Spiritual Holidays and the Historical Record

Today is August 13th, and according to a wide range of sources you can find on the Internet (and books, if you still bother to read such old things) today is a holy festival day for my patron goddess Hekate.

Is it though?

Certainly for a huge portion of the Pagan and Heathen community, the 13th of August (or the 16th, which others say is the true day) is a day that they celebrate their worship to the Goddess of Witches. As someone new to her worship, I naturally want to honor Her, but History has a way of confusing things. Especially things which people hold in importance.

Early History

Consider how confusion or even translator biases might change what a book says as it passes from library to library through time.

Some of the earliest references to Hekate are from the 8th and 9th centuries BCE, which already show worship of Hekate well established. Its not unreasonable to date her worship to as far back as the 11th century BCE or even earlier. A tablet from the Minoan culture from the 13th century BCE makes reference to “Iphimedeia”, a name that probably an early alternate name for Hekate.

Our Goddess is old.

Some of Hekate’s earliest temples have been discovered in the region of Caria, a Mediterranean coastal state in what is now modern Turkey. From there Her worship spread north to the state of Thrace where it gained popularity, and spread further in the general geographic area of the Middle East.

Early Greece history mentions her, and many cities there had her temples. Greek’s pantheon of gods and goddesses speaks of Hekate as standing outside of it, and yet honored by Zeus himself. She was recognized as one of the Titans, the powerful beings which predate the Greeks own deities.

From Greece, all roads and religions lead to Rome.

Cosmopolitanism Rome, crossroads for the entire world, but especially of the Mediterranean, had followers and temples for every god and goddess on their streets. Hekate had a well know and wide spread place there. The Romans recognized her as a guardian of boundaries and of gateways. Her temples then were often place at the gates to cities.

The first century Romano-Greek historian Plutarch recorded an incident of one General berating another for adorning a city gate with a military trophy, telling him he would have done better to erect a statue of Hekate instead. Her title was then “The One Before The Gate”, and her shrines were even found at the entrances to other deities.

In this role, she was also considered a guardian of people’s own homes. Small shrines called “hekataions” were often found outside of the front door to a dwelling as protection for those within.

Today a modern worshiper might not have such a shrine but the customs and traditions associated with it remain.

“A Guide To The Underworld”

Hekate was not originally thought of as being associated with the dead and the Underworld. She gains this title from her role in the Abduction of Persephone.

One of the best retellings of this story can be found in the book “Hekate Liminal Rites” by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine (2009), reproduced here:

The Covenant of Hekate: “Persephone’s Abduction”

When Hades abducted Persephone the only witnesses were Helios, the Sun God who saw it all from the sky and Hekate who heard the struggle from her cave. Later after Demeter had searched for her daughter for nine days, Hekate came to her on the tenth and suggested they speak with Helios.

It is perhaps in recognition of Hekate’s standing apart from the Greek pantheon, that she is the only one besides Helios to witness the abduction.

Once Hades was persuaded to allow Persephone’s return to her mother Demeter, Hekate was among those welcoming her back. Unfortunately Persephone having eaten of the pomegranate offered by Hades, required her to return to the Underworld each year. Hekate then offered to guide her on her journey.

It is in this duty that Hekate then became associated with the Underworld and with guiding the souls of the newly dead to their place there, though she was still primarily a protector of the home and hearth.

(This association becomes important later.)

“The Feast of Hekate” –

The best discussion on why August 13th and its associated holiday might not be in honor of Hekate comes from this post:

Otherworld Apothecary: “The Origins of the Feast of Hecate”

The Roman holiday on this date was called “The Festival of Torches” and was dedicated to Diana. Women would carry torches in the evening through Rome to a lake sacred to her, and offer their petitions to Diana.

Hekate and Diana were often conflated with each other, as was Hekate and Artemis.

The Greeks had a feast day around this time, where the gods, in particular Artemis, was petitioned to not send violent storms which could destroy the harvest. Artemis being the goddess of hunting, chastity and wild nature. Protecting the harvest was important and I expect that there were quite a few such festivals around this time of year.

Why then would Hekate be associated with storms and harvest, which were not traditionally thought to be in her realm. The answer may come from this quote:

“The goddess Diana as she was worshiped in the groves as Nemi possessed a triple form, not unlike the triform figure of Hekate that is familiar to many modern witches. One of the three was known classically as Hecate or Proserpina, something which has troubled me. Why is a Latin Goddess being called by the name of a different Greek goddess? Is it syncretism, like the conflation of Artemis and Hecate, and Artemis and Diana. CMC Green in “Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia” offers this plausible explanation: “The identification of Diana with Hecate (a Greek name) has been made unnecessarily complicated. Diana the Huntress was identified with the moon, as Apollo was with the sun. As the moon grows dark once a month it is inevitable that a moon-goddess will have some part of her identity located in the underworld. Hecate is simply the Greek name for that part of her identity.” The names Hecate and Proserpina were also likely considered safe substitutes for the true name of the Underworld Moon.”

What I suspect has happened is that modern pagan writers and scholars have taken this mis-identification and applied it to Hekate herself.

To Celebrate or Not Celebrate? –

Worship and religion changes over time, and we must change with it. There is great power and emotion when many come together to honor something. Whether or not August 13th was originally dedicated as a feast in honor of Hekate, it has now become a popular holiday for pagans and those who worship our Goddess. A traditionalist might argue against it, but I won’t.

Happy celebrating the Feast of Hekate!