Amsterdam International Electronic Journal for Cultural Narratology (AJCN)

J. Rabinowitz

Amsterdam International Electronic Journal for Cultural Narratology (AJCN)

Jacob Rabinowitz



The Loci of the Hecate-myth’s main narrative. Religion, Language, Geography.

We can begin our discussion** of the ancient witch as literary myth with examining in depth the figure of Greek ‘nocturnal’ Goddess Hecate as it existed in the various literary and archaeological narratives and physical artifacts.

It will be shown that the witch myth, which begins in the 5th century, has relatively little to do with Hekate-worship as civil, mystery or household religion. It only preserves, in distorted form, certain striking traits of Hekate and her cultus.

Though the clear features of the Ur-Hekate are lost in the “dark backward abysm” of archaeology, such information as can be gleaned from her genealogy, geography, and relation to the prehistoric culture of Asia Minor as well as her links with Crete, Eleusis and Phrygio-Hittite Anatolia, all help to place Hekate in the tradition of the Near East's agricultural great goddesses, and will justify our using these latter to enhance our fragmentary image of Hekate.

Further, the shape of the hekataion, as well as other features of her depiction, will provide essential clues to her history, attributes and cultus.

As regards Hekate's antiquity, geography, etymology and genealogy, and role in esoteric religion, I have merely brought, albeit for the first time, into one convenient account, the researches of previous scholars. The placement of her depiction, as sacred pole, in its context of Near Eastern fertility fetishes is however entirely new.

By Hesiod's genealogy and explicit statement (Theog. 424-425) Hekate is a contemporary of the Titans, and has held such powers as are hers from the beginning (ap arches (1). I am inclined to take this statement almost literally, as I believe Hekate had, in Asia Minor, a real continuity with Neolithic, and perhaps even Paleolithic goddess worship. The pre-Olympian and even pre -Titanic wilderness, the bizarre eld which attaches to Hekate, to which Hesiod here alludes is due as much to her autochthonic as her chthonic spirit. Anatolia in Asia Minor, the very area that was home(2) to Hekate, saw the most impressively developed of the Near-Eastern Neolithic cultures, for which (by definition) the worship of a goddess or goddesses closely associated with the agricultural cycle played a most central role, and, what is most suggestive, a culture of demonstrable continuity with Paleolithic religious and artistic patterns. I shall here briefly survey these periods to refresh the reader's memory as to the historical setting. By 40,000 BP, in the upper Paleolithic, we find the “Venus” figures of which Willendorf furnishes the best known example -- stylized female forms with big fat attributes. The radical conventionalization of these figures, in a context of contemporary naturalistic painting and sculpture, suggests that a deliberately symbolic quality was sought -- the abstract quality of fertility which the images fairly proclaim.

Though too much can be made of the goddess worship, these figures imply (they occur in a much larger context of animal images and unexplained abstract symbols) they attest that fertility in land and animal, symbolized by a generous female form and regarded as numinous, was a concept dawning by 40,000 BP(3)

In the Neolithic (8,000-3,000 BC), with the wide adoption of settled agricultural life, when fertility religion came to replace the hunting-centered and shamanic religion of the Paleolithic with shrines, priests and seasonal repeating festivals, these goddesses occupied center stage in human religious conceptions -- though in a context of stylized bulls, bucrania and phalloi which conservative opinion regards as representing the “male principle”, as well as animal and abstract imagery already known from the Paleolithic(4) In the Near East, Neolithic culture developed sophisticated urban societies in Iraq, Israel and Anatolia -- the last of these being the site where the Near Eastern Neolithic reached its highest development, as the excavation of Catal Huyuk demonstrates.

This site, c. 30 miles southeast of Konya (ancient Iconum) in Turkey and c. 200 miles from Hekate's great temple at Lagina, has provided spectacular finds sophisticated metalwork and ceramic articles bespeaking developed trade, and a sacred art which provides a “missing link” between the naturalistic Paleolithic and the more symbolically and geometrically inclined Neolithic(5) There is no way of telling whether Hekate was introduced late into Anatolia, or was indigenous. Nor is there any reason for preferring one theory to the other since some connection -- by direct descent or syncretism -- between Hekate and her goddess predecessors in Anatolia is to be presumed. Mother-goddess figures retain their prominence in Asia Minor's archaeology from every period, and indeed their distinctive form, seated and lion-flanked. That the oldest Greek image of Hekate, an archaic seated figure, seems to mirror the throned ‘Great Mother’ from Catal Huyuk, is a delight but not a surprise(6)

Even if one of the peoples who overran Anatolia in the post-Neolithic period simply cooped ancient shrines and iconographies for Hekate as a newly introduced deity, certain features of the most ancient goddess worship and without doubt the glamour of the primordium still attached to the locations and were transferred to their latest tenants. We can think of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who occupies the site and retains many of the physical features and abilities of the Aztec goddess Tonantsi she replaced. Some link with the most distant past in Anatolia, either inherited or acquired, will then exist for Hekate. Entering the light of History and the darkness of the Bronze Age we find the Indo-European Hittites migrating into Asia Minor through the 3rd millennium. The Hittite empire was more a federation held together by a ruling city-state than a unified nation, and adopted the gods of allies and dependencies as a means of consolidating political power. Accordingly they federated native Anatolian gods with their own, as they did those of the Hurrians whose influence they felt somewhat later. We know, for example, that the Hittite pantheon featured prominently a Hurrian weather-god, Teshub, and his consort Hepat (7) (There is not enough evidence to see in Hepat the proto-Hekate, and the consonantal changes involved are linguistically improbable).

