On holiday in Galloway, I found myself in ‘Scotland’s national book town’: Wigtown. It’s great – a tiny place where pretty much every other shop is a second-hand book shop…perfect for a rainy afternoon. My favourite was called Reading Lasses – a feminist bookshop filled with books by and/or about women. Where ‘gender issues’ are tucked away in dark corners in other bookshops, in this one there’s a whole bookcase devoted to ‘gender politics’ and ‘gender studies’. Where arcane books including Tarot are difficult to find among religious or supernatural sections in other shops, here, they are the very first books in the shop, right at the door with self-help, psychology, healing.
What was also tucked into these shelves was a feminist pyschic journal called ‘Panakaeia‘, produced in the early 80s. It’s A5, written on an electric typewriter, and feels like a lovingly-made collaborative fanzine. In the issue of July 1985, among articles on creating a witch garden, herbalism, meditation, book reviews and festivals was a section devoted to the goddess Hecate. I ran a hot bath and lay in the steaming water trying to get my head around this many-sided character.
Carol Lewis wrote the first article.
I turned to myths and legends to uncover stories about Hecate, and at first sight it seemed that there were no major myths readily available. Searching in all kinds of books by men and women with varying attitudes, I often found Her mentioned in passing, usually in Her role as Queen of the Underworld or of witches, but nowhere could I find anything apporaching the detailed legends of other Goddesses. But as my research continued, I came to realise that She was there, and as details mounted I found an interconnected web of symbols, beleifs and associations from around the world. I also found quite full accounts of Her mysteries, the rituals and beliefs of Her followers, Her festivals and Her history as She wound Her way through Egypt, Anatolia, Greece and Rome, even reaching such far-flung shores as Britain.
Lewis then goes on to describe Hecate’s geographical journey from ancient Africa through eastern and western Europe, adding the symbolism given to her by each culture.
It seems that Hecate was/is variously…
* The great mother goddess, giving birth to the sun every morning
* The frog-headed goddess of the primordeal waters (ancient Egypt)
* Midwife to the goddesses
* Symbol of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth
* The triple goddess of the moon – waxing and waning. full, and new, or Clotho (spinning the threads of life), Lachesis (measuring life), and Atrophos (cutting the threads of life)
* One aspect of the triple-headed goddess representing three aspects of the moon – Hecate representing the dark side of the moon
* One aspect of maiden (Persephone), mother (Demeter) and crone (Hecate). *see Melia’s comment below this post
* A great witch, daughter of Aeetes, the magician, and a High Priestess (Colchis – now Georgia)
* Queen of the Underworld
* The chief goddess – queen of goddesses (what was Turkey)
* Goddess of the Night and giver of nocturnal visions, lunacy, ‘moon-madness’
* Goddess of crossroads – a point where three roads meet
Hecate brought forth the sun every morning, giving birth to day. She also had power over the weather, bringing rain to raise crops, but at the same time weilding the power to being storms to wreck the harvest. In some countries (I think including the UK), August the 13th was made a day for honouring Hecate, a festival involving all sorts of divination, prayer and sacrifice to the goddess in order to protect the crops.
The themes are strong and consistent. Today, Hecate can be seen as a symbol of life’s cycle – as a mother and midwife bringing forth new life, as a guardian of death, and as the new moon follows the dark, a symbol of rebirth and renewal. In this sense, she is associated with The Moon Tarot card, where The Moon represents cycles, and unexplainable fear. As the ‘giver of nocturnal visions’ she is the goddess of ‘moon madness’. But stronger, I feel, is her association with the Death card – the necessary death of the ego or of a part of ourselves which is no longer wanted or needed, in order to become transformed into something greater, or to enter the next phase of our lives. As the guardian of the crossroads, Hecate awaits us at the point where our lives change direction – and in the Wild Wood deck, card 13, Death, is renamed ‘The Journey’:
(The Journey, from the Wild Wood Tarot, illustrated by Will Worthington)
What can we learn from Hecate? For me, it’s about being unafraid of change. It’s those root meanings in the Death card – finding the ability to stare death – whatever death means in context – in the face and pass through the transformation it brings. Realising that death is a necessary part of life, that one person will undergo many deaths and rebirths in one lifetime, and that these are a healthy, natural, scary part of our journey.
More information about Hecate
One person who knows far more about Hecate than I is Melia Suez, who writes the 4 of Wands blog. You can find her many posts on the goddess here.
I also found (through Melia’s blog) this website: Temple of Hekate – which as the name suggests, is entirely devoted to the goddess, and also this one: Sacred Fires. Also check out Melia’s comment at the bottom of this post – she’s added a few more links 🙂
Lastly…here’s a picture of Panakaeia, with a front cover designed by Gillian Frazer:
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.