Category Archives: Duality

Veles

Also Known As: Benec, Vėlinas (Baltic, Lithuanian),Volos, Volusu, Volusu, Vyeles, Ganyklos (Lithuanian), Vlas (Russian), Walgino, Weles

Epitaphs: King of Bears, Lord of all Wolves, Master of the Forest, “Skotiybog“ (God of Cattle)

Etymology: “Uel-“ to see, fields, spirits of the dead. Also likely from the proto-Indo-European word “wel-“ wool

In Slavic beliefs, folklore, and mythology, Veles is a god of many things from storms and trickery to God of the underworld and domestic animals as well as the god of the earth and water. Veles is indeed a significant and major supernatural force within Slavic mythology and beliefs. Depending upon your source, some of it can seem rather contradictory.

Given the nature of Slavic beliefs, there isn’t much concrete documentation. There is still a lot of oral history and traditions about Veles found in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia. All of this can get very confusing as for the longest time, first with the arrival of Christianity, a lot of local Slavic pagan beliefs were done away with and made to be seen as aspects of evil and the devil. Then later, when that’s no longer so prominent, there just isn’t a lot that has been documented and what survives has been by oral tradition and that, can vary widely by local, regional traditions that have managed to get passed on. We also hit on several dubious sources that over time have proven not to be reliable.

Naturally, this will be where I’ve got some mistakes and expect I Veles to be a post I will come back to correct several times and update.

Attributes

Animal: Bear, Cattle, Crows, Dragons, Owl, Ravens, Rooster, Serpents, Wolf

Colors: Black, Blue, Green, Red

Day of the Week: Sunday

Directions: North, West

Element: Earth, Water

Gemstones: Bloodstone, Garnet, Jasper, Jet, Obsidian, Onyx

Incense: Cedar, Clove, Ginger, Wormwood

Month: February, March

Plant: Cedar, Hawthorne, Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Pine, Wheat, Willow

Planet: Mercury

Season: Autumn

Sphere of Influence: Cattle, Commerce, Divination, Fertility, Magic, Medicine, Music, Pastures, Underworld, Wealth, Wildlife

Symbols: Cattle, Horns, Serpents, Wool

Tarot: Cups, Pentacles

Weapon: Spear

Description

In some sources, Veles is described as a wolf-headed god. In other sources, Veles is described as a large serpent with horns that lives in the water or is pictured at the bottom of the Slavic World Tree with Perun in his eagle form at the top. Frequently, Veles is depicted as an elderly man with a gray beard and hair. As a shapeshifter, Veles often takes on the traits of those animals favored or associated with him such as horns and bear fur.

When in the form of a bear, Veles is regarded as the King of Bears. As a wolf, among the southern Slavs, Veles is the lord of all wolves.

Velinas – In the Balto-Slavic regions, a description is given that describes him as being a one-eyed god with a gift for divination and leader of the Wild Hunt, lord of the dead, and to whom people sacrificed to were killed with a spear. This version of Veles warrants having its own post as one source found, discusses Velinas as similar to, yet clearly different from Veles. Taking a look at the Mediterranean region among the Greek and Roman cultures, there were other culture groups like the Etruscans, the Dacians, Phrygians who have their own local deities who were similar to those of the Greek and Roman deities and would frequently be absorbed into the Greco-Roman pantheons and survive as epitaphs for the local region.

What’s In A Name?

According to the linguist Roman Jakobson, the name Veles comes from the word “uel-“ and “esu-“ while the name Volos comes from another root word for where “-el” changes to “olo.” The root word “uel” or “wel-“ can have variable meanings and refer to any number of words such as “to die,” “grass,” “to see,” “to want,” “to turn,” “to cull,” “tepid”, “hair,” “wool,” “forest,” and “deception” as in magical deceptions. The book “The Mythology of All Races” published in 1918 says that Veles’ name comes from “weles” for wolf.

The root word “uel” is also related to the proto-Germanic word “walaz” that is also seen in the old Norse “valr,” “valkyria,” and “Valholl” all words related to the Norse god Odin who is known too by the name “Valfǫðr.” In the Baltic dialects and language, we see this reflected in the word “vėlės/veļi” for the “spirits of the dead,” “shade of the deceased,” and “shadow of death.”. This is reflected in the Baltic god’s names of Vėlinas, Velnias, and Velns. A connection of the word “uel” from “ṷélsu-“ for meadow or pasture has been made with the Greek Elysium, the fields of the blessed dead.

Where “uel-“ relates with “to see,” there is a connection in the name of the seeress Veleda. Going off this, in Norse mythology there is a “Völva,” a seeress connected to water and foretelling known as “Völuspa.” The word “Völuspa” is connected to spinning or braiding the Thread of Fate of those whose futures have been seen. “Völva” is also the cognate for a “Wheel” or “Spinning Wheel.”

In the proto-Indo-European language, etymologists have found the root word “wel-“ meaning wool and likely where the English word “wool” comes from. The Russian word for “hair” is “volos.” As a god of horned cattle and other livestock, this makes sense.

Worship

First off, “The Primary Chronicle” is the main source and historical record that provides us with evidence for Veles’ importance and worship. Veles is one of the Slavic gods that can be concretely confirmed while there are several others that have been disproved or there’s still information being gathered to confirm them.

Veles is worshiped in two distinct forms. One as Veles and one as Volos. This makes sense as that can be a way to break down all the aspects of what Veles is a god of and the domains he presides over. Scholars and etymologists suggest that Veles and Volos are two different gods being referred to. However, that does make sense for a need to see two different deities once the Slavic regions began to be Christianized and there’s a split of Veles’ dualistic nature.

Cocks or Roosters would be sacrificed to Veles at the rivers or lakes sacred to him.

During the later 10th century, Vladimir I, the Prince of Kiev erected seven statues in his city, of which Veles was one of them. However, Veles’ statue is the only one that didn’t stand up on the hill next to the other statues and castle. Instead, Veles’ statue could be found in the city in the marketplace. This placement indicates strongly Veles’ importance to commerce. Plus, it also shows that the worship of Perun and Veles needed to be kept separate as Perun’s shrines and worship were to be conducted up high with Veles’ place down in the lowlands. Among the Southern Slavs, Veles’ name is often found in place names.

Triglav – Veles was worshipped as an aspect of the three-headed Slavic god Triglav and the Slavic trinity consisting of Perun, Veles, and Svarog.

Christian Influence

With the arrival of Christianity in the Slavic regions and countries, the aspect of Veles has largely been suppressed, at least the aspects connecting him to the Underworld and as a trickster. He has been equated with the Devil with his name becoming the same word for ghosts and devils. There is a record of Czech’s referring to Veles as a devil in the 16th century. An idol was thrown in the Pocayna River. Veles is used frequently in medieval curses from Bohemia.

Due to Veles’ dualistic nature, we see a split in his name with Veles and Volos. The name Veles under Christian influence holding a more negative connotations and associations. Whereas with Volos, he is held more benignly, and this aspect survives, becoming associated with different Saints.

St. Blaise – Or Saint Vlas, Saint Vlaho, St. Blaz, or St. Vlasiy, he is connected more to the aspect of Volos, he is a shepherd and patron saint cattle and domestic animals. Icons of St. Vlas were placed in cattle sheds for their protection. The Saint’s name day is February 12th and, on this day, cattle are treated to a special feed to eat. In Yaroslavl, the church built on the site of Vele’s shrine was dedicated to St. Blaise.

St. Nicholas – Veles is associated with this saint who is a patron of merchants, fishermen, and mariners. There is also this connection due to the association with water and being a snake who is slain by St. George, a motif similar to the enmity between Perun and Veles.

Parentage and Family

Parents –

Father – Rod, the creator god in Slavic beliefs.

Mother – Zemun, a divine or celestial cow.

Sometimes Veles’ parents are given as Svarog and Lada.

Siblings

Perun and Dażbóg

Consort

Depending on the region or the source cited, Veles is married either to Mokosh, the goddess of the earth, or to Devana, a goddess of the wilds and hunt.

Mokosh – She is somewhat conflicting as in other stories Mokosh is the wife to Perun and whom Veles kidnaps in their never-ending feud.

Devana – Or Dziewanna was forced to marry Veles after she rebelled against Perun.

Children

Jarilo – A fertility god raised by Veles after being kidnapped. So he may not really count.

Chaoskampf

The struggle against Chaos; this is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or God going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.

This aspect is seen in the descriptions of Veles where he is a serpent with horns and the battle that he has with Perun. It’s a dragon or serpent-slaying motif seen with the story of Saint George slaying the dragon.

Storm Myth – Battle With Perun, the Storm God

As previously mentioned above under Chaoskampf, this story is perhaps the best-known Slavic story, especially as it fits into the Christian ideas of a hero slaying the dragon or evil or order triumphing over chaos.

Russian scholars and philologists Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov have reconstructed this mythical battle of Perun and Veles with comparative studies to various Indo-European myths, Slavic folk tales, and songs.

Perun, the god of thunder battles against Veles in his dragon form. Depending on the story, Veles has stolen either Perun’s son, wife, or cattle which leads to their conflict.

As a challenge, in the shape of a huge serpent, Veles comes up from the underworld of Nav and wind his way up the Slave World Tree towards the heavens and Perun’s domain. Naturally, Perun responds by sending lightning bolts so that Veles flees back down and turns himself into various animals, people, and even trees to escape from or ambush Perun as they battle it out.

In the end, Veles is slain by Perun and the person or thing that Veles is to have stolen is released from within his body and it comes out in the form of falling rain from the heavens.

Scholars have commented that this “Storm Myth” is probably how the ancient Slavs would explain the changing of the seasons throughout the year. Any dry periods would be seen as Veles’ theft with the storms and lightning being interpreted as a divine battle up in the heavens and Perun’s ultimate triumph over Veles with the arrival of rain and Perun establishing order over chaos.

The Slavs have a saying that wherever lighting strikes, that is Perun attacking Veles.

Variation 1 – In the stories where Veles kidnaps Perun’s son, it is Jarilo, the tenth son who is stolen. Veles then raises Jarilo as his own son, who when he is older, becomes a god of fertility and heralds the arrival of spring when he returns to the lands of the living.

Variation 2 – It is Perun who is stolen as an infant and raised in the underworld. Once Perun is grown, he battles many creatures in order to fight his way back up to the mortal world.

