"Artemis was the image of a woman moving through her life and assuming different roles at different times; she was a veritable encyclopedia of feminine possibility."
-from The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines by Patricia Monaghan
Artemis was, and is again today, a very prominent Goddess. She was widely worshipped, by a variety of peoples in various locales.
Though popular myth dictates Artemis was a daughter of Leto and Zeus, in actuality, Her roots date back to Neolithic times. Artemis has ties with the Ancient Earth Mother Goddess.
It is generally known that Artemis is a Greek goddess, and a relatively minor one, at that. However, it has been noted that today's version of the Goddess is based on the "scholarly" reports of Her, and does not quite match the view of the majority of Ancient Greeks in their folklore. She is thought to be a Virgin Goddess, Huntress, and also the Goddess of girls and women in childbirth.
*It is important to note here, that the term "virgin" as it is applied to Artemis is often misunderstood. Today, this word means that a woman is physically a virgin, that she has not been sexually involved with a man. However, in older times, the word had an entirely different meaning. When a woman was referred to as a virgin, it meant that she was whole in herself. Independent; not reliant on any man to support her, or to dictate to her. It did not mean that she avoided all sexual encounters. When Patriarchal societies began taking over Matriarchal culture, this misinterpretation was intentionally perpetuated in order to detract from the Goddesses' importance, making way for male deity figures to take over.Artemis' priestesses and followers include the Amazons, Alani, Arktoi and Melissae, to name a few.
· Amazons: The Amazons were strong, independent, Goddess-identified women. Like other women (namely the mythologized Maenads, Nymphs, Oreads and Dryads), the Amazons chose to leave Patriarchal societies, to live free and independent of men.
With the Amazons, it was common for a woman to dedicate herself to Artemis for a time, serve with the Amazons as a warrior and Priestess, then return to her home to have a family. Some women did, of course, dedicate their entire lives to the service of Artemis.
They understood, on a deeper level, that Artemis is just one facet of the Great Goddess; one that was reserved exclusively for female worshippers.
"But heed now this charge I give you. Speak of me to all your sisters who yet know me not. For though I have come first to you, I come also to all your sisters who dwell with men. For all are equal in my sight all love is equal in my sight. So go now and tell your sisters of me that they might also tell their brothers… that all may know me. For I am all love and all life."
-from She Lives! by Judith Laura
"The Amazons were proud, capable women who firmly worshipped the Goddess. They bowed to no man for any reason. If history has recorded them as war-like and man-haters, consider that men of strictly patriarchal cultures persecuted and killed them for their beliefs, then wrote the histories. The Amazons refused to submit to the loss of their freedom and rights, therefore they were considered to be dangerous and unnatural. Their extinction was brought about by the Greeks and other patriarchal societies because of the Amazons' fierce defense of the matriarchy and the rights of women."
-D.J. Conway (exact source unknown, taken from my Coven's website The Sisterhood of the Silver Bow; also found on the website Artemis Potnia Theron the Soul of Wild Things)
· Alani: "'Hunting dogs'. Greek name for the Scythian tribes who worshipped Artemis as the Divine Huntress. […] Artemis was often called the Great Bitch, and her hunting priestesses were the 'sacred bitches' who chased, killed and consumed boar-gods and star-gods like Phorus or Actaeon. Thus, to Christians, 'Son of a bitch' meant a devil worshipper- that is, a pagan devotee of the Goddess.' (Artemis Divine Huntress, by B. Walker; www.amazonation.com/DivineArtemis.html)
· Arktoi: In Attica at Brauron (also spelled Vrauron, depending on the source) there was a Bear Cult of the Goddess Artemis. In this cult, young girls served as the "Bears of Artemis", or Arktoi. They participated in a ritual called Arkteia, in which they imitated she-bears, and ended by throwing off their saffron-colored robes, to stand naked before the Goddess.
There are two primary myths surrounding this practice. The first is that Agammemnon killed a stag which angered Artemis. She demanded that Iphigeneia be sacrificed in retribution. At the last minute Iphigeneia threw off her robes, which Artemis accepted as the sacrifice, and rescued her. Iphigeneia spent the remainder of her life in service to Artemis.
The other story is much simpler. In it, two men, one of whom had a young sister serving in the Temple of Artemis, killed a bear that was sacred to Artemis. In order to save the people from destruction, the Atenians were required to consecrate their daughters to Her. Thus, the young girls served as Arktoi.
· Melissae: Literally, "the bees". The Great Mother was also known as Melissa, or "the Queen Bee". In Ancient Greece, the priestesses of many goddesses were called Melissae.
Artemis is given the title Melissa in this passage by Porphyry: "The ancients gave the name of Melissae (bees) to the priestesses of Demeter who were initiates of the chthonian goddess; the name Melitodes to Kore herself: the moon (Artemis) too, whose province it was to bring to the birth, they called Melissa, because the moon being a bull and its ascension the bull, bees are begotten of bulls. And soulds that pass to the earth are bull-begotten."
Marija Gimbutas explains his statements as follows: "…we learn that Artemis is a bee, Melissa, and that both she and the bull belong to the moon. Hence both are connected with the idea of a periodic regeneration. We also learn that souls are bees and that Melissa draws souls down to be born. The idea of a 'life in death' in this singularly interesting concept is expressed by the belief that the life of the bull passed into that of the bees." (Priestesses of the Bee: The Melissae, by Linda Iles)
Though the title of Melissae was not unique to priestesses of Artemis, in Her association with the Bee we can see Her link back into ancient history as the original Great Earth Mother.
The worship of the Goddess did not arise from Her myths, rather the other way around. Many people, in many places, revered Artemis in some aspect. They had many names, but their love and devotion to Artemis was the same.