HEKATE: GUIDE OF SOULS by Diana Paxon
It is sunset. The world is hushed, resting after the stress of the day. You too are resting. You
deeply, letting its stillness fill your soul - in…and out…in…and out… Around you lie the harvested fields. Delivered of their fruits, they are relaxed and bare. Three crows flap heavily across the glowing sky; you hear the distant lowing of cattle going home, the bark of a dog, a mother calling her children in, all the sounds of nightfall when the world seeks rest. And like the earth, you are weary, drained even of the desire to move away. Alone in the fields, you lie as fallow as they… And then, from the south,
a breath of wind stirs the branches; a warm wind caresses your locked limbs. It whispers a word of power. Where is it going? Where is it calling you? As you breathe out, you are emptied…as you breathe in, the wind fills you again. You are weightless, lifted by the wind. It bears you upward, carries you over the emptied fields. The wind carries you into the dark. Everything you have known is left behind. There are no landmarks here, only a dim waste of heath and hill. The wind whirls you like a withered leaf -
you are suspended in a changing wind. Now the curved bulk of the heavens has disappeared; the stars do not shine, the light of the Moon is hidden and the Earth trembles. Then comes the lightening. Fire leaps like a child over the aery waves; a formless flame whispers and sings. Radiance swirls in a spiral of brightness that becomes a horse of fire and a naked child shooting arrows of light. The cosmos shakes in a frenzy of expectation. Light flares, dazzling the senses. When you can see again, you are standing
once more on solid ground, and before you, the radiance has focused into three flames. Before you lies a triple crossroad; three figures stand back to back where the ways join; light rays out along each road from the torches they hold. Whichever path you take, it will change you - which way will you choose?
The first figure speaks:
There are some deities who transcend their original culture, transforming themselves with each shift in civilization or peoples into a new form which can arise and empower the next age. Brigid, who evolved from a tribal goddess to a Christian saint, is one of them. Isis is another. And so, in her own way, is the goddess we call Hekate. This is fitting, for Hekate is a goddess of the threshold, who assists the soul in passing from one state of being to another. She first appears in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in which she lights her torches and guides the grieving mother in her search. Like Hermes, she acts as a psychopomp, an intermediary between the worlds of the living and the dead. She was invoked as a guardian of doorways, her image hung above the lintel to protect those who went out and in. For the same reason, as Prothyraia, she was called by women in childbirth to open the doors of the womb. As a liminal goddess, she was a natural patroness for those who go beyond the boundaries of society to work magic. Her image, in the form of three masks on a pole or a statue of three figures facing outward, was places at triple cross-roads. Even in the classical world, she was the goddess of the witches who went there at midnight to cast spells, not only because such doings were outside social boundaries, but because they needed to travel between the worlds of the spirit and normal consciousness. The origins of her cult appear to have been born in Asia Minor, especially in Caria, the southwestern area of what is now Turkey. She was the patron goddess of that most famous of ancient witches, Medea. Eliade places her with the pre-Olympiam deities. In some stories she is the daughter of night, but in Hesiod she is the daughter of the Titan Perses and the star goddess Asteria, who is herself the sister of Leto. She is therefore the cousin of Apollo and Artemis and shares many attributes with them. She is sometimes called Phoibe, the bright one, and they are on occasion called Hekatos and Hekate. In classsical myth she is presented as a major deity, receiving first choice of the honors and offerings from earth, sea, and sky. As such, she retained the epithet of Krataiis, the Strong One, given to the most ancient of goddesses. From the beginning, she is associated with hounds, which can both guard and attack. Gimbutas demonstrates the antiquity of the association between dogs and the goddess in her discussion of the goddess of Death and Regeneration. In the art of Old Europe, Lunar crescents suggest an association with the moon; the dogs leap up to guard the Tree of Life and the egg of regeneration. In later times, dogs were sacrificed to Hecate, and eggs were offered to her. As classical civilization developed, images of Hekate began to diverge. To the playwrights, she was the