Votive Offerings or ex-votos (Greek: τάμα Tama , pl. ταμάτα Tamata ) refers to those things that are vowed or dedicated to God or a saint, and are in consequence looked upon as being set apart by this act of consecration. Traditionally the use of votive offerings has been common in the Orthodox Church, particularly in the Greek Orthodox Church.
In general terms a votive offering or tama may be offered at the icon or shrine of a saint, as a reminder of a petitioner's particular need, and as a fulfillment of their intended vow or promise; or else, in gratitude for a prayer or vow that has already been answered.
"The vow usually takes the form of a commitment by the offerer to present some material gift to the supernatural benefactor if the benefactor grants the supplicant's particular request. Moreover, it is the making of the vow prior to the offering itself that, in the minds of [the faithful], distinguishes the votive offering from such other forms as the propitiatory or thank offering. While votive offerings are sometimes made in other situations of crisis or uncertain control such as the opening of a new business or the confrontation of one's son with the vagaries of the military draft, most frequently votives are employed in response to illnesses for which no other cure can be found. Promises and subsequent offerings are directed toward individual or local patrons, or toward saints believed to be especially powerful in dealing with certain maladies, such as the Panaghia (Virgin Mother) who is frequently called upon to aid in conception or childbirth, or Saint Paraskevi who is regarded as especially efficacious in treating afflictions of the eyes."
Tamata usually take the form of small metal plaques, which may be of base or precious metal, usually with an embossed image symbolizing the subject of the prayer for which the plaque is offered. A wide variety of images may be found on tamata, which lend themselves to multiple interpretations. A heart may symbolize a prayer for love, or a heart problem. Eyes may indicate an eye affliction; hands or legs may indicate maladies of the limbs; a pair of wedding crowns may mean a prayer for a happy marriage; a torso, for afflictions of the body, and so forth.
The offerings themselves usually fall into one of three broad categories: (1) representations of the individual offerer, especially small gold- or silver-plated effigies of the bodily part to be cured...which are hung before the icon of the benefactor; candles the height or weight of the beneficiary; or personal valuables such as necklaces or rings; (2) adornments for the icon of the supernatural invoked, especially the gold or silver plating of parts of the icon such as the halo or hands; and (3) humbling acts taken up by votants in the service of the benefactor, especially crawling up the steps of a particular church, begging in behalf of the saint's church, or working for the church community in some self-effacing capacity.
Tamata may be bought in shops selling Greek Orthodox religious items, and then hung near an icon or shrine of a saint, by using a ribbon tied on a pole, or on hooks, the act of which is usually accompanied with a prayer, and sometimes with the lighting of a votive candle.
As the contractual nature of the vow implies, most offerings are made only after fulfillment of the offerer's request by the saint, and the actual presentations are made almost secretively, with no ostentation. The presentations occasionally take place in the presence of the offerer's immediate family, and often without the knowledge of the local priest. Pilgrimage sites often include shrines that are decorated with many tamata.
One of the most famous Orthodox votive offerings historically is that by Saint John of Damascus. According to tradition, while he was serving as Vizier to the Caliph, he was falsely accused of treachery and his hand was cut off. Upon praying in front of an icon of the Theotokos his hand was miraculously restored. In thanksgiving, he had a silver replica of his hand fashioned and attached it to the icon. This icon, now called "Tricherousa" or "Trojeručica" (The Three-handed) and is preserved at Chilandari Monastery on Mount Athos.
Tamata correspond almost exactly to the Milagros traditionally used for healing purposes and as votive offerings in the Roman Catholic cultures of Mexico, the southern United States, Latin America, and parts of the Iberian peninsula.
The primary message that the votive contains and transmits would appear to be man's dependence upon and subservience to the will of God, and God's concern for man and occasional susceptibility to his influence. This notion is neatly packaged in the relation of the material or behavioral offering of the individual community member, to the symbolic locus of the offering's presentation, the Orthodox church. The Orthodox church building has long been recognized as a symbolic representation of the Divine Kingdom, and the pattern of its decoration "has the character of a clear and precise theological system." Within the context of such a large-scale, hierarchically arranged, symbolic representation of the Orthodox cosmology, votive offerings - especially those described above as being primarily representations of the individual - acquire a clear and precise significance. They constitute a means by which man is capable of inserting himself symbolically into an equally symbolic representation of the cosmos, a means by which man can express his place in the spiritual world and his relationship to other spiritual beings.
- Robert T. Teske. Votive Offerings and the Belief System of Greek-Philadelphians. Western Folklore. Vol. 44, No. 3, Healing, Magic, and Religion (Jul., 1985), pp. 209.
- Robert T. Teske. Votive Offerings and the Belief System of Greek-Philadelphians. Western Folklore. Vol. 44, No. 3, Healing, Magic, and Religion (Jul., 1985), pp. 212-214.
- Tama (votive) at Wikipedia.
- Robert T. Teske. Votive Offerings and the Belief System of Greek-Philadelphians. Western Folklore. Vol. 44, No. 3, Healing, Magic, and Religion (Jul., 1985), pp. 208-224.
- (Paper discussing the votive offering as employed by the members of the Greek-American community of Philadelphia, based on fieldwork conducted between 1972 and 1974)