Hecate’s Guiding Flame: A Mythical Perspective at the Crossroads of Addiction and Recovery
by Tricia Durni

In us is also a dark angel (Hekate was also called angelos), a consciousness (and she was called phosphorous) that shines in the dark and that witnesses such events because it already is aware of them a priori. This part has an a priori connection with the Underworld through sniffing dogs and bitchery, dark moons, ghosts, garbage, and poisons. Part of us is not dragged down but always lives there, as Hekate is partly an Underworld Goddess. From this vantage point we may observe our own catastrophes with a dark wisdom that expects little else.—James Hillman, 1979, pp. 49-50

desperate dark Lonely angelHecate, companion of the dark nights of the soul, keeper of the crossroads of the Underworld and depicted as “carrying a light in her hand” (Athanassakis & Wolkow, 2013, p. 73) has the unrealized potential to be an imaginal figure who can become part of a stronger support for those recovering from addiction. At the heart of archetypal psychologist’s James Hillman’s work is an emphasis on the importance of mythical thinking. He maintains that as one seeks out in search of meaning and soul that we are bound to find ourselves intertwined with mythic figures, such as gods and goddesses, and they inherently become more psychologically relatable (Hillman, 1980, p. vi). This means moving beyond seeing the gods and goddesses as not only literal figures but also as styles of consciousness. Drawing on the archetypal psychology of James Hillman (1972, 1975, 1979), this paper seeks to show how this way of thinking is present in our relationships and dealings with others, in our ways of being in the world, and in our behaviors specifically in the lives of addicts seeking recovery through a careful consideration of the Underworld goddess, Hecate.

Hecate’s myth encompasses many layers, far too many to fit within the confines of this paper. This paper will specifically explore Hecate’s role as a part-time goddess of the Underworld, her many gifts, and the tools she was given; a key, torches, rope, and dagger to aid in her journey. But that would not be enough. Hecate demands more attention. To put it another way, this paper will examine the intertwining of the myth of Hecate as a keeper of the crossroads in addiction and recovery.

An examination of the literature has shown that little attention is given to this powerful goddess and the tools that she is gifted. Therefore, this paper calls for a remedy to this neglect through an imaginal exploration of the literature of Narcotics Anonymous to bring forth the tools of Hecate that are embedded in the “Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.” As well as the ways in which Hecate’s consciousness is present in the journey from the Underworld of addiction to the Upperworld of recovery. Thus, it is vital that I include my own personal experience of how Hecate herself can be perceived as a guide for those recovering from the Underworld of addiction. For the purpose of this paper the term addict will be used with neither judgment nor disparity but merely to describe a person with an addiction to drugs.

To situate the intermingling of depth psychological underpinnings within the framework of Narcotics Anonymous literature, concepts, and traditions I offer a brief overview: Narcotics Anonymous, referred to as NA throughout the rest of this article. NA is an internationally known community that is comprised of people who have suffered the struggles of the “dark night of the soul” (Moore, 2004) that is drug addiction. Narcotics Anonymous formally held its first meetings in Southern California in 1953, although its establishment predates circa 1944. It is known within such circles, that NA was an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose groundwork was influenced by a founding member’s relationship and council with Depth psychologist, Carl Jung (Jung, 1961/1976; Schoen, 2009).

However, while the program of Narcotics Anonymous has served those on the road to recovery, there are others who often shy away from the programs offerings. This is due largely in part to the masculine and monotheistic tone found within the programs’ literature and language and its emphasis on their use of the word, “God.” In offering Hecate’s myth within the framework of Narcotics Anonymous, this paper extends a shift in perception of the experience of addiction and recovery and seeks to reclaim a polytheistic perspective and potential healing of the feminine energy once cast into the shadows by Christianity.

Finding Hecate

We live life in a field of mythic imagination. We put mythological glasses on to become conscious.

— Glen Slater, 2013

To find Hecate in the world around us, we need to be curious about the ways in which we imagine our world. As was mentioned previously, this takes seeing through things in a mythical way. In order to make this movement we need to access a different way of imagining. Poet William Blake tells us, “imagination is the human existence itself” (as cited in Avens, 2003, p. 25). However, as adults in our society imagination has been devalued and even dismissed. Often told as we grow from children into adolescents that the way in which we perceive the world is “only in our imagination” and that we need to “live in reality.” In this dampening down of our imagination, we are in essence ignoring the gods and their myths. Rather than trying to concretize our lives into the pretty little boxes of “reality” we could instead ask ourselves, “What god is speaking right now?” or “What particular god consciousness is appearing in this moment?” This is not to say that the answer to these questions will provide us with a “right” way of being in the world but rather provide us with a means to look deeper into a particular situation, moment, or challenge.