queen of the witches, the horrific patroness of the greatest villainesses who (not coincidentally) defy men and their laws. In Roman times she was considered the goddess of the notorious witches of Thessaly. In all those areas in which Artemis governed the bright aspect, Hekate ruled the shadows. Eventually, of course, even Artemis/Diana became marginalized and survived into the Middle Ages as the great witch-queen. Although Hekate's name may mean "the distant one", she is described as being close to us. In the time of the Roman Empire, Hekate took on a new role among the neo-Platonic philosophers. To them, she was the Soul of the Cosmos, who gave souls to the individual humans within it. She was herself the threshold between the divine and human worlds, and the facilitator of communication between them. Thus, she was perceived as being celestial and beneficent, rather than chthonic and threatening. In the Chaldean oracles, and the theurigical system for which they served as sacred literature, Hecate Soteira - the Lady of Salvation - was identified with the Platonic Cosmic Soul, source both of the physical Cosmos and of the souls of individual humans. In the later classical period, Hecate was, with Apollo, a major source of oracular wisdom. From a goddess of witches, she became mistress of the Higher Theurgy, which enables humans to achieve a mystical union with the Divine. Hecate was a goddess of all things liminal, evolving from a guardian of the physical threshold or the triple crossroads to become the intermediary between the Sensible and Intelligible Realms, at whose discretion passage from one to the other was made. She held the keys to Hades, and escorted Persephone in her passage to and from the Underworld, and facilitated not only the soul's passage out of the body, but its entry therein at birth. Later, as the moon began to be perceived as a sphere of transition between the worlds, Hecate became its mistress and queen of the daemones, the spirits who dwell among the stars. As a moon goddess, she was sometimes linked with Artemis and Selene in a lunar trinity, in which she presumably represented the dark moon. According to neo-Platonic ideas, her duty is to define or structure the world by receiving pure Idea into her womb and giving it shape. Standing between Spirit and matter, she is the Mistress of life, the center of all Powers. During the Christian period, Hekate was suppressed as the darkest of the dark aspects of the Goddess, occasionally mentioned in sensational accounts of witchcraft by people with classical backgrounds, but otherwise ignored. With the neo-Pagan revival, she has made a comeback as the archetypal Crone. Hekate is the Witch in the black robe, stirring her cauldron of spells.
She rules the darkness and the wolves or dogs that hunt the night; of all things that Artemis is the bright image, Hekate is the shadow. Her wisdom makes her immensely powerful, and she teaches women her secrets. In fact, it should be noted that in classical art, Hekate is represented as mature, but relatively young and vigorous, rather than being an ancient hag. Her aged crone persona is probably the result of an association between old women and witches, as in the Wicked Queen in Snow White, who takes on an ancient appearance when she wants to work evil magic. It takes a certain number of years to gain the knowledge and skill to do the kind of magic associated with Hekate. On the other hand, as the Baby Boom hits fifty, we are discovering that crone-dom isn't what it used to be, and that if we pay attention to our health we are likely to remain, if not young then at least vigorous, for another twenty years or so. The traditional representations of Hekate are good images for the "young crones" that we hope to be.
WORKING WITH HEKATE
Hekate is both Witch and Wisdom. She can be approached both as a teacher of witchcraft and the guardian of the soul. Her place in the house is over the lintel of the front door. When you leave the house, ask her to bless and protect you. Invoke her aid in cleansing your house, as described in the ritual below. When you have had a run of bad luck, or are trying to get rid of depression, is a good time to do this. To seek her help, set out a "Hekate Supper" - offerings of her favorite foods, beside the road at a triple crossroads. If dogs come to eat the food, it is a sign of Hekate's favor. The traditional time to do this was the last day of the month, at midnight, or on the last day of the week - Saturday night. Hekate's sacred animals include the dog, especially black ones, wolves, serpents of all kinds and dragons. When the moon is dark, meditate on her in darkness, and allow images and wisdom to arise from your unconscious. When the moon is full, light two candles to represent her torches and invoke her as the bringer of enlightenment.
