Offerings and Work

I’ve been reviewing my magical career, especially over the past year and the events that led to my eight-month hiatus from magical praxis.  This introspection and retrospection has been the result of several things: my recent novena to Saint Cyprian, my getting back into the habit of meditation and offerings, and invocations of forces to get back to empowering myself as I’m damn worthy of.  I’m starting to realize something that should probably be said, and would be something that I’d argue with against myself from a year or two ago, and that’s on the topic of offerings itself.

Leading up to my hiatus, I was focused mostly on making offerings to the spirits.  I’d try to make an effort whenever possible, at least daily, in making offerings to the gods or angels or planets of the day, not necessarily as an invocation of their power in my life but just for the sake of honoring the spirits who are in my life.  I mean, that’s one point I won’t argue about: the crucial tenet of spiritual practice in a variety of religions, such as Greek practice, is to honor the gods.  They’re bigger than us, they’re stronger than us, they’re smarter than us, and they’re involved in our lives; it is right and proper to honor the gods.  I won’t argue with that.  However, honor can take many forms, and…honestly, there was a network and infrastructure of temples for a reason.  Household worship was one thing, but devout temple worship quite another, and I think I was easily misled into confusing the two.

Let’s face it: I’m a mortal who enjoys life in this mundane world of ours.  I have a full-time office job with an hour-and-a-half commute one way.  I have obligations to people and organizations in this world.  I have friends, online and offline, I like to spend time with.  I like to eat, sleep, game, and fuck.  I’m human, and that’s entirely expected of, you know, being a human.  I do not claim to be more than that, although I’d like to, and for as long as I’m human, I’m still going to have human needs and desires.  At this stage in my life, I am simply not cut out to live a devout priestly existence, no matter how idealized I hold that noble profession: holding regular sacrifices for the sole sake of honoring the gods is not something I’m able to do.  For those who can do that, awesome!  For those who can’t, awesome!  Whether it’s not the right time, or you don’t have the proper resources, that’s alright; if the gods wanted that of you, they’d provide the means for you to keep up, and if they’re not, then they don’t expect the impossible out of you since it’d come back to bite them in their heavenly asses eventually.

But…I was getting wrapped up in making more offerings than I could manage.  Worse, I was making offerings for the sole sake of making offerings.  It was becoming empty to me, but I felt like I owed it to them.  Yes, I do owe Hermes my thanks and honor for guiding me in commuting and telecommunication and technology; yes, I owe it to Hephaistos for my skill and profitability in crafting; yes, I owe it to Raphael for teaching me spiritual healing techniques.  These are all things that are right to honor the spirits in my life for, but I started focusing on offerings first and Work a distant second.  I was spending more time giving empty praise than praising them for actual needs; my praise and honor was empty because I was doing it for the sole sake of praising the spirits.

The only spirit to whom only praise should be given for the sake of praising it is the One, and that’s completely another matter.  I wasn’t even doing that, and to do that requires a special level of awareness that I maintain in sporadic bursts.  For other spirits…no, I was misled, and I misled myself: I was making offerings to the gods for the sole sake of making offerings to them, not celebrating them properly as is their due.  Giving gifts as a matter of empty ritualized practice is not honor, and I see that now.

It was taking its toll on me.  I was being worn down by giving and giving and giving without expecting or even asking for much in return besides the general “yo, keep an eye out for me”.  While I’m sure they enjoy the attention, they’d probably want also a reason to keep an eye on me besides giving them more of what I could.  I spent more time and energy doing this empty act than I could afford, and once I started slipping, I fell into a cycle of guilt, which led me to put off offerings out of guiltiness from going before them, which led me to put them off even further, which led to more guilt…surely, you know how that goes, dear reader.  It’s like not replying to an email you got from a family member for months, and by the time you feel like you have time to do so, it’s too late for any kind of appropriate response, so you just give up entirely on replying to it.

Part of my burnout was that I was giving too much without asking for anything, or even doing anything with the gifts they gave me in return.  I wasn’t working with what they gave me; I wasn’t Working with my own tools.  Offerings are a tool, a method of bargaining, a way of getting closer to the spirits you work with.  While it’s impossible to truly bargain with the gods, they have much leeway and are willing to see how far you’ll go to get something done, and if that something is the right thing for you to do, they’ll (generally) be happy with even a token payment if you can afford it.  And, while I am always willing to give all that I have if that’s the case, I wasn’t doing anything that really warranted even regular offerings.

Before anything else, I am a magus.  While I may have priestly aspirations in some sense, I am no priest, and I do not have the time or the energy to devote myself to priesthood at this point in time, with the exception of some informal needs and mediation skills between me and a select few spirits.  Trying to priest it up without the time or energy will sap me of both, and that’s one of the reasons I got burnt out.  So what is a magus to do?  By all means, I still plan on making offerings, but this time around, I’m changing things up a bit.

