Kura is a Berber water spirit, guardian of a spring in Cyrene, now in modern Libya. Cyrene may sound like a backwater now but once upon a time, it was a wealthy and significant place. The nation now known as Libya was once called Cyrenaica. The spring, the city, and the nation all derive their name from Kura. Cyrene is the Greek version of her name.
Cyrene was famous as the sole home of the now extinct plant, silphium, famed as an extremely effective herbal contraceptive (and allegedly an aphrodisiac, too). The powers of that plant and the fortune that it engendered attracted outside attention. Legend says that Apollo sent Greeks to colonize Cyrene. The city expanded and became one of Greece’s Hellenized outposts in North Africa although not without some tension between the Greeks and the native Berbers, as history records.
Greece took over the silphium trade. (In 74 BCE, Cyrene came under Roman rule. Silphium disappeared in late antiquity, having been over-harvested into extinction. More information about silphium may be found in John Riddle’s 1997 book, Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West.)
Apollo was considered patron and founder of the Greek city of Cyrene. A temple of Apollo was constructed as early as the seventh century BCE. The neighbouring port on the Mediterranean was named Apollonia but the city itself remained named after its presiding indigenous spirit. Apollo’s sanctuary was built beside her spring, which was renamed the Fountain of Apollo.
Cyrene’s Berber roots were hidden. A legend emerged that Apollo had transported a Greek Nymph named Cyrene to Libya, naming the city in her honour. (Apollo may indeed have transported other Nymphs to North Africa, however the name Kura/Cyrene predates his arrival in the region.) Greek myth identifies Cyrene and Apollo as the parents of the major deity, Aristaeus. Kura’s waters emerge from a cavern. She is a hidden goddess of love, fertility, and contraception.
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Kurana; Kurene; Kyrene; Cyrene; Qrennah
Depending on perspective, Cyrene is depicted strangling or hugging a lion. This image officially derives from Pindar’s Ninth Pythian Ode, which recounts how Apollo fell in love with Cyrene, a Thessalian Nymph in the entourage of Artemis, after witnessing her battle a lion. Whether or not the image of the goddess with a lion in this region predates Apollo is now unknown. In addition to ancient images, the Strength tarot card, which traditionally depicts a woman with a lion, may be used to represent Kura.
The ruins of the ancient city of Cyrene may be visited as can Kura’s spring, now known as Apollo’s spring.
Spring water; Berber jewellery; honey; old coins from Cyrene, which virtually all feature images of the silphium plant; pilgrimage to her spring
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.