Mythical Creatures, Research, Witchcraft, Writing

#MythicalCreatureMonday – Origins of Witchcraft: Hecate or Hekate (Greek/Roman)

In an earlier post I discussed the origins of Circe, Goddess of Sorcery, and if you didn’t catch it you can link to it here. Now, I mentioned in that post that Perse, an Ocean Nymph was thought to be Circe’s mother, however, there are a few references to the Goddess Hecate (Hekate) as also “being friendly” with the Titan God of the Sun. By the way, I found a fabulous Family Tree that really confuses things, that you can link to here. Anyway, before I dive further into other myths and legends, I thought I would stay on the Greek end of things and clear some things up about this mysterious Goddess. In this essay, we will be chatting about the Origins of Hecate, Myths of Hecate, and the Hecate in Modern Witchcraft.

Image by Rondell Melling from Pixabay

Origins of Hecate

Most seem to agree that the legends of Hecate didn’t start in Ancient Greece, but migrated into their culture from other countries. I found her referenced as a pre-Olympian chthonic goddess, with origins from Thrace, Asia Minor, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia to name a few. She was a goddess in her own right, and in Greek mythology, she is presented as the daughter of Perses, the Titan God of Destruction and Astaria, the Titan Goddess of Fallen Stars and Divination. Her parentage predisposed her to be regarded as the Titan Goddess of the Night and Moon, but she was also later known as the Goddess of Magic, Crossroads, Ghosts & Necromancy. There is a Roman Goddess of Sorcery and Witchcraft by the name of Trivia, but it seems that Hecate was a more all purpose Goddess when it came to all that.

It is said that cities had statues of the three-faced goddess at their gates to protect against evils that would otherwise enter through them. Later, these statues, known as Hekataion, were used by residents near the doorways to their homes. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Hecate was an only child as referenced by 11.404-452.

The son of Cronos did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea. Also, because she is an only child, the goddess receives not less honor, but more more still, for Zeus honors her.

She earned Zeus’s adoration for aiding the Olympians in their battle against the Titans, and it is said that he shared some of his own power with her in return. Hesiod also says the goddess supports warriors, athletes, hunters, horsemen, herdsmen, shepherds, fishermen, and children. I found it interesting that these categories mostly include men, and that home and hearth wasn’t something that the goddess helped too much with. Perhaps she felt she already had her hands full, between helping all those guys and taking care of the kids. Rituals performed in her honor included offerings of food at intersections, thresholds or crossroads, but she was also accepting of sacrifices of dogs. It is believed that the dog was connected to her through her connection to the underworld, as dogs were known to eat the dead if left unburied. We will talk about her connection to the Underworld when we talk about the myths that reference her.

Image by Artie_Navarre from Pixabay

Most of my research supported the assumption that Hecate was never married and there are some references to her as a virgin goddess. However, there was a reference to her I came across that mentioned a connection to Scylla, the sea creature in my post about Circe, which I found interesting. If she had indeed been Scylla’s mother, the three phases that the Wiccan religion connects to her of Maiden, Mother and Crone, would make more sense. In that case, she would have been all three phases of womanhood at one point or another. I did a little more digging into Scylla’s past, and in Homer’s Odyssey, he names Crataiis as Scylla’s mother.

For if thou tarriest to arm thyself by the cliff, I fear lest she may again dart forth and attack thee with as many heads and seize as many men as before. Nay, row past with all thy might, and call upon Crataiis, the mother of Scylla, who bore her for a bane to mortals. 

Odyssey, 12.125 – Homer

So if we go with Homer as a basis, it seems that Hecate wasn’t connected to the unfortunate Nymph. But there is another connection to her that jumped out at me during my research. It seems that Colchis was a fabled city that honored Hecate, and what I found interesting is the connection of that place to Circe’s brother. If you remember, he was the King of Colchis, and father of Medea who fell in love with Jason (of the Argonaut fame) and betrayed King Aeetes with the whole golden fleece situation. Medea just so happened to be one of Hectate’s priestesses as referenced by Euripides. And considering that her father was brother to another Titan witch, Circe, it is no wonder Medea was a pretty powerful witch in her own right. There is a reference from a Greek historian (C1st B.C.), Diodorus Siculus, from his work Library of History which has Aeetes married to Hecate, who in turn bears him a son and two daughters, Circe and Medea. So I am guessing that is how Hecate and Circe become so intertwined as the myths and legends were retold.

All of these connections sent me further down the rabbit hole of reading Jason and the Argonauts as well as the Odyssey, and now it seems I will have to check out the tragedies of Euripides. But for all intents and purposes for this post, we will go with the assumption that Hecate never got married, and never had any kids. Let’s face it, she was busy enough with all of the other things she was in charge of. In addition to her duties to earth, heaven and sea, Hesiod gave her a laundry list of duties including: the judgement of kings, victory in battle, sporting activity oversight, aiding all menfolk that we mentioned earlier and guardian to newborns. No wonder she had to be three people!

