Who is Hecate in Greek Mythology?
HECATE or Hekate was believed by some to be descended from the titans, Perses and Asteria. Hecate is a Greek goddess with two entirely different aspects; in the day, she was supposed to have a benign influence on farming, but she was interested in witchcraft, ghosts, and tombs during the hours of darkness.
The Athenians were incredibly respectful towards her, and once a month, they place an offering of food at crossroads, where her influence was said to be felt.
Quite often in Greek mythology, the majority of the attention is drawn towards the Titans and the Olympians. Many of the gods born in between these two generations rarely receive any attention at all, and tales that are myths regarding them are buried underneath Zeus and his siblings’ stories—what we essentially consider today to be the mainstream gods of Greek mythology.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at Hecate, the goddess most often associated with witchcraft, the necromancy, but before we delve into anything in detail, when researching Hecate, one of the most common arguments I came across was how exactly to pronounce her name.
How to Pronounce Hecate
The most common pronunciations that I came across were Ha-ka-te, He-caty and He-cate, which will sound pretty reasonable. But if we take a look at the way it’s pronounced in Greek, it’s hɛˈka.ti, which could easily be translated to both Ha-ka-te, and He-cate. So, I guess it comes down to personal preference and in which part of the world you’re from. Here is the correct pronunciation for Hecate, taken from various areas of Greek and Latin:
Hecate, Hekate /ˈhɛk.ə.ti/; older form Hecat /ˈhɛk.ɪt/
Ancient Greek: Ἑκάτη, romanized: Hekátē,
Attic Greek pronunciation: [he.ká.tɛː],
Koine Greek pronunciation: [hɛˈka.ti]Source: Wikipedia
Doric Greek: Ἑκάτᾱ, romanized: Hekátā [he.ká.taː]
Latin: Hecatē [ˈhɛ.ka.t̪eː] or Hecata [ˈhɛ.ka.t̪a]
The Origin of Hecate
Hecate was the daughter of Perses, the Titan of destruction, and her mother was Asteria, the Titan goddess of fallen stars and divination—these were gifts that she passed down to her daughter, which is why she is seen as a goddess of the night and the moon.
Her most common depiction is that of a woman holding two torches, images that could be found outside many of the major cities where it was believed that she would protect the inhabitants from evil spirits. Naturally, over the years, these images slowly sneaked into households where families believe that honouring the goddess means that she would bring them protection and prosperity.
Hecate was born in the period that came just before the Olympians and during the war between the Olympians and the Titans. It’s likely she sided with Zeus or took no side at all, which is why she wasn’t banished like many of the other Titans. But when Mount Olympus was under siege from the Giants, she did offer her assistance, and she fought the giant Clytius, eventually defeating him with her pair of flaming torches.
She was often associated with the spiritual underworld, commonly passing through and interacting with the dead and ghosts and lost spirits. In quite a few accounts, Hecate is believed to have witnessed the abduction of Persephone. She then offered the goddess Demeter her assistance when looking for her daughter, using her torches to light Demeter’s path every evening.
When it was decided that Persephone would spend the portion of the year in the underworld and the rest on earth, Hecate became Persephone’s consort and companion within the underworld. With Persephone not yet entirely adjusted to her new life in the underworld, she did her best to comfort the young girl and ease her transition.
Hades are so grateful for the help that she had given his new bride that he invited Hecate to become a permanent resident in his kingdom, allowing her to come and go as she pleased.
In the later years, Hakata was sometimes depicted as a three-headed goddess, thought to represent a crossroads as it was believed that Hakata could see in all three directions: the past, present and the future. This lets a crossroads been seen as sacred in some parts of ancient Greece. They were often marked by three marks facing in different directions, hanging from a pole. People would often leave food at these crossroads in order to honour Hecate and her companions that travelled with her during the evening.
Another explanation to the three-headed goddess loops back around to the story of Persephone and Demeter, with Persephone representing the young maiden, Demeter the Mother and Hecate, the old crone.
Depictions of Hecate continued to change over the years; sometimes, she was seen as an older woman in full-length robes and in other times, she was much younger, wearing knee-length skirts and hunting boots. These depictions of a younger Hecate and her association with the moon meant she was quite often compared to Artemis.
Hecate was believed to have several animal companions or familiars, not too dissimilar from what we expect today from modern-day witches. Each one of her animal followers had somewhat of a transformation or metamorphosis story. The black female dog that assists Hecate on her travels was once the Trojan Queen, Hecube, who escapes into the sea after the fall of Troy. She was essentially transformed or reincarnated by Hecate as a black female dog.
The typical house cat that had been seen at Hecate’s side was once the Midwife named Galinthias, who attempted to interfere with the birth of Heracles on Hera’s behalf. When the goddess of childbirth, Eileithyia or Ilithyia, found out about her plan, she transformed her into a weasel or, in this story, a cat that Hecate would later adopt.
The connection between Hecate and the tropes that we’ve come to associate with the modern-day witch can be further strengthened by the fact that she would mostly only be seen during the evening, enjoying her companions’ strolls, sometimes even being followed by the occasional spirit or ghost. This led many to refer to Hecate as the queen of the night. There is even a character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, named Hecate, who also happens to be the goddess of witchcraft.
The Powers of Hecate
Although mainly being seen as a protector, there were those who feared the goddess for good reasons. It was believed that she was incredibly protective of those who had been shunned or oppressed. She appreciated those who were less conventional, much like her. There’s no doubt that her role in the underworld helped prepare for their new life and the unfamiliar surroundings brought Hecate great comfort.
It’s hard to find any real reference as to what type of magic that Hecate may have possessed, but there have been theories and suggestions that are worth considering. With her close association to the dead, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to imagine that Hecate could physically touch ghosts and spirits, allowing them to be soothed.
It seems likely that there would be a strong connection between Hecate and the dead she cared for, for one can imagine in a dire situation, she could command the dead to fight for her. But this is a power I can’t see Hecate ever using, as controlling another individual would seem like something should be adamantly against. But given the role she played in the underworld, it’s likely similar to Hades that she possessed some kind of authority over the dead.
The gift that is most heavily alluded to is the one given to her by her mother, of prophecy and premonition, as many believe that Hecate was able to look into the future. The potential list of powers that Hecate could have possessed is almost endless, and I guess it comes down to our imagination.
Hecate still appears to be honoured to this day, with some pagans and Wiccans still worshipping the goddess because of her connection with the underworld, the moon, and magic.
The 30th of November is a day that is devoted solely to the goddess. Those wishing to honour her believe they can do so in several ways. Adopting a dog or volunteering at a shelter with one of her companions being a dog, it’s believed that dogs may have been sacred to Hecate.
There are even those who take care of rundown and neglected places, as it was pretty standard for the goddess to take care of those who had been neglected or abandoned.
Hecate is a fascinating figure in Greek mythology because she performs the role of the wise old lady. She can be quite kooky and odd at times, but she’s extremely caring and accepting, almost like a grandmother figure.
We can almost see her as the goddess of new beginnings. Her strong link with the spiritual world meant that she could calm and even the most distressed spirit and allow them to transition into their new life.
You may find it sad that she bore no children and had no spouse, but you could put this down to her rather peculiar nature of the fact that she chose to devote her entire life to helping others in need.