Standard Set 1: Basic Myths
1) Describe and compare how the cosmos is created through sacrifice in two different IE cultures. (150 words min. each culture)
The generation of the cosmos in most IE cultures comes out of sacrifice. In both the Norse and the Greek mythology we see the destruction of a being bringing about the world as we know it. The sea, the sky, and the land were created out of the death, the sacrifice, of a great being (Serith Deep Ancestors 22-24). These pieces of the cosmos are all tied together by the Sacred Center, which is established through the sacrifice of those beings.
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 myth goes on 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. 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. 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. The dwarves were made from the maggots that had crawled over Ymir’s body (Crossley-Holland 3-7).
In Greek mythology an example of the cosmos being created or ordered through sacrifice can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In book four, when telling the myths of Perseus, Atlas, defeated by the hero, is turned into a mountain. Perseus is seeking the golden apples of the Hespirides, which are guarded by a great dragon. Because Perseus is unable to best Atlas with strength he uses his cunning. When Perseus reveals the head of Medusa, Atlas looks upon it and becomes a mountain. His hair and beard become the trees, his shoulders and hands become mountain ridges, his head becomes the highest peak and his bones become rocks. Through this transformation he becomes huge and vast and the stars, the sky, rest upon his shoulders (Ovid). Thus Atlas becomes the literal axis mundi. “this forms a link between the sacrificial cosmology and its origin, the cosmogony” (Serith Deep Ancestors 23).
2) Describe the image of the Otherworld and/or afterlife in three different IE cultures. How may these images impact your understanding of your own afterlife beliefs and those of Neo-Pagans in general? (400 words min.)
The Otherworld in Norse mythology contains many different lands described in the Grimnismol. Some of these include Valhalla, Folkvang, and Hel. Valhalla is ruled over by Odin, and it is there that he offers hospitality each night to the slain who have fallen in battle and brought to Valhalla by the Valkyries, whose title literally means “chooser of the slain” (Ellis Davidson 61-6). The warriors there fight all day, and each evening are restored to feast on pork and mead (28). The Hall of Valhalla is described in the Grimnismolas existing in Glathsheim, and “its rafters are spears, | with shields is it roofed, / On its benches are breastplates strewn. […] There hangs a wolf | by the western door, / And o’er it an eagle hovers” (Sturlson Grimnismol 90). Folkvang is the realm that Freya rules over. It’s not described in great detail, but it is “where Freyja decrees / Who shall have seats in the hall; / The half of the dead | each day does she choose, / And half does Othin have” (Sturlson Grimnismol 91-2).
While Valhalla is ruled over by Odin, and Folkvang by Freya, Helhaim is ruled by the goddess Hel. It is described in detail in Gylfaginning in the Ride of Hermóðr when he searches for Balder. Hermóðr is said to have taken Sleipnir, and has to ride a long distance over dark valleys until he reaches the river Gjöll and rides over the covered bridge made of gold. He meets with Módgudr, the maiden who challenges him about the noise he had made in crossing the bridge, and tells him he then must continue to travel down and north until he comes to the gates of Hel, which Sleipnir must jump over in order to enter (Ellis 171) (Sturlson Gylfaginning 73-4).
In Vedic India the Otherworld is described as a pastureland that Yama found for men after they have died and are following in the steps of their fathers. The place is described as full of sacred grass where one may sit and rest while singing joyful hymns and eating sacred food. Here the departed have a place to rest with Yama in blessed light and waters. The living are encouraged to gift Yama with Soma, gifts enriched with butter, and sacrifices through Agni so that “he may grant that we may live long days of life among the Gods” (Griffith RV 10.14). This implies that while reincarnation is unclear, the Vedics believed in the possibility of life after death.
In Greek mythology, there are several places that have been described, including the Isles of the Blessed, places for the heroes and the righteous dead, and fields warmed by breezes and not encased in fog (the Elysian Fields) (Puhvel 139). Another explanation of the Underworld is described as being to the north at the edge of the river Akherosian, which must be crossed with the help of Charon (Atsma “Charon”). Odysseus travels there in Book 11 of the Odyssey. Homer describes the place they visit as “enshrouded in mist and darkness which the rays of the sun never pierce neither at his rising nor as he goes down again out of the heavens, but the poor wretches [the dead] live in one long melancholy night” (Homer & Butler). Landmarks that are seen in the Greek underworld include the House of Hades, a white, and possibly shining, cypress tree, a spring, as well as the lake of Memory. These are all within the “darkness of murky Hades” (Graf 5). There are clearly different places where the dead can go, and for those who know the mysteries, they will travel on a road to the “holy meadows and groves of Persephone” (9).
