The Greatest Gift

As I was reading The Real Allure of Monotheism this morning, I started thinking about the greatest gift Apollon, the Gift Giver, has given me. I think that it is faith and confidence in him.

I have been in love. More than once have I loved a person with my whole heart, been told that they wanted to marry me, come around to that desire myself, and then suddenly (to me), they just didn’t. Not anymore.

Apollon won’t do that. He, for the rest of my lifetime, will never leave me. He has tied me to him in a bond that cannot be broken, and I have consented to that bond and needed it. The faith that I have in that bond is unwavering. I make offerings to him because I love him. I write things for him because I love him. I learn more about him because I love him. I am trying to put together a devotional for him because I love him. He also loves me, in his own way.

Apollon has tied me to him with an unbreakable thread. Through this thread, we are ever connected. Even when I am living in a rather polluted place, one that inhibits spiritual clarity, the thread is there shining right through any dirty barriers. It cannot be severed. I can always follow that thread back to Apollon. He will always be at the other end.

For me, the faith, knowing that he will always be there, has been his greatest gift. I am secure in his love.

The Gift Giver

There once was a temple to Apollon in Larisa. There once was. It’s such a sad statement, but it seems that while there are some temple remains in Larisa, it is unclear if they are from the temple to Apollon Kerdoios or not.

Sometimes researching epithets is easy, and sometimes it is frustrating and sad. Sometimes we have immediate visceral connections, and sometimes we have slow epiphanies. Sometimes nothing ever becomes clear.

This epithet, according to a paper presented in 2008 that was written by Maria Mili, was only used in Thessaly, of which Larisa is its largest and capital city and notable for being the birthplace of Achilles. Larisa has always had close and strong connections to Delphi (even today, if you are in Delphi and trying to head north, Larisa will need to be your next stop) and the only place that there is any evidence at all of this epithet being used outside of Thessaly (though perhaps by Thessalians) is in reference to Apollon at Delphi in Lykophron’s Alexandra.

Κερδος, the root word of this epithet, means “profit.” Now, while related, “profit” and “gift” are not synonyms. According to Mili, they weren’t in ancient Greek either, so why “the gift giver?”

Other epithets with the κερδ- root generally belong to Hermes, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that κερδεα were skills of both warriors and traders that “allowed them to gain at the expense of others” and κερδος was personal profit acquired through guile and trickery. (Mili) Artemis was also once called Kerdoia, but this was in Larisa, and as we know, Apollon and Artemis often share epithets.

It seems that some believe that while Hermes as quite well known as a god of trade, Apollon has his hand in this field as well, and that’s why he has this epithet. In myth, Apollon did trade with Hermes (see the Homeric Hymn to Hermes), and this is how he came to forgive Hermes for the theft of his cattle as well as become the player of the lyre.

Mili, however, disagrees with this interpretation. She suggests that this epithet could be connected to an initiatory cult for young men, perhaps for boys who had served as laurel bearers during the Daphnephoria. This, however, did not leave her convinced. She returns to the Alexandra and suggests that this epithet is related to Apollon’s oracular functions (which would again connect it to Delphi, the only area outside of Thessaly where it was used) as meaning the god who brings gains to those who consult him.

All of the suggestions so far have seemed tenuous at best, and Mili waits until her conclusion to bring up what she’s been waiting to say all along. In Thessalian society, trade was not a noble profession. It was a land of landed aristocracy, and when rich families use their wealth for the betterment of society, everyone profits. To her, it seems to be this that is connected to Apollon, the gift giver.

What do you think? Please explore this epithet through poetry, prose, prayer, and academic exploration and submit to the still open Call for Submissions to He Who Rules with Honey.

Hellenismos: FAQ

What is Deipnon?  How is Deipnon determined?
How Is Deipnon Determined? by Melia
Deipnon by Melia
Get Hellenic Calendar Notifications maintained by Melia
Deipnon, Noumenia, and Agathos Daimon: Monthly Festivals by Elani Temperence
Hekate’s Deipnon according to Hellenion

What is a reconstructionist?  Is it different from a revivalist?Reconstruction or Revival? by Melia
The Beginner’s Guide to Hellensmos: Introduction by Elani Temperence
Living Hellenic Reconstructionism by Dave of Neokoroi
What Does Hellenic Revivalist Mean? by Lizzie Heffner

Do Hellenic Polytheists converse with gods?
Do Hellenic Polytheists converse with gods? by Melia
Prayer in Hellenismos by Kallimakos
Prayer Format anonymous (as far as I can tell)
The Power of Prayer/Reciprocity by Ruadhán J McElroy
My Practice and Worship of Lord Ares by an anonymous (as far as I can tell) devotee

