Tag Archives: blood

The Avenging Furies

The Erinyes, to give them their Greek name, were avengers, who punished murders and other serious crimes, especially crimes against the family. Blood, both in the sense of blood spilled and kinship, was their concern.

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The Former Gods

Human rulers die, and the next generation takes over. Sometimes the older generation gets “helped” off the throne, either by assassination or war. So it’s not surprising that mythology has many versions of this succession story, which rarely involve peaceful inheritance.

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Milk and Blood: Brigit and the Morrigan

Back in 1977 Patrick Ford published a paper called “Celtic Women: the Opposing Sex”. It could have been tailor-made for the Morrigan, a fearsome goddess who spends most of the Tain trying to destroy the hero Cúchulainn. By contrast, Brigid seems to be the “good girl” of Irish myth.

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Disposing of the Body: Kvasir, Mimir and Ymir

We’re all familiar with nose-to-tail eating, the idea that you should use all of an animal once it’s been slaughtered. Thanks to the taboo on cannibalism and various laws about indignity to dead bodies, we tend not to put human bodies to post-death use. Gods, however, are not so squeamish. The Norse gods in particular show thrift and ingenuity, as well as a strong stomach, in their use of their dead compatriots.

I should point out that the Norse gods could, on occasion, lay on a proper funeral: Baldr was buried with full honours. But the dead bodies of one giant and two gods were clearly too valuable to be left lying around.

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What exactly was “red gold”?

If Freyja wept tears of gold, we would expect them to be the colour of the drops above, right? However, in the Prose Edda, Snorri describes them as “red gold”, rauðr gull. (Gylf. 46) Was this just poetic license, or was gold different in the Middle Ages?

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The Eye and the Well: Odin and Brigit

Odin and Brigit may not seem like the most similar deities, but they actually do have more in common than you might think. Both are patrons of poets, both give up an eye voluntarily, and both these losses are connected with water.

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Flidais: A Chariot Drawn By Deer

Where did the idea that Flidais rode in a chariot drawn by deer come from? It’s not in her main legend, the Táin Bó Flidais, nor in the follow-on story, the Táin Bó Cúailnge. It’s an attractive image, bringing to mind the Middle Eastern goddesses with their lion-drawn chariots,  Freyja with her cats, and Nerthus in her wagon drawn by heifers.

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Blood-Brothers: Loki and Odin

In his fickleness and imagination he even gave pleasure to Odin, who with his well-sipping and auto-asphyxiation knew too much ever to be otherwise amused …the reason why Odin had taken the great, foredoomed step of making Loki his blood brother – for the pleasure, pure and simple, of his company. (Chabon: 53)

Odin and Loki are blood-brothers, and we have to wonder what each saw in the other that led to such an unusual partnership. After all, the two are on entirely different trajectories. Odin is trying to get as far as he can from his giant ancestry, to the extent of murdering his own grandfather to make the world. Loki, on the other hand, is constantly pulled back and forth, but usually ending up with the gods, until he chooses the giants for good.

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The Cider of Immortality

In Norse myth we have two stories involving the theft of a substance that confers a magical benefit to the user. Both involve the thief taking the form of an eagle. Both involve a pursuit with a god and a giant. Of course, the two myths have very different results, although in both cases the final score is Aesir 1, Jotunar 0.

One is the myth of the giant Þiazi kidnapping Iðunn to get the apples of immortality, the other is the story of how Oðin stole the mead of poetry from the giant Suttungr.

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1. Mythological Wolves: Garm, Fenrir, and Loki

Wolves occupied a very ambiguous place in Norse myth and thought. The best of dogs is said to be Garm, but everywhere else Garm is a wolf, and a dangerous one at that. Garm is the wolf that kills Tyr at Ragnarök, (Gylf. 51) and the similarly named Mánagarm devours the moon (and presumably Máni the moon-god):

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