The White Goddess
Also known as:
Leucotheia is the sea goddess who, in Homer’s Odyssey, saves Odysseus from drowning. She lent him her veil, which he wore like a belt, enabling him to escape his wrecked ship and swim to shore. Once safely aground, he returned the veil by throwing it into the sea. (This veil wasallegedly identical to the purple cloth given those initiated into the Cabeirian Mysteries of Samothrace as protection from the sea.)
There are at least two sea spirits called Leucotheia, literally “white goddess”:
• Halia, a Nymph from the island of Rhodes, was the sister of the Telchines and the beloved of Poseidon to whom she bore six sons. When Aphrodite was first born from the sea and seeking dry land, she sought to land on Rhodes but was denied permission by Halia’s sons. In revenge, Aphrodite struck them mad and they raped their mother. Halia threw herself into the sea and emerged as Leucotheia, the White Goddess.
• Ino, daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes married Athamas, king of the prehistoric, pre-Hellenic Minyan people of Boeotia. Ino may be Semele’s sister. When Zeus needed to hide Dionysus, his son with Semele, Ino and her husband sheltered the baby, Ino serving as his wet-nurse. They incurred the wrath of Hera who infected Athamas with a murderous rage. After he killed one of their children, Ino grabbed the other and sprang into the sea. (Alternatively, Ino was struck mad and she threw herself and the children into the sea.) She emerged from the waves, however, transformed into Leucotheia.
Leucotheia is also an honorific used for Greek river goddesses and the inspiration for poet Robert Graves’ 1948 epic study of the psychological and mythological origins of poetry, The White Goddess.
Ino was venerated throughout Greece unlike Halia whose veneration was more localized. An oracular shrine was dedicated to Ino in Laconia: questions or petitions were accompanied by barley cakes tossed into her sacred pool.
• Offerings that sank indicated an affirmative answer: Ino favored you
• If they float, you and your petition have been rejected
Leucotheia protects against the dangers of the sea, especially drowning.
Sailors; travelers on the sea; swimmers; children
Plant: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis: literally the rose of the sea)
Aphrodite; Arachne; Cabeiri; Hera; Nymph; Poseidon; Semele; Telchines; Zeus and the Glossary entry for Mystery
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.