Category Archives: Creator/Creation
Etymology: Greek – Husband (of Wheat)
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Ποσειδων
Epithets: Aegeus (“of the High Sea”), Alidoupos (“Sea Resounding”), Asphaleios (Protector from Earthquakes), Domatites (“of the House” in reference to his shrine near Sparta), Empylios (“At the Gate”), Enosichthon (“Earth Shaker”), Ennosidas, Ennosigaios (“Earth Shaker”), Enosichthon, Ennosidas, Epactaeus (“god worshiped on the coast”), Epoptes (“Supervisor”), Eurykreion (“Wide-Ruling”), Eurymedon (“Widely Ruling”), Eutriaina (“with Goodly Trident”), Gaieochos (“Earth Shaker”), Genesios, Genethlios (“of the race or family”), Helikonios (of Mount Helikon), Helikonios anax (“Lord of Helicon or Helike”), Hippokourios (“Tender of Horses”), Isthmios, Krenouchos (“Ruling over Springs”), Kyanochaites (“dark-haired, dark blue of the sea”), Kymothales (“Abounding with Waves”), Kronios, Patrigenios, Pelagios (“of the open sea”), Petraios (related to rocks), Phratrios (“of the Brotherhood”), Phykios (related to seaweed), Phytalmios, Pontomedon (“Lord of the Sea”), Porthmios (“of strait, narrow sea”), Posidaeia (This is probably a feminine counterpart to Poseidon found on the Linear B script), Poseidon Aegaeus, Poseidon Hippios (Horse Poseidon), Poseidon Temenites (“related to an official domain”), Ptorthios, Seisichthon (“Earth Shaker”), Semnos (“August, Holy”), Tavreios (related to bulls), Themeliouchos (“Upholding the Foundations”), “Savior of Sailors,” “Averter of Earthquakes,” “The Creator and Tamer of Horses,” Nymphagetes (“The Leader of Nymphs”), Poseidon Erechtheus
Poseidon is the god of the Oceans and not just the seas in Greek mythology, but all the waters from streams to rivers, lakes, and storms. The middle brother to Zeus and Hades. As a god of storms, Poseidon could also be very moody and mercurial in his demeanor.
Animal: Bull, Coral, Dolphin, Fish, Horse, Sea Lion, Tuna
Color: Blue, Green
Day of the Week: Thursday
Patron of: Sailors
Plant: Kelp, Pine, Seaweed, Wild Celery
Sphere of Influence: Earthquakes, Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, Protection, Storms
Symbols: Coral, Trident
Time of Day: High Tides
Early Greek Depictions
Poseidon is often considered a moody and sometimes quarrelsome deity. When Poseidon is in a good mood, that is when new lands will appear, and the sea will be calm. When Poseidon is in a foul mood, that is when earthquakes could happen, and portions of land and island can sink into the seas to be claimed by him. Storms at sea are attributed to Poseidon, especially if there are shipwrecks and drownings.
Greek art will show Poseidon as a bearded man with curly hair wielding a three-pronged fish spear or trident. Other art will show him in a chariot pulled by either horses or hippocampus. In some art, Poseidon can be shown holding a boulder with various sea creatures on it.
Homeric Hymns – There is a brief invocation, comprising seven lines that address Poseidon as an earth-shaker and God of the deep, that he is the lord of Helicon and Aegae. Homer also says that Poseidon has a shriek as loud as ten thousand men.
Cult & Worship
In pre-Bronze Age Greece, Poseidon was worshiped in Pylos and Thebes as the chief deity. When looking at Arcadia, there is a very regional-specific myth told of Poseidon and Demeter in horse forms. There is some thought that these early Greeks entering the area only had Poseidon, Zeus, Eos, and Dioskouroi among the deities that they brought with them and worshiped.
The early worship of Poseidon clearly links him to horses and as a Chthonic deity of the underworld. As Poseidon Wanax, he is the male counterpart to a goddess of nature, Demeter. A similar myth is seen in Minoan myths where Pasiphae mates with a white bull, giving birth to the Minotaur. The Bull is an old pre-Olympian symbol of Poseidon. In the Eleusinian cults, there is mention of how Potnia gives birth to a strong son in relation to Poseidon being the father.
In Mycenaean culture, we don’t have enough evidence or information to know if Poseidon was connected to the sea during this time. We don’t know if the female counterpart “Posedeia” was a sea goddess either. In the writings of Homer and Hesiod, they say that Poseidon becomes the lord of the sea after the defeat of his father Cronos, and the world is divided among his three sons.
The scholar Walter Burkert puts forward the idea early Hellenic worship of Poseidon as a horse god may be due to the introduction of the horse and war chariots from Anatolia to Greece around 1600 B.C.E. In the local Arcadian myths and Poseidon’s cult in Peloponnesos, we see Poseidon worshiped as a horse.
During the Hellenic era of Greek culture, Poseidon is the protector of sailors and ships out at sea. Poseidon was also the patron god of several Greek cities, though, in Athens, he was second only to Athena.
Corinth – This is the ancient city that Poseidon is often associated with. This port city was regarded as being close to Poseidon’s heart due to how important a sea route it was. Clay plaques dating from the Archaic era have been found to connect Poseidon with maritime trade and navigation. Local games known as the Isthmian games were held here in honor of the sea god. These games would be held once every two years with athletes, charioteers, and horse races. Early on, a crown of pine would be awarded and later, it would be a crown of dried celery.
Sounion – Located some 69.5 km to the southeast of Athens in East Attica, this is the site of a 5th-century temple dedicated to Poseidon that still stands overlooking the Saronic Gulf. Boat races were held every four years to honor Poseidon.
Delphi Oracle – Pausanias writes that Poseidon was once one of the caretakers at Delphi before the arrival of Apollo. The two deities worked in tangent with many aspects. For example, Apollo gave approval for Greek colonization and Poseidon provided safe travels for those crossing his seas.
Sacred Disease – The Greek gods are known for causing or inflicting madness and various mental illnesses upon people. There is a Hippocratic text from 400 B.C.E. that notes Poseidon is responsible for certain forms of epilepsy.
The Panionia – This was a festival that the Ionians held every year near Mycale.
Pohoidaia – This is another game and festival held in Poseidon’s honor at Helos and Thuria.
It should come as no surprise that as a sea god, that Poseidon’s abode is found on the ocean’s floor in a palace of coral and gems.
Aegae – In the Odyssey, Poseidon is mentioned as having his home here, the once capital of Macedonia.
Atlantis – In Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, this island is said to be Poseidon’s domain.
What’s In A Name?
The earliest mention of Poseidon’s name are found in the Linear B script in Mycenean Greek where the name appears as Poseidaon and Poseidawonos. Other variations of Posedion’s name are Poteidaon (Aeolic), Poteidan (Doric), Poteidaon, and Poteidas.
As to the meaning of Poseidon’s name, that part is unclear. There is a theory put forward that it means “husband” or “lord” seen in the Greek posis or potis and the last part meaning “earth.” The Doric Greek links Poseidon as being a spouse to Demeter, the “Earth-Mother.”
Another theory is that the second element in Poseidon’s name relates to dâwon meaning “water” and that would interpret the name as Posei-dawon as “the master of waters.” In Plato’s Cratylus dialogue, he gives two ideas for an etymology to Poseidon’s name. The first is “foot-bond” and the second is “knew many things.”
Hesiod in his Theogony describes Poseidon as “the earth-holder who shakes the earth.” Both Hesiod and Homer call Poseidon the “deep sounding Earth-shaker” and “dark-haired-one.” Both poets refer to Poseidon as the “encircler of the earth,” which alludes to this era of history when people believed that all the waters of the Earth were connected and that the land merely floated on top of them.
Parentage and Family
Cronus and Rhea
Amphitrite – The daughter of Nereus and Doris and granddaughter of the Titan Oceanus
Cleito – Poseidon’s wife in Plato’s myth of Atlantis. Cleito is the daughter of the autochthons Evenor and Leucippe.
Sometimes the goddesses Aphrodite and Demeter are given as consorts.
He is the fifth child born of Cronus and Rhea.
The birth order is Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
Theseus – with Aethra through rape
Benthesicyme – son with Amphitrite
Rhode – daughter with Amphitrite
Triton – A half fish, half human with Amphitrite
Monstrous Offspring – Chrysaor and Pegasus with Medusa
Plato’s Atlantis – with Cleito, Poseidon is the father of Ampheres, Atlas (the first king of Atlantis), Autochthon, Azaes, Diaprepes, Elasippus, Euaemon, Eumelus (Gadeirus), Mestor, Mneseus
Antaeus, Arion (a talking horse), Atlas, Desponia, Eumolpus, the Giant Sinis, Polyphemus (a cyclops), Orion, King Amycus, Proteus, Agenor and Belus from Europa, Nauplius, Neleus, Pelias, and the King of Egypt, Busiris, Laistrygon
Alebion, Bergion, Otos, Ephialtae are all noted as being giant children of Poseidon.
In general, there are a good many mythical creatures, a tribe of giants known as the Laistrygons, barbarians, cannibals, savages, and other uncivilized peoples like thieves who were said to be descendants of Poseidon.
Periclymenus – Through his son Neleus, the king of Pylos, Poseidon granted him the power of shape-shifting. He is listed as one of the Argonauts and is later killed by Herakles.
Poseidon is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location where the gods would preside while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians vary. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
Where Zeus has his thunderbolts and Hades has his bident, the mighty Poseidon is known for his trademark weapon, the trident!
A trident is a three-pronged weapon that Poseidon is often shown with. It has also been pointed out that Hades has a bident, a two-pronged weapon, and that Zeus has his thunderbolt, which is a one-pronged weapon. Just in case someone thought there should be some sort of connection.
With this trident, Poseidon could shatter anything in his way, much like Hades does with his bident.
Birth Of A God
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Poseidon and all his siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a prophecy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour and swallow his children whole as soon as they are born. This would happen five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetit, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Rhea takes and hides Zeus, so that later, when he is older, he can come to fulfill the prophecy killing his father Cronus. During the battle, Zeus splits open Cronus’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia. Incidentally, Hades is the last of Cronus’ children that is either regurgitated or comes out after Zeus splits their father open.
In other versions I have found of this story, Zeus meets with Metis who concocts a drug for Zeus to give to Cronus so that he disgorges or vomits up the stone and all of his children.
There is a version of the birth story of gods in that Poseidon does manage to get secreted away by his mother Rhea and is not eaten by his father. That Rhea gives Cronus a colt to eat instead of an infant. Poseidon is then placed in a flock of sheep in either Arcadia or Rhodes to conceal him.
There is a well in a Mantineia neighborhood where this event is believed to have happened and is called the “Lamb’s Well” or Arne.
This is the name that a group of ancient Greek deities were given for their roles as protectors and caregivers, essentially the nurses or nannies to children.
Arne – Poseidon’s kourotrophos was Arne, a spring nymph and daughter of Aeolus. Arne denied knowing where the infant was when Cronus came searching for him. The town of Arne gained its name from this nymph.
Telchines – According to Diodorus Siculus, Poseidon was raised by the Telchines, the original inhabitants of the island of Rhodes just as his brother Zeus was raised by the Korybantes on the island of Crete. Capheira, an Oceanid nymph would become Poseidon’s nurse.
There is a ten-year-long divine war known as the Titanomachy, and by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Hades and the other gods take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
During the war, Gaia gave a prophecy to Zeus that he would have victory over the Titans by freeing the Cyclops who were then prisoners in Tartaros. Zeus slew Campe, the jail-keeper of the Cyclops. As a reward and thanks for releasing them, the Cyclops forged weapons for the three brothers. Thunderbolts for Zeus, a Trident for Poseidon, and a Bident for Hades along with a magical helmet of invisibility.
During this war, Hades used his helmet of invisibility to sneak into the Titans’ camp and destroy their weapons. After the war, the Titans were imprisoned within Tartoros and the Hecatoncheires were placed in charge of guarding the new prisoners. One titan, Atlas would be punished by forever having to hold the earth up.
Dividing the Spoils of War – After defeating Cronus and all of his father’s followers, the three brothers, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus divided up rulership of the cosmos between them. Hades would become ruler of the Underworld; Poseidon would become ruler of the seas and Zeus would become ruler of the air. The earth, the domain of Gaia, would be available to all three gods.
Iliad – The Iliad describes the three brothers as pulling lots to determine who would rule which realm.
Gigantomachy – Battle For The Heavens!
After the battle with the Titans, Zeus would still need to secure his throne. During this battle, Poseidon would use his trident to break off part of the island Kos and use it to entomb the giant Polybotes. Today, this island is known as Nisyros.
When The Oceans Were King!
You see remnants of this in the story of Perseus & Andromeda and certain stories of Elysian Mysteries where Poseidon is Persephone‘s father and not Zeus. Even Homer’s Odyssey shows this connection where Poseidon is the primary instigator of events and not Zeus.
In the Linear B script, Poseidon is listed as the chief deity.
After the collapse of the Mycenaean culture in the Mediterranean, we see a dark age period for Greek culture that resurges again some hundreds of years later, and now, it is Zeus who is the head of the pantheon and Poseidon is second only in power.
When we look at the Linear B tablets from Mycenean Greece, we find that Poseidon’s name as po-se-da-wo-ne appears more frequently than Zeus’ name di-u-ja. There is also a feminine form of po-se-da-ia which suggests there is a potential lost consort goddess to Poseidon. One who is a precursor to Amphitrite.
In the same Linear B script previously mentioned, Poseidon has a title of wa-na-ka or “wanax” that suggest the role of king of the Underworld. Other titles for Poseidon-Wanax are seen in the title E-ne-si-da-o-ne in Mycenean Knossos and Pylos, an epitaph that references the earthquakes that saw the collapse of the Minoan culture.
In Crete, in the cave of Amnisos, we see the name Enesidaon connected to the cult of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. Eileithyia also has a part in the annual birth of a divine child.
There is evidence in the Bronze Age, that a goddess of nature held a dominant role in both Minoan and Mycenean religions. That Wanax is her male consort in the Mycenean cults. Some scholars have tried to make a connection to Demeter where her name might appear as Da-ma-te, but this is still disputed.
Looking at the Linear Be scripts found at Pylos, the name E-ne-si-da-o-ne in association with Poseidon, and the name Si-to Po-tini-ja is associated with Demeter giving a suggestion of these two deities as consorts.
This fits when looking at the Eleusinian mysteries and seeing how they predate the Olympian pantheon. Inscriptions from Pylos show records of sacrificial offerings to “the Two Queens and Poseidon.” Those two queens just might be Demeter and Persephone when trying to look at the archeological evidence.
This association also makes sense as the ancient Greeks would have seen rivers and streams flow from the rocks and then disappear beneath the land in other areas. Plus there was a belief anciently during this period that the land merely floated above the water. That Poseidon could create the land as much as swallow it back down into the depths with earthquakes.
Lord of the Sea Gods
So, Poseidon may no longer rule over all of Olympia and be the head of the Pantheon by the time we get to the Classical, Hellenistic era of Greek history that everyone is more familiar with. Poseidon is still the lord over all the gods of the oceans, various rivers, and lakes. Poseidon was also regarded as a protector of many cities located near the sea as they relied on their whole economies from the sea trade and bounty provided by the deeps of the ocean.
It should also be noted by many people that Poseidon should be seen as the god of the Mediterranean Ocean as that is the sea that many of the ancient Greeks and even Romans when they renamed Poseidon to Neptune are familiar with.
God Of Storms
While this aspect seems to be more connected to Zeus in his roles as a Sky God and god of thunder, Poseidon also has power over storms, particularly those out at sea.
God Of Earthquakes
Another aspect of Poseidon is that of earthquakes, giving him an epitaph of Earth Mover or Earth Shaker. As a deity representing the forces of nature, this aspect is another reason why Poseidon could be seen as unpredictable and moody.
The connection of Poseidon to earthquakes is not hard to make when you understand that the Greeks believed that the cause of earthquakes was due to the erosion of rocks by water, where there are rivers that disappear below the earth and then seemingly reemerge later. The Greeks also believed that just as Poseidon’s earthquakes caused the land to sink into the sea, he also created the land with the appearance of new islands. This belief is seen in the philosophers Thales, Anaximenes, and Aristotle in how they explained the natural world around them.
God Of Horses
There are a couple of different stories I have come across about Poseidon’s role as a god of horses. One story holds that Poseidon created the first horse named Skyphios when he struck a rock with his trident.
A fragment of papyrus reveals that people would offer up horses by drowning them as a sacrifice to Poseidon to curry his favor for a safe sea voyage. Poseidon’s chariot is said to be pulled by horses, though more modern depictions show this chariot being pulled by a half-horse, half-fish creatures known as hippocampus.
In pre-Bronze Age Greek culture, there is a strong connection between horses, the element of water, and the Underworld. This is a connection we see continued with later, northern-European folklore with the Kelpies, Nuckelevee, and Puca.
Athena & Poseidon – In this story, the two gods are in competition for the favor of the future city of Athens. The two deities created all sorts of animals such as hippopotami, giraffes, camels, and zebras. In the end, when Poseidon created the horse, he was so pleased with the creation that he rode away on the mighty steed, forgetting about his desire to claim the favor of Athens, hence the city becoming named after Athena.
Demeter & Poseidon – In this story, Demeter is trying to put off the advances of Poseidon and asks him to create the most beautiful animal ever. To impress her, Poseidon creates the first horse. Of course, in the process of getting there, there are several other animals that Poseidon created before he achieved perfection and by this time, Poseidon has lost interest in Demeter.
God Of Fertility
As a god of the Oceans and waters, it leads handily to Poseidon being a god of fertility as he bestows the life-giving waters.
