About Libations

About Libations

Edited and translated by Lesley Madytinou & Rathamanthys Madytinos


A Libation or Sponde as it is called in the ancient Hellenic language is the pouring of Libatory liquids onto the altar, in the fire, on the ground, upon trees or in the sea, rivers and lakes.
It is a Sacred Act that is inseparable from the Hellenic Religious Practice. The Libation is in itself one of the highest acts of religious expression through which we offer the best part of ourselves thus libating our respect in communion with the Divine.


Through the Libation we validate our words, our good wishes and our actions. As the pouring of the fluid of the Libation is irreversible it is a symbolic act that represents the irreversibility of words once spoken. In the same manner that we cannot put the fluid of the Libation back into the vessel so too can we not take back the words which already have been uttered. The libation is a Sacred Bond which binds humans with the Divine and what has been spilled cannot be taken back.


Homer mentions libating before bedtime while Hesiod recommends it in both the morning and the evening.


According to the order given to us by Empedocles, Libations may consist of water, honey, olive oil, wine, perfume, milk and fruit juice. However, the predominant fluid used in Libations to the Gods and Goddesses is red wine which is a representation of the nectar of the Gods.


So saying the Goddess set before him a table laden with ambrosia, and mixed the red nectar.Homer, Od. 5.92


The red wine is thus a symbol of Thysia (sacrifice), youth, eternity and the Holy Intoxication.


Libations are poured out of particular containers such as the oinokhoe, skyphos (cup) and krater (these symbolise the Whole; the unity of a group, a society, a city or a land) or thepas (a type of drinking vessel). The Libation vessels are always kept clean and are never used for any other purpose besides the Sacred purpose for which they are set aside.

Aside from the wine Libations there are also non-alcoholic or sober Libations which are named according to the substance which is offered. Examples include melisponda (honey libations), hydrosponda (water libations), elaiosponda (oil libation) etc.


We pour sober libations to the Heroes, Mnemosyne, the Muses, the Eumenides, Aphrodite Ourania (the Heavenly Aphrodite), the Nymphs, Auge (the Dawn), Selene and Helios.

During the Libation the fluid is poured slowly out of the Sacred vessel before any one has partaken of it. At the end of the ceremony the remaining wine is freely shared amongst the participants; an act which initiates the associated feast which follows.


To the Chthonian Gods, the Ancestors and the Dead we offer choes. For the choe the Sacred vessel is turned upside down with a quick movement of the hand so that the fluid is emptied on to the ground all at once. The same types of vessels are used for the choe as are used for the sponde.

For the choes we pour the fluids upon the earth, a grave or into a small hole in the ground. The fluids of the choes are poured out completely and no one partakes of them whatsoever.
An example of a choe for the Dead is described by Homer in the Odyssey when Odysseus pours one completely upon the ground when he comes as a supplicant to the dead.


[515] Thither, Hero, do thou draw nigh, as I bid thee, and dig a pit of a cubit's length this way and that, and within it pour a libation to all the dead, first with milk and honey, thereafter with sweet wine,
[520] and thirdly with water, and sprinkle thereon white barley meal. Homer, Od. 10.515 - 520


To our Dead we make threefold choes with honey, milk and wine.


Libations made for the Orkos (Oath) are not consumed either. We pour out all the wine and we then break the container.

The breaking of the container seals the irreversibility of the Oath.