THE ‘HER’ STORY OF THE GREAT WITCH-GODDESS : ANALYZING THE NARRATIVES OF HEKATE.*
Hecate and her ‘styles of piety’.
The actual rites associated with Hekate belong to the largely unwritten record of popular religion, the Folk beliefs and rites of Mystery that were the living faith of the ancient Greeks and Romans, alongside of which literary mythology and official cults were elaborated on the respected but desacralized level of culture. What unbiased information we have on Hekate veneration comes from archaeology and from those tidbits of social history preserved by antiquarian or comic authors. On the other end of the spectrum we have the accounts of Hekate as the goddess of witches, which are clearly made as sensational as possible. In evaluating our accounts the most useful thing for us immediately to determine is how Hekate-veneration would have appeared to the eyes of a representative man. Now in all antiquity no one was more representative, or tried harder to be so, than Cicero.
Cicero’s view of the religious spectrum, dispersedly expressed in De Natura Deorum provides a good notion of how educated upper class persons, such as the writers whose testimony is almost our exclusive source, viewed witchcraft. Writing in the Golden age of Roman antiquity, fluent in Greek and conversant with Greek culture, Cicero himself chose a very moderate skeptical and philosophic position qualified by high respect for tradition, “...the usual and accepted ideas..” (...usitatas perceptasque cognitiones deorum...) (Cic. De Nat. Deo. 1: 36.) Cicero's reasonable intellectual loyalty to formal religion rejected the myths of the poets, the exotic doctrines of foreigners, and the irrational beliefs of the ‘common people’. (1)
For Cicero’s natural grasp, Hekate, a foreign and folk-religion goddess, would have appeared at best as a noteworthy poetic-theme, and at worst – as an object of veneration for ‘outlandish’ personalities (such as the Orphics) and the uneducated folk. At best, Hekate-worship would have seemed to him extravagant, or, as his customary discretion might have expressed it "within the bounds of what an educated person might do without censure — but without commendation either.(2)
The historically sound (i.e., non-supernatural) attestations of witch- or witch-like-activity all show a perspective even less charitable than that of Cicero. The Greek authors include witches in the class of purveyors of love spells and — for a price --poisons (Theok. Id. 2: 90-91, 159-62;) the mountebanks, begging Cybele priests, spell-howlers and knowledgeable crones who could avert bad luck by purification rites (Plut. De Superst. 166, and esp. Hippoc. Sacred Disease 2:1.) Similarly the Romans include witches in the category of the old women who interpreted dreams, told fortunes and sold love-potions (PROP. 2: 4: 15-16; Hor. Sat. 1: 9; JUV. Sat. 6: 610-17.)
In view of the sensational (3) prejudice with which Hekatical practice is generally recorded then, at least after the fifth century when the conflation with Enodia takes place, one must be extremely cautious about inferring archaic Hekate worship from the later accounts of witchcraft. In fact, the accounts of witch activity bear only a slight and superficial relation to the facts of Hekate-worship as we find them in early attestation and confirmed by parallel material from Hekate’s cognate goddess Cybele.
At this point we must address the extremely interesting question of the actual practice of witchcraft -- that is, private magical activity centered on Hekate as a source of power. There is no record of this until relatively late -- the first instance is the second Idyll of Theokritus, from the 3rd century BC, 200 years after Hekate’s syncretism with Enodia.
We must assume these tardy documents reflect some actual religious practice, since the literary accounts are confirmed by actual “working” material such as the Magical Papyri.
Evidently the practice of witchcraft developed simultaneously with or perhaps as a result of the literary mythology of witchcraft.
The details of Hekate-worship which we shall now examine are accordingly the distant antecedents of magical witch activity, in fact little more than the inspiring raw materials of witchcraft.
Dogs and Dirt.
On his way to exile Ovid observed dog sacrifice to Hekate among the Thracian Sapae:
While this is quite unattested for the Hesiodic/Asia Minor Ur-Hekate, it is abundantly so for the Greek world,(6) and not only for Hekate. The dog was, like the pig,(7) the customary purification animal, because it was the cheapest.
The meaning of purification sacrifice must be addressed. The range of possibilities is great: animal suffering in-place-of human? scapegoat-like bearing off of sins? propitiation of chthonic powers? Since Greek chthonic rites are almost a perfect mirror-reversal of ouranian ones, it seems plausible that the same mechanics of the sacred honor and appeasement -- obtained.
But we have no way of telling whether all or none or some of our speculations are correct. Still, if the process is unclear the purpose is not: purification sacrifice was meant to remove dangerous forces inimical to human life and at variance with the worship of the ouranian gods: (8) maintenance of spiritual boundaries is key, whether it was thought of as occurring by sympathy, compulsion or propitiation is perhaps not even relevant. The Greeks had relatively few taboos (which their usage defines as ritual prohibitions relating to state of purity under which one could approach the gods.) Those they did have were concerned with physical uncleanness, reproduction and death.(9) The uniqueness of the Greek view resides in the special emphasis given the latter two as is evident from Iphigineia's complaint about Artemis:
These false rules of the goddess much I blame: Whoever of mortals is with slaughter stain'd, Or hath at childbirth given assisting hands, Or chanced to touch aught dead, she as impure Drives from her altars; yet herself delights In human victims bleeding at her shrine.(Eurip. Iphig. Tam-.. 380-84. )(10) These exemplify the un- and pre- Olympian areas of sacrality -- chthonic as opposed to ouranian powers. Certainly birth, death and the earth (‘dirt’) touch every essential point of the Neolithic goddess concept. Historically considered, this is entirely explicable. The invading Proto-Greeks viewed the chthonic religiosity of the Pro-Greek indigenous population as dangerous and unknown, in pointed opposition to their own ouranian pantheon. The same sort of reaction to chthonic religiosity is to be found among the Hebrews: there the concept of ‘uncleanness’; tame applies primarily to animals associated with foreign worship, such as the pig which was a standard Canaanite sacrifice,(11) and everything having to do with sexual life (Lev. 15,) the reproduction process (2 Sam. 11: 14) and with the birth of children (Lev. 13 f.), as well as everything having to do with death (corpses, graves, etc.) (Num. 19: 11-16.).(12) In both cases, the Greek and the Hebrew, we find preserved in the concept of ritual purity the opposition of the newcomers’ ouranian patriarchal-nomadic religion with the indigenous, Neolithic paradigm. My position here is a basically that advanced by Rhode, Harrison and especially Eitrem: (13) that the pre-Greek inhabitants cultivated a chthonic, Neolithic religiosity which came into conflict with the belief system of the Indo-European invaders, and persisted on the level of popular religion, in forms such as Hekate worship.
The most substantial recent work on the subject of pollution is Parker's Miasma, which draws on and develops the sociological analyses of Douglas (Purity and Danger, London, 1966,) and Burkert (Homo Necans, Berlin, 1972.) I shall, in responding to this reading, answer that of the general position these scholars represent: they see in the concept of pollution not the record of a historical culture-clash, but rather an ahistorical sociological structure.
Yet, the three prime sources of pollution for the Greeks were, as I have stated, Birth, Sex and Death, (which Parker also establishes, with copious citations: pp. 33 ff., pp. 74 ff.) The pollution attendant on birth and death he attributes to their disrupting the social order by the introduction or removal of a member of society (pp. 59 ff, esp. 63-64;) the woman who has given birth and the mourner must not participate in sacrifice or festival because these are above all ritual reaffirmations of the community's social integrity (pp. 65-66.)
Were this the case, community would be the defining concept in Greek religion, we would expect to find this reflected in the vocabulary of pollution and purification, but instead words for holy (hagnos) and defiled (miaros) have respectively the primary sense of pure and stained (L.S.J.)(14)
I do not deny, however, that a sociological dimension is ever implicit in the concept of pollution, but cannot accept that it possesses the primacy Parker accords it.
