Hekate is a Goddess that has been shrouded in mystery and debate since her arrival on the Greek religious scene in approximately 700 bce. No one has been able to confirm the origin of Her name, place, or function. I will attempt to convey what Hekate means to me as well as some of Her Goddess Myth.
Hekate arrived on the scene in my life in Her saffron-cloaked Crone form on January 19, 1996. She gazed at me steadily and then lifted Her hand and simply pointed at me. I knew that She and I had work to do. Part of my Priestess work has been dedicated to Hekate since that day. While I do not normally do medium work, Hekate and I arrived at a mutually suitable worship bargain: I do the work as Her Priestess for those who are in need and always seem to find me and She … She keeps the dead from my house and living space.
Her presence is steady in my life. She stands guard over my threshold; She was there as I went through a sudden hysterectomy. And in some of my challenging years, I reflectively look back and think that Her presence was what gave me strength. I instinctively reach for Her energy in times of need and She is always there.
I have written rituals for Her almost every year at Samhain ( on Halloween) for groups from 6 people to over 300 for almost twenty years. In the years that I did not have community, I sat with Her in meditation and read the names myself from The Book of the Dead that I began keeping in the summer of 1998. Each year the book grows and each year, I start at the beginning and call to the Ancestors that people have listed there. During the ritual, I prepare a Hekate Supper and at the end of the ritual, I deliver it to the crossroads for Her and the Horde as an offering.
Hekate comes with a warning label ~ She is not a Goddess to approach lightly (none of them are really). She holds sway over liminal spaces, over the dead, and even Zeus would not (could not) limit Her. She is also one of the few Gods and Goddesses with the power to induce madness if approached incorrectly. I have always taken these warnings to heart and while I do not fear Hekate at all, I do have respect for Her awesome powers, reach, and ancient energy. As with all of the Goddesses, if you are drawn to Hekate, I advise intense research and a gentle approach as you get to know Her. I am always available for those who are drawn to Her.
To Hekate, to my Mother … I cannot imagine my life without Her. I hope that you are as enchanted with Her stories as I am and, should you find yourself at a crossroads in your life, She is the Goddess to ask for assistance. Hail, Hekate!
Hekate was worshiped as a Goddess of abundance and eloquence and She is still generous to those who recognize Her. Her ancient worshipers also invoked Her protective attributes by placing guardian statues outside of their homes and on the threshold of many temples and homes. In most ancient homes there was a sanctuary for Hekate or Her image was placed near the threshold (a liminal space). It is possible that because She protected the people from evil spirits (ghosts of the dead) that this led to the belief that She controlled those Spirits and Shades of the Dead. The ancient depiction of the Bright Shining Maiden who lit the way for the initiates in Eleusis and gave succor to Persephone in the Land of the Dead began to be replaced by Hekate, the Crone. The psychopomp version of the Goddess Hekate traveled the land followed by a ghostly procession commonly referred to as The Horde, which included various Spirits of the dead, displaced spirits (such as those resulting from suicides, they were part of The Horde until they could be properly placed), and Her baying hounds. This is the Hekate that most know as Goddess of the Dead & Queen of Witches. During Samhain celebrations, this is the Hekate that I connect with and to whom I offer a Hekate Supper at the crossroads after ritual.
Edith Hamilton’s Mythology says of Hekate: “She was associated with deeds of darkness, the Goddess of the Crossways, which held to be ghostly places of evil magic. An awful divinity.”
As with most of the Dark Goddesses who represent that which humanity fears, a demonization of Hekate and Her Priestesses was undertaken by the misogynistic male philosophers and poets of Greece. Hekate was no longer She who would protect you or the “Kourotrophos” (Nurse) present at childbirth; She was what brought the evil spirits to you and, indeed, held sway over them.
There is no doubt that by 400 bce that the image existed of female followers of Hekate working magic, alone at night in remote places. While they were intended as evil figures, it is interesting to note that one can easily reinterpret them as positive role-models, heroic workers of magic in a society that dreaded powerful women – healers and medicine women. The issue with all of the legends and myths about these women and others is that they were written by men who would be naturally much more sympathetic to the men’s plight of being married to or associated with these “evil women”. The power of Hekate and Her daughters would cause men to have unease about women devoting to such a powerful Goddess over which they held no sway. The Priestesses of Hekate (Medea, Circe, Clytemnestra as examples) were strong women, potent witches, and had complete confidence in the protection and responsiveness of their Mother, Hekate.