Fertility God

Since the “Storm Myth” is cyclical and repeats every year. It connects Veles as a god of fertility and a god who dies and then is resurrected. The snake or serpent aspect of Veles would be him shedding his old skin or old life to be reborn as the year changes.

The “Storm Myth” and battle with Perun places Veles in a more negative role as one who brings chaos. Certainly, change is chaotic, but there is a pattern that emerges and soon you can make sense of that pattern and bring about a certain order to things so it doesn’t get destructive.

For the ancient Slavs, Veles wasn’t evil, he was the god of the wilds and nature which can appear to be very unpredictable if you’re not careful or respectful.

Later Christian influences will place him as evil and why in so many places Veles’ name does become synonymous with the devil and evil. But we do see where Veles appears as a Saint such as Saint Nicholas to save a poor farmer’s cattle from the destructiveness of St. Elias, a representative of Perun.

While Perun is more associated with agriculture, there is a Russian custom during harvest season to cut the first ear of wheat and tie it into an amulet that would protect crops from evil spirits. This was known as “tying the beard of Veles” which meant to invoke good fortune and wealth.

Duality – Ultimately the conflict of Perun and Veles is the duality in the clash of good and evil and the cyclical nature of the passing of the seasons and year. Veles represents the earth, water, and physical world and Perun represents fire, the heavens, and spirit.

Marriage To Devana

Also known as Dziewanna, she is a goddess of the wilds and hunt. As punishment, Devana found herself forced to marry Veles after she rebelled against Perun. Wanting to be wild and free, Devana didn’t initially love Veles at first despite the two having a domain that’s very similar to each other. After a bit of thought, Veles managed to win Devana over when he changed into a basil flower and calmed her. While they’re still not really in love, together they do watch over the lowlands of the wilds and are a force not to be taken lightly.

God of Mischief

Like Loki, Veles is considered a god of mischief and trickery. This ties strongly to the association of Veles’ use of magic, shapeshifting, and the arts. This aspect holds where Veles is seen as a god of chaos and a disruption during any long periods of dryness, or no rain as primarily seen in the “Storm Myth.”

Magic & The Arts

In this aspect, we see Veles the god of divination, magic, music, poetry, the earth, and water. Oaths would be sworn in Veles’ name. Traveling musicians, skalds, bards, and poets were known to pray to Veles for his protection as they traveled.

As a god of poetry, divination, and the arts, Veles has been equated with the Norse Odin. There is a 12th-century Russian epic, “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign,” where the character Boyan the wizard is referred to as Vele’s grandson. Poetry, music, and magic were closely linked in both Nordic and Slavic beliefs.

Veles is regarded as a protector of traveling musicians. Up into the 20th century, in some wedding ceremonies held in northern Croatia, the music won’t begin playing unless the groom while making a toast, spills some of the wine onto the ground, especially near the roots of a tree. This tradition would be musicians making a toast to their patron deity.

The Slavic magician-priests were called: volhov, volchvi, vlъsvi and volъsvi. They were not priests of an elite religion like those belonging to Perun. Rather, these magician-priests were known to be seers, soothsayers, poets, magicians and sorcerers as well as healers and herbalists. It is thought the etymology of volchys connects them to Volos.

God of the Underworld

Veles is a god of the Underworld, in charge of the spirits of the dead whom he would send out as his messengers. In his connection to the earth, Veles is also a god of all the bounties and riches of the earth, growing above and found below.

Nav – Also known as Nawia, this is Veles’ abode in the underworld. Incidentally, the word nav could also refer to the spirits or souls of the deceased who had premature deaths or poor deaths such as drowning, or being murdered, or if you were a murderer or warlock, these were all spirits that would come back as demons to afflict the living. The navias could take the form of birds. In Bulgaria, there is folklore that says twelve navias could suck the blood from a pregnant woman. The navias were also the demonic representation of the 1092 plague in Polotsk, Belarus.

Very similar to Norse beliefs, the Slavs also believed a huge world tree connected the mortal world to the heavens and the underworld. The roots of the world tree formed the roof of the underworld as they stretched out.

Where Perun was seen as either a hawk or eagle sitting in the branches of the world tree looking out over the heavens, Veles was seen as a huge serpent coiled around the roots ruling over the underworld.

Unlike descriptions of other underworlds, Nav was viewed as a beautiful place in folktales as a place where it’s forever Spring with green, grassy plains and plenty of water. Many fantastical creatures could be found here, not just the spirits of the dead who watched over Veles’ herds of cattle.

For the Slavs, Nav was described as being somewhere “across the sea” and was the place where migrating birds would go to every winter. In folktales, we find a different name, Virey or Iriv and that Jarilo, the god of fertility and vegetation lived here during winter and would return when it was time for spring. Jarilo would cross the seas, returning to the lands of the living bringing spring and birds back.

The Separation Of The Human World & Underworld

This story concerns the separation and boundary separating the mortal, living world with that of the underworld and lands of the dead. A shepherd pledged to Veles to sacrifice his best cow and to keep the god’s prohibitions. From this, Veles divides the human world and the underworld with either a furrow that he plows or groove over the road that the shepherd carves with a knife to prevent evil or negative powers from crossing.

God of Cattle

As Volos, he is known as “skotiybog,“ the god of cattle who watches over and protects flocks, cattle and all domestic animals, keeping them from harm. The name skotnyi bog is also the name for livestock in general. This aspect of Veles survives and continued under Christian influence well into the 18th century as Saint Blaise where he is a protector of shepherds and their flocks or cattle.

It must be noted too that it isn’t just domestic animals that Volos watches over, but all wild animals, connecting him to the image of him as a horned serpent and thus, horned gods like Pan or Cernunnos who watch over the forests and animals. In addition to the horns associated with either a bull or ram, there is also sheep’s wool that is used as a symbol for Veles.

The Koledari would sing that they come to “weaving black wool.” There is some folklore involving wool and the expressions, “presti vunu” meaning weaving wool, and “crnu vunu presti” meaning the weaving of black wool. These are illusions to magical crafts and Veles’ role as a god of magic.

God of Commerce & Wealth

Given how cattle were regarded as a sign of wealth and influence, it’s not hard to see Volos become the god and patron of commerce, business, prosperity, trade, and wealth. Merchants would seal their agreements by swearing Volos’ name and even legal documents would sometimes have oaths to him. If you broke an oath, you could be sure of Volos’ punishment and retribution.

A Rus-Byzantine Treaty of 971 is the earliest record we have where signers swore by Vele’s name with violators being warned of a punishment. They would be killed by their own weapons that would become “yellow as gold.” It is thought that this meant they would be cursed with a disease.

Veles’ Feast Day

Or the Festival of Veles, this festival is celebrated either February 11th or 24th for the observance of midwinter. In Christian folk rituals, this festival corresponds with Saint Blaise’s feast day. In the Orthodox traditions, St. Blaise as the protector of cattle is said to have defeated Winter or Morana. Among Catholic traditions, St. Blaise is the patron of throat diseases and apples and candles are blessed to provide protection from those diseases. In Catholic tradition, St. Blaise’s feast day is February 3rd and apples would be sacrificed to him by feeding them to cattle.

Prayers would be offered to Veles for the protection of livestock and their health by sacrificing milk. The festival would be held near a place of worship. During this time, it is forbidden to eat veal. The food eaten during this time is groats seasoned with fat. Ritual fights would also be held during this festival.

The best part is knowing that this held close to Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia!

Velja Noc

The Great Night, in Slavic beliefs, following a lunar calendar, the first day of the New Year would begin on what corresponds with the Gregorian calendar of March 1st to celebrate the end of Winter and return of Spring. This festival could last from Christmas all the way to the end of February. After the arrival and Christianization of many Slavic countries, for those Slavs falling under the Orthodox Churches, this day came to be known as Velik Dan or the Great Day. For the Catholic Slavs, this day became Velika Noc, still the Great Night. Both names correspond with the day or the week in which Easter is observed.

In pre-Christian worship, Velja Noc is the night that the spirits of the dead walk the earth and would enter villages and homes to celebrate the New Year with their living relatives. It is believed that Veles, as the god of the underworld would send out the souls of the dead to the living world to act as his messengers. One tradition has young men known as koledari or vucari would dress up in long coats of sheep wool and wear grotesque masks as they went around the villages making a lot of noise and singing songs. They would be wet and muddy to symbolize the wet underworld of Nav and the ghosts of the dead. In the koledari traditions, they would visit different homes and people presented them with gifts as if they were messengers from Veles to gain his favor for wealth and fortune in the following year.

Which I find very fascinating as this all sounds very much like the Irish celebration of Samhain and Halloween with spirits of the dead passing over to the world of the living and dressing up in costume. Plus, the spirits visiting living relatives is a lot like celebrations of Día de Los Muertos in Mexico and Kalan Goañv in Brittany, France.

Syno-Deities

Apsat – A Georgian or Sarmatian deity and god of cattle and herds who has been equated with Velese.

Cernunnos – A god of the druids in Celtic myth, he is symbolized as a horned snake and god of nature and horned animals.

Hermes – A trickster god and messenger of the Greek pantheon, Veles has been compared to them.

Loki – Veles has been compared to the trickster god Loki from Norse mythology.

Mercury – The trickster and messenger god of the Roman pantheon.

Odin – Some descriptions of Veles also sound just like Odin with his one-eye and gift of prophecy.

Triglav – A three-headed underworld god worshiped by the Pomeranians and some of the Polabian Slavs in Szczecin, Wolin and Brandenburg. It was a short-lived cult confirmed by St. Otto of Bamberg in his biographies.

Vala – A demon who opposes the thunder god Indra in the Vedas.

Vėlinas – A Baltic deity who is very similar in appearance to the Norse Odin and not just Veles.

