Mathētic Order of Offerings to the Theoi

One of the longest spiritual practices I’ve maintained more-or-less continually, or at least kept around in one form or another, is that to the Greek gods.  I have a shrine to a few of them in my temple, and though the form and shape of it has waxed and waned over the years, I’ve kept venerating and offering to them since I got started, pretty much.  From my apartment after college where I had Hermēs in one corner of my bedroom and Asklepios against the wall, and after with Dionysos joining Asklepios; then moving into a house with my boyfriend and having an entire room for my spiritual stuff, with an elaborate set of glass shelves for the theoi, with separate spaces for Zeus and Aphroditē and Apollo and Hephaistos and even Hadēs at one point; now into the house I moved in with my now-husband and having another room set up with different qualities and things got downsized a bit.  Hestia, of course, has been around in every house in one form or another, and Dionysos has gone from having an entire shrine dedicated and decorated to him to being…reduced in size but not in presence to a special contraption I set up just for him.  All the same, throughout all these changes, I’ve still kept up my worship of the theoi.

My practices have changed somewhat between moves from house to house and temple to temple; for instance, in the last place where I lived, my temple room was across from the hallway bathroom and had a window outside, so it was trivial to dump offerings out or get water anytime I needed.  Now, however, my temple is in a basement room with no easy access to either external ventilation or a sink or drain of any sort.  This makes disposing of old offerings and libations a little different, and given the lack of ventilation and general light, it’s easy for libations set out to evaporate really quickly or get mold faster than I would’ve thought otherwise.  That makes, for instance, the use of many small libation vessels for each theos I have enshrined a pain, because they all have to be hauled up the stairs to the kitchen to be emptied and washed then all hauled back downstairs, and so forth.  Besides that, I used to open the window during ritual as a symbolic act as a means to “let the god in” and for incense offerings to reach the heavens, but I can’t do that at this point, so I have to adjust my processes for that.

As I’m getting back to my daily practice (and struggling to find out how to make things more efficient and effective while still making things count), I’ve also been digging through my notes to see what insights I had before, what my proposed methodologies or practices were, and how I managed to get by before and how I did things.  I suppose that’s one benefit of blogging so much, because I found two such posts on my method of offering to the theoi, specifically within the context of Mathēsis, one post on general daily mathētic practices, the other on a specifically mathētic procedure to make offerings to the gods.  The former is good for me to review anyway, because it’s something I need to get back on as well, either by reworking it to be less-than-daily or by incorporating it into my general daily practices, and because it recommends a regular, daily offering or invocation of the god of the day according to my Grammatēmerologion calendar.  The latter is actually useful, because it documents one such way that an invocation and offering to a god might be done, whether associated with a particular day or otherwise, and whether it’s a grand offering or just a small quick invocation.

However, as I look back on this procedure, there are things that I really would feel more comfortable changing than keeping the same.  (That’s one good benefit of writing my own blog; I get to make the claim that anything I write can be improved on later!)  Between my own experiences and interactions with the theoi on their own terms and by bringing in other ideas that I’m comfortable with applying across the board, there are some things I’m getting into the habit of that I wouldn’t’ve considered before.  For instance, while in the past I would often (but not always) make a perfunctory and preliminary offering to Hestia while also saying that it’s not strictly necessary, nowadays I’m definitely on the side of always making an offering to her to start with before any others, though I’m not entirely convinced that every offering must also conclude with another one to her, as well.  Rather, I’m now in the habit of honoring Zeus in every offering, regardless whether he’s the focus of my prayers or not, due to his role as divine cosmic king who rules over the three realms; at first I had his name praised and made a perfunctory offering to him before any other god (besides Hestia), but after some conversation, I make him last.  Or second-to-last, if Hestia gets a final offering as well.

So, let me draw out my process and my thinking.  It is true that many of the theoi operate independently in some respects, but it is also true that they are all part of the same pantheon and part of the same cosmic schema.  Just as you can’t remove a single number from the Decad and have it still remain the Decad, you can’t really remove a single theos from the theoi and have it remain the pantheon.  However, not every individual theos needs to be worshipped at all times, but a few key ones that allow for worship to happen at all makes more sense.  For that, the general order of invocation and offering that I use nowadays goes like this:

  1. Perfunctory initial offering to Hestia.  Hestia should always get the first offering, because she’s the goddess of the hearth and home itself.  Without her, we would have nowhere to live, build, or establish shrines; it is only by her support that we can make such offerings in our own homes, dwellings, and temples.  If one is living in the wild and makes offerings in a pristine place untouched by civilization with offerings that are not the products of agriculture or animal husbandry, then I would make an argument that an offering to Hestia is not needed, but it would still be appreciated as she is still rightly the eldest of the first generation of the Olympian Theoi.
  2. Perfunctory offering of wine to Dionysos.  This step is sometimes skipped depending on what I’m offering.  If I’m offering wine in this ceremony, and I’m either going to run out of an existing bottle or if I’m opening a new bottle of wine for any reason, I open it up here and pour a small amount for Dionysos, giving him thanks for his own sacrifices and allowing us to partake in his sacrifice of flesh and the grape which allows us to perform our own sacrifices.  In many ways, Dionysos is the god of wine as well as the god in wine; by opening a new bottle and giving him the first pour, we recognize his presence and dedicate our sacrifices to his own.
  3. Perfunctory offering to Hermes.  Hermēs is important to always recognize, and by calling on him, we ensure that our prayers can be heard by any and all the gods.  Hermēs is the messenger of the gods, to be sure, but he’s also the messenger between gods and mankind; it’s by him that we come to know the will and desires of the gods, but it’s also by him that they come to know our prayers and supplications.  Hermēs is, indeed, the god of prayer and ritual in general, just as Hestia can be said to be the goddess of shrines in general and Dionysos the god of sacrificing wine in general.  Plus, this helps with the notion of “bringing the god in” for when I call upon the presence of a particular deity; before, I’d open the window as a formal “opening of the gate”, but since I don’t have a window anymore, this seems to suffice as well.  It’d still be great to have a window or some other aperture, but I simply don’t have that option available to me.
  4. Main offering.  This is where the actual invocation to the god begins.  All their prayers and invocations and offerings and whatnot take place after all the initial offerings are made.
  5. Perfunctory concluding offering to Zeus.  At the end of the ceremony, once the other offerings are made, Zeus should also always be honored, as the divine ruler of the cosmos, the father of gods and men, and the supreme king of all.  In honoring Zeus who rules over the three domains of sky, sea, and land, we also honor all those who live within them, both mortal and immortal.  This suffices not only to render tribute to the god of gods, but also to recognize the divinity of all the other gods who fall under Zeus’ domain.
  6. Other perfunctory concluding offerings.  As Hestia is the first-born of Rhea and Kronos, she is also their last-born; she was born first from Rhea’s womb, and torn out last from Kronos’ belly.  The Homeric Hymn to Hestia (#24) says that “without you mortals hold no banquet, where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last”.  However, I don’t think that this sort of concluding offering is strictly needed after that of Zeus, but it can certainly be done; if it were, I think it would also be appropriate to honor both Hermēs and Hestia both for both their roles as divinities of prayer-speaking as well as that of shrine-keeping.  In other words, after the main offering and offering to Zeus, we work backwards: if we start with Hestia and Hermēs, we end with Hermēs and Hestia.  It’s something I’m still working out, admittedly.

This idea of a ritual process, going through multiple divinities in order to sacrifice to one, may seem needlessly complicated; I know I thought that at one point, and before, I’d just go to my Apollo shrine and do my thing and be done with it.  That said, I think of my other traditions where there is absolutely an order to worship, where certain divinities must be honored before others; this idea works for the Greek gods, too.  Plus, there are other examples of having such an order; consider the Hellenist reconstruction group Elaion and their ritual templates shared by Elani Temperance over at Baring the Aegis, where every ritual begins with a libation to Hestia, to Gaia, and to Themis before proceeding with the main event, and all of which conclude with a final offering to Hestia.  This also makes sense: just as we honor Hestia for being the goddess of hearth and home and shrine, so too do we honor the Earth for supporting all that happens and to divine Law and Order for that which is proper that all might continue to be proper.  Sure, it might seem easier to just make offerings to one god (and a lot less use of wine and oil and incense), but the more I think about it and the more I practice it, the more sense it makes to really go in for the process and proper sequencing of things in a formal offering.

Of course, all that above is just the general template, and templates change in certain circumstances.  For instance, if I were to just make an offering to Hestia for Hestia’s own sake, I wouldn’t really bother with Hermēs or the other gods, because Hestia is already right there present in my home, so Hestia is one of the very few (perhaps the only) divinity I could just sacrifice directly to and not get the rest of the gang involved and not feel bad about it.  In general, however, there’s always going to be a process, and there are certain rules to how that process might change in certain examples.  Let’s consider a few examples, with the main event in bold text and anything unexpected in italics:

  1. Hestia
    1. Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hestia, Zeus
    2. Because Hestia is always first no matter what, she still comes first.  However, as she’s immediately present and we’re already making an offering to her, we don’t need the messenger/interpreter presence of Hermēs.  If a new bottle of wine is to be opened, a perfunctory offering to Dionysos should come first before Hestia, though this is really more a respect gesture than anything else.  Likewise, Zeus can still be honored afterwards, but beyond Hestia and honoring the hearth itself that even the gods honor, there’s not too much that needs to be done.
  2. Dionysos
    1. Hestia, Hermēs, Dionysos, Zeus, other conclusions
    2. Normally, we’d have a perfunctory offering to Dionysos before Hermēs if we’re opening a new bottle of wine.  However, if I’m offering to Dionysos himself, I’d skip that stage and celebrate him entirely in his own part of the ceremony.  Instead of being given just a token, perfunctory offering, he gets his own full thing going on.  After Dionysos is honored, then we’d give a perfunctory offering to Zeus, and if desired, any other concluding offerings to e.g. Hermēs and Hestia.
  3. Hermēs
    1. Hestia, Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hermēs, Zeus, other conclusions
    2. Pretty straightforward here; Hermēs takes his usual place after Dionysos (if needed) and before Zeus, but as there are no other gods to be worshiped, Hermēs himself becomes the focus.  Instead of giving Hermēs a perfunctory offering, he gets a full offering here.
  4. Zeus
    1. Hestia, Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hermēs, Zeus, libation to all the gods, other conclusions
    2. Like with Hermēs, instead of just getting a perfunctory offering, Zeus himself is celebrated in full.
    3. However, remember that Zeus is normally celebrated in every ceremony to remind ourselves of his divine and cosmic importance, and by him, we can honor all the other gods and goddesses of the cosmos.  However, if we’re worshiping and offering to Zeus as Zeus alone, then we’d need something to step in to formally recognize all the other entities of the cosmos, hence a separate step for the “libation to all the gods” after Zeus.  This would be perfunctory, as the offering to Zeus any other time would be.
  5. Apollo
    1. Hestia, Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hermēs, Apollo, Zeus, other conclusions
    2. This is the basic template, using Apollo as the main offering.  Nothing unexpected here.
  6. Asklepios
    1. Hestia, Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hermēs, Apollo, Asklepios, Zeus, other conclusions
    2. This is essentially the basic template, with Asklepios as the main offering, but note how we’re also honoring Apollo immediately before him.  This is because, as I reckon it, Asklepios is not sufficiently independent or major of a god in his own right.  Sure, he can be offered to independently and on his own, but I find it more proper to recognize his father Apollo first.  In other words, to use a royal metaphor, Asklepios is a noble in the royal court ruled by Apollo; as Apollo is the ruler of that court, he gets first honors, and then any
    3. A similar case would go for any other minor god that is clearly part of another god’s “court”, such as Hēbē under Hēra, Eros under Aphroditē, Tykhē under Zeus, Nikē under Athena, and so forth.   Recognize the primary god of that court first with a perfunctory offering, then the minor god as the main offering.

