Etymology: Greek – Husband (of Wheat)
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Ποσειδων
Epithets: Aegeus (“of the High Sea”), Alidoupos (“Sea Resounding”), Asphaleios (Protector from Earthquakes), Domatites (“of the House” in reference to his shrine near Sparta), Empylios (“At the Gate”), Enosichthon (“Earth Shaker”), Ennosidas, Ennosigaios (“Earth Shaker”), Enosichthon, Ennosidas, Epactaeus (“god worshiped on the coast”), Epoptes (“Supervisor”), Eurykreion (“Wide-Ruling”), Eurymedon (“Widely Ruling”), Eutriaina (“with Goodly Trident”), Gaieochos (“Earth Shaker”), Genesios, Genethlios (“of the race or family”), Helikonios (of Mount Helikon), Helikonios anax (“Lord of Helicon or Helike”), Hippokourios (“Tender of Horses”), Isthmios, Krenouchos (“Ruling over Springs”), Kyanochaites (“dark-haired, dark blue of the sea”), Kymothales (“Abounding with Waves”), Kronios, Patrigenios, Pelagios (“of the open sea”), Petraios (related to rocks), Phratrios (“of the Brotherhood”), Phykios (related to seaweed), Phytalmios, Pontomedon (“Lord of the Sea”), Porthmios (“of strait, narrow sea”), Posidaeia (This is probably a feminine counterpart to Poseidon found on the Linear B script), Poseidon Aegaeus, Poseidon Hippios (Horse Poseidon), Poseidon Temenites (“related to an official domain”), Ptorthios, Seisichthon (“Earth Shaker”), Semnos (“August, Holy”), Tavreios (related to bulls), Themeliouchos (“Upholding the Foundations”), “Savior of Sailors,” “Averter of Earthquakes,” “The Creator and Tamer of Horses,” Nymphagetes (“The Leader of Nymphs”), Poseidon Erechtheus
Poseidon is the god of the Oceans and not just the seas in Greek mythology, but all the waters from streams to rivers, lakes, and storms. The middle brother to Zeus and Hades. As a god of storms, Poseidon could also be very moody and mercurial in his demeanor.
Animal: Bull, Coral, Dolphin, Fish, Horse, Sea Lion, Tuna
Color: Blue, Green
Day of the Week: Thursday
Patron of: Sailors
Plant: Kelp, Pine, Seaweed, Wild Celery
Sphere of Influence: Earthquakes, Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, Protection, Storms
Symbols: Coral, Trident
Time of Day: High Tides
Early Greek Depictions
Poseidon is often considered a moody and sometimes quarrelsome deity. When Poseidon is in a good mood, that is when new lands will appear, and the sea will be calm. When Poseidon is in a foul mood, that is when earthquakes could happen, and portions of land and island can sink into the seas to be claimed by him. Storms at sea are attributed to Poseidon, especially if there are shipwrecks and drownings.
Greek art will show Poseidon as a bearded man with curly hair wielding a three-pronged fish spear or trident. Other art will show him in a chariot pulled by either horses or hippocampus. In some art, Poseidon can be shown holding a boulder with various sea creatures on it.
Homeric Hymns – There is a brief invocation, comprising seven lines that address Poseidon as an earth-shaker and God of the deep, that he is the lord of Helicon and Aegae. Homer also says that Poseidon has a shriek as loud as ten thousand men.
Cult & Worship
In pre-Bronze Age Greece, Poseidon was worshiped in Pylos and Thebes as the chief deity. When looking at Arcadia, there is a very regional-specific myth told of Poseidon and Demeter in horse forms. There is some thought that these early Greeks entering the area only had Poseidon, Zeus, Eos, and Dioskouroi among the deities that they brought with them and worshiped.
The early worship of Poseidon clearly links him to horses and as a Chthonic deity of the underworld. As Poseidon Wanax, he is the male counterpart to a goddess of nature, Demeter. A similar myth is seen in Minoan myths where Pasiphae mates with a white bull, giving birth to the Minotaur. The Bull is an old pre-Olympian symbol of Poseidon. In the Eleusinian cults, there is mention of how Potnia gives birth to a strong son in relation to Poseidon being the father.
In Mycenaean culture, we don’t have enough evidence or information to know if Poseidon was connected to the sea during this time. We don’t know if the female counterpart “Posedeia” was a sea goddess either. In the writings of Homer and Hesiod, they say that Poseidon becomes the lord of the sea after the defeat of his father Cronos, and the world is divided among his three sons.
The scholar Walter Burkert puts forward the idea early Hellenic worship of Poseidon as a horse god may be due to the introduction of the horse and war chariots from Anatolia to Greece around 1600 B.C.E. In the local Arcadian myths and Poseidon’s cult in Peloponnesos, we see Poseidon worshiped as a horse.
During the Hellenic era of Greek culture, Poseidon is the protector of sailors and ships out at sea. Poseidon was also the patron god of several Greek cities, though, in Athens, he was second only to Athena.
Corinth – This is the ancient city that Poseidon is often associated with. This port city was regarded as being close to Poseidon’s heart due to how important a sea route it was. Clay plaques dating from the Archaic era have been found to connect Poseidon with maritime trade and navigation. Local games known as the Isthmian games were held here in honor of the sea god. These games would be held once every two years with athletes, charioteers, and horse races. Early on, a crown of pine would be awarded and later, it would be a crown of dried celery.
Sounion – Located some 69.5 km to the southeast of Athens in East Attica, this is the site of a 5th-century temple dedicated to Poseidon that still stands overlooking the Saronic Gulf. Boat races were held every four years to honor Poseidon.
Delphi Oracle – Pausanias writes that Poseidon was once one of the caretakers at Delphi before the arrival of Apollo. The two deities worked in tangent with many aspects. For example, Apollo gave approval for Greek colonization and Poseidon provided safe travels for those crossing his seas.
Sacred Disease – The Greek gods are known for causing or inflicting madness and various mental illnesses upon people. There is a Hippocratic text from 400 B.C.E. that notes Poseidon is responsible for certain forms of epilepsy.
The Panionia – This was a festival that the Ionians held every year near Mycale.
Pohoidaia – This is another game and festival held in Poseidon’s honor at Helos and Thuria.
It should come as no surprise that as a sea god, that Poseidon’s abode is found on the ocean’s floor in a palace of coral and gems.
Aegae – In the Odyssey, Poseidon is mentioned as having his home here, the once capital of Macedonia.
Atlantis – In Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, this island is said to be Poseidon’s domain.
What’s In A Name?
The earliest mention of Poseidon’s name are found in the Linear B script in Mycenean Greek where the name appears as Poseidaon and Poseidawonos. Other variations of Posedion’s name are Poteidaon (Aeolic), Poteidan (Doric), Poteidaon, and Poteidas.
As to the meaning of Poseidon’s name, that part is unclear. There is a theory put forward that it means “husband” or “lord” seen in the Greek posis or potis and the last part meaning “earth.” The Doric Greek links Poseidon as being a spouse to Demeter, the “Earth-Mother.”
Another theory is that the second element in Poseidon’s name relates to dâwon meaning “water” and that would interpret the name as Posei-dawon as “the master of waters.” In Plato’s Cratylus dialogue, he gives two ideas for an etymology to Poseidon’s name. The first is “foot-bond” and the second is “knew many things.”
Hesiod in his Theogony describes Poseidon as “the earth-holder who shakes the earth.” Both Hesiod and Homer call Poseidon the “deep sounding Earth-shaker” and “dark-haired-one.” Both poets refer to Poseidon as the “encircler of the earth,” which alludes to this era of history when people believed that all the waters of the Earth were connected and that the land merely floated on top of them.
Parentage and Family
Cronus and Rhea
Amphitrite – The daughter of Nereus and Doris and granddaughter of the Titan Oceanus
Cleito – Poseidon’s wife in Plato’s myth of Atlantis. Cleito is the daughter of the autochthons Evenor and Leucippe.
Sometimes the goddesses Aphrodite and Demeter are given as consorts.
He is the fifth child born of Cronus and Rhea.
The birth order is Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
Theseus – with Aethra through rape
Benthesicyme – son with Amphitrite
Rhode – daughter with Amphitrite
Triton – A half fish, half human with Amphitrite
Monstrous Offspring – Chrysaor and Pegasus with Medusa
Plato’s Atlantis – with Cleito, Poseidon is the father of Ampheres, Atlas (the first king of Atlantis), Autochthon, Azaes, Diaprepes, Elasippus, Euaemon, Eumelus (Gadeirus), Mestor, Mneseus
Antaeus, Arion (a talking horse), Atlas, Desponia, Eumolpus, the Giant Sinis, Polyphemus (a cyclops), Orion, King Amycus, Proteus, Agenor and Belus from Europa, Nauplius, Neleus, Pelias, and the King of Egypt, Busiris, Laistrygon
Alebion, Bergion, Otos, Ephialtae are all noted as being giant children of Poseidon.
In general, there are a good many mythical creatures, a tribe of giants known as the Laistrygons, barbarians, cannibals, savages, and other uncivilized peoples like thieves who were said to be descendants of Poseidon.
Periclymenus – Through his son Neleus, the king of Pylos, Poseidon granted him the power of shape-shifting. He is listed as one of the Argonauts and is later killed by Herakles.
Poseidon 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 where the gods would preside while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians vary. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
Where Zeus has his thunderbolts and Hades has his bident, the mighty Poseidon is known for his trademark weapon, the trident!
A trident is a three-pronged weapon that Poseidon is often shown with. It has also been pointed out that Hades has a bident, a two-pronged weapon, and that Zeus has his thunderbolt, which is a one-pronged weapon. Just in case someone thought there should be some sort of connection.
With this trident, Poseidon could shatter anything in his way, much like Hades does with his bident.
Birth Of A God
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Poseidon 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 prophecy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour and swallow his children whole as soon as they are born. This would happen five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetit, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Rhea takes and hides Zeus, so that later, when he is older, he can come to fulfill the prophecy killing his father Cronus. During the battle, Zeus splits 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.
In other versions I have found of this story, Zeus meets with Metis who concocts a drug for Zeus to give to Cronus so that he disgorges or vomits up the stone and all of his children.
There is a version of the birth story of gods in that Poseidon does manage to get secreted away by his mother Rhea and is not eaten by his father. That Rhea gives Cronus a colt to eat instead of an infant. Poseidon is then placed in a flock of sheep in either Arcadia or Rhodes to conceal him.
There is a well in a Mantineia neighborhood where this event is believed to have happened and is called the “Lamb’s Well” or Arne.
This is the name that a group of ancient Greek deities were given for their roles as protectors and caregivers, essentially the nurses or nannies to children.
Arne – Poseidon’s kourotrophos was Arne, a spring nymph and daughter of Aeolus. Arne denied knowing where the infant was when Cronus came searching for him. The town of Arne gained its name from this nymph.
Telchines – According to Diodorus Siculus, Poseidon was raised by the Telchines, the original inhabitants of the island of Rhodes just as his brother Zeus was raised by the Korybantes on the island of Crete. Capheira, an Oceanid nymph would become Poseidon’s nurse.
There is a ten-year-long divine war known as the Titanomachy, and 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 prophecy 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 Cyclops 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 rulership 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.
Gigantomachy – Battle For The Heavens!
After the battle with the Titans, Zeus would still need to secure his throne. During this battle, Poseidon would use his trident to break off part of the island Kos and use it to entomb the giant Polybotes. Today, this island is known as Nisyros.
When The Oceans Were King!
You see remnants of this in the story of Perseus & Andromeda and certain stories of Elysian Mysteries where Poseidon is Persephone‘s father and not Zeus. Even Homer’s Odyssey shows this connection where Poseidon is the primary instigator of events and not Zeus.
In the Linear B script, Poseidon is listed as the chief deity.
After the collapse of the Mycenaean culture in the Mediterranean, we see a dark age period for Greek culture that resurges again some hundreds of years later, and now, it is Zeus who is the head of the pantheon and Poseidon is second only in power.
When we look at the Linear B tablets from Mycenean Greece, we find that Poseidon’s name as po-se-da-wo-ne appears more frequently than Zeus’ name di-u-ja. There is also a feminine form of po-se-da-ia which suggests there is a potential lost consort goddess to Poseidon. One who is a precursor to Amphitrite.
In the same Linear B script previously mentioned, Poseidon has a title of wa-na-ka or “wanax” that suggest the role of king of the Underworld. Other titles for Poseidon-Wanax are seen in the title E-ne-si-da-o-ne in Mycenean Knossos and Pylos, an epitaph that references the earthquakes that saw the collapse of the Minoan culture.
In Crete, in the cave of Amnisos, we see the name Enesidaon connected to the cult of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. Eileithyia also has a part in the annual birth of a divine child.
There is evidence in the Bronze Age, that a goddess of nature held a dominant role in both Minoan and Mycenean religions. That Wanax is her male consort in the Mycenean cults. Some scholars have tried to make a connection to Demeter where her name might appear as Da-ma-te, but this is still disputed.
Looking at the Linear Be scripts found at Pylos, the name E-ne-si-da-o-ne in association with Poseidon, and the name Si-to Po-tini-ja is associated with Demeter giving a suggestion of these two deities as consorts.
This fits when looking at the Eleusinian mysteries and seeing how they predate the Olympian pantheon. Inscriptions from Pylos show records of sacrificial offerings to “the Two Queens and Poseidon.” Those two queens just might be Demeter and Persephone when trying to look at the archeological evidence.
This association also makes sense as the ancient Greeks would have seen rivers and streams flow from the rocks and then disappear beneath the land in other areas. Plus there was a belief anciently during this period that the land merely floated above the water. That Poseidon could create the land as much as swallow it back down into the depths with earthquakes.
Lord of the Sea Gods
So, Poseidon may no longer rule over all of Olympia and be the head of the Pantheon by the time we get to the Classical, Hellenistic era of Greek history that everyone is more familiar with. Poseidon is still the lord over all the gods of the oceans, various rivers, and lakes. Poseidon was also regarded as a protector of many cities located near the sea as they relied on their whole economies from the sea trade and bounty provided by the deeps of the ocean.
It should also be noted by many people that Poseidon should be seen as the god of the Mediterranean Ocean as that is the sea that many of the ancient Greeks and even Romans when they renamed Poseidon to Neptune are familiar with.
God Of Storms
While this aspect seems to be more connected to Zeus in his roles as a Sky God and god of thunder, Poseidon also has power over storms, particularly those out at sea.
God Of Earthquakes
Another aspect of Poseidon is that of earthquakes, giving him an epitaph of Earth Mover or Earth Shaker. As a deity representing the forces of nature, this aspect is another reason why Poseidon could be seen as unpredictable and moody.
The connection of Poseidon to earthquakes is not hard to make when you understand that the Greeks believed that the cause of earthquakes was due to the erosion of rocks by water, where there are rivers that disappear below the earth and then seemingly reemerge later. The Greeks also believed that just as Poseidon’s earthquakes caused the land to sink into the sea, he also created the land with the appearance of new islands. This belief is seen in the philosophers Thales, Anaximenes, and Aristotle in how they explained the natural world around them.
God Of Horses
There are a couple of different stories I have come across about Poseidon’s role as a god of horses. One story holds that Poseidon created the first horse named Skyphios when he struck a rock with his trident.
A fragment of papyrus reveals that people would offer up horses by drowning them as a sacrifice to Poseidon to curry his favor for a safe sea voyage. Poseidon’s chariot is said to be pulled by horses, though more modern depictions show this chariot being pulled by a half-horse, half-fish creatures known as hippocampus.
In pre-Bronze Age Greek culture, there is a strong connection between horses, the element of water, and the Underworld. This is a connection we see continued with later, northern-European folklore with the Kelpies, Nuckelevee, and Puca.
Athena & Poseidon – In this story, the two gods are in competition for the favor of the future city of Athens. The two deities created all sorts of animals such as hippopotami, giraffes, camels, and zebras. In the end, when Poseidon created the horse, he was so pleased with the creation that he rode away on the mighty steed, forgetting about his desire to claim the favor of Athens, hence the city becoming named after Athena.
Demeter & Poseidon – In this story, Demeter is trying to put off the advances of Poseidon and asks him to create the most beautiful animal ever. To impress her, Poseidon creates the first horse. Of course, in the process of getting there, there are several other animals that Poseidon created before he achieved perfection and by this time, Poseidon has lost interest in Demeter.
God Of Fertility
As a god of the Oceans and waters, it leads handily to Poseidon being a god of fertility as he bestows the life-giving waters.
Droughts – Just as he giveth, Poseidon also taketh. So, a lack of water and rainfall leading to droughts would also be Poseidon’s doing.
Your Reputation Precedes You Sir!
On the heels of being a fertility deity, it must be noted that Poseidon has a reputation much like Zeus for being rather promiscuous. Granted, this is an aspect that we can find in numerous stories of the Greek deities.
There are numerous stories of Poseidon’s love affairs, romances, and some of which are just outright rape stories no matter how euphemistically later rewrites try to retell them. The most famous of which is Poseidon’s affair with Medusa before she’s turned into a Gorgon by Athena. I’ll cover several of these stories later so I’m not repeating them in this section.
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 the divine right of rulership.
