Category Archives: Greek

Hera: the goddess alone

It’s very hard for us now to reconcile the widespread worship of Hera in ancient Greece with her character as it comes down to us; she seems like the archetypal shrew. If you look her up, the entries focus on her persecution of Hercules and the women Zeus seduced or raped. These stories are well-known, so I want to focus on Hera’s actual cult in this post.

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The Avenging Furies

The Erinyes, to give them their Greek name, were avengers, who punished murders and other serious crimes, especially crimes against the family. Blood, both in the sense of blood spilled and kinship, was their concern.

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The Melissae: bees and the goddess

A tablet in Linear B from Knossos reads:

To all the gods, honey
To the mistress of the labyrinth, honey.

The civilization at Knossos, on the island of Crete, preceded that of the Greeks. While it is hard to say exactly how much of the later Greek culture reflects that of the Cretans, both considered honey a gift worthy of the gods.

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Morpheus and the dream gods

Neil Gaiman fans already know this, but Morpheus and his family were the spirits of dream, who sent dreams to mortals from their home in Erebos. This was a place, but also their father. (Having a personification for a parent can be confusing.)

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Idunn and Helen: People or Property?

When I was researching the story of how the giant Thiazi took the apples of immortality for the giants, one thing that kept jumping out at me was how often the goddess who kept the apples, Idunn, was treated as if she were property as well.

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Astraios: Father of the Stars

Astraios was one of the Greek Titans, the older gods who ruled before Zeus and the Olympians. His name means “Of the Stars”, and he was the father of the stars and winds. Astrology was one of his specialties, but he was also connected to the seasons and possibly navigation.

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White Ravens and Apollo

Two stories about Apollo, one well-known and one obscure, focus on white ravens. Odin sent out ravens to learn what was going on in the world, but Apollo’s white ravens also brought messages to humans, as servants of the god of oracles. The one occasion when a raven brought him news ended very badly indeed. Continue reading

Midwives of Light: Eileithyia and Juno Lucina

Before Christmas I wrote about Holda, Berchta and Perchta, who led the wild hunt and perhaps received children in the afterlife. For the new year, I want to look at another trio of goddesses, who oversaw birth, and the infant’s journey into the light of life.

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Medusa, Rhiannon, Macha: the horse-goddess and her twins

The imagery of the Greek Gorgon can be traced back to Persian and Near Eastern art, but the myth of the beautiful Medusa seems to come from a different source. A story found in various forms in Greece, India, Ireland and Wales tells of a woman who either becomes a horse or has a strong equine connection, gives birth to twins and suffers greatly.

However, Demeter, Saranyu, Macha and Rhiannon are goddesses, while Medusa is considered a monster. Still, her story is so similar to these others that it obviously descends from the same Indo-European myth.

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Athena, Medusa and the Sun-Goddess

During my research for my post on Medusa and the Gorgon, I  constantly ran into the idea that the Gorgon was a faint echo of an early Mycenean sun-goddess, depicted face-front with radiating (snaky) hair. I could see how that idea might arise, but Athena as sun-goddess struck me as a bit of a reach. After all, Athena wears the Gorgon on her breast as a symbol of the triumph of cunning (metis) over elemental powers. (Deacy: 47)

It must be tempting, though, to invert the Greek beliefs that shaped patriarchal culture, with its binary of sun/reason/male vs. night/emotion/female. Especially in the form of its most complicit goddess, Athena, who upheld father-right against the Furies’s desire to avenge a matricide. (Although kicking Bachofen and his followers comes about 150 years too late.) Feminizing the Greek sun, and connecting it to those elemental powers, may feel like sweet revenge.

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