The Lion, the horse and the king
Posted by Fredsvenn on September 20, 2015
Cybele has a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük (in the Konya region) where the statue of a pregnant goddess seated on a lion throne was found in a granary.
The Lion Gate (detail) of Mycenae – two lionesses flank the central column.
Cybele (perhaps “Mountain Mother”) was an originally Anatolian mother goddess; she is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity.
Samson and the lions, Saint Trophime Church Portal (12th century).
The Storting (Norwegian: Stortinget, “the great thing” or “the great council”) is the supreme legislature of Norway, established in 1814 by the Constitution of Norway. It is located in Oslo.
Ningishzida – leopard
The lion has been an icon for humanity for thousands of years, appearing in cultures across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Despite incidents of attacks on humans, lions have enjoyed a positive depiction in culture as strong and noble.
A common depiction is their representation as “king of the jungle” or “king of beasts”; hence, the lion has been a popular symbol of royalty and stateliness, as well as a symbol of bravery.
Representations of lions date back to the early Upper Paleolithic. The lioness-headed ivory carving from Vogelherd cave in the Swabian Alb in southwestern Germany, dubbed Löwenmensch (lion-human) in German.
The sculpture has been determined to be at least 32,000 years old from the Aurignacian culture, but it may date to as early as 40,000 years ago. The sculpture has been interpreted as anthropomorphic, giving human characteristics to an animal, but it may represent a deity.
Two lions were depicted mating in the Chamber of Felines in 15,000-year-old Paleolithic cave paintings in the Lascaux caves. Cave lions also are depicted in the Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche region of southern France, where lionesses are depicted hunting for the pride in much the same strategy as contemporary lions, discovered in 1994; this has been dated at 32,000 years of age, though it may be of similar or younger age to Lascaux.
Rrepresentations of lions are common in Sumerian art and was significant in Sumerian mythology. In ancient Mesopotamia (from Sumer up to Assyrian and Babylonian times) it was a prominent symbol, where it was strongly associated with kingship. The classic Babylonian lion motif, found as a statue, carved or painted on walls, is often referred to as the striding lion of Babylon. It is in Babylon that the biblical Daniel is said to have been delivered from the lion’s den.
There are lions at the entrances of cities and sacred sites. Lions have been widely used in sculpture and statuary to provide a sense of majesty and awe, especially on public buildings. This usage dates back to the origin of civilization.
There are lions at the entrances of cities and sacred sites from Mesopotamian cultures. Notable examples include the Lion Gate of ancient Mycenae in Greece that has two lionesses flanking a column that represents a deity, and the gates in the walls of the Hittite city of Hattusa (Hittite: Ḫa-at-tu-ša, read “Ḫattuša”, Turkish: Hattuşaş), the capital of the Hittite Empire in the late Bronze Age.
The “Lion of Menecrates” is a funerary statue of a crouching lion, found near the cenotaph of Menecrates. The lion is Work of a famous Corinthian sculptor of the Archaic Greece, end of the 7th century BC, and is found at the Archaeological Museum of Corfu.
Lions are known in many cultures as the king of animals, which can be traced to the classical book Physiologus. The lion is featured in several fables of the sixth century BC Greek storyteller Aesop. In his fables, the famed Greek story teller Aesop utilized the lion’s symbolism of power and strength in The Lion and the Mouse and Lion’s Share.
In Socrates’ model of the psyche (as described by Plato), the bestial, selfish nature of humanity is described metaphorically as a lion, the “leontomorphic principle”.
Lions have been extensively used in ancient Persia as sculptures and on the walls of palaces, in fire temples, tombs, on dishes and jewellery; especially during the Achaemenid Empire. The gates were adorned with lions. Evidences are found in Persepolis, Susa, Hyrcania, etc.
A lion-faced figurine is usually associated with the Mithraic mysteries. Without any known parallel in classical, Egyptian or middle-eastern art, what this figure is meant to represent is currently unknown. Some have interpreted it to be a representation of Ahriman, of the aforementioned gnostic Demiurge, or of some similar malevolent, tyrannical entity, but it has also been interpreted as some sort of time or season deity or even a more positive symbol of enlightenment and spiritual transcendence.
In gnostic traditions, the Demiurge is depicted as a lion-faced figure (“leontoeides”). The gnostic concept of the Demiurge is usually that of a malevolent, petty creator of the physical realm, a false deity responsible for human misery and the gross matter than traps the spiritual essence of the soul, and thus an “animal-like” nature.
As a lion-headed figure, the Demiurge is associated with devouring flames, destroying the souls of humans after they die, as well as with arrogance and callousness.
Several Biblical accounts document the presence of lions, and cultural perception of them in ancient Palestine. The best known Biblical account featuring lions comes from the Book of Daniel (chapter 6), where Daniel is thrown into a den of lions and miraculously survives.
A lesser known Biblical account features Samson who kills a lion with his bare hands, later sees bees nesting in its carcass, and poses a riddle based on this unusual incident to test the faithfulness of his fiancee (Judges 14).
The prophet Amos said (Amos, 3, 8): “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?”, i.e., when the gift of prophecy comes upon a person, he has no choice but to speak out. In 1 Peter 5:8, the Devil is compared to a roaring lion “seeking someone to devour.”
In Christian tradition, Mark the Evangelist, the author of the second gospel is symbolized by a lion – a figure of courage and monarchy. It also represents Jesus’ Resurrection (because lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, a comparison with Christ in the tomb), and Christ as king.
Some Christian legends refer to Saint Mark as “Saint Mark The Lionhearted”. These probably false legends say that he was fed to the Lions and the animals refused to attack or eat him. Instead the Lions slept at his feet, while he petted them. When the Romans saw this, they released him, spooked by the sight.
The lion is the biblical emblem of the tribe of Judah and later the Kingdom of Judah. In the modern state of Israel, the lion remains the symbol of the capital city of Jerusalem, emblazoned on both the flag and coat of arms of the city.
It is contained within Jacob’s blessing to his fourth son in the penultimate chapter of the Book of Genesis, “Judah is a lion’s whelp; On prey, my son have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, like the king of beasts—who dare rouse him?” (Genesis 49:9).
Unlike Christianity, in Judaism, The Lion has positive connotations. For instance, in every synagogue there is an ark with a depiction in which lions face each other like bookends with the torah in the middle, as if they were protecting it.
In antiquity, a leopard was believed to be a hybrid of a lion and a panther, as is reflected in its name, which is a Greek compound of leōn (lion) and pardos (male panther). The Greek word is related to Sanskrit pṛdāku (snake, tiger, panther).
The generic component of its modern scientific designation, Panthera pardus, derives from Latin via Greek pánthēr. Folk etymology saw the name as a compound of παν (pan, all) and θηρ (beast). However it is believed to be derived from an Indo-Iranian word meaning “white-yellow, pale”; in Sanskrit, this word’s reflex was pāṇḍara, which was derived from puṇḍárīka (tiger, among other things), then borrowed into Greek.
A panther can be any of several species of large felids: the term can refer to cougars and jaguars in the American continents but (given the European origins of the word) it is largely thought to define the leopard at its source. Black panther refers to leopards with melanistic genes, which are not uncommon in rainforest habitats.
Leopards have been known to humans throughout history, and have featured in the art, mythology, and folklore of many countries where they have historically occurred, such as ancient Greece, Persia, and Rome, as well as some where they have not existed for several millennia, such as England. The modern use of the leopard as an emblem for sport or a coat of arms is much more restricted to Africa, though numerous products worldwide have used the name.
The lion passant guardant or leopard is a frequently used charge in heraldry, most commonly appearing in groups of three. The heraldic leopard lacks spots and sports a mane, making it visually almost identical to the heraldic lion, and the two are often used interchangeably. These traditional lions passant guardant appear in the coat of arms of England and many of its former colonies.
More modern naturalistic (leopard-like) depictions appear on the coat of arms of several African nations including Benin, Malawi, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon, which uses a black panther.
Leo is the fifth astrological sign of the zodiac, originating from the constellation of Leo. It spans the 120-150th degree of the Tropical zodiac, between 125.25 and 152.75 degree of celestial longitude. Under the tropical zodiac, the Sun transits this area on average between July 23 and August 27 each year, and under the sidereal zodiac, the Sun currently transits this area from approximately August 16 to September 17.
Leo is one of the constellations of the zodiac, lying between Cancer to the west and Virgo to the east. Its name is Latin for lion, and to the ancient Greeks represented the Nemean Lion, the most notable lion of Ancient Greek mythology, that lived at Nemea and was killed by the mythical Greek hero Heracles (known to the ancient Romans as Hercules), who subsequently bore the pelt as an invulnerable magic cloak, barehanded as one of his twelve labors.
The Nemean Lion would take women as hostages to its lair in a cave, luring warriors from nearby towns to save the damsel in distress, to their misfortune. The Lion was impervious to any weaponry; thus, the warriors’ clubs, swords, and spears were rendered useless against it. Realizing that he must defeat the Lion with his bare hands, Hercules slipped into the Lion’s cave and engaged it at close quarters.
When the Lion pounced, Hercules caught it in midair, one hand grasping the Lion’s forelegs and the other its hind legs, and bent it backwards, breaking its back and freeing the trapped maidens. Zeus commemorated this labor by placing the Lion in the sky.
The Roman poet Ovid called it Herculeus Leo and Violentus Leo. Bacchi Sidus (star of Bacchus/Dionysus) was another of its titles, the god Bacchus always being identified with this animal. However, Manilius called it Jovis et Junonis Sidus (Star of Jupiter and Juno).
Leo is one of the most easily recognizable constellations due to its many bright stars and a distinctive shape that is reminiscent of the crouching lion it depicts. The lion’s mane and shoulders also form an asterism, a pattern of stars recognized in the Earth’s night sky or a part of an official constellation or it may be composed of stars from more than one constellation, known as “the Sickle,” which to modern observers may resemble a backwards “question mark.”
The glyph is generally thought to represent the tail of the lion. In ancient Dionysian mysteries it was considered to be a phallus. It can also symbolize the heat or creative energy of the Sun.
Leo is commonly represented as if the sickle-shaped asterism of stars is the back of the Lion’s head. The sickle is marked by six stars: Epsilon Leonis, Mu Leonis, Zeta Leonis, Gamma Leonis, Eta Leonis, and Alpha Leonis. The lion’s tail is marked by Beta Leonis (Denebola) and the rest of his body is delineated by Delta Leonis and Theta Leonis.
In astrology, Leo is considered to be a “masculine”, positive (extrovert) sign. It is also considered a fire sign and is one of four fixed signs ruled by the Sun. The Sun is the ruling planet of Leo and is exalted in Aries while Neptune is the ruling planet of Pisces and is exalted in Leo.
The Leo constellation is connected in almost every way to the sun. On entering the sign Leo, the Sun is said to exemplify cosmic splendor. The meaning attached to this seems to be that both the good and bad characteristics associated with Leo are perpetual.
In the zodiac, Leo is a fire sign and represents those born in the summer months. In ancient times, the constellation lined up almost perfectly with the summer solstice. Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, was often called the “Red Flame” and was thought to contribute to the heat of summer.
Through the ages, Leo has signified the coming of the high growing season and thus reflects the abundant generosity of life. In this aspect Leo is seen as the ordained provider, a role which many astrological lions would take on quite willingly.
It’s not entirely clear where the Egyptians believed the constellation to have come from directly, but the lion in Egypt is represented as an important animal to the livelihood of the Egyptians. Basically, the Egyptians relied on the Nile River to flood every year and nurture the land for the harvest.
During the summer months, the heat in the desert would be so great that the lions of the plains would move closer to the Nile to stay cool and have access to water. This coincided with the river’s yearly inundation – an event so crucial to the survival of the Egyptians that festivals were held to the gods regularly in hopes that the inundation would be good.
The war goddess Sekhmet typically was depicted as woman with a lioness head or, just as a lioness. The Egyptians held that a sacred lioness was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile. Statues depicting lion heads can be found along building by the Nile.
Leo was one of the earliest recognized constellations, with archaeological evidence that the Mesopotamians had a similar constellation as early as 4000 BCE. The Persians called Leo Ser or Shir; the Turks, Artan; the Syrians, Aryo; the Jews, Arye; the Indians, Simha, all meaning “lion”.
Some mythologists believe that in Sumeria, Leo represented the monster Khumbaba, who was killed by Gilgamesh. In Babylonian astronomy, the constellation was called UR.GU.LA, the “Great Lion”; the bright star Regulus was known as “the star that stands at the Lion’s breast.” Regulus also had distinctly regal associations, as it was known as the King Star.
H.A. Rey has suggested an alternative way to connect the stars, which graphically shows a lion walking. Yet there is an even more fascinating approach to the lion constellation image then the one given in the diagram to the right.
In spring 2015 hobby astronomer evader from Germany discovered a stunning “realistic” lion image in the stars around the Leo constellation. For this purpose he used a computer generated skymap that shows more stars then are usually visible.
Regulus (α Leo, α Leonis, Alpha Leonis) is the brightest star in the constellation Leo and one of the brightest stars in the night sky, lying approximately 79 light years from Earth. It depicts the Lion’s heart. This blue-white beauty of a star is the only 1st-magnitude star to sit almost squarely on the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac. Because Regulus can stray within the ecliptic, or the path upon which the sun and planets travel, it is very occasionally eclipsed by one of the planets or an asteroid.
Rēgulus is Latin for ‘prince’ or ‘little king’. The Greek variant Basiliscus is also used. It is known as Qalb al-Asad, from the Arabic قلب الأسد, meaning ‘the heart of the lion’. This phrase is sometimes approximated as Kabelaced and translates into Latin as Cor Leōnis. It is known in Chinese as the Fourteenth Star of Xuanyuan, the Yellow Emperor. In Hindu astronomy, Regulus corresponds to the Nakshatra Magha (“the bountiful”).
Babylonians called it Sharru (“the King”), and it marked the 15th ecliptic constellation. In India it was known as Maghā (“the Mighty”), in Sogdiana Magh (“the Great”), in Persia Miyan (“the Centre”) and also as Venant, one of the four ‘royal stars’ of the Persian monarchy. It was one of the fifteen Behenian stars known to medieval astrologers, associated with granite, mugwort, and the kabbalistic symbol .
In MUL.APIN, Regulus is listed as LUGAL, meaning “the star that stands in the breast of the Lion: the King.” Lugal is the Sumerian cuneiform sign for leader from the two signs, LÚ.GAL (“man, big”), and was one of several Sumerian titles that a ruler of a city-state could bear (alongside en and ensi, the exact difference being a subject of debate).
The sign eventually became the predominant Sumerian term for a King in general. In the Sumerian language, lugal is used to mean an owner (e.g. of a boat or a field) or a head (of a unit such as a family). The cuneiform sign LUGAL serves as a determinative in cuneiform texts (Sumerian, Akkadian and Hittite), indicating that the following word is the name of a king. In Akkadian orthography, it may also be a syllabogram šàr, acrophonically based on the Akkadian for “king”, šarrum.
Regulus was so called by Polish astronomer Copernicus (1473-1543), as a diminutive of the earlier Rex, equivalent to the (Greek) Basiliskos (translated “Little King”) of the second-century Greek astronomer Ptolemy.
This was from the belief that it ruled the affairs of the heavens, a belief current, till three centuries ago, from at least 3000 years before our era. Thus, as Sharru, the King, it marked the 15th ecliptic constellation of Babylonia; in India it was Magha, the Mighty; in Sogdiana (a Persian people), Magh, the Great, Miyan, the Centre; among the Turanian races, Masu, the Hero; and in Akkadia it was associated with the 5th antediluvian King-of-the-celestial-sphere, Amil-gal-ur, (Greek) Amegalaros. A Ninevite tablet has: “If the star of the great lion is gloomy the heart of the people will not rejoice.”
In Arabia it was Malikiyy, Kingly; in Greece, basiliskos aster (Little King star); in Rome, Basilica Stella; with Pliny (23-79 A.D.), Regia; in the revival of European astronomy, Rex; and with the 16th century Danish astronomer Tycho, Basiliscus.
So, too, it was the leader of the Four Royal Stars of the ancient Persian monarchy, the Four Guardians of Heaven. Dupuis, referring to this Persian character, said that the four stars marked the cardinal points, assigning Hastorang, as he termed it, to the North; Venant to the South; Tascheter to the East; and Satevis to the West: but did not identify these titles with the individual stars.
Flammarion does so, however, with Fomalhaut, Regulus, and Aldebaran for the first three respectively, so that we may consider Satevis as Antares. This same scheme appeared in India, although the authorities are not agreed as to these assignments and identifications; but, as the right ascensions are about six hours apart, they everywhere probably were used to mark the early equinoctial and solstitial colures, four great circles in the sky, or generally the four quarters of the heavens. At the time that these probably were first thought of, Regulus lay very near to the summer solstice, and so indicated the solstitial colure.
Early English astrologers made it a portent of glory, riches, and power to all born under its influence; Wyllyam Salysbury, of 1552, writing, but perhaps from Proclus:
“The Lyon’s herte is called of some men, the Royall Starre, for they that are borne under it, are thought to have a royall nativitie.” And this title, the Lion’s Heart, has been a popular one from early classical times, seen in the Kardia Leontos of Greece and the Cor Leonis of Rome, and adopted by the Arabians as Al Kalb al Asad, this degenerating into Kalbelasit, Kalbeleced, Kalbeleceid, Kalbol asadi, Calb-elez-id, Calb-elesit, Calb-alezet, and Kale Alased of various bygone lists.
The Persian astronomer Al Biruni (973-1048 A.D.) called it the Heart of the Royal Lion, which “rises when Suhail rises in Al Hijaz (in Saudi Arabia).
The 17th century German astronomer Bayer and others have quoted, as titles for Regulus, the strange Tyberone and Tuberoni Regia; but these are entirely wrong, and arose from a misconception of Pliny’s (23-79 A.D.) Stella Regia appellata Tuberoni in pectore Leonis, rendered “the star called by Tubero (Lucius Tubero, friend of Cicero) the Royal One in the Lion’s breast”. Holland’s translation reading: “The cleare and bright star, called the Star Royal, appearing in the breast of the signe Leo, Tubero mine author saith.”
Naturally sharing the character of its constellation as the Domicilium Solis, in Euphratean astronomy it was Gus-ba-ra, the Flame, or the Red Fire, of the House of the East; in Khorasmia, Achir, Possessing Luminous Rays; and throughout classical days the supposed cause of the summer’s heat, a reputation that it shared with the Dog-star. Horace (65-8 B.C.) expressed this in his Stella vesani Leonis.
It was of course prominent among the lunar-mansion stars, and chief in the 8th nakshatra (Hindu Moon Mansion) that bore its name, Magha, made up by all the components of the Sickle; and it marked the junction with the adjoining station Purva Phalguni; the Pitares, Fathers, being the regents of the asterism, which was figured as a House.
In Arabia, with gamma (γ Algieba), zeta (ζ Adhafera), and eta (η Al Jabhah) of the Sickle, it was the 8th manzil (Arabic Moon Mansion), Al Jabhah, the Forehead. In China, however, the 8th sieu (Chinese Moon Mansion) lay in Hydra; but the astronomers of that country referred to Regulus as the Great Star in Heen Yuen, a constellation called after the imperial family, comprising alpha (α Regulus), gamma (γ Algieba), epsilon (ε Ras Elased Australis), eta (η Al Jabhah), lambda (λ Alterf), zeta (ζ Adhafera), chi (χ), nu (ν), omicron (ο Subra), rho (ρ), and others adjacent and smaller reaching into the constellation Leo Minor. Individually it was Niau, the Bird, and so representative of the whole quadripartite zodiacal group.
