- List and discuss the major primary sources for the mythology of three Indo-European cultures, including their dates of origin and authorship (if known). Discuss any important factors that may cause problems in interpreting these sources, such as the existence of multiple revisions, or the presence of Christian or other outside influences in surviving texts. (minimum 300 words)
The Greeks are an obvious starting place because they are often the first people that most people think of when we’re talking about myth. This is because of the rich sources that we have for their myths. There are plenty of primary sources out there that are still being read by millions such as the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer (T. Gantz 1). We also have works such as Theogony by Hesiod (T. Gantz 1), Olympian Odes by Pindar (T. Gantz 31), other works of Homer, works such as the Orphic hymns (Orphic Hymns), and many more. All of this writing was pre-Christian so it is relatively by Christianity. Since the Greeks were located at a crossroads between many cultures, the myth is also influenced by other cultures. There is the problem though that these, and all the stories of the Indo-European cultures, having been oral traditions, so there is sure to be changes that happened through time before being written down.
If we move up to the Celts now, we do get into some interesting issues. Unfortunately the vast majority of the original mythology of the Celts was never written down. We do have some sources from the timeframe before the Christians moved in. This writing was as a result of the Romans invading mainland Europe and eventually the British Isles. When the Romans such as Lucan who mentions the deities Taranis, Teutates, and Esus in his poetry (Puhvel 168), and Caesar in his Gallic Wars (Puhvel 166), wrote about the Gaulish people, they wrote about them in terms of the Roman deities while rarely recording the names that the people actually used. We do have writings that date to long after the Christianization of the Celts such as the Mabinogion (c. 1325 (J. Gantz 10)) for the Welsh and Táin Bó Cúailnge (11th/12th century (Rees and Rees 17)) for the Irish. Much of this writing though has been tainted by Christianinfluences since it was written mostly by monks.
So, if we now take a look at the Norse/Germanic people, they are in a similar situation. Much of their lore was never written down during the days before Christianity. There is relatively little written from the time it was all happening. The Roman Tacitus and his work Germania, is the major source from this timeframe and he mostly observed from afar. (Puhvel 189) We do have more contemporary sources though in Snorri Sturluson and Saxo Grammaticus. Saxo was a Danish author that was wrote about the Germanic myths around the turn of the 13th century (Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe 46). Snorri was a few years later and was writing in Iceland about the Norse myths (Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe 24). Both of these people were writing after the Christianization of the culture, so their work is definitely written through a Christian lense. Snorri’s works, the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, are usually where most people look to first for the Norse/Germanic myths.
In the end though, one does have to question how reliable all the sources are. The material written pre-Christian time was either written from an oral tradition, or written by a foreign observer, e.g. the Romans, who were trying to conquer the people. After the cultures were Christianized, the myths were often written down by monks, often changing them so that it fit the Christian doctrine of the time. An example of this can be seen with Snorri and his explanation of who the Aesir were. He claimed that the deities were a people of a different race that traveled far, and are not deities.
- Summarize, then compare and contrast the myths of at least two Indo-European cultures with respect to the following topics (you need not use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for each topic): (minimum 300 words for each)
- tales of creation
The Norse have a very thorough tale of creation. In the south was Muspell and its flames. In the north was Niflheim and its ice. In the center was a void called Ginnungapap. Out of this void was born Ymir, a frost giant. As he slept, he sweated and formed the first man and woman, these were frost giants. As the ice melted, a great sow, Audumla. Ymir was fed off of her milk, and she was fed by licking the ice. While licking the ice, she eventually reveals Buri, who’s descendants eventually are Odin and kin.
Eventually, Odin, Vili, and Ve go and kill Ymir and create the world out of his body. His flesh became the earth, the bones became the mountains, from the teeth, jaw, and broken bones they made rocks and boulders, the blood became the oceans and lakes. They took his skull and put it over the land, held up by four dwarves. They also took the sparks from Muspell and threw them high above Ginnungapap forming the sun and moon and stars. Then they divided the land and gave the frost Giants Jotunheim. For man, they took Ymir’s eyebrows and made Midgard.
