< Proto-Indo-European Ritual

Proto-Indo-European Ritual

Reconstructing Proto-Indo-European ritual involves more difficulties than reconstructing the language does. The nature of our sources and the indeterminacy of our methodology combine to create many question, most of which do not yet have convincing answers.

The sources vary in type and quantity, varying from tradition to tradition. Some are more useful or reliable than others.

As always, the queen of reconstruction is linguistics. From this we are able to reconstruct a few ritual phases and metaphors (Matasovic, 1996; Watkins, 1995). We are even able to reconstruct a PIE prayer style. (Again, see Watkins for an extended, if technical, treatment.) We may even squeeze meaning from unconnected words. That words for “pray” and “pour (a libation)” were derived, in different languages, from the same root, *ǵheu- (Kurke, 1989), is certainly significant; that “barley” and “ritual law” are identical in their nominative singular forms (*yewos; the first is a masculine o-stem, and the second a neuter s-stem, so they are different in other cases and numbers) may be.

The other sources are archaeological and verbal.

Archaeological information is of several types:

1. The most valuable for our purpose is the depiction of actual rituals. We find these in Greece and Rome. They are on pots, frescos, mosaics, and sculptures.

2. Sacred space. We of course learn their construction of them was, in both form and materials. Sometimes we are lucky enough to catch glimpses of the ritual of their construction. Foundation sacrifices are widespread, for instance. In the case of Navan, we are even more fortunate; through a combination of dendrochronology and pollen analysis we can pin down one ritual to a year and season (Robertson, 1992).

3. Artifacts. These include ritual tools and gear, such as the “crown” from Hockwold-cum-Wilton, or tools, such as the spoons from the Thetford treasure (Johns and Potter, 1983), and the numerous drink strainers from the continent.

4. Burials. A burial can say a lot about the funeral ritual. Burials are also often the source of artifacts. There is, for instance, the large cauldron from Hochdorf, which contained a mead which included a hundred different herbs (Enright, 1996, 134-135; and Biel, 1991, 125-128).

The other type, the clearest but tricky, source is verbal. This includes the style elements I’ve already mentioned, with the prayers they are reconstructed from. We have, for instance, Cato’s prayer to Mars in De agricultura, the many prayers from the Greek tragedies, the Vedic ritual texts, and so on .

Verbal sources are of two types, which I will call texts and reports.

Texts are descriptions of rituals by those performing them. We have ritual manuals from Anatolia (e.g., those given in McMahon, 1991), the Umbrian Bronze Tablets of Iguvium (Poultney, 1959), and the embarrassment of riches in the Brāhmaṇas, Puranas, and Sūtras from India. These are sometimes frustrating, when they assume knowledge we don’t possess. The most famous example of this is the still-unknown identity of the plant used for Vedic soma. The texts are still priceless, though.

By “reports” I mean ancient descriptions by people other than those performing them. These can be from the same culture as the performers (e.g., some of the rituals in Ovid’s Fasti), or from others, such as Pliny the Elder’s famous account of druids harvesting mistletoe (Natural History 16:95). The latter have to be used carefully; they often come from people with agendas, such as barbarizing the enemy or presenting people as “noble savages.” Pliny, for instance, was a Roman, describing the enemy Gauls. Used carefully, however, reports can supplement our knowledge greatly.

Finally, there are survivals. These must be used even more carefully. The hardest part is determining what a survival is, as opposed to a more recent creation. There is a tendency to believe that any folk custom must be a survival of Paganism, as if new customs are never created, or as if non-Pagans are incapable or unmotivated to create them. (Hutton (1999, ch. 7, 112-131) discusses some of the problems with this.)

Nonetheless, survivals do have value. The clearest is the Zoroastrian rituals (described in detail in Modi), which preserve pre-Zoroastrian rituals to a remarkable degree.

Keeping all this in mind, with both sources and accompanying caveats, my PIE rituals are formed from these, in order of importance:

1. Reconstructed words and phrases. There are too few phrases to be of much use, unfortunately.

2. Implication of reconstructed words and phrases. Examples are *ǵheu- and *yewos, and mentioned above. There is also the case that we know that PIEs “oriented” themselves because words for both “right” and “south” often come from the same root (*déḱsinos > Latin dexter, “right;” Skt. dakṣina “south”).

3. Reconstructed ritual elements. These are reconstructed in the same way that mythology is. For instance, evidence from Irish, Germanic, Roman, and Iranian sources make it clear that sacred space was marked out with a metal instrument. We also know that PIE hearths and the temples of the hearth goddess were circular based on Irish, Roman, Greek, and Vedic evidence.

4. Reconstructed ritual principles. It is clear that sacrifice was central to PIE rituals, that it could have certain meanings, and that, if necessary, the animal could be replaced by bread, as it was in Zoroastrianism.

5. Comparative mythology. Although it is not true, as some believe, that rituals are enacted myths (or that myths are based on rituals), there is certainly a connection. To be sure, the relating of myths can be part of rituals; one need only read the Rig Veda or Homeric Hymns to see that. I have incorporated a reconstructed “Theft of the Sacred Drink” into my Nekter ritual, for instance.

More important, myths include pieces of rituals, or things that can be used to create or enrich ritual. For instance, the association between a woman offering a cup of ale and sovereignty in Baile in Scail, reflected in some Irish coronation rituals, is echoed throughout the Indo-European world (Watkins, 1978), and the Dindshenchas of Loch Gabar (Gwynn, 1924, IV:183) finds an echo in the horse sacrifice ritual found in “The Life of St. Molasius of Devenish” (O’Grady, 1892; I:25-6, II:24-5).

A good example of how I’ve used this is in the Nekter ritual. The female guardian(s) of the sacred drink is found in Norse, Greek, and Indic myth, even though it is only among the western Indo-Europeans that it is found in ritual. I believe that this ritual emphasis is strong enough to include.

At the other end of the spectrum, I was unable to use anything from Albania, and only one seasonal custom from Armenia (and even that was originally Iranian). This was due to the nature of the evidence; Armenia became Christian too early, and Albania was too influenced by Islam, to provide much.

The Baltic and Slavic cultures provided more information, but not much more; for the basic ritual only the support for the name *Perkʷū́nos, the structure of sacred space, and the practice of sacred fires.

Among the Celts, for the basic ritual, Ireland provided information on sacred fires, the creation of sacred space with a sharp metal object, and the ability to claim the sacrificial stake as PIE (O’Grady, 1892; I:25-6, II:24-5), as well as on kingship ritual, with its attendant sacred drink and horse sacrifice. Because of the extreme lateness of our sources, all we have from Wales concerns divination, which, however, also includes information on the use of sacrifice and sacred drink (see my essay on Indo-European divination). There is a lot on information of sacred space from the British Romano-Celtic period, but that’s all.

From the continental Celts, there is Pliny’s mistletoe ritual; while detailed, it doesn’t say much that helps in PIE ritual reconstruction and isn’t supported by any other text. We have curse tablets and ex voto offerings, but they aren’t of much help either. There is a fair amount of information on sacred space, however, both its material and its ritual construction.

The Germanic peoples are slightly more useful. Susan Mary Neff (1980) collected the evidence for Germanic sacrifice into one place. The sagas relate short rituals, the poems in the Poetic Edda might have had ritual use, and we have what appears to be a sacred space ritual in the Anglo-Saxon charms (Grendon, 1909, A13; 173-7).

In Anatolia, the Hittites left behind ritual instruction texts. The problem is, Hittite religion was so strongly influenced by the surrounding non-Indo-European peoples that it is difficult to tell what is Indo-European and what isn’t. I think that as work continues, this will become easier, and Hittite ritual will become more and more important in the understanding of IE ritual. Unfortunately, that is for the future, and I have not used Hittite sources.

When we reach Greece and Rome, we find, if not as much as in India, still a large amount of information. We find not just texts, but images, which give a perspective difficult to find in India. In Greece these are on pottery and in stone on temples. Some of the pottery is extremely easy to interpret, with mythical characters labeled. In Rome the images are in the form of reliefs, frescoes, and mosaics. There are even reliefs which depict steps in a sacrifice, like a cartoon strip.

There is, of course, a large amount of textual information. The Iliad and the Odyssey describe ritual; mostly prayers, but the latter provides detailed instructions for a ritual to the dead (Book 11). The plays, both tragedies and comedies, include prayers, and other parts of rituals. The Homeric Hymns are a good example of what was recited at sacrifices. It is likely that they were used like the Rig Veda or Poetic Edda.

Roman textual sources are more limited. Ovid’s Fasti, is, of course, concerned only with seasonal rituals, but parts of those are common to other rituals. Cato’s prayers, and his description of the suovetaurilia (De Agricultura, 141) describe other rituals. And so on.

Of special interest is what we know about the ritual of the Arvales Fratres. Our information comes primarily from their own records, the Acta Fratrum Arvalium, which allow us to reconstruct their rituals in uncommon detail. If we learn nothing else from this, it is that Roman rituals were far more complex than our other information allows us to reconstruct. (These are discussed, along with comparisons to Vedic ritual, in Woodard, 2006, a book which greatly influenced my sacred space ritual.)

Good summaries of a typical Roman sacrifice are in Ogilvie (1969, 43-51) and Scullard (23-4). Much information on Greek sacrifice is presented by Burkert (1985, especially 56-7).

The Bronze Tablets of Iguvium (Poultney, 1959) are a precious find. Written in Umbrian, a language closely related to Latin, they are the only extent liturgical handbook from the western IE world. These seven tablets describe some of the rituals of the priestly fraternity of the Atiedian Brothers in Iguvium at the time of the Roman republic. Although they describe only a relatively small number of rituals, assume we know certain things we don’t, and present linguistic problems (they are our only record of the Umbrian language, and not all the words are clear) they are a priceless source.

And so we return to the Indo-Iranian world. The people of Nuristan, also called the Kalasha, have been described in fair detail by Robertson (1896). There are even films of their rituals, some of which were filmed by Georg Morgentstierne in the early 20th century; others can be found on youtube. The Kalasha are, in fact, the last surviving IE Pagans. Unfortnately, what we know about their rituals doesn’t fit in well with what we know about other IE cultures (which alone should give us pause in our reconstructions), so more study of it is necessary.

As I have said, Zoroastrian ritual seems very ancient. This should be no big surprise, since ritual is very conservative, but that so much Pagan ritual has survived the Zoroastrian reform is fortunate.

Among the Zoroastrian rituals, the yasna is the central, both to Zoroastrianism and to us (Modi, 260-329). It is a sacred drink ritual, cognate with the Vedic yajña, in which hom (or haoma; cognate with Vedic “soma”) is made and consumed. The yasna includes a truncated sacrifice, the dron, in which, under Indian influence, bread has replaced the animal. In fact, we have a Pahlavi text which contains descriptions of what animals are allowed for it (Jamaspasa, 1985). In Iran, however, at least as late as 1964, animals were still being used (Boyce, 1989).

The yasna and yajña are cognate not just in name but in form. Big differences include that the yajña is much more elaborate, and in the yasna there are long parts dedicated to the chanting of Zoroastrian hymns, similar to the Vedas, which in the Vedic ritual are recited in shorter bursts, often simply quotations of a few lines.

Both are developments of an Indo-Iranian ritual of preparation and consumption of *sauma; neither is the ur-ritual, of course. I think, however, that the Iranian yasna is closer to the Indo-Iranian one. Vedic ritual has across the board been deliberately elaborated, with, for instance, the number of priests going as high as 17 (Houben, 2009). The arguments in the Brāhmaṇas about which form of a ritual is the proper one also indicates that one version is considerably more elaborate than another. If I had to reconstruct an Indo-Iranian sacrificial ritual, then, I would take the yasna, restore the actual animal sacrifice, replace the Zoroastrian hymns with Pagan ones, and make only a few smaller changes based on Vedic evidence. It has been a continual struggle to avoid an the huge amount of Vedic evidence to overwhelm the Iranian (a problem with the greater questions of PIE reconstruction), however.

Why is this important in the reconstruction of PIE ritual? First, the end of the period of Indo-Iranian unity lasted until the late third, early second millennium BCE (West, 2997, 9). Since the PIE culture broke up around 3500 BCE, this brings us closer to it by far than we can reach through reconstructions involving the other IE cultures.

Second, this reconstruction is consistent with the other IE cultures. Other than the use of whatever plant was used for *sauma as a replacement for PIE *medhu-, there is nothing in it which is strongly non-IE, giving us confidence that the Indo-Iranian ritual was IE, and very early IE at that.

Third, the Indo-Iranians lived close to where the PIEs lived. This means that they lived in an area with similar climate, and thus had a similar economy. They also, like the PIEs, practiced transhumance, a custom with a strong influence on ideology. Since Pagan religion is strongly correlated with climate, agriculture, and herding practices, it is reasonable that there had been few differences between the religion of the PIEs and the Indo-Iranians (less that that between other cultures and PIE, at least).

I have therefore used Indo-Iranian ritual extensively in my reconstruction of the PIE calendar of festivals, the consecration and consumption of the sacred drink, sacred space structure and consecration, and, to a lesser extent, the basic sacrificial ritual.

When you come right down to it, then, reconstructing PIE ritual primarily uses material from four places: Rome. Greece, Iran, and India, with the other regions supplying only the occasional bit of confirmation of the elements found in these four.

All these sources provided the bare bones of a reconstruction of PIE ritual. In order to make ones worth performing, I had to flesh them out. I did that with the following:

1. Prayers written in an Indo-European style. Of my methods, I think I was least successful in this. PIE prayers are very elaborate and carefully constructed, and I simply don’t have the talent or the understanding of poetry to write properly constructed PIE prayers, even in English. I hope that others will be inspired to do that, and that they will send them to me so I can post some of them here.

2. Elements that are found in one or more IE traditions, but not enough or widespread enough to be reconstructed to the PIEs. For these, I chose things that fit into reconstructed parts of the ritual and IE ritual theory.

One example is the call to silence, which is found only in Greece (Burkert, 1985, 73; Lambert, 1993,296) and Rome (Scullard,1981, 24). Greek examples are from the Iliad 171 (p. 237), “A reverent silence now … a prayer to Zeus,” and Euripedes, “Iphigenia in Aulis” 1563-4, “Then Talthybius, standing in the midst,/According to his office, spoke, proclaiming/A holy silence to the army.” A Roman example comes from Tibullus, 2.1.1, “faveat” (from favēre [linguis]), translated by Woodard (2006, 129) as “keep silent.” It is consistent with the common IE concern that rituals be done properly: anything extraneous does not belong in a ritual (or it wouldn’t be extraneous), and it might, therefore, disturb, destroy, or even reverse the desired effect of the ritual. With the IE beliefs as to the importance of speech, extraneous words are the most dangerous interventions.

We don’t, to my knowledge, find this admonition in the eastern IE world, which prevents a sure reconstruction, but we do find there a concern with the “right” words to be said at each point in a ritual. Here the emphasis on the production of the right rather than on the prevention of the wrong, but the principle is the same.

The call to silence was not an admonition to maintain actual silence. How could it be when prayers were to be said and songs sung? It directed those present to say nothing that did not belong in the ritual. It had a flip side; it meant that whatever was said was part of the ritual, even if unintended. We can see this in Rome, where the sacrificer covered his head with a fold of his toga and flutes played, both in an attempt to prevent ill-omened words from being overheard and being woven into the ritual. We see it also in India, where what is said is carefully circumscribed so as to prevent inappropriate words from being spoken.

In the end, then, what is only western IE turns out to express a good Indo-European principle. Not PIE, perhaps, but one of several ways in which a PIE problem was solved.

3. Things that, to put it plainly, I made up. Indo-European rituals were very complex, and I believe that PIE ones were as well. Even with the addition of IE but non-PIE elements, my rituals were simpler than PIE rituals probably were. There were therefore things that I deliberately added to make the rituals more complex. The treatment of the rope which “ties” the sacrifice is an example. In our pictures of Greek and Roman sacrifices the animal is held by a rope attached to a halter, or by the halter itself. It is in India that we find a complex treatment of a sacrificial post – what kind of wood, what size, what rituals surrounded it, etc. Outside of India, it is only possibly in Ireland that we find a sacrificial stake, or rather a tree used as a sacrificial stake.

Please do not misunderstand. I didn’t throw things in willy-nilly. My concerns were that these additions be consistent with IE ideology, as well as fitting in in an aesthetically pleasing way. I didn’t want to include just any old thing; my additions had to fit well. I wanted an organic unity, not a clean structure dripping with add-ons, some baroque monstrosity. The extent that readers can’t pick out which things like this that I added is the extent to which I succeeded.

I'm in the process of writing a commentary on these rituals which includes a point by point accounting for the source(s) of individual parts. This is an on-going process,and will involve working on pieces, posting them, and then modifing as necessary. So far I've posted a discussion of why the sacrificer uses an axe to kill the "animal," and am working on one on ritual garb. I'll post as I finish each section. In the meantime, readers interested in the sources of particular elements are invited to write to me and I will do my best to answer their questions.


Biel, Jörg. The Celtic Princes of Hohenasperg (Baden-Württemberg). In The Celts. ed. Venceslas Kruta, et al., 125-129. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1991.

Boyce, Mary. A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism(Persian Studies Series, No. 12). Lanhma, MD: University Press of America, 1989.

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Cato and Varro. On Agriculture. tr. W. D. Hooper and H. B. Ash. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934,

Enright, Michael J. Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tène to the Viking Age. Portland, OR: Four Courts Press, 1996.

Euripedes. Euripedes IV. tr. Charles R. Walker, Charles R., ed. David Grene and Richard Lattimore, Richard. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Grendon, Felix. The Anglo-Saxon Charms. Journal of American Folklore 22 (April-June, 1909), 105-237.

Gwynn, Edward. The Metrical Dindshenchas, Vol.IV. Dublin: School of Celtic Studies, 1924.

Hesiod, Homeric Hymns, Epic Cycle, Homerica. tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936.

Homer. The Iliad. tr. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 1990.

---- The Odyssey. tr. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Houben, J. E. M. Veda and Vedic Ritual. Accessed 11/3/2009.

Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Jamasp-asa, Kaikhusroo M. On the Dron in Zororastrianism. Acta Iranica 24 (Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce) (1985), 335-356. Johns, Catherine, and Potter, Timothy. The Thetford Treasure: Roman Jewelry and Treasure. London: British Museum Publications, 1983.

Kurke, Leslie. Pouring Prayers: A Formula of IE Sacral Poetry? Journal of Indo-European Studies 17 (1989), 113-125.

Lambert, Michael. Ancient Greek and Zulu Sacrificial Ritual. A Comparative Analysis. Numen 40:2 (Sept., 1993), 293-319.

McMahon, Gregory. The Hittite State Cult of the Tutelary Deities (Assyriological Studies 25. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1991.

Matasovic. Ranko. A Theory of Textual Reconstruction in Indo-European Linguistics. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. Modi, Jivanji J. The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees. New York: Garland Publishing, 1979 (1922).

Neff, Mary Susan. Germanic Sacrifice: An Analytical Study Using Linguistic, Archaeological, and Literary Data. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1980. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1982.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. (ed. and tr.) The Rig Veda. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.

Ogilvie, R. M. The Romans and their Gods in the Age of Augustus. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1969.

O’Grady, Standish H. Silva Gadelica. 2 vol. London: Williams and Norgate: 1892.

Ovid. Fasti. Ed. and tr. James George Frazer. London: MacMillan and Co., 1929. (different translation at Fasti.

Pliny the Elder. Natural History.

The Poetic Edda. tr. Lee M. Hollander. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1962.

Poultney, James Wilson, ed. and tr. The Bronze Tablets of Iguvium. Baltimore: American Philological Association, 1959.

Robertson, David A. The Navan Forty Metre Structure: Some Observations Regarding the Social Context of an Iron Age Monument. Emania 10 (1992), 25-32. Robertson, George Scott. The Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush. Lawrence & Bullen, Ltd., London, 1896.

Scullard, H. H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Watkins, Calvert. “Let us Now Praise Famous Grains.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 122:1 (Feb., 1978), 9-17.

----- How to Kill a Dragon. New York: Oxford University Press,1995.

West, Martin Litchfield. Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Woodard, Roger D. Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Glossary of Terms

Bhudnon -- "Bottom." The world below.

Dhétis -- The laws of society. In a perfect society, they are the societal expression of the Xártus.

Fire Tender -- She, of course, tends the fire. If possible, if the sacrifice is being performed for a man, this role is taken by his wife. If it is for the group as a whole, it is preferably taken by an unmarried woman.

Ǵhḗuter -- "Caller out, pourer." The priest who says most of the invocations and performs most of the libations.

Ghórdhos -- Enclosed space." The space in which the ritual takes place.

Hṇ́gʷnis -- "Living Fire." (More specifically, the animate word for "fire.") The sacrificial fire.

Kówəs -- The priest in charge of most of the ritual speech.

Medhyom -- “The Middle.” Our world, between the above and the below.

Nḗr -- "Man, Hero." The champion, the protector of the group. He represents Perkʷū́nos and carries a double-headed axe.

Réḱs -- "King." The head of the Wiks in a religious sense; he may or may not be the political head.

Speltá -- "Board." The place where the ritual tools are stored. It may be just a board or cloth on the ground, or a small table. In no case, though, should it be taller than the hngʷnis.

Wiḱs -- "Household." The group performing the ritual together.

Xádbhertor: "The one who brings forward." The priest who is the main actor in the sacrifice.

Xádōr -- "Dry stuff." A mixture of salt and parched barley, used to purify the sacrifice.

Xā́sā -- "Hearth." The representative in the ritual space of the hearth of the one from whom the ritual is being performed.

Yéwesa (sing. yéwos)-- The rules according to which a ritual is to be performed, a reflection in ritual action of the Xártus.

