Saturday, August 3, 2013

Moar Hekate

The last post had some folks ask me to write more on a few subjects. I am, unfortunately, too sleep deprived to try and hash out a post on the Stele of Jeu and the voces mageia therein (and the way they can totally make you stoned), but capable of discussing Hekate a bit more.

There are some fairly consistent misunderstandings concerning the Cthonic spirits and powers that I have encountered which I also hope to address as best I can. One of these is the increasing tendency to treat such forces as “evil,” or antithetical to human life. This is part of the whole “anti-cosmic” trend that was brought up in the last entry. Melitta Benu, my sister in arms (and far more of a necromancer than myself), has recently written about the subject and her thoughts are very much worth reading.

This treatment, despite the fact I've seen it happen more than a few times, does not apply to Hekate – as I said yesterday. This little blog entry will provide some information regarding two different titles that may be used in conjunction with the Daimon's primary one. Hekate is not a name; it means “far-darting” or “far-shooting” or “worker from afar” (as Theoi translates the title) depending on the translator, and should be regarded as a title. In fact, many – if not most – Deities “names” are titles that are descriptive of what they do. Jupiter, for example, means something along the lines of “Shining Sky Father.” Thus the names we have for deities are primarily descriptive in some sense or another. Hekate being “far-shooting” or “far-darting” appears, to me, to be a nod to the fact that the deity was seen as “wandering.”

In some sense, this also applies to the treatment of the voces mageia in the PGM. Plenty of them are strings of divine names or titles, which have been placed together with vowel strings and other elements as a means of calling down the prospective powers of the deities or Daimons being called on. Hopefully, I'll be able to expand on that helpfully tomorrow. For the moment, though, let's get back to Hekate.

The two most helpful additional titles to be called on by the aspiring magician or witch are: “Soteira,” and “Brimo.”

Hekate Soteira.

The title Soteira is the feminine form of Soter, or “savior.” It is applied in its feminine form to Hekate, Persephone, Artemis, and Athena. It designates a Daimon that is capable of rendering a form of protection or salvation to those who invoke it. It also applies to Hekate's treatment in the Chaldean Oracles. She is seen as synonymous with Psyche in the Oracles, and becomes the World-Soul.

A while ago, I complained about people treating Hekate as their “mother.” Jason Miller appeared and noted that when taken within the context of the treatment of her in the Oracles, the “World-Soul” being seen as a “Mother” was entirely appropriate. Alas! I must admit, he was and is correct. Even if I still have some reticence towards the way American neo-Pagans approach the subject.

There is a specific line which applies here: “I dwell behind the Father's thoughts, I, the Soul, who with heat, do ensoul all things.” (See Lewy's Chaldean Oracles and Theurgy, chapter 2, section 4.*) While these aspects of Hecate are rather late – the Chaldean Oracles date the second century of the common era – some aspects of the deity and this approach to her predate the Oracles significantly, although I will return to one aspect later when discussing Brimo.

