Offering of the bull

I’ve been preparing for the Vigil for the Bulls for about ten months now, as compared to the week or two I’ve invested in years past.  I already know the vigil will have far-reaching consequences in my life.

Even as I was wrapping up last year’s vigil, I had a sense that I wanted to offer something more than my time, my energy, wine and incense.  A couple of months later I hit upon the perfect thing:  a bull.

a wooden model approximating a bull skeleton standing before a large, blue-bound book emblazoned with a trident

Book and bull.

Part of why I sit this vigil is because of the senseless spectacle of death which takes place in Pamplona each day after the bull run.  These are animals being chased through a screaming crowd to the corral from which they will face near certain death in the bullfighting ring.  It is essentially the opposite of the purpose sacrifice fills.

Sacrificing a bull in an ancient Hellenic city-state meant that there was a lot of meat passed around, mostly to people who didn’t get much of it.  The meat from a bullfighting victim is sold to high-end restaurants, and commands a premium price because of its rarity.  Moreover sacrifice is an offering — a big one — which is all about the gods.  Bull running and fighting is a spectacle designed to celebrate danger, violence, and bloodshed, and which is all about the people.  If a god dwells in those temples, the participants seem unaware.  Certainly no god is being given a share of these deaths.

These other bulls meet there end in a way which is anything but holy. By making a votive offering of a bull during the vigil, I stand for a right relationship with the gods, as well as with these animals and other beings.  Yes, the bull and I hang from the same food chain, but as an animist I seek a more respectful relationship, even with those beings I must eat.

This will be an offering that stands counter not only to bullfights, but to factory farms, and the unnatural disconnection from that food chain their presence has fostered.  When I burn it has yet to be determined; I’ll be staying in a hotel the last couple of nights of the vigil, and setting midnight fires in the courtyard might be frowned upon.

A crunchy Deipnon

I do not celebrate the Deipnon exactly when most of my co-religionists do, which was last night.  This is due to my stubborn insistence to hold onto this one last remaining vestige of the modern calendar in my practice.  When I began this path and learned about monthly observances, I began them on the first of each standard month.  That convenience was necessary for me to advance in my practice at all, but eventually I started paying attention to the phase of the moon instead.  (I still wouldn’t be able to tell you the ancient Athenian name for the current month if my life depended upon it, at least without my smart phone.)  I have yet to adapt to starting days at sundown rather than midnight, which is why I celebrated the Deipnon today.

Most months, I get together some appropriate foodstuffs to offer Hekate, and then I prepare chocolate chip cookies for Noumenia.  This month the timing worked out that I was due to make favorite snack, one which I only prepare during the last week of the year:  special snack, we called it in my childhood; a slightly modified recipe of Chex mix.  Since the recipe was handed down to me by my late father, and it includes essence of onions which are fairly common in offerings to Hekate, I opted to make it the offering instead.

Incense plays a cyclical role in my devotions.  I add the appropriate incense to my mortar and pestle before I begin, but there’s always a little left over from the last set of offerings.  I have been offering a particular Yule blend since Kheimenia, for example, adding a bit more frankincense each morning since I’ve been giving that to Hestia.  For the Deipnon I offer Hekate benzoin, and Poseidon gets myrrh on Thursdays, meaning it’s a heady mix right now.  Despite the snow, I prefer to make particular devotions outside, and the scent hangs in the heavy, most, cold air like a fog bank on a mission.

Since I got a new book recently, I selected a hymn from that to read aloud; I have not yet written a hymn to Hekate, but I know that I must.  Yes, I’m stalling.  Yes, it will be worth it when I’ve written my grand litany.

I may be later than most, and perhaps my offerings are not entirely traditional, but I’d like to think that the stereotypical ancient Athenian would recognize what I was doing, and why.  Perhaps the incense would smell vaguely familiar, or the fact that I poured an entire cup of unmixed wine onto the ground would strike a cord.  Even if that Athenian would not have recognized it, however, I am confident that Hekate knew exactly what I was doing, and why.

Deipnon is also a time for ancestor veneration, which including reading a portion of A Litany for the Many Dead as well as burning another incense blend entirely, lighting a candle, giving them water, and spirits, and tobacco.  then, after they indicated that they were not entirely satisfied, I gave them more incense.

Ancestors.  They tell you what they want.

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.

My personal practice: adding layers

To look at what some Hellenic polytheists do to honor their gods can be more than a little overwhelming; must everyone devote so much time, energy, and resources to this path?

Of course not.

