Classical Mythology and How the Cosmos Began
All spiritual systems seek to explain where we come from and where we are going. The word ‘cosmology’ defines this aspiration and seeks to explain the creation of the Universe. In the modern West, science has come to domininate this field; science, however, does not eliminate the need in humans for spiritual explanations concerning the nature of our being. The cosmology of the ancient Hellenes (Greeks) is certainly a poetic description of how life and humanity came into being, and like all ‘earth-based’ spiritualities, reveals profound insight into the human psyche.
Hellenismos is the name of the ancient Greek pagan or polytheistic religion. It developed from shamanism and the personification of natural phenomena (like the sun and storms) or human traits (like motherhood, love and bravery). Contrary to modern misconception, educated Greeks understood Hellenismos to be a monotheistic religion, with a single Greater God. Despite the many gods that characterise classical religious expression, the Single God was seen as the consciousness animating the different forms taken by the divinities.
Cosmology within the highly developed philosophical context of ancient Greece implies the awareness of a ‘divine’ consciousness behind the events that led to the creation of humanity. Hellenic cosmology is an explanation of how the Universe began, but also reflects the development of human consciousness – from the basic elements that make survival possible (or that challenge it) developed the observation of the Heavens and their effect on human life. This eventually evolved into a belief system making salvation possible via the Mysteries.
In the beginning… Khaos emerged from the Void as a primal mud. Eventually its constituent elements separated into Gaia (Mother Earth) – from who was born Ouranos (Sky), Pontos (Sea) – and Nyx (Night) – from who emerged Hemera (Day) and countless evil spirits. These earliest gods were known as the Protogonoi (first-born gods) and relate to the most basic elements of the Creation. They are described as constituting a Cosmic Egg. ‘Old-man Eros’ (as differentiated from the mischievous young Eros with his bow and arrow) holds together the universe with his unconditional love, while Khronos and Ananke (Time and Necessity) are serpent-like gods that create limitation. They split the Egg, causing the beginning of the created Universe.
The next generation of gods – known as the Titans – are descended mainly from Gaia and Ouranos. The functions of the Titans as a group govern Cosmic order and the observation of the heavens. They reflect the preoccupations of a people that was becoming more aware of its influence on the environment and vice versa. Krios is responsible for leading the Zodiac through the Heavens and thus maintaining cosmic order. Helios (Sun), Eos (Dawn) and Selene (Moon) are the children of Hyperion, who organised the days, months and years. Phoibe was the first queen of Delphi, home of the famous oracle, and is the Goddess of Earth Prophecy, while Hekate rules sorcery and the prophecies of the night.
Of particular importance to humanity is the story of Titan god Prometheus. He and Epimetheus are the sons of Iapetos (Mortality) and Klymene (Fame). When Zeus ordered the creation of animals and humans, Epimetheus (After-Thought) gave all the gifts such as swiftness, size and agility to his animals, leaving no outstanding traits for Prometheus (Fore-Thought) to bestow on the human being. To give his creation a fighting chance in the world, he stole wisdom from Athena and fire from Zeus. This rebellious behaviour angered Zeus, who punished Prometheus by tying him to a rock, where an eagle devoured his liver every day. This same liver constantly regenerated, only to be eaten again the following morning. Epimetheus – who only ever sees his mistakes in hindsight – was punished in his marriage to Pandora, who caused evil and corruption to enter the world of humans.
The offspring of Prometheus and Epimetheus were Deukalion and Pyrrha, the only virtuous humans of this polluted species. Now the story becomes surprisingly familiar: When Zeus decided to flood the Earth as punishment for the evil of humanity, Deukalion and Pyrrha were told to build a covered boat in which they could shelter during the Great Flood… Once the waters subsided, they repopulated the Earth by throwing stones behind their backs, from which emerged fully-grown humans. The story of Prometheus illustrates how greed, rebellious will and curiosity (in the case of Pandora) led to the downfall of humanity – creatures doomed to a sinful state unless they become transformed via direct contact with the gods through the Mysteries.
The next group of gods to emerge is the Olympians – the deities most familiar to us, like Zeus, Apollo, Athena and Aphrodite. They were known as the Dedecatheon (‘The Twelve’), although their number was really fourteen. They personify human characteristics like authority, skill, courage and love, yet despite being gods, they have very human failings (like lust and jealousy). This is not because the gods were created in man’s image. Since the divinites personify universal truths, their stories define certain behaviours and offer examples of how to overcome common pitfalls.
The telling of myths is therefore a tool for teaching; the feats of gods and heroes illustrate lessons concerning the journey of the human soul through the baffling events of life. Classical Greek drama was originally written for religious festivals in which the mythological stories acted out on stage were a catharsis for the audience – a large-scale ritual offering emotional healing and a source of inspiration.
The Classical Mythology Deck
I conceived the Classical Mythology Deck from the desire to create a more complete system of archetypes for divination. I also found that very little written or visual information concerning the Protogonoi and Titan Gods is available; this was a gap that I wanted to fill as much as possible.
The Classical Mythology Deck is an almost complete family of Gods descended from Gaia and Ouranos, yet offers a simple approach to Classical Mythology. It attempts to systematise the most important deities of Hellenismos, and offer a poetic explanation of the Cosmos in a world that tends to look exclusively to scientific models. The 81 illustrated cards can be used as an oracle, with divinatory meanings and affirmations on each card for guidance. It is also a teaching tool, offering information about the gods and goddesses via factual explanations and imagery. Detailed explanations are provided on the reverse face of each card.