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The 2022 Winter Olympics have started and Ferrebeekeeper watched the opening ceremony so that you don’t have to! The Beijing-style pageantry and pomp was omnipresent…yet markedly different than in 2008 (when covid, climate-change, and autocracy had not yet taken their toll on Earth’s beleaguered folk). My most dazzling part of the whole affair was the giant flower (above) made of huge green LED rods and a troupe of brilliant, careful dancers working seamlessly together. That was incredible! Do a sea anemone next! I also enjoyed how NBC sporadically cut-away to show Vladimir Putin sitting alone in his VIP dictator box. When the Russian athletes came out he blew kisses. When the Ukraine athletes came out he pretended to be asleep while a dream-bubble featuring him devouring the Ukraine appeared above his head. Then when the camera was not on him, he sneaked off to purloin the gold judo medals (the joke’s on you, strongman, there IS no judo in the winter Olympics). What a show!

After the giant flower made up of people, the show-makers got even more serious about hammering home their political message of Chinese unity. Like Europe, China is made up of many ethnic groups (Hui, Miao, Bai, Manchu, Kam, Yao, Uyghur, Tibetan, Gelao, etc, etc, etc…). All of these people are annealed together under Han leadership. The opening ceremony illustrated this, by presenting actors dressed up like the various ethnicities working together to conquer covid, set up the games, and carry the national flag to the seamless, goose-stepping Chinese military which marched it into place.

The most popular part of the opening is the parade of nations, when each nation’s athletes enter the stadium wearing appropriate costumes. The fashion winner was…Kazakhstan (sigh), which took a break from pogroms and crackdowns to put together these stunning outfits which look like they came out of a beautiful Central Asian version of “Return of the Jedi”.

The Kazhak Olympic flag-bearers

Americas’ outfits at least looked warm, practical, and tough for a change.

Each nation’s delegation was preceded by a gorgeous Chinese model bearing a snowflake with the country’s name. Snowflakes were the theme of the opening ceremony. After the parade of nations, these nation-snowflakes had further roles to play in the ceremony.

In the west, snowflakes represent individuality (since no two are the same). In America, the pro-totalitarian opponents of liberty have taken to calling their liberal-minded political opponents “snowflakes” to mock the idea that anything different can be special or worthwhile (and also, presumably, to show that those who support democracy are fragile and weak). The whole thing is a stupid and contrived metaphor, which China disturbingly recontextualized by featuring hundreds of identical mass-produced snowflakes (the national “nametags” from the parade of athletes) being held by heterogeneous children from around the world. Through some kind of Chinese artistry, these identical snowflakes were then annealed together into a giant super snowflake–which also looked exactly the same. All of this was against the larger backdrop of identical machine-made snow (without which the winter Olympics could not happen in drought-stricken Beijing).

NBC tried to sprinkle some Hollywood tinsel onto this very Chinese show in the form of a pre-taped segment with professional wrestler and not-exactly-master thespian Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson bloviating about how great America’s Olympic athletes are. Although I fully believe that the Rock knows how challenging it is to keep to a steroid regimen, he does not have anything else to do with the Olympics and his form-fitting shirt-sleeved shirt and obvious LA backdrop made him seem even more jarringly out of place.

The real high point of the show was the appearance of China’s uncrowned emperor, Xi Jinping, in a mask and simple unadorned winter coat. He spoke a word and the sky was filled with dazzling fireworks and the games officially began! As you may be able to tell, I have some reservations about all of this (during the worldwide Democratic crisis, the IOC’s very biddable affections seem to all lie with totalitarians), but that hardly means I’m not going to enjoy the Olympics… Let me know what you think, and we will blog more about what is happening on the ice and on the piste of the world’s most populous capital city!

Hecate


When I was young I received a copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which I loved.  I memorized the characters and stories from the book and suddenly the world of art and poetry opened up to me.  The book remains a delightful mythology primer for any child. However, later when I read actual Greco-Roman literature, I realized that D’Aulaire’s had left out a goddess of great importance to the Greco-Roman world (among other things…).  The omission seems fitting however, for the missing goddess was Hecate, the goddess of magic, poison, night, thresholds, boundaries, and crossroads.  The Oxford Classic Dictionary asserts that Hecate “is more at home on the fringes than in the center of Greek polytheism. Intrinsically ambivalent and polymorphous, she straddles conventional boundaries and eludes definition.”  This seems correct.  Even in classical passages which hold her in high esteem, Hecate seems to be an outsider among the gods.  Her very name means “the distant one”.

