The Primordial Gods of Greece

Primordial Gods

The Primordial Gods are the first generation of Gods or Deities in Greek Mythology. According to Greek cosmogony, the Primordial deities were the first beings to exist after the creation of the Cosmos.

Rather than adopting humanoid forms and qualities that Homer and other poets gave the later Titans and Gods, the Primordial Gods represented concepts like the Day, Time, Night, Procreation, Light, and more.

Primordial Gods - Gaea

How Did the Primordial Gods Come to Be?

There are two slightly contrasting Greek myths that describe the creation of the Universe.

The dominant narrative is derived from Hesiod’s poem Theogony. Hesiod was an ancient Greek poet who is said to have lived around 700 BC. He was a contemporary of Homer, the poet who wrote The Illiad and The Odyssey. And, to date, Theogony is the oldest account of the origin of the Greek gods.

According to Hesiod, in the very beginning there existed Chaos, also known as the Abyss. Almost spontaneously from the Abyss in a form of parthenogenetic creation, five other Primordials were formed.

In the beginning there was only Chaos, the Abyss,
But then Gaia, the Earth, came into being,
Her broad bosom the ever-firm foundation of all,
And Tartaros, dim in the underground depths,
And Eros, loveliest of all the Immortals, who
Makes their bodies (and men’s bodies) go limp,
Mastering their minds and subduing their wills.
 
From the Abyss were born Erebos and dark Night.
And Night, pregnant after sweet intercourse
With Erebos, gave birth to Aether and Day.

Gaia, the first to emerge, started wrapping herself with anything solid she could reach, lifting them grain by grain around herself. Solidifying and strengthening until she became the Earth itself from which she then rose and later became known as the Goddess of the Earth.

Then came Tartarus, the personification of the pit or the Underworld. He built his dwelling deep within Gaia’s womb in the deepest pits of the Earth’s core. According to Homer, Tartarus lived in “the deepest gulf beneath the earth.”

Eros followed Gaia and Tartarus. He was the fairest among the Primordial Gods and ruled the minds and councils of Gods and Men.

The Fourth and Fifth Deities — Nyx (Night) and Erebus (Darkness)— came out together. Nyx and Erebus created Aether (Light) and Hemera (Day). And, from these Gods and Goddesses and Gaia’s first child Uranus, came all the other Greek gods and the Titans.

 

The Myth of the Orphic Egg

The other origin myth is that which began with World Egg, or Orphic Egg. Orphism — the ancient Greek religion that followed the writing and path of Orpehus who descended to the Underworld and returned — goes back at least as far as the 5th century BC. Orphism was also one of the first documented mystery cults, where an initiation ceremony was required to gain access to their knowledge and practices.

In Orphic tradition, based on the Sacred Discourses in Twenty-Four Rhapsodies,things get a little more complicated with different poets providing origin stories each with their own slightly different order of events and some feature different Primordial Gods.

However, the basic concept is thus: before the creation of the first generation of Gods (Gaia, Tartarus, Nyx, Eros, and Erebus) there were two other primordial deities: Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity and Fate).

Chronos and Ananke were there when the universe began, existing in the form of serpents that intertwined around the primal egg of matter the Orphic Egg. This egg contained all the elements or building blocks of the universe.

Ananke and Chronos wrapped around the Orphic egg and forced it to split, which gave birth to the universe. The first celestial being to hatch after the egg broke open was Phanes (also known as Protogonus) the creator God, a deity of Procreation and Light.

Primordial Gods - Orphic Egg

List of Primordial Gods

  1. Chaos (Goddess of the Void)
  2. Gaia (Goddess of the Earth)
  3. Tartarus (God of the Underworld Pit)
  4. Eros (God of Love, Passion, and Procreation)
  5. Erebus (God of Darkness)
  6. Nyx (Goddess of Night)
  7. Aether (God of Light and the Upper Sky)
  8. Hemera (Day)
  9. Uranus (God of the Sky)
  10. Ourea (Gods of the Mountains)
  11. Pontus (God of the Sea)
  12. Chronos / Aeon (God of Time)
  13. Ananke (Goddess of Fate and Necessity)

 

The Primordial Gods

1. Chaos (Goddess of the Void)

Chaos is the Primordial Goddess of the Void. She was the original being according to Hesoid, as he wrote “In the beginning there was only Chaos, the Abyss.”

She is also known as the Goddess of the lower atmosphere, occupying the air that surrounds the living world. She is essentially sandwiched between Aether in the upper skies and Erebus who resided above Tartarus.

In Orphic traditions, Chaos is a God, not Goddess. He is the son of Chronos and Ananke along with Aether and Erebus. He was a master artist who managed to shape an egg out of Aether.
Primordial Gods - Chaos

 

2. Gaia (Goddess of the Earth)

Gaia is the Primordial Goddess of the Earth. In Greek mythology, Gaia was the mother of all creation. She was the mother of all the major Gods and Titans that later came to be.

According to Hesiod and Homer, Gaia was the mother of the 12 Titans, the sky God Uranus (who was also her husband), Ourea (the Mountains), the Sea Gods Pontus, Nerues, Oceanus, Thaumas, Phorkys, Keto, Eurybia, the Giants, the Cyclops, and even the hundred-handed Hecatoncheires.
Primordial Gods - Gaia
 

3. Tartarus (God of the Underworld Pit)

Tartarus is the Primordial God of the Pit or the deepest part of the Underworld. Soon after being born, he went to live deep within Gaia’s womb, under the surface of the Earth. In Homer’s Iliad, Zeus explains that Hades, the God of the Underworld, is as far above Tartarus, as the sky is from earth.