  • Regular offerings are to be kept as token offerings to maintain a connection with the spirit.  Really, repeated prayers and the like are nice, but not needed.
  • Rituals to approach the gods and spirits should still involve offerings; as many magicians of note nowadays are realizing, making offerings is a solid technique to supercharging one’s magic.
  • Whenever a nontrivial expenditure of energy and resources are involved, something has to be done to warrant it.  Whether it’s payment in completion of a vow, opening up a deeper connection for contemplation and communion with the spirit, or tasking a spirit with a specific task, something has to be done to warrant such an offering.

I suppose I was misleading myself in the proper way to honor the gods.  Celebrating them for their mere existence is…well, while it might be right to do in some cases, constantly celebrating them for that is sycophantic and, if I may speak so boldly on behalf of the divine, not exactly proper honor.  Honor is recognizing their power and beauty, yes, but it is also respecting their work and one’s work with them.  Without work done, there’s little to honor there, and there’s correspondingly little point in offering.

Giving and giving without getting anything in return, not even a warm fuzzy feeling…yeah, I see the error of my ways.  While it’s too far in the wrong direction to only give things to the spirits as a bone to dogs, it’s also wrong to give for the sake of giving.  That’s like saying you’re going to hang out with your friend and have a good time with them, only to show up at their doorstep and drop off a gift card to Starbucks before leaving.  I was basically doing the equivalent of that, now that I think about it.

To the gods and spirits I have dishonored by my false honor, I apologize, and to those I may have misled with my bad advice, I apologize.  Let’s see how this new approach works out, shall we?

Honoring Venus on the Great Day of Gamma

It’s funny how I never really paid attention to the Moon, even as a magician, for years and years.  Yes, I’d check a calendar to see whether it was waning or waxing when making a particular talisman or other, and maybe I’d be caught off-guard and wonder why the nighttime is so bright outside before looking up and spontaneously saying my Full Moon invocation from the PGM, but beyond that, the motion of the Moon was simply something I never paid attention to.  That was, of course, until I started working on my grammatomantic calendar, a lunisolar method of tracking the passage of the Moon against the seasons and the yearly passage of the Sun.  It was a short leap to make from assigning letters to the days to assigning rituals to the days, and I ended up in short order making a ritual grammatomantic calendar based on the individual days of the months.  In the past, especially when getting the discipline of mathesis kicked off (which I’m still working on getting back into after so long), the use of the ritual grammatomantic calendar cycle has really helped before.  In short, I’ve termed the whole system of a lunar grammatomantic calendar, with all its prescribed rituals and applications, as the Grammatēmerologion.

There’s an interesting side-effect to how I set up the Grammatēmerologion, however, and one of those side-effects is coming up in short order.  The Grammatēmerologion system includes a way to not only assign the letters of the Greek alphabet to individual days of the lunar month, but also to whole months as well as to whole years.  For instance, this past Noumenia (the first day of the lunar month, starting at the sunrise after the New Moon) had the day letter Α (first day of the lunar month), which started off the month Β (second month in the lunar year) in the year Ε (fifth year of the 38-grammaterological cycle).  This system of day-letters and month-letters can be exploited in a ritual way by using particular days when the day-letter and month-letter are the same.  When the day-letter matches the month-letter, we have what I call a Μεγαλημερα (Megalēmerai), or “Great Day”, a day when the effect of the day-letter upon the world is significantly stronger than it would be in a month when the day-letter does not match the month-letter.  A Megalēmera for any given letter occurs only once every two years since there are twelve (or, sometimes, thirteen) lunar months in a given year, and since there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, it takes two years to cycle through all the Greek letters for each lunar month.

As you might have surmised, dear reader, we have just such a Megalēmera coming up on Monday, August 17, the third day of the third lunar month of this year, when both the letter of both the day and month are Γ.  The letter Gamma is associated in the system of grammatomancy with the astrological sign of Taurus, and thus with the goddess Aphrodite according to the Orphic system of zodiacal-theological correspondences.  I would find it an exceptionally fine day to honor Aphrodite on this day for this reason, with the necessary mathetic and ceremonial flairs, of course, and I’d like to talk about just such a ritual.  I already have a framework for a generalized mathetic invocation and offering to the gods, so we’ll use that as a template and build off on that.  After all, if that sort of ritual is good for any ol’ day, then we’ll want to make it comparatively greater to make it fitting for a Great Day.  This is the first time I’ve made any sort of ritual for a Megalēmera, so this is an experimental setup for me, although I think it’s well-grounded enough to be used in the future, as well, with some tweaks here and there based on how this setup goes.

