What does the word chaos mean?
Out of chaos comes order. But someone needs to create that chaos in the first place. That’s why most ancient cultures believed that there was someone – or something – up there in the material universe, wreaking havoc before the other gods came along and put a stop to their mischief. They called it primordial chaos.
In some religions, Chaos was a concept personified into a god. In others, they were the first gods, the most ancient and most powerful, and in others still, they were just as foolhardy and impulsive as other gods, tipping the scales to balance good and evil.
In many cases, gods of chaos are associated with the sea – wild, unpredictable and churning. It’s easy to see the connection between the natural chaos of the sea and the gods of primordial chaos, and either way, you don’t want to be an obstacle in their path.
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7 Gods of Chaos from Around the World
Various cultures have gods of chaos. Here are seven of the most significant from different cultures around the world:
Eris – The Greek Goddess of Chaos
Symbol: The golden apple of discord
In Greek mythology, Chaos comes from the Greek word χάος and Eris, the God of Chaos, was known among the other Greek gods for her short temper, moodiness, and bloodlust. She loved carnage and chilling with her brother, God of War, Ares. Long after the other gods had retired from a battle for food and wine, she remained, bathing in the carnage and blood of the fallen… we imagine. Basically, not someone you’d want at a party.
Which is why she wasn’t invited to the Greek hero, Peleus, and the sea nymph, Thetis’ wedding. But like any good, chaotic presence, she turned up anyway and demanded to be let in. When she wasn’t allowed, she threw one of her famous fits, tossing a golden apple into the crowd of goddesses with ‘To the fairest’ inscribed on it.
Each believing the message was for them, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena fell into a fit of bickering over the apple. Their vanity, rivalry, and subsequent falling out brought about the events preceding the Trojan War, one of the biggest battles of the Greco-Roman period.
Maybe that was Eris’ plan all along…
Either way, Eris reveled in the chaos she had caused, and the golden apple earned its name: The Golden Apple of Discord.
That wasn’t the last we heard of from Eris or her golden apple. Aesop’s fables tell of a time Heracles came across an apple that he smashed with a club, only for it to grow to twice its normal size. Athena popped up and explained that the apple would stay small if left alone, but, like discord and chaos, if played with, it would grow in size. Although Eris doesn’t pop up in this tale, as her apple does, she must have been lurking somewhere nearby.
Chaos – The Roman God of Chaos (Kind of)
The Romans can only receive an honorable mention here as they technically had no chaos gods. Taken from the Greek’s mythology, they too believed in primordial beings that existed before the gods were created.
“Before the ocean and the earth appeared— before the skies had overspread them all—
the face of Nature in a vast expanse was naught but Chaos uniformly waste.
It was a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight;
and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap.”
So, to the Romans at least, Chaos was not a god, but what gods sprung from.
READ MORE: Ancient Roman Gods and Goddesses
Apophis – The Egyptian God of Chaos
Family: Possible brother Seth
Fun Fact: He was sometimes portrayed as a crocodile.
Apophis, the Egyptian God of Chaos, was a snake – literally. His ultimate desire was to rid the world of order and return it to the chaos that reigned before the birth of the other gods. In most Egyptian fables, he is portrayed as the ultimate enemy of the sun god – Ra.
Depending on the story, Apophis either always existed, swimming in the darkness of primordial chaos, or he was brought into being at the exact moment of creation. Either way, when he saw the world and the order the Gods had brought; he was not a happy bunny.
In particular, he hated Ra, because he thought that the neatness of the sun rising and setting every day was a key factor in keeping order on Earth. So, rather like a spoiled younger brother who doesn’t like that his older sibling is getting all the attention, he vowed to sabotage Ra’s journey. Stuck in the underworld and wallowing in his own misery, he raised legions of minor gods and goddesses against him, coming up with inventive and disturbing ways to stop him in his tracks.
So, every night, when Ra left the sky and passed through the underworld, Apophis attacked with the support of minor chaos deities and other dark gods. In some stories, the renegade god would trap Ra’s chariot in his massive snake coils, like an awkward hug. In others, he would drown Ra in the Underworld’s waters, hypnotize him, or simply swallow him whole.
