Greek goddess of magic and spells. She probably originated in Asia Minor. Hesiod held her to be the daughter of the Titan Perses and represented her as the bestower of wealth and the blessings of daily life. She witnessed the abduction of Persephone by Hades and assisted in the search for her. Pillars called Hecataea were erected at doorways and crossroads to ward off evil spirits. She was sometimes depicted as three bodies back to back, so that she could look in all directions at a crossroads.
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Hecate (Greek: Hecate, "far-shooting" ) Hekate (Hekátê, Hekátē), or Hekat was originally a goddess of the wilderness and childbirth, naturalized early in Mycenaean Greece or in Thrace, but originating among the Carians of Anatolia, the region where most theophoric names invoking Hecate, such as Hecataeus or Hecatomnus, progenitor of Mausollus, are attested, and where Hekate remained a Great Goddess into historical times, at her unrivalled cult site in Lagina. William Berg observes, "Since children are not called after spooks, it is safe to assume that Carian theophoric names involving hekat- refer to a major deity free from the dark and unsavoury ties to the underworld and to witchcraft held by the Hecate of classical Athens. The monuments to Hekate in Phrygia and Caria are numerous but of late date. Popular cults venerating her as a mother goddess integrated her persona into Greek culture as Ἑκάτη. In Ptolemaic Alexandria she ultimately achieved her connotations as a goddess of sorcery and her role as the "Queen of Ghosts", in which triplicate guise she was transmitted to post-Renaissance culture. Today she is a goddess of witches and Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism. Some neo-pagans erroneously refer to her as a 'crone goddess' which is incorrect with her original virginal image in ancient Greece.
The earliest known monument is a small terracotta found in Athens, with a dedication to Hekate (Plate XXXVIII. a), in writing of the style of the sixth century. The goddess is seated on a throne with a chaplet bound round her head; she is altogether without attributes and character, and the only value of this work, which is evidently of quite a general type and gets a special reference and name merely from the inscription, is that it proves the single shape to be her earlier from, and her recognition at Athens to be earlier than the Persian invasion. The second-century traveller Pausanias stated that Hecate was first depicted in triplicate by the sculptor Alkamenes in the Greek Classical period of the late fifth century. Greek anthropomorphic conventions of art resisted representing her with three faces: a votive sculpture from Attica of the third century BCE (illustration, left), shows three single images against a column; round the column of Hecate dance the Charites. Some classical portrayals, such as the one to the right, show her as a triplicate goddess holding a torch, a key, and a serpent. Others continue to depict her in singular form.
In Egyptian-inspired Greek esoteric writings connected with Hermes Trismegistus, and in magical papyri of Late Antiquity she is described as having three heads: one dog, one serpent, and one horse. Hecate's triplicity is expressed in a more Hellene fashion, with three bodies instead, where she is shown taking part in the battle with the Titans in the vast frieze of the great Pergamon Altar, now in Berlin. In the Argolid, near the shrine of the Dioscuri, Pausanias saw the temple of Hecate opposite the sanctuary of Eileithyia; "The image is a work of Scopas. This one is of stone, while the bronze images opposite, also of Hekate, were made respectively by Polycleitus and his brother Naucydes, son of Mothon. (Description of Greece ii.22.7)
A fourth century BCE marble relief from Crannon in Thessaly was dedicated by a race-horse owner. It shows Hecate, with a hound beside her, placing a wreath on the head of a mare. Her attendant and animal representation is of a female dog, and the most common form of offering was to leave meat at a crossroads. Sometimes dogs themselves were sacrificed to her (a good indication of her non-Hellenic origin, as dogs along with donkeys, very rarely played this role in genuine Greek ritual).
In Argonautica, a third century BCE Alexandrian epic based on early materials, Jason placates Hecate in a ritual prescribed by Medea, her priestess: bathed at midnight in a stream of flowing water, and dressed in dark robes, Jason is to dig a pit and offer a libation of honey and blood from the throat of a sheep, which was set on a pyre by the pit and wholly consumed as a holocaust, then retreat from the site without looking back (Argonautica, iii). All these elements betoken the rites owed to a chthonic deity.
There was a fane sacred to Hecate as well in the precincts of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, where the eunuch priests, megabyzi, 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:
Her gifts to humans are all-encompassing, Hesiod tells:
Hecate was carefully attended:
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. She scorns and insults Artemis, eventually leading the mortal to commit 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 the 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", a 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.
It also is told that she is the daughter of Demeter or Pheraia. Hecate, as was Demeter, was a goddess of the earth and fertility. Sometimes she is called a daughter of Zeus, a trait she shares, however, with Athena and Aphrodite, being aspects of the earlier deities who also could not be eclipsed by the Olympians because their worship was so pervasive.
As with many ancient virgin goddesses she remained unmarried, had no regular consort, and often is said to have reproduced via parthenogenesis.