Another feature of Hittite culture that will concern us is its connection with the Sumero-Akkadian culture (e.g. copies of the Gilgamesh Epic circulated in Anatolia of this period.) This will help justify parallels between Hekate and the Sumerian Inanna, direct influence being possible.> The Phrygians, who appear in Asia Minor -- from where is uncertain -- c. 1200 BC, establish their kingdom there by c. 800 BC, which is the limit of the time-frame that concerns us. What is known of their religion is so from such of their cults as were exported, such as Sabazius (Dionysus) and Cybele, whose ecstatic character seems echoed in the witch-religion(8)

This is the historical ambiance in which Hekate either grew or into which she was introduced. A possible scenario is suggested by the career of Kubaba, originally a local goddess of Carchemish, who attained central religious status as goddess of the Neo-Hittite kingdom (who looked to Carchemish (9) as their metropolis.) Through the Phrygians, this Kubaba is transferred to Rome as Cybele or Cybebe(10) Henri Graillot (11) traces the development of this chthonic great Mother, mistress of mountains and wild beasts, through the Neolithic (though he lacked the word) to historical times. He shows probable Cretan and Sumero-Akkadian influence and continuity, and very clearly describes the role of Cybele as principal deity of the Phrygians and her association with the Thracian Dionysian religion (the Corybants.) Though somewhat hampered by the then less advanced stage of archaeology, his overview is, as far as it goes, quite accurate, and agrees in every detail with my model of the probable prehistory for Hekate.

Finally, we must bear in mind that Hesiod, who introduces Hekate into Greek literature, shows the influence of Hittite mythology (the myth of An and Kumarabi which he recapitulates in the Ouranos/Kronos myth, as has already been established by Guterbock).

The weight of circumstantial evidence then from geography, religious tradition in the region and continuity through to historical times, the parallel and attested career of Cybele, and Hesiod's known association with Hittite myth – all suggest that Hekate, like the other great goddesses of Asia Minor, Cybele and Diana of Ephesus, who share many traits, iconographic features, and epithets, may plausibly be taken as Phrygio-Hittite syncretic goddesses with real linkages to the tradition of Paleolithic and Neolithic goddess worship in that region.

The purpose of our treatise is to describe the origin and morphology of the witch as she appears in late classical literature. Hekate is, as shall be shown, parallel to and almost accidentally involved in the phenomenon, whose main lines of development may only be seen in the succession of witch figures from Circe to Erictho. Accordingly, we will trace only the mainstream of Hekate's development, as it appears in art and literature. It would constitute a diversion from our purpose to examine in any depth Hekate's ancillary role in Eleusis, Orphism, etc.

Further, such a diversion would produce little. Hekate herself is known to us as a developing succession of rather vague fertility goddess associations and images --we have no myth for her, and can at most describe how her attributes and contexts fit into the broad outline of her being. Greek fringe religion is likewise known only in fragment and overall character. To draw on the two hypotheses to surmise their precise relation would produce a speculation less tenable than its constituents. Finally, and most importantly, the literary Hekate is drawn on by the esoteric writers, not the other way round. This will become clear from the material in Appendix One, a brief survey of the esoteric Hekate record, with some quotation.


As to Hekate's native land and point of origin, the evidence in its entirety, that is coins, statues and reliefs, dedications, theophoric names and literary record, places her in Carian Asia Minor (Southeastern Turkey,) with an important sanctuary at Lagina(12) In Caria, Hecate enjoyed much of the dignity and political importance accorded her by Hesiod. She was protectress of Stratonicea, together with Zeus Panamaros, and enjoyed cult-unions with various other deities, including Gaia(13) Her other eastern cults included orgiastic mysteries on Aegina and Samothrace(14) Even into the postclassical period her influence seems to have spread only westward from Asia Minor, affecting some of the Aegean islands en route. Evidence from the Peloponessus is almost entirely lacking. Her popularity, which was concentrated in Attica and Boeotia (15) is attested by the seventh century in Hesiod's Theogony and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

This westward course through Asia Minor is one through which Near Eastern ideas and manufactures had been flowing into Europe since the Neolithic(16) which adequately accounts for the geographic course taken by Hekate-worship.

The Creeks, who never formed a precise concept of the “witch” – pharmakis, herbalist, was their nearest approach to the concept -- likewise never imagined a witch homeland. We shall examine in part two of this treatise the precise nature of the Greek proto-witches: here it will suffice to consider their geography. Circe inhabits a mythic island, Medea is from Colchis, on the Black Sea, and Theokritos' Simaitha obtains the poisons she will employ if all else fails, from "an Assyrian" (THEOK. Id. 2: 162.) Nothing can be inferred from this, not even that witches are all foreign -- there is nothing in Euripides' Medea to suggest her being a barbarian is of a piece with her occult powers, (the Sophocles Rhizotomoi fragments give nothing on this point either,) and Simaitha mentions obtaining occult advice from old women earlier in the poem (THEOK. Id. 2: 91) without saying anything about their nationality.

Here the Greek dossier on witch-geography ends.