We also know there are two major areas of Greek history, the Mycenean Greek era and 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 reduce 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 local myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own.
The most obvious is the Titanomachy story where Zeus and his siblings all displace the older pantheon, and the survivors get absorbed into the new divine order.
Male Lovers – Poseidon is also said to have had a few male lovers in the way of Nerites, Pelops, and Patroclus. There are not a lot of these myths that I could find to support this other than a footnote.
Marriage To Amphitrite
Like his brother Zeus, Poseidon has also had numerous lovers. His consort and wife is Amphitrite, a nymph, an ancient sea goddess in her own right, and the daughter of Nerus and Doris.
In the story told by Eratosthenes, Poseidon desired to marry Amphitrite, however, she had other ideas and ran away, hiding with Atlas. Off Poseidon went in search of her to no avail. Finally, it is the dolphin, Delphius tracked Amphitrite down. Delphius talked Amphitrite into accepting Poseidon as her husband.
At Amphitrite and Poseidon’s wedding, Delphius presided over the ceremony. In gratitude, Poseidon placed Delphius up into the stars. Amphitrite would give birth to the merman Triton who also wields a trident like his father.
Variation: According to Oppian, Delphius actually betrays Amphitrite’s location to Poseidon who comes and carries her off against her will to be married.
Medusa & Poseidon – Birth of Pegasus & Chrysaor
Poseidon is also known to transform into a horse too. A suggestion I came across is that Poseidon may have come to Medusa in Athena’s temple in the guise of a horse before changing to his true form and forcing himself on her. Unfortunately, instead of punishing Poseidon, Athena punishes Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon. Later, when the hero Perseus comes along and slays the gorgon, the winged horse Pegasus and the winged boar Chrysaor spring up from the blood from Medusa’s severed neck and head.
In Hesiod’s Theogony, Poseidon and Medusa were out in a field of flowers and not Athena’s temple. The whole being in Athena’s temple and sacrilege being committed comes to us courtesy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where Poseidon comes in the form of a bird to seduce Medusa.
Birth Of The Minotaur
Poseidon cursed Mino’s wife, Pasiphae to have sexual intercourse with a white bull after the Cretan king Minos wouldn’t sacrifice the bull to him. This resulted in the birth of the hybrid monster called the Minotaur.
I strongly suspect that we are seeing a rewriting of this myth from the fall of the Mycenaean Greece culture and the later rise of the Hellenic Greece culture when Poseidon ceases to be the main deity and is replaced by Zeus as the head of the Pantheon. Bulls are an old pre-Olympian symbol of Poseidon. Rewrite the myth so that instead of a divine child born of Poseidon and a nature goddess, there is instead a monster to whom the youth of vassal city-states are sacrificed to.
Poseidon & Aethra (Birth of Theseus)
With Aethra, the princess of Troezenian, Poseidon is the father of the Greek hero Theseus. King Aegeus of Athens is also reputed to be Theseus’ father as he had lain with Aethra on the very same night. This is still enough for Theseus to have a demigod status and to be the hero who would eventually volunteer to set sail to the island nation of Crete with the other Athenian youth who could be sent into a labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur.
When Minos heard that Theseus was the son of Poseidon, he mocked the youth by taking off his own ring and throwing it into the sea. If Theseus really was Poseidon’s son, he was to go and retrieve the ring. Theseus immediately dove in, and dolphins came to guide the young demigod down to Poseidon’s palace. There, both Poseidon and Amphitrite greeted Theseus, not only by giving him the ring but a purple wedding cloak and crown as well. Theseus swam back up to the surface and proved himself to King Minos.
In Crete, Theseus would kill the Minotaur. Theseus eventually succeeded his father as king of Athens and would have children. Poseidon promised Theseus three favors. One of which was called upon when his wife, Phaedra accused Hippolytus, the son Theseus had with an Amazon, of forcing himself on her. Poseidon granted this favor by sending a sea monster to spook Hippolytus’ horses as he was driving by the sea and thus dragging him into the ocean to his death.
Poseidon & Alope
Alope is Poseidon’s granddaughter through Cercyon, his son, and the King of Eleusis. Through this affair, Alope gives birth to the Hippothoon, an Attic hero. As a result, Cercyon has Alope buried alive and Poseidon transforms her into a spring near Eleusis.
Poseidon & Amymone
Shortly after the city of Argos came under Hera’s rule and Poseidon sent a drought to plague it, an Argive woman, Amymone came across a rather lecherous satyr who tried to rape her. Amymone prayed to Poseidon for help and he answered by scaring off the satyr. After rescuing her, Poseidon then fathered a child with her by the name Nauphus.
Poseidon & Caenis
In this story, Poseidon spotted the maiden Caenis walking along the shore. Overcome with lust, Poseidon forced himself on Caenis and raped her. Having satisfied himself, Poseidon offered Caenis a wish, of which she made the request to be turned into a man. Granting her request, Poseidon transformed her into the male warrior Caeneus.
Poseidon & Corone
Corone is the daughter of Coronaeus who was out walking along the shore. Poseidon saw her and attempted to court Corone only to have her reject him and run away. Poseidon chased her down, this time trying to rape her. Athena saw what was happening and changed Corone into a crow so she could fly away.
Poseidon & Halia
In the stories where Poseidon grows up in secret on the island of Rhodes with the Telchines, the young god fell in love with Halia, the beautiful sister of the Telchines. With Halia, Poseidon fathered six sons and a daughter.
By this time, Aphrodite has already been born and rose up from the sea. When she made an attempt to stop at the island of Rhodes while heading to Cyprus, the sons of Halia and Poseidon denied the goddess hospitality. Out of anger, Aphrodite caused the sons to fall in love with their mother and rape her. After seeing this, Poseidon made the sons sink beneath the sea.
Poseidon & Tyro
Tyro is a mortal woman married to Cretheus and by whom she already had a son, Aeson. Tyro loved a river god, Enipeus who spurned her advances. One day, Poseidon becomes infatuated with Tyro and lusts after her, disguises himself as Enipeus, and from their union, Tyro gives birth to the twin heroes Pelias and Neleus.
Poseidon & Asteria
In this story, we first see Zeus falling in love with this goddess who changed herself into a qual in order to escape his advances and being raped, only to have Poseidon equally enamored and lustful for her give chase with the intent to rape her. Asteria transforms herself a second time, this time into the small rocky island known as Delos.
At best, this could be an archaic myth that shows a changeover of when Poseidon and Zeus changed prominence during the fall of the Mycenaean Greek culture.
Poseidon & Demeter
Demeter is the Goddess of the Earth and Poseidon is the God of Water. That’s a good match and they’re consenting adults and gods.
Mycenaen Greek – This is Bronze Age Greece, there is a script known as Linear B found in Mycenae and Mycenaean Pylos where both Demeter and Poseidon’s names appear. Poseidon is given the epitaph of E-ne-si-da-o-ne “earth-shaker” and Demeter’s name is given si-to-po-ti-ni-ja. In these inscriptions, Poseidon’s title and epitaph E-ne-si-da-o-ne (Enesidaon) links him as a King of the Underworld and gives him a chthonic nature.
Touching back to the Eleusinian Mysteries, there are tablets found in Pylos that mention sacrificial goods for “the Two Queens and Poseidon” or “to the Two Queens and King.” It’s agreed that the Two Queens very likely refer to Demeter and Persephone or it’s later precursor goddesses who are not associated with Poseidon later.
Eileithyia – Demeter is a local Minoan goddess found in Amnisos, Crete where she is a goddess of childbirth who gives birth to a divine child. Her consort is given as Enesidaon, the “earth-shaker” whom we just mentioned is Poseidon. Her cult and worship would survive within the Eleusinian Mysteries. Plus, we see where local deities’ worship gets absorbed and conflated with a more popular, well-known deity.
Arcadia – We’re still in Bronze Age Greece! Here, Demeter and Poseidon Hippios or Horse Poseidon give birth to a daughter, Despoina, who is a goddess in her own right before some of the myths confuse her with Persephone or make her an epitaph of Demeter.
In this myth, Poseidon is a river spirit of the Underworld, appearing as a horse. In this form, Poseidon pursues Demeter, who is also in horse form. Demeter hid among the horses of King Onkios. Due to her divinity, Demeter couldn’t remain hidden for long and Poseidon caught up with her and forced himself on her. When the two gods copulate, Demeter gives birth to a goddess who is also in horse or mare form. This is a myth that sounds very similar to another one between Poseidon and Athena and more accurately, Philyra and Cronos when Chiron is born. The horse motif is very common in northern-European myths and folklore.
As a mare-goddess, Demeter is known first as Demeter Erinys due to her fury with Poseidon for forcing himself on her. She becomes Demeter Lousia, “the bathed Demeter” after washing away her anger in the River Ladon. There’s something to be said for this as you can’t hold onto your anger forever, you must let it go or otherwise it consumes you.
The whole myth of pairing up Demeter and Poseidon is to connect Demeter as a Goddess of the Earth and Poseidon as a God of Water with their connection over nature. Despoina is the daughter who results from their union and whose name could not be spoken outside of the Arcadian Mysteries. Demeter and Poseidon also have another child, a horse by the name of Arion who is noted as being able to speak, immortal, swift, and having a black mane and tail.
Poseidon & Scylla
This is a bit of an obscure myth I came across, as an alternative to Scylla’s origins found in the Tzetzes on Lycophron & Servius on Aeneid writings.
Scylla and Poseidon were having an affair. Out of jealousy, Amphitrite mixed some magical herbs into Scylla’s bath, transforming her into a monster with twelve feet and six heads. Scylla would then join Charybdis to terrorize the coastlines of Italy and Sicily, sinking many ships.
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, Poseidon still sleeps with Scylla and then transforms her into a rocky cliff along the coast.
Poseidon & Nerites
Nerites is the son of Nereus and Doris and thus Amphitrite’s brother. In some accounts, Poseidon takes Nereus as his charioteer as they’re lovers. As a charioteer, Nereus was said to be very good and fast.
The myth isn’t clear why, but one day, the sun god Helios turns Nerites into a shellfish. The Greek author who recorded this story isn’t sure why, but puts forward a theory that Helios may have been offended by Nerite’s skill or was a rival lover to Poseidon. Helios may have wanted Nerites to travel among the constellations instead in the sea.
It is known that from the love that Poseidon and Nerites have, comes Anteros, mutual love.
In this dialogue, Plato tells of a mortal woman who lived on an isolated island by the name of Cleito. Poseidon fell in love with her and created a sanctuary on top of a hill in the middle of the island and surrounded the place with rings of water and land to protect her. Cleito would give birth to five sets of twin boys. The firstborn, Atlas would become the first ruler of the legendary Atlantis.
Descendant of Poseidon – Plato was regarded by his fellow Greeks to be able to trace his lineage to Poseidon through his father Ariston and to the demigod kings of Codrus and Melanthus.
There are several Greek heroes such as Herakles and Theseus who killed several centaurs. There is also a story of the sirens luring the centaurs to their death in the sea. In the Apollod, it is stated that the island of Sirens is where Poseidon crushed the centaurs instead of giving them refuge.
Ares & Aphrodite’s Love Affair
A version of the story found in Homer’s Odyssey has Hephaestus refusing to release the lovers unless Zeus returned the bridal gifts. Zeus staunchly refused as he felt that Hephaestus shouldn’t have made the affair so public. Though in the Odyssey, Poseidon does agree to play Hephaestus’ price to release both Ares and Aphrodite.
Though it is just after this story happens that Poseidon brings charges against Ares in the Areiopagus for having killed his son Halirrhothius.
The Founding Of Athens
This story is similar to another story where Poseidon creates the first horse. In this version of the story, the two gods are competing for the city of Athens (at this time the region is called Attica) ruled over by Athens’s legendary first king, Cecrops. Even after Athena became the patron goddess of the city, Poseidon still had a presence at the Acropolis through his avatar Erechtheus. By the Athenian calendar, at the end of the year, a festival would be held, and the priests of Athena and the priest of Poseidon would hold a procession under the canopies to Eleusis. There, the gods would give a gift to the Athenian people and the people would choose which one they preferred.
To start things off, Poseidon throws a trident into the ground, creating a spring at the Acropolis. However, the water that sprung up was rather salty. Athena won the competition with the creation and gift of the olive tree. In anger, Poseidon flooded the Attic Plain as punishment to the Athenians for not choosing him. Both deities eventually worked together with Athena creating the first chariot and Poseidon creating the first horse. Athena also built the first ship to sail over the oceans that Poseidon rules.
The place where Poseidon’s trident struck the ground; filled with salt water was closed off by the northern hall of the Erechtheum and remained open to the air.
The story of this conflict between Poseidon and Athena can be found on reliefs along the western pediment of the Parthenon and is the first such relief that a visitor sees on arriving.
Many scholars have interpreted this myth as a clash between the Mycenaean Greeks and newly arrived immigrants to the area. The city of Athens was at one point a major sea power that defeated the Persian fleet at the island of Salamis. The scholar Walter Burkert notes that Poseidon led his son Eumolpus against Athens and killed Erectheus.
Further, Poseidon sent another of his sons, Halirrhothius to cut down Athena’s olive tree. While Halirrhothius was swinging his axe, he missed and managed to kill himself. In anger, Poseidon accused Ares of the murder and the matter would eventually be resolved on the Areopagus, or “hill of Ares” in favor of Ares. Another version of the story has Halirrhothius raping Alcippe, Ares’s daughter and understandably so, Ares kills him. And that is what leads to Ares’ trial and eventual acquittal.
The Divison of Corinth
In a similar story to that of Athens, this time it is Helios and Poseidon clashing over who would be the patron deity. The dispute was bad enough that the two gods brought the issue before one of the Hecatoncheires, Briareos, an elder god to settle the matter. Briareos awarded the Acrocorinth to Helios and gave the isthmus of Corinth to Poseidon.
This tale is noted as representing the conflicts between fire and water. Helios being a sun god gets the area closest to the sky and Poseidon being a sea god, gets the area closest to the water.
The City Of Argos – Poseidon & Hera
This dispute is over the city of Argos. The two deities chose a local king Phoroneus to settle this matter. Phoroneus decided in favor of Hera to award her the city to become the patron goddess. An enraged Poseidon then sent a drought to plague the city.
Exchanging Islands & Temples
Then there is this story, where Poseidon and Leto decided to exchange islands to be patrons of. Poseidon gave Leto the island of Delos and he got the island of Caluria where a temple to Poseidon has stood since antiquity.
With Apollo, Poseidon gave him Delphi in exchange for Taenarum.
These are likely just quick little stories to explain the change of worshipers and who a patron deity was for a certain region.
Sometime after Zeus has succeeded in overcoming 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) and decide that Zeus needs to be taught a lesson.
Hera’s part was to drug Zeus so that he fell into a deep sleep. While Zeus is sleeping, they come in to steal his thunderbolts and tie him up with some one hundred knots. Powerless, Zeus lays there until the Neriad, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, calls the Hecatoncheire, Briareus who comes and unties Zeus.
With Briareus’ support, Zeus is able to put an end to the rebellion and punish those involved. Most notable is Hera’s punishment as she led the rebellion. Zeus hung her up in the sky with golden chains. Hera’s weeping kept Zeus up all night and the next morning, he agreed to end the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
As for Apollo and Poseidon? They were stripped of their godly powers for a time to serve King Laomedon of Troy.
The Marriage Of Thetis
Both Poseidon and Zeus had pursued the goddess Thetis’ hand in marriage. However, when Themis gave the prophecy that Thetis’ son would be greater than his father, both Poseidon and Zeus withdrew and decided that it would be better if Thetis married the mortal Peleus. The same marriage where the goddess Eris tossed her golden apple among the goddesses after she wasn’t invited and leading to the Trojan War.
Divine Set Up – If we go by the “lost” epic, The Cypria attributed to Stasinus, this whole Trojan War was planned by Zeus and Themis. There are only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and it’s seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events came about.
Because of Apollo and Poseidon’s part in helping Hera with her rebellion, Zeus stripped the two gods of their power for a time, and they were sent to serve King Laomedon of Troy. There, King Laomedon had the two gods build a huge wall around the city with the promise of reward. When it came time to pay up, King Laomedon refused. By this time, Poseidon had regained his godly powers and out of vengeance, he sends a sea monster to attack the city of Troy. The legendary hero Hercules defeated and killed this monster.
Book XX sees Poseidon rescue the Trojan Prince Aeneas after Achilles drops them in combat.
At first during the Trojan War, Zeus forbids any of the gods to take part. When Zeus rescinds this ban, Poseidon sides with the Greeks against the Trojans, causing earthquakes. Poseidon would also help the Greeks indirectly by appearing in the guise of an old seer named Calchas.
In Rome, Troy is called Neptunia Pergama.
After the events of the Iliad and Trojan War, the titular hero, Odysseus earns Poseidon’s wrath after blinding his Cyclops son, Polyphemus. Such was Poseidon’s wrath, that it would take Odysseus ten years to make the return trip home to Ithaca.
A Latin epic poem written by Virgil, this involves the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who fled the city after the fall of Troy and his travels to Italy and become the ancestor of the Romans.
