Hekate In Ephesus

I am not exactly a seasoned traveller, most of my formative holidays were spent on the east coast of England, with the foreign holidays abroad an exception rather than the rule. I can always wax lyrical about my UK based holidays as I experience them but I thought I would look back my few forays abroad, starting with Turkey; which I visited as a teenager with my family.

Why start with Turkey? Well our holiday destination was the Anatolian region, and region with lots of associations with Hekate. It might seem that a Heketean waxing lyrical about holiday to this area is a little overdone, given the connection between Hekate and Ephesus can be seen in the writings of Greek scholars and the Ephesian Grammata of course forges a link of its own. What stands out for me, and the reason I have chosen to start with this rather than any other trip, is the fact that at the time of my visit I knew little to nothing about Hekate in comparison to now. I had never heard of the Grammata, Cosmic World Soul or anything which could have corrected the the disconnect between the neo-Pagan presentation of Hekate and Her classical forms. I was visiting not as a Heketean devotee but as someone interested in Archaeology and nothing more and it is only in recent years and months, through research and information sharing across the wider community, that I have come to understand the strange sense of connection I had not only with the artifacts on display in the city and the attached museum but also with one specific location within the city itself.


Ephesus is an ancient Greco-Roman settlement, first founded in the 10th century BCE and eventually abandoned in the 6th century CE after the silting up of its harbour and a catastrophic earthquake. During this time the city was in the hands of not only Attic and Ionian Greeks but also the Romans and it is likely that it was the city in which the Gospel of John was written.

There are a number of notable buildings associated with the site, not least the Temple of Artemis which was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The site is as big a draw for tourists today as it was back in 550 BCE when it was first completed, and it the site associated with the Artemis of Ephesus statue with sports the famous Ephesian Grammata, as cited by Pausanias the Lexicographer

Askion, Kataskion, Lix, Tetrax, Damnameneus, Aision

Ephesus has its own connection to Hekate beyond the Ephesian Grammata and the Temple of Artemis. In his work Geography the writer Strabo makes reference to the city by saying;

“They [the priests of the temple of Artemis at Ephesos] showed me also some of the works of Thrason, who made the Hekatesion (Shrine of Hekate).”

Strabo, Geography 14. 1. 23

Thrason’s name also appears in a list compiled by Pliny and it appears that Thrason is a sculptor of some note, particularly specialising in works to honour athletes and warriors.

As nice as these written references we do not know where Thrason’s Hekatesion was located. It may have been situated close to the Temple of Artemis, or somewhere else within the city. In either event it is not identified to visitors to the site and it is likely that it had not been identified in the ruins at all. There is however a known representation of Hekate which is to be found in the main complex of the city, and it’s presence and location brings into focus my experiences on that day so many years ago.

Library of Celsus

If you’ve ever visited Ephesus you will know there is quite a bit of walking involved. It’s level and not too daunting but hot Turkish sun glaring off the white stones of the city can be a little overwhelming for some so tour guides make the point of encouraging us weak westerners to take a rest. The best spot of course is in the shade of the massive frontage which is the Library of Celsus.


The Library was built as a mausoleum and monument to the memory of one Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, Senator of Rome and one of the few to bear this titles as an ethnic Greek. Competed c 114-117 CE the library was paid for entirely by the Senator and his family and was third largest library of its time next only to the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum. Unusually for the time, Celsus was buried in the crypt of the building and he was honored in the entrance way in sculptured form.

When building, Celsus and his architects made use of the walls of two flaking buildings so in truth only constructed the front and back of the library and all that remains standing is the monumental frontage, casting a long and welcomed shadow across the courtyard.

Visitations from the Unknown

It was whilst I was sat in this welcome shade a strange feeling came over me, a feeling of Déjà vu but different. It wasn’t just that I felt like I’d been there before; it also felt as if there was something, just out of sight, that I should have been able to name but which was escaping me. If I had felt it whilst visiting the Temple of Artemis or facing one of Her many statues on display I might have said it was a visitation by the Goddess of the place, because it was not unlike something I had experienced in connection with Genius Loci in other locations.  As it was I couldn’t put the feeling into any form of context. The name I felt I should of known was out of reach and I wasn’t as experienced enough to know how to approach it and request a name.