The old and the new
Regulus is a multiple star system composed of four stars that are organized into two pairs. Alpha (α) Leo, Regulus, is a triple star, 1.7, 8.5, and 13, flushed white and ultramarine in the Lion. The spectroscopic binary Regulus A consists of a blue-white main-sequence star and its companion, which has not yet been directly observed, but is probably a white dwarf. Located farther away is the pair Regulus B and Regulus C and D, which are dim main-sequence stars.
The life of a close binary system is a matter of give and take. Gas can be siphoned from one star to the other — an act that can radically change both stars. An example is Regulus, which is the brightest star of Leo, the lion. It stands to the lower left of the Moon at nightfall.
Regulus consists of two pairs of stars. The members of one pair are small and faint. But the other pair is much more intriguing. It consists of the bright star that we see as Regulus, plus the dead core of a star that was once much brighter than Regulus itself.
Originally, this star was the more massive member of the duo, so it aged much faster. As it neared the end of its life, its outer layers of gas puffed up to giant proportions. In fact, they got so puffy that the star couldn’t hold on to them. The gravity of the other star pulled some of the gas off its surface.
As the gas fell onto the less-massive star, it transferred momentum from one star to the other. That made the star that was taking the gas spin much faster. So today, Regulus spins so fast that it bulges outward at its equator.
The process of funneling gas from one star to the other also changed the fate of the now-dead star. It lost so much gas that its corpse — a white dwarf — is much smaller than it otherwise would have been. So while one star in this famous system became bigger and brighter, the other dwindled away to almost nothing.
Rí, or very commonly ríg (genitive), is an ancient Gaelic word meaning “king”. It is used in historical texts referring to the Irish and Scottish kings, and those of similar rank. While the Modern Irish word is exactly the same, in modern Scottish Gaelic it is rìgh, apparently derived from the genitive.
It also figures prominently as second element in Gothic names, Latinized as -rix, and often anglicized as -ric, e.g. in Theoderic (Þiuda-reiks). The use of the suffix extended into the Merovingian dynasty, with kings given names such as Childeric, and it survives in modern German names such as Ulrich, Dietrich.
Cognates include Gaulish Rix, Latin rex (genitive rēgis), Sanskrit raja, and German Reich English reign, Gothic reiks, modern German Reich and modern Dutch rijk etc., originally denoting heads of petty kingdoms and city states. It is believed to be ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo-European *hrēǵs, a vrddhi formation to the root *hreǵ- “to straighten, to order, to rule”.
The Sanskrit n-stem is secondary in the male title, apparently adapted from the female counterpart rājñī which also has an -n- suffix in related languages, compare Old Irish rígain and Latin regina. Rather common variants in Rajasthani, Marathi and Hindi, used for the same royal rank in parts of India include Rana, Rao, Raol, Rawal and Rawat.
Raja, the top title Thakore and many variations, compounds and derivations including either of these were used in and around South Asia by most Sinhalese Hindu, Muslim and some Buddhist, Jain and Sikh rulers, while Muslims also used Nawab or Sultan, and still is commonly used in India.
Raja means King in Sri Lanka. Rajamanthri is the Prince lineage of King’s generation in Sri Lanka. Rajamanthri title is aristocracy of the Kandiyan Kingdom in Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, Raja is still used by Muslim Rajput clans as hereditary titles. Raja is also used as a given name by Hindus and Sikhs. Most notably Raja is used in Hazara division of Pakistan for the descendants of Turk dynasty. These Rajas ruled that part of Pakistan for decades and they still possess huge land in Hazara division of Pakistan and actively participate in the politics of the region.
The Latin equivalent of Reich is not imperium, but rather regnum. Both terms translate to “rule, sovereignty, government”, usually of monarchs (kings or emperors), but also of gods, and of the Christian God. The German version of the Lord’s Prayer uses the words Dein Reich komme for “ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου” (usually translated as “thy kingdom come” in English). Himmelreich is the German term for the concept of “kingdom of heaven”.
The German noun Reich is derived from Old High German rīhhi, which together with its cognates in Old English rīce Old Norse rîki (modern Scandinavian rike/rige) and Gothic reiki is from a Common Germanic *rīkijan. The English noun is extinct, but persists in composition, in bishop-ric.
The German adjective reich, on the other hand, has an exact cognate in English rich. Both the noun (*rīkijan) and the adjective (*rīkijaz) are derivations based on a Common Germanic *rīks “ruler, king”, reflected in Gothic as reiks, glossing ἄρχων “leader, ruler, chieftain”. It is probable that the Germanic word was not inherited from pre-Proto-Germanic, but rather loaned from Celtic (i.e. Gaulish rīx) at an early time.
Reiks is a Gothic title for a tribal ruler, often translated as “king”. In the Gothic Bible, it translates the Greek árchōn. It is presumably translated as basiliskos (“petty king”) in the Passio of Sabbas the Goth.
The Gothic Thervingi were divided into subdivisions of territory and people called kunja (singular kuni, cognate with English kin), by a reiks. In times of a common threat, one of the reiks would be selected as a kindins, or head of the Empire (translated as “judge”, Latin iudex, Greek δικαστής).
Herwig Wolfram suggested the position was different from the Roman definition of a rex (“king”), and is better described as that of a tribal chief. A reiks had a lower order of optimates or megistanes (μεγιστάνες, presumably translating mahteigs) beneath him, on whom he could call on for support.
The English term king is derived from the Anglo-Saxon cyning, which in turn is derived from the Common Germanic *kuningaz. The Common Germanic term was borrowed into Estonian and Finnish at an early time, surviving in these languages as kuningas. It is a derivation from the term *kunjom “kin” (Old English cynn) by the -inga- suffix. The literal meaning is that of a “scion of the [noble] kin”, or perhaps “son or descendant of one of noble birth”.
Kingu, also spelled Qingu, meaning “unskilled laborer,” was a god in Babylonian mythology, and — after the murder of his father Abzu — the consort of the goddess Tiamat, his mother, who wanted to establish him as ruler and leader of all gods before she was killed by Marduk.
Tiamat gave Kingu the 3 Tablets of Destiny, which he wore as a breastplate and which gave him great power. She placed him as the general of her army. However, like Tiamat, Kingu was eventually killed by Marduk.
Marduk mixed Kingu’s blood with earth and used the clay to mold the first human beings, while Tiamat’s body created the earth and the skies. Kingu then went to live in the underworld kingdom of Ereshkigal, along with the other deities who had sided with Tiamat.
The constellation of Aries was orignally named after unskilled labourers, Kingu or Qingu. The constellation was not considered important until the vernal equinox moved from Taurus to Aries. Inanna (Venus) was associated with the vernal equinox and hence Taurus. Thus Inanna or Ishtar became associated with Kingu, whose name changed to Dumuzi /Tammuz the shepherd king.
Dumuzi/Tammuz frees Inanna from the underworld and in return he and his sister both spend 6 months in the underworld in Inanna’s place. This symbolises the Vernal equinox when the Heavenly Bull was the first husband of Ereshkigal Goddess of the underworld and Inanna’s opposite. Tammuz replaces the bull of heaven as the sacrificial sign.
The MUL.APIN was a comprehensive table of the risings and settings of stars, which likely served as an agricultural calendar. In the description of the Babylonian zodiac given in the clay tablets known as the MUL.APIN, the constellation now known as Aries was the final station along the ecliptic. Modern-day Aries was known as LÚ.ḪUN.GÁ, “The Agrarian Worker” or “The Hired Man”.
Although likely compiled in the 12th or 11th century BC, the MUL.APIN reflects a tradition which marks the Pleiades as the vernal equinox, which was the case with some precision at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age.
The earliest identifiable reference to Aries as a distinct constellation comes from the boundary stones that date from 1350 to 1000 BC. On several boundary stones, a zodiacal ram figure is distinct from the other characters present. The shift in identification from the constellation as the Agrarian Worker to the Ram likely occurred in later Babylonian tradition because of its growing association with Dumuzi the Shepherd.
By the time the MUL.APIN was created—by 1000 BC—modern Aries was identified with both Dumuzi’s ram and a hired laborer. The exact timing of this shift is difficult to determine due to the lack of images of Aries or other ram figures.
In ancient Egyptian astronomy, Aries was associated with the god Amon-Ra, who was depicted as a man with a ram’s head and represented fertility and creativity. Because it was the location of the vernal equinox, it was called the “Indicator of the Reborn Sun”.
During the times of the year when Aries was prominent, priests would process statues of Amon-Ra to temples, a practice that was modified by Persian astronomer centuries later. Aries acquired the title of “Lord of the Head” in Egypt, referring to its symbolic and mythological importance.
In ancient Greece the constellation of Aries is associated with the golden ram of Greek mythology that rescued Phrixos and Helle on orders from Hermes, taking him to the land of Colchis, and represented the Golden Fleece of the winged Ram. The ram was sacrificed to Poseidon who in ancient time ruled the underworld and the Golden Fleece was symbolic of that sacrifice. The Golden Fleece symbolised authority and kingship to the Greeks.
After arriving, Phrixos sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave the Fleece to Aeëtes of Colchis, who rewarded him with an engagement to his daughter Chalciope. Aeëtes hung its skin in a sacred place where it became known as the Golden Fleece and was guarded by a dragon.
In the Old Testament Abram (noble father) and Sarai (princess) may represent Tammuz and Inanna who become (Abraham) father of many and (Sarah) mother of nations. Abraham’s son Isaac was too be used as a sacrificial lamb/ram until Abraham found the Ram presented by God.
Tammuz or Dumuzid means faithful son. In Sumerian tradition kings were married to Inanna as part of a ritual marriage of the land which is common of many cultures. Isaac’s wife Rebecca (tied up) representing Inanna in the underworld. The pure ram was the chosen sacrifice of the Hebrews and the Shofar (Ram’s horn) the sacred musical instrument of the temple.
The aegis or aigis, as stated in the Iliad, is a goatskin shield or breastplate carried by Athena and Zeus, but its nature is uncertain. It had been interpreted as an animal skin or a shield, sometimes bearing the head of a Gorgon. At the center of Athena’s shield was the head of Medusa. There may be a connection with a deity named Aex or Aix, a nymph with a beautiful body and a horrible face. Aex was a daughter of Helios and a nurse of Zeus or alternatively a mistress of Zeus (Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 13).
The modern concept of doing something “under someone’s aegis” means doing something under the protection of a powerful, knowledgeable, or benevolent source. The word aegis is identified with protection by a strong force with its roots in Greek mythology and adopted by the Romans; there are parallels in Norse mythology and in Egyptian mythology as well, where the Greek word aegis is applied by extension.
Virgil imagines the Cyclopes in Hephaestus’ forge, who “busily burnished the aegis Athena wears in her angry moods—a fearsome thing with a surface of gold like scaly snake-skin, and he linked serpents and the Gorgon herself upon the goddess’s breast—a severed head rolling its eyes”, furnished with golden tassels and bearing the Gorgoneion (Medusa’s head) in the central boss.
Some of the Attic vase-painters retained an archaic tradition that the tassels had originally been serpents in their representations of the aegis. When the Olympian deities overtook the older deities of Greece and she was born of Metis (inside Zeus who had swallowed the goddess) and “re-born” through the head of Zeus fully clothed, Athena already wore her typical garments.
When the Olympian shakes the aegis, Mount Ida is wrapped in clouds, the thunder rolls and men are struck down with fear. “Aegis-bearing Zeus”, as he is in the Iliad, sometimes lends the fearsome aegis to Athena.
In the Iliad, when Zeus sends Apollo to revive the wounded Hector of Troy, Apollo holding the aegis, charges the Achaeans, pushing them back to their ships drawn up on the shore.
According to Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, the Aegis is the breastplate of Zeus, and was “awful to behold”. However, Zeus is normally portrayed in classical sculpture holding a thunderbolt or lightning, bearing neither a shield nor a breastplate.
The original meaning may have been #1, and Ζεὺς Αἰγίοχος = “Zeus who holds the aegis” may have originally meant “Sky/Heaven, who holds the thunderstorm”. The transition to the meaning “shield” or “goat-skin” may have come by folk-etymology among a people familiar with draping an animal skin over the left arm as a shield.
The aegis also appears in Ancient Egyptian mythology. The goddess Bast sometimes was depicted holding a ceremonial sistrum in one hand and an aegis in the other – the aegis usually resembling a collar or gorget embellished with a lioness head. Plato drew a parallel between Athene and the ancient Libyan and Egyptian goddess Neith, a war deity who also was depicted carrying a shield.
In Norse mythology, the dragon Fafnir (best known in the form of a dragon slain by Sigurðr) bears on his forehead the Ægis-helm (ON ægishjálmr), or Ægir’s helmet, or more specifically the “Helm of Terror”.
However, some versions would say that Alberich was the one holding a helm, named as the Tarnkappe, which has the power to make the user invisible. It may be an actual helmet or a magical sign with a rather poetic name.
Ægir is an Old Norse word meaning “terror” and the name of a destructive giant associated with the sea; ægis is the genitive (possessive) form of ægir and has no direct relation to Greek aigis.
In Mesopotamian Religion (Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian and Babylonian), Tiamat is a primordial goddess of the ocean, mating with Abzû (the god of fresh water) to produce younger gods. She is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation, depicted as a woman who represents the beauty of the feminine, depicted as the glistening one. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.
Tiamat was the “shining” personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is “Ummu-Hubur who formed all things”.
Tiamat was later known as Thalattē (as a variant of thalassa, the Greek word for “sea”) in the Hellenistic Babylonian writer Berossus’ first volume of universal history. It is thought that the name of Tiamat was dropped in secondary translations of the original religious texts (written in the East Semitic Akkadian language) because some Akkadian copyists of Enûma Elish substituted the ordinary word for “sea” for Tiamat, since the two names had become essentially the same due to association.
Thorkild Jacobsen and Walter Burkert both argue for a connection with the Akkadian word for sea, tâmtu, following an early form, ti’amtum. Burkert continues by making a linguistic connection to Tethys. Tiamat also has been claimed to be cognate with Northwest Semitic tehom (תהום) (the deeps, abyss), in the Book of Genesis 1:2.
It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a Hieros gamos or Hierogamy (“holy marriage”) between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second “Chaoskampf” Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.
Early royal inscriptions from the third millennium BCE mention “the reeds of Enki”. Reeds were an important local building material, used for baskets and containers, and collected outside the city walls, where the dead or sick were often carried. This links Enki to the Kur or underworld of Sumerian mythology.
In another even older tradition, Nammu, the goddess of the primeval creative matter and the mother-goddess portrayed as having “given birth to the great gods,” a Sumerian primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat in Babylonian mythology, was the mother of Enki, and as the watery creative force, was said to preexist Ea-Enki.
Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions. An indication of her continued relevance may be found in the theophoric name of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur.
Considered the master shaper of the world, god of wisdom and of all magic, Enki was characterized as the lord of the Abzu (Apsu in Akkadian), the freshwater sea or groundwater located within the earth.
In the later Babylonian epic Enûma Eliš, Abzu, the “begetter of the gods”, is inert and sleepy but finds his peace disturbed by the younger gods, so sets out to destroy them. His grandson Enki, chosen to represent the younger gods, puts a spell on Abzu “casting him into a deep sleep”, thereby confining him deep underground. Enki subsequently sets up his home “in the depths of the Abzu.” Enki thus takes on all of the functions of the Abzu, including his fertilising powers as lord of the waters and lord of semen.
According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and Nammu. Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”. It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going.
The cosmogenic myth common in Sumer was that of the hieros gamos, a sacred marriage where divine principles in the form of dualistic opposites came together as male and female to give birth to the cosmos.
This mingling of waters was known in Sumerian as Nammu, and was identified as the mother of Enki. It is thought that female deities are older than male ones in Mesopotamia and Tiamat may have begun as part of the cult of Nammu, a female principle of a watery creative force, with equally strong connections to the underworld, which predates the appearance of Ea-Enki.
In the epic Enki and Ninhursag, Enki, as lord of Ab or fresh water (also the Sumerian word for semen), is living with his wife in the paradise of Dilmun. Despite being a place where “the raven uttered no cries” and “the lion killed not, the wolf snatched not the lamb, unknown was the kid-killing dog, unknown was the grain devouring boar”, Dilmun had no water and Enki heard the cries of its Goddess, Ninsikil, and orders the sun-God Utu to bring fresh water from the Earth for Dilmun.
Benito states “With Enki it is an interesting change of gender symbolism, the fertilising agent is also water, Sumerian “a” or “Ab” which also means “semen”. In one evocative passage in a Sumerian hymn, Enki stands at the empty riverbeds and fills them with his ‘water'”. This may be a reference to Enki’s hieros gamos or sacred marriage with Ki/Ninhursag (the Earth).
Hieros gamos refers to a sexual ritual that plays out a marriage between a god and a goddess, especially when enacted in a symbolic ritual where human participants represent the deities. The notion of hieros gamos does not presuppose actual performance in ritual, but is also used in purely symbolic or mythological context, notably in alchemy and hence in Jungian psychology.
In Hinduism, Devadasi tradition (“servant of god”) is a religious tradition in which girls are “married” and dedicated to a deity (deva or devi) or to a Hindu temple and includes performance aspects such as those that take place in the temple as well as in the courtly and mujuvani [Telugu] or home context.
Originally, in addition to this and taking care of the temple and performing rituals, these women learned and practiced Sadir, Odissi and other classical Indian artistic traditions and enjoyed a high social status. Though traditionally, they carry out dances in the praise of lord, they also evolved into Sacred Marriage over time.
Sacred prostitution was common in the Ancient Near East as a form of “Sacred Marriage” or hieros gamos between the king of a Sumerian city-state and the High Priestess of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare.
Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers there were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The temple of Eanna ((Sumerian: e-anna; Cuneiform: E.AN, meaning “house of heaven”) in Uruk was the greatest of these where sacred prostitution was a common practice.
In addition, according to Leick 1994 persons of asexual or hermaphroditic bodies and feminine men were particularly involved in the worship and ritual practices of Inanna’s temples. The deity of this fourth-millennium city was probably originally An. After its dedication to Inanna the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess.
The temple housed Nadītu, priestesses of the goddess. The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Akitu (New Year) ceremony, at the spring Equinox or the annual Duku ceremony, just before Invisible Moon, with the autumn Equinox (Autumnal Zag-mu Festival).
According to Samuel Noah Kramer in The Sacred Marriage Rite, in late Sumerian history (end of the third millennium) kings established their legitimacy by taking the place of Dumuzi in the temple for one night on the tenth day of the New Year festival. A Sacred Marriage to Inanna may have conferred legitimacy on a number of rulers of Uruk. Gilgamesh is reputed to have refused marriage to Inanna, on the grounds of her misalliance with such kings as Lugalbanda and Damuzi.
In Greek mythology the classic instance is the wedding of Zeus and Hera celebrated at the Heraion of Samos, and doubtless its architectural and cultural predecessors. Some scholars would restrict the term to reenactments, but most accept its extension to real or simulated union in the promotion of fertility: such an ancient union of Demeter with Iasion, enacted in a thrice-plowed furrow, a primitive aspect of a sexually-active Demeter reported by Hesiod, is sited in Crete, origin of much early Greek myth.
In actual cultus, Walter Burkert found the Greek evidence “scanty and unclear”: “To what extent such a sacred marriage was not just a way of viewing nature, but an act expressed or hinted at in ritual is difficult to say” the best-known ritual example surviving in classical Greece is the hieros gamos enacted at the Anthesteria by the wife of the Archon basileus, the “Archon King” in Athens, originally therefore the queen of Athens, with Dionysus, presumably represented by his priest or the basileus himself, in the Boukoleion in the Agora.
The brief fertilizing mystical union engenders Dionysus, and doubled unions, of a god and of a mortal man on one night, result, through telegony, in the semi-divine nature of Greek heroes such as Theseus and Heracles among others.
