Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rebuttal to an Inaccurate Article on Hekate

I came across a status/photo post on Facebook from a page called “13 Witches”, a generic Neopagan and Witchcraft page. The post contained the following text about Hekate, which I have copied here with permission from the author. Since I found it contained multiple mistakes and inaccuracies, I thought a blog post pointing those out and setting things straight was in order. I will comment on each sentence separately, with my writing in italic and the original text in quotation marks. The sentences of the original text have been numbered to ease reference.



Hecate: Patroness of Witchcraft and Witches
by Zandra Nightmoon  (Source)

1. “Hecate is known as the dark Goddess of the moon.”

This is not completely true. Hekate is associated with the moon, especially the new/dark moon (which was the time of Her Deipna, religious observances sacred to Her) but She is not a deity of the moon. That title, technically, belongs only to Selene as she is the moon herself. Other deities, like Artemis, Phoebe and the Thracian Bendis, are considered lunar deities and are associated with the moon.

The difference, which admittedly might be better understood by a native Greek if only due to
the minute differences of the language so I can’t truly fault foreigners for not realising it, is small but significant.

A deity that is simply associated with the moon is one that has attributes connected to it, whose power can be punctuated by its phases and who draws symbolism related to the moon (such as nocturnal sacred animals, the moon itself in its various phases or its characteristics, such as its rays, as a symbol etc).

A deity of the moon is one that governs the moon. In any given pantheon there might be multiple deities connected to something (like the moon in our case) but more often than not only one deity truly governs that something. In our case, Selene is the sole governor and ruler of the moon, with the other lunar deities simply having some sort of connection or association to it.

Therefore, Hekate, although having lunar attributes and aspects, is not a Goddess of the moon. For what’s worth, that misconception had arisen ever since ancient times, when Hekate was conflated with Selene and Artemis in literature.


2. “She witnessed the abduction of Persephone, daughter of Demeter.”

This is correct. Technically, according to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (1), She only heard Persephone’s cries as she was abducted by Hades but She didn’t see who was the culprit.

3. “She was able to act as a mediator when Demeter bargained with Zeus to rescue her daughter.”

This isn’t mentioned in our sources of the myth of Persephone’s abduction (2).

4. “Hecate herself, presided over Persephone's initiation into the mysteries of the underworld and went with her on her return to the upper world.”

This is also not found in any sources. She is only mentioned to have loved Persephone and to always accompany her as friend, and guide/guardian while Persephone was in the Underworld for a third of the year (3). There is a possibility the passage meant that Hekate presided over Persephone’s initiation and experience of the Mysteries of the Underworld and that can very well be acceptable UPG (A) and liturgical lore for various systems. It cannot, however, be used in the guise of a fact. Since there’s no indication in this text that the author meant this only as an opinion or belief, instead of historical, mythological or theological evidence, I feel responsible to point out that it is not a fact.

5. “In ancient Greece, Hecate was the Goddess of the underworld.”

This isn’t completely right. Hekate is the ruler of ghosts and the Restless Dead as well as governor of necromancy and the oracles of the dead in antiquity (nekyomanteia) alongside Hades and Persephone. Also, as a psychopomp deity, She leads the dead from and to the Underworld. While Hekate has many aspects dealing with the Underworld in some manner, She is not the Goddess of the Underworld per se. That title belongs to Persephone, although it is possible that through Hekate’s conflation with Persephone, She too was given that title.

She is also called “anassa eneroi” (lit. Queen of those below aka the dead) although I presume that refers to Her powers as psychopomp, leader of ghosts and ruler of the Restless Dead and not as ruler of the Underworld itself. It should also be understood that in ancient Hellenic thought, the Underworld and many of its realms were part of the earth, the land. In fact, Tartarus, the deepest part of the Underworld was considered the deepest and furthest part of the earth. Hekate, as a Chthonic deity (among other aspects) is associated with the Underworld in many ways, as already explained.

I assume that one could refer to Hekate as a Goddess of the Underworld for simplicity’s sake. However, in such a case a disclaimer should be included that She is not THE Goddess of the Underworld (as implied in the text I’m
analysing here) but simply holding multiple, important connections to it.

6. “She represents the dark phase of the moon, also known as the Crone aspect of the triple Goddess.”

This is one of the most glaring inaccuracies of this text.

First of all, Hekate doesn’t represent any phase of the moon. As already explained earlier, only Selene embodies the moon and any of its phases. Hekate is simply associated with the dark of the moon and/or the new moon due to having religious observances performed in Her honour on those times.

