Moving Through Darkness
The Name Hekate
Goddesses Associated With Hekate
Edgewalker - The Queen of Witches
Trivia - A Goddess of Crossroads and Transitions
Hekate Triformis - The Triple Goddess
The Invincible Queen Of The Dead
Sender of Prophetic Visions
Keeper Of The Unconscious
Hekate In Modern Culture
Hekate is primarily a goddess of the Underworld, holding dominion over death and rebirth. This is meant both in the literal sense and in the metaphorical as well. For life is filled with many deaths and rebirths aside from that of the flesh. Because of this the Dark of the Moon especially is her time of the month, since it is a time of endings and beginnings, when what was is no more, and what will be has yet to become.
Hekate guards the limenoskopos (the doorstep), for she is a goddess of liminality and transition. Of being on and crossing boundaries. This includes not only the boundary between life and death, but any boundaries, such as those between nature and civilization, waking and sleep, sanity and madness, the conscious and the subconscious minds. Indeed, any transition can be said to be her domain. As such she is also goddess of the crossroads, where the paths of one's life fork and a person must choose which future to embark upon. In ancient times these were believed to be special places where the veil between the worlds was thin and spirits gathered.
Hekate is also the goddess of psychological transformation. Her Underworld is the dark recesses of the human subconscious as well at that of the Cosmos. Many have accused her of sending demons to haunt the thoughts of individuals. What they fail to understand is that the demons are not hers, but their own. By the light of her twin torches Hekate only reveals what is already there. These are things which the person needs to see in order to heal and renew. However, if they are not prepared for the experience of confronting their Shadow then it can truly feel like they are being tormented. Hekate is not motivated by cruelty, nor is she seeking to harm. But her love can be tough love. She will prompt a person to face the things that they must, whether they like it or not.
Then and now Hekate is a goddess of Witchcraft and those who walk between the worlds. In the ancient world she was the patroness of those magicians- often women and the transgendered - who practiced magic, herbalism, and religion outside of the boundaries of the established temples and civil authorities of Greece. This is one reason she and her followers have often been feared and reviled. They stand with at least one foot outside of the conventional world.
She is not commonly portrayed as such, but I also see her as a shamanic deity. Her Underworld is the abode of the Shadow-Self and the journeys of the shaman to confront it. It is also the place of the shamanic ordeal of death, dismemberment, and rebirth. A place of otherworldly spirits who may aid or hinder the practitioner. Likewise, her followers are people who walk between the worlds, whether the worlds of magical and mundane, urban and rural, men and women, conventional and unconventional society. For all those who need a companion on the dark pathways they must walk, Hekate goes with them. While she may not be the deity many people would like, she is the one whom they need. Because of this I believe that she comes to those who require her, whether or not they were looking for her.
While some Greeks describe her as a virgin goddess, it bears noting that to the Ancient Greeks the word virgin did not always mean a girl uninitiated into sexual intercourse, but could also mean a woman not beholden to any man. In this sense, Hekate is indeed a virgin goddess. While in the more common sense of the word she certainly is not, for she is held to be the mother of several children, such as the god Museus and the Witches Medeia and Kirke (Circe).
In modern Neo-Pagan practice Hekate is typically identified as an aspect of the Crone, and as such is most often portrayed as an old woman. This is in contrast to ancient vase murals which depict her as being an adult woman in her prime. As with many things about this goddess, this is a perception that has changed over time. However, the Crone aspect of the modern Triple Goddess is not truly defined by her age, but rather by the powers her age represents (that of wisdom, magical potency, annihilation, and the transformative journey through the Underworld), and those indeed fall under Hekate's domain. So while perhaps not historically accurate, this is not a demotion or devaluing of her, but rather the way in which modern Neo-Paganism fits her into its philosophy (this difficulty with integrating her into their cosmology is something that we will see Neo-Pagans share with the Ancient Greeks as well).
Hekate is more often than not portrayed as carrying two torches and is known as "The Torch-Bearer". She carries these because of her role as a guide through the transition of the Underworld. One torch shows a person where it is they currently stand, the other where they might go. In this manner she reveals the mysteries of transformation to those who enter her realm of darkness. Hekate is also shown carrying a key, for she is the opener and closer of the door to the Underworld. In modern interpretations she is the guardian of and guide through the individual's Unconscious mind as well. So again, she is the key to the deeper mysteries. She also has a scourge (whip) which is the umbilical of rebirth and renewal. Her dagger (which later became the athame of Wicca) cuts delusion and is a symbol of ritual power.
The black poplar and yew trees are sacred to Hekate, as is the willow tree. Wild animals are also loved by her (something I believe originates from her earliest days as a prehistoric fertility deity), and she is sometimes shown with three animal heads - the dog, snake, and lion, or alternately the dog, horse, and bear. The serpent, long connected to the chthonic powers of death and rebirth due to the shedding of its skin and its living beneath the earth, is strongly connected with her. In fact, she is often shown holding a snake in one hand.
However, her primary animal form and familiar is the dog, and she was at one time considered to be "The Dog of the Moon". She is associated with the three-headed dog Kerberos who guards the gates of the Underworld. The Dog Star Sirius, whose rising foretold the annual flooding of the Nile, is also considered sacred to her. According to legend Hekate can be seen walking the roads and graveyards at night, particularly during the dark moon, accompanied by her howling dogs - which are usually black in color. Furthermore, it was said that when she chose to walk the earth invisible to the eyes of humans, dogs could still see her, as it was believed they could see all disembodied spirits. So if they started baying at night it meant Hekate or some other ghost or apparition was near, and a dog howling at the moon was considered to be a harbinger of death. As Virgil writes: "Then earth began to bellow, trees to dance and howling dogs in glimmering light advance ere Hekate came."
The waning crescent moon and the new moon are associated with Hekate, as they are symbols of death and renewal. She is strongly connected to the moon in fact. The Witches who followed her in the ancient world, such as Medeia, were attributed powers such as the ability to draw the moon from the sky. Some believed that after the death of the body, the soul was gathered up by the Moon as it passed overhead. While on the other hand new souls were transmitted from the Sun to the Moon, which in turn sowed them into new bodies at the same time it was gathering up the old souls. Here we see how Hekate's power of the Moon was in fact only a facet of her position as Goddess of the Underworld.
