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.
- Norway returned to worship pagan gods like Odin and Balder (ivarfjeld.com)
- When did gods become immortal, infallable and immaterial? (richarddawkins.net)
- Odin The All Father (theasatrucommunity.wordpress.com)
- Ásatrú (ayearandadaywicca.wordpress.com)
- Odin Part 1 (theasatrucommunity.wordpress.com)
- ‘Loki’s Wolves’ is coming in May (eyeblinkfiction.wordpress.com)
Dismemberment has been a cruel form of capital punishment in both Asian and European history. And the ugly practice came to North American shores, legitimized under the belief in manifest destiny.¹
The theme of dismemberment occurs throughout comparative mythology.
In the Hindu Artharva Veda the world is created from the sacrifice and dismemberment of the “cosmic man” (Skt. purusa). This has been interpreted as a universal self that we ultimately return to, past the fragmented splinters of false and deceptive personalities and personas.
In Egyptian mythology Osiris is dismembered by the demon Set. His sister-wife Isis, with the help of Nephthys and Anubis, restores him fully with only his nose to work on, a tale arguably prefiguring the 21C realities of cloning.
Wikipedia lists these additional examples:
- In Greek mythology, the god Dionysus is dismembered by the Titans.
- In Japanese mythology, Izanagi dismembers Kagutsuchi in revenge for the death of his lover Izanami.
- In Aztec mythology, the god Huitzilopochtli dismembers his sister Coyolxauhqui for trying to kill their mother, Coatlicue. He tossed his sister’s head into the sky, where it became the moon.²
The theme of dismemberment usually fits, either closely or indirectly, within the larger mythic cycle of death and resurrection because dismembered characters in myth often come back in some kind of new, transformed state.
The theme of dismemberment crops up in B-movies, video games, anime, and rock music. And in literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy has recurring cycles of dismemberment and healing as a form of punishment for falsifiers.
¹ Theodore Roosevelt condoned the dismemberment of Native American Indian women and children in Colorado as a “righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the continent.” http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&cad=rja&ved=0CGgQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.apaonline.org%2FCMDownload.aspx%3FContentKey%3D5f847188-8a3d-4b90-a678-8f7cf9387122%26ContentItemKey%3D49ac4888-2f0c-4a87-b688-c0f5f1b03f61&ei=mY4zUJK-Jaf00gHK84GADw&usg=AFQjCNERU8qo_OtrQ5FXQTMMUGqC3LaUOw
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.
- Artemis (bookstove.com)
- Diana: essence of feminine spirit. (ggsethericjourney.wordpress.com)
- Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (gatherednettles.com)
- The Netherlands: Successful Naming and Launch Ceremony for ARTEMIS (worldmaritimenews.com)
- Acts 19: How the Early Christians Did It (cutpaste.typepad.com)
- Artemis from Parion (rogueclassicism.com)
- My trip to Turkey 3: Celçuk and Ephesus (shawjonathan.wordpress.com)
Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur, often said in traditional and contemporary¹ lore to have magical powers.
In Malory’s Morte d’Arthur the young boy Arthur succeeds in pulling the sword from a stone, a seemingly impossible feat which not even adults can accomplish. In another account the sword is given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake.
As Arthur is dying he commands Sir Bedivere to toss the sword into the lake and a mysterious hand grasps it, drawing it under the surface. In an older version of the legend by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur’s sword is known as Caliburn.
¹ Such as the TV series Merlin » http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1199099/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin_%28TV_series%29
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Eurydice is a female figure in Greek myth. Among variants, the best known Eurydice in Greek myth is a tree or water nymph and wife of Orpheus. When the god Aristaeus tried to rape her, she fled to escape his advances. While fleeing she was bitten by a poisonous snake, died within hours and descended to Hades.
Her husband Orpheus later journeyed to Hades hoping to rescue her. Orpheus used the musical beauty of his lyre to wrest Eurydice from the underworld’s Lord of Death, the giant three-headed dog Cerberus. But like Lot’s wife, and against a dire warning to not look behind while escaping, Orpheus cast a glance backward, losing Eurydice forever.
