The jar of Zeus Ktesios, the kethiskos, is perhaps one of the more recognizable items of Hellenic domestic worship, and rightly so! Though food storage has improved dramatically over even the last few decades, it is still even as it always was, and important issue. In ancient times, and not so ancient times before modern technology stepped in, the ability to safely preserve food through seasons of leanness was important. This is particular true of things like dried fruits, oils and grains. Meat preservation is of course done, especially with fish, but it seems that the more reliable staples of the diet that would have been the most depended on would be the fruits and grains. In american history, the pasttime of having that great apple pie during the winter holidays is in part due to the habit of drying apples for the winter of which I am certain are more palatable to be eaten when baked into a pastery of some kind! But grain is the big one to provide the historically most important staple that everyone, even the poorest person could enjoy, ….bread. Unfortunately storing dried fruits and grains wasn’t quite so easy for our ancestors since any stockpile of such foods attracted vermin. This of course gave rise to possessing animals in the household for terminating such pests…such as cats and members of the weasel family (the latter was a surprise to me but I had always been curious of the depiction of the lady with the weasel by Di Vinci. And while modern technology has been a boon to the preservation of food, it is not flawless. So in one sense honoring Zeus Ktesios as the god who preserves the bounty of the household pantry is not so far removed as we would like to think. Our homes can still be invaded by pests that can chew right through bags and boxes…and lets face it…you can’t fit *everything* into the fridge…I should know.. I tried it 😉
But having addressed food storage, the kethiskos represents a less literal preservation of bounty, where the foodstuffs represents the wealth of the household, the health, and the good things in general coming into. Zeus Ktesios is preserving all the blessings that he gives to us, and the kethiskos acts both as a representation of his gifts, and as offerings to the god as well. As such it is an important fixture in the Hellenic domestic religion, and can take many forms. While traditionall it was a vessel, that from all descriptions sounds a bit like a small bucket, imprinted with a serpent, modern worshipers have created them from earthernware jars painted with snakes, and glass airtight jars painted or with a serpent charm hung from the rim. And these are typically filled with richness of foods that the earth provides: grains, seeds, oil, and honey usually, but may include other ingredients in addition.
There is also a great variation in just how often this jar is changed out. It seems more often that people do this around the Noumenia as a monthly ritual. For myself, I do it every thursday which I have designated as the weekly Zeus’s day. This not only cuts down on the stink but makes a nice weekly ritual in honor of Zeus who dwells within and safeguards the wellbeing of the house. So really it seems to boil down to personal preference. The kethiskos can be kept in a pantry (if you have one). Since I do not have a pantry, I just keep it in the kitchen where it actually looks charming and a bit decorative. And I do recommend a good lid to prevent accidents!