Hecate: The Goddess of Witchcraft in Greek Mythology

Hecate is a goddess of magic, witchcraft, crossroads, and the night in Greek mythology. She is often depicted as a triple deity, symbolizing her association with the crossroads and her ability to navigate the realms of the living, the dead, and the divine. Hecate’s role in mythology is multifaceted, and she appears in various ancient texts and stories.

Who is Hecate?

Hecate was one of the only remaining Titans (alongside Helios) that went about their business after the Titanomachy, the war that placed Zeus and his Olympian pantheon at the helm of power.

As the former Titan gods began to fade away, Hecate’s shadowy personality seeped deeper into the pages of ancient Greek religion.

Hecate’s association with surreal concepts such as magic and witchcraft straddles conventional boundaries. She wasn’t just the goddess of dark things. Hecate held dominion over crossroads, necromancy, ghosts, moonlight, sorcery, and much more.

Regardless of this, she was significantly respected by the other Greek gods and her followers on the blue planet.

Is Hecate Evil or Good?

Hecate is portrayed as a neutral figure. Though we associate evil with bizarre things such as zombies, vampires, witchcraft, and ghosts in fiction, we rarely look at things from their perspective. As a result, this hidden side forces us to think based on what brings us the most comfort and mental security.

As Hecate is also the Greek goddess of crossroads, this solidifies her position as neutral as she can be both subjectively evil and good. She doesn’t choose a singular path. Instead, she stands firm on top of the boundaries, refusing to topple over to any side.

Hecate and Her Powers

As supreme Titaness of the surreal, Hecate held extreme power over the realms of magic and witchcraft.

Though her influence lessens during the day when Helios shines the brightest, Hecate’s powers amplify during the night. This is also why she was portrayed as Selene, the Greek moon goddess, in ancient vase paintings.

READ MORE: Ancient Greek Art: All Forms and Styles of Art in Ancient Greece

Hecate acted as a veil between the world of the mortals and the supernatural. As a result, the goddess of magic remained a major deity in regulating evil spirits in the Underworld.

The name Hecate comes from the Greek word “Hekatos,” which was thought to be a really distant and obscure epithet associated with Apollo, the Greek god of music. It basically implies someone “who works from a far distance.”

Hecate’s Family

Hecate was born inside the prestigious halls of the Perses and Asteria, as a second-generation Titan goddess.

The former was the Titan of both destruction and peace. Greek mythology often identified this tempered man as the ancestor of the Persians.

Asteria, on the other hand, was a much calmer deity. Her name literally means ‘star,’ which could’ve been a reference to her beauty and a story concerning Zeus.

This beauty of hers wasn’t enough to keep her safe from Zeus’ abnormal sexual desires. The absolutely crazy god of thunder chased this single goddess over the city walls in the form of an eagle. Thankfully, she escaped him by transforming into a quail and flying away into the sky.

She landed from the sky “like a star” into the sea and transformed into an island to finally escape Zeus’ dangerous lovemaking drive. This was also where she met Perses.

Hesiod’s “Theogony” and Hecate

Hecate made her stylish entrance into the pages of Greek mythology through the pens of Hesiod in his “Theogony.”

Hesiod mentions:

And She, Asteria, conceived and bore Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honored above all. He gave her splendid gifts to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She also received the honor in starry heaven and was honored exceedingly by the deathless gods. To this day, whenever any one of the men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favor according to custom, he calls upon Hecate.

Great honor comes full quickly to him whose prayers the goddess receives favorably. She bestows wealth upon him, for the power is with her.

He speaks highly of Hecate and Zeus’ respect for her. In fact, Hesiod emphasizes Hecate’s importance within the pantheon multiple times, which may hint that Hesiod’s home region had traditions of worshiping the goddess of magic.

Hecate and Other Deities

Hecate was often intertwined with other gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon.

This was primarily due to her similarity in ruling over certain aspects of the world. For instance, the goddess of witchcraft was associated with Artemis because the latter was the Greek goddess of hunting.

Hecate was also associated with Rhea, the Titan mother goddess, because of the rather magical nature of childbirth. Selene was also a significant deity that Hecate was connected with because Selene was the moon. Moon was an important symbol in magic and witchcraft, adding to the logic behind Hecate and Selene merging.

Besides this, Hecate was tethered to various nymphs and minor goddesses throughout the ancient Greek world.

Hecate and Her Portrayal

Hecate was no stereotypical witch. Being a rather dimensional part of the Greek pantheon, Hecate was portrayed as having three separate bodies that held up her final form. This triple-bodied representation solidified the concept of ‘3’ being an incredibly divine number.

Indeed, this celestial number comes up repeatedly in Slavic mythology as the Triglav and the Trimurti in Hindu mythology.

READ MORE: 9 Important Slavic Gods and Goddesses

The three bodies were engraved in time by Athenian potters, as her depictions could be seen in the statuettes they forged.