Because of how closely the Greek and Roman gods are equated with each other, we read in this epic how Poseidon, under the name of Neptune is still angry with wandering Trojans. However, he is not as vindictive as Juno (Hera). In Book I, Neptune rescues the Trojan fleet from Juno’s attempts to wreck it, even if the only reason was to prevent Juno from interfering with his domain of the sea.
Hepom Nepōts – Indo-European
This is the name of a reconstructed proto-Indo-European deity that historians, etymologists, and linguists have hypothesized when tracing a prehistoric Eurasian population and the language that may have been spoken. The name Hepom Nepōts translates to “Descendant of the Waters.”
Nethuns – Etruscan
An Etruscan deity from the region of Umbria in Italy. Nethuns is a god of springs and water who is identified with the Grecian Poseidon and Roman Neptune. Their name is found in the Latin expression “flere Nethuns,” meaning “the divinity of Nethuns.”
Neptune – Roman
Where Poseidon is the god of the Ocean, his Roman counterpart is Neptune.
Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Poseidon with Neptune. 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.
Pontus – Greek
The oldest of the Greek Water deities, Pontus is regarded more as the personification of the sea.
Etymology: Possibly from the ancient greek “phḗnē/φήνη” meaning “vulture”.
Pronunciation: fin-ee-uhs, fahy-nyoos
Alternate Spellings: Phineas, Φινεύς
When researching this name, I’ve found that the name Phineus can refer to at least two different people from Greek Mythology. Though there is potentially at least one other figure named Phineus.
1) King Phineus from the Argonauts
This Phineus is perhaps the most well-known of the figures in Greek mythology bearing the name. The son of King Agenor in Thrace, Phineus had been given the gift of prophecy from the god Apollo. Now, because Phineus prophesied truly and revealed too much of the gods’ secrets, how he treated his sons, gave Phrixus directions for their journey, or chose a long life to having sight, Zeus blinded him as punishment. It was either that or death. Then, because that wasn’t enough, Phineus was exiled to the island of Salmydessus, where every time he would sit down to eat, the Harpies would come and steal all the food. What little food would be left after was foul and inedible.
Later, when Jason and the Argonauts arrived, they came to Phineus’ aid by having the winged Boreads, Calais, and Zetes (brothers of Cleopatra) chase after the Harpies. The goddess Iris intervened, keeping the Boreads from killing the Harpies and promising that Phineus would never be bothered by the Harpies again.
In gratitude for their service, Phineus prophesied to Jason about the Symplegades and how to get past the clashing rocks to continue their quest.
Other sources have the two Boreads pursue the Harpies until they fell from exhaustion into the sea below. Another source says that it is Helios, the sun god who sent the Harpies to torment Phineus for choosing to be blinded. Alternatively, Helios blinds Phineus at the behest of his son Aeëtes for helping his enemies. A more obscure source says that it is Poseidon who blinds Phineus instead of Zeus, in those versions of the stories, Phineus’ sons have their vision restored by the Boreads or Asclepius.
In the versions where Phineus doesn’t kill his sons, but instead either blinds them or has them buried to their waists to be tortured and has his first wife Cleopatra imprisoned and tortured when the Argonauts arrive, they learn of the punishments being meted out. As the Boreads are brothers to Cleopatra and that is their nephews, a battle breaks out between Phineus’ army of Thracians and the Argonauts’ crew. The Argonauts emerge victorious when Herakles slays Phineus.
Some accounts of this Phineus place him as a king in Paphlagonia or Arcadia instead of Thrace. Yet other sources state that Phineus is killed by Boreas, or that he is carried off by the Harpies into the country of either Bistones or Milchessians.
Parentage & Family
In Apollonius of Rhodes’ account, Phineus is the son of Agenor. The Bibliotheca names Poseidon as the father of Phineus, who was in another account Agenor’s father. Hesiodic Catalogue of Women names Phoenix and Cassiopeia as Phineus’ parents.
Phineus’ first wife is Cleopatra, the daughter of the North Wind, Boreas, and Oreithyia. Cleopatra (not to be confused with Mark Anthony and Cleopatra) bore Phineus two sons. There is a very long list of just who these two sons are. Either Plexippus and Pandion (these two are the most commonly named), Gerymbas and Aspondus, or Polydector (Polydectus) and Polydorus, or Parthenius and Crambis, or Oryithus (Oarthus) and Crambis. If you are confused as to who to go with, you are not alone.
Phineus’ second wife is Idaea, a Scythian Princess and daughter of Dardanus. Idaea claimed her stepsons raped her and Phineus blinded the sons. After Phineus is killed, Idaea returns to her people, where her father Dardanus kills her for how she treated her stepsons. Other wives that Phineus had are Dia, Eidothea (sister of Cadmus), and Eurytia.
With Idaea, Phineus has two other sons, Mariandynus and Thynus, and two daughters, Eraseia and Harpyreia. A third daughter, Olizone is mentioned, in some sources, she is named as Dardanus’ wife. That could just owe to more than one person who has the same name.
Lost Play & Works
Phineus – A now lost play written by Aeschylus, the first in a trilogy that includes The Persians and thought to have been produced in 472 B.C.E. In this play, Helios transforms Phineus into a mole over an unknown insult.
Antigone – The story of Phineus and Cleopatra has a brief mention of this story by Sophocles.
2) Uncle Phineus from the story of Perseus & Andromeda
In the story of Perseus & Andromeda, Phineus is the son of Belus and brother to King Cepheus of Egypt. At the beginning of the story, Phineus had been promised his niece, Andromeda in marriage. However, when the oracle told King Cepheus to offer up his daughter Andromeda in sacrifice to appease Poseidon’s anger, it is Perseus who comes and rescues the Princess and defeats the monster Cetus. As a reward, Cepheus offers Andromeda’s hand in marriage to Perseus. Had Phineus been the one to defeat Cetus and rescue Andromeda, this wouldn’t have been disputed or contested.
Phineus is adamant that because he was promised Andromeda’s hand first, he has the first claim and picks a fight with Perseus about his right to marry her during the wedding. After slaying a Gorgon and a Sea Monster, a mere mortal man is no challenge for Perseus who once again pulls out Medusa’s head and turns Phineus to stone. Given variations of the story, sometimes this is when Cepheus and Cassiopeia are also turned to stone when they accidentally look at the gorgon’s severed head. With Phineus now dead, Andromeda accompanies Perseus back to his home Tiryns in Argos where they eventually founded the Perseid dynasty.
Ovid’s Metamorphosis goes into detail about how Phineus may have arrived alone in Aethiopia but soon had many friends within Cepheus’ court. When Phineus threw a spear at Perseus, missing, Perseus soon after pulled the Gorgon’s head out and many of Phineus’ allies were turned to stone before it was finally turned on Phineus despite pleading for his life.
3) Phineus, Arcadian Prince
This Phineus would be one of the fifty sons of the infamous King Lycaon and the naiad Cyllene, Nonacris, or an unknown woman. Given how notorious King Lycaon and his sons were, Zeus came down to test them in the guise of a peasant. When these brothers mixed the remains of a child into the god’s meal, a justifiably enraged Zeus threw his meal over the table. All of the brothers and Lycaon were slain by lightning bolts.
In the Apollodorus, this version of the story sees Lycaon transformed into a wolf and a prototype for the werewolf legends as a curse.
Etymology: Strike from shan
Also Known As: Badé, Changó, Esango (Edo people), Hevioso, Jakuta, Nzazi, Sango, Ṣàngó, Siete Rayos, Xangô (Latin America), Sogbo or Ebioso (Fon people)
In Nigeria, among the Yoruban people and the Dahomey religion, Shango is a god or Orisha of fire, thunder, and lightning. Like many storm and thunder gods, Shango lives up in the sky where he hurls thunderstones down to the earth, killing those who offended him or setting houses on fire.
Animal: Black Cat, Dog, Duck, Fresh Water Turtles, Quail, Ram, Sheep, Tortoise
Colors: Red, White
Day of the Week: Friday and Ojo Jakuta, the fifth day of the week in Yorubaland.
Feast Day: December 4th, same as Saint Barbara
Gemstones: Thunderstones; either meteorites or stone celts
Number: 3 and 6
Patron of: Resistance, Strength, Power
Sphere of Influence: Thunder, Lightning, Fertility, War, Truth, Intelligence, Courage, Power, Dominance, Resistance
Symbols: Stone Celt, Double-Headed Axe, Bangles, Brass Crown, any object struck by lightning
Taboo (Yoruba): Cowpea, don’t eat this.
Statues, imagery, and other art featuring Shango show him with a double axe on his head that represent thunder. He will often be dressed in clothing that’s red and white. Sometimes Shango has six eyes and other times he has three heads. In some traditions, Shango wears a headdress with cowrie shells on it.
In the Candomblé traditions, Xangô as he is called wears red and has a brass crown.
There is a religious ritual of Shango designed to help devotees and followers of Shango to gain and have self-control. Shango beads tell the story of his essence with white beads representing Obatala’s logic alternating in balance with the red beads of Aganju’s fire and passion when pursuing a goal.
The initiation ceremony of Shango came about after his deification which preserves his memory and the prosperity he brings to his followers on a personal level just as he brought prosperity to the Oyo kingdom in life.
Altars to Shango will often have a carved image of a woman holding her bosom as a gift to Shango with a double-bladed axe sticking out of her head. The axe symbolizes the devotee as being possessed by Shango. The woman has an expression that is calm and collected, representing the attributes or qualities she has gained from her faith.
Ritual foods for Shango include guguru, bitter cola, àmàlà, and gbegiri soup. The Bata drum is also used during Shango’s worship and rituals.
In this religion, Shango or Xangô was the son of the Oyo king Oranyan. During the African diaspora, Xangô gained strong importance among the slaves in Brazil for his strength, resistance, and aggression. Xangô became a patron orixa of plantations and many Candomblé terreiros. In contrast, Oko, the orixa of agriculture didn’t receive as much favor among slaves in Brazil and given the circumstances, I don’t blame them.
A dish known as amalá (a stew of okra with shrimp and palm oil) is sacred to Xangô.
In the Santería religion, Shango, or Changó as he is known is the focal or center point of the religion and represents the Oyo people of West Africa. Changó is a representative of the ancestors and all who adhere to the Santeria faith.
In Latin America, there is a major initiation ceremony that has been held for the last few hundred years that is based on the Shango ceremony of the Ancient Oyo. It is a ceremony that has survived and is considered the most complete to have arrived on the Western shores.
There is an initiation ceremony that is also based on the Shango ceremony and is the basis for all the Orisha initiation ceremonies within the Americas.
Other traditions that venerate Shango are Folk Catholicism, Louisiana Voodoo, Palo, the Portuguese Candomblé and Umbanda, the Trinidad Orisha, Haitian Vodou, and Vodun.
Before becoming deified or an orisha, Shango was once a mortal king, the third king of the Oyo Kingdom. After his death, Shango became deified. I have other sources that say Shango is the fourth king.
The lineage of kings is as follows: Oduduwa, Oranyan, and Ajaka. In life, Shango was known as Jakuta and was the third king or Alafin of Oyo kingdom. Jakuta was the brother to Ajaka known to be more peaceful compared to Jakuta’s more violent rule who could wield supernatural forces to create thunder and lightning. Jakuta ruled for a period of seven years that was noted for constant war campaigns and numerous battles. Towards the end of Jakuta’s reign, it is said he caused the unintentional destruction of his palace with lightning. While alive, Jakuta was married to three women named Oshun, Oba, and Oya.
Oral traditions tell how during Shango’s mortal reign, a subordinate chief challenged Shango’s rule. Many people were impressed by the subordinate chief’s feats and demonstration of magic, such that they went to follow this new leader. Dismayed by this public defeat and humiliation, Shango left Oyo and committed suicide by hanging.
A variation to this story I came across is that Shango was so fascinated by the use of magic that while calling down the powers of thunder and lightning, Shango accidentally set fire to his palace and killed his wives and many of his children. It is in shame from that, that Shango left the kingdom of Oyo.
When enemies and detractors of Shango were contemptuous and spreading his shame, a series of storms swept over Oyo, destroying many homes. This caused people to believe that Shango’s powers had made him a god or orisha and these storms were proof of his wrath. There are suggestions that Shango’s followers set fire to these homes.
However, those loyal to Shango said that he really ascended to the heavens by climbing a chain and that he became an orisha. Shango would gain the attributes of an earlier orisha, Jakuta who represented the wrath of the supreme deity Olorun-Olodumare. Shango’s cult and worship would continue to grow and spread throughout Oyo and Yorubaland. Even neighboring people of the Edo and Fon would adopt Shango into their religions.
Shango is a member of the Orisha, who are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruba religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare. Shango is regarded as the most powerful of all the Orisha.
With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Shango was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America, and South America.
Much like the Hindi avatars, Shango has had many Irunmole or manifestations. The names of some of them are Airá, Agodo, Afonja, Lubé, and Obomin. All of these people are believed to have been an incarnation of Shango and like many such Irunmole, had great wisdom and power while they lived.
Parentage and Family
Oranyan – The mortal king of Oyo before Shango become deified.
Yemaja – Orisha mother goddess and protector of birth.
In some traditions, Shango’s wives are said to be the rivers.
Oba – She tried to win Shango’s love by offering her ear to him to eat. In anger, Shango sent her away and she became a river goddess.
Oshun – A river goddess and Shango’s favorite as he loves her cooking.
Oya – A Storm and Mother goddess, she is also the Niger river. It is said she stole the secrets of Shango’s magic.
Oya – Depending on the stories or tradition, Oya and Shango are brother and sister, not husband and wife.
As noted, the main wives of Shango are venerated as Orisha. All three are associated with rivers in Nigeria. The first is Oya, connected to the Oya River. Oya would become the orisha of battle, storms, and hurricanes. Oya had once been married to Ogun but would fall in love with Shango. Together, Oya and Shango partner up when going out to battle.
Then there is Oshun who is connected to the Osun River. Oshun is the orisha associated with love, sensuality, and femininity.
Lastly, we have Oba who was forever hopelessly in love with Shango. Oba would find herself rejected by Shango after another of his wives tricked Oba into cutting off her ear to feed to him. Oba went into exile in a cemetery and become the orisha of violent storms and death. She would also become the Oba River, specifically where it meets with the Osun River.
Orisha Of Thunder & Lighting
Shango is known as an orisha of thunder and lightning.
Fire – It should come as no surprise that one of Shango’s domains is that of fire as well. After all, lighting strikes are known to cause a fire.
Oṣè – This is the name that the double axe in Yorubaland that Shango has is called. The double axe symbolizes and represents lightning.
Resistance – During the African diaspora and slavery, Shango became a very important symbol of resistance.
Thunderbolts – Stone Celt
A celt in this case is a primitive stone tool like an adze, hoe or axe. Farmers would sometimes find these primitive, prehistoric tools while out-tilling their fields. Believing these stone celts were Shango’s thunderbolts, the farmers would take them to Shango’s priests who kept these in Shango’s shrine in an inverted mortar.
Shango was renowned and feared for his powers and whenever he spoke, fire came out of his mouth.
Jakuta – When not identified as an ancestor, it is believed that Shango likely usurped the duties and aspects of an older deity by the name of Jakuta. This older deity, Jakuta was known to hurl fire stones as punishment towards people if they acted against the wishes of Olodumre, the Supreme God, or Orisha. The name Jakuta means “Hurler of stones” or “Fighter with stones.” The prefix Ja means to hurl from aloft and the suffix okuta means stone. That’s interesting to note in connection to the stone celts that farmers would find out in fields and believed to be thunderbolts. Jakuta is also associated with a fellowship of meteorites.
Possession – Those who worship Shango and become possessed by him can eat fire, using oil-soaked cloth known as itufu to do so. Some may carry pots of live coal on their head or shove their hands into coals without any harm.
As a fertility deity, particularly masculine fertility, Shango grants wealth and prosperity to his followers just as he did for the kingdom of Oyo during his mortal life and reign.
Dance – Shango’s power, seen in his ritual dances represents the dangerous side of sexual relationships. Another interpretation is a warning of the arrogancy in using military force for political gains and leadership. The bata drums are beaten to represent the sound of thunder.
As seen in the dances that Shango does, he is also he orisha of war as in life, he held many continuous campaigns and battles to expand his influence.
Oṣè – The double axe that represents lightning is also a symbol of military prowess and the use of violence.
Justice – There is also a close association of the use of force or might to make right and enforce justice. Shango was known for being rather harsh and strict with his subjects.
There are a few different Saints that Shango has been equated to and it varies by the religion revering him.
Saint Barbara – The Saint whom Shango is equated to in the Candomble tradition. She is the patron saint of armorers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners, and others who work with explosives. She has an old legend that connects her to lightning and mathematicians.
Saint Jerome – They are the patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopedists. In some traditions, he is regarded as the husband to Saint Barbara and for that reason, Saint Jerome gets syncretized or equated with Shango.
Jupiter – The Roman god of the heavens, his attributes are the lightning bolt.
Marduk – The Mesopotamian god of fertility and storms can be comparable to Shango.
Raijin – The Japanese god of thunder.
Teshub – The Hurrian god of the sky and thunder.
Thor – The mighty thunderer of Norse mythology, he is the god of thunder and war.
