I find it hard to bring up Hekate and not express my thoughts on Hekate and Witchcraft.
For starters, it’s impossible to deny with fact the deep and ancient connection Hekate has to witchcraft. It’s also damned near impossible to sugar-coat the ancients’ view of this goddess as rather frightening in a way.
Euripides and Apollonius Rhodius portray Medea as a priestess of Hekate, and by Apollonious’ account, she only assisted Jason because Hera had convinced Eros to make Medea fall in love with Jason. It is also by Apollonious’ account that Medea of of blood-relation to Kirke, Who, by the benevolence of Zeus, cleansed Medea and Jason of the miasma of murdering Medea’s brother — and this cleansing took place after several instances where Medea used her craft to the aid of Jason. To simply be a witch in ancient Hellas was not a great crime, nor was it apparently regarded as something frowned upon by the Theoi.
The murder Medea committed against her own children seems to be an invention of Euripides, as earlier poets (as early as the 7th Century BCE) described their death variously as an accident or at the hands of Corinthians. By Theban tradition, Medea also cleansed Herakles of the murder of Iphitus, and remained in Thebes under His protection until she was eventually driven out in spite of their Heros’ protests.
There is no single internally consistent narrative of Medea, and the use of her character as a cautionary against witchcraft in specific seems to be an invention of Seneca the Younger, who was later adopted by early Christians as being allegedly posthumously baptised by the Apostle Paul (who is the source of the majority of what it wrong with Christianity). Ovid, drawing more directly from Hellenic mythology and folklore, paints still a tragic Medea, but one more sophisticated than a morality tale. Pindar also cites Medea as a founding seer of the city of Cyrene; Herodotous describes her as the founder of the Medes people, and others describe Kolkhian colonies venerating Medea as a foundation heroine after staking out to discover her tomb; even today, the Kolkhian (West Georgian) city of Batumi maintains a statue of Medea at the centre of the city, assuring us that one tribe’s “mad deceiver-sorceress-child murderess” is another tribe’s Founder Heroine. By Diodorus Siculus, Hekate is the mother of both Kirke and Medea, further cementing Hekete as a Theon who looks favourably upon the practise of witchcraft.
The witchcraft of Medea seems to be predominantly herbal magic and the invocation, or supplication of deities —mainly Hekate— and spirits, and this is what Kirke is portrayed as practising, as well. Whether or not the Theoi approve or disapprove of these spells incantations and potions is apparently based on intent: If the pharmakeia is using this as a tool of aid to others, or benevolent self-improvement, or throwing curses justly toward another, then one is in Their favour; if she has unjust ill intent toward another, or is seeking self-improvement with malevolent intent, then the Theoi act accordingly. Kirke, being a Goddess, seeks to attack Odysseus and his men with Her own magic, but Odysseus is given guidance by Hermes to a magical herb to protect himself — then hijinks ensue, and Odysseus and Kirke are wed and, by Hesiod’s account, She bore him three sons.
That said, pharmakoussai were viewed suspiciously in ancient Hellas, and the kult of Kirke in particular seems to be mostly contained to the Pharmakoussai Islands (Farmakonisi) off the coast of Attika, and the Kirkaion Mountain (Mount Kirkeo) in Latium, where Athene was also worshipped. It’s hard to really make a clear distinction in a lot of rituals that are defined as “magic” what it supplicatory of the Theoi and what attempts to coerce Them, and this can be confusing or even seem hubristic to an outsider, but frankly, in some spells and incantation, the only ones who really know is the practitioner and the deity(s) addressed, and is it really any-one’s place to say that a Deity is being coerced or controlled when the practitioner and the Deity both know that is clearly not the case? Even outside of Kirke’s cult, specifically, there was no shortage of pharmakoussai mixing herbs, selling amulets and curse kits, and performing simple divinitory rites outside of the ceremony and auspices of the public oracular shrines. Their main purpose seemed to be to sell medicinal and/or mood-altering herbs with specific instructions and generally be ignored or whispered about in-between — that’s not necessarily a sign of Divine disfavour so much as a sign of social disfavour; likewise, there were people whose sole function in the local community was to handle funerary rites so that the family didn’t have to pollute themselves with it, and while there is certainly writing warning us of the spiritual pollutant of handling the dead, even earning us an Olympian disfavour, clearly the very purpose these people took on earned them Khthonic favour, while also earning all the whispers and assumptions of others. There also seems to be a strong link between pharmakoussai and necromantic rites and oracles. One could argue, I suppose, that funerary rites are necessary and witchcraft is not, and I’d agree that in most cases witchcraft probably isn’t necessary, but at the same time, in certain climates and taking on a raw food diet, fire wouldn’t be necessary, but it’s still a tool that the Theoi have given us, and its necessity, its good use, or its ill use is all what we can make out of it: I can move to a Polynesian island and eat a raw diet and I’d never need fire again, and could maintain reasonably healthy, but I’d also know there is only so much space on a Polynesian island, and only just so many Polynesian islands to go around, that clearly fire is necessary to some people and it has to be.
