The Muses sing, and a man is well counselled to listen. But how can he hear when the song of the Muses seems so distant? Never have the holy fields and mountains of Hyperborea seemed so far away, never have the Gods felt so distant. I feel as if we have come to this, forced to live in Cimmeria, land of shadow. One asks the questions, and is left to his own devices. Though it makes him strong of mind, of resolve and wit, it leaves a gnawing in his soul – the god-shaped hole we never fill. It seems a cruel fate, that not even Fortuna of Roman fame with her wheel of fickle intent would contrive. Yet here we are today, a Godless lot, motley and rootless. Pushed into the annals of cosmopolitan debauchery as if by default by the Moirai who long appear to have fallen asleep at the wheel. Now what of the Gods? Could they stop it? Could they come back? We shall see. One is wise to suspend their disbelief, withhold judgement and keep their own counsel. I continue my exhortations and listen for the distant song of the Muses as they echo like Celtic hillsong and Nordic kullning in the wind.
It seems only fair to ask; if the Gods are the Immortals, if they are the shining and deathless ones, how is it they were born? Was it that they were conceived before the monstrosity of Order and Kosmos was fully realised, existing much as we know some did, as impersonal forces before taking on flesh? It is hard to say. The myths themselves are drearily silent, and one asks themselves what greater meaning there was when the Muses whispered sweet nothings into the late Philosophers ears who uplifted and then downgraded the myths that taught them to speak and ask and learn. What wit and wisdom, possessed these men, when they asked the questions that drenched the fires of the soul? Let us look at what we know of some of the Gods, for there are too many for modern man to recall, much less appreciate fully. And of them, we shall see what threads the Moirai have woven through for us to find.
We know how Zeus came about. In fear and loathing he was conceived and brought about. He was spared the ravages of savage Kronos when he was hidden away on the island. We know he discovered Nectar there, we know he would distil this later and feed it to the Goddesses and the Gods after they seized for their glory the mountain of Olympus. Its container, we know, would be the Cornucopia. We know Zeus had leave over the Aegis, a cowl which heralded the wearer by darkening the skies with coming storms. We know Zeus, being heaven’s God, orchestrated the events of the skies; he could summon or calm cosmic storms; the rain, sleet, hail, thunder and lightning. We know Zeus cared deeply for mortals and their souls, so to the point he would interfere in their lives. At times, he mourned their passing – but not even he could overturn the Laws of Nature, laws that were written before the Birth of Gods. He took great interest in ensuring the quality of his mortal subjects, and so took on the disguises of mortals to check their hospitality. We know that long after the Greeklings had abandoned the All Father, Zeus, God of the Universe, that the Romans took his standard. Here Zeus was Jove, King of the Gods, giver of victory whose Eagle came to symbolise the might of Rome, whose wayshrines were the thunderstruck oak. Just as in the most ancient of days, the living oak was Zeus’ shrine. We know that Jove’s title was Jupiter, which was shortened from Dios Pater, Father of the Gods. We know that Jove intervened in the lives of mortals and set affairs in motion that propelled Rome to greatness. Such was Jupiter’s greatness that his name was lent to a planet long believed and later confirmed to be the largest and greatest in our solar system. Such is Jove. But what of his siblings?
In the belly of Kronos, trapped in the clutches of the Father of Time they were lost to the ages. But still they grew in his artificial womb, waiting to be born again. There was Hera, the future wife and sister of Zeus – she would someday become Queen of Heaven as Zeus was to be King. There was Poseidon, the Lord of the Seas by whose might storms were risen and calmed. There would be Demeter, too, the Lady of the Earth whose hand caused the grain to grow. There would be Hestia, the Goddess of the Hearthfire. And then there would be Hades, King of the Underworld.
These were the Gods who would slay Kronos and subdue the Titans, they would banish monsters and tame Cyclopses. For this, they would be afforded the greatest powers. They are great Gods, and their teaching shapes our world even to this day, though we shameful mortals are quick to forget the debts we owe. We forget how the Occident was shaped through the wit and wisdom of the Greeklings, but even so much more so by the Romans who carried torches left cold by those they conquered. The Romans found in Greece an image of Gods they already possessed, in the forms of shadows compared to those left under the Mediterranean sun. So born was Interpretatio Romana, wherein wise Romans realised that their Greek , and later Celtic and Germanic neighbours worshipped their own Gods by different names, and possessed at times more knowledge of them than practical Romans whose relationship with deity had been ever less personal and ever more practical.
