For all its confused history and eventual greatness,
fueled by its position as a crossroads between
North and South, East and West, Ephesus had humble beginnings. It began as a tree shrine, set on
sheepskins laid between the arms of a stream to protect it from earthquakes by travelling Amazons.
As a tree divinity, Artemis was closely associated with the bird and pole motif, as a sort of artificial
tree with a bird perched in it... or the thyrsus, a staff tipped with a pine cone stolen by the followers
Artemis' worship was respected and accepted
by the people of the area, who considered her to be
the same as their Ephesia. Her statue still exists and is justly famous, its torso covered in eggs
representing her concern with abundance and life. The mellisae were her priestesses. The great
temple eventually built there was by Anatolian Amazons who worshipped Cybele, whom Greeks later
tried to replace with Leto. Devotion to Artemis and Cybele was widespread and fervent, and since
Artemis had become so strongly associated with Ephesus, when Alexander of Macedon restored the
temple as a political maneuvre, his popularity skyrocketed. In effect, he got to partake in a little of the
Goddess, even as he defiled the Temple by replacing images of Amazons with men and gods and
placed more power in the hands of priests.
Ephesia's name means appetite, suggesting
her as a Goddess of life, reproduction, death, survival...
the power of instinct. This meshed with Artemis' original form, which is more warlike and assertive in
the world. Her love for her children and her defense of them is as fierce as a summer storm. The
Amazons particularly adored Artemis in this form, as protector and leader. Ephesia herself may have
developed from Cybele of Scythia and Rhea of Anatolia.
Artemis' tree priestesses at Ephesus served
her under her title of Opis, meaning silent or aweful.
These dryads, or druids as they are better known, called the eldest of their number by this title.
Initially their shrine was a grove of trees on a nearby mountain. They may have been wandering
Amazons or native to the area. Offerings to Opis were given only by women, usually a lock of hair.
At the temple, one of the Seven Wonders
of the World, the Goddess was commonly known as
Cybele, Mother of all Creatures, Lady of the Beasts. Her pine cone tipped wand represented her
motherhood. Just as she brought all life into the world, she took it back into herself at death. Her
statue had no legs because a Goddess needs none, since her presence is everywhere. The turret
crown marked her as protector of Ephesus. The final takeover by eunuch priests heralded another
rebuilding of the temple and final take over by patriarchal forces. Only vague memories of Meliboea,
whose original name was Automate 'moved of herself' with her partner Epidiata 'banquet' remained
of the original priestesses.
A firm belief developed
that Artemis and Cybele were the same Goddess, just different
understandings of her. A neat and peaceful resolution of much confusion that was often not
understood, by design or mistake.
On the island of Kythera, Artemis of Ephesus
was worshipped as well, her connections to sex and
reproduction directly acknowledged. Commentators at the time considered her to be similar to
ARTEMIS AND THE BEAR
Another spectacularly popular avatar of
Artemis was as Great Bear, Ursa Major. Worshipped all
over Greece, but especially in Arkadia where she and Kallisto vied for followers, her worship was
wideflung. Helvetians sometimes called her Artio, and worshipped her near Berne, a place named
'She Bear.' Even today its coat of arms includes a bear. Celts, especially of Britain, called her Art and
their bear king Arthur her son. Each Celtic hunter used to pay a 'fine' for each animal taken into a
communal fund used to purchase a sacrifice to Artemis each year. Later, even the Christian church
could not ignore her and canonized her as Saint Ursula, from the Saxon name Ursel. Irish 'Art'
originally meant 'Bear Goddess,' rather than god.
A number of ideas, some quite sophisticated, supported the widespread worship of the Bear Goddess.
Artemis as bear ruled the constellation
Ursa Major, which pointed to the North Pole Star, the axis
mundi. As such, she guarded and protected the very hub if the world.The seven stars of Ursa Major
may have been the original Seven Sisters or Seven Pillars. The Pleiades are in the constellation of
Taurus, connecting them to Artemis Tauropolos, so all of the Pleiades were followers of Artemis, not
just Taygete. Given this connection, it is easier to understand the imortance of such a dim group of
The month and season can be worked out in
the Northern hemisphere by noting where Ursa Major is
in the sky at nightfall. When Ursa Major's tail points East, spring has arrived; South, summer; West
autumn, and finally, the tail pointing North heralds winter. Perhaps this direction of movement gave us
'clockwise,' since it is easier to learn about how the appearance of the sky relates to the seasons
when the stars are visible to the naked eye.
Later reinterpretation of Ursa Major
as the transformed Kallisto and Ursa Minor as her son are
forced and not consistently repeated by scholars or folklore. Ursa Major and the pole star were
always feminine in mythology, even after attempts to masculinize them both. For instance, the axis
mundi was made into a tree of life with weirdly feminine abilities. More often Ursa Major was
divorced from its bear symbolism and made the throne of the Sky Goddess, Hera or Artemis
Other reasons for worshipping Artemis as
bear come from that animal's qualities. The mother bear is
one of the most formidable animals in the forest for her size, strength, agility, and fierce defense of
her young. Today the mother bear is still regarded as a fearsome beast for these reasons. Bears
know how to find herbs and roots to heal injuries and illnesses they suffer. They incubate their young
during hibernation, protecting vulnerable cubs from the cold.
