Hekate was usually depicted with three heads or three melded bodies and multiple arms (a relationship to Kali). As Hecate Trevia, she guarded the way where three roads crossed and thus could see in all directions. In classical times Hecate was seen as the goddess of the waning, dark moon. One theory says that she was at one time the goddess of all aspects of the moon but eventually this dominion was split into three with Persephone/Artemis as the virgin/new moon and Demeter/Hera/Selene as the mother/full moon.
She was connected to all three of the life stages. She was there at the time of fertilization and birth. She could open the womb of all living creatures. As the mistress of gates, doors and the abyss she was the symbol of the feminine womb. She was the guardian of women in child birth. She was a nurse of the young. She had associations to growing and the harvest through her relationship to the phases of the moon and her suppression of storms. She was the goddess of healing and magic. And at the end of time she was the Queen of Night, Mistress of the Lower Way, Opener of the Way to Death. As the queen of death she ruled the powers of regeneration as represented by her association with the serpent.
Hecate is a threefold Moon Goddess connected with the feminine independence from the masculine. Hecate is an ancient Goddess from an early, pre-Greek period of myth. At first, the Hellenic Greeks found Hecate difficult to fit into their pantheon. Although she was not considered a part of the Olympian company, she had retained dominion over sky, earth and the underworld making her the bestower of wealth and the blessings of life. Zeus himself honored Hecate so greatly that he always conceded to her the ancient power of giving or denying to mortals any desired gift.
Hecate is skilled in the arts of divining and foretelling the future. She gives humans dreams and visions which, if interpreted wisely, led to greater clarity. Also, because of her association with Persephone, she is connected to death and regeneration. Her presence is the land of the underworld allows for the pre-Hellenic hope of re-birth and transformation as opposed to Hades, who represented the inevitability of death.
There are those who theorize that Hecate is as old as the early Egyptians. She possibly evolved from the Egyptian midwife goddess know as Hequit, Heket or Hekat, a goddess with Nubian roots, a frog headed Goddess who was connected with the embryonic state when dead grain decomposed and began to germinate. She was also one of the midwives who assisted every morning at the birth of the Sun.. It is said that this goddess took her attributes from the “heq” (“heka”) or tribal matriarch of pre-dynastic Egypt. This wise woman was believed to command the “hekau” or “(M)other’s Words of Power”, giving power to the sacred word.
“…. – for the emanations of Hek Ka, the mighty energies of a million hearts, are contained within her….”
The goddess Hekat birthed the sun each morning and was called the “most lovely one” – a title of the moon. Her totems was the frog, a symbol of the fetus
“…. Oldest of the Old, amphibian being that swims in the water, yet walks upon the dry land….”
This goddess, in turn, was connected to the goddess Nut. She was the sky and the heaven and was invoked with many names. The Great Deep, The Starry One, Cow Goddess, Mother of the Gods, Mother of the Sun, Protector of the Dead, Guardian of the Celestial Vault. These titles all relate to Hecate in her association with the moon, the night sky and the underworld.
The worship of Hecate may also have passed through the fertile crescent of the Israelites and Sumerians. Hecate may have been related to the Sumerian Goddess of Death and Magic. She may have influenced or been influenced by the legends of Lilith, the first wife of Adam who was demonized as “the accursed huntress” and the dark phase of the moon – also attributes of Hecate.
In Greece, Hecate was a Moon Goddess, one of the original trinity who were connected with the moon’s three phases and ruled heaven, earth and the underworld. She was especially worshipped at places where three roads met and was known as Hecate Trivia, Hecate of the Three ways. Some scholars say that Hecate was not originally Greek, her worship having traveled south (where she had been worshiped as Isis), or from her original Thracian (Indo-European) homeland. In any case, the antiquity of Hecate’s worship was recognized by those pre-Olympian divinities whom Zeus and his cohort had ousted. The newcomers also bowed to her antiquity by granting to Hecate alone a power shared with Zeus that of granting or withholding from humanity anything she wished.
Hesiod in Theogony says that Hecate was the daughter of the Titan Perses and the Tiantess Asteria, a star Goddess, both symbols of shining light. Asteria was a sister of Leto who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis, making Hecate a cousin to Artemis. An even older tradition saw her as a more primal Goddess and made her a daughter of Erebus and Nyx (Night). A later tradition says Hecate was the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Some say she remained a virgin by choice and others say she was married to Hades.
