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Hecate, Titaness, Goddess of the Underworld

Hecate is an ancient Greek divinity, commonly conceived as a Titan,

the daughter of Perses and Asteria. As such she is a third generation Titan and not one of the 12 original Titans. The derivation of her name is in doubt but could easily be Indo-European. Her name could mean ‘mistress of fire’ from Indo-European ‘eik-‘ to be master of a process’ and ‘ater-‘, ‘Fire’. This name, at any rate, is consistent with her parents, and with many pictures and images which show her with torches. That the names of Hecate and her parents can all be translated into Indo-European suggests an Info-European source for the goddess.

The following quotes about Hecate are from Hesiod:

(ll. 404-452)....Also she bare Asteria of happy name, whom Perses once
led to his great house to be called his dear wife.  And she
conceived and bare Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honoured
above all.  He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the  
earth and the unfruitful sea.  She received honour also in starry
heaven, and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods.  For
to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich
sacrifices and prays for favour according to custom, he calls
upon Hecate.  Great honour comes full easily to him whose prayers
the goddess receives favourably, and she bestows wealth upon him;
for the power surely is with her.  For as many as were born of
Earth and Ocean amongst all these she has her due portion.  The
son of Cronos did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that
was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as
the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both
in earth, and in heaven, and in sea.  Also, because she is an 
only child, the goddess receives not less honour, but much more
still, for Zeus honours her.  Whom she will she greatly aids and
advances: she sits by worshipful kings in judgement, 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 grey 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

This passage has provided confusion to later interepreters since it seems to separate Hecate from her later interpretation. It seems like Hesiod is describing a goddess of good fortune. He is also describing a goddess who is easily for humans to influence. Later a number of so called magical factors were associated with Hecate. What follows are the names of a number of these factors listed with their Indo-European roots.

  • ‘magh-1’, ‘To be able, to have power’
  • ‘spell’ from ‘spel-3’, ‘To say aloud, recite’
  • ‘potion’ from ‘poi-1’, ‘to drink’
  • ‘invoke’, ‘wekw-‘, ‘to speak’
  • ‘pray’ from ‘perk-1’, ‘To ask entreat’
  • ‘wand’ from ‘wendh-‘, ‘To turn.wind. weave’>
  • ‘enchant’ and ‘charm’ from ‘kan-‘, to sing, ‘anoint’ from ‘ongw-‘, ‘To salve anoint’
  • ‘victim’ from ‘weik-2’, ‘Words related to magic’
  • ‘sacrifice’ from ‘dhe-‘, ‘to set, put’
  • ‘oracle’ from ‘or-‘, ‘To pronounce a ritual formula’
  • astrology from ‘ster-3’, ‘Star’ and ‘leg-‘, ‘To collect, with derivitives meaning to speak’
  • necromancy from ‘nek-1’, ‘Death’ and ‘men-1’, ‘To think’

It would seem that these terms describe Indo-European ritals associated with the religion of those peoples. The entire nature of that religion seems to have been attached to the one goddess Hecate. Hesiod describes different attributes to Hecate than those that are ordinarily associated with her. Hesiod is very early and it seems that the attributes of Hecate changed in the centuries following his writing. But his attributes are consistent to the realm of luck. She could confer wealth, victory, and wisdom, and success for sailing and hunting. Notice that Hesiod says that Hecate has the power to answer prayers of a general sort. It is this ability may be the source of occult powers. What is the mechanism of a spell? Later thought was that such dark arts were an arrangement between the Devil and the person invoking the spell. Is this true for Hecate as well? And why would spells and potions be peculiar to Hecate? It is possible that a proper spell would be pleasing to Hecate and she would respond to the spell with the desired result. Potion composition might need the same relationship.

(ll. 19-32) .....  But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal
men, heard (Persephone's) voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit:
only tender-hearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of
Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave,
(ll. 438-440) 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.

(ll. 438-440) 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.
Hecate hugs Demeter

Through her association with Persephone Hecate is often styled as a queen of the underworld. Because of her association with the dark side of things she is often regarded as queen of the occult. At night she sends forth demaons and spectral beings. She
is sometimes accompanied by a cat or a dog. This is all part of the realm of Persephone. One source of these things is suggested by Emily Vermeule in her book Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Peotry. She points out that the nature of Hecate includes purification of the dead by consuming them with fire. She includes an image on page 109 which shows Hecate with dog limbs consuming a dead man. (Athens NM 2495) Is it possible that the association of Hecate with the dead in this way caused her skills to be dark arts?

