“Artemis of the wilderness, lady of wild beast. Zeus has made you a lion among women, and given you a leave to kill any at your pleasure.”
~Homer (Archaic Period)
origin: Minoan or Anatolian
sacrificial animal: goat, bear, boar, deer, horses, wild game
Artemis is the goddess of virgin nature, the hunt, and the initiation of girls into women. She is considered to be the daughter of Zeus by Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. Artemis is depicted as a gorgeous lady of the wood with a host of nymphs- but also as a vindictive goddess who demands sacrifices and ritual cruelty that transcend traditional piety.
“She is a paradoxical goddess: a virgin who aids women in childbirth, a fierce huntress who fosters wild beasts, and a bloodthirsty deity who both nurtures the young and demands their sacrifice. Standing at the borders, both conceptual and physical, between savage and civilized life, Artemis oversees the transition of girls to adult status, but is also a patron of warriors.”
She is frequently depicted in the Archaic Period as a “Mistress of Animals”, flanked by animals and birds which she grips by the neck. This iconography has been used to argue for a Minoan origin:
“Artemis is of Minoan origin; but this Artemis is not the goddess of classical mythology, the sister of Apollo, but a ruder and more primitive type of deity…this type of the Mistress of Animals has been handed on from Minoan and Mycenaean art to Greek art…From this starting point we may understand the two lines of development, which lead on the one hand to the Great Mountain Mother of Asia Minor who roams the mountains accompanied by her lions, and on the other to the virgin huntress of classical Greece…the Minoan Mistress of Animals was fused with Artemis. But this does not imply that the Greek Artemis had a purely Minoan origin…the Greeks also had deities who presided over Nature and the animals, although who they were we do not know. Greek religion is the product of a fusion of Greek and Minoan elements, as Artemis is…”
Artemis has also been compared to Cybele and Astarte:
~Nils Martin Persson Nilsson
“Ephesus amongst its mountains was a major centre of the worship of Cybele from at least the tenth century BCE. The North Syrian cult of Astarte, Artemis to the Greeks, Diana to the Romans, was built upon hers in later times, but the ecstatic festival known as the Ephesia was still celebrated in her honour in the Roman period…the high priests of Artemis at Ephesus were also eunuchs (Megabyzi or Megalobyzi). This may indicate either their original connection with the more ancient priesthood of Cybele, or the reverse, the influence of other cults upon that of Cybele.”
~ Jake Stratton-Kent
Wherever Artemis’s origins were, her savage nature as a goddess of wild animals survived her classical Greek reinvention as a virgin huntress of the untamed wood.
*mistaken for breasts even in pagan times, the globes fixed to her torso were likely the large fruits of a date palm tree.
Ancient Greek Cults: A Guide (Jennifer Larson)
Geosophia: The Argo of Magick (Jake Stratton-Kent)
Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical (Walter Burkert)
The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and its Survival in Greek Religion (Nils Martin Persson Nilsson)