Ritual: Preliminaries Contents

Suggested Ritual Dress

In a 1975 article, E. J. W. Barber speculated on Proto-Indo-European clothing by comparing the folk costumes of the descendant traditions. Her suggested reconstructed clothing was made from wool, linen, nettle, or hemp (Barber, E. J. W. The Proto-Indo-European Notion of Cloth and Clothing. Journal of Indo-European Studies 3:4 (1975), 294-320).The main garment was a tunic, knee length for men, and frequently longer for women, with a cord worn around it as a belt. Over the tunic was another garment, sometimes smaller, made of a stiffer material such as felt. It was often decorated, and is the ancestor of the embroidered vests of eastern Europe. Women wore hats with a mantle, sometimes held on with a diadem. Later Indo-Europeans, possibly still within the Proto-Indo-European period, wore pants or kilts with their tunics. There is no evidence regarding footwear, so I recommend bare feet or sandals.

Because the Proto-Indo-Europeans would likely have been wearing nicer versions of their everyday clothes to rituals, it is completely appropriate to do the same. I myself wear a nice white shirt, linen in summer and cotton in winter.

White is the color associated with priests. Garb worn by the Nḗr may be red, or some other color. The rest may dress in whatever colors they like, provided that they do not dress completely in white.

For the ritual I've assumed certain sexes for the celebrants. It's best if the Fire Tender is a woman, but the sex of the others don't matter. I've just chosen these because terms like "she/he" are ugly.


Before any ritual each priest purifies himself by pouring a small amount of water into his hands. He allows this to run through his fingers to the ground (or a bowl if indoors). He pours more, and splashes this against his face. He pours again, and rinses his mouth. This is all done in silence, while thinking with each washing:

Pūtos ʔesō. (masc.)/Pūtā ʔesō. (fem.)
(May I be pure.)

This may be done before leaving for the ritual, or at the ritual site. After purifying themselves, each priest dresses in their ritual garb.

Before each ritual, wash or sprinkle all required objects, including the speltá, saying:

Pūtóm zdhi.
(Be pure.)

Dry them with a clean white towel, preferably linen. Then sprinkle them once more with xádor and wipe them off.

Arrange the items to be used on a board, for which the Proto-Indo-European word is *speltá, in an order which will make them easy to use and is aesthetically pleasing. This arranging may be done by any of the participants. Putting the board on a low stool or stools, or using a low table, is convenient.


"Xádōr," literally "dry stuff", is a mixture of barley and salt used to bless sacrifices,

I believe barley to be the Proto-Indo-European sacred grain. It certainly is an important early grain. From a domestic point of view, it was the major grain of pre-Zoroastrian Iran (Humbach and Ichaporia, 1994, 11). Barley, along with rice, shows up in Vedic ritual often (Gonda, 1980, 112). It is used as part of the soma mixture, and is what the other sacred drink surā (likely the pre-soma ritual drink) was made from (Parpola, 2004-2005, 41). In RV 8.2.3 barley is even identified with soma. It was also sacred to Varuṇa (Parpola, 20004-2005, 41), who is the guardian of the ṛta. There are Greek sacred drinks which include barley; it is, for instance, the major ingredient of the drink Demeter asks to be made for her while she was mourning her daughter Persephone. It was barley that the food eaten by the priestess at Delphi before prophesying was made of (Panagos and Vousas, 1965, 16). Barley is found in Greece as a purification, sprinkled on animals before sacrifice (Bremmer, 2010, 133). Plutarch (Greek Questions, 6) tells us that it was used in preliminary offerings in ancient times. Both the Roman and Hittite material gives us the added detail of roasting and grinding the barley. Since Rome could not have borrowed from Anatolia, it is likely that we are looking at a Proto-Indo-European tradition here. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Hittites all included salt. (Burkert (1985, 136) thinks that the use of salt is a later development, but since it is found in Rome and Anatolia this seems unlikely.) In India, a mixture of salt and barley is cast on ploughed fields to encourage the growth of the crops (Gonda, 1980, 429). This is an odd thing to do, since salt prevents growth (the Romans' ploughing the destroyed Carthage with salt to make sure that noting would ever grow there again is famous). We are clearly dealing with a religious significance of a mixture of barley and salt, used for blessing.

I think as well that there is some linguistic evidence significance in that that the PIE word for barley is *yéwos, which is the same, in the nominative singular, as that for "ritual law." ("Barley" is an o-stem, whereas "ritual law" is an s-stem, so they are formed differently in other cases and numbers. The nominative plural of "ritual," for instance, is *yéwesā, whereas that of "barley" is (yéwōs.)

The xádōr is prepared prior to the ritual and put into a bowl which is kept on the speltá during the ritual. To prepare it, take barley and roast it in a frying pan, stirring enough to keep it from burning. The pearl barley you can buy in a supermarket is fine, although whole grain barley would be better. When it is toasted, put it in a bowl and allow it to cool.

Then take a mortar and pestle. Holding the pestle in your right hand and facing east, knock on the inside edge of the mortar four times, in the east, north, west, and south, saying as you do:

Wágrō ʔógʷhim gʷhent.
(With the wágros he killed the serpent.)

Pour a handful or so of rock salt into the mortar (the exact quantity depending on the size of the mortar), saying:

The seed of the bull, the fruit of the earth, the source of blessings.

Repeat the knocking and say again:

Wágro ʔógʷhim gʷhent.
(With the wágros he killed the serpent.)

Grind the salt into powder.

Then pour in some roasted barley, the same quantity as the salt. Treat it the same way, with the same knocking and words. When you grind it, make sure it is mixed well with the salt.

Repeat this twice more, and you have xádōr.

(It's actually pretty difficult to grind barley, even cooked barley, in a mortar, so after grinding a portion that way, you can use a coffee grinder for the rest.)

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Bremmer, Jan N. Greek Normative Animal Sacrifice. In A Companion to Greek Religion. ed. Daniel Ogden. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, 132-44.

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Gonda, J. Vedic Ritual: The Non-Solemn Rites. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1980.

Humbach, Helmut, and Ichaporia, Pallan. The Heritage of Zarathustra: A New Translation of the Gathas. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1994.

Panagos, John E., and Vouzas, Ad. tr. David Ll. Richards. The Mythology and History of Delphi. Athens: n.p., 1965.

Parpola, Asko. The Nāsatyas, the Chariot, and Proto-Aryan Religion. Journal of Indological Studies, 16 & 17 (2004-2005), 1-63.

Watkins, Calvert. An Indo-European Agricultural Term: Latin ador, Hittite Hat-. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 77 (1973), 187-193.

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