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Religious history (2)


The First Missionary War

by Michael Routery, dedicated to all those who have died because of the cross

General Beliefs of the Ancient Greeks

  The Greeks had a number of rituals that they applied to various events happening in their daily lives. Some were minor, happening several times during the week. Others were more rare, and were used only when the situation called for it.
  For the most part, Greek religion was an everyday event. The Greeks did not have a specific day on which they performed their worship ceremonies, like the Christian Sunday. Instead, the Greeks were constantly aware of the presence of the gods. To the Greeks, the gods were present in everyday places like the market, on the streets and in the people's houses. The gods were not confined to their temples or to their heaven. They were free to roam wherever they chose. Because of this, the Greeks were always aware of the gods' presence and were comforted by them.
  In front of all houses stood a little shrine, a statue that was dedicated to a certain god. Usually these shrines were dedicated to either Apollo of the roads, or to Hermes, patron of all travelers and the bringer of luck. These houses also had a god to watch over the food and the family's possessions, and a god to watch over the yard. Every fire burning in every fire place was sacred, and the Greeks even had a goddess named Hestia managing and protecting the fires.
  The worship ceremonies at the gods' homes (like a temple) were relatively rare. Usually the gods could be found all around, ready to protect and heal their followers. However, when the time came that they did in fact worship at the temples, certain rules had to be followed.
  The temples were very holy, some more holy than others. Some temples could only be entered during certain times of the year, while others might only be entered by the priest and nobody else. When the priest did enter, it was on very rare occasions, and he only entered for special reasons. These special reasons might include cleaning the temple or delivering a gift to the god or goddess.
  There were also sacred areas, usually gardens, that could never be walked upon by humans. For example, the grove of Demeter and Kore at Megalopolis, and the ground sacred to Zeus on the top of Mt. Lykaion were both off-limits. Anyone who wandered into the sacred areas would lose his or her shadow and die within the year. Many times, the gods personally determined a spot to be holy. A spot which had been struck by lightning was fenced in, and never walked on again. If a person had been killed by the lightning, he was not removed, but buried in the spot where he died. Nothing could be removed from a sacred area, even trees from a sacred grove (a grove is a type of forest). If there was garbage or other types of waste lying on the ground, it was the property of the gods and must not be touched. The land was not cultivated, or farmed, and was therefore overcome with weeds and rocks.
  During the more special events of a person's life, like birth, death, and marriage, certain rituals were required. At the point of birth, certain herbs were laid beside a woman in labor to fight off evil. On the fifth day after the child was born, the child was carried around the fireplace, and through this ritual was accepted into the family (unless he or she was to be exposed).
  When someone died, the Greeks believed a number of evil forces surrounded the dead person. A purification of the dead person was necessary to stop the evil from spreading, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of the evil completely. If these purification rituals were not performed, the evil could be passed to anyone who came near the dead body. Outside of the house that contained the dead body was a bowl of water that the people visiting could use to wash themselves with. This cleansed them of the evil attached to the house. Everything associated with the house, like water, food and fire, was unclean and had to be fetched from outside sources.
  Being “clean” was very important to the Greeks. This meant being without evil. One must be clean before sacrificial rituals, prayer, or when entering a shrine. For example, women who had just given birth were rejected from a shrine for forty days, and those who had come into contact with them were restricted for only two days. Those Greeks who had had a death in the family were restricted for twenty to forty days, and could not visit the gods until they became worthy once again.

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