“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
“Then, earth began to bellow, trees to dance, And howling dogs in glimmering light advanced. Ere Hecate came.” ~Aeneid, Book VL
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, a culinary offering to the ancient Goddess Hecate or Hekate. In old-world lore, she roams the darkness on the night of November 16th with her retinue of ghosts, spirits, owls, bats and baying hounds. And in many parts of the world food offerings of bread, grains, garlic, eggs, and cheese, fish, fruits, almonds, and a kind of ceremonial cheesecake lit by candles were left at crossroads to obtain her favours. And if Hecate was pleased, she would grant devotees good fortune and protection from harm – not to mention magical powers.
I wanted to bake an offering that would not only feature her favourite foods and spices but honour November, the month of the ever-deepening dark. So I thought a dense, luscious cheesecake, perfumed with coffee, cardamom, wild fennel seeds and liquorice fern root (for an appropriate touch of the wild) just might do the trick.
For the Ancient Greeks, Hecate was a Titaness with a share of the earth, sky and sea and Hesiod describes her “honoured most of all by the immortal gods”. One suggestion for the origin of her name comes from the Greek root “willing” -“she who works her will”. She guided the city-state, gave rulers wisdom in their judgments and provided protection, family harmony and wealth to the common people. Statues of her were kept by the front door and shrines to her kept outside homes and city gates.
And on the night of the dark moon of each lunar month, a banquet of food offerings called Hecate’s Supper or Hecates Deipnon was served. This was the night the Goddess Hekate emerged from the underworld with her retinue of baying hounds gatherings souls of the recently departed. These offerings helped convey them safely to the underworld – not to mention entreat their assistance for the benefit of the living.
The Deipnon began with household rituals like cleaning and purifying the home. One would sweep the entire house, keep the dust and debris and take it to the crossroads to be disposed of by Hecate. Then the foods offerings were laid out and one would leave – without looking back.
And while Hecate’s Supper was not traditionally meant to be consumed, these offerings likely also functioned on the material realm to feed the poor. In a play by Aristophanes, Plutus says to Poverty – “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.”
Many shrines of Hecate are marked by stone pillars of statues carved in her likeness. Holding the keys to all mysteries, she is Lady of the Crossroads, the place where the worlds meet. Her three heads represent her dominion over the underworld, the earthly world and celestial realm. And because there is no light without darkness, Hecate’s torch casts away shadows, brings the light of psychic vision, and illuminates the soul. This light is thought to symbolize the light of the moon and morning star, Venus, the bringer or bearer of light, and so Hecate’s symbols include the star and the moon.
Scholars generally agree her “cult” was likely imported to the Greco-Roman world from Thrace (modern-day Northern Greece and Bulgaria) or Anatolia (modern Turkey) and date back as far as the 8th century BCE. One possible origin for Hekate is from the cult of the Anatolian great mother goddess Kybele, with whom she shared many symbols such as keys, dogs, lions, serpents, torches and caves. References about Hecate found in the Orphic Hymns and The Chaldean Oracles describe her as “irresistible”, as the “Keeper of the Keys of the Whole Universe” “the source of all virtues”. She is Nature herself, “she who ensouls all things”.
By late antiquity, Hecate begins to take on her darker aspect. The playwright Aristophanes wrote, “Hekate’s magic was that of death and the underworld, but also of love, oracles, of herbs, poisons, protection and guidance.” To the Romans, Hecate was also known as Trivia, Three-Ways who stands at crossroads, attended by the Restless Dead and hounds. Many historians believe the worship of Hecate was absorbed into the cult of the Roman Goddess Diana who was also associated with the moon and the night, attended by a pack of hounds and left offerings at crossroads.
Diana’s worship persisted well into the medieval period across Europe and was associated with gatherings of women, the moon and witchcraft. For the medieval church, the practice of leaving offerings at crossroads is on the record as one of the hardest pagans practices to stamp out. And if we are uncertain about what these women were really up to on their nocturnal rites, this question from a German Bishop in 1015 reveals much. “Hast thou come to any other place to pray other than a church or other religious place which thy bishop or priest showed thee: to springs or stones or trees or crossroads, and there in reverence for the place lighted a candle or torch, or carried there bread or any offerings, or eaten there, or sought there any healing of body or mind?”
So on Hecate’s Night, in honour of She who Ensouls All, I will offer this Triple Chocolate Cheesecake. 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 (some of her traditional offerings) and the not so traditional addition of wild fennel seeds and (just a touch) of the earthy, loamy flavour of freshly ground Licorice Fern Root. And of course, it’s adorned with the bright crimson jewels of barberries – commonly known as “Witches Sweets”. I think its a pretty witchy offering for the Queen of the Witches – and I hope it curries her favour.
Of course, you can make any kind of offering you like, many foods like cheese, garlic, almonds, lavender, myrrh, mugwort, cardamom, mint, dandelion, apples and pomegranates are said to be some of her favourites.
I also made a couple of variations of a Triple Chocolate Bark (using the same blend of dark, milk and white chocolate) and loaded with crunchy almonds, chewy raisins, dried cranberries, wild fennel seeds, a few sprinkles of lavender and cardamom and a generous topping of barberries. This Chocolate Bark Recipe will be available soon for Gather Patrons!
Hecates 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
- 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 bottom of springboard pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
- Melt the chocolate in 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 liquorice fern root. Beat until smooth. Fold in the egg whites into this mixture.
- Pour batter into prepared tin, tap against 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.