For Hillman (1992), it is through perceiving myths metaphorically in our lives that we can open ourselves to a deeper inquiry (p. 158). Therefore, mythic imagination offers us a connection to both a deeper personal and collective attitude. In other words, we can become inquisitive into the role of Hecate consciousness that exists within the background of Narcotics Anonymous, the individual addict, and the path from addiction into recovery.

Hecate is the goddess of the Underworld and companion of dark nights of the soul and goddess of the waning moon, also called the dark moon, a time of death, sickness, and destruction (Harding, 1971). I experienced this destruction firsthand and Hecate’s guiding flame began to flicker at one of the darkest moments of my life, although I did not know it was Hecate consciousness at the time. As I struggled to open my eyes, my lids so heavy as if they had weights attached to them, I reached my hand for the bottle of pills that had been my trusty companion these last few days. I did not want to be awake. I did not want to die because that would be too much work. I simply wanted to sleep the days away in a haze of beautiful benzodiazepine bliss. But alas, my friends were all gone. I had nowhere left to go, nowhere left to turn; the road was dark and dismal with no end in sight, no light ahead. I made my way to my therapy appointment and the kind and gentle man that had been my guide for nearly two years took one look at me that day and was afraid for my life.

He directed me to a woman, an addiction counselor, who gave me two options; either go to treatment or go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I chose the latter and the fog began to lift. There is not much I recall in the midst of the misty haze of those first few days, but I remember a sense of inner pulling or gentle pushing guiding me on. It was as if Hecate with her loveliness and burning torches were showing me a new path. Mythology scholar, Safron Rossi (2014) encourages us to “recognize the gods within our emotions, ideas, complexes, and events” (n.p.). It was in recalling this moment that I was able to recognize Hecate with her three-sided vision, not only in my addiction and at my crossroads as I moved into the path of recovery but as an inner companion that had been with me and guiding me all along in the darkness.

Meeting Hecate

Hecate is the goddess of the night, witchcraft, magic, and the moon. She was the daughter of Titans Persaeus (Destroyer) and Asteria (Starry One), thus holding both the dark and the light within her being. In some references she is seen as the daughter or Nyx (Night). As their only daughter she was referred to as “tender-hearted” and surpassed her father in boldness and lawlessness” (‘Hecate,’ 2015, para. 13). Hecate is depicted with three faces. Psychologist and author, Ginette Paris (1986) recognizes this triad as the three phases of the moon: Selene (full moon), Artemis (crescent moon), and Hecate (terrifying black moon) also called the new moon (p. 122). Put differently, these three phases could symbolize Hecate’s ability to perceive the past, the present, and the future.

Hecate was said to have been the only one to hear Persephone/Kore’s cries when Hades abducted her into the Underworld. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter says:

She screamed in a shrill voice calling for Zeus, her supreme and powerful father. But nobody, no one of the immortals, no one of mortal men, heard her voice . . . except Hecate, daughter of Persaeus, in her bright headband, alone in her tenderness. (Boer, 2006, p. 112)

Kore’s mother, Demeter, is overcome with grief. She can hear Kore’s cries but cannot find her. She goes off in search of her and it is Hecate who comes to her aid. “But when dawn ten appeared, luminous, Hecate encountered her, holding a light in her hand and bringing her news . . . . I heard a voice but I didn’t see with my eyes who it was” (Boer, 2006, pp. 115-116). It is Hecate with her two torches that guides Demeter to find her daughter who has now matured to Persephone, as she has become Queen of the Underworld and wife to Hades. And it is also Hecate who acts as a companion to Persephone when she resides in the Underworld and returns to the Upperworld during Spring. “Then Hecate came up to them, in her bright headband, and she showed much affection for the daughter of sacred Demeter. And from that day on that lady precedes and follows Persephone” (Boer, 2006, p. 156).

Hecate serves as a companion during those transitional stages of our lives when we do not know in which way to go. She lays in wait with her two torches to guide us, whether it is as a companion in the Underworld or to light the way to the Upperworld. We alone choose the way; she does not choose it for us. She waits for the cry for help, just as she did with Demeter and Persephone. She reveals to us what is already there that we cannot see.