Hera was among the first to be pulled from Kronos’ swarthy gullet. It has been often suggested that glorious Hera was not, in fact, Zeus’ first wife. We know from ancient times that Zeus begat the Muses with another, at the beginning of time. And that shortly after their marriage, the Goddess Athena was born from his head. Perhaps this then, is why Hera seems so bitter and callous, unbecoming of the wife of the heavenly king, herself imbedded with glory. It had been said her marriage with Zeus was unbecoming, and it has been suggested that this is why she pursued his children with such vehemence. Nevertheless, her name likely meant Ruler, and her name was invoked at marriages, and a month was dedicated to her. She would support the Greeks during the Trojan war. Perhaps her unpopularity was due to the fact that she enforced chastity and discouraged excess sensuality, a thing the Greeklings struggled with. However, in Rome she was called Juno. Juno was a kind and matronly thing, much dissimilar to the Goddess of the Greeklings. In Rome, it is said she birthed Ares through an immaculate conception.
Poseidon went on to receive the Trident, which gave him the control over the seas. He brewed storms and winds, and calmed them. The bull became his symbol, and it was said his horses would travel the waves. Poseidon tamed Oceanus, who had received the body of Gaia so long ago. He was seen to be a fairly benevolent God, but one who became increasingly distant as the younger Gods like Athena and Ares gained prevalence. Poseidon was looked to for his boon in ordering the tradewinds, and he was very important to the early Greek islands and colonies who relied on the seas to conduct their business. In Rome, he would be called Neptune, where he would associated with the planet bearing his name.
Demeter was the Goddess of Grain. Renowned for her beauty. Her joyous smile caused the spring to erupt from the clutches of winter, and it was she who opened seeds and caused their roots to burrow deep into the Earth where only Hades could see. She spent much of her time with her daughter, Persephone, and the two worked to ensure the flow of seasons, blending the years therefore into decades and epochs. Sadly, this ancient harvest Goddess is little understood beyond the tale of Persephone. We know that this tale influenced the Eleusian mysteries, for after the arrangement of Persephone dividing her time between Hades and Gaia, Demeter ordered Eleusis to distil her secrets in the form of agriculture and teach them to mortal man. In Rome she was called Ceres.
Hades was the only one of Zeus’ siblings to make it to Olympus. He became the God of the Underworld, which would bear his name. As Zeus and Hera were the Lord and Lady of the Air, as Poseidon was Lord of the Sea, and Demeter the Lady of the Earth, with Hestia becoming the Lady of the Flame, so was Hades Lord of the Inner Earth. In later days, when death became an object of fear, Hades who ruled over Thanatos, was afforded fear and not respect. He became viewed as a robber and a thief of life, even growing so bold as to steal Demeter’s bright armed daughter, sealing the death of eternal summer. His realm, however, was dreary. Souls became bloodless shades, colourless, and without emotion – made husks. To reach Hades, you were led by Hermes Psychopompous to his gate, then you would be ferried by Charon the boatman, and be judged by three judges. However, this assumed you had a coin for the ferryman. The custom of laying coins over the dead man’s eyes is his tribute. Should you die without tribute, you become a ghost and are doomed to wander the earth forever, never achieving any spiritual solace. After being judged, the unworthy and mediocre souls would drink from the fountain of Lethe and enter a state of fugue where their humanity was erased and they became spectres. There must have been some thought in Hades, for the gate back to Gaia was guarded by the dreaded hound, Cerberus. There was no escape. Such was the strength of his conviction that when the Christians came, Hades was not forgotten, but the name of his realm became the Christian realm of torment. Tartarus, the real Hell of sinners, was forgotten, and the final insult against Hades was complete. In truth, the monsters and rebellious Titans were given to Tartarus. Very few mortals saw this dreadful realm. In contrast, Hades could direct the especially virtuous to the Elysian Fields. Greeks would not often speak the name of Hades aloud, whose meaning is ‘the invisible one.’ Hades was given a helm of invisibility by the Cyclopes. Instead, he was called Pluto, whose name means the ‘rich one.’ For he received the most everlasting tribute of all; the dead and their wealth. Pluto gave his name to the planet furthest from the Sun, where it was once believed the souls of the cold dead were banished to, a land without light and warmth where the ghostly shades haunted dire landscapes that were husks of the reality Gaia imposed. In Rome, Hades Plutonious was called Dis. Curiously, Dis-Pater, rival to Dio-Pater whose name is Jupiter, was not regarded as evil. He was sometimes referred to as the ‘good counsellor,’ or the ‘hospitable one.’ After all, there is no one that fails to visit Dis in his hall, and he receives all visitors without discrimination. The Romans tell us that the Gauls believed Dis Pater was their ancestor God, similar perhaps to the later Tuatha de Danaan who would become the underground Sidhe after the coming of the Christ folk. Sometimes Dis was called Orcus by the Romans, and he in this form could be terrible, exacting everlasting pain on the damned.
