I have made a number of paintings throughout my life that portrayed myself as Hecate It wasn't until later that I began to realize that I was invoking the aid of the Dark Goddess Hecate, asking for the inner guidance I needed as I moved through through menopause into old age, calling on Her aid as I became a caretaker for members of my family as their lives ended, calling on Hecate who stands, with her two Torches, at the crossroads of life and death, at the crossroads of time.
So when I made this sculpture in my "Our Lady of the Shards" series, it was not possible to personify Hecate rising from the broken pieces of the past to confront us again........without making Her a Trilogy. She encompasses all aspects of the cycle of life, the Maiden, the Mother, and at last the Old Woman at the liminal point of life.
Hecate is the Underworld aspect of the Triple Goddess. The "power of three", the sacred Triad, is very ancient indeed, with roots that go back and back and back into prehistory. The Triad represents the eternal cycle of nature, the Earth which the most ancient of human beings seem to have universally revered as "Mother Earth". Early peoples observed that the Earth, like women, gave birth, nurtured, and finally "took back" life into some mysterious spiritual underground realm (Womb/Tomb) to return again in the springtime. The Triad or Trilogy was co-opted by later patriarchal cultures and religions that sought to diminish or replace the Great Goddess, among them Christianity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) and Hinduism with Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer).
The earliest known paintings were of animals. But the earliest known paintings (or sculptures) of human beings (not animals) are of vulva symbols. These female symbols occur in cave paintings - the one on the right is over 30,000 years old, one of the oldest paintings in the cave. The bull was apparently painted over it at a later time. It might be said that very ancient people understood the vulva as the crucible of entry into this world, and to honor the Earth Mother in caves, along with the animals early people hunted and revered as spiritual beings as well.....was to enter the womb of the Great Mother, and thus prepare, sacrifice, and pray for a good rebirth. The cycle of life/death/life was recognized as arising from the body of the Earth Mother, and returning to the body of the Earth Mother.
Hecate lives at the crossroads between conscious and unconscious, dream and waking, life and death. She stands at the apex of the liminal zones. It was Hecate who heard the cries of the naive maiden Kore as she was carried by Hades into the underworld, and it was Hecate who bore a torch for Kore as she evolved into the mature Persephone, Queen of the dead and also Queen of life's rebirth. Hecate is the guide of souls through deep, unfathomable places of the psyche. When the time is ripe, Hecate stands quietly at the threshold with her two torches, unseen until She hears the soul-cry of those who ask Her to light the way.
I take the liberty of copying a wonderfully insightful and well researched article by Danielle Nickel - for further insight, visit her site
Hekate is primarily a goddess of the Underworld, holding dominion over death and rebirth. This is meant both in the literal sense and in the metaphorical as well. For life is filled with many deaths and rebirths aside from that of the flesh. Because of this the Dark of the Moon especially is her time of the month, since it is a time of endings and beginnings, when what was is no more, and what will be has yet to become.
Hekate guards the limenoskopos (the doorstep), for she is a goddess of liminality and transition. Of being on and crossing boundaries. This includes not only the boundary between life and death, but any boundaries, such as those between nature and civilization, waking and sleep, sanity and madness, the conscious and the subconscious minds. Indeed, any transition can be said to be her domain. As such she is also goddess of the crossroads, where the paths of one's life fork and a person must choose which future to embark upon. In ancient times these were believed to be special places where the veil between the worlds was thin and spirits gathered.
Hekate is also the goddess of psychological transformation. Her Underworld is the dark recesses of the human subconscious as well at that of the Cosmos. Many have accused her of sending demons to haunt the thoughts of individuals. What they fail to understand is that the demons are not hers, but their own. By the light of her twin torches Hekate only reveals what is already there. These are things which the person needs to see in order to heal and renew. However, if they are not prepared for the experience of confronting their Shadow then it can truly feel like they are being tormented. Hekate is not motivated by cruelty, nor is she seeking to harm. But her love can be tough love. She will prompt a person to face the things that they must, whether they like it or not..........Hekate goes with them. While she may not be the deity many people would like, she is the one whom they need. Because of this I believe that she comes to those who require her, whether or not they were looking for her.
