Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Ladder of Ascent: A talk for Mildenhall Megamoot

The Ladder of Ascent:

When asked to give this talk I was asked to consider talking about something uplifting and positive to begin the day. Dwelling on the idea of uplift, in my mind there began to form the idea of a talk on ideas of spiritual ascent in a pagan context.

From there my mind wandered upward and outward and I began to see one of those maps of the heavens which you find in mediaeval and Renaissance books, with the earth at the centre, the seven visible planets above, and beyond them the stars of the night and the constellations of the night sky. But I was aware even as I was thinking about these things that there were throughout the myths and legends of many people tales of beings who had ascended spiritually to the stars bringing back with them treasures of a spiritual kind. So my theme is how particular individuals can ascend, how they can leave the realm of earth and flesh behind and how they can return with spiritual treasure for their own use and the use of others.

There are two great modes of initiation which have come down to us from the ancient world, firstly the Earthly or Chthonic and the secondly Stellar or starry wisdom. The first, the Earthly is linked with matters earthy and earthly, with the turning year, of generation, growth, harvest, nourishment and then regeneration via the seed. It is usually accomplished as near to the earth and nature as possible,

It is probably fair to say that most of the practices and formal initiations of a range of Modern Pagan traditions are principally of this type. The Wiccan and Traditional Witch initiatory paths are of this type as are those of Modern Heathens and Modern Druids. Of course with any generalisation of this type it is possible to find exemptions to the rule. But from my knowledge of Modern Paganism as it is practised I think it is fair to say that most initiation is mostly an earthly initiation. It is about things that you can see and hear, feel and smell. It is about passing time, the wheel of the year, and the steady progress both of the seasons, and of individuals life and death.

The second and stellar initiation which was also present amongst ancient pagans employs the motif of the ladder to the stars. This may be a stairway to the stars or a tall tree to the stars, or even a beanstalk to the stars. It concerns itself with matters of eternity, the four base elements of ancient science, the circling planets, the stars, particularly those of the zodiac aligned along the ecliptic, which are the constellations used in astrology. Here we are dealing with things which are certainly mutable and mutating, but which arrange and rearrange themselves as in a dance which is eternal and unchanging in the great scheme of things.

It is with the second stellar initiation that this talk concerns itself. I want to lead you this morning upwards and outwards, away from the earth, passing by the planets and towards the stars. I want to show you that as Pagans, you too can tread this path in a way that is completely in accord with our pagan heritage.

It is probably worth also saying what I do not want to do. I do not want you to stop believing in the model of the planets and the cosmos revealed by modern science. The model of the cosmos that we find through science has been tested by observation and falsification. Some of you may have even been up there to where the blue of the sky meets the dark of the night. You may have seen the stars at midday for yourselves.

But I will be thinking about asking you to consider using for spiritual purposes the model of the cosmos that served our pagan ancestors well but has been superseded for practical use. I will invite you to consider the old cosmic model as a framework or armature on which can be hung a number of profound insights into the human condition, insights which have helped our civilisation develop in the way it has, insights which have kept a pagan character to our thought even when encased within a scheme of Christian thought.

The ancient model of the cosmos had the world at its centre, and humanity at the centre of that world. Everything centred itself on human beings. Humans were the star of the show. For them the sun shone. For them the planets crossed the sky. For them the stars were laid out in all their glory. Beyond the stars there was a realm, without and beyond space and time in which dwelt a variety of beings, who collectively were known as the gods and goddesses, pure spirits and energies for the universe, who each in their own particular area, articulated the way that the universe worked both on the microcosmic human level and the macrocosmic celestial level.

If you look at this picture you will see the whole system laid out. It is one of many that show a similar view. At the bottom you can see the four elements, earth, water, air and fire. Beyond them is a realm called aether which was thought of as the quintessence the distillation of the previous four. That realm was the first to which everyday humanity could not aspire, so bound up as they were in their mundane affairs. But the pure and perfect, those no longer tied to the mundane world could access this world by means of ritual and meditation.

A little bit more explanation would probably be in order at this point. How did the planets stay in the sky? Bear in mind that the idea of gravity was not known. We have to wait for Isaac Newton for that idea. Instead the circling planets were thought to be mounted on transparent crystal spheres, each of which revolved independently driven by a prime mover. The last sphere was the sphere of the stars. The stars were not thought to shed their own light but were thought to be minute reflectors of the sun. Beyond the stars was what was called primum mobile, the prime mover, the first cause or first mover. It was this primum mobile that made the planets move and the crystal spheres to rotate. Although of course if you know anything about the night sky the stars do not move in unison

Moreover it was thought that if you could ascend to the level of the aether that each planet made its own sound and that those sounds combined together to produce what was known as the music of the spheres. At the time it was thought that earthly music was or should be a reflection of the heavenly music of the spheres, an important fact if you like listening to early music.

