Goddess of magic, witchcraft, childbirth, crossroads, the moon, souls of the departed, necromancy
Guardian of the Household
Lady of the Beasts
Protector of everything newly born, shepherds, sailors, the homeless, the destitute, the oppressed
Known as: Darksome Mother; Aphrattos (‘the nameless one’); Skylakagetis (Leader of Dogs); Pandeina (‘the all-terrible’); Brimo (‘the angry’, ‘the terrifying’); Apotropaios (one who protects, blesses and banishes evil); Phosphoros/Luciferous (Light Bearer); Propolos (show-er of the way); Propalaya (Guardian of the Gate); Koutrophos (Nurse to all living things); Angelos (Divine Messenger)
Lovers: Hermes, Triton, Phorcys, Aeetes
Children: Scylla + other monsters, Medea, Circe, Eleusis, Aigeialeus
Symbols: Hecate’s Wheel; torches; three; crossroads; keys
Animals: dog; horse; serpent; polecat (ferrets); dragon; cat; owl; woman
Fumes: sweet, virginal odors; aloes; camphor; civet; honey; menstrual blood; myrrh; storax; peppermint
Herbs: aconite; almond; chickweed; garlic; hazel; mandrake; moonwort; mugwort; oak; onion; opium poppy; ranunculus
Gems: crystal (quartz); moonstone; opal; pearl; star sapphire
Colors: Silver, Black, Purple
Tarot: Threes; High Priestess; The Moon
Tools: dagger; yoni; cauldron; the key
If I had to give a quick description of Hecate (Ἑκατη in Greek, meaning ‘worker from afar’ and possible origin of the name Ekaterini) I would say she was the original witch and a protector of the outcasts; an admirable ancient archetype of a strong and powerful woman.
Hecate was a virgin goddess, which obviously doesn’t mean what you think because, as you can see, she had many lovers and children. A virgin goddess merely means that she was unwilling to sacrifice her independence for the sake of marriage. In fact, there were several such virgin goddesses including Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Artemis, goddess of the hunt, whom Hecate was frequently compared to (and often confused with). Her virgin goddess status was highlighted by her love of solitude; she enjoyed walking through the roads at night and visiting cemeteries during the dark phase of the moon.
“…she is more at home on the fringes than in the center of Greek polytheism. Intrinsically ambivalent and polymorphous, she straddles conventional boundaries and eludes definition.” | Wikipedia|
She has been described as beautiful and luminous; this quality was probably what made her a moon goddess, despite the fact that her kingdoms were actually three-fold: earth, sea, and sky.
It is unclear who her parents were. Some say it was Perses and Asteria (Titan goddess of the Star, which would explain her luminosity; otherwise she was just practical and carried torches), whilst others say Zeus and Hera. Or Demeter. Or Leto. Hey, the guy got around. What is definitely true is that even though she was of unknown pedigree, she was most definitely a Titan and not a god.
Which makes Zeus’ gift to her all the more impressive: She was the only other god, besides himself, and certainly the only (remaining) Titan, who had the power to give or withhold anything from humanity at her discretion. If she felt that the mortals were undeserving, she could withhold any and all blessings as she pleased. Likewise, she could grant wealth, victory, wisdom, and good luck to sailors and hunters. It seems that Zeus trusted her to be fair, careful and just with her power. Alternatively his gift was a political gesture following her involvement in the war against the Gigantes (she slew Clytius with fire), or even her refusal to get involved in the war between the Olympians and Titans. Whatever the case, she was honored and revered by all immortals.
Interestingly, over the course of history, her reputation as a strong, glorious goddess was tarnished, and more recent images depict her as an old haggard witch stirring a cauldron.
Hecate is associated with several animals, including she-dogs, horses, and black cats. Her chariot is pulled by dragons.
Owl // The owl accompanied Hecate on her travels and acted as her messenger. Whilst Hecate was not really known as the goddess of wisdom, this symbol of wisdom served to recognize a special kind of knowledge she held; as a result of her farsightedness and curiosity for information typically ignored by most people (trivia?), she knew things others did not.
