The dark goddess, the beautiful and mysterious goddess, the guide through the crossroads and into the afterlife. She is often depicted several different ways including but not limited to even being represented as the triple goddess herself.
Hekate’s worship has spanned three thousand years as a goddess of crossroads, the moon, doorways, light, darkness, magick, pharmakeia, necromancy, and witchcraft. And that is the shortlist. She remains a shape-shifting protector of the marginalized and children. Hekate is a Queen of Witches. Since ancient days, Hekate has been known as “triformis” or having “three forms.” She is indeed a Triple Goddess, as understood by the ancients. In some images, Hekate’s three faces are pointed in the three directions of the crossroads of which She is a mistress. Sometimes the Triple Goddess indicated a trinity of goddesses such as Demeter, Persephone, and Hekate or Selene, Artemis and Hekate as the Triple Moon.
Hekate was perceived as three young women standing back to back, each holding a representative symbol of the goddess such as keys, dagger, torches, serpents, etc. My point is that Hekate has been known since antiquity as a triple goddess but always as a maiden or mother figure. There were even times when she as a triple form had an animal head for each.
Below are more scholarly descriptions and assessments of who she is/was in history
HEKATE (Hecate) is the goddess of magic, witchcraft, the night, moon, ghosts and necromancy. She was the only child of the Titanes Perses and Asteria from whom she received her power over heaven, earth, and sea.
Hekate assisted Demeter in her search for Persephone, guiding her through the night with flaming torches. After the mother-daughter reunion became she Persephone’s minister and companion in Hades.
Three metamorphosis myths describe the origins of her animal familiars: the black she-dog and the polecat (a mustelid house pet kept by the ancients to hunt vermin). The dog was the Trojan Queen Hekabe (Hecuba) who leapt into the sea after the fall of Troy and was transformed by the goddess. The polecat was either the witch Gale, turned as punishment for her incontinence, or Galinthias, midwife of Alkmene (Alcmena), who was transformed by the enraged goddess Eileithyia but adopted by the sympathetic Hekate.
Hekate was usually depicted in Greek vase painting as a woman holding twin torches. Sometimes she was dressed in a knee-length maiden’s skirt and hunting boots, much like Artemis. In statuary Hekate was often depicted in triple form as a goddess of crossroads.
Her name means “worker from afar” from the Greek word hekatos. The masculine form of the name, Hekatos, was a common epithet of the god Apollon.
Hekate was identified with a number of other goddesses including Artemis, Selene (the Moon), Despoine, the sea-goddess Krataeis (Crataeis), the goddess of the Taurian Khersonese in Skythia, the Kolkhian (Colchian) nymph Perseis, the heroine Iphigeneia, the Thracian goddesses Bendis and Kotys (Cotys), the Euboian nymph Maira (the Dog-Star), the Eleusinian nymph Daeira and the Boiotian nymph Herkyna (Hercyna).
Hecate, goddess accepted at an early date into Greek religion but probably derived from the Carians in southwest Asia Minor. In Hesiod she is the daughter of the Titan Perses and the nymph Asteria and has power over heaven, earth, and sea; hence, she bestows wealth and all the blessings of daily life.
Hecate (Hekate) is a goddess of Greek mythology who was capable of both good and evil. She was especially associated with witchcraft, magic, the Moon, doorways, and creatures of the night such as hell-hounds and ghosts. She is often depicted carrying a torch to remind of her connection with the night and in sculpture with three faces, representing her role as the guardian of crossroads.
According to Hesiod in his Theogony, Hecate is the daughter of Perses and Asteria, making her the granddaughter of the Titans Phoebe and Coeus. Euripides, on the other hand, mentions her mother is Leto. Other writers claim her as the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Aristaion or Night. The goddess was frequently associated with Demeter and even assimilated to her in some cults.
Associations & Rituals
From the 5th century BCE, the goddess is associated with the darker side of the human experience, that is death, witchcraft, magic, the Moon, dreams, fierce hounds and creatures which roam the darkness of night. As the Oxford Classical Dictionary phrases it,
…outlandish in her infernal aspects, 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.
Hesiod describes the goddess in the following glowing terms:
Zeus, Cronus’ son, honoured [Hecate] above all others: he gave her splendid gifts – to have a share of the earth and of the barren sea, and from the starry sky as well she has a share in honour, and is honoured most of all by the immortal gods. For even now, whenever any human on the earth seeks propitiation by performing fine sacrifices according to custom, he invokes Hecate; and much honor very easily stays with that man whose prayers the goddess accepts with gladness, and she bestows happiness upon him. (Theogony 411-420)
Hesiod goes on to say that the goddess supports warriors, athletes, hunters, horsemen, herdsmen, shepherds, fishermen, and children. Her companions are the Furies (Erinyes), the winged creatures who punished wrong-doing, and her children are the Empusae, female demons partial to seducing travellers.
The goddess had unusual rituals performed in her honour, which include the offerings of food – given at crossroads, road junctions, and any other sort of boundary or threshold – known as ‘the supper of Hecate’. These took the form of small cakes of eggs, cheese, bread, and dog meat, which were lit with miniature torches or, alternatively, a dish of red mullet, which was usually prohibited from offerings to the other gods. Hecate was also offered the sacrifice of dogs, especially puppies. The dog connection may be the fact that dogs were known to eat the dead if left unburied; they also howl at the moon, of course. A further canine connection may be with the Egyptian god Anubis who guided souls to the underworld, and the Greek three-headed hound of Hades, Cerberus, may be an earlier form of Hecate. The offerings to the goddess were made each month during the night of a new moon. The goddess was especially appealed to by sorceresses for aid in their magic and spells and appears on surviving examples of curse tablets.
