- 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 major primary sources for Norse mythology come from the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson, and the Poetic Edda. These were written after the rise of Christianity, in the 13th century CE, and as such one should consider what influence Christianity had on these myths. The myths were written down based on oral tradition, and by authors whose cultures had already been exposed to Christian influences. Other sources regarding the Norse and Germanic peoples come from invading cultures, like the Romans. This means that when examining these sources the reader should take everything with a grain of salt.
The major primary sources in Greek mythology are those written by Hesiod and Homer, around the 8th Century BCE. This includes Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad, as well as the Homeric Hymns, written by those who followed in Homer’s tradition. The work of Homer, while influential and an excellent resource for Greek myth, should be carefully chosen when used for interpretation of ancient religion because there are so many translations. There is also the issue that the majority of the Greek lore started out as an oral tradition, and thus, changes likely occurred before Homer began writing it down (“Homer”).
The primary sources for Vedic lore are all contained in the Samhitas, which was written during the early Vedic period, somewhere between the 17th and 11th centuries BCE. The Samhitas is a collection of the four Vedas: the Rig-Veda (for recitation), the Sama-Veda (for chanting), the Yajur-Veda (for liturgy), and the Atharva-Veda (which was named after a type of priest). The Rig-Veda is the largest and most important of these. Unfortunately since no physical remnants remain of the Vedic time period, reading from the Rig-Veda and trying to reconstruct the religion of the time is a lot of guesswork done in the context of a Christian society. It is simply a collection of hymns, though most of the hymns are to Indra, Agni, and Soma (Puhvel 46). One of the problems in understanding this work is that the connotation of some words has shifted in translations. For example, in the word mitra, the meaning shifted from “contractor” to “friend” (Puhvel 48). There is also the current problem of the knowledge that Hinduism has grown out of Vedic lore, and thus current culture and current influences may have an effect on the reconstructed worship of this ancient religion.
- 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
Both Norse and Greek mythology describe a tale of creation that begins with a sort of nothingness, a void, that is then suddenly expanded and organized to create the world. In both myths, after the world is created, the various things that make up the world and the beings that live there are added. The Greek tale of creation is told in Hesiod’s Theogony. In the beginning there was nothingness, a void of Chaos. From Chaos came Gaea (the earth), Tartarus, and Eros. This titanic form of Eros (procreation) caused Gaea to create Ouranos (the sky), Ourea (the mountains) and Pontos (the sea), and Chaos to also create Nyx (night), Erebus (darkness) and Kronos (time). From these beings the rest of the world continued to form, from the oceans, to the sun and moon, day and the air, the beings that dwelt on the earth, and then the Titans. The Greeks continued to talk about how the Olympians came to be from the Titans, and the betrayal that led to the Olympians becoming the principle gods of the land (Hesiod Theogony).
The Norse myths describe the creation of the world as it came into being guided by three brothers: Odin, Vili, and Ve. In the North was icy Nilfhiem, and in the south was fiery Muspell. In the middle was Ginnungagap, a mild place where Ymir, a frost giant, lived and sweated out the race of frost giants. This is similar to how in Greek lore there was a place of Chaos, and then from that void came Gaea, where things could begin to live and thrive.
The Norse myth goes one to explain how Ymir was killed by the three brothers, Odin, Vili, and Ve as they grew tired of his and the other frost giants evilness. This is much more violent that what happens in the Greek myth, where Eros served as a catalyst for the creation of the rest of the things. The Norse world was made out of Ymir’s body. His flesh became the earth, his bones the mountains, his blood the lakes and seas, and his skull the sky, held up by four dwarves. The brothers took the embers from fiery Muspell and threw them up into the sky making the sun, and moon, and stars. This follows a similar pattern to Greek myth when Gaea created the sky, mountains, and sea and how then other parts of the world were formed from there.
