Category Archives: Virgin Birth
Etymology: Greek – “Lady” or from haireo – “chosen one”
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Ἥρᾱ, Hērā; Ἥρη, Hērē in Ionic and Homeric Greek
Epithets: Ἀλέξανδρος or Alexandros (“Protector of Men”), Hera Aigophágos, Αἰγοφάγος or Akraia (“She of the Heights”), Ἀμμωνία or Ammonia, Ἀργεία or Argéia (“She of Argos”), Argive Hera (“Hera Argeia”), Hera Antheia (“Hera of the Flowers”), Βασίλεια or Basíleia (“Queen”), βοῶπις or Boōpis (“Cow-Eyed” or “Cow-Faced), Βουναία or Bounáia (“She of the Mound” in Cornith), Hera Gamelia (“Hera of Marriage”), Hera Heniokhe (“Hera of the Chariot”), Hera Hyperkheireia (“Hera, Whose Hand is Above”), Hera Nympheuomene (“Hera the Betrothed”), Ἥρᾱ Παῖς or Hera Pais (“Child Hera” for her role as virgin), Ἥρᾱ Τελεία or Hera Teleia (“Adult Hera” as goddess of marriage), Ἥρᾱ Χήρη or Hera Chḗrē (“Widowed”), Λευκώλενος or Leukṓlenos (“White-Armed”), Παρθένος or Parthénos (“Virgin”), “Goat Eater,” “Queen of the Immortals,” “Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of the Gods,” “Queen of Olympus,” “Golden-Throned Hera,” “Bride of the Thunderer,” “The Supreme Goddess”
Not only is Hera the Queen of the Gods in Greek mythology, she is also the goddess of marriage, women, childbirth, and family. All roles that appear nigh impossible to preside over when one is married to Zeus, King of the Gods who goes about doing whatever he wants. It is easily understandable why some myths and stories will depict Hera constantly angry with Zeus, taking it out on his many “love affairs,” offspring, and even mortals who cross her path.
Animal: Cow, Crow, Cuckoo, Lion, Panther, Peacock
Patron of: Women
Plant: Lily, Lotus, Pomegranate
Sphere of Influence: Marriage, Childbirth, Family
Symbols: Peacock Feather, Diadem, Scepter, Throne, Veil
In some art, Hera is shown riding in a chariot pulled by peacocks. Hera is often shown with those animals sacred to her. As the Queen of the Gods, Hera is depicted as majestic and solemn, sitting on a throne wearing a polo (think a high cylindrical crown) or diadem with a veil hanging down behind her. Sometimes Hera is shown holding a pomegranate symbolizing marriage, fertility, and even death.
The most famous statue depicting Hera is the one carved by Polycletus. It is considered the noblest image and one that represents the ideal image of Hera as a mature woman with a beautiful forehead and large, wide-opened eyes. She is regarded as having a grave expression thought to command reverence.
In some instances, there is no imagery used for Hera to represent her, or she can be difficult to distinguish from other goddesses in Greek art. In Argos, Hera was represented as a pillar and on the island of Samos where Hera is said to have been born, she was represented by a plank of wood.
What’s In A Name
There are several possible etymological roots for Hera’s name. One given is the Greek word ὥρα or hora meaning “season,” or “year,” and likely meant to refer to being ripe for marriage. According to Plato, Hera’s name comes from ἐρατή or eratē for “beloved” as Zeus is supposed to have married her out of love. Yeah… we will get back to that myth later.
If we go by Plutarch, Hera’s name is an anagram of ἀήρ or aēr meaning “air.” That’s a little better.
Now we get into some suspect meanings that have been offered up. In Walter Burkert’s “Greek Religion,” he makes note of how scholars have argued for a meaning of Hera as the feminine of Heros meaning Master. Close on Burkett’s heels is John Chadwick who in deciphering the Linear B Greek script, says that Hera’s name may be related to the word ἥρως or hērōs and thus, the modern word of “hero.” It does get pointed out that this connection is too tenuous and obscure for any firm confirmation.
Then we have A. J. van Windekens who suggests the meaning of “young cow” or “heifer” for Hera as one of her epithets is βοῶπις or boōpis meaning “cow-eyed.”
Finally, we have R. S. P. Beekes who has put forward the idea of Hera being of Pre-Grecian origins. That her name may have meant “Lady” or “Mistress” That one makes sense too; we do have Hera’s name appearing in the Mycenaean Greek Linear B script and tablets found in Pylos and Thebes that seem to point to that meaning.
According to Herodotus, Hera is the only goddess not introduced to Greece from Egypt.
Like many deities and even words for that matter, the meanings and what they stand for change over time. On this hypothesis, however tentative, Hera goes from being an ancient earth goddess with vast power to a goddess of marriage ruling alongside Zeus with diminished influence.
We’re talking ancient ancient Mycenaean Greece of about 1500 B.C.E. to the ancient Greek and its city-states that many think of and are familiar with around 500 B.C.E. So, about a thousand years and a lot has happened. A lot has changed and even been lost.
Worship & First Temple
For all that Zeus tends to get top billing in Greek mythology and appears to be very prominent, after all, he is the King of the Gods! Archeological evidence shows that Hera may have been the first deity that the Greeks built and dedicated an enclosed, roofed temple. Said temple is found on the island of Samos and dates to around 800 B.C.E. It must be noted that this temple was later replaced by Heraion of Samos, being an even larger temple.
There is some archaeological confusion with dates as there have been many temples built on Samos. Rhoecus sculptors and architects destroyed the temple sometime between 570 to 560 B.C.E. and then replaced it with the Polycratean temple between 540 & 530 B.C.E. A lack of tiles suggests that the temple was never finished or that it was open to the sky. Other excavations at Samos have found votive offerings that date to the 7th and 8th centuries B.C.E.
There are “house sanctuaries” that date from the Mycenaean era. On mainland Greece, there is the “Argive Hera,” another sanctuary found between the Mycenaean cities of Argos and Mycenae. Festivals honoring Hera would be held there. There are two Doric temples dedicated to Hera that were constructed at Paestum around 550 B.C.E. to 450 B.C.E. One of these temples had long thought to be a Temple of Poseidon until the 1950’s when it was properly identified as belonging to Hera.
Further archaeological evidence shows that people would come from across the Mediterranean to make offerings at this site. These people likely came from Armenia, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt and Iran.
Argos – This city is held to be Hera’s favorite city. There is a sanctuary devoted to her in the Peloponnesus where she was worshipped as the city’s goddess and protector
Other Temples – Other temples dedicated to Hera are found at Mycene, Sparta, Paestum, Corinth, Tiryns, Perachora, and on the islands of Samos and Delos.
In book IV of the Iliad, Hera refers to Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae as “The three cities I love best.” Many of Hera’s temples and sanctuaries were located outside the city as she served as the city protector and for the privacy of various sacred cult observances.
The Temple of Hera – Located at Olympia, the seated figure of Hera is older than the warrior statue of Zeus that accompanies her.
Great Daedala – This sacred festival honoring Hera was celebrated every sixty years in Euboea. During this festival and ritual, wooden dolls would be dressed up as brides and then burned in a pyre. This festival reenacts a myth where Hera and Zeus had a fight before reconciling.
Heraia – This is a New Year’s Festival held every year to honor Hera. The Heraia held at Argos is known to have had a sacrificial procession where priestess of Hera rode in ox carts as young men carried the “Shield of Hera.” This culminated with a “hecatomb” where one hundred bulls were sacrificed. For this, the Argive Heraia was sometimes known as the “Hecatombaia.”
In the region of Kanathos, every spring there was a special rite where Hera would renew her virginity by bathing in the stream. The Heraia festivals were also celebrated at the cities of Corinth, Elis and Samos. Couples would re-enact the marriage of Hera and Zeus and every four years, there would be sporting competitions for women held in Hera’s honor.
Toneia – A festival held on the island of Samos, there would be a scavenger hunt where people searched for an image of Hera. When it was finally found, the statue would be washed and dressed in new clothes.
Parentage and Family
Ouranos (the Sky) and Gaia (the Earth)
Depending on the source, Hera can have a few different origins.
Cronus and Rhea – The often-recognized version of Hera’s parentage, especially when referencing Hesiod’s Theogony as the source.
Father – Aether (Arcadian origin)
Father – Coelus (Arcadian origin)
Father – Saturnus (Cretan origin)
Zeus – Also her brother, who becomes King of the Gods.
She is the third child born of Cronus and Rhea.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
Sidenote – Homer’s Iliad will have Hera stating she’s the oldest daughter of Cronus.
With Zeus, Hera is the mother of Angelos (Angelia) an Underworld goddess, Ares god of War, Arge a nymph, Eileithyia goddess of Childbirth, Eleutheria goddess of Liberty, Enyo goddess of War, Eris goddess of Discord, Hebe goddess of Youth, Hephaestus god of Fire and Forge
The Charites – Goddesses of beauty and grace. Usually given as being the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, or Dionysus and Coronis. The poet Colluthus places them as the daughters of Hera though no father is mentioned.
Pasithea – One of the Graces, the Greek writer Nonnus places her as a daughter of Hera. Sometimes Dionysus is given as her parent and there is uncertainty if both Hera and Dionysus are meant to be her parents together.
Prometheus – The Hellenistic poet Euphorion lists the giant Eurymedon who raped a young Hera as being the parents of this Titan. Though other sources place Iapetus and Clymene as Prometheus’ parents.
Typhon – A serpent monster whom Hera gives birth to parthenogenically.
Hera is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location for where the gods would preside at while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians vary. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
During the Hellenistic era of Greek history, Hera becomes associated with peacocks and has a chariot pulled by them. Peacocks were not part of any associations, symbols, or attributes until Alexander the Great’s conquests and expanding the Greek empire. The peacock is also interpreted as a symbol of pride.
Aristotle, Alexander’s tutor calls the peacock, the “Persian bird.” It is during the Renaissance era that the peacock imagery is more heavily used by painters to fully identify Hera with her Roman counterpart, Juno.
Before this, Hera’s chariot had been pulled by horses.
This bird has been associated with Hera the longest and before her associations with peacocks. It mainly comes from Zeus’ “wooing” Hera to get her to fall in love and marry him.
Yeah, I’ll cover that story more later down. So many of Zeus’ “affairs,” seducing, and “ravishing” women are too often a euphemism for rape.
One of Hera’s epitaphs is Boôpis meaning “cow-eyed.” On the island of Euboea, just off the coast of Greece, the region was known for having an abundance of cattle. Then in Cyprus, archaeologists have found several cattle skulls that have been used as masks. All of this has caused some to see a connection to the Egyptian goddess Hathor.
Queen of the Gods
Being married to Zeus does have some perks. With Zeus being the ruler of the Olympian gods, that places Hera as the Queen of the gods and keeping some of her prominence and influence. Though with much of the known Greek culture, they were a patriarchy, and unfortunately, we don’t often see the might and power of Hera in surviving myths except as being petty, cruel, and vindictive. In fairness, this aspect gets attributed to a lot of the Greek gods, so it says something for the level of cruelty and vindicativeness that Hera becomes known for.