Ingenious as all this is, and redundant as all this is, I will not spend the rest of the talk considering matters of ancient cosmology and science. The reason for which I brought this to your attention was because it was and indeed is a frame or an armature on which a many spiritual ideas can be laid. It served that purpose in ancient Pagan times. It served that purpose during the Christian Centuries, it can serve that purpose now when Christianity is on the wane. Redundant it may be as a scientific system, useful it still is as a ladder of spiritual progress.

Let us think for a moment about ladders and stairways to the heavens. They are virtually universal at whatever time and whenever place we look. At the very beginning of Paganism in the ancient world they were there. In the ancient cities of the Near East we see from the beginning temples built along steps and ramps. The Ziggurats were places for planet observation, planet worship and planet contact. In ancient Egypt the earliest pyramids tended to be stepped pyramids their form like a giant stairway to the stars. In later Egypt pyramids tended to become star reaching machines by which the soul of the Pharaoh could be projected from inside the pyramid towards a final starry resting place amongst the star dwelling gods and goddesses.

In Jewish mythology we have Jacobs Ladder, a ladder by which souls rose and descended. The prophet Daniel ascended to the heavens in a chariot or Merkavah, something which is still the object of profound meditation amongst Jewish Kabbalists today. There he saw a hierarchical heaven laid out before him. In post Christian times we find the Book of Enoch whereby the prophet Enoch travels to the heavens in a similar conveyance.

I have found a large number of references to a similar belief in the literature of ancient Greece and Rome. Beginning in the work of Plato a whole series of later Roman writers conceive of outstanding individuals being able to travel upwards to the heavens in spirit, via the planetary spheres.

And let us not forget the Americas where in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations we find stepped pyramids again. At its final stages in Aztec Mexico we find pyramids built with enormous staircases by which priests and their sacrificial victims ascended to the heavens. We find a detailed star knowledge and a civilization whose very existence was ruled by the configuration of the night sky and by solar and lunar eclipses.

In Muslim Sufism the civilisation which followed and took on much of the knowledge and enlightenment of the ancient world we find a similar ladder of ascent. Over a hundred stages of spiritual progress in Sufism are sometimes visualised as stepped blocks the last of which is unity with god. Sometimes a circle is visualised going from the microcosm of the individual human being to the macrocosm of the cosmos around the circle individual rise and fall sometimes nearer to god sometimes farther.

If you look further to the civilisations of Hinduism and Buddhism you will see similar depictions. If you look to those indigenous peoples categorised as shamanistic you will find sacred trees and mountains to be ascended. The motif of the spiritual ladder or stair or tree or mountain is near universal.

But you may be asking what has all this to do with me a pagan in 2011? How can this be useful to me? If it doesn't exist that way, why bother. That is the subject for the rest of this talk.

Mystical experience is not something which is often talked about in the context of Modern Paganism. Modern Paganism is seen as a practical and earth-based spiritual path. If something is not close to the earth it doesn't as yet have much of a place in Modern Paganism. But I hope that I have shown that the idea of a spiritual ascent is common to many if not most ancient religions, some pagan some not. Without this dimension, which is demonstrably part of Ancient Paganism, Modern Paganism can seem to outsiders as obsessed with the recreation of old ways, with arts and crafts and with the more delightful parts of nature, which may be fine for some but not for all.

What follows is drawn from my own practice, sometimes alone, sometimes with a spiritual partner, and sometimes with groups. It has been tried and tested. It works at least for the individuals with whom I have been in contact.

What do most of us do every morning virtually without thinking about it? We stop sleeping and we get up. We pass from the realm of flickering images which is the world of dream to the solid world of reality. We arise from our bed of sleep and meet the world refreshed by our sleep. It is not as if sleep is wrong or a waste of time. In sleep we encounter our nature both the image which we present to the World and our deeper and sometimes darker nature.

But what if our everyday life was a kind of sleep. What if we have awakened to the World with its demands and its pleasures but have not awakened to a higher spiritual world, a world just out there, a world available to us if we but try to awaken to higher things.

The ladder of ascent is a way to that higher world. It is a way of concentrating our spiritual resources not on one giant leap to self enlightenment, gnosis or knowledge, but gradually step by step, with time to pause and ponder each step of the way. At the very least following this path will broaden our knowledge and deepen our commitment to our path. At best it will make us truly enlightened individuals, ascended beings, dwellers in the pure light to be found in the high places.

