This is the third in a series of blogs that will focus on meditation and contemplative practices in Paganism. If you have not read the previous parts, I encourage you to do so....
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Today we will look into the little talked about practice of the washing of feet within the context of xenia. It's something I have been curious about ever since I first read the Odysseia. I had completely forgotten I wanted to post about it, however, until I discovered a post by Robert of Doing Magick, who wrote about his recent experience with the practice--though for different reasons.
The other day, on my own blog, I published a blueprint of what a typical weekday looks like for me, in terms of my regular devotions for my god-Husband Odin. This rundown did not include any of the little rituals I do for the other gods and spirits I deal with, nor any of the more involved things I do for Odin on special occasions, weekends, or just because I want to do something extra for Him. It was only a bare bones outline, without any details as to words said or precise gestures involved, but no sooner had I posted it than I really wished I could delete it.Why is that? I wondered (once it had been established that no deleting would be allowed). I think it's because the post at once felt so personal and at the same time didn't seem to accurately depict what my devotional time with Odin really feels like, since any type of schedule, written up like this, is going to read more or less like a "laundry list" of actions. I also doubted whether it would prove helpful to anyone else.
But then one of my friends commented that it helped her to see how a devotional life can be composed of a series of small actions which, taken together, add up over time to so much more than the sum of their parts. I think that's a really good way of expressing it. A bunch of little actions which may not seem so significant on their own—such as brewing coffee or pouring a drink, sweeping around the altar, or taking out your prayer beads on a bus ride—can, over time, feed and nourish the growth of a deep and intense connection. Devotion is the art of training the mind towards focus on the gods, and just as with athletic training, this does not happen quickly or overnight. Bearing this idea in mind, I thought a more general follow-up post, on some things to keep in mind when setting up your own "training" routine or developing it further, might be in order.
I have noticed that Hellenismos has its own, very specific, cleaning problems. As you have seen, my altar stands on carpet, and the longer I practice, the more wine stains appear on it. The bowl I use to give burnt offerings is stained with soot, and I'm sure that if it stood near a wall, that would be blackened as well. On top of that, the copper bowl I use to keep my daily khernips in, stains due to the water, and the salt in it. On days of purification as well as on the Deipnon, I spent some time cleaning these items. Today, I wanted to share with you some natural ways to clean these tools. Note that there are chemical cleaning tools available for all these stains--so if you're desperate to have a stain removed, that is always a possibility--but I prefer the natural way.
An altar is one of those basic necessities within Hellenismos, and it differs from a shrine. Where an altar is a 'work space', dedicated not so much to a specific deity, but used to do the bulk of the (daily) rituals, a shrine is a devotional area where an altar might be located. In ancient Hellas, the shrine was usually a temple, the altar an actual altar, standing outside of it. Household worship took place at a multitude of shrines.
Labeling something a shrine, does not mean you can't sacrifice at these spots in your home; every Hene Kai Nea and Noumenia, I offer libations of mixed wine and incense at my shrine to Apollon, Hermes and Hekate, every Noumenia, I offer mixed wine and incense to Zeus Kthesios at His shrine in my kitchen, and ever Agathós Daímōn, I make a libation of unmixed wine at His shrine. As explained previously, I don't have an outdoor altar; I have one indoors, and it also houses my continual flame to Hestia. It's at this shrine I do the bulk of my worship--it's my hearth. It has my offering bowl, and is very deity-neutral, just to make sure everyone I give sacrifice to might feel at home at it. It's located in my bedroom shrine--the actual space, decorated and kept clean for the Theoi.
My altar is not the altar the ancient Hellens would have used. For one, it's not outside--something I'm grateful for as it's snowing outside at the moment--and for another, it's not made of stone. I don't make a fire on top of it--a good thing, seeing as it's made of wood--but have to use a bowl to do so. In ancient Hellas, an altar was called a 'bômos' (βωμός)--properly signifying any elevation--with an 'epipuron' (ἐπίπυρον)--a movable pan or brazier--used on top of the bômos so it could serve as an altar for burnt-offerings. The household hearth was used to make sacrifices as well, and thus served as an altar of sorts. It was named after the Theia of the home and hearth: 'hestía' (ἑστία). Some state-owned altars--especially when they were simply large fires--were named 'hestía' as well.
When you adopt Hellenismos as a religion, you suddenly have a lot of extra festivals on the calendar. Funnily enough, that's the thing people are most shocked about. In addition to the fancy festivals, however, the Hellenistic base of worship is the monthly lunar calendar (the 'Mên kata Theion', 'sacred month'). Today, I'll present the basic, Hellenistic, monthly calendar. It's constructed from various ancient sources, and is recognized by many Hellenists today. Note, that this schedule was conglomerated with Hesiod's auspicious days, so--for example--the thirteenth of the month is sacred to Artemis, and a bad day for sowing.
First Decad - Waxing Moon - Mên Histámenos
1. Noumenia - Selene, Apollo Noumenios, Zeus Herkios and Ktesios, Hestia, and the other Theoi of the Household
2. Agathós Daímōn - Agathós Daímōn
3. Tritomênís - Athena
4. Tetrás - Aphrodite, Eros, Herakles, Poseidon, and Apollo
5. The Erinyes, Eris, and Horkos
8. Poseidon, Asklēpiós and Theseus
9. General holy day to honour the Theoi; special day to the Muses, Helios, and Rhea
One of the most important and confusing of the many Hellenic festivals is the three-day transition from month to month. Although unlinked, the Deipnon, the Noumenia and Agathós Daímōn are held on consecutive days, around the new moon. Especially the placement of the days is hard to get right; at least, it was for me.
The Deipnon (Hene kai Nea)--or Hekate's Deipnon--is celebrated any time before the first sliver of the new moon is visible. In practice, this is the day after the new moon. The Noumenia is held the day after that, when the moon has become visible again, and Agathós Daímōn the day after that. It is important to note that the ancient Hellens started a new day at sundown the day before. Instead of starting a new day at midnight--or in the morning--like we do today, they started it at sundown of the previous day. This means that--when applied to modern practice--the Deipnon starts on the day of the suspected new moon, and the rest follows after, to the total of four days. Confused yet? How about a schematic.