by Oberon Zell, Mythic Images©
Hecate is truly a goddess for all the seasons of our lives. Though nowadays we think of Her as the Ancient Crone of Witchcraft, from a historical perspective She is certainly one of the most misunderstood goddesses. She is considered to be both a single aspect of the Triple Goddess and at the same time one of the multiplicities of triple goddesses like the Fates or the Furies. Yet Her name appears in singular form: Hecate, not the Hecates. The root of Her name in Greek means: By Whose Will.
The first mention of Hecate in literature occurs in Hesiod's The Theogony dated in the late 8th century BCE. She is presented as a Titan, a pre-Olympian Deity, and the only daughter of Asteria, the Star Goddess. Elsewhere She is called the child of Nyx who is the Night. Hesiod gives Her the longest entry of any Titan and especially notes that She fought alongside the Gods in the overthrow of tyrannical Kronos, who devoured His own children. She sided against the other Titans and slew the giant Kritio in the service of the Olympians. For Her deeds Zeus honors Her above all and grants her a tripartite share in Earth, in Sea, and in Sky.
Hesiod praises Her powers to aid victory in battle and games. She stands by horsemen, farmers, fisherman and helps with animal husbandry, midwifery, and nursing. A most ubiquitous Goddess indeed! Oddly enough there is no real mention of the chthonic role that She later occupies almost exclusively.
She next appears in literature in a small but crucial role in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and thus in the Eleusinian Mysteries. It is She who hears the abduction of Persephone and tells Demeter. She searches with the Grain Mother and finally embraces Kore when she returns and is reunited with Demeter. Thereafter, Hecate becomes Persephone's guide from Erebos every Spring. It is likely that She had a germinal but now lost secret role in the transformation of the dark Queen of the Dead, Persephone, back into the innocent Maiden Kore.
Though Her origins are as veiled and mysterious as the Goddess Herself, Her deepest roots in sacred imagery go back to the late Neolithic, to the serpent- and winged goddesses of transformation. She is possibly related to the Egyptian goddess Hekt, a divine midwife who takes the form of a frog, or even connected to the Hittite goddess Hebat. She is the ageless catalyst of regeneration rather than the actual vessel Herself. Simply stated, Her imagery is the complementary manifestation to the Great Fertile Mother.
This complementary form coalesced into the dual-nature goddesses of the Minoan and Mycenean Bronze Age seen in countless cylinder seals and signet gems: the robust seated Matriarch and the more slender standing Daughter. During this period the Daughter was often the Maiden, the Midwife and the Death Bringer; actual Crone imagery doesn't really occur in this period except in extremely stylized forms. It is difficult to know what names these Goddesses were called because there are no identifying inscriptions with the images. They are the Phi and Psi: icons of Matter and Spirit respectively.
Probably this Goddess had different names in different regions. But by the time of Classical Greece She had become identified with Persephone and Artemis. Hecate as a Goddess discrete was most likely an analog of this archetype that occurred in several Aegean regions and on coastal hegemonies of Asia Minor such as Caria, Lydia and Phrygia. Icons of Her paired with the Great Mother Cybele come from this area. Her worship is recorded even as far north on the Black Sea coast as Colchis, home of Her Priestess, Medea. Her primary Aegean sites of worship include: Athens, Eleusis, Aigina, Argos, Lebadeia, Thessaly, and Samothrace.
In Archaic imagery, Hecate is called gay spirited and bright crowned Lady; Sappho calls Her: Golden shining Hecate, Queen of Night, handmaiden to Aphrodite. So Her oldest written identifiable form is as Hecate, the Maiden. Maybe through Her role as Persephone's torch-bearing psychopomp in and out of the Underworld, She begins to appear more and more in chthonian form. By the time of Sophokles, Aristophanes and Euripides, She is largely identified as the Dark One. Speculation exists that perhaps Hecate Herself, was the original ruler of the Underworld, and that Hades replaced Her in the same fashion that the Sumerian Ereshkigal was displaced by the Babylonian Nergal.
She also becomes identified as the veiled face of the Dark Moon, flip side to the Maiden Artemis, and it is this aspect that has become the best known throughout Classical Greek, Roman, Renaissence European and modern Pagan times. Hecate the Triple Goddess is Shadow Maiden, Wisewoman and Crone. Though She is a mid-wife, She Herself is not a Mother. An interesting footnote is that a tradition existed in which women who died before their time became immortal attendants of Artemis and were renamed Hecate. Euripedes mentions this as the Fate of Iphigenia sacrificed by her Father.
This might well represent a worn-down fragment of a women's Birthing Mystery. Question: How does a Maiden become a Mother? Answer: By going down into death at the risk of her own life and returning with a baby soul. Question: What happens to the Maidens who do not return from that Journey? Answer: They remain with Hecate. Thus She is the Goddess who midwifes us from Death into Life and from Life into Death. Perhaps She has taken the mirror image of the Bodisattva vow to continue incarnating until all are enlightened. Hecate instead vows to refrain from incarnation in order to remain as a guide on the other side of the Portal.
Hecate has always been a career woman. Her primary roles are Propylaia Guardian; Propolos Guide and Wayshower; Phosphoros Illumiator; Klephoros Key bearer; Kourotropos Midwife and Caregiver; and Chthonia goddess of the darkness and Underworld. It is Chthonian Hecate who metamorphoses into the ancient Crone: Guardian of the Crossroads, Queen of Unseely Fairies, Lady of the Night. The common factor in all these roles seems to be that Hecate is a goddess of transitions and transformation. She is an Initiatrix in both the Kabirian and Eleusinian Mysteries and even bears a resemblance to the dark-winged scourge-bearing goddess in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii.
Though Hecate has become primarily a goddess of women and guides them through the difficult biological initiations of birth, menarche, childbirth (or abortion), menopause and death, She can also nurture the hardy and fearless men who are devoted to the Goddess in Her ancient and darker manifestations. Transition and transformation go beyond gender, beyond age, and even beyond species. Hecate's allies and companions are the plants and animals that aid travelers between the worlds. Shamanic plants like poppies, datura, monkshood, belladonna, and henbane grow in Her garden. Her cauldron bubbles with alchemical transmutations. Black bitches, owls, toads, horses, serpents, and even black cats have all been associated at different times with Hecate. Like Minerva McGonagel in the Harry Potter stories, She is a wisewoman and consummate shapeshifter.
Hecate travels the dark roads and carries the torches that guide us. Her light is the one that we follow down the birth canal and into this life; and they are the lights that we travel towards when our spirits depart from our bodies. She carries the keys to unlock the Doorway of Mysteries that She guards. She protects and yet She is not Herself the danger the fiend from Hell. Even though she has certainly had some shady devotees Medea, Circe, Apuleius and the three Witches from McBeth Hecate has mostly suffered from bad press. She is not a devourer like Kali or a Vampire/Succubus like Lilith. Her lessons are sometimes hard and punctuated with Her scourge (She doesn't suffer Fools gladly) but the knowledge that She imparts enables us to avoid the real dangers and pitfalls to complete the transformation of the soul's journey. Her sacred knife symbolizes the Will and as such it represents our choice. The ability to choose is a blade which divides this from that, and so propels the mechanism of evolution: the Wheel of Hecate.
Mysterious and enigmatic as She appears, when we understand Her true nature, Hecate can teach us the secret name that is whispered at birth beyond the hidden gates.
Hecate stands approximately 9 1/2 inches tall; she is crafted of cold cast resin and meticulously handpainted. The details of the symbology are extraordinary!