Looking at the story of Jason & The Argonauts, we do see a time when Hera did hold a lot of influence, sending Jason on his quest and the favors she grants him there. An old Ray Harryhaussen movie for Jason and the Argonauts depicts Hera as begging Zeus to allow her to be the one to guide the heroes on their quest. After having watched the movie, I can’t help but feel that they should have stayed closer to the source material.
Ancient Earth Goddess
It is the scholar Walter Burkert who makes the claim that both Hera and Demeter have characteristics that link them to a Pre-Greek Great Goddess. Then we have the British scholar Charles Francis Keary suggest the idea of Hera as an Earth Goddess worshiped in ancient times. Keary further suggests this connection with Hera having been a Pelasgian goddess. This makes sense with Demeter given her connection to the Eleusinian mysteries and how it predates Grecian culture. Plus, it makes sense for Hera given how her temples are among some of the oldest in Greece, even dating to the Mycenaean era.
Some of the ancients viewed Hera as a personification of the atmosphere, the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess of the Stars, and as the Goddess of the Moon.
With Hera clearly being the Queen of the Olympian Pantheon and the ideas put out connecting her as an ancient earth goddess, do make sense. Those cultures that are more agriculturally inclined are more often going to be matriarchal versus those cultures that are more nomadic and thus have a stronger tendency to be more patriarchal and war-like fighting over land and territory.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen puts forward the idea that Hera was the goddess of a matriarchal culture; given her place in Greek religion and in the region before the rise of Hellenistic Greece that most think of as Ancient Greece.
It should be noted that the idea of a Great Mother Goddess among the ancient Greeks is seen as controversial even among modern scholars. But it’s worth taking note of when looking at various myths and why it is that so often, Hera comes across as jealous and petty towards Zeus and all his “affairs.”
Birth Of A Goddess
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Hera and all her siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a prophesy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour his children whole as soon as they are born. This happens five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetit, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Rhea takes and hides Zeus, so that later when he is older, he can come to fulfill the prophecy of killing his father Cronus. During the battle, Zeus splits open Cronos’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia.
There is a ten-year long war known as the Titanomachy, and by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Hera takes her place as Queen of the gods and the others take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
Raising Hera – Childhood
Going by the Homeric poems, the Titans, Ocean and Tethys raised Hera and that she never knew who her birth parents are. As such, Hera marries Zeus later without knowing of the connection between them as brother and sister.
Looking at other traditions around the Mediterranean, the Arcadians say that Hera was raised by Temenus, the son of Pelagus. The Argives say that Hera was raised by Euboea, Prosymna and Acraea, the daughters of the river Asterion, And then, looking at Olen, he says that the Horae were Hera’s nurses.
Plus, many places in Greece such as Argos and Samos claim to be the birthplace of Hera. This makes sense as Hera was also prominently worshiped in these two cities.
Goddess Of Marriage
As the goddess of marriage, Hera is the protector of married women. She would preside over weddings and their arrangements and bless the unions. On the surface, that seems great until you look at the Greek myths and what life was like for Grecian women. Here it’s a bit spotty as we don’t have good records to show, but the general idea and belief are that Grecian women held fewer rights than men in regard to voting, owning land or inheritance, and were relegated to the home, raising children. Plus, this could vary by the Greek city-state in question such as Sparta, women being held in higher regard. Or we just erroneously assume that’s how it is given the nature of the myths and stories that have survived.
The biggest one is that while Hera is married and presumably faithful, Zeus however, is not and is frequently depicted having a roaming eye, chasing after every woman that catches his interest. How much of this is the result of mythological hijackings and the subsuming of many local myths to bring them all under an all-encompassing myth to try and justify or show nearly every hero, mortal or certain gods being a descendant of Zeus or not, is hard to say. Especially thousands of years later.
It is also worth noting that for all the reputations that many of the other Olympian deities have with affairs and resultant offspring, Hera is the only goddess who doesn’t cheat on her spouse, managing to keep fidelity on her part in the marriage with Zeus. Though given the reputation for being petty, vindictive and jealous, this attribute of fidelity is overlooked or dismissed.
Marriage To Zeus
As stated above, Hera is married to Zeus who is also her brother. For gods and immortals, this works out. There just weren’t very many other options. For those who are mortal and human, Ewww…. Inbreeding. Don’t do it!
Depending on the source, for Zeus, Hera is his second wife. Zeus had to trick Hera into marrying him as she had refused the first proposal. Knowing that Hera holds an affinity for animals and other beings, Zeus first created a thunderstorm and then transformed into a cuckoo. Pretending to be hurt, the cuckoo fluttered on Hera’s window where she would spot the “poor thing.” Naturally, Hera picked up the bird and held it close to her to warm it up. It is at that moment that Zeus transforms back to his godly self and rapes Hera. Shamed by what happened, Hera agreed to marry Zeus.
As a goddess connected to nature, it is said that all the earth burst to life and greenery and blossoms for their wedding and many lavish gifts were given. The Greek writer Callimachus says their wedding feast lasted for three thousand years. Gaia brought the Apples of Hesperides as a wedding gift.
Given how this marriage came by duress, I just don’t see how it will be a lasting or happy marriage.
Some myths will try to say that Zeus feared Hera’s wrath. It just comes across as a poor excuse to defend Zeus’ promiscuous nature, even if it really is just the ancient mythographers trying to connect every local god, hero, and ruler as being related to him. The same mythographers also add that Hera held great jealousy towards all of Zeus’ “lovers” and any resulting children.
With how Zeus is said to be powerless to stop Hera’s wrath, these could be holdovers remnants of ancient stories where Hera is resisting Zeus and the arrival of patriarchy. Hera is always said to be aware of Zeus’ actions, if not constantly on the look out for his antics when he descends down to the earth.
Close on the heels of Hera’s role as the goddess of marriage, she was also known as a matron goddess or Hera Teleia, the “adult Hera.”
That is interesting, digging further into this, aside from the fragments of a practice for a sacred marriage with Zeus, we find at Platea there is a sculpture of Hera seated in her role as a bride and another statue of a matronly standing Hera.
We find in Stymphalia, Arcadia where Hera was worshiped at a triple shrine, first as Hera the Girl (Hera Pais), the Adult Woman (Hera Teleia), and the Separated (Chḗrē, Divorced or Widowed).
Near the region Argos in Hermione, there is a temple of Hera as Hera the Virgin. Every spring in the region of Kanathos, close to the city of Nauplia, there is a rite where Hera would renew her virginity.
So, What Went Wrong?
Most people who have any understanding of the Greek myths know Hera to be a jealous woman and vengeful against Zeus for his many “affairs” where she would often punish Zeus’ “lovers” and children rather than confront her husband outright.
Like any of the Greek gods, yeah, Hera could favor or punish mortals at a whim too. However, in Hera’s case, this something really pointed out and noted between her and Zeus.
Why? The evidence is anecdotal and relies on looking at the surviving myths and connections of Hera being an Ancient Earth Goddess and worshiped first in the ancient, ancient Mycenean Greece and accepting the ideas of an early Matriarchal Greek culture.
There is a Neolithic, Cycladic culture that is best known for its female idols. Couple these archeological finds with Hera and her vehemence towards Zeus and his numerous affairs. Now it appears to be clear that the Greek myths we get of Zeus & Hera are the result of revisionist history and storytelling.
From that standpoint, then we see Hera as the goddess of marriage, being the arrival and introduction of patriarchy where Zeus becomes the leader and King of the gods, ruling over everything, and Hera is to somehow be subordinate to him.
Accepting this, we can see so much of Hera’s anger and jealousy as a holdover to a time when she and thus her cults resisted a theological takeover in Greek culture as Zeus rises to prominence, even replacing his brother Poseidon who in some early myths was once ruler.
There’s hints and evidence of all of these theological takeovers with the various myths, which Grecian scholar is writing down what and the apparent discrepancies as Greece and then Rome expanded, trying to absorb all of these local myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own myths and deities.
Homer – There is also influence from Homer’s writings where Hera is not treated as respectfully which leads to later retellings of the myths focusing more on Hera being vengeful as she is supposed to uphold the old rules of Hellenistic Greek culture.
Greek Culture – The way Hera’s stories are presented does show the misogynistic culture of the ancient Greeks and where a woman’s place is. Hera is the only properly married goddess in the Olympian Pantheon if you make an exception for Aphrodite. As such, Hera is expected and does show fidelity to Zeus even throughout all his affairs. However, much Zeus cheats on Hera, she remains faithful. Because of an oath that Hera swore to Zeus when she tried to initiate a revolt in the heavens, Hera is unable to move against Zeus. But she does frequently act against his “lovers” and children. With some futility against those such as Alcmene, Leto, Io and Herakles, it does show the limits of justice that women could expect and just whom the Greeks blamed in any of Zeus’ “affairs,” who was responsible.
Grandmother Of Monsters
Wait… isn’t that Echidna the mother of monsters? Yes, however looking at the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo, Hera, in her older, more ancient form from Minoa is mother to the monstrous draconic looking Typhon, giving birth to him solely herself in an act of parthenogenesis. Not the only time for Hera. From there, Hera is to have given her monstrous child to the serpent Python to raise.
In the Iliad, Typhon is born in Cilicia and is the son of Cronus. Gaia is angry with the destruction of her children, the Giants slanders and insults Zeus in front of Hera. This results in Hera going to Cronus and he gives her two eggs fertilized with his own semen and instructs Hera to bury the eggs. Hera buries the eggs in Cilicia. By the time Typhon is born and begins his reign of terror and problems, Hera has reconciled with Zeus, and she informs him about the issue.
Sometime after Zeus has succeeded over coming all the previous challenges from Gaia, the various giants and titans to become ruler of the heavens, a young Zeus had gotten rather prideful, temperamental and arrogant in his rulership.
Enter Apollo, Hera, and Poseidon (and depending on the source, all the other gods except Hestia join in) decide that Zeus needs to be taught a lesson.
Hera’s part was to drug Zeus so that he fell into a deep sleep. While Zeus is sleeping, they come in to steal his thunderbolts and tie him up with some one hundred knots. Powerless, Zeus lays there until the Neriad, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, calls the Hecatoncheire, Briareus who comes and unties Zeus.
With Briareus’ support, Zeus is able to put an end to the rebellion and punish those involved. Most notable is Hera’s punishment as she led the rebellion. Zeus hung her up int the sky with golden chains. Hera’s weeping kept Zeus up all night and the next morning, he agreed to end the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
This is the story of why Hera is to have her “petty jealousies” against Zeus and his many affairs. If she can’t outright go up against Zeus, she takes it out on those unable to stop her.
This story seems to be a remnant of when Zeus and Hera got along relatively well before later additions where Hera gets her reputation for being petty and vindictive.
After a fight with Zeus, Hera left and went to Euboea. Nothing that Zeus said would get Hera to change her mind. She had had it. A local king, named Cithaeron suggested that Zeus make a wooden statue of a woman and pretend to marry it. That gives an idea of what they were fighting about.
