On the Dark of the Moon

Have you met Hekate? Maybe Hesiod introduced you to her. He tells of her lineage as a powerful Titan, given dominion over the realms of earth, sea, and sky by Zeus himself for her help in overthrowing her fellow Titans and securing the rule of the Olympians.

Maybe you know her as a goddess of witches, patron of famed sorceresses such as Medea and Circe. Shakespeare puts her in charge of his three savage crones, the witches who bring down MacBeth.

Perhaps you’ve encountered her as a lunar goddess, or a crossroads guardian, or even one of her most important aspects, a psychopompos who shepherds souls to the afterlife when they leave their bodies.

Maybe your encounter goes something like this.

I walk to the three-way crossroad at dusk, on the dark of the moon. It is very quiet in the late winter twilight, pale purple sky and dirty white snow. Two cats pad silently behind me. A big black dog snuffles in the undergrowth next to the road. I place my offerings in the ditch next to an old wooden post. There are rudimentary faces carved into the post, three of them, each overlooking the direction the road takes. They are very crude, with round eyes, slit nostrils, gaping wide mouths. I shiver and try to move where the eyes can’t see me, but they follow.

I stand silent for a while as the dusk thickens around me. My dog bumps my knee inquisitively, then wanders away, following a scent trail into the adjoining field. The cats sit on either side of me, silent, motionless.

There is a crack in the woods behind me. The hair on the nape of my neck prickles. I turn slowly. An eight-point stag stands on the verge of the road, watching me. We stare at each other for a full minute. He lowers his head, his horns menacing me, then turns and rubs them, hard, on the bark of an old sycamore tree. The noise is startling in the quiet night, harsh and rasping.
A loud bark interrupts the stag’s challenge. The dog comes racing across the field and into the road, stopping next to me, panting loudly. Dog and stag stare at each other. Then the stag leaps back into the woods. The dog starts to follow, but stops at my word and sits next to the post, whining almost inaudibly. Her head whips around and she stares down the road from the west. Something is approaching.

It looks like a streamer of smoke in the near-darkness, wavering, flowing, almost dancing. The dog goes silent, stiff and wide-eyed. The cats move softly to the verge of the woods.
We all watch the procession approach.

First come the small things, mice and toads and voles and chipmunks, scurrying and hopping. They pay no attention to us. Snakes writhe between them. They are followed by slightly larger creatures, rabbits and skunks and possums. They all pause briefly at the post, then turn away down the road to the southeast, unhurried but purposeful. They are all black, and slightly translucent.

I put a hand on my dog’s head. She is trembling slightly. I am trembling a lot.

The procession continues with geese and pigs and goats and sheep, all black, all moving with feet that don’t quite touch the ground, all pausing for a short moment at the post where I stand with the dog, all passing by us as if we aren’t there. Cows, horses, elk, bears, mountain lions. A big cat casts a glowing eye at the two small ones at the edge of the woods. They tense as if to flee, but as the shadowy beast moves on they remain motionless.

A wraith-like shape approaches me. A black pony with a faintly glowing stripe of white down his face and a cascading mane. He touches me with a muzzle I can’t feel, but I know is soft as a petal. Tears stream down my face as he moves on. Huge things lumber past. Elephants and camels, other things I cannot name. Winged things fly above the procession, dark and silent.
Finally the procession ends. The night is fully dark. I draw in a shuddering breath and turn to leave, but halt when a small noise escapes my dog.

A figure walks toward us out of the west, almost invisible in the enshrouding darkness, a gleam of pale light around its brow. As it draws near, flames erupt from torches held in either hand, a cold, spectral fire.

The goddess Hekate halts before us. My knees give way and I sink into a heap next to the ditch. The dog presses into me, half collapsed in my lap. The cats draw near. Hekate sets her torches in the ground on either side of the post, where they create a pool of cold pale light. The eyes and mouths of the faces on the post seem to blink and utter silent words.

She leans over the ditch and looks down at the offering I have set there, hard boiled eggs, cubes of white cheese, a tea bag from the cup of mint tea and honey I have poured. I hold my breath. She straightens and holds out her hand.

I reach slowly into the pocket of my hoodie and pull out a quill pen. I hand it to her, my fingers trembling. She takes it from me and turns it over in her hands. Suddenly she laughs, a surprising sound, high and girlish and joyful. She flourishes the quill high in the air, like a wand, and it leaves a faint glowing trail across the starry sky. Then she stands still. Her face is featureless in the night except for a gleam of eyes. She takes the pen and touches the sharp nib to a fingertip. A silver drop oozes out, shockingly visible despite the darkness.

She holds out her left hand to me, the silver-tipped pen poised in her right. I give her my hand. She touches the tip to my finger and I feel it bite, sharp as a scalpel. The goddess touches the tiny wound in my fingertip to the matching one on hers. She licks our mingled blood and ichor off her finger, and hands me back the quill pen. She turns to go.

The calico cat makes a sharp, pleading sound. Hekate turns back. Both cats run to her and twine around her legs. She reaches down and strokes their backs. The dog whines, leaps from me and runs to her, throwing herself to the ground, legs in the air. The goddess crouches beside her and rubs her belly.

Then she leaves us.