Kheimenia


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities?


The theoi — gods of the Hellenes, or “ancient Greeks” — are a study in opposites.  Poseidon rules earth as well as sea.  Zeus is progenitor of many offspring by many mothers, but is also god of marriage.  Hermes is swift as thought,yet his oldest representation is as a standing stone.  Demeter brings forth crops, and takes them away. Dionysos can bring sanity as well as madness.  Haides and Persephone hold the promise of life in their dark kingdom.  The Hellenes prayed to Ares not only for victory in war, but also to keep war far from their gates.

There is no wrath without calm, destruction without creation, death without life.  I believe that this understanding of the nature of the gods resolves the above question quite nicely:  the way to day with wrathful, savage, and destructive divinities is to appeal to other aspects of those very gods.  The myths also speak about involving other gods, but that usually doesn’t end well.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

Seasonal visuals


We are turning from barley to coffee.

I continue to be amazed at how my practice of Hellenismos helps me be more rooted in more contemporary Pagan practices, such as the wheel of the year.  The equinox is a time that I honor the turn of the seasons by shifting my offerings to Caffeina.

Let me take a step back, because Caffeina isn’t even a remotely Hellenic deity.  Although I strive to honor the ancient practices of Hellas, or Greece, we only know about the tiniest sliver of them, mostly the things they did in Athens.  Reconstruction is the way we bring that research forward, but I can’t, and won’t, limit myself to a portion of what Athenians did.  We know that the Hellenes honored foreign gods, and adopted foreign practices; in this modern world, I have no problem with the fact that that process is accelerated.

My family had an altar to Caffeina before I was called by the gods of my Greek ancestors, and I honor her as an aspect of Hestia.  Many Hellenic pagans pour a libation of coffee to Hestia, since it is traditional to honor her before all others, so it seemed natural to me to honor one as an epithet of the other, or perhaps as a syncretic goddess.

Stepping forward again:  the equinox is one of the more popular times of the year to acknowledge the change of the seasons.  There are others which make more sense when compared to the actual weather, perhaps, but it’s the one I like to use.  So beginning on the equinox, my traditional first offering to Hestia shifts from barley to barley with ground coffee.  (Ground coffee is distinct from coffee grounds; the former is roasted beans smashed to bits, while the latter have also been subjected to the brewing process.)  I will offer this mix until the winter solstice, at which time I will abandon barley entirely until the spring equinox.

This is a nice visual of the changes in the world, and also mirrors the myth of Demeter, who does not allow the white barley to come forth from the earth while her daughter Persephone is in the underworld.  That’s a deeply Hellenic tale which has been widely adopted in modern Paganism, so it serves to reinforce how the ancient ways are the ways for today.  It also allows me to focus on Caffeina during a time when I am most need of extra energy and comfort.

Since we must make a more intentional effort to be in tune with the rhythms of the world beneath our feet, visual aids like this give us reminders that our ancestors didn’t need.  Do you have visuals that you use to keep your Paganism on track?

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter S.

Noumenia


For those not “in the know,” noumenia is the first day of the lunar month of the Hellenic calendar.  For more information on ancient and modern practices, there are many bona-fide experts; all I plan on writing about is my experiences leading up to and during my most recent celebration of this day.

First, a bit of context:  Hellenic practitioners largely agree that following a ritual calendar is a good thing.  The exact nature of that calendar varies:  some follow the Attic calendar of Athens, because it’s the only one we still have in full; others adapt from that to correspond to their specific locality, deity relationships, or research; there are also zodiac-based calendars in use.

Noumenia is celebrated the first day of the lunar month, so I count myself among those who have adapted the Attic calendar for my own use.  I have been adding to my ritual obligations slowly, and I don’t hold a festival for each day on that calendar; in fact, although I conduct some kind of ritual every day, it’s mostly focused on household deities, which is a different part of the religion than the big, public festivals we see in this ancient calendar.

However, I do take time each month to divine which god, if any, wishes to take a special interest in me for that cycle of the moon.  Two months ago, I determined Demeter was that deity, which seemed auspicious for springtime and the plantings I did at that time.  Last month, Hermes came to the fore, and he upped the ante:  I was asked to pour him a libation each day.  Usually I honor Hermes on the fourth day of the week and the month, so this was a bigger commitment.

This month, however, I didn’t need to use my burgeoning skills in divination at all, so plain the signs were for me to see.  It began this past Saturday, when a member of a Hellenic polytheist group on Facebook asked why Zeus would harm people or animals with lightning.  I had the discussion buzzing around in my mind, perhaps, when I attended Quaker meeting the following morning, because thoughts of the king of the gods danced in my head.

(Side note:  I have to come up with two “Q” topics for this dastardly alphabetical blog project, so please forgive me if I don’t discuss my relationship with the Quakers in more depth right now.  A blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do.)

After the meeting for worship, a member of that community approached me and told me, “your name came up in committee meeting today.”  The prisons committee was seeking people to visit individual prisoners, something that, as volunteers who worship with groups of prisoners, the committee members themselves are not permitted to do according to the byzantine correctional facility rules.

It struck me as interesting that I was being asked to do work relating to justice, over which Zeus has purview.

That’s about as close as I saw it.

Later that day, I visited a friend just a few minutes’ drive away, and we heard a majestic cry.  We looked up to see a bald eagle circling lazily in the bright sky.  My heart leaped — I’ve never seen one in real life, and sightings in my area are anything but common.  I muttered to myself, “Okay, I get it,” and dismissed from my mind any doubts about whether or not Zeus which to takes a more active role in my life right now.  I knew I wouldn’t bother doing any divination around deities for the coming month, because some gods apparently prefer to remove all doubt.

I am continually wonderstruck by the willingness of the gods to take me by the hand and walk with me awhile, now that I have committed to the path of Hellenismos.  I am more aware, more sensitive to the unseen messages all around me.  I’m sure this is true of anyone, once they find the path which is the right fit for them.  I’ve seen my Wiccan friends reach this point from afar, but I wasn’t able to quite make the same connection using that system.  I tried mightily to make any form of Christianity work, but none of them were my answer, either.

I feel particularly blessed, but I don’t believe that others will necessarily get the same results from the same formula.  I’d love to find others to worship the theoi with me, but I’m content simply surrounding myself with people who are so rooted in their beliefs that my own path doesn’t make them feel threatened on theirs.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter N.