Ritual Structure


This document is concerned with the conduct of ritual in Contemporary Hellenic practice. It is based on Ancient practice and on the practices of some contemporary Hellenic Pagan traditions; it is meant as a practical guide for anyone wishing to conduct an Hellenic Pagan ritual, and as such is fairly generic.

The structural outline for the ritual is as follows: it is based on a Modified Bonewits Model, a discussion of which was offered in a previous, more complete version of this article.



A: Gathering


B: Procession


C: Lighting


D: Scattering


E: Mixing


F: First Libation


G: The Hymn


H: Second Libation

(Variables, including Purifications)


I: Sacrifice

Reply From Deity

J: Ritual Reply

Identification With Deity

K: Agon


L: Sacral Feast

Statement: Requests & Success

M: Libation of Thanks


N: Final Libation

Ritual Ends

Ritual Ends


There follows here a detailed description of each of the elements listed in the Dexter column above.


A: The Gathering.

The usual opening of an Hellenic ritual is the Procession, or procession equivalent. This procession is specific to the ritual about to be conducted, and to the Deity to Whom the ritual is addressed. In ancient times the central feature of the procession was the sacred victim to be sacrificed, but there were also specific ritual figures usually included. The Priest or Priestess, the Libation Bearers, and the Basket Bearers, whose baskets contained the sacred barley. In ancient times the sacrificial knife was often concealed in the sacred barley. Sacrificial Dancers, musicians, and persons carrying ritual impedimenta for the ritual, and sometimes a statue or icon of the Deity. Atheletes were also often a feature, particularly where Games had been held, or were about to be held as part of or in conjunction with, the ritual.

A common gathering place in Ancient Times was the Prytaneion, where the Hearth of Hestia, with its eternal flame; and which served as the spiritual and temporal locus of the community; was kept.

B: The Procession.

The Procession moves from the gathering place, where everyone takes a place in order, to the site of the actual ritual: most usually a temple or sacred precinct.

Just outside the Sacred Precinct (or Temenos) there may be a Perieranteria. or hand-washing basin. In any case, just before entry into the Temenos everyone performs the Chernips, or hand-washing purification.

The Procession specifically ends at an altar of sacrifice. When the procession reaches the altar it moves around the altar counter clockwise until everyone is in place. If the altar is in a sacred precinct, such as may be surrounded by a low wall, then all but the celebrants stand outside the wall.

Priest or Priestess cries out: "Hekas, o hekas, este bebeloi!"

Response: "Let All That Is Profane Be Far From Here!"

C: Lighting the Sacrificial Fire.

The Priest or Priestess says: "Paresmen time, sonta tas theas kai tous theous."

Response: "We Are Here To Honor the Gods and Goddesses."

The Priest or Priestess then lights the fire on the altar, which should have been laid out beforehand. Most properly this would be done with a pure flame brought from the altar of Hestia, but this may not always be practical; and there are specific rituals in which the fire should be lit otherwise.

D: The Scattering of the Barley Grains.

Then the Basket Bearers move around, continuing counterclockwise, allowing each person to take a small amount of barley from the basket. As each person takes some barley, he or she moves to the altar and scatters the barley upon the altar. This is the actual act of consecrating the altar, and it is done by all present, thus binding all together into the sacred act. In the case where the altar is in a sacred precinct, people throw the barley upon the altar with some force, so as not to have to enter the sacred precinct.

The barley basket should then be placed near the altar (or just outside the entrance of a sacred precinct), where any late comer may take some and scatter it on the altar, thus joining the ritual.

E: The Mixing.

The Libation bearers then join the Priest or Priestess in mixing the wine and water. Ideally they are poured together into a krater from which the Priest or Priestess dips a portion into a cup or offering bowl of a kind appropriate to the Deity to be honored, but if this is not possible they may be mixed in the bowl itself.

As this mixing occurs (visible to all) the Priest or Priestess says: "Theasthe ta hudata biou."

Response: "Behold the Waters of Life!"

Note that the mixture is not always of water and wine. Certain rituals may require the libation to be of water only. The Ancients usually poured the wine libation to the Deity from a special bowl containing wine only, but drank only the mixture. Certain other libations, particularly those to Chthonic Deities, and to Demeter in particular, were made with milk or with milk and honey.

F: The First Libation.

The first libation is always offered to Hestia, with the words: "Hestia, thine is always the first and the last."

Some of the mixture in the cup is poured out on the altar, or upon the Earth, then the cup is passed around, each person taking a sip in offering to Hestia, or touching a drop to his or her forehead in offering. The Priest or Priestess takes a last sip, and the remaining part is poured out on the altar (or in cases where there is no altar, upon the Earth).

G: The Hymn.

This may be a formally constructed hymn, sung to music, or it may be spoken, or it may be an informal statement of purpose. It may be all of these. It should, however, include material about the Deity, as it occupies a place of both invocation and evocation. The image of the Deity is to be made central to the consciousness of the assembly at this time.

H: The Second Libation.

The Second Libation is offered to the Deity to whom the ritual is to be addressed, and is offered in the same manner as the first.

VARIABLES: The most usual thing to happen next would be the Sacrifice; but in some cases, rites of purification may take place before the sacrifice.

I: The Sacrifice.

The Sacred Victims (To Hierion) are brought forward. The Priest or Priestess touches each thing to be offered with the sacrificial knife.

