Reviewing the existing literature about Hekate reveals that her three-formed nature is reflected in her maternal roles. She can be considered Mother of the Gods, Mother of All Things and a mother to individuals. In addition, her long history portrays her as the Mother of Witches. Contemporary Hekate is often seen as The Dark Mother, which reflects my personal understanding of her. Hekate is a complex goddess that presents herself in different forms throughout the ages and to those seeking her, as reflected in her various maternal roles.
Hekate’s Maternal Sides
Hekate’s maternal sides can be grouped into three distinct, but sometimes overlapping categories. First, she has been interpreted as The Mother of the Gods by various ancient writers. Second, she bears the title “Mother of All Things” from various ancient sources referring to her dominion over the material world. Third, Hekate has had various offspring of her own in various ancient stories. All these depictions combine together to reveal a fascinating portrait of Hekate as The Great Mother.
Hekate as The Mother of the Gods
I am going to preface this discussion by saying (once again) that I am neither an academic classicist or a reconstructionist Hellenist. Some authors posit that the ancient texts do indeed bestow the title “Mother of the Gods” upon her, while others claim the title belongs to Rhea (or even someone else). This dichotomy in opinions arises from the confusing content in some of the ancient texts that discuss Hekate as a Great Mother.
I am going to use the term “Great Mother” to differentiate between her role as a mother (or maternal figure) to individuals and as a maternal force of creation. Back to the debate about Hekate and Rhea. Without going too far down the rabbit hole of ancient history, the best example of the confusing nature of the ancient texts describing Hekate as a Great Mother who may also be the Mother of the Gods is found in Proclus’ Hymn to Hekate and Janus…or Hekate, Rhea, Janus (who is actually perhaps Zeus). I hope you are still with me.
At first reading, it appears that this hymn firmly indicates that Hekate is the Mother of the Gods, but some classicists say that it is actually Rhea being referred to. However, the Greek Magical Papyri does seem to give the title to her, so I am on the side that she actually was given this title by at least some of the ancient writers. I like to think that Hekate likes a bit of mystery and controversy, and also that us humans should have to figure things out for ourselves. Personally, I’ve never contemplated Hekate as The Mother of the Gods. I don’t know if she’d want to claim that unruly lot as her own.
It’s important to note that some of the ancient writers were describing Hekate as The Mother of Gods as what we would today call an energetic current. She was seen as a force that existed beyond the material world and the gods were borne from her “womb.” This is certainly the case in The Chaldean Oracles where Hekate is portrayed as the World Soul, from whom the world flowed. However, this is the material world rather than the world of force where the deities existed. This is Hekate as Mother of All Things…perhaps excluding the gods depending on your (and those ancient scribes) perspectives.
Moreover, good old Hesiod most likely based his glowing description of Hekate on the earlier Great Mother figure in his region. This is an example of how Hekate is syncretized with other goddesses (like Rhea, Artemis, Persephone, etc.) within the Greek understanding and outside of it. The ancients created a Hekate that suited their times and personal tastes, just like we do today.
Hesiod was perhaps a religious rebel in his evangelizing of Hekate. His opinion probably didn’t reflect the popular view of Hekate during his time. I can relate. However, he certainly appears to place Hekate as being beyond the upstart Olympians, perhaps even as a mother figure of sorts.
Hekate: Mother of All Things
While Hekate’s role as the Mother of Gods is debatable by those concerned with what the ancient scholars thought, there is little controversy about her dominion over the material world. Unless, of course, you discount the importance of The Chaldean Oracles or believe that the authors weren’t actually talking about Hekate. Chaldean Hekate is assigned the role of World Soul, Savior and Creatrix. With the material world flowing from her “flank,” she is definitely portrayed as the Mother of All (…things material). Moreover, she is conceptualized as the mediator between mortals and the greater energies (i.e., the male god) much like many mothers are between the children and the father. At least in some families. Hekate in this role was likened to the moon as a divine mediator between earth and the sun. Thus, the notion of the moon as feminine and maternal is deeply connected to Hekate.
