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.

My personal practice: keeping track


As I have added additional layers to my personal practice, one way I have kept it simple is with a system of keeping track. It’s got two components: keeping track of what is to come, and keeping track of offerings already made.


A calendar is critical to remembering what’s to come.  My daily offerings don’t vary much, but there are weekly and monthly obligations that I write down.  I use a lunar calendar, and most of what I do is triggered by the dark of the moon.  Looking up helps, but I also use an app to track the exact moon phase.

It’s the yearly stuff that is trickiest for me; I nearly forgot about the festival of lilies this time around and need to step up my game.  Luckily my observances tend to be stacked upon each other; honoring my ancestors, flowers for the gods, vigil for the bulls.  I only need to remember the first to recall each in succession.  While I’m loathe to depend too much on electronica, it serves better than paper for me.

A couple of years ago I began the habit of writing down the offerings I made, much like my ancestors did.  It was inspired by a combination of Galina Krasskova’s moneyworking class and the work of PT Helms, who himself pondered adopting this old way.  These records were quite particular in antiquity, noting how much oil to the dram and otherwise being precise, but my focus is on the what, not the how much.  Each day after my worship I jot down that “what” in a formerly blank book.  While I wont say that this constitutes an offering in itself, it extends the period in which I remain in a state of worship, particularly receptive to any gifts which they may desire to bequeath upon me.

This act of writing down also serves as a record of what I’ve offered in the past, as a guide of what to offer in the future.  Not all of my offerings are attested to in ancient records, and it’s good to be able to seek inspiration in my own past, and to see patterns as they emerge in my practice.

When gods explode


I suspect I am a bit inattentive to signs.  If I were more sensitive to them, perhaps it would take one slightly less dramatic than exploding candles to get me to take notice.  I can’t say if the gods always give me plenty of chances to recognize when they’re telling me something, or if they’ve given me up as hopeless and thus go straight for the fireworks every time; all I can say for sure is that my wife had to vacuum up a big ol’ mess a couple of mornings ago after my Hestia candle exploded.

powThere are valid, technical reasons for what happened.  I prefer what are called seven-day candles, the ones that about a foot tall and encased in glass.  I can’t always find them locally and they’re expensive to ship, so I have taken to refilling the empties.  It’s a good deal, because I can add offerings directly into the wax while I’m at it.  However, I’m still pretty new at this, and I haven’t quite mastered the art (or found exactly the right hardware) to keep the wick centered all the way down, and during the pour.  About two inches from the bottom, this particular wick got way too close to the glass, and pow!

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On the other hand, when your hearth-goddess candle explodes, it’s probably best to consider other possibilities.  As it happens, I was overdue to celebrating my little festival of the lilies, which I had previously agreed to hold on the fifth of the month.  I’ve been watching them bloom, and having a deer visit the yard to eat them several times wasn’t enough for me to realize I should be getting on with offering these flowers to the gods.  Whoops.  Guess they’ve been working on more subtle signs for me after all.

2016-06-29 20.22.38.jpgThis year I’ve also been occupied by this cool new Hermes artifact, which I have been industriously oiling so that it can live outside in the four seasons as part of my shrine to him.  That’s going to have to be an annual thing, evocative of various rituals that involve washing and dressing of sacred statues.  Ergo, I’m going to be adding “oiling of the Hermes hunk [of iron]” to this festival of lilies.  That actually makes it more legitimately a festival, because I now have two different activities to perform over its course.  The oiling itself could take several days, although since this was the first time I can’t be certain what next year might bring.

2016-06-29 20.07.16In any case, the other day I went ahead and celebrated my little festival, which still deserves a nifty name.  I am completely supportive of we English speakers use English words when we name festivals and English words of description when we explore new epithets, but darn it, I want this to have a Greek name.  Since I can — so far as I know — accurately pronounce about six words in Greek and can read about half a dozen fewer than that, this dream may be one that is forestalled.  Noble Sannion was helpful in directing me to a lexicon, but until I find the time to learn how to pronounce all of the letters it’s not going to do me that much good.  I’m mostly resigned to the fact that I’m an expert in my native language and mostly ignorant of all others, but hey, specialization isn’t so bad, right, Hermes?

