Standing at the Cross-Roads, Part I: Hekate’s Cosmos

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crossroadsA Perspective and a Circle

Cosmology is very important to the structure of ritual. The structure of the world, or at least our mythological view of it, informs absolutely everything: the elemental directions, the number and placement of the altars, the colors used and the names of power called.

To my way of thinking, each deity is his or her own world, or, at the very least, the world seen through one deity’s eyes is profoundly mythologically different from the world viewed through the lens of a different deity. Certainly, certain deities overlap in places, but the world according to Ares is a very different place than the world according to Hekate. To respect this, I contend, it is useful to have distinct ritual ways of honoring their worldview.

In the next few posts, I am going to look at the world through the lens of the gods of the cross-roads: Hermes and Hekate. My hope is that I will be able to fully explore the intersection of their world views, and create a ritual structure that honors it.

The ultimate goal is a ritual widget that can serve as a circle casting that will help those who do not have cross-roads available for full rituals to attune their indoor space to the relevant energies, helping with the monthly Deipnon, veneration of the gods of the crossroads, and spell work that might otherwise call for that sort of location.

The first step, however, is the mythology of the crossroads. First, I will examine it from Hekate’s angle.

Hekate and the Crossroads: What Writers Say

Ovid, Fasti 1. 141 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) : “You see Hecate’s faces turned in three directions so she can protect the triple crossroads.”

Virgil, Aeneid 4. 609 ff (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) : “Hecate whose name is howled by night at the city cross-roads.”

Aristophanes, Frogs 440 ff (trans. O’Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) : “The Lady Hekate’s wayside shrine.”

Clearly, Hekate’s role at the crossroads, or perhaps, more accurately, the role of the crossroads in her cult, is very important, both in the eyes of Greek and Hekate_3Roman writers. In a very basic, practical sense, Hekate is trimorphis (three bodied) because the crossroads, at the time, did not look like your average plus sign. Rather, they connected three roads in a hub, and at the center of that hub would be the statue of Hekate.

Yet, as we can see in her broader Mediterranean cult, this came to take on a slightly different meaning. Rather than being one goddess standing in defiance of geometry, it was considered that each of these faces represented a different aspect of Hekate.

“Hekate with three heads and six hands, holding  torches in her hands, on the right sides of her face having the head of a cow; and on the left sides the head of a dog; and in the middle the head of a maiden with sandals bound on her feet.” (PGM IV. 2119-2122)

In iconography, the animals, symbols and tools borne by a god or goddess alluded, in some way, to his or her power. Statues of Hermes were decked with wings to show his swiftness, and Athena was armored to show her strength. That these three faces differed shows that each road, each path, may have alluded to one of three major powers possessed by the goddess. So what three major domains does Hekate have, anyway?

And she conceived and bare Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honoured
above all…. The son of Cronos did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that
was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as
the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both
in earth, and in heaven, and in sea.” Theogony, lines 409-423

Right, so that’s Hesiod. Let’s be clear, Hesiod is far from objective about Hekate. He’s a bit of a fanboy, and some historians believe that some of his writing is motivated by a personal desire to exalt her, and improve the way other mortals regarded her. Also, just because Hesiod happens to mention these three powers, and there are conveniently three roads, and three faces of Hekate, does not mean that we should just go stapling those things together. Let’s take a look at what Orpheus says.

“And to my holy sacrifice invite, the pow’r who reigns in deepest hell and night; I call Einodian Hecate, lovely dame, of earthly, wat’ry, and celestial frame, Sepulchral, in a saffron veil array’d, leas’d with dark ghosts that wander thro’ the shade; Persian, unconquerable huntress hail! The world’s key-bearer never doom’d to fail” (Orphic Hymn #1, to the Musaeus)

Here, the name “Einodia” refers directly to Hekate’s role as a goddess of the crossroads, and ties this directly to her powers over Land, Sky and Sea, and even further, speaks of her “frame,” tying to each of the three principles. Here, it is evident, that there is a mystic tie between the three-way crossroads, which lie between cities and towns, Hekate’s three-formed body, and the three primordial realms of Greek mythology: the Domains assigned to Hades, Zeus and Poseidon: Land, Sky and Sea.

Hekate’s Aspects: Her Epithets

To examine Hekate from another angle, I have compiled a list of her epithets. I’m sorry for the lack of footnotes. I’m trying to keep the list concise, but the sources were mined from here and here. Both pages cite their sources.

