There appears in Greek mythology a number of groups made up of deities that share a specific function or activity. This goes beyond classifications such as ‘titan’ or ‘olympian’ or ‘nyphmae’ and represents small (often no more than three) groups of divinities that work together in a single or related task. Often these groups grew from the same stock as the myriad of nameless or barely-formed nymphoi but through cult became more specialized and Pan-Hellenic.
The Moirae are the spinners and weavers of fate and have the power to mold existence; even the gods themselves are subject to their rule. The three hag-like sisters are the daughters of Nyx, the protogenoi of Night. The Moirae are descended from a mythic tradition that seems to appear throughout the descendants of the Indo-Europeans. The Norns of Norse tradition who spin destiny, the Parcae or Fata of the Romans, the Baltic Lamia and her two sisters and even the three fairy god-mother of European fairytale tradition who appear three days after a birth to determine the child’s fate (even as the Moirae are said to do). The sisters lived in heaven, in a cave by a pool of white light which flowed from their caves (moon) and may have been seen in the different phases of the moon.
The Moirae are Klotho, ‘spinner, who used distaff and spindle to create the thread of life for each individual; Lakhesis the ‘allotter’ used a measuring rod to decide the proper length of the thread; and finally, Atropos. Atropos name means ‘unturning or inexorable’ and was the cutter of the individual threads and was who chose the manner of a persons death.
There are some instances of belief in four Moirae (such as at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus), two (of birth and death, worshiped at Delphi) or one (Moira krataia – The strong Moira, spoken of by Homer). Aphrodite is sometimes also refered to as the Eldest Moira)
Known to many as the Furies (their Roman name), the Erinyes are the spirits of primeval justice and retribution. Some myths have them born of the blood of Ouranos’ severed genitals that fell upon Gaia, other accounts say they were born of Nyx. These beings dwell in Tartaros and come to earth to punish the worst mortal offenders those who commit crimes against the natural order such as matricide, perjury and giving offense to the gods. Often called by the euphemism Eumenides (kindly ones), the Erinyes are maiden huntresses, wielding whips and wreathed in serpents with blood dripping from their mouths and eyes and with the wings of bats. They would torment their victims and drive them insane, bring illness and disease, famine, or drought. The Erinyes are Alecto (unceasing), Megaera ("grudging"), and Tisiphone ("avenging murder").
The Horai are a group of maiden goddesses who rule over the proper passage of the year and its seasons. The term ‘hora’ means ‘correct moment’, their individual names and number vary greatly by time and area and there are even several ‘generations’ (generation does not denote that one group is the offspring of another but their age of cult and presence in mythology). The Horai also performed deeds for other deities, they guarded the gates of Olympos and they cared for and fed the horses of Hera. In art they are shown as beautiful young women carrying items (cornucopia, torches, grain, flowers, etc) to distinguish them from each other.
The Elder Horai are the daughters of Zeus and Themis and are usually named Thallo, Auxo and Carpho. Thaollo is the ‘bringer of blossoms’ and was the goddess of spring. Auxo is ‘the increaser’ and the goddess of summer and Carpho, ‘the one who brings food’ is the goddess of autumn.
The second group of Horai are also the daughters of Themis and Zeus but were worshiped almost exclusively in Athens, Argos and Olympia. These are goddesses of society and represent the necessary qualities to maintain it. Dike is the goddess of justice, fairness and the natural rights dictated by tradition. Opposing Dike was Adikia the goddess if injustice. Eunomia is goddess of legislation and law, her name means ‘good order’ and was the power that maintains civil order (as opposed to Dysnomia – disorder). Eirene is the goddess of peace, wealth and abundance and springtime (the season most common for attacks) her opposite is the daemon of war, Polemos.
There are also a third set of Horai that are mentioned in a few sources. Pherousa, goddess of farms; Orthosie the goddess of prosperity, and Euporie, the goddess of abundance.
