Hecate, Hecate Triformus

This article has been previously published here: http://www.albany.edu/faculty/lr618/51to.htm

We have tried to trace Yukiko Ito via the Alumni Association, University at Albany NY, but she left without a forwarding email address. If anyone knows her could you please let us know too. Thanks!


Hecate has been generally regarded as the goddess of witchcraft and magic, a crone, Queen of the Underworld or the dark side of the moon. She has been viewed as a women’s deity and has been shunned from the patriarchal society. She is considered as Mother of the Ghosts, who roams around the graveyard; a merciless killer, who collects poison and embodies death; Bitch or She-Wolf, who howls at night and is followed by barking dogs; and Giver of Vision, who is responsible for insanity (Gimbutas, Living Goddesses 155; Old Europe 198; Kerenyi 36). There are many other negative, frightening images of Hecate, but such impressions of the goddess can be limiting and misunderstanding of her actual, diverse functions in the ancient world. It is evident that, in many aspects, she signifies ’the other side’ – the dark, mysterious and fearsome concept, which is referred to as chthonic.

 William Blake 1795: Hecate The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy

Hecate is famously known as a gruesome and evil part of the primordial ‘Great Goddess’, who survives in a form of Hecate-Artemis in Greece. However, it is important to note that she has a dual nature, a quality that is shared by many other Greek and Roman deities. In ‘Hymn to Hecate’ of Theogony (411-52), Hesiod reveals the goddess’s positive, powerful and beneficial side.

In Chaldean Oracles, Hecate plays a role separate from the ancient feminine principle, being a mediator between theoi and humans. She is also related to and connected with numerous other gods and goddesses, and, through these associations, one can perhaps discern and determine the possible characteristics of Hecate, which may have been forgotten or overlooked.

Although many researchers believe that Hecate originates from Caria, southwestern Turkey, it is still a mystery where the goddess exactly comes from. Walter Burkert mentions some researchers’ doubts about Hecate’s Carian origin, since Lagina, where the main worship for the goddess took place, was all Hellenistic (416).

Yves Bonnefoy indicates the possibility of Hecate originating in Egypt, noting that Hecate in male form, which is identified with Apollo, is “the first modern representation of Horus”(262). In the contrary, Robert E. Bell claims that she is from Thrace (219). In Greece, Hecate was often called Enodia, who, in turn, was a goddess of witchcraft and drugs in Thessaly (Johnston 24). Yet scholars argue that Enodia, who is also called goddess of pathways or she of the roads, has existed independently and separately from Hecate (Burkert 171; Nilsson 91).

Despite the controversy, Hecate’s origin in Caria seems to be the most solid argument. Burkert points out that the goddess’s theophoric name, Hekatomnos, does not fit the Greek language, but it is rather Asiatic, specifically Carian (171). Martin P. Nilsson agrees with Burkert by stating that Hecate’s Carian origin has been proven, since researchers have found numerous occasions in Caria, of which the goddess’s name appears combined with proper names, while such incidences are quite rare in any other place (90).

In Caria, Hecate was worshipped as one of the most important deities. The most significant temple of Hecate was built in Lagina around 100BCE (Ferguson 160). There, the frieze depicted the stories of Zeus and Hecate side by side, and the goddess was worshipped by sacred eunuchs (Burkert 171; Ferguson 160).

Hekate, Lagina Turgut, (Alan, September 2005)

In front of the sanctuary, orgiastic dances and games were performed as well as sacrifices of dogs in honor of Hecate (Gimbutas, Living Goddesses 155; Old Europe 197). Hecate Zerynthia was named after Zerynthos, a place that lies west of Lagina (Gimbutas, Old Europe 197). Pausanias also adds, “I know of no other Greeks who believe in sacrificing puppies except at Kolophon, where they sacrifice a black bitch to Hekate” (Guide Vol.2 50).

Hecate in Caria might have been closely associated to Cybele, Great Mother of Asia Minor, and her name might have been a name of a daughter of Cybele (Von Rudloff 6). Certainly, Hecate was worshipped outside of Caria as well. The sacrifices of dogs, mysteries and ecstatic dances were also carried out for Hecate in Samothrace, where there was a cave called Zerynthos (Gimbutas, Old Europe 197). Pausanias talks about Hecate in Aegina, where she was honored most of all the gods in a yearly mystery, which was established by Orpheus the Thracian (Mythology 373). Interestingly, in Aegina, Hecate’s image, created by Myron, had only one body and a single head (Pausanias, Mythology 374). In contrast, Athenians called the goddess, Hecate Epipyrgidia (Hecate on the Tower), and built the threefold figure of the goddess near the temple of wingless Nike (Pausanias, Mythology 373-74).