Perchta

Etymology: “Bright One”, peraht (Old High German meaning “brilliant”). “Hidden” or “Covered,” pergan (Old High German)

Also Called: Behrta, Berchta, Berigl, Bertha (English), Bechtrababa, Berchtlmuada, Berchte, Butzen-Bercht, Frau Berchta, Frau Faste (the Lady of Ember Days), Frau Perchta, Fronfastenweiber, Kvaternica (Slovene), Lutzl, Pehta, Perchta, Perahta, Perhta-Baba, Posterli, Pudelfrau, Quatemberca, Rauweib. Sampa, Stampa, Spinnstubenfrau (“Spinning Room Lady”), Zamperin, Zampermuatta, Zlobna Pehta, The Lady of the Beasts, The Belly Slitter

Perchta has her beginnings and roots as an Alpine goddess worshiped in the Germanic countries where she protected the forests and animals. Later, as Christian influences increased, Perchta would take on a more sinister appearance and role, especially during the dark winter months where she would become a boogeyman type figure used to scare children into good behavior.

This is one of those confusing ones. Is Perchta a goddess, a witch, demon, or something else?

To answer that, we start at the beginning.

Attributes

Animal: Goose, Swan

Day of the Week: Friday

Element: Water

Month: January

Plant: Birch

Sphere of Influence: Nature, Forests, Wildlife, Spinning, Weaving

Symbols: Staff, Knife,

Time: Night

What’s In A Name?

The meaning for Perchta’s name is fairly easy to find, it comes the Old High Germanic words “beraht” and “bereht” meaning bright, light, flame and white. The word percht was meant as a warning for the sin of vanity. Another potential word in Old High German is the verb pergan, meaning “Hidden” or Covered” as the origin for Perchta’s name.

Given the many different eras and regions of Germany, Perchta is known by several different names. In southern Austria, there is a male form of Perchta known as Quantembermann (German), or Kvaternik (Slovene), meaning “The man of the Four Ember Days.” Jacob Grimm holds the idea that Perchta’s male counterpart is Berchtold.

Depictions

Perchta is notable for a dual nature where she will have one of two forms that people see her in. During the Spring and Summer months, Perchta takes on the form of a lovely, young maiden dressed in white, or during the colder, autumn and winter months, she is seen as an ugly old hag with a hooked nose and tattered, worn clothing as she carries either a knife or scissors to slit open people’s bellies. Some perchten masks showing the ugly crone aspect give Perchta an iron face and beak-like nose.

Jacob Grimm of the Grimm Brothers fame tries to say that Perchta is an ancient goddess. In some stories, Perchta will be described as having a goose or swan foot; this imagery connects her to having a higher nature and the ability to shape-shift. This same goose foot could also be the splay foot that a spinner develops with one foot pumping the pedal of a spinning wheel.

Swan Maiden – It has been noted that in several languages, that Perchta or Bertha is also referred to by her peculiar foot. Berhte mit dem fuoze in German, Bertha au grand pied in French and Berhta cum magno pede in Latin. The idea given by Jacob Grimm is that foot means that Perchta is a Swan Maiden.

Woodcut – There is a notable woodcut from 1750 that depicts Perchta as “Butzen-Bercht.” The word Butzen is noted to mean “bogeyman.” The woodcut shows Perchta as a crone with a wart on her nose as she carries a basket filled with screaming children, all of them girls. Perchta also holds a staff as she stands before a door to a house where there are more frightened young girls.

Middle Ages

The earliest depictions and mentions of Perchta, date her to during the Middle Ages, first in around 1200 and then later in the 1400’s when mention of Perchta becomes more prominent. Perchta served as an enforcer of communal taboos. One such taboo is weaving on sacred days or not joining in the feasts enthusiastically enough. Many of Perchta’s punishments stem out of punishing those who are lazy and haven’t done the proper work.

As to Perchta’s retinue that accompanies her, the first reference to them is in 1468, however, these are the souls of the dead. With the passage of time, this retinue would become demons, and then by the coming of the 15th century, they would become the familiar horned figures of the perchten and the first mentions of costumed processions and parades would appear.

In Hans Vintler’s Die Pluemen der Tugent (“The Flowers of Virtue”) written in 1411, we have the first illustration of Perchta and more accurately someone in a mask posing as “Percht with the iron nose.”

Counter-Reformations & Witchtrials – It has been noted that the era of history that Perchta first emerges also overlaps and coincides with the Reformations and Religious wars between Catholics and Protestants over how Christianity should be observed and practiced along with trying to stamp out other non-Christian religions and practices through Europe.

Among Wiccans and Pagans, the period between 1450 and 1700’s is called The Burning Times when thousands of men and women, upwards of around 100,000 were executed and burned at the stake for the crime of witchcraft. Germany had the worst of it with historians reporting that entire villages could see their population of women gone. There’s some sense to Perchta appearing as a dark figure who carried off girls who didn’t behave and the changes to her appearance during this era.

Alpine Goddess

In the southern parts of Germany and Austria, the name Frau Perchta is attributed to a witch who comes during the twelve days of Christmas, spanning from December 25th to January 6th for Epiphany. If a person is naughty or sinful, Frau Perchta is fierce and terrible with the punishment she will hand out. We are talking she will rip out a person’s intestines and other internal organs to replace with straw, rocks, and other garbage. In this terrible, punishing aspect, this image of Perchta looks very similar to that of Krampus, and figures dressed as her, called perchten are known to also appear in the annual Krampus parades held in several Alpine towns.

Dual Goddess

Before her darker imagery took hold, Perchta was held in a more benevolent light. Many of her positive attributes would be twisted under Christian influence causing many people to associate Perchta as a dark, Wintertime, Christmas entity to be feared. The influence of Christianity also creates a seeming, conflicting goddess with a dual identity.

Given when the change to her darker appearance happens, Winter when the nights are longer, when it is cold, and nature becomes that much more precarious if people haven’t properly prepared for the cold months. When evil spirits are thought to roam.

Protector Of Women & Children

In this role, Perchta is a goddess who protects women, children, and infants. For those children and infants who died, Perchta is a psychopomp who guided their souls to the Afterlife.

Goddess Of Nature

In this role, Perchta was mainly concerned with tending to her forests and taking care of nature. As a nature goddess or spirit, Perchta was known as “The Lady of the Beasts.” In this aspect, Perchta holds some similarities with Holda and Germany’s ancient hunting cultures.

It was only during wintertime and Christmas, the Winter Solstice that Perchta would concern herself with the affairs of humans. During Winter, Perchta will withdraw up into the mountains where she will create snow. In addition, Perchta will protect her followers by removing evil spirits as they travel.

Weaver Goddess

In this role and aspect, Perchta not only governs the mundane arts of weaving and spinning, but she also presides over fate, much like the Moirai or Fates of Greek mythology.

During the Summer months, Perchta is believed to live in the depths of various lakes, during which time she busies herself with spinning flax upon her golden spindle. During the night, Perchta can be encountered walking along the steep slopes of the alps carrying her spindle. Those who approach Perchta with their flocks can get her to bless them.

The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt is a phenomenon found in many different European countries and cultures. It is a nightmarish, supernatural force led by some dark spectral hunter on horseback and accompanied by a host of other riders and hounds as they chase down unlucky mortals, either until they drop dead of exhaustion, are caught, and forced to join the Wild Hunt or they can evade the Hunt until dawn.

Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. The Wild Hunt is known for making its ride during the Winter Solstice or New Year’s Eve. Jacob Grimm of Grimms Brothers fame makes a connection of Herne to the Wild Hunt due to the epitaph of “the Hunter.” That does seem to work, a Huntsman, connect him to the Wild Hunt and for Britain, the idea really jells of a local person who becomes a lost soul, doomed to forever ride with the Hunt.

According to Jacob Grimm, Perchta is one potential leader of the Wild Hunt. Given that during Midwinter, Perchta is known to wander around the countryside at this time with her entourage of perchten, it’s no surprise to see Perchta be suggested as a leader of the Wild Hunt.

Ultimately, just who leads the Wild Hunt will vary from country to country. In Welsh mythology, it is Gwyn ap Nudd or Annwn who lead the hunt with a pack of spectral hounds to collect unlucky souls. The Anglo-Saxons of Britain hold that it is Woden who leads the hunt at midwinter. Herne the Hunter has been given as the name for another leader of the Wild Hunt. Wotan is very similar to Odin (just another name for the same deity really), Herne has been linked to them as both have been hung from a tree.

Christian Influences

The arrival of Christianity is about when we see Perchta become a minor deity and then diminished to be some sort of magical creature or spirit. As more time passed, Perchta would then become an evil witch or sorceress. Later, Christian clergy would equate Perchta in official documents as being synonymous with other female spirits and goddesses such as Abundia, Diana, Herodias, Holda, and Richella.

Thesaurus Pauperum – This text and collection of recipes and natural cures was written by prominent Catholic officials for use by the poor. This text mentioned a Cult of Perchta who would leave out food and drink for Perchta on Epiphany for wealth and abundance. This same document would be used to Perchta’s cult in Bavaria in 1468. In 1439, Thomas Ebendorfer von Haselbach in De decem praeceptis also condemned this practice.

Frau Perchta – Christmas Witch & Bogeyman

During wintertime, especially during the month of December and Yule, as Frau Perchta, she becomes a fierce some looking hag or witch with two faces. Those children who are good and have behaved, have nothing to fear from Frau Perchta. However, for those who are deemed bad and have misbehaved, Frau Perchta is known for slitting open the stomachs of people and pulling out all of their organs to replace them with straw, stones, and garbage.

Perchten

These wild spirits are known to be active between the Winter Solstice and up to around January 6th, for the Twelfth Night. The percht are an offshoot of the older goddess, Perchta from the Alpine regions where she guarded the beasts of the forest. The percht would be depicted as humanoid goats with elongated necks and wearing animal furs. These same percht are believed to become the basis for Krampus. It is in the late 20th century that both Perchten and Krampus appear together in the same processions so that the two have become indistinguishable from one another. The wooden masks worn for these processions are called perchten.

Originally, the term perchten, (the plural for Perchta), referred to the female masks that represent the entourage of spirits accompanying Frau Perchta or Pehta Baba in Slovenia. The perchten are associated with midwinter where they personify fate and the souls of the dead. There are several regional names and variations for the perchten. Their names include: Bechtrababa, Berchta, Berchtlmuada, Berigl, Pehta, Lutzl, Perhta-Baba, Pudelfrau, Rauweib, Sampa, Stampa, Zamperin, Zampermuatta, and Zlobna Pehta.

Other Perchten names are:

Glöcklerlaufen – “bell-running” from the Salzkammergut region.

