[PBP2013] Gaia-Kybele

So, I had this idea to make this great new post, but for the most part, i’ve already said a lot of perfect things in this older post. Here, let me quote you something:

Many modern Pagans and Polytheist have this ridiculously romanticised vision of “nature” and the “natural world”. This idea that an untamed forest is a place of kindness, that the planet will just “give” everything needed to Herself and the creatures that live on Her surface. They forget that Gaia throws tantrums — or, if those fits are acknowledged, it’s always with the adage that “we humans deserve it” — forgetting the ill impact these fits have on other living things. While Gaia tends to eventually sort out Her droughts, and blights, and hurricane devatstations, these events still have impacts on plant life, animal life, human life, and even Her own face. It seems only logical to me that Gaia and Kybele are the same soul — They’re clearly a Goddess of opposites.

The bits before and following that bit are pretty good, too, though some of the latter portion has changed in the nearly two years since I wrote it.

Here are some other interesting bits that I’ve found:

  • According to Theoi Project (and implied in Burkert’s Greek Religion, by lack of any real index points for Gaia, properly), there was very little in the way of Gaia worship that was clearly indistinguishable from Demetre, or other Goddesses.
  • Gaia’s sacrifices, in ancient times, included black animals; more typical of Khthonic deities than Olympians. If you’re of the (thankfully not apparently all that widespread) opinion that Khthonoi are “spooky” and Their worship should be avoided, think about that —and the above fact.

Also, here’s a lovely fragment from later antiquity, but not necessarily irrelevant, as it seems to be in line with Boeotian tradition:

Suidas s.v. Ge (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
“Ge (Earth): Since the earth is a seat of every city, as, supporting the cities, her image is that of a tower-bearer.”

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

A Song for Poseidon

My lovely horse, running through the field
Where are you going, with your fetlocks blowing in the wind?

I want to shower you with sugar lumps, and ride you over fences
Polish your hooves every single day, and bring you to the horse dentist

My lovely horse, you’re a pony no more
Running around with a man on your back, like a train in the night…

I was going to save this until I got to my week of blogging about Poseidon, and I just may repost it then, but seriously, I can’t be the only one out there who thinks this.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Demetre and the Palace of Kadmos

When I C&P’d that section at the beginning of the first of my posts about Demetre, I was immediately reminded of my first post about Ares.

Kadmos and the Ismenian Dragon.

In that first segment, it seems that legend has it that Kadmos’ legendary palace became Thebes’ first temple to Demetre, which suggests that —assuming Thebans did, in fact, habitually syncretise Demetre with Erinys Telphousia— that while Kadmos’ task earned Ares’ wrath, it was still within the will of Demetre. This also solidifies my thoughts on Demetre as a Great Mother of Civilisation and sustainable urban planning. It also speaks to the kind of mother She truly is: While She certainly has Her loving and nurturing aspects (as should be obvious), She’s also pragmatic and realises that sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good, and sometimes what She has begotten is standing in the way of progress and must be eliminated.

While Her rural associations are impossible to escape, so too are Her urban aspects, as I noted before. Likewise, just as much as She values tradition, She also wills progress.

I’m now reminded of a bit from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, suggesting that while every other deity in the Hellenic pantheon was borderline useless to Man, it was Dionysos and Demetre, agricultural deities, who stood alone in being beneficial. As problematic as Hamilton’s dismissal of other deities is, I can certainly see some similarities between the two, especially in Their domains of “opposing” values somehow united in harmony through Their guidance.

This comes back around to Kadmos, who (modern scholars argue) was initially a unique Boeotian cult hero, and later was syncritised with a Phoenician adventurer. From that story, the still-later symbolic mythology arose of Kadmos inventing the alphabet and introducing people to agriculture (further linking Kadmos and Demetre), and also becoming wedded to Harmonia, which is argued to symbolise the union of an “Eastern” love of learning with a “Western” love of beauty. How Kadmos’ mythology truly developed is lost to time, but the symbols clearly reiterate a union of apparent opposites, and also closely associate the hero with Demetre. Considering this, it therefore makes perfect sense that his palas was soon converted to a grand temple to Demetre.

