Hekate & Witchcraft

I find it hard to bring up Hekate and not express my thoughts on Hekate and Witchcraft.

For starters, it’s impossible to deny with fact the deep and ancient connection Hekate has to witchcraft. It’s also damned near impossible to sugar-coat the ancients’ view of this goddess as rather frightening in a way.

Euripides and Apollonius Rhodius portray Medea as a priestess of Hekate, and by Apollonious’ account, she only assisted Jason because Hera had convinced Eros to make Medea fall in love with Jason. It is also by Apollonious’ account that Medea of of blood-relation to Kirke, Who, by the benevolence of Zeus, cleansed Medea and Jason of the miasma of murdering Medea’s brother — and this cleansing took place after several instances where Medea used her craft to the aid of Jason. To simply be a witch in ancient Hellas was not a great crime, nor was it apparently regarded as something frowned upon by the Theoi.

The murder Medea committed against her own children seems to be an invention of Euripides, as earlier poets (as early as the 7th Century BCE) described their death variously as an accident or at the hands of Corinthians. By Theban tradition, Medea also cleansed Herakles of the murder of Iphitus, and remained in Thebes under His protection until she was eventually driven out in spite of their Heros’ protests.

There is no single internally consistent narrative of Medea, and the use of her character as a cautionary against witchcraft in specific seems to be an invention of Seneca the Younger, who was later adopted by early Christians as being allegedly posthumously baptised by the Apostle Paul (who is the source of the majority of what it wrong with Christianity). Ovid, drawing more directly from Hellenic mythology and folklore, paints still a tragic Medea, but one more sophisticated than a morality tale. Pindar also cites Medea as a founding seer of the city of Cyrene; Herodotous describes her as the founder of the Medes people, and others describe Kolkhian colonies venerating Medea as a foundation heroine after staking out to discover her tomb; even today, the Kolkhian (West Georgian) city of Batumi maintains a statue of Medea at the centre of the city, assuring us that one tribe’s “mad deceiver-sorceress-child murderess” is another tribe’s Founder Heroine. By Diodorus Siculus, Hekate is the mother of both Kirke and Medea, further cementing Hekete as a Theon who looks favourably upon the practise of witchcraft.

The witchcraft of Medea seems to be predominantly herbal magic and the invocation, or supplication of deities —mainly Hekate— and spirits, and this is what Kirke is portrayed as practising, as well. Whether or not the Theoi approve or disapprove of these spells incantations and potions is apparently based on intent: If the pharmakeia is using this as a tool of aid to others, or benevolent self-improvement, or throwing curses justly toward another, then one is in Their favour; if she has unjust ill intent toward another, or is seeking self-improvement with malevolent intent, then the Theoi act accordingly. Kirke, being a Goddess, seeks to attack Odysseus and his men with Her own magic, but Odysseus is given guidance by Hermes to a magical herb to protect himself — then hijinks ensue, and Odysseus and Kirke are wed and, by Hesiod’s account, She bore him three sons.

That said, pharmakoussai were viewed suspiciously in ancient Hellas, and the kult of Kirke in particular seems to be mostly contained to the Pharmakoussai Islands (Farmakonisi) off the coast of Attika, and the Kirkaion Mountain (Mount Kirkeo) in Latium, where Athene was also worshipped. It’s hard to really make a clear distinction in a lot of rituals that are defined as “magic” what it supplicatory of the Theoi and what attempts to coerce Them, and this can be confusing or even seem hubristic to an outsider, but frankly, in some spells and incantation, the only ones who really know is the practitioner and the deity(s) addressed, and is it really any-one’s place to say that a Deity is being coerced or controlled when the practitioner and the Deity both know that is clearly not the case? Even outside of Kirke’s cult, specifically, there was no shortage of pharmakoussai mixing herbs, selling amulets and curse kits, and performing simple divinitory rites outside of the ceremony and auspices of the public oracular shrines. Their main purpose seemed to be to sell medicinal and/or mood-altering herbs with specific instructions and generally be ignored or whispered about in-between — that’s not necessarily a sign of Divine disfavour so much as a sign of social disfavour; likewise, there were people whose sole function in the local community was to handle funerary rites so that the family didn’t have to pollute themselves with it, and while there is certainly writing warning us of the spiritual pollutant of handling the dead, even earning us an Olympian disfavour, clearly the very purpose these people took on earned them Khthonic favour, while also earning all the whispers and assumptions of others. There also seems to be a strong link between pharmakoussai and necromantic rites and oracles. One could argue, I suppose, that funerary rites are necessary and witchcraft is not, and I’d agree that in most cases witchcraft probably isn’t necessary, but at the same time, in certain climates and taking on a raw food diet, fire wouldn’t be necessary, but it’s still a tool that the Theoi have given us, and its necessity, its good use, or its ill use is all what we can make out of it: I can move to a Polynesian island and eat a raw diet and I’d never need fire again, and could maintain reasonably healthy, but I’d also know there is only so much space on a Polynesian island, and only just so many Polynesian islands to go around, that clearly fire is necessary to some people and it has to be.

If the Moirai have decided that some-one’s fate shall include the mastery of magical herbs and incantations, then that person will fall upon that path, and it would be within the will of the Theoi that they are doing so. Whether they use that tool for necessity, for good, or for ill is also something that would be offered to them by the Moirai, as would whatever retribution that other deities deem necessary. That said, clearly Hekate will only have so much of an interaction with the majority of Hellenists, but Her closer bond with Her pharmakoussai is something I wouldn’t too eagerly denounce — I mean, really, the “why not” should be obvious. 😉 But really now, I’m not here to bad-mouth another Hellene’s work/service to a deity, especially when all the real evidence suggests that the Theoi only have really specific incidental issues with whitchcraft — just like the issues They have with sexual intercourse are very specific.

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One thought on “Hekate & Witchcraft

  1. Pingback: Miscellanea « The House of Vines

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