Furthermore, the Maiden-Mother-Crone divine archetype, also called the “Triple Goddess” is a modern belief and construct
popularised by Robert Graves (whose work has largely been refuted) and does not exist in the ancient world. While Hekate is indeed a triple Goddess, Her triplicity is literal (in Her portrayals in art) as well as metaphorical (in Her guise as Goddess of the Crossroads). It has nothing to do with the triple-aspected nameless Goddess of Neopaganism.

Moreover, Hekate is most certainly a young woman in all Her portrayals in ancient art and literature. This is evident by Her clothes in some artwork (4
) as well as certain literary descriptions of Hers (5) wherein She is clearly called “maiden” and “young woman/daughter” (kore). She is, of course, portrayed often with the common long dress, especially in statues, but Her image as a considerably young woman is persistent throughout Her various descriptions.

The only case where Hekate could somehow be connected to a crone would be Her dubious conflation with the old woman Baubo, who, according to Clement of Alexandria’s quote of an (unknown) version of the Orphic hymn to Demeter (6), was an old woman that made Demeter laugh and persuaded her to eat, breaking her grief over the loss of her daughter. On the other hand, in the Homeric hymn to Demeter we have, instead of the old woman Baubo, it is a lame, young woman, Iambe, who cheers Demeter up (7). Both Baubo and Iambe are considered as deities of mirth and humour (8). It should be noted that Iambe is a Thracian figure.

Even if Hekate is, after all, Baubo, She cannot be called a crone since deities are known to take different forms in myths, often of old people, to persuade others without revealing their identities. One, ambiguous portrayal of Hekate as an old woman does not counter the numerous other portrayals of Hers in a much younger form.

Finally, the disrespectful tendency of various Neopagans, especially those of an Eclectic and/or soft polytheistic approach, to cram deities into concepts that aren’t applicable on them should not be propagated as fact, like the author does in this text.

7. “Later she was made into the child of Hear [sic] and Zeus.”

The only evidence of this I could find was a passing mention of Hekate being considered “by some” as a daughter of Zeus either by Pheraea or by Hera (9). Obviously the author of this text meant Hera and not “Hear” despite the spelling mistake repeating a number of times in the original post from Facebook (left unchanged).

8. “In this myth she caused the anger of her mother by stealing Hear's [sic] rouge, and then hid in the bed of a woman who was giving birth. The contact with the blood of the birth rendered Hecate impure in everyone's eyes and so she was plunged into the Acheron, one of the rivers leading to Hades, to be cleansed. But she ended up being swept away in the river's flow. Her stealing Hear's [sic] rouge seems to be a metaphor for the stopping of Hear's [sic] bleeding, leading to menopause, and which also led to the onset of Hecate's menstruation. Hence the stealing of her Mother's blood.  Hear [sic] is powerful and does not take kindly to the changes and onset of menopause. Like any dominant female, she made Hecate the "scape-goat" and is blamed for her Mother's loss of menses.”

I gathered all those sentences together instead of commenting on them separately like I said I would because I have not been able to verify the authenticity of this “myth”. The only thing I could find was a near-verbatim version of the story in Judy Hall’s book “The Hades Moon: Pluto in Aspect to the Moon” (10) which also, as far as I can see in the preview available on Google Books (without purchasing the book) , doesn’t reference any primary sources whatsoever.

Even if we ignore the troublesome lack of sources, the questionable themes (menstruation, menopause, impurity of the Gods etc) it incorporates that wouldn’t make sense in an ancient, Hellenic context in regards to the Gods, make this story even more unlikely to be authentic. I cannot, in good conscience as an academic, a Hellene and a devotee of Hekate, accept this story as a real myth, unless solid evidence to the contrary is presented.


"Celebrations of Hecate"

9. “The night of August 12/13 in the times of old, was a night that the Greeks used to honor Hecate in her Goddess of the Storm form.”

This is incorrect. The festival of Hekate on August 13 is a modern invention. First of all, the ancients did not have the same calendar (especially the Greeks who followed mostly lunar calendars) so August 13 would have to be the rough equivalent of the ancient date in our Gregorian calendar and not the original date.

In antiquity, it was the Romans and not the Greeks who held a festival around that date, the festival of Aventine Diana on the Aventine Hill of Rome. There are only two reasons for the modern festival of Hekate’s placement on this date as well: a) Hekate being
syncretised with Diana, thus sharing her festivals and b) the modern date of August 13 roughly coinciding with the annual meteor shower of the Perseids. The latter’s significance is due to Hekate being the daughter of Asteria (thus connected to the starry sky and all its celestial events) and the name of the meteor shower which echoes Hekate’s title “Perseis” (daughter of Perses).

