Category Archives: Shape-Shifter
Also Known As: Benec, Vėlinas (Baltic, Lithuanian),Volos, Volusu, Volusu, Vyeles, Ganyklos (Lithuanian), Vlas (Russian), Walgino, Weles
Epitaphs: King of Bears, Lord of all Wolves, Master of the Forest, “Skotiybog“ (God of Cattle)
Etymology: “Uel-“ to see, fields, spirits of the dead. Also likely from the proto-Indo-European word “wel-“ wool
In Slavic beliefs, folklore, and mythology, Veles is a god of many things from storms and trickery to God of the underworld and domestic animals as well as the god of the earth and water. Veles is indeed a significant and major supernatural force within Slavic mythology and beliefs. Depending upon your source, some of it can seem rather contradictory.
Given the nature of Slavic beliefs, there isn’t much concrete documentation. There is still a lot of oral history and traditions about Veles found in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia. All of this can get very confusing as for the longest time, first with the arrival of Christianity, a lot of local Slavic pagan beliefs were done away with and made to be seen as aspects of evil and the devil. Then later, when that’s no longer so prominent, there just isn’t a lot that has been documented and what survives has been by oral tradition and that, can vary widely by local, regional traditions that have managed to get passed on. We also hit on several dubious sources that over time have proven not to be reliable.
Naturally, this will be where I’ve got some mistakes and expect I Veles to be a post I will come back to correct several times and update.
Animal: Bear, Cattle, Crows, Dragons, Owl, Ravens, Rooster, Serpents, Wolf
Colors: Black, Blue, Green, Red
Day of the Week: Sunday
Directions: North, West
Element: Earth, Water
Gemstones: Bloodstone, Garnet, Jasper, Jet, Obsidian, Onyx
Incense: Cedar, Clove, Ginger, Wormwood
Month: February, March
Plant: Cedar, Hawthorne, Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Pine, Wheat, Willow
Sphere of Influence: Cattle, Commerce, Divination, Fertility, Magic, Medicine, Music, Pastures, Underworld, Wealth, Wildlife
Symbols: Cattle, Horns, Serpents, Wool
Tarot: Cups, Pentacles
In some sources, Veles is described as a wolf-headed god. In other sources, Veles is described as a large serpent with horns that lives in the water or is pictured at the bottom of the Slavic World Tree with Perun in his eagle form at the top. Frequently, Veles is depicted as an elderly man with a gray beard and hair. As a shapeshifter, Veles often takes on the traits of those animals favored or associated with him such as horns and bear fur.
When in the form of a bear, Veles is regarded as the King of Bears. As a wolf, among the southern Slavs, Veles is the lord of all wolves.
Velinas – In the Balto-Slavic regions, a description is given that describes him as being a one-eyed god with a gift for divination and leader of the Wild Hunt, lord of the dead, and to whom people sacrificed to were killed with a spear. This version of Veles warrants having its own post as one source found, discusses Velinas as similar to, yet clearly different from Veles. Taking a look at the Mediterranean region among the Greek and Roman cultures, there were other culture groups like the Etruscans, the Dacians, Phrygians who have their own local deities who were similar to those of the Greek and Roman deities and would frequently be absorbed into the Greco-Roman pantheons and survive as epitaphs for the local region.
What’s In A Name?
According to the linguist Roman Jakobson, the name Veles comes from the word “uel-“ and “esu-“ while the name Volos comes from another root word for where “-el” changes to “olo.” The root word “uel” or “wel-“ can have variable meanings and refer to any number of words such as “to die,” “grass,” “to see,” “to want,” “to turn,” “to cull,” “tepid”, “hair,” “wool,” “forest,” and “deception” as in magical deceptions. The book “The Mythology of All Races” published in 1918 says that Veles’ name comes from “weles” for wolf.
The root word “uel” is also related to the proto-Germanic word “walaz” that is also seen in the old Norse “valr,” “valkyria,” and “Valholl” all words related to the Norse god Odin who is known too by the name “Valfǫðr.” In the Baltic dialects and language, we see this reflected in the word “vėlės/veļi” for the “spirits of the dead,” “shade of the deceased,” and “shadow of death.”. This is reflected in the Baltic god’s names of Vėlinas, Velnias, and Velns. A connection of the word “uel” from “ṷélsu-“ for meadow or pasture has been made with the Greek Elysium, the fields of the blessed dead.
Where “uel-“ relates with “to see,” there is a connection in the name of the seeress Veleda. Going off this, in Norse mythology there is a “Völva,” a seeress connected to water and foretelling known as “Völuspa.” The word “Völuspa” is connected to spinning or braiding the Thread of Fate of those whose futures have been seen. “Völva” is also the cognate for a “Wheel” or “Spinning Wheel.”
In the proto-Indo-European language, etymologists have found the root word “wel-“ meaning wool and likely where the English word “wool” comes from. The Russian word for “hair” is “volos.” As a god of horned cattle and other livestock, this makes sense.
First off, “The Primary Chronicle” is the main source and historical record that provides us with evidence for Veles’ importance and worship. Veles is one of the Slavic gods that can be concretely confirmed while there are several others that have been disproved or there’s still information being gathered to confirm them.
Veles is worshiped in two distinct forms. One as Veles and one as Volos. This makes sense as that can be a way to break down all the aspects of what Veles is a god of and the domains he presides over. Scholars and etymologists suggest that Veles and Volos are two different gods being referred to. However, that does make sense for a need to see two different deities once the Slavic regions began to be Christianized and there’s a split of Veles’ dualistic nature.
Cocks or Roosters would be sacrificed to Veles at the rivers or lakes sacred to him.
During the later 10th century, Vladimir I, the Prince of Kiev erected seven statues in his city, of which Veles was one of them. However, Veles’ statue is the only one that didn’t stand up on the hill next to the other statues and castle. Instead, Veles’ statue could be found in the city in the marketplace. This placement indicates strongly Veles’ importance to commerce. Plus, it also shows that the worship of Perun and Veles needed to be kept separate as Perun’s shrines and worship were to be conducted up high with Veles’ place down in the lowlands. Among the Southern Slavs, Veles’ name is often found in place names.
Triglav – Veles was worshipped as an aspect of the three-headed Slavic god Triglav and the Slavic trinity consisting of Perun, Veles, and Svarog.
With the arrival of Christianity in the Slavic regions and countries, the aspect of Veles has largely been suppressed, at least the aspects connecting him to the Underworld and as a trickster. He has been equated with the Devil with his name becoming the same word for ghosts and devils. There is a record of Czech’s referring to Veles as a devil in the 16th century. An idol was thrown in the Pocayna River. Veles is used frequently in medieval curses from Bohemia.
Due to Veles’ dualistic nature, we see a split in his name with Veles and Volos. The name Veles under Christian influence holding a more negative connotations and associations. Whereas with Volos, he is held more benignly, and this aspect survives, becoming associated with different Saints.
St. Blaise – Or Saint Vlas, Saint Vlaho, St. Blaz, or St. Vlasiy, he is connected more to the aspect of Volos, he is a shepherd and patron saint cattle and domestic animals. Icons of St. Vlas were placed in cattle sheds for their protection. The Saint’s name day is February 12th and, on this day, cattle are treated to a special feed to eat. In Yaroslavl, the church built on the site of Vele’s shrine was dedicated to St. Blaise.
St. Nicholas – Veles is associated with this saint who is a patron of merchants, fishermen, and mariners. There is also this connection due to the association with water and being a snake who is slain by St. George, a motif similar to the enmity between Perun and Veles.
Parentage and Family
Father – Rod, the creator god in Slavic beliefs.
Mother – Zemun, a divine or celestial cow.
Sometimes Veles’ parents are given as Svarog and Lada.
Perun and Dażbóg
Depending on the region or the source cited, Veles is married either to Mokosh, the goddess of the earth, or to Devana, a goddess of the wilds and hunt.
Mokosh – She is somewhat conflicting as in other stories Mokosh is the wife to Perun and whom Veles kidnaps in their never-ending feud.
Devana – Or Dziewanna was forced to marry Veles after she rebelled against Perun.
Jarilo – A fertility god raised by Veles after being kidnapped. So he may not really count.
The struggle against Chaos; this is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or God going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.
This aspect is seen in the descriptions of Veles where he is a serpent with horns and the battle that he has with Perun. It’s a dragon or serpent-slaying motif seen with the story of Saint George slaying the dragon.
Storm Myth – Battle With Perun, the Storm God
As previously mentioned above under Chaoskampf, this story is perhaps the best-known Slavic story, especially as it fits into the Christian ideas of a hero slaying the dragon or evil or order triumphing over chaos.
Russian scholars and philologists Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov have reconstructed this mythical battle of Perun and Veles with comparative studies to various Indo-European myths, Slavic folk tales, and songs.
Perun, the god of thunder battles against Veles in his dragon form. Depending on the story, Veles has stolen either Perun’s son, wife, or cattle which leads to their conflict.
As a challenge, in the shape of a huge serpent, Veles comes up from the underworld of Nav and wind his way up the Slave World Tree towards the heavens and Perun’s domain. Naturally, Perun responds by sending lightning bolts so that Veles flees back down and turns himself into various animals, people, and even trees to escape from or ambush Perun as they battle it out.
In the end, Veles is slain by Perun and the person or thing that Veles is to have stolen is released from within his body and it comes out in the form of falling rain from the heavens.
Scholars have commented that this “Storm Myth” is probably how the ancient Slavs would explain the changing of the seasons throughout the year. Any dry periods would be seen as Veles’ theft with the storms and lightning being interpreted as a divine battle up in the heavens and Perun’s ultimate triumph over Veles with the arrival of rain and Perun establishing order over chaos.
The Slavs have a saying that wherever lighting strikes, that is Perun attacking Veles.
Variation 1 – In the stories where Veles kidnaps Perun’s son, it is Jarilo, the tenth son who is stolen. Veles then raises Jarilo as his own son, who when he is older, becomes a god of fertility and heralds the arrival of spring when he returns to the lands of the living.
Variation 2 – It is Perun who is stolen as an infant and raised in the underworld. Once Perun is grown, he battles many creatures in order to fight his way back up to the mortal world.
Since the “Storm Myth” is cyclical and repeats every year. It connects Veles as a god of fertility and a god who dies and then is resurrected. The snake or serpent aspect of Veles would be him shedding his old skin or old life to be reborn as the year changes.
The “Storm Myth” and battle with Perun places Veles in a more negative role as one who brings chaos. Certainly, change is chaotic, but there is a pattern that emerges and soon you can make sense of that pattern and bring about a certain order to things so it doesn’t get destructive.
For the ancient Slavs, Veles wasn’t evil, he was the god of the wilds and nature which can appear to be very unpredictable if you’re not careful or respectful.
Later Christian influences will place him as evil and why in so many places Veles’ name does become synonymous with the devil and evil. But we do see where Veles appears as a Saint such as Saint Nicholas to save a poor farmer’s cattle from the destructiveness of St. Elias, a representative of Perun.
While Perun is more associated with agriculture, there is a Russian custom during harvest season to cut the first ear of wheat and tie it into an amulet that would protect crops from evil spirits. This was known as “tying the beard of Veles” which meant to invoke good fortune and wealth.
Duality – Ultimately the conflict of Perun and Veles is the duality in the clash of good and evil and the cyclical nature of the passing of the seasons and year. Veles represents the earth, water, and physical world and Perun represents fire, the heavens, and spirit.
Marriage To Devana
Also known as Dziewanna, she is a goddess of the wilds and hunt. As punishment, Devana found herself forced to marry Veles after she rebelled against Perun. Wanting to be wild and free, Devana didn’t initially love Veles at first despite the two having a domain that’s very similar to each other. After a bit of thought, Veles managed to win Devana over when he changed into a basil flower and calmed her. While they’re still not really in love, together they do watch over the lowlands of the wilds and are a force not to be taken lightly.
God of Mischief
Like Loki, Veles is considered a god of mischief and trickery. This ties strongly to the association of Veles’ use of magic, shapeshifting, and the arts. This aspect holds where Veles is seen as a god of chaos and a disruption during any long periods of dryness, or no rain as primarily seen in the “Storm Myth.”
Magic & The Arts
In this aspect, we see Veles the god of divination, magic, music, poetry, the earth, and water. Oaths would be sworn in Veles’ name. Traveling musicians, skalds, bards, and poets were known to pray to Veles for his protection as they traveled.
As a god of poetry, divination, and the arts, Veles has been equated with the Norse Odin. There is a 12th-century Russian epic, “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign,” where the character Boyan the wizard is referred to as Vele’s grandson. Poetry, music, and magic were closely linked in both Nordic and Slavic beliefs.
Veles is regarded as a protector of traveling musicians. Up into the 20th century, in some wedding ceremonies held in northern Croatia, the music won’t begin playing unless the groom while making a toast, spills some of the wine onto the ground, especially near the roots of a tree. This tradition would be musicians making a toast to their patron deity.
The Slavic magician-priests were called: volhov, volchvi, vlъsvi and volъsvi. They were not priests of an elite religion like those belonging to Perun. Rather, these magician-priests were known to be seers, soothsayers, poets, magicians and sorcerers as well as healers and herbalists. It is thought the etymology of volchys connects them to Volos.
God of the Underworld
Veles is a god of the Underworld, in charge of the spirits of the dead whom he would send out as his messengers. In his connection to the earth, Veles is also a god of all the bounties and riches of the earth, growing above and found below.
Nav – Also known as Nawia, this is Veles’ abode in the underworld. Incidentally, the word nav could also refer to the spirits or souls of the deceased who had premature deaths or poor deaths such as drowning, or being murdered, or if you were a murderer or warlock, these were all spirits that would come back as demons to afflict the living. The navias could take the form of birds. In Bulgaria, there is folklore that says twelve navias could suck the blood from a pregnant woman. The navias were also the demonic representation of the 1092 plague in Polotsk, Belarus.
Very similar to Norse beliefs, the Slavs also believed a huge world tree connected the mortal world to the heavens and the underworld. The roots of the world tree formed the roof of the underworld as they stretched out.
Where Perun was seen as either a hawk or eagle sitting in the branches of the world tree looking out over the heavens, Veles was seen as a huge serpent coiled around the roots ruling over the underworld.
Unlike descriptions of other underworlds, Nav was viewed as a beautiful place in folktales as a place where it’s forever Spring with green, grassy plains and plenty of water. Many fantastical creatures could be found here, not just the spirits of the dead who watched over Veles’ herds of cattle.
For the Slavs, Nav was described as being somewhere “across the sea” and was the place where migrating birds would go to every winter. In folktales, we find a different name, Virey or Iriv and that Jarilo, the god of fertility and vegetation lived here during winter and would return when it was time for spring. Jarilo would cross the seas, returning to the lands of the living bringing spring and birds back.
The Separation Of The Human World & Underworld
This story concerns the separation and boundary separating the mortal, living world with that of the underworld and lands of the dead. A shepherd pledged to Veles to sacrifice his best cow and to keep the god’s prohibitions. From this, Veles divides the human world and the underworld with either a furrow that he plows or groove over the road that the shepherd carves with a knife to prevent evil or negative powers from crossing.
God of Cattle
As Volos, he is known as “skotiybog,“ the god of cattle who watches over and protects flocks, cattle and all domestic animals, keeping them from harm. The name skotnyi bog is also the name for livestock in general. This aspect of Veles survives and continued under Christian influence well into the 18th century as Saint Blaise where he is a protector of shepherds and their flocks or cattle.
It must be noted too that it isn’t just domestic animals that Volos watches over, but all wild animals, connecting him to the image of him as a horned serpent and thus, horned gods like Pan or Cernunnos who watch over the forests and animals. In addition to the horns associated with either a bull or ram, there is also sheep’s wool that is used as a symbol for Veles.
The Koledari would sing that they come to “weaving black wool.” There is some folklore involving wool and the expressions, “presti vunu” meaning weaving wool, and “crnu vunu presti” meaning the weaving of black wool. These are illusions to magical crafts and Veles’ role as a god of magic.
God of Commerce & Wealth
Given how cattle were regarded as a sign of wealth and influence, it’s not hard to see Volos become the god and patron of commerce, business, prosperity, trade, and wealth. Merchants would seal their agreements by swearing Volos’ name and even legal documents would sometimes have oaths to him. If you broke an oath, you could be sure of Volos’ punishment and retribution.
A Rus-Byzantine Treaty of 971 is the earliest record we have where signers swore by Vele’s name with violators being warned of a punishment. They would be killed by their own weapons that would become “yellow as gold.” It is thought that this meant they would be cursed with a disease.