Although the Greeks may not have conceived of their gods as belonging to “courts” per se, I think it’s still a useful classification of the minor gods and goddesses around central rulers who were more well-known.  For instance, I would consider all the thalassic deities Triton, Nereus, and the Nereides and Naiadēs including Thetis to all belong to the court of Poseidon, who either is the father, husband, brother, or conquering usurper of the other gods.  In sacrifice and myth, this may not really be true, but it’s a really useful way to organize “groups” of the theoi for the purposes of my Grammatēmerologion calendar, which assigns the letters of the Greek alphabet to the days of the lunar month, and by the letters, to individual signs of the Zodiac or other powers, which are associated the major gods of the Hellenic pantheon.  For instance, in the Grammatēmerologion, the twenty-third day of the lunar month is given to the letter Tau.  Tau is given to the zodiacal sign of Pisces, which is associated with the theos Poseidon; thus, it makes sense to cluster the worship of all the oceanic deities onto the day of Tau, just as all the deities associated with Hēra like Hēbē and Eileithyia are given to Hēra’s day of Sigma and so forth.  If nothing else, honoring the “court ruler” of a minor god also counts as honoring the primary god of the same day that minor god would be worshiped on, which fulfills part of my daily mathētic practices.

So, when I say “perfunctory offering”, what exactly do I mean?  Basically, a token offering, a nod, something I give just enough to recognize the divinity I’m making such an offering to.  It’s really little more than a very quick pour of wine or clean water, no more than an ounce or a few drops, accompanied by a few words of honor and veneration, calling upon their aid.  If I feel like it, I’ll recite the entire Orphic Hymn or one of the shorter Homeric Hymns to them, but in general, what I’ll say is something short, like:

Hestia, as you were first born of Rhea and last born of Kronos, so too do you receive the first offering and the last!  Queen goddess of the hearth, without you we could not live nor could we offer to the gods.  Right and proper it is to honor you first in all such rites.

Dionysos, roaring lord of reborn life, yours is the blood of the vine which we cut and rend that we might live and live well.  As you spilled your blood that we might partake in it, I give you the first offering of this bottle that you might always be honored in every pour and spill.

Hermēs, you are the messenger of gods and men, to whom we all turn in all our rites.  Hear my prayers, take these sacrifices, and carry them aloft to divine ears and immortal hands!  May all the righteous ways of worship be opened for me and for the gods!

With that, I’ll pour out a bit of wine and olive oil out—not a lot, because it’s better to give a little so that we always have something to give, and if we’re going through the process, then we’ve already got a lot to give.  From what I’ve been doing, it seems that a standard set of offerings will take around half a normal 750ml bottle of wine and maybe an ounce or two of olive oil.  While before I was pouring straight from the wine bottle into individual vessels for each individual divinity, which was fine when I could more easily wash them or empty them without having to schlep them up and down stairs, I’m now in the habit of using a large white bowl I set before my entire Greek shrine, and pouring in libations into that from a smaller white bowl.  That way, I can partake of the libation and give a toast to each of the gods as I offer, and I replicate the old practice of pouring a libation out on the ground itself.  The bowl, of course, keeps it all contained instead of splashing everywhere, and is easier to carry up instead of four or six silver or glass chalices full of wine and oil.

Of course, all of the above—the process, the order, the perfunctory offerings versus the main offerings, the courts, etc.—only really count if I’m making an actual offering to the theoi.  On days when I don’t, either because I don’t want to or don’t need to, there’s no need to go through all of that.  Instead, a simple invocation will suffice.  For instance, say that it’s the day of Gamma; Gamma is associated with Taurus, and thus with Aphroditē.  If I’m going to make a full offering to Aphroditē that day, then yes, I’ll go through the process of Hestia, Dionysos, Hermēs, Aphroditē, Zeus, &c.  However, if I’m not, whether because I’m too tired or don’t plan on doing an offering to Aphroditē that day, then I’d just call on her and give her a simple prayer; rather than giving her a main offering in the midst of a bunch of perfunctory offerings, I’d just give her a perfunctory (or bigger) invocation with no other process involved.  In other words, if all I’m doing is verbally honoring and recognizing the god of the day, then there’s no sacrifice or offering, so the whole process of offering doesn’t apply.  Easy, indeed, and if it’s all I need to get by for a daily practice, then all the better.

I’m sure, given enough time, this proposed method will continue to change.  What is becoming clear to me is that it’s easier for me to bundle my already-existing Hellenic/Greek practices into my overall Mathēsis work, which is fine by me; the less I have to arrange as separate “practices”, especially when one directly comes from the other and is going to subsume it anyway, the better.  By refocusing my Hellenic work into my Mathēsis work, I can better focus both together and synthesize them in a way that reduces stress and conflict while still being able to expand and expound on both.  Plus, if this Mathēsis stuff is actually going to head in the direction I want it, having processes for this sort of thing are definitely a needed and beneficial organizing principle.

Soapbox Time: Animal Sacrifice and “Black Magic”

I tried to not put a post out about this again.  I really did, you guys, especially since I was fortunate enough to completely miss the recent Internet debacle-argument about this topic, and moreso since I wrote one post on the one topic and another on the other years ago and was hoping to not have to succumb to this particular urge again.  But, then again, it has been like five years since I wrote those posts, and though quite a lot has happened, my views on these two topics hasn’t particularly changed much except for being refined.

So, the other day, I put out my write-up on PGM XII.201—269, which I’ve entitled the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, a consecration of an engraved ring of power that protects the wearer and also ensures their success in magical workings, a sort of forerunner to the Ring of Solomon found in later centuries.  Part of the ceremony calls for the sacrificial offering of seven birds—a pure white goose, three roosters, and three pigeons—but since I’m fully aware that not everyone is willing, trained, or able to perform such a ceremony, I also offered an alternative approach using sacrificial, animal-less cakes made to symbolize the offering of the birds instead.  I think that it’s a wonderful ritual that I’m eager to try at some point in the future, using the cake substitutions instead of bird sacrifices, not because I’m unable or unwilling to use birds here, but because I want to keep things simple for a first honest attempt, along with other personal accommodations for my own circumstances and situations.

Well, shortly after I shared it on one of the social media platforms I use, the ritual got a particular comment that rubbed me the wrong way, which was all of: “Whoa. That’s some serious black magick“, complete with a sadface. Granted, with such a terse comment that gave no justification for saying what it did, I honestly can’t say why that particular person commented that this was “black magic”, but I’m pretty certain I can hone in on it.  And I just…I just can’t, y’all.  I did make a reply to that comment, but since this particular thing set me off sore on two volatile topics at once, I figured if I was gonna get this urge out my system, I may as well get it out in full, in depth, and at length here.

First, let’s get the easy bit out of the way: “black magic” is a ridiculous term that we should have abandoned long ago, right along with “white magic”.  For some, it’s an issue of racism; for others, an issue of not understanding other traditions; for yet others, a shaming mechanism to get people to “evolve” into “higher states of spiritual being” from “backwards” or “primitive” or “dark” places.  Whether for these or other reasons, “black magic” is a deplorable term that’s often used to (a) make someone seem way more spooky than they are (b) market themselves as an edgelord sorcerer a la E.A. Koetting (c) shame the practices, rites, and occulture of others because one is uncomfortable with what they do.  Yes, I know the world is wide and full of awe, things that are both awesome and awful.  At the same time, you generally don’t have the right to judge other practices and cultures, especially those which are foreign to you or those which are from antiquity, unless you can also claim some measure of expertise in the context, development, and reasoning behind those practices of those cultures.

“Black magic” is a phrase that’s often more in line with really spooky witchcraft, devil-working, demon-summoning, cursing, and other outright maleficia in the sense of magic that’s intended to cause harm, pain, suffering, or death to others, generally out of a sense of wrath, greed, malice, or other vice-fueled emotion.  Then again, the term “black magic” is used at best when it “accurately” refers to these things as they are actually done; just as often as not, if not more so, the phrase “black magic” is used to describe any type of magic that one might find transgressive, dangerous, unpalatable, or frightening.  This is ridiculous, to be frank about it; the use of magic in general is transgressive and dangerous, and to anyone who isn’t familiar with anything in magic, it’s all unpalatable and frightening.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve scared off by saying I conjure angels, much less work with ancient subterranean deities, and those are generally the more appealing and “kinder” spirits we work with (though angels are terrifying as shit, too, and we should never forget why the first thing they say in biblical literature is “be not afraid”, nor should we ever forget our place amongst the gods lest we fall into hubris and suffer the extreme penalties for doing so).  If you call something “black magic” because it’s unpalatable or frightening, it’s because it’s unpalatable or frightening to you.  Others, for whom it’s their bread and butter, may find it normal and natural, even holy and sanctified in its own right.  It’s much like how many Christians think of a variety of non-Christian religions as “evil”, “wicked”, “witchcraft”, or even “black magic”; to call the practices of another that you don’t understand “black magic” is just as farcical; consider Mark Twain’s The War Prayer, which would be an example of maleficia that’s otherwise grounded in normalized, culturally-acceptable religion.  Heck, even if you do understand it, call it what it is: is it a curse, or devil-working, or maleficium?  Call it that, and be clear and accurate about it!  But don’t call it “black magic” and think that by being judgmental you’re preserving your pristine ethics and morals, because you’re not, and you end up making yourself look ridiculous.

So, the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual got called “black magic”.  Why might that be?  Considering any of the “accurate” meanings of what “black magic” might mean (and I use the term “accurate” very loosely here), we simply don’t find any of that in this ritual.  In fact, we find a pretty standard, pretty pious hymn to the Agathos Daimōn, the “Good Spirit” of Hellenic influence that became a sort of personalized almighty God figure, much as how many modern Christians conceive of God as not just the God of all the cosmos but also their own personal, private God that watches out for them.  We find the preliminary invocation calling upon all the beneficent gods who rule over the world in all its forms and in all its ways, almost in an animist worldview rather than a polytheistic one, so as to establish the authority of the magician in mythic terms with the right to call upon them.  We find the consecration of the ring to be such that the magician “may wear this power in every place, in every time, without being smitten or afflicted, so as to be preserved intact from every danger while I wear this power”, so that “none of the daimones or spirits will or can oppose” them.  If it weren’t for the explicit Egyptian references and comparatively outdated terminology in the ritual, we might be forgiven for thinking this was something from one iteration or another of the Key of Solomon.  I think we can pretty solidly establish that whatever type or field of magic might be referenced by “black magic”, the Royal Ring of Abrasax doesn’t fall into it.

If you want good PGM examples of maleficia, you don’t have to search hard: PDM xiv.675—694 (the Evil Sleep of Seth; much of PDM xiv has similar recipes and poisons for causing “evil sleep” i.e. catalepsy, as well as blindness or death), PGM IV.2622—2707 (the Slander Spell of Selēnē), PGM IV.3255—3274 (Seth’s curse of punishments), PGM VII.396—404 (for silencing, subjecting, and restraining), PGM XII.365—375 (for inflicting the separation of Seth and Osiris or Seth and Isis on two friends or lovers through strife, war, odiousness, and enmity), and PGM CXXIV.1—43 (to inflict illness), to say nothing of all the other restraining and binding spells, as well as all the love spells which verge on domination, subjection, and inflicting pain so as to make someone love the magician.  Then there are also the curse tablets, also known as defixiones or katadesmoi, which we find across the entire western Old World across many, many centuries (more information available at Ancient Esotericism).  Those are all undoubtedly maleficia of various types and kinds, which may or may not have their justifiable uses; the Royal Ring of Abrasax, however, bears nothing in common with these.

