Hekate as a Triple Goddess is one of her most iconic images. Usually including either three heads or three bodies, there are many ancient and contemporary depictions of her like this. In my interpretation of her as a 21st century goddess, I’m merging those three forms into one body. Why? Because we live in an age where people, especially women in our western culture, are able to be more than one thing. We live in a time when traditional gender roles are being questioned, so why shouldn’t we apply the same critical lens to the deities and archetypes that inspire and guide us?
I recently wrote about Hekate as a Goddess for Our Time. I’m expanding on one aspect of her contemporary understanding in this article, but I plan to write lots more about reimagining the imagery and lore about Hekate as reflected in contemporary practice and society.
Dividing her roles into three separate forms seems to speak to the past when women were regulated to only one role at a time, such as being a maiden, mother or wise woman. Hekate is many things simultaneously, including Guardian, Guide and Gatekeeper.
I find these roles help me to better understand the mysterious, yet enduring and ever-changing complexity that is Hekate. The gender neutrality of these terms also appeals to me.
Hekate as a Triple Goddess
Hekate as Triformis, the goddess of three faces, has been with us since at least the 5th century BCE, when her eponymous statue overlooked Athens. Looking down from her tower, her ability see in all directions conveyed her role as guardian over the country. Since then, her tripartite figure has been used in various works of art. Sometimes her heads are those of animals, reflecting her different attributes. There has been considerable attention to the meaning of those three heads beyond their ability to see everything.
Today we can interpret them as symbolic of the contemporary Triple Goddess image of Maiden, Mother and Crone. Historically, Hekate has been linked to maidens and mothers by some writers, perhaps indicating that she reserved the crone role for herself. Certainly, her wisdom has endured throughout the ages and across the stories. Wise woman imagery has often been associated with older woman, usually those who are less than attractive. Is this a way to subdue the power of female wisdom? I’ve often wondered why the wise woman of the trio is labelled “crone” rather than the more appropriate title of “matron.”
The Two Types of Triple Goddesses
We are dealing with two separate forms of Hekate: one as a goddess with three sides contained within herself (sort of) and the other with her being part of a trio. In this article, I’m going to share my thoughts on the former and save my ideas about the latter for a separate blog.
A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away), I studied shamanism. The ideas and practices I learned helped to shape the way I practice witchcraft and the way I view, well, just about everything. This includes the organization of the nature of metaphysical forces and their connections to the material world. As such, my lens for interpreting Hekate’s three-sided nature melds her traditional roles with the shamanic idea of the Three Worlds, creating a 21st century interpretation.
A Bit About The Three Worlds
The Three Worlds are energetic realms that are connected to the material world. The Upper World refers to the celestial realm, some call it heaven. I tend to refer to it as The Starry Road. The Middle World is the force of everyday life. This is where we live and is somewhat similar to some ancient philosophers’ view of the Material World. Finally, the Lower World is the realm of some spirits, including animal ones. This world meshes well with the ideas of the Under World from certain historical approaches, such as the religions which honored Hekate in ancient times.
These three worlds are reflected in us as well. We have a lower self, middle self and higher self. For me, the lower self is the land of emotions. The higher self is the seat of thought. They meet at the middle self where they combine into our actions. Of course, the three are quite interdependent. Just like Hekate’s three forms.
Hekate of the Three Worlds
Because I like organization and numbers, I took my spreadsheet of Hekate’s ancient epithets and categorized them as representing one of the three Worlds. Even though she is often viewed as an Under World goddess, I found that her epithets were spread across the three different realms. In particular, she has her own historical celestial descriptors, especially in her depiction in The Chaldean Oracles. Her night-wandering “of the road” roles reflect a goddess that is very much of the Middle World.
Hekate was given dominion over Land, Sea and Sky by Zeus (actually the author, Hesiod) which corresponds nicely to the Three Worlds. The colors of the Three Worlds are black, red and white, which have been associated with Hekate since ancient times. Thus, the Under World is represented by black and the sea, the Middle World with red and land (also blood) and the Upper World is white and celestial.
