Day 212: Devotional Day, Honoring Hecate

An image of Hecate Triformis from the British Museum archives

Hecate, according to the wonders of Wikipedia, is a pre-Olympian chthonic (underworld) Greco-Roman goddess associated with magic, witchcraft, necromancy, and crossroads.  She also has a large history of being associated with various liminal spaces, like doorways, and times, like childbirth and death.

In his work, The Golden Ass, Lucius Apuleius associates the Egyptian figure of Isis with Hecate, giving Hecate (as well as Juno and Bellona, major Roman goddesses) as a name by which others know Isis.  This may indicate that Hecate had a large following and similar symbolic repertoire to Isis elsewhere in the Mediterranean world at that time.

Hecate may have her origins in the Carians of Anatolia, for many names use hers as a root there, and she remained a prominent figure there up through historical times, especially at her cult site in Lagina.  However, it is possible Hecate originated somewhere in Greece for late-dating monuments to her in Phyrgia and Caria have been discovered.  If Hecate was a goddess adopted from Anatolia, it would likely explain the oddities in her stories.  Much of her roles were already filled by the Greek goddesseses Artemis and Selene, and outside of the stories told in the Theogeny, the Greeks do not relate a consistent story of her parentage or of her role in the Greek pantheon.  Sometimes she is said to be a Titaness who was not banished after their defeat by the Olympians for she aided Zeus in the great battle.  Sometimes in the Theogeny she’s said to be the daughter of Gaia and Uranus, sometimes the only child of Perses and Asteria.  Hesiod maintained that Zeus allowed her to maintain her pre-battle positions, and so she had sway in the three realms of sky, earth, and sea.  Therefore, she lent kings counsel in their judgement, she gave victory and glory to the troops and athletes she willed to win, supported horsemen, sailors, and fishermen.  She worked with Hermes to increase and decrease pastured animals at will and became a figure associated with shepherds and pastoralism, and since Zeus made her an infant nurse who opened the eyes of babies to the dawn, she became associated with childbirth, too.

I think this early tripartite sway may have lead to her common depiction as three goddesses or three faces in one body.  In addition, my guess is that her relevance in all three of these states enabled her association as a liminal goddess, for she was able to traverse the boundaries between the different physical states.  I also think this liminality is what eventually lead to her associations with the underworld and with sorcery, both of which rely upon a “between the worlds” sort of feel.  In this state, she became the Roman goddess Trivia, who–like the later Hecate–who “haunted crossroads, graveyards, and was the goddess of sorcery and witchcraft, she wandered about at night and was seen only by the barking of dogs who told of her approach.”

Roderick notes that we can consider the night sky, crossroads, broom, and cauldron as some of Hecate’s symbols and divination tools as her tools.  He also lists camphor, water lily, and jasmine as her flowers and says she has an “inward” direction.  That makes some sense as she rules the “hidden mysteries, old age, wisdom, secrets, death, the underworld, birth, midwifery, herbalism, and divination.”  Some of her animal symbols include the owl, horse, boar, and dog–but it is really the dog who pops up most in Hecate myths.  Her sacred foods include the pomegranate and the apple (she offered help and kindness to Demeter when she was looking for her lost daughter, Persephone), and Roderick lists mother of pearl and amethyst as her magical stones.  He sacred colors are lunar colors:  black, midnight blue, and white.  Roderick also says that “when we tap into the archetypal energies of Hecate, we evoke our own abilities to create magic and to reverse the ‘evil eye.’  Hecate reminds us that we are all multifaceted begins, and that we should honor each of our ‘faces’, both the strong and the less-than-stalwart.”

Hecate Practice

In honoring Hecate today, honor an old Roman custom by going to a crossroads at midnight and leaving an offering of a single apple and a black candle.  Walk away from the offering without looking back.  As you walk, intone her sacred name one syllable at a time (pronounced Heh-KAH-tay) until you feel her presence surrounding you.  Once she has arrived, spend time contemplating how you might serve this deity.  Take time to ask Hecate what it would mean to live life through her energy, and listen for her answer.

Spend time honoring this goddess by considering the mystery behind each aspect of your daily routine and every person you encounter.

Alas, between the rains and the fact that I live in a highly populated neighborhood, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving a lit candle at a nearby intersection.  Instead, I propped up a dark blue candle (I didn’t have black on hand!) and an apple onto my altar when the clock struck midnight and visualized handing these gifts to Hecate.  Then I lit the candle and laid down facing away from the altar and began intoning Her name.

I think I am a little out of practice, for it took several minutes of intoning and changing my breath pattern several times for my consciousness to shift.  When it did, it was the most interesting experience.  The physical entity of myself sort of felt like this black, empty void and the part of me that resonated with Hecate was this silver lining around my black, lumpy self.  This lining wasn’t a part of me per se, but it also was.

After I came out of the trance, I realized that feeling was a very liminal one, and that is definitely a Hecate association.  I meditated on times when I felt that way and realized that living life through Hecate’s energy involves a certain level of living on the fringe edges of society, of being fluent in a social language, but also breaking free of it and staying open to possibility.  Hecate’s energy isn’t a determined sort of rational force, where a pursuit of knowledge is a cumulative progress.  Instead, it’s experiential and a lateral process.  You have to see around the edges of a nominative focus in order to see it.

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