|William Blake - The Night of Enitharmon's Joy |
or The Triple Hecate, 1795
The Origins of the Goddess
Her name is thought to have been derived from the female variation of the epithet hekatos (Worker from Afar). It is unclear as to why she was called this, though this adjective was originally ascribed to Apollo with whom she was sometimes connected to. Apollo was an archer god who was said to shoot arrows from afar (he was also the god of sudden death) so his association with the adjective is quite clear. My guess would be that she, as a huntress (who also hunted with arrows) had the same associations as Apollo when it came to this subject. Of course, other theories exist, but this is just the most widely-accepted one.
Her Role in the Gigantomachy
Hecate and the gigante Klytios, Attic
red figure vase, Antiken-museen, Berlin,
Germany, ca 410 - 400 BC (she is
depicted killing the gigante with her two
The Rape of Persephone - Hecate as an Infernal Deity
The Return of Persephone, Attic red
figure krater, Metropolitan Museum,
New York City, USA (Hermes leads
Persephone out of the underworld,
Hecate and Demeter welcome her;
Hecate is the one holding two torches)
Hercules, Cerberus and Hecate (on the
right), Apulian red figure krater,
Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany,
ca 330 - 310 BC
Hecate with a black dog,
Antiken-sammlung des Archaologischen
Insituts der Universitat,
Attic black figure kylix
Medea, Kirke and Gale - Witches and Hecate
Hecate as the Triple Goddess
representation of Hecate,
marble, Roman copy
after an original of the
|Hecate, the British Museum|
- two torches (sometimes only one; this developed from the myth of the rape of Persephone)
- her familiars - the polecat and a black bitch
- dogs in general (her black dog familiar, the dog Cerberus, she is sometimes depicted with a dog's head, dogs start howling when she is present, she is sometimes accompanied by a pack of dogs just as Artemis is etc.)
- keys (she unlocks the mysteries of the underworld)
- daggers (she uses them to "cut through delusions", this is also often associated with the Wiccan ritual knife known as the athamé)
- knee-length maiden's skirt and hunting boots (typical dress of virgin goddesses; also part of the reason why she is confused with Artemis)
- the Moon
- the night
- the underworld
As she was a deity of the crossroads, a sort of "crossroad shrines" also existed. These were more gifts or sacrifices (usually of food) that were placed on the crossings of three roads as is appropriate for this triple deity.
Her public cult was the strongest in Eleusis (Attika, Southern Greece) where the famous Mysteries of Eleusis were dominant. These mysteries primarily celebrated the goddesses Persephone and Demeter as goddesses of fertility and crops. The myth of Persephone's abduction and rape was surely a part of these mysteries and so Hecate, by extension, was also included. It seems as though her cult was in general very strong in the south of Greece, not only in Eleusis but also the cities of Athens, Aigina, Argos and so on.
I previously mentioned that she was a Thracian goddess also. Some claim that she herself was not this specific Thracian goddess but rather that she was equated with the goddess Bendis. This would mean that Hecate was simply a product of the synchronicity of the Greek and Thracian culture and took on Bendis' attributes. As Thracia was situated north of Greece, her cult was also present in the northern regions of the land such as Thessaly.
In addition to Eleusis, her cult was also very strong on the island of Samothrace and could also be found in Asia Minor and even on the island of Sicily in southern Italy.
Her cults gave her many names and epithets. Most of them were connected to her characteristics, mythology or parentage. So just to list a few: Perseis (the Destroyer; named after her father Perses who was the Titan god of destruction), Aidônaia (Lady of the Underworld; she was an infernal deity as mentioned before), Trimorphis (Three-Formed, she was depicted as having three heads or three bodies each facing a different direction), Trioditis (of the Crossroads or of the Three Ways, she was the goddess of the crossroads and also a triple goddess), Nytipolos (night-wandering, she was a nocturnal deity), Khthoniê (of the Underworld, as explained before), Skylakagetis (Leader of the Dogs; she was associated with many dogs, some of which were her familiars), Liparokrêdemnos (Bright-Coiffed, With Bright Headband, can be connected to her being a lunar deity), Anassa eneroi (Queen of those Below or Queen of the Dead as she was the goddess of the Underworld) and so on.
Hecate gained a sort of bad reputation because of her connection to witchcraft (just as witchcraft itself gained an even worse reputation). This can be traced back to the Middle Ages when she was seen as presiding over the "satanic rituals" that witches conducted. Hah. More precisely, it was Diana that was believed to lead these rituals, but Diana and Hecate were very closely connected and even equated sometimes. An interesting theory is that Hecate's triplicity (or rather her depiction with three heads) lead to Dante's description of a three-faced Satan.
Many have a hard time connecting with Hecate and some even fear her image, but this is all due to prejudice and misconceptions. Even though this deity has many darker aspects, it is important to remember that she is not all dark. Even the "nicest" of gods have dark aspects. I believe that modern society is just used to everything being purely good or bad or black and white and that ambivalence of deities such as were worshiped by the ancients is incomprehensible. The ancients saw the deities as very anthropomorphic. As such, they had their own backgrounds, relations, characteristics and, what's more important, they were not perfect! Each of them differed from one another and in every situation, someone had to be the bad guy and someone had to be the good guy. As is the case in real life, it's not always the same people that play the role of the good guy; everyone shows their "bad side" every now and then. It was the same with the gods.
One must remember that Hecate also has many "neutral" and positive associations. Also, things that we see as "bad" nowadays are a misconception from the viewpoint of the ancients. For instance, the underworld would not have been seen as bad back then; it was an equally necessary part of the cosmos as anything else and thus was important for keeping a cosmic balance. The same can be said of the night; one person may have very bad associations with it while another may perceive it as beautiful and enchanting, or even romantic. This is why I believe that even the so called "dark" gods must be given a chance and tried to be seen without prejudice and from other perspectives.
Until next time. Yours,