In the beginning of all things
wisdom and knowledge were with the hill.
How did the Greek goddess, who once blessed Athenian homes, change from being the protective “Mother of Angels” into Shakespeare’s grand witch, the medieval “Queen of Ghosts”?
Hecate was a pre-Olympian earth spirit and the counterpart of the Roman Goddess Trivia. Her name suggests “The Distant One,” because she was a liminal deity who stood at the threshold of other worlds. For this reason she was often depicted at the crossroads holding torches (to light the way), keys (to open doors), or accompanied by daggers and serpents (to protect the entrance). Legends claims that Hecate embraced solitude. And like the moon she came and went through the nighttime, appearing and disappearing at will.
According to Hesiod, Hecate was the only child of Perses and Asteria. She was a virgin who remained unmarried, kept safe under the protection of Zeus. Aeschylus described her as a great goddess who ruled over the earth, sea, and sky. She was responsible for storms, yet she also looked after women in childbirth. Some mythologies present Hecate as a triple goddess with three heads who could see in all directions. Her wisdom extended into the past, present, and future – and also into the mystical realms of the sleeping and the dead. In this way Hecate became associated with those who live on the margins of society, and those who wander in the spectral space between life and death.
Hecate’s reputation started declining when Sophocles and Euripides made her the mistress of magic. Thereafter, she was aligned with ghosts and herbal lore – perhaps as the result of helping Demeter in her search for Persephone in Hades.
But on the cusp of the Dark Ages, Christian Romans began persecuting pagans, demolishing temples and statues, and destroying all symbols of female power, intellect, and influence. Hecate suffered in this purge and was turned from a goddess into a witch. From that time on she was cast as the “she-dog” or “bitch,” and was portrayed with either a polecat or canine familiar spirit, a sign that she was in league with demons. Her herbal lore focused on poisons and she became associated with garlic, yew leaves, and cypress trees – common symbols of death and the underworld. And then she began demanding blood.
Shakespeare put Hecate in command of the three Weird Sisters from Macbeth. This cemented her popular medieval image as the evil sorceress famed for human sacrifice, who gave birth to Medea and Circe. And that was where she remained – far removed from the “Mother of Angels.”
But modern Wiccans have reclaimed this goddess as a symbol of female emancipation. Hecate is now called upon for wisdom, protection, power, prophecy, and guidance in the world beyond.
And so, ironically, it appears that the Bard’s words have finally come true:
“Witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate’s offerings” (Macbeth 2:1).
Picture: Campamento Mestizo
Oat Cakes have long been a favorite cracker in the North of England and Scotland. They are delicious served buttered, with cheese and Branston Pickle, or with chutney. For a sweeter treat try them with berry compote, jelly, or jam!
4oz rolled oats
1 tablespoon rolled oats
4oz whole wheat flour
4oz unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3oz black treacle
1. Set oven 200c / 400f / Gas 5.
2. For triangles: Grease a sandwich tin with butter and dust lightly with a half tablespoon of oats.
For rounds: Grease a baking tray with butter and dust lightly with a half tablespoon of oats.
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and stir in the oats.
4. Place the butter, black treacle, and sugar in a saucepan and melt over a low heat on the stove.
5. Add the sieved ingredients and mix thoroughly.
6. For triangles: Press the mixture into sandwich tin and sprinkle the remaining half tablespoon of oats on top. For rounds: Roll out the mixture on floured surface and cut into circles with a biscuit cutter. Sprinkle the remaining half tablespoon of oats on top.
7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 – 30 minutes until the mixture is dry and slightly brown.
8. For triangles: Cool slightly. Cut into wedges. Remove carefully and continue cooling on a wire tray. For rounds: Cool slightly. Carefully remove to a wire tray.
In many ways Toni Morrison’s witchcraft novel A Mercy (New York: Knopf, 2008) is a precursor to her masterpiece, Beloved. It is hailed for its insights into human relationships – particularly family, motherhood, and sisterhood – but it is also an exploration of fear and persecution. The clue to this lies in the opening sentence, “Don’t be afraid.”
Set in the 1680s,The Europeans are colonizing America. Jacob Vaark (an Anglo-Dutch trader) takes 16 year-old Florens (a black slave girl) in part-payment for a bad debt. Florens was born in America (the start of the coming race) to an African woman and Portuguese plantation owner, and is offered alongside her mother. The mother, however, persuades Vaark to leave her behind because she is still nursing a son, believing that her 8-year-old daughter will have a better life away from their cruel master. Throughout the rest of the novel Florens struggles to understand why her mother gave her away. The drama peaks when the new plantation owners contract smallpox. If they both die, the slaves will be at the mercy of any man who comes along. Florens is sent on a mission to save the plantation.
There are many clues suggesting that the settlers are trying to create a new Eden, but instead end up experiencing Paradise Lost. They live near the town of Milton. Vaark has twin serpents wrought into his copper gates. Bur the evil is already in the garden, waiting to poison the American Dream.
Two major themes are sisterhood and motherhood in a world controlled by men. Do women support or undermine each other? Is abandonment, death, or separation the only way to save an African American child from slavery? Morrison’s novel explores the essence of slavery – the way education leads to personal power, freedom, and autonomy – and how human beings crave community, creating their own “families” when blood relatives are not available. She suggests that mercy is the one crucial gift we can give to each other in times of need.
Morrison’s high literary style will not appeal to everyone. And some readers have expressed disappointment with the lack of obvious plot development. I, however, believe she weaves together a quilt of individual tales to create a beautifully lyrical introduction to the Salem Witch Trials. A Mercy highlights the irony of settlers arriving to the New World in search of religious freedom, only to destroy the indigenous population and enslave millions of Africans. Not only that, they brought their own prejudices with them, which finally resulted in the witch hunts. It can be no coincidence that Florens – seen as a witch by Northerners at the start of the persecutions – features in a novel called A Mercy. She functions as an early version of Mercy Lewis – the historical servant who played a crucial role in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.