Ritual for Uncertain Times

 

To a reader of existing classical literature, the final centuries of Roman dominion correlated with the rise in popularity of Hecate and Dionysus. Dionysus, as a central god of the Orphic cult, and Hecate, as the deity to which many love spells were addressed, both figure prominently in religious and magical literature. For example, The Orphic Hymns are one of the few sources we have on Greek liturgy and Dionysus has seven hymns addressed to him in them.1 Faraone believes that Hecate along with Hermes replaced the Sun and Moon in love magic from the 1st century B.C. onwards.2 Despite their ubiquity in the written record, there is little evidence that the worship of either became more prominent as the Roman Empire, and the worship of the pagan gods, began to collapse. Dionysus and Hecate were popular prior to the Roman period. The worship of both gods goes back to at least the beginnings of Greek civilization, as Hecate first appeared in Hesiod and Dionysus is mentioned in Homer and Hesiod. Homer and Hesiod are some of the earliest writings and were written at the start of the Greek era. Dionysian cults were a regular part of life in the Greek world, but it seems that in the Hellenistic era and Roman period they became ubiquitous due to their popularity.3 The world the Dionysian cults operated within had many problems for the ordinary and noble Roman alike.The final centuries of Roman rule were a difficult time. During the third century, the Roman world was besieged by invaders, depopulation, economic depression, and militarism.4 The Orphic hymns are dated to roughly the same period by some academics.5 In view of these coincidences, it is interesting to consider that both deities could have seen an increase in their popularity in the final stages of the Roman world’s eventual collapse. Further, the parts of life that Dionysus and Hecate ruled as deities makes them ideal for a number of reasons. The theory that Hecate and Dionysus have a connection to uncertain times will be explored and then a ritual inspired by it will be described.

Hecate and Dionysus were seen as gods of boundaries. In ancient Roman religion, certain gods ruled certain parts of life. Gods of transitions and barriers, such as Mercury, Hecate, and Dionysus, have the ability to protect, move, or go between various environments. Hecate is often brought up as being able to move through the earth, water, and sky.  She could also move from the land of the dead to the land of the living and vice versa. Mercury had similar abilities. Dionysus as a god of transitions, oppositions, and various states of being had a similar type of rulership over things of unlike nature. He was from the borders of the Greek world, and had died and been resurrected in myths. He also was associated with vegetation and growth and in that way too he had a relationship with liminality through the life and death cycle of plants. Dionysus and Hecate were gods of many things, and amongst them they ruled transitions and boundaries.

Gods that rule transitions and boundaries are a natural choice of worship in a time of crisis. Romans consciously or unconsciously might have looked to liminal gods that rule transitions in a time of upheaval. The famed Crisis of the Third Century was a chaotic period. All three transition- ruling gods could have been a logical choice for help in a crumbling world. When the foundations are teetering, it’s best to ask the gods that are beyond the foundations for aid. Gods that are able to move between dissimilar places have a natural ability to provide assistance that gods of war, love, healing, arts, or abundance might not have at their disposal. As mentioned earlier, there is no way to verify or prove the theory that the worship of Hecate or Dionysus increased due to their dominion over changes. But, the idea has contemporary relevance.

The notion of looking to gods with a special ability to bypass normal boundaries is relevant for modern times. Just as the final centuries of the Roman Empire saw massive destruction and the end of a civilization, parts of the modern world now sit on the precipice of change. The current year in some way fits previous turbulent times. The United States faces a multi- polar world. Technological change is bringing unprecedented changes. Future technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and robotics seem poised to transform society. Some astrologers also see the current time as a book end on a previous era. For one, it fits the two hundred and twenty year Jupiter- Saturn mean conjunctions moving from earth signs to air signs. Saturn is also in Capricorn, which in a way brings an end to a thirty- year cycle. There are many signs that the future is clouded with uncertainty and the potential for major changes. Hence, any steps people living in similar circumstances took could be helpful and bring clarity. 

