The underworld goddess
Posted by Fredsvenn on April 17, 2016
Enlil (EN = Lord + LÍL = Wind, “Lord (of the) Storm”) is the god of breath, wind, loft and breadth (height and distance). It was the name of a chief deity listed and written about in Sumerian religion, and later in Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian), Hittite, Canaanite and other Mesopotamian clay and stone tablets. The name is perhaps pronounced and sometimes rendered in translations as “Ellil” in later Akkadian, Hittite, and Canaanite literature.
In later Akkadian, Enlil is the son of Anshar (also spelled Anshur), which means “whole heaven”, and his consort Kishar, which means “Whole Earth”. They were the children of Lahamu and Lahmu and the grandchildren of Tiamat and Apsû. They, in turn, are the parents of An (“sky, heaven”), the earliest attested Sky Father deity.
An was the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, spirits and demons, and was believed to have the power to judge those who had committed crimes, and to have created the stars as soldiers to destroy the wicked. His attribute was the Royal Tiara. His attendant and vizier was the god Ilabrat. When Enlil rose to equal or surpass An in authority, the functions of the two deities came to some extent to overlap. An was also sometimes equated with Amurru, and, in Seleucid Uruk, with Enmešara and Dumuzi.
Enlil was known as the inventor of the mattock (a key agricultural pick, hoe, ax or digging tool of the Sumerians) and helped plants to grow. Enlil was also known as the god of weather. He was assimilated to the north “Pole of the Ecliptic”. His sacred number name was 50. Among the titles accorded to him are “king of lands”, “king of heaven and earth”, and “father of the gods”.
According to the Sumerians, Enlil requested the creation of a slave race, but then got tired of their noise and tried to kill them by sending a flood. A mortal known as Utnapishtim survived the flood through the help of another god, Enki, and he was made immortal by Enlil after his initial fury had subsided.
Enlil is associated with the ancient city of Nippur, sometimes referred to as the cult city of Enlil, which at a very early period prior to 3000 BC had become the centre of a political district of considerable extent.
Grouped around the main sanctuary, there arose temples and chapels to the gods and goddesses who formed his court, so that Ekur became the name for an entire sacred precinct in the city of Nippur. The name “mountain house” suggests a lofty structure and was perhaps the designation originally of the staged tower at Nippur, built in imitation of a mountain, with the sacred shrine of the god on the top.
As Enlil was the only god who could reach An he held sway over the other gods who were assigned tasks by his agent and would travel to Nippur to draw in his power. He is thus seen as the model for kingship.
His temple was named Ekur, “House of the Mountain.” Such was the sanctity acquired by this edifice that Babylonian and Assyrian rulers, down to the latest days, vied with one another to embellish and restore Enlil’s seat of worship. Eventually, the name Ekur became the designation of a temple in general.
His consort is called Ninlil (“lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, who most commonly is known as the daughter of Haia (god of stores) and Nunbarsegunu (or Ninshebargunnu [a goddess of barley] or Nisaba). Another Akkadian source says she is the daughter of An and Ki. Other sources call her a daughter of An and Nammu.
The myth of Enlil and Ninlil discusses when Enlil was a young god he was banished from Ekur in Nippur, home of the gods, to Kur, the underworld for seducing Ninlil, who followed him to the underworld where she bore his first child, the moon god Sin (Sumerian Nanna/Suen). After fathering three more underworld-deities (substitutes for Sin), Enlil was allowed to return to the Ekur.
She lived in Dilmun with her family. Impregnated by her husband Enlil, who lie with her by the water, she conceived a boy, Nanna/Suen, the future moon god. As punishment Enlil was dispatched to the underworld kingdom of Ereshkigal, where Ninlil joined him. Enlil impregnated her disguised as the gatekeeper, where upon she gave birth to their son Nergal, god of death.
In a similar manner she conceived the underworld god Ninazu when Enlil impregnated her disguised as the man of the river of the nether world, a man-devouring river. Later Enlil disguised himself as the man of the boat, impregnating her with a fourth deity Enbilulu, god of rivers and canals. All of these act as substitutes for Nanna/Suen to ascend. In some texts Ninlil is also the mother of Ninurta, the heroic god who slew Asag the demon with his mace, Sharur.
