Nov 23, 2015

Posted by in Gods and Godesses, Mythological Characters, Paganism | 0 Comments

Crossing The River Into Forever: Charon’s Story

Alexander Dmitrievich Litovchenko( 1835 - 1890...

Alexander Dmitrievich Litovchenko( 1835 – 1890) “Charon carries souls across the river Styx” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In most modern literature it is the River Styx that Charon is famous for crossing as he ferries the souls of the recently deceased into the realm of the underworld. However, in early Greek mythology it was actually the Acheron River that was crossed by the ferryman to enter the underworld. The legend says that souls of mortal individuals who were ushered to the banks of the river by the psychopomp, Hermes, needed to bring a coin to pay Charon for passage into the afterlife. For this reason, in ancient Greece a coin was often placed in the mouth of the dead person before they were buried. Those who could not pay the fee were said to be cursed to walk the banks of the Acheron for a hundred years and to haunt the living as ghosts.

Charon was the son of Nyx (the goddess of night) and Erebus (god of darkness), who were known to be brother and sister. Charon was also said to be the brother of the twins, Thanatos (death) and Hypnos (sleep) and all resided in the underworld called Hades, named that after the king of the underworld himself. During the 4th and 5th Centuries BC, Charon was often represented in the ancient Greeks’ artwork, although his depictions are somewhat inconsistent. Early on Charon was portrayed as an unkempt, old man with a raggedy beard, but later on he gains a softer, more refined appearance.

The Acheron, which Charon was thought to regularly trek across, was one of the five rivers of Hades and is known as the “river of woe”. Beyond the river, Hades was separated into several different sections. The first region is known as the Fields of Asphodel and this area is somewhat equivalent to Christianity’s idea of limbo. Heroes were thought to wonder there among the lesser spirits awaiting an offering of blood libations from the world of the living to reawaken them for a sort time so that they might feel alive once more.

Though the sources are a little conflicting about the exact layout of the underworld, next it has been described that the soul of the deceased must pass Erebus, the god of darkness. After that, the soul arrives at the front of the palace of Hades and Persephone, the respective king and queen of the underworld, and is met by the three judges of the afterlife. In the trivium, where the three roads of Hades meet, the souls are judged by Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus. If a person is deemed to be neither bad nor good, they are sent back to the Fields of Asphodel. The virtuous souls are sent to the beautiful Elysium Fields where they would live for eternity happily in comfort. However, the souls labeled by the judges as malevolent were sent down the path to Tartarus, where the wicked were ultimately punished for their evil ways.

No matter where a soul would eventually end up, though, they all would first have to gain passage on Charon’s ferry and pay his fee. Charon would transport every soul no matter how good or evil. It was not his job to judge the dead, however, so he would simply make the voyage into the foreboding darkness with the soul and leave them there on the river banks, each to find the way to their own destiny.


  1. Crossing The River Into Forever: Charon’s Story | Amiee Boyd - […] Source: Crossing The River Into Forever: Charon’s Story […]

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