I, myself, do not follow any one single deity but venerate all. Hecate is one of our more interesting personifications of the Goddess and I think you will find her to be a bit unsettling, as she is meant to be.
Hecate (pronounced eh-KAH-tay; alternative spelling Hekate) was originally a goddess of the wilderness and childbirth. In Ptolemaic Alexandria, she ultimately achieved her connotations as a goddess of sorcery and her role as the “Queen of Ghosts”, in which guise she was transmitted to post-Renaissance culture. Today she is often seen as a goddess of witchcraft and Wicca.
Despite popular belief, Hecate was not originally a Greek goddess. The roots of Hecate seem to be in the Carians of Asia Minor. She appears in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and in Hesiod’s Theogony, where she is promoted strongly as a great goddess. The place of origin of her cult is uncertain, but it is thought that she had popular cult followings in Thrace. Her most important sanctuary was Lagina, a theocratic city-state in which the goddess was served by eunuchs. Lagina, where the famous temple of Hecate drew great festal assemblies every year, lay close to the originally Macedonian colony of Stratonikea, where she was the city’s patroness. In Thrace, she played a role similar to that of lesser-Hermes, namely a governess of liminal points and the wilderness, bearing little resemblance to the night-walking crone she became. Additionally, this led to her role of aiding women in childbirth and the raising of young men.
There was a fane sacred to Hecate as well in the precincts of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, where the eunuch priests officiated. Hesiod records that she was among the offspring of Gaia and Uranus, the Earth and Sky. In Theogony he ascribed to Hecate such wide-ranging and fundamental powers that it is hard to resist seeing such a deity as a figuration of the Great Goddess, though as a good Olympian Hesiod ascribes her powers as the “gift” of Zeus:
- “Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honoured above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honour also in starry heaven, and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods…. The son of Cronos did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea”.
Her gifts to humans are all-encompassing, Hesiod tells:
- “Whom she will she greatly aids and advances: she sits by worshipful kings in judgement, and in the assembly whom her will is distinguished among the people. And when men arm themselves for the battle that destroys men, then the goddess is at hand to give victory and grant glory readily to whom she will. Good is she also when men contend at the games, for there too the goddess is with them and profits them: and he who by might and strength gets the victory wins the rich prize easily with joy, and brings glory to his parents. And she is good to stand by horsemen, whom she will: and to those whose business is in the grey discomfortable sea, and who pray to Hecate and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker, easily the glorious goddess gives great catch, and easily she takes it away as soon as seen, if so she will. She is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock. The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less”.
Hecate was carefully attended:
- For to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favour according to custom, he calls upon Hecate. Great honour comes full easily to him whose prayers the goddess receives favourably, and she bestows wealth upon him; for the power surely is with her”.
Hesiod emphasizes that Hecate was an only child, the daughter of Asteria, a star-goddess who was the sister of Leto, the mother of Artemis and Apollo. Grandmother of the three cousins was Phoebe, the ancient Titaness who personified the moon. Hecate was a reappearance of Phoebe, a moon goddess herself, who appeared in the dark of the moon.
His inclusion and praise of Hecate in Theogony is troublesome for scholars in that he seems fulsomely to praise her attributes and responsibilities in the ancient cosmos even though she is both relatively minor and foreign. It is theorized that Hesiod’s original village had a substantial Hecate following and that his inclusion of her in the Theogony was his own way to boost the home-goddess for unfamiliar hearers.
As her cult spread into areas of Greece it presented a conflict, as Hecate’s role was already filled by other more prominent deities in the Greek pantheon, above all by Artemis, and by more archaic figures, such as Nemesis.
There are two versions of Hecate that emerge in Greek myth. The lesser role integrates Hecate while not diminishing Artemis. In this version, Hecate is a mortal priestess who is commonly associated with Iphigeneia and scorns and insults Artemis, eventually leading to her suicide. Artemis then adorns the dead body with jewelry and whispers for her spirit to rise and become her Hecate, and act similar to Nemesis as an avenging spirit, but solely for injured women. Such myths where a home deity sponsors or ‘creates’ a foreign one were widespread in ancient cultures as a way of integrating foreign cults. Additionally, as Hecate’s cult grew, her figure was added to the later myth of the birth of Zeus as one of the midwives that hid the child, while Cronus consumed the deceiving rock handed to him by Gaia.
