Hecate, Greek goddess of the three paths, guardian of the household, protector of everything newly born, and the goddess of witchcraft — once a widely revered and influential goddess, the reputation of Hecate has been tarnished over the centuries. In current times, she is usually depicted as a “hag” or old witch stirring the cauldron.
But nothing could be further from the image of Hecate’s original glory.
A beautiful and powerful goddess in her own right, the Greek goddess Hecate was the only one of the ancient Titans who Zeus allowed to retain their authority once the Olympians seized control. Zeus shared with Hecate, and only her, the awesome power of giving humanity anything she wished (or withholding it if she pleased).
Usually classified as a “moon goddess”, her kingdoms were actually three-fold … the earth, sea, and sky. Having the power to create or withhold storms undoubtedly played a role in making her the goddess who was the protector of shepherds and sailors.
A lover of solitude, the Greek goddess Hecate was, like her cousin Artemis, a “virgin” goddess, unwilling to sacrifice her independent nature for the sake of marriage. Walking the roads at night or visiting cemeteries during the dark phase of the moon, the goddess Hecate was described as shining or luminous.
In other legends she is invisible, perhaps only glimpsed as a light, a “will-o-the-wisp”. Perhaps it was this luminous quality that marked Hecate as a “moon goddess”, for she seemed quite at home on the earth.
Some scholars believe it is also was because her mother was Asteria (the Titan goddess of the Shining Light or “Star”) or perhaps it was because she sensibly always carried a torch on her journeys.
Like Artemis, Hecate was usually depicted with her sacred dogs, although Hecate and even her animals, were sometimes said to have three heads and that they could see in all directions. Although usually depicted as a beautiful woman having three human heads, some images are fearsome indeed (one with a snake’s head, one with a horse’s, and the third a boar’s head).
This farsightedness, the ability to see in several directions at once (even the past, present, and future) featured largely in her most famous myth, the abduction of Persephone. For it was the goddess Hecate who “saw” and told the frantic Demeter what had become of her daughter.
The goddess Hecate continued to play an important role in the life of Persephone, becoming her confidante when she was in the Underworld. Hades, thankful for their friendship, was more than hospitable, honoring Hecate as a prominent and permanent guest in the spirit world. Surely this had the effect of enhancing her reputation as a spirit of black magic with the power to conjure up dreams, prophecies, and phantoms.
Hecate’s ability to see into the Underworld, the “otherworld” of the sleeping and the dead, made her comfortable and tolerant in the company of those most would shun out of fear or misunderstanding.
In her role as ‘Queen of the Night’, sometimes traveling with a following of “ghosts” and other social outcasts, she was both honored and feared as the protector of the oppressed and of those who lived “on the edge”. In Rome many of the priests in her sacred groves were former slaves who had been released to work in her service.
The goddess Hecate was often accompanied on her travels by an owl, a symbol of wisdom. Not really known as a goddess of wisdom, per se, Hecate is nevertheless recognized for a special type of knowledge and is considered to be the goddess of trivia.
Hecate’s farsightedness and attention to detail, combined with her extraordinary interest in that which most of us discount as irrelevant or arcane, gave her tremendous powers.
She knew what the rest of us did not.