Hekate and Witchcraft in Ancient Greece

(This is adapted from a previous post of mine here.)

There are a few Hellenic polytheists that tend to reject not only Hekate’s role as the goddess of witches, but the presence of witchcraft in Ancient Greece. However, there is historical evidence to support the existence of both. I’ve worshiped Hekate for almost 6 years now and I’ve done a lot of research on this subject. If you look at the practices of magic in Ancient Greece, witchcraft was, in fact, present. The magical use of herbs (also known as pharmakeia), image magic (most would know this as something like voodoo dolls), binding spells, love potions, and other things commonly accepted as witchcraft did in fact exist and were written about. If you read the passages on witches in Greek literature in Daniel Ogden’s book Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds, you will definitely see that witchcraft did exist. Such an example is the love spell the witch Simaetha uses to return her unfaithful lover which goes as follows:

“Where are my bay-leaves? Come, Thestylis; where are my love-charms? Come crown me the bowl with the crimson flower o’ wool; I would fain have the fire-spell to my cruel dear that for twelve days hath not so much as come anigh me, the wretch, nor knows not whether I be alive or dead, nay nor even hath knocked upon my door, implacable man. I warrant ye Love and the Lady be gone away with his feat fancy. In the morning I’ll to Timagetus’ school and see him, and ask what he means to use me so; but, for to-night, I’ll put the spell o’ fire upon him.

So shine me fair, sweet Moon; for to thee, still Goddess, is my song, to thee and that Hecat[e] infernal who makes e’en the whelps to shiver on her goings to and fro where these tombs be and the red blood lies. All hail to thee, dread and awful Hecat[e]! I prithee so bear me company that this medicine of my making prove potent as any of Circe’s or Medea’s or Perimed’s of the golden hair.

Wryneck, wryneck, draw him hither.

First barley-meal to the burning. Come, Thestylis; throw it on. Alack, poor fool! whither are thy wits gone wandering? Lord! am I become a thing a filthy drab like thee may crow over? On, on with the meal, and say “These be Delphis’ bones I throw.”

Wryneck, wryneck, draw him hither.

As Delphis hath brought me pain, so I burn the bay against Delphis. And as it crackles and then lo! is burnt suddenly to nought and we see not so much as the ash of it, e’en so be Delphis’ body whelmed in another flame.

Wryneck, wryneck, draw him hither.

As this puppet melts for me before Hecat[e], so melt with love, e’en so speedily, Delphis of Myndus. And as this wheel of brass turns by grace of Aphrodite, so turn he and turn again before my threshold.

Wryneck, wryneck, draw him hither.


As you see, not only does the portion of this spell in the passage support the existence of witchcraft, but Hekate’s role in Ancient Greek witchcraft.

Hekate’s role as a witch goddess, I will admit, was not one of her original aspects. This came, as suggested by Sarah Iles Johnston, from her increasing associations with the spirits of the dead, her rule over daemones, and her lunar aspects. Most people used the spirits of the dead for their magic, like curse tablets. This is why many curse tablets were buried in places where the dead were buried. As this connection increased it was displayed in stories, most notably the tale of Medea and Jason. Hekate appears in this tale and the associations of her with witchcraft are quite apparent in this quote:

“You have heard me speak of a young woman [Medea] who practices witchcraft under the tutelage of the goddess Hekate.”


Medea, considered to be one of the first witches in literature along with Kirke, was a priestess, or daughter in some cases, of Hekate, and she continuously invokes her in her acts of witchcraft, or pharmakeia. Now while I agree that Hekate’s role as a witch goddess has been largely misinterpreted in much of neo pagan lore, such as her portrayal as a wise and friendly crone. She was usually viewed as a beautiful maiden in Ancient Greece and was also often portrayed in a frightening manner when seen in specific aspects, most specifically in her aspects as the queen of ghosts.