The Norse brothers Odin, Vili, and Ve then divided the world so there would be a place for the giants, Jotunheim, and a safer place made of Ymir’s eyebrows, Midgard. This division of the world in Greek myth happens earlier in the creation of the world. Gaea (who holds both the realm of man and Mt. Olympus, the realm of the gods) and Tartarus both come from the void of Chaos. The Norse brothers then made man and woman from an ash and elm tree and put them in Midgard. In Greek myth the addition of man comes much later, and the gods must experiment with different types of mortals until they finally create the race of man as we know it. In Norse myth the Sun and Moon were children of a man, Mundilfari, and were put in the sky guiding the chariots of the sun and the moon while chased by wolves. The dwarves were made from the maggots that had crawled over Ymir’s body. This differs from the Greek myth where the Sun and the Moon were Titans, from the line of Gaea.
The creation story in Nordic lore explains next how Odin, Vili, and Ve built their own realm above Midgard, and called it Asgard, and they were linked together by Bifrost, the rainbow bridge. The Aesir all crossed the bridge to dwell in Asgard. All the regions of the world are under the branches of Yggdrasil, the great ash tree (Crossley-Holland 3). In Greek myth, the realm of the Gods is not as firmly separated from the realm of man. The closest place is Mt. Olympus, which exists on Gaea, just as the realm of man does.
tales of divine war
Divine war, as described in the lore of various Indo-European cultures, is often the tale of a new set of gods replacing an older set of gods. Often the older gods have more primal qualities, and the newer gods introduce levels of wisdom and reason. This can be seen in the Greek myths where the Titans have many more of the primal qualities, having been the creating forces of the world, and the Olympians begin to introduce new concepts, like justice and order, into the world. This is similar to what can be seen in the Norse divine war between the Aesir and the Vanir. The Vanir, being fertility and wilds gods have more primal qualities, whereas the Aesir are more logical, creating order in the world. In the treaty that exists in the Norse myth this is even more pronounced, as the Aesir give Honir and Mimir (thought and memory) to the Vanir, even as the Vanir teach some of their more primal and magical skills to the Aesir via Njord, Freyja and Freyr.
The divine war that is most recognizable in Greek mythology is the war between the Titans and the Olympians. The story is told in Hesiod’s Theogony. The Titans were the gods that came first, out of Gaea and Ouranos. During this war, the sides were not as clear as initially implied, since some Titans sided with the Olympians and other Gods who fell into neither category also were involved. The overthrow of the Titans takes place when Rhea, mother of the Elder Olympians, saved Zeus from being eaten by his father, Kronos. This was the beginning of the division. Zeus and the Olympians were constantly at odds with his father, Kronos, and the Titans, and war broke out that lasted ten years, with neither side being able to win.
Zeus appealed to the other Elder gods, specifically Obriareus, Cottus, and Gyes, who had been cast down by Kronos, to aid him in the fight. They recognized that if the war continued, only strife could come out of it, and so, having been rescued by Zeus after having been betrayed by Kronos, they decided to join the ranks of the Olympians and other deathless gods to fight Kronos and the Titans. At this point Zeus no longer held back his power of thunder and lightning, and seemed likely to destroy the world itself in his wrath. With the new aid of Cottus, Obriareus, and Gyes they were able to bury Kronos and the Titans in rocks down in Tartarus. There they are guarded by those three, bound in chains, and sealed off from the rest of the worlds by a great golden fence made by Poseidon (Hesiod Theogony).
The divine war in Norse mythology is between the Aesir and the Vanir, and the tale is recounted in the Völuspá of the Poetic Edda. It seems as though they are fighting to determine who should receive the honor, worship, and sacrifices of man. Odin leads the Aesir after he has tried to kill Gullveig three times over with his flaming spear, and the Vanir retaliate. It looks like neither side can win, similarly to what happened in the war between the Olympians and Titans, and so they exchange hostages. Honir and Mimir for Njord and his children: Freyja and Freyr (Bellows). In both myths members from each group of gods needed to be switched sides in some way so that one side could come out victorious. In this sense it is interesting to note what values carried forward as the new gods came into power.
tales which describe the fate of the dead
The Norse and the Greeks both have stories that delineate where the dead go after life. The Greeks have a very complex view of the afterlife, with proper burial of the dead being very important in getting the psyche to its final place, and the Underworld is a huge place with many different ends for people within it. Generally speaking though, those who were heroes in their lifetime, or who did good deeds, were sent to the Elysian Fields (Homer Odyssey), while those who committed crimes were punished in Tartarus, which is also where the Titans who fought against Zeus ended up (Hesiod Theogony).
