AMAZONS at the Moonspeaker
'Immortal Aphrodite, on your patterned throne...
I beg you, Goddess, do not torment
my heart with
anguish, with grief...'
The best known image of Aphrodite is one of a tormentor to mortals, a spiteful, lazy Goddess rather inept at her only area of responsibility. However, this image comes from a later time and an especially small elite, when attitudes to sex and love had become so unhealthy she was given two contradictory aspects: Porne 'titillater' or Pandemos 'of all the people' for sexual love among the general populace, and Urania 'heavenly' for desexed, 'high classed' love. The title Porne has entered modern English in the term pornography, objectifying portrayals of sexuality and sexual pleasure, particularly of women. All a far cry from the joyous Goddess who gifted each human being with the capacity for love and sexual pleasure apart from procreation, two of the attributes of civilized people. Even Homer vaguely records this, noting that the first bowl was molded on Aphrodite's breast, conveniently leaving out that she was the one doing the molding. One detail is consistent across cultures, gylanic or patriarchal: she was absolutely powerful and completely inescapable, except for Artemis, Athena, and Hera.
This inescapability reflects Aphrodite's original form, Moira 'strong one' the Fate. Every ram belonged to her (as well as Athena), the animal's curling horns representing the cycles of dissolution and becoming she guided each soul through. Astrology still marks her holy time, the March-April span of the sign of Aries. Gradually people forgot the various versions of the Fates were in fact versions of Aphrodite herself in Triple Goddess form, such as: the spinning and weaving Klotho 'spinner,' Lachesis 'measurer,' and Atropos 'inevitable, cutter' or the Sea Fates Amphitrite 'surrounding queen,' Thetis 'disposer,' and Nereis 'the wet one.' The Greeks forgot these connections and called her by many pretty names, hoping to avoid her ire by the same sort of flattery applied to the Erinyes. But Aphrodite was well known across Europe by her older name, if not always as a Triple Goddess. The Lithuanians still know her as Morè 'the Goddess of Death' or 'the Crone.' The Germans and Slavs called her Mara and Marava, translating her name as 'nightmare or butterfly' a meaning the word 'mora' finally settled on in modern Greek. Aphrodite was the death mare no one could outrun and the butterfly who carried souls on to rebirth. She was also a foremother and chooser of kings at places like Munster where she was called Mor 'great one.'
The rule of the Fate Goddess was by the ius naturale 'natural law' based on the fact a mother is each child's first instructor in what is right and wrong. In this role Aphrodite was also a Lady of the Beasts, the Goddess who saw that each living thing obeyed the power of instinct. The most obvious sign of Aphrodite's displeasure among animals was when they refused to mate. Her rule over humans was not androcentric or institutionally violent. Clans traced their lineage through the mothers, considering each member of the group related by blood. Injuring or killing a blood relative was a cardinal sin, exceeded only by injuring one's own mother. Aphrodite's punishment of bloodshed by kin could be swift and terrible, or slow and grinding. It wasn't without reason her worshippers sometimes called the Erinyes her angry, justice bringing triple form. The Amazons were considered daughters of Harmonia not because of Ares, or even Aphrodite's own warlike aspect, but because they lived by those laws which encouraged peace and unity... Irene and Harmonia, alternate names of Aphrodite. The Romans identified her with Fors (later Fors Fortuna), who like Aphrodite was a foreigner to the region, her temple outside the Roman walls beside the Tiber and most famous for her oracle at Praeneste.
The Morrigan of Britain are also related to Aphrodite the Fate. Like them she had crows or ravens for familiars. The Greeks commonly kept these birds as pets, enjoying their intelligence and talent for mimicry. Also like her Celtic counterparts, Aphrodite could be seen as a Swan Goddess, appearing as a winged warrior or a grey robed, prematurely grey haired young woman. It was unfortunate to see her in grey robes, washing the tapestries of fate in running water, because she did this only when the tapestries, and therefore the lives they represented, were finished. The swan winged warrior Aphrodite brought down anyone who willfully profited from injustice, often tearing apart the aspirations of military leaders and kings. Then the Greeks called her Nemesis 'retribution.' Finally, Aphrodite could also take the form of an owl like Morgan le Fay. A few of her early shrines were actually hollow trees inhabited by owls, or hollow trees with her veiled image tucked inside. Holy snakes chased away potential tree cutters.
It is no coincidence that one of Aphrodite's triple forms controlled the ocean. Like Themis she was an abyssal Fish or Mermaid Goddess. The oceans were the salty birthwaters left over from the beginning of the world. Then her name changed a little, from Moira to Mari, Marina patron of Kyprian Ay-Mari, Pelasgia, Mara, Maerin among the Norse... all words for 'sea.' Like Hera she was connected with Nereis, Thetis, Tethys, and Amphitrite. Jane Harrison noted that Eros, Aphrodite's erstwhile son actually derived from the Erotes, attending priestesses who served her as Ruler of the Sea. Aphrodite controlled everything concerning the ocean, the teeming life in it, the winds stirring the waves, and its navigation. Harbours and rocky points were commonly dedicated to her, perhaps in hopes the former wouldn't become silted up and the latter not tear apart any ships. Great Goddesses who ruled the ocean were regularly connected to meteors, and Aphrodite had her share of holy stones from the sky. Meteors burn up or fall in the ocean more often than on land, and seafaring people would naturally notice them, needing as they did to observe the sky for navigational purposes. This raises an interesting question: was the flame that fell into the ocean to create life always 'male' lightning, or was it the Goddess herself?
Aphrodite's great nautical symbol after the fish was the net, worn as a robe or over her skirt. The net first appeared in the Neolithic in association with the vulva of the Sea Goddess. The concept of 'living water,' the water from which everything is born and reborn is therefore over ten thousand years old. Accordingly Aphrodite's priestesses wore nets just as she did, frequently over their hair. The net robe, now called a shawl, was worn only by her crone priestesses. When she wasn't wearing it, Aphrodite collected souls at sea with her golden net. She was the original 'fisher of men.' Among her miracles was the multiplication of loaves and fishes, also an act of Demeter, all long before the christian gospels came to include it.
The great rites of Aphrodite on Paphos were celebrated under the sign of the fish, Pisces. Paphos was also home of the white stone iconic and aniconic images of her, in recognition of her ability to bring order, a recognizable form, from chaos, a lump of uncarved stone. In the 4th century BCE the Mykenaeans still referred to her reverently as Wanassa 'lady' perhaps for this reason. Ultimately this power to derive order form chaos is mainly remembered in debased form as her 'affair' with the storm god Ares to produce Harmonia 'concord, unity.' She and Eurynome, whose origins lie in Palestine were once considered synonymous, and like the Pelasgian Goddess Aphrodite sometimes created order by dancing over the sea... 'moving over the deep.'
Her temples were adorned and filled with bounty from the sea: offerings of fish to give thanks or accompany a request, cowries and scallop shells. Her sanctuary at Knossos had shells scattered over its floor. In the carvings on the temple walls and accessories, Aphrodite appeared with various sea animals, often anemones and cuttlefish. Or she was shown blowing a trumpet, as on a carved gem found on the floor of the holy cave at Mount Ida. Curious as it may seem to leave offerings for a sea deity in a sanctuary high above her domain, ancient peoples seem to have been quite flexible in this respect for private acts of faith, as long as the correct symbolism was present. Sea caves were more difficult and dangerous for the average pilgrim to get to than the mountain shrines.
Periodically things have sounded quite biblical here: living water, fishers of men, a force moving over the deep. Part of this is because Middle Eastern peoples shared the same complex of Goddess beliefs as other cultures, and they built them into their scriptures. Aphrodite is the original Mother Goddess of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Egyptians called her Ay-Mari, the Persians Anahita 'immaculate one' or Esther 'star,' named Hadusah 'myrtle' among the Hebrews because of the plant's star shaped flowers. The myrtle was sacred to Aphrodite among the Greeks too, and sometimes they called the clitoris 'to myrton' the myrtle berry, in her honour. The Phoenicians called her Warrior, Mother, Queen of Heaven, Sea Goddess, Measurer of Time, and Allotter of Fate. She is none other than Ishtar who the Hebrews called Astarte, Esther, and Asherah, whose name comes from the old Iranian root asha 'universal law.' Pausanius believed that the Assyrians were Aphrodite's first worshippers.
Pausanius wasn't quite correct, through no real fault of his own. The earliest worshippers of Aphrodite were the Sumerians, who called her I-Nanna or Nin-Nanna, and in their earliest myths she made all creation starting from a humble pile of piled up marsh muck grown up with reeds. I-Nanna ruled the contrasting dualities the Sumerians were so fond of: life and death, fertility and barrenness, love and war. The mes, attributes of civilized life were hers to give to those she deemed worthy. I-Nanna's temples were at the centre of every Sumerian city, the hub of economic, social, and religious life. Her sanctuary at Uruk, most famous today because tablets recording an early version of the almost pan-Middle Eastern myth of the flood was found there, called E-anna, had been rebuilt many times, possibly from beginnings in the Neolithic as was the case at Eridu. Inanna was the Sun, the Evening and Morning Star, owner of the bright star Sirius, and was titled Urania 'heavenly one,' the Goddess who ruled the sky. Her sexual rites were how her followers became reconciled to the mysteries of birth and death. Aphrodite was worshipped just as she was in the Middle East by some Greeks, as a living tree or a wooden pillar. Her worshippers left behind remarkable artifacts, hymns, and great temples, including buildings at Aphrodisias and Jerusalem.
Through all of this, women 's status was quite high, and a patriarchal-type system does not seem to have been present. One of the first ruling queens known comes from this period, Ku-Baba, Queen of Kish. With the invasion of the Assyrians from the north, that changed, and I-Nanna was replaced by Ishtar. Ishtar was an Akkadian Goddess, that is a patron deity of the city of Akkad (Agade) in Assyria, and had already been remodelled to suit the changing sensibilities of the war-preoccupied Assyrians. After they took over Sumer, the whole country was often called 'Assyria.' Eventually Aphrodite was brought to Greece after Greek colonies had become established in Canaan, the present day area encompassed by Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. In Canaan Aphrodite was the patron oracular Battle Goddess of Askalon.
A closer look at a few of the Goddesses Aphrodite absorbed from the Middle East and her own earlier forms there reveal more details about her. Babylonian priestesses of Mylitta performed the familiar rituals of burning incense, singing hymns, and participating in the sexual rites of the temple. Her worshippers offered their hair to her at puberty, just as the Greeks did at Hierapolis. Women left their homes periodically to camp by Mylitta's spring, the Afka, and quenched fires in it to renew her youth. Carvings of Mylitta showed her riding a tortoise or billy goat, naked. Sometimes she had a beard, a reference not to cross dressed men, but to the life giving vulva. Life-giving in the sense of giving birth, certainly, but especially life-giving in the sense of sexual fire. Goddesses like Baubo were represented as women without ordinary heads, instead their faces were made of eyelike breasts over a vulva that looked like a bearded mouth.
Anahita, whose name passed through a Greek dialect with no 'h' sound, becoming Anaetis, is also from Babylonia. She was a particularly Amazon Goddess, a warrior and expert horsewoman, fierce protector of her children. More a Goddess of the sky than of the ocean, Anahita drove a great chariot drawn by the horses Wind, Rain, Clouds, and Hail. Aphrodite had a similar chariot later, her own Amazonian status indicated by the snake edged aegis she wore over her shoulders. Her Babylonian counterpart was a golden Goddess, from her square earrings to her long cloak. A sacramental ax was carried and used by Anahita's priestesses in their rituals. The Armenians adored Anahita too, filling her shrines with leafy green branches and the occasional white heifer.
From Anahita, or else closely paralleling her, is Aphrodite's own golden, sky ruling nature. Early on she was ruler of the Sun and the first light of day, making her the original 'Eos Rhododaktylos' Rosy Fingered Dawn. The description also refers to the habit of various female Goddess worshippers of tinting their hands and feet red with henna. Aphrodite also wore the seven coloured rainbow veils when acting as a sky deity, and these veils may be related to the Kretan many layered skirt. Modern cultures including such multilayered skirts in ethnic if not commonly worn costume have each skirt dyed a different bright colour, usually in a rainbow sequence. Certainly, having all of the skirts the same colour would have defeated the purpose of wearing them in early Krete just as it would have today: without using colour to differentiate them, they would simply look like one large skirt.
The sexual and moral meanings of words like 'straight' and 'erect' have a long lineage. The Babylonians made the same connections, and their word for it is also at the root of Asherah's name. Like Helen Rhigidenes and both Artemis and Helen of Sparta she ruled sexual heat and made the laws. Living trees and posts were her primary images, so much so any post was called an 'Asherah,' a fact used by many biblical translators to cloak this Goddess' prominence in the bible. Most Hebrew tribes worshipped her well into the time of the patriarchs, and they refused to give her up. Asherah was a Sea Goddess and prophet who rode a lion when she ventured on land. Offerings to her included lilies and cakes, and her holy snakes were respected and protected.
Finally, the Star Goddess Astarte-Esther-Ishtar, who may be the Goddess of the Middle Eastern Amazons. 'Astarte' may mean 'womb' as well as 'star' but her direct mythic connections to the ocean if any have not been preserved. She was the special protector of the firstborn of every female, all of whom were specially dedicated to her. Frequently Astarte was seen as a powerful Warrior Goddess robed in flame, gripping a sword and bow, carrying two quivers of arrows. Like Egyptian Sekhmet she could have the head of a lioness and was associated with war. The acacia trees in her sanctuaries produced petals in her sacred colours, red and white. The cypress tree was also sacred to her. All of her warlike attributes aside, Astarte's sacrifices were always bloodless. In contemplation she held a lotus and mirror in one hand and two snakes in the other. Periodically Astarte gave oracles, and may have been the first to wear a star crown and star embroidered robe. When overseeing sexual mysteries, she had a beard.