I doubt there are very many people who begin with a full-blown, life-altering schedule of personal devotion.  I also doubt that those people who follow a full-blown, life-altering schedule of personal devotion are in the majority; we’re just the ones who care enough to write about it in the first place.

As I detailed in my last post, initially I only committed to make a certain number of offerings in a specified period of time.  When it was over, it was over.  I could have walked away at any point, no harm, no foul.

I had a desire to figure this thing out, though, and set out to learn more.  Ares seemed cool but also freaked me out a bit, but Hermes was all right.  What other gods might I care to know better?

After a time I consulted with a priest who agreed to teach me about Hellenismos.  Heck, I’d never even heard the word before, so it was obvious I had a lot to learn.  He performed some divination and determined that while Ares might have been my gatekeeper, and Hermes an able messenger, it was Poseidon who claimed me as his own.

Elsewhere I have chronicled my initial unease with that revelation.  Nevertheless I set about to try, and my wife gave me use of a horseshoe to place upon my nascent shrine as I could not afford some crazy-expensive statue.  I learned that the eighth day of the month is sacred to him, and so too is Thursday in some traditions.  The whole lunar-calendar thing was way too complicated, so I poured a libation on the eighth according to the calendar, and on Thursdays as well.  Later on, as I learned about stuff like khernips and miasma and barley, I put out a bowl of the lustral water and another one to put barley in, but I kept it quite simple.

I had begun a regular practice, with about five offerings a month according to the same calendar I’d used all my life.  Anyone could remain at that level of regular devotion and add richness to their lives; their offerings would surely be accepted and please their gods.  Spoiler alert:  that is not what I did, but I certainly could have.

Offerings to Poseidon

The theoi, in Hellenic practice, should be given offerings that stimulate the senses, be it a sumptuous feast which delights the eye, nose, and tongue, a prayer said aloud with heartfelt intent, or a few granules of incense strewn over charcoal. Tangible offerings are what these gods have been given for millennia. Poseidon is no different, so I have compiled a list of offerings that I have myself made, which might serve as a launching point for the reader’s relationship with him.

Poseidon shrine

Shrine for Poseidon

While a table listing the astrological, animal, herbal, seasonal, lunar, and syncretic correspondences for each of Poseidon’s epithets would no doubt delight some readers, no such resource is being proposed by me at this time. Below is simply a list of offerings and, when appropriate, the epithet(s) with which I have personally found them most strongly associated. Other devotees might provide different suggestions. For more information, consult an oracle or perform divination to discover what Poseidon asks of you.

Animals were more commonly sacrificed in antiquity than they are today, although a skilled sacrificial priest treats a sacrifice with caring and dignity, far different than the fate of animals in modern factory farms. Cookies or votive objects in the form of horses are suitable for Hippios (and yes, that includes animal crackers). Likewise are representations of bulls something which could well delight Taureos. I also have been known to offer duck figurines for reasons that are beyond words; therein lies a mystery as yet unfolding. If an actual animal sacrifice is desired, one should seek out someone who has training and experience in making this kind of offering; a trained sacrificial priest will ensure that all legal and ethical requirements are complied with, and will also be trained to recognize if such an offering is not ultimately desired. I have never asked for or attended such a sacrifice.

Barley is a good, basic offering in and of itself, and is often the first one made to any of the theoi. It is also used for purification, and cast upon another object to signify that it is also an offering (such as a votive object or food).

Coffee is my main libation. The association I have between Poseidon and coffee comes from the Moby Dick character Starbuck, whose love of coffee has permanently associated the brew with the sea in my mind, which is why I offer it to Pelagaeus, Asphaleios, and Labrandeus.

Epithets, as many as one wishes to include, are often part of the invocation to any of the theoi. To a mortal, there is no sweeter sound than one’s own name said with love; I feel that so too is it for the gods, and that their names are thus a worthy offering in their own right. If epithets are included, it’s good to make the effort to pronounce them correctly, whether they are ancient Greek or from a more recent language. (I had to train myself to pronounce “Poseidon” with a long a sound rather than a long i in the second syllable; it turns out is really is all Greek to me.) It’s a common Hellenic practice to a phrase like, “or whichever names you wish to be known by,” to the end of a list of epithets.

Fish is an offering I reserve for really big things, like the swearing of oaths. Fish are imperiled and precious, and a worthy gift, particularly for Prosclystius and Basileus. Because I do so rarely, I have not noted that some fish are more appropriate for certain epithets, but this is quite possibly the case.