For the Romans the case is entirely different. They inherited from the Alexandrian poets the nearly realized witch-figures, and these are localized by Horace among the rustic Latin peoples, the marginalized, isolate mountain-folk (17) who remained unimproved by Roman prosperity and preoccupations --the hillbillies of the Apennines: the Marsi, the Sabines (whose poverty formed a commonplace of Republican nostalgia),and Peligni: (18)

    ergo negatum vincor ut credam miser,
    Sabella pectus et cremare carmina
    caputque Marsa dissilire nenia.  (Hor. Ep.  XVII: 27-29)
    “And so, ill-fated, I am driven to believe what I once denied: that Sabellian (i.e., Sabine) incantations can set the heart ablaze, and that by Marsian spells the head is rent asunder”.(19)
    “quid proderat ditasse Paelignas anus”. (Hor. Ep. XVII: 60)
    “What use to have enriched Paelignian dames” (i.e., in return for occult knowledge.) (20)
    (cf. also Hor. Ep. 5: 76; 17: 28-29.)

The attribution of magic powers to the poor and marginal is universal. It is somewhat less easy to find in the American north-east where the Native Americans, who would have combined the status of culturally isolated underclass with a radically different religious paradigm, have been almost entirely exterminated or driven out, but we find it in full force in the south where "hoodoo" powers are attributed to old black women. 

A very attenuated version of this type of mythology is to be found in New Jersey in some of the ghost stories told of the “Jackson Whites” or the “Pineys”. The popular press and films frequently find witchlike figures in the Blacks and Hispanics, as practitioners of Voodoo or Santeria (which are simply West African paganism superficially syncretized with Roman Catholicism)(21)Horace, a freedman's son, and never entirely at ease with this minor disability -- he spends an inordinate amount of time explaining how philosophically he takes it -- was, perhaps as a consequence, a keen observer of human behavior -- not least as regards class distinctions. This may be of a piece with his unique placement of witches among backwoods Latins. There seems little reason to ignore his information, as the satirist's stock in trade is accurate sociological observation, and no motive for inventing the attribution suggests itself. But we should not assume anything more than folk-magic was in question, or surely someone else would have developed the conception.

An innovator, Horace was not a trend-setter in this. The great tradition of Latin witch-geography, beginning with Horace1 contemporary Propertius, unanimously traced witching to Thessaly(22) He dubs it Toxica Thessalia. (Prop. 1: 5: 6,) with reference to witches' expertise in poisons and magic herbs, expressing the country's reputation with inimitable concision. Ovid sets Medea's magic in Thessaly, and surveys its geography in describing the places where Medea culls her herbs and simples (Met. 7: 257 ff., cited in full, App. 3.)

Lucan describes Thessaly at great length, showing its baleful and fatal character principally through mythic history, leading up to the Republican defeat there (23) he makes it the home of the supreme witch Erictho. Apuleius’ Thessaly is, as the official homeland of witches, saturated in Magic down to its very paving stones. (L.A. Met. 2: 1.)

Thessaly itself dominated Northern Greece in the 6th Century, after which rivalries of aristocratic houses caused a decline, intensified by social unrest as urbanization reshaped this somewhat backward and feudal region. Siding with Athens against Sparta, it was able to render only slight assistance. Thereafter destructive rivalries of tyrants kept it weak until it fell to Philip of Macedon. Liberated by Rome in 196, it was after 148 absorbed into the Roman province of Macedonia(24) Though we may assume Thessaly was rather a backwater compared to Attica, the Thessalians can scarcely be thought of as an oppressed underclass in Greece. The conclusion one reaches is that the Romans, who had bean administering Thessaly for a century by the time Propertius wrote, may have actually encountered something strange there. It is Philippson's thesis (‘Thessalische Mythologie’) that Thessaly was the center of Neolithic chthonic religion in pre-Greek times, concentrated in the earthgoddess who reigned there, the bride of tauriform Poseidon Gaiochos, then still primarily an earth-god.

Hence the worship of ‘the Goddess’ spread to Greece -- providing the basis for Dos, Demeter, Hera, Hekate etc(25) This is of course a wild overstatement, based on the assumption that similarities in depiction, epithet, etc., all lead back to one source. Philippson does however make the valid point that the Thessalian plain was apparently dominated by chthonic gods who left traces in historical times: Chthonic Hermes, Zeus Meilichios, Chthonic Asclaepius (26) and most significantly Enodia, the Goddess of Pheraia, who was entirely fused with Hekate by the fifth century, and whose name became synonymous with Hekate's supernatural aspect. This we will consider in detail in I: B: 5. For now it must suffice to say that, quite unlike Hekate, Enodia was a profoundly spooky crossroads goddess, and Hekate apparently owes to the goddess of Pherae her eeriness -- as will be shown below.(27) Hekate's origin then is in Asia Minor; a definite ‘land of the witches’ appeared in literature only in the first century A.D., at least 800 years (dating from Hesiod's Hymn) after Hekate's introduction into Greece.

This placement is evidently due to its being a region where chthonic worship survived well into historical time, particularly that of the goddess Enodia. Witch topography is not however solely dependent on Thessaly's exotic goddesses -- it could not have come into being until the full development of the witch figure among the Roman poets, for the Greeks did not imagine existence of what we would call witches, (though they made considerable progress in that direction,) and until witches "exist" there is no need to provide them with a homeland. The development of the witch will occupy the second and third sections of this treatise: satisfactory support of our assertion that the witch in the popular and Halloween sense comes meaningfully into being only in the first century AD will there be found.


The name Hekate suggests a connection with hekatos, the well-known Homeric epithet for Apollo — but the feminine hekato itself is nowhere found in the Homeric corpus. Both ancient and modern etymologists have seized on the root meaning, hekat- “distant”, but have with it arrived at no enlightening conclusions regarding Hekate's original nature (28) for the earliest and only attested point in common with Apollo is the “gate-guardian” function. The identification of Hekate with the Moon is Roman -- too late to be of use in a search for the ur-Hekate(29)

Classical and modern attempts having failed, it seems likeliest that the name “Hekate” meaning is lost in the inaccessible religious history of Asia Minor.