Veles’ Feast Day
Or the Festival of Veles, this festival is celebrated either February 11th or 24th for the observance of midwinter. In Christian folk rituals, this festival corresponds with Saint Blaise’s feast day. In the Orthodox traditions, St. Blaise as the protector of cattle is said to have defeated Winter or Morana. Among Catholic traditions, St. Blaise is the patron of throat diseases and apples and candles are blessed to provide protection from those diseases. In Catholic tradition, St. Blaise’s feast day is February 3rd and apples would be sacrificed to him by feeding them to cattle.
Prayers would be offered to Veles for the protection of livestock and their health by sacrificing milk. The festival would be held near a place of worship. During this time, it is forbidden to eat veal. The food eaten during this time is groats seasoned with fat. Ritual fights would also be held during this festival.
The best part is knowing that this held close to Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia!
The Great Night, in Slavic beliefs, following a lunar calendar, the first day of the New Year would begin on what corresponds with the Gregorian calendar of March 1st to celebrate the end of Winter and return of Spring. This festival could last from Christmas all the way to the end of February. After the arrival and Christianization of many Slavic countries, for those Slavs falling under the Orthodox Churches, this day came to be known as Velik Dan or the Great Day. For the Catholic Slavs, this day became Velika Noc, still the Great Night. Both names correspond with the day or the week in which Easter is observed.
In pre-Christian worship, Velja Noc is the night that the spirits of the dead walk the earth and would enter villages and homes to celebrate the New Year with their living relatives. It is believed that Veles, as the god of the underworld would send out the souls of the dead to the living world to act as his messengers. One tradition has young men known as koledari or vucari would dress up in long coats of sheep wool and wear grotesque masks as they went around the villages making a lot of noise and singing songs. They would be wet and muddy to symbolize the wet underworld of Nav and the ghosts of the dead. In the koledari traditions, they would visit different homes and people presented them with gifts as if they were messengers from Veles to gain his favor for wealth and fortune in the following year.
Which I find very fascinating as this all sounds very much like the Irish celebration of Samhain and Halloween with spirits of the dead passing over to the world of the living and dressing up in costume. Plus, the spirits visiting living relatives is a lot like celebrations of Día de Los Muertos in Mexico and Kalan Goañv in Brittany, France.
Apsat – A Georgian or Sarmatian deity and god of cattle and herds who has been equated with Velese.
Cernunnos – A god of the druids in Celtic myth, he is symbolized as a horned snake and god of nature and horned animals.
Hermes – A trickster god and messenger of the Greek pantheon, Veles has been compared to them.
Loki – Veles has been compared to the trickster god Loki from Norse mythology.
Mercury – The trickster and messenger god of the Roman pantheon.
Odin – Some descriptions of Veles also sound just like Odin with his one-eye and gift of prophecy.
Triglav – A three-headed underworld god worshiped by the Pomeranians and some of the Polabian Slavs in Szczecin, Wolin and Brandenburg. It was a short-lived cult confirmed by St. Otto of Bamberg in his biographies.
Vala – A demon who opposes the thunder god Indra in the Vedas.
Vėlinas – A Baltic deity who is very similar in appearance to the Norse Odin and not just Veles.
Etymology: Faceless Monk, From the Japanese word “nopperi” meaning “featureless”
Japanese Kanji & Kana: 野箆坊, のっぺらぼう
Other Spellings: Nopperabo, Noppera-Bo
Also Called: Faceless Ghost, No-Face, Mujina, Nupperiho, and Zunberabo
In Japanese folklore and mythology, the Noppera-bō is a faceless ghost or yokai of which there are several different tales and stories surrounding them.
The Noppera-bō is a ghost or yurei in Japanese who at first glance appears to be human. They will sometimes appear to be someone the person knows. It’s not until a person gets closer or during interactions with them, that the Noppera-bō reveals, having no face and is just blank, featureless smooth skin where a face should be.
This is usually the goal and tactic of a Noppera-bō, scare the ever-living daylights out of a person for a good jump scare and send them running in fear. For added effect, some Noppera-Bō work in teams of at least two where the first scares their victim, and that person runs off to tell someone else what happened, only for that person to reveal a featureless face too. Otherwise, this spirit is rather harmless and really more prone to mischief.
A couple sources have said that the noppera-bō isn’t a ghost at all, but a Yokai; a broad category of supernatural entities and spirits in Japanese folklore. Narrowing it down from there, noppera-bō belongs to a category known as obake or “changed creature” referring to those yokai that are shapeshifters. Since other shape-shifting yokai could be mistaken for a noppera-bō, it’s sometimes not always clear which entity is being seen.
There are several stories of noppera-bō, a story of a young woman rescued from bandits by a samurai who finds that her face disappears, stories of nobles going to a tryst only to find that the courtesan in question they’re to meet turns out to be a noppera-bō.
There are two main stories involving noppera-bō.
The Noppera-bō & The Koi Pond
This story involves a lazy fisherman who decided to go fishing at the imperial koi ponds near Heian-Kyo Palace. The man’s wife warned him not to go as the pond is sacred and near a graveyard. Despite this, the fisherman ignores his wife and heads off anyways.
While on his way to the pond, the man is warned by another fisherman not to go to there. Again, the man ignores his fellow. Then, at the koi pond, a beautiful young woman pleads with the man not to fish. Once again, the man ignores them.
This time, the young woman wipes her face off, frightening the fisherman. Fleeing home in terror, he sees who at first looks like his wife. As the wife is scolding the man, she too wipes her face off.
When Is A Ghost Not A Ghost?
When it’s a mujina.
The word mujina is an old Japanese term for a badger or raccoon dog also known as a tanuki. As shapeshifters, the mujina were known to transform into noppera-bō in order to scare humans. Sometimes kitsune and tanuki are known to impersonate noppera-bō as well.
The Mujina of the Akasaka Road
This is the second of two well-known stories concerning the noppera-bō. This story is found in Lafcadio Hearn’s book “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.”
A man was once traveling along the Akasaka road towards Edo when he came upon a young woman in a remote area near Kunizaka hill crying. The man attempted to comfort and console the young woman when she turned to face him, revealing a blank, featureless face. Frightened, the man took off down the road until he came to a soba vendor. Thinking he was safe; the man began to relate what had happened to him. The vendor then stroked his face as it changed to the featureless of a noppera-bō.
A similar retelling of this story is seen in the Studio Ghibli movie Pom Poko.
Modern Ghost Stories
Most stories of noppera-bō lean more historical and there aren’t very many reported sightings in the 20th or 21st centuries.
There is a story from 1959 in Honolulu there is a report of a sighting of mujina at the Waialae Drive-In Theatre in Kahala where a witness says they saw a woman combing her hair in the restroom. When the woman turned, she revealed a featureless face. The witness was also reported as having been admitted to the hospital for a nervous breakdown.
The Hawaiian historian, folklorist, and author Glen Grant tried to dismiss the story in 1981 during a radio interview only to have the witness call herself, giving more details about the story such as the mujina having red hair. The drive-in in question has long since been torn down. Noppera-bō or mujina sightings do continue in Hawaii where a number of Japanese have immigrated to.
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.
Also Known As: Boe Muliache in Lula and Mamoiada, Voe Corros in Benetutti, Voe Mulinu in Ollolai, Voe Travianu in Orgosolo, Voe Corros de Attalzu (“the Steel-Horned Ox”)
Hailing from the island of Sardinia, west of Italy, comes the legend of the Erchitu. This tormented creature is a man who committed a severe wrong or sin and as a result, suffers a painful transformation into a huge white ox with large horns during the nights of the full moon.
There are a couple local stories of the discovery of an Erchitu when someone thought they had caught a wild or wandering white ox, bring it home to their barn and in the morning, when they come to check on their new cattle, find instead a man crying.
During the nights of the full moon, the afflicted person transforms into a huge white ox with large steel horns. One feature to distinguish this white ox from others is their weeping human-like eyes.
Sometimes, the Erchitu can be found followed by devils or fairies who set two lit candles on the Erchitu’s horns as they prod it along with hot skewers.
Devils or not, the Erchitu can be found mindlessly roaming through towns and the countryside.
“It seemed so innocent when Bossy bite my hand…”
- Flippy T. Fishhead
While the Erchitu has a lot appearance-wise that’s similar to the cursed versions of werewolves and lycanthropes, the reality is that the Erchitu curses themselves when a man commits any grievous and serious deed. Usually, this crime is homicide.
Much like the stories of werewolves, the stories of Erchitu are an allegory of the idea of guilt that isn’t governed by human laws. That a person becomes a beast as this straddles what separates humans from other animals. The ideas of instinct and reason, evil and good. That a human being will feel remorse and guilt, they will know that you don’t murder, cheat or break any of the social contracts with fellow humans. The person who does is little better than an animal and thus, an animal they become.
In Sardinian mythology, where the old Pagan beliefs have blended with Christian beliefs, the ox is a symbol of submission, and the yoke is symbolic of sin. So, when a person commits a grievous offense, an ox they become, driven by instinct and controlled by their sins.
When transformed, the Erchitu is known to roam the country of Sardinia. Where it would stop, notably in front of a house, the Erchitu will bellow three times, with this roar capable of being heard by everyone living in the country. The master of the house would then be fated to die within the year of the Erchitu’s bellowing.
Breaking The Curse!
There are a couple of different ways that an afflicted Erchitu can break free of their curse, but they must find someone who is brave and strong, who is capable of blowing out the candles in one breath. Or this person needs to be able to cut off the horns with a precise shot.
If you knew how heartless, greedy, and selfish a person is, it’s easy to say they brought this curse on themselves, so why break it?
Obviously, there are people far better than I am.
The other method that a person can do is to perform a ritual, called “imbrussinadura” where they roll all over the ground in front of three churches or they roll over the ground in front of a cemetery. At this point, the person returns to their human form and is unable to remember anything of their time as an Erchitu.
This method is thought to have strong roots in ancient pagan rituals that were used to free a person from possession, a ritual that involved precise protocols of making three turns, early morning, afternoon, and night. That this rolling over would reverse negative energy back to positive again.
Etymology – medis “tree” or medė “forest” Lithuanian
Also Called: Medeinė, Meidein, Meidene, Žvorūna, Žvorūnė, vilkmergė (“She-Wolf”)
Medeina is the Lithuanian goddess of the forest and hunt in the Baltic region. As a goddess of the hunt, Medeina has been compared to the Grecian Artemis or Roman Diana.
Animal: Bear, Hare, Wolf
Sphere of Influence: Forests, Wildlife
The first images of Medeina show her as a bear.
Lithuanian scholar, Algirdas Julius Greimas says that Medeina is single, a virgin goddess much like Artemis or Diana. Greimas describes her as a beautiful, young and voluptuous huntress who is accompanied by wolves.
When seen as a bear, Medeina’s worshipers dressed in bear skins during a Winter Solstice ritual.
The scholar, Vykintas Vaitkevičius is reported to have identified five Hare Churches and ten Wolf-Footprints in Eastern Lithuania that are sacred to Medeina. The churches are sacred stones, hills and forests while the paw prints are stones with hollows that look like a paw print.
After the Baptism of Lithuania, Medeina’s cult and worship went in decline.
Her name day is August 21st in Lithuania.
Goddess Of The Hunt/Forest Protector
Whele Medeina is seen as a goddess of the hunt, her actual role is that of protecting the wild animals in the forest from hunters. One way that she would do this is to send out a rabbit or hare to misdirect hunters and get them to chase it.
As Medeina protected the wildlife from Hunters, she was often seen as having dual benign and malign traits. As if scholars couldn’t decide if she were divine or demonic in nature.
The first animal caught in spring would be sacrificed to Medeina.
Medeina is known to take a couple of different forms. The first is that of a young woman, the second is that of a wolf. In her wolf form, Medeina leads a pack of wolves.
A Russian chronicle that dates to around 1252, according to this text, Medeina is one of the pagan deities that was worshiped by the Lithuanian King Mindaugas. Here, Medeina is an unnamed hare goddess.
This text has caused some scholarly discussions whether the name Medeina is the name of the hare goddess or if there are two different goddesses with the same name.
Military Prowess & Might
Any early role of Medeina was in the military aspects of warriors. Medeina would later be replaced by Zemyna, the goddess of Earth who represents agriculture and peasants.
I could not find much on this entity. The Juodas kudlotas which translates from “juodas” for black and “kudlotas” for hair is some sort of cross between a hairy animal and a human being, much like sightings of Big Foot or Sasquatch in the U.S. This is a creature that lives in the forests and finds favor with Medeina.
Artemis – The Greek goddess of the Hunt.
Diana – The Roman goddess of the Hunt.
Meža Mate – The Forest Mother, she is another goddess associated with Medeina.
Žvorūnė – Also called Žvorūna from the word “žvėris” meaning “beast,” is a Lithuanian goddess of hunting and animals. She is a goddess made mention of in the Malala Chronicle and Chronicle of Ipatius. She has been equated with Medeina. There’s some speculation that Žvoruna may be an epitaph of Medeina and that there might be an older hunting goddess who has since been forgotten.
Also Known As: Khanty, Kaltes Ankw
In Siberian mythology, Kaltes-Ekwa is a moon goddess as well as the goddess of rejuvenation among the Ugric people.
The main story surrounding Kaltes-Ekwa is that she was defeated in combat by her husband Num-Torum, the Supreme god of the Ugric pantheon. Due to this defeat, Kaltes-Ekwa gave birth to her son Mir-Susne-Hum who would go on to do several great deeds of his own and become a great hero.
Animal: Hare, Rabbit
Sphere of Influence: Childbirth, Fate, Life Cycles
Parentage and Family
Num-Torum – In myth, Num-Torum defeats Kaltes-Ekwa to become ruler of the heavens.
Mir-Susne-Hum – A hero in Ugric beliefs and mediator between humans and his father Num-Torum.
As a Moon or Lunar goddess, Kaltes-Ekwa’s role within her pantheon is very multifaceted. For there is a lot of symbolism invoked with this status.
As a Moon deity, Kaltes-Ekwa presided over numerous functions. The notable ones are life cycles as seen in the different phases of the moon, childbirth, fertility, and rejuvenation.
Kaltes-Ekwas was called upon by pregnant women, especially those about to give birth. As a moon goddess, Kaltes-Ekwas also symbolized the not just the life cycle, but the beginning of life.
Kaltes-Ekwa’s association with the beginning cycle of life has also given her this title as a Dawn Goddess, with the beginning of the day.
Goddess of Fate
Given Kaltes-Ekwa’s role as a goddess of childbirth, it was also believed she was responsible for determining the fate and destinies of people before they are even born. This association caused some people to be fearful and potentially over cautious in her presence.
Still, people call upon Kaltes-Ekwa for her compassion and wisdom to guide them through life.
The hare is Kaltes-Ekwa’s sacred animal. It makes sense, when looking at the Moon, some people see the shape of a rabbit or hare in the moon. As a result, hares and rabbits are seen as lunar animals in many beliefs. The hare in this role, acts as a messenger between a lunar deity such as Kaltes-Ekwa and humans.
As a goddess, the hare is also her preferred animal to shape-shift into.
Etymology: “Rising from the Sea,” Aphros “Sea Foam”
Other Names and Epithets: Αφροδιτη, Acraea, Amathusia, Ambologera (”She who Postpones Old Age”), Anadyomene, Antheia, Aphrodite Areia (“War-Like”), Aphrodite en kopois (“Aphrodite of the Gardens”), Chryse (mythology), Cytherea, Lady of Cythera, Despoina, Aphrodite Pandemos, Aphrodite Ourania or Urania (Heavenly Aphrodite), Aphrodite Benetrix (Married Love), Aphrodite Porne (Erotic Love), Pandemos, Urania, Lady of Cyprus, Philommeidḗs (“Smile-Loving” or “Laughter-Loving”), Eleemon (“The Merciful”), Genetyllis (“Mother”), Potnia (“Mistress”), Enoplios (“Armed”), Morpho (“Shapely”), Melainis (“Black One”), Skotia (“Dark One”), Androphonos (“Killer of Men”), Anosia (“Unholy”), Tymborychos (“Gravedigger”), Aphrodite Pontia (“Of the Deep Sea”), and Aphrodite Euploia (“Of the Fair Voyage”)
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, specifically sexual love, beauty, desire and fertility. With an irresistible charm and beauty, Aphrodite is used to getting her way as many a mortal and god sought her favor. For those who spurned her, Aphrodite could be vindictive like many a Greek deity’s reputation for pettiness. Aphrodite is without a doubt, one of the best-known Olympian goddesses. In more modern times, Aphrodite is still seen one of many feminine icons from mythology who continues to feature in Western literature and arts.
Aphrodite’s Roman counterpart is Venus and their myths become very intertwined over the millennia to the point that their names are often interchangeable in Aphrodite’s myths.
