup began around noon and I’m just winding down now ten hours later.
The Kheimenia includes elements of the Maimakteria, Pompaia, Poseidea, Haloa, rural Dionysia, and offerings to Pan of the pines, Selene, Apollon, and Helios. I was asked to set up images of all these gods, and my family’s main altar proved ideal when I decided to use cards from the Mythic Oracle deck to to so. Selene gets the place of honor for her prominence relative to Helios, whose image is just below hers; the other deities are displayed on the main level.
This altar is against an interior wall which backs onto the chimney. That means processions — and any time I’m asked to circle the altar — I can, although it’s not obvious.
In addition to the deity images I printed out pictures of a black sheep and caduceus (left, for the Pompaia) as well as a phallus and theater masks (right, for the rural Dionysia) since I don’t currently have real versions of these items. I hope to eventually knit a black wool blanket to serve as the dion kodion, and at least get myself a wooden phallus, because one never knows when that might come in handy.
It’s a relatively large altar, but figuring out where to put everything proved challenging when I added in the sacrifice, a loaf of Nova Scotia brown bread which my wife baked from her family recipe. I also needed room for my kantharos and the wooden ship I used during the ritual of the blessing of the boats over the summer, honoring Poseidon.
Hestia’s candle is on the mantle over the fireplace. While the ritual script called for a prayer while lighting it, I kept it burning from when I made my morning offerings. Instead, I gave her offerings of incense: a Yule blend prepared at my local metaphysical shop (where an astounding number of the products are made in-house), mixed with frankincense.
After that, prayers were made to each of the gods of this festival.
The challenge of making room was complicated when I realized I can’t make the sacrifice over the offering plate. Instead, I brought out the cutting board my wife made as a child. She was at work, but between that and the bread I felt she was adequately represented.
Sacrifice, in our tradition, usually involves bread; I tend toward cookies when I’m alone but wanted to be more in sync with my temple-mates. We do not receive training in the complicated process of animal sacrifice, but we temple priests are taught how to execute a sacrifice of this type in the spiritual, as well as physical, sense.
Each of the gods is given their due from the offering, which is then shared with the people. The sacrifice is preceded by petitions for the coming year, and this offering will feed family and visitors for many days.
Thereafter was the reading of omens by performing divination using a method of my choice. I selected the Lymerian oracle combined with cards from the Olympus deck. I will not go into my interpretation, as this may hold messages for other people, but I found it to be full of hope and promise.
Selene was offered white wine, but it was red for the other gods, alternating a libation for one of them, and a sip for me. I’m a cheap date, and it doesn’t take much to make me heady. I’d hoped to measure it out for just two cupfuls of wine mixed with water for all the involved gods, plus the first one of white for Selene, but I ran out before I could pour out a libation to Dionysos. Apparently he wanted a full cup of his own.
I circled the altar with images of caduceus and dion kodion while reciting prayers to blustery Zeus and Hermes the protector.
The prayer to Pan asked for protection as well as guidance how to live in these uncertain times, and dedicated the tree and its decorations to the Arcadian god.
Before that process could begin, we inserted a family tradition of lighting the Yule log, cut from last year’s tree prior to offering it through fire or compost. (Last year’s, I believe, went to the community tree fire.) In honor of Dionysos, we watched White Christmas instead of a play.
Decorations for the tree and hearth really came together wonderfully this year, and it’s always nice to include spirits of the season. More than any other time of year, the dark time is one that I feel all the various religious and cultural traditions I have honored throughout my life come together into a continuous spectrum of worship and celebration.
Somehow I managed to find space for my book of prayer and ritual on the altar among the various offering plates and bowls. It was easier after the deity images were removed at the end of the festival.
Pan, though, is not going away quite yet. He gets to watch over his tree until the time comes to dispose of this glorious offering. To me, a tree is no less significant than the sacrifice of an animal, and I hope that Pan feels the same way.
No matter how you celebrate at this time of year, may you find just the right amount of light to balance out the dark times, or darkness to offset the light, if you happen to live south of the equator.