Ritual gestures in the Hellenic Tradition…

>Also this one is an ‘open article’, to which we’ll add new informations from time to time…
Standing devotee/ groups of devotees: signs of salutation, homage, worship and prayer

– The index finger of the right hand is raised, the other fingers clenched: it expresses reverence and awe (sebein); it is present with the figures standing at an altar during the act of sacrifice, before the statue of a deity, and in groups of devotees approaching the Gods.
– A variation of the above gesture: together with the index, also the medium finger is raised while the other fingers are clenched;
– Both arms are raised to the sky with the palm facing out: classic gesture that accompanies prayer and invocation. The Ancients say that it is a gesture shared by all men when it comes to pray the Gods, “all human beings raise their arms to the sky when they pray.”
If you pray raising only one arm, it has to be the right one for the Olympian Gods, and the left one for the Chthonian Gods.


– The devotee approaches the object of devotion and bring the right hand to his mouth in a gesture indicative of the ritual kiss as a form of greeting to the Gods (proskynein- from kynein, to kiss: to greet with a kiss) – something very similar to the adoratio in the Tradition of Rome: “Men are kissed by those who greet them; but for the Gods, since They are far higher than us and it is not right to touch Them, They are honored by our accomplishing the proskynesis for Them.” Several sources report that it was a common practice especially before the morning prayer addressed to the rising Sun, or at least in honor of Helios; particularly attested to Nemesis “I remember I’m a man and I do the proskynesis to Nemesis “- a way to stave off the ‘wrath’ of the Goddess is this gesture, along with the phrase “proskynò tèn Nemesin”.
Also in the case of ominous events, as told by Xenophon, such as a sneeze, and indeed the case of sneezing is explained by Athenaeus, while demonstrating the sacredness of the head: “men do the proskynesis for sneezing that come from it, as if they were sacred . ”
In the eastern parts of the Greek-Roman world there was also the practice of kissing the Earth, the hands and feet of the Gods.


“The branch of the laurel; those holding it used to sing hymns to the Gods.”

Αἴσακος: ὁ κλάδος τῆς δάφνης, ὃν κατέχοντες ὕμνουν τοὺς θεούς.



The following gestures are attested mainly during processions and sacrifices (along with these gestures, sometimes you start to offer libations and to bring gifts to the altar); all emphasize the attitude of homage and reverence to the deity addressed by the devotee:
– Right arm raised (hand to the shoulder’s height, or fully raised) and palm completely open and facing outward, and / or toward the Gods (used when the devotees approach the Gods, the altars and the Hermai, during prayer)
– Raised right arm, with the palm open and the left arm bent on the chest, with the palm open (in front of the deity- during the presentation of children)
– Both arms outstretched, palms always facing up (in approaching the altars and the Gods; also in private devotion, one devotee alone)
– Raised right hand with the index finger bent to touch the tip of the thumb, or all four fingers bent to touch the thumb (meeting with the Gods, or during a libation)
– Raised left arm, while the right hand pours the libation / wheat / incense on the altar
– Right arm and hand into a fist bent on the chest over the heart, the left arm bent forward at right angle (salutation and worship)
– Right arm outstretched and open hand with palm up (in front of the Hermai)



Devotees in kneeling position

The gesture of kneeling as a devotional act indicates an attitude of respect and submission to the divine hierarchy, it is found more frequently in votive reliefs, and the kneeling devotee is almost always a woman- in fact, some authors place this gesture between the ‘effeminate’ acts (gynaikisdomenos). The act of bowing in front of the deity can be found primarily in the case of Chthonian Gods and Those revered with the epithets of ‘Soteres’ and ‘Epekoi’, of the Eleusinian Goddesses and the deities of Health, in particular Asklepios (for example, the God who puts His hand on head of the kneeling worshiper), but also of Artemis, Herakles and Palaemon. Recourse is made to this gesture of prayer in serious and urgent cases, and approaches the supplication (hikesia); prospiptein is the verb that indicates the kneeling to implore and beseech- very often not for ourselves, but in favor of someone else. The kneeling is to simply bow down and remain crouched on the heels.

– On your knees before the image of the deity, hands outstretched down toward the feet or dress (up to touch it) of the deity
– On your knees before the image of the deity, arms raised, palms open to the outside
– On your knees on the ground, beating the fist on the ground (to the Chthonian deities)
– The practice of kneeling on the floor with the face to the ground is of foreign origin, not a Hellenic one;


– A particular kind of proskynesis is the kiss to the earth, an act testified by Agamemnon and Odysseus at the return to their homeland, the same is true when you separate from one place (“we leave after completing the proskynesis for this land”) or the from home- in the latter case, kiss the threshold; if the greeting is addressed both to the Olympic Gods and to the Earth, there is a proskynesis toward the sky and then a kiss to the Earth.


-Touching the altar (on which have already been deposited the offerings) with both hands


Euphemia / ritual silence
-right index finger resting on the lips- it also stated the index and middle fingers at the same time, in the Mysteries (from the group discussion held about the gesture of Harpokrates)


(LIMC Demeter 439, 270, 404, 282, 275, 279, 413, 379, Asklepios 108, 102, 75, Acheloos 197, Apollo 968, 956, 961, Artemis 674, 1182, 462, 720, 974, 1024, 728, Eileithyia 88, Hekate 106, Kephisos 2, Melikertes 50, Herakles 1386, 760, 2867, 2869, 2859, 1393, Hermes 297, Kybele 128, Hestia 8, Charites 24, Athena 590, Korybantes 5, Pan 236, Zeus in per. or. 145, 147, Dionysos 172, Helios 83, Pankrates 6, 24, 19, Aithiopes 39; ARV2 1333, 12/ 776, 3/511, 3/592, 32/ 21, 1; Ps. Arist. Mun. 6. 400A16; Plut. Phil. 2-3; Min. Fel. 2.4; Luc. de sacr. 12, de salt. 17; Dem. 49, Adv. Arist. 1.37; Iliad 1. 351, 1. 450; Plato Leg. 717a, Rep. 451a; J. Horst, Proskynein, Gutersloh 1932; Phil. Ep. 18; Alciphr. 3. 67. 1; Hesych. s.v. anticheire; Sen. Anab. 3. 2. 9; Arist. Probl. 962. 38b; Athen. 2.66c; Aristoph. Pluto 771; Menander fr. 609 Kock; Soph. fr. 672 Nauck; Arr. Anab. 4. 11. 3; Thorv. Mus. I 1644; Eitrem 1953. 605; van Straten 1974; Eur. Alc. 162; Aesch. Sept. 111; Soph. Ed. Col. 1654; Theoph. Char. 16.5; Hymn Apollo 333; Iliad I 568, Od. 4. 522, 13. 354; Arist. Equit. 31; Plut. De superst. 3; And. de Myst. 126; Aristoph. Eq. 156; Suda s.v. aisakos)

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