Clearly Aphrodite was once a more active Goddess than the languishing, idle figure of Classical Greece. She was an eminently Amazon Goddess, and had extensive connections to them. Paphos began as an Amazon colony, as did Lesbos where she was worshipped with Artemis, and the island of Lemnos. Her shrines were set up apart from the villages, in the 'wilds' just as those of Artemis, Astarte, and Cybele were. Kyprus was once heavily forested and was famous not only for Aphrodite's shrine but for her snakes, who lived there in such abundance it was nicknamed Ophiouissa 'home of snakes.'
While she had a few consorts, Aphrodite never married any of them, and slept with them when and if she chose. This personal and sexual freedom was maintained by all women who worshipped her, from those living in Amazon tribes to those who did not, especially the much maligned hetairai. When acting as destroyer of the sacred king Ares or Adonis she wore the gorgon mask and snaky aegis. Under her title Androphonos she was a Black Goddess who castrated and killed her lovers, a half memory of fights with Libyan Amazons and those with the strategic Amazons of Kyprus. Stories of the angry, castrating Aphrodite show curious continuity with fearful predictions of 'ball busting' and emasculation around strong willed women and lesbians. Finally, the Amazon queen Hippolyta wasn't the only one with a fabulous belt. Aphrodite owned a belt which was both coveted and feared, because it represented her power over life and death.
At first this 'belt' or 'girdle,' an attribute of both Aphrodite and Hera was in fact a skirt made from long braids of string. The braids they could be made of strings of beads, each small bead separated from its fellows by a knot. Often they were dyed red or purplish-red, the ever present colour of menstrual blood in holy or royal contexts. Every woman, let alone every Amazon once owned such a skirt made and coloured over months of work, an absolutely necessary garment worn during menstruation and pregnancy as well as in ritual and by female shamans.
Aphrodite's followers in Greece maintained their military acumen at least until the time of Telesilla, the warrior-poet who led the women of Sparta in the battle that broke a siege on the city. In gratitude for their success, Telesilla and her followers built and dedicated a temple to the Goddess. The first hymn sung in it may have been Telesilla's, written for 'Great Mother Aphrodite.' The Maenads maintained the Amazon tradition of ecstatic dance in honour of the Goddess even later. The stories about Maenads tearing apart men who intruded on their rituals actually came from the belief that women's sacred dances raised intense power. Such power was infinitely dangerous to men, who could be torn apart by the winds they stirred. After all, hadn't Aphrodite started the world in the same way, and wouldn't she eventually dance it to death again?
Another of Aphrodite's Amazon connections was through the sacred tribes called Kyklops by the Greeks, famed mainly as smiths but also as stone masons. Hephaestus was sometimes her consort in this aspect. The Kyklops, with their sacred forehead tattoos suggestive of the 'third eye' of many Eastern religions correspond to the Kenites of Israel, who established Aphrodite in the temple of Jerusalem. She continued to be worshipped despite violent persecutions of the 'sons of Cain' officially until 700 CE. Like their Kyklopian counterparts, they had tattoos on their foreheads, referred to semi-appropriately as 'the mark of Cain.' They worshipped Aphrodite first in Sinai's copper mines, since her most favoured smiths worked in her sacred metal. The Kenites considered her the guardian of the death gate with its two guardian dogs, the copper they worked her menstrual blood. They were eventually driven so effectively from Israel no metal working could be done there because no one who knew how was left.
All of this begs the question: why and how is it that 'Olympian' Aphrodite is so different from this vigourous, widely worshipped figure? The answer lies in how her image overlaps with another weaving, warring Fate Goddess, Athena.
Like Athena, her totems included the owl and spider. Aphrodite was an industrious Weaving, Wisdom, and War Goddess, ruler of Korinth, Sparta, Thespiae, Thebes, and Athens. She was a City Goddess among the Greeks just as she was among the Amazons and Middle Eastern peoples. She was also a Sun Goddess, with the telltale mirror and golden necklace of such deities. The eight pointed star or eight rayed Sun was another symbol of rebirth and regeneration appearing on Aphrodite's peplos or bound on her forehead in a crown. Spindle whorls were frequently dedicated to her, and she was said to weave the clouds. Weavers could weave spells as well as cloth, using special knots or skillfully chosen words, and Aphrodite was a powerful sorceress, a Siren-like singer and lyre player who presided over song and lyric contests on Salamis. Very like Athena, but too unlike the new sexless image of her showcased by the Athenians, bitter rivals of both Sparta and Thebes.
Once Athens began to take control of more of Greece, it became politically expedient to make some changes to Aphrodite's image. They concocted a myth in which Aphrodite was stripped of her loom by Athena, who insisted the other Goddess was intruding on her concerns. This enforced idleness reflects trade realities of the time as well. Kythera was a Kretan trade centre like Karian Miletus, allowing Kretan cloth to compete with Athenian exports. The Athenian traders would have been quite happy if their rivals had been somehow forced to keep their textiles at home. This change in religion and trade may also explain the many armless statues of Aphrodite. Scholars like Elmer G. Suhr have written about this phenomenon, and the penchant for reconstructing these statues with a spear gripped in one hand, despite the lack of a helmet or other warlike gear to suggest this is appropriate. The Aphrodite of Melos has been reconstructed in this fashion, but putting a spindle whorl and thread in her hands instead better matches her posture and gear. The Greeks wouldn't be the first or last to deface their own monuments to make them fit a new political situation.
Things had changed significantly in general for the women of ancient Greece by this point. There were no more warrior-poets like Telesilla. The holy temple hill of Aphrodite in Korinth had been secularized by the city authorities into a brothel. The only free, learned, property owning women of Greece were the hetairai. On one hand, every attempt was made to insure they attended every major event in great numbers for forgotten reasons. On the other, they were deprecated as no more than high ranking prostitutes. The careful differentiation between priestesses of sexual mysteries and secular prostitutes had been willfully forgotten, and today terms for such women are still mistranslated 'temple prostitute.'
Given her Middle Eastern origins, it should come as no surprise to learn many rituals and ideas considered the inventions of patriarchal religions in fact date from the worship of Goddesses like Aphrodite. From the minor, such as her blood giving red roses their colour, periodically grafted onto the saints or even Jesus, to pilgrimages and prayer wheels. The rosary comes from the rose mysteries of Aphrodite, to whom both the rose and rosemary were sacred. Using water for purification before entering a holy place, lighting candles in honour of the holy light and life giver, even anointing temple cornerstones with oil were common practices of Aphrodite's worshippers.
Since she controlled fertility, grass and flowers bloomed beneath Aphrodite's feet, even where before all was barren. Pilgrims to her shrines carried the kteis 'comb,' cowrie, or scallop, all symbols of the life giving vulva and a state of grace. Kteis has also been translated 'earth,' according to Bell the ancient Greek translation of Sanskrit 'yoni' – an intriguing gloss. Clearly, a state of grace was considered symbolically analogous to being in the womb. Combs were worn for healing and protection in general, and sometimes both shells and combs were given as votive offerings. Myrtle branches were used in the same way.
The Dove of Peace, 'Irene Pleione' was Aphrodite herself, the Dove Goddess and mother of the Pleiades. In this aspect she was strongly connected to the underworld, and she shared the poppy and pomegranate with Demeter. The dove was considered a symbol of the vulva and a soul carrier by the Romans, so burial places were called dovecotes, 'Columbaria.' The ceremonial release of doves during the canonization of saints comes from the death-rebirth rites of Aphrodite. In fact, Aphrodite’'s temples were originally purified with dove's blood, which given the symbolism already noted here may have replaced earlier use of menstrual blood.
Another ubiquitous vulva symbol until quite recently was the comb, an object connected with practically all the Sea Goddesses, including Thetis, Aphrodite, Thalassa, the Nereids, and the Sirens. Combs are also reminiscent of wings, so they also tend to appear together with Bird Goddesses. The Romans and Greeks used the same word for both comb and vulva, and seemed to believe the reason a woman could control the weather with her hair was because she put it in order by using a comb. In older fairy tales, the hero may be given a magic comb that sprouts into an impassable forest if he throws it behind him while being pursued by enemies. A rather peculiar alteration of the sexual imagery of 'the ram caught in the thicket.'
The pearly gates of heaven were Aphrodite's own genitals, especially when she was Goddess of the Moon. The pearl or Moon were both associated with the Virgin Mary after Aphrodite had been declared a demon, even as the christians named their own Goddess figure after her. Scholars struggle with the meaning of Mary's name in Semitic languages, unsure why it should mean 'salty,' or 'bitter,' never making the connection to sea water. The vesica piscis 'vessel of fish' or mandorla, representing the womb of the Goddess has been used repeatedly in Marian iconography, often with no knowledge of its meaning. Aphrodite robed in blue like the sky, gave birth to Adonis in a sacred cave. Later St. Jerome insisted Jesus was born in the same cave of Mary, wearing a blue robe. Even the 'Jesus fish' comes from Aphrodisian symbolism. Fish was eaten on Fridays as an aphrodisiac, not because of a religious requirement not to eat meat one day a week. The latter claim for its origins is unfortunate, because a casual glance through a history text on the living conditions the custom was supposed to have developed from prevented the majority of people from eating meat much more than once a week to start with.
Aphrodite's partial absorption into the christian church is due to how she was worshipped in the Middle East and Latium. The Romans considered her their warring Mother Goddess in early times, supposedly through the questionable mythological figure of Aeneas. His name, which means 'everflowing' or 'of the copper' suggests his prominence and power derived from contact with Aphrodite's menstrual blood. Eventually he was replaced with Anchises, a man lucky enough to be loved and desired by the Goddess. Like Ophion, he was unlucky enough to become full of pride and bragged crassly about his good fortune, insulting the Goddess. Aphrodite settled the matter by striking him impotent and leaving him. Aeneas then becomes her son by Anchises and leader of a band of Trojan refugees who become invaders of Latium. Many Amazon tribes once occupied the region, from the Artemis-worshipping Kleitae to some of the wandering Galatians. Between these former allies of the ruined city and the desire to claim they were 'avenging Troy' when Greece was absorbed into the Empire, the Romans insisted Aeneas must have founded Rome, even though this flatly contradicted their own older traditions.
Aphrodite remained a protector of people in war until at least around 247 BCE, when Queen Berenike of Egypt dedicated her hair in Aphrodite's temple so that her husband, Ptolemy III might survive warring in Syria. The Goddess heard the Queen's plea, and astrologers of the time happily created a new constellation called 'Berenike's Hair' in honour of both Goddess and Queen.
The Virgin Mary's image is still almost pure Aphrodite, although she has of course been completely desexed. Her robe or dress is always sky coloured, and she almost invariably stands on a crescent Moon when shown alone. Aphrodite wore this same robe, usually with one foot set on a tortoise, an apple or poppy in one hand, showing her as ruler of Sky, Earth, and Underworld. Mary occasionally appears with an apple or poppy in her hand as well. Always she wears a cloth over her hair, as Aphrodite once wore a net over hers. Sadly, the christian church has thrown away Aphrodite's red robe of wisdom and feminine magic.
'I am Aphrodite, Mariamne, Aphrodite-Mari, Stella Mari, the life giver
from the tangy, frosty waters — the original cauldron of
transformation. I am life and death. From my loins all things issue
forth, and at the end it is I to whom they return.'
- from 'The Grandmother of Time' by Z. Budapest
DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF APHRODITE
Her name 'Milk Giving Goddess' seems to bely her nature when she was considered an avatar of Aphrodite as Amazon fighting Goddess and Divine Cow. Her milk made the galaxy and the stars in the sky. She may have begun as a separate Kretan Goddess or as Britomartis' Cow Goddess aspect. The festival of Ekydysia on Krete was celebrated when Aphrodite-Galataea put aside her 'women's clothes' or more probably her successful resistance to new, restricting types of women's clothing. In time, the name Galataea also came to be applied to Aphrodite in the same form, as well as to her white marble statues.
It was Galataea whom some Amazon tribes and many matrilineal tribes of continental Europe worshipped, including the Gauls and Galatians, who called her Galata. For the Amazons of Paphos, she was embodied in an aniconic white stone, in the grand tradition of such Goddesses. The Amazons were remembered as 'nymphs' who fought male invaders. One of them was remembered by name, Skylla 'she who rends' or 'puppy,' and like Hekuba of Troy, she could take the form of a dog. Kretan Galataea was a Sea Goddess best worshipped in dark caves. It may be from this that the tale of the ill fated woman Skylla comes, bewitched by a jealous Sea Goddess. Galataea-Aphrodite also had a daughter named Leukippe 'white mare,' a Goddess who was also worshipped by Amazons. Leukippe lived a life among mortals, a great warrior who eventually married her female lover. When she became a full Goddess in her own right, her mother made her lover immortal as well. Eventually the seafaring followers of both Goddesses sailed away, taking their religion at least as far West as Britain and Ireland.
The cow aspect of Galataea was shared by Hathor, Hera, and Europa. In this form, Hera and Europa were Moon Goddesses, giving the nursery rhyme image of the cow jumping over the Moon. 'Pygmalion' was originally a title of the priest of Galataea at Byblos. Such priests symbolized their marriage to the Goddess by placing a ring on the finger of her statue. Only after the island ceased to be a part of the Amazon Nation did priests titled Pygmalion find their way to Kyprus.