Zeus – The Greek god of the heavens, his attributes are the lightning bolt.
Etymology: gelem “raw material”
Pronunciation: “GOH-ləm,” “goilem” in Yiddish
The first time I heard of the golem having a place in folklore outside of tabletop gaming with Dungeons & Dragons is with the Disney cartoon series Gargoyles in the episode “Prague.” Where an animated statue of a human made from mud or clay is brought to life.
Disclaimer – Not to be confused with Gollum from Tolkien’s Middle Earth series.
What’s In A Name?
The modern term golem comes from the word gelem and means “raw material.” In more modern times, the Hebrew use of the word is used to mean “fool,” “silly,” “stupid,” “clueless,” and “dumb.”
In the Bible and more accurately, the Torah, the word golem is used when referring to something that is still in embryo or incomplete. The passage for Psalm 139:16 has the word “gal’mi” which means “my unshaped form.” In Hebrew, the root words are written with the consonants “glm.”
The Mishnah uses the word when referring to an uncultivated person. Modern usage of the word sees golem being used as a metaphor for “brainless lunks” or those serving others under controlled conditions or seen as enemies by others. In Yiddish, the term golem is used as an insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.
Creating a golem seems to be pretty straightforward. Create a life-sized human figure from either mud or clay. This figure is then given life when specific holy words are carved into the brow or hung around the neck with the words being spoken by a skilled Rabbi who knows the arts of Kabbalah. The golem can also be returned to lifelessness by changing the words.
Talmud – In the earliest stories of Judaism, Adam whose name means “red [clay]” is first created as a golem from the dust of the earth when he is created into a shapeless form.
In Judaism, only a very holy person who was close to God or strived to be could gain the wisdom and power needed to create life. However, no matter how holy a person became, the golem they created is but a shadow compared to God’s creation.
Sefer Yetzirah – Or the Book of Formation, this book dates from the Middle Ages and has passages that expound on how to create and animate golems. It must be noted that it is very little in Jewish mysticism that supports this work.
Weakness – What makes the golem a pale shadow of God’s creation of humans is that golems are unable to speak. In the Sanhedrin 65b, Raba creates a golem using the Sefer Yetzirah. When Raba sent the golem to Rav Zeira, they spoke to the golem. When the golem was unable to answer, Rav Zeira comments that the golem was created by a colleague and for it to return to dust.
Another weakness of Golems is their inability to disobey any orders from those that created them and that can lead to folly and problems.
Ultimate Wisdom & Holiness
Creating a servant was seen as the ultimate act of one demonstrating their wisdom and holiness to make and create life. There are numerous stories throughout the Middle Ages era of many prominent rabbis having done so.
That makes sense. There’s the Tiamat and Abzu creating the Anunnaki and in turn, they created the Igigi who in turn go on to make humans.
Plus, the creation of homunculi was pretty common during the Middle Ages by alchemists. Plus the idea follows us into the current age with stories like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel.
Modern Hubris – More current literature and media tend to see the creation of another being as an act of hubris and folly where the creation turns on the creator.
Limitations – Of course, over time, there would be other limits and aspects added to the tales of golems. Many such stories include where it is the use of magical or religious words that will animate the golem. Examples are where one of the names of God is written on the forehead, writing the name on a piece of paper and sticking it to the forehead, or placing the paper or tablet under the tongue of the golem. Another word is “Emet” meaning “truth” in the Hebrew language. Then to return the golem to lifelessness, the first letter of Emet is erased to form the word “Meit” or “dead” in Hebrew.
As I previously mentioned further up, in the earliest stories from Judaism, namely the Talmud, Adam, the first man is a golem created by Yahweh or God from the dust of the earth. Adam’s name means “red [clay].”
The Golem Of Prague
This is the story referenced in the Disney Gargoyles episode “Prague.” The story of the Golem first appears in an 1847 collection of Jewish tales called “Galerie der Sippurim” by Wolf Pascheles of Prague. Another, fictional account of this story was published by Yudl Rosenberg in 1909.
In Czechoslovakian legend, in 1580 C.E., the Jewish community was under a lot of threats of violence, massacres, and blood libels.
For those that don’t know what a blood libel is, these are false accusations thrown towards the Jewish communities, claiming they kill people, usually claims of children in order to use their blood in their rituals. Adding weight to these grisly accusations, a child would be killed and then left near the home of a prominent Jew in an effort to frame them. Sometimes a child just outright disappeared. These accusations would get so bad, as was happening in Prague, Jews were getting murdered by mobs, if they weren’t getting arrested and put on trial.
Unfortunately, these types of accusations still continue in the modern day, though the term has broadened more to include any unpleasant accusations. You would think even in more modern, current times people would be better aware of this. But we still have those who persist in their misinformation and conspiracies where any efforts to correct them, tend to cause this group to double down on their cognitive biases and misinformation.
The chief rabbi in Prague at the time was Rabbi Yehudah Loew Ben Bezalel, a renowned scholar of both Jewish law and mysticism. Loewe was no stranger to the persecution his community suffered from. He grew up with constant persecution to his people and was familiar with how communities would grow and settle where they were better treated until such time they would have to move and leave when the locals eventually turned on them.
To confront this, Rabbi Loew and two of his colleagues set about to create a life-sized golem that they animated by inserting a piece of paper with the word “Shem” written on it into the golem’s mouth. In Kabbala, the word “Shem” is regarded as being an interpretation of God’s divine and holy name. This golem was known by the names of Josef and Yossele. He was known to be able to turn himself invisible and summon the spirits of the dead.
Loew would use the golem to perform several menial tasks that required a lot of strength. Then, every Friday evening, Loew would remove the piece of paper so the golem would not interrupt people on the Sabbath.
As luck would have it, there came a Friday, when Loew forgot to remove the piece of paper, and the golem, ended up running rampant. By the time the rabbi learned of the problem, he left the service in search of the golem. When he found the golem, Loew removed the paper from its mouth and he and his colleagues carried the golem back to the synagogue. The companions sealed the golem away in the attic of the Prague Synagogue. A ban was placed on those entering the attic. Legends hold that a rabbi and a later generation went up the stairs and saw the golem, and that rabbi placed a ban on even going up the steps.
Over time, people forgot about the golem and even today, no one is allowed inside the synagogue’s attic area or shul. In other places around the Czech Republic, visitors can access the attic or shul areas of other synagogues.
Variation – Another version of the Golem of Prague holds that Rabbi Loew dreamt that the Lord commanded him to create a golem in order to protect the Jewish people. It is this version of the story that is the basis for the Disney Gargoyles’ episode “Prague” and possibly the inspiration for Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein.
Another minor add-on to this legend is that during WWII, a Nazi agent is said to have gone up to the attic area and later died of suspicious circumstances.
The Golem Of Chelm
In this story, rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm created a golem that kept growing in size to the point that it tore the name of God off its forehead. At that point, the golem became inert and toppled over to crush its creator.
The Golem Of Vilna
This story is about Vilna Gaon or “the saintly genius from Vilnius,” circa 1720-1797. Rabbi Chaim Volozhin presented several different versions of a particular passage from the book Sefer Yetzira to his teacher the Gaon. Chaim made a comment on how he should be able to easily create a live human from these passages. In response, the Gaon confessed, saying that he once began to create such a being when he was a child under the age of 13. However, the Gaon received a sign from Heaven to cease doing such a process due to his young age.
The Clay Boy
This is a Yiddish and Slavic folktale that takes and combines elements for the golem and The Gingerbread Man. Essentially this story follows the childless couple motif and archetype.
An older couple whose children have grown up and left home decided one day out of loneliness to make a child out of clay and dry him on the hearth. To their delight, the clay child comes to life and the elderly couple treats him as a real child. However, the Clay Boy doesn’t stop growing and in soon enough time, he has eaten up all of the couple’s food. The Clay Boy continues his voracious appetite by eating all of the couple’s livestock and eventually, he eats the couple themselves. Unsatiated, the Clay Boy goes on a rampage through the village and doesn’t stop until a goat goes and rams them, smashing them to pieces.
Late Nineteenth Century
When we get to the later part of the 20th century, we see many non-Jewish or Gentiles become interested in stories of Golems, using them in various media for literature, movies, T.V. series, even an opera, and so on. These stories show the Christianization of the golem. Notably in the Christian idea that humanity should not presume to be God or play God lest hubris visit them horribly. That such acts end in folly and disaster. Notable stories, again Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Stories that don’t feature a golem, but other creations would be like H.G. Well’s Island of Doctor Moreau and any number of various science fiction featuring a robot uprising.
Similar Folkloric Figures
Androids – Robots, Cyborgs, Automatons, the idea of an artificial, mechanical being has been a part of the science fiction landscape and examples of these can be found in a few various mythologies. In the early part of the 21st century, we are seeing advances in AI and robotics that these beings are here, real, and no longer part of a what-if, speculative science fiction.
Clones – This is another area that has gone from science fiction to science fact with Scientists able to clone humans or animals in labs. There are many science-fiction literature and media that go into the ethics of cloning and what rights a clone has.
Frankenstein’s Monster – Or Frankenstein’s Creature, this is an artificially created man by the title character in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. In the book, the creature is created in a vat, via means of alchemy. Whereas many movie adaptations have the creature created from various body parts of cadavers. Later literature and media will give the creature the name Adam in reference to a line where the creature says “I ought to be thy Adam.”
Galatea – This is the name of a statue brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite in answer to the sculptor Pygmalion’s prayers.
Homunculus – This is a small person that Alchemists were purported to be able to create from alchemical journals. These anecdotes were popular during the 16th century.
Mökkurkálfi – In Norse mythology, the Mökkurkálfi is a clay giant created by the troll Hrungnir that helped to fight against Thor.
Tulpa – A bit more esoteric, Tulpa, or thought forms that can be created. Unlike golems, a tulpa is not likely to have a physical, tangible body.
Etymology: “God of Wealth”
Also Known As: Ts’ai-shen, Tsai Shen Yeh, Zhao Gongming, Bi Gan
Alternative Spellings: T’shai-Shen, 財神 (Traditional Chinese,) 财神 (Simplified Chinese)
In the Taosist and folk religions of China, Caishen is the god of wealth, specifically prosperity who is rather popular that even atheists will worship him from time to time, at least during the Lunar New Year celebrations.
In some depictions, Caishen is shown dressed in exquisite flowing red robes and riding a black tiger. He is said to have a black face with a thick mustache and wears an iron helmet along with holding an iron weapon. Unless this misunderstanding is on my part, Caishen may also be shown with a Ri Yu staff or scepter that he holds. A golden yuanbao (gold ingot, bar of gold) is also shown near to Caishen or he may be holding one. Other imagery of Caishen will show him with several attendants with various gold bars, scrolls and fruit to pass to people that Caishen has blessed.
A temple to Caishen was built in the 2000s in Zhouzhi, Xi’an, Shaanxi. That is fairly recent in the grand scheme of things.
Caishen aids in ensuring that a person will receive profits from any commercial transactions.
Gold – This is rather obvious as a symbol of Caishen. He is often shown with a gold yuanbao or ingot as this holds value. The iron weapon that Caishen is shown holding also sometimes transforms into gold, showing Caishen’s power over wealth and prosperity.
Alchemy – There is sometimes another tool, a golden cudgel that Caishen holds that he can use to turn stone or iron into gold.
Tiger – In Chinese symbolism, the tiger represents persistence and represents that a person must do more than wish for wealth, they must do more and act on it.
Close on the heels of being a god of prosperity, Caishen presides over a bureaucracy with numerous minor deities under him.
Aside from promoting prosperity and wealth, Caishen is known to protect or ward against thunder and lightning.
Lunar New Year
During the Chinese Lunar New Year, Caishen descends from the heavens to come down to the earth and check on his followers.
With the Lunar New Year, this is a good time in the days leading up to it to do some spring cleaning of your home and remove unwanted clutter. Do any repairs that need it and check the lightbulbs, especially for the front door.
Families worship Caishen in the early morning by setting three candles on the dining table and burning three incense sticks of choice as the main entrance and windows are open to invite Caishen into the home. After bowing and inviting Caishen in, it is traditional for the family to set a place for him at the table and to eat dumplings on this day as they look like the gold yuanbao or ingot associated with Caishen. Images of Caishen are also displayed, in more modern times, posters are acceptable.
On the second day of the Lunar New Year, Caishen ascends back up to the heavens, and the pictures used to welcome him on the first day are now burned to see him off. Burning the pictures is part of wishing for a more prosperous and luckier year.
The fifth day of the Lunar New Year is Caishen’s birthday, so its natural to want to celebrate that and wish him a happy birthday too! Cake, dumplings, and fireworks!
It is popular among friends and family to say the traditional New Year greeting of “Gongxi Facai” or “May you become rich!” Admittedly, many Westerners confuse the saying as being equivalent to the English “Happy New Year” when it’s a prayer wishing someone wealth and prosperity.
For those who practice feng shui, an image of Caishen can be displayed in one’s home or office to attract money, good luck or fortune, wealth, and prosperity. Some believe that this can come in the form of a sudden windfall of financial luck. The higher that you are able to place this image of Caishen, the better as that is believed to show more respect for him with the best places being the foyer, entryway, or living room for him.
Among the “Pure Land Buddhists,” they venerate Caishen as a buddha. In esoteric Buddhism, Caishen is identified with Jambhala, the God of Wealth.
In various Chinese and Taosist temples, a statue of Caishen may sometimes stand near a door, usually in conjunction with Randeng Daoren, the Burning-Lamp Taoist.
Under Mao and Communism, the veneration of Caishen in mainland China hasn’t faired too well as the state believes in making it’s own way and luck with money. Several of the temples and statues of Caishen were destroyed during this time.
As luck would have it, 1979 saw a renaissance from the “Four Asian Tigers” of overseas Chinese communities in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea where the veneration of Caishen had been kept alive, finding themselves wealthy and prosperous, even well developed. This wouldn’t be hard for people back in mainland China to see a correlation and have a swift return to using Caishen’s symbols from abroad and to place statues of Caishen in several prominent places, there are shrines, incense burned and statuettes tucked away on a shelf in a restaurant.
Possible Reality Behind The Myth
Many of China’s mythical figures are often said and thought to have once been a living person in life before ascending a deified or higher state. In this case, there are several legends of whom Caishen has been linked to, making it a bit dubious to determine if these were real, living historical people once.
With Caishen, we see him linked to the historical figure of Zhao Xuan-tan or Chao Hsüan-t’an, “General Zhao of the Dark Terrace,” during the Qin Dynasty. As Zhao Xuan-tan, he gained enlightenment on the top of a mountain. While still mortal, Zhao Xuan-tan is said to have assisted Zhang Dao-ling during his search for the Life-Prolonging Elixir.
Bi Gan – The historical figure of Bi Gan is the most ancient person to link Caishan with and the first incarnation. Bi Gan had been married to a woman with the surname of Chen. Their son’s name was Quan. After Bi Gan was sentenced to death by his nephew, King Zhou of Shang, Bi Gan’s wife and son fled to the forest. Bi Gan’s death is noted to mark the collapse of the Shang dynasty. Later, Quan would be revered as the ancestor to the Lins by King Wu of Zhou.
Zhao Gongming – There is a novel written during the Ming dynasty era called Fengshen Yanyi that tells the story of a hermit by the name Zhao Gongming who used magic to support a failing Shang dynasty. Jiang Ziya, who supported the following Zhou dynasty, made a straw effigy of Zhao and after twenty days of spells, prayers and incantations, fired an arrow made of peach tree wood through the heart of this effigy. At the moment the arrow struck, Zhao became ill and died. Later, when Jiang visited the temple of Yuan Shi, he was chastised for causing the death of a virtuous man. Jiang Ziya, having remorse, carried Zhao’s corpse to the Yuan Shi temple to make atonement. As Jiang expounded on Zhao’s virtues, Zhao would become canonized as Caishen, the god of Wealth, and become the president of the Ministry of Wealth. There are some sources that reverse the loyalties of Zhao and Jiang for this story.
The historical figure of Bi Gan is the most ancient person to link Caishan with. Bi Gan had been married to a woman with the surname of Chen. Their son’s name was Quan. After Bi Gan was sentenced to death by his nephew, King Zhou of Shang, Bi Gan’s wife and son fled to the forest. Bi Gan’s death is noted to mark the collapse of the Shang dynasty. Later, Quan would be revered as the ancestor to the Lins by King Wu of Zhou.
Fan Li – During Confucius’ time, Caishen came to be associated with Fan Li, a military strategist, businessman, and advisor to Goujian who ruled over the kingdom of Yue. Both Fan Li and Goujian were taken hostage by the state of Wu and held for three years. After they were freed, Fan Li continued to serve Goujian, carrying his government appointments and reforms that improved the kingdom of Yue. Fan Li’s reforms aided Goujian to be able to conquer the Wu state. After this victory, Fan Li resigned from his position and took on the name Tao Zhu Gong.
Fan Li and his wife, Xi Shi went to live on a boat out on Lake Tai. Fan Li’s success with business and his reforms led to his being defied and regarded as a reincarnation of Caishen.
