Myth Maker: Modern Mythopoetics

A tour of a variety of spirits, and the stories they want to tell.

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Tethys: The Waters Below


The Waters Below


Tethys, the first born daughter of Gaia and Uranus, is an obscure goddess of fresh water, fertility, and nursing.  Her name means “grandmother” or “wet nurse”.  She is the mother of all freshwater on earth, springs, rivers, underground aquifers, even rainclouds.  Her most archetypal form is as the great fountain at the center of the world, from which flow out the four rivers of paradise.  She is the Wellspring of Life, and from her fertile womb poured forth the first creatures on earth.  In ancient days, before humans walked the planet, she was married to Okeanos, and he ruled the salt water and she the fresh.  The great river deltas became the symbol of their union; Alexander the Great erected a might temple to them at delta of the Indus.


But so fertile was their union that they had to separate, lest their waters flood all of creation.  And so Okeanos retreated out to the edges, the great waters above, becoming the great river that encircles the earth.  And Tethys became the goddess of the waters of the earth, and particularly of the waters below, of aquifer and spring, well and hollow.  It is for this reason she is hidden, but do not mistake her introversion for unimportance.


The overwhelming majority of the world’s fresh, liquid water is under the ground; there is a hundred times more fresh groundwater than there is freshwater in all of the earth’s lakes and rivers.  Anywhere you stand on the earth, there is water below you.  The water may be close to the surface, making the ground swampy, or it might be hundreds of miles below you, but there is, assuredly, water beneath your feet.  The shallow waters are mostly “young”, having fallen to earth as rain within the last few months, while the deep waters might have spent thousands of years beneath the earth, winding and weaving their way through stone.  And yet, everywhere, the is water below your feet.  There is no place that Tethys isn’t.


In Greece, as it it is almost everywhere else on earth, underground water is understood to be deeply powerful, healing, and transformative.  These waters are the womb of Tethys, and they are among my favorite waters to work with.  Most of us encounter underground water most frequently within wells; human dug openings to groundwater, but there are also places where groundwater bubbles up to the surface on its own as a spring.  In ancient days, however, the difference between man made wells and natural springs was not so clear.  In many locations, natural springs were deepened and reinforced by humans.  The Castalian Spring, the sacred spring of Delphi, is only the most famous of many sacred springs in Greece, each of them with an Okeanid avatar, each of them sacred to Tethys.  Many modern folk will tell you that Tethys had no cult in Greece, but they are wrong.  She had a thousand thousand cults: the cult of Tethys is the cult of every holy hole and every hallowed hollow. In the next post, I'll tell you Tethys's story.

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Sara L. Mastros teaches Witchcraft, Greek and Near Eastern Mythology, Jewish Kabbalah, Pythagorean Mysticism, and Practical Sorcery in Pittsburgh, online, and at festivals all over the East Coast.  Check out her personal blog at or follow along with all her witchy shenanigans on facebooking by "liking" Mastros & Zealot: Witches for Hire" at . In addition to writing and teaching, Sara offers hand-compounded incenses and oils, as well as custom sorcery, hand-made magical tools and altar ware, consultations, divinations, and one-on-one teaching at


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