In the Irish myths a mysterious phrase crops up: the gods and the non-gods (or un-gods). We all know what a god is, but what is an non-god?
My first post on the Irish goddess Boand sparked a question on the Mythology Stack Exchange about cows as symbols of wisdom. There is a blog called The Wisdom of Cows, but I suspect that a mythological version wouldn’t run long.
However, Boand is the goddess of the river Boyne, and there are many examples of river-goddesses who give inspiration, wisdom and sometimes musical talent to their worshippers. Continue reading
Review of In Search of the Swan Maiden: a Narrative on Folklore and Gender, by Barbara Fass Leavy.
Although this book is called The Swan Maiden, its subject could be described as: “a story about a fairy captured by a mortal man and forced into a tedious domestic existence and, obversely, about a mortal woman courted by a demon lover who offers her escape from that same mundane world.” (Loc. 347)
One of the things everyone knows about Irish mythology is that the deities we all know (Brigit, the Dagda, Boand, Ogma, etc.) are all members of the Tuatha de Danann, the people or tribe of the goddess Danu.
However, none of the Irish sources mention this goddess, who was an important enough ancestor that her name identified all of her descendants. (Imagine if the Olympian gods of Greece were known as the Gaians, for example.) Some Celtic scholars have gone so far as to doubt the existence of any such deity. Why?
The imagery of the Greek Gorgon can be traced back to Persian and Near Eastern art, but the myth of the beautiful Medusa seems to come from a different source. A story found in various forms in Greece, India, Ireland and Wales tells of a woman who either becomes a horse or has a strong equine connection, gives birth to twins and suffers greatly.
However, Demeter, Saranyu, Macha and Rhiannon are goddesses, while Medusa is considered a monster. Still, her story is so similar to these others that it obviously descends from the same Indo-European myth.
The Norse sun-goddess, far from being some sort of Northern aberration, is very similar to other Indo-European sun deities. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since “basic” deities like the sky, earth and rivers tend to keep their characteristics across a very wide swathe of Europe and Asia.
We all know that Yggdrasil is the World Tree of Norse myth, and that it holds together the nine worlds. However, the Norse, like the Finns and the Hindus of India, seem to have had some notion of a world mill (or churn) as well, which turned the heavens and could grind out various products. This cosmic mill shows through the confused myths about the sun and moon.
Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky – its modern name comes from the Ancient Greek Seirios (“glowing” or “scorcher”). It is actually another one of those binary stars, a white star and a white dwarf. Like Procyon, its nearness to Earth makes it much brighter in the night sky than many other stars. It is brighter than our sun, but dimmer than Rigel and Canopus.
These two stars are a case of the myths fitting the reality, since Pollux is the brighter (17th brightest) while Castor languishes at 23rd. Since many versions of the Classical story of the Heavenly Twins made Castor the mortal one, it seems fitting that his star is slightly dimmer.