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Hecate: Greek Goddess of Witchcraft

Hecate appears to be an old Thracian goddess that was adopted into the Greek pantheon as the goddess of many things, including crossroads, entrances and liminal spaces; the moon and the night; magic, witchcraft, and sorcery; plant and herblore and poison; and the underworld and necromancy.

While Hecate, or Hekate, has become well-known today as the goddess of witchcraft, she was a lesser-known goddess in the Greek age and often conflated with some of the more famous Greek goddesses, such as Demeter, Artemis, and Persephone.

But according to the Chaldean Oracles, which relate fragments of old magical lore, Hecate is the world soul that sits between the thoughts of god and physical creation. This is why the goddess Hecate is so powerful.

She is widely worshipped today by practitioners of magic and witchcraft.

Artistic representation of Hecate
Artistic representation of Hecate

Origins of the Goddess Hecate

Historians and archaeologists believe that Hecate, often called Hekate in modern magick and witchcraft texts, was an extremely powerful Thracian goddess who was adopted into the Greek pantheon. This may explain why Hecate never had a comfortable position within the Greek pantheon and Greek mythology, as she was "shoe-horned" in.

Literary accounts of the goddess Hecate in Greek mythology suggest various different origins. She is variously described as the daughter of Zeus with Demeter or Hera. She may also be the daughter of the goddess Leto with Tartarus. But the most common myth suggests that Hecate is the daughter of Perses and Asteria, both Titans, who gave her complete dominion over heaven, earth, and sea.

However, when Zeus and the gods warred with the Titans, Hecate sided with Zeus and helped the gods. As a result, she was the only one of the Titans that was allowed to retain her dominion. But because she was a Titan, her power was relegated to a kind of shadow realm.

Hecate's outsider status in the pantheon of Greek mythology may also explain why she is often conflated with so many other Greek goddesses. Hecate is sometimes equated with Artemis, Demeter, Rhea, Selene, Persephone, Despoina, and many of the nymphs.

Hecate standing before Hades and Persephone
Hecate standing before Hades and Persephone

Goddess of Liminal Spaces

Hecate was the goddess of the crossroads and entranceways. Images of Hecate as a triple goddess with faces looking out in every direction were commonly placed at crossroad shrines and the entrances to temples and homes. It was believed that she could stop evil spirits and negative energy from entering.

Hecate was often included in household shrines alongside daemons of the location and family as a protector in ancient Greek religion.

These statues showed the three images of the goddess Hecate standing around a column and are known as Hekataion. Smaller dancing female figures often appear around the goddess. These may be the Charites representing charm and beauty, or they could be the Lampades, nymphs of the underworld given to Hecate by Zeus as her companions following the war with the Titans.

Triple Hekataion of Hecate Crossroad Shrine
Triple Hekataion of Hecate Crossroad Shrine

Moon Goddess

Hecate is also one of the Greek goddesses associated with the moon. Nighttime was believed to be her domain. This may relate again to liminal spaces, and the veil between the worlds is generally believed to be thinner at night.

Hecate was often depicted as accompanied by dogs, who could act as protectors, especially for those traveling at night. Dogs were considered sacred animals by her followers.

When Hecate travels at night, the Lampades accompany her, carrying torches to light her way. They can help travelers, but are also mischievous and are thought to lead men to their deaths on occasion. But the Lampades are not considered evil spirits. Various Lampades are named in stories from Greek mythology including Melinoe, Marcaria, Angelos, Minthe, Gorgyra, and Styx.

Hecate as Moon Goddess
Hecate as Moon Goddess

Chthonic Goddess

Hecate was also considered a goddess of the underworld. This may again relate to her power in liminal spaces, including the space between life and death.

Some ancient authors, including Lucan, Plutarch, and Theocritus, describe her as being terrible to look upon. She is pallid and sickly looking, bathed in blood, and feasts on graves. She is a black goddess whose appearance sickens men. She may even appear half-living and half-dead. This is a very similar description to the Norse goddess of the Underworld, Hel. However, most depictions show Hecate as a beautiful woman, sometimes in the short robes of a maiden in reference to the fact that she is a virgin goddess.

Hecate's connection with the underworld is explored in the story of Demeter and Persephone. Hecate was able to observe Hades' kidnapping of the Greek goddess Persephone. This suggests that she already had a power of vision in the underworld that the other gods lacked. As such, Hecate was able to lead Demeter to Persephone holding two torches. Hecate is often depicted with these torches.

When Persephone was found, and the deal reached that she would spend half of her time with Hades, Hecate became her companion in the underworld. It is unclear from the surviving Greek mythology whether she was given power in the underworld to fulfill this role, or she was chosen for the role because she had power in the underworld.

