Given that I recently complained about the information on Hekate's Supper at a certain website, it is probably fitting that I provide some of the information I feel was missing from it. This entry may very well end up being lengthy because I will also provide a discussion on the different types of the dead in classical antiquity – particularly Greece – as I understand them. I'm probably going to make a few mistakes, so if you catch them? Correct me. Finally, I have put some of this information in other entries, but I will be adding it here simply to keep all of the information together.
As it stands, a discussion on Hekate's Supper must begin with a discussion on the dead. It is here, however, that I must pause. Some of the terms I am using are context dependent. As Sarah Iles Johnston explains in a footnote in her excellent Restless Dead: “The same problem obtains for alastor and palamnaios as for apotropaios: these words can represent the angry dead, a supernatural agent working on behalf of the angry dead, or a god who averts the angry dead—indeed, Alastor was even a title given to Zeus in his role as avenger of the dead. The meaning in any given instance can be determined only through context.” (P. 49, footnote). At least one of the terms I will be using, Apotropaioi, generally refers to a class of the restless and unburied dead, but the similar term Apotropaios can refer to their anger, which might be shown by the spirit acting directly, requesting another spirit (most likely the request was made a deity of the dead) harm the living, etc. This post is largely about avoiding that anger, and about one of the potential tools for doing so. For the sake of simplicity, when I use terms to refer to the classes of the dead, I am focusing on the classes versus their means of activity.
The Dead: Who Are They, Where Are They, and why do they trouble us on occasion?
In many cases, I've previously simply made two distinctions between the types of the dead: Heroic Spirits and Ancestral Spirits, and the Restless Dead. Heroes and certain types of ancestral spirits (such as the Daimones Khryseoi and Daimones Argyreoi) are generally helpful spirits and protective spirits. However in the case of both heroes and the Daimones Khryseoi, suggestions have been made that they could become angered. Daniel Ogden in Greek and Roman Necromancy notes several tales of heroes being angered at their tombs by their still-living country-folk; and in Restless Dead, Ms. Johnstone comments: “Hesiod, in lines 121-23 and 126 of his Works and Days , tells about how the privileged dead of the Golden Race return to earth to protect the living and bestow wealth upon them. Some scholars have interpreted a later passage (252-55) as indicating that these souls of the Golden Race also play a role in punishing the misbehavior of the living. It describes the 30,000 deathless guardians of mortals who “keep a watch over lawsuits and wicked acts, wandering over all the earth, clothed in mist.” The latter two lines of this passage are also inserted by some manuscripts after line 123, in the middle of Hesiod's description of the Golden Race, which would serve to equate the souls of the Golden Race with the 30,000 deathless guardians” (p. 16-17).
Thus, if angered, they would need to be ritually appeased in a manner similar to the manner in which the Restless Dead are placated. The largest chunk of the latter category is the Apotropaioi, who became stuck residing next to or alongside our own world. The most likely reason for this is failure to perform a proper funeral; Ms. Johnston notes that funerary rites had specific protective services added to them. The fear was that those who were left untended might be attacked by another spirit while in a weakened state, or come under compulsion by a magician and thereby enter spiritual servitude. In the case of one's ancestors, either situation was deemed untenable and as such those rites were seen as necessary. Failure to do so would anger the dead, who would seek spiritual or supernatural means to enact vengeance upon those who had failed them in a rather brutal way. But failure to see proper funeral arrangements employed was only one way that one could end up being restless. Suicides, who had not finished out their mortal lives until the arrival of Thanatos, would be forced to remain amongst the living until their time was up. Children who died in accidents could also become members of the Restless Dead, as could unmarried women. We might suggest that these later additions are due to attachments; having not lived out a long life, or having fallen in love, etc. But I am, frankly, unsure of all the reasons that the Greeks imagined one to end up Restless. There is a final, subcategory of the Restless Dead who I should not omit: the Biaiothanatos Daimon, or the Violent Death. This spirit was specifically injured horribly during their final moments and seek vengeance for the wrong done to them. Like others, they were thought unable to enter the underworld because their time on earth had not ended.
Ms. Johnston describes these spirits as “envious or jealous” or the human condition and goodwill; thus, at times of celebration and while one is joyous, they are more likely to come upon them living and muck it all up.
“[...] in the Greek view, death did little to change the essential features of human personality. Ghosts retained the emotions of living persons and were assumed to feel the same way about both good and bad treatment as they would have felt when alive; the real difference lay in what the dead were able to do about their feelings. There were some types of dead who were predisposed to be unhappy and vindictive, most often because of something that had happened while they were still alive, but even the kindest soul, if left unhonored, would become angry and make that anger known. This lack of any real qualitative difference between the angry dead and the peaceful dead — and thus the potential for the latter to become the former — is reflected by the fact that actions performed to soothe the angry are often the same as those used to honor the peaceful” (P. 38-39).
The most important thing to put down, here and now, is that the individual person was thought to be incapable of taking on such a spirit themselves. It required the blessing of one of the Cthonic deities, or a deity that could specifically avert the evil. One of the potential means of securing release from the ill-will of the dead was a meal, dedicated to Hekate, known as Hekate's Supper (deipna Hekates, Hekataia ). This meal was given, according to K.F. Smith in Stephen Ronan's The Goddess Hekate, to placate both the spirits of the dead and Hekate herself:
“... [T]he offerings laid at the crossroads every month for Hekate. Their purpose was to placate not only this dread goddess of the underworld, but also we learn from Plutarch (Moralia, 709 A), the Atropopaioi, i.e. the ghosts of those who for some reason cannot rest easy in their graves, and come back to earth in search of vengeance. An army of these invisible and maleficent beings follows in the wake of its leader as she roams at large through the midnight world” (P. 57 – 61).
