Eos, goddess of the dawn, by Evelyn De Morgan
NOTE: anything to do with Proto-Indo-European religion is highly speculative, and the material in this article is no exception. This article does not represent any official opinion of Clann Bhríde as a group.
According to the Nine Elements of Clann Bhríde:
“Children of Brighid honor and reverence Her as a goddess of Gaelic origins, but also consider Her to be a much older and vaster deity known by different names and by different peoples… All goddesses associated with the sun, moon, and stars, fire, fresh water, fertility and abundance, healing, knowledge and the crafts necessary to society may be honored as part of this practice.”
In the religion of the ancient Indo-Europeans, sacrificial offerings were given to the deity of the fire, who took a portion of the offering and conveyed the rest to the other gods. The Indo-Aryans who composed the Rig Veda conceived of this deity as a god named Agni, and also worshiped a goddess of the dawn named Ushas.
Cesiwir Serith, in his book Deep Ancestors, uses comparative mythology and linguistics to reconstruct a Proto-Indo-European hearth goddess named Westya and a dawn goddess named Xausos. The author of the Proto-Indo-European Religion homepage, using strictly linguistic methods of reconstruction, argues that these were originally the exact same deity- a goddess named *Haéusos or “Aeusos.”
Aeusos was the goddess of the sun, the dawn, the hearth-fire and the stars, especially the planet Venus or the “morning star” as it is known. These characteristics make Aeusos the most ancient version of a Brigidine goddess known to us, and one who combines solar, dawn and hearth-fire symbolism in a way no other goddess does except Brighid herself. It is easy enough to see how a goddess originally named Aeusos could come to be known by a title instead – perhaps “the Exalted One.”
Among the Greeks, the ancient goddess Aeusos seems to have become at least two deities: the dawn goddess Éos and the hearth goddess Hestia. Both names derive from the Proto-Indo-European root Aeusos according to the Proto-Indo-European Religion homepage.
According to Greek mythology, Hestia was one of the twelve most important deities, a daughter of the Titan Kronos and the goddess Rhea. Like the rest of the Titan’s children Hestia was devoured by her father, but Zeus forced him to let her out of his stomach. Apollo and Poseidon both wanted to marry her, but Zeus granted her request to remain a virgin forever. She became the goddess of the sacrificial fire and of the hearth-fire as well, making her the primary domestic goddess of the Greco-Roman world.
According to Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite:
“Nor yet does the pure maiden Hestia love Aphrodite’s works. She was the first-born child of wily Cronos and youngest too, by will of Zeus who holds the aegis, — a queenly maid whom both Poseidon and Apollo sought to wed. But she was wholly unwilling, nay, stubbornly refused; and touching the head of father Zeus who holds the aegis, she, that fair goddess, sware a great oath which has in truth been fulfilled, that she would be a maiden all her days. So Zeus the Father gave her an high honour instead of marriage, and she has her place in the midst of the house and has the richest portion. In all the temples of the gods she has a share of honour, and among all mortal men she is chief of the goddesses.”
Éos, unlike Hestia, was said to be sexually insatiable, having been cursed by Aphrodite for having an encounter with Mars. Éos is also a Titan rather than an Olympian goddess, and this is an interesting point in its own right. According to the Proto-Indo-European Religion homepage, the theonym Aeusos implied any shining or glorious deity as well as the specific goddess of the dawn and sun. As such, it gave rise to a number of words for gods or families of gods in the Indo-European languages, including Aesir (the Norse gods) and Asura (the Indian anti-gods).
Why would the same word refer to the gods in one Indo-European language and to the anti-gods in another? Because of something called the Pandemonium, a hypothetical religious split in the distant past in which the Indo-European deities were effectively split into two warring factions, each of which then declared the other faction to be demonic: Devas (gods) vs Asuras (demons) in India, Ahura (god) vs Daevas (demons) in Zoroastrianism, Aesir (gods) vs Jotuns (giants) in Scandinavia, Olympians (gods) vs Titans (elder gods) in Greece, Tuatha de Danann (gods) vs Fomorians (giants) in Ireland. In each case, one faction is “the gods” and the other faction is “the anti-gods” whether giants or demons- but sometimes the Devas are the gods and the Asuras are the anti-gods and sometimes it’s the other way around. The Celtic peoples seem to have taken the Deva side in the Pandemonium, because the Celtic word for a god was “deiwo.”
The Asuras or anti-gods of India are the functional equivalent of Greek Titans or Irish Fomorians, so the fact that the Greek dawn goddess is really a Titan is interesting. Éos is a Titan, but she wasn’t overthrown when the other Titans were and is accepted as one of the Greek gods by the Olympians. (Several other Titans were as well.) Brighid is one of the Tuatha De Danann, but she has strong Fomorian connections- her husband and son both fight for the Fomorians against the gods. I wonder if we should see Aeusos as a goddess who rejected the Pandemonium, seeing the mutual demonization between the gods and the anti-gods as merely destructive propaganda.
The Romans called their dawn goddess Aurora and their hearth-goddess Vesta. Again, both words seem to derive from Aeusos. The Vestal Virgins, Roman priestesses dedicated to Vesta, tended an eternal flame just like the Brigidine nuns of Kildare.