Hekate is also associated with a curious wheel shaped design, known as Hekate's Wheel, or the "Strophalos of Hekate". It is a circle which encloses a serpentine maze with three main flanges, that in turn are situated around a central, fiery spiral. The symbolism refers to the serpent's power of rebirth, to the labyrinth of knowledge through which Hekate could lead humankind, and to the flame of life itself: "The life-producing bosom of Hekate, that Living Flame which clothes itself in Matter to manifest Existence" (according to Isaac Preston Cory's 1836 translation of the Chaldean Oracles). The three main arms of the maze correspond with her being a triple goddess, as well as goddess of the three ways, and that she has dominion over the earth, sea, and sky.
The Name Hekate
Heka means "magical speech" in Egyptian while Hekate means "influence from afar" in Greek. The latter attribution is due to her ability to use magic upon a person from a distance. Hence the appellations "Far Darter" and "The Distant One" given to Hekate.
Hekate is also spelled Hecate in Latin, and you will often see it this way in print. In Greek her name would appear as thus: 'Εκατη (however, one must remember that Ancient Greek had many dialects that had differing spellings of words, so it may also appear in other forms in Greek as well).
'Ε - an h, as in he
κ - a k, as in king
α - an a, as in angel
τ - a t, as in together
η - an eh sound, as the e in excellent.
So Hekate is pronunced "heh-kaa-tay". Although as noted above, Ancient Greek had many dialects, so it may appear otherwise as well.
The Distant One
The Far Darter
Queen of Night
Queen of the Ghosts
Queen of the Witches
Mother of Witches
Mistress of Magic
Most Lovely One
Prytania "The Invincible Queen Of The Dead"
Propylaia "The One Before The Gate"
Nykteria "She of the Night"
Propolos "The Attendant Who Leads"
Khthoniai "Of the Earth"
Antaia "The Sender Of Nocturnal Visions"
Nyktipolis Khthonie "Night-Wanderer Of The Underworld"
Brimo "Angry" or "Terrifying", also meaning the crackling of a fire (as in Hekate's torches)
Enodia "Goddess of the Paths"
Goddesses associated with Hekate
Heq/Heket (Egyptian goddess from whom Hekate might possibly be derived)
Trivia (roman name of Hekate)
Hekate Triformis (triple goddess of Persephone/Demeter/Hekate or Artemis/Selene/Hekate or Prosperina/Diana/Hekate)
Edgewalker - The Queen Of Witches
Hekate is the patron goddess of the temenos, or sacred threshold of magic. As such she is an archetypal goddess of magic, one who lives between the worlds. Indeed, Homer describes Hekate as living within a cave, a place between the Underworld below and the realm of the Gods in the sky above. Her followers have always been Edgewalkers like herself, who stand with one foot within the world of mundane human life and one foot in the world outside. These were the Shamans of European Pre-History and later the Witches of the Greek era, known as Pharmakis for their knowledge of herbalism (and this is the origin of the modern English word Pharmaceutical). While to the Romans these people who worked magic were first known as Saga (which denoted one who told the future) and later Venefica (which originally meant one who made potions - most especially love potions as the word vene implies a relationship with Venus - and only later came to mean a poisoner). Like Hekate herself, her followers were people who walked fluidly between one world to another.
Most famous of Hekate's priestesses are Kirke (Circe) and Medeia. Both were held in fear and awe as powerful magicians who were masters in the arts of herbology, sorcery, divination, and shape-shifting. These are gifts which they used both to aid and to destroy, such as when Medeia restored the youth of Jason's elderly father Aeson, cutting his throat and then feeding his body a potion that restored him. Later she offered to do the same for King Pelias, who had usurped Aeson's throne, but instead allowed him to die. When Jason married her he did so before the altar of Hekate, so that the goddess was witness to his oath of fidelity. When he later broke his bond by forsaking Medeia for another woman, her terrible vengeance upon him was the divine retribution of not only Hekate, but also of her sisters the Erinyes.
Hekate - like Cybele and many other Pagan goddesses - included amongst her followers male-to-female transsexuals called the Semnotatoi, or the "revered ones of the Goddess", who tended Hekate's sacred places and practiced divination, magic, and herbalism. These individuals were said to be "physically changed in ritual". Exactly what the extent of the physical transformation of the Semnotatoi was is uncertain, however given that the removal of the testicles appears to have been quite commonly performed by transsexual priestesses of other goddesses during the same time period it is likely that at least this was the case, if not a penectomy as well. It is difficult to ascertain since just as with modern writers, ancient scholars often projected their fears and insecurities upon the transgendered, leaving their observations distorted and unreliable. For example, many scholars do not even recognize that the Semnotatoi of Hekate or the Gallae of Cybele were priestesses, but rather insist upon describing them as castrated priests, refusing to acknowledge not only their womanhood, but even their transsexuality.
Likewise, whether or not the semnotatoi used estrogenic herbs or compounds is also unknown, though given the knowledge of herbalism attributed to Hekate's followers this is also a strong possibility. One example of such a plant is Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) used by Native American women. Another is soy products, whose bioflavonoids have estrogen-like effects. Still a third example is Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) whose seeds contain diosgenin, which in turn is used to create semi-synthetic birth control pills today. There is Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), whose seeds were widely used by the ancient Romans as a very effective form of birth control. Others are Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens), Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), and Wild Yams (Dioscorea villosa).
In contrast Hekate's 'normal' priests and priestesses were known as Demosioi. Interestingly enough, this is also the term used to describe public slaves in Ancient Athens. Owned by the state, these public slaves performed the duties of the civil service, among other things being responsible for the minting of coins and comprising the police force. In some cases they could in fact be quite well off, and apparently at least some were able marry free women and rent homes. In spite of this privileged status, they were still slaves however. Exactly what, if any, connection there was between the followers of Hekate and the civic slaves is uncertain. Perhaps many of them worshiped her and thusly the name came to be commonly applied to all her followers? Perhaps something entirely different? However, it does suggest another manner in which Hekate's followers were outsiders, not quite "full" members of the society in which they lived.
