Sacred Fires of the Summer Solstice

I love the Summer Solstice. We are at the height of summer, where the Sun it at it’s strongest and the day is the longest of the year. Even though summer will have some of the hottest temperatures in the days and weeks ahead, the sunlight begins to wane ever so slightly each day after the Solstice, until the wheel turns to the Autumn Equinox where light and dark is once again balanced.

Midsummer is a time when the Earth’s bounties are ripening towards harvest, and we are celebrating the light and warmth of the Sun’s eternal power, which in turn helps give life to growing crops. In ancient Greece, the Summer Solstice was said to mark the start of a new year. It was also when preparations for the Olympic games were said to begin.

Each Midsummer’s Eve, I light the sacred fires in my  backyard at sundown, and then again at sunrise the next morning. I call on the power of the Sun to bless our land and home, and to give thanks for all that we have.

Fire is transformational. It destroys, and out of that destruction comes creation and new beginnings. This year’s Summer Solstice was even more auspicious than usual since it also coincided with the New Moon; another time of transition and new beginnings because the New Moon marks the start of a new lunar cycle.

As a devotee of Hekate, She is honored at every transition of the lunar phases. This Solstice celebration was especially powerful and poignant due to the celebration of the Solstice and New Moon together.

As I lit the flames that Midsummer’s Eve, I began my incantations to the Sun, and to Hekate. Thunder pealed overhead from a storm that was passing just to the North of me. I love thunderstorms; the raw power of the thunder and lightning  is awe-inspiring and electrifying; and while that particular storm wasn’t directly overhead, it’s power was still very much felt, acknowledged, and honored.

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Photo © 2020 Melissa McNair, The Torch and Key

Hekate in Magna Graecia: Bosco Littorio

 

Bosco Littorio

This location, the Greek Baths in Gela in the province of Caltanissetta, deserves a mention although information is scarce. It is situated on the southern Sicilian coast, and some curious archaeological remains were found here. Named the “archaic emporium”, the remains of three stone altars dating to approximately 6th century BCE were found. One depicted Medusa the Gorgon, the famed sea creature of Greek myths who had snakes for hair and turned anyone to stone who dared to look at her. With Medusa were her children Pegasus and Chrysaor. Another altar depicted Eos (goddess of the dawn) kidnapping Thanatos (personification of death). The third altar is showing a trio of female figures but they have yet to be positively identified. All three altars are currently on display in the Regional Archaeological Museum of Gela.

It is also worth noting that some type of catastrophic natural disaster happened here, possibly a tsunami preceded by an earthquake, around 480 BCE. Numerous shipwrecks were found in the vicinity and no archaeological remains dated from after that time have been found there.

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Altar figure of a trio of females – Bosco Littorio – from Wikipedia


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Hekate in Magna Graecia: Scyllaeum

 

Scyllaeum

Scyllaeum is another colony in Magna Graecia, and was home to the mythical sea monster Scylla (or Skylla). Scyllaeum was located in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. The Hekatean connection here is parentage. In Appollonius Rhodius Argonautica, Hekate Krataiis (epithet meaning “rocky” or “mighty”) and the sea god Phorkys were parents to the sea monster Skylla:

“Ausonian Skylla (Scylla), the wicked monster borne to Phorkys (Phorcys) by night-wandering Hekate (Hecate), whom men call Kratais (Crataeis).”

Skylla was a sea monster that haunted the rocks in the waters off the coast, and any ships that sailed too close would lose their men to one of Skylla’s many monstrous heads. Skylla was situated between the coast and a whirlpool of Kharybdis, another sea monster that threatened ships in the waters off the coast. Another passage from the Argonautica details the warnings given against Skylla and Kharybdis: 

“[Hera commands the sea-goddess Thetis to guide the Argonauts safely past Skylla (Scylla) :] ‘And do not let my friends [the Argonauts] be so unwary as to fall into Kharybdis (Charybdis), or at one gulp she will swallow them all. Nor let them go too near the hateful den of Ausonian Skylla (Scylla), the wicked monster borne to Phorkys by nigh-wandering Hekate (Hecate), whom men call Kratais (Crataeis)–or she may swoop down, take her pick and destroy them in her terrible jaws. What you must do is so to guide the ship that they escape disaster, if only by a hair’s breadth.’”

Strabo described Scyllaeum as a projecting rocky headland that juts out into the sea, joined to the mainland by an isthmus that forms a bay on each side. The village is active today and is known by the name of Scilla, and boasts a little over 5000 residents. It is primarily a fishing village, and it is also an active tourist destination.

