Updated 6/3/2012. NOTE: The sourcing is uncompleted for the symbolic associations. This will be updated again when I complete it.
"At night you see the silver bow of the goddess of the hunt rise and soar. It is March, and Artemis stalks her game. She embodies swiftness and speed; she is cunning and crafty. Artemis bows to no man and has the skill to topple even the best of them at the hunt. You need not fear her stinging arrows, for just as she adores and protects the creatures of the forest, so too does she protect her devotees. You have seen her power in the ferocity of the bear. You have seen her loveliness in the soft eyes of the doe. She relentlessly pursues her beloved hind, holding it sacred at the same time. Artemis teaches us the thrill of the hunt, she reminds us to be wild and to fear no one!...As her moon wanes, she becomes the elusive game and evades any who would try to capture her. Hers is the indomitable spirit of the maiden. Blessed be her name!"-Judy Ann Nock in The Wiccan Year
Painting, Artemis or Diana of the Hunt, by John Liston Byam Shaw.
by Anna Yamamaya
Her Origins and History
The ancient roots of Artemis are suggested by stemming from the Great Goddess in Old Europe which lasted from 7000 to 3500 BCE (1). Artwork of the Great Goddess was represented with animal symbols such as deer, bears, and dogs, symbolizing her as a Goddess of regeneration, life, and death (2). After the third millennium BCE, Her image survived in Crete where early Minoan culture was untouched by Indo-European tribes (3). The Minoans were a peaceful civilization that followed a Goddess-centered religion. However, the early Minoan civilization was soon destroyed by a huge tidal wave that was the effect of the Thera (or Santorini) volcanic eruption (4). Minoan civilization left in the south of Crete and inland resumed their culture (5). By 1450 BCE, Indo-European tribes finally made their way into Crete, invading the Minoan civilization (6). They became known as the Mycenaeans (7).
Much of the Mycenaean culture was influenced by the Minoans, retaining the Great Goddess representations (8). The Minoan-Mycenaean civilization soon fell into the Dark Age, giving rise to classical Greek culture (9). Classical Greek culture differed immensely from Mycenaean culture when the feminine was more acknowledged (10). Although there is no exact explanation for the drastic difference, some historians believe that classical Greek culture could have been majorly influenced by the Dorians (11). The classical Greeks incorporated the Great Goddess representations from Minoan-Mycenaean culture along male deities from other Indo-European influences, forming their own pantheon and religion (12). Among one of these deities was Artemis whom had been synthesized into other aspects from the Great Goddess, whose mythological nature has made Her become an important Goddess in classical Greece.
In Turkey, Artemis Ephesia (Artemis of Ephesus) contradicted Hellenic Artemis’s virgin nature. The statue of Artemis of Ephesus was depicted with many breasts or eggs that are associated with fertility. She is associated with Cybele, the Anatolian Mother Goddess (13). A votive inscription that may date back to the third century BCE mentions Artemis of Ephesus with Crete: “To the Healer of diseases, to Apollo, Giver of Light to mortals, Eutyches has set up in votive offering (a statue of) the Cretan Lady of Ephesus, the Light-Bearer” (14). The name “Artemis” given to the Ephesian Goddess resulted from the Greek colonization in Turkey (15). The sanctuary of Artemis of Ephesus was originally founded by Leleges and Lydians (16). According to Herodotus, the Leleges originated from Crete but were driven out by Dorians and Ionians to Anatolia where they settled in Caria (17). They were then called “Carians” that brought their Goddess culture with them, influenced in shaping the Asian Mother Goddess (18).
In the Mycenaean Linear B tablet, the earliest name of Artemis appears as A-ti-mi-te and A-ti-mi-to (19). The Linear B tablet only recorded deity names, so not much was known about the Mycenaean Gods’ mythologies (20).
There is not a lot evidence to suggest what Artemis exactly means. Strabo, a Roman writer, suggested that “Artemeas” which translated into “safe and sound” referred to Artemis as a protectress of people (21).
Reference to Artemis is especially found in English. The word “art” according to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary means: “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation” (22). Its Latin origin, ars, artis, translates to skill. Art also refers to creative expression which has been associated with lunar energies.
Artemis as a Goddess of Regeneration, Life, and Death
Funerary amphora, Boeotia, Greece, 7th century BCE (23). Image from the University of Texas at Austin.
A funerary amphora represents Artemis as a Goddess of regeneration (24). Gimbutas believes Artemis is represented as a Bee Goddess with her arms outstretched like those of insects; the zigzags on her hair represent insect antennas than human hair (25). Also, the fish symbolizes fertility while the sacrificed bull head represents new life (26). She associates Artemis in the vase with Hekate (27).
