Hecate enjoys something of an ambivalent and confusing position because it is not extremely clear as to whether she was considered a night-demon or a dark goddess. Although some Greeks referred to her as Hecate, others knew her as Aragriope, meaning “savage face” hinting at a far older entity. She was the daughter of the Titans (giants) Perses and Asteria, although others record her parents as Zeus and Scylla (a nymph who was turned into a sea-monster by the enchantress Circe, devouring all mariners who passed by her rock). She was also considered to be the dark side of the goddesses Artemis, Selene (the
moon goddess), and Diana and was regarded as the Queen of the Ghostworld and matriarch of all witches; the mistress of chthonic rites and black magic. As soon as it was dark, she emerged from the Underworld to do harm to those against whom she had taken spite against. In this she was accompanied by many other foul and dangerous creatures, denizens of the Phantom world over which she ruled. These were simply known to the Greeks as “The Companions” but they comprised a legion of hideous goblins and “watchers of the night”—ill-defined terrors, some of which may have had an appetite for human blood. As she passed their houses, Hecate induced nightmares and night fevers, which sapped the strength of many sleepers, leaving them tired and listless in the morning.
Hecate, a divinity of the Underworld and companion of Persephone, is called the queen of night and the goddess of the cross-roads; her three faces are turned towards as many directions, and her name was shrieked at night at the cross-roads of cities. She is often seen bearing torches, and it is with them that she killed Clytius 6 in the course of the Gigantomachy. Hecate is regarded as supreme, both in Heaven and in the Underworld, and it is said that Zeus calls upon her whenever any man on earth offers sacrifices, and prays for favor.
Privileges preserved after the Titanomachy
On becoming the ruler of the universe, Zeus did not deprive Hecate of the privileges—concerning earth, heaven and sea—that were her share when the TITANS ruled the world before him, but she keeps them just as the division was in the beginning.
Gives and takes away
This goddess, a night-wanderer, is credited with wit-depriving spells, reminding those of Pan or the CORYBANTES, but also with power: It is Hecate, some believe, who bestows wealth and grants advances to those whose prayers she receives favorably. Similarly, the outcome of war and victory in games may depend on her, who grants glory to whom she pleases. And to those who work at sea, she gives great catch or takes it away, if that is her will; likewise, concerning herds, she increases their number from a few, or reduces it to be less, following her own will. Hecate, who is regarded as nurse and overseer of the young, is also said to have a part in judgements, when these take place; and in assemblies, she distinguishes whom she will.
This power resembles that of sorcery. For Medea, who was a priestess of Hecate, used witchcraft, apparently under the guidance of the goddess, in order to handle magic herbs and poisons with skill, and to be able to stay the course of rivers, or check the paths of the stars and the moon. The Caucasian witch also relied on the goddess' help, when she was about to commit a crime in Hellas:
"By the goddess I worship most of all, my chosen helper Hecate, who dwells in the inner chamber of my house, none of them shall pain my heart and smile at it! Bitter will I make their marriage, bitter Creon's marriage-alliance, and bitter my banishment from the land!" (Euripides, Medea 400).
For Hecate had not left her, although Medea sailed away from Colchis. But when the goddess noticed that Medea, by a trick of Hera, would fell in love with Jason and leave the country, she lamented:
"Alas! you'll leave our woodland and your maiden bands, unhappy girl, to wander in your own despite to the cities of the Greeks. Yet not unbidden you go, nor, my dear one, will I forsake you. A signal record of your flight shall you leave behind, nor though a captive shall you ever be despised by your false lord, nay, he shall know me for your teacher, and that I grieved with shame that he robbed me of my handmaid." (Hecate. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 6.497).
Nevertheless, she helped Medea in Colchis, as did both Hera and Aphrodite; and the reason why the witch succeeded in helping Jason against her own father and brother is that she was supported by these three goddesses, and particularly by Hecate. It was the latter who gave Medea the Caucasian herb of great potency, sprung from the gore that dropped from the liver of Prometheus 1; with it Medea anointed Jason's body and arms, making him practically invulnerable.
