Category Archives: Nature
Etymology: Greek – “Lady” or from haireo – “chosen one”
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Ἥρᾱ, Hērā; Ἥρη, Hērē in Ionic and Homeric Greek
Epithets: Ἀλέξανδρος or Alexandros (“Protector of Men”), Hera Aigophágos, Αἰγοφάγος or Akraia (“She of the Heights”), Ἀμμωνία or Ammonia, Ἀργεία or Argéia (“She of Argos”), Argive Hera (“Hera Argeia”), Hera Antheia (“Hera of the Flowers”), Βασίλεια or Basíleia (“Queen”), βοῶπις or Boōpis (“Cow-Eyed” or “Cow-Faced), Βουναία or Bounáia (“She of the Mound” in Cornith), Hera Gamelia (“Hera of Marriage”), Hera Heniokhe (“Hera of the Chariot”), Hera Hyperkheireia (“Hera, Whose Hand is Above”), Hera Nympheuomene (“Hera the Betrothed”), Ἥρᾱ Παῖς or Hera Pais (“Child Hera” for her role as virgin), Ἥρᾱ Τελεία or Hera Teleia (“Adult Hera” as goddess of marriage), Ἥρᾱ Χήρη or Hera Chḗrē (“Widowed”), Λευκώλενος or Leukṓlenos (“White-Armed”), Παρθένος or Parthénos (“Virgin”), “Goat Eater,” “Queen of the Immortals,” “Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of the Gods,” “Queen of Olympus,” “Golden-Throned Hera,” “Bride of the Thunderer,” “The Supreme Goddess”
Not only is Hera the Queen of the Gods in Greek mythology, she is also the goddess of marriage, women, childbirth, and family. All roles that appear nigh impossible to preside over when one is married to Zeus, King of the Gods who goes about doing whatever he wants. It is easily understandable why some myths and stories will depict Hera constantly angry with Zeus, taking it out on his many “love affairs,” offspring, and even mortals who cross her path.
Animal: Cow, Crow, Cuckoo, Lion, Panther, Peacock
Patron of: Women
Plant: Lily, Lotus, Pomegranate
Sphere of Influence: Marriage, Childbirth, Family
Symbols: Peacock Feather, Diadem, Scepter, Throne, Veil
In some art, Hera is shown riding in a chariot pulled by peacocks. Hera is often shown with those animals sacred to her. As the Queen of the Gods, Hera is depicted as majestic and solemn, sitting on a throne wearing a polo (think a high cylindrical crown) or diadem with a veil hanging down behind her. Sometimes Hera is shown holding a pomegranate symbolizing marriage, fertility, and even death.
The most famous statue depicting Hera is the one carved by Polycletus. It is considered the noblest image and one that represents the ideal image of Hera as a mature woman with a beautiful forehead and large, wide-opened eyes. She is regarded as having a grave expression thought to command reverence.
In some instances, there is no imagery used for Hera to represent her, or she can be difficult to distinguish from other goddesses in Greek art. In Argos, Hera was represented as a pillar and on the island of Samos where Hera is said to have been born, she was represented by a plank of wood.
What’s In A Name
There are several possible etymological roots for Hera’s name. One given is the Greek word ὥρα or hora meaning “season,” or “year,” and likely meant to refer to being ripe for marriage. According to Plato, Hera’s name comes from ἐρατή or eratē for “beloved” as Zeus is supposed to have married her out of love. Yeah… we will get back to that myth later.
If we go by Plutarch, Hera’s name is an anagram of ἀήρ or aēr meaning “air.” That’s a little better.
Now we get into some suspect meanings that have been offered up. In Walter Burkert’s “Greek Religion,” he makes note of how scholars have argued for a meaning of Hera as the feminine of Heros meaning Master. Close on Burkett’s heels is John Chadwick who in deciphering the Linear B Greek script, says that Hera’s name may be related to the word ἥρως or hērōs and thus, the modern word of “hero.” It does get pointed out that this connection is too tenuous and obscure for any firm confirmation.
Then we have A. J. van Windekens who suggests the meaning of “young cow” or “heifer” for Hera as one of her epithets is βοῶπις or boōpis meaning “cow-eyed.”
Finally, we have R. S. P. Beekes who has put forward the idea of Hera being of Pre-Grecian origins. That her name may have meant “Lady” or “Mistress” That one makes sense too; we do have Hera’s name appearing in the Mycenaean Greek Linear B script and tablets found in Pylos and Thebes that seem to point to that meaning.
According to Herodotus, Hera is the only goddess not introduced to Greece from Egypt.
Like many deities and even words for that matter, the meanings and what they stand for change over time. On this hypothesis, however tentative, Hera goes from being an ancient earth goddess with vast power to a goddess of marriage ruling alongside Zeus with diminished influence.
We’re talking ancient ancient Mycenaean Greece of about 1500 B.C.E. to the ancient Greek and its city-states that many think of and are familiar with around 500 B.C.E. So, about a thousand years and a lot has happened. A lot has changed and even been lost.
Worship & First Temple
For all that Zeus tends to get top billing in Greek mythology and appears to be very prominent, after all, he is the King of the Gods! Archeological evidence shows that Hera may have been the first deity that the Greeks built and dedicated an enclosed, roofed temple. Said temple is found on the island of Samos and dates to around 800 B.C.E. It must be noted that this temple was later replaced by Heraion of Samos, being an even larger temple.
There is some archaeological confusion with dates as there have been many temples built on Samos. Rhoecus sculptors and architects destroyed the temple sometime between 570 to 560 B.C.E. and then replaced it with the Polycratean temple between 540 & 530 B.C.E. A lack of tiles suggests that the temple was never finished or that it was open to the sky. Other excavations at Samos have found votive offerings that date to the 7th and 8th centuries B.C.E.
There are “house sanctuaries” that date from the Mycenaean era. On mainland Greece, there is the “Argive Hera,” another sanctuary found between the Mycenaean cities of Argos and Mycenae. Festivals honoring Hera would be held there. There are two Doric temples dedicated to Hera that were constructed at Paestum around 550 B.C.E. to 450 B.C.E. One of these temples had long thought to be a Temple of Poseidon until the 1950’s when it was properly identified as belonging to Hera.
Further archaeological evidence shows that people would come from across the Mediterranean to make offerings at this site. These people likely came from Armenia, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt and Iran.
Argos – This city is held to be Hera’s favorite city. There is a sanctuary devoted to her in the Peloponnesus where she was worshipped as the city’s goddess and protector
Other Temples – Other temples dedicated to Hera are found at Mycene, Sparta, Paestum, Corinth, Tiryns, Perachora, and on the islands of Samos and Delos.
In book IV of the Iliad, Hera refers to Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae as “The three cities I love best.” Many of Hera’s temples and sanctuaries were located outside the city as she served as the city protector and for the privacy of various sacred cult observances.
The Temple of Hera – Located at Olympia, the seated figure of Hera is older than the warrior statue of Zeus that accompanies her.
Great Daedala – This sacred festival honoring Hera was celebrated every sixty years in Euboea. During this festival and ritual, wooden dolls would be dressed up as brides and then burned in a pyre. This festival reenacts a myth where Hera and Zeus had a fight before reconciling.
Heraia – This is a New Year’s Festival held every year to honor Hera. The Heraia held at Argos is known to have had a sacrificial procession where priestess of Hera rode in ox carts as young men carried the “Shield of Hera.” This culminated with a “hecatomb” where one hundred bulls were sacrificed. For this, the Argive Heraia was sometimes known as the “Hecatombaia.”
In the region of Kanathos, every spring there was a special rite where Hera would renew her virginity by bathing in the stream. The Heraia festivals were also celebrated at the cities of Corinth, Elis and Samos. Couples would re-enact the marriage of Hera and Zeus and every four years, there would be sporting competitions for women held in Hera’s honor.
Toneia – A festival held on the island of Samos, there would be a scavenger hunt where people searched for an image of Hera. When it was finally found, the statue would be washed and dressed in new clothes.
Parentage and Family
Ouranos (the Sky) and Gaia (the Earth)
Depending on the source, Hera can have a few different origins.
Cronus and Rhea – The often-recognized version of Hera’s parentage, especially when referencing Hesiod’s Theogony as the source.
Father – Aether (Arcadian origin)
Father – Coelus (Arcadian origin)
Father – Saturnus (Cretan origin)
Zeus – Also her brother, who becomes King of the Gods.
She is the third child born of Cronus and Rhea.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
Sidenote – Homer’s Iliad will have Hera stating she’s the oldest daughter of Cronus.
With Zeus, Hera is the mother of Angelos (Angelia) an Underworld goddess, Ares god of War, Arge a nymph, Eileithyia goddess of Childbirth, Eleutheria goddess of Liberty, Enyo goddess of War, Eris goddess of Discord, Hebe goddess of Youth, Hephaestus god of Fire and Forge
The Charites – Goddesses of beauty and grace. Usually given as being the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, or Dionysus and Coronis. The poet Colluthus places them as the daughters of Hera though no father is mentioned.
Pasithea – One of the Graces, the Greek writer Nonnus places her as a daughter of Hera. Sometimes Dionysus is given as her parent and there is uncertainty if both Hera and Dionysus are meant to be her parents together.
Prometheus – The Hellenistic poet Euphorion lists the giant Eurymedon who raped a young Hera as being the parents of this Titan. Though other sources place Iapetus and Clymene as Prometheus’ parents.
Typhon – A serpent monster whom Hera gives birth to parthenogenically.
Hera is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location for where the gods would preside at while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians vary. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
During the Hellenistic era of Greek history, Hera becomes associated with peacocks and has a chariot pulled by them. Peacocks were not part of any associations, symbols, or attributes until Alexander the Great’s conquests and expanding the Greek empire. The peacock is also interpreted as a symbol of pride.
Aristotle, Alexander’s tutor calls the peacock, the “Persian bird.” It is during the Renaissance era that the peacock imagery is more heavily used by painters to fully identify Hera with her Roman counterpart, Juno.
Before this, Hera’s chariot had been pulled by horses.
This bird has been associated with Hera the longest and before her associations with peacocks. It mainly comes from Zeus’ “wooing” Hera to get her to fall in love and marry him.
Yeah, I’ll cover that story more later down. So many of Zeus’ “affairs,” seducing, and “ravishing” women are too often a euphemism for rape.
One of Hera’s epitaphs is Boôpis meaning “cow-eyed.” On the island of Euboea, just off the coast of Greece, the region was known for having an abundance of cattle. Then in Cyprus, archaeologists have found several cattle skulls that have been used as masks. All of this has caused some to see a connection to the Egyptian goddess Hathor.
Queen of the Gods
Being married to Zeus does have some perks. With Zeus being the ruler of the Olympian gods, that places Hera as the Queen of the gods and keeping some of her prominence and influence. Though with much of the known Greek culture, they were a patriarchy, and unfortunately, we don’t often see the might and power of Hera in surviving myths except as being petty, cruel, and vindictive. In fairness, this aspect gets attributed to a lot of the Greek gods, so it says something for the level of cruelty and vindicativeness that Hera becomes known for.
Looking at the story of Jason & The Argonauts, we do see a time when Hera did hold a lot of influence, sending Jason on his quest and the favors she grants him there. An old Ray Harryhaussen movie for Jason and the Argonauts depicts Hera as begging Zeus to allow her to be the one to guide the heroes on their quest. After having watched the movie, I can’t help but feel that they should have stayed closer to the source material.
Ancient Earth Goddess
It is the scholar Walter Burkert who makes the claim that both Hera and Demeter have characteristics that link them to a Pre-Greek Great Goddess. Then we have the British scholar Charles Francis Keary suggest the idea of Hera as an Earth Goddess worshiped in ancient times. Keary further suggests this connection with Hera having been a Pelasgian goddess. This makes sense with Demeter given her connection to the Eleusinian mysteries and how it predates Grecian culture. Plus, it makes sense for Hera given how her temples are among some of the oldest in Greece, even dating to the Mycenaean era.
Some of the ancients viewed Hera as a personification of the atmosphere, the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess of the Stars, and as the Goddess of the Moon.
With Hera clearly being the Queen of the Olympian Pantheon and the ideas put out connecting her as an ancient earth goddess, do make sense. Those cultures that are more agriculturally inclined are more often going to be matriarchal versus those cultures that are more nomadic and thus have a stronger tendency to be more patriarchal and war-like fighting over land and territory.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen puts forward the idea that Hera was the goddess of a matriarchal culture; given her place in Greek religion and in the region before the rise of Hellenistic Greece that most think of as Ancient Greece.
It should be noted that the idea of a Great Mother Goddess among the ancient Greeks is seen as controversial even among modern scholars. But it’s worth taking note of when looking at various myths and why it is that so often, Hera comes across as jealous and petty towards Zeus and all his “affairs.”
Birth Of A Goddess
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Hera and all her siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a prophesy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour his children whole as soon as they are born. This happens five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetit, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Rhea takes and hides Zeus, so that later when he is older, he can come to fulfill the prophecy of killing his father Cronus. During the battle, Zeus splits open Cronos’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia.
There is a ten-year long war known as the Titanomachy, and by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Hera takes her place as Queen of the gods and the others take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
Raising Hera – Childhood
Going by the Homeric poems, the Titans, Ocean and Tethys raised Hera and that she never knew who her birth parents are. As such, Hera marries Zeus later without knowing of the connection between them as brother and sister.
Looking at other traditions around the Mediterranean, the Arcadians say that Hera was raised by Temenus, the son of Pelagus. The Argives say that Hera was raised by Euboea, Prosymna and Acraea, the daughters of the river Asterion, And then, looking at Olen, he says that the Horae were Hera’s nurses.
Plus, many places in Greece such as Argos and Samos claim to be the birthplace of Hera. This makes sense as Hera was also prominently worshiped in these two cities.
Goddess Of Marriage
As the goddess of marriage, Hera is the protector of married women. She would preside over weddings and their arrangements and bless the unions. On the surface, that seems great until you look at the Greek myths and what life was like for Grecian women. Here it’s a bit spotty as we don’t have good records to show, but the general idea and belief are that Grecian women held fewer rights than men in regard to voting, owning land or inheritance, and were relegated to the home, raising children. Plus, this could vary by the Greek city-state in question such as Sparta, women being held in higher regard. Or we just erroneously assume that’s how it is given the nature of the myths and stories that have survived.
