Myth Maker: Modern Mythopoetics

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

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Okeanos: The Waters Above

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

The most ancient Greek gods, the gods before the Olympians, are less anthropomorphic than we are accustomed to thinking of Greek gods as being.  They are huge and impersonal; more places or states of being than they are people.  Just as Gaia is the Earth, and Tartarus is both the Underworld and the Lord thereof, Okeanos, the eldest of the Greek water gods, is place and god and archetype rolled into one.  Some say he is the firstborn son of Gaia and Uranus, but in other tales, he self-created, like Gaia, arising out of primordial Chaos before time began.  

Okeanos is the great river (some say sea) that encircles the world, the source of all water on earth, from icebergs to rivers to the great seas, and even the clouds full of rain above.  The sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars all lie inside his embrace.  From his eastern reaches, the sun daily rises, and into his western waters it recedes at night.  He is the outer boundary of the universe; beyond him, there is only chaos and void.  Okeanos represents the boundary between the known and the unknown.  Originally, some scholars say, he was represented by the Mediterranean, with Poseidon the god of the Aegean.  Over time, as Greek navigational technology improved, and their geography became more accurate, he expanded to the Atlantic. He is the ever-expanding liminal zone between known and unknown. He is that place of which we say "here be dragons". Today, he is the depths of outer space.  However, it is important to remember that he is not a personification of any place in our world, because he is not fully of our world at all.  Like Tartarus, he stands at the boundary of our world and the Other Place.  In battles for supremacy on Earth, such as that between the Olympians and the Titans, Okeanos stays neutral.  And yet, he is the protector and defender of life on earth, standing guard between us and the Outer Darkness.

Thales, whom Aristotle calls the Father of Science, taught that Okeanos (here not just the mythological figure, but Archetypal Water) was the source of all that is.  Aristotle tells us that “Thales, the founder of this type of philosophy, says the archê (first principle) is water, for which reason he declared that the earth rests on water, getting the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things). He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the semina (seeds, also semen) of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things.   Some think that even the ancients who lived long before the present generation, and first framed accounts of the gods, had a similar view of nature; for they made Okeanos and Tethys the parents of creation...”

Okeanos has many other names.  He was often called Pontos, which means “road”, although some say these are different gods.  Under this name, he is the great god of the seaman, not the casual sailor, but he who spend his life at sea.  Under his tutelage, traders and explorers criss-crossed the Mediterranean, from Asia Minor as far as Spain.  Tunisia-4752_-_Pontus.jpg

Above:  Pontus, depicted in a Roman mosaic in Tunisia.  

Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis, used with permission under Creative Commons license.

Another of his names is Ogygios, Ὠγύγιος, which means both “primeval one” and “giant”.  Under this name, or sometimes Ogyges, he is the first sacred king of Boeotia and Attica (the central region of mainland Greece, including Thebes and Athens).  Under his rule, there was a Great Flood, which Plato says took place in the 10th millennium BCE, and so devastated the region that they were without a king for centuries, until Kekrops came to rule, and the “history” of Athens began.

Okeanos’s most common name, however, is simply The Old Man of the Sea, a title he shares with many other sea gods and spirits.  Under this name, he appears in both the Odyssey and the Arabian Nights; an ancient shapeshifter who obliges young men to carry him on their backs.

And yet, most often, Okeanos is as much place as person; the Great Sea at the Edge of the World.  The Orphic hymn puts it thus:  “Okean I call, whose nature ever flows, from whom at first both Gods and men arose; Sire incorruptible, whose waves surround, and earth's concluding mighty circle bound: Hence every river, hence the spreading sea, and earth's pure bubbling fountains spring from thee:  Hear, mighty fire, for boundless bliss is thine, whose waters purify the pow'rs divine: Earth's friendly limit, fountain of the pole, whose waves wide spreading and circumfluent roll.  Approach benevolent, with placid mind, and be for ever to thy mystics kind.”  

Within Okeanos’s waters are the witching islands: Alba, the white island of the west, and Aeaea, where dwelt Circe.  Okeanos is also the home of Erytheia, the Red Island of Sunset, the home of giants (and of Spaniards!).  The Gates of the Sun are on his boundary, and the Land of Dreams lies on his outer shore.  He is the headwaters of the Nile and the Danube, and into him flow the four rivers of Eden.  He waters the garden of the Hesperides, The Styx, the great river of the underworld, draws its water from Okeanos, but the Dry Lands, where dwell the unhonored dead, lie beyond his reach.  He instead waters the Elysian Fields, the resting place of heros.

In Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus has Okeanos give the best of all advice to Prometheus, and to all of us:

...Although your brain is subtle, you must learn to know your heart, and as the times change, so too must you adapt, for it seems there is always a new ruler among the gods, and so the rules are always changing....Quiet your mind, and do not speak to hastily.  Wise as you are, don’t you know that a wanton and idle tongue brings only sorrow?”



Original art by Brian Charles and Sara Mastros


When depicted in human form, Okeanos usually appears as an old man, strong and noble, with flowing white hair, and horns.  Some say they are bull horns, but I always see crab claws.  Sometimes, his lower body is snake-formed, as is the case with all of the Old Powers of the Earth.  The cult image above was described to me in vision by Okeanos as his icon for the new millennium.  With it, he taught me his story, which I will tell to you in my next post.

Last modified on
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


Additional information