Hekate’s torches shine bright over those of us who live on the fringe of society, but does she grant special consideration to the marginalized? I believe her torches of protection shine brightest for those most in need. You might agree after reading my review of the concept of marginalization and how it applies to the existing literature about Hekate.
There’s a common belief that Hekate, the ancient goddess of a thousand names, has a special association with those of us who don’t fit into mainstream society. As a misfit myself, I’ve personally felt this way since I started my path as one of her followers. I believe she calls out to those on the fringes of society, offering guidance and acceptance.
Before I get into discussing why I think She is a guardian of the marginalized, I am going to talk about what this term means because I think it’s one of those vague concepts that gets used without being clearly understood.
Marginalization is a concept that is used across a variety of domains, especially within the social sciences and advocacy to categorize people who are outside of the mainstream of society for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, governments use it, too. I first thought of Hekate as particularly relevant to the marginalized years ago when I was a post-doctoral fellow working on a research projected called “On The Margins” that explored how vulnerable women experienced health care.
Causes of Marginalization
The reasons that people are marginalized are often conceptualized as determinants of health and include race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, religion, education, income, geographic location, health status, genetics and physiology, and significant adverse events (i.e., trauma). Any one of these factors can increase an individual’s risk for poor outcomes, especially health problems and poverty. Advocacy groups strive to minimize these risks by improving the determinants of health. Researchers seek to understand these complex connections and to develop ways of risk reduction.
Marginalization is usually seen as implying that the person or group lack the same power that those in the mainstream group possess and that this lack of power is what contributes to the increased likelihood of poor outcomes. This power deficit means that a person, as an individual or part of a group, is vulnerable to poor outcomes due to a personal characteristic that is typically beyond their own individual ability to change.
Often, the terms “marginalized” and “vulnerable” are used interchangeably, although there are differences in their meaning. A personal can be marginalized without being highly vulnerable, although a person can’t be vulnerable without being marginalized. For example, a white man with a middle class income who is well educated is neither marginalized or vulnerable. However, if this man is a practicing Hekatean witch, he may feel marginalized because of his spiritual path, but this wouldn’t necessarily mean that he is at increased risk for poor outcomes (i.e., that he is vulnerable). Now, let’s say that this man is disabled due to a horrible accident and he also happens to be gay. There’s two determinants of health that make him vulnerable to poor outcomes, although the risk associated with being a gay white middle class man is much less today than it used to be. For an interesting discussion on Hekate’s association with the LGBTQ2 communities, read this.
Another term that is used when we talk about marginalization is intersectionality which basically means that a person has multiple sources of vulnerability, such as having a disability and being gay. Being an ethnic minority transgendered person with a disability who is a practicing witch is an example of multiple intersectionalities.
Children are especially marginalized and vulnerable as a group because they exert so little control over their determinants of health. Women, historically, are viewed as a vulnerable group because of their lack of power in society.
Devotion to Hekate and the Vulnerable
At the most basic level, Hekate is associated with the marginalized because Her devotees are practicing a spiritual path that is outside of the mainstream, both within our broad culture and even modern paganism. By following Her, we marginalize ourselves. It’s our choice to step onto this path and reduce our voice in our culture. It’s an interesting irony that where many of us find our personal power is by reducing our power in the dominant groups in which we belong.
Witches Live on the Margins
Identifying as a witch is another act of self marginalization. When we do this, most of us are stepping away from acceptance by our families, dominant groups and culture. Witches have been marginalized in many cultures for centuries. By accepting that we are witches, we are accepting this long history of marginalization. However, we may not be vulnerable to poor outcomes because of our personal practices. It’s a complex situation. Witches who are devotees of Hekate are marginalized but are in a position of power to reduce their own risks and to help those who are vulnerable because of their chosen path. If we witches devoted to Hekate use our abilities wisely we can help the vulnerable in meaningful ways, either through mundane activities helping to reduce risk or through witchery focused on the vulnerable.
The Contemporary Commitment to Service
Using our abilities to help the vulnerable can be an act of devotion to Hekate, and this practice is becoming increasingly popular among practitioners of Modern Hekatean Witchcraft. Helping any of the vulnerable groups associated with her through epithets, such as supporting vulnerable children, women, dogs, the homeless, the poor, the sick, etc. is a way we shine her torches of protection over those in need. Donating our time, money or both serves Hekate and further aids in her guardianship over the marginalized. Doing rituals designed to help those in need is another great way to shine both of our own torchlight and hers. I recently wrote a blog about Hekate as Guardian of Children that included a short ritual that can be found here.
While there may not be direct evidence that proclaims that Hekate as Guardian of the Marginalized, we do have passages from the ancient texts that support our contemporary view of vulnerability. I’m organizing these sources into three categories: 1. Epithets, 2. Locations, and 3. Offerings.
Epithets are the various representations of a deity that reflect specific abilities. Hekate has several epithets associated with Her, I have chosen a few that either directly relate to vulnerable groups or reflect energies that may be useful in helping those who are vulnerable.