So then it comes as no surprise that according to oral tradition members of her sect were often misfits and outcasts who did not fit into regular society. In fact, the Greeks considered Witchcraft to be an "illicit" religion. Illicit meaning that it lacked both formally established temples and an organized priesthood. Rather most her followers appeared to be individuals or small groups of people who often practiced their religion and magic in or on the edges of the wild places of nature, answering to no one but themselves. So it is also no surprise that they often included gay, lesbian, transgendered, and other individuals who had the courage to live outside of their societies mores.
Furthermore, according to historian Albert Grenier in his book The Roman Spirit in Religion, Thought, and Art, there was a quasi-order of social misfits and outcasts in the Classical world. He states that the deities of the streets, fields, roads, and crossroads took such folk under their protection. He writes: "About their altars on the cross-roads they collect all the vagabonds, all those who have no family, no hearth, no worship of their own. Their humble devotees combine to celebrate their feasts as best they can, forming Colleges of the Crossroads, Collegia Compitalicia."
Hekate is a figure made complicated by the fact that she has not remained static in time, but rather has transformed in the character of her presentation over the 2,800+ years we have known her. I find this only appropriate as she is herself a goddess of transitions. Hekate may have been originally derived from the Egyptian mid-wife goddess Heket, who in turn evolved from Heq, a creation goddess of pre-dynastic Egypt. In Greece itself, we see evidence of her in the north-east of Thrakia (Thrace) where she was known as Bendis. However most modern scholars point to Karia (Karia) as her origin.
Where her oldest written record is in Hesiod's Theogny (circa seven hundred B.C.E.), her worship appears to date back to at least the third or fourth millennia B.C.E. This links her to what may or may not have been a goddess-worshiping, matrifocal culture believed by many to have existed in that area of Europe before the coming of the Aryan Indo-European tribes, among them the Greeks. We know little of her then, except that she appears to have been a deity of nature, fertility, birth, death, and more. However, we can infer that she was very influential, otherwise she would not have been incorporated into the pantheon of the invading Greeks.
In this very early perioud, Hesiod's writing in Theogony shows no sign of Hekate being feared or loathed by the Greeks. Instead he cites her as being a deity who grants abundance to fishers, farmers, and herders, as well as victory to warriours and athletes. She was also known as the Kourotrophos (meaning "child nurse") to all living things, linking her to midwives, fertility, and motherhood. She was a bestower of wealth and all the blessings of everyday life, and in the human sphere she ruled over the three great mysteries of birth, life, and death. Literary records indicate Hekate was worshipped at the great temple complex of Samothrace under the name Zerynthia, this associates her with the Great Mother worshipped there (who was probably Cybele or Demeter, or a fusion of both), as well as her being outright linked to Demeter and Kore/Persephone (something which I will shed greater light upon further in this text). She was also worshiped as the local mother goddess at her sanctuary at Lagina, near the city of Stratonicea in Karia. In her role as an agricultural goddess, her torch would be carried across freshly-sown fields as a symbol of the moon's power to bring fertility to the earth.
However, as Ancient Greek society became more patriarchal, we see her depiction change into a manner that is increasingly frightening, her domain becomes limited to that of only the Underworld, where she is no longer even ruler, being displaced by the male Greek God Hades in that regard. This does not appear until the second half of the fifth century B.C.E. Von Rudloff notes that it was common in Greek and Roman writing to so negatively depict goddesses who are empowering to women, especially those who live outside of regular society. Naturally the followers of these goddesses were portrayed in the same harsh manner. This behaviour was not only embraced by the Christians who followed, but taken to new extents, where the height of this negative portrayal comes in the Middle Ages, when the Christian Church projected its fears and insecurities upon her, distorting her into a purely evil figure synonymous with its devil. This is also where we begin to see both Hekate and especially Witches portrayed as the ugly hags that we still see them commonly publicized as today. Where in Ancient Greece we saw both Kirke and Medeia portrayed as attractive women in the prime of life, as we see Hekate herself in vase inscriptions.
In modern Paganism, Hekate is seen as an aspect of the Crone archetype of the Triple Goddess. She is often grouped with either Kore/Persephone and Demeter, or with Prosperina and Diana (depending upon whether one is drawing upon Greek or Roman/Medieval Italian mythology respectively). Typically her powers as an Underworld goddess are emphasized, and her ancient dominion over things such as fertility and child-bearing are glossed over. Yet as an Underworld goddess she has great power in contemporary belief, remaining a primordial being who brings light to the dark and mysterious landscapes of the inner mind, the collective unconscious of the primal void, and the great spiral of physical death and spiritual rebirth. Some modern practitioners find her frightening. But it is not truly her that they find daunting, rather it is the things that she reveals within themselves which terrify them.
So when we look at Hekate we must take care to consider the lens that writers were seeing her through when they described her. Naturally I choose to view her through my own bias, which is to say in a positive light, though one that does not belie her dark aspects. In fact it is her darker aspects that truly define her in my experience. She is above all else a Dark Goddess. However, my experience also has freed me of the Abrahamic Religion's contention that dark is evil and light is good. Instead I understand that the dark is a place of mysteries to be experienced and understood, where one finds healing, regeneration, and magical transformation. For it is only in the darkness of the cocoon that one grows and evolves. It is also where our own personal Shadows lurk, waiting for the day that we come to reclaim them as belonging to ourselves. I have no fear of the dark places, for I know there is nothing there which I do not bring myself. I certainly do not fear the power of strong and independent women, as many patriarchal writers of the last 2,500 years have.
Hesiod, in his Theogony, gives us the following account of Hekate's parentage. The Titan couple Phoibe and Koios had two daughters: Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis, and Asteria, a star goddess. Asteria mated with Perses, both symbols of shining light, and she gave birth to Hekate, "Most Lovely One," a title of the moon. He portrays Hekate is a torch-bearing Moon Goddess, wearing a gleaming headdress of stars that light the way into the darkness of both the past and the depths of our inner-selves. Hesiod considered her to be a bestower of wealth and blessings, and attributed to her the rulership of the three great mysteries of birth, life, and death.
