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.
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.
In Greek myth, the North wind had a home: a cave on Mount Haemus in Thrace. From there he sent the cold winds, and to emphasize this artists painted him with his hair and beard spiky with ice. As its name suggests, the land of Hyperborea lay beyond Boreas’ realm, where cold, along with old age and want, was unknown.
I was originally going to call this piece Poseidon’s Scary Girlfriends, with Demeter the Furious and an unnamed Harpy joining Medusa. But when I began researching Medusa I found so many layers of interpretation that it seemed worth going back to the original sources and seeing what went into the myth.
In fact, it seems like there are almost two different myths, one involving a headless demon that terrified all who saw it, and another about the mortal Medusa, who either was a snaky-headed monster or became one.
Poseidon has three main aspects: sea-god, earth-shaker, and giver of horses. As sea-god he could stir up the waves or calm them, while as the earth-shaker his power was terrifying. Only as the god of horses was Poseidon a clear friend to humans.
There was a discussion recently on the Mythology Stack Exchange about whether Poseidon had been the first head of the Greek pantheon. It’s an interesting question….
You can argue this one in a number of ways. While the name Zeus is clearly Indo-European (one of the very few that is), the name Poseidon, along with his title Earth-Shaker, appears in Mycenean texts from very early times. On the Messenian coast, at least, he seems to have kept his status, and like Zeus he is the father of kings and heroes. (Indeed, the number of his offspring is second only to Zeus’.)
Manannán is in many ways like a more benign version of Oðin. Like the Norse god, he is the patron of many heroes, is skilled in both battle and magic, moves easily between the worlds and has many lovers as well as a wife. On a more fantastic level, both have horses that can travel over land and sea, and a boar or pigs that renew themselves after being eaten.
He seems to have been one of the old gods, rather than the Tuatha de Danann. Unlike them, however, he seems to have made his peace with the new order, as he appears in their adventures. (He was close enough to them to be foster-father to the young god Lugh.) When the Milesians (humans) came, and the TDD went into the hollow hills, Manannán divided up the otherworld into parts for each.
“It was said that she lived a wanton life, mating with mermen on the beach near her castle and casting her magic inside its walls.”
When I was researching Arianrhod for a recent post, I kept turning up variants on the quote above. In fact, the sentence: “She enjoyed herself sexually, with a distinct preference for mermen,” cropped up frequently without any variation whatsoever. Obviously a lot of copying was going on, but what did the original say? Continue reading