Back To Top ]
Back To PIE Main Page ]

The Domestic Cult

The domestic cult, the worship that takes place within the home, is primary, both in origin and in importance. I believe that in their early years, the transhumant Proto-Indo-Europeans were organized into extended family groupings, separated from each other by grazing lands, and gathering together with others at festival times. Those who met at these gatherings would, in time, grow into a clan, made up of intermarried families. From the clan would grow the town, and from the town the Indo-European society with its three functions.

First came the family and its rituals, though – we start from where we are. Just as they are the core of our lives, they are also the core of Indo-European religion.

The domestic cult varies from household to household, incorporating the favorite deities of each family, and admitting variations according to local situations. This is true to the extent that Angela Della Volpe could write that each Indo-European family had its own religion (1990, 160). But the major objects of worship are the original Proto-Indo-European primary deities, Dyḗus Ptḗr, Perkʷū́nos, and Westyā. Of almost equal importance are the Wikpótēs – the ancestors worshiped in the same way as we do, and now their wisdom guides their descendants.

There is a strong possibility that the Proto-Indo-Europeans had home shrines, but they aren’t necessary. A home as a whole is sacred space, and since only fire and water are needed for a basic Proto-Indo-European ritual you need only have a bowl of water to purify yourself and a flame (a candle or oil lamp) to serve as the presence of Westya:, as well as the means through which offerings may be made. For practical reasons you will need a plate or bowl on which to put offerings of food or drink. After leaving them in place for a day or so, put them outside for the spirits to take the rest.

Within the family, the ptḗr, who is the oldest male, is the priest. His duties include the daily prayers (either with the other members of the family or by himself on their behalf), and making the main offerings on special occasions. The main recipients of his daily offerings are Dyḗus Ptḗr and Perkʷū́nos, but he should also make offerings at least once a week to the deities of the family members.

Before his weekly offerings, the ptḗr puts an offering bowl in front of the lamp of Westyā (a lamp beside your stove or hearth; see below) and prepares a liquid offering such as beer or mead, and makes sure he has matches or a lighter at hand. He begins the ritual by purifying himself. After dipping his right hand into a bowl of water, he touches his forehead and says:

         May I be pure to cross through the sacred.
         Pūtos hesō. [masc.]/Pūtā hesō. [fem.]
         [May I be pure.]

         He dips his hand again, touches his lips, and says:

         May I cross through the sacred that I might attain the holy.
         Pūtos hesō. [masc.]/Pūtā hesō. [fem.]
         [May I be pure.]

He dips his hand again, touches his heart, and says:

         May I attain the holy that I might be blessed in all things.
         Pūtos hesō. [masc.]/Pūtā hesō. [fem.]
         [May I be pure.]

Now purified, the ptḗr lights the lamp,saying:

         Westyā is here,
         the heart of our home.

He holds both his hands out straight in front of him, joined and cupped, and says:

         The waters support and surround us
         The land extends about us
         The sky stretches out above us
         At the center burns a living flame.
         May all the Holy Ones bless us.
         May our worship be true.
         May our actions be just.
         May our love be pure.
         Blessings, and honor, and worship to the Holy Ones.

With the first line, he brings his hands up to the outside in a curved motion so as to have traced a bowl. With the second, he places them at the center of the top of this bowl and then pulls them flat horizontally so as to have traced a line. With the third, he brings them up from the ends of the line, curving them until they meet at the top of an inverted bowl. With the fourth, he extends them over the flame and then draws them back toward his heart. He next raises his hands into the orans position for the four lines beginning with “may.” With the final line, he puts his hands flat on his thighs and bows for a moment. (These motions were devised with the help of Jenni Hunt.)

He now pours the libation into a bowl, saying:

         I pray to the Holy Ones my ancestors worshiped,
         omitting none, forgetting none,
         leaving none out.
         May all the Holy Ones receive my blessings,
         receive my words,and my oblations.
         And may all the Holy Ones send forth their blessings,
         send forth their gifts,and benedictions,
         to all who dwell within my home,
         to all for whom these words are spoken.

He then stands in the orans position and says:

         Dyḗus Ptḗr, Lord of law
         Perkʷū́nos mighty defender
         May this home be orderly and peaceful,
         well-built and protected,
         blessed by the gifts the gods bestow.

He bows to the fire, extinguishes it, and is done. If family members have deities they are particularly devoted to, he may also offer to them before extinguishing the fire, although those devoted to each of them should also be regularly making their own offerings, of course.

The worship of Dyḗus Ptḗr, Perkʷū́nos, and the patron deities of the family members is the first part of the domestic cult. The second is made up of the practices surrounding the hearth.

The oldest woman in the family, the mā́tr, is the tender of the hearth. As might be expected, she is responsible for the cult of Westyā, assisted by the other women and girls in the family. She also makes offerings to the ancestors.

Her role as keeper of the hearth makes her a very powerful figure: the true altar is the hearth. If you have a working fireplace, you may use it for your altar, provided you regularly (at least once a week) prepare some food in it and use part of the food as an offering and the rest in a family meal. This can be as simple as toasted marshmallows or popcorn. Failing this, put an oil lamp or long-burning candle, a “lamp of Westyā,” next to your stove, with an offering bowl in front of it. Whenever you use the stove, say, "We cook with the fire of Westyā." For the main meal of the day, light the lamp from the stove (using a match as an intermediary) and leave it burning as you cook your meal.

Whenever she lights the lamp, the m̄́tr says:

         Westyā is here, the heart of our home.

At least weekly, offer food, and milk or oil, to Westyā. A bit of food from your table is a must; the Romans offered some from every meal. If you use a fireplace, put these offerings into the fire. If not, place them in bowls in front of your lamp and leave them there overnight, putting them outside for the land spirits the next days. Small pieces may be burned in the flame of the lamp.

When she offers to Westyā, the mā́tr says:

         Burn on our hearth, Westyā,
         Source of all that is holy:
         Bless this home
         and all who dwell here,
         Smile on all we own
         and give special care to guests
         that our hospitality might honor you.

The daily lighting of the flame is important. In this way the cult of Westyā is maintained in everyday life. The connection between the lamp and the stove is also important; a bit of her goes into each piece of food we eat, and thus into us. Westyā feeds us. It is here, in the heart of the home, that we can connect with the holy.

The third part of domestic worship is the cult of the Ancestors. Strictly speaking, the Wiḱpótēs are honored rather than worshiped, since they are not deities. On the family level, though, their honoring has the same importance as the worship of the deities.

The Ancestors form a great extended family to which we belong. The most distant ancestors are like the ptḗr and mā́tr of this family. When a living ptḗr and mā́tr perform the domestic rituals, they embody the ptḗr and mā́tr of the Wiḱpóēs.

The offerings to the Wiḱpótēs may be a daily rite or a weekly one. The ritual is begun with the purification, lighting of the fire of Westyā, and offering to Westyā as done in her cult. The mā́tr then takes some of the food from a main meal (bread, as the archetypal main food, is best, although if there is something your family eats regularly, or a food particularly associated with your family’s ethnic background, that would be good as well, either by itself or accompanying the bread) and places it with her left hand in an offering bowl before the lit lamp of Westyā. She may offer some drink as well. As she makes the offering, she says:

         Wiḱpótēs, patérēs and mā́trēs,
         founders of our family,
         sources of our lives:
         We make due offering to you
         We honor you with gratitude.
         Be with our family
         and ensure its continuance and prosperity.
         Advise and comfort us in all troubles.
         Bless and support us with all your gifts.

Even while observing all of these rituals, do not forget the most important one, the giving of hospitality. This is a domestic reflection of the ghosti-principle; the exchange of hospitality binds society together.

If the Bible tells us to treat strangers well because by doing so some “have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2), we Pagans have an even greater obligation to treat visitors as the deities they might well be. Friends, family, even the evangelist on your doorstep – you owe each of them your hospitality.

Volpe, Angel Della. From the Hearth to the Creation of Boundaries. Journal of Indo-European Studies 18:1 & 2 (Spring/Summer, 1990), 157-184.

Back To Top ]
Back To PIE Main Page ]

Suggested Ritual Dress

In a 1975 article, E. J. W. Barber speculated on Proto-Indo-European clothing by comparing the folk costumes of the descendant traditions. Her suggested reconstructed clothing was made from wool, linen, nettle, or hemp (Barber, E. J. W. The Proto-Indo-European Notion of Cloth and Clothing. Journal of Indo-European Studies 3:4 (1975), 294-320).The main garment was a tunic, knee length for men, and frequently longer for women, with a cord worn around it as a belt. Over the tunic was another garment, sometimes smaller, made of a stiffer material such as felt. It was often decorated, and is the ancestor of the embroidered vests of eastern Europe. Women wore hats with a mantle, sometimes held on with a diadem. Later Indo-Europeans, possibly still within the Proto-Indo-European period, wore pants or kilts with their tunics. There is no evidence regarding footwear, so I recommend bare feet or sandals.

Because the Proto-Indo-Europeans would likely have been wearing nicer versions of their everyday clothes to rituals, it is completely appropriate to do the same. I myself wear a nice white shirt, linen in summer and cotton in winter.

White is the color associated with priests. Garb worn by the Nḗr may be red, or some other color. The rest may dress in whatever colors they like, provided that they do not dress completely in white.

Back To Top ]
Back To PIE Main Page ]

Xádōr/Purification/Preliminary Rites


"Xádor," literally "dry stuff", is a mixture of barley and salt used to bless sacrifices,

I believe barley to be the Proto-Indo-European sacred grain. It certainly is an important early grain. From a domestic point of view, it was the major grain of pre-Zoroastrian Iran (Humbach and Ichaporia, 1994, 11). Barley, along with rice, shows up in Vedic ritual often (Gonda, 1980, 112). It is used as part of the soma mixture, and is what the other sacred drink surā' (likely the pre-soma ritual drink) was made from (Parpola, 2004-2005, 41). In RV 8.2.3 barley is even identified with soma. It was also sacred to Varuṇa (Parpola, 20004-2005, 41), who is the guardian of the ṛta. There are Greek sacred drinks which include barley; it is, for instance, the major ingredient of the drink Demeter asks to be made for her while she was mourning her daughter Persephone. It was barley that the food eaten by the priestess at Delphi before prophesying was made of (Panagos and Vousas, 1965, 16). Barley is found in Greece as a purification, sprinkled on animals before sacrifice (Bremmer, 2010, 133). Plutarch (Greek Questions, 6) tells us that it was used in preliminary offerings in ancient times. Both the Roman and Hittite material gives us the added detail of roasting and grinding the barley. Since Rome could not have borrowed from Anatolia, it is likely that we are looking at a Proto-Indo-European tradition here. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Hittites all included salt. (Burkert (1985, 136) thinks that the use of salt is a later development, but since it is found in Rome and Anatolia this seems unlikely.) In India, a mixture of salt and barley is cast on ploughed fields to encourage the growth of the crops (Gonda, 1980, 429). This is an odd thing to do, since salt prevents growth (the Romans' ploughing the destroyed Carthage with salt to make sure that noting would ever grow there again is famous). We are clearly dealing with a religious significance of a mixture of barley and salt, used for blessing.

I think as well that there is some linguistic evidence significance in that that the PIE word for barley is *yéwos, which is the same, in the nominative singular, as that for "ritual law." ("Barley" is an o-stem, whereas "ritual law" is an s-stem, so they are formed differently in other cases and numbers. The nominative plural of "ritual," for instance, is *yéwesā, whereas that of "barley" is *yéwōs.)

The xádōr is prepared prior to the ritual and put into a bowl which is kept on the speltá during the ritual. To prepare it, take barley and roast it in a frying pan, stirring enough to keep it from burning. The pearl barley you can buy in a supermarket is fine, although whole grain barley would be better. When it is toasted, put it in a bowl and allow it to cool.

Then take a mortar and pestle. Holding the pestle in your right hand and facing east, knock on the inside edge of the mortar four times, in the east, north, west, and south, saying as you do:

         Wágrō hógʷhim gʷhent.
         [With the wágros he killed the serpent.]

Pour a handful or so of rock salt into the mortar (the exact quantity depending on the size of the mortar), saying:

         The seed of the bull, the fruit of the earth, the source of blessings.

Repeat the knocking and say again:

         Wágro hógʷhim gʷhent.
         [With the wágros he killed the serpent.]

Grind the salt into powder.

Then pour in some roasted barley, the same quantity as the salt. Treat it the same way, with the same knocking and words. When you grind it, make sure it is mixed well with the salt.

Repeat this twice more, and you have xádōr.

Bremmer, Jan N. Greek Normative Animal Sacrifice. In A Companion to Greek Religion. ed. Daniel Ogden. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, 132-44.

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Gonda, J. Vedic Ritual: The Non-Solemn Rites. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1980.

Humbach, Helmut, and Ichaporia, Pallan. The Heritage of Zarathustra: A New Translation of the Gathas. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1994.

Panagos, John E., and Vouzas, Ad. tr. David Ll. Richards. The Mythology and History of Delphi. Athens: n.p., 1965.

Parpola, Asko. The Nāsatyas, the Chariot, and Proto-Aryan Religion. Journal of Indological Studies, 16 & 17 (2004-2005), 1-63.

Watkins, Calvert. An Indo-European Agricultural Term: Latin ador, Hittite Hat-. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 77 (1973), 187-193.

—— Latin ador, Hittite hat- again: Addenda to HCSP 77 (1973), 187-193. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 79 (1975), 181-187.


Before any ritual each priest purifies himself by pouring a small amount of water into their hands. He allows this to run through his fingers to the ground (or a bowl if indoors). He pours more, and splashes this against his face. He pours again, and rinses his mouth. This is all done in silence, while thinking with each washing:

         Pūtos hesō. [masc.]/Pūtā hesō. [fem.]
         [May I be pure.]

This may be done before leaving for the ritual, or at the ritual site. After purifying themselves, each priest dresses in their ritual garb.

Before each ritual, wash or sprinkle all required objects, including the speltá, saying:

         Pūtóm zdhi.
         [Be pure.]

Dry them with a clean white towel, preferably linen. Then sprinkle them once more with xádor and wipe them off.

Arrange the items to be used on a board, for which the Proto-Indo-European word is *speltá, in an order which will make them easy to use and is aesthetically pleasing. This arranging may be done by any of the participants. Putting the board on a low stool or stools, or using a low table, is convenient.

Preliminary Rites

The ritual must be performed on an auspicious day at an auspicious time. This is determined by the Diviner, who may use whatever method he likes. If the results are unfavorable, he divines to see what must be done to make the ritual performable. Required changes may include extra purifications, extra offerings, or postponement.

Purify the equipment and put everything in its place. This can be done by anyone.

Back To Top ]
Back To PIE Main Page ]

Creating Sacred Space

Items needed:

At the processional site:

Bowl of water for purification; a musical instrument for calling the people together, such as a horn or a drum; a piece of bovine leather (if this is not available, a square of unbleached wool felt can be used); the xā́sā, on the piece of leather, with briquettes; small pitcher of lighter fluid; means of lighting the xā́sā; fireglove; small bowl of melted clarified butter; spoon for offering butter; pitcher of mead; the sacrifice.

Two-thirds of the way between the processional site and the where the ghórdhos will be:

A second piece of leather (or dark wool felt); bowl to make dough in; pitcher of water for mixing the dough; flour (either barley or spelt); dark beer in a pitcher; bowl of barley mixed with local sacred grain.

Either carried in the procession or at the ghórdhos site:

Bowl of barley and the local sacred grain; bowl of water (this can be the same as used to make the dough if you have filled it with enough water); broom; shovel; hṇgʷnis container (if it is not built on the sod altar itself); fuel, kindling, and tinder for the hṇgʷnis; a second pitcher of water; four short poles (about 4‘ tall); small sledge hammer to drive the poles into the ground; two long poles (about 8’ tall); one medium pole (about 6’ long); lid of the xā́sā; fire extinguisher, with a blanket to cover it if you wish; a blanket or mat for the Fire Tender to sit on; the speltá; a second bowl of butter; a second butter spoon; and the equipment for the particular ritual, put on the speltá: for a sacrifice, for instance, you will need a knife, a bowl of xádōr, and a small bowl of water.

Carry as much of this as you can, and put the rest where it will be needed.

Purify the equipment. This can be done by anyone. Mark out where the corners of the space will be with holes, and then put sticks in them so they can be found easily. Also make a hole to receive the sacrificial stake. It makes it easier to insert the stake if a length of PVC pipe of suitable diameter is placed in the hole.

The attendees gather some distance away from where the ghórdhos will be, the Nḗr carrying his axe. This spot will be away from the where the procession will form.

1. Calling and purification

The Ǵhḗuter goes to where the procession is to begin and calls to the others:

Gʷṃté, gʷṃté, gʷṃté
Gʷṃté, gʷṛtíbhos Déiwōm!
Uzmé ḱéidont:
Klúte tóns!
Gʷṃté hṇgʷnim.
Gʷṃté, spṇté!

[Come, come, come;
ever come;
ever and always come!
Come to please the Gods!
They are calling you:
Hear them!
Come to the fires
Come and worship!]

The others go to where he is.
When all have arrived, the Nér says:

Tūsyéte! Tūsyéte! Tūsyéte!
[Be silent!]
May we all maintain a holy silence.

With each " Tūsyéte" he speaks more softly.

[The silence proclaimed before a sacrifice is a feature of Greek (Burkert, 1985, 73; Lambert, 1993,296) and Roman (Scullard,1981, 24) ritual. Greek examples are from the Iliad 171 (p. 237), “A reverent silence now … a prayer to Zeus,” and Euripides, “Iphigenia in Aulis” 1563-4, “Then Talthybius, standing in the midst,/According to his office, spoke, proclaiming/A holy silence to the army.” When the Athenian fleet was about to leave for Sicily, a trumpet was used to call for silence; that a trumpet was used instead of a declaration makes sense in the light of there being 30,000 men at the ritual (Burkert, 1985, 266). A Roman example comes from Tibullus, 2.1.1, “faveat” (from favēre [linguis]), translated by Woodard (2006, 129) as “keep silent.” Cicero (“On Divination” 1.45) says that this is said at the beginning of all public ceremonies. It is also mentioned by Seneca, “De Vita Beata,” 36.7, who explains it as being for the purpose of preventing ill-omened words. Livy (Weiss, 2010, 147, n. 40) and Pliny the Elder (Natural History 28.11, in Warrior, 2006, 18) tell us that there is a herald whose job it is to enforce silence. [

[The call to silence has the psychological effect of emphasizing the words and actions of the following ritual, especially in their creative aspect. A new world is born from the silence.

[The original purpose of the silence is most likely reflected in a Vedic rule that no one should speak carelessly during a sacrifice. The time of ritual is not for ordinary things. Perhaps, as well, extraneous speech was believed to work its way into the ritual and establish itself as "real."

[It is consistent with the common IE concern that rituals be done properly: anything extraneous does not belong in a ritual (or it wouldn’t be extraneous), and it might, therefore, disturb, destroy, or even reverse the desired effect of the ritual. With the IE beliefs as to the importance of speech, extraneous words are the most dangerous interventions.

[We don’t, to my knowledge, find this admonition in the eastern IE world, in literal form. However, we do find prohibitions against “chattering” during rituals in Zoroastrianism (e.g., in the Ne:rangestān 19.11 (Kreyenbroek, 2004, 324-5)). The emphasis on saying the “right” words at each point in a ritual. In this concern the emphasis is on the production of the right rather than on the prevention of the wrong, but the principle is the same.

[The call to silence was not an admonition to maintain actual silence. How could it be when prayers were to be said and songs sung? Instead it directed those present to say nothing that did not belong in the ritual. It had a flip side; it meant that whatever was said was part of the ritual, even if unintended. We can see this in Rome, where the sacrificer covered his head with a fold of his toga and flutes played, both in an attempt to prevent ill-omened words from being overheard and being woven into the ritual. We see it also in India, where what is said is carefully circumscribed so as to prevent inappropriate words from being spoken.]

If the group is small enough, a bowl of water is now passed around for each person to purify themselves as they desire. If there are too many for this to be done easily, the Fire Tender asperses them, saying:

Pṛ-óntṃ supós púrōs sīme.
Xṇkʷóntṃ ḱwéntom séupṃ pṛ-īme.
Wesubhos ḱwéntom ṇḱime.

[May we be pure that we might cross through the sacred.
May we cross through the sacred that we might attain the holy.
May we attain the holy that we might be blessed in all things.]

2. The Beginning.

The Xádbhertor asks:

Diviner, is the day propitious?

The Diviner replies:

The omens have been taken and are auspicious.

[In Rome, this was the original role of the augur; to say whether the auspices were favorable or not (Schilling, 1987, 453). This was done by observing birds - which species appeared, and in what section of the sky. Auspices had to be taken before any public ritual (Scheid, 2003, 112). There were days, those day after the Kalends, Nones, and Ides, that were inherently ill-omened ("black days"), when any action requiring ritual purity was banned (Macrobius, 1.16.21, 24).] 3. Lighting the xā́sā.

In the old times, the xā́sā would have consisted of coals from a home fire or an otherwise sacred fire. The flame to light it can still be brought from somebody's home. If the wiḱ has a Réḱs it can come from his house. If the ritual is being performed for a particular person (but still being put on by the wiḱs) it should come from their home. A match can be used to transfer the fire from the stove to a candle in a jar, which would then be brought to the ritual. (Depending on size, a car cup holder might hold this kind of candle, although somebody besides the driver will have to be assigned to watch it during the drive.)

If the fire in the xā́sā is lit at the site, the Fire Tender holds three matches vertically and says:

The supporting pillar of the home
resting on the earth.
Spring forth, fire, from the center of our world.