The only objectionable part of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, then, must be the use of animal sacrifice, which is seen as a generally distasteful thing amongst…well, let’s be honest: urbanite or suburbanite, middle-class or upper-class, Western-centric practitioners who are separated from the cycle of life and death present in agriculture and animal husbandry as well as social, religious, and magical practices that go back literal millennia across every culture and continent.  On the other hand, I’m a proponent of animal sacrifice, for the ceremonies that call for them, when there’s a recognizable need to incorporate them in those ceremonies, and when performed by someone who is properly capable of carrying out such an act of sacrifice.

Before I continue, I want to mention a bit about the gravity of animal sacrifice.  While a staple of the religious and magical practices of most (not every) culture at some point on Earth, it’s a pretty big deal to sacrifice an animal; more than fruit or grain, raising animals is an investment.  Sure, agricultural goods are investments, too, but the nature of animal sacrifice is different because they’re expensive and, more importantly, have the blood and breath of life in them.  This is what makes them far more potent than offerings of libations, incense, foodstuffs, or other votive gifts, no matter how rare or intricate.  To sacrifice an animal is truly a sacrifice, because you have to come to terms with the cycle of life and death that enabled you to come into the presence of such a sacrifice as well as the process by which you cease its life for the dedication and offering to a divinity, or using its life force in a directed way for magical ends that cannot (whether easily or at all) be accomplished through the use of non-animal means.  It’s not like setting out a cup of barley grains for Hermēs or a plate of pears for Obatala, then tossing it out the next week; the process of animal sacrifice is not to be taken for granted, and neither is the life of the thing to be sacrificed.

Given that, I recognize that there are a variety of reasons one might choose to abstain from animal sacrifice, many of which were brought up in the comments on my original post on this topic from 2012:

  • One takes an egalitarian animist view of the cosmos: everything has a spirit, nothing is spiritually master or owner of another.  In this light, the notion of “dedication” and “sacrifice” become moot, because there is no point in dedicating a sacrifice to an entity that cannot own anything.
  • One takes a strictly pacifist, nonviolent approach in all their works: no harm done to anything as a result of ritual or as part of it.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • One has a sincere love and care for the well-being of animal life, whether they are people, pets, or livestock.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • The rules and restrictions of one’s own practices and religion forbid it (e.g. Orphism).
  • The gods and spirits one works with insist on or mandate bloodless sacrifice for their worship and works.

One common argument I see against animal sacrifice is that “you wouldn’t sacrifice your pet dog or cat, so why would you sacrifice a chicken or goat?”.  You’re right; I wouldn’t sacrifice my pet, because pets aren’t livestock.  Pets are animals we raise for support, companionship, protection, and entertainment; for all intents and purposes, pets are family, and I wouldn’t sacrifice a member of my family.  Livestock, on the other hand, do not fall into that category.  They are raised for food, for breeding, for their hair, for their eggs; livestock are animals for consumption.  To cross the semantic boundary between pet and livestock is…even I find it distasteful, but I also recall myths and stories where such things were done in times of extreme need or revelation (e.g. Baucis and Philemon about to sacrifice their pet goose when they realized that it was truly Zeus and Hermēs visiting them in their hovel).

Heck, even if one is okay with animal sacrifice, there are plenty more reasons why one might not do it:

  • Lack of skill in safely and, as much as possible, humanely slaughtering an animal
  • Lack of funds for animals
  • Lack of appropriate space or privacy to keep animals, whether on a short- or long-term basis, as well as to conduct the ceremony
  • Lack of means or skill to properly process and butcher the animal for ritual or personal consumption, if applicable to the ceremony
  • Lack of means or space to dispose of any non-sacrificial and non-processable parts
  • Lack of knowledge of the proper ritual procedure for conducting such a sacrifice

That said, farms that raise livestock for personal use are often quite skilled in quickly and safely slaughtering animals, and butchery is a time-honored profession that overlaps significantly with slaughtering animals.  So long as one is willing to get their hands and apron bloodied, it’s not hard to learn these skills at least to a rudimentary, acceptable level, and make accommodations where needed for processing, disposal, and the like.  Most humans eat meat to some extent, and for many people, it’s a necessary part of their diet and culinary culture.  (Some might argue that nobody needs to eat animals and that everyone should be vegan, but it’s not a sustainable practice for many parts of the world, and it negates the fact that the human body does not operate on a one-diet-fits-all approach.)  Many people don’t get any sort of glimpse into the process of raising, slaughtering, or processing animals for consumption nowadays, especially in the Western urban world, but we can’t lose sight of the fact of where our sliced deli meats, Thanksgiving turkeys, grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, and pork chops come from, especially considering how many people thoughtlessly and mindlessly pick up such animal products from their supermarkets and grocery stores to eat them later.  More people in the past were far more familiar with what it takes to process animals from field to plate; heck, if your grandparents are still alive, ask them what it was like to pluck chickens.  It wasn’t that long ago that many people killed animals on their own properties for their own benefit and sustenance in many Western first-world countries, either, and many still do, especially outside the Western first-world sphere.

When it comes to the religious use of animal sacrifice, we need to think about the role religion plays in our lives.  In some cultures, mainly the Greco-Roman ones I’m thinking of, there was no word for “religion” in the sense of a distinct field of human activity; there were words to describe particular modes of worship, but they struggled with a way to define the role of religion in their lives, because they couldn’t separate it out from the other things they did on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.  More than just religious festivals and rites of passage, religion was intertwined with every breath of every day.  In that sense, if we’re going to kill something that took time and effort to raise, why not honor the gods by it and give them their fair share?  Also consider the Jewish practice of shechita, the kosher-permissible ritual slaughter of animals for consumption, which ties in with the practice of qorban, the acts and regulations of sacrifice permitted within the Temple of the Jews.  Then, bring in the long-standing and vital role that animal sacrifice plays in a variety of African religions, both practiced to this day within Africa as well as in the diaspora in forms such as La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, Candomblé, Vodou, and so forth; in these moments, animal sacrifices are often special occasions, celebrating a particular divinity, festival, or other sincere need, and are often communal celebrations where the meat is shared.  Indeed, in many traditional cultures, it’s more often than not that people got a substantial amount of their meat intake from participating in religious ceremonies.  And, more recently, some reconstructionist and revivalist pagan traditions are reincorporating the practices of animal sacrifice in their modern practices as was documented to have been done before Christianity knocked them off the map.

There are lots of schools of thought on the exact, precise role animal sacrifice plays (and, moreover, ought to play) in religious works, and generally these are limited to at most a handful of practices and traditions that involve them; I wouldn’t use Neoplatonic views on the appropriateness of animal sacrifice in Santería, nor would I try to impose Jewish ritual practices in a Hellenic ceremony.  Likewise, I would find it unconscionable for someone to judge the practices of another to which they don’t belong.  The most that I would personally agree with would be, if you have an issue for one reason or another, do your best to neither participate or benefit from it.  That’s fine!  In that case, you don’t need such practices, and they don’t need you.  If it comes to pass that you do, for some reason, need such practices as requires animal sacrifice, on the other hand, follow their rules, because they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have and, simply put, still don’t need you to change, judge, or opine on the appropriateness of their ritual process.  There are a variety of legitimate needs and purposes for animal sacrifice; heck, even in a Neoplatonic setting, Porphyry and Iamblichus are in agreement that it has its place, and for some people, it’s a valuable and useful part of worship and theurgy to make use it in the right circumstances (cf. this excellent paper by Eleonora Zeper on the subject).

Then, on the other hand, we have magical practices.  Rather than following the institutions of religion and their practices that are typically carried on for many generations, magical practices may overlap with religion, take on religion as an independent and asocial activity, or have no overlap whatsoever.  Because of the variety of these practices, it’s hard to say anything about them in general besides the fact that they exist: they’re in the PGM, they’re in the Picatrix, they’re in the Key of Solomon, they’re in the Book of St. Cyprian, they’re in pretty much any and every pre-modern tradition and source text we have (and a number of modern ones, too).  Ranging from frogs to falcons, swine to swans, there are endless purposes for a variety of particular animals, some of which require no more than some hair or a feather plucked from them, some which require blood but without killing the animal, which require their whole burning once sacrificed (as in the Royal Ring of Abrasax), some require torture and deforming (such as a variety of frog-based spells in the Book of St. Cyprian), and so forth.  If you’re able and willing to do such acts for the sake of ritual, do it; if not, don’t do it and move on with your life.

There’s also the case of substituting blood sacrifices with bloodless sacrifices.  I give one example of this in the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, where instead of sacrificing seven birds, one sacrifices seven specially-made cakes that represent those birds.  Substitution of one ritual process with a similar-enough stand-in is a longstanding practice both ancient and less-ancient; we have records of Egyptian rituals where this was done, we know many folk practices across the world that once relied on animal sacrifices have come to use substitutions instead, and similar substitutions are made in particular traditions of Tibetan and some (but not all) other Vajrayana or Vedic practices, as well.  If done appropriately, done with the right intent, and done in a situation where a bloodless substitute is deemed acceptable by both the magician/priest and the forces they’re working with, then there’s no reason to worry for those who wish to perform a ritual but who are either unable or unwilling to perform the animal sacrifice for it: just use the substitute instead.  However, as Jason Miller points out in his recent post about animal sacrifice and using substitutes, this isn’t always possible: if the use of substitutes is not deemed necessary, whether because there’s a sincere need for a proper animal sacrifice or because the spirits reject bloodless substitutes, then you’re out of luck with substitutes.  I’ve heard stories of at least one modern ATR community that insisted on using bloodless sacrifices for their ceremonies until one of their gods came down in the flesh and demanded it of them, lest he take it from them by force; this type of thing can happen, though hopefully though less extreme measures such as through ceremonial divination and regular check-ins with the spirits you’re working with.

There’s also the possibility of reworking the format and structure of a ritual that calls for animal sacrifice to avoid using it entirely.  Consider that the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual given in PGM XII.201—269 has a parallel, closely-related consecration ceremony of a phylactery later on in PGM XIII.734—1077, where no animal sacrifice is required (though an offering of sweetbreads is called for along with bread, seasonal flowers, and pine-cones).  It is entirely feasible to use this alternate ritual procedure, or adopt and adapt the methodology of one with the prayers and purposes of the other, to come up with a blend of ritual praxis that can (but not necessarily promised to be) as effective as either.  Additionally, consider that one may try to avoid the use of sacrifices entirely and simply use the prayers of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual in an otherwise usual, normally-conducted consecration ritual according to one’s regular process.  Is this always acceptable?  Not necessarily; the more you change the format or requirements or implements of a ritual, the further you get from being able to claim that you “did” the ritual, and the less likely you’ll end up with the expected results.  However, it is possible to come up with a new version of an old ritual, so long as you know what you’re doing.

This is a lot of digital ink to spill on something, but in short?  Animal sacrifice does not equate to “black magic”, and “black magic” is a ridiculous term that shouldn’t be used anyway.  If you find the practice distasteful, consider your own dietary habits, your own cultural heritage, your own biases about such practices, and whether you really think you know better than both age-old religious institutions and the gods and spirits they work with before you voice such opinions.  Don’t disparage the works and methods of others from a place of privilege, naiveté, and badly-conceived ethics; if you absolutely have to be judgmental about something, judge on the purpose and merits of the ritual.