Hestia was the oldest of the Olympians, yet she would be the last to be rescued by Zeus’ cunning. Thus Hestia was afforded a curious honour, she was first and last among Goddess, oldest and youngest. She was charged with keeping a sacred flame. Later it would be discovered how vital the flame would be, when Prometheus stole the flame Zeus would be furious beyond respite. Hestia would go on to become the Goddess of the Hearth, whose job it was to ensure the future of Greeklings by having them keep her flame in temples and in homes. They would be relit every year in solemn procession. When the Greeks colonised new lands, it was law that an ember from her honour be brought and added to the new hearthfire. In Rome she would become Vesta and receive even greater honour than she had in Greece. Here she would be called Vesta. Here her flame was eternal, for the Romans knew that so long as the Hearthfires remained lit, and Vesta’s fire kindled, Pax Romana should continue. Here she was attended by Vestal Virgins who kept her flame under penalty of death. Death by fire, their souls would help kindle the flame anew. Indeed, it would only be when the Hearthfire went cold that Western Rome fell, but in the East, Byzantium, the Eternal Flame was kept under a new and Christian name. And it remains that for while Rome has changed hands, good Catholics keep fires lit in their homes, votive candles in Lararia by another name. And these same Catholics venerate one Mary, who was once called Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea. Perhaps a subconscious nod to the Goddess who came from Greece on the tradewinds, followed by constellations. After all, it is no secret that the Nuns are Vestal Virgins in service of the Mother of God, their habit resembles the Vestal and their roles as keepers of her temples echoes that deep pagan past. Vesta was and is the Goddess of homestead and culture. She was, and therefore is, very important to anyone who pursues the Oikos, Odal, Ethel or the dream of a State, Demos or Tribe. Women, you must understand, were the guardians of culture, they bounced the boys on their knee and taught the girls to weave – they told the stories and sang the songs. Hestia, Vesta was their guide and their light.
There would come other Gods, so many they are without end. In Greece, and later in Rome. Gods who were born, and there were Gods whose births none could remember. Some Gods came with tradewinds, other Gods always were, still other Gods never should have been. One forgets so easily that the Olympians were not the first, though it may be said they were the greatest. The Titans themselves were called elder Gods, and others still were conceived in such a way that they were neither Titan nor Olympian.
Aphrodite was such a one. In the early days when time was shaky and Ouranous lay bleeding out, drenching Gaia with his blood and sperm, a curious thing happened. There gathered on the beaches a foam, the last of Heaven’s seed. This foam congealed, and from it, Aphrodite was conceived. Some say she was born from a seashell, which had protected her from the harsh blows of Oceanus. She herself, of course, was as a pearl. Noted for her beautiful white skin, shining like ivory, and her golden hair which hung like sheaf. One might also remember that the sway of her plump hips were very well remembered, for they had enchanted God and man alike. Aphrodite was the Goddess of beauty, and she knew many Gods, but when the Olympians brought her home to Olympus it was the God Ares after whom she pined. What a fiery pair they would have made, but it was not meant to be. To temper her passions she was given to the lame God Hephaestus in marriage. Her hips continued to drip with lust across land and sea, for in Rome she was called Venus, and she is with us to this day. As with many, Venus was considered more noble by the Romans than by Greeklings. Indeed, to this day, diseases of a venereal nature are named in her honour for it was once believed that they were the curses of Venus upon the loins of they who sinned. So also was our sister planet named, and was believed, being so red and violent, to be itself governed by tempestuous forces. In her condemnation of vice and protection against it, Venus was called Verticordia. But Venus was not solely meant for passion and lust. In the time of Julius Caesar she was named Venus Genetrix. She was, after all, a mothering Goddess. As Venus Genetrix she birthed Aeneas. She was called Herentina by the Etruscans.
