Maximilián Pirner. "Hecate". (1901). All rights reserved.

Hekate is a Greek-Roman goddess of Witchcraft, Magic, Crossroads, necromancy, Wilderness and Childbirth. So, she is a Godess referred to the dark side of the world. Because of this obscure sense I found this goddess inside dark music bands. First, Hecate is the name of a wonderful album from Ordo Equitum Solis, one of the pioneer bands in Medieval renewal music. I also found this goddess in the name of a Neofolk band from Germany: Hekate. And last, Hecate, is a black metal band.

But the main point of interest for me is the shape of three-headed goddess, maybe one of the possible origins of the iconography of three-headed Trinity in Christian religion. I have already talked about this iconography in a post about Michael Hussar, as you can remember. This theory is not followed by one of the main experts on iconography, Julius Von Schlosser, who links the beginning of this iconography in a three-headed God from celtic religion whose multi-facial head appears in sculpture in 12th century in France, close the location where the first three-headed Trinities appeared.

This introduction refers to my interest in the figure of Hekate, so, as Art Historian interested in fin de siècle I want to talk about the painting of the German Maximilian Pirner, mainly dedicated to make portraits, so the image of today must be placed out from his main production. To represent a Greek Goddess as Hekate at that time connects with the Symbolist style.

This pastel was made concretely in 1901 and represents Hekate in a singular way: a three-body goddess who flies turning around her longitudinal axis. We can see this triple nude body flying in front of the crescent Moon. We perceive her beauty in a very well proportioned body.

There is a strange symbolism unknown for me: three hands, one of each body, takes different elements: a key, a sword and a torch. I´m going to try to explain what they could mean. The key refers to a closed gate, a gate that only Hekate can open. Due to her obscure character, this key could be the gate between life and death. The sword refers to war, is a male attribute, maybe linked with the one of the three bodies related with the war, with Mars God. And finally, the torch refers to the light of the mind, attribute who links Hekate with Athenea, Goddess of wisdom.

However, this is a very strange painting, I don´t know similar images at that time, it could be possibly a very personal interpretation of this mythic and not well-known Antiquity Goddess.


10 thoughts on “Hecate

  1. You said you find the shape of Hekate especially interesting. Well think about this: In Greek myth, both Hekate and Cerberus were Greek divinities who met departed souls at the crossroads of the Underworld. And both had three heads.

    Here you have two different spirits with similarities in appearance and occupation.

    Now consider this, there’s a man named B.W. Melvin who wrote about his own near-death experience, to which he encountered a whole welcoming committee at the crossroads of Hell. He described several of them as having three faces and implied that it was their job to meet the dead and dying at the brink of death.

    Could the ancient Greeks have seen the same thing? Could Hekate and Cerberus have been symbols of something far greater?

    Personally, I believe in Jesus Christ and I think many things in myth are representations of Him and the reality of the supernatural.

    By the way, Holy Scripture mentions that the gates of Hell (Hekate’s post) shall not prevail against Jesus’s rescue of human souls who were previously sentenced there (Matthew 16:16-18). This would list the likes of Hekate among the many celestial beings who were beaten and conquered by Jesus, during a brief war in Hell (Colossians 2:15).

    You might want to pick up Melvin’s book. There are so many other details on the subject. However, the author himself makes no connection with Greek literature.

    1. Dear Brian,

      I appreciate so much your comment. I haven´t heard about this question of meeting three-headed people when you are near to death, I have only heard about the light at the end of the tunnel. Anyway, I´ll consult the bibliographical reference you mention.
      The connection with Cerberus is definitely true, though it was linked with the underworld and it was not a God in fact. I have the theory that in many religions there are Gods related with the number three. Three is no doubt that three is a sacred number.
      I´m not christian but I have been educated in a Catholic family and I´m very interested most of all in the life of Jesus Christ and in the phenomenon of Christianism expansion all over the world.
      More comments are welcome.

  2. The key is for the limnial areas, represented by a gate.
    The Sword (typically a dagger) is for cutting the cord, whether it be the cord between death and life or life and death.
    The torch is for her savior aspect, the light in the dark or for the wisdom that she carries.

    I don’t remember reading anything about Cerberus being a crossroads, but he is the guard to the gateway to Hades which is NOT the same as the Christian hell. Dogs are, however, one of Hekate’s animals.

    Hekate was quite popular in ancient Greece and even before that. In modern times, she has once again become popular with certain Pagan groups. Though typically portrayed by scholars as a dark goddess, this does not equate to evil. She is found where fear is because she is a defender and a guide.

    I’ve never seen this painting before. It seems the upper two hands are holding a rope or snake. Both of those are typically her iconography. The snake stands for transformation. I’ve never been very clear on what the rope represents.

  3. Hello!
    I heard a bit that Hecate has something to do with snakes. I am Pagan, and celebrate Hecate in particular.
    Could you maybe tell me a bit about what she has to do with snakes? I find snakes come to me, whether in the wild or when they’re in cages, and I find that peculiar. And it being so near Samhain, I’d like to know a bit about this.

    1. Hello Gemma,
      Thanks for your question and sorry for my delay in the answer. I´ve just pass the tribunal who approved my dissertation on Art History. This is the last step before present my Ph D Thesis.
      About your question about Hecate and Snakes, I want to refer a Minoic Goddess, the previous culture to Greek Classic cluture. She has not be nominated but she appears with two serpents in the hands. There are also two deities linked to the serpents: the Hebraic Lilith and the Greek Lamia. Let me investigate a little more about Hecate and serpents an I´ll let you know asap.


  4. Looking for pictures of Hekate, I ran across the one you are discussing and your blog. I follow Hekate myself, and am very happy to see the open discussion here.

    Thank you!

  5. Hecate is a symbolic representation of the Moon Goddess.
    She is always represented as a triple Goddess parallel to the
    three phases of the Moon or the triplicities in Astrology.

    I would hazard a guess that here the sword represents the sickle of the
    energising new moon, the key the union or
    conjunctio in alchemy of sun and moon when she is full
    and the flaming wand the light of life present in both
    her waning and waxing. Tidal and sexual energies being represented
    in all of the above and seen as the snaking coils held by all three hands.

    Wonderful posts Pedro.

    1. Many thanks for the accurate comment.
      It’s a pleasure for me to think about the images and their symbols.
      I invite you to follow my blog in Spanish:
      which I update frecuently.
      Just to mention that I’m working on the PhD. Thesis, I appreciate so much the knowledge and the words from a Doctor as you are a real pleasure.
      Many many thanks.

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