There is one aspect of Hecate and Dionysus and their ability to move beyond boundaries worth discussing. The delineated boundaries the three gods transgress with ease are usually those of material form and space but not that of time. It could be argued that there is not any real transition that takes place with the end of previous eras of human history except for the passage of time. In other words, simple human cycles are played out when cultures, languages, and civilizations collapse, fade, or are extinguished. Change by its nature is not a transition in a spatial context, but one of time. So, if you believe that Hecate, Dionysus, and Hermes are able to move through boundaries and have special powers related to all things that are of an unlike nature, their assistance would not matter as the real problem is time. However, the death of a system or a way of life in a way is like the death of an ecosystem. Many aspects of the structure change. When a civilization collapses, its culture, language, religion, and way of life vanishes. History is full of examples of civilizations and groups of people experiencing major changes, sometimes complete collapse, sometimes major modifications. So, major changes in human culture and society fit the concept of liminal deity governed transitions, because in such times everything that was standard before is turned on its head. The old gods are not able to protect the people or save the civilization from its demise. Everything that worked before no longer functions, be it types of warfare, systems of government, worship, or social cohesion. Suddenly, vast changes in human society create new realities that are as different from the past reality as the sea is to the land. They instill a subjective view of an upside- down world, of a loss of foundations. They have the same effect as a fish leaving the water and walking on the land, or a lion levitating and flying in the sky. With the death of a way of life, completely new structures are developed. Liminal gods could have powers over changing times, as there is a changing character to structures and what exists. The two deities are a suitable choice for a modern ritual that addresses changes at the end of the 2010s. In order to respond to the current historical climate, a ritual to Dionysus and Hecate for assistance with a changing environment can be performed. Instructions, including a prayer, are provided below.

The suggested ritual should follow a basic format of invoking the two gods, reciting a prayer, and making an offering. The ritual doesn’t have to be performed jointly for Hecate and Dionysus, as some may want to do it for only one of the deities. Greek literature is full of prayers to Hecate that include various deities such as Janus, Osiris, Persephone, and others.6 It is up to one’s own understanding whether to do a ritual that has two gods in it, to do a ritual with one sole god, or to do them both separately. There are ways to view each option. The first option is to do a joint ritual for Dionysus and Hecate. The ritual was originally conceived in this way, as a request for assistance will benefit from dual godly powers. It also fits the original observation which led to the creation of the ritual in the first place. A second option is to choose either Hecate or Dionysus and do the ritual with just one sole god. Such a ritual might appeal to a ritual practitioner that feels uncomfortable sharing an altar space between two gods or invoking two within the same ritual. There are arguments along those lines as to why having a ritual to a sole god is best. Third, an option is to conduct separate  rituals for Hecate and Dionysus. It could be argued that its more respectful to the deities to do it separately. There are arguments for all three possibilities. As for altar preparation, there are a few steps to follow. The ritual should have certain materials such as candles and incense, an altar space, offerings, and containers for offerings. Offerings should be specific and may take some time to obtain. Once all of the preparations have been made, the ritual practitioner can choose a time to perform the ritual. Any hour of the day works, but the time could be chosen to be performed on a day off, so that there are less distractions from everyday life. The ritual can be scheduled using the planetary days and hours. If the planetary days and hours are used for the ritual, it might be best to do the ritual at Saturn or Mercury days and hours for Hecate, and Jupiter or Moon days and hours for Dionysus. As Mercury is a liminal god like Dionysus and Hecate, Mercury day and hour could be the best choice for a ritual that includes both deities. Traditionally, Hecate was often invoked on the new moon. Next, the practitioner should have some idea of how the ritual will be performed. The standard way to perform the ritual is as follows. After meditating before the ritual for a set period of time, it is best to light the candles and incense and read an Orphic hymn or another ancient hymn. A prayer will then be recited. The prayer should have a request for assistance. A prayer script has been provided below, underneath the abbreviated ritual guide. Three forms of the prayer are included, with various structures. It is up to the ritual practitioner which prayer script to use, though all should suffice. After looking through them, one should be chosen. Then, the ritual practitioner should decide upon the order of the rest of the ritual. It can be performed as suggested earlier in this paragraph, or it can be done a little differently. The ritual script found in this article is a guide. There can be changes to the script. The order of invocation, prayer, and offering, isn’t set in stone, though it is easy to follow. Either during or after the prayer is read, the ritual practitioner can mention the offerings. Below, the offerings are the last part of the ritual, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Upon closing the ritual, the offerings can be left for twenty- four hours, or can be disposed of. The altar can be disassembled, or can be left for a period of time. Finally, the ritual can be repeated at intervals. Depending on circumstances, many parts of the ritual can be modified, such as time spent meditating, offerings, and requests. The ritual advice detailed here is not in any way related to the historical Dionysian rituals, mysteries, or festivals that existed. Instead, it fits the basic ritual form. Upon deciding on an order to the ritual, there is nothing left but to wait for the appropriate time and perform the planned ritual. 