After her death, she became the goddess of the wind, like Enlil. She may be the Goddess of the South Wind referred to in the story of Adapa, as her husband Enlil was associated with northerly winter storms. As “Lady Wind” she may be associated with the figure of the Akkadian demon “Lil-itu”, thought to have been the origin of the Hebrew Lilith legend.
Hursag (transcribed cuneiform: ḫur.saḡ(HUR.SAG)) is a Sumerian term variously translated as meaning “mountain”, “hill”, “foothills” or “piedmont”. Thorkild Jacobsen extrapolated the translation in his later career to mean literally, “head of the valleys”. Some scholars also identify hursag with an undefined mountain range or strip of raised land outside the plain of Mesopotamia.
The hursag is described here in a clear cultural myth as a high wall, levee, dam or floodbank, used to restrain the excess mountain waters and floods caused by the melting snow and spring rain. The hursag is constructed with Ninurta’s skills in irrigation engineering and employed to improve the agriculture of the surrounding lands, farms and gardens where the water had previously been wasted.
In a myth variously entitled by Samuel Noah Kramer as “The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and later Ninurta Myth Lugal-e by Thorkild Jacobsen, Hursag is described as a mound of stones constructed by Ninurta after his defeat of a demon called Asag. Ninurta’s mother Ninlil visits the location after this great victory. In return for her love and loyalty, Ninurta gives Ninlil the hursag as a gift. Her name is consequentially changed from Ninlil to Ninhursag or the “mistress of the Hursag”.
Ninhursag (“lady of the sacred mountain”; from Sumerian NIN “lady” and ḪAR.SAG “sacred mountain, foothill”) was a mother goddess of the mountains. 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’.
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.
She had many names including Ninmah (“Great Queen”); Nintu (“Lady of Birth”); Mamma or Mami (mother); Aruru, Belet-Ili (lady of the gods, Akkadian). 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.
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 includingshassuru 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.
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.
Her symbol, resembling the Greek letter omega Ω, has been depicted in art from around 3000 BC, though more generally from the early second millennium BC. It appears on some boundary stones — on the upper tier, indicating her importance. 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 a complicated relationship Hathor is at times the mother, daughter and wife of Ra and, like Isis, she is at times described as the mother of Horus, and associated with Bast. Isis is also known as protector of the dead and goddess of children.
The initial mother-goddess of Horus was Hathor, not Isis. The first secure references to Isis date back to the 5th dynasty, when her name appears in the sun temple of king Niuserre and on the statue of a priest named Pepi-Ankh, who worshipped at the very beginning of 6th dynasty and bore the title “high priest of Isis and Hathor”.
The Greek name version of Isis is close to her original, Egyptian name spelling (namely Aset). Isis’ name was originally written with the signs of a throne seat, a bread loaf and with a sitting woman.
A second version of the original was also written with the throne seat and the bread loaf, but ended with an egg symbol which was normally read “set”, but here it was used as a determinative to promote the correct reading. The grammar, spelling and used signs of Isis’ name never changed during time in any way, making it easy to recognize her any time.
Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”; Lydian Kuvava) was an originally Anatolian mother goddess; she has a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük, where the statue of a pregnant, seated goddess was found in a granary dated to the 6th millennium BCE. This corpulent, fertile Mother Goddess appears to be giving birth on her throne, which has two feline-headed hand rests.
She is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity. 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.
The Ancient Greeks sometimes identified Hathor with the goddess Aphrodite, while in Roman mythology she corresponds to Venus. The popular motif of Isis suckling her son Horus, however, lived on in a Christianized context as the popular image of Mary suckling her infant son Jesus from the fifth century onward.
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.
In the legend of Enki and Ninhursag, Ninhursag bore a daughter to Enki called Ninsar (“Lady Greenery”). Through Enki, Ninsar bore a daughter Ninkurra (”Lady Fruitfulness or Lady Pasture”). Ninkurra, in turn, bore Enki a daughter named Uttu (“weaver” or “spider”, “the weaver of the web of life”), the goddess of weaving and clothing.
In an alternative tradition Ninkurra was the mother (by Enki) of Nin-imma, the deification of the female sex organs. Uttu in Sumerian means “the woven” and she was illustrated as a spider in a web.
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).
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. 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.
