Isadora Duncan: Touched by Terpsicore

“The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.
The true dance is an expression of serenity;
it is controlled by the profound rhythm of inner emotion.
Emotion does not reach the moment of frenzy out of a spurt of action;
it broods first, it sleeps like the life in the seed,
and it unfolds with a gentle slowness.
The Greeks understood the continuing beauty of a movement
that mounted, that spread, that ended with a promise of rebirth.” Isadora Duncan

I’ve been fascinated with the 1920s since I was a little kid and delighted in the occasional Chaplin film on cable, so it’s not at all surprising that I’d come across the career of Isadora Duncan.

Duncan is regarded as the creator of Modern Dance (though in dance communities, this is sometimes hotly debated). While Modern Dance performances are clearly similar to ballet in some ways, the Modern Dance movement in the early 1900s was born from a distaste that many dancers had with what they perceived as a rigidity and “unnatural movement” in classical ballet. While there are now several schools of Modern Dance, Duncan’s dance was based on the dance depicted in ancient Hellenic pottery, sculpture, Graeco-Roman mosaics and neo-Classical Renaissance art and sculpture.

If we seek the real source of the dance, if we go to nature, we find that the dance of the future is the dance of the past, the dance of eternity, and has been and always will be the same… The movement of waves, of winds, of the earth is ever the same lasting harmony.” Isadora Duncan

Though she did have formal teachers giving her a background in classical dance, she ultimately rejected much of this training for improvisation and a sort of Neo-Pagan Romanticism. She once famously proclaimed that the Goddess Aphrodite Herself taught Ms Duncan in the art of dance on the beaches of California.

Her parents were once wealthy, but became rather poor shortly after Isadora’s birth, when her father lost his bank; her parents later divorced when she was seven-years-old. The experience of growing up impoverished, she and her mother and sister giving music and dance lessons to support the family, likely bred her Communist ideals, which would later lead her to defect to Russia. In spite of gaining Russian citizenship, she lived her last years in France, as well as a significant portion of her life prior.

“There are likewise three kinds of dancers: first, those who consider dancing as a sort of gymnastic drill, made up of impersonal and graceful arabesques; second, those who, by concentrating their minds, lead the body into the rhythm of a desired emotion, expressing a remembered feeling or experience. And finally, there are those who convert the body into a luminous fluidity, surrendering it to the inspiration of the soul.” ~Isadora Duncan

Despite being clearly a subversive influence on the world of artistic dance, she never completely fit in with Bohemian crowds, but her free-spiritedness and natural draw to shake up convention kept her from truly assimilating into high society. In some respects, her nature could be seen as Dionysian.

Though posthumously, she’s been idealised by some as a sort of radical femme-inist of the school of “sisters doin’ for themselves” because her dance schools were famously all-girl, early on she sought to include boys amongst her pupils of dance and philosophy, but ultimately, it was financiers who made the decision for her single-sex education in dance, and men trained in a lineage that can be traced back to Isadora Duncan herself, while increasing in number, are still rare; I know of only one male dancer to have ever been directly taught by Duncan herself. While examinations of her personal life definitely show many feminist sympathies (and also a bisexual with at least one noteworthy and passionate affair with another woman), she refrained from identifying her socio-political ideaologies as anything more than Communist, Socialist, or Marxist, which is easily argued to be inherently feminist, if not explicitly, much less radically so. The ultimate downfall of her schools, though, was her idealism; even her school in Moscow at a time of the early days of Russia’s totalitarian form of Communism suffered financially because the state had not yet made a suitable provision for the arts that could keep the school afloat, and Duncan was so firm in her belief that commercial performances cheapened the artistry she taught students to value, that she’d just as soon close a school left in the charge of a star pupil than tolerate her students performing on a commercial stage. In honour of her value of art over money, Duncan legacy dance troupes are largely non-profit.

Love is an illusion; it is the world’s greatest mistake. I ought to know for I’ve been loved as no other woman of my time has been loved. -Isadora Duncan

Her style of dance she always stressed to be very natural in its approach to the movements of the body, and improv is a major element to Duncan’s style of modern dance (though the choreography is often surprisingly intricate). Emotion and the expression of through the whole body with dance is another defining characteristic of Duncan’s style. Unlike ballet, which tends to place greater value on women dancers who are especially light-weight, and often with an unspoken mantra of “the lighter the better”, Duncan dance values any body that can move with the natural grace and convey the emotions integral to a piece; though this often means fans of ballet and some other dance regard Duncan dancers as “fat” and “out-of-shape”, the inherent athleticism in Duncan dance illustrate that Duncan dance not only keeps one in good physical condition, but also that the movements celebrate all shapes and sizes of graceful. Typically performing in bare feet, hops, skips, leaps, and arm movements tend to be regarded as the most basic elements of Duncan dancing, and Grecian-inspired dance costume is clearly preferred by Duncan herself, and those continuing to dance in her lineage.