So you can each day, or as often as you can do, think about ascending upwards towards your better spiritual nature. Adopt a Culture of the Spirit that becomes for you a second nature, part of you do, part of what you are and do it in a pagan way. Why a pagan way. For this reason. Ladders of ascent are characteristic of most religions, most religions have a way to the stars, most religions have a programme that will help you advance onwards and upwards, but for most religions this advance is accomplished by a programme of ever greater austerities, ever greater punishments and denials of the body. That is not the pagan way. Nor is it the pagan way to draw up a list of sins, natural urges for the most part, which you then spend your life trying not to give into.

The great error of the monotheistic religions is to assert that you can get to a heaven, usually a heaven in the sky by means of self denial and good works alone. The pagan way is different. The Pagan way is by an encounter with Nature and transcendence through Nature. The pagan way is not to say Nature is your enemy, but nature is your friend. And in this opinion I am supported by science: (refer to article the science of the seven deadly sins).

That is all very well you might say but it is all a little formless all a little vague. What do I really need to do. The answer to that is that there are many potential programmes of working. But I have made a choice and this is my way.

My way is to use a programme of meditation and ritual practice which revolves around working with the elements, the planets and the stars. The planets and the stars I use in their Greco-Roman form, but there is no reason in principle why you should not work with say Egyptian and Norse Star Forms.

So what is the aim and objective of the ladder of spiritual ascent? In many pagan cultures it seems to me the objective of the journey is to ascend to the realm of the gods and goddesses and become like them. Not to become deities not to be a god or goddess for along that road lies madness, but to become as nearly as possible god and goddess like. The way to the stars, which is the way to the gods is a spiritual ascent towards perfection, not perfection in only one departments only of the spirit but through progressive encounters with the various deities the object of which is to become perfect in all departments and not just one.

There is one aspect of ancient paganism that does need highlighting so different is it from the type of approach adopted by the great monotheist religions of which Judaism, Islam and Christianity are examples. This difference concerns what one might call the ends of religious life. For the ancient pagan the supreme value in life was the Life Force itself, that which animates and sustains us.

This force has many names even today. We call it vital energy, the life force, elan vital, that which makes us feel alive and so on. It has its opposite. We feel drained of energy, we feel unfortunate, and we feel sapped of life, and so on. For the ancient Pagan, that which the gods and goddesses could give is above all various expressions of this life energy, in other words Vitality. The word itself Vitality come from the Latin Vita which translates as Life. For the ancient pagans that which the gods can give is vitality of various, an empowered life of various sorts.

So we have a model here in which our pagan gods and goddesses are non judgemental. They do not award marks to be redeemed in an afterlife for doing or avoiding certain actions. But they do empower both individually and as a member of society.

Individual empowerment can take many forms. It is our personality, our desires and our memory. It can indeed be expressed by our possessions. It is the clothes we stand up in and the house we live in. But it is also more intangible things

It is our family if we have one. It is part of a man or woman's life, it is part of what empowers them, it makes them what they are. It can also be the area where people feel disempowered if things go wrong.

Our connections are part of our vitality. I hope that as a result of today you will feel revitalised by being together with all these people, who share so many aims and aspirations with you. You may make new friends and acquaintances. They will add something to you. You may buy something from one of the many stalls. That too has the power to add to what you are. An object in the view of the ancient pagan world can have its own vital force its On Lay.

Let us look for a moment at the gods and goddesses that we might honour as part of a spiritual ascent.
Our Solar aspect is expressed by the pride we feel in ourselves, the positive aspect which we project to the world. The vital force of love and passion can be expressed by Venus. Mars is the martial energy which makes us compete and battle for success. Lunar energy covers amongst other things, the renewal and refreshment which we gain from sleep and anything which arises from the unconscious. Our standing in the world, our relation to the many groups and organisations in which we participate is our Jovial aspect, the benefits which we can drive from Jupiter. Our various commercial dealings, our investments if we have any, in a house, home and family are the realm of Mercury. Finally there are the energies of Saturn of slow organic growth and of the energy we gain from casting aside the hindering and unnecessary.

Let us assume that you wished to follow this path. What would you need to do? Well,,if you are following a Pagan Path or a Wiccan Path or a Traditional Witchcraft Path, your traditional and existing ways of casting and uncasting a circle should be fine. Although the processes for opening and closing a heathen hearth are different, they too should suffice. If you like to use a communion in the middle of your rite that too is fine.