De Regnis: Approaching Spirits, Offerings and Sacrifices, Identification and Authentication

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of approaching spirits, offerings and sacrifices to the spirits, and spirit identification and authentication.

On Approaching the Spirits

Respect and permission should be the rule to approach, interact with, and work with spirits. In short, if one respects the spirits, the spirits will respect them. This will not always be the case,of course, especially given some instances of particularly offensive spirits or spirits who have been specifically sent out to cause harm. However, even in these circumstances, working with respect and permission is often better than reckless vitriol and domination.

Respect towards a spirit can be effected in many ways, but generally the Golden Rule applies to spirits just as it would humans and animals. The crucial difference is that things that happen to humans, such as death or disease, do not happen to spirits or happen in ways hard for humans to comprehend. If a spirit reaches out to someone, it suggests that the spirit has learned about the person enough to engage in communication. It is similarly proper for magicians and all spiritual workers to learn about a spirit they wish to contact before trying to make contact. Learn about the tradition the spirit comes from, the languages and prayers and songs used to contact the spirit, the traditional offerings and acceptable sacrifices to be made to them, what the spirit finds appealing or desirable, and so forth. Such learning is a mark of respect to the spirit, which generally makes the spirit more amenable to working with a magician and hearing them out. Similarly, any vows,promises, or offerings made to the spirit should be held and followed through. Contact with the spirit, once made, should be continued in an agreeable time frame such as once a week, once a month, or so; simply dropping off the radar and ignoring the spirit is a mark of disrespect.

Imagine two people approaching a third. One of the two people is someone the third has known for decades, a good friend from youth whom the person knows is honorable and trustworthy. The other person is someone the third has met only yesterday, and though the person may have heard rumors, they are effectively still strangers. If the third person were asked to lend money to each of the others, the person would be more likely to lend money and more of it to the friend rather than the stranger due to the relationship built up between the person and the friend. Likewise, it is important to build up a relationship with the spirits based on respect, honor, trustworthiness,and the like. Although magicians often seek vassals or servant spirits for their work, respectful magicians seek to befriend rather than control spirits, since it provides them with something much more important than a servant: an ally. Servants perform work because they are ordered to; allies perform work because they want to.

Similarly, seeking permission from spirits is important to understand their capabilities and whether a particular action is the best action for all those involved. The notion of license from the spirits is another matter of respect, but also connects to the matter of what one is cosmically allowed to do. Indeed, many matters of trespassing, breaking prohibitions, theft, or similar crimes against spirits and the places and things they hold sacred can easily be avoided or eliminated entirely by asking for permission. Instead of making an adventure through a known haunted forest, ask for permission first to enter; instead of simply taking a pretty stone from an ancient tree, ask for permission to take it; instead of calling on an angel or a god to smite one’s enemies, ask first to see whether they will deign to do so. By acting out of pride and self-importance, magicians often neglect to ask for permission from the spirits and gods of the world. Asking for permission first ensures that we will be held in line according to our station without overstepping the boundaries laid for us or for others.

To ascertain whether one has received permission, always be sure to ask. Either through a simple yes-or-no divination method invoking the spirits or communing with the spirits directly,there are many methods available depending on the spirit to communicate and see whether one should or should not do something. This should not be regulated to every minute and single action, however; not all things require the permission of the spirits, such as brushing one’s teeth or making silent prayers in a particular location. However, anything that might infringe upon the hospitality, respect, and honor of the spirit should be questioned. After building respect and honor with the spirits, some magicians may find that spirits generally or specifically are more inclined togive permission to more things; this is a mark of trust upon the magician, which should be kept sacrosanct and unbroken if possible.

Building respect with one spirit tends to build up respect with many spirits, especially those similar to the ones already respected. Much as humans have their own social networks and cliques,spirits communicate and interact amongst themselves in myriad ways, sometimes as family and sometimes as enemies. Spirits talk, and spirits let other spirits know when a particular human is notable or remarkable for good or for ill. By respecting one spirit, rumors and news of one’s respectability spreads, which makes it easier for spirits to trust them. This also works in the reverse: if one disrespects a spirit or makes vows that are never upheld, other spirits also know about this and may decline to ever work with the magician.

There are times when spirits themselves are unable to uphold the vows and bargains they make, or lie to magicians, or even act offensively against humans and the world. Spirits who habitually lie, deceive, and cause harm should be avoided since they cannot be trusted. Spirits who fail in a single task or are unable to bring results despite a history of having good results should be forgiven and inquired about why they might have failed or how other things might have affected them. Keep in mind that all the rules of respect and permission that apply for a magician towards a spirit also apply for a spirit towards a magician: if one is harmed or acted against without permission given,the harmful spirit should be reprimanded or punished, especially if the harm was caused without prior warning or need. In these cases, it helps to appeal to higher powers, such as patron deities or strong spirit allies, to act on one’s behalf in addition to using one’s own measures to fight against and punish the spirit.

On Offerings and Sacrifices

An important part of building relationships and working with spirits is the process of making offerings, commonly known as sacrifice. In sacrifice, a Latin word meaning “to make holy”, an object, substance, or action is given and dedicated to a spirit; the thing given to them is effectively theirs. The nature of a sacrifice can vary based on tradition, the means of the sacrificer, and the desires of the spirit in question, and can range from a bottle of alcohol to a whole animal roasted in a special fire to a simple song sung in public or private. Games thrown in the honor of a spirit,certain ordeals of the flesh or spirit, whole lands or properties, and poems or books written with a special mention of a spirit can also suffice. The honor given to a spirit can take many forms, and care should be taken that offerings are given properly.

Typically, only deities receive sacrifices, while other spirits are given offerings. Just as the distinction between a deity and a spirit is merely a functional one, so too is the distinction between sacrifices and offerings. Some spirits eschew offerings entirely or find them unusual and unwarranted,such as angels who work merely to carry out the will of the spirit employing them. Other spirits require offerings like payment in exchange for any work to be done. Deities, being worthy of worship and sacrifice, may require or demand sacrifices so as to be worshiped properly.

The first step to learning what to give to a spirit is to learn more about them. Whether one learns about a spirit from old myths or traditional resources involving them or whether one asks the spirit directly, this constitutes an act of respect to further the relationship between somebody and a spirit. After discovering what a spirit generally likes, the sacrificer should ask whether a particular offering is to their tastes. After this, the sacrificer should make or procure the offering and officially dedicate it to the spirit. How this might be done is up to the sacrificer, but is often influenced by tradition and practices made by other institutions or cultural groups. If no such tradition exists or survives, then the sacrificer is more or less free to innovate and create a new ritual to make the offering.

Not all offerings are equally good for all spirits. Some spirits prefer a particular type of alcohol or no alcohol at all; some spirits prefer blood sacrifice of animals or the entire animal itself, while others may prefer bloodless non-animal sacrifices entirely. Such preferences are often deduced from tradition and mythology, but one can always ask the spirit to see whether something is preferred or not. Offering something to a spirit that does not wish that thing offered is often seen as a sign of disrespect, even done unknowingly; an example might be to sacrifice the sacred animal that represents a spirit to the spirit itself. This is similar to giving someone bouquet of flowers grown and pulled from their own garden, though this may not always be the case. Care should always betaken to ensure that a particular sacrifice is both appropriate and desired to a spirit, since a spirit may demand different things depending on the circumstance or aspect of the spirit.

It is important to note that once something has been given to a spirit, it cannot be taken back or simply replaced with something else. The act of dedication, another Latin word meaning“having been given”, is permanent, and it is considered a high offense to steal anything from a spirit; moreover, stealing or removing something that one has already given to a spirit is a dire sign of disrespect and untrustworthiness. Spirits tend to rightfully harm or otherwise punish those who steal from them, even if it was an unknowing act. If anything is to be removed from a spirit’s possession, permission should always be obtained and any conditions the spirits impose on the removal, use, and replacement should be followed through.Despite these warnings, one should not attempt to make needless or extraneous offerings to the spirits. Once accustomed to receiving a certain amount or repetition of offerings, spirits will continue to expect them implicitly; making offerings is a sign of a relationship between magician and spirit, and to overdo it is to raise the relationship to someplace the magician may not want.Giving something extraordinarily rare to a spirit may similarly change the preferences of the spirit to similar things, narrowing the availability of offerings down significantly. Spirits should be given offerings as rewards, while gods should be given sacrifices as due honor. Even the devout warriors of ancient Sparta made comparatively meager sacrifices to their gods so that they would always have something to offer, in stark comparison to the lavish Athenians who gave bombastic offerings and rituals.

On Spirit Identification and Authentication

Unlike humans, whose appearance and identification others can immediately verify based on sight and appearance, spirits require refined technique and discernment to understand who and what they might actually be. Calling upon a spirit can be a dangerous act in its own way, since it can attract the attention of any local spirit who happens to hear the call, and not all spirits have the best intention of the caller at heart. Just as human systems for communication, commerce,and intelligence have systems of protection and authentication set up to prevent undesired or unwarranted access, working with the spirits should be similarly protected to prevent undesired spirits from interfering.

Every spirit has two primary markers of identification: a name and a seal. The seal is essentially the sigil, mark, or glyph that represents the spirit. The two form a pair, and are identical with the spirit in every way. In other words, where the name is spoken or seal is written, the spirit itself is there as well. The name and seal of a spirit may be considered the audible and graphical “bodies”of a spirit, much as their presence may be considered their ethereal one. A spirit may have multiple names and seals, but only one name and one seal will ever be the spirit’s true name and seal. With the knowledge of a spirit’s name and seal, the spirit may be called upon and worked with, even to the point of commanding and controlling the spirit. Although many texts, including this one, list the names and seals of some spirits, other spirits may have another preferred name or seal entirely different from the one publicly known.

Knowledge of the spirit’s name and seal is crucial to ensuring that a spirit being worked with is the spirit called upon. In some cases, trickster or deceiving spirits will try to fool a magician into thinking that the spirit is someone else, either for harmless fun or for malicious intent. Although work at properly consecrated or dedicated altars, especially those for deities, tends to permit only the proper spirits called due to the consecration and sacredness of the altar, other work can some-times bring in wandering spirits or tricksters. In such cases, every spirit worked with must undergo authentication to truly know whether a spirit present is the spirit desired. Calling on the spirit to swear by some holy order or name of the Divine that they are who they say they are is a crucial act that should precede any other work or communion with a spirit. Have the spirit say its name and reveal its seal, or have them swear by the seal known to the magician that their own seal is the seal known. By doing this, one can reduce the likelihood of undesired spirits and tricksters. Although some spirits may take offense at having to undergo authentication, spiritual allies tend to understand why this is done.

The first act of working with a new spirit should be to obtain its name and seal. If the name is not known, the name should be asked for and written down; often, the language or writing system used to write the name is a choice left up to the magician, but this should be carefully selected and kept consistent throughout working with a spirit. Thus, if a spirit’s name is written in Hebrew, it should be written in Hebrew for the rest of the work with the spirit. Based on the name, a sigil maybe obtained as might any other word or name, but often the spirit has a separate seal that they prefer over the use of a sigil. In addition to asking for the spirit’s name, the seal of the spirit should also be obtained, with the image mentally or otherwise received used for as long as one works with the spirit. Some spirits have their names and seals change over time, similar to their appearance or manifestations, though this usually only happens for elemental or other low spirits. Thus, then name and seal should be reevaluated for use every so often according to the work with the spirit, especially if one has not engaged in work with the spirit in some time.

