A to Z: Yurlungur

Published April 28, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Aaaaaand we have another one I really shouldn’t be doing.  But this was one of the ones I really wanted to cover, you know?

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

This colorful fellow shows up quite frequently.  His compendium text for the Devil Survivor and Shin Megami Tensei IV games is:

A snake with a rainbow body from Murngin lore.

He is a fertility deity who controls the weather and resides in a holy pond filled with rainbow-colored water.  He is a grand entity that transcends good and evil.

Although actually, that last sentence is only in the Devil Survivor games, not the Shin Megami Tensei IV games.

But setting that aside, let’s start with the basics.  Unless you happen to be particularly well versed in the cultures of that part of the world, you’re probably wondering what “Murngin” means.  It refers to a particular aboriginal group in Australia, but it’s actually an outdated term:  Yolngu is the currently accepted name for the group.  Anything more detailed than “they live in northern Australia” would either end up with me making mistakes and or spouting misinformation/misunderstood information, so I’m instead just going to point you in the direction of the Wikipedia page on them if you want to learn more.  (It cites a lot of sources; even if the page itself is less than useful, the sources are probably good.)

Now, let’s see if I can assemble any kind of an attempt to relate the main Yurlungur story present both on his stub of a Wikipedia page and the Oxford Reference page I was able to get to.

Yurlungur, the giant copper python, was called the rainbow serpent because the water in which he lives shone like a rainbow.  His water hole was a sacred place called Mirrirmina, which means “rock python’s back.”

One day, as he was sleeping in his sacred pool, two sisters from a clan of his descendants came near, with some game they had caught.  These girls had been intimate with men from a clan that was forbidden to them, and one of them had a newborn baby with her.  While the younger sister tended to her baby, the older sister tried to cook the game, but it came back to life and fled to hide in the pool.  When the older sister came near the pool herself, the menstrual blood trickling down her legs dribbled into the pool, and slowly drifted down towards where the giant snake was sleeping.

The smell of the blood awoke Yurlungur, and as he swam upwards, the water rose and overflowed the bounds of his pool.  Though the women tried to avoid the flooding, they were caught up by Yurlungur and swallowed, along with the baby.  When he went to a conference of snakes later on, he admitted to the others that he had eaten some of his descendants, and the other snakes insisted that he must regurgitate them, so he did.

*cough*

I’m not clear on a lot of points in that story.  Is there a significance to the fact that the women had slept with men from a “forbidden clan”?  (Probably.)  Is that where the baby came from?  Were they banished from their own people because of what they had done, or are they just traveling, perhaps from the other clan’s territory to their own?  What’s with their food running away?  (The version I read didn’t specify, as such, that it was dead and then came back to life, but surely they wouldn’t try to cook it if it was still alive, right?)  And why did smelling menstrual blood make Yurlunger eat them?  Oh, and also, were they still alive when he threw them up again?

It’s safe to say that the menstrual blood was intended to be viewed as the sister “polluting” the pool, because for whatever reason almost every culture has misunderstood menstruation as something somehow defiling.  (I suppose, if I wanted to be charitable, I could surmise that it was them assuming from the cramps that there was something unhealthy or even wicked about menstruation.  If I was feeling charitable.)  I’m still not clear on why he ate them, though.  Was it a punishment?  The MegaTen wiki uses the wording “Aroused by the smell of the blood” to describe Yurlunger’s emergence and pursuit of the sisters, but was that just a thoughtless word choice, or did they come across a different text that implied there was a component of sexual desire to it?  (Probably just a thoughtless word choice…but from the looks of what it says, they obviously found a source I didn’t, so I can’t rule out the latter.)

In any case, I can see why the games leave the story out and just focus on Yurlunger’s basic role…

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