Incest in myths

Incest is present in many myths. Its presence in many creation myths can be attributed to the fact that there’s too few beings at the beginning. The possibilities are:

1)      one being at the start (making the second being his/her child) – leads to mother/son or father/daughter incest

2)      two beings at the start, if they are understood to be brother and sister


Some mythologies see incest as evil, some remain neutral about the issue.


Greek mythology

Note that the “incest” label did not apply to the gods per se, as it was understood to be limited only to mortals.


Uranos/Gaia -> Uranos is Gaia’s son in many versions of the myth, according to point 1) above


Zeus/Hera -> both are children of Kronos and Rhea

Poseidon/Gaia -> Poseidon is a son of Kronos, thus making it cross-gen too; their son is Antaeus


Jocasta/Oedipus -> probably the most famous example; and they had children

Electra/Agamemnon (her father) -> gender-inversion of the above; not explicitly stated

Myrrha/Theias (her father) -> Adonis is their son according to some versions of the myth; she is changed into a tree either as a means of escape or as punishment

Nyctimene/her father -> she is turned into an owl

Pelopia/her father Thyestes -> they have a son Aigisthos, and everything is done so that Thyestes can have his revenge on his own brother Atreus


Egyptian mythology

The frequency of incest in this mythology is probably related to the frequency of incest in Egyptian culture itself (see my notes on incest in history).


Shu/Tefnut – brother and sister (see point 2) in the notes at the beginning

Nut/Geb – brother and sister, the children of the above

Isis/Osiris – brother and sister, the children of the above; Horus is their son

Set/Nephthys – brother and sister, the children of Nut and Geb; according to one version, Anubis is their son

Osiris/Nephthys – Anubis is their son according to the other version of the myth


Sumerian mythology

A picture to help you figure it out:

Lots and lots of incest, probably due to gender imbalance – blue means male, red female.


An/Ninhusag -> brother and sister; Enlil is their son

An/Nammu -> Nammu is An’s mother; they have four children, including Enki and Ninlil

Enki/Ninhusag -> she’s his father’s sister; they have five daughters, including Ninsar, Nitti and Ningal

Enki/Ningikuga -> siblings, they have one daughter

Ninlil/Enlil -> half-siblings; they have three children

Ningal/Nanna -> cousins; they have three children, including Ereshkigal

Ereshkigal/Enlil (her grandfather) -> they have one daughter


Some help in decrypting the Ninsar-Ninkurra-Uttu-Ninkasi stack…?

Norse mythology

Some of the sagas indicate that incest was normal among the Vanir.


Njord/unnamed sister -> Freyr and Freyja are their children



Sigmund/Signy (his sister) -> had a son, Sinfjotli

Siegmund/Sieglinde (his sister) -> had a son Siegfried (“Der Ring des Nibelungen”)

Helgi/Yrsa (his daughter) -> legendary king Hrolfr kraki is their son


British legends

An example in an Old Irish saga where a king mistakes his daughter for his wife…

Arthur/Morgause (Morgana) -> Morgana is his half-sister and their son is Mordred according to some versions of the legend

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