Mathetic Invocation and Offering to the Gods
October 5, 2014 3 Comments
The last post described a daily practice for people interested in working with mathesis, and how I use it for getting myself in line with the entities and powers present within this system: a meditation on the Tetractys, a meditation on the Greek letter of the day of the lunar month, a grammatomantic divination to plan my day, an offering to the god of the day of the lunar month, a pre-bed invocation of Hermes Oneirodotes for dreams, and a recollection of the day’s events as I go off to sleep. It’s all fairly simple and I described the method of each, except for one: the offering to the god of the day. I realize that not everyone has the same offering procedure: some go all-out with the gods with wine and food and the like, some make a quick prayer under their breath as they leave their house for the day, and some fall in-between the two extremes. I never really offered a method of offering to the gods, so I want to talk about what I do as a template for other mathetai.
While it’d be nice to make awesome offerings to all the gods, that’s pretty much going to be impossible; there were effectively an infinite number of gods back in the old days (not like that’s changed since), with regional rituals differing from polis to polis as they differed from town to town, neighborhood to neighborhood, or even household to household. Some people hold this god in high esteem, some that god, while nobody seems to really rever this other god even though they have a high mythological stature. It’s important to honor all the gods, but honoring the gods doesn’t necessarily mean to make offerings or vows to them all; all deities should be honored, but not all deities should be worked with. We can make a personalized practice and roster of gods by limiting ourselves to the deities have an important role in our lives: major gods relate significantly to our lives’ works, acts, jobs, and activities, while minor gods don’t have much of an active role. For instance, as a software engineer, Hermes has a huge role in my livelihood, while Demeter doesn’t since I’m not much of a gardener, planter, or farmer. Zeus as king of the gods has a universal all-ruling aspect to him, but besides honoring him as cosmic king, I’m not much of a prince or ruler besides myself.
Just to clarify: the terminology here of “minor” does not imply a generally unimportant or localized role, like how river gods or gods of a particular grove or street corner might be consider minor. Rather, “minor” only implies that one doesn’t have much to do with that god, like a software engineer with Demeter or a hippie pacifist with Ares. When making an offering to a minor god, the minimum we need to do is an invocation of them to praise them for the general work they do in the world and that they continue to bless us, however indirectly, by the people who carry out their work, by their general blessing to make our lives better, and by their presence that we may come to know and honor them more in a better way. “Major” gods, on the other hand, directly impact our ability to live and prosper in the world, and so we fall much closer to them than the “minor” gods. Again, the minimum needed for them is prayer, but a much more personal prayer, asking for the blessing of the god as we carry out their work and that we may receive their blessing in the work we do, and by it to
So, how do we know which god to honor on which day? We use the lunar grammatomantic ritual calendar I developed, where each day of the lunar month is associated with a particular letter of the Greek alphabet. Each letter can be associated with a stoicheic force, and one or more of the gods can also be associated with a stoicheic force, and so we honor that god/those gods on the day of that letter that shares a stoicheic force with that god/those gods. So how do we associate the letters with the gods? Again, let’s use our threefold division of the letters into simple consonants, complex consonants, and vowels:
- The simple consonants are associated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Cornelius Agrippa corresponds the zodiac signs with the Twelve Olympians (counting Hestia, not Dionysus) in book II, chapter 15. His method seems a little haphazard, but it works. Agrippa seems to be using a combination of assigning pairs of gods to opposing signs based on relationship (e.g. Apollo and Artemis, twins, to Gemini and Sagittarius) or pairs of gods to signs ruled by the same planet based on idea (e.g. Athena and Ares, gods of warfare, to the Martial signs Aries and Scorpio). However, we can expand this list to include closely-associated deities with the Olympians, such as Asklepios with Apollo, Pan with Hermes, Nike with Athena, Eros with Aphrodite, and so forth.
- The complex consonants are associated with the four elements and the metaelement of Spirit. Agrippa doesn’t assign these to the Olympian or other gods in his Three Books, although we can assume that the gods of these days directly pertain to the element of the day and, moreover, aren’t among the Olympians. I’ve settled on giving the letter Psi, associated with the metaelement Spirit, to Dionysus, since he’s the outsider god, able to commingle with gods and men and travel in all places above and below. Theta, associated with Earth, is given to any divinity of the Earth itself: Gaia, Rhea, and Kybele come to mind, but this also would include any flora or fauna spirits, the fae, gnomes, and other nature spirits of the land, mountains, or forests. Xi, given to Water and generally falling on the day of the Full Moon, can be used to honor Okeanos, Thetis, or any divinity or spirits of the seas, rivers, or lakes, but I also give this to the underworld gods Hades and Persephone, since deep waters often have chthonic or subterrestrial associations. Phi, associated with Air, I give to any spirits of the air and the mind, including the Muses and Graces. Khi, associated with Fire, is given to any spirit of light, fire, the stars, or otherworldly spirits, but given that Khi falls near the end of the month, I also give this to the fiery underworld goddess Hekate.
