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The gods of the Greeks have been casting their spell over humanity for over 3,000 years. They have been ever present in the Western World (and beyond) since the time of ancient Athens and Alexander the Great. In antiquity their worship could be found in India and the British Isles. Today the Greek Gods are honored even further afield, and I don't think it's hyperbole to suggest that right now someone is whispering a prayer to at least one of them on every continent on Earth (with the possible exception of Antarctica).
Despite their presence in society, connecting with the Greek Gods can be challenging for some. Preconceived notions of the gods from both mythology and modern literary sources can cloud how we interact with the residents of Mount Olympus (along with their peers who inhabit spots other than Olympus). Here are some ways to begin building your relationships with the gods of the Greeks.
Read Mythology and Other Materials
Outside of literary classics, we also have real, honest-to-Goddess mythology written by the ancient Greeks and the Romans. Often that mythology is different from what we know, too! There are alternate versions of many myths, as people's understanding of the gods differed from place to place. And if much of it is contradictory in places, that's OK; the gods were always changing and adapting to the circumstances of their worshippers.
Because we know so much about how the Greek gods were worshipped and honored in antiquity, there are lots of books available that share the history of the Olympians from a historical perspective. Books about the worship of the Greek gods often offer an entirely different perspective from what mythology suggests. Deities such as Hera, who often come across in a negative way in myth, were absolutely loved and adored by their worshippers. Why were the Greek gods so popular when their myths often portrayed them in rather petty and arrogant ways? Because those myths provide only one part of the story, it's equally important to understand how the Greeks saw their gods outside of the tales many of us know so well.
The story of the gods does not end when the Pagan temples in Rome and Athens closed—it has most certainly continued into the present day. Modern interpretations of the Greek gods are just as valid as ancient ones. Why do the Greek gods continually show up in literature? Could it be because they still whisper in the ears of poets and storytellers? Absolutely! Percy Jackson is just as valid a way of getting to know Poseidon and Athena as Hesiod is! We humans are capable of change and growth, and our stories are always ongoing. Why would the gods be any different?
Sacrifices, Offerings, and Flattery
Anything given to the gods should mean something to you personally. It's tempting to raid the refrigerator and pour a bottle of bad beer on the grand in honor of Dionysus, but if it's something you don't want, it's not really a sacrifice. When offering food and drink up to the gods, that food and drink should be something you value and enjoy. That doesn't mean Aphrodite demands the best bottle of Pinot Noir at your house, only that maybe you should share a small pour for her.
The word "sacrifice" summons up sinister connotations for some, but a sacrifice is really just an offering. We offer things to the gods so that we can win their favor and show our respect for them. At my house we are most likely to offer the gods wine. We do this because we know that the gods liked wine in antiquity, but also because it's easy. An offering of wine can be easily poured into a goblet or bowl and then gotten rid of later, or simply left to dissipate. An offering of wine can also be poured directly onto the ground. However you choose to make an offering, just make sure to address the gods as you leave your offering so the gods know that what you are doing is for them.
Food stuffs also make for great offerings. Because of animal sacrifices, we know the gods liked meat back in the day, especially lamb and goat. But sweet cakes, honey, and olive oil were also frequently given by the Greeks to their gods. Small amounts of food can be shared with the gods by leaving that food in an offering bowl for several hours and then disposing of what remains in the garbage or compost afterwards (never eat an offering!) or left in a bush or secluded spot outdoors. The gods don't "eat" food like you, or I do, but those of us who give them frequent offerings believe that the gods absorb the essence of the gift, and that's what’s most important.
Offerings and sacrifices don't have to be physical things, either. A donation to a charity whose values align with a deity you care about is certainly an acceptable offering! You could also write your own poetry or stories in honor of the gods. The time spent on such endeavors is its own form of sacrifice. And perhaps most importantly, the gods love to be flattered! (Who doesn't?) You could also simply read the gods poetry or stories others have written if it presents the gods in a good light.
Prayer and Ritual
We can pray to the gods about anything, not just about the things we want in life. Invoke the names of the gods and speak to them when you have a problem and let your feelings and emotions flow. Prayer is a way for the gods to get to know their followers. I chat with my friends, why not my gods? Everything I tell the Olympians strengthens my relationship with them.
I often say a little prayer when experiencing the mystery and wonder of the natural world. When I'm on the ocean shore and the foam from the waves tickles my feet, I thank Aphrodite for the experience. At Yule I like to whisper to the sun-god Helios, thankful for his return to the world after the year's longest night. Prayers don't have to be complicated things; they can simply be moments where we recognize and talk to the gods with whom we work.
I often write about prayer as a conversation between mortal and deity, but it's not always quite like that. Sure, there are times when we might experience a god directly speaking to us, most often in a dream or meditative state, but in most instances the responses of the gods will be subtle things. Perhaps when dealing with sadness you might feel a warm and comforting breeze brush past your cheek. Or when calling to Athena you might notice the hoot of an owl in the distance. To "hear" the gods we have to open up all of our senses and be receptive to whatever may come.
In Ancient Greece (and into the Roman Empire) both rulers and peasants asked questions of the gods at sacred centers of prophecy such as Apollo's sanctuary at Delphi. Oracles offered an opportunity to address deity directly, but the responses of the gods were often opaque and open to a variety of interpretations. The gods have always communicated in round-about ways, most likely to see how much attention we are truly paying to them.
If you are having trouble getting in touch with the Greek gods and feeling their presence, try invoking them in ritual; ritual spaces are a gateway between the world of mortals and the realms of the gods. We create sacred space and cast magickal circles because they make connection to the gods easier. Many of the most powerful experiences I've had with deity over the years have been in ritual space. And the Greek Gods have been visiting such spaces for over 2,000 years.
The Greek Magical Papyri (usually dated between 200 BCE and 400 CE) are a series of magickal exercises and formulas that invoke the gods of the Greeks and Romans (along with deities from several other pantheons, too). The ritual structure of the GMP resembles the rites used by many Modern Witches. I believe that the Greek Gods are comfortable in our magickal spaces because those spaces resemble ones found in Pagan antiquity. (And if you really want to have a unique ritual experience, you can use the GMP in your own rites!)
Of course, one does not need to call the quarters and bring out a sword or athame to cast a magick circle in order to feel the gods, but it certainly never hurts. As our relationships deepen with deity over time, it becomes easier and easier to feel their presence and communicate with them. In my own experience I went from feeling them near to me in circle, and then in prayer or when leaving them libations. Today they often show up unbidden anytime I experience something emotional (both joyful and sad), and I feel them when I'm out in nature and even in mundane situations. The Greek Gods have been a part of millions of lives for three millennia, and will likely be here in the millennia to come.
Jason Mankey is a third-degree Gardnerian High Priest and helps run two Witchcraft covens in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Ari. He is a popular speaker at Pagan and Witchcraft events across North America and ...