In this vein altars were set up for Hecate at cross roads. There are evidences of this in ancient literature:

  • Demosthenes, Against Conon, 54 39: “and that these men used to devour the food set out for HecatĂȘ”
  • Sophocles, Antigone, line 1199, “I attended your husband as his guide to the furthest part of the plain, where unpitied the body of Polyneices, torn by dogs, still lay. After we had prayed to the goddess of the roads and to Pluto to restrain their anger in mercy, we washed him with pure washing, and with freshly-plucked boughs we burned what remains there were.”

Her association with Medea popularized her occult powers and identified her with witches. “By the goddess I worship most of all, my chosen helper Hecate, who dwells in the inner chamber of my house…” (Euripides, Medea 400). Circe is often called a witch yet as a goddess she she has powers beyond a mortal. Medea is a mortal and may depend upon Hecate for her powers. Medea gets her powers by being a priestess of Hecate and Hecate gives her these powers perhaps because Medea is a favorite.

“…and Medea meanwhile took from the hollow casket a charm which men say is called the charm of Prometheus. If a man should anoint his body therewithal, having first appeased the Maiden, the only-begotten, with sacrifice by night, surely that man could not be wounded by the stroke of bronze nor would he flinch from blazing fire; but for that day he would prove superior both in prowess and in might. It shot up first- born when the ravening eagle on the rugged flanks of Caucasus let drip to the earth the blood-like ichor of tortured Prometheus. And its flower appeared a cubit above ground in colour like the Corycian crocus, rising on twin stalks; but in the earth the root was like newly-cut flesh. The dark juice of it, like the sap of a mountain-oak, she had gathered in a Caspian shell to make the charm withal, when she had first bathed in seven ever-flowing streams, and had called seven times on Brimo, nurse of youth, night-wandering Brimo, of the underworld, queen among the dead, — in the gloom of night, clad in dusky garments. And beneath, the dark earth shook and bellowed when the Titanian root was cut; and the son of Iapetus himself groaned, his soul distraught with pain. And she brought the charm forth and placed it in the fragrant band which engirdled her, just beneath her bosom, divinely fair…” Argonautica (ll. 828-890)

(ll. 1026-1062) “Take heed now, that I may devise help for thee. When at thy coming my father has given thee the deadly teeth from the dragon’s jaws for sowing, then watch for the time when the night is parted in twain, then bathe in the stream of the tireless river, and alone, apart from others, clad in dusky raiment, dig a rounded pit; and therein slay a ewe, and sacrifice it whole, heaping high the pyre on the very edge of the pit. And propitiate only-begotten Hecate, daughter of Perses, pouring from a goblet the hive-stored labour of bees. And then, when thou hast heedfully sought the grace of the goddess, retreat from the pyre; and let neither the sound of feet drive thee to turn back, nor the baying of hounds, lest haply thou shouldst maim all the rites and thyself fail to return duly to thy comrades. And at dawn steep this charm in water, strip, and anoint thy body therewith as with oil; and in it there will be boundless prowess and mighty strength, and thou wilt deem thyself a match not for men but for the immortal gods. And besides, let thy spear and shield and sword be sprinkled…” Argonautica (ll. 1026-1062).

Images of Hecate vary widely. As a goddess of luck many crossroads and many houses had sanctuaries to Hecate. In this capacity she was viewed as a guardian and had a fierce visage for this purpose. This similar to the Medusa on the shield of Zeus that Athena carries. Her association with the nether regions encouraged a monstrous appearance or that of a crone. But as a goddess she could assume the appearance of a maiden if she choose. Her association with tripling is so powerful that she is often imaged as a triple goddess. But she could also assume the image of any one of the triples. Often she is part of a triple with Artemis and there appears as a crone in the triple, Artemis, Selene, Hecate. She can also be tripled with Demeter and Persephone. When Persephone is a Kore the triple can be Persephone as maiden, Demeter as mother, and Hecate as Crone. But after Persephone marries it can also be Hecate as maiden, Persephone as mother, and Demeter as Crone. It should be noted that this tripling is especially consistent with the Indo-European background of Hecate.

Hecate does not appear in the Linear B writings of the Mycenaean era. Zeus does appear as DI-WO. He also appears with a female partner named DI-WI-JA (Diwia). The name of Zeus is definitely Indo-european and relates to words such as Divine and Divinity. ‘Devi’ is acommon religious Sanskrit word which means Goddess. Hecate may relate to the Indo-European word “kagh-” which means to catch, seize, wickerwork, fence. She seems to relate to hex which relates to kagh and means ‘an evil spell or curse.’ Liddell and Scott state that ‘Hecate’ means ‘she who works her will.’ If in fact ‘Hecate’ is an Indo-European word then she is unique among the goddesses in her relation to Zeus. Perhaps this is the reason Hesiod describes Hecate as being a favorite of Zeus. She may have been Zeus’ first female partner.