Hekate was called on – as a deity which can deal with pollution (
miasma) and trash (katharsia) – during childbirth in a manner similar to Apollo. Apollo, who could rain arrows bearing plagues upon his enemies, could be called upon to also protect against plagues. Childbirth naturally involved a lot of elements that would have been included in the general category of pollution generating problems, such as openly flowing blood. As such as she was protecting against that problem, and was called on to 'deal with' any potential problems. It doesn't seem much of a stretch to imagine that the aspect of Hekate Soteira was directly invoked in such instances. However, in The Goddess Hekate (edited by Stephen Rohan), there appears a commentary that would contradict such a conclusion:
As regards the title of [Angelos] we have the curious story narrated by Sophron and mentioned in the chapter on Hera: the maiden [Angelos], to escape her mother's wrath, takes refuge in plaes that were polluted by child-birth or the presence of a corpse; she was purified by the Cabiri by the lake of Acheron**, and was afterwards given a position in the lower world. This quaint legend recieves some light from the gloss in Hesychius, from whom we learn that [Angelos] was a title of Artemis in Syracuse; and we gather from Theocritus that she and Hekate were sometimes identified there. Thus the story may illustrate the character of the latter as a divinity of the lower world, and her connexion with childbirth; while the purification of [Angelos] by the Cabiri may allude to the Samothracian mysteries, in which, as we have seen, Hekate was a part.” (P. 33. From L.R. Farnell's Hekate's Cult essay in the text.)
Additionally, there was a type of ghost – similar to the Lamia or Mormo – we can call an Aore. This type of ghost, somewhat resembling the Jewish fear of Lilitu, was thought to target women right before they were married or had children:
“As already noted, the Greek version of our creature begins her existence as a living woman; her career as a killer of children and women begins only after she has died prematurely...”
- Sarah Iles Johnston, Restless Dead. (P. 163)
“[...] [S]ome of the ghosts who attacked women and children were not called by any specific name. As noted, the salient characteristic shared by all of these types was premature death — indeed, it is scarcely an exaggeration, as we shall see, to say that any woman of reproductive age who died was expected to become the sort of ghost who attacked children and other women during pregnancy and labor. Thus, some term that emphasizes the prematurity of death would serve nicely as an inclusive term. The Greeks had just such a word for the soul of one who had died prematurely: aoros (literally “untimely”) an adjective that frequently was used predicatively as well as descriptively. Throughout most of antiquity, the adjective had only two terminations: masculine / feminine (aoros, plural aoroi) and neuter (aoron, plural aora). Thus aoros, in the absence of further modification, could indicate either a male or female ghost; I use aoros in that way myself in this book, without any implication as to gender. In later antiquity, however, a specifically feminine form of the adjective developed: aore (plural aorai). Although the word aore did not exist during the periods from which most of the evidence examined in this chapter is derived, the word so perfectly combines the two essential traits of all the ghosts discussed — femaleness and prematurity of death— that I shall adopt it as a concise means of referring to them, except when directly quoting an ancient source that uses the form aoros.

The term aore is an attractive choice for one further reason, amply illustrated shortly below: notonly does it express the most important quality shared by all of our ghosts, it also expresses the quality shared by all of their victims. By killing women of reproductive age and their babies, aorai created new aorai, or, to look at it the other way around, aorai became what they were at the hands of other, pre-existent aorai. This double connotation, which echoes within each use of aore, should help us to remember a point that will be crucial for understanding the creature we are examining here: like Lilith, the lilitu, and most of their other sisters around the world, aorai were thought to return to the upper world in order to deprive others of what they themselves had missed.”
- Sarah Iles Johnston, Restless Dead. (P. 164 – 165.)
The presence of such threats necessitated, especially by the time necromancy and Goetia were in full swing in Greece, that a divine power representing Cthonic protection would be essential to successfully keeping one's family out of harm's way during childbirth. Even more critical was the potential that if the individual did not survive childbirth, they might become one of the Restless Dead themselves. Later Ms. Johnston writes that:
“As we learned in chapter 5 from the stories of Lamia and Mormo, an aore might begin her career by killing her own children...” (P. 241.)
This added yet another danger to childbirth; even if the child survived and the mother did not, the ghost of the mother might return while in a Restless state and attempt to create another dangerous Daimon by taking from the child what it did not have itself: a complete life.

All of this confirms that while Hekate is a “fearsome” or “dreadful” Goddess, her protective aspects provide a balancing point. By the period of late Antiquity, when the
Chaldean Oracles come into play, the Goddess was seen as a moralizing force. According to L.R. Farnell, quoted earlier, this is a late association:
“But the high moral functions that the latter claims for her were never given [to] her in Greek religion; she never sat “in the judgment of Kings,” and her mysteries were not known to have had any moral or spiritual significance at all.” (P. 32)
Despite this, she is still protective. Whether one wishes to be influenced or not by the Chaldean Oracles is a subject I leave to the discretion of the individual. I, personally, don't care for the moralizing tone of some of today's theurgical worshipers of Hekate. At the same time, I see no reason to have a dispute with them over the factor of morality. And, it should be noted, a lot of my rather amoral take on the subject of the Goddess has been due to the influence of the PGM.

