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Libations are a wonderfully straight forward concept within the realm of ancient Greek ritual. They happened. They happened a lot. The excess of libations and the manner they were carried out were very Greek–so intrinsically tied to how the Greeks did ritual that when Greeks observed other countries doing religious rituals they explicitly mentioned the lack of libations. For instance, when describing the Persians:
In describing Persian sacrifice, Herodotus seems to concentrate specifically on those aspects which differentiated it from the Greek. They had no altar, fire, libation, flute-music, garlands or sprinkled meal; the sacrificer crowned his head-dress, usually with myrtle, took the animal to a holy place and called on the god. Prayers for king and country only were allowed. (The Greek World)
And again when describing the Scythians:
The Scythians similarly did not use statues, altars or temples, except of Ares. Their method of sacrifice was always the same: the victim’s front feet were tied together, and the sacrificer pulled on the rope from behind to throw the animal down, before calling on the appropriate god. He put a noose round its neck, with a short stick under the cord which he twisted until the creature was choked. There was no fire, no offering of first-fruits, no libation. (The Greek World)
We can assess from these examples that libations were a predominately, if not uniquely, ancient Greek tradition. Nearly every dinner mention involves a libation (even without an accompanying offering or sacrifice). Libations were also used in what are called propitiatory sacrifices and offerings–these are also known as “appeasement” offerings (it is noted repeatedly that Zeus gets the predominate amount of these as a household god and as the ruler of the pantheon). They were also, naturally, used during rituals and festivals as part of the ceremonies. However, I hesitate to say libations took place during every offering and sacrifice. After all, the reasons for why the ancient Greeks would offer to the gods are endless and they would not offer a libation while gifting, say, a small tin trinket to a temple.
Now, how does one give libations in a traditional manner? You have a liquid (traditionally it would be honey, milk, wine, oil, and/or water), you decide who the liquid will be given to (and dedicating it to the whole pantheon is completely fine) and then you sprinkle out some drops or pour out a small amount. And you consume the rest. The sprinkle/pour step can happen before or after you partake in the rest of the liquid. That’s all there is to libations. As far as rituals go, I’d say they are probably the easiest and most accessible. The language, the liquid and the dedication are completely interchangeable. What matters is intent, giving a portion to the gods, and drinking the rest.
Libations are the best case of the whole mentality of the majority of Hellenic offerings which is “a part for the whole”. Holocaustal offerings are a different thing altogether and were reserved for certain situations or ceremonies. Regular rituals, most festivals and every day offerings were of the mentality that you gave freely to the gods when you could and the gods reciprocated with their own affections and good feeling. And every day offerings were a much more relaxed affair. As it says in Greek Folk Religion, “At the end of the daily meal a few drops of unmixed wine were poured out on the floor as a libation to Agathos Daimon.” (pg 46) This casual approach is a common mention. After all, think of the wide variety of personal practices we all have–most people are going to be more casual in their worship and relationship with the gods then, say, high priests.
An interesting case that perfectly encapsulates the idea that libations were offered “a part for a whole” is actually found in a case law book entitled Trials from Ancient Athens by Christopher Carey. Carey includes a transcription from a testimony from a homicide case and the witness states:
After dinner, naturally, since one was sacrificing to Zeus of Possessions and entertaining the other, and one was about to go on a voyage and was dining with a close friend, they made a libation and offered incense for their future. And while Philoneos’ concubine was pouring the libation for them – as they offered prayers which would never be fulfilled, gentlemen – she poured in the poison. Thinking she was being clever, she gave more to Philoneos in the belief perhaps that if she gave him more she would win more affection from him – she had no idea that she was my stepmother’s dupe until disaster struck – while she poured less in our father’s drink.They for their part after pouring their libations took their final drink, holding in their hands their own killer. (39)
This is wonderful because it gives us the full timeline of a traditional libations one would see at a dinner (not during a formal ceremony). The murderer pours the poison into the drinks because she knows for a certainty that they will be drinking from the cup. The amount given during a libation is also evidently left up to the individual. However, it clearly shows that the libation is done at a flexible time (pg 131, Ancient Greek Cults). Despite other examples showing libations being performed as a first or only offering, these gentlemen are taking their libations after merriment and sacrifice had already been performed. Therefore, we can conclude that unless one is following a precise ritual, the timing of sacrifices, offerings and/or libations is purely up to both the situation and the worshiper. Additionally, we have the certainty that you were expected to not drink a portion of the drink, unlike in a food offering in which it is normally the exception, not the rule, that you consume all edible portions.
