Hecate History, Theology, Mythology

Goddess Hecate

Theology, Mythology, History

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.

References

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Thanks for sharing @Susurrus!

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@Susurrus love all of this amazing info. Thanks for sharing lovey

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You are very welcome! She is a popular deity within the forum, so I thought a good deep dive in sections for Her would be beneficial then I will gather all the posts referencing her & do a post like the Rune & Chakra Information posts so it’s easy to find!

Thank you so much for reading & enjoying it! :dizzy: :revolving_hearts: :hugs:

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A wonderful and resourceful post as always :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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Thank you! There will be more on Her, I just have to figure it out in my head first :laughing:

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Thanks! Very informative. :slight_smile:

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You’re very welcome :revolving_hearts: I hope it helped you with your knowledge of Hecate.

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Oh, most definitely!

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You mentioned The Theogony of Hesiod, which also describes Hekate as highly respected by Zeus above all others. This is where I recall reading about Hekate’s involvement in an intriguing story. It tells of Hekate stealing Hera’s beauty salve and giving it to her rival, Europa. This act enraged Hera, leading to her pursuit of Hekate. Hekate’s escape took her through a series of significant events. First, she sought refuge at the bedside of a woman during childbirth. Then, she joined a funeral procession, and ultimately, she found herself at Lake Acheron in Hades, where the Cabeiri cleansed her. This transformation left Hekate more powerful, solidifying her status as a goddess associated with birth, death, and purification.

This remarkable journey is thought to be why she governs the passages between the realms of life and death and is often invoked by necromancers.

Another approach considers how Hekate assumes a transformative role, cleansing us not from the impediments to finding peace in death but rather from the obstacles that hinder our progression in life. While it’s certainly not her sole function, this aspect is intrinsic to her essence. There come moments when we must release and let go of the burdens we place upon ourselves, shedding the baggage that accompanies our life choices. More often than not, it’s about granting ourselves the peace to coexist harmoniously with our own selves rather than seeking penance from a deity. Hekate offers a pathway to achieve this, allowing us to confront the abyss and liberate ourselves from the pains of the past or the unhealthy expectations we impose on ourselves.

In the ancient Greek context, the closest concept to what we now refer to as “sin” would have been “miasma.” Miasma is a contagious force that possesses its own vitality. It represents impurity resulting from the actions of an individual or a community. Until proper sacrifices are made and the impurity is purged, the wrongdoer, or even an entire society, was believed to be afflicted, leading to ensuing catastrophes. There existed no notion of non-contagious religious danger in Greek belief. Some dangers were commonly seen as transmissible through contact, while others threatened the descendants of the guilty party.

Consequently, every member of a community, in principle, lived under the spectre of suffering for the transgressions of their neighbours. How divine wrath could manifest against a community was diverse. The contamination of miasma was thought to have afflicted the Atreus family and was regarded as the root cause of several violent crimes, with one leading to and exacerbating another.

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You also mentioned offerings made each month during the night of a new moon. This might be in reference to the Athenians who paid regular homage to Hekate through a monthly ritual known as the deipnon. The term “deipnon” translates to “evening meal,” signifying the day’s final meal. Food offerings were set out for Hekate and the restless departed during this ceremony. The purpose of this gesture was twofold: it served to cleanse the household, expiating any wrongdoings committed by its members, while also seeking Hekate’s favour and appeasing the spirits residing under her patronage. These meals were typically arranged at crossroads or shrines dedicated to Hekate, positioned at the entrances to homes.

Playwright Aristophanes humorously commented on these offerings, stating, “Ask Hekate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month and that the poor make it disappear before it is even served.” Presumably, the less fortunate individuals would consume the food left out for the goddess, a practice aligned with Hekate’s association with those living on the fringes of society.

The deipnon ritual took place on the last day of the Athenian calendar, and some contemporary devotees have adopted it as a monthly practice to honour Hekate. However, it’s essential to recognise that the Attic, or Athenian calendar, differed from the calendars of neighbouring city-states. Each Greek city-state had its unique calendar system for religious observances and civic activities, making equating Ancient Greek dates with modern ones challenging. In the Attic calendar, the deipnon marked the conclusion of their monthly lunar cycle and coincided with the new moon phase.

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Also, apart from her sanctuaries in Caria (a region of western Anatolia) and Colchis (present-day western Georgia), Hekate had significant places of worship in Aigina (one of the Saronic Islands of Greece) and Lagina (a town and religious centre in ancient Caria), as well as a sacred grove on the Aventine Hill (one of the Seven Hills on which ancient Rome was built).

