Sorita d’Este is an author, researcher and priestess who has devoted her life to the Mysteries. She is the author of around 20 books exploring subjects related to the practice and history of magic, mythology, religion, folklore and witchcraft. Her previous books include titles such as Hekate Liminal Rites, Practical Elemental Magick, Visions of the Cailleach, Wicca: Magickal Beginnings and The Isles of the Many Gods. Her latest release is Circle For Hekate: Vol I. She lives on a hill in Glastonbury (Somerset, UK) from where she works as a publisher and writer. She is frequently distracted from her work by her love of gardening, exciting visitors and the promise of interesting esoteric knowledge.
To start, I like to ask how you got involved in magick and witchcraft? A lot of us have kind of an initial draw to these things as children, did you have any experiences like that in retrospect you can say “Yeah, that was pretty witchy of me”?
I had a fascination with the otherworld, with psychic experiences and the forces of nature since childhood. I was born in Cape Town, on the southern most tip of South Africa. As a young child, I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents, with my Italian grandmother encouraging an interest in the Romantic poets and literature, and my grandfather teaching me about gardening and the natural world. I did not discover Initiatory Witchcraft until I was in my late teens, following a period of a few years during which I devoured all the books I could find in local libraries on the occult (many of which warned against the dangers of getting involved).
However, my inner-witch must have been lurking somewhere as aged 10 or so, I dressed myself and my younger sister up as witches for a Church fancy dress event, making the dresses and hats from black bin-liners and sellotape! I was also frequently engaging in experiments with weather magic, telepathy (with humans and animals) and other practices as I discovered them.
How did your relationship with Hekate begin and how has it evolved or changed since then?
The name “Hekate” as being that of an ancient Goddess of Rome and Greece was familiar to me from a young age, due to its prevalence in Shakespeare and other literature, but it wasn’t until much later when I got involved with Initiatory Craft that I would participate in ceremonies in which she was invoked. In late 2000 following my participation in a scrying session with other initiates in London I co-founded an Initiatory Craft study circle which became dedicated to Hekate – and it is then that my journey with Her started in an official capacity. In the years that followed I engaged in a series of workings within an Initiatory Craft context which was focussed on a variety of deities, some like Hekate drew from the Greek and Roman pantheons, but we also experimented with deities other world pantheons, including Egyptian, Celtic, Norse and Babylonian.
To begin with, I considered her to be a tutelary goddess, a guide to initiates. I learned from very early on to question and analyse the results I obtain in ritual work, and over the years it became apparent that the results obtained, whether in an oracular, tutelary or initiatory context, would consistently be more effective when Hekate was invoked as part of a ceremony.
What’s the story behind the Covenant of Hekate? How did that start? How has it evolved since then?
In 2010 I created a simple devotional ritual to Hekate, The Rite of Her Sacred Fires, in celebration of the completion of the book project Hekate: Her Sacred Fires. At the Full Moon in May that year around 2000 people from all around the world participated in this mass celebration around the world in 10 languages. In the weeks that followed, I realised that there was a need for a continued space in which devotees could come together and share – open discussion spaces were available on various forums, but none of these was explicitly aimed at those who were already devoted to Hekate. The idea for the CoH came out of a discussion with some of the original contributors to the project, and it was officially founded in November 2010, six months after the first Rite.
There was no “grand plan” other than to create an application process which included a self-dedication ceremony and which served to bring people together to share and celebrate in Hekate’s Mysteries. The CoH has grown to a community of nearly 500 dedicated devotees around the world, and the Rite of Her Sacred Fires continues on as a yearly celebration of Hekate at the Full Moon of each year – which has now been translated into more than 30 languages.
Hekate seems to be growing in popularity in the last couple of years, why do you think that is?
I think her popularity has been steadily growing during the last decade or more; this is evident in the number of books, statues and other icons, artwork and websites she has inspired. In fact, I would venture to say that she is possibly the most talked about, debated and worshipped Goddess in the modern Pagan movement now – though I am sure that there are some who would disagree!
Why? I firmly believe that she is a goddess who is relevant in the 21st century, just as if not more than she was between 750/700 BC and 400 CE for which we have most of the “historical” information on her. She encompasses nearly every human need and desire, and she is the very essence, the power if you like, which connects humanity to the divine. She is the torch-bearing goddess, bearing light and illuminating the dark, revealing that which is hidden – often hidden in plain sight, but invisible to those who fear her light. She is honoured by Zeus in Hesiod’s Theogony and invoked next to him in the Chaldean Oracles and other texts more than a 1000 year later, and has a unique and lasting place among the deathless Gods of antiquity. However, then – as now, she was invoked by people from all walks of society: emperors, philosophers, people who push the boundaries of society, people who obey the rules, women, men, children, artists, poets, scholars, circus performers – the poor and the rich, and everything in-between. Her popularity will continue to grow into the 21st century and beyond because of the way in which she is able to inspire people from so many different walks of life, and because she is able to affect change in the lives of those who call upon her.
You recently released Circle For Hekate Volume 1: History & Mythology. If I remember right, it was originally going to be a single book. How many volumes are there going to be?
Well … that is a good question! Volume I is focussed entirely on the history and places of Hekate’s worship, the goddesses she is conflated with, the symbols associated with her and her place in mythology. Volume II is dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of the history of devotional practices linked to Hekate, and presents ceremonies, contemplations and meditations for readers to use to broaden their own devotional practices. That is due out in the Spring. I also have a lot of material exploring magical practices, oracular (trance) practices, herbal knowledge and uses, as well as initiation and rites of passage. So time will tell!
