Ancient Gods: History of the World
Updated On: July 13, 2022
Every ancient civilization had its ancient gods and goddesses, and here we discuss the ancient gods of the different nations from around the world.
The Celtic spiritual tradition is that of multiple aspects – some are Christian while others are Pagan. Scholars have identified over 400 Celtic gods and goddesses. But first, what is Celtic? There has been quite a debate over this term between putting it
in its narrow sense or a much broader sense. Some scholars restrict it to the Indo-European language family, which, in antiquity, included the Celtic dialects spoken in the region from Ireland to Romania, as well as in the central Turkish region of Galatia. Gaulish was the most ancient Celtic language in which many many inscriptions are written. Whereas, in addition to its linguistic meaning, other scholars give the term Celtic a cultural dimension. They say that Celtic refers to an ethnic group of people who share language, culture and a commonplace of origin as well.
Little reliable literature seems to be available on Celtic deities. The earliest literary evidence was recorded by Greek and Roman authors. The Celtic people themselves only started writing their own literature in the early Middle Ages. This article attempts to give a short account of some of the Celtic deities.
Manannán mac Lir
Manannán mac Lir is the Irish sea god. In Celtic, Manannán mac Lir means Manannán, Son of the Sea. It is alleged that the name of the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, was derived from his name and that he had a throne on the island. His throne extended above the waves of the Irish Sea. He would ride over the waves in his splendid chariot that was called the Wave-Sweeper, wearing impenetrable armour and carrying an undefeatable sword. The Irish sea god ruled an island paradise, provided crops and protected the sailors. He offered meat from his swine, which was killed and then came back to life, to the other gods, making them immortal. He also had an invisibility helmet as well as a gigantic magic coat which served as an allegory for the sea. The coat could also change its colours to the different shades of the sea- golden in the sunlight, silver in the moonlight, blue or black as in the ocean depths, and white when like the crashing waves on the shore.
In Irish history, because of their remarkable excellence in certain fields, some men were seen as divine. Manannán was a merchant and a mariner, who was the best at sea in the Western world and was accordingly called the god of the sea by the Irish and the British. In the meanwhile, Manannán was known as Manawydan in Wales.
A Celtic Goddess whose name is derived from the Celtic word for ‘horse’ for in Celtic epos means horse and the suffix -ona means on. She was originally from a cult area in NE Gaul. The photo shows one of the sculptures, or art in general, portraying this Celtic goddess in the most common iconography of her – seated side-saddle on a horse with her hand resting on the horse’s head or ass – and she was referred to as the goddess of the stable by Latin writers. She was also sometimes portrayed holding fruits or a cornucopia (i.e. a curved, hollow goat’s horn or similarly shaped receptacle, such as a horn-shaped basket, overflowing especially with fruit and vegetables), which attribute her to the mother goddesses.
Historians knew her from dedications and inscriptions found from Spain to the Balkans, and northern Britain to Italy. Many of those inscriptions, which were found near settlements, are often signed by soldiers, thus revealing a military cult rather than an indigenous cult. The cult of Epona was only introduced into Rome during imperial times when she was often called Augusta. In festivals, the Romans would put her image in some kind of a shrine, centred in the architrave of the stable (architrave in Classical architecture is the lowest section of the horizontal part, entablature, just above the capital of a column), and the image was crowned with flowers.
There are some similarities between goddess Epona and goddess Rhiannon Cymric whose name is derived from the Celtic word Rigantona, which means great queen. Among these similarities are their love for horses and also playing a role as a companion to the dead.
Lugh was the most honoured of all the Celtic gods by the Gauls. This is evident in the numerous images and inscriptions of him. He was the patron god of circulation – the most powerful god when it comes to commerce affairs – travellers and merchants. He was also described by Caesar as the inventor of all arts. His Celtic name is not stated explicitly. However, it is implied through the name attributed to his numerous cult centres, which was Lugudunon (i.e. the fort or dwelling of god Lugu. Cognates of Lugu in Irish and Welsh are Lugh and Lleu, where traditions concerning these gods were similar to those of the Gaulish god. At the time, the number 3 was regarded as a magical number. Accordingly, statues were made of Mercury, in Celtic areas, sometimes being portrayed as having three faces, heads or even three phalli, like the statuette of him, found at Tongeren, Belgium. These statues were thought of as good luck and fertility charms.
There are several epithets representing the god Mercury. In Irish tradition, Lugh as Mercury was known, was called Lug Lámfota (i.e. Lug of the Long Arm), and was the only survivor of triplet brothers all sharing the same name. He was also known as Samildánach (i.e. skilled in all the arts). On the other hand, he was known to the Romans as Mercurius.