Now, the archaeology only debatably confirms some of the folk beliefs about Kadmos, including the origin of the alphabet coinciding with the founding of Thebes. The Phoenecian alphabet wasn’t introduced to Hellas until after the estimated date for the Trojan War. While the modern Hellenic alphabet is clearly descended of Phoenecian script, a far older text, called “Linear B” amongst those who study these things, is on tablets that have been found in a disproportionate abundance in and around Thebes, and so this may coincide with Herodotus’ relaying of Kadmos’ founding of Thebes, and bringing his knowledge with him, as significantly pre-dating the Trojan War. Unfortunately, few symbols of Linear B, at best, resemble any form of the Hellenic alphabet known today, but clearly the Linear B writing system was widespread throughout Thebes.

Considering that this became widespread in Thebes from a most-direct origin of the palace of Kadmos, again, this seems to symbolically reiterate the associations of Demetre with Civilisation and urban development —no civilisation in Earth’s history, living or extinct, has ever developed cities without a system of writing. By this, we can infer that writing is also sacred to Demetre; oral tradition is too easily manipulated and can be problematic in its attempts to learn history. After all, the Cyrenaic school was on to something in pointing out that the only true source of potential knowledge we can have is experience, but they were also sceptical of this knowledge in that we cannot truly know the experiences of everything that led up to what we experience; thus oral history seems especially superficial. To gain a better understanding, if not true knowledge, of history, we can learn from the paper trails (and, in this modern era, other recordings) of what happened; this experience is, too, superficial, but has greater potential for understanding than oral traditions alone. Again, we see Demetre as a Goddess of balancing Tradition and Progress in a harmonious and sustainable whole.

I conclude that Kadmos was, thus, most likely a unique Theban hero later syncretised, and that this Theban hero, in all the feats attributed to him, was doing Demetre’s Work on Gaia’s face. Though the alphabet he introduced did not stand the tests of time, we cannot blame because a slightly younger script managed to flourish and Theban pride attributed it to him, anyway; the exacts become less important when the intention still manages to flourish.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Boiotian Theoi: Demetre & Persephone

CULT IN BOIOTIA (CENTRAL GREECE)

I) THEBES Chief City of Boiotia

“The sanctuary of Demeter Thesmophoros (Lawgiver) [in Thebes, Boiotia] is said to have been at one time the palace of [the mythical king] Kadmos and his descendants. The image of Demeter is visible down to the chest. Here have been dedicated bronze shields, said to be those of Lakedaimonian officers who fell at Leuktra.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.16.5-6

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 12. 57 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
“When Alexandros the son of Philippos led his forces against Thebes the gods sent them signs and portents presaging their imminent fate . . . In the city at the temple of Demeter a spider began to cover the face of the cult statue with its handiwork and weave its usual product.”

II) Near THEBES Chief City of Boiotia

“Advancing from here twenty-five stades [from the Neistan Gate of Thebes, Boiotia] you come to a grove of Demeter Kabeiraie (of the Kabeiroi) and Kore (the Maid). The initiated are permitted to enter it. The sanctuary of the Kabeiroi is some seven stades distant from this grove. I must ask the curious to forgive me if I keep silence as to who the Kabeiroi are, and what is the nature of the ritual performed in honor of them and of Meter (the Mother). But there is nothing to prevent my declaring to all what the Thebans say was the origin of the ritual. They say that once there was in this place a city, with inhabitants called Kabeiroi; and that Demeter came to know Prometheus, one of the Kabeiroi, and Aetnailis his son, and entrusted something to their keeping. What was entrusted to them, and what happened to it, seemed to me a sin to put into writing, but at any rate the rites are a gift of Demeter to the Kabeiroi.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.25.5-6

III) SKOLLOS Village in Boiotia

“The temple of Demeter and Kore [at Skollos, Boiotia] among the ruins is not finished, and only half-finished are the images of the goddesses.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.3.4