The biggest one is that while Hera is married and presumably faithful, Zeus however, is not and is frequently depicted having a roaming eye, chasing after every woman that catches his interest. How much of this is the result of mythological hijackings and the subsuming of many local myths to bring them all under an all-encompassing myth to try and justify or show nearly every hero, mortal or certain gods being a descendant of Zeus or not, is hard to say. Especially thousands of years later.
It is also worth noting that for all the reputations that many of the other Olympian deities have with affairs and resultant offspring, Hera is the only goddess who doesn’t cheat on her spouse, managing to keep fidelity on her part in the marriage with Zeus. Though given the reputation for being petty, vindictive and jealous, this attribute of fidelity is overlooked or dismissed.
Marriage To Zeus
As stated above, Hera is married to Zeus who is also her brother. For gods and immortals, this works out. There just weren’t very many other options. For those who are mortal and human, Ewww…. Inbreeding. Don’t do it!
Depending on the source, for Zeus, Hera is his second wife. Zeus had to trick Hera into marrying him as she had refused the first proposal. Knowing that Hera holds an affinity for animals and other beings, Zeus first created a thunderstorm and then transformed into a cuckoo. Pretending to be hurt, the cuckoo fluttered on Hera’s window where she would spot the “poor thing.” Naturally, Hera picked up the bird and held it close to her to warm it up. It is at that moment that Zeus transforms back to his godly self and rapes Hera. Shamed by what happened, Hera agreed to marry Zeus.
As a goddess connected to nature, it is said that all the earth burst to life and greenery and blossoms for their wedding and many lavish gifts were given. The Greek writer Callimachus says their wedding feast lasted for three thousand years. Gaia brought the Apples of Hesperides as a wedding gift.
Given how this marriage came by duress, I just don’t see how it will be a lasting or happy marriage.
Some myths will try to say that Zeus feared Hera’s wrath. It just comes across as a poor excuse to defend Zeus’ promiscuous nature, even if it really is just the ancient mythographers trying to connect every local god, hero, and ruler as being related to him. The same mythographers also add that Hera held great jealousy towards all of Zeus’ “lovers” and any resulting children.
With how Zeus is said to be powerless to stop Hera’s wrath, these could be holdovers remnants of ancient stories where Hera is resisting Zeus and the arrival of patriarchy. Hera is always said to be aware of Zeus’ actions, if not constantly on the look out for his antics when he descends down to the earth.
Close on the heels of Hera’s role as the goddess of marriage, she was also known as a matron goddess or Hera Teleia, the “adult Hera.”
That is interesting, digging further into this, aside from the fragments of a practice for a sacred marriage with Zeus, we find at Platea there is a sculpture of Hera seated in her role as a bride and another statue of a matronly standing Hera.
We find in Stymphalia, Arcadia where Hera was worshiped at a triple shrine, first as Hera the Girl (Hera Pais), the Adult Woman (Hera Teleia), and the Separated (Chḗrē, Divorced or Widowed).
Near the region Argos in Hermione, there is a temple of Hera as Hera the Virgin. Every spring in the region of Kanathos, close to the city of Nauplia, there is a rite where Hera would renew her virginity.
So, What Went Wrong?
Most people who have any understanding of the Greek myths know Hera to be a jealous woman and vengeful against Zeus for his many “affairs” where she would often punish Zeus’ “lovers” and children rather than confront her husband outright.
Like any of the Greek gods, yeah, Hera could favor or punish mortals at a whim too. However, in Hera’s case, this something really pointed out and noted between her and Zeus.
Why? The evidence is anecdotal and relies on looking at the surviving myths and connections of Hera being an Ancient Earth Goddess and worshiped first in the ancient, ancient Mycenean Greece and accepting the ideas of an early Matriarchal Greek culture.
There is a Neolithic, Cycladic culture that is best known for its female idols. Couple these archeological finds with Hera and her vehemence towards Zeus and his numerous affairs. Now it appears to be clear that the Greek myths we get of Zeus & Hera are the result of revisionist history and storytelling.
From that standpoint, then we see Hera as the goddess of marriage, being the arrival and introduction of patriarchy where Zeus becomes the leader and King of the gods, ruling over everything, and Hera is to somehow be subordinate to him.
Accepting this, we can see so much of Hera’s anger and jealousy as a holdover to a time when she and thus her cults resisted a theological takeover in Greek culture as Zeus rises to prominence, even replacing his brother Poseidon who in some early myths was once ruler.
There’s hints and evidence of all of these theological takeovers with the various myths, which Grecian scholar is writing down what and the apparent discrepancies as Greece and then Rome expanded, trying to absorb all of these local myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own myths and deities.
Homer – There is also influence from Homer’s writings where Hera is not treated as respectfully which leads to later retellings of the myths focusing more on Hera being vengeful as she is supposed to uphold the old rules of Hellenistic Greek culture.
Greek Culture – The way Hera’s stories are presented does show the misogynistic culture of the ancient Greeks and where a woman’s place is. Hera is the only properly married goddess in the Olympian Pantheon if you make an exception for Aphrodite. As such, Hera is expected and does show fidelity to Zeus even throughout all his affairs. However, much Zeus cheats on Hera, she remains faithful. Because of an oath that Hera swore to Zeus when she tried to initiate a revolt in the heavens, Hera is unable to move against Zeus. But she does frequently act against his “lovers” and children. With some futility against those such as Alcmene, Leto, Io and Herakles, it does show the limits of justice that women could expect and just whom the Greeks blamed in any of Zeus’ “affairs,” who was responsible.
Grandmother Of Monsters
Wait… isn’t that Echidna the mother of monsters? Yes, however looking at the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo, Hera, in her older, more ancient form from Minoa is mother to the monstrous draconic looking Typhon, giving birth to him solely herself in an act of parthenogenesis. Not the only time for Hera. From there, Hera is to have given her monstrous child to the serpent Python to raise.
In the Iliad, Typhon is born in Cilicia and is the son of Cronus. Gaia is angry with the destruction of her children, the Giants slanders and insults Zeus in front of Hera. This results in Hera going to Cronus and he gives her two eggs fertilized with his own semen and instructs Hera to bury the eggs. Hera buries the eggs in Cilicia. By the time Typhon is born and begins his reign of terror and problems, Hera has reconciled with Zeus, and she informs him about the issue.
Sometime after Zeus has succeeded over coming all the previous challenges from Gaia, the various giants and titans to become ruler of the heavens, a young Zeus had gotten rather prideful, temperamental and arrogant in his rulership.
Enter Apollo, Hera, and Poseidon (and depending on the source, all the other gods except Hestia join in) decide that Zeus needs to be taught a lesson.
Hera’s part was to drug Zeus so that he fell into a deep sleep. While Zeus is sleeping, they come in to steal his thunderbolts and tie him up with some one hundred knots. Powerless, Zeus lays there until the Neriad, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, calls the Hecatoncheire, Briareus who comes and unties Zeus.
With Briareus’ support, Zeus is able to put an end to the rebellion and punish those involved. Most notable is Hera’s punishment as she led the rebellion. Zeus hung her up int the sky with golden chains. Hera’s weeping kept Zeus up all night and the next morning, he agreed to end the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
This is the story of why Hera is to have her “petty jealousies” against Zeus and his many affairs. If she can’t outright go up against Zeus, she takes it out on those unable to stop her.
This story seems to be a remnant of when Zeus and Hera got along relatively well before later additions where Hera gets her reputation for being petty and vindictive.
After a fight with Zeus, Hera left and went to Euboea. Nothing that Zeus said would get Hera to change her mind. She had had it. A local king, named Cithaeron suggested that Zeus make a wooden statue of a woman and pretend to marry it. That gives an idea of what they were fighting about.
Following this advice, Zeus named a wooden statue Plataea, claiming that she was the daughter of Asopus. When Hera heard this news, she came tearing in, interrupting the ceremony only to discover that it was only a lifeless statue and not a rival lover.
Hera and Zeus are to have reconciled and those gathered, celebrated with the two in a festival to become known as Daedala. During this festival, there is a reenactment of the myth where a wood statue of Hera is chosen, bathed in the river Asopus and then placed in a chariot where it is led around in a procession before being ritually burned.
Echo & Hera
This version of the story originates from Roman mythology from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. As it’s Roman, the Roman names for the gods are Jupiter or Jove (Zeus in Greece) and Juno (Hera in Greece). Anyone familiar with Greco-Roman mythologies knows of Jupiter’s reputation and his numerous affairs among mortals and gods alike; much to his wife, Juno’s displeasure. For most lay people, the two pantheons are virtually one and the same.
This is the main story about Echo that most everyone knows, it explains the origin of echoes or repeating sounds in mountains and valleys or anywhere an echo can be heard.
On one occasion, as Zeus is pursuing one of his latest affairs with a nymph, Hera comes among the nymphs looking for her husband as she hoped to catch him in the act. As the case was, Echo had been tasked by Zeus himself to keep Hera distracted with a lot of idle chatter while Zeus engages in his latest tryst. Hera wasn’t happy with the overly talkative nymph and when she discovers that Echo is merely distracting her; Hera punishes Echo that she would always be able to have the last word, but she would only be able to repeat the last thing said.
Birth Of Hephaestus
The timing of this story takes place right after Zeus is to have given birth to Athena without the need for sex. Except that, Zeus swallowed Metis who was pregnant with Athena who springs forth out of Zeus’ brow, all to avoid a prophecy that Gaia gave him.
In an act of parthenogenesis, Hera gives birth to Hephaestus. On seeing him, Hera was so repulsed by the sight of her infant son that she threw him from Mount Olympus where he would become crippled.
It’s understandable that someone would grow up bitter towards the mother that rejected and threw them off a mountainside. Hephaestus got his revenge when he created a magical golden throne for Hera.
No hard feelings, right?
Nope, when Hera sat on the throne, she was unable to get up. The other gods begged and pleaded with Hephaestus for Hera’s release. Enter Dionysus who gets Hephaestus drunk and brings them back to Olympus riding a mule. Hephaestus agrees to release Hera after he is given Aphrodite in marriage.
Birth Of Hebe
While dining with Apollo, Hera became pregnant with Hebe, the goddess of Youth while eating some lettuce. Hera may have also become pregnant when she beat her hand against the earth. An act considered solemn to the Greeks.
Birth Of Apollo & Artemis
There are a few different versions of this story.
In the version of this story from the Homeric Hymn III to Delian Apollo, Hera is described as detaining Eileithyia the goddess of childbirth, from letting Leto birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis as their father is Zeus. As the other goddesses were present there at Delos, they send Iris to go fetch Eileithyia and bring her back so Leto can give birth.
Another version has Hera commanding all the nature spirits to prevent Leto from giving birth on any mainland, island or anywhere under the sun for that matter. Enter Poseidon who takes pity on Leto and guides her to the floating island of Delos. Here, Leto is finally able to give birth to her children. Afterword, Zeus secures Delos to the bottom of the sea.
The third version holds that Hera kidnaps Eileithyia to prevent Leto from being able to go into labor. The other gods got together and bribed Hera with a lovely, yet irresistible necklace to persuade her to give up Eileighyia and let the twins be born.
Either way, of the twins, it is Artemis who is born first, the moon, and then her brother, Apollo, the sun. Some versions will have Artemis then miraculously be old enough to help her mother give birth to Apollo after a period of nine days. Or that Artemis was born one day before Apollo on the island of Ortygia and that she helps Leto get to Delos to give birth to Apollo.
Hera’s Continued Spite Towards Leto
If that isn’t enough, Hera tries to get one of Zeus’ many prodigies, a giant by the name of Tityos to rape Leto on her way to the Delphi Oracle. Luckily Apollo and Artemis are there to slay Tityos as they protect their mother.
Hesiod’s Theogony – The birth of the twins, Apollo and Artemis is contradicted in this text as they’re born before Zeus is married to Hera. So why by this continuity she would have any animosity towards Leto doesn’t make sense.
Hera & Herakles
Better known by the Roman spelling of his name, Hercules. This hero is the most well-known for showcasing the vehemence, spite, and hatred that Hera could hold towards others. Hera is the stepmother to Herakles and no matter how the hero’s name means “Glory of Hera,” it wouldn’t be enough to placate her.
Birth of a hero – For this, we have three versions of this heroic origin story.
Homer’s Iliad – Right before Herakles was to be born, Zeus announced that when his son is born, that they would become the ruler of Argos (or Tiryns in some versions). Angered, Hera requested that Zeus swear an oath to enforce that proclamation. She then went down from Olympus to Argos caused the wife of Sthenelus, the son of Perseus, to give birth seven months early. As Sthenelus’ wife went into labor, Hera went to sit in the doorway of Alcimides’ home, preventing Eileithyia from coming in. so that his half-brother, Eurystheus would be born first and thus become ruler. This resulted in Eurystheus being born first instead of Herakles all while fulfilling Zeus’ oath.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses – When Alcmene is pregnant with Herakles, Hera tries to prevent the birth by ordering Eileithyia to “Alcmene’s legs in knots.” Hera’s plans were thwarted when Galanthis, Alcmene’s servant frighted off Eileithyia. Angry, Hera turned Galanthis into a weasel.
Pausanias’ Account – In this account, Hera sends witches (according to the translation available) to prevent Alcmene from giving birth to Herakles. The witches were successful until the daughter of Tiresias, Historis came up with a trick to deceive the witches. Historis called out that Alcmene had given birth and hearing that, the witches left, allowing Alcmene to really give birth.
Snakes In A Crib
Hera wasn’t done yet. This time she sent a pair of serpents into the infant Herakles’ crib. Imagine Alcmene’s surprise as she walks in to find her infant son holding a pair of dead snakes in his chubby baby hands playing with them like they were toys.
Side Note: This story and the imagery it invokes is something that the ancient Thebans would have been familiar with. That is a hero holding a serpent in each hand much like the Minoan goddess holding snakes and other Cabeiri.
The Milky Way
If that weren’t enough, by this time, Alcmene has become terrified of Hera. Not wanting to suffer Hera’s wrath further, Alcmene takes the infant Herakles out to the wilderness and leaves him there, exposing him to the elements. The goddess Athena, known for protecting heroes, found the infant and brought them to Hera who nursed the baby out of pity.
Once Hera realized which baby she was nursing, she pulled the infant away from her. The spurt of milk from her breast smeared across the heavens, creating the Milky Way. It is from the divine milk of Hera that Herakles is said to have gained great power.
