Hecate: Goddess of Witchcraft

Hecate or Hekate is a fascinating figure within Ancient Greek mythology. Known in the Wiccan and witchcraft community as the Goddess of Witchcraft, she is often conflated with the triple moon goddess for a number of reasons which I’ll explain below, however she is distinct from that generic “goddess” figure of Maiden/Mother/Crone in many more ways.

History

According to sources such as Britannica, worship of Hecate began in a region known as Caria in Southern Anatolia which is now part of modern-day Turkey. It’s very close to the Greek Islands which meant that eventually cultures intertwined and Hecate was incorporated into the Greek Pantheon of Olympus.

In Caria she was worshiped as a primordial goddess of the heavens, earth and seas. Her dominion was that of a principle goddess, however in the Greek hierarchy, that position wasn’t possible. Instead she was demoted to a lesser figure with rumours of great power swirling around in the background. From all accounts, Hecate didn’t care.

She was considered to be one of the Titans who sided with Zeus and her parents are usually described as Perses, the Titan of Destruction, and Asteria, the Titan goddess of prophetic dreams, divination and falling stars (or asteroids). Having such parents bestowed Hecate with an understanding of deep magic from the stars as well as her primordial influence on the earth.

However, the myth she is best known for is the story of Persephone.

According to the Theogony of Hesiod, Hecate witnessed the kidnapping of Persephone by Hades, god of the underworld. When Persephone’s mother, Demeter, came to find her, Hecate led the way through the underworld with a flaming torch in each hand. When the goddesses found Persephone and Hades, a deal was made; Demeter would have her daughter back for half of the year and Hades would have his bride for the other half, thereby causing the seasons of summer and winter.

As for Hecate, Hades was impressed and offered her key positions in the underworld. One of her roles would be to provide guidance and companionship for Persephone, and the other role would be to guard the threshold between the living realm and the realm of the dead. As such, she was given the key to the underworld.

For this reason, she became the goddess of necromancy, thresholds and restless spirits.

Symbolism

Hecate is often depicted holding the two torches to light the way through the underworld, but in some renditions she is holding a key instead. Her head is usually crowned with moonbeams and she is often portrayed as a triple goddess standing back-to-back in order to look out in all directions at once.

Because of her status as the goddess of liminal spaces, thresholds and portals, her statues or columns would be set at crossroads and in doorways. The pillars were known as Hecataea and were said to ward against malevolent spirits.

Although Hecate is usually depicted to be a childbearing age, she was never said to be married or to have children. Unlike other virgin goddesses, though, she had no ill-will towards men, but was simply a bit of a loner and not particularly interested. Instead of suitors or maidens or other humanoid beings surrounding her, Hecate chose animal companions. She is associated with packs of dogs due to the legend of hell-hounds, but according to myth the animals she adopted were previously humans cursed by the gods and transformed into animals.

Hecate’s Wheel, also known as the Strophalos, was a spinning wheel used as a divination tool to access the subconscious and replicate the soul’s journey through the underworld labyrinth. At the centre is a star, which seems to be reference to her mother, Asteria.

strophalos

Ritual Practice

Hecate is a lunar goddess, however she rules one particular phase known as the dark night, or a very new moon. During this dark night of the soul every month she was said to lead restless spirits out of the underworld to seek their vengeance or justice as they saw fit.

To protect their households, residents of Ancient Greece would conduct a monthly cleanse of their homes, settle all their bills and generally have everything in order. All the dust, food scraps and waste materials from altars would be piled up either outside the boundaries of the property or at a 3-way crossroad.

Just before nightfall the household would put out a ritual meal known as Hecate’s Supper, or Deipnon, to feed the spirits and appease their wrath. Supper was compiled of onion, leeks, garlic, small cakes, eggs and occasionally the meat of a sacrificed dog. They would set the meal outside threshold of the property, turn their back on it and go lock themselves inside for the night. It was dangerous to look upon the hungry ghosts feeding upon their meal.

The Ancient Greeks sacrificed dogs the same way Ancient Hebrews sent a scapegoat out into the desert: to carry the sins of the household and appease the gods.

Modern Ritual

In this day and age we don’t generally leave our crap by the side of the road and we don’t sacrifice animals, especially dogs. Instead, if you would like to be a devotee of Hecate, you may want to donate either time or money to a dog shelter, as the goddess seemed to believe in rescuing animals rather than slaughtering them.

You can use the darkest moon of the month to thoroughly clean your house; go through the fridge and dispose of bad food, sweep up dust, clean your altar space, empty out fireplaces, and then perform a cleansing ritual. This is best done during daylight hours.

As darkness falls, lay out a meal for the spirits beyond any doorways so as not invite anyone inside. It can use traditional ingredients like onion and garlic, or just make a little cupcake.

You may also use the night of the new moon as an opportunity to seek out prophetic dreams. Set an intention before bed and make sure to have a relaxing cup of chamomile tea to help you float off into the ether.

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