Hekate is awesome and can be terrifying, for She rules all that is outside our ken: Death and the dark intuitive wisdom that is beyond the conscious mind. Such wisdom comes through dreams and whispers, mediumship, and divination. It is the inspired vision of oracles, seers, and herbalists. For some it may be too much and bring the madness of lunacy, for Hekate’s power can hurt as well as heal. She is one of the few Goddesses that are able to induce madness, which is the reason that offerings for Her at the Crossroads are to be left without looking back.
Hekate is most properly worshiped in liminal places, especially at a crossroad where three roads meet (the reason for Her epithet HEKATE ENODIA – of the crossroads). The Ancient Greeks would erect statues (hecataea) of Hekate Trevia (‘Hekate of the Three Ways’) at crossroads in Her honor. Here, travelers may ask for protection on their journeys or (it was rumored) witches would meet to learn Her mysteries. This is also the location were propitiations for Hekate were brought on the night before the New Moon – partially to seek Her favor, but also partially to ensure that the Ghosts that travel with the Horde would pass by silently in the night. Hekate’s suppers are called Hekate Deipna and the traditional offerings survive even in modern day (see below under OFFERINGS).
On the surface, the crossroads symbolize Hekate’s triple nature & all-seeing ability, but there are deeper mysteries. After crossing the Styx, a newly dead ancient Greek soul found itself at a place where three roads meet to be judged. One road led to the Elysian Fields, one to the Fields of Asphodel, and the third road to Tartarus. So, any crossroads where three roads meet might symbolize this place of judgment and be seen as a sacred place to the Goddess Hekate. Crossroads are also seen as ominous and dangerous places. In many traditions, this is where suicides and criminals (the displaced souls of The Horde) were buried.
Holy Days – Feast Days of Hekate
- Monthly, Hekate is traditionally worshiped on the Dark Moon (the eve of the New Moon) or the 30th of the month, when ‘Hekate’s Suppers’ are prepared. The Greeks originally reckoned time by lunar months, so this day originally fell on the 30th. Later, when Greece adopted a reformed calendar which no longer took account of the lunar cycle, the 30th remained sacred to Hekate. The 30th of the month was also sacred to the Dead. This was the time to purify the house and to take offerings to Hekate and, of course, leave them at the Crossroads.
- Samhain (10/31) is especially significant to Hekate in modern day since that is the night when the veil is thinnest between our world and the world of spirits.
- In Ancient Greece, several Festival days were celebrated in Her honour and the traditions have survived to currrent day:
- The 13th August (A Night To Propitiate and Honor Hekate article) is the time to ask for Her blessing on the coming harvest, for as Goddess of Storms, Hekate has the power to destroy the crop before it can be cut.
- Sunset on November 16th marks the beginning of the Night of Hekate. In Ancient Greece animal sacrifices would have been made, but leaving a Hekate’s Supper at the Crossroads is a more appropriate offering today. In the past and the present, those who follow Hekate are often initiated into Her mysteries on these nights.
- November 30th is the Day of Hekate at the Crossroads – Hekate Enodia.
Offerings and A Hekate Supper
In ancient times and more suited for today, an offering of food and “pollution” (remnants from cleansing the house) were traditionally known as ‘Hekate’s Supper’ . Appropriate food for these feasts include red mullet, (a scavenging fish that was taboo in other cults), sweet bread (similar to pound cake consistency), raw eggs, cheese, garlic, cake and honey, sprat (fish), and red wine (preferably Greek). In Ancient Greece none of the household would touch the food for ‘Hekate’s Supper’, and I recommend that for a Supper, the Priestess of Hekate is the one who prepares it and brings it to the offering place. The offerings are left at a crossroads and you should leave without looking back – it was said that to look upon the face of the Goddess as She arrives with Her Horde to feast will cause insanity.
This practice has a very long history. The Christian Church was still trying to stop people leaving offerings at the crossroads as late as the 11th Century, and it is certainly carried on today, so it is entirely possible that there is an unbroken tradition for thousands of years.
