Greek deities
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Titans and Olympian deities
Aquatic deities
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Chthonic deities

Chthonic (play /ˈkθɒnɪk/, from Greek χθόνιοςchthonios, "in, under, or beneath the earth", from χθώνchthōn "earth";[1] pertaining to the Earth; earthy; subterranean) designates, or pertains to, deities or spirits of the underworld, especially in relation to Greek religion. The Greek word khthon is one of several for "earth"; it typically refers to the interior of the soil, rather than the living surface of the land (as Gaia or Ge does) or the land as territory (as khora (χώρα) does). It evokes at once abundance and the grave.

The pronunciation is somewhat awkward for English speakers. Most dictionaries, such as the OED, state that the first two letters should be pronounced as [k], /ˈkθɒnɪk/; others, such as the AHD, record these letters as silent, /ˈθɒnɪk/. The modern pronunciation of the Greek word "χθόνιος" is [xθoɲos], although the Classical Greek pronunciation would have been something similar to [kʰtʰonios].[2]


Chthonic and Olympian

While terms such as "Earth deity" or Earth mother have rather sweeping implications in English, the words khthonie and khthonios had a more precise and technical meaning in Greek, referring primarily to the manner of offering sacrifices to the deity in question.

Some chthonic cults practised ritual sacrifice, which often happened at night time. When the sacrifice was a living creature, the animal was placed in a bothros ("pit") or megaron ("sunken chamber"). In some Greek chthonic cults, the animal was sacrificed on a raised bomos ("altar"). Offerings usually were burned whole or buried rather than being cooked and shared among the worshippers.[3]

Not all chthonic cults were Greek, nor did all cults practice ritual sacrifice; some performed sacrifices in effigy or burnt vegetable offerings.[citation needed]

Cult type versus function

While chthonic deities had a general association with fertility, they did not have a monopoly on it, nor were the later Olympian deities wholly unconcerned for the Earth's prosperity. Thus Demeter and Persephone both watched over aspects of the fertility of land, yet Demeter had a typically Olympian cult while Persephone had a chthonic one.

Also, Demeter was worshipped alongside Persephone with identical rites, and yet occasionally was classified as an "Olympian" in late poetry and myth. The absorption of some earlier cults into the newer pantheon versus those that resisted being absorbed is suggested as providing the later myths.

In between

The categories Olympian and chthonic weren't, however, completely separate. Some Olympian deities, such as Hermes and Zeus, also received chthonic sacrifices and tithes in certain locations. The deified heroes Heracles and Asclepius might be worshipped as gods or chthonic heroes, depending on the site and the time of origin of the myth.

Moreover, a few deities aren't easily classifiable under these terms. Hecate, for instance, was typically offered puppies at crossroads (see also Crossroads (mythology)) – a practice neither typical of an Olympian sacrifice nor of a chthonic sacrifice to Persephone or the heroes.[citation needed] Because of her underworld roles, Hecate is generally classed as chthonic.

References in psychology and anthropology

In analytical psychology, the term chthonic was often used to describe the spirit of nature within, the unconscious earthly impulses of the Self, one's material depths, but not necessarily with negative connotations. See anima and animus or shadow. In Man and His Symbols Carl G. Jung explains:

"Envy, lust, sensuality, deceit, and all known vices are the negative, 'dark' aspect of the unconscious, which can manifest itself in two ways. In the positive sense, it appears as a 'spirit of nature', creatively animating Man, things, and the world. It is the 'chthonic spirit' that has been mentioned so often in this chapter. In the negative sense, the unconscious (that same spirit) manifests itself as a spirit of evil, as a drive to destroy."[4]

Gender has a specific meaning in cultural anthropology. Teresa del Valle in her book Gendered Anthropology explains "there are male and female deities at every level. We generally find men associated with the above, the sky, and women associated with the below, with the earth, water of the underground, and the chthonic deities."[5] This was by no means universal and in Ancient Egypt the main deity of the earth was the male god Geb. Geb's female consort was named Nut, otherwise known as the sky.

See also


  1. ^ Chthonios, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon, at Perseus.
  2. ^ See Modern Greek phonology.
  3. ^ "The sacrifice for gods of the dead and for heroes was called enagisma, in contradistinction to thysia, which was the portion especially of the celestial deities. It was offered on altars of a peculiar shape: they were lower than the ordinary altar bomos, and their name was ischara, 'hearth'. Through them the blood of the victims, and also libations, were to flow into the sacrificial trench. Therefore they were funnel-shaped and open at the bottom. For this kind of sacrifice did not lead up to a joyous feast in which the gods and men took part. The victim was held over the trench with its head down, not, as for the celestial gods, with its neck bent back and the head uplifted; and it was burned entirely." (Source The Heroes of the Greeks, C. Kerenyi pub. Thames & Hudson 1978). The 'gods of the dead' are, of course, Chthonic deities.
  4. ^ C.G. Jung, "Man and his Symbols", ISBN 0-385-05221-9, p. 267.
  5. ^ Teresa del Valle, "Gendered Anthropology", Routledge, 1993, ISBN 0-415-06127-X, p. 108.

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  • Chthonic — 2007 Live …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Chthonic — Datos generales Origen  Taiwán Información artística …   Wikipedia Español

  • Chthonic — Chthon ic, a. [Gr. ?, ?, the earth.] Pertaining to the earth; earthy; as, chthonic religions. [1913 Webster] [The] chthonic character of the wife of Zeus. Max M[ u]ller. [1913 Webster] || …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • chthonic — [thän′ik] adj. 1. CHTHONIAN 2. dark, primitive, and mysterious * * * chthon·ic (thŏnʹĭk) also chtho·ni·an (thōʹnē ən) adj. Greek Mythology Of or relating to the …   Universalium

  • chthonic — 1882, with suffix IC (Cf. ic), from Gk. khthonios of the earth, in the earth, from khthon the earth, solid surface of the earth (mostly poetic) from PIE root *dhghem (Cf. Gk. khamai on the ground, first element in CHAMELEON (Cf. chameleon); also… …   Etymology dictionary

  • chthonic — [thän′ik] adj. 1. CHTHONIAN 2. dark, primitive, and mysterious …   English World dictionary

  • chthonic — adjective /ˈkθɒnɪk,ˈθɑ.nɪk/ Dwelling within or under the earth. The young pantheon had remanded their elders to the role of smouldering, chthonic gods; to inhabiting dark, deep places, hidden from mortal eyes and influence. See Also: chthonian,… …   Wiktionary

  • chthonic — also chthonian adjective Etymology: Greek chthon , chthōn earth more at humble Date: 1882 of or relating to the underworld ; infernal < chthonic deities > …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • chthonic — [ (k)θɒnɪk] (also chthonian (k)θəʊnɪən) adjective relating to or inhabiting the underworld. Origin C19: from Gk khthōn earth + ic …   English new terms dictionary

  • chthonic — chthon·ic …   English syllables

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