Category Archives: Mythology

Britomartis, the Great Goddess of Minoan Crete

Snake Goddess

Minoan Snake Goddess.

Britomartis was the Cretan labrys goddess of nature, hunters and fishermen. Worshipped as the Minoan moon-goddess of the mountains in Mycenaean times who represented the female spirit of nature. Britomartis was the name of the Great Goddess of life, death and resurrection. She is an archaic aspect of the Cretan goddess ‘Mother of the Mountains’ and Potnia the ‘mistress’. Cults of Britomartis were situated mainly in north-east Crete  with a festival at Olous. The Festival of Britomarpeia was held in her honour. There were temples to her at Athens, Sparta, Massalia, and Anticyra in Phocis. Britomartis in western Crete was primarily a goddess of local importance. In addition she was worshipped as Aphaea on the island of Aegina.

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Britomartis (1861).  E. W. Wyon.

In myth Minos fell in love with Britomartis and for nine months chased after her until she jumped into the sea to escape him. She was rescued by fishermen after falling into their fishing nets. Her later name Diktynna is from the Greek word diktyon meaning a ‘net’ or dyktyna meaning ‘hunting nets’. Diktyanna also means mountain nymph or an Oread. Britomartis was deified after the intervention of Artemis thus among those Minoan goddess figures who passed from Mycenean culture into Greek mythology.

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Statue of Dyktynna.  Public domain.

Britomartis survived as Dyktynna as Mount Dikte, the birthplace of Zeus. As a Mountain Mother she appeared with Gorgon-like features, and in Minoan art was portrayed with demonic features accompanied by feral animals. Depictions show her holding the double-axes of power, holding her symbols the divine snakes. Her sacred flower was the lily.

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06/03/2015 · 3:44 pm

Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution

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Nemesis (1837).  Alfred Rethel.

Nemesis was the Graeco-Roman goddess of justice, revenge, right measure, destiny and divine retribution, and the deification of indignation. In origin Nemesis meant the distributor of fortune, either good or bad, in due proportion. In modern use she is used to describe one’s worst enemy. Her name is cognate with the Greek word meaning ‘give what is due’. As the personification of divine vengeance and retribution she was a remorseless goddess and vengeful executrix of justice. Nemesis measured out happiness and unhappiness, gave earthly luck, acted against those who succumbed to hubris, and punished sacrilege. In addition she was a goddess who, with the Furies, shared the dreaded responsibility of transporting guilty souls to Tartarus.

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Nemesis (1853).  G. Tatterescu.

The origin of the cult of Nemesis may have been at Smyrna with cults there and in Attica. Nemesis was worshipped in an archaic sanctuary at Rhamnus in north east Attica during the 5th century BC. Therefore she is also known as the goddess of Rhamnus or Rhamnusia. The sanctuary at Rhamnus was north of Marathon, and her cult became a morality cult with a temple at Iconium in Asia Minor. The Festival of Nemesia at Athens was intended to avert the nemesis of the dead.

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Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime (1808).  P. Prud’hon.

Nemesis, as the daughter of Erebus and Nyx was also ascribed as being the offspring of Oceanus or Zeus. She became the nymph goddess of the apple-bough. As the nymph goddess her name was Adastreia, meaning ‘inescapable’ or ‘from whom there is no escape’. The epithet of the Erinyes being ‘implacable’. Nemesis is often portrayed carrying the bough of an apple tree, or in one of her annual disguises as an ash tree. It was the later Greeks who identified Adastreia with the pastoral goddess Nemesis of the rain-making ash-tree. She is also sometimes depicted with a wheel, holding scales, whip and bridle, and symbolised in a chariot drawn by winged griffins.

Nemesis, as the original nymph goddess, whose usual name was Leda, was pursued by Zeus. During the pursuit both Nemesis and Zeus frequently changed form. Eventually Zeus, in the guise of a swan ravaged and impregnated Nemesis in her goose form. As a result of the rape Nemesis hatched an egg, found by Leda, into two sets of twins. One set was Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, the other the Dioscuri called Castor and Polydeuces.

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Leda and the Swan (1601).  Peter Paul Rubens.

In the pre-Hellenic story the goddess pursues the sacred king against whom uses she uses her seasonal transformations to counter his, whereupon she devours him at summer solstice. With the victory of the system of patriarchy the later Hellenic version reverses their roles. Hence the goddess takes flight, metamorphoses a number of times, and is eventually caught and raped by the chasing king. Leda, who finds the egg, is another form of Leto, Lat, or Latona who is pursued by Python. In another version it is Leda who gave birth after the egg had been placed between her thighs by Artemis. Nemesis who was a moon-goddess as a nymph was also the goddess of a Peloponnesian swan cult. Swans were sacred to Leto and Latona. Later Leda was deified as Nemesis.