There is also a group of twelve goddesses of the hours of the daytime named Horai. They may also once have represented the twelve months. They are:
- Auge- first light
- Anatole- sunrise
- Mousika- the hour of music and study
- Gymnastika- the hour of exercise
- Nymphe- the hour of ablutions
- Mesembria- noon
- Sponde- libations poured after lunch
- Elete- prayer
- Akte- the hour of eating
- Hesperis- evening
- Dysis- sunset
- Arktos- last light
The Kharities are a triad of goddesses that personify joy, happiness and the pleasures of life. They are attendants of both Aphrodite and Hera and are always present at any banquet of the gods.
There are typically three in number and are the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome (though occasionally they are the children of Dionusos and Aphrodite or Helios and Aegle). The eldest Kharis is Thalia whose name translates to ‘good cheer’ presides over banquets and celebrations. Euphrosyne, ‘mirth’ is the Kharis of happiness, and joy and Aglaia, ‘beauty’. Aglaea (also known as Kalleis) is the wife of the Olympian Hephaistos and is the Kharis of adornment and splendor and her beauty was so great she won a contest between her sisters and Aphrodite.
The Spartans worshiped two Kharities, Kleto (glory) and Phaenna (radiance) and the Athenians worshiped two - Auxo (waxing) and Hegemone (precoursor) who may be seen as the waxing and waining moon. The Lakonian Kharities are Kleta (the invoked) and Phaenna (the brilliant).
There are also a number of ‘younger kharities’. These are also goddesses of festivities and joy; they seem to be without a shared parentage, some claim Aphrodite (and are commonly depicted in her retinue), some Dionusos and some one of the older kharities.
- Antheia is the kharis of flowers and stephanoi, the wreaths worn in ritual and at festivals
- Eudaimonia is the kharis of opulence
- Eupheme is the kharis of applause
- Paidia is the kharis of play
- Pandaisia is the kharis of banquets
- Pannykhis the kharis of night festivities and parties
- Pasithea, the kharis of relaxation and hallucinatory drugs. She is the daughter of Dionusos and the wife of Hypnos, the god of sleep
- Peitho is sometimes named as a kharis, Peitho is the goddess of persuasion
Goddesses of music and song and the bringers of inspiration to writers and artists, the Mousai are also prophetic goddesses of knowledge and remember all events of history. They are daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne the titanis of memory. There are generally nine mousai though in some variations there is a trio of ‘Older Mousai’ composed of Aoide- ‘voice’, Melete- ‘practice’, and Mneme/Mnemosyne ‘memory’. The Delphic mousai are named for the chords of a lyre; Nete, Mesi and Hypate or are considered three daughters of Apollon named Kephiso, Apollonis and Borysthenis.
The nine Mousai are
- Erato who rules over erotic poetry. She is often depicted with a golden arrow, with a wreath of myrtle or roses or holding a lyre, she is also sometimes seen with Eros as her torch bearer.
- Euterpe whose name means ‘rejoicing well’ was called the Giver of Pleasure and was the ruler lyrical poetry
- Kalliope is the goddess of music and is the eldest of the Mousai. She conferred the gift of eloquence on her favorite mortals and is the mother of the most famous of all musicians – Orpheus. Her name means beautiful and as well as being a great singer she is known for her scene of justice.
- Kleio, whose name means ‘make famous’ is the goddess of history
- Melpomene rules tragedy and is often seen carrying one of the masks worn by actors in tragedies.
- Ourania is the Mousa of astronomy and astrology and wears a cloak covered with stars. She is the Mousa of philosophers as well.
- Polyhymnia is the Mousa of sacred song and hymns. She is very serious and is usually depicted veiled. She grants eternal fame to her favorites.
- Terpsikhore is the Mousa of danced and the chorus. She is sometimes also called the mother of the Sirens
- Thaleia is the goddess of comedy and pastoral poetry
Three giant beings, each with a a hundred arms are the children of Gaia and Ouranos. Ouranos found them so hideous that he would not let them be freed from their mothers body. They are great metal workers and builders. They are Briareus (strength), Gyges (of the land) and Kotus (grudge).