Animal: Dolphin, Dove, Ducks, Geese, Heron, Ram, Sparrow, Swan, Tortoise
Colors: Blue, Green, Scarlet, White, Gold
Day of the Week: Friday
Gemstones: Lapis Lazuli, Pearl
Month: April, February, July
Patron of: Love, Lovers, Prostitutes
Plant: Apple, Lime Tree, Mandrake, Myrtle, Myrrh, Palm, Pomegranate, Poppy, Rose
Sphere of Influence: Love in all of its forms, physical, sensual, passion, relationships
Symbols: Girdle, Golden Apples, Scallop Shells, Mirror, the Ocean, Chocolate
Aphrodite Areia – Helmet, Lance, Shield, Sword, Victory
Aphrodite Pandemos – Ram
Aphrodite Urania – Tortoise for Domestic Modesty and Chastity
In Classic Greek art, Aphrodite is often depicted as a blue-eyed, golden-haired woman with pale skin. For the Greeks, she was the very ideal of beauty. Statues of Aphrodite depict her as the height of Grecian physical beauty. At first, there was nothing to distinguish Aphrodite from other statues of goddesses, not until around the 5th century B.C.E. Statues of Aphrodite from Cyrene and Esquiline in the 1st century B.C.E. were called Aphrodite Kallipygos or “Aphrodite with a Beautiful Derriere.”
Classical art and sculpture from the 5th century B.C.E. will show Aphrodite as fully clothed, once the 1st century B.C.E. comes, do nude statues of Aphrodite appear. The most famous of the Aphrodite sculptures was carved by Praxieteles. It is during the Hellenistic era of Greece that the first nude statue of Aphrodite, the Venus de Milo appears in the 2nd century B.C.E.
Aphrodite is often shown accompanied with her son Eros, also a god of love.
What’s In A Name
We know the first part of Aphrodite’s name, aphros means sea foam or foam and alludes to her birth from the ocean when Uranus’ gentiles were thrown in the sea by his son Cronus. There were early attempts by scholars to link Aphrodite’s name to a Greek or Indo-European origin. Given the strong connections of Aphrodite to the Middle East and likely of Semitic origin.
Nineteenth and early twentieth scholars who accepted the etymology of “sea form” for the first part of Aphrodite’s name have tried to connect the second part of the name “-odite” to mean either “wanderer” or “brite.” As there’s disagreements, some scholars have even gone so far as to link Aphrodite’s name to the Assyrian barīrītu, the name of a female demon found in Babylonian texts. Others have tried for the Etruscan word of “eproni” for “lord” making the last part of Aphrodite’s name an honorific. The name continues to be debated as to what the correct translation and etymology for Aphrodite’s name is.
The epithets of Urania for Heavenly Dweller and Pandemos for “Of all the people” likely try to connect her as a goddess of universal love and everyone. In his Symposium, Plato argues that the epitaphs of Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite Pandemos are two separate deities.
There is a lot of evidence and discussions that Aphrodite very strongly began as the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar or the Phoenician Astarte and the Syro-Palestinian goddess Ashtart.
Pausanias records that the first people to worship Aphrodite were the Assyrians and then the people of Cyprus, followed by the Phoenicians at Ascalon. From there, Aphrodite’s cult and worship spread throughout most of Greece.
Looking at the epitaph of Aphrodite Ourania shows a connection to Inanna as the Queen of Heaven. Early art and literature that describes Aphrodite is very similar to Inanna. Like Inanna, Aprodite was worshiped as a war goddess, at least in the second century B.C.E. Pausanias makes mention where in Sparta, she is worshipped as Aphrodite Areia, meaning “warlike.” Pausanias also records that early statues in Sparta and Cythera show Aprodite bearing arms. Modern scholars use this connection of Aphrodite with her Middle Eastern origins. It makes sense when ancient Grecian culture once stretched as far as where modern Turkey and Syria are today.
Doves – One of Aphrodite’s symbols, the dove is also connected to Ishtar as one of her symbols. Scholars have noted that the Greek word for dove is “peristera” is likely comes from the Semitic phrase of “perah Istar” meaning “bird of Ishtar.” How interesting. Doves appear in a lot of ancient Greek art for pottery, reliefs, and sculptures depicting Aphrodite.
At one point, early comparative scholars have tried to link Aprodite with Eos, the Greek goddess of the Dawn. It works and relies on linking to the Proto-Indo European Dawn goddess of Haéusōs who is then linked to the Greek Eos, the Latin Aurora and the Sanskrit Ushas.
Both Aphrodite and Eos are known for their erotic beauty and sexuality. They have both had relationships with mortal lovers (as have a good number of Greek deities). Add in, that both goddesses are associated with the colors of red, white, and gold. The myth of Aphrodite rising from the sea has a similarity to the Rigvedic myth of Indra defeating Vrtra and freeing Ushas. Which then brings the last comparison of Aphrodite and the Indo-European goddess Haéusōs both having a parentage that links them to of a sky deity.
Maybe, but it is the alternative mythological and etymological link when the Middle Eastern connection isn’t accepted. Plus, the whole Proto-Indo-European language is largely theoretical with many modern scholars leaning towards the Mesopotamian connections.
As a goddess of love, beauty and sexual desires, Aphrodite was and still is worshiped by a wide variety of people from nearly every walk of life. For ancient Greece, this is the everyday people up to the higher, ruling class
As a very sensual goddess of love, particularly sexual love and beauty, Aphrodite’s priestesses were known to engage in sexual activities themselves as part of worshiping her. It should be noted that this didn’t make them prostitutes, it was part of the job description for priestess of Aphrodite. If you’re seeing every woman as a goddess to held sacred, cherished, respected and worshiped, you’re not far from worshiping Aphrodite or any goddess or god of love. It is going to get carnal.
As such, Aphrodite had several shrines and temples dedicated to her. Her main temples and cults were to be found in Cythera and Cyprus.
Gynaikonomoi – If it hasn’t been noticed before, women in many Greek and even Roman myths aren’t treated well, whether goddess or mortal. The Gynaikonomoi or Magistrates in Charge of Women are mentioned in the 1st century C.E. Sparta.
Marriage – Pausanias records the practice of the mothers of brides sacrificing to a wooden image known as Aphrodite Hera, an epitaph of either goddess connecting the ideals of love and marriage. Pausanias goes on to mention a seated statue of Aphrodite Morpho or the “The Fair Shaped Aphrodite” that had a veil on her head and chains on her feet. Lovely. This statuary clearly meant to connect the role of brides and a woman’s place in a marriage with her duties with wives being faithful to husbands.
Prostitutes – Yes, Aphrodite is the patron goddess of prostitutes. The city of Corinth was known for the high number of prostitutes and courtesans. With Corinth also being one of Aphrodite’s main cult centers with a major temple, it led to early scholars believing in the concept of “sacred prostitution” in Greco-Roman cultures with nearby islands of Cyprus and Cythera and even Sicily being associated with prostitution. There are records of many dedications to Aphrodite found in poetry and pottery by courtesans that have been found. Plus, you add in that Aphrodite’s Mesopotamian counterpart Inanna is also associated with prostitution. While the idea of “sacred prostitution” persists in some schools of thought, the idea is getting discarded more and more.
Amathus – This is one of Aphrodite’s centers of worship on the island of Cyprus.
Corinth – On mainland Greece, this city was one of Aphrodite’ centers of worship.
Cyprus – Aphrodite’s center of worship was clearly on this island as evidenced by the numerous sanctuaries dedicated to this goddess. Aphrodite would be called Cyprian for her connection to this island as her birthplace.
Cythera – Another island where Aphrodite’s worship was prominent. It had been a Minoan colony at one point. Some myths will place Aphrodite’s birth as being here, giving her the epitaph of Cytherea. The island was certainly a stopping point for the trade route between Crete and Peloponesus which in turn could mean that the myths might have evidence of how Aphrodite’s cult came from the Middle East to Greece.
Pandemos – This the oldest of Aphrodite’s cult-sites that dates back to 230 B.C.E. Here, Aphrodite was known as Aphrodite Pandemos or “Aphrodite who is Common to all the People.” This Aphrodite was associated with the hero Theseus and worshipers of Aphrodite Pandemos sought out her blessings for uniting the people of Athens. Not just for personal relationships, but political connections too. The cult of Aphrodite Pandemos is very likely led to the formation of democracy.
This city located on Cyprus is the location for one of Aphrodite’s most well-known temples, especially in the ancient world. It is thought that the rites dedicated to Aphrodite were a blend of oriental and Aegean influences that could ultimately trace their origins to the Mesopotamian Ishtar and Phoenician Astarte. Archeological studies have shown that the cult of Aphrodite dates back to the Late Bronze Age, roughly 1200 B.C.E. and continue uninterrupted up to the Late Roman Era towards the 4th century C.E. There are suggestions that Aphrodite’s worship could possibly go back to the Chalcolithic Era. Female figurines and charms have been found dating to the third millennium and religious sanctuaries called temenos were well established before the construction of any Late Bronze Age structures.
Prior to this, Pausanias thought Aphrodite’s cult was introduced from Syria and of Phoenician origin. Prior to more modern Archeology, people that that Aphrodite’s worship and cult dated back before Homer’s time of around 700 B.C.E. with mention of Aphrodite’s altar in the Odyssey.
Paphos is also the location that the Greeks say where Aphrodite landed when she arrived at Cyprus when she rose out of the sea. An oracle was also to found here in Paphos. The Sanctuary of Aphrodite Paphia was a pilgrimage destination for her followers. The city gains its name from Paphos, the son of Pygmalion and Galatea.
During this era of classical Greek history that many are familiar with, the Greeks began to identify Aphrodite with the Egyptian goddesses of Hathor and Isis. Aphrodite would become the patron goddess of the Lagid queens. As was Egyptian custom, Queen Arsinoe II was claimed to be the mortal incarnation of Aphrodite.
Aphrodite’s worship spread to the city of Alexandria with many temples dedicated to her that could be found around the city. The cult of Adonis was introduced to the city by Queen Arisone II. The Tessarakonteres galley had a temple dedicated to Aphrodite with a marble statue. Another temple dedicated to Aphrodite Hathor would be established in the second century B.C.E. at Philae. Statuettes of Aphrodite would become very common for people to do personal devotions during the Ptolemaic era in Egypt and last through when it came under Roman rule.
The Romans readily adopted and identified Aphrodite with their own goddess Venus who was originally a goddess of agriculture, fertility, vegetation, and Spring. This would become official in the third century B.C.E. when the cult of Venus Erycina is introduced to Rome by way of the Grecian sanctuary for Aphrodite on Mount Eryx in Sicily. From here, the iconography and imagery of Aphrodite along with her myths would be attached to Venus.
Further cementing this adaptation is that Aphrodite was revered as the mother of the Trojan hero Aeneas in Greek myths and the Romans hailed him as the ancestor to Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. With this connection, Venus as Venus Genetrix, the mother of the Roman nation became prominent. The Greek worship of Aphrodite began to emphasis more and more her connection to the city of Troy and Aeneas. More and more Roman influences and elements began to connect Aphrodite as more maternal and militaristic and more connected to the bureaucracy that Aphrodite became a divine guardian of numerous magistrates.
Parentage and Family
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Aphrodite was born from the dismembered genitals of Uranus after Cronus cut them off. She rose up from the sea where they landed after being thrown.
Sometimes the primordial sea goddess Thalassa is given as Aphrodite’s mother in the myth with Uranus.
According to Homer’s Iliad, Zeus and Dione are her parents.
As a result of mixed parentage, depending on if you go by Hesiod’s Theogony or Homer’s Iliad, Aphrodite is going have several siblings.
Aeacus, Angelos, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Dionysus, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Ersa, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Heracles, Hermes, Minos, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus, Rhadamanthus, the Charities, the Horae, the Litae, the Muses, the Moirai, or the Titans, the Cyclopes, the Meliae, the Erinyes (Furies), the Giants, the Hekatonkheires
Hephaestus – Husband and god of Smithing and Volcanoes.
With Adonis, Aphrodite is the mother of Beroe and Golgos.
With the god Ares, Aphrodite is the mother of: the Erotes: Anteros, Eros, Himeros and Pothos (though sometimes Pothos is listed as Eros’ son). Other children of theirs are: Phobos, Deimos, Phlegyas, Harmonia and Adrestia.
In early myth, Anteros was originally born from the sea alongside Aphrodite, later on, he comes her son by Ares.
With Butes, Aphrodite is the mother of Eryx, Meligounis, and a number of unnamed daughters.
With Dionysus, Aphrodite is the mother of Hymenaios, Iacchus, and the Charities (Aglaea, Euphrosyne, and Thalia)
With the god Hermes, Aphrodite is the mother of the androgynous deity Hermaphroditus.
With Phaethon, Aphrodite is the mother of Astynous.
With the god Poseidon, Aphrodite is the mother of Eryx, Rhodus and Herophilus.
With the mortal Prince Anchises, Aphrodite is the mother of Aeneas
Peitho has no father is given for him.
Priapus – either the gods Adonis, Ares or Dionysus is their father.
Aphrodite 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 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.
Also called Aphrodisia, as the name implies, this was a festival held in Aphrodite’s honor and was celebrated in many places around Greece during midsummer. It was a festival involved substances believed or known to cause sexual arousal and desire. This festival was most notably in Athens and Cornith.
In Athens, Aphrodisia would be celebrated in the month of Hekatombaion to celebrate Aphrodite’s rule in the unification of Attica. In the old Grecian calendar, the month of Hekatombaion corresponded with the month of July and was the first month of the year.
The priests of Aphrodite would purify the Temple of Aphrodite Pandemos with the blood of a dove that had been sacrificed. The altars would than be anointed and the statues of Aphrodite Pandemos and Aphrodite Peitho would be carried down to be ritually bathed.
This is another festival that honored Aphrodite in Athens. Not much is known about this festival.
The fourth day of every month was also held sacred to Aphrodite.
Attendants Of Aphrodite
Charities – The Graces in Roman mythology, this group of goddesses were known to accompany Aphrodite. They were Aglaea (“Splendor”), Euphrosyne (“Good Cheer”), and Thalia (“Abundance.”) They were worshiped as goddesses in Greek long before the arrival of Aphrodite.
Erotes – Aphrodite’s many sons who all presided over a different aspect of love.
Eros – Is the primary son who most people think of as accompanying Aphrodite. Most people are familiar with his Roman name of Cupid. By either name, Eros is the god of lust and sexual desire. Eros is described as one of four original primeval forces born at the beginning of time in Hesiod’s Theogony. After the birth of Aphrodite, Eros joins Himeros to become one of her companions.
Harmonia – A minor goddess of harmony. She is Aphrodite’s daughter with Ares, she is sometimes seen accompanying her.
Hebe – The goddess of youth, she is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hebe sometimes accompanied Aphrodite.
Horae – The Hours, they are the daughters of Zeus and Themis. Their names are Eunomia (“Good Order”), Dike (“Justice”), and Eirene (“Peace”).
In Sappho’s “Ode to Aphrodite,” the goddess is described as riding in a chariot that is pulled by sparrows.
Aphrodite isn’t just a Love Goddess, the sexual acts associated with her, Aphrodite’s attributes extend to the fertility of animals and vegetation, not just humans. In the story of Aphrodite’s affair with Ares, the version of the story found in the Iliad has Aphrodite returning to Cyprus so she can renew her virginity in Spring. Something she apparently does after each liaison. Some even suggest so far as to identify Aphrodite as a Mother Goddess as she gives birth to the crops each year. However, I think that domain is well and thoroughly covered with Demeter and Persephone. Though given the story of Aphrodite and Adonis, Mother Goddess and fertility still easily fits.
Pomegranates are thought to be associated with Aphrodite as the red seeds symbolized sexuality. An interesting side note, Greek women sometimes used pomegranates as a form of birth control.
Venus – When equating Aphrodite with the Roman goddess Venus, the poet Lucretius calls Aphrodite as a Genetrix for her creation and creative role in the world.
Plus, the aspects of Aphrodite as a fertility goddess really fit when under Roman influence and they have identified many of Aphrodite’s myths to their goddess and are busy tacking on Venus’ aspects to her Grecian counterpart.
This is the domain that Aphrodite is really known for, Love, all kinds of love. The many epitaphs that Aphrodite has denote which form of love she presides over.
Aphrodite Benetrix – Married Love
Aphrodite Porne – Erotic Love
Aphrodite Urania – Heavenly Aphrodite, Spiritual Love, the kind that is unconditional and all of creation.
That’s just a few of the names that cover the many types of love that Aphrodite presided over. In addition, Aphrodite had numerous sons, most notably Eros who would accompany her and who represented the different types of love.
Birth Of A Goddess
There are a couple different origin stories for Aphrodite.
