Hecate : Necromantic Maiden

The goddess at the crossroads, the queen of ghosts, necromantic maiden, Hekate is perhaps the most widely acknowledge goddess in modern pagan witchcraft, but perhaps also the most misunderstood. She is a mistress of the dark moon, black magic, sorcery, and queen of witches, and these are the guises most often presented. But she also presides over the land, unfruitful sea and sky, is a goddess of liminality and childbirth, a torch-bearing light in the darkness and cosmic World Soul. Hekate wanders through Classical Greece, Rome and Ptolemaic Egypt though her origins are likely Anatolian and far older than Hesiod’s Theogony where Hekate first appears in poetry.

In myth Hekate is most often a daughter of the Titans Perses (Destroyer) and Asteria (Starry One), though in other mythology she is mentioned as the child of Gaia and Ouranos, Zeus and Asteria, Zeus and Hera or Nyx. She is usually referred to as a virgin goddess, tying her in with Artemis again, but sometimes as the mother of Kirke and Medea, although these daughters of Hekate may be more in their nature as sorceresses than as literal children.

Hekate is a Titan goddess but according to Hesiod was given a portion of the sky, earth and unfruitful sea by Zeus as thanks for allying herself with him during the overthrow of the Titans. She is also an Underworld goddess and aided Demeter in her search for Persephone. When Persephone was made Queen of the Underworld, Hekate remained as Persephone’s friend and companion. Because of this Hekate is tied in with the Eleusinian Mysteries and was praised during the Thesmophoria festival.

Underworld Goddess
Like the Khthonic Hermes, Hekate is a guide for the souls of the dead. In the Argonautica she is known as a night-wanderer and queen of the dead. The Orphic Hymn to Hekate calls her a “saffron-cloaked tomb spirit, celebrating the Bacchic Mysteries amongst the souls of the dead.” Virgil’s Aeneid gives an account of how the Cumaean Sibyl makes several sacrifices to Hekate to open a passageway to the Underworld for Aeneas. Hekate’s arrival is heralded by the quaking earth and baying of dogs.

Hekate is most often mentioned as being connected to witchcraft through the sorceresses Medea and Kirke. In the Argonautica, an epic poem from the Hellenistic Period which tells the tale of Jason and the Argonauts and their journey to recover the Golden Fleece, Jason employs the aid of the witch Medea to help him recover the fleece. Medea is a devotee of Hekate and makes sacrifices to the goddess in return for her help in her spells.

However Greek historian Diodoros Sikeliotes wrote that Hekate was mortal granddaughter of Helios and the literal mother of Medea and Kirke by her uncle Aeetes. He writes that she excelled in magical herbalism and taught her daughters the art of sorcery. According to Diodoros, Kirke was particularly skilled and surpassed her mother in sorcerous arts and cruelty, killing her husband with drugs and taking his throne. She is later ousted by her people and flees to Pontus.

Hekate is also associated with sorcery in the PGM where she is often equated with Artemis, Persephone and Selene. The PGM IV 2785-2870, entitled ‘Prayer to Selene for Any Operation’, clearly is a petition to Hekate, with Selene described as ‘three-faced’, ‘child of Zeus’ and the ‘Nocturnal One of the Underworld, Shadowy One of Hades, Still One who frightens, having a feast among the graves’.

Symbols and Associations
The New Moon, The Underworld, The Unfruitful Sea, The Heavens, The Eleusinian Mysteries, Childbirth, Torches, Crossroads, Keys, Saffron, Yew, Cypress, Leeks, Garlic, Poisonous Herbs, Black Bitch Dogs, Sorcery, Witchcraft, Necromancy, Ghosts, Graveyards

Petitioning Hekate
Lovely Hekate of the roads and crossroads I invoke;
In heaven, on earth, and in the sea, saffron-cloaked,
Tomb spirit, celebrating the Bacchic Mysteries amongst the souls of the dead,
Daughter of Perses, haunting deserted places, delighting in deer,
Nocturnal One, Lady of the Dogs, Invincible Queen,
She of the Cry of the Beasts, Ungirt One, having an irresistible form.
Bullherder, Keeper of the Keys of the Whole Universe,
Leader, nymph, mountain-roaming nurturer of youths, maiden,
I beseech you to come to these holy rites,
Ever with joyous heart and ever favouring the oxherd.

-Orphic Hymn to Hekate, translation by Apostolos N. Athanassakis

O night, faithful friend of mysteries; and you, golden stars and moon, who follow the fiery star of day; and you, Hekate, goddess with threefold head, you know my designs and come to strengthen my spells and magic arts.
-Medea’s prayer to Hekate, Ovid, Metamorphoses

Despite her fearsome reputation, Hekate is not indifferent to our petitions, if the right offerings and prayers are made. Classical offerings to Hekate include garlic, leeks, onions, house sweepings, milk, wine and of course animal sacrifice. Offerings to khthonic deities were usually of black animals. The throat of the animal was cut and a pit or furrow was dug to channel the blood away and into the earth. The entire sacrifice was then burnt in a ritual holocaust and the meat was not shared with the worshipers.

Suitable offerings to Hekate may include any of the Classical offerings but also poisonous and necromantic herbs, saffron, frankincense, eggs and, in place of an entire animal sacrifice, cuts of meat or animal blood. Hymns and prayers are also excellent offerings to the goddess and should be carefully read out loud.

Another Classical offering for Hekate is the deipnon. This is a supper held for the goddess on the last day of the lunar month and was practiced in antiquity. Traditionally a meal of garlic, eggs, leeks, cheese, fish, bread and cake was taken to a triform crossroads and left for Hekate. The meal is not shared and the person leaving the meal at the crossroads must walk away without looking behind them. Leaving a deipnon at any liminal location (at a boundary, in a doorway or arch, etc) is a suitable substitute if a triform crossroads cannot be found.

Other offerings include the oxuthumia and the katharmata which are household purifications and tie in with Hekate as a goddess who protected the household from baneful spirits.

[ Source : Toadbone ]

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