Following this advice, Zeus named a wooden statue Plataea, claiming that she was the daughter of Asopus. When Hera heard this news, she came tearing in, interrupting the ceremony only to discover that it was only a lifeless statue and not a rival lover.
Hera and Zeus are to have reconciled and those gathered, celebrated with the two in a festival to become known as Daedala. During this festival, there is a reenactment of the myth where a wood statue of Hera is chosen, bathed in the river Asopus and then placed in a chariot where it is led around in a procession before being ritually burned.
Echo & Hera
This version of the story originates from Roman mythology from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. As it’s Roman, the Roman names for the gods are Jupiter or Jove (Zeus in Greece) and Juno (Hera in Greece). Anyone familiar with Greco-Roman mythologies knows of Jupiter’s reputation and his numerous affairs among mortals and gods alike; much to his wife, Juno’s displeasure. For most lay people, the two pantheons are virtually one and the same.
This is the main story about Echo that most everyone knows, it explains the origin of echoes or repeating sounds in mountains and valleys or anywhere an echo can be heard.
On one occasion, as Zeus is pursuing one of his latest affairs with a nymph, Hera comes among the nymphs looking for her husband as she hoped to catch him in the act. As the case was, Echo had been tasked by Zeus himself to keep Hera distracted with a lot of idle chatter while Zeus engages in his latest tryst. Hera wasn’t happy with the overly talkative nymph and when she discovers that Echo is merely distracting her; Hera punishes Echo that she would always be able to have the last word, but she would only be able to repeat the last thing said.
Birth Of Hephaestus
The timing of this story takes place right after Zeus is to have given birth to Athena without the need for sex. Except that, Zeus swallowed Metis who was pregnant with Athena who springs forth out of Zeus’ brow, all to avoid a prophecy that Gaia gave him.
In an act of parthenogenesis, Hera gives birth to Hephaestus. On seeing him, Hera was so repulsed by the sight of her infant son that she threw him from Mount Olympus where he would become crippled.
It’s understandable that someone would grow up bitter towards the mother that rejected and threw them off a mountainside. Hephaestus got his revenge when he created a magical golden throne for Hera.
No hard feelings, right?
Nope, when Hera sat on the throne, she was unable to get up. The other gods begged and pleaded with Hephaestus for Hera’s release. Enter Dionysus who gets Hephaestus drunk and brings them back to Olympus riding a mule. Hephaestus agrees to release Hera after he is given Aphrodite in marriage.
Birth Of Hebe
While dining with Apollo, Hera became pregnant with Hebe, the goddess of Youth while eating some lettuce. Hera may have also become pregnant when she beat her hand against the earth. An act considered solemn to the Greeks.
Birth Of Apollo & Artemis
There are a few different versions of this story.
In the version of this story from the Homeric Hymn III to Delian Apollo, Hera is described as detaining Eileithyia the goddess of childbirth, from letting Leto birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis as their father is Zeus. As the other goddesses were present there at Delos, they send Iris to go fetch Eileithyia and bring her back so Leto can give birth.
Another version has Hera commanding all the nature spirits to prevent Leto from giving birth on any mainland, island or anywhere under the sun for that matter. Enter Poseidon who takes pity on Leto and guides her to the floating island of Delos. Here, Leto is finally able to give birth to her children. Afterword, Zeus secures Delos to the bottom of the sea.
The third version holds that Hera kidnaps Eileithyia to prevent Leto from being able to go into labor. The other gods got together and bribed Hera with a lovely, yet irresistible necklace to persuade her to give up Eileighyia and let the twins be born.
Either way, of the twins, it is Artemis who is born first, the moon, and then her brother, Apollo, the sun. Some versions will have Artemis then miraculously be old enough to help her mother give birth to Apollo after a period of nine days. Or that Artemis was born one day before Apollo on the island of Ortygia and that she helps Leto get to Delos to give birth to Apollo.
Hera’s Continued Spite Towards Leto
If that isn’t enough, Hera tries to get one of Zeus’ many prodigies, a giant by the name of Tityos to rape Leto on her way to the Delphi Oracle. Luckily Apollo and Artemis are there to slay Tityos as they protect their mother.
Hesiod’s Theogony – The birth of the twins, Apollo and Artemis is contradicted in this text as they’re born before Zeus is married to Hera. So why by this continuity she would have any animosity towards Leto doesn’t make sense.
Hera & Herakles
Better known by the Roman spelling of his name, Hercules. This hero is the most well-known for showcasing the vehemence, spite, and hatred that Hera could hold towards others. Hera is the stepmother to Herakles and no matter how the hero’s name means “Glory of Hera,” it wouldn’t be enough to placate her.
Birth of a hero – For this, we have three versions of this heroic origin story.
Homer’s Iliad – Right before Herakles was to be born, Zeus announced that when his son is born, that they would become the ruler of Argos (or Tiryns in some versions). Angered, Hera requested that Zeus swear an oath to enforce that proclamation. She then went down from Olympus to Argos caused the wife of Sthenelus, the son of Perseus, to give birth seven months early. As Sthenelus’ wife went into labor, Hera went to sit in the doorway of Alcimides’ home, preventing Eileithyia from coming in. so that his half-brother, Eurystheus would be born first and thus become ruler. This resulted in Eurystheus being born first instead of Herakles all while fulfilling Zeus’ oath.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses – When Alcmene is pregnant with Herakles, Hera tries to prevent the birth by ordering Eileithyia to “Alcmene’s legs in knots.” Hera’s plans were thwarted when Galanthis, Alcmene’s servant frighted off Eileithyia. Angry, Hera turned Galanthis into a weasel.
Pausanias’ Account – In this account, Hera sends witches (according to the translation available) to prevent Alcmene from giving birth to Herakles. The witches were successful until the daughter of Tiresias, Historis came up with a trick to deceive the witches. Historis called out that Alcmene had given birth and hearing that, the witches left, allowing Alcmene to really give birth.
Snakes In A Crib
Hera wasn’t done yet. This time she sent a pair of serpents into the infant Herakles’ crib. Imagine Alcmene’s surprise as she walks in to find her infant son holding a pair of dead snakes in his chubby baby hands playing with them like they were toys.
Side Note: This story and the imagery it invokes is something that the ancient Thebans would have been familiar with. That is a hero holding a serpent in each hand much like the Minoan goddess holding snakes and other Cabeiri.
The Milky Way
If that weren’t enough, by this time, Alcmene has become terrified of Hera. Not wanting to suffer Hera’s wrath further, Alcmene takes the infant Herakles out to the wilderness and leaves him there, exposing him to the elements. The goddess Athena, known for protecting heroes, found the infant and brought them to Hera who nursed the baby out of pity.
Once Hera realized which baby she was nursing, she pulled the infant away from her. The spurt of milk from her breast smeared across the heavens, creating the Milky Way. It is from the divine milk of Hera that Herakles is said to have gained great power.
After that, Athena brought the infant Herakles back to his mother.
Side Note: The Etruscan version of Herakles is shown as being fully bearded when he’s nursing. It has been suggested that later when Hera and Herakles do finally reconcile, this symbolizes when she adopted him, and he becomes immortal.
Driving Herakles Mad
All seemed well for a while, that is until Herakles became an adult. Hera drove Herakles mad, causing him to believe that his family were his enemies so that he murdered his wife and children.
Herakles’ Twelve Labors
To atone for his acts of murder, Hera assigned Herakles to go into servitude to his half-brother, King Eurystheus. This resulted in a series of twelve tasks or labors. In each of the labors, Hera strove to make each task harder. When Herakles went up against the Lernaean Hydra, Hera sent the crab to bite his feet to distract the hero.
Later, Hera would rile up the Amazons against Herakles during one of his labors. In another labor, when Herakles is sent to get the cattle of Geryon, Hera is shot in her right breast by a large, barbed arrow that leaves her in constant pain. In retaliation, Hera sent a gadfly to irritate the cattle causing them to scatter. Then Hera caused a flood of the river making it so Herakles wouldn’t be able to carry the cattle across it. Herakles eventually dropped a bunch of large stones into the river to make the river shallower. The cattle were then taken to Eurystheus and sacrificed to Hera.
The Cretan Bull is another of Herakles’ labors and Eurystheus wanted to sacrifice it to Hera. She refused of course as it would only glorify Herakles’ deeds. So the bull was let go and it wandered over to Marathon becoming the Marathonian Bull.
Gigantomachy & Reconciliation
Despite all of the animosity, Herakles does eventually win over Hera. The opportunity came during the Gigantomachy when Gaia sent the Gigantes to attack the Olympians after the defeat of the Titans. One such Giant was Porphyrion, the King of the Gigantes who attempted to rape Hera. Herakles killed Porphyrion with an arrow. An ever-grateful Hera offers the hand of her daughter, Hebe in marriage to Herakles as a further step to heal the rift between them.
This would make Herakles “Hera’s man” and the name meaning “Glory of Hera” more fitting and understandable. That maybe there was another name Herakles was known by or that all along, the name is a foreshadowing of how the story will end between them.
It is also worth noting that after the story of Herakles, Diodorus Siculus writes that Alcmene is the last mortal woman that Zeus had an “affair.”
Zeus & Io
Ever vigilante for Zeus’ next “affair,” Hera spotted a solitary thundercloud and knew that this could only be the latest. As Hera sped down to catch Zeus in the act, she arrived to find Zeus with a small, white cow. Naturally, Hera isn’t fooled, she knows that Zeus has likely transformed his latest love interest and demands that he give her the cow as a present. Unable to refuse, Zeus relents and gives Hera the cow.
The cow, Io in her possession, Hera takes and ties her to a tree where she has her servant, Argus watch over the heifer in order to keep Zeus away. Argus was a giant with a hundred eyes over his entire body. Even when asleep, some of his eyes would always be awake and watching.
Afraid and unwilling to face Hera’s wrath, Zeus ordered Hermes to lull Argus into a deep sleep so that all of his eyes would close. If anyone could do it, it would be Hermes, he succeeded at getting all of Argus’ eyes to close in sleep and the god killed him.
Furious that Io is free, Hera sends a gadfly to harry and sting her as she wandered the land. Eventually, Io would make her way to Egypt where the Egyptians would worship this snow-white cow and call her Isis. Hera finally relented and allowed Zeus to change Io back into a human on the condition that he never seeks her out again. Human again and worshipped as a goddess-queen in Egypt, the son that Io bore thanks to Zeus would become the next king or pharaoh of Egypt.
These stories linking Grecian myths with those of Egypt are just that, a means by which the Greeks and later Romans would say that all the myths were connected, and local gods are the same deities, just under a different name.
Ovid’s Metamorphosis – In this retelling, after learning about Argus’ death, Hera places his eyes on the tail feathers of peacocks, one of her sacred animals.
Callisto & Arcas
Another of Zeus’ many love interests and affairs, Callisto was a follower of Artemis and had taken a vow of chastity. Enter Zeus who disguises himself as Apollo and then “seduces” her.
