Interestingly, both goddesses have been pictured as having three faces, so they are associated with the triple goddess. But both are generally viewed as crones. Clearly they are close kin, but they dwell in different domains.
Hecate stands at the crossroads. She oversees choices and the paths we embark on. She is a liminal goddess of edges and borderlands. She is the patron of midwives. In the oldest version of the Persephone story, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, she becomes Persephone’s guide and companion. In the middle ages, she became known as Queen of Witches. People respected and feared her. She dealt in magic, divination, and consulting the dead.
Borderlands and edges have always both attracted and terrified me. They are the areas where creativity happens, where one is at least a little uncomfortable. They are places for catching visions. For me, getting too close to the edge is dicey, as I always tend towards the fearful and acrophobic, but I can work at shouting distance from it. Though I love the comforts and safety of the center regions, I find the edges compelling. My lifelong love of Persephone points to my desire to be able to move between realms, to live in (or with) the tension of the opposites. In other words, to dwell in the borderlands.
From time to time, my dream group works with Jeremy Taylor. He visited us over a year ago, and I was fortunate enough to have him work on one of my dreams. Because he is both so experienced in dream work and also very intuitive, he pointed out things I would never have seen. He said my dream was a borderlands dream and an invitation to visit the land of the dead. This is a metaphorical place, not a literal one, a place where priorities get recognized. When I told him about my relationship to Persephone, he said it made perfect sense.
Now, Hel, like Persephone, is the Norse goddess of the underworld. Her realm is not the hell we usually envision, although it is the land of the dead. Hel’s realm is a place of regeneration. She is said to have a great cauldron of fire for this purpose. When shamans decided to visit her, they put on masks or helmets called helkappes, which rendered them invisible and able to visit the underworld. Most people do not choose to go to Hel. In a literal sense, they go when they die. In a metaphorical sense, we often get pushed, driven or dragged down. To what end? To deepen our souls, perhaps. To be transformed. To regenerate. It is sometimes a shamanic call, to go down.
It’s not unusual to spend time in the dark regions in the dark of the year. I’ve had my times of wandering around down there. This time I endeavored to put on a helkappe and visit by intention.
I recently read an article by Martin Shaw who says, “The deepest position is the taking of that underworld information and allowing it to gestate into a lived wisdom that, by its expression, contains something generative.”
Yes! I was looking for something generative. I would dearly love for my elder years to be generative years. I believe my Going to Hel event was my attempt to encourage this in myself, and hopefully for others.
Hecate and Hel are neighbors. I’m glad to mostly hang out with Hecate, Persephone’s guide and companion, at the crossroads and the edgy places.
Although they are both queens of the dead, there is a big difference between Hel and Persephone; Hel remains in the underworld and is associated with rebirth. Persephone’s task is to move between realms, to navigate the high and low places, to gracefully shift gears in order to both deepen soul and enliven spirit. She is the one I follow, though I offer my gratitude to Hel for my recent attempt to visit and meet her.
Who is a goddess of the heights? Hmm…. Maybe I could try visiting those borderlands, too.