31 days of Halloween – Charlotte Babb
Hecate: The Magic of Choice
When you come to a fork in the road, the point of choice, you are in the sacred (and scary) place where the goddess, Hecate (heh-CAH-tay) lives. She holds the “magical power of the word,” and with her three aspects, she can see past, present and future at the same time. Of the Greek goddesses, she is unique not only in having power over water, sky and earth, but in sharing with Zeus the ability to grant wishes to humanity. Her name means “She who works her will from afar. ” She is mistress of all passages: twilight, gates, doorways, births and deaths. Those who follow her path say that she is a no-nonsense goddess who is more likely to give you what you need than what you ask for. She is associated with magic, divination, ghosts, and general witchcraft, including the use of potions.
The best-known Greek myth that mentions Hecate is the story of Persephone (Spring), who was kidnapped and married by Hades, god of the underworld without the permission of Demeter, her mother, goddess of growing things. It was Hecate who came to Demeter with news of the abduction, and suggested that they seek out the truth. When the deal was worked out that Persephone could come back to earth, bringing spring with her, for half the year, Hecate became her minister in the underworld.
Hecate is often seen as the crone or hag of Halloween, the end of the harvest, the time of the year that corresponds to twilight before the midnight of the winter solstice. As the mistress of ghosts and other underworld spirits, she is one of the elder goddesses, a Titan in the Greek pantheon, sister to Zeus, and the only one who did not bear him a child. In allowing her to keep her magical powers, Zeus shows more respect to Hecate than to any other goddess on Olympus. Greek women put images of Hecate on the doorways and gates of their homes to prevent evil spirits from coming in. They also made sacrifices of black lambs or dogs to her, so that she would not release the powers of darkness on the home.
Few stories of goddesses as old women exist, despite an epithet of “oldest of the old” applied to both Hecate and Isis. The elder goddesses tend to be demoted to servants or to hold lesser posts. In neo-paganism, Hecate is the crone of the triple goddesses, with Persephone the maiden and Demeter the mother, possibly because women live much longer lives today than in ancient times. She is also seen as the dark of the moon, with Artemis as the new moon, and Selene ad the full moon. Some researchers believe she is the same as the frog goddess Hekt, midwife to the sun god of Egypt. Her worship may have traveled through Nubia into Samothrace, land of the Amazons, and from there into the Greek Pantheon. She is one of few goddesses mentioned in later works, notably as a witch in Macbeth. Early Christian writers in Europe admonished their flocks not to follow their previous customs of leaving offerings to her at crossroads.
Her familiars are usually dogs, and the barking of dogs announces her presence. She is sometimes shown as having three heads: a dog, a snake and a horse, or as a woman with three heads on three connected bodies. She often is shown carrying two torches to light her way both before and behind. One custom of her worship was for a household to have a Hecate supper on the dark of the moon, a feast with an extra plate served up, and then taken as an offering to a crossroads. Other magic included drawing sickness or bad luck into an egg or other object, and then burying the object at the crossroads. Fragments of ancient writings implore Hecate to help with the making of a potion. In the blues standard by Robert Johnson, the person is said to go to the crossroads at midnight to exchange his soul for the ability to play music.
Any time you are faced with a choice or a life transition, it is good to think like Hecate, and consider the possibilities of the future, whether to continue with what you always do, or to change directions. Think about what you need to keep with you, and what is weighing you down, what can be released. The power of choice is to have a will to move forward on your own. Hecate is with you.
For more reading
Bolen, J.S. (2001) Goddesses in older women: Archetypes in women over fifty. New York, NY: Harper.
Monaghan, P. (1997) The new book of goddesses and heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.
Monaghan, P. (1999) The goddess companion: Daily mediations on the feminine spirit. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.
Stone, M. (1990) Ancient mirrors of womanhood. Boston, MA: Beacon Hill
Walker, B.G. (1983) The woman’s encyclopedia of myths and secrets. San Francisco, CA: Harper.