Out of revenge, Hera turns Callisto into a bear. Later on, Zeus and Callisto’s son, Arcas nearly kills Callisto while hunting. Zeus then places the two up into the heavens.
A slighter alternative to this story is that Zeus disguised himself as Artemis before “seducing” Callisto. That an enraged Artemis turns Callisto into a bear. We still have Arcas nearly killing his bear mother while hunting with either Zeus or Artemis placing them up into the heavens to become the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Hera becomes angry with Callisto and Arcas’ placement up in the heavens and asks her foster mother, Tethys the Titan goddess of the oceans for help. Tethys places a curse on the constellations so that they will forever circle the heavens and never drop below the horizon. Thus explaining why the two constellations are what’s known as circumpolar.
Semele & Dionysus
In this myth, Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia is “seduced” by Zeus. Hera learns of this and disguises herself as Semele’s nurse and tells the young woman to persuade Zeus to reveal himself to her. The mighty Zeus promised, swearing on the River Styx, the young Semele to reveal himself in all of his godly glory. However, Semele dies when Zeus reveals himself as thunder and lightning to her. Zeus takes the unborn child and completes Dionysus’ gestation by being sewn into Zeus’ thigh.
Another version of Dionysus’ birth has him as the son of Zeus and either Demeter or Persephone. An infuriated Hera sends her Titans to rip the infant apart, earning him the name Zagreus or “Torn to Pieces.” Zeus rescues the heart or part of it at least is saved by either Athena, Demeter, or Rhea. Whichever version of the story is followed, Zeus uses the heart to recreate Dionysus and places him in Semele’s womb. This also earns Dionysus the name “twice-born.” Alternatively, Zeus gives Semele the heart to eat, thereby impregnating her. The end story is still the same with Hera tricking Semele to get Zeus to reveal himself, thus killing her.
Later, Dionysus would return to the Underworld to retrieve his mother and the two would go to live on Mount Olympus.
The Judgement Of Paris
First, we have a prophecy, one that stated that the son of the sea-nymph Thetis would become greater than his father. Zeus with his reputation for an ever-roving eye fell in love while watching her in the sea just off the Grecian coast, learned of this prophecy, and decided to wed Thetis to an elderly mortal king, Peleus, the son of Aeacus. Sources vary, Thetis agrees to this arrangement either out of Zeus’ orders or because Hera had raised her, and did so to please Hera, the goddess of Marriage.
The gods were feasting at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, who would become the parents of Achilles. All the gods were invited except Eris who hadn’t received an invite. Chiron oversaw the wedding invites and didn’t invite Eris due to her reputation for stirring up trouble. This understandably miffed Eris to no end. After all, everyone else got invited, so why not her?
Coming off as seeking to be peaceful and with no hard feelings, Eris proposed a beauty contest between the goddesses Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. As the prize, Eris tossed a golden apple of beauty, or better known, the golden apple of discord. In some retellings, it is noted that the golden apple has engraved or written the word: “Kallisti,” meaning: “for the fairest.”
This dispute, one driven by vanity over who was the loveliest of the goddess would escalate and the gods bring the matter before Zeus to decide. Not wanting to favor one goddess over the others, Zeus has the hapless mortal Paris called in to judge. Each of the goddesses attempted to bribe Paris to choose her. Hera offered political power, Athena offered battle prowess and Aphrodite tempted Paris with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen.
Being a young mortal man, Paris chooses Helen and rewards Aphrodite with the golden apple. Only there is one problem, Helen is the wife of Menelaus of Sparta. In claiming and taking her, Paris sparks off the Trojan War. This causes Athena and Hera to side with the Greeks in the ensuing war.
Divine Set-Up – If we go by the “lost” epic, The Cypria attributed to Stasinus, this whole Trojan War was planned by Zeus and Themis. There are only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and it’s seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events come about.
Hera has a significant part in the Trojan War, making a number of appearances throughout The Iliad. First, we know that Hera is angry towards the Trojans due to Paris’ decision to favor Aphrodite and not her. Hence why Hera favors the Greeks and convinces Athena to aid the Achaeans to help interfere against the Trojans.
Later, Hera and Athena plot against Ares who was supposed to side with them initially but was convinced by Aphrodite to help her and thus the Trojans. Diomedes was able to see Ares aiding the Trojans and called for his soldiers to fall back. Seeing this, Hera asked Zeus for permission to drive Ares off the battlefield. At Hera’s encouragement, Diomedes threw his spear at Ares and Athena made sure the spear found its mark. Howling in pain, Ares fled back to Mount Olympus, causing the Trojans to fall back.
In another book, Hera attempts to persuade Poseidon to go against Zeus’ word and aid the Achaeans. Poseidon refuses, saying that he won’t. A still determined Hera and Athena head off towards the battlefield. Seeing this, Zeus sends Iris to intercept the two, telling them they must return to Olympus or face the consequences. After more fighting happens, Hera spots Poseidon doing what he told her he wouldn’t do and that is helping the Greeks and keeping them motivated to stay fighting.
Jumping to another book, Zeus has made a decree that the gods are not to get involved in the mortals’ war. Hera conceives of a plan in which she will seduce her husband. Hera lies to Aphrodite, saying she wants the help so that she and Zeus will stop fighting and Aphrodite loans Hera her girdle. Some additional help from Hypnos, the god of sleep, Zeus fell into a deep sleep. Now Hera and the other gods could continue to interfere in the Trojan War.
Free to do as she pleases, Hera has her son Hephaestus keep a river from harming Achilles. Hephaestus also sets the battlefield on fire, this causes the local river deity to plead with Hera, saying that he won’t help the Trojans if Hephaestus would cease his attacks. Hera persuades Hephaestus to stop and Hera returns to the field of battle, fighting with and against the other gods.
Zeus does eventually wake up and sees how much of the war he’s missed and that several of the gods are involved despite his decree not to. Seeing that he missed saving Sarpedon’s life, Zeus just does a deific shrug and says yeah, the other gods can get involved now.
Despite all of the interference, the Greeks won.
Once the Queen of Libya, Lamia was another of Zeus’ many lovers. An infuriated Hera killed Lamia’s children and then turned her a monster. Driven insane, Lamia was also cursed to be unable to close her eyes so she would be forced to forever obsess over the image of her dead children. Lamia turned to killing children and eating them as she was held to be envious of other mothers with children. Zeus taking pity, gave her the ability to prophesy as well as remove her eyes so she could sleep.
A minor story, Gerana was a Queen of the Pygmies. In an act of hubris, Gerana boasted of being more beautiful than Hera. An angry goddess responded by turning Gerana into a crane, stating that forever after, the crane’s descendants would be at war with the Pygmy people.
In this quick story, Antigone, the daughter of Laomedon boasted of being the most beautiful, and like Gerana, Hera turned Antigone into a stork.
Also spelled Side and meaning “pomegranate,” she was Orion’s first wife. Like Antigone and Gerana, Sida also boasted of being more beautiful than Hera. Unlike the other two, Hera sent Sida straight to the Underworld.
In this story, Cydippe is a priestess of Hera who was headed to a festival honoring the goddess. The ox pulling her cart were late and Cydippe’s sons, Biton and Cleobis pulled the cart the rest of the way to the festival. Cydippe was pleased with her sons’ devotion and asked Hera for a boon, the best gift a mortal could receive. Hera decreed that both brothers would die in their sleep.
This is an interesting myth, Tiresias was a priest of Zeus. One day, he came upon a pair of snakes who were mating. He hit them with a stick and was turned into a woman. Tiresias then became a priestess of Hera, married and bore children, one of whom she named Manto. Seven years later, Tiresias came upon another pair of mating snakes. Now, depending on who is retelling the story, Tiresias either leaves the snakes alone, remaining a woman, or, as Hyginus tells it, tramples the snakes to become a man once more.
Battle Of The Sexes – As a result of his experiences, Zeus and Hera called on Tiresias to settle the question of who had more pleasure during sex. Men or Women? Zeus claimed it was women and Hera said it was men. Tiresias sided with Zeus and an angry Hera struck them blind. Since Zeus couldn’t undo what Hera did, he gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy.
Other sources say that Tiresias sides with Zeus in saying that men have more pleasure during sex and for that, Zeus allows him to live three times longer than other mortals. Yet another source says that Tiresias, having returned to being male, is struck blind by Athena after coming across her bathing. Chariclo, Tiresias’ mother begged Athena to undo the curse and as the goddess could not, she gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy.
In a rather minor story or substory, during the marriage of Zeus and Hera, the nymph Chelone was regarded as being disrespectful by either being late or flat out not showing up. In anger, Zeus turned the nymph into a tortoise.
In this story, Hera became angry with Pelias as he had killed his step=mother, Sidero in one of the goddess’ temples. Given how power-hungry Pelias was, it was easy for Hera to plot and plan his downfall. A prophecy was given to Pelias about a one-sandaled man would kill him. Wanting to rule of all Thessaly, he seized the throne of Iolcus. Jason, the rightful heir was sent away and grew up under the tutelage of the centaur, Chiron. Many years later, Jason returned to Iolcus, and with a series of events and motions, such as his losing a sandal in the river while helping an old woman to cross, really Hera in disguise, the goddess was able to get Jason and Medea to ultimately kill Pelias after they returned from a long voyage to get The Golden Fleece.
Ovid’s The Metamorphoses
Given that Ovid is Roman, this story fits more for Hera’s Roman counterpart Juno.
The rulers of Thrace, King Haemus and Queen Rhodope were turned into mountains, the Balkan and Rhodope respectively after the two dared compare themselves to Juno & Jupiter, thus incurring their wrath.
The first human guilty of murder, after he refused to pay a bride price. Ixion searched everywhere for anyone who could purify him of this crime. No one would or could until Zeus took pity on him and invited Ixion up to Olympus to live.
While there, Ixion tried putting some moves on Hera who complained to her husband, Zeus. In response, Zeus created a cloud named Nephele in Hera’s likeness. When Zeus caught Ixion trying to put some unwanted moves on Nephele, Zeus sentenced Ixion down to Tartarus to spin forever on a flaming wheel crying out how you should always show gratitude to your benefactor.
Shadow Goddess – Jealousy & Envy
With all the numerous stories of Hera’s jealousy towards Zeus, his various love affairs and children, Hera is seen as a goddess who represents jealousy, the need for revenge as she has never forgotten a slight or injury. All of this gives Hera a particularly vindictive nature, seemingly more so and notable compared to the other Olympian gods.
Like Zeus, how much a victim of the passage of time and the tellings and retellings of her myths over the millennia is hard to say. Most people aren’t aware of how the story between Hera and Herakles ends with them finally having reconciliation. I’ve had people mock the name of Herakles and the meaning of the name, for “Glory of Hera” and don’t seem to be aware of the part of the stories where Hebe is given to Herakles in marriage after he saves Hera from the giant Porphyrion trying to rape her.
