Tag Archives: north

Boreas: Horses, Hyperborea and the North Wind

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.

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Koios: famous for being obscure

I have a tag I use from time to time: “obscure deities”. The Titan Koios (or Coeus) was famous for being obscure. In the Metamorphoses, the ill-fated Niobe says of him and his daughter Leto:

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.

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Descent from the Giants: the sons of Fornjotr

One advantage of being a pagan king is that you could trace your family tree back to some pagan god or other. In Sweden, the Ynglings claimed descent from the god Freyr, and several other Scandinavian ruling families traced themselves back to Odin. Both the Ynglings and the Norwegian earls of Hlaðir claimed descent from a god and a giantess: Freyr and Gerdr, and the Hlaðir Odin and the giantess Skadi, perhaps wishing to join the strength of the giants to their line.

The earls of Orkney went one better than the Hlaðir, however, and combined the power of the giant with the authority of a male ancestor, claiming to be descended from a male giant named Fornjótr. (No mention of a mate – perhaps he generated his children alone, the way the primal giant Ymir did.)

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Polaris: location, location, location

The North Star is not a particularly bright star; it doesn’t make the top 20. It’s no. 45, actually. What’s even more disturbing is that it hasn’t always been the pole star, and it will eventually move out of position again. The Earth’s orbit has a wobble in it, and thus the north pole rolls around a little over the course of the millennia.

Imagine the poles as the ends of the dowel sticking out of a round top, and you can imagine the north end wobbling around as the top rolls. This is a bit of a blow to myths about the north star, because they tend to stress the constancy and centrality of Polaris. Continue reading

Aurora Borealis

(Note: this is a slightly rewritten excerpt from my second book Sun, Moon and Stars. I hope that isn’t out of line, but I still like the piece as it is.)

 In the same year so bright a light illumined a wide spread of lands in the middle of the night that you would have thought that it was high noon. On a number of occasions fiery globes were also seen traversing the sky at night-time, so that they seemed to light up the whole earth. (The History of the Franks IX.4)

The Northern Lights are a more personal topic than many in this blog. I grew up in Labrador, which is in the sub-Arctic of Canada, and we did get some good displays. (For the best, you go further north, above the tree line.) Apart from the great colour show you can get, the thing I most remember about them is the hush – people would stop and look, and no one made any noise, just watched the pink and green bands undulate across the sky. It wasn’t hard to see why the Innu and Inuit were in awe of them. Continue reading

So, who is Ullr?

The god Ullr is another of Norse myth’s enigmatic gods, along with Heimdall. Both seem to have faded in importance by the time that the myths were being written down, although people in Sweden and Norway worshipped Ullr, and we know that invoked him when they swore oaths. He is clearly a god of winter and winter pursuits, which has led to a rebirth of sorts in the Ullr Fest held in Colorado each winter.

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Glaesisvellir and Idunn

Back in the ’90s I wrote a book called Asyniur, which attracted a certain amount of scorn because I named Freyja’s two cats as Bygul and Trjegul. Unfortuantely, this is not ancient lore but comes from a book by Diana Paxson, Brisingamen.

However, I did escape another trap that lies awaiting the newbie – I did not place Iðunn in Breidablik. But I feel the pain of anyone who did. Bragi and Iðunn should have a home of their own. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee obviously agreed with me, and gave them one.

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