Archon basileus was a Greek title, meaning “king magistrate”: the term is derived from the words archon “magistrate” and basileus “king” or “sovereign”. It is believed the archon basileus ’s wife, the basilinna, had to marry and have intercourse with the god Dionysos during a festival at the Boukoleion in Athens, to ensure the city’s safety.
It is uncertain how this was enacted. However, this was an important role for a woman who, according to Plutarch and Solon, would otherwise be confined to the house and be of little importance. During antiquity, women in Greece served as priestesses and presented oracles such as those issued at Delphi.
The sacred king
In many historical societies, the position of kingship carries a sacral meaning, that is, it is identical with that of a high priest and of judge. The concept of theocracy is related, although a sacred king need not necessarily rule through his religious authority; rather, the temporal position itself has a religious significance.
The notion has prehistoric roots and is found worldwide, on Java as in sub-Saharan Africa, with shaman-kings credited with rainmaking and assuring fertility and good fortune. On the other hand, the king might also be designated to suffer and atone for his people, meaning that the sacral king could be the pre-ordained victim of a human sacrifice, either regularly killed at the end of his term in the position, or sacrificed in times of crisis (e.g. the Blót of Domalde).
From the Bronze Age Near East, the enthronement and anointment of a monarch is a central religious ritual, reflected in the titles Messiah or Christ which became separated from worldly kingship. Thus, Sargon of Akkad described himself as “deputy of Ishtar”, just as the modern Catholic Pope is considered the “Vicar of Christ”.
The king is styled as a shepherd from earliest times, e.g., the term was applied to Sumerian princes such as Lugalbanda in the 3rd millennium BEC. The image of the shepherd combines the themes of leadership and the responsibility to supply food and protection as well as superiority. As the mediator between the people and the divine, the sacral king was credited with special wisdom (e.g. Solomon) or vision (e.g. via oneiromancy).
The school of Pan-Babylonianism derived much of the religion described in the Hebrew Bible from cults of sacral kingship in ancient Babylonia. The so-called British and Scandinavian cult-historical schools maintained that the king personified a god and stood at the center of the national or tribal religion. The English “myth and ritual school” concentrated on anthropology and folklore, while the Scandinavian “Uppsala school” emphasized Semitological study.
Study of the concept was introduced by Sir James George Frazer in his influential book The Golden Bough (1890–1915). A sacred king, according to the systematic interpretation of mythology developed by Frazer in The Golden Bough (published 1890), was a king who represented a solar deity in a periodically re-enacted fertility rite.
Frazer seized upon the notion of a substitute king and made him the keystone of his theory of a universal, pan-European, and indeed worldwide fertility myth, in which a consort for the Goddess was annually replaced.
According to Frazer, the sacred king represented the spirit of vegetation, a divine John Barleycorn. He came into being in the spring, reigned during the summer, and ritually died at harvest time, only to be reborn at the winter solstice to wax and rule again.
The spirit of vegetation was therefore a “dying and reviving god”. Osiris, Adonis, Dionysus, Attis and many other familiar figures from Greek mythology and classical antiquity were re-interpreted in this mold.
The sacred king, the human embodiment of the dying and reviving vegetation god, was supposed to have originally been an individual chosen to rule for a time, but whose fate was to suffer as a sacrifice, to be offered back to the earth so that a new king could rule for a time in his stead.
The white horse
The zodiac sign Leo creatively redrawn fits astonishingly to the chalk lines of the galloping White Horse of Uffington, one of the oldest chalk figures in England (there are dozens throughout the UK), according to the most recent tests dating from the late-bronze age, about 1200 BCE.
This result was obtained by using a technique which allowed soil sealed under the figures chalk in-fill to be compared to surrounding samples to determine how long it has been sealed from the atmosphere.
The discovery was done in the late winter of 2014, Leo high in the sky, spring approaching, by the Bavarian hobby astronomer and scientist Josef Krem from Germany, Munich, exploring the zodiac stars and other constellations cycling through the year upon similarity to Celtic coinage’s symbols, the horse being found very often.
Lengyel describes the horse on Celtic coinage meaningful as the dynamic symbol of human existence from procreation via life to death and resurrection (horse from dock in the east to muzzle showing west), ever repeating.
The French archaeologist Patrice Méniel has demonstrated based on examination of animal bones from many archaeological sites, a lack of hippophagy (horse eating) in ritual centres and burial sites in Gaul, although there is some evidence for hippophagy from earlier settlement sites in the same region.
The White Horse was possibly a place of seasonal celebrations more than 3000 years ago associated with the unknown Celtic zodiac sign of the horse. Due to the earth’s axial precession Regulus in the horse had its midnight culmination around winter solstice about 3400 years ago. Nowadays this position nearly is taken by the Winter Hexagon with the brightest star Sirius.
A very different creative connection of Leo’s stars reveals an almost realistic horse, obviously a mare. Around the first century an artist of the Celtic tribe Uneller at Contentin Peninsula, created a coin showing a low prancing female horse most naturalistic, some mystic symbols added.
This coin is treasured in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France (BnF), Cabinet des Medailles, there described officially as “Aigle sur une Jument” – Eagle on a Mare, but the riding bird also resembles much a raven, being the mediator between life and death closely connected to witchcraft.
Observing Leo in a moonless springtime night reveals a horse and a lion as well, after some contemplation. The lion is found with the Mesopotamian Inanna / Ishtar together with the owl, the horse belongs to Epona obviously conjoined with raven or eagle.
Horse worship is a spiritual practice with archaeological evidence of its existence during the Iron Age and, in some places, as far back as the Bronze Age. The horse was seen as divine, as a sacred animal associated with a particular deity, or as a totem animal impersonating the king or warrior.
While horse worship has been almost exclusively associated with Indo-European culture, by the Early Middle Ages it was also adopted by Turkic peoples. Horse worship still exists today in various regions of South Asia.
White horses (which are rarer than other colours of horse) have a special significance in the mythologies of cultures around the world. Though some mythologies are stories from earliest beliefs, other tales, though visionary or metaphorical, are found in liturgical sources as part of preserved, on-going traditions.
They are often associated with the sun chariot, with warrior-heroes, with fertility (in both mare and stallion manifestations), or with an end-of-time saviour, but other interpretations exist as well.
From earliest times white horses have been mythologized as possessing exceptional properties, transcending the normal world by having wings (e.g. Pegasus from Greek mythology), or having horns (the unicorn).
As part of its legendary dimension, the white horse in myth may be depicted with seven heads (Uchaishravas) or eight feet (Sleipnir), sometimes in groups or singly. There are also white horses which are divinatory, who prophesy or warn of danger.
As a rare or distinguished symbol, a white horse typically bears the hero- or god-figure in ceremonial roles or in triumph over negative forces. Herodotus reported that white horses were held as sacred animals in the Achaemenid court of Xerxes the Great (ruled 486-465 BC), while in other traditions the reverse happens when it was sacrificed to the gods.
In more than one tradition, the white horse carries patron saints or the world saviour in the end times (as in Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam), is associated with the sun or sun chariot (Ossetia) or bursts into existence in a fantastic way, emerging from the sea or a lightning bolt.
In Celtic mythology, Rhiannon, a mythic figure in the Mabinogion collection of legends, rides a “pale-white” horse. Because of this, she has been linked to the Romano-Celtic fertility horse goddess Epona and other instances of the veneration of horses in early Indo-European culture.
The Book of Zechariah twice mentions colored horses; in the first passage there are three colors (red, dappled, and white), and in the second there are four teams of horses (red, black, white, and finally dappled) pulling chariots. The second set of horses are referred to as “the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world.” They are described as patrolling the earth and keeping it peaceful.
In the New Testament, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse include one seated on a white horse and one on a pale horse – the “white” horse carried the rider Conquest (traditionally, Pestilence) while the “pale” horse carried the rider, Death.
However, the Greek word chloros, translated as pale, is often interpreted as sickly green or ashen grey rather than white. Later in the Book of Revelation, Christ rides a white horse out of heaven at the head of the armies of heaven to judge and make war upon the earth.
Two Christian saints are associated with white steeds: Saint James, as patron saint of Spain, rides a white horse in his martial aspect. Saint George, the patron saint of horsemen among other things, also rides a white horse. In Ossetia, the deity Uastyrdzhi, who embodied both the warrior and sun motifs often associated with white horses, became identified with the figure of St. George after the region adopted Christianity.
Islamic culture tells of a white horse named Al-Buraq who brought Muhammad to Jannah during the Night Journey. Al-Buraq was also said to transport Abraham (Ibrâhîm) when he visited his wife Hagar (Hājar) and son Ishmael (Ismâ`îl).
According to tradition, Abraham lived with one wife, Sarah in Syria, but the Buraq would transport him in the morning to Mecca to see his family there, and take him back to his Syrian wife in the evening. Al-Burāq (“lightning”) isn’t mentioned in the Quran but in some hadith (“tradition”).
A “solar barge” (also “solar bark”, “solar barque”, “solar boat” and “sun boat”) is a mythological representation of the sun riding in a boat. The “Khufu ship”, a 43.6-meter-long vessel that was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza around 2500 BC, is a full-size surviving example which may have fulfilled the symbolic function of a solar barque.
This boat was rediscovered in May 1954 when archeologist Kamal el-Mallakh and inspector Zaki Nur found two ditches sealed off by about 40 blocks weighing 17 to 20 tonnes each. This boat was disassembled into 1,224 pieces and took over 10 years to reassemble. A nearby museum was built to house this boat. Other sun boats were found in Egypt dating to different pharonic dynasties.
Examples include the Neolithic petroglyphs, which (it has been speculated) show solar barges, the many early Egyptian goddesses who are related as sun deities and the later gods Ra and Horus depicted as riding in a solar barge (in Egyptian myths of the afterlife, Ra rides in an underground channel from west to east every night so that he can rise in the east the next morning), the Nebra sky disk, which is thought to show a depiction of a solar barge, and Nordic Bronze Age petroglyphs, including those found in Tanumshede often contains barges and sun crosses in different constellations.
Proto-Indo-European religion has a solar chariot, a mythological representation of the sun traversing the sky in a chariot. The concept is younger than that of the solar barge, and typically Indo-European, corresponding with the Indo-European expansion after the invention of the chariot in the 2nd millennium BC. The sun itself also was compared to a wheel, possibly in Proto-Indo-European, Greek hēliou kuklos, Sanskrit suryasya cakram, Anglo-Saxon sunnan hweogul (PIE *swelyosyo kukwelos).
In Norse mythology the chariot of the goddess Sól is drawn by Arvak and Alsvid. The Trundholm sun chariot dates to the Nordic Bronze Age, more than 2,500 years earlier than the Norse myth, but is often associated with it. Greek Helios riding in a chariot. Sol Invictus depicted riding a quadriga on the reverse of a Roman coin. Vedic Surya riding in a chariot drawn by seven horses.
In Germanic mythology the Sun is female and the Moon is male. The corresponding Old English name is Siȝel, continuing Proto-Germanic *Sôwilô or *Saewelô. The Old High German Sun goddess is Sunna.
In the Norse traditions, every day, Sól rode through the sky on her chariot, pulled by two horses named Arvak (Old Norse “early awake”) and Alsvid (Old Norse “very quick”). Sól also was called Sunna and Frau Sunne, from which are derived the words “sun” and “Sunday”. It is said that the gods fixed bellows underneath the two horses’ shoulders to help cool them off as they rode.
In Norse mythology, Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir, “the best horse among gods and men”, is described as gray. Sleipnir is also the ancestor of another gray horse, Grani, who is owned by the hero Sigurd.
The antiquity of the myth that the Sun is pulled by horses is not definitely from the Nordic religion. Many other mythologies and religions contain a solar deity or carriage of the Sun pulled by horses. In Persian and Phrygian mythology, Mithras and Attis perform this task.
In Greek mythology, Apollo performs this task, although it was previously performed by Helios, occasionally referred to as Titan. The white winged horse Pegasus was the son of Poseidon and the gorgon Medusa. Poseidon was also the creator of horses, creating them out of the breaking waves when challenged to make a beautiful land animal.
In Slavic mythology, the war and fertility deity Svantovit owned an oracular white horse; the historian Saxo Grammaticus, in descriptions similar to those of Tacitus centuries before, says the priests divined the future by leading the white stallion between a series of fences and watching which leg, right or left, stepped first in each row.
One of the titles of God in Hungarian mythology was Hadúr, who, according to an unconfirmed source, wears pure copper and is a metalsmith. The Hungarian name for God was, and remains “Isten” and they followed Steppe Tengriism.
The ancient Magyars sacrificed white stallions to him before a battle. Additionally, there is a story (mentioned for example in Gesta Hungarorum) that conquering Magyars paid a white horse to Moravian chieftain Svatopluk I (in other forms of the story, it is instead the Bulgarian chieftain Salan) for a part of the land that later became the Kingdom of Hungary.
Actual historical background of the story is dubious because Svatopluk I was already dead when the first Hungarian tribes arrived. On the other hand, even Herodotus mentions in his Histories an Eastern custom, where sending a white horse as payment in exchange for land means casus belli. This custom roots in the ancient Eastern belief that stolen land would lose its fertility.
In Zoroastrianism, one of the three representations of Tishtrya, the hypostasis of the star Sirius, is that of a white stallion (the other two are as a young man, and as a bull).
The divinity takes this form during the last 10 days of every month of the Zoroastrian calendar, and also in a cosmogonical battle for control of rain. In this latter tale (Yasht 8.21-29), which appears in the Avesta’s hymns dedicated to Tishtrya, the divinity is opposed by Apaosha, the demon of drought, which appears as a black stallion.
White horses are also said to draw divine chariots, such as that of Aredvi Sura Anahita, who is the Avesta’s divinity of the waters. Representing various forms of water, her four horses are named “wind”, “rain”, “clouds” and “sleet” (Yasht 5.120).
Ashva is the Sanskrit word for a horse, one of the significant animals finding references in the Vedas as well as later Hindu scriptures. The corresponding Avestan term is aspa. The word is cognate to Latin equus, Greek ίππος (hippos), Germanic *ehwaz and Baltic *ašvā all from PIE *hek’wos.
There are repeated references to the horse in the Vedas (1500-500 BC). In particular the Rigveda has many equestrian scenes, often associated with chariots. The Ashvins are divine twins named for their horsemanship. The earliest undisputed finds of horse remains in South Asia are from the Swat culture (1500-500 BC).
White horses appear many times in Hindu mythology. In the Puranas, one of the precious objects that emerged while the devas and demons were churning the milky ocean was Uchaishravas (“long-ears” or “neighing aloud”), a snow-white seven-headed flying horse considered the best of horses, prototype and king of horses. A white horse of the sun is sometimes also mentioned as emerging separately.
Mahabharata mentions that Uchchaihshravas rose from the Samudra manthan (“churning of the milk ocean”) and Indra, the god-king of heaven, seized it and made it his vehicle (vahana). He rose from the ocean along with other treasures like goddess Lakshmi – the goddess of fortune, taken by god Vishnu as his consort and the amrita – the elixir of life.
Uchaishravas was at times ridden by Indra, the god-king of heaven and the lord of the devas, but is also recorded to be the horse of Bali, the king of demons. Indra is depicted as having a liking for white horses in several legends – he often steals the sacrificial horse to the consternation of all involved, such as in the story of Sagara, or the story of King Prithu.
Uchchaihshravas is also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita (10.27, which is part of the Mahabharata), a discourse by god Krishna, an Avatar of Vishnu, to Arjuna. When Krishna declares to the source of the universe, he declares that among flying horses, he is Uchchaihshravas, who is born from the amrita.
The legend states that the first horse emerged from the depth of the ocean during the churning of the oceans. It was a horse with white color and had two wings. It was known by the name of Uchchaihshravas.
The legend continues that Indra, king of the devas, took away the mythical horse to his celestial abode, the svarga (heaven). Subsequently, Indra severed the wings of the horse and presented the same to the mankind. The wings were severed to ensure that the horse would remain on the earth (prithvi) and not fly back to Indra’s svarga.
The chariot of the solar deity Surya is drawn by seven horses, alternately described as all white, or as the colours of the rainbow. The charioteer of Surya is Aruna, who is also personified as the redness that accompanies the sunlight in dawn and dusk. The sun god is driven by a seven-horsed Chariot depicting the seven days of the week.
Hayagriva the Avatar of Vishnu is worshipped as the God of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse’s head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Vishnu and final world saviour, is predicted to appear riding a white horse, or in the form of a white horse.
Kanthaka was a white horse that was a royal servant and favourite horse of Prince Siddhartha, who later became Gautama Buddha. Siddhartha used Kanthaka in all major events described in Buddhist texts prior to his renunciation of the world. Following the departure of Siddhartha, it was said that Kanthaka died of a broken heart.
In ancient Roman religion, the October Horse (Latin Equus October) was an animal sacrifice to Mars carried out on October 15, coinciding with the end of the agricultural and military campaigning season. The rite took place during one of three horse-racing festivals held in honor of Mars, the others being the two Equirria on February 27 and March 14.
Two-horse chariot races (bigae) were held in the Campus Martius, the area of Rome named for Mars, after which the right-hand horse of the winning team was transfixed by a spear, then sacrificed. The horse’s head (caput) and tail (cauda) were cut off and used separately in the two subsequent parts of the ceremonies: two neighborhoods staged a fight for the right to display the head, and the freshly bloodied cauda was carried to the Regia for sprinkling the sacred hearth of Rome.
Ancient references to the Equus October are scattered over more than six centuries: the earliest is that of Timaeus (3rd century BC), who linked the sacrifice to the Trojan Horse and the Romans’ claim to Trojan descent, with the latest in the Calendar of Philocalus (354 AD), where it is noted as still occurring, even as Christianity was becoming the dominant religion of the Empire. Most scholars see an Etruscan influence on the early formation of the ceremonies.
The October Horse is the only instance of horse sacrifice in Roman religion; the Romans typically sacrificed animals that were a normal part of their diet. The unusual ritual of the October Horse has thus been analyzed at times in light of other Indo-European forms of horse sacrifice, such as the Vedic ashvamedha and the Irish ritual described by Giraldus Cambrensis, both of which have to do with kingship.
Although the ritual battle for possession of the head may preserve an element from the early period when Rome was ruled by kings, the October Horse’s collocation of agriculture and war is characteristic of the Republic. The sacred topography of the rite and the role of Mars in other equestrian festivals also suggest aspects of initiation and rebirth ritual. The complex or even contradictory aspects of the October Horse probably result from overlays of traditions accumulated over time.
Horse cults and horse sacrifice was originally a feature of Eurasian nomad cultures. In India, Horse worship in the form of worship of Hayagriva (haya=horse, grīva=neck/face), a horse-headed avatar of the Lord Vishnu in Hinduism, dates back to 2000 BC, when the Indo-Aryan people started to migrate into the Indus valley.
Origins about the worship of Hayagriva have been researched, some of the early evidences dates back to 2,000 BCE, when Indo-Aryan people worshiped the horse for its speed, strength, intelligence. To this day, the worship of Hayagriva exists among the followers of Hinduism.
In Hinduism, Hayagriva is also considered an avatar of Vishnu. He is worshipped as the God of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse’s head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. Symbolically, the story represents the triumph of pure knowledge, guided by the hand of God, over the demonic forces of passion and darkness.
He is also hailed as Hayasirsa (haya=horse, śirṣa=head). Hayagriva is referred to as the “Horse necked one”, Defender of faith”, the “Terrible executioner”, the “Excellent Horse”, and the “Aerial horse”. In several other sources he is a white horse who pulls the sun into the sky every morning, bringing light to darkness.
