By Amber C. Snider
In our new series, we uncover the origins and mysteries of cross-pantheon Gods and Goddesses from around the world.
Hecate (alternatively spelled “Hekate") is associated with the crossroads, witchcraft, serpents, dogs, graveyards, sorcery, and the moon. She’s known as the Triple Moon Goddess and considered part of the holy female trinity comprising of the Mother, Maiden, and Crone. She presides over the earth, sea, and the heavens and is often referred to as the “Torchbearer,” as she guides people on their journey through the dark night, keeping them from harm.
Hecate first appears in Hesiod’s Homeric Hymns, which most scholars believe was written some time between the 8th and 7th centuries. These Ancient Greek invocations were composed in an Old Epic style and the Dark Mother Goddess features prominently in the “Hymn to Demeter” (which recounts the tale of Persephone’s capture by Hades – which we’ll get to in a bit). Hesiod’s text is recognized as the first written account of the Goddess, but it’s most likely her presence extends much further back in time, pre-dating literature and even the Ancient Greeks themselves. Like many mythical Gods and Goddesses, Hecate’s true geographical and historical origins have always been shrouded in mystery.
Since scholars cannot definitively know the correct pronunciation of Ancient Greek as a language, the pronunciation of Hecate’s name is also up for debate. In contemporary scholarly or magical circles, her name is either pronounced “He-KAH-tay,” “HEK-ut,” “HEK-ah-tee,” or “he-KAH-tee.”
In "Hymn to Demeter" (one of the longest and most powerful of all the epics), Hecate assists the grieving Mother Goddess Demeter (Goddess of the Earth, Fertility, Barley, and Harvest) in the futile search for her lost daughter Persephone. Taking pity on Demeter, Hecate helps petition the sun God Helios for answers on Persephone’s whereabouts only to learn of the young goddess' abduction by Hades, the God of the Underworld.
Much later in the myth, when mother and daughter are reunited, Hecate is close by to witness the occasion and offers her blessing: “Then bright-coiffed Hecate came near to them, and often did she embrace the daughter of holy Demeter: and from that time the lady Hecate was minister and companion to Persephone.” Here, rather than being portrayed as a dark mother figure, Hecate is referred to as “bright-coiffed,” which could relate to a shining headband, veil, or her hair. It’s from this image of the three women joyously reunited that we have the Mother, Maiden, and Crone (Persephone as the maiden, Demeter as the mother, and Hecate as the crone).
Today, in many spiritual practices, Hecate is considered a distinctly feminine, protective force – but she’s also known as a destroyer. Since she’s associated with torches (or the fire element), Hecate’s powers, like the fire element itself, have the capacity to both purify and destroy.
Since she’s associated with Persephone (as her minister and companion), her connection to the underworld is undeniable. Many believe that it is Hecate herself that stands at the gateway between the underworld and earth, and because of this, her contemporary image has often been associated with ghosts, graveyards, and necromancy.
Hecate can be invoked to help those going through a deep transformation or those undergoing a long journey with an uncertain, precarious, or even dangerous destination ahead of them. She also comes to the aid of those who find themselves at a crossroad of some kind. The moon – symbolic of the emotional underworld, psyche or subconscious – is associated with Hecate. In this sense, she can also help “shine a light” on our shadow selves (or the dark aspects of ourselves that are no longer serving us ), as well as aid those needing to banish long buried traumas. Hecate’s presence commands respect, so be warned: like many other Mother Goddesses, her wrath is never too far behind should you cross her.
As an archetype, Hecate presides over our “shadow side” and aids in transformation – particularly when it comes to psychic or subconscious realms (or the underworld of the soul). Bold, brave, and unrelenting, her archetype provides us with the necessary strength to venture into the unknown without fear, for her ignited torches and presence will guide the way.
*Editor’s Note: This is not a definitive guide to the Goddess Hecate, but rather a brief, summarized history.
To read more about Hecate, check out these recommended books. To purchase a devotional Hecate candle from the Enchantments store, click here.