The earth-mother goddess was honoured and given various names from eastern Europe to Ireland. Alternative spellings for her name are Anu and Dana. She was believed to be the goddess of fertility, wisdom and wind. She was identified as the mother of the gods and was believed to have suckled the gods. Goddess Danu was known from the Tuatha de Danann who were men of the goddess Dana or Danu and were named after her, as referred to earlier in the article on Fairy Glen. Celtic goddess Danu, The Flowing One, besides giving her name to the Tuatha de Danann, the tribe of Irish deities and magical heroes, but also to the Danube River, the second longest river in Europe.
In Irish mythology, Danu does not appear by herself. She is rather a mysterious figure than an active one. She is known through her children or people or by her name. Also part of the mystery of goddess Danu is that she originated as the goddess of the river or Danu of sacred waters and transitioned to be Anu of sacred land.
Irish Celtic goddess of battle, known as the Battle Crow since she appeared as a crow or a raven frequently on the battlefield. The Morrigan, an Irish tradition, is linked with battle and fertility, having dominion over life and death. She was also the goddess of strife and fertility. Morrigan means either Great Queen (mor rioghan) or Phantom Queen. The Morrigan appears as a single goddess as well as a trio of goddesses of herself, Macha (connotation for Crow) or Nemain (i.e. Frenzy), and Badb (i.e. Crow). Shapeshifting is one of her features. The Morrigan took an ornithological guise (i.e. bird form) of a hooded crow. She is one of the tribes Tuatha de Danann mentioned earlier. She married Dagda, leader of the Tuatha De Danaan, and son of the great mother goddess Danu. The Morrigan dates back to the megalithic cult of the Mothers (Matrones, Idises, Disir, etc.). She offered her love to the hero Cu Chulainn, son of the god Lugh, but he rejected her. She then threatened she would hinder him in battle. When he got killed in battle, she settled on his shoulder in crow form.
The Morrigan has been the subject of some artworks. Being a warrior goddess, her female energy, sensuality and power are depicted in paintings.
Celtic deity. Teutates or Toutates in Celtic means God of the People. The root of the name Teutates is teutā meaning (nation or tribe), and it suggests he was the sacred patron of the interests and concerns of the nation. He was accredited with creating all arts. He protected his people in their travels and bestowed success on their trade. Sacrifices were offered to Celtic god Teutates like other ancient gods. The victims sacrificed were killed by immersing their heads into a large vessel filled with an unspecified liquid, perhaps ale which was the Celts’ favourite drink, or by strangling them. Sacrificing victims by stabbing, burning, drowning or strangling held great significance.
Ancient gods identified with other gods from different epochs. Teutates was identified with both the Roman god Mercury (Greek Hermes) and the god Mars (Greek Ares). He was mentioned by Lucan, a Roman poet, in his Pharsalia, among three Celtic deities, in the first century CE. The other two were Esus (i.e. Lord) and Taranis (i.e. Thunderer). He was considered one of this triad, each associated with a different sacrificial rite. He was also mentioned as Toutates in dedications in Britain.
A Celtic deity whose name in Celtic means Good God. He is the Irish earth and father god and leader of the aforementioned Tuatha de Danann. Another epithet of Dagda is Eochaid Ollathair, meaning Eochaid the All-Father. He had many powers. He had a cauldron that was never empty providing an endless source of food, fruit trees that never died, two swines: one live and the other perpetually roasting, and a huge club with the power to kill people and restore them to life. He also had a harp that played by itself. He used it to summon the seasons. He mated with war goddess Morrigan and goddess Boann, and had offspring: Brigit and Aengus Mac Oc.
One of the pagan Celtic deities worshipped widely. Belenus in Celtic means Bright One. Despite that, Belenus was not a sun god or even a god of fire. In fact, no evidence for the worship of the sun existed in Celtic mythology. One inscription was found, in which Belenus is given the epithet Teutorix. Another epithet was probably Vindonnus, which was found in an inscription on part of a temple pediment at Essarois in Burgundy, a historical region in east-central France. Belenus was an epithet or descriptive surname given to Celtic Apollo (Apollo Belenus) in parts of Gaul, North Italy and Noricum (part of modern Austria), who was a healer and a sun deity as well.
On May 1st, a fire festival is organized called Beltane or Beltine celebrating this Celtic god. It was probably originally related to his cult. During the festival, the cattle were purified by fire, and then put out to the open pastures for the summer. The cult of Belenus is mentioned in a number of Classical Literary sources. The cult was practised in northern Italy, Noricum in the eastern Alps, southern Gaul and Britain.
Belenus is pictured on a bronze coin dating back to the 1st century CE, minted by Cunobeline, chief of the Trinovantes who are one of the Celtic tribes. On the other side of that coin is a picture of a boar, which to the Celts was a symbol of warlike power, sovereignty, hunting, and hospitality.
During the Iron Age, Celts worshipped a large number of gods and goddesses. They practised rituals by offering sacrifices to their gods—valuable offerings—as archaeologists believe. Not only did they offer material treasures or weapons by throwing them into special places, lakes or rivers, but also sacrificed animals and even humans. Archaeologists have found over 150 objects of bronze and iron at Llyn Cerrig Bach, a small lake in the northwest of the island of Anglesey, Wales, including swords, spears, and shields.
