Who are the Lampades
Hekate has a vast and varied train of followers when she resides in the Underworld and one of her many retainers are the Lampades, a type of nymph found within Greek Mythology. Lampades are associated with the Underworld and in classical literature they are often mentioned in conjunction with rivers found within that realm. They are also compared to oceanic nymphs strongly indicating their association with Water. It is not clear as to who their parents are as it is not stated in surviving literature however it is posited that they may be the offspring of Gods such as Zeus, whom Homer suggests is the father of many nymphs, and Oceanus, who is the father of freshwater nymphs. Other potential progenitors include Chthonic deities such as Nyx and the spirits associated with the various rivers that flowed through the Underworld.
Whoever their parents are the Lampades are there is a consistent and strong association with the waters of the underworld but this it not the sum of their identity and relevance to Hekate. Their very name means means Lamp Bearer and literary references to the Lampades describe them carrying torches in her presence.
“Some say there are many kinds of Nymphai (Nymphs), e.g. Alkman (Alcman) : Naides (Naiads) and Lampades and Thyiades . . . Lampades those who carry torches and lights with Hekate (Hecate).”
Alternatively, some writers state that the Lampades were a gift to Hekate from Zeus in recognition of her support in the Titanomachy however I have not been able to independently verify the claim with a citation. Certainly this is not implied in Theogony, the surviving version of the Titanomachy which we recognise today, though this is one version of many. Perhaps it was referenced to in the epic poem of the same name written by the legendary blind bard Thamyris.
Maidens of Hekate
The Lampades are often counted amongst the divine figures associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, being referred to as the attendants of the Eleusinian form of Hekate. In this context the Lampades were the companions of both Hekate and Persephone on their annual ascent and descent into the Underworld and were responsible for guiding the spirits of the initiates of the Mystery Tradition to their place in the Underworld.
“Haply by the pleasant silences of [the river] Lethe Nymphae Avernales (Underworld Nymphs) mingle and sport around him [a handsome boy who died young], and Proserpine [Persephone] notes him with sidelong glance.”
As such the Lampades are seen as the companion and guide to Eleusinian Initiates, with their presence during the celebration of such Mysteries being represented by the torches carried during the nocturnal processions. In this guise they are benign guides and companions and the average Greek may have little to fear from them.
More modern interpretations of the Lampades reflect a darker mien, consistent with the role and aspect of Hekate as a Goddess of Witchcraft, Darkness and Madness. In this interpretation Lampades becomes far darker in appearance, their light being a beacon which heralded loss and madness. The description given is not too dissimilar to the will o the wisp and similarly mischievous spirits known from European folklore to delight in leading the traveller astray, often to a watery death and is a result of a conflation between the Lampades and such spirits.
There is, however, no evidence in surviving Greek and Roman sources that the Lampades every lead an unwilling person to their doom. The combination of the illusion, trickery and death associated with the wisp’s with the Lampades names seems to lend itself well to tricking the unsuspecting protagonist and it is likely that this interpretation of the Lampades has grown out of the modern supernatural fiction genre.
Hekate as Lamp-bearer
Hekates connections with Lamps neither start nor end with the Lampades. Amongst her many epitaphs are Lampadephoros (Lamp-bearer, torch-bearer, who warns of nighttime attack) a title which well describes her role in the salvation of Byzantium as told by Hesychius of Miletus and Lampadios (Torchbearer, Lampbearer) which can be found in PGM IV 2441-2621 synchronised with the Goddess Selene.
“Lamp-bearer, shining and aglow, Selene, Star-coursing, heavenly, torch-bearer, fire-breather…” Betz PGM IV, 2557
Lamps are often incorporated into modern devotional settings in preference to torches because they are usually smaller in size. Some devotees choose to make their own oil lamps and create scented oils to burn during devotion, or use decorative lanterns which you can use candles in, not unlike that used by wee Willie Winkie.
Inspiration For Post
It is always great to be able to identify places within your local landscape which speak to you of Gods and Goddesses of ancient times. It isn’t all that hard to find hidden Goddesses in the streets of Leeds because we don’t always hide them, sometimes they take pride of place in the middle of the main shopping centre as is the case with the Briggate Minerva statue outside the main entrance to the Trinity Centre. Minerva, and by extension her Greek counterpart Athena, have long been associated with Leeds and the city crest is graced with her Owl as its heraldic animal.
This kind of explicit find is not uncommon but in the case of Hekate things can be a little more subtle, like locating a spring in your local park call the Dogs Mouth Spring, or finding some graffiti dedicated to Orpheus and Persephone.
The lamp bearers of City Square are another example of hidden inspirations.
A series of eight statues, depicting two differing poses referred to as “morn” and “even”, were first unveiled in 1899, prompting a public outcry as they offended the prim and proper Victorians sensibilities of the city with their nudity. Rather than being entirely stylized in their appearance, as was the previous convention when it came to statues inspired by Greek sources, the human individuality of the subjects can be seen in things such as shape of the knees and curves of the body and this may have added to the shock felt by the people of the city despite assurances that the statues were “pure in spirit” and how the morality of the city would not be brought down (have you seen a Friday night in Leeds?)
The statues, created by Alfred Drury, have always resided in Leeds City Square, although their arrangement has varied over time, responding to damage to the site during World War II and various refurbishments of the space. The current arrangement of a semicircle surrounding the large and imposing Black Prince Statue, which came into being until the mid 1990’s, closely reflects the original installation and remains there to this day. Source
Although the statues are intended to be associated with the dawn and evening star, both being the Venus, I have always associated their sylph like dancing with nymphs and by extension the Lampades. Their location relative to the River Aire, a strong flowing and deadly river that runs through the city, reinforces the connection of the statue to the underworld and chthonic forces. I doubt there are few people in the city who haven’t at some time been aware of a death having occurred in the dark murky waters of the Aire, the very name of which means “swift, strong”. Another major landmark they are located close to is Leeds City Train Station, the major gateway to the city for commuters, a veritable crossroads you might say.
In my case I pass by the Lamp Bearers on my way too and from my home Moot and each time I pass by I give a little nod to the Lamp Bearers who light the way for those busying about their day to day lives and those spirits which travel the waterways into the underworld.
As you might expect, this weeks post flowed seamlessly from last weeks pondering Epiphanies involving Hekate. Mr Drury, like many artists of his time, was very inspired by classical Greek and Roman mythology and sculpture and Leeds boasts a number of statues of his design. Another beautiful piece, with strong connections to Heakte, is the statue of Circe and you can be sure that I’ll be picking up on that thread in the near future. In the meantime, here is a closeup of some of the detail to whet the appetite.