Hayagriva’s consort is Marichi (Marishi-Ten) and/or Lakshmi (possibly an avatar of Marichi or Kan’non), the goddess of the rising sun, more accurately the sun’s light which is the life force of all things, and which is seen as the female [in, yin] aspect of Hayagriva.
Marichi represents the essence of the power of creation of the cosmos, and is the in/yin half of Dainichi Nyôrai whereas Hayagriva represents the other yang/yô aspect that of the manifestation of the power of yin/in as action.
In other words, Hayagriva represents the manifestation of yin/in as the power and action of the cosmos manifested as action. This is the very definition of tantra, that of action.
In others such as the great epic Taraka-battle where the gods are fallen on and attacked by the danava’s [demons], Vishnu appears as a great ferocious warrior called Hayagriva when he comes to their aid.
There are many other references to Hayagriva throughout the Mahabharata. It is said that Vishnu comes from battle as a conqueror in the magnificent mystic form of the great and terrible Hayagriva.
Invariably, Hayagriva is depicted seated, most often with his right hand either blessing the supplicant or in the vyākhyā mudrā pose of teaching. The right hand also usually holds a akṣa-mālā (rosary), indicating his identification with meditative knowledge. His left holds a book, indicating his role as a teacher. His face is always serene and peaceful, if not smiling.
Unlike his Buddhist counterpart, there is no hint of a fearsome side in the Hindu description of this deity. Indeed, the two deities seem to be totally unrelated to one another.
Hayagriva is sometimes worshiped in a solitary pose of meditation, as in the Thiruvanthipuram temple. This form is known as Yoga-Hayagriva. However, he is most commonly worshipped along with his consort Lakshmi and is known as Lakshmi-Hayagriva. Hayagriva in this form is the presiding deity of Mysore’s Parakala Mutt, a significant Sri Vaishnavism monastic institution.
A legend has it that during the creation, the demons Madhu-Kaitabha stole the Vedas from Brahma, and Vishnu then took the Hayagriva form to recover them. The two bodies of Madhu and Kaitabha disintegrated into twelve pieces (two heads, two torsos, four arms and four legs). These are considered to represent the twelve seismic plates of the Earth. Yet another legend has it that during the creation, Vishnu compiled the Vedas in the Hayagrīva form.
Some consider Hayagriva to be one of the Dashavataras of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He along with Śrī Krishna, ShrīRama and Shri Narasimha is considered to be an important avatar of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Hayagriva is one of the prominent deity in Vaishnava tradition. His blessings are sought when beginning study of both sacred and secular subjects. Special worship is conducted on the day of the full moon in August (Śravaṇa-Paurṇamī) (his avatāra-dina) and on Mahanavami, the ninth day of the Navaratri festival.
The divine twins
The Ashvins is or Ashwini Kumaras in Hindu mythology, are two Vedic gods, divine twin horsemen in the Rigveda, sons of Saranyu (daughter of Vishwakarma), a goddess of the clouds and wife of Surya in his form as Vivasvant. They symbolise the shining of sunrise and sunset, appearing in the sky before the dawn in a golden chariot, bringing treasures to men and averting misfortune and sickness.
They are the doctors of gods and are devas of Ayurvedic medicine. They are represented as humans with head of a horse. In the epic Mahabharata, King Pandu’s wife Madri is granted a son by each Ashvin and bears the twins Nakula and Sahadeva who, along with the sons of Kunti, are known as the Pandavas.
They are also called Nasatya (dual nāsatyau “kind, helpful”) in the Rigveda; later, Nasatya is the name of one twin, while the other is called Dasra (“enlightened giving”). By popular etymology, the name nāsatya is often incorrectly analysed as na+asatya “not untrue”=”true”.
Various Indian holy books like Mahabharat, Puranas etc., relate that Ashwini Kumar brothers, the twins, who were RajVaidhya (Royal Physicians) to Devas during Vedic times, first prepared Chyawanprash formulation for Chyawan Rishi at his Ashram on Dhosi Hill near Narnaul, Haryana, India, hence the name Chyawanprash.
The Ashvins can be compared with the Dioscuri (the twins Castor and Pollux) of Greek and Roman mythology, to the divine twins Ašvieniai of the ancient Baltic religion, and the Germanic Alcis.
The Ashvins are mentioned 376 times in the Rigveda, with 57 hymns specifically dedicated to them. The Nasatya twins are invoked in a treaty between Suppiluliuma and Shattiwaza, kings of the Hittites and the Mitanni respectively.
Ashvini is the first nakshatra (lunar mansion) in Hindu astrology having a spread from 0°-0′-0″ to 13°-20′, corresponding to the head of Aries, including the stars β and γ Arietis.
The name aśvinī is used by Varahamihira (6th century). The older name of the asterism, found in the Atharvaveda (AVS 19.7; in the dual) and in Panini (4.3.36), was aśvayúj “harnessing horses”.
Ashvini is ruled by Ketu, the descending lunar node. In electional astrology, Asvini is classified as a Small constellation, meaning that it is believed to be advantageous to begin works of a precise or delicate nature while the moon is in Ashvini.
Asvini is ruled by the Ashvins, the heavenly twins who served as physicians to the gods. Personified, Asvini is considered to be the wife of the Asvini Kumaras. Ashvini is represented either by the head of a horse, or by honey and the bee hive.
Traditional Hindu given names are determined by which pada (quarter) of a nakshatra the moon was in at the time of birth. In the case of Ashvini, the given name would begin with the following syllables:
In Greek and Roman mythology, Castor and Pollux or Polydeuces were twin brothers, together known as the Dioskouri. Their mother was Leda, but Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, and Pollux the divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. Though accounts of their birth are varied, they are sometimes said to have been born from an egg, along with their twin sisters and half-sisters Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra.
In Latin the twins are also known as the Gemini or Castores. When Castor was killed, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together, and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair was regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo’s fire, and were also associated with horsemanship. They are sometimes called the Tyndaridae or Tyndarids, later seen as a reference to their father and stepfather Tyndareus.
Both Dioscuri were excellent horsemen and hunters who participated in the hunting of the Calydonian Boar and later joined the crew of Jason’s ship, the Argo. Castor and Pollux aspired to marry the Leucippides (“daughters of the white horse”), Phoebe and Hilaeira, whose father was a brother of Leucippus (“white horse”).
Both women were already betrothed to cousins of the Dioscuri, the twin brothers Lynceus and Idas of Thebes, sons of Tyndareus’s brother Aphareus. Castor and Pollux carried the women off to Sparta wherein each had a son; Phoebe bore Mnesileos to Pollux and Hilaeira bore Anogon to Castor. This began a family feud among the four sons of the brothers Tyndareus and Aphareus.
Castor and Pollux are consistently associated with horses in art and literature. They are widely depicted as helmeted horsemen carrying spears. The Pseudo-Oppian manuscript depicts the brothers hunting, both on horseback and on foot.
Many Indo-European religious branches show evidence for horse sacrifice, and comparative mythology suggests that they derive from a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) ritual. Some scholars, including Edgar Polomé, however, regard the reconstruction of a PIE ritual as unjustified due to the difference between the attested traditions.
Often horses are sacrificed in a funerary context, and interred with the deceased, a practice called horse burial. There is evidence but no explicit myths from the three branches of Indo-Europeans of a major horse sacrifice ritual based on a mythical union of Indo-European kingship and the horse. The Indian Aśvamedha is the clearest evidence preserved, but vestiges from Latin and Celtic traditions allow the reconstruction of a few common attributes.
The Gaulish personal name Epomeduos is from ek’wo-medhu- (“horse + mead”), while aśvamedha is either from ek’wo-mad-dho- (“horse + drunk”) or ek’wo-mey-dho- (“horse + strength”).
The reconstructed myth involves the coupling of a king with a divine mare which produced the divine twins. A related myth is that of a hero magically twinned with a horse foaled at the time of his birth (for example Cuchulainn, Pryderi), suggested to be fundamentally the same myth as that of the divine twin horsemen by the mytheme of a “mare-suckled” hero from Greek and medieval Serbian evidence, or mythical horses with human traits (Xanthos), suggesting totemic identity of the Indo-European hero or king with the horse.
The Indian Ashvamedha involves the sacrifice of a grey or white stallion and is connected with the elevation or inauguration of a member of the warrior caste. The ceremony took place in springtime and the stallion selected was one which excelled at the right side of the chariot. It was bathed in water and sacrificed alongside a hornless ram and a he-goat. It was dissected and its portions awarded to various deities.
The Roman Equus October ceremony involved a horse dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war. The sacrifice took place on the Ides of October, but through ritual reuse was used in a spring festival (the Parilia). Two-horse chariot races determined the victim, which was the right-hand horse of the winning team. The horse is dismembered: the tail (cauda, possibly a euphemism for the penis) is taken to the Regia, the king’s residence, while two factions battle for possession of the head as a talisman for the coming year.
Among the Irish the ceremony was done in relation the the installation of a new king. In the presence of all the people a white mare is brought into their midst. Thereupon he who is to be elevated steps forward. Right thereafter the mare is killed and boiled piecemeal in water, and in the same water a bath is prepared for him. He gets into the bath and eats of the flesh that is brought to him, with his people standing around and sharing it with him. He also imbibes the broth in which he is bathed, not from any vessel, nor with his hand, but only with his mouth. When this is done right according to such unrighteous ritual, his rule and sovereignty are consecrated.
The Norse ceremony according to the description in Hervarar saga of the Swedish inauguration of Blot-Sweyn, the last or next to last pagan Germanic king, c. 1080: the horse is dismembered for eating and the blood is sprinkled on the sacred tree at Uppsala.
The Völsa þáttr mentions a Norse pagan ritual involving veneration of the penis of a slaughtered stallion. A freshly cut horse head was also used in setting up a nithing pole for a Norse curse.
The primary archaeological context of horse sacrifice are burials, notably chariot burials, but graves with horse remains reach from the Eneolithic well into historical times. Herodotus describes the execution of horses at the burial of a Scythian king, and Iron Age kurgan graves known to contain horses number in the hundreds. There are also frequent depositions of horses in burials in Iron Age India. The custom is by no means restricted to Indo-European populations, but is continued by Turkic tribes.
The Vedic horse sacrifice or Ashvamedha was a fertility and kingship ritual involving the sacrifice of a sacred gray or white stallion. Similar rituals may have taken place among Roman, Celtic and Norse people, but the descriptions are not so complete.
The role of a psychopomp (literally meaning the “guide of souls”), creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife, is not to judge the deceased, but simply to provide safe passage.
Frequently depicted on funerary art, psychopomps have been associated at different times and in different cultures with horses, whip-poor-wills, ravens, dogs, crows, owls, sparrows, cuckoos, and harts. When seen as birds, they are often seen in huge masses, waiting outside the home of the dying.
Classical examples of a psychopomp in Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology are Charon, Vanth, Hermes, Hecate, Mercury and Anubis. In many beliefs, when a spirit is being taken to the underworld, they will be violently ripped from their bodies.
In Jungian psychology, the psychopomp is a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms. It is symbolically personified in dreams as a wise man or woman, or sometimes as a helpful animal. In many cultures, the shaman also fulfills the role of the psychopomp. This may include not only accompanying the soul of the dead, but also vice versa: to help at birth, to introduce the newborn child’s soul to the world.
Rhiannon and Epona
Rhiannon, a major and classic figure in the earliest prose literature and mythology of Britain, the Mabinogi, or Epona (“Great Mare”), in Gallo-Roman religion a protector of horses, donkeys, and mules, is the corresponding horse goddess of fertility or even mother goddess, associated with both, sun and moon.
Epona and her horses might also have been leaders of the soul in the after-life ride, or psychopomps, with parallels in Rhiannon of the Mabinogion.
Like some other figures of British/ Welsh literary tradition, Rhiannon may be a reflex of an earlier Celtic deity. Her name appears to derive from the reconstructed Brittonic form *Rīgantōna, a derivative of *rīgan- “queen”. In the First Branch Rhiannon is strongly associated with horses, and so is her son Pryderi. She is often considered to be related to the Gaulish horse goddess Epona.
The resemblance is her horse affinity, and her son’s, as mare and foal; also a paradoxical way of sitting on her horse in a calm, static way, like a key image of Epona. While this is generally accepted connection among scholars of the Mabinogi and Celtic studies, Ronald Hutton as a general historian, is sceptical.
The worship of Epona, “the sole Celtic divinity ultimately worshipped in Rome itself”, was widespread in the Roman Empire between the first and third centuries AD; this is unusual for a Celtic deity, most of whom were associated with specific localities.
Epona is mentioned in The Golden Ass by Apuleius, where an aedicular niche with her image on a pillar in a stable has been garlanded with freshly picked roses. In his Satires, the Roman poet Juvenal also links the worship and iconography of Epona to the area of a stable. Small images of Epona have been found in Roman sites of stables and barns over a wide territory.
The probable date of c. 1400 BC ascribed to the giant chalk horse carved into the hillside turf at Uffington, in southern England, is too early to be directly associated with Epona a millennium and more later, but clearly represents a Bronze Age totem of some kind.
The West Country traditional hobby-horse riders parading on May Day at Padstow, Cornwall and Minehead, Somerset, which survived to the mid-twentieth century, even though Morris dances had been forgotten, may have deep roots in the veneration of Epona, as may the British aversion to eating horsemeat. At Padstow formerly, at the end of the festivities the hobby-horse was ritually submerged in the sea.
A provincial though not crude small (7.5 cm high) Roman bronze of a seated Epona, flanked by a small mare and stallion, found in England, is conserved in the British Museum.
Lying on her lap and on the patera raised in her right hand are disproportionately large ears of grain; ears of grain also protrude from the mouths of the ponies, whose heads are turned towards the goddess. On her left arm she holds a yoke, which curves up above her shoulder, an attribute unique to this bronze statuette.
The Welsh figure Rhiannon rides a white horse but has no other attributes in common with Epona. A south Welsh folk ritual call Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) is still undertaken in December — an apparent survival of the veneration of the goddess. The pantomime horse is thought to be a related survival.
On Mackinac Island, Michigan, Epona is celebrated each June with stable tours, a blessing of the animals and the Epona and Barkus Parade. Mackinac Island does not permit personal automobiles: the primary source of transportation remains the horse, so celebrating Epona has special significance on this island in the upper midwest. The “Feast of Epona” involves the blessing of horses and other animals by a local churchman.
Sculptures of Epona fall into five types, as distinguished by Benoît: riding, standing or seated before a horse, standing or seated between two horses, a tamer of horses in the manner of potnia theron and the symbolic mare and foal. In the Equestrian type, common in Gaul, she is depicted sitting side-saddle on a horse or (rarely) lying on one; in the Imperial type (more common outside Gaul) she sits on a throne flanked by two or more horses or foals.
In distant Dacia, she is represented on a stela (now at the Szépmüvézeti Museum, Budapest) in the format of Cybele, seated frontally on a throne with her hands on the necks of her paired animals: her horses are substitutions for Cybele’s lions.
Fernand Benoît found the earliest attestations of a cult of Epona in the Danubian provinces and asserted that she had been introduced in the limes of Gaul by horsemen from the east. This suggestion has not been generally taken up.
Although the name is Gaulish, dedicatory inscriptions to Epona are in Latin or, rarely, Greek. They were made not only by Celts, but also by Germans, Romans, and other inhabitants of the Roman Empire. An inscription to Epona from Mainz, Germany, identifies the dedicator as Syrian.
Epona’s feast day in the Roman calendar was December 18 as shown by a rustic calendar from Guidizzolo, Italy, although this may have been only a local celebration. She was incorporated into the Imperial cult by being invoked on behalf of the Emperor, as Epona Augusta or Epona Regina.
The supposed autonomy of Celtic civilization in Gaul suffered a further setback with Fernand Benoît’s study of the funereal symbolism of the horseman with the serpent-tailed (“anguiforme”) daemon, which he established as a theme of victory over death, and Epona; both he found to be late manifestations of Mediterranean-influenced symbolism, which had reached Gaul through contacts with Etruria and Magna Graecia. Benoît compared the rider with most of the riders imaged around the Mediterranean shores.
A pony is a small horse (Equus ferus caballus). Depending on context, a pony may be a horse that is under an approximate or exact height at the withers, or a small horse with a specific conformation and temperament. There are many different breeds.
1650s, powny, from Scottish, apparently from Middle French poulenet (“little foal”), apparently from obsolete French poulenet “little foal” (mid-15c.), diminutive of Old French poulain “foal,” from Late Latin pullanus “young of an animal,” from Latin pullus “young of a horse, fowl, etc.”, cognate to English foal.
Foal is from Middle English fole, from Old English fola, from Proto-Germanic *fulô, from pre-Germanic *pl̥Hon-, from Proto-Indo-European *pōlH- ‘animal young’ (cognate with West Frisian fôle, foalle, Dutch veulen, German Fohlen, Swedish fåle; compare also Ancient Greek pṓlos, Latin pullus, Albanian pelë (“mare”), Old Armenian ul (“kid, fawn”).
In Greek mythology, Despoina, Despoena or Despoine, was the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon and sister of Arion. She was the goddess of mysteries of Arcadian cults worshipped under the title Despoina, “the mistress” alongside with her mother Demeter, one of the goddesses of the Eleusinian mysteries. Her real name could not be revealed to anyone except those initiated to her mysteries.
Pausanias spoke of Demeter as having two daughters; Kore being born first, then later Despoina; With Zeus being the father of Kore and Poseidon as the father of Despoina. Pausanias made it clear that Kore is Persephone, though he wouldn’t reveal Despoina’s proper name.
In the myth, Poseidon saw Demeter and desired her. To avoid him, she took her archaic form of a mare, but he took the form of a stallion and mated with her. From this union Demeter bore a daughter Despoina and a fabulous horse Arion. Due to her anger at this turn of events, Demeter took on the epithet Erinys, or raging.
The word Despoina, “mistress” (Δέσποινα), is derived from the *des-potnia, “lady or mistress of the house”, from PIE *dóm(ha)os, “house(hold)” [*dem(ha)-, “build”] and *potniha-, “lady, mistress”; cf. Greek domos and potnia. The masculine form is Despotes, “master of the house” (Δεσπότης); cf. posis.
Related attested forms are the, written in the Linear B syllabary, Mycenaean Greek, po-ti-ni-ja, (potnia) and perhaps po-se-da-o and po-se-da-wo-ne (Poseidon), which were inherited into classical Greece with identical or related meanings. Demeter is possibly a relative word, interpreted by some, as “mother of the house” (from PIE *dems-mater).
In the mysteries Demeter was a second goddess under her daughter, the unnameable “Despoina”. It seems that the myths in isolated Arcadia were connected with the first Greek-speaking people who came from the north during the Bronze Age.
The two goddesses had close connections with the rivers and the springs. They were related with the god of the rivers and the springs Poseidon and especially with Artemis, who was the first nymph.
Her epithet “the mistress” has its analogue in Mycenean Greek inscriptions found at Pylos in southern Greece and Knossos in Crete. Despoina was later conflated with Kore (Persephone), the goddess of the Eleusinian mysteries in a life-death-rebirth cycle. Karl Kerenyi asserted that the cult was a continuation of a Minoan Goddess worship.
Despoina was also used as an epithet for several goddesses, especially Aphrodite, Persephone, Demeter and Hecate. Persephone and Demeter are the goddesses of the Eleusinian mysteries; they could perhaps be what are known as the Two Queens in various Linear B inscriptions. At Olympia they were called Despoinae. The epithet may recall the Minoan-Mycenaean goddess da-pu2-ri-to-jo,po-ti-ni-ja, i.e. the “Mistress of the Labyrinth” at Knossos.
