On Being a Devotee of Hekate in the Pacific Northwest (Torchbearer Essay for the Covenant of Hekate)
Updated: Dec 31
When we first come to Hekate, or she comes to us, most of us begin to explore her roots, her place in myth, and how she was worshipped historically. It is exciting to discover what is known about her, as well as from our own personal experiences. I find it thrilling to research her, as it gives me a feeling of being closer to those people in history, and closer to the lands where she was worshipped. At the same time, I still feel extremely far away, in both time and place, from that ancient history.
Many years ago, when I first started with the coursework from the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, one of the early exercises was to create an astral sacred grove (OBOD uses the term inner not astral) which ended up being incredibly profound for me. Especially to my practice and worship of Hekate. The very first ceremony I did in my newly created sacred grove, which was an initiation with a Druid spirit, Hekate showed up directly afterwards, and completely unbidden, claimed it as her own. Today I wish to write about how that experience bridged for me, the Hekate of history, with the Hekate I worship here on Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada), which is colonized and unceded territory in the Pacific Northwest.
This land has been populated by Indigenous Peoples, the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Nuu-chah-nulth and the Coast Salish for at least 14,000 years, knowledge of which has been passed down in oral history, more recently backed up by an excavation in 2017 of a village found to be that old. Proving what Indigenous people had been saying all along! Thus, these lands have had centuries and centuries of incredibly rich, spiritual traditions which have left a powerful imprint. The land itself has its own spirit. The lush and dense rainforests, the rocky windswept shoreline, and cliffs are all vibrant and teeming with a vital spark that cannot be ignored. In my eyes, this vital force is from Hekate herself, as in The Chaldean Oracles it is said she is “…the Mistress of Life and holds the plentitude of the full womb of the cosmos.” Thus, she breathed life into this land as she did for all of earth. I acknowledge that traditionally, this is viewed far differently here, and Hekate would of course not be recognized. I think when settlers left their homelands and came to North America, they brought their Gods and many other spirits with them. Of course this not did displace what was already here! It is my understanding that all can exist at once and all can be true. All of us see things how we are, not as they are. Who we are, our culture, upbringing, life experiences; all create a filter, or lens, through which we view the world. I want to note that in conversation with Indigenous people and in local spaces, I would never be disrespectful and force my beliefs of gods onto anyone. I would always address the names of the Creator and any beings/spirits in the correct and appropriate way, as much as my knowledge allows. And where my knowledge is slack, I do endeavor to keep learning. This essay was written directly for pagans living on colonized land that may feel some of the ways that I do. We cannot appropriate the culture where we live, but still yearn for spiritual connection of place. Therefore I am focusing on the underlying current of similarities in spirit, nature, magic, and ceremony across lands, rather than the differences. There are many different practices and beliefs among the Indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest. It is very extensive, and I will only be covering a tiny part of it. Unfortunately, it may seem I am generalizing at times, though be assured, I am trying not to! But as the flora and fauna, and the landscape and weather, are somewhat similar in the area, some of the beliefs and practices regarding them are also remarkably similar. As well, I want to note I am only sharing information which is available easily online or in books, not anything which would be considered secret, or private. As regards Hekate, of course the interpretations of ancient materials related to her are debated about, and there are so many thoughts and theories that I could not begin to cover even a fraction. Though I have read about them as much as possible, and find them endlessly fascinating, I am no scholar. Thus for my purposes I have had to simplify and narrow my focus as much as possible.
Kwakwaka'wakw Potlatch (staged) Photo by Edward S. Curtis, Circa 1915
Though I am not writing directly about Druidry practices today, I find it fascinating that it was a Druid (Celtic) ceremony that essentially bridged for me this vibrant spirit-rich land with historical Hekate. It just goes to show how matters of the spirit can transcend culture and ethnicity. Interesting too, is the importance of fish among all three. In Druidry, wisdom is represented by the salmon. On Vancouver Island the salmon are essential for the coast, the lifeblood, feeding the people, bears, killer whales, coastal wolves, eagles and more. As well, their decomposing bodies feed the entire ecosystem. Therefore, Indigenous people have always considered them sacred as a primary food source and representational of prosperity and renewal. A connection Hekate has with fish comes with her dominion over the seas as mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony, “…But she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege in both earth and in heaven and in the sea.” Offerings of red mullet would be left at a statue of Hekate Triglathena. And note the fish on the image of the goddess below, believed to possibly be Hekate as the animals may represent land, sea and sky, her three realms.
Wolves: Wolves are representational of strong family bonds, communication and of the supernatural in the Pacific Northwest. In Kwakwala, the language of the Kwakwaka'wakw people, wolf is called u’ligan (oo-lee-gan) and was honoured in the stunning Wolf Dance that was only performed by certain families. The song that goes with the dance illustrates well, the wolf’s importance and supernatural qualities, describing how the wolf has magical powers. Although I have come across this song shared in a book I am choosing not to share it here as there are permissions and protocols involved with songs and dances, and it very likely should not have been shared publicly.