A Shrine to Lord Saturn

This year, both I and my husband turn 28.  It helps that we’re only born, like, six weeks apart, so our natal charts aren’t too dramatically different from each other’s, at least for the slower-moving planets out there.  This is especially the case for Saturn, which we both have in Sagittarius and dignified by both face and term.  It’s a weird place for Saturn to be, but it’s not a terrible spot for either of us.  This is a good thing, as we’re ramping up to face our first Saturn return together at pretty much the same time, which is awesome and awful.

What is a Saturn return?  Roughly every 30 years (29 years, 5 months, 15 days to be exact), Saturn returns to the same place it was when you were born.  As Saturn gets closer and closer to this position, people start feeling these effects a little early, some as early as 27.  The effects tend to drop off soon after the return is made exact, so the range for feeling the effects of this first Saturn return transit usually goes roughly from when you’re 28 to 31, or three years.  The second time happens from ages 56 through 59, and the third from 84 through 87.  Some very few people ever get to experience a fourth Saturn return, but that’s neither here nor there.  Unlike other planetary returns, Saturn returns are most notable as being fundamental shifts from one stage to another in a person’s life: the first Saturn return marks either the midlife crisis or one’s final ascension into adulthood, the second return one’s passage into senescence, and the third return one’s preparation for death.  In general, how one adapts and responds to one’s return lays out how well or poorly one’s life will go through the next return.

So what is it like during a Saturn return?  Essentially, Saturn becomes the dominant theme of your life, and its energy and power suffuses every day of the transit.  Think: Saturn is the planet of final cosmic justice, restriction, obligation, limitation, scarcity, famine, depression, poverty, disease, and darkness.  By the same token, however, think about the idea of the thick cell wall of prisons or monasteries: sure, they keep one isolated and trapped, but by the same token, they also keep one safe and sound from anything going on outside.  Saturn shows us our limits, where those limits are to be obeyed without question, and where those limits can be pushed back or knocked down.  Saturn is a planet of atrophy, but it is also one of soundness; one might be thinner, but one becomes stronger in the process.  Saturn returns force us to confront ourselves and our own blown-up ideas of ourselves, and deflates us down to a shriveled, wrinkled mess.  In the process of everything we think we are and everything we think we need being taken away from us, however, we find out what it is we’re truly made of and what we truly need to survive on.  Once we know the bare minimum of what we can do and what we can survive on, we can build ourselves up once more in a proper way to truly come into our own.  Saturn return is a time of refinement through intense trial that we cannot escape or delay.  Jobs we think we love get taken away from us, lovers we think we can’t live without leave us, homes we think we will own for the rest of our days get burned down or sold from under our feet.  If you’ve ever asked for “take away everything that hinders me and holds me back”, Saturn return does this in fucking spades.  No need to do a cut-and-clean spell if you don’t want to; if you just wait long enough, the cosmic clockwork of the solar system will make it clear that it’ll happen one way or another.  Saturn is the cosmic judge who takes stock of everything you are and everything you do, and when Saturn comes home, he is going to clean house.

So, faced with this insurmountable trial of fate and gravity, how do I plan on surviving these next few years?  Most people become assholes and fight against it, or depressed and mope about it lamenting their inevitable fate that happens to each and every one of us.  Those are awful ways, and not what I consider to be the easy and proper way: by welcoming it, embracing it, and giving respect and honor where they’re due by setting up a shrine to regularly confront and propitiate the forces, energies, entities, and god of Saturn.  By working with the forces of Saturn, we can better integrate them into our lives, accepting the trials that come to us easier and forewarned that they will happen, acknowledging our pain and actively reaching for our own refinement, treating this as a time of tough cosmic love rather than cruel hellish fate.

With that in mind, let’s do a brief bit of some Liber 777-type research on Saturn.  For the sake of expanding our symbol set and connecting the dots together, what’re some of the attributes we can find about this planet in the Western magical literature?

  • Names in classical languages:
    • Latin: SATVRNVS
    • Greek: Κρονος (Kronos, the god/spirit of the planet), Φαινων (Phainōn, the titan/body of the planet)
    • Hebrew: שבתאי (Shabbathai)
    • Arabic: زُحَل (Zuḥal)
    • Persian: کیوان (Keyvan)
    • Sanskrit: शनि (Śani)
    • Egyptian: herukapet (Ḥeru-ka-pet, also known as Horus the Bull)
    • Sumerian: cuneiform |TUR.DIŠ| (Genna)
    • Babylonian: (Kayyamaanu, written as UDU.IDIM.SAG.UŠ or as above in Sumerian)
    • Chinese: 土星 (Mandarin Tǔxīng, Cantonese tou2 sing1, Middle Chinese /tʰuoseŋ/, Japanese dosei, Korean toseong)
  • Spirits and entities associated with it:
    • Angelic governor: צפקיאל (Tzaphqiel), often rendered into Latin as variants on the name Cassiel
    • Picatrix angel: Isbil (Arabic original), Heylil (Latin translation)
    • Olympic spirit: Aratron
    • Planetary intelligence: אגיאל (Agiel)
    • Planetary spirit: זאזל (Zazel)
    • Choirs:
      • Agrippa: אראלים (Aralim)
      • Pseudo-Dionysus: Thrones
    • Zodiacal angels:
      • הנאל (Hanael, angel of Capricorn)
      • כאמביאל (Cambiel, angel of Aquarius)
    • King of the Jinn:
      • Name: ميمون (Maymon, the Auspicious One)
      • Nickname: ابا نوخ (Abba Nuh̬, the Father of Rest)
    • Heptameron Spirits:
      • Angel: Cassiel
      • Angel of the Air: Maymon Rex
      • Ministers: Abumalith, Assaibi, Balidet
      • Wind: Africus (southwest)
    • Lemegeton Goetic Rank: Knight (only one spirit of this rank, Furcas)
    • Deities associated with Saturn:
      • Sumerian: Ninurta, Ninmah
      • Babylonian: Adar, Nintu, Tiamat
      • Persian: Zurvan
      • Phoenician: Asherah
      • Egyptian: Sobek
      • Gnostic: Yaldabaoth
      • Greek: Kronos
      • Roman: Saturnus, Lua
      • Etruscan: Vetis, Veiovis
      • Hindu: Śaniścara
  • Qabbalistic correspondences:
    • Numbers: 3, 15, 45
    • Shape: Triangle
    • Sephirah: Binah
    • Sephirothic colors: Crimson, black, dark brown, grey flecked pink
    • Path: #32 (the World, connecting Yesod-Malkuth or Moon-Earth)
    • Path colors: Indigo, black, blue-black, black rayed blue
    • Godname: יהוה אלוהים (YHVH Elohim)
    • Hebrew letter: ת (Tav, 400)
    • Greek letter: Ω (Ōmega, 800)
    • Weekday: Saturday
    • Zodiac signs:
      • Domiciles: Capricorn, Aquarius
      • Exaltation: Libra
    • Geomantic figures: Carcer, Tristitia, Cauda Draconis
  • Religious concepts:
    • Deadly Sin: avarice/greed
    • Heavenly Virtue: generosity
    • Hermetic Virtue: silence
    • Hermetic Vision: The Vision of Sorrow
    • Apostles: Simon the Zealot (Capricorn), Jude (Aquarius)
    • Prophets: Enoch, Samuel, Nahum (Capricorn), Habakkuk (Aquarius)
    • Judges: Elon (Capricorn), Abdon (Aquarius)
    • Theological Figure: The Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene
    • Weekday archangel: Selaphiel or Sealtiel, the angel of prayer to God and who presides over the priesthood
    • Psalms for Pentacles (KJV): 72:8-9, 109:18, 18:7
  • Materials and substances:
    • Metals: lead, black iron, pyrite
    • Stones: onyx, sapphire, brown jasper, chalcedony, lodestone, sulphur, antimony, jet, turquoise, magnesium, all dark and weighty and earthy minerals
    • Plants: white daffodil, asphodel, dragonwort, rue, cumin, hellebore, benzoin, mandrake, cyprus, opium, pine, cypress, black fig, hemlock, yew, myrrh, sesame, aconite, cactus, cocoa, datura, spurge, fennel, male fern, lichen, mos, lungwort, soapwort, weeping willow, tobacco, pomegranate, ivy, orchis root, thistle, coconut, ramthorn, spikenard, galbanum, asafoetida, euphorbium, colophony, stammonia, rhubarb,
    • Animals: ape, cat, hog, mule, camel, bear, mole, donkey, wolf, hare, mole, dragon, basilisk, toad, serpents, scorpions, ants, mice, vermin, cranes, ostriches, peacocks, screech-owl, horned owl, bat, lapwing, crow, quail, eel, lamprey, dog-fish, tortoise, oysters, cockles, sea sponges, cuttlefish
    • Parts of the body: skin, bones, spleen, knees, lower legs, right foot, right ear, right eye, left hand, excretory system, mouth, intestines, bladder, genitals
    • Other organic substances: soma, civet, musk

And, to top it off, a gallery of various Saturn-related seals, sigils, symbols, and signs from all the stuff collected across my blog:

With that said, I now present to you how we combined so much of all of the above into our household’s Shrine to Lord Saturn.

Shrine to Lord Saturn

The primary color of the shrine is black (the primary/Queen color of the planet) accented by crimson (the secondary/King color), accented by a pale Solar gold.  Within the shrine is a particularly pretty (to my mind) metallic print of Saturn eclipsing and illuminated by the Sun.  Surrounded by a the fabric canopy and lengths of chain is a custom talismanic art I made that concentrates the images and seals of Saturn together in a coherent way.  This artwork combines, again, all of the symbols, seals, sigils, numbers, names, spirits, intelligences, angels, and characters of Saturn together, with very subtle nods to the zodiac signs Capricorn and Aquarius (the domiciles of Saturn), Libra (its exaltation), and Sagittarius (where my and my husband’s natal Saturns are) and Aries (our housemate’s natal Saturn).  Additionally, there are three written statements on there: the Sanskrit mantra to Lord Shani, a Greek invocation to Phainōn and Kronos, and a Latin invocation to Saturnus:

  • Sanskrit: ॐ शं शनैश्चराय नमः (Om Śaṃ Śanaiścaraya Namah, “Hail to the great name of Shani”)
  • Greek: ΙΩ ΦΑΙΝΩΝ ΙΩ ΚΡΟΝΕ ΙΩ (“Hail, Phainon! Hail, Kronos! Hail!”)
  • Latin: IAVE SATVRNE MAXIME NITIDE SEVERE IA (“Hail, great, bright, grave Saturn, hail!”)

I had originally planned to do this in stark black and white, but I opted instead to use a blend of silver, gold, white, and a few basic colors to suit the characters or needs.  All told, this painting forms a sort of all-around “map” to the powers and resonances of Saturn.

Talismanic Saturn Painting

The focal point of the shrine table is the oil lamp in the middle.  In Indian astrology, devotees of Lord Shani burn sesame oil in honor of the god, so I figured I can incorporate the same.  I got a traditional ceramic oil lamp glazed in dark brown and dark blue, both colors associated with Saturn, and filled it with cooking-grade sesame oil mixed with three drops of myrrh essential oil.  Here I’m using a simple cotton thread wick, but normally I’d use a linen strip or a cotton ball, rolled out flat, pressed into a thicker cloth-like sheet, written upon with sacred symbols of Saturn in consecrated ink, and twisted back lengthwise into a wick.  I placed the lamp on a wooden placard I made that has the symbol of Saturn in the middle of a large hexagram, surrounded by the symbols of the other six planets in each of the triangular wings of the hexagram.  Around the symbol of Saturn in its central hexagon, and on the outside of each of the triangles, I inscribed the characters of the seven planets from Agrippa (book I, chapter 33) and wrote around the whole thing the name Κρονος in Greek.  Each of the planetary symbols are colored in the usual planetary color, as are their characters.  The word Κρονος, the symbol and characters of Saturn are all filled in silver, while the surrounding circle and the hexagram itself are all filled in gold.  Everywhere else on the placard is covered in black.  I also added on the name of God “Elohim” written in ancient Phoenician script around the edge, split into six characters and colored for the six non-Saturn planets.  On the underside is the name IHVH, again written in Phoenician and colored in gold, around the edge, surrounding a 3 × 3 grid.  I originally was going to have the nine numbers of Saturn etched in here, but my woodburner failed me for good; what I plan to do is draw in a word-sigil on the qamea of Saturn to tune our rituals to a specific need, such as “stability” in times of chaos or “wisdom” when preparing for a ritual.