Caibo Xingjun – This is another name linked to Caishen as a possible historical figure. Originally born Li Guizu, he was born in the Zichuan district in the Shandong Province where he held a position as a magistrate. Due to his service and contributions, Li Guizu was given the title of Caibo Xingjun by the Wude Emperor of the Tang dynasty and the people built a temple to worship him.
These are just some of the stories I was able to find of those historical people who have been linked with Caishen.
The Caishen Of All Directions
With all of these various historical figures linked to Caishen and seeing them as various incarnations; they all lead to the fact that there are multiple Caishen who are associated with the various directions. Additionally, a person wanting Caishen’s aid should pick one of these nine different Caishen to call on.
Center – Zhao Gong Ming, the Military God of Wealth
East – Xiao Sheng, the God of Collecting Treasures
West – Cao Bao, the God of Collecting Valuables
North – Yao Shao Si, the God of Profitability
South – Chen Jiu Gong, the God of Attracting Wealth
South-East – Han Xin Ye, the God of Gambling
South-West – Liu Hai, the God of Luck
North-East – Shen Wanshan, the God of Gold
North-West – Tao Zhugong, the Civil God of Wealth
Baby New Year
Also Known As: New Year’s Baby
The figure we know as the Baby New Year is the personification of the New Year.
They are an infant human wearing a diaper, a top hat, and a sash with the date of the new year. Sometimes they are shown as a toddler, already able to stand and walk on their own. Sometimes they will have hair, sometimes not and usually it’s blonde hair when they do. In addition, a cartoon may depict the Baby New Year holding an hourglass and a noisemaker of some sort.
As the months progress, this baby gets older, until the end of December when they are an old man with a long, flowing white beard and it’s time for them to welcome the next year’s Baby New Year.
As an example, seen in “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year,” the Baby New Year will be shown as either a baby in January or as an old man in December when it’s time to welcome the new year and they either retire or die. With the Rankin & Bass Special, other past New Years will have some likeness to the year they represented any key, significant events that happened.
Editorial Cartoons – Newspapers or News sites will frequently have the familiar pictures of the Baby New Year in the first news articles for the start of the New Year. Joseph Christian Levendecker, a cartoonist working for The Saturday Evening Post is the most notable for his drawings of the Baby New Year and for making the image more secular between 1907 and 1943.
Rebirth & New Beginnings
This is the symbolism with the image of the Baby New Year, the “birth” of the next year, and the passing of the old year in a perpetual cycle of rebirth.
It can vary a little bit based on the mythic retelling of explaining the Baby New Year. Most agree that his purpose is to chronicle the year’s events as they pass by or happen.
Dionysus – As I noted when writing the post for Father Time with how he is based off of Cronos and Saturn; the Baby New Year is based on the ancient Greek god Dionysus, notably his role as a deity of Dying and Rebirth, particularly with the crops and harvest season.
With that revelation about the connection to Dionysus, it should come as no surprise that the concept and idea of a Baby New Year has been around since roughly 600 B.C.E. in ancient Greece when the Greeks would celebrate the rebirth of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. Part of this celebration would be parading a baby through the streets in a basket to represent the infant Dionysus. What’s more, we see an aspect of this tradition, notably in 1400 C.E. Germany, carry on with some early Christian celebrations of the New Year where this baby represents an infant Jesus.
Determining The Start
Most cultures tend to be centered agriculturally for the start of their New Year and Spring as that’s when they can begin farming.
For Western Culture, we go back and credit Julius Caesar for setting January 1st as the New Year, the start of the civil year, the month of the god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, of gateways, comings, and goings. This calendar is called the Julian calendar after Julius Caesar as this was the beginning of the civil year
For Western Culture, celebrations of the New Year have only been celebrated in the last four centuries. During the Middle Ages period in Europe, celebrations of the New Year were deemed too pagan and therefore, unchristian. In 567 C.E., the Roman Catholic church did away with January 1st as the start of the year. During this era, depending on where in Europe you lived, the New Year could be celebrated on December 25th with the birth of Jesus or Christmas, March 1st, March 25th, the Feast of Annunciation, and Easter which still follows a lunar calendar for its date.
It is not until 1582 C.E., that we have Pope Gregory XIII reinstated January 1st as New Year’s with a calendar reform. This new Gregorian calendar would have countries upset as it upended the dates, they celebrated their winter celebrations and the start of the New Year.
In the United States, starting in 1904, New Year’s would see an uptick in the celebrations of New Year’s with the invention of the neon lights, the opening of the first subway line, and the first celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Before this, New Year’s celebrations had been fairly sedate.
Not All New Years Are Created Equal
Some are better…
Nearly every culture and country past and present celebrates the New Year. Depending on the country and civilization in question depend on when their calendar year begins.
Akitu – In ancient Babylon, this festival occurred in March and lasted for eleven days. Statues of the gods would be paraded out from his temples in March in a symbolic victory over the forces of chaos. The king would also come before the statue of Marduk, stripped of his regalia, and swear to the god that he had led the city successfully. A high priest would slap the king and pull on his ears to make them cry. Should the monarch shed tears, that was seen as a sign of Marduk’s favor.
Hogmanay – A Scottish word for the last day of the year and often coincides with New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s traditional to sing the tune “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight, bidding goodbye to the Old Year and bringing in the New Year. Hogmanay is thought to originate in Norse and Gaelic celebrations of the Winter Solstice with gift giving, visiting friends and neighbors to try and be the first visitor to a home as it is thought to bring good fortune.
Janus – Also a celebration for the Roman god of the same name, the ancient Romans would make offerings to the god on January first for good fortune in the coming year.
Lunar New Year – Also known as the Chinese New Year, this celebration coincides with the second Full Moon that will fall somewhere between January and February with current calendars and goes for fifteen days. Legend holds that a fearsome creature known as a Nian would attack villages every year. To ward and scare off the beast, the villagers would trim their homes in red, burn bamboo and make loud noises. This ruse worked and now those colors and fireworks have become part of the celebrations. Nian is also the Chinese word for year. During the fifteen days of celebration, people will focus on their families, have feasts, and do cleanings of their homes to get rid of bad luck and pay off debts.
Nowruz – Meaning “New Day,” this thirteen-day festival is celebrated in many countries throughout the Middle East. Sometimes called the “Persian New Year,” it is believed this festival occurs during the vernal equinox in March and is believed to date back to the 6th century B.C.E. Gifts would be exchanged among family and friends, feasts, bonfires lit, the dying of eggs and sprinkling of water, all symbols for the arrival and rebirth of spring.
Wepet Renpet – Ancient Egyptians, in the month of Tut, corresponding with September, would celebrate the New Year as the start of their agricultural calendar. The dog star Sirius would be up high in the sky, letting Egyptian farmers know the Nile River would be flooding soon. The first month of the year was also so a “Festival of Drunkness” in which the Egyptians would get really hammered, celebrating that time they averted the war goddess Sehkmet from destroying all of mankind by getting her drunk.
Sometimes the Baby New Year will be shown holding an hourglass, strongly alluding to his connection to the figure of Father Time that he often bears a strong resemblance due at the end of December when it’s time to pass on his duties and responsibilities to the incoming Baby New Year.
This hourglass that the Baby New Year is shown with represents the constant progression and march of time, representing the forces of entropy and how eventually everything eventually comes to an end.
It’s not all doom and gloom, time does represent wisdom, especially the wisdom that comes from age and living life. Another thing that is notable is that an hourglass can be turned over, representing the ability to start over or a new generation coming in.
New Year’s Day
Certain cartoons and editorials, most notably “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year”, will show Father Time as the Old Year welcoming in the Baby New Year as part of the never-ending progression of years and time. In this role, Father Time will be wearing a sash showing the date of the old year on it. In some beliefs, Father Time is said to pass on all of his knowledge and wisdom to the Baby New Year before they retire or die.
Auld Lang Syne
Scottish for “old long ago,” this is a traditional tune sung during Hogmanay (December 31st) in Scotland. It was collected and written down by Robert Burns in 1788. The song has since found its way to becoming a traditional tune to sing on New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight.
Baby New Year Title
When bestowed as a title, this name will be given to the first baby born to any village, town or city and hold that title for the year with it passing on to the next first baby born in the following year. By this tradition, the Baby New Year can be either or any gender. Though the mythical version of the Baby New Year will be male.
Several hospitals have ceased to announce the first baby born and given the title Baby New Year. The thought is to protect the infant from being a target for any potential harm. Though many cities will still give gifts such as bonds, diapers, and formula for a year to the first baby born.
There’s a handful of places where the Baby New Year has made an appearance in various media. There is Happy, the Baby New Year in the Rankin & Bass “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year” for TV. The animated series Histeria! Features a parody of Baby New Year by the name of “Big Fat Baby.” Lastly, there’s an appearance as “Happy New Year” from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy animated series.
Otherwise, in more modern times, we’re likely to only see the figure of the Baby New Year in quick Editorial Cartoons on New Years.
Credit – Spiderbrick 2099
Etymology: “Great One”
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Taueret, Tauret, Taurt, Apet, Ipet, Ipy, Opet, Reret, Rertrertu, Thoueris (Greek), Thoeris (Greek), Toeris (Greek), Ta-uret (Greek)
Other Names and Epithets: “Lady of Heaven,” Nebetakhet “The Mistress of the Horizon,” “She Who Removes Water,” “Mistress of Pure Water,” “The One Who is in the Waters of Nun,” and “Lady of the Birth House”
In ancient Egypt or Khemet, Taweret is the hippopotamus goddess of fertility, protection, and childbirth. She was a rather popular goddess whose image could be found in homes on beds and pillows rather than in any formal temple. Because of her fearsome chimeric appearance, some sources and translations will refer to Taweret as a demon.
Color: Blue, Green
Gemstones: (Hippopotamus) Ivory, Turquoise
Patron of: Child, Mothers
Sphere of Influence: Childbirth, Fertility, Motherhood, Pregnancy, Protection
Symbols: Ivory Dagger, Sa symbol, Wand
Taweret is shown in Egyptian art as being a chimeric deity having the head and body of a hippopotamus, the arms and legs of a lion, a crocodile’s tail and human breasts, and swollen belly of someone pregnant. She wears a flat, cylindrical headdress called a modius that sits on top of her hair or wig. These chimeric aspects show Taweret being both a fertility goddess and a protective deity and how nature can be bountiful while dangerous at the same time if not properly respected. The images where Taweret is shown with a crocodile on her back represent her connection to Sobek.
Later images show Taweret with the sun disc that’s associated with the goddesses Hathor and Isis. Taweret is often shown holding a Sa amulet, a symbol for protection and it wasn’t just protective amulets, as a household deity, Taweret’s image could be found on a wide variety of objects. Household furniture from chairs to stools and headrests. Vessels holding liquid were made with Taweret’s image with openings on the nipples, thought to purify any liquid being poured out. These vessels were very popular during the New Kingdom era. Towards the Middle Kingdom era, apotropaic objects such as wands and knives would bear Taweret’s image during both funerary rituals and pregnancy and birthing rituals. These objects have been shown in tomb paintings.
What’s In A Name
Taweret’s name means either “She who is great” or “Great One” and is the type of name or epitaph given to a potentially dangerous deity or entity so as not to provoke their wrath.
Taweret is a domestic deity in that she usually didn’t have any temples dedicated to her. Instead, you could find images of her in people’s homes on beds and pillows.
However, statues of hippopotamus goddesses can be found in tombs and temples to help the deceased be successfully reborn into the afterlife. Plus, during the time of the Middle Kingdome between 2,055 and 1,650 B.C.E., Taweret became more prominent with her image appearing on more apotropaic objects, the most common being a “wand” or “knife” carved from hippopotamus ivory used in rituals for the birth and protection of infants. These same images would also appear on children’s feeding cups.
Interestingly enough, during the Middle Kingdom era, Taweret would also become a funerary deity and hippopotami images would appear alongside the marsh flora décor in tombs and temples. This imagery connects Taweret as a goddess of rebirth into the afterlife, not just earthly births.
During the New Kingdom (1,550 to 1,069 B.C.E.), Taweret along with other household deities would become even more prominent. Taweret’s image would appear on a number of household items. Despite the ruling of the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten to alter Egypt from polytheism to henotheistic religion and a focus on the sun disc, Aten banned the worship of many deities, Taweret persisted due to her influence on daily life and her connection as a funerary deity.
During the Ptolemaic and Roman periods between 332 B.C.E. and 390 C.E., Taweret continued to have the main role in day-to-day Egyptian life. Either during the Late Period 664 B.C.E. to 332 B.C.E., a temple was built for Ipet, a similar hippopotamus goddess in Karnak. This temple was believed to be the place of the sun god, Amun-Re’s daily birth, and several goddesses like Taweret were connected to him as a divine mother.
Crete – In the Minoan religion of ancient Crete, Taweret is known as the Minoan Genius. All thanks to contact and trade of ideas with Levant who in turn, got them from Egypt. Taweret’s image continued to be used on protective amulets, though in a more Minoan style, and would find their way even to mainland Greece.
Levant – Taweret was adopted into Levantine religions, taking a maternal goddess role in their pantheon.
Nubia – Taweret even found favor with the Nubian empire and became part of their pantheon during the lat Middle Kingdom era in Egypt. Evidence has been found of Taweret appearing in royal rituals in Kerma, the capital of Nubia.
Parentage & Family
Given how fluid Egyptian myths can be, who’s related to who can vary by era.
Taweret has been paired up with a few different gods.
Aha – Or Bes, the dwarf god, Taweret is sometimes paired with him.
Apep – An Egyptian snake god of chaos who is sometimes paired with Taweret.
Seth – Or Set, according to Plutarch, is Taweret’s spouse.
Sobek – The crocodile god of chaos, Taweret is paired with him.
In Thebes, Taweret is regarded as the mother of Osiris and thus linked to the sky goddess Nut. Taweret is to have given birth to Osiris in Karnak.
Amun-Re in Ptolemaic traditions and accounts when he becomes the supreme god instead of Ra. Under this mythic tradition, numerous maternal goddesses were seen as Amun-Re’s divine mother. They were all just different names for the same Divine Mother.
The Egyptians were very fluid in their theology and how the gods were depicted. Different deities were known to merge for a specific reason or to emerge and split away, becoming their own entity. Given the thousands of years, the Egyptian Dynasties lasted, it’s not surprising in many ways for the myths to be fluid and change with the times. It was no problem for the Egyptians who saw such myths as complimentary and not contradictory.
At different points in the continuing development of Egyptian mythology, Taweret has had her roles become associated with other goddesses or have roles added. For the ancient Egyptians, they often saw their deities as just being different aspects of the same Goddess. Taweret goes from not just a goddess who protects children and the birth process but one who protects and purifies those moving to the afterlife. Which, makes sense, death being a form of rebirth to the next life and what comes after.
Other examples of this are the goddess of Isis, Hathor, and Mut all having protective roles and aspects that would later be absorbed by Taweret.
Egyptian Astronomy – The Mistress of the Horizon
Taweret’s image is often used to represent a northern constellation in the zodiacs where she is known as Nebetakhet (“The Mistress of the Horizon”). This same image can be found in many astronomical tomb paintings, even the Theban tombs of Tharwas, Senemut tomb, and the Pharoah Seti I in the Valley of the Kings. In this aspect, Taweret is thought to keep the heavens free of evil preventing those not worthy from passing by.
We see the image of the astral Taweret again, almost exclusively on the Sethian foreleg of a bull. This image later comes to represent the never-setting circumpolar constellations of Ursa Major and Draco and has associations with the Egyptian god of Chaos, Seth. The seven stars that line down Taweret’s form are from Ursa Minor.
In the Book of Day & Night, a mythological text dating from the Twentieth Dynasty (1186-1069 B.C.E.), it’s commented that this foreleg of Seth’s in the northern sky is tied down to two mooring posts of flint by gold chains. Isis in the form of a hippopotamus guards these posts.
This specific example of mentioning Isis and not Taweret is part of the fluidity of Egyptian cosmology and beliefs where the aspects of one goddess could be absorbed by another or split off for other deities.
The cosmic, astral imagery for Taweret is even found in later Ptolemaic and Roman eras such as the Book of Faiyum where Taweret is shown in her usual image with a crocodile on her back and a small upright crocodile in her right hand. Another section of Faiyum papyrus shows her near Lake Moeris. The Faiyum shows the solar journey that the sun god Ra takes with Lake Moeris being where the sun god is believed to descend during his nightly journey to the underworld of Amduat.
Taweret is represented in connection with Lake Moeris as a well-known constellation where she is a protective divine mother to Sobek-Re during his daily, solar journeys. In this respect, Taweret is like Neith the primary divine mother to Sobek. This aspect of Taweret is known as “Neith the Great, who protects her son.”
Protector of Pregnancy & Motherhood
This is perhaps Taweret’s best-known role as a goddess of protection. Her role and domain is over pregnancy and childbirth to ensure safe and healthy births. Magic by way of charms, amulets, and the use of special apotropaic wands and ivory-handled knives to ward off evil. 75% of all apotropaic wands have been found with Taweret’s image on them. Practitioners using these would draw a circle on the ground around the sleeping, expectant mother.
As a protective goddess of childbirth, Taweret would often be shown with the dwarf god, Bes who also has a similar protection role.
