Libation

Libation

[lahy-bey-shuhn]

A libation (spondee in Greek) is a ritual pouring of a drink as an offering to a god. It was common in the religions of antiquity, including Judaism:

"And Jacob set up a Pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a Pillar of Stone; and he poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it". (Genesis 35:14)

Isaiah uses libation as a metaphor when describing the end of the Suffering Servant figure who: "poured out his life unto death". (53:12) Christians see Jesus Christ as fufulling this prophecy.

The liquid that was used in libations varied; most commonly it was wine or olive oil, and in India, ghee. The vessels used in the ritual, including the patera, often had a significant form which differentiated them from secular vessels. The liquid was poured onto something of religious significance. The libation was very often poured on the ground itself, as an offering to the Earth.

In Ancient Greece the term "spondee" (libation) is meant type of sacrifice. The term includes all offers to the gods, with discharge on to an altar, various nutritious or precious liquids, as perfumes, wine, honey, milk, oil, juices of fruits.

The libations that include wine are said oinosponda, all other nefalies. The later are offered in celestial deities as in the Muses, the Sun, Selana, Io, Venus, Urany, as well as to Earth deities and the ancestral spirits.

Ancient Greek texts often mention libations. Euripides describes the dire consequences of failure to include certain gods in libations in The Bacchae, a theme common to many Greek tragedies. The use of a libation composed of barley, wine, honey and water to summon shades in Hades is also referred to in the Odyssey.

In his Pneumatica, Hero of Alexandria described a mechanism for automating the process by using altar fires to force oil from the cups of two statues.

In Shinto, the practice of libation and the drink offered is called Miki (神酒), lit. "Liquor of the Gods". At a ceremony at a Shinto shrine, it is usually done with sake, but at a household shrine, one may substitute fresh water which can be changed every morning. It is served in a white porcelain or metal cup without any decoration.

In the Quechua and Aymara cultures of the South American Andes, it is common to pour a small amount of one's beverage on the ground before drinking as an offering to the Pachamama, or Mother Earth. This especially holds true when drinking Chicha, an alcoholic beverage unique to this part of the world. The libation ritual is commonly called challa and is performed quite often, usually before meals and during celebrations.

In Cuba a widespread custom is to spill a drop or two of rum from one's glass while saying "para los santos" (for the Saints).

In hip-hop culture, libation has taken the form of pouring a small amount of a malt liquor onto the ground in remembrance of ancestors or friends who have died. The liquid is poured onto the ground before the first sip is taken. Hence, the famous quote: "This is for my (dead) homies".

Libation is also commonly recognized as the break within the famous performance of Agbekor, a ritual dance in African culture.

Shamanism shows great diversity, even if we consider only shamanism among Siberian peoples. Among several peoples near the Altai Mountains, the new drum of a shaman must go through a special ritual. This is regarded as “enlivening the drum”: the tree and the deer who gave their wood and skin for the new drum narrate their whole lives and promise to the shaman that they will serve him. The ritual itself is a libation: beer is poured onto the skin and wood of the drum, and these materials “come to life” and speak with the voice of the shaman in the name of the tree and the deer. Among the Tubalar, moreover, the shaman imitates the voice of the animal, and its behaviour as well.

In some African cultures, especially in West and Central Africa, the libation ritual of pouring a drink or water to the “Gods of our forefathers” is an essential religious and ceremonial tradition. The ritual is generally performed, as part of a ceremony or prayer, by an elder in the village or gathering. The drink is poured out of a native drinking cup owned by the elder or fore-parent, and the cup is made of some traditional artifact such as a gourd, animal horn, wood carving or other material. Although water may be used, the drink is usually some traditional wine (e.g. palm wine), and the libation ritual is accompanied by some traditional incantation or invocation of spirits.

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