Besides the lack of textual evidence for his claim that the prime meaning of pollution in Greek religion was sociological, the third area of pollution, sex, doesn't fit the schema; a new criterion is introduced to explain it: if one has sex in a temple or approaches the gods after sex without washing, one commits the crime of confounding the public and private spheres (pp. 74-75.) Again, the terminology of pollution does not support this, and more importantly this reading leaves unexplained the sexual license of festivals such as the Haloa. On this point, Parker provides a loophole by pleading the ‘restrictedness’ (p. 78) of the public/private separation.
If we would assume that birth, sex and death, which were the main foci of Neolithic religiosity, continued to call forth religious responses from the lower classes and in popular religion, especially the agricultural festivals (as Harrison has historically shown) and if we assume that the Indo-European ourancentric pantheon brought by the Greeks remained superimposed on and separate from the surviving autochthonous piety, we have a single and simple explanation for the areas and concept of pollution, without restriction, exceptions, or competing explanations. Further, the vocabulary of pollution, and its association with chthonic as opposed to ouranian rites, supports this reading thoroughly.
Parker rejects the notion that there is any historical development in the Greek concept of pollution: for him it is a constant. The most important document to the contrary, the “silence of Homer”, is dismissed as follows:
Conceding that there is no appearance of the concept of pollution (miasma) in Homer, (the heroes return to normal pursuits after a funeral without even washing, Apollo handles the corpse of Sarpedon, Orestes and Oedipus are mentioned as glorious heroes without reference to Erinyes or stain — as Parker cites, pp 66 ff., 130 ff.) —in marked contrast to all of later Greek literature, Parker explains this absence entirely in terms of literary intent.
We cannot however accept that at no point in the two epics would the pollution concept have enhanced the drama. Yet, if we assume, as Parker does, that the Miasma concept was always with the Greeks and never changed, we would have to assume that it never suited Homer to point out the painful irony of, say, an immortal god having to lift the defiling corpse of a mortal. This is unacceptable: one of the most constant features in Homer, indeed his trademark, is stressing the cruel irony inherent in any situation. If, on the other hand, we take the epics as reflecting the religious conceptions of the Indo-European Greeks (at least to the extent that they demonstrably do the historical circumstances, e.g., valuation of iron as a precious metal, absence of fish from diet, etc.,) the “silence” is entirely understandable.
The next question should be, why wasn't the pollution concept inserted into the Homeric epics at a later date, when the Greeks had encountered and been troubled by the pre-Greeks’ view of the death as a sacred phenomenon? The conservatism of oral tradition is adequate answer: a good parallel is to be found among the customs of the Hebrew Patriarchs, who eat meat and milk and know nothing of the Sabbath in defiance of the religious strictures observed by the people who finally wrote down and edited the material. Further, there is so much death in the epics, that to introduce the theme of miasma would require a complete re imagining or the action. Finally, the Homeric texts are the religious education of the upper classes: we cannot with justice expect them to be interpolated with beliefs (or responses to beliefs) that only have meaning in reference to lower-class and popular culture.
By our model then the “silence” is understandable in its origin and explicable in its preservation. The earliest account of a prohibition relating to the areas of chthonic sacrality is Hesiod, Works and Days. 735-36: “Do not beget a child on your return from an ill-omened burial, but from a feast of the gods”. Parker quotes this (p. 70) to show the existence of the miasma concept in Homer's time. This is an audacious conflation of chronology: can what Hesiod records as current (7th century) belief be of a piece with the Mycenaean customs recorded in Homer? Significantly, Hesiod, our first source for the pollution concept presents details of popular superstition also gives us our first description of Hekate -- who is conspicuously absent from Homer.
By assuming the simultaneous survival in popular religion of Neolithic-based styles of piety inconsistent with aristocratic, Homeric religion, we understand the “silence” of Homer -- as prior to the contact and conflict of the two modes; we economically explain the three areas of pollution — key points for a religion preoccupied with fertility and the birth-death-rebirth cycle; and finally we comprehend the ouranian/chthonic dualism of Greek religion, seen in the meticulous, even mirror-image opposition in the procedures for the two types of sacrifice (which we shall discussed below.)
Hekate's role in pollution and purification is discussed by Parker in the brief 7th chapter
(Disease.Bewitchment and Purifiers- pp. 207-236) of his book, and there only in pp.222-24, where he baldly offers a few citation without any more analysis than to comment on the contempt with which such practices were regarded by enlightened authors of the fourth century.
From our perspective, which sees the record of a culture-conflict in the doctrine of pollution and permits a deeper engagement with the material, let us now turn to some concrete examples of the purificatory dog sacrifice to see what can be gleaned from them. We shall here make no pretence of presenting the full dossier on the Hound in Greco-Roman religion and magic, (Scholz has done this most diligently,) but only the most illuminating of those few instances of dog sacrifice directly relating to Hekate.(15)
Pausanias describes a dog-sacrifice at Sparta in honor of Apollo, which precedes a ritual "battle" of the young men.
“I know of no other Greeks who are accustomed to sacrifice puppies except the people of Colophon;(16) these too sacrifice a puppy, a black bitch, to the Wayside Goddess (Enodia). Both the sacrifice of the Colophonians and that of the youths of Sparta are appointed to take place at night. (Paus. Laconia: Ik: 9)(17)
What is interesting here is that the sacrifice takes place at night, whereas all ouranian sacrifices take place in daylight.
Lycophron mentions: “…Zerynthos (in Samothrace), cave of the goddess to whom dogs are slain... (Lyc. Alex. 77)
Evidently the dogs are sacrificed as a general purification offering before initiation into the mysteries, just as pigs were at Eleusis.(18)
A fragment of Sophron discovered in 1933 (19), consisting of 19 complete lines, has the chief sorceress give orders to place a table, put laurel behind one's ear, and bring a dog, pitch, (20) incense and a knife to the hearth for a sacrifice in silence and total darkness (the torch extinguished), and the windows opened wide.(21) The sacrifice is evidently a meal offered to Hekate. Tupet, (144-150) basing her analysis mainly on Eitrem,(22) has little more to say than that the salt and laurel are apotropaic, while the pitch and incense are to facilitate the burning of the sacrifice. The attempt has been made, particularly by Eitrem, to see this as an expulsion of Hekate --in order to connect it with the Sophron title “tai gunaikes hai tan theon phanti exelan”. “The Ladies who claim they are driving out the goddess”. The title itself is of disputed sense, and its direct application to our fragment seems to me strained. It appears rather that Hekate is awaited and invited by the women who sit in darkness, the doors open on the night, the "flawless" dog-sacrifice consuming on the hearth.
The main value of the fragment is that, along with the second Idyll of Theokritus, it establishes the plausibility of Hekate propitiations, not only by the charlatan priests who beset Theophrastus’ Superstitious Man, but for ordinary society. From the accounts we have, it seems likely that Hekate magic in the home probably had about the same slightly humorous onus that resort to an acupuncturist or astrologer has for us.(23)
A final note is provided by Hippocrates (Hier. Nous. 2: 10,) who observes that quacks, alleging a purificatory motive, forbid the meat of both dog and mullet to epileptics. As we shall show below, Hekate is associated with madness and fits, and mullet is like the dog an animal sacrificed to her. The implication seems to be that the flesh of the dog is imbued with Hekatical energy.
This pitifully sparse record of Hekate's dog-sacrifices is nonetheless enough to bring it to life as a normal part of Greek religion, and as one partaking of the marginalized chthonic side. The high developments of the dog’s supernatural associations are most likely, like Hekates', a byproduct of her association with Enodia. Nonetheless we must note the implicitly supernatural or infernal characteristics of the dog so as to evaluate the extent and manner of the development.