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Aphrodite was born when Uranus was castrated by his son Cronus and the severed member was thrown into the ocean. As the ocean began to churn and foam, Aphrodite rose up out of the waves. With Zephyr’s help, this Wind God blew the young goddess towards the island of Cyprus where flowers sprang up from her footsteps as she stepped on land. There, Aphrodite was welcomed by the Charities. From there, Aphrodite was dressed and taken to Mount Olympus to be presented to the other gods.
Other variations have Aphrodite arriving at Cythera. Seafood is known as aphrodisiacs as they are seen related to Aphrodite’s birth from the sea.
It is for the places of Cyprus and Cythera, that Aphrodite is also known by the names of Kypris and Cytherea.
It has been pointed out that Hesiod’s Theogony is likely pulled from the Hittite epic “The Song of Kumarbi” where Kumarbi overthrows his father, Anu the sky god by biting off his genitals and thus becoming pregnant to give birth to Ishtar and Teshub.
Homer, in his Iliad, however, says that Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. A note here is that Dione’s name is possibly a feminine form to Dios and Dion, both alternative names for Zeus and that both Zeus and Dione had a cult center in Dodona. Hesiod names Dione an Oceanid in his Theogony.
Marriage To Hephaestus
Following the genealogy with Zeus, he feared that the other gods would fight each other over who would get to marry Aphrodite.
Figuring himself wise and clever, Zeus married Aphrodite off to Hephaestus, the Smithing god. Imagine Hephaestus’ surprise, him the least comely of the gods and disabled. Elated, Hephaestus put all his efforts and skills in smithing to create the most exquisite jewels that he could for his bride. He even made a girdle of finely wrought gold with magic woven into it for Aphrodite.
While Hephaestus was happy with his marriage, Aphrodite wasn’t too pleased with the arrangement. She would have greatly preferred someone far more attractive and like many of the gods, she does have her affairs and dalliances.
Strophion – This is what Hephaestus will have crafted for Aphrodite, translations into English will call it a girdle. As lovely as this magic girdle is, whenever Aphrodite wore it, no one was able to resist her charms and was already irresistible to many. It’s been commented that Hera sometimes borrowed Aphrodite’s magic strophion from time to time.
The other name I have come across for this girdle or belt is cestus, which in Rome, a cestus is a set of armored leather gloves worn by boxers. That could be a translation error though as Aphrodite’s strophion was called “keston himanta” or (kestos himas) and that might be the source of confusion.
A final bit to note, is that this style of strophia were also used in depictions for the Middle Eastern goddesses Astarte and Ishtar.
Folklore – Instead of Zeus handing Aphrodite off in marriage, it is Hera who does so. In this one, Hephaestus made a golden throne for his mother Hera. When Hera sat down on the throne, it trapped her, and Hephaestus refused to release her until Hera agreed to give Aphrodite to him in marriage. Pleased that his mother agreed to the marriage, Hephaestus then gods to make his bride-to-be some jewelry, including the strophion that is often translated to mean girdle.
There are a few versions of Aphrodite’s marriage and who Hephaestus is actually married to.
Iliad – Aphrodite is the unmarried consort to Ares. Hephaestus’ wife is Charis, one of the Charities.
Odyssey – Book Eight is where the blind singer Demodocus describes Aphrodite as the wife to Hephaestus when the story of Aphrodite and Ares’ Affair is related.
Theogony – Aphrodite is unmarried, Hephaestus’ wife is Aglaea, the youngest of the Charities.
Aphrodite & Pandora
From Hesiod’s Works and Days, Zeus tasks Aphrodite to create Pandora, as the first woman to punish mankind after Prometheus’ stealing fire and gifting it to humans. Aphrodite makes Pandora to be both physically beautiful and sexually attractive so men will fall for her and lead to opening the box by which to release evils upon the world. Aphrodite’s attendants of Peitho, the Charities and the Horae contribute by gifting Pandora with gold and jewelry to be even more attractive.
Love Affair With Adonis
This is perhaps the most famous of Aphrodite’s affairs with a mortal by the name of Adonis.
Accordiing to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Adonis is the son of Myrrha who was cursed by Aphrodite and turned into a Myrrh tree. Depending on the version of the story, either Myrrh’s father takes an axe to split open the tree or nine months later the tree burst, splitting open with Adonis being born.
Aphrodite found the infant and takes him down to the Underworld hidden in a chest to be entrusted into Persephone’s keeping. When Persephone discover a baby in the chest, she falls in love with the infant and takes care of him.
Later, Aphrodite returns to check in and discovers that Adonis has grown up to become remarkably handsome. By this time, Persephone is also rather attached to Adonis as well and what ensues is a custody battle of who gets Adonis.
Zeus took the matter into his own hands, in which he put the muse Calliope to arbitrate. She divided the year into three parts, saying that Adonis would spend one third with Aphrodite, another third with Persephone and the third part of the year as time to himself.
Having his own agency, Adonis comes to love Aphrodite more. It doesn’t help that Aphrodite cheated by wearing her magic girdle to cause Adonis to spend more time with her.
When it was time for him to go to the Underworld, Adonis refused. This angered Persephone so that she sent a wild boar to kill Adonis. This wild boar is actually Ares in a jealous rage. As Adonis died in Aphrodite’s arms, he was either transformed into the anemone flower or wherever Adonis’ blood fell, a red anemone flower sprung up.
Another account says that in her search for Adonis, that Aphrodite’s feet became cut and pierced by thorns and that the blood from her feet is what turned into the Anemone flowers.
A slight variation holds that Aphrodite acted as a surrogate mother to Adonis.
Sometimes the boar is sent by Artemis in retaliation for Aphrodite killing Hippolytus. Other times, it’s Apollo who is the boar that kills Adonis. Or that Dionysus carried Adonis away.
Phoenician Connection – It has been commented that the story of Persephone and Adonis is nothing more than the Greeks adopting the Phoenician story of Ashtarte and Adon. In the Canaanite language, Adon means lord and the names of Adonis and Adon appear to have a very solid linguistic connection.
Sumerian Connection – Another connection is that of the story of Inanna and Dumuzid.
Vegetation God – Some accounts will say that Adonis wasn’t mortal, that he was a deity in his own right and that this myth explains his death and rebirth each year for Summer and Winter as Zeus stepped in at this point saying that Adonis must spend the summers with Aphrodite and the winters with Persephone in the Underworld.
With this connection in mind, it’s been noted that Adonis’ cult had underworld tones of life and rebirth. From this, Aphrodite became connected with the dead in Delphi.
Aphrodite & Dionysus
Aphrodite is known to have numerous affairs. Depending on the account read, depends on if, with this story if it is either Dionysus, Hermes, Adonis or even Zeus himself who Aphrodite comes to bear the son Priapus with.
Generally, Dionysus is given as the father of Priapus with Aphrodite. As the story goes, following the events of the Trojan War, Hera was angry with Aphrodite’s interference when all the other gods were forbidden to be there by Zeus.
While pregnant with Priapus, Hera applied a potion to Aphrodite’s stomach as the goddess was sleeping. This was to ensure the child would be born deformed and monstrous-looking. When Aphrodite gave birth to Priapus, she was horrified by the sight of an infant with a large, permanently erect genital, potbelly, and large tongue. Aphrodite left the infant out on a hillside to die of exposure. However, a huntsman found the infant and raised them.
Later, Priapus would discover his powers as a deity and the ability to cause vegetation to grow.
Aphrodite & Hermes
First, a little bit of history. There was at one point, a male version of Aphrodite known as Aproditus. This is a male version of Aphrodite who was worshiped within the city of Amathus on the island of Cyprus. Aphroditus would be shown in art as having the dress and body of a woman while sporting a beard. He would be shown lifting up his dress to show his genitals, thought to be an apotropaic symbol or warding off evil. Eventually, Aphroditus’ popularity would fade away and the feminine form of Aphrodite would prevail.
Hermaphroditus – Also called Hermaphroditos. With so many gods having affairs with the fair and lovely Aphrodite, it isn’t too much of a surprise that she would also haven one with Hermes. The child that they had was a very handsome and beautiful boy of the name Hermaphroditus. A naiad by the name of Salmacis fell in love with Hermaphoditus and in a rare twist, she tried to rape him. When Hermaphroditus tries to fight off Salmacis, the naiad prays to the gods that they should become one. The gods answer, it’s not clear which one or ones answer and Salmacis and Hermaphroditus fuse into one intersex being. Horrified by what happened to him, Hermaphroditus called on his parents, Hermes and Aphrodite to curse the fountain so that others who entered it’s waters would have the same thing happen to them.
Traces of Aphroditus’ cult are found within Hermaphroditus’ story.
Love Affair With Ares
This story is told in the Odyssey, Book Eight by the blind singer Demodocus. This is also a story that probably began as a folk tale among the Greeks.
The Sun-god Helios had spotted the two gods, Ares and Aphrodite in a tryst in the halls of Hephaestus. Helios went to inform Hephaestus of his wife’s affair who then decided to try and catch the two in the act. Being the master smith and craftsman of the gods, Hephaestus created a finely woven and nearly invisible net to ensnare the two in. Waiting for the right moment, he succeeded in trapping both Ares and Aphrodite within the net.
Wanting to make sure the two were properly shamed and punished, Hephaestus called the other Olympian gods to come. All the goddesses declined to come, not wanting to be scandalized while all the gods did come and gawked. Some commenting to the beauty of Aphrodite and other stating they’d gladly trade places with Ares. In versions of the story, the gods agreed on Hephaestus’ right to be angry and in others, they didn’t care. In the end, when released, an embarrassed Ares returned to his home in Thrace and Aphrodite went to the city of Paphos on Cyprus where she would bathe in the sea to renew her virginity with the help of the Charities. It wouldn’t take Hephaestus long to forgive Aphrodite her affair as he missed her.
Elaborating on this story, a later addition, Ares had the youth Alectryon guarding the door to warn when Helios came by as he would no doubt inform Hephaestus of the affair. However, Alectryon fell asleep and Helios discovered the two’s affair. Ares, embarrassed and infuriated at being caught, turned Alectryon into a rooster and it’s that add-on to the story of Ares and Aphrodite’s affair that roosters always crow, announcing the rising of the sun in the morning.
Variation – A version of the story found in Homer’s Odyssey has Hephaestus refusing to release the lovers unless Zeus returned the bridal gifts. Zeus staunchly refused as he felt that Hephaestus shouldn’t have made the affair so public. Though in the Odyssey, Poseidon does agree to play Hephaestus’ price to release both Ares and Aphrodite.
From their affair, Ares and Aphrodite became the parents of several minor deities: Eros, Arethousa, Harmonia, Phobos, Deimos and Adrestia. Both Eros and Arethousa’s tended to have attributes more in align with Aphrodite. Adrestia tended to be more like her father Ares.
Aphrodite & Poseidon
It makes sense, that this story takes place right after Aphrodite’s affair with Ares. Poseidon fell in love with Aphrodite and there must have been a fling for there is one daughter, Rhode and a son, Herophilus who is attributed to Poseidon as being the father.
Aphrodite & Pygmalion
The myth of Pygmalion has its first mention in the third century B.C.E. by the Greek writer Philostephanus of Cyrene. The myth has a full accounting later in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Pygmalion was a sculptor from the island of Cyprus who refused to marry any woman as he found them to all be immoral. Very well, Pygmalion sets about carving an ivory statue of Aphrodite that was so life-like that he fell in love with it.
So, in love with the statue, Pygmalion prayed to Aphrodite to bring the statue to live so he could marry it. Aphrodite heard the sculptor’s prayers and brought the statue to life, naming her Galatea. From their union, Galatea and Pygmalion had two children, Paphos, a son and from whom the capital of Cyprus would be named for, and a daughter Metharme as mentioned by Pseudo-Apollodorus.
Atalanta & Hippomenes
In this story, Aphrodite helped Hippomenes, a youth who desired to marry the maiden Atalanta. The catch was, Atalanta refused to marry any man unless they could beat her in a footrace, and she had the habit of beheading those who lost.
In comes Aphrodite give Hippomenes three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides with the instructions to toss them before Atalanta as they raced. Doing as instructed, Hippomenes tossed the apples down in Atalanta’s path. Each time Atalanta bent down to pick up another golden apple, it would give Hippomenes more of a lead, allowing him to win the race and thus marry Atalanta.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the story continues. Because Hippomenes forgot to give thanks to Aphrodite after words, she causes the two to become so infatuated with each other while in the Temple of Cybele. The two desecrated Cybele’s temple by having sex in it and an angry Cybele turned Hippomenes and Atalanta into lions.
Sometimes it is Zeus who punishes the two mortals. The Greeks believed that lions were not able to mate with other lions. Another version of the story will have Aphrodite turn them into lions when they forgot to give her proper tribute or offerings.
As it is Ovid’s Metamorphosis and the mention of Cybele, there’s a clear Roman influence on the second part of the story.
Aphrodite & Typhon – Pisces
Typhon, a monstrous god, attacked the Gods when they were down by the Nile River. In some retellings of the story, the Gods where there in exile or that just happens to be where they were at for one of their many battles with Typhon. In either eventuality, Aphrodite and her son Eros were among the gods along the Nile River’s banks when Typhon appeared to do battle. While Zeus and a couple of other gods fought it out with Typhon, Aphrodite and Eros had leapt into the river, changing into a pair of fish so they could make their escape. In other accounts of the story, Aphrodite and Eros tied themselves together with a rope so they wouldn’t get separated.
Another account of this story places the riverbank that the gods were walking along as being the Euphrates River and not the Nile River. There is also a very similar story found in a Manilius’ five-volume poetic work Astronomica in which the fish that become the constellation of Pisces carried Aphrodite and Eros away to safety.
Keeping with the Euphrates River connection, when an egg fell into this river, a pair of fish pushed it to the shore where doves then sat on the egg to hatch it. When it hatched, Aphrodite came out of the egg. In a show of gratitude, the goddess placed the fish up into the sky to become the constellation Pisces. Through these connections of the myth, Pisces is also known as “Venus et Cupido,” “Venus Syria cum Cupidine,” Venus cum Adone,” “Dione,” and “Veneris Mater.”
Eros & Psyche
Psyche happened to be an extraordinarily beautiful princess. This brought about the anger and jealousy of Aphrodite when people turned their attention to Psyche and worshiped her. Aphrodite enlisted the aid of her son Eros to help punish Psyche.
The idea is that Eros would cause Psyche to fall in love with the worst and vilest creature on the earth possible. Instead of doing as his mother bid, Eros fell in love with Psyche and took her home. He instructed Psyche that she was to never look upon his face.
All is well for a while until Psyche goes home to visit family and her sisters convince her to break Eros’ command and look upon his face. Psyche does this and hurt, angry, Eros flies away leaving poor Psyche behind.
Psyche beseeches Aphrodite for help with finding her lost love. Knowing who it is that Psyche is looking for, Aphrodite sets out a series of nearly impossible tasks for Psyche to do. Eventually Eros discovers what’s happening and as he can’t bear to see Psyche’s suffering, returns. The two are married with all the gods attending.
This story is an early model for the fairytale of Beauty and the Beast.
A Goddess Scorned
Many of the Greek gods have a reputation for being very fickle. Just as often as they favor mortals, they can also punish them too.
By the stories, Aphrodite is no different and she could be very gracious with those mortals whom she favored. For those mortals who didn’t fawn upon Aphrodite the attention and worship she felt she was owed, Aphrodite could be very vindictive.
Aegialeia – The wife of Diomedes, she was cursed by Aphrodite after Diomedes had wounded the goddess during the Trojan War. Aegialia was cursed with promiscuity and she had several lovers, among them Hippolytus. Now it could be, that Aegialeia was angry with Diomedes as she heard rumors, he was returning home with a Trojan woman and this was to get back at an unfaithful husband. When Aegialeia threatened Diomedes’ life, he took off for Italy.
Clio – When the Muse derided Aphrodite’s love for Adonis, Aphrodite caused Clio to fall in love with Pierus of Magnesia and they had a son, Hyacinth.
Eos – Aphrodite cursed Eos, the goddess of the Dawn to be forever, perpetually in love with an insatiable sexual desire after Eos had slept with Ares, god of war. Guess no one else was allowed to have Aphrodite’s sweetheart.
Glaucus of Corinth – He angered Aphrodite when he refused to let his chariot horses mate, as to do so would slow their speed down. Aphrodite bided her time and when the Funeral Games for King Pelias happened, the goddess caused Glaucus’ horses to go mad and tear him apart during the chariot race.
Halia – She is a sea nymph who bore six sons with Poseidon. When Halia’s sons refused to let Aphrodite land on their shore, Aphrodite drove them all insane, causing them to rape their mother, Halia. Poseidon buried his six sons within the island’s sea caves.