It should go without saying that pregnancy and childbirth were and still can be a dangerous time. Advanced as Egyptian medical knowledge was, they weren’t above invoking Taweret’s aid and help to ensure a successful birth with incantations that hoped and prayed for a son to carry on a patriarchal line for the household.
Metternich Stela – In this later myth, Isis tells Horus that he was raised by a “sow and a dwarf.” The sow refers to a female hippopotamus and thus Taweret while the dwarf is a reference to Bes.
The Death Of Osiris – Plutarch says that Taweret is a concubine of Set who changed her ways to become a follower of Horus and his order of law. This links Taweret to Isis as the goddess kept Set on a chain to control his forces of chaos. One version of this myth has Taweret holding Set down while Horus slays him.
Motherhood – Later myths quickly connect Taweret as a divine mother, namely the one who fiercely protects her children, much like lions and hippopotamuses are known to.
Pregnancy – Modern folk magic in Egypt still sees women who desire to become pregnant going to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to rub the belly of Taweret’s statue. To the point that a glass vitrine now shields the statue from the constant rubbing and wear. That doesn’t stop women from going to visit the statue in efforts and hopes of becoming pregnant.
The Sa symbol is the hieroglyph for protection and with Taweret, this protective amulet is used during pregnancy and childbirth to ensure the baby’s health and safety. Pregnant women frequently wore these Sa amulets or those with Taweret’s image on them.
Plutarch’s Notes – Plutarch mentions in his writings that in the central myth of Isis and Osiris, Taweret is a concubine to Seth, the god of chaos and murderer of Osiris. Taweret rebels against Seth in order to join Horus and his forces of order.
To the Egyptian mind, this one makes sense, as you’re born into the mortal life, so too do you undergo a similar rebirth into the afterlife with death. Who else will be there, none other than Taweret to act as a sort of psychopomp to purify the soul as you move on.
Taweret’s image would also be placed outside of temples dedicated to other Egyptian gods where it was believed she would protect and keep away harmful, chaotic spirits.
The Eye Of Ra
This story has been found engraved on one of the shrines in Tutankhamun’s tomb and in “The Book of the Heavenly Cow.”
In this story, Hathor, as the Eye of Ra, turns into Sakhmet. How this came about is that Hathor’s father Ra, having grown old, was beginning to fall out of worship. Angry about this, Ra speaks to his daughter who turns into Sakhment and goes out to punish humanity.
As Sakhmet, she was very efficient and nearly wiped out everyone. Realizing that if she continued killing everyone, there would be none left at all to worship the gods, Ra decided that there has been enough killing and told her to stop. Only now she can’t quit, Sekhmet’s become so full of bloodlust.
Seeking the guidance of the ever-wise Thoth, he and Ra get large vats or barrels of beer that have been dyed and colored red to look like blood. In some versions of the story, they flood the land with the blood-red beer, and in others; Thoth has a hallucinogenic like poppies put into the beer.
Regardless of the final version told, Sekhmet on seeing all this beer drinks it up, getting so drunk, she forgets about her reason for coming to the earth, her great blood lust, and forgets all about killing anyone. When Sekhmet returns to Ra, he embraces her and Sekhmet turns back into Taweret. Granted, the other version I have mentioned before sees Sekhmet turn back into Hathor.
With Taweret’s rise and popularity, this version and change of the story is meant to showcase Taweret’s role as a fertility goddess and one of renewal or rejuvenation. This version of the story is why Taweret has the epithet of “Mistress of Pure Water.” By taking the form of a giant hippopotamus that brings the flooding of the Nile River.
Mistress of Pure Water – Fertility Goddess
The above story places Taweret in a position as a goddess of fertility, which makes sense, she is already the goddess responsible for watching over the birth process. Since hippopotami are associated with the Nile River, it’s easy to equate them with the annual flooding that brings much-needed life, rejuvenation, and renewal, especially near Jabal al-Silsila. Just as Tawerret would bring rejuvenation and fertility, she was also associated with the harvest.
Another myth has the god Amun-Re as being born from Taweret as Ipet to ensure the cycle of renewal and regeneration.
Archeological finds have found that hippopotami lived in the Nile River long before the rise of dynastic Egypt around 3,000 B.C.E. Among the Egyptians, male hippopotami were viewed as dark, negative creatures allied with Set, the god of chaos. There would be royal hunting parties that would prove the divine power and might of the pharaoh.
As for female hippopotami, they were seen in a more favorable light as they were seen to represent Taweret. This frightful appearance was to frighten away any negative spirits that would harm a child, especially during labor and childbirth. Given the protective nature of female hippopotami with their young, they were easily adopted as protective symbols. Protective amulets with female hippopotami have been found dating back to between 3,000 to 2,686 B.C.E. up to the Ptolemaic and Roman eras between 332 B.C.E. and 390 C.E.
More Than One Hippo Goddess!?!
Taweret isn’t the only protective hippopotamus goddess. There is also Ipet, Reret, and Hedjet. Some scholars have put forward the idea that all these goddesses are merely different aspects of the same goddess as they’re all protective household goddesses.
We know already that Taweret means “Great One.” Ipet’s name means “the Nurse” and refers to her connection with birth, child rearing, and caretaking. Reret’s name means “the Sow” and it does connect to an erroneous classification of calling hippopotami as water pigs. Hedjet’s name means “the White One” and the meaning for this name isn’t clear. Depending on the source and era, all three goddesses were regarded as different names and aspects of Taweret or she absorbs them.
There is evidence of a hippopotamus goddesses’ cult during the time of the Old Kingdom between 2,686 and 2,181 B.C.E. found on Ancient Egyptian funerary papyrus known as the Pyramid Texts. Ipet is mentioned in Spell 269 of the Pyramid Texts of how the deceased Pharoah will suck on the goddess’ “white, dazzling, sweet milk” when he ascends to the heavens. Maternal goddesses, these hippopotami goddesses protected not just those of royal lineage but those of non-royal lineages as well.
Not To Be Confused With Ammit!
While Taweret and the other hippopotamus goddesses all share similar roles with protection, fertility, and childbirth. There is another hippopotamus goddess, Ammit who should not be confused with Taweret or her fellow hippopotamus goddesses. Why? Because Ammit is the only hippopotamus goddess who is destructive, she is known for eating the souls of the unjust before they go to the afterlife.
Hathor – An Egyptian goddess, it should come as no surprise that at some point in the ever-evolving and changing Egyptian cosmology, that at some point Taweret would be equated with Hathor or share, take over many of the same attributes and even a myth or two while we’re at it.
Mut – A mother goddess in ancient Egypt, married to Amun-Re and often equated with Taweret.
Persephone – A Greek goddess of fertility and the underworld, those attributes seem to be the most like Taweret.
Also Known As: Benec, Vėlinas (Baltic, Lithuanian),Volos, Volusu, Volusu, Vyeles, Ganyklos (Lithuanian), Vlas (Russian), Walgino, Weles
Epitaphs: King of Bears, Lord of all Wolves, Master of the Forest, “Skotiybog“ (God of Cattle)
Etymology: “Uel-“ to see, fields, spirits of the dead. Also likely from the proto-Indo-European word “wel-“ wool
In Slavic beliefs, folklore, and mythology, Veles is a god of many things from storms and trickery to God of the underworld and domestic animals as well as the god of the earth and water. Veles is indeed a significant and major supernatural force within Slavic mythology and beliefs. Depending upon your source, some of it can seem rather contradictory.
Given the nature of Slavic beliefs, there isn’t much concrete documentation. There is still a lot of oral history and traditions about Veles found in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia. All of this can get very confusing as for the longest time, first with the arrival of Christianity, a lot of local Slavic pagan beliefs were done away with and made to be seen as aspects of evil and the devil. Then later, when that’s no longer so prominent, there just isn’t a lot that has been documented and what survives has been by oral tradition and that, can vary widely by local, regional traditions that have managed to get passed on. We also hit on several dubious sources that over time have proven not to be reliable.
Naturally, this will be where I’ve got some mistakes and expect I Veles to be a post I will come back to correct several times and update.
Animal: Bear, Cattle, Crows, Dragons, Owl, Ravens, Rooster, Serpents, Wolf
Colors: Black, Blue, Green, Red
Day of the Week: Sunday
Directions: North, West
Element: Earth, Water
Gemstones: Bloodstone, Garnet, Jasper, Jet, Obsidian, Onyx
Incense: Cedar, Clove, Ginger, Wormwood
Month: February, March
Plant: Cedar, Hawthorne, Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Pine, Wheat, Willow
Sphere of Influence: Cattle, Commerce, Divination, Fertility, Magic, Medicine, Music, Pastures, Underworld, Wealth, Wildlife
Symbols: Cattle, Horns, Serpents, Wool
Tarot: Cups, Pentacles
In some sources, Veles is described as a wolf-headed god. In other sources, Veles is described as a large serpent with horns that lives in the water or is pictured at the bottom of the Slavic World Tree with Perun in his eagle form at the top. Frequently, Veles is depicted as an elderly man with a gray beard and hair. As a shapeshifter, Veles often takes on the traits of those animals favored or associated with him such as horns and bear fur.
When in the form of a bear, Veles is regarded as the King of Bears. As a wolf, among the southern Slavs, Veles is the lord of all wolves.
Velinas – In the Balto-Slavic regions, a description is given that describes him as being a one-eyed god with a gift for divination and leader of the Wild Hunt, lord of the dead, and to whom people sacrificed to were killed with a spear. This version of Veles warrants having its own post as one source found, discusses Velinas as similar to, yet clearly different from Veles. Taking a look at the Mediterranean region among the Greek and Roman cultures, there were other culture groups like the Etruscans, the Dacians, Phrygians who have their own local deities who were similar to those of the Greek and Roman deities and would frequently be absorbed into the Greco-Roman pantheons and survive as epitaphs for the local region.
What’s In A Name?
According to the linguist Roman Jakobson, the name Veles comes from the word “uel-“ and “esu-“ while the name Volos comes from another root word for where “-el” changes to “olo.” The root word “uel” or “wel-“ can have variable meanings and refer to any number of words such as “to die,” “grass,” “to see,” “to want,” “to turn,” “to cull,” “tepid”, “hair,” “wool,” “forest,” and “deception” as in magical deceptions. The book “The Mythology of All Races” published in 1918 says that Veles’ name comes from “weles” for wolf.
The root word “uel” is also related to the proto-Germanic word “walaz” that is also seen in the old Norse “valr,” “valkyria,” and “Valholl” all words related to the Norse god Odin who is known too by the name “Valfǫðr.” In the Baltic dialects and language, we see this reflected in the word “vėlės/veļi” for the “spirits of the dead,” “shade of the deceased,” and “shadow of death.”. This is reflected in the Baltic god’s names of Vėlinas, Velnias, and Velns. A connection of the word “uel” from “ṷélsu-“ for meadow or pasture has been made with the Greek Elysium, the fields of the blessed dead.
Where “uel-“ relates with “to see,” there is a connection in the name of the seeress Veleda. Going off this, in Norse mythology there is a “Völva,” a seeress connected to water and foretelling known as “Völuspa.” The word “Völuspa” is connected to spinning or braiding the Thread of Fate of those whose futures have been seen. “Völva” is also the cognate for a “Wheel” or “Spinning Wheel.”
In the proto-Indo-European language, etymologists have found the root word “wel-“ meaning wool and likely where the English word “wool” comes from. The Russian word for “hair” is “volos.” As a god of horned cattle and other livestock, this makes sense.
First off, “The Primary Chronicle” is the main source and historical record that provides us with evidence for Veles’ importance and worship. Veles is one of the Slavic gods that can be concretely confirmed while there are several others that have been disproved or there’s still information being gathered to confirm them.
Veles is worshiped in two distinct forms. One as Veles and one as Volos. This makes sense as that can be a way to break down all the aspects of what Veles is a god of and the domains he presides over. Scholars and etymologists suggest that Veles and Volos are two different gods being referred to. However, that does make sense for a need to see two different deities once the Slavic regions began to be Christianized and there’s a split of Veles’ dualistic nature.
Cocks or Roosters would be sacrificed to Veles at the rivers or lakes sacred to him.
During the later 10th century, Vladimir I, the Prince of Kiev erected seven statues in his city, of which Veles was one of them. However, Veles’ statue is the only one that didn’t stand up on the hill next to the other statues and castle. Instead, Veles’ statue could be found in the city in the marketplace. This placement indicates strongly Veles’ importance to commerce. Plus, it also shows that the worship of Perun and Veles needed to be kept separate as Perun’s shrines and worship were to be conducted up high with Veles’ place down in the lowlands. Among the Southern Slavs, Veles’ name is often found in place names.
Triglav – Veles was worshipped as an aspect of the three-headed Slavic god Triglav and the Slavic trinity consisting of Perun, Veles, and Svarog.
With the arrival of Christianity in the Slavic regions and countries, the aspect of Veles has largely been suppressed, at least the aspects connecting him to the Underworld and as a trickster. He has been equated with the Devil with his name becoming the same word for ghosts and devils. There is a record of Czech’s referring to Veles as a devil in the 16th century. An idol was thrown in the Pocayna River. Veles is used frequently in medieval curses from Bohemia.
Due to Veles’ dualistic nature, we see a split in his name with Veles and Volos. The name Veles under Christian influence holding a more negative connotations and associations. Whereas with Volos, he is held more benignly, and this aspect survives, becoming associated with different Saints.
St. Blaise – Or Saint Vlas, Saint Vlaho, St. Blaz, or St. Vlasiy, he is connected more to the aspect of Volos, he is a shepherd and patron saint cattle and domestic animals. Icons of St. Vlas were placed in cattle sheds for their protection. The Saint’s name day is February 12th and, on this day, cattle are treated to a special feed to eat. In Yaroslavl, the church built on the site of Vele’s shrine was dedicated to St. Blaise.
St. Nicholas – Veles is associated with this saint who is a patron of merchants, fishermen, and mariners. There is also this connection due to the association with water and being a snake who is slain by St. George, a motif similar to the enmity between Perun and Veles.
Parentage and Family
Father – Rod, the creator god in Slavic beliefs.
Mother – Zemun, a divine or celestial cow.
Sometimes Veles’ parents are given as Svarog and Lada.
Perun and Dażbóg
Depending on the region or the source cited, Veles is married either to Mokosh, the goddess of the earth, or to Devana, a goddess of the wilds and hunt.
Mokosh – She is somewhat conflicting as in other stories Mokosh is the wife to Perun and whom Veles kidnaps in their never-ending feud.
Devana – Or Dziewanna was forced to marry Veles after she rebelled against Perun.
Jarilo – A fertility god raised by Veles after being kidnapped. So he may not really count.
The struggle against Chaos; this is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or God going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.
This aspect is seen in the descriptions of Veles where he is a serpent with horns and the battle that he has with Perun. It’s a dragon or serpent-slaying motif seen with the story of Saint George slaying the dragon.
Storm Myth – Battle With Perun, the Storm God
As previously mentioned above under Chaoskampf, this story is perhaps the best-known Slavic story, especially as it fits into the Christian ideas of a hero slaying the dragon or evil or order triumphing over chaos.
Russian scholars and philologists Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov have reconstructed this mythical battle of Perun and Veles with comparative studies to various Indo-European myths, Slavic folk tales, and songs.
Perun, the god of thunder battles against Veles in his dragon form. Depending on the story, Veles has stolen either Perun’s son, wife, or cattle which leads to their conflict.
As a challenge, in the shape of a huge serpent, Veles comes up from the underworld of Nav and wind his way up the Slave World Tree towards the heavens and Perun’s domain. Naturally, Perun responds by sending lightning bolts so that Veles flees back down and turns himself into various animals, people, and even trees to escape from or ambush Perun as they battle it out.
In the end, Veles is slain by Perun and the person or thing that Veles is to have stolen is released from within his body and it comes out in the form of falling rain from the heavens.
Scholars have commented that this “Storm Myth” is probably how the ancient Slavs would explain the changing of the seasons throughout the year. Any dry periods would be seen as Veles’ theft with the storms and lightning being interpreted as a divine battle up in the heavens and Perun’s ultimate triumph over Veles with the arrival of rain and Perun establishing order over chaos.
The Slavs have a saying that wherever lighting strikes, that is Perun attacking Veles.
Variation 1 – In the stories where Veles kidnaps Perun’s son, it is Jarilo, the tenth son who is stolen. Veles then raises Jarilo as his own son, who when he is older, becomes a god of fertility and heralds the arrival of spring when he returns to the lands of the living.
Variation 2 – It is Perun who is stolen as an infant and raised in the underworld. Once Perun is grown, he battles many creatures in order to fight his way back up to the mortal world.
Since the “Storm Myth” is cyclical and repeats every year. It connects Veles as a god of fertility and a god who dies and then is resurrected. The snake or serpent aspect of Veles would be him shedding his old skin or old life to be reborn as the year changes.
The “Storm Myth” and battle with Perun places Veles in a more negative role as one who brings chaos. Certainly, change is chaotic, but there is a pattern that emerges and soon you can make sense of that pattern and bring about a certain order to things so it doesn’t get destructive.
