Hell Notes: Who the Heck is Hecate?

By | May 30th, 2013
Posted in Annotations | 4 Comments
Logo by Tim Daniel

Gorgon-eyed Hecate
If you haven’t read the Hell Notes column on vampires, you may want to take a look at it before launching into this. This is sort of the sequel.

Aside from a few casual mentions like the one in this week’s B.P.R.D.: Vampire #3, Hecate hasn’t appeared in the comics for quite some time. Her last appearance was in the fourth issue of B.P.R.D.: King of Fear back in 2010, and even that was a brief one. However, she is a character connected to many of the core aspects of the Hellboy Universe’s mythology: The fall of Hyperborian empire, vampires, the Black Goddess cult, even Ragna Rok and Hellboy’s final fate. So, let’s launch into this!

Please note, this column contains spoilers for those that have not yet read up to and including B.P.R.D.: Vampire #2.

Hecate’s Origins

Little is known of Hecate’s origins. In Hellboy: Darkness Calls it is said that she was born out of the shadow of the Moon, but delivered out of the belly of a wolf. She lived atop Mount Eos. Attended by birds of prey and serpents, she drank only blood. Her appearance was like that of a woman, only more beautiful. Hecate herself confirms that these are all true.

It has also been said she is the sister of the Ogdru Jahad, the seven dragons who are one, that not only is she a vampire, but she is the source of all others. Other than simply being stated, none of the elements have yet been explored in the comics. Her connection to the Ogdru Jahad is something I’m particularly curious about. Does she truly share some sort of kinship with the Ogdru Jahad, or was this “sister” in a more literary sense of the word?

The Fall of Hyperborea

Hecate in Thoth’s temple
Hecate’s most defining moment was one that would ultimately lead to the destruction of the Hyperborean empire. Thoth, the King of the Golden People, ruler for ten thousand years, had a secret garden in the Hyperborean capital city, Gorinium. In this garden were three angels (also called Watchers or Titans). From them, Thoth had learned all the workings of the universe, and all the words, signs, and devices of power. He recorded this knowledge in forty-two books, but only two of these were shared with his people. The rest he kept secret.

Then Hecate came into the picture. She seduced Thoth, and while he slept, stole the key to his secret garden. She killed the three angels and drank their blood, then she went into Thoth’s temple. There she vomited out the blood, and with it she painted the walls with the knowledge Thoth had kept secret.

Hecate invited any Hyperboreans that wished to know the workings of the universe to come and learn them in Thoth’s temple. When Thoth awoke and discovered what she had done, he cursed her so that her body was half-changed into a serpent and could no longer bear the light of day, then he drove her from the city.

Mythological Links

Adam, Eve, and...
I find the parallels between this story and the story of the Garden of Eden particularly interesting. In Mignola’s version, Thoth has taken on the role of God keeping knowledge from man. Hecate has assumed the role of Eve and the serpent. The presence of the serpent, knowledge, the garden, and the downfall of man are no coincidence.

Obviously with Hecate being a pre-existing mythical figure, there’s a certain amount of history that comes with the character, but Mike Mignola has developed her much further, weaving various real-world myths into his version of her. Hecate has said herself, she has been the secret queen of a hundred empires, with temples beneath every great city in history. The Hellboy Universe Hecate is cobbled together from so many different mythologies, and a hefty chunk of Mignola’s own invention, blurring the lines until it’s difficult to tell what’s real myth and what’s not.

The Wheel, symbol of the
Goddess of Crossroads
Hecate is known by many names, including (but not limited to) Heca-Emen Ra, Neb-Ogeroth, Black Heccata, The Black Goddess, Goddess of Crossroads, Witch Queen, and her secret name, Ilsa Haupstein (but we’ll get to that later).

Continued below

Lamia was the name she was introduced with when she first appeared in the pages of Hellboy: Wake the Devil. In Greek mythology, Lamia was the mistress of the god Zeus (a parallel can be drawn to the seduction of Thoth here) who went on to become a child-eating demon. John Keats’s poem Lamia (1819) describes her as having a serpent’s tail below the waist, which is clearly an aspect Mignola has incorporated. Lamia is also connected to lamiai, Greek vampires. The name Lamia is even cognate with Lilith, (the first wife of Adam, who was cursed by god and became a demon that would spawn monsters called Lilim) which in turn is associated with the Ancient Babylonian and Assyrian Lilitu (a shape-shifting demon that drank the blood of babies).

A statue of the Black Goddess
Mike Mignola’s Hecate isn’t known to drink the blood of babies (though I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility), but the Black Goddess cult that worships her does sacrifice babies in her name. The Black Goddess statue appears frequently in all eras of the Hellboy Universe. It is based on a non-traditional depiction of the Hindu goddess, Kali (who is sometimes called the Black Goddess herself). The reference photograph Mignola used had a bowl in one hand and a sword in other. His version added snakes and replaced the sword with a skull. Kali too had a vampiric side. She was known for getting drunk on the blood of her enemies slain in battle.

