Myths of Spring — Part 2

Today is the day — the first of two — in which the Earth’s equator passes directly through the center of the sun, causing the day to be balanced in both light and darkness.  This phenomenon is called the Equinox — more specifically, the Spring Equinox.  Days like today were rife with superstitions and myths and legends and everything in between.  However, today we will be looking at another couple of myths from around the world  that talk about the change of seasons.  Last time we took a look at both Chinese and Greek mythology — at the kidnapping of Persephone and at the candle dragon himself.  But now?  Now we will see what the Canaanites believed as well as the Norse in regards to the change of seasons.

springAccording to Canaanite beliefs, the changing of the seasons happened after Baal — the god of storms — defeated the god of the sea to become king of the gods.  Baal thought himself to be above all, and so he ordered that Mot, the god of the dead, was to not set foot anywhere on the earth except for the desert.  Mot, forced to wander the desert, turns around and invites Baal to the Netherworld for a “visit.”  Baal is, in turn, forced to go in order to save face as the new ruler of the gods, however when he gets there, Mot tricks him into eating the food of the dead: mud.  Thus, Baal is trapped in the underworld and the world dries up into an eternal summer — crops do not grow, the land becomes scorched, and the heat causes the waters to dry.  While Baal is away, Baal’s wife — Anat — prays for her husband’s release.  The gods refuse to help her, so she herself descends to the Netherworld to plead with Mot directly. Mot of course refuses, and thus an infuriated Anat battles the god of the dead and defeats him, wounding him so badly he cannot stop her from taking Baal away.  Rains were restored, but because Baal ate the food of the dead, he is required to spend a part of every year in the Netherworld, and at summer’s end he can come back and heal the world once more.

sprin3Our second myth today is a funny one, since many versions of this myth exist and they all contradict each other.  The beginning is usually the same: either Frigga (Baldur’s mother), Odin (Baldur’s father), and Baldur himself begin to suffer from nightmares about Baldur’s death.  Frigga goes around and has every living and non-living thing swear that no harm will come to Baldur — with the exception of mistletoe.  The other gods make a game of throwing things at Baldur and watching them bounce off harmlessly until Loki convinces a blind Hodr (in some versions of this myth, he is Baldur’s brother) to throw a spear that Loki guides.  This spear is made of mistletoe, and when it pierces Baldur’s chest, he drops down dead.

spring2This is where the myth changes.  In some versions, both Hodr and Baldur die — Hodr being killed for murdering his brother.  In these pre-Christian versions, Frigga begs Hel to release them and they are allowed out — separately — for half of the year only.  Hodr, because he is blind, is associated with darkness and explains the winter seasons while Baldur was described as a god of light and therefore was the other half of the year — summer and spring.  Other post-Christian versions of this myth tie Baldur to Christ in that he will only rise once more after Ragnarök, returning from the land of the dead.  However, these post-Christian versions also depict Baldur as being passive as objects are thrown at him while pre-Christian versions show him as being battle-ready at all times.

These myths from both Canaanite and Norse mythos are both examples not only of spring/seasonal myths, but also show how myths have changed over time.  From Baldur’s myth which has so many versions including his rebirth, to the myth of Baal which has many versions as well — including one where every seven years the two fight, the winner deciding if there will be a good season or a drought.  The truth is, there were many myths, legends, fables and stories, some of which do in fact explain away the changing of the seasons.  But let us remember today that with the start of spring, there is a god walking out from the land of the dead somewhere.  And whether they be Persephone, Baldur, Baal, or some other god/goddess, let us rejoice with the return of all things green and celebrate.