If someone is interested in working with Hekate or feels her calling, what advice would you give them?
If the person is new to devotional practice and have little knowledge of Hekate, then my first advice would be that they should take their time to learn more about her first, and to then spend time in silent contemplation on the symbols or ideas associated with her that they find most interesting. If they already have a good knowledge and experience of ritual, then my advice would be that they create a shrine to Hekate and develop a devotional practice, which includes learning more about her through both experience and study.
A lot of people tend to focus solely on the darker aspects of Hekate, which indeed is a strong and powerful aspect but seem to ignore a long and established history of her other attributes and aspects. In the Covenant of Hekate, Hekate is viewed mainly as the Cosmic World Soul. Can you explain what that means? How does that differ, from say, the Hellenic Hekate, or the darker witch queen goddess Hekate of more modern traditions?
Firstly, I don’t believe in “different” Hekates, for me the Hellenic Hekate is the same as the Roman Hekate and the Hekate we honour today. Hekate is however a complex goddess with a long history of worship, during which she has been loved, feared, hated and demonised by different groups of people. During the same period of time she has also been subsumed into the cults of other goddesses, and similarly the cults of other goddesses became syncretised and conflated with hers.
Hekate suffered a lot of negative propaganda and demonization during the late Pagan and early Christian period, something adherents of new religions often do to the deities of previous established religious traditions, especially those which are prevalent. Unfortunately, some of the propaganda continues to be highlighted by modern authors, even though it does not represent the way in which devotees viewed her, but instead her detractors!
Hekate holds torches with which she illuminates the Mysteries, shines a light in the dark and protects against malevolent forces. She even manifests as a pillar of light, or as mysterious lights on the water, to protect and guide her chosen devotees. She is the light in the dark, the light which reveals that which is lurking both in the world around us and in our own subconscious, that which is really there. Her illusion shattering light can however be a great deal more frightening than living in blissful ignorance, and it is this aspect of Hekate which frightens some modern practitioners.
Hekate is the Cosmic World Soul honoured for her role not only as the light-bearing Goddess of crossroads, but also as the deity who ensouls the natural world, and the humans within it. She is the Saviour (Soteira) who is able to release souls, and who enables humans to interact with the Gods. She has a unique ability to travel between the mundane human world and the celestial and chthonic worlds of the Gods. The Covenant of Hekate is dedicating February 2018 to sharing resources and artwork inspired by Hekate as the Cosmic World Soul, some of it will be public so look out for #hekateworldsoul.
The Chaldean Oracles are very big on Hekate as Soteira, or savioress, as is the Covenant of Hekate. What is Hekate Soteira saving us from and how?
Hekate was usually celebrated as Soteira in cities where she performed some kind of role in protecting the city from danger, such as military attacks from enemies. It has also been suggested that Soteira may have been used to describe Hekate as a healing goddess, due to her connection with healing sanctuaries and herbal medicine. In the Chaldean Oracles, the role of Soteira becomes one of far greater importance still, referring not only to physical safety or health but also to the release of the soul. This, it was hoped, would lead the theurgist towards a spiritual union with the divine.
Hekate is one of those deities, who initially challenged my hard polytheism. First through personal interactions and gnosis, and then later with research. Her history seems to blend and merge with other deities in history before, during, and after the classical period. What are your personal views on Hekate and these goddesses? A more specific example, Diana and Hekate, as you know, are conflated so much that sometimes it’s hard to not see them as the same goddess at times. Do you feel they’re the same goddess? Different goddesses? How do you approach this issue?
I am a polytheist, so I do believe that (most) deities are separate, unique and independent entities. However, even under the same name deities are sometimes worshipped and depicted in significantly different ways, an excellent example of this is the Ephesian Artemis and the Hellenic Virgin Huntress Artemis, they are clearly not the same deity. Hekate seems to bridge the gap between these “two” versions of Artemis, she is depicted both as being connected to the Phrygian Great Mother cult (Kybele) and the Hellenic huntress, and evidence suggests that Hekate profoundly influenced the development of the Cult of Diana in Aricia, at least as much as Artemis. On one level this is all very confusing, but when you start looking at it all a bit more in context, a different picture reveals itself, that of religious pluralism. The Greeks practised Interpretatio Graeca, a process in which local deities were equated to a deity of their own pantheon and usually syncretised with that deity, the Romans continued this practice but occasionally also incorporated gods from other pantheons into their own. Also, while we think of ancient religion as being polytheistic, this was not always the case for everyone.
Avalonia has some of the most interesting and unique occult and pagan books out there, in my opinion. What has been the biggest rewards and challenges of running your own independent publishing company?
Thank you Mat, you are very kind! For me the greatest reward is that I get to work with some of the most experienced, knowledgeable and fascinating individuals in the field of modern magic, theurgy, alternative and earth-based spiritual paths. I have learned so much from each project, and hope that I will be able to continue doing what I am doing for many years to come!
The biggest challenge? Probably doing this work while also being a mum to a disabled boy, whose needs can sometimes interrupt the best-laid plans for deadlines on projects! He has however also taught me a lot about myself and the world around me, because of the different and sensory way he interacts with his environment and for that I am thankful.
What are you currently working on? What upcoming projects or works can we look forward to?
I am personally working on the next two volumes of the Circle of Hekate project, as well as completing some projects I have started over the last few years and never quite managed to finish. It feels good to finally be able to work on them again!
For Avalonia, we are preparing the manuscript of Sekhmet & Bast by Lesley Jackson for print, and also working towards completion on a number of other exciting projects.