comparative mythology

All posts tagged comparative mythology

A to Z: Kijimuna and Koropokkuru

Published April 12, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

This time, I couldn’t quite decide which one to do, and since they seem closely related (despite being from opposite ends of Japan), I thought I’d do them both.  (There must be something about K that makes it double:  the other contender for today’s post was the vampire hunter/vampire pair of enemies Kresnik and Kudlak.)

We’ll start with Kijimuna:

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

This little cutie is an Okinawan spirit.  (And on the 3DS screen, that body looks more like a green pine cone than something covered in leaves.  Guess there’s something to be said for a bigger screen…)  His text from the two Devil Survivor games is as follows:

A tree spirit of Okinawa.  They are about the size of babies and are covered in hair.

They are the spirits of old Chinese Banyan trees and are also known by the names of Kijimun and Bunagaya.  They love fish and crab, but if they eat one eye of a fish, they get tired of eating the rest and discard the remains.  They hate octopi and will run at the mere sight of one.

So, for those unfamiliar with Japan, Okinawa here refers to the island of Okinawa (it’s also the name of a Prefecture of Japan) one of the most southern islands of Japan.  (Or is it the most southern?  I’m a little unclear on whether the smaller islands that were formerly part of the Ryukyu Kingdom were annexed along with the rest of it.)  Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu chain of islands, which curve around very close to Taiwan.  Because of the short distances involved, Okinawa (and the rest of the Ryukyu Kingdom) had a large Chinese population, so Okinawan culture and language is different from that of the majority of Japan.  The Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed by Japan in the 1870s after a couple of centuries of Ryukyu paying tribute as a vassal state.  Okinawa remains distinctly different from the rest of Japan, more than a hundred years later.  (It’s also still the site of numerous US military bases, though what possible excuse there can be to still have military bases there more than seventy years after the end of WWII, I can’t imagine.)

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A to Z: Erlkonig

Published April 5, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Y’know, “E” is a surprisingly under-represented in the MegaTen games at my disposal.  I only had three choices, counting Erthys, the elemental.  (And since elementals don’t have much of anything to say about them, Erthys was ruled out from the start.)  I wanted to go with Enku, but the sources outside of the game’s wiki were rather minimal, so I decided to go with this guy instead.

Image copyright Atlus. Provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

This is Erlkönig…but the English-language version of the games have no support for umlauts, so they just call him Erlkonig.  (Likewise, I don’t know how umlauts in the title of a post would reflect on its URL, so I figured I’d leave them out of the title…)

This is what Shin Megami Tensei IV and Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse have to say about him:

An evil wood spirit appearing in Germany’s Schwarzwald.  He charms people and leads them to their deaths.

His name means “Alder King,” and true to his name, he is the ruler of the alders of the forest.  It is said that the Erlkonig is the strongest of the alder trees.

(Turns out it’s also what Devil Summoner:  Soul Hackers has to say, too.  His is one of the wiki entries that does include a demon compendium entry.  I couldn’t check that game without restarting and playing long enough to get back to Victor’s place, though, because of where my only saves were…)

And the real myth?  Well, if you ask Jacob Grimm, the game pretty much got it right.

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April A-to-Z Reflections

Published May 9, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

First Reflections

Well, my biggest reflection is that I chose a theme that was way too complicated.  As a result, I ended up getting lazier and lazier about it, and the comparisons started getting cheap, sloppy and almost exclusively stuff I knew well before starting the challenge.  (And this, of course, was while taking a class with heavy reading and a paper each week, so it was doubly poorly chosen as a theme.)  It actually started feeling like work in the final few days, to the extent where I had to promise myself a reward for finishing — and a bigger one than I’ve promised myself for finishing my classes for the semester!

Next year, I’m gonna do something much simpler.  I actually already have something in mind, though I don’t know if I’ll end up doing it or not.

had written a long bit here explaining why so many of my “first choice,” as it were, topics for posts were nixed and had to be replaced at the last minute.  It didn’t really have much to do with April A-to-Z, so I’ve moved it into a different post, so if you want to read about it in detail, please follow that link.  I’ll sum up briefly here by saying that my original sources proved unreliable…and as the month progressed, I realized one of my new sources was also somewhat unreliable.  Ugh.  (BTW, if you saw my “U” post and wondered about the other version of the story, it’s in that other post on the sources, so please check it out!)

