The Goddess Hekate
Published in Gnosis
Review by Sam Webster ©1993
The Goddess Hekate: Studies in Ancient Pagan and Christian Religion & Philosophy Volume 1. Edited by Stephen Ronan. Chthonios Books, 7 Tamarisk Steps, Hastings TN34 3DN, England, Tel. 0424 433302, International + 44 424 433302, 1992. 166 pp., $46.
Hekate is a much heard of, but little understood, Goddess of the Pan-Hellenic pantheon. Her cult was among the most vigorous of the ancient Pagan world as evidenced by the condemnations of the 11th century Church against offerings left to Her at the places where three roads meet. Today She is mostly known as a Moon Goddess and Queen of the Witches and in some parts of the Wiccan and Goddess movements She is given great honor. Yet to penetrate Her history and the depth of Her character requires searching through hard to find and out of print source texts and reference materials. Knowing Greek is also essential. Now Stephan Ronan has gathered together the best of the classical scholarship written in English into one small handy volume, The Goddess Hekate.
The first half of the work consists of reprints. Ronan includes J.E. Lowe’s “Deities Invoked by Magicians (i) Hekate” from his Magic in Greek and Latin Literature (Oxford 1929), ch IV, which gives a concise view of how Hekate was seen by Greek magick users. We are given a glimpse of Hekate's cult and iconography through two chapters out of L.R. Farnell’s The Cults of the Greek States (Oxford 1896). From James Hasting’s (ed.) Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh 1937) is taken “Hekate’s Suppers” by K.F. Smith which describe this important practice for making monthly offerings to the Goddess. Two small chapters tell us about Hekate’s Hosts, her various manifestations and the beings who travel with her in the night. This is taken from the famous study of the soul in ancient Greek religion: Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality among the Greeks by Ervin Rohde. The extensive notes of the reprints give the researcher many more trails to follow and Ronan provides further notes and a commentary in his introduction. Fourteen plates showing images or suspected images of this elusive Goddess are appended to the text, including an artist’s rendition of the never before depicted Chaldean Hekate. Attached to Farnell’s articles is a “Geographical Register of Centers of Hekate Worship”, invaluable to understanding the spread of Hekate’s cult.
Ronan’s own articles are especially valuable to the scholar and diligent student, as well as to those who are trying to rebuild Hekate’s cult. He includes four new translations to the most important hymns to Hekate. These are the Orphic Hymns, the Greek Magical Papyri, Proclus Diadochus’ “To Hekate and Janus”, and Sophocles’ “Hymn to Helios and Hekate”. Conveniently, he provides the original Greek for the last two in Roman orthography for ease in pronunciation.
His last article, “Chaldean Hekate”, is part of a larger discourse on the nature of the Chaldean Theurgy of late antiquity. This tradition of god-work (theo-ergy) as a spiritual practice had profound impact on the philosophy of the Neoplatonists who preserved the many fragments that we have of the Chaldean Oracles. Through the Neoplatonists the Chaldean Oracles effected the development of Christian doctrine. These Oracles were delivered through the mediation of specially prepared initiates who might be called ‘channels’ today. The classic Olympian deities associated with the celestial planets were invoked by special ritual techniques alluded to in the Oracles. The theurgists also invoked a set of cosmic beings and messenger spirits unique to the Chaldean cosmology revealed in these Oracles. One of these was the Cosmic Soul and called Hekate.
Ronan refers to the four standard works in the field and several scholarly articles on the Chaldean Oracles to draw together all of the passages that refer to Hekate. We hear the echoes of long debate about what of the Neoplatonic corpus are in fact quotes from the Oracles as many passages are known to be. The scholarship can be thick to wade through but rewarding especially if the standard works have already been read as Ronan necessarily presumes. Practitioners of the magick of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn will be particularly struck by the translations and explanations of many phrases familiar from their rituals.
The major criticisms of the work relate principally to the production of the book itself. Chthonios Books uses such a small typeface for many parts of the text that it can be hard to read and many sections have insufficient margins for annotation. Elsewise, the cost of the book is so prohibitive ($46) that many will have to wait for a paperback edition.
Ronan’s work in presenting us this book of excellent sources is to be commended. Further praise is due for his stance on capitalizing ‘Goddess’, ‘Gods’ and ‘Pagans’ contrary to the prevalent custom. He has rightly recognized, as he puts it, that “everybody’s deity is worthy of a modicum respect”, and that all religion’s names deserve similar treatment.
The Goddess Hekate is a welcome addition to the field of Pagan research and will be hailed by practitioners and scholars alike.
Author blurb: Sam Webster, M.Div., Mage, is a priest of Hekate and the Pagan Hermetic tradition. He is the director of Crescent Ritual Works, a center for the teaching and study of ritual and Pagan culture.
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