Standard Set 1: Basic Myths
1. Describe and compare how the cosmos is created through sacrifice in two different IE cultures. (150 words min. each culture)
Creation stories are one of my favorite parts of mythological stories. They explain the origin of the universe from the perspective of an ancient society, which can be quite fascinating. Every culture has a story to explain where it all started. The stories are diverse and interesting, and give a spectacular insight into the culture itself.
The Greeks have multiple versions of the creation story, but in one of them, the universe begins with Nyx. Nyx is a giant bird with black wings, present when the rest of the universe was empty. She was a personification of Chaos. She was impregnated by the wind and lays a beautiful golden egg. She cared for this egg, and sat upon it, waiting for her offspring to hatch. Eventually, the egg began to break, and from it Eros, the god of love, was born. It was Eros who brought light to the world. The two halves of the egg became the earth and the sky. Nyx named the earth Gaia and the sky Ouranus and Eros made them fall in love. It is from this coupling that the Titans were born
However, Ouranos hated his children and he hid them away in the earth. Gaia was greatly displeased, so she conspired with her children to seek revenge. Gaia’s son, Kronos, ambushed Ouranos and castrated him. The blood from Ouranos’s wounds poured into Gaia, and from it Erinyes and the Nymphais were born. The genitals were cast into the sea, and from them grew Aphrodite.
We see a couple different types of sacrifice throughout this particular myth. Initially, we see the sacrifice of a mother’s love from Nyx, who nurtured and cared for her egg to allow for love to grow. Later, we see the mutilation of Ouranos and the creation of multiple beings through his blood and genitals after being castrated by Kronos.
Norse mythology also tells the creation story as a universe that is created from nothingness. Ginnungagp was the “Yawning Void” with Niflheim, the realm of ice and Muspellheim, the realm of fire on either side
(Sturlson 18). As these two realms approached each other the
heat met the ice and it started to melt.
It is from the drips of this melting, the form of Ymir is formed. As Ymir slept and sweated, more giants were
born. As the ice continues to melt
Audhumbla, a cow, is freed from the ice and she in turn frees Buri, the first
of the Aesir and grandfather of Odin.
Odin slays Ymir and builds the world from his corpse using his blood as
the waters, flesh as soil, and the skull for the sky. Dwarves hold up the sky at the four corners
of the world.
Sacrifice is once again present throughout this myth. The sweat produced by Ymir produced the life of the giants, who are an important piece of Norse mythology. More significantly though, the slaying of Ymir by Odin allowed the cosmos to be formed.
Both of these stories begin with the idea of the universe being created from empty chaos. They also explain how we manage to get both the land and the sky from some form of sacrifice. In both myths we also see multiple forms of sacrifice and creation, which I find quite interesting.
2. Describe the image of the Otherworld and/or afterlife in three different IE cultures. How may these images impact your understanding of your own afterlife beliefs and those of Neo-Pagans in general? (400 words min.)
Humans have always strived to explain what happens to us after we die. Ancient cultures would create mythology to try to explain because it is one question that we cannot answer from experience. The Greeks had a very complex view of the afterlife. Therefore, it only makes sense that the underworld itself is also very complicated. Several rivers, each of which has a purpose, surround the underworld. The Acheron is the river of woe, the Cocytus is the river of lamentation, the Phelgethon is the river of fire, Styx is the river of unbreakable oath, and Lethe is the river of forgetfulness
(POTAMOI). The land itself is also divided into several
sections. In general they believed that your actions in life greatly effected
what happened to someone after they died. The Fields of Punishment were meant for those
people who committed crimes in life.
Their suffering was based upon their actions. The Fields of Asphodel were for those people
who lived a neutral life and did not become either very good or very bad. Elysium was reserved for those who were very
good and loved by the gods. From here they were given the option to be
reborn. The Isles of the Blessed was
reserved for those people who had chosen to be reborn three times and had
managed to make it to Elysium each lifetime (Pindar). There are also tales of people who die and go
to the underworld, only to be rescued and returned to the world of the
living. The ability to return from the
Underworld is a common theme in Greek mythology, including the rescue of
Theseus by Heracles during his twelfth labor.
Heracles had been sent to Hades to bring Cerberus to Eurystheus. However, while he was there he rescued
Theseus from his bonds and brought him back to the upper world (Siculus).
