Ancient myths of Asia Minor, Hesiod's Theogony
Daughter of Perses and Asteria
Hecate was a complex, ancient goddess known to the Greeks but originally worshipped by people of Asia Minor. She held several different roles, including earth goddess, queen of the underworld (land of the dead), and goddess of magic and witchcraft.
According to the Greek writer Hesiod, Hecate was the daughter of Perses (pronounced PUR-seez), a Titan, and Asteria (pronounced as-TEER-ee-uh), a nymph or female nature deity. Hesiod claimed that Hecate was a favorite of Zeus , who made her goddess of the earth, sea, and sky. As a triple goddess, she was also identified with the three aspects of the moon and was represented by women of three different ages. In the sky, she took the form of the old woman Selene (pronounced suh-LEE-nee), the moon. On earth, she was linked to Artemis (pronounced AHR-tuh-miss), goddess of the hunt and the moon. In the underworld, she was connected with the maiden Persephone (pronounced per-SEF-uh-nee), wife of Hades (pronounced HAY-deez).
Because of her association with the moon and the land of the dead, Hecate was seen as a goddess of the darkness, magic, and spells. The ancient Greeks believed magic was strongest where roads met, and the Greeks established shrines to her at crossroads, especially where three roads came together.
Although not known for any major myths in which she is the main character, Hecate appears in the tale of Persephone and her abduction by Hades, the lord of the underworld. When Hades kidnapped Persephone, Hecate—who lived in a nearby cave—heard the commotion, though she did not see who took the maiden. Days later, when Persephone's mother Demeter (pronounced di-MEE-ter) passes by Hecate's cave searching for her daughter, Hecate tells her what she knows and joins in her search. After Demeter is reunited with her daughter, Persephone and Hecate become close companions.
Hecate in Context
Hecate was not originally a part of the Greek pantheon, or collection of recognized gods. This meant that many elements with which she was connected, such as fertility and the moon, were already associated with other goddesses, especially Artemis. Her identity as a goddess of magic fulfilled a function that had not been addressed in the Greek pantheon, and assured that Hecate would not be absorbed into the already existing goddesses.
Hecate's magic was not considered evil by the ancient Greeks. To her worshippers, she could bring both good fortune and bad fortune. Later Christian tradition emphasized the negative side of her nature, portraying Hecate as queen of witches.
Key Themes and Symbols
Hecate represented the power of magic. She also represented watchfulness, as evidenced by her ability to keep watch over all paths at a crossroads. She was usually shown holding two torches, and was often accompanied by a black she-dog or a polecat. The torches symbolized her ability to guide souls through the underworld. In her role as goddess of magic, Hecate was sometimes depicted as a three-headed figure who kept watch over the crossroads where ceremonies were performed in her honor.
Hecate in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
In William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, Hecate appears as the leader of the three witches. She appears in several artworks and poems by Romantic writer William Blake. In modern times, Hecate has appeared in the Marvel Comics universe as a powerful humanoid who earns her name when she is mistaken for the goddess Hecate by ancient people after visiting Earth long ago. She is also a character in the 2007 novel The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott.
Hecate's popularity has surged in recent years along with the Wiccan religion—a modern attempt at recreating the nature-based religious practices of pre-Christian Europe. Among some groups of Wiccans, Hecate has again become a respected goddess.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinky and Me, Elizabeth is a novel by E. L. Konigsburg about a girl named Elizabeth who arrives in a new town with no friends. Soon she meets a strange girl named Jennifer, who claims she is a witch, and Elizabeth becomes her apprentice as they participate in odd rituals and attempt to create magic potions. Eventually, the two become close friends. This book was selected as a Newbery Honor recipient when it was first published in 1971.
Hecate was a complex, ancient goddess known to the Greeks but originally worshiped by people of Asia Minor*. She held several different roles, including earth goddess, queen of the underworld, and goddess of magic and witchcraft.
According to the Greek writer Hesiod*, Hecate was the daughter of the Titan* Perses and the nymph Asteria. Hesiod claimed that Hecate was a favorite of Zeus*, who made her goddess of the earth, sea, and sky. As a triple goddess, she was also identified with the three aspects of the moon and was represented by women of three different ages. In the sky, she took the form of the old woman Selene, the moon. On earth, she was linked to Artemis (Diana), goddess of the hunt. In the underworld, she was connected with the maiden Persephone, wife of Hades.
underworld land of the dead
nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful
Because of her association with the moon, Hecate was seen as a goddess of the night, magic, and spells. Magic was often practiced where roads met, and the Greeks established shrines to her at crossroads, especially where three roads came together. In her role as goddess of magic, Hecate is shown as a three-headed figure who keeps watch over the crossroads where her rites were performed. To her worshipers, she could bring good fortune and success, but she could also be a powerfully negative force. Later Christian tradition emphasized this side of her nature, portraying Hecate as an evil figure who was queen of the witches.
rite ceremony or formal procedure
See also Greek Mythology; Witches and Wizards; Moon.
A Greek goddess, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, but of uncertain origin. She appears to have been one of the original Titans, who ruled the heavens, earth, and sea and could bestow gifts on mortals as they pleased. Later she was confused with other goddesses until she became known as a mystic goddess having all the magic powers of nature at her command. Magicians and witches sought her aid, and sacrifices of dogs, honey, and female black lambs were offered to her where three ways met, at crossroads, or in graveyards. Festivals were held in her honor annually at Egina.
In appearance she was frightful, and serpents hung hissing around her shoulders. As a dark goddess of ghosts and moonlight, her propitiation was an early form of black magic and witchcraft. In Shakespeare's play Macbeth, Hecate is the leader of three witches who plot Macbeth's downfall.
Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973.