Hecate is a Goddess shrouded in mystery, for there is continuing debate about Her name, origin and character. There are few legends about Her, and no fixed genealogy. Some say that Hecate is the daughter of Erebus and Nyx, ageless Goddess of the night, while others believe that She is one of the Furies or the last surviving Titan except for Zeus. Hesoid claims that She was born of the Titan Perses and the star goddess Asteria. Musaeus claims She was born to Asteria and Zeus, Euripides says She is a daughter of Leto, while Thessalian legend has it that Hecate is the daughter of Admetus and a Pheraean woman.
It's likely that Hecate’s attributed birth changed as different social groups adopted Her worship, but no Greek Clan or Tribe ever claimed decent from Hecate. Both facts support the theory that She originated outside Greece.
Hecate probably originated in the mythology of the Karians in southwest Asia Minor, and was integrated into Greek religion around the sixth century BCE. However, there is evidence that Hecate evolved from the Egyptian midwife goddess Heqit, (alternatively spelt 'Heket' or 'Hekat'.) The frog headed goddess Heqit assisted with the daily birth of the Sun and was associated with the apparently magical germination of the seemingly lifeless corn seed. In pre-dynastic Egypt the matriarch and wise woman of the tribe was called the 'heq'. It's interesting to note that Hecate is associated with childbirth.
Hecate’s name has several possible meanings. 'She who works Her will' is the most commonly accepted, but 'the far-off one' or 'far-darting one' is also suggested. Such names suggest that Her power is far reaching.
An alternative derivation, 'most shining one', is borne out in representations of Hecate from the forth century BCE which show a young goddess of both beauty & power, carrying a torch & wearing a headdress of stars. 'Hecate' is the female equivalent of 'Hekatos', an obscure epithet of Apollo, with whom She is sometimes associated.
The Olympians 'adopted' Her after they had defeated the Titans, but She was not of the same kind, and never lived amongst them. During this time Hecate’s power was still recognized: Zeus gave Her dominion over Heaven, Earth and Sea, and they shared the right to grant or withhold gifts from humanity. Hecate was worshipped as Goddess of abundance & eloquence. She is still generous to those who recognize Her.
According to the Encyclopaedia of Ancient Deities, Hecate 'was only worshipped at night by torchlight'.
Hecate is sometimes referred to a triple goddess. Classically She was part of a group with Persephone and Demeter. Contrary to modern Pagan assumptions, Demeter represents the old crone woman, Persephone the wife woman, and Hecate is the Maiden. Every early Greek representation of Hecate shows Her as a young woman. It is only much later that She is represented as Crone.
In Mytilene on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, near what was Troy, there are Temples of Demeter, where the women would go to the annual festival of Eleusis to celebrate fertility rites. There is ample evidence that Hecate was honored there too, perhaps as a guide for initiates into the Mysteries.
But Hecate’s power was to fade. In later myths She is represented as a daughter of Zeus who rules the Underworld and the waning Moon. The Greeks began to emphasize Her darker aspects; Hecate as Goddess of the Dead & Queen of Witches. She was increasingly depicted as roaming the earth on moonless nights in the company of baying dogs and the hungry spirits of those dead who were not ready to die, those who were murdered or not given appropriate burial rites.
No other Greek deity attracted such atmosphere of 'evil and debased superstition' how did Hecate become transformed from a popular, bright young Goddess into a dark and terrifying hag? Perhaps we will never know for certain, but there are some fascinating clues.
Hecate has long been associated with crossroads where three roads meet It's commonly suggested that the crossroads symbolize Hecate’s triple nature and all seeing ability, but there are deeper mysteries. After crossing the Styx, a newly dead ancient Greek soul found themselves at place where three roads meet to be judged. One road led to the Elysian Fields, the abode of the blessed, reserved for the great and the heroic. The second path led to the Fields of Asphodel, for all who'd led a blameless but ordinary life. Criminals or those who had angered the Gods followed the third road to Tartarus, a sunless land of punishment.
But crossroads are also seen as ominous and dangerous places. In many traditions this is where suicides and criminals were buried. Were the two aspects associated or confused in some way? It's notable that it is specifically crossroads where three roads meet that are sacred to Hecate, whereas any crossroad is deemed as ominous.
The Romans adopted Hecate, and Her role shifted again. Hecate became an aspect of the Triple Moon Goddess Diana (the Full moon, associated with Earth), Proserpina (the lunar phases, associated with Heaven), and Hecate (the New moon, associated with the Underworld.)
As the power of the Solar Gods rose, Hecate became increasingly demonized, until by the Middle Ages She was reduced to a parody of an evil crone.