Hesiod’s Theogony is believed to be the first to introduce Hecate in Greek literature. According to Hesiod, Hecate is a Titan daughter of Asteria and Perses, an only child between the star goddess and the son of Eurybia who “shines among all for his intelligence” (375-77, 409-11). One of Hecate’s most popular titles, phosphoros, means “the light-bringer” as well as the Greek name for the morning star, implying the goddess’s parental heritage (Von Rudloff 4). Phoibe is her grandmother, who, with Koios, has given births to two goddesses, Leto and Asteria; thus Leto’s children, Apollo and Artemis are both cousins of Hecate, and they are also called Hekatos and Hekate accordingly (Hesiod 404-9, 918-19; Kerenyi 35-6). Hecate is said to be a reappearance of Phoibe, a great Titan goddess, who is often associated with the moon; and in this relation, Karl Kerenyi finds the poet’s attempt to differentiate Hecate the Moon Goddess from Artemis (36). As Kerenyi further investigates, it is true that Hesiod mentions repeatedly about Hecate being the only child or ‘monogenes’, and this notion may indicate the possible resemblance between the conditions and the upbringings of Persephone and Hecate (36).

In Theogony, Hecate is “honored above all others” (412) by Zeus. She is given the power over the earth, the sea, and the heaven, “thus exalted exceedingly even among immortals” (Hesiod 415). Notice that, as Robert Von Rudloff points out, Hecate in Theogony is not really associated with the Underworld, the traditionally well-known connotation of the goddess (1). The famous threefold nature of the goddess might have also been introduced through Theogony in the aspect of Hecate being honored with the three domains of the world (Kerenyi 36).

Except for the subtle and indirect association with the goddess of the Hades, Persephone, as being a single offspring, there is no absolute indication of Hecate being unwelcome in male dominant society or feared as a witch by the people of Hesiod’s time. Instead of the fierce and baleful image of her, through ‘Hymn to Hecate’, the reader receives an impression of the goddess being equally powerful and celebrated as Zeus. It is possible that she may even be superior to the almighty Zeus, since he cannot forcibly take away her special privileges she has been enjoying among the older generation of gods, the Titans (Hesiod 423-24).

It may be that, by Zeus readdressing to Hecate the powers that she has already possessed from the beginning, he is trying to claim the superior authority. Theogony also provides some clues on how the people of the Archaic Greece have perceived the power of Hecate. Hesiod writes that if a man invokes Hecate and sacrifices for her accordingly, he should receive a gift of success (416-20). Hecate is accounted for her authority to grant victory and glory in the battlefield as well as to bring the coveted prize to athletes (Hesiod 430-38). She not only is revered as a fertility goddess for the farming products but also contains the power to assist in fishing and horse riding (Hesiod 439-44). Note that “Hymn to Hecate” depicts the goddess as being influential and involved in many productive activities of human life, which are commonly carried out by males. This rather favorable notion of the goddess, Hecate, is sometimes considered as a personal viewpoint of Hesiod and his family. Burkert mentions that Hesiod’s family, which originated from Aeolian Cumae, was particularly devoted to Hecate (171).

Nilsson says of ‘Hymn to Hecate’, Hesiod’s attempt to promote Hecate and establish her as a great goddess, which has ended unsuccessfully (90). Harris and Platzner imply male chauvinism as the main reason for the failure of the propaganda, that the patriarchal society is not capable of accepting a female deity, who is so powerful in many dimensions of human life, except to strip away the positive connotations of the goddess and make her a terrifying witch (101). The only negative quality that is mentioned about Hecate in Theogony is her moodiness or unaccountability.

She would supply fishermen with a great amount of fish, but she would also take it away if she wants to do so (Hesiod 442-43). She would side with either side in a war as she wishes, and she can affect the number of livestock animals to reduce or reproduce depending on how she feels (Hesiod 432-33, 445-47). Hesiod emphasizes the goddess’s ever-changing mind in his frequent use of phrases such as “at her own pleasure” (446) and “as she pleases” (429). Bell states that Hecate’s varying temper may have generated in worshippers’ minds a fear; and furthermore this fear has turned into the motivation for the people to revere her (219).

