Hecate, a divinity of the Underworld and
companion of Persephone, is called the queen of night and goddess of the cross-roads. Her three faces are turned towards as many directions, and her name was shrieked at night at the cross-roads of cities. She is often seen bearing torches, and it is with them that she killed Clytius 6 in the course of the Gigantomachy.
Hecate is regarded as supreme, both in Heaven and
in the Underworld,
and it is said that Zeus calls upon her whenever any man on earth offers
sacrifices, and prays for favor.
mur013: Hecate. Alexander S. Murray, Manual of Mythology (1898).
Privileges preserved after the Titanomachy
On becoming the ruler of the universe, Zeus did not deprive Hecate
of the privilegesconcerning earth, heaven and
seathat were her share when the TITANS ruled the world
before him, but she keeps them just as the division
was in the beginning.
Gives and takes away
This goddess, a night-wanderer, is credited with
wit-depriving spells, reminding those of Pan or the CORYBANTES, but also with power: It is Hecate, some believe, who bestows wealth and grants advances to those whose prayers she receives favorably. Similarly, the outcome of war and victory in games may depend on her, who grants glory to whom she pleases. And to those who work at sea, she gives great catch or takes it away, if that is her will; likewise, concerning herds, she increases their number from a few, or reduces it to be less, following her own will. Hecate, who is regarded as nurse and overseer of
the young, is also said to have a part in
judgements, when these take place; and in
assemblies, she distinguishes whom she will.
This power resembles that of sorcery. For Medea, who was a priestess
of Hecate, used witchcraft, apparently under the
guidance of the goddess, in order to handle magic
herbs and poisons with skill, and to be able to
stay the course of rivers, or check the paths of
the stars and the moon. The Caucasian witch also
relied on the goddess' help, when she was about to
commit a crime in Hellas:
goddess I worship most of all, my chosen helper
Hecate, who dwells in the inner chamber of my
house, none of them shall pain my heart and smile
at it! Bitter will I make their marriage, bitter
Creon's marriage-alliance, and bitter my banishment
from the land!" (Euripides, Medea 400).
For Hecate had not left her, although Medea sailed away from
Colchis. But when the goddess noticed that Medea, by a trick of Hera, would fell in love
with Jason and leave the
country, she lamented:
leave our woodland and your maiden bands, unhappy
girl, to wander in your own despite to the cities
of the Greeks. Yet not unbidden you go, nor, my
dear one, will I forsake you. A signal record of
your flight shall you leave behind, nor though a
captive shall you ever be despised by your false
lord, nay, he shall know me for your teacher, and
that I grieved with shame that he robbed me of my
handmaid." (Hecate. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 6.497).
Nevertheless, she helped Medea in Colchis, as did
both Hera and Aphrodite; and the
reason why the witch succeeded in helping Jason against her own
father and brother is that she was supported by
these three goddesses, and particularly by Hecate.
It was the latter who gave Medea the Caucasian herb
of great potency, sprung from the gore that dropped
from the liver of Prometheus 1; with
it Medea anointed Jason's body and arms,
making him practically invulnerable.
Hecate, daughter of Tartarus, has never been a comforting sight; for her changing aspect and triple head turn her into a terrible appearance. Besides, she held swords in her hands, and they say that from her left shoulder came forth a long maned horse, while the furious face of a bitch could be seen to her right; and in her middle there was a wild serpent. Yet Hecate has been called tender-hearted,
probably because she was concerned with the
disappearance of Persephone, and
addressed Demeter with
sweet words when the latter was distressed:
"Demeter, bringer of seasons, what god of
heaven or what mortal man has taken away Persephone and pierced with sorrow your
heart? For I heard her voice, yet saw not with my
eyes who it was." (Hecate to Demeter. Homeric
Hymn to Demeter 55).
And when Demeter finally found her daughter, Hecate embraced Persephone, becoming,
from that time, her companion. All three are seen
with torches, and Hecatewho, according to
some, is attended by the CORYBANTES, or by the
CURETEShad a share, along with Demeter and her
daughter, in the mystic element in initiations, as
also had Dionysus 2, Apollo, and the MUSES. Hecate, being a deity of the lower world, also
grants power in that realm; otherwise had not Aeneas addressed the Cumaean Sibyl thus:
you, gracious one; for you are all-powerful, and
not in vain has Hecate made you mistress in the
groves of Avernus." (Aeneas to the Sibyl. Virgil, Aeneid 6.116).
And later, the same Sibyl tells Aeneas:
". . . when
Hecate appointed me to the Avernian grove, she
instructed me in heaven's punishments and guided me
through all." (The Sibyl to Aeneas. Virgil, Aeneid 6.564).
According to the traveller Pausanias, Hecate was
worshipped mainly in Aegina (the island in the
Saronic Gulf midway Attica and Argolis), where
every year the mystic rites said to have been
established by Orpheus, were celebrated. Hecate has been identified or associated with Artemis; that is why Antigone 2 invokes her
" O Lady
Hecate, child of Leto!" (Euripides, Phoenician
And the poet Publius Vergilius Maro says:
". . .
threefold Hecate, triple-faced maiden Diana." (Virgil, Aeneid 4.511).
Others have expressed themselves otherwise,
saying that Iphigenia is Hecate by the will of Artemis. And still
others have conjectured that she is represented
with three heads for resembling Artemis on earth, and Selene in Heaven. And Artemis herself is
identified with Selene,
being often depicted with the arch of the moon on
her forehead; and others have thought that Apollo, the bright one,
dethroned Helius, becoming the sun himself. The list could certainly be made longer and more
complex, given the many aspects of many deities.
But some humans, hating the contradictions they
happen to discover everywhere, demandin the
name of knowledgethat the gods and goddesses
be as easy to classify and understand as the birds
that fly accross the sky.