Definition of the Keres
Who were the Keres of Ancient Greek mythology? The meaning and definition of Keres are two-fold. They are most famous as the goddesses of violent death particularly related to deaths on the battlefield where they acted like repulsive vultures and scavengers. They are also referred to as the 'Death Fates' who were present when the ultimate fate of a mortal was about to be decided. As goddesses of death, the Keres appear together with Fates (Moirai) and the infernal goddesses called the Furies (Erinnyes) who acted as agents of the Fates, exacting the punishments decreed by the gods.
Description of the Keres
The “Death Fates,” were described as the 'countless winged Keres', 'who no one can escape' and as 'scavengers who defiled the dead'. The Keres had no absolute power over the life of men, this was only given to the gods, who could stop them in their course or hurry the Keres on. Their powers of the Keres were to call up tempests and to brew potions from herbs.
Genealogy of the Keres
According to Greek Mythology the Keres were the daughters of Nyx, the dark goddess of Night and Erebus whose province was the Underworld before the emergence of Hades. Both Nxy and Erebus were primordial deities, the offspring of Chaos. Nyx was believed to be the mother of everything mysterious and inexplicable, such as death, disease, sleep, ghosts, dreams, witchcraft and enchantments. Erebus, father of the Keres, reigned in the mysterious Underworld where no ray of sunshine nor gleam of daylight or healthy life ever appeared. The siblings of the Keres were:
Moros was the personification of impending doom, who drives every being, mortal or otherwise, to its fated doom, brother of the Keres
Thanatos was a god of Death who was feared and hated as the enemy of mankind, whose hard heart knew no pity, brother of the Keres.
Hypnos was the God of sleep who brought nightmares but also some relief to troubled mortals. The Oneiroi were his sons and gods of dreams, called Morpheus, Icelus, and Phantasos, cousins of the Keres
Eris was the personification of quarrels, feuds and disagreements. Her eternal and unforgiving rage was the cause of fear and respect, sister of the Keres
Oizys personified distress, worry and anxiety, sister of the Keres
Momus, the twin of Oizys and the evil-spirited god of blame and unfair criticism, brother of the Keres
Geras was believed to be a malevolent spirit who personified loathsome old age
Nemesis was an avenging goddess awarding to each individual the fate which his actions deserve, sister of the Keres
Charon was the grim, unshaven old boatman Charon, who ferried shades across the River Styx to the Underworld, brother of the Keres
Ananke, the goddess of inevitability and the personification of destiny, necessity and fate was also closely associated with the Keres.
The Keres - Other Residents of the Underworld
The Keres were residents of the Underworld and shared their dismal abode with their siblings and other incumbents of the dreadful place. The fellows of the Keres included Hades, Lord of the Underworld, the Moirai (The Fates), Apate the goddess of Deception), Lyssa the goddess of the spirit of mad rage and frenzy, the “infernal goddesses” called the Erinyes or Furies, and Epiphron (demon of shrewdness). Also sharing the deathly domain were the dreaded judges of the Dead who judged the heart of every dead soul, determining if they would go to Elysium (Elysian Fields) or to deep pits of Tartarus. Minos, the head judge, Rhadamanthus, who declared to each wicked soul the precise torments which awaited him in Tartarus and Aeacus who held the keys to Hades. Last but by know means least, was the most famous resident of the Underworld: Cerberus, the terrible three-headed hound, that guarded the path so that no one who had once passed into the kingdom of the dead could ever come out again. These were the fellows of the Keres.
Hecate, the mistress of the Keres
Hecate was another creature of darkness and the Underworld and the patron of magic and witchcraft. She has been referred to as the mistress of the Keres, her task was to keep the Keres in order and direct them in the brewing of magic potions. Hecate is a terrifying goddess believed to be a gigantic woman, bearing a torch and a sword. Her feet and hair ere formed of snakes, she was accompanied by the voices of thunder, weird shrieks and yells and the deep baying and howling of dogs. Hecate was the apt mistress of the Keres.
The Keres - The 'Death Fates'
The Keres are also referred to as the 'Death Fates'. Their role in this capacity was to be present when the ultimate fate of a mortal was about to be decided and to weigh the person's 'Ker', or life force. The ancient Greeks had a belief that a person's 'Ker' developed with his growth, either for good or evil. At his death, his 'Ker' was weighed by the Keres, and, according to its worth or merit, life or death was awarded to the mortal in question. This concept originated in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians believed that their souls (including their 'Ka', the Egyptian equivalent of Ker) were judged in the Hall of Two Truths where the heart was weighed against the feather of truth and their fate would be decided - either entrance into the perfect afterlife or to be sent to the Devourer of the Dead. It is therefore evident that the early Greeks believed that each individual had some degree of control over whether he would enter Elysium (Heaven) or Tartarus (Hell) and that the Keres would oversee the process.
The Keres - Anthesteria, the Festival of the Dead
The Anthesteria was a three day festival, held in February, honoring the Greek god Dionysus. It was also a festival in which the dead were saluted and the Keres were acknowledged. Anthesteria was the most important Festival of the Dead. During the Anthesteria the path between the world of the living and the world dead was opened and the dead celebrated with the living. However, the ancient Greeks ensured that they had protection from the shades and the Keres and chewed highly toxic rhamnus leaves (Buckthorn) that acted as a purgative. Pitch was placed on the doors the ghosts of the dead and the Keres at bay.