OakChylde Books, $9.95
Hecate was the Greek goddess of, among many things, magic, witches, crossroads, prophecy, the moon, and the underworld. She was rarely featured in the ever-ongoing soap opera of the Greek gods, maybe because, as the author Gary R Varner suggests, she was actually a foreign deity eventually adopted by the Greeks long after they had already worshiped Zeus and gang, which would explain why so many of her roles overlap with those of established Greek deities such as Hermes and especially Artemis.
Hecate’s most well-known of her few dalliances was with Hermes, a fellow deity with similarly strong pastoral links to the earth, from which Circe, everyone’s favorite randy sorceress, was conceived. On the whole she was a mysterious and aloof figure in mythology. Nonetheless, she was also easily the most interesting of the gods and goddesses worshiped by the Greeks and Romans of yore, chiefly because of her trinity aspect that allowed her to play simultaneously the roles of the goddesses of life, fertility, and death.
Today, she features heavily in contemporary neo-Pagan literature as the goddess of withcraft and death. I once read a fantasy anthology with a Greek god theme and was amused to realize that Hecate was the most popular deity featured in the anthology compared to more popular deities such as Zeus, Hera, and Apollo. Clearly, despite having little exposure in popular media compared to other Greek gods, Hecate holds great appeal to many people. The black dogs, which are associated with Hecate as she roams the crossroads, live on long after the time of the Greeks has passed as symbols of death.
Gary R Varner, a long-time member of the American Folklore Society and the Foundation of Mythological Studies, attempts to shed some light on this goddess in Hecate: The Witches’ Goddess. He believes that Hecate is more than a Greek goddess – she is the prototype of the earth/femininity goddess that is continuously evolving as various cultures throughout the ages adopt her as one of their own deities. Her origin goes all the way to North Africa way before the rise of the Greek civilization, where she was worshiped as “Heqat”. She might very well also be the goddess that was known as Isis in ancient Egypt. In Scotland, Hecate was portrayed as a faerie queen while in New South Wales she was depicted as the mother and patron of a bunch of “wild women” that ruled territories from which men are forbidden to step foot in.
Most interesting is how the author points out that Hecate’s initial portrayal was that of an earth mother type and that it is only during the time known as the Dark Ages when witches and midwives (those whom Hecate was a patron of) became persecuted that Hecate began to be viewed as a hideous goddess preoccupied with wandering the crossroads with a pack of rabid dogs to tear apart innocent helpless males. Yet, Mr Varner contends that the Church ended up absorbing some of the very tenets represented by Hecate that it condemned and burned thousands of women over.
This short but most informative book is a very interesting read. Of course, it helps that I am always interested in mythology and folklore. I’ve always been intrigued by Hecate ever since I learned of her existence because she was a complex and multifaceted deity that was nonetheless obscure when compared to her fellow Greek deities. Mr Varner explores the various aspects of the mythology that is Hecate that sees her being worshiped as the goddess of fertility and protector of children as well as the goddess of death and ghosts. Hecate is a contradiction of sorts as she is both a protector as well as destroyer. Unlike her fellow Greek deities, she – or at least, the concept of her – is still worshiped even today due to her intrinsic link to femininity, wilderness, and sorcery.
If there is any flaw to Hecate: The Witches’ Goddess, it is a technical one. While it makes sense to discuss the various animals and plants associated to Hecate, for example, Mr Varner often jumps into such discussions abruptly to the point that sometimes it is easy to forget that the subject of this book is Hecate. Some readers may rightfully argue that Mr Varner could have done better to provide an united conceptual representation of Hecate instead of going on and on about her various roles in various civilizations as if there are about a hundred of so different deities with the same name being discussed here. However, I personally feel that it is very hard to do so because Hecate has evolved so much throughout time that there should be more than one “correct” interpretation of what she is.
Hecate: The Witches’ Goddess is an easy to read and informative short book on the subject matter. If you have an interest in the subject matter, you may like this one as much as I do.