In an episode preserved in a remark of Pausanias, an archaic Demeter Erinys (Vengeful Demeter) too had also been a Great Mare, who was mounted by Poseidon in the form of a stallion and foaled Arion, a divinely-bred, extremely swift immortal horse which, according to the Latin poet Sextus Propertius, was endowed with speech, and the Daughter who was unnamed outside the Arcadian mysteries. Demeter was venerated as a mare in Lycosoura in Arcadia into historical times.
In the cave of Phigalia Demeter was, according to popular tradition, represented with the head and mane of a horse, possibly a relic of the time when a non-specialized corn-spirit bore this form. Her priests were called Poloi (Greek for “colts”) in Laconia.
This seems related to the archaic myth by which Poseidon once pursued Demeter; She spurned his advances, turning herself into a mare so that she could hide in a herd of horses; he saw through the deception and became a stallion and captured her. Their child was a horse, Arion, which was capable of human speech.
This bears some resemblance to the Norse mythology reference to the gender-changing Loki having turned himself into a mare and given birth to Sleipnir, “the greatest of all horses”.
Some city-states, notably Athens, evoked Cybele as a protector, but her most celebrated Greek rites and processions show her as an essentially foreign, exotic mystery-goddess who arrives in a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, wine, and a disorderly, ecstatic following.
In Greek mythology, Persephone, also called Kore or Cora (“the maiden”), is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, and is the queen of the underworld. In Roman mythology, she is called Proserpina, and her mother, Ceres.
Homer describes her as the formidable, venerable majestic princess of the underworld, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead. Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld.
The myth of her abduction represents her function as the personification of vegetation, which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest; hence, she is also associated with spring as well as the fertility of vegetation. Similar myths appear in the Orient, in the cults of male gods like Attis, Adonis and Osiris, and in Minoan Crete.
Poseidon is one of the twelve Olympian deities of the pantheon in Greek mythology. His main domain is the ocean, and he is called the “God of the Sea”. Additionally, he is referred to as “Earth-Shaker” due to his role in causing earthquakes, and has been called the “tamer of horses”. He is usually depicted as an older male with curly hair and beard.
The earliest attested occurrence of the name, written in Linear B, is Po-se-da-o or Po-se-da-wo-ne, which correspond to Poseidaōn and Poseidawonos in Mycenean Greek; in Homeric Greek it appears as Poseidaōn; in Aeolic as Poteidaōn; and in Doric as Poteidan, Poteidaōn, and Poteidas.
A common epithet of Poseidon is Γαιήοχος Gaiēochos, “Earth-shaker,” an epithet which is also identified in Linear B tablets. Another attested word, E-ne-si-da-o-ne, recalls his later epithets Ennosidas and Ennosigaios indicating the chthonic nature of Poseidon.
The origins of the name “Poseidon” are unclear. One theory breaks it down into an element meaning “husband” or “lord” (Greek posis), from PIE *pótis) and another element meaning “earth” (da), Doric for (gē), producing something like lord or spouse of Da, i.e. of the earth; this would link him with Demeter, “Earth-mother.” Walter Burkert finds that “the second element da- remains hopelessly ambiguous” and finds a “husband of Earth” reading “quite impossible to prove.”
Another theory interprets the second element as related to the word dâwon, “water”; this would make *Posei-dawōn into the master of waters. There is also the possibility that the word has Pre-Greek origin. Plato in his dialogue Cratylus gives two alternative etymologies: either the sea restrained Poseidon when walking as a “foot-bond” or he “knew many things”.
If surviving Linear B clay tablets can be trusted, the name po-se-da-wo-ne (“Poseidon”) occurs with greater frequency than does di-u-ja (“Zeus”). A feminine variant, po-se-de-ia, is also found, indicating a lost consort goddess, in effect a precursor of Amphitrite.
Poseidon carries frequently the title wa-na-ka (wanax) in Linear B inscriptions, as king of the underworld. The chthonic nature of Poseidon-Wanax is also indicated by his title E-ne-si-da-o-ne in Mycenean Knossos and Pylos, a powerful attribute (earthquakes had accompanied the collapse of the Minoan palace-culture). In the cave of Amnisos (Crete) Enesidaon is related with the cult of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth.
Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods destined for “the Two Queens and Poseidon” (“to the Two Queens and the King”: wa-na-soi, wa-na-ka-te). The “Two Queens” may be related with Demeter and Persephone, or their precursors, goddesses who were not associated with Poseidon in later periods.
The illuminating exception is the archaic and localised myth of the stallion Poseidon and mare Demeter at Phigalia in isolated and conservative Arcadia, noted by Pausanias (2nd century AD) as having fallen into desuetude; the violated Demeter was Demeter Erinys.
Is possible that Demeter appears as Da-ma-te in a Linear B (Mycenean Greek) inscription (PN EN 609), however the interpretetion is still under dispute In Linear B inscriptions found at Pylos, E-ne-si-da-o-ne is related with Poseidon, and Si-to Po-tini-ja is probably related with Demeter.
In the heavily sea-dependent Mycenaean culture, no connection between Poseidon and the sea has yet surfaced. Homer and Hesiod suggest that Poseidon became lord of the sea following the defeat of his father Kronos, when the world was divided by lot among his three sons; Zeus was given the sky, Hades the underworld, and Poseidon the sea, with the Earth and Mount Olympus belonging to all three.
Poseidon was connected to the horse since the earliest times, well before any connection of him with the sea was attested, and may even have originally been conceived under equine form. Such a feature is a reflection of his own chtonic, violent, brutal nature as earth-quaker, as well as of the link of the horse with springs, i.e. underground water, and the psychopompous character inherent in this animal.
Given Poseidon’s connection with horses as well as the sea, and the landlocked situation of the likely Indo-European homeland, Nobuo Komita has proposed that Poseidon was originally an aristocratic Indo-European horse-god who was then assimilated to Near Eastern aquatic deities when the basis of the Greek livelihood shifted from the land to the sea, or a god of fresh waters who was assigned a secondary role as god of the sea, where he overwhelmed the original Aegean sea deities such as Proteus and Nereus.
Conversely, Walter Burkert suggests that the Hellene cult worship of Poseidon as a horse god may be connected to the introduction of the horse and war-chariot from Anatolia to Greece around 1600 BC. In any case, the early importance of Poseidon can still be glimpsed in Homer’s Odyssey, where Poseidon rather than Zeus is the major mover of events.
Sailors prayed to Poseidon for a safe voyage, sometimes drowning horses as a sacrifice; in this way, according to a fragmentary papyrus, Alexander the Great paused at the Syrian seashore before the climactic battle of Issus, and resorted to prayers, “invoking Poseidon the sea-god, for whom he ordered a four-horse chariot to be cast into the waves.”
Poseidon also had a close association with horses, known under the epithet Poseidon Hippios. He is more often regarded as the tamer of horses, but in some myths he is their father, either by spilling his seed upon a rock or by mating with a creature who then gave birth to the first horse.
Poseidon was the second son of titans Cronus and Rhea. In most accounts he is swallowed by Cronus at birth but later saved, with his other brothers and sisters, by Zeus. However, in some versions of the story, he, like his brother Zeus, did not share the fate of his other brother and sisters who were eaten by Cronus. He was saved by his mother Rhea, who concealed him among a flock of lambs and pretended to have given birth to a colt, which she gave to Cronus to devour.
According to John Tzetzes the kourotrophos, or nurse of Poseidon was Arne, who denied knowing where he was, when Cronus came searching; according to Diodorus Siculus Poseidon was raised by the Telchines on Rhodes, just as Zeus was raised by the Korybantes on Crete.
According to a single reference in the Iliad, when the world was divided by lot in three, Zeus received the sky, Hades the underworld and Poseidon the sea. In the Odyssey (v.398), Poseidon has a home in Aegae.
Athena became the patron goddess of the city of Athens after a competition with Poseidon. Yet Poseidon remained a numinous presence on the Acropolis in the form of his surrogate, Erechtheus. The central gods of the Acropolis of Athens were Poseidon Erechtheus and Athena Polias, “Athena patron-guardian of the city”.
Cecrops was a mythical king of Athens who, according to Eusebius reigned for fifty years. The name is not of Greek origin according to Strabo, or it might mean ‘face with a tail’: it is said that, born from the earth itself, he had his top half shaped like a man and the bottom half in serpent or fish-tail form.
He was the founder and the first king of Athens itself, though preceded in the region by the earth-born king Actaeus of Attica. Cecrops was a culture hero, teaching the Athenians marriage, reading and writing, and ceremonial burial.
Erechtheus in Greek mythology was the name of an archaic king of Athens, the founder of the polis and, in his role as god, attached to Poseidon, as “Poseidon Erechtheus”. The mythic Erechtheus and an historical Erechtheus were fused into one character in Euripides’ lost tragedy Erechtheus (423/22 BCE). The name Erichthonius is carried by a son of Erechtheus, but Plutarch conflated the two names in the myth of the begetting of Erechtheus.
Athenians thought of themselves as Erechtheidai, the “sons of Erechtheus”. In Homer’s Iliad (2. 547–48) he is the son of “grain-giving Earth”, reared by Athena. The earth-born son was sired by Hephaestus, whose semen Athena wiped from her thigh with a fillet of wool cast to earth, by which Gaia was made pregnant.
In the contest for patronship of Athens between Poseidon and Athena, the salt spring on the Acropolis where Poseidon’s trident struck was known as the sea of Erechtheus.
There is some reason to believe that Poseidon, like other water gods, was originally conceived under the form of a horse. In Greek art, Poseidon rides a chariot that was pulled by a hippocampus or by horses that could ride on the sea, and sailors sometimes drowned horses as a sacrifice to Poseidon to ensure a safe voyage.
He was associated with dolphins and three-pronged fish spears (tridents). He lived in a palace on the ocean floor, made of coral and gems.
The hippocampus or hippocamp, also hippokampoi (“horse” and “monster”), often called a sea-horse in English, is a mythological creature shared by Phoenician and Greek mythology, though the name by which it is recognised is purely Greek. It was also adopted into Etruscan mythology. It has typically been depicted as having the upper body of a horse with the lower body of a fish.
Closely related to the hippocampus is the “sea goat”, represented by Capricorn, a mythical creature with the front half of a goat and the rear half of a fish. Canonical figures, most of which were not themselves cult images, and coins of the Carian goddess associated with Aphrodite as the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias through interpretatio graeca, show the goddess riding on a sea-goat.
Aside from aigikampoi, the fish-tailed goats representing Capricorn, other fish-tailed animals rarely appeared in Greek art, but are more characteristic of the Etruscans. These include leokampoi (fish-tailed lions), taurokampoi (fish-tailed bulls) or pardalokampoi (fish-tailed leopards).
Kelpie, or water kelpie, is the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland. The etymology of the Scots word kelpie is uncertain, but it may be derived from the Gaelic calpa or cailpeach, meaning “heifer” or “colt”.
It has usually been described as appearing as a horse, but is able to adopt human form. Some accounts state that the kelpie retains its hooves when appearing as a human, leading to its association with the Christian idea of Satan as alluded to by Robert Burns in his 1786 poem “Address to the Deil”.
Almost every sizeable body of water in Scotland has an associated kelpie story, but the most extensively reported is that of Loch Ness. Parallels to the general Germanic neck and the Scandinavian bäckahäst have been observed. More widely, the wihwin of Central America and the Australian bunyip have been seen as counterparts.
The origin of the belief in malevolent water horses has been proposed as originating in human sacrifices once made to appease gods associated with water, but narratives about the kelpie also served a practical purpose in keeping children away from dangerous stretches of water, and warning young women to be wary of handsome strangers.
Neptune, the god of freshwater and the sea in Roman religion, is the counterpart of the Greek god Poseidon. Depictions of Neptune in Roman mosaics, especially those of North Africa, are influenced by Hellenistic conventions. Nethuns is the Etruscan name of the god. In the past it has been believed that the Roman theonym derived from Etruscan but more recently this view has been rejected.
In the Greek-influenced tradition, Neptune was the brother of Jupiter and Pluto; the brothers presided over the realms of Heaven, the earthly world, and the Underworld. Salacia was his consort. Neptune was likely associated with fresh water springs before the sea. Like Poseidon, Neptune was worshipped by the Romans also as a god of horses, under the name Neptunus Equester, a patron of horse-racing.
Neptune does not show any direct equine character or linkage. On the other hand, Roman god Consus, the protector of grains, was associated with horses: his underground altar was located in the valley of the Circus Maximus at the foot of the Palatine, the place of horse races.
Perhaps under the influence of Poseidon Ίππιος Consus, whose festival entailed horse races, was reinterpreted as Neptunus equestris and for his underground altar also identified with Poseidon Ένοσίχθων. Moreover, the etymology of Poseidon, understood as from Posis lord, husband and De grain or Earth, may have contributed to the identification of Consus with Neptune.
The archaic and arcane character of his cult, which required the unearthing of the altar, are signs of the great antiquity of this deity and of his chtonic character. He was certainly a deity of agrarian plenty and of fertility.
On the basis of Augustine (De Civitate Dei IV 8 about the role of Tutilina in assuring the safety of stored grain) Dumézil interprets its name as derived from verb condere to hide, store, as a verbal noun in -u parallel to Sancus and Janus, meaning god of stored grains.
In Martianus Capella’s depiction of Heaven Neptune is located in region X along with the Lar Omnium Cunctalis (of everybody), Neverita and Consus. The presence of the Lar Omnium Cunctalis might be connected with the theology of Neptune as a god of fertility, human included, while Neverita is a theonym derived from an archaic form of Nereus and Nereid, before the fall of the digamma.
For the relationship of Neptune with Consus it might be that he followed an already old interpretatio graeca of Consus or he might be reflecting an Etruscan idea of a chthonic Neptune which is apparent in the recommendation of the De Haruspicum Responso stating the need of expiations to Neptune for the prodigy of the cracking sounds heard underground in the ager latiniensis. Etruscans were particularly fond of horse races.
Martianus’s placing of Neptune is fraught with questions: according to the order of the main three gods he should be located in region II, (Jupiter is indeed in region I and Pluto in region III). However, in region II are to be found two deities related to Neptune, namely Fons and Lymphae.
Stephen Weinstock supposes that while Jupiter is present in each of the first three regions, in each one under different aspects related to the character of the region itself, Neptune should have been originally located in the second, as is testified by the presence of Fons and Lymphae, and Pluto in the third.
The reason of the displacement of Neptune to region X remains unclear, but might point to a second appearance of the triads in the third quarter, which is paralleled by the location of Neth in case 7 of the Liver. It is however consistent with the collocation in the third quadrant of the deities directly related to the human world.
Bloch remarks the possible chtonic character and stricter link of Nethuns with Poseidon to which would hint a series of circumstances, particularly the fact that he was among the four gods (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Tellus in order) the haruspices indicated as needing placation for the prodigy related in Cicero’s De haruspicum responso 20, i.e. a cracking sound perceived as coming from the underground in the ager latiniensis.
Among ancient sources Arnobius provides important information about the theology of Neptune: he writes that according to Nigidius Figulus Neptune was considered one of the Etruscan Penates, together with Apollo, the two deities being credited with bestowing Ilium with its immortal walls. In another place of his work, book VI, Nigidius wrote that, according to the Etrusca Disciplina, his were one among the four genera, types of Penates: of Iupiter, of Neptune, of the underworld and of mortal men.
According to another tradition related by a Caesius, also based on the same source, the Etruscan Penates would be Fortuna, Ceres, Genius Iovialis and Pales, this last one being the male Etruscan god (ministrum Iovis et vilicum, domestic and peasant of Jupiter).
Nethuns is the Etruscan name of the god. In the past it has been believed that the Roman theonym derived from Etruscan but more recently this view has been rejected. In Etruscan mythology, Nethuns was the god of wells, later expanded to all water, including the sea.
The name “Nethuns” is likely cognate with that of the Celtic god Nechtan and the Persian and Vedic gods sharing the name Apam Napat, perhaps all based on the Proto-Indo-European word *népōts “nephew, grandson.” In this case, Etruscan may have borrowed the Umbrian name *Nehtuns, (Roman Neptune, who was originally a god of water).
Nethuns was certainly an important god for the Etruscans. Nethuns is mentioned on the Piacenza liver, a third-century BCE bronze model of a sheep’s liver used for the divinatory rites called haruspicy, as Neθ, an abbreviation for his full name. As a patron god his profile, wearing a ketos (sea monster) headdress, appears on a coin of Vetulonia, circa 215 – 211 BCE; he is accompanied by his trident between two dolphins.
On a mirror from Tuscania (E. S. 1. 76) Nethuns is represented while talking to Uśil (the Sun) and Thesan (the goddess of Dawn). Nethuns is on the left hand side, sitting, holding a double ended trident in his right hand and with his left arm raised in the attitude of giving instructions, Uśil is standing at the centre of the picture, holding in his right hand Aplu’s bow, and Thesan is on the right, with her right hand on Uśil’s shoulder: both gods look intent in listening Nethuns’s words.
The identification of Uśil with Aplu (and his association with Nethuns) is further underlined by the anguiped demon holding two dolphins of the exergue below. The scene highlights the identities and association of Nethuns and Aplu (here identified as Uśil) as main deities of the worldly realm and the life cycle.
Thesan and Uśil-Aplu, who has been identified with Śuri (Soranus Pater, the underwold Sun god) make clear the transient character of worldly life. The association of Nethuns and Uśil-Aplu is consistent with one version of the theory of the Etruscan Penates.
In ancient Roman religion, the god Consus, a tutelary deity of the harvest and stored grain, was the protector of grains. He was represented by a grain seed. Consus is perhaps to be identified with “Equestrian Neptune” (Neptunus Equestris). He was thus a chthonic god. The Flamen Quirinalis, the flamen devoted to the cult of the god Quirinus, and the Vestals, the priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, officiated at his rites.
His altar (ara) was located at the first meta of the Circus Maximus. It was either underground, or according to other sources, covered with earth all year and was only uncovered during the two Consualia, his festivals on August 21 and December 15 and on July 7 when the pontiffs held a sacrifice there. Mars, as a protector of the harvest, was also honored on this day, as were the Lares, the household gods that individual families held sacred.
Consus is perhaps to be identified with “Equestrian Neptune” (Neptunus Equestris). Mule or horse races were the main event of the festival. During the festival horses and mules were garlanded with flowers, and given a rest from work. This fact is ascribed by Capdeville to the fact that Poseidon was the successor of the unknown god of the Arcadian Hippocrateia mentioned by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who he himself was perhaps the successor of a horse god. A close connection of Consus with the two Pales and of both with the horse looks apparent.
The Consuales Ludi or Consualia was the name of two ancient Roman festivals in honor of Consus, a tutelary deity of the harvest and stored grain.Consuales Ludi was held on August 18, at the time of harvest, and again on December 15, in connection with grain storage. The festivals of the related goddess Ops followed his closely, being held every August 25 (Opiconsivia) and December 19 (Opalia), at the time of reaping and the seeding of crops.
During the celebration horses, mules, and asses were exempted from all labour, and were led through the streets adorned with garlands and flowers. Chariot races were held this day in the Circus Maximus, which included an odd race in which chariots were pulled by mules.
In Roman mythology, the Consulia was founded by Romulus as an occasion to gather his Sabine neighbors. When the community was assembled and in a state of drunken festivity, Romulus’s men abducted the daughters of the Sabines to become their brides. According to Livy, the festival honors Neptune.
On the day of his summer festival (August 21), the Consualia aestiva, it was customary to bring horses and mules in procession crowned with flowers and then hold equine races in the Circus. It appears these games had a rustic and archaic character: they marked the end of the yearly agricultural cycle, when harvest was completed.
According to tradition this occasion was chosen to enact the abduction of the Sabine (and Latin) women. The episode might bear a reflection of the traditional sexual licence of such occasions. On that day the flamen Quirinalis and the vestal virgins sacrificed on the underground altar of Consus.