“Or I will snatch and hurl him
down to the murk of Tartarus half the world away,
the deepest gulf that yawns beneath the ground,
there where the iron gates and brazen threshold loom,
as far below the House of Death as the sky rides over earth.”

Tartarus fathered the Giants as well as the terrifying monster named Typhon with Gaia.

Tartarus’s dwelling would also act as a prison for the Hecatoncheires and the one-eyed Cyclops that Uranus banished. Later, after Zeus defeated Cronos, the Titans would also be banished to Tartarus.
Primordial Gods - Tartarus

 

4. Eros (God of Love, Passion, and Procreation)

Eros is the Primordial God of Love and Sexual Attraction, not to be confused with the later Eros born to the Goddess Aphrodite. Eros was one of the first Primordials born to Chaos and emerged fully-formed at the dawn of creation. He was the main driving force behind future creations as his powers made it possible for the other Gods to love and mate.

In Orphic tradition, Eros is known as Phanes or Protogonus, the first being to hatch from the world egg. He is described as being invisible with gold wings and the heads of different animals. In this cosmogony, he is the original Creator God and it was he who created the universe after he emerged from the cosmic egg. Protogonos was also the first ruler of the Universe, before Uranus, Cronos, and Zeus.
Primordial Gods - Eros Phanes

 

5. Erebus (God of Darkness)

Erebeus is the Primordial God of Darkness. In the Theogony, Erebus was born with Nyx to Chaos and the two found love and gave birth to Aether and Hemera.

In some Orphic traditions, Erebus was born to Cronos and Ananke and existed as the eternal darkness within which Nyx hatched the world egg.
Primordial Gods - Erebus

 

6. Nyx (Goddess of Night)

Nyx is the Primordial Goddess of the Night. She is usually depicted as a winged goddess and sometimes as a charioteer. It’s hard not to draw a parallel between her and the winged Egyptian goddess of the night, Nut.

In the Theogony, she was born to Chaos and her partner was Erebus, the Primordial God of Darkness. She gave birth to Aether the God of Light, and Hemera, the Goddess of the Day. She is also the mother of Moros (Doom), Thanatos (Death), the Keres (Destruction and Death), Apate (deceit) and many other personifications of negative emotions.

In Orphic traditions, Nyx is one of the first primordial beings that existed and was the daughter of Phanes and the mother of the Uranus.

Primordial Gods - Nyx Goddess of the Night
Night by Auguste Raynaud

 

7. Aether (God of Light and the Upper Sky)

Aether is the God of the Heavenly Light, the bright blue upper sky, and he was the air that only the Gods could breathe. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, he was the son of Nyx and Erebus and is the brother of Hemera.

In some texts, he is the father of Uranus. In Orphic traditions, Aether was the son of Chronos and Ananke and the brother of Chaos and Erebus.

 

8. Hemera (Day)

Hemera is the personifcation of Day itself born to Nyx and Erebus. She was born with her brother Aether who was the God of Heavenly Light. After the birth of Hemera and Aether, the cycle of day and night started in the Greek cosmogony.

Primordial Gods - Hemera Day
Day by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

 

9. Uranus (God of the Sky)

Uranus is the God of the Sky and Heaven. In the Theogony he is the son of Gaia, and brother to Pontus and the Ourea. In Orphic cosmogony, Uranus was the son of Aether, and Gaia was his sister.

Uranus married Gaia and had many children with her. This includes the three Hundred-Handed Hecatoncheires, three Cyclops, and the 12 Titans. After he was castrated by his son Cronos, who overthrew him as the Ruler of the Universe, his blood fell upon the Earth and his genitals into the ocean.

From his blood, the Giants and Erinyes, the deities of the Vengeance, were born. From his genitals, Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Fertility, was born.
Primordial Gods - Uranus
 

10. The Ourea (Gods of the Mountains)

The Ourea are the Primordial Gods of the Mountains. They are a group of primordial deities that form the many hills and mountains on the Earth’s surface. They have no father and were born parthenogenetically to Gaia.

 

11. Pontus (God of the Sea)

Pontus is the God of the Sea and he, along with the Ourea and Uranus, were born to Gaia without a father. Pontus was usually depicted as a bearded, powerful older man with lobster claws growing out of his head.

He had five children with his mother Gaia, Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia. He later married Thalassa, the Goddess of the Oceans, and together they gave birth to different types of fish.

Primordial Gods - Pontos 

12. Chronos / Aeon (God of Time)

In the Orphic myths, Chronos is the Primordial God of Time. Sometimes he is considered one in the same with Aeon. If held in contrast, Chronos represents linear time, whereas Aeon rules cyclical time, such as the perpetual motions of the sun and the year. He is typically depicted standing within a circle with the Zodiac symbols all around him.

He is the partner of Ananke and the two were wrapped around the cosmic egg that created the universe. He is the father of Phanes, Chaos, Aether, and Erebos.

From the Orphica, Theogonies Fragment 54:

“The third principle after the two was engendered by these —Ge and Hydros that is — and was a Drakon with extra heads growing upon it of a bull and a lion, and a god’s countenance in the middle; it had wings upon its shoulders, and its name was Khronos and also Herakles.”

Primordial Gods - Chronos

13. Ananke (Goddess of Fate and Necessity)

The Primordial Goddess of Fate and Necessity. She emerged as a serpentine being and with her partner Chronos, wrapped around and crushed the World Egg and thus formed the universe.

She then rose above the heavens with Chronos, separating herself from her creation in order to create order, stability, and decide the fates of all her creations. Her offspring include Chaos, Aether, and Phanes. In Plato’s Republic she is also depicted as the mother of the Moirai or the Fates.

Primordial Gods - Ananke
Illustration by Edmond Lechevallier-Chevignard

Sources

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