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Ancient Greece has been a wellspring of culture, inspiration and spirituality for so many of us, and in many cases Hellenic spiritual practices are a fine example of Leonardo da Vinci’s saying that “simplicity is ultimate sophistication.” I’m sure many of our endless varieties of cards and bones and sticks and stones that we use frequently in our work would dazzle an ancient Hellene, quickly followed by confusion: “Why so many different ways to do the same thing when but one would suffice? Use stones.”
A common sight in ancient Greece was a pot full of stone tokens, used for anything from determining the verdict of a court to voting who should be exiled from the city. Even today, our word “ostracism” comes from the Greek ostrakoi, referring to broken shards of pottery recycled for use as tokens, but even these were a thrifty recycling of trash to replace what was likely originally psēphoi, little pebbles used as tokens for anything from counting to voting. In Aeschylus’ tragedy Eumenides, Athena herself institutes the legal institution of trial by jury, where the jurors are to throw pebbles to tally up their votes. In some systems, they throw pebbles into different pots, in others, they throw pebbles of different colors, such as dark-colored stones for a guilty verdict and light-colored ones for not-guilty. Counting out the pebbles would yield a result to determine someone’s fate; from this, the word psēphos took on a dual meaning, indicating both “pebble” as well as “judgment.”
The full article can be found on page 14 of The Witches' Almanac Spring 2020-2021 - Stones: The Foundation of Earth