You may however wish to add some elements which are not present in your normal rites. It is a good practice to establish where and when a planet will appear in the sky and tailor your ritual to its rising or setting. This can be easily done by downloading a stellarium Program for your computer, indeed the one that I use is called Stellarium. It is free and very useful. You may wish to add a metal to your altar. For instance silver for the moon, gold for the sun, or tin for Jupiter. An object made of the metal is a good idea, provided it is suitable to the work in hand, You may choose to make what is called a talisman, which is at its simplest level a sign for the planet which you are working with.

But what of the stars. They have their own law and correspondences. The most important of these is the scheme of planetary houses running along the line of the ecliptic. These houses in a very artificial way are the stuff of popular and newspaper astrology. In this method of proceeding Twelve houses are used of equal size, although the houses are not equal in size in the real night sky. They also are equatorial, so to speak centred on an imaginary equator. I have always felt that this arrangement is artificial and I prefer to use the real sky as it presents itself to me in the night sky.

Nonetheless a great deal of ancient pagan lore is wrapped up in the astrological books of the ancients, in particular two, the Astronomica of Manillus and the Tetrabiblios of Ptolemy. Both describe ancient astrology and both are useful possessions of any pagan astrologers. In a similar way to that of the planets, the astrological houses can be evoked and worked with.

There are two other systems that you may also find useful, particularly so if you are a pagan witch. The first of these are related to the age of the moon, that is the number of days from the appearance of the new moon. Each day of the moon has its own correspondences and its own spirits. Although this is popular amongst Dianic and other moon worshipping witches the oldest use of days of the moon is as far as I know amongst the Jewish People.
The other and I think more interesting system is that of the so called Lunar Mansions. In the Lunar Mansions the sky is divided into 28 or 29 sections in each of which the moon dwells every day. There are three completely separate systems of Lunar Mansions. The Chinese and Indian Systems need not detain us here. The Arabic system which has its roots in late antiquity is the most pagan in character and goes back to the Sabians, a semi pagan people who survived well into the first few centuries of Islamic Rule with much of their Pagan star lore intact. 

So having given some thought to the night sky either the artificial night sky of astrology or the real night sky as it presents itself to you, what next. The more powerful technique which I use is evocation and invocation of each of the planetary powers in turn. I wont go into the details of the ritual. That might be a good subject for a workshop some time, also knowledge is fairly widespread of that way of working. I use a crystal for meditation and for manifestation of the planetary spirit but that is because I find myself able to scry in a crystal with some ease.

Other possibilities are present if we look into our pagan past. One technique which an individual can use is meditation linked to sleep, where the things seen in sleep and dreaming are thought of as manifestations of the spirits of the planets. Here you need a ritual linked to meditation followed by sleep. And don't forget your dream book to record the results. In the Ancient World different types of sleep had different names and this type was known as a somnium coeleste or sacred dream.

Another aspect that has a large literature in ancient sources is the preparation of a talisman or planetary seal to approach the planetary deity of your choice. If you want to look directly at ancient sources there is a book called the Picatrix an early Arab production which we think has much of the star lore of the Sabians and Harranians. The Picatrix tells you a good deal about the preparation of different talismans. But I would also recommend Nigel Jacksons book “Celestial harmonies”, which is a modern but scholarly approach to the same area of Ancient Knowledge, and will get you going if you want to prepare talismans.

In the title of my talk I mentioned the elements. Contacting elemental beings is a procedure not without risk if it is done carelessly. But of great benefit if done in an orderly fashion. Having studied the matter, it is certainly true to say that elemental lore had its beginning in the Classical World. However the practice greatly expanded during the Middle Ages without losing its essentially pagan character. I shall not say more about it now but by all means speak to me about it afterwards.

My inner critic which has been extensively evoked today is saying, hang on what about if I just want to contemplate the stars through a telescope, to stand out under the night sky and look up seeing the stars unaided by anything but my knowledge. That too I have to say is fine. According to ancient doctrine the stars are shedding their light down on you and giving you the powers of their influence whether you like it or not. It is perhaps the purest form of spiritual ascent, one without preconceptions, guided only by what is there and what is in the individual to reflect upon what he or she sees.

The stars and classical planets are part of our pagan heritage. The idea of ascent is part of our pagan heritage and is not just the property of the monotheist religions. The Realm of the mystical is a legitimate and even necessary part of any religion. You too can ascend spiritually, leaving the cares of the World behind becoming at one with the stars and the Cosmos.

Given as a talk at Mildenhall Megamoot: 7 May 2011

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Ancient Mysteries of Hekate
Michael Clarke.

In late 2000 I spoke to members of the Norwich Pagan Moot about Hekate. The audience was mainly composed of practising pagans, following one path or another. Several were interested in witchcraft and its history and some may have been active practitioners. The talk I gave focused on literary and visual representations of Hekate and was broadly chronological in treatment. My aim was to let the audience make up its own mind about Hekate based on texts and images, mostly from antiquity, presented to them.