On the other hand, In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter she is the daughter of Persaios (possibly an alternate spelling of Perses). But then according to The Eumolpia by Mousaios her parents are given as Zeus and Asteria. On the other hand Pherekydes tells us Aristaios was her mother and Paion her father. Yet Bacchylides says that her mother is Nyx, the ancient Mother Night from which all creation sprang. If you were to turn to the Orphic tradition you would learn that Hekate is instead the daughter of Demeter. Kallimachos agrees with this, and adds that Zeus is her father.
In deed, Hekate's family tree can be likened to a smorgasbord of possibilities, where one chooses which they prefer. In such a case my own personal favorite (given her modern interpretations) is that of a daughter of of Nyx (Mother Night), making her one of the earliest beings in existence. Among her siblings are the Moirae (or Fates), the Erinyes (or the Furies), the Hesperides, Nemesis, Thanatos, and Hypnos. She sided with Zeus in his war against his father Kronos and the other Titans, and for her part she was honored above all others by him, and afterward he confirmed her dominion over the earth, the seas, and the starry heavens.
Generally the more recent the tales become, the more they reduce Hekate in power and influence. In one tale where Hekate is described as a daughter of Hera, it is said that she incurred her mother's wrath by stealing a pot of rouge to give to Europa, one of Zeus' many illicit lovers. Hekate then fled to the Earth and hid in the home of a woman who had just given birth. By this time the growing patriarchy in Ancient Greece had impressed upon society that contact with childbirth rendered a person unclean. So to wash away the impurity, in spite of her being a patron of midwives, the Cabiri plunged Hekate into the Acheron -a river within the Underworld - where she remained since.
So one can see that the ancient Greeks had some difficulties fitting her into their cosmology. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Greek mythology, as one must remember that Greece is a land divided by many mountains, with civilization flourishing in the valleys between them. This separated the ancient Greeks from one another, and among other things led to a dizzying array of local dialects to their otherwise common language. Likewise, it also let a wide array of sects to their common religion, in which deities might have very different myths associated with them from one city to the next, or were even merged with one another and their dominions co-mingled as well. However, the case of Hekate this is taken to an extreme, which is also attributable to her not being part of the formal establishment of religion, but rather being on the edge of Greek society. A goddess that encouraged women and the transgendered to be powerful and independent, she was a threat to the patriarchal religion and society of the Ancient Greeks, and so she was gradually devalued and reduced in power and prestige. It also must be taken into consideration that Hekate was not truly a Greek deity, but rather was a pre-Greek goddess absorbed into their culture. That she even survived the transition from one society to the other is unusual (and is further evidence of her experience with transitional states).
Whomever her parents may have been, she herself was the mother of several beings, perhaps most notably the god Museus - The Muse Man - and the Witch Medeia. Likewise she was said to be the lover of Hermes, and by him gave birth to her daughter Kirke (Circe). The latter assertion is supported by the fact that often his statues (known as herms) stood with hers (known as hektarion) at crossroads, and the two were worshiped as Lord and Lady of the Crossroads. It was also Hermes who carried Hekate's predictions from the Underworld, and like her he is a psychopomp, leading the souls of the dead on their journey into the afterlife. According to some myths, Hekate also had a daughter named Skylla (meaning "She Who Rends" or "Puppy") by the primordial sea god Phorkys. Skylla ruled over the prophetic seabirds and could take the form of a bird herself. She allowed none to enter the Underworld except those her mother deemed worthy, and usually performed her task as guardian in the form of a three-headed dog with fiery eyes. So here we see her associated with Kerberos (Cerberus) as well.
Trivia - A Goddess of Crossroads and Transitions
As earlier stated, Hekate is a guide for people who are in transition. While she is most famous in her role as a psychopomp, guiding the spirits of the dead in their journey through the Underworld, she also aids those who cross boundaries or otherwise travel from one condition to another, particularly when that crossing involves danger. This may be a physical journey, and indeed Hekate is known in particular to protect women who travel at night. However, this may also be a journey in the spirit or in the mind as well, as with those making shamanic journeys to Otherworlds or those who plumb the dark terrain of their own subconscious. Von Rudloff refers to Hekate in the ancient Mystery Traditions and suggests that she may well have served as a guide for initiates as well. Her role as a guide can even taken to extend to those changing their roles or circumstances in life, such as students leaving school, people changing careers, moving to new areas, or anyone whose life is changing dramatically. For more than anything else she is a deity of liminality.
She is a goddess of the crossroads for this reason. In the ancient world a crossroad was a point where three roads met to form a "Y"-shaped intersection. It was believed to be a place where spirits gathered, including those of the Underworld and those of Fate. It is also a metaphor for the divergence of possibilities in an individual's future. Their life will bring them to the crossroad along one of the roads, and they will be met with a branching, where they must choose one path or the other to continue onward. As goddess of transitions, Hekate rules this place where the roads separate and differing futures are possible.
However, it is important to remember that Hekate is a guide. She points out where a person is currently heading and where else they might go if they change their path instead. She does not choose a person's fate herself. That is always left to the person to decide. She is a torch-bearer because of this illumination she sheds upon one's life. That is also one reason she is a lunar-deity, for while a torch brings light to the darkness of night, so too does the moon on the grandest possible scale. This reflects both her link to the night-realms and to her role as an illuminator of ways..
Hekate is often portrayed as a three torch-bearing female figures standing in a circle looking outward, with their backs joined so that they are in fact one being. This exhibits her dominion over the triple-crossroads and her ability to see in all directions simultaneously. The road a person had come from, and the directions they might take in the future. These hektarion (or hekataion) were placed at crossroads. Their earliest forms consisted of a pole upon which three masks were hung, with one facing each road. In more recent times these became statuary, sometimes of three figures standing with their backs to a central pillar, other times a similar portrayal without the column in the center.
The Romans knew Hekate as Triva, which means "where the three roads meet". There are also other goddesses associated with the crossroads. Most prominent are Diana and Prosperina. There was also a Greek deity named Kourotrophos whom women gave offerings to at the crossroads. This was often in the form of a pig, which is associated with the Underworld. Several ancient references suggest that Kourotrophos represents the child-nurturing aspect of Hekate. In fact, Kourotrophon means “Nurturer of Youths” and is a title that Hekate shares with Artemis. So this was doubtlessly one of many aspects of this Dark Goddess..
