Sunday, September 17, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions About Hekate

The following list was made by people from various traditions who made a joint effort in gathering information to show both the Reconstructionist and the Neo-Pagan perspectives.

Who is Hekate?

If forced to write an entry for Who's Who in Classical Mythology, I would say that Hekate is a Greek goddess of transitions and liminality. (A liminal space is a border of some kind, such as a threshold or a crossroads.) The most obvious examples would be birth, marriage, and death, but taken further her area of influence would also include the boundaries between nature and culture, sleep and waking, sanity and insanity, the concious and subconcious mind. Of course, there's much more to Hekate than that. Read on...

But, isn't she a moon goddess?

Not quite. The Greek moon goddess is Selene, who travels through the skies at night, just like Helios does during the day. Hekate got her lunar associations through identification with the Thracian Bendis, and conflation (the combining or blending of two separate things into one) with Artemis. I have seen people claim that her association with the moon stems from the fact the proper day to leave offerings for her was decided based on the moon phase. If that were the case, every Greek deity would be a moon deity, since the Athenian calendar was a lunar one.

Who were Hekate's parents?

That depends on who you ask. According to Hesiod's Theogony they were two Titans called Perses and Asteria. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter she's the daughter of Persaios (possibly an alternate spelling of Perses). The Eumolpia by Mousaios tells us that Hekate's parents are Zeus and Asteria. Pherekydes claims that she is the daughter of Aristaios, son of Paion. Bacchylides says that her mother is Nyx. If you were to turn to the Orphic tradition you would learn that Hekate is in fact the daughter of Demeter. Kallimachos would agree, adding that Zeus is her father.

Did she have children?

There are varying accounts of Hekate bearing Skylla (some scholars believe this is the Skylla from Homer).

The Christian writer Arnobius, in Against the Heathen said that the heathens say that Janus was "sprung from Coelus and Hecate".

How do I pronounce her name?

There's a number of different modern pronounciations, all of which are identifiable (i. e. people will understand who you are talking about.) But going back to the Greek (which itself has different folks arguing over pronounciation, depending on the dialect, and the spelling and pronounciation of the words themselves changes according to their placement/purpose in a sentence)....


'Ε - like the e in etch, but with a soft breath h sound, not a hard h
κ - hard c, like in cat
α- soft a, like ah
τ - like in tardy
η - like the e in error or the a in ace

Greek vowels have a 'quality' of being short or long, which refers to (in Classical pronounciation) how long the vowel is held for. Epsilon is always short, alpha can be either short or long.

In Greek words, the accent falls on one of the last three syllables; in the Greek spelling of Hekate, the accent mark (which I can't do on this computer) falls on the central alpha.

So, roughly, Hekate is heah-KAH-tae. Mostly. //CGJulian

What are Hekate's epithets?

Antania, Despoina, Enodia, Kleidouchos, Kleidophoros, Khthonia, Krataiis, Kurothrophos, Monogenes, Perseis, Phosphoros, Propylaia, Soteira, Trevia, Trikephalos and Trimorphos are only a few of them.

Enodia (sometimes Einodia) meaning in or of the roads might originally have been a Thessalian goddess whose functions were absorbed by other deities, most notably Hekate, as the goddess of crossroads, and Hermes Enodios, protector of travellers.

Khthonia means of the Earth, or of the Underworld and was used to describe deities dealing the human sphere - birth, fertility, and death. The masculine form, Kthonios, was applied to Hermes and Zeus.

Krokopeplos, saffron-cloaked, occurs in the Orphic Hymn to Hekate. Saffron was used to dye clothes, but due to its price these golden garments were only available to the rich. The epithet is only used about goddesses, and seems to be associated with feminine qualities. Dionysos is the only god ever to be described as wearing the color, and Herakles does indeed make fun of him for it. (Aristophanes' Frogs.)

Epipurgidia, or Epipyrgidia, meaning Hekate on the Tower, is mentioned by Pausanias. This would refer to a statue of Hekate found on the Acropolis.

"Of the gods, the Aeginetans worship most Hecate, in whose honor every year they celebrate mystic rites which, they say, Orpheus the Thracian established among them. Within the enclosure is a temple; its wooden image is the work of Myron, and it has one face and one body. It was Alcamenes, in my opinion, who first made three images of Hecate attached to one another, a figure called by the Athenians Epipurgidia (on the Tower); it stands beside the temple of the Wingless Victory."

(Pausanias' Description of Greece II.30.2.)

The longest epithet I'm aware of is Khrusosandalaimopotikhthonia - gold-sandalled-blood-drinking-queen-of-the-underworld!

