The goddess Hekate

Vlassis G. Rassias: «Η ΘΕΑ ΕΚΑΤΗ», in Rassias (Κείμενα), March 2015, last time checked: August 15, 2020. This is the translation of the original Greek text about the goddess Hekátē in excerpts.


Hekate hellenismos

Moon goddess of the secret knowledge, of transitions and changes, which has power over the sky, the earth, the sea, but also over the hereafter. She is the Giver of wealth, honors, victories, seaworthiness, the protector of the newborns, the Guide of man as she is the mistress of the pathways, forks, crossroads and entrances (all of them symbolize the paths and options of human life), she supports every legislation and is the supervisor of all cleaning rites.

According to different versions of the myth, Hekate was «born» by the following beings:

1. Nyx (Bacchylides, fr. 1B, «Εκάτα δαϊδοφόρε, Νυκτός μεγαλοκόλπου θύγατερ», «Hekate, torch-bearing daughter of great-bosomed Night»).
2. the titans Perses and Asteria (Theogony of Hesiodos, 404, Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Pseudo-Apollodor, 1.8., Lykophron, 1174 et al.), hence her epithet «Perseis», although in another version her real father is Zeus.
3. Zeus and Asteria (according to Mousaios, according to the commentator of Apollonios Rhodios).
4. Aristaios (according to Pherekydes, according to the commentator of Apollonios Rhodios).
5. Demeter (according to the commentator of Apollonios Rhodios, 3.467).
6. Leto (according to Euripides).
7. Zeus and Pheraia, the daughter of Aiolos (who, according to the commentator of Theokritos, abandoned her at a crossroad), hence her epithet «Pheraia».
8. Zeus and Demeter (her mother even sent her off to find her sister Persephone).
9. Zeus and Hera.
10. the titans Koios and Phoebe, therefore, Asteria and Leto are her «sisters».
11. Tartaros.

[…] In Thrace she was worshiped exclusively as the feminine side of the god Hermes, the patron god of spatial boundaries, of the house gates and the gates of cities and temples («Pylaios» and «Propylaios»), the paths and crossroads («Odios» and «Enodios»), who was sometimes depicted three-headed and four-headed («Three-headed, because the third [head] implies the philosophical logos … [called] four-headed, because of the many powers of the logos», writes the commentator of Homer, Eustathios of Thessaloniki). Like Hermes, she had the property of Psychopompos and power over the four planes («Hermes of the earth and the sky and the sea and the underworld, and psychopompos», as above). This «Hermic» nature of the goddess was then adopted by other Greek regions, and in some of them properties of the goddess Artemis or the goddess Selene (as can be seen in Aeschylus) or the goddess Nemesis, with whom she has many similarities, were incorporated [into her Cult]. In the latter two cases, and due to the fact that the superstitious element of backward regions or of foreign religions of the Hellenistic world has also been added [to the nature of Hekate], the goddess has been associated with magic.

In some other cases, the goddess Hekate was identified with Demeter, Rhea and Persephone, in Hellenistic and Roman Crete she was also identified with Diktynna. After the classical period, the goddess was depicted in a threefold form, i.e. with three faces, exactly like the corresponding depictions of the god Hermes.

It was during Late Antiquity that the Cult of the goddess became sacrilegious because of the invocation of her as the alleged goddess of the magical and necromantic arts by Orientals, mainly magicians, necromancers and vulgar «theurgists», due to her syncretistic fusion with the Sumerian goddess Ereskigal, with whom she is equated in an invocation in a magical papyrus from the 4th century («Hekate Ereskigal»). Of the same level, but originating in popular superstition, is her association with the supposed ghost «Empousa» (or «Lamia» or «Mormolykeion») or the mention of her name on the «katadesmoi» (curse tablets). However, there is no written reference to a historical person who worshiped the goddess as the «dark» deity of the magicians and witches.

[…] Her symbols are the two torches (pyrsoi), the Hekatic strophalos (wheel), the key (which «closes the gates» in the event of danger and «unlocks» them for favorable influences) and the dagger. Her sacred animal is the dog (as well as of Eileithyia «Genetyllida», the patron goddess of birth) and her sacred trees are the oak, the hazelnut bush, the black poplars (the two-colored leaves of which symbolize the dual bond of the goddess with the world of the living and the dead) and the cypress. Honey is sacrificed to her, her sacred plants are the Asphodelus albus and Aconitum, her sacrificial animals are the black bull (sacrificed every year in Athens for the New Year), the female black sheep, but also the black dog (in Thrace, Samothrace, Boeotia, Macedonia and the Ionic Kolophon).

[…] The Roman equivalent of Hekate is the goddess Trivia (means «three-way», «Trioditis»). Since the Romans adopted her in Late Antiquity, she, too, became the subject of superstitionis (i.e. superstition, a cloudy idea of the gods), which originated either from the general public view or the magicians and vulgar «theurgists». In addition, the disgusting image of her as a terrifying monster is a product of late Roman literature. As opposed to that, the goddess was worshiped with great piety by the aristocracy of Rome until the 4th century, with priests who adopted her Greek name, as well as the name of the god Dionysos (CIL XI 671, CIL VI 500, 504, 507, 510, 1675 and 31940).