Summaries and Scores

Overall, I feel like I changed most of my post’s topics within 24 hours of writing them.  So I thought I’d share with you what they were originally going to be about.  (I’ll get to a recap of what they ended up being about — and a tally of cultures — after this.) Read the rest of this entry →

April A-to-Z and Sources

Published May 6, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

So, if you read all my April A-to-Z posts — or even just most of them — you may have noticed that from time to time I complained about having had to pick a new topic at the last minute, and other such complaints.  Well, there was a good reason for that, and I’d like to share it with you…in the form of a lengthy section of text originally intended to be part of the A-to-Z Reflections post, but I decided that since it didn’t actually have much to do with the experience of A-to-Z itself, I should probably put it elsewhere, so I made it into its own post.  Which would be this.  And now I’m stalling by writing nonsense because I don’t want to go back to reading the letters exchanged between Princess Elisabeth and Descartes, because argh.


Yes, I’ll just get on with the actual post now…

The comparative world mythology theme did drive something home for me:  the world needs a really good mythology reference resource.  My plan, when I decided to do this theme, was to look through a few “mythology encyclopedias” I had, jot down information about the candidates that sounded good, and then research them properly.  Well, the one that had the gall to call itself the “ultimate world mythology” encyclopedia only covered Eurasia, and some of what I found in the one on the Americas failed to come up in any other source I found, and almost everything in the book on African mythology failed to come up anywhere else.  I got several books from my university’s library to cover Oceanic myths, and another book on African myths, but then I discovered that the university library gave me access to two online encyclopedias, and I made the mistake of relying on them more heavily than I should have.  (It didn’t help that it turned out I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to dedicate to this project, because on top of class work, my volunteer work turned into employed work, starting with a time-intensive project.)

The first clue I got that there might be something seriously wrong with one of my online sources (the one with far more myths listed, naturally) was when I couldn’t help clicking on the entry for “Patroclus” because the thumbnail text (as it were) made the odd and untenable claim that his father had been king of “Opus” which makes it highly illogical that his father would join him when he was exiled from Opoeis for homicide.  (And yet his shade in the Iliad very clearly states that his family joined him in his exile…)  Anyway, like I said, I clicked on it because I’m such a Patroclos fangirl, and then to my surprise it soon said this:

Achilles, like all children of sea-creatures (his mother was the sea-nymph Thetis), was bisexual, and at Troy took Briseis as his mistress, sleeping with her and with Patroclus on alternate nights.

That was the point I stopped reading, because “um, what?” is the only way to respond to that.  In what text, exactly, did it make the bizarre claim that Achilles’ bisexuality had anything to do with his mother’s aquatic nature?  That was normal in ancient Greece!  There would have been more need to explain it if he had expressly refused ever to enter into relationships with one sex or the other!  (Furthermore, what other child of a “sea-creature” do they have in mind as being expressly bisexual?  Most of the other individuals I can think of who have myths about them pursuing romances with both men and women are decidedly not descended from “sea-creatures”:  Patroclos, Apollo, Heracles, Zeus, possibly Poseidon (who is himself a “sea-creature” of sorts, but isn’t the son of one) and Orpheus, for a handful of easily summoned up examples.  Zephyros is the only one I can think of who is descended from a “sea-creature,” but Pontos was his great-grandfather, not father.)

