Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hecate in myth

From Wikipedia

Regarding the nature of her cult, it has been remarked, "she is more at home on the fringes than in the center of Greek polytheism. Intrinsically ambivalent and polymorphous, she straddles conventional boundaries and eludes definition." She has been associated with childbirth, nurturing the young, gates and walls, doorways, crossroads, magic, lunar lore, torches and dogs.

In Ptolemaic Alexandria and elsewhere during the Hellenistic period, she appears as a three-faced goddess associated with magic, witchcraft, and curses. Today she is claimed as a goddess of witches and in the context of Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism. Some neo-pagans refer to her as a "crone goddess", though this characterization appears to conflict with her frequent characterization as a virgin in late antiquity.

Her name come from the Greek word for 'will' and is the feminine equivalent of Hakatos, and obscure epithet of Apollo. This has been translated as "she who operates from afar", "she who removes or drives off", "the far reaching one" or "the far-darter". Her name is also said to come from the Egyptian goddess of childbirth, Heqet.

Hecate was, in some legends, an invisible figure, appearing only as a glimpse of light, possibly a connection to her status as a “moon goddess”.  Hecate has been depicted as a gigantic woman, holding a torch and a sword. Snakes make up her feet and hair. Thunder, shrieks, yells, and the barking of dogs are heard when she passes.

In Egyptian-inspired Greek esoteric writings connected with Hermes Trismegistus she is described as having three heads: one dog, one serpent, and one horse. In other representations her animal heads include those of a cow and a boar. Hecate's triplicity is elsewhere expressed in a more Hellenic fashion in the vast frieze of the great Pergamon Altar, now in Berlin, wherein she is shown with three bodies, taking part in the battle with the Titans. Hecate has been characterized as a pre-Olympian chthonic goddess. She appears in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and in Hesiod's Theogony, where she is promoted strongly as a great goddess:
Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honored above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honor also in starry heaven, and is honored exceedingly by the deathless gods. For to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favor according to custom, he calls upon Hecate. Great honor comes full easily to him whose prayers the goddess receives favorably, 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.

According to Hesiod, she held sway over many things:

Whom she will she greatly aids and advances: she sits by worshipful kings in judgement, and in the assembly whom she will is distinguished among the people. And when men arm themselves for the battle that destroys men, then the goddess is at hand to give victory and grant glory readily to whom she will. Good is she also when men contend at the games, for there too the goddess is with them and profits them: and he who by might and strength gets the victory wins the rich prize easily with joy, and brings glory to his parents. And she is good to stand by horsemen, whom she will: and to those whose business is in the grey discomfortable sea, and who pray to Hecate and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker, easily the glorious goddess gives great catch, and easily she takes it away as soon as seen, if so she will. She is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock. The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less. So, then, albeit her mother's only child, she is honored amongst all the deathless gods. And the son of Cronos made her a nurse of the young who after that day saw with their eyes the light of all-seeing Dawn. So from the beginning she is a nurse of the young, and these are her honors.
Hesiod emphasizes that Hecate was an only child, the daughter of Perses and Asteria, a star-goddess who was the sister of Leto (the mother of Apollo Artemis, with whom she's often conflated). Grandmother of the three cousins was Phoebe the ancient Titaness who personified the moon.

Other than in the Theogony, the Greek sources do not offer a consistent story of her parentage, or of her relations in the Greek pantheon: sometimes Hecate is related as a Titaness, and a mighty helper and protector of humans. Her continued presence was explained by asserting that, because she was the only Titan who aided Zeus in the battle of gods and Titans, she was not banished into the underworld realms after their defeat by the Olympians.

One surviving group of stories suggests how Hecate might have come to be incorporated into the Greek pantheon without affecting the privileged position of Artemis. Here, Hecate is a mortal priestess, often associated with Iphigeneia. She scorns and insults Artemis, who in retribution, eventually brings about the her suicide. Artemis then adorns the dead body with jewelry and commands the spirit to rise and become her Hecate, who subsequently performs a role similar to Nemesis as an avenging spirit, but solely for injured women.

Hecate also came to be associated with ghosts, infernal spirits, the dead and sorcery. Like the totems of Hermes—herms placed at borders as a ward against danger—images of Hecate (like Artemis and Diana, often referred to as a "liminal" goddess) were also placed at the gates of cities, and eventually domestic doorways. Over time, the association with keeping out evil spirits could have led to the belief that if offended, Hecate could also allow the evil spirits in. According to one view, this accounts for invocations to Hecate as the supreme governess of the borders between the normal world and the spirit world, and hence as one with mastery over spirits of the dead. Whatever the reasons, Hecate's power certainly came to be closely associated with sorcery. One interesting passage exists suggesting that the word "jinx" might have originated in a cult object associated with Hecate. "The Byzantine polymath Michael Psellus [...] speaks of a bullroarer, consisting of a golden sphere, decorated throughout with symbols and whirled on an oxhide thong. He adds that such an instrument is called a iunx (hence "jinx"), but as for the significance says only that it is ineffable and that the ritual is sacred to Hecate."

Variations in interpretations of Hecate's role or roles can be traced in 5th-century Athens. In two fragments of Aeschylus she appears as a great goddess. In Sophocles and Euripides she is characterized as the mistress of witchcraft and the Keres.

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hecate is called the "tender-hearted", a euphemism perhaps intended to emphasize her concern with the disappearance of Persephone, when she addressed Demeter with sweet words at a time when the goddess was distressed. She later became Persephone's minister and close companion in the Underworld. But Hecate was never fully incorporated among the Olympian deities.

As a virgin goddess, she remained unmarried and had no regular consort, though some traditions named her as the mother of Scylla.

Hecate's epithets

Apotropaia (that turns away/protects)
Chthonia (of the earth/underworld)
Enodia (on the way)
KlĂȘidouchos (holding the keys)
Kourotrophos (nurse of children)
Phosphoros (bringing or giving light)
Propolos (who serves/attends)
Propulaia/Propylaia (before the gate)
Soteira (savior)
Trimorphe (three-formed)
Triodia/Trioditis (who frequents crossroads)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hecate


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