At this point, the three Gods found wood floating in the sea and made man and woman from them. The story then goes on to talk about how a man had two children and named them Moon (the son) and Sun (the daughter) thus angering the Gods, so they were put into the sky to drive the chariots pulling the moon and sun, and how they are chased by wolves (Guerber 7). Then the Gods built their own realm, Asgard, and linked it to Midgard via Bifrost, the rainbow bridge. All of this happened under the branches of the great world tree, Yggdrasill. (Crossley-Holland 3)
Now, without going into as much detail, the Greeks have a similar story. In the beginning there was a void. Out of this void or Chaos was formed Gaia (Mother Earth), Eros (love), the Abyss, and Erebus. This is similar to Ymir being born out of the void. Out of Gaia came Uranos, who founded the race of Gods. (T. Gantz 1) This is very similar to the race of Gods in the Norse being licked out of the ice by the great sow, they were born from the earth. Uranos then creates the sky and earth such as Odin, Vili, and Ve do out of Ymir.
The two tales are very similar in concepts, and the Greeks go on further to talk of Patricide within the race of the Gods which is another common myth of the Indo-European people, but do not show up in the Norse. Overall though, both stories tell a tale of how out of the void or chaos the world was formed.
- tales of divine war
The divine war is another common theme among the Indo-European cultures. In the case of the Norse/Germanic people, this was the war of the Aesir and Vanir. In this tale Odin, of the Aesir, hosts Gullveig, of the Vanir. In short, Odin finds her obsession with gold to be intolerable and throws her on the fire, killing her. This starts the war between the two sets of deities when the Vanir find out about it. They fought to a standstill with neither side looking like they would win. At this point, the gods get together and exchange leaders as proof of their desire for peace. The Aesir gave up Honir and Mimir who was eventually killed by the Vanir and given back to Odin, who preserved his head and gained his knowledge. The Vanir gave up Njord and his children Freyja and Freyr, along with Kvasir, the wisest of the Vanir. (Crossley-Holland 7)
The Irish Celts have a similar story. In this case we have the Tuatha De Danann battling the older Fomorians. This is just one of the many stories of invasions that the Irish Celts have. In this story, the Tuatha are attacked by their enemies the Fomorians. Here we get tales of the war, and how Balor, the leader of the Fomorians, is slain by Lugh, of the Tuatha, sending the Fomorians underground and setting the Tuatha as the race of deities in charge. (Rees and Rees 31)
There are also similar stories throughout most of the Indo-European cultures. When one looks at them closely, it’s really a story of a new set of deities overthrowing the old set. The old set tends to be agriculturally based. This is very clear in the Norse as the Vanir that we normally talk about are all fertility and earth deities. The ones who take over are more war and sky based, again, the Aesir live in the sky, in Asgard. We can look at these stories also in relation to what happened in the world. It’s speculated that these stories are also stories of the Indo-European people invading the new lands and supplanting the local deities with the Indo-European deities.
- tales which describe the fate of the dead
The Norse have a few ways that the dead are handled. Since they were a warrior society, they of course send their warriors to a better place, if you died in battle. Those who died in battle had the chance to go to Valhalla. The Valkyries would come and take the slain off the battle field and then bring them either to Valhalla, or to Freyja. Odin got half for Valhalla, Freyja got the other half. In Valhalla, they feast at night, and battle during the day, and all who are slain are reborn for the dinner’s feast. These warriors are extremely important because they are those who will fight the last battle, Ragnarok. Now those who were not killed in battle, but instead died of old age, disease, etc., they went to Hel. This is an underworld land that is very cold and ruled over by the Goddess Hel, who is Loki’s daughter and half beautiful woman, half dead and decaying. We also see in the mythology that the Gods themselves can die, as seen in the stories of Balder. When he dies he goes to Hel and only comes back when the last battle is over.
The Greeks have a more complex view of death. They again have a place for the heroes (slain warriors in Norse) to go to, but also those who were good and deserving, namely the Elysian Fields. We also have those who are evil or committed specific crimes going to their own place, Tartarus which is a physically lower place. This is where the Titans ultimately ended up. Then we have those who aren’t buried wandering around showing us the importance of burial in the Greek culture. There are plenty of other specialized places in Hades showing a very complex view of the afterlife. This entire realm is controlled by Hades who is the brother of Zeus (T. Gantz 123). This is not too different from the Norse Hel in that Loki and Odin are considered blood brothers, and it’s Loki’s daughter who rules Hel.
Now the dead do interact with the living in multiple ways. The Sagas and the Odyssey both have examples of the dead interacting in dreams, ghost forms, and even oracular. For a Greek example, we have Odysseus traveling to the land of the dead and making a sacrifice to talk with the dead, specifically Tiresias. As a result he gets the information he needs, plus advice for the future (T. Gantz 123). For a Norse example, we have the Volva who were people that went into trance and talked to spirits (Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe 117). This has been re-created, thanks in large part to Diana Paxon, as the modern Norse Oracular Seidhr.
