Hecate, Goddess Of The Witches
Over time, Hecate became the queen of magical-infernal associations, and is now one of the most powerful and enchanting symbols of neo-pagan culture.
Perhaps the pentagram is the only symbol that is more ubiquitous than Hecate, the triple goddess, in neo-pagan culture. Her magical and dark qualities are little less than captivating. But she is one of those deities who caused numerous conflicting stories among the ancients. In modern imagination she is the goddess of ghosts and witches, the queen of the dead, and is associated with sacred crossroads, portals, dogs, the moon and witchcraft. Remember that in Shakespeare’s Macbeth she appears as the authority of the three witches and demands an answer as to why she had been excluded from their sessions with Macbeth. But before being that she was a trinity (of the sky, the sea and the earth), whose power arguably exceeded that of Zeus (cfr. Theogony, Hesiod).
It seams Sophocles was the first who spoke of Hecate as a psychopomp and said she “inhabited the sacred intersections.” From that point on, as if the goddess were a magnet for dark alliances, she began to be synonymous with all types of magical-infernal characteristics. After all, if she had more power than Zeus and simultaneously inhabited three kingdoms, anything that was associated to her would instantly acquire extraordinary power. By the 3rd Century, Theocritus and Apollonius of Rhodes already relate her to malignant witchcraft, and she is often invoked in stories of the infamous Medea. But Apollonius wrote the first chilling account of the goddess’ epiphany:
And when he had called on her he drew back … the dreaded goddess, from the uttermost depths came to the sacrifice of Aeson’s son, and round her horrible serpents twined themselves among the oak boughs, and there was a gleam of countless torches, and sharply howled around her the hounds of hell. All the meadows trembled at her step, and the nymphs that haunt the marsh and the river shrieked.
This connection with the world of the dead was established with even greater force when Virgil wrote The Aeneid. In book 6 he describes the hero’s visit to the underworld, where he is warned of the many tortures inflicted on the immortal souls of the immoral and godless, all while under the vigilant eye of Hecate.
Accordingly, every mind-bending description of Hecate that was published made numerous artists salivate, who couldn’t help but represent her, great and terrible, along with all her pagan symbols. This is perhaps similar to what happened in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” in which Satan was represented in painting much more often than God himself, as descriptions about darkness were infinitely more seductive than those on angels and light.
Nowadays, Hecate is also the moon. The Triple Goddess: sky, earth, infernal spirits; birth, maturity and death. She is called Lucina, Diana or Proserpina. But most importantly, she is the goddess of the witches who inhabit the crossroads, and she is depicted alongside torches, dogs from hell, and “makes the mountains tremble” at her step. Hecate is made of literature, and in the modern neo-pagan imagination, all the creatures of darkness stand under her triple shadow.
1. William Blake, Hecate/Night of Enitharmon’s Joy, from Tate Art Gallery, London
2. Heracles, Cerberus & Hecate, Greek vase, ca 330 – 310 BC
3. Cartari, Imagini colla sposizione degli dei degli antichi
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