Yet this inconsistency in divine character is not only attributed to Hecate but also shared among many ancient deities, and one cannot simply single out Hecate for having the unfavorable trait. It may be possible, provided that Harris and Platzner’s assumption is accepted, that this temperament of Hecate, combined with her might, has become the obnoxious, troublesome, dark witch quality that has been rejected by patriarchy.

But neither is there adequate evidence nor is it convincing enough to consider this hypothesis as a reasonable contributing factor, which is responsible for creating the negative image of Hecate. In Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hecate appears only briefly but plays an important role in Demeter’s search for her beloved daughter. She is one of the only two beings in the heaven or on the earth that heard the cry of Persephone besides Helios (Homeric 22-26). Later, Hecate, bringing her torch, comes to see grieving Demeter and tells her what she has heard (Homeric 51-59). She then guides Demeter to Helios, “watcher of gods and men” (Homeric 60-63). When Demeter finally reunites with her daughter, Hecate is also present and, from then on, becomes Persephone’s attendant and follower (Homeric 438-40). In the hymn, Hecate is described as “the gentle-tempered daughter of Persaios” (Homeric 24). The gentleness does not fit the popular notion of the goddess being malicious and dreaded, though she residing in a cave indicates chthonicity.

Becoming a constant attendant of Persephone in Homeric Hymn to Demeter seems to be the first direct literal connection of Hecate to the Underworld. Sarah Isles Johnston views the goddess’s role in the hymn as an intermediary between the upper world and Hades as she accompanies Persephone’s annual journey (23). Johnston also points out the association between Helios and Hecate for being the only two immortals, who have noticed the abduction of Persephone (22). Throughout the ancient times, Helios and Hecate had a strong connection when dealing with magic (Johnston 22). It is also true that Helios’s companion, Perse or Perseis, the shining Moon, was another name for Hecate, attaching the Underworldly concept to the wife of the Sun (Kerenyi 192). In addition, the name, Persephone, is a longer, more formal form of such names as Perse, Perseis, Perses, Perseus and Persaios, which are names of Hecate and her relatives (Kerenyi 193, 232). These names have been used from pre-Greek times as a name of the queen of the netherworld (Kerenyi 232).

This notion makes more elusive Hecate’s original role as well as Hesiod’s favorable account of the goddess. Curiously, Von Rudloff suggests that the relationship between Hecate, Persephone and Demeter as the earliest and an indigenous manifestation of Hecate in the triple form (4). He explains the three goddesses as the maiden (Hecate), the bride (Persephone), and the mother (Demeter), who signify the three typical sequential steps of a woman’s life in the ancient Greece (4). This perspective conflicts with that of Harris and Platzner, who place Hecate as the old woman or the crone and Persephone as the virgin (105). This writer found it difficult to define by just reading Homeric Hymn to Demeter whether Hecate was the maiden or the crone; the poet did not indicate anywhere in the hymn which status the goddess represented.

Yet in another translation of the hymn, Hecate is depicted as “the childish daughter of Perses” (Rice and Stambaugh 172). Even though this translation insinuates Hecate being young and chaste, it is a question of how the ancients interpreted the goddess. It seems as though that, from a Hesiodic point of view, Hecate can be seen as a benevolent maiden, while, on the other hand, post-Hesiodic tendency is to assume the goddess to be in the same category as the Gorgons, the Furies and the like. In the discussion of Hecate being the maiden or the old woman, the goddess’s connection with Iphigenia gives another clue. In some myths, Agamemnon’s virgin daughter, Iphigenia, does not get sacrificed; instead, Artemis spears her life by turning her into a deer, then later into Hecate (Von Rudloff 4). This relationship of Hecate and Iphigenia reinforces the idea of Hecate being the virgin. Hecate had an epithet Baubo in the ancient time (Gimbutas, Language 256).

In the Orphic version of the Demeter myth, Baubo and her husband, Dysaules, received Demeter in Eleusis during the goddess’s search for her daughter (Bell 93-94; Guthrie 135). The sons of Baubo and Dysaules, Triptolemos and Eubuleas, witnessed the rape of Persephone and informed Demeter about it (Guthrie 135). Although Baubo served Demeter a drink, the mother of Persephone was in such a grief that she did not accept it (Bell 94; Guthrie 135). Baubo, in her attempt to amuse the sorrowful goddess, lifted her skirt and exposed her rear end (Bell 94).