Three giant beings, each with a singe eye are the children of Gaia and Ouranos. Ouranos found them so hideous that he would not let them be freed from their mothers body. They are great metal workers and created the earliest weapons of the gods. They are Arges (vivid flash), Brontes (thunder) and Steropes (lighting flash). There is also mentioned a younger generation of Kyklopes being the sons of the elder three. These are Euryalos (wide stepping), Elatreus (Iron), Trakhios (fast) and Halimedes (sea ruling) and were killed by Apollon in retribution for the death of his son Asklepious. Still more Kyklopes were born of the blood of the severed genitals of Ouranos that fell upon the earth and Polyphemus was the Kyklopes son of Poseidon blinded by Odysseus.
The Telchines are a mysterious race or group of deities of Rhodes who practice a strange magic and raised the god Poseidon. They were the first beings to create images of the gods for worship. Sometimes they are a few individuals, sometimes a primitive race of the first men.
A group of mysterious chthonic deities who likely began as Phrygian fertility deities who protected sailors and were associated with metal craft. The Kabeiroi are associated with the mysteries of numerous deities including Hekate, Dionusos and Demeter. They are pften portrayed as an old man, Axiocersus, and his son, Cadmilus or as a pair of twins with female twins named Axierus and Axiocersa.
Three, five or nine daemon attendants of Rhea who protected and hid the infant Zeus from Kronos. They are mountain-living spirits of metalworking, hunting, shepherding, and beekeeping and of the orgiastic, martial dances performed by young males of Krete and Euboia. Sometimes they are a few individuals, sometimes a primitive race of the first men.
Meaning ‘fingers’, these deities are likely related to the Kouretes. These five spirits had five sister wives, the Hekaterides and by them are the fathers of the Satyroi and Oreiades and the tribe of the first men of Krete.
Erotes are a group of male daemons representing various aspects of live and desire. They are sometimes depicted as small, cherubic children armed with bow and arrows or their older version of handsome youths on the verge of sexual maturity. They are often in the train of Aphrodite and some are her children.
- Anteros is the god of mutual love and punishes unrequited love
- Eros (not to be confused with the primeval Eros) is the mischievous god of love
- Hedylogos is the god of pillow talk and flattery
- Himeros is the god of sexual desire and was an attendant of Aphrodite since the moment of her birth
- Hymenaios is the god of marriage and the wedding ceramony
- Pothos is the god of longing
Daemons of the winds from the four cardinal directions, they are thought of as invisible puffs of air, winged men or sometime horses in the stables of Aeolus, keeper of the winds and who drew Zeus’ chariot.
- Boreas (devouring one) is the cold north wind that brings winter. Boreas possessed a violent temper, was depicted wearing a billowing cloak and ws the father of the mares of Erikhthonios. His wife is the maiden Oreithyia whom he abducted from the shores of the River Illissus.
- Notus is the south wind who brough destruction to crops and was the bringer of the hot winds of midsummer.
- Eurus is the warm and wet east winds
- Zephyros is the west wind, gentle and warm. In some myths he is the husband of Iris, goddess of the rainbow and by the Harpiai Kelaeno the father of the horses of Akhilles.
Four lesser wind deities appear as well. They are
- Kaikias is the evil, bitter northeast wind
- Apeliotes is the southeast wind and causes farm-friendly rain.
- Skeiron is the northwest wind and represents the onset of winter
- Lips is the southwest wind and is usually shown holding the stern of a ship.
The Rivers of the Underworld
Every river of the earth has a god that rules over its flow. There are five that stand apart from the others, these are the five rivers of the underworld.
