Primordial Gods in Greek Mythology

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According to Greek Mythology, the Primordial Gods were the first entities that came into existence. These immortal beings form the very frame of the universe. They are also known as the Protogenoi, an accurate name, as protos means first, and genos means born. For the most part, the primordial gods were entirely elemental beings.

Here’s a look at the very first beings of Greek mythology, those who made it possible for all else to follow.

How Many Primordial Gods Were There?

Primordial deities in Greek mythology refer to the first generation of gods and goddesses, who were the offspring of the original being Chaos. Representing the world’s fundamental forces and physical foundations, these Gods were generally not actively worshipped, as they were largely supernaturalistic personifications and concepts.

In Theogony, Hesiod outlines the story of the origin of the gods. Accordingly, the first four deities were:

  • Chaos
  • Gaia
  • Tartarus
  • Eros

From the coupling of the above deities, as well as virginal births on the part of Gaia, the next stage of primordial deities came to be. The exact number and list of primordial deities varies, depending on the source. With that said, here’s are the most well-known of the primordial deities.  

1- Khaos/Chaos – The original primordial void and embodiment of life.

Khaos was the first of all beings, likened to the Earth’s atmosphere, including the invisible air, fog, and mist. The word khaos means ‘gap’ referring to Khaos’ status as the link between heaven and Earth. She is typically personified as female.

Khaos is the mother and grandmother of the other misty, primordial gods, Erebos, Aither, Nyx, and Hemera. As the goddess of air and atmosphere, Khaos was the mother of all birds in the same way that Gaia was the mother of all animals that live on land. Later,

2- Gaia – Primordial god of the Earth.

Gaia, also spelled Gaea, was the goddess of the Earth. Her birth occurred at the dawn of creation, and so Gaia was the great mother of all creation. She was often shown as a motherly woman who has risen from the Earth, with the lower half of her body still hidden beneath.

Gaia was the initial antagonist of the gods because she began by rebelling against her husband Ouranos, who had imprisoned several of her sons within her womb. After that, when her son Kronos defied her by imprisoning these same sons, Gaia sided with Zeus in his rebellion against his father Kronos.

However, she turned against Zeus as he had bound her Titan-sons in Tartarus. Tartarus was the deepest region of the world and included the lower of the two parts of the underworld. It was where the gods locked up their enemies, and gradually became known as the underworld.

As a result, she gave birth to a tribe of Gigantes (Giants). Later, she birthed the monster Typhon to overthrow Zeus, but failed in both attempts to defeat him. Gaia remains a presence throughout the Greek myths and is worshipped even today among neo-pagan groups.

3- Uranus – Primordial god of the sky.

Uranus, also spelled Ouranos, was the primordial god of the sky. The Greeks envisioned the sky as being a firm dome of brass decorated with stars, whose edges plunged to rest upon the furthermost limits of the Earth, which was believed to be flat. So Ouranos was the sky, and Gaia was the Earth. Ouranos was often described as being tall and muscular, with longish dark hair. He only wore a loincloth, and his skin changed color over the years.

Ouranos and Gaia had six daughters and twelve sons. The eldest of these children were locked inside the belly of Earth by Ouranos. Suffering immense pain, Gaia and convinced her Titan sons to rebel against Ouranos. Siding with their mother, four of the Titan sons went to the corners of the world. There they waited to grasp their father as he descended to sleep with Gaia. Kronos, the fifth Titan son, castrated Ouranos with an adamantine sickle. Ouranos’ blood fell upon earth, resulting in the avenging Erinyes and the Gigantes (Giants).

Ouranos foretold the fall of the Titans, as well as the punishments they would suffer for their crimes. Zeus later fulfilled the prophecy when he deposed the five brothers and cast them into the pit of Tartarus.

4- Ceto (Keto) – Primordial god of the Ocean.

Ceto, also spelled Keto, was a primordial deity of the sea. She was often depicted as a woman, and the daughter of the Titans Pontus and Gaea.

Thus, she was the personification of all the dangers and evil posed in the sea. Her spouse was Phorcys, who was often depicted as a fish-tailed merman with crab-claw forelegs and red, spiky skin. They had several children, all of whom were monsters, known as Phorcydes.

5- The Ourea – The primordial gods of the Mountains.

The Ourea are the offspring of Gaia and Hamadryas. The Ourea descended down to Earth to take the place of ten mountains, found around the islands of Greece. The nine offspring of the Earth are often depicted as ancient men with gray beards sitting at the top of enormous mountains in Greece.

6- Tartarus – Primordial god of the Abyss.

Tartarus was the abyss and also the deepest and darkest pit in the underworld. He is often called the father of the monstrous Typhon that resulted from his union with Gaia. On occasion, he was named as the father of Typhon’s partner, Echidna.