The Greek Magical Papyri repeatedly refer to her as the Great Mother, using the epithets of Geneteira and Pammetor. An example comes from the Spell to the Waning Moon: “Mother of all who bore love.”I have always related to Hekate as the Mother of All Things. To me, her energy imbues all living things and is the source of life. This is different from a generic Mother Goddess figure because she has many other roles in addition to being the current of creation. The Dark Mother of All best describes how I define Hekate (which is entirely different than thinking that Hekate actually is this).
Hekate as a Mother
The ancient scribes told different stories just like we do today. In some of them Hekate is portrayed as being a mother.
“Arnobius tells us that Hecate was the mother of Saturn, Ops and Janus by Coelus, though in the ordinary genealogies we find this place assigned to Terra, and we find that the same attributes are indifferently associated with Earth, Ceres, Hecate and Proserpine in different writers. All, however, connect her with Darkness, and she is popularly described as a dread and mighty goddess ruling over the souls of the dead.”
– Stephen Ronan, The Goddess Hekate
I’ve included this quote because it illustrates the challenges in trying to apply a thematic analytical approach to these sources. If Hekate is the mother of Janus, who is also Zeus (maybe), then this passage would support her as the Mother of Gods. Perhaps. The passage clearly supports one theme that is constantly found throughout history – that of Hekate as the Dark Mother to her hounds, the restless dead, other lost souls, and (of course) to witches. She is portrayed as the mother of the wonderfully horrible sea monster Scylla and sometimes as the mother of the witches, Circe and Medea.
Mother of Witches
While sorting out Hekate as the Mother of All (including things and gods) is enough to make anyone bleary-eyed, her role as a mother figure to witches is resoundingly consistent, just like her role in a “maternal” capacity to creepy things. In the ancient texts, Medea, Circe and Simaetha all have a maternal relationship with Hekate. Not as a helicopter parent micro-managing their lives, but as a mentor. Of course, everything falls apart for these witches. Especially poor Medea who ends up committing infanticide. However, many contemporary witches view Hekate in a maternal capacity, ranging from a tender parent to a stern disciplinarian. Our modern view of Hekate as Guardian of the Marginalized can be considered quite maternal. Once again, Hekate defies neat compartmentalization and favors highly personal interpretations.
Medea looking very confused.
Maternal Characteristics of Hekate
I mentioned in the last paragraph that modern devotees (not all of whom who are witches) can understand Hekate as a variety of types of mother figures. Like her intercession on behalf of poor Persephone, Hekate fills in for a lack of a strong mother for many. Another historical example of this is found in Euripides’ play Troades where Cassandra turns to Hekate to help her out with her relationship with Agamemnon.
Herein is found another maternal trait of Hekate as the navigator of liminal spaces. She stands between the worlds as a mediator, whether it’s as a literal relationship counselor or as a guide between energetic realms. Mothers often inhabit these in-between spaces, whether physical, spiritual, emotional or intellectual. Witches can be found in these places as well.
Maternal epithets are applied to Hekate throughout the Greek Magical Papyri, such as Atala (Tender) and Episkopos (Watching Over). She was, and is, revered as goddess of pregnancy and childbirth (i.e., midwifery) and as Kourotrophos, Guardian of Children.
But, Wait…She’s Also Not a Mother
Before I wrap up this review of all the ways Hekate is described as a mother, it’s important to note that she was also seen as a virgin and that her Under World roles don’t seem very motherly. She was not the mother of her hounds or her horde, but their leader. She also has many very fearsome epithets assigned to her, such as Brimo (Terrifying) and Thanategos (Death Bringer). For those of us who are mothers and who have them, we know that mothers can be all these things, too.
There’s also the modern application of the Crone symbolism to Hekate, an idea that I’ve never been able to wrap my head around. However, if there is one thing I know for sure about Hekate it’s that she presents herself in vastly differing ways. Whether or not you see her as the Mother of Gods, the Mother of All Things, the Great Mother, the Dark Mother, the Mother of Witches, your spiritual mother or nobody’s mother is entirely up to you.
Ancient sources cited:
The Greek Magical Papyri
The Chaldean Oracles
Proclus’ Hymn to Hekate-Janus
R. M. Van Den Berg, Proclus’ Hymns: Essays, Translations and Commentary
Stephen Ronan, The Goddess Hekate
S. I. Johnstone, Hekate Soteira
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