Adventures with Hecate: A Pilgrimage

Gate to the cemetery at the Old Church in Gaerwen, Anglesey

"And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.' So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East." --The Gate of the Year, by Minnie Louise Haskins, quoted by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas Speech to the British Empire

In many different cultures' pantheons, there is a clever god of speech and travel, and his consort is a mistress of magic and the crossroads of life and death. In Norse mythology, it is Odin and Frigg; in South American traditions it is Eshu and Pomba Gira; and in the Greek pantheon, it is Hermes and Hecate. For some time now, Hecate has been calling my name, sending me signs and symbols of her power to walk between worlds. When I think of these gods of travel and their feminine counterparts, I am reminded of the saying, "There is only one journey: the journey within."
Section of the garden at St. Benedict Priory in Cobh, Ireland

Anytime we are traveling, there is a parallel journey taking place in the subconscious mind that can enrich our spiritual experience, if we choose to notice it. Looking up at a cathedral ceiling in Dublin, I noticed the traditional cross-key symbol that I associate with Hecate, planted right there in plain sight. While I'm sure the keys mean many things to many people, to me, they were a reminder of the sacred dance happening beneath the surface that is present for anyone who is listening for the voice of the spirit, no matter what religious path they may follow.

While the gods mentioned above deal with speech and human language, the goddesses deal in the language of the soul. Often, that language is too great to be confined to simple words, and so the soul speaks its volumes in wordless silence. As Odin says of Frigg, she "will tell no fortunes, yet well she knows the fates," which is to say, she alone knows everything, but she will never tell.

Known as the goddess of the crossroads, of the cemetery, of witches and magic, Hecate speaks with the silent chorus of all who have lived before us. Like the great standing stones, she waits and listens. She hums the song of our own bones, our deep-down wisdom that knows truth. And so, in this journey, I experienced a lot of waiting and listening, and confrontations with sweet old bones at every stage of their journey back to the earth. Stone Henge is a grave site, among other things, and so is the neolithic burial mound Bryn Celli Ddu, pictured below. Here, the bones of the ancestors have returned to earth, and filled it with a vibration of wisdom and power. At the Stone Henge museum exhibit, there are actual human remains on display, including a portion of bone shards from an ancient cremation. Goddesses like Hecate ask us to come face-to-face with these hard truths, that our bodies, too, will fall away and nourish the earth, not just on a physical level, but on an energetic level as well. My energy will feed the vibrations of the Earth some day, just as I am nourished by the energy of those who lived before me when I connect with these ancient places.

Our travels continued by sea, and we made our way to Edinburgh, which has a rich tradition of Western medicine, particularly early surgical techniques, when surgeons were first separating their practice from that of barbers. In the History of Surgery Museum, there is a Pathology room that we stumbled into, to find rows and rows of bones and body parts that had been carefully preserved so that future students of medicine could examine them and better learn how to preserve life. The space was open and well lit, and yet the gravity of all those remains was thick and heavy, and a little visit went a long way for us. Like the mummies of Egypt, these bones in Edinburgh have many more years of stories to tell before they may return to the earth.

There were many other relics of ancient voices as we traveled around the British Isles. Layers of history dance together, and you never know what century is going to speak next.

panorama of the round room in which the Magna Carta is housed in Salisbury Cathedral

Monument to the Titanic in Cobh, Ireland

Marker of a Roman road, right next to Stone Henge; Amesbury, England

And as many sacred places as we found on the Earth, there were countless more beneath the sea upon which we sailed. And the truth is this, that all land is hallowed, all places sacred. It is the busy-ness of our conscious minds that make us forget (and forget all the more quickly if there is no stone monument to remind us) that ancient voices and ancient wisdom is all around us, whenever we are ready to listen for it. Even in the cities, even in the most mundane places you can imagine, beneath your feet is the Earth, and like the goddesses of mystery, she cradles millennia of knowledge in her silent arms. All paths are sacred. All journeys lead within. How might our lives change if we lived each day like a pilgrimage?

18th century tombstone in Abergwyngregyn, Wales

train station in Lancaster, PA, made famous by the movie "Witness"