Leader of Dogs.
PGM IV 2711-2730
Come, giant Hekate,
O Persia, Baubo Phroune, dart-shooter,
Unconquered, Lydian, the one untamed,
Sired nobly, torchbearing guide, who bends down
Proud necks, Kore, hear, you who’ve parted gates
of steel unbreakable. O Artemis,
Who, too, were once protectress, mighty one,
Mistress who burst forth from the earth, dog-leader,
All-tamer, crossroad goddess, triple-headed,
Bringer of light, august/virgin, I call you
Fawn slayer, crafty, O infernal one,
And many-formed, Come, Hekate, goddess
Of three ways, who with your fire-breathing phantoms
Have been allotted dreaded roads and harsh
And then we see again in PGM IV 2811-2228:
“…Your ankle is wolf-shaped, fierce dogs
are dear to you, wherefore they call you Hekate…”
For the Greeks, dogs aided the hunt, guarded crops and
livestock, and were even kept as pets. For pets they seem to prefer a small
lap-dog. We find reliefs with dogs on tombs and vases, and in murals, where they
wait at their human’s feet, and sometimes under tables at dinner. Images
survive which show dogs and children at play or lounging at home together. There
are graves where the dog has been buried with his human, and offerings of dogs
were given to some Chthonic Gods.
Brimo, a goddess in Her own right, and conflated with Hekate
in PGM IV. 2270 and PGM IV. 22607, was also called dog-leader.
We know from both plays and from the surviving spells turned
toward Hekate’s attention that Her worship included the sacrifice of dogs,
particularly black puppies. These offerings seem to have a purificatory power.
By the Roman era, Hekate is sometimes represented with the
head of a dog. Jupiter too, was sometimes called dog-leader, Cynegetes in this
case, and was credited with teaching Arcadia to drive away feral packs. Dogs
were said to guard the Roman temples, and were sacrificed at Lupercalia and
Hekate’s hounds in particular are described as black and
large, which puts them in the same category as several monstrous canines known
to the world. In the Hellenistic era, they were understood to be the souls of
the Restless Dead which haunt the crossroads with their Mistress. Lucian offers
a chilling description of Hekate and her hounds. She is described as vast and
serpentine, with snakes for hair and a serpent tail, and her dogs were larger
“than Indian elephants” and shaggy, matted, and black. Here she carries a torch
and a sword. She opens a chasm and leaps down into Tartarus.
Descriptions of the Deipna often include the warning that
one will hear the call of Her dogs when the meal is laid at the three-way
crossroad, along with an injunction not to look back as you leave.
Most strikingly is the graveyard at Poggio Gramignano in
Teverina, Italy. This is an infant graveyard, full of small children, and dogs.
The archaeologists who have studied the site suspect that some tragedy struck,
because all the graves date to the middle of the fifth century CE. The dog
burials are mostly puppies, and have their own separate burials from the
children. Some of the canid skeletons show signs of a traumatic death. Scholars
likewise suspect that the dogs were sacrificed to Hekate, in light of her
history with puppy and dog sacrifice and her canine characteristics. Plutarch
describes the sacrifice of puppies as involving rubbing the puppy against the
inflicted and sacrificing it to Hekate, suggesting that the puppy played a role
as scapegoat. As a result, some scholars speculate that this graveyard’s dog
graves are evidence of evil-averting exercises dedicated to Hekate after some
sort of plague, in hopes of halting the illness.
Dogs are often associated with Goddesses of birth, and with
some Healing Gods. They are also associated with Ares, who received
Ultimately, their association with both the haunt of the
Restless Dead and their role as guardians fits well with the dog’s capacity as
guardians as well as their capability for viciousness.
This dichotomy also suits the Goddess that is both Chthonic
and Ouranic, of heaven and earth. Hekate is benevolent and kindly, and terrible
and grim. They share the potential for both natures. It seems natural for
Hekate to take the dogs under her wing.
Today, dog sacrifice is frowned upon, both legally and
ethically, but there are many of Hekate’s devotees who take time to care for
dogs, or to donate time and money to rescues, all in Her name. I myself tithe
money each month and then bundle the donations to a charity for dogs. I have
volunteered in the past, walking and caring for various animals, and dedicated
the act to Her, even praying to Her on walks with the dogs. It all made for a
deeply inspirational and rewarding practice.
The LSJ lsj.translatum.gr
Bell, John. Bell’s New
Pantheon: or, Historical Dictionary of the Gods, Demi-gods, Heroes, and
Fabulous Personages of Antiquity: Also, of the Images and Idols Adored in the
Pagan World…Bell, 1790.
Betz, Hans Dieter. The Greek Magical
Papyri in Translation, including the Demotic Spells, vol. 1, Univ. Chicago,
Brown, Thomas. Biographical Sketches and
Authentic Anecdotes of Dogs. Brown, 1829.
Franklin, Alberta Mildred. The Lupercalia.
Harrison, J. R. “Every Dog has its Day,” in New
Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: Vol. 10: Greek and Other
Inscriptions and Papyri Published 1988-1992. Edited by S.R. Llewellyn et
al. Eerdmans, 2012. Pp. 126-135.
Heath, Malcolm, et al. Religion and
Belief: A Moral Landscape. Cambridge, 2014.
International Council for Archaeozoology. Dogs
and People in Social, Working, Economic or Symbolic Interaction, Oxbow,
Johnston, Sarah Iles. Hekate Soteira.
————–. Restless Dead, Univ.
—————. Note 12 on “The Tablets from Pherae,” in Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets,
by Fritz Graf and Sarah Iles Johnston, Routledge, 2013.
Ogden, Daniel. Drakon: Dragon Myth and
Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Oxford, 2013.
————-. Magic, Witchcraft, and
Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford, 2009.
Ovid. Fastorum libri sex. Trans. By
Sir James Frazer. Cambridge, 2015.
Soren, David, and Noelle Soren. A Roman
Villa and a Late Roman Infant Cemetery, L’Erma di Bretschneider, 1999.
Attributed to the Kleibolos Painter. “Hekate with Dog,” black figure kylix,
Archaic period. Via theoi.com.
Funerary loculus to Antigona and Aristopolis, found in the
Hadra necropolis in Alexandria, Egypt. Limestone. Now in the Louvre. C. 300 BCE. via wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Funerary_loculus_slab_with_names_of_Antigona_and_Aristopolis_(c._300%E2%80%93250_BCE),_Alexandria,_Egypt_-_20070817.jpg