The ancient Romans equated Nemesis with the goddess Invidia who in ancient Rome was called Pax-Nemesis.

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Nemesis.  Roman marble from 2nd century AD Egypt.

As the patroness of gladiators she was also Nemesis campestris or the goddess of the training ground. Nemesis in ancient Rome was the winged balancer of life, a dark faced goddess and daughter of Justice. In the 3rd century AD she was the all-powerful Nemesis-Fortuna.

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Badb, the Irish goddess of war.

Badb Lindowyn

Badb.  Lindowyn.  Public domain.

Badb was a Celtic and Irish war and crow goddess who was also seen as a supernatural woman and demon. Also known as Bibe, Bellona and Cautth Bodva, she was also the goddess of enlightenment, inspiration, life and wisdom. In the  mythology of Ireland her name means ‘crow’ in Old Irish and in Modern Irish she is called Badhbh which means ‘vulture’. The name means literally, in later Irish, ‘scolding old hag’ or witch, as well as ‘scold crow’ who appears on the battlefield. The implication of the crow or raven form is one being perceived as dangerous.

In Old Irish mythology she is believed to be an evil spirit that delights in carnage, in inciting armies against each other, as well as filling warriors with fury. Irish variants refer to her as badhbh or ‘hoodie crow’, a fairy, and scold. In early Irish she is called badb and the ‘crow demon’ is Badba. In Ghaulish she is Bodv as in Bodvo-guatus. For the Welsh she was bod (or kite) thus Bodnod.

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The hooded or ‘hoodie’ crow.

Badb was the daughter of either Cailitin or Ernmas who was one of the Tuatha de Danaan. Wife of Net or Niet or his granddaughter. One of a trinity of names including Ana, or Anu, and Macha who were known as the Fate Trinity, and regarded as the three Valkyrie aspects of the triple deity Morrigan. The Morrigna were the triple goddess Morrigan, Macha, and Nemain. The sisters of Badb were thus Macha and Morrigan all of whom were war goddesses. Badb was possibly related to the Ghaulish deity called Catubodna or Bodva. Badb, as a form of Morrigan, was capable of changing shape at will. As a ‘shapeshifter’ she took the form of a hooded crwo, a wolf, a heifer of bear, or a female giantess who straddled a river.

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Statue of Morrigan.  Public domain.

In the ancient Irish mythological account of the second battle of Mag Tuired, a crucial battle against the Fomorians, Badb and the Morrigu drove them out of Ireland. Therefore Badb, with the Tuatha de Danaan defeated the Fomorians. Before a battle Badb also confronted and frightened the Irish hero Cuchulain. This she achieved by turning into Badb Catha, the crow or raven of battle, the ‘battle crow’ and harbinger of death.

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Badb Catha. John McCambridge.  Public domain.

Badb, as an evil personality, frequented battle fields before and after the slaughter. In this role Badb was known as badhbh chaointe  who presaged death as a ‘weeping’ or keening’ crow. Badb was identified with the bean-sidhe or banshee, in her function of pre-empting death to certain families. The bean-sidhe was a phantom, a spectre, or female fairy, who is also commemorated in County Kerry at Lisabe or Badb’s fort.

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Bean-Sidhe.  Public domain.

The term bodh or badh meant originally rage, fury, or violence, which eventually came to signify a fairy, witch or goddess. The English Royston Crow is the squall-crow or Fionog. In this aspect Banba was analogous to the Gaulish figure called Bodua.

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Artemis, Amazonian Mother Goddess of the Moon

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty

 

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The Venus de Milo.  Louvre.  Public domain.

Aphrodite was a goddess of romantic and sexual love, marriage and beauty  who was known as the goddess of desire who rose naked from the sea. Aphrodite became in myth the condensation, the embodiment, the epitome of spiritual love and feminine charm. However some versions of her myth describe her as and androgynous deity. The combination of Hermes and Aphrodite renders ‘hermaphrodite’. It was Aphrodite who as a goddess of mystic sensuality reconciled mankind with sexuality. The nature of Aphrodite, which combined a deceptive capacity with procreative proclivities and seductive nature, defined her as an ambivalent deity.

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The Birth of Venus (1879).  W-F. Bougereau. Public domain.

In Greek mythology Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione and twin sister of Apollo. The well known version tells of her being born from the foam generated by the phallus of Uranus thrown into the sea. Her name means ‘foam born’ or ‘foam risen’ and she is believed to have risen from Chaos and danced upon the waves  and sailed across the sea in a scallop shell.

