Leto Between Worlds

Leto Between Worlds
by Lykeia

I find Leto absolutely fascinating; unfortunately we have very little in literature regarding her. Leto makes an appearance in the Iliad in the company of Artemis, where she attends her daughter. The myth of her pursuit and union with Zeus is a footnote (some say she was impregnated as a wolf, some say as a quail.) Mostly what she is known for is bearing her children and her labor which was extended for 12 days and nights, spent searching for a place where she could bear her young in her own Herculean struggle. Some says she made this journey from the far region of Hyperborea to Hellas, with Athena, helper in quests, in her company. Another well known myth is her transformation of the Lycian villagers into frogs when they offended her by not permitting her access to their spring.

Yet aside from these myths, not much is apparently known about the goddess, other than that she was highly honored and enjoyed an esteemed repute among women particularly. Yet there is some fragments of evidence that can suggest what her larger nature is, one that was certainly complimented and linked to her offspring, but possessing its own great power. Certainly her syncretism in Ionia with a local Anatolian goddess Eni Mahanahi, a local name for Annis Massanassis (who is identified with Kybele) indicates that Leto may have been considered as bearing much of the same character and power of this local deity, which provides us with an interesting insight on how Hellenes viewed Leto overall. That she was depicted veiled and seated on a wooden throne at Delos, as well as possessing her own sanctuary there as she did in Lycia, makes clear that she was more than just honored by convenience as mother of Apollon and Artemis. The speculated honeycomb décor of her temple at Delos may allude to Leto being of such high quality as a queen bee dwelling hidden in the depths of the cavernous beehive. As Leto was believed to come from Hyperborea, and has two major temples between Delos and Lycia where by Delian tradition Apollon traveled between, it could almost be considered that Apollon himself is traveling among the houses of his mother. This may be especially important when considering the more otherworldly character that his travel takes during the winter. Even at Delphi Leto has a presence, even if in the temple of her son rather than her own temple, but may bear mythic link to the region via her parentage by Koios (the axis of the heavens) and Phoebe who according to some Delphic traditions inherited the axis of the earth, Delphi, from Themis.

Given the plausible link of Leto with certain fresh water dragon cults, and her own syncretism with the Egyptian Wadjet we see a clearer character of Leto as a goddess who dwells between worlds, who herself is in a state ever becoming and renewing. Unlike Wadjet, who is fiery and light emanating, Leto does this in a more subtle fashion. The dark hidden goddess, emits her light through her continuous generative nature. She is by her fashion the eternal mother, blessing wombs of women with life, as her womb issues life and light. When people talk of Apollon and Artemis as Lycian as in terms of being born in light, I do not think that this is to be taken literally as in a designated place of light, but that they issued from their mother’s womb in an array of light. As such in can be considered that the light that they bear originates and comes from within their mother and is her eternal manifesting light. As such Leto appears to designate as a power generating goddess from which light eternally springs even as Leto is said to take on the character of being pregnant leading up to the birthday of the twins at Delos. This would certainly make sense given her underworld cult connections, and any loose associations she may have with Rhea, Demeter or Persephone as life manifesting from the within the recesses of the earth.

She is thus the shrew goddess and the serpent goddess who dwells within the cavernous earth as they are observed slipping within their dens. Or the wolf who likewise dens within the ground. Even the frog which is associated with her in its travels between the seen and unseen worlds as it slips within the water and nurselike tends to the reeds of Apollon rooted in the underworld. Even the imagery of the beehive is fitting as bees naturally make their nests hidden away whether inside a tree or hole, or even as a round nest like a stone. Even apiaries resemble hills. Naught is really seen of life except the bees issuing from out of it and returning to it, the divine nectar, the honey, is hidden deep within as the queen is. I would imagine that the quail and rooster who cries with the transition of night and day is perhaps a later association that developed as Apollon and Artemis became equated with the light of the sun and moon specifically. Even these tie in well with the essence of the becoming and manifestation of being as comparable with night rather than the underworld specifically. Although her contest within the text of the Iliad in pairing against Hermes further supports the earlier underworld characteristic that was the prevalent. Her association with springs and rivers such as with the river Peneus and the river Xanthus certainly carries this further as rivers are often linked with travel between worlds even as the sea and any other body of water tends to be. Water is by it natural liminal.

In this manner we can understand Leto further as a manifesting, tending, and life giving divine being, that which is life giving and nurturing, yet of fierce temper, aggression, and unpredictability. She is overall queenly and primal, goddess of the golden spindle like her daughter. She is the cavern from which the winds of life and transformation emit.

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