Furthermore, Kali is sometimes mentioned in relatively modern Wiccan petitions to Hecate, which name Isis and Kali as the other two forms of the triform goddess, though there are many variations of this, citing many different goddesses across the world. The petition to Hecate is something Mike Mignola has utilised in the comics rather frequently with several variations of his own. Common elements are:

Hellish, Heavenly, and Earthly Hecate / Infernal, Terrestrial, and Celestial Hecate
Goddess of Crossroads
Queen of Night, Enemy of Sun
Gorgo, Mormo, Moon of a thousand forms

Mignola’s versions of the petition seem to be largely inspired by the ancient incantation in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Horror of Red Hook:

“O friend and companion of night,
Thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs and spilt blood,
Who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs,
Who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals,
Gorgo, Mormo, look favourably on our sacrifices!”

“Gorgo” refers to the Gorgons of Greek mythology, women with snake-hair that turned people to stone with their gaze. Although Hecate has never turned anyone to stone in Mignola’s comics, the snake hair is certainly there. “Mormo” was the name of a vampire-like creature in Greek mythology that attacked children.

I haven’t found any mythology that implicates Hecate herself as a vampire or of having vampire-like tendencies, though she does share the company of vampires. Mormo was a companion of hers and Lamia was Hecate’s daughter. Traditionally Hecate’s primary associates are with witchcraft, the Moon, and crossroads. Her parentage is disputed, and she is at times referred to as a Titaness, the only Titan who aided Zeus in the battle of the gods and Titans, and the only Titan not cast down into the Underworld.

This is of particular interest, as it may shine some light on the origin of Mignola’s Hecate. His Watchers, the angels that fought against the Ogdru Jahad and the three-hundred and sixty-nine Ogdru Hem, are occasionally referred to as “Titans” in Mignola’s books. We do not know when or how Hecate came into the world, but this at least suggests she may have been present when the Titans fought “the old gods” (as the Ogdru Hem are often called).

The Black Goddess Cult

Hecate has been worshipped by many different orders from various cultures throughout the ages. The oldest of these is Black Goddess cult. Calling her Neb-Ogeroth, this cult began in Thoth’s own temple. The Hyperboreans that had come to learn the workings of the universe would go on to become priests of the Black Goddess. They became known as “the People of the Left Hand”. This may have been only to contrast with “the People of the Right Hand” whose sacred object was the right hand of the Watcher Anum who imprisoned the Ogdru Jahad. Or not. The significance of the Left Hand has never been explored. All that is known is that they were the ones that worshipped the Black Goddess.

Continued below

The amulet worn by those that serve the Black Goddess. It represents the Twin Serpents, Nimung-Gulla

Within a thousand years of the profaning of Thoth’s temple, the Hyperborean culture was destroyed, and Ogdru spirits were awoken. The People of the Right Hand used their powers to leave the world, while the People of the Left Hand descended into the Inner World where they built machines of war. To tend the machines, the made an army of slaves, but this would ultimately be their undoing when the creatures rose up against them and slaughtered them all.

Priests of the Black Goddess
This was not the end of the Black Goddess cult though. Some early humans had learned of it, and so it lived on. The most recent form of this cult is seen with the Chutt warriors, “The Spiritual Children of Hyperborea”. These warriors came down out of the mountains in Siberia 1222 to fight for Genghis Khan, believing that the gods had chosen him to be the new emperor of the world. Following Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, the Chutt cut their hair and returned to the mountains. They would not be heard of again for over seven hundred years.

Memnan Saa
It was in the early twentieth century that they found their leader, a European called Martin Gilfryd, who had undergone a rebirth as Memnan Saa. In 1937, Memnan Saa lead a group of Chutt warriors into New York city in an attempt to acquire a way to harness Vril to breed an army of dragons (thwarted by none other than Lobster Johnson).

They appeared again during the war on the frog monsters, and fought alongside the B.P.R.D. and the U.S. military at the rebuilt Hyperborean city of Thadrethes. What happened to them after this is unknown. Perhaps they fled after the death of Memnan Saa? If they are still alive, then the Black Goddess cult surely is also.

Hecate’s Reawakening and Death

In Greek mythology, Hecate started off as a reasonably noble goddess, although over time she changed until by 500 CE in The Orphic Argonautica, she is described as a deadly monster, Hecate of Tartarus.

This change in the ancient Greeks’ perception of Hecate is likely an aspect of Hecate’s past Mignola has incorporated into his Hecate. Around this period in the Hellboy Universe, Hecate disappeared. I’m guessing at this point in time the Greeks figured out she wasn’t the fantastic goddess they thought she was and turned against her. After sleeping for a thousand years, she was found in 1492 by Greek fisherman, pulled from the water all withered and hard. The fishermen would have thrown her into the fire, but a man stopped them, the father of Vladimir Giurescu.

Giurescu Senior brought her back to Castle Giurescu in Romania. There he bathed her in ox blood, milk, honey, and oils, until she became flexible again. He built her a new temple, and gave his son Vladimir to her so that he would become her son too. This would begin the European vampire epidemic of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Witches of Thessaly
It’s interesting to note that there seems to be a kind of hierarchy among the vampires. The weaker vampires are able to transform themselves into bats, but the greater vampires turn into birds of prey. Birds of prey were of course the animals that attended Hecate atop Mount Eos all those ages ago.