The only surviving / known film taken of her dancing is not only extremely short, but clearly gives more attention to Isadora’s costume adjustment than her dance, which is shown as little more than a few hops. The circumstances under which this film was shot, I do not know; it’s likely that it was an experiment taken by a friend, or perhaps setting up the equipment took so long she had become tired. This is certainly not representative of the great dancer that shook up the art world and caused a sensation in the Early Twentieth. For more representitive video, there is no shortage of video of dancers of the Isadora Duncan legacy.

Interestingly, for all of Duncan’s glorifications of the Greeks, Aphrodite, Eros, the Moisai, the Khairetes, and all her applause for the wisdom of the Greeks and the inherent natural beauty of her reconstructed Greco-Roman dance, the music she selected, and that is still popular with dancers of the Duncan legacy, is movements by Romantic composers, and often music not written with dance performances in mind. This rather odd choice, all things considered, still lends to a graceful and beautiful interpretation of the music, I can’t help but wish to see Duncan dance performed with reconstructed Greco-Roman music.

Off the stage, Duncan was a flamboyant character, being practically immune to the typical ill effects of scandal, and a well-regarded eccentric. She rejected Christianity for Classical and Neitzchian philosophy, eagerly entertained Romantic Neo-Pagan imagery of her own character, and often read tarot cards for friends, strangers, and herself. Still, for all her fabulous life, it was marked with great tragedy; her marriages ended bitterly, her children died in a tragic automobile accident, her own life cut short when her excessively long scarf she regarded as something of a trademark wrapped around the axle of her Amilcar, choking her, then snapping her neck, then nearly dragging her body down the street just as her lover realised what was wrong. She died at fifty, but not before leaving an indelible impression on not only dance, but all of the arts (having inspired painters and sculptors).

Cult of Haides


I) KORONEIA Village in Phokis

Strabo, Geography 9. 2. 29 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“When they [the Boiotians] got the mastery of Koroneia [in Phokis after the Trojan War], they built in the plain before the city the temple of Athena Itonia . . . Here, too, the Pamboiotian Festival used to be celebrated. And for some mystic reason, as they say, a statue of Haides was dedicated along with that of Athena.”

Calendar update

The New Boeotian Calendar will be uploaded in the next few days. In my own mind, I should have had it done by now, so I’m kind of beating myself up over not having it done already.

Haides & Persephone

Zeus laid with Demetre, wishing to take Her on as a second wife, but Demetre not only cared of Her sister Hera’s objections, but simply wanted Zeus for no more than to become a mother, and so Hera found no reason to be jealous. When Demetre gave birth to Persephone, all rejoiced, and Demetre took to doting on and indulging the young Goddess.

…but time flies when one is having fun, they say, and so Demetre took no real notice of the fact that Persephone had become of age to be wed, and Zeus, assuming Demetre was paying attention, had betrothed Persephone to Haides, who had taken a liking to the girl. On the day agreed upon, Haides took Persephone from the Boiotian town of Livadeia with Him to the underworld, and Demetre asked Persephone’s friend, the naiad Herkyna, what she saw.

Herkyna relayed to the Goddess that Haides had informed the girls that by the arrangement of Zeus, Persephone was to be Haides bride, and so by tradition, She was to leave with him. Persephone and Herkyna were playing with Persephone’s pet goose, and Haides approach frightened the poor bird into the cave of Trophonios. Persephone went after it, assuring Haides of Her hesitance to go with Him to the underworld, at least until She had informed Her mother, but Haides, overwhelmed and impatient, chased the goose further into the cave, causing Persephone to go after it, then further down, down, down…..

In the underworld, Persephone didn’t fear re-crossing the river Styx, for She knew in Her immortal state, She had nothing to fear, but She admitted that She couldn’t remember the way back out, and Haides refused to tell Her, preferring attempts to coax the girl to stay with Him, hoping to assure Her that He meant Her nothing but the eternal love that only the lord of the dead could show — for what is more eternal, save the deathless ones, than death? In perfect love, Haides offered Persephone a pomegranate, which She finally accepted when She realised that Haides had denied Himself so that She could live in luxury as Queen of the Underworld.