Schiachperchten – Or “ugly Perchten,” they come from the Pongau region of Austria. They have fangs, tusks and horse or otherwise ugly features. These perchten, despite their appearance, come to drive off evil spirits and demons as they go from house to house.

Schnabelpercht – Or “trunked Percht” from the Unterinntal region.

Schönperchten – Or “beautiful Perchten,” they come from the Pongau region of Austria. These perchten come during the Twelve Nights and festivals to bestow luck and wealth to the people.

Tresterer – From Pinzgau region of Austria.

Heimchen

Sometimes the spirits that accompany Perchta will be those of children, particularly unbaptized children in Christian beliefs. Food offerings left out for Perchta and her retinue are said to be consumed by these Heimchen.

For many women, before the arrival of modern medicine, there was a high infant and child mortality rate. Having a benevolent goddess who would come and take care of their children was likely very comforting for many women, to think of their child in a better place or in better hands.

Raunachte

This period is also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas. These nights are also known as Magic Nights when Perchta leading the Wild Hunt are known to ride.

Perchtenlauf

This is a seasonal play that is found throughout the Alpine regions during the last week of December and through the first week of January up to January 6th for Twelfth Night or Epiphany. It was known as Nikolausspiel or “Nicholas’ Play” at one time. These plays stem from the Medieval Morality Plays from Antiquity. The Nicholas plays feature Saint Nicholas rewarding children for their scholarly efforts instead of good behavior. People dress as perchten with masks made of wood with brown or white sheep’s wool.

For a while, the Roman Catholic Church tried to prohibit the practice of Perchtenlauf during the 17th and 18th centuries. Despite its best efforts, the parade and processions continued either in secret or as a result have made a resurgence in later centuries.

Krampuslauf

The great Krampus run is an annual parade held every year in many Alpine towns. For the first two weeks, especially on the eve of December 6th, young people will dress in Krampus costumes and parade through the town, ringing bells and scaring parade watchers. Some participants may dress up as perchten, a wild female spirit from Germanic folklore. Alcoholic beverages of Krampus schnapps and brandy are common during this celebration.

Twelfth Night

Also known as Little Christmas in Italy, Old Christmas in Ireland or Epiphany, this holiday is held on January 6th. The feast held on this day is called Berchtentag. In Salzburg, Austria, Perchta is believed to wander the halls of Hohensalzburg Castle during the night.

In Germany, this is when Perchta will go about collecting her offerings, where she will reward her followers, often with a silver coin or other small gifts, and punish those who haven’t observed certain practices and traditions. This is where Perchta, as Frau Perchta appears in her fearsome guise mentioned earlier to slit open the bellies of wrongdoers and those deemed naughty, only to stuff them full of straw, rocks, and garbage. Perchta would also be interested in making sure that women had spun the wool needed for the year.

In observance of this holiday, there would be a feast held with a ceremonial dance. Several people would dress up, pretending to be evil spirits that someone dressed as Perchta would then chase away, “slaying” the evil spirits in a pageant to invoke a ritual to protect the people of the village.

A special porridge consisting of gruel or dumplings and fish called Perchtenmilch would be eaten during this time. While the family ate, an additional bowl would be left out for Perchta and her entourage. If this traditional meal is forgotten, it is one of the taboos that angers Perchta so that she will cut open people’s stomachs and stuff them with straw.

Note: My earlier section for Frau Perchta gives the time for this celebration closer to Yule in December. Given multiple sources, this change of observances could easily be people conforming old traditions to those of the newer, incoming Christian religion and observance of Christmas along with a change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

Berchtoldstag

Also known as: Bechtelistag, Bächtelistag, Berchtelistag, Bärzelistag, Bechtelstag, Bechtle. It is a celebration typically observed on January 2nd in Liechtenstein and Switzerland and has been happening since at least the 14th century. There are various theories about the origin of this holiday. There is a Blessed Bertchtold of the Engelberg abbey who died on November 2nd of 1197. Another theory holds that it commemorates the first animal killed during Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen’s hunt and the naming of his new city.

Like the English practice of mummery, another idea is that this holiday comes from the word: berchten” meaning to “walk around, begging for food.” Obviously, there is also Perchta given the similarity of the names and that when the celebrations of Epiphany were abolished by the various Protestant regions, those refusing to give up the Twelfth Night traditions, simply moved them to the day after New Year’s to gain another day off. There is a “nut feast” where children build hocks of four nuts with a fifth nut balanced on top. Masked parades are held, along with folk dances and families going out to the pubs to eat.

Fastnacht

Translating to mean “Fast Night” or “Almost Night,” this is a celebration that is held on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and Lent. It is a night where people eat the best foods possible, and yes, the preferred food is doughnuts. A procession of perchten is known for showing up in some modern celebrations.

Urglaawe

This is a dominion of Heathenry inspired by the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. In it, Perchta or rather, Berchta is a major goddess instead of a minor. The eleventh day (Elfder Daag) and twelfth night (Zwelfdi Nacht) are notable days for the Yuletide celebrations that fall on December 31st. In Urglaawe tradition, this feast day is known as Berchtaslaaf.

In this tradition, Berchta is held as either another name for the goddess Holle or is her sister. In this respect, Berchta becomes a goddess of order, notably for one’s own actions, thoughts, and behaviors. Owls are held sacred to her and are her messengers. In the Deitsch lunar zodiac, the Eil or Owl symbol occurs near Yuletide. Like many various cultures, the owl tends to be a symbol and warning of death and danger.

Syno-Deities & Figures

Freyja – Norse

Sometimes a connection of Perchta to this Norse goddess is made, however it’s noted to be rather dubious at best as Freyja and Frigg are often confused together as being the same goddess.

Frigg – Norse

The wife of Odin, placing he as the mother of the Gods, she is associated with marriage, prophesy, clairvoyance, and motherhood along with spinning. Frigg is more likely to be whom Perchta is associated with or stems from.

Holda – Germanic

The goddess Holda has been equated as the southern cousin or a syno-deity to Perchta as they both hold the same function as a guardian of the animals and come during the Twelve Days of Christmas to inspect the spinning.

La Befana – Italy

The Italian Christmas Witch is sometimes compared with Perchta during Winter celebrations. This is more the contrast of where La Befana is portrayed as an ugly, yet good witch and Perchta is in her more monstrous appearance.

Saint Lucy – Germany

A local Saint whose feast day fell near the Winter Solstice. She is primarily known and revered in Bavaria and German Bohemia. Saint Lucy is often equated with Perchta.

Weisse Frauen

A type of fairy or enchanted being, these white women are a variety of light elves. Jacob Grimm saw connection between the goddesses Holda and Perchta in their white forms with these beings.

Santa Muerte

Also Known As: Our Lady of the Holy Death, Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, Señora de las Sombras (“Lady of Shadows”), Lady of Night, Señora Blanca (“White Lady”), la Dama Poderosa (“the Powerful Lady”), Señora Negra (“Black Lady”), la Niña Blanca (“the White Girl”), la Hermana Blanca (“the White Sister”), la Flaquita (“Skinny Lady”), La Flaca (“The Skinny Woman”), la Huesuda (“Bony Lady”), la Madrina (“the Godmother”), Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead), la Niña Bonita (“the Pretty Girl”), Niña Santa (“Holy Girl”), Santísima Muerte (“Most Holy Death” or “Most Saintly Death”), Santa Sebastiana (“Saint Sebastienne”), Doña Bella Sebastiana (“Beautiful Lady Sebastienne”), Virgin of the Incarcerated

Etymology: “Saint Death” or “Holy Death”

Santa Muerte is a folk Saint who is worshipped and venerated throughout much of Mexico and several places within the United States, most notably along the southern border. Many followers of Santa Muerte seek out her favor for love, prosperity, good health, healing, safe travels, and protection from several things such as assault, gun violence, violent death, and witchcraft.

Warning – As a result of Santa Muerte’s associations with the criminal element such as the drug cartels, the worship, and veneration of Santa Muerte is very controversial, especially by the Catholic Church and several Protestant dominations that don’t acknowledge or see her as cannon. There is a strong reaction of condemnation by the Catholic and other Christian sects to see her veneration as blasphemous and even satanic.

Attributes

Animal: Owl

Color: Black, Red, White

Month: August, November

Patron of: Death, the Dead

Plant: Cempasúchil (Marigold)

Planet: Pluto

Sphere of Influence: Death, Healing, Justice, Love, Prosperity, Protection, Safety in the Afterlife, Resurrection

Symbols: Globe, Scale of Justice, Hourglass, Oil Lamp, Scythe

Depictions

Santa Muerta is often shown as a female skeleton dressed in robes carrying a scythe and a globe. Exactly how she will look and be dressed is up to the individual as the robe can end up being any color. Additionally, there are several other symbols and objects Santa Muerte can be shown with.

Some devotees of Santa Muerte also believe that her image should not be displayed alongside other Saints and Deities as she is jealous and there’s likely to be problems.

Though other devotees will have personal shrines and altars where Santa Muerte sits right alongside other Saints and images of Jesus.

Globe – The globe represents the earth and Santa Muerte’s, death’s dominion and power over the earth. For in death, everyone returns to the earth and with the resurrections and reincarnation, are likely to emerge from later.

Hourglass – This one simply represents our time upon this mortal coil before it’s time to shuffle off. It is also the belief that death is not the end with the ideas of reincarnation and being able to start over. When time is up, flip the hourglass over. It is also a symbol of patience and to wait along with Santa Muerte’s power over time and other worlds and realms.

Lamp – This symbolizes intelligence and spirit, the ability to light one’s way through the darkness, especially that of ignorance and doubt.

Owl – The owl represents Santa Muerte’s ability to navigate the dark places of life and the wisdom she can bestow. Like many bird symbols, the owl is also a messenger. The owl is also associated with Mesoamerican death gods like Mictlantecuhtli, serving as one more connection of Santa Muerte to Aztec roots with Mictecacihuatl as a continuation of her worship.