Here we shall consider only the genealogy given by Hesiod. Other traditions date from (at earliest) the fifth century, and have relevance to later developments in the Hekate conception. These will be given and examined as they become pertinent -- here we are in search of the Ur-Hekate.

According to Hesiod, Coeus begat upon Phoibe (meaning ‘the bright one’) Leto, then Asteria ("starry"); on Asteria in turn Perses begat Hekate (Theog. 404-411).(30) Phoibe and Coeus are children of Ouranos and Gaia (Theog. 132-136). There is little to add to this bare genealogy: the lines in the Theogony constitute virtually the entire dossier on all the names save Leto's. Phoibe is not infrequently used as a name for the moon, Artemis and Diana -- but never in an early author. The name of Hekate's mother (who is also Leto's sister), Asteria, is, like Ortygia, an older name for Delos,(31) which would be apt since Asteria is Apollo's aunt. That Hesiod thus makes Hekate the first cousin of Apollo and Artemis, suggests he saw a connection between them. West thinks this reflects an awareness of Hekate's and Apollo's common Asiatic origin, (32) an opinion that gains verisimilitude from their sharing of the “gate-guardian” function.(33) Wilamowitz (34) considered the name -similarity (Hekate/ the Apollo-epithet Hekatos) itself decisive for Hekate's association with Artemis, and Wilamowitz’ intuitions have the merit of almost always being correct. Marquardt (35) reads Hekate's descent from Perses and Asteria, whose parents are the Titans Phoebe and Coeus, as an indication that Hesiod is establishing for Hekate closer affinities with the Titans than with the Olympians, and alluding to an older and pre-Olympian origin for Hekate. Marquardt supports this inference of Hekate's pre-Hesiodic genealogy outside the Olympian family by citing the paradox of the extraordinary honors and independent powers she holds, despite her being sole offspring (36) of a less celebrated branch of that family, a contradiction which could be explained by assuming she was grafted onto the Olympian family tree (hence no siblings) with her original powers intact (hence her special status.)

This reading seems rather plausible, “...especially since the mention of Hekate as an only child frames the recitation of her independent powers and, on both occasions, is accompanied by a statement of the honor which Zeus and the other gods accord her”.(37) Further confirmation of her original and pre-Olympian prerogative is provided by the language used to describe her rights and range: "She holds the gift of honor (geras. 427) on earth, heaven and sea in keeping with the original division (dasmos. 425) of power among the Titans. Hesiod's use of a form of lanchano ("obtain by lot") in this context suggests Hecate's independent participation in an earlier division of power and has a different connotation than the use of meiromai ("have one's share of a thing") in line 414 (emmore). where the verb seems rather to suggest Zeus' own benevolent role in the distribution of time (38) Hesiod is describing Hekate's prerogatives as both "the share she took" (elachen. line 424) and "what she was given" (emmore. line 414) --an ambiguity which is brought out in other ways as well.

The culminating instance of Hekate's powers, her role in birth-fostering and child-nurturing, which we will discuss in detail in I: B: 3, is granted Hekate by Zeus, but she apparently also holds it from the beginning (sc. of time), ex arches. line 452, and so before the reign of Zeus -- another support, as Marquardt points out, (39) for the theory of her pre-Olympian provenance. (40)

We have already shown that Hekate comes to Greece from Asia Minor -- the above is interesting not so much as confirmation of this, but because it shows how her provenance influenced Hesiod's description, particularly his association of her with the Titans, and the explicit contradiction of her only-child status with her exceptional prerogatives. Behind Hesiod's formulation then stands the religious history of Hekate as an extremely powerful adopted child.

Sacred Images and Physical Narratives of Depiction.

The earliest inscriptional evidence for the cult of Hecate is sixth century and occurs on an altar in the temple of Apollo Delphinius at Miletus, where Hecate appeared with Apollo as the protectress of entrances (41). The earliest surviving depiction (42) is a 6th century terra-cotta figure 20 cm. high, a seated female figure, bare of all attributes, only identifiable as Hekate by the inscription. The enthroned pose is one shared by images of Cybele (43) and the other goddesses of Asia Minor as far back as the Neolithic, as the enthroned Mother Goddess from Catal Huyuk shows.(441) Almost all our plastic evidence of Hekate comes from the Hellenistic period in Asia Minor (c. 2nd century BC), which, being Hekate’s homeland, may have retained a purer, more archaic conception of her.

Certainly she preserved there the predominantly non-baleful character -- and the non-triplicate form --recorded by Hesiod, the Hymn to Demeter, and in Pindar's fragment,(45)and her inscribed epithets in Asia Minor are as bland as they are laudatory: “greatest”, and “famous”. (46) Were this not the case, were she not there, like Caesar's wife, "above suspicion," her worship at the Lagina shrine would hardly have been enriched with the veneration of Roma in Sulla's time, or later with the Caesar cultus.(47) The few sure records we have from Asia Minor, a pair of first century BC coins and a frieze from the Lagina temple from about the same period, which show her standing stiffly, holding two torches, or a torch in one hand a libation-bowl in the other, sometimes flanked by lions.(48) The lions, like the throne mentioned above, are a standard Near Eastern ornamental feature accorded female deities. The torches tally with the description in the Hymn to Demeter where torches are carried by both Hekate and Demeter as equipment on the search which extends into the night time hours:

Then for nine days queenly Deo wandered over the earth with flaming torches (daidas) in her hands, so grieved that she never tasted ambrosia and the sweet draught of nectar, nor sprinkled her body with water.
But when the tenth enlightening dawn had come, Hecate, with a torch in her hands, met her, and spoke to her, and told her news: (Dem. 47-53)(49) We find the torch again in a Bacchylides fragment:

    “Hekate, torch-carrying (daidophore) daughter of black-robed night”. (Bergk 40, cited in the scholion to Ap. Rh. III, 467.)