 

For more reading on spring myths (sources):
http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/alvismal/11baldr.pdf
https://norse-mythology.org/tales/the-death-of-baldur/
https://historylists.org/other/baldur-god-of-norse-mythology.html
http://evangelicalfocus.com/blogs/3351/Exploring_The_Canaanite_Pantheon_Baal

Myths of Spring — Part 1

With spring just around the corner, a lot of our ancestors would celebrate the change in weather and the return of green by telling stories and gathering for f estivals.  Of course, today we are fully aware of the rotation of the Earth around the sun and on its axis, giving to us the scientific explanations for the change of seasons.  But what did they think back then?  How did our ancient predecessors explain these changes?  What were these stories?  Instead of looking at all of them, we will be taking a look at a few over these next two weeks, leading right up to the Spring equinox.  So today?  Let’s take a look at the myths of Hades and Persephone and Zhu Long, the Candle Dragon.

LMG100045When talking about the changes in season, the Greeks looked to the gods and their troubles which affected the mortal world.  The story of Hades and Persephone explains these changes as Demeter’s mood swings — Demeter being the mother of Persephone, the Goddess of Spring.  A quick look at this myth has Hades kidnapping Persephone, and Demeter — the Goddess of the Harvest and Agriculture — begging Zeus to give her her daughter back as she fails in her duties.  Persephone of course eats three pomegranate seeds before Zeus can interfere, which forces him to decide that for half of a year she is to be with her mother while the other half she is forced to return to Hades.  During the times Persephone is gone, Demeter becomes inconsolable, neglecting her duties and letting the world around her wither and die.  However, when Persephone is returned, Demeter jumps back into action, revitalizing the land.

spring 2Following in the same fashion, the Chinese myth of Zhu Long the Candle Dragon explains not only one, but all the seasons, as well as the changes in night and day.  You see, Zhu Long — or Zhu Yin — was a huge, scaly, red dragon that was shaped like a serpent and had a human head. According to myth, one of his eyes represented the sun while the other the moon, and when they were open it was daytime, while at night his eyes were closed.  In his mouth he holds a candle that lights the gate of heaven, and his breath is what changes the seasons.  You see, when Zhu Long exhales he casts winter across the land, but when he inhales he brings summer.

These are but two of many myths that discuss the change of seasons.  So whether you believe that a God kidnapped a Goddess or a giant, serpentine dragon is inhaling to bring about the summer, just know that the days will be getting longer and longer until we find ourselves enjoying the Spring Equinox once more and welcoming back Hades’ Dread Empress, Persephone herself.

 

For more reading on these two myths (sources):
https://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/myth-of-hades-and-persephone/
https://www.theworldofchinese.com/2015/06/the-legend-of-the-candle-dragon/
http://www.ancientpages.com/2016/01/15/legend-of-the-candle-dragon-that-could-lighten-the-darkest-gate-of-heaven/

The Myth of Frau Perchta

frau perchta 2Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, is a well-known Yuletide figure.  However, over the years we have seen some of the more… unsavory characters come into the spotlight.  Krampus was one of those characters from folklore who became wildly popular after his 2015 horror/comedy debut on the big screen.  However, there are still other mythic stories, legends and folktales of different Yule spirits and demons and elves and trolls. Today, we are going to be taking a look at one of these, a witch who punishes naughty children.  Her name is Frau Perchta.

Frau Perchta comes to us from Austrian and Bavarian tradition, becoming more well known with her other name Frau Berchta which was popularized by the brothers Grimm.  She is also associated with Berchta the Germanic goddess of abundance who was demonized by the Catholic church and referred to as a witch. Either way, Frau Perchta is generally depicted as a crone dressed in rage with a beaked, iron nose.  Sometimes she carries a cane, but almost always she carries a long, sharp knife that she keeps hidden beneath her skirts.

frau perchtaYou see, Frau Perchta — much like Santa Claus — will reward good children and punish the bad.  She also punishes women for unkempt households and unspun flax. For those she deems good, a silver coin is left for them.  If she deems you unworthy, if you forget to leave out a bowl of porridge for her, if your flax is half spun and unfinished, she slits open your abdomen, removes your organs, and replaces them with straw.  She was also associated with the Wild Hunt, flying through the night sky while accompanied by her demonic Perchten — Krampus-looking creatures — and elves and unbaptized babies. During the last three thursdays before Christmas, you will hear the sounds of thunder and wind roaring, however it is really Frau Perchta leading her Wild Hunt.