The second version helps to explain how Hecate gains the title of the “Queen of Ghosts” and her role as a goddess of sorcery. Similar to totems of Hermes—herms— placed at borders as a ward against danger, images of Hecate, as a liminal goddess, could also serve in such a protective role. It became common to place statues of the goddess at the gates of cities, and eventually domestic doorways. Over time, the association of keeping out evil spirits led to the belief that, if offended, Hecate could also let in evil spirits. Thus, invocations to Hecate arose as the supreme governess of the borders between the normal world and the spirit world.
The transition of the figure of Hekate can be traced in fifth-century Athens. In two fragments of Aeschylus, she appears as a great goddess. In Sophocles and Euripides, she has become the mistress of witchcraft and keres.
Eventually, Hecate’s power resembled that of sorcery. Medea, who was a priestess of Hecate, used witchcraft in order to handle magic herbs and poisons with skill, and to be able to stay the course of rivers, or check the paths of the stars and the moon.
Implacable Hecate has been called “tender-hearted,” an euphemism perhaps to emphasize her concern with the disappearance of Persephone, when she addressed Demeter with sweet words at a time when the goddess was distressed. She later became Persephone’s minister and close companion in the Underworld.
Although she was never truly incorporated among the Olympian deities, the modern understanding of Hecate is derived from the syncretic Hellenistic culture of Alexandria. In the magical papyri of Ptolemaic Egypt, she is called the she-dog or bitch, and her presence is signified by the barking of dogs. She sustained a large following as a goddess of protection and childbirth. In late imagery she also has two ghostly dogs as servants by her side.
HECATE’S ROLES IN WITCHCRAFT TODAY
As a triple Goddess, Hecate represents Maiden, Mother and Crone; mind, body and spirit; and birth, life and death. As Mistress of the Night, She represents the three stages of the lunar cycle of New, Full and Dark. Hecate symbolizes the dark within us, the part of our psyche we refuse to acknowledge. Many ignore the wisdom, the strength and the truth of Hecate because our fear of the darkness is so strong. Hecate is associated with the dark side of the moon, but this is the true Moon. The Moon has no light of its own, only reflected light from the sun. Dark is the Moon’s true color, as is Hecate’s. Although most see Hecate as the third phase of the moon, She is actually a Triple Goddess in her own right. She is Hecate the Maiden, Hecate the Mother, and Hecate the Crone. Hecate can be called upon during any moon phase, as She is the One and the Three.
In Her maiden aspect, she stands for new beginnings. She can also be called upon when you need to look at something in a new, fresher way; a way that you have never looked at it before. You turn to Her when the moon begins to first wax. Her Mother aspect is a time to turn to Her when you need nurturing and protection like any mother would give. Turn to Her when the Moon is Full. In Her Crone aspect, it is a time to turn to her for protection, wisdom and magick. However, please bear in mind that Hecate is not a Goddess full of tenderness and compassion with white lace and linen. She is also more prone to be stern with you if you brought a situation upon yourself. However, Her wrath is swift and just to those who cause harm to a follower of Hers, because those who seek Her, honor Her and do not fear Her are in Her protection and She does not take lightly to those who cause them harm. She does not tolerate nor does She coddle. Turn to another Goddess if you seek this. Her actions are swift and without frills. So, when you do call upon Her, be prepared for Her swift actions and changes because it might not be what you expected.
Hecate teaches us an important lesson, which is that the feminine should be valued for itself, not because it brings sexuality or power, but because deep within it there is an eternal wisdom. Hecate is also the High Priestess, the keeper of the Mysteries. Hecate is not the priestess who seeks the inner knowledge, but the High Priestess who has found it and imparts it to others.
Hecate sits enthroned before the Veil of the Temple as the High Priestess, the card in the Tarot which is ruled by the Moon. To reach daylight on the other side of the Veil, we must all become at one with the Dark Mother of the night. Whether it be Hecate guarding the home or of the temple, She will avert evil and provides protection.
The Goddess Hecate is also known as the liberator of women, as she sets women free from the bonds created by man. That is why the Christian Church put Hecate down and recreated her as the Goddess of evil and destruction. During Medieval times, pagans were being tortured based on their belief in the Goddess. Patriarchy reigned and the fear of feminine power caused the Church to demonize Hecate. She was made infamous as the crone; old, wrinkled, ugly, warts protruding from her nose and chin, mysterious, dark and loathsome. Many mistakenly call Her the destroyer, but She is not, for if you destroy something it is forever gone. You cannot bring something back that has been destroyed.
