Hekate’s many epithets are rich sources for devotion, witchery and personal development work. In this article, I discuss some of the origins of the epithets, select a few for a more detailed description, and then make suggestions for using them.
Overview of Epithets
Hekate, perhaps more so than most deities, has a rich list of various characteristics available for use in worship, witchery and for working on personal development. These epithets refer to physical characteristics (Kalliste/Fairest), personal attributes (All Nurturing/Pantrophos), locations (Enodia/Of The Way), behaviors (Kleidoukhos/Keeper of the Keys), or emotions (Brimo/Fierce). In addition an epithet can associate Hekate with a number (Triformis/Three), an animal (Pyridrakontozonos/Girt with Fiery Serpents) or even a color (Chrysopis/Golden-faced). Finally, epithets can be used to describe Hekate, such as Savior, Queen, Mother of All, and Cosmic World Soul.
Like I recently wrote one of the points of witchcraft is being able to apply knowledge in practical ways. Applying the epithets in devotion, witchery and personal development can be a powerful and transformative experience.
What’s in a Name?
An epithet describes a characteristic of a deity, in this case Hekate. Common epithets associated with Hekate inlude Keeper of the Keys (Kleidoukhos), Guardian of the Crossroads (Enodia, of the way), and Savior (Soteria). Hekate is often referred to as Queen of the Underworld, a title based on the many epithets given to Her that are associated with the realm (e.g., Chthonia).
Queen of the Witches
The origins of her title as Queen of the Witches is tricky to pinpoint, but She was certainly viewed by some in the ancient world as The Goddess of Witchcraft, Darkness, and Ghosts. There is evidence of what could be labelled witch cults devoted to Hekate during antiquity, and She was definitely associated with magic in the ancient world. For example, Hekate was the source of Medea the Witches powers. During Roman times, Hekate was often seen as part of a triad of moon goddesses. However, our modern understanding is heavily influenced by the Diana/Hecate (latin spelling) cults that grew during the eighteenth-twentieth centuries. Shakespeare in Macbeth solidifies Hekate as Goddess of the Witches:
Pale Hecate’s offerings.” – MacBeth, Act 2, Scene 1
Art during the Middle Ages until the Twentieth Century reinforced dark interpretations of Hekate:
The image of Hekate as a Dark Goddess persisted well into the 20th century until scholars such as Sarah Illes Johnson and Sorita D’Este started writing about Her broad assortment of ancient epithets, notably Hekate Soteira and as Guardian of the Crossroads. Another characterization of Hekate that emerged during the 20th century is as “Maiden, Mother, Crone.” This interpretation of Her as a three-formed goddess representing the three stages of womanhood arose as part of the the pagan movement and is largely separate from devotees who see Her as Soteira.
Sources of Epithets
As outlined above, there are three categories of epithet sources: 1. ancient texts and other records, 2. common era records (texts and art), and 3. modern characteristics. Devotees of Hekate most often use the epithets found in ancient texts and other records from antiquity.
Ancient Texts and Other Records
There are over two hundred epithets from antiquity associated with Hekate. In these ancient citations, the epithets are used to describe an aspect of Hekate that the author wishes to invoke, such as Hekate Pammetor (Mother of All) or describe, Hekate Soteira (Savior) is one example.
There are lists compiled by scholars that detail all the various titles and their ancient meaning. This provides a rich source of information for use in Modern Hekatean Witchcraft or for anyone wishing to explore the mysteries of Hekate.
The ancient epithets, and their sources, should not be taken as dogma. You have to keep in mind that these are modern interpretations of ancient writings. There are lots of layers of personal gnosis involved.
The ancient epithets can seem to be contradictory – Hekate is benevolent in one instance, then She is the Flesh Eater in another. This is because the ancients would ascribe whatever characteristic of a deity was necessary to get the job done, whether a spell, prayer or story.
The major source of ancient knowledge of Hekate’s epithets are The Greek Magical Papyri (PGM). The Chaldean Oracles and The Orphic Hymn to Hekate are additional significant sources. Then there are The Eleusinian Mysteries, various other hymns, defixiones (curse tablets), fragments, and other objects (such as coins).
The Greek Magical Papyri
The Greek Magical Papyri is a collection of ancient rituals, prayers and spells from Graeco-Roman Egypt, between the second century BC to the fifth century of the common era. There are multiple sources and authors.