This certainly sealed Hecate's role as a goddess of necromancy, as she is able to carry messages between the living and the dead. She holds the keys to Tartarus and has equal power in the worlds of the living and the dead.

Hecate with Torches
Hecate with Torches

Goddess of Magic and Witchcraft

Hecate had power over heaven, earth, and sea. As such, she was able to bestow great gifts including prosperity and wealth, and able to withhold them when she did not feel sufficiently respected.

But, because Hecate was a Titan rather than an Olympian, there seems to have been something unnatural about her gifts, which may be why they were considered bestowed through sorcery.

It was Hecate who taught Circe, her high priestess, the art of magic. Circe in turn taught this witchcraft to her niece Medea. She went on to marry Jason of the Argonauts, and she made much trouble with her use of sorcery and her knowledge of poisonous plants.

Theocritus tells the story of a woman who casts a spell to bind her lover and calls on the assistance of Hecate.

In Lucan's Pharsalia, the witch Erichtho invokes Hecate, calling her the lowest incarnation of Persephone, to gain magical knowledge. He also describes Hecate as looking like a hag, though we know that she also appeared as a virgin maiden. This, combined with her triple appearance on crossroad altars is the source of the idea of the goddess as the maiden, mother, and crone.

Plato also says that Hecate was the goddess favored by the women of Thessaly, who were famous for their knowledge of poisons and skills in sorcery.

For practitioners of magic and witchcraft, Hecate is a patron and a teacher.

Greek witch working with Hecate
Greek witch working with Hecate

Hecate in the Chaldean Oracles

One thing that adds to the mystery surrounding Hecate is her appearance in the Chaldean Oracles, fragments of a spiritual text dating to the second century that played an important role in Neoplatonic philosophy.

These texts have a lot to say, but the pertinent part seems to explain a great god that has a dual nature. One part is the transcendent mind, while the other is the physical creator. Hecate is described as a membrane that separates these powers of thought and the physical world. As such, she is described as the "world soul".

In a sense, this seems to describe Hecate as the embodiment of the spiritual realm. She is what exists between the physical mundane world and the divine. Thus, she seems to represent the spiritual energy that mankind can tap into.

This seems to marry well with the idea of Hecate as the Greek goddess of liminal spaces, and the goddess of witchcraft. She is the spiritual force that all souls can feel.

Hecate as maiden, mother, and crone
Hecate as maiden, mother, and crone

Symbology of Hecate

Hecate is usually depicted as a beautiful woman, in the same fashion as most Greek goddesses. She is sometimes depicted in a short maiden's tunic, perhaps referencing the idea of her as a virgin, but she does not always appear this way.

She can appear with two torches in her hands, representing the torches that she carried to guide Demeter into the underworld. She may use the same torches to guide others to and from Tartarus and to light the dark and liminal spaces. She is also often depicted with a key, which may be the key to Tartarus or a reference to her important role in cult activity as the guardian of entrances.

At crossroads and entrances, Hecate is usually depicted as a triple goddess. This can be a single body with three heads, or three women standing back to back.

Hecate is described by some ancient Greek authors as a hideous crone. This, combined with her triple nature and the fact that she was also sometimes depicted as a maiden and a grown woman fuels the modern image of the goddess of magic as the maiden, mother, and crone.

She had several animal familiars including dogs, horses, polecats, and snakes. She is most often associated with dogs. She may have had one particular dog companion who was Queen Hecuba of Troy who threw herself into the water following the fall of the city. Hecate turned her into a spiritual dog and adopted her as a familiar.

Dogs were most commonly used as her sacrificial animals.

Hecate was also considered a goddess of plants and herbs, essential ingredients in magic working. The plants most closely associated with the goddess are oak, yew, garlic, aconite, belladonna, dittany, and mandrake.

Dark Hecate imagery
Dark Hecate imagery

Worship of Hecate

Hecate can be called upon to protect spaces, share spiritual and magical knowledge, and commune with the dead.

Rituals for Hecate are best conducted at night, as her powers are most potent under the moon. It is also best to place yourself in a liminal space, such as a doorway, to have greater access to Hecate and her power.

You can connect with the goddess of magic by staring into a flame, representing the torches of the goddess. Looking into a bowl of pure, clean water that is lit by the moon can also act as a conduit for seeing Hecate and allow her to reveal her secrets.

Maintaining a herb garden can be a way to honor the goddess, as can planting flowers that bloom at night, such as night Lillies. A dog can make a better familiar for a witch that works with Hecate than a cat.

Worshippers of the goddess will often wear white robes when asking for protection and black robes for necromantic rituals. Bright orange is also commonly associated with the followers of the goddess.

Various symbols can represent Hecate on an altar, including keys, moonstones, garlic, and snake skins.

Hecate can be a bargaining goddess who will grant requests, but she always requires an offering in return.

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