Kharis & Reciprocity

by | Hellenic Polytheism

What is Kharis?

Kharis is the reciprocal relationship between ourselves and our gods. It is the grace and favour nurtured through our offerings to the gods and returned with help or guidance from the gods.

The blog Baring the Aegis summarises the concept well:

Kharis is–to give an incredibly limited definition–the act of giving to the Gods so They might give something in return. It’s religious reciprocity. It’s also so much more.

Our relationships with the gods are founded on favour and grace. Give in honour of the gods that they might aid you when you are in need.

Kharis as Reciprocity

Kharis is often thought of as reciprocity. It’s about the two-way action of giving and receiving, or offering and returning.

As mentioned in my article on Principles & Values in Hellenic Polytheism, evidence of reciprocal relationships can be seen several times throughout Homer’s works.

One example of this is in Book 1 of The Iliad when Achilles’ mother, Thetis, asks Zeus to help with bringing justice to Agamemnon for taking Achilles’ prize Briseis.

“Father Zeus, if ever amid the immortals I gave you aid by word or deed, grant me this prayer: do honour to my son, who is doomed to a speedy death beyond all other men; yet now Agamemnon, king of men, has dishonoured him, for he has taken and keeps his prize by his own arrogant act. But honour him, Olympian Zeus, lord of counsel; and give might to the Trojans, until the Achaeans do honour to my son, and magnify him with recompense.”

– Thetis, The Iliad

The Importance of Kharis

I cannot understate the importance of kharis within Hellenic Polytheism – it is the backbone of worship and action towards the gods and towards other people.

It extends to other values, such as xenia, in that you may treat your guests well and with respect as you would wish to be treated if you were a guest of theirs.

In that respect, kharis may be thought of like the “golden rule” in Christianity: treat others as you wish to be treated.

How Do Your Build Kharis With the Gods?

Building kharis with the gods is functionally synonymous with developing a relationship with the gods. The simplest, most common way to do this is through regular worship and prayer.

Building a daily devotional practice is likely the easiest step to take first. You can do this by setting up an altar or shrine to a few gods as a space where you can pray and make offerings.

As Hellenic Polytheism is typically orthopraxic, it is about action over thought. But, your practice doesn’t need to be complicated or extravagant and you don’t need to perform convoluted rituals to start a relationship with the gods. In fact, you may find that the simpler your actions, the stronger the connection. Allow yourself to focus on the gods, not just what you’re doing.

Your relationship with the gods is not limited to your shrine, though. Be mindful of the gods in everything you do and act as you believe the gods would expect you to act. Doing so will help you to build kharis with the gods with everything you do.

Kharis is the Goal

With talk building and developing kharis, and building favour with the gods, it can be easy to get to forget that kharis is the goal.

We worship to build kharis in hopes that the gods will look favourably on us. Let that guide you in how you develop your own practice.

But remember that kharis is a lifetime pursuit. It is a continuous commitment that you are making to the gods.

You continue to build your relationships with the gods every time you pray to them, every time you make an offering, every time you write about them, and how you act in their domains.

Kharis is the goal we are constantly striving for.

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Olympian Gods

The Olympian gods were worshipped in ancient Greece and are the main pantheon in the modern Hellenic Polytheism revival. They consist of most of the offspring of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, and children of Zeus.