Sacred Dogs // Hecate was so closely associated with black dogs back then, that if you saw one in a cemetery, you would have thought it was the goddess herself. In fact, her approach was always accompanied by the howling of hounds. It is unclear when her hellhounds were acquired. Strangely, the Ancient Greeks thought it was wise to offer dogs as sacrificial gifts, though I cannot understand the rationale of that if she loved dogs so much. She also kept a black dog formerly known as the Trojan Queen Hekabe. Legend has it that the Queen was one of Odysseus’ captives after the fall of Troy, and during the voyage back to Greece, she murdered a Thracian King and was subsequently stoned; she decided the only way out was to leap into the sea where Hecate found her and made her her bitch.
Polecats (ferrets) // The tale goes as follows: When Alkmene started having contractions as a result of the impending birth of Hercules, Eileithya (Birth-Goddess) and the Fates conspired to keep her in birth pains as a favor to Hera, who ordered the action on account of her jealous rage – the father of Hercules was no other than her husband, Zeus. As we’ve already established, this guy was a total womanizer. In any case, by remaining seated with their arms crossed, Eileithya and the Fates fulfilled Hera’s wishes. At this point, Galinthias, Alkmene’s nurse and childhood companion, fearing for her friend’s life and sanity as a result of the pain, ran to Eileithya and the Fates and tricked them by saying a boy had been born despite their efforts, and therefore they had to default. This caused them to immediately uncross their arms, causing Alkmene’s pangs to stop and therefore enable the birth of Hercules. Galinthias discovered pretty quickly that pissing off the Fates was a bad idea. Their anger was exacerbated not only by the fact that they were double-crossed, but by a mere mortal no less! As a result, they took away her womanly parts and transformed her into a polecat, giving her a grotesque way of mating; i.e., being mounted through the ears and giving birth through the throat. Hekate felt sorry for this creature and for this transformation, and adopted the polecat as a sacred servant. Of course, the alternative version goes that the polecat Hecate kept was originally Gale, a witch who Hecate herself had transformed as a punishment for her careless behavior and abnormal sexual proclivities.
Serpent // Usually worn as a crown.
Hecate’s Wheel // It represents the three aspects of the Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone. It is a potent symbol in modern-day witchcraft, and reflects Hecate’s heritage as a guardian of the crossroad before becoming goddess of magic. The shape is based on inferences made from ancient texts regarding a serpent-shaped maze, a symbol for the power of knowledge and life.
Cauldron // Only through her dark cauldron can we see the light.
Three // She was often depicted with three heads: horse, serpent, boar, as she was said to be able to see in all directions, across space (crossroads) and time (past, present, future) – this means that she was also consulted frequently as an oracle. Crossroads come from the Latin term trivia, meaning tri (three) + via (ways). As mentioned above, she represented all three stages of life.
Torch // She was the only goddess to carry two torches, the others carried only one. With her torch, she illuminates the Unconscious, the unseen, and reveals its treasures. She guides those who are seeking to understand mysteries.
Keys // As the goddess of entrances, she served three functions: to establish boundaries in order to protect the inside from the outside; to help travelers set out or return to the entranceway; to watch over the actual process of entry. She protected from spiritual enemies rather than physical ones (which were actually under Athena’s purview). Of course, as gatekeeper to the entryway, she held a key. As her power grew, her key began to symbolize not only actual doors but the means to open and close the gates between Earth and the Underworld, as well as other realms in general, allowing spirits entry and exit.
The Search for Persephone
When Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, only Helios and Hecate witnessed the event. As a result, Hecate, by order of Zeus, assisted Demeter in her search for her daughter, guiding her through the night with flaming torches, a potent symbol of the goddess. Once Persephone was found and returned to her mother, Hecate became Persephone’s minister and companion in Hades. It is interesting that Hecate never told Demeter what she had witnessed and instead used it as an opportunity to advance herself in the Underworld.