Hecate, daughter of Tartarus, has never been a comforting sight; for her changing aspect and triple head turn her into a terrible appearance. Besides, she held swords in her hands, and they say that from her left shoulder came forth a long maned horse, while the furious face of a bitch could be seen to her right; and in her middle there was a wild serpent. Yet Hecate has been called tender-hearted, probably because she was concerned with the disappearance of Persephone, and addressed Demeter with sweet words when the latter was distressed:
"Demeter, bringer of seasons, what god of heaven or what mortal man has taken away Persephone and pierced with sorrow your heart? For I heard her voice, yet saw not with my eyes who it was." (Hecate to Demeter. Homeric Hymn to Demeter 55).
And when Demeter finally found her daughter, Hecate embraced Persephone, becoming, from that time, her companion. All three are seen with torches, and Hecate—who, according to some, is attended by the CORYBANTES, or by the CURETES—had a share, along with Demeter and her daughter, in the mystic element in initiations, as also had Dionysus 2, Apollo, and the MUSES. Hecate, being a deity of the lower world, also grants power in that realm; otherwise had not Aeneas addressed the Cumaean Sibyl thus:
"I beseech you, gracious one; for you are all-powerful, and not in vain has Hecate made you mistress in the groves of Avernus." (Aeneas to the Sibyl. Virgil, Aeneid 6.116).
And later, the same Sibyl tells Aeneas:
". . . when Hecate appointed me to the Avernian grove, she instructed me in heaven's punishments and guided me through all." (The Sibyl to Aeneas. Virgil, Aeneid 6.564).
According to the traveller Pausanias, Hecate was worshipped mainly in Aegina (the island in the Saronic Gulf midway Attica and Argolis), where every year the mystic rites said to have been established by Orpheus, were celebrated. Hecate has been identified or associated with Artemis; that is why Antigone 2 invokes her thus:
" O Lady Hecate, child of Leto!" (Euripides, Phoenician Women 110).
And the poet Publius Vergilius Maro says:
". . . threefold Hecate, triple-faced maiden Diana." (Virgil, Aeneid 4.511).
Others have expressed themselves otherwise, saying that Iphigenia is Hecate by the will of Artemis. And still others have conjectured that she is represented with three heads for resembling Artemis on earth, and Selene in Heaven. And Artemis herself is identified with Selene, being often depicted with the arch of the moon on her forehead; and others have thought that Apollo, the bright one, dethroned Helius, becoming the sun himself. The list could certainly be made longer and more complex, given the many aspects of many deities. But some humans, hating the contradictions they happen to discover everywhere, demand—in the name of knowledge—that the gods and goddesses be as easy to classify and understand as the birds that fly accross the sky.
Hecate is most famous today as a Dark Moon Spirit and Queen of Witches. Those are but two aspects of this multifaceted deity. Hecate was once the chief deity of the Carian nation, now in Western Turkey. She is matron of the city of Istanbul. She has dominion over life and death and who makes the journey in between, indicating her power as a healing deity. Hecate is matron of midwives and herbalists.
Her priestesses (the most famous was Medea) were trained herbalists. Those in need of healing or solace journeyed to the gardens attached to Hecate's shrine in Colchis on the Black Sea, home of the Golden Fleece pilfered by the Argonauts.
Hecate's assistance may be accessed by building a living altar in her honor:
- Plant a garden outdoors or create a living altar inside with potted plants.
- Add some or all of the following: dog roses, garlic, lavender, mandrake, Queen of the Night, roses, thorn apple, and tuberoses.
- Hecate's trees include: black poplar, date palm, pomegranate, willow, and yew.
- Place votive images of Hecate, together with her favorite creatures - dogs, dragons, and snakes - in the garden.
To petition Hecate directly or to receive spontaneous magical inspiration regarding your healing needs, sit in or beside your living altar in the dark.