If the Moirai have decided that some-one’s fate shall include the mastery of magical herbs and incantations, then that person will fall upon that path, and it would be within the will of the Theoi that they are doing so. Whether they use that tool for necessity, for good, or for ill is also something that would be offered to them by the Moirai, as would whatever retribution that other deities deem necessary. That said, clearly Hekate will only have so much of an interaction with the majority of Hellenists, but Her closer bond with Her pharmakoussai is something I wouldn’t too eagerly denounce — I mean, really, the “why not” should be obvious. But really now, I’m not here to bad-mouth another Hellene’s work/service to a deity, especially when all the real evidence suggests that the Theoi only have really specific incidental issues with whitchcraft — just like the issues They have with sexual intercourse are very specific.
You’ll remember you’re the one
That called on me to call on them
To get you your favors done.
And after ev’ry plan had failed
And there was nothing more to tell,
You knew that we would meet again,
If your mem’ry served you well.
In Thebes, there was a woman named Galinthias. She was a midwife who delivered Herakles from the womb of Alkmene, her childhood friend. Alkmene’s pregnancy offended Hera, and cursed the young woman’s birth pains to never cease. Galinthias, worried her friend would be driven mad, first appealed to Hekate, who concluded that the curse was placed by another Deathless One, and She could not remove those, but perhaps appealing to the right Deity would earn the sympathies of the one Who could. Deciding No-One higher up than the Moirai, for even the other Theoi were bound to Their tapestry, Galinthias then appealed to the Moirai, Who Themselves were becoming exhaused by the sound of the laborous woman’s screaming, and removed the curse in order to hear Themselves think.
When Hera realised Alkemene had given birth to a son, Herakles, She spoke up that Her own curse had become removed because a silly girl took advantage of the Moirai in Their confusion. The Moirai concluded that Hera was technmically correct (the best kind of correct) and it was decided that Galinthias’ fate was to be transformed into a ferret, a creature that looks most absurd in mating and birth labour. Hekate, though, was sympathetic to Galinthias and the girl’s desires to remove Hera’s curse, and did not fault the girl for failing to discover that it was Hera who cast the curse, and therefore only Hera who could be appealed to lift it. Out of kindness, Hekate made the ferret one of Her sacred workers on Gaia’s face, and in Thebes, the animal was held in esteem as the nurse of Herakles, their native Heros.
By Hesiod’s account, Ouranos and Gaia begat Koios (the Titan Theos of the North, also “the Inquirer”) and Phoibê (the “Bright”, the Titan Theon of prophecy); Koios and Phoibê begat Perses (the Destroyer) and Asteria, the Titan Theon of the Stars, astrology, and necromancy. It is Perses and Asteria Who are the parents of Hekate.
As per the playwright Aeschylus, Phoibê is regarded as the previous oracular deity of Delphi, later succeeding Her reign and bestowing Delphi as a gift to Apollon, Her grandson via Leto. Phoibê is also associated with the moon. Asteria, after the Titan war, was pursued by Zeus, but She did not want Him, and so first transformed to a quail, then lept into the sea, swam out, and became the island of Delos, where Apollon was born.
It is through Asteria that Hekate inherited the gift of necromancy and oracles from the dead. Some ancients also may have believed that Asteria was also worshipped as a goddess of prophetic dreams.
Though Hesiod names the mother of Kirke as Perseis (Destroyer) and Her father as Helios; Diodoros Siculus names Kirke’s parentage as that of Hekate and Aeëtes. Some also regard Perseis as an epithet of Hekate, though it seems Hesiod gives Perseis a genealogy distinct from Hekate, and Perseis’ mother is Tethys (“Nurse”) and Okeanos. It’s therefore easy to see Perseis and Hekate as one-in-the-same, as these themes are recurring and may be considered too lofty for an Okeanid. Light bearing. Destroyer. Nurse. Sight.
If one is to syncretise Kirke then as a daughter of Hekate Perseis, this undoubted maintains Hekate’s associations with practising witchcraft rather than merely casting spells and curses Herself for the mortals who supplicate Her.