Many of the spells in the PGM invoke Hekate in one of her underworld aspects, such as Drakaina (Of Dragons), Kardiodaitos (Eater of Men’s Hearts), and Nekyia (Mistress of Corpses). One of my favorites focuses on calling upon Hekate Nekyia, drowning a cat and then summoning it’s daimon (spirit) to do the caster’s dirty work:
The PGM also contain many epithets that reflect Hekate in more compassionate roles, including multiple names that invoke Her as Mother of All (e.g., Geneteira, Pammetor). Then there are less familiar aspects of Hekate, including Erototokos (Producing Love), Kalliste (Fairest), and Nyssa (Beginnings).
The Chaldean Oracles
In contrast, The Chaldean Oracles are a group of fragments from an ancient poem dating to the second century CE. The Hekate presented in these fragments is that of the Cosmic World Soul, Savior, and even the Fiery Rose of Creation:
“…from there, a lightning-bolt, sweeping along, obscures the rose (flower) of fire as it leaps into the hollows of the worlds. For from there, all things begin to extend wonderful rays down below.” (Fragment 34)
The Orphic Hymn to Hekate
The Orphic Hymn to Hekate is another important source of epithets:
Other Ancient Sources
Another source of ancient knowledge about the many names of Hekate comes from The Eleusinian Mysteries, where the tale of Persephone is documented. Hekate as Persephone’s guide is a central part of devotion to Hekate for many devotees. Many epithets are drawn from The Eleusinian Mysteries, as well as from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter:
When studying the ancient epithets, I always try to keep in mind that I am reading an interpretation of someone’s gnosis about Hekate. However, the epithets are very beneficial in helping me to connect to Hekate.
Using Hekate’s Epithets
I wrote above about some of the commonly used epithets for Hekate, such as Hekate Kleidoukhos (Keeper of the Keys), Enodia (Of the Crossroads), Chthonia (Of The Underworld) and Lampadios (one of Her Torch Bearer epithets). If you are new to Modern Hekatean Witchcraft, it might be a good idea to start by learning about these aspects of Our Lady. If you feel strongly pulled to one specific epithet, then you should probably learn about that and develop a practice surrounding it. Perhaps you don’t feel called to any specific characteristic of Hekate. That’s fine, too. Perhaps you’ve been given your own personal epithet. Very cool.
The Energy of the Epithets
Regardless of the source of the epithet, it is important to understand how to work with their energy. In my view, Hekate is the energy of all creation, with every possible type of current emanating from Her. I use Her epithets to connect with a specific corresponding energy current. For example, if I wish to connect with Hekate as Soteira, I am connecting to energy that represents my vision of Her as Savior. To me, Hekate Soteira is the all-knowing Cosmic World Soul. That is the energy I am either worshiping, utilizing for witchcraft or using as a tool for personal development. Modern Hekatean Witchcraft emphasizes individual interpretation of all things including the epithets, so someone else may have a different view of Hekate Soteira than mine. It’s all acceptable.
It’s All Greek to MeOne of the most fascinating features of the ancient epithets is that I am interpreting them. In turn, they are translations of the ancient texts. I don’t read the ancient languages that they were written in, so I have to rely on other people’s opinion of what the original script says. Individual translators interpret these texts in at least slightly (sometimes really different) ways. To explore this idea further, I recommend reading different translations of The Orphic Hymn.
Representing the Epithets in Writing
Practitioners of Modern Hekatean Witchcraft can represent the word associated with a given epithet in a variety of ways:
- As they exist, using:
- The available English translations
- The anglicized modern Greek translation
- The actual modern Greek interpretations
- By reproducing the ancient characters
- Adapt them to a more contemporary interpretation, such as I did with my take on Hekate as Guardian of the Marginalized,
- Develop their own. I’ve heard many stories of devotees being “given” epithets for Hekate that aren’t previously reported. These epithets are just as valid as the ones from antiquity. After all, those ones started as personal gnosis, too.
I usually use the anglicized modern Greek translation and then my own personal take on the epithet. For example, Hekate Einalian, Queen of the Seas. “Einalian” doesn’t literally translate to “Queen of the Seas,” but that’s my interpretation.
Epithets can be worked with in a variety of ways
- We can choose one or more epithets to be the core aspect of Hekate that we worship and work with,
- We can select specific epithets for a specific devotional act, ritual or spell,
- We can use the cycles of nature to explore the epithets.
In addition, we may change the epithets that we work with over time, or we can stay committed to one core epithet. There’s no one correct way to work with the epithets.
I recently developed a Modern Hekatean Witchcraft Wheel of the Year where I placed different epithets at different times based on the dominant energy of the epithet as it corresponded to the natural cycles of the seasons and other observances.
