Monday, January 26, 2015

General Bardic Studies for Liturgists 1 - Part 4



Compare and contrast two mythological or folkloric tales from two Indo-European cultures. Include a discussion of the use of narrative point-of-view, the element of time, and any relevant issues of religious (or other) bias influencing the narrative.

The Norse Story of Sól and Máni
               
In Norse mythology, the sun and moon are seen to be sister and brother, Sól and Máni [pronounced like the English word “soul”… “MAH-nee”… (McCoy)]. According to McCoy, they were the first to emerge during the creation of the cosmos, though at the time they were not given their respective powers in the new world. This can be seen in The Poetic Edda (Völuspá):

5. The sun, the sister | of the moon, from the south
Her right hand cast | over heaven's rim;
No knowledge she had | where her home should be,
The moon knew not | what might was his,
The stars knew not | where their stations were.

During this creation process, the gods gathered together to set in motion the cycles of night and day, the year, and the cycle of the moon. As it is not very clear on who these gods are, I assume the gods being referred to here are those from the Norse creation mythos Bor, Odin, Vili, and Ve as they were the ones to sacrifice Ymir during the act of creation (Mortensen 19-24). It is here that Sól and Máni were given their powers over their respective parts of the heavens (Völuspá):

6. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, | and council held;
Names then gave they | to noon and twilight,
Morning they named, | and the waning moon,
Night and evening, | the years to number.

                This division of power and time shows that the ancients believed that the sun and moon governed the seasons and time. We will see this reflected in the Hellenic Mythology as well when we look at the powers and children associated with the deities of the sun and moon in that culture.

McCoy goes on further to state that both goddess and god rode “… through the sky on horse-drawn chariots” (McCoy).

The Hellenic Story of Helius and Selene

                Much like the sun and moon in the Norse culture, Helius and Selene in Greek mythology are seen as being present during the creation of the cosmos. Though the twins, Apollon and Artemis, as well as many other deities, were sometimes associated with the sun and moon, it is actually the Titans Helius and Selene who are the sun and moon incarnate. Both Selene and Helius were said to ride in chariots across the sky. Selene’s chariot was drawn by “… a pair of winged steeds. Her lunar sphere or crescent was represented as either a crown set upon her head or as the fold of a raised shinning cloak. Sometimes she was said to drive a team of oxen and her lunar crescent was likened to the horns of a bull” (Atsma, Selene). Helius’ chariot was pulled by “… four fiery winged steeds and (Helius was…) crowned with aureole of the sun” (Atsma, Helios).
               
                Selene was credited as being the mother of “… Pandia (All-Gifts), Ersa (Dew), the Menai (Months), and some say of the four Horai (Seasons)” (Atsma, Selene). This shows the power she had on the cycles of life in the Middle Realm, especially since the seasons and telling of time were forecasted by a lunar calendar in ancient times.

                Helius was said to rise up out of the River God Okeanos in the morning and “… set in the land of the Hesperides (Evenings) in the West he descended into a golden cup which carried him around the northern streams of Okeanos back to his rising place in the East” (Atsma, Helios).

Analysis

                In contrast to the Norse Sól and Máni, Selene is the goddess of the moon and Helius is the god of the sun. This difference could be seen as the corresponding relationship that each culture might have seen with the sun and moon. When we look at the vast amounts of information of the Hellenic culture, we perhaps see why these associations are in such contrast to one another.

                The moon is seen as giving birth to all that is important to fertility in the Hellenic mythologies. This could be seen because the sun in the Mediterranean could be extremely harsh on the land, as well as the people. These are the kinds of aspects that were associated with male deities, generally, while female deities were associated more with fertility and life. Therefore, it would be logical to see the moon as a beacon of the cool desirable times of the cycle. Conversely, in the extremes northern countries of the Norse culture, the sun would be seen as the warming of the harshness of the night. It would be welcomed as the life-giving, fertile light by which the people could farm and fish by. Here the moon and the times of darkness would be seen as the harsher times of life. It would be the times in which the people struggled to survive as the land and sea would be less life giving.

                Another important aspect to remember is that Selene and Helius were not Olympians but Titans. The Titans were primordial beings that ruled the cosmos before the Olympians came into power. Many scholars view this era as a time of chaos, of which the Titans themselves were a part. It was through the domination of the Titans by the Olympians that Order was brought to the cosmos so that life could begin. In the Norse mythology, we are given the impression that Sól and Máni were born during a time when the beginning Order was taking place, but perhaps they were still were a part of the Chaos that the Asgardians ended through bringing purpose and Order. This order can be seen in both cultures through the lunar and solar cycles, being the givers of time and marking of the change of the seasons. So despite the seemingly superficial differences between these two sets deities, they can be closely linked in function because both sets brought about the demarcation of time set to the new Order of the universe.
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