One extremely useful symbol to add to one's visualizing of Hekate Soteira would be the whip or scourge; this is an object she seems to have absorbed from the Erinyes, the cthonic personifications of vengeance. Held in the hands of Hekate, this item becomes a symbol of purification. One could easily imagine it being used to drive off the trouble-makers of the Cthonic world, in much the same way that the cracking whips of the Erinyes were turned upon humans who had fallen under their influence.


The word “Brimo” means “angry” or “terrifying.” Another word that comes to mind, in line with the word and its potential translations, is dreadful. It has a masculine form, “Brimos,” (or “Obrimos”) which was applied to Ares – and, weirdly enough, Iacchos – which signified strength or rage. I am not sure how exactly context always applies to the term.

It is especially of note due to the places it appears in the PGM, as well as in the Argonautica and at least one event following the Iliad.

When applied to Hekate, as well as other Nether-world goddesses, it signifies the dreadful, terrifying, potentially destructive aspects of the Goddess.

In the Argonautica, Medea calls on Brimo when preparing an unguent that will keep Jason out of harm's way:
She [Medea] wished to drive to the splendid Temple of Hekate [in Kolkhis]; and while they [her handmaidens] were getting the carriage ready she took a magic ointment from her box. This salve was named after Prometheus. A man had only to smear it on his body, after propitiating the only-begotten Maiden (Koure mounogenes) [Hekate] with a midnight offering, to become invulnerable by sword or fire and for that day to surpass himself in strength and daring. It first appeared in a plant that sprang from the blood-like ichor of Prometheus in his torment, which the flesh-eating eagle had dropped on the spurs of Kaukasos ... To make the ointment, Medea, clothed in black, in the gloom of night, had drawn off this juice in a Caspian shell after bathing in seven perennial streams and calling seven times on Brimo [Hekate], nurse of youth (kourotrophos), Brimo, night-wanderer of the underworld (nyktipolis khthonie), Queen of the dead (anassa eneroi). The dark earth shook and rumbled underneath the Titan root when it was cut, and Prometheus himself groaned in the anguish of his soul.”
Later, Medea counsels Jason on how to perform an appropriate sacrifice to Hekate that will ensure her protection, again with Brimo being involved:
“ […] Jason made for a deserted place, like a furtive thief, with all the things he needed. For he had already taken care of all the details during the day. Argus came and brought a female sheep and milk from the flock. These things he brought from the ship. But when he saw a place that was off the beaten track, under a calm sky and in a pure meadow, he first of all washed his soft body there and made himself pure with water from the divine river. He put on a dark robe, which the Lemnian Hypsipyle had formerly given him, a memento of their frequent sex. Then he dug a pit in the ground, a cubit in diameter, and piled up the firewood. He cut the sheep’s throat and laid it out well over the top. He set light to the wood, inserting a flame underneath, and over the sacrifice he poured mingled libations. He called upon Brimo-Hecate to be his helper in the contests. After invoking her he retreated. The terrible goddess heard him from the depth of her lair and came to accept the sacrifice of the son of Aeson. Around her head dreadful snakes intertwined with oak twigs. The boundless light of torches flashed. Around her the underworld dogs gave voice to sharp howls. All the meadows quaked at her step. The nymphs of the marsh and the nymphs of the rivers shrieked out, as did all that wheeled around that meadow of Amarantian Phasis. Fear gripped the son of Aeson, but even so his feet carried him out of danger without him turning around, until he found his way back to his companions.”
- Daniel Ogden, Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. (Oxford University Press. 2002.)
But that isn't all! It is the aspect of “Brimo” that transforms Queen Hecuba from the form of a woman into a familiar of the Goddess: “the black dog with fiery eyes,” who runs through the Thessalian countryside, barking and howling in honor of her Mistress. This isn't particularly surprising: Hekate's presence is announced by the baying of dogs in plenty of Greek and Roman tales and the dog has a rather long history in Europe as a part of the nocturnal horde of the Restless Dead that compose, in areas outside Greece, part of the Wild Hunt or Furious Horde tales. In particular, I feel the transformation of Hecuba is representative of ideas that would later show up in the Chaldean Oracles and represents some of the early associations between the Goddess and the soul itself. Although, I could totally be wrong and off my rocker.

