Hekate's Animals & Animal Symbols
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A black fleece in most sheep is recessive, so if a white ram and a white ewe are each heterozygous for black then in about twenty five percent of cases they will produce a black lamb. “Black sheep” is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family. The term has typically been given negative implications implying waywardness. In modern usage the expression has lost some of its negative connotations, though the term is usually given to the member of a group who has certain characteristics or lack thereof deemed undesirable by that group. This may be a quite appropriate meaning to consider because Hekate has been noted as a Goddess with rare attributes. Her celebrants are of an alternative nature following what can still be regarded as a differing path to the orthodox. However, the association we find in ancient literature has more to do with sacrifice. In Metamorphoses, Ovid tells how Medea sacrifices two black lambs to Hekate to bring Jason’s father back to life.
“Then she returned; the Dracones, though untouched save by the wafting odour of those herbs, yet sloughed their aged skins of many years. Before the doors she stopped nor crossed the threshold; only the heavens covered her; she shunned Jason’s embrace; then two turf altars built, the right to Hecate, the left to Juventas [Hebe goddess of Youth], wreathed with the forest’s mystic foliage, and dug two trenches in the ground beside and then performed her rites. Plunging a knife into a black sheep’s throat she drenched the wide ditches with blood.”
“Calling aloud upon Hecate, powerful in heaven and hell. While other laid their knives to these victim’s throats, and caught the fresh warm blood in bowls, Aeneas sacrifices a black–fleeced lamb to Nox (Night), the mother of the Furiae, and her great sister, Terra (Earth), and a barren heifer to Proserpine”
In Satires, Horace describes how the witches Canidia and Sagana tear a black lamb apart before calling upon Hekate.
“I’ve seen Canidia myself, wandering barefoot. With her black robe tucked up, and dishevelled hair, Howling with the elder Sagana: pallor making them Hideous to view. They scraped at the soil with their nails, Then set to tearing a black lamb to bits with their teeth: The blood ran into the trench, so they might summon
The souls of the dead, spirits to give them answers.
There was a woollen doll there, and another of wax:
The wool one was larger to torment and crush the other.
The wax one stood like a suppliant, waiting slave like
For death. One of the witches cried out to Hecate”.
As to the meaning of the black lamb in relation to Hekate, one can see from above, it denotes a particular type of personality that corresponds to the outsider status of those to whom She has a special relationship. A black lamb was also, along with dogs/puppies, one of the preferred sacrificial offerings to Hekate.
“But Hekate, when invoked by the names of a bull, a dog, and a lioness, is more propitious” Porphyry 3rd Century BCE
Hesiod’s Theogony gave Hekate a celestial parentage. We are told her father were the Titans Perses (“destroyer”) and her mother was Asteria (“starry one”), who’s mother was Phoebe, the moon 11. Hekate began to take on more lunar attributes and symbology as she became conflated with Artemis and Selene around 5th Century BCE. The bull, with its crescent shaped horns became equated with the moon’s waxing and waning phases. We see the emergence of references to Hekate crowned with bull like crescent horns and/or bull faced, most notably in the Greek Magical Papyri 12 and Orphic Hymns to Hekate:
“O Night bellower, Lover of Solitude, Bull faced and Bull-headed One You have the eyes of bulls and the voice of dogs” PGM IV 2785–2870
“The worlds key-bearer, never doomed to fail, in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen, and drawn by bulls,” Orphic Hymn to Hekate
Hekate, when honored alongside Hermes, bestows fertility of cattle: “she is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock, the droves of kine“ (Hesiod, Theogony, 404) 11. Here we see Hekate as a liminal deity who unites the celestial with the earthly. Indeed the bull was held to be a symbol of the moon on Earth, just as the moon was seen to be the bull in Heaven. Again we see Hekate depicted as bull-faced within the Chaldean Oracles, where Hekate is positioned as a liminal creatrix, uniting the celestial and the earthly:
“I come, a virgin of varied forms, wandering through the heavens, bull faced,…”
Chaldean Oracles, 2nd century CE, trans. Johnston
Hekate is not only a celestial creatrix but she is also the Pychopomp guiding souls into the underworld. Black bulls became particularly associated with Hekate as sacrificial animals in necromantic rites. The association of souls originating from bulls heads may be reflected in the following passage of such a rite found in Virgil’s Aeneid 6.257:
“The Sibyl (performing the rites of necromankia at the oracle of the dead at Cumae) first lined up four black–skinned bullocks, poured libation wine upon their foreheads, and then plucking the topmost hairs from between their brows, she placed these on the altar fires as an initial offering, calling aloud upon Hecate, powerful in heaven and hell”
The bull then symbolizes Hekate’s liminal celestial and earthly reign. It is a reminder of her powers as creatrix and destroyer (originating from her parentage) symbolized by the waxing and waning phases of the moon (a complete lunar cycle) and seen in the crescent horns of a bull.