The subsequent tale, with similarities to the Biblical story of the forbidden fruit, repeats the story of how fresh water brings life to a barren land. Enki, the Water-Lord then “caused to flow the ‘water of the heart” and having fertilised his consort Ninhursag, also known as Ki or Earth, after “Nine days being her nine months, the months of ‘womanhood’… like good butter, Nintu, the mother of the land, …like good butter, gave birth to Ninsar (“Lady Greenery”)”.
When Enki then ate Uttu’s children, Ninhursag cursed him with eight wounds and disappears. When Ninhursag left him, as Water-Lord he came upon Ninsar. Not knowing her to be his daughter, and because she reminds him of his absent consort, Enki then seduces and has intercourse with her. Ninsar then gave birth to Ninkurra, and leaves Enki alone again.
A second time, Enki, in his loneliness finds and seduces Ninkurra, and from the union Ninkurra gave birth to Uttu. When Enki succumbs to temptation he attempts to seduct Uttu. Upset about Enki’s reputation, Uttu consults Ninhursag, who, upset at the promiscuous wayward nature of her spouse, advises Uttu to avoid the riverbanks, the places likely to be affected by flooding, the home of Enki.
In another version of this myth Ninhursag takes Enki’s semen from Uttu’s womb and plants it in the earth where eight plants rapidly germinate. With his two-faced servant and steward Isimud he (Enki) eats it. And so, despite warnings, Enki consumes the other seven fruit. Consuming his own semen, he falls pregnant (ill with swellings) in his jaw, his teeth, his mouth, his hip, his throat, his limbs, his side and his rib. The gods are at a loss to know what to do, chagrinned they “sit in the dust”. As Enki lacks a womb with which to give birth, he seems to be dying with swellings.
Ninhursag relents and takes Enki’s Ab (water, or semen) into her body, and gives birth to gods of healing of each part of the body. Abu for the Jaw, Nintul for the Hip, Ninsutu for the tooth, Ninkasi for the mouth, Dazimua for the side, Enshagag for the Limbs.
The story thus symbolically reflects the way in which life is brought forth through the addition of water to the land, and once it grows, water is required to bring plants to fruit. It also counsels balance and responsibility, nothing to excess.
Uttu bears seven new child/trees from Enki, the eighth being Ninti (“Lady rib”). Ti (means both life, as in “The Tree of life”, and rib). Ninti is a pun on “Lady Life”, a title of Ninhursag herself. Ninti, the title of Ninhursag, also means “the mother of all living”, and was a title given to the later Hurrian goddess Hebat. This is also the title given in the Bible to Eve, the Hebrew and Aramaic Ḥawwah (חוה), 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.
Hebat, also transcribed, Kheba or Khepat, was the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living”. She is also a Queen of the deities. She is married to Teshub and is the mother of Sarruma and Alanzu, as well mother-in-law of the daughter of the dragon Illuyanka. The mother goddess is likely to have had a later counterpart in the Phrygian goddess Cybele.
The name may be transliterated in different versions – Khebat with the feminine ending -t is primarily the Syrian and Ugaritic version. In the Hurrian language Hepa is the most likely pronunciation of the name of the goddess. In modern literature the sound /h/ in cuneiform sometimes is transliterated as kh. 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.”
Ḫaldi (also known as Khaldi or Hayk) was one of the three chief deities of Urartu (Ararat). His shrine was at Ardini (Muṣaṣir). Hayk or Hayg, also known as Haik Nahapet (“Hayk the Tribal Chief”) is the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation.
The other two chief deities were Theispas of Kumenu, and Shivini of Tushpa. Of all the gods of the Urartian pantheon, the most inscriptions are dedicated to Khaldi. His wife was the goddess Arubani. He was portrayed as a man with or without wings, standing on a lion.
Khaldi was a warrior god whom the kings of Urartu would pray to for victories in battle. The temples dedicated to Khaldi were adorned with weapons, such as swords, spears, bows and arrows, and shields hung off the walls and were sometimes known as ‘the house of weapons’.
Lilith is a figure in Jewish mythology, developed earliest in the Babylonian Talmud (3rd to 5th centuries CE). The character is generally thought to derive in part from a historically far earlier class of female demons (līlīṯu) in Mesopotamian religion, found in cuneiform texts of Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, and Babylonia. Evidence in later Jewish materials is plentiful, but little information has survived relating to the original Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian view of these demons.