“Hercules the Legendary Journeys” is a bit infuriating there with the ending where the reconciliation between Zeus, Hera, and Hercules all comes about with her getting amnesia. They could have built up a more meaningful ending that more closely matched the myths the writers were pulling from. That they didn’t just shows to me lazy writing on the part of the screenwriters. Many other shows and movies tend to gloss over the moral and marital problems as that usually is not the focus of the story at hand that writers want to tackle and tell.
Yet the reconciliation is there. It is in Herakles’ name as a foreshadowing of how the story ends and possible, potential hints of when Greek culture went from being matriarchal to patriarchal and stories getting rewritten.
We see an aspect that modern Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism would recognize as the Triple Goddess with Hebe, the Virgin of Spring, Hera, the Mother of Summer, and Hecate, the Crone of Autumn. Bear in mind, that this aspect comes from Robert Graves in his “The Greek Myths.”
Gaia – Greek Goddess
I’m my own Grandma!
Not really, leave it to the Greeks to continue with blending all their deities as being one and the same, to blur or ignore their own genealogies for their Pantheon. Gaia is the primordial goddess of the Earth and from whom all life sprang forth. Again, it works if you’re just seeing all of these deities as just different aspects of the divine.
In the case of Hera; older, more archaic versions place her as an ancient Earth Goddess. The Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo places Hera as the mother to Typhon, while most myths place Gaia as being his mother.
Hathor – Egyptian
In her role as a cow goddess or goddess of cattle, Hera has been identified with Hathor. Other than that, the similarities end there.
Juno – Roman
Where Hera is the Queen of the Gods in the Greek Pantheon, her Roman counterpart is Juno who is depicted as more warlike wearing a goatskin cloak as seen on those worn by Roman soldiers. The month of June gains its name from this goddess. There was a festival known as Matronalia, celebrated on March 1st honoring Juno as Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth. Juno Pronuba presided over marriage much like her Greek counterpart and Juno Regina was a special counselor and protector of the Roman state.
Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Hera with Juno. The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars, and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that they would virtually become one and the same. And this has become the tradition passed down through the centuries that many people know and accept. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Uni – Etruscan
A cognate for Hera in the little-known Etruscan beliefs and mythology.
Alternate Spelling: Νάνα (Greek)
Nana is the name of a Naiad, a water nymph in Phrygian mythology, she is the daughter of the river god, Saggariaos found in Anatolia, modern day Turkey.
Parentage & Family
Father – Sangarius (or Saggariaos), he is a god of the river Sakarya in Phrygia, modern day Turkey.
Mother – Metope, she may likely be a nymph herself. It’s not clear. Bear in mind there are a few different individuals in Greek myth named Metope.
Attis – Nana’s son by way of seemingly immaculate conception.
Nana ultimately has just a small bit part in a larger myth concerning the stories of Attis and Agdistis.
Agdistis was a hermaphrodite, whom the other deities of Mount Olympus couldn’t handle, what with the huge sexual appetite that a being like Agdistis supposedly has. They also flat out couldn’t comprehend and handle a being who is both male and female.
Their solution was by one means or another, to cut or rip off the gentiles from Agdistis, forcing them to be female. Which is just really brutal.
The deed done, the blood from Agdistis that fell and hit the earth became an almond tree.
Enter now Nana to the story who goes and sits beneath the almond tree. Nana finds herself becoming pregnant when an almond fell into her lap. Slight variations to this story have Nana gathering up the almond fruit and when they’re held to her bosom, the fruit vanishes and that’s how she finds herself pregnant.
Understandably, Nana freaks out and when she gives birth, she exposes the baby boy who is found and raised by a he-goat.
Nana exits the story at this point and the baby-boy, who is named Attis, is found by some Shepherds who raise and take him in. And of course, the whole Attis falls in love with Cybele who is also his mother and whom was originally Agdistis. So, falling in love with themselves and their missing part.
The Naiads are water nymphs in Greek mythology, minor deities or spirits. Specifically, Naiads were associated with fresh water.
Alternate Spelling: Atys, Ἄττις or Ἄττης (Greek), Atus, Attus, Attês, Attis or Attin
Etymology: Handsome Boy
Attis is the Phrygian god of shepherds and vegetation. The myth for Attis’ death and resurrection is very symbolic for the death and rebirth cycle that crops and plants go through every spring and winter. Attis’ worship is generally thought to have started around 5000 B.C.E. in Phyrgia and lasted up through the Roman era around 400 C.E.
Images portraying Attis has been found at several Greek sites. A wooden throne displaying a relief of Attis gathering pine cones beneath a pine tree was found in 2007 in the ruins of the Herculaneum. Attis’ likeness has been found on Roman era coins and tombstones. A silvery brass Attis kept at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum of Trier shows Attis dressed in Anatolian costume with trousers fastened together down the front of the legs and with toggles along with the Phrygian cap and a shepherd’s staff.
In myth, whenever Attis is shown with Cybele, he is shown as a younger, lesser deity to her. He is possibly even one of her priestly attendants. During the mid-2nd century B.C.E., various letters from the king of Pergamum to Cybele’s shrine in Pessinos, all address the chief priest as “Attis.” The name Attis was very common in Phyrgia and often used for priests. It is likely that portraying Attis as a deity or priest is a matter of personal interpretation in mythology. The worship of Attis and Cybele are very closely linked and wherever Cybele’s worship spread, the worship of Attis wasn’t far behind.
Planet: Jupiter or Venus
Sphere of Influence: Romantic, Nurturing
Parentage and Family
This can get rather confusing as it varies and depends on the versions of the story given. In some versions, he is the son of Agdistis or Calaus.
Other accounts will place the goddess Cybele as his mother.
And yet further accounts will place the river nymph Nana as his mother by way of her becoming impregnated by an almond seed via Agdistis’ castrated genitalia.
According to Pausanias and Hermesianax, Attis is the son of Calaus, a Phrygian King and that Attis was a eunuch since birth.
Agdistis – This one can get messed up as Agdistis is either falling in love with their own son or falling in love with their now, separated male half.
Cybele – This one also gets messed up as it involves incest.
Baby – An unknown baby, Attis fathered them with Cybele, his mother. Later both Attis and the baby would be killed by Cybele’s father.
What’s In A Name?
It should be noted that the name Attis in Phrygia was both a common name as well was a name or title for a priest. The name has been found on a lot of graffiti, dedications of personal monuments and several shrines dedicated to Cybele.
Cult Of Attis
The worship of Attis pretty much goes hand in hand with the worship of Cybele. There were however still some differences between the two no matter how similar they appeared.
As his own separate cult, Attis’ worship started around 1250 B.C.E. in Dindymon, located where modern Murat Dagi of Gediz, Kütahya is at. As a local god, Attis was associated with the Phrygian trade city of Pessinos that was near Mount Agdistis. Foreigners to the area would associate the local god and daemon, Agdistis with that of the Cybele, the Great Mother.
According to Julian the Apostate’s Oratio 5, Cybele’s cult spread from Anatolia to Greece and then to Rome during its Republican era. The cult of Attis found itself reborn as a eunuch consort that accompanied Cybele wherever she went.
Herculaneum – Excavations at the ruins of this place have yielded a wooden throne relief depicting Attis. The excavations at the Herculaneum have suggested that Attis’ cult was popular during the time of the Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 C.E.
Lydian Influences – According to Pausanias’ writings and the poet Hermesianax, Attis’ father is the Phrygian known as Galaus and was born a eunuch. When he was older, Attis moved to Lydia. There, Attis joined in celebrating Cybele with the Lydians in her orgies. After gaining a lot of esteem with Cybele, Zeus grew angry and jealous. As a result, he sent a boar to wreak havoc among the Lydians’ crops. During the boar’s rampage, many Lydians, including Attis were killed. It is thought that this confirmed why the Gauls living in Pessinus at the time refused to eat pork.
Galli – This is the name for Cybele’s priesthood during Imperial Rome. They were eunuch priests who practiced castration as a sign of their devotion to the goddess Cybele. The Galli castrated themselves in service to Cybele as they thought that doing so would give them the powers of prophecy. After castration, they would dress as women, keeping their hair long and adopting female mannerisms and appearances. The Galli also wore a tall cylindrical hat called a polos. It is known the Galli held orgiastic rituals accompanied by loud cries and the loud noise of flutes, drums and cymbals. While there are certainly the male priests who wore women’s clothing, in some regions there were also known to be female priestesses devoted to Cybele.
In Servius’ account, Attis is the founder of this priesthood with the highest ranking Gallus taking the name of Attis. The more junior Galli was known as Battakes. The Galli located at Pessinus were very politically influential among the Roman Senate.
In Rome, the Galli were forbidden citizenship and the rights of inheritance, as they were eunuchs and unable to have children. This was a very stark contrast to many other priests of other Roman gods who did have families and raise children, particularly of the more senior priests.
The Galli are thought to have castrated themselves in keeping with the myth of Attis where he castrates a king for their unwanted sexual advances and gets castrated in turn by the dying king. Cybele’s priest would have found Attis at the base of a pine tree where he dies and they proceed to bury him. In memory of Atti’s passing, the priests are believed to have emasculated themselves and added him to the celebrations and rites for the goddess Cybele. In Hellenistic Greek, a poet refers to Cybele’s priests as Gallai, a feminine form of the name. The Roman poet Catullus refers to Attis in the masculine form of his name until he is castrated. Catullus then refers to Attis in the feminine form of his name thereafter. Different Roman sources refer to the Galli by a third gender of medium genus or tertium sexus when mentioning them.
During the Megalesia festival, the Galli were permitted to leave their temple under Cybele’s law and go out into the streets begging for money. The standard of dress that the Galli wore, marked them as outsiders to the Roman people. Despite their effeminate dress and mannerisms, the Galli were considered sacred and inviolate as they were part of a state Cult. The Roman prohibitions of castration made the Galli a clear image of curiosity and scorn. The Galli were a constant presence within Roman cities even into Rome’s Christian era.
Attis & Agdistis
We should start a bit from the beginning to give some background to Attis’ relationship to Agdistis.
Agdistis was a hermaphrodite, whom the other deities of Mount Olympus couldn’t handle the huge sexual appetite that a being like Agdistis supposedly has.
Their solution? Make Agdistis single gender like the other gods.
Dionysus or Liber made a potion that they mixed in with Agdistis’ drink so that they would pass out, falling asleep. Dionysus then tied Agdistis’ genitals to a tree or sometimes their own foot. This way, when Agdistis jumped up from their sleep, they rip off their own genitals.
From Agdistis’ spilled blood that hit the earth, an almond tree is to have sprung up. The nymph Nana, the daughter of the river god Sangarius is said to have picked some of the almonds and she either eats them or when laying them on her lap, becomes pregnant and gives birth to the god Attis.
The story continues, that when Attis grew up, he was considered extremely handsome and Agdistis fell in love with him. Their own child and in many ways, just creepy. Attis’ adoptive relatives had plans for the youth to marry the daughter of the King of Pessinus. Other, slight variations to this story have the King punishing Attis with marriage to his daughter for the incestuous affair with his mother.
