Household worship is the cornerstone of traditional Hellenic practice. While we can cultivate wonderful devotional relationships with individual gods or groups of gods, the core that unites us is the cycle of practical rituals and ritual methods. You don’t need to be a devotee to do any of the things I describe below.
Before I get started, Labrys’ Hellenic Polytheism: Household Worship is a foundational book that I highly recommend. Labrys also has English-language content on their website. Hellenion has a great YouTube channel that includes some videos on shrine-building. Baring the Aegis has an entire category about household worship with fabulous tips. You can follow a Tumblr blog that walks you through possible to-dos and what’s happening in the lunar calendar even if you do not use Tumblr — just use an RSS reader.
This post discusses household worship from a pragmatic standpoint, and it doesn’t attempt to duplicate Labrys or any other resources one might find. Thus, I hope that people reading this post will visit the links above and (at minimum) read Labrys’ web page. It contains information about deities honored and traditional worship.
My primary goal in writing this is to ensure that there is a down-to-brass-tacks how-to guide that you can use to get started (and that I can link to whenever I am in a conversation where it’s needed). Some of this will be traditional, and some will be modern.
I have maintained sacred space in my living areas since I was twelve or thirteen. When I took shop class in eighth grade, the small bench I made in that class ended up being the shrine I used until I went to college. (I have no idea what happened to that bench after my parents’ divorce.)
When I was a college student, I lived in the dormitories, where incense and candles were forbidden for fire safety reasons. Most of what I needed was part of my room and board. I co-led my college’s Neopagan group during my final two years of school. Because it was an official college group, we had a budget with money allocated from the student activity fees, the ability to book space, and storage for ritual supplies. After college, I was in a weird space oscillating between my mom’s house and the apartment at grad school. I even lived in a tiny, one-room sublet for a summer during a grad school internship. I have had to make all kinds of compromises. Needless to say, until I was out on my own, household worship wasn’t 100% on my radar.
Here’s another way to look at it: Devotional relationships are like friendships that change and evolve (or fade) over time. Household worship is something one evolves into as one grows into adulthood and achieves milestones, whatever those milestones are. In modern society, where many of us have roommates well into adulthood, don’t buy houses, and/or no longer see marriage as the penultimate sign of maturity, an effective household practice will also take many forms.
The core of household worship is the set of offerings one makes to the household gods and the routine of rituals that happens as the moon waxes, wanes, and becomes new again. Depending on your ancestry and your relationship with said ancestors, household worship is a place where syncretism may come into play — some (but not all) people integrate culturally specific ancestor veneration at the same time they worship the gods of Hellas, and this is OK.
To worship the household gods, all you need is really a shelf or a table or some place that you can convert into a household shrine. If you live in a college town, this is the perfect time of year to acquire this pillar of devotion (🤣) because students are jettisoning their stuff at graduation. Hermes is the guardian of curbside lucky finds. If this is not accessible to you, make space on your floor (or wall, if that is necessary) that you can dedicate to the gods. Anything is better than nothing. If you have disposable income, investigate what fits your budget.
You do not need a separate shrine space for every deity, either. My household shrine is also my general-purpose I-am-honoring-gods shrine. (I have other shrines, but my creative writing godposse is enormous, my professional patrons need lots of space, and I have a separate shrine for the Erinyes.)
The biggest thing to remember is that any ancestor or Chthonic god veneration should be kept separate from the place where you honor the heavenly and world-surface gods. Ideally, you would even use separate libation vessels and receptacles. In household worship, many make offerings to Ouranic deities according to specific lunar calendar cycles, and this can be done at the household shrine. The spaces for Chthonic gods and ancestors could legit be on a shelf just below the one you keep for the household gods.
What you place in your household shrine depends on what you can afford. If you are hurting for money, save and clean several glass jars you use for pasta sauce and other things. These can function as receptacles for libations or the vessels for making a libation.
