This short article will highlight a few examples of how the Goddess Hekate is associated with war - and specifically with Victory in War. This is not a topic discussed much, but it is one we as devotees should be aware of - especially as it is so topical right now with everything that is happening in the world.
Today marks the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 when the First World War came to an end after the signing of a treaty between Germany and the Allies in a railway car in France. More than Nine Million people died as a result of World War One, and around twenty one million injured. This is known as Armistace day and celebrated in the UK as Remembrance Day and Veterans day in the USA. WWI was meant to be the war that ends all war, but ironically the punitive terms pushed onto Germany through the Treaty of Versailles for its role directly paved the way towards World War Two (WWII). And right now I am sure all of us are aware that war is still very much a part of life on this beautiful green Earth.
Hekate is known as a Goddess of many things, with many roles, many forms and many names. We tend to focus on the roles that are more popular, often overlooking some very important and even obvious roles that this multifaceted Goddess has.
I will be speaking on Hekate as a Goddess of War tomorrow as part of the online event HekateFest organised by two sanctuary leaders of the Covenant of Hekate, Bendis and Stacy. I chose this topic inspired by the dates of the event coinciding with Armistace - and because here in the UK we also have the "poppy appeal" where red paper poppies are sold and worn in support of those who died in war, war veterans and those actively serving. Of course the poppy is a symbol closely associated with Hekate, especially in the context of the Mysteries - such as those at Eleusis.
It is said that Demeter brought the poppy - and with it the use of opium - from Crete with her to Crete. Poppies are included in the iconography at Eleusis and if the Kykeon drink contained anything other than the ingredients listed in the recipe provided in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the most likely candidate (based on its inclusion as a symbol, its use, links to Demeter and the stories of rituals at Eleusis) would be opium from poppies. This image from Eleusis illustrating a story, shows poppies alongside the torches before Persephone / under the image of Hekate's feet, and Demeter is holding a stalk with opium poppy head.
But poppies are a diversion, the topic of this article is Hekate: Goddess of War so let's get back to topic.
Theogony - War Goddess from the beginning
The oldest reference to Hekate as being associated with war is also the first text that we have with significant information about Hekate, her roles and familial connections, the Theogony by Hesiod. (Essential reading!). In this Hekate's roles are given and include:
“AND WHEN MEN ARM THEMSELVES FOR THE BATTLE THAT DESTROYS MEN, THEN THE GODDESS IS AT HAND TO GIVE VICTORY
AND GRANT GLORY READILY TO WHOM SHE WILL.” (Theogony, circa 7th or 8th century BCE)
This is not surprising at all because Hekate has many roles that include a protective element, as well as a purificatory one. She is the one before the doors, the Goddess in the Gateways, the one who provides protection on the roads and in the triple Crossroads, she is able to look in three directions and she holds tools that strike fear into those who oppose her - the whip (or snakes), daggers or swords and of course torches - all of which can be used to fight and defend.
Hekate is also a Virgin Goddess - and as I have stated on many prior occasions, the Virgin Goddesses are more - not less - powerful for being Virgins. If you are rattled by this statement spend some time researching the Virgin Goddesses - Artemis, Athena, Hestia and of course Hekate - and you will find that they are able to maintain their virginity because they are warriors, because they are independent and also because - in some instances - they gained the protection of the King of the Gods, Zeus, through their actions. Her Virginity is a sign of power and signals her incorruptable nature - which means she will not be swayed by the weak arguments of humans, let alone the Gods - she is able to stand in her own power.
The Chaldean Oracles
“For I have come, a goddess in full armour and with weapons.” Chaldean Oracles (circa 3rd century CE)
The Chaldean Oracles were an important and highly influential text, and in it the Goddess Hekate is given a primary role as being the primary female divinity and holding sway in different realms. Copies of the text were targeted during the rise of the new Christian religion in the 4th and 5th centuries and scholars has worked for a long time to reconstruct it based on material quoted by other authors. The text is attributed to the two Julians, a father and son, and claimed to have some Chaldean origins. In it, Hekate is at the top of the hierarchy with the Syrian war and storm god Hadad. He is equated to Zeus, and was originally partnered with the "mermaid" goddess Atargatis. It might be, considering Hekate's position in this text, that there is an unknown connection or similarity between the goddesses. The goddess Astarte, who was assimilated into Atargatis, was considered to also have warlike and martial aspects. There is much more here to explore, and this is a subject worthy of its own separate study!
