The general public is usually familiar mostly with the so called Olympian gods and goddesses along with a few others, but the Greek pantheon includes also other lessed known deities. Some of them were "lesser know" for even the ancient Greek, as there wasn't proper cult or organized worshipping connected to these deities. One of these is Khaos (Chaos). There's rather little information available in our time about Khaos, considering her part in the birth of the world and other deities in the Greek mythology.
The earliest written references on Khaos can be found in the book "Theogony" by Hesiod, who lived in the 700's before common era. In Theogony, Hesiod describes the birth of the world and the Gods, as well as Greek mythology.
The word "Khaos" means space, gap, darkness and void, referring to Khaos as that which is between heaven and earth. Khaos was also calles - albeit rarely - as Poros ('passage, contriver, intriguer') and Aeros ('air').
When the world begun, Khaos was there. She is the goddess who predates everything else - gods and even the world. After Khaos arose Gaia (earth), Eros (love) and Tartaros. Without a mate, Khaos gave birth to Erebos (darkness) and Nyx (night). From the love between these two, were born Aether (light) and Hemera (day; according to Bacchylides, Hemera's father is Khronos). Nyx also bore other children - Moros, Ker, Thanatos, Hypnos, the Oneiroi, Momos, Oizys, the Hesperides, the Keres, the Moirai, Nemesis, apate, Philots, Geras and Eris1, who are all spirits affecting human lives (daimones).
Hyginus, who wrote in Latin in the 100's, relates a slightly different story in his listing of gods Mythographi Fabularum Liber. He wrote: "Ex Caligine Chaos" - Khaos woas born out of moisture, fog. Hyginus continues to tell how out of Khaos and fog were born also Nox (Nyx), Dies (day, Hemera), Erebus (Erebos) and Aether. That is, Khaos is the mother of not only night and darkness, but also day and light.
Khaos with her offspring form the more "etheric" side of the world in the Greek mythology, consisting of deities of seasons, personifications of states of consciousness (from dreams to deaths) and spirits of feelings and states of mind. Some sources do say, that Khaos was originally an ancient goddess of ear, mist and fog.
There are few mentions of Khaos in addition to her role in the birth of the world. In his account of Zeus' fiery fight with the titans, Hesiod describes how an astonishing heat took over Khaos and how it seemed as though Gaia and Ouranos had rushed towards each others and met. This gives an impression of Khaos moving away from her usual place between earth and heaven. Later on Hesiod tells that titans who lost the battle are now residing behind the gloomy Khaos, far away from all the gods.
In his Birds, Aristophanes offers a glimpse of Khaos as something other than "the first one of all, who merely exists". He gives and account of the beginning of times, when the only ones existing were Khaos, Nyx, the dark Erebos and the deep Tartaros. There was no earth, air or sky yet existing. The dark-winged Nyx laid and egg in the bosom of Erebos' endless depths and after times had passed, gold-winged Eros hatched from this egg. Eros made love with Khaos in Tartaros and Khaos has wings as golden as those of Eros. This union gave birth to the birds - the first ones to see the light. Birds tells about birds and at this point, relates the story from birds' point of view, so describing the gods as having bird-like wings makes sense. However, many Greek deities, especially those who descended from Khaos, were often depicted having wings, so Aristophanes' story can give you a clue of what Khaos might look like.
Khaos is also present in the story of Alkmene, the woman who got seduced by Zeus who took the form of her husband and who then bore Zeus' son Heracles. Zeus had just won the battle with the titans: the highest among the gods were now the Olympians and on the top-most spot was Zeus himself. However, he was well aware that those closest to Gaia's (the source calls them "relatives") Okeanos (sea), Nyx and Khaos still existed, hiding and lurking at the far corners of the universe and that some day, the gods would be defeated like the titans were.
Later sources often describe Khaos as nothing but a chaotic mixture of the elements - lifeless and formless, nothing-yet. Khaos is described as merely a state before the world and order, not as a goddess or even a deity. Paraphrasing Ovid (from his book Metamorphosis): before there sea, earth or the heavens arrived, there was only the uniformly desolate Khaos, primitive and undeveloped. Khaos didn't achieve anything other than heaviness and just being a tangled mass of all the elements. These later accounts may be the result of the increasing importance of the Olympic gods in the expense of other, earlier gods. "Khaos as an impersonal nothingness, the beginning of it all but lifeless" is the description you are quite likely to run into in books dealing with Greek mythology (if there actually is any mention of her), as well as in general books on mythology.
What about Khaos today? Can Khaos be worshipped, honoured? Is it possible to include Khaos in one's own personal religiosity? I don't see any reason why not. Khaos may be "a goddess without myths", but this doesn't make her "a non-existing goddess". Neither does lack of historical cults worshipping her. Personal gnosis - one's own personal revelation and information derived from interacting with a deity - may get more importance in addition to historical information with Khaos and other deities like her, especially when compared to those gods where there is a large amount of information available in this day and age.
Khaos may seem primordial and maybe even distant, but even the ancient Greek didn't declare her dead. Why should we?
Text: Faerie K.
1) Moros - doom; Keres - death-spirits, personifications of violent death; Thanatos - death, personification of non-violent death; Hypnos - Thanatos' twin brother sleep; the Oneiroi - dreams, the most skillful and important out of thousand Oneiroi were Morpheus, Ikelos / Phobetor and Phantasos; Momos - mockery, blame, criticism (he was expelled from heaven for mocking the gods...); Oizys - pain, woe; the Hesperides - the three daughters if evening; the Moirai - the fates; Nemesis - anger and retribution; Apate - deceit; Philotes - affection, friendship; Geras - old age; Eris - discord. Eris, who is nowadays best known for being the "Goddess of Chaos" of especially Discordianists, is the grand-daughter of Khaos.
- Aristofanes: Birds
- Hesiodus: Theogony
- Hyginus: Mythographi fabularum liber
- Ovidus: Metamorphoses
- Bellingham, David: En Introduktion till Grekisk Mytologi
- Leeming: Encyclopedia of Creation Myths
- McLeigh, Kenneth: Myths and Legends of the World, the Complete Companion to all Traditions
- online: Theoi project http://www.theoi.com/
2002 Faerie K.