Unfortunately for him, the Sun God was protected and every night Apophis would fail and end up cut into small pieces (which humans took great delight in portraying in their artwork of the God). Unable to die, he would reform each morning, ready to attack again.
Some people can’t let anything go.
Tiamat -The Mesopotamian Goddess of Chaos and The Sea
Family: Abzu/Apsu – her brother/lover
Fun Fact: Her story originates from the Babylonian branch of Mesopotamian mythology, told in the creation myth, written in the Enūma Eliš.
Tiamat was an ancient goddess of the primordial realm before the universe existed. She was the goddess of salt water and represented the inherent chaos that churned in her realm.
But Tiamat was a rather chilled-out personification of chaos. She spent her days curled up asleep with her brother and lover, Apsu (also known as Abzu), the freshwater god, only waking to enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company before falling back into a restful slumber. To be fair, being the only two primordial beings in existence leaves little choice in partners.
From their union, Tiamat birthed the first group of gods and goddesses that would create… creation. She then promptly went back to sleep, unbothered by her new offspring. As children do when left to frolic unattended, the newly created gods immediately began to cause mischief, building universes and realities to entertain themselves.
But when you’re a primordial being, you really value your beauty sleep, and the act of creation tends to disturb that. Tiamat was the lazier of the two, simply shoving a pillow over her head and going back to sleep, but as the noise of creation leaked into the other chaos god’s consciousness, Apsu woke up furious and immediately went on a rampage to shut the new gods up.
Unfortunately, it was one vs. countless, and primordial doesn’t equal automatic victory; so Apsu was promptly killed.
That’s one way to wake up your mother.
When one chaos god dies, the other awakens. Tiamat woke, flying into a rage and using her ruinous powers to spew monsters across the cosmos, most notably dragons, the form in which she is most depicted. Eventually she was killed by the newly born storm god, Marduk, and from her divided body, heaven and Earth were created.
Loki – The Norse God of Mischief
Family: Loki’s father was Fárbauti and his mother was Laufey, he was married to the goddess Sigyn and they had two sons.
Fun Fact: He may have disguised himself as a mare, to have sex with a stallion, subsequently birthing an 8-legged horse.
Thanks to Marvel, Loki is most commonly known as the God of Mischief, but God of Chaos is also another apt name for the joker of the Norse world, because what is mischief for, other than to cause chaos?
Depending on the tale, Loki is either the annoying little brother, running around, pulling pranks on everyone and generally being a pain in the behind or a malicious prankster and dark prince who aims to hurt and manipulate those around him.
Loki pops up regularly in Norse mythology, but he rarely looks the same way twice. As a shapeshifter, he has been depicted as mortal creatures like a salmon, a mare, and a fly. Imagine being able to be anything you desire, and choosing a fly….
It all came crashing down for Loki when he accidentally, or perhaps not so accidentally, brought about the death of Baldr, the loved and admired god of purity and light.
The goddess Frigg, mother of Baldr, feared his death and so extracted promises from every plant, animal, and human on earth that he would not be harmed. The gods then delighted in making a game out of this truth, throwing things at Baldr knowing he was immune to all danger, like kids who have been told not to touch something.
But Loki found this deeply irritating, so, in disguise, he went to Frigg and discovered that she had forgotten to ask one plant for this promise of protection – mistletoe.
What happens next depends on who you ask. Loki either took and threw the mistletoe himself or tricked Baldr’s blind brother into doing it. Either way, Baldr received the kiss of death from the mistletoe, instantly dropping dead at its touch, leaving the gods horror-struck and in mourning.
Believe it or not, that’s not even when the Norse gods and goddesses had had enough of Loki’s antics. It wasn’t until he then attended a banquet he had been refused entry from that they snapped.
Wandering in like a drunken lothario, the chaos god created…. well, chaos. Loki in a fit of pique proceeded to insult all the gods present, share sexual stories of himself and others, and then boast about Baldr’s death. Not a wise move, but one we’ve all seen a drunken fool do…. kind of.
Enough was enough, Thor entered the hall and demanded Loki’s capture, and although Loki tried to evade this by turning into a salmon and hiding in a river, he was caught and taken to a cave in his human form.
