ktesios jar

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!

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19 thoughts on “ktesios jar

  1. I admit, I’ve been lax on my ktesios jar. Currently it has some cinnamon tea bags sitting in it with a promise to brew and share. It has been that way for months. I think I will also add it to my Thursday ritual…something to think about any way. Thanks.

    • I found it less daunting and easier to keep up with having a small container to use for it rather than a large jar. I recognize that is mostly psychological for it to work that way lol but it does, and it is also easier financially when it comes to the ingredients.

      • my issue is twofold…the offering of food seems like a waste (blasphemous I know, I have a lot of Scottish in my ancestry) and the mold issue has always disgusted me and seemed like a poor result of offering.

      • LOL completely understandable though! My mother would be horrified at the “waste” if she was here to witness it! The mold issue is one that disgusts me too, which is largely why I took to changing it so often. I let it sit for a month once and nearly wanted to retch when I emptied it, so that was a good part of the reason why it begame a weekly thing. However, that said, alot of good things come from mold or substances that act like mold. Yeast I would put almost in the same category as mold and we use it for baking bread (I try not to think of it when baking lol), and cheese (which the greeks considered imparitive that a society must make in order to be classified as a civilization—recalling that the Sycthians were permitted on this basis since they were said to make cheese from horse milk) is, when it comes right down to it, nothing more than processed mold LOL (again something I try not think about when I am enjoying it!). So I suppose it is all a matter of perspective 😉

      • I usually leave it for a month and clean it out and refill it at the Noumēnía, and I put the old stuff into the compost outside in the garden, far away from the house 😛

  2. Lykeia, I think you’ll have to make some correction in your post, because you’ve consistently written “kteosis”, instead of “Ktesios”. And such a jar is called kethiskos 😉

    I’ve taken up to having a kathiskos myself several months ago, but can’t always fill it with fresh fruit as is customary. I usually just refresh the contents every Noumenia anyways 😛

    Great post 😉

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  5. I just learned about this lovely custom very recntly and – though my polytheism is more (Gallo-)Roman orientated – it is something I would like to add to my household worship. I don’t want to fill it with food that could get rotten (such as milk or fruits), but I thought about it and came to the following possibilities, which I really like to share with you (if you wish or not):

    – One could fill it with water and olive oil, what have seemed to be the most basic. I would eventually also add honey, wine and maybe even seeds, but – as I mentioned above – no milke or fruit.

    – Another possibility would be to fill it with the money one would spend for the food of the next month. That would be fine to limit yourself but on the other hand… money and religion… it leaves a bit a bad taste in my mouth… though I also worship the gods to guard over my prosperities so maybe the bad taste is a little bit hypocritic…

    – third possibility what attracts me a lot: fill it with candy! That would be good for the health and the body, to just eat candy at the end of the month, when you empty the kathiskos.

    Well just some ideas. I was thinking of this lovely little vessel to become my kathiskos one day: http://www.itsallgreek.co.uk/product/minoan-vessel-swallows-lilies-and-crocus/25363/ . It is from Minoan Crete, Zeus’ birthplace, so it would be honoring the god also when it’s empty! To bad that it has no snake on it … and that it is so expensive…. and for the third possible modern usage of a kathiskos, it’s a little small hahaha.

    • I think that those are all excellent suggestions for possible ways that you can do it, that would be meaningful to your own concept of foodstores…well perhaps not candy since that is not particularly healthy and not particularly real food LOL. But I think you have come up with some excellent ideas of things that you can do for your household worship. Also I don’t have a problem at all with adding money. I have a small jar for Hermes shrine which collects coins. Dropping coins to represent money you spend on food seems like a nice idea.

      • I think you are right about the candy and the unhealthiness of it.

        Yes, the vessel is a highlight. I don’t no way, but for some reason Greek pottery and it’s paintings is absolutely not exotic for me but has rather a sort of “my-grnadmother’s-stuff” (my English is to poor to explain it right and I’m now to tired and lazy to look it up… I’ll promise I will do my best to refresh my English). Maybe because I’m European, but well, no Greek… but some Greek decorations seems to found their way into Russian decorations (I’m thinking of Greek Seirenes and the Russian Sirin-motive, for example) and since my grandmother had some Russian stuff in her house, it might be that I linked these early memories with the Greek pottery… omg, sorry for the blablabla… since last Quinquatria my piety seems to be strenghtened! I performed today for the first time for long the Kalendae-ritual in nhonour of Queen Iuno. It was great! And before I forget, though you are a Apollo-devotee (but I don’t think that you would exclude any other deity): Happy Veneralia today for you and yours!

      • really? See I love the Greek scenes, especially those involving particular gods, but then my grandmother is not really big into pottery so perhaps I am spared that association haha. I would believe that greek motifs have influence on Russian art, and even a relationship in cultures (not too long ago someone pointed out to me the slavic god historically syncrenized with Apollon. Consider too that certain cults would pretty far north east into the seas in that direction…not to mention that Cyrillic and Hellenic script both have a common early ancestor. So there may be many common cross influencing.
        Ah yes religio calendar is not lunar, I forgot for a moment. Actually in the Hellenic calendar we honor Apollon at the first of the month too…but that won’t be until the first cresent is seen 🙂 I hope you enjoyed your Kalendae ritual!

      • By the way: they (from It’sAllGreek.com) also have vessels with snakes in bronze, but they don’t look so cosy like the Minoan one!

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