The question of Hekate and the Homeless is a subject that comes up from time to time and is one that can divide the community. Some modern practitioners see it as whole consistent with the wider ethos of Hekate’s role as a liminal Goddess, with some even considering it a integral part of the Deipnon rite, whilst others see it as new age and irrelevant to their practice.
There are many Heketean Paths, so it is not my intention to devalue one persons perception by sharing my own. I personally feel that there is a connection between Hekate and various ‘liminal’ groups within society including, but not limited to, the Homeles so it something that I personally advocate. Not withstanding it is a complex connection, particularly historically, so it is worth examining like.
Deipnon and the Homeless…
Deipnon is ritual used by the ancient Greeks to mark the end of the lunar cycle and is closely associated with Hekate. Traditionally performed on the 30th day of the lunar calendar modern practitioners perform the ritual on during the dark phase of the moon.
The ritual, consisting of ritual cleansing of both the self and home, culminating in a meal, the remnants of which would be places at gateways, crossroads and public shrines to Hekate.
Modern practitioners replicate these ritual practices, either in part or in full, as part of these modern revival of Her Worship.
One particular element that causes many a discussion on these giving of aid and alms to the poor. Many cite this as a traditional element of the Deipnon ritual and refer to the words of the titular character of the play Plutus by Aristophanes where he says:
“Why you may ask this of Hecate, whether to be rich or hungry be better. For she herself says that those who have and to spare, set out for her a supper once a month, while the poor people plunder it before ’tis well set down: but go hang thyself, and mutter not another syllable; for thou shalt not persuade me, even though thou dost persuade me.”
On face value many readers interpret this section to confirm that alms giving was a feature of the Deipnon rite. The implication is that either the poor and destitute were able, allowed or at least willing, to remove sacred offerings from Hekate’s plate or that they were somehow incorporated into the ritual itself. This is further strengthened by the idea that “whatever is thrown or dropped is lost to this world, whatever is caught is gained” * implying that if the food were snatched up before it touched the ground it had not yet passed into Hekate’s realm, meaning it was permissible to take it.
Some devotees interpret this as being an intentional element to the Deipnon ritual on and that it is Hekate’s intention that the destitute should benefit from the offerings of the ritual. This has lead her to being referred to as a Goddess of the marginalised and helpless.
Then again not everyone agrees.
… Or Perhaps Not
Anyone familiar with Greek mythology and Greek religious practice would be aware that to take food which has been dedicated to the Gods is an act which invites misfortune and miasma. It is one thing to leave an offering to the open air and for animals to consume it, it is another for a human to do. Aristophanes is a know satirist and would often use his plays to make comments about the state of Athenian society. For this reason hose who argue that Deipnon did not feature alms giving suggest that Aristophanes is making some social commentary about the depth of deprivation amongst the Athenian poor, that in their situation they had sunk so low as to steal from the Gods. This is an argument I have made myself to highlight the difficulty of relying on Aristophanes as a source for authenticity however in this case there are other sources which compliment his words.
The counter to this argument can be found in this passage
“Whatever is thrown or dropped is lost to this world, whatever is caught is gained”*
The implication of food that has fallen to the floor being lost to the world is that it passed into the chthonic realms of Hekate, from where she would distribute it to the restless dead but there was an opportunity for distribution amongst the living before this could occur. Indeed there are a number of examples of here’s gaining in some way by obtaining an item before it touches the ground, and even of items being dropped to the ground being portents of death.
It is a compelling thought that on the dark Moon the poor would gather around the door of particular houses known to practice giving to the poor where they would have the opportunity to catch a portion of the food as it was laid out on the floor for Hekate. It is likely that Aristophanes’ satirical comment was based on this practice and he wished to communicate the idea that so extreme were the conditions at the time that no food was reaching the ground as Hekate’s due.
That being said, alms giving, as we might understand it from medieval Christian practices, was not common amongst the Greeks. Charity often meant an act which benefited wider society such as building public facilities. The poor and destitute were simply a future source of slave labour, and they were of no concern to higher echelons of Greek society beyond being a potential commodity. Of course there are exceptions, and there is evidence in those legal records relating to wills that people would leave money to fund projects for the less fortunate but they were few and far between.