On the day before the Megalēmera (Sunday, August 16), prepare the shrine accordingly if you do not already have one set up.  This should be done at some point before sunrise on the Megalēmera, so it can be done in the wee hours of the dark morning if you can’t do it on the day before, if needed.  The shrine should be left standing until sunrise on the day after the Megalēmera, so that it can be active during the entirety of the Megalēmera.  While we’re setting up the shrine, we’re preparing a suitable basis to honor Aphrodite on the Megalēmera itself, but we’re not making any offerings at this point.  Only the mathetes, or mathetic initiate, is to prepare the shrine, and the mathetes alone.  Other forms of personal preparation, such as fasting, can be done at the mathetes’ discretion.

  1. Before touching or preparing anything, cleanse yourself using khernips.  You’ll be using a lot of it, so make a decent batch for this day.  It helps if you also do all the usual mathetic daily stuff ahead of time to prepare yourself accordingly.
  2. Go outside and find four small pebbles, preferably from a crossroads or a driveway.  Set these aside for now.
  3. Sprinkle khernips around the area and in the air of the area where the shrine will be erected.  Chant “απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“begone, begone evil spirits”) while doing so.
  4. Obtain an elevated platform, e.g. a table or shelf, that is at least waist-high.  Wash off the surface of the table with khernips.  This will form the foundation of our shrine.
  5. Cover the shrine with a cloth.  For Aphrodite, according to the color scheme I use, I suggest something green, ideally with shades of emerald or reflective green against a solid brighter green.  If you can get something with a floral or organic design or pattern on it, even better.
  6. Obtain an image of Aphrodite; this can be a statue or a framed picture.  Wash off the image in khernips and set it in the middle of the shrine.
  7. Obtain three white candles or clean olive oil lamps, each washed off with khernips.  On each candle or lamp, engrave or write the letter Γ three times.  Set the three candles or lamps around the image of Aphrodite in a triangle, with one behind her and two before her, and light all three.
  8. Set an empty cup or small bowl to the right of the triangle made by the candles, a censer before it, and a vase to the left of it.  Also set three green candles engraved with the word ΑΦΡΟΔΙΤΗΙ (“to Aphrodite”) around the image of Aphrodite, but not where the three white candles are.  Unlike the rest of the offerings, these candles are not to be washed off in khernips.
  9. Anchor the image of Aphrodite in the shrine by performing the Tetractys Meditation.  Modify this, however, in the following way: after visualizing and holding the image of the Tetractys in your mind, project the image onto the surface of the shrine, with Aphrodite standing in the middle of the Tetractys with the three flames at the three outermost pointsof the Tetractys, and connecting the image to the 24 paths of the Tetractys from where she stands in the middle.  Visualize the flames to burn a bright emerald green, and to fill the whole visualization with green light from them through all the paths of the Tetractys into and around the image of Aphrodite.  Fix the visualization as strongly as you can, and silently breathe the name of Aphrodite three times onto the image of Aphrodite on the shrine, fixing the visualization in the material form.
  10. Get those four pebbles you gathered a bit ago, and wash off each in khernips.
  11. Obtain a small cup of wine mixed with a small amount of olive oil.  For each pebble you obtained, dip each pebble in the wine and place them in a row leading towards the shrine.  When placing each pebble, call upon Hermes in the following way:

    Hermes Diaktoros, you are the god of guides and guide of gods, men, spirits, souls, and heroes.
    Hermes Odolysios, you open the doors and clear the roads and smooth the paths.
    Hermes Theogogos, you lead the words and presence of the gods to the world of man.
    Hermes Pompaios, you lead the hearts and minds of men to the world of gods.
    Hermes, open the way for Aphrodite to take her seat here on her throne, that I may honor her as is her due and that I may derive from her the blessing that is my desire.

  12. Take another white candle and wash it off in khernips.  Place this between the shrine and the pebble closest to the shrine.
  13. Take the cup of wine and oil used for the pebbles to the nearest road, along with any remaining khernips.  Throw the wine and oil out into the road as an offering to Hermes, and return home without looking back.  On the way back, sprinkle all the remaining khernips from the road back to your house to cleanse the way for the goddess.

With that, the preparation for the shrine is complete.  Spend some time getting wine, olive oil, incense (I suggest rose mixed with benzoin), flowers (ideally roses, at least red but preferably of three different colors), and any other offerings you might want to make, including jewelry, fruit, honey, sea-water, shells, copper, statuary, and the like.  The candles or lamps are to be left until they burn out, and the proper Megalēmera ritual can only be done after they have done so, so be sure to set up the shrine with enough time beforehand.  When they burn out, remove them from the shrine; beyond this, no further work is to be done between the time the shrine is erected and proper ritual on the Megalēmera.

On the Megalēmera itself, at sunrise, do your normal mathetic ritual daily practice as usual.  Ideally, performing the Megalēmera ritual immediately afterwards would be best, but if not, they can be performed at any time before the next sunrise.  The Megalēmera ritual is to be led by the mathetes, but any others who wish to join in to honor Aphrodite as well may do so, so this can easily become a communal or community ritual or feast.