That establishes the ongoing currency of the image in the mid fifth century BCE, and possibly earlier as Bacchylides, who competed with Pindar for patrons, likewise had a somewhat conservative relation to the epic tradition. The torch is ever a standard features of plastic and poetic Hekate description, which suggests that it was one her particular attributes. That would explain why Hekate brings her torch with her on trips even when there's no need for its light:

    (-- O! sacred flame of the torch wayfaring Hekate holds by her, which she carries as she ranges in the realm of Olympus..." (Soph. fr. Radt. 535) -- it's an attribute, like Diana's quiver, carried for definition as much as for use.

The torch does not seem to have originally had baleful associations, and so it survives, alongside less positive depictions, into late antiquity, as the Greek Anthology attests:

    “This Artemis in the cross-ways did Hagelochia, the daughter of Damaretus (a well-known king of Sparta circ. 500 BC), erect while still a virgin in her father's house; for the goddess herself appeared to her, by the weft of her loom, like a flame of fire”. (Anth. Pal. VI: 266 Hegessipus)(50).

But long before the end of antiquity, as Hekate becomes (after the 5th century) demonized, the torch starts to smoke and cast lurid light, as in the “gleam of countless torches” that accompanies her ‘earthquaking manifestation’ in Ap. Rh. Arg. 3. 1211-21, or the cry of Seneca's Medea:

    Vota tenentur; ter latratus
    audax Hecate dedit et sacros
    edidit ignes face lucifera. (Seneca, Med. 840-42)
    “ My prayers are heard: thrice has bold Hecate bayed loud, and has raised her accursed fire with its baleful light”.(51)

The translation of sacros as accursed is suggested from the dire action of the play: beyond this, where Hekate herself howls like a dog, we can scarcely accept the reading of "holy" for her torch.
Unfortunately we don't really know what the torch meant for Hekate. The most plausible readings based on the non-demonic accounts would be that it suggest her role of leading along paths, lighting the way.

But the material we have is simply too sparse on this point to allow any confident conjecture.
The torch itself possessed throughout antiquity a rather large range of associations: in rites where purificatory offerings were made, as an attribute of the furies, in marriage rites and the ceremonies accompanying birth; also torches are carried by the celebrants of the mystery-religion rites of Cybele, Dionysus and Eleusis.(52) All of these associations would complement aspects of Hekate (as we shall make clear I: 8,) but we just don't have any texts explicitly describing her worship in these regards. And while a god's attribute generally indicates something about his nature, in this case the attribute is too unspecified in its uses to be helpful. Even purification, the most promising line of enquiry since we have some explicit record of Hekate on this head, (and which we will examine in I: C: 1,) cannot be insisted upon, since these passages do not mention the torch, and the entire purificatory aspect, which is associated with her crossroads worship, is due to a 5th century syncretism with another goddess (which we will discuss later on).

It may be that the torch, which first appears in the Hymn to Demeter, like ever-popular epithet “daughter of Perses” which comes in with Hesiod, depends entirely on the prestige of literary tradition and reveals nothing about the goddess' original nature. The torch remains for us the single most intriguing and perplexing problem left to the student of Hekate. At present we can list what it suggests, but not state what it definitively means.

Another feature which we find in the Demeter is the cave Hekate emerges from as she hears the screams of the abducted goddess:


But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, hear her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit; only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave... (Dem. 22-25)(53). Wilamowitz (54) considered this description an echo of Hekate's worship in caves attested for Zerynthos, a possession of Samothrace'. (55) So direct a connection is far from certain: caves, like mountaintops and springs, are standard neolithic religious sites (as attested by votive deposits), and as such are amply instanced on Crete.(56)
A vivid impression of such a cave-sanctuary is recorded for Cybele where Ovid's Aphrodite tells Adonis of her revenge on Hippomenes:

    Templa, deum Matri quae quondam clarus Echion
    fecerat ex veto, nemorosis abdita silvis,
    transibant, et iter longum requiescere suasit.
    illic concubitus intempestiva cupido
    occupat Hippomenen a numine concita nostro.
    luminis exigui fuerat prope templa recessus,
     speluncae similis, nativo pumice tectus,
    religione sacer prisca, quo multa sacerdos
    lignea contulerat veterum simulacra deorum:  (Ov. Met. 10: 686-694).
“... a temple deep hidden in the woods, which in ancient times illustrious Echion had built to the mother of the gods (Cybele) in payment of a vow; and the long journey persuaded them to rest. There incontinent desire seized on Hippomenes, who was under the spell of my divinity. Hard by the temple was a dimly lighted, cave-like place, built of soft native rock, hallowed by ancient religious veneration, where the priest had set many wooden images of the olden gods”. (57).