After that, Athena brought the infant Herakles back to his mother.
Side Note: The Etruscan version of Herakles is shown as being fully bearded when he’s nursing. It has been suggested that later when Hera and Herakles do finally reconcile, this symbolizes when she adopted him, and he becomes immortal.
Driving Herakles Mad
All seemed well for a while, that is until Herakles became an adult. Hera drove Herakles mad, causing him to believe that his family were his enemies so that he murdered his wife and children.
Herakles’ Twelve Labors
To atone for his acts of murder, Hera assigned Herakles to go into servitude to his half-brother, King Eurystheus. This resulted in a series of twelve tasks or labors. In each of the labors, Hera strove to make each task harder. When Herakles went up against the Lernaean Hydra, Hera sent the crab to bite his feet to distract the hero.
Later, Hera would rile up the Amazons against Herakles during one of his labors. In another labor, when Herakles is sent to get the cattle of Geryon, Hera is shot in her right breast by a large, barbed arrow that leaves her in constant pain. In retaliation, Hera sent a gadfly to irritate the cattle causing them to scatter. Then Hera caused a flood of the river making it so Herakles wouldn’t be able to carry the cattle across it. Herakles eventually dropped a bunch of large stones into the river to make the river shallower. The cattle were then taken to Eurystheus and sacrificed to Hera.
The Cretan Bull is another of Herakles’ labors and Eurystheus wanted to sacrifice it to Hera. She refused of course as it would only glorify Herakles’ deeds. So the bull was let go and it wandered over to Marathon becoming the Marathonian Bull.
Gigantomachy & Reconciliation
Despite all of the animosity, Herakles does eventually win over Hera. The opportunity came during the Gigantomachy when Gaia sent the Gigantes to attack the Olympians after the defeat of the Titans. One such Giant was Porphyrion, the King of the Gigantes who attempted to rape Hera. Herakles killed Porphyrion with an arrow. An ever-grateful Hera offers the hand of her daughter, Hebe in marriage to Herakles as a further step to heal the rift between them.
This would make Herakles “Hera’s man” and the name meaning “Glory of Hera” more fitting and understandable. That maybe there was another name Herakles was known by or that all along, the name is a foreshadowing of how the story will end between them.
It is also worth noting that after the story of Herakles, Diodorus Siculus writes that Alcmene is the last mortal woman that Zeus had an “affair.”
Zeus & Io
Ever vigilante for Zeus’ next “affair,” Hera spotted a solitary thundercloud and knew that this could only be the latest. As Hera sped down to catch Zeus in the act, she arrived to find Zeus with a small, white cow. Naturally, Hera isn’t fooled, she knows that Zeus has likely transformed his latest love interest and demands that he give her the cow as a present. Unable to refuse, Zeus relents and gives Hera the cow.
The cow, Io in her possession, Hera takes and ties her to a tree where she has her servant, Argus watch over the heifer in order to keep Zeus away. Argus was a giant with a hundred eyes over his entire body. Even when asleep, some of his eyes would always be awake and watching.
Afraid and unwilling to face Hera’s wrath, Zeus ordered Hermes to lull Argus into a deep sleep so that all of his eyes would close. If anyone could do it, it would be Hermes, he succeeded at getting all of Argus’ eyes to close in sleep and the god killed him.
Furious that Io is free, Hera sends a gadfly to harry and sting her as she wandered the land. Eventually, Io would make her way to Egypt where the Egyptians would worship this snow-white cow and call her Isis. Hera finally relented and allowed Zeus to change Io back into a human on the condition that he never seeks her out again. Human again and worshipped as a goddess-queen in Egypt, the son that Io bore thanks to Zeus would become the next king or pharaoh of Egypt.
These stories linking Grecian myths with those of Egypt are just that, a means by which the Greeks and later Romans would say that all the myths were connected, and local gods are the same deities, just under a different name.
Ovid’s Metamorphosis – In this retelling, after learning about Argus’ death, Hera places his eyes on the tail feathers of peacocks, one of her sacred animals.
Callisto & Arcas
Another of Zeus’ many love interests and affairs, Callisto was a follower of Artemis and had taken a vow of chastity. Enter Zeus who disguises himself as Apollo and then “seduces” her.
Out of revenge, Hera turns Callisto into a bear. Later on, Zeus and Callisto’s son, Arcas nearly kills Callisto while hunting. Zeus then places the two up into the heavens.
A slighter alternative to this story is that Zeus disguised himself as Artemis before “seducing” Callisto. That an enraged Artemis turns Callisto into a bear. We still have Arcas nearly killing his bear mother while hunting with either Zeus or Artemis placing them up into the heavens to become the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Hera becomes angry with Callisto and Arcas’ placement up in the heavens and asks her foster mother, Tethys the Titan goddess of the oceans for help. Tethys places a curse on the constellations so that they will forever circle the heavens and never drop below the horizon. Thus explaining why the two constellations are what’s known as circumpolar.
Semele & Dionysus
In this myth, Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia is “seduced” by Zeus. Hera learns of this and disguises herself as Semele’s nurse and tells the young woman to persuade Zeus to reveal himself to her. The mighty Zeus promised, swearing on the River Styx, the young Semele to reveal himself in all of his godly glory. However, Semele dies when Zeus reveals himself as thunder and lightning to her. Zeus takes the unborn child and completes Dionysus’ gestation by being sewn into Zeus’ thigh.
Another version of Dionysus’ birth has him as the son of Zeus and either Demeter or Persephone. An infuriated Hera sends her Titans to rip the infant apart, earning him the name Zagreus or “Torn to Pieces.” Zeus rescues the heart or part of it at least is saved by either Athena, Demeter, or Rhea. Whichever version of the story is followed, Zeus uses the heart to recreate Dionysus and places him in Semele’s womb. This also earns Dionysus the name “twice-born.” Alternatively, Zeus gives Semele the heart to eat, thereby impregnating her. The end story is still the same with Hera tricking Semele to get Zeus to reveal himself, thus killing her.
Later, Dionysus would return to the Underworld to retrieve his mother and the two would go to live on Mount Olympus.
The Judgement Of Paris
First, we have a prophecy, one that stated that the son of the sea-nymph Thetis would become greater than his father. Zeus with his reputation for an ever-roving eye fell in love while watching her in the sea just off the Grecian coast, learned of this prophecy, and decided to wed Thetis to an elderly mortal king, Peleus, the son of Aeacus. Sources vary, Thetis agrees to this arrangement either out of Zeus’ orders or because Hera had raised her, and did so to please Hera, the goddess of Marriage.
The gods were feasting at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, who would become the parents of Achilles. All the gods were invited except Eris who hadn’t received an invite. Chiron oversaw the wedding invites and didn’t invite Eris due to her reputation for stirring up trouble. This understandably miffed Eris to no end. After all, everyone else got invited, so why not her?
Coming off as seeking to be peaceful and with no hard feelings, Eris proposed a beauty contest between the goddesses Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. As the prize, Eris tossed a golden apple of beauty, or better known, the golden apple of discord. In some retellings, it is noted that the golden apple has engraved or written the word: “Kallisti,” meaning: “for the fairest.”
This dispute, one driven by vanity over who was the loveliest of the goddess would escalate and the gods bring the matter before Zeus to decide. Not wanting to favor one goddess over the others, Zeus has the hapless mortal Paris called in to judge. Each of the goddesses attempted to bribe Paris to choose her. Hera offered political power, Athena offered battle prowess and Aphrodite tempted Paris with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen.
Being a young mortal man, Paris chooses Helen and rewards Aphrodite with the golden apple. Only there is one problem, Helen is the wife of Menelaus of Sparta. In claiming and taking her, Paris sparks off the Trojan War. This causes Athena and Hera to side with the Greeks in the ensuing war.
Divine Set-Up – If we go by the “lost” epic, The Cypria attributed to Stasinus, this whole Trojan War was planned by Zeus and Themis. There are only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and it’s seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events come about.
Hera has a significant part in the Trojan War, making a number of appearances throughout The Iliad. First, we know that Hera is angry towards the Trojans due to Paris’ decision to favor Aphrodite and not her. Hence why Hera favors the Greeks and convinces Athena to aid the Achaeans to help interfere against the Trojans.
Later, Hera and Athena plot against Ares who was supposed to side with them initially but was convinced by Aphrodite to help her and thus the Trojans. Diomedes was able to see Ares aiding the Trojans and called for his soldiers to fall back. Seeing this, Hera asked Zeus for permission to drive Ares off the battlefield. At Hera’s encouragement, Diomedes threw his spear at Ares and Athena made sure the spear found its mark. Howling in pain, Ares fled back to Mount Olympus, causing the Trojans to fall back.
In another book, Hera attempts to persuade Poseidon to go against Zeus’ word and aid the Achaeans. Poseidon refuses, saying that he won’t. A still determined Hera and Athena head off towards the battlefield. Seeing this, Zeus sends Iris to intercept the two, telling them they must return to Olympus or face the consequences. After more fighting happens, Hera spots Poseidon doing what he told her he wouldn’t do and that is helping the Greeks and keeping them motivated to stay fighting.
Jumping to another book, Zeus has made a decree that the gods are not to get involved in the mortals’ war. Hera conceives of a plan in which she will seduce her husband. Hera lies to Aphrodite, saying she wants the help so that she and Zeus will stop fighting and Aphrodite loans Hera her girdle. Some additional help from Hypnos, the god of sleep, Zeus fell into a deep sleep. Now Hera and the other gods could continue to interfere in the Trojan War.
Free to do as she pleases, Hera has her son Hephaestus keep a river from harming Achilles. Hephaestus also sets the battlefield on fire, this causes the local river deity to plead with Hera, saying that he won’t help the Trojans if Hephaestus would cease his attacks. Hera persuades Hephaestus to stop and Hera returns to the field of battle, fighting with and against the other gods.
Zeus does eventually wake up and sees how much of the war he’s missed and that several of the gods are involved despite his decree not to. Seeing that he missed saving Sarpedon’s life, Zeus just does a deific shrug and says yeah, the other gods can get involved now.
Despite all of the interference, the Greeks won.
Once the Queen of Libya, Lamia was another of Zeus’ many lovers. An infuriated Hera killed Lamia’s children and then turned her a monster. Driven insane, Lamia was also cursed to be unable to close her eyes so she would be forced to forever obsess over the image of her dead children. Lamia turned to killing children and eating them as she was held to be envious of other mothers with children. Zeus taking pity, gave her the ability to prophesy as well as remove her eyes so she could sleep.
A minor story, Gerana was a Queen of the Pygmies. In an act of hubris, Gerana boasted of being more beautiful than Hera. An angry goddess responded by turning Gerana into a crane, stating that forever after, the crane’s descendants would be at war with the Pygmy people.
In this quick story, Antigone, the daughter of Laomedon boasted of being the most beautiful, and like Gerana, Hera turned Antigone into a stork.
Also spelled Side and meaning “pomegranate,” she was Orion’s first wife. Like Antigone and Gerana, Sida also boasted of being more beautiful than Hera. Unlike the other two, Hera sent Sida straight to the Underworld.
In this story, Cydippe is a priestess of Hera who was headed to a festival honoring the goddess. The ox pulling her cart were late and Cydippe’s sons, Biton and Cleobis pulled the cart the rest of the way to the festival. Cydippe was pleased with her sons’ devotion and asked Hera for a boon, the best gift a mortal could receive. Hera decreed that both brothers would die in their sleep.
This is an interesting myth, Tiresias was a priest of Zeus. One day, he came upon a pair of snakes who were mating. He hit them with a stick and was turned into a woman. Tiresias then became a priestess of Hera, married and bore children, one of whom she named Manto. Seven years later, Tiresias came upon another pair of mating snakes. Now, depending on who is retelling the story, Tiresias either leaves the snakes alone, remaining a woman, or, as Hyginus tells it, tramples the snakes to become a man once more.
Battle Of The Sexes – As a result of his experiences, Zeus and Hera called on Tiresias to settle the question of who had more pleasure during sex. Men or Women? Zeus claimed it was women and Hera said it was men. Tiresias sided with Zeus and an angry Hera struck them blind. Since Zeus couldn’t undo what Hera did, he gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy.
Other sources say that Tiresias sides with Zeus in saying that men have more pleasure during sex and for that, Zeus allows him to live three times longer than other mortals. Yet another source says that Tiresias, having returned to being male, is struck blind by Athena after coming across her bathing. Chariclo, Tiresias’ mother begged Athena to undo the curse and as the goddess could not, she gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy.
In a rather minor story or substory, during the marriage of Zeus and Hera, the nymph Chelone was regarded as being disrespectful by either being late or flat out not showing up. In anger, Zeus turned the nymph into a tortoise.
In this story, Hera became angry with Pelias as he had killed his step=mother, Sidero in one of the goddess’ temples. Given how power-hungry Pelias was, it was easy for Hera to plot and plan his downfall. A prophecy was given to Pelias about a one-sandaled man would kill him. Wanting to rule of all Thessaly, he seized the throne of Iolcus. Jason, the rightful heir was sent away and grew up under the tutelage of the centaur, Chiron. Many years later, Jason returned to Iolcus, and with a series of events and motions, such as his losing a sandal in the river while helping an old woman to cross, really Hera in disguise, the goddess was able to get Jason and Medea to ultimately kill Pelias after they returned from a long voyage to get The Golden Fleece.
Ovid’s The Metamorphoses
Given that Ovid is Roman, this story fits more for Hera’s Roman counterpart Juno.
The rulers of Thrace, King Haemus and Queen Rhodope were turned into mountains, the Balkan and Rhodope respectively after the two dared compare themselves to Juno & Jupiter, thus incurring their wrath.
The first human guilty of murder, after he refused to pay a bride price. Ixion searched everywhere for anyone who could purify him of this crime. No one would or could until Zeus took pity on him and invited Ixion up to Olympus to live.
While there, Ixion tried putting some moves on Hera who complained to her husband, Zeus. In response, Zeus created a cloud named Nephele in Hera’s likeness. When Zeus caught Ixion trying to put some unwanted moves on Nephele, Zeus sentenced Ixion down to Tartarus to spin forever on a flaming wheel crying out how you should always show gratitude to your benefactor.