By Hesiod, Kirke is the mother of Odysseus’ immortal son Latinus, father/ruler of the Tyrsenoi, who have since been identified with the Etruscans, and also Telegonos, Whose story is the subject of the now-lost Telegony, which only exists in summary.
The Scholia of Pindar seem to identify Hekate and Perseis with the name Khariklo (“Graceful Spinner”) who is identified in these notes as the daughter of Perses and Okeanos — and also a daughter of Apollon. Even without meditating on this, this gives the appearance of further linking Hekate and Apollon.
These notes also revive previous themes, as Khariklo is identified as the wife of the Centaros Kheiron, the mentor of a young Dionysos and also Asklepios.
After moving to the house I’m living in now, the *very first* shrine I set up after unpacking was actually not Eros — it was Hekate. Hekate protects the boundaries of the home, She guards entrances and exits. She’s one of the liminal deities, existing in the in-between spaces; Her domain is that few inches of wood or earth that is both and neither inside nor outside a door or a gate, the intersection of the crossroads where the possibilities of where to go are endless for only the moment before you decide, and She exists within that moment. She’s the box that contains Schrodinger’s cat, and the period of time when the creature can be considered both alive and dead, before you open the lid to discover which it is.
Logically, I had to put up Her shrine first.
That said, while She’s a Household Goddess, Her role in this aspect is clearly more the “anti-Hestia” than as Hestia’s partner. Hestia is the inviting Goddess, the one who warms the hearth and the people before it. She’s the baker of the bread while Demetre is the provider of the grains and Kore the miller of flour. Tradition, Prosperity, Continuance: These Goddesses are the inviters, the personable ones, They make the home.
Hekate, on the other hand, the “worker from afar”, “She who drives off” — She is the lion at the gate, the dog who circles the perimeter, the horse in the stable who’s ready to take the household off at a moment’s notice. She’s the household Goddess whose function is to keep watch of those outside the home, not to bring abundance to those within it. She wards off ill-intent and gives pass to those with good, for they in the know will know that they have done nothing to offend Her. She is the porchlight and the horseshoe over the threshold; she is the deterrant of theives, and the trapper of spirits of ill-intent; She is not the bountiful Goddess, breathing increase and prosperity — indeed, there is nothing in Her mythos that suggest this is at all Her concern for mortals. It is Tykhe who blesses the house, who grants us and ours with plenty.
Hekate is very focused in Her purpose in human affairs; it’s tempting, at this point, to liken Her to a Mafia Dame running a protection racket, except that She won’t break your legs when you forget to leave a penny, She just won’t stop those who are inclined to do so.
As such, the Deipnon is the time of purging the bad energy and odd malevolent spirit who managed to enter the house during the month, offer Hekate a meal in hopes that She will take them back to the hole they came in from, so a Deipnon ritual is best performed at the gate of the household or a crossroads, and never at the household shrine. At the old apartment, I’d take the Deipnon ritual to the door of the apartment, and take the meal to a hidden place outside the building; if this was not an option, I would’ve either created a separate shrine for Deipnon purposes only, or (if space was at that much of a premium), spent a significant portion of time before the Noumenia rit to perform purification. The Deipnon isn’t “whatever you want it to be”, it’s a cleansing, a supplication for a spiritual sweep-up after a physical sweep-up, it is, in a nutshell, asking “Hekate, this household has accumulated negative spirits both seen and unseen; we offer you this meal in hopes that you take these entities far away from this home.” This is not supplication for bounty, this is a supplication for loss. I absolutely agree with those who say that to mix Hekate’s Deipnon and a suppliance for prosperity, to blur the lines of the Deipnon ritual with the Noumenia, is to create a spiritual pollutant
It can be good to lose things like disease and incontinence and enemies and just plain bad luck. Hekate is the one who can properly banish these negative spirits and others. This may make room for good fortune and prosperity, but it is not Hekate Who brings that us those gifts; the room for prosperity is a side-effect of Her actions, not Hekate’s work itself.
