Etymology – “He who wards off the wolf”
The Wolf God, Lupercus is the god of agriculture and shepherds. The name Lupercus is said by some to be an epithet of the Roman god Faunus.
As Faunus, he is a god of the wild, untamed nature and fertility and the giver of oracles. The Romans came to identify Faunus with the Greek Pan due to the similarity of some of their characteristics such as horns and hooves. Faunus’ attributes are the wolfskin, wreath and goblet.
If I stick to just this, there really wouldn’t be much of a blog post. Lupercus comes into his own when looking at and focusing on the ancient Roman holiday known as Lupercalia.
Lupercalia – The Wolf Festival
The festival and holiday of Lupercalia was held every year from February 13th to 15th, often said to be the anniversary of the founding of Lupercus’ (properly Faunus’) temple. The Luperci, who were the priests of Lupercus and wore goat skins, would sacrifice two goats and a dog during a ritual at this time. Goats were sacrificed as Lupercus is the god of shepherds and the dog got sacrificed as they’re the protector of flocks and herds. The blood from these animals would then be wiped on two young men’s foreheads. This festival was held too, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, allowing for good health and fertility with the coming year.
The sacrifice of the goats and dog would take place at the Lupercale, a cave that according to tradition is where the twins Remus and Romulus were raised by the she-wolf Luperca. In 2007, National Geographic posted an article about how Archeologists found this cave beneath the ruins of Emperor Augustus’ palace on Palatine Hill, Rome.
Lupercalia replaced an earlier Spring Cleansing ritual of Februa once held on the same date and from where the month of February gets its name. Just as Lupercalia replaced Februa, it too has largely been replaced by the more modern Valentine’s Day where the Catholic church made efforts to tone down some of the more wilder pagan rituals or to get people to accept Christianity more easily with their converting from pagan religions.
Not too surprising given how riotous and risqué that Lupercalia could be with the use of whips in striking women to try and make them more fertile, men running naked chasing women, the blood sacrifice of goats and a dog. Even the familiar heart shape symbol of love has some controversial origins to what it really depicts and is. Unsubstantiated sources comment too how the use of Lupercalia’s lottery of young men drawing the names women from a box is the more modern tradition of giving Valentine Cards.
Also spelled or called Lycaea, this ancient, archaic Greek festival is said to be where the rituals of Lupercalia originated from. For those who want to link werewolves with the holiday of Lupercalia, Lykaia is the one you’re probably thinking of.
The festival of Lykaia had a secret festival held on Mount Lykaion (Wolf Mountain) in Arcadia. 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 meat.
The belief held that whoever ate the piece of human flesh would turn into a wolf and they could only return to human form after nine-years if they hadn’t eaten human flesh. The famous Olympic boxing champion, Damarchus is said to have turned into a wolf during the ritual sacrifice held for Zeus Lykaios. Games were also a big part of the Lykaios festival held every year after the secret ritual held at night.
Archaeologists have found by looking at the ash heaps near the altars for Lykaia no human remains and suggest that the rituals and festival of Lykaia are far older than what even the ancient Greeks themselves knew. Excavations have generally shown nothing earlier than about 700 B.C.E. though one trench excavated at Mount Lykaion shows possible ritual evidence dating to the beginning of the third millennium B.C.E., a full thousand years before the worship of Zeus throughout Greece.
Lykaios – Wolf-Zeus
This is an epithet of Zeus in connection to the festival of Lykaia and seems to have been a formality in making him a patron of the rituals held. Zeus’ inclusion is possibly instrumental in ending any human sacrifices going on or trying to put to rest the rumors.
The Greek god Apollo is also known to have a wolf-form as Apollo Lycaeus. He was worshiped in Athens at the Lykeion or Lyceum. This site is most remembered as the place where the philosopher Aristotle taught.
A sanctuary for the Greek god Pan was also found on Mount Lykaion. The traditional story goes that Euandros, the son of Hermes, led a colony of people from Pallantion, Arkadia to Italy where he built the town of Pallantion on Palatine Hill. Euandros introduced the cult of Pan Lýkaios and the Lykaia festival that later becomes the Roman festival of Lupercalia. Given how much the Romans would identify their gods with those of the Greeks and other cultures, that could make sense.
Apparently there are modern Lykaia games that have been held every four years since 1973, at the beginning of August by the Ano Karyes Association in the same places where the games associated with the ancient festival of Lykaia were held. These are sort of a localized Greek Olympics.
Alternate Spellings: Cheiron, Kheirôn
Etymology: Greek – Χείρων (kheir) “Hand,” Skilled with Hands
Chiron is the son of Philyra, a nymph and daughter of Oceanus and the Titan, Cronos who were horsing around and then really horsing around in the forms of horses so Cronos could hide his affair from his wife, Rhea. So naturally of course, later, when Chiron is born, he has the upper half and body of a man and from the waist down, he has the body of a horse. Philyra on seeing her half horse, half human son, abandoned him and he was raised by the other gods of Olympus. Chiron is also the god Zeus’s half-brother.
Having a parentage different than all the other centaurs, who were born from Ixion and a cloud, Chiron is known for his great wisdom and gentle temperament. Unlike the other Centaur who are known for their wild and reckless behavior. When the other Centaurs were created, Chiron and his daughters took them in and raised them as their own sons.
Chiron was learned in many arts such as medicine, music, gymnastics, literature, prophecy, strategy, hunting and warfare. This is usually attributed to his being taught by the gods Apollo and Artemis.