3)Explain how each of the following elements of ADF ritual does or does not resonate with elements of two different Indo-European cultures (you need not use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for each element): (minimum 100 words each)
In the Norse, the Earth Mother is really not present as some kind of deity form. If we go to continental Europe and look at the Germanic people though, you have Nerthus. Saxo states in Germania that Nerthus was worshiped as “Terra Mater” or Earth Mother (Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe 94). That being said, it is speculated that Njord may be of the same idea. If you take the name Njord back to its PIE roots you have the same name as Nerthus (Puhvel 205) It is quite common in the Norse culture though for sexes to be reversed.
The Greeks on the other hand have a very clear earth mother in Gaia. She is literally the Earth and who gives life to the Gods in the creation myth (T. Gantz 3). In both cultures though, Earth Mother as we see her in ADF does resonate well.
b)Deities of Land
The Norse have the Vanir who are the deities of the land. Njord is the God of the sea, and Freyr and Freyja are both fertility deities (Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe 119). There is good evidence that they were worshiped as land deities and had their own cults through the finds of statuary and carvings.
The Greeks had an obsession with land deities. Pan is probably the first one that comes to mind. He is part goat, part man and associated with flocks, hunting, and even music (T. Gantz 111). We also have Dionysus and Demeter both of which are deities of the land, agriculture, and harvest and worshipped as such with their own cults and holidays. (T. Gantz 63, 112)
Overall, worshiping the deities of the land, as we do in ADF, fits well for both cultures.
c)Deities of Sea
The Norse being a sea faring bunch, they have a sea deity. This is Aegir. He is said to have 9 daughters who are named after 9 different kinds of waves. He is also a tough and unforgiving deity like the sea is. We can also add in to here Njord as he is a sea faring deity (Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe 128).
In the Irish Celts, we get a similar view with Manannan mac Lir. Manannan is strongly associated with the Isle of Man. Mac Lir is thought to mean “Son of the Sea”. He has a horse that can walk on the ocean. In the myths, the ocean waves are often called horses. He is very much a deity of the sea and does show up often in the myths (Green 139).
Overall, the Deity of the Sea from these two cultures do fit similar archetypes. We in ADF don’t really deal with the sea much though, so it’s tough to say how or if they fit in ADF.
d)Deities of Sky
Deities of the sky are generally the thunder deities. In the Norse, that is obviously Thor. He is one that is prayed to for weather changes. The Norse are different than most because the thunder deity in most other Indo-European cultures is the head deity. Here Thor is not, but actually a son of Odin. In top of being the thunder deity, he also has many other traits such as his mighty strength, and desire to destroy the outsiders (giants) that are also common with other sky deities. (Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe 73)
In the Greeks, the sky deity is Zeus. Here he is the prototypical head God and the God of thunder. Again, he is also one that one would pray to for changes in weather. He is often depicted as a deity that would throw lightning and bring rain. On top of that, though, he was the head of the Olympians and takes on the role of a father figure. (Puhvel 130)
ADF again does not tend to specifically concentrate on these deities. It is very common though to call on them as Deities of the Occasion though, and if one was looking to do weather working, one would call on them.
With the Norse culture, the Frost Giants were the outsiders. These were the beings that the Aesir, and specifically Thor, were always battling against. They are a reason that there was the wall built around Asgard, and they were given their own land that was separated from the rest of Midgard by mountains. There was plenty of interaction between the deities, usually ending up with the giants loosing. (Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe 91)
The Irish Celts had a similar situation. Here the outsiders were the Fomorians, and there was an actual war between the two sets of Gods, eventually leading to the Fomorians going underground. (Green 101)
Overall, the two cultures dealt somewhat violently with their outsiders, and treated them as something that should be kept out. In ADF we generally do similar things, although that can vary from Grove to Grove with the group often turning their back when the offering is given. Personally, I don’t like doing things like that, partly due to my own Patron often being considered an outsider. As a result, I think they need a bit more respect than ADF tends to give them.
The Norse culture is steeped in plenty of lore with the nature spirits. There are plenty of tales of gnomes, elves and dwarves. In general these were all the others that weren’t deities, giants, or human. Some of these, specifically the Dwarves, play a big role in the mythology. The majority of them were others that either didn’t play a big role, or were somewhat outsiders and really just naughty beings. These beings, and similar, are what we often refer to as the land wights. (Guerber 239) The Irish Celts had a very similar situation. In their case, this was the Sidhe who were otherworldly beings, not humans, but not animals. Often though, these beings were not safe to interact with. (MacDonald)
Overall, these two cultures really treated the nature spirits as the beings that are there, but not always beings that were to be messed with. In ADF, we treat them differently. We respect and invite them in since we define the nature spirits as those of plants, animals, waters, etc, along with those that we can’t see like the sidhe and wights. In that perspective, we treat them rather differently than they were treated in the old days where they tended to be somewhat wary of at least the unseen nature spirits.