Many Hellenic polytheists view witchcraft as impious, and that’s definitely consistent with the way the Greeks viewed witchcraft. Witchcraft has always been considered an evil, or at least dangerous, practice. That fear, in my opinion, actually gives witches more power, but that’s another story. Witches were often portrayed in literature as poisoners and scary people who howl at night while harvesting poisonous herbs (an actual depiction of Medea gathering herbs in Sophocles’ lost play the Rootcutters (Rhizotomoi). But as a Hellenic witch myself, I don’t feel very impious. I feel that my skills in witchcraft were given to me by the gods. I don’t command or believe to hold power over them. I believe that my witchcraft happens by their decree, and when I perform it, I ask for their assistance, I do not demand it. But that’s just me.

So whether or not you believe in it, the historical context of her as a witch goddess is indeed there. Even if it wasn’t one of her original roles, it did develop much earlier than “modern times”.

credit for passive-aggressive coinage idea goes to simaethae

The coins of Beleriand are all massively passive-aggressive. 

For one thing, there was the debacle with the commemorative ‘Death of Fëanor’ coin, struck by the mint in Barad Eithel. The denomination was too low (”Father is worth more than that!” Caranthir remarked) and worse, the depiction of Fëanor exploding into flame looked more like an anus than anything else. Only thirty coins were made before they were removed entirely from circulation. 

This has made the ‘Death of Fëanor’ the most collectible First Age coin. Many numismatists of Númenor desired it so greatly that they sailed away to distant, forgotten corners of Middle-earth, seeking the coin but never to return. 

There is, of course, a ‘Death of Fëanor’ coin in the Mathom-house at Michel Delving.

#473 - Simaethula Jumping Spider

Small (Simaethula means ‘small Simaetha’) but very robust, somewhat flattened jumping spiders, with small rear eyes, and frequently metallic.

Rob Whyte, who corrected my ID,  has further info from a Polish expert on Saltacid spiders

Marek Zabka says Simaethula and Simaetha should probably never have been split, and the characters for separating Simaethula are rather weak, including the posterior lateral eyes being further back on the head than those of Simaetha. To really know one must revise all known and unknown Simaethula and the problem is they are rather small, with simple genitalia which doesn’t vary much between notional species, so it has to wait till a DNA lab and operator wants to spend about a year.

Coolbellup, Perth

simaethae replied to your post “Randomly I thought of the Dagor Dagorath, and of how poetic, after a…”

I hope you don’t mind but I’m curious: what makes you think of melkor as creative? It’s not how I interpret his character but I always find other people’s takes interesting so I’d love to hear what makes you think of him that way!

Oh no, I don’t mind at all, no worries :) I just hope I can infuse some sort of sense into this!

My tendency to interpret Melkor as a being of creation is predicated upon a handful of quotes in the Ainulindalë chapter, such as this one: ‘‘[F]or desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own …’‘ Moreover, I have a little pet theory regarding what instigated his rebellion during the Music—or rather what reinforced that rebellion subsequent to the Music—and this also ties in with why I view him as creative. Melkor is said to share in the ‘‘gifts of his brethren,’‘ by which I am assuming that whatever ideas he would generate would essentially be an amalgamation of the bits and bobs of knowledge imparted to the other Valar; therefore, said ideas might come across as alien or disturbing or unnatural in the eyes of the Valar seeing that ‘‘each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly.’‘ The text goes on to state that understanding derived from listening to each other, yet often Melkor isolated himself in the Void in his search for the Flame, thus precluding the possibility that the others might deepen their comprehension of him.

Another pet theory of mine is that for the Ainur sense of self is somewhat more insular than we experience it, in that it is threaded through that one province they are drawn to (Ulmo and water, for instance). In my interpretation, Melkor’s sense of self is founded upon his existence as a creator. Thus he rebels during the Ainulindalë—he is not going to align to the norm and pursue another’s theme; he is going to get his thoughts out there, and tentatively I suspect there might be a need for acceptance somewhere in there as well. Following this train of thought, when Eru says, ‘‘And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite,’‘ I reckon Melkor experiences it as a denial of his creative abilities: his thoughts, which give rise to the discord in his song and from whence, ideally, would spring creations, are not fully, unequivocally of his own making, and this Melkor might feel as loss of autonomy and a stripping away of his identity. Consequently, his rebellious streak carries over into Arda proper as a reaction to that threat—it is denial: striving against Eru’s designs would nullify both the plans themselves and that poisonous little statement.

