Mythology Monday: Lethe

Don't forget, blue elephant, river lethe, greek mythology, the underworld

“So that—” Cassandra pointed at one of the beautiful rivers winding its way through the landscape “—is the River Lethe. Don’t drink the water, bathe in it, or even touch it.”

“Why?” I gazed longingly at the translucent water and pressed my hand against the cool glass. I’ve always hated swimming, and all the water I’d ever drank came from a faucet, but something about the sparkling water called to every fiber of my being.

“You’ll forget things. Sometimes when a soul comes here, their death was traumatizing, or maybe their whole life sucked. This river gives them a chance to forget the things that would otherwise haunt them.”

“Like Oreithyia?”

Cassandra hesitated. “She’s an extreme case. There are different levels of memory loss. The Lethe can take away all memories associated with a singular event or person, or wipe away their entire lives, and everything in between. Some memories go deeper than others. Boreas knew she would be coming here so he . . . made it difficult. He doesn’t like to be forgotten.”

I didn’t ask how. I was having a hard enough time dwelling on what could have happened to me. I didn’t need further details.

“We also use it on people who’ve done bad things in life,” Cassandra continued. “We take away all their memories, and they serve in the palace or around the Underworld until their sentence is up.”

That didn’t seem like much of a punishment. “Why?”

“For most people, their circumstances contributed to whatever crime they committed. This gives them a blank slate. When they finish their sentence they can live the rest of their afterlife in peace. Of course it doesn’t work like that for everyone, but between me and Moirae we can usually tell who should go straight to Tartarus.”


Lethe (the River of Unmindfulness) is both a river in the Underworld and a goddess of oblivion (daughter of Eris and Oceanus). Geographically, if flowed around the caves of Hypnos on the border of Elysium. Souls who drank from her water soon forgot all they knew, so the dead frequently used it to forget their mortal lives. In some versions of the myths, every resident of the Underworld had to drink from the water and were forced to forget their entire lives. In others, drinking from the Lethe was a requirement for reincarnation. Some cults taught souls were given a choice between the Lethe or a twin river called the Mnemosyne that would give memories and even omnipotence.

In my universe, the Lethe doesn’t equal complete forgetfulness unless a soul drinks a lot of it. There are levels and it can be used to forget specific traumas or for souls who committed crimes in their mortal lives to forget both the crimes and the circumstances. The reason for that is two fold (and very inspired by Kelley Armstrong’s Haunted).


2 thoughts on “Mythology Monday: Lethe

  1. Pingback: Mythology Monday: Chthonic Deities | Kaitlin Bevis

  2. Pingback: Mythology Monday: The Muses | Kaitlin Bevis

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