Once there, the gods set upon him like hungry mortals, delighting in finally being able to take their revenge. The gods brought his two sons Nari and Narfi before him, turning Narfi into a wolf and forcing him to slaughter his brother. They then took Nari’s entrails and turned them into iron chains, binding Loki to the rocks mimicking the Greek god Prometheus‘ fate.
But the other gods were seriously fed up with Loki’s antics, so this alone didn’t satisfy them. Skadi, a goddess through marriage, secured a venomous snake above Loki’s head, so the poison from its fangs would continually drip into his mouth. Sigyn, ever the faithful wife, stayed loyally by his side, dutifully holding a bowl above his head for centuries as the snake’s venom dripped, saving her husband from untold pain.
But bowls fill up, and inevitably Sigyn would have to retreat to empty it, leaving Loki, however temporarily, to the venom’s mercy. Each time it dripped, he writhed in pain; bringing chaos to the mortal realm in the form of earthquakes.
Balor – The Celtic God of Chaos
Family: Grandson of Neit, the God of War, and husband to Cethlenn, the prophetess. Together they had one daughter, Ethlinn.
Fun Fact: He has been described as the “personification of the scorching sun.”
Balor was the big cheese of the angry and malevolent blood gods. The race, called the Fomorians appear to have been god like beings of chaos, darkness, and death, with Balor at their head. Often depicted as monstrous in appearance, Balor was thought to have the stature of a giant, with a singular eye that wreaked chaos whenever he opened it – much like the more familiar cyclops of Greek mythology.
But Balor was not born with his “evil eye.”. One day a young Balor was spying on his father’s druids as they worked when he made the mistake of peeking into the potion they were brewing. The fumes entered his eye and permanently changed it, causing it to grow huge and poisonous, wreaking destruction on any who he looked upon. Although deadly, over time, it also became super heavy and he couldn’t actually open it by himself, requiring attendants’ help. That being said, it certainly still helped him cement his position as top dog amongst the Fomorians as he grew to adulthood.
Balor delighted in causing chaos by opening his eye and smiting any in his path, like an overpowered laser beam. But one day, Balor heard a prophecy that he would be killed by his own grandson; and so, like any reasonable person – or god – he locked his daughter in a tower and forbade her from ever leaving.
But Balor’s own greed would be his downfall. After stealing Glas Gaibhnenn, a magical cow of abundance, from Cian, the angry man stalked Balor back to his keep, where he found Cethlinn. Sleeping with your enemy’s daughter is a surefire way to get satisfactory revenge, so the two lay together, and from that union came a baby.
Balor discovered the child and took him away to be slaughtered. But unbeknownst to the monstrous god of chaos, the child slipped from the bundle and was carried upstream by the water, to his rescuers.
The child grew up to be Lugh, Balor’s grandson.
What happens next depends on who you ask, but Balor did eventually meet his grandson on the battlefield, and before he could use the power of his deadly eye, Lugh succeeded in killing his grandfather, fulfilling the prophecy once and for all.
READ MORE: Celtic Gods and Goddesses
Yam- The Ancient Canaanite God of Primordial Chaos
Family: Son of El, Chief of Gods
Fun Fact: Considered parallel to the ancient Mesopotamian goddess, Tiamat.
Yam was the god of chaos and the sea for the ancient Canaanite, a semitic religion that existed in the Ancient Near East, from 2,000 B.C. to the first years A.D.
Yam was usually portrayed as a dragon or serpent, and he was cocky. The golden child of El, chief of the gods, Yam had dominion and power over the other gods – and loved to flaunt it.
As time went on, his ego grew as his power went to his head. Yam lorded over the other gods, becoming more and more tyrannical until eventually he even tried to possess El’s wife, the mother of 70 gods, Asherah.
Funnily enough, the other gods weren’t too keen on this move and decided enough was enough. They rise up against Yam, all the gods in unity against him, but it’s Baal Hadad, the storm and rain god, who succeeds in casting the final blow.
Yam found himself thrown from the gods’ mountain down to realm of the physical universe, thoroughly usurped.