Another version of the name Aeusos is found in Ēostre or Ostara, the Saxon goddess of the spring for whom Easter is named. According to the Venerable Bede:
“Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”
In the Baltics, Aeusos became the dawn goddess Aušra and the morning star goddesses Auseklis and Aušrine. There is also a Baltic sun goddess named Saule or Saules Mate (“Mother Sun”). She carries the sun across the sky every day in her copper chariot drawn by three yellow horses, riding for her castle in the western sea. Saule, like Brighid, is a goddess of great compassion and warmth, and like Brighid she is often portrayed as a mournful deity. Saule is always weeping about one thing or another- the fall of an apple (a symbol of the setting sun), the fall of leaves in the autumn, the marriage and departure of one of her many daughters. In one version of her mythology, she drowns in the waters of the ocean every night. In another version she never rests, driving her chariot across the sky all day and sailing a golden boat across the sea all night.
Saule has a problematic relationship with Mēness, the god of the moon. In one version of the myth from Lithuania and Latvia, Saule marries Mēness but the moon god cheats on her with – ironically enough – the dawn goddess. The thunder god Pērkons or Perkūnas chops him up for this affront. In another version of the myth, Saule herself does the dismembering.
Saule wears either red or gold and has silver shoes and a silver crown. She is a protector of orphans and non-venomous snakes, and a goddess of fertility. Baltic farmers traditionally prayed to her twice a day, at sunrise and sunset.
Saule is worshiped at midsummer and midwinter, but her primary holy day is the midsummer feast of Līgo. At the Līgo festival, Baltic people honored her by jumping over bonfires, dancing and wearing floral wreaths. It was believed that Saule danced on a hilltop at midsummer wearing a wreath of red flowers.
Finally, the Indo-Aryans worshiped the dawn as Ushas, another name derived from Aeusos, and composed beautiful hymns to her that have been preserved in the Rig Veda. Although Aeusos was worshiped approximately six or seven thousand years ago and these hymns were composed about three and a half thousand years ago, they are the oldest known hymns to any of the Aeusos goddesses:
HYMN XLVIII. Dawn.
DAWN on us with prosperity, O Uṣas, Daughter of the Sky,
Dawn with great glory, Goddess, Lady of the Light, dawn thou with riches, Bounteous One.
They, bringing steeds and kine, boon-givers of all wealth, have oft sped forth to lighten us.
O Uṣas, waken up for me the sounds of joy: send us the riches of the great.
Uṣas hath dawned, and now shall dawn, the Goddess, driver forth of cars
Which, as she cometh nigh, have fixed their thought on her, like glory-seekers on the flood.
Here Kaṇva, chief of Kaṇva’s race, sings forth aloud the glories of the heroes’ names,—
The. princes who, O Uṣas, as thou comest near, direct their thoughts to liberal gifts.
Like a good matron Uṣas comes carefully tending everything:
Rousing all life she stirs all creatures that have feet, and makes the birds of air fly up.
She sends the busy forth, each man to his pursuit: delay she knows not as she springs.
O rich in opulence, after thy dawning birds that have flown forth no longer rest.
This Dawn hath yoked her steeds afar, beyond the rising of the Sun:
Borne on a hundred chariots she, auspicious Dawn, advances on her way to Men.
To meet her glance all living creatures bend them down: Excellent One, she makes the light.
Uṣas, the Daughter of the Sky, the opulent, shines foes and enmities away.
Shine on us with thy radiant light, O Uṣas, Daughter of the Sky,
Bringing to us great store of high felicity, and beaming on our solemn rites.
For in thee is each living creature’s breath and life, when, Excellent! thou dawnest forth.
Borne on thy lofty car, O Lady of the Light, hear, thou of wondrous wealth, our call.
O Uṣas, win thyself the strength which among men is wonderful.
Bring thou thereby the pious unto holy rites, those who as priests sing praise to thee.
Bring from the firmament, O Uṣas, all the Gods, that they may drink our Soma juice,
And, being what thou art, vouchsafe us kine and steeds, strength meet for praise and hero might.
May Uṣas whose auspicious rays are seen resplendent round about,
Grant us great riches, fair in form, of all good things, wealth which light labour may attain.
Mighty One, whom the Ṛṣis of old time invoked for their protection and their help,
O Uṣas, graciously answer our songs of praise with bounty and with brilliant light.
Uṣas, as thou with light to day hast opened the twin doors of heaven,
So grant thou us a dwelling wide and free from foes. O Goddess, give us food with kine.
Bring us to wealth abundant, sent in every shape, to plentiful refreshing food,
To all-subduing splendour, Uṣas, Mighty One, to strength, thou rich in spoil and wealth.
HYMN XLIX. Dawn.
E’EN from above the sky’s bright realm come, Uṣas, by auspicious ways:
Let red steeds bear thee to the house of him who pours the Soma, juice.
The chariot which thou mountest, fair of shape, O Uṣas light to move,—
Therewith, O Daughter of the Sky, aid men of noble fame today.
Bright Uṣas, when thy times return, all quadrupeds and bipeds stir,
And round about flock winged birds from all the boundaries of heaven.
Thou dawning with thy beams of light illumest all the radiant realm.
Thee, as thou art, the Kaṇvas, fain for wealth, have called with sacred songs.