November 16 is the Night of Hecate which begins at sunset. Hecate is the Greek goddess of the three paths, guardian of the household, protector of everything newly born, and the goddess of witchcraft.
She was once a widely revered and influential goddess, but through popular culture, her reputation and story have been twisted. She is now commonly shown as a “hag” or old witch stirring a cauldron.
This night was a celebration of the Three-formed Goddess. Hecate is part of the most ancient form of the triple Moon goddess as Crone or Dark Moon and it occurs near or on a Full Moon.
She was said to walk the roads at night, visiting cemeteries during the dark phase of the moon. She was described as shining, luminous and sometimes as invisible, seen only as a light or “will-o-the-wisp.”
A will-o’-the-wisp (ignis fatuus in Medieval Latin for “foolish fire”) are atmospheric “ghost lights” seen by travelers at night. Often seen over bogs, swamps or marshes, they resemble a flickering lamp. Legend has it that they recede if approached and thereby lure the traveler from the safe path.
This phenomenon is known by a variety of names, including jack-o’-lantern, hinkypunk, and hobby lantern in English folk belief.
The term “will-o’-the-wisp” comes from “wisp”, a bundle of sticks or paper sometimes used as a torch, and the name “Will.” Attaching a man’s name to these folk beliefs was fairly common – such as jack-o’-lantern for “Jack of [the] lantern.”
In the United States, they are often called “spook-lights”, “ghost-lights”, or “orbs” and are written about by both folklorists and paranormal enthusiasts.
It was said that this night was when Hecate’s supper at the Crossroads took place. People who worshiped Hecate honored her by performing sympathetic Magick and they would hold a supper at what they believed to be the Crossroads. It was much later that American blues songs began to use the Crossroads as a meeting place with the Devil.
Hecate’s original mythology portrayed her not as an old hag, but as a beautiful and powerful goddess. She was the only one of the ancient Titans who Zeus allowed to retain their authority once the Olympians seized control.
Zeus shared with Hecate, and only her, the power of giving humanity anything she wished, or withholding it if she pleased.
A lover of solitude, Hecate was a “virgin” goddess, unwilling to give up her freedom for marriage.
Hecate was usually depicted with her sacred dogs which were said to have three heads to see in all directions – including the past, present, and future. In the myth of the abduction of Persephone, Hecate saw and told Demeter what had become of her daughter.
Sometimes nicknamed the “Queen of the Night,” and walking with “ghosts” and other social outcasts, she was often accompanied on her travels by an owl, a symbol of wisdom. Though not a goddess of traditional wisdom, she was thought to have a special type of knowledge. In modern times, she has been made the goddess of trivia – something I fear has made her angry.
She could help the elderly make the transition into the next life in the way that a hospice nurse might today.
If you are out and about tonight, let us know if you see any ghost lights, will-o-the-wisps, three-headed dogs, or any strange doings at a place where three roads converged (what we often call a “Y-intersection” these days). Hecate will do you no harm.