Johnson gives another interpretation:
“Surrounded by familiar emblems, the Goddess appears as Mother of the Mysteries, characterized by a leaf-shaped face, water hair, and life streams falling from her waist. The female triangles on her bodice indicate her generative powers. With her outstretched arms raised in the traditional sign of blessing, she divides the upper regions from those below. Bird, horned cow, and fish symbolize the worlds of air, earth, and water. The lions, guardians of the Life-Giver, stand on either side, paws outstretched toward her. The tail of the one on her left descends in a spiral, wheras the tail of the lion on her right ascends in a similar spiral.
Below the Goddess’s sheltering left arm lies the path to the underworld, marked by the bull’s leg… The lowered spiral tail of the lion her left indicates a descent to the underworld, from which leaf forms sprout. The path emerges between the world mountain and lion whose raised spiral tail leads to the shuttle of destiny. Over the lion, beneath the Goddess’s right arm, presides the head of a nourishing cow with crescent moon horns. The case records the age-old imitation pattern, the difficult journey that mimes death and rebirth” (28).
Sacred Symbols and Associations
Animals: Bears (29), bees (30), boars (31), bulls (32), butterfly, buzzards-hawks, cats, deer, dogs, doves, eagles, fresh-water fishes, frogs, goats, goldfinches, guinea fowls, hares, hawks, hedgehogs, horses, leopards, lions, long necked water birds, partridges, quails, rams, snakes, sphinxes, swans, toads, tortoises, wolves
Her Plants: All Artemisia plants (mugwort, wormwood, etc.), amaranth, asphodel, cedar, cypress, daisy, dictamnys (dittany of Crete), frankincense, fir (silver fir), hazelnut, hellebore, honeysuckle, juniper, laurel, lotus, myrtle, oak trees, palm trees (date palm), pomegranate, rose, walnut, wildflowers, willow trees (withy)
Artemis in Modern Pagan Practices
An Interpretation of Artemis
I always had trouble trying to describe my patroness Artemis in a few words. It didn’t feel fully “right” just to call Her the Goddess of the hunt, animals, moon or moonlight, etc; she’s more complicating than that. When I was reading The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, Z. Budapest referred Artemis as the Soul of the Wild. It hit my head. Well, of course Artemis is the soul of the wild. It was just how it was placed in words (the Soul of the Wild or Soul of Nature) that perfectly fitted Artemis in a few words.
The untamed and wildness is the core of every living being on Earth. According to Patricia Monaghan in The New Book of Goddesses & Heroines:
“In one form she was a nymph and ruler of all nymphs, an elemental force whose domain was the greenwood. There an order exists so unlike human order that it seems to us formless and free, but this freedom is that of complete obedience to instinct, which animals still follow while humans do not. Artemis in this form was the ‘Lady of the Beasts,’ the force who assured their individual deaths and the survival of the species. As mistress of the animals, she was the invisible game warden of the Greeks, killing with sharp arrows anyone who hunted pregnant beasts or their young. Again as instinct, she ruled reproduction, both sex and birth…It was to Artemis, the force of creation, that Greek mothers called when the pangs of birth began, and they found comfort in their belief that she nursed them through labor just as she did any of her other animals.
As the nymph of the greenwood, then, she is not really different from her other most famous form: Mother Artemis, whose vast rich temple at Amazonian Ephesus was one of the wonders of the ancient world…This Artemis was merely a different visualization of the same energy represented by the woodland nymph: the instinct to live, to produce and reproduce constantly, to devour, and to die. There is power in the image of Ephesia—as Artemis in this form was sometimes called—a power that could be seen as terrifying, so vast and inhuman is it.”
I view “wildness” as the true nature of our self or “chaotic side.” Our unconscious desires usually appear in our dreams in different guises that may frighten or alienate us. Psychologically, they could be represented as Artemis, the Goddess of the hunt, and we are the prey. She is represented by our shadow animal totems, but at the same time She is our guide. (Yes, it’s why Artemis is known as the lady full of contradictions). In the Native American religion, our shadow animal totems usually appear to us in our dreams as an animal that intimidates us. They represent our inner fears, doubts, and intolerances. However, these animal totems have special medicine that will help us in our life if we listen to them by accepting their presences. Once we overcome their tests, they become our strong allies. Artemis as a guide can be seen as holding a torch for us in the darkness. It’s also why I agree with Thista Minai that Artemis is the Goddess of moonlight rather than the Goddess of the moon.
Working with Artemis
The following are my experiences working with Artemis throughout the years and how to work with Her. This is how She appears to me and helps me.
I work with Artemis, so I can understand myself more; my true nature. Nothing is more enlightening to me than waking up. Discovering inner parts of me that I’ve never known and healing those wounds is an exciting journey to me.