The fact the two festivals of Consus were followed after an equal interval of four days by the two festivals of Ops (Opeconsivia on August 25 and Opalia on December 19) testifies to the strict relationship between the two deities as both pertaining to agricultural plenty, or in Dumezilian terminology to the third function.
In Dumézil’s view this fact shows the radically different symbolic value of the horse in the theology of Poseidon and of Consus. Tertullian (De Spectaculis V 7) states that according to Roman tradititon Consus was the god who had advised Romulus on the abduction of the Sabines because of his quality of god of hidden counsels and quotes an inscription that was on the southern meta of the circus corroborating his assertion: Conso consilio Marte duello Lares + covillo potentes: Consus is powerful in counsel, Mars in war, the Lares in meeting.
A. Von Blumenthal and G. Radke have proposed to read consivio instead of consilio, though this correction is not generally accepted: the inscription is not extant and it was visible only on the days of the sacrifices to Consus, so some scholars argue it may have been misread.
The etymology of the name Consus is uncertain. It may be of Etruscan or Sabine origin. In the allegorical etymology of antiquity, the name was related to the Latin verb conserere, “to sow,” as was the title of the goddess Ops or Opis, (Latin: “Plenty”), a fertility deity and earth-goddess of Sabine origin, as Consivia or Consiva. Opiconsivia was another name used for Opis, indicating when the earth was sown.
Consul (abbrev. cos.; Latin plural consules) was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic. The relating adjective is consular, from the Latin consularis.
Georges Dumézil and G. Capdeville consider verb condere, to store, to be the best etymology: Consus would be an archaic verbal noun denoting the action of storing grain. Capdeville states that Consus cannot be related to conserere and adjective consivius and advances the hypothesis that condere might have to be taken in the meaning of to found.
Consus became a god associated with secret conferences, as his name was also interpreted allegorically in relation to consilium (“council, assembly”). Servius says that Consus is the god of councils. This fact stems from the role played by Consus in the abduction of the Sabine women, which took place on the occasion of the Consualia aestiva and was considered to have been advised by the god himself.
Moreover Tertullian relates that on one of the metae of the circus maximus an inscription read: “Consus consilio, Mars duello, Lares coillo po[tentes” which may be archaic considering co[v]illo and external factors. This is close to hide too cf. abdere, (abs)condere. This derivation is certain, but on the other hand, as De Vaan writes on the etymology of consilium, it is very uncertain whence consulere-solere, the head word, comes from, although very probably not from con-sideo.
The ancient sources were very fond of the connection Consus-consilium, Festus included. This power of hidden counselling held by Consus seems to be related to the concept expressed by Dionysius and Plutarch that he is the “holder” of the Earth, an idea that makes of him a parallel to Poseidon. So although it is certain that condere and consulere are from two different roots, it looks the character of Consus as hidden master of the Earth was at the basis of the identification with Poseidon, as well as the strict affinity of the two gods with the horse.
In ancient Roman religion, Ops or Opis, (Latin: “Plenty”) was a fertility deity and earth-goddess of Sabine origin. The husband of Ops was Saturn, in Roman mythology, and in Greek mythology where she is identified as Rhea, her husband was Cronus, the bountiful monarch of the Golden Age. Rhea was Cronus’s wife and sister. In her statues and coins, Opis is figured sitting down, as Chthonian deities normally are, and generally holds a scepter or a corn spike as her main attributes.
Opis, when syncretized with Greek mythology, was not only the wife of Saturn, she was his sister and the daughter of Caelus. Her children were Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, Juno, Ceres, and Vesta. Opis also acquired queenly status and was reputed to be an eminent goddess. By public decree temples, priests, and sacrifices were accorded her.
According to Festus (203:19), “Ops is said to be the wife of Saturn and the daughter of Caelus. By her they designated the earth, because the earth distributes all goods to the human genus” (Opis dicta est coniux Saturni per quam uolerunt terram significare, quia omnes opes humano generi terra tribuit).
The Latin word ops means “riches, goods, abundance, gifts, munificence, plenty”. The word is also related to opus, which means “work”, particularly in the sense of “working the earth, ploughing, sowing”. This activity was deemed sacred, and was often attended by religious rituals intended to obtain the good will of chthonic deities such as Ops and Consus. Ops is also related to the Sanskrit word ápnas (“goods, property”).
According to Roman tradition, the cult of Opis was instituted by Titus Tatius, one of the Sabine kings of Rome. Opis soon became the patroness of riches, abundance, and prosperity. Opis had a famous temple in the Capitolium. Originally, a festival took place in Opis’ honor on August 10. Additionally, on December 19 (some say December 9), the Opalia was celebrated. On August 25, the Opiconsivia was held. These festivals also included activities that were called Consualia, in honor of Consus, her consort.
Vesta is the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family in Roman religion. Vesta’s presence is symbolized by the sacred fire that burned at her hearth and temples. Vesta is the goddess of the hearth at the centre of atrium and home. It was in the house and home that Vesta was most important because she was the goddess of the hearth and of fire.
Georges Dumézil (1898–1986), a French comparative philologist, surmised that the name of the goddess derives from Indoeuropean root *heu-, via the derivative form *h₁eu-s- which alternates with *hw-es-. The former is found in Greek εὕειν heuein, Latin urit, ustio and Vedic osathi all conveying ‘burning’ and the second is found in Vesta.
Vesta is particularly important to women of the household as the hearth was the place where food was prepared and next to it the meal was eaten with offerings being thrown into the fire to seek the future from the way it burned.
The degree of the importance of Vesta and the hearth in Roman times carries on into modern English, where the word focus (Latin for hearth) continues to be used in a variety of ways, both scientifically and metaphorically, that although differing from the original meaning, still carry a sense of focussing or concentration on something of importance.
Her closest Greek equivalent is Hestia (“hearth” or “fireside”), a daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and a virgin goddess of the hearth, architecture, and the right ordering of domesticity, the family, and the state.
Hestia’s name means “hearth, fireplace, altar”, the oikos, the household, house, or family. “An early form of the temple is the hearth house; the early temples at Dreros and Prinias on Crete are of this type as indeed is the temple of Apollo at Delphi which always had its inner hestia” The Mycenaean great hall which had a central hearth – such as the hall of Odysseus at Ithaca, a megaron. Likewise, the hearth of the later Greek prytaneum was the community and government’s ritual and secular focus.
Hestia received the first offering at every sacrifice in the household. In the public domain, the hearth of the prytaneum functioned as her official sanctuary. With the establishment of a new colony, flame from Hestia’s public hearth in the mother city would be carried to the new settlement. She sat on a plain wooden throne with a white woolen cushion and did not trouble to choose an emblem for herself.
In ancient Persia, according to Zoroastrian traditions, every house was expected to have a hearth for offering sacrifices and prayers. In later Zoroastrian tradition, Asha Vahishta (“Best Truth”) is still at times identified with the fire of the household hearth.
In the liturgy Asha Vahishta is frequently invoked together with fire. (Yasna l.4, 2.4, 3.6, 4.9, 6.3, 7.6, 17.3, 22.6, 59.3, 62.3 etc.). In one passage, fire is a protector of aša: “when the Evil Spirit assailed the creation of Good Truth, Good Thought and Fire intervened” (Yasht 13.77).
Asha Vahishta is closely associated with fire. Fire is “grandly conceived as a force informing all the other Amesha Spentas, giving them warmth and the spark of life.” In Yasht 17.20, Angra Mainyu clamours that Zoroaster burns him with Asha Vahishta. In Vendidad 4.54-55, speaking against the truth and violating the sanctity of promise is detected by the consumption of “water, blazing, of golden color, having the power to detect guilt.”
Asha Vahishta’s association with atar is carried forward in the post-Gathic texts, and they are often mentioned together. In Zoroastrian cosmogony, each of the Amesha Spentas represents one aspect of creation and one of seven primordial elements that in Zoroastrian tradition are the basis of that creation. In this matrix, aša/arta is the origin of fire, Avestan atar, which permeates through all Creation. The correspondence then is that aša/arta “penetrates all ethical life, as fire penetrates all physical being.”
Aša “cannot be precisely rendered by some single word in another tongue,” but may be summarized as follows: It is, first of all, ‘true statement’. This ‘true statement’, because it is true, corresponds to an objective, material reality. This reality embraces all of existence. Recognized in it is a great cosmic principle since all things happen according to it.
“This cosmic […] force is imbued also with morality, as verbal Truth, ‘la parole conforme’, and Righteousness, action conforming with the moral order.” The correspondence between ‘truth’, reality, and an all-encompassing cosmic principle is not far removed from Heraclitus’ conception of Logos.
Both Avestan aša/arta and Vedic ŗtá- are commonly translated as “truth” as this best reflects both the original meaning of the term as well as the opposition to their respective antonyms. The opposite of Avestan aša/arta is druj-, “lie.” Similarly, the opposites of Vedic ṛtá- are ánṛta- and druh, likewise “lie”. That “truth” is also what was commonly understood by the term is attested in Greek: In Isis and Osiris 47, Plutarch calls the divinity Αλήθεια Aletheia, “Truth.”
Asha is the Avestan language term (corresponding to Vedic language ṛta) for a concept of cardinal importance to Zoroastrian theology and doctrine. Its Old Persian equivalent is arta-. In Middle Iranian languages the term appears as ard-.
In the moral sphere, aša/arta represents what has been called “the decisive confessional concept of Zoroastrianism.” The significance of the term is complex, with a highly nuanced range of meaning. It is commonly summarized in accord with its contextual implications of ‘truth’ and ‘right(eousness)’, ‘order’ and ‘right working’.
The opposite of Avestan aša is druj, “lie.” Avestan druj, like its Vedic Sanskrit cousin druh, appears to derive from the PIE root *dhreugh, also continued in Persian دروغ / d[o]rūġ “lie”, German Trug “fraud, deception”. Old Norse draugr and Middle Irish airddrach mean “spectre, spook”. The Sanskrit cognate druh means “affliction, afflicting demon”.
The word is also the proper name of the divinity Asha, the Amesha Spenta that is the hypostasis or “genius” of “Truth” or “Righteousness”. In the Younger Avesta, this figure is more commonly referred to as Asha Vahishta (Aša Vahišta, Arta Vahišta).
In the Gathas, the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism and thought to have been composed by the prophet himself, it is seldom possible to distinguish between moral principle and the divinity. Later texts consistently use the ‘Best’ epithet when speaking of the Amesha Spenta, only once in the Gathas is ‘best’ an adjective of aša/arta.
Maat or Ma’at was the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. Maat was also personified as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. Her ideological counterpart was Isfet or Asfet (meaning “injustice”, “chaos”, or “violence”; as a verb, “to do evil”).
Isfet was thought to be the counterpart of the term Ma’at (meaning “(world-) order” or “harmony”). According to ancient Egyptian beliefs, Isfet and Ma’at built a complementary and also paradoxical dualism: one could not exist without its counterpart. Isfet and Ma’at balanced each other. An Egyptian king (pharaoh) was appointed to “achieve” Ma’at, which means that he had to keep and protect justice and harmony by destroying Isfet.
After her role in creation and continuously preventing the universe from returning to chaos, her primary role in Egyptian mythology dealt with the weighing of souls (also called the weighing of the heart) that took place in the underworld, Duat. Her feather was the measure that determined whether the souls (considered to reside in the heart) of the departed would reach the paradise of afterlife successfully. Pharaohs are often depicted with the emblems of Maat to emphasise their role in upholding the laws of the Creator.
Fitra, or fitrah (Arabic: فطرة / ALA-LC: fiṭrah), is an Arabic word that has no exact English equivalent although it has been translated as ‘primordial human nature’, and as “instinct” or common sense (‘urf). It has also been suggested that a close approximation, in terms of Western philosophy, is Kant’s concept of ‘ought’. In a mystical context, it can connote intuition or insight and is similar to the Calvinist term Sensus divinitatis.
According to Islamic theology, human beings are born with an innate inclination of tawhid (Oneness), which is encapsulated in the fitra along with compassion, intelligence, ihsan and all other attributes that embody what it is to be human. It is for this reason that some Muslims prefer to refer to those who embrace Islam as reverts rather than converts, as it is believed they are returning to a perceived pure state.
The chief festivals of Vesta were the Vestalia celebrated June 7 until June 15. On the first day of the festivities the penus Vestae (the curtained sanctum sanctorum of her temple), which normally no one except her priestesses the Vestals entered was opened, for the only time during the year, at which mothers of families who brought plates of food.
Dumézil draws a comparison between Roman religious conceptions and rituals and the relevant aspects of Vedic religion. Sacrificial ritual in Vedic India, required the presence of three fires, two of them being essential.
The so-called gārapathya, hearth of the landlord marks the connection to the Earth of the offerer; it is the marker of the origin of the whole ritual act. In Vedic ritual such kind of fire must be round as Earth itself was believed to be round and also because on Earth there is no distinction in direction without reference to Heaven.
Dumézil elaborates that in Rome the whole site of the city itself was considered as an extended sacrificial ground, with the temple of Vesta performing the function of hearth of the landlord and other temples that of sacrificial fires.
He remarks that the temple of Vesta was the only ancient temple in Rome to be built in a round shape and covered with a dome to protect the sacred fire from rain, other temples being quadrangular.
Ancient Romans as well as other Indo-European peoples believed the Earth is a sphere. Every temple though had to have two fires of which one was a hearth (Latin focus), representing the fire (Latin foculus) of Vesta as the Hearth of the city, and the main was the sacrificial ara.
In this conception the function of defensive fire was performed by the temple of the god Vulcanus that was situated to the south of the pomerium, sacred city wall, this location being in accord with what could be expected from the homology with the Vedic situation.
The Aedes Vestae and the Ignis Vestae being the Hearth of the city of Rome guaranteed its connexion to Earth and its permanence in history. It did not need to be inaugurated as other temples since it was an aedes, not a templum, its power and function being limited to Earth exclusively and bearing no relationship to Heaven and its directions, but implying stability and lasting over time for the city.
It is noteworthy that the sacred fire of Vesta, as standing for and representing the terrestrial origin of the community, could be lit only by the friction of two pieces of wood, one of them being necessarily from an arbor felix, auspicious tree, (probably an oak) and cave in shape. Water was not allowed into the inner aedes nor could stay longer than the indispensable time on the nearby premises.
It was carried by the Vestales in vessels called futiles which had a tiny foot that made them unstable. Similarly in Vedic ritual the lotus leaf representing water was placed on the fire of the offers representing Heaven, the true site of waters, and not on the fire of the landlord, representing the Earth, site of true fire.
Quite a number of rules of the aedes Vestae we know about can be explained by the interpretation of the significance of homologous rules in Vedic rituals concerning the hearth of the landlord. In conclusion, Vesta is a symbol and a protector of Rome and its site, the Hearth of the great Roman family.
According to Ovid and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Vesta is the Earth itself, the sacred sphere (orbs) that makes life possible as we know it: “Vesta is the Earth itself, both have the perennial fire, the Earth and the sacred Fire shows their see.”
The space within which men lived had to be marked and protected by a sacred fire. The sacrality of fire is related to the belief that it is the element that originates from the Earth, origin of every life on Earth and that connects our world with the divine one.
The sacral function of fire is reflected by the peculiar relationship of the Vestals with the rex whom they ritually apostrophated once a year with the phrase “Vigilasne rex? Vigila!”, and their accompanying the Pontifex Maximus in various rites. The atrium Vestae too is frequently called regal.
The sacred flames of the hearth were believed to be indispensable for the preservation and continuity of the Roman State: Cicero states it explicitly. The purity of the flames symbolised the vital force that is the root of the life of the community. It was also because the virgins’ ritual concern extended to the agricultural cycle and ensured a good harvest that Vesta enjoyed the title of Mater Mother.
This connection between the sacred fire, Earth and life on it is also the reason why the Vestals guilty of unchastity were condemned to be buried alive, an expiation conceived to be a token of their belonging to Earth and of reparation towards it. Chastity as unspent power to give birth, owing to a concentration of vital energy, was in ritual use transferred to flocks and fields: the purity of fire was a symbol of such a concentration of vital energy.
Parallelism between the Vedic sacrificial ritual and the Roman situation include the sweeping of the site of the garhapatya in order to free it from all the impure dwellers, since it is the place in which the sacrificant takes his seat. After the sweeping the officiant sprinks the place thoroughly with salt, because salt is cattle. A third prescription concerns putting a lotus leaf, symbol of water, on the sacrificial fire and not on the garhapatya, in order to put the waters in their true seat, Heaven.
The Aedes was solemnly swept once a year, on June 15, the last day of the Vestalia. That day was named Q(uando) S(tercum) D(elatum) F(as): since the temple site in historic times was obviously kept clean, this expression is an heritage of high antiquity, an archaic fossil ritual, reminiscent of a time when really the sweeping implied the removal of animal droppings.
In the light of this theology it is noteworthy that Vesta is always invoked the last in all ritual formulas concerning one or more gods (Vesta extrema), while Janus, the god of beginnings and passages, associated with Heaven, is always invoked at the beginning. This use is comparable to that concerning Agni in the Rig Veda: Agni is invoked first or last or at both places. In Iranian rituals Atar is always invoked at the end.
Dumézil hints to the significance of fire as the origin and bearer of life in connection to Vesta. Its talismanic value was the reason that caused the accumulation of signa fatalia or pignora harboured in the innermost part of the penus. Servius gives a list of seven, three of which from Troy. The earliest collection was limited and kept secret, though according to Pliny the function of fertility was represented by the image of a male sex organ.
The correspondence of Vesta with Vedic god Agni was noted long ago. Dumézil recalls that in the Indian epic poem Mahabharata the episodes of Karttikeya, god of war and son of Agni and of Agni and the daughters of Nila bear the same theme of the flames as the sex organ of the god.
The fecundating power of sacred fire is testified in Latin mythology in one version of the birth of Romulus, that of the birth of king Servius Tullius (in which his mother Ocresia becomes pregnant after sitting upon a phallus that appeared among the ashes of the ara of god Vulcanus, by order of Tanaquil wife of king Tarquinius Priscus) and that of the birth of Caeculus, the founder of Praeneste.
All these mythical or semilegendary characters show a mystical mastership of fire. E.g. Servius’s hair was kindled by his father without hurting him, his statue in the temple of Fortuna Primigenia was unharmed by fire after his assassination. Caeculus kindled and extinguished fires at will.
In Vedic India the same complex appears as a quality of the divine twins, the Nasatya: they allowed a hero to survive in a basin of fire into which he had been thrown and enjoy the bathing as pleasant.
A much later episode of Roman history has been detected as a revised replication of the same early mythologem. In the fire of the temple of Vesta of the year 241 BC Lucius Caecilius Metellus, and at the time Pontifex Maximus, saved the palladium, to which men were not allowed, and according to tradition was blinded in the incident.
Modern scholars have speculated that it would be impossible to cover offices as pontifex and consul for a blind man for more than twenty years. It has been suggested that this episode should be interpreted in the light of the connexion of the gens Caecilia with Caeculus, the founder of Praeneste. The use of the story of this incident is paradigmatic of how archaic mythologems common to Indo European heritage were reused over time grafted onto history.
The importance of Vesta to Roman religion is indicated by the prominence of the priesthood devoted to her, the Vestal or Vestal Virgins (Vestales, singular Vestalis), one of the few full-time clergy positions in Roman religion. The College of the Vestals, Rome’s only college of full-time priests, and its well-being was regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome. They cultivated the sacred fire that was not allowed to go out.
The simple ceremonies of the festivals of Vesta were officiated by the Vestals and they gathered grain and fashioned salty cakes for the festival. This was the only time when they themselves made the mola salsa, for this was the holiest time for Vesta, and it had to be made perfectly and correctly, as it was used in all public sacrifices.
