Personal Devotions

Personal devotion for the modern Hellenismos devotee is, well, personal. There is no single system of routine practices one must follow daily. And fellow Hellenists are not known to pester one another about whether everyone has offered libations to Zeus this morning. In fact, some have been known to remind one another on occasion not to pray too much. And yet many start their day by blowing a kiss to the sun, pouring a libation to a patron deity, or even following a routine based on a devotional calendar used in ancient Athens. Some ancient writers such as Hesiod left us writings about traditional ways of showing piety. And the modern Hellenist can find nuggets of wisdom that manage to cross cultural borders to hold some relevance today.

One bit of advice recently noted was to Pray as you can, not as you can't. This is definitely good advice, and an acknowledement of the fact that circumstances vary widely for different people and even at different times for the same person. The Olympians are much more interested in hospitality and community than in compulsive, dogmatic adherence to routine.

Newcomers to Hellenismos often ask about the particulars of how to set up a shrine or altar, what to do with libations and food offerings after they have been offered, and other practical issues. And they tend to receive warm, friendly responses from the community, reflecting a relaxed attitude. Shrines and altars tend to be simple and can be temporary or permanent. The gods will tend not to be offended by how you handle your offerings as long as they are handled with respect. And personal circumstance is considered relevant in making decisions about how to go about things.

Some of us have fairly conservative views and sentiments about such issues, and there is some wisdom in considering what value the conservative approach may have for your own life. But moderation tends to be more important than tradition at the expense of a sane lifestyle. If you are a huge fan of Cherry Coke, it may make sense to offer a sip of Cherry Coke as a libation. But if you leave a dish of sugary liquid out in the sun for a few hours, you may attract yellowjackets or other insects. So use your best judgment, pay attention to how things work out, and adapt for next time. When in doubt, ask for advice.

If you want to follow a routine for devotions that includes either a traditional or just generally well-rounded collection of deities, you can go about this in a few different ways. Many people follow (with or without personal modifications) the ancient Athenian calendar for devotions, most popularly described at Hellenic Month Established Per Athens. This calendar takes some getting used to, so don't panic. It is based on an old way of keeping time that is both solar and lunar, with days starting at sundown. Newcomers generally need a little help with unfamiliar terms and concepts when dealing with this calendar. Asking and searching around on the web should prove helpful, as is the (hard to find) book Old Stones, New Temples.

But you can also make a list of deities and spirits that you personally want to make devotions to without depending on such a calendar. Your list could be long or short, and you can be somewhat arbitrary about how to plan things out. Remember to adapt if you find that your plan doesn't work for you or you just lose interest. You might say that on the 13th day of each regular month you will offer a sip of wine to Dionysos, or that each Saturday morning you will light a candle for Agathos Daimon, or that you will meditate on the New Moon. It's up to you for the most part, but you will likely find some value in maintaining at least a few traditions common to modern Hellenists.

If you did nothing but make a list (if perhaps a shorter one) of some deities and spirits that appeal to you, and made a small offering to the next one down on your list every two or three days, you would very likely find this to be a fulfilling devotional life.