This obscene gesture made Demeter smile, and the goddess finally drank the kykeon (Guthrie 135). This version of Demeter myth offers another different perspective on Hecate. Being linked to Baubo, Hecate manifests a cheerful, friendly and humorous side of her personality. The tie between Hecate and Baubo separates the goddess from the concept of being the maiden; but at the same time, it is highly unlikely that Baubo signifies the older woman. The name, Baubo, meant “that which she showed to Demeter”, the female equivalent of a phallus (Guthrie 135). Hecate as Baubo thus further became an associate of Hermes, whose ithyphallic figures stood in front of gates and doorways (Harris and Platzner 135). Importantly, Hecate’s statues and altars were also set up at the entranceways of major shrines, the doorways of houses and crossroads (Burkert 171; Gimbutas, Language 208).

Hecate Propylaia meant “the one before the gate” (Von Rudloff 3). During the classical period of Greece, Hecate’s name was discussed in various Greek dramas, and through these plays, one could examine how she was regarded by the people of Classical Greece. Aeschylus refers to Hecate in The Suppliant Maidens as Hecate-Artemis, who protect women in their childbirth (676-77). Hecate as a protector of childbirth is also expressed in one of her titles, Kourotrophos.

According to Von Rudloff, this title means ‘child’s nurse’ and implies not only the governing of the childbirth but also maternal care for all infants (5). Marija Gimbutas further explores Hecate’s function in child labor, stating that she, as the Goddess of Death, was believed to devour newborns (Language 219). This rather disturbing act was a symbolic act, which did not connote cannibalism (Gimbutas, Language 219). As Hecate-Artemis, the two goddesses embody the moon cycle as well as the cycle of life – Hecate personifying the end of life, and Artemis representing the youth, purity and the beginning of life (Gimbutas, Language 208). While Artemis is linked with motherhood, Hecate is the Goddess of Darkness; and the act of devouring a child symbolizes that the newborn still belongs to the chthonic darkness even after birth (Gimbutas, Language 219; Old Europe 197).

In order for a mother to avoid the Goddess of Death haunting over the life of a newborn, she or the midwife is supposed to destroy all traces of child labor and personally bury in the ground or throw in the ocean the placenta (Gimbutas, Language 219). Gimbutas explains that the placenta is thought to signify the darkness of death; thus discarding the placenta means preventing the child’s return to the dark world (Language 219). It is not clear in the short passage of The Suppliant Maidens what Hecate-Artemis in the play is intended to be. Yet Gimbutas’s explanation of Hecate-Artemis, especially Hecate as the personification of death and darkness, devouring young children, suggests that the conventional, horrifying portrayal of the goddess has been already established by the Golden Age of Greece.

Burkert also notes that Hecate becomes equated with Artemis during the fifth century BCE (171). In the contrary, the resemblance between Hecate and Artemis must have been existed before 700 BCE, since Hesiod tries to separate and distinguish the two goddesses in Theogony, if Kerenyi’s account is true on the poet’s attempt. As mentioned earlier, Hecate’s association with Artemis may be through Iphigenia.

Pausanias, when encountering different stories of Iphigenia in Arkadia, credits Hesiod’s poem, Catalogue of Women, as one of the sources that present the story of Iphigenia being turned into Hecate (Guide Vol. 1, 119). One could presume through this information that the link between Artemis, Iphigenia and Hecate was perhaps a Hesiodic understanding of Hecate-Artemis. In Euripides’ Helen, Menelaus asks Hecate, the light bearer, to send him better dreams (569). As noted before, Hecate’s most common title is phosphoros, the ‘light-bringer’ (Von Rudloff 4). Although many gods and goddesses carried a torch, Hecate was one of the few who had two torches (Von Rudloff 4).

Hermes leads Persephone forth from the underworld where she is greeted by the goddesses Demeter and Hekate. Hermes is depicted holdling his kerykeion (herald’s wand), and wearing a winged petasos (cap). Persephone wears a crown, Hekate carries a pair of burning torches, and Demeter holds a royal staff.



She sees a vision of horrifying figures, it is said that he/she is being attacked by Hecate (Nilsson 112). In another play by Euripides, The Medea, Hecate is the personal deity of “the dreaded sorceress” (Burkert 171), as Medea proclaims, “It shall not be – I swear it by her, my mistress, whom most I honor and have chosen as partner, Hecate, who dwells in the recesses of my hearth – that any man shall be glad to have injured me” (395-98). Von Rudloff believes that Hecate’s relationship with Medea, who is often described as a malicious and revengeful foreign witch, has a large impact on creating the goddess’s reputation as the instigator of evil, black magic (2). Interestingly, the connection between Hecate and Iphigenia was also related to that of Hecate and Medea, since Iphigenia was called Iphimedeia in the earlier myth of her being saved by Artemis and changed into a deer and then Hecate (Von Rudloff 4).