The ancient Greeks had various festivals about Her, the most notable and independent (i.e. not connected to other Gods) being Hekate’s Deipnon (“Hekate’s Dinner”), a religious observance at the end of each (lunar) month. It is not certain, historically, if this was simply a meal offered to Hekate or if it involved other activities. In modern, reconstructive and other Hellenic religious practices, it is common to include some kind of cleaning  and purification of the home and family. Others also seem to include charity (11) or resolving household issues. Hekate’s Deipnon in modern practice is generally focused on the concept of closing out the old month so the new month (B) can begin with a fresh start.

Hekate does have an aspect connected to the storms (according to Suda, a Byzantine lexicon and/or encyclopaedia from the 10th century C.E.) but only, as far as extant sources are concerned, in the religious customs related to the Mysteries of the Korybantes and Hekate Herself in Samothrace. Through sacrifice of dogs in the cave of Zerynthos (C) and apotropaic spells, the initiates of those Mysteries believed they could avert dangers such as storms, harsh winters and other calamities. In any case, there is absolutely no evidence about Hekate being venerated in Her storm-related aspect (D) on a date equivalent to our August 13.


10. “They would leave offerings of honey and cakes, in the center of a crossroads.”

This is not actually mentioned verbatim anywhere. Those familiar with the Hellenic religion might know the five sacred liquids for libations (E), of which honey is one. I haven’t found any actual evidence on “cakes” (F) since most sources seem to mention “food offerings” in general. There seems to be a modern tradition or custom of offering bread or cake (G). Also, Hekate was often offered fish in sacrifice, especially red mullet, which according to various sources (12) was especially sacred to Hekate.

11. “These offerings were meant to please Hecate into not bringing any devastating storms to kill their crops for that year.”

Cf. my earlier commentary on [9. “The night of August 12/13 in the times of old, was a night that the Greeks used to honor Hecate in her Goddess of the Storm form.”].

12. “The night of November 16/17 is called Hecate's Night.”

There is no ancient source that suggests any festival in honour of Hekate on Pyanepsion or Maimakterion, the two months of the ancient (Attic) calendar that roughly correspond to our October/November and November/December, respectively. The only annual religious observance for Hekate with an exact date I could find was on 16 Metageitnion (August/September) which required a sacrifice to be offered to Kourotrophos, Hekate and Artemis at the Attic demos (H) Erchia (13).

13. “This is the night that Hecate, Queen of Fates would roam the earth with her familiars.”

Apparently, there’s no source of this title. Hekate, however, is indeed called “night-wandering”: She roams on the accompanied by ghosts and Her coming is announced by howling dogs (14).

14. “This is the night of initiation for witches who follow Hecate.”

Again, there is no source that mentions this. It’s obviously UPG, which doesn’t make it wrong, just inappropriately stated as fact. The author should have made clear that some of these statements are not historical facts despite the way they are written. If these are liturgical fact from her Tradition or system of practice, she should simply say so. There is nothing wrong with UPG as long as it is clearly stated as such. Failure to do so only serves to increase the amount of unsourced , potentially faulty or non-historical information.

15. “If you leave an offering outside your home Hecate is said to bless those who reside within.”

This is connected to Hekate’s Deipna (15), not the night of November 16 or 17, which the author mentioned earlier.

“Facts about Hecate:”

16. “She is the patroness of witches and the Craft.”

This is true.

17. “She was vilified in the Burning Times and made into the Crone, the Hag by the church.”

This is mistaken. The Burning Times are a historical inaccuracy. Hekate was hardly mentioned, as far as I am aware, in the medieval witch-hunts. Instead, it was the Devil that was blamed for witchcraft. Again as far as I am aware (European medieval history is not in my fields of expertise), Hekate is only mentioned in works of fiction, such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in late Medieval and Early Modern times.

I fail to understand how in the beginning of the text, the author claims Hekate as the Crone to be part of the Triple Goddess while now she claims that it was the vilification by the Church that turned Her into that.

The author also seems ignorant of the ancient sources that describe Hekate in similar, terrifying and grotesque manners (16) centuries before the emergence of Christianity.


18. “Ancient Goddess of the crossroads, she is the all seeing watcher who can see into the past, present, and future.”

This is correct.

19. “Hecate is also the goddess of illumination and purification.”

This is correct as well.

20. She rules Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld.

This is a little inaccurate. She holds power over the Sky, Earth and Sea. The Underworld, as explained earlier, is usually considered part of the Earth/land in Hellenic thought.