Aphrodite arrived on Greece so early in time that her original name, Moira, became enshrined in several important concepts, even after it was forgotten that it was hers. First was life and death, for she spun the white, red, and black thread of life, itself descended from the gunas 'strands' of creation in India: the virgin's white thread 'sattva,' mother's red 'rajas,' and the crone's black 'tamas.' She tied life knots, including those of marriage when she tied two people together in maritare, which gave them her auspices. Moira also meant phase, making her a deity of the Moon and time keeping, and a plot of land which a woman owned, her 'lot'... and of werewolves. She invented the alphabet, most famously the five vowels, which were always sacred to the Goddess and used in ritual chanting and toning, and the letters B and T.
Over time, the concept of the Triple Goddess became confused and nearly lost. At first, Moira became the Moirae of Delphi, deities of birth and death (perhaps named Geneia and Thanate), or two of good and bad fortune (Kakidike and Kallidike). The image of the Fates with bronze pestles or clubs perpetually tending a bronze cauldron or a fountain comes from this time. Occasionally four Fates were mentioned, but never named. They may have corresponded to the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). Eventually the Triple Fates became completely separate from Aphrodite, called the Moirae or Kataklothes 'weird women who spin thread' and were renamed Klotho 'spinner,' the youngest who spun the thread, Lachesis 'measurer,' who saw to it that the proper span of life was allotted to each person, and Atropos 'inevitable' or 'destiny' who finally cut the thread with sword or shears. Atropos was the crone, and so well loved in the East of Aphrodite's origins that a city, Atropatene, now Azerbaijan, was dedicated to her. The city itself is in the land formerly called Parthia, home of Artemis worshippers.
The process of Goddess absorption also occurred with the Moirae. Among the deities assimilated to them were Aisa, the personification of destiny, who may have been partnered by Achaiva 'spinner,' another spinner named Klothes who was a pre-Hellenic Goddess of spring, and Maera, an Arkadian Goddess associated with Canis Major and the Lesser Dog Star. She became the elderly, death bringing form of Moira, and the animal form of Hekate. They themselves at once absorbed and were absorbed by the Roman Parkhai 'those who spare' whose words were called fatum 'divine statements.' The Roman names of the Moirae were Decuma 'tenth, tithe,' Morta 'mortality,' and Nona 'New Moon.'
The Horae, deities associated with Aphrodite almost as consistently as the Charites, were considered sisters or alternate forms of the Moirae. The ash tree nymphs called Meliae in Greek were another pre-Hellenic version of the Fates. The first of the pre-Hellenic Moirae, who may also have preceded Aphrodite on the Greek peninsula was the Earth. This led to Themis the Lawgiver or Nyx the Goddess of Night, both considered Goddesses of prophecy and aspects of Gaea being named as Mother of the Fates, and the strongly earth-associated Erinyes being named as the angry, justice bringing form of the Moirae.
The Moirae were associated with the triangular headed ram and the three figured triangle sign shown below. Athenian legend compared men to the bulls and rams sacrificed by the priestesses of the Fates, as men were by the Fates themselves. Offerings left for them at the beginning of each year were carefully set at a table complete with three knives. The same procedure was carried out for the debased version of the Fates in 'Sleeping Beauty'... except for the Crone, who was foolishly left uninvited. Such customs continued or were absorbed by the christian church, even down to the laments sung by the Greeks to send the dead on to the three weaving Goddesses.
These laments are called Moirologhia and are specifically performed by the women of the family, usually lead by a specialist. While there are some traditional verses, the laments are primarily improvised. The dead person was more often presented with a cake to distract Kerberus in ancient times than a coin for the awkwardly added ferryman Charon. The Ancient Greeks knew from their folktales and myths that the river Styx was shallow, warm, and slow flowing, so there was no need for a ferry to cross it. Women's burials included an additional step: her clothes were always buried with her or burned to go with her after death. Mortal women were as firmly associated with cloth, thread, spinning, and weaving as the Moirae, and it was clearly considered wrong to keep back the textile products a woman had chosen for herself. In Anatolia, where offerings of wine and wheat were still poured on the fire as offerings to the Moirae into at least the nineteenth century, nomadic tribes and some of their village living descendants carry the dead to burial on specially woven kilims. Kilims in general, and no doubt these in particular, were always started under the gaze of a respected old woman who guided the placement of its warp.
The Moirae as spinners and weavers grades almost imperceptibly back into the Goddesses of words, laments, and narratives. The root of the verb 'to spin' actually refers more to drawing or stretching out, hence a narrator can 'draw out' a story or 'spin a yarn.' Storytelling probably played an important role in helping the time pass during spinning, which could be an otherwise tedious task. The Norse were particularly struck by this connection, leading them to conceptualize their version of the Moirae, the Norns, as 'writing women' even more often than women who spun or wove.
The Threefold Sign of the Fates
Harmonia and the Pleiades
While the Europeans and some people of Anatolia worshipped the Amazon Goddess Galataea, on the Greek mainland she was better known as Harmonia, especially at Thebes and Illyria. In both cases, the title denoted Aphrodite as a virgin Warrior Goddess who did not consort with men. Her Amazon followers defended a matrilineal, more egalitarian society than that founded by followers of Zeus and Apollo. In this form, far from being called a daughter of Dione, which was mainly an attribution of convenience, she was a daughter of the somehow fearsome Tethys whom Homer tried to tame by calling the ill-fated and murderous Achilles her son.
Harmonia had two main totemic forms, a black, blue spotted dragon, and a winged lion. The latter form became the Sphinx, guardian of Thebes and underworld gateways. Its name comes from the Egyptian term for 'living image' Sheshep-ankh, and sometimes the Greeks called her 'Phix' instead, probably a mistransliteration. Her defeat by Odysseus actually represented the final violent overthrow of the priestess-queens of Greek Thebes and its gylanic organization. The priestess-queen's symbols of office indicate just how old that set up was. They included a necklace or medallion of office, a frequent decoration of Neolithic Goddess figurines, and a robe considered so sacred that it cursed any but its rightful wearer.
Aphrodite Harmonia was also a Sun or Moon Goddess, hence her 'daughters': Autonoe 'wisdom itself,' Ino 'one who makes sinewy,' Agave 'high born,' and Semele 'Light,' all Goddesses of the Sun or Moon in their own right. It was she who dealt Endymion his fate, changing him into the first bluebell. The Sphinx was later strongly associated with Maenads, a blanket term for female Goddess worshippers. The names of Harmonia's daughters often appear as titles of Amazon Goddesses such as Artemis and Athena. The Amazons themselves were daughters of Harmonia in the sense that she was the great ancestor of the tribe associated with Thebes. Her totem forms were their calendar beasts, lion for the waxing Moon and Sun, serpent or dragon for the waning times.
How this relates to the Pleiades is through the seven high priestesses of Aphrodite Harmonia, called Kritikos or Sagas. The Kritikos judged the world each year at the Pleiades' zenith. Considered the human embodiments of the seven stars, they also judged each person after death. Each carried a silver Moon sickle, ready to destroy evildoers. The mortal high priestesses were also the Pillars of the Moon temple. The Theban version of the Pleiades may have included the Goddesses Alalkomenia 'guardian or Moon strength,' Arlis 'protecting cattle,' and Thelxinoea 'charming the heart,' for each of whom a village was named.
The oracular priestesses of Thebes were titled Manto 'Moon inspired,' or Daphne 'laurel.' One of their number founded the town of Charis in Asia Minor named for Aphrodite as chief of the Graces. An allied Goddess was Astykrateia 'strength of the city,' prophetic Goddess of Megaera. Just as bees were considered the soul carriers of Aphrodite's priestesses, praying mantises carried the souls of her oracles.
Aphrodite as mother of the Pleiades was called Pleione 'Holy Dove.' Both the Egyptians and Greeks came to believe that the Pleiades were emblematic of the Goddess Neith, and some Greek temples were oriented to them, most famously the series of temples for Athena on the Acropolis and at Sunium. This reproduced a conflation of the two Goddesses that as a rule the Athenian Greeks in particular found discomforting.
At least four of the Pleiades have names that correspond to other aspects of Aphrodite. Merope, 'bee eater' or 'eloquent,' leader of the Pleiades, Aphrodite as Queen Bee; Maea 'maker' or 'grandmother' Aphrodite as Crone and destroyer of Orion; Sterope 'of the stars' Aphrodite as Sky Goddess; and Alkyone 'queen who wards off (storms)' Aphrodite as Seabird Goddess of good weather. The remaining Pleiades were Kelaeno 'obscurity' or 'screamer,' Elektra 'amber,' and Taygete 'long faced.' Note that Merope is was also the name of a bird whose diet consisted mainly of bees. Aphrodite as Queen Bee birthed her children and consumed them again to give them rebirth.
Above all, the Pleiades were Crone Goddesses, and doves of peace, the peace of death. The movements of the Pleiades were used to determine the appropriate time for sacrifices because their disappearance heralded the rainy season. Their greatest festivals were the Feast of the Dead and the Feast of Life, on October 31st and May 1st of the modern calendar.
Alkestis - daisy
Amphinome - wandering all round
Antinoe - opposing wisdom
Asteria/Asterodeia - of the stars; quail totem, also Moon Goddess
Asteropeia - Sun face
Evadne - blooming; known specifically as a prophet
Hippothoe - horse wisdom
Lampatho - torch
Medusa - wisdom
Peisidaea - Goddess who is obeyed
Pelopeia - dark faced
Aphrodite as the Triple Goddess of beauty in action: love, physical grace, and refined manners. Her title, Pasithea Kale Euphrosyne 'Goddess who is Beautiful and Brings Joy to All' was also a list of one of the oldest versions of the Charites, 'Goddess of All,' 'the Fairest,' and 'Heart's Joy.' They were originally represented by three standing meteoric stones, as at Orchomenos. Still another version of the triad consisted of Aegle 'the light of the Sun or Moon,' Phaenna 'shining,' and Peitho 'persuasion.' When Aphrodite was considered their mother instead, she was called Charis, although Charis was originally a separate Goddess of joy that inspires art, or Eunomia 'good order.'
Skilled weavers reputed to have made Harmonia's robe, the Charites nevertheless always appeared naked in art, two with their heads turned, suggesting the past and future versus the present. Rulers of death and vegetation, they sometimes lived with the Muses, in which case they were Euphrosyne 'heart's joy,' Thaleia 'festive,' and Aglaea 'splendid,' considered the youngest of the three. Priestesses of the Charities danced in the temples and groves of the Goddess, always by moonlight. Sacrifices to them on Paros did not include flowers or ritual music, similar to thanksgiving rituals to Sarasvati, the Scribe Goddess of India, when all writing utensils were cleaned and no writing was done.
True to Aphrodite's arrival off the South coast of Greece, the Spartans seem to have worshipped her as Pasithea Kale Euphrosyne, although one Charite was finally lost and the other renamed Kleite 'the invoked, or sound.' The Athenians also worshipped only two Charites, Auxo whose name means both waning and increase, and Hegemone 'mastery, sovereignty.' Like the Lakonian Charites, they were Sun Goddesses, immeasurably ancient. Hegemone appeared early, representing the soil and the force that enabled it to produce the harvest. She also personified the sense of connection people have to the land they are born on, and presided over oaths.
Yet another version of Aphrodite as Triple Goddess, Agape 'love feast,' Irene 'peace,' and Chione 'snow queen.' Irene was also a Goddess in her own right, and she had an attendant named Opora 'autumn.' The Horae who 'greeted' Aphrodite on the shores of Kyprus were her three high priestesses who carried her statue through the shallows, clothing it on the beach during her bathing and purification festival. Irene was the Crone, bringer of the peace of death, Agape the ruler of sacred sexual rites, and Chione was the new year, born at Winter Solstice, unapproachable and serene.
The priestesses who served each avatar were the original angels, the developers of calendars and sacred dances. Their dances mimicked the dance of the Goddess whose dancing steps were the heartbeat of the world. These dances became especially controversial as the christian church became more politically powerful and struggled to stamp out every aspect of Goddess worship it couldn't absorb. The word 'whore' is now typically applied to any woman whose sexuality is either not controlled by a man (choosing who she sleeps with for herself) or any woman whose sexual expression is guided by the sum a man is willing to pay for it. However, the word originally meant a woman who danced, particularly in honour of the Goddess, as in Hebrew hora, Egyptian Hor, and Old Norse hora. In the Bible, 'whore' refers to any priestess. Like the word 'lewd' that once simply meant 'of a person who is not a member of the clergy' time and effort led to the now negative meanings of the word.
The dances of the Horae are mainly represented by the hora, an imitation of the spinning cycles of time, and the whirling dances of the Dervishes, yet their work in the field of time keeping remains. The Horae were among the mathematici 'learned mothers' who defined the Zodiac and the star movements marking the seasons, one translation of the word 'hora.' Another is 'hour,' and the Horae developed various means to mark time. Hence the word for time keeping, 'horology' and the French word for clock 'horlogue.'
The patriarchs became the most incensed over the sacred women of Agape. Among their symbols were the lotus, lily, and dove, all representations of the vulva. Among their mysteries was ritual cunnilingus, which demands respect for female pleasure and the female body. This aspect of the sacred feminine was among the first to be erased. The effort began early. Originally, the land of the 'Lotus Eaters' was in the Amazon territories of North Africa, then was moved further away still, to beyond the Southern Sea.
