Search Results for mistletoe
The Mistletoe is a shrub that’s traditionally been charged with symbolic import, and it still has cultural significance today.
Robert Graves says that in European pagan times Mistletoe was taken to be the oak tree’s genitals. The Druids ritually chopped it with a gold-colored sickle, which was a kind of “symbolic emasculation.”†
In addition, the juice of the berries was understood as the tree’s sperm, having “great regenerative virtue.” So in pre-Christian Europe mistletoe was associated with the spark and spice of life.
In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly due to a resemblance between the berries and semen.‡
In ancient Roman mythology, Aeneas is prompted by Sibyl to journey to the underworld. On his journey he carries mistletoe, which enables his safe return to the everyday world. And Graves believes that a “‘certain herb’ that raised Claucus from the tomb” was probably mistletoe.†
Today, Christmas revelers continue to feel obliged kiss under the mistletoe, this curious custom possibly having its roots in Scandanavia (others associate the practice further back to the ancient Roman Saturnalia festival).
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† Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Combined edition, London: Penguin, 1992, p. 176.
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Also known as Baldur or Baldr in Norse mythology, Balder was a noble, gentle and yet powerful god. Much loved by all, he was son of Odin and Frigg.
Reminiscent of Achilles, Balder was invulnerable to harm, except by the mistletoe. He was mistakenly killed by the blind god Hodur, who’d been duped by the trickster Loki into piercing him with a dart crafted from mistletoe.
The roots of the his name are somewhat unclear. Wikipedia has a good discussion here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldr#Name.
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The Druids were Celtic pagan priests. Although much pseudo-history and quasi sacred lore can be found, in actual fact we don’t know too much about them because they were sworn to secrecy and not permitted to express their beliefs in writing. We do, however, have written accounts from indirect sources.
When in Gaul, the Roman leader Julius Caesar noted that the Druids worshipped gods, passed on their traditions to the young, practiced human sacrifice in oak groves and forbade certain people from attending sacrificial ceremonies. Because attendance at sacrificial ceremonies cemented one’s in-group status, those forbidden to attend were marginalized.
Caesar also says the Druids met annually at a location taken to be the center of Gaul. Like contemporary priests, they didn’t fight in wars nor pay taxes. The Roman writer Pliny (the Elder, 23-79 CE) wrote that, in addition to their priestly role, the Druids were seers, diviners and healers.
The ancient Roman senator and historian Tacitus (56–117 CE) mentions Druidic presence in Britain. The Druids served as officials at their allegedly bloody and frightening human sacrifices, the victims usually being criminals. Sometimes, however, innocent people were sacrificed in times of national calamity.
Caesar says that giant casings of intertwined branches held victims as they were burnt alive by the Druids. Humans and animals, alike, were used as burnt offerings for the gods. However, it’s been suggested that the Romans cited the Druidic practice of human sacrifice to undermine the Druid’s political power. The Romans, themselves, executed human beings for the apparent good of the State (in the form of scourging to the death or crucifixion) but human sacrifice to the gods was no longer practiced in the classical world.
Despite New Age philosophies based on the alleged teachings of the Druids, there is scant hard evidence that they possessed any detailed body of esoteric knowledge or, as S. G. F. Brandon puts it, “any subtle and sophisticated philosophy.” Brandon, in fact, suggests that the Druids were not unlike any other “barbarian priesthood.”¹ And there’s no visible evidence to link the Druids with Stonehenge, as suggested by the English writer John Aubrey in 1649 and by numerous TV specials and contemporary enthusiasts.
Through the fantasy literature of writers like J. J. R. Tolkien and Terry Brooks, the idea of the Druid-Sorcerer is firmly established as a kind of archetypal image depicting the powerful, brooding, wise and yet somewhat ambivalent magician. Not surprisingly, Druids feature prominently in off- and online gaming.
Related Posts » Mistletoe
¹ S. G. F. Brandon ed., “Celtic (Pagan) Religion” in A Dictionary of Comparative Religion: New York: Scribner, 1970, p. 180-184. By way of contrast, Neo-Druidism is a movement that, among other things, venerates nature.
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Diana (Greek equivalent = Artemis) was a Roman goddess worshipped by the plebeians, the so-called lower classes of ancient Rome. G. Parrinder says Diana’s name may have meant “bright one” like the Indic Dyaus and Greek Zeus. Diana may have been revered as a moon goddess but was primarily a goddess of women, the wood, wilderness and the hunt.
Widely worshipped in the ancient world, her primary centers of worship were as follows:
King Servius Tullius (578-535 BCE) dedicated a temple to her on the Aventine Hill at Rome. She was also worshipped at Aricia (in the crater of a dead volcano about 10 miles from Rome), and at the mountainous Tifata. And the Romans converted a Greek temple at the Asian port of Ephesus, formerly dedicated to Artemis, for Diana’s worship.
