Hesperides – The Sunset Ladies; The Western Women
The Hesperides, beautiful goddesses of the sunset, preside over romance and conjugal pleasures, especially the honeymoon night. They are entrusted to be the keepers of the sacred, priceless treasures belonging to the Olympian spirits.
The Hesperides are most famous as the Nymphs who tend a fragrant paradise garden where they guard Hera’s apple tree that bears the golden apples of joy (in contrast to the apple of discord wielded by Greek goddess Eris). Among the hopeless labours assigned to Heracles was to steal apples from this tree, guarded by a hundred-headed dragon as well as the Hesperides. (Allegedly, Hera assigned Ladon the dragon to this task as she does not entirely trust the Hesperides who, rumour has it, sometimes snack on her apples.)
There may be three Hesperides or as many as nine. Depending on the source, the spirits named as Hesperides include Aegle, Arethusa, Asterope, Chrysothemis, Erythea, Hespera, Hesperia, Hesperethusa, and Lipara.
The parentage of these sister spirits is subject to dispute:
• They may be the daughters of Hesperus, Lord of the Evening and an unnamed (or no) mother.
• They may be the daughters of Atlas and the goddess Hesperis, Lady of the West
• Alternatively they are the children of Eos and Astraios
• Nyx may be their sole parent or she may have conceived them with Erebus
• Their parents may be Keto and Phorkys or Themis and Zeus
Although the Hesperides are usually described as caretakers, the paradise grove in which they dwell is called the Garden of the Hesperides: they may he its owners and rulers. Depending on his parentage and theirs, Ladon, the garden’s resident dragon may he their brother.
The name “Hesperides” derives from a root word indicating “west”, the direction of the sunset and the location of their paradise grove. Some perceive the Garden of the Hesperides as a spirit realm. Others, however, identify it as being earthly and located in what is now southern Spain or in Morocco, near the cities of Tangier and Larache, regions that would both be considered extremely westerly by the ancient Greeks.
The Hesperides are snake goddesses of erotic delights. Invoke their help in matters of seduction, true love, and lasting romantic happiness. The sunset that they rule may be understood literally or metaphorically. The Hesperides may be goddesses of people in the “sunset of their lives.” The Garden over which the Hesperides preside may or may not be an afterlife realm of eternal youth comparable to Celtic Avalon, the island of the apples.
Brides, bridal consultants, gardeners, perfumers, snake charmers
The Hesperides are described as being very beautiful. They are said to have enchanting, soothing voices and allegedly take great pleasure in singing.
The Hesperides are virtually always depicted with a tree and a snake or dragon. They appear on ancient coins and on Greek vase paintings. Among the more recent artists inspired to paint their portraits are Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) and Frederic Lord Leighton (1830–1896).
Snakes and dragons
Seven Hesperides sisters are associated with the constellation now more familiar as Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. (Ursa Major, the Great Bear, was associated with Hera’s apple tree.) The Hesperides are also associated with the wing of the constellation Draco, which is identified with Ladon, the dragon.
Images of snakes and apples
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.