Depression and the gods

Adapted from my book Empty Cauldrons, here’s a list of deities who might have a particular interest in—or understanding of—depression. Keep in mind that all gods have their own personalities and preferences. If you are drawn to any of these deities, do some research to understand how best to make their acquaintance, which should include divination as to whether a particular god is interested in a relationship at this time.

Apollo or Apollon is connected with both Greek and Roman pantheons. A god of healing, truth, and light, Apollo also has an interest in creative pursuits such as music and poetry, that might be dampened during depression. In some traditions Apollo is said to drive the chariot of the sun across the sky, as well.

Consecrating a divination system to Apollo may make it easier to use during a period of depression.

Ares is a Greek god of battle, carnage, and war. The myths about this god are not entirely noble, but in one the god kills Hallirhothios, who raped Ares’ child Alkippe; Ares was then acquitted by the other gods. Ares does not let anger fester, and instead acts. Ares is also difficult to ignore: during one battle, the god bellowed like nine thousand soldiers when wounded. During one particularly dark time when I felt isolated from the gods, Ares came to bellow at me like a holy drill sergeant, extolling me to stop being weak and instead to direct my anger at finding solutions. For me, those solutions included reorganizing my practice around Hellenic polytheism.

Offer your anger to Ares, especially if you do not know how to use it. Ares will help you hone and focus it, and thus release it rather than being consumed by it.

Blith is a Norse god of happiness and head-weather, as Raven Kaldera explained: “In the shamanic healing system of [northern tradition shamanism], the body can be seen as a world unto itself, an ecosystem, and we are taught to journey inside someone’s body, visualizing it as an entire world, and interpreting the ecosystem. In the apple valley, which is the brain, chemical imbalance sometimes shows up in these shamanic journeys as ‘bad weather,’ thus Blith, a minor Norse healing goddess whose name literally means ‘happiness,’ and who is called upon for healing mental illness and mood disorders by my tradition, is referred to as ‘the goddess who calms the weather in the brain.'”

Ask Blith to calm the weather that rages in your own head. Try offering an apple to represent the apple valley, and ask the boon of a clear day of happiness.

Demeter is a Greek god of agriculture and the fertile earth. The abduction of Demeter’s child Persephone forms the basis of the myth explaining the existence of winter, and was the focus of one of the longest-running mystery cults in history. After that disappearance, Demeter lost hope and was inconsolable, resulting in the first winter.

Pray to Demeter for guidance on how to endure feelings of hopelessness, and ask for a sign that new life will again burst forth in your own heart.

Dionysos is a Greek god who is closely associated with mental health, madness, and liberation. “Instead of trying to get happy, it’s about letting go of all that I feel,” recounted Sarah W., a devotee of the god. Also closely associated with wine, Dionysos understands the subtle difference between using and abusing alcohol and other drugs. In one myth, Dionysos is torn limb from limb by enemies, only to be reborn in a more powerful form. The fact that depression is reminiscent of and underworld journey means that this rebirth is a hopeful sign that we can return from this difficult journey.

When life feels overwhelming and everything seems like it is spinning out of control, recite these words from Aelius Aristides: “nothing can be so firmly bound by illness, by wrath, or by fortune that cannot be released by Dionysos.”

Frey or Freyr is a norse god of grain and agriculture, called the “golden one.” As such, Frey is connected with the cycle of death feeding life that is systematized in agriculture. As with other gods on this list, Frey knows something of the mystery of death, but it seems that it’s Frey’s connection with light that makes this god a strong ally during periods of depression. JOshua Tenpenny shared with me an experience in which Frey placed a spark of light in Tenpenny’s heart. “He told me this was light in the darkness, and I could build this into a fire to keep me warm in the dark times.”

Call upon Frey to rekindle your own light, and teach you to find your own way in the darkness.

Freya or Freyja is a Norse god of love and fertility, which in this case has an unambiguously sexual quality. Kaldera advises that while Freya may bless any sort of fertility, it’s wise to set clear boundaries around pregnancy in any case. The body is the first place Freya will turn, and the body is often the repository for the accumulated emotions left to build up and stagnate during a period of depression.

Ask Freya to help you remember your love of life, and to use the gifts of your own body to feed your creativity, imagination, and passion.