Robe – The color of the robe or garments that Santa Muerte is dressed often has symbolic meaning for what the worshiper and devotee is petitioning her for. Amber or Dark Yellow represents health or money, Black represents protection from black magic, negative magic, or power, Blue represents wisdom and knowledge, Brown is used for invoking spirits, Gold represents money, success, and prosperity, and Green represents justice and legal matters and unity with loved ones, Purple represents the need for opening paths, Red represents love and passion, and White represents loyalty, cleansing, and purity. Lastly, there is a Rainbow-Colored robe, wearing this, she is called the Santa Muerte of the Seven Powers. The colors of this robe are gold, silver, copper, blue, purple, red, and green. With this robe, Gold is for wealth, silver for luck, copper for lifting negative spirits, blue is for spirituality, purple for changing negative to positive, red is for love and passion and green is for justice.

Scales – These represent equity and balancing out for justice and equality. For all people are equal in death.

Scythe – The scythe symbolizes the cutting of negative energies and influences. In the role of a harvest tool, the scythe also represents hope and prosperity. This symbol also connects Santa Muerte most strongly with the Grim Reaper of Western culture. Much like the Fates in Greek mythology, the scythe can also cut the thread of one’s life for when it’s time to die. The long handle allows for her influence to be anywhere.

Worship

Followers and worshipers of Santa Muerta can be found throughout Mexico, Central America, and mainly the southwestern areas of the United States. Cults for Santa Muerte are one of the fastest-growing new religions growing in the Americas.

Most of Santa Muerte’s followers are neo-pagans and Catholics and former Catholics who venerate this folk saint and deity. This means a person doesn’t have to exclusively be one religion or another to seek her favor and protection.

Put bluntly, everyone, rich and poor alike is equal in death, and in this regard, Santa Muerte plays no favorites. Everyone eventually dies, it’s just part of life.

Many seeking Santa Muerte’s favor and miracles due to the strong Catholic influence, will offer up prayers and light votive candles, often of different colors depending on their need.

Side Note: This is also part of why the Catholic church sees blasphemy with Santa Muerte, catholic style prayers, votive candles, and rosaries are used in prayers and rites with this folk saint.

Votive Candles – black candles are lit for protection and vengeance, brown candles are for wisdom, gold candles are for financial matters, green candles are for crime and justice, purple candles are for healing, red candles for love and passion, and white candles for gratitude and consecration.

It should be noted that black votive candles are not often found in public shrines due to the strong association with “black magic” and the negative aspects of witchcraft. These votive candles are likely to be used in private. It doesn’t help that drug traffickers and criminals twist the worshiping of Santa Muerte around to hide and protect their activities. More benign uses for lighting the candle such as spell reversals, protection, and removing negative energies are uses for this votive.

Temples – The first or earliest known temple for Santa Muerte is the Shrine of Most Holy Death in Mexico City. It was founded by Enriqueta Romero.

Shrines dedicated to Santa Muerte can be found in several places: the home, stores, gas stations, and roadsides just about anywhere.

Altars – As more temples and shrines to Santa Muerte have sprung up, it’s not uncommon to see one or more images of her and to see offerings of cigarettes, flowers, fruit, incense, water, alcoholic beverages, coins, candies, and candles left there to try and gain her favor and protection.

Festivals – There is a festival day on August 15th for Santa Muerta. Though many have noted she can also be worshiped on November 1st & 2nd alongside La Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

It should be noted that November 1st is the anniversary of when the altar to Santa Muerte was first constructed in Tepito where she is seen as the Patron Saint of that city.

Whereas Dia de Los Muertos is more associated with the skeletal figure of La Calavera Catrina.

“Cult Of Crisis” – Anthropologists studying the rapid rise and popularity of Santa Muerte have called it this as they note how a large number of followers, worshipers, and devotees are mainly of the urban working poor, those who are younger from teens to early ’30s, especially women who live in areas where crime rates and poverty are high. Though members of more influential socioeconomic status and law enforcement are known to seek Santa Muerte’s blessings and protection as well.

We are talking about extreme economic and social hardships, where those most likely to turn to any entity or deity outside of the main, local religion. Where they are already likely to be overlooked, forgotten, and where there appears to be no hope.

Controversy – Criminal Associations

Much of what makes Santa Muerte so controversial is that many of her devotees are often criminals, thieves, gang members, and cartels. She has even become a popular Saint to venerate even in prison. Many of them will pray to Santa Muerte for protection from gun violence and violent death.

It makes sense if the ordinary people trying to live their lives, run a business, and take care of families seem more whom Santa Muerte would protect.

This association came to be in 1998 when a notorious gangster by the name of Daniel Arizmendi López was arrested and a shrine to Santa Muerte was discovered in his home. March of 2009, the Mexican army went so far as to destroy some 40 roadside shrines to Santa Muerte. In March of 2012, the Sonora State Investigative Police arrested eight people for murder who had intended human sacrifices to Santa Muerte. The sensationalism from the news media is what firmly associated Santa Muerte with violence and crimes, notably in the Mexican popular consciousness.

It’s hard to say if life is imitating art or if art is imitating life. There are those who claim a connection back to Aztec beliefs with human sacrifices and connecting them to Santa Muerte. So, any gentler, benevolent side is harder to see or accept.

Authorities have linked prostitution, drug trafficking, kidnapping, smuggling, and homicides to the worship of Santa Muerte. There are just as many law enforcement and military personnel to pray to Santa Muerte as there are criminals.

Duality – That many criminal organizations and cartels claim religious authority around her and messianic prophesies have created two versions of Santa Muerte. “The Black Lady” who has the darker, negative aspects of black magic and human sacrifices is associated with her to cover and hide illicit activities.

Then “The White Lady” is the more the healer, nurturer, and protector from the violence that crimes bring that regular people call upon.

This duality of Santa Muerte’s means she will grant favors to anyone who asks and who prays to her regularly. Many people believe if you cut a deal with Santa Muerte and fail to uphold your end, she will take away a loved one even take your life.

Catholic Church – The Vatican has condemned any worship and veneration of Santa Muerte in Mexico. They see it as blasphemous and satanic. As long as there continue to be strong associations of Santa Muerte with criminals and drug running, any attempts to get people to see the lighter side of this entity will be an uphill battle.

It’s not just the Catholic Church, but other Protestant sects in Christianity have strong, adverse reactions to seeing satanism and devil-worshiping with Santa Muerte. Calling her an idol, that it’s all backward superstition, trickery, and black magic.

Which, from the Western, Christian mindset, seeing an entity that’s skeletal in appearance is very unsettling and scary. It’s an image far worse than that of the Grim Reaper for many. It just doesn’t sit well with many.

It’s a very strong “Nope!” from them.

Modern Saint?

It seems a bit odd at first, but that’s a Christian mindset and upbringing to see the worship of a deity or saint of death as odd, unusual, weird, and why!?!

For many though, it is obvious that Santa Muerte is merely the modern worship of the ancient Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. This provides an important understanding of why so many would venerate the modern image of Santa Muerte.

For some, the worship of Mictecacihuatl never went away. She just went underground, only to resurface later as Santa Muerte. The more modern image really does lean on that of the Grim Reaper when she’s shown holding a scythe and robes.

The primary thought is likely defiance to the Catholic Church, especially if many feel the church hasn’t protected them from the violence found in numerous places where gangs and cartels are found. It should be noted that a large number of the poor and destitute with a strong leaning towards women are the most likely to turn to Santa Muerte to worship her and seek her protection and favor.

That aside, the worshiping of Santa Muerte begins around the mid-20th century and peaks about the mid-1990s where many prayers and rites were done privately in one’s home. The earliest documentation for Santa Muerte’s worship is in the 1940s among the working class. Starting in 2001, with the introduction of Santa Muerte’s shrine in Mexico City, her worship has taken off in the 21st century with estimates of some 10-20 million worshipers throughout Mexico, Central America, and the United States.

Santa Muerte has become Mexico’s second most popular saint after Saint Jude and is close to rivaling Mexico’s national patroness, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Goddess & Patron Saint Of Death

The majority of Santa Muerte’s devotees pray to her for protection, financial well-being, healing, and safe passage to the afterlife.

Goddess & Saint Of Protection

As I have previously mentioned, many people will seek out Santa Muerte’s favor for protection, especially from violence and violent death. This tends to include many people from marginalized groups, not just minorities, women, but those who are also LGBQT+. Protection from violence, hate disease, and surprisingly, even seeking love.

Saint Of Love

The Iglesia Católica Tradicional México-Estados Unidos, also known as Church of Santa Muerte, are known for providing same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Psychopomp

One source I came across said that Santa Muerte was originally a male figure. That makes sense as her image does look very similar to the Western figure of the Grim Reaper and Ankou with the robes and scythe.

When you’re praying to Santa Muerte for a safe delivery and passage to the afterlife, that’s a lot of what a psychopomp does. They deliver or escort the recently deceased to the afterlife, wherever it is that a soul will go.

As no one lives forever, Santa Muerte’s presence is a reminder that death should be greeted as a friend and not something to be feared.

Syno-Deities

Grim Reaper – In her role as a psychopomp, Santa Muerte easily has parallels to this entity and not just similar appearances of skeletal, scythe, and robes.

Mictecacihuatl – There are very noted, strong similarities between the imagery of the Aztec goddess of death and Santa Muerte. So much so, that there are many who will say that the two are merely one and the same goddess, that as Santa Muerte, this is Mictecacihuatl’s continued worship into the modern, present day.

San La Muerte – A similar male counterpart to Santa Muerte found in Paraguay.

San Pascualito – A similar male counterpart to Santa Muerte found in Guatemala.

Mictlantecutli

Pronunciation: Mict-lan-te-cuht-li

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.

Attributes

Animal: Bat, Dog, Owl, Spider

Direction: North

Element: Earth

Month: Tititl (Aztec)

Patron of: Death, the Dead

Planet: Pluto

Sphere of Influence: Death

Symbols: Bones, Skeletons, Paper

Time: 11th Hour

Aztec Depictions

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.

Family

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.

Aztec Cosmology

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.

Cosmic Origins

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.

Mictlampa

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.

  1. 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.

Aztec Calendar

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.

Aztec Gods

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.

Bats

As they only come out at night and often from caves, bats have been associated with Mictlanteculhtli and the Underworld.

Dogs

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.

Owls

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.

Spiders

Another animal associated with death and darkness; they too have been associated with Mictlanteculhtli.

Ritual Sacrifices

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.

Hueymiccaylhuitl

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.

Syno-Deities

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.

