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Of the two main forces in our world, good and evil, love is the most powerful weapon. It is the basis for many of the world’s religions and occurs in all prominent mythologies. Here are ten of the top love deities:
Dogoda is the Slavic god of the west wind. His name derives from ‘догодити’ meaning 'to happen.' He is usually portrayed as a young man sporting the colour blue, with blond hair and a blueberry crown on his head.
Dogoda arrives to soothe the harsh winter climate. While he was not considered a major god in the shamans’ history books, he was the only directional wind they anthropomorphized, expressing the qualities of love and compassion. Dogoda is the gentle god of breezes, the wind that shapes the clouds into pictures and patterns.
Offerings for this god take the form of dances and songs dedicated to him. People also place blueberries on their altars as another form of offering.
Lofn is one of Frigga’s handmaidens. Frigga is the wife of the high god Odin, and dwells in the wetland halls of Fensalir. Lofn is the goddess of forbidden love that is frowned upon by the family, clan, or society. Her name means ‘permission,’ and she is also known as ‘the comforter,’ ‘the mild,’ and ‘the loving one.’ She makes it possible for lovers to come together and protects them from others’ wrath. While she cannot change the minds of those that disapprove, she can help star-crossed lovers find a way to be together. Her symbol is a key.
In the Prose Edda, an Old Norse work of Literature written in Iceland in the 1200s, Lofn is described as: 'so gentle and so good to invoke that she has permission from All-Father or Frigg to arrange unions between men and women, even if earlier offers have been received and unions have been banned. From her name comes the word lof, meaning permission as well as high praise.
Celtic (Welsh): Branwen
Branwen, the daughter of Llyr, is a goddess of love and beauty. She is one of the triple goddess of Avalon along with Ceriddwen and Arainrhod. Her name translates to ‘white raven.’ She is the maiden aspect of the triple goddess, seen as a beautiful young lady. Due to the myth surrounding her story, she releases mistreated wives from bondage and blesses them with new beginnings.
Here is a brief summary of Branwen’s tale, which leads to the war between Ireland and Wales. Her brother, Bran the Blessed, king of Britain, was approached by Matholwck, the king of Ireland, who asked for his sister’s hand in marriage. Bran agreed, yet at a celebratory feast, Efnisien, Bran and Branwen’s half-brother, became angry at the prospect and mutilated the king of Ireland’s horses. To calm the rising tensions, Bran gave Matholwck a magical cauldron that could bring the dead back to life. However, Matholwch didn't know that if he brought the dead back to life with the cauldron’s powers they would be mute. He believed he received the gift in kindness, but with time understood the cruelty behind the gift.
Upon returning to Ireland, Matholwck’s court told him that he was not compensated enough. He treated Branwen with utter cruelty, and she eventually sent word to her brother in Wales asking for help. This led to a long and bloody war between Wales and Ireland. Branwen, it is believed, died of grief, and was buried by the banks of the river Alaw.
Greek: The Erotes
The Erotes are a collection of gods associated with love and sexual desire, forming part of Aphrodite's retinue. The individual Erotes are sometimes linked to particular aspects of love and are often associated with same-sex desire. Sometimes the Erotes are thought of as manifestations of the god Eros. Different Erotes represent various aspects of love or desire. They are usually portrayed as nude, handsome, winged youths.
A number of Greek gods have been named Erotes, sometimes being assigned particular associations with aspects of love:
- Anteros - the god of requited love, literally "love returned" or "counterpart love." He punished those who scorned love and was the avenger of unrequited love. He has been described as armed with a golden club or lead arrows.
- Eros - the god of love and intercourse, also worshiped as a fertility deity. His Roman counterpart was Cupid (desire). Eros was often regarded as the protector of homosexual love between men. He is depicted carrying a lyre or bow and arrow, and is accompanied by dolphins, flutes, roosters, roses, and torches.
- Hedylogos - the god of sweet-talk and flattery. He is not mentioned in any existing literature, but he is shown on ancient Greek vases.
- Hermaphroditus - the god of hermaphrodites and of effeminate men. He was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite and was born a remarkably handsome boy. After the water nymph Salmacis fell in love with him and she prayed to be united forever, their two forms merged into one.
- Himeros – the god of desire and unrequited love. Himeros carried a taenia, a colourful headband worn by athletes, and is described in Hesiod's Theogony as being born alongside Aphrodite.
- Hymenaeus - the god of weddings, marriage, and the bridal hymn.
- Pothos - one of Aphrodite's Erotes and brother to Himeros and Eros. In some versions of myth, Pothos is the son of Eros, or is portrayed as an independent aspect of him. He carried a vine, indicating a connection to wine or the god Dionysus. Pothos represents longing or yearning, and is a name for the white Asphodelus albus flower used at funerals, according to Arthur Hort's index and translation of Theophrastus.
Hathor was eventually considered the primeval goddess from whom all others were derived. She is depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, and personifies the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. She was one of the most important and popular deities throughout ancient Egypt, being worshipped by royalty and common people alike. In tomb paintings, she is often depicted welcoming the dead into the next life. In other roles, she’s a goddess of music, dance, foreign lands, and fertility. She is believed to assist women in childbirth, and is the patron goddess of joy, celebration, and love. Hathor was commonly associated with Aphrodite by the Greeks and with Venus by the Romans. She is always, from the earliest times, associated with women and women's health in body and in mind. Although in time she came to be considered the ultimate personification of kindness and love, she was initially literally a blood-thirsty deity unleashed on mankind to punish humans for their sins.