Hekate is a Greek god who is described as “welcome in all the worlds:” the living earth, starry heaven, and the underworld as well. It was Hekate who helped Demeter search the world for the missing Persephone, carrying a torch to light the way to the dark places. The dark of the moon, called deipnon in Hellenic practice, is a time when Hekate is asked to help clear out the old month to make way for the new.

Ask Hekate to light the way as you undertake shadow work and explore the darkness of depression. In the alternative, when the moon is dark bring Hekate your doubts and fears and ask for them to be taken from you.

Hel or Hela is a Norse god of death, traditionally depicted with a body that is half alive and half expired. Hel is charged with caring for those who die of sickness and old age. Some devotees of Hela, such as Joshua Tenpenny, find themselves closer to this deity during periods of depression, when the god is experienced as a “loving, compassionate mother.” Tenpenny reports that during such deep devotion, “the depression is irrelevant to that [relationship]. Maybe it’s the key to access the experience.”

Call upon Hel when you feel lost and near the point of breaking. In your prayer, make it clear that you do not know where to turn and that you seek solace.

Helios is the god who first directed the chariot of the sun across the sky each day, according to Greek mythology, and continues to be honored as a sun god by some devotees. This all-seeing god was the sole witness to the abduction of Persephone, for even the darkness of the underworld is not thick enough to banish the light of day.

If you feel darkness encroaching, making it difficult for you to see the way forward or be willing to act, ask Helios to cast light upon your situation and allow you to see clearly.

Herne is a god of the hunt who is most strongly connected with Wicca. Herne is depicted as an antlered human man hunting to feed the people, and also as a stag who dies so that the people might eat. The cycle of predator and prey here serves as a reminder of how rare and precious life can be.

Call on Herne to remind you that others depend upon your skills and your presence in community, and that you are an important part of what makes your community thrive.

Himinglaeva is a Norse god, one of the nine daughters of Ægir and Rán, who are described as mermaids or waves. Kaldera refers to Himinglaeva as the “ninth mermaid” and a bringer of light. The name has been taken to mean “transparent on top” in English, suggesting the light shining through a wave of emotion.

Pray that Himinglaeva will bring light when your emotions are roiled and you fear you may drown in your own feelings.

Inanna or Ishtar is a Mesopotamian deity with a great many associations. The most relevant myth here is of Inanna’s descent into the underworld in an attempt to conquer it, which is a humbling experience that is characterized by giving up all that was precious to the god.

Ask Inanna for the resolve to see your journey through without ever forgetting who you are.

The Morrigan is a Celtic god of battle who models inner strength. While in the old myths the Morrigan is depicted mostly in the carnage of war, devotees who are experiencing an inner battle like one with depression also derive comfort from this god’s strength.

Offer the Morrigan your pain and your suffering. This is an offering that may readily be accepted.

Persephone is a Greek god best known for being kidnapped, but who is also a god of flowers and springtime. Persephone was taken to the underworld to marry Hades, and ultimately adopted a routine of spending part of the year in the land of the dead and the remainder in that of the living. Persephone epitomizes the hope that even death is not forever, and that there is always some form of rebirth in the future.

Ask Persephone for a sign that your own period of darkness will end, and because it’s hard to see in the dark, ask too that the scales fall from your eyes so that you can see that sign in the first place.

Poseidon is the Greek god of the moving world, whether that’s the storms and tides of the oceans or the planet-wrenching power of earthquakes. This makes Poseidon a manifestation of the emotions that are buried so deeply that no one can predict when they will next erupt. The depths of the ocean are places of incredible darkness and unimaginable pressure. This same pressure that births devastating tsunamis can also bring forth new land.

Give Poseidon your grief and your sadness, and ask that the salt of the ocean carry away your pain if you are unable to shed tears.

To which gods do you turn during the low times?

One thought on “Depression and the gods

  1. Hercules presented Himself for my son’s insanity (schezophrenia) and for mental illness in general. He was cursed by insanity by Hera and killed his family. I have found that working with Him has been rewarding.

    As for me, Nanna-Suen of Sumer, who is the Moon God, helps me. He goes into the Underworld after the full moon, and stays there until the crescent. Then He appears with his barge going from city to city delivering good things.


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