The Norse view of the afterlife is similar in that those who are heroes in life, who die valiantly in battle, are picked up by the Valkyries and taken either to Freyja or to Valhalla. Valhalla is a wonderful place where the warriors can fight all day and feast all night. When Ragnarok comes, these warriors will fight with Odin in the last battle. Others who die a less eventful death are sent to Hel, the Goddess and the place, which is very cold. Hel appears to also be where Gods who die are sent, as in the case of Baldr.
In both Norse and Greek myths access to the Underworld is said to lie somewhere to the north. In Greek myth, it is “somewhere in the northern mists, on a shore at the ends of Ocean, among the Cimmerians on whom the sun never shines” (Puhvel 138). In Norse myth when Hermodr is sent to bring Baldr back from the dead, he must ride Sleipner “downward and northward” until he gets to the gates of Hel (Puhvel 214). It is interesting how this general view of the Underworld has shifted from being presumably north, to being to the south, which is what we typically think of now as “down” since the invention of maps. I think it is likely that since in both cultures the further north they would travel, the colder and less civilized things would get. To the north were likely places that either had no life, or where life was so alien to what they were used to that they found it difficult to recognize.
- 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 ADF Ritual the Earth Mother is honored both first and last. In Greek mythology Gaea is the Earth Mother. She is honored as the supporting force of the world, and a Titan Goddess. The Earth was still honored in Ancient Greece; however, for the purposes of a deity that is honored both first and last in Greek cosmology, that place goes to Hestia. She is the Goddess of the hearth and home and is honored both first and last in ritual for all that she provides for us, and as both the first- and last-born of Kronos (Hesiod). So, worshiping within the Greek hearth culture in ADF, honoring the Earth mother fits, though not as the first and last honored in ritual.
This differs from the presence of an Earth Mother type deity in Norse mythology. In the Prose Edda, in the Gylfaginning, there is an explanation of how the earth was created and divided up, but the earth is not personified in the same way that it is in other cultures (Sturluson). In this case, the earth seems to get convoluted with the spirits of the land. So honoring the Earth Mother in a Norse context as a deity figure in ADF ritual does not resonate well, though respecting and thanking the earth for the bounty it provides does.
Deities of Land
The Deities of the Land are those Gods and Goddesses who dwell on the earth with man. In Greek mythology this get convoluted because the Twelve Olympians are designated because they dwell in the sky on Mt. Olympus, but they are clearly not all Sky Deities, and each have their own role that they fill. Generally I consider the Land Deities to fall into two categories: the domestic (including the hearth) and the wild. So, in Greek mythology some Land Deities in the domestic sense may be Hestia, Demeter, and Dionysos, whereas some of the wild Land Deities may be Pan, Gaea, and Artemis (Atsma).
In Norse mythology the Deities of the Land are generally the Vanir. Some of the deities in the wild places are Skaði, Goddess of winter and the hunt, as well as fertility deities such as Freyr and Freyja. A more domestic land deity could be Gefjun, an agricultural goddess that helped with plowing the land to make the earth in the beginning, and Idunna , guarding the orchard of golden apples (Sturluson).
In ADF ritual we don’t generally worship the deities by division of location, though that is not to say that they aren’t honored, just that they are more often grouped collectively as the “Shining Ones.” However, when doing invocations to the Shining Ones it is not unusual to see them divided up in some way and called upon based on the archetype they represent, such as “Those Shining Deities who dwell in the realm of Man.” So in both Greek and Norse mythology is makes sense to honor the Deities of the Land.
Deities of Sea
The Deities of the Sea are those Gods and Goddesses who have dominion over the waters of the earth. I would consider this to be both the freshwater sources and the saltwater sources. We don’t do much with the sea deities in ADF, and when we do they generally get clumped in with the deities of the land as those who dwell in the realm of man.
