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The Khthonic Zeus

October 28, 2011

I felt the urge to resume my attempt to research Zeus Meilikhios, Zeus the Gracious.  This time I found a bunch of information on him, on the Diasia and on khthonic deities in general.  My two major sources so far are “Horos Dios:  an Athenian Shrine and Cult of Zeus” by Gerald V. Lalande (I SO want this book but it is $200.  I’m really hoping I can get it through ILL instead of trying to read it on Google Books, which seems to blank out the wrong pages just to piss me off, though it isn’t very likely.  I know if I was a librarian I wouldn’t be allowing a book that expensive out of my building more less across the state.) and an article on JSTOR (that surprise, surprise, I am able to read.  I geeked in my pants when I found the link for downloading.  I am printing it out so that I can pencil in the transliterations of all the Greek phrases.) “The Propitiation of Zeus” by Joseph William Hewitt.  I am too thrilled to put this information into essay form so you are going to have to deal with bullets.  Will have more information later, but wanted to get this written out in a more comprehensive format before my brain imploded. (No one would be able to follow my notes on this one, trust me.)

  • Zeus Meilikhios was a popular divinity if the number of shrines dedicated to him are any indication.  He was a god of the common and rural man and his shrines were semi-autonomous (not supported by the state).  His shrines were plain and simple.  They were often found on bedrock or in rocky areas suitable to his khthonic nature.   (Rocky areas were considered to be the threshold between the upper and lower worlds so a perfect place to honor khthonic deities.  Snakes are found in these areas which may be why they are associated with these types of deities.) He was concerned with the individual.  Families often left votives which included children and women in his worship.  His known areas of concern seemed to be fertility, agriculture, travel safety, purification and guilt.  The Diasia was known as his greatest festival which means he must have had several others besides it and Pompia.
    • While Zeus, is Zeus, is Zeus no matter what epithet, there are other epithets that have very similar modes of worship as Meilikhios:
      • Zeus Philos, Kind or Friendly
      • Zeus Teleios, of the Rites
      • Zeus Ktesios, of the Pantry/Storage room
      • Zeus Khthonios, of the Dark/Underworld
      • Zeus Katharios, Purifying or Atoning
      • Zeus Georgios, Farmer/Tiller/Earthworker
      • Zeus Agathos Daimon, Good Guide/Spirit
      • Zeus Plousios, of Wealth
    • Ancients believed that the following weather phenomena came from the subterranean depths and hence were caused by khthonic deities (is this where I point out that Zeus was born in a cave, grew up on earth if not in it?):
      • rain (especially attributed to deities attached to springs)
      • thunder
      • lightning
      • whirlwinds
      • wind
    • Deities honored with Zeus Meilikhios (this was where Google books cut me off)
      • Enodia (Hekate)
      • Demeter and Persephone
      • Helios
  • Diasia was a spring festival (Feb-March) propitating Zeus Meilikhios for a good harvest which everyone would celebrate.  This was the time of year when weather could harm the harvest (yes harvest as the Mediterranean area plants in the fall, harvests in the spring and leaves land fallow during the hot summer) and supplies were low.  There are various comments about the offering being a holocaust.  Yet there are also comments about it being a bloodless sacrifice.    Mr. Lalande speculates that only those that were well off, offered animals.  The poor would offer incense or animals shaped cakes.  The festival is described as grim in some places but then feasting and competitions and gifts for children are mentioned in other places.  Mr. Lalande proposes that this festival had two phases.
    • Phase one was grim.  A black ram was offered as a holocaust (completely burned, nothing saved) with honey being offered, the bloodless offerings of animal shaped cakes and no wine.    The skin from the ram may have been saved for purification rites in the Pompia.  This phase was to propitiate Zeus so that the weather does not harm the harvest.  Purification was probably accomplished during this time also as the ancients believed that fertility depended on freedom from pollution.
    • Phase two was more celebratory.  During this phase, the typical offerings were made.  The blood of the animal was poured upon the altar.  The bones and offal were burned for the god while the meat was cooked to share in a feast held with in the shrine.  Some sort of competition may have been held were the winner received a sheave of grain.  Gifts may have been given to children because khthonic deities tend to have a special affection towards the young so Zeus would find this pleasing.
  • The Pompia is a fall festival asking Zeus to protect the recently planted seeds.  This consisted of a procession that probably stopped at all the Zeus Meilikhios shrines around the city.  These shrines were either just outside of town, on main thoroughfares in/out of town or near ports.  During this procession the purification fleece (maybe from the animal offered at the previous Diasia) and a snake wrapped staff (caduceus/kerykeion) were carried to purify the city.  The speculation is the the fleece acts as an inanimate scapegoat and was taken away from the city after the procession.