Notably, she held the esteemed position of being the matron goddess and guardian of the city now known as Istanbul, previously called Byzantium and Constantinople. Hekate’s influence on Istanbul’s history is particularly noteworthy, although I cannot recall which book I learnt this from. It went on to say she is credited with saving the city from an attack by King Philip II of Macedonia in 304 BCE. Philip’s forces attempted a covert assault during a dark, moonless night, but Hekate intervened. She illuminated a crescent moon, providing enough light for the Byzantines to detect the impending danger and defend themselves. In gratitude for this salvation, they began incorporating Hekate’s symbols, the star and crescent moon, on their coins. Apparently, this emblem, predating the rise of Islam, became the official symbol of Byzantine.

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@starborn :star_struck: thank you for the added information on Hekate! I did know that she wasn’t exclusively :thinking: Roman/Greek… references to Her are found throughout history in more than just those areas but also at those times, the areas referenced are different from the modern day. So they went into areas that are now another :thinking: the word is definitely not coming to me & it’s not continent or label… but… I’ll be back to try & finish that thought :laughing:

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Wouldn’t it be interesting to run a poll, which deity we all follow, like the one we fill in as to which country we live in. Be fascinating to see all the different deities there are from all over the world as this is an international coven. :thinking::grin: Just a thought. We could include Fae, demons, angels, gods/Goddesses and more. Be fascinating :sparkling_heart:

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Oh my! I accidentally deleted my own post. How did I manage to click enough times to do that by accident? :sob: Sorry, here it is again…


Considering it mentioned Byzantium, that indicates the presence of Greek influence in that historical period. Initially, Byzantium was an Ancient Greek city, later becoming part of the Roman Empire, and eventually evolving into something closer to its contemporary form.

As you pointed out though, things were quite different back then, so it feels strange to refer to Greece as a unified entity, as we do today, rather than recognising the distinct Greek city-states. But you understand what I mean – the term “Greek” in this context implies a cultural connection when compared to the rest of the world at the time.

It also mentioned King Philip II of Macedonia, whose son, Alexander, is famously known for his conquests that extended as far as India. During their time, the Greek language held prominence among those in positions of power. So, even though both Philip and Alexander were Macedonian by birth, they predominantly spoke Greek in an official sense. This could suggest that Greek cultural influence could have had a much broader reach than just within the confines of the Greek city-states themselves.

Much like how knowing English is highly advantageous since it facilitates communication with global superpowers, Western cultures, and the internet.

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@starborn I was in the middle of reading your post and it vanished, thought Loki was messing with my tech again. :joy::person_shrugging::sparkling_heart:

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Sorry @tracyS! That was me trying to click the ellipses and clicking one too many times. :sob:

Now that I’ve thought about it a moment longer (and consulted my notes), another thing worth mentioning might be that although now most associated with Greek mythology, her name, meaning “influence/worker from afar,” could be acknowledging foreign origins.

She may have originated closer to what is now Georgia on the Black Sea, home of Medea, her most famous devotee and priestess. In Greek mythology, Medea was the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis. She was apparently a niece of Circe and the granddaughter of the sun god Helios.

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I also have this ritual to purify miasma saved from somewhere. I’ll share the ingredients and the incantation.

  • Large bowl
  • Water
  • Rosemary sprigs
  • Wine or another offering to Hekate

Hekate, sin-eater
Hekate, Night-Wanderer
Older than the gods themselves
I call to you for purification
I wash my hands clean before you
I wash my soul of all that pollutes it
I wash away the troubles of the day
Hekate, cleanse me
That no pollution may touch me
That the pollution of others may not be upon me
Cleanse and protect me, mighty Hekate!

Regarding the water, the intention is to observe a radiant light filling the water after reading the passage above. The idea is to perceive the water as the purest, most brilliant form imaginable before proceeding to use the sprigs to sprinkle the water onto your own body.

It does emphasise invoking her before uttering the words above. So, it might be useful to include the accompanying invocation:

Hekate
One Who Stands at the Gates
Lady of the Crossroads
Night-Wanderer
I invoke thee
Nocturnal one of the saffron robe
Torches in hand, you light the way
A choice to make at the crossroads
The darkness of the underworld to fare
Titaness, keeper of the keys of all the universe
Show me the way
Help me unlock the parts of myself that I have kept hidden
Help me unlock the path before me
That I may walk it
Not in fear, but with you at my side

Interestingly, this source supports her titan origins by explicitly referring to her as “older than the gods themselves” and, quite literally, as a “Titaness.”

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@tracyS I love your idea of the deity poll! If it’s okay with you, I’ll go ahead and add that onto the to-do list. I agree that it would be fun to see a list of who works with who! :grinning: :scroll:

@starborn Your wisdom is such a blessing- I am learning more a lot about Hekate thanks to your posts and am enjoying it very much! Thank you for sharing your wisdom :pray: :heart: :blush:

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