Now before the younger Gods were a glimmer in the Olympians eyes, Zeus was at work and at play. There was a maiden, you understand, by the name of Mnemosyne. She was a fine lass, and it’s no wonder she captured Zeus’ high wandering eye. Her name means memory, you see, and Zeus could never forget her. When the universe was young, so young few can say what else was happening at that time, Zeus took her gently and laid her down. For nine nights the two lay, eyes heavy with pillow talk. And then, then Mnemosyne was pregnant. SO she stayed for the whole of a year, her belly grown heavy, massive with great burden. In quick succession she gave birth to nine daughters. Though there were nine, they were of one mind. The Muses had names; there was Cleio and Euterpe, there was Thaleia, there was Melpomene, there was Terpischore, Erato and Polyhymnia, and sure there was Urania and Calliope whom was reckoned as greatest of these. Each of their names gives us a hint as to what they did, how they whispered in men’s ears and what they drove him to do. These Muses sang songs from the start, they put their hips and thighs to good use and learned sweet dances. They lent their names to music, and through their music inspiration comes. It comes to men, and though their song has no words we may know, their inspiration has driven men to greatness, and to ruin – but never mediocrity. The Muses ensured that the deeds of Zeus would never be forgotten, and their song was begun even as Zeus was reshaping the universe. They are timeless, and their song echoes into eternity. They are also without care. They are free, free from sorrow and despair, and they live on snow-capped mountains close to where the Gods descend, far from the loathing of mortals, distance from our concerns and wishes. Closest to them are the Hyperboreans, that snow-clad race of forgotten heroes.
Hecate is such a one whose name was never forgotten. Now she is seen as a queen of witches, associated with darkness and secret things. She is one whom rebellious women call upon. But is this fair? In a word, “no.” But the association is not without pity. For indeed Hecate was called upon to ensure the sanctity of ritual, custom and tradition. Decidedly unrebellious, in fact. This for she was appointed by holy Zeus himself and afforded great honour. Hecate was known by the Olympians to be the gentlest of souls. She wore a dark gown, true, and worked rituals. But she was also famed by horsemen, and it is known that she interfered in the course of battle. It was said that Hecate refused no rich sacrifice nor heartfelt prayer, and as such stood as an intermediary between Gods and men. She was said to be able to work with Poseidon to increase a pious fisherman’s yield, making many fishes from a mere few. For her service Zeus granted her a boon, she would bestow upon the very young the light of the dawn, which their eyes had never seen. So ever would it be that mothers would pray to Hecate to guard their infants. However, at some point something happened. The Goddess came to be seen with three faces, inspiring the future Goddess of Wiccan folk as maiden, mother and crone. She became patroness of the witch Medea, and this forever sealed her fate. She was called Trivia by the Romans, for her image was placed at forks in the road and she gazed in all three directions one could travel.
Athena was born from the head of Zeus. Everyone knows this. But not everyone knows how she was born, and reborn. Now, Zeus at last took a wife. Her name was Metis. It means thought, so we are told. She was his first wife, you might like to know. Now when Zeus took his bride he was warned by heaven and earth, by Gaia and Ouranous, that his offspring would be so great as to overpower him, as he had overthrown Ouranous. Some say for this, that Zeus devoured Ouranous whole. Still,the prophecy remained. Metis would give him a child that might be greater than he. Moreover, she herself would spawn many great children, the likes of which might yet seize Olympus for her glory and not that which Zeus had and would continue to fight so hard for. So Zeus did to her what was meant for him. Zeus swallowed her as she came from the womb, though in these days the Goddess to be had a different name. She was called Tritogeneia, for there on the banks of the river Trito was Athena born. Zeus was content to think the ordeal was over with. He would be incorrect. As time unravelled, Zeus set eyes upon the bright eyed Themis. With her he got the Horae, who are called the hours. There was Eunomia, whose name means Order, there was Dikë whose name is Justice, and the blossoming Eirene whose name is Peace. These hours take watch of the works of men and award them accordingly. Next came the Moerae, whose names mean Fate. Of these there would be three sisters, Clothos, Lechesis and Atropos. These three would measure out the threads of men’s destinies as yarns to be woven, and then cut. Then there were the Charites, whose names mean graces. Of these there were Aglaea, Euphrosyne, and Thaleia who inspire the kind of love in men which numbs limbs and softens the mind. Next he would lie with Demeter, whose famous progeny we know as Persephone. Now he found solace in Leto’s arms, and she would give him Apollo and Artemis, the sacred twins, the archers whose bright faces were adored above all in Heaven. After all this great work was done, Zeus settled down and married Hera. She would give him several children, but the most famous of these was Ares. Now Ares, you know, was the God of War, and even this was a battle – for Athena too was destined to be the Goddess of War. It was then that Zeus felt a sharp pain, and from his skull erupted the Goddess, who was now called Pallas Athene. She was girt in full armour, bearing spear and shield. Furious, Hera would go on to conceive from no union with Zeus a son of her own. And who should that have been but Hephaestus? Though some say Hephaestus had helped excise young Athena from her father’s head. Nevertheless, the deed was done. Athena was born again, and from her time hidden within the innermost parts of Zeus she gained the greatest gifts wherewith she would be famous by. For while she was a Goddess that would judge harshly, bearing at times even Zeus’ aegis, she would also go on to become a Goddess of wisdom and logic, as well as a Goddess of craftwork and mercy. She would be nearly as famous for her spinning and weaving as for her support of the Greeks in war. Always she was accompanied by a great owl, and to this day, in her honour, the owl is seen as a totem of the wise. She would become one of Greece’s greatest Goddesses, and in Rome, she would be called Minerva. Here she was patroness of crafts, but also trade and strategy. She was perhaps not as warlike as Athena. But still, she was what she was. As Athena is to Ares, so Minerva is to Mars: A more beneficial and domesticated and therefore feminine application of the reality of war. Rome was a warlike state, however for Rome, war would come to be as an instrument of peace. And so in time, when Rome recognised in Herself the Goddess Roma, Her image was that of Minerva.
