Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Torches and Childbirth

Eileithyia (Natio for the Romans) is the Greek goddess of childbirth and labor pains.  Actually, she may be the goddesses of childbirth and labor pains.  It may be that there are two of them with the same name but slightly different duties. If you are a woman giving birth, you'll be lucky if Eileithyia # 1 comes to help out.  She eases labor pains and speeds the arrival of the baby.  However, if Eileithyia # 2 comes to help out, the labor pains will be more intense and will last longer.  Obviously, my wife got a visit from Eileithyia # 2 for our first child.

Whether she was one or two goddesses, when she wants the baby to come quickly, like she did with the birth of Apollo, she will stand with her hands in the air to welcome the new child and bring the baby to the light.

When she wishes to prolong the pain, she will sit at the threshold and cross her legs.  She did this to poor Alkmene during the birth of Herakles. Hera sent her to kill both of them by prolonging the birth until they died.  Galinthias, a servant, saw a lady sitting by the doorway like that and realized what was going on.  Using some quick thinking, she yelled out, "A son is born!"  Eileithyia jumped up in surprise, knocking her chair over and everything.  Of course, when this happened, the baby practically shot out.  Eileithyia was pretty ticked about being tricked and all so she turned Galinthias into a polecat (which, by the way, is not a real cat at all, but some sort of weasel - FYI).

Often she is shown holding a torch to represent the burning pains of childbirth.  She also likes to hang out with her BFFs Hera and Artemis.

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