Hekate is more often than not portrayed as carrying two torches and is known as "The Torch-Bearer". She carries these because of her role as a guide through the transition of the Underworld. One torch shows a person where it is they currently stand, the other where they might go. In this manner she reveals the mysteries of transformation to those who enter her realm of darkness.
.......Hekate is also associated with a wheel shaped design, known as Hekate's Wheel, or the "Strophalos of Hekate". It is a circle which encloses a serpentine maze with three main flanges, that in turn are situated around a central, fiery spiral. The symbolism refers to the serpent's power of rebirth, to the labyrinth of knowledge through which Hekate could lead humankind, and to the flame of life itself: "The life-producing bosom of Hekate, that Living Flame which clothes itself in Matter to manifest Existence" (according to Isaac Preston Cory's 1836 translation of the Chaldean Oracles). The three main arms of the maze correspond with her being a triple goddess, as well as goddess of the three ways, and that she has dominion over the earth, sea, and sky.
A Goddess of Crossroads and Transitions
As earlier stated, Hekate is a guide for people who are in transition. While she is most famous in her role as a psychopomp, guiding the spirits of the dead in their journey through the Underworld, she also aids those who cross boundaries or otherwise travel from one condition to another, particularly when that crossing involves danger.........For more than anything else she is a deity of liminality.
She is a goddess of the crossroads for this reason. In the ancient world a crossroad was a point where three roads met to form a "Y"-shaped intersection. It was believed to be a place where spirits gathered, including those of the Underworld and those of Fate. It is also a metaphor for the divergence of possibilities in an individual's future. Their life will bring them to the crossroad along one of the roads, and they will be met with a branching, where they must choose one path or the other to continue onward. As goddess of transitions, Hekate rules this place where the roads separate and differing futures are possible.
However, it is important to remember that Hekate is a guide. She points out where a person is currently heading and where else they might go if they change their path instead. She does not choose a person's fate herself. That is always left to the person to decide. She is a torch-bearer because of this illumination she sheds upon one's life. That is also one reason she is a lunar-deity, for while a torch brings light to the darkness of night, so too does the moon on the grandest possible scale. This reflects both her link to the night-realms and to her role as an illuminator of ways..
Hekate is often portrayed as three torch-bearing female figures standing in a circle looking outward, with their backs joined so that they are in fact one being. This exhibits her dominion over the triple-crossroads and her ability to see in all directions simultaneously. The road a person had come from, and the directions they might take in the future. These hektarion (or hekataion) were placed at crossroads. Their earliest forms consisted of a pole upon which three masks were hung, with one facing each road. In more recent times these became statuary, sometimes of three figures standing with their backs to a central pillar, other times a similar portrayal without the column in the center. The Romans knew Hekate as Triva, which means "where the three roads meet".
Hekate Triformis - The Triple Goddess
Hekate is a triple-goddess, serving as the Crone aspect in more than one triumvirate of deities. Perhaps most commonly we see her partnered with Kore-Persephone and Demeter. Where Kore takes the role of the Maiden (indeed, the word kore means "maiden" in Ancient Greek), Demeter the Mother, and Hekate the Crone. This triumvirate plays a central role in the myth of Kore's descent into the Underworld and her re-emergence as Persephone.
In the earliest tales, Kore willingly descends into the Underworld, while in the later and more well-known versions she is kidnapped by Hades. The latter being indicative of the rising patriarchy of Ancient Greece. In either version, her mother Demeter - who is the goddess of agriculture - withholds her blessings from the Earth and causes the first winter to come about. It is Hekate who spies Kore within the Underworld and guides her back to the surface to be reunited with her mother. She emerges not as the maiden Kore, but as Persephone, a powerful woman in her own right, and with her comes the warmth and promise of spring. Persephone however, has become inextricably tied to the Underworld and returns there for four months every year, one for each pomegranate seed she ate while there. Her leaving is accompanied by the onset of winter, and while she holds her court in the Underworld she is joined by Hekate. In this myth we not only see a metaphor for rebirth, but also of coming of age and into one's own power and place in the world.
