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
What the devil should we call the Evil One?
If God is a personification of the term Good, then Devil may derive from Evil – a word stemming from the Latin diabolus, which in Middle English became devel.
With over 40 names, the Devil has far more titles in The Bible than anyone else except Jesus – the most common being Lucifer, Satan, the Prince of Darkness, and the Anti-Christ. Revelation mentions The Beast, though Matthew refers to the ruler of the Lake of Fire as Beelzebub.
The Evil One is also called the Deceiver, Dragon, Enemy, Father of all Lies, and Leviathan. Portrayed as the Serpent of Old, the Tempter, and the Wicked One, the Devil appeared as the snake who seduced Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Traditionally, the Devil is a fallen angel who lures human beings into sin. He is often seen as the opposite force to God, stealing souls away from Heaven for the darker realms of Hell.
In many cultures Satan remains a symbol of evil – a metaphor for sin and excessive pleasure. He is the trickster, folk villain, enemy, anti-hero, tyrant, and source of unhappiness and misfortune.
So what the devil should we call the Evil One? Anything except Master!
The Faust legend is a morality tale warning ambitious young men to reject the devil and all earthly temptations of power and desires of the flesh.
In German classic literature, a jaded scholar called Doctor Faust makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles, signed and sealed with his own blood. He agrees to exchange his soul for worldly pleasure, riches, and knowledge – but when the terms of the agreement expire he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in hell.
Who is Faust based on? The most likely prototype seems to be Dr. Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480-1540), a famous German alchemist and magician.
Why does Faust make this pact? He is a dissatisfied academic who yearns for something more.
How long is his rule on earth? Faust is granted 24 years – one for each hour of the day.
What does the magician do with his new powers? First, he seduces a beautiful maiden called Gretchen. Yet although he destroys her earthly life, she is granted a place in Heaven because of her innocence. Then he plays pranks on people, settles old scores, and meddles in the politics of his day. At one point he demands to see the most beautiful woman ever, and is granted a visit from Helen of Troy. And finally – having sated his lusts and tamed the natural world – he has a moment of utter contentment before the devil appears and rips his body to pieces.
In choosing instant gratification and pleasure, Doctor Faust rejects Christianity and turns away from God. He is a personification of Matthew’s warning: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (16:26-27)
Would you be likewise tempted?