Droughts – Just as he giveth, Poseidon also taketh. So, a lack of water and rainfall leading to droughts would also be Poseidon’s doing.
Your Reputation Precedes You Sir!
On the heels of being a fertility deity, it must be noted that Poseidon has a reputation much like Zeus for being rather promiscuous. Granted, this is an aspect that we can find in numerous stories of the Greek deities.
There are numerous stories of Poseidon’s love affairs, romances, and some of which are just outright rape stories no matter how euphemistically later rewrites try to retell them. The most famous of which is Poseidon’s affair with Medusa before she’s turned into a Gorgon by Athena. I’ll cover several of these stories later so I’m not repeating them in this section.
There’s a certain prestige, especially seen in the ancient Egyptian culture where all the Pharaohs are earthly incarnations of Ra. This divine birthright is what justifies them to be the rulers over the common, ordinary people.
I can imagine a similar thing happening among the Greeks where they want to claim a divine heritage to justify their rule over various cities states. Stories that often just served to explain how a thing came to be, why something is, and to explain the divine right of rulership.
We also know there are two major areas of Greek history, the Mycenean Greek era and those whom we think of as the Ancient or Classical Greeks with a dark age period in between. If you look at the myths carefully from these periods, Poseidon had been the ruler of the Olympian gods during the Mycenean era of Greek history. This later changes to Zeus being the head of the pantheon.
There is also a Neolithic, Cycladic culture that is best known for its female idols. Couple this with Hera and her vehemence towards Zeus and his numerous affairs. Now it appears to be clear that the Greek myths we get of Zeus are the result of revisionist history and storytelling.
As there’s a theological takeover of replacing Poseidon with Zeus as the head of the pantheon and a patriarchal takeover of the regions that reduce goddesses like Hera’s importance. Just taking a close look at some of these myths, you can see the hints of it and some of the discrepancies that come up as Greece and then Rome expanded, trying to absorb all of these local myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own.
The most obvious is the Titanomachy story where Zeus and his siblings all displace the older pantheon, and the survivors get absorbed into the new divine order.
Male Lovers – Poseidon is also said to have had a few male lovers in the way of Nerites, Pelops, and Patroclus. There are not a lot of these myths that I could find to support this other than a footnote.
Marriage To Amphitrite
Like his brother Zeus, Poseidon has also had numerous lovers. His consort and wife is Amphitrite, a nymph, an ancient sea goddess in her own right, and the daughter of Nerus and Doris.
In the story told by Eratosthenes, Poseidon desired to marry Amphitrite, however, she had other ideas and ran away, hiding with Atlas. Off Poseidon went in search of her to no avail. Finally, it is the dolphin, Delphius tracked Amphitrite down. Delphius talked Amphitrite into accepting Poseidon as her husband.
At Amphitrite and Poseidon’s wedding, Delphius presided over the ceremony. In gratitude, Poseidon placed Delphius up into the stars. Amphitrite would give birth to the merman Triton who also wields a trident like his father.
Variation: According to Oppian, Delphius actually betrays Amphitrite’s location to Poseidon who comes and carries her off against her will to be married.
Medusa & Poseidon – Birth of Pegasus & Chrysaor
Poseidon is also known to transform into a horse too. A suggestion I came across is that Poseidon may have come to Medusa in Athena’s temple in the guise of a horse before changing to his true form and forcing himself on her. Unfortunately, instead of punishing Poseidon, Athena punishes Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon. Later, when the hero Perseus comes along and slays the gorgon, the winged horse Pegasus and the winged boar Chrysaor spring up from the blood from Medusa’s severed neck and head.
In Hesiod’s Theogony, Poseidon and Medusa were out in a field of flowers and not Athena’s temple. The whole being in Athena’s temple and sacrilege being committed comes to us courtesy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where Poseidon comes in the form of a bird to seduce Medusa.
Birth Of The Minotaur
Poseidon cursed Mino’s wife, Pasiphae to have sexual intercourse with a white bull after the Cretan king Minos wouldn’t sacrifice the bull to him. This resulted in the birth of the hybrid monster called the Minotaur.
I strongly suspect that we are seeing a rewriting of this myth from the fall of the Mycenaean Greece culture and the later rise of the Hellenic Greece culture when Poseidon ceases to be the main deity and is replaced by Zeus as the head of the Pantheon. Bulls are an old pre-Olympian symbol of Poseidon. Rewrite the myth so that instead of a divine child born of Poseidon and a nature goddess, there is instead a monster to whom the youth of vassal city-states are sacrificed to.
Poseidon & Aethra (Birth of Theseus)
With Aethra, the princess of Troezenian, Poseidon is the father of the Greek hero Theseus. King Aegeus of Athens is also reputed to be Theseus’ father as he had lain with Aethra on the very same night. This is still enough for Theseus to have a demigod status and to be the hero who would eventually volunteer to set sail to the island nation of Crete with the other Athenian youth who could be sent into a labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur.
When Minos heard that Theseus was the son of Poseidon, he mocked the youth by taking off his own ring and throwing it into the sea. If Theseus really was Poseidon’s son, he was to go and retrieve the ring. Theseus immediately dove in, and dolphins came to guide the young demigod down to Poseidon’s palace. There, both Poseidon and Amphitrite greeted Theseus, not only by giving him the ring but a purple wedding cloak and crown as well. Theseus swam back up to the surface and proved himself to King Minos.
In Crete, Theseus would kill the Minotaur. Theseus eventually succeeded his father as king of Athens and would have children. Poseidon promised Theseus three favors. One of which was called upon when his wife, Phaedra accused Hippolytus, the son Theseus had with an Amazon, of forcing himself on her. Poseidon granted this favor by sending a sea monster to spook Hippolytus’ horses as he was driving by the sea and thus dragging him into the ocean to his death.
Poseidon & Alope
Alope is Poseidon’s granddaughter through Cercyon, his son, and the King of Eleusis. Through this affair, Alope gives birth to the Hippothoon, an Attic hero. As a result, Cercyon has Alope buried alive and Poseidon transforms her into a spring near Eleusis.
Poseidon & Amymone
Shortly after the city of Argos came under Hera’s rule and Poseidon sent a drought to plague it, an Argive woman, Amymone came across a rather lecherous satyr who tried to rape her. Amymone prayed to Poseidon for help and he answered by scaring off the satyr. After rescuing her, Poseidon then fathered a child with her by the name Nauphus.
Poseidon & Caenis
In this story, Poseidon spotted the maiden Caenis walking along the shore. Overcome with lust, Poseidon forced himself on Caenis and raped her. Having satisfied himself, Poseidon offered Caenis a wish, of which she made the request to be turned into a man. Granting her request, Poseidon transformed her into the male warrior Caeneus.
Poseidon & Corone
Corone is the daughter of Coronaeus who was out walking along the shore. Poseidon saw her and attempted to court Corone only to have her reject him and run away. Poseidon chased her down, this time trying to rape her. Athena saw what was happening and changed Corone into a crow so she could fly away.
Poseidon & Halia
In the stories where Poseidon grows up in secret on the island of Rhodes with the Telchines, the young god fell in love with Halia, the beautiful sister of the Telchines. With Halia, Poseidon fathered six sons and a daughter.
By this time, Aphrodite has already been born and rose up from the sea. When she made an attempt to stop at the island of Rhodes while heading to Cyprus, the sons of Halia and Poseidon denied the goddess hospitality. Out of anger, Aphrodite caused the sons to fall in love with their mother and rape her. After seeing this, Poseidon made the sons sink beneath the sea.
Poseidon & Tyro
Tyro is a mortal woman married to Cretheus and by whom she already had a son, Aeson. Tyro loved a river god, Enipeus who spurned her advances. One day, Poseidon becomes infatuated with Tyro and lusts after her, disguises himself as Enipeus, and from their union, Tyro gives birth to the twin heroes Pelias and Neleus.
Poseidon & Asteria
In this story, we first see Zeus falling in love with this goddess who changed herself into a qual in order to escape his advances and being raped, only to have Poseidon equally enamored and lustful for her give chase with the intent to rape her. Asteria transforms herself a second time, this time into the small rocky island known as Delos.
At best, this could be an archaic myth that shows a changeover of when Poseidon and Zeus changed prominence during the fall of the Mycenaean Greek culture.
Poseidon & Demeter
Demeter is the Goddess of the Earth and Poseidon is the God of Water. That’s a good match and they’re consenting adults and gods.
Mycenaen Greek – This is Bronze Age Greece, there is a script known as Linear B found in Mycenae and Mycenaean Pylos where both Demeter and Poseidon’s names appear. Poseidon is given the epitaph of E-ne-si-da-o-ne “earth-shaker” and Demeter’s name is given si-to-po-ti-ni-ja. In these inscriptions, Poseidon’s title and epitaph E-ne-si-da-o-ne (Enesidaon) links him as a King of the Underworld and gives him a chthonic nature.
Touching back to the Eleusinian Mysteries, there are tablets found in Pylos that mention sacrificial goods for “the Two Queens and Poseidon” or “to the Two Queens and King.” It’s agreed that the Two Queens very likely refer to Demeter and Persephone or it’s later precursor goddesses who are not associated with Poseidon later.
Eileithyia – Demeter is a local Minoan goddess found in Amnisos, Crete where she is a goddess of childbirth who gives birth to a divine child. Her consort is given as Enesidaon, the “earth-shaker” whom we just mentioned is Poseidon. Her cult and worship would survive within the Eleusinian Mysteries. Plus, we see where local deities’ worship gets absorbed and conflated with a more popular, well-known deity.
Arcadia – We’re still in Bronze Age Greece! Here, Demeter and Poseidon Hippios or Horse Poseidon give birth to a daughter, Despoina, who is a goddess in her own right before some of the myths confuse her with Persephone or make her an epitaph of Demeter.
In this myth, Poseidon is a river spirit of the Underworld, appearing as a horse. In this form, Poseidon pursues Demeter, who is also in horse form. Demeter hid among the horses of King Onkios. Due to her divinity, Demeter couldn’t remain hidden for long and Poseidon caught up with her and forced himself on her. When the two gods copulate, Demeter gives birth to a goddess who is also in horse or mare form. This is a myth that sounds very similar to another one between Poseidon and Athena and more accurately, Philyra and Cronos when Chiron is born. The horse motif is very common in northern-European myths and folklore.
As a mare-goddess, Demeter is known first as Demeter Erinys due to her fury with Poseidon for forcing himself on her. She becomes Demeter Lousia, “the bathed Demeter” after washing away her anger in the River Ladon. There’s something to be said for this as you can’t hold onto your anger forever, you must let it go or otherwise it consumes you.
The whole myth of pairing up Demeter and Poseidon is to connect Demeter as a Goddess of the Earth and Poseidon as a God of Water with their connection over nature. Despoina is the daughter who results from their union and whose name could not be spoken outside of the Arcadian Mysteries. Demeter and Poseidon also have another child, a horse by the name of Arion who is noted as being able to speak, immortal, swift, and having a black mane and tail.
Poseidon & Scylla
This is a bit of an obscure myth I came across, as an alternative to Scylla’s origins found in the Tzetzes on Lycophron & Servius on Aeneid writings.
Scylla and Poseidon were having an affair. Out of jealousy, Amphitrite mixed some magical herbs into Scylla’s bath, transforming her into a monster with twelve feet and six heads. Scylla would then join Charybdis to terrorize the coastlines of Italy and Sicily, sinking many ships.
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, Poseidon still sleeps with Scylla and then transforms her into a rocky cliff along the coast.
Poseidon & Nerites
Nerites is the son of Nereus and Doris and thus Amphitrite’s brother. In some accounts, Poseidon takes Nereus as his charioteer as they’re lovers. As a charioteer, Nereus was said to be very good and fast.
The myth isn’t clear why, but one day, the sun god Helios turns Nerites into a shellfish. The Greek author who recorded this story isn’t sure why, but puts forward a theory that Helios may have been offended by Nerite’s skill or was a rival lover to Poseidon. Helios may have wanted Nerites to travel among the constellations instead in the sea.
It is known that from the love that Poseidon and Nerites have, comes Anteros, mutual love.
In this dialogue, Plato tells of a mortal woman who lived on an isolated island by the name of Cleito. Poseidon fell in love with her and created a sanctuary on top of a hill in the middle of the island and surrounded the place with rings of water and land to protect her. Cleito would give birth to five sets of twin boys. The firstborn, Atlas would become the first ruler of the legendary Atlantis.
Descendant of Poseidon – Plato was regarded by his fellow Greeks to be able to trace his lineage to Poseidon through his father Ariston and to the demigod kings of Codrus and Melanthus.
There are several Greek heroes such as Herakles and Theseus who killed several centaurs. There is also a story of the sirens luring the centaurs to their death in the sea. In the Apollod, it is stated that the island of Sirens is where Poseidon crushed the centaurs instead of giving them refuge.
Ares & Aphrodite’s Love Affair
A version of the story found in Homer’s Odyssey has Hephaestus refusing to release the lovers unless Zeus returned the bridal gifts. Zeus staunchly refused as he felt that Hephaestus shouldn’t have made the affair so public. Though in the Odyssey, Poseidon does agree to play Hephaestus’ price to release both Ares and Aphrodite.
Though it is just after this story happens that Poseidon brings charges against Ares in the Areiopagus for having killed his son Halirrhothius.
The Founding Of Athens
This story is similar to another story where Poseidon creates the first horse. In this version of the story, the two gods are competing for the city of Athens (at this time the region is called Attica) ruled over by Athens’s legendary first king, Cecrops. Even after Athena became the patron goddess of the city, Poseidon still had a presence at the Acropolis through his avatar Erechtheus. By the Athenian calendar, at the end of the year, a festival would be held, and the priests of Athena and the priest of Poseidon would hold a procession under the canopies to Eleusis. There, the gods would give a gift to the Athenian people and the people would choose which one they preferred.
To start things off, Poseidon throws a trident into the ground, creating a spring at the Acropolis. However, the water that sprung up was rather salty. Athena won the competition with the creation and gift of the olive tree. In anger, Poseidon flooded the Attic Plain as punishment to the Athenians for not choosing him. Both deities eventually worked together with Athena creating the first chariot and Poseidon creating the first horse. Athena also built the first ship to sail over the oceans that Poseidon rules.
The place where Poseidon’s trident struck the ground; filled with salt water was closed off by the northern hall of the Erechtheum and remained open to the air.
The story of this conflict between Poseidon and Athena can be found on reliefs along the western pediment of the Parthenon and is the first such relief that a visitor sees on arriving.
Many scholars have interpreted this myth as a clash between the Mycenaean Greeks and newly arrived immigrants to the area. The city of Athens was at one point a major sea power that defeated the Persian fleet at the island of Salamis. The scholar Walter Burkert notes that Poseidon led his son Eumolpus against Athens and killed Erectheus.
Further, Poseidon sent another of his sons, Halirrhothius to cut down Athena’s olive tree. While Halirrhothius was swinging his axe, he missed and managed to kill himself. In anger, Poseidon accused Ares of the murder and the matter would eventually be resolved on the Areopagus, or “hill of Ares” in favor of Ares. Another version of the story has Halirrhothius raping Alcippe, Ares’s daughter and understandably so, Ares kills him. And that is what leads to Ares’ trial and eventual acquittal.
The Divison of Corinth
In a similar story to that of Athens, this time it is Helios and Poseidon clashing over who would be the patron deity. The dispute was bad enough that the two gods brought the issue before one of the Hecatoncheires, Briareos, an elder god to settle the matter. Briareos awarded the Acrocorinth to Helios and gave the isthmus of Corinth to Poseidon.
This tale is noted as representing the conflicts between fire and water. Helios being a sun god gets the area closest to the sky and Poseidon being a sea god, gets the area closest to the water.
The City Of Argos – Poseidon & Hera
This dispute is over the city of Argos. The two deities chose a local king Phoroneus to settle this matter. Phoroneus decided in favor of Hera to award her the city to become the patron goddess. An enraged Poseidon then sent a drought to plague the city.
Exchanging Islands & Temples
Then there is this story, where Poseidon and Leto decided to exchange islands to be patrons of. Poseidon gave Leto the island of Delos and he got the island of Caluria where a temple to Poseidon has stood since antiquity.
With Apollo, Poseidon gave him Delphi in exchange for Taenarum.
These are likely just quick little stories to explain the change of worshipers and who a patron deity was for a certain region.
Sometime after Zeus has succeeded in overcoming all the previous challenges from Gaia, the various giants, and titans to become ruler of the heavens, a young Zeus had gotten rather prideful, temperamental, and arrogant in his rulership.
Enter Apollo, Hera, and Poseidon (and depending on the source, all the other gods except Hestia join in) and decide that Zeus needs to be taught a lesson.
Hera’s part was to drug Zeus so that he fell into a deep sleep. While Zeus is sleeping, they come in to steal his thunderbolts and tie him up with some one hundred knots. Powerless, Zeus lays there until the Neriad, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, calls the Hecatoncheire, Briareus who comes and unties Zeus.
With Briareus’ support, Zeus is able to put an end to the rebellion and punish those involved. Most notable is Hera’s punishment as she led the rebellion. Zeus hung her up in the sky with golden chains. Hera’s weeping kept Zeus up all night and the next morning, he agreed to end the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
As for Apollo and Poseidon? They were stripped of their godly powers for a time to serve King Laomedon of Troy.
The Marriage Of Thetis
Both Poseidon and Zeus had pursued the goddess Thetis’ hand in marriage. However, when Themis gave the prophecy that Thetis’ son would be greater than his father, both Poseidon and Zeus withdrew and decided that it would be better if Thetis married the mortal Peleus. The same marriage where the goddess Eris tossed her golden apple among the goddesses after she wasn’t invited and leading to the Trojan War.
