In ancient Greece, praying to the Gods is a sacred act – whether it be thanksgiving, praise, or simple conversation. The purpose of prayer and ritual is that of humans out to be closer to a God in love and respect. The act of trying to become closer to the Gods also draws the Gods closer to you.
Check out the class notes from a White Oak Grove previous discussion.
Like many parts of ancient Greek Religious life our knowledge is incomplete, and complicated by the fact that the many different regions associated with ancient Greek culture often had their own take on the acts. However, we are left with some example of both prayer and ritual through the works of ancient Greek authors such as Homer and Hesiod. The Delphic Maxims even offer us advice on prayer.
- “Pray for things possible.” (Ευχου δυνατα)
- “Be happy with what you have.” (Κτωμενος ηδου)
- “Pray for happiness.” (Ευτυχιαν ευχου)
- “Work for what you can own.” (Εργαζου κτητα)
As Unitarian Universalists we are welcome to pray, or not, we are each encouraged to embrace and practice forms of spirituality that resonate with our hearts and minds. As modern practitioners of Hellenismos the important thing to know is that Greeks believed in reverence to the Gods as an integral part of both home and state life.
Kharis or “Grace”
To petition the Gods for aid, it is considered important to make an offering. Offerings can be made in the form of incense, libations, food offerings, votives, song, poetry, and many other gifts. The offering is given freely, joyfully, with pleasure, out of respect and love for the Gods.
These gifts are given to the Gods so that They feel inclined to grant us our requests, we thank Them by offering to them again, to which the Gods might respond, to which we will sacrifice, and so on. This circular practice of voluntary giving and reciprocity is called kharis.
Formal prayer of the ancient Hellenics followed a recognizable format, and many modern practitioners follow the same structure. However, speaking with the Gods intuitively and from the heart can be just as effective and fruitful.
Format of a Formal Hellenic Prayer:
- Call to the God to which you pray “Here Me” or “Come”
- Call the God by name and epithets, reference the God by where they are known to dwell, and the things that they have dominion over.
- Remind the God of previous offerings and sacrifices that you have made for them in the past. Thank them for gifts that they have previously bestowed upon you.
- If you have a new request to make of them, something that you are praying for, make that new request. Make vows your sacrifice, or vow to make another sacrifice upon the desired outcome.
Example of Prayer to Apollon from the Illiad
“Hear me, Silverbow, Protector of Chryse,
Lord of Holy Cilla, Master of Tenedos,
And Sminthian God of Plague!
If ever I’ve built a temple that pleased you
Or burnt fat thighbones of bulls and goats–
Grant me this prayer:
Let the Danaans pay for my tears with your arrows!”9
Offerings of Food & Wine
Feasting with the Gods was important no matter what was being served. Some ancient Greeks consumed meat, and some followed a vegetarian diet. The sacrifice of animals was generally followed by a feast for the people of the community to enjoy so that no part of the animal was wasted.
There are cultural differences around the world in the way that offerings of food & beverage are made to the Gods. Food offerings and libations in Greek practice must actually be surrendered to the Gods in order to be accepted as an offering. They cannot be fully consumed by the person offering them, though a portion may be shared. In ancient times the ritual sacrifice of a bull by the city or wealthy patrons was shared with the poorest members of the community may have been their only opportunity to have meat.
MYTHOLOGY: The Trick at Mecone – discussion on why modern Hellens make offerings the way that they do, and if a closer look at the practice should be made.
Personal Devotional Practice
Both tending an alter space and serving your community can be acts of devotion.
Morning – Light a candle to Hestia, Godess of home, hearth, and architecture.
“Hestia, Lady of the light, Keeper of the sacred flame of Olympus. Come into this house with love and light, come into this house with health and joy, come into this house so that we may know peace.”
Nightly – Name the Names of the Olympians, Thank them for the gifts that they have bestowed on me during the day. Ask for help if I am in need. Recognize the blessings that I received during the day.
Dream Work – If I’m looking to do dreamwork, after I thank the Olympians for their gifts I reach out to the Gods associated with sleep and dreaming.
Hypnos, son of Nyx the deity of Night, Erebus, the deity of Darkness. Lived in a cave where at the entrance were a number of poppies and other hypnotic plants. His wife, Pasithea was one of the graces and is the deity of hallucination and relaxation.
Hypnos’ three sons were known as the Oneiroi, which is Greek for “dreams.”
- Morpheus is the Winged God of Dreams and can take human form in dreams.
- Phobetor is the personification of nightmares and created frightening dreams, he could take the shape of any animal including bears and tigers.
- Phantasos was known for creating fake dreams full of illusions.
Morpheus, Phobetor, and Phantasos appeared in the dreams of kings. The Oneiroi lived in a cave at the shores of the Ocean in the West. The cave had two gates with which to send people dreams; one made from ivory and the other from buckhorn. However, before they could do their work and send out the dreams, first Hypnos had to put the recipient to sleep.
Cleansing and Healing Showers – It’s easy to made sacred bathing by ritualizing the practices that go into it. Use special fragrances and products just for sacred bath. Salt scrubs, shower gels, candles, and the like. This is a wonderful place to connect to water spirits as well as Hygenia, Panacea, and those connected to healing.
- Begin with formal prayer.
- Wash away miasma.
- Meditate on the water, its cleansing properties, and how it connects everything.
- Thank the deities that you called upon for their help and blessings.