Abraxas and Hekate
Hekate is frequently shown with the god Abrasax whose name is probably an acronymn of the first letters of the 7 planets. He was the god of gods in one of the early Gnostic traditions and invoked for protection and to avert evil. You can see from the example amulet above that he is shown as having snake like legs and that he is armed with a shield and sword, on the other side of this amulet (and others like it from antiquity) we have an image of the Goddess Hekate - also armed with her daggers, whips and torches.
Abrasax has much in common with Hadad - and is also linked to the gods Aeon and Chnoubis, all of which is worth exploring if you want to understand this connection in more depth.
Stratia at Kos
In my book Circle for Hekate (v.1) I wrote a little about the epithet Hekate is given on the Greek Island of Kos "Stratia".
Chaniotis and Stavrianopoulou mentions it in the Epigraphic Bulletin for Greek Religion in 1990 saying that “The new finds show that Apollon was worshipped in this sanctuary along with Hekate Stratia…”. We don't know much about this epithet and this the only time I know of it being used, the term Stratia can be taken to refer to either:
• a military group (army)
• or in its later Christian use to refer to a troop (host) of angels (which might make sense with the role that Hekate has in the Chaldean oracles)
•or possibly to a body of stars.
Kos is famous for its connection to medicine and for the Asclepion (or Temple) to the Healer god Asclepius. Dozens of inscriptions referencing Hekate has been found on Kos - which seems natural considering the island's geographical location near the coast of Anatolia (Turkiye) where Hekate was a popular goddess.
Hekate at Byzantium
Hekate was invoked as the Torchbearing Phosphoros in the ancient city of Byzantium to help protect the city against an invasion against Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. On the night that Philip II tried launched his attack, the Goddess woke the city with the sound of barking dogs and sent clouds of fire or lights on the water (different accounts) revealing the location of the invaders and putting the Byzantiums on a war footing and at an advantage. It is said that many of Philip's men deserted and refused to enter into battle upon seeing the presence of the Goddess. You can read more about it in Circle for Hekate - and also reflect for a moment on the qoute above from the Theogony, where Hekate gives glory and victory to whom she wishes.
Byzantium today is the city of Istanbul, the capital city of modern Turkiye. It remains a very important and strategic city when it comes to world politics due to its geographical position. Modern Istanbul is the liminal gateway between Europe and Asia, the city is on both continents.
War against the Titans
"When the Gigantes made war on the gods of heaven In the course of the battle . . . Hekate killed Klytios with fire-brands." (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 34 - 38 )
The story of Kronos and the reign of the Titan god is a huge subject in its own right, and if you are not that familiar with it - or have only ever heard it talked about by others, this is a good moment to take a few minutes to read more about it - Theoi is always a good place to start. Due to a prophecy Kronos becomes paranoid that one of his own children with eventually overthrow his reign and in his attempts to avoid this inevitable fate, he swallows each of his children born from the goddess Rhea after they are born. Rhea becomes weary of her husband's paranoia and when the child Zeus is born she swaddles a rock and presents this rock to her husband as if it is the baby, and Kronos swallows it in haste never noticing that it lacks the baby Zeus. In the meantime Zeus is hidden away, many say in a cave on the island of Crete, where he is nursed and protected by the Curetes (who drum and dance to drown out the infant's cries so that Kronos won't find him). On the friezes at the temple of Hekate in Lagina, Hekate is shown holding the baby Zeus as an infant suggesting she had a role in nursing him. When Zeus matures he leads a war against Kronos taking an active role depicted famously on the Pergamon frieze, with many other examples including the Lagina friezes. In this war Hekate specifically uses her torches as weapons and kills the giant Klytos. It is important to note that many of the other gods also fought in this war, including Athena, Hermes, Poseidon and the Fates.
These are just a few examples of Hekate's association with war and warfare. Of course Hekate is a goddess who offers protection from all kinds of things, not just the world unseen - but also the world seen. With this in mind I hope that you will find some insight and maybe even some inspiration in the examples I highlighted above.
Keep safe - and be protected on your journey,
Glastonbury, 11 November 2023 - Glastonbury, Somerset, UK.
Circle for Hekate, Volume 1
The Theogony by Hesiod