21. “She holds the key to birth, death, and rebirth.”

This can also be considered true, albeit it comes across as UPG.

22. “She is the shamaness who stands at the point where all the four directions meet.”

This is incorrect. While, technically, as the Goddess of Crossroads, She “stands […] where all the four directions meet”, She is most certainly not a “shamaness” [sic]. The term shaman is specific to Uralic-Altaic and Paleo-Siberic cultures such as the Tungusic peoples, the Samoyedic-speaking peoples, the early, nomadic Turks and the Mongols. Even though in various academic fields, such as religious studies and anthropology, the term “shamanic” is used to describe broad groupings of ecstatic, spiritual practices, it is incorrect to apply the culture-sensitive term “shaman” on a deity of Eastern Mediterranean cultures.

If anything, Hekate could be called a seer, prophetess, witch and/or oracle (mantissa); all valid and appropriate terms, related to Hellenic equivalents.


23. “Also she is the goddess of magic and prophesy.”

This is accurate.




Works and Websites Referenced:

(1): Homeric Hymn 2 To Demeter, lines 24-25, and lines 55-60.

(2): The Homeric Hymns, specifically the Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter.

(3): Homeric Hymn 2 To Demeter, lines 438-440.

(4): She can be seen wearing a knee-length dress, a standard dress for young, virgin women – Artemis is also portrayed as wearing this; cf. the artwork on an Apulian red-figure krater showing Hekate & Cerberus from the 4th century B.C., Antikensammlungen, Munich.

(5): Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3. 840; Lycophron, Alexandra 1174

(6): Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, Book 2.

(7): Homeric Hymn 2 To Demeter, lines 195-205.

(8): William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, ed. 1867, s.v. “Iambe” and s.v. “Baubo”.

(9): Tzetzes ad Lycophron 1175 and Scholiast ad Theocritus ii. 36

(10): http://www.amazon.com/Hades-Moon-Pluto-Aspect/dp/1578630398

(11): Although this is not supported by everyone.

(12): Deipnosophistae by Athenaeus of Naucratis; William Martin Leake, The Topography of Athens, London, 1841, p. 492

(13): http://www.eyesfortheuniverse.com/hmepa/Notes.html and Theodora Hadzisteliou Price, Kourotrophos: Cults and Representations of the Greek Nursing Deities, p. 123

(14): Apollodorus Rhodius, Argonautica, iii. 529, 861, iv. 829

(15): http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/259138/Hecate

(16): Theocritus, Idylls 2: 12-14 & 35-36; Lycophron, Alexandra 1174-1188; Horace, Satires 1: 8: 33-34 – these sources are from the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods respectively.



Footnotes:

(A): UPG = Unverified Personal Gnosis

(B): Traditionally, in the ancient Hellenic (Attic) lunar calendar, the new month started when the first sliver of the new moon was visible on the skies.

(C): A known epithet of Hekate is Zerynthia and dogs were sacrificed to Her in various places in antiquity.

(D): Which might also be connected to Her epithet “Brimo” – lit. “the Angry/Terrible one” – a potential reference to storms.

(E): The five sacred liquids for libations in the Hellenic religion are: wine, water, olive oil, honey and milk.

(F): This might be another Neopagan or NeoWiccan influence – cf. the Wiccan ritual custom of “Cakes and Ale”.

(G): Which is entirely possible to have taken place in antiquity as well – perhaps this is a reconstructed hypothesis based on other deities’ more detailed offerings.

(H): A demos was a regional subdivision of Attica in ancient Greece. In modern Greece, a demos is a municipality.

10 comments:

  1. Excellent analysis...thank you.

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  2. It's important to clear things like this up. Great job.

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  3. Thank you very much, Richmond and Arthur. :)

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  4. This is a fantastic post! Thank you for writing it up.

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  5. A very good analysis that, while explaining the inaccuracies, remained professional and polite - kudos for that, seriously.
    I have heard of the myth of Hera's rouge pot, but have never been able to find a source for it.

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  6. Thank you flowersforflora and Witch of Stiches!

    WoS: Like I mentioned in the post, the only mention of this "myth" I found was in Judy Hall's Hades Moon book.

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  7. Excellent analysis, thank you for putting in the effort to clarify these all too often muddied waters. :)

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  8. "Excellent",in this case,cannot be said too many times. It is very difficult to find anything of an academic nature regarding Hekate on the Internet. I believe one can re-interpret the myths to reflect modern times,as all things evolve,but the source--and how the myth was understood by its contemporaries--should be taken into account. Your post helps a great deal toward that. Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Suzanne. I'm glad you liked this. :)

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