Hectate: Greek Goddess of the Dark of the Moon. She is the Crone in the Artemis/Selene/Hectate triumvurate. Also identified with Diana.
She was the Goddess of Ghosts in Greek Mythology. She was the special patron of wizards and witches. She was to be found in graveyards and at crossroads. The howling of dogs announced her coming and she moved about with the souls of the dead. Hecate is shown in art with three heads, three bodies, and six arms. And often with snakes around her necks and shoulders. She was sometimes identified with Diana and Proserpina.
Some say that Hekate is the daughter of Erebus and Nyx, ageless Goddess of the night, while others believe that She is one of the Furies or the last surviving Titan except for Zeus. Hesoid claims that She was born of the Titan Perses and the star goddess Asteria. Historically Hekate probably originated in the mythology of the Karians in southwest Asia Minor, and was integrated into Greek religion around the sixth century BCE. However, there is evidence that Hekate evolved from the Egyptian midwife goddess Heqit, (alternatively spelt 'Heket' or 'Hekat'.) The frog headed goddess Heqit assisted with the daily birth of the Sun and was associated with the apparently magical germination of the seemingly lifeless corn seed. In pre-dynastic Egypt the matriarch and wise woman of the tribe was called the 'heq'.Hekate's name has several possible meanings. 'She who works Her will' is the most commonly accepted, but 'the distant one,' or 'most shining one' are alternative derivations. Representations from around the forth century BCE show a young goddess of both beauty & power, carrying a torch & wearing a headdress of stars. 'Hekate' is the female equivalent of 'Hekatos', an obscure epithet of Apollo, with whom She is sometimes associated.The Olympians 'adopted' Her after they had defeated the Titans, but She was not of the same kind, & never lived amongst them. During this time Hekate's power was still recognized: Zeus gave Her dominion over Heaven, Earth & Sea, & they shared the right to grant or withhold gifts from humanity. Hekate was worshipped as Goddess of abundance & eloquence, & She is still generous to those who recognize Her.Hekate is sometimes referred to a triple goddess. Classically She was part of a group with Persephone and Demeter. Contrary to modern Pagan assumptions, Demeter represents the old crone woman, Persephone the wife woman, and Hekate is the Maiden. Every early Greek representation of Hekate shows Her as a young woman. It is only much later that She is represented as Crone. In Mytilene on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, near what was Troy, there were Temples of Demeter, where the women would go to the annual festival of Eleusis to celebrate fertility Rites. There is ample evidence that Hekate was honored there too, perhaps as a guide for initiates into the Mysteries. But Hekate's power was to fade. In later myths She is represented as a daughter of Zeus who rules the Underworld & the waning Moon. The Greeks began to emphasize Her darker aspects; Hekate as Goddess of the Dead & Queen of Witches. Now She roams the earth on moon less nights in the company of baying dogs and the hungry spirits of those dead who were not ready to die, those who were murdered or not given appropriate burial rites. The Romans adopted Hekate, and Her role shifted again. Hekate became an aspect of the moon Goddess, Diana Triformus: Diana (the Full moon, associated with Earth), Proserpina (the lunar phases, associated with Heaven), and Hekate (the New moon, associated with the Underworld.) As the power of the Solar Gods rose, Hekate became increasingly demonized, until by the Middle Ages She was reduced to a parody of an evil crone.
Hekate's best known role in Greek myth is in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Demeters beloved daughter Persephone, the goddess of spring, was playing in the meadows when Hades emerged from the Underworld and captured Her. Hekate knew what had happened.
