Graeco-Roman Goddesses

Bellona, Lady of War  Cardea, Lady Protectress  Carmentis, Mistress of Prophecy 
Ceres, Lady of Grain  Diana, Lady of Wild Things  Erinyes, Vengeful Ones 
Flora, Lady of Flowers  Hekate, Mistress of Magic  Juno, Queen of Heaven 
Kore, Stolen Spring  Minerva, Lady of Handicrafts  Nymphae, Spirits of Nature 
Pomona, Lady Orchard  Venus, Mistress of Pleasure  Vesta, Hearth Fire 

Along with Judeo-Christianity, ancient Greece is considered by many to be the ideological parent of modern Western culture: it was from the Greeks that we inherited logic, reasoning, dialectics, philosophy, and much of mathematics and science. Yet Greece was more than the Golden Age of Pericles, more than the rational, aesthetic Parthenon. Greece was a land of ancient conflicts, tribal prejudices and feuds, masculine might and exploration and war and trade, feminine oppression and domesticity and frenzied spirituality.

Thousands of years before the Age of Pericles, Greece was a land of mother-right. Goddesses and a few Gods were worshipped by an agrarian, sedentary people knowledgeable in smithcraft. The culture seems to have been largely peaceful, matrifocal and perhaps egalitarian. Then, the invasions began. They came in series, one after another, four in all. They began about four thousand years before the common era, with invaders descending from the north; they may have migrated from the Russian Steppes. The first few invasions were incomplete; the conquered peoples absorbed their conquerers and life went on. It was the final invasion, though, in about 1800 BCE, which brought an end to matrifocal Greece. The Dorians were true barbarians, skilled in the advanced use of bronze and chariots, but illiterate and patriarchal; they worshipped sky and war Gods, and may have brought with them an antecedent of Athena. With their conquest, writing was lost. All evidence of the life and ways of this time comes from archaeological excavations and supposition; the Trojan War was fought and the ILIAD and perhaps the ODYSSEY were orally composed during this time. It was hundreds of years before the Greeks clawed their way out of their Dark Ages. Writing was rediscovered; true marine exploration began; trade expanded; colonies were established in Asia Minor, the Italian and Iberian Peninsulas, and northern Africa. By then, the war between the Gods and the Goddesses had waged for centuries, and would go on for centuries more.

The myths tell us of this war: of the first patriarchal invasions, the rapes of native Goddesses by invading Gods; the division of the Goddess from whole Earth Mother into autonomous entities with distinct responsibilities; the ascension of male over female; the loss of women's status; new codes of conduct for women, in which virtuous women support husbands and fathers over mothers and brothers and sisters. The Titans overthrow the Primal Mother and Her Consort, and are in turn overthrown by the Olympians; Zeus rapes Hera and forces Her into marriage; Artemis becomes the chaste Goddess of the Hunt, lossing Her identity as fertile Earth Mother; heroes slay great female monsters, such as Medusa; the women of Athens are forced to give up the vote, their maternal family names, and their children; Antigone is condemned to death for supporting her brother--the man who shared her mother's womb--over her uncle.The conflict is a dynamic, fiery battle which yet goes on.

Psychoanalysts have discovered in all mythologies--but most clearly in the Greek--the archetypes of the human psyche. Archetypes are primal images, recognized by all peoples, which produce universal reactions and carry universal meaning. The recognition and reaction are more often subconscious, though, than conscious. The cup and bowl are symbolic of the womb, belly, fertility, et cetera. The snake which sheds its skin is eternity, immortality, rebirth, sexuality. Demeter is the Mother, nurturance, kindness, security, fertility. Artemis is the Maiden, complete in Herself, autonomous, fierce, determined, courageous. Apollo is Order, logic, light, rationality, suppression of emotion. Dionysus is Disorder, illogic, irrationality, exuberance of emotion.

These Gods and Goddesses developed over centuries as the ways and psyches and tales of the invaders and the invaded fought, merged and compromised. The Greeks considered their Deities to be universal, and so, as trade and conquest and colonization expanded their knowledge of the world, they equated their Deities with those of other peoples. Horus became the Egyptian form of Apollo, Anahita the Persian name for Artemis, Cybele the Anatolian form of Rhea, and so on. The Romans-- conquerors and inheritors of Grecian civilization--continued this trend: native Latin Deities were equated with Grecian Deities of similar attributes; in many cases, though not all, the Grecian form and mythology superceded the Latin, and the native mythology was lost. Not all equations were exact, whoever, and some Deities appear positively schizophrenic. For others, no Greek Deity could be found, and so the native Latin God or Goddess survived: Iuturna, for instance, a native Goddess of Youth and Water. 

Since the Roman names are generally more familiar than the Greek, I have chosen to list the Goddesses in their Latin form. However, Greek names, where possible, are included in the tales.

