Commentary on the Orphic Artemis-Hekate

As I have finished reading the Orphic Argonautika a couple of days ago and am currently doing some note taking and making memos to myself regarding points in it, I figured that despite some of my mutterings about Hekate and Artemis, that I have never really addressed the Orphic, or perhaps rather mystic, Artemis-Hekate. Though scholars point out that at some point the two became identified with each other at a fairly early point, I haven’t come across much material that expressly identifies them as the same aside from mystic writings.

The first time I read of it was some years ago when I was reading the works of Aeschylus, who was, as I am sure most are aware, a member of a priestly family of Eleusis (which, unlike most other priest offices, was a hereditary post). Much of his writings contain mystic overtures that color them. In his Seven Against Thebes I was taken in by the prayers that were made by the Thebans to Artemis-Hekate.

Later I also noticed the vibrant connections that are drawn up in the orphic hymns themselves which ascribe a character to Artemis which is certainly more than just some woodland goddess of the chase. In fact whenever I see anyone who suggests that is the sum and whole of Artemis’ nature I feel that is fairly insulting to her considering that none of the goddesses are treated with such a white wash of their domains and nature by worshipers. To suggest that Artemis is nothing more than a chaste huntress goddess ignores alot of things particular of her and her domain. Of course that Artemis has had this character we should all be aware since several principle cult locations are derived from a vivid understanding of Artemis as coming largely in myth by way of the Tauric lands. This includes Attica and Laconia in particular. But it is not disclude her role as she is represented at temples, particularly those of Demeter and Kore. Thus we are presented with a powerful long held idenification of Artemis as a versatile goddess of much power.

Now in reading the Orphic Argonautika we come to the part in which Jason must retrieve the golden fleece from Aeetes’ grove. This has such a compelling discription of the grove itself that it moves one to wonder. First we have an accession going on in their approach of the golden fleece. First they come upon bronze walls, and then afterwards they pass through silver gates, before finally arriving to the oak which holds aloft the golden fleece. But to venture past this gate Orpheus must make the proper rituals for passage for the gate is guarded by a great statue of Artemis, holding her torches with fierce dogs at her side. Incidentally this is an entrance which none but females can pass (the author says Medea and the local girls but I think that sums it up pretty much). This bears a startling resemblance to what Pausanias says of a few temples and sacred sanctuaries of the Great Goddesses (Demeter and Kore) in which men are either not allowed or let in very infrequently. Establishing this link it would suggest that the nature of the grove is being held as a mystic devise not unlike these sanctuaries. The fact that Artemis has often figured strongly at the entrance of particular temples, including her prominent place of her own temple at the entrance of Eleusis continues to strengthen this association about the mystic program ongoing in the Orphic Argonautika.

Now in the sacrifice to Artemis we are addressed with a couple of different things going on. We have Artemis called just by this name, specifically in reference to the goddess at the gate. Yet the ritual is being ascribed as making sacrifice to Mounykion Hekate. Mounykion is a pretty well known name of Artemis in Attica, and in fact a whole month in their calendar is name for her and her festival Mounykia which deals with the passage of girls from various stages. In another place in Attica meanwhile Artemis presided over such transitions of both males and females, so perhaps in this indearment we are seeing smething that in the case of the sanctuary they are entering is particular more to girls but which is also acting on the males in the poem, or as Chiron calls them the boys about to become men. As such the heroic journey in place is working with the metaphor in transition from youth to maturity, passage into immortality by possession of the golden fleece which hangs over the grave of Zeus of the trailing plants (which includes ivy among them and which the translator makes note of as being a cthonic Zeus).

As such Artemis, who has a long time cult association in many places all over Hellas becomes that goddess which rears the young and brings them into their next life phase. In which case she would be seen in identification with Hekate as part of her function as Hekate too, like Artemis, is called Kourotroph and shares many of the same functions. Indeed to continue with the reading of the Orphic Argonautika we see that in petition of Artemis for her to lower her guard (calling off the dogs so to speak) the sacrifices are made to underworld goddesses. The Furies arrive, and iron Pandora, and lastly Hekate of Tartaros. Here Hekate is, like Artemis at the gate, being presented distinctly. Though Artemis is closely aligned to each of the animals that are attributed as a head of Hekate (ie the horse, in the Peloponnese in particular Artemis was often featured with horses, especially in Laconia; the lion is an animal that archaic images of her possessed with which she was still seen and commented on in Thebes and Elis by Pausanias; and the dog for obvious reason as the mistress of the hounds. That Hekate and Artemis both have characteristics that establish them as leaders is another point, so much so that this probably figures a strong part in Artemis’ part in the mysteries, likely complimentary to that of her twin.

Therefore it seems that while there is some written difference in Orphic and mystic literature in a very vague sense when dealing with specific kind of imagery, much of what is applied is an understanding of an identification of these goddesses who had paralleling cults as pratically neighboring cities in Ionia.