I have in this essay taken a rather different approach to the same material. I have used a thematic rather than a chronological approach and have asked myself what were the key elements of the Mysteries of Hekate and whether they are still of interest to pagans today.

Hekate is one of the most ambiguous of the goddesses of classical antiquity, and is one of the most difficult to come to terms with. Partly this is a matter of presentation. Hekate’s cult from almost its beginning dealt with the key issues of life and death. Her concerns were with fertility conception and birth. She also had a role in mediating between the living and the dead. Hekate was both a fertility goddess and a “psychopompos” or conductor of souls. For members of her cult, life and death, birth and the grave loomed large. Everyday domestic concerns played a smaller part.

The strong “chthonic” element in the image of Hekate is one that demands a robust temperament in her contemporary devotees. She is not a goddess for those who use paganism as a consolation for the perceived harshness of life in the present or who feel uneasy whenever the pagan past is shown not to conform to present day standards of morality and behaviour.

Some of the ideas and practices that surrounded Hekate in the past can seem strange or even perverse today. Yet despite the great gulf of time that separates the present from the world of antiquity ideas and practices connected to Hekate can and do still engage the imagination of many contemporary Pagans. Paradoxically, despite the rise of living standards and life expectancy since the world of classical antiquity, the dark goddesses Artemis/ Diana and Hekate do seem to be of greater interest to contemporary Pagans than the more consoling and supportive goddesses of the ancient pantheon are. Perhaps this reflects the position of pagans groups as a small, embattled (but fast growing) minority in contemporary society. Perhaps it is a reflection of the psychological predisposition of those who seek out a pagan path.

The ritual of the ancient mysteries of Hekate and the instruction that prepared initiates for them has been long lost. So those who wish to reconstruct the mysteries must of necessity be prepared to make mistakes in interpretation of a rich but fragmentary source material. What follows below is one such interpretation. It uses original source material but is by no means proscriptive of other alternative readings. Some of it is frankly guesswork based on hints from antiquity my own deductions from them. Whilst acknowledging the assistance of modern classical scholarship it does not attempt to be rigorous in the way formal scholarship demands. Rather it seeks to interest contemporary Pagans who want to explore in their life and practices the mysteries of Hekate.


At the beginning of the written record, we find Hekate as a triple goddess in the ancient Indo-European mould. She was Triformis and Triceps: the three-form and three-limbed goddess. She was the nurturer of the young- “Kourotrophos”. She was empress and queen. She held authority and sat in judgement. She could both reward and punish and could bring success or failure to all enterprises. She caused crops and flocks to increase or decrease at her will. She gave and took away wealth. She was nature in its most abundant aspects. She was the three phases of the year and the twenty-eight days of the lunar cycle. Mutability was her most constant factor, yet it was a mutability that encompassed all without exception.

Gradually however the destructive part of Hekate’s nature came to be seen as more important than the nurturing parts. As the Graeco-Roman world expanded it came into contact with other alien cultures with “shamanistic” type religions, the image of Hekate changed into the prototype of the witch, whose impure magical arts contrasted with the purity of established religion.
This new model of Hekate may perhaps have been included in the aspect of the old. The surviving source material is both partial and fragmentary and does not with hindsight permit a final definitive judgement. However, be that as it may, it does seem to have been the case that when the image of Hekate took on the darker tones, interest in her seems to have increased.

The image of Hekate that became known as the Goddess of Witches was strongly modulated by the dark Hekate of late Greek and Roman imagination. Indeed so powerful was this image that it is not going too far to claim that witchcraft before its modern revival took on many features and characteristics from Hekate as she was depicted in the literature of the period.


Hekate destroyed as she created. Knowledge of Hecate was knowledge of Hecate Brimo the mighty, the raging, and the tremendous. She punished those who failed her with the whip or a knife she carried in her hands. Her knowledge took the searcher for truth into the darkest places of the imagination and the most carefully repressed places of the unconscious mind. Her cult also reflected a fear of the “barbarian” religious practices and cultures which would eventually overwhelm and destroy the classical world.

Hekate guarded the Limen the doorstep- “Limenoskopos”. She was “Propylaia,” the One before the Gate. Hers was knowledge beyond limits. She was to be found as Hecate “Trivia” at the crossroads, the parting of the three ways. In many cultures the crossroads are considered to be the place of intersection between worlds, the spiritual and the physical, the then and the now, the world of gods and the world of humans. It was her knowledge that enabled the Initiate to choose the correct way to proceed. At the crossroads where her three-fold image stood, she brought messages to and from the other deities and, interceded with them.

