The birth of Artemis and Apollo.
Ancient Greek mother goddess worshipped between circa 800 BC, though most likely earlier, through to Christianisation around 400 AD. From the 4th century onwards Leto was identified as the local Lycian mother goddess during Hellenisation. Leto is called Latona by the Romans and Lato by the Dorian Greeks. The daughter of the Titans Coeus or Keos and Phoebe she was the mother by Zeus, perhaps his clandestine mistress, of the moon as Artemis and the sun as Apollo.
Leto with twins Apollo and Artemis.
Artemis and Apollo were born on Delos as Leto escaped the powerful jealousy of Hera and to protect her offspring from the goddess. Hera had instructed all places not to allow Leto bear her children where the sun shone, or fear Hera’s reprisals. Leto is a local term for ‘lady’ and probably derived from an earlier Asiatic model.
Known cult centres were in Anatolian Lycia, where she was the principal goddess, at Phaistos in Crete, and the centre of an initiation myth. Her sanctuary was the Laotoon near Xanthos in the Lycian city state confederacy. Another sanctuary was found at Oenoanda in north Lycia. The people of Lycia adopted her and another sanctuary was at Delos. Leto was worshipped mainly in conjunction with, or as part of, her children.
The Head of Medusa (1610-17). Peter Paul Rubens.
The Gorgons were monsters in Greek mythology. They were hideous female creatures with golden wings, teeth or boar tusks protruding from a flat roundish face, claws of bronze, glaring eyes, and a head of live venomous snakes or serpents in place of hair. These monstrous maidens were later depicted as beautiful but terrifying. In Greek Gorgon or Gorgo means ‘terrible’ or ‘loud-roaring’. A vicious female monster with sharp fangs who, from earlier religious concepts was a protective deity. The Gorgons wore a belt of intertwined serpents.
The Head of Medusa (1597). Caravaggio.
There were three Gorgon sisters. One was called Medusa ‘the Queen’, the second was Stheno ‘the Mighty’, and the third was Euryale ‘the Wide-springer’. Only Medusa was mortal whereas Stheno and Euryale were immortal. They were the daughters of the sea-god Phorcys and his incestuous union with Leto. They lived in the farthest west, near Night and the Hesperides, but were located later in Libya. Medusa copulated with Poseidon in Athena’s temple so the goddess transformed her golden hair into snakes.
Medusa (1878). Arnold Bochlin.
As well as their horrific appearance they had the ability to turn to stone anyone who looked at them. The Gorgons head was called the Gorgoneion, often depicted on the shields of warriors or temple architecture as evil eye protection. Such motifs were believed to be apotropaic as amulets capable of averting combating evil. The prototype of the Gorgonieon has been noted in Neolithic Art motifs. The iconography of the Gorgons was also borrowed from Lamashtu of Mesopotamia. An from earliest times as a vestige of the ancient powers that preceded the classical Greeks. Also Gorgons have been seen as personifications of the paralysing effect of the nightmare.
Perseus and the Gorgon. E. Burne-Jones.
Medusa was killed by Perseus using a mirrored shield and from the wound he inflicted on her neck Pegasus and Chrsaor sprouted, her two sons by Poseidon. Returning to the court of King Polydectes it is said Perseus turned them all to stone using the head of Medusa. In addition legends say he rescued Andromeda from the rocks while she awaited a sea monster that Perseus also turned to stone.
Horae Serenae. Sir. E. J. Poynter.
In Greek mythology the goddesses of the hours, seasons and the order of nature, Daughters of Zeus and Themis they represent justice and orderliness in nature, and guarded the gates of Olympus as handmaidens of Hera. Their names were Dike or ‘Justice’, Eirene or ‘Peace’, and Eunomia or ‘Good Order’. According to Hesiod the Horae consisted of Acme as ‘Time and Order’, Eunomia was ‘Justice’, and Eirene was ‘Peace’. Additionally the first generation of the Horae were Thallo or Thalette, Auxo or Auxesia, and Carpo. According to Pausanias they were called Eunomia or ‘Good Order’, Dike or ‘Justice’, and Eirene for ‘Peace’.
Statue of Eirene.
The first generation of the Horae, latinised as Horae, were the goddesses of the seasons and nature. Auxo meant ‘increaser’ as in plant growth and thus the goddess of growth and worshipped alongside Hegemone in Athens as one of their two Charites. Thallo the ‘one who brings blossoms’ was the goddess of spring, buds and blooms. who became the protector of youth. Carpo or Carpho and also Xarpo, was translated as the ‘one who brings food’ as well as ‘ripening’. Karpos in Greek means ‘crop’ or ‘fruit’. Carpo was in charge of autumn, ripening and harvesting. She was also an attendant of Persephone, Aphrodite and Hera, as well as associated with Dionysus, Pan, and Apollo. Commonly associated with the Graces or Charities and Demeter the ‘bringer of seasons’, as well as linked with the birth, upbringing, and marriage of gods and heroes.
Statue of Dike.