Hymn to Diana (Hecate)
(Translation by Robert Von Rudloff) Hekate reveals the truth to Demeter, and together they go to try and rescue Persephone. It is finally agreed that Persephone shall spend part of the year in the Underworld with Hades and the rest on Earth with Demeter. Hekate henceforth acts as guide for Persephone on Her journeys between the worlds.Aconite, (also known as Hecateis, Monkshood or Wolfsbane), is a highly poisonous plant that is sacred to Hekate. According to myth, the plant sprang up where drops of the saliva of Kerberos fell to earth when Hercules dragged the dog-beast from the Underworld.In later myths Hekate appears as a daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hekate was sent to the Underworld after incurring the wrath of Hera for stealing a pot of rouge for Europa, who was one of Zeus's lovers. Hekate fled to Earth and hid in the house of a woman who had just given birth. In late Classical Greece contact with childbirth was impure, so Cabiri plunged Hekate into the Underworld river Acheron to cleanse Her. From then on Hekate remained in the Underworld.This story tells us as much about attitudes in late Greece as it does about Hekate. Whereas in earlier times Hekate appears to have been honored as a goddess of childbirth, now birth is 'impure'. There may be connections between the red rouge in this myth and the red henna that was used by worshippers to stain their hands and feet.The witch Medea of Colchis called herself a daughter of Hekate and invoked her mother for success in her magical arts. When Jason of the Argonauts rejected her, she called upon Hekate for revenge against him. The enchantress Circe, the lover of Odysseus, is also closely associated with Hekate worship.In Book 6 of the Aeneid Aeneas travels to the underworld with Sibyl of Cumae. It was Hekate who originally took Sibyl there and showed her all the punishments of Tartarus. Hekate gave Sibyl the power to control and tend the Avernus Wood, the passageway to the entrance of the underworld. To allow passage for Aeneas, Sibyl sacrificed four black bullocks to Hekate, who then allowed Sibyl and Aeneas passage through the entrance and across the Styx.In the fourth book of the Aeneid Hekate is invoked by Dido. Aeneas had left her heartbroken, so she called upon Hekate to curse the Trojans before she flung herself on her dagger. Her curse was effective; not only did the Trojans wander around for many years, when they finally reached Rome, Aeneas was killed in the fighting.
Human perception of Hekate's nature and role has shifted greatly, so this must be a partial description. Ancient Greek deities had several roles, most of which were not unique to any particular God or Goddess, and which changed over time. More confusingly for us, these roles sometimes appear contradictory. Throughout Hellenistic and Roman times Hekate was worshipped as the regional mother goddess at Her main Carian sanctuary at Lagina near Stratonicea, while in Classical Greece (500 to 300 BCE), Hekate not only reigned over witchcraft, magic and death, but also birth and renewal. She was a guardian against evil and invoked in curses; She was a protective guide and light bringer, but also 'Dread Goddess of the Underworld'.The Ancient Greeks understood that a deity can give as well as withhold: Hekate can protect from evil spirits if She so chooses, but can also visit them upon you. It may also be that the ancients did not share the modern obsession with consistency. There is evidence for an Archaic 'irrational' mode of thought which does not strive for one precise conclusion, but offers a medley of possibilities. But perhaps there is no contradiction here, for death inevitably goes hand in hand with fertility as a power of the earth.The 'Dark' Hekate and Death
"...For, by the sacred radiance of the sun, The mysteries of Hekate, and the nights; By all the operation of the orbs..."