- The vowels are associated with the seven planets, and although one could honor the Olympian associated with each planet (e.g. Ares for Mars) or the pair of Olympians associated with the planets by means of their signs (e.g. both Ares and Athena for Mars), I reserve these days for magical operations involving the planets. Technically, the planets were considered either as the bodies of the Olympians or as titans in their own right, so I don’t really make offerings on these days so much as I call down the forces themselves. Alternatively, we can associate the planets with the seven directions (north, south, east, west, up, down, beyond) with the different winds (Boreas, Notos, Apeliotes, etc.) or other guardians of the directions (Erbeth, Lerthexanax, Ablanathanalba, etc.) and honor them, too.
However, in our lunar grammatomantic calendar, we also have two other types of days: three days that use the obsolete letters of Digamma, Qoppa, and Sampi; and three days that have no letter at all.
- The days of obsolete letters are given to our ancestors, heroes, and blessed dead, spiritual entities who are lower than gods and were human but are no longer among the living. These days have no stoicheic force, but the spirits that guide them are those that helped us become real in our lives; without our ancestors and blessed dead, we literally would not exist. I generally divide up the spirits of the dead into three categories: Ancestors of Kin (blood-related and otherwise familial ancestors), Ancestors of Work (masters and teachers in one’s studies, profession, traditions, and lineages, both spiritual and mundane), and the Ancestors of the Great (culture and war heroes whose work impacts us today though not directly, as well as all the forgotten dead). I honor the Ancestors of Kin on the day of Digamma, Ancestors of Work on the day of Qoppa, and the Ancestors of the Great on the day of Sampi. However, this division is kinda artificial, and it does no harm to honor “the dead” generally on the obsolete letter days.
- The unlettered days have no offerings prescribed for them. Moreover, without a letter or stoicheic force or spirit to guide or rule the day, these days are generally considered unlucky and unfit for most spiritual activity. It’s better to focus on the world itself today and get one’s cleaning, chores, and purification done on these days. Clean up altars and spiritual spaces, aerate the house, take a good long bath, and the like.
So, my overall ritual calendar (after a bit of fine-tuning) has come to look like this:
|1||Α||Moon||Selene, Hermes, Erbeth, Apeliotes|
|5||Ε||Mercury||Stilbon, Apollo and Demeter, Sesengenbarpharanges, Boreas|
|6||Ϝ||—||Ancestors of Kin: family, relatives, blood-relatives|
|8||Η||Venus||Hesperos and Phosphoros, Aphrodite and Hephaistos, Ablanathanalba, Zephyros|
|9||Θ||Earth||Gaia, Rhea, Kybele, fae, flora, fauna, lands, mountains, forests, etc.|
|11||Ι||Sun||Helios, Zeus, Lerthexanax, Notos|
|16||Ξ||Water||Persephone, Hades, Charon, Okeanos, Pontos, Nereus, Tethys, Thetis, bodies of water|
|17||Ο||Mars||Pyroeis, Athena and Ares, Damnameneus, Styx|
|19||Ϙ||—||Ancestors of Work: traditions, professions, lineages, guilds, etc.|
|22||Σ||Aquarius||Hera, Hebe, Iris, Eileithyia|
|24||Υ||Jupiter||Phaethon, Artemis and Poseidon, Malpartalkho, Agathodaimon, Hyperion|
|25||Φ||Air||Spirits of air and sky, Muses, Graces|
|26||Χ||Fire||Spirits of fire and light, otherworldly spirits, Hekate, Furies, Asteria|
|28||Ω||Saturn||Phainon, Hera and Hestia, Akrammakhamarei, Ouranos, Kronos, Khronos|
|29||ϡ||—||Ancestors of the Great: culture heroes, war heroes, forgotten dead|
Now, while one could adapt this type of lunar grammatomantic calendar to other pantheons, such as the Norse or Egyptian pantheons, I’d question why you’d want to do that. This is all based on the Greek alphabet, after all, which is tied up culturally and mythologically with the Greek gods. Before you go saying “Well, Thor is a god of lightning, so he should be given the same day as Zeus or the planet Jupiter!”, you might want to ask Thor whether he’s okay with that. Heck, even this type of calendar isn’t traditional at all in Hellenismos or attested Greek cultural practice (at least in Ionia, Hermes was honored on the fourth day of the month, not the seventh), but my gods don’t seem to mind it one whit, and they’ve given me the go-ahead to use it in a cohesive system with the rest of my work. Be respectful when trying to squish systems together.