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus

Once born she travelled to Cyprus and landed at Cythera or Paphos where she became known as the ‘Queen of the Sea’. Hence the epithets Cypris, Cytherea and Aphrodite Anadyomene, the name given her as she rose from the ocean, and her epithet aphros means ‘sea foam’. Cythera, her sacred site in Cyprus, was an important centre for the sea trade conducted by the Cretans. Aphrodites’s  titles Amathusia or Amathuatia were those given her at Amathus in Cyprus. The participation of men in her cult, as Aphrodite Euploia and Pontia and Limenia, was connected with her as the patroness of seafaring.

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Aphrodite statue.  300 BC.  Public domain.

Aphrodite was the daughter of Uranus and Hemera, the wife of Hephaestus who was the lame smith to the gods and god of fire. She was also the lover of Adonis and Butes as well as the consort of her favourite Ares, the god of war. Aphrodite was the patroness not only of life and love but also the arts, crafts, letters, laughter, the sciences and culture, time fate and death. This in addition to her influence on animal and plant fecundity.

Aphrodite of Urbino

Aphrodite of Urbino

Astarte was the mother of Aeneas by Anchises as well as Eros by Zeus, Ares or Hermes. he was credited with being the mother of Priapus by either Dionysus, Hermes, Pan, or Zeus. Ares was reputedly, by Aphrodite, the true father of the sons and daughter of Hephaestus called Deimus, Phobus and Harmonia. Ares and Aphrodite were the parents of Anteros. Hermes and Aphrodite produced Hermaphroditus , and Poseidon fathered Heraphilus and Rhodis.

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Venus and Adonis (1605-1609).  Luca Cambiaso.  Public domain.

The cults of Aphrodite, as a ‘wide-ruling goddess’ were widely distributed and extended. Her worship found in Palestine and Syria and Akkad as Ishtar and Ashtaroth in Phoenicia. As Aphrodite Urania she was identified with the Semitic goddess of  heaven called Astarte in Syria as well as the Iranian goddess Anahita, not forgetting the Venus of Roam.  As Urania she was a nymph of summer a ‘Queen of the Mountain’. In Persia, as Aphrodite Pandemos, she was worshipped as the personification of common or earthly love. For ancient Rome Aphrodite Pandemos (goddess of sexuality) was Concordia the deity of harmony and peace, and whose Festivals were called Aphrodisia. The cults of Aphrodite. although originally in Asia, are both foreign, exemplified by Sumerian Inanna , Phoenician Argipassa,  Phrygian Cybele, indigenous  Pasaphaessa ‘the shining one’ and Argynnis the ‘gleaming one’.

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Aphrodite in front of a mirror.

The known period of the worship of Aphrodite was between 1300 BC, which developed out of an earlier Asiatic and prehistoric belief, lasting until Christianisation around 400 AD and later. She has been portrayed  in a chariot drawn by eight unicorns. Aphrodite’s sacred tree was the myrtle and her symbol was a shell. Aphrodite Myrto was her epithet when she is depicted sitting under her myrtle tree, as well as Murcia, Myrtea, Myrtoessa and Myrroessa. Plants sacred also to her were the poppy, the rose and apple. Her sacred birds were the swan, the swallow, the sparrow, and her totem the dove. Also sacred were the ram and the tortoise as well as the planet Venus. . It is in this sense that Aphrodite is called the daughter of Dione who was the ‘oak tree goddess’ which is the abode of the amorous dove, a bird known for its lechery.

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Aphrodite and Adonis (1614).  Peter Paul Rubens.  Public domain.

The worship of Aphrodite, especially in Corinth,  was in  the main by women and prostitutes which explains her epithets of Hetaira or ‘courtesan’ and Porne or ‘prostitute’. Due to her concerns with both sexuality and fertility she was worshipped at the Arrephosia in Athens.  Paphos was the most well known centre of  worship of Aphrodite, as well as Amathus, Kition in Cyprus, Corinth and other Greek mainland locations.

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Aphrodite statue.  2nd century BC

 Aphrodite was believed to have power over the ‘black earth’ which linked her with the powers of darkness, of the night. In other words she was regarded as the goddess of ‘Death in Life’ and which explains the epithets of Melaenis or the ‘black one’, or Scotia or the ‘dark one’. Similarly the name Androphonos meaning ‘man slayer’ and ‘man killer’. Epitymbria meaning ‘of the tombs’ and Epitymbidia or ‘one sitting on tombs’.

Venus

Other darkly suggestive epithets include Ambologera meaning ‘postponer of old age’, Anosia or ‘the unholy one’ and Apostrophia ‘she who turns away’. As well as Tymborychos or ‘gravedigger’.These can be contrasted with descriptions such as Morpho ‘the shapely one’ and Callipyges ‘the one with the shapely buttocks’.

Sources consulted

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.

 

To be continued.

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