Also known as: Big Man, Stick Men, Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot, Tall Man, Walking Sam
The Tall Man Spirit is a dark figure from Native American beliefs, particularly of the Dakota and Lakota people in the state of South Dakota. The belief and stories surrounding the Tall Man date back decades if not centuries where it has become linked to the tragic history that many Native Americans have endured.
This tragic history is very prominently linked to in 1890, when the U.S. cavalry came in to put a stop to the spiritual movement known as the Ghost Dance. What would follow is a confrontation that led to U.S. soldiers open fired on unarmed Lakota Sioux, many of whom were women and children. This site would become known as the Battle of Wounded Knee. It would, a century later, be the site of a 1973 protest that would turn into a months-long standoff between Native American activists and law enforcement.
With this history, add to it the widespread poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism, child abuse and other crimes such as rape and murder so prevalent on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It’s understandable that one of the most prevailing problems in Pine Ridge is that of suicide, especially among the youth, would, at the very least, see the personification of an entity called Tall Man Spirit or Walking Sam manifest.
The Tall Man Spirit has been described as having a similar appearance to Slender Man and is likely one of many sources for Slender Man’s inspiration. The Tall Man is said to be tall, exceeding seven feet in height, slender, long thin legs and arms, lacking a mouth and nose, and wears a black stove top hat. Much like Slender Man, Tall Man is said to have the ability to control people’s minds.
Other descriptions place the Tall Man as being between 12 and 15 feet in height, covered in hair, with red eyes and smelling horrific like a sewer. That sounds more like a classic description of Big Foot. Over among the Oglala Sioux, a very similar entity is mentioned, that has hooves.
Big Man – Going by the more correct translation of this entity, the Big Man spirit seems to be more of a local protector of the forest than any dark malevolent spirit tied to death. It seems to be more a spirit of the land. In that respect, it’s taking on a much darker aspect is likely just a reflection of the history and how it has affected the Lakota. As if a connection has deeply gone wrong and soured.
Slender Man – The figure of Slender Man is relatively new to the Urban Folklore landscape, making it a 21st century Bogeyman. This being’s first appearance was on June 10th of 2009, having been created by Eric Knudsen, using the name “Victor Surge” in the Something Awful forums for a photoshop contest. The idea had been to create an Urban Legend so believable it would take on a life of its own, which it certainly has. It has been noted, after researching The Tall Man Spirit, that Slender Man draws on a lot of the same imagery motifs.
Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot – This is one name for the Tall Man when people describe sightings of seeing it wearing clothing. Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot is notable for being mentioned around the Pine Ridge Reservation. As the name indicates, this is also people misidentifying Big Foot or Sasquatch with Tall Man.
Walking Sam – This is another name for the Tall Man Spirit as it is known around the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It did make local news and even the New York Times a few years back in 2015 with a high rate of suicides occurring on the reservation, especially among the youth. As a result, Walking Sam is considered a suicide spirit, one that is rather dangerous.
There is one notable incident where several teenagers were planning a mass suicide. They had planned to head out to an area where there were mostly trees where they would hang themselves. The local pastor, John Two Bears learned of what was to happen and was able to head off this group attempt.
More modern manifestations of this entity show it making appearances on the internet, taking advantage of vulnerable people, particularly youth, telling them to end their life. Situations have to be particularly dire if it can seem capable to do that.
Walking Sam is reported to have the ability take control of peoples’ minds, telling them to kill themselves so that it can collect their soul that will then join the others hanging from his long, spindly arms. One comment made is that Walking Sam was sent to earth as punishment and by claiming the souls of suicides, it is looking for company.
“In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse”: Written by Peter Matthiessen in 1983, he makes mention of Walking Sam as a supernatural entity that is both spirit and real, able to slip through the forest as if the trees weren’t there.
Folklore & Urban Legend
At first glance, yes some could approach the story of the Tall Man Spirit as some sort of spooky campfire story told in the same vein as that of Bigfoot and other Urban Legends. It could explain too one name of “Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot” that I came across. That is a disservice to this entity and what it is. Unless you want to try diminishing it’s power by making light of it, to be less scary or intimidating.
It is very likely people have confused two different entities together based on possible mistranslations from the Sioux languages into English. In the Lakota or Western Sioux language, they call Big Foot by the name “chive-tanka” meaning Big or Great Elder Brother. In English, the term gets translated to be “the Big Man.” It’s easy to see why Big Foot hunters and enthusiasts would glom onto a potential mistranslation to embrace it.
On the Oglala reservation, sightings of Big Foot or Big Man are seen as ill omens and warnings of potential tragedies. Where there seems to be sightings and claims of more than one creature or entity, some have put forward the ideas that this entity is a local forest spirit and protector of the land.
Remembering to keep the two separate, Tall Man is found in older stories of bad spirits or giants that once wandered the Earth. They had become prideful and arrogant to the point that they challenged the thunder and lost to it.
Big Foot or Sasquatch by themselves are in an entirely different category belonging more towards cryptids and cryptozoology. The Tall Man Spirit fits more towards a broader category of supernatural beings like the Bogeyman and Shadow People. A portent of ill omen and tragedy.
This one of the powers attributed to the Tall Man Spirit, to make people or even a group of people things they normally would not. One of which is to whisper to people, commanding them to commit suicide.
I don’t know if I’d call that a power, as this entity, particularly Walking Sam seems to prey on and target those already vulnerable, feeling the extremes of depression, despair, powerlessness and hopelessness. That all it seems to do is give people that nudge to push them over in that direction.
The belief in Tall Man is very prevalent on the Pine Ridge Reservation. While many will call it mere superstition that people use to blame the causes of suicide. The harsh reality is that even if the Tall Man is chalked up to superstition, what it represents or is a manifestation of, is not. Suicide is still a very real thing that many Lakota, especially their youth are having to confront with the deeply root despair, depression, and potentially overwhelming helplessness.
While it was easy to take apart Slender Man and analyze him, given how new to the folkloric and urban legend scene it is. Tall Man is harder as it’s had longer to seep deeper into a local region and people’s culture. Of course, it’s easy for the Tall Man spirit to seem as powerful as its portrayed when the helplessness and despair is that deeply rooted.
Nor does it help when some gruesome images associated with the Tall Man are that of nooses. Sheriffs, law enforcement and other people report having found them hanging from trees. Comparisons have been made to found footage films like Blair Witch Project. Even if we go with the simple explanation of someone leaving nooses to be found, another comparison is made to Japan’s infamous “suicide forest,” Aokigahara.
That is all rather disturbing.
Other Names and Epithets: Ἔρις , “The Lady of Sorrow,” “Defender of the People”
Eris is the Greek goddess of strife and discord. She is often thought of as a younger sister to Ares and accompanies him into battle. True to the meaning of her name, Eris loves nothing more than to cause chaos and trouble, giving her a reputation for being sinister and mean-spirited.
Animal: Hissing Snake
Patron of: Discordians or Erisians
Plant: African Blackwood
Sphere of Influence: Chaos, Conflicts, Strife, Struggles
Symbols: Golden Apple of Discord
Eris is described as being a beautiful young woman with pale skin, black wings and carrying a golden apple that she tosses into battle from Ares’ chariot that she rides in.
Parentage and Family
Three different sets of parentage are given for Eris.
Erebus – Primordial God of Darkness is given as Eris’ father in Hyginus’ works.
Nyx – Goddess of night is given as Eris’ mother. Sometimes Nyx is the only parent listed for Eris.
In the third parentage mentioned, often a later addition:
Zeus – King of the Olympian Gods is Eris’ father.
Hera – Queen of the Olympian Gods is Eris’ mother.
Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Dionysus, Eileithyia, Enyo, Ersa, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Heracles, Hermes, Minos, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus, Rhadamanthus, the Graces, the Horae, the Litae, the Muses, the Moirai, Thanatos, Hypnos, the Keres, Hemera, Aether, Moros, Apate, Furies, Oneiroi, Nemesis, Geras, Eleos, Philotes, Oizys, Momus
Ares – Given that Eris would often ride with Ares into battle on his chariot, it is sometimes assumed that they are consorts.
The truth is, they’re just really good friends and siblings who love the chaos of the battlefield.
Where Eris is the daughter of Hera and Zeus, the sister to Ares, she has the following children:
Strife – A son. This has to be a translation into English from Greek. Like maybe there’s a masculine pronunciation to Eris. This is the name found in Homer’s Iliad.
Where Eris is the daughter of Nyx, she has the following children:
Algea (“Sorrow”), Amphillogiai (“Disputes”), Androctasiai (“Manslaughter”), Ate (“Ruin”), Dysnomia (“Lawlessness”), Horkos (“Oath”), Hysminai (“Fighting”), Lethe (“Forgetfulness”), Limos (“Famine”), Makhai (“Battle”), Neikea (“Quarreling”), Phonoi (“Murder”), Ponos (“Labor”), and Pseudologoi (“Lies”)
Goddess Of Strife
Eris is known for accompanying her brother Ares into battle and tossing her golden apple of discord to incite chaos on the field of battle. Eris’ son, Strife is also known to come along for the ride as well.
Representing the way conflicts and arguments grow, Eris starts off being small but will grow as time passes until her head reaches the heavens and she hurls out the bitterness of resentments, conflicts, and strife upon people.
You Called Her A Daimon!
Yes, as in the Greek term and meaning for the word spirit. It is Christianity that takes and twists the word and meaning to Demon, for an evil spirit or being. In Eris’ case, it would be easy to see why they make that connection.
Among the ancient Greeks, the word daimon means spirit or “replete with knowledge.” They recognized both good (eudemons) and bad (cacodemons). The word or term daimon also means “divine power,” “fate,” or “god.” And in Greek mythology, daimons could also include deified heroes.
Daimons functioned as messengers or intermediary spirits between men and gods. The good daimons were viewed as guardian spirits who gave guidance and protection to those they watched over. The bad daimons, naturally, weren’t so nice and could mislead people, getting them into trouble.
Mother Of Cacodaemons
Where Nyx is listed as her mother, Eris is the mother of numerous Cacodaemons, who are personifications of all the ills and evils that plague mankind.
In Hesiod’s Works and Days, it is mentioned that the fifth day of the month is a day to be careful, for that is when the Cacodaemons are out and about, angry. It is on the fifth day that the Erinyes assist Horkos on plaguing those who bare false oaths.
Pandora’s Jar – Yes, a jar, not a box. We can thank Erasmus of Rotterdam for that mistranslation with the Latin.
When Prometheus gave humans fire, Zeus decided an equally fitting gift of a jar holding all the evils and ills of the world was good. It’s suggested and hinted that these ills and evils were Eris’ offspring awaiting within to be released when Pandora opened the jar to go out and plague mankind. Only Elpis or Hope remained in the jar at Zeus’ bidding.
Works & Days – By Hesiod, in this book we learn that there are two different goddesses by the name Eris in Greek mythology. The first Eris tends to foment the evils of war and battle, she is thought of as cruel. She really revels in the chaos of war.
The second Eris is the oldest daughter of Nyx. This Eris is far kinder and tends to be associated more with strife in terms of struggling to toil, make ends meet, planting and the day to day struggles of daily living. I’m reminded of a Buddhist saying that there is suffering in life when looking at this second Eris.
Theogony – In this book of Hesiod’s, Eris, the daughter of Nyx is not thought of so kindly as she had been in Works & Days when her children and what they are personifications of are mentioned.
Mistaken Identify – Homer’s Iliad makes mention of Eris, as the sister of Ares. She is one of the few deities who wasn’t invited to the big wedding of Cadmus to Harmonia in Boeotia. Homer is also the source for referring to Eris as the “Defender of the People.” Well that’s a little odd and it likely has to do with Homer confusing Eris with Enyo, a battle goddess.
Eris is known for tossing her golden apple of discord among a group of people to incite chaos. If the apple is thrown among friends, their friendships end; among enemies, war breaks out.
The best known story is during the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, after Eris wasn’t invited, she tossed her golden apple among the gods as the main prize for who was the most beautiful, thus setting off the events for the Trojan War.
In literature, the golden apple or apple of discord is that core or crux of an argument, that while it starts off small, can leads to larger problems or disputes.
Aesop Fable 534
In this fable, Hercules is heading on his merry way when he spots something laying on the ground. A closer examination shows that it appears to be an apple. Herakles takes his club and decides to smash the apple.
As soon as Herakles strikes it, the apple swells to twice its size. He strikes it again and the apple grows again, so that it is blocking the way.