Sacred to Hekate
The yew, cypress, hazel, black poplar and the willow trees all belong to Hekate. The leaves of the black poplar are dark on one side & light on the other, symbolizing the boundary between the worlds. The yew has long been associated with the Underworld. It is the longest living tree in Europe and naturally ‘resurrects’ itself.
Many other herbs and plants were associated with Hekate, including garlic, almonds, myrrh, mugwort, cardamom, mint, dandelion, and hellebore. Several poisons and hallucinogens are linked to Hekate, including belladonna, hemlock, mandrake, henbane, aconite or wolfsbane (classically known as hecateis), and opium poppy. Dandelion tea is used to call spirits and is said to enhance psychic ability.
All wild animals are sacred to Hekate and She sometimes appears as or with a three-headed dog, a horse, a bear, a dog, a snake, or a lion. The creatures of darkness and of the earth are most sacred to Her: Ravens, owls, crows, snakes, and dragons. The frog, significantly a creature that can cross between two elements, is also sacred to Hekate and the Egyptian goddess Heket.
In ancient Greece, snakes were the creatures most commonly associated with the dead, and it was commonly believed that the dead could appear as snakes. In many traditions, spirits of the Ancestors appear as snakes to deliver messages to the living. Several images of Hekate show Her holding a snake. Snakes have long been connected with chthonic powers and the uncommon wisdom of the Otherworld. The snake is also transformative which is representative of Her powers.
The dog is the animal most commonly associated with Hekate and She was sometimes addressed as the ‘Black She Dog’. Black puppies were once sacrificed to Her in purification rituals, and at Colophon in Samothrace, Hekate could manifest as a dog. The sound of barking and howling dogs is the first sign of Her approach in Greek and Roman literature:
“The Earth began to bellow, trees to dance
And howling dogs in glimmering light advance
Ere Hekate came.” The Aeneid, book VL. Virgil.
Ovid writes that Hekate could be conjured up from darkness “with long howls.” There is evidence of an old belief that the souls of the unburied dead could appear as dogs. Hekate is also frequently identified with the three-headed dog Cerberus, who guards the entrance to Hades.
Several symbols and objects are particularly associated with Hekate. She is almost always shown carrying torches, often has a knife, and may appear holding a rope or scourge, a key, a phial, flowers or a pomegranate. The Greek cross (one with equal arms) is a symbol of Hekate at the crossroads. She also has Her own symbol called the Hekate Wheel (image on the left).
Hekate not only reigns over witchcraft, magic, and death, but also birth and renewal. She is a guardian against evil and invoked in curses. She is a protective guide and light bringer, but also the ‘Dread Goddess of the Underworld’. She is the epitome of duality.
The Ancient Greeks understood that a deity gives as well as withholds; Hekate can protect from evil spirits if She so chooses, but can also visit them upon you. It may also be that the ancients did not share the modern obsession with consistency. There is evidence for an Archaic ‘irrational’ mode of thought which does not strive for one precise conclusion, but offers a medley of possibilities. In my mind, there is no contradiction here, for death inevitably goes hand in hand with fertility as a power of the earth.
Books recommended for Research on Hekate:
The Goddess Hekate by Stephen Ronan (my personal favorite)
Hekate Soteira by Sarah Iles Johnston
Hekate in Ancient Greek Religion by Ilmo Robert Von Rudloff
Hekate Liminal Rites by Sorita d’Este & David Rankine
Thracian Magic: Past and Present by Georgi Mishev
Mysteries of the Dark Moon by Demetra George
A Night to Propitiate and Honor the Goddess Hekate by Kimberly Moore
Hekate Crossroads – The Age of the Crone and How She Found Me by Louise Edington
The Covenant of Hekate by Sorita d’Este
Thirty Days of Devotion to the Goddess Hecate by Renee Sosanna Olsen
Hekate is one of the featured Goddesses in our 52 Goddesses online course. If you would like to learn more about Yemaya and 51 other Goddesses, please join our Self Study course: 52 Goddesses. Each week you receive a new Goddess with stories of Her Ancient and Living Mythology, a Goddess Practice to connect, and resources to explore further. We also have a private Facebook Community and opportunities for sharing and discussion within The Mystery School of the Goddess.