Known as Hecate or Hekate, she is the Goddess of Witchcraft, but where did she come from and how did she acquire such a reputation? On this page we look at the origins of the goddess we call Hecate.
The Origins of Hecate
Where did Hecate (Hekate) come from?
Hecate’s origins are shrouded in myth and the mists of time. Far older than the gods of the monotheists – Yahovah (Yahweh) of the Jews, Christ of the Christians or Allah of the Muslims – she has held many divine offices and been worshipped and invoked for many different reasons.
‘Hecate’ from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica
The following information is an edited version of the ‘Hecate’ entry appearing in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There has been much new research since its publication and serious students are directed to Leo Ruickbie, Witchcraft Out of the Shadows (2004).
HECATE (Gr., ‘she who works from afar’), a goddess in Greek mythology. According to the generally accepted view, she is of Hellenic origin, but Farnell regards her as a foreign importation from Thrace, the home of Bendis, with whom Hecate has 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 Asterie, in a passage which may be a later interpolation by the Orphists (for other genealogies see Steuding in Roscher’s Lexikon). 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. The range of her influence is most varied, extending to war, athletic games, the tending of cattle, hunting, the assembly of the people and the law-courts. Hecate is frequently identified with Artemis, an identification usually justified by the assumption that both were moon-goddesses. Farnell, who regards Artemis as originally an earth-goddess, while recognizing a genuine lunar element in Hecate from the 5th century, considers her a chthonian rather than a lunar divinity (see also Warr in Classical Review, ix. 390). He is of the opinion that neither borrowed much from, nor exercised much influence on, the cult and character of the other.
‘Hecate’ from Wikipedia.com
The following information is an edited extract of the ‘Hecate’ entry appearing on the Wikipedia.com website, which is in part derived from the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, as well as other sources. Wikipedia is a user-contributed online encyclopedia, which means that it lacks scholarly rigour and editorial control, and should therefore be used with caution. For a scholarly discussion of Hecate serious students are directed to Leo Ruickbie, Witchcraft Out of the Shadows (2004).
Despite popular belief, Hecate was not originally a Greek goddess. She is unknown to Homer and in fact the earliest written references to her are in Hesiod’s Theogony. The place of origin of her cult is uncertain, but it is thought that she had popular cult followings in Thrace. Her most important sanctuary was Lagina, a theocratic city-state in which the goddess was served by eunuchs. Lagina, where the famous temple of Hecate drew great festal assemblies every year, lay in the originally-Macedonian colony of Stratonicea. In Thrace she played a role similar to that of lesser-Hermes, namely a governess of liminal points and the wilderness, bearing little resemblance to the night-walking crone. Additionally, this led to her role of aiding women in childbirth and the raising of young men.
There are two versions of Hecate that emerge in Greek myth. The lesser role integrates Hecate while not diminishing Artemis. In this version Hecate is a mortal priestess (commonly associated with Iphigeneia) who scorns and insults Artemis, eventually leading to her suicide. Artemis then adorns the dead body with jewelry and whispers for her spirit to rise and become her Hecate, and act similar to Nemesis as an avenging spirit (but solely for injured women). Such myths where a home god sponsors or ‘creates’ a foreign god were widespread in ancient cultures as a way of integrating foreign cults. Additionally, as Hecate’s cult grew, her figure was added to the myth of the birth of Zeus as one of the midwives that hid the child, while Cronus consumed the deceiving rock handed to him by Gaia.
The second version helps to explain how Hecate gains the title of the ‘Queen of Ghosts’ and her role as a goddess of sorcery. Similar to totems of Hermes—herms— placed at borders as a ward against danger, images of Hecate, as a liminal goddess, could also serve in such a protective role. It became common to place statues of the goddess at the gates of cities, and eventually domestic doorways. Over time, the association of keeping out evil spirits, lead to the belief that if offended Hecate could also let in evil spirits. Thus invocations to Hecate arose as her the supreme governess of the borders between the normal world and the spirit world.