Dumbfounded, Herakles stands there, dropping his club. Athena happens along and tells Herakles not to be so surprised. This apple was only put there to confuse him by Aporia (Contentiousness) and Eris. If he were to leave the apple alone, it would remain small. But if he insists on fighting it, then the apple will swell in size.
Polytechnos & Aedon
In this story, the couple Polytechnos and Aedon declared that they loved each other more than Hera and Zeus. This declaration attracted the attention of Hera who became angry and sent Eris to stir up trouble between them.
Polytechnos was finishing off a chariot board and Aedon was working on some embroidery. Eris shows up and tells them that “Whosoever finishes their task last will have to present the other with a female servant.
Aedon, with Hera’s help, finishes first. Polytechnos is not happy with loosing and goes to Aedon’s sister, Chelidonis with the pretense that Aedon wants to see her. On the way back home, Polytechnos rapes Chelidonis and then dresses her up as a slave with the command to be silent. He then presents Chelidonis to Aedon.
At some point, Chelidonis speaks up, lamenting her fate and is overheard by Aedon who realizes this is her sister. Why exactly she didn’t realize this sooner, I don’t know.
The two conspire together and Polytechnos’ son, Itys is murdered, chopped up and served as dinner to his father.
Aedon and Chelidonis then flee back to their father. Polytechnos shows up soon after, angry. With things getting quickly out of hand, Zeus steps in, changing everyone into birds to end the matter.
It’s a story noted to be similar to that of Philomela and Procne found in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Both stories are a study in word play, explaining how different animals came to be.
Typhon & Zeus
In this story, Zeus finds himself having to battle the monstrous giant Typhon, husband to Echidna, the mother of monsters.
Typhon or Typhoeus is described as a serpentine monster that breathes fire. Zeus fought him using his thunder bolts and aegis.
Eventually Zeus would defeat Typhon and trap him under Mount Etna. Echidna would be allowed to live along with her monstrous children. In Grecian myths, this is how Mount Etna became a volcano. In other versions of the myth, the gods Hermes and Pan would come to Zeus’ aid.
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, Eris is described as accompanying Typhon into battle whereas Nike, the minor goddess of Victory, accompanies Zeus into battle.
The Judgement Of Paris
This is perhaps the best-known source for Eris’ myth and story. The gods were feasting at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, who will become the parents of Achilles. All the gods were invited accept Eris who hadn’t received an invite. Chiron was in charge of the wedding invites and didn’t invite Eris due to her reputation for stirring up trouble. This understandably miffed her to no end. After all, everyone else got invited, why not her?
Coming off as seeking to be peaceful and no hard feelings, a beauty contest was proposed between the goddesses Aphrodite, Athena and Hera. As the prize, Eris tossed a golden apple of beauty, or better known, the golden apple of discord. In some retellings, it is noted that the golden apple has engraved or written the word: “Kallisti,” meaning: “for the fairest.”
This dispute, one driven by vanity over who was the loveliest of the goddess would escalate and the hapless mortal Paris is called in to judge. Each of the goddesses attempted to bribe Paris to choose her. Hera offered political power, Athena offered battle prowess and Aphrodite tempted Paris with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen.
Being a young mortal man, Paris chooses Helen and rewards Aphrodite with the golden apple. Only there is one problem, Helen is the wife of Menelaus of Sparta. In claiming and taking her, Paris sparks off the Trojan War.
Divine Set Up – If we go by the “lost” epic, The Cypria attributed to Stasinus, this whole Trojan War was planned on by Zeus and Themis. There’s only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and it’s seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events came about.
Eris gets the blame for starting the Trojan War even though Zeus and Themis had planned on it from the beginning. They just weren’t going to get their hands dirty.
In battle, Eris rode alongside Ares and Enyo on the side of the Trojans. It is in this famous, epic ten-year war that Eris becomes known as the “Lady of Sorrow.”
During one battle, Eris fought on the side of Aeneas, Aphrodite’s son, defending him. The rest of the time, Eris wandered the battlefield, reveling in the chaos of it all, spreading bloodshed wherever she went.
It has been noted that this classic fairy tale draws inspiration from the story of The Judgement of Paris. Just like Eris, the wicked fairy of Sleeping Beauty takes grievances with not being invited to the princess’ christening and places a curse upon the infant.
In the late 1950’s, Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley, under the pen names of “Malaclypse the Younger” and “Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst,” wrote the Principia Discordia. The concept of Eris established in the Principia Discordia gets used and expanded upon further in the science fiction The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. The ideas in this book series have caused many people to call themselves Discordians or Erisians. In turn, this led to the Discordian Religion.
In Discordian teachings, Eris is the main goddess and she has a much softer outlook on the world than her darker Grecian origins. In the Principia Discordia, Eris’ parents are either what’s given in Greek legend or she’s the daughter of the Void. For me, I have to say this is likely the Eris who is the daughter of Nyx showing up here.
Eris is the Goddess of Disorder and Being, her sister Aneris is the goddess of Order and Non-Being. Their brother is Spirituality.
Among Discordians, Eris not being invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis is known as the Original Snub.
Essentially, Discordian religion and philosophy teaches that the only truth is chaos. That order and disorder are at best, temporary states. No matter how much people may try to order the world around them, it is still all chaotic.
It puts me to mind Chaos Theory, that what seems random at first, will eventually show having a pattern and the Mendelbrot set being an equation that determines how to figure out that pattern.
As Morticia Addams in the movie said, “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”
Spiders, Why’d There Have To Be Spiders?
It’s either that or someone screaming incoherently before torching down their entire house just to kill it.
Fun and amusing, given how many people are arachnophobic, there is a genus of spiders named after Eris.
Eris is the second largest Dwarf Planet in the Solar System out in the Kuiper Belt. It was discovered in January 2005 by Mike Brown at the Palomar Observatory. It initially received the designations of 2003 UB313, 136199 Eris and the name Xena, after the popular TV series: “Xena: Warrior Princess.” In 2006, it was officially named Eris and has a moon called Dysnomia, after one of Eris’ daughters. Given the actress who played Xena and what Dysnomia means for Lawless, it still works out.
Eris’ discovery, true to her namesake, disrupted and challenged the way in which Planets are classified. It was thought at first it would be the tenth planet in the Solar System. After a series of measurements and calculations, Eris would be classified as a Dwarf Planet alongside Pluto, Ceres, Haumea and Makemake.
So, what makes a Planet versus a Dwarf Planet? In short, a Planet in the classical sense is that it’s relatively round, and able to make a clear orbit around the Sun without another celestial body in its orbit that competes. Whereas a Dwarf Planet doesn’t have a clear orbit and has other celestial objects in its same orbit.
Apep – Egyptian God
An ancient Egyptian god of chaos represented as a giant serpent. He constantly fought against his counterpart, Ma’at, the goddess of light, truth and order.
Discordia – Roman Goddess
She is very simply the Roman version of Eris.
Kali – Hindi Demon
There are two Kali. The first is the goddess who destroys evil to protect the innocent. The second is the Kali demon who is male and the source of all evil.
Lucifer – Christianity
In terms of fomenting trouble and conflicts, temptations, and other problems, some have been daring enough to equate the Christian devil or Lucifer with Eris, particularly the darker aspect of her.
The Morrigan – Celtic Goddess
Eris has been equated with this Celtic goddess when it comes to chaos and conflicts on the field of battle.
Loki – Norse God
If we’re talking tricksters that lean into the darker aspect, causing disruptions wherever they go, then Eris has been equated with this deity.
Set – Egyptian God
Another Egyptian deity associated with deserts, disorder, foreigners, storms, and violence. Unlike Apep, Set is seen more benignly as he is the reconciled fighter where he sails with Ra on his solar boat to fight off Apep, the chaos serpent.
If Eris is the goddess of chaos and strife, then there must be a polar opposite. This honor falls to Harmonia, the goddess of peace, with her Roman counterpart being Concordia.
If Harmonia is the goddess of peace, then there must be a polar opposite. This honor falls to Eris, often cited as the goddess of chaos with her Roman counterpart being Discordia.
Eagle – Sacred Bird
The Golden Eagle specifically is Zeus’ sacred bird. A giant bird that had once been the seer Phineus, was always by Zeus’ side.
The Sky Tides
They are a group of four siblings: Bia (“Force”), Kratos (“Power“), Nike (“Victory”), and Zelus (“Zeal”). They are the winged enforcers or Sky Tides for Zeus. The four siblings received this honor from Zeus as their mother, Styx was the first to come show her support during the Titanomachy or War against the Titans.
Hounds Of Zeus
Not really hounds, they were just called that, and by they, I mean the Harpies, the winged half-bird half women creatures of Greek myth.
I can only imagine that Zeus claimed the famed winged horse to hold and carry his thunderbolts after Perseus’ adventures. At least the version where Perseus tames the winged horse and isn’t using Hermes’ winged sandals.
Zeus’ Cup Bearer
Zeus’ Herald Of The Gods
Hermes is often employed by Zeus to act as his personal herald and envoy for his decrees, sometimes acting as a diplomat.
Zeus’ Messenger Of The Gods
While more modern takes on Greek mythos place Hermes to this role, it belongs to Iris, goddess of the rainbow who relayed messages and commands to the other gods word for word.
Zeus’ High Council
This was slightly surprising to come across, that Zeus would have councilors.
On this council sat Themis, the goddess of law and order, along with their daughters the Moirai or Fates and the Horai or Seasons. These goddesses were tasked with maintaining the order of the cosmos and have it function.
Themis also had the additional job of summoning all of the gods to Zeus’ courtyard when he was ready to declare a new law or edict.
Of course, if we looked at them as the real power behind the throne… but that could just be inviting hubris…
Keeper Of Fate & Divine Destiny
Before the birth of the Moirai, it was Zeus who dispensed out fate, the good and the bad that he doled out from the jars of Fate that he kept near his feet. When a mortal’s time of death was carefully weighed on a set of golden scales.
Once the Moirai were born, the task of men’s fates and their time of deaths were given to them.
Xenia – Hospitality Laws
Xenia is the Greek word for the concept of hospitality and forms the ancient customs of Hospitality. Of all the attributes that Zeus is known for, he was originally the deity who presided over this custom of Xenia. For this, he was known as Zeus Xenios and was at one time, the god of travelers.
Xenia consists of three basic rules:
1) The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide them with food and drink and a bath, if required. It was not polite to ask questions until the guest had stated his or her needs.
2) The respect from guest to host. The guest must be courteous to their host and not be a burden.
3) The parting gift (xenion) from host to guest. The parting gift was to show the host’s honor at receiving the guest.
The custom of Xenia was really important in ancient times as people believed that the gods mingled among them. If a person played a poor host to a stranger, there was the risk of inciting the wrath of a god disguised as the stranger.
This custom of Xenia extended to include the protection of traveling musicians, known as Rhapsode who could expect to receive hospitality in the form of a place to sleep, food and possible other gifts in return for a night of entertainment and news from other parts of the world. The protection and safety of these Rhapsode was believed to be enforced by the god Zeus and any harm to them or violation of Xenia was sure to place the offender at the mercy of Zeus or any god he deemed necessary to enforce this rule.
This is one of Zeus’ symbols, it was created from the skin of the goat Amaltheia that helped raise him as an infant. It was either a breastplate or shield.
This is the stone that Cronus had swallowed was apparently set down at Pytho in the glens of Parnassus as proof to mortal people that the event really happened.
The stone would be placed at the Delphi Oracle as Zeus had wanted to find the center of the earth. In his search, Zeus sent out two eagles from either ends of the earth and where they met at would mark the center.
This variation of Zeus was worshiped in Ancient Athens as the god of farmlands and crops. He had a festival held on the 10th of Maimakterion to commemorate the start of plowing the fields. Sacrifices were also made to Zeus Georgos at the time of harvesting.
In a story that won’t end well, Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected a statue of Zeus Olympios in the Judean Temple in Jerusalem. This figure was known as Baal Shamen or “Lord of Heaven” among the Hellenized Jews of the time.
There is a story that appears in the Apocrypha, namely 2 Maccabees where the Maccabees or The Hammerers come in to reclaim the temple, tear down the statue and we get the story of Channukah or the Miracle of Lights.
Zeus did not prove almighty in this one.
Other Biblical Mentions
In the New Testament, Zeus will be mentioned twice in Acts. First in Acts 14 where two of the Apostles: Paul and Barnabas are mistaken for the gods Hermes and Zeus in the city of Lystra. Where people get excited for archeological proof, in 1909, two inscriptions were found near Lystra testifying of the worship of Hermes and Zeus.