In Greek mythology the older, Titan God who has dominion over the waters is Okeanos (Hesiod Theogony). Okeanos is the firstborn of the Titans and is the great freshwater river that encircles the earth and is often paired with Tethys, as the mother of all rivers. It is interesting that the English word for Ocean comes from Okeanos, but when we refer to oceans we are referring to bodies of saltwater and Okeanos is associated with freshwater. In Greek mythology the God that is in charge of what we would consider the sea is Poseidon. He has dominion over the saltwater ocean, and he is the one that the people would pray to in order to gain his blessing in sailing out to sea (Hesiod Theogony).
In Irish mythology the Deity of the Sea that is most recognizable is Manannan mac Lir, the son of the sea. Similar to Greek mythology, the saltwater sea is associated with horses, and the waves are often described as having the look of horses. Manannan is often called to work with the Folk as a Gatekeeper because he can “travel beyond the ninth wave.” The freshwater deity within Irish mythology is Danu, the flowing one. She is associated with the sacredness of pure water sources, such as rivers like the Danube (Rees).
It makes sense to honor the deities of the sea within the Greek or Irish hearth culture, but as we don’t generally worship the deities by division of location in ADF, or the deities of the sea specifically, I would say it currently doesn’t resonate. I think if people did begin to honor the deities of the sea more, that it would definitely resonate, but in current practice it simply isn’t done that often. By expanding our understanding of the Deities of the Sea to include both freshwater and saltwater entities it becomes easier to identify with them, and honor them in ritual. I think the reason we don’t often honor the Sea Gods in ADF may be because many of our members are in land-locked areas, or even if they do live near a water source, their livelihood or life is not intrinsically linked to the sea like it was for the ancients. I think this is something that members can and should begin addressing as nature awareness. Just as they explore how they interact with the land around them, exploring how they connect with the waters of the earth is equally important. If that were the case, I think worshiping the Deities of the Sea would resonate more within ADF ritual.
Deities of Sky
The Deities of the Sky are those Gods and Goddesses who have dominion over the things in the heavens, above the realm of man. In Greek mythology some of these deities are Titans, some major gods, and some minor gods. The Titans, Helios and Selene are the Sun and the Moon, respectively. Zeus is the Olympian taking the role of the thundering/ weather deity, while some of the minor sky deities are Boreus, Iris, and the Aurai.
In Norse mythology, just as not all Olympians are Sky Deities, not all of the Aesir are either. Sunna is the light of the sun. Thor is the Thundering God, though unlike many of the other Indo-European mythologies, he is not the patriarch of the pantheon, but rather the son of the patriarch, Odin.
As before with the Deities of Land and Sea, in ADF we typically don’t specifically worship the deities based on their location, so in that sense this does not resonate with ADF ritual; however, they are often honored as deities of the occasion. The Sky Deities who are associated with the sun are often honored at Winter and/or Summer Solstice as a deity of the occasion.
The Outsiders in ADF liturgy are those beings or things that are cross with the purposes of the ritual. In Greek mythology the role of the outsiders could be given to the Titans, though they are not typically shunned in Greek myth, but were rather just the older generation of gods. Popular culture likes to paint them as the ‘evil’ that came before the Gods, but in most cases this is highly inaccurate. Ancient Greek culture puts much more emphasis on coming into ritual clean, both physically and spiritually (Hesiod Works and Days). Thus, the portion of the ritual designated to treaty with the Outsiders would fit best with the purification of entering ritual space and ‘casting off’ those things that aren’t needed, or would be at cross-purposes with the ritual within yourself, and in that way it does still resonate with ADF ritual.
In Norse mythology the giants are most often given the role of Outsiders. The frost giants are those beings with whom Thor was always fighting. In the lore they are even separated from the rest of Midgard by mountains, and there is a wall around Asgard in part due to them (Sturluson). The treaty with the Outsiders in this sense is a more traditional bargain where an offering is given in exchange for the beings leaving the ritual alone, and resonates a bit better with ADF ritual.
In Greek mythology the spirits of the land are generally called nymphai. The nymphs are broken up into categories based on what aspect of the land or natural phenomena they are associated with. For example, the dryads are associated with trees, the okeanids with freshwater and rain clouds, the naiads with the rivers, the anthousai with flowers, and the epimelides with pastures and meadows (Atsma “The Nymphai”).
