Who Is Hecate?
At night, particularly at the dark of the moon, this goddess walked the roads of ancient Greece, accompanied by sacred dogs and bearing a blazing torch. Occassionally she stopped to gather offerings left by her devotees where three roads crossed, for this three-fold goddess was best honored where one could look three ways at once. Sometimes, it was even said that Hecate could look three ways because she had three heads: a serpent, a horse, and a dog.
While Hecate walked outdoors, her worshippers gathered inside to eat Hecate suppers in her honor, gatherings at which magical knowledge was shared and the secrets of sorcery whispered. The bitch-goddess, the snake-goddess, ruled these powers and she bestowed them on those who worshipped her honorably. When supper was over, the leftovers were placed outdoors as offerings to Hecate and her hounds. And if the poor of Greece gathered at the doorsteps of wealthier households to snatch the offerings, what matter?
Some scholars say that Hecate was not originally Greek, her worship having traveled south from her original Thracian homeland. Others contend that she was a form of the earth mother Demeter, yet another of whose forms was the maiden Persephone. Legends, they claim, of Persephone’s abduction and later residence in Hades give clear prominence to Hecate, who therefore must represent the old wise woman, the crone, the final stage of woman’s growth- the aged Demeter herself, just as Demeter is the mature Persephone.
In either case, the antiquity of Hecate’s worship was recognized by the Greeks, who called her a Titan, one of those pre-Olympian divinities whom Zeus and his cohort had ousted. The newcomers also bowed to her antiquity by granting to Hecate alone a power shared with Zeus, that of granting or withholding from humanity anything she wished. Hecate’s worship continued into classical times, both in the private form of Hecate suppers and in public sacrifices, celebrated by “great ones” or Caberioi, of honey, black female lambs, and dogs, and sometimes black human slaves.
As queen of the night, Hecate was sometimes said to be the moon-goddess in her dark form, as Artemis was the waxing moon and Selene the full moon. But she may as readily have been the earth-goddess, for she ruled the spirits of the dead, humans who had been returned to the earth. As queen of death she ruled the magical powers of regeneration; in addition, she could hold back her spectral hordes from the living if she chose. And so Greek women evoked Hecate for protection from her hosts whenever they left the house, and they erected her threefold images at their doors, as if to tell wandering spirits that therein lived friends of their queen, who must not be bothered with night noises and spooky apparitions.
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