Along with his wife and children, Chiron lived in a cave on Mount Pelion in Thessaly where they had been banished to with the other centaurs by the Lapithae. Sacrifices were offered up to Chiron there by the Magnesian people. And the family known as Cheironidae was well known for their knowledge of medicine, that they were thought to be descended from Chiron.
Depiction In Art
In Athenian vase paintings, Chiron is depicted with the full body of a man, from head to foot, wearing chiton clothing and boots, with a horse-body attached to his human rear. This image probably reflected Chiron’s appearance in Greek drama, where costume limitations would have affected his depiction for the stage. This limitation however doesn’t seem to have affected the appearance of other Centaurs in their familiar half human, half horse forms.
With his divine parentage, yes, Chiron started out as a God of Healing. Later when this mythology is subsumed by the Greeks, he becomes one of the centaurs. He was known as a great healer, astrologer and a well respected oracle. Chiron was the first to use herbs for healing and the medical practice of surgery.
What’s In A Name?
Chiron’s name is derived from the Greek word for hand (kheir), which also means “skilled with the hands.” The name is also closely associated in myth with the term kheirourgos or surgeon. And that makes sense when seeing how Chiron is the first surgeon.
Children of Chiron
Chiron married the nymph Chariclo and with her, they had many fine colts and fillies. Among their children are Hippe (also known as Melanippe, the “Black Mare” or Euippe, “truly a mare”), Endeis, Ocyrhoe and Carystus, their only son.
Through his daughter, Endeis, Chiron is the grandfather of Peleus.
The family known as Cheironidae was well known for their knowledge of medicine, that they were thought to be descended from Chiron.
Students of Chiron
Chiron’s reputation as a teacher is so great, that he is said to have taught many students throughout his career. Though a lot of this may be poetic license and a desire on the part of any historians, story tellers, theologians and chroniclers wanting to attribute a Hero’s greatness to lessons and skills learned from Chiron.
Some of Chiron’s students are:
Achilles, Actaeon, Aeneas, Ajax, Aristaeus, Asclepius, Caeneus, Jason, Medus, Patroclus, Peleus, Perseus, Telamon, and Theseus. Sometimes Heracles, Oileus, Phoenix, and even Dionysus were said to have been students.
Peleus, Grandson of Chiron
Chiron’s friendship with Peleus, who is also his grandson, is of note. Chiron saved him from the hands of the other centaurs, which were on the verge of killing Peleus. Acastus had left Peleus out in the woods, hoping the centaurs would kill him. Chiron also returned Peleus’ sword to him that Acastus had taken and hid. Chiron further aided Peleus in marrying the goddess Thetis, telling him to hold tight to her as she changed forms numerous times.
Meeting the Argonauts
Chiron is also connected with the story of the Argonauts, whom he received kindly when they came to his residence on their voyage, for many of the heroes were his friends and students.
Death of Chiron
Chiron’s death comes when he was accidentally hit by a poisonous arrow coated in Hydra-venom shot by Heracles. This came about as Hercules, during his fourth labor in defeating the Erymanthian Boar, came to visit another centaur friend Pholus on Mount Pelion. While at dinner, Hercules asked for some wine to drink. The only wine that Pholus had was some sacred wine given to him by the god Dionysus. At Hercules’ insistence, Pholus was forced to bring it out and when Hercules grabbed it to drink, the aroma of the wine lured the other centaurs to the cave who became intoxicated by just the scent of it.
Led by Nessus, the other centaurs soon began to riot and attacked the cave, throwing rocks and trees at it. In self-defense, Hercules began to start shooting arrows, all poisoned by Hydra blood, to force them back. Eventually the centaurs ran to Chiron’s cave over in Malea.
It is there, that Hercules shot the fatal arrow that strikes Chiron. The potency of the poison is such, that even Chiron the master healer is not able to heal himself and the pain is more than he can bear, that Chiron dies despite being immortal.
Here, there are a few different variations of this story. Chiron dies, giving up his immortality in a bargain with Hercules and Zeus so that Prometheus can go free and humankind can have the gift of fire that was originally stolen.
Other versions of this story state that Pholus also died as when he came out of his cave, he pulled one of the arrows that Hercules had shot from a dead centaur and in the process accidentally drops the arrow on his hoof, killing himself that way. Sometimes the story goes that it is Chiron who accidentally drops the poisoned arrow on his hoof.
All versions do agree that Chiron dies of the poisoned arrow, regardless of it being accidentally dropped or shot. After his death, Zeus placed Chiron up among the stars where he becomes the constellation of Sagittarius or Centaurus depending on who is telling the story.
Chiron In Astrology?
Yes, Chiron has a celestial body named after him. These celestial objects are known as centaurs, as they have characteristics of both asteroids and comets along with having unstable or transient orbits. Something of a composite nature just like their namesakes. Chiron was found in 1977 by Charles Kowal. At first astronomers weren’t sure how to classify these centaurs or what to call them due to their unstable orbits and conflicting natures. Chiron isn’t to be confused with a hypothetical moon of Saturn that has long since been disproved.
Some Western Astrologers have readily jumped on to the discoveries of new celestial objects within our solar system, adding them to the classical Astrology and coming up with meanings for them.
One such interpretation is that Chiron is “the wounded healer” and has associations with life traumas, bullying and wounds or inadequacies that are seen as incurable but can still be overcome or worked with. Basically this is turning a weakness into a strength. A few astrologers believe that Chiron should be assigned as the ruler of Virgo.