The dog, which appears at the edge of settlements at nightfall and howls mournfully, is often considered a nocturnal animal and associated with the moon and death; similar associations made the jackal a representative of Anubis. This conception of the dog is well known to European literature. Also, the hound howls its warning before danger is visible to human eyes, which leads to the impression that it can see what humans cannot, that is, the spirit world. Thus a dog, unlike Telemachos, recognizes the disguised Athena in Q?. 16: 152 ff .(24) The neatest explanation of the dog's association with the crossroads is Ovid's reading of why a dog carved of stone is placed by the images of the Lares:
“servat uterque domum, domino quoque fidus uterque,
“Both guard the house: both are faithful to their master: crossroads are dear to the god (the Lar,) crossroads are dear to dogs: the Lar and Diana's pack give chase to thieves, and wakeful are the Lares, wakeful too are dogs”. (25)
Nilsson notes (G.G.R. 1: 724) that the dog already had a reputation as an eater of unburied corpses, a distinction it shares with carrion birds in the opening lines of the Iliad. Scholz observes that the dog has an immemorial bad reputation in the orient, based on its mating in the open, relieving itself everywhere, feasting on garbage, sniffing excrement, as well as the above-mentioned eating of dead matter.(26) In Greek poetry the dog frequently the archetype of shamelessness (e.g., kunotharses “impudent as a dog”.) The dog was held to possess an intrinsic impurity, a negative chthonic charge, and as such was forbidden access to sacred places and persons, e.g. the isle of Delos and the Roman Flamen Dialis.((27) On the other hand it was not without positive valuation for the Indo-Europeans -- particularly among the Persians, Germans and Celts it was valued for hunting and as watch-animal. The very image of the dog, baying and baring its teeth, was used to ward off ghosts and evil magic.(28) The chthonic ambivalence of the dog then makes it a rather ideal purification sacrifice. From sacrificial animal the dog develops, in the literary record, into a feature of Hekate's theophany. Horace, following the lead of the Hellenistic poets whom we shall consider in a moment, presents a rather straightforward description: his witches meeting in a Roman cemetery call up an infernal cortege featuring serpents (for the Fury Tisiphone) and hounds (for Hekate):
Hecaten vocat altera, saevam
One witch calls on Hecate, the other on fell Tisiphone. You might see serpents and hellhounds roaming about.(29) Here the hounds are, without further detail, Hekate's attendants. A more .elaborate association is this song from Lycophron's Cassandra:
“O mother Hecuba, you who were turned into a dog and stoned to death, unhappy mother! Your story shall not be forgotten, but Hekate, the maiden daughter of Perseus, Triform Brimo, shall make you her attendant, and you will terrify all mortals with your baying in the night -- all except those who, torch in hand, worship your statue and sacrifice to you, Hekate, Zerynthian queen of Strymon, goddess of Pherae. And the island spur of Pachynus in Sicily shall hold a solemn monument in your honor, built by the hands of Ulysses who once owned you as his slave. He will be prompted to this act by dreams wafter you've been buried in front of the streams of Helorus. Ulysses shall pour on the shore offerings for you, unhappy one, fearing the anger of the three-headed goddess, because he's going to be the first to throw when you're stoned to death, killed and sent to Hades”. (Lyc. Alex. 1174-1188)
This provides perhaps some benign aetiology for the hound-as-Hekate-attendant. The association with Hecuba probably comes about through the similarity in the names Hecuba and Hekate.
An effective inversion of the relationship is the depiction in Theocritus' second Idyll where his Simaitha invokes: ”...that Hecat infernal who makes e'en the whelps to shiver on her goings to and fro among the tombs and dark blood of the dead. Hail to thee horrid Hecat! “ (12-14)(30) and again in lines 35-36
“Hark, Thestylis, where the dogs howl in the town. Sure the Goddess is at these crossroads”.(31)
By making Hekate's very retinue shiver and yowl with terror Theokritus sets the horror even higher. As to the location, the wording is a little Delphic: clearly she's at a burial site, but also one which has seen murders or executions —whence the "dark blood". This could refer to the untimely, violently dead, whose souls are disquieted or angry, who might be expected to intrude upon the realm of the living. Contrariwise, the spilt blood here may refer to offerings made to the dead.(32)
In the Argonautica Medea assails Talus with hounds that are angels of death:
And with songs did she propitiate the Death-spirits, devourers of life, the swift hounds of Hades, who, hovering through all the air, swoop down on the living. (Arg. 4. 1665-67)(33)
That these creatures are as it were on loan from Hekate seems clear from the appearance of the hellhounds in her chthonic theophany in Arg. 3. 1216-17:
...and there was a gleam of countless torches; and sharply howled about her the hounds of hell. (34)
In P.G.M. we can observe traces of Hekate’s gradual assimilation to her fellow-pet: as regards the company she keeps, she is called dog-lover11 (P.G.M. 2813.)
“queen of dogs” (P.G.M. 2530) and
(I offer you) this spice, O child of Zeus,
We have already attested our belief in the survival of chthonic (and autochthonous) piety in Greek popular religion, especially evident in the agricultural festivals (36) and in rites of purification. In development of the Dog from purification-sacrifice to Hekate-theophany we have seen the old Chthonic piety re-assert itself by the divinization of the very symbol of its suppression. It is now our aim to show that Hekate and her hounds are no mere anomalous survivals but emblematic of the earth-tremors of chthonic religiosity that underlay and finally undermined official Greek religion. This point will best be made by examining the earnestness with which the Greeks opposed Ouranian to Chthonic piety.
Nowhere is this opposition more apparent than in the inconsistent Greek mythologies of the Underworld. On the one hand we have the Homeric Hades, an aristocratic-literary creation in which these dead subsist as at best squeaks and shadows. No very meaningful being was accorded these dead, and this is the position of Olympian official religion. The witchly practices, continued to honor and propitiate the chthonic power of the dead — not to put too fine Popular religion, attested only incidentally or by antiquarians, and in documents such as the accounts of a point on it, they worshipped ghosts. This will be show in great detail later on in the present study.
The ‘schizophrenic’ Greek attitude towards the dead is related in the meticulous opposition of popular chthonic rites to the Olympian and official ones: whereas the gods were sacrificed to on altars built up from stones, the dead receive offerings on a ground-level hearth or brazier, an eschara, or even in a pit or bothros. In Olympian sacrifice the victim's neck is pulled back so the blood spurts skywards, while in chthonic ritual the neck is held level so the blood falls down into the pit. The one sacrifice takes place by day, the other by night. Careful distinction in the ritual terminology underscores the punctilious formality of the separation. The same ritual actions require different words depending on context, as though the terminology itself could be made impure by use in an inappropriate context. Thus for the Olympian gods one says "to slaughter or sacrifice, ”hiereuin”; or “thuein”, which also means “to sacrifice or slaughter”. The chthonic terms are enagizein, “to sacrifice” and entemnein, “to cut up (a sacrifice)”. Similarly the words for libations to the gods (spondai) and to the chthonic powers (choai) both mean more or less “outpourings”. These nice but rigid distinctions are carefully maintained in the descriptions of witches' activities, which are in style and terminology purely chthonic.
Burkert, who notes the above “mirror opposition”, stresses (37) that it is no longer possible to equate the Olympian/Chthonic opposition to Greek vs. pre-Greek or Indo-European vs. Mediterranean. It does credit to the liberal conscience of the scholar that he is anxious to dissociate himself from the racism of 19th century classicism, but we cannot allow ourselves moral euphoria at the price of simplistic analysis. Seeking to see all men as equal, Burkert only succeeds in seeing all men as Greek. His rationale for discarding racial/geographic distinction is:
“The antithesis of above and below, heaven and earth, is so fundamental and obvious that it arose as a religious structure quite independently of the specific development of Greek civilization”.(38)
In a general sense this statement is indisputable. But he supports in detail by stating:
In fact ouranian gods preponderate in Sumero-Akkadian culture, as they do in Greece, for precisely the same reason: the entire history of ancient Iraq is that of waves of pastoral nomadic patriarchal groups inundating the agricultural settlements and fusing with them, in the process importing their celestial pantheon. This is not the case in resolutely chthonic Egypt because, protected by oceans and deserts on all sides, it was never so invaded, and developed its funereal pantheon undisturbed for 3,000 years.
