Hecate and Poseidon (Hazel)


 God and Goddess of the Oceans, I invoke you!
Earth-shaker Poseidon, Celestial Hecate I call to you
Lord and lady who bestow the seas bounty and offer safe passage
I hail to you!
Teach me the wisdom of the horse
Grant me the magic of the seas
Reveal to me my monsters of the deep
Lover and Mother of the Dog-headed Scylla
I call and ask of you
To help me understand the powers of the Oceans

Poseidon (son of Cronos and Rhea) is the first cousin of Hecate’s parents, Perses and Asteria making Poseidon Hecate’s second uncle. Once he and his brothers (Zeus and Hades) had defeated the Titans, the three brothers drew up lots. So while Hades and Zeus came to rule the Underworld and Olympus respectively, Poseidon became God of the Sea. Poseidon is famously known for disputes over land possession, the most well-known myth being his argument against Athena for the possession of Athens. He also features in the Odyssey significantly.

Domains of Power
The similarities between Hecate and Poseidon begin in Hesiod’s Theogeny where it is clear that Hecate shares the domain of the sea with him just as Hecate inherited this domain from her father’s mother Eurybia (Evelyn-White, tr. 1914):

“. . . the son of Cronos [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 in both earth and in heaven and in the sea.”

This passage illustrates what happened amongst the Gods after their battle with the Titans; Hecate, who fought on the side of the Olympians, retains her powers just as the new King of Heaven (Zeus) dictates. The next passage from the Theogeny further emphasises the connection between Hecate and Poseidon as deities who share the role of distributing bounty that comes from the sea and the protection of those who cross it:

“. . . and to those whose business is the in the gray discomfortable sea, and who pray to Hecate and the loud crashing Earth-Shaker, easily the glorious goddess gives great catch and easily she gives it away. .  .”

Sacred Animals
As part of the associated domain of the sea, fish are sacred to both Hecate and Poseidon. Red mullet is actually a common offering to Hecate, the Greek name of which trigle is recognised as a symbol of Hecate’s three-fold nature (Von Rudloff, 1999). Marquardt (1981) also notes that red mullet is an appropriate offering for Hecate during the Eleusinian Rites. She notes the inclusion of fish on a painted amphora (Marquardt, 1981, pg. 254) where Hecate’s outfit has a fish pattern on it. Marquardt (1981) mentions that while Hecate is typically associated with wild animals, and because fish is not usually a wild animal, it therefore looks slightly out of place.

Another animal that is sacred to both deities is the horse. This is also mentioned in the Theogeny (Evelyn-White, tr.1914):

“. . . and she [Hecate] is good to stand by horsemen, whom she will.”

Hecate is said to appear as a horse in the Chaldean Oracles. The Chaldean Oracles is a set of theological literature providing practical information for the masses to practise theurgy; a spiritual method to prepare the practitioner for integration with the divine (Johnston, 1990). Mentioned in these Oracles, is a set of words/phrases that Hecate “tells” the theurgist to say to invoke her presence to receive further information on theurgical practise. Upon saying such words, Hecate is said to appear in the form of a child and/or horse (Johnston, 1990 pg. 111):

“. . .  you will see a horse flashing more brightly than light, or a child mounted on the swift back of a horse, a fiery child or a child covered with gold . . .  or even a child shooting arrows, standing upon a horses’ back.”

As part of invoking Hecate in particular spells, horses have been included in such invocation (Betz, ed. 1992): PGM IV 2441-2021 and PGM VII 756-794; and utilising their power PGM III 1-164. Such associations have led to her being illustrated as a horse (D’Este and Rankine, 2009, pg. 138). Quite a few of the Olympians have their own chariots. In the case of Poseidon, his horses have been described as white with bronze hooves and golden manes. When Poseidon rides out on his chariot, storms would halt and the monsters of the ocean would flock around him, as this passage in the Iliad Book 13 (Rieu, 1950 pg. 234) indicates:

“There he [Poseidon] harnessed to his chariot his two swift horses, who had brazen hooves and flowing golden manes. He clothed himself in gold, picked up his well-made golden whip, mounted his chariot and drove out across the waves. The monsters of the sea did not fail to recognise their King. On every side they issued from their caves and gambolled at his coming.”

