Hades Day 3 – Part II

30 Days of Devotion
Day 3: Symbols and Icons – Part II

Asphodel

In the Underworld, Homer describes the Asphodel Fields as the place where the shades of the neutral dead–those who are neither heroes nor evil–drift until moving into their next lifetime. “Fragrant asphodel” is also the flower Persephone picks as Hades shows up in her sacred meadow*; the myth gives us an important clue here, as the Kore literally reaches to pluck her destiny from the earth. Perhaps its appearance in Persephone’s meadow foreshadows her journey to become Queen of the Dead?

There are 17 species of plants in the genus Asphodelus. The asphodel is a herbaceous perennial native to temperate Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, Middle East and Indian subcontinent. It blooms with a spike of six-petaled white or yellow flowers.

Cypress

The cypress was a considered tree of mourning, often planted near graves or groves where necromantic rites were performed, and thus sacred to Hades. Part of these ritual preparations included building a pyre made from cypress branches:

“Beneath the gloom of an ancient cypress, squalid and ghastly with darksome hue [sacrifices were made to Haides in a necromantic ritual].” (Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 730 ff, Roman epic C1st A.D., trans. Mozley)

Cupressus sempervirens, the Mediterranean cypress (also known as Italian cypress, Tuscan cypress, Persian cypress or pencil pine), is still the most commonly planted cemetery tree both in Europe and the Muslim world. In ancient Greece, boughs of cypress were placed in households to signify a state of mourning. A garland or wreath of cypress was considered a suitable decoration to venerate a statue of Hades.

Mint

Unlike the Olympian gods, Hades was known to be a faithful husband and constant companion to His wife Persephone. Only two instances of romantic entanglements outside of His marriage are recorded–the nymphs Minthe and Leuke, both of whom became plants sacred to the Lord of the Dead. It is unclear from extant texts whether or not these relationships occurred while Hades was married; in the case of Minthe, it was Persephone (or sometimes Demeter) who trampled the nymph under her feet after hearing hearing the nymph boast that Aidoneus would put aside His wife and return to her.

“Mint (Mintha), men say, was once a maid beneath the earth, a Nymphe of Kokytos (Cocytus), and she lay in the bed of Aidoneus [Hades]; but when he raped the maid Persephone from the Aitnaian hill [Mount Etna in Sicily], then she complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter in anger trampled upon her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth spray the weak herb that bears her name.” (Oppian, Halieutica 3. 485 ff, Greek poet C3rd A.D., trans. Mair)

Mint belongs to the family Lamiaceae with such aromatic and culinary herbs as basil, hyssop, rosemary, sage, marjoram, thyme, oregano and lavender, among many others. The plants in this family are widely cultivated and distributed. In ancient Greece, mint and rosemary were often used in funerary and cremation rites, most likely to help cover the smells of death and decay.

White Poplar

White poplar leads us to the story of Leuke, the other nymph whom Hades loved. Leuke lived with Hades in the Underworld, and when the span of her life was over, Hades transformed her body into a white poplar tree in the Elysian Fields. The white poplar thus became a symbol of a blessed afterlife and beloved remembrance of those who had passed on. There may also be a connection between Leuke and the white poplar trees purported to grace the banks of the the river Acheron in Thesprotia, a region that supported an important necromantic oracle in the ancient world.

Populus alba is commonly called silver poplar, silver leaf poplar or white poplar. This tree loves moist river banks, and can be easily spotted by its smooth, whitish bark with diamond-shaped markings.

Hades
(Hester Butler-Ehle)

Great Hades, master of the darkened deep,
master of the realm beneath our feet who hears
the echoes of our steps, who takes the echoes
of our lives. Hades, you know the need for an end
to life, you know the worth of a well-deserved rest,
you know the thanks of men and women weary
from long lives of worry and toil, you know the joy
of sweet reunion as friends long parted join
together once again within your storied land.
The dim and misty underworld is yours, O Hades;
yours are the Fields of Asphodel, yours the endless
pits of Tartarus in which are cast the wicked
and the vile. Yours too are the Fortunate Isles,
the land of fair Elysium where dwell the righteous
and the good. Hades, receiver of burnt offerings,
receiver of the blood of beasts, well-honored god:
in the end, all come to you. Hades, I praise you.

Resources:

Asphodel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asphodelus
(accessed August 28, 2019)

Family Lamiaceae (Mint): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamiaceae
(accessed August 28, 2019)

Hades’ Estate and Treasures on Theoi:
https://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/HaidesTreasures.html
(accessed August 28, 2019)

Meditteranean Cypress: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupressus_sempervirens
(accessed August 28, 2019)

Underflow Prayers to the Gods of Olympus by Hester Butler-Ehle:
https://greekpagan.com/

White Poplar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populus_alba
(accessed August 28, 2019)

* Some versions of the myth claim this flower was narcissus. Interestingly, the Narcissus genus also contains the plant known as daffodil, whose English name was derived from the Greek “asphodel” (asphodelos). If you say the two words aloud, the similarity is readily apparent.


Featured photo credit: “Fragrant Asphodel” by Hans Braxmeier via Pixabay.