Hippolytus – The son of Theseus, he worshipped only Artemis, the goddess of virginity and hunting. Because Hippolytus refused any sexual intercourse, this upset Aphrodite who saw him as being very prideful. As a result, Aphrodite caused Phaedra, Hippolytus’ stepmother to fall in love with him. Understandably so, Hippolytus refuses Phaedra’s advances. Phaedra however, is so distraught that she kills herself but not before leaving a note for Theseus, telling him that she committed suicide because Hippolytus tried to rape her.
This upsets Theseus who prays to Poseidon to kill Hippolytus for his actions. Poseidon answers by sending a wild bull to scare Hippolytus’ horses and smash the chariot so that he falls to his death along a seaside cliff. In the end, Artemis finally gets wind of what happened and goes to seek her own revenge against Aphrodite, which in some stories, is sending a wild boar to kill Adonis.
Leucippus – The grandson of Bellerophon, it is never clear what caused Aphrodit’e anger in this story. Only that the goddess caused Leucippus to fall in love with his sister. The sister was already betrothed to another and the betrothed found out about the incestuous relationship that Leucippus and his sister were having, went to inform their father Xanthius. Father Xanthius shows up at his daughter’s bed chamber and discovers his son, Leucippus there. As it’s dark, a fight ensues where the daughter is killed trying to escape and Leucippus kills his father as he doesn’t recognize who it is at first. Once he realizes what happened, Leucippus leaves to go be part of the colonizing of Crete and Asia Minor.
Myrrha – I covered this myth earlier in the story of Adonis. Myrrha’s mother, Queen Cenchreis of Cyprus had bragged that her daughter was more beautiful than Aphrodite. In response, Aphrodite cursed Myrrha to fall in love with her father, King Cinyras who slept with her unknowingly. Eventually Myrrha turned into the myrrh tree and gave birth to Adonis.
It doesn’t end there, Aphrodite continued her wrath against Queen Cenchreis and King Cinyras’ other three daughters, Braesia, Laogora, Orsedice to sleep with some foreigners and they ended up dying in Egypt.
Narcissus – One account has Aphrodite cursing Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection after he refused to worship her.
Pasiphae – In one version, for the birth of the birth of the minotaur, Pasiphae had failed to make the appropriate offerings to Venus (Aphrodite), as a result, the goddess caused her to fall in love with the white bull meant as an offering to Zeus.
Alternatively, the curse comes because Pasiphae is the daughter of Helio and this is Aphrodite getting back at him for exposing her affair with Ares.
Polyphonte – Was a young woman and another devote to Artemis who chose a life of virginity instead of marriage and children. Aphrodite cursed Polyphonte to fall in love with a bear. Her resulting monstrous humanoid bear children, Agrius and Oreius who were cannibals. Zeus got involved this time and turned Polyphonte and her children into birds of ill omen; owls and a vulture.
Propoetides – He and his daughters were from the city of Amathus on the island of Cyprus. They had failed to worship Aphrodite appropriately and she caused them to become the first prostitutes. It should be noted that this is a story found in Ovid’ Metamorphoses.
Tanais – The son of Lysippe and Berossos, he was a devote to Ares, fully committed to war. This upset Aphrodite as Tanais neglected love and marriage. The goddess cursed Tanais to fall in love with his mother Lysippe. As he refused to give up his chastity, Tanais threw himself into the Amazonius river, which after words was renamed to the Tanais river.
The Women of Lemnos – Because these ladies refused to offer sacrifices to Aphrodite, she cursed all of them to have a horrible stench. We’re talking bad, to the point that their husbands refused to have sex with them. The husbands went and had sex with their Thracian slave-girls instead. This angered the Lemnos Women, and they murdered all the men and their slaves on their island. Later, when Jason and the Argonauts show up, these women are just starved for a man’s affections, that with Aphrodite’s approval, she allows for the Lemnos Women to have sex with Jason and his crew whereby they can repopulate the island. From there on out, the Lemnos Women never failed to appease Aphrodite.
The Judgement Of Paris
The gods were feasting at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, who would become the parents of Achilles. All the gods were invited accept Eris who hadn’t received an invite. Chiron was in charge of 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, why not her?
Coming off as seeking to be peaceful and 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 hapless mortal Paris is 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 on by Zeus and Themis. There’s only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and its seen as a prequel to Homer’s the Iliad and explains how the events came about.
Some scholars look at Aphrodite’s connection to Mesopotamia with the War Goddess Ishtar as an explanation for the start of the Trojan War, saying that Aphrodite instigated it by manipulating Paris with a promise to marry Helen.
Aphrodite has a prominent and active role in Homer’s Iliad. In Book III, Aphrodite rescues Paris from Menelaus after a one-on-one duel to settle the matter. Aphrodite also appears to Helen in the form of an old woman, trying to persuade her to have sex with Paris. However, Helen recognizes Aphrodite by her eyes, neck, and breasts. Helen entreats with Aphrodite as an equal and the goddess rebukes Helen, threatening her. Not wanting a god’s wrath, Helen obeys Aphrodite’s command to lay with Paris.
In Book XIV of the Iliad, Aphrodite loans her kestos himas or magic girdle to Hera so she can seduce Zeus as he had forbidden the other gods to stay involved in the Trojan War at this point. While Zeus is distracted by Hera’s advances, Poseidon is aiding the Greek forces to be able to take the beach to invade Troy. Then in Book XXI, Aphrodite returns to the war to carry Ares away off the field of battle after he’s been wounded.
Anchises – He was a shepherd prince who lived on Mount Ida, whom Aphrodite fell in love with after Zeus convinced Eros to hit her with one of his arrows. After all, with Aphrodite being the goddess of love, it’s her fault that Zeus has so many affairs and is constantly on the outs with Hera.
Aphrodite pretended to be a mortal woman in order to marry Anchises. When Anchises saw Aphrodite, he asked if she was said goddess, saying he would build her an alter if she would only bless him and his family. Aphrodite lied, saying she was a princess from Phrygia. She explains how she came to understand the Trojan language due to a Trojan nursemaid as a child. How she had been snatched away by Hermes while dancing for a celebration to honor Artemis. The disguised goddess tells Anchises to take her to his parents.
From there, the two are married or Anchises so overcome with lust, couples with the goddess-princess. After their union does Aphrodite reveal who she really is, saying she will bare Aenease a son who will become the demigod Aeneas. As Anchises didn’t keep quiet about who the mother of his son was, Zeus struck him down with a thunderbolt and either blinds or kills him outright.
There are a couple of slight versions to this story such as Aphrodite allowed for Anchises to be able to flee the city of Troy.
Aeneas – Trojan Hero and son of Aphrodite with Anchises. In book V of Homer’s Iliad, Aphrodite rescues her son from Diomedes in battle. Diomedes, recognizing Aphrodite and viewing her as a weak goddess, spears her, nicking her wrist. When Aphrodite rides back to Mount Olympus in Ares’ borrowed chariot, Zeus tells the goddess that her specialty is love, not war as he mocks her for getting hurt.
Aeneas features in Virgil’s Aeneid to be Rome’s first hero and an ancestor to Romulus and Remus.
Note: It has been commented that the scene of Aphrodite and Zeus has similarities in the Epic of Gilgamesh where Ishtar laments to her mother Antu after Gilgamesh rejects her advances and is in turn, rebuked by her father Anu.
With Aphrodite’s birth and arrival from the ocean, some people have worshiped Aphrodite as a sea goddess. Several types of waterfowl such as ducks, geese, and swans would become associated with Aphrodite. Naturally, seashells are associated with Aphrodite. Seafood is considered an aphrodisiac due to this lovely goddess’ connection to the briny deeps.
As a sea goddess, Aphrodite protects those who travel the seas. This earned her the epitaphs of Aphrodite Pontia or Aphrodite of the Deep Sea and Aphrodite Euploia or Aphrodite of the Fair Voyage. The planet Venus that Aphrodite is associated with, served as navigational aid for ancient mariners as they plied the seas.
With the previously mentioned Mesopotamian connection to the goddesses of Astarte and Ishtar, Aphrodite may have arrived first as a goddess of War in ancient Greece. She was honored as such in Cyprus, Laconia, Sparta, and Thebes to name a few places. In Sparta, Aphrodite was known as Aphrodite Areia (“War-Like”), showing her connection to the god Ares.
Eventually, the war aspects of Aphrodite would be dropped, and the role left to Athena and Ares.
Early Christianity readily adapted many pagan symbols and icons to their religion. With Aphrodite/Venus, her symbolisms were given to Eve, prostitutes, and some female saints such as the Virgin Mary.
The story of Aphrodite’s birth became a metaphor for baptism. There is a Coptic stele dating from the sixth century C.E. where a female orant is wearing Aphrodite’s conch shell to show she has been recently baptized. Throughout the Middle Ages, folktales regarding Aphrodite/Venus remained popular.
In the fifth century C.E. North Africa, Fulgentius of Ruspe found mosaics of Aphrodite that he proceeded to interpret as a symbol for the sin of Lust, how Aphrodite’s nudeness meant that “the sin of lust is never cloaked” and that her swimming represented how all lust suffers a “shipwreck”. Fulgentius even argued how the symbols of doves and conch shells were symbols of copulation and that the symbol of roses represented the fleetingness of lust, that it has momentary pleasures that are soon gone.
Then we have Isidore of Seville who interpreted Aphrodite as a symbol of marital procreative sex, declaring how the story of Aprodite’s birth represents that sex can only be holy with the presence of semen, blood and heat for the purposes of procreation. Isidore also held that Eros/Cupid is a demon of fornication.
Venusberg – Dating from the Late Middle Ages, the Venusberg mythology would become popular in European folklore. The “Mountain of Venus” is a subterranean realm ruled by Venus and a folktale archetype for visiting the Otherworld. The most familiar appearance of Venusberg is in the German Tannhäuser legend in the 16th century.
Variations to this myth are the mortal lover being carried away to the realm of faerie by a fairy queen. Popular legends include Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin.
Modern Paganism & Wicca
In modern Paganism such as the Church of Aphrodite, Hellenismos, and Wicca, either Aphrodite or her Roman counterpart, Venus are goddess often invoked for casting love spells and love rituals. Aphrodite is often used in charms for making aphrodisiacs, philters, and love potions.
Astarte – Canaanite & Phoenician Goddess
A goddess of love and war was worshiped in the Middle East during the Bronze Age to Classical Antiquity. Astarte was identified by the Hebrews as Ashtoreth.
Hathor – Egyptian Goddess
The Egyptian Cow Goddess Hathor is frequently identified with Aphrodite.
It wasn’t uncommon for the Greeks and Romans to equate many of their deities with those of other cultures. The Romans especially did it with any gods whose people they conquered. In the case of Egypt and their gods, Hathor in her role as a goddess of love and beauty is synonymous with the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus.
Inanna – Mesopotamian Goddess
Also known as Ishtar, she is the goddess of love, war and sexuality. She is known as the Queen of Heaven.
Isis – Egyptian Goddess
The Egyptian goddess of the moon, healing, magic and life who protected women and children. During the Hellenistic Grecian era, she was equated with Aphrodite.
Turan – Etruscan Goddess
The Etruscan goddess of beauty, love, and fertility. She was the patron goddess of the city Velch. She has been identified with the Roman Venus and Grecian Aphrodite.
Venus – Roman Goddess
As the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite is often confused with or identified with the Roman deity of Venus, also a Goddess of Love. Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Venus with Aphrodite. While both deities are Goddesses of Love, there are differences in the Roman myths and the Greek myths.
The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that they would virtually become one and the same. And that’s the tradition passed down through the centuries and has become accepted. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Just as Aphrodite is often accompanied by her son Eros, so too is Venus accompanied by her son Cupid.
Also called: Ananse (Trinidad and Tobago), Annancy or Anancy (Jamaica, Grenada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua), Anansi Drew (The Bahamas), Anansi Kokroko (Wise Spider), Anancyi, Ananansa, Annecy (West Indian), Ayiyi, Kacou Ananzè, Ba Anansi (Suriname), Ba Yentay (South Carolina), Bra Anansi, Hapanzi, Nansi or bra spaida (Jamaica, Sierra Leone), Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire), Bru Nansi (Virgin Islands), Kwaku Anansi (Akan-Ashante), Nanzi, Nancy, Aunt Nancy (Gullah; South Carolina), Miss Nancy, Sis’ Nancy, Kuenta di Nanzi, Spider (Temne), Cha Nanzi (Aruba), Hanansi, Pablo Barnansi (S. Quanderer), Compé Anansi, Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire), Gede Zariyen, Zarenyen, or Ti Malice (Haiti)
Etymology: Spider (Akan)
Anansi is the spider trickster god of the Akan, Ashanti people in Ghana and several West African folklore and folktales. As a trickster, he is able to shape-shift into a human form. His presence as an important cultural figure has made his way into Caribbean mythology, spreading to Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, over to the Netherlands Antilles, the West Indies, Suriname, Sierra Leone and likely several other places. Like a good many trickster figures, Anansi is known for causing and getting into mischief or trouble before using his wits, cunning and guile to wheedle his way out of the troubles and problems. His stories and exploits are numerous, with many regional variations to his tales. As a trickster, Anansi is just as likely to help as to hinder someone.
As with all good stories, Anansi tales began with being told in oral traditions, survived, thrived, and made their way across the Atlantic Ocean to North America during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade era. These stories would play an important part to maintaining cultural identities for many enslaved West Africans. Many of these Anansi stories would be stories and lessons of how to rise up and outsmart those who would harm and oppress the less powerful.
Animal: Fox, Rabbit, Spider
Mineral: Spider Silk
Patron of: Storytellers,
Sphere of Influence: Cunning, Freedom, Messages, Morals, Proverbs, Stories, Trickery, Wisdom, Wits
A trickster, Anansi is often shown in many different forms and representations depending on the artistic source. In many stories, Anansi is a spider while in other stories, he is more anthropomorphized as either a spider with a human face or a human with spider-like features. The original spider-man.
In the Southern United States, when the Anansi came and his named changed to Nancy and Aunt Nancy with anglicized spellings, he became a spider woman and female figure.
One story has Nyame becoming so angry with Anansi’ tricks and antics that he turns Anansi into his spider form.
What’s In A Name?
Letters, letters are in a name…
The name Anansi is the Akan word for spider. Where he is called Kwaku or Kweku Anansi, the word Kweku means Wednesday as that is the day that Anansi’s soul first appeared. Given that Wednesday is named for Woden or Odin, the Norse god of Wisdom, there’s a very good coincidence here for names and meanings.
Parentage and Family
Nyame – Father & Sky-God; some regional variations place Anansi as his son, others don’t.
Ya Nsia – Mother. Asaase Yaa, the Earth Mother is also given as Anansi’s mother.
Where Nyame is given as Anansi’s father. There’s one story where Esum the Night, Osrane the Moon, and Owia the Sun are given as Nyame’s son.
It makes sense to me that these three should be counted as Anansi’s brothers.
Okonore Yaa – Wife, she is also known by the names of Aso, Crooky, Konori or Konoro, and Shi Maria.
The name Konori likely comes from the Hausa word koki for a “female spider.”
Afudohwedohwe – Pot-bellied son.
Anansewa – Anansi’s beautiful daughter, introduced in Efua Sutherland’s stories where Anansi sets out to find his daughter a proper suitor.
Nankonhwea – Son with a spindly neck and legs.
Ntikuma – Firstborn son.
Tikelenkelen – Big-Headed son.
Singular – Obosom
In Akan Spirituality, Anansi is considered an Obosom, a minor deity and spirit. The Abosom are all considered to be children and messengers of the great creator god Nyame. They could be male, female or a mixture of both.
The term Abosom reminds me of the Greek term Daimon (not Demon!) when referring to smaller, lesser & localized gods or spirits. Especially they were likely to be tied to one place such as a river, tree, or mountain.
Abosom is also the Ashanti term for pantheon, so all the gods. Or every divine being who isn’t the great creator Nyame.
With Anansi, he isn’t necessarily revered the same way as the other Abosom in Akan Spirituality or if he’s even seen in the same light. That too can vary and can be up for debate. Which is also understandable, Anansi is a trickster figure. With many trickster figures, you are playing with fire and in Anansi’s case, that’s water that could potentially drown you if you’re not careful. When Anansi does get acknowledged, he is an Obosom of Wisdom.
Just how much of a divine being Anansi will be, varies by region and which stories about him are being told. In some, he’s a human named Spider that has done a few favors for Nyame and is granted extra powers, namely one of t hem being an extended life. He’s a son of Nyame or just one of many beings with some measure of power to separate them from being fully human. Or Anansi is the straight up animal trickster as seen in Native American lore with beings like Coyote and Raven and their stories.
