Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.
Introducing: Hellenic Hekate
I think it's about time I dedicate a full post to the subject of the worship of Hekate in ancient Hellas. Most of what a Google search will find on this magnificent Goddess is based upon later sources, or are moderately recent inventions. Note that I have no problem with that: I believe the Theoi can change--especially in the eyes of the people who worship Them--and one of the ways They do so is by the practice of epithets. So, in my personal practice, this dark version of Hekate is an epithet of Her that I respect, but do not offer sacrifice to. It's 'Threefold Hekate': beautiful and powerful in Her own right, but completely unknown to the ancient Hellenes. Yet, even in the time of the ancient Hellenes, Hekate's domains were entirely re-invented, so to say She would not have changed after the fall of the Hellenic empire seems not only futile to me, but disrespectful to a very adaptable Titan Goddess.
Hekate's (Ἑκατη) worship was most likely imported from Thrace or Anatolia, where--especially at the latter--records were found of children being named after Her. This version of Her is single-faced, rules in heaven, on the earth, and in the sea, is a Theia of childbirth--to both animals and humans--and it is She who bestows wealth on mortals, victory, wisdom, good luck to sailors and hunters, and prosperity to youth and to the flocks of cattle. Yet, if mortals do not deserve Her gifts, she can withhold them from them just as easily. After the Titanomachy, Zeus bestowed upon Her the highest of honors. This is the Hekate found in Hesiod's Theogony, written around 700 BC:
"Again, Phoebe came to the desired embrace of Coeus. [...] And she conceived and bare Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos 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 to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favour according to custom, he calls upon Hecate. Great honour comes full easily to him whose prayers the goddess receives favourably, and she bestows wealth upon him; for the power surely is with her. For as many as were born of Earth and Ocean amongst all these she has her due portion. The son of Cronos 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.
Epithets associated with this version of Her are:
- Krataeis (the Mighty One)
- Kourotrophos (nurse of children)
- Soteira ("Saviour")
It is speculated that Hesiod hailed from a region where Hekate was heavily worshipped, and as such, his views upon Her power and stature were not reflected in the rest of Hellas, where other--Olympian--divinities took up her role--Artemis as the protector of animals, Nemesis as the administrator of justice, Selene as Theia of the moon, etc. As such, it was only logical that her power was dwindled down some--or, more accurately, focussed--into darker territories like the night, the (new) moon, spirits, the underworld, and sorcery when her cult spread throughout Hellas.
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter--composed somewhere in the late seventh century BC or the sixth century BC--sets this in motion, making Her an Underworld Goddess, and giving Her a Khthonius character. She becomes linked to caves, to torches, to night, and the Underworld itself. This transitional Hekate--still a protector of youth, and a bringer of plenty, but a more mysterious Goddess, linked to both the upper- and lower world--aids Persephone by being a torchbearer to Her mother, and by watching over Persephone when She is in the Underworld. When it is time for Persephone to leave, it is Hekate who guides Her out. It is this Hekate that is linked to the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Epithets associated with these events are:
- Propolos (the attendant who leads)
- Phosphoros (the light-bringer)
Hellenic tragedians felt drawn to the Khthonic side of Hekate, and slowly Hekate transformed into a Titan Goddess of the night, the moon, and (protection against) witchcraft, ghosts and necromancy. In this period, roughly around the fifth century BC, She also became the Goddess associated with crossroads, and Her triple form was born. Pausanias' 'Description of Greece' wrote of this form:
There are two versions of this depiction. Both forms--when made into a statue--are called 'Hekataia'. The first are three women, beautiful and young--a maiden, as Hekate was always depicted--usually around a pillar, holding various attributes. A version of Her in this depiction can be found on the left. Statues like these used to stand at crossroads in ancient Hellas, as well as near the gates to a home, which was just as much a crossroads. Hekate, in this form, became a Goddess of purification, expiation, and protection, associated with thresholds and gates, both reaching back to the Underworld association. Very rarely, She was represented with a single body, and three heads, all looking different ways.
In another, scarier, and more bestial version, Hekate is depicted similarly as above, but with the heads of various animals. The Greek Magical Papyri, or Papyri Graecae Magicae, name the three as such, but variations exist:
It is this Hekate that is appeased with the Deipnon, at the new moon: the last day of the month. These days, when the nights kept getting darker and darker, were some of the scariest days of the month, and were considered impure. The night when the moon completely disappeared was sacred to Hekate, as Hekate was able to placate the souls in Her wake, and could purify the household of miasma accumulated during the month. Removing this miasma allowed the members of the household to call on Hekate during the following month in times of need--as we have seen was common practice--and be more likely to have Her look favorably upon the supplicant.