And what text ever made such precise claims about Achilles’ sexual habits?  The ancient Greeks didn’t actually like to get that specific.  We know that Aischylos portrayed them as lovers, and that Phaedrus in Plato’s Symposium was enthusiastically in favor of that opinion (though he reversed Aischylos’ opinion of which one was “in love” and which was was “loved”), but all surviving texts tended to be pretty vague about such things, and the fact that Phaedrus had to specifically single out Aischylos (several decades out of date by the time of the Symposium‘s events, and even older by the time Plato actually wrote it) indicates that there weren’t that many other texts that talked about the relationship that openly.  (And keep in mind that the Symposium was set in the home of Agathon, the fourth most popular tragic playwright of ancient Athens, who was famous for being in a life-long same sex relationship.  If he never portrayed Achilles and Patroclos as being lovers, then surely it was pretty rare to talk about it!)  Not because no one thought of them that way, but because no one wanted to write about it.  Like religious matters, you just didn’t go there.  It wasn’t done.  And it particularly wouldn’t be done about someone who was both one of the greatest heroes of the ancient world (despite his desperately flawed personality) and was actively being worshiped in several places.

The point where I realized I had a serious problem was actually when I was working on the “U” post, though.  I made the mistake of basing my post on the entry from that same e-book, the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth, which said this about Uaica:

Uaica, in the myths of the Juruña people of the Xingu river, was given healing powers by Sinaa the creator, and used them to help his people. He brewed potions, made poultices from herbs and insects, set bones and sang spells to keep mortality at bay. But his powers depended on sexual abstinence, and they waned, first when his people gave him a wife and then when the wife took a lover. Finally the lover tried to kill Uaica, and Uaica disappeared into the ground forever, taking his healing powers with him. Before he went, he offered his people one last chance, if they followed him to the shadow-world; but they refused, and from that day on, human beings have been plagued by disease and death.

Then, late in the post, I realized I’d forgotten to check if it was listed in the other book, the Oxford Dictionary of World Mythology, which had so many fewer entries.  Well, it was listed, and this is what that book had to say about Uaica:

The Asclepius of the Juruna, an Indian tribe living along the Xingu River in Brazil. One day Uaica, out hunting in the forest, noticed a lot of dead animals under a large tree. When he approached the heap of beasts, he felt dizzy, fell down, and went to sleep. In his deep dream he saw Sinaa, the jaguar ancestor of the Juruna, who talked to him. This happened on several occasions till the deity told him to keep away.

Uaica obeyed. He also made a drink from the bark of the tree: from this potent brew he acquired many powers. Uaica became a great medicineman who could take away disease with the touch of his hand. Sinaa would come into his dreams again, and through their conversation all the needs of the people were supplied. Pressed by the Juruna, Uaica consented to marry, but his wife was unfaithful to him. Through this shortcoming and the attempt of her lover on Uaica’s life the Juruna lost the medicine-man. It happened that Uaica, who had eyes in the back of his head, saw the swinging club, and instantly he disappeared into the hole it made on striking the ground. Uaica said: ‘I shall not return. Arrows and clubs will be your lot. I tried to teach what Sinaa wished, but now I go.’ Later the medicine-man is said to have beckoned the Juruna to follow him underground, but they were too baffled and frightened to do so.

Just from that short summary, I can tell the latter version is more accurate, because of the natural, folkloric structure of the story.  More importantly — for my A-to-Z post — it was totally different in the key areas, especially in that in the accurate version, he was never commanded to abstain from sexual relations, so my post was completely screwed up, but it was late enough that I didn’t want to fix it, so I had to post it with the disclaimer that it was wrong.

hated having to do that.

But if I’d fixed it, I’d have lost the comparisons I’d prepared, and would have had to spend time I didn’t have searching out new ones.

Anyway, the frustration made me realize that I really want to see a proper, accurate, and comprehensive encyclopedia out there.  Maybe there already is one, but if there’s one online, I don’t know about it, and if it’s a book, it’s not in my university’s library system.  More importantly, even those online encyclopedias I was consulting — flawed as they were — were only accessible within an academic server (I seriously had to put in my password every single time I wanted to look at the texts) and thus only to a limited few, but a resource like the one I’m describing should be open and available to everyone, because there’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there.  (Especially on movie screens…)

So I plan on working on one myself.