People used to place their children under
the protection of this great force to protect and heal. To this
end, infants were placed on bear skins soon after birth to invoke that power, a practise continued
from the Neolithic. The berserkers, 'wearers of bear shirts' (bear sarks) worshipped Artio, and
wished to channel this same protecting power to help them succeed in battle.
Artemis and her followers could take
the form of bears at will, an idea integral to the worship of
Artemis Brauronia in Attica. In Attica the statue of the Goddess had an obsidian knife hidden in her
crown, used in animal sacrifice by her priestesses. Young girls were brought to the Brauronian temple
for confirmation ceremonies during the festival of Mounychia. They danced as bears in Artemis'
honour, becoming her companions in freedom and self rule. Wearing saffron tunics and leaf crowns,
carrying twigs or torches, they also gave thanks for the animals of the forest.
Agrotera, 'wild strength' or 'berserker'
was a Goddess of battle sacrificed to before campaigns by
Spartans. She was popularly considered an avatar of Artemis, and her untamed, wild nature suggests
the bear when provoked.
Kallisto, a native ARkadian bear
Goddess is interesting for herself, as well as for the aspects of
Artemis that she shares. Kallisto's name means 'the fairest,' yet Kalli(Kali) was never used for
descriptions of what was conventionally beautiful. (Similar to the 'beautiful' Harpies, who are always
grotesque in Greek mythology.) It was used for things that actually seeemed ugly or frightening, yet
Kallisto was a well loved and popular Goddess in Arkadia. Another avatar of the force of instinct,
when in human form she was an athlete and hunter of great strength. She traversed her forests and
mountains in bare feet.
Other authors have noted that she is related to
Kali, the 'Death Goddess' of India. Wjile embodying all
that is frightening and gruesome, Kali is deeply loved by her worshippers, inspiring some of the most
beautiful, powerful poetry ever written. Kali forces her worshippers to face their fear of death, and in
the process, eliminate it. She moves the idea of reincarnation from a logical construct to a belief.
Artemis, especially when associated with
Ephesus is also destroyer, death bringer, and psychopomp,
guide between worlds and lives. Eventually Kallisto's sacred island Kalliste was renamed Thera 'She
Beast' and rededicated to Artemis.
Besides being worshipped as hunter, destroyer,
crone, Moon, and many other aspects, Artemis was
seen as a tree Goddess. Trees in general, as well as of the world tree were hers, the latter being the
source of unborn souls. The Vikings called this tree Ygdrassil, and it would produce the first person of
the next world, the woman Lif. The fruit of the Tree of Life could give, depending on how it was
obtained and when it was eaten, eternal life, great wisdom, or help during labour. Eternal life did not
mean immortality in the usual sense, but rebirth, the continuing survival of the soul. A spring at
Ygdrassil's root was a fluid called aurr, which gave life and may have been the Goddess' menstrual
Dryads, better known as druids were oak
nymphs, oracular priestesses of the oak groves. So fierce
were they in defense of their forests, and so taboo was cutting the trees that Greeks came to believe
that the druids kept their souls in the trees, and suffered death or injury when the trees did. Some
druids could become serpents, and were referred to as hamadryads. The greatest shrine of the
Galatians of Asia Minor was called Druremeton, Druid Moon Grove.
Real or artificial trees were used in her
temple and those of Goddesses she absorbed, like Aria of the
oaks. Trees outside were treated in the same way, hung with masks or doll images of Artemis at the
points of the compass. In this way her benign gaze could bring proseprity and protection in all
directions. This may be the reason for hanging sacrifices to Artemis at Hierapolis on possible
firerunners of the 'Christmas' tree. Another shrine of Hanged Artemis was in Kordyleia.
The same principle may have led to the development
of scarecrows. These once common denizens of
grain fields never scared away a crow, their avowed purpose. They were the means by which the
Goddess' presence and benign influence was called down to the crop.
Arrhippe, a hunter and attendent of Artemis
also maintained a temple of Hanged Artemis. While her
legend has been garbled by Greek commentators, she seems to have presided over sexual rites in
order to bring prosperity to the land.
ARTEMIS AND THE DEER
The deer is associated with the Moon and
water, as Artemis is. The word deer has been translated
'shining fire' which connects Artemis with the Sun.
The Kerynean hind (also called the hind
of Arkadia), could run incredibly fast, had antlers of gold and
hooves of bronze, and was dedicated to Artemis by the Pleiad Taygete. The Hind could be pursued
for a year without capturing it, suggesting that it was a Zodiacal figure. It could also represent any
quality or thing such as love or wisdom, which cannot be obtained by nefarious means.
