Artemis, Amazonian Mother Goddess of the Moon


Artemis.  Roman copy 1st – 2nd century AD

An Amazonian and virgin moon goddess. A deity of ancient origin she was known throughout western Asia. A pre-Homeric ‘Mistress of the Animals’ and a facet of the Minoan goddess known as Potnia Theron. As a mother of all animals, Lady of the Beasts, and divine huntress, with bows and arrows, she is often depicted winged and flanked by animals. In addition to being the goddess of the hunt she is a deity of the natural environment.

As a patroness of  nurture, fertility, who presides over  birth she is also described as Elephabulos or ‘shooter of deer’. Artemis is also the goddess of blood sacrifice and a mellissae or ‘Queen Bee’ sometimes portrayed surrounded by bees. Artemis was not a goddess of wedlock but nonetheless of fecundity being “…amoral, promiscuous, powerfully sexual, and justifiably so because of her crucial role in ensuring survival of the species.” (Carpentier, 1998).

Artemis Signac

Artemis (Diana Hunting).  Guillaume Seignac (1870-1924).

Artemis is sometimes portrayed as a bear sometimes winged. The willow is sacred to her and associated plants are the fir, the laurel, wormwood and mugwort. On Mount Taygetus there grew her sacred herb Artemisia. Her sacred animals are the bear, the bee, lion and bull. For fishermen and hunters the first fruits are offered and dedicated to her at shrines. The attendants of Artemis are her Amnisiades who tend her sacred deer. Her priestesses are referred to as ‘Sacred Bitches’. Artemis is also represented as a torch bearer symbolising the moon.

Artemis was, in Greek mythology, the daughter of Leto and Zeus, as well as the twin sister of Apollo. Associated with the nymphs Britomartis and Callisto as well as Opis, Iphigenia, Hecate, Echo and the Naiads.  She was also called Aeginaea or the Great Goddess at her sacred site at Taenareus. Also Aegeria the ‘Giver of Life’ as well as Aetola as Artemis at Naupractas. As the ‘Protectors of the People’ she was Agoraea with Athena at Sparta. As Agrotera who had some war involvement, Agraea and Agrotors she was Artemis the huntress. Another of her titles at Sparta was Ambulia the ‘Goddess Who Delays Death’ whereas as Homer described her as a ‘death bringing goddess’.

As Artemis Ephesia she was the special mother of fertility, shown as a many breasted figure, and goddess in her own right who was later fused with the Artemis of Greece. At Ephesus in Turkey her temple was called the Artemesion. As Artemis Tauria she was the goddess at Tuaris to whom all seamen cast ashore were sacrificed, whereas as Artemis Meleagua she was the goddess of leprosy and disease.


Artemis of Ephesus. 1st century AD.  Public domain.

In Arcadia and Attica she was identified with Callisto and thus the Mother of the Tribe called Artemis Calliste or Brauronia to whom goats were sometimes sacrificed. The worshippers of Artemis in Scythia were the Alani or ‘Hunting Dogs’. Her known period of devotion was between 800 BC until Christianisation around 400 AD.   The many cult centres of Artemis included Delos, Ephesus, Pamphylia, Magnesia on the Meander, Perge , and Antioch.

Artemis resting

Artemis Resting (1742).  Francois Bunchin

The festival or worship , the Artemisia, took place on May 6th. A larger festival called the Ephesia in the temple of Ephesus circa 400 BC, took place every four years. There were several cults at Sparta. The most important was that of Artemis Orthia the protector of women and children. In this festival Spartan boys were initiated as warriors. A sanctuary to Artemis was at Delos from 700 BC. Known to the Romans as an orgiastic form of Diana at Ephesus her festival was the Ephesia also.


Artemis Orthia. Archaic ivory votive offering. Public domain.

The cult of Artemis Pagastis was found in Thessaly. The cult of Artemis Throsia at Larissa involved the consecration of  girls, the nembroi or ‘fawns’ in the festival of nebreia. The cult of Artemis Laphria included a procession of priestess virgins in a deer drawn chariot with the sacrificial burning of bears. The parade comprised dancing maidens aged from five to ten years of age. They wore saffron robes and were called ‘bears’. These maidens served Artemis, the bear goddess, as arktoi in a pre-menarche ritual where these female children became marriageable parthenoi.


Artemis Laphria.  Public domain.

Artemis Lochia is the goddess of the childbed and Artemis Curotrophus is the nurse of youths. Artemis Tauropolus, worshipped at Tauris, where she was confounded with the Asiatic goddess Anahita,  and Artemis Treclavia, are goddesses of agriculture. Iphigenia was the priestess of her temple at Tauris. Female transitions, or rites of passage. were her concern as Artemis Munichia and Brauronia. Munichia was also associated with the cult of Artemis Phosphoros the ‘light bearer’. As Artemis Caryatis she was also known as Carmenta, Phyllis, the White Goddess, and worshipped at Laconia as a tree goddess. This epithet for Artemis was derived from the city of Karyae in Laconia where was an open air temenos dedicated to Carya the ‘Lady of the Nut Tree. Her priestesses were called caryatidai. Annually women performed a dance at a festival called the Caryateia. the Finally, Artemis Orthia was the goddess the Dorians identified with Aphrodite.

Sources consulted

Carpentier, M. C.  Ritual, Myth, and the Modernist Text.  Gordon & Breach, Australia.

Coleman, J. A.  (2007).  The Dictionary of Mythology.  Arcturus Publishing Ltd, London.

Goodrich, N. L.  (1989).  Priestesses.  Franklin Watts, New York.

Graves, R.  (1979).  The Greek Myths, vols 1 & 2.  Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Hesiod.  (1973).  Theogony.  Penguin Classics.  Harmondsworth.

Jordan, M.  (1992).  Encyclopaedia of Gods.  Kyle Cathie Ltd, London.

Leach, M. ed.  (1972).  Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend.  Funk & Wagnalls, New York.

Leeming, D.  (2005).  The Oxford Companion to World Mythology.  OUP, New York.

Lempriere, I.  (1994).  Classical Dictionary.  Bracken Books, London.

Murray, A.  (1988).  Who’s Who in Mythology.  Bonaza Books, London.

Pausanias.  (1979).  Guide to Greece.  Penguin Classics.  Harmondsworth.

Price, S. & Kearns, E.  (2003).  The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion.  OUP, Oxford.

Shapiro, M. S. & Hendricks, R. A.  (1981).  A Dictionary of Mythologies.  Granada, London.





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