I love being a morning person. I’m not one to sleep in past 6 a.m., even on the weekends, so I’m up and walking my dog, L’il T-Man, very early in the morning. Our first destination is the paupers’ graveyard near my home. It’s a treat to witness the dawn of a new day from the vantage point of standing in one of the commemorative concrete circles, each of which bears bronze plaques that honor a different demographic group buried on the premises (e.g., John Doe Civil War dead, John and Jane Doe victims of the 1871 Chicago Fire, Cook County Asylum for the Insane patients and their children, etc., over 38,000 total bodies).
And in the past 7 years of living in this far Northwest side Chicago neighborhood, the paupers’ graveyard has been my focal point of clean-up efforts every Earth Day. With today being the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, and it being the Dark of the Moon at the time of this writing (the New Moon at 3° Taurus will occur tonight at 9:25 CDT), I am dedicating my clean-up efforts in a wider context of spiritual service to one of my Patron Deities, the ancient Anatolian-Greek Goddess, Hekate Khthonia (Hekate “From Inside the Earth”).
Honoring Hekate, Goddess of Liminal Spaces & Times
What the Ancient Literary Record Tells Us of Hekate Worship
As with the Greek God Hermes, with Whom She shares several attributes (especially as a psychopompos, escorting the newly dead into the Underworld; Von Rudloff, p. 81) and to Whom She was often paired in cultic worship (d’Este and Rankine, p.28), Hekate was revered in the ancient Mediterranean at shrines marking liminal spaces, be they crossroads, along roadsides (one of Her epithets is Enodia, literally “Of the Wayside”), at temple entrances, or most importantly, at the juncture of paths leading from a private home to the public street (Von Rudloff, p.132). This outdoor house shrine was called a hekataion (d’Este and Rankine, p.21). The Goddess Hekate was and is a Goddess of Thresholds, literal and symbolic.
While there is no clear evidence for Hekate as a Lunar Deity before the Roman period (Von Rudloff, p.16), we do know that the ancient Greeks ritually venerated Her and placated the hordes of restless spirits who met untimely/violent ends (thus becoming earthbound), and who became associated with Hekate’s spectral retinue, during the liminal threshold period of time at the end of one lunar month and before the beginning of the next one (d’Este and Rankine, p.126). As a servant of Hekate today, I align this threshold period with the Moon’s monthly Dark Phase at the end of its waning cycle, the window of time just preceding the New Moon.
In ancient Greece, the ritualized sweeping up and discarding of cultic offerings (katharmata) at the outdoor hekataion was followed by household purification (katharsia) and the serving of offerings to Hekate in a “supper” known as a Deipnon (d’Este and Rankine, pp.124, 126). Foods commonly offered to Hekate included fish (a variety known as mullet; this was the preferred sacrifice to Hekate for initiates in Eleusis on their way to initiation into the Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone; see Von Rudloff, p. 37); garlic; round, flat, sweet cheesecakes; honey; eggs; and loaves of bread. We know that the ancient Greeks, like the ancient Israelites, burned their offerings of food intended for the Gods to eat; items meant for ghosts of the human dead and other spirits (daimones), conversely, were thrown into deep pits dug into the earth (d’Este and Rankine, p.120). Strangely, however, the Deipnon meant for Hekate and/or Her teeming hordes of restless spirits wound up being placed at the liminal space of the crossroads: neither piled high as a burnt offering, nor thrown into the bowels of the earth. Deposited at a place that is not a place, in the crack of time between one moon’s lunation and the next.
My Take on the Deipnon Ritual
I think it’s fairly easy and straightforward for any devotee of Hekate’s, anywhere in the world, to adapt what was done in ancient Greece in conducting a Deipnon. First you may want to decide how you calculate the Dark of the Moon: when should this liminal phase receive ritual recognition? The literal night before the Moon starts its New phase? (This was the approach I chose, and I used last night as Dark Moon for my Deipnon.) Or do you want to wait until the night before the first slender crescent of that New/Waxing Moon is visible in the sky? (This would technically be 2 nights into the New Moon phase, so, using the current calendar as an example, say April 25 as the night you’d choose, since the Waxing Crescent will be visible on the night of the 26th.)
Next, you’d want to honor the katharmata discarding of cultic offerings phase by going through your home altars and shrines to see which biodegradable things (remains of beeswax or soy, but not paraffin, candles; the sticks of used incense; any starting-to-wither flowers; food items) would make good candidates for eventual depositing at your local crossroads/equivalent of such a liminal space. I rounded up stubs of beeswax candles (the wicks were spent) and a few wooden incense sticks from used incense (I’ve had UPG wherein Hekate told me She really likes Oud incense), in addition to flower offerings that were past their prime.
