The Greek Goddess Hecate

Woman in the Darkness
Hecate is known for her connection to the spirit world and magic. RobertoDavid / Getty Images

Hecate (sometimes spelled Hekate) was originally a Thracian, and pre-Olympian Greek goddess, and ruled over the realms of earth and fertility rituals. As a goddess of childbirth, she was often invoked for rites of puberty, and in some cases watched over maidens who were beginning to menstruate. Eventually, Hecate evolved to become a goddess of magic and sorcery. She was venerated as a mother goddess, and during the Ptolemaic period in Alexandria was elevated to her position as goddess of ghosts and the spirit world.

Hecate in Classical Mythology

Much like the Celtic hearth goddess Brighid, Hecate is a guardian of crossroads, and often symbolized by a spinning wheel. In addition to her connection to Brighid, she is associated with Diana Lucifera, who is the Roman Diana in her aspect as light-bearer. Hecate is often portrayed wearing the keys to the spirit world at her belt, accompanied by a three-headed hound, and surrounded by lit torches.

"Hecate is the Greek goddess of the crossroads. She is most often depicted as having three heads; one of a dog, one of a snake and one of a horse. She is usually seen with two ghost hounds that were said to serve her. Hecate is most often mispercepted as the goddess of witchcraft or evil, but she did some very good things in her time... [she] is said to haunt a three-way crossroad, each of her heads facing in a certain direction. She is said to appear when the ebony moon shines."

The epic poet Hesiod tells us Hecate was the only child of Asteria, a star goddess who was the aunt of Apollo and Artemis. The event of Hecate's birth was tied to the reappearance of Phoebe, a lunar goddess, who appeared during the darkest phase of the moon.

She is sometimes seen as a protector of those who might be vulnerable, such as warriors and hunters, herdsmen and shepherds, and children. However, she's not protective in a nurturing or motherly way; instead, she is a goddess who will exact vengeance upon those who cause harm to people she protects. Sacrifices were made in Hecate's honor, during the classical Greek period, and ranged from cakes and eggs to dog meat. Hecate might be invoked by her followers for baneful magic; her name appears on several surviving curse tablets. She could also be called upon for divine retribution against anyone who deserved punishment for his or her misdeeds.

Hesiod describes Hecate in her role as one of the Titans who allied herself with Zeus, and says in Theogony,

"Hekate whom Zeus the son of Kronos honored above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honor also in starry heaven, and is honored exceedingly by the deathless gods . . . For as many as were born of Gaia and Ouranos amongst all these she has her due portion. The son of Kronos [Zeus] did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea. Also, because she is an only child, the goddess receives not less honor, but much more still, for Zeus honors her."

Honoring Hecate Today

Today, many contemporary Pagans and Wiccans honor Hecate in her guise as a Dark Goddess, although it would be incorrect to refer to her as an aspect of the Crone, because of her connection to childbirth and maidenhood. It's more likely that her role as "dark goddess" comes from her connection to the spirit world, ghosts, the dark moon, and magic. She is known as a goddess who is not to be invoked lightly, or by those who are calling upon her frivolously. She is honored on November 30, the night of Hecate Trivia, the night of the crossroads.

To honor Hecate in your own magical practice, Hekatatia at Neokoroi.org recommends:

  • Adopt a dog, or volunteer at a shelter, since dogs are sacred to Hecate.
  • Take care of a deserted and neglected place that has been abandoned by everyone else.
  • Walk along a dark road at night, offering prayers or hymns to Hecate, to see if she will make her presence known.