Divine Set Up – If we go by the “lost” epic, The Cypria attributed to Stasinus, this whole Trojan War was planned by Zeus and Themis. There are only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and it’s seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events came about.
Because of Apollo and Poseidon’s part in helping Hera with her rebellion, Zeus stripped the two gods of their power for a time, and they were sent to serve King Laomedon of Troy. There, King Laomedon had the two gods build a huge wall around the city with the promise of reward. When it came time to pay up, King Laomedon refused. By this time, Poseidon had regained his godly powers and out of vengeance, he sends a sea monster to attack the city of Troy. The legendary hero Hercules defeated and killed this monster.
Book XX sees Poseidon rescue the Trojan Prince Aeneas after Achilles drops them in combat.
At first during the Trojan War, Zeus forbids any of the gods to take part. When Zeus rescinds this ban, Poseidon sides with the Greeks against the Trojans, causing earthquakes. Poseidon would also help the Greeks indirectly by appearing in the guise of an old seer named Calchas.
In Rome, Troy is called Neptunia Pergama.
After the events of the Iliad and Trojan War, the titular hero, Odysseus earns Poseidon’s wrath after blinding his Cyclops son, Polyphemus. Such was Poseidon’s wrath, that it would take Odysseus ten years to make the return trip home to Ithaca.
A Latin epic poem written by Virgil, this involves the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who fled the city after the fall of Troy and his travels to Italy and become the ancestor of the Romans.
Because of how closely the Greek and Roman gods are equated with each other, we read in this epic how Poseidon, under the name of Neptune is still angry with wandering Trojans. However, he is not as vindictive as Juno (Hera). In Book I, Neptune rescues the Trojan fleet from Juno’s attempts to wreck it, even if the only reason was to prevent Juno from interfering with his domain of the sea.
Hepom Nepōts – Indo-European
This is the name of a reconstructed proto-Indo-European deity that historians, etymologists, and linguists have hypothesized when tracing a prehistoric Eurasian population and the language that may have been spoken. The name Hepom Nepōts translates to “Descendant of the Waters.”
Nethuns – Etruscan
An Etruscan deity from the region of Umbria in Italy. Nethuns is a god of springs and water who is identified with the Grecian Poseidon and Roman Neptune. Their name is found in the Latin expression “flere Nethuns,” meaning “the divinity of Nethuns.”
Neptune – Roman
Where Poseidon is the god of the Ocean, his Roman counterpart is Neptune.
Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Poseidon with Neptune. The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars, and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that they would virtually become one and the same. And that’s the tradition passed down through the centuries and has become accepted. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Pontus – Greek
The oldest of the Greek Water deities, Pontus is regarded more as the personification of the sea.
Etymology: gelem “raw material”
Pronunciation: “GOH-ləm,” “goilem” in Yiddish
The first time I heard of the golem having a place in folklore outside of tabletop gaming with Dungeons & Dragons is with the Disney cartoon series Gargoyles in the episode “Prague.” Where an animated statue of a human made from mud or clay is brought to life.
Disclaimer – Not to be confused with Gollum from Tolkien’s Middle Earth series.
What’s In A Name?
The modern term golem comes from the word gelem and means “raw material.” In more modern times, the Hebrew use of the word is used to mean “fool,” “silly,” “stupid,” “clueless,” and “dumb.”
In the Bible and more accurately, the Torah, the word golem is used when referring to something that is still in embryo or incomplete. The passage for Psalm 139:16 has the word “gal’mi” which means “my unshaped form.” In Hebrew, the root words are written with the consonants “glm.”
The Mishnah uses the word when referring to an uncultivated person. Modern usage of the word sees golem being used as a metaphor for “brainless lunks” or those serving others under controlled conditions or seen as enemies by others. In Yiddish, the term golem is used as an insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.
Creating a golem seems to be pretty straightforward. Create a life-sized human figure from either mud or clay. This figure is then given life when specific holy words are carved into the brow or hung around the neck with the words being spoken by a skilled Rabbi who knows the arts of Kabbalah. The golem can also be returned to lifelessness by changing the words.
Talmud – In the earliest stories of Judaism, Adam whose name means “red [clay]” is first created as a golem from the dust of the earth when he is created into a shapeless form.
In Judaism, only a very holy person who was close to God or strived to be could gain the wisdom and power needed to create life. However, no matter how holy a person became, the golem they created is but a shadow compared to God’s creation.
Sefer Yetzirah – Or the Book of Formation, this book dates from the Middle Ages and has passages that expound on how to create and animate golems. It must be noted that it is very little in Jewish mysticism that supports this work.
Weakness – What makes the golem a pale shadow of God’s creation of humans is that golems are unable to speak. In the Sanhedrin 65b, Raba creates a golem using the Sefer Yetzirah. When Raba sent the golem to Rav Zeira, they spoke to the golem. When the golem was unable to answer, Rav Zeira comments that the golem was created by a colleague and for it to return to dust.
Another weakness of Golems is their inability to disobey any orders from those that created them and that can lead to folly and problems.
Ultimate Wisdom & Holiness
Creating a servant was seen as the ultimate act of one demonstrating their wisdom and holiness to make and create life. There are numerous stories throughout the Middle Ages era of many prominent rabbis having done so.
That makes sense. There’s the Tiamat and Abzu creating the Anunnaki and in turn, they created the Igigi who in turn go on to make humans.
Plus, the creation of homunculi was pretty common during the Middle Ages by alchemists. Plus the idea follows us into the current age with stories like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel.
Modern Hubris – More current literature and media tend to see the creation of another being as an act of hubris and folly where the creation turns on the creator.
Limitations – Of course, over time, there would be other limits and aspects added to the tales of golems. Many such stories include where it is the use of magical or religious words that will animate the golem. Examples are where one of the names of God is written on the forehead, writing the name on a piece of paper and sticking it to the forehead, or placing the paper or tablet under the tongue of the golem. Another word is “Emet” meaning “truth” in the Hebrew language. Then to return the golem to lifelessness, the first letter of Emet is erased to form the word “Meit” or “dead” in Hebrew.
As I previously mentioned further up, in the earliest stories from Judaism, namely the Talmud, Adam, the first man is a golem created by Yahweh or God from the dust of the earth. Adam’s name means “red [clay].”
The Golem Of Prague
This is the story referenced in the Disney Gargoyles episode “Prague.” The story of the Golem first appears in an 1847 collection of Jewish tales called “Galerie der Sippurim” by Wolf Pascheles of Prague. Another, fictional account of this story was published by Yudl Rosenberg in 1909.
In Czechoslovakian legend, in 1580 C.E., the Jewish community was under a lot of threats of violence, massacres, and blood libels.
For those that don’t know what a blood libel is, these are false accusations thrown towards the Jewish communities, claiming they kill people, usually claims of children in order to use their blood in their rituals. Adding weight to these grisly accusations, a child would be killed and then left near the home of a prominent Jew in an effort to frame them. Sometimes a child just outright disappeared. These accusations would get so bad, as was happening in Prague, Jews were getting murdered by mobs, if they weren’t getting arrested and put on trial.
Unfortunately, these types of accusations still continue in the modern day, though the term has broadened more to include any unpleasant accusations. You would think even in more modern, current times people would be better aware of this. But we still have those who persist in their misinformation and conspiracies where any efforts to correct them, tend to cause this group to double down on their cognitive biases and misinformation.
The chief rabbi in Prague at the time was Rabbi Yehudah Loew Ben Bezalel, a renowned scholar of both Jewish law and mysticism. Loewe was no stranger to the persecution his community suffered from. He grew up with constant persecution to his people and was familiar with how communities would grow and settle where they were better treated until such time they would have to move and leave when the locals eventually turned on them.
To confront this, Rabbi Loew and two of his colleagues set about to create a life-sized golem that they animated by inserting a piece of paper with the word “Shem” written on it into the golem’s mouth. In Kabbala, the word “Shem” is regarded as being an interpretation of God’s divine and holy name. This golem was known by the names of Josef and Yossele. He was known to be able to turn himself invisible and summon the spirits of the dead.
Loew would use the golem to perform several menial tasks that required a lot of strength. Then, every Friday evening, Loew would remove the piece of paper so the golem would not interrupt people on the Sabbath.
As luck would have it, there came a Friday, when Loew forgot to remove the piece of paper, and the golem, ended up running rampant. By the time the rabbi learned of the problem, he left the service in search of the golem. When he found the golem, Loew removed the paper from its mouth and he and his colleagues carried the golem back to the synagogue. The companions sealed the golem away in the attic of the Prague Synagogue. A ban was placed on those entering the attic. Legends hold that a rabbi and a later generation went up the stairs and saw the golem, and that rabbi placed a ban on even going up the steps.
Over time, people forgot about the golem and even today, no one is allowed inside the synagogue’s attic area or shul. In other places around the Czech Republic, visitors can access the attic or shul areas of other synagogues.
Variation – Another version of the Golem of Prague holds that Rabbi Loew dreamt that the Lord commanded him to create a golem in order to protect the Jewish people. It is this version of the story that is the basis for the Disney Gargoyles’ episode “Prague” and possibly the inspiration for Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein.
Another minor add-on to this legend is that during WWII, a Nazi agent is said to have gone up to the attic area and later died of suspicious circumstances.
The Golem Of Chelm
In this story, rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm created a golem that kept growing in size to the point that it tore the name of God off its forehead. At that point, the golem became inert and toppled over to crush its creator.
The Golem Of Vilna
This story is about Vilna Gaon or “the saintly genius from Vilnius,” circa 1720-1797. Rabbi Chaim Volozhin presented several different versions of a particular passage from the book Sefer Yetzira to his teacher the Gaon. Chaim made a comment on how he should be able to easily create a live human from these passages. In response, the Gaon confessed, saying that he once began to create such a being when he was a child under the age of 13. However, the Gaon received a sign from Heaven to cease doing such a process due to his young age.
The Clay Boy
This is a Yiddish and Slavic folktale that takes and combines elements for the golem and The Gingerbread Man. Essentially this story follows the childless couple motif and archetype.
An older couple whose children have grown up and left home decided one day out of loneliness to make a child out of clay and dry him on the hearth. To their delight, the clay child comes to life and the elderly couple treats him as a real child. However, the Clay Boy doesn’t stop growing and in soon enough time, he has eaten up all of the couple’s food. The Clay Boy continues his voracious appetite by eating all of the couple’s livestock and eventually, he eats the couple themselves. Unsatiated, the Clay Boy goes on a rampage through the village and doesn’t stop until a goat goes and rams them, smashing them to pieces.
Late Nineteenth Century
When we get to the later part of the 20th century, we see many non-Jewish or Gentiles become interested in stories of Golems, using them in various media for literature, movies, T.V. series, even an opera, and so on. These stories show the Christianization of the golem. Notably in the Christian idea that humanity should not presume to be God or play God lest hubris visit them horribly. That such acts end in folly and disaster. Notable stories, again Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Stories that don’t feature a golem, but other creations would be like H.G. Well’s Island of Doctor Moreau and any number of various science fiction featuring a robot uprising.
Similar Folkloric Figures
Androids – Robots, Cyborgs, Automatons, the idea of an artificial, mechanical being has been a part of the science fiction landscape and examples of these can be found in a few various mythologies. In the early part of the 21st century, we are seeing advances in AI and robotics that these beings are here, real, and no longer part of a what-if, speculative science fiction.
Clones – This is another area that has gone from science fiction to science fact with Scientists able to clone humans or animals in labs. There are many science-fiction literature and media that go into the ethics of cloning and what rights a clone has.
Frankenstein’s Monster – Or Frankenstein’s Creature, this is an artificially created man by the title character in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. In the book, the creature is created in a vat, via means of alchemy. Whereas many movie adaptations have the creature created from various body parts of cadavers. Later literature and media will give the creature the name Adam in reference to a line where the creature says “I ought to be thy Adam.”
Galatea – This is the name of a statue brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite in answer to the sculptor Pygmalion’s prayers.
Homunculus – This is a small person that Alchemists were purported to be able to create from alchemical journals. These anecdotes were popular during the 16th century.
Mökkurkálfi – In Norse mythology, the Mökkurkálfi is a clay giant created by the troll Hrungnir that helped to fight against Thor.
Tulpa – A bit more esoteric, Tulpa, or thought forms that can be created. Unlike golems, a tulpa is not likely to have a physical, tangible body.
Alternative Names: Apu Punchaur, Apu-punchau, Giver of Life, Inti-Wawqi (Brother of the Sun)
In the Quechua and primarily Incan cultures of what is now modern-day Peru, Inti is a god of the sun and war. Inti was second in importance only to Viracocha, the creator god. Inti is generally perceived as a benevolent deity much of the time, bringing the heat of the sun for crops to grow. In the same vein, Inti could show displeasure through solar eclipses in which sacrifices would need to be made to soothe his anger. Rulers of the Inca saw themselves as descendants of Inti, the patron of their empire and military might.
The Incan Empire once spanned from Chile to Colombia and had covered most of Peru and Ecuador in its heyday. The Incan people were an advanced culture with sophisticated records, astronomy, art, and wealth. The Inca originated from the Lake Titicaca region in the Andes. Like any empire, the Incas expanded, conquering other tribes and cultures. That is, until the arrival of the Spaniards who came looking for gold and their own conquests in 1533. Smallpox devastated many of the local populations, making it easy for the Spanish and other Europeans to come in and with it, the fall of the Incan empire.
Animals: Cougars, Snakes
Patron of: Creation
Sphere of Influence: Crops, Fertility
What’s In A Name?
Surprisingly, the word inti isn’t a Quechuan word but is instead a loanword from the Puquina language. Looking at the language groups of Aymara, Mapuche, and Quechua in the region shows why all these languages have a similar word for the sun. The Mapuche people have a similar sun deity known as Antu, the names for their spouses, and the Moon goddess are different from Quilla and Cuven.
In art, Inti would be represented as a golden disc with a human face. In the minds of the Incan people, Inti has a human form.
Gold – This metal was particularly associated with Inti as it was thought to be the sweat of the sun. There is a record of a gold statue to represent Inti. Within Inti’s temple in Cuzco, the interiors were lined with 700 half-meter panels of beaten gold. Outside the temple was a life-sized scene of a field of corn with llamas and shepherds all made of gold and silver. This statue represented Inti as a young boy known as Punchao or the Day and Midday Sun. From the statue’s head and shoulders, the sun’s rays shone forth. He was wearing a royal headband and had snakes and cougars coming out of his body. The stomach of the statue was hollow and would hold the ashes of the previous Incan rulers’ vital organs. This statue would be brought out every day into the open air and returned to the temple at night. When the Spanish arrived, the statue was taken to a place of safety, but eventually, it was found in about 1572 C.E. and has since disappeared from history where it was likely melted down for the gold along with so many other Incan artifacts.
Inti Masks – These masks were made of thinly beaten sheets of gold to form and represent the rays of the sun coming out of Inti’s head. The rays were often cut in a zig-zag design and some were known to end with small human faces or a figure. The most well-known mask was the one on display at the Coricancha temple.
Temples & Solar Constructions
Temples were often elaborately decorated with gold and jewels with intricate designs. This added a lot of prestige for those worshiping within, to offer something so abundant and plentiful to Inti to magnify the glory of the sun.
Coricancha Temple – (“House of the Sun”) and Sacsahuaman were sacred districts in the Incan capital of Cuzco. These are thought to have been built during Pachacuti’ reign. The High Priest of the Sun or Villac Umu presided over rites dedicated to Inti. They would be assisted by acllas or acyllyaconas (young virgin priestesses). Priests in other parts of the empire would carry out ceremonies and rites locally in those places.
Gateway of the Sun – This monolith located in Tiahuanaco by the Tiwanaku culture is thought to have a figure representing Inti while other sources will claim that it is Viracocha. The Sun Gate is also important as it shows the position of the sun on the days of the solstices and equinoxes.
Intihuatana – Or “hitching post of the sun” are solar astronomical stones (similar to a sundial but more sophisticated) that would be set at the highest point of a sacred precinct. They were used during the solstices to track the sun and connect it to the earth with a special cord or rope. Other astronomical observations for the sun and perhaps other celestial bodies would also be tracked with them. The most familiar and famous example is the one found at Machu Picchu. Other places are Pisac in north-eastern Cuzco, Ingapirca in Ecuador, and the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca where Incan rulers would make a pilgrimage to once a year.
Sucanga – These were a series of twelve pillars arranged around the city of Cusco used in the Incan solar calendar. Each pillar was arranged so that each month, it would indicate where the sun would set and rise. Farmers used them to rely on their planting and harvests. In the Incan Solar Calendar, the year was divided into 12 moons with 30 days. Each moon corresponded with its festivities and daily activities.
This isn’t that much of a stretch, Inti is the Sun god, the sun way up in the sky is seen as him. It’s not that hard to see the sun as sacred, especially when needing crops to grow and bring light to the world.
Among the Inca, they began worshiping before the dawn. The emperor, his family, and everyone would head down to the main square of Cusco and wait silently for the rising of the sun. Once the sun rose, everyone would rejoice and kneel as the priests offered up a chicha to Inti in a silver bowl.
From there, the people would march to Coricancha to relight the sacred fire using mirrors to direct the sun’s rays.
The sun worship also included dances, sacrifices of grain, flowers, and animals that would be burned on bonfires.
Parentage and Family
Father – Viracocha, the creator god
Mother – Mama Qucha
Sometimes Pachamama, the earth goddess is Inti’s mother and in yet other myths, Inti will become Pachamama’s second husband.
