Posts Tagged ‘Hounds’

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Hermes Khthonios and Hekate Khthonia

August 19, 2009

Hermes is, perhaps, one of the more underappreciated gods. He is an Olympian, and thus respected for that: but that is not all he is. He has another duty, far more grand than his role in the myths as a simple messenger, and that is the role of guiding the dead to their final resting place. He lead the dead from their bodies to the Underworld, to be taken in Kharon’s boat into the realm of gloomy Hades. In this role, he becomes a god not just of the earth and skies, but of beneath the earth: he becomes a Khthonic god. He becomes Hermes Diaktoros or Pompaios—the guide—and Hermes Kataibatês, the descender.

When Persephone was abducted by Hades, it was Hermes who, at Zeus’ eventual request, flew down to the Underworld to retrieve her. It was not Zeus himself, nor, indeed, any of the other gods, Olympian or not. It was him: the messenger of the gods both above and below the world. Although Persephone did not accompany him back, it would later become Hermes who would descend to take and return her when her six months in the gloomy Underworld had ended.

Perhaps it was in this role, guide rather than messenger, that Hermes Khthonios became so intricately involved with Hekate. She, Persephone’s minister; he, Persephone’s guide. Pausanias and Propertius allude to Hermes Khthonios lying with, and producing children with, Underworld goddesses or nymphai: Daeira and Brimo. Daeira, mother of Eleusis by Hermes, was identified with Hekate through their joint connections to the Eleusinian Mysteries; and Brimo, a goddess of the Underworld, was identified with both Daeira and Hekate. The name ‘Brimo’—the angry, the terrifying—is frequently considered an epithet of Hekate’s—therefore making Hekate the consort of Hermes Khthonios, and, if the connections between Hekate-Daeira and Daeira-Brimo hold, the mother of Eleusis by Hermes.

Further to this, Hermes Khthonios and Hekate did not have just Persephone in common. Both were also guides of the dead: Hermes Khthonios directed souls down to the mouth of the Underworld, and Hekate lead them back up as ghosts. Perhaps, then, they could be said to have a dualistic relationship; for they are both antagonistic and companionable towards one-another, for Hermes Khthonios restricted the shades of the dead, and Hekate Khthonia freed them.

Both Hermes and Hekate have yet another shared aspect. One of Hekate’s two sacred animals is the dog, particularly the hounds of the Underworld (the kunes khthonioi), due to Queen Hekabe’s metamorphosis into a black bitch. According to Apollonius Rhodius, Lycophron, Ovid and Virgil, to name but a few, Hekate’s arrival from gloomy Hades to the mortal world was heralded by the ‘baying in the night’ of dogs. Hermes, too, has a connection with dogs, as the god of animal husbandry and the god of guard dogs. Thus, Hermes and Hekate are bound further: her arrival incites dogs to bay, creatures of which he has dominion, perhaps as a warning to those who would venture into the goddess’ path (and thus be beyond Hermes’ protection of the home and of travellers).

Although one’s personal experiences and alternative sources may contradict a sexual relationship between Hermes Khthonios and Hekate, it is undeniable that there is a relationship. They are the opposite of one-another, the perfect companions and the perfect balance: Olympian-Khthonian and Khthonian-Titanide; light-shadow and shadow-light; sky-earth and earth-sky; and feminine male and masculine female.

Hermes Khthonios could not exist without Hekate Khthonia, and vice-versa. They need each other: the Underworld, the mortal world and Mount Olympus all need balance to exist and flourish, and Hermes and Hekate provide the joined worlds with some of that balance. They are Divinities with a foot in each world, tethering one to the next and yet keeping them separate. They are Underworld gods, earth gods, sea gods, sky gods: and they could not truly exist in any other form.

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