Over the rolling two-tenths of an acre upon which my home sits are a few outdoor shrines; in addition to the aforementioned Hermes one I maintain a space for Artemis and another for Poseidon Phytalmius, in addition to a general altar.  Inside are my main Hestia and Poseidon shrines.  I made offerings of wine, tiger lilies, and incense to all those gods as well as Zeus, Hera, Athene, Ares, Hephaistos, Aphrodite, Apollon, Dionysos, and Demeter.

Obviously — finally obviously — it becomes clear to me that offering these flowers, which are in bloom all over the Hudson Valley at this time of year, is pleasing to the gods, and that they have come to expect it.  This year, it marks a happy high point that will be followed about a week later with the Vigil for the Bulls, an observance for Poseidon Taureos created by Jolene Poseidonae that I will be performing for the first time this year.  I’m expecting it to be markedly less cheerful, but I can’t say much more beyond that until I’ve done it at least once.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that the gods don’t have to tear down my house to get my attention in the future.

Almostheria


I wind up this month with libations to Hekate and my ancestors, making a Deipnon feast as I have now for several years at the dark of the moon.  The cycle has come ’round again, and the suns sets tonight upon the first of the lilies blooming in my yard.  Indeed, it is nearly time again for me to celebrate the festival of the lilies.  And again this year, I can’t help but wonder how this festival is related to Anthesteria.

The easy answer is nothing.  Anthesteria is a Dionysian festival of life, death, and a bit of craziness.  Dionysos has 2014-06-24 11.59.59recently had an impact on me (I no longer make my libations with grape juice because of him, in fact), but we’re not tight.  In the two years I’ve done so, I have used this festival to honor all of the gods, not just the one or those close to him.  This might be a better time of year to celebrate Anthesteria in my region, though, since it shows up in the miserable part of February, long before those grape vines are a’bloomin.  And that old Athenian festival has a strong kthonic component, which my celebration doesn’t.

Well, maybe more about death than I think.  Since I’ve been pondering ancestor questions, I can’t help but notice the collection of events which occur in my life in the weeks leading up to the lilies blooming.  Memorial Day, my father’s birthday and death day, marking the loss of my cat, anniversaries of other known ancestors.  It’s no wonder I feel close to my ancestors now, and it’s curious that it comes just before the blooming of the lilies.

Since I haven’t fixed the date of this festival, I am going to set aside the fifth of this Hellenic month for it.  That will be this coming Thursday.  By then I hope to have some insight:  is this just a leading towards more honoring of my ancestors, or a specific link between this festival and those ancestors?  Are there gods or spirits which I should, or should not, be honoring at this time?  Should I be hitting the grape juice again, or otherwise preparing special offerings?  Is this actually Anthesteria in a form which is regionally and culturally appropriate to my experience?  Or maybe some kind of Almostheria which inevitably ties the fleeting beauty of a flower with the fleeting essence of life itself?  Or does the timing of the blooms signal a rebirth after a period of honoring the blessed dead?  That suggests Persephone’s ascent to me, or the journey of a psychopompos.

These answers will come from knowledge of the past, awareness of myself, and discernment of the will of the gods.  Whether I unpack the nature of this festival in the next week or allow it to unfold over the next decade, the beauty will be as delicate as that of a tiger lily, which like other flowers can be appreciated up close or from afar, but is most beautiful when it is regarded in both ways at the same time.

It seems that the more I know, the more questions there are to ask — which is not a bad thing.

What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?


This is where I have drifted from the traditionalist to the localized form of Hellenismos.  I’m very interested in learning more about ancient Hellenic festival structure and applying it to my practice, but applying it in a relevant, modern, and local context is important to me.  So far the only festivals I celebrate are:

  • The festival of lilies, when I give some of the abundant tiger lilies around my home as offerings, and
  • The Hermaia Agoraia, an opening of the markets for the secular holidays.