Holidays and Celebrations
In Ancient Greece, a yearly festival known as the Hekalesian Rites was held in Hekate's honor at Marathon on August the 13th. It was enacted in the hopes of gaining the goddess' favor, and thusly averting the terrible storms the moon might bring before the approaching harvest. The city of Stratonicea in Karia also held a festival in her honor called the Hekatesia, while the island of Aegina was also known to host mystery rites in her honor. Further still, the night of November 16th was known as Hekate Night, and a festival was held in her honor beginning at sunset. Sacrifices and offerings of food were given to her, as it was believed that she wandered the earth with the hosts of the dead. She would bless those who honored her, and woe to those who did not.
Black animals such as lambs or dogs were sometimes sacrificed to her. Dogs especially were considered to be sacred to her, and it was said she and her priestesses took the form of black dogs to roam the land in secret. Due to this black dogs were sacrificed to her at Colophon and Samothrace.
It was also customary to leave Hekate's Suppers out at crossroads for her at the end of every month. These were offerings of food such as bread, cheese, garlic, eggs, honey, etc... Small, round cakes known as amphiphôn were decorated with small torches and left out for her on the eves of the New and Full Moons. These offerings were placed at the crossroad and the supplicant then left without turning to look back. The reason for the latter was most likely rationalized as being so that the person would be spared witnessing the dread goddess when she came to accept the gifts. Or perhaps more cynically it was so that they would not see who really enjoyed the bounties left behind. For while these offerings probably did not end up in the literal tummy of the goddess, they most certainly were appreciated by the poor, outcast folk living on the edges of civilization, whom we have seen were under Hekate's protection. Indeed, in the play Frogs by Aristophanes the character Plutus says to Poverty: "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."
Also in ancient times children were often taken to the crossroads shortly after their birth in order to be presented to Hekate. One can imagine that the parents hoped that the goddess would guide their child to prosperity and well-being and steer them away from misfortune, as parents do in all times and cultures. Again we also see in this her role as child-nurse to all living beings, holding power not only in death and birth, but the life in between as well.
In the modern era Hekate is associated with the dark of the moon, so this is often the time in which Neo-Pagans invoke her. Obviously animal sacrifice is not performed anymore, though many modern Witches do follow the practice of leaving Hekate's Suppers, either literally leaving food at crossroads or by donating non-perishable items to local food banks or homeless shelters.
It is also interesting to note that Hesiod and other ancient writers say that before sacrifices or offerings are given to any deity one must first go before Hekate. This is because of their belief that she is the "Cosmic World Soul", the mediator between the Gods and mortals and the connective boundary between the earthly realms and the heavens.
Hekate has always been a deity with strong lunar associations. She was sometimes portrayed as wearing a glowing headdress of stars, while in other legends she was described as a "Phosphorescent Angel" of the Underworld. I feel that it is as a goddess of the Underworld that she derives her associations with the moon. For the moon is the brightest source of light in the night, granting not only surcease from night terrors and illuminating one's path in the dark, but also bringing prophetic visions into the inner landscape of one's own mind. Originally she appeared to hold dominion over the moon in all its phases, but was gradually demoted to an association with only the waning and dark times of the moon as the perception of her shifted.
Among the first ancient scholars to associate Hekate with the moon and Witches (which as previous noted were known as Pharmakis in Greece and Venefica in Italy) were Horace, Ovid, and Lucan. Among other things, they ascribed her priestesses with having the power to draw the moon down from the sky. A practice from which doubtlessly the modern Neo-Pagan practice of Drawing Down The Moon originates.
Plutarch later wrote that Hekate and the moon formed an intermediary role in the fate of disembodied souls. He wrote that souls were "resolved back into the moon" just as bodies were resolved back into the earth. It was his belief that the Sun impregnated the Moon with new souls, and that the Moon then sowed these new souls into the Earth as it passed overhead. The Earth in turn supplied the new soul with a physical body. He described the Moon as the "Gulf Of Hekate" This was further developed in the first century C.E. into the belief that Hekate guided souls of the newly dead from the Earth and across the boundaries of space to the Celestial Realms via the Moon.
Hekate Triformis - The Triple Goddess
Hekate is a triple-goddess, serving as the Crone aspect in more than one triumvirate of deities. Perhaps most commonly we see her partnered with Kore-Persephone and Demeter. Where Kore takes the role of the Maiden (indeed, the word kore means "maiden" in Ancient Greek), Demeter the Mother, and Hekate the Crone. This triumvirate plays a central role in the myth of Kore's descent into the Underworld and her re-emergence as Persephone. This myth appears to have been the basis for the Eleusinian Mysteries, in which initiates relived the experience of Kore and like her returned forever changed, reborn with a new understanding of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. In the earliest tales, Kore willingly descends into the Underworld, while in the later and more well-known versions she is kidnapped by Hades. The latter being indicative of the rising patriarchy of Ancient Greece. In either version, her mother Demeter - who is the goddess of agriculture - withholds her blessings from the Earth and causes the first winter to come about. It is Hekate who spies Kore within the Underworld and guides her back to the surface to be reunited with her mother. She emerges not as the maiden Kore, but as Persephone, a powerful woman in her own right, and with her comes the warmth and promise of spring. Persephone however, has become inextricably tied to the Underworld and returns there for four months every year, one for each pomegranate seed she ate while there. Her leaving is accompanied by the onset of winter, and while she holds her court in the Underworld she is joined by Hekate. In this myth we not only see a metaphor for rebirth, but also of coming of age and into one's own power and place in the world.
In his book The Rotting Goddess, Jacob Rabinowitz tells us of Lucan's first century C.E. tale of a group of Witches, in which they make the comment: "Persephone, who is the third and lowest aspect of our goddess Hecate..." In Ovid's Metamorphosis (7:94-95), Jason swears an oath to Medeia saying he would: "be true by the sacred rites of the three-fold goddess." A promise he would later pay for breaking.