Soteira, the saviour, is Hekate as the world soul to whom the theurgists would turn. It is not possible to adequately describe he functions and ideas associated with the title here (nor do I have the proper understanding of them.) The interested reader will want to consult Iles Johnston's Hekate Soteira and Majerick's translation of the Chaldean Oracles. //Sara

Is Hekate a triple goddess?

Pausanias believed that she was first represented as triple in the Classical period (5th century BCE) by the sculptor Alkamenes. (See quote above.) This did not mean that she was a triple goddess in the modern sense of the phrase though, more than she was in herself triple aspected. This could refer to her realms of earth, sea, and sky; or it could be a way of referring to her role as a goddess of crossroads, meaning that she could see in, and be approached from, any direction.

What are Hekate's Suppers?

The quick and dirty answer is that they are sacrifices made for Hekate and the dead, at the crossroads on the last day (or rather, night) of the month. Offerings would include things like bread, garlic, eggs, and cheese.

For a detailed answer, see Hekate's Suppers by K. F. Smith.

While the offerings were intended for Hekate, they also became a source of food for the poor, as we can see in a play by Aristophanes where Plutus says to Poverty -

"Ask Hecate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month and that the poor make it disappear before it is even served."

This idea has been used by Loreley, in a manner both contemporary and true to tradition.

I do a food offering for Hecate, which doesn't actually go to Hecate. It goes to the poor. Where I live, there's a food drive for local poor families every Friday, right at the entrance of a big grocery store. I buy some dry food items there, and offer them as "Hecate's Supper". The girl scouts always chant "For Hekate" with me when I drop the food into their collection cart.

Porphyry, quoting Theopompus, also mentions the crowning of hekataions and herms on this day.

"But Clearchus answered him, that he diligently sacrificed to them at proper times in every month at the new moon, crowning and adorning the statues of Hermes and Hecate, and the other sacred images which were left to us by our ancestors, and that he also honored the Gods with frankincense, and sacred wafers and cakes."

(Porphyry, On Abstinence.)

What is Hekate's wheel?

Here's my two cents worth, at least in regards to Hekate and magic wheels et al. I've only ever seen any indication of such in the later material, most particularly in magical contexts - for example, there's a an image of Hekate (not a flattering one at all) on a first century curse tablet that has a divided wheel motif also included (among others). Depictions of deities on such tablets was thought to be the empowering action -- the charging of the spell as it were.

Equating the iunx or iynx specifically with Hekate is problematic at best, as is describing it exclusively as a wheel. There are very strong associations of the iunx with erotic magic, weddings and Aphrodite, and sometimes it is described as being bird-shaped (or otherwise figural), rather than a wheel; there is some evidence that literary uses of the term may have been confused or conflated with the rhombus. Some describe binding a iunx bird to a wheel, and some even use the term to describe spells rather than an object or amulet.

For the wheel shaped iunx, one of the best (that is, clearest) images of it in use can be found in a Nereid wedding preparation scene depicted on an Attic red-figure pyxis (4thC BCE, in the British museum, if I recall correctly.) So, all in all, there seems to be as much evidence to connect the iunx with Aphrodite as with Hekate, and it doesn't seem to be exclusively wheel shaped at all, so the whole Hekate's Wheel seems to be a double misnomer, at least in a historical context.

Farone discusses the use of the iunx at length in Ancient Greek Love Magic, Harvard U Press. //CGJulian

For a modern interpretation of the iunx, see The Magick of Jinxing by Steve Moore.

What are Hekate's symbols?

She's often depicted holding torches, keys, scourge, knife, or some combination thereof. Sometimes she's wearing a polos or a single sandal. The interpretations below are part speculation, part somewhat educated guesses.

The keys could be symbols of knowledge, such as keys to the secrets of the Universe. The Orhpic hymn to Hekate addresses her as "holder of the keys of Cosmos". They could also be keys that open the gates to the Underworld, or actual keys to a temple. The keys played some role in Hekate's cult, but we don't know much about it. Strabo tells of a "procession of the key" held each year in Asia Minor (and if the lovely people at The Perseus Project ever get the databases working again I'll provide the passage. If you want to look it up for yourself, it's Strabo's Geography XIV 25).

The scourge she probably borrowed from the Erinyes, underwordly deities who punished mortals who broke oaths or killed members of their own family.



Anonymous said...

I'm happy that you like the FAQ enough to post it to your blog, but I would like you to include the copyright notice too.

"You may put a copy of this FAQ on your web site, as long as you add a link back to, where the most recent version can be found. We ask all who distribute it to keep it intact (including credits and copyright information) and attribute it when quoted or reproduced elsewhere. You may not use the FAQ on a site where people will have to pay to access it, nor on a pornographic site or a hate site."

Alkman said...


Thank you for the informative article.