Saturday, February 4, 2012
Eileithyia, Cretan Goddess of Childbirth
Eileithyia was originally a Cretan Goddess, adopted later by the Greeks, of childbirth and labour pains. She was seen as a Goddess of midwifery. Called upon to ease the pain of labour and help with the birth of children. According to author R.F Willets, she is closely identified with a Minoan Goddess, and an even earlier representation of a Neolithic Goddess. Willets goes on to say "The explanation is as simple as it is important. The continuity of her cult depends upon the unchanging concept of her function. Eileithyia was the goddess of childbirth; and the divine helper of women in labour has an obvious origin in the human midwife".
There is a cave on the island of Crete known as the Cave of Eileithyia, which is a Neolithic and Minoan sacred cave dedicate to Eileithyia, and in this cave is said to be where she was born. This shows the her roots are far more ancient than the Greeks, even the ancient Cretans. Caves were sacred to her, again connecting her to womb of a woman and giving birth. In Greek myth, she is said to be the daughter of Hera and Zeus, and is often depicted carrying a flaming torch to represent the burning pains of labour. An early Greek poet, describes her in a hymn as "the clever spinner" which would connect her with The Moirai, or The Three Fates. This would make her older than the God Cronus, the youngest son of Gaia.
Her worship was pretty widespread. Her most well known cult was in Amnisos, which is on the northern part of Crete, were her sacred cave is located. She was also said to have cults in Arkadia, in Southern Greece, Olympia and parts of central Italy.
It makes sense, to me, that Neolithic people would honor a deity for childbirth and the pain that comes with it. Along with the very real possibility of death. Obviously in Neolithic times, there were no pain meds, except for maybe some type of pain reducing herb like opium. Women felt the full force of giving birth and so of course they would call on a Goddess to help through their pains of labour. Many women didnt live through childbirth back then. So to me it seems the Goddess Eileithyia originated from a very ancient form of a deity, who was modernized along with the societies in which she was worshiped.
Today, call on Eileithyia for her blessings during childbirth and to help you deal with any pain that comes along with it. There isn't that much information on this Goddess that I found. But you can check out these links for more info:
Theoi.com, along with Wikipedia
The image featured is that of a Greek painting of the birth of Athena, springing from Zeus's head, and Eileithyia is standing on the right.
I hope you enjoyed learning about this ancient Cretan Goddess!
Image courtesy of Theoi.com
Posted by Tara at 2:00 AM