Mama Quilla – The goddess of the Moon.
Pachamama – An Earth goddess
Siblings – Imahmana, Mama Killa, Mama Quilla, Pachamama, Tocapo
Inca Manco Capac I and Mama Oello
Through Inca Manco Capac I, Inti is essentially the progenitor of all the Incan people. Other myths will place Manco Capac as the son of Viracocha.
Ancestor & Protector Deity
Inti is noted as being an ancestor of the Incan people through his son Inca Manco Capac I. In this capacity, Inti is also the state protector of the Incan peoples. Inti taught both Manco Capac and his daughter Mama Ocllo the arts of civilization.
The ruling elite of the Inca were all seen as representatives or avatars of Inti on earth. A similar concept is found in ancient Egypt where the Pharoah was seen an avatar of Ra in the flesh. Every member of the Incan people, especially the nobles to see themselves as representing Inti when they traveled and that they needed to holy when entering certain cities within the empire.
Incan myths say that Inti is the founder of their culture and empire. Inti taught his children Manco Capac and Mama Ocollo the arts of civilization before sending them to the Earth to pass these skills on to humankind. Inti ordered his children to build the capital of the Incan empire where a golden wedge hit the ground. This city is often regarded as being the city of Cusco and had been founded by the Ayar.
Worship – Inti was regarded as the head of the state cult and his worship was enforced throughout the Incan empire. The Incan leader, Pachacuti is who is often credited for the spread of the Inca Sun Cult.
The High Priest or Willaq Umu placed this position as the second most important person in the Incan culture. The Willaq Umu was directly beneath the Sapa Inca and were often brothers as both were held to be descended from Inti.
In Incan beliefs, Inti and his sister, Mama Quilla, the Moon goddess are regarded as being benevolent. Inti is also to have married his older sister Mama Killa who bore him two children. Within Inti’s court, he and Mama Quilla are served by the Rainbow, the Pleiades, Venus, and other celestial bodies.
Where many will identify Inti as a sun god, he is more accurately viewed as a series of solar aspects, specifically the stages of the sun as it passes throughout the day.
Incan Astronomy – In Incan cosmology, the sun has three phases it goes through during the day. The first is known as Apu Inti, the “supreme Inti” and represents the father and is sometimes known as “The Lord Sun.” The next is Churi Init or “Son Inti” which represents the son of Inti and is known as “Daylight.” The last is Inti Wawqi, the “Sun Brother”. The name is also spelt Inti- Inti-Guauqui and Inti-Huaoqui. Inti Wawqi represents the sun god in his role as the founding father of Incan rule and ancestor of the Incan people.
The aspects of Apu Inti and Churi Inti are separated cosmically as they each represent the Summer and Winter Solstices. Inti Wawqi is not associated with any astronomical spot.
The other idea in Incan cosmology is that these different aspects of Inti involved different duties they undertook. One of the suns represented the actual sun giving heat and light to the earth. Another of the sun was in the sky during the day much like the moon is out at night. And that the last sun was responsible for the growth of plants and agriculture.
Eclipses – Like many cultures, eclipses were seen as a sign of ill omen, and with the Inca, that Inti was somehow displeased. The Inca couldn’t predict a solar eclipse, part of what led to beliefs in an angry sun deity. The priests would seek to find ways to divine and figure out what had caused Inti’s wrath and then figure out which sacrifices needed to be made. With an eclipse, this is when the Inca would resort to human sacrifice to appease Inti’s anger. In addition, the ruling Inca would withdraw to fast for several days before returning to their duties.
Creation Myth – One of the interpretations of this myth has a conflict between Viracocha and Inti over the Sun’s creation and if it meant it should be worshiped as a separate entity.
Agriculture – As a Sun god, Inti is also instrumental as an agricultural deity. Especially in the highlands of Peru where the sun’s heat was thought to be the cause of rain. The correlation makes sense when during the rainy season, the sun is hotter and during the dry season, the sun feels cooler. Without that rain, the production of crops for maize and other grains would be more difficult.
Each province of the Inca empire would dedicate a third of their land and herds to Inti. Each major province would have a Sun Temple where priests and priestesses would serve.
Inti-Raymi – Meaning “Sun Festival,” this is an annual festival held during the time for the start of a new planting season. In the Quechua language, the name Inti Raymi means “resurrection of the sun” or “the path of the sun.”
The festival began with three days of fasting, no fires lit and people abstaining from sex, the sacrificing of 100 brown llamas. Once the festival began, it would last nine days during which time people consumed a lot of food and drink. There would be ritual dances, chanting from sunrise to sunset with animal sacrifices throughout the day all dedicated to celebrating Inti. Other sacrifices to Inti included simple prayers, food, coca leaves, and woven cloth. At the conclusion of the festival, people would leave with permission.
Sacrifices – Oftentimes animals of various livestock would be given. The most common sacrifices to Inti were white llamas. Any human sacrifices were done during a special ceremonial occasion or in the event of an event such as an earthquake, solar eclipse, or a death in the royal family. Such sacrifices and ceremonies were conducted to ensure the continuation of the Incan empire for its people and harvests.
There is one particular story of an eagle being attacked by buzzards and falling from the sky during a ceremony to Inti in roughly 1526 C.E. This was seen as an omen or portent for the collapse of the Inca empire. This would also coincide with the arrival of smallpox brought by Spanish Conquistadors from Europe. The smallpox epidemic would devastate numerous populations throughout the Americas and in the case of the Inca, it weakened them to conquered by the Spanish.
After the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, this festival would be changed to May or June to coincide with the feast of Corpus Christi. Of course, incoming invaders and conquerors saw the festival of Inti-Raymi as being too pagan and would try to replace it with Christian observances.
The Inti-Raymi festival has seen a revival and tourists are known to come to Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire to observe it. Inti Raymi occurs during the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and June 24th by modern Calendar dates. And of course, no human sacrifices in the modern day.
With the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors, came also the arrival of Catholicism and Christianity. The incoming Christian priests saw any religion other than themselves as being Pagan. The Sun Worship observed among the Incans was no exception and quickly equated with paganism and thus evil. This religious zeal, fueled by Spanish greed led to many temples being destroyed along with many religious artifacts meeting the same fate.
It is known that the Spanish Conquistadors seized a huge golden disk that represented Inti in 1571. It was sent back to Spain and given to the pope. Since then, this artifact and religious icon have been lost and there is speculation it may have been melted down to bullion.
Nowadays, in the 20th and 21st centuries, Inti is equated with the Christian god by the Quechua people.
Apollo – A Greek god of the sun also worshiped by the Romans.
Arinna – A Hittite goddess of the sun and light.
Helios – An ancient Greek sun god.
Huitzilopochtli – The Aztec god of the sun.
Kinich Ahau – The Mayan sun god.
Lugh – The Celtic sun god and fierce warrior.
Mithra – The Persian god of the sun.
Ra – A solar god worshiped among the ancient Egyptians.
Sol – The name of the Roman personification of the sun.
Sunna – Or Sol, one of the few sun goddesses and venerated by the Norse.
Surya – The Hindi god of the sun.
Tawa – The Sun Kachina in Hopi beliefs.
Also Known As: Taawa, Taiowa, Sun Shield Kachina
In Hopi beliefs, Tawa is the Sun Spirit or Sun Kachina. In many of the Hopi creation stories, Tawa is featured in them.
Tawa is often shown with a round headdress resembling the sun. This headdress is made using eagle feathers that represent strength and virility. The center of the mask will be colored blue with a face showing an expression of joy or bliss.
Depending on the stories or ceremonies, Tawa is said to hold a similar role to Nakiachop, the Silent Warrior Kachina or Talavai the Morning Kachina, standing to the side holding a spruce tree in his left hand and a bell in his right hand. During the Mixed Dance, Tawa is seen holding a flute in his left hand.
The Hopi believe that the world has been created four times. That Tawa created the First World from the endless space known as Tokpella.
First World – When Tawa created the First World, only insect-like creatures lived there. They were miserable living in their caves.
Second World – As the creatures of the First World were unhappy, Tawa sent the spirit known as Spider Grandmother to lead the creatures on a long journey to the Second World. In this new world, the creatures took on the appearances of bears and wolves.
Third World – Legends from the Orabi language tell that this world was destroyed by Tawa with a great flood as the people of that world were not living how Tawa said they should. Plus, the fact they still weren’t any happier than before. Spider Grandmother was sent once again to lead the creatures to the Fourth World and by the time they arrived, they had become people.
Fourth World – Hopi cosmology and beliefs say that the earth people live on is the Fourth World, also created by Tawa with help from Kokyangwuti. In the Fourth World, Spider Grandmother taught all the people pottery and weaving. A hummingbird is said to have brought them a fire drill.
Entrance To The Fourth World – In Mesa Verde National Park, there is an Ancestral Puebloan petroglyph that shows where the Ancient Puebloans emerged from the earth to the Fourth World. The petroglyph is a boxy, spiral shape. In the center is the “sipapu” where the ancient Puebloans exited from.
Hopi Creation Stories
There are two different stories among the Hopi about the sun and creator god Tawa.
First Story – Tawa is said to have created Sotuknang first, calling them his nephew. Tawa then sent Sotuknang to create the nine universes. Next, Tawa created Spider Woman who acted as a messenger between the creator and all of his creations.
In other versions of this story, Spider Woman is the creator of all life. Another version says the Hard Being Woman of the East and Hard Being Woman of the West created all life while Tawa, the sun stood by observing everything.
Arriving In The Fourth World – In this story, evil had broken out among the people of the Third World. With either the help of Spider Grandmother or Bird Spirits, a hollow bamboo reed grew in the opening of the Third World leading to the Fourth World. This opening is known as sipapu, a place traditionally seen as the Grand Canyon. Those people with good hearts or kindness made it to the Fourth World.
It is here in the Fourth World that people learned many lessons about how to live. How to worship Masauwu, the Spirit of Death and master of the Fourth World, to ensure that the dead return to the Underworld, Masauwu gave the people four tablets, in symbolic form, that outlined their journeys. Masauwu also told the people to be on the watch for Pahana, the Lost White Brother.
Oraibi Version – In this version, Tawa destroys the Third World with a great flood. Before this destruction, Spider Grandmother seals all the righteous people into hollow reeds that are then used as boats. Safe from the flood waters, the reed boats eventually come onto dry land and the people get out and at first, they see nothing but more water surrounding them. The people then plant a bamboo shoot and climb to the top. Spider Woman told the people to make more boats out of reeds and using the island of dry land as a series of steppingstones, they sailed east until finding the mountainous coast of the Fourth World.
Side Note – While there are several versions of the creation story, the scholar Harold Courlander comments that the in Oraibi, the oldest of the Hopi villages, young children are told the story of the sipapu and then the story of the ocean voyage when they’re older. The Hopi Water clan’s name of Patkinyamu even means “a dwelling-on-water” or “houseboat.” The story of the sipapu is generally accepted among the Hopi.
Also known as Kátchina, Kacina, Kásina, and the anglicized Kachina.
They are the spiritual beings and personification in Hopi beliefs or real-world things, the sun, stars, thunderstorms, rain, corn, insects, and other concepts. A Katsina may appear in a few different forms, the supernatural being themselves, the Katsina dancers, and Katsina dolls that would be taken care of by a wife, mother, or sister.
With Tawa, the Sun Katsina plays an important part in the Sun observances among the Hopi and their ceremonial rituals for bringing the rain so their crops may grow. The first important ceremony of the year, Powamu happens in February for the bean planting and the last ceremony, Niman is performed in July for the harvest. The Katsina are then believed to all return home on the San Francisco Peaks.
Sun & Creator
As stated above, Tawa is the Sun and Creator spirit or Kachina in Hopi beliefs. He is responsible for the creation of all life and everything in the Fourth World.
Even today, no Hopi ritual is complete without a tribute or offering made for Tawa. Hopi mothers seek out Tawa’s blessings for newborns.
Antu – The Mapuche sun god.
Apollo – A Greek god of the sun also worshiped by the Romans.
Arinna – A Hittite goddess of the sun and light.
Helios – An ancient Greek sun god.
Huitzilopochtli – The Aztec god of the sun.
Inti – Incan Sun god.
Kinich Ahau – The Mayan sun god.
Lugh – The Celtic sun god and fierce warrior.
Mithra – The Persian god of the sun.
Ra – A solar god worshiped among the ancient Egyptians.
Sol – The name of the Roman personification of the sun.
Sunna – Or Sol, one of the few sun goddesses and venerated by the Norse.
Surya – The Hindi god of the sun.
Etymology: Deep Ocean, ab meaning “ocean,” zu meaning “to know” or “deep”
Other names: Absu, Apsu (Akkadian), Apzu (Assyro-Babylonian), Engur (Sumerian), Apsu-Rushtu (Babylonian), Nun (Sumerian), Aphson (Babylonian), Apason (Akkadian), Ἀπασών (Apasṓn in Greek)
Epitaphs: God of Sweet Waters, The Heavenly Oceans of Wisdom
Abzu or Apsu is a primordial god in Mesopotamian mythology. Before this, the name Abzu is the name given for freshwater found in underground aquifers. All freshwater from lakes to springs, rivers, wells and other sources were all held as coming from the abzu. This water, due to being freshwater, was held with religious reverence by the ancient Akkadians and Sumerians.
More modern theology and thought tend to see that if Tiamat is a dragon, then Abzu must be a dragon as well. The mixing of the salt and sweet or freshwater is a metaphor for the two getting it on and sparking off all of creation.
Tiamat – In the Babylonian Epic, she is the consort to Abzu.
Anu – The god of the sky in Sumerian mythology.
Kingu – One of Kingu’s sons, he leads Tiamat’s armies as well as becomes her consort after Abzu’s death.
Lachmu and Lachamu – The first pair of gods born. From them, all of the other gods within the Mesopotamian pantheon come.
Monstrous Children & Demon – After the death of Apsu, Tiamat creates a host of monstrous children, among whom dragons and serpents are but a few.
Anšar and Kišar – Through Lachmu and Lachamu.
Igigi – Ultimately the second and third generation of gods.
An important note is that water, freshwater, or sweet water as the ancient Mesopotamian cultures called it was held in high religious regards for its powers of fertility and granting life. All sources of freshwater, from lakes to springs, to wells and rivers were all believed to originate from abzu, the vast ocean of water beneath the land.
In both Akkadian and Sumerian mythologies and beliefs, abzu is the primeval sea below the underworld or Kur and the earth or Ma above. Much as the Greeks and Romans had the river Styx to cross to get to the underworld, in Mesopotamian lore, there is the river Hubur that abzu was connected to in order to reach Kur.
Holy Water Tanks – Some tanks holding holy water outside the temple courtyards in Babylon and Assyria were called abzu. These tanks are similar to the washing pools and baptismal fonts of Islamic and Christian churches where ritual or religious washing is performed.
It is only in the Babylonian creation epic, the Enuma Elish that Abzu is described as a god and not the name for the primordial waters found beneath the earth.
The Enuma Elish was found in the library of Assurbanipal, dating from about 630 B.C.E. Though the text is thought to be some 500 years older.
This is an ancient epic creation poem written in the 18th century B.C.E. (1700 to 2000 B.C.E. are other estimated guesses) when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds, and how Ea (Enki) steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.
The Enuma Elish begins at the start of a time when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater (or the abyss) represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods and other beings. Their most notable children are Lachmu and Lachamu along with others who become the other gods and goddesses, known as the Anunnaki. The other children of Apsu and Tiamat are giant sea serpents, dragons, snakes, storm demons, fish-men, scorpion-men
While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu on the other hand didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night, and unable to get any work done during the day. After consulting with his advisor Mummu, Apsu planned to kill his children, specifically the younger, Igigi deities.
A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki (later version its Ea) of what Apsu and Mummu has planned. Apsu’s plan for killing off all of his children was with a flood. Learning this, Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to capture and put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth, and the marshy region of Eridu.
Kingu, one of Tiamat and Apsu’s sons, soon to be the new consort to Tiamat is upset and goes to report what happened. This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting for Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raised up an army of chaos consisting of twelve monsters: Bašmu, “Venomous Snake,” Ušumgallu, “Great Dragon,” Mušmahhu, “Exalted Serpent,” Mušhuššu, “Furious Snake,” Lahmu, the “Hairy One,” Ugallu, the “Big Weather-Beast,” Uridimmu, “Mad Lion,” Girtablullû, “Scorpion-Man,” Umu dabrutu, “Violent Storms,” Kulullû, “Fish-Man,” and Kusarikku, “Bull-Man” who are all led by Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army.
This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. That is, until Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.
Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames, and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.
After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablets of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.
This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated, and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow.
With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans who would be the servants of the Igigi (the younger Mesopotamian gods). The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.
That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.
Side Note: Early versions of this story have Anu, later replaced by Enlil and then in the last version, it is Marduk who gets the promise from the other gods about becoming head of the pantheon.
Marduk’s version dates from the first dynasty of the Babylonians, whereas the other versions are much older. Even then, depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki at all. Scholars who look at when the Enuma Elish was written generally believe that it represents political and religious propaganda meant to justify and install Marduk as the head of the Babylonian pantheon as the city-state rose to political power in the region.
In Sumer, Enki’s temple in the city of Eridu was known as E2-Abzu, the House of the Cosmic Waters. It was located at the edge of a swamp, a place called an abzu. Enki was believed to have lived in the abzu long before humans were created. Enki’s wife, Damgalnuna, and his mother, Nammu, along with Isimud his advisor, and several others all lived in the abzu.