In the same vein, I see him as possessing his own brand of creativity, inasmuch as the atrocities he inflicts upon the world, both on a smaller scale (torture, though this largely rests upon headcanons) and on a larger scale (wars and arguably the creation of Orcs), are upped with the passage of time, essentially conveying ‘‘surely this would not be part of Eru’s schemes’’ and thereby aiming to confirm that Melkor is a creature independent in his creation. As something of a tangent, I am wondering if perhaps Melkor’s perversion of the Elves into Orcs may be construed as a wish to alter them so much that Eru would repudiate all claims of ownership so that Melkor would at last have something of his own. This could likewise be applied to Melkor’s marring of the initial work of the Valar in shaping Arda.

Whew, I am sorry for this veritable block of text. My thoughts about Melkor have been stewing for quite some time, and given the opportunity, they kind of bled all over the place. Well, I hope this made at least a tiny bit of sense, and of course these are just my interpretations—please feel free to disagree with anything in here!

siadea replied to your post “You look dreadful, little brother,” Maedhros said wryly. Despite his…”

LOVE those last two paragraphs, what impact! Super understated, super real.

Yeah, nothing good comes of a king who can’t control his emotions! The Noldor need a ruler who can scrunch up all his anger and resentment and despair into a tiny core of white-hot fury and never express it in a healthy way until it’s much much much too late. 

simaethae replied to your post “You look dreadful, little brother,” Maedhros said wryly. Despite his…”

oh no look at maedhros being a good big brother. maglor’s voice cracking :(

listen, Morgoth has been poisoning the water and vegetation, it’s very arid so if his eyes are watering and his voice is going rough you know exactly what to blame. 

maedhrosrussandol replied to your post “You look dreadful, little brother,” Maedhros said wryly. Despite his…”

Love this. Maedhros can’t help falling into the role of the good big brother again. Maglor with his speech all ready–the last bit was so good–they are great characters.

Maedhros long ago worked out the perfect combination of passive aggression, patronising concern, resigned burden shouldering and noogies to make him the ultimate Older Brother (he made charts - he is his father’s son).

imindhowwelayinjune replied to your post “You look dreadful, little brother,” Maedhros said wryly. Despite his…”

I love that we can leap from torture references to flashbacks of them getting faced and piercing their nipp- ears without it feeling like whiplash; you capture the mood and the span of their history and what they’ve experienced so well.

Maedhros has, sadly, mixed up the time they actually got drunk and got nipple piercings with A Thing That Happened In Angband which makes the next time Celegorm tries to tell the story confusing and distressing for everyone involved. 


@thearrogantemu , here’s one Finrod inexplicably missed!

Invocation to the Witch Ancestors of Hellenistic Lore

Oh great witches of old, whose legends and names continue to penetrate the minds of all. Great women of magic whose gifts are accessed by the witches of today to work their spells and rites, hear my calls.

Erichtho, Thessalian woman, dreaded by all, come to my aid. Conjuror of the dead and feared leader of the witches of Thessaly, I invoke thee!

Medea, fabled witch of many drugs whose power is legend among us, come to my aid. Poisoner and healer, great daughter and priestess of Hekate, I invoke thee!

Kirke, great daughter of Hekate whose name is known by many, enchantress of lore and you who have been called goddess, nymph, and witch alike, come to my aid. Great sorceress whose skill in drugs and poisons is surpassed by none but the lady Hekate herself, I invoke thee!

Simaetha of legend, you who bound the errant Delphis back to thy side, come to my aid. You whose skill in binding and erotic magic is known by so many, I invoke thee!

Daughters of Hekate all, by the name of your three-formed mistress, I compel thee to come to me and provide me with your aid in my works of witchcraft. Fabled witches who I honor above all the shades of the departed, I invoke thee. Come upon your fellow witch and give aid to my spells!

Inspired by a conversation with @simaethae

“There’s porridge in your hair,” Maedhros said unhelpfully, not getting up from his sprawl upon the flagstones before the hearth.

“The children had a- a difficult night,” said Maglor, clutching tighter at the writhing, Elros-sized bundle wrapped in his cloak. “Would you watch them for an hour while I clean up?”

“I would,” said Maedhros. “But I’m busy.”