The reason why I made this planetarily all-inclusive placard, instead of one that just focused on Saturn, is that this would be used for a household shrine for both my use and that of my husband and our housemate.  While I’ve done the Work necessary to simply launch deeply into a planetary energy and come out unscathed, my husband and our housemate haven’t, and even though respecting and honoring Saturn would be good for all of us, there is a notable risk for them to be overloaded by Saturnine energies that could easily overwhelm and devour them.  To that end, I decided to balance out the light of Saturn that we would shine in our house by making a kind of planet-specific Table of Practice that would act to balance out and harmonize all the planets, focusing and building up to Saturn.  Thus, we first light six small candles, one on each of the triangles around the placard, and briefly invoke each planet before lighting the oil lamp for Saturn in the middle, which precedes the rest of our usual offering.

In addition to the crafts above, I also have a three-footed iron censer for burning incense, usually myrrh, placed atop an old Saturn magic square I made, woodburned and painted in gold and black, to the right of the lamp.  I’ve also incorporated and enshrined, in an unseen way not visible from the pictures above, the powerful Saturn talisman I made back in 2011 (almost five years ago to the day, holy crap!).  All this combined, we have a simple yet elegant Saturn shrine that, from the get-go, already brims with dark stellar power.  Over time, we will probably add more talismans, charms, statues, or pieces of Saturnine art, but this is good for now.

We present small glasses of offerings to Saturn: one of pure water, and three small bowls of a dry offering mix made from rock salt, black rice, black gram, and black mustard seeds.  We place these to the left of the oil lamp placard, while we burn incense in the censer.  We then take some time to recite the Orphic Hymn to Saturn (hymn #12), or, if we’re feeling more adventurous, the Picatrix Invocation to Saturn (book III chapter 7, one version as used here for my Saturn talisman consecration).  Alternatively, we might use the Heptameron Conjuration for Saturday or the equivalent from the Munich Manual (see this page) for a more directed purpose rather than a general laudation of Saturn, or we might just be cool and intone the vowel ōmega and offer a more personal prayer to Saturn.  We do this all every Saturday during one of the daytime hours of Saturn, if possible, usually the midday hour, as that’s the time we’re all most likely to do this together.  Barring that, due to scheduling or whatnot, we might do our own thing with a smaller offering.  We let the candles burn out on their own, and we let the oil lamp burning for at least as long or until it starts to sputter.  We let our offerings sit for a whole week, and then clean off the shrine before we make offerings the next Saturday.  We each clean off with our bowl of dry offerings, pour it into the water, and dump the whole thing out into the road.

Besides all these offerings we plan to make weekly and regularly, there’s so much else we can do to honor Saturn in our lives.  Saturn rules over all disabled people, especially those who are crippled, diseased, or handicapped in some way, as well as vagrants, the homeless, and in low social stations and in menial jobs.  Working for their sake, paying them respect, and making donations (especially in groups of three or in amounts of multiples of three) is a good way to get on Saturn’s good side, as well as making fasts in his honor.  It goes without saying that respecting Saturn in our daily lives is also of paramount importance, including not saying disrespectful or joking things about the god.  We still plan to be realistic about his awful, detrimental effects, but we’re not going to blow them out of proportion; Saturn is, after all, the planet of perspective.  Saturn, given the day of Saturday, is also associated with Shabbat and the Jews; observing a set of shabbat-like restrictions regularly is also a way to show one’s devotion to the planet and its spirits.

I’m honestly pleased I was able to set this shrine up, and I’m very happy with how it all turned out.  At the first invocation, I felt that usual Saturnine heaviness seeping into my bones, like wearing multiple heavy Siberian winter coats without the heat, but this time it lingered on the back of my neck and around my ears.  It’s good to finally give Saturn the respect he deserves and has deserved in my life; truly, Saturn now lives in our home, though I specified that this shrine would be set up for three years, with only the possibility of it remaining up longer.  We’ve enshrined Saturn to help facilitate the integration of his energies into our lives during our Saturn return periods, so that Saturn helps us and does not hurt us, so that Saturn gives us succor and not suffering.  He’s still a heavy, grave, serious planet and a malefic no matter what, but he is just as able to give blessing as much as he can dole out curses.  Here’s to hoping we only see his good side, with his bad eye turned and kept turned far away from us.

Do you worship or have a devotional arrangement with Saturn, in any of his incarnations among the world’s religions?  How do you pay your respects to the planet or the spirits associated with it?

On the Temple as a Convenience

It’s weird sitting here in this living room, full of clutter and boxes and antiques and the occasional errant Christmas decoration that was never put away two years ago.  We keep saying we’ll get it tidied up, but between me living 200 miles away and my sister busy with being a Tarot-reading poledancing camgirl, we haven’t.  Between a variety of memories, a vague sense of comfortable unease, and several mountains of candy and chocolates that’re amassed in one of the unused rooms, I don’t know whether I prefer or disprefer being here.

I’m staying at my mother’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom, and she’s basically the only one I ever actually call and talk to on the phone (and for someone who hates phonecalls, this is notable).  And, add to it, I hardly ever visit the place where I grew up, about 150 miles away as the bird flies.  While growing up with her could oft be a pain, our relationship markedly improved once I moved out for college.  I don’t see her that often anymore, but when I do it’s usually a combination of fun and stressful; she’s still my mother, after all.

This visit I’m paying to her is to help her out after a recent surgery she had, a hip replacement.  This is her second this year; the first one was on one hip, and this is on the other.  She needs someone to chill with and run a few errands during the day while she’s staying at her rehab center, and during the night I’m out wandering playing Ingress or just internetting idly at her place.  It’s not unbearable, though it is odd that it coincides with my birthday week and the Full Moon, and right after Crucible Convention 2014, and that my boyfriend isn’t with me.  I do get to hang with my sister aplenty, too, when she’s able, and I have plans with a few friends from high school and college.  Not too shabby a birthday week, I reckon.

Still, it’s weird.  I’m not one for travel generally, despite my Hermaic nature and despite that I’ve rarely not enjoyed a trip.  What’s probably most weird is that I’m currently away from my home, and with it my temple.  I have a small bedroom at my house set up to act as my temple, shrine, and altar room; the boyfriend and our housemate are okay with this, since they get the even-larger outside shed for their work.  I’m used to spending at least a little time each day in my temple for meditation, contemplation, prayer, jamming with the spirits, making offerings to the gods and saints, and the like.  And this week, I’m cut off by a lengthy distance from all that, and it’s somewhat jarring.  It’s kinda funny how much I’ve gotten used to having a whole temple all to myself within only a few months of living in my (still relatively new) place, and now that I’m without it temporarily how much my spiritual practice has changed and can still yet change.

To be fair, nothing I do strictly requires a temple.  For that matter, nothing I do strictly requires being in any one place; I carry my gods with me in my heart and in my mind, and occasionally in the jewelry that I wear.  All of my tools are relatively compact and can fit in a duffel bag with enough space leftover for a bottle of wine, and if I don’t have my tools with me, I have my own force and prayers to wield as wands and swords.  The statues and shrines I have set up for my gods and spirits are nice to have, but not strictly necessary if I have somewhere outside to pour out wine and water and oil.  I memorize my prayers, formulae, and rituals, and what I haven’t memorized I keep written down in a small journal that can fit in a cargo pants pocket.  If I have a lighter, a box of generic incense, a pack of tealights, a bottle of wine, a bottle of oil, and a bottle of water, I have more than what I need to make my offerings and prayers, and even then most of that isn’t necessary if I have time and a quiet space to pray.

Having a statue to dedicate to a spirit is nice.  Having a shrine to interface with a spirit is nicer.  Having an altar to do Work with spirits is even nicer than that.   Having a room to store shrines, altars, tools, and supplies is pretty damn nice.  Having your head on your shoulders is all you need, though, because without your presence, mindfulness, and mental effort, nothing else matters.  If all you have is a quiet room, or even a public room with a few minutes of quiet and maybe a little bit of privacy, you have all you need to be any level of spiritual, religious, occult, magical, or whatever.

All this is rather clear right now to me.  I used to have a little “shrine” on a bookcase with a few baubles, a mini-sand garden, and plants when I was in middle school and high school, but I never considered it anything special, nor was I doing Work back then (just reading about it with all the fascination of a middle-schooler).  That room has long since been taken over with extra Christmas presents, surplus clothes bought on discount, and giant bags of yarn, and I’m basically living in the living room while my mom’s at rehab.  As far as my spiritual needs are concerned, I have everything I need: a space to sit, time to myself, and all the privacy I could want.  As a bonus, I have a countertop to make offerings on, so even if I can’t pour wine out at my shrines, I can at least do it here.  And yes, I did bring along my carcanets and chaplets as my major tools plus a bottle of Florida water; the heavy work that requires full circles can wait, after all, but even if an emergency happened, I could still manage here just fine.

Even then, say I had nowhere to stay this week.  Say my mother’s house was either metaphorically or literally wrecked to the point where I didn’t even have the couch to sleep on or enough floor space to sit, and I had to live out of my car.  I’d be able to manage just fine, then, too; there’s this little thing called the astral temple, after all.  We all have access to it, and we all have our own astral temple, if not our own astral “country”, our own little space and neighborhood that exists all to ourselves.  Whether you access it in your dreams or through projection of one sort or another, you can get to it all the same.   The rules are a little different on the astral than they are here; there’s no limit to the things you can do, really, so long as you can think and command it so.  Any tool or drink you want, craft it from thought alone; call on any spirit, and they’ll appear before you in any form you ask (if they’re willing); any ambiance or setting you need, snap and the set changes immediately.  The more you work in the astral, the more you can do and the easier it gets to work there.  If all you have is a bed in a shared room to spend time in at night with someone else asleep, if you can slip into your astral temple, you really have pretty much all of magic at your disposal (give or take a few physical actions to ground out the purely-spiritual work).

You don’t often find me talking about astral temples or astral work generally because, generally speaking, I don’t do it.  I have my own temple in the physical world that I (almost always) have access to; what more could I need?  Well, I don’t strictly need a physical temple if I have an astral one, and even then, I don’t strictly need an astral temple, either, if I can pray and work anywhere.  Magicians have gotten by without astral temples far longer than the notion of them has existed.  Even priests and the faithful used to worship anywhere they could, regardless of the regalia or temples or community they might’ve been accustomed to; the real purpose of it all was the things you did as Work.  Even the ancient and huge temples of the Hellenes weren’t the focus of worship, but the tiny, almost insignificant altar just outside to the east.  Temples, devotional art, shrines, processions, tools, and the like all exist to support and facilitate the Work, but they themselves are not the Work.  They’re convenient.  That’s all.  They’re nice to have, but the Work does not require them.