Greeks believed in the existence of numerous gods and goddesses to whom they performed rituals and sacrifices. Through these rituals and sacrifices, the gods and goddesses received their due. So many myths existed concerning gods and rituals, in which Greek religion is manifested. Greek deities personalized every aspect of the world, natural and cultural. We find gods and goddesses of earth, sea, mountains, and rivers. Greeks offered sacrifices to the gods to have their divine support in war and times of crisis. From that we can deduce the hierarchy of power and excellence between the gods and mortals, the gods being superior of high status, while the mortals being inferior to the gods, having lower status. Both sides did not accept any attempt by an inferior to move higher on the scale.
There is no written creed or body of dogma for Greek religion, but there are rather sacred writings surviving in inscriptions, oracles, instructions to the dead, and hymns, such as the Homeric Hymns, Delphic inscriptions and oracles.
Aphrodite is the ancient Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty. The Greek word aphros means “foam”. In his poem Theogony, Hesiod relates that Aphrodite was born from the white foam of the severed genitals of Uranus, the personification of heaven in Greek mythology after they were thrown by Uranus’ son Cronus into the sea. In addition to being the goddess of sexual love and beauty, Aphrodite was worshipped as a goddess of the sea and of seafaring on a wide scale. She was also regarded as a goddess of war, especially at Sparta, Thebes, and Cyprus, but she was honoured as a goddess of love and fertility. The dove, swan, pomegranate and myrtle were among her symbols. She was worshipped mainly at Paphos and Amathus on the islands of Cyprus and Cythera, which was the place of origin of her cult in prehistoric times, while Corinth was the main centre of her worship on the Greek mainland. Even though Aphrodite was in control of marriage and her cult was morally strict, she was seen as a patron by prostitutes.
Believing that Aphrodite’s worship originated in the East and then moved to Greece, many scholars see that many of her characteristics should be regarded as Semitic. Cyprus was famous for worshipping her, thus Homer called her Cyprian. However, she was Hellenized by the time of Homer. Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and his partner Dione, according to Homer.
Stories of Aphrodite are found in literature. For instance, in book 8 of Homer’s epic the Odyssey, Aphrodite was mismatched with Hephaestus, the lame smith god. This mismatch led to an affair between her and Ares, the handsome god of war. They had children: Harmonia, warrior twins Phobos and Deimos, and Eros the god of love. She had other mortal lovers: Trojan shepherd Anchises and had children: Aeneas, the mythical hero of Troy and Rome, and Adonis, a youth of remarkable beauty and the favourite of the goddess Aphrodite, who was killed by a boar while hunting. She was also honoured by Roman poet Lucretius as Genetrix, the creative element in the world. She was called different epithets, including Urania, which means Heavenly Dweller, and Pandemos, which means Of All the People. In his Symposium, Plato uses those two epithets to refer to intellectual and common love.
In other works of literature, her terrible anger is shown, as in book 3 of the Iliad, when Helen refuses to make love to Paris as she commanded. Another depiction of her anger is in Euripedes’ tragedy Hippolytus written in 428 BCE, in the prologue when she reveals her plan to destroy Hippolytus through Phaedra since he refused to worship her.
Aphrodite was an inspiration for many artworks. In early Greek art, statues of her were made, portraying her being nude, standing or seated. The most famous of these statues is the one sculpted by Praxiteles, called Venus of Cnidos, dating back to the mid-4th century BCE, a copy of which is now found in the Vatican. However, long before, before nearly 400 BCE, in archaic Greek art, she is portrayed clothed, sitting with other Olympians, standing, or riding a chariot or even a swan as found on a red-figure vase from Cyprus that dates back to c. 440 BCE which is now placed in Oxford.
The supreme deity in Greek religion and king of the Olympian gods, whose throne is placed on Mount Olympus. He was a god of sky and weather like the Roman god Jupiter in Roman religion who is etymologically identical. The name Zeus comes from the name of the sky god Dyaus of the ancient Hindu Rigveda, the oldest of the sacred books of Hinduism composed in c. 1500 BCE. Besides controlling the weather, Zeus offered signs and omens. He maintained justice among gods and mortals. His traditional weapon was the thunderbolt.
Zeus was the son of Cronus, king of Titans, and Rhea. A Cretan myth entailed that Cronus knew one of his children was destined to dethrone him, so he swallowed his children: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon, right after they were born. Rhea, his wife, managed to save her youngest child, Zeus, by putting instead a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes for Cronus to swallow and hiding Zeus in a cave on Crete. There he was taken care of and kept safe by Amalthaea, the nymph (i.e. female goat), who suckled young Zeus, and the Curetes (i.e. young warriors), or in some versions by the primaeval goddess Gaia. They clashed their weapons, making a loud sound that would cover Zeus’ cries. After Zeus grew up, he dethroned his father, Cronus, after leading a revolt against the Titans. He then perhaps divided the rule over the world with his brothers Hades and Poseidon who were brought back after Zeus forced Cronus to do so. Poseidon dominated the seas, while Hades dominated the underworld. Zeus was eventually dethroned and bound to his bed by Hera, Poseidon and Athena, his favourite child who was born from his head.