The point of this excursus is to stress that national/racial factors contribute to Greek dualism. Further, the opposition of patriarchal /pastoral /astral to matrifocal/agricultural/cthonic paradigms implicit in the geographical/racial conflict is the background to Greek dualism without which the demonisation of the witch is inexplicable. When Burkert concedes: “What is unique about the Greek tradition is the radical and thoroughgoing way in which the opposition between the gods and the realm of the dead was worked out”.(40)
He touches only the hem of the phenomenon, and in no way accounts for its earnestness or its outcome when the repressed returns in “mystery religion” or, what concerns us, the nightmarish form in which the Goddess-worship of the aboriginals re-arose in a Greek consciousness that could neither accept nor expunge them, the distressing, beguiling image of the witch.
There is a yet more striking confirmation that the chthonic realm was a dual is tic equivalent of skyish Olympus than even the godlike chthonic magic of the witch: this is the unparalleled and astonishing Greek development of what one might term the sacrality of dirt. This is the Neolithic goddess’ original positive relation to the earth perverted into a negative theophany. This is has been to some extent set forth in our above consideration of Hekate's purification-offerings in popular religion.
In the Magical Papyri however we are privileged to see the concept worked out to its bizarre and necessary conclusion. Here Hekate becomes Borborophorba “The Eater of Filth” (P.G.M. 1402; 1406). The root of this concept is that of the earth-goddess as tomb as well as womb. That Hekate is at this time irreversibly lunar diminishes this not a jot, for the waning and waxing moon is the mistress of all decay as well as all growth.
It is the concept of the earth as “eating” the dead which supplies the notion of Hekate/Persephone dining in the graveyard, taphois eni daitan echousa (P.G.M. 2544,) a characterization which is more circumstantially developed in
O nether and nocturnal, and infernal
By the epithets Necessity, Justice, etc, it becomes clear that Hekate is equated not only with earth but with what earth above all implies, material existence, which carries an implicit death-sentence for all that come into being. So profound is here the Dirt-theophany that it extends to the cosmic limit of Greek philosophical pessimism.
This ‘rotten’ Hekate can be simply and respectfully regaled with cow-shit incense (P.G.M. 1438-40), but in special cases one prepares for her a perfume (P.G.M. 2455-66) of goat-fat, baboon-shit, garlic and the like --a concoction so noxious that it is an effective slander spell to accuse someone else of having concocted it (P.G.M. 2567-2601). The wry illogic of the proceeding however is not important -- what matters is the suggestion that strong smells, such as are associated with decay, now constitute the ambiance of Chthonic Hekate. Possibly another reflection of the dirt-sacrality is to be found in The Sacred Disease 4: 16-33: while various gods are associated with the different symptoms of Epilepsy, and Hekate and the Heroes inspire its panic and madness, Enodia is responsible for people shitting themselves during a seizure (25-27). Since the other symptoms reflect the nature or associations of their respective gods (e.g., if he foam at the mouth and kick, Ares) we must read the stench of excrement as the ambiance of Enodia.
Along with the bizarre Hekatical rubbish-rites we examined earlier, and the zombie jamboree of the witches’ graveside machinations, these theophanies of the Rotting Goddess complete our exposition of the Greek inversion of the fertility deity, which hopefully has now been shown to be of a symptom of the profound Dualism which characterizes Greek culture.
As regards Hekate's cultus in the great Lagina temple in Asia Minor, inscriptions attest eunuch priests — a commonplace for the great goddesses of Asia Minor (42) — and the mysterious office of kleidophoros (key-bearer), apparently filled by a priestess, who bore a kleia (key) in a pompe or agoge . (procession.) (43). This constitutes our entire fund of information on her native rites, seems to suggest a relation to her gate-guardian function.
Proceeding to the honors she received in Greece, we find her commonly regarded as a goddess of every doorway, a propulaia. This role was sufficiently and early enough known for it to be attested in Aesch. fr. 388 Nauck: “Lady Hekate, standing before the royal palace”. This usage is also instanced by the shrine of Hekate Propulaia at Eleusis, at the entry to the Mysteries. The universal use of the hekataion at Athens seems to have been achieved by the fifth century:
You see, the oracles are coming true: I have heard it foretold, that one day the Athenians would dispense justice in their own houses, that each citizen would have himself a little tribunal constructed in his porch similar to the altars of Hecate, and that there would be such before every door. (Wasps: 800-804)(44)
It was customary to pray at the Hekataia before setting out on a journey:
“Enodia. goddess of the road, Antiphilus dedicates to thee this hat from his head, a token of his wayfaring; for thou hast hearkened to his vows, thou hast blessed his paths. The gift is not great, but given in piety, and let no covetous traveler lay his had on my offering; it is not safe to despoil a shrine of even little gifts”. (Gr. Anth VI: 119 Antiphilus of Byzantium)((46).
These venerations at the hekataion are no doubt simple good-luck and protection prayers drawing on the generally helpful character of a fertility goddess-gatewarder. They are instances of popular and common piety, and do not touch on the deepest meanings of the goddess or her symbols.
The Hekataion, like all door warders, from the Canaanite Asherah to the Jewish ‘mezuzah’ was believed to confer a general protection to those within the dwelling:
Hekataion: Hekate-shrine: the Athenians set her up everywhere as guardian of all things and child-nurturer. A Hekataion is a representation for religious purposes of Hekate. (Scholion to Aristoph. Wasps.: 800-804.)
A further homely trait of Hekate worship is the class of victual is presented her, like the dog lunar in association and within reach of the slenderest budget: the fish.
Leader of Chorus of Women:
The scholiast clarifies that a paignian, which is properly a plaything, toy or game is here to be taken as the equivalent of heorte or feast; also that the Boeotian lake Copais was famous for its eels — hence the eel or egchelus is a ‘daughter’ of Boeotia. The serpent-like eel makes on many levels an appropriate feast in honor of the goddess.
Athenaeus quotes Antiphanes (4th century poet of middle comedy) as saying in his The Farmer that sprats (tas manidas) and little red mullets (triglidas) are called hekates bromata. Hekate's food, on account of their being small, hence cheap (dia ten brachutata). (Ath. Deip. 7: 313: b-c.)
Elsewhere he suggests that that the red mullet or trigle became sacred to Hekate on account of the ‘tri’ found there and in Hekate's epithets, for she is goddess of the place where three roads meet (trioditis) looks in three directions — literally, has three pupils — (triglenos) and is offered her “banquets-suppers” on the thirtieth (kai tais trikasi d'aute ta deipna pherousi) (Ath. Deip. 7: 325: a.)
Apparently Apollodorus (of Athens, b. c. 180 BC, author of Peri Theon, a rationalistic account of Greek religion) is an authority for this explanation (Ath. Deip. 7: 325 b-c.). This theory also took the fancy of Sophron (5th century Syracusan author of comedies) who has a character say:
Mistress Hekate of the three ways, with three forms and three faces, appeased with red mullets. (Ath. Deip. 7: 325 d. ).(48)
In the Melanthios quote Hekate is described as a sea-goddess, which seems strengthened by a quotation from Nausicrates: (49)
A: “With them (red mullets), excellent in quality, come the tawny skins, which Aexone's wave fosters as its own children, the best of all. With these, sailorfolk pay honor to the goddess, light-bringing virgin, whenever they offer her gifts of dinners. (Ath. Deip. 7: 325 e-f)(50).
A good parallel is offered by Tabeling, who compares just this fish-favoring of Hekate with the scaly honors done to Dea Tacita at the Roman “Day of the Dead” (Feralia.) (Ov. Fasti. 2: 571 ff.)