In the fifth century B.C.E. work Hiket, Aeschylus identifys Hekate with the goddess Artemis, calling her Artemis-Hekate. Artemis (whom the Romans knew as Diana) was also associated with the crossroads. In the first century B.C.E. the Roman scholar Varro said: "The Trivian Titaness is Diana, called Trivia from the fact that her image is set up quite generally in Greek towns where three roads meet." Of course we know Hekate is a Titan, not being of the family of Olympian Gods but rather predating them, and Trivia, we know, is also the Roman name for Hekate. So here we see a link between Artemis/Diana/Hekate.
Indeed, in Italy we see Hekate included within the triplicity of Prosperina/Diana/Hekate, which is roughly similar to their Greek counterpart of Kore/Demeter/Hekate. We must note that the Roman Diana is not simply the Greek goddess Artemis given another name, but rather she is also integrated with the Roman mother goddess Juno. In fact Diana is also named Juno-Lucina (lightbringer), and is credited with bringing abundant harvests. So here we see her relationship with Demeter.
However, Diana was also strongly associated with the moon, and in her sanctuary at Lake Nemi one could see the moon perfectly reflected upon the waters of the lake, which was known as "Diana's Mirror". The name Diana derives from the Latin adjective dius (meaning "luminous"), and neuter dium which means "luminous sky". Cicero wrote that Diana was given her name "because at night she makes the day." This again shows her clear link to the moon. In his Hymn to Diana (first century B.C.E.) Catallus says "Diana whose name is Lucina, lightbringer, who every month restores the vanished moon... threefold Diana, huntress, birth-helper, and Luna shining with borrowed light. Diana, in your monthly circle measuring out the turning year. " Further still, in The Aeneid, from the first century B.C.E. Virgil equates Diana with Hekate, saying: "...triple Hekate, the three faces of the maiden Diana."
In The Rotting Goddess, Jacob Rabinowitz prints an excerpt from the Papyri Graecae Magicae, that integrates Hekate with Artemis, Persephone, and Selene. Part of an incantation to Hekate within reads "Dartshooter, Artemis, Persephone, Shooter of deer, night-shining, triple-sounding, triple-voiced, triple-headed, Selene, triple-pointed, triple-faced, triple-necked, and goddess of the triple ways ... and you who oft frequent the triple way and rule the triple decades with three forms..." In this we see Hekate identified with Selene as goddess of the moon, Artemis as goddess of nature and fertility, and Persephone as goddess of the Underworld. In other words, given rulership over sky, earth, and Underworld, much as we see Zeus granting her the rights therof in Hesiod's Theogony.
In modern practice we see the Triple Goddess as a cornerstone of Neo-Pagan belief. The three aspects of the goddess correspond with the three phases of a woman's reproductive life. Those of the virgin, the mother, and the crone. We often see these stages personified with Artemis as the virgin, Persephone the nymph, and Hekate as the crone. Or alternately with Persephone as the daughter, Demeter the mother, and Hekate the grandmother. The three aspects of the triple goddess also correspond with the phases of the moon, with the waxing crescent of a first quarter moon being seen as the Maiden, the full moon relating to the Mother, and the waning crescent and dark moon being the Crone. The latter being the reason the latter phases of the moon are associated with Hekate in modern practice.
The Invincible Queen Of The Dead
While Hekate is a versatile deity, she is best known as a goddess of death and the Underworld. However, it is important to remember that her Underworld is not the place of terrible suffering popularized by patriarchal Greece and later Christianity. Rather it was a place of divine transformation, like the cocoon where the caterpillar becomes the butterfly. This was the primordial Underworld, the place from which all life ultimately derives. Death and Birth stand back to back in the great spiral of existence, while Hekate and her Underworld lie between the two.
Our ancient ancestors saw that many things sprang from the earth, not just plants, but animals such as snakes, bears, rodents, and others as well. Even the sun and moon appeared to rise from the earth and later sink back down within it every day and night. To their eyes, it seemed that something magical was taking place in the darkness below the ground. This idea was further reinforced when they learned that plant life originates from seeds buried within the earth. They saw that if a person kept a seed in - for example - their pocket, it would never grow into a plant. It had to be buried in the soil. Our ancestors reasoned that something magical must take place down there. Some transformation hidden away from the eyes of people and the rays of the sun.
This was their Underworld. A place of renewal and rebirth where buried seeds sprouted into life. Because they saw the generative power of the Underworld, they buried their dead deep within the earth so that they too could transform into new life, just as a seed does into a plant. Being thorough people, they also dyed the bodies with red henna to symbolize menstrual blood (and in some cases did use menstrual blood), in order to capitalize upon the regenerative power believed to exist in that as well.
This is why how so many Pagan deities such as Kali, Hekate, Freja, et al. are associated with both death and life. Our ancestors saw that death and birth were interconnected, standing back to back in an ever-turning spiral. In this manner Hekate is both child-nurse of all life as well as harbinger of death, and thusly it was to her that the ancients prayed to ensure both long life and eventual rebirth. Interestingly enough it is also in this manner that Hekate might be considered the goddess of compost. For it is the decomposition of plant and animals that insures the fertility of the earth, which in turn ensures the creation and nurturing of new life.
These views of the Underworld would change as religion became politicized, a tool for power. The Underworld became a place of terror in order to frighten people into obedience. So too were its denizens altered in public perception to become the monsters such a place needs to be populated with. This is one of the dynamics by which Hekate was increasingly negatively portrayed.
Along with this came the need for a male ruler of the Underworld, belonging to the Olympian family of gods (where Hekate was a Titan, predating the Greeks and their deities). Hekate was relegated to a lesser role as guardian of the Western Gate of the Underworld and guide at the triple-crossroad, where her lighted torches directed the spirits on their way to either Asphodel Meadows, Tartarus, or the Orchards of Elysium.
By the Classical era, Hekate was portrayed as the ruler of phantoms and other night spirits. In the first century C.E. Plutarch used the term daimones to refer to such beings. While the Christians later adopted this word to refer to their concept of demons, it is important to note that the Greek term did not refer to purely evil or adversarial creatures. Rather they simply designated a spirit-being, this might be the ghost of a formerly living person, a spirit of nature, or a personification of a human condition (such as Gelos, the daimon of laughter). These spirits could be either benevolent or cruel, as could any human or deity. It was only with the rise of Christianity that Hekate, the Witch, and the daemon came to be considered purely evil beings.
