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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 ʔṇgʷnim.
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.

[Vedic rituals required a vow of silence, after which everything said had to be done according to ritual prescriptions (Jamison, 1991, 83). [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.

[In Iran we find prohibitions against “chattering” during rituals in Zoroastrianism (e.g., in the Nērangestān 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). Friction is also how the Vedic gārhapatyagni may be lit (if it doesn’t come from someone’s house). If you are capable of creating fire using friction, it would be a better way to do so than using matches or a lighter, although fire from your hearth is still better.

[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 was often invoked in rituals primarily dedicated to other Roman deities (Scheid, 2003, 159); Vesta, in fact, was the deity generally invoked last in every ritual (Dumézil, 1970a, 322). Hestia, on the other hand, was invoked first (Dumézil, 1970a, 322). In India and Iran fire was invoked both at the beginning and at the end of rituals (Dumézil, 1970 `, 322-3). I have chosen to see the Indo-Iranian system as original, and the Greek and Roman systems as a compression of that.]

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 widespread. 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). In Rome, vegetable offerings and the blood and ashes of a sacrificed animal were placed in the hole before a boundary stone was set up (Robertson, 1982, 125). The practice of burying foundation offerings is less common in Greece (Robertson, 1982, 125), but was still sometimes practiced, and the erection of temples did, of course, include sacrifices.]

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). Zoroastrian pawis are sprinkled before use (Choksy, 2003, 28), and, if this is not enough, large amounts of water wash over it during the consecration of the tools. We’ve seen how Greek temenoi were sometimes sprinkled. (Burkert, 1985, 78). 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 being part of a purification ritual is obvious. The temple of Vesta was swept once a year, on June 15th, supposedly of dung, which would not, of course have been there (Dumézil, 1970, 317-8). 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, 1970, 617). Apollodorus (Epitome 6.21) mentions priestesses of Athena two of whose jobs were to sweep and sprinkle the sanctuary (hieron). After a period of mourning, the home of those who had died in Iulis on Keos was sprayed with sea water, wiped with earth, and then swept (Burkert, 1985, 79). The bakery where loaves for Hittite offerings was swept and scrubbed before the baking (Bryce, 2002, 155). Zoroastrian pāwis 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 Rivayat preceding the Datistan i Denik 56.8, in Jamaspasa, 1985, 346). When a ritual is to be performed at home, Zoroastrians sweep the courtyard and the surrounding rooms twice, with a sprinkling with water between the sweepings (Boyce, 1989, 39-40). 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 mound for the gárahaptya fire (ŚB; it says this is done to sweep away those previously settled there, which would make it part of claiming the site, but it also describes them as those that "crawl on their belly," so it is likely that we are talking about Snakes, i.e., Outsiders.]

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 ʔṇ́gʷnis 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. For instance, in the installation of the yū́pa ghee is poured into the receiving hole to repel the Rakṣasas. I suspect that this was originally intended as an offering, but by the time of the Śathapatha Brāhmaṇa ( the ghee has become the thunderbolt. In building an Indian house a stake is driven into the head of the snake below the world (Taloș, 1987, 397). There is also a line in the Rig Veda (10.68.7) that compares the mountain split open to let the cows out (this time by Bṛhaspati rather than Indra) to bird’s eggs.

[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 Vṛtra'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.

[Indo-European sacred space is formed by cutting. The most common tool for this cutting is a plough. In the story of the founding of Rome, as told by Plutarch (“Life of Romulus”) and Ovid (Fasti 4:807-848), Romulus marked out the borders of Rome by ploughing around them. When he came to where the gates would be, he lifted the plough so that people could leave and enter the city without passing over sacred ground. In Roman Questions 27, Plutarch seems to be saying that this is the standard method for founding cities. According to Macrobius (5.19.13) and Varro (On the Latin Language 5.143) this was an Etruscan rite, or, perhaps, the use of a bronze ploughshare in it was an Etruscan custom. However, the parallels with the other Indo-European sources which we will see makes this origin unlikely.

[For instance, there is a story of Zeeland, in Denmark, being created by ploughing. Gefjon (or Gefiun or Gefjun) was granted as much land as she could plough around in one day. She ploughed so hard that the land broke off to form the island (“Gylfaginning” 1, in Snorri; Turville-Petre, 1964, 187-8). In Ovid (Metamorphoses 4.562-604) Cadmus founds Thebes in the same way, by ploughing around it.

[Zoroastrian fire temples contain sacred areas called pāwis, also spelled pāvis (literally, “washed” (Duschesne-Guillemin, 1966, 57) or “pure, clean” (Drower, 1944, 76, n. 3) or “pure space” (Choksy, 2003, 27)), marked out by channels cut into the ground (Boyd and Kotwal, 1983, 311). (The channels themselves are also called pāwis.) When a temporary pāwis must be constructed, the channels can be cut with a sharp instrument (Choksy, 1986, 186; Drower, 1944, 76), either a metal knife or a metal blade on the end of a shaft with nine knots (Choksy, 1987, 69). Their borders can be marked by sand (Karanjia, 2004, 411) or gravel (Boyd and Kotwal, 1983, 311), but that is likely to have been done after they have been otherwise established. Pāwis are also used to contain the impurities released by a ritual performed for that purpose (Choksy, 1987, 65). During rituals, the pāwis become filled with water from the large amount used to purify the ritual implements. This replicates, perhaps unintentionally, the waters which surround the cosmos, cutting it off from chaos, just as water separated Zeeland.

[Vedic rituals form sacred space with a plough or a wooden sword. An Irish story in the Metrical Dindshenchas tells how the defensive ditch of Ard Macha was made by being cut with the pin of Macha's brooch (Gwynn, 1906 – 1924, 4.125).

[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.

[When attempting to found a colony at Carthage, the border was marked out (Plutarch, “Life of Caius Gracchus,” 11.1). Plutarch doesn’t tell us what these markers were, though. (The attempt to create the colony ended in disaster, but that was because the gods didn’t want Carthage reoccupied, not because the ritual was poorly done).

[As the ghordhos is equated to the cosmos, here its delineation is equated with the Xártus. It is “well-founded” because it operates according to the Xártus; it could just as well be described as “well-founding.” We see this concept in a linguistic sense in Vedism, where dharma, “support,” is “a near-synonym for Ṛta” (Mahony, 1998, 49).

[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; Livy 2.8.7-8; Seneca, "De Consolatione ad Marciam" 13.1; Scheid, 2003, 65) and India (Drury, 1981, 26); in Rome it is a temple, and in India the shed inside the ritual space.]

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.


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