Hekate ruled over ghostly or uncanny places: One of the Orphic hymns says she loves desolation. A magical papyrus says she loves solitude. She roamed the tops of mountains, deep forests, desolate heaths and secluded pools. The man made landscape of harbours and cemeteries, both places of passage and change, were also visited by her as were roads. Her presence was sensed when the individual felt alone and afraid, cut off from domestic surroundings. Hekate most often became present when awed by the power of nature or the strange or alien in the built environment. She was (in this image) pre-eminently the goddess of the uncanny and the supernatural.

Hekate ruled over wild beasts. With her pack of hounds in attendance, she hunted wild creatures. She was also a part of nature herself. In her later manifestations she was seen not with human, but with animal heads. Her aspect became part animal part goddess.
She represented both the sub-human and the superhuman. Both are potentially threatening and fear inducing. Yet both are aspects with which initiates may become reconciled, strengthening and protecting themselves in the process.

Hekate’s mysteries involved knowledge of the methods of self-transformation into animals. She herself was transformed into a dog, a horse, a deer and other creatures. She was the hunter, the hunted and the means of hunting. She was like a bull or rode on a bull. Her voice could be that of a bellowing bull or a dog. The knowledge imparted by her mysteries allowed the initiate to pass into other states of mind and other personalities, particularly those of animals and birds, a practice now called “shapeshifting”.

Hekate controlled and was attended by serpents. In later Roman Literature her hair was composed of serpents. She was the controller of the psychosexual energy symbolically manifest in serpents, which goes by the generic name “Ophidian”. The Kundalini “Serpent power” of Tantric Indian Tradition and the power of Damballa, the Voudoun Serpent Goddess, are aspects of this Ophidian tradition that survive to the present day.

Hekate’s mysteries focused attention on sexuality in its most unfamiliar, uncanny aspect. Witches of the Ancient World (Goes) used their magic art to attract sexual prey. They prepared love philtres and erotic unguents. They drew down the moon to attract lovers. Their approach to sexuality was predatory and self- assertive which was in itself an unsettling notion for a male dominated society. It is still an unsettling notion now. For whilst we no longer subscribe to the contractual child bearing role predicated by ancient marriages, we have substituted notions of romance and partnership which can be equally challenged by the sexually predatory and assertive witch.

Some of the priests of Hekate were eunuchs, androgynous beings, sexually neither men nor women. Nor was Hekate only considered to be the Crone part of the triple goddess. She is “beauteous” says an Orphic hymn. She is “young” says a Greek Magical Papyrus. Attraction and rejection were part of her mystery. That someone old could suddenly seem to become young and vice versa was and still is unsettling and mysterious.

For women Hekate’s mysteries may have been a source of added psychic power. By the late ancient world Hekate was identified with the moon and Mene the personified moon goddess. Although it is open to question just how far the identification of the two went, it is likely that the mysteries of Hekate contained a lunar component. If this was so, a woman’s monthly “curse” might have become a “course” of initiation, at each point of which ritual and other powers were available.

Such a tradition continues in Indian Tantricism today in the lore of the Kalas, (and in Western occult sects deriving ideas from Tantricism such as the Typhonian O.T.O.) In such a tradition each initiated female would have carried within her the Moon Power of Hecate Mene. She would have used her knowledge of her own inner calendar to empower and regulate her fertility and sexuality. Male associates of the female could have empowered spells, amulets and talismans by a process of sympathetic magic. Whilst such an approach is unproven, examination of the sexual magic of the Greek magical Papyri does demonstrate a similar approach to lunar and bodily cycles.

Hekate’s mysteries gave knowledge of transformation in time. She is named as “Triformis”- three formed. She was at once maiden, mother and crone. She metamorphosed constantly into what she was not, leaving behind that which was. She was associated with the three phases of the year and the twenty-eight days of the lunar month. A delightful image of Hekate, which has come down to us from the ancient world, is of three women hand in hand dancing in a ring. The musician for such a dance was Cronos: Time, customarily identified with Saturn and Hades Lord of the Dead.

Hekate held the torch, which guided the initiate of her mysteries to the hidden knowledge. She wandered by night and her worship customarily took place by night. Her torches illumined both night and ignorance. She guided the searcher to the Occult “Gnosis” that was the Hidden Knowledge, by means of her illumination. As “Kleidophoros” she carried the key that would open the door of self-knowing a door that also gave access to the underworld chthonic realms.