Hecate witnesses events “a priori” (Hillman, 1979, p. 49), she encompasses knowingness through understanding rather than observation. This knowingness comes from the possession of a dark sense of sight, a night vision. When you live in the darkness, as Hecate does, your eyes begin to adjust to the shadows and your sensibility becomes more acute, more attune. You are forced to rely on your own senses, your own way of perceiving in order to navigate about the darkness. I think about this when I am going to sleep at night and turn the lights out; during those first few moments I am in total darkness, almost blind, and if I try to move about I risk running into the objects around me. But over time, I begin to settle into this new space. The darkness becomes ever so slightly more revealing. I begin to surrender myself to this new vision and trust my intuition to guide my way on.

This is Hecate’s vision. She was the one who knew where Persephone was even though she could not see her because she is comfortable in the dark. As addicts, this darkness becomes so familiar. It is as if it is like a warm blanket that comforts and soothes. As Hillman (1979) points out, “part of us always lives there” (p. 49). That is to say that this darkness lies within us, not coming from any exterior place but an interiority that is necessary and essential to who you are as a human. We must experience the darkness to have the light; just as Hecate was born of the Destroyer and the Starry One, so does the addict embody both light and dark.

Hecate consciousness is present in the individual addict approaching that decisive moment of desperation when trapped at the crossroads and you realize that you cannot keep diving down into the drug riddled depths, the present is filled with fear, and the future is too dim. It is in that moment that Hecate, bringer of light in dark times, can provide the inner wisdom needed to make a change.

Hecate’s Tools

Hecate is mostly noted for the torches she bears to help light the paths of those coming into the Underworld and in their ascent into the Upperworld. However, she also possesses other tools that aid in her role such as the key, the dagger, and the rope. We all need tools to accompany us throughout our journey. Tools to assist us when we need just a little extra help that we maybe cannot achieve on our own. Narcotics Anonymous is commonly known as a “Twelve Step” organization. What this means is that they utilize a series of 12 steps for the individual addict to read about, write about, and integrate into their daily lives. These steps act as tools to aid the individual addict on the road to recovery. In The Basic Text (Narcotics Anonymous, 1988) it states, “we make use of the tools that have worked for other recovering addicts. The Twelve Steps are positive tools that make our recovery possible” (p. 10).

Torch

Hecate has a connection to the Underworld as a navigating companion and also a guide into the Upperworld. Hecate was a torch-bearing goddess of the night (‘Hecate,’ 2015, para. 2) whose torches helped to guide the way not only for Demeter to find Persephone but also to accompany Persephone as she remained in the Underworld. In the chapter of The Basic Text, “How It Works,” it is stated that, “one addict helping another is without parallel . . . for one addict can best understand and help another addict” (Narcotics Anonymous, 1988, p. 18). This movement acts as a guiding flame for those new to recovery and meandering their way about this newfound life. In the meetings of Narcotics Anonymous, members are asked to share their experiences as addicts in addiction and recovery, their strength as they move through their daily lives without using drugs, and their hope for a new way to be in the world with other members of the community.

It is in this sharing of experiences and finding the similarities that Hecate’s bright light shines. The members of NA that have come before know the pain and suffering that is endured in the underbelly of the Underworld of addiction. The hope and strength that is offered sheds light into a dark deep abyss thereby illuminating the path ahead when one cannot yet light it themselves.

Before I found Narcotics Anonymous, I wandered down many roads. I tried to stop using drugs on my own. I sought help through psychiatry and searched for solace in religion. All of which had the same result, I always went back to using drugs within a certain period of time and the devastation continued in my life. I was unable to find any strength to stop. Over time, I just came to believe that I was destined to live a life of misery, those were just the “cards” I was dealt. I succumbed to the sickeningly sweet surrender in the substances that continued to swallow me whole into the darkness. But as I emerged that one-day, a day just like any other day, I found myself in a strange place and surrounded by strange people in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. As each person shared their “story” a small light began to ignite and that light grew brighter and brighter as they told of their joys, their pain, their happiness, and sadness but all the while able to maintain abstinence from drugs. A feat I never knew existed. Hecate’s guiding flames illuminated my life and set out to presenting a new way to live.

 

Key

As mistress of the way down and of the lower way, she has for her symbol the key

—(Neumann, 1955/1972, p. 170).

 

Keys open locks and unlock doors. Keys are known to unlock secrets, give explanations, or provide solutions. As Hecate’s key opens the gates for the Underworld, so do the first three Steps of Narcotics Anonymous open the gates from addiction into recovery. “Working the steps . . . gives us a daily reprieve from our self-imposed life sentences. We become free to live” (Narcotics Anonymous, 1988, p. 11). Moreover, if we imagine into these steps we can see them as keys to unlocking the secrets to living life without using drugs.