In Hebrew-language texts, the term lilith or lilit (translated as “night creatures”, “night monster”, “night hag”, or “screech owl”) first occurs in a list of animals in Isaiah 34:14, either in singular or plural form according to variations in the earliest manuscripts. In the Dead Sea Scrolls’ Songs of the Sage the term first occurs in a list of monsters. In Jewish magical inscriptions on bowls and amulets from the 6th century BC onwards, Lilith is identified as a female demon and the first visual depictions appear.
In Jewish folklore, from Alphabet of Ben Sira (ca 700-1000 CE) onwards, Lilith appears as Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time (Rosh Hashanah) and from the same dirt as Adam – compare Genesis 1:27. This stands in contrast with Eve, who was created from one of Adam’s ribs: Genesis 2:22).
The legend developed extensively during the Middle Ages, in the tradition of Aggadic midrashim, the Zohar, and Jewish mysticism. For example, in the 13th-century writings of Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she had coupled with the archangel Samael. The resulting Lilith legend continues to serves as source material in modern Western culture, literature, occultism, fantasy, and horror.
In Hurrian mythology, the Hutena are goddesses of fate. They are similar to the Norns of Norse mythology or the Moirai of ancient Greece. They are called the Gul Ses (Gul-Shesh) in Hittite mythology.
The Norns (Old Norse: norn, plural: nornir) in Norse mythology are female beings who rule the destiny of gods and men. They roughly correspond to other controllers of humans’ destiny, the Fates, elsewhere in European mythology.
Hecate or Hekate is a goddess in Greek religion and mythology, most often shown holding two torches or a key and in later periods depicted in triple form. She was variously associated with crossroads, entrance-ways, dogs, light, the moon, magic, witchcraft, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, ghosts, necromancy, and sorcery.
In the post-Christian writings of the Chaldean Oracles (2nd–3rd century CE) she was regarded with (some) rulership over earth, sea and sky, as well as a more universal role as Saviour (Soteira), Mother of Angels and the Cosmic World Soul. She was one of the main deities worshiped in Athenian households as a protective goddess and one who bestowed prosperity and daily blessings on the family.
Hecate may have originated among the Carians of Anatolia, where variants of her name are found as names given to children. Hecate was also worshipped in the ancient city of Colchis. She also closely parallels the Roman goddess Trivia, with whom she was identified in Rome.
Trivia in Roman mythology was the goddess who “haunted crossroads, graveyards, and was the goddess of sorcery and witchcraft, she wandered about at night and was seen only by the barking of dogs who told of her approach.” She was the equivalent of the Greek goddess Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, the three-way crossroads and the harvest moon.
She was an underworld Titan-goddess who assisted Jove in the Titanomachy and was therefore able to keep her powers. She was a friend of Ceres and helped her to find her daughter Proserpina. As a part of her role as an underworld goddess, she was known as the Queen of Ghosts. Although she helped Ceres to find her daughter, she was also known to steal young maidens to assist her in her powers. These women later became nymphs.
Her association for Romans of the first century BCE with Artemis, one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities, was so thorough that Lucretius identifies the altar of the goddess at the sacrifice of Iphianassa (Iphigeneia) in Aulis as Triviai virginis aram.
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 (“king of the mountains”), often depicted riding a tiger or panther and carrying an axe (cf. labrys).
The mother goddess Hannahannah promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Inara then disappears, and when Hannahannah is informed thereof by the Storm-god’s bee, she apparently begins a search with the help of her female attendant. The story resembles that of Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and agriculture, and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth.
Apparently like Demeter, Hannahanna disappears for a while in a fit of anger and while she is gone, cattle and sheep are stifled and mothers, both human and animal take no account of their children. After her anger is banished to the Dark Earth, she returns rejoicing, and mothers care once again for their kin.
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. 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.
Persephone as a vegetation goddess and her mother Demeter were the central figures of the Eleusinian mysteries that predated the Olympian pantheon and promised the initiated a more enjoyable prospect after death. Persephone is further said to have become by Zeus the mother of Dionysus, Iacchus, or Zagreus, usually in orphic tradition. The origins of her cult are uncertain, but it was based on very old agrarian cults of agricultural communities.
