For most of my life, I have found myself drawn to the study of mythology. I love reading new myths and exploring ancient pantheons to see where stories are unique, and where mythology seems to interconnect or overlap. As part of my push toward writing more this year, I’d like to put that research and exploration to good use by describing the mythology of different Indo-European cultures. Some of these writings may be my attempt to retell an ancient myth. Others, like this one, will instead focus on a specific deity (or group of deities). Today I want to briefly explore a piece of the Hittite pantheon, Istustaya and Papaya.
Istustaya and Papaya were the Hittite goddesses of fate and destiny. They were said to sit beside the sea, and weave the threads of mortal life, similar to the Fates of Greek mythology. Ancient texts indicate that these deities had an important part in the royal coronation ceremonies. In this rite, the presented king would walk into the throne room. The throne goddess would call to the eagle, and send it to the sea to view who waited there. The eagle would take flight, and then return indicating that Istustaya and Papaya “the primeval goddesses of the netherworld” (Archi) were present and ready to work. The eagle then described the two goddesses kneeling by the sea. They worked together to spin the yarn of the king’s life, and filled many spools with thread, which showed countless years ahead of him. While they worked, they often glanced into a mirror to see the threads play out in the lives of the mortals (Gorke).
Because of their role in life, and therefore death, Istustaya and Papaya are most often referenced within the writings of the Hittite cult for the chthonic gods. One example of these cult practices can be found in the “hesta-houses” of Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite empire. The hesta houses were shrines that were used to honor the deities of the underworld, as well as the ancestors (Johnston 263). Istustaya and Papaya were honored among the deities of death and the underworld because they were responsible for determining the length of someone’s life. This power also meant that they were responsible determining when someone was to pass in to the underworld (Archi).
In addition to the hesta-houses, Hattusa was also the home of the Purulli festival. Purulli can be translated to mean “Festival of Earth” and included rites to bring life back to the earth after the cold winter months. These celebrations often included a retelling of the myth of Teshub and his victory over the evil serpent Illuyanka (Bachvarova). However, ancient manuscripts indicate that Istustaya and Papaya were among those deities that were honored during this celebration, along with Lelwani - the goddess of the underworld, Siwat - deity of the day of death, and others (Archi).
These are just a few examples of how Istustaya and Papaya were honored in the ancient Hittite society. They played a unique and important role in their culture, but were names I was not really familiar with prior to beginning my exploration in the world of ancient Anatolia. I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit of their story.
Archi, Alfonso. "The Anatolian Fate-Goddesses and their Different Traditions." Diversity and Standardization: Perspectives on ancient Near Easter Cultural (2013).
Bachvarova, Mary R. From Hittite to Homer: The Anatolian Background of Ancient Greek Epic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Gorke, Susanne. "Mythological Passages in Hittite Rituals." Religious Convergence in the Ancient Mediterranean (2019): 163-171.
Johnston, Sarah Iles. Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004.