Hekate’s Whip

Article by Verónica Rivas

The Archeological and Anthropological evidence shows that the whip was an instrument present among human societies from very early times. It is related to the domestication of certain kind of animals and beasts.

The whip, according to its definition, is an instrument that can be used to beat or to lash. There are different types of whips, but in all uses we can see that it is an instrument of threat that acts inflicting fear over its target. It is not the punishment what stands out but the fear associated to the possibility of punishment. In that way, the whip has been associated to pain and fear since it appeared. But, on the other hand, it is not an instrument that could be effective in front of any circumstances. For example, if the animal or the beast was very big, a man with a whip in his hand would be an easy target.

“The origins of the whip cannot be easily traced back to any single place or time. Almost every primitive culture that domesticated herd animals developed a whip of some type. Construction techniques varied, depending on culture, geographic location, materials at hand, and specific use for the whip, and ranged from woven grasses to herd cattle in Africa, seal skin to drive Innuit sled dogs across Alaska and Canada, the dried stingray tail in Southeast Asia, to human bone and skin for frightening spirits in Tibetan Bon Shamanism rituals.”

As expressed in the aforementioned text, in the Bön tradition and also in the Nyigma School, the whip constitutes a very important ritual implement. It is associated to wrathful deities in their task of dealing with demons and other kind of spirits that could signify a hindrance in the spiritual path. It is generally used together with the Kila or Phurba. Something important to be considered is that here, the whip is not an instrument used to tame for example, its function is to frighten.

In many Egyptian representations, we can see the figure of the Pharaoh using a kind of a whip or scourge. In some cases, he is just carrying it, but in other moments he use it as a punishment instrument in order to be obeyed by other humans and in some scenes, by beasts. For being the whip associated to the Pharaoh, it acquires divine connotations too. The Pharaoh was the link between the human world and the Divine one; he incarnated the principle of Maat, what in this case represents balance, equilibrium. The principle of balance is one of the most important and interesting concepts among the Egyptian religion.

Thinking about all of this, in order to consider the possible significance that the whip could have as a symbol related to many deities and to Hekate in particular, we have two information sources: our personal and subjective experience through our practice; and the historical and archeological approach. Personally, I make a conjunction of both, because I consider that any spiritual experience has necessarily a material basis that could be explained by the Human Sciences at least.

Apparently, the whip seems to be associated to deities related to the Underworld, for example Osiris has a kind of a whip or scourge in one of his hands over his chest.

In medieval times, there were many figures related to the Church that used to scourge themselves in order to be “clean” or “liberated” from their faults. In this case, the whip has a purification purpose.

In some Shinto rituals in Japan, a priest or the older man of the house perform a purification ritual in the New Year´s Eve. They use a kind of a whip made of a white paper to expulse the bad energies of the year and receive the new one with a purified environment.

In a symbolic sense we can say that in Hekate’s hand shows that she is a leader, it represents power, that she can tame, appease and maybe train. But she can also punish and inflict pain, and because of this, she could be associated with suffering and fear. In the particular attributes that the whip or scourge gives to her, she is probably associated with some specific kind of spirit. We know that even ancient societies classifies spirits in different categories, it is probably that the first that associate the whip with Hekate saw or perceived her handling with an specific kind of spirits or entities.

In the Quimbanda tradition, -which is strongly influenced by Kardecist conceptions-, we have different kingdoms of spirits, each one with specific attributions. They respond to a Chief who commands them, but in a general sense, all of them, even the chiefs from the different kingdoms are under the command of the Maioral (this term is used very often among the testimony  of the Portuguese witches for the Court of the Holy Inquisition). With this term they wanted to allude to the “Great One“, “The most Powerful One“, and the inquisitors usually associated with the Devil itself.

