“O night, faithful friend of mysteries; and you, golden stars and moon, who follow the fiery star of day; and you, Hecate, goddess with threefold head, you know my designs and come to strengthen my spells and magic arts; and you, earth, who offer your potent herbs to magic; and airs, winds, mountains, streams, and lakes, and all you woodland gods, and all you gods of the night: Be present now.”~Prayer of Medea to Hecate, Ovid, The Metamorphoses
Whether she was called Hecate or Hekate, there is so much to be said about this revered ancient Goddess that I can’t even begin to scratch the surface. But for the purposes of this post, let’s just say I’m inspired by the incredibly ancient rites of ancestor veneration, household protection, and food magic known in ancient Greece as Hekate’s Deipnon (supper). And it’s why, early this morning while it was still dark, my kitchen was perfumed with the scent of warm chocolate, coffee, and fennel. In the oven was a Triple Chocolate Cheesecake with a buttery chocolate graham cracker and almond crust, an offering for Hekate’s Night. This entirely modern celebration is held on November 16th (or 30th) and food offerings are left by contemporary devotees at crossroads to obtain her favors. While no historical precedent for this date can be found, November is the month of the ever-deepening dark and as winter closes in, it feels propitious to bake a cake to invoke her protection from ill winds and baleful spirits.
Despite her fearsome reputation as Queen of the Witches, I see Hekate much as my ancestors in ancient Athens once did, not just as a goddess of the Underworld but as the “Mother of All Who Bore Love ” and the “Bringer of the Light”. References in ancient texts from the Orphic Hymns, to The Chaldean Oracles and the Greek Magical Papyri, describe her as “ tenderhearted”, “Savior”, “Mother of Angels”, and “She Who Ensouls All Things”. Spells, charms, amulets, prayers, and conjurations dating from the 2nd century BCE – the 5th century invoke her as a guardian of women in childbirth, a nurse of the young, and a protectress of the domestic realm.
The Greek poet Hesiod (circa 750 -650 BC) tells us Hekate was “honored most of all by the immortal gods” she guided the city-state, gave rulers wisdom in their judgments, and provided protection, family harmony and wealth to the common people. And each month, citizens were required to prepare a sacramental supper called Hekate’s Deiphon on the night of the dark moon. This night the moon disappeared from the sky and Hekate emerged from Hades to gather the souls of the recently departed. Food offerings helped convey the dead safely to the underworld and obtain their blessings for the living left behind.
At dusk her sacred lanterns would be set out, libations of wine and honey were poured into the ground to reach the dead below and a selection of food offerings associated with Hekate and the underworld laid out; bread, grains, garlic, eggs, cheese, fish, pomegranates, squash and gourds, almonds, and a kind of ceremonial cheesecake lit by candles. And if Hekate was pleased and the dead well fed she would grant prosperity and protection to the household, family, and city-state.
Before the Deiphon it was necessary to remove any bad or stale energy (called miasma) one didn’t want to carry into the new month (Noumenia). Incense and purifying herbs were burned, homes swept clean and the dirt and debris placed outside the front door or at crossroads for Hekate to dispose of. The new moon, Noumenia was celebrated by dressing up, gathering together with family and friends, and plenty of feasting. The domestic shrines were cleaned and then wreathed with flower garlands, and then incense, wine, and cakes were offered anew.
Similar magical rites marking the phases of the lunar cycle are spread across the ancient world – much like Hekate herself. Her worship expanded across the Greek and Roman world, and as far afield as Libya, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Syria. Church records indicate they were still attempting to stamp out her suppers as late as the 11th century. While her cult was firmly established in Athens by 430 BCE, scholars generally agree she was imported into the Greek Pantheon from prehistoric Anatolia (Turkey) the lands of the Great Mother Goddess Kybele/Cybele.
Others link her to the Minoan Era (2700–1100 BCE) and the Goddess ‘Potnia Theron’ Mistress of Animals. Because of their many similarities, many scholars believe Hekate derives from a much older Mother Goddess whose solar and lunar aspects were manifest in the ever-repeating cycle of death and rebirth.