IT WAS A COMMON PRACTICE TO PLACE IMAGES OF HECATE AT CITY GATES & THE DOORWAYS OF PRIVATE HOMES AS SHE COULD WARD OFF EVIL SPIRITS.
According to Pausanias, the 2nd-century CE Greek traveller, the island of Aegina had a mystery cult dedicated to the goddess where it was believed those suffering mental illness could be cured. Kos, Erythrai, Samothrace, Thessaly, and Miletos also worshipped the goddess, with the latter having a 6th-century BCE circular altar for sacrifices to be made in her honour (the earliest archaeological evidence of her worship). The worship of Hecate continued into the Hellenistic and Roman periods with significant archaeological finds of votive offerings to the goddess being found at Lagina in Caria and Phrygia.
Hecate in Art
Hecate appears regularly in Greek art and literature only from the 5th century BCE onwards, before which she is only a minor figure who features in the stories of Demeter (as Persephone’s handmaid) and Artemis. This may indicate the goddess’ relatively late arrival in Greece from Caria, although, she was considered a Greek goddess and not of foreign origin by the ancient Greeks themselves. She is typically portrayed on Greek pottery as a young woman carrying a torch or a key, both reminders of her function as a night deity and a guardian of the gates of Hades. One 5th-century BCE Attic vase depicts a woman offering the goddess a puppy and a basket of cakes.
In sculpture, her most striking appearance occurs in Classical and Hellenistic Period figures which have the goddess with three bodies and three heads (or a single body with three heads or three bodies and a single head), usually with halos of moonbeams. The historian Robert Graves notes that the heads could be of a dog, lion, and horse, which represented the constellations which cover the calendar year. The goddess, though, usually appears with human heads. Known as hekataia, the first example of the triple-Hecate form is credited to a figure which guarded the entrance to the Acropolis of Athens, the Hekate Epipyrgidia (‘On the Ramparts’) by the 5th-century BCE sculptor Alcamenes. The 2nd-century BCE Pergamon Altar of Zeus has a three-headed Hecate attacking a snake-like giant, helped by a dog.
It was a common practice to place images of the goddess at city gates, entrances to sacred sites and the doorways of private homes where it was believed she acted as a protectress and warded off evil spirits. Finally, the goddess is referenced in the tragedy plays of Euripides and Sophocles, amongst others, and in Virgil’s Aeneid where she acts as Sibyl’s guide in the Underworld.
Offerings For Hecate/Hekate and a bit more information:
Key, torch, cauldron, knife, broom
Star and crescent moon
Hekate may be venerated alongside Artemis, Persephone, Demeter, and/or Kybele. Hekate dances in the entourage of Dionysus.
Snakes, toads, dragons, cats, but most especially dogs: Hekate has an extremely powerful bond with dogs: even when manifesting in human form, she is usually accompanied by a pair of hounds. If appearing without dogs, Hekate may circle in canine fashion. Somehow there will be a canine reference.
Dragons pull her chariot.
Sirius the Dog Star; the moon, especially the Dark Moon phase
Garlic, lavender, mandrake, henna
Pomegranate; black poplar; date palm; yew
Three-way or T-shaped crossroads; Hekate was a goddess with an organized cult. In addition to Caria and Colchis, she had sanctuaries in Aigina and Lagina and a grove on the Aventine hill. She is the matron goddess and guardian of the city of Istanbul (previously called Byzantium and Constantinople). Hekate is credited with saving that city from attack by King Philip II of Macedonia in 304 BCE. His forces attempted to attack secretly during a dark moon but Hekate lit a crescent moon, creating enough light for the Byzantines to apprehend their danger and save themselves. In gratitude, they began using her symbols (star and crescent moon) on their coins. The image still appears on the Turkish flag. The image predates Islam and was the official emblem of Byzantine Greeks.
Night time is the right time for Hekate: she only accepts offerings and petitions at night. All festivities, rituals, and ceremonies in her honor are held after dark. The only acceptable illumination is candles or torches.
The last day of each month is dedicated to Hekate.
• In Italy, Hekate shared a festival with Diana on 13 August.
• A Friday the 13th in August is especially sacred.
• 16 November is Hekate Night for modern Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.
Hekate’s ancient devotees held dinners in her honor known as Hekate Suppers. Foods associated with her were prepared. The entrée was usually fish, especially red mullet. Devotees feasted and celebrated. Offerings and leftovers were placed outside the door or at a crossroads for Hekate and her hounds. Even way back when, cynics scoffed that food placed outside was actually consumed by feral dogs and homeless people without realizing that this is Hekate’s intent: this is one way she accepts offerings. (The Church was still trying to eradicate this ritual as late as the eleventh century.)
Smaller, private offerings may be left at a crossroads, too:
Place offerings on a plate or flat stone and leave them at a crossroads after dark.
Make your invocation and then walk away without looking back.
Do not return for the plate but consider it part of the offering. (In other words, don’t use a plate you wish to keep.) Encountering or hearing a dog is an indication that your petition has been heard.
Eggs, garlic, and honey (especially lavender honey); croissants and crescent shaped breads and pastries; candles; incense; images of dogs, especially black dogs; actions on behalf of dogs
Please feel free to add in your experiences with her or your own understanding of who she represents to you in the comment section below.