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Who's afraid of Hecate?

It seems that some of my comments with regard to Psychic Questing in the January issue of Pagan News have not gone unchallenged. Specifically, my comments about the Crone-Goddesses being described as 'hideous'. In case anyone out there thinks that I am in favour of all Goddesses being 'prettified' into some Laura-Ashley new-age standard, I had better elucidate the background to why I made those comments.

By way of qualification, I will say that I have been working regularly with Crone-Goddesses for the past ten years or so, and, like any other Pagan who has a close, devotional relationship with a Goddess or God, I suppose I am a bit sensitive to how they are described. The odd thing is, I didn't consciously seek out these Crones; Kali, Hecate, Morrigan and the others all came to me. Often (and this is still the case) when I am doing something completely different on a conscious level. By 'working with', I refer to works of Bhakti (devotion), invocation (solo and with other people), dreams, visions, and (rarely) direct physical manifestation. What I do find strange is that they don't seem to want me to devote the rest of their life to working in the magical system which they are a part of. At times the relationship is quite lengthy, and at others, only a couple of weeks, if that. Sometimes there's a slow build-up - Kali walked through my dreams for three months almost continually while I was going through a Zen phase, but that particular 'relationship' took two years to build to a peak. The Morrigan, however, just popped into my head, gave me a very detailed vision of being taken underground and being 'initiated' (she ripped an eye out and her parting shot was "next time it'll be your bollocks"), then promptly departed.

I've always got on well with the Crones. Yes they are powerful and terrible; very much so, but I don't think of them as 'harbingers' of evil' - which was the impression I received of them reading some of the Psychic Questing material. I will admit to being in fear of them, but I feel this to be only natural when a male is in direct psychic/physical contact with the most primal and awesome Goddesses. The fact that they turn up dripping with gore and tend to go in for initiation by gradual (or total) dismemberment, seems to be part of the deal. But it doesn't mean, to me at least, that we should reject them or 'demonise' them. In fact, when I think about it, no Goddess that I've ever worked with has been exactly 'polite' company. And why should they be, when you consider the state of the world at the moment.

I have noticed, over the years, an unwillingness on the part of some people to get into close contact with the Crones. And this cuts across all magical paths, from Wicca to Chaos magicians. Why? Pagans surely accept death and destruction as an aspect of nature - but perhaps there's a difference when the embodiment of death, night-fears, and female violence is howling round your house? It's certainly true that the Crones are severe; their tests of us are severe, and they've certainly given me a hard time, as they have other people I have known (both women and men). 'Their' ideas of initiatory trials are scary and often violent, but personally, I have always had the impression that it's like being in 'a refiner's fire' - and they do it to 'toughen' us up. One incident I remember very clearly was a woman friend who I was in a coven with. She was working with Diana. Okay, so Diana isn't a Crone; but she does carry a bow, she is typified as a 'huntress' so one would have thought that people'd get the impression that she isn't exactly 'nice'. I still don't know what this woman did to upset Diana, but whatever it was, it woke me up (I was about two miles away from her at the time) and the coven's High Priestess was on the phone to me next morning demanding to know what was going on - she'd been woken up as well, and she lived about seventy miles away.

You'll notice that I'm discussing these Goddesses in the 'real' sense, rather than them being 'archetypes' or 'symbols' for our own inner natures. That's because I've always related to them on a 'real' basis, and that's how they've always come across to me - as distinct personalities who almost never take into account human frailties or weaknesses. As one 'living crone' said to me once - "I'm eighty-four and I'm an old bitch, and I'm damned well going to be awkward because it's one of the few pleasures I've got left". Very reminiscient of Hecate, as I know her.

The Crones are not 'safe' to work with. They can certainly 'do your head in', and once or twice I've been aware of a very real physical threat - like being in a circle with a group of women who are raising Kali to give power to express their anger at male violence, for example. But they asked me to be there and I was honoured; scared? Yes, but it won't stop me doing it again.