Goddess of the dark, grimly, silently
Munching the dead,
Night, Darkness, broad Chaos, Necessity
Hard to escape are you...you're Moira and
Erinys, torment, Justice and Destroyer,
And you keep Kerberos in chains, with scales
Of serpents are you dark, O you with hair
Of serpents, serpent girded, who drink blood
Who bring death and destruction, and who feast
On hearts, flesh eater who devour the dead
Untimely, and you who make grief resound...
~ Papyri Graecae Magicae, a 2nd century C.E.
Hymn to Hekate
I found this darkly intriguing verse in a fascinating book titled, "Savage Breast: One Man's Search for the Goddess". Author Tim Ward opens his chapter on Hekate - a primal torch-bearing Goddess of transitions who, by the time of Classical Greece, had degenerated into a vessel for the terrible, destructive aspect of the feminine divine - with this hymn.
Not unlike the Goddess Kali in India, to the ancient Greeks Hekate was a drinker of blood, a muncher of the dead...she was, as Ward writes, The Rotting Goddess.
The images you see above of Kali and Hekate above are probably NOT the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Goddesses, right? The word "goddess" probably conjures mostly positive vibes; images connected to life, love, maybe sex, fertility, the earth, children and childbirth, etc. Goddesses are lovers, mothers, virginal maidens with flowers in their hair...but reapers? Bringers of darkness and death? No...
But here's the thing - death is part of life. It's not the opposite of life - and our most distant ancestors in dimmest history knew that. We need Kali, Hecate, and other dark Goddesses to re-inject the reality of the cycle of life, death, and regeneration - we can't have everlasting youth and life without chopping down and composting the old and decaying back into this ever repeating cycle. But in our society we deny death. We are viscerally repelled by death and aging; we fight them kicking and screaming. We demonize the death aspect because we reject and fear it.
We've splintered the feminine principle into myriad diminished forms. Where once She embodied the cycle of life, death, and regeneration - she's now scattered, her aspects most terrifying to our modern sensibilities relegated to a remote, lower place where her sharp blades and tearing teeth can't touch us.
It wasn't always so, but this mindset has been deeply ingrained in our collective psyche for such a long time that it seems the dark Goddess, the horrific feminine, still skulks in the shadows to menace us because we are not fully ready to accept her particular kind magic as part of our world.
Only now her wardrobe is a bit more fabulous...
Honestly, I am blown away by how a few of the darkest-of-the-dark ladies of True Blood do the same; at least for me, they exhume and reanimate Hekate in our contemporary culture. Sure, they may not look like Hekate 1.0; the hideous hag or flesh-eating ghoul of the later Greek imagination - her skin pallid and decaying, her robes a shroud (Ward, 2006) - but they certainly do resemble her in ways that run more than skin deep...
...if you're wondering how just take a look at the bolded words in the poem above for some hints!
I intentionally chose images representing some of the darkest-of-the-dark ladies of True Blood at their very darkest, so to speak, because while there are other female vampires (Pam, Jessica) and assorted supes who have had their menacing moments (Debbie, Daphne)...
and Sophie-Ann seem to really project the "fearsome forces of the feminine divine" (Ward, 2006, p. 152) that Hekate became the repository of millenia ago.
What psychological need do these ultimate bad girls fulfill for us today?
Tim Ward writes that he gets "a flicker of something vile" when he contemplates the image of the Rotting Goddess. "She viscerally repels me, yet draws me, as if she holds a secret for me inside her fetid mouth, a flicker of truth about men's revulsion towards feminine flesh" (p. 155). In this vein, he recalls when, in his 20's, during his his travels through Thailand and India he learned Buddhist techniques for eliminating sexual desire. He was instructed to imagine a woman's body split up into heaps of skin, nails, hair, teeth, and internal organs, or to...
..."visualize a woman as nothing but sacks of blood and pus and shit" (p. 155).
"Feel desire for that"? Ward writes; "Thus men learn what it is to treat women like dirt (as matter, not Mater) and break their spell over us" (p. 155).
Unlike the Hekate of Classical Greece our True Blood dark ladies are beautiful to be sure, but look at what they're reduced to - burned or boiled down to quite literally - in death. Violent death. Sophie-Ann hasn't met her end yet, but we'll see what fate has in store for her, possibly at the hands of Bill Compton. Of course, male vampires and weres have met similarly erupting, oozing and bloody deaths on TB. Still, there's something about the glee with which many watched the demise of two of these ladies in particular - Lorena and Maryann - that feels quite telling.
Did they - do they - play Hekate's role as death aspects of the Goddess for whom our culture collectively feels a fusion of need and fear?
For some insight, let's briefly consider a motif from a crucible of civilization of the the deepest past that might help us understand the strange push-and-pull the deathly and deadly feminine exerts upon us: Catal Huyuk.
Between 7500 and 5500 B.C.E. about seven thousand or so people lived together in an unprecedented massing of humans the world would not see again until the city-states of Mesopotamia 3,000 years later. Wall paintings and other art work have been unearthed at this site that open a window on the ritual life and belief systems of the people of Catal Huyuk; for instance:
|vultures feeding on human corpse and head atop elaborate burial platforms|
|vultures, mother and child|
Look at the peculiar symbolic pattern in the wall painting to the right that hints at the meaning of their rites - double rows of vultures face each other wingtip to wingtip; inside each diamond is the body of a woman, and inside the belly of the woman is the dark outline of a child.
In this art the people of Catal Huyuk expressed their belief not in a gruesome death cult, but in a cycle of regeneration in which the vulture would munch the bodies of the dead back into the circle of life, to be re-birthed by the mothers of the community.
Ward describes aspects of the shrines discovered at Catal Huyuk that some experts (I would add, experts looking at relics of a bygone worldview through the lens of today) find sinister and disturbing: molded breast-like shapes protruding from the walls. Some resemble anatomically correct breasts, others contain the skull of a vulture with the beak sticking out in place of the nipple, or the jaws of a jackal (another scavenger).
Whereas Michael Rice, author of "The Power of the Bull" views these breast-shaped protrusions as evidence that, for the people of Catal Huyuk, "the Mother's breasts do not deliver life sustaining milk but are rather agents of death..." (Ward, 2006, p. 161) archaeologist Marija Gimbutas saw in these artifacts symbols of regeneration.
Lorena and Maryann are, in many ways, cast as what Ward calls the "cannibal mother". Lorena is Bill's maker/lover/mother and Maryann took in/seduced the much younger Sam; in the act of drinking his blood and giving him hers Lorena birthed Bill into his vampire life thereby ending his human one, and Maryann sought to sacrifice Sam to reap his heart for her God Who Comes.
I search for the clay breast, take it in both my hands and out the vulture-beak nipple to my lips. As I suck I feel the beak in it tear at my tongue, the flesh inside my cheeks. White milk gushes into my mouth and my red blood flows back into the beak. No way to escape the longing I have for that breast. Though it wounds me I go to her as a child, my cannibal mother, bleeding into her and clinging to her. It's little comfort that she eats back the living when I'm the one that she's gnawing on. It's too real, this fusion of need and fear. (p. 162)Do parts of Ward's imagining evoke a "turning" for you?
Will we in the 21st century be able to embrace the cannibal mother; she who gives us life, nurtures us, and - at the time of our death - welcomes us back into the cocoon of her womb-tomb as the 2nd century Greeks did: Night, Darkness, broad Chaos, Necessity?
Lot's of questions, huh?
What do you think?
Don't be shy, please let us know!
Until next time...