Speaking of the Moirai, these divine ladies, these instruments of fate lived in Rome, as they did in the Nordic lands, as with maybe even the Celtic lands, and they were called upon in the native tongue as they were in each culture. In Rome they were named after an old Goddess, Parca, who initiated and presided over childbirth. Later the Parcae who come to have a spokeswoman, Fata, who embodied fatum, which becomes fate in Romano-English. Eventually Fata herself was deified as Fata Scribunda, she who writes down in the book of fate your goods and ills at birth. The term fata was often attributed to pleasant spirits. Contrast this to the Roman Goddess Fortuna, who with her wheel blindly decreed good and ill and was capricious and vainglorious. Consider listening to Carl Orff’s masterpiece ‘O Fortuna.’ Go on, pause this, do that, and come back. Be a good soldier. Incidentally, returning to Fata, it has been conjectured that the term fairy is inspired by fata, and that faerie in turn is culled from the Celtic ‘fae.’ The Fatae, (Fates) or Moirai, were in Greece by contrast viewed far less amicably than in Rome. The Greeks were mortified. The Greeks attempted to suspend natural law in a way Rome never did with their transcendental philosophy, and the thought of inexorable fate haunted the Greek mind. The Moirai were deaf to all prayers, and could not be negotiated with. Though there was speculation as to whether Zeus controlled them, it was clear that nobody else could. The Word of the Moirai was LAW. Further, the idea of the Morai being Zeus’ daughters is a late addition to Greek thought. It is probable that early Greeks viewed Moirai much as Romans and Norse did, as animistic spirits having neither beginning nor end, much less an interest in being heckled by mortals, which, compared to their eternal law, even Gods were mortal – being born of their own mother goddesses. So has the battle ever raged, between fate and notions of freedom, with opinions of compromise raging always in the twain like messages in bottles cast to the endless sea.
Ares was the brother of Athena, and like his sister, he is a God of War. Fickle and vain, haughty and feckless, Ares was the embodiment of savagery and bloodlust, whereas Athena, always his rival, symbolised organised warfare. In times Ares was often the butt of divine jokes. Ares was the shield-bearer, and was accompanied by his sons, Fear and Panic. These he sent into battle to demoralise the enemy and prepare them for the slaughter. It was said he contested with Athena. And no wonder. Athena whose patronage was Athens, frequently contested with Sparta who considered Ares in high honour, and these two estates would ever represent the divide. Athens – passionate and insightful, but cunning and imperial, Sparta – ruthless and brooding, xenophobic and militaristic. In Rome Ares was called Mars, and as with all Gods, cast a prouder image. So let us speak of the noble Roman God. Here Mars was noble and intentioned, watching Rome as Her patron. In the early days it was conjectured that Mars was a fertility God, who watched cattle. One extends the imagination scarce widely to imagine why such a God would appeal to Romans, farmers who became soldiers whose pay was to return to their farms. Sacrifices to Mars ensured the eternal march of Rome, and it was Mars who visited a vestal virgin to beget the divine twins Romulus and Remus. Rhea Silvia was her name, but she was sometimes called Ilia. When came Romulus’ time to die, it is said Mars assumed him into Heaven and set his blood to godhood. Mars was not a distant or uncaring God. He used war as an instrument of order, to secure peace. And Rome, considering Mars their patron, tried to act as an instrument of his peace, through war. In the Augustan Age, Mars became Mars Ultor – Mars the Avenger. One might assume the Romans and Spartans had a very similar wargod, as opposed to the Athenians who considered war a necessary evil and not a glory.
