For many modern witchcraft traditions, Hecate is the Dark Goddess and associated with the spirits of the dead, ghosts, the dark of the moon, baneful herbs, curses and black magic. For others, Hecate is the Crone Goddess, ruling over the third stage of a woman's life, that beyond her childbearing years when she can focus on deepening the skills and information collected throughout her lifetime, when knowledge and experience is refined into wisdom. Historically, Hecate has served many roles. She is an incredibly ancient Goddess with origins lost in the mists of time.
History and Origins
Hecate is generally accepted to be a Hellenic Goddess, but she seems to predate the Olympic Gods and may have originated in Asia Minor. The name Hecate is difficult to decipher, but may mean "she who operates from afar" or "far reaching". It may also be related to the name of the Egyptian Goddess Heqet which sounds similar, especially in the Early Modern English pronunciation of Hecate, which left off the concluding "e".
The earliest literature that mentions Hecate is Hesiod's Theogany. Here he refers to her as:
Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honored above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honor also in starry heaven, and is honored exceedingly by the deathless gods. For to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favor according to custom, he calls upon Hecate. Great honor comes full easily to him whose prayers the goddess receives favorably, and she bestows wealth upon him; for the power surely is with her. For as many as were born of Earth and Ocean amongst all these she has her due portion.
Hesiod lists many things over which she has power, including: wise judgement and ruling of kings, victory and glory in battle, luck in games, sports, horse racing, sea faring, fishing, fertility of livestock, and the care of young children. He notes also that she gives generously to those who honor her, but will happily take away from those who displease her.
Roman and modern depictions of Hecate show her with three faces, sometimes with three bodies, nearly always looking in three different directions. The earlier Greek representations of Hecate were always single. The three-fold image began appearing around the 3rd century BCE. Egyptian-influenced magical papyri described her as having three heads including two of an animal. In one case, a serpent and a horse and in another a cow and a boar. Most images, however, show three separate figures with their backs against a pillar or with their backs to each other holding the symbols of her office which often include a torch (usually two of them, one in each hand), a key, a serpent and/or a dagger. She is also occasionally depicted with a hound at her feet.
Hecate travels with a bitch hound who was once the Trojan Queen Hecabe and a polecat, previously known as Galinthias. She is also the companion and handmaiden of Persephone, accompanying her on her annual journey to and from the Underworld Kingdom of Hades.
Hecate's Spheres of Influence
Throughout history Hecate's spheres of influence have included just about everything. In Hellenic tradition, she is free from the constraints that bind many of the other Gods, that is, they are bound to the realms in which they reside. Hecate has rulership over the Earth, the Sky and the Sea and can move freely throughout them. She rules over all useful herbs, those that are magical, healing or poisonous and governs the secret knowledge of their use as well as the knowledge of sorcery, witchcraft and necromancy. She guards entrance ways, crossroads and boundaries of every sort.
Where paths meet, masks would be placed in honor of Hekate's many faces. Offerings were left to her to help with changes of course. Hekate is the patron of witches, and she was has been honored more recently by Dianic groups as the Mother of witches. It is Hekate that is said to have taught the first women witchcraft. She can be invoked as a bestower of wealth and favor.
Worship of Hecate
Hecate as a Household Goddess
Among the ancient Hellenes, and indeed among modern worshipers, Hecate was an extremely important household Goddess who protected the household and its inhabitants from dangerous outside forces, including criminals, evil spirits, restless ghosts and general unfriendly and unhelpful energies and forces. Her altar stood near the front door, at the crossroads between the public street and the private entryway, or perhaps simply at the liminal place between outside and in.
Traditionally, food offerings are left at the household shrines at the dark of the moon and once the offerings are placed, it is forbidden to look back at them. This major ritual of Hellenic tradition is known as Hecate's Supper or Hecate's Deipnon and is attested in much ancient literature. Traditional offerings for Hecate's Supper include fish (particularly red mullet), eggs and garlic.
The Deipnon ritual usually incorporates a household cleansing ritual as well and sweepings from the household and other items may also be left with the food offering.
Festivals to Hecate
Symbols of Hecate
Animals: dog, polecat, toad
Plants: yew, garlic, cypress, aconite, belladonna, dittany, mandrake
Other: The dark moon, two torches
Related or Similar Deities: Trivia, Enodia, Artemis, Diana, Ereshkigal, Janus, Rhea, Demeter, Cybele, Brimo
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