Gods and Goddesses Featured
Click on a Deity below to learn more.
Demeter was the Greek Goddess of the Earth, Fertility and the Harvest. Her name means "Barley or Grain Mother", and as a Goddess of Grains in general, this is fitting. Demeter was a popular goddess, and the Romans knew her as Ceres (this is where we get our word for "cereal"!).
According to myth, it is because Demeter grieves for the loss of Her daughter Persephone that we have Autumn and Winter. Persephone was a beautiful and happy girl, and all who knew Her, loved Her. One day, Demeter took Her daughter with Her on a trip to earth, and while frolicking in the flowers, Persephone stopped to pick a particularly lovely Narcissus, only to be kidnapped by the cold ruler of the Underworld, Hades.
Demeter search 9 days in vain for Her lost daughter. When She began to fear that She would never see Her beloved Persephone again, Demeter questioned Helios, the Sun, whose gaze saw everything. Helios told Demeter that clouds had blocked his view that day, and that He could not help Her.
Demeter withdrew Her touch from the land, and soon, the plants withered and died. Demeter, in the guise of an old woman, came to the city of Attica, in Eleusis, and was welcomed by the King there. Demeter became the nurse of the King's 2 young sons, and decided to make one of them immortal. In a complex ritual, Demeter began to hold the child over a sacred flame each night. The Queen discovered the disguised Goddess in the act, and unknowingly broke the spell with a cry of horror.
With this, the Goddess revealed her true identity to the Queen and commanded that a temple be built in Her honor in Eleusis. The temple was built as commanded, and this is where Demeter secluded Herself from the world.
The gods begged Demeter to reconsider, the people were dying from lack of food, and the earth cried out from the cold and barrenness. Finally, Triptolemos, one of the sons of the King in Eleusis went to Demeter and told Her of a strange thing he had heard. While he was tending to a flock of sheep on the day of Persephone's disappearance, the ground nearby opened up and Hades himself had appeared. After Triptolemos then heard a frightened girl's scream, the Hades disappeared again, and the ground was closed once more.
When Demeter heard this, she knew at once what had happened to Her daughter and was enraged. She went to Zeus at once and demanded the return of Her daughter. After some bits of trickery on Hades part, Persephone was allowed to return to her mother and all was well in the world again.
Until Demeter learned that Persephone had tasted the fruit of the dead, and was therefore required to return once more to the Underworld. Rather than have the mortals suffer, Zeus came up with a compromise to the situation - for every seed that Persephone had tasted, she would spend 1 month in the Underworld with Hades, her husband.
Thus, each Autumn, when Persephone returned to the Underworld, Demeter mourned her absence. But, as a reward for his assistance, Demeter taught Triptolemos the secrets of the grain. The art and knowledge of agriculture, which allowed man to harvest the grains and survive the time of mourning.
The Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries (Vernal Equinox)
- The Greater Eleusinian Mysteries (Autumn Equinox)
Persephone is the daughter of Demeter and Zeus - though some myths say that the Great Goddess (as a Serpent) mated with the Primordial Serpent and gave birth to Demeter, who then also mated in the form of a Serpent to birth Persephone. Another myth like this puts Persephone as the original mother of Dionysus, for which you'll see why later in the myth of Dionysus.
Persephone was a beautiful and delightful goddess,
who delighted in all things beautiful and light. All the gods loved Her, and
even the cold Hades, from His kingdom in the Underworld, could not hide from
her light and joy. Hades was filled with love for the young goddess, and
decided He must make her His bride and Queen of the Underworld.
Hades knew that Demeter would never agree to such a match, and decided to carry off the lovely Persephone instead. One day, when Demeter and her daughter were on earth, Hades had His chance.
He opened up the earth and riding His chariot, carried the frightened young Goddess down below to His realm of the Dead. There, he decked Her with beautiful jewels, for such things were a part of His realm, and clad her in the most sumptuous of linens, and there, He made Persephone his Bride and Queen.
