WHO IS HADES?
Hades is the god of the underworld and the keeper of souls after they have passed away. His realm shares his name and is often depicted as a gloomy kingdom hidden away from the sun and having no pleasure. He is a chthonic god and as such can also be seen through psychological analysis as a catalyst for great change in an individual. He is the literal king of the dead, but also represents the metaphorical process of an individual’s faux death and reincarnation into something better.
Greek Name: Hades
Roman Name: Pluto, Dis Pater, Orcus
God of the Underworld
Lives: Underworld (“Hades”)
Symbols: Cerberus, cornucopia, sceptre, Cypress
Parents: Cronos & Rhea
Siblings: Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Poseidon, and Zeus
Children: None (though some records suggest Zagreus, Macaria, Melinoe, and the Furies may be his children).
HADES IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY
Hades is the oldest son of Cronos so was the first to be consumed and the last to be freed. Following the events of the Titanomachy, he won the right to rule the underworld. This was not the desired role, but it was his lot in life so he accepted it. He is not an evil god like the Christian Devil, but rather a stern, cold figure, perhaps best likened to the archetype of a judge.
His most important role in mythology is told within the Homeric Hymn To Demeter where he forcibly marries Persephone. This myth is important in understanding his role in the eyes of the Greek people, but also integral in conceptualising the way in which Greek spirituality worked, especially in regards to the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Hades rarely leaves The Underworld in mythology, his concern is in the upkeep of his realm, ensuring that souls do not leave or enter without his permission. He judges all equally, following a set of laws to deal out the punishments or rewards for those who have died.
Theseus, Pirithous, and The Underworld
There is a story where the friends Theseus and Pirithous agreed that they would both marry the daughters of Zeus. Theseus wished to marry Helen, so they kidnapped her until she would be old enough to marry. Pirithous wanted the goddess Persephone, wife of Hades. So the pair ventured into the underworld while Hades watched them from afar. The heroes travelled deeper into the underworld where Hades met them and offered his hospitality in the way of a feast. Theseus and Pirithous accepted and sat down to eat, but as they did they instantly forgot where they where, who they were, or what they were doing. Indeed, Hades had tricked them, having the pair sit in the chairs of forgetfulness for trying to steal his wife. Hercules eventually freed Theseus which Hades allowed as he was not the one intending to marry Persephone, but Pirithous remained forever.
The Greek people feared Hades to such an extent that they would avoid all contact with him, shunning the use of his name and looking away when making sacrifices. It was not so much Hades himself that the people feared, he was a cruel, cold and stern god, but not evil and was, in fact, seen as just. What the people really feared was death itself, the finality of the end.
Because people felt the need to avoid Hades entirely, they would often refer to him by nicknames and euphemisms. These names eventually turned into epithets and titles for the god and are important in understanding how people saw him. Perhaps the most important of these names was Plouton which translates as “wealthy” and was later Latinized to Pluto. Hades was named “wealthy” because he was associated with the minerals that lay buried under the earth. However, a second take on the name is in the nature of true wealth itself. As knowledge is power, it can also be seen as a measure of wealth. In mythology, the passing of a chthonic event, such as one involving The Underworld or Hades, always leads to a transformation of the individual. This transformation is enriching and could be seen as a gift from Hades, making the god himself wealthy.
There were cults to Hades and others associated with him. The most famous being at Eleusis where he was an integral part of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Sacrifices to Hades often involved black animals. The people would bang against the ground to make sure the god was aware of them. The animal would be slaughtered and the blood allowed to flow into a hole in the earth. As the animal was bled, the priest would avert his eyes.
THE ORIGINS OF HADES & COMPARATIVE MYTHOLOGY
The origin of Hades’ name comes from the Proto-Greek word “Awides” which translates as “Unseen”. Through time the pronunciation and spelling changed which was probably sped up due to peoples fear of pronouncing his name, so Awides soon transformed into Aides which was used around the time of Homer. From here the name continued to change until it became the Hades form which we see in the writings of the Classical period.
In Italy, the Etruscan god Aita and the Roman gods Dis Pater and Orcus all eventually took on the same role as Hades under the name Pluto.
A god of the underworld appears to be a universal feature of pantheism and filters through to monotheism where we see Lucifer take on the role. This stems from humanities need for a belief in an existence after death, and the system of judgement can be seen as a social necessity to promote good behaviour. In Mesopotamian mythology, we see a very similar deity called Erishkigal which literally translates as “Queen of the Great Earth”. She holds a very similar role to Hades, and as the Greeks called their underworld realm the same name as their god, the Mesopotamians also called their own Irkalla. This tradition of name sharing also existed in Norse mythology, where the goddess Hel presided over the underworld of the same name to which eventually became the underworld Hell of Christian mythology.