Hekate's Ceremonial Attire & Ritual Objects
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Dagger, knife or short sword
Throughout history, there are many representations and images of works where Hekate holds a dagger. In the Argonautica Hekate is described with a blade to cut the “Caucasian herb”, and Medea cuts the throat of a ram in sacrifice to Hekate. In the Aeneid, there are used the same way:
“The Sibyl [performing the rites of necromankia at the oracle of the dead at Cumae]”.
“Calling aloud upon Hecate, powerful in heaven and hell. While others laid their knives to these victim’s throats, and caught the fresh warm blood in bowls, Aeneas sacrifices a black fleeced lamb to Nox (Night)”.
The dagger is a symbol of ritual power and more than likely one of the precursors of the modern-day athame. Hekate’s knife might represent many different purposes, most of which are speculative as we don’t have all the information surviving from ancient times. Suggestions include that it represents the knife she uses to cut the umbilical cord in Her role as a goddess of childbirth (though this is unlikely, as we don’t see daggers used by other goddesses linked to childbirth in the same regions and pantheon). The knife might symbolise Her role as a goddess who governs not just birth, but also life and death; it might represent her sovereignty, power (magical and otherwise), and of course as a practical tool for gathering herbs.
Fire has long since been revered in history as a primordial element, for its power, warmth, domestic mundane uses, and its magical uses. However, it also has a visionary aspect. In all forms of religion, spirituality, and faith, we see the use of fire in the hearth, as a bonfire, a guiding light, and candlelight, for cleansing, cooking, brewing, etc. With fire being one of the four most called on elements (five if you count Aether/Spirit), as a symbol it is consistently used in ritual, meditation, visualization, psychic, or divination work.
Hekate is (among other deities) known as Phosphoros meaning “light-bringer” or “lightbearer.” Hekate’s affiliation with Helios, the Greek God of the Sun can be found in ‘The Homeric Hymn II To Demeter -, the story of Persephone'. This link would incorporate Hekate’s association with fire for the use of fire for lighting Her Torches as part of her role as Psychopomp. With this She can also enter into the Underworld and return again, withstanding the fiery depths of Hades with its/his ‘fire-flaming’ river the Phlegethon.
In the Chaldean Oracles, fire in relation to Hekate is in the form of lightning, more precisely, the Lightning Womb:“The Oracle says that a certain divinity sends forth thunderbolts and also a womb to receive those thunder/lightning bolts; the womb belongs to Hekate” 33. Again in ‘The Epiphany of Hekate‘, fire is distinctly associated with her appearance and the word “lightning” in The Chaldean Oracles and in this instance can be understood to mean something like “fire from heaven”.
Golden Screpte (staff, wand)
There is a reference to a sceptre of Hekate in PGM IV, 2741-45. She wears an eternal diadem and holds a golden scepter. Which are both connected to Kronos. There is an inscription on the scepter that Kronos himself inscribed into it:
Dammo, Damnomeneia, Damasandra, Damnodamia.
And Kronos gave Hekate this sceptre to wear it, so that everything may last forever. In Lautwein’s book, he describes the sceptre as a symbol for Hekate as a Goddess of fate and necessity who rules over the phases of nature, the cycles, and the cosmic order. He translates the inscription of the sceptre as: “Zwingerin, Mittbezwingerin, Mannbezwingerin, Zwangbezwingerin.”
The herald’s wand is associated with Hekate in the “Charm of Hekate Ereschigal Against Fear of Punishment” PGM LXX.
“If He [i.e., a punishment daimon] comes forth, say to Him: ‘I am Ereschigal, the one holding her Thumbs, and not even one evil can befall her!’ If, however, he comes close to you, take hold of your right heel and recite the following: ‘Ereschigal, Virgin, Bitch, Serpent, Wreath, Key, Herald’s Wand, Golden Sandal of the Lady of Tartaros!’ And you will avert him. ‘ASKEI KATASKEI ERO’N OREO’N IO’R MEGA SAMNYE’R BAUI (3 times) PHOBANTIA SEMNE, I have been initiated, and I went down into the underground chamber of the Dactyls, and I saw the other things down below, Virgin, Bitch, and all the rest!’ Say It at the crossroad, and turn around and flee, because it is at those places that she appears. Saying it late at night, about what you wish, it will reveal it in your sleep; and if you are led away to death, say it while scattering seeds of sesame, and it will save you.”
In the Pseudo-Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hekate is described as a torch-bearing maiden that wears a shining headband. The epithet that is used in this description of Hekate is Liparokredemnos, which is translated as “with shining headband, bright coiffed or with gleaming veil”. One of the Charites also had the epithet Liparokredemnos (Iliad Book 18). The Charites were depicted in some Hekataia (three formed statues of Hekate) dancing around the three bodies of the Goddess. The Charis that was described as Liparokredemnos was later named Aglaia in the Theogony of Hesiod. Aglaia is also an epithet/form of Hekate in the Neoplatonic writings of the Chaldean Oracles.
On some statues, Hekate was crowned by a diadem that looks like rays of light that emerge from her head. This also could be connected to the epithet Liparokredemnos too. Additionally in the PGM ( PGM IV, 2786 ff), she wears a diadem that she received from Kronos and it is this diadem that is connected to the golden sceptre that is described in the same text and that she also received from Kronos. See the statue of Hekate of Chairamonte (in the Vatican Museum, Rome) which shows Hekate in triple form, with one crowned with the rayed crown – many have compared this with the image of the Statue of Liberty, USA which look notably similar.