This is why I see the ancient lunar ceremonies like the Deiphnon, rituals of ending and renewing – as magic worth reviving. Today we know the moon phases affect the growth and rhythms of all life on the planet – including ourselves. I like the idea of clearing out the physical and psychic dirt of the previous month to make room for the fresh and new – and to do so in tune with the energetic rhythms of mother nature. So every dark moon I give the place a good sweep and place the bowl of sweepings at the threshold of the entrance of my home. I light a lantern and candles and set out some of Hekate’s sacred foods and magical herbs. Then I invoke her protection and invite her many blessings into the house! From the fruits laid at her altars, the cakes once served in her sanctuaries, to herbs and flowers growing in her legendary garden, I’ve created a wide variety of dishes for Hekate’s Supper over the years. (You can find many of them collected in the Hekate’s Supper E-Cookery book at Gather Patreon.) While they are not historically accurate in ingredients or intent, they are all inspired by the lore of Hekate both ancient and modern.
It’s important to note here that the Deipnon was not meant to be consumed by mortals and so the food was left untouched. A quote by Aristophanes suggests it may have also served to feed the poor. “Ask Hecate whether it is better to be rich or starving; she will tell you that the rich send her a meal every month and that the poor make it disappear before it is even served”. Whether you consume your Hektean offering is up to you. Many people make donations to food banks on this night. I partake – but leave Hekate her fair share of offerings first. One modern way to celebrate Hekate is with a potluck. Invite friends to bring a food or libation, and place these on an altar with lanterns, candles, and some of Hekate’s herbs.
Generally, a wide variety of historical sources seem to agree that bread, cheese, small cakes, eggs, fruits, pomegranates, roses, gourds garlic, onions, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and almonds, were among her favorite offerings. Many herbs associated with Hekate are said to have grown in her legendary garden in Colchis (modern-day Georgia) such as dandelion, jack in the hedge, juniper berries, mugwort, verbena, sage, mustard, saffron, lavender, chamomile, cardamom, – to name but a very few.
Which brings me back to the modern celebration of Hekate’s Night. In this time of deepening darkness, I’ve baked this Triple Chocolate Cheesecake in honor of the “Bringer of the Light”. Made with a blend of dark, milk and white chocolate, ricotta cheese, and featuring a dark chocolate almond crust, it is lightly spiced with cardamom and lavender, wild fennel seeds, and (just a touch) of the earthy, loamy flavor of freshly ground Licorice Fern Root. (If Licorice Fern isn’t available to you substitute regular licorice root or ground anise seeds). And of course, it’s adorned with the bright crimson jewels of barberries – commonly known as “Witches Sweets”. I think it’s a pretty offering for the Queen of the Witches – and I hope it curries her favor.
Hekate’s Triple Chocolate Cheesecake
Ingredients for crust
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 3/4 cup dark graham cracker crumbs
- 3/4 cup of ground almonds
Ingredients for filling
- 1 & 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup of mixed chocolate wafers or chips (white, dark and milk chocolate)
- 1 tsp. cardamom powder
- 1 -2 tsp. dried lavender buds
- 2 tsp. ground fennel seeds
- 2 tsp finely ground coffee bean powder
- 2 tsp. very finely minced or ground fresh liquorice fern root (or one teaspoon of ground star anise)
- a handful of candied almond slices (for garnish)
- Preheat your oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch round pan, preferably springform. Dust well with cocoa powder. Mix ground graham crackers and ground almonds with melted butter. Press firmly into the bottom of the springboard pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or microwave oven). Put aside.
- Separate yolks from whites.
- Whip up whites with one tablespoon of the sugar to firm peaks.
- Beat the rest of the sugar and yolks until fluffy.
- Add the ricotta, melted chocolate, cornstarch lavender, cardamom, fennel seeds, coffee beans and licorice fern root. Beat until smooth. Fold the egg whites into this mixture.
- Pour batter into the prepared tin, tap against the counter to release air bubbles, and bake for 40-45 minutes.
- Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and let the cake remain in the oven for 30 minutes to set.
- Unmold when cool. Dust with cocoa powder or icing sugar and sprinkle with candied almonds. Very nice with whipped cream.
More Hekate’s Supper Recipes in the Gather Victoria E-Cookery book at Gather Patreon.