In the Slavic culture death was viewed as a doorway to another life. It was not an end but “an embarkation”. Death was thought to be a refuge of the soul after a long journey. They often tried to blur the lines between life and death and celebrated the departed through festivals and rituals. Slavs had a tree cosmology similar to that of Norse mythology with the treetop being the realm of the deities and the roots representing Nav, the underworld. Nav was thought to be a green and joyful place filled with the spirits of all who had passed. Veles ruled it, but amongst the undead there is no apparent division between those who lived a good life and those who lived a neutral or evil life
The people of the Celtic culture also had numerous tales of the afterlife. They varied greatly in location and description. For example, some Gaulish warriors believed in a land of the dead that they called “Orbis alius”
(Jubainville 199). They believed
they would continue their life in Orbis alius, which was said to be nearly
identical to this realm. Often they were
buried with their belongings, weapons, animals, and other items along with them
to take into the next life.
Another myth of the Celts was that of the “Isle of Glass,” ruled by Maehloas. The Isle of Glass was often explained by that which was not present. For example: “In this isle there is no thunder, no lightning strikes, nor storm; No toad or serpent there remains; It is not too hot, nor is there winter”
(Lincoln, Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology & Practice
There are also numerous other myths regarding the Celtic otherworld including Tir na mBeo, Mag Mell, and Tir na nOg. Each of these realms were said to be islands or lands filled with joy and positivity, and I found no description of an afterlife that was seen as a punishment in the Celtic mythology system.
The diversity of Indo-European afterlife mythology expresses to me just how little we know about what happens after we die. I think that different cultures having different explanations give Neo-Pagans the freedom to decide which cultural idea works best for them without a strict dogma.
I personally appreciate the Greek explanation of the afterlife and the underworld the most, simply because of the diversity within it. It is through the Greeks that we see stories of re-incarnation, which begins with the river Lethe. Aeneas finds himself at the river Lethe and asks why there are so many people there. He is told, “they are the souls who are destined for Reincarnation; and now at Lethe's stream they are drinking the waters that quench man's troubles, the deep draught of oblivion. They come in crowds to the river Lethe, so that you see, with memory washed out they may revisit the earth above”
(Virgil). We also see people being rewarded and
punished for their actions in life.
There are people who remember their lives, and people who forget it
all. There are people who walk away form
the Underworld unscathed. For someone
like me who truly does not know what to believe, having a hearth that seems to
feel the same way is reassuring.
3. Describe the raiding of cattle by warriors (or divine reflexes of this action) in two cultures. How does this theme reflect the culture of the ancient Indo-European peoples, and is this theme relevant to modern Pagans? (300 words min.)
Cattle-raiding was something that is frequently seen within the mythology of many ancient Indo-European societies. Within the Celtic culture this theme appears a couple times, but one of the more popular myths is “Táin bó Cuailnge” or “The Cattle-Raid of Cooley”
(Encyclopedia Britannica). In this
myth, Queen Medb and King Ailill were bickering over their wealth and decided
to determine who was wealthier. They
compared all of their belongings and decided Ailill had more wealth because of
a great white bull that he owned. Medb resolved to balance the wealth by
acquiring her own bull, but the only one that was good enough was owned by a
man in Ulster named Daire Mac Fiachna.
Medb sent messengers to the man and offered him a trade but when the
trade was refused Medb declared war. She
built a huge army along with her husband and prepared to attack Ulster to
obtain the bull. She received a
frightening prophecy from a mystic who answered Medb’s questions of her hosts
with “Crimson-red from blood they are; I behold them bathed in red!” (Dunn)
but she was determined to get the bull no matter what.
Medb sent her army to Ulster and there they found only a single man named Cuchulainn fit enough to fight off the army. He killed off hundreds of members of her army single handedly. Medb tried to bribe him to join her side or at least stop the fight but he refused. However, they agreed that Medb would send a single warrior to try to fight him each day and that she would not take the bull until he had been defeated. Medb sent man after man to fight him, but no one could defeat Cuchulainn. Finally, Medb convinced Ferdia, Cuchulainn’s own foster brother, to fight against him. They were very equally matched and the fight lasted for many days but ultimately Cuchulainn was injured and forced to kill his brother. He then left the battle to try to heal.
At this time Medb found the bull and took him to her camp, but the rest of the warriors from Ulster were ready to fight so the battle continued. Eventually Cuchulainn was able to return to the fight and convinced his stepfather to leave the fight and take his troops along with him. This left only Medb and Ailill to fight against all of Ulster’s warriors. Medb sent the precious bull back to her kingdom and then retreated herself. However, on the way back to her kingdom, the bull met with the bull of her husband and the two began to fight. This battle ended with both animals dead but Medb and Ailill even in their wealth once again.
