Secretum secretorum - Aspects of Greek Mythology
Background for Ars Magica sagas


To the Christian Gnostics, who believed that magic had been brought to earth by fallen angels, Hekate represents on of the five Archons appointed to rule over the 360 demons of the "Middle," the aerial place below the zodiacal sphere or the circle of the sun, which fixes the Heimarmene. She has three faces and twenty-seven demons under her command. She occupies the third level in the hierarchy of the "Middle," between two female demons, long-haired Paraplex and Ariouth the Ethiopian, and two male demons, Typhon and Iachtanabas (Pisitis Sophia).

During the same period, this secondary figure of Gnostic daemonology is also an omnipresent personage in the pantheon of magical papyruses, because of the range of meanings attributed to her emblems and because of the system of associations which link her to, and even identify her with, other gods and goddesses.

Her three forms (trimorphos PGM XXXVI, 190) and her three faces (triposopos, IV, 2119, 2880) make her, as in classical Greek tradition, the goddess of crossroads (triodites) and the protectress of roads; but they express above all the "abundance of all magical signs" (XXXVI, 190-191), possessed by the "sovereign" goddess (kuria, IV, 1432) "of many names" (poluonumos, IV, 745). The three-faced Hekate of the love charm of Pitys, contained in the magical Greek codex of Paris, has the head of a cow on the right, the head of a female dog on the left, and the head of a girl in the center (IV, 2120-2123). The Hekate engraved in a magnetized rock (IV, 2881-2884) also shows three faces: a goat on the right, a female dog on the left, and in the middle a girl with horns.

Her mouth exhales fire (puripnoa, IV, 2727); her six hands brandish torches (IV, 2119-2120). Hence, engraving her name with a bronze stylus on an ostracon (XXXVI, 189) or on a lead tablet (IV, 2956) will have the effect of a fire "burning" and "consuming" the beloved woman, so that she is deprived of sleep forever. Furthermore, the fire that inhabits Hekate, as the most subtle of the four elements, characterizes her keen intelligence and the extreme sharpness of her perception (puriboulos, IV, 2751). Her whole being radiates with the brilliance of the fire from the stars and from the ether. The Chaldaean Oracles made this Hekate "of the breasts that welcome storms, of resplendent brilliance" into an entity "descended from the Father," associated with the "implacable thunderbolts" of the gods, with the "flower of fire," and with the "powerful breath" of the paternal Intellect. Because she caries and transmits fire from above, she is the supreme goddess of vivification. The reason Hekate's womb is so remarkably "fertile" (zoogonon) is that she is filled with the fire of paternal Intellect, the source of life or the strength of thought, which it is her duty to communicate and to disseminate.

Through her emblems and her triadic conception, Hekate is associated with another goddess o time and destiny, Mene or Selene, the goddess of the moon. A prayer to the moon invokes them as one and the same entity; epithets and attributes of the two goddesses are interchangeable. Hekate/Selene also has three heads, carries torches, presides over crossroads: "You who in the three forms of the three Charites dance and fly about with the stars . . . You who wield terrible black torches in your hands, you who shake your head with hair made of fearsome snakes, you who cause the bellowing of the bulls, you whose belly is covered with reptilian scales and who carry over your shoulder a woven bag of venomous snakes" (IV, 2793-2806). She has the eye of a bull, the voice of a pack of dogs, the calves of a lion, the ankles of a wolf, and she loves fierce bitches: "This is why you are called Hekate of many names, Mene you who split the air like Artemis, shooter of arrows" (IV, 2814-2817). She is the mother (geneteria) of gods and men, Nature the universal mother (Phusis panmetor): "You come and go on Olympus and visit the vast and immense Abys: you are the beginning and end, you alone rule over all things; it is in you that all originates, and in you, eternal, that all ends" (IV, 2832-2839). Another hymn in the Paris codex used as a love charm shows the same joy in piling up titles of the goddess, who has this time become Aphrodite, the universal procreator (pangenneteria) and mother of Eros (IV, 2556-2557), at once below and above, "in the Hells, the Abys, and the Aeon" (IV, 256-2564), chthonic, holding her feats in tombs, and associated with Ereskigal, the Babylonian queen of Hells (LXX, 4), but also the "celestial traveler among the stars" (IV, 2549-2550).

Her ring, scepter and crown represent the power of the one who, possessing the triad, embraces all. Above and below, to the right and to the left, at night as during the day, she is the one "Around whom the nature of the world turns" (IV, 2551-2552), the very Soul of the world, according to the Chaldaean Oracle "the center in the middle of the Fathers", occupying, according to Psellos, an intermediary position and playing the role of the center in relation to all the other powers: t her left the source of virtues, to her right the source of souls, inside, because she remains within her own substance, but also directed to the outside with a view to procreation.

Whether invoked in love charms to bring to oneself the woman one desires (the agogai of the magic papyruses) or theiodamoi anankai of the Chaldaean philosophers, Hekate is henceforth inscribed in a table of correspondences and combinations which go far beyond her proper function as a goddess of enchantment and magic. It is from this Hekate, the product of the syncretism of the papyri, that the tradition of the Hekate of the Neoplatonic commentators on the Oracles take shape.

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Last modified: Sun Dec 27, 1998 / Jeremiah Genest