- Kokytos is the river of wailing
- Akheron is the river of pain
- Styx is the river of hate
- Lethe is the river of oblivion
- Pyriphlegethon is the river of fire
Winged, sometimes bearded daemons and sometimes shown with a phallus; the daughters of Phorcys and Keto, two ancient sea deities, the gorgons are named Euryale (wandering one), Medousa (queen), and Sthenno (mighty one). Originally these were deities of great protective power; they had wings of gold and bronze claws, boars tusks, snakes in their hair, large eyes and protruding tongues – an appearance that was sure to drive away any evil. They are portrayed as storm daemons and are especially hazardous at sea and are known to drive ships onto reefs (in later myth Medousa is the cause of the reefs, her severed head turning underwater life to stone). Later myth has Medousa starting as a beautiful priestess of Athene whose golden hair tempts Poseidon who seduces the woman in Athene’s temple; the goddess transforms the woman and her sisters in punishment. Medousa is killed by Perseus, he offers her head to Athene who fixes it to her breastplate, the Aegis. Older myths connect the Gorgones with Demeter Erinys (the Fury) as the bringers of drought. With the beheading of Medousa comes Poseidon’s unborn children Pegasos (associated with pegai, springs and the return of water) and Khryses, possibly the golden grains. Medousa may likely be a very powerful bronze-age goddess whose myth was changed and adapted with the influx of new peoples.
The ‘grey ones’ or ‘the crones’ are sisters of the gorgons, daughters of Phorcys and Keto and were seen as haggard old women or as swan maidens with bird bodies from the waist down and are represented by te white foam of the sea. As old women they had a single eye and single tooth that they shared between them. Pemphredo (wasp or alarm) is the ‘beautifully clothed one’, Enyo is the skaker and Deino is the ‘one who terrifies’
The Harpyiai arethe spirits of whirlwinds and sudden sharp gusts of wind. They are known as the hounds of Zeus and are sent to retrieve people and objects for him form the earth. The Harpyiai are seen as winged women, sometimes with ugly faces and the bodies of birds and can often be vicious and cruel. Origionally there are two mentioned in myth – Aello (swift storm) and Kelaeno (dark) but later Podarge (fleet foot) and/or Okypete (swift wing) are added.
Naiads of the islands of Sirenum or Anthemusa whose voices are so beautiful they mesmerize sailors who sail onto the cliffs and drown. In some myths they were the playmates of Persephone who failed to prevent her abduction and were punished by Demeter. They were seen as women with the lower bodies of birds (or later mermaid in form) or as beautiful maidens. Their numbers and names are variable but the oldest myths name either two (Aglaopheme and Thelxiepeia) or three (Parthenope, Ligeia, and Leucosia).
Nymph daughters of Atlas, they are the group of stars whose rising heralds the rainy season. Phaola, Ambrosia, Eudora, Coronis, and Polyxo wept so much at the death of their brother Hyas that they were transformed to stars.
Three (four or seven) daughters of Atlas who tend the garden of Hera at the fathest western corner of the earth. They are called the ‘western maidens’ and ‘daughters of evening’ and guard over golden apples of joy that bring the gift of immortality. Some early myths equate the seven stars of the modern constellation of the little dipper. The most commonly named three are Aegle, Arethusa and Erytheia (or Erytheis) though Hespereia, Hespera, Hestia, and Hesperusa are also mentioned.
Companions of Artemis and daughters of the Okeanid Pleione Atlas who were pursued by the giant Orion and were placed in the heaven as stars to escape him.
- Maia is the eldest of the seven sisters, the most beautiful and shyest. She is a goddess of fields and the mother of the Olympian god Hermes. She was also the foster mother of Arkas, son of Zeus and Kalisto.
- Elektra is the mother of the House of Troy by Zeus and was called by some, the ‘lost’ or ‘hidden’ sister who turned away in grief after the destruction of Troy.
- Taygete is the mother of Lakedaemon by Zeus and is strongly connected to does.
- Kelaeno is a lover of Poseidon and may be the mother of Triton
- Sterope is the mother of Oenomaus by Ares
- Merope is usually seen as the seventh ‘hidden’ sister as the only one to marry a mortal - Sisyphus