'King Lear' by William Shakespeare This is Hekate in Her chthonic role (Hekate Chthonia). Chthonic is a word whose meaning is heavily loaded by culture. Today the word 'chthonic' often has evil or 'dark' connotations, but it originates from the Greek khthonios, meaning 'in or under the earth' (Collins Dictionary). Chthonic deities are distinguished from Olympian ones in several key ways: Chthonic deities generally had low altars where offerings are made into the earth (rather than the air), dwell beneath the surface of the Earth and are concerned with matters of basic living - fertility, childbirth, crops, fate and death. Hades, Persphone and the Eumenides are generally considered as chthonic deities.Several Greek deities (Hermes, Hekate, Demeter, Zeus and Gaia) had both Olympian and Chthonic aspects, and the epithet 'Chthonia ' is used to designate the latter role.Hekate is awesome & can be terrifying, for She rules all that is outside our ken: Death, & the dark intuitive wisdom that is beyond the conscious mind. Such wisdom comes through dreams & whispers, mediumship & divination. It is the inspired vision of artists & seers. For some it may be too much & bring the madness of lunacy: Hekate's power can poison as well as heal. Our culture denies Her realms. Death is a taboo subject, & the old are hidden away. Hekate is the Wise Old Crone who knows death & does not fear it: Death brings renewal through the fertility of decomposition. Hekate's torch guides the soul to the Underworld, into the dark womb, the cauldron, a place of regeneration & change. Goddess of WitchcraftHekate has long been a Goddess of magic spells and witchcraft. At the Ancient altars of Eleusis thick nails were driven into the ground or the altar, piercing through a piece of parchment rolled into a flattened tube, on which was written the name of someone to be cursed. Most commonly the names were senators and political leaders. There is evidence that Hekate would be invoked as the parchment was ritually burnt, the flames consuming the cursed victim's name. The use of curse tablets (katadesmoi or befixiones) was more widespread. Curses were written on lead tablets to be conveyed via the souls of the dead to chthonic deities. But though many of these tablets invoke Hekate, most invoke Hermes. Witches have long invoked Hekate to make spells more powerful. Medea, Simaitha and Canidia are well known examples, though literary sources became increasingly misogynist during the Classical Greek period and may present a distorted impression. In the theurgy of the 'Chaldean Oracles' which was adopted by the Neoplatonists, Hekate has become an epiphanic celestial deity and cosmological principle of the Cosmic Soul. (See the Oxford Classical Dictionary for more information). Hekate is often associated with divination. She can cut through the darkness, bring visions, call back the past and reveal the future. Protector and GuardianHekate as guardian is known as Hekate Propylaia. Pillars representing Hekate, (called Hecataea), stood at crossroads and doorways to keep away evil spirits. Hekate stood as guardian at gateways, not only in Hades, but also at the entrance to the homes of the common people of Greece. Statues of Hermes and Hekate stood watch over the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. She is also the Patron of sailors, fishers and travelers. The Hesiod's Theogony suggests that Hekate also protected warriors, athletes, hunters and herders. However, as the poem was probably written especially for an event where these groups were present, perhaps Hesiod was simply playing to the audience. Related to this role, Hekate is seen as a dispenser of judgment and She who bestows wealth. Goddess of Child BirthThough torches are a common attribute of birth Goddesses, possibly through the association of fire with purification, there is little further historical evidence for Hekate as a Goddess of childbirth. But from my personal experience of working with Her I believe this is an key role. Perhaps the knife which Hekate so often carries cuts the umbilical cord that begins our lives as well as severing the ethereal link between the body and spirit at death. Hekate as GuideFor the Archaic Greeks (800 to 500 BCE) Hekate's role as spiritual guide was central. Hekate is almost always represented holding torches in Greek art, and one of Her best known mythological appearances is as guide to Persephone as She travels from Hades to the Earth. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter Hekate is portrayed as a nurturing and protective guide for Persephone on these annual journeys.
Archeological evidence shows that Hekate had a key role in the mysteries of Eleuis, perhaps as guide to initiates.This ancient Greek vase shows Hekate (far left) standing at the entrance to the Sanctuary at Eleuis.
Goddess of Transitions A common theme running through Hekate's story is transition: She is guardian of doorways, She watches over birth and death, and She guides the initiate who dares to pass between the worlds. I believe that this is the heart of Hekate's role. Liminal spaces, the transitional state from one fixed point to another, are fearful to most people. Hekate guides us across the borders, and because the crossing is fearful, She is often feared by association. But if we honour Hekate, She will serve as a guide in the most difficult and traumatic changes we can know: birth, initiation and death.Hekate and the Mysteries Hekate not only had a role in the mysteries of Eleuis; mystery cults of Hekate existed on Aegina and Samothace. Beyond that, little is known, but intriguing clues remain: The tombstone of a Thracian woman initiate claims that she has been immortalized in death as the 'goddess Hekate'.
