From the Oak: Let’s hear it for the God!
Many are those that focus on female divinities, leaving male divinities in the shadows if they get mentioned at all. This is a shame. Here I will share my thoughts, stories and prayers on male divinities.
Haides, God of the Underworld
I’m told that I have a thing for the “bad boys” of the Greek pantheon and maybe that is true. Yet it is because I see past their “popular” labeling to someone worthy of my attention and respect. So let me tell you about the bad boy that seems to surpass even Ares. He is the ultimate freak out for some people. Haides, God of the Underworld.
As Lord of the Underworld, this divinity has been called by various names by the Greeks and Romans. Many of which are euphemistic, that is to say a way of making him appear less fierce. Plouton, Pluto, Dis and variations refer to his lordship over the wealth found under the ground such as metals and gemstones, even seeds, tubers and bulbs. The meaning of the name Haides/Hades (and the variations, Aides and Aidoneus) is uncertain; it has been variously translated as “all-receiver”, “the god who makes invisible” and “knowing or wise one”. I refer to him as Haides to distinguish him in my writing from his realm, Hades. I’ve seen claims that Haides was not honored by the ancients as they did not want to call his attention to themselves. This is untrue. While there is not much that survives detailing his worship, we do know that Haides received holocausts of black sheep. He had temples or received honors in the precincts of other divinities all over Greece and Italy, such as Elis, Athens and Olympia.
Haides is a child of Rhea and Kronos, brother of Zeus and Poseidon. In the few surviving representations of Haides, he looks like his brothers yet very dark and somber. Together the three of them hold dominion in common over Olympos and earth. Haides, while occasionally found on Olympos, spends most of his time in his underworld realm quite unaware of what is happening elsewhere. His main duties are the management of mortals after death. He over sees their judgment, punishments, rewards and internment. The keys he holds are to the gates of his realm in order to keeps the shades firmly inside preventing the mortal world from being overwhelmed by their presence. Though there are exceptions to any rule even in Hades. His wife, Hercules and a few others have seen his realm and been able to leave. This, of course, doesn’t include those that deal with the underworld on a daily basis such as Hermes and Hekate. I personally believe at certain times of the year, Hades allows the shades some freedom to roam so that they may aid or be honored by their descendants though I’m unaware (or forgetting) any ancient tales that corroborates this belief. Through his agency are dreams sent to mortals containing messages from their beloved dead. As lord of curses and Master of the Erinyes, it is said he only hears the curses and oaths of mortals. I also believe he also hears of man’s good deeds and when they honor him too, though rarely does he act upon requests for his concern is not with the living but the dead.
While Zeus is known for his lightning and Poseidon for his trident, Haides has his helmet of invisibility that he has occasionally gifted the use of to various heroes. Other symbols that are identified with Haides: keys, bird-tipped staff, two-pronged staff, the cornucopia, his three-headed hound Kerberos (the spotted one) and a golden chariot pulled by four black horses. Haides is typically described as being fierce and inexorable. I have found him to be serious, though gentle (as if overly aware of his immense strength and power), steadfast and eminently fair.
Everyone is aware of the tale of his marriage with Persephone, so I’m not going to cover it here. Often this story relegates him to a minor and devilish role that does not do him justice. This is not to discount the story but rarely is his point of view taken in to consideration. He wanted a wife and was gifted the daughter of his brother and king. This was entirely in keeping with the ancient Greek culture, no matter what our modern sensibilities think of it. More interestingly, while there is plenty of tales of his amorous adventures before Persephone (Mintho and Leuce come to mind), there are none, of which I am aware, after their marriage. Something else to consider, while Demeter is the power that grows plants, Haides must release the seeds for that to happen. He has never refused to do this duty.
Although not a light-hearted or easy going divinity, I find Haides deserving every bit as much as his siblings of respect and honor. In my studies of him, I have learned not to fear what comes afterward, only in the method and timing of my death, a fear only other mortals understand. I have perfect confidence that he will deal with me and mine fairly and with no malicious intent. When my time comes, I hope I get the chance to thank him for the bounty he has placed in my life and for the comforting dreams of my beloved dead.
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