IV) ASKRA Village in Boiotia

“It is said that on reaching old age a vision came to him [the poet Pindaros of Askra in Boiotia] in a dream. As he slept Persephone stood by him and declared that she alone of the deities had note been honoured by Pindaros with a hymn, but that Pindaros would compose an ode to her also when he had come to her. Pindaros died at once, before ten days had passed since the dream. But there was in Thebes an old woman related by birth to Pindaros who had practised singing most of his odes. By her side in a dream stood Pindaros and sang a hymn to Persephone. Immediately on waking out of her sleep she wrote down all she had heard him singing in her dream. In this song, among the epithets he applies to Haides is ‘golden-reined’ – a clear reference to the rape of Persephone.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.23.3

V) PLATAIA Town in Boiotia

“There is also at Plataia [in Boiotia] a sanctuary of Demeter, surnamed Eleusinia (of Eleusis).” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.4.3

“When Philip died, and the kingship of Makedonia devolved on Alexandros, the Thebans succeeded in destroying the [Makedonian] garrison. But as soon as they had done so, heaven warned them of the destruction that was coming on them, and the signs that occurred in the sanctuary of Demeter Thesmophoros (Lawgiver) were the opposite of those that occurred before the action at Leuktra.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.6.5

“By the stream Molois and the place called Argiopion [near Plataia in Boiotia] there is a shrine of Demeter Eleusinia.” – Herodotus, Histories 9.57

“At Plataia the [historical army of the] Persians routed by the Lakedaimonians, fled in disorder to their own camp and inside the wooden walls which they had made in the territory of Thebes. It is indeed a marvel that although the battle was right by the grove of Demeter, there was no sign that any Persian had been killed in the precinct or entered into it; most of them fell near the temple in unconsecrated ground. I think – if it is necessary to judge the ways of the gods – that the goddess herself denied them entry, since they had burnt her temple, the shrine at Eleusis.” – Herodotus, Histories 9.65

“They kept to the spurs of the mountain [Kithairon in Boiotia] and the hill country, by the road that led upward straight to the temple of Demeter.” – Herodotus, Histories 9.69

“There was the additional coincidence, that there were precincts of Demeter Eleusinia on both battlefields [of the historical Greek-Persian War]; for at Plataia the fight was near the temple of Demeter, as I have already said, and so it was to be at Mykale also [an Ionian promontory opposite the island of Samos].” – Herodotus, Histories 9.101

VI) POTNIAI Village in Boiotia

“Across the Asopos [in Boiotia], about ten stades distant from the city, are the ruins of Potniai, in which is a grove of Demeter and Kore (the Maid). The images at the river that flows past Potniai [text missing] they name the goddesses. At an appointed time they perform their accustomed ritual, one part of which is to let loose young pigs into what are called ‘the halls (megara).’ At the same time next year these pigs appear, they say, in Dodona. This story others can believe if they wish.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.8.1

VII) Near MYKALESSSOS Village in Boiotia

“On the way to the coast of Mykalessos is a sanctuary of Demeter Mykalessia. They say that each night it is shut up and opened again by Herakles, and that Herakles is one of what are called the Daktyloi Idaioi [or perhaps originally the hero]. Here is shown the following marvel. Before the feet of the image they place all the fruits of autumn, and these remain fresh throughout all the year.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.19.5

VIII) ANTHEDON Village in Boiotia

“About the center of Anthedon [in Boiotia] is a sanctuary of the Kabeiroi, with a grove around it, near which is a temple of Demeter and her daughter [Kore], with images of white marble.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.22.5

IX) KOPAI Village in Boiotia

“Here [in the town of Kopai by Lake Kopais, Boiotia] is a sanctuary of Demeter.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.24.2