Thus it fulfills two purposes, both of which will interest the magician or sorcerer seeking to use the crossways for their purposes: to, through devotional service, gain and help maintain the good-will of the Mistress of the Netherworld, and to placate those unhappy souls that remain swarming around us even now.
In any event, there is preliminary work to be done before the meal is even prepared. First, one cleans themselves and then cleans out their home taking care to gather any “polluting” (miasmatic) material from the house-hold altars or around them, gathering these items together. These can, I think, include left-over incense sticks, incense residue, fecal matter left by animals living in one's house, and some of the offerings given to deities (particularly if one has been giving them meat). These things could be sources of power for the spirit that needed to be cleansed. This can also include katharsia, or trash. As such trash that is particularly foul can be added to what will be taken with one to the crossroads.
Next one aspurges the residence with incense, and perhaps sprinkles consecrated water as well. (Mixing in salt with your water may work here. The dead generally don't like salt.) The incense was carried in a censer of bake clay, which would be left at the crossroads with the meal. Given that many of us use metal censers we aren't willing to part with, I'd recommend using incense sticks as they can be more easily carried and disposed of at the crossroads.
I also recommend stealing a few lines from the Orphic hymns while blessing the incense:
“to my holy sacrifice invite, the pow'r who reigns in deepest hell and night; I call Einodian Hecate, lovely dame, of earthly, wat'ry, and celestial frame, Sepulchral, in a saffron veil array'd, leas'd with dark ghosts that wander thro' the shade; Persian, unconquerable huntress hail! The world's key-bearer never doom'd to fail On the rough rock to wander thee delights, leader and nurse be present to our rites Propitious grant our just desires success, accept our homage, and the incense bless.”
Fumigate the entire house, and gather the remains together with the katharsia and other items. You will be taking these to the crossroads. Obviously, sort the most disgusting elements to be transported only. If you have too much trash? Just take it out and leave those items which are truly foul to transport to the crossroads.
In the event you're lamenting not having a trivium near you, just find a nearby quadrivium to use after midnight. There should be one... like... everywhere. It may be symbolically inapt, but it beats leaving those items near to your home where they can empower things that you would prefer not be empowered.
“There was also a “supper” (deipnon or dais) of various foods; the dead who partook of these sometimes were described as eudeipnoi, which we best can translate, perhaps, as “those who are content with their meal.” The word, a euphemism, seems to reflect the hope that, once nourished, the dead would realize that they had nothing to complain about. There is some evidence that water was also given to the dead person so that he could wash, just a host would give a living guest water in which to wash before a meal. Offerings to the dead might also include jewelry, flowers, and small objects used in everyday life such as swords, strigils, toys, and mirrors (although gifts, like lamentation, were sometimes restricted by funerary laws). It is hard to avoid the conclusion that these gifts were expected to be useful in the afterlife, particularly when ghost stories tell of the dead demanding objects that were forgotten or omitted at the time of burial.”- Sarah Iles Johnston, Restless Dead. (P. 41)
What did the meal consist of? K.F. Smith indicates the following:
“As is usually the case with offerings to the dead, the regular Hekates diepnon on the thirtieth of the month consisted of food. The specific articles, so far as they are mentioned, were magides, a kind of loaf or cake, the shape and ingredients are not clear, the mainis, or sprat, skoroda, or garlic, the trigle, or mullet, a sacrificial cake described by Harpocration as “somewhat like the psaista,” eggs, cheese, possibly the basunias a kind of cake, for which Semus, in Athenaeus, xiv. 545 B, gives the recipe.”
The basunias is a form of honey-cake, the likes of which are often associated with being given to the dead. JSK in the Geosophia indicates that honey-cakes made from Bran were given to Cerberus, and includes them in several contexts. If one cannot make such a cake, like this one, then the most profitable thing to do is to slather some high quality bread or cake with honey.
A well rounded meal will probably include at least:
Some sweet wine, or cool water,* or milk.
A meat-type component, such as mullet, sprat, or along those days. Today I picked up some weakfish (“sea salmon”), which are hardly traditional. However, I'm going to honey-glaze them and add nuts and then bake the fish to round out my preparations.
A cake, preferably made with honey, or at least with a good deal of honey added to the top.
Some sweet fruits.
Even if one cannot get the items traditionally given to Hekate, items that are dedicated to heroes and the dead often overlap and offerings can be culled from such sources. Additionally, adding honey to anything is always a good idea. While I am not sure that the Oreganos mentioned by Ms. Johnston as a funerary component is oregano, divination seems favorable for adding it to the meal as a spice.
Finally, along with the meal and polluted elements, these items are brought to the crossroads and dedicated to Hekate. I normally perform this dedication in the West, much like the prayers to the unknown divinity (who was probably Hekate) prior to plucking Mandrake. If you feel another direction works better, feel free to ignore what I do. At then end of this comes perhaps the most important part:
Turn around and leave “without looking back.”
In the event there are no spirits to be rid of, I see nothing wrong with simply preparing a meal and bringing it to the crossroads to dedicate to Hekate in hopes of procuring her favor. Others may disagree, however.
* Cool water was typically given so that the dead could clean themselves, in which case bringing along a disable bowl to add it to is probably a good idea.