Incidentally, the Black Sea region, where Artemis took Iphigenia for her transformation from a deer to Hecate, was also known to be Medea’s homeland (Von Rudloff 4). Also, as Medea says in the quoted passage, Hecate was believed to reside in the extinguished hearth as opposite to Hestia (Roberts 26 Sep.2000). The hearth was probably one time a place for burials, a suitable place to live for the Queen of the Ghosts (Baroja 26). Apollonios Rhodios reemphasizes this bond between Medea and Hecate as well as Hecate’s role as the goddess of witchcraft in The Argonautika. She is named Brimo, roarer and rearer, who roams around at night to rule the dead as a chthonian queen (Apollonios Rhodios 3. 861-63).

The more detailed illustration of the goddess’s figure is given in the story: [Hecate’s] whole person was entwined with terrible serpents and oak-leaf saplings; countless torches dazzled and flared, while all around her a pack of clamorous hellhounds bayed shrilly. All the meadows shook at her footfall, and awestruck wailing arose from the nymphs of marshland and river, all those that hold their dances along the meadows of Amaranitian Phasis. (Apollonios Rhodios 3. 1214-20) This is the actual appearance of Brimo whom Jason encounters after his invocation. Hecate’s Medusa-like appearance is identified with Gorgon, who also governs the cycle of life and death and represents the Furies side of Artemis, the dangerous woman (Gimbutas, Language 208). In fact, Gorgo is another name for Hecate (Baroja 30).

The face of the moon seen by some ancients as the head of Gorgon is undeniably tied to the lunar aspect of Hecate-Artemis (Gimbutas, Language 208). Medea instructs Jason to invoke the divinity just past midnight by making an offering of the blood of black ewe and honey in honor of the goddess (Apollonios Rhodios 3. 1029, 3. 1031-36; Bell 219). She also advises him to wear a black cloak and never to turn back after the rite, even if he is impelled by howling dogs; otherwise he will not be able to return to his men safely (Apollonios Rhodios 3. 1031, 3. 1038-41). Hecate is being invoked by Jason, for he needs her aid in applying to his skin a magical drug, “the Promethean charm”, which Medea has prepared for him (Apollonios Rhodios 3. 843-45, 3. 1211). If smeared on the body, the potion allows the wearer to stay unharmed by spears, be protected from fire, and surpass all others in strength for one day (Apollonios Rhodios 3. 847-50).

In The Argonautika, Hecate inevitably appears to be the repulsive old hag rather than the innocent maiden. In this myth, she is also a mother of Scylla by Phorcys (Apollonios Rhodios 4. 828-29). The Argonautika by Apollonios Rhodios assures that, by early Hellenistic era, Hecate has definitely been developed into the deadly, nocturnal divinity, who deals with magic and sorcery. Before investigating more on the aspect of Hecate as the patroness of magic, the word and the concept of magic must be defined in order to comprehend the meaning, in terms of how the ancients understood it. The term, magic or mageia, was originally designated to religious ceremonies, rites and sacrifices that belonged to the Persian culture (Luck 100). These ‘barbarian’ rituals were so different from the Greek traditions that they might have appeared to the Greeks as ‘magic’ (Luck 98, 100). The Persian magoi were priests, who led perhaps the survival of an old worship of the Great Mother (Luck 105). Overall, the term mageia became to be used to refer to the religions of foreign origins; the professional individuals who performed special rites and supplied drugs; or the religious practices that were generally disapproved (Luck 103).

Nilsson assumes that the Greeks needed deities, who were closer to them than the Olympian gods, and Hecate was one of the first divinities to be brought from outside of Greece to fulfill the gap between the sky gods and mortals (90, 111). It seems true that magic has enabled the ancient people to be more connected to the external forces and to communicate with the celestial powers more actively, directly and assertively, while formal religious rituals, organized by the state or the community, have only allowed a humble, passive submission of the participants to the higher beings (Luck 96).

Plato, talking about daemons, places magic and communication with the ‘spirits’ as intermediaries between gods and humans; “Through their care goes the whole science of divination, the arts of the priests and of all those concerned with sacrifices in initiations and spells and all divining and witchcraft. God has no intercourse with men: It is through this race that all intercourse happens between gods and men” (qtd. in Luck 103).

