Religion: Rituals and Festivities

Greeks used animals like rams as sacrifice.

The Ancient Greeks’ chief form of religious reverence or invocation was immolation. These sacrifices that were made to their gods were actually the main event around which festivals, athletics, oracles, and all other devotional events were centered. These ritual sacrifices where considered to be the place where the humans and gods came together.
Some cults may have developed a certain class of “priesthood” that would control or oversee sacrifices, but in the beginning every male adult could do it. It could occur in the home or publicly at a temple. A priest would usually attend sacrifices, but it was not necessary.
The purpose of making sacrifices to gods was because they required it. People considered that a sacrifice was the only way to please the gods. In effect, people would use sacrifices to get what they wanted whether it was a good harvest for the year, advice on an important decision, a prediction or message about the future, a safe trip, stable health, etc. The Greeks had a god for pretty much every area of life and nature. This meant that if someone wanted something their situation called for an offering to whichever god or goddess could give them what they desired.
The aforesaid was applied above all to politicians of the state. No type of political authority could be applied without proper sacrifices. This means that every city magistrate (a civil officer or judge) was a politician and at the same time a part of priesthood. That position gave them dominance to be in charge of sacrifices.

Greek community preparing bulls for sacrification


Greek holidays coordinated with festivals for their multiple gods. For example: Anthesteria was the festival of Dionysus and the new wine, Dionysia was also a festival for Dionysus, but this one was strictly in honor him, Thargelia was the festival of Apollo as well as the new harvest, Thesmophoria was the festival of Demeter which was mostly just celebrated by women, etc. Apart from regular holidays they had multiple religious festivals throughout the year. Their festivals were large-scale religious performances that could happen on an annual, biennial, or quadrennial basis.

The intention of the holiday or festivity could vary widely, but one thing they shared was that their goal was to maintain a positive relationship with a god or goddess.They would even include a procession and/or a sacrifice. Athens’ festivals were the best known and they were also quite abundant. They would set aside at least
6 days each year for annual festivals.

Competitions were also part of the festivals! They were seen as another way to honor the god that they were celebrating. Competitions could be for music, poetry, drama, or athletics. Actually, the most important ones involved athletics. For example, the Olympic Games and the Pythian Games. These were held in honor of Zeus and Apollo, respectively. Some of the best Greek literature was written for these competitions by authors like Sophokles, Euripides, and Aristophanes!