X) LEBADEIA Village in Boiotia

“[In the grove of the oracular daimon Trophonios at Lebadeia, Boiotia] there is also a sanctuary of Demeter surnamed Europe, and a Zeus Huetios (Rain-god) in the open … He who descends [into the oracle of Trophonios] sacrifices to Trophonios himself and to the children of Trophonios, to Apollon also and … to Demeter whom they surname Europa and say was the nurse of Trophonios.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.39.4-5

“The grove of Trophonios [stands] by the river Herkyna. They say that here Herkyna, when playing with Kore (the Maid), the daughter of Demeter, held a goose which against her will she let loose. The bird flew into a hollow cave and hid under a stone; Kore entered and took the bird as it lay under the stone. The water flowed, they say, from the place where Kore took up the stone, and hence the river received the name of Herkyna (Lady of the Stone Enclosure). On the bank of the river there is a temple of Herkyna [of Kore Herkyna], in which is a maiden holding a goose in her arms.” – Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.39.2-3

It’s not (or at least shouldn’t be)news to any-one that the cults of Demetre and Persephone are so tightly linked that the link on Theoi Project with the text “Cult > Boiotia” on the Persephone page actually re-directs to the page for Demetre. Reading over the quote excerpts and fragments above, I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I haven’t given much cultus to Them, and considering a bit of insight I got in a flash whilst writing up on Hekate, I’m rather surprised by this.

It seems clear to me in the excerpts on Her cult in Thebes, in particular, that She was regarded by the Boiotians as a Goddess of civilisation. While Boiotia has a reputation for being rural, at the same time, they had cities which were often remarked upon, travelled to from all over Hellas and elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean, and —at the very least— became famous for their patrons of the arts and as hometowns to some of the ancient Hellenes’ greatest minds and celebrities. Clearly, the Boiotian understanding of Demetre was not one restricted to tilling the soil, but also to laying the foundation of civilisation.

It’s really poetic, if you think about it even a tiny bit. Anthropologists have long determined (and indeed, it seems one of a handful of things universally agreed-upon in the field) that the concept of cities didn’t even become a possibility until the development of agriculture gave people a reason to settle in an area. Essentially, Demetre is the Mother of urban development, though industrialisation is clearly in the domain of other deities. Without the gifts of Demetre, we’d all be wandering nomads, setting up camps for a time until we exhaust resources and move on until that area can replenish. With the gifts of Demetre, we can avoid that drudgery and (most importantly) that uncertainty by planning out what we need, where to best grow it, how best to rotate it, and generally live in a harmony with the land that not only genuinely benefits us and the Earth, but also can allow for those who would be “useless”, or at least all but, in a nomadic model to use the skills and gifts they do have in other ways to benefit the society —it’s like a “No Child Left Behind” model, except that it actually works because every-one is now, thanks to the Agri-Goddess Mother, free to learn what they do best and love most. To keep things running well, Demetre also takes on the Thesmia hat, creating laws to keep Her children in check.

For as much as I can complain about the state of society today, I don’t believe I’ve ever blamed the notion of society itself for what is wrong with Western society today. Society is a gift of Demetre, but what we do with it is our own. To blame the Mother of Society and Cities, even if you do so by merely ignoring those aspects of Her, it’s like sentencing Her to less than half of Her Glory —might as well sentence the mother of a serial killer to just as much time as the actual killer cos she told her child not to play with knives because they could hurt somebody, then a few years later, she handed her child a knife and told them to chop onions for dinner. I can’t take seriously one who claims to honour the same Demetre I do whilst longing for an end to society and harbouring a scathing loathe for cities. The average Pop-Wiccan-on-the-street who entertains anarcho-primitivist fantasies might try and tell me that their Maiden-Mother-Crone Goddess includes the same Demetre I honour, but I can’t believe that; I can’t see Demetre without seeing the building blocks of urban development and modern living, so no, I don’t believe that the Demetre I honour is the same as or even in cahoots with the Neo-Luddite Demetre.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Cult of Haides

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.”

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Thanatos

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.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Haides & Persephone

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.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Boeotian Theoi: Haides

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.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Hekate & Witchcraft

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.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Hekatean music


If your mem’ry serves you well,
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.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.