Tremble Where Three Ways Meet

“I stand where three ways meet; two lie in view,
And I am pondering which I shall pursue.”
Theognis of Megara, Maxims (c. 500 B.C.)

Medea was, long ago, a princess in Colchis, a barbarian kingdom that lay to the lee of the Caucasus Mountains, east of the Euxine Sea.  When the Argonauts came to steal her father’s Golden Fleece, she lent them aid, fell in love with their captain, and returned to Corinth as Jason’s wife. But once Media had born him children, Jason’s eye began to rove; and when it at last settled on a young Greek princess, he resolved to discard his old accomplice.  Media refused to go quietly, and because her barbarian spirit was combined with the deadly herb-lore of a witch, she gave Jason a stupendous demonstration of the proposition that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Medea, Theodorus Ralii (c. 1900)

Medea impregnated a beautiful robe with a concoction of poisons, presented this to her young rival, and then exulted when the lovely girl, donning the robe, perished with groans of pain.  Her thirst for revenge un-slaked, Media then took a knife to the children she had born Jason, and when they were dead and she stood spattered with their gore, escaped to Athens to mix more potions and raise more hell.

You will not be surprised to hear that modern feminists look upon this this barbarian princess as a heroine. Medea is commended to the sisterhood by the fact that she betrayed her father for a bad boy, hated men when her rash marriage went awry, poisoned a young girl by witchcraft, and then spitefully slaughtered the fruit of her womb.  A feminist all-rounder!  What Euripides wrote as tragedy, feminists read as inspiring romance.

Medea, Anthony Frederick Sandys (1868)

Medea was a witch, and so, like all witches, a minion of Hecaté, goddess of darkness and consort of Hades (Pluto).  Hecaté is the queen of witches, not to mention the soul and spirit of female spite. Extoling herself to the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hecaté says:

    “I, the mistress of your charms,
The close contriver of all harms.”

As Hecaté was the mistress of the charms and harms of Medea, the vengeful barbarian invoked the goddess with these words in Euripides’ play:

“So help me She who of all Gods hath been
The best to me, of all my chosen queen
And helpmate Hecaté, who dwells apart,
The flame of flame, in my fire’s inmost heart.

Jesus is said to live in the heart of a Christian.  Hecaté dwells in the heart of a witch.

Witches are not the only minions of Hecaté, for the consort of Hades naturally commands fairies, demons and sprites.  Some say she is the Fairy Queen, and it is reasonable to suppose that these evil spirits are the agents of her charms and harms. When she places one of these spirits under the charge of a witch, we say it is that witch’s familiar.  Hecaté also rules the unquiet dead who rise from their graves to walk in the light of the dead and ghastly moon.  As Puck explains in Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Now the hungry lion roars,
And the wolf behowls the moon;
Whilst the heavy ploughman snores,
All with weary task fordone.
. . . .
Now it is the time of night,
That the graves, a gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite.
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies that do run
By the triple Hecate’s team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream
Now are frolic.”

Frolic here means happy, just as when the Germans say fröhlich, and Puck’s fairies and wraiths are frolic because night has fallen and their queen is come.

Nocturnal creatures also follow darkness like a dream, and so are numbered in the host of Hecaté. This explains the special fondness witches have for bats and cats and toads and mice. The demonic familiars of Shakespeare’s witches appear in the forms of a cat (Graymalkin), a toad (Paddock), and a bat (Harpier); and in an ancient oracle, Hecate especially request that her shrines be infested with mice, and splattered with their blood.

The goddess of the night circles the earth daily, driving a chariot drawn by a team of three dragons, and standing at every moment directly opposite the chariot of the sun god Apollo. As Apollo, the son of Zeus, is very often seen as an intimation of Christ, it is easy to see Hecaté as an Antichrist standing in perfect and perpetual opposition to “the light of the world.”  And the hour in which Hecaté’s chariot arrives is called, of course, the “witching hour.”  It is in this hour that hags dance with their familiars in the cold light of the dead moon. It is in this hour that the graves of the unquiet dead open and the sad wraiths stalk the land.  It is in this hour that lusty succubi couple with sleeping man, and priapic incubi get demon spawn upon their snoring wives.

Hecate is called the diva triformis, for her nature is triune. Trimorphus is another name.  While seated beside Hades as queen of the underworld, she bears the ghastly aspect of one who is dead.  Thus, Lucan asks her,

“By what sad bond thou lov’st the King of night;
How stained art thou that Ceres fears from hell
To call her daughter . . .”

Persephone (Proserpina) is the daughter of Demeter (Ceres) who Hades abducted and carried off to Hell, and who in his infernal palace bound herself to the Lord of night by eating a fruit that was forbidden.

Pluto Carrying off Proserpine, William Etty (c. 1840)

And thus it was that Hecate received her hideous and infernal form

                                                    “Hecaté,
Who to the gods in comely shape and mien,
Not that of Erebus, appear’st, shall come
Wasted and pallid as thou art in hell”

But as these lines suggest, Hecaté has other forms.  To the gods in heaven she shows the “comely shape and mien” of Selene (Luna), goddess of the Moon.  Comely, yes, and shapely, but also cold and lifeless and confined to the night.  We may suppose it was in this form that Hecaté perfected the trick of the succubi, for it was as such that she was wont to ravish the sleeping lad Endymion.

On earth, Hecaté takes the form of Artemis (Diana), the twin of Apollo and goddess of the hunt who was possessed of what one writer called “fierce virginity.”  This pungent phrase was most likely coined by Oscar Wilde, who in “The Garden of Eros” spoke of the “fierce virginity” of Atalanta, a mythic female hunter devoted to Artemis.  The “fierce virginity” of Artemis is of course evident in the homicidal fury with which she answered the gaze of Acteon when he stumbled upon her bath, and it suggests not so much a holy chastity as a frigid aversion to men.

