In this article I will focus on Hekates roles as Goddess of liminal places (and times), spirits and magic. These roles are very interwoven which each other.
Liminal places and times:
In antiquity Hekate was strongly connected to liminal times and places. She was worshipped on crossroads, was a guardian of the gates to the homes, to the entrances of some palaces and of the doors of some temples, she was able to open the doors to the underworld her Deipna, the meals offered to her and the spirits, were celebrated in the dark time of the moon (a liminal time), she was connected to birth and death (liminal times too), her witches practised their arts on cemeteries and were able to open the portals to the underworld in ancient literature.
Liminal times and places are special- they are a mediating point between the worlds, between the world of spirits and humans- or between the divine and the profane. These times and places are intersection points were it is easier to reach to the other sides. Liminal places and times can be thresholds between the worlds.
In literature Hekate was first connected to liminal points in the pseudo-homeric Hymn to Demeter. She appears as a young, beautiful and shining Goddess.
She dwelled in a cave (threshold between the underworld and the earth) and heard the cries of Kore (while she was abducted by Hades into his realm). In the dawn she went with burning torches to Demeter (the mother of Kore who searched desperate for her missing daughter). The dawn is a liminal time- between day and night (and the dusk is a liminal time too).
After Kore came back from the underworld Hekate got her companion and guide (on her yearly travels back into the underworld in harvest- and again up to the earth in spring). There are vase paintings who show Hekate with torches guiding Persephone/Kore through the threshold of the underworld back to earth.
During the classical and hellenic time period Hekates role as a Goddess of thresholds got more and more obvious- and from this time period the first sources that link her to spirits and magic came then too.
Hekate is then connected to doors, thresholds and portals. Crossroads (you are on all ways and on none at the same time), graveyards and cemeteries (world of the living meets the world of the dead), to the entry space of some temples, too (intersection to the divine).
The people believed that spirits lingered on these liminal places. It was easier there to come into contact with them or for them to come into contact with us. Magic was practised on liminal places because of this reason- and even today in many folk magic traditions thresholds and crossroads are important places (crossroads as places to work magic and thresholds to bring powders and spells into contact with- to leave the spells on the doorstep of the person that should be influenced).
The dark time of the moon was seen as a transitional time between the world of spirits and humans. The old month ended- but the new one has not begun yet (this happened with the first crescent after the dark moon). It was a time of liminality.
The people brought offerings to the spirits and to Hekate on the crossroads or in front of the doors and portals of the homes (which are small crossroads too). And the dark moon was used for necromancy, magic and witchcraft because of this liminal character (and in literature the witches were able to draw down the moon from the sky- to make the night moonless, so to create this liminal time outside of its natural timing).
From my personal experience all these places get more powerful if you visit them on liminal times. Like on the dusk or dawn or “real midnight” (the hour in the middle between dusk and dawn).
Hekate was first connected to the liminal places and times from the source material. And was then seen as a Goddess of spirits soon, too.
She was/is able to protect the liminal points. She was able to protect against harmful spirits but at the same time was also able to send them to mortals. She was quite ambivalent in this role (but that is right for other Gods too, like Apollon as God of healing or sender of illness).
The restless spirits followed her in the time of the dark moon.
She was able to open the portals to Hades and to lead spirits up to the world of mortals (for example when witches practised necromancy).
I see her connected to the good spirits of the home, too.
If you are on her good side she can send you good spirits to bless you and your home or keep negative spirits away from your home.
Hekates role as Goddess of magic evolved from the source material at the same time as her role as mistress of spirits. And this is quite logical. Ancient magic was more necromantic than magic practices of modern magical traditions.
Necromancy is the art to get into contact with the spirits (of the dead) to practice divination or to bring a influence to situations or persons.
The people who practised magic did this with the help of the spirits.
Good examples are the curse tablets (which were not just used for curses but for success, love, victory, healing and other goals too). Tablets that were in most cases made from lead and inscribed with spells. And than brought to liminal places to bring them into contact with the spirits- that these fulfil the will of the practitioner. This was the popular folk magic of the time.
Hekate Chtonia and Hermes Chtonios were quite often named on these tablets, but other chtonic Gods, too.
The PGM are full of spells that focus on the spirits or should bring helpful spirits to the practitioner. Very important were the restless spirits- the spirits who were “trapped” on earth- because they were the easiest to reach as helpers. But Hekate was not just connected to the spirits of the dead- but to other kinds of spirits too. Like nymphs, daimons (mediators between gods and humans) and in late antiquity to angels too. Angels and daimons were quite important in the magic (and theurgy) of late antiquity, still lingered around in the magical practices of renaissance and are quite important today too in some traditions of magic(k).
Hekates role as Goddess of magic is strongly nourished through her connection to the spirits and her liminal character.
In the next articles I will focus on her role as Goddess of the underworld and witchcraft.