Persephone was commonly worshipped along with Demeter and with the same mysteries. To her alone were dedicated the mysteries celebrated at Athens in the month of Anthesterion. In Classical Greek art, Persephone is invariably portrayed robed, often carrying a sheaf of grain. She may appear as a mystical divinity with a sceptre and a little box, but she was mostly represented in the act of being carried off by Hades.
In Roman mythology, she is called Proserpina, and her mother, Ceres. The Romans identified Proserpina with their native fertility goddess Libera, daughter of the grain and agriculture goddess Ceres and wife to Liber.
In 204 BC, a new “greek-style” cult to Ceres and Proserpina as “Mother and Maiden” was imported from southern Italy, along with Greek priestesses to serve it, and was installed in Ceres’ Temple on Rome’s Aventine Hill. The new cult and its priesthood were actively promoted by Rome’s religious authorities as morally desirable for respectable Roman women, and may have partly subsumed the temple’s older, native cult to Ceres, Liber and Libera; but the new rites seems to have functioned alongside the old, rather than replaced them.
Just as Persephone was thought to be a daughter of Demeter, Romans made Proserpina a daughter of Demeter’s Roman equivalent, Ceres. Like Persephone, Proserpina is associated with the underworld realm and its ruler; and along with her mother Ceres, with the springtime growth of crops and the cycle of life, death and rebirth or renewal.
Her name is a Latinisation of “Persephone”, perhaps influenced by the Latin proserpere (“to emerge, to creep forth”), with respect to the growing of grain. Her core myths – her forcible abduction by the god of the Underworld, her mother’s search for her and her eventual but temporary restoration to the world above – are the subject of works in Roman and later art and literature.
In particular, Proserpina’s seizure by the god of the Underworld – usually described as the Rape of Proserpina, or of Persephone – has offered dramatic subject matter for Renaissance and later sculptors and painters.
Shala was an ancient Sumerian goddess of grain and the emotion of compassion. The symbols of grain and compassion combine to reflect the importance of agriculture in the mythology of Sumer, and the belief that an abundant harvest was an act of compassion from the Gods.
Traditions identify Shala as wife of the fertility god Dagon, or consort of the storm god Adad also called Ishkur. In ancient depictions, she carries a double-headed mace-scimitar embellished with lion heads.
According to Gavin White the figure of Virgo corresponds to two Babylonian constellations: the “Furrow” in the eastern sector of Virgo and the “Frond of Erua” in the western sector. The Frond of Erua was depicted as a goddess holding a palm-frond – a motif that still occasionally appears in much later depictions of Virgo. Virgo is often portrayed carrying two sheaves of wheat, one of which is marked by the bright star Spica.
According to the Babylonian Mul.Apin, which dates from 1000–686 BCE, this constellation was known as “The Furrow”, representing the goddess Shala’s ear of grain. One star in this constellation, Spica, retains this tradition as it is Latin for “ear of grain”, one of the major products of the Mesopotamian furrow. The constellation was also known as “AB.SIN” and “absinnu”. For this reason the constellation became associated with fertility.
The Greeks and Romans associated Virgo with their goddess of wheat/agriculture, Demeter-Ceres who is the mother of Persephone-Proserpina. Alternatively, she was sometimes identified as the virgin goddess Iustitia or Astraea, holding the scales of justice in her hand as the constellation Libra.
Another myth identifies Virgo as Erigone, the daughter of Icarius of Athens. Icarius, who had been favoured by Dionysus, was killed by his shepherds while they were intoxicated and Erigone hanged herself in grief; Dionysus placed the father and daughter in the stars as Boötes and Virgo respectively. In the Middle Ages, Virgo was sometimes associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In Hindu mythology, Sarama is a mythological being referred to as the dog of the gods, or Deva-shuni. She first appears in one of Hinduism’s earliest texts, the Rig Veda, in which she helps the god-king Indra to recover divine cows stolen by the Panis, a class of demons.
Sarama is often associated with Indra. Early Rig-Vedic works do not depict Sarama as canine, but later Vedic mythologies and interpretations usually do. She is described as the mother of all dogs, in particular of the two four-eyed brindle dogs of the god Yama, and dogs are given the metronymic Sarameya (“offspring of Sarama”). One scripture further describes Sarama as the mother of all wild animals.