It has been said that the Goddess’ service is perfect freedom. She is the liberator because She is manifest in our deepest drives and emotions, which always and inevitably threaten the systems designed to contain them. She is love and anger, which refuse to fit comfortably into the social order. To be “free from slavery” once meant that, within the ritual circle, all were equal, whether they were peasant, serf, or noble in the outside world. Slavery today could be mental and emotional as well as physical: the slavery of fixed perceptions, of conditioned ideas, of blind beliefs, of fear. Witchcraft demands intellectual freedom and the courage to confront our own assumptions. It is not a belief system: it is a constantly self-renewed attitude of joy and wonder to the world. Hecate enforces feminine independence from masculine influences and this deals in all things including the religion known as Wicca. Wicca is heavily influenced by the male God. The Sabbats are centered around the male God. The word Wicca is a male term….a term connected to the Goddess religion.
In today’s society, we hide our elderly (or look right through them as if they do not exist), our sick, and our poor so we can pretend to be immune to such human conditions. But Hecate reminds us of the truth. She sees through the facade of societal amenities. She is not deceived by social standing, education or titles and wealth. Instead, She is impressed only by what is in the heart! She is patroness to those of the heart.
Hecate originally was a Thracian and pre-Olympian Goddess. Zeus bowed down to her antiquity by granting to Hecate alone a power shared by Zeus, that of withholding from humanity anything she wished. He also “granted” her the powers of the heavens, on Earth and the underworld……as if She did not have these powers already! He gave her nothing of that which She did not already have. Of all the Goddesses, she was the most markedly triple and the most complex. She was Goddess of the Wild Hunt. She was to Greeks and Romans the Goddess of the crossroads. Statutes of Her stood there, and food offerings -“Hecate’s Supper” – were taken there at dead of night, on the eve of the full Moon. Her annual festival on August 13 was a propitiatory one, to avert the harvest-destroying storms which the Moon is apt to send at around that time. She also haunted graveyards and the scenes of crimes–as a goddess of expiration and purification.
Hecate is the Darksome Mother, in both the positive and in the negative sense. To those that dare to welcome Her, she brings creative inspiration. She is Hecate Antea, the Sender of Nocturnal Vision. She is Hecate Trivia, Goddess of the Crossroads.
One of her symbols is the torch, for the Dark Mother also holds the light which illuminates the Unconscious and reveals its treasures. With Her torches she guides those who are seeking the mysteries. The light from these torches will lead those wishing to understand the mysteries.
In the Tarot, She is the Threes and the High Priestess.
Her gems are star sapphire, pearl, moonstone, and crystal.
Her plants and scents are the yew tree, cypress, opium, poppy, almond, mugwort, hazel, moonwort, civet, menstrual blood, camphor, garlic, aloes, and all sweet virginal odors.
Her tools are the cauldron, the besom, knives, and the key.
Her animals are dogs, horses, and black cats; the owl is Her messenger.
Her chariot is pulled by dragons.
Hecate’s colors are silver and black.
Through Hecate’s Cauldron, we must look at our true self, the nature of our motives and the results of our actions, because only through Her cauldron can we truly be reborn in becoming a better person than we were before. Only when we look into Her dark cauldron can we see the light.
Hecate, and none but She, is Queen of all living things. It is through Her that all things live or die. She is the laughing maiden, the living mother, and the black hag of death. She is the three and the one. She smiles and the radiance of the moon, whether it be full or dark, is everywhere for there is no power like Her power and no living thing can withstand Her power. For She is anticipation. She is fulfillment. She is death. Hear her words, children, worship and be glad for if you seek Her, She is with you always. She was with you in the beginning and shall be with you at the end.
Days of Hecate are:
August 13, when She is honored and prayed to in order to not send fearce thunderstorms and ruin and the crops.
November 16 is the Night of Hecate which begins at sunset. This is the night of Hecate’s supper and animals were sacrificed in honor of Her.
November 30 is Hecate-Trivia, the day of the Crossroads.
The 29th of each month is the Moon of Hecate.
Source: Hecate’s Cauldron