  1. Open a window or door to allow Aphrodite to enter the shrine.  Even a small crack is sufficient, so long as there’s some way to the outside.  Needless to say, if the shrine has been set up outdoors, then no such step need be taken.
  2. All present are to dress primarily in white, with green or copper accents or jewelry if desired.  Before approaching the shrine, all are to wash off with khernips.  Perform the Tetractys Meditation together.
  3. If desired, in another place nearby facing away from the shrine, make an offering to Hestia in some way one might choose as eldest and youngest of the children of Rhea and Kronos.  This is intended primarily for the more Hellenistic crowd, and is not strictly required according to the practice of mathesis, but may be done if so desired for ritual propriety’s sake.
  4. Sanctify the area of the shrine once more with khernips, by sprinkling khernips around the area and in the air of the area where the shrine is erected while chanting “απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“begone, begone evil spirits”).
  5. Approach the shrine, and pick up each of the four pebbles one by one that lead up to it.  When all pebbles are picked up, stand up and, with the pebbles in the right hand, call upon Hermes as before.
  6. Place three of the pebbles around Aphrodite at the exact spots where the three candles or lamps stood the day before, i.e. at the three points of the anchoring Tetractys.  When placing each pebble on the shrine, say aloud “Hermes, lead Aphrodite to us”.
  7. Take the fourth pebble and touch the image of Aphrodite with it, and say aloud “Aphrodite, be here with us”.  Place this pebble on the image of Aphrodite or just before the image, touching its base.
  8. Light the white candle and begin the letter chant-meditation on the letter Γ, including a chant for the sacred name of the letter, which for Γ is ΓΕΝΙΟΜΟΥΘΙΓ (Geniomūthig).  Continue this until a desired and sufficient numinous power has been built up for the letter and its associated goddess.
  9. Knock on the shrine and call out the name of Aphrodite three times, then pray her Homeric Hymn.  Either the short hymn (Homeric Hymn #6) or the long hymn (Homeric Hymn #5) may be used, with the very short hymn (Homeric Hymn #10) used only if pressed for time.  Other hymns, such as Proclus’ hymn to Aphrodite or one independently written, may also be used.
  10. Announce yourself fully by your full name, as the child of your parents by their full names, and any mathetic or magical name you may use before the gods.  Announce yourself fully and openly that Aphrodite and all in attendance, whether god or mortal, may know who you are without deceit.  All others may announce themselves to Aphrodite as well, at least using their first names but as openly as they choose to.
  11. Dedicate all offerings to Aphrodite.  Light the three green candles on her altar, followed by the incense which is to be placed in the censer.  Pour out wine, olive oil, fresh water, and honey into the offering cup or bowl for her.  Place flowers in her vase.  Place any other offerings to be dedicated to Aphrodite around her shrine as well.  Only the mathetes is to light the candles and incense and to pour the libation into the cup, but everyone else may give their offerings afterward.  Everything placed on her shrine is to be joined with the words “for Aphrodite on this Great Day”.
  12. All present are to recite the Orphic Hymn to Aphrodite at least once, ideally three times.
  13. After this, the mathetes is to make any supplication, request, personal prayer, or praise of the goddess.  All others in attendance may do the same one by one, with the mathetes standing off to the side and the others stepping before the shrine.  Remember that all prayers are to be said aloud, as is customary for the Greek gods; silence should be reserved for meditation.
  14. Celebrate the Great Day of Gamma by sharing drinks, food, and leisure amongst each other.  Those who wish to do so may meditate in the presence and glory of Aphrodite on her shrine and continue their prayers.  Share her stories, talk about her powers, and do all that may be done to exalt and honor her in her presence.  Additional libations may be made by pouring the first part of one’s drink into her bowl before anything has been drunk from the cup, along with a plate with the first part of all food given to her, if so desired.
  15. When all celebration and meditation is complete, the mathetes is to bring the ritual to a close with all present.  Thank Aphrodite for her presence, blessing, and graces, along with all her divine entourage, and ask her once more to accept all offerings made to her as her gifts and property.  Bid her farewell respectfully, asking that she stay or go as she so desires, and acknowledging that she will be honored again at the proper time after she leaves.
  16. Call out the name of Aphrodite and knock on the altar three times.  Recite the formal close:  “If anything has been done improperly, if anything has been said improperly, let it be as if it were done and said properly.”

After this, the Megalēmera ritual is complete.  After sunrise the next day, long after the candles and incense have burnt out, the shrine is to be dismantled and the image of Aphrodite formally unanchored from the shrine, and all offerings made to her are to be disposed of respectfully.

