The Myth of Cerberus

CerberusImagine this: you are entering the underworld through the River Styx, and as you make your way towards the gates you see a three-headed dog guarding the entrance.  He allows you to pass through, though you will never leave again. This is Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog who guards the gates of the Underworld.

Cerberus was supposedly a gigantic, three-headed dog who guarded the gates of the Underworld, stopping any shade who would try to escape.  He is described as a creature who eats raw flesh, having a mane of writhing snakes, a serpent’s tail, and lion’s claws. Some accounts claim he even has fifty heads, though some scholars believe they were counting the snakes as well.

cerberus 2One of the most famous stories regarding Cerberus was the twelfth labor of Heracles.  Heracles was charged with capturing Cerberus and bringing him back from the Underworld.  There are several versions of this story, however one of the famous ones involves Hades telling Heracles he could have Cerberus, so long as he defeated the animal using only the weapons he had carried with him.  According to this version of the myth, Heracles uses his lion-skin shield to defend against two of the heads as he chokes the third, ending with Cerberus submitting to him. Hades says Heracles still could not take the creature, and so Heracles shoots Hades with a stone-tipped arrow and he concedes.  In other accounts, the two do battle and Heracles wins.

Whichever version of the story you believe, Cerberus was still a fearsome creature who guarded the Underworld with his three heads and lion claws.  Whether he was won, or whether he was beaten, Heracles had performed quite the feat in retrieving Cerberus from the Underworld. I mean, who else could do battle against a three-headed creature?

For more reading on Cerberus (sources):
https://greekgodsandgoddesses.net/myths/cerberus/
http://www.theoi.com/Ther/KuonKerberos.html
https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Creatures/Cerberus/cerberus.html

The Myth of the Sphinx

sphinx 2Imagine this: you are wandering in the desert when you come across these giant statues.  They have the head of a human, the body of a lion, and they tower over everything for miles.  You have just come across a sphinx.

 

sphinx

The sphinx — in ancient egypt — was a spiritual guardian that was found near tombs and temples.  Generally a male’s head, though sometimes a woman’s, the sphinx was often described as having the body of a lion and wings, wearing a pharaoh’s headdress.  Besides the great sphinx of Giza, there is also a place called Sphinx Alley in Upper Egypt in which a two-mile avenue connecting the temples of Luxor and Karnak is lined with sphinx statues.

One of the most famous of the sphinxes comes to us from the Greek play Oedipus Rex, in which a sphinx terrorizes Thebes, demanding the answer to a riddle.  The riddle, taught to her by the Muses, went: “What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” Whenever the riddle was answered incorrectly, the sphinx would devour the man until Oedipus had given her the proper answer.  Once learning it, the sphinx killed herself, thus sprouting the legend that the sphinx was an all-knowing creature of wisdom.

sphinx 3The sphinx was a creature to protect, not a monster.  However, the idea that one of them would devour you had you not answered her riddle correctly is a terrifying thought.  What if you didn’t know the answer? Well, then I guess the sphinx would make you their dinner.

 

For more information about the sphinx (sources):

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-egypt/the-sphinx

https://www.britannica.com/topic/sphinx

The Myth of the Banshee

banshee 1Imagine this: you are walking by the ruins of an abandoned castle in Ireland or Scotland in the middle of the night.  The moon is high above you, and there is no one else around except for you. And then you hear a scream. You have just had an unfortunate encounter with a banshee.

The banshee — Irish: Bean Sidhe; Scots Gaelic: Ban Sith — originally meant a woman of the fairies.  She was a woman who had supernatural abilities, according to myth. She would release a loud, wailing scream that was believed to predict the death of a family member of the person who has heard it.  But where did the banshee come from?

banshee 3.jpgThere are several stories that point to the origins of a banshee.  One story is that she was a murdered young woman, another that she was a mother who died in childbirth.  The way she is described varies from an old woman in black with long, grey hair and a veil to the image of a headless woman, naked from the waist up, carrying a bowl filled with blood.  Though her image tends to shift from region to region, she remains a harbinger of death to those that witness her and hear her wailing scream.