Apollo and Artemis, the divine twins, were born of the maiden Leto. Apollo was radiant, so radiant that he became the Sun God. He cast off rays, these could be harsh and unforgiving, or they could be mild and lovely. He would go on to be revered as a God of healing and medicine. Such was his radiance that Zeus allowed the Nine Muses to attend to him, and lend their songs in service of the Sun – as such, the Sun inspires men to greatness even when the God that shines through her is forgotten. In addition to this, Apollo is received in gloomy caves by Oracles, women who undergo strange trances and are granted prophetic visions. Of course, the wisdom of a God is great, and when he spoke through the Priestess she was forced to communicate through riddles his oracles. Perhaps his cryptic wisdom is what led the Greeks to juxtapose him with Dionysus, the God of the Earth, so much closer and orgiastic than contemplative and erudite Apollo. Though she was important too, Artemis was always outshone by her brother, Apollo, Lord of the Sun. Now Artemis was divine and shimmering, and she was given stewardship of the moon. As Apollo cast arrows from the sun in the form of rays, so did Artemis shoot from the moon her arrows as beams. Artemis was pure and white, like the moon she stewarded. In fact she was so pure that her one wish was to remain a perpetual virgin. This was granted her, and she became an example to women seeking chastity. Artemis took to the wild, where she felt more in kinship with the savage beasts. She became a great huntress, without equal. Men and titans pined for her, to their chagrin, none could ever catch her. Her following would ever be hunters, wildmen and those seeking their livelihood from the great woods.
Dionysus was born of a woman by the name of Semele. Zeus took her in human form. She was later persuaded by Hera to ask for to see Zeus as he truly was. Zeus was heartbroken, for he knew that no mortal could behold the true form of a God and live. Yet, he could not refuse her, the mother of his child. Zeus revealed himself, and his light and radiant splendour burned her alive, charring her flesh, reducing her to base atoms. Zeus barely had enough time to save the child in her womb, barely a foetus. Zeus bore a wound in his thigh and sealed the foetus inside. Thus Dionysus grew. Now, Zeus could not return Dionysus to Olympus. He was raised by nymphs in the woods and fostered by Silenus, a drunkard possessing unearthly wisdom. Dionysus therefore became a God of mysteries and initiations, orgiastic and unearthly ceremony. His followers were the Maenads. These were wild women, savage and raving, sexually craven things with insatiable appetites. Such was their carnal appetite, not only for sexual pleasure, but all sensuous delights, that they were known to eat living flesh. Dionysus himself excited passions and destroyed inhibitions. With intoxication as his medium, he was regarded with a blend of suspicion and reverence, his domain being a litmus test for humanity. His cult was said to have taken root in Phrygia, but arrive in Greece long after Demeter had become known as Goddess of agriculture. Dionysus inspired emotionality, his festivals produced great tragedies and comedies, his influence inspired the arts. He would always represent the polar opposite of Apollo. And like Apollo, he was to have a following in Delphi, where oracular inspiration surrounded his name. In time there would be an interplay which would inspire the later ideals of the Summer and Winter Kings. Apollo ruled summer, but left to dwell with a mysterious Northern Tribe for winter. The Hyperboreans, perhaps? Dionysus ruled the winter, when revelry and taletelling were most needed, not solemnity and dignity beneath the sun. Bacchus was his name in Rome. He was attended by Bacchanantes, and his festival was the Bacchanalia, in which everything was turned inside out for a day – masters and slaves traded places, and there was a time of unprecedented generosity.
Eros has the appearance of another God born twice. Eros, as a force, helped the universe come to be. For it was Eros which first ushered in the light during the birth of the Kosmos, as you’ll recall. However, what was a force became a being. Eros would be born into flesh as the son of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love. Love would be born, literally, from the womb of Aphrodite, whose name gives us aphrodisiac – the means by which the Goddess is honoured, through ‘making love,’ if you will, inevitably producing children. Cupid was what he was called by the Romans. It was he who inspired the Christian cherubim. Cupid was Son of Venus, whose arrows pierced hearts and instilled love. Cupid often did the bidding of his mother Venus. In this way, Amore Omnia Vinces. On one such occasion, Cupid struck the heart of Aeneas with his arrow as he gazed upon the barbarian queen, Dido. So Cupid paved the way for prophecy to ensure Rome’s creation, but also to seal the future doom of the Semitic capital of Carthage. For in this instance Cupid created a temporal love that was not fated to last, in the tragic wake thereof a new love was born: duty, statehood and empire. Vivat Pax Romana!
