The Herbs & Hounds of Hecate
Published by Lindsey Souza on October 1, 2021
Necromancer, witch, keeper of keys, protector of crossroads and borders, sorceress… these are just a handful of names given to the Greek goddess Hecate. But Hecate is not entirely Greek; she likely originated from Anatolia in modern day Turkey. There she was the protector of entrances. Her two torches on either side of a passage way kept evil at bay, illuminating whoever sought entry. She was a welcome sight for weary travelers, and those who crossed under her light would give thanks. Hecate became so prominent that she even had her own temple at the gates of Constantinople.
Some of her epithets included:
- Chthonian (Earth/Underworld goddess)
- Enodia (Goddess of the paths)
- Antania (Enemy of mankind)
- Artemis of the crossroads
- Phosphoros (the light-bringer)
- Soteira (“Savior”)
- Trioditis (Gr.)
- Trivia (Latin: Goddess of Three Roads)
- Klêidouchos (Keeper of the Keys)
- Tricephalus or Triceps (The Three-Headed)
In Anatolia, she kept more than just doorways safe. She was also a mediator between the upper and lower gods and held the power of opening the underworld. A Hurro-Hittite Purification Ritual for the Former Gods calls upon the Sun-goddess of the Earth (Hecate) to open up the gates of the underworld and send up the Former Gods in order to free a household of sins, curses, forsworn oaths, strife, and bloodshed. The requisite offering was a meal of blood, bread, and other foodstuffs (Bachvarova). This, and other Hittite incantations involving Hecate, likely contributed to the Greek believing she held mystical powers over the underworld, necromancy, borders and crossings. In fact, her name in Greek means “worker from afar.”
The Greeks also identified Hecate as a pharmakis, which is often mistranslated as sorcerer but more accurately means herbalist. The plants commonly associated with Hecate were: aconite (wolf’s bane), belladonna (deadly nightshade), dittany, and mandrake… all deadly plants. Among her pupils were the enchantress Circe and Medea who used spells of protection in order to handle the deadly plants required to make potions and other herbal preparations. It says in The Aeneid, book VI:
Then the earth began to dance, and howling dogs in glimmering light advance, ere Hecate came.
The black dog is closely linked to Hecate. This stems from a myth regarding Hecuba, queen of Troy. The distraught queen leapt to her death after her city fell. Hecate took pity upon Hecuba and revived her as a black dog to be her companion. As such, Hecate is thought to be preceded by dogs and their baying is said to herald her approach. Because of her associations with black dogs, they were a common sacrifice used to invoke Hecate’s protection.
How do our associations affect our perceptions? How do we find ways to fill gaps and niches in our lives?
Public Domain Gallery
Atsma, A. J. (n.d.). HEKATE. Retrieved from https://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Hekate.html
Bachvarova, M. (2010, May 14). Hecate: An Anatolian Sun-Goddess of the Underworld [Abstract]. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1608145
Cartwright, M. (2021, May 30). Hecate. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/Hecate/
Greenberg, M. (2021, April 26). Hecate Greek Goddess of Witchcraft : The Complete Guide. Retrieved from https://mythologysource.com/hecate-greek-goddess/
About the Author
Lindsey Souza is both a folklorist and writer of New Wave Fabulism. She is a member of the American Folklore Society and holds her MFA in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. She currently lives in Wiesbaden, Germany