The images of Hekate flanked by lions are not amongst the earliest of her but they do hint at Middle Eastern origin where they were a common feature. Goddesses were often depicted flanked by lions in imagery from the Middle East, as can be seen from examining the iconography of goddesses such as Inanna, Astarte and Cybele. However we must bear in mind that Artemis was also depicted flanked by big cats and based on their age the Hekate images may be the result of her syncretisation with Artemis. Of course Artemis may also have roots in the Middle East so this does not invalidate the possibility of Hekate’s roots being further afield.
The lion references with Hekate include a frieze at the Lagina temple, coins showing her with lions (4th century BCE from Pherae, Thessaly) and also later references from the Chaldean Oracles and the Greek Magical Papyri. A vase from the same period showing a figure who may well be Hecate judged by the flanking lions, and the animals that suggest dominion over sea (fish), land (lions, bull) and air (birds) 69.
In the Chaldean Oracles, Hekate is described as being “lion-possessing”, and even more significantly we see, “if you call upon me often you will perceive everything in lion-form.” In the ‘Prayer to Selene for any Spell’ in the Greek Magical Papyri, which by its content can be seen to be more of a Hekate spell, we find the phrase “you stand protected by two rampant lions” 70. A sixth century B.C. vase from Boeotia (Hesiod’s home) shows Hecate, flanked by lions with a crown of branches, blessing and protecting two young women 71.
In association with the goddess Cybele who is the personification of the energy animating the earth, the lions that draw her chariot represent the controlled energies necessary for evolution 72.
69 Rabinowitz, J. 1998. The Rotting Goddess: The Origin of the Witch in Classical Antiquity,
USA: Autonomedia, pg 85.
70 d’Este, S. and Rankine, D. 2009. Hekate: Liminal Rites. London: Avalonia. 23-24.
71 Rabinowitz, J. 1998. The Rotting Goddess: The Origin of the Witch in Classical Antiquity,
USA: Autonomedia, pg 84.
72 Cirlot, J. E. 2003. A Dictionary of Symbols 2nd edition. USA: Dover Publications, pg 74.
The Symbols of the Goddess Hekate