In many of the Anansi stories, the spider is often Nyame’s messenger, acting as his go-between. For many of the Abosom, this is often a role they play for either Nyame, the Sky God or Asaase Yaa, the Earth.
There is a story where Anansi’ antics grew too much for Nyame and he replaced Anansi with Chameleon to be the Sky-God’s new messenger.
Maybe, most of the stories of Anansi aren’t so much as him creating the Universe, but often setting the precedence for why things happen the way they do. Anansi is credited with having created the first man and then Nyame breathing life into them. Or Anansi is convincing Nyame that people need the rain to stop a destructive fire, setting order to the course of the day, ect. Even death if Anansi hadn’t stolen from them.
Like many tricksters, Anansi also has stories revolving around him having brought agriculture, hunting and writing to the Earth for people to use. In the story where Anansi tried to hoard all the world’s wisdom and knowledge, he found it much easier to share and disperse this knowledge for everyone’s use.
As a trickster, Anansi doesn’t just rely on his wits and cunnings to get through scrapes. One of his many tricks is the ability to shape-shift. Not just physically from spider to man but the ability to take seeming weaknesses and turn them into virtues and strengths.
Weakness To Strength
That’s a vital and important lesson to learn. In many stories, Anansi is able to overcome an opponent or situation, not just by his wits but using a seeming weakness to a strength. Similarly, he will exploit an opponent’s weakness against them.
Insatiable Greed – Finding The Angles
That seems to be a reoccurring theme with several Anansi stories, where what he has, isn’t enough and he has to find some way to get more. Oftentimes, that more is food. Anansi is often looking for the angles and finding ways to get others to bring him food or he kills the other animals for food if he’s not outright stealing it.
Sometimes, in the course of Anansi’s covetous and insatiable greed, another character is able trick Anansi instead, outwitting him. That is a classic of trickster tales, where the trickster gets outwitted instead of outwitting everyone else.
Of course, it could be I’m misremembering and thinking far too much of a particular Gargoyles episode “Mark of the Panther” in season 2.
God Of Storytelling & Knowledge
Not only is Anansi the god of storytelling, but he is also the god of knowledge. This makes a lot of sense with how early in human history, much of the history involved, lessons, wisdom and knowledge imparted is through the use of stories.
Meaning Spider Stories in the Ashanti language. The Anansesem stories, like many stories began as an oral tradition. Such is the prominence of the spider stories, that the term Anansesem came to include all the different fables and stories. The Jamaican version of the Anansi stories are the most preserved of the spider stories and have close ties to their Ashanti origins. Especially with how the Anansi stories end with a proverb or moral given at the end.
Anthropologists have studied and found that humans are hard-wired for stories. Stories are important, they are an integral part and parcel of the human experience. They convey who we are as a people, where we came from, morals, lessons and how things came to be.
It seems very poignant, that stories seem very central to the Anansi tales, especially for a keeping one’s cultural identity. Especially in the face of so much adversity and the dark side of history with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The most well known of the Anansi stories are those from Jamaica.
Like all trickster tales, the Anansesem not only entertain, they are also moral stories that often highlight his greed and other flaws along with his wit. The Anansesem stories cover a wide range of stories from the mundane and the subversive. Anansi as a folk hero is both an ideal as well as a cautionary figure of downfalls to be avoided.
It seems very poignant, that one of the roles that Tricksters carry is that of Culture-Bringer. That the very first story of Anansi, or at least the one to place as chronologically first is how Anansi comes to acquire all the stories. Frequently Trickster stories tell the importance of things, how they came to be, conflicts, shenanigans and more. Without stories to tell us who we are as a people, a great many aspects of history and culture are lost. With Anansesem, all stories, regardless of genre are considered spider stories.
Anansi-Tori – This is the name for the Spider stories among the Surinam people. In the capital city of Paramaribo, the Anansi-tori are a prominent part of the death rites. It’s important that these stories are only told during the night and never during the day, lest the dead come to listen, thereby causing the death of the storyteller or their parents. The Saramaca Bush people have a tradition that during the seven days that a body lays in the village death house, they tell the Anansi-Tori to the dead as entertainment. The Anansi-tori have also come to include the dances and songs sung during these rites.
The Spider stories are called Nansi in Guyana and Kuent’i Nanzi in Curacao.
Vive La Résistance! – The importance of the Anansesem stories is seen as a symbol of resiliency with slave resistance and survival. As a trickster, Anansi is frequently able to get the better of more powerful opponents using his trickery and cunning. As such, slaves used the stories of Anansi as inspiration for finding ways to resist and gain the upper hand on plantations, to give a sense of community, connection to their past in Africa and a way to maintain their cultural identity.
As the King of Stories, Anansi is not only the patron of storytellers, but those who live by their wits. Like many Caribbean deities, Anansi can be summoned with offerings of treats, smokes, and liquor.
Just be aware, if Anansi is bored by the story, he may not hang around for long.
A traditional opening for an Anansi story goes:
“This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me.”
Another way to traditionally start a story is:
“We do not really mean; we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go.”
All The Stories!
Also known as “How the Sky God’s stories became Anansi’s stories.” It is the most retold story of all the Anansi tales.
For you see, once upon a time, there were no stories. None. There were stories, but they were all kept by Nyame, the Sky God who had them all hidden away. Some versions of the story note about here how Anansi is Nyame’s son.
For Anansi, it doesn’t sit well with him that his father should be hoarding all the stories and as the world is a boring place, Anansi decides to find a way to get stories of his own. Using his silk webbing, Anansi climbs up to the heavens where his father is at and tries to buy the stories from Nyame, but Nyame refuses, he didn’t want to share the stories with anyone. Anansi kept insisting he can afford the price for Nyame’s stories. Nyame refutes Anansi still, saying that even the great kingdoms of Kokofu, Bekwai and Asumengya couldn’t afford his stories.
A sudden thought comes to Nyame and he asks Anansi, how he, someone so small and insignificant is going to be able to afford the price where others have failed. Undaunted, Anansi persists, saying he can afford the stories, just name the price.
Amused, Nyame relents and sets as high a price as he can, hoping that these impossible tasks would finally deter the spider. As to what these tasks were to be?
Anansi was to capture four of the most dangerous creatures known in the world. Onini the Python, the Mmoboro Hornets, Osebo the Leopard and lastly, the Fairy Mmoatia.
Smiling, Anansi promises Nyame that he will bring these four back and just for good measure, he will even throw in his own mother, Ya Nsia. Nyame accepted the offer, thinking that would be the end of it and told Anansi to start his quest.
Quest in hand, Anansi returns home to his family so he can consult them about his plan. Anansi talks with his mother, Ya Nsia about his plan to capture Onini the Python first. His wife, Okonore Yaa tells Anansi that he should cut a long branch from a tree and get some vines.
Anansi returns with the branch and vines and Okonore Yaa tells him to head down to the river where Onini lives. As the two pretend to argue, Onini overhears them and comes over, listening over whether Onini’s body was longer than the branch of a tree.
Onini, on hearing what Anansi and Okonore Yaa are arguing about, he quickly agrees to stretch out next to the branch to his full length to prove that he’s longer than the branch. No sooner has Onini stretched out than Anansi takes the vines to tie the python up.
As Anansi carries Onini back to Nyame, the spider cheerfully tells Onini about the bargain that he has made. Nyame nods acknowledgement to Anansi for one task accomplished and reminds the spider that there are still three other tasks to fulfill.
Anansi returns to consult with his family for the next task, which would be capturing the Mmoboro Hornets. Okonore Yaa comes up with an idea for Anansi to get a gourd and fill it with water. Carrying that gourd with him, Anansi went off to pay a visit to the Hornets. Once he arrived, Anansi looked around the bushes where the Hornets. Soon as Anansi spotted them, he carefully sprinkled water on the Hornets and then on himself. Grabbing a palm leaf from a nearby tree, Anansi covered his head just time as the swarm of angry Hornets came his direction. Holding out the wet palm leaf, Anansi explained that it had been raining and that he too was wet.
Anansi explained that this rain would be dangerous and that the Hornets might want to hide inside the gourd he brought. The Hornets agreed and soon had all flown inside to take shelter.
Once all the Hornets were in, Anansi stopped up the mouth of the gourd and proceeded to gloat for falling for his trick. Anansi continued with telling the Hornets about his bargain with Nyame as he carried the gourd with him.
Seeing that another task was completed, Nyame accepted the Hornets. He reminded Anansi that there were still two more tasks to go. Surely one of those tasks would prove to be too much for the Spider, Nyame thought.
Once more Anansi returned home triumphant. Now the task was for Osebo the Leopard. Once more Anansi and Okonore Yaa schemed together on a plan. What’s now considered the oldest trick in the book, Okonore Yaa told Anansi to dig a deep hole in the ground and cover it. Anansi caught on quickly to Okonore Yaa’s plan and told her he could take it from there.
Anansi headed off for the parts of the jungle where he knew Osebo hung around at. There, he proceeded to dig the hole and cover with brushwood as planned. Done, Anansi headed home, knowing that eventually Osebo would wander along and be likely to fall in.
Sure enough, the next morning, when Anansi returned, he found Osebo trapped down in the hole. Feigning sympathy, Anansi asked Osebo why he was trapped down there. Was it because Osebo had been drinking again? It seems this has been a problem of Osebo’s for a while. Continuing his act, Anansi asked Osebo if he wanted help. Despite Anansi’s suspicions, Osebo assured the spider that he wouldn’t eat them.
With Osebo knocked out, Anansi made a ladder and climbed down to tie up the leopard and cart him off to Nyame. All the while, Anansi gloated to Osebo when he woke about his bargain with the Sky God. Just like before, Nyame accepted Osebo from the spider and reminded Anansi that there were still more tasks to do.
Eventually Anansi agreed to “help” Osebo and got two long sticks that he cut with a knife. Anansi told Osebo to stretch out his arms, wide. This would leave Osebo vulnerable, who was unaware of Anansi’ plan. The wily spider threw his knife at Osebo when he attempted to climb out, the hilt of the knife hitting the leopard square on the head, hard enough to knock him out.
Once more Nyame accepted the latest of Anansi’s accomplishments. Just like before, Nyame reminded the spider that there were still a couple more tasks to complete. Anansi had not forgotten the deal and set off again back home.
The penultimate task, capturing the Mmoatia, the Fairy. This one won’t be so easy and Anansi sits down to think a while on the matter. After a time, Anansi goes and carves an Akua doll and then cover it the sap of a gum tree. That done, Anansi took some yams and mashed them up to place in the doll’s hand while the rest went into a bowl. Finally, Anansi took some string to tie around the doll’s waist so he could manipulate it.
Ready, Anansi took the doll down to the Odum tree where fairies were known to gather. The wily spider set up the doll and the bowl of mashed yams and then went to hide out of sight. Soon, Mmoatia appeared, lured away from her sisters by the smell of the yams.
Believing the doll to be a real person, Mmoatia asked if she could have some of the yams. Hidden, Anansi pulled on the string, making the doll nod it’s head. Delighted, Mmoatia went back to her sisters, asking if she’d be allowed to have some of the yams.
The sisters said yes and Mmoatia soon returned to the Akua doll and began to eat all the mashed yams. When she had finished, Mmoatia thanked the doll, however this time, Anansi didn’t pull on the string, so the doll didn’t respond. Infuriated at the doll’s lack of response, Mmoatia went to her sisters to complain about the lack of response.
Mmoatia’s sisters tell her to go back and slap the person for their insolence. Back she goes and on promptly slapping the doll, Mmoatia’s hand gets stuck from the sticky sap covering the doll. Stuck, Mmoatia complains again to her sisters, with one of her sisters commenting to slap the doll with her other hand. Mmoatia does so and that hand too, becomes stuck.
There is something remarkably hysterical about this, I can see the sisters realizing what’s going on, maybe they don’t like Mmoatia for some reason and she’s too insolent and arrogant to really understand that she’s getting tricked and that at this point, the sisters are getting in on it too.
I can just see where Mmoatia complains yet again that both hands are now stuck and the sisters, incredulous to the fact that she’s listened to them and gotten stuck, tell her to hit the doll again with her whole body. This has got to be a scene of where the sisters are looking to see if Mmoatia is really going to be that arrogant, insolent, even dumb enough to listen and they want to see if she’ll do it.
And yes, Mmoatia hits the Akua doll with her whole body, getting well and thoroughly stuck. Hilarity ensues, I can see all of Mmoatia’s sisters flying off in fits of laughter as Anansi emerges from where he’s been hiding to gloat over his success.
Just like the others, Anansi tied up Mmoatia and carried her off back to Nyame. Anansi also stopped on the way home to tell his mother Ya Nsia about the last task he had told the Sky-God he would do and that was to bring his own mother. I can see Mom rolling her eyes and “Yes child, of course child” as she accompanies Anansi back to Nyame.
Impressed by Anansi’ persistence, Nyame upheld his end of the bargain, bringing all the elders, the Kontire and Akwam chiefs, the Adontem, general of his army, the Gyase, the Oyoko, Ankobea and Kyidom. Nyame told all those present of Anansi’s deeds that no one else in the kingdom had been able to do. Nyame showed off each of the four, along with Anansi’ own mother. Everyone cheered as Nyame gifts all his stories, to now be known as Spider Stories to Anansi, naming him the Keeper of Stories and God of Storytelling
Variants – There are numerous variations to this story. Some retellings will omit involving Anansi’s wife and mother in the story. In some of the Caribbean stories, it is a Tiger from whom the stories originate. Other stories, the fairy Mmoatia will be solitary or a dwarf who can turn invisible. Sometimes the task of capturing the Python isn’t mentioned. In yet other stories, Osebo, the Panther is caught, getting tangled up in Anansi’ webs when trying to climb out of the pit. Or, Anansi captures Osebo when he offers to help the panther when he lowers a long branch down and tells Osebo to tie his tail to the branch. In this one, Osebo is killed and skinned by Anansi.
Anansi And The Dispersal Of Wisdom
Now that Anansi has all the stories, you’d think he’d go spread them around to tell and pass on the wisdom that they hold. Well no…
It seems Anansi was trying to hoard all that wisdom in a pot. The knowledge he has isn’t enough and he wants even more of it, just collecting it all. After a time, Anansi decides the pot isn’t safe enough to store all this wisdom and knowledge in and takes it to hide in a tall, thorny tree in the forest. Some accounts say this tree is a Silk Cotton Tree.
Anansi’s son, Ntikuma saw his father up to something and decided to follow at a distance to find out what was up. Staying hidden, Ntikuma saw that this pot was the largest one he had ever seen. As he watched, Ntikuma watched as his father struggled with carrying the pot up. Anansi tried tying the pot in front of him to no avail.
As Anansi grew ever more frustrated by his inability to carry the pot up, Ntikuma couldn’t help himself but laugh!
“Try tying the pot behind you and then climb!” Ntikuma called out.
So frustrated with his failed attempts to climb the tree, it perturbed Anansi more to realize that his own son was right behind him. In his frustration, the pot slipped from Anansi’s grip and fell, hitting the ground with all the wisdom spilling out of it.
Making matters worse, a storm was arriving, and the rain washed all the wisdom down to a nearby river stream. From there, the currents carried the wisdom out to the sea and spreading throughout the world.
Seeing what happened, an angry Anansi chased his son, Ntikuma all the way home through the downpour of rain. When Anansi caught up with his son, the spider realized what was the use of all that wisdom if all it takes is a child to put you in your place?
As for the wisdom, because it mixed with the water, that’s why everyone has a little bit within them, but not all of it.
Variation – A minor variation is that instead of getting angry with his son, Anansi listens, carrying the pot up the tree by the means suggested. While he is sitting there, Anansi comes to the realization that try as he might to know everything, there were still things that others could teach or tell him and the wily spider comes to an epiphany to dump the pot out for everyone who has need, to be able to have access to it when the wisdom mixed with the wind and water.
How Anansi Comes To Have A Long Hind End & How His Head Became Small
In this story, a famine comes to the land and Anansi tells his family that he’s going in search of food for them. On his way, Anansi comes to a stream where there are some people who end up being spirits. It seems these spirits were draining the water in hopes of being able to catch some fish. Intrigued, Anansi asks if he could join the spirits.
The spirits invited Anansi to join them and he soon saw that they were using their skulls to drain the river. That’s interesting. The spirits asked Anansi if they could remove his own skull so that he could help drain the river.
As they drained the water, the spirits sang a song: “We, the Spirits, when we splash the river-bed dry to catch fish, we use our heads to splash the water. Oh, the Spirits, we are splashing the water.”
Anansi liked the song and asked if he could sing it with them and the spirits agreed.