Parallels can easily be seen with Hecate in this case, as similarly Hecate would have had a trail of monsters as she emerged from the Underworld, namely the torch bearing Lampads and the Empousai (Atsma, 2000-2011). Horses are also associated with Poseidon’s birth. One version of his birth states that he was swallowed by his father Cronos, once Rhea had presented Poseidon to him (Graves, 1992). Another version states that instead of handing the infant Poseidon over, Rhea presented a young horse to Cronos. Consequently, Rhea had Poseidon reared by a nurse known as Arne (Atsma, 2000-2011). However, Poseidon’s association with horses is more commonly known by his role within the myth of Persephone as the creator of horses (see below).

The Abduction of Persephone and Eleusis
When Persephone is abducted by Hades, it is Hecate who hears Persephone’s cries. At the loss of her daughter Demeter causes the failure of crops. Nine days after the abduction, Hecate approaches Demeter to ask what happened. Together they discover from Helios that it was Hades who abducted Persephone. On the tenth day, before heading to Eleusis, Demeter transforms herself into a mare and hides herself amongst a herd (Graves, 1992). Poseidon turns himself into a horse and forces himself upon her. From this, Demeter gives birth to the nymph Despoina and the wild horse Arion, thus establishing Poseidon as the father of all horses. This act of rape infuriates Demeter and consequently she has been worshipped in this form as Demeter the Fury (ibid.). Graves (1992) identifies this myth of Poseidon and Demeter as representative of the patriarchal Hellenics invasion of Arcadia, where a matriarchal horse cult was centred on Demeter as its patroness. While Demeter is in Eleusis spending time with mortals, Hecate befriends Persephone. Hecate aids in Persephone’s eventual return to her mother. Whereupon Demeter commands the building of a temple initiating the Eleusinian mysteries, one of the largest major cults in Ancient Greece based at her sanctuary at Eleusis (Atsma, 2000-2011; Graves, 1992).

As part of this sanctuary at the entrance, a temple has been noted to be dedicated to Poseidon Pater and Artemis Propylaia (Richardson, 1974). Hecate has been identified with Artemis Propylaia in the case of this sanctuary. Apart from the fact that the two goddesses share many features (D’Este 2005), Hecate’s intermediary role within the myth could be said to be reflected by the epithet Propylaia. Richardson (1974) suggests that therefore Artemis Propylaia is Hecate thereby associating the temple with Hecate and Poseidon. As this smaller temple dedicated to Hecate and Poseidon is not aligned to the Greater Propylaea, this implies that their shared temple existed before the main Propylaea was built. Archaeological evidence suggests that this shared temple was linked to an earlier Demeter cult 800 years before the Archaic Telesterion (main temple to Demeter) was built (Mylonas, 1947).

Both Hecate and Poseidon share an epithet- Soter/ Soteira meaning ‘saviour’. For Hecate, this epithet arises from her role in the Chaldean Oracles as a guide and mediator between the Divine and the Physical worlds. Between these two worlds, she is the Cosmic Soul (Johnston, 1990). Poseidon as the saviour however is much more based within the material world.  A statue of Poseidon Soter was recovered from the sea near Cape Artemisium that was said to once dwell in his temple at Sunium at the southern-most tip of the Athenian coastline (Mikalson, 2005). This temple and statue was built in the 440’s BC as an offering for the Athenian victory over the Persian army (led by King Xerxes in 480 BC) in the Bay of Salamis. The inscription on the statue says:

“To Poseidon Soter of Sunium from the ships of the Phoenicians and Persians in the glorious victory of the Athenians around divine Salamis.” (Mikalson, 2005, pg. 21).