As Prytania, The Invincible Queen of the Dead, Hekate was the wardess and guide of spirits in their journey through the Underworld. As a death goddess, she was present at graveyards, tombs, and the scenes of death. There she presided over the purification of the dead, liberating their souls from the flesh so that they could begin their voyage into the afterlife.
At Lake Avernus in southern Italy there was a dark grove held sacred by Hekate and there stood an entrance to the Underworld. It was said the Dark Goddess first took Sibyl there and gave her dominion over and responsibility for this special place. When Aeneas came there seeking entrance to the Underworld, she sacrificed four black bulls to Hekate, who then granted her passage within and across the river Styx. Later this sacred grove was a place where her followers would offer her Hekate's Suppers in private worship, as well as conduct public festivals in which honey and female black lambs and dogs were sacrificed to her.
Also in The Aeneid, Hekate is called upon by Dido, who was left heartbroken by Aeneas. She called upon Hekate to curse the Trojans before committing suicide herself. This terrible curse is thought to be the cause of the Trojans wandering for so many years before finally reaching their new home in Italy, and why Aeneas died in fighting there when they did.
Hekate was also supplicated by Greek women for the much more benevelont purpose of protecting their families from the hosts of the dead. It was believed that Hekate could restrain any dangerous spirit if she chose, so images of her were set outside homes to avert evil. The reasoning being her image would show wandering spirits that those within were friends of the Queen of the Night, and so they should not be left in peace.
Her sacred groves were planted with stands of what were considered funeral trees. The alder, the poplar, and the yew, of which the black poplar and yew were considered sacred to Hekate, as was the willow. The leaves of the black poplar in particular, being bi-colored reflect her status as a liminal deity. The dark top sides of the leaves that face the sky and upper world making a stark contrast to the light underside turned down to the Underworld. The yew was considered the central tree of death, and was associated with immortality because it takes longer to come to maturity than any other tree except the oak. Hekate's cauldron was said to contain slips of yew, and this tree was said to root in the mouths of the dead and release their souls, as well as absorb the odors of the rotting flesh. (A warning, yew is highly poisonous!).
Sender of Prophetic Visions
Hekate and her priestesses were known for their powers of divining and foretelling the future. As a goddess of the crossroads she looks in three directions simultaneously. Seeing the past, the future that will come about if one maintains their current course, and the future that might be if they turn to a different path. This unique wisdom is Hekate's special gift, and is one she passes on to her followers in form of prophetic visions of the future, whispered secrets of the present, and visitations by the spirits of those long past. She is our link to the psychic world, the archetypal shaman, every individual's possibility as a magician, seer, healer, and medium.
A device known as "Hekate's Circle" was used for divining. It was a golden sphere with a sapphire hidden at its center. Twirling with an ox-hide thong, it was said to provide the means to reveal the future, presumably in a manner similar to that of a pendulum.
As Antaia, the Sender Of Nocturnal Visions, she was both the bringer of visions and madness, and in this aspect she had a son called Museus - The Muse Man. She grants us insights which are not those of the rational mind, but rather the stuff of the deep unconscious, such as the inspirations of artists, poets, and visionaries. In King Lear, Shakespeare attributes dreams to "The mysteries of Hekate and the night" as she has long been associated with interpreting dreams. Unfortunately, her visions can be more than a person can bear, resulting in nightmares, terrors, and insanity. Her power is like that of a poison such as belladonna. In lower quantities it can intoxicate or release one from pain or inhibitions, while in higher doses it destroys..
Hekate was believed to be the cause for the condition of lunacy, which the ancients believed was caused by her sending prophetic visions to humanity through moonlight. As the moon sheds light upon the night-time realms it reveals that which was hidden to the ordinary eye. Everything appears subtly altered, colors wash out, and a scene which appears ordinary in daylight can seem ethereal and frightening at night. While today "lunatic" is a negative word meaning a dangerous, crazed person, in ancient times being moonstruck was considered a state of divine inspiration. While an individual might appear confused and unfocused, often a stream of divine purpose underlying their behaviour might be seen as well. They possessed an insight that could only be gained by standing outside of normal perception and crossing the boundaries of ordinary reality. Such a person was literally walking between worlds. Indeed, this was a condition that was specifically sought for by aspirants seeking to initiate into the deeper mysteries, as well as those seeking out prophecy, or performing magical workings.
Keeper of the Unconscious
As Goddess of the Underworld, Hekate is not only the guide to the spirits of the dead, but also the keeper of each individual's own personal Underworld, the benighted territory of their unconscious mind. She lives within each of our inner worlds, and is there to guide us as we transition from inner to outer realms of consciousness. When accepted, her blessings enrich our lives with vision, healing, inspiration, and magic. She brings light to the darkness and empowers us with creativity, confidence, and strength. However, when we deny her it manifests in our Shadow-Self. She holds the key to both the treasures and terrors of the unconscious mind.
The Shadow Self is something often talked about in modern Witchcraft, but it is a concept that rose in the field of psychology a century ago thanks to the work of Dr. Carl Jung. It can be likened to a prison created within our unconscious mind where we banish those parts of ourselves that we repress, deny, or simply fail to develop. These are often our feelings of fear, insecurity, hate, jealousy, desire, greed, etc... Anything that we try to pretend we do not possess is relegated to this deep pit inside our minds. While these are commonly negative attributes that we feel we should not have, they can also be positive things as well. Such as a Victorian woman's power to be strong, independent, and assertive, qualities her society taught her not to possess. Everyone has a Shadow, and since we are all individuals each is uniquely our own.
Confronting the Shadow is a common theme in both Witchcraft and psychology, because doing so is the key to self-awareness, and only afterward can we be begin emotional healing. All of those dogged problems that we cannot seem to get rid of are rooted here. Why we seem to continually fall into bad relationships, why we are not more confident in ourselves, why we fear people of other races, religions, or sexual orientations, etc... These things cannot be resolved until their cause is first identified. Plumbing the depths of our unconscious and venturing into that deep, dark prison to face the Shadow is the means to do that.
