#FolkloreThursday: Hekate

This week’s theme is folklore of the underworld and the underground, which felt like a perfect time to make a tribute to my own patron goddess, Hekate, the goddess of witchcraft, and so much more.

William Blake, 1795

Three Faced Hekate, Come to me Beloved Mistress
Graciously hear my sacred spells:
Image of Night, Youthful One, Dawn-born
Lightbringer to mortals
Who rides upon fierce eyed bulls

Adapted from a prayer in the Greek Magical Papyri

Chthonic Goddess of crossroads and entrance ways, sorcery and necromancy, patron of witches. Her sacred symbols are the key, the torch, the snake, and the dog. She is the liminal Goddess who exists in all in-between places, including the paths to the Underworld. This state of liminality is represented in her many titles:  Apotropaia (that turns away/protects); Enodia (on the way); Propulaia/Propylaia (before the gate); Triodia/Trioditis (who frequents crossroads); Klêidouchos (holding the keys). She is the one you ask to keep you safe as you cross the liminal places and she might, but not always:

As a goddess expected to avert harmful or destructive spirits from the house or city over which she stood guard and to protect the individual as she or he passed through dangerous liminal places, Hecate would naturally become known as a goddess who could also refuse to avert the demons, or even drive them on against unfortunate individuals.

Sarah Iles Johnston, Restless Dead: Encounters Between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece, University of California Press, 1999, p. 209.

It was Hekate and her torch that assisted Demeter in her search for Persephone, and it is Hekate who leads Persephone back and forth on her yearly journey between life and death. Hekate’s transformation into the patron of witches arose out of this chthonic and nocturnal nature and she became heavily associated with herb-lore and the use of poisonous plants. It was written that Hekate was the patron of the witch Medea, which helped to further her reputation as the Goddess of Witches.

As a rule she [Medea] did not spend her time at home, but was busy all day in the temple of Hekate, of whom she was priestess.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3. 250 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.)
IrenHorrors, 2021

Much is known about Hekate’s rise, her worship, her cults and her myths but what is still little-known or understood is where she actually began. Her parentage is often disputed, with some saying that she was the daughter of Perses and Asteria; the daughter of Zeus and Demeter (which would explain her willingness to go after Persephone); a daughter of Zeus either by Pheraea or by Hera; or that she was a daughter of Leto or Tartarus. Even the origin of her name is not agreed upon.

She is believed to have begun as an ancient Thracian goddess and a Titan and she wielded great power; so much power, in fact, that her many abilities led her to be conflated with a number of other goddess over the centuries. Hekate’s transformation into the triple-goddess–generally viewed as The Maiden, The Mother, and The Crone–would come later, though still long before the Christian idea of the trinity.

Some call me Juno, others Bellona of the Battles, and still others Hecate. Principally the Ethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Egyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustomed to worship me, do call me Queen Isis.

Lucius Apuleius in The Golden Ass (2nd century)
Maximilian Pirner, 1901

So, remember, when you cross the boundaries into the liminal spaces, when you approach the crossroads with a request, when you seek entrance into the shadowy places, make sure you speak her name, and sing a hymn to her power. She is old, she is everywhere, and she is always watching.

Hekate Einodia, Trioditis [Trivia], lovely dame, of earthly, watery, and celestial frame, sepulchral, in a saffron veil arrayed, pleased with dark ghosts that wander through the shade; Perseis (daughter of Perses), solitary goddess, hail! The world’s key-bearer, never doomed to fail; in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen, and drawn by bulls, unconquerable queen; Leader, Nymphe, nurse, on mountains wandering, hear the suppliants who with holy rites thy power revere, and to the herdsman with a favouring mind draw near.

Orphic Hymn 1 to Hecate (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.)

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