Diana and Acteon, Jean-Léon Gérôme (c. 1895).

I trust you have begun to see why I said Hecaté is the soul and spirit of female spite, for misandry fires all of her forms.  Even when she ravishes Endymion in the form of Selene, she seems to betray something akin to a necrophilic wish that he were dead.  Lust can sometimes overcome Hecaté’s natural aversion to men, but when desire dies, she is trapped in hateful marriages.  She is Persephone bound to Hades in Hell, or Media bound to Jason in a Greek city that despises her as a barbarian.

The Sleep of Endymion, Noël-Nicolas Coypel III (c. 1725)

 

* * * * *

Hecaté was worshiped at the crossroads, or as the ancients said in triviis.  This is why she was sometimes called Hecaté Trivia, or Hecaté of the three ways.  Our word trivia comes from the trifles that one can pick up at a crossroads (the metaphorical “water cooler”) from the beggars, buskers and idlers who gather in such places.  But Hecaté was not the goddess of fripperies. She was called Hecaté Trivia because there is always something dreadful about a fork in the road.

A fork in the road is a place of decision, and when men worshiped Hecaté in triviis, they prayed she would not draw them down the wrong road to their doom.  (Christians too easily forget that most men have prayed to devils out of fear.)

“I stand where three ways meet; two lie in view,
And I am pondering which I shall pursue.”
Theognis of Megara, Maxims (c. 500 B.C.)

“Please, Hecaté [you spiteful and misandrist Queen of night], do not draw me down the road to destruction. Do not do to me what you did to poor Macbeth when you vowed,

‘[I] Shall raise such artificial sprites,
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to his confusion.’”

There are two great classical myths of dreadful decisions at a fork in the road—decisions the very opposite of what we call trivial.  In Xenophon’s “Choice of Hercules,” the hero comes to a fork where voluptuous Venus points him down one road, and stern Athena down the other.  Hercules took the road less traveled, and as Robert Frost would write many years later, “that made all the difference.”

Hercules at the Crossroads, Pietro Benvenuti (1828)

In Oedipus Tyrannus, the doomed hero unknowingly slays his father where “two separate roads converge in one.”  Then taking one of those roads, Oedipus goes on to wed his mother Jocasta and “produce a race intolerable for men to see.”  Hecaté destroyed this man at that most dreadful fork in the road.

Because crossroads were a symbol of dreadful decision, they long served as the burial ground of suicides.  Putting an end to one’s life was the most dreadful decision, since once a man’s foot was set to that road, he could not turn back. And once he set his foot to that road, he also enlisted in the host of Hecate, for to die unhappy was to join the unquiet dead.

If you have read Thomas Hardy’s short story “The Grave by the Handpost” (1897), you know it was long customary to drive a stake through the heart of a suicide buried at a crossroad. Without this precaution, the poor sinner would rise in the witching hour, when his queen rode through the sky.  Best to pin him down.  As Amy Lowell said in “The Cross-Roads” (1916), “he’ll never walk with a bullet in his heart, and an ash stick nailing him to the cold, black ground.”

10 thoughts on “Tremble Where Three Ways Meet

  1. Pingback: Tremble Where Three Ways Meet | Reaction Times

  2. Misogyny…misandry…

    I’m not fond of either term (or perhaps just they way the terms are generally bandied), but it’s interesting to note that the historical type bears witness that misandry was more of an understood reality than was misogyny. Unlike the current year, of course, but of course I’m not surprised that the current year does not easily track with historical understandings.

  3. These sorts of ‘trivial’ cultural exigeses are a peculiar exellence of yours, good sir.

    I see much good in the old ways of treating suicides. These days it is downright difficult to convince the Church not to bury someone in hallowed ground; all this talk of ‘mental illness’ and ‘the extreme possibility of redemption’ gets in the way. And yes, I freely recognize that apparent suicides can happen as a product of either prolonged or momentary unreason, or that the last moments of a man’s life may be spent in an agony of repentance even as the lifesblood leaves the shattered frame.

    However. There are disadvantages, too, to this new stance of self-described mercy.

    It is the Church’s role to draw distinctions. “This way,” She tells us in no uncertain words, “lies Hell. Death, destruction, and damnation.” Compare the moral force of this argument when She draws back at the last moment, and coyly intimates that yes, what She has said is true, but you would be hard-pressed to put your finger on any given case of it, to the point it may never, in fact, have actually happened. Compare that, I say, with the forceful, even manly decisiveness of a Church which says, “This man was by all appearances a suicide. Thus he should be treated as such, subject to all the ecclesiastical penalties and given over to the local customs in these cases, which we encourage to be dire to mark such a man and his actions in your hearts and minds for generations to come.”

    Which is likely to deter more suicide? And as important, which is more likely to be right, most of the time? Which is more in line with the actual movements of justice?

    It’s rather like all the arguments that start with agreeing that divorced and remarried unrepentant Catholics should not take communion, but go on to claim it’s impossible to know who these people really are. Public objective sins require public objective consequences.

    • Thanks. Your comments on the Church’s treatment of apparent suicides are interesting. What the permissive Church apparently forgets is that it will hardly matter to the repentant sinner if the Church gets it wrong. If he is, in fact, not damned, then the fact that folks back on earth say he was will not matter in the least. I understand that it will matter to surviving friends and relatives, and have no readymade answer to their predicament. I think it would involve telling those survivors that their loved one’s state is not known with certainty, and they may therefore continue to hope and pray, but that the Church must proceed on the preponderance of the evidence.

      • And that if they have any evidence to the contrary, being the close associates of this apparent suicide, the Church would be more than happy to hear it.

  4. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkaton 03/02/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

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