Think about what fresh food offerings, on a separate plate, you’d like to present to Hekate and/or the spirits of the restless dead that are thought to serve as Her spectral train. I offered fresh, raw eggs; home-baked almond flour bread shaped into little crescents; garlic; and honey.
Some contemporary Hellenic and other Polytheists go an additional step and incorporate a sacred cleaning out of their refrigerators and pantries as part of the Deipnon supper for the spirits of the dead. Stale bread, rotting produce, etc., can be returned to the earth in a sort of sacred composting, with the understanding that it’s most likely going to be wildlife that consumes the food on behalf of the spirits of the dead. Think about whether or not you would like to incorporate this step in your ritual.
I entered my home temple space around 9:00 last night, bearing two biodegradable white paper-like plates to my central Hekate altar. Flanking my statue of Hekate were statues I placed of Artemis and Kybele, two powerful Goddesses that have always been associated with Hekate since antiquity (Hekate was most often conflated with Artemis; see Von Rudloff, page 67 and following) and with Whom I’ve always had strong devotional relationships. I lit my stick of Oud incense and began to breathe deeply, inhaling slowly to a count of 4, holding for a count of 2, and exhaling to a count of 6 (use that diaphragm!). I lit my altar candles. I picked up my sistrum and began to sing a song I devised in Hekate’s honor about 6 years ago. It’s comprised of 3 of Her epithets; I sing a three-fold refrain in honor of each, preceding the epithet with the Welcome of “Ela”!
Ela, Enodia! (Welcome, Goddess of the Wayside!)
Ela, Propylaia! (Welcome, Goddess Who Stands Before the Gates!)
Ela, Khthonia! (Welcome, Goddess from Inside the Earth!)
Then I recited my own Hymn to Hekate to invite Her to attend and to witness this Deipnon ritual being held in Her honor. It wasn’t long until I began to feel “flooded” by Her Presence! Blessed Be!
I prayed to have my household cleansed at this Dark Moon time and for the mantle of Hekate’s spiritual protection to be placed upon me and my loved ones. I lit a separate incense censer filled with my Hekate incense blend (red saffron chips, Sumatran benzoin, cypress bark, ground up grains of frankincense and myrrh, mugwort, sandalwood, and 3 drops of cypress oil) and began the katharsia phase of the Deipnon, that of spiritually cleansing my house from room to room, paying special attention to doorways and windows as portals into the Spirit World. I made a circuit, starting in my home temple space, and moved about clockwise, including spaces such as closets and bathrooms in the sacred fumigation. This is what I chanted as I worked:
Beloved Goddess Hekate,
Purge miasma from all I see.
Propylaia, Righteous, True,
Let me greet the month clean and new.
All thanks and praise are unto You!
The katharsia circuit was closed as I reentered my temple space and stood before my Hekate altar once again (amazingly, neither my dog nor my quartet of cats dared to venture in that room during my absence!). I presented my offerings to Hekate and to the restless dead of my neighborhood, naming each food item and indicating what the cultic offscourings were and where I was going to place them: at the three-way crossroads along the western edge of the paupers’ graveyard!
I said more prayers of praise to Hekate, feeling that my heart was filling with the ineffable joy and glory of Her Mystery! This Dark Moon night was alive and teeming with Her Power! I had a bowl of purified water enhanced with a cup of distilled rose water on whose surface I had placed 3 bay leaves. I blessed my statues of Hekate, Artemis, and Kybele with the water before anointing my own forehead and the nape of my neck. Then I scooped up my 2 plates of offerings and exited my temple, walking backwards so as to not turn my back on any of my Deities and spirits that I serve. (I learned this from 10 years of being in Ifá–you never turn your back on the Orisha after spending prayerful communion with Them!)
I set my plates down on a kitchen counter so I could put on a warm jacket and knit cap (it was 36 degrees at 10:00 p.m.), grab my house keys and flash light, and sneak off to the paupers’ graveyard under cloak of darkness. I was a little apprehensive about going there so late after sunset, not because I feared the spirits of the dead (after all, I’m a good neighbor to them), but because I very much feared living men: I’ve narrowly escaped being mugged or worse on two occasions last year from deranged men who came charging at me straight out of the cemetery.
I kept my faith that Hekate would not only protect me, but She would keep me invisible to the potentially prying eyes of my neighbors as well. She did! I felt goosebumps of excitement and adrenaline as I meandered my way to the exact spot in the cemetery where the three paths converge: this nexus point has served as the repository for my Deipnon offerings to Hekate for 7 years and counting, so the land thrums with power for me. I said a quick prayer of intent, stating my goal was to nourish the bonds between me and Hekate and between the living and the dead, in right relationship, with this depositing of cultic offerings and ritually made and consecrated foods. May the dead never hunger. May the land be sustained. May Hekate be ever hailed! And so it is!
