If You Meet Hecate on the Road…Kill Her?

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

“If you meet Hecate on the road…kill her.” Sounds rather harsh. “Don’t you love Hecate, Christopher?” Yes, I do. “Then why would you advocate her murder?” Well, I don’t think for a moment that I, or you, can kill Hecate, but I think our ideas, our certainties, around the mystery and manifestation of the gods can be detrimental to our growth, and it’s only been getting worse in modern Paganism and Witchcraft.

I am sure many of you recognize this as a play on the Zen Buddhist koan “If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him.” This popular variation comes from the original “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” Attributed to the founder of the Rinzai sect, Master Linji, it doesn’t advocate murder but instead encourages us to destroy our preconceived idea of the Buddha and return to the practice. Anything we can conceive as clear and complete about Buddhahood is by its very nature unclear and incomplete, for according to the Tao Te Ching, “the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” If you think you have it all figured out, you are just showing that you don’t. Can you realize that and keep moving toward truth?

When we get fixated on our idea of a thing, we stop experiencing it as it is. Today we can easily quote facts and sources, yet still fail to digest and integrate all the knowledge. We regurgitate others’ opinions in an effort to “win” instead of soul searching our own beliefs and realizing it is a never-ending quest.

This happens in Witchcraft. Sometimes we elevate a teacher or elder to this status of ideal. We seek to be a Witch like them rather than our most perfected self. Better to do your Dharma, your will and work, imperfectly than to do another’s Dharma perfectly.

Sometimes we fixate upon a tradition, a system, or a specific culture and time period. We think we have found “it,” yet our “it” can never be someone else’s. These things provide an initial framework and can support you, but you must experience their techniques and not get too lost in their identity or history. We are all seeking that simple thing that will end the quest, but the quest is never ending as long as you are in flesh.

And sometimes we fixate upon a deity. While any deity can be worthy of veneration and relationship, the mystical, magickal priesthood has a different relationship with the divine than the pious religionist. We seek the mystery embodied in the god. The past and present manifestation of the gods are helpful, but the god-human relationship, and therefore the manifestation, is ever changing. We often fixate and pin ourselves on the most recent manifestation, which can help for a time, but then hinder.

I seek Hecate as Witch Queen and Cosmic World Soul. Ideas around her have changed over the centuries and are changing again. Can you pin down definitively what she is? I don’t think so. The past can indicate the current arc but the deity, ideally like us, is moving. While the mystery behind the deity is eternal and is what we seek, the form is our interface. As we individually and collectively change, so will the form. A religion or god that fails to change to address the changing needs of the people will calcify or whither.

Those who seek to fix the god to the past–or worse yet, police others’ experiences and ideas—have met the Buddha on the road. They will either becomes fascinated with their idea and never go further on their own unique path, or they will kill the Buddha, the Hecate, the Witch, and return to the magick. The god, or idea, that needs to be policed or defended in such a way is not worthy. The powers make themselves known, albeit slowly across time. Those powers that are defending and policed by orthodoxy become monsters.

We may need to “kill” in such a way many times upon our spiritual path. The ability to release our certainty to the mystery is key to our magickal evolution, so be prepared to release and you will find things you cannot yet imagine. Do not be daunted. We often say the crooked path is one of healing and hexing, curing and cursing; it also requires killing. Realize the most necessarily killing is of our internal beliefs, ideas, and images that no longer serve and limit us. Be bold! And kill the orthodox ideal to find the mystery hidden within.

Temple of Witchcraft