Known epithets relating to torches for Hekate include Phosphoros (light bringer) and Dadophoros (torch- bearer). The Homeric Hymn to Demeter says that Hekate came to Demeter on the tenth day after Persephone disappeared holding a torch 68.
Lampads were thought to be torch-bearing nymphs who were companions to Hekate. They may have represented the priestesses of Hekate in Eleusis 69.
The most significant sources for the association of two torches with Hekate are found on the ancient paintings found on vases, cups and bottles 70:
- A Lekythos from 500-450 BCE shows Hekate (or Artemis) crowned and holding a pair of burning torches. A drinking cup from a similar time period also shows either Hekate or Artemis with dogs holding two torches.
- A vase showing the departure of Triptolemos, ca 470 BCE shows a female figure holding two torches that could be Hekate.
- In the vase painting of the Gigantomakhia, ca 400-390 BCE, Hekate sets the hair of Klytios ablaze with her two flaming torches. Another vase painting from 410-400 BCE also shows Hekate immolating Klytios with her torches.
- From 350 BCE, a pelike shows Hekate standing between the enthroned goddesses, Demeter and Persephone holding a pair of burning torches.
- Another vase painting scene from 330-310 BCE shows the journey of Orpheus to the Underworld and includes Hekate carrying two torches and standing nearby.
- On another vase from classical period, Hermes leads Persephone forth from the Underworld where she is greeted by the goddesses Demeter and in this image, Hekate carries a pair of burning torches.
Many images of Hekate on coins portrayed her with a torch in each hand 71. Also in the Greek Magical Papyri, a love spell describes Hekate as “torch-bearing” 72. Porphyry also writes of the appearance of Hekate including her lit torches 73.
The above-mentioned artifacts provide the most information on the purpose of Hekate’s torches. In the war with the Titan, Hekate uses her torches as weapons to destroy the giant Klytios by immolation. In the paintings showing the story of Demeter and Persephone, the purpose of the torches appears to be guiding Persephone on her journey. The torches provide illumination for the traveller and the seeker of the Mysteries.
In Hekate’s role as the Cosmic Soul in the Chaldean Oracles, the two fires of her torches acquire cosmological significance. One fire is of the Ideas from the “First Intellect” and the second fire is the Demiurge who shapes and forms the material world. As the bearer of these fires, Hekate separates them from each other, She receives the first fire and transmits it to the lower world where it becomes the second fire of the Demiurge 74.
68 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
69 Campbell, D. A. trans. 1988. Greek Lyrical Poetry Volume II: Anacreon, Anacreontea, Choral Lyric from Olympus to Alcman. Loeb Classical Library. USA: Harvard University Press.
70 Atsma, A. 2000-2011. Galleries: Myth in Classical Art. Available from: http://www.theoi.com/Galleries.html
71 d’Este, S. and Rankine, D. 2009. Hekate: Liminal Rites. London: Avalonia, pg 110-113.
72 Betz, H-D, ed. 1996. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, pg 89.
73 Gifford, E. H. trans. 1994-2009. Porphyry: On Images. Available at
74 Johnston, S. I. 1990. Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and
Related Literature. USA: Scholar Press, pg 52-54.
The Symbols of the Goddess Hekate