- Pronunciation: Tee-this
- Origin: Greek
- Role: Titan
- Symbols: Winged brow
- Children: The Potamoi, the Oceanids, the Nephelai
Who is Tethys
The seas and waters of the Earth hold many mysteries, and within the shining lights upon the waves can be found the Titan daughter of Gaia and Uranus: Tethys, wife of Oceanus and mother of the river gods, sea nymphs, and cloud nymphs. These together created all of the waters of the Earth, and set in motion forces that would grant protection to the oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams. They are the reason water has healing properties and carries within it the creation of life.
The union of Sky and Earth, through the love shared between Uranus and Gaia, dispelled chaos and presented many more gifts to the universe than just the earth and sky. These gifts were brought into the world through the births of six sets of twins, as beautiful and luminous as any beings worthy of the heavens. Tethys was born among them, alongside Oceanus.
Uranus and Gaia beamed at their 12 beautiful children, each one as radiant as the next and blessed with a unique natural attribute. One at a time, their mother and father named them. The girls were named first: Mnemosyne, Theia, Phoebe, Rhea, Themis, and finally, Tethys. Then came the boys: Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Cronus, Crius, and Lapetus. History would grant glory to half of them, while the rest would be doomed to defeat and imprisonment after the greatest battle in the heavens.
Oceanus and Tethys knew that they shared a common trait: they were masters and creators of the element of water. Within water lies the power of life and creation, along with the power of destruction, and following destruction, the powers of renewal and purification. These powers would need to turn and flow in an endless loop of divine movement like the waves upon a beach or the trickle of a stream. The waters needed to spread throughout the world and bring these amazing qualities with them everywhere they flowed, and the creatures and trees of the Earth cried out for water, for it was their life source and they could not exist without it.
In time, through the efforts of Tethys and Oceanus, an enormous river encircled the whole world. Tethys’ energy resembled an unending, nurturing flow and ebb as well as the falling rain from the clouds, while Oceanus’ energy was in the swift flood and fathomless rolling of the waves as he thrashed his fish-like tail to churn the oceans.
The Flow of the Water
The gods knew that their powers meant that water could not sit still and stagnate; it had to move in order to keep its properties. Tethys carefully crafted the setting and rising of the heavenly bodies that the mortals would call the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Clouds. She also birthed the Nephelai, nymphs of the clouds and rain. These would control the ebb and flow of the waters, refreshing the seas and rivers, raining water down onto the Earth or swelling the seas or changing the direction of the rivers, thus bringing new life and nourishment into the world. Tethys would be charged with preserving all of the fresh water streams and rivers on Earth, while Oceanus would control the salty oceans and lakes.
But Oceanus and Tethys quickly discovered that they would need more than just the heavenly bodies when it came to controlling and preserving the waters. The mortals who lived beneath the heavens found ways to split and manipulate the water, and began to cause disharmony and strife as their attempts to change the flow of rivers and dam the waters into lakes caused problems for others who could do nothing but helplessly watch the water dry up and evaporate. And when water dries up, life up dries with it. They would also pollute the waters with their corruption, and bring sickness and plagues as the water became impure.
In order to protect the world’s waters from the unthinking mortals, brother and sister formed a bond. From this bond sprang 3,000 sons, the river-gods known as the Potamoi, and 3,000 daughters, the sea nymphs known as Oceanids. Each and every single one of their children would watch over and care for a particular spring, river, lake, or even a pond or pasture, or cloud. In time, there were as many as 3,000 of these guardians. Oceanus and Tethys were pleased with what they had brought into the world, and knew that these new children would help offset the chaos that mortals and creatures unknowingly created when they attempted to control the waters. Tethys’ children in turn would be fed through springs from the waters of the great river that were deep underground where not even the roots of trees could reach, and certainly were not known to mortals. She would care for all living creatures within water as well: fishes, seals, dolphins, whales, and sea monsters.
Tethys and Hera
Not all of the uncounted years of the gods were as happy as the time the Oceanids and Titans were brought into the world. The gods, like mortals, were petty and would grapple for power and even betray each other and break oaths. By now, Tethys had become the nursemaid of the world through her divine gift, and she had plenty of guardians to make sure that there would be enough pure water for all. Then, the great battle of Totanomachy began, and earthquakes divided the seas into basins as Zeus fought the Gigantes, shaking the whole Earth, seas, and heavens as the Hecantonchires hurled enormous boulders. Thetys felt the terrible earthquake and kept the daughter of Rhea, Hera, safe from the battle and became her foster parent along with Oceanus.
However, even the mutual caring for Hera could not keep Tethys and Oceanus from first growing angry at each other, and they ultimately stopped bringing children into the world. The estrangement that was the ultimate result of their arguments separated the upper and lower waters.
The children of Tethys, the Oceanids, would go on to create nymphs, some of whom were handmaidens to the daughter of Leto. Oceanus would keep a never-sleeping current within the oceans, while Tethys would be a loving nursemaid to the world through her gentle ebb and flow.
Tethys would also come to be associated with the constellation Ursa Major, when she forbade Callisto from touching the ocean’s deep in order to honor and protect her foster child, Hera, from Callisto’s jealousy and bitterness. This is why the constellation never sets below the horizon, and can always be viewed above the oceans. Tethys is sometimes thought of in the form of a diving bird, for she transformed Aesacus into a bird with long legs and neck to protect him from his terrible fall into the ocean. And when ships pass safely over the waters and through stormy seas, sailors can often be heard thanking Tethys and Oceanus, the gods of all the waters of the earth.