The argument for whether or not Deipnon should include alms or aid giving for the less fortunate therefore must remain open to interpretation by the individual devotee or group of practitioners. Many feel that the restless living are just as relevant to Hekate as the restless dead for their own personal reasons, but I thought I would share at least one of mine here today.
Hekate and the Statue of Liberty
Now as I was writing this blog post I was reminded of how Hekate is often likened to the Statue of Liberty, indeed, it was the inspiration for the title of the post. These comparisons are often simply based on the fact that they both carry an upraised torch and wear a rayed crown, though the number of rays differ, It is well known that it was the Roman Goddess Libertas, the embodiment of liberty, which inspired the creation of the Statue of Liberty there is little doubt that there are stylistic similarities between it and Roman depictions of Hekate. Whether it is possible to say that the sculpture, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was directly influenced by depictions of Hekate is open to debate. There are a number of arguments made to suggest this, and whilst many are compelling they are circumstantial and cursory, making it difficult to draw too much of a conclusion.
One suggestion I do find interesting, which is pertinent to both the discussion at hand and the political climate today, centres around the last few lines of the poem associated with the megalithic statue.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It is a call to the restless, to those who felt without hope and who have experienced “death” (socially, economically, emotionally and perhaps actual) in their own homelands. The Statue of Liberty was the gatekeeper of the American Dream and those who sailed to America searching for hope, wealth and happiness were greeted by this giant, seemingly magical, woman who would have originally shined brightly as the sun struck her bronze body. The words of this poem resonate today as much as they did when they were written in the late 1800’s, in some ways more so, but when I hear these last few lines I hear Hekate speaking.
Whilst Hekate is assuredly the Goddess of Witches, Necromancy and the Dead she is also a Goddess of all things liminal, and what is a more liminal than the moment between one life and the next? Modern devotees often feel that Hekate is a driving force for personal evolution and development and the form that takes can be as extreme as movement between countries. Similarly, which group inhabits the spaces in between more than those who are shut out from society for one reason or another, for who death may only be a cold winters night away? The Homesless and Destitute are all “restless” in some way unique to their own situation, be that they are constantly moving between services and/or locations. I find it very easy to associate this Restless Living with the Restless Dead.
Let us not forget, Hekate does not lead solely in one direction. Just as she leads Persephone into the Underworld she also guides Her back to re-join her mother Demeter in Olympia in due time. Just so, Hekate is not only interested in those mortals who have passed from life into death; She also lends a guiding hand and torch back into the land of the living.
Perhaps Her influence was at work at some level?
Lack of historical precedent not withstanding, there is no reason that working with or for the destitute cannot become a devotional act associated with Deipnon. Modern practitioners today often participate in a portion of any sacred meal or offering so and it is not inconceivable that all portion be reserved to one side for the express purpose of giving to the homeless. This would ensure that the intended gift was not associated with the miasma of stealing from the Gods table, but it is perhaps not as practical as it may seem. Unless you know of someone locally it may be difficult to supply the gift before it has an opportunity to spoil, one issue amongst a number I could cite.
This is not a course I would recommend. I would advocate that it would be wiser to pledge to Hekate time which you will devote, in Her Name, to work with a given group of people. If time is not possible then a similar pledge of support in the form of donations (be that money or items) can also be made. It is not a competition, and you should not be making yourself destitute in the process, so given any pledge your make should be honoured be realistic about your own situation as well.
Personally I recommend that any donation of time or money be made via a recognised charity or support service as this is far safer for you as an individual than wandering the streets alone. Ideally it should be a service which does not discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation/gender identity, though this may be somewhat limiting.
* this quote, which appears on the Wikipedia page is poorly attributed and may appear misleading. The quote appears in The Ancient State – The Rulers and the Ruled as part of the footer notes relating to Page 60 and are the authors own words. The ancient sources cited appear as a way of illustrating the authors, apparently valid, concept.
These sources are
- Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers VIII, 34
- Aelius Spartianus, Hadrian XXVI, 7
- Pausanias, Description of Greece I, 17, 3
- Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 1:463 Greek and German only – if anyone is aware of an English translation I would love to hear from you.