So, say you’re good to go now with the ritual offering times for the gods based on grammatomancy and the lunar calendar. Now what? Now you need to make offerings to the gods, bearing in mind the major/minor distinction from above. In general, we can use the same format for the individual gods, groups of gods or spirits, ancestors, and planets, although the fine details will differ from each to each. The general format of offering I do follows the same course:
- Preparation of ritual space. It’s important to maintain a proper sacred ritual space to invite the god into, and this usually consists of sprinkling a small amount of holy water or khernips (ancient Hellenic lustral water), around the area chanting “απο απο κακοδαιμονες” (“begone, begone evil spirits”). I also make sure the lighting is right, not too bright but usually not completely dark, and I always make sure there exists an open window or doorway leading outside for the god to come into the room; of course, if you’re doing this outside, there’s no need for that last part. Also, always involve Hermes into your worship; after all, he is the messenger of the gods and goes between the gods and mortals, and helps to ferry our prayers and offerings to them, and their messages and blessings to us. Call upon him as Hermes Odolysios, Hermes the Road-Opener, before calling upon the god properly.
- Initial invocation of the god. At this stage, I open up the ritual by singing the Homeric Hymn to the god (usually if there exists a short one), or some other personalized invocation to the god to invite them to the ritual space. This sets the mood and formally announces to the gods that I’m calling upon them to receive my offering. I also ask them to be present to accept the offerings and devotion that follow in a gesture of goodwill and grace.
- Announcement of the officiant by name. I announce myself fully so that the god knows who’s making offerings to them. I declare myself by my full name, being a child of my parents called by their full names, and I also announce any magical or working names I may be using so that the god knows who I am openly and without deceit.
- Dedication of offerings. This is the part where I offer candles, incense, wine, oil, water, food, statues, or whatever I feel is good to give to the god. For some of my shrines, I dedicate new altarpieces and nondisposable votive offerings during this point, but this is a once-in-a-while thing. Usually, it’s just a liquid libation paired with at least one candle and one stick of incense.
- Singing of hymns. I usually dedicate the singing of a hymn, such as one of the Orphic Hymns, as part of the offerings being one of praise and honor, but sometimes this accompanies the offerings in fulfilling a different role, something that blends both the previous step of dedication and the next step of supplication together.
- Supplication and meditation. After I make my offerings, I request the blessing of the god in whatever senses I may need, or I may just sit back and chill in the presence of the god, meditating in their presence, conversing with them, learning from them, and the like.
- Closure of the invocation. I thank the god for their presence and for having accepting the offerings prepared for them, and I use the Roman closing supplication of “if anything was said improperly, if anything was done improperly, let it be as if it were done correctly” from the Iguvine Tablets. I bid farewell to the god respectfully, bidding them to go or depart as they choose to but acknowledging that they will be honored again at a proper time.
Optionally, if you’re of a more traditional bent, you might also consider making a preliminary and concluding offering to Hestia. In Hellenismos and ancient Greek reconstruction paganism, Hestia is given the first and final offering every time a god is made an offering to, since she’s both the first-born of Gaia and last-saved from Kronos (and, in a sense, last-born), and most altars of the gods doubled as hearths for the family. I don’t do this, and you can read more about my own work with Hestia in an older blog post, but it’s something to consider.
Just a note: whenever possible, the prayers and invocations and whatever should be spoken aloud, at least loud enough for you to hear yourself clearly. It was traditional practice in ancient Greece that prayers were meant to be spoken aloud, that even if the gods are, y’know, gods, they aren’t necessarily omniscient or mind-readers. Be direct and clear with the gods, speak your mind (respectfully, of course). Indeed, Sophocles in his tragedy Electra has Clytemnestra (not a good person, thus her actions in the play are against common practice) pray to Apollo (who is certainly not on her side) in silence and obscurity rather than being outspoken and direct as a way to suggest that such prayer is badly done:
Raise then, my handmaid, the offerings of many fruits, that I may uplift my prayers to this our king, for deliverance from my present fears. Lend now a gracious ear, O Pheobus our defender, to my words, though they be dark; for I speak not among friends, or is it meet to unfold my whole thought to the light, while she stands near me, lest with her malice and her garrulous cry she spread some rash rumour throughout the town: but hear me thus, since on this wise I must speak.
