Goddess of the Month - Themis


Mystic Crystal Gazer by Lynne French
Mystic Crystal Gazer by Lynne French from ArtCardsWanted.com

Themis is a most ancient Goddess. One of the eldest children of Gaia and Ouranos, Themis is cited as one of the first prophetesses and givers of law.Her name literally means "Law of Nature", and She is considered one whose decrees could sway even the most powerful of the Olympian Gods. She is also the Goddess of Assemblies, and She was invoked at every assembly in ancient Greece and called the Gods themselves to assemble on Olympus when needed. Themis also presided over the functions of the family as part of the greater populace as well as the fair and proper function of the courts. Because of this, judges were called themistopóloi, servants of Themis. Some of Her other titles include:

Euboulos - Well-Counselled
Orthoboulos - Straight Counselled
Sôteira - Saviour
Hiera - Holy
Aidoios - August
Eugenęs - High-Born

Worship of Themis

Themis did not have one town that honored Her more than any other with a special temple that was a place of pilgrimage. Rather all cities had temples to Themis, either by Herself or in conjunction with other Goddesses such as Nemesis. Themis also had a special shrine to Her on Mount Parnassos because of Her connection to the story of Deukalion and Pyrrha where She tells the survivors or the Hellenic flood to "throw the bones of their mother (Gaia) over their shoulders as they leave Her temple" to recreate the human race.

According to several poets and playwrites or classical times, Themis was one of the earliest brides of Zeus, with whom She is parent to the Horae or Seasons, and the Moirae, or Fates, as well as the Goddesses Dike (Justice), Eunomia (Good Order), and Eirene (Peace). Thus it was said that through Themis did come all things that made harmonious living possible. In some accounts the Hesperides, who guarded the grove of golden apple trees which conveyed immortality to those who ate of them, were also Her daughters with Zeus.

Themis was considered one of the first of the Oracles by the Greeks, and was venerated as being one who communicated the will of the Gods to the people through Her priestesses. In fact, there are accounts by the Greeks and Romans that the celebrated Oracle at Delphi was Hers before it was taken over by the patriarchs and their god Apollo. "Apollo... made his way to Delphi, where Themis (Divine Law) gave the oracles at that time. When the serpent Python, which guarded the oracle, moved to prevent Apollo from approaching the oracular opening, he slew it and thus took command of the oracle." - Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca. "Of the female Titans... Themis, the myths tell us, was the first to introduce divinations and sacrifices and ordinances which concern the gods, and to instruct men in the ways of obedience to laws and of peace. Consequently men who preserve what is holy with respect to the gods and the laws of men are called ‘law-guardians’ (thesmophulakes) and ‘law-givers’ (thesmothetai), and we say that Apollo at the moment when he is to return the oracular responses, is ‘issuing laws and ordinances’ (themisteuein), in view of the fact that Themis was the discoveress of oracular responses." - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History. Archeologists have also found shrines to Themis at the site of Dodona, where the Oracle of Zeus and Dione was consulted.

Representation of Themis circa 5th Century BCE

Contrary to some belief in modern times, statues of the Blind Justice are not statues of Themis. Themis was never depicted that way in classical times. Rather She was shown as a young woman seated on a tripod looking down at a dish holding either lots for drawing or the sacred smoke of the Oracle, and Her face is contemplative and serene. Themis was also depicted as a woman seated besides Zeus, advising him on the precepts of divine law. The blindfolded Justice that we are familiar with was the Roman Goddess Justicia, who was not to be confused with Themis in role or function in society as She presided over the courts only.

The Story Deukalion and Pyrrha from the Metamorphoses of Ovid - (trans. Melville)(circa 1st BCE)

There a great mountain aims towards the stars its double peak, Parnasos, soaring high above the clouds; and there [during the Great Deluge that destroyed mankind] Deucalion, borne on a raft, with his dear wife [Pyrrha] beside, had grounded; all elsewhere the deluge whelmed. Praise and thanksgiving to the Mountain gods (Numina Montis) and the Nymphae Corycidae they gave, and to the prophetess, Themis, then guardian of the oracle . . . They wept together [for the destruction of mankind]; then resolved to pray to Powers above and heavenly guidance seek in oracles; and quickly, hand in hand, went to Cephisus’ stream, whose current ran not limpid yet but in his wonted course, and there, in ritual due with holy water sprinkling their heads and clothes, they turned their steps towards the holy shrine (a pale scum fouled its roofs; the altars stood without flame). They reached the temple steps and then, prostrate, with timid lips both kissed the cold wet stone and said : `If righteous prayers may move and soften the Powers divine, may turn their wrath away, tell, holy Themis, by what art our race, now lost, may be restored: in they great mercy hear and grant succour to a world submerged.’

The goddess, pitying, gave her answer : `Leave my temple, veil your heads, loosen your robes, and cast behind you your great mother’s bones.’

Long did they wait bewildered, until Pyrrha, breaking the silence first, refused assent and asked the goddess’ pardon, not daring to offend her mother’s ghost by violence to her bones. In vain they sought the hidden meaning, searching to and for the baffling words’ blind coverts. Then at last Promethides [Deukalion] calmed Epimethis [Pyrrha] with words of cheer : `Either my reasoning misleads me or in truth (since oracles are holy and will never counsel crime) the earth is our great mother and the stones within earth’s body surely are the bones the oracle intends. These we must throw over our shoulders as Themis directs.'

So he interpreted, and Titania’s [Pyrrha’s] heart was warmed, but still hope wavered, such distrust oppressed them both; and yet what harm to try? They leave the temple, veil their heads, ungird their robes and, as the oracle commanded, behind them, past their footprints, throw the stones. Those stones (who would believe did ancient lore not testify the truth?) gave up their hardness; their rigidness grew slowly soft and, softened, assumed a shape, and as they grew and felt a gentler nature’s touch, a semblance seemed to appear, still indistinct, of human form, like the first rough-hewn marble of a statue, scarce modelled, or old uncouth images. The earthy part, damp with some trace of moisture was turned to flesh; what was inflexible and solid changed to bone; what in the stones had been the veins retained the name of veins. In a brief while, by Heaven’s mysterious power, the stones the man had thrown were formed as men, those from the woman’s hand reshaped as women. Hence we are hard, we children of the earth, and in our lives of toil we prove our birth."

Orphic Hymn 79 to Themis (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.)

To Themis, Fumigation from Frankincense.
Illustrious Themis, of celestial birth (Ouranopaide), thee I invoke, young blossom of Gaia (the Earth).
All-beauteous virgin; first from thee alone prophetic oracles to men were known, given from the deep recesses of the fane in sacred Pythian Delphoi, where renowned you reign.
From thee Phoibos’ [Apollon’s] oracles arose, and from thy power his inspiration flows.
Honoured by all, of form divinely bright, majestic virgin, wandering in the night.
Mankind from thee first learnt perfective rites, and Bakkhos’ nightly choirs thy soul delights; for the God’s honours to disclose is thine, and holy mysteries and rites divine.
Be present, Goddess, to my prayer inclined, and bless thy consecration with favouring mind.

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