There is some belief in reincarnation evident in Ancient Greece, as discussed in Plato’s Meno in the conversation between Socrates and Meno: “They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time has an end, which is termed dying, and at another time is born again, but is never destroyed. […] “For in the ninth year Persephone sends the souls of those from whom she has received the penalty of ancient crime back again from beneath into the light of the sun above, and these are they who become noble kings and mighty men and great in wisdom and are called saintly heroes in after ages.” The soul, then, as being immortal, and having been born again many times, and having seen all things that exist, whether in this world or in the world below, has knowledge of them all” (Plato). This is to say that the soul can be reborn if the person lived with virtue in their lifetime and if Persephone decides to send them back to the world of the living. The ancient crime is probably referring to the loss of her child, Dionysos, which eventually led to the birth of humanity (Graf 68-9).
I, like many other neo-pagans, have a belief in both reincarnation and the ability to form connections and communicate with the Dead after they have passed. My personal beliefs follow closely to what Plato describes, with the idea that our souls are ever-learning. After a time spent in the afterlife we may be chosen to be reborn and continue the learning of our soul. A spark is left glowing if we drink from the Lake of Memory, and that spark can be used to ignite a new life. I also feel drawn to the idea it is more important to live a virtuous life than to live for the afterlife. It is in this life that we learn, that we influence the path of the world, and that we form the connections with those around us and with the spirits. So it is this life that we should be focused on.
3) Describe the raiding of cattle by warriors (or divine reflexes of this action) in two cultures. How does this theme reflect the culture of the ancient Indo-European peoples, and is this theme relevant to modern Pagans? (300 words min.)
The Cattle Raid of Cooley (Táin Bó Cúailnge) from Irish lore tells how Queen Medb of Connaught decides she must have the Brown Bull, and will do anything to obtain it from Daire of Ulster. The hero Cuchulain ends up having to defend all of Ulster against Medb and her forces. The White Bull of Connaught and the Brown Bull of Ulster end up fighting, with the Brown triumphing. In the end, neither side ended up with the Brown Bull, and many people died over the course of the fighting (Dunn Táin Bó Cúailnge).
In Greek mythology, when Hermes was a baby he found Apollo’s herd of cattle and decided to steal them. He lured them out of the meadow and made them walk backwards, so they did not appear to be leaving. In addition to stealing the cattle, he also slaughtered two of them and cooked their meat (though did not eat it). From the intestines of the cattle he slew he made strings for the first lyre by stretching them across a tortoise shell. Later, when Apollo accused him of the theft of the cattle, he not only denied taking the herd of cows, but also traded the lyre he had made to Apollo for the herd. Thus he avoided blame and yet got to keep the cows honorably anyways (Homer & Athanassakis 31-47).
In these ancient cultures cattle were directly correlated to wealth, and both Hermes and Queen Medb succumbed to greed when they attempted to gain another’s wealth. In both cases, they came up against obstacles in obtaining or keeping the cattle. This reflects the culture of the ancient Indo-European peoples because the idea of protecting and defending one’s assets, and keeping wealth moveable and tradable was very important. These stories relate how greed and the covetous nature of the deities involved can wreck havoc on those around them, especially within the ancient Indo-European culture. Queen Medb recognized the value of the Brown Bull, but her greed caused hundreds to die as she tried to obtain it. Hermes also recognized the value of the cattle, and traded a novel and valuable item (the lyre) to Apollo in order to keep them after Apollo called him out on stealing his whole herd.
While theft and greed was frowned upon in ancient cultures just as it now, there are lessons to be learned from these stories. As modern pagans, these stories are a reminder that we need to walk our virtues and live an honest life. We should be wary of becoming greedy, jealous, envious, or dishonest. We can also look deeper into the stories for other lessons that may apply in a different way to our modern culture. They can both speak to the value of diplomacy in modern paganism. As a modern pagan, when we are involved in a situation and trying to have our needs met, it is important to remember the value in diplomacy and recognizing that we have things to offer. As the bulls in the Cattle Raid of Cooley did not allow either side to have their needs met, the two tribes may have been better served by working through accepted channels of trade and diplomacy, rather than through trickery and war, in order to have their needs and desires met. We can also recognize the value of exchanging gifts to build a stronger community. Apollo and Hermes are considered to be very close now, after having exchanged the herd of cattle and the lyre, their friendship cemented by working together through their conflict, rather than jumping to conclusions and continuing to accuse (falsely or not) the deeds of each other.