  1. Once more, prepare another decent batch of khernips, and wash yourself off with it.
  2. Sprinkle khernips on the pebble touching the image of Aphrodite, and in doing so, visualize the light that anchors the image of Aphrodite to the Tetractys dissolving, with the Tetractys and Aphrodite both filled with green light yet as separate entities.  Sprinkle more khernips on each of the three pebbles around the image of Aphrodite at the distant points of the Tetractys, and in doing so, dissolve the paths on the Tetractys into a floating green formless light.  Breathe in the green light that results from this.  Circulate this green light through your body; once you have been “flushed” with this light, breathe it out and into the world.  The image of Aphrodite is to remain filled with green light on its own; the image is to be removed and kept at her usual place, or another permanent shrine may be built for her.
  3. Take the four pebbles and a good amount of khernips and go out to the road, sprinkling khernips before you every step of the way.  Throw the pebbles into the road and any khernips that remains, and thank Hermes for his guidance and help in the worship done the day before.  Alternatively, the four pebbles may be used to build up a herm for Hermes, with the khernips splashed across the herm.
  4. All perishable offerings made to Aphrodite (food, fruit, flowers, waters, libations, etc.) along with any incense ash is to be collected and disposed of respectfully outside.  Any river, beach, or body of water is good to deposit the offerings into; if none of these are possible, they may be deposited at any crossroads after splashing khernips onto the crossroads.
  5. All nonperishable offerings made to Aphrodite (jewelry, stones, metals, pictures, etc.) are to be split evenly between the mathetes and any other person who has a shrine to Aphrodite.  These possessions are Aphrodite’s, not belonging to any mortal, and must remain so.  If there are gifts made that are not accepted by anyone, they are to be respectfully buried outside, either at a crossroads if the Megalēmera ritual was done inside, or on the spot where the Megalēmera ritual was done if it was done outside.
  6. The remainder of the altar is to be sprinkled with khernips, and dismantled and washed in whatever way one may desire.

And that’s it!  I’m looking forward to honoring Aphrodite in this way, and I’d like to see how it plays well with her.  This is something substantially bigger than any weekly or monthly offering I’ve made to her yet, though it follows the same overall format; since I already have a tiny shrine for her in my temple room, I plan on setting up her Megalēmera shrine in a more grand manner in my living room at the center of my house.  Hopefully, I can use this same format for other Megalēmera rituals, and those who can figure these things out can determine how they might be done for other gods and goddesses in the Greek pantheon using the same mathetic format.  While it’d probably be best to honor each and every god for each and every Megalēmera, if I were far more invested in the time and energy to honor the gods as properly as they should be, I’ll really only focus on the ones I’m more intimately connected to, either by spirit or profession or purpose; I don’t plan on throwing twelve Megalēmerai a year, maybe only a handful, depending on the god in question.  Still, such a grand celebration can easily be done as desired for each of the gods that can be associated with the Greek alphabet on these Great Days.

Hestia and Me

A large part of my devotional activities focus on working with the Greek gods.  This goes well beyond Hermes, of course, though he does take up the major focus of my work between the new field of mathesis as well as being the god of guides and a guide of gods, men, spirits, souls, and heroes.  I also honor Aphrodite, who’s arguably my celestial mother in astrological terms, as well as Hephaistos for my crafting work, and Dionysos because he came into my life for an as-yet unclear purpose and who am I to turn down He Who Comes?  There are yet other gods I honor and work with, enough so that it helped me out to develop a ritual calendar for making monthly offerings based on lunar cycles and grammatomancy.

One of the gods who made that list is the hearth goddess Hestia, lady of the hearth flame and arguably the definition of domestic deity, whose name itself literally means “hearth”.  Hestia is a daughter of Kronos and Rhea, of the same generation of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, and Hades.  She is probably the least dramatic of all the Olympians, not having many stories of her exploits since she didn’t really have any, and the only one that comes to mind is how she got her position as goddess of the hearth.  Basically, Apollo and Poseidon both wanted her hand in marriage, but she wanted nothing of them nor of marriage in general, and so begged Zeus to remain a virgin all her days; Zeus agreed, and instead of giving her in marriage gave to her the hearth of the gods and, thus, of all mankind.  And since in older times the hearth was the focal point of domestic life, providing warmth and light and food and protection for the family, Hestia became the goddess of all of these.

Moreover, as the household hearth was also often the shrine to nearly all the other household gods, as much as it was in Greece as it was in Rome, Hestia presided over all offerings and worship made at her hearth.  Indeed, since she was both first-born of the original six Olympians as well as last-born (recall how Zeus ripped out or forced his father Kronos to vomit his other children, and how Hestia was eaten first and therefore escaped last), it was custom for Hestia to receive both the first offering and last offering made at any ancient Greek ritual.  Going to a scale larger than the family, Hestia was often viewed as the goddess of the city hearth itself, with a central fire from which all other hearts burned and took their fire, and from which other colonies of a given city could trace their hearthfires back to as well.  Even more unusual for a Greek deity, she had no processions of her own, no parades to celebrate her; as the hearth was an immovable part of the household, so too was Hestia’s worship and honor solely situated on the hearth itself.  In spite of Hestia’s lack of epic poetry or exploitations, she’s kind of a big deal to the ancients.

