CULT IN PHOKIS (CENTRAL GREECE)
I) KORONEIA Village in Phokis
Strabo, Geography 9. 2. 29 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“When they [the Boiotians] got the mastery of Koroneia [in Phokis after the Trojan War], they built in the plain before the city the temple of Athena Itonia . . . Here, too, the Pamboiotian Festival used to be celebrated. And for some mystic reason, as they say, a statue of Haides was dedicated along with that of Athena.”
Hesiod, Theogony 758 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
“Nyx (Night) carries Hypnos in her arms, and he is Thanatos’ (Death’s) brother . . . And there [near the house of Nyx in the underworld] the children of gloomy Nyx have their houses. These are Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death), dread divinities. Never upon them does Helios, the shining sun, cast the light of his eye-beams, neither when he goes up the sky nor comes down from it. One of these [Hypnos], across the earth and the wide sea-ridges, goes his way quietly back and forth, and is kind to mortals, but the heart of the other one [Thanatos] is iron, and brazen feelings without pity are inside his breast.”
Where Haides is the Lord of the Death, Thanatos is the God or Daimon of Death itself. Though the occasional sacrifice was offered to Thanatos in specific, He was given no temples or public altars and shrines.
The differences between Theoi and Daimons in ancient Hellas seems a bit blurrier than some people believe, and one region’s Theos would be another’s Daimon, or even one person’s Theos would be…, and so on. This is why I don’t whinge about how the word “polytheism” somehow implies a lack of acknowledgement and/or honour given to spirits (and no, this is not a strawman, I’ve seen a few people claim this), and why, most importantly, I don’t describe my beliefs as “both polytheistic and animistic”, because traditional polytheism tends to imply a degree of belief in peripheral daimones. In Hesiod’s Theogony, the birth of Thanatos seems to imply a Daimonhood, but I don’t really have a concrete opinion of one way or the other in regards to Thanatos.
Basically, Thanatos’ existence as a separate entity from Haides is why I specifically describe Haides as “Lord of the Dead”, and ancient thought does seem to have a similar separation of Haides from being “God of Death” and instead describes Him as “God of the Underworld” or “God of the Dead”. Where Haides governs the dead, Thanatos delivers death. Thanatos also, even per Hesiod, seems to exist outside of Haides’ governance, and acts outside of Haides’ order.
The New Boeotian Calendar will be uploaded in the next few days. In my own mind, I should have had it done by now, so I’m kind of beating myself up over not having it done already.
Zeus laid with Demetre, wishing to take Her on as a second wife, but Demetre not only cared of Her sister Hera’s objections, but simply wanted Zeus for no more than to become a mother, and so Hera found no reason to be jealous. When Demetre gave birth to Persephone, all rejoiced, and Demetre took to doting on and indulging the young Goddess.
…but time flies when one is having fun, they say, and so Demetre took no real notice of the fact that Persephone had become of age to be wed, and Zeus, assuming Demetre was paying attention, had betrothed Persephone to Haides, who had taken a liking to the girl. On the day agreed upon, Haides took Persephone from the Boiotian town of Livadeia with Him to the underworld, and Demetre asked Persephone’s friend, the naiad Herkyna, what she saw.
Herkyna relayed to the Goddess that Haides had informed the girls that by the arrangement of Zeus, Persephone was to be Haides bride, and so by tradition, She was to leave with him. Persephone and Herkyna were playing with Persephone’s pet goose, and Haides approach frightened the poor bird into the cave of Trophonios. Persephone went after it, assuring Haides of Her hesitance to go with Him to the underworld, at least until She had informed Her mother, but Haides, overwhelmed and impatient, chased the goose further into the cave, causing Persephone to go after it, then further down, down, down…..
In the underworld, Persephone didn’t fear re-crossing the river Styx, for She knew in Her immortal state, She had nothing to fear, but She admitted that She couldn’t remember the way back out, and Haides refused to tell Her, preferring attempts to coax the girl to stay with Him, hoping to assure Her that He meant Her nothing but the eternal love that only the lord of the dead could show — for what is more eternal, save the deathless ones, than death? In perfect love, Haides offered Persephone a pomegranate, which She finally accepted when She realised that Haides had denied Himself so that She could live in luxury as Queen of the Underworld.
Above-ground, Demetre flew into a rage upon learning that Zeus had arranged a marriage for Persephone without Her permission, casting Gaia’s face into an ice age until Zeus finally swore to let Their daughter return to Demetre, but by then, Persephone had already eaten the pomegranate and sealed Their marriage, but Demetre, still furious, insisted that it was only because Haides had tricked Persephone, and refused to accept a life where She wasn’t an active eternal mother.
In compromise, Zeus proposed that for a quarter of the year, Persephone would be with Haides, and for the opposite quarter, She would live with Demetre, and during the times in-between, She could travel freely between the worlds. The result of this that we see is the seasons.
I know, I know, it’s cheesy to do the “spooky” deities around this time of the year, but as in most incidents in life, I just re-assure myself: It could’ve been worse. Also: Better to do cheesy stereotypical actions as an insider than as an outsider.
So, Haides, eh?
The cult and temples to Hekate was small, but Haides’ cult is TINY, in comparison. TINY. The primary reason for this is obvious: Death is a spiritual pollutant, so while the Lord of the Dead must be afforded His due measure, one isn’t really given an incentive to do more than that, is one? Those called to His service, even today, are regarded suspiciously or, at best, as “odd, but necessary”. For some reason, the screenplay-writing industry, especially since about 1985, wants to make Haides synonymous with the Christian “Satan”, even though this is probably the sloppiest parallel that could be drawn (the Abrahamic tale of Adam and Eve’s fall from Eden by the aid of the serpent, unnamed in Genesis, but commonly syncretised with “Satan” by most Christians, comes closer to the mythos of Prometheus, for example, — but that’s another story for another time), as Haides’ role in Hellenic mythology? He is Lord of the Dead and His domains most commonly include funerary rites and necromancy. His epithets even include Νεκρων Σωτηρ (Nekrôn Sôtêr), “Saviour of the Dead”. It’s clear that Haides wants little, if anything, to do with human beings until we’ve passed on, so the only reason I can figure why His name has become synonymous with the Christian “Hell” and linked to an Abrahamic daimon that first gives people knowledge, and then tests individuals’ virtue (and by Jewish tradition, this is clearly in a context of testing man for G-d, as Jehovah’s servant) is pure, unadulterated ignorance.
Hesiod described this son of Kronos and Rhea as “strong Haides, pitiless in heart, who dwells under the earth”, and some translators feel that Hesiod’s use of “Zeus Khthonios”, “Zeus Who dwells within/under the earth”, in Works & Days is another name for Haides — which makes sense, as Zeus’ domain is clearly as a Sky-God within Hesiod, and so this could extend Haides’ domain to the fertility of the earth, which logically, He’d also be connected to via the mythos of Persephone, whose return to Demetre’s side on Olympos heralds the spring thaw. This also makes sense biologically, as the decay of bodies both animal and vegetable renews the earth’s fertility; death and decay are thus part of the cycle of life.
Another name for Haides that I see in the works of Hesiod, Aidoneus, is translated by Theoi Project as “the Unseen”. I’m unsure if this is the reason for or the result of the ancient custom to avert one’s eyes when sacrificing to Haides, but either way, it seems fitting; the Host of the dead is unseen to those still living.
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.