The offerings there, at the house-door, against curses and the evil eye, include a fish-head bored through with a nail then baked in flames --as usual there is some doubt whether this is a symbolic victim in place of the household members or whether the notion is “so shall it be to those who wish me ill”, or both.(51)
The striking feature is that not only do we have to do with fish, but with the same fish offered to Hekate, a maena, a sprat, in Greek mainis. What Tabeling is attempting here is to establish the identity Dea Tacita with Mania, the Mater Larum, whose attendant spirits, the larvae send madness, and whose own name may have that meaning. Both Dea Tacita and Mania are honored with a sprat sacrifice, and both are associated with madness. He cites as a parallel Hekate's association with madness, and her sprats, quoting Eustathios on Homer 1: 206, p. 87, 81:
“…They say that the sprat (mainida) is sacrificed to Artemis and to Hekate, because she seems to be the cause of madness (mainion) to certain persons, those whom one terms lunatics.
One cannot now say whether this imaginative piece of etiology says anything very specific for or against Tabeling's contention. The reason for giving his speculations is that they establish the common use of the sprat as an offering to chthonic female deities --hence it tells us nothing very definite about Hekate.(52)
We might do well to read the fish-sacrifice as of a piece with chthonic and aboriginal religious patterns. The heroes in Homer, it will be recalled, eat no fish, nor are the Homeric gods -- not even Poseidon -- ever regaled with scaly sacrifice.
Hekate also seems to have received remnants of household propitiatory and purification offerings and sweepings from ritual house-cleaning (Phot. s.v. oxuthumia. Heraclit ap. Pollux 5: 163) which were burned before the hekataion of the crossroads or the doorway (PLUT. Quaest. Conv. 7: 6: 3: 12 p. 708). The potsherd on which the rubbish was burnt was carried away, thrown and abandoned without looking back. A vivid glimpse into the status of this order of worship is given when Aeschylus has Electra ask:
“Or shall I pour this draught for Earth to drink Sans word or reverence, as my sire was slain, And homeward pass with unreverted eyes, Casting the bowl away, as one who flings The household cleansings to the common road?” (Aesch. Choeph. 96-99).
The sense of the ‘rubbish offerings’ seems to be the removal of chthonic substances inimical to household veneration of the Olympian deities to a well-defined separate place where their influence would remain, harmless/within its proper sphere. If we accept that the establishment of Olympian-Chthonic boundaries is the essence of purification rites, then the transferal of symbolic dirt (presumably it is from a ritual house-cleaning, and not merely ordinary garbage) to Hekate is entirely comprehensible.
These instances of simple and household worship support the assumption that Hekate is essentially a part of folk-belief. This interpretation fits all the surviving references, and seems supported by Hekate’s omission from the Homeric corpus: a peasant and underclass deity, and apparently a women's deity, would hardly be proper company for the aristocracy's gods, (53) though she would logically have commanded the veneration of the farmer Hesiod.(54) This harmonizes with her rising popularity in the Hellenistic period, with its interest in folk culture and antiquarianism.
What may be a further document is that we find Hekate particularly identified with the lower classes. Hellenistic poets call Hekate by the Cretan name Eileithyia (a birth-helper and, by the paucity and poverty of the mainly clay offerings at her cave, a goddess who favored the poor. (55) The record of Hekate offerings strengthens this assumption:
“Chremylus: ask Hekate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month and that the poor make it disappear before it is even served. (Aristoph. Plutus. 593-97) (56) to which the scholiast:
“At the new moon, the first of the month (57) at evening, the rich sent a meal to Hekate as an offering to three-roads Hekate. The poor showed up ravenous, ate the things and claimed that Hekate had devoured them there is a variant tradition that it was usual for wealthy persons to leave a loaf of wheat bread (artos) for Hekate, and for the poor to take from these --as beggars live on sacred offerings.
Though it was usual, it was not strictly speaking permitted — hence the humor of Aristophanes' description. That these were not in fact charitable offerings was observed by Wilamowitz (G.d.H. 1: 170) and confirmed by Theophrastus’ description of the “Superstitious roan”:
...and if he observes anyone feasting of the garlic at the crossroads, he will go away, pour water over his head, and summoning the priestesses, bid them carry a squill and a puppy around him for purification.(58)
I.e., pinching the garlic cloves offered to Hekate constitutes an offense. Along with these considerations we may again note that witchcraft is universally held to be concentrated in poorer more backward areas (above I: A: 4) and the placement Hekate’s shrines at the crossroads, not only the haunt of ghosts but of thieves, prostitutes and other such “liminal” characters, harmonizes with our picture of a “low” Hekate.
One further area of piety should be mentioned: the curse-tablets, which come to be found in significant numbers by the end of the fifth century. Inscribed with a somewhat legalistic enumeration of woes to be visited upon the victim, and placed in a tomb, these hexes often replaced their invocation of death with a call to the gods of Hell: Hermes Katachos, Gaea, Persephone (for the uninitiated), the Erinnyes, the Praxidikai, Pluto, the Moirai and Hekate.(59) The date of their appearance suggests that a popular black-magic began to be associated with Hekate only from the fifth century, which tallies with her conflation with Enodia.
By the household and popular character of her worship, the cheapness of her offerings, the explicit statements of the writers who chose to treat of her, Hekate in actual worship is a part of folk belief and particularly dear to women (as household-goddess) and the poor (who shared her offerings.) Her character is represented in popular worship as generally beneficent and apotropaic, as befits a fertility goddess. Her association with purificatory offerings such as the dog, fish, and garlic, her appearance on the curse-tablets, and her explicit role as Mistress of Trash, confirms her un-ouranian and chthonic character.
The ecstatic, orgiastic and frenzied character of Hekate and witch-rites is so well documented that we are justified in looking deep for its roots. On the one hand it is an ambiance generally associated with the rites of an agricultural Great Mother. Thus it comes about that the Roman Ceres has the power to send madness, as do her ghostly attendant spirits, the Larvae; the early Latin word for madness is larvatus (Plaut. frg. 48; Amph. frg. 6 and 8, Leo.) and “the insane are called cerriti or larvati. those who are attacked by Ceres or a Larva (“cerriti, larvati, qui aut Cerere out larva incursentur” (C.G.L. 5: 650).)(60)
A more direct parallel would be Hekate's sister-goddess from Asia-Minor, Kybele, whose wild rites so astonished the ancient world that Kybele became almost an abstract emblem of frenzy.(61) We have Apuleius’ circumstantial though biased description of her rites as involving cross-dressing, shouting, dancing, music, self-flagellation and wounding, and a trance from which the priest returns to his senses to reveal the Goddess' messages. Catullus gives a corroborative account of the Corybantic ecstasy, particularly useful for its description of the music and notable for its depiction of ecstatic self-castration (Cat. 63).
Ecstasy of this sort was more or less common to Near-Eastern religion.
Though attempts have been made to trace its "origin" to Thrace and Asia Minor, it seems to have been a constant and universal phenomenon, particularly as regards Cult prophets.(62) The Sumerians describe a shaman-like “man who enters heaven” and the Canaanite cult of Baal included ecstatic seers (1 Kings 18:19 ff, 2 Kings 10:19, )(63) while the transports of the Hebrew prophets require no comment. It would accordingly be rather surprising Hekate, as an agricultural Great Mother from the Near East, didn't include ecstasy in her rites.