An important thing to know and remember, however, is that despite the evidence sometimes presented that many chthonic offerings were “sober” or “wineless”:
In a chthonian sacrifice (denoted by enagismos and other terms), the victim is black or dark, the somber sacrifice is performed at night on a low altar or over a pit, and there is no meal: the animal is burned completely. Chthonians are also thought to prefer wineless libations of milk, honey, and water. These generalizations fail because many supernaturals with a strong chthonian character, especially the heroes, regularly received festive, participatory sacrifices. In the study of Greek cults, it may be preferable to abandon the concept of a strong opposition between Olympian and chthonian deities, since the character of a given deity depends upon the context. (page 12, Ancient Greek Cults)
I understand that this was long but it can be easily summed up as thus: libations are an important and vital part of the everyday rituals of Hellenic polytheism. They can be casual or high ritual, propitiatory or thank offerings. As long as one sprinkles or pours out a small portion and directs their libation to an entity or a group of spirits/deities you can successfully complete a libation. Libations, in short, are for everyone.
A Parting Side Note:
Things that I came across in my readings that are of note but I will not be discussing here because of the depth of discussion they need and deserve: philosophical debate as to how libations reach the Theoi, the debate on the devaluation of the distinction between khthonic and Olympian gods, the discussion on why the gods themselves gave libations, libations used in potentially psychedelic rituals (like Eleusian Mysteries or the waters at certain Oracle temples) and why khthonic libations are so often “sober”. Perhaps I will do future posts devoted to each particular topic or perhaps someone else will get there before I do. Regardless, these are all obviously linked closely with libations and are important for a deeper understanding and fascinating topics; however, I do not have the time, energy, or post space to cover them at this point.
Sources Used (may or may not have used direct quotes): The Greek Mysteries, a Preparation for Christianity, Paul Carus Trials from Ancient Athens, Christopher Carey Ancient Greek Cults, A Guide by Jennifer Larson Greek Folk Religion, Martin P. Nilsson Mysteries of the Oracles, Philipp Vandenburg The Chthonic Gods of Greek Religion, Arthur Fairbanks Magika Hiera, edited by Christopher A Faraone and Dirk Obbink The Greek World, edited by Anton Powell The Ancient Greeks: An Introduction by Stephanie Lynn Budin The Met Museum, online site, Colette and Sean Hemingway
Warning: Swearing, a little violence towards women
Summary: You were apart of The Avengers, in love with Captain America and suddenly everything is different. Two years later, you’re engaged to a man named Ryan and telling yourself you’re over Steve Rogers and The Avengers, but that might not be the truth. When your secrets start coming to the surface, you have to face the reality that you’ve been trying to bury for two years. Will you say I Do picturing Steve’s face or will you come to your senses and face what’s staring back at you?
A/N: Don’t forget I am doing a Deleted Scenes for this, send in (ASK’s) anything you want to see, or questions you have from the story and I’ll be writing deleted scenes for each one I get!!
(Steve POV in some places, italics are flashbacks)
Flashing your badge at the officer, he opens the gate as you
step through you tuck your loose waves behind your ear, heading for the table,
pulling out the chair you sit down, coming eye level with Ryan.
“You have questions.” You look at him from across the small
“I find it funny, I’m in here and yet you’re the killer
whose walking free.” His lips curled in disgust.