In Greek mythology there is another tale of cattle-raiding that is quite different than the tale of Medb and the bull she coveted. In the Odyssey we see the many adventures of Odysseus, one of which was his experience on the Thrinakian Island. On this island, Helios kept his herds of sheep and cattle. Odysseus and his men were warned to leave the animals alone, being told, “if you harm them, then I foretell destruction alike for your ship and for your comrades”
(Homer). They decide to stop on the island anyway
with the plan to leave quickly. However,
the men find themselves upon trapped on the island by a storm for over a month. Odysseus tries to pray for guidance, but
another member of his crew convinces the men to kill the animals for food and
may offerings to the Gods to make up for it.
When Odysseus returns from his prayers he finds his men have slaughtered
the herds of Helios.
The men quickly leave the island, but Helios convinces Zeus to take vengeance on the crew. The ship is struck by lightning and destroyed in the middle of the sea. All of the men are drowned except for Odysseus who manages to swim to Calypso’s island.
Cattle were vitally important to Indo-European cultures. They were a symbol of wealth and prosperity within many of the cultures because they provided so much to the lives of the people. In many situations cattle were “the very basis of the I-E economy, forming the essential measure of wealth and means of exchange”
They were often used to trade for goods and services herd of cattle or as a
bride price or dowry between families. A
herd of cattle could provide food to the people, materials for clothing, bones
to be used for tools, and so much more. The
value of cattle was so high because of the vast amount of materials that they
supplied to those who had them.
Cattle-raiding is something that is probably quite difficult for most modern Pagans to fully understand or relate to. Most people don’t understand or relate to the value of cattle, so they would instead have to re-interpret these myths in the terms of modern wealth to be told as a tale of money or precious nonrenewable resources. However, growing up in Nebraska I think I have an interesting insight to this lifestyle. I grew up with many ranchers and farmers who still based their wealth on the idea of how many cattle they owned or how much land they had. This wealth was often debated and there were even fights between local farmers because one farmer would claim cattle from another one, or because a farmer would plant on the land of another. However, in today’s world most people would not experience this type of relationship.
Taken in a different context, cattle often tied families and groups of people together as they worked to care for their herd. Today, we don’t often see cattle used in this way, but we still have the desire to build a community for ourselves. Instead of forming a herd together, ADF encourages us to build Groves to help foster the local community. These Groves often have a set space that they are created and grow within, and through hard work and care the Grove can grow and allow for a more successful experience. However, when if a second group tries to form in a close proximity it can cause animosity between the two groups if boundaries are not clearly identified.
4. Describe instances of "freeing" or "winning" the waters in two different IE cultures. How can this theme be used to reinforce our current practices and cosmology? (300 words min.)
Winning the waters was a concept that I was not familiar with prior to researching for this course. In the Rigveda, hymn 32 is gives praise to Indra, the thunder-wielder and supreme controller of horses, villages, and cattle. This hymn tells story, of Indra’s battle against a dragon named Vritra who was the embodiment of drought. Vritra had stolen the waters from the people, hording it away in the mountains by blocking the streams with his body and, causing all of the rivers to dry and the land experience extreme drought. Indra was sent to fight the dragon. He damaged the many fortresses of the dragon and proceeded to fight the dragon. Indra threw Vritra to the ground and crushed the remaining fortresses. Indra then ended the battle by destroying the dragon with his thunderbolt. This allowed the waters to return to the lands “like lowing kine in rapid flow descending the waters glided downward to the ocean”
Another example of freeing the waters in Indo-European mythology is the tale of “Tobar Segais” or the Well of Wisdom in Celtic mythology. Surrounding this well were nine trees that would drop hazelnuts into the waters. These hazelnuts were said to give wisdom to those who consumed them. Nechtan guarded this well and could draw water from it. One day his wife, Boand, visited the well and after walking around it three times the waters rose up to encompass her
(The Metrical Dindshenchas). She tried to fight the waters to no avail,
and eventually drowned. Through her
battle, the River Boyne was created (MacLeod).
These two myths are very different and because of this I can see two very different ways that these types of myths can reinforce the practices and cosmology of ADF. The first myth shows us the return of the water to the people and the gifts that the water gives to them. This type of “winning” the waters could be interpreted as the return flow within ADF practice of sacrifice. The return flow in an ADF ritual is the portion of the ritual in which “one offers sacrifices to the Shining Ones or the Nature Spirits or the Ancestors that one can expect or require that a return blessing will be given to them by the powers in question”
(Pagano). The water was returned to the people and was
definitely a gift to them, just as the return flow in a ritual is a gift from
the beings of occasion is a gift to the participants.
The second myth is very different. While the well itself was said to be the well of wisdom, the waters themselves definitely were not a gift. Instead, the waters seemed to be an embodiment of chaos and destruction. By approaching the forbidden well, the waters showed their power and created a new river while also taking the life of Boand. In our efforts to recreate the cosmos, we try to order the chaos and build a balance in our cosmology.