The hunter Arge, a priestess of Artemis
of the Red Deer, performed the pantomime of the death of
Actaeon, the sacred deer king on Artemis' sacred mountain with her sister priestesses. No matter
how fast he ran, Actaeon was always caught. This sacred drama was performed until very late, as
evidenced by a list of the hounds of Artemis, mistakenly called Actaeon's: Arethusa, Argo, Aura,
Chediatros, Cyllo, Dinomache, Dioxippe, Echione, Gorgo, Harpya, Lacaena, Laera, Lynceste,
Melanchaetes, Ocydrome, Ocypete, Oresitrophos, Orias, Oxyrhoe, Sagros, Theridamas, Theriope,
Theriphone, Uolatos, and Urania. Their sacred number was supposed to be 12 or 50, their base
Mount Leuke on Crete.
Barbarian Germany still had the ritual bath
of the deer Goddess, which only doomed men could see.
Such men were sacred kings, men who ruled for half a great year, then were killed and replaced by a
co-king, often called a tannist. This was regarded as highly important, since if a king ruled too long, he
could become impotent in office, bringing famine to the land. In the first century AD, priestesses of
Artemis still performed the sacred drama in their Goddess' mountains... the 'king' actually killed was a
deer. Later, Artemis' groves became places where her followers merely feasted on venison, and
were renamed 'deer gardens.'
Since records consistently refer to a 'pantomime'
or 'drama' and the ritual continued until late, it is
hard to believe that a man who played or was the outgoing king was killed. He only needed to be
removed from office, and probably did so willingly, until patriarchy began to take hold, and old kings
tried to hold the throne beyond their term.
Greek mythographers may or may not have
known that Actaeon was such a sacred king, but Greek
vase painters did. Actaeon was portrayed not as a stag, but wearing a deer skin and antlers. Strabo
described Artemis Apaturos as a Goddess who killed her lovers after copulating, another common
fate of sacred kings. Apaturos means 'guardian of secrets,' in this case sacred mysteries revealed to
the king just before hos death.
ARTEMIS OF THE BULLS
Artemis and Goddesses similar to her were
also closely connected to the bull and cow, sacred from
Neolithic times. The head and horns of a bull resemble the uterus and ovaries of a woman, and the
cow produced milk for people as well as her young. Both could provide meat, leather for clothing and
footwear, horns for musical instruments, and so on. These connections had persisted on Crete more
than elsewhere in Southern Greece, where they were connected to Britomartis instead.
The bull's head was clearly connected
to rebirth and new life. The butterfly, one of the symbolic
carriers of human souls in the cycle of rebirth. Hence the association between the bull's head,
butterfly and double ax. The bull and double ax became especially connected to Artemis. The
ceremony of blood baptism was used in her worship, later taken as a sacrament by the worshippers
The ceremony used by those
worshippers may not have been identical to that of Tauropolos,
however. Worshippers of Mithras stood beneath a grating, and were drenched with bull's blood as its
throat was cut above it. According to Greek writers, priestesses of Tauropolos were the only ones
able to drink bull's blood and survive, implying a strong taboo due to its sacred nature. They were also
known to sometimes sacrifice gelded horses.
Baptism does not need more than a few drops
of a liquid for sprinkling, as can be seen in present day
Christian ceremionies. The religion around Mithras was created for professional soldiers, men who
faced bloody death each day, an entirely different life pattern from most worshippers of Tauropolos.
On Bronze Age Crete, the Goddess of the
Sun was the one to whom bulls were sacred. The bull
game of Crete was called the taurokathapsia, 'purifying bull dance.' This was not a bullfight, but a test
of bravery and skill, in which young women and men ran at the bull, grasped its horns, and
somersaulted over its back. While Tauropolos does mean bullslayer, this refers to the sacrifice of
bulls, not the process of infuriating and tormenting a large bull prior to killing it through loss of blood
and repeated sword thrusts.
Sacrifice often involved beheading the
bull and leaving its head in the temple, where the skull was
used in sacred decoration. The meat was returned to the family who provided the bull, or if a
community sacrifice, was shared in a feast. No evidence exists of a human sacrifice in the Neolithic,
the time these ceremonies derive from, or any such sacrifices later in this context.
The story of the island of Taurus, with
its homicidal priestess of Artemis Iphigeneia is probably a
demonization of other religious practises. Bull heads were mounted on the walls of many temples,
from Catal Huyuk to Crete. The practice of embalming and displaying the heads of honoured
ancestors may also be the original action. It was meant to allow the ancestors to be part of the family,
still remembered and respected, who in turn contributed wisdom and protection.
So Iphigeneia, whose name is also a title of Artemis, is a mortuary priestess like Kirke and Calypso.
Men in Attica could dedicate themselves
to Artemis Tauropolos by undergoing a mock beheading
ceremony in which a few drops of blood were drawn from his neck with a labrys. Its descendant is
the English Knighting ceremony.