I associate Hestia, according to Agrippa (book II, chapter 14), with the zodiacal sign of Capricorn, and thus with the Greek letter Rho according to the stoicheia of the letters.  Her day is the 21st day of the lunar month, which I would normally set aside to make special offerings for her as I do the other gods, but Hestia is different in many ways.  In fact, up until earlier this year, I didn’t really honor Hestia at all.  Sure, there was the genius domus and genius loci, the spirits of the house and land where I lived, and I referred to them as “children” of Hestia and Gaia, and worked with them to make my residence better for myself and my neighbors.  That said, there was no real hearth to the place; it was a second-story apartment in a suburb of DC, our living room was nearly bare and only my roommate spent any amount of time in it, and our kitchen was small and cramped.  It was only when I moved to my new house this year that I decided to formally welcome Hestia into my life and my new house, especially since this new house has an actual wood stove placed against a stone wall with built-in stone shelves.

Now, before I proceed any further, let it be known that while I work with and honor the Greek gods, I am not a Hellenist in the sense of belonging to Hellenismos, the Greek neopagan reconstructionist religion.  I do not follow all the rules and customs that survive to us from ancient writings, nor do I follow the rules and customs of other Hellenistic communities; I generally do my own thing, inspired by the rules and customs as well as by my own experience and interactions with the gods themselves.  After all, times and cultures change, and it’s a given that most traditions change with them.  I’d love to make more offerings of piglets and pigeons to Hermes and Hephaistos, for instance, though I need to build and consecrate a proper altar outside for that, and most neopagans would revile me for even entertaining the thought of blood sacrifice, though I have nothing against it.

Though I live with my fiancé and our mutual close friend, none of us are particularly into cooking large meals.  When we cook at all, we tend to cook for our individual selves, and regardless of whether we cook for ourselves or for all of us, we do it in the kitchen with our fancy modern stove and oven and microwave and cooking supplies.  We don’t use our woodstove to cook (though we may experiment with it foolishly come the winter), nor do we keep it burning (we’ve not used it yet and should probably get the chimney cleaned first), nor do we rely on it for warmth (we have a HVAC system for that) nor for light (since we have electric lightbulbs and not torches or firepits).  We live out in the country, so there’s no big municipal center with its own central hearth, since hearths and common grounds both are generally missing in most of modern urban, suburban, exurban, or rural America.  Even if there were a local community hearth fire, I strongly doubt most people in this neck of the woods would think to honor an ancient Greek goddess with any amount of reverence.  Most of how the ancient Greeks honored Hestia simply doesn’t work for me, and indeed, most of the relevance Hestia had to the ancient Greeks is missing for me.

Still, that doesn’t mean I should just ignore Hestia; she’s an Olympian for a reason, after all, and although many of the amenities of houses have changed, the things for which she stands never have.  We still need light, heat, and food, which Hestia provides through an old-fashioned hearth or through modern lightbulbs and HVAC systems and ovens.  We still need shelter, protection, and a place to call “home”, which Hestia abundantly provides.  We still need a place to gather and celebrate our lives and rituals, which Hestia allows us to do.  Hestia, though she is the goddess of the hearth which is becoming rarer and rarer to find these days in active use, is also the goddess of the home generally, and we definitely have one of those.  It is thus right for me to honor Hestia, giving her a spot to call her own, her own simple shrine in the place she’d feel most comfortable and honored: right by our fireplace.  At the very minimum, I acknowledge her every day as the goddess of the hearth, house, and home itself, and thank her for letting me live there and watching over the house.

Still, I don’t honor Hestia as the ancients did, nor how Hellenists tend to do.  For one, Hestia is an outlier to me; she was one of the original Olympians, yes, but recall that there are 12 Olympians.  There’s Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Hephaistos, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, and Demeter, who form 11 of the 12, but there’s both Hestia and Dionysos to deal with.  Although we don’t have a surviving story that says as much, it’s believed that Hestia gave up her seat at the table of the Olympians to give to Dionysos when he was (re)inducted into the Olympian ranks; Hestia did this to prevent upsetting a balance or causing drama, always the arbiter of peace and prosperity in the home, and took her eternal place by the hearth of the gods.  Likewise, I have my temple room on the other side of the house from the hearth where I do all my spiritual work, with all my shrines and altars and prayer tools.  Hestia, on the other hand, is separated from all that, kept by the fireplace in the living room, isolated from both my spiritual work as well as that of my fiancé and housemate.  My gods are not the household gods, and they’re kept in their own little temenos apart from the public spaces in the house.