Nun – Egyptian Deity
Considered to be the oldest of the Egyptian gods, Nun was the father of Ra, the Sun god. Nun is the waters of chaos and creation from which Ra-Atum created all life. Nun was also responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile River.
Alternate Spelling: Mictlantecihuatl
Other names: Chicunauhmictlan (“King of Mictlan”)
Etymology: “Lord of Mictlan”
Mictlantecutli is the Aztec deity who is the Lord of the Dead and ruler of the Aztec Underworld known as Mictlan. Which is exactly what Mictlantecutli’s name translates to, “Lord of Mictlan.”
Just to get it out of the way, Mictlantecuhtli’s wife is Mictecacihuatl, who is also the ruler of the dead.
Animal: Bat, Dog, Owl, Spider
Month: Tititl (Aztec)
Patron of: Death, the Dead
Sphere of Influence: Death
Symbols: Bones, Skeletons, Paper
Time: 11th Hour
Mictlantecutli is often represented as either a skeleton or a human figure wearing a skull. His headdress will often have owl feathers on it. When shown as a skeleton, Michlantechutli’s headdress will have knives in it to represent the wind of knives that the souls of the dead must pass through on their way to Mictlan. Michlantechutli when shown as a skeleton may be shown covered or splattered in blood and wearing a necklace of eyeballs or wearing paper clothing. Paper being a common offering for the dead. As human, Michlantechutli would have human bones serving as ear plugs that he wears.
Additional depictions of Michlantechutli show him wearing sandals to symbolize his high rank as the Lord of Mictlan. Michlantechutli could also be shown with his arm held out in an aggressive pose, showing he was ready to tear apart the dead as they came into his presence and realm. There is also an Aztec Codice that shows Michlantechutli as having his skeletal jaw wide open to take in the stars into him during the day.
What’s In A Name
Mictlantecutli’s name translates to “Lord of Mictlan” in the Nahuatl language.
Parents – Not really, Mictlantecuhtli was created by Xipe Totec, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilopochtli when they were busy creating the universe and world.
Spouse – Mictecacihuatl, the Queen and Ruler of the Dead. Another spelling I have for her is Mictlantecihuatl.
Suns – This is a big one in Aztec Cosmology, the Aztecs believed in a cycle of suns or periods of creation. The fourth sun ended with a great deluge or flood that drowned everyone and that the current age is the fifth sun.
There were a number of different paradises or afterlives in Aztec belief. The manner of a person’s death would determine which of these paradises they got to enter. Any person who failed to get into these paradises would find themselves destined for Mictlan.
Fairly common in many world beliefs, the Aztecs divided the cosmos into three parts. The Heavens or Ilhuicac at the top with the Earth or Tlalticpac, being the land of the living found in the middle. Mictlan, the Underworld would be found below.
Depending on the manner of one’s death, would depend on which after life a person to. Mictlan was pretty much seen as the place for all souls who couldn’t get into one of the paradises.
In the Aztec Creation story, there were Ometecuhtli and his wife Omecihuatl who bore four children Xipe Totec, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilopochtli.
And…. Nothing really happens for about 600 years, so the four children decide that they will set about creating the universe. That of course includes creating the Sun, the first man and woman, maize, and calendar. Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl, the Lord and Lady of Death would be created last.
Lord Of The Underworld – Mictlan
With the Christian mindset, the Underworld, any Underworld does not sound like a happy fun place to be or go.
Not quite in Aztec beliefs, most everyone who died, went to Mictlan. When a person died, they would be buried with grave goods that they would carry with them on their travels to Mictlan. These goods would be offered up to Mictlantecutli and Mictecacihuatl.
As the newly dead started their journey to Mictlan, they would be accompanied by a small dog who guided them. Mictlan was known to be located somewhere far to the North. Much like in other world myths and beliefs, the Realm of the Dead is pretty much just neutral, not necessarily evil. Mictlan is divided into nine different levels or layers that the dead must travel through and a series of tests they must do on a four-year journey down to Mictlan. We are talking having to run from various monsters, icy blasts known as the “winds of obsidian,” traverse a mountain range where the mountains crash into each other, and to cross the nine rivers of blood guarded by jaguars. Once the soul arrived, they would dissolve, vanishing forever.
Home Sweet Home – While Mictlan is divided into nine different levels, Mictlantecutli and Mictecacihuatl live in the last few levels. One legend holds that there is a place of white flowers that was forever dark and served as home to the gods of death.
The actual house or dwelling place that Mictlantecutli and Mictecacihuatl live at in the Mictlan is reputed to have no windows.
Vaticanus Codex – In this Colonial codex, Mictlantecutli is identified and labelled by the Spanish as “the Lord of the Underworld, Tzitzimitl” and equated with the Christian Lucifer.
This is the name the Aztecs used for the northern direction associated with Mictlanteculhtli. The northern direction is where the Aztecs believed the land of the dead to be. This would be a region of the earth that was a dark, barren and cold place that was eternally still and quiet. Which makes sense for the Artic. Sometimes, Mictlanteculhtli could be associated with the south, just as equally likely if one were to make it to Antarctica, that’s pretty cold and lifeless the further inland you get.
Souls Of The Dead
The Aztecs recognized three types of souls and Mictlantecutli governed over all of them.
- People who died of normal deaths as in old age and disease
- People who died heroic deaths such as in battle, sacrifices and childbirth
- People who died non-heroic deaths, accidents and suicides
While this sounds like every soul ends up in Mictlan, a soul could end up in another place. For example, if someone died violently drowning or lighting, they would end up in Tlalocan (a realm in the Heavens), for the Tlaloc, the water god.
In the Aztec Calendar, Mictlanteculhtli is associated with the tenth day sign Itzcuintli, a dog. There were twenty such signs in the Aztec calendar. On the day that a particular deity is associated with, that deity was were responsible for providing the souls born on that day.
In addition, Mictlanteculhtli was the source of all souls born on the sixth day of a 13-day week. That is an exceedingly long weekend to work towards.
Mictlanteculhtli presided as the second Week Deity for the tenth week of a twenty-week calendar cycle.
Of the Aztec Gods as a whole, Mictlanteculhtli is the fifth out of nine Night Deities.
As a Night God, Mictlanteculhtli would be paired up with the Sun god Tonatiuh to symbolize the duality and dichotomy of light and darkness.
He was also the secondary Week God for the tenth week of the twenty-week cycle of the calendar, joining the sun god Tonatiuh to symbolize the dichotomy of light and darkness.
Dualities – Light & Dark
While we are on this subject, where Mictlantecutli and Mictecacihuatl represented Death; they are the complements and opposites to Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl who represented Life.
Fertility – Life & Death
By modern, Western aesthetics, Mictlanteculhtli is not the only Aztec deity to be shown with skeletal imagery or bones. For the Aztecs, skeletons and bones were symbols of abundance, fertility, and health. You couldn’t have one without the other.
As they only come out at night and often from caves, bats have been associated with Mictlanteculhtli and the Underworld.
Due to the tenth day sign Itzcuintli, a dog, they are also associated with Mictlanteculhtli. It also seems fairly coincidental enough too as even in Europe, dogs as in Black Dogs are often associated with death and being psychopomps to lead the souls of the dead to the afterlife.
In Aztec beliefs, the owl is associated with death and thus one of Michlantechutli’s animals. Michlantechutli is often shown wearing owl feathers on his headdress.
Another animal associated with death and darkness; they too have been associated with Mictlanteculhtli.
A good portion of the Aztec belief system involved a lot of ritual blood sacrifices. Mictlantecuhtli was no different. Sacrifices made to Mictlantecuhtli were performed at night with a person being a stand-in or avatar, a representative of the god of death. They would be sacrificed at the Tlalxicco temple, whose name means “navel of the world.”
The flayed skins of humans would be offered up to Mictlantecuhtli and it is said that ritual cannibalism was done at the temple too.
Fun Fact – When Hernan Cortes landed on the shore of Central America, the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II thought that this was the deity Quetzalcoatl who had arrived. Thinking that this was the end of the world, Moctezuma II increased the number of human sacrifices believing that this would allow him to appease Mictlantecuhtli and avoid the torments of Mictlan.
Aztec Creation Story
In Aztec myths and beliefs, the world has been created and destroyed a few times.
In this case, the gods Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl had just finished restoring the sky and earth when they decide that they need to create people to populate this new fifth world. Since Michlantechutli has all the bones, Quetzalcoatl travels to him to inquire about getting some bones. Michlantechutli agrees to the condition that Quetzalcoatl travels around the Underworld four times while sounding a conch shell horn. The catch is that Michlantechutli gives Quetzalcoatl a shell that doesn’t have any holes drilled into it.
Quetzalcoatl fixes this problem by summoning some worms who drill holes into the conch shell and then having bees fly into the shell. When Michlantechutli hears Quetzalcoatl blowing the conch horn, he is obligated to fulfill his end of the agreement. However, Michlantechutli decides to go back on his word to keep the bones. Quetzalcoatl is forced to flee, taking the bones with him and Michlantechutli sends his minions, the Micteca after the other god. The Micteca dig a deep pit and as Quetzalcoatl is running, a quail jumps out, startling Quetzalcoatl so that he falls into the pit and dies with the bones all shattering. This is why people will be of different sizes.
One retelling has the quail tormenting Quetzalcoatl before he seemingly dies and then gnaws on all the bones, making that the reason why humans will be in different sizes.
Quetzalcoatl does eventually revive, being a god, and takes the bones to the goddess Cihuacoatl who grinds up the bones and puts them into a special container. The other gods now gather around this container and cut themselves to shed blood into it. From this mixture, the humans of today came forth to populate the earth.
Variation – One version of the myths I came across is that it is both Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl who come to claim bones from Mictlantecuhtli and that these were the bones of previous deities who had lived and died.
An Aztec holiday, the “Great Feast of the Dead” was celebrated for the recently deceased and to help them on their journey to Mictlan. Hueymiccaylhuitl would be celebrated in the Aztec month of Tititl where an impersonator or stand-in for the god Mictlantecuhtli would be sacrificed.
When someone died, the Aztecs would cremate the remains. It was believed that the soul would then undertake a four-year journey to Mictlan through the various levels of the Underworld and need to pass a series of trials. Those who succeeded would make it to the lowest levels of Mictlan.
Hueymiccaylhuitl was also celebrated as an annual celebration as it was believed the dead could return to the lands of the living and visit. Plus, it was a way for the living to help those on their journey as the living could communicate with the deceased souls.
When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, bringing Catholicism with them, the traditions of Hueymiccaylhuitl transformed, becoming known as Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Families still leave offerings of food and goods for the dead to take with them on their journey.
Under more modern and current celebrations and influence from the Catholic church, Día de los Muertos coincides with All Saints’ Day or Feast of All Saints on November 1st. It is a celebration that combines imagery from Aztec beliefs with an air of carnival and festivities with families gathering at cemeteries to share a picnic meal with deceased loved ones and sugar skulls in the image of Mictlantecuhtli.
Santa Muerte – Mexico
A female deity, early images of her started off as male. Santa Muerte is a folk saint whose worship and popularity has been increasing since the start of the 21st century in Mexico and has been spreading. Devotees of Santa Muerte may or may not be disenfranchised with the Catholic Religion and many turn to her for healing, protection and a safe passage to the afterlife.
San La Muerte – South America
An entity very similar to Santa Muerte.
San Pascualito – South America
A similar entity to Mictlantecuhtli found in Guatemala though they are closer to Ah Puch in origin.
Ah Puch – Mayan
Also known as Yum Cimil, the Mayan god of Death, seen as similar to Mictlantecuhtli.
Coqui Bezelao – Zapotec
Another god of Death similar to Mictlantecuhtli in Central to South America.
Kedo – Zapotec
Another god of Death that Mictlantecuhtli has been equated with.
Tihuime – Tarascan
Another god of Death similar to Mictlantecuhtli in Central America.
Also Called: Wiracocha, Wiro Qocha, Wiraqoca, Apu Qun Tiqsi Wiraqutra, Huiracocha, Ticciviracocha, and Con-Tici
Etymology: “Sea Foam”
Epitaphs: Ilya (Light), Ticci (Beginning), Tunuupa, Wiraqoca Pacayacaciq (Instructor)
In Incan and Pre-Incan mythology, Viracocha is the Creator Deity of the cosmos. As a Creator deity, Viracocha is one of the most important gods within the Incan pantheon. Everything stems ultimately from his creation. The universe, Sun, Moon and Stars, right down to civilization itself. Similar to other primordial deities, Viracocha is also associated with the oceans and seas as the source of all life and creation. If it exists, Viracocha created it. Something of a remote god who left the daily grind and workings of the world to other deities, Viracocha was mainly worshiped by the Incan nobility, especially during times of crisis and trouble.
Patron of: Creation
Planet: Sun, Saturn
Sphere of Influence: Creation, Ocean, Storms, Lightning, Rain, Oracles, Language, Ethics, Fertility
In Incan art, Viracocha has been shown wearing the Sun as a crown and holding thunder bolts in both hands while tears come from his eyes representing rain. There is a sculpture of Viracocha identified at the ruins of Tiwanaku near Lake Titicaca that shows him weeping.
Under Spanish influence, for example, a Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa describes Viracocha as a man of average height, white with a white robe and carrying a staff and book in each hand. The Spanish described Viracocha as being the most important of the Incan gods who, being invisible was nowhere, yet everywhere.
In the village of Ollantaytambo in southern Peru, there is a rock facing in the Incan ruins depicts a version of Viracocha known as Wiracochan or Tunupa. This rock carving has been described as having mouth, eyes and nose in an angry expression wearing a crown and by some artists saying the image also has a beard and carrying a sack on its shoulders.
Another figure called Tunupa found in Ollantaytambo was described by Fernando and Edgar Elorrieta Salazar.
What’s In A Name?
Viracocha’s name has been given as meaning “Sea Foam” and alludes to how often many of the stories involving him, have him walking away across the sea to disappear. When we look into the Quechuan language, alternative names for Viracocha are Tiqsi Huiracocha which can have several meanings. The first part of the name, “tiqsi” can have the meanings of foundation or base. The second part of the name, “wira” mean fat and the third part of the name, “qucha” means lake, sea or reservoir. An interpretation for the name Wiraqucha could mean “Fat or Foam of the Sea.”
Continued historical and archaeological linguistics show that Viracocha’s name could be borrowed from the Aymara language for the name Wila Quta meaning: “wila” for blood and “quta” for lake due to the sacrifices of llamas at Lake Titiqaqa by the pre-Incan Andean cultures in the area.
Viracocha also has several epitaphs that he’s known by that mean Great, All Knowing and Powerful to name a few. Another epitaph is “Tunuupa” that in both the Aymara and Quechua languages breaks down into “Tunu” for a mill or central support pillar and “upa” meaning the bearer or the one who carries. This is a reference to time and the keeping track of time in Incan culture. The other interpretation for the name is “the works that make civilization.”
Further, with the epitaph “Tunuupa,” it likely is a name borrowed from the Bolivian god Thunupa, who is also a creator deity and god of the thunder and weather. Another god is Illapa, also a god of the weather and thunder that Viracocha has been connected too.
Incan Culture & Religion
The Incan culture found in western South America was a very culturally rich and complex society when they were encountered by the Spanish Conquistadors and explorers during their Age of Conquest, roughly 1500 to 1550 C.E.
The Inca held a vast empire that reached from the present-day Colombia to Chile. Their emperor ruled from the city of Cuzco. They worshiped a small pantheon of deities that included Viracocha, the Creator, Inti, the Sun and Chuqui Illa, the Thunder. The constellations that the Incans identified were all associated with celestial animals. The Incans also worshiped places and things that were given extraordinary qualities. These places and things were known as huacas and could include a cave, waterfalls, rivers and even rocks with a notable shape. Essentially these are sacred places.
In the city of Cuzco, there was a temple dedicated to Viracocha. There was a gold statue representing Viracocha inside the Temple of the Sun. Nearby was a local huaca in the form of a stone sacred to Viracocha where sacrifices of brown llamas were notably made. During the festival of Camay that occurred in time of year corresponding to the month of January, offerings were also made to Viracocha that would be tossed into a river and carried away to him. Hymns and prayers dedicated to Viracocha also exist that often began with “O’ Creator.”
Like many cosmic deities, Viracocha was probably identified with the Milky Way as it resembles a great river. His throne was said to be in the sky. All the Sun, Moon and Star deities deferred and obeyed Viracocha’s decrees.
Deific Late Comer
Old and ancient as Viracocha and his worship appears to be, Viracocha likely entered the Incan pantheon as a late comer. Mostly likely in 1438 C.E. during the reign of Emperor Viracocha who took on the god’s name for his own.
For a quasi-historical list of Incan rulers, the eighth ruler took his name from the god Viracocha. According to story, Viracocha appeared in a dream to the king’s son and prince, whom, with the god’s help, raised an army to defend the city of Cuzco when it was attacked by the Chanca. This prince would become the ninth Incan ruler, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. He is thought to have lived about 1438 to 1470 C.E. Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui is the ruler is renowned for the Temple of Viracocha and the Temple of the Sun along with the expansion of the Incan empire.
The Incas didn’t keep any written records. Like many other ancient cultures, there were those responsible for remembering the oral histories and to pass it on. Aiding them in this endeavor, the Incans used sets of knotted strings known as quipus number notations. By this means, the Incan creation myths and other stories would be kept and passed on.
In a comparison to the Roman empire, the Incan were also very tolerant of other religions, so those people whom they either conquered or absorbed into their empire would find their beliefs and deities easily accepted and adapted into Incan religion. One such deity is Pacha Kamaq, a chthonic creator deity revered by the Ichma in southern Peru whose myth was adopted to the Incan creation myths. At the same time, the Incan religion would be thrust on those they conquered and absorbed.
