Bearing Torches: A Devotional Anthology for Hekate
Edited by Sannion, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2009
Shrouded and mysterious, clad in shadows and torchlight, Hekate is arguably one of the most well-known Goddesses in Pagan spirituality and practices; even those who only have knowledge of Her through Shakespeare’s Macbeth can link Her to Witchcraft and associated areas. Whether seen as the Underworld hag, guardian of the dead, or the enchanting dire maiden, She who holds the keys to inner wisdom, Hekate is a Lady who fulfills many roles, not many of which are fully explored in much of today’s neo-Paganism.
Hekate is the primary focus here, but other Underworld deities are also considered, some in passing (such as the guide Hermes), and others as a secondary focus (e.g. the Kemetic Wepwawet). The pieces featured within Bearing Torches explore Hecate’s myriad roles within Wiccan practice, Hellenic Reconstructionalism, history, and much more besides. Floating between the more in-depth articles are poems and invocations, perfect for rites and meditations, while short stories and personal retellings serve to raise the veil on some of Hekate’s mysteries made real in contemporary society and modern magical practice. Many of the contributing authors are priests and priestesses of Hekate or work closely with Her; some, such as Tim Ward, are well-known for other Pagan texts (such as Ward’s Savage Breast: One Man’s Search for the Goddess), while others are less familiar. Whether you come to Bearing Torches and read through it cover-to-cover or dip in and out of its pages, there is plenty to please the reader — whether just discovering Hekate or having walked Her path for many years.
The contributors to Torches work with, and adore, this Goddess, and the wealth of their dedication hums from every page. Marian Dalton’s “Hekate Devotion” has drawn me in time and again with “I am the sounds of midnight in an empty house / I am the frozen silence of the grave...” as my breath slows and I am connected with something much deeper, more ancient, than myself. “She is the bones of the world, the secrets of stone and strata and all the forces that build the earth up and tear it down,” remarks Leni Hester in her exploration of Hekate’s roles within the Wiccan wheel of the year; while Tim Ward searches for evidence of Hekate, and re-examines the parallels between death and sex in the Turkish sites of Lagina and Çatalhöyük. “It’s not death that makes me tremble at the water’s edge,” he says, “It’s the moment before death, the moment at the threshold when the living consumes the not-yet-dead ... the knowledge that she is hungry for me ...”
Those with more practical considerations will not be disappointed here either; there are meditations, suggestions and ritual offerings to be found here, too. Cara Schulz gives a thorough exploration of the Diepnon (a monthly dinner rite carried out in Hekate’s name) from a Hellenic viewpoint, offering up a brief history and modern interpretations of this important feast. Venus Clark also writes on the Diepnon, but also suggests other ways in which one can honor Hekate. Altars, offerings and devotional actions are discussed, and it can seem overwhelming. However, Clark says, “a good way to get to know Her is to focus on one attribute at a time”, which are certainly wise words to those new to Hekate’s worship.
Also included is in-depth material such as Allyson Szabo’s experiences as Hekate’s psychopomp, “a person who helps conduct the souls of the dead to their resting place”, and Phillip A. Bernhardt-House’s examination of cynanthropy (human-dog transformations) in Greek and Roman texts. Whilst one of the “heavier” articles in Bearing Torches, this only serves to deepen the concept of Hekate’s mysteries. There are references to the Chaldean Oracles, Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, and other classical writers and works; on a more modern framework, there are quotes from rock band Incubus Sukkubus, the scholar Joseph Campbell and others.
Whether you worship Hekate as the aged crone, midwife to the dying and Queen of the spirits or as the beautiful, terrible maiden, offering choices at the crossroads with Her torch held high, you will find something of interest in this book. If you are just discovering Hekate, or your knowledge of Her is lacking, this book will be a welcome guide on a path lit by shadows and moonlight.