Gods of the Ancient Greeks
The ancient Greeks honored a wide variety of gods, and many are still worshiped today by Hellenic Pagans. For the Greeks, much like many other ancient cultures, the deities were a part of daily life, not merely something to be chatted with in times of need. Here are some of the best-known gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon.
•Aphrodite, Goddess of Love
Aphrodite was a goddess of love and romance. She was honored by the ancient Greeks, and is still celebrated by many modern Pagans. According to legend, she was born fully formed from the white sea form that arose when the god Uranus was castrated. She came ashore on the island of Cyprus, and later was married off by Zeus to Hephaistos, the deformed craftsman of Olympus. A festival was held regularly to honor Aphrodite, appropriately called the Aphrodisiac. At her temple in Corinth, revelers often paid tribute to Aphrodite by having rambunctious sex with her priestesses.
•Ares, God of War
Ares was a Greek god of war, and son of Zeus by his wife Hera. He was known not only for his own exploits in battle, but also for getting involved in disputes between others. Furthermore, he often served as an agent of justice.
•Artemis, the Huntress
Artemis was a Greek goddess of the hunt, and like her twin brother Apollo possessed a wide variety of attributes. Some Pagans still honor her today because of her connection to times of female transition. Artemis was the Greek goddess of both hunting and childbirth. She protected women in labor, but also brought them death and sickness. Numerous cults dedicated to Artemis sprouted up around the Greek world, most of which were connected to women’s mysteries, such as childbirth, puberty, and motherhood.
•Athena, the Warrior Goddess
As a goddess of war, Athena often shows up in Greek legend to assist various heroes — Heracles, Odysseus and Jason all got a helping hand from Athena. In classical myth, Athena never took any lovers, and was often revered as Athena the Virgin, or Athena Parthenos. Although technically, Athena is a warrior goddess, she is not the same sort of war god that Ares is. While Ares goes to war with frenzy and chaos, Athena is the goddess who helps warriors make wise choices that will eventually lead to victory.
•Demeter, Dark Mother of the Harvest
Perhaps the best known of all the harvest mythologies is the story of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter was a goddess of grain and of the harvest in ancient Greece. Her daughter, Persephone, caught the eye of Hades, god of the underworld.By the time she finally recovered her daughter, Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds, and so was doomed to spend six months of the year in the underworld.
•Eros, God of Passion and Lust
Ever wonder where the word “erotic” comes from? Well, it has a lot to do with Eros, the Greek god of and lust. Often described as a son of Aphrodite by her lover Ares, the god of war, Eros was a Greek god of lust and primal sexual desire. In fact, the word erotic comes from his name. He is personified in all kinds of love and lust — heterosexual and homosexual — and was worshipped at the center of a fertility cult that honored both Eros and Aphrodite together.
•Gaia, the Earth Mother
Gaia was known as the life force from which all other beings sprang, including the earth, the sea and the mountains. A prominent figure in Greek mythology, Gaia is also honored by many Wiccans and Pagans today. Gaia herself caused life to spring forth from the earth, and is also the name given to the magical energy that makes certain locations sacred.
•Hades, Ruler of the Underworld
Hades was the Greek god of the underworld. Because he’s unable to get out much, and doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with those who are still living, Hades focuses on increasing the underworld’s population levels whenever he can. Let’s look at some of his legends and mythology, and see why this ancient god is still important today.
•Hecate, Goddess of Magic and Sorcery
Hecate has a long history as a goddess, from her days in pre-Olympian times to the present. As a goddess of childbirth, she was often invoked for rites of puberty, and in some cases watched over maidens who were beginning to menstruate. Eventually, Hecate evolved to become a goddess of magic and sorcery. She was venerated as a mother goddess, and during the Ptolemaic period in Alexandria was elevated to her position as goddess of ghosts and the spirit world.
•Hera, Goddess of Marriage
Hera is known as the first of Greek goddesses. As wife of Zeus, she’s the leading lady of all the Olympians. Despite her husband’s philandering ways — or perhaps because of them — she is the guardian of marriage and the sanctity of the home. She was known to fly into jealous tirades, and wasn’t above using her husband’s illegitimate offspring as weapons against their own mothers. Hera also played a crucial role in the story of the Trojan War.
•Hestia, Guardian of Hearth and Home
Many cultures have a goddess of hearth and domesticity, and the Greeks were no exception. Hestia was the deity who watched over the home fires, and offered sanctuary and protection to strangers. She was honored with the first offering at any sacrifice made in the home. On a public level, Hestia’s flame was never allowed to burn out. The local town hall served as a shrine for her — and any time a new settlement was formed, settlers would take a flame from their old village to the new one.
•Nemesis, Goddess of Retribution
•Pan, the Goat-Legged Fertility God
In Greek legend and mythology, Pan is known as a rustic and wild god of the forest. He is associated with the animals that live in the woods, as well as with the sheep and goats in the fields.
•Priapus, God of Lust and Fertility
Priapus is best known for his huge and constantly erect phallus, but he was also considered a god of protection. According to legend, before his birth, Hera cursed Priapus with impotence as payback for Aphrodite’s involvement in the whole Helen of Troy fiasco. Doomed to spend his life ugly and unloved, Priapus was tossed down to earth when the other gods refused to let him live on Mount Olympus. He was seen as a protector deity in rural areas. In fact, statues of Priapus were often adorned with warnings, threatening trespassers, male and female alike, with acts of sexual violence as punishment.
•Zeus, Ruler of Olympus
Zeus is the ruler of all the gods in the Greek pantheon, as well as the distributor of justice and law. He was honored every four years with a great celebration at Mt. Olympus. Although he is married to Here, Zeus is well known for his philandering ways. Today, many Hellenic Pagans still honor him as ruler of Olympus.