Hekate: the goddess who reigns over many realms

Altar to Hecate [Image credit: Antonio Pagliarulo]

Among the pantheon of deities worshipped by modern-day Witches, the goddess Hekate has witnessed a stunning resurgence. Known for her three-headed visage that can be traced back millennia, Hekate has moved beyond her role as the goddess of the crossroads, synonymous with magic, mystery, death, and rebirth. She is now a towering presence on the global spiritual landscape and in popular culture as well, invoked before millions of viewers in an episode of American Horror Story: Coven, and found also in classical literature from the Chaldean Oracles to Shakespeare.

To her growing legion of adherents, Hekate is nothing less than a source of transformative power. In fact, Hekate has inspired such fierce devotion that an increasing number of Pagan practitioners are referring to their practice as “Hekatean Witchcraft.” What is at the heart of this burgeoning movement, and why has Hekate emerged as a vital force in an increasingly secular society?

“Our planet is at a crossroads of the global soul,” said Dr. Cyndi Brannen, a psychologist and author of her Keeping Her Keys: An Introduction to Hekate’s Modern Witchcraft. “The earth has been savaged by the powerful, consumed with the greed that dwelling purely in artificial light evokes. To go into the underworld requires an understanding that there is much more to life than acquiring money and possessions.”

Hekate, Brannen notes, can be seen “as Anima Mundi and is the soul of the universe. She is rebelling against what mankind has done to the earth in many ways, including awakening in those who are willing to do so. After centuries of denigrating Great Mother, Hekate comes as but one face of what some might call the ‘dark goddess.’”

Given the number of current global crises – from the COVID-19 pandemic to political and economic tumult – Brannen’s words ring eerily true. Societal inequities have never been so stark, and social movements for change and the empowerment of the disenfranchised flourish in the U.S and beyond. In her writings, Brannen has drawn a sobering connection between vulnerable populations and Hekate, referring to the goddess as “guardian of the marginalized.”

“I became intrigued by the connection of Hekate with the vulnerable when I observed that so many from what we call ‘marginalized’ groups were deeply connected with her,” Brannen explained. “I turned to the historical records to see if there was any correlation with how Hekate was described there. What I learned is that Hekate was known as a Kourotrophos, a protector of children and that she watched over the restless dead. Additionally, she had a special relationship with all those outside the mainstream, especially what I have sometimes called ‘wild women.’”

According to Brannen, Hekate’s governance over crossroads is therefore particularly relevant today. “To the ancients who described this as her domain,” she says, “these junctures were places where the ‘uncivilized’ – anyone, living or dead, who didn’t conform to the cultural mores – resided,” she said. “Since we are living at a collective crossroads, where injustice is being illuminated, it is Hekate who often comes to those seeking restitution.”

To those at the forefront of Pagan scholarship, the rise of Hekate is neither coincidental nor surprising. Sorita d’Este, author of Circle for Hekate and over a dozen other titles, is a researcher whose work is rooted in mysticism and mythology. She is also the founder of Avalonia, an independent publisher of Pagan and esoteric books.

“In the ancient world, Hekate was a goddess of many names and many faces,” said d’Este. “She was also worshiped by people from many nations and places, so her continued ability to adapt and be relevant today should not really come as a surprise. Hekate is relevant and present in the 21st century. This is evident in the surge of interest in her but also the number of appearances she makes in pop culture, the number of books written about her, and the way that she has a place in the worship and work of polytheists, as well as Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Heathens, ceremonial magicians, and even Buddhists and Hindus.”

In 2010, d’Este produced Hekate: Her Sacred Fires, an anthology in which nearly 50 individuals from around the globe share their own personal visions of the goddess. Shortly thereafter, she created The Rite of Her Sacred Fires, an international devotional event celebrated every year during the May full moon. d’Este then formed Covenant of Hekate, a “network of devotees from different traditions and backgrounds who share their works with one another.”

