Twins in mythology

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A pair of Female ere ibeji twin figures (early 20th-century) in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Twins appear in the mythologies of many cultures around the world. In some they are seen as ominous and in others they are seen as auspicious. Twins in mythology are often cast as two halves of the same whole, sharing a bond deeper than that of ordinary siblings, or seen as fierce rivals. They can represent another aspect of the self, a doppelgänger, or a shadow. However, twins can also reflect a complete opposition of the other, such as the "civilized" Gilgamesh, and the "wild" Enkidu; or in the commonly known instance of good and evil twin identities.

Many cultures have mythic or folkloric explanations for how twins are conceived. In Greek mythology, some twins were conceived when a woman slept with both a mortal and a god on the same day, like Alcmene for example. One of her offspring, Heracles, had godlike qualities such as immense strength and stamina, while his twin brother, Iphicles, was to be an ordinary mortal. In many Native American cultures, eating certain foods were thought to increase the likelihood of twins. These foods included double almonds and bananas, and were typically avoided by Native American women because birthing twins was frowned upon. However, other cultures attribute the outcome of twins to superior virility of the father.

In various mythologies, twins often represent the dualistic nature of the universe. In Greek mythology, twins Apollo and Artemis, are the sun god and moon goddess, respectively. Similar forms of higher beings are reflected throughout different mythologies, as twin brothers Kuat and Iae represent the sun and moon in the Xingu mythology of Brazil. Egyptian God, Geb, and his twin sister, Nut, represented the binary nature of the world, with Geb being the God of the Earth, and Nut being the Goddess of the sky. In Zoroastrian mythology, the twins Ahriman and Ahura Mazda represent the spirits of evil and good. Good and evil are common conflicting personas within twins in mythology.[1] We see this pattern across many cultures, such as several northeastern Native American tribes, for example. Gluskap, the creator God and cultural hero, had to defeat Malsum, his evil twin, who was the ruler of the demons. Many other cultures with rival twin heroes often follow this structure of split moral forces.

Twins can also be shown as having special powers and deep bonds. In Greek mythology, Castor and Pollux share a bond so strong that when Castor dies, Pollux gives up half of his immortality to be with his brother. This etiologically explains why their constellation, the Dioskouroi or Gemini, is only seen during one half of the year, as the twins split their time between the underworld and Mount Olympus. In an aboriginal tale, the same constellation represents the twin lizards who created the plants and animals and saved women from evil spirits. Another example of this strong bond shared between twins would be the Ibeji twins within African mythology. Ibeji twins are viewed as one soul shared between two bodies. If one of the twins die, the parents then create a doll that portrays the body of the deceased child, so the soul of the deceased can remain intact for the living twin. Without the creation of the doll, the living twin is almost destined for death because it is believed to be missing half of its soul.[2]

By culture[edit]

African (Nigerian)[edit]

  • Mawu-Lisa - Twins representing moon and sun, respectively.
  • Yemaja - Mother of all life on earth.
  • Aganju - Twin and husband of Yemaja[2]
  • Ibeji - Twins of joy and happiness. Children of Chango and Oshun.[3]

Greek and Roman mythology[edit]

African (Egyptian)[edit]

  • Nut and Geb, Dualistic twins. God of Earth (Geb) and Goddess of the sky (Nut)
  • Osiris - Isis’ twin and husband. Lord of the underworld. First born of Geb and Nut. One of the most important gods of ancient Egypt.
  • Isis - Daughter of Geb and Nut; twin of Osiris.
  • Ausar - [also known by Macedonian Greeks as Osiris] twin of [Set]. [Set] tricked his brother at a banquet he organized so as to take his life.

Ancient Syria[edit]

Norse mythology[edit]




Native American[edit]

Central American mythologies[edit]

Afro-Caribbean cosmologies[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vivienne., Lewin (2017). Twin enigma. Karnac Books. ISBN 9781782415336. OCLC 954223952.
  2. ^ a b Flatley, Robert. "Kanopy". doi:10.5260/cca.199204.
  3. ^ Flatley, Robert. "Kanopy". doi:10.5260/cca.199204.
  4. ^ a b c d e C. Scott Littleton, ed. (2005). Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology, Volume 4. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. ISBN 978-0-7614-7559-0.
  5. ^ " | Free Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2018-12-15.
  • Jobes, Gertrude (1962). Dictionary of Mythology, Part 2. New York: Scarecrow Press, Inc. pp. 1614–1615.
  • Maria Leach, ed. (1972). Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 1134–1136.
  • John M. Wickersham, ed. (2000). Myths and Legends of the World, vol 4. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 76–79. ISBN 978-0-02-865438-6.
  • "Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd) and Ahriman." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Dec. 2018 <>.
  • “ISIS.” Egyptian Mythology for Smart People,
  • Lewin, Vivienne. Twin Enigma. Karnac Books, 2017.
  • Myers, Bethany. “Southern Illinois University Carbondale OpenSIUC.” Southern Illinois University Carbondale OpenSIUC, 2002,
  • Voth, Grant, et al., directors. The Beauty of African Mythology. Welcome to Virginia Commonwealth University | Kanopy, 2015,