Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Indo-European Mythology Part 6

A discussion of the raiding of cattle by warriors (or divine reflexes of this action) in two cultures.

          There are several aspects to cattle that are very important in considering this question. First, cattle were and still are seen to a degree as a form of wealth. They were both beasts of burden and a food source for the people. The second is the fact that so many of the IE cultures had the similar belief that the sacrifice of a cow was part of the act which created the cosmos. The cattle raid cycle, as stated by David Leeming, “… reflects the central role of cattle to the ancient economy, religion, and mythology” (Leeming, The Oxford Companion of World Mythology 64). Much like the “freeing of the waters” in the cattle raids, the divine hero/warrior must confront and do battle with some type of serpent to win the cattle back which have been stolen. J.P. Mallory described this as “… the IE dragon-slaying myth…” (J.P. Mallory 138). The description goes on to say “… a warrior-hero by the name of ‘Third’ (*Tritos) set out with the assistance of the warrior god to recover cattle that had been stolen from the Aryan people by a foreigner. In order to recover the cattle, *Tritos must fight and kill a three-headed serpent, after which he returns with the cattle.”

           This can be seen in various forms or divine reflex throughout the IE cultures. One of the most prominent examples is in the battle of Herakles and Geryon. As one of his labors, Herakles is sent to the island of Erytheia to fetch these cattle that Geryon has carried off. To do this Herakles enlists the aid of Helios so that he is able to reach the island. Once on the island of Eurysheus, Herakles battles with Eurytion, Orthros, and finally with Geryon himself who is described “… as three-headed… and, being descended from the Medosa whose hair was formed of writhing snakes, might also be associated with a serpent” (J.P. Mallory).

           The next example is seen in The Rigveda. In this tale “… a group called the Panis captured the cattle and kept them trapped in the Vala cave. Indra opened the Vala cave and released the cattle and the dawns” (Stephanie Jamison 39). What is interesting in this tale is that Indra does not use his weapon but instead uses magic (chants) to release the cattle. In some translations Vala is seen as a demon of sorts much like Vritra whom Indra slayed to release the waters. So it is possible that Vala is also a serpent type demon with whom the Panis has hidden the stolen cattle and dawns (of light of the sun). In this tale Indra is strengthened by his consumption of Soma so that he can face Vala and accomplish his task.

           As modern Pagans, it is important for us to understand the mythologies of our ancestors so we can grasp a better knowledge into their ways of life, their beliefs, and the structure of their culture. As a member of a Neo-Pagan Druid practice, it leans more validity to the idea that there was a tripartion within that structure which we try to emulate today. It gives us a basis that the warrior class existed and that they righted that which was wrong. It expresses the idea that defending a person’s or a society’s property is important and that greed should be overcome. This is reinforced by the fact that the warriors/heroes in these myths are helped by deities to achieve the goal of returning that which was wrongfully taken. On a more metaphysical level, I personally see these stories to be very similar as those of “freeing the waters of life”. They are stories to teach us that to overcome Chaos that we should seek what is right, with the help of the divine stand up for that right, and to preserver through the struggle to do what is right.
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