4) Describe instances of “freeing” or “winning” the waters in two different IE cultures. How can this theme be used to reinforce our current practices and cosmology? (300 words min.)
“All waters are, by their very nature, sacred. We take these waters and set them aside, as they have been won for us. We set them aside for our use, because these are the gifts we have been given by the Kindreds.”
— from the liturgy of Three Cranes Grove, ADF
The winning of the waters is the giving of blessings and knowledge to the folk. It is the transference of energy that happens during the Return Flow. We do this in every ADF ritual. The deities, in their awesome power, have won these gifts, these blessings, these waters and are giving them to us. It is part of how they maintain the *ghosti relationship that we have built.
Vedic mythology provides a very clear and literal example of the winning of the waters. In the Rig Veda Indra battled with Vrtra to free the waters and win them back for all the people. Vrtra, the dragon on the mountain, was hoarding the waters all for himself and his kin. Then Indra, the Thunderer, having drank of mighty Soma, struck the mountain with his thunderbolt and slew Vrtra and his kin. When he slew Vrtra the waters flowed forth, finally free, down to the ocean (Griffith RV 1.32). This example is straightforward. Indra won the waters, and set them free to flow to the people of Earth and provide them with the blessings that the water contains.
There is a myth in Avestan mythology told in Yasht 19 that relates the story of Atar, the Son of the Waters (Ahura Mazda), who is protecting the gift of Glory (which belongs to the bright ones, the Amesha-Spenta) from Azhi Dahaka, the three-mouthed evil one, who is the most powerful demon that Angra Mainyu created. Azhi Dahaka tries to take Glory forcibly and Atar threatens him and frightens him so much that Azhi Dahaka pulls back and lets go of it. Then, “Glory swells up and goes to the sea Vouru-Kasha. [Atar] seizes it at once” and forces it “down to the bottom of the sea Vouru-Kasha, in the bottom of the deep rivers.” Now when we make sacrifice to the Son of the Waters, he gifts them to us, as the gift of Glory bubbles up and flows forth into the rivers of the world. As the water flows forth from Mount Ushidhau it brings wealth, strength, beauty, power, and health (Darmsteter “Zamyâd Yast”) (Puhvel 278-9).
This theme of winning the waters is relevant to our current practices and cosmology because when we call for the blessings it is important for us to know we are calling to in order to receive them. As we engage in our practice of establishing and maintaining our *ghosti relationship with the Kindreds, it is important to know what gifts we are receiving, how those gifts were initially received, and why those gifts are so special and sacred.
This theme of winning the waters is used to reinforce out current practice most often when we call for the blessings. For example, because in Vedic mythology Indra won the waters and let them flow forth to provide wealth, strength, and inspiration to all the Folk below. The Hymn declares of Indra that “Thou hast won back the kine, hast won the Soma; thou hast let loose to flow the Seven Rivers” (Griffith RV I.32.12). This would be an excellent image to include in a Vedic ritual where the Waters, the Blessings, are shared amongst all the Folk. The same theme can be seen in Avestan mythology as the Son of the Waters seizes the waters, the Glory, for us, for those who make sacrifice to him.
5) Show two examples in one IE culture of a deity engaging in actions that are unethical or unvirtuous, and speculate on why the deities sometimes engage in this type of behavior. (min. 100 words per example)
There are many examples in Greek mythology of deities engaging in actions that are unethical and unvirtuous. Zeus and Hera are related in many of these. Zeus engages in acts of lust, pursuing consorts against his wife’s wishes, and Hera in turn engages in acts of jealously, punishing these consorts in turn. One such example involves Kallisto, one of Artemis’ hunting companions. There are many versions of the story. One version explains how Zeus fell in love with Kallisto and forced himself on her. He knew Hera wouldn’t approve, so he turned Kallisto into a bear. When Hera found out she convinced Artemis to shoot the girl-bear to death (Atsma, Aaron J. “Kallisto”).