Aphrodite, the Queen Bee
Kyprus was famous in ancient times for several things: its copper mines, its beehives, and of course, for being the first land set foot on by Aphrodite in Greece. The island is still famous for its dark coloured, unique smelling honey. These characteristics come from the significant amount of nectar bees there gather from thyme flowers. The name of the plant actually means 'burnt offering' and it was commonly used as just that in Aphrodite's temples. The entire island was dedicated to her, so it isn't surprising that honey and honey bees, like copper and the various miners and smiths concerned with it, became especially sacred to, and associated with her. Sicily's Mount Eryx was sacred to her because of its revered honeys.
Male bees, generally referred to as drones, have only one purpose, to fertilize the queen bee. Since they don't have continuing work to do for the survival of the hive, their lives are quite short. So Aphrodite the Queen Bee was believed to copulate with her lovers once, then kill them in Kali-like fashion, by pulling out their entrails – the metaphor would be especially apt if it were based on fact. However, in reality after the queen bee has been fertilized, the worker bees drive them out of the hive, where, unable to fend for themselves the drones starve to death. Later she was supposed to merely strike her male lovers impotent, which was by then seen as little different. Bees frequently carried messages between lovers, and were quick to identify a faithless partner and take action. Amazons of course, also only need concern themselves with men when they want children. Then any Amazon tribe could be seen as the human equivalent of a beehive (barring the obviously lengthy life spans of human males).
Honey was the only sweetener commonly available before the voyages that brought sugar cane and sugar beets to Europe, and Aphrodite sweetened each life with the 'honey of love' a metaphor so ancient it has become almost cloying in modern times. She also ruled Moon-honey, each woman's menstrual flow. Sexual intercourse during menstruation was once considered a potent means by which men could experience the divine, because not only did they experience sexual pleasure but they also contacted the wiseblood of their partner. The tzivertia, slanted tubes often built into clay walls to serve as artificial beehives on Krete were yet another example of vaginal symbolism. Of course the hives contained hexagonal combs, and the six sided polygon was particularly sacred to Aphrodite because six was her holy number.
Honey has antibacterial properties, and so was applied to medical and embalming tasks in ancient Greece. Aphrodite as Queen Bee ruled healing and the process of accepting the dead and preparing them for rebirth. She was the Crone who blended almost imperceptibly into the Maiden with the turning of the year. Like the Pleiades she was celebrated in two festivals, one associated with life and the other with death. Both included the distribution of specially made honey cakes, another example of the many rituals involving the sharing of bread or similar food. According to Homer, the blood of the gods, but seemingly not the Goddesses, was ichor, a blue fluid made by Aphrodite's magic bees.
Not all of Aphrodite's honey was pleasantly sweet, however. Some inspired prophetic trances, and still other honey could cause delirium, unconsciousness, and even death. Such honeys tend to be produced by bees in the spring when flowers of the heath family are blooming before others that produce nectar that is not poisonous to humans. Flowers of the heath family contain grayanotoxins, the chemical source of these varied and potentially alarming altered states. The mountains of Artvia in Turkey are still particularly famous for their hallucinogenic honeys, where a relatively recent series of incidents involving such honey occurred. It served newcomers to Anatolia well to be cautious around Aphrodite's sacred honeycombs in ancient times just as now, as Xenophon and his army discovered to their cost while retreating back to Greece during The Anabasis.
This aspect of Aphrodite is a ruler of menstrual mysteries, because she ruled both Fate and the Moon. The Moon is the first true measurer of short range time rather than the Sun, because the subtle changes in the amount of daylight and the Sun's position in the sky are more difficult to track. The first trackers of the Moon were women, because its cycle and the menstrual cycle appeared to be related to one another in that the two cycles are of similar length. Just as the Goddess of the Moon divided time, she allotted fate and divided the land into lots 'moirae' in the process of geodesia 'land dividing, mensuration.' In other words, Aphrodite was bringing order to chaos. The actions that we find orderly are effectively rituals, from Sanskrit r'tu 'menstruation.' For example, a fire drill, or annual march for a chosen cause or holiday. The root of words for ruling, measuring, ritual, and royalty also means menstruation, and is directly related to the root word for 'red.' In the Romance languages, the terms for menstruation derive from the Latin word regulus, 'ruler.'
Menstrual blood is numinous, not the ability to bear a child as such. Part of what made menstruating women and women who had given birth sacred or taboo – the words actually mean the same thing, that which is set apart – was that they bled without inflicting injuries on themselves and didn't die. When a woman conceived, it was thought her body began to order her menstrual blood into the body of the child, and this is in essence correct. When a woman did not conceive, it was believed she still had the remarkable power to bring order and new life into the world. This power had to be carefully directed to have the most benefit to the clan or village the menstruating woman lived in. Here again is Aphrodite as Measurer and Ruler, creating rituals and laws for this purpose.
Women retreated deliberately from general society in order to concentrate on guiding this power in appropriate ways. Men's presence could disturb their efforts and cause serious problems. Therefore menstruating women carefully avoided looking at men as they went to their sacred houses, often made of willow branches. Aphrodite's title Helikoblepharos 'quick glancing' comes from this habit of quickly glancing elsewhere when a man approached a menstruating woman. The door of each of the menstrual houses faced the east so that each woman came out of a symbolic womb into the light when her time of seclusion was over. Accordingly, Aphrodite was considered a Goddess of the Dawn, or any first light hitting the eyes. The Greeks called menstruation katamenia 'the Moon below' because it was considered analogous to the time of Dark Moon, when the Moon was in the Earth's womb prior to its rebirth.
Just as the word 'taboo' picked up negative meanings mainly due to the discomforts and cultural obsessions of Western males, these houses have been regularly derogated as 'huts' regardless of how substantial they may be. The 'menstrual hut' is in fact the Women's House, likely complimentary and analogous to the Men's Houses in Aboriginal cultures around the world. Today Western women menstruate far more regularly than non-Western or women in the past, so that scholars like Patricia Galloway estimate that as few as a tenth of a community's women would be living in the Women's House at any given time. Clearly these women didn't sit all alone in a hut, a structure caught up in connotations of smallness, filth, and poor construction. Considering the phenomenon of menstrual synchrony, the chances are good that several women from the same household lived for a time in the Women's House together.
If 'pollution,' or rather a state of unusually numinous spiritual power, prevented them from performing their normal activities, they must have done something else. They probably worked on accumulating spiritual power and important knowledge, the elder members telling didactic stories to the younger. Aboriginal men in the American Southeast and modern men today in similar socially delineated spaces carry out rituals or ritual preparation, tell stories, create ceremonial objects women are often not allowed to see or touch, teach younger men, eat, and sleep. Women today and in the past pursue have similar rituals.
Blood and sea water tasted alike, and the Moon apparently controlled the tides. By extension then, Aphrodite determined the duration of the tides and their height. The ocean could be considered amniotic fluid or menstrual blood. The original virginity renewing event was menstruation, an event recreated for the statues of Aphrodite by bathing them in the sea. Rivers of course, could be seen as the Goddess' menstrual flow, and they often serve as natural borders between countries. The bible contains two famous examples of turning water into blood or one of its symbolic equivalents. Jesus was supposed to have changed water into wine, and all water in Egypt up to the Nile was supposed to have become blood. Various attempts have been made to explain the latter with a natural phenomenon. Again, this isn't necessary. All water at times was interpreted as the menstrual blood of the Goddess. The Nile is another example of that symbolic blood providing order. It provided a convenient highway, determined when crops could be planted, and divided the country into the Red Land and Black Land.
Aphrodite was not only associated with the Moon; she was also associated with the planet Venus, because the Greeks understood her and Inanna, the Sumerian Goddess of the planet to be the same deity. Inanna was a key creator of order in Sumeria, as Beverly Moon notes in her essay, Inanna: The Star Who Became Queen: "As the evening and morning star, Inanna helps to create the rhthym of daily existence."
Doorways were sacred to women in general and were painted red in Sumeria to represent menstrual blood. The Egyptians used real blood in the same way, perhaps also as a charm to ward off ill luck. The story of the Passover in the bible is so problematic and fascinating in part because the ritual painting of the doorway has been disconnected from women and their menstrual mysteries.
Back in Greece, Aphrodite presided over the celebrations following the first menstruation of each woman and her entry into adulthood. The celebrants feasted and wore special body paint, the forerunner of cosmetics. The word cosmetic literally means 'cosmic mother' the being who ordered chaos. Scribe and cosmetic pallets were quite similar, and this reflects both the practical requirements of applying ink or make up in Egypt, and the symbolic meaning of the clothing and markings humans put on and over their skin. Clothing and make up have always been a major part the statement a person makes about themselves. Costume was once literally called a person's 'word' if they were naked, without even body paint, or had tattered clothing, they were said to have lost their words, their dignity. Words order and measure chaos, a fact demonstrated every time a person encounters something new or unknown. Often the beginning of adjustment to new knowledge is simply giving the new thing or concept a name. During the height of European and American classification mania in the 1800s, a powerful belief existed in the efficacy of those classification systems which were effectively just lists of names, to give power over the plants, animals, and people they 'described.'
This actually sheds new light on the reasons why young western males who are not congenitally deaf on reaching puberty have their voices 'break.' The changing of their 'words' is significant in terms of patriarchal symbolism as well as an important gender marker which appears to be socially imposed rather than an actual physiological process. It may also be another source of the later obsession with male birth giving that demanded some version of a god who must be able to create merely by speaking.
The blood dedicated to deities was not originally that of animals specifically slaughtered to bleed on the altar, but that of menstruating women. Long after animal sacrifice had been instituted instead, the bowl used to distribute the slaughtered beast's blood was still called an amnion. The term is related to amneion, referring to the membranes that surround the foetus during pregnancy.
Although Western men have destroyed every overt menstrual ritual within their reach out of a combination of superstitious terror and jealousy, the results have not provided any relief from either emotion. Instead Western men are terrified lest they contact a menstruating woman or her blood because they have forced it into invisibility. Worse yet, the fear of shedding blood on purpose is almost non-existent compared to the fear of blood shed naturally.
GODDESSES AND PRIESTESSES ASSOCIATED WITH APHRODITE
The Goddess later remembered as the mother of Aphrodite is actually indigenous to the Greek peninsula. She was the divine womb, the Deep referred to in the bible, ruler of prophecy, sexuality, and inspiration. The dove, copper, and pigeons were sacred to her as they were to Aphrodite. Her name is related to those of both Diana and Juno, well known as Sky Goddesses.
The original inhabitants of Dodona were a tribe called the Selloi. Seven sacred priestesses led by Promeneia 'foremost in strength or speaking before the Moon' and Peleia 'wild pigeon or stock dove' of the tribe founded Dione's oracle there, suggesting that the Pleiades may also have been associated with her. They also founded oracles at Epeirus and Thebes. The oracles were established in oak or beech groves, because Dione was also a Tree Goddess. The trees were treated with great care, pruned with gold plated sickles and protected by warrior priestesses. The sounds of the wind passing through their leaves or through bronze wind chimes hung from their branches were prophesied from, as were the flight patterns of sparrows, doves, and pigeons. The priestesses who interpreted these sounds and movements were old women called peleia 'wood pigeons' or 'ring doves.' The seven high priestesses were called doves, 'Pleiades.'
Almost every part of the female genitals eventually became personified as a Goddess, as did the fluids associated with them. The hymen was no exception, ruled by an eponymous Goddess later considered an emanation of Aphrodite. She carried a torch in one hand, a flute in the other, and wore a crown of flowers, symbol of sexual self-knowledge and maturity. Hymen is the Greek word for veil, the same one that 'no man draws asunder' among the Amazon Goddesses Athena, Medusa, and Neith. Like Aphrodite, Hymen was strongly associated with the planet Venus in the evening.
Menstrual blood was the original blood shed on the honeymoon, once a literal month. The connection between bees, fertility, and sexuality begins here. In Greek bees are called 'hymenoptera' veil winged. At Eryx in Sicily, Aphrodite was represented by a honeycomb, and her priestesses were called Mellisae. They presided over sexual and funerary rites, using honey and wax for embalming prior to burial in catacombs and beehive shaped mounds.
The power and sanctity of menstrual blood 'Moon honey' was enshrined even in Olympian myths, for all oaths were sworn by the Goddess Styx, ruler and personification of the stream of Gaea's menstrual blood. Ambrosia and nectar were originally a mixture of honey and menstrual fluid provided by Aphrodite and/or Hera. Long after Hymen was masculinized in a piece or profoundly ridiculous revision, the Goddess was invoked by calling 'O Hymen, Hymenie!' exclusively by women. Argument persists over whether the practice of singing sacred songs to evoke this Goddess lead to the development of the word 'hymn' from her name.
The Rainmakers, also known as the Dodonides 'of the wind rustled branches,' a group of seven stars in the constellation of Taurus near the Pleiades who heralded the beginning of the Greek rainy season each year. There were two to seven of them, probably reflecting their variable visibility. Aphrodite Pleione was sometimes called their mother and they were also associated with Medea. In the latter case they were originally mortal women whom the Goddess rejuvenated and placed among the stars.
