Eos: Unpacking the Mythic

Eos’ fingers are slowly spreading across the eastern sky as I write this, warming the landscape as the air fills with the cacophony of birdsong. When we first moved to this house, I was startled by the intensity of the spring morning birds here. They start at 4am and being the light sleeper that I am, it took some getting used to. Today though, as I watch the sun rise, I am thankful for the soundtrack that greets the dawn.

The birds singing in the dawn

Eos, who is sometimes depicted as dancing the dawn in, is said to be the Proto-Indo-European deity, h2éwsōs. We see examples of her across multiple cultures and I think there is something beautiful about our ancestors understanding the sunrise to be divinely inspired. When we take time to watch it, it’s not really that surprising that they would view it so. But that they would see it as separate from the sun itself is fascinating to me.

Why am I writing about sunrise? Because it was the sunrise that made me realize that we have lost our connection to land via mythic stories. It was in the rising of Eos – as she spread her golden rosy fingers and danced across the landscape – while Venus twinkled quietly to her right, that I came to see how our ancestors created story that reflected their animistic world view. That I came to know, deep down, that the way I have experienced mythic tales, until recently, has been incomplete. Eos’ dancing tendrils of light wove their way into me and made me realize what her indiscriminate, promiscuous ways were doing to my human heart.

Eos is considered to be a fairly promiscuous female deity (let’s face it – in Greek myth women to tend to be divided into chaste or promiscuous – there often seems to be little room for the in between). Eos stories portray her as being unfaithful to her husband and she ends up cursed by Venus (Aphrodite) for her relationship with Ares, Aphrodite’s partner, to love fall in love with mortals. 

All of this is really just generalized background context – what is interesting to observe is how Eos’ indiscriminate promiscuity plays out in reality. The fingers of dawn don’t discriminate. They touch everything they can reach. Wherever the light can get in, Eos is there, spreading her rosy gold tendrils as the day rises. This, I think, is the origins of said promiscuity, which over time, became a value judgement made by ever shifting cultural mores (Victorian to Greek and all the societies these tales passed through in their journey through history). I can’t help but wonder, did the original tellers of these tales parse them quite as dogmatically as we do now? Or were they couched in observation from a pragmatic animist point of view? 

And Eos is truly lovely. Her beauty is unsurpassed. Venus, who twinkles beautifully in the night sky, ends up being eclipsed by her, especially in Spring, when the two are visible together in the morning sky (at least they are from where I live). Of course Venus, who has twinkled so beautifully throughout winter, filling the early morning with her crystalline glory, could be seen as feeling threatened by the woman who announces the sun (Helios). Her glory is fading as Eos rises. Eos doesn’t share the morning sky with humility. No, she claims it with fervor and with an awe-inspiring glory that poets have been writing about for ages. How many love poems have sung her praises? The two really are rivals in the romantic, poetic hearts of humanity. 

It was this observation of myth in action that really made me start rethinking my relationship with myth; made me remember how myths are the stories we tell ourselves to give our world meaning. Which of course I knew – but the bigger realization was that all of my pagan seeking of the divine had lost sight of this origin of story: observation of the land. 

Thor isn’t just the raging Marvel superhero. He is the god of thunder -his regional names (Thunor, Donar) quite literally emerging from the root word for thunder. He is more than the hammer wielding avenger of Norse myth. We see him as tempestuous because he is literally the rains and storms, the electric bolt of energy that sparks. Zeus, the other thundering sky god, is given a similar tempestuous nature, potentially because both of them are expressions of natural observation. 

Somehow, over time, in a scientific world, we seem to have lost the most basic truth: the deities walk among us, EVERY SINGLE DAY, in their earthly manifestations. We have made them distant and remote because of how we have filtered them through the modern cultural lens. Our ancestors (ok, my Northern European ancestors) used to make offerings to trees before removing them from the land because they believed a spirit lived within it.* They believed that everything around them contained an animating spirit, including the thunder, the dawn, and the land. And we see this in the way that they deified it. Somewhere, somehow, over time, that deification became remote, abstract. 

But if the gods originated in the land, the sky, the cosmos, the beauty of that is that it means they never left us. That they can be found, through observation, relationship, and communion, with the world around us. I do not need a fancy Eos altar – I just need to get up and greet her in her glory. I can offer her praise, every morning, and in return, she will fill me with awe and wonder over the beauty of the world around me. And that marvel creates a profound meaning and connection to place, wherever I am, even if the nature of the divine is different in another location.** 

Aphrodite isn’t just the jealous lover, she is the remote but beautiful aspiration and hope of our ancestors. Zeus isn’t the remote Olympic god, he is a god who longs to touch down and make connection with the world below him; to ground himself in the earth. When we read mythic stories through this lens, it changes the experience. It changes the relationship. And I think, in this day and age, as people seek to reconnect to the land, to place, particularly in colonized lands and during the current environmental crisis we are experiencing, this changed relationship is long overdue and incredibly necessary.

*See Claude Lecouteux’s book House Spirits for more on this.

**Yes, I am a soft polytheist but I believe there is room here for interpretation based on your own world view! Monotheism, duotheism, henotheism, hard polytheism (etc) – work your explanation of said phenomenon into your own world view as you need.

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