LONDON – The British Museum will be retiring a statue of Hekate from public display. Some devotees of the goddess want to change that.
Since May, the British Museum has been displaying representations of goddesses in its Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery as part of its exhibition, “Feminine Power: the Divine to the Demonic.” The exhibition looks at how various traditions view femininity and how authority was used in ancient cultures using demonic and divine figures that cover the past 5,000 years of human history.
The exhibition looks to the past to understand current issues of femininity and identity. “For insights, the exhibition looks to divine and demonic figures feared and revered for over 5,000 years,” reads the museum’s description of the exhibition. “From wisdom, passion and desire, to war, justice and mercy, the diverse expression of female spiritual powers around the world prompts us to reflect on how we perceive femininity and gender identity today.”
Lucy Dahlsen is the curator of the exhibition and says the exhibition seeks to explore the “spiritual association between feminine agency and generative powers of creation.”
“In many creation narratives,” says Dahlsen, “feminine and masculine powers are combined, either in the form of a divine couple or united in a single bi-gendered being with the ability to create existence. Here, we explore some of the diverse creation stories brought to life by objects and artworks, from the Feminine power exhibition and the wider Museum collection.”
Dahlsen also notes how masculine language has eclipsed the role of the feminine in creation stories and how that has framed modern perceptions of the feminine.
The exhibition covers representations of the feminine divine in categories such as “Compassion and Mercy,” “Justice and Defense,” and “Passion and Desire.”
It is also narrated by various well-known collaborators, including classicist Dr. Mary Beard, who many will recognize from her numerous media appearance including BBC’s Inside Culture broadcasts.
The exhibition includes ancient representations of goddesses such as the image of Nut from Book of the Dead of Nestanebetisheru, Egypt from 950–930 BC, to modern representations like Kiki Smith’s 1994 sculpture Lilith, which is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a representation of the Hindu goddess Kali by the Bengali artist Kaushik Ghosh.
One piece, however, is attracting an appeal from the Pagan, Witchcraft, and polytheist community: a restored meter-high Roman statue from the Lazio region of Italy described by the British Museum as a “marble triple statue of Diana, goddess of the sky and earth and guardian of the underworld.” The Latin inscription on the base recording is a dedication that reads, “Aelius Barbarus, freedman of the Emperors, bailiff of this place, placed this gift to the goddess.”
The statue is scheduled to be removed on September 25, 2022, and returned to the British Museum’s basement storage.
Three devotees of Hekate plan to stop that from happening.
Christina Moraiti, who lives in Athens, is a polytheist and torchbearer at the Covenant of Hekate. She is working, together with Sorita D’Este, author and founder of Avalonia Publishing, and Andrea Meryem Angelos, a Wiccan initiate and priestess in London, on plans a petition to the British Museum to reconsider its to retire the status from public view.
In 2015, Moraiti began the project following Her Torches, which catalogs exhibits featuring Hekate so the goddess’ devotees can visit them. She learned of the British Museum’s exhibition through this work.
While the statue in the exhibition is identified as Diana, the conflation between the two goddesses existed in antiquity. The poet Virgil and others used the epithet Trivia, or triple way, for Diana. In the play Medea by the Roman poet Seneca, the sorceress beseeches the triple goddess through Trivia, specifically calling upon the aspect of Hekate to empower her spell.
Moraiti notes that “[Hekate’s] statues around the world are mostly mislabeled or followed by the wrong information.”
Indeed, the statue at the British Museum acknowledges that the statue resonates with Hekate. “Diana as a threefold deity first appears in the late republic and represents as a new visual type in Italy,” reads the museum’s description, “in which the figure of Diana the huntress is unified with her appearance as Selene the moon goddess and as Hekate , goddess of the Underworld. The statue type of the three goddesses joined to a pillar with their heads facing in three different directions was one of the earliest images erected by Alkamenes in Athens, on the bastion of the temple of Athena Nike, in c. 425 BC
Moraiti says that the statue’s heritage heritage belongs to everyone, devotees of Hekate or not.
“Most of the statues that have survived are not displayed in permanent collections in museums,” Moraiti says, “mostly because of the damages they have suffered and as many people believe, because of the attributes Hekate has in her worship,” such as the underworld, the dead, and witchcraft. “And of course, there are also the statues that are in danger – if not already destroyed or stolen – like the ones in Syria, Libya, and Anapa in the Black Sea. It’s a shame to have a statue of this size in nearly perfect condition in one of the most accessible museums in the world and to keep it in a basement.”
For devotees, however, the statue represents even more. “Outside the walls of the museum, there is a wave of new worshipers of Hekate who have a keen interest in seeing this cult statue from the Roman world remain available to visit,” Moraiti, D’Este, and Meryem Angelos write. “For us, it is a very important icon, an emblem of humanity’s connection since antiquity and across borders on empires and countries. A treasure.”
“Now that popular culture is including her frequently, “including appearances in television series like American Horror Story, Penny Dreadful, Salem, Sabrinaand The Sandman,”Hekate’s worship is on the rise again with people from around the world joining in her worship every day and seeking her out in museums,” Moraiti told The Wild Hunt. “It would only be amazing for the British Museum, which has free entrance, to allow everyone an affordable visit.”
The Wild Hunt contacted the British Museum for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Those wishing to add their names to the petition to keep the statue on display can do so via Change.org.