Elegua

Pronunciation: uh·leh·goo·uh

Etymology: “Master of Force” or “Messenger of the Gods”

Other Spellings: Eleggua (Cuba), Elegu, Elegua, Elewa, Elegba

Other Names and Epithets: Legba, Club Bearer, Eshu-Eleggua

Elegua is a noted trickster and Orisha in Yoruba traditions from West Africa of Benin, Nigeria and Togo. It is an area known as Yorubaland that is a collection of some twenty plus groups with overlapping traditions and beliefs. Which means that trying to pin Elegua down is going to be rather tricky and I’d say precisely what Tricksters enjoy. These numerous groups mean that there will numerous variations to the stories and even spellings for Elegua’s name.

He is the first Orisha created by Olodumare and was present to witness the rest of creation. Elegua is a divine trickster who is seen as both young and old at once. The Orisha of the crossroads, he provides numerous opportunities and choices wherein he will enjoy sitting back to watch the chaos unfold.

Attributes

Colors: Black, Red

Day of the Week: Monday, Sunday

Element: Spirit

Feast Day: January 1st, June 13th, November 2nd

Number: 3, 21

Patron of: Doorways, Justice, Messengers, Tricksters

Sphere of Influence: Crossroads, Doors, Time, Trickster, Mischief, Mayhem

Symbols: Cement or Sandstone head with eyes and mouth formed of seashells, Hooked Staff (painted red & black), Keys, Whistle

Taboo: Pigeon (no food offerings of this please)

Depictions Of Elegua

Because he represents both the beginning and end of life, Elegua can often be shown as either a young child, an old man or both simultaneously. He is frequently shown wearing black and red clothing, either traditional or jester’s attire. Elegua often takes on the role of warrior and protector as noted when shown carrying a club. He represents the endless wanderer who often appears in the guises of a beggar or crazy person.

What’s In A Name?

Studying Elegua as a separate entity from Eshu can get a bit confusing. Some traditions hold the two as brothers, other traditions say they are one and the same. That the name Elegua is one title for Eshu representing the light half with Eshu being the dark or shadow half.

In Cuba, where the spelling is Eleggua, it is generally thought that this name is a mispronunciation of Elegbara, one of Eshu’s many caminos and manifestations in Africa. That the name Eleggua is probably the Hispanic form of Elewa for Eshu meaning: “Handsome One.”

With enough sources discussing the two, Elegua and Eshu as separate, Eshu will get a separate entry later on.

Modern Day Worship

Elegua is venerated throughout Latin America and Nigeria, especially in the Candomblé, Quimbanda, Santeria, Umbanda and Youran religions.

Statues of Elegua are kept behind the front entrance to a home. Elegua’s alter will be kept either behind the front door of the house or outside, directly to the left of the door. Additionally, Elegua’s alter is always kept on the ground and never at a human height.

Elegua has a beaded necklace or eleke that has a repeated red and black pattern. These colors of red and black represent the duality of life and death, war and peace, health and sickness and so. In Santeria, is well understood that you want to be on Elegua’s good side as he is the one to help things go smoothly or cause the mishaps that life can throw at a person. He is very much so at the crossroads and a part of every decision that a person can make in life for good or ill.

Offerings To Elegua

Elegua will extend his protection and help to those who give offerings of candy, cigars, coconuts and rum.

Like many Orishas, in the Santeria religion, it is important to properly propitiate Elegua; for as often as he will provide opportunities, he is just as likely to toss challenges and obstacles in one’s way.

For food offerings, Elegua will eat almost anything but pigeon. The young, child-like manifestations of Elegua often receive offerings of candy and toys. Older manifestations lean more towards the hard candy, popcorn, smoked fish, bush rat, goat, and rooster. Elegua is especially found of black & white hens and she-goats as offerings.

Orisha

Elegua is a member of the Orisha, the first one created by Olodumare. The Orisha are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruban religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare. The Orisha act as messengers and go between for humans, answering the different prayers and requests as Olodumare is seen as being too busy to answer or do everything.

The Orisha are not perfect and like humans, will have many different good and bad traits. They also function as a family and the different relations and stories about how different Orisha relate to each other are known as Pataki, much like a fable or parable. The story doesn’t have to be true in that it actually happened in a historical sense but is made true in the telling.

With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Elegua was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America and South America.

In places such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, the various aspects of an Orisha are called caminos, meaning road or path.

In Nigeria, every city has a patron Orisha. Eleggua’s city is Ketu.

The First Orisha – Elegua is the first Orisha that Olodumare or Olofe created. As such, Elegua existed before the rest of creation and was present to witness everything else come into being.

However, there are other Yoruban traditions that state that Elegua is the youngest of the Orisha and the most powerful after Obatala. Elegua did come to be venerated and fed first in ceremonies after he successfully healed Olodumare. Like anyone could, getting to be first has gotten to Elegua’s head and he can cause a lot of mischief, mainly with ceremonies not going right if he isn’t appeased first. Just as Elegua must be called on first in ceremonies, he is also called upon last when closing them out.

Parentage & Family

There are a few different stories for the origins and parentage of Elegua.

Mother Oya is given as the mother of Elegua.

Father – This part isn’t clear as Oya herself has a couple of different consorts. Either Chango or Ogun.

Other sources and myths will list Elegua as the son of Obatala and Yemmu.

Siblings

Following where Obatala and Yemmu are his parents, Elegua’s siblings will be Ogun and Orunla.

As an Orisha, one could argue that ultimately, they are all brothers and sisters.

Messenger

Elegua is the messenger orisha for Olofi, one of the three manifestations of the Supreme god in Yoruban religion. As a messenger, Elegua has the power or Ashe (Ase) to make things happen or get things done.

Divine Judgment

As messenger, that also puts Elegua in the position to mete out justice to wrong doers. Anything from financial losses. To accidents and even jail. Naturally, Elegua can also bless those whom he favors too.

Trickster

Due to his nature, Elegua is seen as a trickster in Santeria as he is present everywhere. He was the first to witness creation, he is witness to all of humankind’s events and history. Elegua provides both opportunities and obstacles in a person’s life. If you’re particularly lucky, you might even get a second chance with him.

God Of The Crossroads

A trickster, Elegua is known for opening the crossroads in the Santeria religion. Elegua is also associated with doorways and will protect a home from any danger or ills entering. Especially for those who have made the right offerings.

Within the Santaria religion, before starting any ritual or ceremony, Elegua must be called upon first, getting his approval at the beginning of every ceremony and to ensure it will proceed in an orderly manner. By the same token, Elegua will be called on last to close out a ceremony too.

As an Orisha of Crossroads, Elegua rules over different “roads” or caminos. Elegua is believed to have 101 (some traditions say 21) different such caminos or aspects. Some traditions, these caminos are also called “Eshu.” There is Eshu Alawana, the one who wanders alone in the wilds, Eshu Larove, the talkative one and Eshu Olona, the owner of the road. These are just a few of the different aspects or caminos that Elegua can take on.

As a god of the crossroads, he is the guardian of not just the crossroads, but marketplaces, curved streets and thresholds to houses. With this aspect, also comes providing choices and options, for a person to decide which direction they will go or to make mistakes in the process as Elegua stands back and watches.

Divination

Elegua is not an Orisha of Divination. However, due to his nature of facilitating the flow of energy and crossroads, Elegua does hold close ties to Orunmila, who is the Orisha of Divination. It makes sense given that Elegua has the keys to time to see the past, present and potential futures.

For general readings, Elegua’s diloggun or cowrie shells are used as he is considered to speak for all the Orishas.

Keys Of Time

There is a Pakati or story within Santeria where Olodumare gives Elegua the keys to the past, present and future. It is from this story, that Elegua is sometimes shown holding keys.

In the traditions where Elegua is the youngest of the Orishas; Olodumare had fallen extremely ill and lay sick in bed. All the Orisha gathered around and in turn, each one tried their best to heal Olodumare to no avail. Finally, Elegua arrived and offered to try healing Olodumare. The other Orisha scoffed at this, for how could Elegua, a mere child accomplish what the others, adults couldn’t do? Undaunted by the others, Elegua tried his hand and successfully healed Olodumare. In gratitude, Elegua was made the first Orisha to be called upon in every ceremony.

Variation – Other versions will say that it is Obatala who fell sick that Elegua healed. In thanks, Olodumare or Olofi then gives him the keys to all doors.

An Argument Among Friends

This is one story involving Elegua that I came across in full.

Elegua heads out one day on a Monday wearing a hat that is red on one side and white on the other. As he’s heading to the crossroad, he passes between two friends. One only sees the side of the hat that’s red and the other, the side that’s white.

Later on, the two friends comment about the stranger that walked past them earlier in the day. One friend comments on the red hat while the other says he is wrong, it was white. They get into such an argument about who is right and who is wrong, that it comes to blows.

Elegua had been watching the two from a hidden spot. He laughed at the two as he strode over to separate the friends and chastise them for fighting over the color of a stranger’s hat. He points out how his hat is red on one side and white on the other. That the two should be ashamed as their clothing is now torn and that there are more important matters to argue about.

In some versions of this story, the two friends apologize, while in other versions that two are so furious with each other that they continue their fight to the point of destroying their village.

Eshu – Synodeity

Elegua is also associated with Eshu (Echu). In many traditions, the two are seen as brothers while in others, they are one and the same. In Santeria, Elegua’s energy is tamer and more constrained compared to Eshu whose energy is wilder and more unpredictable. Basically, light and shadow.

In Brazilian traditions, Elegua is known as Elegbara and is just one of the titles that Exu or Eschu is known by.

Among the Yoruban practitioners of Nigeria, Eshu is just another name for Elegba or Elegua. Here, Eshu is a protective spirit who serves the chief god Ifa as a messenger.

Legba – West Africa/Haitian

A trickster deity and Loa found among the Fon people and Voudon religion, he is often equated as being the same figure as Elegua, especially variations of Eshu-Eleggua.

Janus – Roman

Given that Janus is the Roman god of portals and crossroads, shown to protect doorways, symbolism with keys and was invoked first in Roman rites, I see a lot of similarities between Janus and Elegua.

Catholic Saints

There are a few different Saints that Elegua has been equated to and it varies by the religion. Often the connections are fairly superficial.

Anima Sola – Not exactly a saint, but this is the Lonely Soul in Purgatory that is popular in Latin America in Catholosism with the Saint Cults. The Santeria religion in Cuba makes this connection of Elegua, more specifically Eshu with this figure.