She strikes them as one group (or lights them with the brought flame), and lights the briquettes.

She can also use a lighter or flint and steel, saying instead:

Strike the rock, lightning born flame.

You may wish to pour a small amount of lighter fluid on the briquettes before lighting them. The Gyhéuter says:

Wéstyā, who burns on our hearth, in our home,
we call to you to join us here,
bringing our prayers to the gods,
forming the means by which we sacrifice.
May the holy arise in our midst,
the pure and the blessing.

[If the eternal fire of Vesta (from which at least some Roman altar fires may have been lit) went out, the Vestal Virgins had to light a fire by friction and then bring it in a bronze container into the temple (Nagy, 1974, 95).

[There would have been prayers accompanying the lighting of the ritual hearth fire, of course. We are given many for the gārhapatya, and Ovid (Fasti 2.542) speaks of the "prayers and the appropriate words at the hearths (focis) set up [or rather, "set down," positis] for the purpose" It would be nice to know what those "appropriate words" were. The Iguvine Tables (III.11) also say to "kindle the fire with a prayer" (Weiss, 2010, 98; Poultney, 1959, 202, however, translates the word Weiss translates "kindle" as "load (with incense)." Since there has been no mention of the existence of a fire until this point, I am inclined to go with Weiss.)

[Vesta (and Janus) was often invoked in rituals primarily dedicated to other Roman deities (Scheid, 2003, 159.]

Once the xā́sā is burning well (or, if you have used lighter fluid, died down a bit), the Fire Tender offers butter to it, saying:

Bhlegpotyā, nzmé wesum ghedh.
[Shining Lady, unite us all],
for by worshiping at a common hearth
we are made one family, one people.
Demespotyā, your household is here.

The Ǵhḗuter says a short prayer putting forth the reason for the ritual. When he is finished, the N̄́r holds his axe head out to the Xádbhertor, who pours mead on it while the Ǵhḗuter says:

God whose presence is lightning,
whose voice is thunder:
hear my little voice that calls you here.
With libations, with prayers, poured out,
we call you here.
Destroyer of opposition, destroy all that oppose us;
Remover of obstacles, remove all in our way.
Go before along our path,
guiding us through the untamed lands,
Protector, cleaver of mountains.

He pauses and says:

Set forth upon the shining path,
the ancestral way laid out before us.
Place your feet with measured stride,
in ancient rhythm.

[In the Iguvine Tablets, the celebrants are ordered to take the via mersuva, the "customary way" (Weiss, 2010, 99). This would have described a sacred path in Iguvium, already laid out, but then that would have been expected in a stationary culture. This ritual establishes such a path by declaration.]

4. The Procession

The Nḗr leads, holding his axe vertically in front of him in both hands, followed by the Ǵhḗuter and Xádbhertor side by side, the Xádbhertor on the left. The Xádbhertor carries the sacrifice, on a plate. The Fire Tender follows, carrying the xā́sā. The others follow her in two lines. If you wish, you may sing a processional song; if there are musicians, they are at the end of the procession.

When the piece of leather is reached, all stop. The Fire Tender puts the xá:sā down on the leather.

[The idea of creating space as a procession symbolizing migration and occupation of new land comes from Woodard, 2006, in which he analyzed Roman and Vedic sacred space rituals. I have included a symbolic cattle raid through the use of the leather.]

The person who has brought the flour now pours enough water into it to make a stiff dough, mixing it with their hands. (They will probably want to have brought a towel and extra water with them so they can wash and dry their hands afterwards.) They form a ball from the dough and then make a rough bowl by indenting it. They place this on the ground to the outside of the leather.

[The making of the dough bowl is intended to form a loose bond with those who occupied the land before us. It is a bowl which is not a bowl, which doesn’t completely hold the offering, and which is made of a food which is not a food – it is not cooked, and even if it were, it would be too dense to be edible. The idea came from a suggestion made by Miles C. Beckwith (2002) that something made from dough mixed during the ritual was used in the rituals described in the bronze tablets of Iguvium. I must note, however, that he is not suggesting the use I have made of the dough.]

The Nḗr puts the head of the axe on the ground, touching the dough bowl. The Xádbhertor says:

Those who stand outside who stand against are crushed by the wágros,
are completely thrown down, their land seized.

He then pours beer into the bowl from the ghórdhos side of the axe (there needs to be enough beer to overflow the bowl), while the Ǵhḗuter says:

Those who once stood outside and will stand with us are those who receive this offering.
Once beyond the borders, you now serve them;
now as servants of the Protector, you protect.

The Fire Tender picks up the xā́sā. The Nḗr touches his axe to the leather, and says:

These cattle are ours, this cattle ground is ours.
We take our due, which we have earned.

The person with the first piece of leather lays it down on top of the second, rolls the two up with the first on the outside, and picks them both up. The procession continues. This time, however, the person in the lead is the one with bowl of mixed grain. They scatter it as they go.

[Processions are often done to music. It can be used to set the mood. Is the ritual joyful? Solemn? Celebratory? One of praise or thanksgiving? Start it out with appropriate music. Silent processions are effective for raising suspense or creating a solemn mood. This is especially true if you ordinarily use music.]

When the procession reaches the entrance to the space all stop. The Ǵhḗuter says:

Déiwons xadbheromes!
[We wish to sacrifice to the gods!]

All: We wish to worship the gods!

5. Purifying and building the space

Those who will be taking part in this rite enter and take their places; the others wait outside. The person with the bowl of grain crosses the space, scattering whatever is left, saying:

Xánsūs whose land this is,
give, in return for this offering,
a place to hold our rites.

[The theology is expressed in the words; the space is “bought” from the spirits. Foundation sacrifices are virtually universal. In Vedic ritual the space where a house is to be built is sprinkled with a mixture of water, gold, rice, and barley to appease the spirits there (Gonda, 1980, 286).]

The Nḗr stands to the right of the gate (as seen from the inside). The person with the pieces of leather puts them down to slightly to the west of where the xā́sā will eventually be, unrolling them in such a way that the second is on the bottom. The Fire Tender places the xā́sā on them. The Xádbhertor and Ǵhḗuter cross the space and go to the west, where they stand facing east, with the Xádbhertor to the Ǵhḗuter's right. The Xádbhertor puts the sacrifice on the ground slightly to the left of where the speltá will be.

The person who has scattered the grain now takes a bowl of water, and walks to the east, sprinkling it on the way, while the Ǵhḗuter says:

Be pure, this place of ours.
Be pure, be clean, be fit for the gods.

They put the empty bowl down next to the empty grains bowl.

[Vedic ritual spaces were sprinkled with water (Gonda, 1980, 127). All the water that washes over a Zoroastrian pawi no doubt serves this purpose as well. In the consecration of the Capitoline temple described by Tacitus in his Histories (4.53; in Scheid, 2003, 65) the templum in which it was to be built was sprinkled with water, said specifically to be from fountains and streams, i.e., from moving water.]

The Fire Tender sweeps where the xā́sa̅ will be, while the Ǵhḗuter says:

The best of worlds is pure,
the best of worlds is clean,
the best of worlds is here,
where we dwell,
where we will graze our cattle,
where we will place our hearth.

[The idea of sweeping something to make it clean as being part of a purification ritual is obvious. The temple of Vesta was swept once a year, supposedly of dung, which would not, of course have been there. This is clearly a survival of a much older ritual, perhaps of the type found at Parilia, where sheepfolds are cleaned, part of which involves sweeping them. Roman homes were swept after funerals to purify them (Dumézil, 1970a, 617). I have taken the idea of sweeping particularly the place where the xā́sā will be put from Vedic ritual, where that is done for the spot of the gārhapatya, but the entire space can be swept if you wish. Zoroastrian pawis were cleaned before being marked (Karanjia, 2004, 411), which likely involved sweeping; certainly the place where the drōn ritual was to be held was swept (The Pahlavi Rivāyat preceding the Dātistān i Dēnik 56.8, in Jamaspasa, 1985, 346). ]

The Fire Tender then sprinkles water where the x̄́sā will be, while the Ǵhḗuter again says:

The best of worlds is pure, the best of worlds is clean, the best of worlds is here,
where we dwell,
where we will graze our cattle,
where we will place our hearth.

[Purifying with water is just as obvious as sweeping.]

The Fire Tender puts the broom outside of the space, while the Nḗr gives his axe to someone to hold. The Fire Tender goes to the xā́sā, and picks it up. The Nḗr slides the leather so that its western half is where the xā́sā will be placed. The Fire Tender puts the xā́sā down there, and sits. The butter and butter spoon is placed on the eastern half of the leather.

[I have above mentioned that the Roman focus was "set down" with prayers.

[The broom is placed outside the space for both practical reasons (it isn’t needed anymore and will clutter up the space) and ritual ones (it has been used to remove impurities and may therefore be considered to have picked some up and now be impure itself.)]

The Nḗr takes the shovel, and cuts a square sod from a spot a pace or three outside of and to the west of the ritual space. He puts the sod in the space's center. If you want a higher base for the altar, cut one sod ritually and set it aside before cutting more to make a pile, with the first sod on top.

As he cuts, he says:

From Bhudhnōn to Weis.

As he puts the main sod in place, he says:

You are the mountain, the most high mountain,
on which the gods dwell, from which they descend.

The Xádbhertor sprinkles the altar with water, saying:

From Bhudhnōn to Weis,
and flowing back
the waters feed the world.
Be pure, be clean, be fit for the gods.
An altar where living flames will rise,
a place fit for sacrifice.

If the hṇ́gʷnis is going to be put in a container rather than built directly on the sod(s), he puts it over it now.

If it wasn't prepared before the ritual, the Xádbhertor makes a hole for the sacrificial stake halfway between the hṇgʷnis and the gates. He places the egg in it, saying:

Encompassed without,
Enclosed within,
is the gold
is water
is wealth.

If one is available, he puts a small piece of shed snake skin on top of the egg, saying:

The serpent enclosed the waters.

He then brings the hammer and the medium-sized pole to the hole. He puts the stake in the hole and pushes it down hard, breaking the egg, saying:

The thunderbolt strikes: the serpent is slain,
the waters flow out and feed the earth,
the cows come forth to give food to all.
The World Tree is founded on Perkʷū́nos' strike.
The World Tree is founded,
the Snake at its feet.

He puts the hammer down and grasps the stake with both hands, the right above the left, saying:


[Well built.
Well supported.
Well established.]

The world is established from sacrifice.
Our prayers will be established through sacrifice.

[The Vedic sacrificial stake was set up the east of the fires, identified, among other things, with the beams of Uṣas (Dawn) (Proferes, 2003, 330-1). This makes sense on a number of grounds. The east is where the gods arise, the place of light, so that by facing the sacrificial post one is facing the gods to whom the victim will go. Since the stake goes up, in makes sense to put it in the place of going up.

[The choosing and preparation of the sacrificial stake is a big production in Vedic ritual. The size and species of the tree depend on the class of the sacrificer. It is addressed as vánaspáti, "lord of the forest," anointed with ghee while on the ground and then raised (Proferes, 2003). It is considered divine (Macdonell, 1897, 154). No stake is used in Greek and Roman ritual, the animal simply being held by a halter. (Although there are rings depicted on altars to which the animal might have been tied.) There is evidence from Ireland, however, that sacred trees were used as sacrificial posts. In the Life of St. Molasius (O'Grady, 1892, 24), it would appear that an oak is used to attach two horses which will later be sacrificed. The Norse Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise (Tunstall, 2012, Epilogue: 16) mentions a "sacrifice tree," also in connection with a horse sacrifice, which may have been something similar.

[The bit with the snake skin and egg is something I've made up rather than reconstructed. It was inspired by the installation of the Vedic sacrificial post (the yū́pa or sváru), foundation sacrifices and the tendency of Vedic ritual to identify things with the thunderbolt. This small rite operates on a number of levels. 1. The stake is homologized to the cosmic pillar. There is the Tree (the stake), the Waters (the egg), and the snake (the skin). This means that the sacrifice takes place at the center of the Cosmos, and placing the sacrificial fire at the point where the Well and the Tree (Chaos and Cosmos) unite. 2. The act of setting up the stake is homologized to the slaying of the great snake; since the serpent-slaying is a creative act, the ghórdhos is identified with the Cosmos formed as a result of the serpent's death. On this level, the stake is the thunderbolt, the snake is represented both by the snake skin and the egg's shell (the Vedic V?tra's name means "coverer, enclose"), the white of the egg is both water and the milk of the cows, both of which are released, and the yolk is butter. Since eggs are female, there is also the release of the women. 3. There is a foundation sacrifice similar to those performed at the poles that make up the sacred space.

[Snake skins can be found on ebay.]

Someone then picks up a pitcher of water, goes to the where the right pole of the gate will be, and walks clockwise around the edge of the space, pouring water, while the Ǵhḗuter says:

The surrounding waters flow on the border.
They make a division between outside and inside
across which we may only pass with danger.
The great sea encloses us.
Méǵō móri nzmé gherdheyeti.

They put the pitcher down.

[A vessel may have been used in the creation of a sacred space in the Iguvine Tablets (Weiss, 2010, 343-4). Perhaps it was used to pour out a liquid to mark the border.]

The Nḗr hands his axe to someone and picks up the shovel. He goes to where the right pole of the gateway will be, touches the shovel to the ground, and says:

The sacred is cut off from that which is not.

He traces the border of the ghórdhos from pole hole to pole hole clockwise with the shovel. If the ground will permit it, he may cut an actual mark into it. He stops at the left pole hole of the gate, lifts the shovel, and says:

Our ghórdhos is sacred, set apart,
within the border of the encircling river.
Pure and holy is this place of ours,
fit for the gods to enter.

[I am suggesting a shovel here as a substitute for a plough. I myself use a shovel for turning over my garden in the spring, making it my “plough.” If you use something different for the same purpose, you could use that here instead of a shovel. However, a shovel makes a nice tool for cutting a line without actually marking the ground, something which might be desirable depending on where you are performing your ritual.

[It is the line of the “walls” this is marked out. The gate is not. Because of this, the gateway is not sacred. Plutarch (Roman Questions 27) tells us that this was true at Rome. If the gateway were sacred, we would be unable to leave the ghórdhos without violating sacred space, which would make some of the ritual impossible.]

He puts the shovel down, just inside of and parallel to the border, returns to his place, and retrieves his axe.

The Xádbhertor picks up one of the short poles and the sledge hammer and goes east from the center, turns to the gate way, and walks to the southeast corner pole hole. He drives the pole into the ground there, saying:


[Well built.
Well supported.
Well established.]

He returns to the center to take another pole. He does this with all four of the short poles, each time first walking to the center of the border and then turning to the right to reach the appropriate hole.

[You will want to measure out your space beforehand and make holes for the posts. There are cones intended to hold flag poles in the ground that are excellent for making post holes. Use a small sledge for your hammer. To make it easy to find the holes easily in the ritual, mark them with sticks.

[The Xádbhertor is here measuring out the space. Measuring as an act of creation is common throughout the world, and is especially so in Indo-European religion (Polomé, 1982 b, 65). An example would be the three steps by which Viṣṇu measure out the universe.]

He then takes two longer poles and goes to the east. He drives them into the ground about two feet apart, the left one first, to form a gateway. He then puts down the hammer and grasps the right hand pole (as seen from the inside), while the Ǵhḗuter says:

Be for us a protection against the outside.
Be our threshold, where outside becomes inside.

[Dedicating a space by grasping its doorpost is found in Rome (Cicero De Domo 121; Seneca, "De Consolatione ad Marciam" 13.1; Scheid, 2003, 65) and India (Drury, 1981, 26); in Rome it is specifically a temple, and in India a home.]

The Xádbhertor goes to stand in the east, to the left of the Ǵhḗuter, keeping the hammer.

The Outsiders who are in the space must now be expelled, and those outside it repelled.

The Ǵhḗuter says:

May our ghórdhos be safe from the stifling snake,
from those that stand beyond and below.
May none assail our well-built world
May none seek to crush our well-built walls.

The Nḗr goes to the Ǵhḗuter who puts his hands on the Nḗr 's shoulders and says:

Go with the protection of Dyḗus Ptḗr, lord of the Xártus.
Go with the protection of Xáryomen, lord of the dhétis
Go with the protection of Perkʷū́nos, killer of serpents.

The Nḗr, with the axe in his right hand, goes to the gateway, faces outwards, and holds up the axe in both hands. He says:

He took his wágros, and with it slew.
Perkʷū́nos the hero slew the serpent.
With the wágros he slew it, he laid it low.
Wágrō hógʷhim gʷhent
[With the wágros he killed the serpent.]

All say loudly:

Serpents, be far away:
Perkʷū́nos guards our rites.

The Nḗr lowers the axe, returns it to his right hand, and returns to his place.

The Xádbhertor goes to the sacrificial stake and grasps it, again with his right hand above his left, and says:

This is our place of sacrifice,
Here we establish our ghórdhos,
here we take this place for worship.

[According to Festus (57 L., in Weiss, 2010, 96), "A place legitimately constituted for sacrifice is called a 'taken place'." ]

The other things are put in their places; the speltá is erected, and the sacrifice, bowl of water, bowl of xádōr, and knife are placed on it.


Beckwith, Miles C. Umbrian vestiçia and other Italic Sacraments. Journal of Indo-European Studies 30:3 4 (Fall/Winter, 2002), 205-213.

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Drury, Naama. The Sacrificial Ritual in the Satapatha Brāhmaṇa. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981.

Dumézil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion. tr. Philip Krapp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970a (1966).

Gonda, J. Vedic Ritual: The Non-Solemn Rites. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1980.

Jamaspasa, Kaikhusroo M. On the Drōn in Zoroastrianism. Acta Iranica 24 (Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce) (1985), 335-356.

Karanjia, Ramiyar P. The Bāj-Dharna: (Drōn Yašt) and its Place in Zoroastrian Rituals. In Zoroastrian Rituals in Context. ed. Michael Stausberg. Boston: Brill, 2004; 403-423.

Kreyenbroek, Philip G. Ritual and Rituals in the Nerangestān. In Zoroastrian Rituals in Context. ed. Michael Stausberg. Boston, MA: Brill, 2004, 317-31.

Lambert, Michael. Ancient Greek and Zulu Sacrificial Ritual: A Comparative Analysis. Numen 40:3 (Sep., 1993), 293-318.

Nagy, Gregory. Six Studies of Sacral Vocabulary Relating to the Fireplace. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 78 (1974), 71-106.

O'Grady, Standish (ed. and tr.) Silva Gadelica. ed. and tr. London: Williams and Norgate, 1892.

Poultney, James Wilson, ed. and tr. The Bronze Tablets of Iguvium. Baltimore: American Philological Association, 1959.

Proferes, Theodere N. Poetics and Pragmatics in the Vedic Liturgy for the Installation of the Sacrificial Post. Journal of the American Oriental Society 123:2 (Apr. - Jun., 2003), 317-350.

Scheid, John. An Introduction to Roman Religion. (tr. Janet Lloyd). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003. Schilling, Robert. Roman Religion: The Early Period. tr. Paul C. Duggan. In The Encyclopedia of Religion, v.12. ed. Mircea Eliade. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1987.

Scullard, H. H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Tunstall, Peter, trans.
The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise. In Old Norse Sagas. [http://www.oe.eclipse.co.uk/nom/Epilogue.htm. Accessed 15 June, 2012].

Weiss, Michael. Language and Ritual in Sabellic Italy: The Ritual Complex of the Third and Fourth Tabulae Iguvinae. Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 2010.

Woodard, Roger D. Indo-European Sacred Space. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Back To Top ]
Back To PIE Main Page ]

Sacrifice Ritual

The sacrificial ritual may be performed in honor of any of the deities, or of more than one. The rituals dedicated to different deities differ in the hymns and the identity of the animal sacrificed. This example is directed towards Xáryomen.

The sacrifice consists of:
A plate on which is a piece of white flatbread.
On top of that another plate with another piece of white flatbread on it. This represents the sacrificial animal. A more literal version would be red velvet cake in the shape of the animal.
On this second piece of bread, two gold ribbons or lengths of gold chains vertically parallel to each other.
A short looped length of cord between the chains.
A white cloth over all of this.
Finally, on the top is a smaller piece of flatbread, this time whole wheat.

1. Purification
If the group is small enough, the bowl is passed around for each person to purify themselves as they desire. If there are too many for this to be done easily, the Xádbhertor asperses them (the asperger can be simply a leafy branch cut at the site), saying:

Be pure to cross through the sacred.
Cross through the sacred to attain the holy.
Attain the holy that you might be blessed in all things.
Pútons hesete.
[Be pure.]

2. The Beginning
The Xádbhertor says:

Diviner, is the day propitious?

The Diviner replies:

The omens have been taken and are auspicious.

3. Lighting the xā́sá.
Arrange the xā́sá.

To light the fire, the Fire Tender holds three matches vertically and says:

The supporting pillar of the home
resting on the earth.
Spring forth, fire, from the center of our world.

She strikes them as one group and lights the briquettes. She can also use a lighter, saying instead:

Strike the rock, lightning born flame.

You may wish to pour a small amount of lighter fluid on the briquettes before lighting them. The Ǵhḗuter says:

Westyā, who burns on our hearth, in our home,
we call to you to join us here,
in our midst,
bringing our prayers to the gods,
forming the means by which we sacrifice.
May the holy arise in our midst,
the pure and the blessing.

Once the xā́sā is burning well, the Fire Tender offers butter to it, saying:

Shining Westyā, unite us all,
for by worshipping at a common hearth
we are made one family, one people.
Demezpotyā, your household is here.

The Ǵhḗuter says:

Set forth upon the shining path,
the ancestral way laid out before us.
Place your feet with measured stride,
in ancient rhythm.