One well known group named as the Hyades were the five sisters Kleia 'invoked,' Phaesyle 'filtered light,' Koronis 'raven,' Phaeao 'chin,' and Eudora 'generous.' Adrasteia 'inescapable,' Eidothea 'divine shape,' and Althaea 'All-healing Goddess' or Kleis 'key,' Koronis 'raven,' and Philia 'friendly' were specifically of Naxos. Otherwise they were Ambrosia 'immortality,' Eudora 'generous,' Phaesyle 'filtered light,' Dione 'divine queen,' Polyxo 'itchy,' Aesyle 'elusive,' Bacche 'Maenad, or type of cup,' Erato 'passionate,' Boeotia 'rich in oxen,' Nysa 'of the tree,' Pedile 'wearing sandals,' and Thyene 'of the tree.'
'She who precedes all' pre-Hellenic Goddess of the ocean, mother of all living. Like her counterpart Tethys, she was a patron of marriage and creator of all ocean creatures. At weddings a rendering of her name, 'Talassio' was called for luck, a tradition continued so long that the reason for it was forgotten. Her children included the Telchines. She was eventually absorbed by Aphrodite.
Niobe's connection to Aphrodite comes through her daughters, the Meliae, sometimes considered synonymous with the Moirae. An ancient Mountain Goddess eventually subsumed under Cybele whose name means 'snowy one,' her first worshippers may have been the Hittites or the Hatti whom they attempted to subjugate. Mount Sipylus still has her image carved on a rock at the source of a stream. Her seven daughters bore all humanity as fruit and were named Kleodoxa 'famous judge,' Astyocha 'protecting the city,' Phthia 'imperishable,' Pelopeia 'serpent,' Astykrateia 'protecting strength,' and Ogygia 'navel of the sea.' She wept not for these divine daughters, but for all of mortal humanity, especially those who might otherwise go unmourned through neglect or accident. Ancient peoples appear to have believed that if a person died unwept and unwailed for, they would not be accepted into the underworld or reborn.
Triple Goddess of Moon, Earth, and Sea worshipped in Thebes and its adjoining regions. Like many Goddesses of the area, she was absorbed by Aphrodite. A corn dolly representing her as Earth Goddess was made of the last sheaves and buried in the fall. In spring, the doll was dug up with great fanfare, its sprouting shoots a demonstration of the return of the Goddess from the underworld. Her Moon priestesses carried the thyrsus, which was both a wand and a weapon.
A Seabird Goddess originally independent of Aphrodite. Her bird messengers and priestesses were seven in number and called Halkyons. They were probably another version of the Sea and Sky Goddess with her accompanying Pillars of Wisdom. The Halkyon days were originally the seven days before and after winter solstice, ruled by the Halkyons themselves: Pthonia 'of the pipe,' Arthe 'of the goat or wheat,' Methone 'crafty one,' Alkippe 'horse strength,' Pallene 'maiden Goddess,' Drimo 'keen,' and Asteria 'Sun face.'
Arkadian Goddess of Mount Kullene, she was a Crone, 'the crooked queen' of the mountain's name. Sometimes she was the eldest Pleiade, but more often she personified the power of transformation and magic. Her name has sometimes been translated 'grandmother of magic,' 'wise one,' and 'midnight' and is just one of the variant spellings of Maia (Maja, Maga). The older form of the Latin word magnus 'great' is magus, suggesting yet another meaning for her name. The month named for her began with her great night festival, better known today as Walpurgis Night. It celebrates the return of magic and the raw force of change with the spring.
Akidalia - restlessness; a title of both Venus and Aphrodite from a Boeotian fountain
Alma - nourishing
Amica - friend
Armata - beloved or spark; a Roman period title used in Sparta
Arnica - of the sheepskin cloak
Artimpasa - noble lady; originally the name of a similar Scythian Goddess
Barbata - bearded
Calva - the bald; may commemorate Roman women cutting their hair for bowstrings during a siege
Cloacina - she who purifies; Sabine name, presider over reconciliation; later the Roman patron of sewers because she warded off disease
Cluacina - may simply be an alternate spelling of Cloacina; name given to Venus when the Sabines and Romans signed a peace pact near one of her statues
Cypria - of Kyprus
Equestris - Horse Goddess
Erycina - of the heather
Genetrix - the ancestor, the mother of the clan
Lampaktis - shining
Libentia - ruler of pleasure
Libertina - of the free people
Marcia - field; ancient Italian agricultural Goddess
Militaris - of war, warlike
Murtia/Murcia - of the myrtle; used at Rome, had chapel at the Circus
Obsequens - one who is obeyed
Placida - soother
Postverta - presiding over the future
Rhamnusia - of the buckthorn
Salacia - of the sea; sometimes translated 'salty'
Vacuna - Sabine Goddess of victory and freedom from duty; occasionally rendered into an aspect of Venus; the Romans later made her into a war deity with sanctuaries at the Tiber and outside the Roman pomerenium
Venetus - sea coloured, blue
Venilia - gracious one; a mysterious Latin Goddess who may be a form of Venus
Verticordia - turning people to love
Victrix - the victorious
Zephyritis - of the gentle breeze
A foreign Goddess later adopted by the Romans, Venus ruled birth, death, and vegetable gardens. Her name may mean 'loveliness, attractiveness,' or more properly 'sacred hospitality.' It derives from a neuter noun from which Latin speakers created the verb uenerari, which in turn is the source of the English term 'venerate.' Beverly Moon explains that "In ancient times, uenerari was restricted to religious contexts and referred to an attitude of hospitality by means of which humans sought to attract the benevolence of the gods(sic)." Clearly then, Venus can't be simply described as the ruler of sexual pleasure and deer shooting, both referred to in medieval times as venery.
The original veneri were the priestesses of Venus who instructed worshippers in how to earn the benevolence of the Goddess through proper respect for the human body as expressed through sex, graceful movement, hygeine, and care not only for the self, but for others. Venus' altars were in nature where large stones butted against trees, sanctuaries tended by virgin priestesses, in the sense that they were ruled only by themselves. Bloodless sacrifices similar to the grapes and grain left in Greece for Demeter were placed on her altars. The tribe of the Venetii, founders of Venice considered her their Divine Mother, worshipping her as Queen of the Sea, and this aspect of her was absorbed by Aphrodite. Like Aphrodite, Venus owned the Swan constellation Cygnus, also called Myrtilis 'of the myrtle.'
According to some accounts, one of the Sibyls directed that Venus' worship should be brought from Mount Eryx on Sicily to Rome. The resulting efflourescence of temples and honours would be astonishing, except that they seem to bear a strong relationship to the political interests of the clan Caesar. The largest temple in Rome was hers, dedicated on August 19, a day also taken up by the Roman vegetable and herb sellers as a festival. The Vinalia on April 23 called upon Venus as the protector of gardens and vineyards, but apparently never cultivated fields.
In many ways Venus is a mysterious Goddess, but many commentators have found her connections to Minerva especially puzzling. How this Goddess so strongly associated with beauty and sexual desire have could anything to do with a wise crone like Minerva is much easier to understand if the many social prejudices against older women are forsaken, and we remember that the divine Maiden and Crone blend almost inextricably with one another. The Aqua Appia was near Venus' Roman temple, and had an associated nymph whose name was also considered an alternate name for Minerva.
The planet 'Venus' was not referred to by a personifying name in the Greco-Roman world until after the 4th century BCE when Greek contact with the astronomers and astrologers of Mesopotamia had become well established. Prior to that, the planet had three names: Eosphoros 'the one who brings the dawn,' Phosphoros 'the one who brings the light,' and Hesperos 'the star of the evening.' This triple naming is somewhat puzzling in view of the fact that there is no clear evidence of a Triple Goddess in early association with Venus in Greek religion and myth. Some scholars would associate the three names with the strong bias towards organizing concepts in groups of three that forms a substrate to Indo-European languages, which forms a striking tension with the ideological tendency to construct binary opposites in Indo-European cultures. The Romans do not appear to have personified the planets either until their absorption of many aspects of Greek culture.
Thrakian priestess-queen named for her Goddess. She was the daughter of Anchirrhoe 'surrounded by flowing water,' Goddess of a similar named peninsula of the Thrakian Chersonnese. A defender of her people from patriarchal rule, she was assisted by the warrior priestesses of Aphrodite.
A Middle Eastern Goddess called Derceto in Syria, she was a Crone Goddess who personified the dangers of sailing on the ocean. Like Hekate, she chose who would and would not survive an encounter with it. To the Greeks she was best known as the mother of a variety of monsters or frightening Goddesses, such as the Graea, the Gorgons, Echidna, the Sirens, the Hesperides, and the Hesperidian dragon. At best, this was wishful thinking.
Keto is the Babylonian Fish Goddess, the being who carried the seeds of life after the Great Flood, so insuring that life began again. Babylonian queens were considered her daughters, and were renamed Semiramus 'daughter of the Goddess' at their coronations accordingly. The first Semiramus was Babylon's founder. The Phillistines worshipped her so stubbornly that she made it into the Bible, although the priests who put it together tried to hide her identity and insisted that Jonah was never given rebirth in her womb, but instead was trapped in her stomach. The Boeotians believed Keto was the same as Artemis, while in Syria she was considered an avatar of Aphrodite... or Aphrodite was considered an avatar of her. She had sanctuaries on Delos built around sacred fish ponds and trees full of doves. In fact, she and the dream ruling Goddess Brizo 'enchanter' may be the same deity.
Brizo brought prophetic dreams and was also worshipped on Delos, where pilgrims could practise incubation in her temple. This consisted of sleeping in a cave alone or with a temple priestess. Model boats could be given to her as offerings, but never fish, logical since she was believed to inhabit the form of a fish when it pleased her. Besides ruling prophetic dreams and their interpretation, Brizo also protected sailors.
Barbara G. Walker suggests that dreams sent by Brizo came to be called 'wet dreams.' This also suggests a possible origin of the expression 'you're all wet,' which like the words silly, lunatic, and maniac were not initially negative terms but meant 'one who is inspired by the Moon/Sun Goddess.'
Her name means 'yawning' likening her to the cavern-wombs at sacred sites all over the world. Chaos was the mother of everything in the universe, from all the deities to the tiniest particle, but she was not literally a womb. In fact, she was a homogeneous mixture of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Therefore Chaos was both the beginning and ending of the universe, invoked especially in divination systems like the Tarot, when the elements were symbolically mixed in order to predict the future. The Greeks weren't quite certain what to say about this Goddess, and seem to have forgotten what she symbolized. They struggled to give her a mother, usually Kaligo 'darkness' or Achlys 'eternal night.' Then again, the Greeks tried to make Chaos male, but in view of the Classical Greek gender system in which women were blocked from being a part of ordered society at men's insistence, and then feared because they were liminal outsiders, it is no surprise that this resexing never stuck. Ultimately, Gaea, Nemesis, and Nyx all arise from Chaos – and presumably Aethera, Pyris, and the Hydra as well.
Beyla - bee; Freya as ruler of fertility, honey, and cow milking
Eartha - earth
Fjorgja - of the mountains
Frith - peace
Gefn - the all-giver
Gerd - spear hard
Gondul - she wolf or magic wand wielder
Grinhilde - mask of Hilde; Freya as Destroyer
Hel - holy (?), Underworld Goddess
Hofgydja - priestess of the temple
Horn - woman who spins flax; the holy dancer
Lofn - love
Mana - Moon
Mardoll - Moon over the sea; Freya as the dove brooding over the uterine ocean
Minne - love
Modir - Moist Mother Earth; Freya as molder of people from clay
Muleibris - Goddess of women
Nerthus - Goddess of the plough; title from when Freya created Zealand by ploughing a furrow and so breaking it loose from Sweden
Niorunn - Goddess of dreams
Saga - speaker; Freya as inspirer of all poetry and divine reciter of it
Sessrymer - large wombed
Skialgr - the bent
Skiolda - shield
Skyndyr - the hurrying
Syr - golden sow
Syrith - little golden sow
Thung - presider over councils
Valfreya - queen of the slain
Vanadís - queen of the female ancestors; Freya as leader of the Disir
As she was carried north and west to Scandinavia, Aphrodite was herself absorbed into Freya, the region's Great Goddess. Friday, Freya's day, is still the day when couples eat fish for its aphrodisiac and fertility encouraging reputation, a tradition brought west by Aphrodite's worshippers. Her holy day still bears her name among many Germanic language speakers, and the holiest Fridays of all were those that fell on the thirteenth day of the month. Freya had no husband, choosing lovers as she pleased and remaining independent of men. A powerful warrior, she lead the Valkyries, multiplied versions of herself. Her sister Gulveig taught her the shamanic practices of seidr 'trance magic,' helping her become a powerful sorceress. She was the first sacrificial priestess, leading the February Disablot, a woman only ceremony involving the return of menstrual blood to the ancestral mothers. No amount of persecution, myth rewriting, or inveighing from the pulpit changed the fact that she was honoured and obeyed over Odin and later the christian god. Today she still is, although now she is officially called Mary.
The Indo-European Aesir hated, feared, and coveted Freya's powers, but could not usurp them. They could not trace their descent back through their mothers to Holde, the first mother of the Vanir who was sometimes seen riding the storm winds, clothed in terror. 'Vanir' appears to be related to the word vinr 'friend' and the name Venus, neither of which are Indo-European words. Also referred to as Wans, Goddesses of the four elements and hidden mysteries, they gave religious joy, 'lust' in Old German. Their numbers included Freya's dark sister Skadi, whose word would end the world. Freya was a destroyer herself, but because she was female she could give rebirth to all the lives that she ended. The Aesir never touched the hallowed halls of Vanaheim, literally 'the house of the Vanir,' or perhaps 'house of friends.'