Well sure, the Greek gods were worshiped in a lot of places around the Mediterranean, so I imagine finding mention of them in a lot of places to be common. Zeus was the head of the pantheon and All-Father, he would have been everywhere.
The other mention will occur again in Acts 28, where the ship taking the prisoner Paul to the island of Malta; the figurehead is said to of the “sons of Zeus” Castor and Pollux.
In this school of thought and philosophy, Zeus’ relation to the other gods is that of the Demiurge or the Divine Mind. This idea is found in Plotinus’ work the Enneads and the Platonic Theology of Proclus.
Grecian Flood Myth
In a myth connected to the constellation and zodiac sign Aquarius, Zeus is the one who causes a great flooding of the earth. A man by the name of Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha are who survive a great flood that washed over the earth. Deucalion had been told by his father, Prometheus in some versions of this story, to build a boat and to fill it with provisions. The two did and they floated in the boat over the sea for nine days and nights before coming to ground on Mount Parnassus.
Safe now, the two found that they were the only survivors and began to wander more as the flood waters receded. Deucalion and his wife couldn’t have been the only survivors of this flood if they were able to consult an oracle who told them to “throw over your shoulders the bones of your mother.”
The solution seemed pretty easy to Deucalion who guessed that the bones of Mother Earth must be stones and so he and Pyrrha began picking up stones to toss over their shoulders. After a bit of this, they looked back and saw that there were now people. The stones thrown by Deucalion had become men and the stones thrown by Pyrrha had become women.
In this myth, Aquarius is seen or becomes a taker as well as giver of life. This myth of a world flood and the rebirth of life on Earth is a very common myth that can be found in numerous cultures around the world.
Sometimes in an effort to have the Grecian Flood myth story parallel the Biblical Flood story of Noah and the Ark, it is Zeus himself who tells Deucalion to build a boat and not Prometheus.
Homer’s The Iliad is the main source for the gods involvement in the Trojan War. Zeus sided with the Trojans during this war while Hera took the side of the Greeks. Zeus took a rather significant part in the story of the Trojan War.
A lesser known work, The Cypria and attributed to Stasinus, reveals the whole Trojan War was planned on by Zeus and Themis. There’s only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and its seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events come about.
Zeus’ part of this epic starts off with sending Agamemnon a dream and through which, the god is able to influence on Agamemnon’s decisions. Next is Zeus telling Hera that he’s going to destroy the City of Troy come the end of the war. Together, both Zeus and Poseidon destroy the Achaeans fortress.
The war hits a point where Zeus tells all the other Olympian gods that they can’t fight each other as Zeus returns to Mount Ida where he thinks over his decision on having the Greeks lose this war.
Soon it is Hera’s time to shine as she seduces her husband Zeus, distracting him with her affections while helping out the Greeks.
When Zeus wakes up, he discovers that not only has Poseidon been helping the Greeks, but Hector and Apollo have been helping to fight the Trojans. Follow it up by Zeus getting upset that he can’t save Sarpedon’s life as that would contradict an earlier decree he made. Zeus is further upset by what happens to Hector.
Now Zeus decides that yeah, the other gods can join in and help out whichever side they owe it too. Towards the end, Zeus’ last part in the story, he demands that Achilles release Hector’s body so it can have an honorable burial.
The Theogony is an 8th to 7th century B.C.E. epic poem written by Hesiod. It is perhaps the most famous, if not familiar story that tells the origins of the Greek pantheon. The most interesting parts are the story of Zeus usurping the throne from his father Cronus after having swallowed all of his other children.
It’s interesting in hindsight, come 1876 when the Enuma Elish is translated and then, later in 1946 with the translation of the Hittite Kingship of Heaven text, that we are able to see a strong Middle Eastern influence on Greek myths.
Ammon – Egyptian God
Zeus is sometimes equated with this god.
Ba’al – Canaanite God
A sun god, Ba’al was Hellenized and worshiped as Zeus Helioupolites at Heliopolis, modern day Baalbek.
Baal Zephon – Canaanite God
A weather god of the ancient Canaanites. The Hellenized version of this god is known as Zeus Kasios where he was worshiped at a site along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Hadad – Canaanite God
Another Canaanite sun deity who was Hellenized as Zeus Adados. The Assyrian Adad also had the same Hellenized name.
Indra – Hindu God
Zeus is seen as similar to this deity in India.
Jupiter – Roman God
Where Zeus is the head of the Greek Pantheon, his Roman counterpart is Jupiter
Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Zeus with Jupiter. The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that they would virtually become one and the same. And that’s the tradition passed down through the centuries and has become accepted. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Odin & Thor – Norse Gods
Zeus is equated with each of these deities in Norse mythology. Odin as he is the All-Father and head of the Norse Pantheon, Thor as he is a god of Thunder & Lightning like Zeus.
Perun – Slavic God
Zeus is equated as a cognate of this god.
Sabazios – Phrygian God
As Greek culture spread throughout the Mediterranean region, absorbing the local beliefs and equating the local deities with those of the Greek pantheon, Sabazios is one deity whose attributes and role were absorbed by both Dionysus and Zeus, notably as a divine child and god of rebirth.
Teshub – Hurrian God
A storm and sky god of the Hurrians, as Zeus Labrandos, Zeus is equated with this deity, particularly in his worship at Caria. He held a sacred site at Labranda where Zeus would be shown wielding a double-edged axe known as a labrys.
Tinia – Etruscan God
A cognate for Zeus in the little-known Etruscan beliefs and mythology.
Vajrapāni – Buddhist
In Greco-Buddhist art, Zeus is depicted as Vajrapāni, the protector of the Buddha.
Velchanos – Minoan God
Zeus is equated with this deity in Crete or Minoan culture, such that the name Velchanos is used as another name or epitaph. As a separate deity, before getting Hellenized, Velchanos was very likely an Vegetation Deity or Spirit. Velchanos was likely associated with the rooster and bees, which is why the Boy-Zeus in Hellenized Crete will be shown with those animals.
The Father Of Gods & Heroes
Some of Zeus’ “romantic conquests” are also how many of Greece’s heroes are born, giving them some divine might and heroic destiny for their exploits. It is very likely that many of these stories are just wish fulfillment to connect early Greeks to the gods and explain why many early heroes appear to have divine destinies and beyond human attributes.
As the Father and King of the Gods, even those deities not directly related to Zeus as his children would likely refer him to Father.
A good number of the myths and stories of the Greek gods and heroes tend to place Zeus having some prominence, even if it’s as a cameo appearance.
I will admit that many of the myths about the Olympians I grew up with only ever mention Hera as Zeus’ wife. Then throwing in all of the numerous “affairs” of Zeus as just his many flings by whom the different gods and heroes of Greek mythology are born.
Clean, sanitized versions of the myths. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article series, there are at least three main sources for Zeus’ origins and myths. A couple of sources mentioned give Metis as Zeus’ first wife and that Hera is the second wife. So maybe Hera’s jealousy is not wanting to get replaced? Or just the rewrites that come later that say Hera has to be jealous of Zeus’ affairs.
I did come across one source that gives several wives for Zeus, starting with Metis, then the titaness Themis, Eurynome, Demeter, Mnemosyne, Leto, and lastly Hera.
Zeus & Callisto
This poor nymph found herself transformed into a bear along with her son Arcas by Artemis after an affair with Zeus. In compensation, Zeus placed both Callisto and Arcas up into the heavens to become the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Zeus & Danae
Zeus & Europa
In Greek mythology, Zeus in many of his various affairs; had fallen love with Europa, the daughter of Agenor, a King of Tyre in ancient Phoenicia. The problem with Zeus getting close to show his affection is that Europa was always guarded by her father’s servants. Being a god and a shape-shifter, Zeus changed himself into the form of a handsome white bull with golden horns.
That accomplished, Zeus in his white bull form then mingles with the King’s royal herds grazing in a large field near the sea. While a walk along the beach, Europe noticed the handsome white bull and couldn’t resist going up to feed it. The bull was so very friendly and gentle, that Europe climbed up on its back when it lay down; taking hold of the golden horns.
Once she was on the bull’s back, it stood up and the white bull wandered closer and closer to the sea and then when they approached the beach, took off running for the water. Once in the sea, the bull starts swimming towards the island of Crete. And for Europa, it was too late to get off now.
When they arrived in Crete, Zeus changed back into his own form, revealing himself to Europa. As he’s already married to Hera, Zeus gives Europa instead in marriage to Asterius, the King of Crete.
In slightly different versions of this story, Zeus and Europa have three children together. One of whom is Minos who grows up and goes on to be a famous king of Crete. He had the palace in Knossos built where bull games were held and is more infamous for the sacrifice of fourteen youths (seven boys and seven girls) to his Minotaur in a labyrinth every year. In either event, Zeus is said to have commemorated the white bull he turned into by placing it up among the heavens as the constellation Taurus.
Zeus & Leda
This story is connected to the Cygnus constellation. In this story, Zeus disguised himself as a swan in order to seduce Leda. In this guise, Zeus behaved much like a swain, which means a lover or wooer.
Leda was the wife of the Spartan King Tyndareus. She’s known for giving birth to two sets of twins; the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), and Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. When Leda laid with Zeus, their union produced an egg. Later that night, when she laid with her lawful husband Tyndareus, their union resulted in another egg. The immortal twins Pollux and Helen are said to have been fathered by Zeus while the mortal twins Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus.
Zeus & Nemesis
A variation to the above myth is that instead of Zeus seducing Leda, he seduces Nemesis, the goddess of divine justice and retribution. She was also the goddess of the Pelopennesian cult. Other sources are clearer that Nemesis lived in Rhamnus (located to the North-East of Athens) where this cult may have been. When Zeus went to seduce Nemesis, she changed herself into a variety of different animals before taking the form of a goose to escape him. Zeus continued to pursue Nemesis, each time taking the form of a larger, swifter animal until he turned into a swan before he was able to catch and rape her.
A variation of the story with Nemesis that’s told by Hyginus is that Zeus had turned himself into a swan and pretends to be escaping from an eagle. Nemesis protected the bird, offering sanctuary. It’s after words, when Nemesis has gone to sleep with the swan on her lap that she discovers the truth of who the bird really is.
In either version of the story told, Nemesis ends up laying an egg that she leaves in a swamp. This egg was found either by Hermes or a shepherd who brings it to Leda who keeps the egg in a chest until it hatches. It is from this egg that Helen of Troy is hatched. As a result of his success, Zeus placed an image of the swan up into the heavens.
Zeus & Leto
Another of Zeus’ affairs is with Leto and the resultant children would be the twin deities Apollo and Artemis.
From the surviving stories we have, a jealous Hera forced Leto to roam the earth to safely give birth. Hera had commanded that the earth and sea refuse Leto any safe refuge. Eventually, Leto came to the floating island of Delos and was able to safely give birth to her twin children.
Zeus & Ganymede
This is an oddball myth in that Zeus falls in love with a particularly handsome youth, Ganymede while he is out watching his father’s sheep. Zeus either transforms into or sends an eagle to come carry the youth off to Mount Olympus. There, Zeus grants Ganymede immortality and makes him a cup-bearer to the gods, replacing Hebe after she spilled some of the nectar and causing Hera a lot of anger over the replacement.
Depending on how you interpret this myth, this is Zeus wanting to grant immortality to a worthy descendant of his or how the ancient Greeks were justifying homosexuality in their culture.
Zeus & Semele
In this myth, Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia is “seduced” by Zeus. The mighty Zeus promised the young Semele to reveal himself in all of his godly glory, however she dies when Zeus reveals himself as thunder and lightning to her. Their union results in the birth of the young Dionysus.
Herakles – The Favored Son
Of all of the many children that Zeus is to have sired, Herakles (or Hercules for the Roman spelling) is the son of Zeus and Alcmene. Even though, Herakles’ name means: “Glory of Hera,” Hera was not too pleased with the birth of this demigod and tried to kill him. Herakles would go on to become one of the best well known heroes in Greek & Roman mythology.
One such adventure between father and son is when they team up against a tribe of earth-born Giants threatening Olympus. The Delphi Oracle had decreed that only a single god and mortal would be able to defeat these monsters. Zeus and Hercules proved their mettle and overcame the monsters, defeating them.
Truth, Justice And The Olympian Way!
As King of the gods and their ruler, Zeus is the one who also gets to determine and uphold the laws, mete out justice, mercy, and morals. He punishes oath breakers and liars by hurling bolts of lightning to strike them down! It is Zeus’ place to maintain these laws, both in the heavens and on the earth, to protect his worshipers, preside over the various festivals and handle the governing of prophecies.
