The Wolf-Headed Aita / Hades and Serpent-Crowned Phersipnei / Persephone of the Tomb of Orcus ; The Wolf as Indo-European Regent of the Twilight Between Worlds

Detail from the incredible painting of a figure meeting with Aita and Phersipnei [Hades and Persephone] in the ‘Tomb of Orcus’.

Now ‘Aita’ or ‘Eita’ and ‘Phersipnei’ are, of course, Etruscan theonyms. Yet it would be entirely peculiar to look upon these names – and the Deifics attached to them – and not see our eminently familiar ‘Hades’ and ‘Persephone’.

So we shall spare my customary commentary about the essential Indo-European character of Etruscan religion (buttressed by the small-but-pointed academic coterie who have addeuced Etruscan to actually be an Indo-European language – to go with the most definitely Indo-European character to Etruscan archaeo-genetics …) and just get straight into some points of interest here.

The first of which being the intriguing ‘serpentine’ headpiece that Ma Persephone wears here. Which goes rather interestingly set in amidst decidedly ‘Reddish’ hair. We are instantly reminded of a few other IE deific facings – the red-haired Ruler of Folkvangr, for instance; as well as my own ongoing observations pertaining to the ‘serpentine’ characteristic especially in relation to the Erinyes, yet also the Gorgoneion device. More upon all of these some other time.

To turn to Her Husband – we are fascinated to observe that here Aita, or Hades, is wearing a Wolf-Head.

Why so?

Well, the ‘standard’ observation is that this likely pertains to the Ἄιδος κυνέη – the ‘Aidos Kuen’, the ‘Cap of Hades’ – that grants the wearer the power of Invisibility. Hades, after all, is ‘The Unseen’. Literally ‘N-‘ (as in ‘Opposite of -) added to ‘*Weyd’ [as in ‘See’], in terms of Proto-Indo-European roots.

Hesiod describes it thusly in his ‘Shield of Herakles’:

“Upon the head of the hero lay the dread cap of Haides which had the awful gloom of night.”
[Evelyn-White Translation]

Now, the ‘Night’ angle is interesting – νυκτὸς [‘Nyktos’] is indeed the word used in the original Ancient Greek, and ‘Nox’, etc., almost needs no introduction herein.

We have long observed that as applies the situation pertaining to, say, Sanskrit ‘Kaal’ ( काल ) – that the confluences of ‘Time’, ‘Death’, and ‘Black’ make significant sense when thought about in exactly that fashion. Day, Life, being ‘divided up’ by the onrushing shades of Night. The Veil of Night being not only what marks ‘time’, but also divides us from the ‘Unseen Country’ which is the shadowy Realm of the Dead.

Yet I suspect, that as applies this Wolf-Head adornment to the Sky Father’s ‘Underworld’ regent facing – we can, perhaps, go further still.

Some have sought to connect the Proto-Indo-European *Koryos element, the warband of young men acting ‘as wolves’, to a sort of ‘initiated’ katabasis as lived journey. That is to say – moving into a ‘beyond-life’ realm wherein they are already dead; only to re-emerge into ‘life’ and the tribe upon their successful return home at the end of their procedure.

There is certainly a powerful ‘feel’ to this narrative – yet it is not our purpose to get into it here.

We would instead simply take the more direct approach – and note that there appears a pervasive Indo-European association for the Wolf with the ‘moments of transition’ between Life and Death, and in accompaniment to the Funerary Rites.

Valkyries, as we have noted elsewhere, ride Wolves and fulfil a Psychopomp style role.

Agni, in the RigVeda, is described as having such a characteristic via inference – RV X 16 9 making pointed mention of the ‘kravyādamaghniṃ’, the facing to Agni as ‘Kravyada’, the ‘Devourer of Flesh’ upon the cremation pyre. Indeed, in line 11 we find reference to the ‘Kravyavahana’ – the ‘Vehicle’ or ‘Steed’ of the Kravya(da) characteristic.

