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Witchcraft vs. Religion
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Hecate, Goddess of Change
Article ID: 15065
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Katharine Alice Jones
Posted: August 19th. 2012
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I do not expect anyone to take me at my word. Indeed, I would be disappointed if any follower of Hecate did so. No, do not believe me; ask her yourself and take whatever truth you wish from my words. Real, dynamic spirituality cannot be taken by rote from someone else, it must come from within and is only fed occasionally by the thoughts of others as it changes and grows.
I have been working with Hecate since 2003, though I could not call myself her priestess until some years later. She is the first deity I met, at the beginning of my spiritual journey. Much of what I will include comes from personal experience and her own words to me through dreams, visions, and inspiration. Some comes from historical and scholarly sources, and personally I consider that to be the unverified information. Again I do not expect anyone to take me at my word. At the end of this article I have included references where possible, several of them available online.
Hecate is first and foremost the goddess of change. Perhaps this is why worship of her has survived and even thrived in every age, no matter how much religion and culture change. The only constant is change itself after all.
All of her other associations are manifestations of this concept. All forms of change, all in-between places, and all states of transition are under her purview... from the phases of the moon, to the thresholds of a home, to the borders of Death itself.
Hecate has been associated with many things, all of them closely linked to the concept of change.
She has long been attributed a lunar association, most often linked to the dark phase of the moon, which to the human mind is a time of instability and anxiety. This is when I perform my ritual work with her. The dark moon has long been a time for spells of protection and resurrection, because the loss of light in unnerving. In truth the changing phases of the moon itself place it strongly within Hecate’s influence.
Hecate’s holy place is any crossroads, particularly a three-way crossroads. The ideal location for any ritual or offering to Hecate is at an empty three-way crossroads, on a dirt road, at night, under the dark moon. The crossroads, physical or metaphorical, is a place where one’s path, and one’s entire life may easily be changed for good or ill. It is also a place of convergence, where not only roads, but also worlds and ways of life meet. Great magic is possible at a crossroads, but there is also great danger. One never knows who or what might pass by.
She is a goddess of darkness and the night, who in fact are her parents (we’ll get to that) . She is also the goddess of witchcraft, and in fact all magic, especially dark arts of any kind. She is the patron of sorcery and enchantment in all its forms.
Hecate may be called upon both to help you cause change, and to help you in dealing with changes that happen around you.
Hecate, also known as Hekate, has been known at various times by these titles: Agriope (Savage Face) , Chtonian (Underworld Goddess) , The Most Lovely One, Worker from Afar, Three-Headed Hound of the Moon, Influence from Afar, Crataeis (the Mighty One) , Enodia (Goddess of the paths) , Kurotrophos (Nurse of the Children and Protectress of mankind) , Propylaia (the one before the gate) , Phosphoros (the light-bringer/light-bearer) , Soteira (“Saviour”) , Prytania (invincible Queen of the Dead) , Queen of Ghosts, Trioditis/Trivia (Goddess of Three Roads) , Klêidouchos (Keeper of the Keys) and Tricephalus/Triceps (The Three-Headed) .
There is some debate as to whether or not Hecate is the same being as the Egyptian Heqet. It seems that she has been addressed under this name, but that Heqet is also a separate being.
She is seen in many forms, most typically a mature woman dressed all in black. She is often seen with a pair of large black hounds (or a pack of dogs) , and sometimes riding a chariot drawn by dragons. Sometimes she is seen carrying a torch, or a pair of torches, through the dark. According to some Hecate uses this torch to guide her followers through the darkness.
She is sometimes described as having three faces, symbolizing her power over the Underworld, the earth, and the air and representing her reputation for being all-seeing and all-knowing. She is sometimes depicted with three heads, one of a dog, one of a snake or a lion and one of a horse. This manifestation was attributed to her very late, probably toward the end of the Classical Greek period. I have never seen such a manifestation. She is also depicted with snakes in her hair or about her head, a representation of her association with the realm of the dead.
The manifestation she shows me is an ageless raven-haired woman in black, with pale blue eyes. I have seen her holding a set of large bronze keys, and I have peripherally seen the hounds once or twice.