That she was favored by women is evidenced by the fact that religious processions of women bore torches in her honour at Aricia¹ and votive offerings were made for successful childbirth. She was also favored by slaves, making her a patroness of many marginalized peoples.
The Roman Emperor Augustus decided that he’d make Diana the patroness of his wife Livia and his daughter Julia to counterbalance his own egotistical identification with the god Apollo.²
Associated with the woodlands as well as the moon, the celebrated mythographer, Sir J. G. Frazer, writes in The Golden Bough that Diana had a sacred grove of oak trees at Lake Nemi, just outside of Rome at Aricia. The resident priest of the grove usually was an escaped slave who served as Diana’s consort. Priestly succession was determined by the outcome of a deadly challenge made by another escaped slave, these new rivals generally coming from the city.
In order to obtain the right of combat the challenger first had to break off a bough of mistletoe from within the grove. If the challenger obtained the mistletoe without being killed by the residing priest, ritual combat would ensue. If the challenger won this “religious” fight to the death, he replaced the slain priest and found himself in the same uneasy spot as his predecessor.
Diana’s renown is recorded in Acts 19: 23-41, in which the King James version of the Bible calls the Greek goddess Artemis “Diana.” In this story St. Paul turns many away from Artemis through his preaching about Jesus at Ephesus. As a result, the converts stop buying small terra cotta and silver images of Artemis. In turn, some of the townsfolk become angry and denounce Paul.
A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”³
The writer on women’s myth, Barbara Walker, says that Diana was declared evil and denounced by 14th century Christian Inquisitors.
¹ The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 1999, p. 463.
² (a) C. M. C. Green “Diana” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Ed. Michael Gagarin. © Oxford University Press 2010. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Toronto Public Library. 3 August 2012 http://www.oxford-greecerome.com/entry?entry=t294.e369
(b) C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell talk about this dynamic, generally regarded in depth psychology as “inflation.” Campbell, however, adds a few interesting nuances to the idea or, at least, puts some of the complexities of Jung’s depth psychology into easily understandable terms.
³ http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+19%3A23-41&version=NIV See also, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 1996, p. 88.
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In Norse myth Loki is the son of two giants and confounded the gods with various tricks until, after bringing about the death of Balder, was fastened to a rock. On the day of Ragnarok Loki will break free and lead the giants into a terrible war against the gods.
The American scholar Bergen Evans sees Loki as an evil god in Norse myth with parallels to the Old Testament Satan as depicted in the Book of Job. Others see Loki more as a trickster and as a reversibly transsexual shapeshifter.
Loki (or Lokai) is also a TV character in the original 1969 Star Trek episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” a classic episode dealing with the inanity of racism. Loki is a non-human who’s half white and half black. Meanwhile, another non-human character, Bele, is also half white and half black but in the reverse symmetry to Loki,
Like Lokai, Bele is half black and half white, with the color divided by a line through the exact center of his face. However, the sides of Bele’s black and white skin are reversed from those of Lokai, a difference which seems inconsequential to the Enterprise crew but of great importance to Bele, Lokai, and, apparently, their civilization. The difference is pointed out by Bele to a perplexed Captain Kirk who asks what is the difference between them, to which he replies, “Isn’t it obvious? Lokai is white on the right side. All his people are white on the right side.”¹
As mentioned in other Think Free entires, part of Star Trek’s popularity arguably rests on its liberal use, reinterpretation and reimagining of mythological characters and their names. Possibly this elicits a kind of numinous resonance within viewers, perhaps even if they don’t consciously know about the mythology in question. As C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell suggest, mythic ideas and sounds may resonate within the viewer’s subconscious or unconscious mind.
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The word myth is derived from the Greek mythos, meaning anything passed on orally.
Homer used mythos to signify stories and conversation based on fact instead of fiction. Later, Plato used mythos to refer to discourses containing shades of truth but which, for the most part, are fiction.
Among its contemporary meanings, myth often points back to a quasi-historical epoch or heroic character.
The term mythology may be used synonymously with myth or, more commonly, with a body of myths. ‘Mythology’ also involves a somewhat analytical (as in scholarly or philosophical) view of myths. A mythologist is someone who studies myths in this way, whereas a mythographer is more a compiler of myths.
Some mythologists trace historical conditions and archeological findings under the assumption that myths are just stories loosely based on historical events (as with the Hindu Ramayana).
In The Greek Myths Robert Graves says this about all myths—i.e. myth is something like a political cartoon.
Some rationalists contend that myth is an early protoscience that attempts to explain natural mysteries, not unlike contemporary science.
The functionalist theory sees myth as serving a positive social purpose. Emile Durkheim, for instance, argued that so-called primitive religion bonded community members and defined precise social classes and roles. The notion that social roles are defined and legitimized by mythology and sacred scripture seems to be partially supported by the Hindu caste system, by Greek and Nordic social stratification and by the Bible and the Koran.
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory views myth as a folk tale that reveals more about psychological than historical truths. Freud sees myth mostly in terms of wish-fulfillment, denial and sublimation.
