There is a curious section in Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland that describes the goddess Diana’s incarnation in human form and her marvelous spellcasting to impress the witches. The passage says that “she declared that she would darken the heavens and turn all the stars into mice.” Diana duly accomplishes this feat, the heavens rain with mice, and Diana is crowned Queen of the Witches.
So why does Diana make it rain mice, of all things, to impress the witches? The answer lies in the dual roles of Apollo, as god of light and god of mice. Possibly these roles became syncretized with Apollo as he absorbed many other gods, but at any rate Diana was turning the stars (light) into another of their forms: mice. This is why Diana once chose to make it rain mice.
Another excerpt from my book-in-progress. Crows and ravens are conflated in ancient Greek myth.
A less familiar goddess who has a link with crows is Coronis. She is one of the Hyades, the seven sisters of light who are rain-makers. Olympic genealogy has her the parent with Apollo of the healing god Asclepius. She is also tied to Apollo in a story where the mistrustful Apollo sends a crow to spy on the goddess, and she does indeed cheat on him with another god. Apollo has Coronis bumped off by his sister and punishes his crow for not halting the liaison by changing him from white to black. This story accomplishes three things: 1) it solidifies Apollo’s ownership of the crow while denigrating the crow at the same time; 2) it explains why the god of light would have a black emblem; and 3) it justifies usurpation of the goddess’s cult by making her demise a result of her own betrayal. Reading into this story a bit, I would guess the unruly priestesses of Coronis resisted the cult of Apollo effectively for awhile.
The goddess Athena is believed to have turned Coronis herself from a white crow into a black crow. This is why the raven rests on the bust of Pallas in the Edgar Allan Poe narrative “The Raven.” Pallas is another name for Athena. The story goes that Coronis brought Athena some bad news, and the goddess in a rage changed the feathers of Coronis from white to black and banished her from the Acropolis. I disagree with those who categorize the crow as a familiar of Athena on the basis of this story. I think crows and ravens were banished from Athena’s temples because her priests wanted owls to nest there. Crows like to nest in high places (hence the term “crow’s nest”), and they mob owls. The purpose in the mobbing is to defend chicks and eggs from owl predation, and yet crows seem from our perspective to pursue owls with an unnecessary vehemence, seeming to attack them on principle. At any rate the two birds could not have cohabitated, so crows would have to be banished from Athena’s domain. In addition to firmly linking Coronis with the crow, this story again makes the crow an oracular bird.
Animal divinity can take many forms.A living animal can literally be a god or goddess. An example of this would be the crocodile Petesuchos, who lived at the temple to the Egyptian god Sebek. Petesuchos wore jewelry, lived a pampered existence and was considered the literal offspring of Sebek, elevated above the ordinary crocodile who might be killed for meat or safety.A specific animal can also be a living omen or message from a deity. The white buffalo calf Miracle, born on a Wisconsin farm, was seen as a message from White Buffalo Calf Woman of positive and momentous changes. Honoring Miracle honored the blessings and prophecy of White Buffalo Calf Woman. Miracle also shows how an animal can embody divinity in more than one way, as Miracle was often propitiated with gifts, sometimes highly valued gifts such as military medals, as if she were an actual goddess like Petesuchos (although not all Plains Indians who revered Miracle viewed her in this way).An animal species might be sacred to a particular deity, and thus all members of this species might be treated with deference out of reverence for that deity. An example of this would be the dog, who is sacred to the goddess Nehalennia and usually pictured as her companion.An animal can be considered sacred for her contribution to human life, for her symbology, or for her pivotal role in myth. The cow is given special status by Hindus for her gift of milk. In the 1980’s thousands of school children wrote the Ohio State Legislature protesting a proposal to allow dove hunting, arguing that it would be killing peace. Lenape Indians were successful in getting some limitations placed on groundhog killing in Pennsylvania, due to the significance of the animal in creation stories.Some deities of strong significance to humans are animal gods or goddesses. In his earliest known form of worship, Apollo is a mouse god. His temple in Tenedos housed hundreds or perhaps thousands of mice, who were not considered gods in their own right but were pampered as a favor to Apollo. The mice had a divine function as omens as well, with large litters presaging economic prosperity. Special priestesses were employed to interpret oracles from the mouse god. The goddess Athena typifies many deities of Old Europe by having twin animal forms of earth creature (snake) and sky creature (owl).Every animal has its own deity. Modern pagans refer to the chief deities of plant and animal species as devas, a word borrowed from Sanskrit which means “god.” In appealing to the deity of an animal which does not have a recognized cult, the animal “deva” will be invoked. Alternatively, when petitioning a specific animal colony, the “queen,” who is leader of that particular family, can also be invoked. It is also possible to appeal en masse to a group of animals, praying to the animals in their collective spirit, although some would quibble that this is the same as appealing to an animal deva.Closely related to an animal deity, but not exactly the same thing, is an animal familiar. A familiar is a being who helps a priestess with her magic. The familiar can be an incarnate living creature or a discarnate being who exists only in spirit, but most often she is a living animal. There is much that I can say about the animal familiar, and whole books have been written on the subject, so I will talk about familiars in a later post.
