In Greek mythology, Eileithyia was the goddess of childbirth. According to the poet Hesiod, she was the daughter of two Olympians – Hera and Zeus.
Eileithyia was born in a cave near Knossos, In Crete, which became the main place of worship for the goddess. The goddess was also worshipped in Olympia, which is attested by the discovery of a shrine attributed to her, while other shrines have also been found in Tegea, Argos and Aigion; icons of the goddess were also found in Athens.
Last year I took a vacation to the delightful Crete island. Although I didn’t find the shrine of Eileithyia, I did hunt out some tourist cultures! Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, which is home to approximately 650’000 people, and a plethora of tourist attractions, the island is a delight to explore and caters for families, couples, 18-30 etc. I stayed in a rural village, in the mountains called Piskiopiana, outside of a main town Hersonnissos. Knossos was a 25 minutes drive from the village where I stayed.
Small villages are run by the locals, most villages include a small shopping court, with souvenirs of leather bags and Greek plates, statues of Ancient Greek legends. There was also plenty of tavernas, offering mouth watering cuisine of local produce on the menu’s.
Anyway, I did some more research on the hidden legend of the island, Eileithyia!
Eileithyia is associated with the goddesses Hera (the goddess of marriage) and Artemis. Since her primary function was assisting with the birth of children. And in myth, Eileithyia is sometimes portrayed as serving Hera. Eileithyia was often called to her mother’s service, in aid of preventing a mistress of Zeus (her father) from giving birth!
Eileithyia makes an important appearance in the stories of a pair of significant mythological figures – Alcmene and Leto. Eileithyia was involved with thwarting the expectant mothers labour. By sitting upon earth with her legs crossed, Eileithyia mystically prevented the mortal Alcmene from giving birth to Hercules as per the wishes of Hera, ‘because Hera was a jealous wife’. Galanthis, Alcmene’s servant, summarized that Eileithyia was stalling the birth, Galanthis prematurely announced the birth of Hercules, which gave Alcmene the gasp of air to push one last time. Eileithyia, startled by the announcement leapt up, uncrossed her legs and went off to investigate, effectively cancelling out her spell, as Hercules was finally born. Upset for being manipulated, Eileithyia transformed Galanthis into a weasel for deceiving her.
Although she painfully delayed the process, both Alcmene and Leto eventually had their children (Leto was the mother to the twin deities Artemis and Apollo).
Eileithyia, along with Artemis and Persephone, is often shown carrying torches to bring children out of darkness and into light: in Roman mythology her counterpart in easing labour is Lucina (of the light).
Her mystical powers include traveling from Earth to Olympus, altering her appearance to disguise herself and for tossing off minor bursts of energy for defensive purposes! (The spell she cast on Galanthis?) She can cast hexes and transform mortals into animals at will, as the tale explained. She has some powers to childbirth; she can ease the mortal pains associated with delivery or by forestalling birth indefinitely, causing great pain and discomfort to the mother involved to the point of death. To achieve this, she crosses her legs symbolically to restrict the condition of a woman able to give birth, but by uncrossing her legs, she can break her spell and hold over her victims.
As she is related to the delivery of new life, Eileithyia is also symbolic of the third trinity, her father is God Zeus, her Mother Goddess Hera, therefore, this makes Eileithyia, the Divine child! The third in the trinity! Symbolically, Eileithyia embodies the description of pain before pleasure, the suffering of birth and the concept of suffering in life’s trials both go hand in hand! The dualistic nature of pain and healing power! The closing of the legs is symbolic to closing the heart! Grief and bereavement at its opposite, to new life! Her characteristics of envy, (when a women is scorned!) and pain (inner suffering) embody the symbolic element. Yet she embodies new birth, whether you look at it pessimistically, or optimistically.
According to some texts, Eileithyia was the mother of Eros, the god of love! However, there is no mention of any lovers, marriages or children in any other texts to prove this! What can be understood, is that through birthing new life, love is born – Eros!
Supernatural Powers: Like all Olympians, she is immortal: she hasn’t aged since reaching adulthood and cannot die by conventional means. It would take an injury of such magnitude that it dispersed a major portion of her bodily molecules to cause her a physical death. Even then, it might be possible for a god of significant power, such as Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo or for a number of Olympian gods of equal power working together to revive her. Eileithyia also possesses superhuman strength and her Olympian metabolism provides her with far greater than human endurance in all physical activities! She is immune to all Earthly diseases and is resistant to conventional injury. If she were somehow wounded, her godly life force would enable her to recover with superhuman speed.
One of history’s famous legends that represents new birth, creation and midwifery, death!
Another Hidden treasure in the village of Piskiopiana!
There’s plenty to explore, with a local church, a museum, that displays the ancient blacksmith tools and historic pieces of tapestry. These attractions were minutes from my apartment and a cemetery for the deceased. Those who have passed away are very much worshipped, the tombstones were big, bold and told a story with pictures, flowers and words of devotion engraved around the tombstone.
A native tradition to Greece are the shrines that are erected on the roadside, at the site of a car accident. As you drive through the island, you notice small boxes erected along the road side, which are adorned with rosary beads, candles, flowers and pictures, these sites are a shrine to the deceased, who lost their life, at that precise road side. The glass box, tells the story of their tragedy!
If you walk a little further down the village road, you’ll pass these sites and then you link into another quaint small village, which had more taverna’s offering local and traditional Greek food. The food consists of traditional dishes such a souvlaki or stifado, which is meat cooked in Greek herbs and traditions. If you’re a vegetarian, the Greek salad is addictive along with other local dishes.
Approximately 15 minutes walk from the village, is a water park, the island caters for all ages and preferences. If you prefer a more bustling lively town, a walk further along the path approx. 15 minutes, you will arrive in Hersonnissos, a busy bustling beachfront resort with a long promenade, bursting with night life bars, taverna’s and restaurants. Across the promenade on the beach, some of the restaurants are directly over the sea, you can drop your bread down the floorboards and watch a shawl of fishes all scavenge for the bread, whilst sipping a long pina colada, within the rocks of the coast! The scenery is magnificent from certain angles, especially if you can see the harbour which also lights up in the evening. There are shops, tourist attractions and even the popular MacDonald’s restaurant has a home here!
If you walk towards the harbour, you will discover a tourist shop, which houses a plethora of activities and attractions on the island. Plenty of beach activities are on offer as well as boat trips out to the caves. There is also a sea world, for families with small children to entertain.
Dionysus was the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy. He was depicted as either an older, bearded god or an effeminate, long-haired youth. His attributes included the thyrsos (a pine-cone tipped staff), a drinking cup and a crown of ivy. – For those who enjoy exploring cultures and native traditions, the resort Piskiopiana is recommended. The wine crushing attraction is the islands best feature, half a day, exploring the ancient traditions of wine making, and then enjoying the experience of crushing grapes between your toes! It is tucked away from mainstream tourism, it appears to be a hidden delight for the tourists in the villages in the mountains! The attraction is only open on Wednesdays, so if it’s something you really wanted to experience, make sure you book weekend flights! And this, ‘diamond’ tourist attraction is on small notice boards, so keep your eyes out looking for the information!
The island is highly recommended, its full of culture, tradition and mystery! The Greek waiters were exceptionally charming, charismatic and pleasing to the eye too!