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Scylla as a maiden with a kētos tail and dog heads sprouting from her body. Detail from a red-figure bell-crater in the Louvre, 450–425 BCE. This form of Scylla was prevalent in ancient depictions, though very different from the description in Homer, where she is land-based and more dragon-like. Image from Wikimedia.

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The Rock of Scilla, Calabria, which is said to be the home of Scylla. Image from Wikimedia.


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Hekate in Magna Graecia: Cumae

 

Cumae

The Cumaean Sybil is a well-known figure in Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as one of the most well known oracles in Magna Graecia. Cumae was a Greek colony located near coastal Naples in southern Italy, belonging to Magna Graecia. The Latin word “sybil” comes from the Greek word “sibylla”, which means “prophetess”.  The Cumaean Sybil quickly became famous across southern Italy, and gained favor with Rome, with people coming from afar to hear her prophecies, much like the Delphic Oracle in Greece.

The Sybil was said to reside in a cave, and called on Hekate to enlist Her aid in necromantic rites, as written in Virgil’s Aeneid, where Aeneas was attempting to reach the underworld:

“[The Sibyl performs the rites of necromancy at the oracle of the dead at Cumae] : The Sibyl first lined up four black-skinned bullocks, poured a libation wine upon their foreheads, and then, plucking the topmost hairs from between their brows, she placed these on the altar fires as an initial offering, calling aloud upon Hecate, powerful in heaven and hell.”…..” But listen!–at the very first crack of dawn, the ground underfoot began to mutter, the woody ridges to quake, and a baying of hounds was heard through the half-light : the goddess was coming, Hecate. [A path was then opened for the Sibyl and Aeneas to journey on through the underworld.]”

The rites that the Cumaean Sybil performed to Hekate always took place within the cave in Cumae where the Sybil resided.

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Entrance to the cave of the Cumaean Sybil – from Wikimedia


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Hekate in Magna Graecia: Enna

 

Enna

Enna is located in central Sicily, and according to Diodorus Siculus, is the famed mythical location for Persephone’s abduction, which was said to have happened near Lake Pergusa. Enna was one of the most prominent locations in Sicily for Demeter and Persephone’s cult. Near Lake Pergusa is an archaeological site known as Cozzo Matrice, where one will find the remains of a fortified village believed to be dated to about 8000 BCE. Other archaeological remains date back to a little over 2000 years old, and they include a citadel, remains of a necropolis, and remains of a temple to Demeter. Today, the area of Lake Pergusa is home to a park called “Proserpina Park”, named after Persephone (Proserpina or Proserpine is how Persephone was referred to by the Romans). Nearby, the Rocca (or Rocco) di Cerere Geopark is now known as the land that was once consecrated to the chthonian deities of the Eleusinian mysteries, and their power and presence is very much felt to this day.

The story of Persephone’s abduction and Demeter’s subsequent search is recounted in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in which Hekate plays a very prominent role. It is also lays the foundation for the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Persephone was picking flowers, when Hades emerged from a nearby cave and stole her away to his realm in the underworld. Hekate and the sun god Helios witnessed this abduction, though Hekate did not see it happen; She only heard Persephone’s cries for help. Demeter wandered all over the earth for Persephone for nine days, and on the tenth day Hekate appeared before Demeter to tell her what She had witnessed, as told in this passage from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter:

“But when the tenth enlightening dawn had come, Hecate, with a torch in her hands, met her, and spoke to her and told her news: “Queenly Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of good gifts, what god of heaven or what mortal man has rapt away Persephone and pierced with sorrow your dear heart? For I heard her voice, yet saw not with my eyes who it was. But I tell you truly and shortly all I know.”

Together, Demeter and Hekate went to Helios to ask for his help in finding Persephone. Helios told Demeter where her daughter was taken, but also tried to tell her that she should remain where she was. Demeter did not want to accept that, and continued to wander until she ended up at Eleusis, where she decreed that a temple be built in her honor. During this time when Demeter was in despair, the earth and it’s fruits wasted away. Zeus took notice of the suffering of the earth and it’s inhabitants, and arranged for Hermes to mediate between Hades and Demeter for Persephone’s return. Hades agreed, but, tricked Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds, which then forever bound her to the underworld for part of the year. Persephone and Demeter were reunited, and Hekate joined them in their reunion. From that moment on, Hekate became Persephone’s torch-bearing guide to and from the underworld twice a year. One of Hekate’s epithets is “Propolos”, which means “guide”.  From the Homeric Hymn to Demeter:

Then bright-coiffed Hecate came near to them, and often did she embrace the daughter of holy Demeter: and from that time the lady Hecate was minister and companion to Persephone.”