The Norse did have some dealing with their ancestors. The first thing that comes to my mind is Seidhr work where the seer would go into a trance and let the dead come through to answer questions (Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe 117). As stated earlier, the ancestors would also come back through dreams and as ghosts. We also have tales of people sleeping on burial mounds of “inspired” people to get inspiration. The dead were also often celebrated, as seen with the idea of Valhalla, and the heroes, like Sigurd, often kept alive through the sagas.
The Greeks also usually revered their dead. People were able to interact with as ghosts and through dreams. The heroes, such as Herakles and Odysseus, were also revered and kept alive via stories. In the myth we also have Odysseus’ trip to Hades for advice from Tiresias where he goes to the land of the dead (T. Gantz 123).
In ADF we treat them as the revered dead. This is totally in line with how they were treated in the old days. Some of us are also working on trying to get some kind of oracular work, like Seidhr, which will probably be dealing directly with the Ancestors and getting their advice and the knowledge that they want to pass on.
4)Discuss how the following seven elements of ADF's cosmology are (or are not) reflected in the myths of two different Indo-European cultures. For this question, please use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for the entire question. (minimum 100 words each)
The Norse have a rather well defined upperworld. In their case, this is Asgard and is the home of the Aesir. This land is itself physically separated from the rest of the worlds by Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge. This is the location of the halls of the various Gods, the location of Valhalla, and the lands of the Vanir and light elves. We also have many of the myths occur within the walls of Asgard. (Crossley-Holland xiv)
The Celts had a similar location where some of the “shining” deities lived, but this was not played up as much as the Norse and it was not as well defined. Instead of them being in the sky though, it’s more often that their deities lived across the sea (Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe 121). The mythology itself usually also tends to be focused on the middleworl d (Green 216).
The Middleworld is a concept that is seen in both the Norse and the Celts. In the Norse this is Midgard and is the world that we inhabit, along with the various nature spirits and the Giants. The land is generally divided into the land of the dwarves, dark elves, giants, and of course humans. This world is also surrounded by the sea, and the Midgard Serpent (Crossley-Holland xxii).
The Celts had a similar view of the middleworld and saw it also as the land on which we and the nature spirits currently live on, and also surrounded by the sea. The serpent encircling the world is not a motif found with the Celts. This is also where the majority of the myths actually take place, and that’s one reason that we have so many sacred places in Ireland, for example (Rees and Rees 83).
c)Divisions Of Middleworld (e.g., 4 Quarters, 3 Triads, 8 Sections)
The division of the middleworld into land, sea and sky is the general motif that the Celts used. The land being where we lived, the sea being the boundary between us and the unknown and the dead, and the sky being the boundary between us and the deities. We also have with the Irish Celts division of the land of Ireland into four directions, which was really five because it was the four directions plus center (O'Dubhain).
The Norse had a similar concept of land, sea, and sky. They also had different division of the land into Nidavellir (land of the Dwarves), Svartalfheim (land of the dark elves), Jotunheim (land of the giants), and Midgard itself which is the land we live in (Crossley-Holland xxii).
For the Norse, the Underworld was Hel, the realm of the dead and Niflheim, the land of the dead. This is the place where those who did not die in battle go when they die. It’s a cold, land that is across a river, guarded by dogs, and not physically accessible to the living. We can see this all described when Balder dies (Colum 190) (Crossley-Holland 158)
For the Celts, their Netherworld was generally seen as across the ocean or to the west. Tir na Nog, the land of the forever young is one of these places (Green 210). The otherworlds are commonly seen as an island to the west as shown in the myth of the voyage of Bran. Overall, this land is usually seen as a happy place with lots of feasting and peace (Green 166).
