Hecate's Night: November 16

Some gods come into sharper focus the more you learn about them, while others become ever more mysterious and beguiling. Hecate, the patron goddess of witches, is among the latter, at any rate for me.

Hecate, also spelled Hekate, is a complicated woman associated with light and darkness, crossroads, and communicating with the dead. She is smart and powerful!

I will explore both who this goddess was to the ancient Greeks, and how she is celebrated today. Keep reading!

 

Who is Hecate?

 Is she an old crone or a radiant youth?

 

Is she a virgin or, as a different tradition holds, the mother of the famous witches Circe and Medea?

 

Is she a protector of our homes, or does she roam crossroads and graveyards like a bloodthirsty ghost?

 

The simplest—and most difficult—answer to such questions is both. For good reason, then, the pagan scholars of old interpreted her name as Hekatera, meaning “Both” in Greek.

Three realms

 Greek mythology provides conflicting answers to the question of Hecate's origins, but the most common answer is that she is the daughter of an obscure Titan called Perses, “the Destroyer.”

 It wasn't by birthright but because Zeus paid special honor to her that she became a co-ruler of the three realms: the sky along with Zeus, the sea with Poseidon, and the earth and underworld with Hades.

 Since her power extends to all things, it's always good to invoke her, no matter who else you pray to and what you are praying for. For me, this usually means nothing more than adding “... and Hecate!” somewhere in my invocation.

 

Three goddesses

 Hecate's threefold rulership is often symbolized by portraying her as a goddess with three bodies—or in other words, as three goddesses.

 As the moon goddess Selene, with the power of birth, she rules above the earth.

 On the earth, she is Artemis, who preserves life.

 Below the earth, she holds sway as Persephone, the bride of Hades, and controls death.

 

All three goddesses are aspects of the one Hecate, and she not only has these three powers but a hundred (Hekaton in Greek), according to my favorite Roman antiquarian Servius.

Triple Hecate in Louvre Museum, France. Photo by Christelle Molinié.

Triple Hecate in Louvre Museum, France. Photo by Christelle Molinié.

 

Ghosts and Specters

 Of her three main aspects, Hecate is most strongly associated with the underworld, and also with its denizens.

 Demons and ghosts are therefore often called “the dogs of Hecate,” in analogy to earthly dogs, which are sacred to her. She can send her “dogs” against people who offend her and call them off if those in danger invoke her.

 The ghosts she sends show themselves as shifting apparitions that seem to be made of mist, and which dissolve into shadows only to reappear in a different shape the next moment. Some think that such apparitions aren't just sent by Hecate, but manifestations of the goddess herself.

Hecate's Night

Although she has been historically celebrated at various times, in modern Western culture, Hecate is naturally associated with the time around Halloween. We also connect her to the season of fall in general, which is analogous to the waning moon.

Read our article on Nature’s Cycles to learn more about the moon.

 

It's in fall that devotees of Hecate today observe Hecate's Night or Hecate's Festival, which can take on features of Halloween as well as of the monthly Athenian observance of Deipnon in classical Greece.

 At the ancient Deipnon festival, a meal (Greek deipnon) would be offered to the goddess. Because these offerings were supposedly often removed and eaten by the poor, some Hellenic Polytheists now take the Deipnon as an occasion to give to the homeless instead of making a food offering in the strict sense. That's something you might also consider.

 

How to Celebrate

 

As the name “Hecate's Night” suggests, celebrations for this festival take place after sunset (remember that Hecate is the “enemy of daylight, but friend and companion of the night”)

 

Indoors

 

When celebrating indoors, you can make the offering at your household altar. Set out a plate with foods like eggs, garlic, onions, or pastry, and leave it until the next day.

 

For the invocation, use either of the hymns below or a self-written prayer. Regardless of the length, repeating the invocation (even it's just Hecate's name) three times will render it especially efficacious.

 

Outdoors

 

If you can celebrate outdoors, especially in a group, the offering is placed at a crossroads or, ideally, a fork in the road (i.e., a three-way split in the path). Use your judgment as to what kinds of offers can decompose without annoyance or risk to humans and other animals.