A RITUAL FOR HEKATE
The magical papyri of the late classical period preserve a great deal of information about how Hekate was worshipped, much of which can be adapted for ritual work today. The first step is always to purify the ritual space. This can be done by one or three people. The procedure is also useful as a house pruification. Moving counterclockwise, go around the room, sprinkling it with salt. Smudge the space with a mixture of myrrh, frankincense, sage and if possible storax which you burn in a potshard (a piece of broken crockery or flower pot will do). Finally, sweep the room, chanting "Hekas, a bekas, este bebeloi! Be far from here all that is profane!"
When you have finished, collect the sweepings and the potsherd, together with ash from the incense, and take them to a triple cross road (three forked or a "T" junction) and leave them, returning without looking back. When the ritual space is cleansed, prepare the altar. The cloth may be white, or black trimmed with gold. There should be two candles to represent Hekate's torches. On the altar is a brass censer with myrrh incense, a dish of barley, and a krater (a bowl or a chalice, ideally with two handles), an offering bowl, and a flagon of water and one of wine (look for Retsina or Mavrodaphane, both imported from Greece, or a dry red wine). The priestess may wear a wreath of oak leaves entwined with serpents - get rubber snakes from the toy store or make them out of sculpi. Her robe may be black or white, and over it she may drape a saffron mantle. Begin the ritual by lighting the candles. Then take a handful of barley and scatter it across the altar, dedicating it to Hekate. In Greek tradition, the first libation is always made to Hestia. Left the flagon of wine in one hand and the water in the other, and pour a little into the offering bowl in her name. If the room has a fireplace, lay a fire in it with fragrant wood, such as cedar. The mixture may be sprinkled on the hearth. When this has been done, pour again for Hekate. If the fire is going, you may pour a little scented oil upon it, and scatter incense. Otherwise, light the incense in the burner. Praise Hekate by reading this song, written in the style of the Homeric hymns:
I begin to sing of Hekate, whom, Asteria,
This hymn will focus attention on the goddess. When it has been read, take some time to meditate on Hekate and feel her presence. This meditation may be supported by a soft, steady drum beat, or by whirling a junx, Hekate's sacred instrument, which is essentially a disc with two holes through which a cord is looped. Holding the junx suspended midway along the cord, whirl it quickly until it winds up, pull to unwind and rewind, and repeat. The junx works like a yo-yo and makes a similar buzzing sound. Sometimes you can find them in toy stores. Invoke Hekate by calling her epithets and names, which include:
Here it is necessary to point out that Hekate was one of the deities who often spoke through her worshippers
in the rituals of the ancient world. If you or any of those in your group have some experience in "drawing down" or possessory work, you may find the goddess making her presence known in a very personal and perceptible way. You should decide beforehand whether you have the experience or desire to handle this. If you wish to invite it, be sure to have at least one person present who will not be going into trance and knows how to bring others out of it. Those who do not wish to go into trance should keep
their heads tightly covered. If you are working alone, do not allow more than an overshadowing or sense of presence (if necessary, pour water over your head to come out of trance). Another option here is to read aloud or listen to a previously prepared tape onto which you have read the meditation at the beginning of this article. If anyone in the circle does "bring down" the goddess, ask Her to bless you with words of wisdom, and offer Her food and drink. You may also call the goddess with a chant such
Hekate, can you hear us?
When you have communed with the goddess, by whatever means, you may offer a feast of her favorite foods, which include sprats or mullet (cooked or preserved in oil); a dish of onion slices and organic eggs; lamb shanks basted in honey; a black caviar on crackers; and a cake in which three candles have been stuck. Black plums or grapes are also appropriate. These foods may also be set out at the crossroads on a Saturday night or at the end of the month as an offering. Hekate is fond of Retsina, especially with the caviar, but you may offer sparkling berry juice or a dark beer. If a group will be sharing the feast, set aside a portion on a separate dish for Hekate before serving. When you have finished, honor the goddess with words like these:
Hekate Soteira, Lady of Salvation,
Thank the goddess and blow out the candles. Be sure that everyone is back in normal consciousness. If you are in any doubt, make them drink a glass of water, blow in their ears, ask them about mundane matters, etc. Take the dish of food offered to Hekate and the remains of the feast to the cross roads and leave them, or allow your dogs to dispose of the offerings. Take particular note of your dreams on the night following ritual work to Hekate.
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