Whether she is a young woman or a headless, naked figure, one thing stays consistent in the stories.  Of course, I am referring to her howls of premonition. One thing is for certain: if you hear her cries do not panic.  Just be prepared for the worst.

 

For more reading on the banshee (sources):

https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/wailing-out-lament-filled-legends-and-origins-irish-banshees-007244

https://www.britannica.com/topic/banshee

The Myth of Ammit

Ammit

Every culture has their own version of the “underworld” — whether it’s Hell or the Elysian Fields or Diyu.  In Egyptian mythology you are given a chance at a life in the field of reeds, where you can spend the rest of eternity in peace.  That is, of course, unless Ammit devours your unworthy soul.

Ammit — or Ammut or Ahemait — was the Egyptian goddess of divine retribution personified.  However, she was not worshipped as a goddess. Instead, her image was thought to ward off evil.  Generally depicted as a demon with the head of a crocodile, the torso of a wild cat, and the hidquarters of a hippopotamus, Ammit was called the “devourer of souls.”

ammit 2She was usually found in the Halls of Ma’at to await the judgement of the deceased, though she was also shown standing beside the scales of justice.  Ammit would only devour the souls of those who did not measure up on the scales, and though she was called a demon, she is not evil. In fact, the person who was accused of being unworthy was given the chance to defend themselves before being judged to eternal damnation.

Though you were safe if your heart weighed just about even with the feather on the scales, many feared Ammit’s devouring of their soul — also known as the second death.  However, if you led a decent life you were spared from eternal damnation. Ammit was not an evil entity in the end but, more of a keeper of order in the underworld of Egyptian mythology and a reminder to the living to lead a good life. 

For more reading on Ammit (sources):

https://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/ammit.html

http://www.egyptianmyths.net/ammut.htm

The Myth of the Bunyip

Bunyip_1890Australia.  Home to twenty-one out of the twenty-five most venomous snakes in the world.  A magical place where deadly creatures from sharks to box jellyfish to spiders roam free.  And yet, despite all of these known creatures, there is a myth of one that is far more terrifying living in the swamps and lakes and rivers.  Its name is the Bunyip.

Bunyip is the aboriginal term for ‘devil’ or ‘evil spirit.’  It is an aquatic Aboriginal creature of myth described differently in several regions — under different names until European settlers used the more popular of them — and ranging in appearance from an ox to a hippopotamus to a manatee with a long neck.  Though the image changes, one fact that all the legends have in common is that the Bunyip is said to be massive — a giant man-eater.

The Bunyip is known for its monstrous looks, his cries that echo, and the fact that it has killed several people definitely adds credence to the legend.  However, not all agree that the Bunyip is harmful. In fact, he is sometimes described as being a protector of wildlife.  This benevolent image is portrayed in popular culture where there exists a series of children’s books featuring the Bunyip.

bunyip 2.jpgThough the Bunyip can be either a monstrous man-eater or a benevolent protector, the legends seem to have some facts in common.  If you find yourself traversing near bodies of water in Australia, remember to keep an eye out.  For there may be something worse than the deadly bugs and snakes lurking about. One thing is for certain: if you hear its echoing cries or see a massive creature rise up from the depths, run.

For more reading on the Bunyip (sources):

https://aminoapps.com/c/thewitchescircle/page/blog/aboriginal-lore-the-bunyip-devil-spirit-of-australia/8qv1_pjSmuW5YWz1WpgLErK2XMR851GGP

https://mythology.net/mythical-creatures/bunyip/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/bunyip

 

The Myth of the Amphisbaina

amphisbainaSnakes appear throughout mythology in different forms, from the snake gods of Egyptian mythology to the world serpent Jormungand of Norse myth.  However, in Greek myth snakes played many roles, and one such mythic snake was the Amphisbaina.