And so, Anansi and the spirits sang as they drained the stream enough that they could catch some fish. The spirits gave Anansi his share of the fish in a basket to take home. As they restored Anansi’s skull, the spirits warned him not to sing the song again that day or his skull would open and fall off.
Anansi assured the spirits that he wouldn’t sing that song again as he had more than enough fish. Soon, Anansi and the spirits parted ways.
The spirits began to sing their song again. Overhearing the song, Anansi began to sing along as well and presently, his skull fell off. Just as he had been warned. Anansi picked up his skull and cried out in embarrassment to the spirits that his head had fallen off!
The spirits heard him and came back. As they listened to Anansi apologize and beg for help, the spirits agreed to help him. As they restored Anansi’s skull, they warned him not to sing the song again as they would not return to help him.
No sooner had they parted ways, than the spirits began singing and Anansi over hearing them, just couldn’t help himself and started singing along. It must have had a catchy tune.
This time, as Anansi’s skull fell, he caught it with his rear end and ran from the stream. And that, is how Anansi comes to have such a small head and huge behind, due to his hard-headedness.
Nyame’s Messenger, Anansi; Why Men Commit Evil At Night, Children Play In Moonlight, And Why Disputes Are Settled During The Day
That, is a lengthy title for a story…
The Sky-God Nyame sired three children one day; Esum the Night, Osrane the Moon, and Owia the Sun. When each of the children came of age, Nyame sent them out on their own where they founded their own village. Of these children, Owia was Nyame’s favorite and decided that they should become chief.
Nyame devised a plan, wherein he secretly harvested a yam or “Kintinkyi.” The task was, that the son who could guess what Nyame had harvested, would become the next chief. In addition, the winner would receive Nyame’s royal stool.
As Nyame set about blackening his stool, his subjects were nearby and Nyame asked if any of them could guess his thoughts. Anansi happened to be there and said that he knew. Nyame then sent Anansi to go gather his sons from their villages. The plot twist here, is that Anansi didn’t really know what Nyame’s thoughts were and decided he would try to find out.
Anansi then took feathers from every known bird and covered himself with them. Then he flew high above Nyame’s village, startling the villagers. This brought Nyame out, who didn’t recognize Anansi’s disguise.
But, Nyame thought to himself, if Anansi were present, he’d know the name of this bird as the crafty spider had known that Nyame wanted his son Owia to win his royal stool. That all they had to do was guess the name of the yam. As Nyame pondered and mused to himself, it allowed for Anansi to overhear the Sky-God’s plan.
Away Anansi flew until he was far enough away to ditch his disguise. From there, Anansi went to Esum’s village and told them that their father wished to see them. Anansi made no mention of Nyami’s plans. Esum gave Anansi roasted corn by way of thanks. Soon after, Anansi made his way to Osrane’s village, delivering the same news he had told Esum. Osrane gave Anansi yam in thanks and again, shortly after, Anansi headed for Owia’s village.
Things were different at Owia’s village when Anansi arrived, bringing the news of Nyame’s desire to see his sons. Owia mentioned to Anansi that he wished his father would know of Owia’s accomplishments. Owia decided to treat Anansi as if he were his own father come and prepared the best feast that he could with sheep. With that treatment, Anansi decided to fill Owia in on what he hadn’t told the other brothers. That being the name of Nyame’s yam that he had harvested.
Anansi then fashioned a pair of drums that would beat out the yam’s name, Kintinkyi to help Owia remember. Anansi with Owia in tow, then went to collect up the other brothers as they returned to bring them to Nyame.
Nyame called an assembly as Anansi presented his three sons before everyone. The contest of guessing the yam’s name was then revealed to each of the sons. The eldest, Esum was allowed to guess first and he said “Pona.” Osrane, the second eldest then took his turn to guess and gave the name of “Asante.” Finally, it was Owia’s turn and remembering what Anansi had told him, said the name “Kintinkyi.” Everyone present cheered Owia’s success.
Nyame then took his eldest son, Esum and told him that as he had not paid attention when growing up, that Nighttime would be when evil deeds would be done. To Osrane, Nyame said that as he had not listened when growing up, only children would play during his time. To his youngest son, Owia, Nyame praised him and made him the chief, decreeing that any issue that needed to be settled, would be done so during the day. To protect himself from his brothers, Nyame gave Owia the rainbow.
Lastly, to Anansi, Nyame blessed the spider for knowing his inner-most thoughts and said that from then on, that Anansi would be Nyame’s messenger.
The Arrival Of Disease
Oh yes, Anansi appeared before Nyame one day asking if he could one of Nyame’s sheep, Kra Kwame and eat it. Anansi said that he would bring a maiden from one of the villages as a gift in exchange for the sheep. This seemed reasonable enough and Nyame agreed to the exchange, giving Anansi the sheep while he waited for the maiden’s arrival.
As it were, Anansi took the sheep home and prepared it for eating. Once he was done, Anansi then went in search of a maiden. In his search, Anansi found a village where only women lived. Seeing an opportunity, Anansi moved there and offered each woman some of the sheep and marrying everyone.
It’s not hard to see that Anansi broke his word with Nyame. It wasn’t long after, that a hunter stopped in the village and saw what happened. The hunter back to Nyame and reported what he had seen in the village. Nyame became furious on learning what Anansi had done and sent his messengers to the village to take every woman living there.
Off the messengers went, seizing every woman in the village except for one who was ill at the time to bring back to Nyame. Anansi pondered what to do, as his remaining wife was very ill. The wife told Anansi to bathe her and then fill a gourd with water from the bathwater. This water would hold all the diseases that afflicted the wife.
See his wife after she was bathed, Anansi saw how beautiful she was, more so than all the other wives in the village. Anansi remarried her right there on the spot. It wouldn’t take long for another hunter to pass by the village and to see Anansi and his wife together.
This hunter returned to Nyame, giving the Sky-God a report of this extremely beautiful woman. Obviously Anansi had tricked Nyame as this woman was more beautiful than all the other women that were taken.
Angry again, Nyame ordered his messengers to go take Anansi’s wife. When the messengers got there, Anansi confronted them and they told Anansi of what Nyame’s desires were. Anansi nodded and complied with the messengers, taking them to where his wife was at.
Anansi had his own plans once the messengers left. He found the gourd holding the diseased water and took a skin by which to fashion a drum. Anansi then set about to make a second drum. Done, Anansi called for his son, Ntikuma and together they began to beat the drums and dance around while singing vulgarities.
Another messenger of Nyame’s, Anene the crow saw what Anansi was doing and went back to report about what he saw. Intrigued, Nyame sent more messengers to ask Anansi to come and perform his songs for him.
Ah, Anansi said, he could only perform his song and dance if all of his wives were present. Anansi promised to perform for Nyame if he could have his wives and his drum. The messengers relayed Anansi’s message back to Nyame and he agreed.
Anansi was brough to the harem where all of his wives were being kept and he began to sing and beat his drum. Nyame soon joined in the merriment with Anansi while the wives joined in too.
However, Anansi’ last wife recognized the gourd that Anansi’s drum was made from. She suspected what mischief Anansi had planned and decided not to join in dancing. Nyame tried to coax the last wife into dancing, but before she could, Anansi cut open his drum and tossed all the water out. All the diseases that had once been washed away now returned and a sickness fell upon the tribe.
So out of revenge, Anansi brought illness and disease to the world. Though to be fair, if Anansi had kept his word with Nyame from the start and brought him a maiden as promised, none of this would have happened.
Kwaku Anansi Takes Aso To Wife & How Jealousy Arrives In The Tribe
In this story, Anansi isn’t yet married to Aso as she is married to another man, known as Akwasi-The-Jealous-One.
True to his name, Akwasi was very possessive of Aso and forbad anyone from seeing or talking to her. Such, that Akwasi built a small village where only the two of them lived. The reason for Akwasi’s jealousy is that he is sterile and worried that Aso would be taken from him if they lived among other people.
Well hey, somebody knew or was paying attention. Nyame got tired of Akwasi’s lack of or failure to father any children with Aso. And if Akwasi isn’t siring any children, than Aso is fair game and Nyame tells the other young men in the village about Akwasi’ marriage to Aso and tells them, that the first man to successfully take Aso away and get her with child, can marry and take her to wife.
That is very much so a cultural thing. Doesn’t Aso get a say in who she’s married to and want to be with?
The challenge proves to be more difficult than expected and all the young men who’ve tried to seize Aso, all fail. Anansi was watching all this and after the latest failure from a young man, Anansi went before Nyame. The crafty spider tells Nyame that he’ll be able to accomplish this task to capture Aso.
Just give Anansi the items he requests to help him. Specifically, medicine, rifles and and bullets.
Off Anansi goes, passing through several villages, passing out the black powder, bullets and guns, telling people how Nyame has sent those to go hunting on the god’s behalf. Sweet! Anansi says he’ll come back later to collect up the meat for Nyame.
While everyone’s off hunting, Anansi makes a basket to hold all the meat in when he returns. It’s either a basket of holding, a very large basket or there’s several small baskets to hold meat in. Either way, Anansi collects up the meat and heads off for Akwasi-The-Jealous-One’s village.
Anansi reaches the river where Akwasi and Aso get their water and he takes out some of the meat, placing it in the water. He then continues up to where Akwasi lives, carrying the basket still. Aso spots Anansi’s arrival and calls out to her husband, who is surprised that they have a visitor. Akwasi comes out to find out who this person is.
Anansi tells Akwasi that he’s been sent by Nyame to this place to rest during his journey. This pleases Akwasi as he welcomes the spider into his village. While this is happening, Aso notices the meat that Anansi left in the river and says something. Anansi tells Aso she’s welcome to it as he doesn’t need it. That she can feed it to any pets they have.
Aso comes back with the meat and shows it to Akwasi. Anansi asks Aso if she would cook some food for him and she sets about preparing a dish known as Fufu. As she is preparing the meal, Anansi tells Aso that it won’t be enough and tells her to use a bigger pot as he offers up more of the meat. The catch is, she is to cook only the thighs, of which there are 40.
With the meal prepared, everyone sits down to eat. As they’re eating, Anansi complains, saying that the fufu Aso made lacks salt. At this, Akwasi commands Aso to bring some salt. Anansi spoke up, saying that wasn’t proper, Aso is eating and that Akwasi should be the one who goes and gets the salt. When Akwasi leaves, Anansi pulls some medicine out of his pouch and puts it in Akwasi’s fufu.
Akwasi returns with the salt and Anansi announces that he’s now full and doesn’t need the salt anymore. I’m sure Akwasi may have grumbled at this, but he set down again and finished his fufu, unaware of what Anansi has done.
As he’s eating, it occurs to Akwasi that he hasn’t asked for Anansi’s name yet. Anansi responds by saying that his name is “Rise-up-and-make-love-to-Aso.” This confuses Akwasi who asks Aso if she had heard the name too. Aso assures her husband that she did and Akwasi gets up to go prepare a room for Anansi. The spider says he can’t sleep in the room, he as to sleep in a room with an open veranda as he is Nyame’s Soul-Washer. Apparently, Anansi’s parents are to have conceived him in an open room, so he can’t sleep in a closed room.
Right, so where does Anansi want to sleep then? It must be an open room in a house that belongs to Nyame and asks for a sleeping mat so he can sleep in front of their room. When Anansi was certain that the two were asleep, he pulled out his sepirewa out to play, singing: “Akuamoa Ananse, today we shall achieve something today. Ananse, the child of Nsia, the mother of Nyame, the Sky-god; today, we shall achieve something, to-day. Ananse, the Soul-washer to the Nyame, the Sky-god, today, I shall see something.” Once the song finished, Anansi went to sleep.
Anansi was awoken by Akwasi calling out for him. But as he didn’t like the name that Anansi had told him, the spider remained silent. The medicine that Anansi had put into Akwasi’s food was working. After a few more attempts to rouse a sleeping Anansi, Akwasi finally used the name “Rise-up-and-make-love-to-Aso.”
Now Anansi responded to Akwasi’s calls, asking what troubled him. Akwasi said he needed. Akwasi replied that he needed to leave for a moment and left.
Entering the room, Anansi saw that Aso was awake and he asked if she had heard what Akwasi said. Aso asked in turn of Anansi what Akwasi had said. So Anansi obliged with the name he’d given, implying that it was a command, not his name. Wink, wink.
The two then made passionate love with each other before going back to sleep and before Akwasi returned. The medicine or poison that Anansi used was rather potent and Akwasi would be getting up eight more times, where once again, Anansi and Aso would make love before he returned. Come the morning, Anansi was on his way.
Two moon later, Aso begins to start showing that she’s pregnant. This gets Akwasi suspicious of how his wife got pregnant given that he’s sterile and can’t father any children. Aso takes the opportunity to tell Akwasi that it was by his own commands that she had made love to Anansi and that the child is his.
Angry, Akwasi takes Aso with him to go to Nyame’s village to complain. On the way, Aso gave birth and the two took the baby with them. On hearing the story, Nyame didn’t believe the two, saying no one had left his village and asked them to point out the person to him.
Aso did so, looking around the village until she spotted Anansi sitting on a ridgepole. She told Nyame that’s the one who impregnated her. Anansi slid down the ridgepole, attempting to hide, but Aso found him again, causing Anansi to fall over and dirty himself.
Now Anansi complained, how Aso and Akwasi’s actions defiled him. That he was Nyame’s Soul-Washer and that his desires had been ignored. Hearing this, Akwasi was seized by Nyame’s other subjects for disobeying a god’s commands. That as punishment, Akwasi was to sacrifice a sheep as penance. Embarrased, Akwasi performed the sacrifice and then told Nyame that Anansi could take Aso as his wife.
Sadly, the baby that Anansi fathered with Aso was taken and killed, their remains scattered about Nyame’s village as a reminder. And that, is how Aso becomes Anansi’s wife and how jealousy entered the tribe.
Anansi’s Bald Head
Sometime after Anansi and Aso were married, when they returned from visiting a plantation outside of the village, a messenger arrived. Anansi greeted the messenger and asked why they had come. The messenger replied that Anansi’ mother-in-law had died the previous day. Anansi informed his Aso of what happened, and plans were made to go to the village to mourn.
The next morning, Anansi went down to the village, looking for some favors. He soon found: Odwan the Sheep, Okra the Cat, Okraman the Dog, Akoko the Fowl, and Aberekyie the Goat. Anansi told all of them how his mother-in-law had died and asked if they would accompany him to her funeral. They all agreed, and Anansi returned home to prepare for the journey.
Anansi prepared funeral clothing, consisting of a leopard skin hat and russet colored clothing. The day of the mother-in-law’s funeral came, and Anansi called upon those he’d asked to come. They brought several supplies with them as well, consisting of guns, drums, palm-wine, and other things that they would share with those attending as they celebrated his mother-in-law’s memory.
Soon they arrived at the village and they fired off their guns to signal that they had arrived. Then Anansi and his company went to the home of his mother-in-law for her wake. Anansi shared out everything that he had brought. Anansi also then presented his offerings to help pay for the funeral.
The next morning, as everyone ate, they invited Anansi to join them. Anansi declined, saying he was forbidden from doing so as it is his mother-in-law’s funeral, that he would not eat until the eighth day. Food was then gathered for his companions who accompanied him for the funeral before they departed back for their own village.
Days passed as Anansi fasted, finally on the fourth day he was too hungry, and he went into the house where he was staying to find food. In the kitchen, he found a fire going with beans in a pot boiling. Anansi ate those, scooping some into his leopard hat after making sure no one was watching. No sooner had Anansi placed his hat back on his head to hide the beans, then Aso entered. Thinking fast, Anansi told Aso that there was a Hat-Shaking Festival taking place at his father’s village and that he was going to go.
Now Aso was suspicious. Who wouldn’t be? Especially when married to a trickster. She asked Anansi why he hadn’t told before of this festival. She also reminded Anansi that he hadn’t eatten anything yet and that he really should wait for the next day. Anansi refused to wait and headed off.
Aso went and gathered up everyone in the village, telling them that Anansi was up to something and that they had to keep him from leaving. As Aso went back after her husband, Anansi grabbed his hat and sang: “Just now at my father’s village they are shaking hats! Saworowa, they are shaking hats! E, they are shaking hats, o, they are shaking hats! Saworowa!”
Anansi began to panic too, for the beans were hot and burning his scalp. He bid his wife and everyone goodbye, that he was leaving. However, everyone began to follow after him, knowing what Aso had told them. Paniced, Anansi told everyone to leave and he sang more: “Turn back, because: Just now at my father’s village they are shaking hats! Saworowa, they are shaking hats! E, they are shaking hats, o, they are shaking hats! Saworowa!”
Eventually, Anansi couldn’t stand the heat from the beans and he pulled them off his head with the hat. Now that everyone could see what Anansi had done, Aso and the villagers began to boo him, such that he took off running.
