Poseidon is chiefly the God of the Sea. He is also, however, the Lord of all Rivers and Lakes, all incarnations of water, especially salt water. He is also the God of Horses. At Eleusis, He was worshiped as a plant God as well, for it is water that nurtures the plant so that it may grow. As Sea-God, sailors relied on Him for a safe voyage, so His worship was especially prevalent in seaside towns. This also makes Poseidon important to the Greeks economically, because the sea was their primary source of trade.
Poseidon is as complicated and unpredictable as the sea He rules. His mood changes with the tide. He is always passionate in everything He does, as He channels His whole being into whatever activity or goal He wishes to accomplish. Poseidon is a primal God, a bit wilder than the Olympians, and sometimes even savage. Poseidon is often seen as an angry, turbulent God, very possibly because of His association with violent storms and the restless sea. There are several myths in which He shows His often terrible temper. For instance, Poseidon was relentless in His hatred and persecution of Odysseus after he killed the God’s son, Polyphemus, in self-defense. He is untamed, like the ocean He rules.
But He is more than this angry image that Homer gives us. Every story needs an antagonist, after all, and Homer’s Poseidon fulfills this role every well. He has much to teach us about anger, and the control of it. The documentary I Still Worship Zeus has several interviews with modern worshipers of the Greek Gods in Hellas. A Greek woman in the documentary said that the waves against the shore symbolize the ups and downs of a person’s emotions, and talks about how Poseidon helps her to be calm and tranquil.
Poseidon is the only God Who ever dares to remind Zeus that His proper domain is the sky. When He does obey Zeus, as He usually does, He makes it abundantly clear that He does so out of respect for the Olympian King, not fear. Poseidon is a powerful God, and a *BIG* one. Oceans cover the entire world. One of His worshipers pointed out to me that the world is 70% water, a thought that sends a shiver up my spine and makes Poseidon’s immensity a little easier to contemplate.
Poseidon is married to Amphitrite, a Nereid, one of the fifty daughters of Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea. They have many children, but like His brother Zeus, in myth Poseidon jumps from one affair to the next.
Poseidon’s symbols are the trident, which He wields to create earthquakes and waves, and the conch shell, which His son Triton uses to calm the waves. Dolphins are sometimes related to Him as well. His number is eight, and that day of the Athenian lunar calendar is sacred to Him. Bulls were commonly sacrificed to Him, as was the first catch of the season.
Epithets of Poseidon
Poseidon was often called simply Patros, “Father”, as was His brother Zeus. Many of Poseidon’s epithets showcase the power He holds: Ennosigaitos “Shaker of the Earth”, Gaienokhos “Holder of the Earth”, Basileus “King” or “Lord”, Epoptes “Overseer” or “Watcher”, Prosklystios “He Who Dashes Against” – which refers to when He floods the land. His names Hippos, “Of Horses” and Hippokourios “Horse-Tender” reveal an aspect of Poseidon that has absolutely nothing to do with the sea at all, but with His special creature that He created in the contest for Athens with Athena.
The name Poseidon, or the more archaic Poteidon, is probably of an Aryan tribal origin. It is believed by some to mean “Husband of the Goddess Da”. Da is a shortened form of either Demeter or Deo, “Earth”. Now “Deo” means “Earth” or “Earthy”, and so refers to Gaia. However, Deo was also an epithet of Demeter, and Poseidon has had affairs with both these Goddesses. Another epithet of His was Gaieochus, which means either “Earth-Guarder” or “Earth’s Husband”. In earlier times, He may have had a much greater connection to the Great Goddess of the Earth. Other traditions recount that He had a love affair with Gaia Herself, for a time. He was the only Olympian to sleep with Gaia. In this matter, He beat even Zeus! The relationship appears to have been long-running, as They had numerous children together. The giant Antaios, the sea monster Kharybdis, and many African and Asian tribes are numbered among Their offspring.
Its fascinating to me that Poseidon shows up as the God of the Month right after Demeter. First of all its like the Gods are kicking my butt to get my book finished, since there are a few things that need to be touched up in the Demeter chapter, and the Poseidon chapter, but both of Them are Ones that I have not known well in the past. I have to write a ritual for Poseidon, but am finding myself completely blocked in that area. In addition, Poseidon and Demeter are intimately connected.
Poseidon took Demeter when They were both in the form of horses. The result of the union was the magical night-horse Arion, swifter then the west wind and the opposite and compliment of Pegasus, as well as Despoina, a Goddess of horses and the Eleusinian Mysteries. One account names the mother of the horse as Gaia, another says that parents were Zephyros, the West Wind, and a harpy, although most name Demeter and Poseidon.
The only literary accounts of the relationship bluntly state it as rape, with Demeter changing into a mare to escape Him and try to blend into a herd of horses. Poseidon, however, saw through that, became a stallion and forced Himself on Her. However, Poseidon’s very name and epithets argue against that and suggest that in pre-patriarchal times the story was much different. I just can’t believe that Poseidon having epithets meaning “Husband of Earth”, “Guarder of Earth”, and “Husband of the Goddess Da” is just a bizarre coincidence.
The great God of the sea is a natural partner for Demeter, the Mother of the Grain. Both are powerful, primal Deities. Both are concerned with the natural elements of the earth. Both of Their realms were vitally important to the Greeks. But where Poseidon is not necessarily concerned with human civilization, Demeter is typically portrayed as caring and gentle, forever a friend to mankind (leaving out the incident after the abduction of Her daughter). Demeter could be seen as a tempering force, complimenting Poseidon’s raw power and calming His sometimes fearsome temper. Demeter sees to the fertility of the earth, so the ground may bring forth crops to feed the people. Poseidon’s realm teems with life as well, and many, many Greeks were fishermen, making their living from the fruit of Poseidon’s salty water. In addition, we must never forget that water is required by all creatures to survive. Water is necessary to life. In this sense, Poseidon is as necessary to our survival as Demeter.