“But Hekate, when invoked by the names of a bull, a dog, and a lioness, is more propitious” Porphyry 3rd Century BCE 10

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 27852870

“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 13

Hekate is not only 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 blackskinned 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”  14

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.


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

The Symbols of the Goddess Hekate
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