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Hecʹate (3 syl. in Greek, 2 in Eng.)


A triple deity, called Phœbē or the Moon in heaven, Diana on the earth, and Hecate or Proserpine in hell. She is described as having three heads—one of a horse, one of a dog, and one of a lion. Her offerings consisted of dogs, honey, and black lambs. She was sometimes calledTriʹvia,” because offerings were presented to her at cross-roads. Shakespeare refers to the triple character of this goddess:

“And we fairies that do run

By the triple Hecate’s team.”

Midsummer Night’s Dream, v. 2.

Hecate, daughter of Persēs the Titan, is a very different person to the “Triple Hecate,” who, according to Hesiod, was daughter of Zeus and a benevolent goddess. Hecate, daughter of Persēs, was a magician, poisoned her father, raised a temple to Diana in which she immolated strangers, and was mother of Medeʹa and Circē. She presided over magic and enchantments, taught sorcery and witchcraft. She is represented with a lighted torch and a sword, and is attended by two black dogs.

Shakespeare, in his Macbeth, alludes to both these Hecates. Thus in act ii. 1 he speaks of “pale Hecate,” i.e. the mother of Medēa and Circê, goddess of magicians, whom they invoked, and to whom they made offerings.

“Now … [at night] witch craft celebrates

Pale Hecate’s offerings.”

But in act iii. 2 he speaks of “black Hecate,” meaning night, and says before the night is over and day dawns, there

“Shall be done

A deed of dreadful note;” i.e. the murder of Duncan.

N.B. Without doubt, sometimes these two Hecates are confounded.

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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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