In either event, when the two are making their marriage vows and ceremony, Agdistis appears and causes all of the wedding guests to become made. Both Attis and the King wind up castrating themselves. The Princess cuts off her own breasts. As a result of the self-inflicted wounds, Attis dies and a suddenly grieving Agdistis pleads with Zeus to restore Attis to life. Zeus intercedes with the promise that Attis won’t die and will be reborn.
Incidentally, a hill or mountain by the same name of Agdistis in Phrygia is where Attis is believed to have been buried.
Other variations to this story have both Agdistis and the goddess Cybele falling in love with Attis.
The Roman Version – In one version of the myths, Cybele, known as Agdistis is thought to have been a hermaphrodite, having been born of the earth where Jupiter’s sperm fell. The gods castrated Agdistis who then becomes the goddess Cybele. Where the severed pieces of Agdistis’ manhood fell, an almond tree grew. The fruit of this tree impregnated the nymph Nana when she placed an almond on her womb. She later gave birth to the god Attis. The baby Attis was abandoned by Nana as she was afraid of her father. The baby Attis was discovered and saved by shepherds. Attis would grow up to become Cybele’s lover.
Pausanias’ Version – Pausanias identifies the Phrygian Sky-God and Earth-Goddess as being Zeus and Gaia.
In Pausanias’ version of the story, while sleeping, Zeus had some of his sperm fall on the ground. This of course created a Daimon that was hermaphroditic having the sexual organs for both male and female. This Daimon would be called Agdistis, another name for Cybele. The other gods feared Agdistis and cut off the male organs. This proceeded to create an almond tree. The daughter of the river Saggarios then took the almond fruit and held it to her bosom where it vanished. The daughter would find later that she was pregnant and give birth to Attis.
Attis & Cybele
This story is one of the major myths involving Cybele and they often include her relationship with Attis, a youthful consort to the goddess. Further, Attis doesn’t become a part of the myth with Cybele until the Roman poet Catullus references him with Cybele as Magna Mater and as the name of the head priest for the Galli. Additionally, pinecones are used as symbols of Attis’ death and rebirth.
Attis was Cybele’s young lover who had devoted himself to the goddess. He had a made a promise that he would always be faithful. As fate would have it, Attis in time fell in love with a nymph by the name of Sagaritis (or Sagaris) and they decided to marry. When Cybele learned of this marriage, she burst in on the marriage ceremony, inflicting Attis with madness and sending the other guests into a panic.
In his maddened state, Attis fled for the mountains. There, he stopped under a pine tree and proceeded to mutilate himself to the point of castrating himself and bleeding to death there beneath the pine tree.
When Cybele found her lover, the young Attis dead, she mourned her actions and deeply regretted them. She pleaded with the god Jupiter to restore Attis to life. Jupiter vowed that that pine tree would remain sacred and like the tree, Attis would live again. The blood that Attis shed is said to have become the first violets.
In the versions of the myths where Maeon is Cybele’s father – Maeon kills Attis, the baby whom he sires after committing incest with his daughter. Cybele manages, in this myth to restore Attis back to life.
Pausanias’ Version – Another story of Attis, this time with Agdistis as another name for Cybele follows much of the same story as previously mentioned. Only now, when the baby, Attis is born, he is left exposed and a ram comes, standing guard over the child. As the baby grew, his beauty became ever more apparent as more than human. Agdistis saw Attis and fell in love with him.
When Attis finally came of age, he was sent to Pessinos, a city in Phrygia to wed the King’s daughter. After the marriage ceremony was completed, Agdistis appeared, causing Attis, driving him mad in her jealously to the point of cutting off his own genitals. The madness was such, it effected other nearby, that even the king cut off his own genitals.
Shocked, Agdistis sought amends for what she had done and begged Zeus to restore Attis to life so that he would be reborn.
Ovid’s Version – In this one, Attis had fallen in love with Cybele who wanted to keep the boy at her shrine as a guardian. She commanded Attis to always be a boy. Attis declared in kind that if he lied, let the lover he cheated be his last.
As happens with these kinds of stories, Attis does cheat with the Nymph Sagaritis (or Sagaris). Her tree is cut down by Cybele, killing her the Nymph. Attis in response goes mad and hallucinates that the roof to his bedroom is collapsing on him. Attis runs towards Mount Dindymus where he calls out for Cybele to save him.
Hacking away at his own body with a sharp stone, Attis continues to cry out to Cybele that she take his blood as punishment and cuts off his genitals as that is what has caused him to cheat on Cybele.
Ultimately, this story of Attis’ self-mutilation and castration is the basis for the Galli, Cybele’s priest to castrate themselves as a show of devotion to the goddess.
Attis & Sagaritis
Following much of the virgin birth where the nymph Nana swallows an almond seed, shortly after Attis’ birth, she abandons him and he is reared by a goat. And like the other versions, when Attis grows up, either Agdistis or Cybele fall in love with their own son and missing half. This time, being the unfaithful youth that he is, Attis falls in love with the nymph Sagritis. The goddess (either Agdistis or Cybele) drives him mad so that he castrates himself and dies. Attis is subsequently restored to life and goes back to either Agdistis or Cybele.
Sometimes this version of the story, the goddess turns Attis into a pine tree. Other versions will hold that Attis fathered a child with his own mother Cybele and that her father kills both Attis and the baby. Then Cybele will go and restore Attis to life.
Yet again, another version has Agdistis breaking in on the wedding celebrations of Attis and Sagaritis with the result that Attis castrated himself and his bride died from self-inflicted wounds. Some say that the castration was not self-inflicted but resulted from an attack by a wild boar.
Suffice to say, there a number of variatons to Attis’ story with either Agdistis and Cybele and whom he ends up cheating on them with or planning to marry instead.
Poor guy can’t get a break not wanting to have incest with his own mother and marry someone else of his own choosing.
Attis & Adonis
Because of the similarities in their myths, both are youth deities of youth and fertility who die and are reborn every year, Attis is often equated as being the same deity as Adonis.
The myths for both are slightly different, though it could explain the Lydian connection of the boar. Adonis was a favorite of both Aphrodite and Persephone. The god Zeus decreed that Adonis would spend the winter months in the underworld with Persephone and the summer months with Aphrodite. One version of Adonis’ myth has him killed by a boar after he had ventured into Artemis’ domain.
Attis & Greek Influences
Because there’s so many variations to Attis’ story, I’ll note here that for the Greeks, they identified Attis with their Iasion as a consort of the Great Mother in their Samothracian Mysteries. Too, the story of Aphrodite’s love for Ankhises on Mount Ida appears to have influenced the story of Attis’ relationship with Cybele.
Hilaria – Holy Week
In addition to the Megalesia festival, there is also a week-long festival known as Holy Week that starts from March 15th, also known as the Ides of March. That really gives a new meaning to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when he’s told to beware the Ides of March. The entire festival is meant to have an air of celebration for the arrival of Spring and the Vernal Equinox.
The festival itself seems to have been established by Claudius as a means of claiming and honoring Trojan ancestry. As a result, the festival very likely grew and expanded over time as a celebration for the death and resurrection of Attis.
The Reed Entered – Also known as Canna Intrat, from the 15th to the end of the month, there is festival for Cybele and Attis that starts on the 15th or Ides, with Attis’ birth and his being left along the reed bank of the Sangarius river in Phrygia before either shepherds or Cybele find him. People known as Cannophores will carry away the reeds. During this time, there is a nine-day period of abstinence from eating bread, fish, pomegranates, pork, quinces and likely wine. Only milk was allowed to be drunk during this period.
The Tree Enters – Also known as Arbor Intrat, March 22nd marks the date of Attis’ death under a pine tree. It is observed. People known as Dendrophores or “Tree Bearers,” after sacrificing a ram, will cut down a tree and carry it to Magna Mater’s temple for a mourning period of three days.
Tubilustrium – March 23rd, this is an old, archaic holiday for the Roman god Mars. The tree has now been laid to rest in Magna Mater’s temple. Mars’ priest, the Salii will do a traditional beating of their shields accompanied by trumpets and other loud music from the Corybantes. Overall, this is a day of mourning.
The Day of Blood – Also known as Sanguis, Sanguem or Dies Sanguinis March 24th. The rites can only be described as frenzied as mourners and devotees whip or scourge themselves in order to sprinkle the alters and Attis’ effigy with their blood. Some of the rites involve castration and the tree is buried, symbolizing Attis’ placing within his tomb. This day was also to honor Bellona, a war goddess. Her priests were known as the Bellonarii and practiced mutilation along with using hallucinogenic plants.
The Day of Joy – Also known as Hilaria, on the Roman Calendar this marks the Vernal Equinox. It takes place on March 25th and celebrates Attis’ resurrection. It must be noted that is a day of celebration and not the previous mournful tones and rites. I’m also not the only one to have noted a similarity to the Christian association of Jesus’ resurrection.
Day of Rest – Also known as Requietio, March 26th. What can we say? Partying is hard work.
The Washing – Also known as Lavatio, March 27th. This is when Cybele’s sacred stone, the Pessinos’ black meteor is taken from the Palatine temple to the Porta Capena along a stream called Almo. This stream is a tributary to the Tiber river. Here, the stone would be bathed by a priest. The return trip back to the temple would be conducted by torchlight. It’s noted by Ovid as being an innovation by Augustus.
Initium Caiani – March 28th. This particular part of the festival is found on the Calendar of Philocalus. It is likely an initiation ceremony that was held at the Vatican sanctuary for the mysteries of Magna Mater and Attis.
Attis & Easter
While Hilaria is week-long celebration of Spring that honors the death and resurrection of Attis, many have noted the similarities between Attis and that of Easter that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.
While Easter now days is a movable feast or holiday that tends to occur between March 22nd and April 25th depending on when the astronomical full moon is. By itself, Easter is a celebration that borrows from the Jewish Passover. Certainly the Christian Holy Week observed the week before Easter seems to line up with that of the ancient celebration of Hilaria.
There are a number of different resurrection deities such as Osiris, Tammuz, Dionysus and Orpheus who can all claim influence on the celebration of Easter, especially with the timing of the Spring Equinox and many ancient religions influencing each other and adding on as the times change.
Miraculous Virgin Birth And Born On December 25th!
As previously mentioned before for the birth of Attis in a virgin birth to the nymph Nana or Sagaritis depending on the version of the myth being retold. Attis isn’t the first demigod or deity to born of a virgin birth.
Other gods who have also been the result of miraculous virgin births are: Horus, Osiris, and Attis (all before 1,000 B.C.E.) and Mithra, Heracles, Dionysus, Tammuz, Adonis along with a number of others (all before 200 B.C.E.)
It’s rather interesting to note the common motif this has in mythology and how eventually even in Christianity, there is the celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25th, also born to a virgin. The dates of December 25th (the Winter Solstice, or close to it) and March 25th (the Spring Equinox, again close to it) make a lot of sense for the celebration of Life & Death, Vegetation, Sun and Resurrected Deities.
Regarding virgin births, I found an interesting article by D.M. Murdock in their “Attis: Born of a Virgin on December 25th, Crucified and Resurrected after Three Days” in which they note that the scholarly term to describe a virgin birth is the word: “parthenogenesis” and that many goddesses were referred to as “Parthenos,” the Greek word meaning “virgin.”