The premise of Hecate as part of a triple-goddess unit is an even later addition, and while she is associated with the dark of the moon, the image of the crone does not fit very well, and her association with Demeter and Persephone/Kore/Artemis is not as strong as modern interpretations make it.
No one is certain of exactly how long Hecate has been worshiped, but she was followed in Egypt, Greece, Briton, and throughout the Mediterranean and Europe up to the present day. We can say for certain that she had a strong Thracian following, but there is no telling how early in human history she may have appeared. She may have originated in Asia Minor, more specifically in Karia.
Many theories exist regarding her origins, role in mythology, relation with humanity, and position among the gods of various religions. There is always dispute because successive followers of a single religion change their religious doctrine to suit their current needs.
Relation to Other Gods
Hecate is honored even among the gods. When the Olympians came to power Zeus “honored her above all others” and declined to take from her any of the power that she had among the Titans, giving her a share in power over earth, sea and sky; powers which she already had. The reference to the sea may be interpreted as referring to the underworld, which at one point in Greek history was associated with the depths of the sea. One would suppose that the phrasing is intended to avoid admitting that Zeus was unable to deny her any of her previous power and he saves face by giving her what was already hers.
Indeed, this seemed to be true of human authority as well. The Romans passed laws against the honoring of numerous gods, but they never attempted to discourage the worship of Hecate. I postulate that they could not do so; the goddess of change is enduring no matter the state of the world.
It is noteworthy that she is one of the only deities in the Greek pantheon who shares in Zeus’ dominion over the sky, along with Aeolus, god of the winds.
Most of the other pre-Olympian deities lost some or all of their authority with the rise of the Olympians, but not Hecate, or most of her siblings. They seem to have quite thoroughly avoided the conflict between the gods and titans.
Hecate is a child of two of the protogenoi, translated as “first born”, the beings who are the foundations of all creation. Her parents are Erebus and Nyx (god of darkness and goddess of night) , which puts her in good company, with Morpheus (god of dreams) , Charon (ferryman into the Underworld) , Hypnos (god of sleep) , Thanatos (god of death) , Nemesis (goddess of vengeance) , Styx (goddess of the river Styx) , Geras (god of old age) and Eris (goddess of discord) as siblings, among others.
Some report her as a daughter of two other protogenoi, Gaea and Orunos (earth and sky) , and later mythological sources cite the minor titans Perses and Asteria as her parents (which would make her cousin to Artemis and Apollo) , a suggestion which makes little sense considering the tremendous respect afforded her by the Greek pantheon of gods. Why would Zeus “honor her above all others” if this were the case? One story even identifies Zeus as her father, which is truly bizarre, since all other accounts say that she is older than him. There is even ancient artwork, which depicts Hecate holding the child Zeus.
Hecate also has several children. She is the mother of the creature Scylla, and the presumed father is Porkys, a minor sea god. She is also the mother of Empusa, described as a vampiric demi-goddess. I have never met either, so I know little more about them. The race called the empusae is the progeny of Empusa. The common mythos confuses the two, and states either that Empusa was an only child, or ignores her and identifies the race of empusae as Hecate’s children. Thus the same name is used for both. I attribute the confusion to the fact that little proper record regarding Hecate has survived from one era to the next.
It is also believed that Hecate had many love affairs with various gods of the sea, especially Triton.
She is apparently considered to have several children by Hermes as well, but I’ve seen no evidence of this.
She is identified by some as the dark aspect of Artemis, Selene, or Diana. I also work with Artemis, and they are decidedly separate. I haven’t met Selene or Diana, but that in itself is telling. Incidentally, contrary to the Roman understanding, Artemis and Diana are two separate deities. The connection between Artemis and Hecate exists primarily in that both preside over “feminine mysteries” and are rulers of the powers, energies and interests that apply exclusively to women.
In one story it was Hecate who acted as mediator between Hades and Demeter in regard to the fate of Persephone (also known as Kore) and was Persephone’s companion during her stay in the Underworld. As I have come to understand it, Persephone did love Hades, and went willingly to live with him. It was Hecate who gave her the Pomegranate that allowed her to stay and then smoothed things over with her mother Demeter.