During the middle ages, Hecate became known as Queen of the Witches. Catholic authorities said that the people most dangerous to the faith were those whom Hecate patronized – midwives, healers and seers. They also saw the simple peasants practicing folk religion as “devil worshippers” and Hecate was portrayed as an ugly hag leading covens of witches in these practices.
Hecate of the Amazons was a Moon and underworld deity. Her chariot was often pulled by dragons. She was the oldest Greek form of the triform Goddess, who ruled heaven, the underworld and the Earth. After the matriarch fell, the Greeks worshiped Hecate only as Queen of the Underworld and ruler of three-way crossroads. In Greek Mythology, when the Olympian Gods claimed fame, Zeus did not dare try to take any of Hecate’s powers from her, as he knew her powers were just as great as his if not greater.
As Hecate Trivia, Hecate of the Three Ways, Her images stood at the crossroads, where offerings of dogs, honey and black lambs were left on Full Moon nights, Divination and communication with the dead were performed in these places.
She was also know as angelos (angel) and phosphorus (light). In the myth of Kore-Persephone, Hecate does not interfere when the Maiden is dragged down into the underworld. Demeter is outraged and vengeful, but Hecate remains calm, knowing that certain things in life must come to pass and there is little point in becoming hysterical about them. This inner illumination (phosphoros) of consciousness, this learning to roll with the punches and then coming back to better things is the deep wisdom taught by the Dark Mother, the dark angel (angelos) of the collective unconscious. If we do not know this aspect of the Goddess or acknowledge Her wisdom, we cannot have a truly integrated personality.
Later studies show Hecate with three heads and six arms or merely as a pillar called a Hecterion. Hecate was shown holding three torches, a key, a rope, and a dagger. With the key, she unlocks the deep mysteries, the rope is a symbolical umbilical cord, the dagger, which has become the athame of Witchcraft, cuts through illusion to true power. But Hecate was also known as the most lovely one, a name for the Moon. It was said that She wore a shimmering headdress and was second to none in her powers. A statute from the 8th century BCE shows Hecate with wings and holding a snake.
Hecate was called the Silver-Footed Queen of the Night, as was Persephone. In Italy at Lake Averno, an extinct volcanic crater, the thick, dark forest surrounding the lake was known as Hecate’s sacred grove. Actual temples to this Goddess were rare. During the Middle Ages, Hecate became known as Queen of the Witches.
Queen of the Witches
Far from an evil, ugly, dark, hooded hag, Hecate was originally depicted clothed in light. She carried torches to light the way, and swords and wore a bright shimmering headdress. She had brilliant eyes that saw in the dark and all things not visible.
However, as time passed Hecate became more and more associated only with her darker aspects. There appears to have been an Iron Age tendency to split dark aspects from the full cycle and stand the dark in opposition to the light. For example, in later Greek mythology Hecate became associated with the Empousa, vampire-like spirits who would entice young men and then eat them after making love. During the third century she was described as “…lover of darkness”, “…rejoic(ing) at warm blood spilled”, “…walk(ing) among phantoms and tombs” and “…strik(ing) chill in mortal hearts”. By the Middle Ages Hecate was the Queen of the Witches. She was associated with midwives and wise women (who were often accused of being witches) because of her dominion over childbirth and healing. She was then demonized by church authorities who considered these women dangerous.
Hecate is known for her gifts of prophecy, her clear vision, and her knowledge of the magical and occult arts. Because she stands at the crossroads, she can look into the past, present and future, Her Priestesses were many, including Medea and Circe. Medea had Hecate’s foresight and wisdom, Circe her gift of the magical arts. Since Hecate had three faces, she could look to the past, the present, and future, thus she was highly skilled as a visionary.
Hecate’s worshipers invoked her in ritual and placed food for her as an offering. This was known as Hecate’s supper. Rituals were always in the darkest hours of the night. Worshipers gathered to study and learn occult wisdom (later refereed to as the “black arts”). Initiations in the name of Hecate are still carried out by many witches whether they be solitaire or in covens.
Hecate is the Dark Mother, in both the positive and the negative sense. She can send demons to torment men’s dreams, she can drive them mad, if they are not well integrated enough to cope with her, but to those who dare to welcome her, she brings creative inspiration. She is Hecate Antea, the Sender of nocturnal visions.