5. Show two examples in one IE culture of a deity engaging in actions that are unethical or unvirtuous, and speculate on why the deities sometimes engage in this type of behavior. (min. 100 words per example)
Greek mythology is overwhelmingly full of acts of deceit, lies, and unethical behavior, both in the actions of mortals and those of the deities. Even some of the earliest myths involve unvirtuous behaviors and betrayal.
Ouranos and Kronos
From the time when the cosmos were created, Gaia and Ouranos were present. They made up the earth and the sky and from them many children were born. Unfortunately, Ouranos was anything but a stellar father. Gaia birthed the Cyclops, Hekatonkheires, and the Titans. As they were born Ouranos would hide them away in the earth. Gaia was heartbroken and asked her children to fight back against their father, but the only one that would take on the challenge was Kronos. With the help of Gaia, Kronos was able to ambush his father. He “lopped off his own father’s members and cast them away”
Even in his defeat Ouranos helped to create life. Despite the fact that Kronos was fighting for
his mother and siblings, using violence to resolve the problem is something
that I view as being unethical. The actions he took appear to be done hastily
without a lot of thought put into them.
While his actions were courageous, I think that actions should have some
wisdom and vision behind them before they are performed, and I think that level
of thought was missing.
Zeus and Europa
Zeus is known for frequently betraying his wife, deceiving women in order to sleep with them, and numerous other unethical behaviors. One specific myth is that of Europa. She was the daughter of Agenor, the Phoenician King and was well known for her beauty. Zeus became enamored with her and decided to try to have his way with her. One day disguised himself as a gentle bull and approached her. Europa was “encouraged by the tameness of the animal”
so she climbed up on the back of the bull, and Zeus quickly advanced to the sea
and swam far from her home to Crete. Once they arrive in Crete, Europa had
three sons that were fathered by Zeus.
Deities were shown to behave unethically for numerous reasons. First, by showing the deities making poor decisions or behaving poorly, it makes them easier to relate to as flawed humans than trying to relate to a perfect being. Also, these types of myths often show the consequences for the unethical behaviors, so the myths can act as a moral guide for people.
6. Explain the monomyth (aka "hero cycle") and show how it applies to a single hero from the IE culture of your choice. (150 words min.)
A monomyth is “the standard path of mythological adventure of the hero”. This path is represented by the three main rites of passage, which are separation, initiation, and return. Typically, these myths can be broken down into seventeen different stages, but not every myth will have every stage. One Greek myth that seems to follow the general hero path is that of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus was the son of one of the Muses and a Thracian king. He met Eurydice and the two fell in love. Unfortunately, immediately after they were married a snake killed Eurydice. Orpheus, in his mourning, journeyed to the Underworld in an effort to rescue his bride and return her to the land of the living. He entered the underworld and convinced Persephone and Hades to allow him to take his bride back to the upper world with him. They told Orpheus that he had to make the journey back up to the land of the living without looking at his bride and only then would Eurydice be able to return. Regrettably, he was not able to follow those rules, and glanced at his wife as he neared the entrance to the underworld and Eurydice was once again whisked away to the underworld forever
(Ovid). Now I will break the myth down into the
sections described by the monomyth theory.
1. Call to Adventure - Orpheus was devastated by the loss of his bride, but he was determined to rescue her from the underworld. He gathered up his courage and took action to do what he could to bring his wife back to him.
2. Refusal of the Call – Orpheus questioned whether this journey was wise, but he understands that his only other option is to mourn Eurydice forever. “All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration”
3. Supernatural Aid – Orpheus decides to make the journey to the Underworld to retrieve his bride. The aid he receives from a supernatural entity is not that which is typically seen in these types of myths. Traditionally a deity or other divine being approaches the hero and assists them with their journey. In this instance, his mother, a muse, gives Orpheus the gift of music. This gift is incredibly useful on his journey and allows him to charm the spirits, monsters, and gods alike.
4. Crossing of the First Threshold – Orpheus approached the entry to the underworld, but Cerberus guarded the entrance. Orpheus played his lyre and managed to lull the beast to sleep. He then approached the River Styx and managed to charm Charon, the ferryman
5. Belly of the Whale – Once the journey across the river was complete, Orpheus found himself in the bowels of the underworld.