Holy Child of Atocha – As in the infant Jesus, he is a popular folk image among Hispanics and as a protector of travelers, has easily been syncretized with Elegua.

Saint Anthony of Padua – One of the beloved Saints in Catholism, Pictures of Saint Anthony often show him carrying the Child-Jesus and a lily. The connection to Elegua is made as he is sometimes shown as a child.

Janus

Pronunciation: ˈjaːnʊs or jayn’-uhs

Alternate Spelling: Iānus (Latin)

Other names: Bifrons,Ianuspater (“Janus Father”), Ianus Quadrifrons (“Janus Four-faced”), Ianus Bifrons (“Two-faced Janus”), Dianus, Dionus

Other Names and Epithets: Ianitos (Keeping Track of Time), Iunonius, Consuvius (‘”The Guardian of the Beginning of Human Life”), Cozeuios, Conseuius the Sower, Patultius (the Opener), Iancus or Ianeus (the Gatekeeper), Duonus Cerus (the Good Creator), Geminus (Double), Rex King, Father of the Gods (or part of the Gods), God of Gods, Pater, Patulcius, Clusivius or Clusius (Closer of Gate), Κήνουλος (Coenulus), Κιβουλλιος (Cibullius), Curiatius

Etymology: “Arched Passage, Doorway” (Latin)

Janus is quite simply, the Roman god of Beginnings, Gates, Transitions, Time, Duality, Doorways, Frames, Portals, Passages and Endings. To the ancient Romans, Janus is one of their primordial deities who was there at the beginning of time and all existence. While Janus has an important and prominent role in the Roman Pantheon, he is not the Sovereign Deity of it.

It should be noted that there is no Greek equivalent to Janus. However, I should note, that some later Greek authors would place Janus as having been a mortal from Greece. Plutarch specifically, says that Janus was from Perrhebia.

Attributes

Day of the Week: The first day of every month

Element: Chaos/Void

Month: January

Number: 300 & 65

Patron of: Transitions, Travelers

Planet: Sun, Moon

Plant: White Hawthorne, Olive Tree

Sphere of Influence: Transitions, Giving form to Chaos

Symbols: Keys, Staff, Two-Faces, Doors, Archways, Gateways, Portals

Time: Morning

Roman Depictions

Given the many aspects that Janus presided over, many of which are abstract ideas and concepts for duality, Janus is often shown as having two faces. One looking forward to the future and the other looking back towards the past. Additionally, one face is bearded while the other is not. Later, both faces would be bearded. In Janus’ right hand, he holds a key and a staff in the other.

The double-faced head is found on many early Roman coins. In the 2nd century C.E., Janus is sometimes depicted with four faces.

Renaissance Era

During the Renaissance, the two-faces of Janus not only represented the past and future, but wisdom as well.

Worship

Janus had no flamen or specialized priests dedicated to him. However, the King of the Sacred Rites, the Rex Sanctorum, would carry out Janus’ ceremonies.

There are several rites for Janus. All prayers, regardless of which deity was to be invoked, didn’t start without Janus first being mentioned, regardless of which deity was being invoked. For that matter, every day, every week, every month began with invoking and calling on Janus. Incidentally, every prayer and rite ended with invoking the goddess Vesta.

Military Season – For the Romans, the start of their military season began with March 1st with the Rite of Arma Movere and ended on October 1st with the Right of Arma Condere. The first rite is also known as the Rites of the Salii. The aspect of Janus as Janus Quirinus would be invoked on the anniversary of the dedication to Mars on June 1st that corresponds with the festival of Carna. Another festival was held on June 29th which had been the end of the month under the Julian calendar for Quirinus.

The Military Season also marks something of a seemingly paradoxical connection between Janus and the war god Mars. The peace-loving King Numa sends out the army to ensure peace while later, it’s the warmongering King Tullus in his battle with the Sabines who sees Roman Soldiers coming home to peace.

It’s a connection that makes sense that for the Romans, having been attacked once, vowed that peace would come when everyone else around them was subdued. This creates a couple other epitaphs for Janus of belliger and pacificus, depending on which role he is in. As Janus Quirinus, the deity brings the closing of the Rites of March at the end of the month and then later in October as soldiers return victorious.

Temples

Janus doesn’t seem to have many prominent temples for worship. We do see that the covered portaculis and areas over gates to a building are called iani. There is an altar, that later becomes a temple for Janus near the Porta Carmentalis that leads to where the Veii road ended.

The gates of the Argiletum were called Ianus Geminus. This gate yard was built by Numa around 260 B.C.E. after the Battle of Mylae. Other names for this passageway are Janus Bifrons, Janus Quirinus, and Porta Belli. These gates would be open during times of war and closed during peace, something that didn’t happen often with Roman history. A statue here dedicated to Janus shows him with the symbol for 300 in the right hand and on the other hand, the number 65 for the days in the solar year. There were also twelve altars, one for each month. In the Christian religion, early Christian clerics claimed that these gates were closed when Jesus was born.

There is also the Porta Ianualis that protected the city of Rome from the Sabine that were all thought to be places where Janus was present. Janus was also seen as having a presence at the Janiculum leading out of Rome towards Etruria and the Sororium Tigillum that lead to Latium.

What’s In A Name?

In Latin, Janus’ name is spelt as Ianus as their alphabet has no letter “j.”

Jansus’ name translates from Latin to English as “Arched Passage” or Doorway.” In turn, there’s a root word from Proto-Italic language of “iānu” for “door” and another from Proto-Indo-European of “iehnu” for “passage.” There is also a cognate word found in Sanskrit of “yāti” meaning “to go” or “travel.” Another cognate in Lithuanian of “jóti” meaning “to go” or “ride.” And lastly found in Serbo-Croatian is the word “jàhati” meaning “to go.”

Some modern scholars reject the Indo-European etymology though others see in the word “Iānus,” an action name that expresses movement. My favorite though is how the word “Janitor” derives from “ianua” and Janus.

Among the ancients, there are a few different interpretations that all tie into the nature of Janus as a deity. The first is Paul the Deacon’s definition that connects Ianus to chaos. As seen in the phrase: “hiantem hiare” to “be open,” indicating the transitional state of this deity.

The second definition comes from Nigidius Figulus where Ianus would be Apollo and Diana. That the “D” in Diana’s name has been added as it has a better sound. It would be related to Diana’s name to the word “Dianus” with the Indo-European root of “dia” or “dey” for day. This idea is somewhat flimsy and not usually, widely accepted as being accurate. It seems to be what happens when you’re stretching and trying to connect everything back as all originating from one deity.

The last proposed etymology comes from Cicero, Ovid and Macrobius, where they explain that the Latin form of Janus for “to go” refers to Janus as the god of beginnings and transitions. That one feels a little more on the money with how many people view and interpret Janus’ name.

Parentage and Family

Parents

As a primordial deity, Janus isn’t given any parentage. If any are mentioned, it is:

Caelus (The primal god of the Sky) & Terra (The Earth)

Siblings

The gods Camese, Ops and Saturn are given as Janus’ siblings.

Consort

Camese – Depending on the version of the myth (Greek in this case,) they become Janus’ sister and wife.

Jana – A Moon Goddess

Juturna – Goddess of Wells & Springs

Venilia – Goddess of the Winds & Seas

Children

Canens – A nymph and personification of song.

Fontus – Son of Janus and Juturna

In a Greek version of the myths, where Janus is mortal and marries his sister Camese, they have the following children: Aithex, Olistene, Tiberinus

Primordial Gate Keeper

You could say that Janus is the Ultimate Gate Keeper, even possibly the Custodian of the Universe and probably the only one we should have. This connection makes Janus a Liminal Deity, guarding boundaries and passages.

Janus guarded the gates of Heaven. Doorways, Gates, any passageways, Janus presides over these as well. As a Doorway is the literal transitioning, moving from one area to another. Nothing changed, transitioned, moves, or altered it’s/their states without Janus’ presence and influence. Even the abstract ideas of going from war to peace and back, from birth to death and rebirth, to journeys, exchanges, barbarism and civilization, the start of and any ending of conflicts, their resolutions. Janus presided over all transitions.

Key – Janus is often shown holding a key that symbolized his protection over doors, gates and thresholds of many kinds. Both physical and spatial boundaries. The key symbolized that a traveler would be able to find a safe place or harbor to trade their goods in peace.

Staff – This symbolized Janus’ guiding travelers on their paths.

Order Out Of Chaos

If, in the beginning, everything is a primordial ooze and chaos, Janus is the being who brings order from it all, as everything transitions from one state to another. Modern science will have fancy technical terms and jargon for everything and how everything forms and comes into being. For the ancient Romans, this is all explained as Janus being responsible for the formation of the elements and harmony from Chaos and getting the whole shebang going.

Liminal Boundaries

Janus’ functions denote that he is a liminal deity who watches the borders. As rivers are frequently natural borders and boundaries, Janus presided over these along with the bridges that cross over them. Four of Janus’ altars and temples were built along rivers.

Dualities

Janus is a god of dualities, representing numerous abstract and literal concepts for beginnings and endings. The very transitioning from one state to another. Janus was present at the very beginning and start of the universe before any of the gods existed.

Hindsight Is….

With Janus being depicted as having two faces. One face facing towards the future and the other towards the past, Janus is said to have held the gift of prophecy. Omens and portents were very much so the domain of Janus as he could see all.

A Solar Deity & Divine Twins?

This idea comes from Macrobius who in turns cites Nigidius Figulus and Cicero. The idea is that Janus and Jana (a variation of Diana) are a pair of deities worshiped together as Apollo & Diana; the sun and the moon.

Adding to this is one A. Audin who connects the solar motif back to the Sumerian cultures. They mention two solar pillars that are located on the eastern side of temples and denote the direction of the rising and setting sun and the solstices. These two solstices would connect to the idea of the Divine Twins often seen in mythology, particularly the myth where one twin is mortal and the other is immortal.

Morning Time – The start of the day or morning is thought to be Janus’ time, when men awoke and began their daily routines and activities. Janus is called Matutine Pater, meaning “Morning Father by Horace. It is thought this association with this time of the day is what links Janus with being a solar deity.