Try try and seperate these goddesses in a mystic sense is incredibly difficult because in the end you disservice one. One finds themselves either attributing most of everything to Artemis, or going the other way and stripping Artemis of her domain and attributing to Hekate. the mystic combining of Artemis-Hekate deals with their interlocked functions. That what is common tends to be greater than that which bleeds over as being more distinct and individual (such as the specific huntress attribute for Artemis and the sorcery of Hekate). Regardless one leaves off the old remains of what once was at the altar of Hekate and is pursued forth by the swift-footed Artemis, we who are nurtured and reared by Artemis-Hekate. The light-bearing goddess who is the nurse of all life even as the Cretans claimed that Artemis, whom they believed to be a daughter of Zeus and Hera, was the attendant of Eleithyia and as such was the nurse and rearer of children whereas Hesiod calls Hekate foremost nurse.

Thus you have the Titanide and Olympian reflecting back on each other endlessly without true division. Hekate is as Artemis (such as called Mounykion Hekate in the Orphic Argonautika) and Artemis is as Hekate (and as such called Artemis-Hekate in the same text), and together they are ever leading and extending their care whether it is Hekate leading forth before the chariot, or as leader of the dogs, or Artemis as mystic leader and leader of men. The huntress is the nurturer (Artemis), and the nurturer is the daughter of destruction (Hekate as daughter of Perseis).

The main points of seperate in mystic material seems to be largely that Hekate is represented most distinctly when the material is dealing with a more arcane thought process and hidden matters, whereas Artemis is featured more strongly as a protective guardian type figure. For all other things they are addressed for the most part interchangably.


10 thoughts on “Commentary on the Orphic Artemis-Hekate

    • I would say yes and no lol. On one hand where they diverge they are different, but where they do not they are the same. For instance Mounykion Hekate as called in the Orphic Argonautika as something near chthonic in its expression in the poem is aligned with Artemis as per her more savage elements in her cult in different localities. This makes sense, but when Hekate Tartaros has no adjoining of her name linked to Artemis this to me is a distinction here because Artemis herself would not be associated with Tartaros. Though the Eleusinian mysteries had her the daughter of Demeter, probably Demeter Erinye (the Fury) in Arcadia near the said city which had a direct copy of the Eleusinian cult of Demeter, we can see Artemis here, fathered by Poseidon in this instance, as a goddess who is a daughter of an aggressive goddess aspect of Demeter.
      I guess the closest I would say in any declaration of sameness is that they may be slightly varying expressions of the same divine being, made seperate by their more distinctive purposes more than anything else.

  1. This article is fairly fantastic. I’ve always been interested in Hekate and called to her in various ways, but Artemis held my heart as a young girl. I’ve read of their link before, but not in the mystic aspect (reading some of the more controversial academic texts that say Hekate was ONLY a separate name of Artemis and equivocating them completely) and was a bit apprehensive of that connection. Now, reading this, I want to delve more into that Orphic link. After all, the strongest worship and magics come from that area in between. Many times, the Gods are not so simple, and many are one, with one as many.

    I think that the nature of this makes me believe that one can separate them completely in a non-mystic way (when giving them offerings, daily devotions, etc) but that when one would participate in a mystic event involving them together, perhaps their joint-status would be more appropriate.

    I’d be interested to see if you explored the connection of Artemis-Hekate with Persephone and Demeter. I’ve had some events occur suggesting a personal link with Artemis, Hekate and Persephone, so I’m always hungering for more knowledge there (I’ll be exploring much of this myself as well, as soon as I’m caught up with classes, which are fantastic. Being a Hellenic oriented pagan who is able to take Attic Greek is…shall we say amazing?).

    • For me it is a conceptual understanding more than anything else. I may pray to them seperately (and they both have space at my front door along with Hermes and Apollon) but this back up my spiritual life in a more subtle way. Honestly I think when the Romans added the myths and characteristics of Artemis to their Diana, who was their woodland goddess and patron goddess of the latin league among the latins, they understood this concept and though they also have Hecate rather than Hekate, their Diana has a very clear and distinct link to Hecate that is sometimes not so evident in the cult of Artemis under a casual glance.
      As for Demeter, Artemis is said to be in Eleusis and likely in other areas such as in the Peloponnese, to be the daughter of Demeter and Posedion. Given mythic material that we know of a daughter born to these two gods we have The Mistress, or Despoina. Despoina thus is Artemis, but at times she is also seen as Persephone. That Artemis in many areas was one of the playmates of Persephone, along with Athena, is perhaps a strong indicative of their relationship, likewise that in one myth Artemis was said to have witnessed Hades scoop up Persephone and carry her away and chased after the fleeing chariot. Of course this scenario does have Orphic meaning which you can email me if you want to discuss it more. In anycase the running maiden of Eleusis can easily be interpretted as being both Hekate (who is in the running maiden pose as she leads for Persephone) and Artemis who chased after the chariot of Hades (recalling in myth that Hekate didn’t see it but rather heard Persephone’s cries from a distance). Artemis and Apollon both have interesting roles in the mystery program at Eleusis, or so I think from my studies, and even more directly so with Artemis 🙂

  2. Pingback: Alyth and Artemis | Francis James Franklin (Alina Meridon)

  3. This reminds me of the relationship between Parvati and Kali in Hinduism, where Kali is an aspect of Parvati, but the two performing very different roles.

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