There are two epithets for Sarama in the original Rig Veda. Firstly, she is described as supadi, which means “having good feet”, “fair-footed” or “quick”, an epithet only used for Sarama in the text. Her other epithet is subhaga – “the fortunate one”, or “the beloved one” – a common epithet of the Ushas, the Dawn. Sarama’s other name Deva-shuni means “divine bitch” or “bitch of the gods”.
It has been suggested that the Greek Hermes, an Olympian god in Greek religion and mythology, the son of Zeus and the Pleiad Maia, and the second youngest of the Olympian gods, is a cognate of Sarama.
Hermes is considered a god of transitions and boundaries. He is described as quick and cunning, moving freely between the worlds of the mortal and divine. He is also portrayed as an emissary and messenger of the gods; an intercessor between mortals and the divine, and conductor of souls into the afterlife.
In some myths, he is a trickster and outwits other gods for his own satisfaction or for the sake of humankind. His attributes and symbols include the herma, the rooster, the tortoise, purse or pouch, winged sandals, and winged cap. His main symbol is the Greek kerykeion or Latin caduceus, which appears in a form of two snakes wrapped around a winged staff.
In the Roman adaptation of the Greek pantheon, Hermes is identified with the Roman god Mercury, who, though inherited from the Etruscans, developed many similar characteristics such as being the patron of commerce.
When they described the gods of Celtic and Germanic tribes, rather than considering them separate deities, the Romans interpreted them as local manifestations or aspects of their own gods, a cultural trait called the interpretatio Romana. Mercury in particular was reported as becoming extremely popular among the nations the Roman Empire conquered; Julius Caesar wrote of Mercury being the most popular god in Britain and Gaul, regarded as the inventor of all the arts.
This is probably because in the Roman syncretism, Mercury was equated with the Celtic god Lugus, and in this aspect was commonly accompanied by the Celtic goddess Rosmerta. Although Lugus may originally have been a deity of light or the sun (though this is disputed), similar to the Roman Apollo, his importance as a god of trade made him more comparable to Mercury, and Apollo was instead equated with the Celtic deity Belenus.
In Celtic areas, Mercury was sometimes portrayed with three heads or faces, and at Tongeren, Belgium, a statuette of Mercury with three phalli was found, with the extra two protruding from his head and replacing his nose; this was probably because the number 3 was considered magical, making such statues good luck and fertility charms.
Romans also associated Mercury with the Germanic god Odin, or Wotan, by interpretatio Romana; 1st-century Roman writer Tacitus identifies him as the chief god of the Germanic peoples.
Ninshubur (also known as Ninshubar, Nincubura or Ninšubur) was the sukkal or second-in-command of the goddess Inanna in Sumerian mythology. Due to similarities between the two, some believe the later Hermes to have been based in part on Ninshubur.
A goddess in her own right, her name can be translated as ‘Queen of the East’, and she was said to be a messenger and traveller for the other gods. As Inanna was associated with the planet Venus, Ninshubur was said to be associated with Mercury, as Venus and Mercury appear together in the sky.
Ninshubur accompanied Inanna as a vassal and friend throughout Inanna’s many exploits. She helped Inanna fight Enki’s demons after Inanna’s theft of the sacred me. Later, when Inanna became trapped in the Underworld, it was Ninshubur who pleaded with Enki for her mistress’s release.
Though described as an unmarried virgin, in a few accounts Ninshubur is said to be one of Inanna’s lovers. In later Akkadian mythology, Ninshubur was male. In “A hymn to Nergal” Ninshubur appeared as the minister of the underworld.
In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth.
Some scholars believe that the name, and indeed the goddess herself, was originally pre-Greek. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron: “Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals”. The Arcadians believed she was the daughter of Demeter.
Her Roman equivalent is Diana, the goddess of the hunt, the moon and childbirth, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. Diana was known to be the virgin goddess of childbirth and women. She was one of the three maiden goddesses — along with Minerva and Vesta — who swore never to marry. Oak groves were especially sacred to her.
According to mythology (in common with the Greek religion and their deity Artemis), Diana was born with her twin brother Apollo on the island of Delos, daughter of Jupiter and Latona. Diana made up a triad with two other Roman deities: Egeria the water nymph, her servant and assistant midwife; and Virbius, the woodland god.
