Panhellenic Cults of Zeus: Zeus Velchanos & Zeus Lykaios

Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

This lesson explores the unique situation in which there were Panhellenic cults to the Greek god Zeus. Learn about two major epithets to Zeus: Velchanos and Lykaios.

Zeus: Father of Gods and Men

Most prominent in the Greek pantheon, Zeus was the major ruling deity. Supreme ruler, father of many gods and lesser gods, and a figure whose presence still inspires awe, Zeus was recognized and considered an important facet of religion by all Greeks. While most other Greek gods had small, local cults devoted to their worship, Zeus had a couple of Panhellenic, or 'all Greek,' cults that recognized his greatness. Very few, if any other gods, can say they had cults so large and widespread among all Greeks that they were at least recognized by cities other than the cities where the cult originated.

Zeus, king of the gods and father of gods and men had many statues, like this one, made in his image.

Mystery Cults at a Glance

The term cult infers a rather negative meaning in the modern world, but the concept of mystery cults was much different in ancient Greece. While it was expected of all Greek citizens to participate in the state religion, some individuals didn't feel this was enough, or that it was as fulfilling. Many turned to what were called mystery cults in an effort to achieve a more spiritual experience.

Each cult was devoted to different gods, or rather, different aspects of certain gods. Most of these gods in the mystery cults had experienced some form of death and rebirth. This fact is particularly important because that was what drew so many people to these cults. The promise of having their own 'rebirth' into a better afterlife was what brought in so many initiates.

Certain freedoms were also offered that could not be found in the state religion. Many of these cults, especially those to the god, Dionysus, offered freedoms to women that they would otherwise not have in Greek society.

On the whole, while these cults were popular. Initiates were sworn to secrecy about its induction and rituals.

Zeus Velchanos

While this particular cult was based in Crete, the name Velchanos was still recognized by almost all Greeks. The island of Crete and the name Velchanos have to do with probably one of the most significant events in the myths of Zeus: his birth. According to the myth, while hiding her child from Chronos, the titan, Rhea, gave birth to Zeus in a secluded cave on Crete. It was there that the child Zeus grew up without being seen by his father, who had until this point, devoured all his siblings in fear that one would raise up against him.

The name 'Velchanos' has often been interpreted by scholars to have meanings associated with the cave in which Zeus was born, and there may be a cave site where the Cretans worshiped Zeus Velchanos. It is also interesting to note that the Cretans not only worshiped Zeus in this way because it was his birthplace, but also because they believed he died there as well. This is fairly typical for Mystery Cults in ancient Greece. They recognized and celebrated a god's death and rebirth, if there was one. Still, while not all Greeks embraced the beliefs of the cult of Zeus Velchanos, they did recognize the title as important.

Crete, the island circled here, is just south of the Greek mainland, and was the location for the cult to Zeus Velchanos.

Zeus Lykaios

The epithet Zeus Lykaios means 'wolf Zeus,' but more importantly, it was the name given to Zeus for his cult in the city of Lykaia. However, there are some myths which feature Zeus that may have connections to this name. A king, named Lykaon once had Zeus as a guest in his palace, and served human flesh for a meal. This greatly angered Zeus and he turned Lykaon into a wolf as punishment. To this day we still recognize this myth in the word 'lycanthrope,' meaning 'wolf-man' or 'werewolf.'

While not in the same sense as we recognize the werewolf today, as shown in this image, the word

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