Zeus is the king of the Greek Olympian spirits, the wielder of the mighty thunderbolt. Scholarly debate rages as to whether he is an indigenous Greek spirit or whether he arrived with invading Achaeans in approximately 1200 BCE (partly because there’s no consensus on exactly who the Achaeans are or where they came from).
Various mythic versions of Zeus’ birth exist, although in all he is the hunted and protected Divine Child. Various sites competed for the honor of being his birthplace or the place where he was kept hidden (and the pilgrimage funds that would accrue from this honor). Depending on the myth, baby Zeus, child of Gaia and Kronos, was nursed by a bear, dog, dove, goat, sow, or bees, all of whom may or may not be Nymphs in animal guise.
Zeus does not come to power because of his own superior strength and strategizing. His victory is owed to Gaia and her other children. Zeus received his signature thunder and lightning bolts from the Cyclopes after he liberated them from the pit of Tartarus. A later rebellion against Zeus led by Hera and Poseidon is ultimately foiled by the hulking presence of Briareus of the Hecatoncheires. Zeus expands his power via alliances with Gaia’s daughters and granddaughters.
Zeus is a voracious spirit: hungry for women, victory, power, and territory. Most of the romantic myths regarding Zeus and his seduction (or rape) of mortal women, usually described as princesses or queens, are mythiceuphemisms for his mergers with local goddesses who were then demoted to the rank of mortals, albeit royal.
Zeus’ ascendance to power accompanied and symbolizes a social sea-change in which men, especially fathers or patriarchs, are rulers. For example, although from Demeter and Persephone’s perspective, Persephone was abducted, technically this is not the case. Zeus gave Persephone, his daughter, to Hades, asserting father right. Zeus is a spirit of a new world order: a revolution where the male contribution to conception was understood as something that must be protected. Worship of Zeus embraces a social change in which the father is of greater significance than the mother. In the words of Apollo, a mother is just an oven required to prepare the child the father has placed within until it’s done.
Zeus is the lord of paternity. Myths recount his countless, fruitful liaisons with women, mortals and goddesses alike. The point of these myths isn’t just to Demonstrate that he’s a player; those myths are a promise. Zeus bestows children like divine gifts—and not just any children, either. His descendents include heroes and the most beautiful woman in the world. Since he sowed his seed so prolifically, Zeus was also venerated as an ancestral spirit by many people, especially royalty.
Despite images of him sitting high above the clouds on Mount Olympus, Zeus was not a remote spirit but a communicative, oracular one. One could visit his shrines and solicit his advice. At his ancient shrine in Dodona, oracles were obtained by interpreting the sound of rustling leaves in his oak grove, understood to be his voice.
There are very few traces of Zeus among the persistent, surviving remnants of Greek Paganism. His role was essentially usurped or given to God. (Surviving spirits like the Neraida tend to be those for whom Christianity had no true adequate replacement; thus it’s the sexy, wild, magical spirits that people refuse to let go.) However, the concept of God as an enthroned, regal, white-haired, bearded man may derive from Zeus.
• Zeus can fulfill any request or petition. If he can’t do it himself, he will order another spirit to do it for him. However, he is generally invoked for healing, prosperity, protection, justice, and fertility.
Ellinais, or the Holy Association of Greek Ancient Religion Believers, received official state recognition and on 22 January 2007 was permitted to celebrate the nuptials of Zeus and Hera at the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, the first openly practiced religious ceremonies at Zeus’ temple since Paganism was abolished in the fourth century.
Favored people: Those who have been struck by lightning and survived may consider themselves under Zeus’ patronage.
Manifestation: Zeus is a notorious shape-shifter. Favorite forms include bulls, snakes, and a distinguished, handsome man in his prime. Allegedly his true manifestation is a raging, incredibly bright, vivid flame, the equivalent of the flash from an atomic bomb, whose full impact mortals are unable to withstand (as happens in the myth of Semele).
Iconography: Zeus is usually envisioned as a powerful, curly-bearded man wearing a wreath of oak or olive leaves.
Creatures: Bull, wolf, snake, bear
Sacred sites: Mountain peaks in general, places struck by lightning. Lightning indicates Zeus marking his territory. Once upon a time, altars dedicated to Zeus were erected wherever lightning had struck. The place was then reserved for spiritual rituals only.
• Construction of the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens began in the sixth century BCE It was envisioned as the world’s largest temple and was not completed until the second century CE.
• The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento, Sicily, was the largest Doric temple ever constructed.
• The Temple of Zeus at Olympia, whose colossal statue of Zeus was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Offerings: Honey, ouzo, generous portions of Greek food and wine
In addition to his standard manifestation, Zeus also possesses some distinctive paths, which may be venerated independently:
Zeus Lykaios, “Wolf Zeus” or “Wolfish Zeus,” is the patron deity of the rural Greek region Arcadia. His sanctuary atop Mount Lykaion, “Wolf Mountain” the highest peak of Arcadia, is approximately twenty-two miles away from his sanctuary at Olympia. Recent archaeological evidence indicates that his ash-heap altar was first used at least five thousand years ago, significantly longer than Zeus was known in the region.
Human sacrifices to Zeus Lykaios were allegedly still performed during the second century CE. Greek travel writer Pausanias described it as a “secret sacrifice” saying that he “was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning.” According to legend, one man was transformed into a wolf at each annual sacrifice to Zeus Lykaios. Whether this means a literal wolf, a werewolf by modern standards, or a euphemism for wolf priests—the original werewolves—is up for speculation. Spirit allies: Zeus, Leto, Artemis, and Apollo form a wolf pack and may be venerated together.
Zeus Soter is Zeus the Savior. He is the protector of property. Zeus Soter is venerated in the marketplace and the harbor. His image is kept in the home for luck and protection. Honey is offered to him, encouraging him to behave sweetly. Sacred site: A statue of Zeus Soter stood atop the lighthouse at Pharos, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
See also: Apollo; Artemis; Athena; Callisto; Cyclopes; Dione; Dionysus; Europa; Helen of Troy; Hephaestus; Hera; Heracles; Io; Jupiter; Kronos; Leto; Metis; Nemesis; Neraida; Nymph; Pasiphae; Poseidon; Prometheus; Rhea; Semele; Styx; Themis; Thetis; Titan; Zemele and the Glossary entry for Path.
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
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