Above-ground, Demetre flew into a rage upon learning that Zeus had arranged a marriage for Persephone without Her permission, casting Gaia’s face into an ice age until Zeus finally swore to let Their daughter return to Demetre, but by then, Persephone had already eaten the pomegranate and sealed Their marriage, but Demetre, still furious, insisted that it was only because Haides had tricked Persephone, and refused to accept a life where She wasn’t an active eternal mother.

In compromise, Zeus proposed that for a quarter of the year, Persephone would be with Haides, and for the opposite quarter, She would live with Demetre, and during the times in-between, She could travel freely between the worlds. The result of this that we see is the seasons.

Notes on Hekate of Boeotian mythos

In Thebes, there was a woman named Galinthias. She was a midwife who delivered Herakles from the womb of Alkmene, her childhood friend. Alkmene’s pregnancy offended Hera, and cursed the young woman’s birth pains to never cease. Galinthias, worried her friend would be driven mad, first appealed to Hekate, who concluded that the curse was placed by another Deathless One, and She could not remove those, but perhaps appealing to the right Deity would earn the sympathies of the one Who could. Deciding No-One higher up than the Moirai, for even the other Theoi were bound to Their tapestry, Galinthias then appealed to the Moirai, Who Themselves were becoming exhaused by the sound of the laborous woman’s screaming, and removed the curse in order to hear Themselves think.

When Hera realised Alkemene had given birth to a son, Herakles, She spoke up that Her own curse had become removed because a silly girl took advantage of the Moirai in Their confusion. The Moirai concluded that Hera was technmically correct (the best kind of correct) and it was decided that Galinthias’ fate was to be transformed into a ferret, a creature that looks most absurd in mating and birth labour. Hekate, though, was sympathetic to Galinthias and the girl’s desires to remove Hera’s curse, and did not fault the girl for failing to discover that it was Hera who cast the curse, and therefore only Hera who could be appealed to lift it. Out of kindness, Hekate made the ferret one of Her sacred workers on Gaia’s face, and in Thebes, the animal was held in esteem as the nurse of Herakles, their native Heros.

By Hesiod’s account, Ouranos and Gaia begat Koios (the Titan Theos of the North, also “the Inquirer”) and Phoibê (the “Bright”, the Titan Theon of prophecy); Koios and Phoibê begat Perses (the Destroyer) and Asteria, the Titan Theon of the Stars, astrology, and necromancy. It is Perses and Asteria Who are the parents of Hekate.

As per the playwright Aeschylus, Phoibê is regarded as the previous oracular deity of Delphi, later succeeding Her reign and bestowing Delphi as a gift to Apollon, Her grandson via Leto. Phoibê is also associated with the moon. Asteria, after the Titan war, was pursued by Zeus, but She did not want Him, and so first transformed to a quail, then lept into the sea, swam out, and became the island of Delos, where Apollon was born.

It is through Asteria that Hekate inherited the gift of necromancy and oracles from the dead. Some ancients also may have believed that Asteria was also worshipped as a goddess of prophetic dreams.

Though Hesiod names the mother of Kirke as Perseis (Destroyer) and Her father as Helios; Diodoros Siculus names Kirke’s parentage as that of Hekate and Aeëtes. Some also regard Perseis as an epithet of Hekate, though it seems Hesiod gives Perseis a genealogy distinct from Hekate, and Perseis’ mother is Tethys (“Nurse”) and Okeanos. It’s therefore easy to see Perseis and Hekate as one-in-the-same, as these themes are recurring and may be considered too lofty for an Okeanid. Light bearing. Destroyer. Nurse. Sight.

If one is to syncretise Kirke then as a daughter of Hekate Perseis, this undoubted maintains Hekate’s associations with practising witchcraft rather than merely casting spells and curses Herself for the mortals who supplicate Her.

By Hesiod, Kirke is the mother of Odysseus’ immortal son Latinus, father/ruler of the Tyrsenoi, who have since been identified with the Etruscans, and also Telegonos, Whose story is the subject of the now-lost Telegony, which only exists in summary.