“Then the earth began to bellow, trees to dance, and howling dogs in glimmering light advance, ere Hecate came.”
In ancient hymns and writings, the Goddess Hekate’s arrival is heralded by the baying of hounds. She is flanked by dogs on ancient Greek pottery, stone carvings, and statues. Even in modern symbolism, dogs attend Her.
The first symbolism of the “black bitch” was the legend of the Trojan Queen Hekabe who leapt into the sea after the fall of Troy. Hekate took pity on her and transformed her into a black female dog, who joined her retinue. In certain towns in Ancient Greece, black female dogs were sacrificed to “Enodia of the Wayside [Hecate]…at night” – these rituals were possibly linked to purification or scape-goating type rituals.
The three-headed hound, Cerberus (Kerberos) who guarded the entranceway to the Underworld was also connected to Hekate. The fearsome Cerberus was on guard to keep the living from entering Hades and the souls of the dead from leaving. The poisonous herb aconite, also a symbol of Hekate, was thought to grow wherever the foam from Cerberus’s mouth landed on the ground. A series of paintings on Early Hellenistic vases show Hekate in Hades along with Cerberus.
Hekate presides over the three-way crossroads and is a protector of entranceways, households and thresholds. Humans in both ancient and modern times have kept dogs as protectors and companions.
In American and European folklore, dogs have always been known to see things of a supernatural nature that humans can’t see. Legendary black dogs are thought to roam desolate roads, moors, cemeteries, and crossroads. Whether three or four-way, crossroads are liminal places, and offerings, devotions, and magic are still offered at crossroads today by followers of Hekate. It is important to note that Hekate is not the only deity who was honoured at the crossroads, in the Greco-Roman world, for example, Hermes also received offerings at the crossroads.
Hecate’s association with fish is linked with her dominion over the ocean as stated by her genealogy in Hesiod’s Theogeny composed in the 7th century BCE, and her epithet in the Orphic Hymn composed between the 3rd century BC – 2nd century CE.
In the Theogeny, Hecate (with Poseidon) can both give and take away bounty to fishermen. In this way, Hecate can be seen as a source of sustenance, as seafood was one of the most important food sources for the people of the ancient Mediterranean and Aegean. An image of Hecate as Potnia Theron, the Goddess of nature and wild animals, is depicted on a Boeotian vase of the 8th century BC showing a goddess with an image of a fish on her skirt defining one of her three realms.
Red Mullet (Mullus barbatus and Mullus surmuletus) (fish)
In the Eleusinian Mysteries, where Hecate acts as a psychopomp for Persephone, red mullet was banned from consumption, as Melanthius (Athenian historian) writes between 350-270 BC because of its association with Hecate. Reasons for abstinence of specific foods varied within cults: they may be sacred to a deity, or they may be considered unclean. In the case of red mullet, both somewhat apply. It became etymologically linked with (three-formed) Hecate (τριγλε) and it had exceptional fertility procreating three times a year. Therefore, it was considered sacred to Hecate to the point where in Athens, offerings were left to a statue of Hecate Triglathena: “δια του ονοματος οικειοτητα, τριμορφος γαρ η θεος” “in the sacred name of familiarity, the three formed Goddess” [Note: Hazel’s translation, not Leake’s]. The colour of the fish signified blood and it was thought to feed from corpses. This attached elements of pollution to the fish and consequently its chthonic association with Hecate. The reasons for the red mullet as an offering serve to reinforce the similarity behind the symbolic meaning of fish with Hecate.
