Pagan Paths

Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.

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Zythos, the (undrinkable) beer of ancient times

There was a special recipe for beer that the ancient Hellens called 'zythos', and which was imported from Egypt. Most ancient Hellens thought the barley beverage was absolutely undrinkable and only fit for barbarians, but some made use of it anyway.

Beer has been around for a very long time, at least six thousand years, although the art of beer-making could date back as far as fifteen thousand years ago. The ancient Hellens certainly were not the ones who invented it. Most likely, it travelled to them by way of the Egypt, but the Egyptians could probably trace the art back to Mesopotamia. A four thousand year old seal to the Goddess Ninkasi--the Goddess of beer--has been found, which is as well a hymn to Her as a recipe for beer.


 Also from the Mesopotamians comes one of the early literary works, the Epic of Gilgamesh. In it, one of the two main characters encounters beer for the very first time:

"Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food,
and of drinking beer he had not been taught.
The harlot spoke to Enkidu, saying:
"Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.
Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land."
Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,
he drank the beer-seven jugs!-- and became expansive and sang with joy!
He was elated and his face glowed.
He splashed his shaggy body with water,
and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human."


The beer that was drunk by the ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks--or anyone else, really--had very little to do with the beer we pick up at the grocery store today. They share the same base component--fermented barley--but that's about it. Ancient records ascribed to the following method of creating beer, which is somewhat similar to modern day practices, but vary greatly in execution:

According to Athenaeus Naucratis, a Hellenic rhetorician and grammarian, a grain, typically barley but also millet, rye and wheat, was malted. The grain was dampened with water and allowed to germinate. Nature took its course to converted some of the starches into fermentable sugars and the resulting malt was heated to dry it. The dried malt was often shaped into loafs which were then backed for a small amount of time. These loaves were crumbled, mixed with cereals, and then soaked overnight. To add flavor, spices, honey, dates or other types of sweeteners were used. After the mash had fermented, the liquid contained roughly six to twelve percent alcohol and was sucked out of large bowls with straws, because the gruel-like mash was left in.

Depending on the country or region of origin, the ancient Hellens knew a wide variety of beers, all mixed slightly differently. Zythos (ζῦθος) came from Egypt. The beer or barley-wine of Crete was known as 'korma' (κόρμα) or 'kourmi' (κοῦρμι). A similar beverage was known in the north of Hellas and in Asia Minor under the name of 'βρῦτον', which simply means 'fermented' or 'something brewed', being made of barley by the Phrygians and Paeonians, of barley or of roots by the Thracians, while the Paeonians also made another mixture which they called 'παραβίας' or 'παραβίη' from millet and fleabane for which I have no translation.

The Roman Plinius reported of the popularity of beer in the Mediterranean area before wine took hold, but the Hellens were much bigger fans of the fermented grape than fermented barley. Still, the ancient Hellens associated beer with the Theoi. Dionysus was lauded for the drink, but the prime Theos of beer was (and is) Seilenos (Σειληνός), foster-father of Dionysus and son of Hermes. Please note that the preferred drink of Demeter, Kykeon, which is also made with barley, was not fermented and does not contain alcohol.

Within modern Hellenistic practice, beer is most likely not a suitable offering for the Theoi, and should not replace wine offerings. Even in ancient Hellas, beer was viewed as inferior and barbaric. Peasants drank it, as it was a lot cheaper than wine, but that's about it. On principle, I'm against offering anything sub-par to the Theoi, even if the modern process has made the drink a lot more palatable. Still, it's good to know in this holiday season, that the ancient Hellens had options, although getting drunk was frowned upon even if you drank beer.

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Elani Temperance is a twenty-seven year old woman, who lives with her partner in The Netherlands. She has been Pagan for a little over twelve years and has explored Neo-Wicca, Technopaganism, Hedge Witchery and Eclectic Religious Witchcraft before progressing to Hellenismos. Although her home practice is fully Hellenic, she has an online Neo-Pagan magazine called 'Little Witch magazine' (www.littlewitchmagazine.com) in which she and several co-writers try to cover the whole gamut of Neo-Paganism. Baring the Aegis is also on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BaringTheAegis

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