Perhaps most important to her worshippers, Freya was the leader of the Disir 'divine grandmothers' also called Afliae 'powerful ones' and Ljrosalfr 'light elves.' They could be called upon at elder 'elf' trees. These ancestral spirits protected families, especially during the long winters when Freya took her mother Njord's place in the far North. The Disir were also teachers who lived in the Distinger 'Disir Court.' Each Hallowe'en families formally invited their family Disir into the house to take the offerings set out and give thanks for their care. Femaleness was highly valued in Germanic tribes, so that women's names were carefully recorded; in fact the oldest runic inscription is of a woman's name. The famous viking ship burials of Norway and Sweden most frequently contain female corpses.
Freya was readily identifiable by her falcon feather cloak, the bundle of keys attached to her sacred belt and the sacred necklace Brisingamen 'fiery bridge' made of gold or amber. When Odin stole it, she rode out on Hildisiur 'battle pig' a giant, swift running sow, and took it back. She was especially famed for her extensive travels by sea and by land, naming Lake Vanir in Sweden and establishing many residences. These included Vingold 'field of friends' a home shared with many other Goddesses, Fensalis 'marsh halls' where she wove the clouds, Folksvangr 'field of warriors,' and Sessrumrir 'rich in seats.' Another of her houses was Sokkvabekh 'singing brook' where she was usually better known as Saga. What weapon a warrior was struck down by in battle mattered. If struck by a spear, that person was doomed to serve Odin forever in the afterlife, fighting and refighting the battle they had died in. Otherwise the person would be able to go to Freya's pleasant halls at Folksvangr. The warrior women in particular usually went to the Valkyrie halls, Vallaskjalf and Valhalla, two more of Freya's favoured houses.
When abroad choosing out the warriors who would go to Folksvangr, Freya wielded her double ax. This ax was frequently worn as a talisman, carefully hung upside down like a Kretan labrys to suggest that it was not in use for collecting souls, a genital triangle incised on its head. Amulet forms of this ax are regularly misidentified as 'Thor's hammer.' In reality, Thor's hammer does not look like the labrys-type finds usually attributed to him; rather it is usually a trefoil or a type of cross specifically without flared arms.
Then there were those who were chosen to go to Fensalis. The once great northwest European bogs may originally have been considered earthly corridors to those very halls. Accordingly people were sometimes buried in the bogs for religious rather than perfidious ones or human sacrifices. Another potential association is with Freya Modir, Moist Mother Earth. Her ability to change the shape of any person as she pleased suggests that Freya may even have created people from mud or clay in a creation myth verging on omnipresent in Indo-European cultures.
A shapeshifter and psychopompe to whom goshawks, swans, hawks, and ravens were sacred, the ravens Mimir 'memory' or 'mother' and Hugir 'reflection' probably began as her familiars. Sometimes she appeared to her followers as a goatherd, on others as Audumbla 'nourisher' or 'void, darkness' the holy cow that created the present world, inventor of the civilized arts, and owner of the Moon. Freya was part of a holy trinity with her daughters, affectionately named Hnossi 'treasure' and Gersimi 'jewel.' The Goddess Angrboda 'hag of the iron wood' helped bring Freya's power to the Earth even as she bred the fearsome wolves that would help consume it at doomsday.
It may be as a Spinning Goddess that Freya was worshipped most openly until deep into christian times. The constellation of Orion was her distaff, hung up neatly in the sky after a day's work. Each day she travelled to her workshop by chariot, pulled either by a golden bristled boar or a mass of ladybugs. Each summer solstice Scandinavian women honoured her by rolling burning wheels down hills and starting ritual fires with their spinning wheels. Theymay also have reminded their children not to kill any ladybugs, because if they did Freya would fill the sky with heavy grey clouds and weep for them.
Finally, Freya was part of a group of nine sister Goddesses who were the embodiments of desirable personal qualities and skills. The other eight Goddesses are: Bjart 'shining one,' Blid 'the one who is mild,' Frid 'the good looking,' Gulveig 'golden one,' Gefn 'the most generous one,' Idun 'she who renews,' Eir 'mercy' or 'all healer,' and Vjofn 'love longing, affection.' Freya brought all luck, all sustenance, and the joys of sex and love. She was the primary patron of winter solstice celebrations and inspirer of poetry and song. The Goddess Idunn may well be an alternate form of Freya, because the loss of either one would bleed the world of joy and fertility.
Prior to arrival of the Aesir or the christian god, women and men were of equal status in Germanic peoples. Women were considered sacred, leading clans and tribes. As religious leaders they were titled Hofgydja 'temple priestess' or Gythya like Freya until the 11th century BCE. Women were expected to cast runes and prophesy, especially when conflicts needed to be resolved and emotions were running high. They owned the houses, symbolized by the keys they wore at their belts, as Freya did. Germanic mothers gave each of their children a secret soul name that gave them Freya's protection through life. Women's mysteries passed from mother to daughter, including the mansongr 'woman songs' and vidas inspired by Freya. Contrary to later claims, female skalds were originally as numerous as male ones.
The reading and writing of runes began as particularly female occupations, their name related to the title runa 'whisperer, one who knows.' These skilled poets and wisewomen developed many of Freya's titles, building them from kennings, metaphorical expressions used to replace common terms, in their mansongrs. Often their kennings referred to other known stories or legends in a manner that may be similar to how Paula Gunn-Allen explains the 'reading' and interpretation of words in stories by the First Peoples of North America:
"...The Maya, like Indians further North, 'read' words for their cosmic import, interpreting them by recalling stories that illuminate the word rather than referring to dictionaries that 'define' it. This being the case, no easy translation of anything Mayan, or for that matter, of any Native American text can be had."
Some of the kennings and puns built into Freya's stories and songs could be decidedly ribald by modern standards, for example, "Freya's sword is short" a distinctly sexual pun in society where a man's sword was metaphorically the same as his penis.
Perhaps most famous – or infamous – of all were the volvas, who were brutally persecuted during the burning times and had been driven out of Gothic lands even earlier when one of the Gothic kings decided they were too vocal, and exiled all haliarunos, 'rune readers.' Neither persecution put an end to the volvas, who simply went underground.
Originally volvas travelled openly from place to place, receiving honours and gifts wherever they went because they were shamans who worked to benefit the communities they stopped at. Practitioners of Freya's great art, the seidhr, the volvas were accompanied by their young female apprentices, whom they taught using a question and answer format known in rather debased form from Plato's dialogues. At each community a volva chose to stop at, first she got to know the local spirits – that is the local ancestors. Then the materials and furniture were set out for her to perform the uitsetr 'sitting out' part of the shamanic seidhr ritual. Seated outdoors dressed in the furs and feathers of her animal helpers which always included cat fur, special leather gloves, a lined hood, and a bronze staff that may have been called a 'walus' she listened as one of the local girls sang or chanted the spell that helped her to go into a trance. Then the volva would answer questions and probably deal with stubborn local disputes. Male shamans attempted to coopt the volvas' role, but the attempt backfired and it was widely declared that it was shameful for men to practice seidhr. The art was a woman's prerogative.
In time men also attempted to ban the mansongr, prevent women from being skalds, and usurp the powers of priestesses and clan mothers by wearing women's clothes. By this means they hoped to force Odin to the top of the pantheon. But just like the Aesir, they found these methods failed. And so they turned to other methods, degrading the status of priestesses and claiming that only the low status of the job made it possible for women to do it. Still, the people couldn't be induced to give up or demote their Goddess until the mass christian 'conversions' by the sword.
This Goddess' name is the source of the English word north and cognate to Urd 'Earth.' Mother of Freya and Skadi, lover of Ran, she brought fertility back to the land at the end of the winter by allowing the warm winds to blow again. Her hall Noatur 'shipyard' was mimicked by her many sea port temples where sailors prayed for her to calm storms and grant them good fortune at sea, because she ruled it with Ran. She was also a Swan Goddess, and in yet another incarnation ruled the Earth for part of the year. The Romans called this aspect of her Nerthus and masculinized her under her original name to make her analogous to their Neptune, with the result that today few realize that the name Njord ever referred to a Goddess.
Under her alternate Germanic name Erda, she was known as the oldest of all the Scandinavian Goddesses. Contradictorily, she was also called the daughter of Nott 'night.' Erda ruled the Sea, Earth, and rivers, gave birth to the founding mothers of many tribes, and was the first practitioner of divination. Norse bards called her Edda 'great grandmother,' ruler of memory. Sometimes she was referred to as Hlodyn 'protector of the hearth.'
Erda lived in a hilltop grove on a sacred island which may have been Denmark, an early centre of her worship. Each year she travelled across Scandinavia to give peace and riches, then returned to her island to bathe and renew her virginity. While all people worshipped her on wooded hilltops, men were especially careful when Erda was abroad because it was deadly for them to see her in her bath.
Nordic co-ruler of the ocean with Njord, Ran's name may be related to the Sanskrit word for queen 'rani.' All people who died at sea became her subjects, and she gathered them each day with her net before carrying them to the uterine caves below the water. Like all Sea Goddesses, Ran was considered immeasurably rich and could take mermaid form. She had numerous daughters of whom the most famous were the world millkeepers who ground the sea salt, and the nine or thirteen Undines 'waves.' All were prematurely white haired and wore sweeping blue robes. If they found a ship's crew particularly deserving, they could speed the ship on its way to port, or see it safely through a storm. They were sometimes considered the nine mothers, that is nine female ancestors, of Heimdall. Turnville-Petrie found Heimdall particularly interesting, suggesting that the 'doll' or 'dall' part of his name may be related to Greek thallo 'to increase,' in which case his name seems to mean 'increaser of the home.' He also noted that the word hlöth, usually translated 'trumpet' actually refers to a noise, music, or even listening and hearing. In other words, Heimdall listened intently for the curse of Skadi, which he was supposed to bring word of to the other doomed gods. Perhaps his association with the sea simply reflects the seafaring habits of the Scandinavian peoples, or to the drowning and enshadowing of the world from which would be born the new Sun.
Bara 'big wave'
The Nine Waves Often Associated With Heimdall:
Greip 'she who has a good grip'
World Mill Keepers:
Gulveig 'golden one' or 'gleaming one'
Gulveig makes many appearances in Nordic folklore, most famously as the Sibyl who begins reciting the Voluspa as requested, then refuses to stop reciting it until it is finished. Who she is becomes clearer from her alternate names: Heithi/Heithr 'bright one,' Sol 'Sun,' Wala 'witch,' or Gull 'gold.' She is the elder Sun whose daughters are the younger Sunnu and the warrior Moon Goddess Nanna. Nanna was the elder of the two, a powerful sorceress and shaman like her mother and owner of a shining horse. Born of the flying sparks at the Earth's creation, Sunnu was appropriately exuberant, bringing joy to the world and clapping merrily to announce herself each morning. The trio lived in a house called Forseti 'the sky overhead.' But things would not remain peaceful.
The invading Aesir hated Gulveig. She reminded them of death because she was a Crone, and there was no knowledge or truth that they could withhold from her, so their intentions were always transparent. The mortal volva who worked throughout Scandinavia helped the people resist the new Aesir religion. Her curses were second only to those of Skadi from Mutspellheim, her spells unbreakable by anyone but her. Each morning Gulveig entered heaven through Helgate during her season in the sky, passing by the souls of the dead as they went to the underworld. Each evening and after her season was over, she entered the underworld without fear.
Determined to destroy her, the Aesir speared her and threw her into the great fire in their meeting hall. But she sprang out, healed of all injury and younger than before. The Aesir threw her in again, and again she sprang out, whole and shining as before. They threw her in a third time, and Gulveig sprang out as young and strong as the Sun at summer solstice when her season in the sky began. And so despite such effort, still Gulveig lived, and still she aged until winter solstice when Sunnu took over her place in the sky and she went on to the underworld to rejuvenate herself. Later stories suggested that the Aesir declared war on the Vanir in hopes of destroying Gulveig, or that the Vanir declared war on the Aesir in order to free her. Yet clearly Gulveig was more than strong enough to save herself.
Vjofn/Sjofn 'affection'/Lofn 'love, affection'
Although often split into two Goddesses, Vjofn and Lofn, the task of this deity never varied. She gave love and pleasure to all genders, and brought people together in passionate love affairs. Vjofn answered the prayers of true lovers kept apart by law, custom, or just plain mischance. Lovers who were already together could also pray to her, especially for her help in making peace after quarrels. Skalds extolled her as the Goddess of Memory, because as long as a story or person is loved, they will be remembered.
After her arrival in the Nordic countries with Aphrodite, Hera's name was rendered Eir and she became the sister of Freya. Initially only women were physicians in Northern Europe, and all were trained by Eir and her priestesshood. Besides her many colleges, Eir owned the Lyfjaberg 'healing hill.' If a woman was brave and resourceful enough to climb this hill, which may have been made of glass, the Goddess would reward her with everlasting health and well-being.
The golden apple keeping Goddess of the Norse who also ruled beauty and youth and preferred the form of a sparrow. Her name, which means 'she who renews' may be related to Ida. This is an intriguing possibility because Idun was the inventor and keeper of the runes, and runic alphabets were developed in Turkey, Hungary, and Scandinavia. Turkey's rune alphabet appears to be the oldest, and the Scandinavian rune alphabets the youngest. Women were the original writers and casters of runes, but with the imposition of christianity they and their writings were banned and burned. Of course this persecution, far from annihilating them simply forced the alphabet and its keepers underground.