Magic in Graeco-Roman world can be divided into two categories, namely White and Black Magic (Baroja 23). White Magic was the magic exercised to contribute to the society, such as producing rain, diverting storms, increasing fortune and wealth, treating illness and many other beneficial miracles called on under the daylight in the open area (Baroja 18, 23). Black Magic was summoned for more malevolent purposes, such as wishing to harm an enemy, eradicating someone’s crops or livestock, embarrassing a person, interfering a rival from achieving success and ultimately bringing death to someone; and this spiteful magic was done at night in secret places (Baroja 18,23).

Hecate is commonly associated with Black Magic, wandering over graveyards on moonless nights, covered in a black mantle, taking joy in watching the blood flow (Apollonios Rhodios 3. 863; Gimbutas, Language 208).

In some myths, she is the mother of Circe and Medea, the two major sorceresses in the ancient mythology (Luck 93). The goddess’s name was frequently employed in curse tablets and binding spells, which came into use in the early fifth century BCE through Hellenistic and Imperial periods (Ogden 4). She was invoked to destroy relationships, to damage assets and fame of another person, to bind someone’s soul or to kill a victim (Gager 90, 126-27, 161-62, 183). However, there were many other divinities, besides Hecate, whose names were called upon in these tablets, such as Persephone, Hermes, Hades and Demeter.

Hecate’s name was also used in more neutral spells, for example, to stop a fight between two people (Gager 212). Even though Hecate’s gentler side tends to be forgotten even by the ancients, overtaken by the cruel, fierce characteristics, she can be a charitable practitioner of White Magic, much as Hesiod depicts her; for example, Hecate’s torches are held over the fields to assure the fertility of grains (Gimbutas, Old Europe 198). Her beneficial magic is utilized for amulets as well as for healing (Ferguson 101; Gager 222). The deity who can release ghosts and evil daemons can also avert them, and Hecataea, small statues of the goddess, are erected for this purpose (Bell 220; Nilsson 80).

One epithet addresses an appreciation to the goddess along with Hermes that these deities have helped a man to be loved by many and succeed as a leader of the mysteries (Rice and Stambaugh 242). Though her appearances may not be too attractive, Hecate in The Argonautika by Apollonios Rhodios serves as a protector; Medea asks the goddess to protect Jason’s life (3.467-68). Hecate also aids her in hypnotizing the dragon, which is guarding the Golden Fleece (Apollonios Rhodios 4. 147-48). Hecate may be the queen of the deceased souls, but she is also responsible for when the spirit enters the body, that is to say, the process of birth (Baroja 26). She shows a generous quality in Wealth, in which the playwright, Aristophanes, tells the reader that the offerings to the goddess, made by the rich, are taken by the poor so that the poor can survive (594-97).

The portrayal of the goddess Hecate seems to have evolved along with the evolution of the concept of magic in the Greek society. During the archaic period, magic was an integral part of life, woven  into ordinary day-to-day activities (Ankarloo and Clark xv). It was so attached to everyday life that nobody questioned anything about magic; magic was tied to philosophical, religious, and other aspects of culture (Ankarloo and Clark xv; Luck 96). Notice that, in the Archaic Greece, Hecate is usually not depicted as a loathsome hag but rather as the strong goddess who embodies multiple dimensions of the world. Later, from around sixth century BCE and onwards, as science and philosophy emerged more independently, the Greek society became divided into two groups – intellectual, ‘enlightened’ minority, which consisted of elites who were too wise to be involved in folk religion, and uneducated, “ignorant” majority, which consisted of general population who stuck with traditional rituals (Luck 96).

Hekate triformis: Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden (RMO) Leiden, Netherlands (http://www.rmo.nl/english/collection/highlights/roman-collection/hekate-triformis)

From this point on, Hecate becomes more and more illustrated as the untamed, vicious female force. Theophrastus, in The Character Sketches, mocks “The Superstitious Man” from the standpoint of Aristotelian philosophy (Luck 97; Theophrastus 16). The superstitious man, constantly worried, keeps washing his hands, sprinkling his body with sacred water, chewing laurel leaves and purifying his house all the time to prevent Hecate from haunting it (Theophrastus 16. 2, 7). Theophrastus goes on to describe the man as extreme and ridiculous, but from the point of view of folk religion practitioners, the character’s religious and superstitious acts are considered faithful and devotional, and this pious man can resemble a typical man of Classical Greece, even as early as Hesiod (Rice and Stambaugh 158).