Steps One Through Three.
In active addiction, I felt powerless over my use of drugs and their absolute hold over every aspect of my life. I was unable to manage my work, my family, my relationships, and most of all my drug use. In Step One (Appendix A) “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction that our lives had become unmanageable.” Here powerlessness and unmanageability are referred to in the past tense. Thus implying that the power has now been given back to me. A solution had provided itself through my admission as an addict. By accepting the darkness as a part of me rather than something that needs to be fixed or split off, I was able to find comfort in the fact that I was not just destined for a life of doom. A new door was opened.

Steps Two and Three (Appendix A) further open more unlocked doors. In both of these steps we see the ways in which the addict can continue to reclaim the power over their lives. This unfold in three ways; the addict taking action in coming to believe in an outside power that is greater than oneself, the implication that sanity was once present and could be rebuilt again, and making the decision to turn their lives over to the care of something greater than themselves. This reclamation and decision making again evoke the powerful consciousness of Hecate and the trusting of one’s inner knowing in which way to go.

Dagger

The ultimate weapon for recovery is the recovering addict.

— (Narcotics Anonymous, 1988, p. 15).

 

We could view the dagger from a few different perspectives. A dagger can be used to harm or to protect. It can be wielded to penetrate and cut through the bullshit lies that build up and infect the mind of an addict in active addiction. After going through the first three steps and having gained a newfound repossession of one’s self-power, you are armed for battle against fearlessly facing the work that is before you. In essence, you become your own warrior against the darkness. In her book, Goddesses in Older Women, Jungian analyst, Jean Shinoda-Bolen (2001), claims that Hecate’s dagger came to be a ritual power symbol that is able to cut through delusions (p. 49). As the addict is able to share the refuse that surrounded them in active addiction with another addict and become humbly ready and willing to release that trash, the delusions are cut away.

Steps Four Through Nine.
Step Four (Appendix A) begins the journey of looking inward as it calls for a “searching and fearless moral inventory” (Narcotics Anonymous, 1988, p. 27). Steps Five through Nine (Appendix A) ask the addict to dig even deeper to evaluate their wrongdoings towards themselves and others, their character defects and shortcomings, and the people that were harmed during their addiction. Hecate is the goddess of “garbage” and “poisons” (Hillman, 1979, p. 50). There is no question that the life of an addict is filled with just such things. Much like the rituals for Hecate where the townspeople would leave their food and trash as offerings for her, the recovering addict seeks to get rid of the garbage of the past to clear away for the new journey of recovery.

These six steps are of vital importance to maintaining a life of abstinence from addiction. In active addiction, one’s characters defects and shortcomings acted as a means of defensive protection offering survival through otherwise dangerous times. One might be more willing to keep this coat of armor with them as they traverse the road to recovery but this armor can weigh you down. “One thing more than anything that will defeat us . . . is an attitude of indifference or intolerance towards spiritual principles” (Narcotics Anonymous, 1993, p. 17). It is for this reason that the addict should remain steadfast on his journey and keep searching for more tools.

Rope

Hecate’s rope is not one of binding or tethering but “is a symbol of the umbilical cord of rebirth” (Shinoda-Bolen, 2001, p. 49). In the mother’s womb the umbilical cord is an outlet for the developing baby to provide it with the life force it will need to sustain itself once outside of the womb. The power in these remaining steps offers the sustenance and nourishment that is needed for a newly reborn recovering addict.

Hecate as the Dark Moon goddess is not limited to death and destruction but also to renewal and rebirth. With life comes death and with death comes life. However, in our society we have come to associate the darkness with fear and negativity. All that which is unknown, hidden, or uncertain is met with pain, panic, and fright. Yet, there is a liberation that comes after having traveled the dark recesses of Hades and being guided out into the light. It is as if life has begun anew.

Steps Ten Through Twelve.
Steps Ten through Twelve (Appendix A) facilitate the rebirth and renewal through a daily self-examination, searching to bring a conscious awareness to life, and sharing this awareness with other suffering addicts.

After coming to find Narcotics Anonymous I felt as though I was being born-again. There were so many treasures and gifts in life that I never knew were available to me. Even in the most simple of things. Such as listening to the birds sing outside my window in the early morning sunshine, a sound that once would send me cringing into the corners covering my ears and shutting my eyes as tight as I could possibly could shut them. As it meant that another morning had dawned and I had yet another day to face trapped in the darkness of my addiction. Now this sublime sound filled me with overwhelming joy to the potentiality that was to come with the new day ahead. I felt as though I was experiencing many things for the very first time, every day. Even now, more than ten years later I am still amazed at the newness that each day can bring to me when I am not enveloped by the everlasting quest to be numb.