The name Eurydice first appears on pottery in the 4th century BCE.¹ Although possibly orally present for centuries, they myth of Orpheus’ descent into the underworld to rescue Eurydice was not fully written down until the first century BCE, when Roman poets immortalized the tale through written verse.²
Plato criticizes Orpheus in his Symposium for trying to rescue Eurydice through music instead of sheer courage.³
In other variants of the myth Orpheus attempts to save Eurydice from Persephone. The scene of Orpheus attempting to rescue Eurydice is depicted in Neoclassical art, most notably by Nicolas Poussin.
Eurydice is also known as one of the daughters of Apollo.
¹ Richard L. Hunter “Eurydice” The Oxford Classical Dictionary, © Oxford University Press 1996, 2000.
² Sarah Hitch “Orpheus and Eurydice” 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. 22 May 2012 http://www.oxford-greecerome.com/entry?entry=t294.e907
On the Web:
- Poussin, Nicolas: Landscape with Orpheus and Eurydice » http://artchive.com/artchive/P/poussin/orpheus_and_eurydice.jpg.html
- City Opera Revives Telemann (and Itself) with Orpheus (wqxr.org)
- City Opera’s Unabashed Underworld (nytimes.com)
- Seattle Opera’s ‘Orpheus’ is a love story for all time (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Review: Stagecraft dominates ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
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Ereshkigal is a Sumerian goddess and ruler of the underworld. Her sister is the heavenly Inanna/Ishtar. Her husband Nergal, an earth god scorched by the summer sun, forced her to share her power with him.
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- Dark Mother/Dreams/body images (jungianarchetypalpsych.wordpress.com)
Faeries are said to be supernatural beings that can appear and disappear at will. Usually smaller than human beings, Faeries may be helpful or malicious.
They are generally portrayed as living underwater (e.g. mermaids), underground (e.g. gnomes), in a magical forest region or in some far away land.
Some faeries enter into physical, enchanted or possibly mystical love and ethereal sex relations with human beings.
Various legends and theories try to account for their origin. Some say that fairies derive from animistic beliefs in which objects are said to contain spirits. Others see fairies as emerging from a belief in spirits of the dead residing in the underworld. The Celts, especially, saw Faeries as beings who fled from invading humans, taking refuge in the underworld.
Fairies have also been suggested to derive from the Furies of Greek and Roman myth.
Christians have seen Faeries as the unbaptized. Taking many forms worldwide, the actual term faery – indistinguishable from fairy – comes from “fay-erie”, originally an enchanted land.
In Victorian England there’s a rich body of faerie art and literature—this unique style of Victorian art is still popular today, cropping up in illustrated books, relaxation cd’s and many new age and holistic health products. And a more updated Faerie look appears in a good deal of fantasy fiction and movies.
Some scholars say the term “fairy tale” is misleading because the beings involved are often not fairies, per se. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist Carl Jung and Jungians like Marie-Louse Von Franz believe that the mythic structure of these stories reflects the archetypal nature of the individuation process—that is, the quest for ‘wholeness’ as Jung sees it.
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Gilgamesh is a legendary Mesopotamian king of ancient Sumer as depicted in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written around 2000 BCE in cuneiform on twelve tablets of clay.
Renowned for his matchless strength, Gilgamesh went into combat with a rough monster-man, Enkidu who was sent by the Gods to keep Gilgamesh in check.
Although Gilgamesh won the bout, the harrowing battle did humble him. He and Enkidu eventually became friends. The Gilgamesh epic also portrays several accounts, some fragmentary, of a Great Flood.
Ea, the Lord, says he will cause a flood and tells Atramhasis to
Enter [the ship] and shut the door…[Bring in] to it thy grain, thy goods and chattels; Th[y wife], thy family, thy relations, and the craftsmen. [Game] of the field (and) beasts of the field, as many as eat herbs, [I will s]end unto thee, and they shall guard thy door.”¹
¹ Alexender Heidel. The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1946, p. 110.