There are a few instances where family members of the two deities have crossed paths. Just like his brother Zeus, Poseidon is known to be quite lustful. One of Poseidon’s lovers was Scylla, who has been noted to be Hecate’s daughter by the sea-deity Phorkys (Crowfoot, 2005; Graves, 1992). Phorkys was one of many children of Gaia and Pontus father of the sea-gods. Thus Phorkys and his siblings were the first generation of sea-deities (Graves, 1992). In one version of the myth, Scylla was the lover of Glaukos a man who had been turned into a merman. In this version, Circe was jealous and transformed Scylla into a monster (Atsma, 2000-2011). In the other version, Poseidon was the lover of Scylla and Amphitrite was the jealous one. Despite these differences, both versions say that herbs were thrown into Scylla’s bathing pool transforming her into a six dog-headed monster with twelve feet. Graves (1992) suggests that Scylla is actually a more terrifying form of Hecate given the association of dogs (the name Scylla means “she who rends, puppy”). Scylla features alongside Charybdis in the Odyssey.

The children of both deities crossed paths themselves. King Aegeus of Attica had no children by any of his wives and consequently went to the Delphic Oracle where he received a rather vague answer; not to untie to mouth of his wine skin until he had reached the highest point in Athens (Graves, 1992; Hard, 1997). On his return he passed by Corinth meeting with Medea whose parentage has been debated. Medea’s father was most commonly known to be King Aeetes of Colchis, who is descended from the God Helios (Griffiths, 2006). However another version dictates that Medea’s father was Apollo (Crowfoot, 2005). There are many variations as to who is her mother; the nymph Asterodeia (Graves, 1992), Iduia (Griffiths, 2006), or Hecate (Griffiths, 2006; Crowfoot, 2005). At the time Aegeus arrived in Corinth, Medea was contemplating where she should disappear to after she completes her murderous plan. She supplicated Aegeus who agreed to take her in should she need to, and when he admits to her that he is unable to father children Medea tells him that she can help. Aegeus proceeded to Troezen where he is welcomed by Pittheus and his daughter Aethra. The combination of wine drinking and Medea’s spell-casting from afar resulted in Aegeus sleeping with Aethra. However later the same night, Aethra went to the beach and Poseidon slept with her too. Poseidon tells Aethra that should any child be born from their union, she should bring up the child in the belief that King Aegeus is the father. This child is Theseus and once he was of age he collected his birth right which Aegeus had hidden under a rock for him (sword and sandals). He then proceeded on his own heroic adventures. After some years, Theseus arrived back in Athens and was welcomed by King Aegeus. By now Medea has committed her crimes at Corinth and had fled arriving in Attica. She had married Aegeus and had a son, Medus, by him. When Theseus arrived in Attica, Medea recognised him as Aegeus’ son and wanting the throne to go to her son instead lies to Aegeus saying he is a spy. Aegeus allowed Medea to concoct a poison to kill him. However when Aegeus recognised Theseus as his son because of the sword and sandals he had bequeathed to him, Aegeus jumped up knocking the poison aside. What followed was a joyous re-union and as Medea fled with her son, Theseus followed.

Summary and Conclusion
When it comes to discussing the similarities and overlaps between Hecate and Poseidon, certain themes do appear to be more significant than others; domains of power, for instance is one such theme. Both are sea-gods and thus are invoked by sailors and fisherman for safe passage and resource acquisition respectively. It is from this shared domain of power where they share one sacred animal in common; fish. Most distinctively however, horses represent them as well. Poseidon is commonly invoked as the father of all horses and their roles within the Eleusinian Mysteries indicates that they played important parts in a cult that offered salvation. Finally, while there appears to be no direct interaction of the two in myths despite their domains of power, family members have provided an indirect level of interaction.

In conclusion, such similarities and overlaps of the two allow a person to examine the symbols behind the myths- What does the sea represent? How does the ocean or horses reflect the masculine qualities of Poseidon, or the feminine qualities of Hecate? Or how does Scylla combine the qualities Poseidon’s lust and Hecate’s terrifying aspect?

July 2012

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