4. The Procession
The Nḗr leads, holding his axe vertically in front of him in both hands, followed by the Ǵhḗuter and Xádbhertor side by side, the Xádbhertor on the left. The Xádbhertor carries the sacrifice, on a plate. The Fire Tender follows, carrying the xā́sā. (Even a cauldron with three incense briquettes in it is hot to carry, so she will need to wear a fire glove or a pot holder glove.) The others follow her in two lines. If there are musicians, they are at the end of the procession.

When the procession reaches the entrance to the space all stop. The Ǵhḗuter says:

Déiwons xadbheromes!
[We wish to sacrifice to the gods!]

All: We wish to worship the gods!

The Ǵhḗuter lifts his hands in prayer and says:

Dōtóres weswom, ḱḗrdons nsons nzmei dhedhəmes

All: Givers of Goods, we set our hearts toward you!

Ǵhḗuter: Come we together on this holy day
across the distances that lay between us
to this time, to this place,
for one strong purpose:
To worship the Holy Ones in the proper manner.

He lowers his hands and says:

May our worship be according to the Xártus.

They enter and take their places. The Nḗr stands to the right of the gate. The Fire Tender places the xā́sā to the west of the altar and sits down halfway between them and slightly to the south, where she can tend both fires. The Xádbhertor and Ǵhḗuter cross the space and go to the west, where they stand facing east, with the Xádbhertor to the Ǵhḗuter's right. On his way to his place, the Xádbhertor puts the sacrifice on the ground between himself and the speltá. The others arrange themselves equally about the ghórdhos, close to the edge.

5. Opening prayer

Déiwons xadbheromes!
[We wish to sacrifice to the gods!]
Holy Ones, Mighty Ones, Protectors of our People!
Splendid Ones, Steadfast Ones, Givers of Gifts!
Gods rightly worshipped for years uncounted.

All: We praise you,
we worship you,
we pray for your presence.

The Ǵhḗuter then calls to Xáryomen, saying:

You weave our people together in bonds of law.
It is your law, indeed, that binds us as one.
Dhétispotei, you guide us in the ways of the gods;
In the ways of men you inspire right actions.
You are Xáryomen, god of the right way,
of the right way for people in our society.
Watch us today; we will offer sacrifice to you.
Come join us today in holy ritual.
Come sit at the table we will set for you.
Xáryomen, hear our words, see our actions, share our meal.

6. Call to silence
When the Ǵhḗuter is done, the Xáadbhertor says three times:

Tūsyéte! Tūsyéte! Tūsyéte!
(Be silent!)

7. The fires
The Fire Tender offers butter to the xā́sā, while the Ǵhḗuter says:

We feed the fire on the heart of our land.
With the fire we take possession
of the land it lights, of the world it warms.
From here to there we take possession.

(He gestures from side to side when he says the last line.)

[The use of butter for a Proto-Indo-European offering is a no-brainer, especially for a hearth, since butter is food. Not only is it food for us, but it feeds the fire, since it burns well. Butter is from the sacred cow. It is golden in color, especially when it has been clarified and melted, linking it with the sun and thus the celestial deities and fire. It is clarified for practical reasons – it keeps longer than unclarified butter and melts more easily – and aesthetic ones – melted clarified butter is a clear golden color, unlike the rather unpleasant looking melted regular butter. Its clarity might also be said to serve a religious purpose; it is, in a sense, purer than ordinary butter. Finally, it might be thought of as the essence of the butter, its “spirit,” with the butter’s solid “body” removed. Clarify the butter a day or so before the ritual. Bring it to the ritual solid and melt it there. [The use of butter for a Proto-Indo-European offering is a no-brainer, especially for a hearth, since butter is food. Not only is it food for us, but it feeds the fire, since it burns well. Butter is from the sacred cow. It is golden in color, especially when it has been clarified and melted, linking it with the sun and thus the celestial deities and fire. Clarified – and slightly cooked – butter, called “ghee,” is extremely common, and extremely important, in Vedic ritual. The texts go so far as to call it a “thunderbolt” (vajra < *wágros), and “the life-sap of the universe.” It is also identified with the sacred drink, amrta (Gonda, 1980, 176-7).

[Butter is clarified for practical reasons – it keeps longer than unclarified butter and melts more easily – and aesthetic ones – melted clarified butter is a clear golden color, unlike the rather unpleasant looking melted regular butter. Its clarity might also be said to serve a religious purpose; it is, in a sense, purer than ordinary butter. Finally, it might be thought of as the essence of the butter, its “spirit,” with the butter’s solid “body” removed. Clarify the butter a day or so before the ritual. Bring it to the ritual solid and melt it there.

[Certainly in historical times incense was also used as offerings. Greek texts speak of “fragrant altars” in Homeric times (Burkert, 1985, 62). Oddly enough, even though we might associate incense strongly with India, it doesn’t seem to have been used in Vedic rights. The Zoroastrian fires are fed with the sweet-smelling sandalwood. My thought is that incense wasn’t used in Proto-Indo-European rituals, although fragrant woods might have been, but that it was certainly adopted by the descendant traditions, and does not violate any Proto-Indo-European principles.]

The Fire Tender then lays three logs on the altar, one each to the south, west, and north. As she places them, the Fire Tender says:

Tóm hṇ́gʷnim Bhudhnen dedəmes.
Tóm hṇ́gʷnim Medhyō dedəmes.
Tóm hṇ́gʷnim Wēi dedəmes.

[We place this fire in Bhudhnon.]
[We place this fire in Medhyom.]
[We place this fire in Weis.]

[The logs are laid clockwise, with a gap at the east. The sacred influence of the gods will enter there. The arrangement comes from Vedic ritual. I am unaware of any information on the arrangement of firewood in the western traditions. In Greek and Roman artistic representations, the wood is piled in a “log cabin” fashion, but this may have been an artistic convention rather than a religious one.]

She puts tinder in the center and kindling in a teepee shape above it, within the three logs. She then sprinkles the pile lightly with water from the pitcher. She lights it by transferring a briquette from the x̄́sā with the butter spoon. As she puts the briquette on, she says:

Be our place of sacrifice.

She then blows on the hṇ́gʷnis to enflame the tinder, while the Ǵhḗuter says:

With our prayers we feed you,
with the breath of our mouths.

[It was forbidden to blow on the fire of Brighid in Kildare; instead a bellows or winnowing fork must be used (Gerald of Wales, 82, ¶ 69). We are not told why. In Zoroastrianism also the fire must not be blown on, in this case because of the chance that spittle might contaminate it (Choksy, 1986, 176). That the Zoroastrian practice is a later development, based on the intensity of the reverence of the fire, is shown by the opposite being the case in Vedism, where fanning a flame in any other way than blowing on it can bring illness, poverty, and death (Gonda, 1980, 169). I do not think, therefore, that the prohibition against the use of the breath is Proto-Indo-European; if it is, it is possible that it was an attribute of the hearthfire.

[I added this line because, first, the fire will often need to be fanned in some way, and, second, the identification of speech with breath, combined with the importance of speech in Indo-European thought, suggested it.]

After the hṇ́gʷnis is lit, the Xádbhertor puts butter on it, saying:

Be fed with the produce of cattle.
Shine with the shining cow’s gift.

[We have information on fire lighting rituals from Greece and from India, but unfortunately they don’t agree. At Greek festivals, the flame could be brought in in a race (Burkert, 1985, 61) . It could also be brought from somewhere considered to be the home of the city performing the ritual.]

If the ritual is being performed indoors, use four incense briquettes arranged in the shape of a square, and transfer the fire from the xā́sā to the hṇ́gʷnis with a match.

8. The circumambulation.
The Xádbhertor says:

We honor the fire with right turning.

The Xáadbhertor picks up the sacrifice and goes clockwise around the hṇ́gʷnis. When he returns to his place, he puts the sacrifice down. The circumambulation is the last of the opening rites. Next comes the main ritual.

[Clockwise is the standard Indo-European direction of honoring. In Iranian Zoroastrian sacrifices, however, the animal was led counter-clockwise around the altar (Boyce, 1989, 245). I don't know the reason for this; it may be an act of separation.]

9. The hymn.
The sacrifice begins with a hymn of praise, recited by the Ǵhḗuter:

A web is laid over us,
the web of right law,
the web of the dhétis.
It is you, Xáryomen, who weave that web;
you put each in its proper place.
It is with your blessing that we become one people,
It is with your strength that we are joined together.

10. The first offering.
The Xádbhertor picks up the small piece of bread from the top of the sacrifices, takes it to the hṇ́gʷnis, and breaks it up there, scattering the pieces on the ground while saying:

Givers of gifts, we offer the gift of the ground
transformed by our workinto food for us and for you.
Receive with pleasure this first gift to you.

[The Vedic ritual texts list three categories of ritual, the iṣṭi, which is a vegetable offering; animal sacrifice; and the agniṣṭoma or its variants (the ritual of the creation, offering, and consumption of the sacred drink, soma (Gonda, 1982, 7-8). It is also provided that these should these are nested; i.e., an agniṣṭoma needs to include an animal sacrifice and an iṣṭi, an animal sacrifice performed not as part of an agniṣṭoma requires an iṣṭi, and an iṣṭi can be performed on its own. In other words, a Vedic animal sacrifice will always be preceded by a vegetable offering, often of rice.

[Greek rituals always included vegetable offerings, most commonly wheat or barley cakes (Parker, 2011, 135).

[There were different types of bread or rice given to different deities. In Rome, a bread called strues, which was strips of bread crossing each other (a cross? a weave?), was only offered to Janus (Paulus-Festus 310, in Burchertt, 1912, 41). We don't know why particular types were associated with particular deities, however, but you might want to experiment with shapes or grains that seem appropriate. Perhaps oat bread might be good for Héḱwonā, for instance.]

11. The blessing of the sacrifice
He returns to the sacrifice and removes the cloth, which he puts over the knife. He uncoils the rope and drapes it on top of the cloth. He then raises the sacrifice and says:

This ox has come willingly, eagerly,
whole, unblemished,
to the place of sacrifice
bedecked with gold,in celebration and beauty.

[Indo-European sacrificial animals were required to be healthy and whole. This makes sense, of course; you wouldn’t want to give someone, least of all a deity, a broken gift.

[There is a certain amount of discomfort among Indo-Europeans at the idea of the actual killing of the animal in the sacrifice. In the sacrifices at the Zoroastrian festival of Mihragan, the sacrificer kisses the animal on the cheek before killing it as an act of contrition (Boyce, 1975, 111). In India this was one of the factors in the rise of vegetarianism, and the especial emphasis of this in relation to the cow, originally the sacrificial animal par excellence.

[It was very important to the Indo-Europeans that the animal be seen to consent to be sacrificed. There are even stories in Greece in which the animal pressed forward to the altar. In Greece the animal was sprinkled on its head, which made it then shook; this was interpreted as the animal consenting to its sacrifice (Burkert, 1985, 56). (Parker (2011, 129-30) believes this to be late and exceptional, and not a reflection of actual and early practice and theology, with the animal "shaking" rather than nodding, as sign of vitality rather than consent.) Vedic sacrificial animals were asked for their permission (Gonda, 1980, 434). Macrobius (3.5.8) sees it from the other direction, saying that an unwilling victim is a sign that god doesn’t like the victim. The equivalent here is the declaration by the priest that the animals has “come willingly, eagerly to the place of sacrifice.”

[In Rome the world immolare was used to mean "slay a sacrificial victim." Although it is the source of English "immolate," its literal meaning was "sprinkle with salted meal" (Poultney, 1959, 180). This sort of sprinkling was an essential part of a Roman sacrifice, so the term was used in a pars pro toto way in order to avoid a more direct word.

[The knife is hidden from the animal with the cloth as a continuation of this; the animal is prevented from seeing the weapon which will cut its throat. In Greece the knife was carried in a basket carried by ribbons and the grains that will be thrown on the animal (Bremmer, 1995, 33; Burkert, 1985, 56).

[Sacrificial animals were decorated with gold and ribbons in Rome (Scullard, 1981, 23; Vergil 9.627) and Greece (Burkert, 1985, 56). In modern Iran, they are decorated with ribbons or a (preferably green) kerchief (Boyce, 1980, 245). In some Vedic sacrifices the animals were also garlanded (Gonda, 1980, 437). Also, pieces of gold are put in altars and on offered pieces of bread in Vedic ritual.]

He puts the sacrifice down and removes the chains, putting them on the ground to the right of the speltá.and picks up the bowl of water on the speltá in his left hand. He sprinkles some of it, using his right hand, over the sacrifice three times, saying each time:

A pure offering is this, without blemish or stain, fit for Xáryomen.

[The Indo-European concern for purity is of course applied to an animal which is going to go to the gods. I have further added a declaration that the animal is inherently proper for sacrifice, that there is nothing wrong with it.

[Vedic ritual is even concerned with the purity of the sacrifice; the animal is not only washed (Gonda, 1980, 434); it is given water to drink so it will be pure inside as well as out (Gonda, 1980, 125).

[The purification can have other purposes. One of the goals in Greece was to have the sacrificial animal to “nod,” giving consent. In Vedic ritual it sometimes seems more of a blessing (Gonda, 1980, 127). These aren’t exclusive to the purificatory intent, of course.

[In the Iguvine Tablets (Poultney, 1959, 194; Weiss, 2010, 284) a sacrificial victim (a pig) is proclaimed to be free from blemish.]

He puts the water down, and picks up the bowl of Nekter in his left hand. He sprinkles some of it onto the sacrifice with his right hand, saying:

Be filled with life, with long life, for the good of the gods.

He puts the bowl of Nekter down and picks up that with the xádōr in his left hand. He scatters the xádōr from it three times with his right hand onto the sacrifice, saying each time:

Be blessed and fed with the fruits of the earth.

[By throwing the xádōr everyone present is incorporated into the sacrifice. In Greece, everyone throws barley on the animal and the sacrifice immediately after the animal is purified (Burkert, 1985, 56). In Vedic ritual the animal was sprinkled with rice and barley water also after (although not immediately after) it having been washed (Gonda, 1980, 434)]

12. The sacrifice.
When the Xádbhertor returns to the speltá, he puts the bowl of xádown, and holds up the sacrifice, holding it between his hands, with the right one on top and the left under it. He says:

A proper offering is this,
as it is right to give.
This ox to Xáryomen.

[The formula “This X to N,” rather than “We offer this X to N” is Indo-European.]

He picks up the sacrifice in his right hand, and crosses his left hand under it to pick up the knife, keeping it covered by the cloth, and with the rope still draped over it.

[The sacrifice is in the blessing hand; the knife is in the destructive hand.]

He carries them to the Fire Tender who pours some melted butter on the sacrifice (not on the knife, which would make it slippery), saying:

With the heart of the cow,
with all we own,
we offer to you,
you who stand behind all things.

[Both the Zoroastrian drōn and a Vedic rice cake offered as part of the new and full moon sacrifices (Gonda, 1982, 29) are spread with butter. In this case I have added the butter as a way of identifying the animal with a cow; even though it will often be another animal, this seemed appropriate because of the Indo-European concept of property being thought of as cows or their equivalent.]

He then brings them to a spot right to the west of the sacrificial stake, and puts the sacrifice on the ground, and then puts the knife to its right, crossing it over the sacrifice, and putting it down with the blade away from the sacrifice. He takes the rope and loops it clockwise around the stake, ending it up the ends crossed on top of the sacrifice, saying:

Arrived at the center of the Cosmos, you are bound:
bound to the service of those who give,
bound to the service of those who shine,
bound to the sacrifice and to the immortal.

[I have added the elaborate arranging of the cord as a deliberate complication of the ritual; i.e., it is not reconstructed but invented. It's meant, however, to represent the sacrifice being tied to the stake.]

The Nḗr comes over to the fires and stands on the south, facing the Fire Tender. When he has arrived, the Fire Tender says:

[May he/it strike!]

[This is more ambivalence. The killing will not be done by the person for whom the sacrifice is being offered, or even by the priest, but by the Nḗr. In Rome, the killing was done by a professional, a victimarius, also called the popa (Schilling, 1969, 471; Scullard, 1981, 24). In the Odyssey (3.439-63), it is the priest's (Nestor's) son who kills the animal. In Vedic ritual the killing was also done by someone other than the main priest (O'Flaherty, 1996, 155).

[The most famous case of this is the Athenian Buphonia, described by Pausanias (1.24.4). At this festival, held in the middle of the month Skirophorion (June/July), an ox was killed with an axe. The axe was then put on trial, rather than the person who had done the killing, as if had done the killing all by itself.

[There is a distancing in the Fire Tender's statement to the Nḗr, *perkʷéti. This is a subjunctive third person singular of the verb perkʷ- "strike" (as in "Perkʷū́nos"), and thus means "he/she/it will/might strike" (and not even "kill"). By using *perkʷéti-, she is off the hook, because she hasn't actually told the Nḗr to strike, the Nḗr is off the hook because the subject of *perkʷéti can be "it," the axe, and not "he," the Nḗr. The Xádbhertor is off the hook as well - he only cuts up an animal that is already dead. Even so, he cuts the animal up quickly, partly to get it over with (limiting his association with the death aspect) and to make sure that if the Nḗr hasn't finished the job it will die without causing any fuss that might negate the sacrifice. The Vedic sacrificial victim is "quieted" rather than killed, this is done by the non-bloody method of smothering, the "quieting" is done outside of the ritual space, and there is even an insistence that the animal doesn't actually die (Gonda, 1984, 47). Roman ritual terminology was even more euphemistic, using a verb meaning "do" or "make" (Weiss, 2010, 107, n. 26).]

The Nḗr goes clockwise around the space, holding the axe upright and out. As he walks, the Fire Tender strikes a bell, and the others join in, either with their own instruments, by clapping, or by stamping on the ground. Following the Fire Tender’s lead, they increase the tempo and volume as he walks.

While the Nḗr circles, the Xádbhertor leans close to the sacrifice and softly says (it is to the animal he speaks; the others do not hear over the noise they are making):

We free you to take the sacred path,
to take the holy path,
the divine path to the Divine Ones.

He removes the rope during this, coiling it to the right of the stake.

The path is well-marked, from ancient days till now:
as you have freely offered yourself,
freely take your way,
bound only by the prayers we have made,
carrying them on your back.

During the line, “bound only...” he takes the knife from under the cloth, draws its dull side across the sacrifice from its lower left to its upper right, and then puts it on the cloth. When the Nḗr has returned, he picks up the knife again, holding it flat, with the sharp edge away from the sacrifice.

[In Roman sacrifice a knife is drawn along the spine of the animal before it is killed. This is a ritual of separation, dedicating the animal to the gods (Scheid, 2003, 32). The knife is placed with its sharp edge away from the bread as a way of "reassuring" the animal.]

When he has returned to the south, the Nḗr lifts the axe high and the Fire Tender says:


The Nḗr brings the axe down hard against the sacrifice, and then lifts his axe to a vertical position in front of him and returns to his place. As the axe hits, the percussion stops.

[In Deep Ancestors, I had the sacrificial animal “killed” by the Nḗr with an axe. This seemed necessary from a practical (and symbolic) point of view; the Nḗr’s symbol of office is an axe, and it didn’t seem right to provide him with an extra weapon simply for this use. It seemed interesting as well to parallel the primal combat be Perkʷú̄nos with the snake, adding the meaning of overcoming the chaos (death) to sacrifice.

[I also, however, had comparative evidence for the use of an axe. I was pleased to have this to prop up the somewhat shaky interpretative argument.

[The Greeks used more than one instrument of sacrifice. Small animals could simply have their throats cut. This is how Agamemnon sacrifices a boar in the Iliad 19.252-68) (although since he is using a dagger that he wears in his sacrifice, this may have been a weapon of opportunity). There are also several sacrifices in the Odyssey. In one (3.439-63), Nestor sacrifices an ox, which is killed by his son with an axe. (Fitzgerald calls it “two-bladed.”)

[Later, 14.418-36, the swineherd Eumaios kills a sacrificial boar with an oak club. That the club was made of oak is probably significant, and oak is the wood associated with the storm god. It might be argued that he was just using a convenient piece of wood, a handy piece of firewood perhaps, and since oak is a preferred species for firewood it would be the expected kind of club. However, sacrifice is by no means a handy thing to do; rituals are well-thought out and carefully followed.

[Second, this is not a newspaper report, we are not dealing with someone just reporting the facts. This is not prose, it is a poem, and a carefully constructed one at that. We should consider all details significant unless proven otherwise. The only reasons I can think of to specify a species of wood are to lend color to a scene or to fill a metrical hole. In either case, the choice would have to have been of an appropriate species. At the very least, an oak club would have to have been consistent with Greek sacrificial practice.

[And in fact, when we are told that he split wood for the sacrificial fire we are not told its species, but we are told that the log he uses to kill the pig is unsplit; it is not firewood at the time.

[In the context of my argument, it is significant that the club is the identifying weapon of Herakles, who is a Greek reflex of Perkʷū́nos.

[An axe was also used in the much-discussed Buphonia(Burkert, 1983, 136-42).

[There numerous descriptions of Roman sacrifice in the texts. Equally primary are the many artistic representations; sacrifice (except for the actual moment of killing) was a favorite topic for illustration on reliefs and coins. Examples can be found in Boardman, Griffin, and Murray (1988, 343), Bonefoy (1992; 78, 98, 119, 134, 152), and Scullard (1981; fig. 1, 2, 7).

[Secondary sources describing Roman sacrifices include Dumézil (1966, II:558-9), Ogilvie (1969, 41-52), and Scullard (1981, 23-4).