Given how often the gods, as a whole, are said to be petty and Zeus’ reputation for his numerous affairs (*coughs* rapes), I’m not sure I really buy this?
Hesiod in his “Work and Days” does describe Zeus as being a carefree god who loves to laugh aloud. Zeus was known for being wise, fair, just, merciful, and prudent despite supposedly having an unpredictable nature as no one knew what decrees he would give. A lord of justice who brought peace instead of violence.
Now we do have in the story of Ixion, what happens when someone violates the Host-Guest laws and proves to be a bad guest. Zeus comes through with laying down the law there.
Protector of Kings – Zeus was known to be a protector, particularly of kings and rulers. Once Greece shifted away from Kings and more towards democracy, Zeus then becomes the chief judge and peace maker.
Morals – For all of his affairs, if Zeus is to be setting the example for morals, it is small wonder that Hera comes across as angry and jealous all the time. Someone needs to keep him in line.
The show “Hercules: The Legendary Journey” is the only series that comes to mind that tried any meaningful reconciliation between Zeus and Hera about his numerous affairs. It was a very cheap shot with having Hera get amnesia as it didn’t really resolve the issues. Just lazy writing on the part of the screen writers. Most other shows and movies tend to gloss over the moral and marital problems as that usually is not the focus of the story at hand that writers want to tackle and tell.
I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the line, people twisted this view of justice and started recreating Zeus in their image. After all, people are mortal, and they’ll end up following after deities that appeal to their natures and what they want.
A Partial List Of Zeus’ Many Judgments & Punishments
I’m bound to miss a few, the stories involving Zeus are many, even if we’re counting the ones where he has a small bit part or cameo.
- At Hades’ request, Asclepius was killed by thunderbolt after his medical knowledge enabled the dead to return to life.
- Forcing Atlas to hold up the world on his shoulders after his part in the Titanomachy.
- Turning the nymph Chelone into a tortoise after she refused to attend the marriage of Hera and Zeus.
- Turning both King Haemus and Queen Rhodope into mountains. Your mileage may vary depending on if these are the Balkan Mountains, Stara Planina or Rhodope mountains, all for the crime of being too vain.
- Punishing Hera by hanging her upside down from the sky after she attempted to drown Heracles in a storm. His own wife.
- Throwing Hephaestus off the top of Mount Olympus as the baby was too repulsive looking.
- Lycaon was turned into a wolf after daring to serve Zeus human flesh to eat.
- Turning Pandareus to stone after he stole the golden dog that had guarded him as an infant in the holy Dictaeon Cave of Crete.
- Pandora was given a box, that when opened cursed mankind with all the evils and diseases after Prometheus gave humans the gift of fire.
- Turning Periphas into an eagle, thus making him the king of birds after Apollo intervened and said not to kill him.
- Blinding the seer Phineus and sending the harpies to harass him after revealing divine secrets. In some cases, for blinding his own sons.
- Killing Salmoneus with a thunderbolt for attempting to impersonate him, riding around in a bronze chariot and loudly imitating thunder.
- Sisyphus was condemned to spend all of eternity in the Underworld to roll a stone up hill.
- Condemning Tantalus to eternal torture in the depths of Tartarus after he tried to trick the gods into eating the flesh of his son Pelops.
- Sinking the Telchines into the sea.
Callirrhoe – Not everything was divine retribution… Zeus does grant Callirrhoe’s prayer that her sons be able to grow up swiftly so they can get revenge on Phegeus and his two sons for the death of their father.
Ixion – One really sees Zeus’ role as a god of justice and distributer of divine justice in the story of Ixion. How Ixion committed murder after refusing to pay a bride price. Ixion went everywhere he could think of to be purified and absolved of this grievous sin. Eventually Zeus said he could purify Ixion and then invited the mortal up to Mount Olympus.
While there, Ixion tried putting some moves on Hera who complained to her husband, Zeus. In response, Zeus created a cloud named Nephele in Hera’s likeness. When Zeus caught Ixion trying to put some unwanted moves on Nephele, Zeus sentenced Ixion down to Tartarus to spin forever on a flaming wheel crying out how you should always show gratitude to your benefactor.
The Myrmidons – After the death of his son, King Aeacus, Zeus turned the Myrmidons into ants. Later, Achilles would lead them into battle during the Trojan War.
Porphyrion – Ixion wasn’t the only one to get punished by Zeus for daring to look at his wife. The giant Porphyrion was struck down by lightning bolt after lusting for Hera.
Prometheus – This is another of the more famous of those punished by Zeus. In sum, the titan Prometheus had gifted humankind with fire. Not just fire, but divine fire after all the other animals received their gifts. Prometheus’ punishment is to be chained to a rock for all eternity while every day a vulture comes and eats his liver.
Most of the stories don’t mention that there was also a woman, by the name of Thetis whose identify that Prometheus was keeping from Zeus. That age-old prophecy plaguing Zeus that a son of his would be born greater than him who would overthrow the mighty Zeus and take his throne. After torturing Prometheus for a while, the titan tells Zeus that if he pursues Thetis, she will bear him the aforementioned, prophesied son. Hearing the news, Zeus decides to pass off Thetis to Peleus and it is from that union, that the hero Achilles is born.
Birth Of A God
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Zeus and all his siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a 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, with the help of Gaia hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetite, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Here, it gets a little muddled as to what exactly happens next for Zeus’ infancy and being raised in secret before returning to reclaim his birthright.
It largely depends on which accounts of the story you read.
At Rhea’s behest, Gaia takes the infant Zeus to Crete where she hides in a cave located on Mount Dicte or Mount Ida.
There, Gaia raised the child with the divine goat, Amalthea providing milk for the infant Zeus. The Kouretes, soldiers or minor gods would dance, shout and clash their spears to hide the sounds of the baby’s cries from Cronus.
If Amalthea is instead a nymph, she raises a young Zeus in a cave called Dictaeon Andron on the Lasithi plateau.
Sounding a little more messed up, in Hyginus’ Fabulae, another nymph Adamanthea is who takes and raises Zeus. She dangled the infant on a rope between the heavens and sea as Cronus ruled over the earth, thus preventing him from discovering his son. Yay?
Cynosura is sometimes said to have raised Zeus and in thanks, he placed her up in the heavens to become a constellation.
Then there’s Melissa who nursed the infant on goat milk and honey.
The Promise They Were Sheeped
And while they’re not nymphs, a family of shepherds raises the baby with the promise that their flock of sheep would be protected from wolves.
Claiming His Birthright
An older Zeus returns to fulfill the prophecy killing his father Cronus. With either Gaia or Metis’ help, Zeus is able to administer a potion that causes Cronus to regurgitate all of his siblings along with the stone that was swallowed.
An alternate scenario has Zeus splitting open Cronus’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera and Hestia. Incidentally, Hades is the last of Cronus’ children that is either regurgitated or comes out after Zeus splits their father open.
There is a ten-year long divine war known as the Titanomachy, that by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Hades and the other gods take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
During the war, Gaia gave a prophesy to Zeus that he would have victory over the Titans by freeing the Cyclops who were then prisoners in Tartaros. Zeus slew Campe, the jail-keeper of the Cyclops. As a reward and thanks for releasing them, the Cyclcops forged weapons for the three brothers. Thunderbolts for Zeus, a Trident for Poseidon and a Bident for Hades along with a magical helmet of invisibility.
During this war, Hades used his helmet of invisibility to sneak into the Titans’ camp and destroy their weapons. After the war, the Titans were imprisoned within Tartoros and the Hecatoncheires were placed in charge of guarding the new prisoners. One titan, Atlas would be punished by forever having to hold the earth up.
Dividing the Spoils of War – After defeating Cronus and all of his father’s followers, the three brothers, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus divided up ruler-ship of the cosmos between them. Hades would become ruler of the Underworld; Poseidon would become ruler of the seas and Zeus would become ruler of the air. The earth, the domain of Gaia, would be available to all three gods.
Iliad – The Iliad describes the three brothers as pulling lots to determine who would rule which realm.
Hades & Typhon – While not exactly a flattering story of Hades; the story is that of Zeus battling the giant monstrous serpent Typhon during or after the Titanomachy. Hesiod’s Theogony describes Hades as cowering down below in the Underworld while Zeus is busy hurling thunder bolts and battling Typhon to take his place as king of the Olympian gods.
Gigantomachy – Battle For The Heavens!
While the Titans would be defeated, Zeus would still have to contend with other beings to secure his throne. Namely, because Gaia wasn’t happy with how her children, the Titans were treated and imprisoned in Tartarus. There would come a series of three additional attacks.
If that doesn’t have parallels with the story of Marduk and Tiamat.
The first were the Gigantes, another of Gaia’s children who would be defeated and sent to Tartarus.
Typhon & Echidna
Second would come the mighty Typhon, husband to Echidna and Father of All Monsters. Typhon or Typhoeus is described as a serpentine monster that breathes fire. Zeus fought him using his thunder bolts and aegis.
Eventually Zeus would defeat Typhon and trap him under Mount Etna. Echidna would be allowed to live along with her monstrous children. In Grecian myths, this is how Mount Etna became a volcano. Other versions of the myth, the gods Hermes and Pan would come to Zeus’ aid.
The third would be the twin brothers. These two would attempt to gain entrance to the heavens by stacking Mount Ossa on top of Mount Olympus. Then by stacking Mount Pelion on top of Mount Ossa.
That doesn’t seem like it would work. Zeus manages to defeat the Aloadae and just as he had with the Titans, he banished them too down to Tartarus.
One Last Final Challenge
It is curious that only when I went researching Zeus that I came across this story for the first time.
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.
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 Nereid, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, call 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, Hera who is punished as she led the rebellion. Zeus only relents and ends the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
Metis – First Marriage (Birth Of Athena)
Most mythological accounts jump straight to Zeus being married to Hera. Before that, there was Metis, the daughter of the Ocean and goddess of Wisdom, Prudence and Cunning.
Metis resisted Zeus’ advances at first but eventually she gives into him and from their union would eventually come Athena. Just not a normal birth would follow for Athena.
Sins Of The Father – Now, just as Cronus did to his father Uranis and Zeus did to Cronus in time… Gaia informed Zeus that Metis would bear a daughter and from her, there would be a son who would over throw him.
Thinking he’s clever and going to break the cycle of constant fratricide, Zeus goes and swallows Metis whole on the belief that this would prevent the unwanted birth or because he gives birth to a child, it will prevent prophecy.
Birth Of Athena – By swallowing Metis, Zeus will either give birth to Athena, causing a lot of anger and outrage from Hera as this is Zeus circumventing the entire birthing process.
Hera is so angry with Zeus over this, that she gives birth to Hephaestus by immaculate conception or parthenogenetically, take your pick. Either way, Hera gives birth without the need for sex.
Sometime later, Zeus is experiencing a skull splitting headache. When he goes to seek relief and splits open his head with Hephaestus’ help, out pops Athena fully clothed, armed and already an adult.
Good thing Hera gave birth to Hephaestus. Who knows what Zeus would have done to alleviate his splitting headache?
The other version that I’m familiar with, Metis is swallowed with Zeus never knowing that she was ever pregnant to begin with.
I Have A Gut Feeling – I’ve found this story a bit curious in swallowing Metis. The ancient Greeks believed that the stomach rather than the brain were the source of intellect and emotions. With this belief, mindset in mind, it makes sense why Zeus would swallow Metis, that way, her powers of wisdom existed in some form inside him.
It gives a new meaning to the phrase: “thinking with one’s stomach” or “listening to one’s gut” would come from.
Hera – Second Marriage
Going back to the normal course of events with Greek myths, Zeus is married to his sister Hera. 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!
Naturally, being his wife, goddess of marriage, birth, women, and fidelity, I do not blame Hera for getting angry with Zeus. The myths will say she was jealous and vengeful towards Zeus’ lovers and numerous children. Hera’s myths likely reflect what life was like for woman of the day. If she couldn’t punish her husband outright, she took her anger out on his lovers and any resulting children.
Zeus had to trick Hera into marrying him too. Knowing that Hera holds an affinity for animals, the god came to her in the form of a cuckoo. When Hera picked up the bird to hold close to her, Zeus transformed back his godly form and shamed her into having to marry him.
I really just don’t see how that will be a lasting or happy marriage.