Winter Solstice – In keeping with the solar connection, under the Roman calendar, the Winter Solstice was held to be on December 25th, a remarkably familiar date that carries over to Christianity for when Christmas is celebrated. Where solar deities are revered, the Winter Solstice is often when these deities are said to be reborn and their power grows again.

Month – January

It is generally accepted that the month of January is named for Janus (Ianuarius) and why, with the Gregorian calendar, it is the first month and beginning of the calendar year. Under the ancient Roman calendar, their year began with March as the first month, incidentally when Rome would begin its war and campaign season.

For further, in-depth history, we can credit Numa Pompilius, the second of seven kings who ruled Rome before it became a Republic. In the 6th century B.C.E., Numa added the months of Inauarius and Februarius to ten month “Romulus” religious calendar. Under this new calendar, Inauarius would become the first month starting in 200 B.C.E. of the Roman Republican Calendar. Inauarius, pronounced as Januarius means the “Month of Janus.”

One interesting thing to note, when looking at the translations of old Roman Farmer’s Almanacs, the goddess Juno is who presided over the month of January initially, not Janus.

Calendar Time

Since we’re on the subject of time and dates… as a god of beginnings, the very concept of time even starts with Janus. In one of the few temples dedicated to Janus there is a statue of him where the position of the hands signifies the number 355 for the number of days in a lunar year. Later, this number becomes 365 to symbolize Janus’ mastery over time.

New Year’s Day

Another calendar date that carries over from the Romans to modern day in much of Western culture, January 1st marks the start of the New Year. For the omens, the beginning of anything was an omen and would set the tone for the rest to follow. It was customary to greet people with well wishes. People would exchange gifts of dates, figs and honey. Gifts of money or coins called strenae were also exchanged.

Additionally, cakes made of spelled and salt were offered up to Janus on his altars. These offerings or libums were known as ianual. There is likely a corresponding connection to another offering of summanal on the Summer solstice for the god Summanus. However, these offerings would be made with flour, honey, and milk, making them sweeter.

Agonium

This is another festival held on January 9th for Janus. A ram would be sacrificed at this time.

Tigillum Sororium

This is a bit of an oddball festival for me. It was held on October 1st, during the month that Rome’s War Season is ending, and soldiers are returning home.

It’s a purification rite that commemorates Marcus Horatius making atonement for the murder of his sister. The representative for Marcus has their head covered as they pass beneath an archway. The ritual seems to be used as a purification rite for soldiers returning from war to cleanse them from the taint of war as they return to civilized society.

This rite has also been connected to a pairing of Janus and Juno through the epitaphs of Janus Curiatus and Juno Sororia. Janus in his role as a god of transitions and Juno in her role as a protectress of young soldiers.

Roman Coins

Several early Roman coins depict Janus on them. With one face being clean shaven while the other is bearded.

This connects Janus as the founder of financial commerce and trade systems as humans transitioned from an age of barbarism to civilization. Roman myth holds that Janus was the first to mint the first coins.

Wedding Rites

There is a rite or custom where a bride would oil the posts to the door of her new home with wolf fat when she arrived. While this rite does not specifically mention Janus, it is a rite of passage connected to the ianua.

King Of Latium

As old as Janus is, predating the Roman Pantheon, it is very likely that he was a real person at one time.

In a story told by Macrobius, Janus had been exiled from Thessaly and sailed to a place known as Latium with his wife Camise and their children. They settled in a place along the Tiber river that would be named after his son Tiberinus.

Where Janus and his family settled, they built a city called Janiculum. After his wife died, Janus ruled in Latium for many years. After his death, Janus became deified.

Janus’ rule in Latium is part of the Golden Age in Roman mythology that saw a lot of wealth and agriculture come to the region. This era would be what caused Janus to be associated with trade, streams, springs and a sky god.

Variations: Hyginus in his retellings, Camese is male and Janus succeeded him as ruler of the kingdom.

Greek authors place Camese as Janus’ sister and spouse and that they have a son by the name of Aithex and a daughter by the name of Olistene.

Janus & Saturn

In Ovid’s Fasti, the god Saturn welcomes Janus as a guest and eventually shares his kingdom with them in return for teaching the art of agriculture.

Another slight variation to this, is the custom of Roman to depict their gods as having been mortal and ruling the city of Latium during a Golden Age of Peace. Janus as the ruler of his own Kingdom, welcomed Saturn in after he had been expelled from the heavens by Jupiter.

Janus & Romulus

In this myth, Romulus, as in one of the legendary founders of Rome; with the help of his men, kidnapped the Sabine women. In response, the Sabine men retaliated, trying to get their daughters back. Luck was with the Sabine men as a daughter of the city guard betrayed her fellow Romans and let the Sabine men slip within the city.

When the Sabine men tried to make their way up the Capitoline Hill, Janus is credited with causing a hot spring to erupt, causing a mixture of boiling water and volcanic ash that forced the Sabine men to turn back.

It’s from this myth, that the Romans and Sabines would later form a new community and the gates being open during war and closed during peace to keep in would come from.

Janus & Canens

A story found in Ovid’s Metamorphosis; Janus is the father of Canens with the nymph Venilia. Canens was the personification of song and married to Picus. When Picus spurred the love of Circe, she turned him into a woodpecker.Canens searched for six days for her husband before throwing herself into the Tiber river where she sang one final song before dying.

Janus & Carna

Also known by the name of Crane.

Carna was a nymph of the sacred grove in Helernus. Whenever Carna found herself being pursued by the unwanted advances of a young man, she would call out to the young man only to slip away to hide in various crags and other places. Janus saw her hiding and of course, what ancient Roman wouldn’t, Janus rapes Carna.

By way of apology, Janus gives Carna a whitethorn branch so that she may guard all thresholds and doorways, making her a goddess of hinges and then becomes known by the name of Cardea. As a goddess, Cardea would be responsible for protecting and purifying thresholds and doorposts. Incidentally, she also protects newborn infants from stirges. That… is really interesting given the connection between Vampires and not being able to cross thresholds.

That, however, is a post for another day…

I think it is also possible, given how old this myth is, that Janus and Carna had consensual sex and not rape. It would explain giving the hawthorne as a gift between two lovers and Janus elevating Carna from a nymph to a goddess with close to the same powers and abilities as he does with guardianship over thresholds.

Janus & Juturna

A minor myth is that Janus and Juturna, a goddess of wells give birth to Fontus, the god of wells and springs. Comment has been made that Fontus or Fons is another name for Janus. This myth is more likely used to explain why two festivals, Juturna on January 11th and Agonium of Janus on January 9th were so close together. Plus, further explaining why there is an alter for Fontus or Fons near the Janiculum and the connection to spring and beginnings.

Janus & Vesta

Janus presides over the beginnings and guards the doors and entries. Janus would be invoked first in rites and Vesta would be invoked last. It has brought some curious observations. The presence of Vesta shows that there was importance for the hearth, its life-giving fire and thus the home. A community couldn’t survive or thrive without the safety of the household. To be able to exit the untamed and unknown wilds to the safety of the community and civilization.

Catholic Saint

As has been the case with many deities, Janus was made a martyr and then later the Saint Januarius by the Roman Catholic Church.

Janus was also made a martyr by the Roman Catholic Church and later became known Saint Januarius.

Medieval Icon

During the Medieval or Middle Ages, the Italian city of Genoa used the symbol of Janus or Ianua. Many other European communes also used the symbol of Ianua.

Indo-European Pantheon

For those interested in tracing an Indo-European religion and pantheon of gods that links the European deities with those of Vedic origins. There’s been a lot of study into it. As a god of beginnings and transitions, a primordial deity, Janus has been connected to the Vedic Vâyu. Most notably in the works of G. Dumézil. There certainly was a cross-pollination of ideas and religion when you see how much further east Greek culture was at one point and trade routes.

Portunus – Syno-Deity

Portunus is a similar deity to Janus. The difference is that Portunus presided over harbors and gateways in regard to traveling, commerce, trade and shipping. Like Janus, the key and staff are also one of Portunus’ symbols. Portunus’s festival day was held on August 17th.

Janus the Sailor – Because of how similar Janus and Portunus are, there is a hypothesis put forward that Janus may have originated as a god of winds and sailing, brought to the communities by the Tiber river. The connection has more to do with when Saturn sailed to ancient Latium and was welcomed by Janus.

Aditi – Hindu Goddess

The Vedic goddess of Infinity, Aditi is depicted as having two faces. She is seen as the feminine form of Brahma. Like Janus, Aditi is invoked at the beginning of ceremonies and she concludes them as well.

Ani – Etruscan God

In the little-known Etruscan mythology, Ani is the god of the sky and sometimes shown as having two faces. This has led some to conclude a possible connection between Ani and Janus.

Belinus – Chaldean God

Also called Baal-Ianus, a William Betham has made arguments that Janus’ cult would originate from the Middle East with the Chaldean culture.

Brahma – Hindu God

The imagery of double or four-faced deities in Hinduism is common. Brahma is the god who created the universe.

Culśanś – Etruscan God

In the little-known Etruscan mythology, Culśanś has been identified as being the counterpart to the Roman Janus. This connection seems more likely given Culśanś’ role as a god and protector of doorways and his depiction of having two faces.

Heimdallr – Nordic God

As guardian of the Bifrost bridge, the functions that Heimdallr has for standing in a place between time and space have been noted to be similar to Janus.

Isimud – Sumerian God

Also known as Usimu in Babylonian. A deity featuring two faces appears several times in Babylonian art. Isimud is the messenger of Enki.

Greek Connection – Which brings us to another point. However much the ancient Greeks and Romans tried to claim that Janus had no Middle Eastern connection, and that Janus is solely a Roman deity, there are some much later writers who would equate Hermes with Janus, especially so during the Hellenistic era of Greek culture.

Svetovid – Slavic God

Depicted as having four heads or faces, Svetovid is the Slavic god of war, fertility, and abundance.

Janus In Astronomy

On December 15th of 1966, the astronomer Audouin Dollfus discovered and identified, orbiting around Saturn, a moon that would later be called Janus. This moon is also known as Saturn X. It would take a little over a decade before it was recognized that Janus was one of two satellites or moons occupying close to the same orbit. The other is called Epimetheus. These names would become official in 1983. Janus also has two craters on it named for the characters of Castor and Pollux in mythology.