Shadow Goddess – Jealousy & Envy
With all the numerous stories of Hera’s jealousy towards Zeus, his various love affairs and children, Hera is seen as a goddess who represents jealousy, the need for revenge as she has never forgotten a slight or injury. All of this gives Hera a particularly vindictive nature, seemingly more so and notable compared to the other Olympian gods.
Like Zeus, how much a victim of the passage of time and the tellings and retellings of her myths over the millennia is hard to say. Most people aren’t aware of how the story between Hera and Herakles ends with them finally having reconciliation. I’ve had people mock the name of Herakles and the meaning of the name, for “Glory of Hera” and don’t seem to be aware of the part of the stories where Hebe is given to Herakles in marriage after he saves Hera from the giant Porphyrion trying to rape her.
“Hercules the Legendary Journeys” is a bit infuriating there with the ending where the reconciliation between Zeus, Hera, and Hercules all comes about with her getting amnesia. They could have built up a more meaningful ending that more closely matched the myths the writers were pulling from. That they didn’t just shows to me lazy writing on the part of the screenwriters. Many other shows and movies tend to gloss over the moral and marital problems as that usually is not the focus of the story at hand that writers want to tackle and tell.
Yet the reconciliation is there. It is in Herakles’ name as a foreshadowing of how the story ends and possible, potential hints of when Greek culture went from being matriarchal to patriarchal and stories getting rewritten.
We see an aspect that modern Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism would recognize as the Triple Goddess with Hebe, the Virgin of Spring, Hera, the Mother of Summer, and Hecate, the Crone of Autumn. Bear in mind, that this aspect comes from Robert Graves in his “The Greek Myths.”
Gaia – Greek Goddess
I’m my own Grandma!
Not really, leave it to the Greeks to continue with blending all their deities as being one and the same, to blur or ignore their own genealogies for their Pantheon. Gaia is the primordial goddess of the Earth and from whom all life sprang forth. Again, it works if you’re just seeing all of these deities as just different aspects of the divine.
In the case of Hera; older, more archaic versions place her as an ancient Earth Goddess. The Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo places Hera as the mother to Typhon, while most myths place Gaia as being his mother.
Hathor – Egyptian
In her role as a cow goddess or goddess of cattle, Hera has been identified with Hathor. Other than that, the similarities end there.
Juno – Roman
Where Hera is the Queen of the Gods in the Greek Pantheon, her Roman counterpart is Juno who is depicted as more warlike wearing a goatskin cloak as seen on those worn by Roman soldiers. The month of June gains its name from this goddess. There was a festival known as Matronalia, celebrated on March 1st honoring Juno as Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth. Juno Pronuba presided over marriage much like her Greek counterpart and Juno Regina was a special counselor and protector of the Roman state.
Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Hera with Juno. The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars, and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that they would virtually become one and the same. And this has become the tradition passed down through the centuries that many people know and accept. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Uni – Etruscan
A cognate for Hera in the little-known Etruscan beliefs and mythology.
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.
Animal: Goose, Swan
Day of the Week: Friday
Sphere of Influence: Nature, Forests, Wildlife, Spinning, Weaving
Symbols: Staff, Knife,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pronunciation: kuɾuˈpiɾɐ (Portuguese pronunciation)
Also Called: Korupira, Korupira or Urupira.
Etymology: Tupi “kuru’pir” meaning “covered in blisters”, tupi-guarani “curu” Child and “pira” body
The Curupira is a legendary creature found in Brazilian folklore. Most of the stories will describe Curupira as being demonic in nature. A rationale that only makes sense if you’re the one going out exploiting nature and over hunting in the jungle.
Curupira is very clearly a nature spirit and protector of the jungle’s wildlife who takes his role very seriously. Given the number of stories where a hunter dies or vanishes that are attributed to Curupira’s doing, it’s easy to see why he is seen as demonic or in a gray area of attitude towards humans.
The folklore surrounding Curupira is first documented in 1560 by the priest José de Anchieta and the first one he collected. The current versions of the stories tend to blend aspects of West African and European fairy lore into him. Even so, the stories of Curupira have been told by the native Tupi and Guarnani of Brazil for a long time.
There are regional variations to Curupria’s description, most though describe him having a bright red or orange hair and will either be a boy, man or a dwarf whose feet are turned backwards. Living in the jungle and forests of Brazil, Curupira uses his feet to confuse hunters and travelers as his footprints cause people to think he is coming instead of going.
Nothing earns Curupira’s ire more than a poacher or hunter who takes more than they need or those hunting animals with young and offspring.
To try and keep on his good side, some people going into the jungle will leave cigarettes and cachaca as a peace offering that they’re only harvesting or hunting a little bit and not to excess.
Curupira is also able to create illusions and a high pitch whistle sound to scare his victims into madness. The last bit is that Curupira is sometimes shown riding a peccary, not unlike another Brazilian creature known as Caipora.
Some variations give him super speed or the power of enchantment, transmutation and even increased strength.
As a protective spirit of the jungle, that is Curpira’s main shtick in that he protects the jungle and its inhabitants from being over hunted and exploited.
Beast Master – A female version of Curupira appeared in several episodes. This version appeared as a young, blonde girl dressed in green with the same backwards feet and she could drain humans of their life energy, reducing them to a husk with a husk.
Invisible City – A Netflix Series, this series features a number of characters from Brazilian folklore, including Curupira who appears as a homeless person for much of the first season before revealing himself towards the end of first season. This version of Curupira featured flaming hair, not just red or orange hair.
Etymology: Greek – dios “bright”
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Ζευς, Kronion
Epithets: Zeus has some 150 epitaphs that he is known by. I expect to miss a few, if not several. Here are some of his many names and epitaphs.
Zeus-Amphitryon (Zeus in the form of Amphitryon when he seduced Alcmene), Zeus Areius (“War-Like” or “The Atoning One”), Abrettenus or Abretanus (Zeus’ surname in Mysia), Achad (Syrian name), Adad (Syrian name), Zeus Adados, Adultus (Invoked as a name of Zeus in marriage), Zeus Agamemnon, Zeus Amphiaraus, Apemius (Averter of Ills), Apomyius (Dispeller of Flies), Acraeus (name in Smyrna ), Acrettenus (name in Mysia), Zeus Areius, Brontios (“Thunderer”), “Ceneus” – An epithet of Zeus after the temple on Cape Canaeum of Euboea. “Kosmetas” (Orderer), “Soter” (Savior), “Polieus” (Overseer of the City) and “Eleutherios” (guarantor of political freedoms), “The Lord of Justice,” “Father of Gods and Men,” “Nephelegereta” (Cloud-Gatherer), Zeus Helioupolites (“Heliopolite” or “Heliopolitan Zeus”), Zeus Olympios, Zeus Panhellenios (“Zeus of all the Hellenes”), Zeus Xenios (“Zeus of Hospitality, Strangers & Foriegners”), Zeus Herkios (“God of Courtyards”), Zeus Herkeios (Guardian of the House), Zeus Hikesios (“God of those seeking sanctuary”), Zeus Larisaeus, Philoxenon or Hospites, Zeus Horkios and Zeus Pistios (“Keeper of Oaths’), Zeus Hypsistos (“Supreme God”), Zeus Agoraeus (“Presider over Businesses”), Zeus Aegiduchos or Aegiochos (“Bearer of the Aegis”), Zeus Nikephoros (“Zeus holding Nike”), Zeus Tallaios (“Solar Zeus”), Zeus Ktesios (“Protector of Property”), Zeus Labrandos, Zeus Trephonius (“the nurturing”), Zeus Naos and Bouleus, Zeus Georgos (“Earth Worker” or “Farmer”), Kasios (“Zeus of Mount Kasios”), Ithomatas, Astrapios (“Lightninger”), Diktaios, Bottiaeus, Zeus Velchanos (“Boy-Zeus”), Kouros (Boy Zeus and early Cretan fertility god), Zeus Lykaios (Wolf Zeus), Zeus Katachthonios (Zeus of the Underworld), Eubouleus, Zeus Meilichios (“Zeus the Easily-Entreated”or Zeus as a snake), Zeus Maimaktes (the bloody aspect of Zeus Meilichios), Zeus Chthonios (“earth”), Zeus Plousios (“wealth-brining”) and Zan (Zeus’ name in Crete).
Zeus, mighty Zeus. King and “All-Father” of the Gods in Greek mythology. He is the mighty thunderer who rules from his abode on Mount Olympus. As King of the Gods, Zeus’ decrees dispense law, order, and justice throughout the mortal and divine realms. If you believe the myths, Zeus is also highly respected(?) in having fathered many of the gods and demigods alike. Exactly how he fathers them all is another matter, of which, his wife Hera is often not too pleased.
Universal Problems Require Universal Solutions
While researching the mythology for Zeus, it can get very problematic. There are at least three different major mythos for Zeus. Two Arcadian versions of his legend and the Hellenistic Zeus that so many are familiar with. Other versions are Zeus found at the Dodona oracle.
As more Greek writers and even modern retellers try to create an all-encompassing myth for all of Greece, it can often get contradictory as to which versions of the myths are correct. Hesiod’s Theogony is a big contributor to the version of the myths that most are familiar with.
Further, for all that the Greeks saw Zeus as the head of their Pantheon, he can often lose a lot of emphasis and power as too often, as the myths try to show his importance, Zeus just ends up having a cameo appearance or mention in the stories. The king who sits up on high passing out judgements.
Add in too, the numerous affairs that Zeus is to have had. Depending on the era of myths, this is Greek influence spreading and trying more to have Zeus as the progenitor for many deities and demigod heroes. If people are creating the gods in their image to reflect them, what does it say for a culture where a god gets to have his way with every female he desires and lusts after? The euphemism of ravish is used a lot for many of Zeus’ “romantic” pursuits. How much is Zeus a victim of his own reputation or not, can be hard to say.
Animal: Bull, Dove, Cuckoo, Golden Eagle, Lion, Quail, Rooster, Swan, Wolf, Woodpecker
Patron of: Kings, People, Fate
Plant: Oak, Olive Tree
Sphere of Influence: Law, Order, Justice, Weather, Rain, Sky
Symbols: Aegis, Cornucopia, Courage, Lightning, Scepter, Sky, Strength, Thunderbolt
Early Greek Depictions
In art, Zeus is often shown as a middle-aged looking male with a long beard and hair and youthful, athletic figure, sporting a toga as he wields his lightning bolts. Sometimes Zeus is shown wielding a hammer. In Greek statuary, Zeus can be shown either standing or sitting with a lightning bolt or scepter in his hand. Zeus is sometimes shown wearing a crown of oak leaves. As King of the gods, Zeus is often seen as being very regal and imposing in this role.
Cult & Worship
Being the head god of the Greek pantheon, Zeus had several temples and festivals held in his honor. Zeus has what’s known as Panhellenic cults, centers of worship that are found spread throughout all of Greece.
Olympia – This is the biggest and major center of worship for Zeus. Located at Thessaly, Thessalia, the Olympic Games would be held here. An alter made of ash dedicated to Zeus is found here. Centuries of animal sacrifice remains can be found here. Such sacrifices were a white animal.
Olympic Games – These games were held every four years in honor of Zeus.
Nemean Games – Similar to the Olympic Games, only held every two years.
Theogamia – Or Gamelia, a festival celebrating Zeus and Hera’s marriage in Athens.
The Divine Youth – The island of Crete was unanimously recognized by the Greeks as being the birthplace of Zeus. Crete of course, was the center of the Minoan culture and civilization at one point. In Crete, the “Boy-Zeus” or Zeus Velchanos is a strong part of a Great Mother and Divine Child or Son and Consort mythos and religion. Zeus Velchanos would also be known as Kouros or Megas Kouros, “the Great Youth.”
On the island of Crete, Zeus is shown in art as a young, long-haired boy rather than the mature adult many statues depict. Ivory statues of the “Divine Boy” have been found near the Labyrinth of Knossos.
There’s even coinage that will show Zeus as a young boy sitting in a tree with a rooster or cockerel. Other coinage will show an eagle and a goddess in a sacred marriage. Inscriptions found at Gortyn and Lyttos show that a Velchania festival was still widely celebrated even during Hellenistic times.
There are several caves at Knossos, Ida and Palaikstro where Zeus was worshiped at. During the Hellenistic era, there was a small sanctuary dedicated to Zeus Velchanos at the Hagia Triada in the ruins of the Minoan palace. Looking at the stories of Minos and Epimenides, there is suggestion that these caves used as incubatory divination by kings and priests. Plato’s dialogue for Laws uses the pilgrimage route of these caves for its setting.
There was a secret rite held at the Cretan paideia. Zeus was said to preside over this military training and athletics. The participants were known as Kouretes, a group of armed dancers.
There is also a death or end-of-year fertility spirit where Zeus as Velchanos’ death is revered. The stories related to this myth are found in several mountain site where a fire would be lit annually at Zeus’ birth cave. Bees are also somehow connected to this observance.
There’s speculation, some holding that Zeus may have been a Cretan King that became deified after his death.
Lykaia – Under the name Zeus Lykaios or Wolf Zeus, Zeus is connected to the festival of Lykaia near Mount Lykaion in Arcadia.
The festival of Lykaia had a secret festival held on Mount Lykaion (Wolf Mountain) in Arcadia and it’s tallest peak. The myths that surround this ritual are believed to relate the story of Lycaon’s feast he held for the gods and involved having served up one of his sons Nyctimus as one of the main courses. Another version of this story given by an Eratosthenes, holds that Lycaon had served up his grandson Arcas at this feast. In either eventuality, an enraged Zeus turns Lycaon into a wolf and proceeds to kill by means of lightning; Lycaon’s other sons before restoring the dead child back to life.
Mmm…. Cannibalism. Not.
The festival of Lykaia were held annually at the beginning of May. It was a primitive ritual festival and rite of passage for young males known as epheboi among the Greeks into adulthood. With the ritual held at night, evidence taken by some with the name of Lycaon’s son Nyctimus, a lot of rumors about cannibalism and werewolf transformations circulated widely among the Greeks as to just what was going on up there. Even Plato wrote about one clan who would gather every nine years and sacrifice to Zeus Lykaios where a piece of human flesh would be mixed in among the pieces of animal.
The belief held that whoever ate the human flesh would turn into a wolf and they could only return to human form after nine-years if they hadn’t eaten human flesh. The famous Olympic boxing champion, Damarchus is said to have turned into a wolf during the ritual sacrifice held for Zeus Lykaios. Games were also a big part of the Lykaios festival held every year after the secret ritual held at night.