Quite the interesting point.
I can only point to my observations of many ancient religions that build and add upon each other as one religion becomes more prominent or one civilization and culture falls by the wayside to the sands of time and history.
Pine cones are symbols of Cybele and the related myth of Attis. They are believed to have been worn by Cybele’s priests and followers as one of her symbols. As a protective symbol, a pine cone would be affixed to the top of a pole and placed out in vineyards to protect the crop. Pine cones would also be placed at the entrances to homes, gates and other entrances.
A wooden throne was found in the Herculaneum ruins in 2007 with a relief of Attis under a pine tree as he gathers pine cones.
Alternate Spellings: 黄帝, Huang Di, Huangdi
Also known as: Gongsun, Kung-sun, Xuanyuan, Xuan Yuan, Hsuan-yuan, Huang Ti, Hwang Ti, Yellow Emperor, Yellow Thearch, the Yellow God, the Yellow Lord
Etymology: the Yellow Emperor, The character 黄 Huang, means “yellow” and is a homophony for the character, 皇 Huang, meaning, “august”, “creator” and “radiant”, Di “emperor”
Huang-Di, the Yellow Emperor ruled during a golden age of Chinese history and mythology. He is the first of five legendary Chinese emperors. Tradition has Huang-Di beginning his rule during 2697 B.C.E. and ending 2597. An alternate date is 2698-2598 B.C.E. These dates were first calculated by Jesuit missionaries studying the Chinese chronicles. They have been accepted by later scholars looking to try and establish a universal calendar.
There are a number of different legends surrounding Huang-Di that tell of his greatness as a benevolent ruler and establishing Chinese civilization. Huang-Di is to have ruled in a Golden Era of history before written Chinese history was established so many of his stories were passed down orally first. Just as Britain has its King Arthur, China has Huang-Di, the greatest ruler of all time that everyone looks up to and reveres.
What’s In A Name?
This gets a little tricky. Depending on the Chinese character used and its pronunciation; depends on what the word is translated to mean.
The character for Di, is used to refer to the highest deity from the Shang dynasty. During the Warring States period, the term Di came to be associated with the gods of the five sacred mountains and colors. After this era, about 221 B.C.E. the term Di came to refer to earthly emperors.
The character for Huang can be translated a couple different ways. Either Yellow or August. Scholars and historians seeking to emphasize the more religious meaning to the name Huaung-Di will translate the name to mean “Yellow Thearch” or “August Thearch.”
Some scholars such as Sima Qian in his “Records of the Grand Historian” compiled in 1st century B.C.E. have given Huang-Di’s name as Xuanyuan. The 3rd century scholar Huangfu Mi have said that this is to be the very same hill that Huang-Di lived and takes his name from. Liang Yusheng, from the Qing dynasty has argued that the hill is named after the Huang-Di. In Chinese astronomy, Xuanyan is the name for the star Alpha Leonis or Regulus.
The name Xuanyuan is also references Huang-Di’s birthplace. Huang-Di’s surname was Gongsun or Ji.
The name Youxiong is thought to be either a place name or clan name. Several Western scholars and translators have given their ideas on what Youxiong translate to. The British sinologist, Herbert Allen Giles says the name is from Huang-Di’s principal heritage. William Nienhauser, in translating the “Records of the Grand Historian” has put forth that Huang-Di is the head of the Youxiong clan who lived near Xinzheng in Henan. The French historian, Rémi Mathieu translates the name Youxiong to mean “possessor of bears” and linking Huang-Di in mythology to bears. Rémi isn’t the only one to make a connection to bears. Ye Shuxian also makes a connection with Huang-Di to the bear legends found throughout northeast Asia and the Dangun legend.
As a culture hero, Huang-Di is seen as a wise and benevolent ruler who introduced government and laws. He is also seen as having taught people several different skills and to have invented several things such as clothing, building permanent structures such as palaces and houses, music, the wheel, armor & weapons, carts, ships, writing, digging wells, agriculture, taming and domesticating animals, astronomy, calendars, mathematics, cuju (a sport similar to football), the compass and currency.
At some time during Huang-Di’s rule, he reputed to have visited the Eastern sea where he met Bai Ze, a supernatural talking beast that taught him the knowledge of all supernatural creatures. Bai Ze explained to Huang-Di there were 11,522 (or 1,522) different types of supernatural beings.
San-Huang – The Three Sovereigns
Also, known as the Three Emperors, they are a group of god-kings and demigod emperors who are believed to have lived some 4,500 years ago. Huang-Di is counted as being part of this group and the leader of their number to have once ruled over China. Other’s counted among this number are Fu Xi, Nuwa and Shennong.
This is another mythological and historical group of rulers important to Chinese culture. These five emperors were virtuous rulers of outstanding moral character. Taihao, the Yan Emperor, the Yellow Emperor (Huang-Di), Shaohao and Zhuanxu are considered among the Five Emperors in this group.
But that makes four with the Three Sovereigns! The math is off! There are a number of variations as to who is counted among these numbers and it all depends on which text and source is used. It will even flip-flop too as to where Huang-Di is placed as either one of the Three Sovereigns or Five Emperors.
Parentage and Family
Huang-Di’ parents are given as Shaodian as his father and Fu Pao as his mother.
According to the “Discourses of the States”, Shaodian is sometimes mentioned as being Huang-Di’s step-father.
Huang-Di seems to have had several different wives:
Leizu – Of Xiling, she is the first wife, she is the most notable with any information as she is the first person to have domesticated silk worms for their silk. With Leizu, Huang-Di had two sons.
Fenglei – Second wife
Tongyu – Third wife
Momu – Fourth wife
Huang-Di is reputed to have had 25 sons. 14 of these sons all started clans of their own with their own surnames.
Shaohao – Also known as Xuanxiao, he would become the Emperor after Huang-Di’s death.
Changyi, who in turn is the father of Zhuanxu who would succeed his uncle, Shaohao as the next Emperor.
Ancestor Of The Chinese
A lot of emphasis and importance has been placed on Huang-Di as many Chinese dynasty rulers would trace the rights of their sovereignty to him. The Chinese Han claim being descendants of both Yandi (The Flame Emperor) and Huang-Di. Eventually, Huang-Di would be seen as the ancestor to all Chinese. A many Dynasty Emperors would all lay claim to Huang-Di’s legacy to prove their rightful claim to the throne.
It should be noted that the earlier mentions of Huang-Di, the Yellow Emperor is on a fourth century bronze inscription for the royal house of the Qi. This inscription claims Huang-Di as an ancestor to the Qi. The scholar, Lothar von Falkenhausen has suggested that Huang-Di is likely created as an ancestral figure in order to claim that all the ruling clans from the Zhou share a common ancestor.
Birth Of A Legend
Per myth and legend, Huang-Di is the result of a virgin birth. His mother, Fubao become pregnant with him while walking out in the countryside and was struck by lightning from the Big Dipper constellation. Fubao would give birth to her son after a period of twenty-four months on either Mount Shou or Mount Xuanyuan. It is for mount Xuanyan that Huang-Di would be named.
In Huangfu Mi’s account, Huang-Di is born at Shou Qiu or Longevity Hill near the outskirts of Qufu in Shandong by modern times. Huang-Di lived with his tribe near the Ji River, a mythological river and later migrated with his tribe to Zhuolu near modern Hebei. As a cultural hero, Huang-Di tames six different animals, the bear, the brown bear, the pi and xiu. The pi and xiu get combined to become a mythological animal known as the Pixiu. He also tames the chu and tiger. I’m not sure which creatures all of these are or the difference between a bear and brown bear is, but there we have it.
Other legends surrounding Huang-Di hold that he could speak shortly after his birth. That when he was fifteen years old, there was nothing that he didn’t know. Huang-Di would eventually hold the Xiong throne.
Trouble In Paradise
Huang-Di’s rule wasn’t completely problem free. One god decided to challenge Huang-Di’s sovereignty. This god was helped by the emperor’s son, Fei Lian, the Lord of the Wind. Fei Lian sent fog and heavy rain to try and drown the Imperial Armies. The emperor’s daughter, Ba (meaning drought) put an end to the rain and helped to defeat Fei Lian and his forces.
The Yellow Emperor And The Yan Emperor
Despite there being some 500 years between Huang-Di and Shennong rules, both of these emperors’ rules near the Yellow River. Shennong hailed from another are up around the Jiang River. Shennong having trouble with keeping order within his borders, begged the Yellow Emperor, Huang-Di for help against the “Nine Li” lead by Chi You and his some 81 brothers who all have horns and four eyes.
Battle of Zhuolu – Shennong was forced to flee Zhuolu before begging for help. Huang-Di used his tame animals against Chi You who darkened the sky by breathing out a thick fog. Huang-Di then invented the south-point chariot to lead his army out of the miasma of fog.
In order to defeat Chi You, Huang-Di calls on a drought demon, Nüba to get rid of Chi You’s storm.
This story sounds a lot like a variation of the previous story where Huang-Di calls for his daughter Ba to defeat Fe Lian.
Battle of Banquan – It is at this battle, that both Huang-Di and Shennong finally defeat Chi You and his forces and replace him as ruler.
Death & Immortality
Huang-Di ruled for many years and is thought to have died in 2598 B.C.E. Legend holds Huang-Di lived over a hundred years, by some accounts this was 110 years. Before he died, Huang-Di met a phoenix and qilin before he rose to the heavens to become an immortal or Xian. He is considered the very archetype of a human who merges their self with the self of the Universal God; how a person reaches enlightenment and immortality.
Another account of Huang-Di’s death is that a yellow dragon from Heaven flew down to take up Huang-Di up. Huang-Di knew that he could not deny destiny and went with the dragon. On their way to fly back to Heaven, they flew over Mount Qiao where Huang-Di asked to be able to say goodbye to his people. The people cried out, not wanting Huang-Di to leave them and they pulled on his clothing to try and keep. Surprisingly, Huang-Di slipped free of his clothing and got back on the dragon to fly up to the heavens. As to his clothing, they were buried in a mausoleum built at Mount Qiao.
Two tombs commemorating Huang-Di were built in Shaanxi within the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor. Other tombs were built in Henan, Hebei and Gansu.
Huang-Di is the founder of Taoism, one of the main philosophies and religions found in China.
As Huang-Di began to age, he began to allow his court officials to handle matters and make decisions. Huang-Di moved out into a simple hut in his courtyard. There, as he fasted, prayed and meditated, Huang-Di discovered Tao, or the way, a philosophy that would lead to the ideal state of being.
In some of the older accounts with Huang-Di, he is identified as a god of light and thunder. The name Huang and Guang, meaning “light,” making him a Thunder God. However, Lei Gong or Leishen is the name of another deity and he is seen as Huang-Di’s student.
