Selene (suh LEE nee) Σελήνη is the ancient Greek Titan Goddess and personification of the Moon. Selene drives her chariot silver drawn by two white-winged horses or bulls across the sky each night. Sometimes she is riding a bull or a horse.
Names of the Goddess
The name Selene is probably derived from the Greek σέλας selas, meaning “light”. She was also called Mene, which means “month” referring to the lunar month which was calculated from the new moon to the dark moon and Phoebe, meaning “bright”. (Also, the name of the Titan Goddess Phoebe and an epithet of Artemis.)
In her Full Moon state, she is Panselene or Pandia Selene. Pandia may have once been an epithet of Selene, before she was her daughter. Another name for Selene is Pasiphae, though it is also the name of another Goddess.
Descriptions of Selene
Selene is generally described as having bright and beautiful hair, the Homeric Hymn to Selene describes her as “long-winged” (though this may mean something more like “far flying”) and wearing a golden crown.
Orphic Hymn to Selene calls her “bull horned” riding with her torch extended before her. In Pausanias Description of Greece, he describes a statue of Selene, saying she has horns.
The moon seen from below is either her crown or her shining cloak, billowing out behind her or her horns, or the horns of her bull.
Family, Friends and Lovers
According to Hesiod’s Theogany (371-374), Selene is the daughter of Hyperion and Theia, along with her brother Helios and sister Eos. Pseudo-Apollodorus agrees with this account in his Bibliotheca 1.2.2.
Homer’s Hymn to Helios names their mother Euryphaessa (“wide shining”), (probably an epithet for Theia) but his Hymn to Hermes (94) mentions Selene as the daughter of Pallas, son of Megamedes specifically. (There is a God Pallas as well.)
Euripides (Phoenician Women(170)) and Nonnus (Dionysiaca 44) however, calls Selene the daughter of Helios. Nonnus also refers to her as “motherless”.
Selene’s greatest love was the shepherd Endymion who slept in eternal youth and beauty. There are various stories as to how this came about, whether it was his choice or her request.
The story that had passed to me orally was that Selene, having learned from Eos’s mistake in wishing her love eternal life, but not eternal youth, asked Zeus to grant that her lover always be as he was.
As he was sleeping when she said that, so he remained. Psuedo-Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 1.7.5) says that it was Endymion who made the request of Zeus.
Either way, Selene’s love for Endymion features in many works of art and serves as motivation for many of her actions. Because of her great, and aching love, she is known to take pity on lovers and give them aid, assuming they have been respectful of her in the past.
To Endymion, Selene is said to have born 50 daughters; The Menae, the 50 months of the Olympiad, the four-year Olympic cycle.
Selene had other children including Pandeia and Ersa (whom some scholars believe to be different names for the same being), ostensibly by Zeus.
The bard Musaeus claimed Selene as his mother.
By Helios, Selene is the mother of the The Horae, the seasons.
Selene is also the mother of the Nemean Lion. The father is unknown, though Aelian (On Animals) says she brought it forth at the bidding of Hera.
Realm of Influence
Selene rules the month, and as such, provides guidance as to when the best times are to do things. Virgil (Georgics 1 275) writes about doing various chores on lucky days based upon her position in the sky and also describes how to foretell the weather based on Her appearance(Georgics 1 426), which would make her also a Goddess of weather, or at least its prediction.
Selene is also a Goddess of childbirth and pregnancy, as pregnancy was measured in lunatations and the belief that childbirth is easiest when the moon is full is quite ancient.
Since Selene rules over monthly cycles in general, she likely rules over a woman’s menstrual cycle as well, but the manly ancients have no mention of this and even Sappho is silent on the subject.
In addition to being the Goddess of the Moon, Selene is the Goddess of Dew (though her daughter Ersa is specifically the Goddess of dew). She bathes in Oceanus before each flight and sprinkles dew in her wake.
Many stories of Selene show that she has a tender heart when it comes to romance and true love. She is a great helper to star crossed lovers because they remind her of her own great love.
Feast Days for Selene
Selene is celebrated at the New Moon, the Noumenia when her first sliver of light can be seen in the sky and at the full moon, or the 15th day after the New Moon, the Dikhomenia.
The festival Pandia may have honored her as well.
Other Moon Goddesses
In ancient Greece, many Goddesses including Hera, Leucippes, Bendis, Eileithyia, Pasiphae Artemis and Hecate were also associated with the moon in various ways, but only Selene was considered the personification of the moon. Her Roman equivalent is Luna.
Selene’s part in a triad with Hecate and Artemis came into being after her Roman counterpart Luna was identified as one of the triad with Diana and Hecate. These can be seen in the works of Seneca (Pheadra and Troades) and Statius (Thebaid). Nonnus also calls upon Selene in triplicate in his 5th century work Dionysiaca 44 (190)
Selene’s Relationship to Magick
The ancient texts do mention that witches “draw down the moon” as part of their magickal practices. This isn’t generally considered a positive thing, however.
Lunar eclipses were believed to be caused by witches engaged in this practice in order to steal the moon’s energy to power their magick, perhaps by draining her blood.
Ovid describes Medea drawing down the moon “unwilling” in order that, in the resulting darkness, her actions may be hidden (Heroides 6 85 and Metamorphosis 7 207) and Circe does similar (Metamorphosis 14 365) and Apollonius Rhodius (Argonautica 4 55) has Selene so annoyed at this, and the disturbances it causes to her regularly scheduled activities, that she has no pity for her and indeed mocks Medea’s pain over Jason, though She is usually tender-hearted toward lovers.
Some Goddess-centered traditions who honor The Triple Goddess name the Mother aspect of the Goddess Selene, with Artemis taking the maiden role and Hecate the crone.
As such, Selene would be honored at the full moon, Artemis during the waxing period and Hecate during the waning period.
Modern Hellenic Polytheists honor Selene as the moon in herself, though other Goddesses may be associated with the moon.
Items Sacred to Selene
- The moon in all its phases symbolize Selene.
- The moonstone is Selene’s stone.
- She is also associated with cattle, particularly white bulls, and bull horns.