He offered many things to Persephone - jewels, cloths, food, drink - none of which she would touch. She longed to be above ground, with Her mother, in the light of the Sun where life flourished. Hades told Persephone that his kingdom also possessed life, but needed Her light and warmth to give them meaning. Hades offered Persephone 6 (some myths say 3 or 4) seeds of the Pomegranate - the Food of the Dead, which Persephone ate.
After a time however, Zeus decreed that Persephone be returned to Her mother and sent Hermes to fetch her from her new kingdom. Hades allowed Persephone to return, and joyfully she was reunited with Her mother, Demeter.
After learning however, that Persephone had tasted of
the fruit of the dead, Demeter began to grieve again, for she knew that now
Persephone must return to the kingdom of Hades. Mighty Zeus then proposed a
compromise. For each seed that Persephone ate, she must spend one month with
Her husband below in the Underworld.
So, now, each year as the Autumn Equinox approaches, Persephone returns to the Underworld and Demeter grieves, withdrawing Her hand from the land. And each year at the Vernal Equinox, Persephone returns, and Demeter stretches forth Her hand and life flourishes once more.
The Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries (Vernal Equinox)
- The Greater Eleusinian Mysteries (Autumnal Equinox)
Dionysus is the Greek God of Wine-Making, Vegetation
and Fertility. The origins of this god are many and varied. His name means
"twice born", and one traditional account of his birth is as follows:
Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, was the lover of Zeus, and pregnant with His child. Hera, Queen of the Gods and Zeus' wife was jealous of the affair, and went down to visit this mortal woman. In the guise of an old woman, Hera sat down with Semele and pretended to be very friendly to her.
When asked why her husband was not around, Semele told the woman that her husband was none other than Zeus himself.
"But are you sure of this?" Hera asked Semele, "There are many husbands who claim to be Zeus. Do you have proof? Ask him to show himself in all his glory to you." And then she left Semele alone, the seeds of doubt planted in her mind.
When Zeus returned to Semele, she begged him to grant her a wish, and he rashly swore by the river Styx to give her anything she desired. This was his folly, for when he heard her wish, he knew that he could not back out. He had sworn the most solemn oath of the gods.
Though unwilling, Zeus complied and gathered his smallest thunderclouds and weakest lightning bolts. Nonetheless, poor Semele was burned to ashes. Zeus then swiftly caught her unborn child and sewed him to the inside of his thigh, and when the proper time came, Dionysus was born again.
Another account is much the same, except for a few things.
Zeus in the guise of a Serpent, mated with Persephone and got her with child, and she delivered him a son, named Zagreus. Hera, in a jealous rage freed the Titans and set them upon the child, and after destroying him, devoured his corpse. All except for the heart, which was saved by Athena and brought to her father, Zeus. Zeus swallowed the heart, and subsequently mated with Semele, thus impregnating her with the spirit of the devoured child, who was reborn the god, Dionysus.
The myths of Dionysus are few and far between. He has many festivals throughout the year, though the most popular seems to be called the "Bacchanalia" which was usually celebrated in September, around the Autumnal equinox.
His followers were generally women, called "Maenads" or "Bacchae". Their worship involved drinking wine and frenzied dancing. The followers would dance around wildly in ecstatic worship often with tambourines in hand.
It is said that Dionysus was a kind god to his
followers, but could be ruthless when his Godhood was questioned. He would
bring madness and destruction on those who would refuse his worship, and one
famous account of such a thing involved Pentheus, son of Agave who was the
sister of Semele.
Pentheus refused to let the city of Thebes worship Dionysus, and as punishment, the god drove Agave and her sisters mad, and set them upon Pentheus, who was killed for his ignorance.
Osiris is the Egyptian God of Vegetation, Fertility and the Afterlife. As such, he is frequently identified with the Greek God, Dionysus. Osiris is the one who taught the Egyptian people the art of Agriculture and the making of beer and wine, and other things as well. And, like many other Gods in cultures all over the world, as a Vegetation deity, His killed/sacrificed and then resurrected by the Goddess.
Set, the brother of Osiris, was jealous of his brother. Jealous of how the people adored him, and worshipped him and paid no heed to Set himself. So, he killed Osiris, set his body in a coffin, and threw it in the Nile river. The chest came to rest at the foot of a tree in Byblos, that once cut down delivered the most wonderful aroma.
