Mistress of Animals; She of the Wild; Most Beautiful; Lady of Many Shrines and Many Cities; Lady of the Wild Mountains; Opener of the Womb
Artemis is among the most ancient indigenous spirits of Greece. Her earliest incarnation seems to have been as a bear goddess. By the Classical Era, Artemis was absorbed into the Olympian pantheon as the spirit most associated with wild nature, witchcraft, and women’s mysteries. Artemis was venerated by both men and women. She is an initiatory spirit who presides over rites of initiation for both males and females.
According to the most popular version of her myth, Artemis was born on the island of Delos, daughter of Leto and Zeus. Her very first act upon drawing breath was to assist Leto in the long, difficult delivery of her brother, Apollo. He is her complement and alter ego: spirit of the sun and masculinity in contrast to her as spirit of the moon and femininity. Artemis is a good friend and ally of Persephone.
Zeus offered Artemis her deepest wish: she requests never to be forced to marry. This may be understood as a demand to maintain autonomy and independence. Emphasis is often placed on Artemis’ chastity but her temple rituals involved erotic dancing and masquerades by men and women, not necessarily separately. Artemis’ sexuality is not under anyone’s control but her own. Her emphasis on chastity may hark back to a primeval bear cult in which sexual abstinence precedes the hunt.
Artemis is Mistress of the Hunt: she protects the wilderness from excessive human encroachment and regulates sacred hunting rituals. Artemis influences, grants, and removes human, animal, and botanical fertility. She regulates menstrual cycles.
Artemis rules sexual energy and tension. She presides over mysteries involving sexual energy intended for magical rather than procreative use. Sexual energy is concentrated, rather than released, to serve as a source of esoteric power.
Artemis was both loved and feared. Her name may mean “bear” but may also derive from Artamos, “slaughterer” or “butcher.” She preserves, bestows, and takes the lives of animals and people. She was among the last Greek deities to reject human sacrifices. She grants fertility to those previously unable to conceive but also decides who survives childbirth (women and animals). She is the gatekeeper who determines who lives and who dies.
• Artemis can bestow or withhold health, wealth, life, and fertility.
• She can undo any mischief caused by Nymphs or Nereids.
• Artemis may be petitioned for a swift death.
Veneration of Artemis was never entirely suppressed, nor was she ever as closely associated with malefic witchcraft as her Italian counterpart, Diana. Instead her spiritual functions were officially redistributed to male saints, especially Saint Nicholas but also Saint Artemidos, who emerged to take her place. Artemis survives in modern Greek lore: she still wanders the wilderness, but rather than leading a band of Nymphs, she is now Lady Beautiful, Queen of the wild Neraida.
Favored people: Girls and women in general; lesbians; sailors and mariners; Amazons; women athletes, especially runners, swimmers, and archers
Manifestations: Artemis is a magician and shape-shifter who takes many forms. Her most common manifestation is as a youthful female athlete, usually accompanied by a stag and/or a pack of hunting hounds. She may wear a horned headdress or a headdress ornamented with a crescent moon. Artemis also manifests as a mermaid or in the form of any animal especially wolves, does, and bears.
Iconography: She was venerated in the form of a pillar or tree trunk; a statue in Arcadia depicted her as a mermaid. Some images depict her with a fish amulet over her genitalia.
Attributes: Silver bow and arrows; a shield bearing the image of a wolf
Colors: White, silver
Planet: The moon is Artemis’ spinning wheel, upon which she spins the fate of human beings; spindle whorls, shuttles, and assorted weaving tools have been found in nearly all her shrines; alternatively the crescent moon is her silver bow.
Realm: Wild groves and forests (not orchards or farmed trees); she is also closely associated with freshwater, including lakes, marshes, springs, streams, and rivers.
Sacred sites: Allegedly her very favorite place is the Arcadia region of Greece. The island of Leros in the Dodecanese is sacred to her, as is Delos, site of her first midwifery.
Trees: Walnut, willow, cedar, myrtle, fir, oak, wild fig, bay laurel
Plants: The Artemisia family of plants, named in her honor, includes mugwort, wormwood, southernwood, and tarragon.
A Greek proverb asks, “Where has Artemis not danced?” Ecstatic, sometimes erotic dance was central to her rites. She is a shamanic spirit, so perhaps it is safe to venture that dance involved ritual possession, too. Drums have been found in many of her shrines. The kordax was danced in her temples. Described as a lewd rotation of abdomen and buttocks, the kordax, a masked dance, may derive from ancient snake dances and is possibly a precursor of modern belly dance.
Sacred creatures: She is the Lady of the Beasts: all wild animals are sacred to her but especially bees, bears, boars, deer, dogs, dolphins, goats, fish, wolves, and cats great and small. Her chariot is drawn by stags.
Spirit allies: Although Artemis is often described as a solitary spirit, she is often found in the company of others. In addition to her animal companions, she has a band of Nymphs who serve and accompany her. Her cousin, Hekate, is her favorite companion. She has a close alliance with Apollo and Leto.
Sacred days: Artemis is honored on the sixth of each month (lunar or solar).
Altars: Artemis’ shrines were decorated with boars’ heads or tusks.
Offerings: Make them on behalf of wild nature (keeping it wild) and the animals she loves, especially bears, deer, and wolves. In Athens, she was honored with round honey cakes. Offerings may be laid on household altars or left at a crossroads at midnight or noon.
- Artemis of Ephesus
- Fairy, Green
- Lady of the Beasts
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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.