Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Apr 6th, - Apr 12th, 2007

Myths of the Hunt

Columns Archive
Artemis, protectress of women


  Myths are the guardians of the paths of the past. In a time before thoughts were surrendered to the printed page, they were given life in recitation and public enactments. Epic tales told of creation, power and passion among gods and mortals- each had a story of a time gone by. One spoke of great flood, another the first ship to cross the sea, the discovery of fire or the first lie; but each remembered when...

  But while we have looked into the essence of various myths here in the WEB, surely among the oldest must be myths about the hunt.

Cave painting

Cave paintings

  The mythology is quite clear about who to turn to in this instance and that is Artemis, or, in her Latin guise, Diana; the Moon. Each of the deities of Olympus had their specific realm over which they were lord. Artemis was the virgin goddess of childbirth and the hunt. While the former obviously relates to ties with the Mother Mary, it is the latter path we now pursue; the one that leads us deep into the woods.

  Long before Ceres began to sow her seeds in golden waves of grain, the land was alive in the pursuit of game. Native Americans followed the movements of the buffalo herds on the land, and the 'Sacred Hoop' in the stars as an annual pilgrimage. Cave walls in France depict animals in the act of the hunt. They remember a time when dancing with the spirit of the animal was what life was all about. Surely, stories of the hunt must be among our oldest myths?

  Artemis was goddess of the woods. She is the bosom of Mother Nature. To see her soft waxing crescent curves playing across darkening skies shortly after sunset is to see a young girl, bow in hand and quiver on her back racing along hilltops, her feet barely touching the ground, so lightly she ran. Her body seduces the tides of sea, sky and nocturnal light, mesmerized by her spell, while the drumbeat of her monthly period attunes women to a celestial cycle no man will ever know.

  The deer belongs to Artemis; creatures of the night who graze in wild meadows under the pale light. One tale told of Actaeon, who while hunting happened upon a spring where the naked goddess was bathing. Upon discovering the violation, she transformed him into a deer whereupon his hounds tore him to pieces. She made the hunter her own.

  In another tale, Agamemnon boasted he could hunt as well as Artemis. For this indiscretion, he later had to sacrifice his fairest daughter before his vast fleet was allowed to sail on Troy. However (like Abraham and the sacrifice of his son), at the last minute Artemis substituted a deer on the altar and the daughter was spirited away, some say to be her priestess. Those who honored the goddess were honored by her. Artemis places Orion in the stars after his death for politeness, and for his hunting abilities:

Buck being hunted

  'The Goddess Artemis, who happened to be about, welcomed Orion. 'Why not let us go hunting together,' she asked, 'and see who can kill more wild goats?'

  'I am no match for a goddess like yourself,' answered Orion politely, 'but I should dearly love to watch you shoot.''

  -Robert Graves translation

  For generations Artemis was invoked by hunters as the goddess of wild animals, to pray for the animals they were about to hunt, just as we believe was done for the images in the Lascaux caves some 12,000 to 25,000 years ago.


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