Vesta’s (in some versions she is called Vestia) fire was guarded at her Temples by her priestesses, the Vestales. Every March 1 the fire was renewed. It burned until 391, when the Emperor Theodosius I forbade public pagan worship. One of the Vestales mentioned in mythology is Rhea Silvia, with whom the God Mars conceived Romulus and Remus.
The Vestals were freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children, and took a vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were off-limits to the male colleges of priests. They were drawn from the patrician class and had to observe absolute chastity for 30 years. It was from this that the Vestales were named the Vestal virgins. They could not show excessive care of their person, and they were not allowed to let the fire go out.
The Vestal Virgins lived together in a house near the Forum (Atrium Vestae), supervised by the Pontifex Maximus. On becoming a priestess, a Vestal Virgin was legally emancipated from her father’s authority and swore a vow of chastity for 30 years. This vow was so sacred that if it were broken, the Vestal was buried alive in the Campus Sceleris (‘Field of Wickedness’). It is likely that this is what happened to Rhea Silvia. They were also very independent and had many privileges that normal women did not have. They could move around the city but had to be in a carriage.
The Vestales had a strict relationship with the rex sacrorum and flamen dialis as is shown in the verses of Ovid about their taking the februae (lanas: woolen threads) from the king and the flamen.
Their relationship with the king is also apparent in the ritual phrase: “Vigilasne rex, vigila!” by which they apostrophated him once a year on an unknown occasion. The sacrality of their functions is well compounded by Cicero’s opinion that without them Rome could not exist as it would not be able to keep in contact with the gods.
A peculiar duty of the Vestals was the preparation and conservation of the sacred salamoia muries used for the savouring of the mola salsa, a salted flour mixture to be sprinkled on sacrificial victims (hence the Latin verb immolare, “to put on the mola, to sacrifice”). This dough too was prepared by them on fixed days. Their task was also of preparing the suffimen for the Parilia, a festival of rural character performed annually on April 21, aimed at cleansing both sheep and shepherd.
In ancient Roman religion, the rex sacrorum (“king of the sacred”, also sometimes rex sacrificulus, “[one who makes] offerings made by the king”) was a senatorial priesthood reserved for patricians. Although in the historical era the pontifex maximus was the head of Roman state religion, Festus says that in the ranking of priests, the rex sacrorum was of highest prestige, followed by the flamines maiores.
The rex was based in the Regia, a two-part structure in Ancient Rome lying along the Sacra Via at the edge of the Roman Forum that originally served as the residence or one of the main headquarters of kings of Rome and later as the office of the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Roman state religio.
During the Roman Republic, the rex sacrorum was chosen by the pontifex maximus from a list of patricians submitted by the College of Pontiffs. A further requirement was that he be born from parents married through the ritual of confarreatio, which was also the form of marriage he himself had to enter. His wife, the regina sacrorum, also performed religious duties specific to her role. Marriage was thus such a fundamental part of the priesthood that if the regina died, the rex had to resign.
The rex sacrorum wore a toga, the undecorated soft “shoeboot” (calceus), and carried a ceremonial axe; as a priest of archaic Roman religion, he sacrificed capite velato, with head covered. The rex held a sacrifice on the Kalends, the first days of each month of the Roman calendar, of each month. On the Nones, he announced the dates of festivals for the month. On March 24 and May 24, he held a sacrifice in the Comitium, the original open-air public meeting space of ancient Rome, and had major religious and prophetic significance. The name comes from the Latin word for “assembly”.
The rex sacrorum was a feature of Italic religion and possibly also Etruscan. The title is found in Latin cities such as Lanuvium, Tusculum, and Velitrae. At Rome the priesthood was deliberately depoliticized; the rex sacrorum was not elected, and his inauguration was merely witnessed by a comitia calata, an assembly called for the purpose.
Like the flamen Dialis but in contrast to the pontiffs and augurs, the rex was barred from a political and military career. He was thus not a “decayed king”; rather, after the overthrow of the kings of Rome, the office of rex sacrorum fulfilled at least some of the sacral duties of kingship, with the consuls assuming political power and military command, as well as some sacral functions.
It is a matter of scholarly debate as to whether the rex sacrorum was created during the formation of the Republic, as Arnaldo Momigliano argued, or had existed in the Regal period.
Another Roman priest given the title “king” was the rex Nemorensis (Latin, “king of Nemi” or “king of the Grove”), a priest of the goddess Diana at Aricia in Italy, by the shores of Lake Nemi, where she was known as Diana Nemorensis. The priesthood played a major role in the mythography of J.G. Frazer in The Golden Bough, whose interpretation has exerted a lasting influence.
The tale of the rex Nemorensis is told in a number of ancient sources. Ovid gives a poetic account of the priesthood of Nemi in his Fasti, Book 3 (on the month of March), noting that the lake of Nemi was “sacred to antique religion,” and that the priest who dwelt there “holds his reign by strong hands and fleet feet, and dies according to the example he set himself.”
The Latin name of the priesthood is given by Suetonius: “He [Caligula] caused the rex Nemorensis, who had held his priesthood for many years, to be supplanted by a stronger adversary.” That same passage indicates that by the time of the early principate the custom of choosing the office-holder’s successor by combat had fallen into disuse.
Pausanias gives an etiological myth on the founding of the shrine: The Aricians tell a tale … that when Hippolytus (the son of Theseus) was killed, owing to the curses of Theseus, Asclepius raised him from the dead. On coming to life again he refused to forgive his father; rejecting his prayers, he went to the Aricians in Italy. There he became king and devoted a precinct to Artemis, where down to my time the prize for the victor in single combat was the priesthood of the goddess. The contest was open to no freeman, but only to slaves who had run away from their masters.”
In Roman mythology, Hippolytus (“unleasher of horses”), a son of Theseus and either Antiope or Hippolyte, was identified as the god Virbius; Artemis was the Greek name of the goddess identified with the Roman Diana. A possible allusion to the origins of the priesthood at Nemi is contained in Vergil’s Aeneid, as Virgil places Hippolytus at the grove of Aricia. An alternative story has the worship of Diana at Nemi instituted by Orestes; the flight of the slave represents the flight of Orestes into exile.
The most common legend regarding Hippolytus states that he was killed after rejecting the advances of Phaedra, his stepmother, the second wife of Theseus. Spurned, Phaedra deceived Theseus saying that his son had raped her. Theseus used one of the three wishes given to him by Poseidon to curse Hippolytus. Poseidon sent a sea-monster or, alternatively, Dionysus sent a wild bull to terrorize Hippolytus’s horses, who dragged their rider to his death.
Surviving lore concerning the rex Nemorensis tells the tale that this priest or king held a very uneasy position. Macaulay’s quatrain on the institution of the rex Nemorensis states: Those trees in whose dim shadow, The ghastly priest doth reign, The priest who slew the slayer, And shall himself be slain.
This is, in a nutshell, the surviving legend of the rex Nemorensis: the priesthood of Diana at Nemi was held by a person who obtained that honour by slaying the prior incumbent in a trial by combat, and who could remain at the post only so long as he successfully defended his position against all challengers. However, a successful candidate had first to test his mettle by plucking a golden bough from one of the trees in the sacred grove.
The human sacrifice conducted at Nemi was thought to be highly unusual by the ancients. James George Frazer, in his seminal work The Golden Bough, argued that the tale of the priesthood of Nemi was an instance of a worldwide myth of a sacred king who must periodically die as part of a regular fertility rite.
While later anthropology is sceptical of Frazer’s broad hypothesis, it had an extensive influence. As a consequence, the notion of a sacred king who must periodically be slain by his rival as part of a fertility rite is likely to be more familiar to contemporary readers than it was to the ancients.
A mother goddess is a goddess who represents, or is a personification of nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction or who embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world, such goddesses are sometimes referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother.
Many different goddesses have represented motherhood in one way or another, and some have been associated with the birth of humanity as a whole, along with the universe and everything in it. Others have represented the fertility of the earth.
Figurines of fertility goddesses, both individually sculpted and mass-produced, have been found at nearly all Near Eastern sites. The earliest such figurines date back to the Neolithic era (7th and 6th millennia BCE) and they continue to be made throughout Near Eastern history. Very little is known about the goddess or her cult as so little concerning them was written down in ancient times.
Numerous female figurines from Neolithic Çatalhöyük in the Konya region in Anatolia have been interpreted as evidence of a mother-goddess cult, c.7500 BCE. James Mellaart, who led excavation at the site in the 1960s, suggests that the figures represent a Great goddess, who headed the pantheon of an essentially matriarchal culture.
A seated female figure, flanked by what Mellart describes as lionesses, was found in a grain-bin; she may have intended to protect the harvest and grain. Reports of more recent excavations at Çatalhöyük conclude that overall, the site offers no unequivocal evidence of matriarchal culture or a dominant Great Goddess; the balance of male and female power appears to have been equal.
The seated or enthroned pregnant goddess figure flanked by lionesses found in a granary dated to the 6th millennium BCE appears to be giving birth on her throne, which has two feline-headed hand rests and has been suggested as a prototype Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”; Turkish Kibele; Lydian Kuvava; Greek: Kybele, Kybebe, Kybelis).
Cybele, an originally Anatolian mother goddess and a leading deity and Mother Goddess of later Anatolian states, is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity. She is ancient Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably the highest deity of the Phrygian State.
The inscription Matar Kubileya at a Phrygian rock-cut shrine, dated to the first half of the 6th century BCE, is usually read as “Mother of the mountain”, a reading supported by ancient Classical sources, and consistent with Cybele as any of several similar tutelary goddesses, each known as “mother” and associated with specific Anatolian mountains or other localities: a goddess thus “born from stone”.
In Phrygian art of the 8th century BCE, the cult attributes of the Phrygian mother-goddess include attendant lions, a bird of prey, and a small vase for her libations or other offerings. Her Phrygian cult was adopted and adapted by Greek colonists of Asia Minor and spread from there to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies from around the 6th century BCE.
In Greece, as in Phrygia, she was a “Mistress of animals” (Potnia Therōn), with her mastery of the natural world expressed by the lions that flank her, sit in her lap or draw her chariot. In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her Minoan equivalent Rhea, and the Harvest-Mother goddess Demeter. She was readily assimilated to the Minoan-Greek earth-mother Rhea, “Mother of the gods”, whose raucous, ecstatic rites she may have acquired.
As an exemplar of devoted motherhood, she was partly assimilated to the grain-goddess Demeter, whose torchlight procession recalled her search for her lost daughter, Persephone.
Uniquely in Greek religion, she had a transgender or eunuch mendicant priesthood. Her major myths deal with her own origins, and her relationship with Attis. The most complex, vividly detailed and lurid accounts of this myth were produced as anti-pagan polemic in the late 4th century, by the Christian apologist Arnobius.
Many of her Greek cults included rites to a divine Phrygian castrate shepherd-consort Attis, who was probably a Greek invention. In Greece, Cybele is associated with mountains, town and city walls, fertile nature, and wild animals, especially lions.
For Lucretius, Magna Mater symbolised the world order. Her image held aloft signifies the Earth, which “hangs in the air”. She is the mother of all, and the yoked lions that draw her chariot show the offspring’s duty of obedience to the parent. She herself is uncreated, and thus essentially separate from and independent of her creations.
In the early Imperial era, the Roman poet Manilius inserts Cybele as the thirteenth deity of an otherwise symmetrical, classic Greco-Roman zodiac, in which each of twelve zodiacal houses (represented by particular constellations) is ruled by one of twelve deities, known in Greece as the Twelve Olympians and in Rome as the Di Consentes.
Manilius has Cybele and Jupiter as co-rulers of Leo (the Lion), in astrological opposition to Juno, who rules Aquarius. Modern scholarship remark that as Cybele’s Leo rises above the horizon, Taurus (the Bull) sets the lion thus dominates the bull. Some of the possible Greek models for Cybele’s Megalensia festival include representations of lions attacking and dominating bulls.
The festival date coincided, more or less, with events of the Roman agricultural calendar (around April 12) when farmers were advised to dig their vineyards, break up the soil, sow millet “and – curiously apposite, given the nature of the Mother’s priests – castrate cattle and other animals.”
In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her Minoan equivalent Rhea, the Titaness daughter of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus, and sister and wife to Cronus, and the Harvest-Mother goddess Demeter.
In early traditions, Rhea is known as “the mother of gods” and therefore is strongly associated with Gaia and Cybele, who have similar functions. The classical Greeks saw her as the mother of the Olympian goddesses and gods, but not as an Olympian goddess in her own right. The Romans identified her with Magna Mater (their form of Cybele), and the Goddess Ops.
Rhea only appears in Greek art from the fourth century BC, when her iconography draws on that of Cybele; the two therefore, often are indistinguishable; both can be shown on a throne flanked by lions, riding a lion, or on a chariot drawn by two lions. In Roman religion, her counterpart Cybele was Magna Mater deorum Idaea, who was brought to Rome and was identified in Roman mythology as an ancestral Trojan deity. On a functional level, Rhea was thought equivalent to Roman Ops or Opis.
Most often Rhea’s symbol is a pair of lions, the ones that pulled her celestial chariot and were seen often, rampant, one on either side of the gateways through the walls to many cities in the ancient world. The one at Mycenae is most characteristic, with a lioness placed on either side of a pillar that symbolizes the goddess (as seen in numerous images for goddesses throughout the ancient world where a tree or a column is used to represent the deity).
In ancient Greek religion and Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. Though Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death.
Her cult titles include Sito, “she of the Grain”, as the giver of food or grain and Thesmophoros (thesmos: divine order, unwritten law; “phoros”: bringer, bearer), “Law-Bringer,” as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society.
Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in Greek mythology. Alcohol, especially wine, played an important role in Greek culture with Dionysus being an important reason for this life style.
His name, thought to be a theonym in Linear B tablets as di-wo-nu-so, shows that he may have been worshipped as early as c. 1500–1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks; other traces of the Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete. Also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans, and the frenzy he induces bakkheia.
His origins are uncertain, and his cults took many forms; some are described by ancient sources as Thracian, others as Greek. In some cults, he arrives from the east, as an Asiatic foreigner; in others, from Ethiopia in the South.
He is a god of epiphany, “the god that comes”, and his “foreignness” as an arriving outsider-god may be inherent and essential to his cults. He is a major, popular figure of Greek mythology and religion, and is included in some lists of the twelve Olympians.
Dionysus was the last god to be accepted into Mt. Olympus. He was the youngest and the only one to have a mortal mother. His festivals were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre. He is an example of a dying god.
The earliest cult images of Dionysus show a mature male, bearded and robed. He holds a fennel staff, tipped with a pine-cone and known as a thyrsus. Later images show him as a beardless, sensuous, naked or half-naked androgynous youth: the literature describes him as womanly or “man-womanish”.
His thyrsus is sometimes wound with ivy and dripping with honey. It is a beneficent wand but also a weapon, and can be used to destroy those who oppose his cult and the freedoms he represents. The pinecone that tipp his thyrsus links him to Cybele.
In its fully developed form, his central cult imagery shows his triumphant, disorderly arrival or return, as if from some place beyond the borders of the known and civilized. His procession (thiasus) is made up of wild female followers (maenads) and bearded satyrs with erect penises.
Some are armed with the thyrsus, some dance or play music. The god himself is drawn in a chariot, usually by exotic beasts such as lions or tigers, and is sometimes attended by a bearded, drunken Silenus. This procession is presumed to be the cult model for the human followers of his Dionysian Mysteries. In his Thracian mysteries, he wears the bassaris or fox-skin, symbolizing a new life.
Dionysus is represented by city religions as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.
He is also called Eleutherios (“the liberator”), whose wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are possessed and empowered by the god himself. His cult is also a “cult of the souls”; his maenads feed the dead through blood-offerings, and he acts as a divine communicant between the living and the dead.
In Greek mythology, he is presented as a son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, thus semi-divine or heroic: and as son of Zeus and Persephone or Demeter, thus both fully divine, part-chthonic and possibly identical with Iacchus of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Some scholars believe that Dionysus is a syncretism of a local Greek nature deity and a more powerful god from Thrace or Phrygia such as Sabazios or Zalmoxis.
In Sumerian mythology, Ninhursag was a mother goddess of the mountains, and one of the seven great deities of Sumer. She is the tutelary deity to several Sumerian leaders. She is principally a fertility goddess. Temple hymn sources identify her as the ‘true and great lady of heaven’ (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Sumer were ‘nourished by Ninhursag’s milk’.
Nin-hursag means “lady of the sacred mountain” (from Sumerian NIN “lady” and ḪAR.SAG “sacred mountain, foothill”, possibly a reference to the site of her temple, the E-Kur (House of mountain deeps) at Eridu. She had many names including Ninmah (“Great Queen”); Nintu (“Lady of Birth”); Mamma or Mami (mother); Aruru, Belet-Ili (lady of the gods, Akkadian).
Some of the names above were once associated with independent goddesses (such as Ninmah and Ninmenna), who later became identified and merged with Ninhursag, and myths exist in which the name Ninhursag is not mentioned.
As the wife and consort of Enki she was also referred to as Damgulanna (great wife of heaven) or Damkina (faithful wife). She had many epithets including shassuru or ‘womb goddess’, tabsut ili ‘midwife of the gods’, ‘mother of all children’ and ‘mother of the gods’. In this role she is identified with Ki in the Enuma Elish. She had shrines in both Eridu and Kish.
According to legend her name was changed from Ninmah to Ninhursag by her son Ninurta in order to commemorate his creation of the mountains. As Ninmenna, according to a Babylonian investiture ritual, she placed the golden crown on the king in the Eanna temple.
Ninurta was a Sumerian and the Akkadian god of hunting and war. He was worshipped in Babylonia and Assyria and in Lagash he was identified with the city god Ningirsu. In older transliteration the name is rendered Ninib and Ninip, and in early commentary he was sometimes portrayed as a solar deity.
In Nippur, Ninurta was worshiped as part of a triad of deities including his father, Enlil and his mother, Ninlil. In variant mythology, his mother is said to be the harvest goddess Ninhursag. The consort of Ninurta was Ugallu in Nippur and Bau when he was called Ningirsu.
Ninurta often appears holding a bow and arrow, a shrek sword, or a mace named Sharur: Sharur is capable of speech in the Sumerian legend “Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and can take the form of a winged lion and may represent an archetype for the later Shedu.
Her hair is sometimes depicted in an omega shape, and she at times wears a horned head-dress and tiered skirt, often with bow cases at her shoulders, and not infrequently carries a mace or baton surmounted by an omega motif or a derivation, sometimes accompanied by a lion cub on a leash.
The omega symbol is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor, and may represent a stylized womb. Hathor is at times depicted on a mountain, so it may be that the two goddesses are connected.
In the text ‘Creator of the Hoe’, she completed the birth of mankind after the heads had been uncovered by Enki’s hoe. In creation texts, Ninmah (another name for Ninhursag) acts as a midwife whilst the mother goddess Nammu makes different kinds of human individuals from lumps of clay at a feast given by Enki to celebrate the creation of humankind.
Ninti (Sumerian Ti means rib and to live), the title of Ninhursag, is the Sumerian goddess of life. Ninti, also means “the mother of all living”, and was a title given to the later Hurrian goddess Kheba. This is also the title given in the Bible to Eve, the Hebrew and Aramaic Ḥawwah, who was made from the rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth, in which Adam — not Enki — walks in the Garden of Paradise.
Ninti is also one of the eight goddesses of healing who was created by Ninhursag to heal Enki’s body. Her specific healing area was the rib. Enki had eaten forbidden flowers and was then cursed by Ninhursaga, who was later persuaded by the other gods to heal him. Some scholars suggest that this served as the basis for the story of Eve created from Adam’s rib in the Book of Genesis.