That vision which I saw last night in doubtful dreams—if it hath come for my good, grant, Lycean king, that it be fulfilled; but if for harm, then let it recoil upon my foes. And if any are plotting to hurl me by treachery from the high estate which now is mine, permit them not; rather vouchsafe that, still living thus unscathed, I may bear sway over the house of the Atreidae and this realm, sharing prosperous days with the friends who share them now, and with those of my children from whom no enmity or bitterness pursues me.
O Lycean Apollo, graciously hear these prayers, and grant them to us all, even as we ask! For the rest, though I be silent, I deem that thou, a god, must know it; all things, surely, are seen by the sons of Zeus.
Just…just speak your prayers aloud, please. You don’t need your son killing you with the blessing of the god you’re invoking because you decided to sleep with another man and want to hide it from the gods and other people around you for the sake of saving face.
So, let’s give some examples of worship. As might be guessed, Hermes is one of my “major” gods, being my patron generally as well as the patron of mathesis specifically, so I make offerings to him not just on his day of the lunar month but also lesser observances every Wednesday (the day of Mercury of the week), but let’s focus on what I do for his major offerings. Note that I have a shrine set up for Hermes, but you may not need one; it’s up to you, but I make full use of my shrines for my gods whenever possible. If you read closely into the following, you’ll catch snippets of the phrasing I use with the gods and can apply them as easily in your own offerings.
- At sunrise (or whenever I can), I ritually prepare his shrine by sprinkling holy water around it, and I open the window in my temple room. I set out four tealights anointed with a special kind of oil, and a stick each of frankincense, cinnamon, and sandalwood incense. I pour out his offering bowl of wine and clean it out, if needed, and pour in fresh wine and a dallop or so of good quality olive oil. I don a special orange silk scarf I use when doing my Hermaic priestly stuff, and I take up my ritual caduceus staff. Since this is the offering to Hermes himself, I don’t really need to have him open the roads for his own reverence, though it can’t hurt if you so choose to do this.
- I knock on the shrine four times (four being the number of Hermes) and I recite a personal prayer I wrote to Hermes as well as the shorter Homeric Hymn to Hermes (#18). I call out for Hermes by several of his epithets and roles, and I call for his presence with me
- I announce myself to Hermes as his priest, servant, dedicant, and devotee by my full name, my parents’ names, my magical names and mottoes, and that I have come to make him offerings in a spirit of love, thanks, honor, glory, and joy.
- I dedicate the candles to him burning for his honor, glory, exaltation, enlightenment, and empowerment, asking that as the candles shine their light upon the room, so too may he shine his light on my paths and empower and enlighten me. I dedicate the incense to him burning that it may fortify, sate, and cheer him, asking that as the incense rises to fill up the room, so too may he fill up my body, soul, spirit, and mind with his blessing and essence of his divinity and presence that I may be initiated deeper into his presence and mysteries. I dedicate the wine mixed with oil to him that it may refresh, please, and satisfy him, asking that as the libation has been poured out to him, so too may he pour his spirit into my life that I may be blessed completely by him in all aspects.
- I recite the Orphic Hymn to Hermes reverently, seeking that as my words ring out in the air, so too might they ring out throughout the entire world that all people may come to honor and revere Hermes.
- I ask for the blessing of Hermes in my life: skill in my profession, guidance when traveling, sharpness in thought, swiftness in talk, protection in work, proficiency in Work, and that he help me communicate and commune with all the other gods, as well as leading me through the mysteries of mathesis as he and I are both able. I ask him for his guidance on any specific matters that might come to mind, and I generally chat and enjoy time with him, meditating in his light and power.
- I thank Hermes for his presence, for he has come as I called and aided me as I asked. As he has come to receive these offerings, I bid him farewell; he can go as he will or stay as he will, but I leave him letting him know that he will always have a place of honor and respect in my life and in his shrine, and that if anything was done improperly, if anything was said improperly, let it be as if it were done and said properly.
Now, what about a “minor” god? Let’s pick Demeter, the goddess of fields and produce of all plants, who although I rely upon for sustenance and survival, I don’t much deal with directly. The format is overall the same but is much more pared-down; while an offering to a “major” god for me can last half an hour or more, a “minor” god’s offering can be as short as three or five minutes.
