Although Hekate is frequently described in contemporary Pagan texts as a “Dark Goddess” literature and iconography has linked her, for nearly 3000 years, with light. Curiously however, claiming that Hekate is a Goddess of Light can sometimes awaken an almost irrational reaction from individuals who describe her as a Dark Mother, Goddess of the Underworld, Queen of Hell or even as a Goddess of Darkness. However, her most iconic images, even today, depict her with two torches aloft, illuminating the darkness!
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.
I have a tag I use from time to time: “obscure deities”. The Titan Koios (or Coeus) was famous for being obscure. In the Metamorphoses, the ill-fated Niobe says of him and his daughter Leto:
Now, ask what the reason is for my pride, and then dare to prefer Latona to me, that Titaness, daughter of Coeus, whoever he is. Latona, whom the wide earth once refused even a little piece of ground to give birth on.
(Latona is the Roman name for Leto.) Even in her great access of hubris, the only thing Niobe could say of Coeus/Koios was that no one knew who he was. A quick look at online guides to Greek myth shows that Koios is by no means famous now, but there seems to be a desire to fill out his dossier.
Sometimes studying mythology leads you into areas of human frailty and vulnerability that bring you very close to the past. Any study of healing deities stirs the emotions, partly because we all know the fear that sickness brings, and because so many of the things they suffered from are unknown to us (at least in the prosperous world).*
The many offerings of ex-votos, often body parts, found at healing shrines testify to the various illnesses of ancient times. These were not always rich offerings, either. At the shrine of Apollo Vindonnus archaeologists found many votives carved from oak wood or stone. Many were of body parts, but others were of hands holding offerings. (You wonder if they somehow stood for the offering itself, or promised one in return for a cure.)
The family of the sun-god Helios features many minor goddesses of sun and light. Helios is the main god of the sun; his name, and his resemblance to many Indo-European sun-gods and goddesses puts that out of doubt, but it is interesting how solar females cluster around him.
Some of these goddesses may well have had their own solar cults long ago, but it’s impossible to verify now. Two of them were his mother and aunt, the other was his daughter. (Helios’s lineage also includes the witches Circe and Medea, as well as Hecate, a grand-daughter in some versions of her family tree.)
Like Belisama, Solimara and Sulis, Sirona’s cult centers on healing water, whether hot springs, baths or wells. Her name, however, means something like “Great Star”, which would make her a star-goddess, rather than a solar one. She is linked to several gods, including the Roman sun-god Apollo, as well as the gods Grannus and Atesmertius.
The main solar deity of Mesopotamia was certainly male – Šamaš in Akkadian, and UTU in Sumerian. Evidence for this figure is abundant, and he performs normal sun-god/dess activities like witnessing and judging human activity, and maintaining life.
However, there are early personal names with a more feminine connotation, such as Ummi-Samas, (Šamaš is my mother), and Tulid-Shamash (Šamaš gave birth), which indicate that perhaps Šamaš had a female side. (In the same region, after all, the Canaanites and the Arabs both had sun-goddesses, Šapaš and Shams.)