It is suggested that Hecate is connected with Apollo, and even that she was the predecessor of Artemis, primarily because of two of Apollo’s titles, Hecatos and Hekatebolos, which are similar to her name. I believe the key to this is in the Greek language. Hecate’s name derives from a Greek phrase meaning “Far Reaching” or “Influence from Afar”. Applied to Apollo they’re just descriptive words, as they might be applied to any deity, especially a sun god.
In addition to these deities, she is associated with Cybele/Kybele.
Hecate is a chthonic deity, a deity related to death. She is also identified as a psychopompic deity, one of the gods who leads the souls of the dead into the Underworld. This trait is shared with Hermes and Charon (arguably) among others. One myth speaks of her carrying her torches across the countryside as a beacon for the recently deceased, gathering them to her and leading them into the Underworld. This is reminiscent of myths about the “Wild Hunt” of which she is an occasional leader.
At least one story identifies her as the only being even among the gods who can travel freely in the realm of the dead without the permission or knowledge of Hades himself. She is the holder of the keys to all realms. No path is closed to her, or her followers. Through her all places are reachable. Thus her blessing is very powerful in matters of travel between worlds, such as astral projection. Since the god of dreams is her brother, this influence likely extends into his realm as well.
She also has the power to open these gateways for the spirits themselves, and may provide aid in acts of summoning, especially for protection during such workings.
She is strongly associated with restless spirits of all kinds, and may therefore be called upon for both summoning and banishing. This is where her power over death differs from other chthonic deities. References to a deity concerned with restless and dangerous earthbound spirits are few and far between. This is one of her most commonly referenced powers in mythology, and she is routinely called upon for protection from such entities.
In her power over death she is associated with Necromancy. There are many layers of consciousness between life and death, and even many layers between the death of the body, and the final passing of the spirit. In these realms and states, which are neither life nor death, Hecate’s power reigns supreme. When no clear ruler can claim control of a place, it belongs to the realm of Hecate.
I have had only limited experience with necromancy. I have reached out to the spirits of departed loved ones, and I have banished the spirits that sometimes come through and pretend to be the dearly departed. Some of my success in this area is due to my affiliation with Hecate.
House sweepings and offerings were once made to Hecate at crossroads at the Dark Moon after a 30-day mourning period following the death of a loved one.
She is equally powerful in matters of birth, a transition both for the infant and the parents, and a domain of feminine power, a subject that will be addressed later in this article.
It is said that when Hecate is not walking on the highways, she dwells in a cave, a symbolic representation of the path to the underworld, or potentially to any other realm of existence.
A great deal of modernly available information about Hecate is incorrect. It has been watered down or changed to suit new regimes and new religions. It must be remembered that much of ancient mythology was not recorded in detail, and records were occasionally destroyed intentionally. With the rise of Christianity she was quickly demonized, and had been a subject of some trepidation long before then. The Thracians, whose society had strong matriarchal influences, honored her. The patriarchal Greeks feared her as much as anything, as a symbol of the feminine power that threatened their authority. Medea, who in Greek mythology was a priestess of Hecate, was as much a villain as a heroine that as well will be addressed in more detail later.
It is said that Hecate asked sacrifices of human blood of her followers, which is completely ridiculous, and has pretty much been said of every unpopular religious sect in human history whether it was true or not. At one point offerings of animal sacrifice were standard procedure for all Greek gods, and no doubt she accepted them, in the form of black animals, especially dogs and sheep; but she has never had an interest in human blood.
Her negative reputation no doubt comes largely from the fact that her worship was not in keeping with the rest of Greek religion. Her rituals were generally conducted in private, even in secret, without outside observers or the influence of other gods. Workings directed at her were usually with a goal for personal benefit, rather than the good of the community, and she encouraged the personal power of her followers, particularly women.
She is also falsely blamed for the phenomenon called a Hag Attack. The accusation is not common, but I’ve heard it a few times. In reality of course the “hag attack” is sleep paralysis, caused by an overabundance of a chemical, which paralyzes the body during sleep. A deficiency in the same chemical is a possible culprit in sleepwalking. There are several spirits that create this condition in order to feed on the terror of its victims, but Hecate is certainly not among them.