[The Roman sacrificer, like Nestor, had someone to do the killing for him, variously called the victimarius or the popa (Ogilvie, 1969, 48). In historical times, he did this with a hammer, a maul really, aimed at the forehead. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in his description of a Roman sacrifice, says that the animal was struck on the temple with a club (in Weiss, 2010, 282-3). On
a relief in the British Museum it appears that a club is about to be used to sacrifice a pig. In earlier times, however, an axe was used; Festus (9 L, in Weiss, 2010, 154) describes it as a “bronze axe.” In fact, in artistic representations the victimarius is often armed with an axe even in later times (e.g. Bonefoy, 1992, 78; or the Augustan era Boscoreale Cup). It also continued to be used as a sign of sacrificial office (Weiss, 2010, 154).

[Even more interesting is that Fetial priests, in sacrifices establishing treaties and oaths, used a flint stone (Livy 1.24.8, 21.45.8, in Weiss, 2010, 174). We have already seen how Neolithic axes were believed in European tradition to be thunderbolts; i.e., the weapon of Perkʷū́nos. Alternatively, we could be dealing with a very ancient tradition indeed (even more ancient than the use of a bronze axe). Flint is also, of course the , the stone most used for starting a fire; a stone that sheds sparks is a fitting lightning stone. That flint was, in fact, a lightning stone to the Romans is shown by Servius 8.641 (in Weiss, 2010, 174), who tells us that flint was used because it was “the ancient emblem of Jupiter.” It might be thought at first that the flint was a blade used to slit the throat of the victim, but both Livy and Servius say the animal was “struck” (percussit in Livy 1.24.8, feriretur in Servius; Livy 21.45.8 simply says mactasset “sacrifice”). This is the case even though in Livy the animal is in one case a piglet and in the other a lamb, both of which could simply have dispatched with a knife. Instead, the sparking emblem of the Roman Perkʷū́nos, was used to strike the animal dead.

[The differences between Greece and Rome support the storm weapon theory even more than the similarities. There is, of course, the similarity of the axe. But the secondary tools show derivation from the same thought; both flint and club are associated with the storm god, Jupiter and Herakles, respectively. Despite the strong influence of Greek religion on Rome, they have inherited their secondary tools separately. It this were to be an areal thing, it would have to go back a very long way, to a time when the Western Indo-Europeans were a unified group. Due to the ages of each migration, however, it is unlikely that there was such a time, at least insofar as the Greeks and Romans were concerned, increasing the likelihood that we are dealing with not just a Western Indo-European tradition, but a Proto-Indo-European one.

[In the Germanic texts, we find mention of a number of ways to kill a sacrificial animal: stabbing, strangling, drowning. However, the sacrificed animals who have been archaeologically have primarily been killed by a blow on the head (Neff, 1982, 97).

[At the Gaulish sanctuary excavated at Gournay-sur-Aronde oxen were found that had been sacrificed by a blow to the back of the neck (Aldhouse-Green, 2010, 136). In some of the representations of sacrifice from Val Camonica there is an axe lying on the ground, although sometimes the sacrificer holds a sword or dagger (Anati, 161, 180). Of course, the axe could have used to deal the death blow, and a knife used to either cut up the animal or finish it off.

[At Rislev, in Zealand, many sacrificial animals have been found - horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, and pigs. Most of them were killed by a blow on the forehead (Todd, 1975, 198).

[It would still be nice to have some evidence from the East, however, and it is the east to which I now turn.

[[When the Kalasha perform sacrifices, one man holds the animal by the horns (and it is horned animals that are sacrificed) and presses the head down, and another cuts its spine with an axe (1896, 7)]

[Sacrifices are still performed in Zoroastrian rituals in Iran, but we are, as always, interested in the oldest sources we can find. In this case, our best source is Strabo (63 BCE-23 CE). In his Geography (15.3.13-5) he describes a Persian sacrifice in which the animal is killed with a club, “beating them to death as with a cudgel.”

[The Vedic texts, usually our most useful (or at least most profuse) of sources, aren’t of much help. Even as the Brahmanas were being written, animal sacrifice was beginning to go out of style. It would soon be replaced by either symbolic sacrifice of an animal substitute or by an interiorization of the sacrifice (Slevanayagam, 1996, 86-90).

[As a transitional phase, the priests’ queasiness at the shedding of blood had been fixed by killing the animal by smothering it. (De Jong (2002, 142) implies that a similar motivation lay behind the use of a cudgel in Iran, to keep the blood from being spilled until the last moment). Even that was a bit graphic, so it came to be referred to as “quieting” (e.g. ŚB (Eggeling, 1885, 391)).

[This unusual method is clearly a Vedic innovation, something not inherited from Proto-Indo-European days, since nothing of the sort appears elsewhere. There therefore must have been a different Vedic way of killing a sacrificial animal. The question is whether we can determine what that method was.

[Vesci (1985, 37) thinks she has. She refers to a verse in the Rig Veda, where the horse in the ávamedha is told not to fear the axe: 1.162.20, “Let not the hatchet linger in thy body. Let not a greedy immolater, missing the joints, mangle thy limbs unduly.” This parallels other prayers where the animal is told that it isn’t really dying, but being transformed into something divine (e.g. RV 1.162.21, “No, here thou diest not, thou art not injured: by easy paths unto the god thou goest). Priestly guilt is at work here. Vesci maintains that this is a fossil of a period when an axe was the instrument of sacrifice.

[The word that Griffith translates "immolater" is rendered "slaughterer" by O'Flaherty (1981, 91) (in the sense of one who cuts up an animal), and Zerleger "one who cuts up" by Geldner (2003, 224). It is actually śamitar, which means "he who quiets, calms or appeases" (van den Bosch, 1985, 170). Since, as we have seen, the act of killing the animal in sacrifice is referred to as "quieting" it, this means that, surprisingly, O'Flaherty and Geldner have mistranslated, and it is Griffith how has it right. Based on this text, Van den Bosch (1985, 170) takes it as given that the horse was beheaded with an axe. The horse sacrifice (aśvamedha) is a very special ritual, however, , so this may be something limited to it. Certainly in the Roman equivalent to this sacrifice, the October Equus, the horse is beheaded, likely after it has been speared.

[A club used in part of the horse sacrifice, used to kill a dog which is then floated under the horse in a pool. However, this dog is "four-eyed" (has spots over its eyes), identifying it with the dogs of Yama, god of the dead; is not eaten; and is killed by the son of a whore (Campbell, 1962, 192; Keith, 1989 (1925), 344), so this is clearly not the normal way of doing things. It might even be seen as evidence against the use of a club in standard sacrifices.

[There is a hint in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (, however, where we read that killing a sacrificial animal by hitting it on the forehead was the human way, and hitting it behind the ear was the ancestral way, but suffocating or strangling it is the modern way. This implies, or even states, that there was an earlier form of sacrifice that involved strik-ing. [I think we are on firm grounds in believing that sacrificial animals were killed by Proto-Indo-Europeans with a weapon associated with the thunder-god. In my reconstructed rituals (and I believe in the Proto-Indo-European world as well) this means with the double-headed axe.

[The ceasing of the outcry by the congregation is actually the reverse of the Greek custom, from which I got the idea. There the women at a sacrifice give a cry after the animal is killed (Burkert, 1985, 56). That certainly is an option. I reversed it for dramatic effect; the rising volume and tempo is an intense experience, and the sudden silence after the death of the animal intensifies the sacredness of the moment greatly.]

[The use of the percussion is one more way of bringing the participants into the ritual. The stopping of the percussion is actually the reverse of its inspiration, the ololygē, the sacrificial cry, raised by the women present at the Greek sacrifice at the moment of killing (Bremmer, 2010, 136; Burkert, 1985, 56). First, once I'd decided to add the percussion to draw people in I needed a place for to stop, and the moment of the kill seems the obvious one. Second, the sudden drop in sound creates, I assure you, a very dramatic moment. This replaces the dramatic actual killing that would have accompanied an animal sacrifice. Third, the sudden silence emphasizes the sacredness of the moment. All in all it is a very powerful point in the ritual.]

As soon as the axe is lifted, the Xádbhertor quickly cuts a slice from the right side of the bread, using his right hand. He then cuts a thin slice from the left side and puts it on top of the first slice. Finally, he cuts a thin slice from the bottom. He cuts this in half and puts the right half on top of the other slices. He puts the piled slices in the hṇ ́gʷnis, saying:

Xáryomen, here is your share.
Sit down at our table, Xáryomen,
and see the meal we have spread out for you.
Héd, heti wḗǵ!
[Eat and be strong!]

[The first two slices represent the head and tail of the animal; all of the animal is consecrated to the gods, even though only part of it is actualy put in the fire. The third slice represents the innards, parts of which were offered to the gods in Greece (Parker, 2011, 150-1) and Rome. The innards (and special parts of the meat) were eaten by prominent attendees (in Greece, Parker, 2011, 151-2).]

He stands and announces:

We are ghóstēs to Xáaryomen.
Xáryomen is ghóstis to us.
Tód hestu!

All say:

Tód hestu!

[It is of course necessary to put some of the animal into the fire. We are, after all, giving something to the gods. It allows for the ritual meal, the invocation of the ghosti-principle.

[There is also a concept found in Indo-European sacrificial theory that says that the gods are increased in power through sacrifice. The Roman formula was the prayer macte esto “may you be stronger” (Scullard, 1981, 23). Indra is aided in the slaying of Vṛtra by the hymns, prayers, and sacrifices of his worshipers (Macdonell, 1897, 60). In a Hittite prayer calling for the presence of the god Telbinus, we read, "Behold now, I am evoking thee with (offerings of) bread (and) drink; be thou fully nourished" (Ten Cate, 1969, 87). Vedic ritual ends with a statement that the god has accepted the offering, and that he has become stronger (O'Flaherty, 1976, 85). In Zoroastrianism, the haoma drink and the dr̄on (consecrated bread) give sustenance to the gods, and make it easier for them to manifest themselves in the material world (Boyd and Kotwal, 1983, 307). This last makes a lot of sense; the material offering gives the deities a link to the material world.

[The gods' portion varies with tradition, although the fat, and specifically that of the omentum, the fat that surrounds the internal organs, is common, as is the case in Rome (Arnobius of Sicca, in Weiss, 2010, pp. 265-6, n. 71) and Vedism. In Rome the omentum was part of the exta: the gall bladder, the liver, and the lungs, as well as the omentum (Schilling, 1969, 471). (Since the exta were sprinkled with mola salsa before being burnt (Schilling, 1969, 471-2), this was a second sacrifice, a sacrifice within a sacrifice, this time given over completely to the gods). Testicles were also offered (Weiss, 2010, 265). Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Antiquities 7.22.15-16; in Weiss, 2010, 282-4) lists them as pieces from each of the innards, plus one from each limb. Strabo tells us (15.3.13, in De Jong, 2002, 133) that sometimes the omentum was burned in Persian sacrifices. In the sacrifice at the Zoroastrian Mihragan ritual, the tip of the tongue is offered to Hōm (Haoma) and portions of the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach and omentum to Mihr (Mithra) (Boyce, 1975, 111). We have already seen the Greek splanchna, the fat and bones, and the Ossetic fat and lungs combination. All this is no surprise, really, since fat burns well. Robert Parker (2011, 140) points out another consideration. It is not actually the bones and fat that are the offerings, but the smoke from them, and the smoke, unlike the meat, is pure and does not rot (Parker, 2011, 140). This would make the meat a terrible thing to give the gods; it is in a sense impure.

[In Hittite ritual there were parts of the animal that were given over the to the gods that were taboo to humans; what they were is unknown, but were likely viscera (Waktins, 1975b). The term for them, šuppa is from the root *seup- "taboo" which he have seen above. This root appears in Umbrian as supa with a similar meaning.

[The portion given to the gods through the fire also serves to strengthen the gods.]

He holds the other half over the xā́sā a moment, and then eats it. He then holds the main piece of the bread over the xā́sā for a moment, long enough to toast it if possible, and then hands it to those gathered. He gives it to the Fire Tender first; she tears off a piece and eats it. The Xádbhertor gives the remainder to another, and it is passed around, each eating some of it. If there is any left over, it is put into the hṇ́gʷnis

[Before the others, the main participants in a Greek sacrifice ate some of the entrails (Burkert, 1985, 57), after other parts had been offered to the gods.

[The bread is put into the hṇ́gʷnis, the altar of the gods, for the gods to eat, but the part consumed by men is cooked over the xā́sā, the fire of men. In Vedic ritual, the sacrifice was cooked over the gārhapatya, the representative of the domestic hearth (Hillebrandt, 1980, I:67). The altar fire wasn’t used to cook the meat in either Greece or Rome.

[The bread could also (and perhaps better) be eaten at the feast after the ritual. I suggest putting it in the fire here as a way of completing the sacrifice, disposing of it in a sacred manner. However, in Vedic ritual what is left over is to be either thrown into water or eaten by a priest, with putting it in the fire warned against (Srinivasan, 1983, 554).]

If the ritual is being performed in honor of more than one deity, the prayers can simply be directed to all of them and a single sacrifice performed, so long as the same animal is not inappropriate to all of them. If the deities are such that different animals should be sacrificed, however, each deity must get their own animal, with steps 3 through 7 repeated for each, but with the distribution to participants left until all have been offered to. Each person must eat some of each sacrifice; not to do so would be to insult the deity to whom it was offered.

The Xádbhertor returns to his place.

13. The libation.

The Xádbhertor pours mead with his right hand at the base of the fire, saying:

All the Holy Ones, be honored in our midst.
Be welcome at our table, all of you.
We pour out our offering to you
like living water, like grain from a bag.
Drink deeply of the gifts we give.
Wisudeiwoíbos ǵhewomes
[We pour a libation to the All-Gods.]
Tṓd hestu!

All: Tṓd hestu!

[A libation was poured after the initial burning of the gods' share in Greek sacrifice. Bremmer (2010, 138) attributes this to the gods' drinking as well as eating.

[This libation may also be seen as representing the blood of the animal. In both Germanic (Fleck, 1971, 126-7) and Roman ritual the blood played an important part. In Rome, it was poured over the altar from the bowl in which it was caught (Derks, 1988, 218) (some was allowed to flow onto the ground (Scullard, 1981, 24)), and a copious amount of blood was a good omen. In the October Equus ritual, blood from the tail of the sacrificed horse was splashed onto the hearth of the regia, the dwelling of the sacred king (Neff, 1980, 185; Scullard, 1981, 193). According to Siculus Flaccus, the blood and ashes of a sacrificial victim (along with fruit, honey, and wine were put into the hole before a boundary stone was set up (Scullard, 1981, 80); were the blood and ashes together meant to reconstruct the animal? Or were they meant to represent offerings to the gods (the ashes) and the dead (the blood)?

[Norse sacrificial blood was also poured on the altar, although it was caught first in a vessel of some kind (Fleck, 1971, 127). The ring on which oaths were sworn in Iceland was yearly placed into the blood of a sacrifice (Davidson, 1988, 53; Neff, 1980, 186). In the Eyrbygga Saga (4), Thorolf sprinkled the walls of a shrine to Thor with the blood of sacrifices (Davidson, 1988, 58). Sacrificial blood could also be sprinkled on the people present.

[In Greece, blood is also caught in a basin, and then poured onto the altar (Burkert, 1985, 56; Oddyssey, 3.442). Sacrificial blood might be used to purify (Bremmer, 2010, 134; Burkert, 1985, 81-2). Ironically, some of the reasons for which this done were pollution resulting from the shedding of blood, such as in childbirth. Perhaps the point was to remove blood which had been shed improperly with blood which had been shed according to divine law. According to Pliny (Natural History 28.137, in Larson, 2010, 67), a priestess at a temple of Gaia in Aegae drank sacrificed blood in order to prophecy, something which was also done by a priest of Apollo elsewhere. Blood soaking into the ground was a standard offering to Heroes, to refresh them, fill them with life (Robertson; 1996; 244-5, 247).

[We have record from 14th century Lithuania of the blood of a sacrificed bull being smeared on the faces and hands as part of ratifying a treaty (Gimbutas, 1973, 471-2).

[The Indo-Iranian tradition handles blood in a completely different way, seeing it as polluted or polluting. Zoroastrian tradition is ambivalent. Strabo (15.3.14) describes an Iranian sacrifice to water in which great care is taken that none of the blood enters the water, which would pollute it. In modern Irani Zoroastrian sacrifices, the blood is still considered polluted enough that it is not offered to the divine beings, but not so polluted that it cannot be consumed by people (Boyce, 1975, 111,115; 1989, 41).

[In Vedic ritual, animals were sacrificed by throttling; i.e., no blood was shed in the actual killing. That which flowed during the butchering was offered to the serpents or to the destructive god Rudra (Gonda, 1980, 185; Macdonell, 1974, 153), or it is smeared onto grass and offered to the r?k?asas, the "demons" (ŚB (Eggeling, 1985)). Blood is not to flow onto the ground to the east of the fires (Gonda, 1980, 434), i.e., the place where the gods would have been.

[The rules seems to be, then, that in the west sacrificial blood is a great good, whereas in the east it is polluted and polluting. It is possible to reconcile these two by seeing the blood as sacred. Remember that the sacred has a strong dangerous side to it. It is powerful and power can cut both ways. The Indo-Iranians picked one side, and the western Indo-Europeans the other.

[This leads us to the question of which way the Proto-Indo-Europeans saw it. Did the west change, did the east change, or did the Proto-Indo-Europeans see the sacrificial blood as a combination of the two? It's hard to say, but my gut feeling is that it's easier to get from good to bad than it is to get from bad to good. This would imply that the Proto-Indo-European view was either like that of the west, or a combination of the two, that the sacrificial blood was simply seen as sacred, with all that that implies. [Because of the uncertainty, however, I leave it to you as to how to handle the "blood" of the sacrificial animal. It could be seen as the libation. It could be a separate libation. It could be given to the deities, the ancestors, or the Outsiders. The evidence is too unclear to suggest anything firm.]

The Ǵhḗuter then begins a litany of titles of praise to the All-Gods. After each one, all reply:

Uzmei ǵhḗwomes.
[We pour a libation to you.]

This is an opportunity for the Ǵhḗuter to show some creativity. Done right, this could be a moment of real ecstasy. Possible titles include:

Wise Ones/Beneficent Ones/You of Wondrous Power/One Who Bless/Smiling Ones/Possessors of Many Cows/Beautiful Ones/You Whose Being is the Xártus/Celestial Ones/Heavenly Ones/You Who Watch Over Men and Cattle/You Who Look on us from Above/You Whose Beneficence Sustains Us/etc.

As the last one, the Ǵhḗuter says:

Givers of Gifts, we praise and welcome you.

All: Givers of Gifts, we praise and welcome you.

14. The Piacular sacrifice
The Xádbhertor picks up the remaining piece of bread and takes it to the hṇ́gʷnis, where he breaks it up and scatters it into the fires and on the ground, saying:

Gods and Goddesses
Holy Ancestors
Spirits of this Place:
If anything we have done here has offended you
If anything we done here has been incomplete
If anything we have done here has violated the yewes
or in any way done violence to the Xártus,
accept this final offering in recompense.

[Because of the concern with doing things rightly, and because of the belief that ritual writes things not just into the lives of the celebrants, but the cosmos itself, there is a strong incentive to do things right. However, as human beings we are unable to do everything perfectly. There is therefore an offering meant to atone for any mistakes that have been made. The term “piacular” comes from Rome, where this was done. If the mistake had been caught and was a big enough one, however, the entire ritual had to be reperformed. Since a ritual could take place over a number of days, be required to be over by a certain day, and involve a large number of expensive animals there was obviously a great incentive to get it right. Piacular sacrifices were to make up for the possibility that it hadn’t been.

[The Iguvine Tablets give an example of such a sacrifice: “Jupiter Grabovius, thee (I invoke) with this perfect ox as a propitiatory offering for the Fisian Mount, for the sake of Iguvium, for the name of the mount, for the name of the state. Jupiter Grabovius, by the effect of this (ox) (bring it to pass), if on the Fisian Mount fire hath occurred or in the state of Iguvium the due rites have been omitted, that it be as not intended. Jupiter Grabovius, if in thy sacrifice there hath been any omission, any sin, any transgression, any damage, any delinquency, if in thy sacrifice there be any seen or unseen fault, Jupiter Grabovius, if it be right, with this perfect ox as a propitiatory offering may purification be made” (Poultney, 1959, 242-4).

[In Vedic ritual there was a belief that not only would a mistake invalidate the sacrifice, it might turn it against the person for whom the sacrifice was performed. The ritual manuals are therefore full of instructions on what to do if some part of the sacrifice goes wrong. For instance, in the birth ritual we find “Whatever in my ritual work I have done in excess or may have left deficient let Agni Sviṣṭakṛt ['he who makes the oblations well offered'] make it well sacrificed and well offered for us” (Gonda, 1980; 217, 303). In soma and domestic rituals, butter was offered to Agni, with the mantra “whatever fault has been mine, Agni has put that right” (Gonda, 1982, 61). According to Taittiriya Brāhmaṇa, “When an animal is offered to Bṛhaspati, whatever is lacking in the sacrifice is made perfect” (in Kolhatkar, 1999, 95-6).

[In the Zoroastrian drōn ritual, a missed portion of a prayer can be fixed by reciting the whole prayer again (The Pahlavi Rivāyat preceding the Dātistān i Dēnik 56.34, in Jamaspasa, 1985, 349-50).]

15. Extinguishing the Fires
This phase starts with a hymn or prayer of praise to the deity or deities of the occasion by the Ǵhḗuter or by all.

The Ǵhéuter lowers his arms and holds them out towards the hṇ́gʷnis and says:

Fire of sacrifice, you have discharged your duty well,
And now we feed you and send you on your way.
Hngwnei, gwrtins dedəmes.
Fire of sacrifice, we give you our thanks.


