Deipnon is here again, and it is past time that I post on the subject and about my practices as a witch alone. I have been on a long break from devotional work with Hekate whilst I explored other aspects of my spiritual and magical development but now, having achieved a measure of balance and recovered from a couple of niggling injuries, I am ready to return to regular devotional work. As I usually do when I return from a break from anything I reviewed my ritual practice and examining the things that felt stale or previously or which particular stood out as resonant. I have also taken the opportunity to review my research into Deipnon and its place within Hekate’s cult and mythology, setting out the who what wheres and whys of the ritual as well.
My thoughts on Deipnon are therefore split into two parts. Firstly this post looks as the historical origins of the dark moon rites performed by the Ancient Greeks and their relevance to the household cult of Hekate and Hekate as a goddess within the city. I will also look at how Deipnon is celebrated in a modern devotional context and at particular aspects of ritual which are common throughout modern interpretations and where and how they relate to what we know about the original practice. The second post represents my current working ritual, which is an evolution of the last five years of devotion and research.
What is Deipnon
Deipnon is usually translated as meaning “meal”, specifically evening meal which is why the ritual is also referred to as Hekate’s Supper. This ritual meal involved the sharing of a household meal with the remnants being taken to and deposited at a crossroad or shrine dedicated to Hekate. The meal took place on the last day of the lunar month, according to the Ancient Athenian calendar, and was the start of a series of rituals intended to expedite miasma at the end of the month in preparation for the new lunar cycle. Hekate was honored on the last day of the lunar cycle specifically because of her association with the restless dead and it was believed that she would walk through the world, with the dead in her train, on this moonless night. Additionally, if any member of the household was thought to have offered particular offence to Hekate during the preceding month specific rituals of expiation, involving the sacrificial offering of a black puppy, were conducted on this night in addition to the Depinon ritual itself.
We don’t know exactly what ritual processes took place during the Depinon ritual but we know broadly what took place. During the day the family would involve themselves in ritually cleansing their home and and ritual shrine dedicated to Hekate they may have in the home. These shrines were sometimes located in portico or entrance way to their home, often located out of sight of the main doorway. After the cleaning process was completed, and the remains put to one side, the family would then engage in a family meal from which a portion of food was retained as an offering to Hekate. The food, along with the detritus from the cleaning process, was then taken by the family (or a specific member) along to a local shrine to Hekate or near by crossroads where they would deposit the offering before returning home, taking care not to look back as they returned home.
There is some evidence, in the form of satirical writings, that the food left for the Depinon offering found its way into the hands, mouths and bellies of the homeless. Aristophanes writes
“Ask Hekate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month [food placed inside her door-front shrines] and that the poor make it disappear before it is even served.”
Whilst the taking of an offering made to a deity, particularly a chthonic one such as Hekate, would have been considered a profane act and would have been associated with miasma it is possible that the gifting of food to this group of people was a conscious act which made up part of the devotional process. According to Pausanias in his Description of Greece “Whatever is thrown or dropped is lost to this world, whatever is caught is gained” and this might suggest that food was thrown rather than ritually deposited, giving the poor and hungry the opportunity to catch a portion of food for themselves. It may also indicate that this portion of the population were not overly concerned with the social implications of miasma and were willing to take the offering from the ground thus cleaning away the offering before morning. This might have been seen as the vehicle through which Hekate acquired the offering, and you may want to review my thoughts on Hekate and the Homeless to find out more about the connection between the Goddess and the downtrodden.
As with many aspects of modern Heketean devotion modern Depinon practice often closely reflects those of the ancients. The dark moon is used as a time of ritual cleansing and whilst it is unusual for modern devotees to conduct a full dumb supper every dark moon cycle, saving the full ritual meal for festivals occurring in August and/or November, food associated with Hekate is offered to her along with the resultant debris of ritual cleaning. These foods include fish cakes, garlic and eggs, as well as other types of foods which are made using traditional Greek recipes and deposition takes place at a liminal location such as boundary, gateway or crossroads.
Just as the homeless seemed to have gained in the ancient ritual of Deipnon many modern practitioners will make donations to homeless and animal charities in their modern observations. These acts recognise Hekate as the Goddess of her restless souls, those who are ostracised and displaced. Another element that remain as part of the ritual include not looking back after the offering is made.