Red Mullet was considered a delicacy and used in theatrical dinners put on by the rich as a sign of their wealth. As such, it would also have been an offering only some would have been able to afford.
In the earliest writings where Hekate appears, Hesiod’s Theogony, goats are linked to Hekate.
“She is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock. The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less. So, then albeit her mother’s only child, she is honoured amongst all the deathless gods. And the son of Cronos made her a nurse of the young who after that day saw with their eyes the light of all-seeing Dawn. So from the beginning, she is a nurse of the young, and these are her honours.” (ll. 404-452)
In the Greek Magical Papyri) offerings of virgin goats are mentioned in many of the spells as offerings to the Goddess, such as the “Slander Spell to Selene” PGM IV. 2622-2707. The charm that accompanies this spell is directed to be a breathing magnet engraved with the image of Hekate. Within the charm itself and in the recommended coercive offering it states:
“… on the third day, also make an offering: it is a field mouse, fat of a virgin dappled goat, magic material of a dog-faced baboon, egg of an ibis, river crab, a perfect moon beetle, single-stemmed wormwood picked at sunrise, magic material of a dog, / a single clove of garlic. Blend with vinegar. Make pills and stamp with a completely iron ring, completely tempered, with a Hekate and the name BARZOU PHERBA.”
The mention of virgin goat fat is also found in connection with Hekate (PGM IV. 2708- 84). In PGM 2785-2890, there is another love spell of attraction in the Prayer to Selene for any spell. Here the offering for the rite includes a goat, as well as a dog. The protective charm the wearer is instructed to create also requires a lodestone carved with Hekate’s image. The three-formed Hekate should be that of a maiden in the center, the left face of a dog, and the right face of a goat. This animal-headed Hekate shows the important connection She had to goats.
In PGM VII. 756-94, the double-horned Goddess, Mene, is named in this prayer. Here Mene is a name connected to Selene and Hekate. In the list of offerings, a female and a male goat appears.
Hesiod said that Hekate “is good in the stable, with Hermes,” and she is “standing by horsemen, those whom she favors…”. This suggests that there is some connection between Hekate and horses from early on. By the Common Era, the Chaldean and Orphic Mysteries both describe Hekate as horse-headed. The Orphic Argonautika from the 4th century describes her as having “a horse with a long mane leaped from her left shoulder”.
Her epiphanies for the Chaldeans included “a horse flashing more brightly than light, or a child mounted on the swift back of a horse… or even a child shooting arrows, standing upon a horse’s back”. They further describe Hekate as “horse-faced”. Porphyry likewise mentions that the four-headed Hekate includes a horsehead. Images of Hekate with horses do survive the ages. In particular, there is a 4th-century relief of Her placing a wreath on a horse currently in the British Museum.
In the Chaldean tradition, the horse is a creature of fire, symbolic of Hekate’s fiery soul. Stephan Ronan posits that the horse is a symbol of Hekate’s “non-demonic” nature and positions the horse and bull symbolism in opposition of the demonic Hydra and dog symbols. Sarah Iles Johnston interpreted the horse (in relation to Hekate) as a daemon that serves Her in the sub-lunar realms. Jacob Rabinowitz says that Theodore Kraus believes the horse to refer to “the nocturnal rout” but does not expand on the veracity or meaning thereof.
There are examples of Hekate being described as having one of Her heads being that of a horse too.
The lion references with Hekate include a frieze at the Lagina temple, coins showing her with lions (4th century BCE from Pherae, Thessaly) and also later references from the Chaldean Oracles and the Greek Magical Papyri. At the archaeological site for Stratonicea (the city linked by a sacred road to the Temple of Hekate at Lagina) there is a beautiful modern mosaic greeting visitors to the site based on one of the ancient images showing Hekate riding a lion – look out for it if you are lucky enough to visit this site (about 2 hours from Bodrum, Turkey).
This is an extract from the chapter “From the Three-Ways” in the book Hekate Liminal Rites by the authors Sorita d’Este and David Rankine, published by Avalonia in 2009 and reproduced here with kind permission.
