Inspired by a friend’s comment today, and the fact that at sundown tonight we celebrate the Noumenia and so honor Apollon Noumenios, I wanted to take a moment to talk about giving offerings to Apollon. I rarely have given much consideration to touching on this topic because I figured that this was something so rudimentary that most of my readers would not be interested in it. However, it turns out that may not be the case and there may very well be *someone* out there who will find it helpful who are feeling a bit lost in the establishment of their relationship with Apollon through offerings in worship.
Unlike most of us who may have grown up going to church in which services comprises solely of singing and listening to a pastor (more or less) with the occasional communion type of service perhaps thrown in which confirms the Christian believer’s faith in their god and is their manner of giving worship, the presenting of offerings to the gods is perhaps the most core part of worship in polytheism. Music is of course not excluded from worship, nor is dance and other forms of devotion, but usually speaking there is some kind of substance offered in which you are “feeding” the gods. This is an important basic part of establishing and developing and confirming your relationship with the god or goddess in question. This offering is often encased in traditional methodology of procedures, gestures and symbols that tends to differ from culture to culture. For instance, Roman worship tends to be a lot more complicated in its formulaic manner than Greek worship. During my brief time with Nova Roma I did memorize each of the individual gestures performed for approaching the altar, addressing the god, praying, and presenting the offering. In contrast the Greek rituals have two primary gestures dealing with communing with the god: one in which the hands are raised palm up (although some say that to chthonic gods one should have the palms down), and another where the hand is raised above the head in a kind of crowning gesture. Unlike the previously described Roman gestures, these gestures are not sequential but are alternative…either one works.
Of course the ritual for individual gods is within the same traditional cultural context that is used for other gods. That is to say, there is little variance in how one would give offerings to Apollon than how one would do for say Aphrodite, Athena, Zeus etc. The ritual construction can be seen as the common road of spiritual travel in which the gods have a history of recognizing. There of course may be personal variations, but general the whole of the ritual in its skeletal form looks pretty similar. The only thing that I tend to leave out as a solitary worshiper unless I am worshipping in with a body of people (which has happened a total of one time) is the procession. Likewise if you are doing rituals in your home which has a permanent home/altar for the gods there is less necessity for purifying the area as our altars and shrines tend to be purified with our household in monthly rites at the Deipnon.
With Apollon the matter of giving offerings and worship gets a bit more complicated because it depends on where you are giving the offerings. Many people who are devoted to him will likely keep an individual shrine or altar for Apollon in addition to his usual place in the household before the doorway where he is represented as upright stone (traditionally a black stone…I am still looking for the perfect black stone myself and so using a white quartz stone instead at the moment). At the doorway the manner of giving offerings to Apollon tends to be rather simple, usually involved garlanding his stone in some manner, usually with laurel, and pouring libations directly over the stone. This more simple method is largely due to being a daily activity as people are entering and leaving the household to protect the integrity of the household as well as the person who is leaving/arriving. There is no flame lit, Apollon is a constant presence residing there in that stone by his own representation as being the very form of the stone itself. This is a trait he shares with Hermes as well as a couple of other gods who have similar forms. As the god is installed at the property and is functioning at the property, feeding him there at the stone reaffirms his establishment there and his protections there. It is done on behalf of the household in general, and really is not part of building one’s own relationship with him in a very significant way.
In the case of a shrine or altar in which you are inviting the presence of a god in your ritual is where you come down to the regular interaction and relationship building with the god. It is here where you are presenting gifts to the god to establish Kharis with him. For most worshippers this may be irregularly, at certain important feasts and holidays (such as in celebration of his birthday), for those who are devoted to him or are interested in developing their relationship more with the god this may be weekly, monthly or daily. Although the stone for Apollon Agyieus is still normally adorned and receives libations, the actual ceremonial offerings for Apollon Noumenios occurs within the household. I would consider this a kind of banquet of Apollon in which Apollon may be a primary deity being honored…a guest of honor, but in which all the other gods of the household are also provided for.
At this point I should divert off course for a moment and talk about offerings. In many cases when giving offerings for multiple gods it is best to give offerings which are satisfactory to gods present, unless you have the ability to give a separate offering to each god. Usually for Hellenic gods this comprises of fatty meats and bones, wine and breads/cakes, in addition to some kind of fumigation of incense (typically frankincense tends to be the usual). Of course in times where I am giving individual offerings to Apollon I may include other incenses he seems to favor (such as cinnamon, sandalwood and rose for starters) and can give libations of things such as rum, honeyed-wine and mead. Raw honey and milk are also great offerings for him. Now some like these brought to the altar with all pomp in special decorated vessels, which is a lovely idea and special vessels can affirm who the offering is for in a very visual symbolic manner (and a reason why there are historical cases in which special cups and vessels were reserved for the worship of specific gods..more commonly in Roman worship but not rare in Greek worship). At best I have special offering bowls that are permanently on my altars. If you are not doing some community procession to the altar I tend to recommend you already have the vessels of the offerings on the altar or on a table near the altar (I use my coffee table as my altars are all accessible from my living room at this point where I am living).