Hindsight is a very powerful tool, and since working more closely with Her I have realised that the presence was Hekate. I’ve known that this was a visitation for some time now but it is only in the last few months that the reason for such an occurrence to take place in the shade of the Library of Celsus.  On the left hand side of the Agora as you look out from the Library itself if the Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates, also sometimes referred to as the Old Triodos Gate. On the north side of the eastern passageway is a small carving, sometimes referred to as graffiti, of a triformis woman bearing torch and rope/snake. There is also an inscription that reads “he who urinates this place will be pursued by the avenging spirit of the  goddess Hecate”. Nice.


Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates

The carving is badly damaged, and the photos available online not exactly great, but the outline is too dissimilar to other depictions of Hekate from the same time period that the Library was constructed.

Of course now the sensation on that day over ten years ago makes perfect sense. It was perhaps the first time to which I can look back and point to an encounter with Hekate which predates my being called to devotion, although I suspect there may have been other times when I was too young and inexperienced to understand what was occurring.  

You could always put the experience down to the overwhelming heat of the day but I somehow doubt it. I was fine leading up to it, well hydrated and protected from the Sun, and quickly returned to normal as we moved on. As it was our visit then moved to to the Ephesus museum to view the various Artemis statues, one of which was presumably adorned with the Ephesian Grammata, which I found equally captivating and the Turkish equivalent of the Glastonbury’s White and Red Springs.

The Cotton Castle

The White Springs are in fact known as Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in modern Turkish. The Greco-Roman population of the town built atop the site knew it as Hierapolis. Modern day visitors get the twin treat of visiting the ancient city and the hot springs, which have been a spa since the 2nd century BCE. The site is considered a natural wonder, being awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1988, because of the natural formations left by the hot springs. The white limestone has been enhanced by the water rich in calcium carbonate of the hot springs to create a landscape of pools and waterfalls made out of travertine.


Cotton Castle © Vicky Newton

Although the hot springs are considered the main attraction to many visitors the town of Hierapolis is interesting in its own right. In the classical period the town doubled as a spa and retirement town, with many people moving to the city to live out their days in proximity to a hot spring, and one of the things it was famous for was its Plutonium. The Plutonium of Hierapolis, also referred to as Pluto’s Gateway, was a cave where carbon dioxide laced water was forced up an out of the ground. Given the cave was entirely enclosed the carbon dioxide would gather, killing anything that would date enter it and thus making the space into an impenetrable ritual entry to the underworld. Priests of Cybele would sell animals to visitors to either test the deadly nature of the site or as a vehicle of obtaining an Oracle from the God. The priests, known as the Galli, would also use the site to evidence the divine protection of their Goddess by entering it, standing within its walls, and then coming out again apparently unscathed. Magical properties aside it is more likely that there were pockets of air to be found within the cave which the priests made use of.

The cave and its associated cave are now in full ruin, with the cave being open to the air after 6th century CE destruction by Christians and subsequent earthquake damage. That doesn’t make the site any less deadly, with many a small bird and mammal straying too close to the cloud of gas being emitted and finding themselves breathing their last.

The Red Spring of Turkey

The “Red” springs were located in a hotel where we stand overnight before returning to our main holiday stay. The hotel had been build over / very close to an iron based hot spring and had created a spa pool into which they piped in the iron rich water.  Unfortunately I have no idea if the spring itself had a name, nor can I remember the name of the hotel and those that would know have sadly passed. It was nearly 20 years ago and my memory has never been all that good.
Still, that doesn’t take away from the utter bliss of an iron hot spring, which well exceeded the temperatures you find at Glastonbury and are probably better compared with the spring at Aqua Sulis. I am notorious for my poor circulation (a genetic trait I inherited from my paternal grandma) so I love nothing better than a boiling hot bath. It was heavenly,and in retrospect it would have been the perfect venue to sit and contemplate my experience, or perhaps the relationship between Hekate and hot springs of this nature. Alas that will have to wait for another visit, when my children are fully grown, because I fully intent to return to Ephesus and locate that graffiti for myself.

About knotmagick

Weaving Magick and Crochet in the madhouse I call home. I am a devotee of Hekate and a follower of Pan.
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Hekate, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Hekate In Ephesus

  1. Pingback: Hekate at Lagina | Knot Magick

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