Hekate & Lions
Another clue to Hekate’s origins may be found in her connection to lions. Although the images of Hekate flanked by lions are not amongst the earliest of her, they do hint at origins in Asia-Minor, where they are frequently used. Goddesses were often depicted flanked by lions in imagery in this region and examples include depictions of Inanna, Astarte and Kybele – and Artemis (in Asia-Minor).
The lion references with Hekate include a frieze at the Lagina temple, coins showing her with lions, and also later references from the Chaldean Oracles and the Greek Magical Papyri, showing the persistence of the association. In the Chaldean Oracles Hekate is described as being “lion-possessing”, and even more significantly we see, “If you call upon Me often you will perceive everything in lion-form.”
In the ‘Prayer to Selene for any Spell’ in the Greek Magical Papyri, which by its content can be seen to be more of a Hekate spell, we find the phrase “you stand protected by two rampant lions”.
 Chaldean Oracles, C2nd CE, trans. S. Ronan.
 Chaldean Oracles, C2nd CE, trans. S. Ronan.
 PGM IV.2811-12, trans. Krause.
Hekate was frequently described and depicted either wearing or in the presence of serpents. Among these is Sophocles’ description in his play The Root Cutters: “She who is crowned with oak leaves and the coils of wild serpents.” Likewise, as she appeared to Jason in the Argonautica, there are serpents in her presence: “…round her horrible serpents twined themselves among the oak boughs” 94. The Chaldean Oracles also describe Hekate as “the snake-girdled and the three-headed” and “the She-serpent, and the snake-girdled”.
The association of serpents with Hekate refers to her chthonian powers as well as highlighting the fearsome nature of her manifestations. Hekate is also sometimes described as having the head of a serpent or snake.
The wolf (Gr. lykos) holds great significance in the cultures and religions of the nomadic peoples, including that of the Eurasian steppes. In proto-Indo-European mythology, the wolf was presumably associated with the warrior class who would “transform into wolves” (or dogs) upon their initiation. Aesop featured wolves in several of his fables playing on the concerns of Ancient Greece’s settled, sheep-herding world.
“Therefore we start seeing ideas manifest of wolves in company with Artemis and Hekate where never before have wolves been associated…
In Hellenic religion in which you have gods (such as Apollon, Pan, and Zeus) with very specific epithets that refer to wolves that generally speaking refer to a more wild/untamed and often solar destructive feature of a god, and goddesses (such as Artemis and Hekate) with very specific epithets that refer to dogs which seem to refer to their more liminal roles, as well as Ares”.
In the Magical Papyri of Ptolemaic Egypt, (whereupon Papyri were scribed under both Greek and Roman rule), Hecate is called the Bitch and the She-Wolf, and her presence is signified by the barking of dogs.
While almost every depiction of a canine when associated with Hekate deems to be a dog or black dog/s, the probability was that in Hecate’s era, there were few domesticated dogs thus it stands to logic it was likely to be wolves that accompanied her.
References used for the above & further recommended reading:
3 Ammer, C. 1997. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers.
4 Ovid. Metamorphoses 7, 234-250. In: More, B. trans. 1922. Ovid Metamorphoses 7. Boston, USA: Cornhill Publishing Co.
5 Virgil. Aeneid 6.257. In: Fairclough, H. R. trans. 1916. Virgil, Aeneid Book 6. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.
6 Horace. BkI Sat VIII: 23-50.
10 Gifford, E. H. trans. 1994-2009. Porphyry: On Images, fragment 8. Available at
11 Evelyn White, H.G. trans. 1914. The Theogony of Hesiod. From: Hare, J.B. 1999. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Available from: http://www.sacred texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm Accessed: 2 July 2010
12 Betz, H-D, ed. 1996. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
13 Johnston, S. I. 1990. Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature. USA: Scholar Press.
14 Fairclough, H. R. trans. 1916. Virgil, Aeneid Book 6. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press. Available from: http://www.theoi.com/Text/VirgilAeneid6.html
96 d’Este, S. 2017. Circle for Hekate (Vol 1). London: Avalonia.
22 Fairclough, H. R. trans. 1916. Virgil, Aeneid Book 6. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press. Available from: http://www.theoi.com/Text/VirgilAeneid6.html.