Hera & Echo – This is one of the more famous stories depicting Hera’s anger and jealously. The nymph Echo was instructed by Zeus to distract Hera while he was out having his many “affairs.” Since Hera couldn’t punish Zeus, she would punish others. In Echo’s case, she was cursed to forever repeat what was said to her.
There’s plenty of studies to show and suggest that the Greeks were originally a matriarchal people. As patriarchy took over and the myths are rewritten, the resistance of the older religion and people twists these myths and stories around to make Hera look jealous and petty as so many of the Greek gods appear to be when their myths, especially original ones get co-opted and rewritten.
Battle Of The Sexes – If you don’t already have an idea of Zeus’ amorous reputation in mythology, keep reading, you will…
Hera would be rather upset and angry with her husband from his numerous affairs. I can only imagine, that as the goddess of marriage, Hera would try to have it out with Zeus over having sex and who got the most pleasure out of it.
The mortal Tiresias was given the job of acting as judge for this contest. When he ruled in favor of Zeus that men have more pleasure in having sex, Tiresias was rewarded with getting to live three times longer than other mortals.
Your Reputation Precedes You Sir!
Politely put, Zeus has quite a reputation with all of the “love interests” and “affairs” and the vast number of children he is to have fathered over the millennia. Zeus is rather busy for a married man, I mean god.
There are numerous stories of Zeus’ many love affairs, romances and some of which that are just outright rape stories no matter how euphemistically later rewrites try to retell them.
There’s a certain prestige, especially seen in the ancient Egyptian culture where all the Pharaohs are earthly incarnations of Ra. This divine birthright is what justifies them to be the rulers over the common, ordinary people.
I can imagine a similar thing happening among the Greeks where they want to claim a divine heritage to justify their rule over various cities states. Stories that often just served to explain how a thing came to be, why something is and to explain divine right of rulership.
We also know there’s two major areas of Greek history, the Mycenean Greek era and the those whom we think of as the Ancient or Classical Greeks with a dark age period in between. If you look at the myths carefully from these periods, Poseidon had been the ruler of the Olympian gods during the Mycenean era of Greek history. This later changes to Zeus being the head of the pantheon.
There is also a Neolithic, Cycladic culture that is best known for its female idols. Couple this with Hera and her vehemence towards Zeus and his numerous affairs. Now it appears to be clear that the Greek myths we get of Zeus are the result of revisionist history and storytelling.
As there’s a theological takeover of replacing Poseidon with Zeus as the head of the pantheon and a patriarchal takeover of the regions that reduces goddesses like Hera’s importance. Just taking a close look at some of these myths, you can see the hints of it and some of the discrepancies that come up as Greece and then Rome expanded, trying to absorb all of these locals myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own.
The most obvious being the Titanomachy story where Zeus and his siblings all displace the older pantheon and the survivors get absorbed into the new divine order.
Etymology: Greek – dios “bright”
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Ζευς, Kronion
Epithets: Zeus has some 150 epitaphs that he is known by. I expect to miss a few, if not several. Here are some of his many names and epitaphs.
Zeus-Amphitryon (Zeus in the form of Amphitryon when he seduced Alcmene), Zeus Areius (“War-Like” or “The Atoning One”), Abrettenus or Abretanus (Zeus’ surname in Mysia), Achad (Syrian name), Adad (Syrian name), Zeus Adados, Adultus (Invoked as a name of Zeus in marriage), Zeus Agamemnon, Zeus Amphiaraus, Apemius (Averter of Ills), Apomyius (Dispeller of Flies), Acraeus (name in Smyrna ), Acrettenus (name in Mysia), Zeus Areius, Brontios (“Thunderer”), “Ceneus” – An epithet of Zeus after the temple on Cape Canaeum of Euboea. “Kosmetas” (Orderer), “Soter” (Savior), “Polieus” (Overseer of the City) and “Eleutherios” (guarantor of political freedoms), “The Lord of Justice,” “Father of Gods and Men,” “Nephelegereta” (Cloud-Gatherer), Zeus Helioupolites (“Heliopolite” or “Heliopolitan Zeus”), Zeus Olympios, Zeus Panhellenios (“Zeus of all the Hellenes”), Zeus Xenios (“Zeus of Hospitality, Strangers & Foriegners”), Zeus Herkios (“God of Courtyards”), Zeus Herkeios (Guardian of the House), Zeus Hikesios (“God of those seeking sanctuary”), Zeus Larisaeus, Philoxenon or Hospites, Zeus Horkios and Zeus Pistios (“Keeper of Oaths’), Zeus Hypsistos (“Supreme God”), Zeus Agoraeus (“Presider over Businesses”), Zeus Aegiduchos or Aegiochos (“Bearer of the Aegis”), Zeus Nikephoros (“Zeus holding Nike”), Zeus Tallaios (“Solar Zeus”), Zeus Ktesios (“Protector of Property”), Zeus Labrandos, Zeus Trephonius (“the nurturing”), Zeus Naos and Bouleus, Zeus Georgos (“Earth Worker” or “Farmer”), Kasios (“Zeus of Mount Kasios”), Ithomatas, Astrapios (“Lightninger”), Diktaios, Bottiaeus, Zeus Velchanos (“Boy-Zeus”), Kouros (Boy Zeus and early Cretan fertility god), Zeus Lykaios (Wolf Zeus), Zeus Katachthonios (Zeus of the Underworld), Eubouleus, Zeus Meilichios (“Zeus the Easily-Entreated”or Zeus as a snake), Zeus Maimaktes (the bloody aspect of Zeus Meilichios), Zeus Chthonios (“earth”), Zeus Plousios (“wealth-brining”) and Zan (Zeus’ name in Crete).
Zeus, mighty Zeus. King and “All-Father” of the Gods in Greek mythology. He is the mighty thunderer who rules from his abode on Mount Olympus. As King of the Gods, Zeus’ decrees dispense law, order, and justice throughout the mortal and divine realms. If you believe the myths, Zeus is also highly respected(?) in having fathered many of the gods and demigods alike. Exactly how he fathers them all is another matter, of which, his wife Hera is often not too pleased.
Universal Problems Require Universal Solutions
While researching the mythology for Zeus, it can get very problematic. There are at least three different major mythos for Zeus. Two Arcadian versions of his legend and the Hellenistic Zeus that so many are familiar with. Other versions are Zeus found at the Dodona oracle.
As more Greek writers and even modern retellers try to create an all-encompassing myth for all of Greece, it can often get contradictory as to which versions of the myths are correct. Hesiod’s Theogony is a big contributor to the version of the myths that most are familiar with.
Further, for all that the Greeks saw Zeus as the head of their Pantheon, he can often lose a lot of emphasis and power as too often, as the myths try to show his importance, Zeus can just end up having a cameo appearance or mention in the stories. The king who sits up on high passing out judgements.
Add in too, the numerous affairs that Zeus is to have had. Depending on the era of myths, this is Greek influence spreading and trying more to have Zeus as the progenitor for many deities and demigod heroes. If people are creating the gods in their image to reflect them, what does it say for a culture where a god gets to have his way with every female he desires and lusts after? The euphemism of ravish is used a lot for many of Zeus’ “romantic” pursuits. How much is Zeus a victim of his own reputation or not, can be hard to say.
Animal: Bull, Dove, Cuckoo, Golden Eagle, Lion, Quail, Rooster, Swan, Wolf, Woodpecker
Patron of: Kings, People, Fate
Plant: Oak, Olive Tree
Sphere of Influence: Law, Order, Justice, Weather, Rain, Sky
Symbols: Aegis, Cornucopia, Courage, Lightning, Scepter, Sky, Strength, Thunderbolt
Early Greek Depictions
In art, Zeus is often shown as a middle-aged looking male with a long beard and hair and youthful, athletic figure, sporting a toga as he wields his lightning bolts. Sometimes Zeus is shown wielding a hammer. In Greek statuary, Zeus can be shown either standing or sitting with a lightning bolt or scepter in his hand. Zeus is sometimes shown wearing a crown of oak leaves. As King of the gods, Zeus is often seen as being very regal and imposing in this role.
Cult & Worship
Being the head god of the Greek pantheon, Zeus had several temples and festivals held in his honor. Zeus has what’s known as Panhellenic cults, centers of worship that are found spread throughout all of Greece.
Olympia – This is the biggest and major center of worship for Zeus. Located at Thessaly, Thessalia, the Olympic Games would be held here. An alter made of ash dedicated to Zeus is found here. Centuries of animal sacrifice remains can be found here. Such sacrifices were a white animal.
Olympic Games – These games were held every four years in honor of Zeus.
Nemean Games – Similar to the Olympic Games, only held every two years.
Theogamia – Or Gamelia, a festival celebrating Zeus and Hera’s marriage in Athens.
The Divine Youth – The island of Crete was unanimously recognized by the Greeks as being the birthplace of Zeus. Crete of course, was the center of the Minoan culture and civilization at one point. In Crete, the “Boy-Zeus” or Zeus Velchanos is a strong part of a Great Mother and Divine Child or Son and Consort mythos and religion. Zeus Velchanos would also be known as Kouros or Megas Kouros, “the Great Youth.”
On the island of Crete, Zeus is shown in art as a young, long-haired boy rather than the mature adult many statues depict. Ivory statues of the “Divine Boy” have been found near the Labyrinth of Knossos.
There’s even coinage that will show Zeus as a young boy sitting in a tree with a rooster or cockerel. Other coinage will show an eagle and a goddess in a sacred marriage. Inscriptions found at Gortyn and Lyttos show that a Velchania festival was still widely celebrated even during Hellenistic times.
There are several caves at Knossos, Ida and Palaikstro where Zeus was worshiped at. During the Hellenistic era, there was a small sanctuary dedicated to Zeus Velchanos at the Hagia Triada in the ruins of the Minoan palace. Looking at the stories of Minos and Epimenides, there is suggestion that these caves used as incubatory divination by kings and priests. Plato’s dialogue for Laws uses the pilgrimage route of these caves for its setting.
There was a secret rite held at the Cretan paideia. Zeus was said to preside over this military training and athletics. The participants were known as Kouretes, a group of armed dancers.
There is also a death or end-of-year fertility spirit where Zeus as Velchanos’ death is revered. The stories related to this myth are found in several mountain site where a fire would be lit annually at Zeus’ birth cave. Bees are also somehow connected to this observance.
There’s speculation, some holding that Zeus may have been a Cretan King that became deified after his death.
Lykaia – Under the name Zeus Lykaios or Wolf Zeus, Zeus is connected to the festival of Lykaia near Mount Lykaion in Arcadia.
The festival of Lykaia had a secret festival held on Mount Lykaion (Wolf Mountain) in Arcadia and it’s tallest peak. The myths that surround this ritual are believed to relate the story of Lycaon’s feast he held for the gods and involved having served up one of his sons Nyctimus as one of the main courses. Another version of this story given by an Eratosthenes, holds that Lycaon had served up his grandson Arcas at this feast. In either eventuality, an enraged Zeus turns Lycaon into a wolf and proceeds to kill by means of lightning; Lycaon’s other sons before restoring the dead child back to life.
Mmm…. Cannibalism. Not.
The festival of Lykaia were held annually at the beginning of May. It was a primitive ritual festival and rite of passage for young males known as epheboi among the Greeks into adulthood. With the ritual held at night, evidence taken by some with the name of Lycaon’s son Nyctimus, a lot of rumors about cannibalism and werewolf transformations circulated widely among the Greeks as to just what was going on up there. Even Plato wrote about one clan who would gather every nine years and sacrifice to Zeus Lykaios where a piece of human flesh would be mixed in among the pieces of animal.
The belief held that whoever ate the human flesh would into a wolf and they could only return to human form after nine-years if they hadn’t eaten human flesh. The famous Olympic boxing champion, Damarchus is said to have turned into a wolf during the ritual sacrifice held for Zeus Lykaios. Games were also a big part of the Lykaios festival held every year after the secret ritual held at night.
It has been put forth, that the epitaphs of Lykaios and Lykeios likely originate in a Proto-Greek word *λύκη, meaning “light.” It’s a word still seen in other Greek words for “twilight” and “year.” This connection is seen in the tragedy writer Achaeus referring to Zeus Lykaios as being “starry eyed.”
This Arcadian Zeus connects strongly to Zeus being the son of Aether. It more easily makes a connection of Lykosoura being the “first city that the sun beheld” as described by Pausanias. The other connection is the alter to Zeus on the summit of Mount Lykaion standing between two columns with eagles that faced the sun-rise.” This all connects Zeus as a god of light.