Throne, lions, torch and cave are all features of archaic Near Eastern and Mediterranean goddess depiction which Hekate shares with Cybele. The propulaia form, mentioned at the beginning of this section as attested in the oldest inscriptions, will now be examined, and indeed will prove to be important in establishing the threefold Hekate depiction best known to us, a form which is unique to her.

The first classical hekataion or statue of Hekate in triple form (58) of which we have record, seemingly the first ever to be made, is the triple statue of her as Hekate-Epipyrgidia (591) at the entrance of the Akropolis (later replaced by the temple of Nike) by Phidias’ student Alkamenes, as Pausanias informs us: “...but it was, to the best of my knowledge, Alkamenes who first represented Hekate in sacred sculpture as three figures facing one another...” (Paus. II,30, 2 --our only account of the object.) This creation is put about 430 BC. Thereafter Athens saw her cult, by epigraphic evidence (60) officially established within the decade. She seems to have become immediately and extremely popular at Athens, which became her point of transmission to the rest of the Greek world, but a transmission in the triple form.

There are only a few single ‘Hekates’ from the period after 450, which would include the innumerous vases showing Hekate, always an ancillary figure in another's story, such as the Gigantomachy, none of which suggest a myth particular to her.(61) Only the appearance of her name makes it possible to identify the generic, Artemis-like figure. For the rest of the classical period Hekate appears as three identical goddesses ranged around a pillar, either standing with archaic stiffness amid the flutings of their robe-folds or striding in a circle like disquieted caryatids. The only distinguishing marks among these triads are the cult emblems, the already mentioned torch, as well as a libation-bowl and fruit (also the common property of Asia Minor's great goddesses,) and a dog. Not until the Roman period are the figures truly distinct in body contours and dress(62)

Nor can the tripling be explained by artistic influence: it precedes the appearance of the triple herm by a hundred years, and even if it hadn't, the innovation is unlikely to have been purely decorative or compositional, without reference to myth or meaning. Nor are triple monsters such as Geryoneus or Cerberus true precedents -- the Hekate figures, though contiguous, are distinct.((63)
The feature of the hekataion which provides us with a clue to the tripling is the central column. An ever-present element, it is rather thinner in the earliest examples, gradually taking on girth until by Roman times it has more the appearance of a pillar than a pole. As has often been suggested, (64) it is probable that the earliest Hekataion may have been a post or pole hung with wooden masks, perhaps one facing in each direction at the place where three roads meet.

This seems to match Ovid's description:

    Ora vides Hecates in tree vertentia partes, servet ut in ternas compita secta vias; (Ov. Fasti 1: 141-42)
    “Thou seest Hecate's faces turned in three directions that she may guard the crossroads where they branch three several ways”; (65)
    and Varro's quotation:
    ut tibi
    Titanis Trivia dederit stirpem liberum
    Titanis Trivia Diana est, ab eo dicta Trivia, quod in triviio ponitur fere in oppidis Graecis...(VAR. L.L. 7: 16)
    Ennius says: “As surely as to thee Titan's daughter Trivia shall grant a line of sons”. “The Trivian Titaness is Diana, called Trivia from the fact that her image is set up quite generally in Greek towns where three roads meet… “(66)

The material (67) would explain the want of surviving examples, and the image of a mask attached to a pillar -- actually a double mask -- is known to us from a Lenaean vase.(68) The use of masks for apotropaic purposes is well known, and so plausible for the hekataia which stood guard before doors and were placed at the crossroads to shed protection on travelers.(69) Finally, as Phidias is credited with giving idealized and human form to the gods, it is to be expected that his student Alkamenes would have similarly transformed Hekate from mask-rack to triple figures. The tripling probably has primary reference to Hekate’s three-realm range, which we will be discussed later, were the cross-roads or the gateway the sole source of the multiplication, we would expect double or quadruple Hekates as well.
A parallel which adds plausibility to the pole and mask theory is the Roman Mater Larum. similarly a chthonic goddess (the ‘Fratres Arvales’ honored her by hurling a pot full of grain out of a house and onto a hillside, a practice reminiscent of the Athenian ‘Chytroia’ and the Greek ‘Hekate Suppers’ (70). This Mater Larum or Mania was also venerated by masks or images hung before a house-door (to avert danger to the children) or at the crossroads (Compitalium.)(71) Tabeling's contention is that the Lares are not merely tutelary boundary-spirits, but underworld deities, connected with Mania who in her capacity of Great Mother rules over the dead. Tabeling sees the masks, larvae, as etymologically and identically related to the lares as spirits of the dead, drawing such parallels as the similar medieval origin of Harlequin and the mask-like Hellmouth of the medieval mystery plays. He suggests that the popular Athenian stage-ghoulies Lamia, Empusa and Mormo may be similarly hypostases of Hekate. (72) Regardless of whether Mania is a precise parallel to Hekate, such similar propulaic functions in relation to home, children and travellers at the crossroads are attested for Hekate (detailed below) as to suggest that Mania casts helpful light on the nature and use of the hekataion. Hekate's earliest physical depictions, in words and in art, show her with standard archaic great goddess attributes (throne, lions, basket, torch, cave.) Her unique representation emerges in the 5th century with the hekataion, and which is rooted in her role of Propulaia, and the Propulaia's development as a pole hung with three masks and set up at the crossroads, which formed the basis for her classical triple-figure statues. At this point we are equipped to proceed from the exoteric historical and archaeological details of Hekate to the genuine mysteries of her being as such.