Inanna is the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, combat, justice, and political power, later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar, known as the ‘Queen of Heaven.’ She was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult centre. Inanna is associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols includes the lion and the eight-pointed star.
The goddess appears in many ancient Mesopotamian myths, most notably Inanna and the Huluppu-Tree which is an early creation myth, Inanna and the God of Wisdom, in which she brings knowledge and culture to the city of Uruk, The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi, the tale of Inanna’s marriage to the vegetation-god, and the best known poem The Descent of Inanna, in which she journeys to the underworld.
Also called Ichpochtli, meaning ‘maiden,’ Xochiquetzal is a goddess associated with fertility, beauty, and female sexual power, serving as a protector of young mothers and a patroness of pregnancy, childbirth, and the crafts practised by women like weaving and embroidery.
The name Xōchiquetzal is a compound of xōchitl (flower) and quetzalli (precious feather). She is always depicted as an alluring and youthful woman, richly attired and symbolically associated with flowers. By connotation, Xochiquetzal is also representative of human desire and pleasure.
She is followed by birds and butterflies. Worshippers typically wore animal and flower masks at a festival held in her honour every eight years. According to Aztec mythology, she came from Tamoanchán, the verdant paradise of the west. Originally the wife of Tlaloc, the rain god, she was abducted for her beauty by Tezcatlipoca, the god of night, who crowned her as goddess of love.
During the festival held in her honour, a beautiful young woman was chosen by craftsmen and artisans to represent the goddess. This young woman was then sacrificed by the priests and flayed. Her skin was worn by a man who sat at a loom and pretended to weave, while the craftsmen danced around him in animal costumes. The ceremony was then completed when the worshippers engaged in bloodletting and a ritual bath.
In the Ifá and Yoruba religions of West Africa, Oshun is a spirit (an orisha), with powers over love, fertility, feminine sexuality, and fresh water. She is one of the most popular and venerated orishas, connected to destiny and divination.
Oshun is the patron saint of the Osun River in Nigeria, which bears her name. The river has its source in Ekiti State, in the east of Nigeria, and passes through the city of Oshogbo, where Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, the principal sanctuary of the deity, is located. Oshun is honoured at the Osun-Osogbo Festival, a two-week-long annual festival that usually takes place in August, at the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove on the banks of the river.
Ọṣhun was the only female irunmole (primordial) sent to set up the world by Olodumare (the supreme god). The other males that were sent began the work without Ọṣhun. She gathered the women and protested the disrespect by forming Iyami Aje, a band of women with special power. The men failed in their tasks miserably and when they inquired to Olodumare as to why they weren't succeeding, Olodumare informed them that nothing could be done without Ọṣhun. Anything they attempted to do without women would fail.
Oshun is the orisha of the river. Her devotees leave her offerings and perform ceremonies at bodies of fresh water. Oshun is associated with the colours gold/deep yellow in the diaspora and in Nigeria, white, yellow and green. In Trinidad she is associated with the colour pink.
Chinese: Yue Lao
Yue Lao, literally ‘old man under the moon’, is a god of marriage and love in Chinese mythology. He appears as an old man under the moon at night, and ‘unites with a silken cord all predestined couples, after which nothing can prevent their union’. He is immortal and is said to live either in the moon or in the ‘obscure regions,’ the Chinese equivalent of Hades.
Legend has it that, during the Tang Dynasty, there was a young man named Wei Gu. Once he was passing the city of Songcheng, and he saw an old man leaning on his pack reading a book in the moonlight. Being amazed by it, Wei Gu walked up and asked what he was doing. The old man answered, "I’m reading a book of marriage listings for who is going to marry whom. In my pack are red chords for tying the feet of husband and wife." When Wei Gu and the old man came together to a marketplace, they saw a blind old woman carrying a three-year-old little girl in her arms. The old man said to Wei Gu, "This little girl will be your wife in the future." Wei Gu thought this was strange and ordered his servant to stab the girl with his knife.
Fourteen years later, Wang Tai, the governor of Xiangzhou, gave Wei Gu his daughter in marriage. He was having difficulty finding a suitable match of higher standing for his daughter even though she was a beautiful young woman because she had difficulty walking and had a large scar on the small of her back. When Wei Gu asked what had happened, he was told that she had been stabbed by a man in the marketplace fourteen years before.
After ten years and three children later, Wei Gu sought the old man for suitable matches for his two younger sons and daughter. The old man refused to find suitors for his children. During the later years Wei Gu sought to find a possible match for his children but, by coincidence, no marriage was put to order.
Benzai-Ten is the Japanese goddess of everything that flows - water, music, eloquence, knowledge, the arts, and love. She is one of the Seven Lucky Gods or Shichi Fukujin, and the only female among them. Benzai-Ten is the patroness of geishas, musicians, and dancers. She came to earth to stop a dragon from eating the children from a small village.
Benzai-Ten descended from the clouds, and the island of Enoshima rose from the sea to meet her. She went to the cave of the dragon, tamed and married him, and convinced him not to eat any more children. She is often pictured riding on her golden dragon, playing a mandolin. Other representations of her show her with eight arms—two hands are joined in prayer, while the others hold a sword, a bow, an arrow, a wheel, a key, and a jewel that has the power to grant wishes.
Benzai-Ten is one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune who sails on the Takara-bune, the treasure ship. Traditionally a picture of the Takura-bune placed under the pillow on New Year’s Eve will bring a lucky dream.