The Scholia of Pindar seem to identify Hekate and Perseis with the name Khariklo (“Graceful Spinner”) who is identified in these notes as the daughter of Perses and Okeanos — and also a daughter of Apollon. Even without meditating on this, this gives the appearance of further linking Hekate and Apollon.

These notes also revive previous themes, as Khariklo is identified as the wife of the Centaros Kheiron, the mentor of a young Dionysos and also Asklepios.

Hekate in My Home

After moving to the house I’m living in now, the *very first* shrine I set up after unpacking was actually not Eros — it was Hekate.  Hekate protects the boundaries of the home, She guards entrances and exits.  She’s one of the liminal deities, existing in the in-between spaces; Her domain is that few inches of wood or earth that is both and neither inside nor outside a door or a gate, the intersection of the crossroads where the possibilities of where to go are endless for only the moment before you decide, and She exists within that moment.  She’s the box that contains Schrodinger’s cat, and the period of time when the creature can be considered both alive and dead, before you open the lid to discover which it is.

Logically, I had to put up Her shrine first.

That said, while She’s a Household Goddess, Her role in this aspect is clearly more the “anti-Hestia” than as Hestia’s partner.  Hestia is the inviting Goddess, the one who warms the hearth and the people before it.  She’s the baker of the bread while Demetre is the provider of the grains and Kore the miller of flour.  Tradition, Prosperity, Continuance:  These Goddesses are the inviters, the personable ones, They make the home.

Hekate, on the other hand, the “worker from afar”, “She who drives off” — She is the lion at the gate, the dog who circles the perimeter, the horse in the stable who’s ready to take the household off at a moment’s notice.  She’s the household Goddess whose function is to keep watch of those outside the home, not to bring abundance to those within it.  She wards off ill-intent and gives pass to those with good, for they in the know will know that they have done nothing to offend Her.  She is the porchlight and the horseshoe over the threshold; she is the deterrant of theives, and the trapper of spirits of ill-intent; She is not the bountiful Goddess, breathing increase and prosperity — indeed, there is nothing in Her mythos that suggest this is at all Her concern for mortals.  It is Tykhe who blesses the house, who grants us and ours with plenty.

Hekate is very focused in Her purpose in human affairs; it’s tempting, at this point, to liken Her to a Mafia Dame running a protection racket, except that She won’t break your legs when you forget to leave a penny, She just won’t stop those who are inclined to do so.

As such, the Deipnon is the time of purging the bad energy and odd malevolent spirit who managed to enter the house during the month, offer Hekate a meal in hopes that She will take them back to the hole they came in from, so a Deipnon ritual is best performed at the gate of the household or a crossroads, and never at the household shrine.  At the old apartment, I’d take the Deipnon ritual to the door of the apartment, and take the meal to a hidden place outside the building; if this was not an option, I would’ve either created a separate shrine for Deipnon purposes only, or (if space was at that much of a premium), spent a significant portion of time before the Noumenia rit to perform purification.  The Deipnon isn’t “whatever you want it to be”, it’s a cleansing, a supplication for a spiritual sweep-up after a physical sweep-up, it is, in a nutshell, asking “Hekate, this household has accumulated negative spirits both seen and unseen; we offer you this meal in hopes that you take these entities far away from this home.” This is not supplication for bounty, this is a supplication for loss. I absolutely agree with those who say that to mix Hekate’s Deipnon and a suppliance for prosperity, to blur the lines of the Deipnon ritual with the Noumenia, is to create a spiritual pollutant

It can be good to lose things like disease and incontinence and enemies and just plain bad luck. Hekate is the one who can properly banish these negative spirits and others. This may make room for good fortune and prosperity, but it is not Hekate Who brings that us those gifts; the room for prosperity is a side-effect of Her actions, not Hekate’s work itself.

While I can understand why modern Hellenists may want to re-envision Hekate as a household Goddess of increase and prosperity, one who cares for the less fortunate, that’s really not Her domain. The passage from Aristophanes often cited, commenting on the poor in ancient times who would eat the meals left for Hekate, is frankly not a suggestion that this was a rationalisation for charity in that time — Aristophanes was, first and foremost, a comedy writer, a satirist, and this was a comment on the assumed impiety of the poor, no matter how necessary it may have seemed for basic survival, who would rather take from a goddess than to ask for charity when needed. To take the work of a comedian lampooning the social climate of his day and use it to paint a “sweetness and light” image of a rather frightful and spooky goddess is, in my opinion, rather fluffy. In maths, we learn that to remove negative numbers, we must first bring it up to zero, neutrality. That’s what Hekate does: By asking Her to remove the spiritually vile and to prevent its influx from recurring, Her goal is to merely maintain Zero, not to increase beyond that. As a household goddess, Hers is apotropaic magic; she’s the guard-dog snarling at invaders, the polecat killing mice and other vermin that would take our storage of grains and cheese (which doesn’t seem an apt metaphor for “tending to the less fortunate”). These are among her sacred animals for a reason, for She is the one who removes that which might harm us.