Further, while my other gods get their monthly offerings (or, depending on the god, weekly), and although Hestia has a day set aside for her in my lunisolar grammatomantic ritual calendar, I do something different and make offerings to Hestia much more frequently.  I buy novena-like 8″ glass-jar candles from the dollar store near where I live in bulk, and they last about 5 days each; I keep one burning for Hestia at her shrine, and when it goes out, I light her another one along with making her an offering of wine, oil, and incense, and sing out her Orphic Hymn and (short) Homeric Hymn.  The only other shrines I light this type of candle for are my primary devotional altar (which serves as a symbol of the Eternal Infinite Light of God) and for my ancestors, though neither shrine gets special offerings when I light them a new candle (the ancestors have their own trimonthly schedule of offerings).  Hestia gets a large amount of attention from me every five days or so, amounting to about six offerings a month, which is more than the other gods.  Even Hermes gets weekly offerings in addition to his larger monthly offerings, so about five offerings a month.

That said, I’ve only recently started up the process of making an obligatory initial offering to Hestia before the monthly offerings of my other gods.  Before I do any offerings to, say, Zeus on his day of the month, I set out a small amount of wine and oil by her image, thanking her for allowing me a place to live, love, rest, relax, and honor the gods, then I go back to my temple and resume my usual song and dance.  This doesn’t apply to my weekly offerings; those I find more intimate, casual, and off-the-cuff with individual deities I share a very close relationship with, and not everyone gets both a weekly and monthly offering.  Overall, making a preliminary offering to Hestia is a nice gesture, and it helps me prepare myself mentally to do anything else with the gods.  Sure, it’s a little more wine and oil spent, but it’s worth it.  I don’t, however, make her an offering after my other monthly stuff; it suffices for us that she get the first pour of wine.  Plus, this only applies when I’m working with the Greek gods; different traditions necessitate different rules, and some traditions (like Santeria) specify that one of their deities must be fed first; in order to prevent a conflict of interest when one might arise, I keep Hestia before offerings to Greek gods and other deities before gods of their own kind.  (This is one of the problems with having your fingers in so many spiritual pots.)

When it comes to food, well, none of us are big cookers or bakers, though we are known to prepare some large dishes from time to time, or host an occasional dinner party.  When we produce a large amount of food (and I’m talking something substantially more than a pot of macaroni and cheese for an after-work dinner), we set aside small portions for our ancestors, and I set aside another small portion for Hestia.  After all, if the hearth is where food is cooked, then it can be argued that the kitchen is one such hearth for us, and since Hestia allows us a home to live in and cooked food to live on, it’s proper to honor her too.  This follows no schedule, of course, beyond whenever we happen to make a large amount of food or bake a loaf of bread.  When it’s time for the food to be removed, a day or more after I make the offerings, I do with the food the same as I do all the other spiritual offerings; throw it into the pit in my backyard.  That way, we feed the land with the actual material food, which in turn provides more for us both materially and spiritually and helps out the fae and other flora and fauna, both physical and metaphysical, in our area.  In other words, we compost.

Of course, Hestia isn’t the only household spirit we work with.  As I mentioned, we have a big fae population where we live out in the woods, and we feed the fae once in a while, perhaps giving them offerings of their choice (usually red wine and berries with whipped cream).  Plus, in addition to Hestia, I also have a household guardian, a coywolf spirit I’ve been working with for some time now.  The coywolf gets offerings along with Hestia, and a smaller candle lit just for her.  If we get other spirits who decide to take up residence with us as household spirits or guardians, we’ll likewise honor them in a similar way; that said, I don’t exactly intend to call on them the same way as I did the genii I did in my old flat; Hestia and the coywolf guardian suffice for my needs.  It’s not like I need to ask them for much, either; they keep the household running safely and soundly, and all goes well.  When I offer a candle to Hestia, I often dress the candle with oils that encourage peace, prosperity, and fortune in the home for me and my housemates.

So, when I actually do make offerings to Hestia, what is it I seek from her?  I mean, honoring the gods in and of itself is a virtue that should be inculcated, but in my Hermetic and Hermaic mind, nearly all worship and honor is a transaction.  Of course I honor her because she’s Hestia, but I also honor her to ask for her blessing.  When it comes to Hestia, I think my goals are pretty straightforward: I want to live in a place that is safe, stable, and secure from those who would try to harm me intentionally or unintentionally; I want to live in a place that helps me obtain peace, prosperity, and protection from the world, both natural and humane; I want to live in a place that gives me tranquility and takes away tension.  I want a place where I can live, learn, love, rest, relax, study, store my belongings.  I want a place where I don’t have to be evicted or come under threat of it.  I want a place that won’t be destroyed by plague, earthquake, fire, or flood.  I want a place where I can be warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot, dry when it’s raining, fed when I’m hungry, rested when I’m fatigued, and safe when I’m persecuted.  I want a place to call home.