Myths of Hecate

Image by Leslie Troisi from Pixabay

Sadly, there are not a lot of stories focused on Hecate’s life. But there are references to her in one of the most famous love stories in Greek Mythology, the story of the abduction of Persephone by Hades. When Hades saw Persephone it was love at first sight. He came up from the underworld, tossed her on his chariot led by his midnight steeds, and took her home with him. It was a bit more dramatic than that, and if you aren’t familiar with the story, you can find a link to it below. In summary, Persephone’s mother Demeter was beside herself, and made herself sick looking for her lost daughter. It made the world sick as well, as Demeter was the goddess of the harvest, and her lack of attention to the lands had a terrible effect on the crops. It was Hecate that came to her aid, and it was said she guided Demeter through the night with her flaming torches. Once Persephone was found and it was determined that she was bound by marriage, it was Hecate that became the young Bride’s companion. Hecate was known to travel easily between the veils of this world and the next. Later, during the time of the Greek tragedies, the connection between Hecate and Persephone became common, so much so, that Hecate is still linked to the underworld to this day.

It was already mentioned that Hecate aided Zeus in the war of the Titans and during one of the tussles she defeated a giant, Clytius, with her torches. There are depictions of that battle on several pieces of pottery, now housed in museums. At first she was represented as a single-form goddess with a flaming torch. It wasn’t until later that she was represented as the triple-formed goddess we are familiar with today. What I find interesting is that Hecate is a Titan herself, but doesn’t hesitate to help Zeus in his effort to overthrow his own Titan father. She is either an ambassador of good will, or an opportunist, and perhaps that is why so many paid her honor. I believe she was one to give aid to those who asked, but you never knew what form it would take. Kind of like a be careful what you wish for type situation. In essence, better for you to be on her good side when you ask for her help, whichever one that happens to be at the time you ask.

Image by Yama Zsuzsanna Márkus from Pixabay

There is also a reference to Hecate in the story of the fall of Troy. It seems that Odysseus received Queen Hecuba as his captive, and during the voyage back she murdered a Thracian king and was subsequently stoned to death. It was said that the gods transformed her into a black dog and she became Hecate’s animal familiar. You will see black hounds, along with the torches, in depictions of Hecate, and in some cases serpents. There is a reference that provides Hecate with yet another familiar when Galinthias is turned into a weasel (polecat) by the Gods. Hecate felt sorry for her and “appointed her a sacred servant of herself.” Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 29 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.). It seems that Hecate is a bit of a softy when it comes to animals, which makes me wonder about the whole sacrificing dogs thing. So glad that isn’t a thing anymore.

Hecate in Modern Witchcraft

According to the, Hecate was the goddess of not only cross roads and childbirth, but also wild places. She was protector of those who stood at critical points in their lives, where the choices to be made could conclude in life or death. Unlike the Fates who had a direct influence on whether someone lived or died, Hecate aided those who needed help with their transition, but ultimately free will was maintained. Locations where the veils are thinnest are traditionally associated with witches, magic and ghosts, and it is from her links with these sacred places that she gained the titles we use for her today.

Dogs, horses and serpents are sacred to Hecate. If you believe the myths, it is most likely because her familiars were once people that were turned into animals and then sent to be under her care. Black dogs are depicted in many drawings, and could also stem from her connections to the Underworld and the story of Persephone. The serpent could be connected with poor Scylla by a stretch, and the horses were most likely considered sacred as they aided those she looked out for in battle. The owl was associated with her as, similar to Hecate, it has the ability to see in three different directions. Some of the plants associated with her are Belladonna, poppies and hemlock, which isn’t surprising since they all can induce visions.

She is honored on November 30th, as that is the night of the crossroads, or “Hecate Trivia.” Trivia is the Roman reference to her name, and there are several modern ways to honor her. Neglected and abandoned places are sacred to her, so taking care of a place that has been forgotten by others is a good place to start. Gravesites are a great place for that, as those who died hundreds of years ago sometimes have faded from memory. You could also adopt a dog from a shelter, which I thought was a cool idea as well. Barring all that, you could merely help someone weigh their pros and cons as they stand at the crossroads of a monumental decision of their lives. Much like the Goddess Hecate, you can help them transition into their new lives, and feel good about helping someone through a major turning point.

In my mind, Hecate is a Goddess that supports us in our time of need, and looks over those who have lost their way. I don’t think that is such a bad thing. But she is also someone we don’t know a whole lot about, someone who has floated through one culture to another and re-invented herself each and every time. I have great respect for that, and am so thankful to have gotten to know her a bit better. For those who would like to learn more, check out the links and videos below.

Happy reading and see you next time! XO

Goddess of Witchcraft – Greek Mythology

Hecate Mini-Documentary

Some websites to check out: