I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of heaven, the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customs and in many names…
~ Lucius Apuleius, from The Golden Ass (c. 123—c. 170 C.E.)
The last day of each month is sacred to the Goddess Hecate.
Hecate, (sometimes written Hekate) is the Greek Goddess of the three paths, a guardian of the household, protector of everything newly born, and the Goddess of Witchcraft. Known throughout the ancient world, and beloved by many today, She is a widely revered and influential Goddess.
She presides over earth, sea, and sky, as well as a more universal role as Saviour (Soteira), Mother of Angels, and the Cosmic World Soul.
In the modern Goddess and neo-Pagan revivals, She is often depicted solely as the Crone, and is one of the so-called “Dark Goddesses,” but this is not how our most ancient ancestors knew Her.
She is the “bright-coiffed daughter” (as Homer calls Her) of Titans Perses (the destroyer) and Asteria (Goddess of Shining Star Light, of oracles and prophecies of night, including prophetic dreams, the reading of the stars (astrology), and necromancy). Hecate is also the granddaughter of Helios (the Sun).
Her earliest origins point to the Carians of Anatolia (in modern day Turkey) where variants of Her name were given to children. Etymologist and historian William Berg, writes, “Since children are not called after spooks, it is safe to assume that Carian theophoric names involving hekat- refer to a major deity free from the dark and unsavoury ties to the underworld and to witchcraft associated with the Hecate of classical Athens.” (from Hecate: Greek or Anatolian? 1974).
One of Her earliest references in literature is in Hesiod’s Theogony (the Greek poetic epic from between the 8th to 7th century, B.C.E.). And an inscription in the ancient city of Miletus names Her as a protector of entrances, further proof of Her presence in archaic Greek religion (circa 7th to 6th century B.C.E.).
The earliest known representations of Her are single faced, not the three- (sometimes four-) headed woman more common in the later periods. In 1896, historian Lewis Richard Farnell wrote, “The evidence of the monuments as to the character and significance of Hecate is almost as full as that of the literature. But it is only in the later period that they come to express her manifold and mystic nature.”
Regarding the nature of her cult, it has been remarked, “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.” (Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony, eds. (1996). The Oxford Classical Dictionary).
Hecate was the only one of the pre-Olympian Titans that Zeus allowed to retain power once the newer Gods seized control. Zeus shared with Her only the power of granting or refusing anything asked by mortals.
Her realms are three-fold — the earth, sea, and sky. Having the power to create or subdue storms probably played a role in making Her the Goddess who was the protector of shepherds and sailors.
Like the Moon Goddess, Artemis, Hecate is often depicted with Her sacred dogs, and is sometimes clothed in mid-length robes and boots like Her huntress cousin. However, Hecate and Her dogs are often understood to have three heads and are able to see in all directions.
Yet also like Artemis, She is both a lover of solitude and the wilderness, and is a “virgin” Goddess, meaning that in most of Her literary references, She never marries or gives birth.
But although not a mother, She is a fearsome protector of pregnant women, and is called upon to ease the pains and progress of a woman’s labor. Ally of midwives and those who tend the dying, She also will answer the calls of mothers to protect and restore the health of their children.
Walking the roads at night or visiting cemeteries during the dark phase of the moon, the Goddess Hecate is sometimes described as appearing to be shining or luminous.
In other legends She is invisible, or perhaps only glimpsed as a moving, unembodied light. Possibly, it is this luminous quality that reinforces Hecate as a “Moon Goddess,” for She is not really an ethereal sort of Goddess, but is solid and earthy. Some scholars believe
Her luminosity may be associated with Her starry mother Asteria or, as Sharon Turnbull at Goddess Gift notes, it is simply “because, sensibly, She always carries a torch on Her journeys.”
Hecate may appear as a beautiful woman (who just happens to have three human heads), but sometimes She is much more intimidating. She has been known to appear with various combinations of the heads of lions, snakes, horses, dogs, and boars. No one would argue, then, that She is a Goddess of Visions and Knowledge.
In fact, Her ability to see in several directions at once (including the past, present, and future) is the centerpiece of Her most famous myth, which is especially resonant for us at this time of the year.
When Hades abducted Persephone, it was the Goddess Hecate who accompanied Demeter in Her frantic search for Her lost daughter, illuminating the journey with Her famous torches.
Hecate alone had the ability to see all the way into the realm of the dead, and so told the devastated Demeter what had become of Her daughter. (It is Demeter’s despair that brings the fruitful time of year to its annual end).
The Goddess continued to play an important role in the life of Persephone, becoming Her confidante and support during Her annual captivity. And Hades, glad of Hecate’s friendship, was more than hospitable, honoring Her as His guest, free to come and go, in His spirit world.
Hecate’s ability to visit and see into the underworld, as well as the “otherworlds” of dreams and death, make Her a comforting presence for the marginalized and feared outcasts of society.
She was both honored and sometimes given a wide berth as the protectress of the oppressed and of those who lived “on the edges.” In Rome, many of the priests in Her sacred groves were former slaves who had been released in order to work in Her service.
In addition to being found at crossroads on the dark of the Moon, She visited tombs, graveyards, and crime scenes, and Her proximity was usually preceded by whining or howling dogs.
For millennia, She has been understood to be the Goddess of Witches and of magic, the dark of the Moon, and the depths of the underworld.
She has been a no-nonsense judge and advisor to kings, helping them rule with fairness and wisdom. And while She might bestow Her aid on champions of games and war, She is also a friend of the helpless and unwanted, and has ability to set loose demons and other fearsome retributions when those in Her protection are threatened. She is a skilled weaver of magic who conjures visions, dreams, prophecies, and phantoms.
In Her honor, and to ward away the unquiet dead that might be in Her company, on the last day of the month, Hecate’s worshippers would leave a “Hecate’s Supper” of specially prepared foods as offerings (dogs, eggs, milk, honey, and black female lambs were the preferred fare), usually at a three-way (Y) crossroads. It was well-understood that She shared these offerings with the homeless and destitute who were under Her protection.
Her altars and image in Her triplicate form were placed at three-way crossroads throughout Greece and Rome, as well as in the doorways of private homes and in front of city gates. In Rome, Her name was Trivia – the place of the three ways.
Hecate is a voice of wisdom, divination, and dreams. She can be found on the roadways of our lives, and counsels us when we come to our own crossroads. She is the Queen of the Night, and those who seek her protection can move safely even where there is no other light.
Her name means “far reaching” and no matter how lost we may sometimes feel, Hecate is always close at hand in times of need. She illuminates for us the threshold moments in our own lives, and Her torches will guide us in times of darkness. As She does for Persephone, She offers companionship for the deep, most challenging periods of our lives.
May Hecate bless us with the light we need to see what is cloaked in darkness. May we who claim ourselves Witches use only with skill and honor Her gifts to us of healing, transformation, and magic.
In the name of Hecate, may we protect women, children and our vulnerable ones at the fringes and edges. And may She ever guide us well on the pathways of transition.
Hail and thanks be to thee, Hecate.
With gratitude to these resources:
The Goddess Hecate - The Goddess Gift Project
The Goddess Trivia, by David Arthur Walters
Hekate – Theoi Greek Mythology
The Magick of Alexandria – Tony Mierzwiki
Hecate – by Allison Chaney, Princeton University
Wikipedia – Hecate