The Celtic god Maponos had followers on both sides of the Channel: he was also one of the most commonly invoked gods along Hadrian’s Wall. He was no war-god, however, but a youthful deity, a musician and hunter. In the Roman era he was often called Apollo Maponos, linking him to another god of youth and youths.
The bow and arrow were so useful that the Norse had two different deities associated with them: Ullr and Skadi. Ullr skiied, travelled across the ice, and shot game with his bow. The giantess Skadi also skiied and lived in the mountains, like the indigeneous Sami, whose lifestyle was so different from that of the sea-faring and farming Norse.
Hunting with a bow was a Sami trait, along with the use of magic. Norse sagas don’t come right out and condemn archery, but in Norse myth Tyr and Thor use close-combat weapons, although Odin uses the arrow’s near relative, the spear.
Two stories about Apollo, one well-known and one obscure, focus on white ravens. Odin sent out ravens to learn what was going on in the world, but Apollo’s white ravens also brought messages to humans, as servants of the god of oracles. The one occasion when a raven brought him news ended very badly indeed. Continue reading
In Greek myth, the North wind had a home: a cave on Mount Haemus in Thrace. From there he sent the cold winds, and to emphasize this artists painted him with his hair and beard spiky with ice. As its name suggests, the land of Hyperborea lay beyond Boreas’ realm, where cold, along with old age and want, was unknown.
Now, ask what the reason is for my pride, and then dare to prefer Latona to me, that Titaness, daughter of Coeus, whoever he is. Latona, whom the wide earth once refused even a little piece of ground to give birth on.
(Latona is the Roman name for Leto.) Even in her great access of hubris, the only thing Niobe could say of Coeus/Koios was that no one knew who he was. A quick look at online guides to Greek myth shows that Koios is by no means famous now, but there seems to be a desire to fill out his dossier.
The Greek god Apollo is the most rational, artistic and fastidious of the Olympians. So why is an animal noted for its ravening nature part of his cult?
Sometimes studying mythology leads you into areas of human frailty and vulnerability that bring you very close to the past. Any study of healing deities stirs the emotions, partly because we all know the fear that sickness brings, and because so many of the things they suffered from are unknown to us (at least in the prosperous world).*
The many offerings of ex-votos, often body parts, found at healing shrines testify to the various illnesses of ancient times. These were not always rich offerings, either. At the shrine of Apollo Vindonnus archaeologists found many votives carved from oak wood or stone. Many were of body parts, but others were of hands holding offerings. (You wonder if they somehow stood for the offering itself, or promised one in return for a cure.)
Hyperborea, and the Hyperboreans, seem to have had an enduring life among the ancient Greeks and Romans, even if they couldn’t always agree on where it was. It first intrigued me because of the story that Apollo went there every winter.
The family of the sun-god Helios features many minor goddesses of sun and light. Helios is the main god of the sun; his name, and his resemblance to many Indo-European sun-gods and goddesses puts that out of doubt, but it is interesting how solar females cluster around him.
Some of these goddesses may well have had their own solar cults long ago, but it’s impossible to verify now. Two of them were his mother and aunt, the other was his daughter. (Helios’s lineage also includes the witches Circe and Medea, as well as Hecate, a grand-daughter in some versions of her family tree.)