The Myth of Hekate: Goddess of Light or Darkness?
In ancient Greece, the goddess Hekate was considered a mysterious and powerful figure. She was the goddess of all things dark including the night, magic, witchcraft, and the spirit world.
Some claim that Hekate was the product of a union between the Titan's Perses and Asteria. But because Zeus highly prized her, she was allowed to keep her domain even after the rest of her kind were banished.
Others claim that Hekate was actually Zeus's daughter, however, there seems to be a dispute regarding her mother. Some say she was Hera's daughter but others insist she was the daughter of Demeter.
The Egyptians believed that Hekate's origins began as the midwife-goddess Heket, daughter of the sun god Re. In truth, few goddesses have such a confused and uncertain lineage as this one.
Whatever her reality, Hekate was recognized as the only goddess powerful enough to travel all three worlds - - heaven, earth, and the underworld. This was supposedly so because her father Zeus gave her a portion of the earth and the sea to rule. However, that obviously does not explain how Hekate became so attached to the spirits of the underworld.
That was perhaps a matter of fate. Many believe that it was Hekate who saw the abduction of Persephone and scurried to tell her mother, Demeter, what had become of her beloved daughter. When a bargain was eventually struck that would allow Persephone to spend six months of the year on earth with her mother, Hekate was chosen to oversee the girl's transition between the two worlds.
Persephone and Hekate became close over the years and Hekate made Persephone's time in the underworld less difficult. Hades appreciated the hand of friendship offered to his beloved and offered Hekate a post as the guardian of the spirit world. She was given dominion over dreams, prophecies, and ghosts.
Hekate was always a bit reclusive with regard to her fellow gods and goddesses. In fact the only known friends that she had were Persephone and Hades.
Hekate preferred the cover that the darkness of night provided her. It was her favorite time of the day and it wasn't uncommon to find her walking at night accompanied only by her dogs and a few spirits who were social outcasts even in the spirit world.
This practice earned her the nickname of "Queen of the Night." She was often described as "luminous." Others say they saw no figure; just a soft glowing light. Because of her night practices and her presence, for quite some time there was confusion between Hekate and the goddess of the moon.
Hekate was the protector of the oppressed, both on earth and in the underworld. Many believe that it was her role as the ruler of the spirit world, that gave the goddess extra tolerance for those that most humans would ignore, misunderstand, and mistreat.
It was not uncommon for spirits to seek her protection of their loved ones still left on earth. They also sought her counsel in helping those who were dying in order to make their transition less frightening and painful.
In particular, the goddess was often called upon to help the elderly who were about to die. Prayers to the goddess would be made to implore that she make the transition smooth and as painless as possible. Many took comfort in knowing that the compassionate goddess would be there to ease the terrifying process.
However, because of her connection to death and the spirit world, many people feared Hekate and would flee as soon as darkness began to fall. But they still respected her and would leave food outside their doors for both the goddess and her hounds.
While they recognized that the food generally found its way into the hands of the poor and homeless, they knew that their offerings would still be acknowledged. After all, such beings were under the care of goddess.
Offerings of food were also left in areas that represented a crossroad where three roads converged. Oftentimes, a statue or likeness of Hekate was placed there to honor the goddess. The intent was to ask Hekate's guidance in helping them to choose the right direction.
Thus, such crossroads became sacred to Hekate, but not only in the literal sense. This triple aspect of the goddess grew to mean much more. Many believed that she could, in truth, see in all directions; into the past, in the present, and into the future.
Others said that the three faces of the goddess represented the three stages of a woman's life; birth, life, and death. This made perfect sense to those who considered Hekate a guardian of womankind, particularly at the time of childbirth. The goddess was often called upon to ease the pains of labor. But she was also asked to oversee the health and growth of the resulting child.
Many others claimed it went back to her roots and her original intended dominion over heaven, earth, and the underworld. No matter the culture that recognized her - - Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, etc. - - Hekate was always considered somewhat of a triple threat because of her triple aspect; whatever it ultimately meant.
Some say that Hekate became the goddess of magic because of her ability to see into the past as well as forward to the future. It is in this role that seers and mediums often worshipped her.
Others believed this title came about because Hekate had the ability to change shapes at will. However, there seems to be little evidence to support that theory.
Still others say that it came from her ability to visit humans in their dreams; offering hope or even prophecy to those that she cherished or torturous nightmares to those she did not. It was this supposed demonic ability to make men go mad that eventually led Hekate to a darker role.
After the advent of the Christian religion, people for some reason chose to focus on Hekate's destructive side rather than her positive one. Her connection with death and the dying; her clairvoyant abilities, and her obsession with night thrust her permanently into all things dark like black magic and witchcraft.
It was during this time that even the goddess's countenance began to change. In the beginning she was seen as a beautiful, albeit solitary, young maiden. But this picture did not go with dark magic and all things evil. So Hekate suddenly began being pictured as an ugly old crone, very similar in nature to how witches are typically portrayed today.
Perhaps this was due more to man's fear of death and the unknown than to anything truly evil attached to the goddess herself. Death is, after all, inevitable. However, we continue to fear it and fear often translates into something ugly and ominous.
It leaves one wondering what Hekate's real role was meant to be. I doubt seriously that it was ever intended as something to be feared. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. I think Hekate was meant to make mankind think about the various transitions of life.
We can never change the past. It is what we made it. We can learn from it and correct our errors or we can let it continue to hinder our growth.
We cannot foresee the future. It will be what we make it. We can try to control it and fail or we can embrace it and succeed.
We do, however, have control over the present. We can make each day a joyful experience or we can greet it each morning with anger and pain. That decision will influence everything we accomplish each and every day.
We all have control over the path that we follow. It is what we do when we come to that crossroads that will make the difference. I choose to believe that Hekate's role was to help her people make wise choices by guiding them to view things with a deeper understanding. That is a gift of the light; not a curse of darkness.