Hekate of the Under World: Guardian
Hekate’s most popular role is probably that of an Under World deity. Her accompaniment and companionship of Persephone is a powerful story that I’ve referred to many times, such as:
Persephone’s abduction by Hades is primarily a story of emotion – sadness, grief, anger and betrayal. Hekate comes to her aid, not resolving the situation by mediating it. In this way, Hekate can be seen as our Guardian during our own Under World times. She can also act in this capacity for those of us engaged in Under World work, whether through specific forms of practice or activities like necromancy. Her torches, that iconic symbol, can be viewed as representative of Hekate as Guardian.
Hekate, as Queen of the Underworld and Torchbearer, is our guide through our own dark times. She’s there to shine her torch along our path through the worst times of our lives. Such times, although miserable, are the times that we grow the most as individuals. Like Persephone’s journey to the Underworld and back, and thus giving us the seasons, we, too, have required phases. During these times I know that I have often felt completely alone, but as with Persephone, Hekate hears us:
“But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tender-hearted Hecate, bright coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave.” – Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Evelyn-White translation, 1914.
Hekate of the Middle World: Guide
We all go through difficult emotional times, but eventually climb out of the watery depths to walk the Middle World once again. Hekate’s role here can be viewed as Guide:
The meaning of Hekate as Guide is two-fold. The modern application of Hekate as Enodia is that Hekate is both the road representing our journey through this life and our guide along the way. I think that we are all born with a predestined road map that we should follow through any one incarnation. However, there are things that happen that cause us to veer off track. That’s when her role as Guide along our Middle World journey becomes so important. She’ll be there to help us get back on the right path. – from Keeping Her Keys: An Introduction to Hekate’s Modern Witchcraft
Applying the symbolism of the wheel to the Middle World seems appropriate since it’s about movement. The strophalos has become strongly associated with Hekate in recent years.
Hekate of the Upper World: Gatekeeper
Upper World energy includes all things to do with the mind: intellect, thought and mysticism. Hekate as portrayed in The Chaldean Oracles is very much of this energy. The epithet, Savior (Soteira) can be used to describe her Upper World ways:
Hekate Soteira is the embodiment of all of Our Lady’s upper world energies. In this aspect, She is The Cosmic World Soul that guides us along the starry road of enlightenment. It is through connecting with this energy that we can access Hekate Soteira, our upper world guides, and our higher selves. This communication is required to live an authentic life that we love. Getting to a place of authenticity also enables us to fully harness our witchcraft. Don’t we all want that kind of salvation? I know I do.
Hekate of the Upper World is the Keeper of the Keys, a role given to her since ancient times. She is the Gatekeeper of mysteries both mystical and of our own lives.
Hekate: 21st Century Triple Goddess
Hekate as Guardian, Guide and Gatekeeper provides a new alternative for understanding her diverse historical roles as well as her emerging contemporary ones. As a Goddess of Our Weakest Moments, she comes to us when we are in the emotional depths of despair.
It’s been almost three years since I found myself wondering around a big bookstore, bereft and desperate for…something, anything to make the pain go away. I was completely exhausted – from a broken heart, too much drama and the complex series of life changes resulting from the ending of a romantic relationship. Silently, I prayed to Hekate to show me the way to relief from my distress…
As Guardian of the Marginalized, Hekate serves as Guide in the everyday world, helping those of us marginalized find a place in it. In this regard, she can be a sort of maternal figure:
Our modern view of Hekate as Guardian of the Marginalized can be considered quite maternal. Once again, Hekate defies neat compartmentalization and favors highly personal interpretations.
Finally, as a Goddess of Sovereignty, she stands before us with the keys of insight and intellect. Obviously, I am partial to her role as Gatekeeper. I wrote an article about her association with keys and added in a few ways that I make magick with them in Hekate’s Symbols: Keys – History, Meaning and Uses.
Her Keys speak to her role as a Goddess of Sovereignty, for it is entirely up to us whether we take them or not:
I’m concluding my observations about Hekate as the Goddess of Our Time by talking a bit about personal sovereignty. I’ve mentioned that there is great diversity in how people perceive Hekate and in how they interact with her. Contemporary Hekate is all about “you do you.” She’s also about standing on your own two feet rather than blindly trusting in her to intervene on your behalf. Most of her followers that I know are action oriented and committed to personal development. This is not a Goddess for Passive People.
To further explore her Under World torches, you can read my article on Hekate’s Symbols: Fire – History, Meaning and Uses. I’ve also given the same treatment to Hekate’s Wheel.