The Athenians were especially respectful towards Hekate and She was often invoked in midnight rituals. Her worshipers gathered at crossroads once a month to share 'Hekate Suppers', and then placed the leftovers outdoors as offerings. Honey, black female lambs, and dogs were sacrificed to Her.I have written a short 'hymn' that I say each morning when I light a candle in Her honor: 'Great Goddess Hekate, She who was born of the Stars and who will remain 'til the end of time;
Triple One, beautiful, awesome and wise - She who reigns in Sky over Earth and Sea. Bright Goddess who walks in darkness, She who stands at the crossroads of the Underworld with the Torch of Wisdom to light the souls on their path; She who watches over the witch wandering in the uncanny realms and protects the traveler. Goddess of Transformation, She who holds the Knife that cuts the cord from birth to life, and life to death; to you is sacred the snake which casts off its skin to live again, the black dog howling at the ever changing Moon and the eternal yew, which brings both life and death. Hekate, Goddess of Witchcraft and magic, of abundance and of storms, in your honor I light this candle.' An original Orphic 'hymn', makes an interesting contrast: 'Hekate the Beauteous, you I invoke: You, of roads and crossways, Of heaven, of earth, and sea as well. You, the saffron-clad, among the tombs, Dancing with dead souls the Bacchic rite. You, daughter of Perses, lover of desolation, Taking joy in deer and dogs, in the night. You, terrible Queen! Devourer of beasts! Ungirded, possessed of form unapproachable! You, bull-huntress, universal sovereign Empress: You mountain-roaming guide, and bride, and nursemaid, I entreat, O Maiden, your presence at these sacred rites,With grace to the Oxherd and a joyful heart eternal.' Translated by Shawn Eyer Jeanne Riegler wrote the following invocation: Hekate Thou Mother of Might 'Hekate, Thou Mother of Might... Goddess of Magick, of Storms, of Night... Moon Maiden, Mother and Crone... Dispensing Justice from Thy Lofty Throne... Watching now with piercing Eye, As Thy Moon Palace doth glide the Sky, All of Life on this Planet Earth... Selecting, weighing and measuring It's worth... Grant us of Thy Wisdom Sublime... Reveal to us the Secrets of Time... Help us winnow Truth from Lies... Harken now, please hear our cries! Hekate, Thou Mother of Might... Goddess of Crossroads, Bearer of Light... Moon Maiden, Mother and Crone... Descend unto us from Thy Lofty Throne... Walk amongst us and reveal now... The Mysteries of Thy Shining Brow... Past, Present and Future merge... Let us feel Thy Power surge! Bestow healing upon this Planet.. Release the Songs of Thy Stones of Granite... Help us; Strengthen us in our resolve... To banish all hate; let it dissolve! Hekate, Thou Mother of Might... Goddess of Love, Giver of Sight... Moon Maiden, Mother and Crone... Ensconced upon Thy Lofty Throne... Acknowledge us, who, by our own choice... Have chosen to listen to Thy Voice... Help us spread Wisdom, Truth, Love and Light... To save Earth from her desperate plight! We bide the Wiccan Reed to fulfill... "And ye harm none, do what thou will..." Help us grow in serving Thee! As we will, so mote it be! Hekate, Thou Mother of Might... Robed in Splendour; Beauteous; Bright... Moon Maiden, Mother and Crone... Shine upon us from Thy Lofty Throne...' Jeanne Riegler June 11, 1998 Divination and mysteriesA old technique describes scrying using 'Hecates' Circle', a golden sphere with a sapphire concealed in its center, twirled with a thong of oxhide.'The Curious Lore of Precious Stones' (Kunz, 1913) describes an 'amulet of undertaking' called a phylacterion which is a heart shaped lodestone engraved with an image of Hekate. Its purpose remains obscure.IncenseI have created an incense for use in my own Hekate workings which others may find of use:Hemlock 1 unit
Galbanum 1 unit
White Sandlewood 1 unit
Copal 2 units
Yew shavings one half a unit
Valerian Root one quarter unit
Myrrh 1 unitThe units can be whatever is appropriate for the quantity you need. I think incense is usually best made fresh, though some believe it 'matures'. Mix the ingredients in a pestle and mortar and store in an air tight container - a glass jar is ideal.