23 Atsma, A. 2000-2011 Hecate’s Sacred Animals. Available from:
24 Luna, J. 2009. Hecate: Death, Transition, and Spiritual Mastery. Create Space Online, pg 185.
25 Atsma, A. 2000-2011 Hekate and Cerberus in the Underworld. Detail on a vase in a museum in Munich, Germany. Avalaible from: http://www.theoi.com/Gallery/T16.2.html
26 Dempsey, L. 2002. The Ghost Hound. Available from:
41 Evelyn White, H.G. trans. 1914. The Theogony of Hesiod. From: Hare, J.B. 1999. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Available from: http://www.sacred texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm Accessed: 2 July 2010
42 Betz, H-D, ed. 1996. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
52 Evelyn White, H.G. trans. 1914. The Theogony of Hesiod. From: Hare, J.B. 1999. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Available from: http://www.sacred texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm Accessed: 2 July 2010
53 Ogden, D. 2009. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds. UK: Oxford University Press, pg 92
54 Johnston, S. I. 1990. Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature. USA: Scholar Press, pg 111
55 d’Este, S. and Rankine, D. 2009. Hekate: Liminal Rites. London: Avalonia, pg 140-141
56 Ronan, S. 1992. The Goddess Hekate. London: Chthonios Press, pg 129
57 d’Este, S. and Rankine, D. 2009. Hekate: Liminal Rites. London: Avalonia, pg 62
58 Ronan, S. 1992. The Goddess Hekate. London: Chthonios Press, pg 135
59 Johnston, S. I. 1990. Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and
Related Literature. USA: Scholar Press, pg 123
60 Rabinowitz, J. 1998. The Rotting Goddess: The Origin of the Witch in Classical Antiquity, USA: Autonomedia, pg 123
61 Ronan, S. 1992. The Goddess Hekate. London: Chthonios Press, pgs 79 – 150
69 Rabinowitz, J. 1998. The Rotting Goddess: The Origin of the Witch in Classical Antiquity,
USA: Autonomedia, pg 85.
70 d’Este, S. and Rankine, D. 2009. Hekate: Liminal Rites. London: Avalonia. 23-24.
71 Rabinowitz, J. 1998. The Rotting Goddess: The Origin of the Witch in Classical Antiquity,
USA: Autonomedia, pg 84.
72 Cirlot, J. E. 2003. A Dictionary of Symbols 2nd edition. USA: Dover Publications, pg 74.
80 Evelyn White, H.G. trans. 1914. The Theogony of Hesiod. From: Hare, J.B. 1999. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Available from: http://www.sacred texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm Accessed: 2 July 2010
81 Taylor, T. trans. 1792. The Hymns of Orpheus: 1 40. University of Pennsylvania Press. Theoi E-Texts Available from: http://www.theoi.com/Text/OrphicHymns1.html (Atsma, A. 2000-2011) Accessed: 25 September 2013
82 Marquardt, P.A. 1981. A Portrait of Hecate. The American Journal of Philology 102 (3), 243-260.
83 Burket, W. 1983. Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Translated from German by Bing, P. USA: University of California Press.
84 Kant, L.H. 1993. The Interpretations of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World: A Case Study of Early Christian Fish Symbolism. PhD Thesis submitted to Yale University, USA.
85 Parker, R. 1983. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
86 Leake, W.M. 1841. The Topography of Athens: With Some Remarks on Its Antiquities, Volume 1 [ebook] J, London: Rodwell New Bond Street. Available at Google Books
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93 d’Este, S. and Rankine, D. 2009. Hekate: Liminal Rites. London: Avalonia.
94 Seaton, R.C. trans. 1912. Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica. Loeb Classical Library Volume 1, London: William Heinemann Ltd. Available from: http://www.theoi.com/Text/ApolloniusRhodius1.html
95 Ronan, S. 1992. The Goddess Hekate. London: Chthonios Press.
78 Lopez, B. 1978. Of Wolves and Men. USA: Scribner, pg 320
79 Wolf Country, 2011. Greek Wolf Myths. Available from: http://www.wolfcountry.net/information/myth_stories/greekwolfmyths.html
80 Lykeia, 1 February 2012. Blogpost: Of dogs and wolves. WordPress. Available from: https://lykeiaofapollon.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/of-dogs-and-wolves/