Fire was a big part of both cultures. In both cultures it was the primary way to send offerings to the deities. We have clear examples of this with the Celts and some of their human sacrifices. We also see fire as a major part of the seasons of Beltane and Samhain. The fire was a representation of the sun here on earth. We also have examples of the fire from Beltane being brought into the home for use as the years hearth fire. Also, there was the custom of driving cattle through the Bel fires to purify and make them more fertile. Fire was a very important part of the Celts culture (Green 99)
We also have in the Norse, fire being used as a funerary rite. Here we see many examples in both Sagas and Myth. In the sagas, we can see with the death of Sigurd how he was laid out on the pyre in full battle armor and set ablaze. The culture was such though that he took many of his possessions with him, and his wife actually commits suicide to join him on the pyre. This is also reflected in the myth with the death of Balder and his funerary pyre being similar. In both cases fire is again equated with the sun, like the Celts. (Guerber 288)
The well is treated somewhat differently between the Celts and the Norse. For the Norse the wells that are commonly mentioned are the ones at the bases of the roots of Yggdrasill, and at that the most common one mentioned is the Well of Mimir. This is the well of wisdom and is where Odin sacrifices an eye to gain knowledge. We also have the well of Urd at another root, which is the well of fate and guarded by the three Norns (Fate, Being, and Necessity) whom maintain the world tree. The third root has the well of Hvergelmir under it. This is where the dragon Nidhogg lives, and sends insults to the eagle on top of the tree via Ragatosk, the squirrel (Larington 14).
For the Celts, the wells were more associated with the underworld and the ancestors. This of course is also a connection with wisdom, specifically of the ancestors. There is also the Well of Life that’s located in the center for the Irish, and also the Well of Segais, a well of wisdom, which nobody but Nechtan and his cup bearers can visit. This is very similar to the Well of Mimir in the Norse. This well is supposed to be the source of the river Boyne. This happened when Boann visited the well and it rose up to drown her. We also have plenty of examples where wells were dedicated to specific deities. Probably the most common of those would be the Bridget wells (Rees and Rees 160) (Green 48).
The tree is common between both the Celts and the Norse. The Celts commonly had Bile as the center piece of their worship area (Green 170). This was a representation of the vertical axis that goes through all the worlds, and aided in the transport of things between the worlds. We can see this when we look at the Center it was represented by a tree, pillar, and a mountain. All three are common representations throughout Indo-European cultures for the center (Rees and Rees 160). We also have many examples of the sacred tree in the various tribes. These were usually long lived trees such as the Yew, Ash, and Oak (Green 212).
The Norse had Yggdrasill, the world Ash. This was also the vertical axis between all the worlds and nine realms. It also does play a central role in some of the myths, such as Odin hanging himself on it to gain the knowledge of the runes (Guerber 33). We also have Yggdrasill as the place where a man and woman either hid or got created after Ragnarok occurs, so the tree is the source of life after the great battle (Sturluson 52).
5)To what extent do you think we can offer conjectures about Indo-European myths in general? Are the common themes strong enough that the myths seem like variations? Or are the differences so powerful that the themes are less important than the cultural variations? (minimum 300 words)
As I look over the myths of the various Indo-European cultures, I start seeing more similarities than differences. I think that Puhvel, in his book Comparative Mythology, makes a very strong case for all the Indo-European cultures to have a common myth cycle. Looking over the previous questions for this course, I am struck by how similar the cultures are with regards to their myth, even though they may be thousands of miles apart.
With this common myth cycle full of similar themes though, we do have some differences between cultures. Different cultures are either missing or changed the stories some. But if the myth follows a common pattern in the Indo-European cultures, we can fill in the holes. The lack of a creation myth for the Celts does not mean there wasn’t one. We can estimate that it was similar to those of the Greeks and Norse though. Because the Norse don’t have much myth dealing with Goddesses does not mean that there weren’t more myths similar to those of the Greeks or Celts. We can look at other cultures and get an idea of what is missing.
We can also look at the myth through the names used. When the names are taken back to their PIE root words it becomes very clear that the names are the same, but they’ve been changed by change of language over the years. An example comes from the creation myth. Roman Romulus and Remus, Norse Ymir, Vedic Yama and Manu, they all reduce to twin and brother in PIE (Puhvel 284). The chief gods, Greek Zeus, Roman Jupiter, Vedic Dyaus, Gaulic Dispater, and Germanic Tiwaz who although not the chief god, is speculated to be the first function deitiy of the Germanic people, all reduce to *Dyeus in PIE (Proto-Indo-European religion). We can also see this with many words in the Indo-European languages as shown throughout Puhvel’s Comparative Mythology and Winn’s Heaven, Heroes, and Happiness.
Overall, through language, cultural values, and mythology one can see more commonalities than would be expected through pure chance. I think this is all strong evidence that the Indo-European cultures all originated from a central culture that spread out over time. Part of this was the spreading of the mythology. Therefore we can use comparative mythology to study the culture at large, and also discover the differences that developed on a local level that makes the various Indo-European cultures individual cultures.
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