Otherwise, goddess Hecate is depicted carrying two torches to symbolize her leading through an obscure situation. Her usual drip consisted of a skirt reaching down to her knees and leather greaves. This was on par with Artemis’ portrayal, further establishing a similarity between the two.

Hecate’s Symbols

Given her connection with the dark arts, the goddess is associated with many symbolic representations of herself.

This shows up in the list of sacred animals and plants connecting directly to the goddess of witchcraft.

The Dog

The dog portrayed alongside her is Hecuba, the wife of King Priam during the Trojan War. Hecuba had leaped from the sea when Troy fell, upon which Hecate transformed her into a dog to make her escape from the doomed city easier.

Dogs were also known to be loyal guardians. As a result, they were placed in doorways to ensure no unwanted strangers passed through them. Hecate’s association with dogs also might have come from the tale of Cerberus, the demonic three-headed dog guarding the doors of the Underworld.

The Polecat

Yet another animal that was associated with Hecate happened to be a polecat.

Not just some random polecat, though. This animal, too, was the unfortunate garb of a human soul. It happened to be Galinthius, a maiden taking care of Alcmena during her birth. Galinthius was turned into a polecat by an angry goddess Eileithyia after she attempted to lessen Alcmena’s continuous birth pangs.

Doomed to have an aggravating life as a polecat, Eileithyia further cursed her to forever give birth in a repulsive way. Hecate, being the sympathetic woman she is, feels sorry for Galinthius.

She proceeded to take the polecat and adopted it as her own, solidifying its status as her symbol and sacred animal. Though the goddess of magic is often represented as evil, she did have a compassionate heart.

Other Symbols

Hecate was symbolized through other things such as serpents, poisonous plants, and keys.

The serpent was a representation of her specializing in witchcraft due to snakeskin being a rather infamous element in putting the subject to the test. Poisonous plants referred to toxic substances such as hemlock, the most widely used poison in ancient Greece.

Her attribution to keys symbolized her residing within the borders of the supernatural and reality. The keys could’ve implied that Hecate occupied liminal spaces locked to mortal eyes, which could only be unlocked when fitted with the correct key.

Hecate in Roman Mythology

After the Roman conquest of Greece, ideas and beliefs merged together and so did mythology.

Greek religion carried over, and so did all of its deathless gods. Hecate was one of them, though the goddess was given a different name just like other deities.

In Roman mythology, Hecate was known as “Trivia.” The name means ‘three roads,’ which refers to Hecate holding dominion over the crossroads of both physical and subconscious reality.

Hecate During the Gigantomachy

As the name suggests, Gigantomachy was the war between the Giants and the Olympians in Greek tales.

Giants in Greek tales were the definition of super-mortal strength. Though they didn’t necessarily tower over everyone, they were a severe threat to the Olympians themselves. The result was an all-out war between the two.

With every god occupied butchering their respective Giant, Hecate joined in quite naturally. Her final boss was Clytius, a giant that was fine-tuned to target her powers. Clytius was forged to neutralize all of Hecate’s powers so that she was rendered helpless on the battlefield.

However, the goddess of magic defeated all odds and assisted the other gods and goddesses in slaying the wretched giant. Hecate did this by setting the giant on fire, the only thing he had a severe flaw against.

As a result, the Titan goddess was revered deeply by even Zeus. Knowing that Hecate was not a figure to be meddled against, the other gods soon followed in honoring her.

Hecate and Circe

Homer’s epic “Odyssey” features a witchy maiden in the middle of the sea named Circe, an integral character in the story. Circe provides essential counsel and advice to Odysseus and his crew so they would be able to cross the treacherous seas without any worries.

Circe is an enchantress and was best known for transforming all who opposed her into beasts. She also dabbled in the dark arts and was known for her expertise in magical herbs and substances. Because in some Greek tales, Circe was actually Hecate’s own daughter. Apparently, Hecate married Aeetes, the King of Colchis, and went on to produce her offspring Circe. Though there are many variations of this story.

Hecate and Her Ways 

Hecate was associated with many things, ranging from magic to enclosed spaces. This variation in duties has spread out her roles quite a bit.

Hecate, the Goddess of the White Orb 

Hecate was associated with Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon. The moon was the most commanding source of light during especially dark nights.

Hence, Hecate was merged with Selene and armed with two torches representing her ominous omnipotence throughout the witching hour. Thus, she was associated with being the goddess of the night and the white orb in the night sky.

Hecate, the Goddess of the Pathways

Hecate was closely connected to intricate and liminal spaces and ancient Greeks associated her with boundaries.

She resided right between the polar opposites of the same concept. She was between reality and dreams, in the middle of light and darkness, on the edge of morality and immorality and the borders of mortals and immortal gods.

Her liminal nature adds to her position as a veil-like deity that constantly keeps watch on whoever treads the boundaries.

Hecate, the Goddess of the Dark Arts

Hecate being the goddess of witchcraft meant she was greatly associated with magic, dark arts, sorcery, and rituals. But her powers were not used in a way that would bring doom upon whoever it was directed at. She was neutral and simply supervised the elements, so they never got out of hand.

