Urban Hellenistai & Food Sacrifices

A question I see coming up frequently enough on Hellenic lists concerns food sacrifices. Many of the responses are impractical for urban dwellers, but some are actually very practical.

First off, let me state that in Hellenic practises, food sacrifices are a tradition that goes back to ancient worship. In ancient times, there were two kinds of food sacrifices: offering of a small portion or whole serving of food to non-Cthonic deities; and the offering of the whole of the servings to the Cthonic deities, sometimes with the adage “What the Underworld receives is [Theirs] — They Below receive all in full, because it is NOT our time and we are not ready to sup at Their table just yet.” Many food offerings were burned in the hearth of the home, or the hearth of the polis during large community fests and rituals, some weren’t. Some temples had designated areas for perishable (food) and non-perishable offerings, and sometimes when the perishables would stack up, they would be carted away to a separate area just outside the city — sort of a “landfil” to the Theoi.

Some urban homes still have working fireplaces, though those are less common, these days. If you live in a house or apartment that has a working fireplace, by all means, feel free to burn your offerings safely there. All that’s required is that you know how to operate your fireplace safely.

If you have a backyard, many urban-dwellers these days have a small designated “composting” area where food-waste is casually dumped and biodegredation is assisted with the help of red worms. This option is essentially keeping with the ancient temple practise, only on a smaller scale for your house. If you have a backyard and you know another Hellenist who does not, you can also feel free to invite them to use your “Divine composting heap” for food sacrifices; they can accumulate food offerings in a large snap-locking container (Rubbermaid or Tupperware are familiar brands) that they can keep in the fridge or under the sink. This will also help in aiding the development of an Hellenic community in your area, and community was very important in ancient practises, and is something that can be maintained today, with people who wish to cultivate it. Also keep in mind that, if you rent your house rather than own it, composting may be something restricted by your landlord, so be sure to read your lease or call them, first.

If you’re all alone, or neither you nor anyone else in your local Hellenic community can volunteer a backyard compost, another idea is to compost indoors. Some places sell composting containers for people in apartments or houses with small backyards, but anything conceivably large enough, like a 30lb bucket the previously held kitty-litter, can work. You’ll need both a container of appropriate sie, a few red composting worms, and (optionally to some, required to others) a base of potting soil. If you garden indoors or out, the resultant compost can be used for that — or if you don’t do that, this can get you started — after all, there is absolutely no shortage of plant-life sacred to the Theoi, and much of it can be grown indoors.

Other options I’ve seen from others include:

  • Have a separate trash receptacle for food sacrifices. I don’t like this, but I can understand it’s practicality for one who doesn’t have the time, patience, or skills for indoor gardening.
  • If you have a gas cooker, but no fireplace, burn your sacrifice under the broiler. I’ve done this on rare occasion. It can take forever, and if you’re not careful, it may set off your smoke-alarms. If you have non-Hellenic room-mates, be sure to make sure to use basic courtesies before burning a sacrifice under a communal broiler.
  • Some suggest eating it oneself, citing references to Egyptian priests doing such. This may not be appropriate if you do not wish to incorporate Kemetic worship or practises into your own.
  • Some state that they just leave the food sacrifices outside, bury it, or place it in trees. This may not be practical or even possible for many urban-dwellers. It may also be grounds for eviction in some apartment complexes.
  • Some have even suggested placing a serving of a meal in a plain paper lunch sack and leaving it at a city crossroads for Hekate or some One else. Others have suggested giving the meal to a homeless person as an offering to her.

If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to comment with them.

Or if you have a funny story about leaving or otherwise making a food sacrifice to the Theoi, then by all means, let me know! I’m still fighting off this awful cold for another day, so maybe a laugh will help that out.


7 thoughts on “Urban Hellenistai & Food Sacrifices

  1. I have seen many different things happening.

    Things for Hekate, we manage to leave in crossroads… they are made of asfalt, yes, but it is Her place.

    Sometimes, we burn it all into a big caldroun with a bit of alcohol.

    Other times, we do leave a part of the “primicias” under trees… some street dogs seem to be quite happy about it…

    Still, we do have some space to do so, there is a great place close to our ritual places with nice trees and discret places.

    What we try our best to do is to make these offerings into not huge portions, so it does not bother anyone. And, as we are in Brazil, it does not matter if we are doing this for the Theoi or for the Orishas.


  2. Composting sounds like a good idea in the kinds of situations you described. I’ll keep that in mind for my post-graduation to-do list.

    Leaving food outside is better in a dorm room setting because animals (even worms and fish, I’m afraid) are forbidden—“health hazards”—and there are regions on campus that are out of the way enough to make perishable offerings.


  3. I leave my offerings outside.

    A good idea for those with a garden would be to purchase one of those fire pits. You could burn offerings in there!


  4. I leave mine for the rats. Yes, I have a rat infestation in my yard, but it’s OK. One of the rats is a large, white rat that is friendly to humans. He feels like an omen of sorts to me. I should say I don’t “leave the offerings for the rats” but rather, I leave them under a favorite tree out in my yard. Inevitably, though, the rats eat it within hours.


  5. Concerning the mention of the Kemetic practice of eating the food offering yourself, I would like to add a bit onto that as a Kemetic myself.

    There were cases in which eating the food offerings were taboo in ancient Egypt, and in modern Kemetic practices today. The number one “no no” is to eat the food offerings for the akhu, or “the Blessed Dead.” What is offered to them becomes theirs, whether it be food, objects, or whatever. The perishable things are disposed of once the akhu have gained substance from them and replaced with fresh offerings.

    The practice of eating the food offerings to the Neteru, the Kemetic Gods, is in the belief that when They take what They need for substance from the offerings, They bless the offering in return for those who offered it in order to provide health and life to the worshipers. In eating it, the worshiper receives the Gods’ blessing.

    There have been some reports of people being able to eat foods that they are otherwise allergic to if first offered to the Neteru, but the only experience I had akin to that was having grown allergic to one of the offerings from its repeated exposure. But then, I’m allergic to almost everything, so it’s not really too much of a surprise for me.


  6. In modern Hindu temple and home practice as well, food offerings to certain devas like Ganapati are de rigueur. Even animal sacrifices to Kali are consumed by the offerer, the priests lops off a goat's head, Kali accepts the blood and then the rest of the goat becomes barbecue for a picnic. Animal sacrifices in Greece and Rome and Mesopotamia were handled much the same way, which is why in the New Testament, Paul of Tarsus has to give advice to his followers about eating such meat from the temples that had been sacrificed.


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