Eleusinian Mysteries & Orphic Mysteries – Zeus gets around, a lot. Not much is known about the Eleusinian Mysteries and there is plenty known about the Orphic Mysteries given the amount of literature and hymns that have been found and translated.
Both the Eleusinian Mysteries and Orphic Mysteries concern themselves with the death & rebirth of a deity. A role often given to Hades and Dionysus in order to connect them to the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone. As Zeus Katachthonios or Eubouleus (a youthful version of the Lord of the Underworld), Zeus finds himself venerated in many local customs that honor the Underworld Lord and the symbolic rebirth at Spring.
It varies greatly as the local customs varied from one Greek city to another. The Athenians and Siclians honored a chthonic Zeus as Zeus Meilichios (“kindly” or “honeyed”). More epitaphs of Zeus claiming a chthonic role are Zeus Chthonios (“earth”), Zeus Katachthonios (“under-the-earth”) and Zeus Plousios (“wealth-brining”). These versions of Zeus would be depicted as snakes or in a more humanoid form. Sacrifices to the chthonic form of Zeus would be offerings of black animals in sunken pits. Some places, such the Lebadaea shrine in Boeotia, a local hero, Trophonius was revered and then attached as an epitaph to Zeus as Zeus Trephonius (“the nurturing”). Another hero, Amphiaraus was honored as Zeus Amphiaraus near Thebes and the Spartans honored a shrine to Zeus Agamemnon.
It all makes for an interesting connection. Hades as the God of Death, Dionysus as the God of Life and Zeus tying them both together to represent the birth, death and resurrection of a deity.
Aetnaea – A local festival near Mount Aetna. A statue of Zeus is found here where he is worshiped as Zeus Aetnaeus.
Really getting around as the All-Father and God of Everything.
Temples And Sacred Sites
Cave of Zeus – Found on the slopes of Mount Ida on the island of Crete, the Cave of Zeus is a sacred place dating to antiquity. Sometimes the location of this Cave is given as the Psychro Cave on Crete or the Cave of Zeus is found on the Aegean island of Naxos.
It is the cave that the infant Zeus was hidden in from his father, the titan Cronos. Some variations of Zeus’ origins will place this as his birthing place. A band of mythical warriors known as the Kouretes would dance wildly and loudly as a means to drown out the infant’s cries to keep Cronus from discovering his son.
Archeology discoveries of the cave have found a number of votive offerings in this place.
Dodona Oracle – The site of Zeus’ most famous and oldest oracle, found at Dodona in Epirus, Northwestern Greece. It was known as a land of Oak trees and likely why the tree is associated with Zeus. At this site, Zeus was known as Zeus Naos and Zeus Bouleus. Zeus’ priests were known as Selloi and barefoot. They would lay on the ground and observe the rustling of leaves and branches for their divinations. It is thought that their name contributed to the Hellenes. Later, female priests replaced the male priests and were called Peleiades or Doves. Here, Zeus’ consort is reputed to be Dione, not Hera. Dione is a titaness who may have predated the Hellenic era and likely the original goddess worshipped. Her name is a female form of Zeus’ own name.
Siwa Oracle – The oracle of Ammon near the Siwa Oasis in the western Egyptian desert. Herodotus writes of a Zeus Ammon whould be be consulted at this oracle. This version of Zeus favored the Spartans and a temple dedicated to him was already built during the Peloponnesian War. After Alexander’s trek to this oracle, this figure became the Libyan Sibyl.
Temple of Zeus – This is the most famous of Zeus’ temples in Olympia. It features a gold and ivory statue of Zeus seated on a throne. This statue was sculpted by Phidias and was regarded as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.”
Mount Aenos – Located on the island of Cephalonia, Zeus was worshiped as either Zeus Aeneius or Zeus Aenesius.
Mount Olympus – This is the tallest mountain peak in Greece, Thessaly, Thessalia to be more precise. It is place from which Zeus and all of the gods are to have resided at, looking down on their domains below.
Shrines – There are several smaller shrines where it’s not always clear if it was dedicated to Zeus or to a local hero that had become defied. Some shrines were Lebadaea in Boeotia that might have belonged to Trophonius or Zeus Trephonius. Just outside of Thebes was Oropus was the shrine dedicated to Amphiaraus or Zeus Amphiaraus. There was a shrine to Zeus Agamemnon revered by the Spartans. At Tralles, there was a shrine dedicated to Zeus Larisaeus.
What’s In A Name?
Proto-Types – It has been put forward that Zeus’ name likely derives from a Proto-Indo-European god of the sky known as Dyeus phter or “Sky Father.” With this name, he is linked to the Rigveda Dyaus or Dyaus Pita. While there is a lot of speculation and hypothesizes about the Proto-Indian-European people, what their language was, culture and myths, Zeus is one whose name clearly comes from the Indo-European language that etymologists have tried to reconstruct. Another root word is “dyeu-“meaning to “to shine” or “bright.” The word is noted to have a similar meaning to the Latin word dies for “day.”
The Proto-Indo-Europeans aren’t really well known as they’re largely a hypothetical group as scholars try to track and guess which directions early humans migrated as they spread over Europe, the Middle East and Asia, which ideas and words stayed the same, ect.
With Mycenaean Greek as seen in the Linear B script, we have the words di-we and di-wo that very similar to the word dyeus.
In Plato’s Cratylus he gives the folk meaning for Zeus’ name as “cause of life always to all things.” It’s based on a pun with Zeus and Dia with Greek words for life and the phrase “because of.” As a result, persisting with this connection as correct isn’t supported with modern scholars.
Parentage and Family
Ouranos (the Sky) and Gaia (the Earth)
Depending on the source, Zeus can have a few different origins.
Cronus and Rhea – The often recognized version of Zeus’ parentage, especially when referencing Hesiod’s Theogony as the source.
Father – Aether (Arcadian origin)
Father – Coelus (Arcadian origin)
Father – Saturnus (Cretan origin)
Hera – Also his sister, who becomes Queen of the Gods.
Dione – In the Iliad, at the Oracle of Dodona, Dione is his consort.
Metis – In some myths, Zeus is married to this Titaness before swallowing her.
This list is more the willing consorts and lovers, not those who were raped, no matter what euphemisms are used.
He is the sixth child born of Cronus and Rhea.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
A lot. Suffice to say, there are a lot of children that Zeus has fathered. As time went on and the Greek myths get rewritten and added to, there are a lot more children added to the roster of Zeus’ progeny. Either the god is really busy, or everyone wants to claim divinity and Zeus as their daddy!
With Aega, Zeus is the father of Aegipan or Goat-Pan. Not Pan, a different Pan.
With Alcmene, Zeus is the father of the famous Greek demi-god and hero Heracles.
With Callisto, Zeus fathers Arcas.
With Danae, Zeus is the father of Perseus.
With Dione, at the Oracle of Dodona, in the Iliad, Zeus fathers Aphrodite.
With Electra, Zeus fathers Iasion.
With Europa, Zeus fathers Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon.
With Eurynome, Zeus fathers the Charites or Graces.
With Io, Zeus is the father of Epaphos.
With Leda, Zeus fathered two sets of twins: Castor and Polydeuces and Clytemnestra and Helen of Troy.
With Leto, Zeus fathers the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.
With Maia, Zeus is said to be the father of Hermes.
With Metis, Zeus is the father of Athena.
With Mnemosyne (Memory), Zeus fathers nine daughters, the Muses over a period of nine nights.
With Semele, Zeus fathers Dionysus in some versions of the myths.
With Themis, goddess of Justice, Zeus fathers the three Horae, goddesses of the seasons and the three Moirai or Fates.
Aeacus, Agdistis, Angelos, Dardanus, Enyo, Ersa, the Litae, Pandia,
In addition, Zeus is also said to be the father of the Magnesian and Macedonian people.
Zeus is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location for where the gods would preside at while keeping watch on humankind down below them. Add in that as King and Ruler of the other Olympians, this is really the ideal place as Zeus can look down upon the earth and see what’s going on.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians varies. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
King Of The Gods
Zeus is the ruler of the Olympian gods, ruling over all of the gods and mortals alike from Mount Olympus. As King, Zeus was the patron of Kings before later Grecian history, Kings were no longer followed. Zeus dispensed with wisdom, authority, divine decres over the lot of mortals.
Mortal Fates – Before the Moirai were born, Zeus governed the fates of men. He had two urns, one filled with ill fortune and the other filled with luck. Zeus would arbitrarily dole out man’s lot by way of fortunes and misfortunes according to his whim.
Prophecies – As an all-knowing deity who saw and knew everything he ruled over, the powers of prophecies were once Zeus’ domain before passing them on to his son Apollo.
Sky & Weather God
Zeus’ main domain is the Sky and with it, the weather and rain. Especially the thunderbolts and lightning that are his primary weapons. One of his epitaphs is Nephelegereta or “Cloud-Gatherer.” Closely connected to this epitaph as one of his symbols is the scepter, thought to be influenced with imagery from the Ancient Near East.
It was believed and still believed, even if in fun, that Zeus would strike those he sought to punish with lightning. Zeus would especially punish those who lied or broke their oaths.
Zeus would also send thunderstorms at enemies as seen in Homer’s epic, The Iliad.
On occasion, Zeus is equated with the Hellenic sun deity, Helios who is said to be Zeus’ eye. In Hesiod’ss Theogony, the sun is outright stated to be Zeus’ eye.
The Cretan version of Zeus Tallaios, the local cult equated their local deity Talos with Helios.
The Zeus that originates from Arcadia and Dodona was a nature god as seen in his connection to the oak tree and doves as a symbol of fertility. Even the Cretan Zeus connects him as a nature deity with the cornucopia, milk and honey symbols.
By the time that the Homeric poems, the nature aspect of Zeus seem to have been discarded and he is viewed more as a political and national deity that guards over Kings and the protector of law, tradition and religion.
In Hurrian mythology, Kumarbi is the chief god. Kumarbi was also known among the Akkadians and the Hittites from whom any written records on clay tablets have survived and been translated.
Sphere of Influence: Creation
Parentage and Family
Alalu – Grandfather
Anu – His father and representing the sky.
Teshub – A storm god
Tigris and Tashmishu are also listed as sons of Kumarbi.
Everything we know about Kumarbi comes from surviving records of Hittite texts and mythologies. Collectively, these texts are known as the Kumarbi Cycle that include: The Kingship in Heaven (also known as the Song of Kumarbi or Hittite Theogony), the Song of Ullikummi, the Kingship of the God Kal, the Myth of the dragon Hedammu and the Song of Silver.
The Kingship In Heaven
The Song of Kumarbi or Kingship in Heaven is the title given to a Hittite version of the Hurrian Kumarbi myth, dating to the 14th or 13th century B.C.E. It is preserved on three tablets, but only a small fraction of the text is legible and able to be translated.
This tale or song begins with how Alalu, the King of Heaven ruled for seven years and then is overthrown by Anu, who in turn rules for seven years before being overthrown by Kumarbi. This time, Kumarbi when he attacks his father Anu, Kumarbi bites off his genitals and when he spits it out, there were three new gods.
Anu tells Kumarbi that he is now pregnant with Teshub, Tigris and Tašmišu. When he heard this, Kumarbi spit out the semen to the ground and it became impregnated with two children. Kumarbi is then cut open, presumably by C-Section to deliver Teshub. Together, both Anu and Teshub then dispose of Kumarbi.
Knowing that history repeats itself and how Kumarbi overthrew his father Anu, just has he had overthrown his father Alalu; Kumarbi seeks out the goddess of the Sea (no name given) to see what to do to prevent his own demise.
The Sea tells Kumarbi to copulate with a rather large boulder, which then becomes pregnant and gives birth to a stone giant by the name of Ullikummi.
Once Ullikummi is born, he is taken to the Underworld and placed upon the shoulders of Ubelluris, the giant that holds up the earth. There, Ullikummi rises up like a pillar out of the sea. He is huge, some 9,000 leagues tall and 9,000 leagues in circumference.
Just huge. Worse, Ullikummi keeps on growing in size.
This worries the other gods who look to the trickster god Ea for advice on what to do. Ea says that Teshub should take the copper knife that had been used to split the heaven and earth at the beginning of time. Using the copper knife, Teshub sunders Ullukummi from Ubelluris, thus defeating him.
With Kumarbi defeated, Teshub then takes his places as the new King of Heaven.
So, what happens next!?!
That we don’t know as the last tablet that the story is written on is broken off. We can maybe guess by looking at similar myths like the Babylonians and the Greeks for how things might have progressed.