We possess both indirect and direct testimony that Hekate shared with Kybele the power to produce madness: on the one hand Hekate rose to her highest pitch of popularity the fifth century, in the context of the Peloponnesian war which saw the introduction of a number of emotional, orgiastic cults -- Kybele, her Thracian counterpart Bendis, the Thraco-Phrygian Sabazius, and the dying gods Attis and Adonis.(64) A similar influx of ecstatic divinities was seen during the second Punic war in Rome (Livy, 25.1).(65)
The time of Hekate's rise to general acceptance is then in itself a clue to her character. There is also explicit testimony from this period to bear out the assumption, as Dodds points out.(66) Of the two lists of powers believed in the later fifth century to be associated with Madness --in neither of which curiously Dionysus figures -- both include Hekate and Cybele. The one list, by Euripides (Hipp. 141 ff.)t adds Pan and the Corybantes,(67) while Hippocrates (Hier. Nous. 4: 16-33) attributing the various symptoms of epilepsy to various gods (cramps in the right side due to the Mother of the Gods, horselike whinnying to Poseidon, e.t.c.) makes the onslaught of Hekate and the Heroes responsible for night-terrors, madness, leaping up from bed and rushing out of doors (30-33). The Euripides passage is worth quoting in full: here the chorus describes Phaedra maddened by love:
“Maiden, thou must be possessed (entheos) by Pan made frantic or by Hecate, or by the Corybantes dread, and Cybele the mountain mother. Or maybe thou have sinned against Dictynna, huntress queen, and art wasting for thy guilt in sacrifice unoffered. For she doth range the lakes' expanse and past the bounds of earth upon the ocean's tossing billows. (Eur. Hipp. 141-150)(68). The (semi-Jesus) water-walking, like fire-walking or other such paranormal feats, are universal tokens of ecstasy — attainment of a superhuman state.(69) Finally, Hekate is invoked in the magical papyri as a sender of paroistresis “painful frenzy” (P.G.M. 2498-90) specifically, and generally asked to harry and madden the various recalcitrant objects of the love spells. A connection between Hekate and ecstatic modes of worship is also reflected in from her nymphlike features -- her physical appearance and her cave, both of which are attested in the Demeter and form the standard depiction on vases. The nymph figure should not be considered as separate from and inimical to Hekate’s great-mother status, but rather an aspect of it -- for the nymphs are, as we have seen above, also kourotrophoi.
Nymphs were considered capable of inflicting madness on anyone who saw them at midday, the hour of their manifestation, emerging from the waters, e.g., Tiresias who saw Pallas and Charilco, or Actaeon who came upon Artemis and her nymphs. This is at root testimony to the ambivalence of water which on the one hand destroys and dissolves and on the other fertilizes and germinates.(70) And, it should be noted, one of the Greek terms for madness is nvmpholeptos “siezed by a nymph” (71). When we find then Hekate as a nymph, we should bear in mind not only its signification as a symbol of child-nurturing and fertility, but its relation to frenzy -- which is rooted in its association with water. That destructive and fertilizing qualities are attributed to water on the spiritual plane as well as the physical may be supported with a few examples: water is a universal symbol of the Imagination (the Phereian Spring of Greek poetic inspiration, the similar Norse Well of Imir;) and water as a symbol of the dissolution of personality is found in the Greek Lethe and the Hebrew “waves of Death” the ‘mishbre ha maweth’. The notion that the moon, with its puzzling and profound relation to water, produces madness is probably of a piece with this. The point here is that although an ecstatic mode of worship is common to the agricultural great goddesses (72) madness and ecstasy will be particularly pronounced in those who are also associated with water (and finally the moon) as is Hekate, who is honored with fish sacrifices and genealogically made the mother of sea monsters.
Proceeding to the Roman record where we first begin to have really circumstantial and satisfying accounts of witchcraft (for now the depiction of witches displaces that of Hekate for reasons to be set forth in Part Two,) we have these depictions of Hekate's minions: in Horace,
“…ergo negatum vincor ut credam miser Sabella pectus et cremare carmina
that is, witches can, like Hekate, inflict madness or ecstasy.
Nay the hag's food be mixed with blood. Hay the cup she puts to her gory lips be bitterly charged with gall. Nay ghosts flit round her always, bemoaning their fate, and the fierce vampire bird shrill from her roof; and she herself, frantic from hunger's goad, hunt for weeds upon the graves and for bones which the wild wolves have left, and with middle bare run and shriek through the towns, and a savage troop of dogs from the crossways chase her from behind.(75)
I cannot here begin to sort through the passage's kaleidoscopic profusion of images, nor need one to appreciate the poem. Tibullus had very little interest in witchcraft — his references to it are brief and conventional, with the exception of this passage where the heaped confusion testifies to a contempt for the components. In the course of this study every feature will find its treatment — for now we need only note the infliction of madness. Going from the witches1 ability to inflict madness to their capacity to embody it, we find much of the Bacchante about Horace’s witches.
In the fifth Epode we find:
But Sagana, with her skirt tucked up high, sprinkling through all the house water from Lake Avernus, bristles with streaming hair, like some sea-urchin or a racing boar.(77) Again in the Satires we find Canidia and Sagana in a furious condition: Vidi egomet nigra succinctaxn vadere pal la Canidiam, pedibus nudis passoque capillo, cum Sagana maiore ululantem: pallor utrasque fecerat horrendas aspectu. scalpere terrain unquibus et pull am dive Here mordicus agnam coeperunt;(Hor. Sat. 1: 8: 23-28)
My own eyes have seen Canidia walk with black robe tucked up, her feet bare, her hair dishevelled, shieking with the elder Sagana. Their sallow hue had made the two hideous to behold. Then they began to dig up the earth with their nails, and to tear a black lamb to pieces with their teeth.. (78)
The disheveled hair and particularly the digging and tearing with bare nails and teeth similarly suggest bacchante-like condition. Likewise Ovid's Medea:
nine procul Aesoniden, procul nine iubet ire ministros»
Far hence she bade Jason go, far hence all the attendants, and warned them not to look with profane eyes upon her secret rites. They retired as she had bidden. Medea, with streaming hair after the fashion of the Bacchantes, moved round the blazing altars.. (79) -- the parallel with Bacchic frenzy is underlined by the insistence that all uninitiated keep away.
Similarly Dido invoking Hekate and Chaos is ‘crinis effusa sacerdos’, “priestess with streaming hair” (Vir. Aen. 4: 509.) Seneca's Medea shows a yet more pronouncedly Near-Eastern character, reminiscent of the priests of Baal who slashed themselves to heighten their frenzy in their prayer-contest with Elijah, or the self-flagellating Cybele-priests described by Apuleius: her children's nanny declares vidi furentem saepe. "I've often seen her raving," (SEN. Med. 673,) attonito gradu (Sen. Med. 675,) “staggering, stunned” with reference to Medea's stalking off to invoke Hekate's aid, and in the course of that evocation she behaves like a priest of Cybele: she declares
“...tibi nudato pectore maenas sacro feriam bracchia cultro. manet noster sanguis ad aras: assuesce, manus, stringere ferrum carosque pati posse cruores — sacrum laticem percussa dedi”. (Sen. Med. 805-11)
“.. .to thee with bared breast will I as a maenad smite my arms with the sacrificial knife. Let my blood flow upon the altars; accustom thyself, my hand, to draw the sword and endure the sight of beloved blood. Self-smitten have I poured forth the sacred stream”. (80)
Special Note: Genita Mana.
We have record of dog sacrifice to Genita Mana, “the good birth-goddess”, whom Tabeling identifies with Mania, the Mater Larum. He shows that manus is an archaic Latin word for good, also used as a euphemism for ‘dead’. Parallels such as Zeus Meilichios (gentle, mild), Eukoline (content, friendly) for Hekate (Et. M.. s.v.). and of course the Eumenides, come immediately to mind. Dogs were sacrificed to Genita Mana so that no harm should come to household members. (Plut. Quaes. Rom. 52; Plut. N.H. 29: 58.)
Tabeling as usual uses Hekate as the outside parallel to establish Genita as a manifestation of Mania, citing further the association of dogs with the Lares Praestites, whose altar they adorned (Ov. Fast. 5: 139 ff.)(81) Again, little light is cast on the meaning of the hound-sacrifice, but we at least find that it is not unique to Greece as an apotropaic propitiation of a chthonic goddess, particularly in relation to birth and children.