It has been put forth, that the epitaphs of Lykaios and Lykeios likely originate in a Proto-Greek word *λύκη, meaning “light.” It’s a word still seen in other Greek words for “twilight” and “year.” This connection is seen in the tragedy writer Achaeus referring to Zeus Lykaios as being “starry eyed.”
This Arcadian Zeus connects strongly to Zeus being the son of Aether. It more easily makes a connection of Lykosoura being the “first city that the sun beheld” as described by Pausanias. The other connection is the alter to Zeus on the summit of Mount Lykaion standing between two columns with eagles that faced the sun-rise.” This all connects Zeus as a god of light.
Eleusinian Mysteries & Orphic Mysteries – Zeus gets around, a lot. Not much is known about the Eleusinian Mysteries and there is plenty known about the Orphic Mysteries given the amount of literature and hymns that have been found and translated.
Both the Eleusinian Mysteries and Orphic Mysteries concern themselves with the death & rebirth of a deity. A role often given to Hades and Dionysus in order to connect them to the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone. As Zeus Katachthonios or Eubouleus (a youthful version of the Lord of the Underworld), Zeus finds himself venerated in many local customs that honor the Underworld Lord and the symbolic rebirth at Spring.
It varies greatly as the local customs varied from one Greek city to another. The Athenians and Siclians honored a chthonic Zeus as Zeus Meilichios (“kindly” or “honeyed”). More epitaphs of Zeus claiming a chthonic role are Zeus Chthonios (“earth”), Zeus Katachthonios (“under-the-earth”) and Zeus Plousios (“wealth-brining”). These versions of Zeus would be depicted as snakes or in a more humanoid form. Sacrifices to the chthonic form of Zeus would be offerings of black animals in sunken pits. Some places, such the Lebadaea shrine in Boeotia, a local hero, Trophonius was revered and then attached as an epitaph to Zeus as Zeus Trephonius (“the nurturing”). Another hero, Amphiaraus was honored as Zeus Amphiaraus near Thebes and the Spartans honored a shrine to Zeus Agamemnon.
It all makes for an interesting connection. Hades as the God of Death, Dionysus as the God of Life and Zeus tying them both together to represent the birth, death and resurrection of a deity.
Aetnaea – A local festival near Mount Aetna. A statue of Zeus is found here where he is worshiped as Zeus Aetnaeus.
Really getting around as the All-Father and God of Everything.
Temples And Sacred Sites
Cave of Zeus – Found on the slopes of Mount Ida on the island of Crete, the Cave of Zeus is a sacred place dating to antiquity. Sometimes the location of this Cave is given as the Psychro Cave on Crete or the Cave of Zeus is found on the Aegean island of Naxos.
It is the cave that the infant Zeus was hidden in from his father, the titan Cronos. Some variations of Zeus’ origins will place this as his birthing place. A band of mythical warriors known as the Kouretes would dance wildly and loudly as a means to drown out the infant’s cries to keep Cronus from discovering his son.
Archeology discoveries of the cave have found a number of votive offerings in this place.
Dodona Oracle – The site of Zeus’ most famous and oldest oracle, found at Dodona in Epirus, Northwestern Greece. It was known as a land of Oak trees and likely why the tree is associated with Zeus. At this site, Zeus was known as Zeus Naos and Zeus Bouleus. Zeus’ priests were known as Selloi and barefoot. They would lay on the ground and observe the rustling of leaves and branches for their divinations. It is thought that their name contributed to the Hellenes. Later, female priests replaced the male priests and were called Peleiades or Doves. Here, Zeus’ consort is reputed to be Dione, not Hera. Dione is a titaness who may have predated the Hellenic era and likely the original goddess worshipped. Her name is a female form of Zeus’ own name.
Siwa Oracle – The oracle of Ammon near the Siwa Oasis in the western Egyptian desert. Herodotus writes of a Zeus Ammon whould be be consulted at this oracle. This version of Zeus favored the Spartans and a temple dedicated to him was already built during the Peloponnesian War. After Alexander’s trek to this oracle, this figure became the Libyan Sibyl.
Temple of Zeus – This is the most famous of Zeus’ temples in Olympia. It features a gold and ivory statue of Zeus seated on a throne. This statue was sculpted by Phidias and was regarded as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.”
Mount Aenos – Located on the island of Cephalonia, Zeus was worshiped as either Zeus Aeneius or Zeus Aenesius.
Mount Olympus – This is the tallest mountain peak in Greece, Thessaly, Thessalia to be more precise. It is place from which Zeus and all of the gods are to have resided at, looking down on their domains below.
Shrines – There are several smaller shrines where it’s not always clear if it was dedicated to Zeus or to a local hero that had become defied. Some shrines were Lebadaea in Boeotia that might have belonged to Trophonius or Zeus Trephonius. Just outside of Thebes was Oropus was the shrine dedicated to Amphiaraus or Zeus Amphiaraus. There was a shrine to Zeus Agamemnon revered by the Spartans. At Tralles, there was a shrine dedicated to Zeus Larisaeus.
What’s In A Name?
Proto-Types – It has been put forward that Zeus’ name likely derives from a Proto-Indo-European god of the sky known as Dyeus phter or “Sky Father.” With this name, he is linked to the Rigveda Dyaus or Dyaus Pita. While there is a lot of speculation and hypothesizes about the Proto-Indian-European people, what their language was, culture and myths, Zeus is one whose name clearly comes from the Indo-European language that etymologists have tried to reconstruct. Another root word is “dyeu-“meaning to “to shine” or “bright.” The word is noted to have a similar meaning to the Latin word dies for “day.”
The Proto-Indo-Europeans aren’t really well known as they’re largely a hypothetical group as scholars try to track and guess which directions early humans migrated as they spread over Europe, the Middle East and Asia, which ideas and words stayed the same, ect.
With Mycenaean Greek as seen in the Linear B script, we have the words di-we and di-wo that very similar to the word dyeus.
In Plato’s Cratylus he gives the folk meaning for Zeus’ name as “cause of life always to all things.” It’s based on a pun with Zeus and Dia with Greek words for life and the phrase “because of.” As a result, persisting with this connection as correct isn’t supported with modern scholars.
Parentage and Family
Ouranos (the Sky) and Gaia (the Earth)
Depending on the source, Zeus can have a few different origins.
Cronus and Rhea – The often recognized version of Zeus’ parentage, especially when referencing Hesiod’s Theogony as the source.
Father – Aether (Arcadian origin)
Father – Coelus (Arcadian origin)
Father – Saturnus (Cretan origin)
Hera – Also his sister, who becomes Queen of the Gods.
Dione – In the Iliad, at the Oracle of Dodona, Dione is his consort.
Metis – In some myths, Zeus is married to this Titaness before swallowing her.
This list is more the willing consorts and lovers, not those who were raped, no matter what euphemisms are used.
He is the sixth child born of Cronus and Rhea.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
A lot. Suffice to say, there are a lot of children that Zeus has fathered. As time went on and the Greek myths get rewritten and added to, there are even more children added to the roster of Zeus’ progeny. Either the god is really busy, or everyone wants to claim divinity and Zeus as their daddy!
With Aega, Zeus is the father of Aegipan or Goat-Pan. Not Pan, a different Pan.
With Alcmene, Zeus is the father of the famous Greek demi-god and hero Heracles.
With Callisto, Zeus fathers Arcas.
With Danae, Zeus is the father of Perseus.
With Dione, at the Oracle of Dodona, in the Iliad, Zeus fathers Aphrodite.
With Electra, Zeus fathers Iasion.
With Europa, Zeus fathers Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon.
With Eurynome, Zeus fathers the Charites or Graces.
With Io, Zeus is the father of Epaphos.
With Leda, Zeus fathered two sets of twins: Castor and Polydeuces and Clytemnestra and Helen of Troy.
With Leto, Zeus fathers the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.
With Maia, Zeus is said to be the father of Hermes.
With Metis, Zeus is the father of Athena.
With Mnemosyne (Memory), Zeus fathers nine daughters, the Muses over a period of nine nights.
With Semele, Zeus fathers Dionysus in some versions of the myths.
With Themis, goddess of Justice, Zeus fathers the three Horae, goddesses of the seasons, and the three Moirai or Fates.
Aeacus, Agdistis, Angelos, Dardanus, Enyo, Ersa, the Litae, Pandia,
In addition, Zeus is also said to be the father of the Magnesian and Macedonian people.
Zeus is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location for where the gods would preside at while keeping watch on humankind down below them. Add in that as King and Ruler of the other Olympians, this is really the ideal place as Zeus can look down upon the earth and see what’s going on.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians varies. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
King Of The Gods
Zeus is the ruler of the Olympian gods, ruling over all of the gods and mortals alike from Mount Olympus. As King, Zeus was the patron of Kings before later Grecian history, Kings were no longer followed. Zeus dispensed with wisdom, authority, divine decres over the lot of mortals.
Mortal Fates – Before the Moirai were born, Zeus governed the fates of men. He had two urns, one filled with ill fortune and the other filled with luck. Zeus would arbitrarily dole out man’s lot by way of fortunes and misfortunes according to his whim.
Prophecies – As an all-knowing deity who saw and knew everything he ruled over, the powers of prophecies were once Zeus’ domain before passing them on to his son Apollo.
Sky & Weather God
Zeus’ main domain is the Sky and with it, the weather and rain. Especially the thunderbolts and lightning that are his primary weapons. One of his epitaphs is Nephelegereta or “Cloud-Gatherer.” Closely connected to this epitaph as one of his symbols is the scepter, thought to be influenced with imagery from the Ancient Near East.
It was believed and still believed, even if in fun, that Zeus would strike those he sought to punish with lightning. Zeus would especially punish those who lied or broke their oaths.
Zeus would also send thunderstorms at enemies as seen in Homer’s epic, The Iliad.
On occasion, Zeus is equated with the Hellenic sun deity, Helios who is said to be Zeus’ eye. In Hesiod’ss Theogony, the sun is outright stated to be Zeus’ eye.
The Cretan version of Zeus Tallaios, the local cult equated their local deity Talos with Helios.
The Zeus that originates from Arcadia and Dodona was a nature god as seen in his connection to the oak tree and doves as a symbol of fertility. Even the Cretan Zeus connects him as a nature deity with the cornucopia, milk and honey symbols.
By the time that the Homeric poems, the nature aspect of Zeus seem to have been discarded and he is viewed more as a political and national deity that guards over Kings and the protector of law, tradition and religion.
Etymology – Horn (Old English)
Suffice to say, Herne is a well-known figure in British and Modern folklore. At first glance, it’s easy to say that Herne is one of the names for the Horned God in Wicca and Modern Paganism. A slightly more knowledgeable response would say that Herne is who leads the Wild Hunt. Or perhaps that he is the ghostly specter of a Games Keeper with antlers who haunts Windsor Forest.
It does get a bit tricky on trying to get into what’s concrete for the figure of Herne.
Many descriptions of Herne will agree that he is human either wearing antlers or has antlers. Sometimes he is on foot others he is on horseback and may or may not be accompanied by hunting hounds or other animals of the forest.
Ghost – The version of Herne that appears in Shakespeare’s play, clearly terrorizes the forest animals and people alike, blasting or withering the trees of the forest as he shakes his chains. The alternative lines say he can take on the shape of a stag. Later descriptions of Herne will have him riding a horse as part of the Wild Hunt.
The Merry Wives Of Windsor
The earliest known mention that we have of Herne is in William Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor written in 1597.
That certainly is a case for having been around for quite a while just based off that alone.
In Act 4, Scene 4, we have the characters Mistress Page and Mistress Ford deciding that they will play a trick on Sir John Falstaff because of his unwanted advances. The two ladies convince Falstaff to disguise himself as a ghost and meet them out under an oak in Windsor Forest at midnight. The two ladies also convince and get some children to show up at the same time who are dressed up as fairies to pinch and burn Falstaff.
“There is an old tale goes, that Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the wintertime, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the trees, and takes the carrle,
And makes milch kine* yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.”
Milch kine? Yeah, milking cows.
There is a set of alternative lines from 1602 that hint that Herne was a local ghost story used by mothers to get their children to behave.
The alternative lines are as follows:
“Oft have you heard since Horne the hunter dyed,
That women, to affright their little children,
Says that he walkes in the shape of a great stagge.”
Whether the character of Herne existed before the creation of Shakespeare’s play or is a creation of it, isn’t clear. What is clear is that this play is for certain where the figure of Herne enters British folklore and onwards to a larger, global audience… at least the West.
Cuckold’s Horns – With an Elizabethan audience, they would know that a cuckold is a name given to a husband with an unfaithful wife. A cuckold like the cuckoo bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. So, a husband is likely raising a child who is not his own. The horns were likely a theatrical device of the Elizabethan stage to inform an audience of a character’s role.
In Windsor’s Home Park, there have been a few different oak trees since the mid-1800’s that people have claimed to be either Falstaff’s Oak or Herne’s Oak.
The main oak that people pointed to as Herne’s Oak fell in 1796 due to declining botanical health. The other oak was blown over during a windstorm on August 31st 1863. The logs from this tree were burnt in order to exorcise the ghost of Herne. One log was kept to carve a bust of Shakespeare from and is on display in the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum in the Guildhall.
Later, Queen Victoria planted another oak to replace the one that fell in 1863. Later, King Edward VII would have the tree removed in 1906 during a landscaping project. Still, another oak would be replanted to replace the fallen tree from 1796 and named Herne’s Oak.
All’s well that ends well.
As the legend of Herne continues to grow and expand, the 20th century sees Herne’s ghost now appearing shortly before national disasters and before the death of monarchs, much like a Banshee.
At the very least, because people expect to see something, more and more people claim to have encountered Herne’s ghost or to have heard the sounds of hounds or a horn blowing in Windsor Forest.
Truth In The Telling
With the authenticity of Herne being lost to history and up for debate, there are enough people who believe that Shakespeare must have been using a local legend. To this end, people have been trying to add some historical veracity and authenticity to legitimize Herne’s legend. If nothing else, the legend and imagery of Herne have succeeded at capturing people’s imaginations for centuries and has well earned a place in folklore.