A number of sources identify Hecate with the Egyptian goddess Hekat. This is an easy association because the transliteration of the Greek is Hekate. But there is no indication that these two goddesses were associated in Classical Greek times. Hekat is imaged as a frog while Hecate is shown as a human with two torches in Ancient Greek art. One source says “Early in Egypt’s history, each tribe was led by an older woman called a heq, hag in English”. ‘kagh-” also is related to many hag words which generally mean catch. But ‘kagh’ can mean a fence. This relates very well to the ancient use of statues of Hecate as bounday markers. Of course frogs relate very well to Hecate’s relation to the undeworld and slimy creatures in general but this may come much later. Hecate’s complexity may come from the fact that these two goddesses were often confused because of the similarity of their names. There is little doubt that today the meanings have merged. So the ancient Greek Hecate seems to be more of Indo-european derivation while later this was merged with the Egyptian Hekat.

Hekat is more closely identifed functionally with Eileithyia. She was the Cretan goddess whom Greek mythology adapted as the goddess of childbirth and midwiving. Crete had close ties to Egypt and one would expect that Hekat would have been mentioned with or instead of Eileithyia in Crete had Hekat been an Egyptian import. But this does not seem to be the case. And in ancient Greece Hecate did not pre-empt Eileithyia in any function. Later Artemis took over the function of both these goddesses.

A review of Classical Greek images reveals that Hecate is shown with torches. And it is interesting to note that she is also often imaged with three pairs of arms. In this she has more similarity to Indian goddesses than Egyptian. Images with multiple arms always include torches but the other items cannot be easily identified. The association with Indian goddesses suggests an Indo-european source. It is also interesting to note that Mycenaean “deities lift both arms in the “epiphany gesture”. This is similar to the pose that Hecate has when she holds her torches. Perhaps we should hypothesize an Indo-european deity pair, Karghon for the male and Kargha as the female. Leading and boundaries both relate to fences and the attributes of Hermes and Hecate. Pehaps both these are related to Indo-European divinities.

Temples of Hecate:

  • Temple of Hekate at Lagina, Caria in Asia Minor
  • In the Argolid, near the shrine of the Dioscuri, the 2nd-century CE traveller Pausanias saw the temple of Hecate opposite the sanctuary of Eilethyia.
  • Temple to Hekate Triformis (three aspects of the goddess) at Selinunte. For this role Hekate is the dark of the moon. She was also the door person of Hades and in this role helped to recover Persephone from Hades. This temple faced the setting sun. Selinunte is located in the southwest coast of Sicily
  • Temple of Hekate and Persephone, Cyrene in North Africa.

Pictures of Hecate:


Questions and Answers

Question: did hecate have problems and if he did how did he solve them?

Hecate was a powerful goddess who could confer wealth, victory, and
wisdom on mortals. She brought good luck, but she could also withold it.
She was also more inclined to answer prayers than most of the other goddesses.
She became associated with Persephone and became a goddess of the night and
her powers were associated with the darkness. She became a queen of the
witches in later cultures.

The main problem Hecate has to deal with is the maintenance of her domain. Mainly she is
involved with who should receive her benefits and who will be slighted. The only option she has to exerting her own powers is to trade favors with another deity.

Question: Aproximetly where and when did the worship of Hecate start, what do historians know of her rituals, does she have any surviving temples, and what goddesses from other cultres is she associated with?

Answer: Hecate is a Titan so the assumption is that she is an older goddess. If Hecate was transmited to Greece from Caria in southwestern Asia Minor then thefact that Hecate is not found in Mycenean remains could be explained. This is also consistent with the location of Medea on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. See temple above.

Question: What is the differenece between Hecate and Persephone?

Answer: Hecate was the assistant of Persephone.

Question: who was cronos married to

Answer: Cronus married Rhea.

Question: Are there any teachers of Hecate

Answer: As the goddess of luck and other dark arts including potions,
incantations, and purifications she was extremely popular. She became a
sort of queen of the witches. There have always been priests and priestesses
of Hecate, but determining a true teacher has never been easy. One might
say Harry Potter is a teacher of Hecate. But I have tried many of his
spells, and none seem to work. He may be teaching something, but it is not
dark arts.

Question: wait….are you saying that hesiod was hecate’s mother?….. whats the differance between hesiod and hecate?