Knowing Hecate

As I circle back to the beginning of this work and the intention that was set, to mythically imagine into the gods, or in this case the goddesses at play, one thing has become quite clear. It was Hecate herself who demanded that she be seen and known in order to get the attention that she is so deserving of. In a moment of deep frustration and anguish, I screamed for help unable to hold back the tears. Hillman (1975) once said that what the gods want most is to be remembered. Hecate did just this as she showed herself to me, in her loveliness with her compassion and guiding flames to show me what was already there. I already possessed the inner knowing that I was always in search of.

We imagine the gods in an addict’s behaviors as modes of consciousness that present themselves as guiding spirits (Hillman, 1992, p. 35) and can be of service to the gods through the insights they offer into our sufferings. Thereby seeking to bring healing to the feminine energies. As we come to know Hecate, just as we would a new friend, we can glean some of the gifts that she bestows such as honesty, trust, faith, courage, surrender, compassion, perseverance, and willingness that are also found within the principles that underscore the “Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.”

Hecate embodies an inner wisdom and strength that comes to those that know the darkness well, representing that which is seen and not seen, and known and unknowable. Within the community of Narcotics Anonymous, this intuition and dark night vision is a unique sensibility that serves not only to guide us when we are in the depths of addiction but also to assist others that they might not be alone in the dark as they seek recovery. This requires trusting in oneself and paying attention to the truth that lies within us. It is in knowing that Hecate’s guiding flame will be there to show us the way, that her key will unlock secrets once thought to be unattainable, her dagger provides us with protection and the ability to cut through the lies of the past, and her rope gives the addict the sustenance to fuel us in this newly formed way of living. In this way, we can see through the monotheistic emphasis found in Narcotics Anonymous with its singular “God” approach to the many gods and goddesses whose symbols can be found within its literature. Hecate lives at the liminal crossroads between dreaming and waking, consciousness and unconsciousness, and death and rebirth. These are the crossroads of addiction and recovery.

 

 

References

Avens, R. (2003). The new gnosis: Heidegger, Hillman, and angels. Putnam, CT: Spring.

Harding, M. E. (1971). Women’s mysteries: ancient & modern. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Hecate. (2015). Hecate goddess. Retrieved from http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Hekate.html

Hillman, J. (1972). The myth of analysis: Three essays in archetypal psychology. Toronto, Canada: Northwestern University Press.

Hillman, J. (1975). Re-Visioning psychology. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

Hillman, J. (1979). The dream and the underworld. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Hillman, J. (1980). Facing the gods. Dallas, TX: Spring.

Hillman, J. (1992). Re-visioning psychology. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

Jung, C. G. (1976). Letters, Vol. 2: 1951-1961. (G. Adler, Ed.) (J. Hulen, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1961)

Moore, T. (2004). Dark nights of the soul: A guide to finding your way through life’s ordeals. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

Narcotics Anonymous. (1988). Basic text: Narcotics Anonymous (5th ed.). Chatsworth, CA: Narcotics Anonymous World Services.

Narcotics Anonymous. (1993). It works how and why: The twelve steps of Narcotics Anonymous. Chatsworth, CA: Narcotics Anonymous World Services.

Neumann, E. (1972). The great mother: An analysis of the archetype. (R. Manheim, Trans.). New York, NY: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1955)

Paris, G. (1986). Pagan meditations: The worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia. Putnam, CT: Spring.

Rossi, S. (2014). Myth in depth psychology: Charming Proteus. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from Pacifica Graduate Institute Course DJA815. Desire2Learn site.

Schoen, D. E. (2009). The war of the gods in addiction: C. G. Jung, Alcoholics Anonymous, and archetypal evil. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal.

Shinoda-Bolen, J. (2001). Goddesses in older women: Archetypes in women over fifty. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Shinoda-Bolen, J. (2004). Goddesses in everywoman: Powerful archetypes in women’s lives. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Slater, G. (2013). A psychology of perspective. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from Pacifica Graduate Institute Course DJA730. Desire2Learn site.

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The Orphic hymns (A. Athanassakis, & B. Wolkow, Trans.). (2013). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

 

Appendix A

The 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us, and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

 

 

Tricia Durni, M.A., is a doctoral candidate in Jungian and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute and Residential Manager at a drug and alcohol treatment center in Malibu, CA. She is passionate about finding ways in which archetypal imagination can facilitate healing of psyche and body and in teaching others how to integrate these practices into their lives as she has come to find imagination feeds the soul.  As a member of a 12-step program in active recovery for over 11 years, Tricia intimately understands that addiction is not merely a physical condition but also a spiritual one.
 

 

 

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