Greek Religion

Greek religious practices

Fast Facts: Greek religious practices
Overview Animal sacrifice, harvest offerings, festivals, games, processions, dance, plays, in honor of the gods. Secret initiations and rituals in mystery religions.

The most widespread public act of worship in ancient Greece was sacrifice, especially the blood sacrifice of animals. The temples of the Greek religion generally were not public gathering places where people gathered socially for collective indoor prayer; most temples were little more than boxes that held a cult idol of the deity. Rather, the temples were part slaughterhouse and part barbecue; oxen, sheep, horses, swine, dogs, various birds, and almost every kind of beast, be it fur, fish, or fowl, were offered as sacrificial victims to one deity or another, again depending chiefly on local custom. When we are told in studies of mythology that "horses are sacred to Poseidon" or roosters to Hermes, what this meant first and foremost was that these animals were customarily offered as sacrifices to those gods. Most sacrificial victims were food animals; for these, the usual practice was to offer the god the blood, bones, and hide of the victim, while the worshippers kept and ate the rest.

Votives were gifts offered to the gods by their worshippers. They were often given for benefits already conferred or in anticipation of future divine favors. Or they could be offered to propitiate the gods for crimes involving blood-guilt, impiety, or the breach of religious customs. They could be given either voluntarily or in response to demands by the cult's priesthood that the donor fulfill a religious vow or honor some religious custom.

Votives were kept on display in the god's sanctuary for a set period of time and then were usually ritually discarded. Bronze tripods, prize cauldrons and figurines, terracotta tablets and figurines, lamps, and vases are typical examples. Armor, weapons, jewelry and other more personalized items were dedicated in large numbers, along with marble statuettes and reliefs. Some of the healing sanctuaries housed replicas of body parts donated in thanks for or in hope of cures. Large sculptural monuments in bronze, marble and other costly materials were routinely dedicated by either private donors or individual city-states in the great Panhellenic sanctuaries like Olympia and Delphi.

The Roman formula expressed the attitude of worshippers to their gods in the formula do ut des; I give sacrifices, so that the god will reward me in return. Public worship was aimed at pleasing the gods so that the gods would send rain, good harvest, military victories, and other public blessings. Private sacrifice was offered for personal goals. Prayer was highly formulaic and ritualized. Most places did not have professional full-time clergy; priests were local officials whose priesthoods were not full time jobs. Major religious sites such as the oracles of pilgrimage brought in enough spiritual tourism to need a full-time clergy.

The virtues fostered by Greek religion were chiefly respect for the gods, who were majestic (sebastos, σεβαστος) and sublime (semnos, σεμνος) Given the variety of rituals and traditions in the Greek religious state, the believer was obliged to hold the faiths of his neighbours in a similar regard to those of his own city. Those who broke the boundaries of the sacred were considered to be rendered impure thereby. These rules held even in the absence of other circumstances; for example, Orestes was pursued by the Furies for the murder of his mother Clytemnestra to avenge her murder of his father Agamemnon, even though Orestes slew him in what he considered to be his duty. Still, the sacred boundaries and laws must be upheld, and Orestes was unable to win free from the Furies until he was absolved by Athena and performed a quest imposed by Apollo.


    - "Greek religion." Wikipedia. Jan. 20, 2005. This article incorporates text from this source under GFDL .

Article Info

Title Greek religious practices
Last UpdatedJanuary 28, 2021
MLA Citation “Greek religious practices.” 28 Jan. 2021. Web. Accessed 22 Jan. 2022. <>