(1) Reading with West, Theogony, p. 284 n. 425 the ap' as temporal and equivalent to ex' arches. (2) See below for the evidence on Hekate's geography.
(3) Karl J. Narr, Paleolithic Religion, pp. 149-59.
(4) Dragoslav Srejovic, Neolithic Religion, pp. 352-360.
(5) James Mellaart, Catal Huyuk, passim.
(6) See below, “Depiction”.
(7) This would make it in many ways comparable to the contemporary Canaanite religion for which we have copious mythological accounts in the Ugaritic texts: the Canaanite pantheon was similarly dominated by a Weather god (Baal) and consort (Asherah). Comparisons between Canaanite and Hittite culture as regards seasonal festivals are to be found in Caster, Thespis. passim.
(8) See below "Ecstasy" I: C: 3.
(9) Modern Karkamis in southeast Turkey, on the Euphrates at the border with Syria.
(10) Gurney, The Hittites. pp. 111-114.
(11) Le Culte de Cybele. esp. “Preliminaires”, pp. 1-24.
(12) Nilsson, 6.F., 397 n. 3, 6.6.R. 1: 722; Kraus, Hekate, pp. 24-56; for a list of the theophoric names see Sittig, De Graecorum Nominibus, 62-67.
(13) Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate, p. 251; she cites Alfred Laumonier, Cultes indigenes en Carie. (Bibliotheque des ecoles francaises d'Athenes et de Rome 188, Paris 1958), pp. 344-425, for her role at Stratonicea and pp. 423-25 for cult unions with various gods.
(14) Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate, p. 251 fn. 7 for the literature on these, the scant and unrevealing nature of which is discussed further.
15) Wilamowitz, G.d.H.. 1: 168. Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate, p. 253; Kraus. Hekate, pp. 20, 57-58.
(16) Burkert, Greek Religion, pp. 10-53.
(17) Not, as one might have expected, in Etruria: despite the impression one receives from the nigh-Aztec grotesquerie of their art, they were in the first century better known for their ‘gourmandizement’ (the obsenus Etruscus of Catul. 39) and their ancestral skill at haruspexis.
(18) Tupet, Magie. 196-97.
(19) Bennet, mod.
(20) Bennet, mod.
(21) Luck, in his review of Baroja's The World of the Witches, observes: "...the strange religious customs of a tribe or nation may be witchcraft in the eyes of another nation, usually one that is more powerful and has a superior civilization. This would explain the attitude of the Greeks toward the Thessalians, the Romans toward the Sabines, and even --I suspect -- the attitude of contemporary Spaniards toward the Basques; Mr. Baroja seems to be convinced that “there is a cult of the devil among the Basques today, and he has some curious stories to tell” (P. 245 ff.) With the correction that it is not the Greek but the Roman attitude towards the Thessalians that is in question, Luck makes exactly my point.
(22) Cazeaux, in La Thessalie provides a useful anthology of the classical references to Thessalie as the land of the witches, though without substantive analysis.
(23) His description is analyzed further.
(24) Westlake, Thessaly. O.C.D.
(25) Philippson, Thessalische Mythologie. esp. pp. 69-89.
(26) Philippson, Thessalische Mythologie. pp. 65-69.
(27) Wilamowitz, G.D.H. 1: 165-173, first made this observation which we shall corroborate at length.
(28) For a survey of ancient and modern speculations on the name, all clearly false and at root glosses on her character in historical times, with updated bibliography, see Kehl, R.L., p.311
(29) Kraus, Hekate. pp. 15-16, would make the lunar identification Hellenistic --we shall further demonstrate its origin around the turn of the first century.
(30) The full Hesiodic Hymn to Hekate is given later.
(31) West, Theog. p. 281 n.409.
(32)West, Theog. . p, 281 n.409.
(33)Apollo and Hekate are both called propulaios/a; e.g., Aristophanes Vesp.; 875, Thesmoph.: 488 f.
(34)Wilamowitz, G.d.H. 1: 177. (35) A Portait of Hecate, p. 245.
(36) Hekate is called by Hesiod, and after him by the poets generally, mounogenes, an only child. L.S.J. defines the term as “only member of a kin or kind, hence only, single (pais)”, and cites in witness Hes. Theog. 426.), which condition does not, Hesiod informs us, result in an impairment of her status, -- this is generally taken to mean such might have been expected in the absence of brothers who would protect her interests; so West, Theog. p.284 n.426.
(37) Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate, p. 246.
(38) Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate. p, 246.
(39) Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate. pp. 246-47.
(40) Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate, pp. 247 ff., goes on to use the original power and independence of imported Hekate to explain her wide range of powers, overlapping with other gods, and her ambivalence (seen in the ho etholo. “To whom she pleases (she brings good or bad fortune)” Theog. 429 ff.) Her range of powers -over land, sea and air — will receive a more plausible explanation in I: 6: 4. The ambivalence is not, we believe, stressed to the point where it requires explanation.
(41) Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate, p. 251 and fn. 9 for literature on dating of the inscription.
(42) Kraus, Hekate. 26-27.
(43)See Marquardt, A Portrait of Hecate, p. 253 fn. 11. (For literature on rock thrones dedicated to Hekate and to Cybele.)
(44) Discussed above.
(45) In the Paean for the Abderans she appears as “...the gracious Hecate, the maid of the ruddy feet (phoinikopeza...parthenos eumenes Hekata)...” we shall examine this passage in somewhat more detail further.
(46) Kraus, Hekate. pp. 43-44.
