Hekate is a complex goddess both in her cultural representations and personal interpretations. I’ve written loads about her, but there’s so much more I want you to know. Here’s my list of the top ten things about Hekate worth considering, along with some surprising images of her.
I’ve spent countless hours studying the ways she has been written about and depicted since her emergence over 2,500 years ago. Even that date is debatable because she most likely evolved from earlier mother goddess figures. I’m not getting into that whole can of worms now, but perhaps in a future blog I’ll feel brave enough to do so. For now, I am offering you my list of the ten most important things I want you to know about Hekate. Contemplate them however you wish, although a cup of something relaxing may be helpful.
Before I Begin
I truly believe that people should interpret Hekate however she presents herself to them. However, knowing a bit about history and themes regarding her can only deepen personal understanding. Here are some things to consider about Hekate. I’ve included some popular images of Hekate down through the ages with each one of the 10 things.
I didn’t call this list “misconceptions” about Hekate. Nor do I want you to think of it as my take on Penn and Teller’s popular Bulls*#t series. I want you to know these things so you can make an informed decision about how you view Hekate, both in your personal understanding and in the broad contemporary context. For more about written descriptions of Hekate and my thoughts on them, you can read my article, “A Witch’s Understanding of Hekate.”
I’ve written about Hekate’s many controversies before, so I am not getting into those in this article. If you’re curious about her connections to Jesus, hateful symbols and other hot topics, read my article.
#10 This Painting is NOT What You Think
Known both as Hecate and Enitharmon’s Joy, Blake most likely did not ever foresee anyone using it as a positive image of a mighty goddess. Blake had his own interpretation. For the record, the central figure is female, but she is flanked by a male on one side and a female on the other. If you see Hekate this way, that’s fine, but there is no other historical record of her having a male side that I know of. (Should you know of one, please comment or get in touch some other way.)
[Milton Klonsky in William Blake, The Seer and His Visions comments on Hecate on page 60:
“Both Hecate and Pity … were meant to illustrate dual aspects of what Blake regarded as the domineering Female Will, which attempts to ensnare the male in a web of religion woven out of sexual repression, chastity and jealousy.]
I am fascinated by the ways that great art inspires diverse interpretations. Blake’s work certainly achieves that. I don’t use this image in any of my articles because of it’s “back story.” How you interpret it is entirely up to you. Also, up for consideration: owls have become associated with Hekate, perhaps at least partly due to this image (although there are some historical linkages…sort of). At any rate, before using an image of Hekate, I urge you to take a few moments to learn about the work of art under consideration.
#9 Historical Depictions Are Far From Accurate
Taking descriptions of Hekate out of context can result in them being used in ways that their creators never intended. They are not accurate descriptions of Hekate from some sort of mystical objective position. Those writers, like myself, had a perspective and a cultural context in which they lived.
I take things out of their original one when it helps me tell my story. I pull certain excerpts from a larger text to make a point. However, I have a solid understanding of the context in which the historical and ancient works about Hekate were constructed – either as images or texts. Notably, the perception of women and female power were vastly different when most of these works were created. Women’s place was in the home. Period. Whether or not this was a power imbalance is up for debate. However, Blakes’ painting is one example out of hundreds that appear to subjugate women, especially the witchy kind. I have even used negative depictions of Hekate in a reclaiming manner, like this gem:
If I use that in an article without context, you’ll still enjoy and learn from this passage. However, knowing that this is a subversive interpretation of what old Eusibius meant makes it all the better. I encourage you to read more about the images and written documents that you love regarding Hekate (and everything). Unpacking the past and situating it within the original context is a great form of scholarly witchcraft.
Doesn’t this look like part of a big statue? Nope.
It could fit on your altar.
#8 Myths and Other Stories Aren’t Facts
While I use humor to help deal with how Hekate and her followers are depicted in artwork, it’s more difficult for me to cope with dogmatic approaches to her. Let me take a deep breath. Okay. I’m better now. I have
written ranted about this before in my article, “Don’t Tell Me What to Think: My Beliefs are as Valid as Yours.” This article resonated with a lot of people – mainly women – who had similar experiences:
“I’m going to tell you something else that may be shocking – those historical texts are being interpreted by you. You are adding your own beliefs and thoughts to them as you spew them. And if you read others’ interpretations of those texts, then you’re mixing their perspective with yours. We can’t help it – it’s what humans do. We can be aware of it, though.
Now, I’m not trying to discredit people who are erstwhile scholars of the ancient texts. Quite the contrary. In my experience, these individuals engage in thoughtful and respectful discussions. I’m talking about the ones who possess a little knowledge and a lot of hubris.”
It’s been several months since I wrote that. Do you want to know what I’ve learned? That it is important to stick up for my beliefs and to support others, but that some people are just absolutely pig headed. Circe’s “true self” spell would have them end up as bacon.
#7 She Wasn’t a Big Part of the Greek Pantheon
Alas, you may think it pains me to write the above statement. Not so much. Hekate showed up in the myths and writings (like spells and theological musings) when she needed to. Like I wrote in Hekate: Mother of All, I don’t think she would want to be the mother of the gods or even associate with them too much. All joking aside, she was different than the Olympians. An outsider of sorts, perhaps an older goddess or a foreign one. We may never know her origin story for certain. What is known is that different authors and artists cast her in many diverse roles. Sometimes, she got left out entirely from different versions of stories in various retellings, either in words or through imagery. For example, she is nowhere to be found in this painting about Persephone’s deliverance from Hades. Those Romantic English creative types probably were too afraid of her.