During the Hellenistic era, witchcraft or goetic magic seems to have grown more rapidly (Gordon 164). The conflicting point of view is that Hecate, who has been depicted as a ferocious witch, is yet worshipped in Hellenistic Lagina as the most honored deity (Gimbutas, Old Europe 197). As mentioned earlier, the temple to the goddess was built in Lagina around 100 BCE (Ferguson 160). In Caria, Hecate’s divine authority seemed to have been equated to that of Zeus (Ferguson 160). This stance is similar to Hesiod’s portrayal of Hecate. Pausanias also notes the reverence of Hecate in Aegina (Mythology 374). It is disputable whether Hecate’s worshippers have actually imagined her as the ugly and ill-willed crone (Von Rudloff 6). Although the ancient literature often suggests limited aspects of the versatile goddess, it is quite plausible that, in certain areas of the Mediterranean civilization, Hecate has retained her original, productive power to profit the society. Under the early Roman law code, magic, especially the kind that was employed to hurt others, was more restricted (Gordon 253).

In the second century BCE, many men and women were executed for practicing malign magic, though by the first century CE, the citizens’ strong need for healing and salvation resulted in the widespread and the intensification of magic (Ferguson 157; Gordon 225; Luck 94). Hecate continued to display herself as the benefactor of ominous witchcraft at this time. Ovid’s retelling of Greek myths in Metamorphoses preserves Hecate’s threatening, wicked nature, when Circe conjures the forces of Hecate to poison men and turn them into beasts (14. 405).

Around this time, myths begin to acknowledge Zeus as Hecate’s father, making the goddess more subordinate to the ruler of the sky (Johnston 27). Pheraia was said to be her mother, whose name was an epithet of Artemis (Johnston 27). Hecate was also called Pheraia, and she was abandoned on the crossroads and raised by shepherds (Johnston 27). Hecate later mates with Sky and becomes the mother of Janus, the Roman deity of liminal points (Johnston 27). A chthonic deity, Hecate, as being a daughter to the king of the sky gods, marrying to Sky and giving birth to the god of liminal places is suggestive; perhaps it is symbolizing the interrelation of the contrasting concepts, chthonic and ouranic.

The Moon in Roman times was considered to be a mediator between the Sky or the Sun and the Earth (Johnston 30). Actually, Roman sources were the first reliable materials to attach Hecate to the Moon, or they were the only documents surviving, which concreted the idea of Hecate as the Moon goddess (Von Rudloff 4). During this time, Hecate was identified as Selene and Mene, both were the goddesses of the moon (Bell 397).

Simultaneously, Selene was attributed with another name, Phoebe, which is also a name of Hecate as well as her grandmother in Hesiod’s Theogony (Bell 397). Hecate-Artemis-Selene as the triple goddess figure was probably a product of the Roman myth (Von Rudloff 4). By the 2nd century CE, the intellectual population of the ancient world – priests and philosophers-were already actively participating in a sophisticated, respectable form of magic, theurgy, in order to be purified and achieve salvation as well as to fight the New Faith, Christianity, and keep the old gods of paganism alive (Flint 285; Luck 95, 101). It should not be mistaken theourgia from goeteia, (‘witchcraft’); +99, 101). .

The main movement of this sort was Chaldean theurgy, in which Hecate was highly involved as soteira, ‘savior’ (Johnston 1; Von Rudloff 6). Through this magical practice, the participants were enabled to communicate with the supernatural beings, including daemons and dead souls. Hecate, before this time, was thought to hold the keys to open the gate of Hades and release the spirits of the deceased (Johnston 41). The original chthonic ideas on Hecate’s keys got broadened by philosophers of late antiquity to be understood as the keys to access every part of the universe (Johnston 42).

Moreover, for Chaldean theurgists, Hecate the Moon goddess meant not the mediator between the Heaven and the Earth but the intermediary between the intelligible and physical worlds (Johnston 30). In Chaldean Oracles, Hecate is the Platonic Cosmic Soul, that is, the soul of the Cosmos from which every soul emanates (Johnston 13).

In this humble endeavor to understand Hecate, one becomes more and more mystified and confused rather than to visualize the goddess clearly. Gimbutas says of Hecate, “the birth giver and motherly protectress, the youthful and strong virgin, as well as the fearsome and dangerous crone” (Living 155), summarizing the contradictory, controversial, manifold nature of the goddess. Bell also states that Hecate is perhaps the most complex Greek deity (219). It is safe to say that it would be a mistake to solidify Hecate and categorize her under simplified terms.