Gefn/Gefjn 'the all-giver'
A powerful trickster Goddess and patron of Denmark and women, Gefn was also an honoured member of the Vanir. Like most trickster figures, she was a master of disguise and liked to test an individual's character by appearing to them as a vagrant. It was on one such occasion that Gefn decided she wanted a country of her own, and so ploughed off part of Sweden to make Denmark. She had a second home in Frigga's palace because she was an all-wise Fate and overseer of gift giving. The special guardian of women who chose not to marry, Gefn received the souls of anyone who died unmarried, making them eternally happy. Worshippers honoured her with new year plough rites and wagon rituals.
Frigga wasn't so much a separate Goddess as the name used for Freya when she was most specifically concerned with women's sexuality. Her name may be translated 'loving' and is related to words that mean 'to rub' hence the English verb 'frig.' Like 'cunt' this is not actually a slang or lewd term. This Goddess' connections stretch all the way back to Phrygia in Anatolia where she began as Cybele. The Anglo-Saxons called her Frigi. The ancient Germans called her Frija, and the ancient Norse had several versions of her name to choose from: Frig, Fricka, Frickja, Freia, and Fri.
Her gear was that of the divine shaman: heron plume headdress, golden girdle and shoes, a bunch of keys at her belt, and a cloak of falcon and hawk feathers. A spinner of events in the future, Frigga could not be convinced to reveal what she spun before its time. This discomfited the Aesir because she was also the patron of birth and civilization, and so could end both individual and group life. One of her major symbols was the ship, giving us the modern term 'frigate.' Scandinavian burial mounds were often ship shaped and were called ludr by the Norse, a term that also means cradle and coffin.
Frigga was the daughter of the mountain Fjorginji, also called Jorth or Njord, of course. She had numerous daughters specifically associated with her in this aspect, especially Bjil who began as a mortal woman. By dint of her bravery and quick thinking, Bjil was able to drink the mead of wisdom, becoming the immortal and all-wise Saga. Most people today have heard of her in the nursery rhyme 'Jack and Jill.' She has often been confused with Gulveig who was titled Saga herself, and became the vehicle for Frigga's wrath upon the Aesir. Losing patience with their incessant questions about the future they were not allowed to know, Frigga sent Gulveig the dread vision of Gotterdämerung, and permission to reveal it to them.
Fulla/Volla 'the filler' - a warrior, sorceress, and messenger, she wore a golden headband from her mother and a ring from Hel. Among her responsibilities was guarding the coffer of life and death and caring for her mother's shoes.
Gna 'woman' or 'Goddess' - the personification of the breeze, seeing all and forgetting nothing, Gna rode the horse Hovraspnir 'hoofthrower' over any obstacle.
Hlin 'protector' - a swift-footed warrior-messenger who carried prayers to Frigga and protected those her mother chose.
Sif 'kindred' - the prophetic Swan Goddess who insured the fertility of the corn and the yield of the corn harvest. Her daughter was Thurd 'might' and her lover Rodeva 'the quick.'
Syn 'truth' - guardian of all doorways and presider over tribunals and trials. Once she had made a decision it was impossible to change her mind, so her name became a synonym for 'the act of denying.'
Var 'wary' and Vor 'vow' - Goddesses called upon to oversee oaths and vows, and to punish those who broke them. No truth could be hidden from their shrewd questions and penetrating eyes.
The Valkyries 'eaters of corpses' also called Alsaoagne 'War Goddesses,' and Hellequins 'kin of Hel' were members of the Disir specifically concerned with bringing souls in and out of life. Their third name refers to them as the ancestral dead who rode out of the underworld at night. In Old Norse they were called Valkyrja 'choosers of the slain' and are related to the Celtic Morrigan and the dog-faced Keres of Demeter. Their cousins were the Rhinemaidens, Scandinavian Sirens. Led by Freya and Skuld, they brought justice to Earth. Similar to the Banshee they could sing the dying gently to sleep or end the lives of the cruel in terror. They took the form of dogs, carnivorous mares or ravens to eat the dead and carry them to rebirth. The Valkyries were guardians of Bilrost 'the trembling way' and the death gate. In fact they were the original Trolls, from Trulli 'Earth Spirits.' The Anglo-Saxons referred to any Valkyrie as a qucwena, that is a 'battle woman.' They may also have referred to groups of Valkyries as maedenheeps 'bands of female warriors.'
Their earthly counterparts were also called Vala 'funerary priestesses' later 'witches.' Older names for them include Wili and Vila, possibly from the Indian Funerary Goddess Valesa, an aspect of Kali. The Swedish called these priestesses Volvas (as mentioned previously) 'mare women' a term that also meant 'Goddess.' Besides their raven feather cloaks, these Amazons were known to wear horse masks like their counterparts who served horse-headed Demeter and horse-ruling Hera. The dark, magic, and sacred forest of Mirkwood was their home, now best known as one of Tolkien's elven outposts. The heavenly Valkyries wove the outcomes of battles, and the sign of the Moirae was called the Valknat in Scandinavia. The Vala were often called upon to tie magic knots to ward off illness and injury or bring fertility.
The Valkyries did not just act as psychopompes. They were also prophets and messengers whose sky travels caused the aurorae. Or they might be seen heading to battles mounted on their flying black horses called Valravens 'ravens ridden by the Vala.' At war they typically armed themselves in bloodstained chainmail and dark cloaks, wielding shield, spear, and double ax. In more peaceful times they were known to take the form of cats, especially black ones, to give warning or bring luck. The divine Valkyries numbered from three to thirteen, and there were numerous earthly ones. All Valkyries rode out in groups of nine.
The Valkyrie Queen on Middle Earth was the Swan Goddess Kara, who was descended from the Indian air deity Kauri. Her name was sometimes translated 'brilliant one' and she preferred to defeat her enemies with magic songs. The Goddess Grid was also a prominent divine Valkyrie who owned iron gloves, the iron staff Gridrod, a magic iron belt, and the wand Gudenwold. At least three women were deified and numbered among the immortal Valkyries: Thorgerd Hollgabrud and her sister Irpa, and Hervor.
Thorgerd was an expert in divination, sorcery, control of the elements, and fighting. As a Goddess she had the memorable ability to shoot arrows from her fingers. Hervor's story still survives in the Harvanar Saga, which begins with her quest for a magic sword. Unfortunately, this saga is rather disappointing because only the first four chapters concern her. Those chapters record that she was the daughter of the Valkyrie Svava and lived in the forest with a Valkyrie tribe. She sailed to an island haunted by the tormented ghosts of men who had died in a kinslaying war. No one else would go with her, so Hervor rowed herself to the shore. It appears that originally the saga concerned Hervor's compassion and shamanic powers as much as her skill in warfare. Once on the island she puts the ghosts to rest and successfully retrieves a magic sword from a barrow.
Other Valkyries still recorded in literature include:
Alkarisi 'red woman'
Athe, sister of Brynnhild
Bekhild 'highborn (warrior) of battle' sister of Brynnhild
Brynnhild 'mailcoat of battle'
Geirahod 'spear of battle'
Geirronul 'spear bearer'
Gondul 'magic wand wielder' or 'she wolf'
Goll 'battle cry'
Herfjotur 'panic, terror' or 'war fetter' keeper of the Valkyries' fear blocking mead
Hervor 'warder of the host'
Hildr 'combat, unforgiving war'
Hlon 'noise of battle'
Krake 'sea monster' daughter of Brynnhild, queen of witches, a shapeshifter whose forms included the raven, sea monster, and woman
Olrun 'rune reader'
Rangild 'shield bearer'
Rangrid 'shield of peace'
Rangrior 'shield of peace'
Rathgild 'plan destroyer'
Reginlief 'companion of deities'
Rota 'she who causes turmoil'
Sigrun 'victory rune'
Sigurdrifta 'victory blizzard'
Skegh 'ax time'
Skegjold 'ax wielder'
Skogol 'raging one' or 'berserker'
Skogul 'twilight woman'
Svava 'fiery one?'
Swanhild 'she who destroys in battle'
Thrud/Thurd 'strength' owner of Thrudvangar 'Thrud's field'
Thruor 'power, strength'
The Norns 'whispering women' also called Schrieberinnen 'writing women' were the Scandinavian version of the Moirae. They were named Skuld 'that which shall be,' Verdandi 'that which is becoming,' and Urd 'that which was.' Each spun a thread with her hands representing past, present, and future as implied by their names. They were sometimes referred to as the Wyrd Sisters and worked around the Urdwell (Urd's Well) spinning thread, counting the time, and cutting runes. They determined the time of Ragnarok, a term that has been translated as both 'organizing powers' and '(ordained) fate.'
The eldest was Urd, who knew past, present, and future. She wore dark robes, jewels, and gold as befits the Earth, and spun using a silver distaff. Her will was immutable and she owned the fountain of wisdom, the Nornsterdad. Verdandi ruled the present, motherhood, and the Moon. Skuld was the youngest and also had an alternate Crone form, Skadi the Destroyer. Her name comes from skulu 'what must happen' that is, inevitable death. In the Prose Edda the Norns are chieftains referred to as High, Just as High, and Third. At the end of the world, they were expected to release Fenric the wolf from his tether to Ursa Major, allowing him to devour the Sun. In time the Norns became multiplied like the Greek Meliae and absorbed the Fate Goddesses called Idrisi.
Eostre 'radiant dawn'
The Scandinavian name for Aphrodite-Astarte, ruler of the month of April. She brought spring and fecundity and was accompanied by seven priestesses, the Pleiades whose 'movement in the direction of the rising Sun' is referred to by another version of her name, Ostara. Eostre owned the original hare that laid eggs, lived in the Moon, and received decorated bird's eggs to pass on to the Sun. She also owned the lily and was so stubbornly popular the christian church attempted to absorb her festival. The result was an incongruous and ill-fitting overlay of a mourning day over a joyous festival of rebirth and sexuality when people laid red coloured eggs on graves to nourish the dead, as they sometimes still do across Scandinavia, Russia, and Greece.
Of the three Norns, Urd and Skuld had strong identities apart from that of Fate Goddess. Urd seems to have been nearly an avatar of the underworld Goddess Hel because she had an underground realm called Hela where the souls of the good went to await rebirth after taking a drink from her horn of forgetfulness. She was also called Thok 'darkness' and it was she who refused to weep and consigned Balder permanently to the underworld. Her immovable will was metaphorically the past, which also cannot be changed and flowed in her Urdabrunnur 'stream of Urd.' The World Ash Tree had three roots, one to Urd's fountain, one to the fountain of Mimir 'memory or mother,' and the last in Nifelheim. Urd determined whether the tree lived or died, and therefore the fate of the world soul. If she withdrew the waters of her fountain, the icy temperatures of Nifelheim would freeze it to death.
There were many colleges of women dedicated to Urd, collectively called the Dises. They included: the Hamigyjes, guardian angels who could speak for the dead if no family member had preserved their power of speech by writing runes on their tongues, the Giptes who implemented Urd's decrees, and many others who carried messages and guided souls.
Skuld/ Skadi/Skathi 'harm'/'shadow'
Mörnir - troll woman
Ondurdis - Ski Goddess
Eponymous Goddess of Scandinavia (Skadinauja) and Scotland, also called Scatha, Scath, Scythe, and Scotia. No one could escape this Goddess 'unscathed' or 'unscythed' because all mortals must die. One of her all-women colleges lived on the Island of Skye, which was also named for her, as was one of Sweden's ancient queens, Skiolf or Skadi. Spring couldn't come before she received offerings of menstrual blood and had laughed at comedic plays or poetry. Later this was debased into a demand for the bleeding genitals torn from an unfortunate male. Norse poet shamans were originally her servants, called skalds from her name, and carried her everywhere they went, naming cities, towns, temples, and groves in her honour.
Skadi's most famous priestess, whose name is usually recorded as Saga, gave oracles and composed sacred poetry. Her most famous composition was the poem telling about Ragnarok and the Going-Into-Shadow, that is into the power of Skadi, which only the Goddesses survive. The Icelandic women titled Lögsömathr 'mother who speaks the law' may also have been Skadi's priestesses.
A dark Goddess of the destructive winters that are still needed to provide the snow necessary for a good harvest as it melted from her beloved mountains, Skadi is a part of the mythological and language scaffolding of all Germanic language speakers. Her name is still invoked by the terms skullduggery and scolding, the latter still feared because it is a close relative of the Mutspell, the deadly Mother's Curse. The various words for shadow including the word itself are all related to her name via Gothic skadus and Old English sceadu. She was the shadow the gods passed into at doomsday because she was the wielder of the Mutspell that would call deadly spirits from her hot home of Mutspellheim (where she was known as Kali) to help consume them. This doom did not fall arbitrarily, but as just punishment for bad deeds. Skadi was the embodiment of righteous anger, so powerful she bound the evil trickster Loki when all others failed.
Skadi was the northern European leader of the wild hunt. Only she could hunt on the Hindarfjall 'hind mountain' one of many dedicated to her, where she could be seen skiing as well as hunting. Wolves and poisonous snakes obeyed her will. She was a high queen of the elves, who were better known as the ancestral dead whom one of her priestess namesakes could raise from the grave. At war Skadi dressed in chainmail and helmet, using a bow and poisoned arrows and a giant spear. Skadi also appears to be the true owner of Sleipnir, the eight-legged 'horse' which sounds suspiciously like a giant spider.