- Apotropaia (that turns away/protects)
- Enodia (Goddess of the paths)
- Klêidouchos (Keeper of the Keys)
- Propylaia (the one before the gate)
- Tricephalus or Triceps (The Three-Headed)
- Triodia/Trioditis (who frequents crossroads)
- Trimorphe (three-formed)
The spell above--taken from the Papyri--is used to make a protective amulet, and offer protection much in the same way as her three-formed appearance at crossroads and entrances does. Then again, the Hekate in the Papyri is not a gentile being. The materials in the Papyri--which are Graeco-Roman Egyptian in origin--stem from anywhere between the second century BC to the fifth century AD, and show a much darker--although highly honored--part of Her, still linked to many other Goddesses:
"To You, wherefore they call You Hekate, Many-named, Mene, cleaving Air just like
Dart-shooter Artemis, Persephone, Shooter of Deer, night shining, triple-sounding,
Triple-headed, triple-voiced Selene, Triple-pointed, triple-faced, triple-necked,
And Goddess of the Triple Ways, who hold untiring Flaming Fire in Triple Baskets,
And You who oft frequent the Triple Way and rule the Triple Decades, unto me
Who'm calling You be gracious and with Kindness give Heed, You who protect the Spacious World
At night, before whom Daimons quake in Fear and Gods Immortal tremble, Goddess who
Exalt Men, You of Many Names, who bear Fair Offspring, Bull-eyed, Horned, Mother of Gods
And Men, and Nature, Mother of All Things, for You frequent Olympos, and the broad
And boundless Chasm You traverse. Beginning and End are You, and You Alone rule All.
For All Things are from You, and in You do all Things, Eternal One, come to their End.
As Everlasting Band around Your Temples you wear Great Kronos' Chains, unbreakable
And unremovable, and You hold in Your Hands a Golden Scepter. Letters 'round
Your Scepter Kronos wrote Himself and gave to You to wear that All Things stay steadfast:
Subduer and subdued, Mankind's Subduer, and Force-subduer; Chaos, too, You rule.
Hail, Goddess, and attend Your Epithets, I burn for You this Spice, O Child of Zeus,
Dart-shooter, Heav'nly One, Goddess of Harbors, who roam the Mountains, Goddess of Crossroads,
O Nether and Nocturnal, and Infernal, Goddess of Dark, Quiet and Frightful One,
O You who have Your Meal amid the Graves, Night, Darkness, Broad Chaos: Necessity
Hard to escape are You; You're Moira and Erinys, Torment, Justice and Destroyer,
And You keep Kerberos in Chains, with Scales of Serpents are You dark, O You with Hair
Of Serpents, Serpent-girded, who drink Blood, who bring Death and Destruction, and who feast
On Hearts, Flesh Eater, who devour Those Dead untimely, and You who make Grief resound
And spread Madness, come to my Sacrifices, and now for me do You fulfill this Matter."
Epithets associated with this version of Her are:
- Antania (Enemy of mankind)
- Khthonian (Earth/Underworld goddess)
- Prytania (invincible Queen of the Dead)
Im going to go beyond the scope of this post's title a bit and summarize what happened next to Hekate and Her image. Throughout the following centuries--especially with the rise of Christianity--Hekate lost many of Her domains, and a greater focus was placed upon her darker features. Slowly, she became a sorceress, a witch, out to destroy the common man. By this time, she also became a crone. Around 1600 AD, William Shakesear describes the common opinion of Her best in his Macbeth:
Hekate as the Queen of Witches, teacher of magick, ready to deal with desperate souls. This version of Hekate, especially combined with the Papyri Graecae Magicae, inspired occultist Aleister Crowley to write his Hymn for Her, and describe Her as a maiden-mother-crone trinity with Persephone and Demeter--the Goddesses with whom she was identified at Eleusis--in his 1917 novel 'Moonchild':
Gerald Gardner--as all whom have been around the Neo-Pagan circles for a while undoubtedly know--was a great fan of Crowley, and used much of his teachings to create Wicca. This is how the modern image of Hekate entered modern Neo-Paganism, and how Hekate changed from a benign and helpful Goddess of animals, childbirth and victory into a Goddess associated with the dead, with magick, and sorcery. For those of you reading this who are not Hellenistic, perhaps this post will help you understand why Hellenists are usually not so happy with Hekate's current image--if you weren't already aware of those reasons. For Hellenists reading this, perhaps this post sheds some light on the modern incarnation of Hekate, and helps you figure out in what incarnation you want to worship Her at your home. Whatever the case, to my knowledge there isn't a single other Hellenic Goddess who managed to reinvent Herself as much as Hekate did. In a changing time, Hekate found a way to stay current, and be revered by many around the globe: a divine skill, indeed, and one worthy of honors and respect.
Image source: Hekate with dog, Hekataia, 'Hekate: Wanderer of Tombs' by superboy783
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