I’m in no rush to add more, expecting that new ones will manifest when the time is right for them.

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

Yes, no, maybe so?


So I find myself with a bit of a divination dilemma.  I’ve been dutifully practicing coin divination, and to make sure that I’m actually paying attention to meanings rather than assigning significance after the fact, I’m thus far being very careful to do so in a manner that I can test and verify.  Silly me, I thought that would make things easier.

Coins readily lend themselves to yes/no questions, which are often best avoided for divination, so I was willing to use one for these tests.  Because I’m a little money obsessed anyway, the question I have been asking each morning is a simple one:

Will I have more cash in hand at the end of today?

Count the cash at the beginning and the end of the day, and bam! an answer.  Put the results for a selection of coins in a spread sheet, and after awhile I should be able to see if any of those coins are better at answering the question.  Simple, testable process.  Easy peasy.

My problem stems from having multiple money-focused activities going on at once.  Today (yesterday, in some time zones), one of those came into conflict with my coin divination, and I think it won.

Herm encircled by ribbons and wreath for Hermaia Agoraia.

What I did today was celebrate the Hermaia Agoraia, a festival of the opening of the markets for the holiday season.  It was a fun time, replete with:

  • decorating my herm (upright stone used as a shrine to Hermes), which somehow made it seem more phallic than ever;
  • buying stocking stuffers for the people in my household;
  • making some tasty no-cook mints as an offering to Hermes; and
  • ensuring that my family’s anonymous gift jar got to its recipient.
It’s that last one — the gift jar — that screwed me up.  You see, we’ve been putting cash in this jar for almost a year, a little at a time, whenever the mood strikes us.  For me, whenever I had a stroke of luck or some extra change, it went into the jar, which was then wrapped up like a present and delivered.
So I have no clue how much money was in it.  That didn’t matter to me one whit — I knew it was going to a family that could use the money — until I started on this divination project.  I chose my daily question because it’s easy to measure how much cash goes in an out, if you just pay attention, but the jar defied that attention.  I know cash left my possession today, but by the very design of the thing, I don’t know how much.  It’s supposed to work that way, and it did.
So now I’m stuck, because I was clever.  I know that if you don’t understand that the results to divination, you can look for a sign or ask another question to clarify the result, but that still won’t give me the dry, academic datum point that I was hoping for.  I’m fairly certain there’s a lesson in this, and absolutely sure that I deserve it, but the best thing that came of it was a topic to use for the letter “Y.”

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

30 days of devotion: festivals, days, and special times of Caffeina


Some of the times which are sacred to Caffeina will be immediately obvious to those most familiar with her good graces.  Alas, it does not appear that the Caffeina Festival is one of those times.

First and foremost, Caffeina is a Goddess of the Waking Day.  This means that she is best honored upon arising, be it in the morning or whenever we must cross the threshold from sleep into consciousness again.  An offering of the first cup of coffee is always appropriate.  Any moment which immediately follows sleep is sacred to Caffeina.

Caffeina is a goddess of community, and the times of the year when people tarry and linger over coffee in the evenings are sacred to her, from Thanksgiving dinner to Valentine’s night out.  Any night when it’s okay to have one more cup is a night that is sacred to Caffeina.

She is also a goddess of facing the insurmountable:  dedicate your college all-nighters to her, your insanely long shifts as a hospital resident or long-haul truck driver.  Any night when sleep is simply not an option is a night that is sacred to Caffeina.

While there are not any festivals explicitly held in her honor, Caffeina is a goddess who doesn’t have a problem with secularized worship.  Latte art competitionscoffee trade shows, and coffee cuppings are all appropriate to use as festivals; the more ambitious Caffeinite might plan a vacation as a coffee pilgrimage to Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.  There are benefits to worshiping a goddess whose sacred plant is found in tropical latitudes.

This post is part of a series, 30 days of devotion to Caffeina.