A Kretan Goddess associated with violent death by the Greeks who also made her into a daughter of Nyx and sister of the Moirae. Occasionally she was shown as a black carrion bird such as a raven or vulture, harking back to the Death Goddess who carries away the dead to rebirth. Her name is related to both Ceres and Kore. Ceres was considered equivalent to Demeter by the Romans, who apparently forgot that just as she was the Earth that gave life to people through their food, she took them back after death when they were buried. Often Ker was multiplied into the Keres 'types of death,' her emanations that determined the specific fate of each soldier on a battlefield. They performed this role most famously at Troy, Homer describing them as black and winged as may be expected, but also with long teeth and clawlike nails. They literally ate the dead laying on the battlefield like carrion birds, yet seem to be half-human.
One of the most difficult Ancient Greek words to translate properly due to modern prejudices and Ancient Greek social prejudices is Hetaera. At the most neutral, a Hetaera is defined as 'a companion' – at the least neutral, 'a whore.' In fact, the Hetaerae were the only Greek women able to live as relative equals to Ancient Greek men, although given their social environment, this independence did not come without cost. If a Hetaera should ever have sons, he could never vote or be a citizen of Athens. Yet it says a great deal about how deeply these women valued their freedom that they accepted that consequence rather than forfeit the right to own property, go to school, remain unmarried, and live with other like minded women. Their daughters would have the same rights, and there could be advantages for their sons in not being citizens. They could not be arbitrarily sent to war, for example. Pseudo-Xenophon complains vociferously about the slaves, metics, and foreigners, who can't be differentiated from Athenian citizens on sight, and in the case of foreigners lived little differently.
The term for female companions or lovers was hetaeristreae, and it may be the possibility of two hetaerae living together independently of men that most displeased the men of their time. Hetaerae were denounced as pudgy with bleached or henna coloured hair, as opposed to the thin, pale, black haired proper Greek woman.
Returning to the term 'hetaera' itself, Barbara G. Walker suggests via Budge that the word may be related to the Egyptian word 'heter' friendship. The hieroglyph representing 'heter' was two women clasping hands. Since all the terms similar to hetaera are derived from it, and it bears no resemblance to Greek terms for friend like philos, the derivation may be a valid one.
Before she came to Greece, Aphrodite was already worshipped in the Middle East, under many names: Asherah, Ishtar, Esther, Mari. Her image was that of a woman with bird feet and wings, muscular, holding an ankh in one hand. Clay figurines of her graced family shrines, and her sacred groves were carefully protected. In those places she was embodied in one particular tree, which was said to be her living image. The sacred groves may also be where Hera was worshipped at one time, for one carefully positioned and preserved tree trunk was kept in the Argive Heraeum, long after all else had been replaced with stone.
Some of Aphrodite's followers were warrior women who would later be called Amazons. They too kept clay figurines of her in their home shrines, and danced and sang in her sacred groves. But more often they worshipped her in the form of an aniconic white stone. Restless and wandering were these Amazons, and at last as the god worshippers came in overwhelming numbers to burn the groves and shatter the stones, they made for the sea.
Eventually, some of the Amazons arrived at Kyprus. Their first act was to carry their sacred white stone through the waves to the shore, ceremonially renewing Aphrodite's virginity – or ceremonially midwifing the Goddess into a new land. Establishing Paphos and working the copper deposits, their numbers grew, and more Amazons travelled to Krete, as always carrying their Goddess with them.
Aphrodite the Fate
Athena is not the only weaving Goddess of the world. Moira, who is now known as Aphrodite, patiently helps weave the fate of the world too. Her triple form as Klotho 'spinner,' Lachesis measurer,' and Atropos 'inevitable or destiny' is the most well known in this aspect. Yet she works as Fate in other ways. At the beginning of each life, she sends a soul to each person, carried by a dove. When life is done and she comes as Death, Aphrodite gathers each soul back to herself, again carried by a dove. To help her in her work, the Romans kept sacred doves near burial catacombs referred to as dovecotes. The Pleiades could be her daughters, the Holy Doves, or the Alkyones, her holy messengers.
Each time a sacred king was sacrificed, hung between Heaven and Earth or on the gallows, Aphrodite stands by in her Triple Goddess form, patiently holding his shroud on the ground below. Then people call her again by her old name, Moira or Mary. In lands of the Far West, high kings who die in battle she also collects, carrying their bodies away in a boat over the sea to the sacred apple isles that once included the Isle of Man, a place called literally the Isle of Woman. Her name is then Morgan le Fay, or Morgue.
How then does she gather her Amazons? She watches for their burial skiffs on the back of the ocean, piled high with flowers and shells in her honour, and the tools of the dead woman's trade clasped on her chest or settled about her knees, covered in the woven shroud of rebirth. These she gathers in grey haired form, sweeping them up in her golden net and carrying them deep into her ocean womb to wait for rebirth... when she sends their souls out with the doves.
Although she is often said to be an idle, wasteful Goddess... she is often seen perched on jagged rocks, apparently doing no more than watching the waves... Aphrodite is one of the most industrious of Goddesses. Besides tending to matters of love and lust in the world that so preoccupy mortals, she rules the briny sea. When she stands upon those rocks, often she is getting ready to pull in the tides with her golden net, or checking that the sea is as it should be. Or perhaps she is about to walk across the waves as if they were solid, marking new places for reefs and oyster beds.
Beyond these things, Aphrodite protects the fertility of the oceans and the purity of fresh water. She is kindly, and never forgets to help the unfortunate people she finds. On passing by the famine tormented island of Krete, she went back and called for a basket of bread, a basket of fruit, and a basket of fish to be brought to her shrine. Then Aphrodite enchanted each one to multiply their contents until everyone was fed. But its magic was not wasteful, and did not work when times were good, and the fields and fishing trips produced enough.
The baskets were lost by accident. They were found in Aphrodite's temple, empty but for dust and somewhat tattered, by a person who didn't know their story and didn't care to find out. Deciding that the baskets were old and useless, they were thrown into the fire.
It came about that Aphrodite's mortal lover was killed by a wild boar, and their soul passed to the underworld accordingly. Aphrodite had seen mortals die in many ways and enter the underworld, other of her lovers among them. It gave her great sorrow, but she was consoled by the fact that they would be reincarnated. This time, however, her lover had been killed by arrangement of spiteful Ares, who coveted Aphrodite but found that she refused to sleep with him. Enraged at the injustice of what had happened, Aphrodite determined to retrieve her lover from the underworld. Wrapping herself in a red robe, crowning herself with the Morning Star, and girding herself with a sword, Aphrodite journeyed to the entrance of the underworld. This was the first time that the Morning Star appeared in the evening, and sank below the horizon just after sunset.
At the entrance to the underworld, she found sharp eyed and sharp nosed Kerberus, who sniffed her as she sniffed all those seeking entry. 'You do not smell like one of the dead,' Kerberus declared. 'You cannot enter the underworld.' Aphrodite was undaunted.
'Of course I am not dead! I am a Goddess... nevertheless I must get in. Tell me Kerberus, how do the dead smell?'
'The dead smell of frankincense, myrrh, mint... the smoke of juniper from funeral sacrifices. If you smelt like that, I could let you in.' replied Kerberus. So Aphrodite anointed her hair with oils of frankincense and myrrh, and tucked sprigs of mint in her belt. Finally, she censed herself with juniper smoke. When she came to the underworld entrance again, Kerberus let her pass.
Next she came to the river Styx, but the Goddess of the river would not let her cross. 'None who carry riches may pass over me.' she declared. Aphrodite promptly removed her strands of creamy pearls, her earrings of storm tossed amber, even the silver ornamented shoes from her feet. She was about to leave her sword and even her star crown, but Styx stopped her. 'Neither of these things are riches. You may take those if you wish.' Which Aphrodite did, and walked across the water.
Down even further, and down a great flight of stairs to a deep room tinted orange by the light of three great fires. On each was a cauldron stirred by a wizened old woman. 'You may not pass,' one of them declared. 'Unless you have a herb for this brew.' said another.
'What is it?' asked Aphrodite.
'It is a brew of knowledge... or wisdom, depending on what you decide on.' A confusing reply, but still, Aphrodite was undaunted.
'I have one herb.' and she handed over her mint sprigs to give knowledge of endings and death, which must precede all new life and creation. On the earth, the weather grew cold and the plants died, for Aphrodite had brought about the first winter with her gift of the cooling mint.
Her next obstacle was a great gate made of red stone, guarded by an Amazon clad in red, holding a sword. The air was cold, and even Aphrodite shivered, her heart going out to the woman whose uncovered legs and mostly bare arms looked raw and chilled. 'What gate is this?' she asked, never having seen the strange, horse shoe shaped edifice before. 'The red gate.' the Amazon replied uncooperatively. 'Why have you come here?' she challenged.
'I have come to win back the life of my lover, who was killed unjustly before the right time. Each gate I have been stopped at before, I have been called upon to give a token. What am I required to give here?'
'Nothing.' the Amazon replied. 'No one needs to give a token to pass the red gate.' So Aphrodite stepped forward, but as she was about to pass through the gate she hesitated. The Amazon still looked cold and uncomfortable, and while the Goddess watched she hopped up and down and ran on the spot, trying to break the cold's grip on her limbs. Aphrodite plucked at her red robe. Cold had no effect on her. Mind made up, she removed her robe, and after putting on her sword again, presented it to the Amazon, who gratefully wrapped it about her shoulders.
Aphrodite's journey took her through miles of caves in long, lazy circles that led deeper inward, naked and barefoot but for her crown and her sword. Her progress was again halted, this time by a man weeping in an alcove. 'Why do you weep, young man?' Aphrodite asked him kindly.
'There are terrible things further on... I am supposed to go forward, but I fear to.'
The Goddess crept forward, and discovered that there were indeed terrible things ahead. Savage animals of all descriptions bared their teeth, spread their wings, or raised their fur at the sight of her. 'These cannot simply be walked through.' she reflected. Returning to the young man she said, 'There is a way to escape this. Have you carried anything here with you?' The young man sighed.
'My lyre, but the strings are gone.'
'That is no obstacle at all.' replied Aphrodite, and with that she sheared off her golden locks with her sword, and expertly wove it into seven strings for the lyre. Seeing that the young man was still terribly afraid, she smiled gently and suggested, 'I can play for the first while, if your hands are a bit shaky yet.'
The Goddess was soon walking boldly up to the menagerie ahead of her, the young man walking just behind her rather unhappily. The animals of all descriptions bared their teeth, spread their wings, or raised their fur at the sight of them, but this time Aphrodite was ready. She began to play, a sad, determined melody that enchanted the animals, who seemed to become tame. Finally she strode through them, and they fawned on her ankles and gamboled around her until she left them behind, the astonished young man barely able to believe his eyes.
Giving the young man the lyre, she watched him go his way. Continuing on hers, it seemed like she had only enough time to put the strange menagerie out of earshot before she found herself standing in a clean, quiet room with a smooth stone floor. The Goddess Tyche sat on a plain brass tripod, patiently balancing every mortal action with its consequences. Unlike any other deity in that part of the world, Tyche had four arms. She held an apple bough, a chalice, and a silver wheel, but her fourth hand was empty.
'I know why you have come.' declared Tyche.
'Then you know I must pass.' Aphrodite said sturdily.
'And you know that you must leave a token.'
'What do you want?' asked Aphrodite, waxing impatient.
'What will you give? What use is what you carry with you here?'
Aphrodite looked at Tyche in some confusion. 'A new thing it must be,' she thought, 'For one Fate Goddess to confuse another.' She lifted her eyes again and declared, 'I carry the sword for the same reason you would, to cut the thread of life.'
'What use is it here, where life is already ended, or the time for endings is not yet?' Understanding now what Tyche wanted, Aphrodite frowned unhappily.
'And what will I fight with if I encounter enemies further on, if I give my sword to you?'
'Either you will fight with your wits, or you will not.' Tyche replied indifferently. There was no other way to go on, so Aphrodite gave up her sword, and walked on, passing through halls with ceilings so high there seemed to be none.
At last she came to the end of the hall, and found herself face to face with Persephone the Destroyer, seated in a throne of obsidian, the room decorated with bones and tapestries of black and red. 'Aphrodite,' she boomed in a terrible voice. 'Why have you forced your way into my domain?'
'I have come for the soul of my lover, whose life was ended before its allotted time.' Aphrodite boomed back, feeling no fear of the terrible Crone. 'You cannot have it.' snapped Persephone. 'You are daring indeed to come here, crowned as the Queen of Heaven and Ruler of the Earth.'
'I will not leave without it.'
'Then you must do whatever I tell you to earn it.' Persephone was at once beautiful and hideous, terrifying and irresistible.
Aphrodite stood tall, as majestic shorn and naked as she had been before she entered the underworld. 'What? Do you think anything could stop me now?'
'Very well.' And with that, Persephone took the star crown from Aphrodite's head and continued, 'I will keep this, and you... you will share your lover's mortality for three days and three nights, and die.' The thing was begun before the sentence was finished, and the Goddess of Love collapsed into the dust. For three days and nights she lay, ignored by Persephone and her servants. On the Earth there was neither love nor desire. The Morning Star never shone, morning or evening, and none but Hera wore the firmament for a robe.
On the morning of the fourth day, the waters of Lake Acheron stirred and bubbled. And then before the astonished eyes of three fishers and seven women doing laundry on the beach, two doves burst from the water and flew away, to Aphrodite's Kyprian palace. It was in this way that the dove became Aphrodite's chosen soul carrier for her worshippers about to be reborn, and people shear their hair and put aside the symbols of their rank in mourning. From this too comes the three day and night vigil over the dead.