The Horae were regarded as beneficent goddesses of the weather and donors of the spring and autumn season. The second generation were worshipped mainly in Athens and Argos being Eunomia, Eirene and Dike, and were the law and order goddesses. A third generation of the Horae was recognised by other ancient authors. They were Pherusa or Pherousa the goddess of farm extates, plus Euporie or Euporia the goddess of abundance, as well as Orthosie the goddess of prosperity. The Argive Horae were Damia and Auxesia and presumed to be summer and winter. The seasonal Horae were often depicted as beautiful young women surrounded by vegetation and flowers and other fertility symbols.
Hestia. Public domain.
In Greek mythology one of the oldest matriarchal goddesses. Virgin goddess of the hearth, the home. and domestic life. Eldest child of Cronus and Rhea. Also known as Histie she was one of the three Great Goddesses of the Olympian pantheon with Demeter and Hera. Sister of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. One of the original twelve Olympians but gave up her seat to Dionysus to tend the sacred fire on Mount Olympus.
Hestia represented the heart of the home, partook of all sacrifices and protected domestic life and virtue. As a minor goddess in the Greek pantheon she had importance in individual households. Representing the hearthside each home had a shrine where she was worshipped daily. Of all the Olympians she was the mildest, most upright and the most charitable. In the public domain each town had a public hearth where a perpetual fire burned to Hestia. These hearths were sacred to her. The first fruits, year-old cows, oil, and wine were sacred to her. Her known period of worship was from circa 500 BC until around 400 AD with Christianisation. Wooed by Apollo and Poseidon she refused marriage and on oath she remained virginal eternally as she was wedded to the sacred hearth fire. Traditionally Greek daughters tended the household fire. Hestia is closely related to Vesta in Roman mythology who was her approximate civic equivalent.
Branwen (1915). C. Williams.
In British mythology Great Branwen, daughter of Llyr and sister of Bran and Manawyddan, was the embodiment of sovereignty and chief goddess of Avalon. Her name is derived from the Welsh bran meaning ‘raven’ or ‘dark’ and gwen meaning ‘fair’ or ‘beauty’. Hence Branwen, who was famed for her beauty, was the white or sacred raven. She was the goddess of regeneration who kept the cauldron that brought back life, and her epithets include the ‘White Blossomed One’, the Welsh Love Goddess’, and ‘Venus of the Northern Sea’. As the ‘White Crow’ the crow is her animal and the Alder her tree. Branwen the ‘White Raven’ was the sister of Bran the Blessed, became Queen of Ireland while Bran was the King of the Isle of Britain.
Branwen was given in marriage to Mathowch the king of Ireland, which temporarily united Ireland and Britain, by her brother Bendigeidfran. Badly maltreated by her husband and, made to suffer at the hands of her husband’s countrymen, after her half-brother Efinissien who insulted the Irishmen. She calls on her brother who is King of the Isle of Britain for help. Bran makes war on Ireland and is beheaded and killed. Efinissien (or Evnissien) killed the son of Branwen (called Gwern) and Mathowch. Branwen dies of grief and sorrow after returning to Britain.
Branwen has been compared to Rhiannon because she gives bracelets as gifts. Branwen seems to be related to the Arhurian figures Brangwaine, Brangoene, and Bringvain. As a goddess Branwen was very concerned about her realm and its well-being and thus a deity of great depth and complexity.
Brigantia. Stone relief.
Brigantia or Briganti was a tutelary Romano-Celtic, Gallo-Roman or Romano-British goddess of the Brigantes in northern Britain. She was therefore the eponymous and protective goddess of the Brigantes who were the largest British tribe in Yorkshire and northern Britain in late antiquity. Brigantia is cognate with burgundi of Proto-Germanic origin meaning ‘high’, thus the ethonym Brigantes may translate as ‘the high, noble ones’ or ‘highlanders’. A British goddess at the time of the Roman invasion and occupation she became identified with Caelestis. Known as the ‘high one’. She personified the hegemony of the Brigantes, was a goddess of springs, streams, river and water cults, and corresponds to the Irish goddess Brigit in Ireland.
Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland
Probably identical with the Gaulish goddess Briginda known only from inscriptions. She was equated with Minerva by the Romans. In the interpretatio Romana she was also equated with Victoria. Two inscriptions from Castleford and Greetland (near Halifax) refer to Victoria around 208 AD. The River Brent, a tributary of the Thames at Brentford is named after Brigantia. At Corbridge on Hadrian’s Wall where she is termed celestial, there is an altar which also mentions Caelestis Brigantia. At Birrens a stone relief on the Antonine Wall in Scotland she is shown with attributes of Minerva. Seven inscriptions to Brigantia include those from Birrens, Dumfries and Galloway. At Irthington in Yorkshire she is referred to as ‘divine nymph Brigantia’.
Inscribed to Caelestis Brigantia at Corbridge, Northumberland.
The bas-relief of the Roman era at Birrens she is crowned as a tutelary goddess with the head of a gorgon on her breast, holding a spear and globe of victory. The Welsh personal and place name Braint seems to originate with Brigantia. The name Brigantia is from the root meaning ‘high’, ‘lofty’ or ‘elevated’. An epithet meaning simply ‘the high 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.
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.
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.