The Invincible Queen Of The Dead
While Hekate is a versatile deity, she is best known as a goddess of death and the Underworld. However, it is important to remember that her Underworld is not the place of terrible suffering popularized by patriarchal Greece and later Christianity.*** Rather it was a place of divine transformation, like the cocoon where the caterpillar becomes the butterfly. This was the primordial Underworld, the place from which all life ultimately derives. Death and Birth stand back to back in the great spiral of existence, while Hekate and her Underworld lie between the two.
Our ancient ancestors saw that many things sprang from the earth, not just plants, but animals such as snakes, bears, rodents, and others as well. Even the sun and moon appeared to rise from the earth and later sink back down within it every day and night. To their eyes, it seemed that something magical was taking place in the darkness below the ground. This idea was further reinforced when they learned that plant life originates from seeds buried within the earth. They saw that if a person kept a seed in - for example - their pocket, it would never grow into a plant. It had to be buried in the soil. Our ancestors reasoned that something magical must take place down there. Some transformation hidden away from the eyes of people and the rays of the sun.
This was their Underworld. A place of renewal and rebirth where buried seeds sprouted into life. Because they saw the generative power of the Underworld, they buried their dead deep within the earth so that they too could transform into new life, just as a seed does into a plant. Being thorough people, they also dyed the bodies with red henna to symbolize menstrual blood (and in some cases did use menstrual blood), in order to capitalize upon the regenerative power believed to exist in that as well.
This is why how so many Pagan deities such as Kali, Hekate, Freja, et al. are associated with both death and life. Our ancestors saw that death and birth were interconnected, standing back to back in an ever-turning spiral. In this manner Hekate is both child-nurse of all life as well as harbinger of death, and thusly it was to her that the ancients prayed to ensure both long life and eventual rebirth. Interestingly enough it is also in this manner that Hekate might be considered the goddess of compost. For it is the decomposition of plant and animals that insures the fertility of the earth, which in turn ensures the creation and nurturing of new life.
These views of the Underworld would change as religion became politicized, a tool for power. The Underworld became a place of terror in order to frighten people into obedience. So too were its denizens altered in public perception to become the monsters such a place needs to be populated with. This is one of the dynamics by which Hekate was increasingly negatively portrayed............
Keeper of the Unconscious
As Goddess of the Underworld, Hekate is not only the guide to the spirits of the dead, but also the keeper of each individual's own personal Underworld, the benighted territory of their unconscious mind. She lives within each of our inner worlds, and is there to guide us as we transition from inner to outer realms of consciousness. When accepted, her blessings enrich our lives with vision, healing, inspiration, and magic. She brings light to the darkness and empowers us with creativity, confidence, and strength. However, when we deny her it manifests in our Shadow-Self. She holds the key to both the treasures and terrors of the unconscious mind.......
Hekate is the light that reveals the Shadow, like the light of the moon at midnight. Her goal is not to destroy, but rather to illuminate. However, it is no accident that we have buried these things so deeply within our psyches. We are often not ready to face them when revealed. In such cases it may indeed appear that Hekate is bringing demons to terrorize us. We must remember that the demons are ours and reclaim them as our own. For with that revelation we also take back our power over them. That is the only way in which the Shadow can be truly defeated. By accepting it as our own. Learning that is the key which turns the lock of the person's emotional healing and rebirth. Hekate is there as a guide to help us, her twin torches shining our way through the darkened recesses of our unconscious.........
.............We must come to understand that Hekate and the darkness she exemplifys are not terrible, but rather natural forces within us and the world around us which are necessary components in the process of healing and regeneration. We must trust to her as our guide and give ourselves over to our journey through the Underworld, rather than resist the sacrifices we must make in order to grow. For one can only heal by moving through darkness. This requires courage and insight on our parts, but thankfully she is there to show us where to find both these qualities within ourselves as well.
**Judith Anderson has passed away, and her powerful work is not well known. She was an extraordinary artist whose prints emerged from the depths of the sacred Earth and the realms of the Soul. For an excellent article about Judith Anderson: http://www.crosscurrents.org/Madsen2.htm
***This is true as well of the Nordic Goddess Hella (also part of a triad), Underworld Goddess whose name became the source of the Christian "Hell".