If you have a bit of money, look in a thrift store for jars, pitchers, and nice bowls. (That’s also a good time to pick up candle holders and candles.) If you have disposable income that you can use to invest in the polytheist community, Etsy is generally the place to go for finding Hellenic artisans and artists who make some very beautiful and functional religious stuff. The Hellenic Handmaid is a great resource for libation receptacles.
When you’re done, here’s what you should have in your dedicated area:
- Something for pouring liquid.
- Something to pour liquid into.
- Something to hold khernips water.
But where are the divine images? This, again, depends on what you can do from a budget standpoint. Traditionalists occasionally say that the divine images of gods you need are statues and that two-dimensional representations of gods are not appropriate foci for worship.
In my mind, the bare minimum is having the names of the gods written down where you make the offerings. You can literally just use paper and pens or markers or whatever you need, write the names to invite the gods into the space, and tack that on the wall over the vessels you’ve invested in. This is not UPG. This is based on a passage in Mikalson’s Ancient Greek Religion. You can get as craftsy or minimalist as you want with this.
Beyond that, yes — you can print photos of the gods in public libraries for good prices, and you can scale up your shrine images and devotional items based on the purchasing power you possess. I guess you could even pull up digital images on your phone, make sure the screen stays on, and use that. In most cases, nobody is asking you to go hungry so you can properly honor the gods.
So. We have jars. We have some representations of the gods. Now we use them.
First, unless you can’t, I recommend having a lighter and a candle for inviting Hestia into your ritual space. You can get everything from a pilot lighter (the long sticks) to the electric Tesla lighters.
For ritual purification, khernips are important. You can learn how to make them by typing “how to make khernips” into Google. There are various methods. I add salt to water, set a spring of rosemary on fire, and extinguish the rosemary in the vessel. Then, I sprinkle myself with the rosemary. Other Hellenists may wash their face and hands. In the United States, rosemary sprigs are sold fresh in the produce section in plastic boxes. They’re usually between $2.00-3.50. You can also get them from a farmer’s market or grow rosemary and trim it. Put the rosemary in a place where it will dry and use the dried sprigs.
The most budget-friendly offering you can make to the Athanatoi is a libation of water. It costs little, and you are still participating in the symbolic act. The second most budget-friendly way is to go to ALDI and buy inexpensive boxed tea or other beverages. You can brew the tea and offer what you can. I offer tea alongside incense in the morning because I brew tea to bring to work, and I don’t go through wine fast enough to use it before it goes bad. Find a solution that works for you. Traditional offerings are available at sites like Neokoroi.org.
Incense and incense holders are another investment you can make in your household shrine. Do not use a charcoal burner indoors due to the carbon monoxide risk. If you can occasionally go outside and burn resin incense in a charcoal burner, that’s an excellent treat for the gods, but stick and cone incenses are perfectly all right for apartment-bound humans with zero access to a backyard.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, I’ll go into what my morning routine looks like. I use a lunar calendar of offerings based on HMEPA and a few other sources. Deities who do not appear on that calendar, such as Dionysos, may receive offerings on gap days depending on what I deem necessary.
After I shower in the morning, I go to the shrine, light Hestia’s candle, and purify water for khernips. I sprinkle it on myself. I light incense for Hestia and Household Zeus. Then, I make a libation of hot tea to the Agathos Daimon and Hestia. If the day is sacred to a god, I pray to the god, light incense, and read from an Orphic or Homeric Hymn. Finally — on days I plan to leave home — I make offerings to Hekate, Hermes, and Apollon Agyieus. Depending on the number of gods honored and how, the prayers can take anywhere between 5-20 minutes. Prayers to professional patrons fit in here, too, at the beginning of my work week.
Disposing of offerings is another complicated topic. Because I am an apartment-dweller, I use my kitchen sink — but only after I have scrubbed and cleaned it. I rarely ever offer solid food. Others with more access to green spaces might dispose of offerings outdoors. The most important thing is to be courteous and respectful of the gods and what has been offered.
That’s my extremely bare-bones beginner’s guide to household worship as it stands right now. I hope that this has been helpful, and my goal is that at least 80% of the newbies reading this feel like they have enough information to get off to a good start.