According to myth, the Amphisbaina was created when Perseus flew over the Libyan Desert with the severed head of Medusa and her blood dripped down to the sands below.  This snake was two headed, one on each end, and had scaled feet like a chicken and feathered wings. It was considered a formidable adversary, especially since it is said that the snake could charge in either direction, and was described as being deadly poisonous; one bite and the wound would not heal, leaving the victim to die.

pictures-amphisbaenaHowever, even though the Amphisbaina was considered deadly, it was also sought out for its healing properties.  Some have speculated that its dried skin was a cure for rheumatism while others say that if the skin was worn around one’s neck it could cure a common cold.  Another medicinal property tied with this creature states that the wearing of one of these — alive — around a pregnant woman’s neck would ensure a safe pregnancy.  The Amphisbaina wasn’t just sought out for is healing properties. According to myth, it was also said that if the meat of the creature was ingested it would act as an aphrodisiac, attracting many lovers to the one who ate of it.

We always remember snakes in myth to be guardians or gods, monsters or tricksters.  Amphisbaina was created from the blood of a creature, was given wings and feet and dual heads, but it is not a monster.  Instead, the Amphisbaina is a great example about the dual nature of myth — a creature to be feared, and a creature to be revered.bibliothc3a8que-nationale-de-france-lat-6838b-folio-32v

For more reading on the Amphisbaina (sources):

https://www.mythical-creatures-and-beasts.com/amphisbaena.html

http://www.theoi.com/Thaumasios/Amphisbainai.html

Matthews, John, and Caitlin Matthews. The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures: the Ultimate A-Z of Fantastic Beings from Myth and Magic. Harper Element, 2009

The Myth of the Scarecrow

scarecrow 2Now that fall is here, we are starting to turn our attentions to some of the lesser known myths and legends regarding this time of year.  And what better way to kick off the autumn season than with the myths surrounding the scarecrow?  Therefore, today we will be looking at a few of the origin stories of scarecrows from around the world.

Scarecrows have been around since the ancient world, used by farmers to ward off birds from fields in order to keep the crop before it is harvested.  The earliest signs of scarecrows being in use actually comes to us from ancient Greece. Aphrodite had a son named Priapus — God of fertility and horticulture — who was considered horribly ugly, and it was discovered that birds had tended to avoid any fields in which Priapus had been.  Therefore, wooden statues of Priapus were erected in fields in order to keep the birds at bay.

However, the ancient Greeks were not the only ones to use a scarecrow.  In pre-feudal Japan, scarecrows of different styles littered the rice fields.  The most popular of the scarecrows used, however, were called the kakashi.  These scarecrows were thrown together using old, dirty rags and bells and stick and were mounted on a pole before being lit on fire. Due to the smoke and the smell — kakashi literally translates to “something stinky” — the birds would stay away.  The kakashi were actually based off of a Japanese deity named Keubiko who was a god of agriculture and wisdom.  He couldn’t walk, but he knew everything, and his likeness was mimicked in the creation of the kakashi.

 

scarecrows

Human-like figures weren’t always used as scarecrows, and sometimes keeping the birds away was a full-time job.  In Europe during the Middle Ages, small children would run around in the fields and clap blocks of wood together in order to scare away the birds.  These children were called “crow-scarers.” Though after the plague struck, leaving fewer children around, the farmers decided to try to stuff old clothes with straw, placing a turnip or gourd on top as a head, mounting these figures in the fields.  This method worked, of course, and soon these human-esque figures were used instead.

Of course, we still see this tradition continuing on today.  Straw-stuffed clothes and fabric disguised as human-like guardians are still used, leaving them to protect not only our fields, but to decorate our homes during the fall season.  So next time you see a scarecrow, keep in mind the history of such a simple figure, and remember what our ancestors did in order to ensure that the birds would stay away.

 

For more reading on the scarecrow (sources):

https://japanesemythology.wordpress.com/tag/kuebiko/

https://www.thoughtco.com/scarecrows-guardians-of-the-harvest-2562307