Is it acceptable to offer a song to the gods and goddesses?
Music for the Gods by Melia
The Beginner’s Guide to Hellenismos: Ritual and Sacrifice in Hellenismos by Elani Temperence
Ancient Hellenic Musical Instruments by Elani Temperence
Music in Rites. Some Thoughts about the Function of Music in Ancient Greek Cults by Jana Kubatzki

What is miasma?
What is miasma?  by Melia
The Basics of Miasma and Purification by TJ Alexander
What is and is not miasmic?  by Elani Temperence
Miasma, Katharmos, and Preparing for the Gods by Elani Temperence
A Little Rant on Miasma by Dver

Disclaimer: On the whole, Elani does a very good job explaining miasma.  However, menstruation (actively menstruating, anyway) does not cause miasma.  Contact with someone else’s menstrual blood or with spilled menstrual blood, however, does.

Is there a specific structure to follow when making offerings or devotions? Are there recommended rituals?
Honoring Artemis by Melia
A Hellenic-Style Ritual by Jason Mankey
The Beginner’s Guide to Hellenismos: Ritual and Sacrifice in Hellenismos by Elani Temperence
Theogamia Rite by Hearthstone
My Practice and Worship of Lord Ares by Anonymous (as far as I can tell)

In ancient Greece, they placed a coin, called an obol, in a person’s mouth when they died as a way to pay for the ferry.  What coin should be used in this day and age?
Charon’s Obol by Melia
Charon’s Obol and Other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice by Susan T. Stevens
Charon’s Myth in Relation to Classical Athenian Funeral Practice by MH
The Final Journey: Crossing the Styx by Renee O’Brien
Old Funeral Customs: Placing Coins on the Eyes of the Dead by Stillinger Family Funeral Home (presumably a place where they might be more willing to help you organize a Hellenic funeral)

How should one dispose of offerings?
How Should One Dispose of Offerings?  by Melia
Proper Care of Offerings to the Gods by Kallimakhos
How to Offer to the Gods by Bekah Evie Bel
Untitled by Artistic-Annhilation
Offerings  by Adana

How many gods are there?  How many can I worship?
How Many Gods?  by Melia
7 Degrees of Kevin… Apollon and the Titans by Melia

Is Hellenism about personal glory? It is about using gods and magic for your own ends and becoming more powerful?
Why Hellenismos? by Melia
Kleos: Death and Glory by Van Bryan
Kharis (Χάρις): Our Relationship with the Gods by Elani Temperence
Pillars of Hellenismos by Jay Alexander (I’m not actually certain that this is his blog, but those are the pillars that he identified, so…)
Practical Xenia by Elani Temperence

Is there a list of holidays or days that each god is celebrated?
The Calendar by Melia
Noumenia Thesmophorios by Melia
Upcoming Festivals by Melia
2019 Hellenion Calendar by Hellenion
Hellenic Festival Year by Elani Temperence

Why Hellenismos?

I was a polytheist before I became a Hellenic polytheist, and I had been varying flavors of pagan before I really came to understand and embrace polytheism. For me, the reason for Hellenismos is Apollon. When He came into my life, I underwent a paradigm shift from fairly eclectic (but mainly Welsh and Scandinavian based) polytheism to a distinctly Hellenic practice.

It seems to be a fairly common story to hear that many Hellenists were led into the religion by a particular deity who then introduced them (literally and metaphorically) to the rest of the pantheon. The Greeks don’t seem to work alone.

I shifted my practice from the eclectic mishmash that it had been to a Hellenic paradigm out of respect for Apollon. This led to growth and learning on my part as I learned how and what to do to please Him and the other gods that became a part of my life in the years that followed. That is the purpose of this religion – to form and maintain relationships with the divine that are both personally fulfilling and pleasing to the gods.

We do not pray or make offerings for personal power or glory, nor do we do what we do so that the gods will give us things or make things easier for us. There is nothing wrong with striving for personal glory, but you do this by bettering yourself, working hard, and sacrificing for others and for the common good. This is not something that is given by the gods. If anything, they will only give you challenges to overcome, but whether you can overcome those challenges and rise to glory all depends on your personal strength – often of mind, body, and character. Sometimes they do give us things and make things easier for us, but sometimes they don’t. It’s not something that we should ever expect. What they do is on their time and with their own purposes in mind.

When their hands are clearly at work in something in our lives, that is a beautiful surprise that we should be thankful for, one that reinforces the idea that our relationships are two-sided, and that we have not been forgotten. It is both our duty and our honor to do our part to maintain these relationships without thought for what one might get in return.

Kharis and xenia are two of the cornerstones of Hellenimsos, and these relate both to the way we treat the gods and the way we treat other people. Xenia is easier to define – it means hospitality. When we make offerings to the gods, we are not only building kharis, but we are also demonstrating or offering xenia. Kharis is sometimes defined as the relationship itself, or religious reciprocity, but it is really many things, perhaps the very definition of a good relationship – it’s beauty and gratitude, kindness and grace, good will and attraction, and so much more. You can spend a lifetime building, maintaining, and exploring kharis.