The Nuu-Chah-Nulth also have a Wolf Dance and Sarah Guy, a Nuu-Chah-Nulth elder, once said about an event happening at that time, "The wolves are howling, let this be a pleasant day;" as this is considered a good omen. Hekate was called a She-wolf in the Magical Papyri of Ptolemaic Egypt and has been shown in imagery with three wolf heads as well. It is mentioned on the CoH website that as there were few domesticated dogs back in those times, it is likely the dogs that accompanied Hekate were in fact, wolves. It seems suitable for the supernatural wolf to be a companion of the Goddess.
Sisiutl, Kwakwaka'wakw. Photo by Edward S. Curtis Serpents: Many of the Indigenous cultures in the Pacific Northwest have a legendary being called the sisiutl which is a two or three headed sea serpent that can shapeshift and interestingly, as with Medusa, can turn those that cast their eyes upon it, into stone. They are symbolic of supernatural abilities and of protection. Sisiutl are also symbolic of the search for the truth which you only see when you face your fear. As Anne Cameron relates in Daughters of Copper Woman, “Sisiutl, the fearsome monster of the sea. Sisiutl who sees you from front and back. Sisiutl the soul searcher…When you see Sisiutl you must stand and face him. Face the horror. Face the fear. If you break faith with what you Know, if you try to flee, Sisiutl will blow with both mouths at once and you will begin to spin…alone, and lonely, and lost forever.” Hekate is also a shapeshifter, seen with multiple heads, bodies and even as part serpent. In the Hymn to Selene, Hekate is described, “You are steely-blue with serpent-scales, o serpent-haired and Serpent-girdled One.” As well, Hekate is sometimes known as the Tetrakephalos “the four headed Hecate.” ... “For the fire-breathing head of a horse is clearly raised towards the sphere of fire, and the head of a bull, which snorts like some bellowing spirit, is raised towards the sphere of air, and the head of a hydra [serpent-monster] as being of sharp and unstable nature is raised towards the sphere of water, and that of a dog as having a punishing and avenging nature is raised towards the sphere of earth.” Hekate is also often portrayed with 3 heads, human or animal. According to Porphyry…” …Hekate when invoked by the names of a bull, a dog, and a lioness, is more propitious.” And finally, “…having three heads, a deadly monster you do not wish to know: Hecate of Tartarus.” It is my own opinion, ‘propitious’ and ‘monster’ could illustrate much the same as the sisiutl myth, that facing the darkness and fear is to gain for oneself. Do not run from the monster but ready yourself for battle for there is no benefit in running.
I only know of one occurrence of Hekate being mentioned with frogs. In the Greek Magical Papyri, it says, “Come, giant Hekate, Dione’s guard, O Persia, Baubo Phroune, dart shooter.” Baubo is thought to have been either a goddess as well or perhaps a bawdy woman. Phroune means frog. As well there are species of frogs called dart frogs (or poison dart frogs). Frogs are known for magical and transformative powers. And that is no different here on the west coast where frogs are revered for their adaptability and their power to traverse the supernatural world. When shown in art with their tongue out touching another creature, they represent sharing knowledge and power.
Moon and Sun:
The moon and the sun have both been historically important to Hekate as they have been here in the Pacific Northwest. Though she is often thought of as a lunar goddess, there is much to show originally, she may have been a solar goddess. I am inclined to see her as both as they are both part of the cosmos of which she has dominion over. It is no surprise that here the sun symbolizes life and comfort with its rays radiating peace and healing. The tallest totem pole in the world which is at Alert Bay, on Cormorant Island, just northeast of Vancouver Island, has a sun carved at the very top. The Nuu-chah-nulth honour Moon and his wife Sun as being powerful beings that can bestow blessings and plenty. Other First Nations see the Moon as female and the sun as male which is more common.
These are some of the animals/symbols that stand out to me being similar across cultures from the Pacific Northwest far across the planet to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. This is not surprising as the behaviours of animals and other elements of nature and space can oftentimes be much the same throughout many locales and thus are reflected in their symbolism. Though we have so many differences upon this planet, when we look deeply, we see we are not so much different and that we share many things. No wonder Hekate feels at home here, not only does it lie within her dominion, but this land has never lain dormant, the spirits of the land, sea and heavens have always been nurtured and honoured here. Even when it could not be done publicly because of suppression due to colonization.
Before I finish up, a little bit on Hekate’s epithets. She has many! I mentioned a couple of them above, but I wanted to make note of some others which are quite suitable for her worship here: Agriope ‘wild-eyed, fierce –faced’ which makes me think of the wild man and wild woman masks. Chthonia ‘of the earth’, Eialian ‘of the sea’, Ouresiphoites ’wanderer in the mountains, Phileremos ‘Lover of Solitude’ and Physis ‘Nature’, speak so perfectly to this landscape! Podarke ‘Fleet-footed’, brings up images of the ancestors moving stealthily within the forest. Prodomos ‘Of the Vestibule’, ‘Before the House’ makes me think of the Big House, a place where ceremonies take place. Presbeira ‘Ancient’, ‘Elder’ and Prostistos ‘Primordial’, both of which are so important and respected here. Drakaina ‘Serpent’, ‘Dragon’ looking back at the Sisiutl. Mene ‘Moon’, Chrysôpis ‘Golden-faced’ and Phaetho ‘Radiant’ make me think of the sun, of radiant light, and Polyboteira ‘Generous Giver of Nourishment’, Zootrophos ‘Nourisher of Life’, of the vitality and abundance of nature. Lastly, some of the animal epithets which are perfect for here. Agallomenen Elaphoisi ‘Rejoicing in Deer’, Leaina ‘The Lioness’, Lykaina ‘She-wolf’, Lyko ‘Wolf-formed’, Polyplokamos ‘Of Many Tentacles’, ‘With Many Feelers’, and Potnia Theron ‘Mistress of Animals’, ‘Lady of Wild Beasts’.