The Restless Gamekeeper – This is the next literary source, written by Samuel Ireland in 1791 in his Picturesque Views on the River Thames. In the story, Herne is to have been based on a historical figure by the name of Richard Horne, a yeoman who lived during Henry VIII’s reign. Horne was accused of poaching and as a result, he hung himself from an oak tree. As this was a suicide death, Herne’s spirit is believed to be barred from entering either heaven or hell and is doomed to haunt the place of their death.
Shakespearean scholar James Halliwell-Phillips found a document where Herne is listed as a hunter and confessed to poaching. Plus, early versions of The Merry Wives of Windsor spell the name as “Horne” instead of “Herne.”
There are of course, a couple variants to this story.
Variation 1 – In this version, Herne is the huntsman to King Richard II. After some local men grew jealous of Herne’s status, they conspired to accuse him of poaching on the King’s land. Falsely accused and outcast, Herne hung himself from an oak tree.
Variation 2 – In this story, Herne saves King Richard II from a stag. Fatally wounded, Herne is healed by a magician who takes Herne’s skills in forestry and hunting as payment. Part of this being cured involved having the dead stag’s horns tied to Herne’s head. Distraught by the loss of his skills, Herne hung himself from a tree. As a result, his spirit is doomed each night to lead a spectral hunt through Windsor Rest.
Windsor Castle – Written by William Harrison Ainsworth in 1842. This novel aims to be a historical drama set during the reign of the Tudors and follows Henry VIII’s pursuit of Anne Boleyn. Herne features throughout the novel as a ghostly figure haunting the nearby woods of Windsor. This version of Herne is somewhat sinister as Harrison Ainsworth created a history where Herne was gored by a stag. Herne makes a deal with the Devil to spare him. Part of the deal is that Herne would forever wear antlers. This version of Herne had served Richard II and likely the source of the two previous folkloric versions of where he originates from.
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 able to 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.
Of course, the point is brought up that as a ghost, Herne is connected to one locality whereas the Wild Hunt wanders, moving from one place to another, seemingly randomly.
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. 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.
With Wicca and many modern pagan religions, Herne is frequently identified with the Horned God. As a Horned God, Herne is seen as a god of the Hunt, the sacred masculine, animals, nature, crossroads, sacrifice, fertility, virility, forests, hunters, and warriors.
Close on the heels of a horned deity, Herne has been connected to the Celtic deity of Cernunnos. Most notably, Margaret Murray made this connection in her 1931 book, “God of the Witches.” She sees Herne as a manifestation of Cernunnos and a very localized god found only in Berkshire. Take that as you will, for as much as Margaret Murray is hailed as the Grandmother of Wicca, many of her ideas and theories have been discredited and contested or challenged as they often appealed to emotional desires didn’t fulfill proper scrutiny and criteria for research. She is still very important in getting the ball rolling for those who follow Wicca and Paganism.
Archeological Discoveries – Of note is that a headpiece made from the top part of a stag’s skull with antlers still attached was found in Britain at Star Carr near Scarborough. This headpiece is thought to date back to around 8500 B.C.E., dating it to the Mesolithic era. The headdress is thought to have served shamanic rituals to ensure a successful hunt.
Cernunnos – Gaul
It’s not just Margaret Murry who sees Herne as being very similar to or an aspect of Cernunnos, it is also R. Lowe Thompson in his 1929 book “The History of the Devil – The Horned God of the West” who makes the connection.
Thompson makes the connection of Herne to other Wild Huntsmen, looking for a connection of all of these horned deities being really the same being or aspects of each other. He goes on how Herne and Cernunnos are the same, just as the English word “horn” is a cognate of the Latin word “cornu.”
So… “cerne” and “herne.” It’s enough for many Wiccans and Pagans to accept Herne as an aspect of Cernunnos just on the fact that both have horns or antlers.
Depending on the source and who you ask, Herne hunts and destroys nature and wildlife where Cernunnos seeks to protect it.
Pan – Greek
While we’re at it, the Grecian rustic gods of the wild, Pan is also seen as a syno-deity who can be equated with Herne and other Horned Gods.
Woden – Anglo-Saxon
Also spelled Wotan.
Because so many have tried to make connections, I already touched on this above with the Wild Hunt, Herne as been connected to Wodan as well. Both Herne and Wodan hung from a tree. Herne out of shame and suicide and Wodan as he was seeking knowledge of the runes. Herne is also bandied about as being derived from one of Wodan’s titles, Herian (“Warrior-Leader”), a titled used when leading his fallen warriors, the Einherjar.
The Play’s The Thing!
Even if the origins of Herne are rooted in a Shakespearean play solely as a creation of the great bard himself. People assume that Shakespeare must have drawn on some unverifiable local myths and folklore.
While we can argue and aren’t completely sure, Herne has more than earned a place in folklore. Afterall, Herne continues to inspire and find his way into literature and modern media.
There are numerous books and T.V. series where Herne has a part or features and continues to be a character people readily draw inspiration from.
Such as a British show, Robin of Sherwood where Herne is a pagan priest and spirit of the woods. Books such as Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
Pronunciation: Djet m-aw rohz
Other names: Dzyed Maróz (Ukrainian), Did Moróz (Russian), Dédushka Moróz (Serbian), Deda Mraz (Bulgarian), Dyado Mraz (Slovenian), Dedek Mraz (Russian), Morozko (Russian), Grandfather Frost, King Frost, Father Frost, Ice King
Etymology: Grandfather Frost
Ah Santa Claus, Sinterklaas and Father Christmas…. That magical time of the year with Christmas and Yuletide celebrations. When we jump over to the Russian and Slavic celebrations for Winter, there is Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost who will be bringing gifts.
Just who is Ded Moroz? Let’s see…
To start, Ded Moroz is described as an elderly looking man with a long, flowing white beard who wears a long red, blue or white fur coat and round fur hat and boots. He carries with him a long magical staff and rides along with an evergreen tree in a sled or troika pulled by three white horses.
Much like his American and other European counterparts, Ded Moroz is known for bringing presents to good children. Unlike Santa Claus who brings his gifts on December 25th or Sinterklaas who arrives on December 6th, Ded Moroz brings his gifts on New Year’s Eve.
Other little factoids about Ded Moroz include that his birthday is on November 18th, this coincides with when the first frost arrives on the ground in Veliky Ustyug, Russia. Many sources will also place Ded Moroz’s age at around 2,000 years old.
Ded Moroz appears to have a strong connection to Eastern Slavic Paganism before spreading out into Russian beliefs and culture. Here, Ded Moroz is the Wizard of Winter and a snow demon who personifies Russian winters.
In folklore, Ded Moroz is originally Morozko, a powerful blacksmith and hero known for freezing water to become frost. As a force of nature, Morozko isn’t necessarily evil, he is known to help those who show him proper respect and giving gifts, plus he can be devastating to those who are rude, disrespectful and otherwise mean-spirited.
Slightly different origins place Morozko as a god of frost and ice who’s married to the harsh, unforgiving Winter. As a deity, he could freeze people and the countryside in a moment’s notice. With the Russian Orthodox Church, there was an attempt to label Morozko as a demon. Later fairy tales would soften Morozko’s image to be an elderly old man who could be more benevolent and not quite as harsh.
You Called Him A Demon!
Before we freak out, the Slavic use of referring to entities as demons is very similar to the Greeks usage of the term daimon when referring to a spirit or a minor local deity, or force of nature. As more of the Slavic countries and Russia became Christianized, the term demon would take on more negative associations.
I should throw in at this point, a note that scholars and historians do have some disputes about the exact origins of Ded Moroz. He does appear to be derived from a Slavic deity of Winter and to be the personification of cold and frost.
I’ll touch on it more, further down; there was a period of religious prohibition during the Soviet era and the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t seem to be settled on the nature and role that Ded Moroz has. He goes from scary demon to a figure that can now allow for some of the religious traditions to come back, even if they’re claimed to be pagan in origin.
However, myths and legends do evolve, grow and change. The very image of Ded Moroz that many people have, especially in Russia does come out of the Soviet era. Why ruin a good thing that people love?
Morozko (Grandfather Frost)
Or Old Man Winter
This is the main story and source for Ded Moroz and is also the origin for his granddaughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden). It is a Russian fairy tale first collected by Alexander Afanasyey for his Russian Fairy Tales collection and then is included in “The Yellow Fairy Book” compiled by Andrew Lang in 1894 as “The Story of King Frost.”
The story begins with a stepmother who dislikes her good-natured stepdaughter who is always good and kind and always having to hear about it. Of course, the stepmother loves her own daughter and dotes on her whim and desires.
As is the nature of these type of stories, the stepmother tells the father to send the stepdaughter away, so she didn’t have to see or hear her again. The man begs his wife to reconsider and she is unrelenting about getting rid of the stepdaughter. So, the man, the father takes his daughter out on their sled, out to the woods before giving the girl a kiss and abandoning her there.
Realizing her lot and fate, the sobbing girl sits down next to a tree. She isn’t sitting there long before she hears a crackling noise and looks up to see that King Frost is standing there.
In a stern voice, King Frost snaps out doesn’t the girl know who he is? He is King Frost, king of the red-noses.
The girl says “All hail” to King Frost and then she asks if he is here to take her.
King Frost asks if she is warm enough. The girl answers, saying she is warm enough despite the fact that she is shivering fiercely.
The King repeated his question, stepping closer and the girl insisted that she was still warm.
At this, King Frost takes pity on the poor girl and wraps her in furs to keep warm. He goes further with covering her in blankets and giving her gifts of gems and lastly, a sleigh pulled by six white horses.
In the morning, the stepmother tells the man that he should go out and retrieve his daughter’s body for burial. To the stepmother’s surprise and shock, the man returns with a chest filled with gems and his still-living daughter, more beautiful than before with the splendid furs and her silver and gold dress.
Wanting the same for her own daughter, the stepmother tells the man to take her daughter out to the same spot where the stepdaughter had been left. The man did as he was bid, taking the stepmother’s daughter out and leaving her there.
As soon as the man left, the daughter sulked as she sat down by a tree. Just as before, it wasn’t long until King Frost appeared.
Just as before, King Frost asked the daughter if she was warm. Unlike the stepdaughter who had been respectful with her words, the daughter was rude, calling him a blind fool, of course she was cold, her hands and feet are nearly frozen.
Angered by this girl’s words, King Frost snapped his fingers and froze the girl to death.
Of course, the stepmother expected her own daughter to return just as the stepdaughter had, loaded with wealth and finery. That clearly wasn’t what happened when the man went out to retrieve her and brought back only the daughter’s cold, lifeless body.
It just shows, it pays to always be polite and respectful as you never know who you’re talking to or dealing with.
Moroz – Red Nose
This is a poem connected to Ded Moroz written by Nikolai Nekrasov. The story found within this poem highlights a dark aspect to Ded Moroz’s character as it depicts him killing a peasant woman and orphaning her children.
Other darker aspects to Ded Moroz as a wizard of winter would have him kidnap children and he would only be willing to return them when parents offered him up gifts.
Within the Christian Orthodox Church, the character of Ded Moroz has changed over the years. Most notably during the 19th century with different plays featuring him. The two most notable plays are Aleksandr Ostrovsky’s Snegurochka and a similarly named play by Rimsky-Korsakov.
The Russian Revolution
1917 saw the Bolshevik Revolution. More forward a few years into the 1920’s with the formation of the Soviet Union and Government, we see that many Christmas traditions were discouraged as they were considered to be too religious in nature and materialistic. Especially Saint Nicholas, who had been Russia’s patron saint, his feast day of December 6th were done away with.
It doesn’t help that Ded Moroz was declared to be “an ally of the priest and kulak” as Russia tried to remove many religious elements. Other sources give the history that Ded Moroz was seen as too childish and not acceptable.
This isn’t just Christmas that got banned by the Soviet Government, this is a prohibition on any religious holidays, observances and celebrations.
Soviet Santa – An Alternative
Luckily a complete banning of the holiday spirits wouldn’t last long. I’m sure there are many children psychologists and just even psychologists in general who can extrapolate much better than I can about the importance of play, the use of imagination and human spirit. If you crush it completely, we’re going to have problems.
Seeing a need and importance for some type of holiday seasonal celebration, Ded Moroz would take on his more familiar image thanks in part to a letter written by Pavel Postyshey on December 28th of 1935. Pavel stated that the origins for the Christmas traditions pre-dated actual Christianity and that it would be beneficial to bring back these traditions for the sake of the children.
Now, instead of arriving on Christmas Day, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka would arrive on New Year’s or Novy God, bringing presents to leave under an evergreen tree. This change provided an alternative to the American Santa Claus and one seen as a secular celebration by the Soviet Union.
Letters To Ded Moroz
Much like how Santa Claus will receive letters from children, Ded Moroz will receive his share of letters from numerous children requesting gifts. Millions of letters over the years from all across Russia and around the world have been addressed to Ded Moroz.
Where Santa makes his home in the North Pole, Ded Moroz does hang his hat and call home?
To answer that, in 1998, it was declared that the town of Veliky Ustyug, in Vologda Oblast is Ded Moroz’s home. Since then, Veliky Ustyug has become a popular tourist destination for many Russians who travel to Veliky and visit. Ded Moroz’s lives in a log cabin out in the taiga forest near where three rivers meet.
Ded Moroz spends his summers reading letters from children all over the country in preparation for the New Year’s Tree on January 1st.
Ded Moroz’s Granddaughter
Snihurónka or the Snow Maiden is Ded Moroz’s granddaughter who often accompanies him. She is shown wearing a long silver-blue dress or robes and a fur-lined cap to keep warm.
Ded Moroz is often shown being accompanied by his granddaughter, Snihurónka. She’s noteworthy as numerous other, familiar Winter figures don’t have a female companion.
Holiday Twins & Counterparts
So, what are the difference between Santa Claus and Ded Moroz?
We know there are differences, after all, Santa Claus arrives Christmas Eve and Ded Moroz arrives on New Year’s; both bringing presents. Santa Claus classically dresses all in red, especially in America and Ded Moroz is known for dressing in not just red, he will also dress in blue or even white, much like how a Russian noble would be expected to dress. They certainly look like cultural syno-entities and cultural twins (given the history, that’s how Ded Moroz got his start.) Santa Claus is known for being short and rotund and Ded Moroz is tall and thin. Russian children will affectionately call Ded Moroz, “Ded Moroz the Red Nose.”