When one learns from Hecate with patience and love, one learns that She is not an ugly hag, but a beautiful Goddess. One must be willing to “sacrifice” oneself on the inner altar in order to gain Her good will. This type of sacrifice does not literally mean immolation or austerity of unnatural kinds, This is a spiritual sacrifice, willingness to give up negative habits and friends, taking time for meditation and ritual, being kind and understanding to your fellow person, and open to new ways of spiritual thought and understanding. The only thing we have of value to offer the Dark Mother is the life force of our being. When we can offer ourselves without reservation, the Crone gives in return far more than we can imagine. Like Loki, we lose nothing, what we gain, is up to our intentions.
Hecate’s three heads were sometimes envisioned as various animals including the serpent and the dog. She is considered a Lady of the Beasts. The serpent represented her link to rebirth. She was sometimes called “snake-entwined”. Hounds connected her to the hunt, an aspect she shared with Artemis. Cerberus the three-headed dog of the underworld was Hecate’s minion, not Hade’s. Vessels and figurines used in her worship were shaped as dogs. Black hounds may have been sacrificed to her. Other animals were associated with her or sacrificed to her including frogs and lambs.
As goddess of the crossroads, of the way and of night terrors Hecate was invoked to protect homes from evil. Statues of her were erected over doorways. Spirits were thus advised that friends of Hecate lived inside and were not to be bothered with noises and apparitions.
Hecate played a major part in the original mythology of Persephone and Hades but her role diminished as time passed. She is the only one who knew of the abduction, having heard the struggle, and being “tenderhearted” she informed Demeter. She then went to Persephone in the underworld to comfort her and stay with her as companion.
Hecate, the Crone, is the power behind the Throned Queen Mother, She is the ultimate advisor, for She sees clearly back into the past through the present and on into the future. She is the Keeper of the Key to the Akashic Records. The final mysteries of life and the universe are Hers. She is the gentle Death Priestess who meets us at the end of our lives and guides us into the world of spirit.
Hecate, the Crone blends with the Maiden and Mother as they blend with Her. She is the greatest of Teachers and Initiator, for She leads us downward into the entrance of the labyrinth web. From that point, we have no choice but to face the cycle of life and death. We are shown past lives, the mistakes, the victories, and the talents gained. Only when we can accept and understand, at least in part, does the Crone show us the most sacred of Her Mysteries: that the labyrinth does not end but continues on, back into life, a never-ending cycle of existence.
Today we can relate to Hecate as a guardian figure in our unconsciousness, holding the key to the dark realms within us and bearing torches to light our way into the depths of our inner being. Our patriarchal civilization has perhaps taught us to fear this figure, this terrible hag, but if we trust in her ancient energies we will find her a kindly guardian. She stands at the triple crossroads that exists at all levels of our being, manifesting as spirit, soul and body. We should recognize that the terrible, awful hag-like image of Hecate is merely a document of the unconscious fear of the feminine which men, immersed in a one-sided patriarchy, have over the millennia projected in this archetype.
We must visit and come to terms with the female Shadow, the Dark and Terrible Anima, the dark unconscious side of our “inner nature” for, if we avoid this realm, we create polarity and eventually develop a dualistic world view. We have to face up to our inner Hecate, make a relationship with her as guardian of our unconsciousness, our dark side, and, trusting Her stewardship, allow ourselves to grow into an awareness of the rich realm of our personal underworld. Only through this can we become integrated beings.
Modern feminist spirituality and Neo-pagan movements like Wicca have reclaimed Hecate. She most often represents the Crone aspect/metaphor of the sacred trilogy; sometimes she is venerated in her earlier visages as a Great Mother.
“As a harbinger of rebirth, the Crone’s appearance signals a call to profound transformation and healing.”
“…the function of the old wise woman…(is) assistance in times of difficult passage…”
“As midwife to the psyche she is constellated in ’emergency’ situations where a spirit, a song, an alternative, a new being is emerging…”
“…(she) can represent…the power…to do what is right, for the benefit of future generations and of the earth itself…”
“Darkness is not necessarily evil as it is the ground from which light emerges and in this sense it is unmanifest light and pre-natal darkness.”
Wherever the goddess called “Hecate” originated, the aspects and attributes of her godhead and the elements of her worship were obviously conceived of and developed long before the Greeks named her. To this day Hecate continues to be venerated in her multitude of forms. She can be considered as the goddess of balance – light with dark, life with death, joy with sorrow. She is, therefore, the manifestation and epitome of life itself.
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