On one hand, yes, we can appreciate the Spanish Conquistadors and the chroniclers they brought with them for getting these myths and history written down. They did suffer from the fallacy of being biased with believing they were hearing dangerous heresies and would treat all the creation myths and other stories accordingly. Which is why many of the myths can and do end up with a Christian influence and the idea of a “white god” is introduced.
Parentage and Family
Unknown, Incan culture and myths make mention of Viracocha as a survivor of an older generation of gods that no one knows much about.
Mama Qucha – She is mentioned as Viracocha’s wife in some myth retellings.
Daughters – Mama Killa, Pachamama
Sons – Inti, Imahmana, Tocapo
Sun & Storm God
Viracocha was worshipped by the Incans as both a Sun and Storm god, which makes sense in his role as a Creation deity. The sun is the source of light by which things can grow and without rain, nothing has what it takes to even grow in the first place.
Cosmic Myths In The Rain
Many of the stories that we have of Incan mythology were recorded by Juan de Betanzos. Naturally, being Spanish, these stories would gain a Christian influence to them.
Rise Of A Deity – In this story, Viracocha first rose up from the waters of Lake Titicaca or the Cave of Paqariq Tampu. This was during a time of darkness that would bring forth light. It is at this time that Viracocha makes the sun, the moon, and stars. He then goes to make humans by breathing life into stones. The first of these creations were mindless giants that displeased Viracocha so he destroyed them in a flood. After the destruction of the giants, Viracocha breathed life into smaller stones to get humans dispersed over the earth.
Taking A Leave Of Absence – Eventually, Viracocha would take his leave of people by heading out over the Pacific Ocean where he walked on the water. He wouldn’t stay away forever as Viracocha is said to have returned as a beggar, teaching humans the basics of civilization and performing a number of miracles. People weren’t inclined to listen to Viracocha’s teaching and eventually fell into infighting and wars. Despite this, Viracocha would still appear to his people in times of trouble.
Incan Flood – As the All-Creator, Viracocha had already created the Earth, Sky and the first people. Giants. There wasn’t any Sun yet at this point. These first people defied Viracocha, angering him such that he decided to kill them all in a flood. This flood lasted for 60 days and nights. This great flood came and drowned everyone, all save two who had hidden themselves in a box. The flood water carried the box holding the two down to the shores of Tihuanaco.
Seeing that there were survivors, Viracocha decided to forgive the two, Manco Cápac, the son of Inti (or Viracocha) and Mama Uqllu who would establish the Incan civilization. Viracocha created more people this time, much smaller to be human beings from clay. These people, Viracocha taught language, songs and civilization too before sending them out into the world through underground passages. It is now, that Viracocha would create the Sun, Moon and stars to illuminate the night sky.
Another legend says that Viracocha fathered the first eight humans from which civilization would arise. Some of these stories will mention Mama Qucha as Viracocha’s wife.
The Cañari People – Hot on the heels of the flood myth is a variation told by the Cañari people about how two brothers managed to escape Viracocha’s flood by climbing up a mountain. After the water receded, the two made a hut. Some time later, the brothers would come home to find that food and drink had been left there for them. This would happen a few more times to peak the curiosity of the brothers who would hide.
Two women would arrive, bringing food. When the brothers came out, the women ran away. The two then prayed to Viracocha, asking that the women return. Viracocha heard and granted their prayer so the women returned. It is from these people, that the Cañari people would come to be.
The Creation of People – Dove tailing on the previous story, Viracocha has created a number of people, humans to send out and populate the Earth. These people, known as Vari Viracocharuna, were left inside the earth, Viracocha created another set of people known as viracohas and it is there people that the god spoke to learn the different aspects and characteristics of the previous group of people he created. The viracochas then headed off to the various caves, streams and rivers, telling the other people that it was time to come forth and populate the land.
Teaching Humankind – This story takes place after the stories of Creation and the Great Flood. Viracocha sends his two sons, Imahmana and Tocapo to visit the tribes to the Northeast or Andesuyo and Northwest or Condesuvo. Viracocha headed straight north towards the city of Cuzco. The intent was to see who would listen to Viracocha’s commands. As the two brothers traveled, they named all the various trees, flowers and plants, teaching the tribes which were edible, which had medicinal properties and which ones were poisonous. Eventually, the three would arrive at the city of Cusco, found in modern-day Peru and the Pacific coast. Here, they would head out, walking over the water to disappear into the horizon.
The Canas People – A side story to the previous one, after Viracocha sent his sons off to go teach the people their stories and teach civilization. As Viracocha traveled north, he would wake people who hadn’t been woken up yet, he passed through the area where the Canas people were. When they emerged from the Earth, they refused to recognize Viracocha. This angered the god as the Canas attacked him and Viracocha caused a nearby mountain to erupt, spewing down fire on the people. Realizing their error, the Canas threw themselves at Viracocha’s feet, begging for his forgiveness which he gave.
Founding The City Of Cuzco – Viracocha continues on to the mountain Urcos where he gave the people there a special statue and founded the city of Cuzco. He would then call forth the Orejones or “big-ears” as they placed large golden discs in their earlobes. These Orejones would become the nobility and ruling class of Cuzco.
His tasks done, Viracocha would head off into the ocean, walking out over it with the other Viracocha joining him. One final bit of advice would be given, to beware of those false men who would claim that they were Viracocha returned.
Right Of Conquest – In this story, Viracocha appeared before Manco Capac, the first Incan ruler, the god gave him a headdress and battle-axe, informing the Manco that the Inca would conquer everyone around them.
Yes, it’s easy to see how incoming Spaniards would equate Viracocha with Christ and likely influenced many of the myths with a Christian flair.
White God – This is a reference to Viracocha that clearly shows how the incoming Spanish Conquistadors and scholars coming in, learning about local myths instantly equated Viracocha with the Christian god. At first, in the 16th century, early Spanish chroniclers and historians make no mention of Viracocha. In 1553, Pedro Cieza de Leon is the first chronicler to describe Viracocha as a “white god” who has a beard.
It must be noted that in the native legends of the Incas, that there is no mention of Viracocha’s whiteness or beard, causing most modern scholars to agree that it is likely a Spanish addition to the myths. Other deities in Central and South America have also been affected by the Western or European influence of their deities such as Quetzalcoatl from Aztec beliefs and Bochica from Muisca beliefs all becoming described as having beards.
Though that isn’t true of all the Central and South American cultures. Some like the Peruvian Moche culture have pottery that depicted bearded men. The Aché people in Paraguay are also known to have beards. Though the debates and controversy are on with scholars arguing when the arrival of European colonialism began to influence the various native cultures.
Ultimately, equating deities such as Viracocha with a “White God” were readily used by the Spanish Catholics to convert the locals to Christianity. Much of which involved replaced the word God with Viracocha.
Pacha Kamaq – The “Earth Maker”, a chthonic creator god worshiped by the Ichma people whose myth would later be adopted by the Inca.
Saturn – It is through Viracocha’s epitaph of Tunuupa that he has been equated with the Roman god Saturn who is a generational god of creation in Roman mythology and beliefs.
Thunupa – The creator god and god of thunder and weather of the Aymara-speaking people in Bolivia.
I must confess, I came across the figure of Marmoo after a friend posted a link to a series of pictures for a number of different mythological deities grouped by pantheon. Yes, said link and pictures were for the Marvel Comics versions. Not planning to turn it down, I kept a copy of the pictures to use for later inspirations of “what to do next” for Brickthology.
Australian Creation Story
In the beginning, when the world was new and nothing yet growing on it, Baiame, the Creator Spirit came down to the earth. Looking around and seeing nothing existed yet, Baiame set about creating the landscape of mountains, rivers, forests, deserts, and ocean.
Next Baiame set to the creation of various vegetation from trees to plants that would survive in the different landscapes that he had created. Next was water and the air, with the creation of animals and humans last.
In all of this, the being known as Marmoo was secretly watching and becoming increasingly jealous of everything that Baiame created.
In his jealousy, Marmoo created all manner of insects and vermin to plague the earth with. From ants, to beetles, to snails, spiders and anything that crawled, burrowed or flew. These Marmoo would send out in swarms, to blacken the sky and devour the green plants Baiame had created.
Horrified by what he was seeing, Baiame called upon the Mother Spirit to help him halt Marmoo’s swath of destruction. In response, Nungeena and her attending spirit aids, created the birds that ate Marmoo’s insect hordes.
To no avail, Marmoo tried to convince the birds to sing all day instead of eating his insect creations. He had hoped that singing all day would cause the birds to have no time for building nests or laying eggs and soon, no more birds.
The only birds that did listen were the cuckoos and Marmoo convinced them when it was time for nesting was to kick out an egg from an existing nest and lay one of theirs in its place.
Making only one appearance within the pages of Marvel comics, specifically the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe 2006 #3, Marmoo is presented as an Australian god of Evil.
Kulipari: An Army of Frogs & The Dreamwalker
A Lord Marmoo, an evil scorpion tyrant appears as a main antagonist in this animated series found on Netflix where he intends to destroy the Amphiblands.
Also called: Ananse (Trinidad and Tobago), Annancy or Anancy (Jamaica, Grenada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua), Anansi Drew (The Bahamas), Anansi Kokroko (Wise Spider), Anancyi, Ananansa, Annecy (West Indian), Ayiyi, Kacou Ananzè, Ba Anansi (Suriname), Ba Yentay (South Carolina), Bra Anansi, Hapanzi, Nansi or bra spaida (Jamaica, Sierra Leone), Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire), Bru Nansi (Virgin Islands), Kwaku Anansi (Akan-Ashante), Nanzi, Nancy, Aunt Nancy (Gullah; South Carolina), Miss Nancy, Sis’ Nancy, Kuenta di Nanzi, Spider (Temne), Cha Nanzi (Aruba), Hanansi, Pablo Barnansi (S. Quanderer), Compé Anansi, Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire), Gede Zariyen, Zarenyen, or Ti Malice (Haiti)
Etymology: Spider (Akan)
Anansi is the spider trickster god of the Akan, Ashanti people in Ghana and several West African folklore and folktales. As a trickster, he is able to shape-shift into a human form. His presence as an important cultural figure has made his way into Caribbean mythology, spreading to Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, over to the Netherlands Antilles, the West Indies, Suriname, Sierra Leone and likely several other places. Like a good many trickster figures, Anansi is known for causing and getting into mischief or trouble before using his wits, cunning and guile to wheedle his way out of the troubles and problems. His stories and exploits are numerous, with many regional variations to his tales. As a trickster, Anansi is just as likely to help as to hinder someone.
As with all good stories, Anansi tales began with being told in oral traditions, survived, thrived, and made their way across the Atlantic Ocean to North America during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade era. These stories would play an important part to maintaining cultural identities for many enslaved West Africans. Many of these Anansi stories would be stories and lessons of how to rise up and outsmart those who would harm and oppress the less powerful.
Animal: Fox, Rabbit, Spider
Mineral: Spider Silk
Patron of: Storytellers,
Sphere of Influence: Cunning, Freedom, Messages, Morals, Proverbs, Stories, Trickery, Wisdom, Wits
A trickster, Anansi is often shown in many different forms and representations depending on the artistic source. In many stories, Anansi is a spider while in other stories, he is more anthropomorphized as either a spider with a human face or a human with spider-like features. The original spider-man.
In the Southern United States, when the Anansi came and his named changed to Nancy and Aunt Nancy with anglicized spellings, he became a spider woman and female figure.
One story has Nyame becoming so angry with Anansi’ tricks and antics that he turns Anansi into his spider form.
What’s In A Name?
Letters, letters are in a name…
The name Anansi is the Akan word for spider. Where he is called Kwaku or Kweku Anansi, the word Kweku means Wednesday as that is the day that Anansi’s soul first appeared. Given that Wednesday is named for Woden or Odin, the Norse god of Wisdom, there’s a very good coincidence here for names and meanings.
Parentage and Family
Nyame – Father & Sky-God; some regional variations place Anansi as his son, others don’t.
Ya Nsia – Mother. Asaase Yaa, the Earth Mother is also given as Anansi’s mother.
Where Nyame is given as Anansi’s father. There’s one story where Esum the Night, Osrane the Moon, and Owia the Sun are given as Nyame’s son.
It makes sense to me that these three should be counted as Anansi’s brothers.
Okonore Yaa – Wife, she is also known by the names of Aso, Crooky, Konori or Konoro, and Shi Maria.
The name Konori likely comes from the Hausa word koki for a “female spider.”
Afudohwedohwe – Pot-bellied son.
Anansewa – Anansi’s beautiful daughter, introduced in Efua Sutherland’s stories where Anansi sets out to find his daughter a proper suitor.
Nankonhwea – Son with a spindly neck and legs.
Ntikuma – Firstborn son.
Tikelenkelen – Big-Headed son.
Singular – Obosom
In Akan Spirituality, Anansi is considered an Obosom, a minor deity and spirit. The Abosom are all considered to be children and messengers of the great creator god Nyame. They could be male, female or a mixture of both.
The term Abosom reminds me of the Greek term Daimon (not Demon!) when referring to smaller, lesser & localized gods or spirits. Especially they were likely to be tied to one place such as a river, tree, or mountain.
Abosom is also the Ashanti term for pantheon, so all the gods. Or every divine being who isn’t the great creator Nyame.
With Anansi, he isn’t necessarily revered the same way as the other Abosom in Akan Spirituality or if he’s even seen in the same light. That too can vary and can be up for debate. Which is also understandable, Anansi is a trickster figure. With many trickster figures, you are playing with fire and in Anansi’s case, that’s water that could potentially drown you if you’re not careful. When Anansi does get acknowledged, he is an Obosom of Wisdom.
Just how much of a divine being Anansi will be, varies by region and which stories about him are being told. In some, he’s a human named Spider that has done a few favors for Nyame and is granted extra powers, namely one of t hem being an extended life. He’s a son of Nyame or just one of many beings with some measure of power to separate them from being fully human. Or Anansi is the straight up animal trickster as seen in Native American lore with beings like Coyote and Raven and their stories.
In many of the Anansi stories, the spider is often Nyame’s messenger, acting as his go-between. For many of the Abosom, this is often a role they play for either Nyame, the Sky God or Asaase Yaa, the Earth.
There is a story where Anansi’ antics grew too much for Nyame and he replaced Anansi with Chameleon to be the Sky-God’s new messenger.
Maybe, most of the stories of Anansi aren’t so much as him creating the Universe, but often setting the precedence for why things happen the way they do. Anansi is credited with having created the first man and then Nyame breathing life into them. Or Anansi is convincing Nyame that people need the rain to stop a destructive fire, setting order to the course of the day, ect. Even death if Anansi hadn’t stolen from them.
Like many tricksters, Anansi also has stories revolving around him having brought agriculture, hunting and writing to the Earth for people to use. In the story where Anansi tried to hoard all the world’s wisdom and knowledge, he found it much easier to share and disperse this knowledge for everyone’s use.
As a trickster, Anansi doesn’t just rely on his wits and cunnings to get through scrapes. One of his many tricks is the ability to shape-shift. Not just physically from spider to man but the ability to take seeming weaknesses and turn them into virtues and strengths.
Weakness To Strength
That’s a vital and important lesson to learn. In many stories, Anansi is able to overcome an opponent or situation, not just by his wits but using a seeming weakness to a strength. Similarly, he will exploit an opponent’s weakness against them.
Insatiable Greed – Finding The Angles
That seems to be a reoccurring theme with several Anansi stories, where what he has, isn’t enough and he has to find some way to get more. Oftentimes, that more is food. Anansi is often looking for the angles and finding ways to get others to bring him food or he kills the other animals for food if he’s not outright stealing it.
Sometimes, in the course of Anansi’s covetous and insatiable greed, another character is able trick Anansi instead, outwitting him. That is a classic of trickster tales, where the trickster gets outwitted instead of outwitting everyone else.
Of course, it could be I’m misremembering and thinking far too much of a particular Gargoyles episode “Mark of the Panther” in season 2.
God Of Storytelling & Knowledge
Not only is Anansi the god of storytelling, but he is also the god of knowledge. This makes a lot of sense with how early in human history, much of the history involved, lessons, wisdom and knowledge imparted is through the use of stories.
Meaning Spider Stories in the Ashanti language. The Anansesem stories, like many stories began as an oral tradition. Such is the prominence of the spider stories, that the term Anansesem came to include all the different fables and stories. The Jamaican version of the Anansi stories are the most preserved of the spider stories and have close ties to their Ashanti origins. Especially with how the Anansi stories end with a proverb or moral given at the end.
Anthropologists have studied and found that humans are hard-wired for stories. Stories are important, they are an integral part and parcel of the human experience. They convey who we are as a people, where we came from, morals, lessons and how things came to be.
It seems very poignant, that stories seem very central to the Anansi tales, especially for a keeping one’s cultural identity. Especially in the face of so much adversity and the dark side of history with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The most well known of the Anansi stories are those from Jamaica.
Like all trickster tales, the Anansesem not only entertain, they are also moral stories that often highlight his greed and other flaws along with his wit. The Anansesem stories cover a wide range of stories from the mundane and the subversive. Anansi as a folk hero is both an ideal as well as a cautionary figure of downfalls to be avoided.
It seems very poignant, that one of the roles that Tricksters carry is that of Culture-Bringer. That the very first story of Anansi, or at least the one to place as chronologically first is how Anansi comes to acquire all the stories. Frequently Trickster stories tell the importance of things, how they came to be, conflicts, shenanigans and more. Without stories to tell us who we are as a people, a great many aspects of history and culture are lost. With Anansesem, all stories, regardless of genre are considered spider stories.