As usual, any criticism or suggestion is welcome, so please mail me.

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Bellona, Lady of War

Bellona is an ancient, native Roman Goddess often associated with Mars. In later years, She was assimilated to Mah of Asia Minor. Her faith was described as bloody and orgiastic.

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Cardea, Lady Protectress

Though ridiculed as the Goddess of Door Hinges, Cardea was in fact an important Deity of the Roman family. She is often in company with Janus, the two-faced God of Thresholds and Beginnings and Endings.

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Carmentis, Mistress of Prophecy

Though not counted among the traditional Twelve Olympians, Carmentis was an extremely important Roman Goddess. She was also known as Carmenta and Nicostrata. She was often in company with various Goddesses of Birth and Children, and with Apollo.

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Ceres, Lady of Grain

The native Roman Goddess Ceres was assimilated with the Greek Goddess Demeter. The story of Demeter and Persephone is well-known. In Rome, Persephone was known as Proserpina.

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Diana, Lady of Wild Things

Diana, a native Roman Goddess worshipped especially at Lake Nemi, was easily assimilated with the Graeco-Asian Goddess, Artemis. In archetypal psychology, Artemis/Diana has come to represent the multifaceted, contradictory, beautiful, violent aspects of the feminine psyche. Her temple at Ephesus was one of the Wonders of the Ancient World and the site of one of Saint Paul's least-successful missions. The image is an oil painting of THE GODDESS OF THE VALE by Jonathon Earl Bowser.

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Erinyes, Vengeful Ones

Also known as Eumenides, "Beautiful Ones," these Greek Goddesses were adopted by the Romans, who called them Furiae. More ancient then the Olympian pantheon, the triune Erinyes once served the Great Goddess, punishing those who broke Her laws.

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Flora, Lady of Flowers

Though not counted among the Olympian Twelve, Flora was a Goddess much loved by the Roman people. Her festivals were popular occasions. The reason for Her popularity and importance eluded historians and mythologists who failed to recognize the connection between flowers, sex and reproduction.

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Hekate, Mistress of Magic

Hekate is a Goddess much misunderstood--not only by cotemporary historians, but also by classical authorities. Views of Hekate, a native Goddess of Asia Minor adopted by Greeks and Romans, varied from demonic witch to benevolent teacher of the Mysteries. She is a Goddess popular with modern-day Pagans.

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Juno, Queen of Heaven

Though generally equated with the Greek Goddess Hera, Juno was in fact a native Latin Goddess with a mythology of Her own; some has survived. Her disposition was also much different than Hera's, and She was accounted the wisest counselor and beloved wife of Jupiter.

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Kore, Stolen Spring

This Maiden Goddess is one of the protagonists in an ancient seasonal myth; unlike many other such myths, the Deity Who descended to the underworld was not the beloved son/lover, but the beloved daughter/self. See also Ceres and Hekate, profiled above.

PERSEPHONE AND DEMETER from ART AND WORDS ©Kris Waldherr

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Minerva, Lady of Handicrafts

Under Her Greek name of Athena, She was the powerful Matron Goddess of Athens. As Minerva, She was one part of the great Capitoline Triad, the three Great Ones of Rome.

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Nymphae, Spirits of Nature

Many ancient peoples, and even many today, believe every aspect of nature possesses its own spirit. The Greeks and Romans called these spirits Nymphs, and often depicted them in human, female form. Nymphs varied in temperament and importance (to humans); many myths record Their affairs or marriages to Gods and mortals, and their semi-Divine offspring. See Sago Woman (Descent of the Gods chapter), Askefruer (Northern European Goddesses), Yakshi (Hindu Goddesses) and Pomona (below).

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Pomona, Lady Orchard

Though a Goddess important to the Romans, little of Her mythology survived, even into the time of the Empire (first century CE). The one well-known myth is believed by modern historians to have been invented at a late date. Goddesses of fruit trees were common throughout the ancient world, as They still are today. See also Idun (Northern European section), Honored High Mistress (Creation chapter), and Sago Woman (Descent of the Gods chapter).

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Venus, Mistress of Pleasure

Many modern people consider Venus to be nothing more than a Goddess of Sex; in fact, sex was only one of Her many responsibilities. Venus (Greek name, Aphrodite), was concerned with all aspects of Love, Pleasure, Beauty and Procreation. There are a few discrepancies between Her Greek and Roman myths, as related below.

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Vesta, Hearth Fire

Only two myths are known of Vesta, both under Her Greek name of Hestia, and each of these appears to be a recording of the patriarchal invasions. Vesta was an ancient Deity of Hearth and Home. Her sacred fire was the central sacred site of Rome; it was prophesied that when Her fire was extinguished, Rome would fall. It did.

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