Other notable differences between the two is that Santa Claus will enter a home coming down the chimney and leaving his gifts in a stocking. Whereas, Ded Moroz will enter in through the front door and leave his gifts under the New Year’s Tree.
During the 1990’s, the character of Santa Claus began to make his way into the Russian Federation as more and more influences of Western culture made their way through the previous Soviet Union.
There have been efforts to show cultural goodwill by having Santa Claus (or his various counterparts) and Ded Moroz (sometimes his Belarus counterpart Dzied Maroz) has one-on-one meetings or friendly competitions.
December of 1997 saw the creation of ‘Christmas Without Borders” where Ded Moroz and Santa Claus met a bridge crossing the Narva River between Estonia and Russia. The whole point was to spread goodwill and increase cooperation between the two countries and neighboring border towns. I wasn’t able to determine if this started a new tradition and continued or if it just petered off after a few years.
The early 21st century saw a resurgence for the character of Ded Moroz and his granddaughter, Snegurochka where they arrive on New Year’s bringing gifts, often showing up at children’s parties. Much like Saint Nicholas who battles Krampus in some of the Germanic countries, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka will face off with Baba Yaga who wants to steal the presents.
Of course, there are a few will say that Ded Moroz is really Santa Claus’ grandfather. That works too given how long the two have been around and who’s mythologies are older.
Tracking Ded Moroz On His Nightly Runs
Where Santa has NORAD tracking his nightly flight, Ded Moroz has GLONASS tracking his run on New Year’s. This began in November of 2009 when the Russian Federation offered to compete with NORAD.
Alright! May the best Present-Giver win!
What’s In A Name – Regional Variations
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many of the countries that formed after sought to move away a Soviet heritage by reclaiming their own regional heritages and roots. This means that Ded Moroz and Snegurochka will frequently have a different, variant name or change altogether as each country seeks their ancient traditions or move forward to something different.
Armenia – Dzmer Pap, meaning “Grandfather Winter,” his granddaughter is known as Dzyunanushik, meaning “Snow Sweetie” or Snow Anush. They have been part of Armenia traditions for some 160 years since the Russo-Persian War. Both wear red, blue or white winter coats. They make an appearance for both Christmas and New Year’s with bringing gifts. Children are expected to sing songs or recite poems before getting their gifts.
Azerbaijan – Saxta Baba, meaning “Grandfather Frost,” his granddaughter is known as Qar Qizi meaning “Snow Girl.” Saxta Baba brings gifts during New Year’s. Qar Qizi isn’t usually seen.
Bashkir and Tatar – Qis Babay, which means “Winter Old Man.”
Belarus – Dzied Maroz, he replaced Sviatv Mikalai who was more local, but had been disapproved of due to being Christian. Dzied Maroz’ makes his home in the Bialowieza Forest.
Bulgaria – Dyado Koleda or Grandfather Koleda is often equated with Santa Claus and appears alongside Dyado Mraz or Grandfather Frost. Dyado Mraz was popular during the Communist rule but has since fallen by the wayside since 1989 as Dyado Koleda began to gain more popularity.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – Ayaz Ata is the name for Ded Moroz.
Nenets – Yamal Iri, which means “Grandfather of Yamal.”
Poland – Poland didn’t have a version of Ded Moroz and during the communist era, there were efforts to try and introduce Dziadek Mróz as historically speaking, Communists didn’t want religion and view Saint Nicholas as being too religious in nature. It’s fairly obviously that Dziadek Mróz was meant to create a culture link and tie to Russia.
Romania – In 1948, a Communist party gained power and Christmas celebrations were done away with. Mos Cracium (Father Christmas) was replaced with Mos Gerila (Old Man Frosty), the Romanian name for Ded Moroz who would now bring gifts on December 31st for the New Years. Anyone paying attention, knows that New Year’s celebrations begin on December 30th, the Day of the Republic, when King Mihai I abdicated the throne in 1947.
Sakha Republic – Chys Khan, meaning “Master of Cold” and Khaarchana (Snow Maiden).
Slovenia – In this country, Ded Moroz’s name translates to Dedek Mraz. He is a slender man who wears a grey leather coat trimmed with fur inside and out and who wears round dormouse fur cap. This image of Dedek Mraz is based on pictures by Maksim Gaspari in 1952. Dedek Mraz’s home is located on Mount Triglay, the highest peak in both Slovenia and Yugoslavia. In the 1990’s when Communism ended, Miklavž (Saint Nicholas) who arrives on December 6th and Božicek (Christmas Man) who arrives on December 24th, Christmas Eve began making an appearance in Slovenia. Some Slovenian families in the 1940’s would have the Christkind (Jezušcek or “Little Jesus”) who brought gifts on Christmas Eve. It varies by family in regard to their political and religious views, current culture will show all three of Grandfather Frost, Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus as friends. The attributes of each will also get mixed with the others.
Tajikistan – Boboi Barfi, meaning “Grandfather Snow” and Snegurochka is known as Barfak, meaning “Snowball.” There was an effort briefly on December 11th of 2013 to do away with the state televised celebrations of Boboi Barfi, Barfak and the New Year’s. That lasted all of about a day and the next day, the televised broadcasting plans were back on.
Ukraine – With the current conflicts with Russia, as early as 2014, there have been efforts to replace Ded Moroz with Sviatyi Mykolai (Saint Nicholas) and well, Sviatyi Mykolai is more popular in Western Ukraine.
Yakut – Chys Khaan, meaning “Master of Cold.”
Yugoslavia – The socialist Yugoslavia that comprises Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia, has a character by the name of Grandfather Frost. In Bosnian, this name is Djed Mraz or Djeda Mraz, in Croatian, this name is Djed Mraz, in Macedonian, the name is Dedo Mraz, the Serbian name is Deda Mraz and the Slovenian name is Dedek Mraz.
For a bit of a history lesson here, in Croatia, Djed Mraz was viewed as a communist figure and the character of Djed Božicnjak or Grandfather Christmas is introduced. It’s taken a while for Djed Božicnjak to replace Djed Mraz and then, not completely. After 1999, both Djed Mraz and Djed Božicnjak have become synonymous. Some families still have Djed Mraz arrive on New Year’s bringing gifts. Thanks to some historical Austrian influence in parts of Croatia, children will get gifts on December 6th brought by Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas) who is accompanied by Krampus. More religious families will have the baby Jesus (Isusek, Mali Isus or Kriskindl) who brings gifts on Christmas. Getting into some areas of Dalmatia, it is Sveta Lucija (Saint Lucy) who brings gifts.
Other Names and Epithets: 風神, Futen, Kami-no-Kaze, Ryobu
Fujin is one of the oldest Shinto goes in Japan. He is a god of wind and is often paired with the storm god Raijin.
Fujin is often shown as a fearsome wizard-like demon with green skin and a red head wearing only a leopard skin and carrying around a large bag or bags of wind with him. He is also noted to have only four fingers or digits that represent each of the four cardinal directions.
Parentage and Family
The gods Izanami and Izanagi, the main deities in Shinto are who birthed or created Fujin and all the other gods in Japan.
In addition to Raijin and his brother Fujin, all of the Kami of Japan can be said to be Fujin’s brothers and sisters as they were all created after the creation of Nippon (Japan).
Like Raijin, Fujin was born or created by the gods Izanami and Izanagi after creating Nippon. When Fujin opened his wind bag for the first time, the winds he released cleared away the morning mists and filled the space between the earth and the heavens so the sun could shine.
In Japanese lore, both Raijin and Fujin were a pair of oni who actively opposed the other deities. Under the orders of Buddha, it took an army of thirty-three gods to subdue Raijin and Fujin and convert them to work alongside the other deities.
Kojiki – This ancient Japanese text is the primary source for everything known about Fujin.
The Silk Road – Surprisingly, the imagery for Fujin seems to have originated from the West, during the Greek’s Hellenistic era when they were once spread throughout areas of Central Asia and India. Meaning, that the wind god Boreas is whom Fujin could have originated from. As the imagery for Boreas traveled, he would become the god Wardo in Greco-Buddhist era, changing then to the wind god Fei Lian (or Feng Bo) in China before making his way to Japan as Fujin. What appears to be the connecting motif is that all these deities carry a bag of wind (or shawl in the case of Boreas) and has a disheveled, wild appearance.
Kamikaze – The Divine Wind
In 1274, the Mongols for the first time would attempt to set sail and invade Japan. However, a massive typhoon would destroy a good number of the Mongol fleet, disrupting plans for a conquest of Japanese archipelago. Going by the legend, only three men are said to have escaped. A second attempt in 1281 saw a similar typhoon blow through and wreck most of the Mongol fleet again. Both massive storms or Kamikaze as they would come to be known were attributed as being sent by Raijin and Fujin to protect Japan.
One of Fujin’s alternative names is Kami-no-Kaze, directly connecting him to these fierce, massive storms.
Kami or Oni?
Some of the descriptions of Fujin say he’s an oni and that certainly seems true given his description and when looking at more Buddhist influenced stories where the gods had to battle Raijin and Fujin to tame them and convert them to Buddhism.
Kami – When we go back to the Shinto religion that predates Buddhism in Japan, Fujin is one of many, numerous gods or kami found throughout the region. They range in power from low level spirits all the up to gods.
Shintoism holds the belief and idea that everything seen in nature has a spirit, or kami. As spirits, they just are. The greater the spirit or kami, more of a force of nature and raw power it will be. So many of these spirits would be revered and respected just to avoid needlessly getting them angry and ticked off.
Oni – By Japanese mythology, Oni are very synonymous with the Western concept of demons. Ugly, ogre-like creatures of varying descriptions. An Oni’s only purpose is to create chaos, destruction and disaster. Given depictions of Fujin, he looks very much the part of an Oni and when it comes to wind storms, a more severe storm can be very destructive.
With some of the more primal nature spirits and gods, it’s a very thin line for the concepts of good and evil if you’re trying to pin them to those categories.
When Raijin is mentioned, he is frequently paired with Fujin, another Weather God is also a sometimes rival. The two are constantly at it, fighting amongst themselves over who will rule the skies. The more intense a storm, the more intense their fighting.
Temple Guardians – Statues of Raijin and Fujin can be found at the gates to many temples and holy places in Japan where they are seen as protectors and guardians.
Etymology: Rai (“Thunder”) and Den or Jin (“Lightning”). Another derivation is Kaminari 雷 (“Thunder”) and Kami 神 (“God”)
Other Names and Epithets: 雷神, Kaminari, Kaminari-sama (“Thunder Master”), Karai-shin, Karaijin, Narukami (Thundering Spirit”), Raiden, Raiden-sama (Thunder and Lightning Master”), Yakusa no ikazuchi no kami (“Eight, Thunder, Spirit”)
Raijin is the name of a Shinto Weather God in Japanese mythology, specifically the God of storms, thunder & lightning. Sometimes, the name Raijin refers to one deity, other instances, Raijin will refer to several weather gods.
Sphere of Influence: Storms, Thunder, Lightning, Agriculture
Raijin is often depicted as a muscular, red-skinned Oni with sharp claws, horns, wild hair and carrying around a large drum or several drums with the symbol of tomoe written on them. These drums of course are used for the sound of thunder. To beat the drums, Raijin uses hammers. Sometimes Raijin is shown to have three fingers that each represent the past, present and future.
Statues depicting Raijin can be found throughout many places in Japan. Many of these sculptures will show Raijin possessing a pot-belly and a fearsome face.
Mortal Kombat – Finish Him!
Raijin, better known as Raiden, appears in the popular fighting game series Mortal Kombat. As Raiden, he is often shown as a robed man wearing a straw hat.
Parentage and Family
The gods Izanami and Izanagi, the main deities in Shinto are who birthed or created Raijin and all the other gods in Japan.
In addition to Raijin and his brother Fujin, all of the Kami of Japan can be said to be Raijn’s brothers and sisters as they were all created after the creation of Nippon (Japan).
There’re a few variations to Raijin’s origin.
In line with Japan’s creation myth, the gods Izanami and Izanagi created Raijin after they created Nippon, making him among some of the oldest gods in the Shinto religion. Specifically, Raijin was born right after the death of his mother, Izanami when she bore the fire god, Kagu-tsuchi. Izanagi took his sword, Ame no Ohabri got Kagu-tsuchi up into eight pieces, which became eight volcanoes. The blood dripping off the sword would create a number of other Japanese gods or kami.
After Izanami descended to the underworld, her husband Izanagi would follow after. There is a misunderstanding between the two and Izanagi took off. Izanami would send Raijin, along with other spirits to bring Izanagi back.
Other legends will say that there are eight lightning gods, hence the suffix part of Raijin’s name “jin” for people, plural. Getting back on point, these eight lightning gods were tasked with protecting Dharma by the Buddha. This syncretism, known as Shinbutsu-shūgō, joining different religions together is common in Japan. Even an order 1868 meant to separate the two religions of Buddhism and Shinto didn’t stop this from happening.
In Japanese lore, Raijin and his companion, Fujin were a pair of oni who actively opposed the other deities. Under the orders of Buddha, it took an army of thirty-three gods to subdue Raijin and Fujin and convert them to work alongside the other deities.
Kojiki – This ancient Japanese text is the primary source for everything known about Raijin.
Kamikaze – The Divine Wind
In 1274, the Mongols for the first time would attempt to set sail and invade Japan. However, a massive typhoon would destroy a good number of the Mongol fleet, disrupting plans for a conquest of Japanese archipelago. Going by the legend, only three men are said to have escaped. A second attempt in 1281 saw a similar typhoon blow through and wreck most of the Mongol fleet again. Both massive storms or Kamikaze as they would come to be known were attributed as being sent by Raijin to protect Japan.
Kami or Oni?
Some of the descriptions of Raijin say he’s an oni and that certainly seems true given his description and when looking at more Buddhist influenced stories where the gods had to battle Raijin and Fujin to tame them and convert them to Buddhism.
Kami – When we go back to the Shinto religion that predates Buddhism in Japan, Raijin is one of many, numerous gods or kami found throughout the region. They range in power from low level spirits all the up to gods.
Shintoism holds the belief and idea that everything seen in nature has a spirit, or kami. As spirits, they just are. The greater the spirit or kami, the more of a force of nature and raw power it will be. So many of these spirits would be revered and respected just to avoid needlessly getting them angry and ticked off.