Either way, Frau Perchta doesn’t seem like a woman to cross.  Whether she is a crone who judges your housework, or someone who comes to punish the naughty and reward the nice, or even the leader of the Wild Hunt itself, Frau Perchta promises punishment for those who she sees as undeserving.  One thing is for certain: whichever version of her tale you believe, be sure to have your house dust-free and stay indoors on the nights leading up to Christmas or Frau Perchta might replace your organs with straw.

For more reading on Frau Perchta (sources):
https://boroughsofthedead.com/frau-perchta/
http://occult-world.com/germanic-gods-goddesses/berchta/

The Myth of the Kappa

kappaImagine this: a winding river in Japan.  The scenery is lovely, the day warm, and all of a sudden something near the water moves.  It looks like a child, so you draw closer. But when it turns around you find yourself face to beak with a grinning kappa.

Kappa are a type of water spirit who are considered incredibly intelligent and lecherous creatures, inhabiting bodies of water all throughout Japan.  In fact, there are still signs in certain areas warning people of the kappa who are said to dwell in that body of water. They are typically described as being about the size of a 10-year-old child, yellow-green in color, and looking like a scaled monkey or having a tortoise shell instead of skin.  They are also said to have beaks on their faces and speak many languages as well.  On the tops of their heads is an indentation filled with water that give the kappa their powers, and if they should lose that water they are rendered powerless.

kappa 2They are known for drowning or devouring children who wander too near the water, waiting in toilets and assaulting women, and occasionally attacking men.  However, if you can trick one into bowing, emptying the contents of its head, and offer to replenish it, the Kappa will be generous and grant the person a wish or a favor.  They are also attributed to introducing the art of bone setting and salve creating to humans.

Though the benefits to helping one seem great, the majority of signs point away from the kappa, warning people from their habitats.  One thing is for certain: if you happen to find yourself face to face with one, bow low and wait for your opportunity to flee, or refill his head and be blessed with any wish you could desire.

For more reading on the kappa (sources):
https://mythology.net/japanese/japanese-creatures/kappa/
https://www.britannica.com/topic/kappa-Japanese-mythology

The Myth of the Phoenix

phoenixThe concept of immortality has fascinated humanity for centuries.  One of the greatest questions most religions seek to answer is what happens after.  And indeed, what does happen after? Most religions believe in an afterlife — a heaven and hell; Tartarus and the Elysian Fields.  But what about rebirth? What about reincarnation? Well, there was a myth in which this was addressed, the concept of being reborn from the ashes of what came before.  Of course, I am talking about the legendary phoenix.

The phoenix first made its appearance in Egyptian mythology, bursting from the heart of Osiris himself.  They were large birds with red and gold plumage, crying out with beautiful voices, and living for no less than half a millenia.  Only one phoenix was said to live at a time, and other creatures were said to fall dead when they saw it due to its beauty and sadness.  However, the biggest piece of the myth is its death. You see, there are several stories describing how this happens, though one thing remains the same — the phoenix dies within flames and is reborn from its own ashes.

phoenix-2.jpgOne version of the rebirth myth states that the phoenix fashions a nest for itself, made with aromatic boughs and spices, before setting it on fire while within.  The phoenix would then die amid the flames. Once the fire died, leaving a pile of ash, the new phoenix would then burst from the ashes — the remains of its predecessor — and embalm the ashes in an egg of myrrh.  This egg would be flown to Heliopolis — “City of the Sun” — and deposited on the altar for Re, the sun god. Another version of its rebirth states that the phoenix will fly to Heliopolis to die in a fire on the altar.  Either way, the ashes left behind were said to be able to bring a man back from the dead, according to legend.

The phoenix is a creature that will live on in story — a bird who does not truly die, who is reborn from the ashes of what came before.  And whether or not we believe in an afterlife,the phoenix represents something else, something more — the idea that not just us as people, but our ideas, our hopes and dreams, can be reborn from what came before.  