I’m going to go through every primary text available in English (and in other languages once I learn other languages), and I’m going to write entries summarizing each text, and summing up who each character is, and I’m going to do theme-based entries, too.  The characters and themes will start out as just notes, getting fleshed out as I go along, obviously.  All entries — the fleshed out ones, I mean — will have notes explaining where each point comes from, so people can check them out for themselves.  I’m going to do it on LeanPub, so that once there’s enough to be worth others’ time, I can make it available (for free, obviously!) but can keep updating it as I go.  (Then if it’s ever actually completed, it can be moved to more popular places like Amazon.  But still for free, or it would negate the purpose of the project.)  This is one of the projects I’m going to work on over the summer break, as I talked about earlier.  (If anyone would like to help with this, btw, please let me know!  It’s going to be a crazy-slow process, so if anyone wants to tackle primary texts other than the ones I’m starting with (the Iliad, of course, and the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes) then that would be heavenly.)

I know this sounds like a crazy amount of work — and it’s going to be — and it may look like a waste of time, “because there’s Wikipedia.”  But the thing about Wikipedia is that anyone can go in and change things.  (Though admittedly most of the less well-known mythological figures probably don’t get the types who would maliciously/ignorantly enter false data even visiting them, much less bothering to change them.)  And information can go up without being checked, and without any citations.  And there’s just plain a lot of stuff not present there.  (Though I’m ashamed to admit that I consulted it as well during April…)

More importantly, I want to make a resource that could actually be cited academically if need be.  No college would ever accept a paper that cited Wikipedia (I hope!), but I’d like to make a resource that could be cited in a paper without the student losing credit.

It may be crazy, and maybe I’ll never even get it one tenth done, but…I really want to do this project, and I want to do it right.

Z is for @#$$%!#@$!!

Published April 30, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


No, that’s not some kind of riddle, nor is it attempting to write down non-verbal sounds or something.  That’s me not liking to swear in public.  ‘Cause I was most of the way through a post when I found out it broke one of my own personal rules for this year’s challenge.  (I wasn’t about to scrap it after I’d written that much of it, of course, so I’m going to post it tomorrow, if you’re curious.)

So I’ve had to throw together a new post at the last moment.  Uh, okay, actually, I’m pre-writing this two days ago, so it’s not really “the last moment,” by any definition, but…yesterday when I was really struggling, I told myself I could buy a nice new doll as a reward if I managed to get through the rest of the challenge, and I was looking around today and found one I really want, so…I want to get this finished as quickly as possible so I can buy it.  *shame*

Anyway!  Moving on to “Z is for Zorya” which is also “Z is for Zvezda”…

In Slavic myth, there were two sisters named Zorya:  Morning and Evening.  There are, of course, many Slavic tongues, and their names vary wildly, from Zorya to Zvezda, and hitting many points in between.  But no matter what their names were, they served the sun god, Dazbog, whose own name also exhibits some variations across the Slavic regions.

They tended to his horses, and the Morning sister opened the gates to let him out in the morning, while the Evening sister opened them again to let him back in.  During the night, they watched over Simargl, the monstrous dog chained up among the stars (whether he’s chained to Ursa Minor or is Ursa Minor is not clear to me from my sources, but I suspect the latter) to make sure he didn’t escape, because if he did, he would begin to devour everything he could, and cause chaos everywhere.

Morning Zorya — at least in some regions — was married to Pyerun (remember him?) and rode out to battle beside him, lowering her veil to protect warriors who had her favor.  Because of this (and no doubt because people were much more eager for the sun to come up than they were for it to go down again) she eventually eclipsed her sister in popularity, until her sister was nearly forgotten.

And there’s really not a lot more to say about them than that.

So, comparisons…well, Morning Zorya and Eos, goddess of the dawn are an obvious comparison — as, in fact, is every other dawn goddess ever — but there’s not really anything significant to make them like each other, apart from their roles as goddesses of dawn.  Zorya was associated with the planet Venus, which I don’t think Eos ever was.  (Presumably, Aphrodite was…)

Now, I do have a comparison for tending to the horses of the sun:  the daughters of Helios tended to his horses, at least in some versions of the story.  (Though as with many myths, we have mostly only summaries, and not much in the way of full texts.)  Of course, the Zorya sisters were only sometimes described as the daughters of Dazbog, so that’s not an entirely apt comparison.

