Hecate and Hypnos

The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy, by William Blake, 1795

Hecate is the goddess of crossroads, witchcraft, magic, light, necromancy, ghosts, sorcery, entryways, herbs, and poisonous plants. She’s frequently depicted holding a key or two torches, and later on portrayed in triplicate. Hecate was one of the main deities worshipped by Athenians, since she was a protective goddess and bestowed daily blessings and prosperity upon families.

Hecate (Hekate) is possibly derived from hekas, “far off.” It may also mean “will.” Other suggested etymologies are Hekatos, an obscure epithet for Apollo, and translated as “the far-reaching one,” “the far-darter,” “she that removes or drives off,” or “she that operates from afar.” There may also be parallels with the Egyptian fertility goddess Heqet.

Until the late 19th century, most Anglophones pronounced the name with two syllables, even when properly spelt, due to the inaccurate spelling Hecat used in Arthur Golding’s 1567 translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Other names and epithets of Hecate include Melinoe, Soteria, Trivia (in Roman mythology), Triodia, Propolos, Propulaia, Trimorphe, Phosphoros, Lampadephoros, Kourotrophos, Kleidouchos, Enodia, Apotropaia, and Chthonia.

Hecate’s parents are Perses (a Titan) and Asteria (daughter of Titans), and her maternal great-grandparents are Gaia and Uranus. Zeus honoured her as most high, and gave her many gifts, even though she was descended from his enemies the Titans.

In some traditions, Hecate is a virgin goddess who never married or had a regular consort, though other traditions name her as the mother to Circe, Scylla, Pasiphaë, Pan, King Aletes of Colchis, and demigoddess Empusa.

In the modern era, Hecate is widely-revered by the Wiccan and other Neo-Pagan religious communities, as well as by Hellenists who’ve revived the ancient Greek religion.

Sleep and His Half-Brother Death, by John William Waterhouse, 1874

Hypnos is the god of sleep, and the son of primordial deities Nyx (personification of night) and Erebus (representing darkness). His Roman equivalent is Somnus. Alongside his twin brother Thanatos (god of Death), he lives in the underworld. Traditions vary on whether they live in Hades or Erebus.

Hypnos lives in a large cave, at the origin of the river Lethe, where night and day meet. A number of poppies and other hypnotic plants grow by the entrance of the cave. He sleeps on an ebony bed, and no light or sound ever enter his dwelling-place.

According to Homer, Hypnos lives on the island of Lemnos, which was sacred to Hephaestus, god of metallurgy. Later on, Lemnos became Hypnos’s very own dream-island. His children Morpheus, Phantasos, and Phobetor are the gods of this dream of Lemnos.

Night and Sleep, by Evelyn De Morgan, 1878

In The Iliad, Hypnos uses his powers to trick Zeus and help the Greeks to win the Trojan War, at the behest of who else but Hera. This wasn’t the first time Hypnos had tricked Zeus at Hera’s behest, and Hypnos was loath to do it again. The previous time, Zeus was really pissed when he awoke, and went on a rampage looking for Hypnos. Hypnos escaped by hiding with his mother Nyx.

Hypnos agreed to help Hera only after she promised him Pasithea as a wife. Pasithea is among the youngest of the Graces, and the goddess of relaxation or hallucination. Hypnos had wanted to marry her for a really long time, and now was finally able to get her as a reward. He made Hera swear by the river Styx and call upon all the underworld deities so she wouldn’t go back on her promise.

As Zeus slept, Hypnos told Poseidon he could give the Greeks their victory. Poseidon was very eager to do this, and the war’s course of victory shifted away from the Trojans. Zeus never discovered Hypnos’s role in this.

Hypnos, whose name appropriately means “sleep,” is described as gentle and calm, since he helps humans in need of sleep. He owns at least half our lives, since that’s how much time we devote to sleep!


4 thoughts on “Hecate and Hypnos

  1. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2017 « Onomastics Outside the Box

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