For more reading on the phoenix (sources):
https://www.britannica.com/topic/phoenix-mythological-bird
http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Phoenix_(mythology)

The Myth of Pegasus

Pegasus — the name has become quite popular over the years.  From movies to video games to books, the winged horse has made its appearance and captured the hearts of audiences everywhere.  But where did this magnificent creature come from? How was it created?

pegasus 2

According to Greek mythology, Pegasus was born from the blood of the severed head of Medusa.  A white stallion with wings, Pegasus was gifted to the Muses who accepted him with open arms. According to myth, when he arrived, the creature was so delighted that he stomped his hooves on the ground and from beneath them sprang the stream Hippocrene which is found on Mount Helicon.  This spring became known as the fountain of the Muses. Of course, there are other versions of this story, including that when the Muses sang the mountain would rumble in joy, and Poseidon told Pegasus to kick it to make it stop, thus opening the spring.

pegasusAs well as causing streams to bubble up, Pegasus was also made famous when he was tamed by the great hero Bellerophon who had been gifted a bridle from the goddess Hera.  Bellerophon captured the creature, eventually riding him in battle against the chimera. Once Bellerophon is killed, Pegasus finds himself a servant of Zeus, charged with carrying his thunderbolt.  After years of faithful service, Zeus honors him by creating a constellation.

Pegasus was a son of Poseidon and Medusa, birthed from her blood.  He was a gift to the Muses, a loyal steed to the hero Bellerophon, and a faithful servant to the god Zeus.  Pegasus, with his white coat and fluffy wings, was a majestic, wild beast, and he will be forever immortalized amongst the stars.

For more reading on Pegasus (sources):
https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Creatures/Pegasus/pegasus.html
https://greekgodsandgoddesses.net/myths/pegasus/
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pegasus-Greek-mythology

The Myth of Arachne

arachne 3Imagine being amazing at something.  Now imagine being known for it, for people celebrating your talent, even comparing it to the gods.  Can you see it? Can you feel your pride building? Now picture the goddess you are compared to coming for you, and you are going toe-to-toe with her.  And you win. Your prize? Eternity transformed into a creature, a punishment earned because you were too proud to say you weren’t better than the goddess herself.  This is the story of Arachne and Athena.

The story of Arachne and Athena’s contest has changed over the millennia. Most stories start off the same way: Arachne was a talented weaver.  In most versions, she is proud of her work, and this leads to her downfall. For you see, some versions have Athena becoming enraged and challenging Arachne to a contest because of this, some that Arachne herself challenged her, and others that Zeus called for it as he was the judge.  A lot has changed from version to version of the story, and that is no different when it comes to what they weave. However, the main theme that seems to be constant is that Athena weaves four scenes of the gods who punish humans who believe themselves to be their equals while Arachne weaves four scenes of the gods punishing humans for no reason.

arachneThis is where the story changes the most, however: the ending.  I will tell you all three of the main versions. In one, Arachne beats Athena and, while in a rage, Athena curses Arachne to take the form of a spider.  In another, Arachne and Athena wagered their weaving — the loser being unable to touch a spindle or loom ever again. In this version, Athena wins, and Arachne is so distraught that she will no longer be able to weave that Athena, taking pity on the girl, transforms her into a spider so that their bargain may not be broken. The last version of this story is that Athena is beaten, however she is impressed by the girl’s skills.  So, she kisses Arachne’s forehead to give her the wisdom to see how her boasting has hurt and angered others and — in her sorrow — she hangs herself. Athena then transforms the rope into a web and Arachne into a spider.

arachne 2Either way, the story of Arachne is a cautionary tale.  Her pride gets her into trouble when she believes herself to be above the gods, and her punishment is one that leaves her cursed for eternity.  One thing is for sure: never anger the Greek gods, or you might find yourself challenged by them — and in turn, cursed for all of time!

 

For more reading on the myth of Arachne (sources):
https://greekgodsandgoddesses.net/myths/arachne/
https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Mortals/Arachne/arachne.html
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Arachne
http://www.goddessgift.com/goddess-myths/greek-goddess-arachne.htm