Sacrifice, was one mode of mediation between the human and divine world. Hekate’s sacrifices were unlike the conventional sacrifices of the Ancient world, which were held in the open, by day, on an altar. They were an occasion for communal feasting and rejoicing. Hekates were not.

Hekate’s place of sacrifice was at the Trivium, the three ways or the parting of the ways. Her sacrifices were made with face averted, at night, in desolate places No one waited for Hecate to come and claim the “supper” that had been left for her. The offerings were left for consumption by the creatures of night. Wild animals, beggars and the insane took what had been left in the darkness. At these places too dogs were sacrificed to placate and appease her. They were left at the crossroads or buried there where their remains can still occasionally be found.

Hekate’s transformation to a strongly Chthonic Goddess set her most strongly apart from her earlier manifestation, as universal goddess. She guarded the roads and the portals by which the Underworld was approached. She carried a key as an attribute and it is likely that it represents the key that opened the way to Tartaros, the Underworld. Beneath the Earth, with torches in her hands, she lighted the way to Hades, the king of the underworld.

In Hekate’s cult, the search for Gnosis led to the Palace of Hades or Pluton, the ever-rich One, the Lord of the Dead and his wife Persephone. The wealth of Pluton ornamented Persephone whom he had abducted to his palace. With him in Elysium lived the Heroic Dead, those who dwelling in paradise, could yet choose to live again.

Persephone was the model of the Initiate. She was Queen of Hades, and first of the Heroic Dead. She lived partly in the light and in time, the embodiment of natural forces. Yet she also lived partly in the dark and out of time, the embodiment of force withdrawn. Persephone had been abducted (and raped) by Pluton yet she stayed with him. In eating the pomegranate, the red and forbidden food of the Dead, Persephone chose her destiny. For at least part of her time, she would remain underground, in the dark, withdrawn, the partner of Pluton the god of infinite wealth.

In metaphorical terms Persephone “died” within and was nourished by that knowledge. Just as the “death” of corn in the earth seemed to the Ancients a necessary prelude to its re-invigoration as a new plant, so a metaphorical spiritual death prepared the initiate for new spiritual life and eventual re incarnation. From the depths of the Earth and the depths of the unconscious Persephone returned to bring renewed spring at a time of her choosing.

Hekate had an important part to play in this tale which formed the basis of the Eleusinian Mysteries and possibly her own also. It was Hekate who alerted the mother of Persephone to the fact of her daughter’s disappearance. When Persephone returned from the Underworld it was Hekate who greeted her as she arose from the Earth to bring renewed spring and regenerated fertility. Hekate became the companion and accomplice of Persephone the personification of seasonal cyclical change.

Of all Hekate’s roles that of the guide, illuminator and monitor was perhaps the most important. As Hekate Soteira she provided the ancient world with a saviour goddess who could not only light the way from the underworld, but also who could restore the initiate refreshed and reinvigorated to the world of life. Visualised often as a living flame, her fire both purged and illumined the initiate of her mysteries.

Hekate is a goddess who interests pagans today as much or even more than during the world of classical antiquity. We will probably never know the exact contents of her mysteries as they were enacted in Lagina, her great cult centre in Turkey, or in Samothrace, or in the several other places where they were taught. We have certain hints of what they might have been. A late Roman woman listed on her tomb the mysteries into which she had been initiated. She says she was initiated into the “triple” mysteries of Hekate. How this Triplicity expressed itself we do not know. The great temple complex at Lagina (near Mugla in modern day Turkey) has only been partly excavated and documented. It may be a long while until a full appraisal of all the available evidence is possible.

Practising pagans can however think around the writing or the visual evidence that remains and work from them towards a contemporary understanding of Hekate. Belief, myth and ritual are never static in a living context. Internet sites related to Hekate reveal a mythos or a folklore that is different in certain respects from historical examples. It is one that is both deeply felt and still developing.

Hekate today seems to be associated with healing, especially mental healing, in a way that is different in character from historical examples. The connection with Mene and moon mysteries, although present in some ancient texts, in particular the Greek Magical Papyri, has been expanded and amplified beyond the scope of ancient material. In particular those interested in Dark Goddesses have tended to place Hekate in a kind of cabal with other similar Goddesses: Kali in the Hindu Pantheon principally, but also Erishkigal from Babylonian myth and Lilith from the Hebraic myth. Other examples of shifts of emphasis could be cited. One of particular interest is the way that Hekate has been placed within the ritual material of modern witchcraft.

Although Hekate’s claim to be the “Witches Goddess” has always been contested by Diana, she had an honoured role from the beginning of Gerald Gardener’s revival of the craft. There was however always a strand in witchcraft that treated with caution the full- blooded paganism represented by Hekate.

