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Hekate and the Moon (1)

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04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

Chaldean Oracles
2nd century CE
Roman Empire
Akkadian poetry
Helleno-Roman philosophers and scholars
Sumerian poetry

According to Xenocrates and Plutarch (Obsolencence of Oracles 416c-f), the moon, which in Platonic philosophy was both a liminal point and a mediating entity between the sensible and intelligible worlds, was the proper home of the demons. These demons, which occupied the middle world of the moon and the lunar air, acted as mediators between the two worlds of gods (the world of the sun and stars) and humans (the world of earth and waters). Due to their position, demons were similar to both gods and humans. Hekate, who was both an earthly and a heavenly goddess, was also the goddess of the moon. The moon, the “earth-like star” and “star-like earth,” was Hekate’s “lot.” Subsequently, she was also the queen of demons, good and bad, who occupied the moon.

Hekate was also associated with evil chthonic demons, known as “dogs.” This relationship derived from the earlier Greek tradition where Hekate was connected with dogs. In the Chaldean Oracles, Hekate’s dogs were hylic demons whose intention was to deceive the theurgist and prevent his union with the divine. Since the Chaldean system depicted Hekate as a savior figure, helping the theurgist, she had to be disassociated from these dogs. In order to achieve this, the Chaldean doctrine followed the Middle Platonic view of the double Soul: the upper part of the Soul that remained secluded from the Sensible World (Cosmos) became Hekate, whereas the lower part of the Soul that was involved with men and the matters of the material world became known as Physis. Physis was not evil but simply hylic, but because the dog-demons lived in her sublunar sphere, it was she that became their controller. Physis was closely related to Hekate since Physis was derived from her.

This situation be compared with the sororal relationship of Ištar with Ereškigal: the former is more involved in heavenly matters whereas the latter is involved in the matters of “down below,” or with the matters of the material world, as in the Descent of Ištar to the Netherworld. If Physis originated from Hekate, the Soul, so also Ereškigal can be seen deriving from Inanna/Ištar since the queen of the netherworld may be seen as a hypostasis of the queen of heaven, the sinful soul vs. the purified soul. In fact, a Middle Assyrian version of the first eleven lines of Descent of Ištar to the Netherworld identifies Ereškigal as “Ištar (ištaru) who resides in the midst of Irkalla.” Like Physis (Hekate), Inanna was also associated with dogs. In Inanna C 105, she is said to “ride on seven great dogs (ur = kalbu) as you come forth from heaven,” and correspondingly, in Inanna D 29, she is said to “have placed her feet on seven dogs.” The dogs of the Chaldean Oracles were acting in the sublunar sphere (= on earth), and in Inanna D, the part where it says that Inanna “has placed her feet on seven dogs” happens on earth (ll. 27-36).

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Descent of Ištar to the Netherworld 1-11
Inanna D 27-36
Plutarch, Obsolencence of Oracles 416c-f


Lapinkivi 2004, 178-179Lapinkivi, Pirjo. The Sumerian Sacred Marriage in the Light of Comparative Evidence. State Archives of Assyria Studies 15. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Coprus Project 2004.

Pirjo Lapinkivi

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