Another example of deities engaging in unvirtuous behavior is the story of the Golden Apple in Greek mythology. This story shows how vanity can have dire consequences. In this story Eris throws a Golden Apple in the middle of Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena addressed “to the “Fairest of All.” Eris was angry that she wasn’t allowed to attend the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis. The three goddesses were sent to Paris of Troy for him to make the decision. Each goddess in their vanity offered him something in an attempt to curry his favor and win the designation of the Fairest of All. Hera promised wealth, Athena promised knowledge of every skill, and Aphrodite, so desirous to be named the fairest, promised Paris that he could have Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. So Paris, being vain and shallow himself, chose Aphrodite, and as Helen was abducted in order for Aphrodite to keep her word, the war between Greece and Troy began (Atsma, Aaron J. “Judgment of Paris”).
There are many reasons why there are a multitude of stories of this sort throughout mythology. One reason could be as simple as the fact that we, as human, love hearing engaging stories that contain drama. When we hear these stories it allows us to experience things from a safe distance, to experience these situations in such a way that we can come out of them. Another reason is because our deities are limited in nature. Because they are not omnipotent, they cannot see the bigger picture, and thus cannot always make decisions that would benefit all aspects of a situation. Having flaws not only makes them more believable and relatable because they can make mistakes, but it also gives them a methods of teaching us way to behave virtuously ourselves. The unvirtuous behavior that we see allows us to find reflections of ourselves in the deities and connect more deeply with them.
6) Explain the monomyth (aka “hero cycle”) and show how it applies to a single hero from the IE culture of your choice. (150 words min.)
The monomyth, a theory developed by Joseph Campbell and detailed in The Hero with A Thousand Faces, is the premise that all heroes represent archetypes in mythology and that all mythologies follow a common myth cycle. This is very useful in Indo-European studies because it allows us make educated guess for filling gaps in mythology that may have been lost or never written down in the first place. The monomyth follows the basic cycle of Departure- Initiation – Return. These three pieces of the Hero’s Journey are broken down into steps, and while not all hero myths contain every step, enough of the similarities exist to make it a well-researched and arguable theory. The hero begins with Departure. The steps here are The Call to Adventure (Campbell 49), The Refusal of the Call (59), Supernatural Aid (69), Crossing the First Threshold (77), and The Belly of the Whale (90). During the Initiation phase the steps are The Road of Trials (97), Meeting with the Goddess (109), Woman as Temptress (120), Atonement with the Father (126), Apotheosis (149), and the Ultimate Boon (172). The final phase, the Return, contains the Refusal of the Return (193), Magic Flight (196), Rescue from Without (207), Crossing the Return Threshold (217), The Master of Two Worlds (229), and the Freedom to Live (238).
The Hero’s Journey, the monomyth, can be seen in the journey of Odysseus in Homer’s The Odyssey. Some of the steps in Odysseus’s journey are shifted around within his tale, but most can be seen fairly easily within the epic.
- The Call to Adventure – The Greeks are at war with Troy, and Odysseus must go to help them (prior to Book 1)
- The Refusal of the Call – Odysseus does not want to leave his family and go to war (prior to Book 1)
- Supernatural Aid – Athena comes to the aid of Odysseus (Book 5&6)
- Crossing the First Threshold – Odysseus leaves Troy after the war, and gets blown off course because he neglected to offer to Poseidon before setting sail (Poseidon is also further angered when Odysseus blinds Polyphemus) (alluded to in Book 4)
- The Belly of the Whale – His crew becomes trapped in the cave of Polyphemus, and they must trick him to escape. Odysseus must become “no man” in order to escape (Book 9)
- The Road of Trials – Odysseus is lost for a decade, facing many trials as he journeys, lost, across the sea (these include the land of the lotus-eaters, the sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, the Clashing Rocks, the Laestrygonians, the Sun God’s Cattle) (Books 9-12)
- Meeting with the Goddess – Odysseus meets Circe, and while he is trapped there for awhile, and many of his men are turned into pigs, once Odysseus defeats her, she releases the spell on his men and provides supplies and aid for them when they set out again (Book 10)
- Woman as Temptress – Odysseus meets with Calypso and spends 7 years on her island. He is unable to act as a hero during this time and is finally released when Zeus demands it. Even then, Calypso tries to tempt Odysseus into staying by offering him immortality. (Book 5)