  • Aidonaia (Lady of the Underworld)
  • Anassa Eneroi (Queen of the Dead)
  • Angelos (Messenger — shared with Artemis)
  • Apotropaia (that turns away/protects)
  • Atalos (tender, delicate)
  • Brimo (Angry/Terrible)
  • Chthonia (of the earth/underworld)
  • Enodia/Einodia/Ennodia (of the way/path)
  • Klêidouchos (holding the keys)
  • Kourotrophos (nurse of children)
  • Melinoe (Who presides over the propitiation of the dead)
  • Nuktepolos (Night Wandering)
  • Perseis — (Destroyer OR Daughter of Perses)
  • Phosphoros (bringing or giving light)
  • Propulaia/Propylaia (before the gate)
  • Skulakagetis (Leader of dogs)
  • Soteira (savior)
  • Trimorphe (three-formed)
  • Triodia/Trioditis (who frequents crossroads)

And if you will indulge me:

  • Psychopompe — (Who escorts the soul)

Signpost of TimeWhile there is no direct source I know of, naming Hekate as psychopomp, she is, nonetheless, honored alongside Hermes in many regards as one who cares for the dead. Infer from her title “Anassa Eneroi” that she is not Queen of the Dead in the sense that Persephone is, but rather, their leader on the way down, as a part of her aspect as a goddess of the crossroads and wayside. Alternately, see her as the one who sometimes escorts the ancestors back up to receive their monthly due.

While Hesiod and Orpheus rhapsodize Hekate’s powers over Land, Sky and Sea, in these epithets, I see a rather different sort of thing emerge. It pertains not so much to the domains of nature, but the cycle of the human soul. She nurses the child, turns evil away from the adult, and sees after the souls of the dead, being sure that they get their just share of offerings. Her epithets relating to gates and keys also draw a picture of a highly liminal deity (if the sheer fact that she has so much to do with the crossroads did not already give me this impression). This leads me to believe that we have not fully covered the goddess’s view of the world until we have considered the places that exist between these realms.

The Places Between Places

Between Earth and Sky (Prosgeos): I think of human beings, and the fact that we stand between heaven and earth. Ours is a domain tied to the Air, but separate from Olympos. It is also tied to the Earth, from which we draw our food, and in which we are buried, but the land of the living is not in the Underworld, either. The world of men is a distinct thing. Something, too, about deities of nature and the moon, those whose power is in the heavens, while being close to the Earth, borrows from this world as well. This place is not Gaia, it is close to Gaia. I will call it “Prosgeos.”

"Thetis dipping the infant Achilles into the river Styx." Peter Paul Rubens, ~1630 C.E.
“Thetis dipping the infant Achilles into the river Styx.” Peter Paul Rubens, ~1630 C.E.

Between Sea and Earth (Styx): I think of the Styx, too, which is neither truly a place of the living or the dead, but mystically represents the separation between those two things. Why were oboloi buried with the dead? Because without it, they could not cross the River and successfully enter into Underworld. Not only this, but we have Roman Myths, at the very least, which describe Styx as being an unusual sort of River, not any ordinary water, but a thing whose very essence can make mortals immortal. In many Greek myths, Thetis tried to make Achilles immortal. Usually, this occurred through the same pattern that we see with Demeter and Demophon, by sticking the child into the fire to burn away his mortal bits and anointing him with ambrosia. Statius renders this myth of attempted immortality in the following way:

“[Thetis speaks:] ‘I take my son [Akhilleus] down to the void of Tartarus, and dip him . . . in the springs of Styx . . . The Carpathian seer [i.e. Proteus, god of the Carpathian sea] bids me banish these terrors [i.e. the prophesied death of Akhilleus] by the ordinance of a magic rite, and purify the lad in secret waters [the Styx] beyond the bound of heaven’s vault, where is the farthest shore of Oceanus and father Pontus is warmed by the ingliding stars. There awful sacrifices and gifts to gods unknown–but ’tis long to recount all, and I am forbidden.’” (Statius, Achilleid 1. 134 ff , trans. Mozley)

More interestingly, this passage describes Styx as “hidden waters,” deep beneath the Earth, yet still ultimately connected to Pontus, the Protogonos of the primordial Sea.

Between Sea and Sky (Athanatoi): Weirdly, I can think of a whole bunch of deities whose domains cover both the Sea and Sky. Poseidon rules the Sea, but also has a place on Olympos. Aphrodite was drawn out of the water, serves atop the highest peak of the mountain, and claims influence over both hearts and minds. Dionysos, also an Olympian, has many connections to the Sea. In general, the divisions between Sea and Sky do not seem to be as drastic as those between the Underworld and basically everything else. What’s going on there? Fishing, drinking, eating fine food, falling in love… nothing short of the breath and passion of the deathless gods. Literally, in that little space, we have a microcosm of life’s sheer intensity.

Where does that leave us?

With this:


Which is a sort of curious reflection of this:

In my next post, I will examine the crossroads from the perspective of the other principle deity of crossroads: Hermes.


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