The goddess Hekate has gained a lot of prominence lately and rightly so. This great goddess retains Her power to grant favor to those She sees fit and to initiate only the most worthy into Her mysteries. As many may know of or work with Hekate, I hope to shed new light on the Goddess who I have devoted my faith to over the past several years.There are scores of books, blogs and posts about Her and how each individual perceives Her. Because of this, there are also hoards of misinformation as many of us know! I have always found the New Age movements sentiment towards the blatant ignoring of a particular god’s history most puzzling and Hekate is one of these gods who has been slandered the most. One must always remember that in our modern age we are but a fraction of the whole of the history in which these gods have existed and are worshiped. For thousands of years mankind has worked with, seen and worshiped each god in a specific way. The New Age movement arrives and inadvertently white washes Their history and completely ignores the true nature of the divine inflicting a ‘peace and harmony’ or ‘gods are teachers of the inner self’ mentality which has actually began to drive man away from the true gods.
One thing to understand is that “Hekate” isn’t so much a name as it is a title, like most of the names of the gods of Hellas. The name “Hekate” is often misinterpreted to be of non-Hellenic origin and many mistakenly attribute it to the Kemetic Heka (magic more or less, a term that is viewed as male). Some even claim the name has no Hellenic meaning so therefore must be from Kemet. This is most untrue however. The name “Hekate” has no association with magic as Heka does. In the Hellenic context it means something like “distant one” or “far shooting”. There is even a trove of other examples with Hekate like spellings, pronunciation and meaning. There is Hekatonkheiries, which were 100 armed and 50 headed giants, the word hekaton itself meaning 100, hekatomb which is the sacrifice of 100 cattle, Hekatos which is a surname of Apollon when He spreads plague through poison arrows. So if we use the endless amounts of research available we will easily see the name (or title) Hekate has no origin in Kemet (although Her worship did gain prominence in Alexandria). So the ‘hekat’ in Hekate is actually a way of signifying greatness in number, distance or speed. Due to the more modern association Hekate has with frogs, this also lead others to try to synchronize Her with Heqat, the Kemetic frog headed goddess of Childbirth. Hekate only just became associated with frogs through plays and poems with little to no evidence of this in the ancient world. Also, the pronunciation of the two names may at first be similar but that may be attributed to the mispronunciation of Hekate. Some pronounce it Heh-kate. When compared to Heh-ket the two sound like they may be the same. Hekate is actually pronounced eh-Ka-tay or tee. Usually the only variation is the a sound or e sound on the end. So, in knowing that, the two sound as similar as Michael and Matthew.
Before we can delve into how the modern world inaccurately portrays Hekate we must understand Her history as well as the forgotten facts most let slip to the back of their minds. Hekate has always had obscure origins. We know She comes from the East, but just how far East is up for debate. Where I will begin in this post is Her origin in Hellas. It is believed She is the daughter of either Nyx alone or Perses and Asteria (it was much later She began to obtain parantage from the Olympians). By whichever parents, She was born a Titaness, the first beings of Creation and the forgers of the world. I must insist that one takes the time to imagine such a great power as Hekate as a Titaness. A Titan is a colossal god and Hekate is no exception. In most accounts of meetings with Her, She is said to make the earth shake beneath Her feet and Her height is said to be 330 ft tall at least. In all accounts She is powerful and frightening. Her skin is pale like the light of the moon and She carries serpents on Her shoulders and twisting in Her hair. She is accompanied by howling dogs and the restless dead. This is an image most devotees may shy away from, especially some of the more New Age ones. Some prefer the romanticized virginal goddess with an archaic smile who teaches us how to deal with our feelings which was far from the nature of Hekate to the ancients. In the case of the gods of Hellas, we understand them to be literal beings as real as you and I meaning they have a form, likes and dislikes and do not represent the subconscious mind. What their true form is and in whatever dimensions Olympus and Hades may reside does not matter. What does is how they appear here in our world and we have tons of historical information telling us exactly how that was. Before mankind was created from clay, Hekate was the Titaness who inspired sorcery. As daughter of either Nyx or Asteria, She would have had some association with the heavens. In fact, She was actually one of the most powerful Titans, holding dominion over the earth, sea, and sky. After the Titanomachy and Gigantomachy She was able to retain those powers as Zeus adored Her above all others.
Goddess of the Gods
After Zeus’s lightning bolts scorched the earth and the Titans were thrown in Tartarus, man was created from clay and Hekate’s dominion grew. She was so powerful She was the only goddess able to grant or deny the wishes of man. She had no boundaries and could travel as freely as She chose. She taught the art of sorcery to mankind as well as the properties of herbs, mostly poisons. She was also the original ruler of Hades and took court with the restless and wandering dead as well as daemons whom She regularly sent to torment or aid men. In fact, Her Underworld and witchcraft associations were among the most recognized in ancient Hellas. Most of the information we have of Her is from accounts involving spellwork or curses and rarely do we see her associated with the wilderness or childbirth (which some ancient cults did emphasis). She more than made it known that She had power over all aspects of the supernatural. We know this as fact for many reasons. Take the modern misconception of the triple crossroad for example. Some will tell you She stands at the crossroads as a guide when you are lost. This is contrary to how the Hellenics viewed the triple crossroad. It wasn’t a metaphorical place to reflect life choices, it was a physical place where the restless dead converged as they wander the boundaries of cities. She guarded these places as well as anyone who sacrificed to Her there. It was not to show us which symbolic path we were to take, it was literal and it was terrifying. She was also the ardent defender of the gates of the city as well as the home. Statues of Her were kept at these places as a warning to keep the restless dead from entering. This isn’t to say if we reach a crossroad in our lives that we cannot petition Her for help, it just means we must recognize the actual symbolism of it.