 

The way to the crossroads should be a torch-led procession, and in addition to communal prayers directed to Hecate herself, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter may be read in full or abbreviated form, so that all three aspects of the Triple Goddess are honored simultaneously.



O great goddess of the woods and groves, bright orb of heaven, glory of the night, by whose changing beams the universe shines clear, O three-formed Hecate, lo, thou art at hand, favouring our undertaking.
— Seneca, Phaedra 406 ff : https://www.theoi.com

Sacred Plants

Are you a Kitchen Witch or interested in herbal remedies? Then Hecate is the goddess for you!

Hecate is associated with plant knowledge, herbal medicine, as well as poisons from plants. She is sometimes depicted with oak branches in her hair and the yew was said to be sacred to her.

Several herbs are associated with Hecate. Aconite is referred to as hecateis, and is also known as wolfs-bane is a poisonous plant. Historically aconite has been placed on the tips of arrows to kill prey and humans in war.

Belladonna is in the nightshade family just like tomatoes and eggplants. The berries are extremely toxic and cause hallucinations. Folklore says that witches have used belladonna to anoint their brooms so that they could fly.

Dittany is another very witchy herb associated with Hecate. Used frequently in love spells it’s felt to be an aphrodisiac. It is also reputed to heal wounds and is the herb Hermine gave Ron when he was splinched.

Orphic Hymn to Hekate (translated and sung by Melissaofthebees - see video below)

I call Hekáte of the roadside, lovely god where three roads meet.

In sky, on earth, and in the ocean, yellow gown upon her form.

At tombs she celebrates the Bacchic rites with souls of those long dead.

Daughter of the Titan Persēs, fond of solitude and deer.

By night, protectress of the dogs, she is a most enchanting queen.

Barking dogs announce her passing. She's unbound and fair of face.

On her head the bull-horn headdress, lady, priestess of the world.

Ruler, damsel, and our nursemaid, wandering the mountainsides.

With her worshippers, she's present, maiden at the holy rites.

Always gracious when one worships with a god-like bull-horned zeal!

Refrain: I call Hekáte of the roadside, lovely god where three roads meet

 You can also listen to the Ancient Greek version.

 

The Wiccan View

 

The Triple Goddess

 

Of course, beliefs aren't static, and modern pagans have developed an understanding of Hecate that is in some ways different and even contrary to the ancient tradition.

 

She is still particularly associated with death, but not only because she has power over it, but also as a representation of the stage of life that is closest to death. In Wicca, Hecate is often referred to in her third and final aspect, the Crone or older woman.

 She is seen as the moon in its waning phase, while the Maiden is her waxing phase and the Mother the full moon.

An altar for Hecate. Photo by Sosanna.

An altar for Hecate. Photo by Sosanna.

 

Persephone

 

This Wiccan interpretation is based particularly on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in which the goddesses Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate (identified as Maiden, Mother, and Crone respectively by modern pagans) play key roles.

 

In the story the hymn tells, Demeter's daughter Persephone is abducted by Hades. The mother soon realizes that her daughter has been taken away, but doesn't know why or by whom.

Hecate, who hears Demeter's cry of despair, joins her and becomes an important ally. She assists in the search, carrying a torch, and helps her find out that Persephone has been taken to the underworld.

 

When, at long last, mother and daughter reunite—but only for a moment, as Demeter must return to earth and Persephone stay below—Hecate becomes Persephone's companion and helper.

Here, Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate can be interpreted as representative of the social roles of daughter, mother, and (loosely) grandmother, which women often take on over the course of their lives, either freely or through coercion from male authorities like Hades.

 

The Ancient and the Modern

 

Although the triad Persephone–Demeter–Hecate as triple goddess is a modern innovation, it has its own validity and is also true to some of the more positive aspects of the ancient view of Hecate.

 

Namely, Hecate is understood as a feminine guardian of the household and its entrance against intruders, and as a psychopomp, a deity that safely guides souls from the world of the living to the realm of the dead.

 

In both respects, as well as in her role as universal ruler, she can be described as “the one who holds the key” to all doors.


Author, Erik Olson, studied Anthropology in college. Erik desires to be a Viking when he grows up and has worked in Outdoor Adventure leading hiking and rafting trips. A solitary Wiccan, Erik writes about Wicca, Norse religion, and making alters.