Learn more about Chthonic
- See also: Life-death-rebirth deities
Greek khthon is one of several words for "earth"; it typically refers to the interior of the soil, rather than the living surface of the land (as gaia or ge does) or the land as territory (as khora does). It evokes at once abundance and the grave.
| Greek deities|
|Titans and Olympians|
|Hades and Persephone,|
|Gaia, Demeter, Hecate,|
|Heroes and the Dead|
Its pronunciation is somewhat awkward for English speakers—for this reason, many American dictionaries recommend that the initial "ch" should be silent. However, most other dictionaries, such as the OED, state that the first two letters should be pronounced [k]. Note though that the pronunciation of the Greek word "χθόνιος" is [çθonikos].<ref>See Modern Greek phonology.</ref>
 Chthonic and Olympian
While terms like "Earth deity" have rather sweeping implications in English, the words khthonie and khthonios had a more precise and technical meaning in Greek, referring primarily to the manner of offering sacrifices to the god in question.
Some chthonic cults practiced ritual sacrifice. When the sacrifice was a living creature, the animal was placed in a bothros "pit" or megaron "sunken chamber". In some Greek chthonic cults, the animal was sacrificed on a raised bomos "altar". Offerings were usually burned whole or buried rather than being cooked and shared among the worshippers. Not all Chthonic cults were Greek, nor did all cults practice ritual sacrifice, some performed sacrifices in effigy or burnt vegetal offerings.
 References in popular culture
 Cult type versus function
While chthonic gods and goddesses had a general association with fertility, they did not have a monopoly on it, nor were Olympian gods wholly unconcerned from the earth's prosperity. Thus Demeter and Persephone both watched over aspects of the fertility of land, yet Demeter had a typically Olympian cult while Persephone had a chthonic one.
Even more confusingly, Demeter was worshipped alongside Persephone with identical rites, and yet was occasionally classified as an "Olympian" in poetry and myth.
 In between
The categories Olympian and Chthonic were not, however, hard and fast. Some Olympian gods, like Hermes and Zeus, also received chthonic sacrifices and tithes in certain locations. The deified heroes Heracles and Asclepius might be worshipped as gods or chthonic heroes, depending on the site.
Moreover, a few deities are not easily classifiable under these terms. Hecate, for instance, was typically offered puppies at crossroads — not an Olympian sacrifice, to be sure, but not a typical offering to Persephone or the heroes, either. But because of her underworld functions, Hecate is generally classed as chthonic.