Anansi promised the road he would thank it if it helped him flee. The road agreed and Anansi mad his way back home and access to some sorely needed medicine for his head. Alas, Anansi’ hair never did grow back.
Why Anansi Runs When He’s On The Water’s Surface
With this story, Anansi goes to Okraman, the Dog and tells him how he plans to build a new village. That sounds sensible and Okraman agreed. Okraman would gather some rope-creepr vines and Anansi would also do the same and they would meet up again on the following Monday. They would also bring a gourd filled with water in case where they met up didn’t have any. As an added measure, Anansi put some honey into his gouard.
Anansi and Okraman met each other at the half-way point to their destination. As they continued to travel, they became tired and Okraman said they should rest a bit and drink some of the water they brought with them.
Now it gets a little weird. As the two rested, Anansi said they should play a game to pass the time while they rested. Well type of game Okraman wanted to know. A binding game, where they would take turns tie each other up. The one tied, would then have to escape. After a bit of disagreement on who would get tied up first, Anansi said he would go first.
Once Okraman had Anansi bound, he decided he was so hungry that he didn’t really want to play anymore. Instead, he picked up the trussed-up Spider and carried him away to go sell for food. When Anansi realized what was happening, he began to complain, making a ruckus until they reached a stream.
Odenkyem the Crocodile heard them and asked Okraman what was going on. Okraman was too frightened to answer and dropped the bound Anansi while he fled. Laughing, Odenkyem freed Anansi from his bounds while Anansi thanked him, asking if there were any way to repay the crocodile. Odenkyem declined, saying he didn’t want anything in return. Anansi insisted, saying if Odenkyem had any children, they come, and he would dress and style their hair. Odenkyem accepted this offer, not suspecting that Anansi would be up to any deception.
Anansi returns home, telling Aso that he needs palm-nuts and onions for a stew and that he’s going to bring back crocodile to provide the meat.
That does not sound like a way to repay someone for rescuing you.
Aso gathers up the ingredients asked for as Anansi sharpens a knife. He mashes up some eto and carries it down to the stream where Odenkyem lives. Anansi calls out for the crocodile, saying he’s got a reward for them and sets the eto in the water. Odenkyem comes, having heard Anansi and just as he’s about to take the gift; Anansi flings his knife at the crocodile.
Thinking he’s dealt Odenkyem a lethal blow, Anansi heads home. Aso notices this and asks where’s the crocodile meat? You didn’t get it? Anansi brushes her off, yelling at her and gives her the silent treatment the rest of the night.
The next morning, Aso went down to the river. There, she spoted the crocodile laying still with flies buzzing around him. Seeing this, Aso returned home to tell Anansi what she saw. Anansi explains that he used a special medicine to kill Odenkyem and it will take another day for the full effect and before he can collect up the meat. Anansi thanked Aso for confirming the kill.
Anansi headed down to the river, taking with him a long stick. Seeing the crocodile laying there still in the riverbank, Anansi carefully walked over and poked Odenkyem. As Anansi continued to poke the big crocodile with his stick and roll the body over, the Spider decided to edge closer. When Anansi got close enough and reached out to touch Odenkyem’s body with his hand, that’s when the big crocodile his own trap and snapped his jaws on Anansi’s arm.
That two wrestled for a while and eventually Anansi squirmed free of Odenkyem’s grasp and fled. Now, everytime Anansi crosses a river, he runs for it, never letting Odenkyem get a second chance.
That wouldn’t be the lesson I’d take from here though.
Note: My intention was to include all the Anansi stories that I could find. However, there are just so many variations and stories from Ghana to the Caribbean and even to North America. I could spend whole volumes and books on his stories and likely still not have found them all as he is still very much so active. So I find myself having to make a cutoff point of what do I include? Obviously, if you like Anansi want to read more of his stories or find a storyteller to tell his stories, you will do so.
And of course, the traditional ending to an Anansi story:
“This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me.”
Just a few little odds & ends that I couldn’t figure out where to fit them in at.
“No one goes to the house of the spider Ananse to teach him wisdom.”
“No one tells stories to Ntikuma” refers to someone who has heard it all.
Other West African tricksters that share many similar stories to Anansi are Br’er Rabbit and Leuk Rabbit.
Br’er Rabbit – The similarities between Anansi and Br’er Rabbit, the trickster figure who originates among the Bantu speaking people of South and Central Africa. Just like Anansi, Br’er Rabbit was brought to the Americas with the slave trade where his stories thrived and became a means by which he uses his wits and cunning to outsmart larger creatures. Stories of Br’er Rabbit are found in the French-speaking islands of the Caribbean where he is known as “Compare Lapin.” The most obvious story to compare Anansi and Br’er Rabbit with is that story of Anansi and his capturing the Mmoatia fairy with the Akua doll and the story of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. The Br-er Rabbit stories were collected up into the Uncle Remus stories by the American Journalist Joel Chandler Harris between 1870 to 1906.
Gede Lwa – In Haitian Voudo, Anansi is worshipped as a loa of this name and he is the intermediary between ancestors and the living. We also see in Haitian folklore, the figures of Ti Bouki, Ti Malice or Uncle Mischief who are other variations of Anansi.
Gizo – A spider trickster-hero of the Housa. His wife is Koki. He’s been equated with Anansi stories and sometimes called the Yoruba Anansi.
Iktomi – A Native American Spider figure whom many have noted similarities with Anansi.
Nambo-Nansi – A Haitian Loa, based on the figure of Anansi.
The Father Of Gods & Heroes
Some of Zeus’ “romantic conquests” are also how many of Greece’s heroes are born, giving them some divine might and heroic destiny for their exploits. It is very likely that many of these stories are just wish fulfillment to connect early Greeks to the gods and explain why many early heroes appear to have divine destinies and beyond human attributes.
As the Father and King of the Gods, even those deities not directly related to Zeus as his children would likely refer him to Father.
A good number of the myths and stories of the Greek gods and heroes tend to place Zeus having some prominence, even if it’s as a cameo appearance.
I will admit that many of the myths about the Olympians I grew up with only ever mention Hera as Zeus’ wife. Then throwing in all of the numerous “affairs” of Zeus as just his many flings by whom the different gods and heroes of Greek mythology are born.
Clean, sanitized versions of the myths. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article series, there are at least three main sources for Zeus’ origins and myths. A couple of sources mentioned give Metis as Zeus’ first wife and Hera as the second wife. So maybe Hera’s jealousy is not wanting to get replaced? Or just the rewrites that come later say Hera has to be jealous of Zeus’ affairs.
I did come across one source that gives several wives for Zeus, starting with Metis, then the Titaness Themis, Eurynome, Demeter, Mnemosyne, Leto, and lastly Hera.
Zeus & Callisto
This poor nymph found herself transformed into a bear along with her son Arcas by Artemis after an affair with Zeus. In compensation, Zeus placed both Callisto and Arcas up into the heavens to become the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Zeus & Danae
Zeus & Europa
In Greek mythology, Zeus in many of his various affairs; had fallen love with Europa, the daughter of Agenor, a King of Tyre in ancient Phoenicia. The problem with Zeus getting close to showing his affection is that Europa was always guarded by her father’s servants. Being a god and a shape-shifter, Zeus changed himself into the form of a handsome white bull with golden horns.
That accomplished, Zeus in his white bull form then mingles with the King’s royal herds grazing in a large field near the sea. While a walk along the beach, Europe noticed the handsome white bull and couldn’t resist going up to feed it. The bull was so very friendly and gentle, that Europe climbed up on its back when it lay down; taking hold of the golden horns.
Once she was on the bull’s back, it stood up and the white bull wandered closer and closer to the sea and then when they approached the beach, took off running for the water. Once in the sea, the bull starts swimming towards the island of Crete. And for Europa, it was too late to get off now.
When they arrived in Crete, Zeus changed back into his own form, revealing himself to Europa. As he’s already married to Hera, Zeus gives Europa instead in marriage to Asterius, the King of Crete.
In slightly different versions of this story, Zeus and Europa have three children together. One of whom is Minos who grows up and goes on to be a famous king of Crete. He had the palace in Knossos built where bull games were held and is more infamous for the sacrifice of fourteen youths (seven boys and seven girls) to his Minotaur in a labyrinth every year. In either event, Zeus is said to have commemorated the white bull he turned into by placing it up among the heavens as the constellation Taurus.
Zeus & Leda
This story is connected to the Cygnus constellation. In this story, Zeus disguised himself as a swan in order to seduce Leda. In this guise, Zeus behaved much like a swain, which means a lover or wooer.
Leda was the wife of the Spartan King Tyndareus. She’s known for giving birth to two sets of twins; the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), and Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. When Leda laid with Zeus, their union produced an egg. Later that night, when she laid with her lawful husband Tyndareus, their union resulted in another egg. The immortal twins Pollux and Helen are said to have been fathered by Zeus while the mortal twins Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus.
Zeus & Nemesis
A variation to the above myth is that instead of Zeus seducing Leda, he seduces Nemesis, the goddess of divine justice and retribution. She was also the goddess of the Pelopennesian cult. Other sources are clearer that Nemesis lived in Rhamnus (located to the North-East of Athens) where this cult may have been. When Zeus went to seduce Nemesis, she changed herself into a variety of different animals before taking the form of a goose to escape him. Zeus continued to pursue Nemesis, each time taking the form of a larger, swifter animal until he turned into a swan before he was able to catch and rape her.
A variation of the story with Nemesis that’s told by Hyginus is that Zeus had turned himself into a swan and pretends to be escaping from an eagle. Nemesis protected the bird, offering sanctuary. It’s afterwords, when Nemesis has gone to sleep with the swan on her lap that she discovers the truth of who the bird really is.
In either version of the story told, Nemesis ends up laying an egg that she leaves in a swamp. This egg was found either by Hermes or a shepherd who brings it to Leda who keeps the egg in a chest until it hatches. It is from this egg that Helen of Troy is hatched. As a result of his success, Zeus placed an image of the swan up into the heavens.
Zeus & Leto
Another of Zeus’ affairs is with Leto and the resultant children would be the twin deities Apollo and Artemis.
From the surviving stories we have, a jealous Hera forced Leto to roam the earth to safely give birth. Hera had commanded that the earth and sea refuse Leto any safe refuge. Eventually, Leto came to the floating island of Delos and was able to safely give birth to her twin children.
Zeus & Ganymede
This is an oddball myth in that Zeus falls in love with a particularly handsome youth, Ganymede while he is out watching his father’s sheep. Zeus either transforms into or sends an eagle to come and carry the youth off to Mount Olympus. There, Zeus grants Ganymede immortality and makes him a cup-bearer to the gods, replacing Hebe after she spilled some of the nectar and causing Hera a lot of anger over the replacement.
Depending on how you interpret this myth, this is Zeus wanting to grant immortality to a worthy descendant of his or how the ancient Greeks were justifying homosexuality in their culture.
Zeus & Semele
In this myth, Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia is “seduced” by Zeus. The mighty Zeus promised the young Semele to reveal himself in all of his godly glory, however, she dies when Zeus reveals himself as thunder and lightning to her. Their union results in the birth of the young Dionysus.
Herakles – The Favored Son
Of all of the many children that Zeus is to have sired, Herakles (or Hercules for the Roman spelling) is the son of Zeus and Alcmene. Even though, Herakles’ name means: “Glory of Hera,” Hera was not too pleased with the birth of this demigod and tried to kill him. Herakles would go on to become one of the best well-known heroes in Greek & Roman mythology.
One such adventure between father and son is when they team up against a tribe of earth-born Giants threatening Olympus. The Delphi Oracle had decreed that only a single god and mortal would be able to defeat these monsters. Zeus and Herakles proved their mettle and overcame the monsters, defeating them.
Truth, Justice And The Olympian Way!
As King of the gods and their ruler, Zeus is the one who also gets to determine and uphold the laws, and mete out justice, mercy, and morals. He punishes oath breakers and liars by hurling bolts of lightning to strike them down! It is Zeus’ place to maintain these laws, both in the heavens and on the earth, to protect his worshipers, preside over the various festivals and handle the governing of prophecies.
Given how often the gods, as a whole, are said to be petty and Zeus’ reputation for his numerous affairs (*coughs* rapes), I’m not sure I really buy this?
Hesiod in his “Work and Days” does describe Zeus as being a carefree god who loves to laugh aloud. Zeus was known for being wise, fair, just, merciful, and prudent despite supposedly having an unpredictable nature as no one knew what decrees he would give. A lord of justice who brought peace instead of violence.
Now we do have in the story of Ixion, what happens when someone violates the Host-Guest laws and proves to be a bad guest. Zeus comes through with laying down the law there.
Protector of Kings – Zeus was known to be a protector, particularly of kings and rulers. Once Greece shifted away from Kings and more towards democracy, Zeus then becomes the chief judge and peace maker.
Morals – For all of his affairs, if Zeus is to be setting the example for morals, it is small wonder that Hera comes across as angry and jealous all the time. Someone needs to keep him in line.
The show “Hercules: The Legendary Journey” is the only series that comes to mind that tried any meaningful reconciliation between Zeus and Hera about his numerous affairs. It was a very cheap shot with having Hera get amnesia as it didn’t really resolve the issues. Just lazy writing on the part of the screen writers. Most 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.
I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the line, people twisted this view of justice and started recreating Zeus in their image. After all, people are mortal, and they’ll end up following after deities that appeal to their natures and what they want.
A Partial List Of Zeus’ Many Judgments & Punishments
I’m bound to miss a few, the stories involving Zeus are many, even if we’re counting the ones where he has a small bit part or cameo.
- At Hades’ request, Asclepius was killed by a thunderbolt after his medical knowledge enabled the dead to return to life.
- Forcing Atlas to hold up the world on his shoulders after his part in the Titanomachy.
- Turning the nymph Chelone into a tortoise after she refused to attend the marriage of Hera and Zeus.
- Turning both King Haemus and Queen Rhodope into mountains. Your mileage may vary depending on if these are the Balkan Mountains, Stara Planina or Rhodope mountains, all for the crime of being too vain.
- Punishing Hera by hanging her upside down from the sky after she attempted to drown Herakles in a storm. His own wife.
- Throwing Hephaestus off the top of Mount Olympus as the baby was too repulsive looking.
- Lycaon was turned into a wolf after daring to serve Zeus human flesh to eat.
- Turning Pandareus to stone after he stole the golden dog that had guarded him as an infant in the holy Dictaeon Cave of Crete.
- Pandora was given a box, that when opened cursed mankind with all the evils and diseases after Prometheus gave humans the gift of fire.
- Turning Periphas into an eagle, thus making him the king of birds after Apollo intervened and said not to kill him.
- Blinding the seer Phineus and sending the harpies to harass him after revealing divine secrets. In some cases, for blinding his own sons.
- Killing Salmoneus with a thunderbolt for attempting to impersonate him, riding around in a bronze chariot, and loudly imitating thunder.
- Sisyphus was condemned to spend all of eternity in the Underworld to roll a stone uphill.
- Condemning Tantalus to eternal torture in the depths of Tartarus after he tried to trick the gods into eating the flesh of his son Pelops.
- Sinking the Telchines into the sea.
Callirrhoe – Not everything was divine retribution… Zeus does grant Callirrhoe’s prayer that her sons be able to grow up swiftly so they can get revenge on Phegeus and his two sons for the death of their father.
Ixion – One really sees Zeus’ role as a god of justice and distributer of divine justice in the story of Ixion. How Ixion committed murder after refusing to pay a bride price. Ixion went everywhere he could think of to be purified and absolved of this grievous sin. Eventually, Zeus said he could purify Ixion and then invited the mortal up to Mount Olympus.
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.
The Myrmidons – After the death of his son, King Aeacus, Zeus turned the Myrmidons into ants. Later, Achilles would lead them into battle during the Trojan War.
Porphyrion – Ixion wasn’t the only one to get punished by Zeus for daring to look at his wife. The giant Porphyrion was struck down by a lightning bolt after lusting for Hera.
Prometheus – This is another of the more famous of those punished by Zeus. In sum, the titan Prometheus had gifted humankind with fire. Not just fire, but divine fire after all the other animals received their gifts. Prometheus’ punishment is to be chained to a rock for all eternity while every day a vulture comes and eats his liver.
Most of the stories don’t mention that there was also a woman, by the name of Thetis whose identity that Prometheus was keeping from Zeus. That age-old prophecy plaguing Zeus that a son of his would-be born greater than him would overthrow the mighty Zeus and take his throne. After torturing Prometheus for a while, the titan tells Zeus that if he pursues Thetis, she will bear him the aforementioned, prophesied son. Hearing the news, Zeus decides to pass off Thetis to Peleus and it is from that union, that the hero Achilles is born.
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.