I’d been meaning to write about Hecate for a while now, so since it’s about time for a mythology post, how about now? Perhaps my earliest source for the names and functions of the gods was an old encyclopedia that my mom had, and that identified Hecate as an alternate form of Artemis. This does appear to have been the case at times, but most of what we know about her makes her a distinct individual, the only child of the Titans Perses and Asteria. The Titans are often thought to be gods worshipped prior to the Olympians, and Hecate might well be an older figure than the more familiar deities. It is likely that she originated in Asia Minor before being imported into Greek culture, and mythology gives her the unusual position of a Titan who aided Zeus in his fight against Kronos, hence being allowed to remain as part of the pantheon. She does not appear to have been all that popular among the early Greeks, however, although Hesiod did refer to her in a respectful fashion.
Hecate is most closely associated with witchcraft, and there’s definitely something to this. For instance, Medea was said to have been a priestess of hers. She was also regarded as a goddess of the underworld, and in particular as a friend and confidante of Persephone.
Another function of hers was to be the guardian of crossroads, and it was fairly common for her to be depicted with three heads, some of them animal rather than human.
Different sources refer to her as having lion, snake, dog, horse, cow, and boar heads. Her sacred animals included dogs and frogs, and it was sometimes said that one of her favorite pets was a dog that was once Queen Hecuba of Troy. Apparently Hecate found her jumping off a cliff after the fall of Troy, and turned her into a dog. Or maybe she was taken as a slave by Odysseus, but turned into a dog so she could escape. The goddess is also said to have punished a witch by turning her into a polecat, so that’s two familiars that were once people.
It’s not too surprising that Hecate came to be known as the goddess of witchcraft, and she even makes an appearance in Macbeth alongside the three witches, although this part of the play has nothing to do with anything and might well have been added in by someone other than Shakespeare. She’s gained a place in Wicca, and since she’s often shown as three beings with a single body, she has some connection to the idea of the Triple Goddess.