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Rocca di Cereri – Enna – from Wikimedia

 


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Hekate in Magna Graecia: Segesta

 

Segesta

Segesta was a colony located on the northwest coast of Sicily, near current-day Castellamare del Golfo. There is an almost perfectly preserved Doric temple in Segesta, though it was never completed. The temple’s origins are shrouded in mystery; no one can seem to figure out why or for whom it was built.  Segesta was originally settled by the Elymians, believed to be from Anatolia (modern day Turkey), and they arrived in Sicily around 1200 BCE.  Nearby, in Eryx (also known as Erice, also settled by the Elymians), Astarte was worshipped, with a temple dedicated to her in Eryx. Astarte was later conflated with Venus by the Romans; Aphrodite would be the Greek counterpart to Venus. Pottery fragments found in the Segesta area show that they had been engraved with Phoenician and Greek letters and symbols.

Hekate was associated with Aphrodite in a 6th century BCE fragment of Greek lyrics attributed to either Sappho or Alcaeus:

“[Hekate] the golden-shining attendant of Aphrodite.”

The great temple of Aphrodite at Eryx was written about by Strabo and Pausanias, both prominent Greek writers in antiquity.

There is also a traditional Greek amphitheatre in Segesta. Parts of it were decorated with scenes of the nature god Pan, though those images have faded over time. Amazingly, this amphitheatre is still in use today for various outdoor events.

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Temple of Venus Erycina – Segesta –  Wikimedia


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Hekate in Magna Graecia: Pachynus

 

Pachynus / Pakyhnos

According to the Greek poet Lycophron, who lived around the 3rd century BCE, a cult of Hekate was located in Pachynus (Pakhynos), Sicily. Today it is known as Capo Passero, and it is the southernmost tip of Sicily. It is located in the province of Syracuse (Siracusa), a major Greek colony in Magna Graecia and a thriving city today. Nearby, there is the small town of Pachino, which is home to an archaeological park containing temple remains to Apollo and others of unknown origin (this area will be researched further at a later time).

According to Lycophron, Odysseus erected a temple (or a shrine or monument of some sort) in honor of Hekate in Pachynus to appease the spirit of Hecuba:

“O mother, O unhappy mother! thy fame, too, shall not be unknown, but the maiden daughter of Perseus, Triform Brimo, shall make thee her attendant, terrifying with thy baying in the night all mortals who worship not with torches the images of the Zerynthian queen of Strymon, appeasing the goddess of Pherae with sacrifice. And the island spur of Pachynus shall hold thine awful cenotaph, piled by the hands of thy master, prompted by dreams when thou hast gotten the rites of death in front of the streams of Helorus. He shall pour on the shore offerings for thee, unhappy one, fearing the anger of the three-necked goddess, for that he shall hurl the first stone at thy stoning and begin the dark sacrifice to Hades.” (Lycophron’s Alexandra)

The above excerpt has some very interesting points. Hekate, according to Hesiod’s Theogony, is the daughter of Perses (and Asteria). Hekate is also known by the epithets “Hekate Triformis” (triple-formed) and “Hekate Brimo” (angry or terrible one). Hekate also had a known cult in Zerynthia, Samothrace (Greece). The mention of Helorus is most curious, though. Helorus is a river, but it is also a village next to or very close to Pachynus, spoken of by Claudius Ptolemy and alluded to by Pliny. There are archaeological remains of a theater found in Helorus, and there are also remains of a monument built with large stones and placed atop a square pedestal. The remains of this very curious monument may be found between the theater remains and the sea. There is a mystery surrounding this monument, as no one has been able to positively determine who built it or why.


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Hekate in Magna Graecia: Akrai

 

Akrai

Akrai was a colony located in the province of Syracuse in Sicily (in or near modern-day Palozzolo Acreide). The ancient ruins of this once-thriving colony are now part of an archaeological park and are home to many important archaeological remains.

One of the most notable remains of this area are that of the temple remains dedicated to the cult of “Magna Mater”, Latin for “Great Mother”, dated to approximately 4th or 3rd  century BCE. There, you will find the Santoni, a great collection of carved statues set into a rock face near this temple. There are twelve large reliefs; eleven of them depict a seated/enthroned woman, surrounded by other figures. The twelfth carving, found on the level beneath the one containing the eleven seated representations, is a life size depiction of a woman standing. All of these are believed to be Cybele. In all of these carvings, Cybele is depicted with lions. Some of the carved images show Cybele holding offering bowls or drums/tambourines.

