Major Greek Goddesses
Gaea is Mother Earth. She is from whom everything comes, and she is not only a divinity, she is Earth. She bore the Titans as well as monsters like the hundred armed men, and some of the Cyclopes - others were sons of Poseidon. She was the daughter of Chaos. She was a primeval goddess, born along with creation itself, and had a large role in the population of the world. She was primarily spoken of as a Mother of other Gods, rather than having her own myths. Still, she's a major player in the myths of the sucession of the King of Kings. You should read more about her.
Hestia was the eldest of the 12 Olympian Gods and the eldest daughter of Rhea & Cronus. When she began her role as a Goddess, she had a throne of her own in Olympus, but when Dionysus grew into Godhood, she willingly gave up her throne to him, choosing the hearth as an alternative. She is the Goddess of Hearth and Home she is also one of the Three Virgin Goddesses. Her symbol was kept in every house, and whenever a child was born the parents had to carry the child around the symbol before he or she could be accepted in the family. She is really fascinating to me, which is why I wrote a whole essay on her. But if you want to skip the academic style and stick with the few myths and such, you can always read more here.
Demeter was another daughter of Rhea and Cronus. She was the Goddess of the Harvest or the Goddess of the Fields. Centuries ago Greeks used to break bread in the name of Demeter as well as drink wine to Dionysus. Sound familiar? Demeter was the mother of Persephone and that was one mother-daughter team you shouldn't try to mess around with. When Hades did, Demeter threw the earth into an eternal winter and let nothing grow until someone helped her find her child. Together, Demeter and Persephone were central to the Eleusian Mysteries. (Check out Eleusis by Carl Kerenyi for more on that.)Later, ideas and myths about Demeter were coopted into the Roman Ceres and maybe even the Magna Mater. Really, you should read more about her.
Hera is most well known for being the wife of Zeus and the Queen of the Gods. She was also the youngest daughter of Rhea and Cronus. Her bird is the peacock, and in almost every myth she is portrayed as being maliciously jealous. But it must also be remembered that she was the Protector of Marriage. It is believed by some scholars that she earned her bad reputation by being combined with a similar Phoenecian goddess. This scholar, however, thinks that the role of the shrewish wife was one has been pretty institutionalized in patriarchal cultures. Construct a culture so that women's only access to legitimate power is through a faithful relationship to a powerful husband, and you'll get a culture full of women who guard their only assets fiercely. Of course, there's a lot more to it than that, and you can read all about it.
I could talk about Athena forever, but I'll attmept to be brief. Athena was the Patron Goddess of Athens, the Goddess of Wisdom, and the Goddess of Weaving. She was the Goddess of lots of other things, too, but I'm not gonna list 'em. She was a warrior - which is why she's so often shown with a spear and a shield with Medusa's head on it and armor) and another of the three virgin goddesses (in addition to Hestia and Artemis). Her father was Zeus. Technically her mother was Metis (Goddess of Prudence), but it is generally accepted that she had no mother. Actually, it's an awesome story and I took the time to write it out here. Athena's got a leading role in a whole bunch of great myths, like the Odyssey for example. All in all, she's just fantastic. Want to read more?
Artemis is the Goddess of the Hunt. She had 50 hounds and 50 Draiads (wood nymphs) and a quiver full of painless silver arrows. Along with her twin brother Apollo, she was the daughter of Zeus and Leto as well as being "youngest" of the three maiden goddesses (in addition to Hestia and Athena). Artemis didn't carry the moon across the sky, but being a moon goddess was definitely part of her identity. Stunningly beautiful, she swore never to marry - this is not a coincidence! She was the Protector of Young Women as well as a midwife. She was incredibly cool for a lot of reasons, but my favorite is that her worship ranged from very dark (human sacrifice) to personal (virgins dedicated her their lingerie on the night they married) to just fun (women dressing up like a bear and dancing). Want to read more? The picture is copyrighted by Hrana Janto, who is the painter, you can click on it for more info.
Aphrodite was the Goddess of Love and Beauty. Oh, and the patron of prostitutes. The myth of her birth has a couple of versions. The most well known today has her springing from the blood of Uranus after Cronus castrated him, and floating on the sea to Greece, where she was met by the Three Graces (who will be discussed later). You know, the whole clamshell thing. She was married to Hephaestus, the Smith God, but she slept with Ares the War God. Her "no work" policy may make her seem like a ditz, but this lady had power in plenty. Like all the best goddesses, there's a bunch of ways of understanding her. As I've gotten older, I've come to identify with her more than any other. Plus, she's got one of the most interesting "biographies" of any Greek deity I can think of. Read more about Aphrodite.
Persephone was special. She was the daughter of Demeter, and called Kore which simply means Maiden. As such, she was the Goddess of Spring. One day, as she was out picking flowers, Hades, the God of the Underworld, abducted her, raped her, and made her Queen of the Underworld. In that role she has often been described as a cold and unhappy goddess. Some have described her as the Light link between the Underworld and Earth as opposed to Hecate. Demeter fought hard to get her daughter back and eventually rescued her from the Underworld, but Persephone must always return to the underworld every year. It involves pomegranate seeds. There's a major mystery cult dealing with this, but I can't tell you about 'cuz it's a mystery. Want to read more?
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