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Gaia (also Ge) is the Greek Goddess of the Earth who arose from Chaos. She was worshipped at Delphi, where her temple was guarded by a Python. The temple was rededicated to Apollo after he destroyed Gaia’s serpent.
Gaia gave birth to the Furies, assisted by heavenly intervention. She was also the mother of Uranus, with whom she gave birth to the Titans and the Cyclopses. She also gave birth to the Giants and other monsters. Her Roman equivalent is Tellus.
Some anthropologists believe that Gaia was worshipped in Neolithic times as a Great Mother, although this academic position has been disputed by most contemporary scholars. Gaia’s Roman counterpart is Tellus.
In the 1970s, the British scientist, author and environmentalist James Lovelock proposed the Gaia hypothesis, where the planet Earth, itself, is seen as a self-regulating entity geared toward sustaining life.
In his own words, Gaia is
a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.¹
Today, Neopagans revere Gaia as The Goddess.
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Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek demigod and incredibly strong Heracles. He is the son of Jupiter (in Greece, Zeus) and the mortal Alcmene.
Generally regarded as a hero, he was born a destroyer, par excellence. Hercules vanquished two snakes while still in the cradle and killed a lion in his boyhood. This disturbed Hera (Juno in Rome) who drove him insane, which lead him to murder his wife and children.
Hercules consulted the Delphic Oracle to find out how to redeem himself. In some versions of the myth, the Oracle instructs him to visit King Eurystheus. Because Hercules was so physically powerful, Eurystheus couldn’t think of any tasks too demanding for him. So he consulted Juno on how best to redeem him through physical penance.
Together, Eurystheus and Juno conceived of 12 Labors for Hercules to undergo in order to restore his good standing among the gods and mankind. However, in other versions of the myth, the Oracle itself prescribes the 12 Labors.
The 12 Labors which Hercules must complete are:
- Kill the Nemean Lion: He strangled it.
- Kill the nine-headed Hydra: This was a difficult job because two heads grew back for each one destroyed. Hercules burnt eight heads and threw one under a rock.
- Seize the Hind of Ceryneia: This was tricky because Ceryneia was Diana‘s pet deer. He pursued the deer for several months before succeeding
- Seize the Erymanthian Boar and bring it to King Eurystheus: “The Erymanthian Boar was a giant fear-inspiring creature of the wilds that lived on Mount Erymanthos, a mountain that was apparently once sacred to the Mistress of the Animals, for in classical times it remained the haunt of Artemis (Homer, Odyssey, VI.105).” ¹
- Cleanse the huge and filthy stables of King Augeas of Elis: Hercules succeeded by diverting a nearby river.
- Free the Stymphalian Lake of nasty birds that ate human beings
- Capture the Cretan Bull
- Capture the four beastly mares of the Thracian king Diomedes
- Steal the golden girdle of the Amazonian queen Hipployte
- Capture the giant Geryon’s oxen
- Obtain the famous golden apples of the Hesperides
- Capture Cerberus: Cerberus is a frightful three-headed dog and the guardian of the underworld ruled by Hades. Hercules had to bring him to daylight, which was no easy task because “Cerberus was the offspring of Echidna, a hybrid half-woman and half-serpent, and Typhon, a fire-breathing giant whom even the Olympian gods feared.”² And Cerberus’ job was to prevent people from escaping Hades via the river Styx, which was the link between Hades and the world of living mortals.
The story of Hercules most likely resonates with anyone interested in the mysterious realm of what C. G. Jung called the collective unconscious. Jung, himself, said that delving into the collective unconscious could be wonderful and enriching but also hideous and revolting.
The downside of the journey into the so-called collective unconscious might be related to the idea of spiritual impurity, especially with regard to the 5th Labor, which involves a great amount of pollution.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
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