I have egg on my face. I thought I had scheduled this essay to post yesterday, but for some reason it did not.As a followup to last week’s quiz, I’ve decided to begin writing about how the goddesses in the quiz are associated with their respective trees. I will be starting with the Greek goddess Daphne.Daphne was a nymph (a young priestess) of the earth goddess Gaia. She attracted Apollo’s attention when he warned her about the deception of a man named Leucippus, who had dressed in women’s clothing to penetrate her sacred circle. The priestesses made Leucippus strip naked, confirmed the deception and killed him, but Apollo in the meantime had become obsessed with Daphne. She did not return his interest.Apollo’s ardor was persistent, and Daphne eventually fled in terror. As Apollo gained on her, she called to her mother Gaia to save her from Apollo’s rape. Gaia responded by transforming Daphne into a laurel tree. In remorse Apollo pulled a branch from the tree and vowed he would always wear laurel leaves in remembrance of Daphne. This is why Apollo is usually pictured with a laurel crown, and why a person of high achievement in the arts or another realm of Apollo is said to “receive laurels.”From Patricia Monaghan’s The Book of Goddesses and Heroines:
A priestess of Gaea, this nymph led secret women’s rituals in celebration of the Earth’s femininity. But the mortal Leucippus tried to penetrate their rituals in female disguise. The all-seeing sun, who had ulterior motives for his action, suggested to the women that they conduct their rituals nude, to be certain that there were no male intruders.So the mortal was found and destroyed for his sacrilege. Then the sun-god’s motives became clear. He accosted the beautiful priestess and demanded that she sleep with him. She refused. Apollo grew violent. Chasing her, intent on rape, he overpowered Daphne. But she cried out to the goddess she served, Mother Earth, and instantly was transformed into a laurel tree. The repentant Apollo thereafter wore laurel wreaths in his hair and honored the tree as the symbol of inspiration.
From Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths:
Apollo was not invariably successful in love….he pursued Daphne, the mountain nymph, a priestess of Mother Earth, daughter of the river Peneius in Thessaly; but when he overtook her, she cried out to Mother Earth who, in the nick of time, spirited her away to Crete, where she became known as Pasiphae. Mother Earth left a laurel-tree in her place, and from its leaves Apollo made a wreath to console himself.
Graves usually relates the more violent myths to Greek political upheavals:
His pursuit of Daphne the Mountain-nymph, daughter of the river Penius, and priestess of Mother Earth, refers apparently to the Hellenic capture of Tempe, where the goddess Daphoene (“bloody one”) was worshiped by a college of orgiastic laurel-chewing Maenads. After suppressing the college — Plutarch’s account suggests that the priestesses fled to Crete, where the Moon-goddess was called Pasiphae. Apollo took over the laurel which, afterwards, only the Pythoness might chew. Daphoene will have been mare-headed at Tempe, as at Phigalia; Leucippus (“white horse”) was the sacred king of the local horse cult, annually torn in pieces by the wild women….
The Maenads were priestesses who practiced ecstatic rites, often involving drugs or alcohol.The story of Daphne and Apollo was popular amongst the Greeks and there are many variations. It is interesting, considering the cross-dressing angle of the story, that one of the priestess daughters of Terisias was named after Daphne. (Teresias was the soothsayer famous for transforming from man to woman back to man.) This was probably once a complex myth that we only have in truncated form.The Daphne myth was a fairly common theme in Renaissance art. The lyrics of this song by John Dowland (1563-1625) speak of Apollo’s unrequited desire for Daphne.Rest awhile you cruel cares,be not more severe than love.Beauty kills and beauty spares,and sweet smiles sad sighs remove:Laura faire queen of my delight,Come grant me love in love’s despite,And if I ever fail to honour thee,Let this heavenly light I see,Be as dark as hell to me.If I speak, my words want weight,am I mute, my heart doth break.If I sigh, she fears deceit,sorrow then for me must speak:Cruel, unkind, with favour viewThe wound that first was made by you,And if my torments feigned be,Let this heavenly light I see,Be as dark as hell to me.Never hour of pleasing rest,Shall revive my dying ghost.Till my soul hath repossess’dThe sweet hope which love hath lost:Laura redeem the soul that dies,By fury of they murdering eyes:And if it prove unkind to thee,Let this heavenly light I see,Be as dark as hell to me.SourcesGraves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin Books, 1960.Monaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1990.