Monday, 3 March 2014


Haides is the son of the titans Khronos and Rhea, and along with his brothers Poseidon and Zeus, is one of the Three Kings of the Greek Pantheon.  With their defeat over the titans the three drew lots and Haides received dominion over all things under the earth, including metals and precious stones, planted crops and of course the land of the dead – and the very dead themselves who inhabit it. 

He is a dark and gloomy god and though not Death itself (who is Thantos) he is the power of rest and renewal and represents the need for decay and the inevitability of death.  He was a strict and unyielding god who could not be turned by prayers or offerings, although in later times the more beneficent aspects of his personality were stressed in worship.  Though one of the original six Olympians, Haides rarely spends time outside his shadowy kingdom where he sits on an ebony throne holding his two pronged fork that he uses to defend his realm (mush as Zeus used the thunderbolt and Poseidon the trident).  When he does venture out it is on a fearsome black chariot drawn by four horses, black as pitch.  Another of his attributes is the Helm of Invisibility which makes any who wear it invisible to the eye.  Made for him by the Kyklopes, Haides used this helm in the titanomachy, the war against the titans.  The night before the first battle he donned his helm and snuck into their camp destroying their weaponry and spying their defences. 

Though every hundred years a great festival called the Secular Games were held in his honour, Haides was not a god loved by humanity or by many of the other gods as well, due to his morose and morbid character.  In sacrifice he was offered black animals, especially rams (though some believe that at one time human sacrifices were offered to him as well) and the blood was dripped into pits to ensure that it would reach him.  The person performing the sacrifice would turn his eyes away, lest he gaze on the fearful visage of the god (in many vase paintings Haides head was painted facing backwards for this reason) and those gathered would beat the ground with the palms of their hands to ensure that Haides would hear them. 

Haides name was not commonly said and oaths were rarely sworn in his name, instead a euphemism would often be used when speaking of this dread god and over time the euphemisms became epithets.  Plouton was a popular name of Haides and connects him to the wealth under the earth and was the origin of the name Pluto by which he was known to the Romans (who also called him Dis Pater and Orcus).  Eita is the Etruscan god of the underworld who was equated with Haides; he was seen as a strict, bearded man who wore a wolfskin cap.  Polydegmon, ‘he who receives many’; Klymenus, ‘notorious’ and Polysemantor, ‘ruler of many’ are all by-names of Haides as is Aidoneus (which may actually be his original name).  Aidoneus means ‘the unseen’ and refers to his reclusive nature, his helm of invisibility and perhaps to the inability to see death coming; even though we are aware it is always near. 

Haides is also the name of the land that this god rules over, the underworld land of the dead in it’s various parts including  the paradisiacal Elysian Fields and Tartarus, a place of eternal pain and suffering reserved only for a handful of the  most evil humans and prison of the titans who fought against Zeus.  Once a soul entered into his realm they could not leave with a handful of exceptions and very few living people were able to gain entrance either.  Haides was  a strict warden and it seems that even immortals had difficulty gaining entrance to his territory; Hermes and Hekate are often described as being two of the few deities who had unrestricted access into and out of the underworld. 

Persephone also would have freedom to come and go as she pleased, with the famous stipulation that she spend half the year with Haides.  Persephone was abducted by Haides to be his wife and the queen of the dead, (though there are variations where she is not taken by force or ruled there previous to Haides).  Haides has very few lovers; one being Minthe, who was turned to the mint plant by Persephone and no children – few gods of the dead ever bring life;  though there is mention in a few writings of Makaria, goddess of blessed death being his daughter.

Haides has temples and holy ground in every city; at least to me.  Cemeteries and the buildings within them, so often classical in shape and style are places which we talk to the dead and remember them.  Whenever I am in a graveyard I leave a few coins, even just pennies.  Two for any wandering shades to pay the ferryman to the other side and the rest to Haides, not in supplication but in thanks. Death is what makes life worth living.

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