#6 Hekate and Her Witches Were NOT Evil
Building upon my last comment, I want to talk about how Hekate was portrayed as the Goddess of Witchcraft and about the witches associated with her, most famously Medea and Circe. There’s also Simaetha, let’s give her props, and also Gale the Polecat.
Sometimes Hekate is portrayed as a pharmakis, or a witch specializing in botanicals like her witches themselves. Herbalism is pure evil, my friends. I guess that makes me evil, too. If they’re my company, then I am proud to be so. Especially when the label is being applied by a bunch of dead privileged white guys. I wouldn’t want their approval. I don’t think Hekate and her witches would, either.
Hekate and her “coven” of associated historical witches were used as symbols for the dangers of female power. Don’t forget how Shakespeare and others have portrayed her throughout history. I find the witches in these stories very inspirational even when I am horrified by their actions. They stood in their female power. To me, that’s not evil at all. Context is everything: the men who wrote about these women had a certain mindset and agenda. I recommend reading the brand new retelling of Circe’s story to better understand her and my point that these women weren’t evil at all. Neither was Hekate.
#5 Hekate is
ONLY a So Much More Than a Dark Goddess
Because Hekate as a Goddess of Witchcraft has received so much attention from the artistic and literary worlds, there is a prevailing notion that she is only associated with things that go bump in the night. No. First, let me say that you need to see Hekate however she presents herself to you. If you only see her as, say, The Queen of Hell, good for you. It’s not my business to judge. I’d love to hear about it.I’m talking about how she has been described throughout the ages, whether in art or the written word. She’s gone through historical phases, where she is dark and then light and then dark again. Just like the moon. Perhaps today we are finally seeing her at her fullest. We’ve reached this point at least partly because works of art depicting her in a similar way to the ancient statuary appeared in the 19th century. Even the rise of the modern pagan view of her as a crone and in association with witches hasn’t stopped her image from expanding far beyond these restrictions.
#4 Hekate Is
Not Child Friendly
Hekate has always been associated with pregnancy, childbirth and as a guardian of children. Women were seen as weak trouble-makers and their offspring quite expendable by some of the ancient and historical writers (Calm down, I said “some”). So, it makes sense that the Queen of the Witches would also take care of those pesky short people. Now, of course, we view both these roles as positive. Context, remember?
As for working Hekate’s witchery with children around, I’ve raised two doing so. They are both still breathing. My private practice with Hekate focuses on her role as the Dark Mother. She is not a light, happy sort of goddess in my personal perspective. My boys have been raised with her as their matron. The dark is not to be feared, but embraced in our home.
If you’re raising Hekate’s demons while bringing up your own (some people do) or placing children at risk for other types of harm, such as exposure to toxins, that has nothing to do with Hekate. Make your own decisions about how best to incorporate her into family life, but keep the little ones safe. Unless you have a view akin to those ancients.
The Graces dancing around Hekate. Or are they imprisoning her?
#3 Hekate Can’t Be Easily Defined
Frequently, I get asked about “Hekate’s story.” There really isn’t just one. Hesiod’s works are fascinating, but you really have to delve into other ancient tales for comparison. Then the Chaldean Hekate is a whole different kettle of fish (I like to let my Nova Scotian out once in a while). This is why personal understanding is so vital for those who have an “association” with Hekate.
Heck, we can’t even settle on a word to describe our interaction with Hekate. I recently used the expression “working with Hekatean energy currents” in my blog about Hekate and the New Moon. This is entirely different than Hekate’s association with the Dark Moon...see how complex this is getting already? Back to my point, some practitioners (I think I can get away with using that term) see her as a literal goddess to be venerated, worshiped and adored. They consider themselves devotees. I see myself as a devotee as well, but I see her very differently than a lofty goddess that I supplicate to. I see her as energetic currents mostly, but then, I also think she’s spoken to me. Weird. I have no answers for all that. However you define Hekate personally is great. I love hearing about it.
Hekate as a sex symbol.
She’s so hot.
#2 There is NO “Right” Way to Honor and Work with Hekate
Just this past Dark Moon, there was a big discussion in the Keeping Her Keys closed study group (link below if you would like to apply to join) about the right way to honor Hekate. The consensus? Do what you can when you can. I’ve written lots about suggestions, including my series on her main symbols: fires, keys and her wheel. Maybe even the way Marvel comics depicts her is a form of veneration. I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Hekate might jump to hasty conclusions, but don’t you fret.
#1 Hekate is a Goddess of the Future
The most important thing I need you to know about Hekate is that she is a goddess for all time: past, present and future. I feel that she is *finally* coming into her own on the societal level and in the staggering number of people who are drawn to her. I wrote about this before in “Hekate and November: The Holy Darkness is Nigh.”
It is no coincidence that there is a groundswell of interest in Hekate at this particular moment. Not only is there this wave of fascination with her, there is also a great expansion of her descriptions in art and literature. Hekate is a symbol of the divine feminine, witchcraft and of being comfortable being an outsider (she is associated with the in-between. Read more here.) Her time is nigh, but, more importantly, her time is in the future. It’s also our time. We are using these ancient stories and personal understandings to create a new form of practice. I am excited to see where we go with Hekate.
Intro (Magical Gems Database): http://www2.szepmuveszeti.hu/talismans/visitatori_salutem
#8 de Ribera, Jusepe; Hecate: Procession to a Witches’ Sabbath; English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hecate-procession-to-a-witches-sabbath-144368
#7 LMG100045 The Return of Persephone, c.1891 (oil on canvas) by Leighton, Frederic (1830-96); 203×152 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) U.K.; English, out of copyright. http://www.leedsartgallery.co.uk/gallery/listings/l0033.php
#1 Mediterranean Hekate by Crisantemo Sága Haro.
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