Simargl can be almost too easily compared to Skoll, who daily chased the sun in Norse mythology, and would catch and devour it during Ragnarok.  Of course — as I pointed out in the earlier post on Pyerun — the Norse and Slavic regions are close enough that influence is extremely possible, and perhaps even quite probable.  (Though both could have developed from an earlier tradition before their ancestors arrived in the region, of course.)

Finally, I just have to wonder if there was any influence from this myth to the depiction of Thor’s traditional wife, Sif, as a warrior in the Marvel properties…  (The mythic Sif, of course, was decidedly not a warrior.  I definitely like the movie version better…)



And with that, April A-to-Z is finished!  Yay!

Time to go e-shopping!

(Wow, that was a selfish ending…)



Okay, I’m going to make the ending less selfish by reminding you that today’s Independent Bookstore Day!  If you’ve got an indie bookstore in your area, try to visit them today!  Even if they’re not part of the event (apparently, only 400 bookstores, all in the US, are signed up with it) I’m sure they’ll appreciate the business.

Y is for Yamasachihiko

Published April 29, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Well, thanks to me being a complete and utter moron and totally misreading the information about the Aztec thing I was going to use today, I instead finally found a Japanese mythic figure who wasn’t in any MegaTen games, and was good for a few comparisons.

Yamasachihiko is known by many names:  Hikohohodemi no Mikoto, Hohodemi, and Hoori no Mikoto as well as Yamasachihiko…and, actually, it looks like there are even more variations than that.  (His story is a very old one, dating back to the eighth century texts the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki.)  I’m going with Yamasachihiko because it’s the end of April and I needed a “Y” post, of course!  Yamasachihiko means “prince of the mountain of fortune,” apparently.  (I know “yama” means mountain, but…well, one can’t really learn very much Japanese just by watching subtitled anime…)

So, Yamasachihiko was the grandson of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and he was also a skilled hunter, though one of the sources I saw attributed at least part of his success to magic arrows.  He had a brother named Umisachihiko (which I suppose means “prince of the sea of fortune”?) or Hodori, who was just as skilled a fisherman as Yamasachihiko was a hunter, and who treasured his special — or magical — fishhook.

Well, one day Yamasachihiko wanted to try his hand at fishing, so he suggested to Umisachihiko that they could trade tools and see what the other’s lifestyle was like.  Umisachihiko was reluctant, but eventually agreed to it, and he loaned Yamasachihiko his fishhook, while accepting the loan of the other’s bow and arrows.

Excited by the new challenge, Yamasachihiko sat down at the edge of the sea and began fishing.

Or trying to fish, anyway.  It wasn’t really working out for him at all.

But then, at the end of the day, a huge fish bit down on the hook.  Yamasachihiko did his best to bring it in, but he didn’t really know how, when it came right down to it, and so the fish got away.

Worst of all, it got away with the hook, too.

Yamasachihiko went to his brother and explained what happened, and promised he’d make Umisachihiko a thousand new fishhooks — using his own precious sword as materials! — but Umisachihiko refused:  he had to have that fishhook.

There was nothing else to do.  Yamasachihiko walked into the sea and started searching the bottom of the sea, looking for the missing fishhook.  (As the grandson of such a powerful goddess, breathing water was no problem for him.)  But he couldn’t find it anywhere.

Eventually, he ended up at the palace of Ryujin, the god who ruled the sea.  Ryujin gave him a place to stay while the search for the fishhook continued.  While he was staying in that palace, Yamasachihiko quickly found himself falling in love with Toyotama-hime (or Otohime), the daughter of Ryujin, and soon enough the two were wed.

The search for Umisachihiko’s missing fishhook took three years, but eventually it was found in the belly of a gigantic fish.  By that time, Yamasachihiko was quite homesick for the surface world, so he and his new wife went back to the land, and he was finally able to return his brother’s fishhook, winning his forgiveness as well.