Before I knew Paganism existed, I was a ruined fifteen year old teenager. I was confused about my orientation, our society, and my slight misogyny (by the way, I’m a female). I would stab my journal with rants about gender and the nature of femininity. I also had dark dreams with snakes appearing occasionally. When I discovered Artemis, you couldn’t believe how much I felt saved. Even though I was just reading information about Her on the internet, I felt ecstatic because I connected with Her. From there, I started to learn, study, and practice Witchcraft. She first appeared to me in a dream as stars connecting a deer-shaped head and eventually became my patroness. I then dedicated to Her in 2009 on my birthday.
She taught me many things. I used to be a vegan who absolutely shoved down my beliefs down other’s throat (earning the name annoyingly as the “PETA member”), but Artemis taught me the “rules of freedom.” It’s their choice to choose whatever to eat and not mine. Now, I’m a vegan who respects hunting for survival (and enjoy watching animals hunt). My views of my femininity also changed. I started to respect my body more and accept myself for who I am. These are some of the parts of me I “reclaimed.”
Those who are interesting in working with Artemis for inner purpose have to be ready to face any obstacles and fears. Otherwise, I don’t think that She’ll call you. When She knows you’re ready, She’ll definitely come to you—either it be spontaneously or by your request.
I usually work with Artemis for physical healing, mental healing, and protection for animals and people. Artemis doesn’t appear to me as a Goddess of emotional healing, but at certain times she helps me get rid of unhealthy attachments. I do not know if that counts as a type of emotional healing because I associate it more with something mental however. She also makes a strong protectress for any situation. Her energy provokes a strong imagery of an overprotective She Bear or a Cougar leaping across cliffs.
In Greek mythology, Artemis is usually depicted as the huntress roaming the forests alone or with her pack of dogs or nymph friends. If you are insecure often and wish to be more independent instead of dependent on others, I definitely recommend Artemis to you. She’ll teach you how to find your inner strength and enjoy solitude and independence. You’ll eventually become more self-reliable and trust your own talents. If you have a cat, you should spend more time with your feline more. Cats can teach us a lot of things about ourselves. Spending time with animals is rewarding in general.
Working with Artemis will also help you develop certain skills or talents that might have been buried or hidden inside of you (the ones you disclaimed because you felt they were no good). She has good aiming skills and teaches you how to reach your goals.
“The beloved goddess of Greece was the personification of natural law, so different from the laws of society, so much more ancient, so everlasting.”-Patricia Monaghan in The New Book of Goddesses & Heroines
Books about Artemis:
(1) Marija Gimbutas, The Goddess and Gods of Old Europe: Myths and Cult Images (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1982), 196.
(2) Gimbutas, The Goddess, 195.
(3) Gimbutas, The Goddess, 196; Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddess (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1999), 131.
(4) Gimbutas, The Living, 148.
(6) Gimbutas, The Living, 149.
(7) Gimbutas, The Living, 151.
(9) Gimbutas, The Living, 153.
(13) Florence Mary Bennett, Religious Cults Associated With the Amazons (Forgotten Books, 1967), 27.
(14) Bennett, Religious, 28.
(15) Bennett, Religious, 27.
(16) Bennett, Religious, 28.
(19) Gimbutas, The Living, 156.
(20) Gimbutas, The Living, 151-152.
(21) Sorita D’Este, Artemis: Virgin Goddess of the Sun & Moon (London: Avalonia, 2005), 10.
(22) Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “Art,” (Eleventh ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003).
(23) Buffie Johnson, Lady of the Beasts: The Goddess and Her Sacred Animals (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1994), 236.
(24) Gimbutas, The Goddess, 183.
(27) Gimbutas, The Living, 156.
(28) Johnson, Lady, 236-238.
(29) "Artemis Estate," Theoi Greek Mythology, http://www.theoi.com/Olympios/ArtemisTreasures.html (accessed 24 May 2012).
(30) Gimbutas, The Goddess, 183.
(31) "Artemis Estate," Theoi.
(32) D’Este, Artemis, 75.
“Art.” Def. 2. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003.
Bennett, Florence M. Religious Cults Associated With the Amazons. Forgotten Books, 1967.
D’Este, Sorita. Artemis: Virgin Goddess of the Sun & Moon. London: Avalonia, 2005.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Goddess and Gods of Old Europe: Myths and Cult Images. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1982.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddess. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1999.
Johnson, Buffie. Lady of the Beasts: The Goddess and Her Sacred Animals. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1994.
Monaghan, Patricia. The New Book of Goddesses & Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1997.
Theoi Greek Mythology. “Artemis Estate.” Accessed May 24, 2012. http://www.theoi.com/Olympios/ArtemisTreasures.html.