IV — Iron Age. The Indo-Europeization of Goddesses

In the previous chapter it was said that Indo-Europeans, instead of female triads, believed in a couple of divine male twins, assimilated to the Morning and the Evening Stars, whose main feature was a deep polarization among them: thus, Castor and Polydeuces were one mortal and the other immortal, Eteocles and Polyneuces slew reciprocally themselves, while Neleus and Pelias fought among them already in the maternal womb. Such polarization was also one of the main features of Indo-European culture, used to divide the whole world into two opposite categories, that of the good and that of the evil: you will never guess into which of the two categories the female gender fell...
This was the pattern:

good ~ evil
male ~ female
sun ~ Moon
day ~ night
light ~ darkness
sky ~ Earth
soul ~ body
life ~ death
right ~ left

Beside other minor typical feature of Western culture, as the bad reputation of the left side (birds flying from left were an evil omen, as until a few years ago children were educated to use always their right hand instead of the left), the most important consequence of the polarizing pattern was the attitude towards death: while pre-Indo-European culture thought death as one of the three phases of a never ending cycle of birth, life, and death, always followed by rebirth, Indo-Europeans believed it to be the opposite of life, i.e. the absence of life. Unlike Stone Age culture, which believed in reincarnation or, more generally, in a sort of rebirth after death, Indo-Europeans did not believe in any kind of afterlife, being their Underworld inhabited by empty shadows without feelings and thoughts.
And what about female deities? Of course, they did not disappeared, they were only replaced in importance by Indo-European gods. Major Goddesses were submitted to male deities, being thought to be their sisters (as Hera and Demeter of Zeus, Artemis of Apollo), wifes (Hera of Zeus), or daughters (Artemis, Athena, Persephone, Aphrodite, the Muses, etc. of Zeus).Both major and minor deities, who, as was seen in Chapter One, were often broken down in triads, began to be regarded as the incarnation of evil, together with their own category of the polarizing pattern. The number three began to be reckoned as the number of magic and sorcery: while in Odyssey 5.125-127 and Theogony 969-971 Demeter carried out an ancient fertility ritual mating with her mortal lover Iasion in a thrice-ploughed field, in Odyssey 4.277, before carrying out a sorcery ritual against the Greek warriors hidden in the wood-horse, Helen walked thrice all round it (accomplishing the so called circumambulation, = “walking round”). The next step was that, to have effect, spells needed to be said three times, while the fulfillment of a vow was thought to be underlined by a triple divine omen: in Theocritus 2.39 (III Century B.C.E.) a sorceress prays thrice Hecate after a triple libation. These phenomena become especially clear in Roman times (I Century B.C.E. - II Century C.E.). In the Aeneid of Virgil, a Numidian sorceress prepares the suicide of Dido (Aen. 4.509-511):

Stant arae circum et crinis effusa sacerdos
ter centum tonat ore deos, Erebumque Chaosque
tergeminamque Hecaten, tria uirginis ora Dianae

“The altars were in circle, and with streaming-hair the priestess
thrice invokes a
hundred gods, Erebus, Chaos,
and threefold Hecate, the three-faced maiden Diana”

In Ovid, a triple flame underlines that Pygmalion's request will be fulfilled (Metam. 10.279):

flamma ter accensa est apicemque per aera duxit

“thrice did the flame burn bright and leap up high”
(transl. A.D. Melville)

In Seneca,
Medea’s spells are received by the triple barking of Hecate (Med. 839-842):

vota tenentur:
ter latratus audax Hecate
dedit, et sacros edidit ignes
face lucifera

“My prayers are received:
thrice has bold Hecate vouchsafed the barking
of dogs, and set off uncanny fires
with her light-bearing torch”
(transl. J.G. Fitch)
Furthermore, beside this outside polarization, Goddesses also suffered an inside polarization, with their triple nature being placed side by side to a double and polarized one. Thus, Goddesses acquired both a good and an evil aspect: Artemis was worshipped as a Goddess of female birth and growth (good aspect), but also capable to kill women with her arrows (evil aspect), totally unknowing that birth and death were not two fighting opposites, but only the first and the third phase of the never ending cycle of nature. Hecate was worshipped as the protectress from evil (good aspect), but also the Goddess of Magic and Witchcraft (evil aspect).