Using the Epithets in Devotion
Regarding worship, we can honor certain aspects of Hekate as a means of expressing gratitude. For example, when we successfully obtain a new key in life, we can give offerings to Hekate as the Keeper of the Keys (Kleidoukhos). We can also make offerings to a characteristic of Hekate that we want to pull forward into our lives. An example of this would be if we wanted to transition to a new phase in life, we could make offerings to Hekate of the Crossroads. Continuing with this example, we could draw upon this aspect of Our Lady to cast a spell as a means of conjuring the change we seek. These are just a few ways that practitioners of Modern Hekatean Witchcraft use Hekate’s many epithets in devotion.
Using the Epithets in Witchery
Earlier on, I wrote that the epithets are representations of specific energy currents associated with Hekate. See each epithet as a current emanating from Hekate that extends to all of creation (including you, of course). Using this framework you can develop highly effective spells. See the energy as a key that Hekate will (at least temporarily) give you access to.
It’s important to keep in mind that Hekate’s energy can’t easily be cajoled or manipulated into doing your bidding. I’m not saying that you have to kill a cat to connect with Hekate, but you do need to be careful in how you go about seeking to use one of Her energy currents, or to petition Her in general for help with magick.
The way I use epithets in witchery is by carefully developing my intention and then exploring which epithet best suits the nature of my planned working. I often work with multiple epithets, starting with an overarching one, like Mother of All (Pammetor). Then I select subsequent epithets that more are more closely related to my intention. I typically layer in other ideas and my own contemporary interpretations for the epithets within the text of a spell. That way the spell has a great deal of meaning. And meaningful spells are successful ones.
Here’s an example:
Hail Hekate Chthonia,
Queen of the Underworld,
Who heard Persephone when no one else did.
Hail Hekate Propolos,
Queen of the Middle World,
Who guided her back to the middle world
Creating the seasons.
Hail Hekate Soteira,
Queen of the Upper World,
Return to me as the wheel of the year turns.
I honor you on the winter solstice,
As you guided Persephone,
Deliver me from darkness.
The goal of this spell was to release painful memories. I used the story of Persephone and the idea of the three worlds as ways to increase the meaning of the spell to me, then I used specific epithets that reflected certain energy currents that I was seeking Hekate’s “permission” to access.
Using the Epithets in Personal Development Work
This spell is an example of witchery focused on personal development work, in this case releasing traumatic memories. Epithets can also be used to reflect a characteristic of ourselves that we wish to develop using our own skills and Hekatean energy. The epithets aren’t to be used in a passive manner, just like any sort of devotion or witchery, saying a few words and then doing nothing will get you nowhere. Always remember that Hekate can’t do for us what She can’t do through us.
Sometimes, we wish to petition Hekate as a specific epithet that we don’t want anything to do with personally. For example, if I hanging onto painful memories, I may offer this up to Hekate as Chthonia and ask Her to relieve me of my hurt by taking it straight to the Underworld.
Example of Using an Epithet
The example of petitioning Hekate, Queen of the Underworld, to relieve us of a burden is just one idea for using her many epithets. Another example I’ve written about previously concerns connecting with Hekate Brimo. I’ve used this example of Hekate as Brimo just to provide something other than the more common ones of Key Holder, Torch Bearer, Queen of the Underworld and Guardian of the Crossroads. For example, if I need to be fierce in a situation I may call upon Hekate as Brimo based upon this ancient text:
“Hekate Brimo…hearing his words from the abyss, came up…She was garlanded by fearsome snakes that coiled themselves round twigs of oak; the twinkle of a thousand torches lit the scene; and hounds of the underworld barked shrilly all around her…”
– Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.1194*
I then wrote a prayer to Hekate as Brimo asking Her to give me the gift of Brimo energy. Of course, in doing so, I am also actively working to see myself as Brimo and act accordingly.
Hail Hekate Brimo,
Hail Hekate The Fierce,
Hail Hekate The Terrifying.
May I be fierce,
May I honor You through my actions,
May I learn from your gifts.
Bestow upon me your terrifying energy,
Remind me that I am strong beyond measure,
As I grow wise and fierce.
Hail Hekate Brimo, Storm Bringer
Hail Hekate The Fierce,
Hail Hekate The Terrifying.
Given that I am evoking my inner ferocity, I may also carry with me a talisman or symbol that I associate with Hekate Brimo. Hekate as Brimo is powerful energy and working with this aspect of Her should be reserved for dire situations.
The Last Word
Hekate’s many epithets provide a rich resource for worshiping Hekate, practicing witchery, and for personal development work. I’ve offered some basic information on their sources and how I use them in practicing Modern Hekatean Witchcraft. How you use them is entirely your decision.
PS: I haven’t included all the citations for the various epithets, if you’d like them let me know.