As I said before, if you are giving worship in your house purification of the area, unless there is some specific reason why you feel that the sacred space may have been violated or polluted, is not necessary as it has been taken care of with the vigorous cleansings and purifications that occur monthly. However, if you are in a new space or outdoors, sprinkling the area with khernips, lustral water, is a good idea. Also performed is the scattering of barley. Indoors this tends to be messy and problematic, so I have adapted this custom to a jar of barley on my altar which, before the ritual begins, I remove the lid and take out a handful of barley, offerings prayers to the gods as I let it fall from my hands back down into the vessel on the altar…symbolically dropping barley grains down on the altar. This purpose of the ritual act is the same if carried out a bit differently. Afterwards the flame of Hestia is lit, she who carries by her flames all offerings to the gods. Again, in household worship this tends to be symbolic as most are not in position to burn food offerings in the course of ritual, but does work in offerings of incense as a manner of releasing the perfume into the air for consumption by the gods. And before you start thinking that as Apollon is a fiery deity himself and therefore offerings to Hestia is unnecessary, I will be quick to point out that Apollon himself adores Hestia (as demonstrated in the myth in which he and Poseidon competed to marry her) and she had a prominent place of honor at a large hearth within his temple. Hestia’s presence is absolutely necessary regardless.
When it ritual there is a part of calling the attention of the god, and a secondary part of presenting the offerings. The former part tends to be stressed the most in literary works. Ancient plays often have lovely invocations of the gods in which the worshiper calls on the attention of the god in question. People often feel inspired to use these traditional prayers, whether particular invocative lines from a play, or, more often, from actual poems and hymns penned for the gods by ancient poets. The Homeric hymns commonly get used, as do the Orphic Hymns. And there are folks out there who are writing modern “hymns” for the gods that can be seen all over the internet, myself included! If you want to do it off the cuff, or compose something yourself, these usually include a greeting to the god, an adoration of the god (recognize the power of the god), recognition of a time that the god has helped you (if applicable), and other praise and invitation (the last part is especially noticeable in the Orphic hymns. This part never gets old, and becomes part of the most meaningful part of your worship. I go back and forth myself between off the cuff and ancient prayers as I feel inspired to do…and often I will do both! You are not only entreating the god to be present but also welcoming him, and celebrating his presence.
Manners of presenting offerings tends to vary from worshiper to worshiper. It seems as long as you are calling attention to the deity that you are offering this item on behalf of yourself (presumably your household too) and anyone else you wish to include, that this works well enough. I tend to go off the cuff with various poetic things that come to mind when I am giving offerings, but people who are just starting may be more comfortably having written formula that will make the offering meaningful and less nerve-wracking. Generally speaking it doesn’t have to be anything more than this:
” O lord Apollon, (fill in any meaningful epithets you want to address), please accept this offering of wine/incense/cake/etc that you may feast upon it and it may please you. Accept this offering I present to you on behalf of myself, my household (fill in anyone else you want to include) in thanks (you can include specific things you are thanking him for) and that you continue to bestow your blessings upon me/us (can also include anything in particular you need his help with more immediately).”
The offering is either traditional, or can be anything that you find is particularly pleasing to the deity. For instance it is usual to have some kind of pork offering for Apollon Noumenios, which may or may not have also something to do with the sacrifice of pigs to Apollon in the Eleusinia. As your ritual is about your relationship with the god, the only mandatory thing with offerings is that it is something the god enjoys, and if said god has any taboos on certain types of offerings that these are observed. And no, there is no taboo against alchohol with Apollon, as I have said before in my blog (and will readdress here) this is an assumption usually based on a particular rule regarding the Pythian games mixed with Neitzche dichotomy ideas where anything of Dionysos would be offensive given to Apollon. There is nothing, however, to support this and I have found this is definitely not the case…especially not for a god that the Orphic hymns call Bacchic.
After the offering you can include any kind of devotional activity to honor the god while he is present at your ritual, this often includes singing (or some form of music), dancing (my preference), or any further gifts you want to give or anointing of the statue, or any dedications you wish to make. This is the celebratory/festive part of the ritual if it is being done for a festival or any kind of special occasion (or if you just really want to just because). This is often a good time to focus on what form of the god you are honoring and for what purpose (in which most events ongoing would have been tied to this concept).
I do want to note that if you are including other gods in the ritual, which is common, that in my experience it is best to include them before Apollon (or whatever god is the primary god being worshiped), in that manner while you have invited and given offerings to “guest” gods and goddesses, the rest of the event stays on target of the main deity in question. The occasion remains about him while the other gods get to partake. For myself, I include the gods of the Orphic month that I am worshiping in and Zeus and Hera usually.
Finally the ritual concludes with a final offering to Hestia in thanks to her.
Well that is about it in a nutshell. If I have forgotten to write anything down I do apologize, but mostly I hope that someone has found this helpful!