(47) Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor; the ruins of the temple to Hekate at Lagina are dated at the last quarter of the 2nd century BC, as the south and north friezes commemorate treaty-relations between Rome and Stratoniceia, Roman recognition of the temple's inviolability, and the festival of Hekatesia Romaia. (vol. 2, p. 996 n. 34.) Stratoniceia was founded by Antiochus I, who assigned to it a large territory which included Lagina and Panamara (famous for its temple to Zeus Panamaros.) Being at the came time a Carian religious centre and a newly organised Hellenistic polis, Stratoniceia became the most important place in interior Caria. After a number of changes in ownership Seleucid, Macedonian, Rhodian -- Stratoniceia obtained independence when the Romans made Caria free of Rhodian rule; the festival in honor of Roma may date from this liberation. In 181, because of its valiant attempts to resist Mithridates, the senate (during Sulla's dictatorship) recognized Stratoniceia as a free and independent state, increased its territory and made the temple at Lagina inviolable (vol. 1, pp. 131; 235; 441-42.)
(48) Kraus. Hekate. pp. 29-33. She retains these to the last, even in the magical papyri we find her described as “ stand protected by two rampant lions” (P.G.M. 2811-12) (49) Evelyn-White.
(50) Paton.
(51) Miller.
(52). P.W. (Mau., Fackeln. explains these by the apotropaic and cathartic uses of fire; Gage, Fackeln. in R.L., esp. pp. 159-168, relies on a lunar identification for overall explication and allows himself some rather free associations — e.g., use by bacchantes suggests mystic illumination and the ardor of the orgy.
(53) Evelyn-White.
(54) G.d.H. 1: 169.
(55) Attested by Pausanias, see above.
(56) Eliade, H.R.I.. l: 130, he provides the bibliography on Cretan sacred caves: M.P. Nilsson, The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, pp. 53 ff. Charles Picard, Les religions prehelleniques, pp. 58 ff., 130-131; Willets, Cretan Cults and Festivals, pp. 141 ff.
(57) Miller.
(58) This discussion of Hekataia in the context of Greek art depends on Kraus, op. cit. Ch. 4, Die Hekate des Alkamenes, especially pp. 102-12, Die Dreigestalt.
(59) The literature on her summarized by Marquardt, A Portrait of Hekate, p. 251 fn. 10. This consists of A.S. Hurray, A History of Greek Sculpture (London, 1890), p.141 n. 1, and J.G. Frazer (ed.), Pausanias’ Description of Greece (Cambridge 1897, Reprint N.-York, 1965), pp. 264-65: These were however mere mentions: Murray states only that the proper name for Hekate-Epipyridia was Artemis-Hekate; Frazer does no more than refer us to the older Peterson's essay.
(60) Kraus, Hekate. pp. 84-85.
(61) Petersen, Die Dreigestaltige Hekate, pp. 142-43, surveys these, all of which are explicable by the Hymn to Demeter or Hesiod: e.g, the departure of Triptolemus, the return of Persephone, Hercules' abduction of Kerberos, the Gigantomachy: they confirm her association with passage to the underworld and (perhaps) her role as goddess who helps in contests (see 1: 6: 2) but nothing more circumstantial.
(62) The only circumstantial discussion of these attributes is Peterson, Die Dreigestaltige Hekate, whose observations are vitiated by his insistence (p. 140) on seeing Hekate, Selene, and Artemis all three as originally moon-goddesses, basing this on a late scholion to Euripides Medea line 396. We shall in part two demonstrate that Hekate herself was not associated with the moon till the Roman period. Kraus1 treatment, unconcerned with the meaning of the Hekate figure, concentrates on those hekataia which are so damaged as to be headless, handless and attributeless: he discusses at great length the relative archaism of their robe-folds. This discussion occupies fully two thirds of his book. Petersen however does make the valuable observation that the older hekataia are almost all from Athens and nearby Attica, and they show three identical single figures, with torches long enough to reach the ground, as well as ewer, libation-bowl, fruit and dog. There is a second group of hekataia, triple, with short torch, sword, dagger whip, serpent and key (pp. 146-147.) The meaning of these different series will be discussed in our treatment of the developing Hekate. As all the hekataia are Hellenistic, the two series must be interpreted by content, as we shall do to a certain length further.
(63) Cf. Usener, Dreiheit. For a general survey of triple-figures in antiquity, pp. 161, ff. For a historical overview of Hekate's (minor) variations in triple form.
(64) See Nilsson, G.G. R., 1: 724 n.10: for some other literature on this point. Burkert, Greek Religion, p. 171.
(65) Frazer.
(66) Kent.
(67) “A Hekataion is an image of Hekate carved of wood”. -- scholion to Aristoph. Lysist. 63-64.
(68) Kraus, op. cit. p. 107. n. 522.
(69) The image at the crossroads is called apotropaion in Plut. Sym. 7. p. 708.
(70) Tabeling, Mater Larum, pp.10-13. An originally chthonic nature for the Lares, and their connection to a Mater figure is disputed by Dumezil (R.R.A.. pp. 335-88; p. 335 fn. 2 for the bibliography on the question,) who sees the evaluation of the Lares as anything more than territorial distinctions as being due to Greek influence. I do not share Dumezil’s confidence that the Romans possessed no more death mythology than a vague notion of the collectivity of shades, the Manes (R.R.A. pp 357 ff.) but in any event significant Greek religious influence, which would date (very conservatively) from the third century BC is quite enough to establish the Mater Larum as here described long before Hekate’s appearance in the Latin literary record in the first century CE.
(71) Tabeling, Mater Larum, p. 16.
(72) Tabeling, Mater Larum, pp. 22-33.