Hephaestus was the son of Hera. It was said that in a fit of rage Zeus threw him out of heaven and crippled him. Despite this he went on to make his forge in the heart of a mountain, and was tended to by Cyclopes who would help him at his smithy. His skill was indispensible, and in their own way, the Gods honoured him through their patronage. He was given to the Goddess Aphrodite, perhaps to temper her impetuous nature, perhaps to keep her from Ares the Wargod. Nevertheless, he was definitely chosen as a counterbalance. For where Aphrodite was lusty, vibrant and fickle, Hephaestus was solid, steadfast and loyal. Though, his loyalty exacted prices, for he tolerated no infidelity. In Rome he was called Vulcan, and the belief persisted that volcanoes were the result of his forge erupting from beneath the Earth.
Hermes is the messenger of the Gods. Hermes was the God of tricks and thievery. But he was also the messenger of Zeus who was privileged to cross the rainbow with Iris’ blessing and visit mortals. Now the story of Hermes’ birth is very clear. He was born by Maia to Zeus. Maia was a Nymph living in a cave in a secluded island. Hermes was a strange one, from his very birth he could walk and talk. He set to work almost immediately, creating the first lyre by stringing sheep-gut over the hollowed shell of a dead tortoise. This harp-like instrument Hermes invented and used to sing glory to his divine parents. And his song echoed. But not for long. Hermes grew tired of his cave. He wandered about, coming upon a herd of white cows. He drove them to a strange field, and here he sacrifriced two to the Olympians for he had the notion that he would soon need Zeus’ aid. And surely enough, word came to Apollo, the God of Light, what he had done. Hermes martialled his cunning, and he evaded Apollo, sacrificing no evidence for the God to shine his light upon. But Zeus knew better. And for his temerity, Hermes was awarded. Though he was forced to show Apollo where the cows had been hid, which he did – though the trip cost Apollo his cattle and his golden wand. In this way, Hermes earned his attribute – the caduceus. Ho9wever Apollo, Apollo got the lyre. All this before the God had become a toddler! As to the snakes which wrap like Ouroborous around his staff, these he found brawling in a field, and using nothing more than wit and wordcraft, he tamed them. They coiled around his staff and remain there to this day. Today, we might remember, the doctor’s staff, and the barber’s pole, both are his gifts, through Asclepius, who performed Christlike miracles. Zeus knew his cunning would befit the Olympians. From that day forward Zeus would often take Hermes as his travelling companion. On many occasions, Hermes the messenger, would intercede on behalf of mankind before almighty Zeus. He would even be tasked with delivering messages between Olympus and Hades. This he did as Hermes Psychopompous, the deliverer of the dead to the gates of Hades. Like his father, Hermes was a virile God, having many offspring. Most famous of which appears to be the Nature God, Pan. Hermes was often depicted in totems called hermaiherms. These depicted his head and phallus. Mercury is what the Romans called Hermes, however Mercury had the added function of mercantilism and in Rome his attribute had been two purses. When Rome became imperial, the cult of Mercury spread and gained enormous foothold among the Celtic and Germanic peoples. Interpretatio Romano insisted that Mercury and Wodan were the same deity.
Pan is the God of the wild. Born with goat legs and a ghoulish visage bedecked by goats’ horns, Pan was raised by nymphs. One may assume his sexual appetites were learned there. Tales of Pan seem invariably to involve his seduction of nymphs, or at one point, Selene the Moon personified. One devotee of Artemis so highly cherished her virginity that she eluded Pan for many moons. However, the nymphs of the river turned her into reed stems. These Pan plucked to make his famous Pan Pipe. There was another side to the rustic God. Pan invented autistic screeching. It was said that if one caught Pan unaware in the woods he would emit such a shrill sound that it incited *panic*in witnesses. No wonder, then, that Ares named his son Panic, for harnessed, what a terrible thing, excited dread, would be on the battlefield. The Romans at times called Pan Faunus, and at times Silvanus – opinions varied. Now Faunus was said to be grandson of Saturnus, whom the Greeks called Ouranous. Picus was his father. Faunus was a God of cattle, ruling over Latium during the arrival of Aeneas who would grandsire the Romans. It was said that Numa Pompilius, the good king and successor to Romulus, once bribed Faunus and Picus with alcohol to learn the secret of summoning Jupiter.