Zeus had many offspring, not only from his wives, Titan Metis and Hera but also from his several affairs. Among his offspring was Athena from his wife, Metis who was swallowed by Zeus lest she would have a son who would usurp his position. Athena was born from his head and became his favourite child. With Hera he had Hephaistos, Ares, Hebe, and Eileithyia. Dionysos was born from Zeus’ thigh after the premature death of his mother, Semele.
To bed his prey, Zeus transformed himself into various forms. For example, he transformed into a swan and had Helen with Leda. He also transformed himself into a white bull for Europa and had Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. Not only did he transform himself into animals, but he also appeared to Danae as golden rain and won her over with his charms. They had Perseus.
In art, Zeus was portrayed as a dark-haired, bearded, dignified, mature man with a strong body. He was symbolized by the thunderbolt and the eagle.
Apollo, by the name Phoebus, is one of the most complex gods in Greek mythology. He was the god of prophecy, oracles, music, art, law, beauty, poetry, archery, plague, medicine, knowledge and wisdom.
The Greek verb (apollymi) is associated with Apollo’s name, which means “to destroy”.
He is the son of Zeus and the titan Leto, and was born on the Greek island of Delos, along with his twin sister Artemis – goddess of the hunt. Apollo and his sister Artemis shared an aptitude for archery.
He was one of the few gods that had the same name in both Roman and Greek mythology, although he was mainly known in Greek mythology as the god of light, while Roman mythology focused on him as the god of prophecy and healing.
In art, Apollo was represented as a beardless youth, either naked or robed. Distance, death, terror, and awe were summed up in his symbolic bow. A gentler side of his nature, however, was shown in his other attribute, the lyre, which proclaimed the joy of communion with Olympus (the home of the gods) through music, poetry, and dance.
Apollo was the leader of the Muses and director of the choir (also known as Apollon Musegetes). The god Hermes created the lyre for Apollo, which became a known attribute for him.
Hymns that were sung to Apollo were called paeans. Paean is a choral lyric of invocation, joy, or triumph, originating in ancient Greece. Paeans were sung to honour Apollo at festivals and funerals.
Apollo is often referred to as “The healer”, as he was the one who taught medicine to men. It was believed that Apollo, who was the god of both medicine and plague, could heal people as well as cause diseases by shooting people with his arrows.
Apollo had many love affairs, but most of them were unfortunate. Daphne was a Naiad Nymph, and was the daughter of a river god. She was famous for her incredible beauty and for catching the attention and desire of Apollo. She was also known for being determined to remain untouched by a man for the rest of her life. Greek mythology tells the tale of Apollo mocking Eros (god of love; also known as Cupid). As revenge, Eros struck Apollo with a gold arrow, which made him fall in love with Daphne, And struck Daphne with a lead arrow that made her hate Apollo. Apollo kept pursuing Daphne despite her continuous rejection.
Daphne, desperate to be free from Apollo’s unwanted sexual advances, turned to the river god, Peneus, for help. Peneus used metamorphosis to turn Daphne into a laurel tree. Apollo, still in love with Daphne, used his powers of immortality and eternal youth to keep Daphne’s laurel leaves green and young forever.
Coronis, daughter of Phlegyas, King of the Lapiths, was a mortal princess and one of Apollo’s lovers. While Apollo was away Coronis, already pregnant with Asclepius, fell in love with Ischys, son of Elatus. Apollo was informed of the affair by a white raven which he had left behind to guard Coronis. Enraged that the bird had not pecked out Ischys’ eyes as soon as he approached Coronis, Apollo flung a curse upon it so furious that it scorched its feathers, which is why all ravens are black.
Artemis then killed Coronis upon her brother’s demand, as he could not bring himself to do it. He then signed to Hermes to cut the child, Asclepius, from the womb of his mother’s burning body and gave it to the centaur Chiron to raise. Hermes then brought her soul to Tartarus.
Cassandra was the most beautiful child of King Priam of Troy and his wife Hecuba. Apollo taught Cassandra the art of prophecy, but it is believed that he had an ulterior motive for instructing the young mortal. He wished for her to be his lover, unfortunately, Cassandra accepted Apollo as a teacher not as a lover. However, some say that she had promised Apollo to be his companion but broke her promise, which enraged Apollo.
Apollo, insulted by Cassandra’s refusal, decided to turn his gift to Cassandra into a curse as punishment. She would live the rest of her days uttering true prophecies that no one believed.
Eros in Greek religion, god of love. He first appears as a primordial god in some stories, born from CHAOS while in others the story is simpler and he is the son of APHRODITE.