While I can understand why modern Hellenists may want to re-envision Hekate as a household Goddess of increase and prosperity, one who cares for the less fortunate, that’s really not Her domain. The passage from Aristophanes often cited, commenting on the poor in ancient times who would eat the meals left for Hekate, is frankly not a suggestion that this was a rationalisation for charity in that time — Aristophanes was, first and foremost, a comedy writer, a satirist, and this was a comment on the assumed impiety of the poor, no matter how necessary it may have seemed for basic survival, who would rather take from a goddess than to ask for charity when needed. To take the work of a comedian lampooning the social climate of his day and use it to paint a “sweetness and light” image of a rather frightful and spooky goddess is, in my opinion, rather fluffy. In maths, we learn that to remove negative numbers, we must first bring it up to zero, neutrality. That’s what Hekate does: By asking Her to remove the spiritually vile and to prevent its influx from recurring, Her goal is to merely maintain Zero, not to increase beyond that. As a household goddess, Hers is apotropaic magic; she’s the guard-dog snarling at invaders, the polecat killing mice and other vermin that would take our storage of grains and cheese (which doesn’t seem an apt metaphor for “tending to the less fortunate”). These are among her sacred animals for a reason, for She is the one who removes that which might harm us.
Inside the door, I have a wall sconce with electric candle and my painting for Hekate, and also a large decorative key with a hook for household keys — my housemate doesn’t use it, but I doubt the Klêidouchos maiden is offended. I also keep a garden wall sconce with a lion at the edge of the porch; it has a crack, and was dumpster-dived, but most people don’t notice the broken spot, and in my defense, I’ve been brainstorming what to do about repairing it in a way that looks nice.
[Please note: I want to apologise for skipping over Demeter and Kore at the time I had allotted for Them. Sometimes I think I'll feel up for doing something, and then allergies or carpal tunnel syndrome, or whatever else goes wrong. I also must confess that I'm not the best at managing the time I have, in part cos I'm just too easily distracted.]
Hesiod, Theogony 404 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
“Hekate whom Zeus the son of Kronos honoured above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honour also in starry heaven, and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods . . . For as many as were born of Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Heaven) [the Titanes] amongst all these she has her due portion. The son of Kronos [Zeus] did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea. Also, because she is an only child, the goddess receives not less honour, but much more still, for Zeus honours her.”
I’ve found little about Hekate’s shrines specific to Boeotian traditions, but Hesiod apparently considered Her of great importance, and there is evidence that She was a widespread household goddess, with a a shrine at household gates, and at crossroads. At the deipnon (dark moon), the ancients left Her a meal, outdoors, as an offering. In Popular Wicca, She’s often cast as the “crone” aspect of the uniquely modern archetype on the “triple goddess”, while Demetre and Persephone occupy the “Mother” and “Maiden” faces. Indeed, in Hellenic art, Hekate is consistently maiden, young woman, and Hekate Trimorphis is simply all Hekate. According to Pausanius, Hekate Trimorphis was first depicted in art as triple-headed or triple-bodied by the Attic artist Alkamenes, and came much later than the Triplicate imagery of Hekate that’s incredibly popular with Pop Wicca. I don’t reject Hekate Trimorphis images because they are “newer” and thus somehow not “proper recon”1. Indeed, if the only “correct” way to see Hekate is the oldest way, then She should be an invisible Goddess, appearing only as a glimpse of light from the corner of one’s eye, rather than the single-bodied maiden bearing torches. I don’t reject any image of Hekate, and though I see a more spiritual meaning of the epithet, I can see the value in portraying it literally.
She also had an important role in the cult of the Elusinian mysteries. She assisted Demetre in Her search for Persephone after Persephone was taken away to the kingdom of Hades. I’ve never had much interest in the Elusinian mysteries, so unless this changes, I’m going to leave any discussion of them to people who know more about it and have a better understanding of it than I do.
One of the proposed etymologies of Her name is either giving origin to or coming from an obscure Lesbian epithet of Apollon, Hekatos, meaning “one that removes or drives off” or “far-darting one”. The most common offerings to Hekate in ancient times were to ward off evil spirits, as Hekate is the goddess of magic, witches, ghosts, and necromancy; She also is given messages to deceased loved ones. The pharmakis, or witch, Gale, was cursed by Hekate for moral incontinence and became the polecat, which some Hellenes kept as housepets for their vermin-catching abilities. There really needs to be more imagery of Hekate with a lion and / or ferret.
The most common animal associated with Her is dogs, but I’ve always thought of lions when envisioning Hekate, and Theoi Project maintains a very brief sourced passage that one of Her forms is that of a lion, so I assume this personal association as Confirmed Gnosis, though probably not without help of cultural influences, including the English and U$ custom of statues of lions at the gates and doorways of important buildings and stately homes (or even just homes and estates that aspire toward stateliness).
1: …and for the record, it’s been AGES since I’ve seen some-one actually make such a ridiculous claim for rejecting a certain image or aspect or even deity, I even forget the name of the person who did it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if other people continue to say it, and I just haven’t noticed.
