Template:Greek myth (earth) Chthonic (from Greek χθόνιοςchthonios, "in, under, or beneath the earth", from χθώνchthōn "earth"[1]; pertaining to the Earth; earthy; subterranean) designates, or pertains to, deities or spirits of the underworld, especially in relation to Greek religion.

Greek khthon is one of several words for "earth"; it typically refers to the interior of the soil, rather than the living surface of the land (as Gaia or Ge does) or the land as territory (as khora (χώρα) does). It evokes at once abundance and the grave.

The pronunciation is somewhat awkward for English speakers. Most dictionaries, such as the OED, state that the first two letters should be pronounced as [k], Template:IPA-en; others, such as the AHD, record these letters as silent, Template:IPA. Note that the modern pronunciation of the Greek word "χθόνιος" is Template:IPA-el, although the Classical Greek pronunciation would have been something similar to Template:IPA-el.[2]

Chthonic and OlympianEdit

While terms such as "Earth deity" have rather sweeping implications in English, the words khthonie and khthonios had a more precise and technical meaning in Greek, referring primarily to the manner of offering sacrifices to the deity in question.

Some chthonic cults practised ritual sacrifice, which often happened at night time. When the sacrifice was a living creature, the animal was placed in a bothros ("pit") or megaron ("sunken chamber"). In some Greek chthonic cults, the animal was sacrificed on a raised bomos ("altar"). Offerings usually were burned whole or buried rather than being cooked and shared among the worshippers.[3]

Not all Chthonic cults were Greek, nor did all cults practice ritual sacrifice; some performed sacrifices in effigy or burnt vegetable offerings.Template:Citation needed

Cult type versus functionEdit

While chthonic deities had a general association with fertility, they did not have a monopoly on it, nor were the later Olympian deities wholly unconcerned for the Earth's prosperity. Thus Demeter and Persephone both watched over aspects of the fertility of land, yet Demeter had a typically Olympian cult while Persephone had a chthonic one.

Even more confusing, Demeter was worshipped alongside Persephone with identical rites, and yet occasionally was classified as an "Olympian" in late poetry and myth. The absorption of some earlier cults into the newer pantheon versus those that resisted being absorbed is suggested as providing the later myths that seem confusing however.

In betweenEdit

The categories Olympian and chthonic weren't, however, completely separate. Some Olympian deities, such as Hermes and Zeus, also received chthonic sacrifices and tithes in certain locations. The deified heroes Heracles and Asclepius might be worshipped as gods or chthonic heroes, depending on the site and the time of origin of the myth.

Moreover, a few deities aren't easily classifiable under these terms. Hecate, for instance, was typically offered puppies at crossroads — not an Olympian type of sacrifice, to be sure, but not a typical offering to Persephone nor the heroes, either. Because of her underworld roles, Hecate is generally classed as chthonic.

References in psychology and anthropologyEdit

In analytical psychology, the term chthonic was often used to describe the spirit of nature within, the unconscious earthly impulses of the Self, one's material depths, but not necessarily with negative connotations. See anima and animus or shadow. In Man and His Symbols Carl G. Jung explains: Template:Cquote

Gender has a specific meaning in cultural anthropology. Teresa del Valle in her book Gendered Anthropology explains "there are male and female deities at every level. We generally find men associated with the above, the sky, and women associated with the below, with the earth, water of the underground, and the chthonic deities."[4]

References in popular cultureEdit

  • In Sherrilyn Kenyon's fantasy dark-hunter series, the Chthonians are a race of primal god killers, all of which are more powerful than any of the gods. These beings act as the arbitrators of the cosmos, and their edicts are strictly adhered to by all beings, most especially the taboo forbidding one god from slaying another. They are the checks and balance to the universe and not the lapdogs of the Olympians.
  • In the popular anime and card game Yu-Gi-Oh, some cards that had "Hell" in their names were changed to Chthonian in America.
  • Chthonian also appears in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. It is the name of the building where the Invisible Man meets up with Brother Jack and the rest of the brotherhood in Chapter 14.

See alsoEdit


  1. Chthonios, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus.
  2. See Modern Greek phonology.
  3. "The sacrifice for gods of the dead and for heroes was called enagisma, in contradistinction to thysia, which was the portion especially of the celestial deities. It was offered on altars of a peculiar shape: they were lower than the ordinary altar bomos, and their name was ischara, 'hearth'. Through them the blood of the victims, and also libations, were to flow into the sacrificial trench. Therefore they were funnel-shaped and open at the bottom. For this kind of sacrifice did not lead up to a joyous feast in which the gods and men took part. The victim was held over the trench with its head down, not, as for the celestial gods, with its neck bent back and the head uplifted; and it was burned entirely." (Source The Heroes of the Greeks, C. Kerenyi pub. Thames & Hudson 1978). The 'gods of the dead' are, of course, Chthonic deities.
  4. Teresa del Valle, "Gendered Anthropology", Routledge, 1993, ISBN 0-415-06127-X, p. 108.


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