As Artemis, Hecate was originally a goddess of fertility, especially of wilderness and childbirth, whose roots seem to be in Caria (South Western Anatolia).
Beside these aspects, in Archaic Greece (Eighth – Sixth Centuries B.C.E.) arose another beneficent function of Hecate as protectress from evil spirits, and for this reason her statues were placed not only at the gates of cities and domestic doorways, but also at countryside crossroads: such places were believed to be dangerous for travellers because of the difficulty of choosing the right way. Thus, crossroads were thought to be inhabitated by evil spirits always trying to inspire wrong decisions to wayfarers: it is worth of note that one of the most wicked episodes of Greek myth, the slaying of Laius by his son Oedipus, was set in a crossroad.Since the crossroad was imagined as the meeting of three roads, not four —the wayfarer has to choose among three ways, being the fourth only that from which he is coming—, a dispute arose among scholars whether the triple shape of Hecate, attested only from the end of the Fifth Century B.C.E., was ought to an especially deep assimilation to the Moon or only to her rôle of protectress of crossroads. In other words, the dispute was whether she became protectress of crossroads because of her triple nature of Moon goddess, or she got a deep assimilation to the Moon because of her rôle of protectress of crossroads. In my opinion, the two aspects are too old and rooted to be broken down in a cause and effect relationship: the most likely is that both aspects, the Moon goddess and the protectress of crossroads, reciprocally increased the other. Furthermore, I would like to suggest that the evil nature of crossroads in Greek culture was due —as usual— to their close link to the female element because of the triple nature.A great link between Artemis, Hecate, and the Moon rose since Fifth Century B.C.E., while in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, fr. 23a Merkelbach – West (Sixth Century B.C.E.), Iphigeneia becomes the immortal attendant of Artemis assuming the title of Artemis Einodia (= “Artemis in the Roads”), being Einodia the typical Hecate’s epithet. Beside this, the name Hecate (from hekate = the “far-shooter”) originally was nothing more than an epithet of Artemis.Since dogs and wolves bark to the Moon, Hecate’s deep assimilation to such heavenly body linked these animals to her: while to Artemis —the other great Moon goddess— were sacred hunting dogs, to Hecate were guardians.
Hecate is perhaps the goddess whose development through Indo-European times became most striking and noteworthy. When, in Middle and Late Bronze Age (since 2000 to 1000 B.C.E.), warrior tribes of nomad herders originating from Southern Russia —the so called Indo-Europeans—, conquered all Europe, the peaceful, agricultural, and matriarchal society was slowly replaced by the warrior, herder, and patriarchal one of the new rulers. All pre-Indo-European Earth and Moon goddesses, as Hecate, were submitted to the Indo-European male deities of the sky, of thunder, and of the sun. Because Indo-Europeans, instead of a Triple Goddess —assimilated to the Moon phases— believed in a couple of male, divine, and polarized twins —assimilated to the stars of the dawn and of the evening—, the Indo-Europeization of goddesses often consisted in placing beside their original triple nature a double and polarized one. Thus, Hecate’s beneficent nature of protectress from evil spirits, was slowly joined by another opposite nature of queen of evil, ghosts, magic, and witchcraft.Because the Indo-Europeization of Hecate increased through the centuries, with the evil aspect often prevailing on the beneficent one, in Roman times (I Century B.C.E – III C.E.) she became nothing more than a Goddess of Evil and Witches, totally losing her ancient beneficent nature of midwife and nurse. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this nature of the goddess was due only to the fears of patriarchal Indo-European society towards women.