Of all the sacred places in ancient Greek thought, from Gibraltar in the West to the Indus in the East and all the shrines and temples in between, probably the most sacred one of them is the oikos, the home itself, which itself is the sanctuary beyond all sanctuaries and temple beyond all temples, the one to which we ourselves belong.  Hestia has much to provide for us, even in our day and age.

Hail, Benjamin Franklin, Hero!

Today marks the birthday of Benjamin Franklin.  Why is this important?  Because I’m taking a page out of Sannion’s blog and starting to think about who my heroes (in the classical sense) might be.  Of course, dear reader, you probably remember something about him being important in the Revolutionary War and development of the United States; Ben Franklin isn’t considered a Founding Father for nothing or called “The First American” for the hell of it, nor is his face on the US$100 bill for style alone.

Benjamin Franklin

Besides the whole American Revolution thing, Ben Franklin was known for many achievements throughout his life:

  • Began several studies on population growth, influencing Thomas Malthus with his theory of Malthusian catastrophe
  • Philosopher on economics, trade, mercantilism, Enlightenment ideals, and freedom
  • Founded the first public library in America
  • Created a phonetic alphabet for a spelling reform of English, which although unsuccessful influenced and was used in part by the International Phonetic Alphabet
  • One of the first charters of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean
  • Investigated and discovered the properties of electricity, and discoverer of the conservation of charge, as well as being a polymath influencing and deriving tools for optics, light, heating, and other physics
  • Laid out the first description of the pros-and-cons list method of making decisions
  • Writer of music, and player of stringed instruments as well as a glass harmonica
  • First named chess player in America, and a writer on the game whose works are read to this day on etiquette and style
  • Spy-master, public relations manager, and social engineer
  • First Postmaster General of the United States Post Office, chosen based on his already notable experience as postmaster
  • Ambassador, politician, polyglot, and advocate for religious tolerance and abolition of slavery
  • Grand Master of several Freemason lodges
  • Writer of Poor Richard’s Almanack
  • Printer of currency and advocate for paper money, as well as inventing several anti-counterfeiting techniques
  • Fugitive after fleeing from his apprenticeship without permission
  • Beloved of whores and many illegitimate children

Hark, A Vagrant #268 (first comic)

See why I think the dude deserves especial honor as a hero under the guidance of Hermes?

Where I work is amazingly close to the National Postal Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.  I like taking trips there, not least because it’s basically a temple to Hermes Diaktoros kai Angelos, the Guide and Messenger, complete with hymns to Hermes and caduci lining the architecture, but because it’s small and well-contained as far as Smithsonian museums go.  Add to it, there’s a large statue of Ben Franklin in the museum near the exit (where a post office is also located), to whom I always nod in honor as I walk past him.  While taking a trip there recently, I decided to look on the base of the statue to actually read it, and behold!, there was a list of his achievements (which exceeded more than I had thought initially) as well as his birthday and deathday.  Since his birthday was right around the corner, and being the quasi-Hellenistic Hermetic magician I am, why not do something to mark the day he was brought into the world?

While Ben Franklin was nominally Christian and raised by his Puritan parents Josiah Franklin and Abiah Franklin née Folger, he claimed Deism for much of his life, though changed directions several times that wouldn’t be unwelcome among Hermeticists.  He had a strong emphasis on inculcating virtue and strong character with an emphasis on doing good, as well as living a good life; these were critical in his views on founding a new nation based on the ideal of the republic.  While many religions claimed him (including the Quakers, Church of England, and Presbyterians), Benjamin Franklin was a proponent of religion for the sake of good in general, regardless of theology or dogma.  Among his other virtues, he held 13 to be highly important both to the development of his own character and that of others, listing them in his autobiography and focusing on one each week of the year:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He was even a proponent of preserving the dead for later revival, first suggesting that he and his friends be “immersed…in a cask of Madeira”.  Dude’s baller, yo.

So, with all this in mind, I’ll be paying my deepest respects to Ben Franklin tonight and every year on this day.  According to the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary website, some of his favorite foods were, besides anything natively found and made by the Native Americans, apples, cranberries, pickles, bread and honey, potatoes, Parmesan cheese, and turkey (though Ben Franklin was an advocate for vegetarianism, and introduced tofu to the Americas).  While Madeira would be an obvious choice for a liquid offering, I might try a bit of fruit rum punch instead (since Franklin is associated with a rhyming recipe for the same); his recipe for milk punch might also be good.

Come on and join me tonight in celebrating this awesome man, whose work not only benefitted the United States, but even the whole world, especially for modern conveniences like Amazon and e-mail and mixology.  Even if you’re not an American, I’m sure there’s something you can thank or admire the dude for.  I mean, come on; half his life sounds like a plotline from Game of Thrones.  What’s not to drink to?