Despite Robert Graves’ attack on C. G. Jung for being too metaphysical, Jung himself says myths are “psychological truths” that are historical because they reveal the attitudes of a group at a particular juncture in history. Interestingly, Jung admits to creating his own modern myth through his psychological theories. He also admits to using scientific language to convince otherwise skeptical readers as to the relevance of his ideas.
In a sense, then, Jung’s approach to myth-making could be seen as somewhat postmodern in that he knows full well he’s creating a social truth, if not a permanent truth. While some third-rate thinkers may see this as some kind of moral threat, it’s not that at all. Jung’s goal in myth-making is to create a sense of meaning and purpose appropriate to his times.
Joseph Campbell notes that myth, in combination with rites and ceremonies, serves a pedagogical function. Campbell says myth provides a thread of sensibility running through various stages of life, teaching us how to belong and contribute to society, from birth to childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and eventually to the grave.
In the Tibetan Book of The Dead, the importance of myth extends beyond the grave.
The structuralist theory of Claude Levi-Strauss looks at myth as something arising out of pre-set, universal linguistic structures. For Levi-Strauss, meaning is not separate but explicit to the structure of myths, which apparently pose a series of binary oppositions (e.g. good-evil, male-female, hot-cold, helpful-harmful) that demonstrate how the human mind thinks.
Levi-Strauss’ views have been challenged by Sir Evans Pritchard who says not all mythic systems are constructed in simple binary oppositions. Other opponents say that meaning may exist on top of structure. The statement “the yellow laugh looked wet” for example, is grammatically correct but most would see it as meaningless.
The poststructuralist Michel Foucault sees practically all statements and related practices in terms of myth or ‘fictions.’ For Foucault, societal morals, scientific truths as well as economic, ideological and political imperatives are myths which, when invested with social power, exhibit tangible effects. Sometimes these very real effects of myth are pleasurable and other times not.
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A name representing alleged prophetesses consulted in ancient Greece and Rome, said to prophecize in ecstasy, under the temporary possession of Apollo.
Ten Sibylline oracles have been recorded by history. The best known Sibyl is said to have resided in a cave at Cumea, near Naples–”The Cumean Sibyl.”
In Vergil‘s Aneid this Sibyl is visited by Aeneas before his descent to Hades. She is also believed to have composed the original Sibylline books.
These prophetic works were taken to Rome, where they were guarded by two nobles. Extended volumes of Sibylline books survived into the 4th century CE.
Another famous Sibyl lived in Erythia in Asia, “The Erythian Sibyl.”
Sibyls appear in Christian art and literature. Early Christian interest in the Sibylline oracles raised them to a status comparable to the Old Testament Prophets.
In 1973 a popular novel, Sibyl, was written by Flora Rheta Schreiber based on the life of Shirley Ardell Mason, a woman diagnosed with multiple personality disorder or MPD. In 1976 the book was made into a film with Sally Field as Sibyl.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, two other novels have also been entitled Sibyl.
» Mistletoe, DSM-IV-TR
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In mythology the underworld variously refers to a place beneath the earth’s surface or under the sea, the land of the deceased or a hellish realm filled with demons.
The mythological underworld is usually separated from everyday reality by an expanse or an abyss.
Often the gates of the underworld are guarded by menacing creatures, such as snakes or the giant three-headed dog and underworld’s Lord of Death, Cerberus.
The legendary Greek Orpheus used his melodious lyre to try to liberate Eurydice from Cerberus. But not unlike Lot’s wife, Orpheus ignored a dire warning to not look back during the escape. And while casting a glance over his shoulder Orpheus lost Eurydice to the underworld forever.
In ancient Egypt the sun god Re (or Ra) was said to pass through the underworld on a nightly basis. David Leeming notes that he was attacked by his enemies, particularly Apep, but defended by Seth and other benevolent spirits who had passed into the afterlife.†
The Egyptian Osiris was taken to be the ruler of the underworld, being a sort of death and resurrection figure due to his dismemberment and subsequent reassembly.
A similar belief to the Egyptian Re myth is expressed in India with the sun temple at Konark, essentially a chariot of 24 wheels, where the sun god Surya begins the day as Brahma, enters midday as Siva, and spends the night as Visnu.
A 2003 film about vampires and werewolves is called Underworld and its sequel is Underworld: Evolution (2006).
Depth psychologists tend to link underworld myths with the idea of the unconscious.
» Abyss, Archetypal Image, Blessed Isles, Bowie (David), Death and Resurrection, Demeter, Doors, Eleusinian Mysteries, Ereshkigal, Eurydice, Faeries, Fates, Furies, Han Solo, Heaven, Hell, Hendrix (Jimi), Hercules, Hero, Ishtar, Jedi, Jung (Carl Gustav), Kraken, Mesopotamia, Mistletoe, Odysseus, Persephone, Pisces, Shaman, Tammuz, World Tree
† David Leeming, Oxford Companion to World Mythology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 337.
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