Besides being the god of passion Eros was also considered the god of fertility.
Eros’s representation in art differs. For example, in Alexandrian poetry, he is described as a mischievous child. At the same time, in Archaic art, he was represented as a beautiful winged youth but kept getting younger and younger until, by the Hellenistic period, he was an infant. In early Greek poetry and art, Eros was pictured as a handsome male carrying a bow and arrow. Later on, Eros is seen as a chubby blindfolded old man who with a shot of an arrow can make people fall in love with each other, of course, that was in satirical scenarios.
As Aphrodite’s son, Eros seemed to lose his power and wisdom as time went on. Some think that maybe the reason why his representation in artwork changed from the sophisticated youth to the chubby reckless child.
When Aphrodite asked her son Eros to use his powers to make Psyche, a mortal princess of whom she was jealous, he was stricken by her beauty and instead hid her in a dark cave, where he visited her every night so she wouldn’t recognise him. One night a lamp was lit and Psyche was surprised that the figure at her side was the god of love himself. When a drop of oil from the lamp awakened him, he reproached Psyche and fled. Psyche wandered the lands in search of him, but with no luck. Desperate, she turned to Aphrodite, who gave her a list of difficult tasks to perform before helping her. Psyche finished the impossible list, impressing Aphrodite with her persistence who decided to help her at last. Psyche, having been made immortal by Aphrodite, and Eros married and had a daughter, Hedone (meaning bliss).
The Goddess of Archery, the Hun, Forests and Hill and the Moon, Artemis was the daughter of Zeus, the king of gods, and Leto, the Titaness, and Apollo’s twin sister.
In art, she was represented as a huntress carrying her bow and arrow.
Artemis had vowed to stay a virgin forever, but still, she caught the attention of many suitors from gods and men. But Orion the Hunter was the only one who she loved. The legend tells the story of how her twin brother Apollo tricked her into killing Orion with her arrow in fear of her maidenhood. Artemis, devastated by her love’s death by her own hands, but Orion’s body in the sky among the stars.
She was the goddess of war, handicraft, and practical reason. She was also the city protector and was often mentioned as the companion of great warriors.
The story of her birth is a very strange one, and it might be the reason why she was the favourite of Zeus among all his children. Greek Mythology says that Athena was sprung from Zeus’s head, fully grown and in her armour. Another version of this story is that Zeus swallowed Metis who was already pregnant with Artemis, and that’s why she was born from his head.
Athena was portrayed in art wearing her armour and carrying a shield. In later poetry, where she is referred to as “grey-eyed”, she was the symbol of wisdom and rational thought.
Atlas was a Titan who was condemned to hold the weight of the Heavens or Earth on his shoulders until the end of days. That was the punishment bestowed upon him by Zeus, king of Olympians after Atlas sided with the Titans in Titanomachy (the battle between Titans and Olympians).
In Classical art from the 6th century BCE, Atlas was represented as carrying the heavens, while in Hellenistic and Roman art he was seen as carrying the celestial globe (a sort of map of constellations and stars on the apparent sphere of the sky).
Norse religion (or Germanic religion) and mythology is a group of stories and beliefs about the gods and nature of the cosmos developed by the Germanic-speaking peoples before their conversion to Christianity. The Vikings’ sea trade, explorations and conquests that reached from Constantinople in the East to Iceland in the West played a big role in the spread of Norse myths. Norse gods and goddesses belong to ancient Scandinavian mythology and a family of pre-Christian gods who were worshipped by Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, and Danes.
Heroic tales of these ancient gods were being told – gods like Thor, Frey, or Odin, a one-eyed chief king who wisely ed his people. Those tales are not necessarily true. In fact, no one knows if they were actually true or merely stories. Only the stories survived – stories of gods or heroes who were symbols of nature’s aspects. They survived in the form of narratives and texts of verse and prose.
We may think that the Norse religious beliefs vanished with the emergence of Christianity. However, some practised it secretly, pretending to be Christian. Even up to this day some people in Denmark – between 500 and 1000 people – still believe in Norse gods. They hold meetings in the open air, just like the old Vikings did, to praise their Norse gods, make offerings to them, and drink toasts wishing for prosperity and a good harvest or becoming pregnant and finding eternal love.
Norse mythology was most known in more recent times, especially in the Romantic Era. During the Romantic Era, myths and gods were a popular source of inspiration. Norse mythology inspired the creation of artworks and literature, such as the opera cycle by the German composer Richard Wagner entitled Der Ring des Nibelungen ‘The Ring of the Nibelung’ in which Odin plays a pivotal role.
This Norse deity is also called Wodan, Woden, or Wotan. Odin, known as the All-Father, was ranked above all the other gods, goddesses and people living in Asgard, the dwelling place of the gods in Norse mythology as the Greek Mount Olympus in Greek mythology, where his throne is situated as the highest of Asgard. Odin was unprecedentedly wise. He was the leader and protector of Norse princes and heroes. He watched over the whole world from his throne which was known as Hlidskjalf. He had two wolves by his side: Geri and Freki. They were sacred to him and he trusted them. He also had two ravens: Hugin and Munin (i.e. Thought and Memory) which reported to Odin events of the world daily.