Tabeling, Mater Larum, pp. 90-92
Special Excursus: Legba.
Here we’ll examine a certain African fertility and sacred-pole god who, after being transferred to the new world, becomes associated with the crossroad, and develops a lunar and supernatural side analogous to that of Hekate when fused with Enodia. The parallel is offered to lend plausibility to our model of Hekate's development, and particularly valuable since we know almost nothing of Enodia or the reasons why she was fused with Hekate. Seeing a similar syncretism in another context may show the logic of process in Hekate's case, even if it cannot provide the precise details.
In Dahomean theogony the original androgynous creator god Nana-Buluk gives birth to the twin regnant sky-gods, Mawu, the moon (who is female), and Lisa, the sun (who is male) (82).
The first six offsprings of Mawu and Lisa inherited the various realms (earth, sky, sea, animal realm, air etc.;) Legba, the last-born, arrived in a world where all the realms had been already apportioned: accordingly Mawu made him her representative in all of them.(83) Legba is then, like Hekate, a “World-Tree” Iggdrasil character, bridging the planes of being. This leads to his having, like Hekate, the particular role of intermediary, which is mythologically explained by Mawu-Lisa (84) having assigned to each god a different and mutually incomprehensible language appropriate to their respective realms.
Legba alone is given knowledge of all, hence his role as interpreter.
“Therefore if any of the children of Mawu-Lisa, on earth or elsewhere, wish to address their parents or each other, they must transmit their messages through Legba, for they can no longer communicate directly. Thus Legba is everywhere; he is found even before the houses of the vodu (spirit, deity) themselves, and this is because all living creatures must address themselves to him before they can be understood by the gods”.(85)
In an extension of his interpreter's function, Legba interprets Efl (Destiny), the “writing” of Mawu, through, the patterns of the thrown palm-nuts or cowrie shells. He performs this service both for mankind (86) and the other gods.(87) The role of divine go-between may lead to the mediator's being held responsible for the success of prayers and petitions — and this may be in part behind the ambivalence which Hesiod ascribes to Hekate, stating that whom she wishes to she either helps or hinders in any of the enumerated spheres of activity. Such is certainly the case with Legba:
“They (messengers from the sky, prophets of Mawu) also said that every man has a god whom he must worship, but that without Efl he can never know his god, and that it is therefore necessary that all inhabitants of the earth worship Legba, for if they fail to do so, Legba will refuse to reveal to a man the writing that is his destiny; that if they do not address Legba first, he will not give to man the good things that are destined for him. Each day, they continued, Mawu gives the day's writing to Legba, thus telling him who is to die, who is to be born, what dangers this one is to encounter, what good fortune that one is to meet. And when Legba has this information, then, if he wishes, it is possible for him to change the fate in store for any man”.(88)
We must then be chary of assigning the ambivalence of Hekate exclusively to the changeable mature of a Mother goddess -- such may be intrinsic to a deity who acts as go-between in prayers, as a result of his being blamed for their unsuccessful reception. This very point is made somewhat cynically in the tale “Why Trickster has a Bad Name”
Now it is said that in those days Legba did nothing without instructions from Mawu. But when there was evil, and the people cried out and went directly to Mawu, Mawu said to them, “It was Legba who did that”. All the people began to hate Legba. One night Legba went to see Mawu to ask her why, when there was evil, she called his name? Mawu said to him that in a country it was necessary that the roaster should be known as good, and that his servants be known as evil.(89)
Though not directly suggested by Hesiod's narrative, such a disposition would fit in with his program of Zeus aggrandizement and his assertions of Zeus' absolute justice.
In Dahomey Legba is the first addressed in prayers; so he continues in Haiti, where he was brought by the slaves. Legba is the first god saluted in all ceremonies as the god who makes communication with the god-realm possible: his assistance is implored in the following terms:
(song of greeting to Legba):
Legba, because of his crucial role in communication between humans and gods, and even among the gods themselves, is identified in Haiti with St. Peter(91) — a well-known catholically oriented person who holds the keys of heaven and earth. This calls to mind Hekate, whose priestess is called “Keybearer” in a temple inscription, and who is herself given a key as attribute in the Magical papyri.
Legba is also in Dahomey an apotropaic fertility god, represented in front of every house by a small earth-mound in which is planted a wooden or iron phallus.(92) When represented in human form, it is "...as a torso and head or full length, and modeled in clay. If the Legba is one of a person of consequence, a fantastically large and erect penis is in evidence, and a jar, molded into the base of the figure at the front where offerings are placed, completes the statue.
About the central figure carved wooden statuettes representing the wives of Legba are placed, and the whole complex is sheltered by a conical thatched roof, the peak of which is perhaps no more than three feet above the ground.(93) This fertility god acquires his perpetual priapism when his wife Gbadu (i.e.. Fa) so cursed him for having slept with their daughter Minona.(94)
Almost a similar narrative story is told of Persephone and Hermes (Cic. de Nat. Deor. 3: 22: 56), which we mentioned above in our discussion of the Great Mother's consort -- we shall frequently be making the point of Legba's similarity to Hermes. This will not vitiate the parallel we are drawing between Hekate and Legba: the Hermes analogies are only drawn in where Hekate is prevented by her sex from manifesting her nature in the same way.
To return to the message of the sky-prophets,
This calls to mind the Hekataia before the Athenian houses, which it was customary to consult before going on a journey. Whether this consultation was a matter of conferring or of consulting an oracle is uncertain.
Legba keeps this character in Haiti where he is given the epithet “Mait’-bitasyon” - “Master of the Dwelling”.(96) In fact, his Priapus-like figure is set up everywhere, and especially in the market place, at the gateways, and at the crossroads. (97) Later we shall return to the fateful character of this last placement.
In Dahomey Legba is the god above all others sacrificed to in childbirth,(98) and also receives signal honor in marriage rites.(99) So in Haiti, Legba is addressed in prayers at childbirth with the words that emphasize his combination of fertility and gate-opening associations, “Open the road for me...do not let any evil spirit bar my path”.(100)
Similarly the Near eastern sacred-pole goddess Asherah was invoked in childbirth, as Patai conjectures,((101) where he interprets the cry of Leah when her maid Zilpha gives birth, b’ashri. (Gen. 30: 12) as “with Asherah’s help”.
Hekate's role in birth has been adequately discussed above.
Inevitably Legba, as a god with birth and realm-crossing characteristics is also associated with initiation. But though Netraux mentions Legba many times in this context, it is always in his peripheral character of initial facilitator. One thinks of Hekate at the entry to the mysteries, and her similar station only in an introductory poem in the book of Orphic Hymns.
As one would expect after these copious instances of sacred pole symbolism, the most vital of all, that of world-tree, is not lacking. Though in Dahomey this appears principally in Legba's multi-realm range and role of intermediary, the symbolism is explicit in Haiti in the poteau mitain, the pole set up in the center of the Voodoo temple by which the gods (Loa) descend, which is also called the poteau Legba — that is, Legba is explicitly identified with the sacred pole that symbolises his activity, precisely as Hekate, who accesses the three worlds, is with the hekataion.
In Haiti Legba came to be especially posted at the crossroads, just as Hekate occupied Enodia's station. Thence he comes to have, under the epithet Mait'-carrefour (102)— a connection with sorcery.
