For the past few years, I’ve been part of a group that meets at each new moon for a ritual to honor Hekate and to ask her help in resolving a certain situation. That situation has not been resolving, so we did a tarot reading last month to ask what we needed to do differently – we wondered if we should just stop what we were doing or find a new way to do it. The answer we got back was clear. Keep doing what you’re doing, the cards said, but take it seriously. You can’t just wander up to Hekate once a month and ask a favor, and then ignore her for the rest of the month, they said. Practice some serious devotion instead.
I’ve been taking part in this group because I care about the issue we’re working on and I like doing ritual, not because I was looking for any particular relationship with Hekate. After that reading, I set up a little Hekate altar in my living room and have been saying a devotional prayer and lighting an incense and a candle for her each morning. Since I started doing this devotional thing, the energy in my life seems to have turned around. We were having a streak of extremely weird bad luck for the last few months and that seems to have stopped (knock on wood) and has been replaced, for this week at least, by weird good luck. Nothing dramatic, just enough to make a nice affirmation.
When we did our ceremony for this New Moon, we incorporated another tarot reading into the ceremony and got hit with one of those divinational two-by-fours, where things come out so precisely and improbably that you have to pay attention. It told us that the spirit was with us and that dramatic changes were to come. The whole thing has been very intense.
It’s also a little confusing. I am also reading Hekate Soteira by Sarah Iles Johnston. It’s an exploration of Hekate’s role as the world-soul in the Chaldean oracles. Johnston is a Classical scholar, not a neopagan, and it makes me happy as can be to read that sort of thing again. I’ve heard her talk a few times and always found her to have insightful things to say. I’m delighted to be going all neo-Platonic again, and making happy connections between Revival druid philosophy and late antiquity. I like reading this side-by-side with John Michael Greer’s latest, Druid Magic Handbook, because it’s always fun yo have my modern-day spiritual teacher says something in almost exactly the same way as Iamblichus did and each one is informing my understanding of the other. I thought, though, that when I took up Druidry I was leaving behind the whole Hellenic thing. I like those rough northern Celtic gods. I feel this personal, visceral, unnameable connection with them, something that is completely non-intellectual and below the surface. My connection with the Hellenic deities is much more intellectual and very thoroughly steeped (oh, how very steeped) in academia, while my Celtic connections are wild and passionate and illogical and free. I like wild passionate illogical freedom.
So can I be dedicated to Lugh and also to Hekate? I have this apprehension about mixing pantheons that I think is left over from spending time with insecure Wiccans who would label anyone who did that sort of things as “fluffy.” Even though I have since come to the conclusion that those who bother to use those kinds of labels are, well, kinda fluffy, I still have this feeling that looking to two different cultures like this is a sign of lack of discipline, lack of dedication, flightiness. Like I’m being too easily distracted by the Next Cool Thing.
So, I thought, Hekate and Cerridwen have a few things in common. Can I just call them the same thing and dedicate myself to Cerridwen instead? I have been working with her as part of my Avalonian studies lately, so it would be appropriate. I checked in with Hekate about that. She said, um, no. Not the same. Though she gave me this very cool image of Cerridwen as being a kind of emanation of Hekate, as an expression of a small part of her in one time and place. Emanations. Very neo-Platonic. But I found this confusing, too, since I think of Hekate as a Mediterranean deity. Why would she have an emanation in a Welsh folk-tale?
I went to Sarah Iles Johnston’s website to check out her CV and see what else she had worked on over the past few years and saw this quote at the top of her site:
“It is only by a somewhat severe mental effort that we realize the fact that there were no gods at all, that what we have to investigate are not so many actual facts and existences but only conceptions of the human mind that conceived them.”
Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena
I don’t actually agree that there were (or are) no gods at all, but then I’m coming from a different place than Jane Ellen Harrison probably had in mind. It’s the last bit that got my attention: “What we have to investigate are not so many actual facts and existences but only conceptions of the human mind that conceived them.” I’m not reading about Hekate; I’m reading about Johnston’s interpretations of the ideas about Hekate conceived by philosophers of late antiquity. When I’m standing before my altar and praying, or engaged in ritual, or meditating, then I’m with Hekate, or at least some form of Her that my mind can comprehend. Wales or Greece or Anatolia or America or wherever are irrelevant to this process – others have seen her or thought of her or imagined her through the lens of their own cultures and described what they found there. I do believe that there is a deeper reality behind this, and that She stands there as Herself, but I don’t quite understand what this means. I never have, and anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I do not like to try to define the gods. It never works and I am still going to try to avoid that, and I’m still not clear on how Hekate and Cerridwen are related or whether she and Lugh would actually get along. I mean, the Gauls were barbarians, after all; they sacked Delphi. Though, as Lugh reminded me in a different context, these are not humans we are talking about. Mythology is not a soap opera and relations between deities cannot be judged on those terms.
The fact is that I live in this time and place and culture. I am not an ancient Greek or a Celt, I’m an American. My culture is built on syncretism, so why should I be afraid to do a little of it myself? I am not one of those who pretends that I’m actually practicing an ancient religion. I know a little too much about ancient religions to believe that. What I do, I do because it works really well for me. It feels right and makes my life better and makes me a better person. I don’t actually have anything to prove or have any need to justify what works for me to anyone. I seem to be doing OK with following my heart, and my heart is leading me towards Hekate.
And, hey, I just figured out how to do Greek script in WordPress. You’re all in trouble now.