Hecate’s best-known role in Greek myth is in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Demeter’s beloved daughter Persephone, the Goddess of spring, was playing in the meadows when Hades emerged from the Underworld and captured Her. Hecate knew what had happened:
Hecate reveals the truth to Demeter, and together they go to try and rescue Persephone. It is finally agreed that Persephone shall spend part of the year in the Underworld with Hades and the rest on Earth with Demeter. Hecate henceforth acts as guide for Persephone on Her journeys between the worlds.
Aconite, (also known as Hecate’s, Monkshood or Wolfs bane), is a highly poisonous plant that is sacred to Hecate. According to myth, the plant sprang up where drops of the saliva of Cerberus fell to earth when Hercules dragged the dog-beast from the Underworld.
In later myths Hecate appears as a daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hecate was sent to the Underworld after incurring the wrath of Hera for stealing a pot of rouge for Europa, who was one of Zeus's lovers. Hecate fled to Earth and hid in the house of a woman who had just given birth. In late Classical Greece contact with childbirth was impure, so Cabiri plunged Hecate into the Underworld River Acheron to cleanse Her. From then on Hecate remained in the Underworld.
This story tells us as much about attitudes in late Greece as it does about Hecate. Whereas in earlier times Hecate appears to have been honored as a goddess of childbirth, now birth is 'impure'
Sacred to Hecate
All wild animals are sacred to Hecate and She sometimes appears three headed as dog, horse & bear or dog, snake & lion. But the creatures of darkness and of the earth are most sacred to Her; ravens, owls, crows, snakes & dragons. The frog, significantly a creature that can cross between two elements, is also sacred to Hecate and the Egyptian goddess Heqit.
The yew, cypress, hazel, black poplar and the willow are all sacred to Hecate. The leaves of the black poplar are dark on one side & light on the other, symbolizing the boundary between the worlds.
The yew has long been associated with the Underworld. It is the longest living creature in Europe, and naturally 'resurrects' itself: As the central trunk dies, a new tree grows within the rotting core. This ability may be why it is so often found in graveyards as a symbol of eternal life. In Brittany it is believed that the yew sends a root to the mouth of each corpse, allowing the spirit to escape and be reborn.The yew has strong associations with death as well as rebirth. A poison prepared from the seeds was used on arrows, and yew wood was commonly used to make bows and dagger hilts.The potion in Hecate’s cauldron contains 'slips of yew'. Yew berries carry Hecate’s power, & can bring wisdom or death. The seeds are highly poisonous, but the fleshy, coral-colored 'berry' surrounding it is not, and if prepared correctly can bring inspirational visions.
Many other herbs and plant were associated with Hecate, including garlic, almonds, lavender, myrrh, mugwort, cardamom, mint, dandelion, hellebore, and lesser celandine. Several poisons and hallucinogens are linked to Hecate, including belladonna, hemlock, mandrake, aconite (Classically known as hecateis), and opium poppy.
Dandelion tea is used to call spirits and is said to enhance psychic ability.
In ancient Greece snakes were the creatures most commonly associated with the dead, and it was commonly believed that the dead could appear as snakes. Several images of Hecate show Her holding a snake. Snakes have long been connected with chthonic powers and the uncommon wisdom of the Other world.
The dog is the animal most commonly associated with Hecate, and She was sometimes addressed as the 'Black she dog'. Black dogs were once sacrificed to Her in purification rituals, and Hecate could manifest as a dog. The sound of barking dogs is the first sign of Her approach in Greek and Roman literature:
"The Earth began to bellow, trees to dance
And howling dogs in glimmering light advance
Ere Hekate came."
The Aeneid, book VL. Virgil.
Ovid writes that Hecate could be conjured up from darkness "with long howls." There is evidence of an old belief that the souls of the unburied dead could appear as dogs. Hecate is sometimes identified with the with three-headed dog Cerberus, who guards the entrance to Hades, and there may be connections with the Egyptian dog-headed god Annubis, who conducted souls to the Underworld.
The dog is also well known as a guardian of the house, standing at the font door to stand watch, and this seems to relate to Hecate’s role as guardian.
The ancient grove near Lake Averno in Italy has long been sacred to Hecate.
Samhain is especially significant to Hecate, but several Festival days are celebrated in Her honour: The 13th August is the time to ask for Her blessing on the coming harvest, for as Goddess of Storms Hecate has the power to destroy the crop before it can be cut.
Night of Hecate
Sunset on November 16th marks the beginning of the Night of Hecate. If you only honour Her once in the year, this is the time to do it! In Ancient Greece animal sacrifices would have been made, but leaving a Hecate’s Supper at the Crossroads is a more appropriate offering today. Traditionally Hecate's Supper would be eaten outside under the Dark Moon at a crossroads with one plate reserved for Hecate. After the meal was consumed, Hecate's plate was placed at the crossroads. Once the offering is given, depart without looking back. Remember that whatever is given to Hecate cannot be reclaimed, so don't use your best china. It is Hecate's option to decide who or what consumes the offering, be it feral animals or humans, this is how She accepts the offering.