In the event that the sacrifice is to take place in a sacred precinct, the person offering the sacrifice will bring it to the entrance, and the priest or priestess will convey it from there to the altar after touching it with the sacrificial knife. Otherwise the person making the offering will bring it to the altar.

There are two species of sacrifice here offered. In the case of a feast, a portion of the food to be consumed is selected by the Priest or Priestess from the plate of food and offered in the fire. There should also be offerings of the 'bloodless' species, that is, things which are put into a sacrificial basket to be later distributed to the poor and needy. These things also are touched with the sacrificial knife. Nothing which is offered in sacrifice may be used or consumed in any way by those involved in the ritual; nor may those involved derive any direct benefit from the sacral offerings.

Each one who is making an offering may say, as it is offered: "Lambane kai heydou anathema mou," or simply: "Accept and Delight in my Offering." Each one may also add any particulars he or she feels necessary, such as requests or thanksgivings.

When all offerings have been made, the Priest or Priestess adds incense to the fire and says: "Lambane kai heydou anathemata heymown."

Response: "Accept and Delight in Our Offerings."

In Ancient Times we are told that at "The Blow," that is, when the sacrificial knife stuck the victim, the women ululated. It is appropriate in our own times for the women to do so after this last response, this having the effect of a kind of cheer.

J: The Ritual Reply

At this point it is appropriate for there to be some form of ritual reply from the Deity. It may be that the Deity will take care of this; but it is well to have on hand some formalized version of ritual reply in case the reply from the Deity is not obvious. A reading from relevent historical sources, some text concerning the Deity central to the ritual, is most appropriate. Texts from Homer and Hesiod are the most revered, as they form the basic corpus of what may be called the Ancient Hellenic Scriptures, but even a statement ex tempore may be used in this place.

K: The Agon.

This is the part of the ritual where the most variables occur. In Ancient Times this would be the place for the Sacrificial Dances, such dances filling the time while the priests cut up the sacrificial animal and put the appropriate choice parts upon the sacrificial fire; the Blow itself was the sacral moment.

Music and Dancing, immediately following the ritual response, are most appropriate. So are Sacred Games. This is also the place where one might question the Pythoness, perform a Healing, perform a Marriage, conduct a funeral, or any number of other activities. Making the Eirisione, enacting a mystery; any number of 'exercises' are here appropriate.

The important thing to remember is that any activity which occupies this place in time is occuring in Sacred Space and Sacred Time. The Agon, like the rest of the ritual, is outside of time and space; between the worlds. This is the place of Sacred Rock and Roll and Sacred Roller Skating and Sacred Trampoline Bouncing. Whatever is done here is done for the Diety, and that focus must be maintained.

It can be the place where the Sacral Feast is cooked, which in Ancient Time would have been the sacrificial victim.

This is also the place where the stephanos of victory may be awarded, for Sacred Games held outside of the ritual, or for other accomplishments under the patronage of the Deity.

If a Diety should decide to shadow a mortal, the most likely times for it to occur are during the Agon or the Sacral Feast.

L: The Sacral Feast.

There was a time when Men and Gods supped together. In making Sacrifice and in the exercises of the Agon we have called upon the Deity to join us. When the Agon is done, the Sacral Feast is set and everyone eats. This can be something as simple as bread and wine, or as elaborate as a many course banquet. The important thing to remember is that this is a communion not only between mortal and Deity but between the mortals who share the feast as well. We are all joined in communion, in community, by the sharing of the Sacral Feast.

M: The Libation of Thanks

The Priest or Priestess may in this section elaborate on that for which the Gods are being thanked: Their Presence, a victory, blessings, some particular thing which was asked, etc., and ask for continued blessings or favors.

A Libation is poured and shared for the Deity for Whom the Sacrifice was offered. If the ritual was offered to more than one Deity, as in the Theoxenia, there is still only one Thanksgiving Libation. The Priest or Priestess uses the following forms:

"Charin echomen soi." is We Thank You, when addressed to one Deity.

"Charin echomen humin." is We Thank You, when addressed to more than one Deity.

The Response, in either case is: "We Thank You."

N: The Final Libation.

The Final Libation is offered to Hestia, with the words: "Hestia, thine is always the first and the last." It is offered in the same manner as the first, but when the Priest or Priestess pours out the last of it upon the altar, he or she cries out: "Houtos heksoi."

The Response is: "Houtos heksoi," or simply: So Be It!

This is the end of the Ritual.


Note that when Hellenic forms of address are used the response which follows is simply the English translation of the Hellenic; a statement of union and agreement between priesthood and congregation. If the celebrant does not feel comfortable with the Hellenic forms, then he or she should by all means use the English (or, if the ritual is being done in some other language, then that language).

Shorter forms, or forms either simpler or more elaborate may surely be constructed. The purpose of this document is to give a reasonably complete outline for the serious follower of Hellenic Pagan religion, so that intellecutal understanding may accomply the gnosis which is at the center.


An earlier version of this document included a slightly different order for some of the particulars. In further reading I encountered a specific directive from the God Apollon, via the oracle at Claros, regarding a particular placement, and in this revision I have acceded to the God's desire and made the appropriate changes.


--Ramfis S. Firethorn,

9 January 1997

Th.O.C. 7

(C) Copyright 1997 By Ramfis S. Firethorn

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