Answer: No. Hesiod is a poet who describes the goddess Hecate in poetic
terms. But Hesiod did not create Hecate, nor did he make her up. He
describes her as she was described to him by other nameless poets before him.
Someone may have experienced an epiphany and related it to one of the poets.
Since Hecate is a goddess her appearance to a mortal would have been
considered a miracle. Writing began about the time of Hesiod so before him
all information about the deities was passed by word of mouth. Later we
can talk of written documents.

Question: i need a significant myth Hecate was involved in

Answer: Some of the myths Hecate was involved with include:

  • She helped the gods defeat the giants and she defeated Clytius
  • She observed the abduction of Persephone.
  • When Galinthius was turned into a cat for helping the mother of Hercules,
    Hecate made her an attendant.

Question: what was Hecate worshipped or prayed to?

Answer: Hecate was worshipped when luck was needed. She was also prayed
to for potions, incantations, spells, and the like.

Question: What is Hecate’s emblem ?

Answer: A torch.

Question: how to prononce

Answer: HECK-ah-tea

Question: Are you sure of what you say about Hecate? My Britannica, 1962, Vol 11, p375 says –

“HECATE (she who works from afar) a goddess in Greek mythology.
According to the generally accepted view, she was of Hellenic origin, but
Farnell regards her as a foreign importation from Thrace, the home of
Bendis with whom H had many points in common. She is not mentioned in the
Iliad or the Odyssey, but in Hesiod (Theogony, 409) she is the daughter of
the Titan Perses and Astrie. She is there represented as a mighty
goddess, having power over heaven, earth and sea; hence she is the
bestower of wealth and all the blessings of daily life. Hecate is
frequently identified with Artemis, and both occasionally with the moon.”

“Later, H is the chief goddess who presides over magic arts and spells;
hence occasionally she is referred to as the mother of Circe, and her name
is very common in charms. She is said to have been worshipped at
Samothrace, and is closely connected with Demeter. Alone of the gods
besides Helios, she witnessed the abduction of Persephone, and, torch in
hand, assisted Demeter in her search for her daughter. On moonlight
nights she was seen at the crossroads, accompanied by ghosts and
hell-hounds. There, on the last day of the month, eggs and fish were
offered to her. Black puppies and she-lambs (black victims being offered
to chthonian deities) were also sacrificed (School. on Theocritis, ii,12),
the former unusual but not quite unparalleled victims in Greece. Pillars
like the Hermae, called Hecataea, stood, especially in Athens, at
crossroads and doorways, perhaps to keep away the spirits of evil. It is
to be noted that H plays little or no part in mythological legend.

“In older times, H is represented as single-formed, clad in a long robe,
holding burning torches; later she becomes ‘triformis’, with three bodies
standing back to back – probably in order to look all ways from the
crossroad. In her six hands are various emblems.”

“L. R. Farnell, ‘Cults of the Greek States’, ii, ch. xvi, xix.
Preller-Robert i, p 321 et seq.
O. Gruppe, ‘Griechische Mythologie’, ii, p 1288 (1906).”

See also Chaucer and Boccacio for sources of the confusion.

Various information supports another interpretation. For example:
(she who works from afar) Where does this come from? Liddel and Scott say
“She who works her will” and this is most likely the Coptic? translation of
the name of Hekat, the Egyptian goddess who was syncretized with Hecate
perhaps when Alexander captured Egypt and because of the similarity of their
names. The Hecate of Hesiod preceeds this by some 500 years. Bendis is
indeed related to Hecate but so what. Thrace is in the direction of the
purported migration of the Indo-Europeans and may have been the direction of
the migration of the of the Mycenaeans who had a Nordic like appearance with
blond hair and blue eyes. The fact that “she is the daughter of the Titan
Perses and Astrie relates her to Medea whose family had the same ancestors.
The story we have of Medea “The Argonautica” was written by Apollonius
Rhodius in the 3rd century BC and he was was an epic poet, scholar, and
director of the Library of Alexandria. But he is quite late. It is doubtful
that he made this story up but rather enhanced some older material which is
lost. But in this epic Medea is the priestess of Hecate and it is therefore
not surprising that she has some of her powers and is often referred to as
Medea of the many spells. Now the word ‘hex’ is plainly Indo-European and
means to cast spells. This is related to the Indo-European word ‘kagh-‘
which means ‘to catch, seize, or fence’ but the word is hard to trace
because it also means six in Greek. Of course Hecate is often shown with
three heads and six arms, a situation similar to many Indian goddesses (who
sometimes have four, six, eight and many more arms.). The Indo-European
word for six is ‘sweks’ so this is something else. It would be important to
know that Hecate was Indo-European because this would attach her to Zeus and
a relatively few other Greek deities. It has long been thought that the
patriarchal nature of Greek society came from the Indo-Europeans and this
fact would change that.