I have always been greatly affected by the power in the earth and sea here, in the forests; the strong Spirit that can be felt, especially in certain areas. This reflects in my worship of Hekate. She doesn’t ask for more in the way of offerings that don’t grow here naturally, and has been well pleased with ceremonies performed for her in any of the natural surroundings, even when lacking all the bells and whistles that ceremonies often have. And as mentioned earlier, she adores and feels completely at home in the astral sacred grove I created, a place surrounded by trees, high on a windswept cliff above the thundering ocean below; a direct reflection of this island.
Hekate breathed life into all of nature. She is in every leaf and twig, the stones on the beach and the eagles in the trees. She is the creatrix of life, imbuing all of nature and ruling the land, the sea, and the cosmos. And I can feel her presence just as powerfully as I do the other divine and supernatural beings which reside here.
--------- Dedicated to Hekate, to the Covenant of Hekate, to the Indigenous Peoples of Vancouver Island and the surrounding islands (the unceded traditional territory of the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Nuu-chah-nulth and the Coast Salish), and especially to all the brave and strong women over the centuries, who have kept their communities together and protected their power. ---------- “The black ribbon is the Death Cord,” she said proudly, “the sign of rememberin’, rememberin’ all the women who have died to protect the soft power. White women burned as witches, black women sold as slaves, yellow women crippled and sold like furniture, brown women raped, their bodies made sick with disease, murdered. The beads are special, each has its own magic, its own power, four on each end of the Death Cord because four is a full number, a true number. The Death Cord could be a shoelace and it would still be what it is, a mark of rememberin’ all the sisters who came before us…” – From Daughters of Copper Woman
Edward S. Curtis, image of a Hetquiat woman (Nuu-chah-nulth) [Note on the topic: In case it is not clear, I would like to be sure it is understood that this essay in NO way is trying to blanket local Indigenous beliefs with European ones. I deeply respect the beliefs of the Indigenous People and they greatly influence my spiritual practice in every way. I am simply trying to bridge the land where I live with the land of where my ancestors come from, and finding the similarities helps me do that. I also believe that all all religions can be true at the same time. ]
[Note on images: I would love to have shared modern local Indigenous art, but did not do so due to concern of copywrite. Unfortunately I fear the use of old images creates the false impression of a culture not vibrant and alive today. I assure you it is, despite all the damage inflicted by colonization. It is very easy to find examples of Northwest Coast art all over the internet, so I leave that up to the reader if interested.] [Regarding the photographs of Edward Curtis; there is a lot of controversy as not only were his images staged, but he would sometimes use items as props that did not even belong to that nation. As well his images romanticised the people he photographed while ignoring the harsh reality in which they lived. His photos showed nothing of the effects of colonization. Still, Mr. Curtis' intent was known to be a good one, as he feared Indigenous culture was being erased and replaced with stereotypes, and thus he sought to document as much of it as he could so it would not be lost forever. Indigenous people also had much creative input in the photos he created. His images show the beauty of the people and are in my opinion, a very important record of history.]
References: d’Este, Sorita (2017) Avalonia. Circle for Hekate - Volume I: History & Mythology Johnston, Sarah Iles (1990) Oxford Univ. Hekate Soteira Ronan, Stephen (1989) Chthonios Books. The Goddess Hekate Cameron, Anne (2002) Harbour Pub. Daughters of Copper Woman Peterson, Joseph. H (1999) Digital Version. The Chaldæan Oracles of Zoroaster Hesiod (2019) Good Press. The Homeric Hymns, and Homerica Betz, Hans Dieter - Editor (1992) University of Chicago Press. Greek Magical Papyri https://nuuchahnulth.org/about-ntc https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/nootka-nuu-chah-nulth https://www.mymondotrading.com/native-meanings-symbology-myths-legends https://umistapotlatch.ca/notre_langue-our_language-eng.php?l=U#U https://www.northwesttribalart.com/symbols.html http://archive.umista.ca/masks_story/en/ht/tsekaWolf.html https://umistapotlatch.ca/notre_peuple-our_people-eng.php http://hekatecovenant.com/ https://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/HekateGoddess.html https://nehetisingsforhekate.tumblr.com/post/87604951156/hekates-many-names-part-1-of-3 http://byherfires.blogspot.com/2018/02/hecate-cosmic-world-soul.html https://www.philipcarr-gomm.com/essay/druid-wisdom/
[Originally published June 29th, 2020]