“They turned her into a deceitful weasel (or polecat), making her live in crannies and gave her a grotesque way of mating. She is mounted through the ears and gives birth by bringing forth her young through the throat. Hekate felt sorry for this transformation of her appearance and appointed her a sacred servant of herself.” ~Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 29 (accessed online www.theoi.com)
The part Hekate plays in the transformation of a person is often profound, and is a reoccurring theme in ancient literature and the myths surrounding Hekate, some more pleasant than others. The except above, is part of a retelling of the birth of Herakles; the son of Zeus and a mortal woman named Alkmene, Hera in her usual jealous rage for her husbands philandering had persuaded both the Moirai and Eileithyia, (a Cretan Goddess who was adopted into the Greek Pantheon, and later became syncretised with Artemis and possibly even Hekate) to keep the poor woman in perpetual labour. The friend and former childhood play-mate of the afflicted Alkmene contrived to break the concentration of the Goddesses, thus allowing the birth of Herakles, but for her impudence was turned into a polecat. Hekate however took pity and made her a sacred servant.
Aelian, however, claimed that the Polecat was in fact the Sorceress Gale who had angered Hekate; the inference is that it was her “incontinence and abnormal sexual desires” that were the cause of this transformed state; but I do have to query if this was that case, for Hekate is generally the one who takes on unfortunate creatures transformed by other Gods and when you consider the shenanigins that some of her Priestesses get up to, a little bit of a “womans problem” and some unusual appetites seems to have a ring of untruth about it, especially when the Polecat it seems was a sacred servant to the Goddess; whilst of course we cannot always claim to the know the will of the Gods, why on earth would you “punish” a person by elevating them, through transformation, to a position of favour?
This theme of taking the unwanted, ill-favoured and outcast is even further supported by the story of Hekate and Hekabe, who after the fall of Troy murdered a Thracian King and then commited suicide to avoid an unelegant death, but by Hekate’s will was transformed into a hound who was the goddess’ attendant, again when you consider that history is pretty much told by the victors, and the trojan war is one celebrated in the Greek tradgedies, we see Hekate taking the role of adoptress or mother of the underdog heroine or outcast; those whose side of the story will or can never be told.
Even Hekate herself can be considered a victim of transformation in the manner I have discussed, for according to Hesiod, in his catalog of Women, the Maiden Iphigenia, was sacrificed by her own father to appease the Goddess Artemis, but the Goddess felt sympathy for the maid and transformed her into “Hekate”. What Hesiod meant by this is unclear, obviously the knee jerk reaction is to assume that the girl literally became the Goddess Hekate; but I have harboured a small thought in my mind for a while, and I believe it is possibly supported by Euripides version of events portrayed in his two plays “Iphigenia in Aulis” and “Iphigenia in Tauris”. The former play describes the events around the slighting of Artemis and the girls sacrifice to aid her father, and how at the last minute the girl was whisked away by the Goddess and a deer left in her place, the latter then tells how Orestes, the maidens brother is sent by the God Apollo to Tauris to perform a task (again as recompense for a wrong doing) where upon we discover that the Priestess of Artemis is none other than Iphigenia herself.
What if by becoming a Priestess, the girl had in effect become Hekate; I have in my personal practise worked with the concept of “becoming Hekate”; the Chaldeans named Hekate as the world soul, and Theurgists strived to gain union with this divine essence; what if Iphigenias willing act of sacrifice allowed her to achieve, even momentarily, this union, this state of oneness with the divine?
Many Priests and Priestesses I know who name themselves as one of Hekates own, often place an emphasis on service, both to the Goddess and those around them who would strive to become closer and learn more; and her demands are often very precise, works of art and literature are often cited as being “by her command” and what better way to bring a soul closer to the divine than via the mediums which inspire and elevate the human condition.
Our transformations will obviously never be so physically profound as the anti-heroines of old, but that does not preclude them from being as meaningful, and with each little metamorphosis, perhaps, just perhaps, we will step one pace further towards becoming Hekate.