Fire of sacrifice, we give you our thanks.

The Fire Tender spoons clarified butter on the hṇ́gʷnis. When the butter is burned, the Fire Tender extinguishes the fire by pouring water from the pitcher on it.

[In the Iguvium Tables, the ritual fire is extinguished by pouring pune on it, an unidentified drink (Poultney translates it as "mead," but that is simply a guess) which is used in other parts of the sacrifice for libations (Poultney, 1959, 186).]

When the hṇ́gʷnis is out, the Ǵhḗuter says:

Lady of Fire, Queen of the hearth,
who by rights receives the last,
bless and guard all those who worship you
whether in their home or without
whether alone or with others
whether thinking of you or engaged in business.
Pure One, receive this offering.

The Fire Tender pours butter on the xā́sā, while the Ǵhḗutersays:

Xā́sā, gwṛtins dedəmes.
[Fire of the hearth, we thank you.]

When the butter is consumed, the Fire Tender extinguishes the xá:sa: by pouring water on it and then putting the top of the cauldron on.

Once the fires are out, the ghórdhos is no longer sacred.

16. The Ending
When the xā́sā has finished smoking, the Ǵḗuter says:

With the hearthfire extinguished,
the center of our sacred world is gone.
With the center of our sacred world gone,
the sacred site dissolves about us.
We will carry it in our hearts, though,
nestled deep with the love of the gods.

The Ǵhḗuter raises his arms into the orans position and says:

Xáryomen who guides us in the right way:
See; we have performed the ritual rightly.
Rightly we have sacrificed, rightly praised, rightly offered.
Without your inspiration we would not have known the way.
Our prayers would have gone amiss.
But under your watchful gaze we have performed the ritua
and all has been done as it should have been done.
Your being is great; it deserves our gifts.
Your power is great; it deserves our honor.
Your holiness is great; it deserves our praise.
That is what we have done here, Xáryomen.
You who are the law know the law well,
and will not fail to return a gift for a gift
as is indeed the ancient way.
Give us then what we ask for.
Give us a community at peace,
joined one to another in the web of society.

The Xádbhertor says:

We have offered to the Holy Ones
and they have accepted our sacrifices.

The Ǵhḗuter says:

We have raised our words to the Old Ones as it is right to do.

The Xádbhertor says:

We have made offerings to the Old Ones as it is right to do.

The Ǵhḗuter says:

May we always be mindful of those we have worshiped.
May we always be mindful of them, worthy of worship.
May we all grow strong, under their watchful eyes.

The Ǵhḗuter raises his hands and says:

Shining Ones, who rule by the Xártus,
we have worshiped you as the yewésā require.
We may end this rite with confidence,knowing you will bless us.

He lowers his hands, looks at the people around him and says:

Walk on the path of the Mighty Ones,
under their protection, with their blessing.

All say:

Tṓd héstu!
[So be it!]

All leave in procession, in the same order in which they came. The Fire Tender may leave the xá:sa: in its place to be retrieved later.


Anati, Emmanuel. Camonica Valley. Linda Asher, tr. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961.

Boardman, John; Jasper Griffin; Oswynn Murphy. The Roman World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Bonefoy, Yves (ed.). Roman and European Mythologies. Tr. Under the direction of Wendy Doniger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Boyce, Mary. Haoma, Priest of the Sacrifice. In W. B. Henning Memorial Volume. ed. Mary Boyce and Ilya Gershevitch. London: Lund Humphries, 1970, 62-80.

----- Mihragan among the Irani Zoroastrians. In Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies, vol. 1. ed. John R. Hinnells. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1975, 106-18.

-----A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989.

Boyd, James W., and Kotwal, Firoze M. Worship in a Zoroastrian Fire Temple: the H. B. Wadia Atas Bahram. Indo-Iranian Journal 26 (1983) 293-318.

Bremmer, Jan M. "Effigies Dei" in Ancient Greece: Poseidon. In Effigies Dei: Essays on the History of Religions. ed. Dirk van der Plas. New York: E. J. Brill, 1987, 34-41.

-----The Family and Other Centres of Religious Learning in Antiquity. In Centres of Learning: Learning and Location in Pre-Modern Europe and the Near East. ed. Jan Willem Drijvers and Alaister A. MacDonald. NY: E. J. Brill, 1995.

Burchett, Bessie Rebecca. Janus in Roman Life and Cult, A Study in Roman Religions. Menasha, WI: George Banta, 1912.

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

-- The Meaning and Function of the Temple in Classical Greece. In Temple and Society. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1988.

Campbell, Joseph. Oriental Mythology. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1962.

Davidson, 1988, 53; Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1988. De Jong, Albert. Animal Sacrifice in Ancient Zoroastrianism. In Sacrifice in Religious Experience. ed. Albert I. Baumgarten. Boston: Brill, 2002, 127-48.

Derks, 1988 Derks, Ton. Gods, Temples and Ritual Practices: The Transformation of Religious Ideas and Values in Roman Gaul. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1998.

Drury, Naama. The Sacrificial Ritual in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇla. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981.

Dumézil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion. tr. Philip Krapp. Chicago: Uiversity of Chicago Press, 1970 (1966).

Eggeling, Julius (tr.). The Śatapatha-Brāhmaṇa according to the text of the Madhyandina School. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1885, 1894.

Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1959.

Fuller, C. J. The Hindu Temple and Indian Society. In Temple in Society. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1988.

Fleck, Jere. Odinn's Self-Sacrifice - A New Interpretation. Scandinavian Studies 43 (1971); 119-142, 385-413.

Gamkrelidze, Thomas V. and Ivanov, Vjaceslav V. Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and a Proto-Culture. tr. Johanna Nichols. New York: Mounton de Gruyter, 1995.

Geldner, Karl Friedrich. Der Rig-Veda. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003 (1951).

Gimbutas, Marija. Perkunas/Perun: The Thunder God of the Balts and the Slavs. Journal of Indo-European Studies 1:4 (Winter, 1973), 466-478.

Gonda, J. Vedic Ritual: The Non-Solemn Rites. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1980.

--The Haviryajñāḥ Somahạ. New York: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1982.

Griffith, Ralph T. H. The Rig Veda. Numerous editions; originally published in 1896. It can be found in a number of places on the internet, including Sacred Texts.

Hägg, Robin; Maninatis, Nanno; Nordquist, Gullög (ed.). Early Greek Cult Practice: Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium. Stockholm: Paul Arstroms Förlog, 1988.

Hillebrandt, Alfred. Vedic Mythology. tr. Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1980 (1929).

Homer. The Odyssey. tr. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

--The Iliad. tr. Robert Fangles. Harmondsworth, UK Penguin Books, 1990.

Jamaspasa, Kaikhusroo M. On the Drōn in Zoroastrianism. Acta Iranica 24 (Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce) (1985), 335-356. Keith, Arthur Berriedale. The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989 (1925).

Keith, Arthur Berriedale (tr.). The Aitareya and Kausitakin Brāhmaṇas of the Rigveda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998 (1920).

Kolhatkar, Madhavi Bhaskar. Surā: The Liquor and the Vedic Sacrifice. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1999.

Lambert, Michael. Ancient Greek and Zulu Sacrificial Ritual: A Comparative Analysis. Numen 40:3 (Sep., 1993), pp. 293 - 318.

Larson, Jennifer. A Land Full of Gods: Nature Deities in Greek Religion. In Ogden, Daniel. A Companion to Greek Religion. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, 56-70.

Linke, Uli. Blood as Metaphor in Proto-Indo-European. Journal of Indo-European Studies 13:3 & 4 (Fall/Winter, 1985), 333 - 375.

Lyle, Emily B. Archaic Cosmos: Polarity, Space, and Time. Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990.

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony. Vedic Mythology. New York: Gordon Press, 1974. (reprint of Strassbourg: K. J. Trübner, 1897).

Macrobius. Saturnalia. ed. and tr. Robert A. Kaster. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library), 2011.

Modi, Jivanji J. The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees. New York: Garland Publishing, 1979 (1922).

Nagy, Gregory. Six Studies of Sacral Vocabulary Relating to the Fireplace. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 78 (1974), 71 - 106.

Neff, Mary Susan. Germanic Sacrifice: An Analytical Study Using Linguistic, Archaeological, and Literary Data. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1980. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1982.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976.

--The Rig Veda (ed. and tr.). New York: Penguin Books, 1981.

Ogilvie, R. M. The Romans and Their Gods in the Age of Augustus. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1969.

Poultney, James Wilson, ed. and tr. The Bronze Tablets of Iguvium. Baltimore: American Philological Association.

Puhvel, Martin. Circumambulation and Medieval English Literature. In Folklore Studies in the Twentieth Century. Proceedings of the Centenary Conference of the Folklore Society. ed. Venetia J. Newall. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1978, 1980.

Renou, Louis. Vedic India. tr. Phillip Spratt. Varanasi, India: Indological Book House, 1971.

Robertson, George Scott. The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush. London: Lawrence and Bullen, 1896.

Robertson, Noel. Festivals and Legends: The Formation of Greek Cities in the Light of Public Ritual. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Scheid, John. An Introduction to Roman Religion. (tr. Janet Lloyd). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Schilling, Robert. The Roman Religion. Historia Religionum: Handbook for the History of Religions. ed. C. Jouco Bleeker. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969, 442-94.

Scullard, H. H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Selvanayagam, Israel. Vedic Sacrifice: Challenge and Response. New Delhi: Manohar, 1996.

Śatapatha Brāhman̡a. tr. Julius Eggeling. Sacred Books of the East, vol. 12, 26, 41, 43, 44. ed. Max Müller. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1986 (1894).

Srinivasan, Doris M. Vedic Rudra-Siva. Journal of the American Oriental Society 103:3 (1983), 543-556.

Strabo. Geography. tr. H. L. Jones.

Ten Cate, P. H. J. Houwink. Hittite Royal Prayers. Numen 16 (1969), 81-98.

Thite, Ganesh Umakant. Animal Sacrifice in the Brahmana Texts. Numen 17 (1970), 143 - 158.

Todd, Malcolm. The Northern Barbarians: 100 B.C. - A. D. 300. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1975.

Van den Bosch, Lourens. The Āprī Hymns of the ṚgVeda and their Interpretation. Indo-Iranian Journal 28:3 (1985), 95-122, 28:3 (1985), 169-189.

Vesci, Uma Marina. Heat and Sacrifice in the Vedas. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1985.

Volpe, Angela Della. From the Hearth to the Creation of Boundaries. Journal of Indo-European Studies 18:1 & 2 (Spring/Summer. 1990), 157 - 184.

Watkins, Calvert. How to Kill a Dragon. New York: Oxford University Press,1995.

Weiss, Michael. Language and Ritual in Sabellic Italy: The Ritual Complex of the Third and Fourth Tabulae Iguvinae. Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 2010.

Back To Top ]
Back To PIE Main Page ]

Nekter Ritual

In this essay, I’ve only been able to deal with the Indo-European sacred drink in a shallow perspective. The topic is a huge one, and would deserve its own book; in fact several have been written about sacred drinks in Vedism alone. What I have done, then, is touch on the more important myths and rituals that deal with the sacred drink, with particular emphasis on those things which deal directly with the Nekter ritual I’ll be giving. Because of the massive amount of information to deal with, and the ways in which it inter-connects, I’ve been unable to give the sort of point by point commentary on the ritual I did for the sacrifice.

The Indo-Europeans, and by extension the Proto-Indo-Europeans, had a sacred drink or drinks. These drinks gave different but overlapping benefits. Immortality, or at least long life and health, is common, as are inspiration, truth, sovereignty, and martial power.

The drinks are found in both myth and ritual. Depending on the culture there may be differences between the mythical and ritual drinks, either in kind or effect. Soma, for instance, brings immortality to the gods, but just long life to mortals; nektar also provides immortality to the gods, but its earthly version brings only healing.

Our search will include mythical drinks (those consumed by the gods, or shared with them in myth), ritual drinks (those prepared and consumed by humans), and a combination of both (ones prepared by humans and offered to gods for their consumption). The most basic ritual use of a drink is as a libation, but in general, however, I won’t be considering libations, except when they consist of a sacred drink. I will begin by presenting some of the evidence from the different Indo-European traditions in turn, and then I’ll give a quick summary. I regret that I don’t have the space here to do an in-depth comparison, but I’m sure that by the time I’m done you’ll have started to see patterns yourself, especially when you look through the ritual.

We find scattered references to sacred drinks in Ireland. They all seem to give first function gifts, primarily sovereignty, but also truth and prophetic knowledge.

The most striking of the Irish sacred drink stories occur in a line of descent that begins with Conn Cétchathach (“Of a Hundred Battles”). Conn’s story is found in
Baile en Scáil He finds himself at a feast before the god Lug. At Lug’s direction, a young woman serves drinks from a cup (the text is unclear as to who actually drinks them), with Lug naming a king to come with each one. After all the drinks have been served, Lug and the woman disappear, and Conn is left with the cup, the vat, and the dipper that had been used. The drink is called flaith, ”red ale.” This may tell us what the drink actually was in inauguration rituals; it may also have been affected by the similarity between flaith and laith, “sovereignty.”

Conn’s grandson, Cormac, also travels to a magical land. This time the god is Manannán, who is accompanied by his wife. At a feast Cormac is presented with a cup which will fall to pieces if a lie is said over it, and return to wholeness if a truth is told. In the land is a well from which five streams flow. Hazels grow over it, and drop their nuts into the water, where they are eaten by salmons. Manannán tells Cormac that the well is the well of knowledge, and that no one will have knowledge that doesn’t drink from it. (”Cormac’s Adventures in the Land of Promise”) The third in the line of Conn to encounter a sacred drink is Niall Noígíallach (“Of Nine Hostages”). In ”The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon”, he and his thee stepbrothers are sent out hunting as a test to see who should be chosen as their father’s successor to the kingship. They encounter, one at a time, a horrific woman (the technical term for this kind of character is the “Loathly Lady”), who demands a kiss in return for giving them a drink of water. His stepbrothers refuse, but Niall goes so far as to be willing to sleep with her. She turns into a beautiful maiden, and says that she is the Sovereignty of Ireland, and that Niall will be the high king, and his descendants after him.

These stories have their reflection in the rituals of kingly inauguration, in which an candidate ascends to the throne through a marriage with a queen at a feast. In the famous horse sacrifice from Kenicunill in Ulster, the king must drink from a broth made from the meat of the sacrificed mare with whom he has had sex; presumably the mare is identified in some way with the queen. His nobles, who are gathered around, must drink from it as well, thereby confirming his new status. (Described by Gerald of Wales, History and Topography of Ireland, 25.)

Stepping outside of Conn’s line, and out of the kingship, we turn to Finn mac Cumhaill. He received not the kingship, but the power of prophecy through his “thumb of knowledge;” when he bit on it, he knew things. There are several stories told of how he acquired this power. In the most famous, told in ”The Boyhood Deeds of Finn mac Cumhaill” he was cooking the salmon of knowledge, caught in the Boyne river, for his teacher. He accidentally burnt his thumb on the salmon, and stuck it into his mouth to cool it off, whereupon he acquired the wisdom his teacher had been looking to obtain.

Less well-known is the version in Finn and the Man in the Tree. Fionn is chasing one of the inhabitants of the síd (the fairy-mounds) who has been stealing food. He kills the thief at the entrance of the mound, but the door slams on his fingers. At the same time, a woman comes by who has been distributing drink to those inside the mound. Fionn again puts his injured thumb into his mouth. It is not said that the remains of the drink have spilled on the thumb, but I think it likely.

The final Irish tales are of the origins of the Boyne and Shannon Rivers. The tale of the Boyne is found in several different versions, as poems 2 and 3 in the third volume of Gwynn’s Metrical Dindshenchas, and in prose form in story 36 in the Bodleian Dinnshenchas and in story 19 of the Rennes Dinnshenchas. Nechtan is the guardian of a well in a síd, guarded also by three male cupbearers; the eyes of anyone who drank from it without the help of the cupbearers would burst. Nechtan’s wife, Boand, either to prove her innocence of adultery (of which she is, in fact, guilty) or because she thinks she should have the right to drink from the water, goes around the well, in one version counter-clockwise (the wrong direction to circumambulate a sacred object). As a result of her adultery, dishonesty, pride, and/or blasphemy, the well overflows, and the blazing water chases her until she reaches the sea, forming the river Boyne; along the way she loses a foot, a thigh, and an eye.

A similar story is told about the origin of the Shannon, which is found in poems 53 and 54 of vol. 3 of the Metrical Dindshenchas, and in prose in story 33 in the Bodleian Dinnshenchas, and story 59 in the Rennes Dinnshenchas. This time the well is under the sea. There are a number of hazel trees growing over it, and their nuts drop into it, where they are eaten by salmons. In one of the tales we are told that the juice from the nuts rises as bubbles and that the knowledge the river gives (which is of poetry and/or magic) comes from them. A number of streams come from the well. Sinann goes to the well to gain the knowledge with the same disastrous effects as Boand caused, although there isn’t any blame attached to her unless it can be seen as implied that she was too proud.

Among the continental Celts, we find the amazing grave of the “Prince of Hochdorf.” Among the finds is a drinking service consisting of a cauldron and some drinking horns. The cauldron would have held 500 liters, and contained the residue of a mead which included over a hundred of different kinds of herbs (Enright, 1996, 134-5), which would have required straining before consumption. There were nine drinking horns, eight actual horns and the ninth larger and of iron (Bettina, 1999, 76), and presumably for the prince himself, likely intended for an otherworldly feast with his nobles.

The Gaulish goddess Rosmerta may belong to this complex. Michael Enright (1996) has argued that the tub she is shown with contains a ritual drink, and that the enigmatic object she holds in her other hand is a strainer. Under this interpretation, she would be a means of providing the Roman god Mercury, with which she was found, with the legitimacy in the area in which she was worshiped. Alternatively, since Enright also connects her with prophecy, she would be associating with Mercury as either the herald of the gods or the god of communication in general.

Turning to the Germanic world, the most information comes, as usual, from the Norse. There are several relevant drinks there.

First, there is the water in Mimir’s well at the foot of the world tree Yggdrasill. It contains (and presumably conveys) wisdom and intelligence. Odin had to pay Mimir one of his eyes in return for a drink (Snorri, “Gylfaginning” 15). Turville-Petre’s translation of strophe 141 of the Hávamál (1964, 42) gives the drink a wide reach of benefits: “Then I began to be fruitful / and to be fertile, / to grow and to prosper; / one word sought / another word from me; / one deed sought / another deed from me.” In other words, fertility, speech, and action; in Dumézilian terms, it is tri-functional.

Second, there is the mead stolen by Odin. It has a complicated origin. The Aesir and the Vanir made a peace treaty by mixing their spittle and forming from it a man, Kvasir, who could answer any question. He was killed by two dwarves, who mixed his blood with honey and fermented it into mead. They ended up having to pay it as wergild to the giant Suttung, whose father they had killed. Suttung took it to his home in a mountain, under the guard of his daughter Gunnlod. Odin went to steal the mead, turned himself into a snake to go into the mountain through a hole, and then won three draughts of the mead from Gunnlod in return for sleeping with her for three nights. He drained the entire amount in the three draughts, turned himself into an eagle, and flew back to Asgard. Suttung chased him, also in eagle form, and before Odin made it home, some of the mead fell onto the earth and became the share of poets (Snorri, “Skaldskaparmal”, 61-3). Here the mead brings peace to opposed factions, and inspirations to the gods and poets.

Finally, there is the mead drunken by the dead heroes in Valhalla. It is the milk of the goat Heiðrun, who feeds on the leaves of the world tree Yggdrasill (Snorri, “Gylfaginning,” 39). It might be said to provide immortality, at least to the extent that anything can be said to be immortal in the Norse cosmology.

Michael Enright, in Lady with a Mead Cup, gives evidence for myth and ritual throughout the continental Celtic and Germanic world, for a ritual in which a woman serves mead or wine to men who are seated according to rank; the serving is also in rank order. She is either the wife or, if there is no wife, the daughter of the highest ranking man present. The most famous example of this is in Beowulf, where Wealhtheow, the wife of Hrothgar, who is the lord of the hall, enters while the lord and his nobles and youths (presumably young men who had not yet attained the status of noble, or perhaps had not experienced battle, as Michael Enright’s translation (1996, 3, line. 621) as “veterans and youths” implies) are feasting. She is carrying a mead cup, which she presents first to the king, and then to his men, apparently in order of rank. She ends with Beowulf, who had not introduced himself yet, and was therefore of unknown status. (Lines 612-41; 10.55-83 in the linked translation.) From this, and other Germanic sources, we can reconstruct a ritual in which a woman (either the wife or daughter of a lord) serves mead to her lord and then to his men, who are seated in a hall. This serving reinforces the social ranking of those present, especially the lord as the chief of the hall and the men in it.

In Greece, a sacred drink appears both in myth and in ritual (as related in myth). The most famous of these is nektar (from “overcomer of death”); ambrosia (“not dying”), while usually identified as a food, is sometimes treated as a drink as well.

These area consumed by the gods to maintain both their immortality and their immortal youth. The ambrosia is brought to Olympos from lands to the far west by doves. They have to pass through the Clashing Rocks, and when the rocks close behind them, the last dove is killed (Odyssey 12.62-5). Nektar is served to Zeus by Hebe, “youth,” the wife of Herakles, or, in later myth, by Ganymede, who has been kidnapped, in the Aeneid 252 ff., from Mt. Ida, by an eagle sent by Zeus, or Zeus in the form of an eagle. His father is compensated for the loss with a pair of horses (Iliad, 5.266).