Why are ritual debris and household waste included in the offering?
By offering the combined cleaning remains from both the home and ritual space we are symbolically asking Hekate to bring transformation and renewal to all aspects of our lives. In the context of Hekate, one of her epithets from PGM P.G.M. 1402; 1406 is Borborophorba (eater of filth). This title is rooted in the connection between the womb and tomb, with the Goddess taking in that which is unclean in order for it to be born anew, in this case in the new lunar month. This is not the only place within the PGM where Hekate is associated with unclean aspects, such as cow dung, and some spells in which she is invoked involve the excrement of other animals. Anyone interested in following this thread a bit further would do well to refer to the Rotting Goddess by Jacob Rabinowitz but in the meantime you can read something from him on the subject here.
On a more practical level, this cathartic act of cleansing the ritual space provides an opportunity for a little housekeeping, and many devotees will combine any remains of offerings made to other deities in this act.
Isn’t the offering of last leavings and ritual waste from devotional acts to other deities offensive to the Goddess?
Not at all. Last leavings and ritual waste are not traditional offerings to Celestial and Terrestrial offerings as they are deemed as being unworthy of them. In a Greek context however they form part of an acceptable offering to chthonic deities, who were seen as taking the unclean into themselves in order to render it pure again.
When it comes to the ritual waste from other devotional act the inclusion is not a slight to either Hekate or the other deity. The deity receiving the original offering has already received the essence of the offering, a process best described by the master wordsmith and (IMO) magician Terry Pratchett in Going Postal
“As I understand it,” said Moist, “the gift of sausages reaches Offler by being fried, yes? And the spirit of the sausages ascends unto Offler by means of the smell? And then you eat the sausages?”
“Ah, no. Not exactly. Not at all,” said the young priest, who knew this one. “It might look like that to the uninitiated, but, as you say, the true sausagidity goes straight to Offler. He, of course, eats the spirit of the sausages. We eat the mere earthy shell, which, believe me, turns to dust and ashes in our mouths.”
“That would explain why the smell of sausages is always better than the actual sausage, then?” said Moist. “I’ve often noticed that.”
The priest was impressed. “Are you a theologian, sir?” he said.
As for Hekate, I have already mentioned that in her form of Eater of Filth she is enacting a transformation, creating an offering to herself in the acceptance of it. It is that transformation which makes the offering acceptable.
Whilst many understand the connections of garlic to a Chthonic goddess associated with Witchcraft and the aversion of evil, and as a deity with a portion of the unfruitful sea the offering of red mullet makes a certain amount of sense, but the offering of an egg to Hekate doesn’t always. Eggs have always carried a strong connection to the occult and appears in a number of traditions in rituals involving renewal, rebirth and cleansing. African diaspora traditions use eggs to form aura cleansing, with the egg broken and the yolk and white read in a number of different processes. On a mundane level eggs, when kept in the refrigerator, are known to absorb bad odours from the unit and help other things stay fresher longer. All of this is because of the porous nature of the eggshell itself. In a Greek context the Cosmic World Egg of the Orphic tradition the Egg from which the great God Phanes was born was believed to have the ability to absorb negative influences, such as miasma, and convert them in to more positive, if not divine, energies. This Orphic connection is very much in keeping with our previous conversation on Hekate as an eater of filth and is the likeliest reason for the traditional association of eggs with the Depinon ritual.
Do people still offer puppies to Hekate?
The simple answer to this is no, we don’t do that anymore for a variety of reasons. Some practitioners incorporate the imagery of a black dog into their Depinon rituals, and at times of specific expedition may symbolically sacrifice the image of a black dog, but the sacrifice is not carried out in actuality. Devotees may also make offerings of bloody meat, such as goat and ofel, to speed up the process of expedition or as a special form of offering however this form of offering is not limited to Depinon and such things are bought from the appropriate retailer.
My post which contains my ritual outline covers questions relating to the practicalities of the Depinon ritual but if you feel there is anything that I missed out between these two posts give me a shout. If I don’t know I’ll have fun finding out the answer with you.