Followers of Hecate
She is the patron of midwives, witches, healers, herbalists, dog lovers, women in general, leaders, warriors, athletes, fishermen, cavalrymen, and those who ride horses. She is the patron as well of the “common people” and all who are oppressed.
It is said that great power and authority often comes to her followers.
According to Hesiod:
“Whom she will she greatly aids and advances: she sits by worshipful kings in judgment, and in the assembly whom she will is distinguished among the people. And when men arm themselves for the battle that destroys men, then the goddess is at hand to give victory and grant glory readily to whom she will. Good is she also when men contend at the games, for there too the goddess is with them and profits them: and he who by might and strength gets the victory wins the rich prize easily with joy, and brings glory to his parents. And she is good to stand by horsemen, whom she will: and to those whose business is in the gray discomfortable sea, and who pray to Hecate and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker, easily the glorious goddess gives great catch, and easily she takes it away as soon as seen, if so she will. She is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock. The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less. So, then, albeit her mother’s only child, she is honoured amongst all the deathless gods. And the son of Cronos made her a nurse of the young who after that day saw with their eyes the light of all-seeing Dawn. So from the beginning she is a nurse of the young, and these are her honours.”
Theogony of Hesiod (ll. 404-452)
Hesiod’s description of Hecate is strange in that it omits the chthonic, lunar and witchcraft associations, as well as the references to the symbol of the torch and her power over crossroads, as if he wished to hide her darker side and whitewash her entire image. The reference to her as an only child is an incorrect assumption that Perses and Asteria as her parents.
The last two sentences of this passage are the source of her title as kourotrophos (“child’s nurse”) to all living things.
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter also references Hecate.
Many cultures have honored a tradition of leaving plates of food (often dishes featuring Onions and/or Garlic) at three-way crossroads as offerings to Hecate during the three nights around the dark moon, walking away without looking back. One is expected not to return to retrieve any plates or bowls; they are considered part of the offering. Some question has arisen regarding occasions where wild animals and vagrants are seen eating the food, but these are to be considered the agents and dependents of the goddess.
It was considered dangerous to fail to make this offering, not because of the risk of her anger, but because she was the force protecting one from restless spirits believed to wander the earth under the dark moon. Crossroads were considered to be the most likely place to meet any such entity, as well as being her favored “haunt”… Pun very much intended.
She is perhaps the best friend you can have in times of difficult transition. I myself first encountered her during a very difficult time in my life. I asked for help, and she answered. I only realized later who it was that had sent me the dreams and visions that provided the moral support I needed.
Make no mistake, this is a dark goddess, but she is very fair. She believes in making her followers work for everything they get. A faithful follower of Hecate will periodically face grueling trials in life, but the rewards will always be great. She has never given me anything, but she has always made sure I had the opportunities I needed and has helped me achieve every goal I have sought in all the years I have worked with her.
I know someone who invoked Hecate in a spell to give her freedom from her abusive mother. She was forced to move out of her mother’s house by the end of the month and found herself with other family in another state, away from her home and her friends. However, a year later she was the happiest she has ever been, with a supportive family, a stable relationship, a good education, and a successful career in her future. Years later, as I write this I heard from her again a few months ago, she was still happy, and college bound.
Hecate did not just give her what she wanted, and she did not achieve her goal in the way she expected. It was a trial by fire, but she came out the other side intact.
Medea, and Hecuba are noteworthy followers of Hecate. It was from Hecate that Medea learned her magical arts. Though Circe was a walker of many paths, one of them was as a priestess of Hecate. In point of fact I personally have a few of the skills attributed to my mythological predecessors. Turning men into pigs and 'youthenizing' people is perhaps a little beyond my skill, but sleeping draughts and love potions are simple enough.
The stories behind these mythic priestesses are a representation of Hecate’s rule over feminine power and authority. She is the patron of all women who refuse to submit to the rule of others and fight for their own personal power, so these priestesses became the villains, the archetype of strong willed women who frightened the men who wrote the stories. Perhaps this is why she is associated with the goddess of Wicca, a religion with a long history of feminist activity.