Traditional food for Hecate's Supper include eggs, fish roe, goat and sheep cheese, sprats, red mullet, garlic, mushrooms, and honey cake surrounded by blazing torches or cakes decorated with miniature imitation torches (candles). Other ideas include garlic, salmon, honey, and edible flowers.
In the past and the present those who follow Hecate are often initiated into Her mysteries on this night.
November 30th is the Day of Hecate at the Crossroads.
In some traditions January 31st is the night that Hecate hands Her torch to Brigid, whose arrival is celebrated at Imbolc. This seems to parallel the cycle of the Holly King and the Oak King, who each rule one half of the year: Hecate carries the torch through the dark half of the year, while Brigid takes it for the light half. Some suggest that Hecate and Brigid are sisters who share the torch.
All this may seem very odd, given that Hecate is Greek and Brigid Celtic. But traditional beliefs that evolve over time may have little to do with historical origins. Both Goddesses are very ancient, and have been worshipped in Britain for centuries, so who is to say what relationship may have developed between them?
Hecate is traditionally worshiped on the eve of the New Moon or the 30th of the month, when 'Hecate’s Suppers' would be prepared. This is also a time to purify the house.
An offering of food, traditionally known as 'Hecate’s Supper' include red mullet, (a scavenging fish that was taboo in other cults), sprat, breads, raw eggs, cheese, garlic, cake and honey. Ideally the offerings are left at a crossroads and you should leave without looking back.
Little round cakes decorated with lit miniature torches were also offered on the eve of the New or Full Moon. This practice may have derived from Hecate’s close relationship to Artemis.
This practice has a very long history. The Christian Church was still trying to stop people leaving offerings at the crossroads as late as the 11th Century, and it is certainly carried on today so it is entirely possible that there is an unbroken tradition.
Hecate particularly appreciates honey & magic mushrooms if you have them - Well, it is supposed to be a sacrifice!
Charge of the Dark Goddess
Listen to the words of the Dark Goddess of Transformation; She who of old was also called among men Kali, Hecate, Cerridwen, Lilith, Persephone, Fata, Morgana, Ereshkigal, Arianhrod, Durga, Inanna, Tiamat, and by countless other names:
"Hear me child, and know Me for who I am. I have been with you since you were born, and I will stay with you until you return to Me at the final dusk. I am the passionate and seductive lover who inspires the poet to dream. I am the One who calls to you at the end of your journey. After the day is done, My children find their blessed rest in my embrace. I am the womb from which all things are born. I am the shadowy, still tomb; all things must come to Me and bare their breasts to die and be reborn to the Whole."
"I am the Sorceress that will not be ruled, the Weaver of Time, the Teacher of Mysteries. I snip the threads that bring my children home to me. I slit the throats of the cruel and drink the blood of the heartless. Swallow your fear and come to me, and you will discover true beauty, strength, and courage. I am the fury which rips the flesh from injustice. I am the glowing forge that transforms your inner demons into tools of power. Open yourself to my embrace and overcome."
I am the glinting sword that protects you from harm. I am the crucible in which all the aspects of yourself merge together in a rainbow of union. I am the velvet depths of the night sky, the swirling mists of midnight, shrouded in mystery. I am the chrysalis in which you will face that which terrifies you and from which you will blossom forth, vibrant and renewed. Seek me at the crossroads, and you shall be transformed, for once you look upon my face, there is no return."
I am the fire that kisses the shackles away. I am the cauldron in which all opposites grow to know each other in Truth. I am the web which connects all things. I am the Healer of all wounds, the Warrior who rights all wrongs in their Time. I make the weak strong. I make the arrogant humble. I raise up the oppressed and empower the disenfranchised. I am Justice tempered with Mercy."
"Most importantly, child, I am you. I am part of you, and I am within you. Seek me within and without, and you will be strong. Know me. Venture into the dark so that you may awaken to Balance, Illumination, and Wholeness. Take my Love with you everywhere and find the Power within to be who you wish.
I sit in the blackness of the
dark moon night
with my hounds
at the crossroads
where three roads converge
at the crossroads
the place of choice
All paths lead to the crossroads
and all are desirable
but only one can you travel
only one can you choose
choice creates endings
and all beginnings come from endings
at the crossroads
Which one will you choose?
which way will you go?
Though the choice is yours
here's a secret I'll share
The way to choose is to enter the void
the way to choose is to let die
the way to choose is to fly free
The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky