Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Indo-European Mythology Part 7

A discussion of instances of "freeing" or "winning" the waters in two different IE cultures and how this theme can be reinforced in our current practices and cosmology within ADF.



When I first started working on this requirement, I was not sure that I was going to be able to find more than just the one instance of “freeing” the waters outside of that in the Vedic culture. But as I reread Watkins’ TO KILL A DRAGON and Puhvel’s COMPARATIVE MYTHOLOGY I had a sudden insight that I had not seen before. According to Watkins in the example of Indra freeing the waters from Vritra the theme has three separate parts:

(1)     A religious motif, the exploits of a victorious god; (2) an epic motif, the struggle of the hero with a usually reptilian monster [a dragon or serpent more specifically]; (3) a mythical motif, the freeing of the waters (Watkins 298).

Watkins goes on to talk about how “… chthonic springs and waters so frequently inhabited or guarded by dragons and other creatures like the Hydra, “Water-beastie”” (Watkins 298).

According to the Rig Veda, Vritra was the most powerful of the asuras, a class of gods which predates the devas and were not incorporated in the new gods but were instead ‘demonized.’ Vritra is describes as “… a dragon or serpent who was said to be so huge that his coils surrounded mountains, and his head touched the sky. He was the bringer of drought, and his chief enemy was Indra.” (Naylor) Naylor goes on to relate the rest of the myth related to Vritra:

“… Vritra was a terrible fiend who gathered all the waters of the world into himself and cause a drought to cover the whole earth. The world became a wasteland. [It is important to know here that this would be seen a chaos] In a distant land, he hid in his fortress, hording his treasure so that the world drew ever more parched. Finally, Indra who would become the king of gods, was born. He took it upon himself to attack the demon and release the waters… The two fought a terrible battle, and in the end, Vritra was destroyed by Indra’s thunderbolt. Indra then released the waters to flow back to the world” (Naylor).

Indra is not only the supreme ruler of the devas in Vedic culture, but he is also the god of war and the god of thunder and storms. There is a very powerful parallel here the Hellenic god Zeus. So we have our reptilian monster, our warrior god, and the freeing of the waters through the slaying of the monster.

                When we look deeper into the symbolism in these myths, we see several very important things. Watkins explains this symbolism by saying that “the dragon symbolizes [universal] Chaos, … and killing the dragon represents the ultimate victory of Cosmic Truth and Order over Chaos” (Watkins 299). Through this struggle and the death of Chaos, Order is brought to the world and the “… life-giving forces…” are released.

                Using the formula that Watkins presents, we can see possible links to other cultures where a divine warrior struggles with a serpent/dragon that is bringing chaos and destruction to the land. In the Hellenic culture, there are two examples that stand out the most. The first is that of the battle between Herakles and the Hydra.

“The beast was nurtured in the marshes of Lerna, from where she would go out onto the flatland to raid flocks and ruin the land. The Hydra was of enormous size, with eight mortal heads, and a ninth one in the middle that was immortal. With Iolaos driving, Herakles rode a chariot to Lerna, and there, stopping the horses, he found the Hydra on a ridge beside the springs of Amymone where she nested” (Aaron J. Atsma).

Here we have the serpent like beast with multiple heads that is residing and perhaps even hording water. The Hydra is bringing Chaos to the land just as Vritra does in the Vedas. Though Herakles does not possess the power of lightening, he does however use fire to help in the destruction of the Hydra:

“By throwing flaming spears at her he forced her to emerge, and as she did he was able to catch hold. But she hung on to him by wrapping herself round one of his feet, and he was unable to help matters by striking her with his club, for as soon as one head was pounded off two others would grow in its place. Then a giant crab came along to help the Hydra, and bit Herakles on the foot. For this he killed the crab, and called on his own behalf to Iolaos for help. Iolaos made some torches by setting fire to a portion of the adjoining woods, and, by using these to burn the buddings of the heads, he kept them from growing. When he had overcome this problem, Herakles lopped off the immortal head, which he buried and covered with a heavy boulder at the side of the road that runs through Lerna to Elaios” (Aaron J. Atsma).

                The myth that centers on the struggle between Zeus, leader of the gods, and Typhoeus is another of the most prominent tells within Hellenic culture that can be seen to resemble that of the struggle of Indra and Vritra. Typhoeus is describes as:

“the hands and arms of him are mighty, and have work in them, and the feet of the powerful god were tireless, and up from his shoulders there grew a hundred snake heads, those of a dreaded drakon, and the heads licked with dark tongues, and from the eyes on the inhuman heads fire glittered from under the eyelids: from all his heads fire flared from his eyes' glancing; and inside each one of these horrible heads there were voices that threw out every sort of horrible sound, for sometimes it was speech such as the gods could understand, but at other times, the sound of a bellowing bull, proud-eyed and furious beyond holding, or again like a lion shameless in cruelty, or again it was like the barking of dogs, a wonder to listen to, or again he would whistle so the tall mountains re-echoed to it” (Aaron J. Atsma).

The beast was said to be an “…immortal storm-giant… the source of devastating storm winds which issued forth from the dark nether realm.” Here again we have the association with water and Chaos with a creature that is at least in part very dragon like. The following is an account of the battle between Zeus and Typhoues:

“Now after Zeus had driven the Titanes out of heaven, gigantic Gaia (Earth), in love with Tartaros (the Pit), by means of golden Aphrodite, bore the youngest of her children, Typhoeus; the hands and arms of him are mighty, and have work in them, and the feet of the powerful god were tireless, and up from his shoulders there grew a hundred snake heads, those of a dreaded drakon, and the heads licked with dark tongues, and from the eyes on the inhuman heads fire glittered from under the eyelids: from all his heads fire flared from his eyes' glancing; and inside each one of these horrible heads there were voices that threw out every sort of horrible sound, for sometimes it was speech such as the gods could understand, but at other times, the sound of a bellowing bull, proud-eyed and furious beyond holding, or again like a lion shameless in cruelty, or again it was like the barking of dogs, a wonder to listen to, or again he would whistle so the tall mountains re-echoed to it.
And now that day there would have been done a thing past mending, and he, Typhoeus, would have been master of gods and of mortals, had not [Zeus] the father of gods and men been sharp to perceive it and gave a hard, heavy clap of thunder, so that the earth gave grisly reverberation, and the wide heaven above, and the sea, and the streams of Okeanos, and the underground chambers. And great Olympos was shaken under the immortal feet of the master as he moved, and the earth groaned beneath him, and the heat and blaze from both of them was on the dark-faced sea, from the thunder and lightning of Zeus and from the flame of the monster, from his blazing bolts and from the scorch and breath of his stormwinds, and all the ground and the sky and the sea boiled, and towering waves were tossing and beating all up and down the promontories in the wind of these immortals, and a great shaking of the earth came on, and Haides, lord over the perished dead, trembled, and the Titanes under Tartaros, who live beside Kronos, trembled to the dread encounter and the unending clamour.
But now, when Zeus had headed up his own strength, seizing his weapons, thunder, lightning, and the glowering thunderbolt, he made a leap from Olympos, and struck, setting fire to all those wonderful heads set about on the dreaded monster. Then, when Zeus had put him down with his strokes, Typhoeus crashed, crippled, and the gigantic earth groaned beneath him, and the flame from the great lord so thunder-smitten ran out along the darkening and steep forests of the mountains as he was struck, and a great part of the gigantic earth burned in the wonderful wind of his heat, and melted, as tin melts in the heat of the carefully grooved crucible when craftsmen work it, or as iron, though that is the strongest substance, melts under stress of blazing fire in the mountain forests worked by handicraft of Hephaistos inside the divine earth. So earth melted in the flash of the blazing fire; but Zeus in tumult of anger cast Typhoeus into broad Tartaros.
And from Typhoeus comes the force of winds blowing wetly, except Notos (the South Wind) and Boreas (the North Wind) and clear Zephyros (the West Wind). These are a god-sent kind, and a great blessing to men; but the others blow fitfully upon the seas. Some rush upon the misty sea and work great havoc among men with their evil, raging blasts; for varying with the season they blow, scattering ships and destroying sailors. And men who meet these upon the sea have no help against the mischief. Others again over the boundless, flowering earth spoil the fair fields of men who dwell below, filling them with dust and cruel uproar" (Aaron J. Atsma)
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                The last example I want to present is that from the Norse Culture as presented by Micha Lindemans. In this myth instead of water the tale centers on winning of mead:

In Norse mythology, Kvasir was the wisest of the Vanir, fashioned from the spittle of all the gods. Two brothers, the dwarves Fjalar and Galar, invited him to a feast in their dismal cavern and killed him. The dwarves mixed his blood with honey and preserved it in two jars and a cauldron. The mixture fermented, creating the mead of poetry. Those who drink it become inspired poets.
Sometime later, the brothers murdered the giant Gilling and his wife. Gilling's son, Suttung, came looking for his parents and threatened to kill the dwarves. The brothers gave the mead to Suttung in return for sparing their lives. Suttung hid the mead in the center of a mountain and ordered his daughter Gunnlod to guard it.
Suttung boasted of his treasure, and when the god Odin learned of it, he went to Jotunheim to obtain the mead. Disguised as a farmhand, Odin worked for Suttung's brother, Baugi, all summer. When the work was done, Odin asked Baugi to give him a drink of the mead. Reluctantly, Baugi drilled a small hole through the side of the mountain and into the chamber where the mead was kept.
Odin changed himself into a snake and slithered through the hole into the chamber where Gunnlod guarded the mead. Resuming the form of a giant man, he persuaded Gunnlod to give him three sips of the mead. Odin drained all three vessels, changed himself into an eagle, and flew back to Asgard.”

                In the ‘freeing’ or the ‘winning’ of the waters these warriors confront the Chaos that has entered the world. Their struggle with these raw basic forces of the cosmos brings Order back to the land that has been devastated. Through the release of the waters, a blessing of their divine struggle, all living things benefit by regaining fertility and strength. I have gained a whole new understanding of the importance of ADF’s use of the Waters of Life. Through the retelling or incorporation of these themes into our rituals, a more meaningful connection can be created with the Order of the cosmos, our connection with it, and the Kindred.
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