Once Hecate assumed this role of minister and companion in Persephone’s life, she became a deity of the Underworld. Blessed by Hades to rule over the souls of the departed, her reputation as a spirit of black magic flourished. By being in the company of the sleeping and the dead, she accepted and felt comfortable amongst ghosts and other social outcasts. She was both honored as the Protector of the oppressed and the fringe and feared as a spectral being who would send demons and phantoms from the lower world to crossroads, tombs, and near the blood of murdered people in the night. She ruled and tormented these demons/spirits in equal measure. She would also teach magic and sorcery to brave mortals who would wander after dark with the souls of the dead. The Harpies were also under her reign, making her the cause of nightmares and insanity.
Hermes, Lovers + Monsters
Working with Hades, it made sense for Hecate to bump into Hermes. Whilst famous for being an Olympian and messenger of the gods, his day job was actually guiding the dead to their final resting place by leading them from their bodies to the Underworld. (Fyi when Persephone was abducted by Hades, it was Hermes who flew down to the Underworld to retrieve her.) So in this role as guide, Hermes complimented Hecate’s role as minister, making their relationship dualistic; he would guide souls down to the underworld, she would lead them back up as ghosts.
They also shared a lot of other common attributes. They were both associated with magic, sorcery and witchcraft, known by many names and forms (such is the power of magic). They both had three aspects and were frequently referred to by similar epithets (including Angelos – The Divine Messenger). They were both deities of crossroads who guarded doorways and temple entrances. And they could both travel between all three realms: earth, sky, sea.
Also, they are both animal lovers, and are particularly linked by serpents and dogs. As we already know, Hecates arrival to the mortal world from Hades was heralded by the dog s ‘baying into the night’. Therefore her arrival incites dogs to bay, creatures over which Hermes has dominion as the god of animal husbandry and guard dogs. Perhaps he was warning those who might cross her path and be beyond his protection of travelers.
It seemed as though Hermes was associated with various Underworld ladies, such as Daeira (who birthed Eleusis) and Brimo. But appearances can be deceiving, for several of these ladies were actually Hecate herself, operating under an alias (she probably wanted to go ingonito). Daeira was identified as Hecate through their joint connection to the Eleusian Mysteries, and Brimo (which means ‘the angry, the terrifying’) was frequently used to characterize Hecate’s. Therefore, if these associations are true, this means Hecate and Hermes were lovers. And that they had a child together, Eleusis.
What a wonderful story for Hermes, the Father and King of Magicians and Hecate, the Queen Mother of Witches.
She was by no means a loyal woman, but from what I’ve read, she lay most frequently with Hermes. She also had many children, many of which were monsters. Scylla, daughter of Phorcos, for example, was born beautiful and spent her time as sea nymph until she started competing with Circe for a man, who subsequently transformed her into a monster. However Circe herself was also Hecate’s daughter, as was Medea, both prominent sorceresses who learnt magic from their mother.
Despite the fact that both Hermes and Hecate had several other lovers and children, I feel that as a couple they have been grossly underrepresented in art.
Aside from giving me crazy inspiration for Halloween costume, I believe that the legacy of these mythological figures is quite potent. Hecate’s legacy, her story, is a reminder to accept change and transitions. You could say she that she allows us to venture beyond what is familiar and safe, and travel to the scary places of the soul. She uses her torches to guide you. She teaches both tolerance for the oppressed, yet reminds us to remain just – not a ‘bleeding heart’. These spiritual ideals are what makes myths so powerful.
I strongly believe that mythological figure, so-called witches, and astrologers were the first psychologists. But that is another post for another time. Speaking of witch (pun intended): Isn’t it weird that witches ride brooms?
Also, thank you Hairpin, for creating this list of spooky witchcraft and magic museums to visit.
Click here to find out your Tarot Birth Card.
|Heaux Culture + PicMonkey|