In fact Mait'-carrefour would be a very adequate translation, adjusting for gender, into Creole, of Enodia. Thus many Haitian-magic formulae begin “By thy power, Master of the Crossroads”.(103) This association leads to Legba's possession of a double nature in Haiti: just as in his primary identity of Legba he permits the entry of the divine, he facilitates, as Carrefour, incursions of the demonic, the powers which magicians employ, in an inversion of Legba's primary role, to cause infertility and impotenceJfo/1 Legba also protects against these demons, just as Hekate is supposed by the Greeks to have done at her crossroads shrines. Finally, Legba is identified with the Sun and Carrefour with the Noon, and Carrefour is considered to be at the zenith of his powers at midnight (104). Legba's ambivalence is the twin of Hekate’s -- and represented by similar solar/lunar referents. It also worth here recalling that Dahomean Legba is the son of the Sun (Lisa) and the Moon (Mawu). Perhaps the best overall explanation of this recurring pattern of solar/lunar genealogy for sacred pole deities, is that an intermediary or world-tree deity tends to be associated with all liminal conditions — of time as well as space. Thus we may read the genealogies of Hekate and Legba as placing their world-spanning family trees “at the crossroads of day and night”.
Legba was not, in Dahomey, particularly associated with the physical crossroads. Aiza is the spirit that possesses that station: its earth-mound is placed beside every compound, principal crossroads, city-gates, and the entrances to the country's districts, as well as the marketplace, where it is usually placed beside a sacred tree (105). The exact functions of Aiza seems to be analogous to the Roman Lar, a combination of ancestor-spirit and boundary-marking roles. Aiza is the impersonal power that holds the sib (patrilineal clan), district or community together as a self-conscious group; (106) variant traditions describe Aiza mound as the abode of the spirit of a sib's tohwivo (founder), and indeed the resting place of his bones, and, conversely, as the non-mortuary shrine of a protective vodu (spirit)(107). The more extended powers of Aiza seem similar to those of Hermes: it is given offerings on the basis of its help in commerce,(108) and has an important if ancillary role in religious ceremonies, particularly initiation (109).
The crossroads themselves have some association with sorcery in Dahomey: for example, during a smallpox epidemic, which is viewed as a punishment by the earth-god Sagbata (the pox is seen as an illness which makes “the grain men have eaten come out on their skin”) for general wickedness: to allay it, men and women must confess their wrongdoings and all sorcerers must throw away their paraphernalia at the crossroads.(110) Similarly, on a person's death, his magical protective charms (gbo) are either buried with him, or thrown away at the crossroads or near the family Aiza mound.
This excursus on the Lar-Mercurius-like Aiza is to show that in Dahomey Legba was not associated with the highly developed crossroads deity: once in Haiti, Legba, the sacred-pole fertility god is somehow associated with the crossroads and immediately becomes the god of sorcerers. It cannot be known whether Legba met in Haiti an Enodia-like deity whom he fused with, or whether (and I think likelier) a number of related concepts from Africa were telescoped into the Haitian Legba.
In either case the parallel with Hekate is instructive, for she presents the similar complication of a sacred-pole and fertility deity by fusion with a crossroads spirit.
The alteration in Legba after his arrival at the Haitian crossroads is made even clearer when we consider that in Dahomey he does not possess a funereal aspect: a man's relation to his Legba ends with his funeral, at which the Legba statue that stood guard before his compound is desacralized and shattered.(111)
Curiously the dog is associated with Dahomean Legba, and indeed is his creation. The association is that he is, like Legba, a leader of men along roads, and this creature's reverent nature is signalized by his habit of burying things — interpreted as making offerings for the ancestors.(112) Also, should dogs eat the offerings left at the always outdoor Legba shrines, they are considered to be accepted by the deity.(113) Both the path-leading and offering-eating capacities of Legba's dogs provide an interesting commentary on Hekate's hounds.
Dahomean Legba is associated with magic, which he invented, but his relation to it is more like Hermes than Hekate. He created it as a prank (magic snakes to bite people so he could sell them cures), and thereafter gave the magical arts to a man named Awe, who is the culture-hero for magic. Awe is a of type human audacity, similar to Sisyphus or Spiel Hansel — he makes a charm that incapacitates death, climbs to heaven on a thread as long as a day and a night to challenge Mawu to a knowledge contest, etc. Though
Legba is technically the origin of magic, Awe is the great magician.(114)
Also, magic is not distinct from religion in Dahomey: Gbo (a term sometimes translated as ‘charm’ or ‘fetish’) is a general power which all the gods possess: there is no cultic practice without it: there are a vast range of gbo for every aspect of life, and indeed it constitutes the least organized but most pervasive Dahomean religious activity.(115)
Sorcerers or azondato do exist in Dahomey: they are those who have traffic with unquiet ghosts, and create zombies.(116) Among their reputed powers are the ability to change into bats or other animals. These are not however entirely mythical persons — unpopular or ill disposed persons may acquire the reputation of an azondato(117)— not surprising in a society where everyone makes use of gbo. Their patron is Minona, Legba's mother or sister, but this may not be taken as evidence that Legba is particularly involved in sorcery. The guilds of gbo manufacturers, who are a legitimate and integral part of Dahomean society, are as a whole vowed to the fa. deities, to which Legba and Minona belong,(118) and so the azondato may be expected to have a particular relation to one of these ?a. related gods without compromising them. Minona does not suffer a loss of esteem or trust from this aspect of her nature: ordinarily an altar to Minona, who is the goddess of Woman, would stand in house of a man's first wife.(119)
Haitian parallels in popular worship for these kindred spirits, Hekate and Dahomean Legba, are not lacking: in Haiti we find the manger-mort feast ritual offered the dead, of which, in contrast to the tradition of Greek chthonic sacrifices, the living partake after it has been symbolically presented — thereupon a calabash full of the food is placed at the crossroads for Legba,(120) precisely like Hekate’s “nocturnal banquets”.
Further, Legba is non-syncretically represented as a feeble old man dressed in rags, pipe in mouth, haversack over his shoulder, leaning on a crutch whence his nickname Legba-pied casse, “Legba Lame-foot”. In this guise he is identified with St. Lazarus and St. Anthony the Hermit.(121) Generally imagined as a ragged old man who wanders the highways, he is associated, like Hekate, with the poor and the marginal, thieves and prostitutes, all who frequent the crossroads at nightfall. (122)
The Legba-Hekate comparison is of course not exact. Hekate, as she appears in the Greek record is above all an Agricultural Great Goddess (though no doubt she was far more complex in ancient Turkey): we possess only a simplified outline of Hekate. It is above all her personality that eludes us in the absence of her myths. Legba however comes to us as a highly developed trickster, much like Hermes. We will give one example.
The Dahomeans think of the cosmos as ruled by the pantheons, or better families, of sky, thunder (including rain and sea) and earth deities, a threefold mirror of Dahomean society run by the king and his officialdom. The role of Legba and Eft is not only in making known the wishes and intentions of the gods, but for cleverly circumventing them, much as one bribes, cajoles or best of all outwits the bureaucracy -- a pastime which the Dahomeans greatly relish.(123) Now Legba is especially noted for keeping the celestial government at bay: finding that Mawu is keeping too close an eye on his activities, for in those days heaven was only a few feet above the earth, he persuades an old woman to throw her dishwater up rather than simply away, drenching daily the intrusive Mawu — a practice which finally brought about the present elevation of sky from earth.(124)
What is important to show here is that Legba is very much like the Greek Hermes, from his roguish persona down to his association with roads and (later) magic, and that like Hermes, Legba is not particularly infernal. It is only on his removal to Haiti and his placement at the crossroads that he becomes decidedly a god of sorcerers.
Similarly Hekate, who shares the fertility and sacred-pole characteristics, whence the world-tree character, with Legba, is as an agricultural goddess only partially associated with the dead, as a moment of her becoming. On her removal to Greece, she is placed at the crossroads and she becomes decidedly the goddess of sorcerers. This parallel should add general plausibility to our model of Hekate's basic nature and eventual demonization.
(1) Cum poetarum autem errore conjungere licet portenta magorum, Aegyptiorumque in eodem genere dementiam, turn etiam vulgi opiniones, quae in maxima inconstantia veritatis ignoratione versantur. (Cic. De Nat. Deo. 1: 16: 43) For a curcomstanital account of ancient vulgar superstitions nothing could be more encyclopedic than the 28th book of Pliny's Natural History.