It took me a while to ground such powerful ritual energy afterwards, but L’il T-Man, my energetic Corgi-Beagle mix, found just the right means through a game of tug-o’-war followed by a late night snack (Greek yogurt for me, a doggy dental chew for him). My sleep was restful; I don’t remember dreaming anything.
Happy 50th Earth Day, Fellow Earthlings!
I woke up exactly at 5 a.m. and was excited to know that my devotional ritual to Hekate was going to enter a second phase today with my morning clean-up of the paupers’ graveyard as my way of commemorating Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary. I dressed accordingly for the occasion: sturdy boots, work gloves, face mask, hat, and all, and grabbed a large trash bag. My dog accompanied me for the first half hour, which was a conscious way of honoring Hekate as the Lady of Dogs (like Artemis). L’il T-Man has a curiosity and knowingness about him (he’s quite the hunter, tracker, and herder), plus he is at ease in any environment, and is musical, to boot (with his howling)! I immediately recognized him as a L’il Avatar of Hermes when I adopted him last July.
It felt fitting to pray to Hekate as Propylaia, the Guardian of the Gates, at the entrance to the cemetery:
And as I chiefly honor Hekate Khthonia, the Hekate Who is Within the Earth, I was especially mindful of all the amazing plants and animals that call the paupers’ graveyard their home; just more incentive to get this place cleaned up!
I was very grateful that I found a long stick with a reliably pointy end: in lieu of having a metal rod with a pike to pierce/skewer and fetch pieces of trash that were wedged into shrubs or underneath fence posts, my handy stick helped me grab all the discarded styrofoam, plastic bottles, beer cans, and cigarette boxes without using my hands! Thank you, pointy stick!
A noisy pair of Canadian Geese swooped in and began feeding just a few feet from where I stood. I like to think Hekate and Hermes sent them! (On a Spring Equinox ceremony I conducted at the Theosophical Society in 2003, a Canadian Goose landed on the ground and began honking at me right after my invocation to Hermes at the outset of the ritual! I’ve associated those birds with Him ever since.) They definitely seemed to approve of my actions. Hail and welcome, Goose Guests!
The spirits of the children who are buried among the nameless dead are ones that are particularly dear to me. There are 2 infants’ graves in the northern quarter of the graveyard and I always leave extra offerings for the babies. It disgusts me beyond belief that the cairns of stones that used to ring their graves were vandalized and, ultimately, cleared out. The little plaster statues of the Virgin Mary that one of my kind Polish Catholic neighbors placed on each grave have also long since been smashed into pieces. The graves are stark and sad now. These dead babies who died with no records of names deserve so much better. May Hekate as Kourotrophos, the Nursemaid of the Young, shepherd these sweet spirits into Her bosom!
In just one hour of cleaning, I filled up one large trash bag and I reclaimed a discarded bucket for myself: I’m going to wash it (outside) and disinfect it so I can repurpose it for gardening use on my balcony. All in all, it was a great morning of spiritual service (I spent 2.5 hours cleaning up the cemetery) to the Goddess Hekate, to the spirits of the dead, to the spirits of the land, and to the living animals and people I share my neighborhood with! I’m going to devote the rest of the day to being mindful of how I use resources. Additionally, I’m going to pay extra loving attention to my companion animals, in Hekate’s, Artemis’, Kybele’s, and Bast’s mighty Names.
Tonight, after the Moon has officially entered its New phase at 3° Taurus at 9:25 CDT, I’ll do a ritual of thanks to Hekate. I have a choice bottle of port wine that I’m eager to offer Her!
So, gentle reader, if your spiritual path falls under the Pagan/Polytheist/Witch rubric, do you somehow ritually celebrate Earth Day, even if you don’t specifically see your tradition as being an “earth-centered” one? If you do celebrate Earth Day, does your ritual recognition happen via honoring one or more Deities Whom you serve? I would love to hear from you!
Stay healthy, stay happy, and remember: staying at home/obeying shelter-in-place orders doesn’t just slow down the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, it helps improve the planet’s air quality too! May our blessed Earth continue to shine in resplendent resiliency! So Mote It Be!
Works Cited and Suggested Reading
D’Este, Sorita and David Rankine. Hekate: Liminal Rites. London: Avalonia Books, 2009.
Sannion, ed. Bearing Torches: A Devotional Anthology for Hekate. Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2009.
Von Rudloff, Robert. Hekate in Ancient Greek Religion. Trans. Ilmo Robert Von Rudloff. Victoria, B.C.: Horned Owl Publishing, 1999.