Of course, I am taking this time to get my astral skills back up and running and dust out my astral temple.  I’ve been neglecting my astral presence and environment, after all, and I could do with a good banishing and touching up of the place.  Even if I don’t strictly need a temple space to do my Work and offerings, I am used to it, and even if all I have is a place in my head I can overlay with the place my body’s at, I’m good to go.  I’m used to the convenience of having a temple; it’s nice to be reminded that I don’t need one, and if all my wordy gaudy blinged-out shit isn’t needed, then none of you need it to do the Work, either.  They’re nice, but they’re not needed.

So, if you’re not Working yet, what’s your excuse?

Mathetic Invocation and Offering to the Gods

The last post described a daily practice for people interested in working with mathesis, and how I use it for getting myself in line with the entities and powers present within this system: a meditation on the Tetractys, a meditation on the Greek letter of the day of the lunar month, a grammatomantic divination to plan my day, an offering to the god of the day of the lunar month, a pre-bed invocation of Hermes Oneirodotes for dreams, and a recollection of the day’s events as I go off to sleep.  It’s all fairly simple and I described the method of each, except for one: the offering to the god of the day.  I realize that not everyone has the same offering procedure: some go all-out with the gods with wine and food and the like, some make a quick prayer under their breath as they leave their house for the day, and some fall in-between the two extremes.  I never really offered a method of offering to the gods, so I want to talk about what I do as a template for other mathetai.

While it’d be nice to make awesome offerings to all the gods, that’s pretty much going to be impossible; there were effectively an infinite number of gods back in the old days (not like that’s changed since), with regional rituals differing from polis to polis as they differed from town to town, neighborhood to neighborhood, or even household to household.  Some people hold this god in high esteem, some that god, while nobody seems to really rever this other god even though they have a high mythological stature.  It’s important to honor all the gods, but honoring the gods doesn’t necessarily mean to make offerings or vows to them all; all deities should be honored, but not all deities should be worked with.  We can make a personalized practice and roster of gods by limiting ourselves to the deities have an important role in our lives: major gods relate significantly to our lives’ works, acts, jobs, and activities, while minor gods don’t have much of an active role.  For instance, as a software engineer, Hermes has a huge role in my livelihood, while Demeter doesn’t since I’m not much of a gardener, planter, or farmer.  Zeus as king of the gods has a universal all-ruling aspect to him, but besides honoring him as cosmic king, I’m not much of a prince or ruler besides myself.

Just to clarify: the terminology here of “minor” does not imply a generally unimportant or localized role, like how river gods or gods of a particular grove or street corner might be consider minor.  Rather, “minor” only implies that one doesn’t have much to do with that god, like a software engineer with Demeter or a hippie pacifist with Ares.  When making an offering to a minor god, the minimum we need to do is an invocation of them to praise them for the general work they do in the world and that they continue to bless us, however indirectly, by the people who carry out their work, by their general blessing to make our lives better, and by their presence that we may come to know and honor them more in a better way.  “Major” gods, on the other hand, directly impact our ability to live and prosper in the world, and so we fall much closer to them than the “minor” gods.  Again, the minimum needed for them is prayer, but a much more personal prayer, asking for the blessing of the god as we carry out their work and that we may receive their blessing in the work we do, and by it to

So, how do we know which god to honor on which day?  We use the lunar grammatomantic ritual calendar I developed, where each day of the lunar month is associated with a particular letter of the Greek alphabet.  Each letter can be associated with a stoicheic force, and one or more of the gods can also be associated with a stoicheic force, and so we honor that god/those gods on the day of that letter that shares a stoicheic force with that god/those gods.  So how do we associate the letters with the gods?  Again, let’s use our threefold division of the letters into simple consonants, complex consonants, and vowels:

  • The simple consonants are associated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac.  Cornelius Agrippa corresponds the zodiac signs with the Twelve Olympians (counting Hestia, not Dionysus) in book II, chapter 15.  His method seems a little haphazard, but it works.  Agrippa seems to be using a combination of assigning pairs of gods to opposing signs based on relationship (e.g. Apollo and Artemis, twins, to Gemini and Sagittarius) or pairs of gods to signs ruled by the same planet based on idea (e.g. Athena and Ares, gods of warfare, to the Martial signs Aries and Scorpio).  However, we can expand this list to include closely-associated deities with the Olympians, such as Asklepios with Apollo, Pan with Hermes, Nike with Athena, Eros with Aphrodite, and so forth.
  • The complex consonants are associated with the four elements and the metaelement of Spirit.  Agrippa doesn’t assign these to the Olympian or other gods in his Three Books, although we can assume that the gods of these days directly pertain to the element of the day and, moreover, aren’t among the Olympians.  I’ve settled on giving the letter Psi, associated with the metaelement Spirit, to Dionysus, since he’s the outsider god, able to commingle with gods and men and travel in all places above and below.  Theta, associated with Earth, is given to any divinity of the Earth itself: Gaia, Rhea, and Kybele come to mind, but this also would include any flora or fauna spirits, the fae, gnomes, and other nature spirits of the land, mountains, or forests.  Xi, given to Water and generally falling on the day of the Full Moon, can be used to honor Okeanos, Thetis, or any divinity or spirits of the seas, rivers, or lakes, but I also give this to the underworld gods Hades and Persephone, since deep waters often have chthonic or subterrestrial associations.  Phi, associated with Air, I give to any spirits of the air and the mind, including the Muses and Graces.  Khi, associated with Fire, is given to any spirit of light, fire, the stars, or otherworldly spirits, but given that Khi falls near the end of the month, I also give this to the fiery underworld goddess Hekate.
  • The vowels are associated with the seven planets, and although one could honor the Olympian associated with each planet (e.g. Ares for Mars) or the pair of Olympians associated with the planets by means of their signs (e.g. both Ares and Athena for Mars), I reserve these days for magical operations involving the planets.  Technically, the planets were considered either as the bodies of the Olympians or as titans in their own right, so I don’t really make offerings on these days so much as I call down the forces themselves.  Alternatively, we can associate the planets with the seven directions (north, south, east, west, up, down, beyond) with the different winds (Boreas, Notos, Apeliotes, etc.) or other guardians of the directions (Erbeth, Lerthexanax, Ablanathanalba, etc.) and honor them, too.

However, in our lunar grammatomantic calendar, we also have two other types of days: three days that use the obsolete letters of Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi; and three days that have no letter at all.

  • The days of obsolete letters are given to our ancestors, heroes, and blessed dead, spiritual entities who are lower than gods and were human but are no longer among the living.  These days have no stoicheic force, but the spirits that guide them are those that helped us become real in our lives; without our ancestors and blessed dead, we literally would not exist.  I generally divide up the spirits of the dead into three categories: Ancestors of Kin (blood-related and otherwise familial ancestors), Ancestors of Work (masters and teachers in one’s studies, profession, traditions, and lineages, both spiritual and mundane), and the Ancestors of the Great (culture and war heroes whose work impacts us today though not directly, as well as all the forgotten dead).  I honor the Ancestors of Kin on the day of Digamma, Ancestors of Work on the day of Qoppa, and the Ancestors of the Great on the day of Sampi.  However, this division is kinda artificial, and it does no harm to honor “the dead” generally on the obsolete letter days.
  • The unlettered days have no offerings prescribed for them.  Moreover, without a letter or stoicheic force or spirit to guide or rule the day, these days are generally considered unlucky and unfit for most spiritual activity.  It’s better to focus on the world itself today and get one’s cleaning, chores, and purification done on these days.  Clean up altars and spiritual spaces, aerate the house, take a good long bath, and the like.

So, my overall ritual calendar (after a bit of fine-tuning) has come to look like this:

Day Letter Stoicheia Observance
1 Α Moon Selene, Hermes, Erbeth, Apeliotes
2 Β Aries Athena, Nike
3 Γ Taurus Aphrodite, Eros
4 Δ Gemini Apollo, Asklepios
5 Ε Mercury Stilbon, Apollo and Demeter, Sesengenbarpharanges, Boreas
6 Ϝ Ancestors of Kin: family, relatives, blood-relatives
7 Ζ Cancer Hermes, Pan
8 Η Venus Hesperos and Phosphoros, Aphrodite and Hephaistos, Ablanathanalba, Zephyros
9 Θ Earth Gaia, Rhea, Kybele, fae, flora, fauna, lands, mountains, forests, etc.
10
11 Ι Sun Helios, Zeus, Lerthexanax, Notos
12 Κ Leo Zeus, Tykhe
13 Λ Virgo Demeter
14 Μ Libra Hephaistos
15 Ν Scorpio Ares
16 Ξ Water Persephone, Hades, Charon, Okeanos, Pontos, Nereus, Tethys, Thetis, bodies of water
17 Ο Mars Pyroeis, Athena and Ares, Damnameneus, Styx
18 Π Sagittarius Artemis
19 Ϙ Ancestors of Work: traditions, professions, lineages, guilds, etc.
20
21 Ρ Capricorn Hestia
22 Σ Aquarius Hera, Hebe, Iris, Eileithyia
23 Τ Pisces Poseidon
24 Υ Jupiter Phaethon, Artemis and Poseidon, Malpartalkho, Agathodaimon, Hyperion
25 Φ Air Spirits of air and sky, Muses, Graces
26 Χ Fire Spirits of fire and light, otherworldly spirits, Hekate, Furies, Asteria
27 Ψ Spirit Dionysos
28 Ω Saturn Phainon, Hera and Hestia, Akrammakhamarei, Ouranos, Kronos, Khronos
29 ϡ Ancestors of the Great: culture heroes, war heroes, forgotten dead
30

Now, while one could adapt this type of lunar grammatomantic calendar to other pantheons, such as the Norse or Egyptian pantheons, I’d question why you’d want to do that.  This is all based on the Greek alphabet, after all, which is tied up culturally and mythologically with the Greek gods.  Before you go saying “Well, Thor is a god of lightning, so he should be given the same day as Zeus or the planet Jupiter!”, you might want to ask Thor whether he’s okay with that.  Heck, even this type of calendar isn’t traditional at all in Hellenismos or attested Greek cultural practice (at least in Ionia, Hermes was honored on the fourth day of the month, not the seventh), but my gods don’t seem to mind it one whit, and they’ve given me the go-ahead to use it in a cohesive system with the rest of my work.  Be respectful when trying to squish systems together.

So, say you’re good to go now with the ritual offering times for the gods based on grammatomancy and the lunar calendar.  Now what?  Now you need to make offerings to the gods, bearing in mind the major/minor distinction from above.  In general, we can use the same format for the individual gods, groups of gods or spirits, ancestors, and planets, although the fine details will differ from each to each.  The general format of offering I do follows the same course:

  1. Preparation of ritual space.  It’s important to maintain a proper sacred ritual space to invite the god into, and this usually consists of sprinkling a small amount of holy water or khernips (ancient Hellenic lustral water), around the area chanting “απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“begone, begone evil spirits”).  I also make sure the lighting is right, not too bright but usually not completely dark, and I always make sure there exists an open window or doorway leading outside for the god to come into the room; of course, if you’re doing this outside, there’s no need for that last part.  Also, always involve Hermes into your worship; after all, he is the messenger of the gods and goes between the gods and mortals, and helps to ferry our prayers and offerings to them, and their messages and blessings to us.  Call upon him as Hermes Odolysios, Hermes the Road-Opener, before calling upon the god properly.
  2. Initial invocation of the god.  At this stage, I open up the ritual by singing the Homeric Hymn to the god (usually if there exists a short one), or some other personalized invocation to the god to invite them to the ritual space.  This sets the mood and formally announces to the gods that I’m calling upon them to receive my offering.  I also ask them to be present to accept the offerings and devotion that follow in a gesture of goodwill and grace.
  3. Announcement of the officiant by name.  I announce myself fully so that the god knows who’s making offerings to them.  I declare myself by my full name, being a child of my parents called by their full names, and I also announce any magical or working names I may be using so that the god knows who I am openly and without deceit.
  4. Dedication of offerings.  This is the part where I offer candles, incense, wine, oil, water, food, statues, or whatever I feel is good to give to the god.  For some of my shrines, I dedicate new altarpieces and nondisposable votive offerings during this point, but this is a once-in-a-while thing.  Usually, it’s just a liquid libation paired with at least one candle and one stick of incense.
  5. Singing of hymns.  I usually dedicate the singing of a hymn, such as one of the Orphic Hymns, as part of the offerings being one of praise and honor, but sometimes this accompanies the offerings in fulfilling a different role, something that blends both the previous step of dedication and the next step of supplication together.
  6. Supplication and meditation.  After I make my offerings, I request the blessing of the god in whatever senses I may need, or I may just sit back and chill in the presence of the god, meditating in their presence, conversing with them, learning from them, and the like.
  7. Closure of the invocation.  I thank the god for their presence and for having accepting the offerings prepared for them, and I use the Roman closing supplication of “if anything was said improperly, if anything was done improperly, let it be as if it were done correctly” from the Iguvine Tablets.  I bid farewell to the god respectfully, bidding them to go or depart as they choose to but acknowledging that they will be honored again at a proper time.