In the legend of Enki and Ninhursag, Ninhursag bore a daughter to Enki called Ninsar (“Lady Greenery”). Through Enki, Ninsar bore a daughter Ninkurra. Ninkurra, in turn, bore Enki a daughter named Uttu. Enki then pursued Uttu, who was upset because he didn’t care for her. Uttu, on her ancestress Ninhursag’s advice buried Enki’s seed in the earth, whereupon eight plants (the very first) sprung up.
Enki, seeing the plants, ate them, and became ill in eight organs of his body. Ninhursag cured him, taking the plants into her body and giving birth to eight deities: Abu, Nintulla (Nintul), Ninsutu, Ninkasi, Nanshe (Nazi), Azimua, Ninti, and Enshag (Enshagag).
Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, and goddess of the E-Anna temple at the city of Uruk, her main centre. She was associated with lions – even then a symbol of power – and was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses.
Inanna’s name derives from Lady of Heaven (Sumerian: nin-an-ak). The cuneiform sign of Inanna however, is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin; Cuneiform: SAL.TUG) and sky (Sumerian: an; Cuneiform: AN).
These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that originally Inanna may have been a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, at first she had no sphere of responsibilities.
The view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists.
Inara, in Hittite–Hurrian mythology, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe and daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis. Inara’s mother is probably Hebat and her brother is Sarruma.
The name Artemis (noun, feminine) is of unknown or uncertain origin and etymology although various ones have been proposed. For example, according to Jablonski, the name is also Phrygian and could be “compared with the royal appellation Artemas of Xenophon. According to Charles Anthon the primitive root of the name is probably of Persian origin from *arta, *art, *arte, all meaning “great, excellent, holy,” thus Artemis “becomes identical with the great mother of Nature, even as she was worshipped at Ephesus”.
Anton Goebel “suggests the root στρατ or ῥατ, “to shake,” and makes Artemis mean the thrower of the dart or the shooter”. Babiniotis while accepting that the etymology is unknown, states that the name is already attested in Mycenean Greek and is possibly of pre-Hellenic origin.
The name could also be possibly related to Greek árktos “bear” (from PIE *hŕ̥tḱos), supported by the bear cult that the goddess had in Attica (Brauronia) and the Neolithic remains at the Arkoudiotissa Cave, as well as the story about Callisto, which was originally about Artemis (Arcadian epithet kallisto); this cult was a survival of very old totemic and shamanistic rituals and formed part of a larger bear cult found further afield in other Indo-European cultures (e.g., Gaulish Artio).
It is believed that a precursor of Artemis was worshiped in Minoan Crete as the goddess of mountains and hunting, Britomartis. While connection with Anatolian names has been suggested, the earliest attested forms of the name Artemis are the Mycenaean Greek a-te-mi-to /Artemitos/ and a-ti-mi-te /Artimitei/, written in Linear B at Pylos. R. S. P. Beekes suggested that the e/i interchange points to a Pre-Greek origin. Artemis was venerated in Lydia as Artimus.
Ancient Greek writers, by way of folk etymology, and some modern scholars, have linked Artemis (Doric Artamis) to ἄρταμος, artamos, i.e. “butcher” or, like Plato did in Cratylus, to ἀρτεμής, artemḗs, i.e. “safe”, “unharmed”, “uninjured”, “pure”, “the stainless maiden”.
The oldest representations of Artemis in Greek Archaic art portray her as Potnia Theron (“Queen of the Beasts”): a winged goddess holding a stag and leopard in her hands, or sometimes a leopard and a lion. This winged Artemis lingered in ex-votos as Artemis Orthia, with a sanctuary close by Sparta.
The mother goddess Hannahannah promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Inara then disappears. Her father looks for her, joined by Hannahannah with a bee. The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth.
Hannahannah (from Hittite hanna- “grandmother”) is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the pre-Sumerian goddess Inanna. Hannahannah was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat, also transcribed, Kheba or Khepat, the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living”. Christopher Siren reports that Hannahannah is associated with the Gulses.
Hebat was venerated all over the ancient Near East. Her name appears in many theophoric personal names. A king of Jerusalem mentioned in the Amarna letters was named Abdi-Heba, possibly meaning “Servant of Hebat”.She is also a Queen of the deities. During Aramaean times Hebat also appears to have become identified with the goddess Hawwah, or Eve.
The Hittite sun goddess Arinniti was later assimilated with Hebat. A prayer of Queen Puduhepa makes this explicit: “To the Sun-goddess of Arinna, my lady, the mistress of the Hatti lands, the queen of Heaven and Earth. Sun-goddess of Arinna, thou art Queen of all countries! In the Hatti country thou bearest the name of the Sun-goddess of Arinna; but in the land which thou madest the cedar land thou bearest the name Hebat.”
Aratta is a land that appears in Sumerian myths surrounding Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, two early and possibly mythical kings of Uruk also mentioned on the Sumerian king list.
Aratta is described in Sumerian literature as a fabulously wealthy place full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and other precious materials, as well as the artisans to craft them. It is remote and difficult to reach. It is home to the goddess Inanna, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk. It is conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk. Inanna was the most prominent female deity in ancient Mesopotamia. As early as the Uruk period (ca. 4000–3100 BC), Inanna was associated with the city of Uruk.
The Lord of Aratta cannot read the text, but the god Ishkur causes rains to end the drought in Aratta. The Lord of Aratta decides that his city has not been forsaken after all. The champion of Aratta dresses in a “garment of lion skins,” possibly a reference to Inanna. The end of the text is unclear, but it seems that the city of Uruk is able to access Aratta’s resources.
Inanna was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses. Inanna’s Sumerian analogue Ishtar has been represented driving a chariot drawn by seven lions. The Dying Lioness is a relief panel from 650 BCE, Nineveh (modern day Iraq) depicting a half-paralyzed lioness pierced with arrows.
Ishara (išḫara) is an ancient deity of unknown origin from northern modern Syria. She became a great goddess of the Hurrian population. She first appeared in Ebla and was incorporated to the Hurrian pantheon from which she found her way to the Hittite pantheon.
Ishara was also worshipped within the Hurrian pantheon. She was associated with the underworld. Her astrological embodiment is the constellation Scorpio and she is called the mother of the Sebitti (the Seven Stars) (Seux, 343).
Variants of the name appear as Ašḫara (in a treaty of Naram-Sin of Akkad with Hita of Elam) and Ušḫara (in Ugarite texts). In Ebla, there were various logographic spellings involving the sign AMA “mother”. In Alalah, her name was written with the Akkadogram IŠTAR plus a phonetic complement -ra, as IŠTAR-ra.
In Hurrian and Semitic traditions, Išḫara is a love goddess, often identified with Ishtar. Ishara is the Hittite word for “treaty, binding promise”, also personified as a goddess of the oath.
Hathor, Sekhmet and Bast
Ancient Egypt venerated the lioness (the fierce hunter) as their war deities and among those in the Egyptian pantheon are Hathor, Bast, Mafdet, Menhit, Pakhet, Sekhmet, Tefnut, and the Sphinx. Early Egyptian myths imply the sun is within the lioness, Sekhmet at night and is reflected in her eyes; or that it is within the cow, Hathor, during the night, being reborn each morning as her son (bull).
Found first in Ancient Egypt the sphinx, which had the head and shoulders of a human and the body of a lioness, represented the goddess who was the protector of the pharaohs. Later pharaohs were depicted as sphinxes, being thought as the offspring of the deity. Bast (cat goddess of protection and the “eye of Ra”) originally was depicted as a lioness.
The omega symbol of Ninhursag is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor (meaning “mansion of Horus”), an Ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood, and may represent a stylized womb. Hathor is at times depicted on a mountain, so it may be that the two goddesses are connected.
Hathor was one of the most important and popular deities throughout the history of Ancient Egypt. Hathor was worshiped by royalty and common people alike in whose tombs she is depicted as “Mistress of the West” welcoming the dead into the next life. In other roles she was a goddess of music, dance, foreign lands and fertility who helped women in childbirth, as well as the patron goddess of miners.
The cult of Hathor predates the historic period, and the roots of devotion to her are therefore difficult to trace, though it may be a development of predynastic cults which venerated fertility and nature in general, represented by cows.
In Egyptian mythology, Hesat (also spelt Hesahet, and Hesaret) was the manifestation of Hathor, the divine sky-cow, in earthly form. Like Hathor, she was seen as the wife of Ra. Since she was the more earthly cow-goddess, milk was said to be the beer of Hesat. As a dairy cow, Hesat was seen as the wet-nurse of the other gods, the one who creates all nourishment. Thus she was pictured as a divine white cow, carrying a tray of food on her horns, with milk flowing from her udders.
Hathor is commonly depicted as a cow goddess with horns in which is set a sun disk with Uraeus. Twin feathers are also sometimes shown in later periods as well as a menat necklace. Hathor may be the cow goddess who is depicted from an early date on the Narmer Palette and on a stone urn dating from the 1st dynasty that suggests a role as sky-goddess and a relationship to Horus who, as a sun god, is “housed” in her.
The Ancient Egyptians viewed reality as multi-layered in which deities who merge for various reasons, while retaining divergent attributes and myths, were not seen as contradictory but complementary.
In a complicated relationship Hathor is at times the mother, daughter and wife of Ra and, like Isis, is at times described as the mother of Horus, and associated with Bast, the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt, the Nile River delta region, before the unification of the cultures of ancient Egypt.
Bast is also known as The Eye of Ra. As protector, she was seen as defender of the pharaoh, and consequently of the later chief male deity, Ra, who was also a solar deity, gaining her the titles Lady of Flame and Eye of Ra.
Lower Egypt’s loss in the wars between Upper and Lower Egypt led to a decrease in the ferocity of Bast. Thus, by the Middle Kingdom she came to be regarded as a domestic cat rather than a lioness. Occasionally, however, she was depicted holding a lioness mask, hinting at her potential ferocity and perhaps, a reminder of her origin.
Because domestic cats tend to be tender and protective of their offspring, Bast also was regarded as a good mother, and she was sometimes depicted with numerous kittens. Consequently, a woman who wanted children sometimes wore an amulet showing the goddess with kittens, the number of which indicated her own desired number of children.
Eventually, her position as patron and protector of Lower Egypt led to her being identified with the more substantial goddess Mut, whose cult had risen to power with that of Amun, and eventually being syncretized with her as Mut-Wadjet-Bast. Shortly after, in the constantly evolving pantheon, Mut also absorbed the identities of the Sekhmet-Nekhbet pairing as well.
This merging of identities of similar goddesses has led to considerable confusion, leading to some attributing to Bast the title Mistress of the Sistrum (more properly belonging to Hathor, who had become thought of as an aspect of the later emerging Isis, as had Mut), and the Greek idea of her as a lunar goddess (more properly an attribute of Mut) rather than the solar deity she was. The native Egyptian rulers were replaced by Greeks during an occupation of Egypt in the Ptolemaic dynasty that lasted almost 300 years.
The Ptolemys adopted many Egyptian beliefs and customs, but always “interpreted” them in relation to their own Greek culture. These associations sought to link the antiquity of Egyptian culture to the newer Greek culture, thereby lending parallel roots and a sense of continuity. Indeed, much confusion occurred with subsequent generations; the identity of Bast slowly merged among the Greeks during their occupation of Egypt, who sometimes named her Ailuros (Greek for cat), thinking of Bast as a version of Artemis, their own moon goddess.
Thus, to fit their own cosmology to the Greeks Bast is thought of as the sister of Horus, whom they identified as Apollo (Artemis’ brother), and consequently, the daughter of the later emerging deities, Isis and Ra. Roman occupation of Egypt followed in 30 BC, and their pantheon of deities also was identified with the Greek interpretations of the Ancient Egyptians. The introduction of Christianity and Muslim beliefs followed as well, and by the 6th century AD only a few vestiges of Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs remained, although the cult of Isis had spread to the ends of the Roman Empire.
The cult of Osiris promised eternal life to those deemed morally worthy. Originally the justified dead, male or female, became an Osiris but by early Roman times females became identified with Hathor and men with Osiris. The Ancient Greeks sometimes identified Hathor with the goddess Aphrodite, while in Roman mythology she corresponds to Venus.
Hathor had a complex relationship with Ra. At times she is the eye of Ra and considered his daughter, but she is also considered Ra’s mother. She absorbed this role from another cow goddess ‘Mht wrt’ (“Great flood”) who was the mother of Ra in a creation myth and carried him between her horns. As a mother she gave birth to Ra each morning on the eastern horizon and as wife she conceives through union with him each day.
Hathor, along with the goddess Nut, was associated with the Milky Way during the third millennium B.C. when, during the fall and spring equinoxes, it aligned over and touched the earth where the sun rose and fell. The four legs of the celestial cow represented Nut or Hathor could, in one account, be seen as the pillars on which the sky was supported with the stars on their bellies constituting the Milky Way on which the solar barque of Ra, representing the sun, sailed.
The Milky Way was seen as a waterway in the heavens, sailed upon by both the sun deity and the moon, leading the ancient Egyptians to describe it as The Nile in the Sky. Due to this, and the name mehturt, she was identified as responsible for the yearly inundation of the Nile.
Another consequence of this name is that she was seen as a herald of imminent birth, as when the amniotic sac breaks and floods its waters, it is a medical indicator that the child is due to be born extremely soon.
Another interpretation of the Milky Way was that it was the primal snake, Wadjet, the protector of Egypt who was closely associated with Hathor and other early deities among the various aspects of the great mother goddess, including Mut and Naunet. Hathor also was favoured as a protector in desert regions.
Hathor’s identity as a cow, perhaps depicted as such on the Narmer Palette, meant that she became identified with another ancient cow-goddess of fertility, Bat. It still remains an unanswered question amongst Egyptologists as to why Bat survived as an independent goddess for so long.
Bat was, in some respects, connected to the Ba, an aspect of the soul, and so Hathor gained an association with the afterlife. It was said that, with her motherly character, Hathor greeted the souls of the dead in Duat, and proffered them with refreshments of food and drink. She also was described sometimes as mistress of the necropolis.
The assimilation of Bat, who was associated with the sistrum, a musical instrument, brought with it an association with music. In this later form, Hathor’s cult became centred in Dendera in Upper Egypt and it was led by priestesses and priests who also were dancers, singers and other entertainers.
The Middle Kingdom was founded when Upper Egypt’s pharaoh, Mentuhotep II, took control over Lower Egypt, which had become independent during the First Intermediate Period, by force. This unification had been achieved by a brutal war that was to last some twenty-eight years with many casualties, but when it ceased, calm returned, and the reign of the next pharaoh, Mentuhotep III, was peaceful, and Egypt once again became prosperous.
The tale “The Book of the Heavenly Cow” or “The Book of the Cow of Heaven”, an Ancient Egyptian text thought to have originated during the Amarna Period following the war describes in part the reasons for the imperfect state of the world in terms of humankind’s rebellion against the supreme sun god Ra (representing the pharaoh of Upper Egypt).
In the tale, Ra was no longer respected by the people (of Lower Egypt) and they ceased to obey his authority. Ra communicated through Hathor’s third Eye (Maat) and told her that some people in the land were planning to assassinate him. Hathor was so angry that the people she had created would be audacious enough to plan that she became Sekhmet (war goddess of Upper Egypt) to destroy them.
Hathor (as Sekhmet) became bloodthirsty and the slaughter was great because she could not be stopped. As the slaughter continued, Ra saw the chaos down below and decided to stop the blood-thirsty Sekhmet or Sachmis (also spelled Sakhmet, Sekhet, or Sakhet, among other spellings). So he poured huge quantities of blood-coloured beer on the ground to trick Sekhmet. She drank so much of it—thinking it to be blood—that she became drunk and returned to her former gentle self as Hathor.
Sekhmet’s name comes from the Ancient Egyptian word “sekhem” which means “power or might”. Sekhmet’s name suits her function and means “the (one who is) powerful”. She also was given titles such as the “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”. In Upper Egypt, Sekhmet was the parallel warrior lioness deity to Bast.
She is depicted as a lioness, the fiercest hunter known to the Egyptians. It was said that her breath formed the desert. In order to placate Sekhmet’s wrath, her priestesses performed a ritual before a different statue of the goddess on each day of the year. This practice resulted in many images of the goddess being preserved.
Sekhmet was originally the warrior goddess as well as goddess of healing for Upper Egypt, when the kingdom of Egypt was divided. She was seen as the protector of the pharaohs and led them in warfare. Religion, the royal lineage, and the authority to govern were intrinsically interwoven in Ancient Egypt during its approximately three millennia of existence.
Sekhmet also is a Solar deity, sometimes called the daughter of the sun god Ra and often associated with the goddesses Hathor and Bast. She bears the Solar disk and the uraeus which associates her with Wadjet and royalty. With these associations she can be construed as being a divine arbiter of the goddess Ma’at (Justice, or Order) in the Judgment Hall of Osiris, associating her with the Wadjet (later the Eye of Ra), and connecting her with Tefnut as well.
Maashes and Nefertem
Maahes (also spelled Mihos, Miysis, Mios, Maihes, or Mahes) was an ancient Egyptian lion-headed god of war, whose name means “he who is true beside her”. He was seen as the son of the Creator god Ptah, as well as the feline goddess (Bast in Lower Egypt or Sekhmet in Upper Egypt) whose nature he shared. Maahes was a deity associated with war, protection, and weather, as well as that of knives, lotuses, and devouring captives. His cult was centred in Taremu and Per-Bast.
As a lion-god and patron, he was also considered the son of Ra and of Bast, the feline war goddess and patron of Lower Egypt as well as Sekhmet, the lioness war goddess and patron of Upper Egypt.
During the New Kingdom the Nubian gods Maahes (god of war and protection and the son of Bast) and Dedun (god of incense, hence luxury and wealth) were depicted as lions. Maahes was absorbed into the Egyptian pantheon, and had a temple at the city Leontopolis (“City of Lions”) in Lower Egypt attached to that of the temple of his mother. Dedun was not absorbed into the Egyptian religion and remained a Nubian deity. Since his cult was centred in Per-Bast (Bubastis in Greek) or in Taremu (Leontopolis in Greek), he was more known as the son of Bast.
As he became a tutelary deity of Egypt, his father was said to be the chief male deity at the time – either Ptah, or Ra who had by this time already merged with Atum into Atum-Ra. In his role of son of Ra, Maahes fought the serpent Apep during Ra’s nightly voyage.
Considered to have powerful attributes, feline deities were associated with the pharaohs, and became patrons of Egypt. The male lion hieroglyphic was used in words such as “prince”, “mashead”, “strength”, and “power”.
The name of Maahes begins with the hieroglyphs for the male lion, although in isolation it also means (one who can) see in front. However, the first glyph also is part of the glyph for Ma’at, meaning truth and order and so it came to be that Maahes was considered to be the devourer of the guilty and protector of the innocent. Some of the titles of Maahes were Lord of Slaughter, Wielder of the Knife, and The Scarlet Lord.
Maahes was pictured as a man with the head of a male lion, occasionally holding a knife and wearing the double crown of Egypt, or the atef crown. Sometimes he was identified with Nefertem (possibly “beautiful one who closes” or “one who does not close”), originally a lotus flower at the creation of the world who had arisen from the primal waters, and was shown with a bouquet of lotuses near him, but he also was depicted as a lion devouring a captive.
Nefertem the child comes from his earth father Nun’s black primordial waters, and his sky mother is Nut. When he matures, he is Ra. Nefertum was eventually seen as the son of the Creator god Ptah, and the goddesses Sekhmet and Bast were sometimes called his mother. In art, Nefertum is usually depicted as a beautiful young man having blue water-lily flowers around his head. As the son of Bastet, he also sometimes has the head of a lion or is a lion or cat reclining. The ancient Egyptians often carried small statuettes of him as good-luck charms.