Greek Gods 101

Household Gods

We usually think of ancient Greek religion as taking place in temples, but there was as well a strong aspect of household worship.

For the most part, household gods were not only household gods–they usually had community temples and festivals as well, although the god was often known by a different epithet or epithets within the household.

The following is a short list of gods who were frequently worshipped within the home.

Hestia

Hestia is the household god par excellence. She is far, far more than that–she occupies a central role in the ancient Greek religion and plays a part in not only household worship but civic rites as well, and takes part in the offerings given in rites honoring most other gods–but she was a center of household worship. She received offerings at family meals, and each new child born to a household was presented to her.

The hearth of each home belongs to Hestia.

Hekate

The hekataion was the home of Hekate within the household, and stood before the door, at the threshold of the house. The many small Hekate triformis statues still in existence may have served to represent the goddess in this context.

Hekate protected the household from evil from outside the home.

Hermes

Hermes was represented before a home in the form of a herm, typically a four-sided pillar with the head of the god on top and an erect phallus on the front. The herms within a city brought good fortune to the city (the destruction of the herms in Athens in the 5th century BCE was a serious crime), as a household’s herm did to the individual home. The herm had a practical function as well, serving as a boundary marker for the property on which it stood.

The herm was a home’s guardian, and would be anointed with oil or draped with garlands by individuals before their homes.

Other herms stood by the side of country roads and thoroughfares, again providing both protective and practical functions for travellers. The earliest forms of these were simple piles of stones which served as road markers.

Apollo Agyeius

Apollo Agyeius was represented before the home in the form of a conical stone or pillar. He protected the household from evil.

Zeus Herkeios (Zeus of the Courtyard)

Zeus Herkeios had an altar in the courtyard of the home, out in the open, where he received his offerings. Possession of such an altar was the mark of a good citizen; without it, one would not be eligible to hold certain offices. It is probable that only households of a certain standing would be expected to have an altar to Zeus Herkeios.

While the precise realm of Zeus Herkeios is uncertain, it seems likely that he protected not only the physical house but the family within the household as well; he would be a protector of the family over generations.

Zeus Ktesios (Zeus of the Storeroom, Zeus of Possessions)

Zeus Ktesios was represented in the storeroom of the home in an interesting and unique way; the householder took a two-handled jar with a lid, wrapped it in white wool, and filled it with an “ambrosia” made from water, olive oil and fruits. The jar was closed and kept in the home’s storeroom or larder.

His concern was the prosperity of the household; the presence of Zeus Ktesios within a home would ensure its material security and wealth.

Zeus Meilichios (Kindly Zeus, Zeus the Mild)

Zeus Meilichios was a chthonic or chthonian deity, which is to say that he had power beneath and within the earth. While he could be dangerous, he could also provide great gifts and blessings if treated properly. He was a giver of wealth and abundance and was often represented in the form of a snake, underlining his association with the underworld.

Although Zeus Meilichios was primarily worshipped by individuals, in Athens he was honored with a community festival as well, the Diasia.

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