In Hekate Soteira, Johnston states that the key was a symbol for Hekate from at least Hellenistic times onwards. The keys she held were for opening Hades and the “bars of Cerberus”. Her epithet kleidouchos means “key-bearer.” The Orphic Hymn to Hekate names her “keyholding mistress of the whole world” for her role in opening the gates to the underworld and deciding who went to the Elysian Fields.
There was a ceremonial procession at the Temple of Hekate in Lagina (part of Ancient Greece and Rome, now in modern Turkey) the kleidos agoge “procession of the key” which may also be related to her role as a guardian against evil and of boundaries, as many of her shrines were kept in doorways and entrances to cities and temples.
The PGM makes numerous references to Hekate as holder of the keys, and remarks of keys being magical objects. Keys are the only way to unlock a locked door thus whoever possesses the key has the power and ability to open that which is locked away and hidden. Hekate, as keeper and bearer of the keys, has the divine power to unlock the mysteries.
It is possible that the idea of a lamp originates from the use of fire, which can be seen from the archaeological record as being regularly used by 350,000 years before the present. Around the 7th century BC, the Greeks began making terra cotta lamps to replace handheld torches. The word lamp is derived from the Greek word lampas meaning torch.
Hekate had a retinue, the Lampades (or Lampads). They were the torch-bearing chthonian Nymphs of the Underworld, companions of the Goddess Hekate. They, like Hekate, were associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries where the celebrants carried torches during the nocturnal mystery rites.
“Some say there are many kinds of Nymphai, eg. Naides and Lampades and Thyiades . . . Lampades those who carry torches and lights with Hekate.” by Alcman, Greek Lyricist of the C7th B.C., fragment 63.
Her titles of Hekate Dadouchos (torch-bearer), Hekate Phosphoros (light-bringer/light-bearer), and Hekate Purphoros (fire-bringer) further connect her with the lamp or lamps in the many forms they represent. The lamp is symbolic as well as actual; it is the guiding light of Hekate, the twin torches, the lamp that was placed at the crossroads to light a wayfarers choice of passage, or if you were lucky, Hekate would be holding the lamp for you as you approached the crossroads.
The lamp is the dawning or awakening to the information Hekate has guided us to by taking us through the dark to emerge into the light mentally, emotionally, metaphysically, psychologically, and physically. Also, see Torches and Fire.
Sandals (Bronze or Gold)
In the text ‘On Images’ by Porphyry Hekate is mentioned as “the goddess of the brazen sandals”. Bronze sandals are also linked to Hekate in the PGM – see PGM IV 2241-2358 for an example.
Known epithets relating to torches for Hekate include Phosphoros (light bringer) and Dadophoros (torch-bearer). The Homeric Hymn to Demeter says that Hekate came to Demeter on the tenth day after Persephone disappeared holding a torch. Depictions of Hekate may show her carrying one, two, four, or six torches – the torch being the constant symbol.
Lampads & Hekate
Lampads were thought to be torch-bearing nymphs who were companions to Hekate. They may have represented the priestesses of Hekate in Eleusis.
There are many examples of depictions, inscriptions, icons, and literature where Hekate is shown or described as being a torch-bearer. These are some examples:
• A Lekythos from 500-450 BCE shows Hekate (or Artemis) crowned and holding a pair of burning torches. A drinking cup from a similar time period also shows either Hekate or Artemis with dogs holding two torches.
• A vase showing the departure of Triptolemos, ca 470 BCE shows a female figure holding two torches that could be Hekate.
• In the vase painting of the Gigantomakhia, ca 400-390 BCE, Hekate sets the hair of Klytios ablaze with her two flaming torches. Another vase painting from 410-400 BCE also shows Hekate immolating Klytios with her torches.
• From 350 BCE, a pelike shows Hekate standing between the enthroned goddesses, Demeter and Persephone holding a pair of burning torches.
• Another vase painting scene from 330-310 BCE shows the journey of Orpheus to the Underworld and includes Hekate carrying two torches and standing nearby.
• On another vase from the classical period, Hermes leads Persephone forth from the Underworld where she is greeted by the goddesses Demeter, and in this image, Hekate carries a pair of burning torches.
• Greek Magical Papyri, a love spell describes Hekate as “torch-bearing”.
• Porphyry also writes of the appearance of Hekate including her lit torches.
Purpose of Torches
The above-mentioned artifacts provide clues on the purpose of Hekate’s torches.
· In the war against the Titans, Hekate uses her torches as weapons to help Zeus and the other Olympians. She kills the giant Klytios by immolation, using her torches.
· In the paintings showing the story of Demeter and Persephone, the purpose of the torches appears to be guiding Persephone on her journey. The torches provide illumination for the traveller and the seeker of the Mysteries. It is a symbol of Hekate’s role as psychopomp, a role in which she is given the title of Propolis (follower and preceder).
· In Hekate’s role as the Cosmic Soul in the Chaldean Oracles, the two fires of her torches acquire cosmological significance. One fire is of the Ideas from the “First Intellect” and the second fire is the Demiurge who shapes and forms the material world. As the bearer of these fires, Hekate separates them from each other, She receives the first fire and transmits it to the lower world where it becomes the second fire of the Demiurge.
Eugen Petersen quoting in The Rotting Goddess describes two types of Hekate representations, one with libation bowls and long torches, and the other with short torches, whips, serpents, and keys. Roman-era figures show the whip or scourge, a knife and small torches. It has also been interpreted as a rope symbolising the umbilical cord and her role as a midwife, perhaps also of psychopomp.
(From the Hekate ritual at PantheaCon 2013) “The knife for making sure the road is open, and the scourge for making sure of the going!”. Also, see Circle for Hekate v.1 for other examples and interpretations.