Sacred to Hecate:
"Lord Helios and the sacred flames, weapon of Hekate Enodia, which she bears when leading in Olympos and in her haunts by the sacred three-ways on Earth crowning herself with oak leaves and twisting coils of wild serpents."
The Root Cutters, Sophokles
(Translation by Robert Von Rudloff) Certain creatures and plants in the natural world are sacred to Hekate, and several Gods and Goddesses are associated closely with Her. There are also times & places that are especially sacred to Hekate, appropriate offerings, significant symbols and historical evidence regarding Her Priesthood.The Natural WorldAll wild animals are sacred to Hekate & She sometimes appears three headed as dog, horse & bear or dog, snake & lion. But the creatures of darkness & of the earth are most sacred to Her; ravens, owls, crows, snakes & dragons. The frog, significantly a creature that can cross between two elements, is also sacred to Hekate and the Egyptian goddess Heqit. The yew, cypress, hazel, black poplar and the willow are all sacred to Hekate. The leaves of the black poplar are dark on one side & light on the other, symbolising the boundary between the worlds. The yew has long been associated with the Underworld. It is the longest living creature in Europe, and naturally 'resurrects' itself: As the central trunk dies, a new tree grows within the rotting core. This ability may be why it is so often found in graveyards as a symbol of eternal life. In Brittany it is believed that the yew sends a root to the mouth of each corpse, allowing the spirit to escape and be reborn. The yew has strong associations with death as well as rebirth. A poison prepared from the seeds was used on arrows, and yew wood was commonly used to make bows and dagger hilts. The potion in Hekate's cauldron contains 'slips of yew'. Yew berries carry Hekate's power, & can bring wisdom or death. The seeds are highly poisonous, but the fleshy, coral-colored 'berry' surrounding it is not, and if prepared correctly can bring inspirational visions. Many other herbs and plant were associated with Hekate, including garlic, almonds, lavender, myrrh, mugwort, cardamon, mint, dandelion, hellebore, and lesser celadine. Several poisons and hallucinogens are linked to Hekate, including belladonna, hemlock, mandrake, aconite (Classically known as hecateis), and opium poppy. Dandelion tea is used to call spirits and is said to enhance psychic ability. Snakes:
In ancient Greece snakes were the creatures most commonly associated with the dead, and it was commonly believed that the dead could appear as snakes. Several images of Hecate show Her holding a snake. Snakes have long been connected with chthonic powers and the uncommon wisdom of the Other world. I believe that the way the snake sheds it's skin to be 'reborn' symbolises the changes we all make in our lives, the transformations that Hekate can help us through. Dogs:
The dog is the animal most commonly associated with Hekate, and She was sometimes addressed as the 'Black she dog'. Black dogs were once sacrificed to Her in purification rituals, and at Colophon in Samothrace Hekate could manifest as a dog. The sound of barking dogs is the first sign of Her approach in Greek and Roman literature:
"The Earth began to bellow, trees to dance
And howling dogs in glimmering light advance
Ere Hekate came."