Odin aspired to have great wisdom, so he requested to drink from a well which was a source of knowledge and understanding, Mimir’s well. However, he had to make a big sacrifice in exchange. Mimir insisted Odin would give up an eye for the gifts of the well. So he willingly plucked out his right eye in exchange for the valuable wisdom.
Thor was the god of thunder and patron of the common man. Thor was the most popular of all the Norse deities. He was worshipped widely throughout the Scandinavian World. He was regarded as a champion among the other Norse gods for his unprecedented courage. He had a mighty weapon—a hammer called Miolnir—forged by dwarven smiths deep within the earth in a way that made it return to Thor’s hand after he threw it like a boomerang, and it represented the thunderbolt. Thor was a great warrior represented as a middle-aged, red-bearded man of mighty strength. He was known for his great hostility to the giants, who were a harmful race and were his chief enemies, in addition to the world serpent Jörmungand (Jörmungandr), a symbol of evil. On the other hand, he was benevolent to the human race. In some traditions, Thor was the son of Odin and was seen as a secondary character compared to him. However, in Iceland, he was worshipped more than the other gods by all northern peoples except for the royal families.
Thor’s name was the Germanic word for ‘thunder’. Thor was sometimes identified with the Roman god Jupiter. In literature, Thor was the hero of many Norse tales which depicted the ongoing conflict between the Norse gods and the Frost Giants of the North. The Norse gods and the Giants were always competitive, always clashing. One tale tells the story of the time when Thor went fishing with giant Hymir for breakfast. Hymir caught two whales and Thor caught Jormundgander, the serpent that orbits the Earth. During Thor’s attempt to drag the serpent on board the boat, which was about to sink it, Hymir cut his fishing line, which infuriated Thor and led to a great battle. Thor killed Hymir’s two pursuers with his hammer and escaped.
Thor, in his Germanic incarnation (Donner), appears as a central character in Richard Wagner’s opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. This work influenced many portrayals of this Norse deity after Wagner, reflecting the classic understanding of Norse tradition. Thor also appeared as a character in literature, in Douglas Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul published in 1988, in comic books, such as Marvel’s The Mighty Thor in 1966, and inspired movies, such as Thor starring Chris Hemsworth in 2011, 2013 and 2017.
A fertility god, possibly of a Swedish or a Germanic origin extending throughout the Nordic region, however less popular in Iceland. He is known to have been worshipped during the Viking Period c. 700 CE until the emergence of Christianity. This god’s cult was centred in Uppsala (Sweden), Thrandheim (Norway) and various temples and shrines throughout the Nordic countries. None of these temples and shrines survived. Frey was one of the Vanir (i.e. a race of Norse gods who warred against and later reconciled with the Aesir) gods living in Asgard. He was the god of fertility, prosperity and peace. He was Njord’s son and twin brother of Freyja.
Frey was the personification of summer. Fairies and elves loved him for he was strong and shining like the sun. He was appointed by his father, Odin, to keep an eye on the dwarfs of Svartheim after they had been banished by Odin, and to prevent them from meddling in the gods’ affairs.
Freyja is a fertility and vegetation goddess of Nordic (Icelandic) or Germanic origin. Like Frej or Frey, she is known to have been worshipped during the Viking Period c. 700 CE until after Christianity emerged. Her cults were centred mainly in Sweden and Norway and throughout the Nordic region. She was one of the most popular deities in Asgard. Freyja was a Vanir goddess. She was also Frey’s twin sister and daughter of Njord, who is our next deity in this article. Besides being a goddess of fertility and vegetation, Freyja was also the goddess of love, marriage and prosperity. She drove a chariot pulled by two cats, roaming at night in the form of a she-goat. She rode a boar with golden bristles as well, which was called the Hildeswin. It was believed that she shed tears of gold and could take the shape of a falcon.
Old Norse Vanir deity in Norse mythology, the god of the wind and of the sea and its riches, and father of god Frey and goddess Freyja. He was regarded as the god of wealth-bestowal or prosperity to mankind. He also controls the winds and storms. Njörd was given as a hostage to Aesir, the rival tribe of the Vanir, Njörd’s native tribe in a war that erupted between the two tribes. Then, the giantess Skadi chose to marry him; however, their marriage failed since he preferred to live in his homeland, Nóatún, by the sea and Skadi did not want to live with him. She wanted to stay in her father’s mountain.
A poem entails that he lived among an enclosure of ships, Noatun. The use of ships as burial chambers was probably closely associated with Njord, and more links between ships and fertility seem well-established, strengthening the connection with Njörd, the Vanir deity.