Anansi-Tori – This is the name for the Spider stories among the Surinam people. In the capital city of Paramaribo, the Anansi-tori are a prominent part of the death rites. It’s important that these stories are only told during the night and never during the day, lest the dead come to listen, thereby causing the death of the storyteller or their parents. The Saramaca Bush people have a tradition that during the seven days that a body lays in the village death house, they tell the Anansi-Tori to the dead as entertainment. The Anansi-tori have also come to include the dances and songs sung during these rites.
The Spider stories are called Nansi in Guyana and Kuent’i Nanzi in Curacao.
Vive La Résistance! – The importance of the Anansesem stories is seen as a symbol of resiliency with slave resistance and survival. As a trickster, Anansi is frequently able to get the better of more powerful opponents using his trickery and cunning. As such, slaves used the stories of Anansi as inspiration for finding ways to resist and gain the upper hand on plantations, to give a sense of community, connection to their past in Africa and a way to maintain their cultural identity.
As the King of Stories, Anansi is not only the patron of storytellers, but those who live by their wits. Like many Caribbean deities, Anansi can be summoned with offerings of treats, smokes, and liquor.
Just be aware, if Anansi is bored by the story, he may not hang around for long.
A traditional opening for an Anansi story goes:
“This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me.”
Another way to traditionally start a story is:
“We do not really mean; we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go.”
All The Stories!
Also known as “How the Sky God’s stories became Anansi’s stories.” It is the most retold story of all the Anansi tales.
For you see, once upon a time, there were no stories. None. There were stories, but they were all kept by Nyame, the Sky God who had them all hidden away. Some versions of the story note about here how Anansi is Nyame’s son.
For Anansi, it doesn’t sit well with him that his father should be hoarding all the stories and as the world is a boring place, Anansi decides to find a way to get stories of his own. Using his silk webbing, Anansi climbs up to the heavens where his father is at and tries to buy the stories from Nyame, but Nyame refuses, he didn’t want to share the stories with anyone. Anansi kept insisting he can afford the price for Nyame’s stories. Nyame refutes Anansi still, saying that even the great kingdoms of Kokofu, Bekwai and Asumengya couldn’t afford his stories.
A sudden thought comes to Nyame and he asks Anansi, how he, someone so small and insignificant is going to be able to afford the price where others have failed. Undaunted, Anansi persists, saying he can afford the stories, just name the price.
Amused, Nyame relents and sets as high a price as he can, hoping that these impossible tasks would finally deter the spider. As to what these tasks were to be?
Anansi was to capture four of the most dangerous creatures known in the world. Onini the Python, the Mmoboro Hornets, Osebo the Leopard and lastly, the Fairy Mmoatia.
Smiling, Anansi promises Nyame that he will bring these four back and just for good measure, he will even throw in his own mother, Ya Nsia. Nyame accepted the offer, thinking that would be the end of it and told Anansi to start his quest.
Quest in hand, Anansi returns home to his family so he can consult them about his plan. Anansi talks with his mother, Ya Nsia about his plan to capture Onini the Python first. His wife, Okonore Yaa tells Anansi that he should cut a long branch from a tree and get some vines.
Anansi returns with the branch and vines and Okonore Yaa tells him to head down to the river where Onini lives. As the two pretend to argue, Onini overhears them and comes over, listening over whether Onini’s body was longer than the branch of a tree.
Onini, on hearing what Anansi and Okonore Yaa are arguing about, he quickly agrees to stretch out next to the branch to his full length to prove that he’s longer than the branch. No sooner has Onini stretched out than Anansi takes the vines to tie the python up.
As Anansi carries Onini back to Nyame, the spider cheerfully tells Onini about the bargain that he has made. Nyame nods acknowledgement to Anansi for one task accomplished and reminds the spider that there are still three other tasks to fulfill.
Anansi returns to consult with his family for the next task, which would be capturing the Mmoboro Hornets. Okonore Yaa comes up with an idea for Anansi to get a gourd and fill it with water. Carrying that gourd with him, Anansi went off to pay a visit to the Hornets. Once he arrived, Anansi looked around the bushes where the Hornets. Soon as Anansi spotted them, he carefully sprinkled water on the Hornets and then on himself. Grabbing a palm leaf from a nearby tree, Anansi covered his head just time as the swarm of angry Hornets came his direction. Holding out the wet palm leaf, Anansi explained that it had been raining and that he too was wet.
Anansi explained that this rain would be dangerous and that the Hornets might want to hide inside the gourd he brought. The Hornets agreed and soon had all flown inside to take shelter.
Once all the Hornets were in, Anansi stopped up the mouth of the gourd and proceeded to gloat for falling for his trick. Anansi continued with telling the Hornets about his bargain with Nyame as he carried the gourd with him.
Seeing that another task was completed, Nyame accepted the Hornets. He reminded Anansi that there were still two more tasks to go. Surely one of those tasks would prove to be too much for the Spider, Nyame thought.
Once more Anansi returned home triumphant. Now the task was for Osebo the Leopard. Once more Anansi and Okonore Yaa schemed together on a plan. What’s now considered the oldest trick in the book, Okonore Yaa told Anansi to dig a deep hole in the ground and cover it. Anansi caught on quickly to Okonore Yaa’s plan and told her he could take it from there.
Anansi headed off for the parts of the jungle where he knew Osebo hung around at. There, he proceeded to dig the hole and cover with brushwood as planned. Done, Anansi headed home, knowing that eventually Osebo would wander along and be likely to fall in.
Sure enough, the next morning, when Anansi returned, he found Osebo trapped down in the hole. Feigning sympathy, Anansi asked Osebo why he was trapped down there. Was it because Osebo had been drinking again? It seems this has been a problem of Osebo’s for a while. Continuing his act, Anansi asked Osebo if he wanted help. Despite Anansi’s suspicions, Osebo assured the spider that he wouldn’t eat them.
With Osebo knocked out, Anansi made a ladder and climbed down to tie up the leopard and cart him off to Nyame. All the while, Anansi gloated to Osebo when he woke about his bargain with the Sky God. Just like before, Nyame accepted Osebo from the spider and reminded Anansi that there were still more tasks to do.
Eventually Anansi agreed to “help” Osebo and got two long sticks that he cut with a knife. Anansi told Osebo to stretch out his arms, wide. This would leave Osebo vulnerable, who was unaware of Anansi’ plan. The wily spider threw his knife at Osebo when he attempted to climb out, the hilt of the knife hitting the leopard square on the head, hard enough to knock him out.
Once more Nyame accepted the latest of Anansi’s accomplishments. Just like before, Nyame reminded the spider that there were still a couple more tasks to complete. Anansi had not forgotten the deal and set off again back home.
The penultimate task, capturing the Mmoatia, the Fairy. This one won’t be so easy and Anansi sits down to think a while on the matter. After a time, Anansi goes and carves an Akua doll and then cover it the sap of a gum tree. That done, Anansi took some yams and mashed them up to place in the doll’s hand while the rest went into a bowl. Finally, Anansi took some string to tie around the doll’s waist so he could manipulate it.
Ready, Anansi took the doll down to the Odum tree where fairies were known to gather. The wily spider set up the doll and the bowl of mashed yams and then went to hide out of sight. Soon, Mmoatia appeared, lured away from her sisters by the smell of the yams.
Believing the doll to be a real person, Mmoatia asked if she could have some of the yams. Hidden, Anansi pulled on the string, making the doll nod it’s head. Delighted, Mmoatia went back to her sisters, asking if she’d be allowed to have some of the yams.
The sisters said yes and Mmoatia soon returned to the Akua doll and began to eat all the mashed yams. When she had finished, Mmoatia thanked the doll, however this time, Anansi didn’t pull on the string, so the doll didn’t respond. Infuriated at the doll’s lack of response, Mmoatia went to her sisters to complain about the lack of response.
Mmoatia’s sisters tell her to go back and slap the person for their insolence. Back she goes and on promptly slapping the doll, Mmoatia’s hand gets stuck from the sticky sap covering the doll. Stuck, Mmoatia complains again to her sisters, with one of her sisters commenting to slap the doll with her other hand. Mmoatia does so and that hand too, becomes stuck.
There is something remarkably hysterical about this, I can see the sisters realizing what’s going on, maybe they don’t like Mmoatia for some reason and she’s too insolent and arrogant to really understand that she’s getting tricked and that at this point, the sisters are getting in on it too.
I can just see where Mmoatia complains yet again that both hands are now stuck and the sisters, incredulous to the fact that she’s listened to them and gotten stuck, tell her to hit the doll again with her whole body. This has got to be a scene of where the sisters are looking to see if Mmoatia is really going to be that arrogant, insolent, even dumb enough to listen and they want to see if she’ll do it.
And yes, Mmoatia hits the Akua doll with her whole body, getting well and thoroughly stuck. Hilarity ensues, I can see all of Mmoatia’s sisters flying off in fits of laughter as Anansi emerges from where he’s been hiding to gloat over his success.
Just like the others, Anansi tied up Mmoatia and carried her off back to Nyame. Anansi also stopped on the way home to tell his mother Ya Nsia about the last task he had told the Sky-God he would do and that was to bring his own mother. I can see Mom rolling her eyes and “Yes child, of course child” as she accompanies Anansi back to Nyame.
Impressed by Anansi’ persistence, Nyame upheld his end of the bargain, bringing all the elders, the Kontire and Akwam chiefs, the Adontem, general of his army, the Gyase, the Oyoko, Ankobea and Kyidom. Nyame told all those present of Anansi’s deeds that no one else in the kingdom had been able to do. Nyame showed off each of the four, along with Anansi’ own mother. Everyone cheered as Nyame gifts all his stories, to now be known as Spider Stories to Anansi, naming him the Keeper of Stories and God of Storytelling
Variants – There are numerous variations to this story. Some retellings will omit involving Anansi’s wife and mother in the story. In some of the Caribbean stories, it is a Tiger from whom the stories originate. Other stories, the fairy Mmoatia will be solitary or a dwarf who can turn invisible. Sometimes the task of capturing the Python isn’t mentioned. In yet other stories, Osebo, the Panther is caught, getting tangled up in Anansi’ webs when trying to climb out of the pit. Or, Anansi captures Osebo when he offers to help the panther when he lowers a long branch down and tells Osebo to tie his tail to the branch. In this one, Osebo is killed and skinned by Anansi.
Anansi And The Dispersal Of Wisdom
Now that Anansi has all the stories, you’d think he’d go spread them around to tell and pass on the wisdom that they hold. Well no…
It seems Anansi was trying to hoard all that wisdom in a pot. The knowledge he has isn’t enough and he wants even more of it, just collecting it all. After a time, Anansi decides the pot isn’t safe enough to store all this wisdom and knowledge in and takes it to hide in a tall, thorny tree in the forest. Some accounts say this tree is a Silk Cotton Tree.
Anansi’s son, Ntikuma saw his father up to something and decided to follow at a distance to find out what was up. Staying hidden, Ntikuma saw that this pot was the largest one he had ever seen. As he watched, Ntikuma watched as his father struggled with carrying the pot up. Anansi tried tying the pot in front of him to no avail.
As Anansi grew ever more frustrated by his inability to carry the pot up, Ntikuma couldn’t help himself but laugh!
“Try tying the pot behind you and then climb!” Ntikuma called out.
So frustrated with his failed attempts to climb the tree, it perturbed Anansi more to realize that his own son was right behind him. In his frustration, the pot slipped from Anansi’s grip and fell, hitting the ground with all the wisdom spilling out of it.
Making matters worse, a storm was arriving, and the rain washed all the wisdom down to a nearby river stream. From there, the currents carried the wisdom out to the sea and spreading throughout the world.
Seeing what happened, an angry Anansi chased his son, Ntikuma all the way home through the downpour of rain. When Anansi caught up with his son, the spider realized what was the use of all that wisdom if all it takes is a child to put you in your place?
As for the wisdom, because it mixed with the water, that’s why everyone has a little bit within them, but not all of it.
Variation – A minor variation is that instead of getting angry with his son, Anansi listens, carrying the pot up the tree by the means suggested. While he is sitting there, Anansi comes to the realization that try as he might to know everything, there were still things that others could teach or tell him and the wily spider comes to an epiphany to dump the pot out for everyone who has need, to be able to have access to it when the wisdom mixed with the wind and water.
How Anansi Comes To Have A Long Hind End & How His Head Became Small
In this story, a famine comes to the land and Anansi tells his family that he’s going in search of food for them. On his way, Anansi comes to a stream where there are some people who end up being spirits. It seems these spirits were draining the water in hopes of being able to catch some fish. Intrigued, Anansi asks if he could join the spirits.
The spirits invited Anansi to join them and he soon saw that they were using their skulls to drain the river. That’s interesting. The spirits asked Anansi if they could remove his own skull so that he could help drain the river.
As they drained the water, the spirits sang a song: “We, the Spirits, when we splash the river-bed dry to catch fish, we use our heads to splash the water. Oh, the Spirits, we are splashing the water.”
Anansi liked the song and asked if he could sing it with them and the spirits agreed.
And so, Anansi and the spirits sang as they drained the stream enough that they could catch some fish. The spirits gave Anansi his share of the fish in a basket to take home. As they restored Anansi’s skull, the spirits warned him not to sing the song again that day or his skull would open and fall off.
Anansi assured the spirits that he wouldn’t sing that song again as he had more than enough fish. Soon, Anansi and the spirits parted ways.
The spirits began to sing their song again. Overhearing the song, Anansi began to sing along as well and presently, his skull fell off. Just as he had been warned. Anansi picked up his skull and cried out in embarrassment to the spirits that his head had fallen off!
The spirits heard him and came back. As they listened to Anansi apologize and beg for help, the spirits agreed to help him. As they restored Anansi’s skull, they warned him not to sing the song again as they would not return to help him.
No sooner had they parted ways, than the spirits began singing and Anansi over hearing them, just couldn’t help himself and started singing along. It must have had a catchy tune.
This time, as Anansi’s skull fell, he caught it with his rear end and ran from the stream. And that, is how Anansi comes to have such a small head and huge behind, due to his hard-headedness.
Nyame’s Messenger, Anansi; Why Men Commit Evil At Night, Children Play In Moonlight, And Why Disputes Are Settled During The Day
That, is a lengthy title for a story…
The Sky-God Nyame sired three children one day; Esum the Night, Osrane the Moon, and Owia the Sun. When each of the children came of age, Nyame sent them out on their own where they founded their own village. Of these children, Owia was Nyame’s favorite and decided that they should become chief.
Nyame devised a plan, wherein he secretly harvested a yam or “Kintinkyi.” The task was, that the son who could guess what Nyame had harvested, would become the next chief. In addition, the winner would receive Nyame’s royal stool.
As Nyame set about blackening his stool, his subjects were nearby and Nyame asked if any of them could guess his thoughts. Anansi happened to be there and said that he knew. Nyame then sent Anansi to go gather his sons from their villages. The plot twist here, is that Anansi didn’t really know what Nyame’s thoughts were and decided he would try to find out.
Anansi then took feathers from every known bird and covered himself with them. Then he flew high above Nyame’s village, startling the villagers. This brought Nyame out, who didn’t recognize Anansi’s disguise.
But, Nyame thought to himself, if Anansi were present, he’d know the name of this bird as the crafty spider had known that Nyame wanted his son Owia to win his royal stool. That all they had to do was guess the name of the yam. As Nyame pondered and mused to himself, it allowed for Anansi to overhear the Sky-God’s plan.
Away Anansi flew until he was far enough away to ditch his disguise. From there, Anansi went to Esum’s village and told them that their father wished to see them. Anansi made no mention of Nyami’s plans. Esum gave Anansi roasted corn by way of thanks. Soon after, Anansi made his way to Osrane’s village, delivering the same news he had told Esum. Osrane gave Anansi yam in thanks and again, shortly after, Anansi headed for Owia’s village.
Things were different at Owia’s village when Anansi arrived, bringing the news of Nyame’s desire to see his sons. Owia mentioned to Anansi that he wished his father would know of Owia’s accomplishments. Owia decided to treat Anansi as if he were his own father come and prepared the best feast that he could with sheep. With that treatment, Anansi decided to fill Owia in on what he hadn’t told the other brothers. That being the name of Nyame’s yam that he had harvested.
Anansi then fashioned a pair of drums that would beat out the yam’s name, Kintinkyi to help Owia remember. Anansi with Owia in tow, then went to collect up the other brothers as they returned to bring them to Nyame.
Nyame called an assembly as Anansi presented his three sons before everyone. The contest of guessing the yam’s name was then revealed to each of the sons. The eldest, Esum was allowed to guess first and he said “Pona.” Osrane, the second eldest then took his turn to guess and gave the name of “Asante.” Finally, it was Owia’s turn and remembering what Anansi had told him, said the name “Kintinkyi.” Everyone present cheered Owia’s success.
Nyame then took his eldest son, Esum and told him that as he had not paid attention when growing up, that Nighttime would be when evil deeds would be done. To Osrane, Nyame said that as he had not listened when growing up, only children would play during his time. To his youngest son, Owia, Nyame praised him and made him the chief, decreeing that any issue that needed to be settled, would be done so during the day. To protect himself from his brothers, Nyame gave Owia the rainbow.
Lastly, to Anansi, Nyame blessed the spider for knowing his inner-most thoughts and said that from then on, that Anansi would be Nyame’s messenger.
The Arrival Of Disease
Oh yes, Anansi appeared before Nyame one day asking if he could one of Nyame’s sheep, Kra Kwame and eat it. Anansi said that he would bring a maiden from one of the villages as a gift in exchange for the sheep. This seemed reasonable enough and Nyame agreed to the exchange, giving Anansi the sheep while he waited for the maiden’s arrival.
