Hecate is a complex deity with references throughout history as far back as 2 BCE. More recently a Greek deity from the Roman Gods & Goddesses that comprise the Greek pantheon, her history can also be traced back to the Thracians of Eastern Europe or the Carian of Asia Minor, modernly known as Turkey. Both cultures reference her as a Goddess of the Moon, Wilderness, and Childbirth. When she was transcended to the Greek pantheon many of her original associations were held onto as others were added through different authors’ stories and mythology. Once brought into the Greek pantheon, she acquired being known as the Goddess of sorcery and ghosts. She was worshipped as a Goddess of the Moon, Night, Dogs, Sorcery, and Ghosts as well as depicted as a guardian of doorways and crossroads. She holds several different roles, including earth goddess, queen of the underworld, and goddess of magic and witchcraft.
She was revered as the Queen of all Nature, being identified with Demeter, Persephone, and Rhea being the huntress and protector of youth is the same as Artemis, along with other mystic divinities; Cabeiri and Cuertes along with Apollo and the Muses. Some scholars have noted that Apollo was also mentioned as Hecatos and that Hecate may also be Apollo’s twin sister Artemis with the meaning of their names being “one who reaches far”
From the fifth century she was associated with the darker side of human life; Death, Witchcraft, Magic, Dreams, Fierce Hounds, and the creatures that roam the darkness of the night.
Some sources reference her as the daughter of Phoebe and Coeus who were part of the Titans, the ruling gods before Zeus and the Olympians defeated them and subsequently banished them to Tartarus. However, she was largely understood to be a Titan with loyalty to the Olympians.
In Hesiod, she is depicted as the daughter of Titan Perses and the nymph Asteria with power over Heaven, Earth, and Sea. She was known to bestow wealth and blessings over daily life with the power to also take or withhold them.
Another feature of Hecate is that she was also known as a spectral being that sent demons and terrible phantoms who taught sorcery and witchcraft and dwelt where two roads crossed, on tombs, and near the blood of murdered persons. She is also known to walk with the souls of the dead. As she approaches the sounds of whining and howling of dogs can be heard. The dog connection may be attributed to dogs eating the dead if they were left unburied and howling at the Moon. A further canine connection may be with the Egyptian god Anubis who guided souls to the underworld, and the Greek three-headed hound of Hades, Cerberus, may be an earlier form of Hecate.
The offerings to the goddess were made each month during the night of a new moon. The goddess was especially appealed to by sorceresses for aid in their magic and spells and appears on surviving examples of curse tablets. Much of her power is depicted as dark and menacing being associated with necromancy, witchcraft, and the occult. She has been connected to dark magic and disturbing rituals in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. She is one of the three witches that plot the downfall of Macbeth using early forms of black magic and witchcraft. the goddess is also referenced in the tragedy plays of Euripides and Sophocles, and in Virgil’s Aeneid where she acts as Sibyl’s guide in the Underworld.
Hecate appears to have been an ancient Thracian divinity and a Titan bestowing wealth, victory, wisdom, good luck to sailors and hunters, prosperity to youth, and flocks of cattle. However, these same blessings can also be withheld by Hecate if they were undeserved. Being the only Titan that retained the power while Zeus was ruler, she was honored by all immortal gods. As such, she also assisted them in their war with the Gigantes and slew Clythius
There is some confusion as to her lineage depending on the tradition or culture, she is the daughter of Persaeus (Perses) and Asteria where she is called Perseis. Other traditions describe her as the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and sent out by her father in search of Persephone. Still, others have her as the daughter of Zeus either by Pherea or Hera, while there are others that say she is the daughter of Leto or Tartarus.
The identifications with Demeter and Persephone are contained in the Homeric hymn to Demeter. According to the hymn, Hecate was the only divinity aside from Helios that had observed the abduction of Persephone by Hades. With her torch in hand, she went with Demeter to search for Demeter’s daughter Persephone. When she was found she remained with her as an attendant and companion. She then becomes a deity of the lower world, but not until the Greek tragedians.
In the lower capacity, she is a mighty and formidable divinity ruling over the souls of those who had passed on and being the goddess of purifications. She is accompanied by Stygian dogs and by Phorcys had become the mother of Scylla.
She was a goddess of magic and the underworld, but also a protector of the home and guardian of borders. As such she is also considered a liminal deity. Hecate is known as a mystical goddess with all the powers of nature. Witches who wanted her aid used the sacrifice of dogs, honey, and female black lambs were offered where three ways met, at crossroads, or in graveyards.
Her appearance is depicted as frightful with serpents hung and hissing around her shoulders. Later periods show her as three fold:
- Having 3 separate bodies and faces
- With a friendly dog, heads of a cow, dog, boar, serpent, horse
- Carrying a torch or key both reminders of being a night deity
- Guardian of the gates of Hades and Goddess of Boundaries
- Goddess with 3 bodies and 3 heads
- A single body with 3 heads
- 3 bodies with a single head
- The heads could be of a dog, lion, and horse which are all constellations that cover the calendar year.
It’s common to see her in images throughout the Acropolis of Athens on city walls, city gates, entrances to sacred sites, and doorways of private homes. It is believed that she acted as a protectress and warded off evil spirits.
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