Diana was initially just the hunting goddess, associated with wild animals and woodlands. She also later became a moon goddess, supplanting Titan goddess Luna. She also became the goddess of childbirth and ruled over the countryside. Catullus wrote a poem to Diana in which she has more than one alias: Latonia, Lucina, Iuno, Trivia, Luna.
Diana was worshipped at a festival on August 13, when King Servius Tullius, himself born a slave, dedicated her temple on the Aventine Hill in the mid-6th century BC. Being placed on the Aventine, and thus outside the pomerium, meant that Diana’s cult essentially remained a foreign one, like that of Bacchus.
The Aventine Triad (also referred to as the plebeian Triad or the agricultural Triad) is a modern term for the joint cult of the Roman deities Ceres, Liber and Libera. The cult was established ca. 493 BC within a sacred district (templum) on or near the Aventine Hill, traditionally associated with the Roman plebs.
The Aventine Triad, temple and associated ludi (games and theatrical performances) served as a focus of plebeian identity, sometimes in opposition to Rome’s original ruling elite, the patricians. Some modern historians describe the Aventine Triad as a plebeian parallel and self-conscious antithesis to the archaic Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus and the later Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno.
Diana (pronounced with long ‘ī’ and ‘ā’) is an adjectival form developed from an ancient divios, corresponding to later ‘divus’, ‘dius’, as in Dius Fidius, Dea Dia and in the neuter form dium meaning the sky.
It is rooted in Indoeuropean *d(e)y(e)w, meaning bright sky or daylight, from which also derived the name of Vedic god Dyaus and the Latin deus, (god), dies, (day, daylight), and ” diurnal”, (daytime).
On the Tablets of Pylos a theonym διϝια (diwia) is supposed as referring to a deity precursor of Artemis. Modern scholars mostly accept the identification. The ancient Latin writers Varro and Cicero considered the etymology of Dīāna as allied to that of dies and connected to the shine of the Moon.
The etymology of the name Hecate is not known. Suggested derivations include from the Greek word for ‘will’, from Hekatos, an obscure epithet of Apollo (this has been translated as “she that operates from afar”, “she that removes or drives off”, “the far reaching one” or “the far-darter”), and the name of the Egyptian goddess of childbirth, Heqet, has been compared.
To the Egyptians, the frog was a symbol of life and fertility, since millions of them were born after the annual inundation of the Nile, which brought fertility to the otherwise barren lands. Consequently, in Egyptian mythology, there began to be a frog-goddess, who represented fertility, referred to by Egyptologists as Heqet, written with the determinative frog.
Sheela na gigs are figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. They are architectural grotesques found on churches, castles, and other buildings, particularly in Ireland and Great Britain, sometimes together with male figures.
A popular hypothesis is that sheela na gigs represent a pagan goddess, but academics believe the situation was more complex, with multiple interpretations and roles for the female character as spiritual traditions changed over time.
The goddess in question usually is identified as Celtic, the hag-like Cailleach figure of Irish and Scottish mythology. Margaret Murray proposed this, as did Anne Ross, who wrote in her essay, “The Divine Hag of the Pagan Celts”, “I would like to suggest that in their earliest iconographic form they do in fact portray the territorial or war-goddess in her hag-like aspect…”
Most recently Maureen Concannon supported the goddess theory in her book, The Sacred Whore: Sheela Goddess of the Celts. She associates the figures with the “mother goddess”.
Mircea Eliade’s The Encyclopedia of Religion (1993) draws parallels between the sheela na gig and the ancient Irish myth of the goddess who granted kingship. She would appear as a lustful hag, and most men would refuse her advances, except for one man who accepted. When he slept with her, she was transformed into a beautiful maiden who would confer royalty onto him and bless his reign. There are additional variants of this common Northern European motif.
The frog and toad image, along with the frog-shaped woman displaying her vulva, appears across a wide time span, not only during the European and Anatolian Neolithic but in the Near East, China, and the Americas. Several closely related frog deity images in Egypt and the Near East help explain the function of this goddess.
Approximately 11,500 years ago, towards the end of the last Ice Age as the weather became warmer, some of our early ancestors in the northern region of what we now know as the Fertile Crescent began to move their places of religious ritual beyond the cave and rock walls. Göbekli Tepe is the first evidence to date of this transition. This extraordinary man-made place of worship heralds a new period of creative expression we know as the Neolithic (“new stone”) era.