As it were, Anansi took the sheep home and prepared it for eating. Once he was done, Anansi then went in search of a maiden. In his search, Anansi found a village where only women lived. Seeing an opportunity, Anansi moved there and offered each woman some of the sheep and marrying everyone.
It’s not hard to see that Anansi broke his word with Nyame. It wasn’t long after, that a hunter stopped in the village and saw what happened. The hunter back to Nyame and reported what he had seen in the village. Nyame became furious on learning what Anansi had done and sent his messengers to the village to take every woman living there.
Off the messengers went, seizing every woman in the village except for one who was ill at the time to bring back to Nyame. Anansi pondered what to do, as his remaining wife was very ill. The wife told Anansi to bathe her and then fill a gourd with water from the bathwater. This water would hold all the diseases that afflicted the wife.
See his wife after she was bathed, Anansi saw how beautiful she was, more so than all the other wives in the village. Anansi remarried her right there on the spot. It wouldn’t take long for another hunter to pass by the village and to see Anansi and his wife together.
This hunter returned to Nyame, giving the Sky-God a report of this extremely beautiful woman. Obviously Anansi had tricked Nyame as this woman was more beautiful than all the other women that were taken.
Angry again, Nyame ordered his messengers to go take Anansi’s wife. When the messengers got there, Anansi confronted them and they told Anansi of what Nyame’s desires were. Anansi nodded and complied with the messengers, taking them to where his wife was at.
Anansi had his own plans once the messengers left. He found the gourd holding the diseased water and took a skin by which to fashion a drum. Anansi then set about to make a second drum. Done, Anansi called for his son, Ntikuma and together they began to beat the drums and dance around while singing vulgarities.
Another messenger of Nyame’s, Anene the crow saw what Anansi was doing and went back to report about what he saw. Intrigued, Nyame sent more messengers to ask Anansi to come and perform his songs for him.
Ah, Anansi said, he could only perform his song and dance if all of his wives were present. Anansi promised to perform for Nyame if he could have his wives and his drum. The messengers relayed Anansi’s message back to Nyame and he agreed.
Anansi was brough to the harem where all of his wives were being kept and he began to sing and beat his drum. Nyame soon joined in the merriment with Anansi while the wives joined in too.
However, Anansi’ last wife recognized the gourd that Anansi’s drum was made from. She suspected what mischief Anansi had planned and decided not to join in dancing. Nyame tried to coax the last wife into dancing, but before she could, Anansi cut open his drum and tossed all the water out. All the diseases that had once been washed away now returned and a sickness fell upon the tribe.
So out of revenge, Anansi brought illness and disease to the world. Though to be fair, if Anansi had kept his word with Nyame from the start and brought him a maiden as promised, none of this would have happened.
Kwaku Anansi Takes Aso To Wife & How Jealousy Arrives In The Tribe
In this story, Anansi isn’t yet married to Aso as she is married to another man, known as Akwasi-The-Jealous-One.
True to his name, Akwasi was very possessive of Aso and forbad anyone from seeing or talking to her. Such, that Akwasi built a small village where only the two of them lived. The reason for Akwasi’s jealousy is that he is sterile and worried that Aso would be taken from him if they lived among other people.
Well hey, somebody knew or was paying attention. Nyame got tired of Akwasi’s lack of or failure to father any children with Aso. And if Akwasi isn’t siring any children, than Aso is fair game and Nyame tells the other young men in the village about Akwasi’ marriage to Aso and tells them, that the first man to successfully take Aso away and get her with child, can marry and take her to wife.
That is very much so a cultural thing. Doesn’t Aso get a say in who she’s married to and want to be with?
The challenge proves to be more difficult than expected and all the young men who’ve tried to seize Aso, all fail. Anansi was watching all this and after the latest failure from a young man, Anansi went before Nyame. The crafty spider tells Nyame that he’ll be able to accomplish this task to capture Aso.
Just give Anansi the items he requests to help him. Specifically, medicine, rifles and and bullets.
Off Anansi goes, passing through several villages, passing out the black powder, bullets and guns, telling people how Nyame has sent those to go hunting on the god’s behalf. Sweet! Anansi says he’ll come back later to collect up the meat for Nyame.
While everyone’s off hunting, Anansi makes a basket to hold all the meat in when he returns. It’s either a basket of holding, a very large basket or there’s several small baskets to hold meat in. Either way, Anansi collects up the meat and heads off for Akwasi-The-Jealous-One’s village.
Anansi reaches the river where Akwasi and Aso get their water and he takes out some of the meat, placing it in the water. He then continues up to where Akwasi lives, carrying the basket still. Aso spots Anansi’s arrival and calls out to her husband, who is surprised that they have a visitor. Akwasi comes out to find out who this person is.
Anansi tells Akwasi that he’s been sent by Nyame to this place to rest during his journey. This pleases Akwasi as he welcomes the spider into his village. While this is happening, Aso notices the meat that Anansi left in the river and says something. Anansi tells Aso she’s welcome to it as he doesn’t need it. That she can feed it to any pets they have.
Aso comes back with the meat and shows it to Akwasi. Anansi asks Aso if she would cook some food for him and she sets about preparing a dish known as Fufu. As she is preparing the meal, Anansi tells Aso that it won’t be enough and tells her to use a bigger pot as he offers up more of the meat. The catch is, she is to cook only the thighs, of which there are 40.
With the meal prepared, everyone sits down to eat. As they’re eating, Anansi complains, saying that the fufu Aso made lacks salt. At this, Akwasi commands Aso to bring some salt. Anansi spoke up, saying that wasn’t proper, Aso is eating and that Akwasi should be the one who goes and gets the salt. When Akwasi leaves, Anansi pulls some medicine out of his pouch and puts it in Akwasi’s fufu.
Akwasi returns with the salt and Anansi announces that he’s now full and doesn’t need the salt anymore. I’m sure Akwasi may have grumbled at this, but he set down again and finished his fufu, unaware of what Anansi has done.
As he’s eating, it occurs to Akwasi that he hasn’t asked for Anansi’s name yet. Anansi responds by saying that his name is “Rise-up-and-make-love-to-Aso.” This confuses Akwasi who asks Aso if she had heard the name too. Aso assures her husband that she did and Akwasi gets up to go prepare a room for Anansi. The spider says he can’t sleep in the room, he as to sleep in a room with an open veranda as he is Nyame’s Soul-Washer. Apparently, Anansi’s parents are to have conceived him in an open room, so he can’t sleep in a closed room.
Right, so where does Anansi want to sleep then? It must be an open room in a house that belongs to Nyame and asks for a sleeping mat so he can sleep in front of their room. When Anansi was certain that the two were asleep, he pulled out his sepirewa out to play, singing: “Akuamoa Ananse, today we shall achieve something today. Ananse, the child of Nsia, the mother of Nyame, the Sky-god; today, we shall achieve something, to-day. Ananse, the Soul-washer to the Nyame, the Sky-god, today, I shall see something.” Once the song finished, Anansi went to sleep.
Anansi was awoken by Akwasi calling out for him. But as he didn’t like the name that Anansi had told him, the spider remained silent. The medicine that Anansi had put into Akwasi’s food was working. After a few more attempts to rouse a sleeping Anansi, Akwasi finally used the name “Rise-up-and-make-love-to-Aso.”
Now Anansi responded to Akwasi’s calls, asking what troubled him. Akwasi said he needed. Akwasi replied that he needed to leave for a moment and left.
Entering the room, Anansi saw that Aso was awake and he asked if she had heard what Akwasi said. Aso asked in turn of Anansi what Akwasi had said. So Anansi obliged with the name he’d given, implying that it was a command, not his name. Wink, wink.
The two then made passionate love with each other before going back to sleep and before Akwasi returned. The medicine or poison that Anansi used was rather potent and Akwasi would be getting up eight more times, where once again, Anansi and Aso would make love before he returned. Come the morning, Anansi was on his way.
Two moon later, Aso begins to start showing that she’s pregnant. This gets Akwasi suspicious of how his wife got pregnant given that he’s sterile and can’t father any children. Aso takes the opportunity to tell Akwasi that it was by his own commands that she had made love to Anansi and that the child is his.
Angry, Akwasi takes Aso with him to go to Nyame’s village to complain. On the way, Aso gave birth and the two took the baby with them. On hearing the story, Nyame didn’t believe the two, saying no one had left his village and asked them to point out the person to him.
Aso did so, looking around the village until she spotted Anansi sitting on a ridgepole. She told Nyame that’s the one who impregnated her. Anansi slid down the ridgepole, attempting to hide, but Aso found him again, causing Anansi to fall over and dirty himself.
Now Anansi complained, how Aso and Akwasi’s actions defiled him. That he was Nyame’s Soul-Washer and that his desires had been ignored. Hearing this, Akwasi was seized by Nyame’s other subjects for disobeying a god’s commands. That as punishment, Akwasi was to sacrifice a sheep as penance. Embarrased, Akwasi performed the sacrifice and then told Nyame that Anansi could take Aso as his wife.
Sadly, the baby that Anansi fathered with Aso was taken and killed, their remains scattered about Nyame’s village as a reminder. And that, is how Aso becomes Anansi’s wife and how jealousy entered the tribe.
Anansi’s Bald Head
Sometime after Anansi and Aso were married, when they returned from visiting a plantation outside of the village, a messenger arrived. Anansi greeted the messenger and asked why they had come. The messenger replied that Anansi’ mother-in-law had died the previous day. Anansi informed his Aso of what happened, and plans were made to go to the village to mourn.
The next morning, Anansi went down to the village, looking for some favors. He soon found: Odwan the Sheep, Okra the Cat, Okraman the Dog, Akoko the Fowl, and Aberekyie the Goat. Anansi told all of them how his mother-in-law had died and asked if they would accompany him to her funeral. They all agreed, and Anansi returned home to prepare for the journey.
Anansi prepared funeral clothing, consisting of a leopard skin hat and russet colored clothing. The day of the mother-in-law’s funeral came, and Anansi called upon those he’d asked to come. They brought several supplies with them as well, consisting of guns, drums, palm-wine, and other things that they would share with those attending as they celebrated his mother-in-law’s memory.
Soon they arrived at the village and they fired off their guns to signal that they had arrived. Then Anansi and his company went to the home of his mother-in-law for her wake. Anansi shared out everything that he had brought. Anansi also then presented his offerings to help pay for the funeral.
The next morning, as everyone ate, they invited Anansi to join them. Anansi declined, saying he was forbidden from doing so as it is his mother-in-law’s funeral, that he would not eat until the eighth day. Food was then gathered for his companions who accompanied him for the funeral before they departed back for their own village.
Days passed as Anansi fasted, finally on the fourth day he was too hungry, and he went into the house where he was staying to find food. In the kitchen, he found a fire going with beans in a pot boiling. Anansi ate those, scooping some into his leopard hat after making sure no one was watching. No sooner had Anansi placed his hat back on his head to hide the beans, then Aso entered. Thinking fast, Anansi told Aso that there was a Hat-Shaking Festival taking place at his father’s village and that he was going to go.
Now Aso was suspicious. Who wouldn’t be? Especially when married to a trickster. She asked Anansi why he hadn’t told before of this festival. She also reminded Anansi that he hadn’t eatten anything yet and that he really should wait for the next day. Anansi refused to wait and headed off.
Aso went and gathered up everyone in the village, telling them that Anansi was up to something and that they had to keep him from leaving. As Aso went back after her husband, Anansi grabbed his hat and sang: “Just now at my father’s village they are shaking hats! Saworowa, they are shaking hats! E, they are shaking hats, o, they are shaking hats! Saworowa!”
Anansi began to panic too, for the beans were hot and burning his scalp. He bid his wife and everyone goodbye, that he was leaving. However, everyone began to follow after him, knowing what Aso had told them. Paniced, Anansi told everyone to leave and he sang more: “Turn back, because: Just now at my father’s village they are shaking hats! Saworowa, they are shaking hats! E, they are shaking hats, o, they are shaking hats! Saworowa!”
Eventually, Anansi couldn’t stand the heat from the beans and he pulled them off his head with the hat. Now that everyone could see what Anansi had done, Aso and the villagers began to boo him, such that he took off running.
Anansi promised the road he would thank it if it helped him flee. The road agreed and Anansi mad his way back home and access to some sorely needed medicine for his head. Alas, Anansi’ hair never did grow back.
Why Anansi Runs When He’s On The Water’s Surface
With this story, Anansi goes to Okraman, the Dog and tells him how he plans to build a new village. That sounds sensible and Okraman agreed. Okraman would gather some rope-creepr vines and Anansi would also do the same and they would meet up again on the following Monday. They would also bring a gourd filled with water in case where they met up didn’t have any. As an added measure, Anansi put some honey into his gouard.
Anansi and Okraman met each other at the half-way point to their destination. As they continued to travel, they became tired and Okraman said they should rest a bit and drink some of the water they brought with them.
Now it gets a little weird. As the two rested, Anansi said they should play a game to pass the time while they rested. Well type of game Okraman wanted to know. A binding game, where they would take turns tie each other up. The one tied, would then have to escape. After a bit of disagreement on who would get tied up first, Anansi said he would go first.
Once Okraman had Anansi bound, he decided he was so hungry that he didn’t really want to play anymore. Instead, he picked up the trussed-up Spider and carried him away to go sell for food. When Anansi realized what was happening, he began to complain, making a ruckus until they reached a stream.
Odenkyem the Crocodile heard them and asked Okraman what was going on. Okraman was too frightened to answer and dropped the bound Anansi while he fled. Laughing, Odenkyem freed Anansi from his bounds while Anansi thanked him, asking if there were any way to repay the crocodile. Odenkyem declined, saying he didn’t want anything in return. Anansi insisted, saying if Odenkyem had any children, they come, and he would dress and style their hair. Odenkyem accepted this offer, not suspecting that Anansi would be up to any deception.
Anansi returns home, telling Aso that he needs palm-nuts and onions for a stew and that he’s going to bring back crocodile to provide the meat.
That does not sound like a way to repay someone for rescuing you.
Aso gathers up the ingredients asked for as Anansi sharpens a knife. He mashes up some eto and carries it down to the stream where Odenkyem lives. Anansi calls out for the crocodile, saying he’s got a reward for them and sets the eto in the water. Odenkyem comes, having heard Anansi and just as he’s about to take the gift; Anansi flings his knife at the crocodile.
Thinking he’s dealt Odenkyem a lethal blow, Anansi heads home. Aso notices this and asks where’s the crocodile meat? You didn’t get it? Anansi brushes her off, yelling at her and gives her the silent treatment the rest of the night.
The next morning, Aso went down to the river. There, she spoted the crocodile laying still with flies buzzing around him. Seeing this, Aso returned home to tell Anansi what she saw. Anansi explains that he used a special medicine to kill Odenkyem and it will take another day for the full effect and before he can collect up the meat. Anansi thanked Aso for confirming the kill.
Anansi headed down to the river, taking with him a long stick. Seeing the crocodile laying there still in the riverbank, Anansi carefully walked over and poked Odenkyem. As Anansi continued to poke the big crocodile with his stick and roll the body over, the Spider decided to edge closer. When Anansi got close enough and reached out to touch Odenkyem’s body with his hand, that’s when the big crocodile his own trap and snapped his jaws on Anansi’s arm.
That two wrestled for a while and eventually Anansi squirmed free of Odenkyem’s grasp and fled. Now, everytime Anansi crosses a river, he runs for it, never letting Odenkyem get a second chance.
That wouldn’t be the lesson I’d take from here though.
Note: My intention was to include all the Anansi stories that I could find. However, there are just so many variations and stories from Ghana to the Caribbean and even to North America. I could spend whole volumes and books on his stories and likely still not have found them all as he is still very much so active. So I find myself having to make a cutoff point of what do I include? Obviously, if you like Anansi want to read more of his stories or find a storyteller to tell his stories, you will do so.
And of course, the traditional ending to an Anansi story:
“This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me.”
Just a few little odds & ends that I couldn’t figure out where to fit them in at.
“No one goes to the house of the spider Ananse to teach him wisdom.”
“No one tells stories to Ntikuma” refers to someone who has heard it all.
Other West African tricksters that share many similar stories to Anansi are Br’er Rabbit and Leuk Rabbit.
Br’er Rabbit – The similarities between Anansi and Br’er Rabbit, the trickster figure who originates among the Bantu speaking people of South and Central Africa. Just like Anansi, Br’er Rabbit was brought to the Americas with the slave trade where his stories thrived and became a means by which he uses his wits and cunning to outsmart larger creatures. Stories of Br’er Rabbit are found in the French-speaking islands of the Caribbean where he is known as “Compare Lapin.” The most obvious story to compare Anansi and Br’er Rabbit with is that story of Anansi and his capturing the Mmoatia fairy with the Akua doll and the story of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. The Br-er Rabbit stories were collected up into the Uncle Remus stories by the American Journalist Joel Chandler Harris between 1870 to 1906.
Gede Lwa – In Haitian Voudo, Anansi is worshipped as a loa of this name and he is the intermediary between ancestors and the living. We also see in Haitian folklore, the figures of Ti Bouki, Ti Malice or Uncle Mischief who are other variations of Anansi.
Gizo – A spider trickster-hero of the Housa. His wife is Koki. He’s been equated with Anansi stories and sometimes called the Yoruba Anansi.
Iktomi – A Native American Spider figure whom many have noted similarities with Anansi.
Nambo-Nansi – A Haitian Loa, based on the figure of Anansi.