Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dread Triformis vs. Triple Goddess

Hekate and the Kharites
And she conceived and bare Hekate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honoured above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honour also in starry heaven, and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods. For to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favour according to custom, he calls upon Hekate. Great honour comes full easily to him whose prayers the goddess receives favourably, and she bestows wealth upon him; for the power surely is with her. For as many as were born of Earth and Ocean amongst all these she has her due portion. The son of Cronos did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea. Also, because she is an only child, the goddess receives not less honour, but much more still, for Zeus honours her. Whom she will she greatly aids and advances: she sits by worshipful kings in judgement, and in the assembly whom she will is distinguished among the people. And when men arm themselves for the battle that destroys men, then the goddess is at hand to give victory and grant glory readily to whom she will. Good is she also when men contend at the games, for there too the goddess is with them and profits them: and he who by might and strength gets the victory wins the rich prize easily with joy, and brings glory to his parents. And she is good to stand by horsemen, whom she will: and to those whose business is in the grey discomfortable sea, and who pray to Hekate and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker, easily the glorious goddess gives great catch, and easily she takes it away as soon as seen, if so she will. She is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock. The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less. So, then. albeit her mother's only child, she is honoured amongst all the deathless gods. And the son of Cronos made her a nurse of the young who after that day saw with their eyes the light of all-seeing Dawn. So from the beginning she is a nurse of the young, and these are her honours.”
Hesiod, Theogony (Hymn to Hekate).
In his The White Goddess, Robert Graves discusses the formations of Goddesses who appear in groups of three. To this end his supplies the archetypal roles of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. It is predominately through this text – not ancient, but certainly devotional – that Neo-Paganism inherited the legacy of the Triple Goddess.

There's just one problem. Robert Graves may well have drawn from the (predominately crap) historical research of his day, but he was not a historian himself. He was, rather, a poet. (See Hutton's discussions on Graves in Triumph of the Moon for more on this subject.) And while I rarely object to people who make use of the Triple Goddess figure to further their lives (it's all As If, anyway, right?), this is one of those areas where I become uneasy. Of the various Goddess figures that often gets lumped into the Triple Goddess structure, Hekate is one of the first mentioned. As her depictions even in ancient times often contained three faces, it's easy to fit her into the model that Graves has created in The White Goddess.

The problem is that this masks what the Three Faces of Hekate actually have to tell us about her. Of the various associations she has, one of the most important to consider is that she is the goddess of the Trivium (tri meaning three, and via meaning way, path, or road) – the triplicate crossroads. This is a “T” or “Y” road junction, preferably at the edge of town. Today, practitioners are often referring to the “Quadrivium” (+ or X) when they refer to the crossroads. This is because Roman crossroads were often four-way points. But even in the US, you can still find Trivium crossroads at the edges of town if you pay attention to a map before setting out into the world.

The trivium is and was a liminal place. Liminal spaces are “in between” spaces; not of one thing, nor another. The crossroads at the edge of town are thus not either part one “Road A,” which leads back to town, or “Road B” or “Road C” which lead into the unknown beyond town.

When Hekate has three faces, she is signifying mastery in this liminal state. She represents the ability to survive in situations which are either dangerous, or unknown. To this end her busts were left at other liminal spaces (in the event that Hermes himself did not fill the role): at gates, doorways, entrances and exits. Because these spots are neither part of one “place,” or part of another they are liminal. And when the individual moves through them, he or she is effectively moving through Hekate's domains.

There is a further issue with trying to lump Hekate in with the triple goddess: while she is a goddess that is a protectress of birth (a liminal state, it must be again noted), she is a virgin goddess. The status of “virgin Goddess” is shared by Diana and Artemis: it means that they do not, or refuse to, have a husband or consort amongst the gods.

As an aside, there is possible fragmentary evidence to suggest that she was at least once wed with Hermes Kthonios. However, given that she was more generally considered to have the status of virgin Goddess, that proves nothing.


Scylla said...

Her virginity, and husbandlessness is why I don't feel so incorrect in referring to Witchmother as "Hecate" - she has no consort in my folk's ways.

'Course, someone once told me that MMC did not refer to "The Goddess" - but incarnations of Her Cult. One to that in her which is forever virginal, one to that which is forever fecund, and one to that which is the death-bringer. Similarly, there are cults for Himself - one for the star at midnight, and one for the prey beneath the blade. Not sure how I feel on all that!

Jason Miller, said...

One of the difficulties with saying anything definitive about Hecate is that she changed quite a bit over time. For instance when the Theogony was written, there was almost none of the underworld, witchcraft, or grave aspects that she has come to be known by.

Some have claimed that because she is hanging out with Helios when she tells Demeter that she saw Persephone being kidnapped, that she was married to Helios. Not something I particularly agree with, but it is there.

In the PGM's there is a lot of Hekate Hermes stuff, even the "Hermeketeleth" spell (the one where you down a cat) that seems to bring them together, but again not particularly impressive.

Apollonius has her mated with Phorkys and giving birth to the Scilla.

Importantly though in the Chaldean Oracles - where I personally see her as re-taking her position as a transcendant Great Goddess that she likely held in Anatolia - She is the wife of both Had and Hadit, the first and second fathers, but this isn't until the 2nd century AD

Jack Faust said...

@Jason: First, Ronan disagrees with you regarding her associations with witchery and the crossroads. He contends that those associations must have been ancient and part of her being an earthen Great Goddess. As noted in "The Goddess Hecate," Hesiod plays down some of the darker aspects that sure existed in her as early as her movement into Greece (possibly following the same path as the cult of Dionysos).

I haven't read all of the discussions of her in the Chaldean Oracles, though, truthfully. I probably should.

I am aware, however, that her cult developed in "stages." Perhaps I should have said "in her Greaco-Roman stage she's held to be a virgin goddess"?

Joshua Fontany said...

Good article.

The Floating Republic of Mu's Archivists have discovered that Eris/Enyo/Bellona~Pemphredo are (one of, if not the) oldest triform goddess (due to them being 'reduced to the status of sea-witches living at the gates of Hades during the Medusa episode). The fact that Enyo and Bellona have been identified with "Ma", the Anatolian archMother, as well as Tabhiti the Scythian Fire Mother is VERY interesting.

Ma is the character that teaches Dionysus "the mysteries", btw. And one of Dionysus' epithets (which he 'shared' with Ares) was 'Enyalios' ("son of Enyo"), which Dionysus inherited one he was initiated in Enyos mysteries. The POEE also has access to a 16th century Italian text that pegs Eris/Enyo as Zeus' grand Mother.

Hecate seems like one of the masks of the 'Magna Mater' cult, which the early priestess invoking Bellona (the 'virgin' of the three, and the Roman goddess of boundaries and war-declarations) would use to mark liminal spaces, as the article points out.