Asteria – The Titan Goddess of the Falling Stars

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Asteria was the Titan goddess of the stars in Greek mythology. She was also the goddess of nighttime divinations, including astrology and oneiromancy (the interpretation of one’s dreams in order to predict the future). Asteria was a second generation goddess who was well-known for being the mother of the famous goddess, Hecate, the personification of witchcraft. Here’s a close look at Asteria’s story and the role she played in Greek mythology.  

Who Was Asteria?

Asteria’s parents were the Titans Phoebe and Coeus, the children of Uranus (the god of the sky) and Gaia (the goddess of the Earth). She was born during the time the Titans ruled the cosmos under Cronos,  a period known as the Golden Age of Greek mythology. She had two siblings: Leto, the goddess of motherhood, and Lelantos who became the Titan of the unseen.

When translated, Asteria’s name means ‘the starry one’ or ‘of the stars’. She became the goddess of the falling stars (or the shooting stars), but she also had a close association with divination by astrology and dreams.

Asteria is one of the few deities in Greek mythology who mothered a single child. She had a daughter by another second generation Titan, Perses, the son of Eurybia and Crius. They named their daughter Hecate and she later became famous as the goddess of magic and witchcraft. Like her mother, Hecate too possessed powers of divination and from her parents she received power over earth, sea and heaven. Together, Asteria and Hecate presided over the powers of the chthonian darkness, the ghosts of the dead and the night.

Although Asteria was one of the main goddesses of the stars, there is little written about her physical appearance. However, what we do know is that she was a goddess of exceptional beauty, often compared with the stars in the sky. Like the stars, her beauty was said to have been radiant, visible, aspirational and unobtainable.

In the few depictions of Asteria, she is seen with a halo of stars surrounding her head, with the night sky behind her. The halo of stars represented her domain and is a symbol strongly associated with the goddess. Asteria has also been portrayed in some Athenian red-figure amphora paintings alongside other deities such as Apollo, Leto and Artemis.

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Asteria and Zeus

Asteria and Zeus
Asteria pursued by Zeus in the form of an eagle by Marco Liberi. Public Domain.

After the Titanomachy ended, Asteria and her sister, Leto, were given a place on Mount Olympu. This brought her into the company of Zeus, the Greek god of thunder. Zeus, who was known for having many affairs with both goddesses (including Leto) and mortals, found Asteria to be very attractive and began to pursue her.  However, Asteria had no interest in Zeus and transformed herself into a quail, plunging into the Aegean sea to get away from Zeus. Asteria was then transformed into a floating island which was named Ortygia ‘the quail island’ or ‘Asteria’ in her honor.

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Poseidon and Asteria

According to another version of the story, Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, was besotted by goddess of the stars and began to pursue her as well. Finally, she transformed herself into the island originally called Ortygia, meaning ‘quail’ in Greek. This island was eventually renamed ‘Delos’.

Asteria, as Delos the floating island, continued to move around the Aegean sea, which was an uninviting, barren place, nearly impossible for anyone to inhabit. This however, changed when Asteria’s sister Leto arrived at the island.

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Leto and the Island of Delos

In the meantime, Leto had been seduced by Zeus, and soon became pregnant with his child. In a fit of jealousy and rage, Zeus’ wife Hera placed a curse on Leto so that she would be unable to give birth anywhere on land or at sea. The only place where she could deliver her child was Delos, the floating island.

Although Delos (or Asteria) was ready to help her sister, she came to know of a prophecy according to which Leto would give birth to a son who would grow up to be highly powerful. This made Delos afraid that her future nephew would destroy the island because of its ugly, barren state. However, Leto promised that the island would be revered for all eternity if she were allowed to give birth to her children there. Delos agreed and Leto gave birth to twins, Apollo and Artemis, upon the island.

As soon as Leto’s children were born, Delos became attached to the sea bed by strong pillars, rooting the island firmly in one place. Delos no longer wandered the seas as the floating island and as a result, it began to flourish. As Leto had promised, Delos became a sacred island for Asteria, Leto, Apollo and Artemis.

In some versions of the story, it was Apollo who helped Asteria transform into the island of Delos in order to escape from Zeus. Apollo also rooted the island to the floor of the sea so that it would be immovable.  

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Worship of Asteria

One of the main places dedicated to the worship of the goddess of stars was the island of Delos. Here, it was said that the oracle of dreams could be found. The ancient Greeks worshipped her by honoring her presence with starry and dark blue crystals.

Some sources say that Asteria was a goddess of dream oracles, worshipped as the goddess Brizo, the personification of slumber. Brizo was also well-known as the protector of sailors, fishermen and mariners. The women of ancient Greece often sent out offerings of food to the goddess in small boats. 

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In Brief

Although Asteria was one of the lesser known deities, she played an important role in Greek mythology with her powers of necromancy, divination and astrology. Many believe that whenever there’s a shooting star in the sky, it’s a gift from Asteria, the goddess of the falling stars.

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