Today, since it’s the time for the Kronia festival in the Classical Attic calendar that most Hellenic polytheists use (in greater or lesser degree), I thought it would be a good time to talk about the worship of Kronos. Because sometimes people, mainly newbies, are utterly surprised that Kronos is actually worshipped, as he is usually imagined an absolute villain, cast into Tartaros forever. Also, in more recent times, Percy Jackson might have something to do with these perceptions. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Let’s start with the mythology of Kronos. Kronos was a son of the primaeval deities Ouranos (Sky) and Gaia (Earth). Gaia, tired of having her children hidden away for one reason or other, gathers her Titan children and hatches a plot to depose Ouranos. She presents a diamond sickle and whoever does the deed of castrating their father will inherit the throne of the Gods. Kronos, youngest of the Titans, was the only one who agreed to do it. Together with his mother he set a trap for Ouranos, and succeeded in castrating his father, the cut genitals falling into the sea, where they fermented for an unknown period of time until they gave rise to Aphrodite Ourania (Heavenly). Ouranos fled away, humiliated and dethroned, and Kronos succeeded him, installing his fellow Titan siblings as the Twelve Titans who ruled the Kosmos. Kronos took his sister Rhea as his wife. Fearing however that one day his own child would do unto him as he had done unto his father, Kronos took to eating his children rather than locking them up in Tartaros or Erebus. He also refused to free his Hekatonkheir and Kyklops siblings, older children of Ouranos and Gaia.
Rhea, of course, was greatly saddened and angered at her children being eaten, and when pregnant of Zeus went to her mother Gaia for advice. Gaia, wishing the overthrowing of Kronos because he still imprisons her other children, and Ouranos, seeking vengeance against the son who overthrew him, then advised her to give birth in a hidden place and hide the child away, and to present to Kronos a stone disguised as the newborn child. Rhea then proceeded with this plan and gave birth to Zeus in a hidden place, most commonly said to be the Diktaian Cave on Crete. She then presented a disguised stone to Kronos, who without a thought swallowed the stone as he swallowed his previous children. Zeus grew up hidden, in the Diktaian Cave, with the Idaian Daktyloi guarding over him and with their wild, armor-clad dances, bashing their spears and the shields together, created such a din of sound that it drowned out the crying of the infant Zeus, preventing his discovery by Kronos. Zeus grew up here, according to some myths with Pan as foster-brother, though other myths call Pan the son of Hermes and thus Zeus’s grandson. Myths can be contradictory like that, and still true 🙂
Eventually, when Zeus reached adulthood, he longed to free his siblings and avenge the crimes of Kronos. He did battle with his father and managed to get him to regurgitate his siblings. First came the Omphalos Stone, which fell down to where Delphi was later founded. Then in succession the five other Olympians in reverse order from when they were eaten. Hestia, firstborn, was last to come out and is called Oldest and Youngest for this reason. After this a brutal war broke out between Titans and Olympians, lasting ten years. Neither side managed to make significant progress, even as Titan deities joined the Olympians with Zeus’ promise that they would be allowed to retain their honours and domains, and gain new ones as well. Hekate was the first to join the Olympians, and received a portion of Sky, Sea, and Underworld because of it, and was greatly honoured by Zeus according to Hesiodos. Hesiodos seems to have been a devotee of her though and may have been biased or given a myth variant peculiar to his hometown. Anyways, Zeus eventually had the idea to free the Hekatonkheirs and Kyklopes in their Tartarean cells, and ask them to join him. Upon doing so the Hekatonkheirs and Kyklopes indeed joined Zeus in gratitude. These primaeval Kyklopes forged great weapons for Zeus and his brothers. For Zeus, the Thunderbolt, for Poseidon, the Trident, and for Hades, the Helm of Darkness, that would render him invisible when worn. The Hekatonkheirs joined the Olympians in battle and with their help, the Olympians gained victory over the Titans, who were imprisoned in Tartaros. The Hekatonkheirs agreed to become their wardens, though Zeus in return would for a time during the year take their place, so they had the opportunity the enjoy the upper world also.
In time Kronos and the Titans were forgiven by Zeus, and Kronos was allowed to become King of the Blessed Isles, home of the Daimones who were once the humans of the Golden Age over which Kronos ruled. These Daimones also served Zeus by wandering the Earth and noting all things that happened and reporting them to Zeus. The Blessed Isle is also the region of the Underworld where Heroes go who have three times gained admission to the Elysian Fields.
So far for the mythology. How about the actual cultus? Well as I mentioned in the intro, it is the time of the Kronia right now, an Athenian festival in honour of Kronos. Furthermore, the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus in Athens also featured a temple to Kronos and to Rhea, described by Pausanias:
“Within the precincts [of the sanctuary of Zeus Olympios at Athens] are antiquities: a bronze Zeus, a temple of Kronos and Rhea and an enclosure of Ge (Earth) surnamed Olympia.”
-Pausanias, Description fo Greece 1.18.7, translation by W. H. S. Jones.
Elis, home of the most famous of Panhellenic Games, the Olympic Games, featured a Mt. Kronios, where the Basilai would sacrifice to Kronos at the spring equinox, the Elean new year, in the Elean month Elaphios. It is said that Zeus and Kronos wrestled here for the Throne and that the Games commemorate Zeus’ victory.
“Mount Kronios (Cronius), as I have already said, extends parallel to the terrace [at the sanctuary of Olympia in Elis] with the treasuries on it. On the summit of the mountain the Basilai (Kings), as they are called, sacrifice to Kronos (Cronus) at the spring equinox [the start of the new year], in the month called Elaphios (Of the Deer) among the Eleans.”
-Pausanias, Description of Greece 6.20.1, translation by W. H. S. Jones.
Elis is also interesting in that their version of the Dodekatheon, the Twelve Gods, includes Kronos and Rhea among their ranks. In Olympia, there was a group of six altars, each dedicated to two deities: Zeus and Poseidon, Hera and Athena, Hermes and Apollon, the Kharites (who presumably have one communal place among the Twelve) and Dionysos, Artemis and Alpheus (a River-God), and Kronos and Rhea. (Rutherford, Ian. “Canonizing the Pantheon: the Dodekatheon in Greek Religion and its Origins“, in “The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations”. Ed. by Jan N. Bremmer, Andrew Erskine. Edinburgh University Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780748637980.)
Kronos is also included in the Orphic hymns, a set of Hymns from an Orphic cult most likely located in western Anatolia during the 2-3rd centuries CE. In it, Kronos is beseeched to bring the life of the supplicants to a blameless end when their time comes.
Clearly, Kronos was not reviled or viewed as a kind of “Devil”-figure to be spurned. Despite his deeds, he was still considered a God, he still IS a God, and thus deserving of worship by Humans. Any modern aversion to him that one may have is un-Hellenic, Christian-monotheist influenced bias that we must overcome.
Ἴω Κρόνε, Ἴω Ῥέα!