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  1. World
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22 March 2007updated 27 Sep 2015 5:44am

Worshipping the ancient Greek Gods

The different gods of Ancient Greek polytheism and how they are worshipped

By Nikolaos Markoulakis

What makes me a Greek polytheist today in the twenty first century, is exactly what made an ancient Greek a worshiper of the Hellenic Pantheon.

Greek polytheism today has to follow an a long-established pattern and the blueprint of our religious practise is the sacrifice, the offering.

The sacrifice played an important role in Greek religious devotion, which was practised and repeated more than once a day by a Greek polytheist and involved more than one divinity. There were the state’s sacrifices in honour of the city state’s main divinities and their cults as well as the private sacrifices in honour of the household gods, the family ancestors and the demes’ heroes and local gods. So, which of these two aspects of religious practices was the most essential in the ancient times and how does this apply today?

In order to answer that question we should first visit the ancient world and try to step into the shoes of an ancient Greek citizen at a specific location in Greece. We must not overlook the fact that every community had its own divinities to worship and every altar and / or temenos had its own cult.

On the basis of this fact Greek polytheism was an extremely diverse religion in its notion and practice.

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There were not just twelve gods but, on the contrary, thousands of divinities worshiped throughout ancient Greece.

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For that reason, I will select a citizen of the Erchia Demes, located near the area of the new international airport of Athens.

Erchia provides us evidence of its religious calendar, in which we can see what our ancient friend worshiped every single day throughout the year. He had the opportunity to be involved in sacrifices for statewide divinities, such as Athena Polias, gods of small distance districts, Demeter Eleusinia, local deities, Epops, Menedeius and Heroines and Pan-Hellenic gods such as Apollo Pythios. But what the calendar does not refers to is the most essential aspect of our Erchian friend: his household’s religious activity.

Household worship is indeed what makes an individual a part of his community, is the alpha and omega of the Greek polytheism. It is not just the local demes’, Pan-Hellenic and state-wide divinities that he should or could worship, but it is also the everyday worship of his household divinities and of his ancestors.

Zeus Kteseios, Zeus Herkeios, Apollo Agyeus and Herakles Apotropaios were the deities of an Athenian oikos (domicile). The performance of the necessary rituals of the household divinities by the household keepers was not just a matter of responsibility but an identification of his status as a legitimate member of the society. If we had to ask him where his estate is, we should query as follows: where is your Zeus Herkeios?

The worship in the oikos was a part of the everyday life. Sacrifices were offered on numerous occasions such as daily meal, demes and polis’ festivities and family celebrations, symposiums etc. Household worship, therefore, is the only connection with the modern Greek polytheism today. Whilst, state and community’s cults were optional, on several occasions, the Greek domestic religion was obligatory. Household religion remains today the main religious practise for every single Greek polytheist.

Today that community and state cannot hold such communal Greek divinities and cults, I feel that the household worship is the only practice of contemporary Greek polytheism which can be still linked with the ancient Greek religiosity at Erchia and anywhere else in ancient Greece.