“Busy doing what?”


Maglor readjusted his grip on Elros, who was trying to bite him through the fabric. “You’re lying on the floor.”

“I’ve been struck by inspiration.” Maedhros kicked out and knocked Maglor’s second best harp from its stand and then dragged it within reach with the toe of his boot. “I have to finish this composition right now.”

“You’re holding that upside-” the discordant screech of a hook on harpstrings cut Maglor off.

“You’ve always had very limited ideas about music, little brother.”

“Raising these children is hard enough as it is without-”

“I have- what was it? I have millions of ideas and I represent a new generation trying to express themselves in a broken world. I will go down as the voice of this generation, of this Age. I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things.” The harp screamed. “So, while I’m sympathetic, my development as a musician must come before any mundane concerns.”

A suspicion dawned; Maglor knew exactly who had first spoken those words and why, for all it had been hundreds of years ago. “I’ll…I’m sure that I can manage on my own,” he said.

“I’m sure you can,” said Maedhros. “It’s not as though you’re trying to raise five children while your brother makes excuses and fiddles with a harp. Imagine how much harder that would be.”

simaethae replied to your post:     gurguliare replied to your post:                …  

   ahahaha i cannot describe how much i love this. monsters wearing your mother’s face. monsters that look like people but aren’t. is it a   person, monster, one of sauron’s illusions? hello paranoia, thingol i understand you better now. (what a good job it was finrod who first met mortals?)    

I’m pretty sure that by the end of the First Age, humans looking back over their history records felt the same way. Of all the elves in all the forests in all of Beleriand…this actually makes me so very happy <3 Actual good luck! It exists!

simaethae replied to your post “#this is giving me BAD ideas #bad BAD ideas" Hello? I’m calling to…”

Damn, Tyelpe deliberately fucking with his own brain as a last line of defence is horrifying. I would love to read more of this. (Babies involve a lot of weird neurochemistry shit, right - I’m not surprised Tyelpe loves him. Also wondering exactly how susceptible Annatar is to oxytocin, but then, I don’t think lack of feeling on Annatar’s part was ever the problem, as such.)

There was actually a post on Tumblr somewhere about how exactly he might have managed to hide the information, and I’ve seen various ways of handling it – but “infant neuroplasticity” is a terrible answer so of course had to be the appropriate one here.

Fridge horror: How long do you think it took Tyelpe to get over the automatic cringe response every time Annatar picked him up – even as the oxytocin cuddles did their not-so-subtle work?  Annatar must have been pissed about it, too.

simaethae replied to your post “#this is giving me BAD ideas #bad BAD ideas" Hello? I’m calling to…”

“Don’t be so certain” jfc Annatar. I don’t know why I react like this every time when clearly that was the inevitable answer, BUT.

“Remember, it’s very hurtful to me when I am forced to hurt you,” says Annatar, who is very proud of himself.  He’s so good at raising children!

i love this. some versions of the Oath refer specifically to Feanor’s “sons” but i think it’s legit to read that as “descendants”. if you take a literal reading you start getting some weird results tho - in particular it’s not an oath to regain the Silmarils, it’s an oath to take vengeance on people who steal them, or just don’t give them back to the Feanorians. hopefully giving them back after a delay would still count?

HOPEFULLY. I’ve thought it was a bit weird myself. I guess you could make an argument for that pretty easily, it’s not like they were thinking anyone who wasn’t allied with Morgoth would get hold of one when they swore.

I’ve been wondering if perhaps the Oath simply functions on the subjective perceptions of those who swore it, since we know that it can be delayed. So, if they can convince themselves that they will have it back eventually, they can fend off the compulsion for a while. If it works the same way for exemption, then it really just depends on who Fëanor’s sons subconsciously consider to be “Fëanor’s kin”. Which means that Maedhros could potentially say “You may no longer consider yourself family, but *I* still consider you family,” to Celebrimbor – or just to himself – and even if that isn’t a permanent fix, it would still buy them more time. It would presumably work the same for adoption, so if for example *Elrond* had somehow gotten a Silmaril post-kidnapping, he might also have been immune. The question is then how far can you push it before it’s too obviously an excuse and they can no longer fool themselves.