As I am wont to say, I am a hopeless Mod, so as a post I’m making cos I really want to blog today but can’t think of anything really good to say, let me explain to the non-Mod Pagans and Polytheists and Hellenistai reading this (which is probably everybody but me) the Mod culture with different Theoi.
Apollon: I generally think of Apollon as the most-Mod of the Theoi. Many Hellenistai recognise Apollon as the Theos of Moderation (unlike Nietzscheans, who regard Him as the God of Abstinence — silly, silly, Nietzscheans…), and there is an old saying about Apollon, often presented in the form of an exchange between He and Artemis, wherein Apollon states, “Ah, but I advocate moderation of all things, including moderation itself!” Mods in the 1960s were ragarded as flamboyant dandies in comparison to their working-class backgrounds, but it can’t be denied that they were still considerably less flamboyant than Oscar Wilde, who came before, and the other youth cultures that came after. Mods are still very much like this. The music, which danceable, is hardly the rhythmic thumping of disco and its derivatives (which I regard as Dionysian). Even Mod jazz has some semblance of order amidst the syncopation, but just enough of that freeness to steer clear of that soulless and detestable “smooth jazz”.
Dionysos: Dionysos and Apollon are far from being polar opposites (as Nietzsche liked to portray); to continue that misconception is to underestimate both Theoi, and (in this blogger’s opinion) is very much “missing the mark” and tantamount to blasphemy — but enough about that. Dionysos, through throwing in an element of careful excess (as a Theos of the Theatre and concerts, I highly doubt He approved of Axl Rose’s temper tantrums, and I also find it hard to believe that the Theos of Wine appreciates getting drunk to the point of being sick all over everything, or driving into a tree, or using substances to commit rape) is a Theos perfectly worshipped in just about any nightclub. And really, if any of the Theoi truly appreciate Jazz, I would have to say that it’s Dionysos.
Hermes: Hermes is the Theos most commonly associated with innovation, novelty, and progress — in other words, Hermes is a modernist. Apollon, being among the most sophisticated of the Theoi, is naturally a Modernist (and a modernist) by default, but where Apollon is there to remind us that analogue sound is of superior quality, making the slight medium degeneration from even perfect use of vinyl worth its imperfections, Hermes is there to remind us that it’s perfectly OK to record our records onto mp3′s to not only prevent unnecessary degeneration of the sound recording medium, but because the iPod just looks so cool! A God of Transportation, it was both the desire for affordable transportation and ost WWII resourcefulness that both birthed the Motor Scooter and popularised it amongst British Mods.
Hyakintos: Though commonly regarded amongst mythology buffs and modern worshippers as a Hero, I think there is sufficient enough evidence that the Spartans regarded Him as either a Theos in his own right, or as Hemitheos (demigod) to some extent. That out of the way, let’s look at the most famous attributes of Hyakintos — Young, Male lover and beloved of Apollon, Athletic. Though, in recent years, Mod had been maintained by older generations, at its heart, it’s still a youth culture, meaning that young people are necessary to its growth in both size and spirit. There is also a joke amongst Mod that goes “What do you call a fat Mod? A Trad Skin” and in the book Mod: A Very British Phenomenon, it is stated that “there are no fat Mods”. As for the gay? Well, just check out the first two albums by the band Secret Affair, which my guitarist and I joke solidifies their position as the gayest band composed of all-heterosexual members; also, Pete Townshend has finally admitted that, though he has maintained a heterosexual identity since the 1980s, he “experimented with men” in the 1960s, and at this point, everybody should know that David Bowie was once a more obvious Mod (if you ask me, he never stopped being a Mod, but that’s another story for another time), so obviously sexual ambiguity is not something that Mods should have any sort of problem with (and, historically, is something that Mods typically don’t). By this revelation of Mod, Adonis should be well-suited to Mod worship, as well.
Hekate: I’m not leaving out Goddesses, ladies! A Goddess of gateways and crossroads and the underworld (all of which get mentioned frequently in old blues standards covered by The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones), Hesiod regarded Her as a feminine counterpart to Hermes and the most powerful of all the Titans. She’s also probably the only Goddess, after Artemis, whom I can envision looking just as regal and Divine with either a bob or pixi haircut. I also biased because there’s a song by Makin’ Time called “Two Coins For the Ferryman”, which seems to contain many Hellenic mythological references including, possibly, Hekate — though I could just be inserting my own meaning there because it’s what I want to hear.