Hecate is the Ancient Greek goddess of witchcraft. She is represented on a Roman engraved gem of the classical period as enthroned in triple form, with three heads and three pairs of arms, which hold daggers, whips and torches. Coiled at her feet are two huge serpents. Engraved gems of this kind were carried as amulets, especially by people interested in the occult sciences.
Hecate is a very ancient Goddess, considered to be older than the Olympian gods and goddesses of classical myth. She is venerated by Zeus himself, who never denied her time-honored power of granting or withholding from mortals whatever their hearts desired.
For this reason, Hecate was a goddess much invoked by the magicians and witches. Her power was threefold: in heaven, upon earth and in the underworld of ghosts and spirits. One of her symbols was a key, indicating her ability to lock up or release spirits and phantoms of all kinds. Euripides, the Greek poet, called her "Queen of the Phantomworld."
Her statue stood at the crossroads or where three ways met; and here, those who wished to invoke her foregathered by night. In later years, witches assembled at the crossroads to celebrate their rites.
Although her rulership extended over heaven, earth and the underworld, Hecate came to be particularly associated with the moon, and with other moon goddesses - Diana, Artemis, and Selene, with whom she was identified. Her triplicity mirrored the moon's three phases, waxing, full, and waning.
She was depicted as being accompanied by howling dogs, probably because of the way dogs have of baying at the moon, though dogs are also said to howl when a ghost is nigh, even though no spectre is seen; and they react strongly to haunted places.
The Gnostic philosophers, who foregathered in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, revered a collection of ancient fragments of poetry called the Chaldean Oracles. Some of these have come down to us, written in Greek; and in them Hecate appears as the Great Mother, or the life of the universe. Nature is her garment of mantle. " And from her back, on either side the Goddess, boundless Nature, hangs."
The name of Hecate may not be a Greek word; some authorities doubt this, and in general, there is much uncertainty about its derivation. Some have suggested that it means "Far-off One," or "The One who Stands Aloof." There is a resemblance between the name Hecate and the ancient Egyptian hekau, meaning magic. Two of Hecate's ancient titles are Aphrattos, the "Nameless One," and Pandeina, the "All-Terrible."
Robert Graves, however, in his Greek Myths (Penguin Books, London, 1957 and Baltimore, Maryland, 1955), gives the name Hecate as meaning "one hundred," and connects it with the Great Year of one hundred lunar months, during which in very ancient days, the Sacred King was permitted to reign. At the end of it, he was sacrificed, so that his blood might enrich the land and renew the prosperity of his people. This institution of the divine king who was sacrificed was very wide-spread in the ancient world, and goes back a long way into human history. It is intimately connected with the matriarchal order of primitive times, when the Great Goddess of Nature, the Magna Mater, was preeminent.
Shakespeare in his play, Macbeth. represents his three witches as worshippers of Hecate; not as invokers of the Devil or Satan, although this latter was what witches had for centuries been accused of being. A number of Shakespeare's contemporaries also introduced "Dame Hecate" into their plays and poems, as the Goddess of the Witches. In Thomas Middleton's play the Witch his principle character takes the name of Hecate, naming herself as a witch after the Goddess of Witchcraft.
If, therefore, we wished to choose a name which was probably used by people of Shakespeare's day and afterwards, to invoke the goddess of the witches, "Hecate" would be a natural choice. The Greek pronunciation of this name is HEK-a-tee; this became anglicized into HEK-at.
The sigil used by magicians to invoke Hecate is a crescent moon with two points upwards, and a third point in the middle between them.
~From Doreen Valiente's AN ABC OF WITCHCRAFT
Call to Hecate
Come, the moon's path opens before thee-
from thy secret realm dark as midnight seas
approach the crossroad of wolves, thy wild minions
thou that runs with the fierce, run now with us-
drive our foes into the dense impassable forests-
come like a fire blazing as high as if the firmament
were kindled by the wind's great power
they will be calmed by the calling of thy name!
Guide of the underworld- of the ancient wisdom
black as night, red as blood
wise as time, ever lasting...
Who art the souls mirror and the keeper of the keys
enter there upon the chamber where infidels
bear aloft their weapons of war
strike there with thine eye which penetrates all darkness
and release those who profain the blessed night!
Come, calm all fears of those who are thy children.
In the silvered silence of the moon
in the cries of all passion
in the howls of the wild
hecate grant us thy presence!
Come, may the darkness dance with the light!
"as the darkness now draws near
see the cycle of the year
as the light now goes within
let the hallows dance begin-"
~Adapted From Orphic Hymn
Brown, Hawk. Invocation to Hecate. Louisville, Kentucky. 1996.
Invocation to Hecate
Now let us sing of Mother Night!
Come, thou whose circle is endless flight
She whose body from celestial stars is made,
upon whose breast are souls are laid
Mystery, black as midnight's heaven far,
yet brilliant as the silver star.
Thy realm is the void primordial skies,
light and life in thy hand lies.
Dreams and soft ease attend thy train
lead drifting sleep to Orphic strain.
Nikta, decked with starry light
Rests deep silence,indwelling ebon night.
Goddess of phantoms, of shadow plays
whose body divides the sun lit days.
She from whom all Gods and men were born
She we seek when the veil is torn...
Be present Goddess with mysteries abound
let the dark's wisdom by mortals be found!
~from Buckland, Ray, adapted by Deana Smith
Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft (etc.)