In this version of the Kingship in Heaven story, three gods, Alalu, Anu and Kumarbi rule the heavens in a nine-year reign before conceding the throne to the next deity. When it’s Kumarbi’s reign, his son, Teshub, the Weather God conspires to overthrow his father.
Another variation is that when the gods are trying to figure out what to do about Ullikummi, Ea goes to consult Enlil who goes to take a look at what’s going on. On seeing Ullukummi growing every large on top of Ubelluris, Enlil goes to the God’s Workshop where he gets a huge stonemason’s saw and comes back to cut off the giant’s feet.
Hesiod’s Theogony – The Greek Connections
Scholars have noted a similarity between the Hurro-Hittite Song of Kumarbi and Hesiod’s Theogony, a Babylonian Creation Epic. Especially between the characters of Uranus, Cronus and Zeus from the Greek mythos with those of the Hurrian creation myth with Alalu, Anu and Kumarbi.
Particularly with the progression of successors. Both the deities of Anu and Uranus are noted as having names that mean “Sky.” Likewise, Kumbari was a Grain-Deity and Cronus likely was one as well. It brings the line of succession to Teshub (or Teššub) and Zeus who are both Storm-Deities.
Another similarity is seen in how both Anu and Ouranos both have their genitals cut or bitten off. Either way hurts immensely… This is seen as removing themselves from heaven and the source from where other divinities originate.
Anu also warns Kumarbi that there will be consequences for what he has done. Again, a similar motif is seen in the Greek story where Ouranos tells the Titans that they too will pay a toll for castrating him.
Both Kumarbi and Cronos have the experience of having multiple deities within their stomachs for a period. Yes, both the Hittite and the Greek versions have alternative reasons for how and why that comes to be. I don’t know which is worse, swallowing your own children or biting off someone else’s genitals. Both are rather gruesome and I’d go with Kronos, even if it’s due to my being more familiar with his story.
Once more, both Kumarbi and Cronos both eat a stone in place of a child. In Kumarbi’s case, the stone is venerated as a cult object. The stone that Cronos regurgitated is known as the Omphalos and where it sat in the Delphi Oracle was to mark the center of the earth.
Their progeny, Teššub and Zeus, both storm deities, go to war with their father.
It begins to vary here, as the Hittite text has where the Earth giving birth to the Underworld Apsu two children who go on to threaten Teššub. What we don’t know, is how this story ends as the tablet its written on has broken. Whereas with the Greek story, we know that the Earth gives birth with Tartarus to Typhon and that Zeus does eventually defeat them.
It isn’t just the Hurrian-Hittite epic for the Kingship of Heaven, but other ancient epics such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish, the Hindi Vedic and even Norse mythology with cosmological beginnings for everything.
Enlil – Sumerian
Kumarbi has been equated with the Mesopotamian Enlil, god of wind, earth, air and storms.
El – Ugaritian
Similarly, Kumarbi is also identified with El, the major or chief deity of the Ugarites. Incidentally, the name El can also be a title meaning “Lord,” “god” or “deity.”
Jupiter – Roman
The major deity of the Roman pantheon who is a Sky god. He is quickly seen as the Roman counterpart to the Grecian Zeus. He is easily compared to Kumbari as the Romans pulled a number of their myths directly from the Greeks.
Zeus – Greek
The All-Father of the Greek Olympian pantheon. As noted with Hesiod’s Theogony, there have been a number of similarities noted between Zeus and Kumarbi, not just in aspects, but their origin stories for rulership.
Alternate Spelling: Ἁρμονια
Surprisingly, there is one other figure in mythology, a nymph by the same name who also had an affair with Ares.
Parentage and Family
Father – Ares, the Greek god of War
Mother – Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love
Alternatively, if we are using the Samothracian connection, Harmonia’s parents are Zeus and Electra.
Iasion – Harmonia’s brother through the Samothracian connection, he is the founder of the mystical rites native to this island.
Hedylogos – A half-brother.
Hermaphroditus – A half-brother.
Pothos – A half-brother
The list gets much longer if I try to include all those whom Ares is to have fathered and with whom Harmonia would be a half-sister to.
Psyche – Through her marriage with Eros.
Cadmus – The culture hero who founded the city of Thebes.
Agave – Daughter, with her sisters Autonoe and Ino, she unknowingly killed her son Pentheus. She marries first the Spartoi Echion and then later King Lycotherses of Illyria whom she also murders in order to hand over the kingdom to her father.
Autonoe – Daughter, her son, Actaeon was killed by his hounds.
Illyrius – Youngest son and child born, from whom the Illyrians are descended.
Ino – Daughter, was driven mad by Hera leapt to her death to the sea with her only surviving son. Instead of dying, Ino becomes a sea goddess.
Polydorus – Eldest son, inherits the throne in Thebes, carrying on the family dynasty.
Semele – Daughter, she is killed later by Hera after a liaison with Zeus. In some stories, she is the mother of Dionysus. The controversy will say that Semele was raped from an unknown assailant and the blame is placed on Zeus in an effort to try keeping some dignity
Cults & Worship
As a minor goddess, Harmonia is the local goddess of Thebes. In Pausanias’ Description of Greece, he notes that there are the ruins of the bridal chamber that belonged to Harmonia. Also, there are three wooden statues of Aphrodite that are reputed to be so old that they may have been votive offerings to Harmonia. Pausanias goes on to explain that these statues may have once been the figureheads for the ships that Cadmus sailed in during his time of wandering while searching for his sister Europa.
These three statues also had names as follows:
Ourania – Urania or Heavenly, a name that Harmonia is to have given Aphrodite to represent a pure love free of lust.
Pandemos – Common or sexual intercourse.
Apostrophia – For humans to rejects unlawful passions and sinful acts.
Wedding Bells – The First Marriage
Harmonia typically enters Greek myths within the greater whole of Cadmus’ story where she is given away in marriage to the erstwhile hero.
Now, there are two versions of Harmonia and Cadmus’ marriage. The first happens as the final chapter of Cadmus’ Founding of Thebes.
Originally, Cadmus, along with his brothers have been sent out by their father, King Agenor of Tyre to find and bring home their sister Europa who has been seduced by Zeus and carried away to the island of Crete.
As Cadmus and none of his brothers knew where to search, each eventually gave up their searches and would go on to settle in other places. After Cadmus’ mother Telephassa died of grief, he consults with the Oracle of Delphi. The oracle tells him to follow a cow and that wherever this bovine settles down at, Cadmus is to build a town.
That sounds easy enough and the cow eventually lays down of exhaustion. With plans to make an offering to Athena, Cadmus sends his companions Deileon and Seriphus to get some water from the Ismenian spring. While the two were there, the guardian of the spring, a water-dragon belonging to Ares rose up and slew both Deileon and Seriphus.
There’s an entire episode of Cadmus coming to slay the dragon to avenge his friends, the birth of the Spartoi who will become some of the founding members of Thebes and of course, Ares the god whom the dragon belonged too not being very happy.
As punishment, Cadmus is to serve Ares for an everlasting year, meaning eight years. At the end of this period, to signify peace and an end to the grievances, Ares gives his daughter Harmonia to the repentant hero in marriage.
Wedding Bells – The Samothracian Connection
The island of Samothrace is one of the places that Cadmus, his mother, and nephew are said to have stopped at in their search for a missing Europa.
Samothrace is one of two locations where Cadmus and Harmonia are wed when Zeus and Electra are placed as Harmonia’s parents. The connection seems to stick a little better when Harmonia is given a brother Iasion who is the founder of the mystical rites native to this island.
I mentioned when writing about Cadmus, how he’s a descendant of Poseidon and that his story very likely dates back to the Mycenaean Greek era. Zeus’ insertion to the story of Cadmus and Harmonia comes about as a potential theological take over to push Zeus to prominence as the head of the Greek pantheon, thus replacing Poseidon. Plus, there is a lot of equating local gods (whose names often survive as epitaphs) with the main Grecian deities.
I think it’s safe to say that the marriage of Cadmus with Harmonia is very symbolic too. For the longest time, marriages were how alliances between different houses and kingdoms were formed.
Then the idea that a hero or king weds the goddess of the land to symbolize the prosperity of the land. This would fit with mistaking Cadmus’ name with a local Samothracian fertility god, Kadmilus.
Plus, the changes of when Zeus becomes the head of the Greek pantheon, replacing Poseidon of whom Cadmus is descendant from. There may have been an idea to show an easier transition of power. Or not.
The ideas and seeds are there that this is may be what the ancient Greeks revising all these local myths into one were thinking of.
Bridal Gifts With A Curse
This marriage is a huge deal, it is the first one to be conducted on earth and all the gods, any god who is anyone, is coming. This is a thing not to be missed. All of these guests bring gifts, the muses sing, Athena brings a dress and Hephaestus brings a necklace.
Some of Harmonia’s bridal gifts were a peplos (a type of dress) gifted by Athena and a necklace made by Hephaestus. This necklace will become known as the Necklace of Harmonia and it would bring misfortune to anyone who had possession of it. Sure, the necklace will make any woman who wears it eternally young and beautiful.
Necklace of Harmonia – It is generally described as being made of gold with two snakes intertwining and jewels decorating it.
Following a timeline for after Cadmus’ eight years of servitude to Ares and then marrying Harmonia with both Ares and Aphrodite as her parents seems far more likely the correct lineage. It would explain too, so much better why Hephaestus would gift Harmonia a cursed necklace.
Knowing the backstory between Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Ares, the cursed necklace that is given to Harmonia makes more sense. Hephaestus was angry at Aphrodite for her affair with Ares and yes, he makes the necklace a means to punish Aphrodite’s infidelity by placing a curse on the child that resulted from hers and Ares’ affair.
Thus, all the misfortunes that Cadmus and Harmonia suffer are from the necklace, not slaying the dragon. After all, Cadmus had already paid penance to Ares and then is rewarded his daughter for marriage. It’s even in Harmonia’s name, harmony, there was to be an end to the strife and conflicts.
Gift-Giver Variations – Slight variations of who Harmonia received the necklace from are the gods in general, her mother Aphrodite, Hera and Europa herself. Given that Europa is missing, it seems unusual that she would show up here as she was the whole reason in the first place that Cadmus went wandering.
Another variation that that all of Harmonia’s godly powers for peace stem from the necklace and that it’s a robe “dripped in crime” given to her either by Athena or by Hephaestus and Hera that caused all of the misfortunes that Cadmus and Harmony would face.
I think the necklace is more likely cursed given there’s a lineage and history of who receives the necklace and the misfortunes that befall each of them before the necklace just vanishes from history.
Generational Curse – Well, only in as far as Harmonia’s necklace kept getting passed on from one descendant to the next or when it changes hands to a different owner.
After Hamornia and Cadmus’ misfortune, Polynices inherits the necklace and gives it to Eriphyle. The necklace than changes hands to Eriphyle’s son Alcmaeon and on to Arsinoe (or Alphesiboea) and to their sons Phegeus, Pronous and Agenor, and lastly into those of the sons of Alcmaeon, Amphoterus and Acarnan who dedicated a temple to Athena at Delphi.
When the necklace got stolen by Phayllus, he gave it to his mistress, the wife of Ariston. She wore it for a while only to see her youngest son, became seized by madness and set fire to the house. It’s here that the necklace gets lost to history or myth as there’s no further mention of it.
Every possessor and owner of the necklace saw mischief and mishaps of one kind, or another befall them.
Maybe it means peace doesn’t last and you have to work at it, or it could, just no one knew about the curse laid on it. I can assume that someone took it to an Oracle and found out, which is why there is mention of it in the myths at all.
Something Rotten In Thebes
Married and the City of Thebes founded, no matter how divinely ordained this was, peace and harmony wouldn’t last.
Due to the cursed necklace that Harmonia received, she and Cadmus’ family would soon see misfortune befall them and a series of civil unrest. Eventually, Cadmus would abdicate his throne to his grandson, Pentheus.
Cadmus would go with Harmonia to Illyria to fight a war brewing over there as they took the side of the Enchelii. From there, Cadmus would go on and found the city of Lychnidus and Bouthoe.
Despite leaving Thebes and establishing other cities, misfortune continued to plague and follow both Cadmus and Harmonia. It got so bad that Cadmus cried out that all this had to because of his slaying Ares’ dragon, if the gods were so obsessed with its death, why not turn him into one.
At that pronouncement, Cadmus begins to grow scales and to change into a serpent. Horrified by this transition of her husband, Harmonia begged the gods to change her too so she could share in Cadmus’ fate.