Echidna and Typhon went to war with Zeus and the gods of Mount Olympus. Ancient sources, though, often diminished the concept of Tartarus as a god. Instead, he was more closely connected with the hell pit of the Greek Underworld.

7- Erebus –  Primordial god of darkness.

Erebus was the Greek god of darkness, including the dark of night, of caves, crevices, and the underworld. He doesn’t noticeably figure in any mythological tales, but Hesiod and Ovid mention him.

It is said that Nyx and Erebus worked together and tried to bring the darkness of night to the world. Fortunately, each morning, their daughter Hemera, would push them aside, and daylight would envelop the world.

8- Nyx – Primordial god of night.

Nyx was the goddess of night, and a child of Khaos. She coupled with Erebos and mothered Aither and Hemera. Nyx was older than Zeus and the other Olympian gods and goddesses.

It is said that Zeus even feared Nyx because she was older and more powerful than he was. In fact, she is the only goddess that Zeus appeared to ever have feared.

9- Thanatos – Primordial god of Death.

Hades is the Greek god that is most often associated with Death. However, Hades was simply the overlord of Death, and was in no way the incarnation of Death. That honor goes to Thanatos.

Thanatos was the personification of death, who appeared at the end of a person’s life to lead them away into the underworld, separating them from the realm of the living. Thanatos was not seen as cruel, but as a patient god who executed his duties without emotion. Thanatos could not be swayed with bribes or threats.

Thanatos’ other domains involved deception, special jobs, and a literal fight for the life of someone.

10- Moirai – Primordial goddesses of fate.

The Sisters of Fate, also known as the Fates or the Moirai, were three goddesses who assigned individual destinies to mortals when they were born. Their names were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.

There have been disagreements about their origins, with the older myths stating they were the daughters of Nyx and later tales portraying them as the offspring of Zeus and Themis. Either way, they had great strength and incredible power, and even Zeus could not recall their decisions.

These three goddesses have been consistently depicted as three women spinning. Each of them had a different task, revealed by their names.

Clotho’s responsibility was spinning the thread of life. Lachesis’s task was to measure its allotted length, and Atropos was responsible for cutting it off with her shears.

At times they were assigned a specific period of time. Atropos would be responsible for the past, Clotho for the present, and Lachesis for the future. In literature, The Sisters of Fates are often portrayed as ugly, old women weaving or binding thread. At times we can see one, or all of them, reading or writing in the book of fate.

11- Tethys – Primordial goddess of freshwater.

Tethys had various mythological roles. She was most often seen as a sea nymph, or one of the 50 Nereids. Tethys’ domain was the flow of freshwater, making her one aspect of the nourishing nature of the earth. Her consort was Oceanus.

12- Hemera – Primordial god of day.

Hermera was the personification of day and was regarded as the goddess of the daytime. Hesiod was of the opinion that she was the daughter of Erebus and Nyx. Her role was to disperse the darkness caused by her mother Nyx and allow the light of day to shine through.

13- Ananke – Primordial god of inevitability, compulsion, and necessity.

Ananke was the personification of inevitability, compulsion, and necessity. It was customary for her to be depicted as a woman holding a spindle. She held enormous power over circumstances and was widely worshipped. Her consort is Chronos, the personification of time, and she’s sometimes thought to be the mother of the Moirai.

14- Phanes – Primordial god of generation.

Phanes was the primordial god of light and goodness, as evidenced by his name which means “to bring light” or “to shine”. He is a creator-god, who was hatched from the cosmic egg. Phanes was introduced into the Greek myths by the Orphic school of thought.

15- Pontus – Primordial god of the sea.

Pontus was a primordial sea god, who ruled on the Earth before the arrival of the Olympians. His mother and consort was Gaea, with whom he had five children: Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia.

16- Thalassa – Primordial god of the sea and the sea’s surface.

Thalassa was the spirit of the sea, with her name meaning ‘ocean’ or ‘sea’. Her male counterpart is Pontus, with whom she birthed the storm gods and the fish of the sea. However, while Thalassa and Pontus were the primordial sea deities, they were later replaced by Oceanus and Tethys, who themselves were replaced by Poseidon and Amphitrite.

17- Aether – Primordial god of mists and light

The personification of the upper sky, Aether represented the pure air that the gods breathed, unlike the regular air breathed by mortals. His domain lay just beneath the arch of the domes of heaven, but much high above the realm of mortals.

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Summary

There is no consensus on the exact list of Greek primordial gods. The numbers vary, depending on the source. However, although this isn’t a complete list of all of the primordial gods of Greek mythology, the above list covers most of the popular gods. Each of them are complex, engaging, and always unpredictable.