Inside the door, I have a wall sconce with electric candle and my painting for Hekate, and also a large decorative key with a hook for household keys — my housemate doesn’t use it, but I doubt the Klêidouchos maiden is offended. I also keep a garden wall sconce with a lion at the edge of the porch; it has a crack, and was dumpster-dived, but most people don’t notice the broken spot, and in my defense, I’ve been brainstorming what to do about repairing it in a way that looks nice.

Boeotian Theoi: Hekate

[Please note: I want to apologise for skipping over Demeter and Kore at the time I had allotted for Them. Sometimes I think I’ll feel up for doing something, and then allergies or carpal tunnel syndrome, or whatever else goes wrong. I also must confess that I’m not the best at managing the time I have, in part cos I’m just too easily distracted.]

Hesiod, Theogony 404 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
“Hekate whom Zeus the son of Kronos honoured above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honour also in starry heaven, and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods . . . For as many as were born of Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Heaven) [the Titanes] amongst all these she has her due portion. The son of Kronos [Zeus] did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea. Also, because she is an only child, the goddess receives not less honour, but much more still, for Zeus honours her.”

I’ve found little about Hekate’s shrines specific to Boeotian traditions, but Hesiod apparently considered Her of great importance, and there is evidence that She was a widespread household goddess, with a a shrine at household gates, and at crossroads. At the deipnon (dark moon), the ancients left Her a meal, outdoors, as an offering. In Popular Wicca, She’s often cast as the “crone” aspect of the uniquely modern archetype on the “triple goddess”, while Demetre and Persephone occupy the “Mother” and “Maiden” faces. Indeed, in Hellenic art, Hekate is consistently maiden, young woman, and Hekate Trimorphis is simply all Hekate. According to Pausanius, Hekate Trimorphis was first depicted in art as triple-headed or triple-bodied by the Attic artist Alkamenes, and came much later than the Triplicate imagery of Hekate that’s incredibly popular with Pop Wicca. I don’t reject Hekate Trimorphis images because they are “newer” and thus somehow not “proper recon”1. Indeed, if the only “correct” way to see Hekate is the oldest way, then She should be an invisible Goddess, appearing only as a glimpse of light from the corner of one’s eye, rather than the single-bodied maiden bearing torches. I don’t reject any image of Hekate, and though I see a more spiritual meaning of the epithet, I can see the value in portraying it literally.

She also had an important role in the cult of the Elusinian mysteries. She assisted Demetre in Her search for Persephone after Persephone was taken away to the kingdom of Hades. I’ve never had much interest in the Elusinian mysteries, so unless this changes, I’m going to leave any discussion of them to people who know more about it and have a better understanding of it than I do.

One of the proposed etymologies of Her name is either giving origin to or coming from an obscure Lesbian epithet of Apollon, Hekatos, meaning “one that removes or drives off” or “far-darting one”. The most common offerings to Hekate in ancient times were to ward off evil spirits, as Hekate is the goddess of magic, witches, ghosts, and necromancy; She also is given messages to deceased loved ones. The pharmakis, or witch, Gale, was cursed by Hekate for moral incontinence and became the polecat, which some Hellenes kept as housepets for their vermin-catching abilities. There really needs to be more imagery of Hekate with a lion and / or ferret.

The most common animal associated with Her is dogs, but I’ve always thought of lions when envisioning Hekate, and Theoi Project maintains a very brief sourced passage that one of Her forms is that of a lion, so I assume this personal association as Confirmed Gnosis, though probably not without help of cultural influences, including the English and U$ custom of statues of lions at the gates and doorways of important buildings and stately homes (or even just homes and estates that aspire toward stateliness).

1: …and for the record, it’s been AGES since I’ve seen some-one actually make such a ridiculous claim for rejecting a certain image or aspect or even deity, I even forget the name of the person who did it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if other people continue to say it, and I just haven’t noticed.