For a more complete list of Her epithets, read this to start. First and foremost, Hekate is referred to as Hekate Pammetor, or The Mother of All, in The Greek Magical Papyri** indicating that She covers all of us, including the most vulnerable. Similarly, in The Chaldean Oracles, she is referred to as The World Soul and the Fiery Rose of Creation. Again, she is presented as the dominant force of everything, necessarily extending to the marginalized. I could go on about Her multiple epithets indicating her dominion over all creation, but I’ll stop with these two examples. My point is that She is basically queen of everything including the marginalized.
Other Applicable EpithetsHer roles as Kourotrophos, Guardian of Children, and Eileithyia, Nurse of Childbirth, highlight Her special consideration to children and women, both often vulnerable groups in ancient times and today. For more on Hekate Eileithyia, Nurse of Childbirth, read this. Beyond these epithets, and her connection to witches, there are no specific associations of her with marginalized groups. However, there are many other representations that associate her with the vulnerable, notably her roles as Helper (Aregos), Healer (Paionos), and Savior (Soteira). She is also referred to as all nurturing (Pantrophos), tender (Atala) and an evil destroyer (Alexeatis), all very useful traits when working to reduce inequalities. Morever, her various epithets associated with strength (e.g., Adamantaea, Alkimos, Kratais) and transformation (e.g., Ameibousa, Dadouchos, Phosphoros) all provide beneficial energy to the vulnerable. For me, these epithets combined lend considerable evidence that Hekate is a Protector of the Marginalized.***
The two locations of devotion to Hekate that I think are relevant to this discussion of Her as a Protector of the Marginalized are liminal spaces and crossroads. Liminal spaces are literally the places where margins meet, whether they be the shore where land meets sea or more figurative like the space between worlds. It has been posited elsewhere that the homeless occupy a liminal space since they are between homes. I agree with this perspective and that members of the LGBTQ2 community also inhabit a liminal space. Thus, these marginalized and highly vulnerable groups, and others, inhabit a liminal space as a consequence of their existence. Witches, too, by choice inhabit such spaces. Crossroads are also liminal spaces because they are between places, but are a special sort of space for devotees of Hekate. Often, offerings are offered to her at the crossroads, which is discussed below.
Modern devotees may choose certain groups to help because of her known associations with certain groups, such as the homeless, children and dogs. Beyond these specific connections, the documented practice of leaving scraps of unwanted food and other things at a crossroads implies that these offerings benefited those who didn’t have anything else to eat, wear, etc. Leaving offerings of food at the crossroads was typically done during the dark moon, or Deipnon. Many modern devotees, including myself, also follow this practice either in the literal sense or through donations to groups or individuals that are vulnerable.
There is additional evidence that offerings to Hekate were used by the poor found in Plutus by Aristophenes:
“Ask Hecate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month and that the poor make it disappear before it is even served. “*
Thus, her offerings directly helped the most vulnerable. I want to add that the wrath of the gods was also seen to come to those who partook of offerings to deities, so it is not completely clear that the poor would have eagerly consumed such food items. However, the most vulnerable were often seen as already cursed and really didn’t have much choice in where their food came from.
An excellent blog post discusses this issue in detail if you’re interested in reading more. We can interpret the crossroads as modern support services for the vulnerable and give our offerings to individuals in need. Leaving items at a literal crossroad may be of little benefit in our modern world. I still do this, but I know I’m feeding deer, raccoons and a feral cat known as Big Orange. All of these creatures don’t need my offerings to survive. It’s important to interpret our personal service to the vulnerable through the lens of what is sensible in our lives.
Other objects associated with her worship also can be used as evidence that Hekate is a goddess that is accessible for those who are marginalized since these things were widely available and of no or little cost during ancient times. House sweepings are a great example. Typically, those doing the sweeping would have little power in the ancient world, such as female slaves or poor women, indicating that they were vulnerable using our modern interpretation. Additionally, wild roses and garlic are other offering objects that were available to the poor during ancient times.
Hekate, Guardian of the Marginalized
All the bits of evidence I’ve discussed reinforce my personal belief that Hekate’s torches shine brightest for those living on the fringe. May I use my own light to further her protection of the marginalized.
Prayer to Hekate, Guardian of the Marginalized
Hail Hekate Soteira, Savior of All Creation.
Hail Hekate Pammetor, Mother of All.
Hail Hekate Dadophoros, Torch Bearer.
Shine your torch-light of protection over us.
Bless the outcasts,
Strengthen the weak,
Heal the sick.
Shine your light of transformation
For those who seek it.
Open the doors to a better life
For those in need.
May I be your vessel of your healing
And my torch-light a beacon of protection.
Hail Hekate Soteira, Savior of All Creation.
Hail Hekate Pammetor, Mother of All.
Hail Hekate Dadophoros, Torch Bearer.
** PGM IV 2785-2890.
*** I didn’t give the citations for the sources of each of her epithets I use. For more information on Her epithets, read Sarah Neheti Croft’s excellent lists on Tumblr.