However, Toyotama-hime was pregnant, and soon it was time for her to give birth.  As she was heading into her chambers to give birth, she looked at her husband and told him that he must not, under any account, look inside while she was giving birth.  Because, of course, an underwater god like Ryujin didn’t have a human form naturally — though he had put one on for his guest’s sake — and the same went for his daughter.  But she was ashamed to think of her husband seeing what she truly looked like, and so she begged him to stay away while she was forced back into her real form.

But, being a man, Yamasachihiko could not bring himself to obey her command.

He had to know what she really looked like.  He just had to!

And so Yamasachihiko peeked into the room where Toyotama-hime was giving birth, and was horrified to see her true form, which was a bit like what you and I might call a “sea serpent.”

Broken-hearted at her husband’s betrayal — and embarrassed beyond belief! — Toyotama-hime fled back to the bottom of the sea to her father’s palace.

Ashamed at his own behavior, Yamasachihiko did his best to raise his son, never holding it against him that he was half sea-monster.

Eventually, that son grew up to marry his mother’s sister, and became the father of Jimmu, the first Emperor.

Obviously, this story is rather folkloric:  I suspect that the 8th century texts do not contain this version of the tale.

To start at the beginning, he’s a super-talented archer, possibly with magic arrows.  That calls up all sorts of comparisons:  Apollo is also an archer (and connected to the sun in that later Roman myths fused him with Helios) and his arrows have the power to cause illness, and Philoctetes has the Bow of Heracles, which never misses.  And, of course, there are powerful archers (sometimes with magical bows or arrows) in many (if not most) cultures, but I’m really running out of steam here, so I’ve become too lazy to look any of them up.  (Next year, I am totally picking an easier topic for April A-to-Z!)

I can’t, off-hand, think of other stories like this where the hero has to go retrieve something (like his brother’s fishhook) that he’s borrowed and lost, but it feels very familiar, so if I was not so mentally exhausted, I’d probably be able to come up with some.

When we get to Toyotama-hime giving him instructions not to look, whatever he does, then we get into much more easily identified familiar territory!  This is a very common folkloric device, one of the main ways that an enchanted/faerie/what-have-you spouse is unintentionally driven off.  (Similar to what I was discussing in terms of Qat’s wife…)  The example that really leaps to mind is Melusine, though that was actually fairly different.  (Well, depending which version of the story you’re looking at:  the earlier version casts her as a devil, whereas the later version, cooked up by one of the families most strongly considered her descendants, depicted her as more of a mermaid.  That was when it became more like this story.)  The “whatever you do, don’t open that door” or “whatever you do, don’t look” motif has two aspects:  there’s this type, where the cost of looking is to lose something wonderful that you cherished, but then there’s the other type, where the cost of looking is to risk your life, and what you lose (if not your life) is actually something rather awful.  (“Bluebeard” is a prime example of the latter type.)

One last thing:  the bit about Yamasachihiko’s son marrying his own aunt.  Uncle/niece marriages are common enough in mythology, but nephew/aunt marriages are much more rare.  I can only think of one other off the top of my head, and it’s not even the dominant variant of the myth:  in some versions of the Oedipus tale, Jocasta (or Epicasta) dies soon after marrying Oedipus, and so he gets re-married to her sister, and it’s with her that he has his children (or sometimes to a third wife, who was presumably not related to him, and/or his age or younger).

Okay…one more day to go.  I can do this.  I can do this…but I’m gonna be glad when it’s over.  I need the break.

Oh, btw, just a reminder:  tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day!  It’s a US event, officially, and only at about 400 stores that have signed up for it, but (obviously) everyone can go to their local independent bookstore to celebrate the joys of the small, local bookstore, regardless of whether or not it’s an official participant.  So if you’ve got a local bookstore, go and share the love, okay?

X is for Xbalanque

Published April 28, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


(Throughout the following post, please remember that in most Mesoamerican languages, the sound indicated by the letter “x” is actually “sh.”)