In the carvings of the enthroned Cybele, she is depicted with other deities, including Hekate, Hermes and the Korybantes, among others. Hekate and Hermes are closely linked as they are both “Psychopomps” (guides of souls) and are known to guard roadways/travelers. Most curious is the inclusion of the Korybantes; their counterparts are known as the Kouretes/Kharites – nine dancers known to venerate Rhea. Interestingly, there is a 3rd century BCE Attic statue depicting a triple-bodied Hekate surrounded by the Kharites holding hands. This statue is known as a “Hekataion”; triple-bodied Hekate is against a central column with the Kharites surrounding Her. This statue is currently in the Glyptothek Museum in Munich, Germany.

In the Santoni relief carving that includes Hekate, She is carrying what is believed to be a long torch in one hand. This carving connects to another relief depicting Cybele, Hekate, and Hermes together. Demeter and Persephone are also believed to be depicted among the various Santoni reliefs.

The Santoni are found before the Templi Ferali, otherwise known as the “Feral Temples”, dedicated to chthonian deities. It is also believed that the great temple for the cult of Magna Mater is dedicated to Cybele, a great mother Goddess with Anatolian origins. Her Greek counterpart is Rhea. It is widely known that Hekate and Rhea/Cybele are very closely related. Hekate and Cybele are believed to be Anatolian in origin, and both have been depicted with lions. Hekate’s temple in Lagina had friezes depicting Her flanked by lions. Hekate’s association with lions is also documented in the Greek Magical Papyri (also known as the PGM) in the “Prayer to Selene for any spell”, PGM IV.2811-12. In the Chaldean Oracles, Hekate is described as appearing in lion form.

The Feral Temples also was a place for honoring the dead, in conjunction with chthonian deities. The stone walls are filled with niches to hold votive offerings. Nearby, there are stone grottoes containing dozens of oval shaped tombs. Other archaeological finds at this site include painted plaques, pottery lamps, and libation bowls.

As with many ancient cults, not much information is known about the cult of Magna Mater in Akrai. All that remains are the archaeological finds that lends some clues as to the purpose of the temple sanctuary. Akrai is also home to remains of temples belonging to Aphrodite, Artemis, and Kore-Persephone.

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Cybele – Temple of Magna Mater at Akrai – from Wikimedia


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Hekate in Magna Graecia: Syracuse

 

Syracuse/Siracusa

Syracuse (also known as Siracusa) was a major Greek colony on the southeast coast of Sicily. One of Hekate’s connections to Syracuse is through the goddess Artemis. Artemis was worshipped at Syracuse under the cult title of Artemis Angelos. “Angelos” is a title or epithet meaning “messenger” (or “angel”).  In Greek mythology, Angelos was the daughter of Zeus and Hera who eventually became a chthonic goddess. Writer Sophron explains:

“Angelos was raised by nymphs to whose care her father had entrusted her. One day she stole her mother Hera’s anointments and gave them away to Europe. To escape Hera’s wrath, she had to hide first in the house of a woman in labor, and next among people who were carrying a dead man. Hera eventually ceased from prosecuting her, and Zeus ordered the Cabeiroi to cleanse Angelos. They performed the purification rite in the waters of the Acherusia Lake in the Underworld. Consequently, she received the world of the dead as her realm of influence, and was assigned an epithet katachthonia (“she of the underworld”)

The title “Angelos” is also associated with Hekate; a votive found among the archaeological remains at the Temple of Demeter Malophoros in Selinunte was inscribed with Hekate’s name along with the title “Angelos”. References to Hekate bearing the title “Angelos” may also be found in the Chaldean Oracles and the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM). There are some spells in the PGM that call for Hekate’s aid, in addition to Her angelic assistants.

There are remains of the Temple of Apollo in Syracuse, and this temple was also attributed to Artemis. The temple was later converted to a Byzantine church; then converted to a mosque; then again reverted to a church; and it is now, sadly, in ruins.

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Temple of Apollo/Artemis – Syracuse – from Wikimedia

Syracuse is also another location  where the Thesmophoria, a female-centered rite in honor of Demeter and Persephone, had taken place, as well Eleusinian rites. According to mythology, Syracuse is linked to these mysteries via the nymph/Nereid Arethusa (daughter of Nereus). Arethusa fled from her home in Arcadia; The goddess Artemis transformed Arethusa into a stream when trying to flee the river god Alpheus. According to myth, she traveled underneath the sea and emerged as a fountain in Ortygia.