The legend and origins for Haung-Di have been cast into doubt by many. The scholar Yang Kuan, a member of the Doubting Antiquity School has argued that Huang-Di is derived from the god, Shang-Di from the Shang dynasty. Yang says that the etymology of Shang-Di, Huang Shang-Di and Huang-Di all have a connection to the Chinese character of 黄 Huang, which means “yellow” and its homophony of, 皇 Huang, which means “august,” that to use the character for 皇 Huang, was considered taboo.
Other historians have disputed this claim like Mark Edward Lewis and Michael Puett. While Mark Edward Lewis agrees that the two characters are interchangeable, he has suggested that the character 黄 Huang is closer to the character wang phonetically. Lewis puts forth the idea that Huang might have referred to a “rainmaking shaman” and “rainmaking rituals.” He uses the Warring States and Han era myths for Huang-Di, in that these were ancient rainmaking rituals, as Huang-Di held power over the clouds and rains. Huang-Di’s rival, Chiyou or Yandi held power over fires and drought.
Lord Of The Underworld Or The Yellow Springs
Further disagreements with Yang Kuan’s idea of equating Haung-Di with Shang-Di is the Western scholar, Sarah Allen who has stated that the pre-Shang myths and history can be seen as changes to Shang’s mythology.
By this argument, Huang-Di was originally an unnamed Lord of the Underworld or Yellow Springs, the counterpart to Shang-Di in his role as the supreme deity of the sky. Continuing this theme, the Shang rulers claimed their ancestor as the “the ten suns, birds, east, life and the Lord on High. Shang-Di had defeated an earlier group of people who were associated with the Underworld, Dragons and the West.
After the Zhou dynasty overthrew the Shang dynasty in the eleventh century B.C.E., the Zhou rulers began to change out the myth, changing the Shang to the Xia dynasty. By the time of the Han, according to Sima Qian’s Shiji, Huang-Di as Lord of the Underworld had now become a historical ruler.
During the Warring States era of texts, the figure of Huan-Di appears intermittently. Sima Qian’s text, Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian) is the first work to gather all of the fragments and myths surrounding Huan-Di into a coherent form and narrative. The Shiji would become a very important and influential text for the Chinese and the start of their history.
In the Shiji, Sima Qian he says that the state of Qin began worshiping Huang-Di during the fifth century B.C.E. along with Yandi, the Flame Emperor. Alters had been established in Yong, the capital of Qin. By the time of King Zheng in 247 B.C.E., Huang-Di had become the most important of the four “thearchs” worshiped in Yong.
During the late Warring States and early Han eras, Huang-Di’s cult became very prominent as he is regarded as the founder of the arts, civilization, governing and a supreme god. There have been a number of texts such as the Huangdi Neijing, a classic medical text, and the Huangdi Sijing, a group of political treatises that Huang-Di is credited with having written.
While his influence has waned for a period, the early twentieth century saw Huang-Di become an important figure for the Han Chinese when trying to overthrow the Qing dynasty. For some, Huang-Di is still an important, nationalist symbol.
Huángdì Sìmiàn – Yellow Emperor with Four Faces
In the Shizi, Huang-Di is known as the Yellow Emperor with Four Faces. Other names that Huang-Di is known by are: Sìmiànshén, Four-Faced God or the Ubiquitous God. The name Sìmiànshén is also the name for Brahma in Chinese.
As Huángdì Sìmiàn, Huang-Di represented the center of the universe and his four faces allowed him to see in everything that happened around him and in the world. In this aspect, he communicated directly with the gods for prayer and sacrifice. When traveling, Huang-Di rode in an ivory chariot pulled by dragons and an elephant. He would be accompanied by a troop of tigers, wolves, snakes and flocks of phoenix.
Wufang Shangdi – Five Forms of the Highest Deity
In Chinese texts and common beliefs, the Wudi (“Five Deities”) or Wushen (“Five Gods”) are five main deities who are personifications or extensions of a main deity.
Zhōngyuèdàdì – Huang-Di, when he becomes an Immortal or Xian and deified, is one of the Wudi. As Zhōngyuèdàdì, the “Great Deity of the Central Peak”, he is the most important of the Wudi, representing the element of earth, the color yellow and the Yellow Dragon. He is the hub and center of all creation upon which the divine order found within physical reality makes way for possible immorality. Huang-Di is the god of the governing the material world, the creator of the Huaxia (Chinese) civilization, marriage, morality, language, lineage and the primal ancestor to all Chinese people. In addition, he is a Sun God and associated astrally with the planet Saturn, the star Regulus and the constellations Leo and Lynx. The constellation Lynx in Chinese star lore, represents the body of the Yellow Dragon.
Huángshén Běidǒu – the “Yellow God of the Northern Dipper”, connected to this constellation, Huang-Di becomes identified as Shangdi or Tiandi, the supreme God or “Highest Deity.”
Further, Huang-Di is the representation for the hub of creation, the divine center and the axis mundi for the divine order in physical reality which opens the way to immortality. He is the god who is the center of the cosmos that connects the San-Huang and the Wudi.
Huángdì Nèijing – The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon
Also, spelled as Huang Ti Nei Ching (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine).
This medical text forms the foundation for traditional Chinese Medicine. it comprises of the theories of the legendary emperor Huang Di who lived around 2600 B.C.E. This tome preserved a lot of ancient medical knowledge and is compose of two volumes. The first one is a dialogue between Huang Di and his minister, Qibo. The second one has the descriptions of anatomy, medical physiology and acupuncture. The real author of this book is unknown.
Huangdi Sijing – Four Scriptures of the Yellow Emperor
In this text, it is explained how regulating the heart and one’s emotions, they will never allow oneself to get overly emotional and carried away. Huang-Di had accomplished doing this during his three years at the refuge at Mount Bowang in order to find himself. Doing this, creates an internal void where all the forces of creation gather, where the indeterminate they stay, the more powerful these forces of creation will be. In more simpler terms, this is self-mastery and self-control.
Other Books –
Other books attributed to Huang Di are: Huángdì Yinfújing (Yellow Emperor’s Book of the Hidden Symbol) and the Yellow Emperor’s Four Seasons Poem that is found contained in the Tung Shing fortune-telling almanac.
As a Sun God, Huang-Di as Zhōngyuèdàdì is associated astrally with the planet Saturn, the star Regulus and the constellations Leo and Lynx. The constellation Lynx in Chinese star lore, represents the body of the Yellow Dragon.
Going Back To Where It All Began!
As previously mentioned earlier, tradition has Huang-Di begin his rule during 2697 B.C.E. and ending in 2597. An alternate date is 2698-2598 B.C.E. These dates were first calculated by Jesuit missionaries studying the Chinese chronicles. They have been accepted by later scholars looking to try and establish a universal calendar.
It should be noted that the traditional Chinese calendar didn’t mark years consecutively. Some Han-dynasty astronomers have tried to determine when Huang-Di ruled. Under the reign of Emperor Zhao in 78 B.C.E. a court official, Zhang Shouwang calculated that some 6,000 years had passed since the time of Huang-Di rule. The court however rejected this claim and said that only 3,629 years had passed. Comparisons with the Western, Julian calendar place the court’s calculations to the late 38th century B.C.E. for Huang-Di. Nowadays, the 27th century B.C.E. is accepted by many.
Possible Reality Behind The Legends
Getting anything for reliable accuracy and the historical context of China before the 13th century B.C.E. is difficult. There is a lot of reliance on what archaeology can provide and prove. The earliest Chinese writing and records date to the Shang dynasty around 1200 B.C.E. This system of writing is the use of bones for oracles. Even any hard evidence for the Xia dynasty is hard to find, even with Chinese archaeologists trying to link this dynasty to the Bronze Age Erlitou sites.
Many Chinese historians view Huang-Di to have a stronger historical basis than other legendary figures like Fu Xi, Nuwa and the Yan Emperor. While many legendary figures and ancient sages have all been considered to be historical figures, it is not until the 1920’s that members of the Doubting Antiquity School in China began to question the accuracy of these legends and claims.
Warring States Era
These early figures of Chinese history, as Gu Jiegang from the Doubting Antiquity School, as stated are mythological in origin. They started off as gods and then became depicted as mortal during the Warring States era by intellectuals.
Yang Kuan, another member of the Doubting Antiquity School, has commented that it is only during the Warring States era that Huang-Di is mentioned as the first ruler of China. Yang goes on to argue that Huang-Di is really the supreme god, Shang-Di, the god of the Shang pantheon.
Even the French scholars Henri Maspero and Marcel Granet, in their “Danses et légendes de la Chine ancienne” (“Dances and legends of ancient China”) have commented that early Chinese legends have more to do with the period to when they were written than to when they are supposed to have happened.
From God To Man
Huang Di’s status as a god faded during the 2nd century C.E. with the rise and reverence of Laozi. Huang Di will still be regarded as an immortal and the master of the longevity techniques and a deity who would reveal new teachings in the form of books like the Huang Di Yinfujing in the 6th century C.E.
Nowadays, many scholars accept the view that Huang-Di and other figures like him started off as a god of religious importance and then become humanized, mortal during the Warring States and Han periods. Even though Huang Di’s status as a god faded during the
Chang Tsung-tung, a Taiwanese scholar has argued, that based on a vocabulary comparison between Bernhard Karlgren’s Grammata Serica and Julius Pokorny’s Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, there is a connection with the Old Chinese and the Proto-Indo-European etymologies. That there is a strong influence of Indo-European languages on the Old Chinese language around 2400 B.C.E. Chang goes on to say that the Shang dynasty was founded by Indo-European conquerors and identifies Huang-Di as an Indo-European god. Chang says that the “yellow” in Huang-Di’s name should be interpreted as referring to blond hair. That as a nomad of the steppes, Huang-Di encouraged road construction and horse-drawn carriages to establish a central state.
This idea, to me, seems farfetched. Since it is one of the ideas I came across, I’ll include it here.
Thanks to the French scholar, Albert Terrien de Lacouperie, many Chinese historians got hooked on the idea Chinese civilization getting its start in 2300 B.C.E. by Babylonian immigrants and that Huang Di would have been a Mesopotamian tribal leader. This idea has been rejected by European sinologists, however the idea was advocated for again by two Japanese scholars Shirakawa Jiro and Kokubu Tanenori in 1900.
The ideas certainly seem to held on to by anti-Manchu intellectuals who are looking for the truth of China’s history and wanting to prove the superiority of the Han over the Manchu and the importance of Huang Di as the ancestor of all Chinese.
The Mausoleum Of The Yellow Emperor
Also called Xuanyuan Temple, this mausoleum is the most important of ancient mausoleums in China and praised as “the First Mausoleum in China.” The mausoleum is located at Mount Qiao, north of the Huangling County of Yan’an some 200 kilometers north of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province. According to historians, the mausoleum was first built on the western side of Qiao during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.) It was later restored during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 C.E.) It had been damaged by floods and moved to Qiao’s eastern side by the Emperor Song Taizu of the Song Dynasty (960 – 1234 C.E.)
During the Qingming Festival that is held on April 5th, Chinese people from all over gather to hold a memorial ceremony to commemorate the Yellow Emperor, Huang-Di. Yan’an also earns the distinction of being considered the birthplace of Chinese civilization.