It is recommended to establish relationships with Hecate and Dionysus prior to performing the Changing Times Ritual. There are a number of reasons for this. First, both deities have very specific nature and it would be worthwhile getting acclimated with them beforehand. Future ritual work would benefit from the process. Second, experience might be necessary, especially since Dionysus and Hecate both are quite unorthodox and in some ways alien. Rituals with the two are a big contrast then say rituals with Selene and Aphrodite, which can be cozy, warm, easy, and nurturing. Third, it is important to experience the ritual process with both deities to gauge the personal relationship the ritual practitioner has with them. Finally,  the ritual asks for for big things, such as guidance from danger and fortuitous placement amongst chaotic circumstances. It would be a disservice to perform the ritual without prior experience invoking and working with the deities called upon. Before trying this ritual, it would be better to first work with Hecate and Dionysus, in turn. Many of the steps would be the same, but the offerings could be less elaborate and the prayer could be a simple acknowledgement or words of gratitude. Once gaining some experience with Hecate and Dionysus, the Changing Times Ritual can be carried out. 

To reiterate, the steps to conduct the ritual are:

  1.   Gather materials such as a candle, incense, and offerings. Get opium, frankincense, or cinnamon for Hecate, and any sweet smelling or wood- based incense for Dionysus. The Orphic Hymns mention the incense ahead of the actual hymn, and the incense listed for Dionysus in the hymns is storax or frankincense while for Hecate it is frankincense. Hecate’s offerings should be garlic, rotting food, rotting eggs, black sesame, black rice, myrrh, or cinnamon, while Dionysus should get pine cones, pieces of ivy, wine, beer, grapes, wild and domestic trees, frankincense, musk, figs, honey, apples, and thistle. 
  2.   Set up a space that can be used as a temporary altar. Pictures of Hecate and Dionysus would be helpful but aren’t completely necessary.
  3.   Begin the ritual by meditating for a specific amount of time. It can range from fifteen minutes to an hour according to personal circumstances and understanding. While meditating, think of the gods that will be called upon. One thing to be aware of is that the concept of miasma was very important to the ancient Greeks. At the very least, the ritual practitioner should make sure to be clean. Generally, being clean is a good habit to have and it was stressed for worship by ancient sources. 
  4.   Light the candles and incense. 
  5.   Read aloud the Orphic Hymn to Hecate and then do the same with Dionysus. 
  6.   Read aloud the attached prayer, with any adjustments that have been made.
  7.   Additional ritual elements can be incorporated at this point. That includes dancing, singing, reciting voces magicae, making drawings, or doing anything else based on intuition or research. The point is to celebrate the god. Otherwise, move on to the last step.
  8.   Mention how you have brought offerings for the gods. List them by name. Then say that the ritual is now over. The blowing out of candles and incense should occur at this point. If you have a bell, you can ring it. Otherwise, you can clap.
  9.   The altar and offerings are left over night. The offerings are thrown out the next day, and the altar is disassembled.
A ritual to Dionysus is performed. Photo by David Kute.
A ritual to Hecate is performed on an altar space. Photo by David Kute.

Transition Prayer

Standard Structure

 

Changes abound, the world will undergo adjustments 

 

The beehive faces extinction

 

Modes of life disappear

 

The structure faces realignment

 

Forms are wiped out, the present faces an eradication 

 

No one knows what will go first

No one knows what is safe

 

On a battlefield, spears and arrows fly

Some may be hit, others will be fine

 

There’s nowhere to hide

There’s nowhere to run

The foundation is collapsing

 

Change is afoot, the vast cosmos prepares for a new stage

 

Some are aware of the new tide

When it arrives most will hope it misses their circles 

They will stand strong or run 

Fear will be the only refuge 

 

Hecate

I address the lover of dogs and crossroads 

 

As a bridge of unlike things

 

The connector of diverse realms

 

Listen to my prayer

 

Render my life so that I’m positioned fortunately

Guide my person so that I move in a beneficial direction

Bestow foresight so that I avoid dangers and disasters

Provide auspicious help so that I am allowed to follow through on my life goals and dreams unimpeded by the environmental turmoil and chaos that may result

 

Dionysus

I address the Lord of nature and the beastly

 

As a master of transitions

 

The conveyor that brings dissimilar states from one space to another

 

Lord, listen to my call 

 

Render my life so that I’m positioned fortunately

Guide my person so that I move in a beneficial direction

Bestow foresight so that I avoid dangers and disasters

Provide auspicious help so that I am allowed to follow through on my life goals and dreams unimpeded by the environmental turmoil and chaos that may result

 

Transition Prayer

Alternate Structure

 

Hecate

I address the lover of dogs and crossroads 

 

As a bridge of unlike things

 

The connector of diverse realms

 