To these modern-day devotees, Hekate is a goddess who reigns over many realms – night, the dark and new moons, ghosts, sorcery, and necromancy. She is as likely to be invoked at a kitchen table as she is in a misty graveyard. Her symbols are also numerous – in addition to keys, she is also closely linked with torches and daggers. Among her sacred animals are dogs (especially black hounds), serpents, horses, owls, and eels. The past few years have seen a proliferation of Hekate-based rites, rituals, and spells via books and YouTube. These various modern symbols, however, have deep and numerous historical roots important to understand.

The ruins of the temple to Hekate at Lagina [Image credit: CTHOE, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0]

“Hekate’s worship was present wherever the Greek Empire was,” d’Este explained. “However, even to the early Greeks, she was a foreign goddess with older roots. The goddess we name as Hekate has been influenced by many different cultures over millennia. The evidence suggests that her worship was well-established in Caria, Anatolia (Asia Minor, Turkey) for a long period of time, and for this reason, Anatolia is the most likely place of origins for her cult.”

d’Este pointed out that the largest temple dedicated to Hekate is the Temple of Lagina, built during the Hellenistic period and located in southwestern Turkey.

“Conversely, a lot of evidence for Hekate’s early cult, especially the three-formed images of Hekate showing her as three young women standing back-to-back (usually around a pole or pillar), has also been found in Athens, Greece,” d’Este said. “Hekate received widespread worship in regions including North Africa, the Southern Mediterranean, Greece, Asia Minor, and the Balkans during which her cult came into contact with many different cultures and religions. When we look at the symbols, myths, and practices associated with Hekate in history, we can find Thracian, Hittite, Phrygian, Mesopotamian, Persian, Greek, Egyptian, and later Roman cultic influences among them.”

Hekate’s roots have clearly endured the test of time, but have been given a new life through the modern magical community.

“Hekate is a goddess of many things, but one of the main things is that she is a goddess of Witchcraft,” said Courtney Weber, author of the forthcoming Hekate: Goddess of Witches. “The popularity of Witchcraft has soared in just the past few years alone. While not all Witches include deities in their practice, it is a very common way for Witches to practice, particularly those who come from mainstream, god-centered faiths. Hekate is also very multi-faceted, and there are many guises that many different people can connect with. I think also as more people are embracing the idea of a wild, dangerous, and sometimes brutal vision of femininity, a goddess like Hekate who encompasses those ideals and images is very attractive indeed.”

A case in point is the upcoming Hekate Symposium 2021, which will take place on May 22nd and 23rd via Zoom. The Symposium will offer a host of diverse programs, adding to the public’s burgeoning interest. Weber, a Wiccan priestess, tarot adviser, and metaphysical teacher, has written previously about the Morrigan and Brigid, and her upcoming title reflects her own belief that Hekate inspires a special, intimate, kind of awe.

“I’ve been a public Witch for almost twenty years and ran a very large Witchcraft community for almost a decade,” she explained. “Hekate was my constant companion, whether she was the patron deity of students or coveners, appearing in visions to members of our community, or inspiring whole traditions. It’s impossible to walk this path without walking alongside Hekate for at least a brief bit!”

Maximillion Pirner, “Hekate,” 1901, pastel on paper [public domain]

Beyond the trend of Hekate’s widespread popularization, perhaps her most appealing quality today is in the intimacy she inspires among practitioners as a personal goddess. At a time when people are deeply disconnected and have experienced the losses of loved ones, health, and security, the loving and harsh duality of Hekate is tailor-made for our individual post-coronavirus healing journeys. Brannen, who focuses on healing patients from trauma, has witnessed firsthand the power of Hekate’s special “medicine.”

“Hekate offers the key to her healing cave where we can heal into our unique wholeness,” Brannen says. “Yet there is no way to recover from our wounds without the dark night of the soul.

“To go on the heroic journey into Hekate’s cave is to face our trauma rather than try to burn it away with false positivity. Hekate’s medicine comes to us in the form of our dreams, visions, and messages. She calls us back home to the soul so that we may be reborn into our true selves.”