While Demeter was searching for Persephone after her abduction, Arethusa pleaded with her to end her punishment of Sicily:

“Then that fair Nympha [Arethusa] whom once Alpheus loved rose from her pool and brushed back from her brow her loved dripping hair, and said: world hast sought thy child, mother of crops and harvest, ‘O thou, divine Mother, who through the cease at last thy boundless toil and end they savage rage against land that has kept faith with thee. The land is innocent; the against its will it opened for that rape. Nor is it mine, this land I for–I, a stranger here. My land is Pisa and plead I trace my stock from Elis [in Greece]. Here in Sicania (Sicily) I dwell an alien, but in all the world is dearer now to me. I, Arethusa, have no land here my home, my heart. This land, I pray, goddess most cherish and preserve. Why I forsook my home and fared so gentle, far ocome to tell, when cares are lightened and thine eyes are ‘er the vast ocean to Ortygia, a fitting time will bright. The earth opened a way for me and I was borne deepest caverns, until here I raised my head and saw the below its stars again. And so it was that, while beneath the earth I my Stygian stream, I saw, myself with my own eyes, glided in your Proserpina [Persephone]. Her looks were sad, and fear still in and yet a queen, and yet of that dark land Empress, and yet her eyes; with power and majesty the consort of the Sovereign lord of Hell.” – Ovid, Metamorphoses

Hekate always plays a part in rites honoring Demeter and Persephone; she was one of the first to hear Persephone’s cries as she was abducted, and Hekate was her guide during her travels to and from the Underworld.


I hope you enjoyed this essay on Hekate in  Magna Graecia: Syracuse.


Sources:

  • Fischer-Hansen, Tobias (editor). Poulson, Birte (editor). From Artemis to Diana: Goddess of Man and Beast (Acta Hyperborea). Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2009
  • “Angelos (mythology)”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelos_(mythology)
  • Farnell, Lewis Richard. The Cults of the Greek States Vol. 2.  London: Oxford University Press, 1896
  • Fischer-Hansen, Tobias (editor). Poulson, Birte (editor). From Artemis to Diana: Goddess of Man and Beast (Acta Hyperborea). Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2009
  • Mead, G.R.S. Chaldean Oracles Vol. 2. London: The Theosophical Publishing Society, 1908
  • Betz, Hans Dieter. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996
  • “Temple of Apollo, Siracusa”, http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/siracusa-temple-of-apollo
  • “Arethusa (mythology)”,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arethusa_(mythology)

 

Hekate and the Spring Equinox – #hekatelight

Hekate

Photo © Melissa McNair / The Torch and Key

The Equinox is a time of balance and mediation; the day is marked by equal light and equal dark. Whether you are in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, you are experiencing the turning of the season from Summer to Autumn or from Winter to Spring.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the Spring Equinox is almost upon us. Trees and shrubs are just now beginning to show the tiniest of buds beginning to form, slowly bringing what was once dormant back to life with renewed growth.

In my neck of the woods (northern New York), we still have a decent amount of snow on the ground; remnants of the few recent snow storms, with more on the horizon (the above photo is from last year; it will be more than a month, maybe not until May, before my daffodils once again are blooming!).

The month of March, for us anyway, has certainly been roaring like a lion. We’ve experienced three Nor’easters in less than 2 weeks, bringing with it significant snow and wind. Winter is not quite done with us yet, but, signs of spring are emerging. Birds have returned with their melodious morning bird song, and I can make out tiny buds forming on the tips of the branches on the massive oak trees on our property.

I find Hekate’s presence throughout the turning of the seasons, and the Spring Equinox is a time of renewal and rebirth. Persephone is returning to the world, after spending her allotted time in the Underworld with Hades. Hekate, with Her illuminating torches, assumed the role of Propolos and became Persephone’s guide on her return trip, bringing Spring, and life, with her.

Ever since the Winter Solstice, light has been slowly returning to the world. Little by little, we are being brought out of the darkness and into the light. Hekate as Phosphorus is calling and showing us out of the dark. We finally reach the point of the Spring Equinox where we have a balance of light and dark. Hekate, being a liminal goddess, is standing on that threshold and keeping things in balance.

This is another facet of Chaldean Hekate – Soul of the World, Anima Mundi (please see February’s #hekateworldsoul posts for more information on Chaldean Hekate). Hekate is the Creatrix of Light – the primordial flame that illuminates all. That sacred flame dwells deep within our souls and all creation, and is brought to life with Her call.


 

Community celebration of the Goddess Hekate and Light. #hekatelight www.hekatecovenant.com

© 2018 Melissa McNair / The Torch and Key