In Irish mythology the sidhe-folk would be what we could consider to be Nature Spirits. They, like the nymphs, were otherworldly, but didn’t carry nearly as much weight and interacted with humans on a much more regular and intimate level. The sidhe-folk are said to live in mounds or hillocks and show mankind wondrous things. Sometimes these are good, and sometimes the sidhe-folk are acting mischievously and causing trouble (Squire 136).
In both mythologies these beings resonate well with how we approach the Nature Spirits as one of the Kindreds. In ADF ritual I think we offer more generally to the spirits of the land and the nature that surrounds us, not necessarily deifying things as much of the lore suggests was done in some way in the past. We also offer to the more otherworldly creatures though, which fits very well with the lore.
The Ancestors are those, often heroic or wise, who have come before. In both Greek and Norse mythology the Mighty Dead and Ancient Wise are revered and honored, which resonates very well within ADF ritual. The other aspect of working with the Ancestors to gain knowledge and guidance is also well supported in the lore of both cultures.
The Greeks have several myths that involve going to speak with the dead either to get advice, gain wisdom, or retrieve loved ones, as with Odysseus when he goes to meet Tiresias (Homer The Odyssey) or Orpheus when he tries to bring back Eurydike (Atsma). The heroes, such as Herakles, Perseus, Jason, and Odysseus are also remembered in the stories and myths that were told. In addition, we have evidence that the ancient Greeks participated in Ancestor worship. For example, one of the Greek festivals celebrated was Genesios, a festival to honor the dead (Parke).
The Norse also honored their dead, as is evidenced by the lore in reference to where the Honored Dead would go, namely Valhalla. The heroes, such as Sigurd, were also remembered in the stories and myths like in Greece. Another similarity is going to the dead to gain wisdom. In Baldr’s Drapa, Odin goes to the underworld in order to find out why Baldr is having bad dreams. He raises the dead and forces the corpse, the volva, to talk to him and reveal the reason why (Bellows). There is also evidence of seiðr magic, or communing with the spirits, likely the dead, for knowledge, with Thorbjorg the Volva in the Saga of Erik the Red (Sephton).
- 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 Upperworld is the world of the Gods, specifically the Shining Ouranic Gods. In ADF we call to the gods of the Upperworld often for their wisdom and power. In Norse mythology this place is in Asgard. This is where the Aesir, the guardians of man, dwell alongside the Einherjar, slain warriors, in Valhalla, the Vanir in Vanaheim, and light elves in Alfheim. Asgard is connected to the other worlds via Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge (Crossley-Holland xx-xxv).
In Greek mythology this place is Mt. Olympus. This is where the Olympians and others of the Theoi dwell. While Mt. Olympus is still part of the earth, it is inaccessible to man. The majority of the myths in Greek lore have to do with what the Gods do when they are in the realm of man, or how they interact in the middle realm, before going back to dwell on Mt. Olympus. So, while they live in the sky, on Mt. Olympus, above the middle realm, the place itself is not well defined like it is in Norse myths (Atsma).
The Midworld is the world where Man dwells, sometimes with various mythological beasts, nature spirits and other Gods. In ADF we call to the beings in the Middleworld to join us at our fire and accept our reverence for sharing this world with us. We know we’re not alone here, and seek to walk in as much harmony as possible with all the beings that dwell alongside us in the Middleworld.
In Norse mythology the Middleworld is called Midgard and a vast ocean that contains Jormungand, the world serpent, surrounds it. Jotunheim, the land of the giants, and Utgard, the giants’ citadel in the outerworld also exists in the middle of the Norse tricentric view of the worlds. Man also shares Midgard with the Dwarves and the Dark Elves (Crossley-Holland xx-xxv).
The Greek middle world is not as well defined as it is in other cultures. The whole world is described as the earth, which is completely encircled by Okeanos, the deep-running river. There is a great sky dome (Ouranos) that stretches over top of the earth, from river’s edge to river’s edge. Even the sun, moon, and stars were said to rise and set in his waters. Below the earth is the pit of Tartarus. It forms a sphere that contains everything divided into two hemispheres. In the top half, live the gods and men, and in the bottom, the Titans (Atsma).