The Aeneid, book VL. Virgil. Ovid writes that Hekate could be conjured up from darkness "with long howls." There is evidence of an old belief that the souls of the unburied dead could appear as dogs. Hekate is sometimes identified with the with three-headed dog Kerebos, who guards the entrance to Hades, and there may be connections with the Egyptian dog-headed god Annubis, who conducted souls to the Underworld. Dogs were also associated with deities who watched over childbirth, probably because of the ease with which the bitch gives birth. The dog is also well known as a guardian of the house, standing at the font door to stand watch, and this seems to relate to Hekate's role as guardian (Hekate Propylaia) Gods and Goddesses Hekate has close links with Hermes. As messenger of the Gods, it was Hermes who would sometimes guide the dead to the Underworld, & some say that Hekate & Hermes were lovers who parented Circe. Hekate also had a son, Museus, the 'muse man'. Statues to Hermes (Herms) often stood with those to Hekate (Hecteria). In later myth Hermes transmitted Hekate's predictions from the Underworld. Hekate was associated with several other gods including Apollo, Pan, Asclepius, and Zeus in various forms. At various times Hekate has been identified with other deities such as Ereschigal, the Babylonian goddess of the Underworld, the Thessalian Enodia and Brimo, the Sicilian Angelos, Iphigenia and especially Artemis. (See the Oxford Classical Dictionary for details). She is closely associated with Persephone and in Roman times, Diana. In later times Hekate shared Hernes' reputation of leading the 'Wild Hunt'. In later myths Hekate is accompanied by the Erinyes (also called the Furies), who hounded those who broke the taboos of insult, disobedience or violence to a mother. Sacred times & placesHekate is most properly worshipped in liminal places, especially at a crossroad where three roads meet. The Ancient Greeks would erect statues (hecataea) of Hekate Trevia ('Hekate of the Three Ways') at crossroads in Her honour. The crossroads symbolise Hekate's triple nature & Her all seeing ability. Here travelers may ask for protection on their journeys, or witches meet to learn Her mysteries.The ancient grove near Lake Averno in Italy has long been sacred to Hekate.Hekate is traditionally worshipped on the New Moon, when 'Hekate's Suppers' would be prepared. Samhain is especially significant to Hekate, but several Festival days are celebrated in Her honour: The 13th August is the time to ask for Her blessing on the coming harvest, for as Goddess of Storms Hekate has the power to destroy the crop before it can be cut. November 16th is Hekate Night. If you only honour Her once in the year, this is the time to do it! For some Ancient Greeks the 30th of the month was the time to purify the house, and to take offerings of onions and eggs to Hekate at the crossroads. OfferingsIn the past a black puppy dog, black bull or a ewe lamb was seen as a suitable sacrifice, but personally I would recommend an offering of food, traditionally known as 'Hekate's Supper'. Appropriate food for these feasts include red mullet, (a scavenging fish that was taboo in other cults), breadstuffs, eggs, cheese and honey. Cakes decorated with lit miniature torches were offered at the Full Moon. In my personal experience, Hekate particularly appreciates honey & magic mushrooms if you have them. (Well, it is supposed to be a sacrifice!)SymbolsSeveral symbols and objects are particularly associated with Hekate. She is almost always shown carrying torches, very often has a knife, and may appear holding rope or scourge, a key, a phial, flowers or a pomegranate. The Greek cross (one with equal arms) is a symbol of Hekate at the crossroads.I believe that Hekates' knife represents Her role in cutting the umbilical cord from birth to life as well as severing the link between the body and spirit at death. It may have been the origin of the athame of Wicca.At Hekate's main Carian sanctuary at Lagina near Stratonicea the ritual carrying of a sacred key was part of Her cult. According to a hymn to Selene-Hekate, She keeps the keys that 'open the bars of Kerberus.' Sophocles wrote of a key on the tongue as an element of the Eleuisian mysteries.Hekate appears as a single figure or with three faces or bodies. Three has long been a sacred number, and this seems relevant to the mystery of Hekate.Red henna was used by worshippers to stain their hands and feet, probably symbolising blood.PriesthoodHekate was served by Priestesses and Priests, some of whom were ritually castrated and transgendered (the Semnotatoi). Her priesthood were also known as Demosioi, a name which suggests belonging to a tribe.The main functions of Hekate's priesthood were casting horoscopes, performing spells, and maintaining the temples and sacred groves. A key function seems to have been directing choruses of flower-garlanded children, singing hymns of praise to Hekate.Those who serve Hekate today do so in many different ways. My own role has three main elements: to honor Hekate, to learn about Her, and to tell others what I know.