We would surmise that several other occurrences for a Wolf in relation to a Pyre that crop up are similarly related.

For instance the rather large one (with, perhaps uncoincidentally, a bridle that is a serpent) featured at the funerary rites of Baldr in the Gylfaginning, ridden by one Hyrrokkin (a name whose root is that of Flame), and with such an arrival enabling the Ship of Baldr to be put out as the rollers grind into motion … triggering flames also to well up from the resultant friction. This Wolf, too, we find linked to Odin – not least via not only His Son’s funerary processional, but also the instruction He gives to His Chosen to control the creature therein.

There are, of course, quite a range of other exemplars for the Sky Father deific in particular (and also for His Wife) pertaining to Wolves – particularly where Death (most usually the active-infliction thereof) is entailed. But we shall, perhaps, get into those at some other, further, future point in time.

For another ‘Night’, perhaps.

For now, it is enough to observe the potentiality – that we should seem to see the Wolf as a creature that is to be found ‘in between’, in the ‘spaces’ , in the ‘gaps’, ‘guarding the roadways’.

After all, to quote from Aelian’s De Natura Animalium:

“[The Wolf] has the sharpest sight of any animal, and indeed it can even see at night when there is no moon. Hence the name Lycophos (wolf’s-light, i.e. gloaming) is applied to that season of the night in which the wolf alone has light with which Nature provides him. And I think that Homer gives the name [Il. 7. 433] ‘ twilight of the night,’ to the time during which wolves can see to move about. “
[A.F.Scholfield Translation, Attalus edition]

And we should also note, to quote myself here:

“λύκειος – Lykeios [that] prominent Apollonian epithet. Its meaning should be reasonably clear. It either means the relatively straightforward ‘Of the Wolf’ / ‘Wolfy’ … or it means ‘Of Lycia’ / ‘Lycian’ … or, for rather significant interest to our purposes – it pertains to λύκη : ‘Luke’, as in λευκός (‘Leukos’) – that is to say ‘Light’; and with a particular emphasis upon the pre-dawn or twilight.”

The Wolf that is Death – He can, indeed, seemingly ‘get in anywhere’. He is as imperceptible in His Passage as Nightfall , yet draws into us as closely as each Dusk.

Our ken of vision contracts most notably in His preferred environs – and yet, therein, His Senses remain as sharp as spears or knives … or the formidable, silver-pointed pinions (in the other sense also than usual) as to His Teeth.

It is a Visage ‘Unseen’ – and yet one, I feel, that ought be made more visually apparent.

Something that, whilst it has tended only to occur (as far as I am aware) for Hades (or other such directly related deific facings) in mid-Italy … has a greater, grander ‘resonancy’ that speaks to something indelibly salient across the Indo-European expanse. Of Dreaming or of otherwise, in ‘midst the Night and slumber.

We Hail the Wolf – both because He is ‘of’ us … and yet because He is also ‘more’ than us – outside our nice, easy ‘bounds’ and, in this particular and most especial case, our limitations of mortality.

We Hail the Wolf, in short, because He is our Ancestor.

‘Dis Pater’, ‘Dyaus Pitar’, and other such ‘Facings’ Besides.

We shall return to these ‘pon other Nights.

But for now – we Hail the Wolf of the Underworld.

And ask that His Inescapable Tracking, His Swiftly Undetectable Passaging, and His Great and Grand Authority of Power and Potency and Might – be leant to us, His Descendant (a most Famous Wolf, indeed!), in order that we shall be triumphant with our effort that is as a ‘resonancy’ to His Heart.

One thought on “The Wolf-Headed Aita / Hades and Serpent-Crowned Phersipnei / Persephone of the Tomb of Orcus ; The Wolf as Indo-European Regent of the Twilight Between Worlds

  1. Pingback: The Wolf-Headed Aita / Hades and Serpent-Crowned Phersipnei / Persephone of the Tomb of Orcus ; The Wolf as Indo-European Regent of the Twilight Between Worlds – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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