Divisions Of Middleworld (e.g., 4 Quarters, 3 Triads, 8 Sections)
In Norse mythology Midgard was divided vaguely into four different sections. Midgard was the land of Man and surrounded by a vast ocean. Beyond the ocean was the land of Jotunheim, where the giants dwelled. Their citadel was called Utgard. North of Midgard was Nidavellir where the dwarves lived, and south of Midgard was Svartalfheim where the dark elves lived (Crossley-Holland xx-xxv).
The best division of the Greek middleworld would be the land, sea, and sky. The land, deified in Gaea, is defined best as a disk that is surrounded by the encompassing waters of Okeanos. Okeanos would be the sea, the deep-running river that holds the land together. The sky, deified by Ouranos, is the dome that covers the sea and the land. This fits within ADF cosmology, specifically with Ceisiwr Serith’s prayer: “The waters support and surround us / The land extends about us / The sky stretches out above us” (Serith).
The Underworld is the Land of the Dead and the chthonic deities. In ADF the Underworld is where we direct our call when we’re seeking to gain the wisdom of the Ancestors and the Deities that dwell there alongside them. In Norse mythology this is Niflheim, and the citadel is Hel. Hel is the realm of the dead for those who didn’t die valiantly, and those who are considered evil pass through Hel to die again in Niflheim, the world of the dead. There is also Valhalla, which is technically in the Upperworld, but is the place for the warriors who die in battle to go (Crossley-Holland xx-xxv).
In Greek mythology the Underworld is where Hades and Persephone rule over the dead. It is divided into multiple realms for the dead to dwell, based on how they lived in life, including Tartarus and the Elysium Fields (Atsma). Some interesting similarities between the Greek and Norse Underworlds are both are said to be far to the north, both have a river that separates them from the realm of the living, both are in some way guarded by dogs, and both can substitute the name of the ruler (Hel/Hades) for the name of the place.
In ADF we hallow the Fire and call to it as a Gate between the worlds. In ritual it becomes more than mere flame and becomes one of the ways that the Kindreds hear our words more clearly and are able to receive the sacrifices we send them. Fire is an important part of Greek culture and resonates well within ADF cosmology. It is how the sacrifices the Folk make actually get delivered to the Gods. This sacred fire is deified in Hestia. She is the sacrificial fire and the hearth fire, dwelling both in the homes of man and on Mt. Olympus. Because she is the sacrificial fire, every time sacrifice is made, part of it goes to her. She is honored as the first- and last-born of the Olympians, and because she chose to continue serving the hearts and hearths of man (Hesiod Theogony) (Atsma).
In Norse culture fire is seen as important, especially when used to send off the dead. The dead in Norse myths, for example, Sigurd and Baldr, had funeral pyres that were lit. A similarity to Greek culture is the fire being seen as a way to send sacrifices to the deities. Perhaps this is why it made sense to burn the dead, because if they were going to Valhalla, then they were going to the realms of the gods, and could be delivered there via fire, the same way the sacrifices were.
In ADF we hallow the Well and call to it as a Gate between the worlds. The liturgical phrasing that is often used is “Let our voices resound in the Well” meaning that we’re calling through this Gate so that, like the Fire, the Kindreds might hear our words more clearly. In Norse mythology there are three Wells that immediately come to mind. They are said to be at the roots of Yggdrasil, presumably feeding the World Tree. There is the Well of Memory (Mimir) where Odin gives up an eye to gain the knowledge and wisdom that is there. This is also where Heimdall leaves his horn until Ragnarok comes. There is the Well of Fate (Urd), where the Norns live and carry out their business. There is also the well where the dragon Nidhogg lives (Hvergelmir). It is from this place that he delivers the insults to be carried by the squirrel Ratatosk up to the Asgard (Crossley-Holland xx-xxv).