Isis heard of this event and rescued the body of Osiris and hid it in Egypt. Set, however discovered this and cut the body of Osiris into 14 pieces, scattering them all over the land. Isis went and collected each piece, except for the phallus, which had been eaten by a crocodile, and with the help of Anubis, resurrected Osiris, giving Him the gift of Immortality. Osiris then chose to rule over the Underworld, rather than return to the mortal realm. Osiris is often depicted as a mummy holding sheaves of wheat.
Isis is the sister and wife of Osiris. She is the Goddess of magic, beer, life, beauty and many other things too numerous to name here. The worship of this goddess was at one time so wide-spread, that there were few, if any countries, that did not worship Her. In fact, Her worship has only been rivaled by the Christian Virgin Mary, and many of Her statues depicting Her nursing the young infant Horus, were rededicated to the Virgin Mary by the Catholic Church, and She was renamed "The Black Madonna".
She has been equated with the Greek Demeter, in that Her search for Osiris parallels the myth of Demeter's search for Persephone.
Upon reaching Byblos, Isis disguised herself and became the nursemaid to the child of the King of Byblos. One night, she attempted to make the child immortal by holding him over the flames of the sacred fire (much like Demeter did with the son of the King of Eleusis), but was interrupted by the Queen. Isis then revealed herself to the Queen and asked for her help in retrieving the body of Osiris, her beloved husband. The Queen helped Isis, and after finding his body, Isis returned to Egypt.
Set, found out about this, and then tore the body of Osiris into 14 pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt. Isis, discouraged, but nonetheless determined, set out across the land, gathering the pieces. All except for the phallus, which was eaten by a crocodile. She fashioned a new one, and with the help of Anubis, the Jackal-headed God of the Dead, used Her magic to resurrect Osiris.
It is also interesting to note, that while Osiris was still dead, after Isis fashioned the new phallus, she mated with him and conceived Their son, Horus.
An early Egyptian snake Goddess, Ranuta was the matron Goddess of Winemakers and Vineyards. During the harvest season, she was honored with many foods - corn, melons, and other fruits, fish, game birds and bread.
The Middle East
A popular, and very important Goddess to the Sumerians, Inanna is the Queen of Heaven, and goddess of love, fertility, grain, war and many other things.
The Descent of Inanna is one of the more popular myths to Wiccans, and it is said that the original Dance of the Seven Veils told the story of Inanna's descent.
The story goes that Inanna decided to visit Her sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. When refused entry, Inanna threatened to storm the gates. Ereshkigal then allowed Inanna entry - but on one condition - she must shed one of Her garments at each of the Seven gates. Inanna agreed, and when finally face to face with Ereshkigal, was cursed with sixty diseases, which killed Her.
While Inanna was in the Underworld, the world above perished, and the gods became alarmed. But the infinitely wise Ea, sent a being to rescue Inanna. The being then somehow sprinkled the waters of life on Inanna, and She was restored.
She returned through each of the Seven gates, reclaiming Her clothing as She made Her way back up to the world above.
Another name for the Goddess, Inanna. Ishtar is the Babylonian Goddess of Love and Fertility. Her myth is similar to the Descent of Inanna, but it is because She wishes to be reunited with Her lover, Tammuz that She makes the journey to the Underworld.
As the Sumerian Vegetation God, Dumuzi ruled over fertility and the Underworld. He was the patron god of Shepherds and their flocks as well.
He is the husband of Inanna, and in some variations of Her Descent into the Underworld, it is because he has died that She makes the journey. Ereshkigal wanted to keep Dumuzi for Herself, but the supreme ruling of Ea, decreed that Dumuzi must return to His beloved for at least half the year.
In Sumeria, it was believed that Dumuzi spent his time below with Ereshkigal during the hot, barren months of the Summer, and was reunited with Inanna at the Autumnal Equinox, which was the Sumerian New Year. After reuniting with his wife, both Dumuzi and Inanna stretched their hands across the land and all life, fertility and abundance returned to the earth.