Hecate and the Abduction of Persephone

One of the most infamous events in Greek mythology is the abduction of Persephone, the goddess of spring, by Hades, the god of the Underworld.

Hades consulted with Zeus, and both decided to hatch a plan to abduct Persephone without talking with her mother, Demeter. Zeus lent his hand to Hades and wished him all the best.

When Hades finally abducted Persephone, her pleas for help were heard by none other than two hotshots in all of Greek mythology.

One was Helios, who happened to be chilling above the skies in his golden chariot. The other was Hecate, startled by the sound of agonizing screams.

Hecate and Demeter

When Demeter realized her daughter was missing, she started firing on all cylinders. She searched every corner of the planet, only to discover that Persephone was nowhere to be found. Hades had slithered back to the Underworld with her.

One day when Demeter was ready to give up all hope, Hecate appeared to her with a torch in her hands and confessed what she had witnessed the day Persephone was abducted.

Hecate didn’t actually see Hades kidnapping Persephone, she had only heard the goddess of spring cry out. Upon reaching the scene, Hecate didn’t find anyone at all. She let Demeter know about it and led her to someone who could actually help the mourning mother out.

Hecate led her to Helios, who looked down at Demeter with shining rays. Helios had seen the entire thing play out and let Demeter know that Hades was the actual kidnapper and Zeus had played a considerable role in it.

Hecate Helps Demeter

Throughout the rest of the arc, Demeter rips the entire world apart as a form of revolt against the god of thunder.

Being the goddess of agriculture herself, Demeter stripped the lands from their fertility and called waves of famine upon mankind. As a result, agricultural systems all around the world ended up getting eradicated in an instant, and everyone began to starve.

Hecate accompanied Demeter throughout the entirety of her conquest. She stayed with her until Zeus finally returned to his senses and commanded Hades to return Persephone.

Alas, Hades had already given the goddess of spring a cursed fruit that would split her soul into two halves: the mortal and the immortal. The immortal part would return to Demeter while the mortal would return to the Underworld occasionally.

Nonetheless, Hecate became Persephone’s companion after she returned. The goddess of magic acted as a medium to accompany her on the long annual journeys to the Underworld.

This entire tale was a representation of the seasons. The spring (Persephone) would be stolen away by the winter (the cold wrath of the Underworld) every year only to return, awaiting its end once again.

Hecate’s Worship 

Hecate was worshiped in quite a lot of different regions of Greece. She was revered in Byzantium, where the goddess was said to have heralded an incoming attack from Macedonian forces by lighting herself up in the sky.

One prominent method of worship was the Deipnon, a meal dedicated entirely to Hecate by the Greeks in Athens and surrounding areas. It was done to rid households of ill omens and to cleanse the anger of the evil spirits Hecate guarded the people against.

Worshiped by both Greeks and Romans, an important place of worshiping for her is identified as Lagina in Asian Turkey. The goddess was honored in this sanctuary by eunuchs and her fans alike.

Hecate and Modernity

As civilization advances, so do the ways of the old. People still seem to have some kind of fascination with figures of ancient mythology. They integrate the notions and philosophies of these figures into their own faith, which gives birth to a whole new legacy in modern times.

Hecate is no stranger to this. The goddess of magic continues to be a significant deity in religions and practices such as Wicca and witchcraft.

Hecate in Popular Culture

Hecate has had her fair share of subliminal glory on the silver screen and on pages of countless books.

Though not thoroughly explored, mentions of her scattered presence riddle the countless corners of pop culture and literature. She is mentioned several times in Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson,” appears in the 2005 TV show “Class of the Titans,” and gets invoked in the TV show “American Horror Story: Coven.”

Other than these, seemingly infinite mentions of Hecate are littered here and there, adding to her unsettling omnipotence within the digital realms of modernity.

Conclusion

Unlike other goddesses, Hecate is a goddess that dwells on the very edges of reality. She might be dubbed the goddess of witchcraft, but she holds dominion over the more critical aspects of life. One that questions the morality of evil.

The three bodies of Hecate all sum up the surreal form that gives the goddess of magic her charm. She acts as the veil between bad and good, enchantment and sorcery, evil and lawful.

References:

Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Penguin Books, 1977, p. 154.

https://www.thecollector.com/hecate-goddess-magic-witchcraft/

How to Cite this Article

There are three different ways you can cite this article.

1. To cite this article in an academic-style article or paper, use:

Syed Rafid Kabir, "Hecate: The Goddess of Witchcraft in Greek Mythology", History Cooperative, September 27, 2022, https://historycooperative.org/hecate-goddess-of-witchcraft/. Accessed May 17, 2024

2. To link to this article in the text of an online publication, please use this URL:

https://historycooperative.org/hecate-goddess-of-witchcraft/

3. If your web page requires an HTML link, please insert this code:

<a href="https://historycooperative.org/hecate-goddess-of-witchcraft/">Hecate: The Goddess of Witchcraft in Greek Mythology</a>

Leave a Comment

Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin
Email