For the ancient Slavs, Veles wasn’t evil, he was the god of the wilds and nature which can appear to be very unpredictable if you’re not careful or respectful.
Later Christian influences will place him as evil and why in so many places Veles’ name does become synonymous with the devil and evil. But we do see where Veles appears as a Saint such as Saint Nicholas to save a poor farmer’s cattle from the destructiveness of St. Elias, a representative of Perun.
While Perun is more associated with agriculture, there is a Russian custom during harvest season to cut the first ear of wheat and tie it into an amulet that would protect crops from evil spirits. This was known as “tying the beard of Veles” which meant to invoke good fortune and wealth.
Duality – Ultimately the conflict of Perun and Veles is the duality in the clash of good and evil and the cyclical nature of the passing of the seasons and year. Veles represents the earth, water, and physical world and Perun represents fire, the heavens, and spirit.
Marriage To Devana
Also known as Dziewanna, she is a goddess of the wilds and hunt. As punishment, Devana found herself forced to marry Veles after she rebelled against Perun. Wanting to be wild and free, Devana didn’t initially love Veles at first despite the two having a domain that’s very similar to each other. After a bit of thought, Veles managed to win Devana over when he changed into a basil flower and calmed her. While they’re still not really in love, together they do watch over the lowlands of the wilds and are a force not to be taken lightly.
God of Mischief
Like Loki, Veles is considered a god of mischief and trickery. This ties strongly to the association of Veles’ use of magic, shapeshifting, and the arts. This aspect holds where Veles is seen as a god of chaos and a disruption during any long periods of dryness, or no rain as primarily seen in the “Storm Myth.”
Magic & The Arts
In this aspect, we see Veles the god of divination, magic, music, poetry, the earth, and water. Oaths would be sworn in Veles’ name. Traveling musicians, skalds, bards, and poets were known to pray to Veles for his protection as they traveled.
As a god of poetry, divination, and the arts, Veles has been equated with the Norse Odin. There is a 12th-century Russian epic, “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign,” where the character Boyan the wizard is referred to as Vele’s grandson. Poetry, music, and magic were closely linked in both Nordic and Slavic beliefs.
Veles is regarded as a protector of traveling musicians. Up into the 20th century, in some wedding ceremonies held in northern Croatia, the music won’t begin playing unless the groom while making a toast, spills some of the wine onto the ground, especially near the roots of a tree. This tradition would be musicians making a toast to their patron deity.
The Slavic magician-priests were called: volhov, volchvi, vlъsvi and volъsvi. They were not priests of an elite religion like those belonging to Perun. Rather, these magician-priests were known to be seers, soothsayers, poets, magicians and sorcerers as well as healers and herbalists. It is thought the etymology of volchys connects them to Volos.
God of the Underworld
Veles is a god of the Underworld, in charge of the spirits of the dead whom he would send out as his messengers. In his connection to the earth, Veles is also a god of all the bounties and riches of the earth, growing above and found below.
Nav – Also known as Nawia, this is Veles’ abode in the underworld. Incidentally, the word nav could also refer to the spirits or souls of the deceased who had premature deaths or poor deaths such as drowning, or being murdered, or if you were a murderer or warlock, these were all spirits that would come back as demons to afflict the living. The navias could take the form of birds. In Bulgaria, there is folklore that says twelve navias could suck the blood from a pregnant woman. The navias were also the demonic representation of the 1092 plague in Polotsk, Belarus.
Very similar to Norse beliefs, the Slavs also believed a huge world tree connected the mortal world to the heavens and the underworld. The roots of the world tree formed the roof of the underworld as they stretched out.
Where Perun was seen as either a hawk or eagle sitting in the branches of the world tree looking out over the heavens, Veles was seen as a huge serpent coiled around the roots ruling over the underworld.
Unlike descriptions of other underworlds, Nav was viewed as a beautiful place in folktales as a place where it’s forever Spring with green, grassy plains and plenty of water. Many fantastical creatures could be found here, not just the spirits of the dead who watched over Veles’ herds of cattle.
For the Slavs, Nav was described as being somewhere “across the sea” and was the place where migrating birds would go to every winter. In folktales, we find a different name, Virey or Iriv and that Jarilo, the god of fertility and vegetation lived here during winter and would return when it was time for spring. Jarilo would cross the seas, returning to the lands of the living bringing spring and birds back.
The Separation Of The Human World & Underworld
This story concerns the separation and boundary separating the mortal, living world with that of the underworld and lands of the dead. A shepherd pledged to Veles to sacrifice his best cow and to keep the god’s prohibitions. From this, Veles divides the human world and the underworld with either a furrow that he plows or groove over the road that the shepherd carves with a knife to prevent evil or negative powers from crossing.
God of Cattle
As Volos, he is known as “skotiybog,“ the god of cattle who watches over and protects flocks, cattle and all domestic animals, keeping them from harm. The name skotnyi bog is also the name for livestock in general. This aspect of Veles survives and continued under Christian influence well into the 18th century as Saint Blaise where he is a protector of shepherds and their flocks or cattle.
It must be noted too that it isn’t just domestic animals that Volos watches over, but all wild animals, connecting him to the image of him as a horned serpent and thus, horned gods like Pan or Cernunnos who watch over the forests and animals. In addition to the horns associated with either a bull or ram, there is also sheep’s wool that is used as a symbol for Veles.
The Koledari would sing that they come to “weaving black wool.” There is some folklore involving wool and the expressions, “presti vunu” meaning weaving wool, and “crnu vunu presti” meaning the weaving of black wool. These are illusions to magical crafts and Veles’ role as a god of magic.
God of Commerce & Wealth
Given how cattle were regarded as a sign of wealth and influence, it’s not hard to see Volos become the god and patron of commerce, business, prosperity, trade, and wealth. Merchants would seal their agreements by swearing Volos’ name and even legal documents would sometimes have oaths to him. If you broke an oath, you could be sure of Volos’ punishment and retribution.
A Rus-Byzantine Treaty of 971 is the earliest record we have where signers swore by Vele’s name with violators being warned of a punishment. They would be killed by their own weapons that would become “yellow as gold.” It is thought that this meant they would be cursed with a disease.
Veles’ Feast Day
Or the Festival of Veles, this festival is celebrated either February 11th or 24th for the observance of midwinter. In Christian folk rituals, this festival corresponds with Saint Blaise’s feast day. In the Orthodox traditions, St. Blaise as the protector of cattle is said to have defeated Winter or Morana. Among Catholic traditions, St. Blaise is the patron of throat diseases and apples and candles are blessed to provide protection from those diseases. In Catholic tradition, St. Blaise’s feast day is February 3rd and apples would be sacrificed to him by feeding them to cattle.
Prayers would be offered to Veles for the protection of livestock and their health by sacrificing milk. The festival would be held near a place of worship. During this time, it is forbidden to eat veal. The food eaten during this time is groats seasoned with fat. Ritual fights would also be held during this festival.
The best part is knowing that this held close to Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia!
The Great Night, in Slavic beliefs, following a lunar calendar, the first day of the New Year would begin on what corresponds with the Gregorian calendar of March 1st to celebrate the end of Winter and return of Spring. This festival could last from Christmas all the way to the end of February. After the arrival and Christianization of many Slavic countries, for those Slavs falling under the Orthodox Churches, this day came to be known as Velik Dan or the Great Day. For the Catholic Slavs, this day became Velika Noc, still the Great Night. Both names correspond with the day or the week in which Easter is observed.
In pre-Christian worship, Velja Noc is the night that the spirits of the dead walk the earth and would enter villages and homes to celebrate the New Year with their living relatives. It is believed that Veles, as the god of the underworld would send out the souls of the dead to the living world to act as his messengers. One tradition has young men known as koledari or vucari would dress up in long coats of sheep wool and wear grotesque masks as they went around the villages making a lot of noise and singing songs. They would be wet and muddy to symbolize the wet underworld of Nav and the ghosts of the dead. In the koledari traditions, they would visit different homes and people presented them with gifts as if they were messengers from Veles to gain his favor for wealth and fortune in the following year.
Which I find very fascinating as this all sounds very much like the Irish celebration of Samhain and Halloween with spirits of the dead passing over to the world of the living and dressing up in costume. Plus, the spirits visiting living relatives is a lot like celebrations of Día de Los Muertos in Mexico and Kalan Goañv in Brittany, France.
Apsat – A Georgian or Sarmatian deity and god of cattle and herds who has been equated with Velese.
Cernunnos – A god of the druids in Celtic myth, he is symbolized as a horned snake and god of nature and horned animals.
Hermes – A trickster god and messenger of the Greek pantheon, Veles has been compared to them.
Loki – Veles has been compared to the trickster god Loki from Norse mythology.
Mercury – The trickster and messenger god of the Roman pantheon.
Odin – Some descriptions of Veles also sound just like Odin with his one-eye and gift of prophecy.
Triglav – A three-headed underworld god worshiped by the Pomeranians and some of the Polabian Slavs in Szczecin, Wolin and Brandenburg. It was a short-lived cult confirmed by St. Otto of Bamberg in his biographies.
Vala – A demon who opposes the thunder god Indra in the Vedas.
Vėlinas – A Baltic deity who is very similar in appearance to the Norse Odin and not just Veles.
Also Known As: Angel of Death, Death, The Reaper, The Grim Spectre of Death, der Tod (German), Kosač (Slavic), La Muerte (Latin), La Mort (Latin), La Calaca (in Mexico), Pietje de Dood (Dutch), Smrt (Slavic)
“Only two things are certain in life, death and taxes.”
- Benjamin Franklin
In the modern, Western mindset, the Grim Reaper is either a personification of Death, an angel, spirit, or psychopomp who comes to take the souls of the recently deceased to the afterlife.
Since the earliest times, there are numerous stories showing death being a part of life. Even modern literature and media will show that death happens and that the figure of the Grim Reaper is frequently one who’s there to guide people on to the next life.
One can rightfully argue that the concept and personification of the Grim Reaper have existed for a very long time. Even before their modern appearance, numerous cultures have some variation of a Death deity or psychopomp. Prominent deities are the Greek Thanatos, God of Death, and more recently from Brittany, France the Ankou who bears a striking resemblance to the modern Grim Reaper, it’s easy to see them as both the same entity doing the same job.
From European history, it’s easy to see a personification of Death taking on the skeletal visage they have during the fourteenth century when the Black Death plague is sweeping through, with so many people dying and bodies piling up. Artists would paint images of skeletons with weapons or scythes, riding on white horses through the streets with wagons full of bodies. From all of this would eventually come the dark figure dressed in black robes and carrying a scythe.
As for the name “Grim Reaper,” that wouldn’t come until 1847 when the name “Grim” was a popular name for Death that can be traced to the thirteenth century.
The Grim Reaper is often described as a skeleton dressed in black robes with a hood pulled up and carrying a scythe. In Europe, the Grim Reaper or Death may be dressed in white, a traditional color worn during funerals in some cultures.
During the Medieval Ages, the Grim Reaper was thought of as a decaying corpse before becoming the more familiar skeletal figure.
The Grim Reaper is a familiar figure who appears in numerous media and literature and can appear as either his familiar robed figure or as an ordinary person, male or female going about doing their job.
Scythe – It should go without saying, the scythe represents a harvester’s tool for bringing in the grain. So does the scythe representing harvesting a person’s soul or spirit when they did. Depending on the story, the Grim Reaper doesn’t have to use their scythe, just their mere presence and arrival is enough to signify that a person’s time has come.
Hourglass – Some depictions of the Grim Reaper have them with an hourglass representing the ticking off the sands of time and moment of death.
White Horse – When connected as a Horseman of the Apocalypse, the Grim Reaper or Death as they are then known is seen riding a white horse or possibly, riding in a chariot pulled by white horses.
Regardless of the description of the Grim Reaper that you go by or calling them Death, the Angel of Death, their job is that of a psychopomp, an entity that guides and takes the souls of the deceased to the afterlife.
While researching the Grim Reaper, I came across numerous articles that break down and go into all the myriad personifications of Death around the world, either as a deity, angel, or psychopomp. Including dozens of examples of the Grim Reaper in modern media where they are still a very active figure who is simply doing their job.
Or the “Dance of Death” is a medieval French allegory for how death unites everyone, regardless of age or social status in life. The Danse Macabre has been shown in various forms of the arts beginning as theatre plays and poems, wall paintings, and drawings. The majority of these come from the 15th century, an era of numerous famines, plagues, and wars. All things that people associated with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The imagery invoked is Death summoning the spirits of the dead to come and dance along their graves. The more commonly used figures would be the pope, a king, the young, old, and the laborer to remind the audience watching that death is an inevitable part of life and the Danse would highlight those too attached to worldly possessions.
The French believed the Grim Reaper would arise every year in the local cemetery at midnight, the Witching Hour. The Grim Reaper would then play a fiddle, summoning all the skeletons and ghosts of the dead to come dance until dawn, and the rising sun would force them back to their graves. This belief inspired Henri Casalis’ poem “Danse Macabre” which would be made into a musical piece by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns in 1874.
Kalan Goañv – A Breton festival occurring on October 31st and similar to Halloween and Samhain. Similar to the tradition in the Mexican Dio Los Muertos, the Bretons would feed the Ankou, a figure similar to the Grim Reaper with milk, cider, and crepes. The tombstones in cemeteries across Brittany have small cup-like holders where offerings for the dead can be left.
Looking at the Grim Reaper through the lens of Christianity, the Grim Reaper is the angel of death sent by God to do his bidding. This is the angel who is to have smote some 185,000 Assyrians in their camp. The same destroying angel who killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. Just about any time that an angel of death or destroying angels is mentioned, there’s a connection made to the Grim Reaper. With this connection, the Grim Reaper’s name is Azrael. The Talmud will connect him to Samael. In Eastern Orthodox beliefs, Death is one of the three enemies of humanity, with the other two being sin and the devil.
Getting into the Biblical Book of Revelation, particularly in chapter six, there are four horsemen who appear, each signaling another sign of the end of the world and Judgement Day. The four horsemen are said to be Pestilence, Famine, War, and Death. It is the figure of Death, the only one outright named, riding a pale horse that has many connecting the imagery of the Grim Reaper. Many modern depictions of the horseman Death will show him being dressed and looking like the Grim Reaper too.
In the Major Arcana of the tarot cards, death is one of the cards that can turn up. Depending on the specific deck in use, the death card may depict the familiar robed figure of the Grim Reaper.
The modern imagery of the Grim Reaper and how he or she appears varies wildly depending on the media in which the figure appears. From the traditional skeletal figure dressed in robes with a scythe to a very ordinary-looking human woman or man just doing their job. But they almost always appear in some capacity to release the soul of the recently deceased and guide them to the afterlife. For some characters, they’re ready to go, for others they are scared and don’t want to go and try to find a way to cheat death, claiming a false death, one more chance, unfinished business before some stories have the character realize they can’t beat the inevitable and that it’s time.
Playing Games With Death – This has been a popular motif used and spoofed in many media and literature. The Swedish director Ingmar Bergman first brought this concept in his 1957 movie “The Seventh Seal” where a medieval knight plays a game of chess against Death. Since then, many movies and shows have spoofed or made use of this idea later. One of my personal favorites is in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” – This is a song from 1976 by Blue Oyster Cult found on their album Agents of Fortune. The lyrics to the song encourage listeners to not fear death, but rather instead to see it as symbolizing eternal love. Author Stephen King found inspiration from it for his novel The Stand and the song features in the opening of the 1994 miniseries adaptation and again in the end of the fifth episode for the 2020-2021 miniseries adaptation. Plus, if you want a song with more cowbell, this is for you.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – In the 1988 movie, Baron Munchausen is constantly being pursued by Death, shown as a skeletal angel with raven wings and wielding a scythe and hourglass. At the end of the film, Death takes Munchausen’s soul with Munchausen is given a lavish funeral where Munchausen then boldly states that this was “one of the many times I faced Death” before the movie finally comes to an end.
The Sandman – This graphic novel series and recent Netflix adaptation show Death as an immortal and one of Morpheus’ siblings. In the comics, she is shown as a Goth Girl and in the live-action, she is dressed casually. The episode featuring Death shows her appearing to a person at the time of their death and guiding them on.
I could keep going on with all the various appearances of Death or the Grim Reaper. Suffice to say they are still a rather active figure and one who is truly timeless whose motifs will always fascinate people and seek to explore.
Father Time’s Age-Old Companion
It’s notable how the imagery for both Father Time and the Grim Reaper are very similar in appearance. Both wear a robe, and both carry a scythe. One just happens to be an old man while the other is a skeleton. Despite how similar the two look in certain details, they are not the same being.
Syno-Deities & Entities
As a psychopomp and representation of Death, the Grim Reaper has numerous counterparts around the world. Many of the more European-based figures will certainly share similarities in their depictions while other cultures are likely to have different appearances. They do share in common, either being the guide to the afterlife or the one that greets spirits on arrival.
Ah Puch – The Mayan god or lord of death.
Ankou – Essentially, the Grim Reaper and Ankou are largely the same entity, both wear black robes and carry a scythe. The Grim Reaper is very much the modern Ankou, appearing in several various media and literature.
