Artemis: Her Many Faces
by Katharina Woodworth / Mythica Art & Vision

Artemis is one of the most ancient goddesses of the Greek pantheon. She was a goddess in her own right - that is, she emerged from the matriarchal line. Unlike Athena, who was born of Zeusí head after he swallowed her mother, Metis, or Aphrodite, who was born of sea foam and Uranusí sperm, or Hera, who emerged from her father Cronusí innards, Artemis was born of a woman, Leto. These "male birthings" suggest that these deities developed much later in history, after patriarchal values had been imposed and popularized. Symbolically speaking, these other goddesses have never known mother-love nor was a woman necessary - or valued - in giving birth. Aphrodite, Hera and Athena all display characteristics that are dependent upon men, whether it is for their desirousness, their loyalty or their camaraderie. Artemis was completely independent of men - for their companionship or their approval.

Since Artemis is one of the most ancient of goddesses, there are contradictory legends surrounding her. Like Kali, she was a triple goddess who displayed all three aspects of women: the maiden/virgin, the mother, and the crone. Artemis ruled over birth, life, love, death, time, and fate. Originally, Artemis was depicted as the "multi-breasted goddess" at her popular shrine (which is the most ancient shrine of all the gods and goddesses known to date) at Ephesus, which indicates that she nurtured all living things.

Later, she became more popular in her virgin/maiden and crone aspects (Artemis brought death with her arrows), and no longer gave birth herself, but protected those who did. She was often seen throughout mountainous forests and uncultivated land with her attending nymphs, hunting for lions, panthers, hinds and stags. She was sometimes depicted with the crescent moon above her forehead.

Artemis is the archetypal wild woman, the woman who "runs with the wolves." She is goddess of the hunt, the moon, fertility, childbirth, young women, pregnant women, wild animals, the bear, wolves, dogs, deer, and the forests. She has been called Diana, Selene, the Mother of Creatures, Cynthia, and Amarynthia.


Artemis valued virginity - not the definition of virginity we puritanically view as "not engaging in sexual intercourse" - but virginity in that she was whole and complete without relationship. She didnít require partnership with another (as did Aphrodite, Hera, Persephone) in order to rule her dominion.

In Greece, a cult to the bear goddess - Artemis of Brauron - flourished. Young pubescent girls were sent to these bear societies where they could behave, according to Marie-Louise von Franz in The Feminine in Fairy Tales, "like tomboys - neither washed nor cared for themselves in any way, spoke roughly, and were called bear cubsÖIn this way, the feminine personality could develop unharmed by the problem of sexuality and go into life with a certain amount of maturity, gained in security under the ugly bearskin. Otherwise, often only half-developed girls would fall into sex life and at thirty would be old and worn out." If and when the young girls wanted to marry, they were asked to lay all their symbolic paraphernalia of their virginity at the altar - they had to sacrifice their toys, dolls, locks of hair. They then left the domain of the virgin goddess forever.

In one legend, Artemis was 3 years old when she asked her father to grant her eternal virginity. She required no less of her followers - and was vengefully angry if they vowed loyalty but later had secret liaisons with a man. She was protective of their purity and proved cruelly punitive of any man who attempted to dishonor her or her counterparts. If a man was caught spying on Artemis and her nymphs while they bathed, Artemis released her wild dogs, which would rip the person apart. When Acteon spied on her, she first changed him into a stag and then let her wolves hunt him down.

One legend is strikingly different. Artemis betrayed her own values when she fell in love and became engaged with a "great hunter," Orion. Apollo, her twin brother, was appalled. He believed that a goddess should not lower herself by being with a mortal. So one day, while the three were visiting the sea, Orion walked out into the water. He walked so far from shore that only his head bobbed along the surface. Apollo dared his sister to hit the small speck that lay far out on the oceanís horizon. Proud of her hunting ability, Artemis aimed and hit the target. The speck was Orionís head. Artemis realized her grave error when his body bobbed above the surface minutes later. In grief, Artemis honored Orion by casting him in the heavens, giving him a place in the night sky.


Artemis was the daughter of Leto and Zeus, and the twin-sister of Apollo. Several legends relate that Zeus raped Leto. Hera, Zeusí wife, was greatly angered and jealous. She therefore decreed that Leto be forbidden to give birth on land or in the sea. So Leto gave birth on a floating island, Ortygia. Artemis emerged first. She felt great compassion for her mother - her labor pains, Zeusí violent & abhorrent transgression, her banishment. Artemis became Letoís midwife and helped her mother over the straits to the island of Delos, where Leto gave birth to Apollo.

According to Barbara Walker in The Womenís Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, "male gods turned against these attributes in opposing the cult of the Goddess...Apollo made birth illegal on his sacred isle of Delos; pregnant women had to be removed lest they offend the god by giving birth there."


Artemis is a fitting goddess for the modern-day feminist. Unlike her fellow warrioress Athena, Artemis was protective and supportive of women. She abhorred the patriarchy as much as the patriarchy despised and felt threatened by her. Artemis was always rooting for and aiding the underdog. One can see the Artemis archetype breathing through every woman who knows her own power but does not wield it in a power-hungry way, who needs to do things her own way, not because the status quo deems it so, and who has empathy, compassion, and a tenacious protectiveness towards those who are vulnerable - be it pregnant women, children, animals or nature. Artemis inspires us to be independent, strong, to trust our instincts & intuitions, and to love and understand the wild and vulnerable around us and inside us.

Katharina Woodworth is an artist & writer living in the lush forests of Northern California. Sheís inspired by dreams, archetypes, myths & the divine feminine. You can enjoy her mystical watercolors and more of her essays & fiction at her web site, Mythica Art & Vision or email her at