- Atonement with the Father – Odysseus journey’s to the edge of the underworld and meets with Tiresias who gives him knowledge of how to return home unharmed and later atone with Poseidon. (Book 11)
- Apotheosis – staying with Phaeacians after he has washed ashore with his crew. He stays awhile and relates his stories (Books 7&8)
- The Ultimate Boon – Odysseus receives the bag of winds from Aeolus (and while he gets within sight of home, his crew is too curious and releases all the devastating winds, and they are again blown off course) (Book 10)
- Refusal of the Return – Odysseus doesn’t recognize Ithaca when he returns, and Athena disguises him so no one will recognize him. (Book 13)
- Magic Flight – The Phaeacians guide Odysseus home, giving him safe passage back to Ithaca (Book 13)
- Rescue from Without – Odysseus upon his return to the island meets with Eumaeus (the swineherd), who greets him with hospitality and demonstrates devotion to Odysseus (though he doesn’t recognize that the beggar is Odysseus) (Book 14)
- Crossing the Return Threshold – Odysseus defeats the suitors when he is able to string the great bow (Book 21&22)
- The Master of Two Worlds – Odysseus defeats the suitors and reclaims his name, his title, his kingdom, and his family. He is able to live both as the man who experienced the trials, and as the returning hero. (Book 23)
- The Freedom to Live – Athena stops the suitors from taking revenge and Odysseus tells Penelope of the trip he must make to atone with Poseidon and be able to live in peace. (Book 23, 24 and after the epic)
Standard Set 2: Applications
1) Using your answer to question 1 above (cosmos creation), create a piece for use in ritual that describes the process of cosmos creation through sacrifice. (no min. word count)
Recreate the Cosmos & Place the Omphalos-
Let this area around us be purified sacred space where we go to meet the gods,
and the gods descend down to meet with us.
Let the smoke from our sacred fire carry our voices to the heavens to be heard by the gods.
I place this omphalos at the center of worlds, just as it marked the center of the ancient world. My hands, like two eagles, flying to meet in the middle and establish this as the sacred center of worlds.
Through this sacred center, let the World Tree grow, plunging deep within the earth to touch the Sacred Waters below and reaching through the sky to embrace the Sacred Fires above.
Standing here at the Center, it is now time to Open the Gates to the Many Realms.
Let this water become the Well, and open as a Gate to the worlds below.
Our connections deepen to the Chthonic beings as the Gate is opened.
Let this flame become the Fire, and open as a Gate to the worlds above.
Our connections deepen to the Ouranic beings as the Gate is opened.
Let this Omphalos stand at the center, and mark our sacred center here and in all the worlds.
Let the tree wrap its roots around the stone and sink into the Well,
and let its branches stretch upwards and reach for the Fire.
We stand here, connected at the Sacred Center
to all the realms of Land, Sea, and Sky.
Let the Gates be Open!
We now seek assistance in maintaining our connection to the Other Realms, and so we call on a Gatekeeper:
The children of the Earth call out to Atlas,
Great guardian who holds the earth and sky asunder.
You stand as the axis mundi, amongst the pillars connecting the many realms.
Driving the stars before you as the very heavens revolve around you.
Your feet know the depths of the sea and you hands the clouds of the sky.
Mighty Mountain, with your starry crown,
I make this offering to you and bid you welcome.
Meet us at the boundaries
Join us at our Sacred Hearth and be warmed by our good fire.
Aid us and guide us as we walk the Elder Ways.
Atlas, accept this offering!
And now, Atlas, I call to you and ask that you act as our Great Guardian here.
Be our Star Crowned and Earth Shod Pillar.
Be the Mountain that holds the earth and heavens asunder.
Hold our axis mundi firm and maintain our connection to all the realms.
Atlas, Guard the Gates!
2) Using your answer to question 4 above (winning the waters), create a piece for use in ritual that describes the winning of the waters. (no min. word count)
Vedic Spring Equinox: “Indra Megahavahana” A poem intended to be performed for the Return Flow:
Calling for the Blessing
Sing to Indra the Cloud Rider!
On eagles’ wings, borne across the land,
He chases Vrtra, drawn valiantly onward,
Rushing up from the sea upon the very clouds
That bear the waters.
Like a thunderbolt striking a mighty tree,
Split asunder by the tawny-armed Thunderer.
Indra, give us the Waters!
Hallowing the Blessing
Waters of the sea
Set free from the dark and boiling clouds.
Waters of the mountain
Set free as he cleaved the earth in two.
Flowing streams released by his bolt
As he watches from the clouds.
The cows roaring, bellowing, at the victory
As the fort-shatterer gives us the Waters
That we may drink them as
Mighty Indra consumes Soma.
Affirming the Blessing
As Indra is infused with the strength of Soma,
So might we be emboldened as we drink of these Waters.
Indra Megahavahana, we glory at your victory
And partake of the gifts you have won for us.
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