- At sunrise (or whenever I can), I ritually prepare a clean, raised space in my temple room by sprinkling holy water around it, and I open the window in my temple room. I don’t usually make offerings of light, incense, or libations to gods I don’t have much of a relationship with, though if I feel moved to do so, I’ll set out a tealight, a stick of generic temple incense, and a clean glass of pure water or wine without oil. I knock on the altar once and call upon Hermes Odolysios to be present with me and to clear the path from me to Demeter and from Demeter to me so as to allow my prayer to be heard and my offering to be received.
- I invoke the presence and blessing of Demeter to be with me in my life, to nurture me, and to help me honor her more fully as a human who relies upon the gods for his survival.
- I announce myself by my full name as a child of my parents, and that I have come to make her offerings in a spirit of love, thanks, honor, glory, and joy.
- I dedicate my praise to Demeter much as I would to Hermes, but without expectation or asking for reciprocal blessing; rather, I’m giving her offerings for her own sake and honor.
- I recite the Orphic Hymn to Demeter reverently in the same way I would Hermes’. If a particular god lacks a hymn, I generally praise them however I can with whatever comes to mind, or I just sit in contemplation of their presence singing a Hymn of Silence focused on them. Even then, if a god does have a specific hymn, I often just get by with a Hymn of Silence and contemplation with them praising them in silence.
- I ask for the blessing of Demeter generally, that she use her powers to help me in my life as I need them, and that I may come to be more aware of her work and her workers in the world that I may come to honor her more and more suitably.
- I thank Demeter for her presence, for she has come as I called and aided me as I asked. As she has come to receive these offerings, I bid her farewell; she can go as she will or stay as he will, but I leave her letting her know that I will honor her again, and that if anything was done improperly, if anything was said improperly, let it be as if it were done and said properly.
Overall, all my offerings go mostly the same, though the prayers and specific offerings might differ. Some gods prefer food, and I like offering fresh apples to Aphrodite; some gods like something done to one of the things on their altar, like making a notch in a specific wooden figure every month. My ancestors get separate glasses of wine, water, and rum, and I also pray the Chaplet for the Dead, sing the Mourner’s Kaddish, and meditate with them while I play the Eggun song used in Santeria. I rarely make offerings to the planets themselves, instead using the Orphic Hymns for their respective Olympian figures while I work with the planetary angels from my Hermetic/Trithemian work to honor and invoke their presence and powers in my life. While my calendar may seem full, I only make major offerings to a very small subset of them based on the work I do, and I generally pare down my offerings to the minor gods to just a quick acknowledgment on mornings I’m busy. It’s the major gods I work with who get focused offerings, after all.
So what happens if you happen to miss a day of offerings? Let’s say it’s the day of Kappa, where one honors Zeus, and you have Zeus as a major god in your personal practice. You get up early to make offerings at sunrise, only to remember that you have extra work to do in the office and need to leave early to make it home as you normally would, so you say that you’ll make offerings to Zeus when you get home. However, despite leaving early, your day has still more work than you expected, and on the way home there’s a nasty traffic accident blocking the roads that makes you even later getting home. By the time you get home, it’s already your bedtime, so you simply didn’t have time to make offerings. In this case, you could simply pare down the major offering to a minor one during a few moments of silence or peace in the office, or do it right before you make your nightly supplication for dreams from Hermes; if you can’t manage that, try making the offering the next day, or at least on the next day you’d honor the ancestors. So long as you catch up on the ritual sometime by the following unlettered day, you should be good, but this doesn’t give you a blank check to procrastinate on making offerings. Whenever you can, always make at least one minor offering a day to the god, gods, or spirits of the day, no matter how rushed or quick. Always acknowledge the gods each and every day; that’s the important bit here. If you can’t afford the time or materials to make a major offering, don’t, but always try to make some kind of invocation to the gods as an offering of praise and honor.
One of the takeaways from all of this is that, for the mathetai, Hermes becomes a major god for us all, uniting us as being his students; we’d be οι μαθεται του Ερμου, after all, the disciples of Hermes, so it’s proper to honor him as a major god for us in mathesis. Beyond Hermes, however, I can make arguments for all the others gods being both major or minor depending on what you do in your life, but for the purposes of mathesis, Hermes takes a central focus. If you already have a relationship with Hermes, consider bumping it up by making more offerings to him, at least once a month (either on the seventh day of the lunar grammatomantic month or the fourth day of the traditional Ionian lunar month), but maybe a “minor” god-type of offering to him as well every Wednesday as you can.