6. Road of Trials – Getting to the underworld was not the end of his journey though. Orpheus had to travel through the underworld to find Hades and Persephone to convince them to let Eurydice to return to the land of the living. By using his music he was able to pass “through pale-glimmering phantoms, and the ghosts escaped from sepultures”
(Ovid) without being
7. Meeting with the Goddess – Finally he reached the home of Hades and Persephone and made his plea. He plays them songs and describes the level of his love to the both Hades and Persephone.
9. Atonement with the Father – You may notice that I have changed the location of step 8. I have done this in order to show the steps of the monomyth in the order of the myth itself. While meeting with Persephone and Hades, Orpheus finds himself pleading to Hades directly, reminding the God of his own love. In telling of his experiences with Love, Orpheus tells Hades “We are not sure he can be known so well in this deep world, but have good reason to conjecture he is not unknown here, and if old report almost forgotten, that you stole your wife is not a fiction, Love united you the same as others”
10. Apotheosis – The apotheosis is defined as “the highest or best part of something”
(Merriam-Webster) or the climax
of the tale. To me, the climax of the tale is the moment we are waiting for
Hades and Persephone to determine whether or not they will let Orpheus return
to the upper realm with Eurydice or if they will refuse the request.
11. Ultimate Boon – The boon is defined as “benefit, favor; especially one that is given in answer to a request”
(Merriam-Webster). Ultimately, Hades and Persephone decide to
let Orpheus try to rescue his bride and Eurydice is summoned for her return.
8. Woman as the Temptress - In order to return to the land of the living, Orpheus had to make the journey back without looking at his bride. He had to resist this temptation to save his bride.
13. Magic Flight – Once again, you’ll see that I have re-ordered the steps of the monomyth in an effort to flow with the myth itself. This entire story is built up to the point where Orpheus and Eurydice try to flee the underworld and return journey to the land of the living.
14. Rescue from Without – This entire tale is built around the idea of a “rescue from without.” Eurydice dies and Orpheus journeys into the underworld in order to rescue her and allow her to return home.
12. Refusal of Return – The refusal of return is another section of the monomyth that I have interpreted in a way that is slightly different than most myths. Typically, this stage is represented by someone trying to stop the hero from returning home. In this myth, Orpheus is unable to keep from looking at Eurydice and she is whisked back to the underworld and her return home is refused. He then tried to refuse his own return to the upper realm in his own angst. He “implored in vain the ferryman to help him cross the River Styx again, but was denied the very hope of death”
(Ovid). He sat by the river for seven days in his
misery before finally leaving.
15. Crossing of Return Threshold – Eventually he wandered back to the entrance of the underworld and returned to the land of the living.
16. Master of the Two Worlds – Orpheus returns home, having conquered the underworld, but still completely heartbroken at the loss of his wife.
17. Freedom to Live – From this point forward he is free to live his own life however he’d like. He kept his vow to his wife and avoided all other women, but continued living his life.
Standard Set 2: Applications
1. Using your answer to question 1 above (cosmos creation), create a piece for use in ritual that describes the process of cosmos creation through sacrifice. (no min. word count)
Perfectly Balanced Cosmos Creation
Dark wings encompass the universe
Out of nothingness Nyx appears, personified chaos.
Fate exhales and through that breath, creation begins.
Chaos births a beautiful egg of gold.
She nurtures the life within, patiently waiting,
Filling the egg with love.
With a simple crack, Eros emerges
And the chaos is filled with light.
The dance between order and chaos,
The shell of love begins to create the world,
Becoming the earth and the sky.
In this world life begins to form,
Through Nyx’s sacrifice and dedication
Through the creation of love,
The cosmos have been created,
As the upper realm of the Gods
The earth for Nature Spirits
And the underworld for our Ancestors,
2. Using your answer to question 4 above (winning the waters), create a piece for use in ritual that describes the winning of the waters. (no min. word count)
Calling for the Blessing
"Today, we have given our gifts to the Kindreds, and in return we receive their blessings. These blessings fill the Cup of Inspiration, and though it we will receive them. May the blessings of the Kindreds be bestowed upon us. Through the Ancestors, may we gain ________, through the Nature Spirits may we find ________ and through the Gods may earn __________. Mighty Kindred, we ask for your blessings upon us."
(The blank spaces would be filled to correspond with the omens drawn)
Lift the pitcher for blessing.
"Oh mighty Kindreds: nature spirits, ancestors, Gods, Hallow these waters! Let them bless our lives with love and bounty as we drink these sacred waters. Let the blessings of the waters return to us, as they did when Indra defeated the dragon Vritra. Vritra had stolen the waters from the people, hiding its gifts from the people, but Indra destroyed the dragon with his thunderbolt and allowed the water to return to the lands. Like those waters returned, so do these waters bring forth the blessings of the Kindreds. Behold the waters of life!"
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