A relevant myth is of the infancy of Zeus. Rhea had hidden him from Cronos in a cave on Crete, where his cries were drowned out by the Kouretes, youths who struck their spears against their shields as they danced. He was fed by nektar brought to him by an eagle, and then served from the horn of the goat Amalthea by nymphs who are the daughter of Melisseus, “Honey-bee.” Zeus was also fed honey there, or the milk was mixed with honey. (See Theoi.com for quotations from the sources.)

In the realm of ritual, we find several special drinks in Homer. In the Iliad, books 8 and 10, we find a woman feeding horses a mixture of honey-sweet wheat and wine, which as Calvert Watkins (1978, 10) dryly observes is “not ordinary rations for horses, then or now.” In the Odyssey, Book 10, Circe prescribes a ritual for calling up the dead. Odysseus is to dig a trench and offer milk and honey, then sweet wine, then water, and then barley meal. (In Book 11, Odysseus conducts this ritual.) In the Iliad, Book 10, a woman serves Nestor and Machaon, who are seated at a table in a tent, a drink made from a mixture of wine, grated goat’s cheese, and barley. It is served along with a meal of onion, honey, and barley. The two heroes are wounded, but the drink puts them at ease and they forget their wounds for a while.

Thus, from the rituals we find a drink made from wine, honey, milk, and barley, which provides “life” to the dead (by bringing them back for Odysseus to consult) and ease from pain. In its mythological form it is brought by a bird or birds.

The eastern Indo-European world presents us, as usual, with an embarrassment of riches. The drink there is *sauma, hoama/hom in Iran and soma in India.

The preparation and consumption of hom (the modern word) is the point of the yasna, the most basic Zoroastrian ritual (described in considerable detail in Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees; a shorter description is found in Williams and Boyd, 1993, 159-66). This beautiful ritual has been very influential in my own work, not just the Nekter ritual, but my general approach to the subject.

As a very short summary, the yasna involves mixing water, three twigs of ephedra, and a pomegranate twig in a mortar, and then crushing the ephedra and leaves to form a drink. The mixture is strained, creating parahom. It is presented (offered) to the sacred fire. This is done by the assistant priest. The chief priest now arrives, and a piece of flat bread, the drōn is consecrated and consumed, along with butter. This bread and butter is a replacement for a sacrificial animal, and its eating a representation of a meal. The parahom is drunk by the officiating priests. A new hom is then prepared, and this time is mixed with goat’s milk. Half of the resultant mixture is poured into the well the water for the ritual came from, and the other half reserved for those who have paid for the yasna to be held. (I’ve left out the very long recitations of parts of the Zoroastrian scripture that take placed in-between most of these acts.)

The pomegranate twigs are from a tree which, in a canonical Zoroastrian temple, grows in the temple’s courtyard, which is where the well is. The goat whose milk is used lives there too, and presumably feeds at least in part on the leaves of the tree. The tree is representative of the “tree of all seeds,” i.e., the source of all life, and the axis mundi. The tree of all seeds is also identified as itself being the haoma plant (Windfuhr, 1985, 705-6). The well connects the temple to the Waters. Ephedra doesn’t so much symbolize as be; it is a provider of inspiration, invigoration, long life, wisdom, courage – in short, everything good. From a physical point of view, the ephedra is a natural stimulant.

Besides obtaining the gifts mentioned, the ritual, in Zoroastrian terms, is part of the combat between Order and Chaos. Pouring the hom into the well “blesses and strengthens the Waters and thereby the rest of creation (Williams and Boyd, 1993, 166). Through the hom ritual, then the physical universe is enlivened by the spiritual one.

The ritual may be seen as expressing the interplay between the parts of the Indo-European universe. Although the Waters are seen as inherently beneficent in Zoroastrian theology, it can’t be denied that the well is an opening to the land below, and thus, in Indo-European terms, a passageway to Chaos. The tree, on the other hand, is, in Indo-European thought, the form of Cosmos. Now, the goat eats from the tree, and thus her milk is the direct result of the tree; it is the tree (Cosmos) in consumable form, and the gift of the tree. By consuming the parahom, the priests receive the gift of Chaos, which has been made safe by being prepared in a ritual, by being, in other words, ordered. This gift is then mixed with the product of Cosmos, indeed, with Cosmos itself, and given to Chaos. Thus the Indo-European cosmic cycle is acted out in the ritual.

Haoma exists in a mythical form as well. There it is said to come from the mountains (Duchesne-Guillemin, 1969, 332) (which is where the ephedra used today grows), whence it is brought by birds, although it originally came from heaven (Keith, 1989 (1925), 171; Hom Yašt).

Haoma can also be considered a god (Duchesne-Guillemin, 1969, 332), who is prayed to for children. Sometimes it is hard to tell which is meant, the prepared drink, the plant, or a divine being. In Yasna 9.8, we find haoma compared to other intoxicants, in verse 12 we are told of how haoma grows in the mountains, and in verse 13 it is being praised as if it were a god, and then in verse 13 it is back to being a drink again, with it asked to give the man who drinks it mixed prosperity and a good mind.

The second divine liquid in Iran is the xvarənah. This is the divine glory that conveys, among other things, kingship. The word is from *swelnos, “solar matter” (Puvhel, 1987, 281) and so it is burning as well as a liquid. In the story told in Yašt 19, he (it was sometimes personified) was possessed by King Yima until the king sinned against truth, whereupon he left him in three parts, each time in the form of a Varaghna bird, a falcon. The three-headed snake Aži Dahāka attempts to steal it, but is scared off by the threats of Ātar, “Fire.” Apām Napāt, “Son of Waters,” then seizes it and deposits it in Lake Vourukaša. In an attempt to seize it and thereby the kingship, the Turanian (i.e., non-Aryan, and therefore ineligible) Frangryasyan dives into the lake three times, but it flees from him, overflowing in the waters of the lake. As well as sovereignty, xvarənah gives power, health, and offspring; it is also a source of immortality (Brough, 1985, 716, n. 21).

In addition to putting the xvarənah in Lake Vourukaša, Apām Napāt dwells there. He is often called “swift-horsed,” and in Yašt 19 is also called “lord of females.”

As usual, Vedic India gives us more than we need, almost too much to handle. In fact, we have to deal not with one ritual drink, but with two, and with myths of others as well. The most famous of these drinks is soma.

This is a plant, a drink prepared from it, and a god identified with both or either (and, in the later period, the moon). The identity of the plant is unknown; it was apparently either too expensive or difficult to obtain, and substitutes were allowed for it at an early date; eventually the actual plant fell out of use completely, and then out of memory.

There have been many theories as to the identity of the original plant, but none have acquired universal acceptance. It is clear, however, that soma was a stimulant. Indra drinks it to be energized for battle, especially his famous fight against Vṛtra. It also inspired priests, and was said to provide immortality, although by this latter is meant only long and full life for mortals.

There are numerous myths surrounding soma, the most famous of which is the “theft of the soma.” The most important texts for this are RV 4. 26 and 4.27. The soma is originally in the possession of the Asuras, the forces of disorder (?ṛta), who oppose the gods, and who keep it in their mountain fortress. It is stolen from them by suparṇu¸ a raptor (either falcon or eagle). This may be Indra in its form, or Indra may accompany it. While it is returning with the soma, an archer shoots off one of its feathers (or a wing) (RV 4.27.3-4) or a toe (Aitareya-brāhma?a III.25, 26), which falls to the ground and becomes a tree.

The soma ritual, the agniṣṭoma, is a complex one, involving a number of pressings of the stalks after they have been soaked in water. It can extend over three days, or be limited to one. In the single day version there are three pressings; in the morning, at midday, and in the afternoon. There are numerous sub-rituals, including sacrifices and cake offerings. The rituals are described in varying degrees of detail in numerous sources, including the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, and the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. Some useful secondary sources are Hillebrandt (1980) and Keith (1989). The juice is mixed at various times with things other than water, including milk, barley, rice, and honey. While the juice as bitter, the soma drink is described as mádhu-, which can mean both “honey” and “sweet,” to the point where we can’t always be sure which is meant. Sometimes this seems literal, because of the addition of honey, and sometimes metaphorical. During the ritual, soma is offered to numerous gods and the ancestors, and consumed by the priests and by the person on whose behalf the ritual is being performed.

We are told in the Vedas that originally the soma ritual was only allowed for the two upper classes, the brahmans and the kṣatriyas, but was later extended to the vaisyas (Varenne , 1991, 235), although it was always forbidden to anyone outside the classes of the Aryas.

The second Vedic drink is surā, which I consider more important for our purposes. Usually incorrectly (and inexplicably) translated “wine,” it is more a beer. It is composed of water; grains, including rice and barley; honey; yeast; and milk. It is fermented in holes in the ground for at least three days. Each day it is uncovered, rituals are performed, and new ingredients are added, primarily various grains in various forms (sprouted, parched, sprouted and parched, etc.) (References are to Kolhatkar, 1999).

The ritual, the sautrāmaṇi, is prescribed for members of the warrior (kṣatriya) class. It may be performed for various reasons – it is part of the rājasūya (the royal consecration ritual, 18), it brings prosperity and offspring (21) and healing (22) -- but most especially for one who has over-indulged in soma. It includes a triple sacrifice, a goat, a ram, and a bull, to the Aśvins, Sarasvatī, and Indra, respectively, three animals associated with each of the Indo-European functions.

Surā is subordinated to soma, as shown in many ways. For instance, the major deities involved are the third function Sarasvati and the Aśvins (the third deity to whom the ritual is dedicated is, perhaps inevitably, Indra). The Aśvins, “Horsemen,” were even originally forbidden to partake of the soma ritual.

The Aśvins are especially connected with surā. In RV 1.116.7 they cause a hundred jars of it to flow from a horse’s hoof as a gift for Kak?īvat. According to RV 10.131.4-5, they used it to help Indra in his fight against Namuci and with it Sarasvati healed them.

The Vedic texts are ambivalent on surā. Sometimes it is blamed for wrongdoing (RV 7.86.6), and sometimes it is clearly a sacred drink. Since the sautramaṇi is intended to purify the drinker (who is even originally Indra) from drinking too much soma, it may be said that at least on that occasion it is superior to soma.

Nonetheless, I believe it, rather than soma, to have been the Vedicized version of the Indo-European sacred drink. I base this on a number of factors. First, it is clear that the soma can’t be the reflex, at least not in toto, because whatever the plant may have been, it did not grow in the rest of the Indo-European world, outside of the Indo-Iranian area. Second, what is used outside of Indian and Iran is an alcoholic beverage, and sura, not soma, is alcoholic. Third, the ingredients of surā – grain, honey, yeast, milk, and water – correspond to those of other Indo-European drinks. It is true, of course, that these are also included in soma; however, they are not the primary focus of that drink.

There are two other drinks mentioned in the myths and texts, namely mádhu and amṛta.

I’ve already mentioned mádhu as one of the descriptions of soma, but it also seems to exist as a separate drink. We encounter the following myth, alluded to in the Rig Veda, but elaborated in later texts:

The Asvins went to Dadhyañc to ask for the secret of mádhu, but Dadhyañc refused to give it to them because Indra had promised to cut off his head if he did. The Aśvins told him that that was no problem, because they knew how to restore heads. With Dadhyañc’s agreement, they cut off his head themselves, and replaced it with a horse’s head. Dadhyañc taught them the secret, Indra appeared and cut off the horse’s head, and the Aśvins restore the original head (O’Flaherty, 1975, 56-7). (There is an interesting sequel to this story. In a later text, the horse’s head falls into a lake on Mount Śaryaṇāvat, where in RV 9.113.1 Indra drinks soma. It is later used by Indra as a weapon to kill demons with, and therefore may be equated with his thunderbolt; in other words, the horse head in the lake is the fire in the water (O’Flaherty, 1980, 219-20).)

Here it seems that not only is mádhu a drink in its own right, separate from soma, but that 1. it is connected with the Aśvins, and 2. it is worth it to Indra to prevent its secret from leaking out. The connection with the Aśvins is no surprise, since they are often connected with honey. Theirs is the only chariot referred to as a “honey-chariot,” they give honey to the bees (RV 10.40.6), and are even said to create honey in a cow’s udder (RV 10.106.10) (Hillebrandt, 1980, II:317). They are called “mádhu-drinkers,” but never “soma-drinkers,” even though they in fact are offered soma (Hillebrandt, 1980, II:317). It took extra effort to attain the right to drink soma – they were only allowed to do so because they were the only ones who could heal the sacrifice (Hillebrandt, 1980:318).

The value of mádhu to Indra and Dadhyañc is more surprising. Clearly this is a secret of great importance, and to Indra, whose usual interest is with the soma. What is most significant here is that mádhu is identified as a ritual drink other than soma.

Mádhu is connected with horses twice in this myth, via the Aśvins and the horse’s head. It is further connected with horses by the horses that race in the royal vājapeya ritual being given mádhu before and after racing (Hillebrandt, 1980, 468, n. 285). This also shows a royal connection.

Linguistically speaking, it would make sense for mádhu to have been mead, since the words are cognate. However, I am unaware of mead appearing anywhere in Vedic ritual. There is a hint of it, however, in the story of Indra killing Viśvarūpa, who had three heads. We are told in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa that with one he drank soma, with one he drank surā, and that with the third he ate ghee and honey. “Honey” would, of course, be mádhu, here paired with the other two sacred drinks.

A stronger possibility is that mádhu was identified with surā, either as a synecdoche or through the connection with the Aśvins. As we have seen, honey is an important ingredient of surā, and the Aśvins are closely connected with it. They are said to be great drinkers of mádhu (RV 8.22.17, in Heesterman, 1986, 48; Griffith for some reason translates mádhupatama as “Chief drinkers of the Soma's juice.”) RV 1.116.7 and 1.117.6 are identical, except that in the latter a word referring to sura has replaced one referring to mádhu (Hillebrandt, 1980, I:321).

A myth that contains a name related to mádhu that sheds light on its function, if not its identity, is that of Mādhavī. In it, Gālava, to repay his guru Visvamitra for his teaching, has to bring eight hundred horses which are white but with one back ear. He finds three kings, each of whom has two hundred such horses, and Mādhavī conceives a successor for each of them in exchange for the horses, recovering her virginity miraculously after each marriage. After getting six hundred horses in this way, Gālava learns that there are no more in the world. He brings what he has to Visvamitra and explains the situation. Viśvamitra says that he should have come to him first, since Mādhavī herself is worth eight hundred moon-colored horses. He then conceives his own son on her, and she once again regains her virginity. She is then offered the chance to choose her own husband from all the world, and she chooses to marry the forest; i.e., she renounces the world and goes into the forest to be a holy woman (Dumézil, 1973, 70-78; West, 2007, 416).

What we see here, then, is a woman whose name is a reflex of *medhu-, who is the mother of kings, who is of equivalent value to (and thus may be identified with) eight hundred special horses, and who has control over her own sexuality, a rare ability and freedom in the patriarchal Vedic/Hindu society.

One reason for the use of mádhu may be reflected in a request for the Asvins to anoint the singer with honey “so that he could speak happily in front of men;” (Hilldebrandt, 1980, II:318) i.e., it provides either inspiration or poetic skill. Since the word “honey” would have been mádhu, the request could have either for honey itself or for the drink made from it.

All in all, because mádhu can refer to either honey, sweetness, or a drink, it is extremely difficult to tease the references to it apart from those to other drinks. At the very least, however, we can say that there was a sacred drink called mádhu, and that honey was an important part of other sacred drinks.

The story of Dadhyañc overlaps with a multitude of drinks. We have already seen how it links with mádhu. This is what is indicated in the Rig Veda. In the Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa 3.120-9 (O’Flaherty, 1985, 66-7) the Aśvins gain a share of soma through the knowledge of the sacrifice that Dadhyañc gives them. And in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, 14.1.1, the link is made between the story and the ritual of the pravargya. This ritual eventually became part of the soma agniṣṭoma, but it was originally a separate ritual (Houben, 1991, 4). In it the gharma, a large clay vessel, was made, fumigated with smoke from a stallion’s dung (Houben; 1991; 30, 56), baked, and then cooled down with goat’s milk. It is later heated red-hot and a mixture of goat’s and cow’s milk poured in. According to Michael Witzel, who attended one such ritual, when the milk is poured in it “virtually explode[s] several yards high” (Witzel, 2012). The hot milk mixture (what is left after the explosion, I presume) is offered to the Asvins and drunk by those present. The large pot is considered to be the head of the sacrifice, which must be reunited with it. This is done mythically by the Aśvins (Houben, 1991, 26). The goal of the ritual is to infuse the practitioner with the luster of the sun.

There is an important Vedic ritual that combines soma, surā, and honey, the vājapeya, mentioned earlier, which is celebrated only by kings (Keith, 1989, 339-40). It is, in fact, apparently part of the inauguration ritual, the rājasūya. It involves an agniṣṭoma and a horse race (in which the king is to be victorious). During it, both soma and surā are offered, and at one point a cup of honey is placed in the hand of a Kṣatriya or Vaiśya (i.e., a member of the Arya who isn’t a priest), although the honey isn’t consumed.

The final drink to be mentioned is amr̄ta. This means “undying,” and the word is cognate with Greek ambrosia. Like nektar, in some descriptions it seems more of a food than a drink. In ritual it doesn’t seem to refer to a drink of its own, being applied as a title to soma (Keith, 189, 167) and to surā (However, it appears as a separate drink in the early Hindu myth of the churning of the ocean:

The gods, to win immortality, wanted to obtain amr̄ta. They did this by churning the ocean, with the axis mundi world mountain as the churning stick and the great serpent Ananta as a cord to turn it with. The gods (devas) pulled one end, and their opponents, the Asuras, the other, with the deal that each side would get some of the amr̄ta once it was obtained. A variety of things were churned out of the waters, including soma, surā, and finally the amr̄ta. Then Nārāyaṇa (”Man/Son of the Waters”), whose idea the churning had been, turned himself into a woman and conned the Asuras out of their share. This started a war between the devas and the Asuras, which the devas won (O’Flaherty, 1975, 274-80).

Here soma, surā, and amr̄ta are each created separately, but from the same act, making them both different and the same. This is a late tale, from the Mahābhārata, and may reflect some confusion among original forms of the sacred drink(s), or merely the free-wheeling system of identifications and multiplications common in the Vedic and post-Vedic traditions.

In another version of the war, from the Kāṭhaka Saṃhitā (37.14a), the Asuras have the amr̄ta, keeping it in the mouth of Śuṣṇa, Indra turns himself into a drop of honey and falls onto the path in front of Śuṣṇa, who eats him up. Indra then consumes the am?ta, turns himself into a falcon, bursts from Śuṣṇa, and flies back to the gods. (O’Flaherty, 1975, 281.)

From these accounts, and many others which space does not permit me to include here, we can postulate a Proto-Indo-European sacred drink, the rituals and myths for which contain these elements:
1. There is a drink which is both fire and water.
2. It is homologized with the cosmological well.
3. It is dangerous to the unworthy.
4. To the worthy, it gives divine boons in all of the functions. What ties these together is the overcoming of death; the drink is *Nekter, the “death-overcomer” (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, 1995, 721). For gods, it provides literal immortality, and for mortals a long and vibrant life. For the warrior it grants the martial prowess necessary to gain *klewos ?mortos, the goal of all warriors. For the poet, it brings the inspiration to create immortal words.
5. It is in the possession of Outsiders.
6. It is stolen from them by a thundergod, in the shape of or with the help of an eagle/falcon.
7. It is served by cupbearers, generally female.
8. It determines and/or provides sovereignty.
9. It is most likely alcoholic, based on honey and barley; it is mixed with goat’s milk. 10. Some of the drink is offered to the gods, and some is drunk by human participants.

Not all of these will be obvious from the limited examples I’ve given, but when all of the evidence is taken into consideration (or at least a sufficient amount of it; when dealing with the IE sacred drink, “all” is a pretty big order), these characteristics become apparent.

I have perhaps become too literal in my reconstruction. It is not known to what extent IE rituals paralleled their aetiologies, or whether they included their retelling. The allusions may have been more subtle, relying on an assumed knowledge, rather than being do expository. I’ve written for a modern audience, however, making explicit what would have become part of an ancient person’s cognitive framework as a result of their upbringing. A single ritual can’t make up for a lack of life’s experience, but it’s a start.


Dumézil, Georges. The Destiny of a King. tr. Alf Hiltebeitel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Duchesne-Guillemin, Jacques. Symbols and Values in Zoroastrianism. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

—— The Religion of Ancient Iran. In Historia Religionum: Handbook for the History of Religions. ed. C. Jouco Bleeker. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969, 327-76.

Gamkrelidze, Thomas V. and Ivanov, Vjačeslav V. Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and a Proto-Culture. tr. Johanna Nichols. New York: Mounton de Gruyter, 1995.

Greppin, John, Xvarənah. Journal of Indo-European Studies 1:2 (Summer, 1973), 232-42.

Heesterman, J. C. The Inner Conflict of Tradition: Essays in Indian Ritual, Kingship, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Hillebrandt, Alfred. Vedic Mythology. tr. Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1980 (1929).

Houben, Jan E. M. (tr.) The Pravargya Brāhmaṇa of the Taittirīya Āraṇkayaka. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991.

Kolhatkar, Madhavi Bhaskar. Surā: The Liquor and the Vedic Sacrifice. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1999.

Keith, Arthur Berriedale. The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989 (1925).

Modi, Jivanji J. The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees. New York: Garland Publishing, 1979 (1922).

O’Flaherty, Wendy. Hindu Myths. New York: Penguin Books, 1975.

—— Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

—— Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaimanīya Brāhmaṇa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Snorri Sturluson. Edda. tr. Anthony Faulkes. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1987.

