|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.