If this is not done and the Shadow is left to its own devices it can be a very unruly prisoner, for by denying our ownership of these feelings we also deny ours control over them. In the darkness beyond our sight, the Shadow grows and can mature into something terrible, such as addiction, phobia, depression, or violent behaviour. While nominally caged, it has a tendency to burst forth from its prison and reveal itself in the most socially unacceptable moments.
Is Hekate the Shadow itself? No. That belongs to no one but ourselves. Hekate is the light that reveals the Shadow, like the light of the moon at midnight. Her goal is not to destroy, but rather to illuminate. However, it is no accident that we have buried these things so deeply within our psyches. We are often not ready to face them when revealed. In such cases it may indeed appear that Hekate is bringing demons to terrorize us. We must remember that the demons are ours and reclaim them as our own. For with that revelation we also take back our power over them. That is the only way in which the Shadow can be truly defeated. By accepting it as our own. Learning that is the key which turns the lock of the person's emotional healing and rebirth. Hekate is there as a guide to help us, her twin torches shining our way through the darkened recesses of our unconscious.
In The Moon & The Virgin: Reflections on the Archetypal Feminine, Nor Hall advises: "One has to give something to the death-dealing mother, acknowledge her presence, leave a candle at her cross-roads, admit your shadow side to view. If you give a part of yourself to lunacy, she will permit you to pass to and from the realm of the moon's dark phase. Otherwise she will detain you and stupor and blackness will possess you."
Hekate is more than this as well. As an agent of death and rebirth, she presides over the periouds of our lives in which we lay fallow, which can be likened to metaphorical descents into the Underworld. One example of such is a student's graduating from school and then later beginning a career. Graduation is a death, an ending to a long perioud of our lives. Employment and self-sufficiency is a birth, the beginning of a new, very different stage in life. Hekate and the Underworld are that dark area between the two when one feels unsure and anchorless, lacking familiar structure and meaning in their life.
Such periouds are necessary to every living thing. They are meant to be a time of rest and renewal, where one heals and gathers strength before bursting forth into new life. Even as summer turns to winter, and the moon passes through its dark state before returning to the sky again as a waxing crescent. But all too often these are times of self-doubt, restlessness, and insecurity, especially in our modern society that demands constant action and production on the part of the individual. Hekate is there to guide us out of this funk and back into the light of day.
In many ways, Hekate symbolizes our fears of the unknown. As a goddess of death, she brings us face to face with our worst fears and uncertainties. Both in the physical death and in the many metaphorical ones such as those examples above. For renewal and regeneration to take place, one must first let go of the past. This is very frightening, but it is a necessary step in all forms of growth. If one perceives these eras of transition to be cocoons in which we metamorphize they cease to be times of misery, and rather are moments of peace.
Lastly, over the past few millennia Hekate has been characterized as a goddess of storms, destruction, night terrors, and death. She was placated by many in order to turn aside the wrath and evil which she was said to bring. She was credited with being the mother of the vampiric empusae and lamias, her priestesses had the power to turn men into beasts and afflict them with madness. Christianity would transform her into the image of the loathsome hag, who was in actuality just another face of their devil, leading others to their eternal damnation.
These are in truth just one facet of Western Society's own Shadow Self, nurtured and fed by thousands of years of patriarchy. All of its fears of the dark, powerful feminine have been projected onto Hekate. She is a woman's power to both annihilate and to create, un-fettered by the rule of men. As such, she has ever been a threat to the power structure of Western Europe, and thusly the target of its ire. This distortion of her is very alive and well in the unconscious minds of many. It is why we fear so many of the things she and other Dark Goddesses represent.
In order to free ourselves of such twisted thinking, we must come to understand that Hekate and the darkness she exemplifys are not terrible, but rather natural forces within us and the world around us which are necessary components in the process of healing and regeneration. We must trust to her as our guide and give ourselves over to our journey through the Underworld, rather than resist the sacrifices we must make in order to grow. For one can only heal by moving through darkness. This requires courage and insight on our parts, but thankfully she is there to show us where to find both these qualities within ourselves as well.
Hekate In Modern Culture
Hekate's appears in William Shakespeare's Macbeth, where she is the entity that commands the three Witches. Likewise, she is often invoked by Willow and other characters in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She also appeared in the episode Youth Killer in the series Kolchak: The Nightstalker, where a Witch played by Cathy Lee Crosby calls upon her. Hekate also appears as a fictional character in the series Charmed, where she is portrayed as a demon. She is also a fictional character in the Legends of Dune novels written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson, and she appears in the Hellboy comic as an Elder God as well.
William Blake appears to have been inspired by her, for Hekate was the subject of several of his paintings and poems. He is not the only one, for she has also gone on to inspire several modern musical groups, such as Hecate's Angels, Hecate Enthroned, and the breakcore artist Rachael Kozak, who uses Hecate as her stage name. Furthermore, one can find numerous albums and songs by other artists named after her as well.
On the military front, her name is given to two rifles manufactured by PGM Precision of France. The Hecate II, which is the standard issue heavy sniper rifle of the French Military; and the Mini-Hecate, which is the main sniper rifle of the Singapore Armed Forces. When I first learned of this I was surprised, but upon further reflection I found that it was an appropriate name for such a weapon, as Hekate was indeed known as "The Far Darter" and "The Distant One" for her ability to slay others from across great distances by the use of her magic.
Hecate appears to have been a popular name in the British Navy as well, for several of their vessels have borne her name over the years. The most recent of which was the HMS Hecate (A137), a deep ocean survey vessel that was decommissioned in 1990. Before that there was a Cyclops-class pre-dreadnaught that was in service with the Britsh Navy between 1871 and 1903. There was also a British paddle schooner given her name in the mid-19th Century as well, although I have not been able to find much information on her. The United States Navy briefly liked her name as well, and for a time the USS Etlah, an ironclad constructed during the US Civil War but never commissioned, was briefly named The Hecate.
In geography, Hecate Strait is the name given to the waterway between Queen Charlotte Islands and mainland British Columbia. Looking beyond our planet, we see her as well, as an asteroid named 100 Hekate, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Finally, a psychedelic drug, 2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethylamphetamine, is also named after her, as is a membrane disrupting lytic peptide which shows promise in the fight against breast cancer.
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Hekate In Early Greek Religion