The Mesopotamian counterpart to Dumuzi, Tammuz was also a vegetation god, married to the Goddess Ishtar. Upon his death, Ishtar is overwrought with grief and the whole world laments with Her. She pleads with Her sister, the ruler of the Underworld for Him to be released. After a series of challenges, Ishtar wins the freedom of Tammuz, and returns to earth with him.
A classic tale of love overcoming all obstacles.
Originally a Phoenician and Canaanite Goddess of Fertility, fruitfulness and the Moon, Ashtoreth is connected to Astarte and Ishtar. Ashtoreth is mentioned many times in the Christian bible, and yes, Ashtoreth was even worshipped alongside the Christian god for a time in the Tabernacle, when the Israelites lived in the wilderness. And in Ezekiel 23, Yahweh admits to a pair of wives (Asherat and Oholibah) who "bore Him sons and daughters".
When the prophet Elijah destroyed the 450 priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel in I Kings 28:19, none of the 400 priests of Ashtoreth were harmed. It was considered a great sin to molest a priest of Ashtoreth.
Goddess of Love, Marriage, Fertility and Childbirth. She has been equated with both Ishtar and Inanna, because She watches over the dead, but most notably, because Freyja possesses the Brisingamen, the necklace that brings protection and fertility to the world. Brisingamen has been equated with the famous Lapis Lazuli necklace which Inanna/Ishtar had to remove during Her descent to the Underworld.
Brother to Freyja, Freyr is the God of Plenty and is known as the God of the Harvest, among other titles. He reigned over the sun and the rain, and when He rode his Golden Boar across the skies, His light penetrated even the darkest of shadows, bringing prosperity and abundance to the land which He ruled.
Welsh Mythology tells us the story of Mabon ap Modron or the "the Great Son of the Great Mother". Mabon was born of Modron at the beginning of time. 3 nights after His birth, He was stolen from his mother.
The story of Mabon's return begins with a man called Culhwch (KESH-lookh). Culhwch had a curse laid upon him that he should take no bride other than Olwen, daughter of Ysbaddaden (iss-pa-THAW-then), the Giant Chieftain. /p>
No man had ever gone to the giant's fort and escaped alive, for Ysbaddaden knew that he would meet his death upon the day his daughter wed. He set 39 impossible tasks for each would-be suitor, if he was able to survive the initial meeting of Ysbaddaden. If the suitor were able to complete each task, he would then have to bring the head of the Great Boar, Tyrch Trwth (terkh trooth). For between the ears of this boar lay a brush, comb and razor, the items which must be used to prepare Ysbaddaden for his daughter's wedding.
Culhwch accepted each challenge and confidently vowed to complete each quest victoriously. He was accompanied by his cousin, the great King Arthur of Legend, and Arthur's Companions. They set out to find Mabon, for he was the key to their success. They wandered the earth searching for the Oldest Animals, and ask them if they could remember what happened to Mabon.
The Blackbird of Cilgwri (kil-GOOR-ee) was the first of the Oldest Animals that Culhwch and his Companions found. The Blackbird told them "I have been here a long time. When I first came here, there was a smith's anvil, and I was a young bird. No work was done on that anvil except for when my beak lay upon it in the evening, and today there is not even a nut of it that has not been worn away. But in all that time, I have not heard of Mabon, son of Modron". And since they came with King Arthur himself, the Blackbird directed them to go to the next of the Oldest Animals, the Stag of Rhedynfre (reh-DEN-vray).
The Stag was equally unable to help them on their quest and told them, " I have been here a long time. When I first came here, there was only one small antler point on each side of my head, and there were no trees here except for a single oak sapling. That grew into an oak of a hundred branches, and the oak fell and wore away and today there is nothing left of it but a red stump. But in all that time, I have heard nothing of Mabon, son of Modron." And he directed them to the next Oldest Animal.
The Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd (coom COWL-id) was next and said to the Companions "I have been here a long time. When I first came here, I was a young bird, and this whole valley was an ancient forest. People came and cut down all the trees. In time, a new forest grew up, and then new people came and cut it down, and this now is the third wood. And look at me! My wings are worn to mere stumps, I am so old. And in all that time, I have heard nothing of Mabon, son of Modron." And the Owl told them to seek out the Eagle of Gwernabwy (gwer-NAH-bwee), the oldest of them all.
Upon finding the Eagle he told them "I have been here a long time. When I first came here, I had a stone so tall and high, that from its top I could peck at the stars, and now it is worn away so small that your hand could cover it. And in all that time, I have heard nothing of Mabon, son of Modron." Discouraged, the Companions prepared to leave, but the Eagle of Gwernabwy stopped them saying: "That once he flew as far as Llyn Llyw (shlin shloo) seeking food. I saw a huge silver fish swimming in the lake. I tried to catch him, thinking he would make a tasty dinner, but he pulled me under and I barely escaped with my life. I gathered all my kin to seek vengence, but he sent messengers of peace. He came and asked my help in removing tridents that had been thrown at him. I pulled 50 out with my talons, and we became friends. Perhaps he might know of Mabon."
The Salmon of Lyn Llyw told them "This is what I know, every high tide I go up the river to Caer Loyw, and there I hear the sounds of such suffering that never in my life heard such distress before." The salmon then took two of the Companions on his shoulders to the wall of Caer Loyw, where he had heard someone grieving since his earliest days. When the Companions heard the lamenting voice, they asked who it was that grieved so deeply. It was amazingly Mabon Himself, painfully imprisoned with no hope of escape. Culhwch and his Companions battled for the release of Mabon and won his freedom. As a token of his gratitude, Mabon joined Culhwch and helped him to win the hand of the lovely Olwen.
This is the horned God of the Celts and the Gauls, and He is the God of Fertility, animals and the Underworld. He is the guardian of man in this world and the Otherworlds. When many Wiccans speak of the God, this is often of whom they are referring. He is viewed as the lover, and even sometimes, the son of the Great Goddess, and he is the protector of Her. In many myths, Cernunnos is born during the Winter Solstice, and then dies at the Summer Solstice. Interestingly enough, he is also viewed as the vegetation god who dies at the end of the harvest around the Autumn Equinox. He is often equated with the British Herne, the Hunter.
This God is known as the spirit of the Forest and the Wilderness. The Green Man is a nearly universal symbol of the male aspect of creation, and is often seen as the lover/son of the Goddess. One of the most popular images depicting the Green Man is that of the Foliate Mask, a beautiful image of the face of God made from leaves and other vegetation. Another name for the Green Man is Jack of the Green.
On a side note... to any who have seen the movie Legend starring Tom Cruise and Mia Sara. The character of Jack is linked with the Green Man, and if you read the script for the original version of the movie, you'll see an even bigger reference to Jack's role in the movie. The script can be read online here.
The Barley Goddess, Cerridwen is famous as the keeper of the Cauldron of Wisdom. The myth of this crone Goddess is this:
Cerridwen has 2 children, a daughter more fair than any other in the land. Her son, is the ugliest of all who have ever lived. In order to compensate for this ugliness, Cerridwen decides to give him more wisdom than any other.
Her brew had to be stirred for a year and a day, so She chose Gwion, a young boy to stir for Her, and warned him not to taste any of the brew. At the end of the year and day period, Gwion had faithfully stirred the Cauldron, when 3 drops flew out and burned his finger. In reaction, young Gwion immediately placed his finger in his mouth to suck. He instantly became the wisest of all people.
Enraged, Cerridwen pursued Gwion, and he led her on a chase that involved changing shapes. In the end, Gwion turned himself into a single grain of wheat, and Cerridwen, in the form of a hen, ate him.
Soon, after, Cerridwen learned she was pregnant, and birth Gwion, now reborn as the great bard Taliesin.
Ruler of the Underworld, Arawn is also another form of Herne the Hunter. He leads the Wild Hunt with his pack of white-red eared dogs (some myths even say that the dogs are really the Hounds of Hell). Arawn rules of Annwn, the Celtic Underworld, and the place where souls rest before being reborn.