How Many Gods?

There are hundreds if not thousands of gods (including titans and nymphs) in the Hellenic pantheon alone, and there are more distinct and individual gods outside of this pantheon. While it is simply not possible to worship every god, you can worship as many as you wish, and you ought to at least show respect for the gods that you don’t actively worship.

While some people limit their worship to just one god that they feel closest to and simply show respect for the others, this is by no means necessary, encouraged, or required. The only limit to the number of gods you can worship is your time and energy, and the gods that you worship might change over time. That is ok. Gods, just like people, come in and out of our lives. Only a special few stick around long term, for the rest of our lives if we’re really lucky.

In general, there is no pair of gods where worship is mutually exclusive. Any stories of conflict in mythology do not have an impact on your ability to worship the gods on both sides of a conflict. There are some people who may have personal taboos imposed upon them which would require them to limit their worship of a particular god, but this is not the norm.

The idea that there are twelve Olympian gods and who those gods are has no impact on who you should worship. There is no requirement to worship all 12-13 Olympians, nor must you limit yourself to 12-13 Olympians. You can worship any god you like for any reason that you have.

How Should One Dispose of Offerings?

I generally wait at least 24 hours before disposing of any offerings. This, of course, depends on your lifestyle. When I am traveling, I dispose of any offerings before I check out of my hotel in the morning, for example, even if I only made the offering the night before. Some people prefer to be rather ceremonial in their disposal, but I do not believe that this is necessary. The offering itself is what was important, and by the time you are ready to dispose of it, the gods have already taken from it whatever it was that they wanted. It is now just an empty shell of what it once was, or in other words, it’s just garbage.

Traditionally, offerings were disposed of once a month rather than after 24 hours. However, most people cannot stand to wait until Hekate’s Deipnon to clean something that may have completely desiccated or started growing mold. The 24 hour window is PCPG, but it’s not the outside limit. I will often leave offerings on the shrine until I need to use the offering bowl for a new offering unless there is something problematic, like mold. 24 hours is the minimum safe window of time to give the gods rather than risk taking away an offering before they have finished with it.

When you give a perishable offering to the gods (food, libation, or flowers), and the offering is not burnt, it will eventually rot if left on your shrine. Disposal is necessary. However, imagine it this way. You have invited a god to dinner, and now they have left. Whatever is left on the plate or in the cup is what they did not consume, did not want. It is perfectly acceptable to throw this refuse into the garbage or into the garbage disposal. There is no special treatment necessary. The gods have already taken whatever part of what you offered it was that they wanted. Now, you just need to clean up after them.

When we are able to burn offerings, this is not an issue. Votive offerings and perishable offerings alike may be burned, but once you put the fire out, you do not need to worry about the ashes. They become part of whatever fire pit you used. The detritus is not sacred.

Charon’s Obol

In antiquity, it was a practice (though not a particularly common one) to place an obol (a low denomination of regularly used currency) with the body (either in the mouth or over the eyes) to pay Charon to ferry the soul across the river Styx upon arrival to the underworld. This practice is commonly referred to in mythology, but it has far less archaeological evidence than one might expect.

For those dealing with the death of a loved one or planning for their own futures, how to continue this practice today is a frequently brought up topic of discussion. While the practice doesn’t seem to be actually required (based on archaeological evidence, there would be a whole lot of souls that never made it across the river if it were), some people either like the practice or would prefer to be safe rather than sorry.

Since the obol was not actually worth very much, many people use low value coins of the currency used where they live. Others with larger disposable incomes choose to purchase ancient coins from reputable dealers. One thing I would not recommend choosing, however, would be a museum replica of an ancient coin. In my opinion, that would be like offering counterfeit money. What you offer should be something that has or at least at one point had value as legal tender.

Another option for people who fear that their loved ones may not honor a request of this nature would be to perform an offering ritual to Charon in advance. If you plan to be buried and you buy your plot in advance, you could bury a coin next to where you body will be buried (but not close enough that it will be dug up when they go to bury your body) and pray to Charon to let him know that this coin is intended to pay your passage. If your body will be disposed of in another way, you could still do much the same thing just burying your coin in a different place where it is unlikely to be disturbed. Perhaps at the grave of an ancestor?

This, the soul’s journey after death and the gods and practices involved, is a very intriguing topic, and Apollon has his connections to this process as well. If you are interested in exploring this further for the devotional, I have an epithet to suggest. Chresterios is an epithet of Apollon used mainly in Phrygia, and under this epithet he is the god who protects the deceased and brings his wrath upon those who violate tombs.

Whatever your view of Charon’s obol, there are no hard and fast rules. What you do is your personal decision, and it is between you and the gods.