Greek: King of the Gods, God of Thunder and Sky
Parents: Cronus and Rhea
Consort: Hera (and many others)
This list cannot start without Zeus. Zeus is the god of Greek mythology. He rules the gods from Mount Olympus, wields thunderbolts and is “the Father of gods and men.” And he accomplished all this through trickery, violence and bedding many, many women. To begin his reign, Zeus first had to overthrow his father, Cronus. Before Zeus’ birth, Cronus had been told by an oracle that one of his children would defeat him, and upon hearing this news Cronus did the only logical thing: he swallowed his children Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Upon Zeus’ birth, his mother Rhea hid him in a cave, where most mythological readings say he was raised by Gaia (though there are many other versions of his upbringing). When Zeus reached adulthood, he went to his father and forced him to regurgitate his siblings, and then banished Cronus to Tartarus.
Zeus is most well-known for his conquests in both the immortal and mortal world. Depending on which children you count and which sources you read, Zeus fathered anywhere between 70-100 children! Zeus was fond of enticing mortal women, and loved making trips to Earth disguised as different creatures, such as a swan (to seduce the mortal Leda, who gave birth to 3 children, including Helen of Troy), golden rain, an ant, a shepherd, and an eagle. His conquests on Earth almost always produced new demi-gods or heroes, the most famous of his earthly offspring being the demi-god Hercules. Zeus’ many trysts on Mount Olympus produced many well known gods as well, including Aphrodite, Apollo, Persephone and Athena (who sprung forth from Zeus’ forehead as a full-grown adult). Zeus’ was violent, tricky, incestuous (Hera was his sister), insatiable and lustful, making him the most powerful god on this list.
Norse: Trickster god
Parents: Fárbauti and Laufey
Consort: Angrboða (also Sigyn and Svaðilfari)
Loki is somewhat of an enigma in Norse mythology, as many sources vary in their telling of his biography. In some instances he is helpful to the gods, and in others he is in direct opposition and causes them significant problems. Loki is, however, always identified as a trickster and shape-shifter. Loki was the son of 2 giants, and essentially tricked his way into becoming a deity. When Asgard, home of the Norse gods, was being built Loki came to offer his services to Odin (King of the gods) and his son Thor (god of Thunder). The Asgardians had run out of funds to continue building Asgard, and Loki suggested hiring a Giant to build it for them. As payment, the Giant asked for the Sun, Moon, and the goddess Freya – the gods were none to keen on this plan, but Loki assured them the Giant would never complete the work on time, especially on his own, therefore the deal would be off and Freya would be safe.
Unfortunately, the Giant did have a companion, the indescribably strong stallion Svaðilfari, who assisted the Giant in completing his work right on schedule. The gods began to worry, but Loki came up with a plan – to distract the stallion, Loki transformed himself into a beautiful mare and led Svaðilfari off into a distant forest, where Loki, still in mare form, became pregnant. The Giant’s work was incomplete in the allotted time, and Loki returned to Odin and Thor having given birth to an 8-legged stallion named Sleipnir, which he gave to Odin as a gift.
Egyptian: Goddess of Childbirth and Fertility
The Egyptian goddess Taweret’s weirdness does not come from her history or what she stood for, as Taweret was widely regarded by her worshipers as a benevolent figure. She did not have temples built in her honor, rather, she was worshiped by people in homes in the form of statues and amulets. Taweret is often depicted as having the belly and breasts of a pregnant woman, the head of a hippopotamus, the tail of a crocodile, and the arms and legs of a lion. Her likeness was sometimes used as a sort of pitcher, with a hole at her nipple where milk would be poured out, perhaps with the belief that the milk would be given divine properties.
Greek: God of music, poetry, plague, oracles, sun, medicine, light and knowledge
Parents: Zeus and Leto
Consorts: too many to list, like his father before him
The Greek god Apollo, son of Zeus and brother to his twin sister Artemis, seems like a friendly, lovable god at first. He is the god of the arts and protector of human kind, after all. But Apollo has an uncontrollable temper, a trait he no doubt got from his father. Apollo is known for bringing plague and illness as a means for revenge (he shot arrows infected with plague into the Greek camp during the Trojan War) and often transfigured women who spurned or got in the way of his sexual advances. In his wake of vanity he left the nymph, Daphne, as a laurel tree and Clytia as a sunflower. Cassandra, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, had one of the worst punishments for refusing Apollo: the nasty god gave her the ability to see the future, but only the tragedies, and no one could believe her.
Hindu: Goddess of Time and Change
The Hindu goddess Kali is a terrifying example of “I am woman, hear me roar.” A mistress/wife of the god Shiva (who is usually rather calm and benevolent), she is known for her violent outbursts and is often illustrated standing on or trampling Shiva while wearing a skirt of human arms and severed heads. In Kali’s most famous legend, she is the Slayer of Raktabija, a demon who, when wounded, can reproduce from a drop of his blood. The people were having a difficult time destroying him, so Kali was called upon to assist them. She defeated Raktabija by drinking his blood and devouring his body and all reproductions. She then danced manically in celebration, trampling the dead bodies and her own lover, Shiva.
Greek: Goddess of Love, Beauty and Sexuality
Parents: Zeus and Dione, or Uranus
Consort: Hephaestus (and many others)
What list is complete without the sex-crazed, jealous, and vain goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite was born either of Zeus and Dione, or she was born as a result of Cronus castrating Uranus and tossing his genitals into the sea, where Aphrodite is said to have risen from the sea foam. Aphrodite, in her eternal and addicting beauty, worried Zeus with her sexual wanderings (like father like daughter), so he forced her to marry the god Hephaestus against her will. Hephaestus, also Zeus’ child, was a hulking, broody, unattractive man who forged weapons for the gods, and Aphrodite was less than pleased, and as a result was frequently unfaithful to her husband (again, like father…).
She had many trysts and produced many children, most notably the god Eros (or Cupid). Her vanity lead her to be a cruel goddess on several occasions, but one of the most famous has been portrayed in the play Hippolytus by Euripides. Hippolytus chose to worship Artemis instead of Aphrodite, and in her rage Aphrodite cursed Hippolytus’ mother Phaedra to fall in love with her son. Hippolytus, of course, would not have her, so as revenge Phaedra kills herself and leaves a suicide note claiming her son had raped her. Hippolytus’ father Theseus sends his son to death by sea.