Xbalanque’s story, if you want the whole story, is very long, and it begins with his father and his uncle.  These two, Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu, were very talented at the ball game, and very excited by the the game, and their own skill at it.  Since the game involved running back and forth across a stone court and trying to get a stone ball through a stone hoop, it could get very noisy, and the gods who ruled in Xibalba, the spirit realm below our own, were not pleased at all the noise.  They called the brothers down to their realm, and challenged them to a ballgame.  But their ball had a blade on it, and they used it to cut off the heads of noisy surface dwellers, which is just what happened to Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu.  Since Hun Hunahpu was the elder of the two, the lords of Xibalba hung his head from a calabash tree as a trophy to celebrate their victory, and the return of peace and quiet to the lands above.

That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t.  One of the lords of Xibalba had a daughter named Xquic, and one day she went to the calabash tree, looking for its fruit.  As she reached up towards the tree, the head of Hun Hunahpu spat in her hand.  From this, Xquic ended up pregnant.  Ashamed of her condition, she fled from Xibalba, and went to the surface world, where she was taken in by Hun Hunahpu’s reluctant mother.

In due time, Xquic gave birth to twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.  These twins were not well regarded by their grandmother, or their cousins, who also lived with their grandmother.  In fact their cousins — who were quite a few years older than they were — tormented them mercilessly.  Eventually, the twins grew so fed up with this torment that they tricked their cousins into climbing a tree, which suddenly began to grow higher and higher, and then they told their cousins to take off their loincloths and tie them around their waists with the end trailing behind them.  The twins claimed this would help their cousins climb down…and in a way it did, because as soon as they had done so, the loincloths became tails, and the cousins became monkeys.  They were able to get down that way, but they couldn’t return to their homes and their lives.

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W is for Wayland

Published April 27, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Or Weland, Wieland or Volund.  So I probably should have gone with “Volund” yesterday, and found something else for today.  *sigh*

So, Wayland — however you want to spell his name — was a god and a blacksmith.  I’m going with the Anglo-Saxon name, but his story doesn’t actually differ from the Norse or Teutonic versions…except that in some of those there are Valkyries.  You may have heard of some of the things Wayland created:  he made Beowulf’s chainmail, the swords Gram, Balmung and Durandal, and it was claimed that he built all those stone circles and ancient barrows in England, as well as the chalk figures on the hills in the southern part of the country.

Wayland’s tale begins when he and his brothers encounter some swan maidens, and decide to settle down with them.  (This is where the Valkyries are in some of the Norse versions, needless to say.)  It goes great for a while, but then the swan maidens leave.  None of my sources say why, but if they were swan maidens, maybe they just found their wings/flying robes/whatevers and flew off again, as swan maidens usually do.

In any case, Wayland and his brothers want to find their brides again, and they all set out to search for them, but they’d never seen any movies (well, obviously) and so they split up.

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V is for Väinämöinen

Published April 26, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


All right, so this one is a bit of a cheat.  Because Väinämöinen exists in two forms, the god-like first man, or a fairly human hero.  The first is mythology, the second is from a nineteenth century epic poem.  Now, the epic is supposed to have been a compilation of Finnish oral tradition that was dying out.  But was it?  Well, yes, almost unquestionably.  But how much of it was genuine oral tradition, and how much the product of the compiler?  That would seem to be the subject of great debate…and thus my assertion that I’m kind of cheating here, because I’m using the epic poem version of Väinämöinen, not the shorter, less-easily-compared-to-anything-specific myth.  (Yes, my A-to-Z theme was definitely poorly chosen.  I see that now…)  Still, it seems like most of the material does genuinely come from oral tradition, so it’s not as “cheating” as it might be.

Now, on to the story of Väinämöinen.  I’m definitely going to read this epic someday because it sounds really fascinating, but I haven’t read it yet, so I’m going to have to present you with a summary of a summary.  I apologize for that.

The epic of Kalevala (compiled, edited, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it by Elias Lönnrot), begins with the myth I mentioned above, in which the world is created, in part by the primeval goddess Luonnotar breaking a set of duck eggs that then become the world.  Luonnotar somehow becomes pregnant, but doesn’t realize it.  After her son, Väinämöinen, grows to full maturity (over 700 years!) he still has to just sit there in her womb for decades, waiting to be born, because she doesn’t realize he’s there, and wouldn’t know how to let him out even if she did.  Eventually, he climbs out himself, but by that time he’s already an old man.