Arawn – The Celtic god of the Dead, the Ankou is sometimes equated with him.
Azrael – The Angel of Death in Jewish traditions. More accurately, they are the Angel of Light and Darkness from the Talmud.
Azrail – The Angel of Death in Islamic beliefs. He, along with many angels under him will guide and take souls to the afterlife.
Bag an Noz – The Boat of Night, those who live along the seashore in Brittany tell of how the last person to drown in the year, will roam the seas at night to collect the souls of the drowned and guide them to the Afterlife, just as the Ankou does on land. It is a ghost ship that appears whenever something bad is about to happen and disappears when people come too close. The crew of this boat is said to call out soul-wrenching sounds.
Charon – The Greek ferryman of the dead has also been equated with the Grim Reaper due to similar garb and taking souls to the Afterlife.
Church Grim – Or the Grim, in English and Scandinavian lore it is a black dog that has been killed and buried in the graveyard at either the beginning or end of the year in order to protect the church and graveyard. Other animals such as lambs, boars or horses.
Crom Dubh – This one is a bit of a stretch. Crom Dubh was an ancient Celtic fertility god who demanded human sacrifices every year, of which, the preferred method was decapitation. Eventually the god fell out of favor and somehow this god becomes a spirit seekings corpses and eventually becoming the Dullahan.
Death Coach – A general Northern European, especially in Ireland where it is called the Cóiste Bodhar. The Death Coach is known for arriving to collect the soul of a deceased person. Once it arrives on earth to collect a soul, it will not leave empty. It is a black coach or carriage that is driven or led by a headless horseman who is often identified with the Dullahan.
The Dullahan – also known as Dulachán means “dark man” or “without a head.” This being is a headless fairy often seen dressed in black and riding a black headless horse while carrying his head under an arm or inner thigh. The Dullahan is armed with a whip made from a human spine. Death occurs wherever the Dullahan ceases riding and when it calls out a name, the person called dies. Death can also come if the Dullahan tosses a bucket of blood at a person who has been watching it.
In other versions, the Dullahan rides a black carriage. Sometimes they are accompanied by a banshee. Nothing can stop the Dullahan from claiming a victim save the payment of gold.
Giltinė – The Lithuanian personification of Death. She was depicted as an ugly, old woman with a long blue nose and poisonous tongue.
Gwyn ap Nudd – The Welsh god of the Dead, in some later folklore, he leads the Wild Hunt, especially on Halloween to guide and take wayward souls to the afterlife in Arawn.
Hel – In Norse mythology from Scandinavia, she is the goddess of the Dead and rules over a realm with the same name.
Hermes – This is the Greek god sometimes known to guide souls down to the Underworld where Charon, the Ferryman would receive them for the next part of the journey to Hades.
La Calavera Catrina – A popular figure to see in Mexican culture and during Dia De Los Muertos.
Jeoseungsaja – Or Saja is the Korean version of the Grimm Reaper who escorts souls to the afterlife.
Magere Hein – Also known as Pietje de Dood, this is the personification of Death in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Maweth – In Hebraic scriptures, Death or Maweth is the personification of either the angel of death or a devil.
Memitim – A name for a class of angels in biblical lore that presides over those dying whom a Guardian Angel was no longer protecting.
Mercury – The Roman version of the Grecian Hermes, he too is a psychopomp that guides souls to Avernus, a crater in Italy thought to be the entrance to the underworld.
Mictecacihuatl – The Aztec goddess of death
Mictlantecutli – The Aztec god of death
Morana – The Slavic goddess of winter, death, and rebirth.
Mot – The Canaanite personification and god of Death.
Omolu – The Brazilian spirits known to bring death, disease, and even healing.
Pesta – Meaning the “plague hag,” in Scandinavia, during the Black Plague, she was depicted as an old woman wearing a black hood. Pesta would come into town carrying either a rake or broom. If she brought the rake, it meant some people would survive the plague. If she brought the broom, it meant that everyone would die.
Samael – This the name for another angel in Jewish tradition who does the Lord’s bidding as his executioner.
San La Muerte – A similar figure found in South America, mainly Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Santa Muerte – The female version of the Grim Reaper. Her imagery is very similar in appearance to the Ankou and Grim Reaper wearing robes and wielding a scythe. Santa Muerte is worshiped primarily among many Hispanics & Latinos, especially in places like Mexico.
San Pascualito – A folk saint of Death found in Guatemala and Mexico.
Śmierć – This figure of Death is female and comes from Poland where instead of dressing in black like the Grim Reaper, they dress in white.
Shinigami – These are the Japanese gods of Death.
Thanatos – The Greek god of Death.
Valkyries – The “choosers of the slain” and warrior maidens in Norse mythology, they would escort the souls of the dead with half going to Odin’s realm in Valhalla and the other half going to Freya’s Hall of Folkvangr.
Yama – The Hindu god of death, as well as the judge of souls in the afterlife.
Yanluo – From Chinese mythology, Yanluo is the god of the dead and ruler of Di Yu.
And if I have done nothing else, let death be greeted as an old friend instead of something to be feared…
Alternative Names: Apu Punchaur, Apu-punchau, Giver of Life, Inti-Wawqi (Brother of the Sun)
In the Quechua and primarily Incan cultures of what is now modern-day Peru, Inti is a god of the sun and war. Inti was second in importance only to Viracocha, the creator god. Inti is generally perceived as a benevolent deity much of the time, bringing the heat of the sun for crops to grow. In the same vein, Inti could show displeasure through solar eclipses in which sacrifices would need to be made to soothe his anger. Rulers of the Inca saw themselves as descendants of Inti, the patron of their empire and military might.
The Incan Empire once spanned from Chile to Colombia and had covered most of Peru and Ecuador in its heyday. The Incan people were an advanced culture with sophisticated records, astronomy, art, and wealth. The Inca originated from the Lake Titicaca region in the Andes. Like any empire, the Incas expanded, conquering other tribes and cultures. That is, until the arrival of the Spaniards who came looking for gold and their own conquests in 1533. Smallpox devastated many of the local populations, making it easy for the Spanish and other Europeans to come in and with it, the fall of the Incan empire.
Animals: Cougars, Snakes
Patron of: Creation
Sphere of Influence: Crops, Fertility
What’s In A Name?
Surprisingly, the word inti isn’t a Quechuan word but is instead a loanword from the Puquina language. Looking at the language groups of Aymara, Mapuche, and Quechua in the region shows why all these languages have a similar word for the sun. The Mapuche people have a similar sun deity known as Antu, the names for their spouses, and the Moon goddess are different from Quilla and Cuven.
In art, Inti would be represented as a golden disc with a human face. In the minds of the Incan people, Inti has a human form.
Gold – This metal was particularly associated with Inti as it was thought to be the sweat of the sun. There is a record of a gold statue to represent Inti. Within Inti’s temple in Cuzco, the interiors were lined with 700 half-meter panels of beaten gold. Outside the temple was a life-sized scene of a field of corn with llamas and shepherds all made of gold and silver. This statue represented Inti as a young boy known as Punchao or the Day and Midday Sun. From the statue’s head and shoulders, the sun’s rays shone forth. He was wearing a royal headband and had snakes and cougars coming out of his body. The stomach of the statue was hollow and would hold the ashes of the previous Incan rulers’ vital organs. This statue would be brought out every day into the open air and returned to the temple at night. When the Spanish arrived, the statue was taken to a place of safety, but eventually, it was found in about 1572 C.E. and has since disappeared from history where it was likely melted down for the gold along with so many other Incan artifacts.
Inti Masks – These masks were made of thinly beaten sheets of gold to form and represent the rays of the sun coming out of Inti’s head. The rays were often cut in a zig-zag design and some were known to end with small human faces or a figure. The most well-known mask was the one on display at the Coricancha temple.
Temples & Solar Constructions
Temples were often elaborately decorated with gold and jewels with intricate designs. This added a lot of prestige for those worshiping within, to offer something so abundant and plentiful to Inti to magnify the glory of the sun.
Coricancha Temple – (“House of the Sun”) and Sacsahuaman were sacred districts in the Incan capital of Cuzco. These are thought to have been built during Pachacuti’ reign. The High Priest of the Sun or Villac Umu presided over rites dedicated to Inti. They would be assisted by acllas or acyllyaconas (young virgin priestesses). Priests in other parts of the empire would carry out ceremonies and rites locally in those places.
Gateway of the Sun – This monolith located in Tiahuanaco by the Tiwanaku culture is thought to have a figure representing Inti while other sources will claim that it is Viracocha. The Sun Gate is also important as it shows the position of the sun on the days of the solstices and equinoxes.
Intihuatana – Or “hitching post of the sun” are solar astronomical stones (similar to a sundial but more sophisticated) that would be set at the highest point of a sacred precinct. They were used during the solstices to track the sun and connect it to the earth with a special cord or rope. Other astronomical observations for the sun and perhaps other celestial bodies would also be tracked with them. The most familiar and famous example is the one found at Machu Picchu. Other places are Pisac in north-eastern Cuzco, Ingapirca in Ecuador, and the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca where Incan rulers would make a pilgrimage to once a year.
Sucanga – These were a series of twelve pillars arranged around the city of Cusco used in the Incan solar calendar. Each pillar was arranged so that each month, it would indicate where the sun would set and rise. Farmers used them to rely on their planting and harvests. In the Incan Solar Calendar, the year was divided into 12 moons with 30 days. Each moon corresponded with its festivities and daily activities.
This isn’t that much of a stretch, Inti is the Sun god, the sun way up in the sky is seen as him. It’s not that hard to see the sun as sacred, especially when needing crops to grow and bring light to the world.
Among the Inca, they began worshiping before the dawn. The emperor, his family, and everyone would head down to the main square of Cusco and wait silently for the rising of the sun. Once the sun rose, everyone would rejoice and kneel as the priests offered up a chicha to Inti in a silver bowl.
From there, the people would march to Coricancha to relight the sacred fire using mirrors to direct the sun’s rays.
The sun worship also included dances, sacrifices of grain, flowers, and animals that would be burned on bonfires.
Parentage and Family
Father – Viracocha, the creator god
Mother – Mama Qucha
Sometimes Pachamama, the earth goddess is Inti’s mother and in yet other myths, Inti will become Pachamama’s second husband.
Mama Quilla – The goddess of the Moon.
Pachamama – An Earth goddess
Siblings – Imahmana, Mama Killa, Mama Quilla, Pachamama, Tocapo
Inca Manco Capac I and Mama Oello
Through Inca Manco Capac I, Inti is essentially the progenitor of all the Incan people. Other myths will place Manco Capac as the son of Viracocha.
Ancestor & Protector Deity
Inti is noted as being an ancestor of the Incan people through his son Inca Manco Capac I. In this capacity, Inti is also the state protector of the Incan peoples. Inti taught both Manco Capac and his daughter Mama Ocllo the arts of civilization.
The ruling elite of the Inca were all seen as representatives or avatars of Inti on earth. A similar concept is found in ancient Egypt where the Pharoah was seen an avatar of Ra in the flesh. Every member of the Incan people, especially the nobles to see themselves as representing Inti when they traveled and that they needed to holy when entering certain cities within the empire.
Incan myths say that Inti is the founder of their culture and empire. Inti taught his children Manco Capac and Mama Ocollo the arts of civilization before sending them to the Earth to pass these skills on to humankind. Inti ordered his children to build the capital of the Incan empire where a golden wedge hit the ground. This city is often regarded as being the city of Cusco and had been founded by the Ayar.
Worship – Inti was regarded as the head of the state cult and his worship was enforced throughout the Incan empire. The Incan leader, Pachacuti is who is often credited for the spread of the Inca Sun Cult.
The High Priest or Willaq Umu placed this position as the second most important person in the Incan culture. The Willaq Umu was directly beneath the Sapa Inca and were often brothers as both were held to be descended from Inti.
In Incan beliefs, Inti and his sister, Mama Quilla, the Moon goddess are regarded as being benevolent. Inti is also to have married his older sister Mama Killa who bore him two children. Within Inti’s court, he and Mama Quilla are served by the Rainbow, the Pleiades, Venus, and other celestial bodies.
Where many will identify Inti as a sun god, he is more accurately viewed as a series of solar aspects, specifically the stages of the sun as it passes throughout the day.
Incan Astronomy – In Incan cosmology, the sun has three phases it goes through during the day. The first is known as Apu Inti, the “supreme Inti” and represents the father and is sometimes known as “The Lord Sun.” The next is Churi Init or “Son Inti” which represents the son of Inti and is known as “Daylight.” The last is Inti Wawqi, the “Sun Brother”. The name is also spelt Inti- Inti-Guauqui and Inti-Huaoqui. Inti Wawqi represents the sun god in his role as the founding father of Incan rule and ancestor of the Incan people.
The aspects of Apu Inti and Churi Inti are separated cosmically as they each represent the Summer and Winter Solstices. Inti Wawqi is not associated with any astronomical spot.
The other idea in Incan cosmology is that these different aspects of Inti involved different duties they undertook. One of the suns represented the actual sun giving heat and light to the earth. Another of the sun was in the sky during the day much like the moon is out at night. And that the last sun was responsible for the growth of plants and agriculture.
Eclipses – Like many cultures, eclipses were seen as a sign of ill omen, and with the Inca, that Inti was somehow displeased. The Inca couldn’t predict a solar eclipse, part of what led to beliefs in an angry sun deity. The priests would seek to find ways to divine and figure out what had caused Inti’s wrath and then figure out which sacrifices needed to be made. With an eclipse, this is when the Inca would resort to human sacrifice to appease Inti’s anger. In addition, the ruling Inca would withdraw to fast for several days before returning to their duties.
Creation Myth – One of the interpretations of this myth has a conflict between Viracocha and Inti over the Sun’s creation and if it meant it should be worshiped as a separate entity.
Agriculture – As a Sun god, Inti is also instrumental as an agricultural deity. Especially in the highlands of Peru where the sun’s heat was thought to be the cause of rain. The correlation makes sense when during the rainy season, the sun is hotter and during the dry season, the sun feels cooler. Without that rain, the production of crops for maize and other grains would be more difficult.
Each province of the Inca empire would dedicate a third of their land and herds to Inti. Each major province would have a Sun Temple where priests and priestesses would serve.
Inti-Raymi – Meaning “Sun Festival,” this is an annual festival held during the time for the start of a new planting season. In the Quechua language, the name Inti Raymi means “resurrection of the sun” or “the path of the sun.”
The festival began with three days of fasting, no fires lit and people abstaining from sex, the sacrificing of 100 brown llamas. Once the festival began, it would last nine days during which time people consumed a lot of food and drink. There would be ritual dances, chanting from sunrise to sunset with animal sacrifices throughout the day all dedicated to celebrating Inti. Other sacrifices to Inti included simple prayers, food, coca leaves, and woven cloth. At the conclusion of the festival, people would leave with permission.
Sacrifices – Oftentimes animals of various livestock would be given. The most common sacrifices to Inti were white llamas. Any human sacrifices were done during a special ceremonial occasion or in the event of an event such as an earthquake, solar eclipse, or a death in the royal family. Such sacrifices and ceremonies were conducted to ensure the continuation of the Incan empire for its people and harvests.
There is one particular story of an eagle being attacked by buzzards and falling from the sky during a ceremony to Inti in roughly 1526 C.E. This was seen as an omen or portent for the collapse of the Inca empire. This would also coincide with the arrival of smallpox brought by Spanish Conquistadors from Europe. The smallpox epidemic would devastate numerous populations throughout the Americas and in the case of the Inca, it weakened them to conquered by the Spanish.
After the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, this festival would be changed to May or June to coincide with the feast of Corpus Christi. Of course, incoming invaders and conquerors saw the festival of Inti-Raymi as being too pagan and would try to replace it with Christian observances.
The Inti-Raymi festival has seen a revival and tourists are known to come to Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire to observe it. Inti Raymi occurs during the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and June 24th by modern Calendar dates. And of course, no human sacrifices in the modern day.
With the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors, came also the arrival of Catholicism and Christianity. The incoming Christian priests saw any religion other than themselves as being Pagan. The Sun Worship observed among the Incans was no exception and quickly equated with paganism and thus evil. This religious zeal, fueled by Spanish greed led to many temples being destroyed along with many religious artifacts meeting the same fate.
It is known that the Spanish Conquistadors seized a huge golden disk that represented Inti in 1571. It was sent back to Spain and given to the pope. Since then, this artifact and religious icon have been lost and there is speculation it may have been melted down to bullion.
Nowadays, in the 20th and 21st centuries, Inti is equated with the Christian god by the Quechua people.
Apollo – A Greek god of the sun also worshiped by the Romans.
Arinna – A Hittite goddess of the sun and light.
Helios – An ancient Greek sun god.
Huitzilopochtli – The Aztec god of the sun.
Kinich Ahau – The Mayan sun god.
Lugh – The Celtic sun god and fierce warrior.
Mithra – The Persian god of the sun.
Ra – A solar god worshiped among the ancient Egyptians.
Sol – The name of the Roman personification of the sun.
Sunna – Or Sol, one of the few sun goddesses and venerated by the Norse.
Surya – The Hindi god of the sun.
Tawa – The Sun Kachina in Hopi beliefs.