The Witches of Thessaly, who are in Hecate’s service at Castle Giurescu, also turn into birds of prey. One of these, Medea, was a priestess of Hecate’s in Greek mythology. She is seen briefly in her bird form in Wake the Devil heralding the arrival of Hecate, but things must have gone poorly for her after that, because in Darkness Calls it is mentioned she is one of four witch queens… and that all four are dust.

Anyway, back to Hecate. She remained in Castle Giurescu until 1997 when Hellboy came along and blew the place up (incidentally, this is probably what killed Medea). Their fight forced the pair of them outside, and Hecate was claimed by Thoth’s curse, “and she could no more bear the light of day.”

Continued below

The Maiden of Joo

Hecate didn’t stay dead for long though. A part of her life force lived in her son, Vladimir Giurescu, and it left him, rebirthing Hecate in the iron body of the Maiden of Joo.

You know, I should probably go back a bit and explain what the Maiden of Joo is.

The Maiden of Joo was an iron maiden and the favourite torture device of the real-world Countess Elizabeth Bathory. The countess used the iron maiden to drain her victims of blood so that she could remain forever youthful and beautiful. But in the end she was only young and beautiful for rats and spiders. She was arrested and put on trial for her murders, and eventually bricked up in her own castle walls.

In Wake the Devil, the Baba Yaga gives the Maiden of Joo to Rasputin. Rasputin hopes to use it to create a replacement for Hellboy, so that he can free the Ogdru Jahad. He asks one of his disciples, the Nazi Ilsa Haupstein, to sacrifice herself so that she become something beyond the reach of a living human. Willingly, she steps inside.

The Maiden of Joo was claimed as the new body for the spirit of Hecate shortly afterwards, and remained so for several years. It was free from Hecate’s former weakness, that she could never go out into daylight, but it came with a weakness of its own. By taking the Maiden of Joo, Hecate had also claimed the corpse of Ilsa Haupstein, and that name became her own and could be used against her.

It was a name learned by Igor Bromhead, a man that dabbled in witchcraft, and fancied making himself the King of Witches. In a tomb near Lucca, Italy, he summoned Hecate, and used Ilsa Haupstein’s name to bind Her. He took the possessed corpse of Ilsa and bricked her up in a wall, just as Elizabeth Bathory had been bricked up. There Hecate waits until the end of the world.

While she waits, she is visited by Sir Edward Grey. She asks him if he has come to mock his queen. Hecate, of course, is the Queen of Witches, and Sir Edward was formerly a mortal man that spent his life fighting witchcraft, and is now an immortal exceptionally well-versed in magic (as shown in Hellboy in Hell when he fights Eligos), so I admit I am more than just a little curious as to what this is about. Was this merely a jab at Sir Edward for becoming something he had so long fought against, or something more? Clearly these two have some kind of history together, one that I’m very interested to see explored.

Ragna Rok

The Maiden of Joo is one of my favourite Mignola visuals. Whenever it showed up, it was always shifting its shape, changing into a cloaked woman or into Hecate’s half-snake body. So, you can imagine how happy I was to see it at the end of the world.

In King of Fear, Elizabeth Sherman has stepped into the future where she witnesses the ruin of the world. Everyone is dead, and only the Ogdru Hem remain. At the end of this vision, she sees Hellboy atop a mountain, and at his side is Hecate. He and Hecate tell Liz to release the full destructive force of her power on the world. Liz does so, scorching the surface of the entire planet.

This fulfils a prophecy that the world would be burned. There are many prophecies about the end of the world, and in all of them when Ragna Rok comes, Hellboy and Hecate are together. It is said they will either rule over the new world together or die. These two are eternally linked.

In fact, there are some interesting dualities between Hellboy and Hecate. Hecate is worshipped by the People of the Left Hand, and the People of the Right Hand worshipped Anum’s hand, the Right Hand of Doom that Hellboy’s father attached to him as an infant. Hellboy is “Heaven, Hell, and human come together as one” ― The hand of an angel, the son of a demon, and the Heir of King Arthur. Hecate is “Hellish, Heavenly, and Earthly” ― A vampire and a demon, she has drunk the blood of angels, and her body is that of a human woman, Ilsa Haupstein. Hellboy fights against his destiny constantly, but Hecate accepts hers. She calmly calls herself “Hecate the damned” and doesn’t rail against the cage she’s in.

Continued below

I have so many questions about Hecate, but she is so tied up with the end of all things, I believe we shall be waiting a very long time for any answers. But in the meantime, it’s fun to muse on the possibilities and see what threads we can string together.

And so ends another Hell Notes. This one was a long one. I want to thank Mike and Christine Mignola for their help digging up some extra details for me. I am quite certain I missed more than a few myths referenced in the comics relating to Hecate. It is a very complicated tapestry after all. If you happen to spot any oversights, let me know.

That’s all from me. See you next time.

//TAGS | Hell Notes | Mignolaversity

Mark Tweedale

Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter @MarkTweedale.


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