Ancient Gods – When Darkness Ruled the World
Darkness is the opposite of brightness and it is characterized by the absence of visible light. The emotional response of humans to darkness has led to many culturally different metaphorical usages.
For example, in Christianity the first narrative of creation begins with darkness. Darkness is said to have existed before the world, then light was introduced. Ultimately, the separation of light from darkness followed. In Exodus 10:21, darkness appears as the “second to last plague” and, in Mathew 8:12, darkness is the location of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
In the Qur’an (Nab 78.25), the individuals who transgress the boundaries of what is right are doomed to “burning despair and ice-cold darkness”. These perceptions of darkness largely associate it with evil. However, this was not always so. In the past, darkness was seen as something that existed since the beginning of time, and there are many deities associated with darkness as well as with the night.
The best example is probably Erebus from Greek mythology. His name comes from the Greek “Erebos” meaning “deep darkness” or “shadow”. Erebus was a primordial deity seen as the personification or embodiment of darkness. He is one of the first five beings in existence born from Chaos.
Along with his sister Nyx, Erebus fathered other deities such as Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death). Aether, Hemera, the Hesperides, the Moirai, Geras, Styx, and Charon are other children that resulted from the same union. It is interesting to note here the fact that Nyx was the goddess of the night. She was very beautiful and powerful and it is said that even Zeus himself, the chief of all the gods, feared her. In his “ Theogony”, Hesiod writes:
“From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bore from union in love with Erebus”.
Nyx, as represented in the 10th-century Paris Psalter at the side of the Prophet Isaiah. (Public Domain)
Greek mythology also has other deities related to darkness and the night. Asteria was the goddess of nocturnal oracles and the stars, and Achlys was the primordial goddess of eternal night, misery, and sorrow.
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Asteria and Phoebe on the Pergamon Altar. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Hindu Deities of Darkness
In the Hindu tradition, Ratri is the goddess of the night while Rahu is the celestial deity of darkness and eclipses. Rahu is associated with the demon Svarbhaanu which swallows the sun, resulting in eclipses. In art, he appears as a serpent with no body riding a chariot drawn by eight black horses.
Rahu: Head of Demon Snake, Konarak Idol, British Museum. (Public Domain)
Rahu kala, the influence of Rahu in Vedic astrology, is regarded as inauspicious. In Hindu mythology, there is also Varuna, the ruler of all the sky gods.
The God Varuna on his mount makara, 1675-1700 Painted in: India, Rajasthan, Bundi placed in LACMA museum. (Public Domain)
In Norse mythology, Nott is the goddess which personifies the night. She is the grandmother of Thor and the daughter of Norvi. Nott is associated with the horse Hrimfaxi and she supposedly had three marriages. Her third marriage was to the god Dellingr and together they had a son: Dagr – the personification of the day. Also in Norse mythology, the trickster god Loki is considered a night deity.
Nott rides her horse in this 19th-century painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo. (Public Domain)
Dark Roman Gods
In Roman mythology, Nox was the primordial goddess of the night. She was equivalent to the Greek Nyx. Scotus was the primordial god of darkness and linked the Greek god Erebus. Summanus was the god of nocturnal thunder.
Nyx, The primordial goddess of the night. (Public Domain)
Aztec Lords of the Night
Aztec mythology has many deities associated with the night and with darkness. The Lords of the Night were a group of nine gods. They each were said to have ruled over a particular type of night. Metztli was a deity of the night, the moon, and of farmers. Yohaulticetl was the lunar goddess known as the Lady of the Night.
Lords of the Night, Page 14 of the Codex Borgia. (Public Domain)
Tezcatlipoca was the god of the night sky, the night winds, obsidian, rulership, divination, jaguars, sorcery, war, strife, and also beauty.
Tezcatlipoca depicted in the codex Rios in the aspect of a Jaguar—in this form he was called Tepeyollotl. (Public Domain)
In Egyptian mythology, Nephthys was the goddess of the night, death, and birth. Kuk was an uncreated god who personified the primordial darkness. Apep was the Egyptian serpent deity of evil and darkness.
Nephthys - Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. (CC BY-SA 2.0 fr)
More Deities of Darkness
Artume was the Etruscan goddess of the night and Shalim was the Canaanite god of dusk. In Arabian mythology, Al-Qaum was the Nabatean god of the night and of war, but also seen as a protector of caravans.
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Ahriman is the Iranic god of darkness, night, and evil. In Lithuania, Breksta was the goddess of twilight and dreams who protects humans from sunset to sunrise. The Zorya were two guardian goddesses related to the morning and evening stars in Slavic mythology. In Maori mythology, Hine-nui-te-pō, the ruler of the underworld, is also the goddess of the night and of death.
As it can be seen, darkness was often, but not always, associated with evil. There have been many cases in mythology when “dark” deities were simply a personification of the primordial darkness which existed even before the appearance of the world.
Top image: The Ancient of Days (William Blake, 1794). Photo Source: (Public Domain)
By Valda Roric
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