Optionally, if you’re of a more traditional bent, you might also consider making a preliminary and concluding offering to Hestia.  In Hellenismos and ancient Greek reconstruction paganism, Hestia is given the first and final offering every time a god is made an offering to, since she’s both the first-born of Gaia and last-saved from Kronos (and, in a sense, last-born), and most altars of the gods doubled as hearths for the family.  I don’t do this, and you can read more about my own work with Hestia in an older blog post, but it’s something to consider.

Just a note: whenever possible, the prayers and invocations and whatever should be spoken aloud, at least loud enough for you to hear yourself clearly.  It was traditional practice in ancient Greece that prayers were meant to be spoken aloud, that even if the gods are, y’know, gods, they aren’t necessarily omniscient or mind-readers.  Be direct and clear with the gods, speak your mind (respectfully, of course).  Indeed, Sophocles in his tragedy Electra has Clytemnestra (not a good person, thus her actions in the play are against common practice) pray to Apollo (who is certainly not on her side) in silence and obscurity rather than being outspoken and direct as a way to suggest that such prayer is badly done:

Raise then, my handmaid, the offerings of many fruits, that I may uplift my prayers to this our king, for deliverance from my present fears. Lend now a gracious ear, O Pheobus our defender, to my words, though they be dark; for I speak not among friends, or is it meet to unfold my whole thought to the light, while she stands near me, lest with her malice and her garrulous cry she spread some rash rumour throughout the town: but hear me thus, since on this wise I must speak.

That vision which I saw last night in doubtful dreams—if it hath come for my good, grant, Lycean king, that it be fulfilled; but if for harm, then let it recoil upon my foes. And if any are plotting to hurl me by treachery from the high estate which now is mine, permit them not; rather vouchsafe that, still living thus unscathed, I may bear sway over the house of the Atreidae and this realm, sharing prosperous days with the friends who share them now, and with those of my children from whom no enmity or bitterness pursues me.

O Lycean Apollo, graciously hear these prayers, and grant them to us all, even as we ask! For the rest, though I be silent, I deem that thou, a god, must know it; all things, surely, are seen by the sons of Zeus.

Just…just speak your prayers aloud, please.  You don’t need your son killing you with the blessing of the god you’re invoking because you decided to sleep with another man and want to hide it from the gods and other people around you for the sake of saving face.

So, let’s give some examples of worship.  As might be guessed, Hermes is one of my “major” gods, being my patron generally as well as the patron of mathesis specifically, so I make offerings to him not just on his day of the lunar month but also lesser observances every Wednesday (the day of Mercury of the week), but let’s focus on what I do for his major offerings.  Note that I have a shrine set up for Hermes, but you may not need one; it’s up to you, but I make full use of my shrines for my gods whenever possible.  If you read closely into the following, you’ll catch snippets of the phrasing I use with the gods and can apply them as easily in your own offerings.

  1. At sunrise (or whenever I can), I ritually prepare his shrine by sprinkling holy water around it, and I open the window in my temple room.  I set out four tealights anointed with a special kind of oil, and a stick each of frankincense, cinnamon, and sandalwood incense.  I pour out his offering bowl of wine and clean it out, if needed, and pour in fresh wine and a dallop or so of good quality olive oil.  I don a special orange silk scarf I use when doing my Hermaic priestly stuff, and I take up my ritual caduceus staff.  Since this is the offering to Hermes himself, I don’t really need to have him open the roads for his own reverence, though it can’t hurt if you so choose to do this.
  2. I knock on the shrine four times (four being the number of Hermes) and I recite a personal prayer I wrote to Hermes as well as the shorter Homeric Hymn to Hermes (#18).  I call out for Hermes by several of his epithets and roles, and I call for his presence with me
  3. I announce myself to Hermes as his priest, servant, dedicant, and devotee by my full name, my parents’ names, my magical names and mottoes, and that I have come to make him offerings in a spirit of love, thanks, honor, glory, and joy.
  4. I dedicate the candles to him burning for his honor, glory, exaltation, enlightenment, and empowerment, asking that as the candles shine their light upon the room, so too may he shine his light on my paths and empower and enlighten me.  I dedicate the incense to him burning that it may fortify, sate, and cheer him, asking that as the incense rises to fill up the room, so too may he fill up my body, soul, spirit, and mind with his blessing and essence of his divinity and presence that I may be initiated deeper into his presence and mysteries.  I dedicate the wine mixed with oil to him that it may refresh, please, and satisfy him, asking that as the libation has been poured out to him, so too may he pour his spirit into my life that I may be blessed completely by him in all aspects.
  5. I recite the Orphic Hymn to Hermes reverently, seeking that as my words ring out in the air, so too might they ring out throughout the entire world that all people may come to honor and revere Hermes.
  6. I ask for the blessing of Hermes in my life: skill in my profession, guidance when traveling, sharpness in thought, swiftness in talk, protection in work, proficiency in Work, and that he help me communicate and commune with all the other gods, as well as leading me through the mysteries of mathesis as he and I are both able.  I ask him for his guidance on any specific matters that might come to mind, and I generally chat and enjoy time with him, meditating in his light and power.
  7. I thank Hermes for his presence, for he has come as I called and aided me as I asked.  As he has come to receive these offerings, I bid him farewell; he can go as he will or stay as he will, but I leave him letting him know that he will always have a place of honor and respect in my life and in his shrine, and that if anything was done improperly, if anything was said improperly, let it be as if it were done and said properly.

Now, what about a “minor” god?  Let’s pick Demeter, the goddess of fields and produce of all plants, who although I rely upon for sustenance and survival, I don’t much deal with directly.  The format is overall the same but is much more pared-down; while an offering to a “major” god for me can last half an hour or more, a “minor” god’s offering can be as short as three or five minutes.

  1. At sunrise (or whenever I can), I ritually prepare a clean, raised space in my temple room by sprinkling holy water around it, and I open the window in my temple room.  I don’t usually make offerings of light, incense, or libations to gods I don’t have much of a relationship with, though if I feel moved to do so, I’ll set out a tealight, a stick of generic temple incense, and a clean glass of pure water or wine without oil.  I knock on the altar once and call upon Hermes Odolysios to be present with me and to clear the path from me to Demeter and from Demeter to me so as to allow my prayer to be heard and my offering to be received.
  2. I invoke the presence and blessing of Demeter to be with me in my life, to nurture me, and to help me honor her more fully as a human who relies upon the gods for his survival.
  3. I announce myself by my full name as a child of my parents, and that I have come to make her offerings in a spirit of love, thanks, honor, glory, and joy.
  4. I dedicate my praise to Demeter much as I would to Hermes, but without expectation or asking for reciprocal blessing; rather, I’m giving her offerings for her own sake and honor.
  5. I recite the Orphic Hymn to Demeter reverently in the same way I would Hermes’.  If a particular god lacks a hymn, I generally praise them however I can with whatever comes to mind, or I just sit in contemplation of their presence singing a Hymn of Silence focused on them.  Even then, if a god does have a specific hymn, I often just get by with a Hymn of Silence and contemplation with them praising them in silence.
  6. I ask for the blessing of Demeter generally, that she use her powers to help me in my life as I need them, and that I may come to be more aware of her work and her workers in the world that I may come to honor her more and more suitably.
  7. I thank Demeter for her presence, for she has come as I called and aided me as I asked.  As she has come to receive these offerings, I bid her farewell; she can go as she will or stay as he will, but I leave her letting her know that I will honor her again, and that if anything was done improperly, if anything was said improperly, let it be as if it were done and said properly.

Overall, all my offerings go mostly the same, though the prayers and specific offerings might differ.  Some gods prefer food, and I like offering fresh apples to Aphrodite; some gods like something done to one of the things on their altar, like making a notch in a specific wooden figure every month.  My ancestors get separate glasses of wine, water, and rum, and I also pray the Chaplet for the Dead, sing the Mourner’s Kaddish, and meditate with them while I play the Eggun song used in Santeria.  I rarely make offerings to the planets themselves, instead using the Orphic Hymns for their respective Olympian figures while I work with the planetary angels from my Hermetic/Trithemian work to honor and invoke their presence and powers in my life.  While my calendar may seem full, I only make major offerings to a very small subset of them based on the work I do, and I generally pare down my offerings to the minor gods to just a quick acknowledgment on mornings I’m busy.  It’s the major gods I work with who get focused offerings, after all.

So what happens if you happen to miss a day of offerings?  Let’s say it’s the day of Kappa, where one honors Zeus, and you have Zeus as a major god in your personal practice.  You get up early to make offerings at sunrise, only to remember that you have extra work to do in the office and need to leave early to make it home as you normally would, so you say that you’ll make offerings to Zeus when you get home.  However, despite leaving early, your day has still more work than you expected, and on the way home there’s a nasty traffic accident blocking the roads that makes you even later getting home.  By the time you get home, it’s already your bedtime, so you simply didn’t have time to make offerings.  In this case, you could simply pare down the major offering to a minor one during a few moments of silence or peace in the office, or do it right before you make your nightly supplication for dreams from Hermes; if you can’t manage that, try making the offering the next day, or at least on the next day you’d honor the ancestors.  So long as you catch up on the ritual sometime by the following unlettered day, you should be good, but this doesn’t give you a blank check to procrastinate on making offerings.  Whenever you can, always make at least one minor offering a day to the god, gods, or spirits of the day, no matter how rushed or quick.  Always acknowledge the gods each and every day; that’s the important bit here.  If you can’t afford the time or materials to make a major offering, don’t, but always try to make some kind of invocation to the gods as an offering of praise and honor.

One of the takeaways from all of this is that, for the mathetai, Hermes becomes a major god for us all, uniting us as being his students; we’d be οι μαθεται του Ερμου, after all, the disciples of Hermes, so it’s proper to honor him as a major god for us in mathesis.  Beyond Hermes, however, I can make arguments for all the others gods being both major or minor depending on what you do in your life, but for the purposes of mathesis, Hermes takes a central focus.  If you already have a relationship with Hermes, consider bumping it up by making more offerings to him, at least once a month (either on the seventh day of the lunar grammatomantic month or the fourth day of the traditional Ionian lunar month), but maybe a “minor” god-type of offering to him as well every Wednesday as you can.

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.