Listen to my prayer

 

Changes abound, the world will undergo adjustments 

 

The beehive faces extinction

 

Modes of life disappear

 

Render my life so that I’m positioned fortunately

 

The structure faces realignment

 

Forms are wiped out, the present faces an eradication 

 

No one knows what will go first

No one knows what is safe

 

Guide my person so that I move in a beneficial direction

 

On a battlefield, spears and arrows fly

Some may be hit, others will be fine

 

There’s nowhere to hide

There’s nowhere to run

The foundation is collapsing

 

Bestow foresight so that I avoid dangers and disasters

 

Change is afoot, the vast cosmos prepares for a new stage

 

Some are aware of the new tide

When it arrives most will hope it misses their circles 

They will stand strong or run 

Fear will be the only refuge 

 

Provide auspicious help so that I am allowed to follow through on my life goals and dreams unimpeded by the environmental turmoil and chaos that may result

 

Dionysus

I address the Lord of nature and the beastly

 

As a master of transitions

 

The conveyor that brings dissimilar states from one space to another

 

Lord, listen to my call 

 

Changes abound, the world will undergo adjustments 

 

The beehive faces extinction

 

Modes of life disappear

 

Render my life so that I’m positioned fortunately

 

The structure faces realignment

 

Forms are wiped out, the present faces an eradication 

 

No one knows what will go first

No one knows what is safe

 

Guide my person so that I move in a beneficial direction

 

On a battlefield, spears and arrows fly

Some may be hit, others will be fine

 

There’s nowhere to hide

There’s nowhere to run

The foundation is collapsing

 

Bestow foresight so that I avoid dangers and disasters

 

Change is afoot, the vast cosmos prepares for a new stage

 

Some are aware of the new tide

When it arrives most will hope it misses their circles 

They will stand strong or run 

Fear will be the only refuge 

 

Provide auspicious help so that I am allowed to follow through on my life goals and dreams unimpeded by the environmental turmoil and chaos that may result

 

Transition Prayer

Second Alternate Structure

 

Changes abound, the world will undergo adjustments 

 

The beehive faces extinction

 

Modes of life disappear

 

The structure faces realignment

 

Forms are wiped out, the present faces an eradication 

 

No one knows what will go first

No one knows what is safe

 

On a battlefield, spears and arrows fly

Some may be hit, others will be fine

 

There’s nowhere to hide

There’s nowhere to run

The foundation is collapsing

 

Change is afoot, the vast cosmos prepares for a new stage

 

Some are aware of the new tide

When it arrives most will hope it misses their circles 

They will stand strong or run 

Fear will be the only refuge 

 

Render my life so that I’m positioned fortunately

Guide my person so that I move in a beneficial direction

Bestow foresight so that I avoid dangers and disasters

Provide auspicious help so that I am allowed to follow through on my life goals and dreams unimpeded by the environmental turmoil and chaos that may result

 

Hecate

I address the lover of dogs and crossroads 

 

As a bridge of unlike things

 

The connector of diverse realms

 

Listen to my prayer

 

Dionysus

I address the Lord of nature and the beastly

 

As a master of transitions

 

The conveyor that brings dissimilar states from one space to another

 

Lord, listen to my call 

 

Bibliography

 

    1. Faraone, Christopher. Ancient Greek Love Magic and Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1991. 
    2. Rankine, Sorita and David. Hekate Liminal Rites. Kindle edition. London: Avalonia. 2009.

 

  • Athanassakis, Apostolos N. and Benjamin M. Wolkow. The Orphic Hymns. Kindle edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2013.

 

  1. Lynch, Patrick. 4 Reasons Why Third Century Rome Was in Crisis- And How It Was Fixed. History Collection.

 

Notes

 

 

  • Athanassakis, Apostolos N. and Benjamin M. Wolkow. The Orphic Hymns. Kindle edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2013. Introduction. Paragraph 19.

 

  1. Faraone, Christopher. Ancient Greek Love Magic and Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1991. 
  2. Athanassakis, Apostolos N. and Benjamin M. Wolkow. The Orphic Hymns. Introduction. Paragraph 18.
  3. Lynch, Patrick. 4 Reasons Why Third Century Rome Was in Crisis- And How It Was Fixed. History Collection.
  4. Athanassakis, Apostolos N. and Benjamin M. Wolkow. The Orphic Hymns. Introduction. 
  5. Rankine, Sorita and David. Hekate Liminal Rites. Kindle edition. London: Avalonia. 2009. Hymns. Chapter 21. Paragraph 1. 

 

 

 

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