ON DOMESTIC PIETY
An Introduction to Piety in Olympianism
NB- this is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of Classical Olympianist religion, but rather an introduction to what piety is, what is done, and why it is done. This essay may be added to in the future
The home of the worshipper is the center of religious practice and the root from which the larger public piety arises, and relevant to this is the parallelism between the public sphere of the state and the domestic sphere of the home. In the same way as state piety of Antiquity centered on the public Hearth (ἑστία), so is the piety of the home centered on the domestic Hearth, whose governor we name Hearth — in the Greek tongue ‘Ἐστία’, and in the Latin ‘Vesta’, as well as the Mother of Gods, for the reason that her seat at the house-center is the foundation for piety, and in this way she gives birth to Gods. As all piety arises from this foundation, Hearth is thus first honored in mortal’s worship.
Though the shift in home construction since Classical Antiquity has done away with the need for a central hearth pit, the hearth remains present wherever the pious worshipper keeps enthroned the hearth fire, in the same way that the sacrificial fire of public piety is kindled from such a source. Whereas circumstances may not allow for this fire to remain continuously burning as it has been left to do in historically, the seat of the fire, be it the wick of a candle or vessel lamp set up to serve the shrine, maintains certainly the imminent and potential hearth which the worshipper uncovers upon rekindling the flame during the time of worship.
Alongside the central divinity Hearth, worship appropriate to the home is given also to Jove the All-Father, under such titles (or, ‘epithets’) as the Domestic [Grk: Κτήσιος], who has dominion over the safety and wellbeing of the home, the Propitious [Grk: Μειλίχιος], to whom domestic requests are customarily addressed, and the Good Spirit [Grk: Ἀγαθοδαίμον] who appears iconographically, like the Propitious, in the form of a serpent, and, with Fortune [Grk: Τύχη], governs both the attainment and loss of prosperity.
At the liminal spaces of the home are the stations for Thyræus, Einodia, and/or Heracles — Heracles because he is a powerful intercessor on the part of humanity, Einodia, the seemingly-ambivalent but immensely powerful overseer of borders and the junctions, who, straddling the junctions of even the greatest zones of the sky, earth and sea, looks out over both sides of such junctions, and is thus said to perceive all that might come in or out from any such direction, and Thyræus-Apollo, identified with the Roman Ianus, who is Cleiduchus, the keeper of the keys to coming and going, and to abundance and lack. Small shrines, icons, or other such symbols of these divinities are set at the threshold of the home’s primary entrance or, likewise, at the edge of the property, in the hope that the powers to which they are dedicated might aid in warding off any malevolent force that might disturb the safety of the home.
We worship these and the great host of gods by means of two central ritual actions — hymnody: the recitation or singing of sacred hymns), and sacrifice [from sacer+fico: in Latin, ‘to make holy’]: the offering of items to the Divine, which itself takes either the form of either immolation: the burning of offerings on an altar, or libation: the outpouring of liquid offerings such as water, oil, honey, wine, milk or other pure, potable liquids. On the greater scale, a certain reckoning of the underlying meaning is that these actions mimic the creation of the world itself, an interpretation held also by Upanishadic commentators on the Vedas of brahminical Hinduism, a religion which parallels Olympian religion in a variety of analogues. In this exegesis, the beginning with the hymns represents the unmanifest Ideas that dwelt in the Ineffable prior to the beginning of this universe, the material sacrifice represents the solid, dry material that arose at the universe’s beginning, and the libation represents the interplay of the fluid, moist material that joined with the solid and dry material to result in the proliferation of the things of the cosmos. On our own scale, this is mirrored in the intercourse of Pluvial Jove [Grk: Ζεύς/Δίας Ὑέτιος], and Ceres [Grk: Δημήτρα, Δήιω].
In terms of what one does in carrying out these actions, a hymn takes the form of a song, or more accurately, a lyric poem composed in praise of a deity or several deities, which reference notable deeds ascribed to it, particularly those deeds relevant to the occasion, and conclude with either a general or instance-specific prayer woven into the end of the hymn. Prayers, certainly, vary as tremendously as do occasions, they may perhaps be as specific as ‘O Slayer of Argus, I pray, give me aid in my business endeavor this Monday,’ or as general as ‘O Gods, I pray, be gracious to me, my life, my home, and my loved ones.’ Following hymnody, the actions of sacrifice stir up the worshipper’s devotional spirit, which the all-perceiving Gods recognize and, being purely just, bring to fruiting if the worshipper’s wish is in accordance with the decrees of Justice. In sacrifice, items to be offered are first customarily marked for the Gods (in the Roman rite, this is done with mola salsa, a compound of grain flour and salt, while in the Greek rite it is done customarily with loose barley), and then offered into the sacrificial fire, left to the earth by depositing in an outdoor place, or buried in a sacred pit after the conclusion of the actions of worship. While common sacrifices included animals, specially prepared foods, floral and foliage garlands, olive and laurel branches, and laurel leaves, for common worship, as well as for those of schools that condemned or prohibited animal sacrifice, such as the Pythagoreans and Orphics, the burning of incense was considered the purest and simplest kind of sacrifice. Libations follow immolations, and are poured out into the fire or onto the earth. Wine, the typical and most sacred libation, is seen to be particularly auspicious in that, as with oil, it auspiciously stirs up the fire and causes the flames to rise up. Celestial Gods, those associated with the Heavens, receive libations following which a portion is drunk by the libator, while Chthonic Gods, those associated with the surface and depths of the earth, receive customarily a kind of libation called, in Greek, khoê (meaning ‘pitcher’) in which the entire contents of the vessel are poured out in offering without any being drunk by the worshipper.
For mortals, right-hearted worship is perhaps the greatest consummation of piety, and is an action of the effecting of goodness by means of active participation in the rightful order of being. The inspired poet Hesiod advises to offer worship at both transitional points of the day, “both when you go to bed, and when the holy light has returned, that they may be gracious to you in heart and spirit” (Theog. ll. 340-1) so that the various fruits of worship — those benefits symbolized by the sacred meals that would follow great sacrifices in Antiquity — may be experienced throughout all points of the day, likewise placing the Gods and the cosmogenetic reenactment that underlies the sacrificial ritual at each beginning in the circadian and temporal cycles, for which reason Pythagoras had said to ‘first honor the Immortal Gods, as it is ordained by Law’ and Sextus to ‘honor Divinity before you undertake any action, that Divine light may precede your energies.’
Last edited by Erodius on Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:56 pm; edited 6 times in total
"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."
The Orphic Way: www.hellenicgods.org
Thank you for that excellent essay. I learned a lot!
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Wow this was really good to read through.
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