There is both fashion and change in goddesses amongst pagans now as amongst the pagans of the ancient world. Followers of the modern version of “natural magic” strand in witchcraft, have tended to be resistant to Hekate’s claims. They tend to set in her place other more politically correct goddesses or possibly a loosely defined universal Lord or Lady who will stand for all gods and goddesses which interest the group. Dianic witches have laid their own claims for Diana as the true witches goddesses. She has her claims to the title, but not exclusively so. Recent articles by Prudence Jones, published in Pagan Dawn represent a recall to order asserting definitively (insofar as anything in modern paganism is definitive) Hekate’s claim to be the witches goddess. The story will not end there.

Modern Paganism has both embraced and rejected Hekate. Probably a detailed study of the process of acceptance and rejection would reveal that interest in Hekate has tended, as in the ancient world to be associated with an interest in the first and last things. ” Birth copulation and death”. One cannot deny that at least some of the interest has come from those who have seen Hekate as a standard bearer for a Western version of the Tantric Left Hand Path, the short and perilous “One Life” route to Nirvana and oblivion. As an obviously “wild” goddess of the Western pantheon Hekate has attracted those who see her as a mirror or even an exemplar for their own often-disturbed lives.

Beyond those fairly well defined circles of devotees however Hekate has attracted an interest from a wider circle of thoughtful and interested pagans. In her in particular we have the challenge and reward of examining a goddess who has no one constant form no defining image but many. Not many pagans have yet chosen to come to grips with the Hekate of the Chaldean Oracles, those formidably difficult gnomic utterances from late antiquity. For the most part Hekate Soteira has been left to the academic community. But some at least seem to be moving towards an idea of Hekate similar to that found in late antiquity. Hekate as living flame or Hekate as life force has her votaries amongst modern pagans. Though even in the pagan community they are harder to find than those interested in the more chthonic type of Hekate.

What is plain is that Hekate interests pagans with a broad spectrum of interests beyond those interested in classical antiquity or witchcraft. She is in a sense an exemplary goddess for modern pagans generally. Even those who may follow the path of Northern Traditions or Shamanism may find the encounter with Hekate useful to their progress. For Hekate would seem to ask many questions of one following a pagan path.

There are questions of authenticity. How far should one go in recreating the paganism of the ancient world or pre-revival witchcraft? There are questions of ethics and probity. How far should one go in allying oneself with such a raw and destructive figure as Hekate? Can one live as a citizen of the world and ally oneself to one who is seen as a goddess of the outsider and the non- citizen? There are questions of self-definition, particularly for women. Can one be an outsider and allied to the night side of life as well as being an ordinary well-adjusted person? Does not such a self-definition smack of the deceitful and duplicitous. If one takes an interest in dark gods and goddesses must one of necessity live a life of risk, danger or self-chosen exclusion? Does interest in such themes inevitably drag a person, however well adjusted, into a mire of maladjustment and danger?

These are real issues that tend to crop up in any pagan community that grows beyond a certain size. Much thought is expended upon them. Friendships are made and broken. Mutually exclusive cliques form. In the fifty or so years of its modern revival most Pagans have been for the most part eager to prove themselves to be “White Witches”; model citizens immaculate and without taint. In this process the less than white or the differently coloured can find themselves committed to the spiritual laundry basket or the spiritual dustbin.

Attempts to follow a chthonic path were sometimes marginalised and spoken of as trivial, juvenile or just plain bad. Ceremonial magicians of a Neo-Gnostic or Hermetic kind, although pagan, could find themselves excluded from pagan groups or organisations. In Hinduism or Mahayana Buddhism there is recognition that right-hand path and left-hand path can, if properly travelled, lead to identical objectives or goals. That recognition is for the most part is rarely conceded in modern British Paganism. Memories of persecution and social exclusion are perhaps too recent for comfort.

Serious thought about Hekate, and the forces she represents, can thus become a catalyst for thought and discussion of a wider kind centring around questions like, What kind of Paganism do we want, or what kind of Paganism are we prepared to live with, or can we tolerate without approving? Or even what is the role of purity in pagan life? Must we always be immaculate or can the maculate play its own role in Pagan life now that oppression is less and attitudes are more liberal?

My own talks have mostly looked at the Paganism of the ancient world from a modern Pagan standpoint. Invariably, when the audience has recovered from digesting large (raw) chunks of Lucan or Horace, the discussion has broadened into discussion of contemporary issues. The catalytic effect of making comparisons between ancient and modern paganism has been considerable. From these discussions at least some participants seem to have gone away with changed or broadened minds. I hope this written contribution may do the same for the inhabitants of cyberspace.