Grape juice was my go-to libation beverage of choice for a long time, and I never received complaints. Go for the 100% juice, if possible. If I were avoiding alcohol, I would offer grape juice especially to Phytalmius because of its association with plants.

Ground coffee can be used in conjunction with, or as a replacement for, barley when offering to Poseidon Psychopompos or Poseidon Kthonios. (Note that this is not the same as coffee grounds, which are the remainder after one brews coffee.) I drew this conclusion based on the practice in antiquity of offering white things to ouranic theoi, and dark things to the kthonic.

Hymns, be they ancient, those offered in this humble volume, or something of the reader’s own creation, should always be read or recited aloud. While it’s commonly believed that reciting the hymns which have survived from antiquity in the original ancient Greek is preferable, it’s probably better to use one’s native tongue unless one has mastered the pronunciation. The gods are not omniscient, and could well struggle if one’s accent is thick.

Mint was suggested to me by another devotee of Poseidon, specifically in the form of chocolate mint candies. The plant’s protective properties makes it suitable for Domatites, and the coolness it evokes brings to mind Glacius and Pelagaeus. Mint is also strongly associated with Haides, suggesting that it’s an appropriate offering to Poseidon Kthonios.

Incense is an ancient offering. Myrrh and frankincense are perhaps the most common ones to burn for Poseidon.

Ocean water can poured as a libation, if easy to acquire, or left in a sealed container as a votive offering, if it’s a more precious item in one’s locale. As I live inland, I hope to get water from all the world’s oceans, and especially the Mediterranean Sea, to leave on my altar.

Salt is something I occasionally get asked to provide, and when I offer salt, I go for the very coarse-grained varieties. Prosclystius, Katharsios, and (curiously enough) Petraios have all asked sea-salt of me.

Water is a perfectly acceptable offering. I have not yet been asked to mix salt into the water, but I’ve heard that others do this. Hudsonios may well ask for some salt in the water.

Wine mixed with water is the traditional Hellenic libation. I offer it at my shrine to Poseidon Phytalmius, to Poseidon in all his epithets on the eighth day of the lunar month which is sacred to him, and during my priestly devotions. I don’t mix the wine when I offer to Poseidon Kthonios or Psychopompos, pouring the cup out completely upon the ground as a holocaust offering, one that is destroyed completely and not shared with the god. I’ve also made libations specifically of white wine for Pelagaeus; I picked up the notion that it’s more evocative of the ocean than red, and that resonates with me.

Note:  this post is an excerpt of my upcoming book, Depth of Praise.  It is being provided now in answer to a reader’s question.  Do not share without linking back to this post as the source.  Thank you.


 Yesterday I went to a memorial in a local park, commemorating a friend who had died unexpectedly.  I found an abandoned skein of embroidery floss in the road on my way there, and together with a pair of toothpicks from my pocket — obtained from enjoying some food samples earlier in the day — it inspired me to make this as an offering to my deceased friend, which I will hang in the same park later.

I have a lot of ideas about how to make these even more beatiful, but what I’m missing is a way to hang them if I create more.  Is a slip knot sufficient?  If not, if there a jewelry finding which may fit the bill?

I’m asking you, o creative Pagan peoples.  Got any ideas?

First Submission to the Public Polytheistic Shrine Project

While I thought this was a cool idea from the get-go, I didn’t have the impetus to create a public shrine until one of my cats went missing. I prayed to Poseidon, Hermes, and Artemis for his safe return, and they all played a part him coming home. The offerings I made didn’t feel like enough, but then I remembered this project, and knew what I had to do. I took some wood scraps from a recent project around the house and brought them to a small park nearby. The spot I selected is more hidden than I expected, but I feared the someone stumbling on the shrine and losing eir footing in other locations.

For Hermes, who gave me the silver tongue I needed to find the right person to talk to, I offered some raffle tickets and an 8-sided die made of steel. To Artemis, who watches over the wild spirit of my cat that keeps him from accepting a life inside, I gave one of Alley Valkyrie’s bees. And for Poseidon, who kept me grounded so I would not give up, an assortment of shells and marine animal toys. Each of the gods also received offerings of water and barley.  Together, they made it possible for me not to repeat history.

I can’t wait to see pictures of other public shrines, and I kind of want to make more myself.

Gangleri's Grove

Today I received the first submission to the Public Polytheistic Shrine Project. ^__^ T.P. Ward sent me images of this shrine, made in thanks to Hermes, Artemis, and Poseidon. Thank you, T.P.

This was created in a public park near his home.




Folks, if you are interested in joining this project (and i hope at least some of you are!), see the guidelines here.

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