Norse god of the ocean and an Aesir god of Asgard. He was responsible for the moods of the sea and their implications for mariners, sailors and fishermen. Aegir did not descend from Odin. He descended from an older race from the earliest times. A river was even named after this Norse deity – River Eider was known to the Vikings as Aegir’s Door.
Aegir was depicted in several works of literature. There were references to Saxons sacrificing captives probably to Aegir. He was also depicted in some poems, such as the “ale brewer”.
Aegir was married to goddess Ran, goddess of death for those who died or went missing in the sea. She would entangle the sailors in her nets and would drag them down to watery graves.
Egyptian religious beliefs and practices were associated with the historical period (from c. 3000 BCE). Religious phenomena spread wide through Egypt, having a clear consistent character and style throughout the 3,000 years or more of its development despite the changes that came about in practice. Ancient Egyptians believed in more than one god at a time, or what is called ‘polytheism’. The word ‘nejter’ (i.e. god) itself described a wider range of beings, which is different from what ‘god’ means in monotheistic religions. However, gods in ancient Egyptian religion were neither all-powerful nor all-knowing, but their powers were much much greater than that of an ordinary human being.
Not only did ancient religion exist in cults and human piety, but also religious behaviour revolved around contact with the dead – the afterlife was a very important aspect in Ancient Egypt – in addition to practices, such as divination and oracles, and magic.
The king and the gods were the two most essential features that characterized Ancient Egyptian civilization. The king, who had the highest status between humans and the gods, had funerary monuments built for him for the afterlife. He was responsible for retaining the god’s benevolence in maintaining order among humans and keeping it under control. Monuments were erected with inscriptions depicting the mutual dependence and harmony between the gods and the king.
Egyptian gods were put in different physical forms; sometimes in animal forms and in mixed forms between animals and humans where they had ahead of an animal and a body of a human, and most of them were associated with one or more species of animal. For example, gods were mostly manifested as bulls and falcons, while goddesses were mostly manifested as cows, cobras, vultures and lionesses. These animal manifestations represented the nature of the gods. For example, some goddesses were lionesses when fierce, but were cats when mild. Speaking of gods who took dual forms, god Thoth too had two animal forms, the ibis and the baboon. Some manifestations were even as modest as the millipede like god Sepa. However, the ram’s manifestations were widespread. Some gods were very strongly linked to particular animals, as Sebek was with the crocodile and Khepri with the scarab beetle. Moreover, many deities had only human form which was the main manifestation of gods at the time, such as Min, the god of fertility, Ptah the creator and craftsman, cosmic gods Shu, god of the air and sky, and Geb, the god of earth, Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys, who provided a model of human society.
On the other hand, an opposite combination was found in the manifestations of kings, a human head with an animal body. The most renowned was the sphinx which was a human head on a lion’s body. Nevertheless, Sphinxes could have other heads as well, notably those of rams and falcons, associating the form with Amon and Re-Harakhty.
As we mentioned earlier, Ancient Egyptians cared a big deal about death and the afterlife. It is even evident in archaeological records of Ancient Egypt and popular modern conceptions of Egyptian religion. We can see tombs built mostly in the Egyptian desert. It was thought that the next world might be located in the area around the tomb (and consequently near the living). Thus, rulers and important officials had prestigious tombs built for their burial, which were filled with goods for the afterlife, most of which would soon decompose. They would also have texts put in their tombs, intended to help the dead in the afterlife, usually inscriptions on coffins or written on papyri. Some of these texts that were found in royal tombs were long passages of religious texts. An even more interesting belief among Ancient Egyptians was that those who died failed the judgment would “die a second time” and would be cast outside the ordered cosmos.
Aker (also known as Akeru, which is the plural form) is a chthonic (i.e. of or relating to the underworld) earth god of passage. This god was worshipped starting from c. 2700 BCE onward. He was responsible for controlling the interface between the eastern and western horizons of the underworld. He was also the guardian of the gate of the passage through which kings passed to the underworld. He protected the small ship of the sun god on its journey through the underworld at night. In artworks or inscriptions, he was represented by opposite-facing pairs of human or lion heads. He was considered to have the power to neutralize snake bites.
Osiris is one of the widely-worshipped Ancient Egyptian deities of the Egyptian pantheon. Osiris was perceived as the counterpart in the death of the sun god RE. As aforementioned, some of the Ancient Egyptian deities were humans and Osiris was one of those deities. The priests at Heliopolis tracked his ascendence and found out that he was born at Rosetau in the necropolis (gate of the underworld) of Memphis, to his parents, Geb and Nut. He had god-siblings: Isis, a principal deity in rites connected with the dead, who, in addition to being his sister, was also his wife; Seth, who was a sky god, lord of the desert, master of storms, disorder, and warfare; and Nephthys, who was a funerary goddess. Not only was Osiris close to his sister goddess Isis, who took his semen after his death to impregnate herself and have the god Horus, but he was also close to mortuary goddess Serket who took the form of a scorpion.
