Hephaestus is the divine smith, Lord of Subterranean Fire. He may be the son of Zeus and Hera or the son of Hera alone. One legend suggests that, following Athena’s birth, Hera was so enraged that Zeus had appropriated women’s sacred right to give birth that she decided to give birth alone, too. Hephaestus was the result.
Of course, the problem with this myth is that Hephaestus, fully grown and an operational smith, is also the divine midwife who freed Athena from Zeus’ head with his moon-shaped axe. Myths of Athena and Hephaestus are intertwined and contradictory. They are alter egos, two halves of a whole. Both were apprenticed to smiths in childhood. Both their myths touch on traditional gender roles:
• Athena spent her girlhood hammering spears for male warriors.
• Hephaestus spent his boyhood crafting women’s jewelry.
Once upon a time, Athena and Hephaestus were a matched pair; in early legends they were wed. As Athena evolved and increasing emphasis was placed on her literal virginity, their myths became increasingly contradictory. Her past relationship with Hephaestus is among Athena’s deep secrets. However, the two continued to share shrines and may still be venerated together (although one may anticipate some fireworks).
Hephaestus is lame and misshapen, not the stereotypical gorgeous “Greek god” like Apollo or Adonis. Exactly what happened to Hephaestus, how he became crippled and misshapen, is the subject of various, contradictory myths:
• Zeus or Hera (reports differ) threw him from the Heavens because he was born misshapen.
• He was crippled when Zeus threw him from Olympus for daring to intervene when Zeus abused Hera.
He landed in the ocean, where he was raised by Thetis and mermaids. They gave him an underwater cave and a child-sized forge, where he began crafting exquisite jewelry and ornaments for them. When Hera and the other goddesses saw his handiwork, Hephaestus was invited to rejoin them in Olympus. He spent most of his time in his smithies in volcanoes and on his sacred island of Lemnos.
Hephaestus was such an incredible visionary craftsman that his creations could breathe and move. He is credited with crafting the first woman (Pandora) in his forge from Earth and water. He fashioned living golden female robots to help him walk: the first femme-bots.
A little-known myth suggests that Hephaestus never fell from the sky at all. Hera, his mother, fearing that Zeus would harm her son, spirited him away to Lemnos, apprenticing him to her ally, Kedalion the Master Smith. Allegedly the first piece Hephaestus ever crafted was a pair of prosthetic legs for himself.
Hephaestus is a shamanic spirit presiding over a Mystery tradition. He is a guardian and healer. He is also a stubborn deity with sensitive emotions who will hold a grudge if offended.
Only Dionysus can propitiate him and lighten his mood (via copious quantities of wine).
Smiths, metalworkers, jewelers, potters, ceramicists, shamans, diviners
Hephaestus is portrayed as a vigorous, powerful bearded man and also as a man whose body is bent and twisted. He moves like a crab, his mother’s emblem.
Hammer; crescent-moon ax; cane
Athena; Aphrodite; Aglaia the Glorious; Charis; Cabeiro and possibly Aetna
Lemnian Earth (Lemnia sphragis): clay dug from a cavern in Hephaestia on Lemnos allegedly possessed miraculous healing powers. It was considered an antidote against snakebite and plague.
Lemnos and volcanic islands like Hiera, Imbros, Lipari, and Sicily. He and Athena shared a shrine in Athens, the Hephaesteum, which remains as the most complete surviving example of Doric temple architecture, as befitting the crafts deities it honors.
Greek and Italian wine; smith’s tools; seashells; decorate his altar with snakes and the mermaids he adores.
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.