Even her chthonic duties associate her with feminine magic, as funereal rites in the early period of her worship were largely the purview of women.
As a side note, Hera, Artemis, Hecate, and Athena represent the four roles that women assume in a patriarchal society. Hera is the peacemaker who sacrificed most of her power, making her will secondary to that of Zeus in order to avoid conflict that would be detrimental to all. Artemis rejected the patriarchy entirely and chose to live outside it, forsaking whatever comforts it might offer, and will have nothing to do with the masculine element. Hecate exists within the system but refuses to kowtow to a male authority, retaining all her personal power and using it to bend that system to her will, and is the patron of all women who do the same. Athena has forsaken the feminine almost entirely and embraced the patriarchy, and is the patron of the woman who “has to do twice the work to get half the recognition of a man”.
Hecate is even associated to some extent with marriage, another great transition, particularly for women.
She is called a goddess of women partially because women are historically more inclined toward superstition and the practice of private ritual and magic, which is under Hecate’s purview. One Greek author even stated that he would convey only the myths surrounding her, because the ritual practices themselves were to be considered witchcraft.
She is further associated with wisdom, choices, expiation, victory, vengeance, and travel, and bears witness to all crimes.
She is invoked for justice, especially when justice has not been achieved by normal means… When the system has failed. She takes a special interest in sexual crimes against females, another manifestation of her role as a goddess of women.
She is attributed the power to grant or deny any wish.
At one point in time she was called upon in every sacrifice.
She has power over fertility, especially if you wish for female children.
She is called upon for healing of illnesses which ordinary medicine has failed to treat. She is also the saviour those who desire quick and painless death, as she eases the transition into the next world.
She is known for her skill with plants and their magical and healing powers, especially visionary, hallucinogenic and poisonous herbs. She gave Medea the gifts of an herbalist and healer, and the power of herbal gnosis, the intuitive “knowing” of the properties of a plant and of the plants necessary to cure an illness.
She is called upon for protection from spiritual forces, more than physical danger. This includes the power to break curses and end psychic attacks.
She is called upon to provide protection for and from dogs, as they are her sacred animals. In particular, she is fond of black dogs, and the Rottweiler is her breed. I do not know how old the Rottweiler breed is, but whenever they came into being, she claimed them. She is also rather fond of coyotes, and I am happy about the stable coyote population in my area.
Her other sacred animals are toads, snakes, cats, and dragons. Her sacred bird, however, is the stork.
Signs and Symbols
Hecate tends to be very subtle, giving answers in dreams, visions, and subtle signs. Look for animals sacred to her, particularly dogs. If you are lost at a crossroads, literal or otherwise, ask for her guidance and look for a sign. I wouldn’t hold out for something as obvious as a dog walking down the road you are meant to follow… Would be nice though, wouldn’t it?
She is associated with torches, the cauldron, knife, and broom. The key is her primary symbol, and was used in rituals dedicated to her in antiquity. Black is her color of choice, and she has some association with the number 3.
Her emblem is according to some sources the star and crescent moon; a very old symbol later adopted into Islam. There is also a symbol known as Hecate’s Wheel.
She is connected with Sirius, the Dog Star.
Her plants are Garlic, Mandrake, Yew, Cypress, Cyclamen, and to a lesser extent Lavender, Henna, Pomegranate, Black Poplar, and Date Palm. She shares her appreciation for the Pomegranate with Persephone and Hades for reasons made obvious elsewhere in this article. It is also a favorite of several other Greek deities.
Hecate is worked with mostly at night. This is the time for rituals and offerings in her name. The last day of each month is dedicated to her, and in Italy she shares August 13th with Diana as a holy day, especially if it falls on a Friday. In modern times, she is associated with November the 16th.
It is my sincere hope that this rather long and rambling article does justice to the goddess, and is helpful to any who seek her.
May you find what you seek,
Theogeny of Hesiod
The Hymn to Demeter
Copyright: Copyright Ian Jones (Alice Jones) 2012
Katharine Alice Jones
Location: Pensacola, Florida
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