In some of the depictions of Osiris, he is wrapped like a mummy in linen with his arms free, holding the crook and flail. He is also represented wearing a distinctive white crown of a conical shape, which was the official crown of Lower Egypt, framed by tall plumes and rams’ horns. He was often depicted as having green skin. And like a grain god, he was worshipped in the form of a sack filled with seed which sprouted green.
Each king that ruled Egypt, at the time, was considered an embodiment of Horus in his life, and of Osiris after his death. This is why Osiris’s relationship with Egyptian kingship was a crucial one.
The Osirian legend is told through pure Egyptian textual sources and the Greek writer Plutarch. Plutarch describes how Seth persuaded Osiris to step into a sarcophagus, that was exactly his size, during a drinking party. Seth then nailed the coffin with Osiris inside and threw it into the Nile. When it was washed ashore in Lebanon, it became encased in the trunk of a growing tree. Said tree trunk was later cut down and used as a pillar for the local ruler’s palace. Isis finally found Osiris’s body after years of searching, she breathed life back into it and impregnated herself with his semen. She carried their son Horus. Meanwhile, Seth discovered the body of Osiris and once again destroyed it, but this time by hacking it into fourteen pieces and scattering them ashore in the Nile valley. All the pieces except for Osiris’s penis, which Seth had thrown to a crocodile. Isis found all of Osiris’s body parts except for his penis, for which she made a replica. That replica later became the focus of the Osirian cult.
The purely Egyptian textual sources, on the other hand, don’t mention the story of Seth and the sarcophagus or the discovery in Lebanon. Isis is represented as a hawk, in the search of Osiris, being impregnated by the dead god’s erect phallus. The fate of the penis and how it was thrown by Seth to a crocodile is also omitted from the Egyptian version. It says that Osiris’s phallus was buried at Memphis.
Also Known as Amen, Ammon. Amun was the chief Theban god. His power grew as Thebes (his city of origin) grew from an unknown village, in the old Kingdom, to a powerful capital in the Middle and the New Kingdoms. He rose to become the king of the Theban pharaohs and was eventually combined with the god of the sun, Ra who had been the dominant deity of the Old Kingdom to become Amun-Ra, King of the Gods.
Amun’s name means; mysterious figure or hidden one. His representation in painting and art throughout history supports the name. He was seen in a normal human form with a double-plumed crown, and sometimes he was in the form of a ram or a goose. That was an implication of the fact that his true identity was never revealed.
Amun’s chief temple was Karnak, but his cult extended to Nubia, Ethiopia, Libya, and much of Palestine. In Greek mythology, Amun was thought to be an Egyptian manifestation of Zeus. And even Alexander the Great thought it worthwhile to consult the oracle of Amun.
The god of mortuaries, although he was later overshadowed by Osiris, Anubis takes the form of a black dog or jackal usually in a lying down or crouching position, ears pricked and long tail hanging. He wears a collar with magical connotations. Less often he appears in human form with a canine head.
This depiction of a dog probably originated from the observation of bodies being removed from shallow graves and the desire to protect them from such a fate by manifesting Anubis as a dog himself.
His main concern was with the funerary cult and the care of the dead, and he was reputed for the invention of embalming or mummification, which is the art of preserving the bodies of Pharos after their death.
Anubis was sometimes identified by the Greco-Roman world with the Greek Hermes in the combined deity Hermanubis.
Horus was the son of Isis and Osiris. He was also known to be the mortal enemy of Seth, who killed his father Osiris. Horus was worshipped all over Egypt, especially in Edfu, where his temple is located until this day.
Horus is usually represented as a full hawk or a human with a hawk’s head. And sometimes he is shown as a young child sitting on his mother’s lap. He is also represented by the “Eye of Horus”.
Eye of Horus; Horus’s eyes were said to be the sun and the moon, until later when he became more strongly associated with the sun and the god of the sun; Ra. A symbol representing health, protection, and restoration, the Eye of Horus was mentioned in Egyptian mythology as being lost in a struggle between Seth and Horus and then being restored by Hathor. This is why it symbolizes healing and restoration.
Isis was a well-known goddess, being the wife of Osiris and the mother of Horus; she was a giver of life, a healer and the protector of kings.
She was one of the first who used mummification when she collected the dismembered parts of her husband’s body. Isis was also an enchantress; she brought Osiris back to life and impregnated herself with his son, Horus.
Isis is represented in art with a throne on her head and is sometimes shown breastfeeding Horus as an infant. In this image, she was known as the “Mother of God.” To the Egyptians, she was the symbol of the ideal wife and mother; loving, devoted, and caring. The priests of Heliopolis, followers of the sun god Re, tell the myth of Isis. This told that Isis was the daughter of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut and the sister of the deities Osiris, Seth, and Nephthys. Married to Osiris, king of Egypt, Isis was a good queen who supported her husband and taught the women of Egypt many things like how to weave, bake, and brew beer.