Artemis (Diana)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo, Artemis was one of the twelve great gods and goddesses of Olympus. She was a Greek goddess mainly associated with wildlife and with human birth. She was originally one of the great Mother Goddesses, with emphasis on her role as virgin huntress and patroness of chastity. As Apollo's twin sister, she is regarded as a divinity of the light, specifically the light of the "mon", and such has been an influential archetype for witches. Her symbol is the female bear and she is associated with the constellation Ursa Major.

Legend has it that she was born on the sixth day of the month of Thargelion, a day before her brother. As she grew up in her favorite Arcadia, she would hunt accompanied by sixty young Oceanids and twenty-nymphs. Armed with bow and arrows given to her by Zeus, she gained the epithet Apollousa, "the destructress," and was a deity of sudden death. She was especially venerated in Arcadia but was also worshiped throughout Greece, Crete, and Asia Minor.

Her Roman equivalent is Diana, described as "the eternal feminist." She is the source of magical power for witches, who gather to adore her at the full of the moon. The Canon Episcopi of the tenth century condemned those who "believe and profess themselves, in the hours of the night to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans." She is a slim, beautiful virgin, usually depicted with her hair drawn back and wearing a short tunic--a Dorian chiton. She is frequently accompanied by either a young hind or a dog. As goddess of fertility , she is sometimes depicted with many breasts.

Artemis made chastity a strict law, although she did fall in love with Orion, whom she later shot in the head when tricked into doing so by Apollo. She had a dark and vindictive character and many were punished by death or torment when they crossed her or forgot to pay her reverence. Yet she could also be gentle and loving. She was also a music goddess and lover of singing and dancing.

Most Wiccans honor Artemis/Diana as part of the triple goddess aspect of the moon, and as a nurturer and protector. She has inspired the Dianic, strongly feminist, tradition of Wicca.

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