Since agricultural festivals (the growing season is way too short up here for most items) are not a large concern for me I typically do not celebrate the Diasia or the Pompia.  I am thinking about doing something for Zeus Meilikhios sometime in November after “harvest end” to ask for a winter that is not filled with hardship as our fall certainly has been.  Maybe even do it on Thanksgiving ( a family holiday about remembering our blessings that is long after any harvest) since we always are here at home for it. I’ll do a bloodless offering as a  piece of sympathetic magick to avoid the shedding of blood through death or simply working too hard to meet our basic needs.  Any suggestions would be more than welcome.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2011 6:02 AM

    I think the idea of a harvest type festival in the spring is a bit boggling, even having been to the mediteranean in the end of January wherein it is green, wet and chilly would still make it it difficult to reconcile this idea. I saw green grasses and tender flowers (which made it clear why crocus flowers were offered to Apollon in winter, and violets to Dionysos). Out of curiousity I googled harvests in Greece just to see what is harvested in this time of the year, and I noticed that the olive harvest begins in November and extends to March. This certainly makes sense since the olives are small green beads in the summer which would fill out in the rainy season. Grapes harvested in August. Looking at agricultural maps I do find it curious though that in the winter the wheat crops in southern europe and north africa are described as being in a stage of heading (which is temperature/moisture sensitive). This is not crop ripeness and harvest but a point in which too much cold or water could destroy the grain head developing on the plant. Which would make sense in my experiences in the winter in the mediteranean.That said I do wonder if climate shifts have occured to such extants that an early spring harvest is unrelatable. I imagine some vegetables that like the cooler damper environment are harvested in the winter months as with the mature olives, but it seems unlikely to include grain and grapes. This is my rather long winded way of getting around to saying that I celebrate Diasia more as a preservation of young crops festival against rains and cold weather that can make young crops whither and die. Alternatively I would imagine a person in a colder environment can pray for water local needs of weather and temperature in order to make the beginnings of a prosperous season. In Alaska for example I would pray that there would be plenty of rain and that if there hadn’t been enough snow in the winter, for a couple more blasts, so that we wouldn’t have drought during the summer that would kill whatever plants we are growing. This is a time of looking ahead for the prosperity for the rest of the year as I see it which may very well be a different interpretation than the ancient calendar..but oh well *grin*


    • October 29, 2011 11:45 AM

      Being that the Med is a warm region, I’m sure they grow all year round. Yet everything I read for timing talks about planting during the cooler fall, worrying about bad weather ruining the crops in early spring and the celebrations of getting the harvest in before the heat of summer.


      • October 29, 2011 12:04 PM

        Oh I am sure…and different things going on different parts of the year! I think end of summer festivals dealing with the grape harvests are wonderful, and the wheat harvest in june, olive harvests in roughly December, veggies being harvested etc etc. Living in the south has been an interesting experience for someone from an arctic climate because I never before had that kind of exposure to year round growing like I do here. The first time I saw green hyacinth shoots in December I was about ready to break down into a party on my porch lol. It is a bit harder to fathom at first the rotation of agriculture throughout the year 🙂 And going to north Africa in January was still a surprise even after several years of living in the south since I would have sworn it was spring in full riot!


