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Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Helleicchild on Thu Jul 17, 2014 3:07 pm

I have a book called Prayer Book for Hellenic Pagans: Prayers for everyday of the Lunar month by Weasle Forsythe. And in the section on incense, the author states that deities like Hecate, Persephone, Hades, and Nemesis receives no incense offerings. How close is that to actual sources?

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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Erodius on Thu Jul 17, 2014 7:01 pm

It demonstrates that the author is probably only slightly familiar with his subject.

That is also very doubtfully a reliable resource; there is a lot of false information perpetuated by the contemporary new-age movement, from which, if I had to guess, I would say the book you are mentioning comes. I would, overall, recommend avoiding sources that are not scholarly or primary, and it is quite rare for any respectable source to use the word 'pagan'.

Whoever that book's author is (he is not any particular repute, I can give you that) it is clear is simply concluding from a cursory reading of the Orphic Hymns, which do not have incense attributions for the above deities, that they do not receive incense offerings – which is not accurate.

It goes to show why the source of one's information is so vitally important – otherwise, one is apt to believe a lot of nonsense, unfortunately.

In terms of your question, yes, terrestrial deities certainly may receive incense sacrifice (customarily of a type associated with the underworld, like the flowers and sap of the poppy, burnt grains, or even sulphur itself – which, although we now associate its smell with rotten eggs, in Antiquity, sulphur was burnt both as a purification , as well as an offering to chthonian deities, being as sulphur is taken from the ground), although things like frankincense would be burnt for virtually any deity, with very few exceptions). Some religious groups in Antiquity onward actually have disavowed all sacrifices other than incense.

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"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  DavidMcCann on Sat Jul 19, 2014 5:26 pm

I have myrrh listed for Hecate, but I didn't keep a note of where I read it.

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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Erodius on Sat Jul 19, 2014 6:54 pm

DavidMcCann wrote:I have myrrh listed for Hecate, but I didn't keep a note of where I read it.

Frankincense or myrrh are typical incense for most offerings. Although the two are now distinguished clearly (usually), in Antiquity, 'olibanum' and 'myrrha' or even 'tus' (the general word for incense in Latin) were often used almost interchangeably. Often olibanum was used to mean just a fragrant plant resin from the east, while myrrha meant the shrub from which it was harvested. Classical botany was not especially precise, to be quite honest.  

Further, there is evidence that what is called myrrh today is perhaps not the same species as what the Greeks and Romans knew as myrrh, based on Classical descriptions of the plant that do not match the plant from which contemporary myrrh is harvested. 

As a generalization, frankincense is burned almost universally, myrrh tends to be less often used, and, in Orphism, is more associated with watery deities. Styrax is used much like frankincense, but is finer and more expensive, and the scent is stronger and less woody. Beyond that, a scattering of other incenses see use, some compounds of several ingredients, and others that are often not considered 'incense' today, but what we would probably call 'spices' (like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, rosemary and saffron) as well as a few, some of which I've mentioned, that would probably not be considered incense at all by most people living today, who would consider them to have overtly offensive smells, like sulphur, for instance, or galbanum.

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"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  DavidMcCann on Tue Jul 22, 2014 1:58 pm

Erodius wrote:Further, there is evidence that what is called myrrh today is perhaps not the same species as what the Greeks and Romans knew as myrrh, based on Classical descriptions of the plant that do not match the plant from which contemporary myrrh is harvested. 
That's a useful point! I'd forgotten how confusing terminology can be, but I should have remembered from the article I once wrote on gems. The Greek sapphire was actually lapis lazuli, while a sapphire was adamas in Latin.

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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Callisto on Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:38 pm

Same for (western) storax which was also used, a modern substitution is benzoin (asian storax).

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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Erodius on Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:59 pm

That's correct. Commercially available storax today is exclusively Asian storax. Western storax seems to have been made from two species, one of which is not commercially grown, and the other of which is highly endangered and very rare.

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"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Helleicchild on Thu Sep 18, 2014 8:32 pm

Callisto wrote:Same for (western) storax which was also used, a modern substitution is benzoin (asian storax).

Can I use Copal if I don't have Benzoin?

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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Erodius on Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:34 pm

Asian and Western storax are simply different species of the same tree genus. They were both used as 'storax' in Antiquity.

Copal is, broadly, any of several kinds of dried pine resin. Pine is sacred to Ποσειδῶν [Poseidṓn], and junipers, cypress and cedar to Ἄρτεμις [Ártemis], and is sometimes burnt in sacrifices to these and associate divinities, as well as in purificatory censings. 

As far as equivalencies are concerned, however, in terms of derivation, characteristics or aroma, copal is really nothing at all like benzoin styrax. Styrax species' resin has a sweet, musky, vanilla-like scent – like frankincense, but stronger and sweeter. Pine resin is smoky-smelling, woody, and astringent, it smells more like myrrh.

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"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Nikoletta on Fri Oct 03, 2014 11:58 pm

Is there a way to "screen" sources of readings to ensure that the information is correct? I am a year in to m faith and just really getting my shrine together and I would hate to use the wrong items.

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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Erodius on Sat Oct 04, 2014 6:18 am

As overused as the phrase is, the best is to 'arm yourself with knowledge'. Then, you will be able to fairly accurately gauge for yourself the credibility of things you're told. This goes for any subject really. 

This only comes through time and study, and study by way of reading – reading books. As much good information as you can find on the Internet, there is always 4x as much completely ridiculous nonsense. 

However, we here aim to maintain a high degree of reliability – so the sources and individuals here are usually pretty reliable. 

As far as where to go to 'arm yourself' with such knowledge, in the Beginners forum here, we have posted as stickies several free e-book versions of excellent books to read, of which I'd vouch that Jane Harrison's Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, is one of the very best with which to start.

As far as hardcopy books, I would recommend Mikalson's Ancient Greek Religion, and especially Martin's Hellenistic Religions

It is also always an excellent use of time to study the Classics themselves. Of these, Ovid's Fasti will be useful, and particularly Pausanias Description of Greece – though any of the Classics will be a beneficial read.  Wink

If you have questions about shrine worship in particular, there are a few threads about that in this Beginners forum too – but if you have additional questions that haven't been addressed already, please do not hesitate to post a thread and ask.

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"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Re: Incense and Underworld Deities

Post  Nikoletta on Sat Oct 04, 2014 10:06 am

Okay thank you so much.

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