Turville-Petre, E. O. G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1964.

Varenne, Jean. The Indo-Europeans. tr. John Leavitt. In A Restructured Translation of Mythologies (2 vol.). ed. Yves Bonefoy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Watkins, Calvert. “Let us Now Praise Famous Grains.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 122:1 (Feb., 1978), 9-17.

Windfuhr, Gernot L. Haoma/Soma: The Plant. In Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce, vol. II (Acta Iranica 25) (1985), pp. 699-726.

Williams, Ron G. and James W. Boyd. Ritual Art and Knowledge: Aesthetic Theory and Zoroastrian Ritual. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1993.

Witzel, Michael. Report on the Atirātra ritual held in Kerala in April 2011., 2012. Accessed 4/5/2013.

The Nekter ritual, as I have (re)constructed it, is performed as part of a sacrificial ritual dedicated to Xákʷōm Népōt, with additional offerings to Dyé̄us Pté̄r, Perkʷú̄nos, and the cupbearers of Xákʷōm Népōt.


The Nekter can be prepared with water and honey sufficiently in advance that it ferments, or it can be prepared the at least the day before the actual ritual, using already fermented mead. I have written this for the second way; it can be adjusted by those who are brewers if they wish to try the first.

Items required:
Purification: small bowl (for purifying yourself), large bowl, spring water to fill them, two or three towels.

Preparation: speltá (if you are performing this at home, you can use your kitchen table), melted clarified butter, butter spoon, frying pan, barley, spoon for stirring barley, bowl for barley, mortar and pestle, second bowl for crushed barley, small pot, glass measuring cup, pitcher, cloth for covering pitcher, and a gold ribbon or gold-plated chain (one light enough that it can be cut with a knife).

Adjust the amount of barley and mead for the number of people who will be at the ritual.

Purify and garb yourself, purify the tools, and create sacred space. (If you are performing this in your own house, offer to Westyā instead.)

Spoon a small amount of clarified butter into the frying pan, saying:

The prize of the people is the cow
and the prize of the cow is the golden butter.
Through the giving of butter
the gods come to us
and we go to them to dwell in their land.

Heat the butter and then pour about a handful of the barley into the pan, saying:

The home of the people is the earth
and the prize of the earth is the barley.
Through the giving of barley
the gods come to us
and we go to them to dwell in their land.

Fry the barley well, stirring it clockwise with the spoon in your right hand to keep it from burning. When it is toasted, spoon it into the bowl to cool.

Once it is cool, take the mortar and pestle. Holding the pestle in your right hand and facing east, knock on the inside edge of the mortar four times, in the east, north, west, and south, saying with each knock:

Wagrṓ hṓgʷhim gʷhent.
[With the wágros he killed the serpent.]

Pour some of the barley into the mortar and grind. When you have done this, pour it out into the second bowl and repeat until it is all ground.

Pour the mead in the pot. Put it on the fire, saying:

Hṇ́gʷnis xakʷākʷe,
dṓnom ḱwéntom Xákʷōm Néptos
ṇgṇ̄tōt deiwōns ǵnəsḱomom

[Fire and water,
the blessing of Xákwōm Népōt.
Through the unknown we come to know the gods.]

Heat until bubbles just start to rise. Then sprinkle some of the barley on top of the mead, saying:

Yéwōt xadbherontós
yéwesos xadbherontós
sentō dhéstō
sóntes dhéstō gʷṇ̄ti

[Through the sacrificial barley
By the ritual laws of sacrifice
Along the divine path
Come divine things.]

Let the mixture cool, and then pour it into the pitcher, using the stirring spoon to make sure all of the barley makes it into the pitcher.

Cover the pitcher with a white cloth, saying:

The secret lives in the secret,
in the mystery mystery is born.

Tie the gold ribbon or chain around the pitcher to hold the cloth on. Tie three half hitches. Tie the first by putting the right end of the ribbon over the left, saying:

Blessed be this drink

Tie the second left over right, saying:

set apart as a sacrifice

Tie the second right over left, saying:

a living drink.

Leave the pitcher overnight or three nights and then perform the main ritual..

The Main Ritual

Besides the items required for a usual public ritual, you will need a basket of cups, a ladle, a strainer, a bowl large enough for the Nekter, and a pitcher of goat's milk. The bowl, with the strainer in it, is placed just to the west of the xá̄sā. The basket of cups is placed near the hṇ́gʷnis. The ladle, goat's milk, and one cup are placed just to the right of the speltá. You may wish to put the ladle on a cloth to keep it clean, and provide one near the bowl for the same purpose.

Arrange everything else in the way usual for a sacrificial ritual. The Cupbearer carries the Nekter in the procession. She puts it down in the far west of the ghórdhos before taking a place to the right of the Kówəs just to the south of the xá̄sā. The Ǵhéuter carries the milk as well as the mead; he puts the milk down to the right of the speltá as he passes it, and the mead to its left as he takes his place.

Prepare your ghórdhos as usual, and follow the usual ritual order, sacrificing a horse to Xá̄kwōm Népōt. After the offering to the All Gods, begin the actual Nekter ritual.

The Xádbhertor says:

Nisétste, tosio sewe xartḗi stḗnói.
Nisétste, tesās sewe xartḗu stḗnói.
Nisétste, sṃptḗi xartī.

The Ǵhéuter says:

Sit down, each in his own rightful place,
Sit down, each in her own rightful place,
Sit down, that we may drink together in order.

All sit. The Cupbearer sits across the fire from the Fire Tender, to the left of the Kówəs.
The Ǵhéuter says:

Suḱlúte moi.
Nu pélnom Nektrós weryemi.
[Here me well: I am telling the story of Nekter.]

The Kówəs says:

Listen well to the story of the Nekter.

The Ǵhéuter says:

The Outsiders held the Nekter in their well of Chaos. But it didn't belong there.
Yes, Nekter is Chaos, is fire, is water, is a burning which can overthrow the Cosmos, destroying men destroying the gods destroying even the Xártus.
But that is why it is wrong for the Outsiders to hold it in their untamed land. The Nekter belongs in the divine realm. It belongs in the land of the gods. The gods know how to use it. In their hands the Nekter supports the Xártus protecting not only the Cosmos of the gods but the Chaos of the Outsiders. That is why the Nekter really belonged to the gods.
The Outsiders were thieves. It wasn't right for them to have it and they wouldn't give the Nekter up. Dyḗus Ptḗr, who knows the Xártus, knew the Nekter had to be saved, and he, the one who sees all things, knew what to do.

The Fire Tender offers butter on the hṇ́gʷnis.
The Ǵhéuter says:

The Knowing One called to Perkʷū́nos and told him to seize the Nekter. Perkʷū́nos picked up his wágros. He knew how to deal with snakes. The killer of the great snake was not afraid.

The Fire Tender offers butter on the hṇ́gʷnis.
The Ǵhéuter says:

Perkʷū́nos set out, accompanied by the eagle of Diwós Patrós. To the land of the Outsiders, he went. Into the heart of Chaos, he went. He went to overcome the Outsiders and seize from them the Nekter.
The Outsiders came out from behind their walls, made arrogant by their knowing of the Nekter. They set their snares, which trap the unknowing. Perkʷū́nos raised his wágros, which strikes without error.
Xáḱskʷe ként.
[And the battle began.]

The Kówəs says:

And the battle began.

The Ǵhéuter says:

Perkʷū́nos fought well and bravely, but he had no Nekter so he was not strong. The Outsiders had Nekter, and they were strong. Perkʷū́nos could fight the Outsiders but without the strength of the Nekter he couldn't win. The Outsiders could fight Perkʷū́nos but without his wágros they couldn't win.
Back and forth went the battle, now this one winning, now that, Perkʷū́nos slowly leading the Snakes from their fortresses.
And while the battle raged, the eagle flew to the Nekter, which lay unguarded by the Outsiders who were fighting far from their walls. He drank it all, in three draughts, emptying its container, and flew back to the gods, Perkʷū́nos riding between his wings, behind his golden-eyed head, filled with Nekter.
With their many eyes, the Outsiders saw this, and followed in rage. But they were too late. The eagle had reached the tree, and now flew high up to the top, through Cosmos where Chaos cannot go if the gods are strengthened with Nekter. It flew to its master, and Dyḗus Ptḗr received the Nekter, the eagle pouring it into the Shining Sky's cup. Now the other gods clustered around, wondering what to do. They wanted the Nekter, but they feared this piece of Chaos among them: Would it burn even them, would it burn even that Tree, and the Cosmos dissolve in the flames of Chaos? Dyḗus Ptḗr feared it too, but he is wise.

The Fire Tender offers butter on the hṇ́gʷnis.
The Ǵhéuter says:

He gave the Nekter to Xákwōm Népōt to guard. Xákwōm Népōt put the Nekter at the base of the tree, where the fire of sacrifice burns in the waters of purification, and set about it cupbearers, pure themselves, of unsullied power. Watching well, they keep it safe, he and them; it from others, and others from it. There at the nexus between Chaos and Cosmos, the Nekter is kept, safe from those who must not drink it, lacking purity or strength or wisdom. But they offer their cups, to the brim with Nekter, to those with the right to drink it: May we be such.

The Fire Tender offers butter on the ḥ́gʷnis. The Xádbhertor says:

Swélplm ǵʷelṇtós xakʷā́s Patréi ǵhewomes.
We pour fuel to the Guardian of the Waters.
Be good to your guests and let us come to you.
May we approach your well and drink the fire safely
that we might be immortal.

The Fire Tender offers butter on the hṇ́gʷnis, while the Xádbhertor says:

Xákwōm Népōt, wéidwōs, Nekterm mṛ-ḗi xárkti.
Xakʷsā udéni.

The Ǵhéuter says:

Xákwōm Népōt, wise, holds the Nekter in the sea,
Living Water in the waters.

The Xádbhertor says:

Tóm qʷongʷṇ hedmes.

The Ǵhéuter says:

We feed him with butter.

The Xádbhertor says:

Tosyo démz tozmi ǵhóstoi Nektrē bhṛǵhyétu.

The Ǵhéuter says:

May he rise from his home with the Nekter in his hand.

The Fire Tender offers butter on the hṇ́gʷnis.
The Xádbhertor says:

May he, through the power of his shining,
make the pouring water a feeding of the tree, not its destruction.

The Fire Tender offers butter on the hṇ́gʷnis.
The Ǵhéuter says:

Gwem henter hekwou, woskʷe gwemyēti.

The Kówəs says:

Between twin horses come, and we will come to you,

The Ǵhéuter says:

Purified, at peace with those who dispense the Nekter, and with their blessing.

The Fire Tender offers clarified butter on the hṇ́gʷnis.
The Cupbearer goes to the speltá, sits, and purifies herself, saying:

May I be pure that I might cross through the sacred.

She dips her hand again, touches her lips, and says:

May I cross through the sacred that I may attain the holy.

She dips her hand again, touches her heart, and says:

May I attain the holy that I might be blessed in all things.

The Xádbhertor says:

Three are the cupbearers who serve the drink.
They the ones who bring it to us;
Xákʷōm Népōt its guardian,
beneath the sea where the waters burn.
He its keeper, he the one who decides to whom it will go.
But they are the ones who pour it out.
We must offer to him to allow us to drinkt.
But we must pour to them to ask them to serve

The Ǵhéuter pours three small libations of milk (he leaves some milk in the bowl) on the north side of the speltá, saying:

Pibéte tóm ǵláktom ṇzmed xapéns.
Hitxám sté wṇtās lēdétekʷe poqʷontṃ ṇzmei pātās ptéis.

The Kówəs says:

Drink this milk from our wealth and, pleased,
let us drink from that which you guard.

The Ǵéuter gives the bowl with the remaining milk it to the human cupbearer, saying:

Bhér Nektérm ṇzmé ṇzmed sontós ṇmrtōs.

The Kówəs says:

Bring the Nekter to us that we might be immortal.

The Cupbearer drinks the milk. She puts the cup down and picks up the feather and the knife. She then goes to the Nekter. Holding the knife and feather together in her right hand, she cuts the ribbon/chain, saying:

The thunderbolt steals the sacrifice of the snakes.

She throws the ribbon onto the ground to the left of the pitcher. She puts the cloth on the ground to the right of the pitcher. On top of it she puts the knife, with its point facing the west. Still carrying the feather, she picks up the pitcher and brings it towards the fires.

On the way, she stops three times, pouring a drop of Nekter out each time, saying:

May they be satisfied with one drop. [the first time]
May they be satisfied with two drops. [the second time]
May they be satisfied with three drops. [the third time]

When she pours out the third drop, the Kówəs says:

Hogʷhēs, hóinom tóm bherēti.
Snakes, that is all you will get.

At this point she is standing just to the west of the xá̄sā.
The Xádbhertor says:

Nekter destroys the impure, Nekter destroys the untrue.

and purifies himself, saying:

Púros [masc.] / Púrā [fem.] syēm. [May I be pure.]
Xártus [masc.] / Xártā syēm. [May I be true.]

He goes to the where the Cupbearer is, and she hands him the Nekter, which he takes it in his right hand. She sits down to the right of the Fire Tender. The Xádbhertor picks up the strainer in his left hand. He pours the Nekter through the strainer into the bowl, saying:

Fire that falls, Water that rises.
From the one, the other; from the other, the one;
From both combined, entry before the gods,

He puts the Nekter pitcher and the strainer down. He picks up the feather and brushes first the edge of the pitcher, and then the dge of the bowl, saying:

Rising upon the back of the eagle

He puts the feather down and picks up the ladle, saying:

under the protection of the wágros-wielder,

He uses the ladle to squeeze as much of the Nekter out of the grain in the pitcher as possible, saying:

who rescues from the Serpents as the Xártus declares.

He puts the ladle down, picks up the strainer again, and pours the pressed out Nekter through the strainer into the bowl, saying:

Fall from above the lightning-filled rain:
fire seeds the rain;
the rain seeds the ground.

He puts the Nekter pitcher down, picks up the ladle and uses it to press Nekter out of the grain in the strainer, saying:

The wágros-won overcomes death,
the stolen steals away weakness,
the eagle-borne leaves darkness behind.

The Xádbhertor puts the strainer and ladle back down and sits. The Cupbearer pours milk, of a quantity equal to that of the Nekter, into the bowl and mixes it with the ladle. The Xádbhertor says:

Offering creates ritual, ritual creates order, order creates Cosmos.
Through offering Chaos is tamed,

The Cupbearer takes the bowl and ladle to just south of the hṇ́gʷnis, where she puts them on the ground and sits down (to the right of the Kówəs). She then puts her hands on either side of the bowl, holding it but not taking it off the ground and while the Ǵhéuter says:

The well reaches down into the depths.
The well reaches down into Bhudhnōn.
The well reaches up from the depths.
The well reaches up from Bhudhnōn.
It brings us flaming water.

The Cupbearer lifts the bowl up to the level of top of the hṇ́gʷnis (but not actually over it) while the Ǵhéuter says:

The living waters rise into Médhyom;
They fill it and enliven it.
Chaos flows into Cosmos and Cosmos is renewed.

The Cupbearer holds the bowl over the fire, while the Ǵhéuter says:

Living water, living flame.
Chaos and Cosmos meet here in the center at the point between order and disorder.
Fiery water upwells and threatens to destroy.
But here at the center is the transforming flame of the sacrificial fire,
the fire of offering,
and here the flaming waters of Chaos are tamed and turned.

The Cupbearer stands, holding the bowl, and says:

Hṇ́gʷnis udéni, ḱĺtos táxus sāgyetor.

The Ǵhéuter says:

Fire in water, the hidden mystery here revealed.

The Cupbearer puts the bowl on the ground again. The Fire Tender offers clarified butter and the Ǵhéuter says:

Xákʷōm Nepti, Wisudéiwobhoskʷe,
To Xákwōm Népōt and all the gods
Our offerings and our prayers.
We pray for wisdom and inspiration.
May we, filled with Nekter, accomplish our ends.

All say:

May we, filled with Nekter, accomplish our ends.

The Cupbearer pours a very small amount of Nekter at the base of the hṇ́gʷnis, while the Xádbhertor says:

The Nekter is the gods'.
The Divine drink it.

Carrying the ladle, the Xádbhertor goes to between the Cupbearer and Kówəs, and gives the Cupbearer the ladle. She ladles some Nekter into a cup and hands it to him. He holds it out towards the fire, and says:

Dótorbhos weswom Nékterm dəmes.
We have given Nekter to the givers of gifts,
We have made offering to the gods through fire,
and they have given us in return this blazing water to drink..

He drinks the Nekter in the cup. Then he puts the cup down, and the Cupbearer gives him the bowl. With the bowl at eye level, he turns clockwise, starting and ending in the east, holding the Nekter out to the people, while the Ǵhéuter says:

From the source of the waters flows fiery liquid;
from the well of Xákʷōm Népōt the gift of Nekter is offered,
Source of life to all who drink it,
Source of power to all who drink it,
Source of holiness to all who drink it.
Drink and be filled with the water that burns,

The Cupbearer says:

Gʷemyéte wisū́s pútos pibótekʷe.
Gʷemyéte pibótekʷe dōnom Xákʷōm Neptós.

The Kówəs says:

All who are worthy come and drink.
Come and drink the gift of Xákwōm Népōt.

The Cupbearer ladles out some Nekter into a cup. She puts the ladle down and drinks it while the Xádbhertor says:

Pō dubū́ táxeus:
Dó̄t̄res weswom Nékterm dednti.

The Ǵhéuter says:

Drink deeply of the mystery:
The givers of gifts give Nekter.

After she drinks, she says:

Ṇmṛtā hesmi. [I am immortal.]

She then ladles out some into a cup for the Fire Tender, the Kówəs, and the Ǵhéuter, and the process is repeated. The Xádbhertor picks up the bowl and the Cupbearer the ladle and cups. They go around the space, doing the same with each person, starting with the Ǵhéuter and then the Kówəs.
[Note: there must be some Nekter left over when all have drunk.]

Each person responds:

Ṇmṛtos hesmi. [masc.] / Ṇmṛtā hesmi. [fem.]

When all the others have drunk, the Xádbhertor drinks again. He returns the bowl to its place and he and the Cupbearer goes to theirs. The Xádbhertor says:

Ṇmṛtōs smes.
[We are immortal.]
Xakʷās pipḷmes.
[We are filled with living water.]

All say:

We are filled with living water.

The Xádbhertor says:

Ṇmṛtōs smes.
Hṇgʷnī́ pipḷmes.
[We are filled with living fire.]

All say:

We are filled with living fire.

The Xádbhertor says:

Nmṛtōs smes.
Nektrós pipḷmes.
[We are filled with Nekter.]

All say:

We are filled with Nekter.
The Xádbhertor says:

Nekter is our sacrificial fire.
We are become an offering.
We rise to the gods.
We dwell in the presence of the gods.
Through the power of the Nekter we are made immortal.
Ṇmṛtōs smes.

All say:

Ṇmṛtōs smes.

There is a pause to allow the attendees to rest in the presence of the gods. Then the Ǵhéuter says:

It is right for there to be an end to things.
We return blessed by the Holy Ones,
confident that we will attain our goal.

He goes to the Nekter bowl, where he pours the rest of the milk into it. He puts down the pitcher and holds the bowl with both hands. He swirls the bowl three or nine times clockwise to mix the milk and the Nekter and says:

Chaos and Cosmos are joined together, both revivified.

He scrapes the barley from the pitcher and strainer into the Nekter bowl with the butter spoon, saying:

The leavings of the ritual
That which does not belong
We cast them out and keep our world.

The Ǵhéuter, preceded by the Nḗr, brings the bowl and spoon outside the space counterclockwise to the north, to the base of a tree. He pours the mixture onto the ground, scooping any extra out with the spoon, saying:

Cosmos gifts Chaos.
Exchange is maintained.
Cosmos is assured.
The Xártus continues.

He returns to the space, followed by Nḗr, and says:

The water to the water, the fire to the fire.

All say:

We live by the Xártus, continually fed by the waters of Nekter.

He returns to his place and sits, putting the empty bowl just to the east of the speltá. The Kówəs says:

By the drinking of the Nekter we are made immortal and are destined to live in the company of the gods,
But we are human and destined to live among those of the earth.
Through the drinking of Nekter in the company of the gods the Xártus is enlivened,
Through the drinking of Nekter in the company of men, the dhétis is enlivened.
Everything is in its proper place.

The Xádbhertor picks up the plate that had held the sacrifice, and puts it on top of the empty Nekter bowl.

Enright, Michael J. Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tène to the Viking Age. Portland, OR: Four Courts Press, 1996.

Flattery, David Stophlet, and Schwartz, Martin. Haoma and Harmaline: The Botanical Identity of the Indo-Iranian Sacred Hallucinogen "Soma" and its Legacy in Religion, Language, and Middle Eastern Folklore. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989.

Greppin, John. Xvarenah. Journal of Indo-European Studies 1:2 (Summer, 1973), 232 - 242.

Lincoln, Bruce. Waters of Memory, Waters of Forgetfulness. Fabula 23 (1982b), 19 - 34.

Polomé, Edgar C. Beer, Runes, and Magic. Journal of Indo-European Studies 24:1 & 2 (Spring/Summer, 1986), 99 - 105.

Puhvel, Jaan. Aquam Extinguere. Journal of Indo-European Studies 1:3 (Fall, 1973), 379 - 386.

----Comparative Mythology. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins Press, 1987.

The Rig Veda. ed. and tr. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1981.

Watkins, Calvert. "Let us Now Praise Famous Grains." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 122:1 (Feb., 1978), 9 - 17.

Back To Top ]
Back To PIE Main Page ]

Site design by Greaghoir MacIain