For those growing poisonous plants,
Brimo is the probably the aspect of Hekate that is “safest” (which still isn't really, well, safe) to dedicate one's plants to. I honestly have no direct symbolism that I can think of to apply to the aspect, however. The general use of a Key or Three Keys that Hekate holds – representing her capacity (as Keybearer) to move between the Celestial, Cthonic, and “mundane” worlds. Three keys would in fact be quite in keeping with her associations with the Trivium (“place of three roads”) and how each of those roads can be imagined to align with the three worlds.

Anyway. I should cut this short, because I could probably ramble about my favorite Dread Goddess
ad nauseum and most of you probably already know this crap already. Next time, I'll supply a couple of Hymns that folks probably haven't seen before from Ronan's The Goddess Hekate.

[EDIT]: Brimo shows up in a few PGM spells, and a few of the voces mageia strings with the word seem to be compulsive. I'd get into that, but my brain is officially shutting the fuck down for a bit.


* Note to self: finish that damn volume at some point, you goddamn noob.
** Both a river of death in the Underworld, and a physical location that was a necromancy center in Antiquity.


Rose Weaver said...

Excellent info. Thank you!

Colton said...

To the author of this post: Hi, I just wanted to bring up one point. In Hesiod's description of Hecate in Theogony, he does in fact say that, "she sits by worshipful kings in judgement..." So, it would appear that she did hold some moral function prior to the Chaldean Oracles, as Hesiod's Theogony is from circa 8th century BCE. Do you disagree? Am I perhaps wrong? I'd be happy to here your thoughts and opinions on the subject, as the matter of Hekate being a moral or amoral (but, of course, not "evil") Goddess has intrigued me as I've heard so many different sources claiming one or the other. Thank you for your time.

Colton said...

Though, I guess that it should also be considered that Hesiod's description of Hecate is, by most scholars and classicists, considered particularly unusual when compared to most other descriptions of this Goddess. Plus, on the Theoi website, in the "Hecate, Goddess of" section it states that it is unclear if Hesiod is describing the benefits of magical incantations involving Her or if he is describing the benefits of simply worshipping Her. It also says that he seems to still recognize her as a "nighttime goddess of witchcraft" since he lists her parentage as Perses (meaning "the Destroyer;" He sounds like a sweetheart...) and Asteria, a star Goddess (stars, of course, only being perceived at night). So, the "worshipful kings" thing could simply reference her passing wisdom to a devotee She particularly liked, without it necessarily carrying any connotation of Her caring for the moral codes that the king supported or implemented.

Jack Faust said...

Colton: This must be my annual week of, 'and I was wrong...' I think there are plenty of reasons to suspect she has a moral function; at the time I wrote this, I was prizing similarly late antique views while criticizing others. The fact that she was called 'Soteira' alone should demonstrate it. I don't know what my problem at the time was, aside from disliking the tone of some of the Chaldean Oracles.

Of note is that Diodorus Siculus provides a mythic sketch and biography of her in a discussion on the Argonautica that stresses that she (alongside Circe and Medea) are more or less 'barbarian Goddesses.' (But Medea, unlike Circe and Hekate, was okay in his book.) In it he makes Perses her father, and discusses (in a polemical fashion) the practices of the cult of the Great Mother at Taurica. Taurica was a Greek colony, and there was a temple there to Iphigenia-Hekate-Diana, as strange as that might sound. He equates knowledge of poisons to her and Circe, as well. Chances are he's referring to what might be Thracian cultural elements, and mangling them. Nonetheless, almost every element discussed is in relation to the cult on the Black Sea. (Which makes sense, given he's using the Argonautica as a guide.) But it still makes for good reading:*.html

Hesiod, meanwhile, is less hostile. I think his view of the cult is more kindly largely because she's been fully syncretized into his culture, or he's at least promoting the view that she has. Between the two we can see how a foreign goddess, associated with Thracian and Scythian tribes, gets assimilated and used as a vehicle for discussion in different ways.

William MOulton said...


Can you tell me about the image of Gecate and the Guant


William MOulton said...


Can you tell me about the image of Gecate and the Guant


William MOulton said...


Can you tell me about the image of Gecate and the Guant