Hekate, dressed as a huntress, wielding a pair of Eleusinian torches at Heracles and Cerberus (Attic vase, ca. 310 BC)

Hecate may seem like a strange outsider in the Greek pantheon because she was an outsider in the Greek pantheon.  Some scholars believe she was originally a Thracian moon goddess based, in turn, on an ancient and powerful Anatolian goddess.  Unlike other outsider gods, who frequently worked their way into the Greek canon as animal demons, Hecate struck a chord with the Greeks and became a focus of their mystery cults.  Additionally she had an influential worshipper early on in Greek culture: there are few if any references to Hecate before she appears in the works of Hesiod (a major source of Ionic thought who was active sometime between 750 and 650 BC).  Yet in Hesiod’s Theogeny she is a major force of the universe. Perhaps this is because Hesiod’s father was reputedly from Aeolis (a region of Anatolia).  It could be that Hesiod was honoring a local goddess, and his writings became instrumental to securing her place in the Greek canon (where she nonetheless remains an alien).

Hesiod wrote that Hecate was the only child of two Titans, Asteria (goddess of the stars) and Peres (god of might).  Hesiod seems to have regarded her as beautiful and powerful.  In Theogeny, he wrote,

For to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich
sacrifices and prays for favour according to custom, he calls
upon Hecate.  Great honour comes full easily to him whose prayers
the goddess receives favourably, and she bestows wealth upon him;
for the power surely is with her….
The son of Cronus did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that
was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as
the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both
in earth, and in heaven, and in sea.  Also, because she is an
only child, the goddess receives not less honour, but much more
still, for Zeus honours her.

Greek writers of the 5th century, maintained Hesiod’s respect for Hecate but they saw her in a darker light.  Euripides writes about her as the patron deity of the sorceress Medea and quite a few of that baleful witch’s invocations are directly to Hecate.

Whatever Hecate’s origins in the near east and ancient Greece, Hecate had morphed from a moon goddess and protector of the young into underworld queen by the era of Alexander, and that is how she was subsequently worshipped by the Romans (who held her very dear).  In Hellenic times and afterwards, Hecate is pictured as a triple goddess.  Sometimes she has been portrayed with three young beautiful faces, but other times she is depicted as simultaneously being a maiden, a mother, and a crone (which seems to be how her contemporary worshippers see her).  Likewise, in one or more of her six arms she always holds a torch.  The other items vary between serpents, keys, daggers, ropes, herbs, and mystery charms.  Speaking of serpents, she was occasionally portrayed with serpent legs or serpent limbs.

The snake was by no means the only creature affiliated with Hecate. Like many chthonic deities of the Mediterranean, she was associated with dogs (particularly black female dogs).  She is said to have had two demon hounds which did her bidding (although it hardly seems important since she was a sorceress of matchless puissance).  Additonally, dogs were sacrificed to her and eaten in her honor. Snakes, owls and other nocturnal creatures were variously seen as sacred to the goddess as was the red mullet, a blood-colored goatfish (which wealthy Romans kept in salt water pens to pamper and train as pets). In terms of botanical symbolism, all manner of poisons were her bailiwick and she was invoked by poisoner and victim alike.  The yew, with its dark symbolism, was particularly sacred to Hecate, and her worshippers planted them around her temples and mystery cult sites.

Agh! It’s Hecate!

As goddess of thresholds she was called on to help people through the two greatest thresholds. She was worshiped both as a midwife (some say the knife and rope in her hands were for tying umbilical cords) and as a sort of supernatural hospice nurse (some assert that her knife, rope, and herbs could be used to slip into the next realm).  Like Athena and Diana, Hecate was a virgin goddess.

I mentioned Hecate’s contemporary worshipers earlier.  Unlike the other Greek gods, who may still inspire artists, poets, and antiquarians but rarely elicit prayers, Hecate continues to have a worldwide following.  Neopaganism has suited her admirably and she has even appeared in a number of hit TV shows.  Her mysterious protean nature seems to appeal to the diffuse and highly-individualized practitioners of Wicca.  One can only imagine how the surly and chauvinistic Hesiod would feel if told that his beloved Hecate had outlived his beloved Olympian Gods to be worshiped and called on as a feminist icon!

Hecate Trimorphe Triodia Phosphorus (digimagicnb, 2011, digital media)

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