Will come to know his destiny.
Your vessels and your spells provide,
Your charms and everything beside.
I am for the air. This night I’ll spend
Unto a dismal and a fatal end.
–Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 5
In modern times, Hecate has become known mostly as the goddess of witchcraft.
It’s speculated that she was actually around before Zeus and his Greek cronies, as an earth goddess. But she entered the common Greek myth as a titaness who turned on her people and aided Zeus and the Olympians against the titans. Because of her help to Zeus and his lot, they didn’t destroy her.
To the Greeks, she wasn’t the ugly crone that we (Possibly thanks to Shakespeare) think her. She was a lovely goddess with power over gateways and crossroads, which is probably the way she became associated with passing over to the underworld. Her totem animal is the dog. Not only were they often sacrificed to her, but her arrival was always heralded by dogs barking.
She’s associated with horses, but to a lesser degree.
In addition to passing into the next world, she also had responsibility for helping babies into this one. She assisted in childbirth and women would pray to her when they wanted help raising male children.
She appears in the seasonal myth of Persephone’s yearly journey into the underworld. When Demeter, Persephone’s mom, wandered the earth looking for her daughter, it was Hecate who suggested that Demeter go to Helios, the god of the sun to ask if he’d seen the girl. Of course the sun god sees everything, and told Demeter that Persephone was in the underworld, abducted by Hades and taken to the land of the dead.
In Euripides’ tragedy Medea, she’s the patron goddess of Medea, who is a witch. (By the end of the play, Medea kills her own children. Which should be a lesson to guys–if you marry a witch, don’t cheat on her. Actually, if I was a witch and my husband cheated on me, I’d just kill him. Or maybe some kind of curse would do the trick.)
The “Malleus Malificarum,” (The hammer against witches), a 1487 handbook for budding witch hunters, says that Hecate was revered by witches, who worshipped her as their goddess.
Hecate’s love life is a mystery. Some people say she was the mother of the Scylla, one of two sea monsters Odysseus has to face to get home in Homer’s Odyssey. Others say she stayed a virgin all her life and so wasn’t anyone’s mother.
She’s sometimes portrayed as a triple goddess, with three faces. If you’re in the ‘witch’ camp, those faces are Maiden, Mother, and Crone. But she’s also sometimes portrayed as having the heads of animals–usually dog, serpent, and horse.