A slight variation is a distraught Harmonia strips herself and pleads for Cadmus to come to her. Embracing her serpentine husband, Harmonia sits in a pool of wine. It is out of mercy that the gods turn Harmonia into a snake as they couldn’t bare to see her in such a state.
Variations to this ending are that both Cadmus and Harmonia are changed into snakes when they died. Both snakes watched over their tombs while their souls were sent by Zeus to the Elysian Fields.
Famous Grecian playwright Euripides’ in his The Bacchae, has Cadmus given a prophecy from Dionysus that both he and his wife will be turned into snakes before getting to enjoy an eternity of bliss in the Elysian Fields.
Zeus Versus Typhon
This episode ties back to the Samothracian connection for Cadmus and Harmonia’s wedding.
This version is found in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca where he recounts the story of Zeus battling the monstrous serpentine monster known as Typhon. Zeus asks the hero Cadmus to help him by recovering his lightning bolts by playing his pipes, to play a tune. Zeus promises Cadmus that if he helps, that he will receive the hand of Harmonia in marriage.
The Dionysiaca is written in the 5th century C.E. and reflects there having been plenty of time to have rewritten the myths. This is the only myth to involve Cadmus with Pan, playing the pipes to distract Typhon so this fearsome monster can be defeated.
Once again, if we are confusing Cadmus with Kadmilus, the Samothracian deity identified with Hermes. I can see the confusion if you can’t keep it straight.
Goddess Of Harmony
Harmonia is a goddess, even if she ended up being perceived as minor or a local goddess of the city state Cadmeia, later Thebes. Among the Greeks and Romans, she was viewed as the goddess of harmony and concord. This could extend from marital harmony, easing tensions and strife. For the Romans this went further to mean cosmic balance.
As I previously mentioned earlier, there is a nymph who also went by the name of Harmonia. These two should not be confused.
According to Apollonius of Rhodes in the Argonautica, this Harmonia is a naiad from the Akmonian Woods and with Ares, she would be the mother of the Amazons.
In the same book, the Argonautica, the Argonauts while on the island of Thynias swore an oath to each other to stand together no matter what. The Argonauts built a temple of Harmonia that marks where they swore their oath.
Homonoia – Greek Goddess
Another minor Greek goddess who is similar to Harmonia in concept. She embodies the concepts of concord, unity and like-mindedness. The ideas of Harmony have changed so much over time, that the two are nearly identical.
Like Harmonia, her opposite goddess is Eris.
Concordia – Roman Goddess
She is very simply the Roman version of Harmonia.
If Harmonia is the goddess of peace, then there must be a polar opposite. This honor falls to Eris, often cited as the goddess of chaos; with her Roman counterpart being Discordia.
Etymology – Horn (Old English)
Suffice to say, Herne is a well-known figure in British and Modern folklore. At first glance, it’s easy to say that Herne is one of the names for the Horned God in Wicca and Modern Paganism. A slightly more knowledgeable response would say that Herne is who leads the Wild Hunt. Or perhaps that he is the ghostly specter of a Games Keeper with antlers who haunts Windsor Forest.
It does get a bit tricky on trying to get into what’s concrete for the figure of Herne.
Many descriptions of Herne will agree that he is human either wearing antlers or has antlers. Sometimes he is on foot others he is on horseback and may or may not be accompanied by hunting hounds or other animals of the forest.
Ghost – The version of Herne that appears in Shakespeare’s play, clearly terrorizes the forest animals and people alike, blasting or withering the trees of the forest as he shakes his chains. The alternative lines say he can take on the shape of a stag. Later descriptions of Herne will have him riding a horse as part of the Wild Hunt.
The Merry Wives Of Windsor
The earliest known mention that we have of Herne is in William Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor written in 1597.
That certainly is a case for having been around for quite a while just based off that alone.
In Act 4, Scene 4, we have the characters Mistress Page and Mistress Ford deciding that they will play a trick on Sir John Falstaff because of his unwanted advances. The two ladies convince Falstaff to disguise himself as a ghost and meet them out under an oak in Windsor Forest at midnight. The two ladies also convince and get some children to show up at the same time who are dressed up as fairies to pinch and burn Falstaff.
“There is an old tale goes, that Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the wintertime, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the trees, and takes the carrle,
And makes milch kine* yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.”
Milch kine? Yeah, milking cows.
There is a set of alternative lines from 1602 that hint that Herne was a local ghost story used by mothers to get their children to behave.
The alternative lines are as follows:
“Oft have you heard since Horne the hunter dyed,
That women, to affright their little children,
Says that he walkes in the shape of a great stagge.”
Whether the character of Herne existed before the creation of Shakespeare’s play or is a creation of it, isn’t clear. What is clear is that this play is for certain where the figure of Herne enters British folklore and onwards to a larger, global audience… at least the West.
Cuckold’s Horns – With an Elizabethan audience, they would know that a cuckold is a name given to a husband with an unfaithful wife. A cuckold like the cuckoo bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. So, a husband is likely raising a child who is not his own. The horns were likely a theatrical device of the Elizabethan stage to inform an audience of a character’s role.
In Windsor’s Home Park, there have been a few different oak trees since the mid-1800’s that people have claimed to be either Falstaff’s Oak or Herne’s Oak.
The main oak that people pointed to as Herne’s Oak fell in 1796 due to declining botanical health. The other oak was blown over during a windstorm on August 31st 1863. The logs from this tree were burnt in order to exorcise the ghost of Herne. One log was kept to carve a bust of Shakespeare from and is on display in the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum in the Guildhall.
Later, Queen Victoria planted another oak to replace the one that fell in 1863. Later, King Edward VII would have the tree removed in 1906 during a landscaping project. Still, another oak would be replanted to replace the fallen tree from 1796 and named Herne’s Oak.
All’s well that ends well.
As the legend of Herne continues to grow and expand, the 20th century sees Herne’s ghost now appearing shortly before national disasters and before the death of monarchs, much like a Banshee.
At the very least, because people expect to see something, more and more people claim to have encountered Herne’s ghost or to have heard the sounds of hounds or a horn blowing in Windsor Forest.
Truth In The Telling
With the authenticity of Herne being lost to history and up for debate, there are enough people who believe that Shakespeare must have been using a local legend. To this end, people have been trying to add some historical veracity and authenticity to legitimize Herne’s legend. If nothing else, the legend and imagery of Herne have succeeded at capturing people’s imaginations for centuries and has well earned a place in folklore.
The Restless Gamekeeper – This is the next literary source, written by Samuel Ireland in 1791 in his Picturesque Views on the River Thames. In the story, Herne is to have been based on a historical figure by the name of Richard Horne, a yeoman who lived during Henry VIII’s reign. Horne was accused of poaching and as a result, he hung himself from an oak tree. As this was a suicide death, Herne’s spirit is believed to be barred from entering either heaven or hell and is doomed to haunt the place of their death.
Shakespearean scholar James Halliwell-Phillips found a document where Herne is listed as a hunter and confessed to poaching. Plus, early versions of The Merry Wives of Windsor spell the name as “Horne” instead of “Herne.”
There are of course, a couple variants to this story.
Variation 1 – In this version, Herne is the huntsman to King Richard II. After some local men grew jealous of Herne’s status, they conspired to accuse him of poaching on the King’s land. Falsely accused and outcast, Herne hung himself from an oak tree.
Variation 2 – In this story, Herne saves King Richard II from a stag. Fatally wounded, Herne is healed by a magician who takes Herne’s skills in forestry and hunting as payment. Part of this being cured involved having the dead stag’s horns tied to Herne’s head. Distraught by the loss of his skills, Herne hung himself from a tree. As a result, his spirit is doomed each night to lead a spectral hunt through Windsor Rest.
Windsor Castle – Written by William Harrison Ainsworth in 1842. This novel aims to be a historical drama set during the reign of the Tudors and follows Henry VIII’s pursuit of Anne Boleyn. Herne features throughout the novel as a ghostly figure haunting the nearby woods of Windsor. This version of Herne is somewhat sinister as Harrison Ainsworth created a history where Herne was gored by a stag. Herne makes a deal with the Devil to spare him. Part of the deal is that Herne would forever wear antlers. This version of Herne had served Richard II and likely the source of the two previous folkloric versions of where he originates from.
The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt is a phenomenon found in many different European countries and cultures. It is a nightmarish, supernatural force led by some dark spectral hunter on horseback and accompanied by a host of other riders and hounds as they chase down unlucky mortals, either until they drop dead of exhaustion, are caught and forced to join the Wild Hunt or able to evade the Hunt until dawn.
Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. The Wild Hunt is known for making its ride during the Winter Solstice or New Year’s Eve. Jacob Grimm of Grimms Brothers fame makes a connection of Herne to the Wild Hunt due to the epitaph of “the Hunter.” That does seem to work, a Huntsman, connect him to the Wild Hunt and for Britain, the idea really jells of a local person who becomes a lost soul, doomed to forever ride with the Hunt.
Of course, the point is brought up that as a ghost, Herne is connected to one locality whereas the Wild Hunt wanders, moving from one place to another, seemingly randomly.
Ultimately, just who leads the Wild Hunt will vary from country to country. In Welsh mythology, it is Gwyn ap Nudd or Annwn who lead the hunt with a pack of spectral hounds to collect unlucky souls. The Anglo-Saxons of Britain hold that it is Woden who leads the hunt at midwinter. Wotan is very similar to Odin (just another name for the same deity really), Herne has been linked to them as both have been hung from a tree.
With Wicca and many modern pagan religions, Herne is frequently identified with the Horned God. As a Horned God, Herne is seen as a god of the Hunt, the sacred masculine, animals, nature, crossroads, sacrifice, fertility, virility, forests, hunters, and warriors.
Close on the heels of a horned deity, Herne has been connected to the Celtic deity of Cernunnos. Most notably, Margaret Murray made this connection in her 1931 book, “God of the Witches.” She sees Herne as a manifestation of Cernunnos and a very localized god found only in Berkshire. Take that as you will, for as much as Margaret Murray is hailed as the Grandmother of Wicca, many of her ideas and theories have been discredited and contested or challenged as they often appealed to emotional desires didn’t fulfill proper scrutiny and criteria for research. She is still very important in getting the ball rolling for those who follow Wicca and Paganism.
Archeological Discoveries – Of note is that a headpiece made from the top part of a stag’s skull with antlers still attached was found in Britain at Star Carr near Scarborough. This headpiece is thought to date back to around 8500 B.C.E., dating it to the Mesolithic era. The headdress is thought to have served shamanic rituals to ensure a successful hunt.
Cernunnos – Gaul
It’s not just Margaret Murry who sees Herne as being very similar to or an aspect of Cernunnos, it is also R. Lowe Thompson in his 1929 book “The History of the Devil – The Horned God of the West” who makes the connection.
Thompson makes the connection of Herne to other Wild Huntsmen, looking for a connection of all of these horned deities being really the same being or aspects of each other. He goes on how Herne and Cernunnos are the same, just as the English word “horn” is a cognate of the Latin word “cornu.”
So… “cerne” and “herne.” It’s enough for many Wiccans and Pagans to accept Herne as an aspect of Cernunnos just on the fact that both have horns or antlers.
Depending on the source and who you ask, Herne hunts and destroys nature and wildlife where Cernunnos seeks to protect it.
Pan – Greek
While we’re at it, the Grecian rustic gods of the wild, Pan is also seen as a syno-deity who can be equated with Herne and other Horned Gods.
Woden – Anglo-Saxon
Also spelled Wotan.
Because so many have tried to make connections, I already touched on this above with the Wild Hunt, Herne as been connected to Wodan as well. Both Herne and Wodan hung from a tree. Herne out of shame and suicide and Wodan as he was seeking knowledge of the runes. Herne is also bandied about as being derived from one of Wodan’s titles, Herian (“Warrior-Leader”), a titled used when leading his fallen warriors, the Einherjar.
The Play’s The Thing!
Even if the origins of Herne are rooted in a Shakespearean play solely as a creation of the great bard himself. People assume that Shakespeare must have drawn on some unverifiable local myths and folklore.
While we can argue and aren’t completely sure, Herne has more than earned a place in folklore. Afterall, Herne continues to inspire and find his way into literature and modern media.
There are numerous books and T.V. series where Herne has a part or features and continues to be a character people readily draw inspiration from.
Such as a British show, Robin of Sherwood where Herne is a pagan priest and spirit of the woods. Books such as Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.