It was Aleister Crowley who first made popular the image of Hekate as a old crone and this is one of the most frustrating things about the community today. There is not even one piece of historical evidence saying Hekate was ever a crone or even appeared to a mortal as a crone. She was and is a maiden, beautiful and powerful. It is hard to understand how this misconception could endure with so much information available. Part of the problem is how science has given most pagans a mental complex. There is a need to try to answer or validate the gods with science. Since we have no evidence some created this idea the gods were formless energies or thought forms who we give images and names to. The problem is, if you are going to worship an ancient god you must realize that is not how it was in the expand of their history. They had faces and names and they weren’t all ‘aspects of one god or one goddess’ as some would have us believe. Imagine for a moment you are witnessing a group of people describe you behind a two way mirror. Those who know you and have met you would give a description you could agree with. Those who have never seen you or perhaps have heard second hand stories of you would make assumptions and the person they created would be far from you. This is what is happening to the gods. In an attempt to try to fit the gods into a definable and scientific world we would rather our gods be malleable and without form than to actually learn who they are and perhaps meet them first hand. Hekate is no exception. She is who She is and has thousands of years of worship and devotion to back it up. She does not care what someone who has only just learned of Her says She must be. This may sound harsh but the gods of Hellas were seen as quite literal and there was little room for personal interpretation.
Queen of Those Below
As I mentioned before, Hekate has had a long association with the dead and the Underworld despite what some may say. She keeps company with the dead and can be found in the darkest, most desolate and abandoned of graveyards and standing at the most harsh and secluded crossroads. Her image must reflect this. One thing I have learned as an artist is you must never abandon any aspect of a god when trying to see their form. Too often you will find descriptions, pictures or figures of Hekate where She appears to be some young girl or smiling woman with rosy cheeks, not to mention old crone. We must never forget Her dominion. It is dark and foreboding and She regularly frequents Dis. She was always described as a dark yet beautiful goddess and even though our monotheistic society may frown upon that or think it is evil, it is who She is. Remember, She is a Titan after all.
Three Faced Selene
One of the most surprising confusions about Hekate is Her association with the moon, more specifically, how the moon figures in Her iconography. To the ancients, the moon was Selene, a completely separate entity from Hekate (although Hekate did carry the title Selene on occasion but not to represent that specific goddess). This is still the case today. So where did Her moon association come from? Well first it is important to understand She is not and never was a moon goddess in the sense She represented the moon. The moon was merely Her tool. It was during moonlit hours She was worshiped. Under the phases of the moon her rootcutters gathered herbs and met in secret places. It was under the moon She wanders crossroads and graveyards collecting the dead and in this sense She wore the moon as Her crown. We also have accounts of Her having power over the moon. When Philip of Macedon invaded Byzantine under a new moon it is said all the dogs began to howl and the moon appeared in the form of a crescent with upturned horns.
"Devotion to Hecate was especially favored by the Byzantines for her aid in having protected them from the incursions of Philip of Macedon. Her symbols were the crescent and star, and the walls of her city were her provenance.”
It was believed that Hekate raised her torches to light up the moon revealing the invading army. She has since been found in numerous depictions with the upturned horned moon above Her head. Her association with the phases of the moon is also misunderstood. She was celebrated on the last day of the Hellenic month, the new moon. This had less to do with the actual moon phase though. It was more to do with the wandering dead the day was dedicated to. Her suppers were celebrated and left at the crossroads to appease the Goddess and her dead entourage.
This is only the first of many posts about Hekate I will be doing, sort of an introduction to Her. Much of it I am sure is known but it is my hopes that Her followers will start to reclaim Her true image. I know it is difficult especially when some of us have our own personal experiences that may be contradictory to Her historical practices but a wise friend once told me "A spirit will let you get away with doing something wrong until you learn the right way. Then it will expect you to change it". Hekate is no different. She is not just some energy or thought and She is not an aspect of ourselves. She is a very real goddess who can be communed with and worshiped creating a powerful connection. If we hope to have the strongest connection possible we should take the time to see Her as She was seen for thousands of years, and through recognizing Her dread and beauty, never again fear the darkness and know that She will strike chill in the hearts of those who oppose us!
The Greek Magical Papyri In Translation, Hans Dieter Betz
The Goddess Hekate, Stephen Ronan
The Gods of the Greeks, C. Kerenyi
Greek and Roman Necromancy, Daniel Ogden
Arcana Mundi, Georg Luck
Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World, John G. Gager
The Cults of the Greek States: Volume 2, Lewis Richard Farnell