Okeanos is the “deep-running water” and “completely encircling” river of the world. All waters are said to draw their source of water from Okeanos, all rivers, streams, seas, and deep wells (Homer Iliad). This fits into ADF cosmology because we view the Well as the deep, chthonic waters that are the source of all waters, and that all waters are by their very nature sacred. The Underworld is said to lie on the far shore of the River Okeanos, which also continues the theme that the Well is in some way connected with how we communicate with the Ancient Wise. In this case, one would have to cross the river (reach through the Well) to gain their wisdom. The theme of the druidic number nine is also carried through in the waters of Okeanos. He is said to have “nine loops of silver-swirling waters” that split off to form the rivers of the world (Hesiod Theogony).
In ADF the Tree serves as the axis mundi, as the crossroads between the worlds. We hallow it and call for it to open as a Gate between the worlds so that we can feel connected to all the worlds around us. It serves not only as the center of our world, but aligns to the centers of all the worlds allowing our words, actions, and sacrifices to be more easily received by the Kindreds. In aligns our world with theirs so we can feel closer to them.
In Greek mythology the omphalos is the center of the world. It was established as such when Zeus wanted to find the center and sent his two eagles to fly in opposite directions around the world. Where they met, at the Delphi, was considered to be the Center, and the omphalos, the stone that was given to Kronos to swallow in place of Zeus, was placed at that spot at the Oracle of Delphi. The omphalos is said to allow direct communication with the gods. There were also “many sanctuaries in later Greek culture centered on a sacred tree” and ancient Hellenistic celebrants did dances in order to establish a connection between the worlds (Jones 6).
In Norse mythology Yggdrasil, the ash tree, is the world tree. It is considered to be the center of the worlds. Its branches stretch over all the worlds, and its roots grow through all the worlds. The squirrel, Ratatosk, is able to use Yggdrasil as a pathway to travel between the worlds and deliver messages. It truly serves as an axis mundi in the cosmology of the Norse myths (Crossley-Holland xx-xxv).
- 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)
When looking at Indo-European mythology I think it is absolutely fascinating how there are similar themes that present themselves across the cultures and ages. In Comparative Mythology, Puhvel makes an excellent argument for the similarities between the various Indo-European cultures to be more than mere coincidence. The cultures seem to have a similar myth cycle. Campbell makes similar arguments in his presentation of the monomyth in The Hero With A Thousand Faces when describing the archetypes and trials in the hero’s journey.
The archetypes that present themselves in the various myths give us a wealth of information that can be used to help reconstruct myths, or at least give us general information about a specific culture. For example, in cultures that are missing archetypical myths, such as a creation myth for the Celts, or any wealth of Gaulish information, the lack of a myth doesn’t mean that one didn’t exist, simply that we don’t have the records of it anymore. There are archetypes that cause some deities to seem extremely similar, though they have different aspects. These deities are distinct and different beings with similarities that exist due to the common themes pervasive throughout human life, and the great unanswered questions that are raised as we examine the human condition. The deities in each culture fill the roles of the archetypes that are needed.
I think the themes across the myths are strong enough to allow us to postulate what missing myths might have looked like; however, the differences are also very important in giving us information about individual cultures. If we accept there is a common myth cycle across the Indo-European cultures, then it is the differences between the myths that will teach us the most about a particular culture’s values. Not all pantheons will have a deity that takes on all the same roles, or even a role at all. This can help to tell us what roles were often combined in the thoughts of the people in that culture, or what roles didn’t hold value in a particular culture. The similarities of the myth cycle, and the differences in the specific myths allow us to study what kinds of things were important to the peoples of the different cultures.
We can also look at language to see the similarities in various deities. For example, the Thundering Sky God is a strong archetype present across the Indo-European cultures, and in Greek myth Zeus “is in name identical with the old Vedic sky-god Dyaus (Indo-European *Dyews ‘Bright Sky’)” (Puhvel 130). Similarly the Norse Thor shares a root with the Gaulish Taranis, both reducing to *thunar-, meaning thunder (169). The similarities in the roots of the deity names are another point towards showing these archetypical roles being filled across Indo-European cultures as they are needed.
All in all, I think the similarities in myth cycles and language point towards the commonalities being more than just coincidence. It seems likely that all of the Indo-European cultures came from some base culture that then spread out and painted its way across the continent, sharing the language, myths, and values as it went. With that hypothesis we can use what we know of the myths and the languages to explore and compare the differences in the cultures and the values that they held.
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