A Sheela Na gig image is found in a drawing carved into a stone slab on the floor of the Lowenpfeilergebaude at Gobekli Tepe. The naked woman is depicted in a sitting position with straddled legs and two standing pillars with lions sculpted in relief protect the drawing.
Egyptians revered the frog as Heket, primordial mother of all existence. In the early predynastic period (around 3100 BCE), she was portrayed as a woman with a frog head, or as a frog or toad impersonating the goddess. “Frog” was her hieroglyphic sign. Heket controlled fecundity and regeneration after death.
As a fertility goddess, associated explicitly with the last stages of the flooding of the Nile, and so with the germination of corn, she became associated with the final stages of childbirth. This association, which appears to have arisen during the Middle Kingdom, gained her the title She who hastens the birth.
Some claim that—even though no ancient Egyptian term for “midwife” is known for certain—midwives often called themselves the Servants of Heqet, and that her priestesses were trained in midwifery. Women often wore amulets of her during childbirth, which depicted Heqet as a frog, sitting in a lotus.
Heqet, whose responsibility was breathing life into children at the moment of birth, as the Ka, was considered the wife of Khnum, originally the god of the source of the Nile River, who formed the bodies of new children on his potter’s wheel.
Since the annual flooding of the Nile brought with it silt and clay, and its water brought life to its surroundings, he was thought to be the creator of the bodies of human children, which he made at a potter’s wheel, from clay, and placed in their mothers’ wombs. He later was described as having moulded the other deities, and he had the titles Divine Potter and Lord of created things from himself.
Khnum has also been related to the deity Min, who was represented in many different forms, but was often represented in male human form, shown with an erect penis which he holds in his left hand and an upheld right arm holding a flail. As Khem or Min, he was the god of reproduction; as Khnum, he was the creator of all things, “the maker of gods and men”.
The symbols of Min were the white bull, a barbed arrow, and a bed of lettuce, that the Egyptians believed to be an aphrodisiac, as Egyptian lettuce was tall, straight, and released a milk-like substance when rubbed, characteristics superficially similar to the penis.
In the myth of Osiris it was said that it was Heqet who breathed life into the new body of Horus at birth, as she was the goddess of the last moments of birth. As the birth of Horus became more intimately associated with the resurrection of Osiris, so Heqet’s role became one more closely associated with resurrection. Eventually, this association led to her amulets gaining the phrase I am the resurrection in the Christian era along with cross and lamb symbolism.
In Ancient Egyptian mythology, Meskhenet, (also spelt Mesenet, Meskhent, and Meshkent) was the goddess of childbirth, and the creator of each child’s Ka, a part of their soul, which she breathed into them at the moment of birth. She was worshipped from the earliest of times by Egyptians.
In ancient Egypt, women delivered babies while squatting on a pair of bricks, known as birth bricks, and Meskhenet was the goddess associated with this form of delivery. Consequently, in art, she was sometimes depicted as a brick with a woman’s head, wearing a cow’s uterus upon it. At other times she was depicted as a woman with a symbolic cow’s uterus on her headdress.
Since she was responsible for creating the Ka, she was associated with fate. Thus later she was sometimes said to be paired with Shai, who became a god of destiny after the deity evolved out of an abstract concept.
Meskhenet features prominently in the last of the folktales in the Westcar Papyrus. The story tells of the birth of Userkaf, Sahure, and Neferirkare Kakai, the first three kings of the Fifth Dynasty, who in the story are said to be triplets. Just after each child is born, Meskhenet appears and prophesies that he will become king of Egypt.
The Ka was the Egyptian concept of vital essence, that which distinguishes the difference between a living and a dead person, with death occurring when the ka left the body.
The Egyptians believed that Khnum created the bodies of children on a potter’s wheel and inserted them into their mothers’ bodies. Depending on the region, Egyptians believed that Heket or Meskhenet was the creator of each person’s Ka, breathing it into them at the instant of their birth as the part of their soul that made them be alive. This resembles the concept of spirit in other religions.
The Egyptians also believed that the ka was sustained through food and drink. For this reason food and drink offerings were presented to the dead, although it was the kau (kꜣw) within the offerings that was consumed, not the physical aspect. The ka was often represented in Egyptian iconography as a second image of the king, leading earlier works to attempt to translate ka as double.