He swims over to what’s now Finland, and begins to spread plantlife.  While he’s trying to farm, a frost giant named Joukahainen decides that Väinämöinen is an interloper who must be destroyed.  Joukahainen has powerful magic, which should scare Väinämöinen,  but the already-old-at-birth man isn’t frightened.  Instead he uses music to perform wondrous feats of magic, including turning Joukahainen’s bow and arrows into a rainbow and some hawks, and creating a bog beneath the frost giant’s feet.  Suddenly trapped, Joukahainen surrenders, and makes a peace offering:  if Väinämöinen will set him free, then he can marry the giant’s sister, Aino.

Well, sounds like a good deal for Väinämöinen, right?

Unfortunately, not so much.  As soon as Aino is told that she’s to marry the old man, she’s horrified at the prospect, and drowns herself to get out of it.

You might think that having someone commit suicide to avoid marrying him would put Väinämöinen off the very idea of marriage, but instead it only makes him more eager, and he sets off north to Pohjola to see if any of the other frost giant maidens are perhaps less picky than Aino.

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U is for Uaica

Published April 25, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Uaica contains nearly all the vowels in his name.  No, wait, that’s irrelevant and inaccurate.

Okay, I must be tired.  Let me go get some caffeine.

Right, so hopefully that’ll kick in soon.  Meantime, I’ll get on with the post.

Uaica was a healer of the Juruña people of the Xingu River.  His power of healing had come to him from the creator, Sinaa, but only on the condition that he abstain from sex.  And at first that’s just what he did.  So long as he refrained, he could heal any injury or illness, and his people never knew the touch of death.

But then his grateful people decided that it was wrong for him to be alone, and they gave him a wife.  They meant well, so Uaica accepted the wife, telling himself that he could avoid her bed and live on as before.

Uaica was very naive.

After he found himself unable to fully resist the temptation of a beautiful wife, Uaica’s powers of healing began to decline.  Realizing that he was being punished for breaking the god’s command, Uaica decided he would not share his wife’s bed again.

That didn’t sit too well with his wife, and she tried to tempt him back.  But Uaica was adamant this time, and refused her entirely.

At first that annoyed his wife, then it enraged her.

To get back at her husband, she took a lover.

Much to Uaica’s surprise, his powers of healing faded further, as if Sinaa was punishing him for his wife’s adultery.

Eventually, the lover tried to kill Uaica — wanting to make Uaica’s wife his own wife — and when that happened, Uaica was swallowed up by the earth.

Some time later, his voice echoed up from the ground, telling the Juruña that it was the will of Sinaa that they follow him.  But the people didn’t listen, and didn’t follow him.  And so from that day forth, they had to follow him the long way, by suffering from disease and death.

On reading that story, I was put in mind of Samson, and the dictum that he must never cut his hair if he wanted to retain his tremendous strength, only to lose both after succumbing to a temptress.

I know there are other tales of a supernatural being (whether a god or something else, like a faerie) giving a command that must never be violated, followed by (naturally) the violation of the command and the person suffering the predicted result.  I know that some of them surely also feature the loss of some amazing power.

But honestly I lost my incentive when — having gotten into this post all the way to Uaica being attacked by his wife’s lover — I looked up the story in another source and it was almost entirely different.

I’m not sure which to believe, and I still have almost twenty pages to read before I can write my paper.

So I think I’ll leave this one as “please take it with a grain of salt in that my source may have been wrong,” and go about my business.

I realize this leaves me with two pretty underwhelming posts in a row, but tomorrow’s should be better.  It’s a less obscure myth, so it my sources should be right about it this time.  I’ll make sure to double check before I start writing, though.  Just to be on the safe side.

(Honestly, the only reason I didn’t just abandon this post is that I couldn’t find another subject at the last minute, and I didn’t want to get all the way to “U” only to fail the challenge.)

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