The general consensus of the divinity as a horrid and hideous witch has probably stemmed from a rather one-sided, conveniently stereotyped re-creation of Hecate, the image which is  somewhat detached from the actual deity the ancients worshipped. As each city-state, each community, each family and each individual have envisioned the goddess in their own way, it is possible that there are many more faces Hecate possesses that are yet to be unveiled. (Blake)


Aeschylus. The Suppliant Maidens. Trans. Seth G. Benardete.

The Complete GreekTragedies: Volume I Aeschylus. 4th ed. Eds. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1991. Ankarloo, Bengt, and Stuart Clark, eds. Introduction.

Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1999. xi-xvi. Apollonios Rhodios.

The Argonautika: The Story of Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece. Trans. Peter Green. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997.

Aristophanes. Wealth. Trans. Stephen Halliwell. Birds and Other Plays. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. Baroja, Julio Caro.

The World of the Witches. 1961. Trans. O. N. V. Glendinning. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1964. Bell, Robert E.

Women of Classical Mythology. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. Blake, William.

Hecate or The night of Enitharmon’s Joy. [http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/Awork?id=799]. Dec. 2000. Bonnefoy, Yves, comp.

Greek and Egyptian Mythologies. Trans. Wendy Doniger. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1991. Burkert, Walter.

Greek Religion. 1977. Trans. John Raffan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1985. Euripides. Helen. Trans. Richmond Lattimore.

The Complete Greek Tragedies: Volume III Euripides. Eds. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1992.

———-. The Medea. Trans. Rex Warner. The Complete Greek Tragedies: Volume III Euripides. Eds. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1992. Ferguson, John.

Among the Gods: An Archaeological Exploration of ancient Greek Religion. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Flint, Valerie. “The Demonisation of Magic and Sorcery in Late Antiquity ” in ” Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome”. Eds. Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania P, 1999. Gager, John G., ed.

Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, 6500-3500BC: Myths and Cult Images. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982. ——-

—-. The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1989.

———–. The Living Goddesses. Ed. Miriam Robbins Dexter. Berkeley: U of California P, 1999. Gordon, Richard.

“Imagining Greek and Roman Magic.” Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. Eds. Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania P, 1999. Guthrie, W. K. C.

Orpheus and Greek Religion. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993. Harris, Stephen L., and Gloria Platzner.

Classical Mythology: Images and Insights. 2nd. Ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1998. Hecate Triformus. [http://jblstatue.com/pages/hecate_triformu.html]. Dec. 2000. Hesiod. Theogony. Trans. Richmond Lattimore.

The Works and Days, Theogony, The Shield of Herakles. 1959. Ann Arbor: The U of Michigan P, 1965. Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Trans. Apostolos N. Athanassakis.

The Homeric Hymns. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Johnston, Sarah Iles. Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature. Atlanta: Scholars P, 1990. Kerenyi, Karl.

Myth and Man: The Gods of the Greeks. Ed. Joseph Campbell. Trans. Norman Cameron. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1951. Luck, Georg.

“Witches and Sorcerers in Classical Literature.” Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. Eds. Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania P, 1999. Nilsson, Martin P.

Greek Folk Religion. 1940. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 1972. Ogden, Daniel.

“Binding Spells: Curse Tablets and Voodoo Dolls in the Greek and Roman Worlds.

” Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. Eds. Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania P, 1999.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. 1955. Trans. Rolfe Humphries. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983. Pausanias.

Guide to GreeceVolume 1: Central Greece. 1971. Trans. Peter Levi. London: Penguin Books, 1979.

———–. Guide to Greece Volume 2: Southern Greece. 1971. Trans. Peter Levi. London: Penguin Books, 1979.

———–. Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens. Trans. Margaret de G. Verrall. New York: MacMillan and Co., 1890. Rice, David G., and John E. Stambaugh.

Sources for the Study of Greek Religion. Missoula, MT: Scholars P, 1979. Roberts, Louis. Class lecture. Classics 402. State University of New York at Albany. 26 Sep. 2000.

Theophrastus. The Character Sketches. Trans. Warren Anderson. Iowa City: The Kent State UP, 1970.

Von Rudloff, Robert. “The Horned Owl Library: Hekate in Early Greek Religion.” [http://www.islandnet.com/~hornowl/library/hekate.html]. Nov. 2000.


Dit bericht is geplaatst in English articles met de tags , , , . Bookmark de permalink.