It is not easy to know accurately who is really the Maioral of the Quimbanda. Most of the quimbandeiros says that it is the triad composed by Lucifer-Belzebuth-Astaroth. We must take in consideration that, despite the source of the names of these spirits are the European Grimoire Tradition, the concepts of them in the Quimbanda has a different meaning. We can see them as three emanations of the same energy, but with different attributes. (Curiously we are talking about a triple representation to which are associated different symbolism!) The “feminine” Chief of the Quimbanda is Maria Padilha Queen of the Souls.

So we have that the “masculine side” is occupied by the Maioral, a non-human spirit, but the “feminine” one belongs to an Egun, a spirit of the dead. Somebody that supposedly had a human life and  by a process of evolution turned into the most powerful Egun of the Quimbanda, the favourite one of the Maioral. I would like to clarify that what I have briefly explained is a kind of “doctrinal agreement” among most of the quimbandeiros; but not everybody has the same vision. My vision of the Quimbanda is not so Kardecist and I perceive and give other attributes to the entities called Exus and Pombagiras.

We can say that the Quimbanda is the cult of the Crossroads, because this is the dwelling of Exu and Pombagira. But Crossroads are Hekate’s domains too, so,  they should have a kind of relation.

Most scholars associate the symbol of the whip in Hekate as something related with her most terrifying aspect.  One of the sources that they mention is Apollonius Rhodius. He established what it can be considered an indirect link between Hekate and the whip. In the Argonautica he says that Medea takes seven ritual baths, invokes Brimo (one of the epithet of Hekate) seven times, before going to Hekate’s temple. After that, she sits in the chariot with a maiden in each side and holding a whip.

Hecate is also one of the favorite deities invocated in the Defixios. Most of them have a revenge purpose or the aim to impart justice. This type of magical instruments tried to evocate or creates the most terrible aspect of the goddess.

“…In the name of Hekate Triformis, whip carrier, the one that makes tremble, carrier of the torch, the one who wears  gold sandals, undergound drinker of blood, the one who rides…”

Defixio (DT 242) dated aproximately on III A.D, from the area of Carthage.

So, we can suggest that the whip is related to her Underworld functions. It’s symbolism talk about a Hekate who is dealing with a certain kind of dead spirits. But, what kind of spirits or “other things” Hekate commands specifically with the whip?  Spirits that knows about suffering, which can be afraid of her and for this reason they can be guided or tamed by her. Maybe spirits with such a grade of confusion, who are experimenting a reality with so much suffering that turns them revengeful and dangerous.

We must differentiate the images of Hekate made with a public purpose, for example, to be place in a temple used to pilgrimage, common rituals and offerings, from that created to specific situations, probably private worship or magical works. This is essential in order to determine all the iconographic stuff that would be associated in our personal practice, with the deity that we are working.

In my opinion, we generally assume that if something is related to the Underworld, to the souls of the dead it has to be a terrifying aspect of a spirit or a dark manifestation. For me, it is more linked to a wrathful manifestation than to a terrifying one. I do not agree with the classification and attributions that say that if a manifestation of a deity is related to Underworld it is dark, terrible and evil. I think that this is mostly a Christian concept that should be eradicated. I prefer the Mesoamerican conception in which in the Mictlan (the Kingdom of the Dead) lies the seed of life. Yes, Hekate is chthonic and terrible, but She is beyond the concepts of darkness or light.



Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Shambhala Publications, Boston, 1999.

Elvira Barba, Miguel Angel. Arte y Mito. Manual de iconografía clásica. Silex Ediciones, Madrid, 2008.

Faraone, Obbink. Magika Hiera. Ancient Greek Magic and Religion. Oxford University Press, 1991.

Rodhius, Apollonius. The Argonautica. Rowland Classic Publications, 2009.

Suarez de la Torre, Perez Giménez. Mito y Magia en Grecia y Roma. Volumen I. Libros Portico, Barcelona, 2013.

Tanaseaunu-Dobler, Ilinca. Theurgy in Late Antiquity: the invention of a Ritual Tradition. Volume I. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013.



Hekate Shrine – Jill Syren