Since Artemis is one of the most ancient of goddesses, there are contradictory legends surround her. Like Kali, she was a triple goddess who displayed all three aspects of women: the maiden/virgin, the mother, and the crone. Artemis ruled over birth, life, love, death, time, and fate. Originally, Artemis was depicted as the "multi-breasted goddess" at her popular shrine (which is the most ancient shrine of all the gods and goddesses known to date) at Ephesus, which indicates that she nurtured all living things.
Later, she became more popular in her virgin/maiden and crone aspects (Artemis brought death with her arrows), and no longer gave birth herself, but protected those who did. She was often seen throughout mountainous forests and uncultivated land with her attending nymphs, hunting for lions, panthers, hinds and stags. She was sometimes depicted with the crescent moon above her forehead.
Artemis is the archetypal wild woman, the woman who "runs with the wolves." She is goddess of the hunt, the moon, fertility, childbirth, young women, pregnant women, wild animals, the bear, wolves, dogs, deer, and the forests. She has been called Diana, Selene, the Mother of Creatures, Cynthia, and Amarynthia.
In Greece, a cult to the bear goddess - Artemis of Brauron - flourished. Young pubescent girls were sent to these bear societies where they could behave, according to Marie-Louise von Franz in The Feminine in Fairy Tales, "like tomboys - neither washed nor cared for themselves in any way, spoke roughly, and were called bear cubs....In this way, the feminine personality could develop unharmed by the problem of sexuality and go into life with a certain amount of maturity, gained in security under the ugly bearskin. Otherwise, often only half-developed girls would fall into sex life and at thirty would be old and worn out." If and when the young girls wanted to marry, they were asked to lay all their symbolic paraphernalia of their virginity at the altar - they had to sacrifice their toys, dolls, locks of hair. They then left the domain of the virgin goddess forever.
In one legend, Artemis was 3 years old when she asked her father to grant her eternal virginity. She required no less of her followers - and was vengefully angry if they vowed loyalty but later had secret liaisons with a man. She was protective of their purity and proved cruelly punitive of any man who attempted to dishonor her or her counterparts. If a man was caught spying on Artemis and her nymphs while they bathed, Artemis released her wild dogs, which would rip the person apart. When Acteon spied on her, she first changed him into a stag and then let her wolves hunt him down.
One legend is strikingly different. Artemis betrayed her own values when she fell in love and became engaged with a "great hunter," Orion. Apollo, her twin brother, was appalled. He believed that a goddess should not lower herself by being with a mortal. So one day, while the three were visiting the sea, Orion walked out into the water. He walked so far from shore that only his head bobbed along the surface. Apollo dared his sister to hit the small speck that lay far out on the ocean's horizon. Proud of her hunting ability, Artemis aimed and hit the target. The speck was Orion's head. Artemis realized her grave error when his body bobbed above the surface minutes later. In grief, Artemis honored Orion by casting him in the heavens, giving him a place in the night sky.
According to Barbara Walker in The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets," male gods turned against these attributes in opposing the cult of the Goddess...Apollo made birth illegal on his sacred isle of Delos; pregnant women had to be removed lest they offend the god by giving birth there."