Oni – By Japanese mythology, Oni are very synonymous with the Western concept of demons. Ugly, ogre-like creatures of varying descriptions. An Oni’s only purpose is to create chaos, destruction and disaster. Given depictions of Raijin, he looks the part of an Oni very much and when it comes to storms, a more severe storm can be very destructive.
With some of the more primal nature spirits and gods, it’s a very thin line for the concepts of good and evil if you’re trying to pin them to those categories. As a weather deity, it goes either way if his rains bring fertility and life or if it’s the destructive force of a hurricane.
When Raijin is mentioned, he is frequently paired with Fujin, another Weather God is also a sometimes rival. The two are constantly at it, fighting among themselves over who will rule the skies. The more intense a storm, the more intense their fighting.
Temple Guardians – Statues of Raijin and Fujin can be found at the gates to many temples and holy places in Japan where they are seen as protectors and guardians.
Raiju! I Choose You!
That sounds like the name of a pokemon. There are a couple, Raichu and Raikou, a legendary pokemon who is based on Raiju and other thunder gods.
In Japanese mythology, raiju is the name of Raijin’s animal companion. Raiju is described as a blue and white wolf or a wolf wrapped in lightning.
Raijin is also the god or kami of one of the Japanese islands and believed to live up on the mountains.
As a storm deity, Raijin is revered as a considerable force of nature. The storms he brings can be destructive in the form of hurricanes and great wind storms when he battles Fujin. Or they can be life giving water and fertility to the land.
Kura-Okami – The god of rain and snow, Raijin is sometimes equated as being the same deity. Kura-Okami is active and at his strongest during the winter months from December to February.
Thunder isn’t all that bad. A thunderstorm would mean rain. A lot of Japanese farmers would seek to appease Raijin for rain during droughts and not to flood their rice fields. There was a belief that lighting would cause fertility for a rice field. The sound of thunder and lighting, it would mean a bountiful harvest. This seems a tentative way to connect Raijin to agriculture and fertility.
I would think having a lightning rod to redirect lighting to the ground would be protection from Raijin. Hiding under a mosquito net is the only protection from Raijin.
That isn’t the only way, as the sound of thunder often freaks out many people and is an omen of disaster. After all, who wants a tree crashing in on their house during a thunderstorm or coming out after it’s over to see what swath of destruction has been left behind? Not many.
Mosquito nets asides, certain areas in Japan hold to a superstition that ritual needs to be performed during a thunderstorm. This ritual involves striking bamboo to exorcise bad spirits away from rice fields. This was thought to avert any disasters in the fields that would result to any lightning and thunder.
As a stated previously, as Raijin is seen as a primal spirit, its better to appease him and get on his good side rather than get him needlessly angry.
Hide Your Navel!
It’s believed that Raijin is found of eating human navels. It was common practice for Japanese parents to tell their children to hide their belly buttons during a thunderstorm lest Raijin come eat it.
If it’s any minor consolation, according to some beliefs, it’s not really Raijin who eats children’s belly buttons, but his animal companion Raiju who actually does. Or if Raiju isn’t eating your navel, he’ll curl up inside to sleep.
Other Names: Jólasveinar, Yule Lads, Yuletide-Lads, Yulemen
These mischievous pranksters are the present bringers in Iceland, not Santa Claus. Not one Santa Claus, it’s thirteen! How exciting is that!
Though, the Yule Lads didn’t always start off so friendly. These lads used to work for their mother, Grýla to help her hunt down naughty children as well as wreak all sorts of havoc and mischief during the long, dark winter days. The oldest versions and stories of the Yule Lads come from East Iceland.
This is reportedly the home of the fierce some Grýla and the Yule Lads. It is a labyrinth field of lava in North Iceland.
Reykjavik – This is another place that the Yule Lads can be spotted around in December. This place serves more a tourist destination where there’s a game to find all the Yule Lads and visit the local Troll Garden to sit in Grýla’s cauldron.
The descriptions of the Yule Lads have varied over time. In their pre-Christmas descriptions, they are troll-like beings who have no torsos.
Later, when they became more associated with Christmas, the Yule Lads would dress much like the American and European Santa in all red garments. Another push was made to have the Yule Lads dress in a more traditional medieval Icelandic garments in an effort to push away from the often overly commercialized versions of Santa and Christmas that are seen.
Grýla – The infamous Icelandic Christmas Ogress or Trolless is the mother of the Yule Lads, it would explain so much of their behavior. Grýla is known for eating misbehaving children and goes out in search of them at Christmas time.
Leppalúði – He is Grýla’s current husband and the father of the Yule Lads. Leppalúði is known for being very lazy. He lives in their cave found in the Dimmuborgir lava fields. Aside from the Yule Lads, Grýla and Leppalúði also have twenty other children.
Leppalúði had an affair with a girl by the name of Lúpa while Grýla was very ill and bedridden for an entire year. The girl, Lúpa was to play nurse to Grýla while she was sick. It’s no small wonder then, that when Grýla finds out that Leppalúði and Lúpa had an affair, resulting in a son by the name of Skröggur, that the trolless would become enraged and drive the girl and her son off from the cave.
The last children Grýla had with Leppalúði, when she was 50 years old, were twins. The twins died very young, still needing a crib.
Dark Winter Spirits
This ties into why Grýla is said to have so many children. As it concerns the Yule Lads, in the beginning their number varied wildly. The Yule Lads and their mother, Grýla in their pre-Christmas traditions, represented the dark, dangerous and capricious spirits of Winter. This time of the year, the weather is colder, the nights longer and it’s just more treacherous to go out into the wilderness if one is not prepared or wary.
Jól – The midwinter holiday that predates the modern Christmas, marks a time of people gathering together to feast and celebrate family both living and deceased. This older holiday is generally darker as elves, trolls and other mystical creatures that inhabit the Icelandic countryside are also out and would sometimes come to visit homes and farms, often as masked figures.
The Yule Lads at this time were portrayed as being trolls with no torso who would come down to the various villages and towns to cause havoc and chaos with their pranks or to outright carry off naughty children to their mother to feast on. The Yule Lads were just some of the many dangerous, unpredictable spirits and supernatural entities that wandered the countryside during winter.
Christianity – This religion was introduced to Iceland around 1000 C.E. after the King of Norway made a decree that everyone should convert to Christianity and sent out missionaries to the island nation. As with many ancient customs and traditions, the people weren’t that ready and willing to give up all their beliefs. As the Icelandic traditions and those of the introduced Christianity began to merge, one of the many points of note was a change to the calendar that shifted from the old Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.
Sometime during the 1500’s and up to the 1700’s, the Julian Calendar was beginning to fall out of step and the celebration of the Winter Solstice was occurring on December 13th. As more European countries made the shift to the Gregorian Calendar, it placed the Winter Solstice back to the 21st. The change of calendars also so some 13 to 14 days getting removed.
For Iceland, many people didn’t like this and still wanted to celebrate December 13th as the Winter Solstice or Jól. To have the two traditions Iceland and Christianity merge more easily, the thirteen days of Christmas with the Yule Lads coming to visit began to form, starting from the eve of December 12th and stretching out all the way to the 25th and beyond to January 6th with Epiphany as the Yule Lads come visiting and then depart, back up to the mountains.
In the 16th century, a law was put into place that: “All disorderly and scandalous entertainment at Christmas and other times and Shrovetide revels are strongly forbidden on pain of serious punishment.” Parents still used the stories of Grýla and the Yule Lads coming to carry away naughty children during Wintertime and at Christmas. Things got so bad that in 1746, parents were forbidden and banned from using these stories to scare their children. It’s shortly after this, that the imagery of the Yule Lads would begin to further change.
Huldufólk – According to folklorist, Skarphéðinsson, the Yule Lads are the Huldufólk or the hidden people who live in Iceland right along humans, just another dimension that can’t be seen.
If you go for the Christian connection to religion and folktales, the Huldufólk were the dirty, strange and unusual children of Eve that she hid from God. When they were discovered, these children were sent to another world or dimension. Other ideas are that the Huldufólk are actually Fallen Angels.
Once the Yule Lads began to be associated with the celebration of Christmas, their image softened so that instead of being more malicious troll spirits that cause havoc and chaos, they became more benevolent. They’re still pranksters and the imagery saw them become more humanized to be half-troll figures.
The Thirteen Days Of Christmas – Yes, instead of one day of presents, children in Iceland get eight thirteen crazy nights!
The Yule Lads arrive during the thirteen days of Christmas, coming one at a time. Once December 25th comes, the Yule Lads depart back to their mountain home in the order that they arrived until the last day of January 6th, Epiphany.
Borrowing from Dutch tradition, children place a shoe out on their window sills during the thirteen nights of Christmas leading up to Christmas Day. In the hopes of receiving a gift or treat, children leave out small snacks for the Yule Lads such as laufabrauð (“leaf bread”), this is a thin, crisp flatbread. If a child has been good, they will receive a present or treat in their shoe. If a child has been particularly naughty, they will receive a rotten potato in their shoe.
If you ask me, that’s much better than getting carted away to their mother, Grýla to be eaten.
The Thirteen Yule Lads
The number of Yule Lads has varied over the years with as many as 82 and in more recent times with the 20th century, that number settled on there being thirteen. As the stories go, the Yule Lads live up in the mountains and come down in December during the Thirteen Days of Christmas. As there are thirteen of these lads, the various names they possess also speak of their particular quirk, feature or talent they have.
Jólasveinarnir – The Yule Lads Poem was written by the poet, Jóhannes úr Kötlum in 1932, this poem is still a popular piece recited each year in many homes and schools during December. This poem is where the Thirteen Yule Lads were made cannon for Iceland’s Christmas Tradition. The English translation of the poem is done by Hallberg Hallmundsson.
The sections below in italics are Kötlum’s poem in English.
Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Cote Clod (Or Stiff Legs)
Arrives: 12 December
Leaves: 25 December
The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod.
He came stiff as wood,
to prey upon the farmer’s sheep
as far as he could.
He wished to suck the ewes,
but it was no accident
he couldn’t; he had stiff knees
– not too convenient.
Giljagaur – Gully Gawk
Arrives: 13 December
Leaves: 26 December
The second was Gully Gawk,
gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.
Hiding in the stalls,
he would steal the milk, while
the milkmaid gave the cowherd
a meaningful smile.
Stúfur – Stubby
Arrives: 14 December
Leaves: 27 December
Stubby was the third called,
a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance
to whisk off a pan.
And scurrying away with it,
he scraped off the bits
that stuck to the bottom
and brims – his favorites.
Þvörusleikir – Spoon-Licker
Arrives: 15 December
Leaves: 28 December
The fourth was Spoon Licker;
like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover
when the cook wasn’t in.
Then stepping up, he grappled
the stirring spoon with glee,
holding it with both hands
for it was slippery.
Pottaskefill – Pot-Scraper
Arrives: 16 December
Leaves: 29 December
Pot Scraper, the fifth one,
was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings,
he’d come to the door and tap.
And they would rush to see
if there really was a guest.
Then he hurried to the pot
and had a scraping fest.
Askasleikir – Bowl-Licker
Arrives: 17 December
Leaves: 30 December
Bowl Licker, the sixth one,
was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads
he stuck his ugly head.
And when the bowls were left
to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself
– he was sure good at that!
As a side note, askur is a type of dish that Icelanders would eat from and keep under the bed as a means of storing it.
Hurðaskellir – Door-Slammer
Arrives: 18 December
Leaves: 31 December
The seventh was Door Slammer,
a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight
would take a little nap,
he was happy as a lark
with the havoc he could wreak,
slamming doors and hearing
the hinges on them squeak.
Skyrgámur – Skyr-Gobbler
Arrives: 19 December
Leaves: 1 January
Skyr Gobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.
Then he stood there gobbling
– his greed was well known –
until, about to burst,
he would bleat, howl and groan.
Skyr is a type of yogurt found in Iceland.
Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Swiper
Arrives: 20 December
Leaves: 2 January
The ninth was Sausage Swiper,
a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters
and raided food from there.
Sitting on a crossbeam
in soot and in smoke,
he fed himself on sausage
fit for gentlefolk.
Gluggagægir – Window-Peeper
Arrives: 21 December
Leaves: 3 January
The tenth was Window Peeper,
a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window
and stole a peek through it.
And whatever was inside
to which his eye was drawn,
he most likely attempted
to take later on.
Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer
Arrives: 22 December
Leaves: 4 January
Eleventh was Door Sniffer,
a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold, yet had
a huge, sensitive nose.
He caught the scent of lace bread
while leagues away still
and ran toward it weightless
as wind over dale and hill.
Ketkrókur – Meat-Hook
Arrives: 23 December
Leaves: 5 January
Meat Hook, the twelfth one,
his talent would display
as soon as he arrived
on Saint Thorlak’s Day.
He snagged himself a morsel
of meat of any sort,
although his hook at times was
a tiny bit short.
I’m a told a favorite meat is lamb. The 23rd is also St. Thorlak’s Day, the patron saint of Iceland.
Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar (Or Candle Stealer)
Arrives: 24 December
Leaves: 6 January
The thirteenth was Candle Beggar
– ‘twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last
of the lot on Christmas Eve.
He trailed after the little ones
who, like happy sprites,
ran about the farm with
their fine tallow lights.
Candles at this time, were once made of tallow and thus edible. It is little wonder that Candle Beggar is often the most favorite of the Yule Lads and seen as being the most generous as he comes on the last day just before Christmas. Some children will leave a candle out for Kertasnikir next to their shoe.
Lost Yule Lads & Lasses
More recent times sees the Yule Lads numbering as thirteen in all. This wasn’t always so and there were a few others, that were once part of their number.
Flórsleikir – His name translates as “dung channel licker.” Luckily this has something to do with the channel in the cowshed.
Flotsokka – One of two sisters who would place a piece of fat on a half-knitted sock or stuff a piece of fat up her nose. Eww!?!
Flotnös – The second of two sisters who would place a piece of fat on a half-knitted sock or stuff a piece of fat up her nose. Eww!?!
Lampshadow – He would go and put out all of the lights.
Litlipungur – His name translates to mean “small balls”. What he did, I’m not sure I want to know.
Lungnaslettir – Or Lung Flapper, he gets his name from his penchant for walking around with a set of still wet sheep lungs and hitting anyone who gets in his way.
Smoke Gulper – He would sit on the roof and swallow the smoke coming from the chimney.
Bunch of weirdos.