Persephone was a Goddess of light. She was the light ushered in by Demeter’s spring. It was she who reigned over the crops grown by Demeter. One day, when she was wandering alone, the dark lord, Hades, king of the Inner Earth, decided that she should be his. It was said through trickery that she should be his bride. Heartbroken, Demeter refused to laugh or shine her light. Baubo, the belly goddess of laughter, was dispatched, and she secured a laugh, but further negotiations were needed. Without Persephone, Demeter could not shine. Nothing grew, Sol Invictus, Apollo, could not send down the rays and Gaia shivered in ice. The Gods made arrangements for her release, but Persephone had broken a golden rule, she had eaten the food of the dead. However, the Gods were persuasive, and Hades allowed her to divide her time between the underworld and the overworld. Thus, the seasons change. Thus would there be the four seasons, her release, her reign, her recollection and her resignment. Curiously, Persephone embraced her role whereas Demeter shuddered at it. Persephone would one day act as judge to those who would approach Hades’ throne. Romans knew her as Proserpine.
These were Gods that were born and sometimes twice. But there were other Gods, some that had no birth, some that have no beginning we can tell. Many such Gods live in Rome, a testament to a forgotten truth: Rome always stood on her own feet. There was a time where the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans were all quite similar, before time and trial drove them apart only to constantly reunite. Such is history! In this foggy prehistory, before cities and empires, Rome was once a tribal diaspora like the rest of Europe. Long before Aeneas came and laid down the seed that would lead to Romulus, Rome worshipped spirits. Before the domination of Jupiter, other Gods, perhaps greater spirits, ruled the land. These were once called Aesai, in those early halcyon days when the Roman was not so distinct from the Etruscan, and he from the Greek. These are so numerous that one would be hard pressed to remember them all, and the picture they paint in part is lost to time. We shall discuss those that help us paint ours.
Janus was such a one as these. Janus was a God to the people who would become Roman. Some conjecture he was the highest of early Roman Gods, a supreme father. We don’t know how he came to be. What we know is that Janus was two-faced, it was said that he guarded every door. He turned his face inside and out, knowing what lay without and what without, what threats might come and what might fester. When Jupiter rose to dominance as the new King of the Gods, Janus was ejected from his loft. Here it was said he was a king of Latium. Janus, it was believed, helped rehabilitate the wandering Saturnus. Now, the Romans had believed Saturnus was a wise and temperate God of their creation, but upon reconciling him with his Greek counterpart Ouranous, the Latins were shocked to learn what he had done. Cannibalism. A grievous sin. This explained why it was that Janus had taken Saturnus in and counselled him. It was said at his encouragement that Saturnus went on to the Capitoline Hill where he found rude natives, these he educated and counselled. As to Janus himself. He was never quite forgotten. In Rome his lot changed. His two faces came to symbolise one’s relationship with their passing lives, one face looked to the past, the other to the future. Janus became a Lord of Beginnings, as such, was said to watch over and guard births and infants. Seeing him as God of passages, he became important to ports and gates. He became so important to them that he was afforded a temple with a gate whose doors were closed in peace, but open in war. January was, and is his month, a fortuitous time for new beginnings. Once regarded as a creator God, he had been married to Venila. With her they got Tibernus, after whom the Tiber was named. He himself, Janus, was sometimes called the Sower, other times, the breaker of day, other times, the beginner of all things.
Cardea was Janus’ wife. Like Janus she was fond of children, and shielded them from harm when young. As the wife of the God, she was the hinge as Janus was the door. Where Janus looked in and out, Cardea held the threshold. It was said that she was gifted a hawthorn branch by her husband, which was consecrated and used to hang over doors by faithful Romans as an invocation for blessing. She may have been called Juturna.
Bona Dea was a Goddess, born as a daughter of Faunus and sometimes called Fauna. She was a Goddess sacred and exclusive to women. Men were discouraged from her worship, and as such, in her temple no men, nor even depictions of men, were sanctioned. At some point she was granted the Cornucopia, symbolising her fertility. She was, after all, regarded by women in their virginal phase, and perhaps moreso when in their fertile cycles of life. Her attribute is the snake, and her temple houses consecrated serpents. It was said that the snakes guarded a supply of healing herbs meant for the Aventine.
Quirinus was a deity of extreme antiquity. He was worshipped by both Romans and Sabines, but was chief in Sabine territory. A township called the Quirinal was named for him. It is said that when Romulus died and was assumed, he became Quirinus, or that perhaps he had been all along. Others insist that Romulus himself was in fact Mars, in disguise, and that by taking on mortal form he went on to become the Sabine Quirinus in a ploy to incite Roman dominance. Nevertheless, Quirinus, like Mars, was once an agricultural God before taking up arms. He was depicted as a bearded man with attire composed of equal parts military and religious. His wife is Hora, and he was once a part of a trinity of State Gods with Mars and Jupiter.