        • October 29, 2011 12:27 PM

          Now you are just trying to make me jealous. 😉 I hate snow and cold.


        • October 29, 2011 11:16 PM

          I have to ask, though the answer is probably “because that’s where we live,” but why do you live at 10,500 feet if you hate cold and snow? I would go pretty nuts up there, if my asthma would allow me to even breathe.

          I hope I don’t upset you with the question, I’m asking out of honest curiosity, not sarcasm.


  2. October 29, 2011 6:09 AM

    oh yes wheat harvest is shown to occur in June (before the burning heat of summer) and then the planting of the wheat grain in September like you said, for which I can understand why in the autumn and winter there would be a number of purifying rituals that are associated with the crops 🙂


    • October 29, 2011 11:46 AM

      Greeks had purifying rituals for everything and every time of it year it seems. 🙂


  3. October 30, 2011 8:36 AM

    We live up here because Hubby has an established reputation up here which keeps him in jobs. (Construction is notorious for its down times, this down time was longer than expected and tapped out our reserves. We’ve been luckier than most during these lean times to almost always made our bills on time.) Hubby likes it up here. The compromise that was put into place when we moved here, was that I did not *have* to work. There are times that I do enjoy where we live. My shoulders bother me a lot less often up here. The summers are typically glorious and the views are terrific. The down point is the long cold snowy winters and the lack of a craft store in the area. Being a small, insular town with a heavy turnover in residents, it has been hard to make friends, especially pagan friendly friends (this town has at least 12 churches despite the small population). I have made some friends and get invited to more events so living here is getting better for me…but if I could talk Hubby into moving to Denver or even closer to it, I would in a heart beat. It is all about the thing that good marriages are made of…compromise.


    • October 30, 2011 9:45 PM

      I understand. I’m not sure that I could have made that particular compromise myself, but we are not the same people, which is good for variety. I certainly agree on the necessity of compromise!


      • October 30, 2011 10:20 PM

        I was working as an engineer’s assistant at a Mechanical, Electrical Engineering firm. They were supposed to be training me into becoming a Mechanical engineer. Their idea of training was “there’s the library”. The men for whom I worked made things very hard on me. At the time, Hubby was building a house up in the hills. He was gloriously happy while the stress of what I was doing would make me ill. At my three month review, where the men I worked for essentially lied to the big boss, I turned in my resignation at Hubby’s urging. We then packed up and lived in a camper on the land where he was building. Boy was that one long cold winter. At the time it was the best option we had, as it had taken me about 6 months to find that one job which wasn’t even in my degree field. I didn’t know that once he got up here, he would never want to leave. [le sigh] 🙂


  4. Ambrosius permalink
    November 15, 2011 11:59 AM

    I’ve never really felt drawn to Zeus or anything but, for some reason, I like what you’ve written here. Very interesting. Blessings.


    • November 15, 2011 12:25 PM

      If you liked this, you might want to check out the book that is featured at the top of the page. It is a modern devotional to Zeus that I edited for the publishing arm of Neos Alexandria.

      There is also several entries on this blog of notes I’ve typed in on Kthonic Zeus.



  5. April 6, 2019 4:20 AM

    Casual first reading here, so apologies if I state the obvious, but it seems to me that all the Olympian deities were chthonic in origin, had Titan forebears, arose from chaos, etc. — like the human ego consciousness waking and walking forth, starry with the promise of brillaance and mastery. While the clout, the fervor, the divinity was back down there in the depths. Anyway. Good studious dig here, I savored the sources.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 6, 2019 8:38 AM

      Zeus was raised in a cave which is very chthonic which makes his sky divinity a surprise and yet not. If I had to be contained as a child in the dark, I’d definitely take up all the space and light I could when I became an adult.



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