Diana: Sky Goddess?

One thing that’s always puzzled me about the theory that Indo-European languages are a guide to the mythologies of the peoples who speak them is the reluctance to take up the question of Diana and other “Divine” goddesses. After all, if *Dyéus is the sky-father, are Diana, Divona, Dione and Divuša sky-mothers?

Part of the answer, of course, is “we don’t know”, since most of the interest in Indo-European mythologies focuses on Dumézil’s three functions (king, warrior, producer) and the goddess who takes in all three functions. Nature-deities, although their names are easy to track through the I-E languages, get less attention.

Sky-God, Sky Goddess?

The personified sky turns up in Hindu mythology as Dyáus Pitā, or Sky-Father, and Jupiter and Zeus had similar titles. (Along with the Illyrian Dei-Patrous.) Tiwaz/Tyr in Scandinavian myth and the Baltic god Dievas/Dievs also fit this pattern.

But if you look in Julius Pokorny’s Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, he also gives feminine forms, such as the Gaulish Devona, Indian Devi and of course Diana:

*diu̯ios in O.Ind.divyá-, diviá- “celestial “, divyǘni“ the heavenly space”, Gk.δῖος (from *διFιος, Schwyzer Gk.I 472a) “divine, heavenly “, Lat. dīus “divine, god-like; hence fine, noble; also (apparently) out of doors, in the open air “(different from dīvus!), dīum “open space of heaven”, sub dīo; Diüna deriving from *Diviüna, “the virgin goddess of the moon and hunting” *Diviü (?); compare etr. Tiv “moon”, tives “months “, after Kretschmer Gl. 13, 111 f. from Ital.*diviü, and orph. Πανδῖα ‘selene (goddess of the moon)” from *παν-διFιᾰ “all kinds of illuminators “.

So if the name *Dyeus means sky/light/god, wouldn’t it’s feminine form mean sky/light/goddess?

But what about the earth goddess?

Which brings up a related question: who is the sky-god’s consort? We know that in the Vedic pantheon of India Dyáus Pitā is Prithvi Mata, the earth-goddess. (Jupiter and Zeus are a bit different, as Hera and especially Juno can be seen as the trifunctional goddess, with Gaea or Tellus Mater filling in as the Earth.)

For a long time scholars assumed that this earth/sky pairing was a mythological given, as do most of us. (The Greek pantheon starts with the mythical pair Ouranos and Gaea, sky and earth, after all.) However, some are beginning to question this.

Peter Jackson put forward *diuoneh, the feminine sky, as the sky-god’s partner. His reasoning:

She is only familiar through vague reflexes, but seems a more plausible partner of *dieus than the often hypothisized “Mother Earth,” who, if prototyical at all, rather belonged to the sphere of perkwh3nos [the thunder-god].

Ceisiwr Serith backs Jackson’s ideas on the thunder-god, but seems more doubtful about the sky-couple:

Jacskon wants to identify her as *Diwona, but since that is essentially a female form of “Dyeus,” and he can give no other details, there hardly seems to be any point to the suggestion.

Jackson cites an article by G.E. Dunkel, who takes the Zeus – Dione relationship as his model. (Dione is best known as Aphrodite’s mother, and the goddess of an oracle at Dodona.) Zeus’ name fits into the Dyeus model, as the genitive Dios and vocative Dei show, and Dione is a feminine version of his name.

Dunkel speculates that Dyáus Pitā had a similar partner, *Divanai, but that as Indra became a more important god his spouse Indrani took her place. Going back to the Greeks, in Mycenean times the god di-u-ja had a partner, di-wa-ja. In the Classical era, Phileious and Sicyon had a minor goddess called Dia, identified with Hebe.

Another Dia was a mortal, who was impregnated by Zeus – it can’t have been any fun, since he took the form of a horse. (She later married Ixion, who tried to mate with Hera. The Centaurs, half-horse and half-man, were born of his union with the phantom substitute Hera. It’s another one of those Greek tales with lots of rapes.)

A Myceanean goddess named Diwia may be an early form of Dione, and a partner to Zeus. She may well be the Greek form of the sky-god’s partner.

There may be a Slavic goddess as well: Divuša, whose name suggests that she was the partner of the sky-god Div. Place-names in Poland, Lithuania, Belarussian Poland, Bohemia and the Balkans suggest her presence. While it’s normally assumed that the earth-goddess Mokosh is the sky-god’s partner, but the myths link her and the thunder-god Perun.

Frame Goddess

West (and Dunkel) don’t consider Diana as part of this myth-pattern, since she was never romantically involved with Jupiter.

Georges Dumézil does include her with Dyaus pitar and another possible sky-god, Heimdall, in another of his theories. He suggests that all three were “frame gods” who were important at the beginning of time or society, but now have no function.

According to Dumézil’s theory, Dyaus and Heimdall secured the succession of their dynasties, while Diana as goddess of childbirth makes sure that the human race continues.

I don’t find this theory convincing, and I would guess that most others don’t either, judging by the lack of attention it’s received. It does, however, place Diana among the heavenly deities for once.

Goddess of Light?

In my book The Sun-Goddess I suggested that Diana was a goddess of light and the sky who became a moon-goddess over time. (The Roman/Greek pattern of sun-god, moon-goddess would have played a part there.)

Perhaps Diana and the others (Dione, Divona etc) are variants on the sky-god’s partner. In my next post we’ll see what these goddesses have in common, and if they may have had a common ancestor-deity.


References and Links

Jackson, Peter 2002: “Light from Distant Asterisks: Towards a Description of Indo-European Religious Heritage,” Numen 49/1: 61-102.
Porkony, Julius 2007: Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary: 548-55. (pdf here)
Serith, Ceisiwr 2007: Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Indo-Europeans, ADF Publishing.
West, M. L. 2007: Indo-European Poetry and Myth, OUP.

Wikipedia: PIE Sky Father
Oxford Classical Dictionary: deus, divus
Britannica entry “Diana”
Wikipedia: Diana (Etymology)

Photo by Sora Sagano on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Diana: Sky Goddess?

  1. ceridwensilverhart

    That’s an interesting theory of Diana/Artemis evolving from a sky goddess to a moon goddess. Do you think that she was once partnered with Zeus and then they were separated once he became the dominant deity? Or perhaps they were once both solo sky deities and only Artemis kept the association with independent virgins?

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