In another aspect she is the mother of many monsters, such as Scylla, who represented the dreaded aspects of nature that elicited fear as well as awe.
The crossroad aspect of Hecate stems from her original sphere as a goddess of the wilderness and untamed areas. This led to sacrifice to assure safe travel into these areas. This role is similar to lesser Hermes, that is, a god of liminal points or boundaries.
Hecate is the Greek version of Trivia "the three ways" in Roman mythology. Eligius in the 7th century reminded his recently converted flock in Flanders "No Christian should make or render any devotion to the gods of the trivium, where three roads meet, to the fanes or the rocks, or springs or groves or corners".
In Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches compiled by Charles Leland (1899), he describes the remanents of an Italian witchcraft tradition; the text descirbes the exploits of the strege and their worship of Diana (mythology) who sounds rather like Hecate. It is debatable as to whether the goddess Diana as depicted in Leland's work is actually the Greek Goddess Hecate by another name; indeed Diana was usually heavily identified with the Greek Artemis, taking on a great many of her traits. But the Diana is not depicted in Aradia as the Diana of Roman cultus. For example, she is spoken of like this in Aradia: '[...] Diana has ever a dog by her side.' Hecate is famously synonymous with dogs, driving the Wild Hunt across the skies and chasing the lost souls of the dead into the Underworld.
There are also rich references to Diana creating the worlds in Aradia: 'And having made the heaven and the stars and the rain, Diana became Queen of the Witches; she was the cat who ruled the star mice, the heaven and the rain.' Of course in Greek mythology Hecate not only predates the Greek pantheon in a historical sense but she also predates the Olympians in Greek myth. Zeus formally recognised her power by giving to her dominion over earth, sky ('[Diana] was the cat who ruled the star mice, the heaven and the rain') and the underworld as well as connections to the tide in her lunar aspect.
Hecate is also often named as 'Queen of all Witches' having long been associated with Witchcraft in both archaeological curse tablets, crossroads and myth. Both Hecate and the Roman Diana are associated with the moon, the evidence certainly points abundantly towards Diana of Aradia as being Hecate (only with a more familiar name to Italians). Indeed only Hecate was ever publically associated with Witchcraft, whereas Diana's connection to it never existed within Roman cultus -- like the Greek Artemis, she was a moon deity and a goddess of the hunt, not a patron of Witches.
The leaves of the black poplar are dark on one side and light on the other, symbolizing the boundary between the worlds. The yew has long been associated with the Underworld.
The bitch is the animal most commonly associated with Hecate. She was sometimes called the 'Black bitch' and black dogs were once sacrificed to her in purification rituals. At Colophon in Thrace, Hecate might be manifest as a dog. The sound of barking dogs was the first sign of her approach in Greek and Roman literature. Hecate is also sometimes associated with deer as is her counterpart Diana (mythology) of the hunt.
The frog, significantly a creature that can cross between two elements, also is sacred to Hecate.
As a triple goddess, she sometimes appears with three heads-one each of a dog, horse, and bear or of dog, serpent, and lion.
It was asserted in Malleus Malificarum (1486) that Hecate was revered by witches who adopted parts of her mythos as their goddess of sorcery. Because Hecate had already been much maligned by the late Roman period, Christians found it easy to vilify her image. Thus were all her creatures also considered "creatures of darkness"; however, the history of creatures such as ravens, night-owls, snakes, scorpions, asses, bats, horses, bears, and lions as her creatures is not always a dark and frightening one. (Rabinovich 1990)
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 Hecate's cauldron contains 'slips of yew'. Yew berries carry Hecate's power, and can bring wisdom or death. The seeds are highly poisonous, but the fleshy, coral-colored 'berry' surrounding it is not.
Many other herbs and plants are associated with Hecate, including garlic, almonds, lavender, thyme, myrrh, mugwort, cardamon, mint, dandelion, hellebore, yarrow and lesser celandine. Several poisons and hallucinogens are linked to Hecate, including belladonna, hemlock, mandrake, aconite (known as hecateis), and the opium poppy. Many of Hecate's plants were those that can be used shamanistically to achieve varyings states of consciousness.
It is often stated that the moon is sacred to Hecate. This is argued against by Farnell (1896, p.4):
However in the magical papyri of Greco-Roman Egypt there survive several hymns which identify Hecate with Selene and the moon, extolling her as supreme Goddess, mother of the gods. In this form, as a threefold goddess, Hecate continues to have followers in some neopagan religions.
'I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of heaven, the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customs and in many names, [...] Some call me Juno, others Bellona of the Battles, and still others Hecate. Principally the Ethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Egyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustomed to worship me, do call me Queen Isis.[...]'
Before she became associated with Greek mythology, she had many similarities with Artemis (wilderness, and watching over wedding ceremonies) and Hera (child rearing and the protection of young men or heroes, and watching over wedding ceremonies).
William Blake portrayed Hecate in a number of his paintings and poems.