Indo-European Mythology 1

1.      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 10 multiple revisions, or the presence of Christian or other outside influences in surviving texts. (minimum 300 words)

In Greek, or Hellenic mythology some of the earliest of the literary sources comes from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, purported to have been written around the 8th century BCE, and Hesiod’s Theogony (Origin of the Gods) between the 8th – 7th century BCE, gives the fullest account of the earliest Greek myths, dealing with the creation of the world; the origin of the gods, Titans, and Giants; as well as elaborate genealogies, folktales, and etiological myths.  Some archeological sources come from discoveries of the Mycenaean civilization by Heinrich Schliemann, in the nineteenth century CE, and the discovery of the Minoan civilization by British archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, in the twentieth century CE. Included in this mix is the fact Greek mythology has changed over time to accommodate the evolution of their culture which accounts for discrepancies that are found in texts that should relate the same tales in the same way. This unfortunately is compounded with the simple fact that any culture that recounts stories verbally over time, as did the Greeks, the Romans, the Celts etc. will find variations creeping in. In Greek myth we learn that by the time the myths were written down by Homer and Hesiod, they had survived about 400 years of addition, subtraction and mutations to become what we now refer to as authentic myths.

Roman mythology, if anything, suffers from greater change perhaps than any other because of their habit of adopting mythology from conquered countries. In Comparative Mythology, Jaan Puhvel states, “Rome was in fact the first big external consumer of Greek myth, bequeathing it to Western literary posterity. When Roman tradition encountered strange gods, be it Greece, Gaul or Germania, they subjected as far as possible to a Roman interpretation and tagged with the names of Roman deities.” (Puhvel 144) The earliest indication of Roman recorded myth comes from Virgil’s Aeneid which drew on myths that linked the city’s founding with Greek deities and legends. Another poet, Ovid, wrote the Metamorphoses, a collection of Near Eastern and Greek myths that the Romans had adopted. These works date to around the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE.

The Celts were very much an oral tradition inasmuch as they did not, unlike the Greeks and Romans, have a written alphabet for a very large portion of their early cultural existence. Although there are claims that the Ogham was a Celtic alphabet there is no indication that it was used for transcribing tales of the gods. The first alphabet that was used appears to date to the time of the Roman Empire and even more spread after the introduction of Christianity to those lands. The adulteration that occurred as the monks wrote the stories causing the mutation that we have now that shows a heavy bias towards Christianity as evidenced in the case of Brighde and St. Bridget all but obliterated the myths in these lands except for remote areas that resisted the incursion by concealing their legends, stories, and tales through the storytellers and their folklore.

 

o tales of creation

For the Norse the creation can seem confusing due to the plethora of mythic elements, but this may be clearer to those who follow this hearth culture. Wading through this miasma though one can begin to discern a logical line of thought. In the beginning there was the void. And the void was called Ginnungagap. Along with the void existed Niflheim the land of fog and ice in the north and Muspelheim the land of fire in the south. For me there is confusion as to whether or not these coexisted simultaneously with Ginnungagap or not. Through a series of events Ymir became the primeval giant whose corpse when placed in the Ginnungagap by Odin, Vili, and Ve, created the earth and sky from it. They also created the stars, sun, and moon from sparks coming out of Muspelheim. This tale at least exists to explain creation for the Norse, unlike the Celts who suddenly appear seemingly out of nowhere.

Passed on through spoken language, the Celts do not have a specific creation myth; rather, they begin their history with the settling of Ireland. Ireland was invaded by five successive waves of people, the first wave was the Partholonians, who came in and drove the Fomorians, thought to represent the ancient, evil Irish gods, into the north. The next wave was the Nemedians who also fought the Fomorians eventually losing and basically disappearing. Then came the Fir Bolg, who divided Ireland into five provinces, Connacht, Ulster, Leinster, and two Munsters, and were the first Irish people to establish a kingship and administration of justice. After this came the Tuatha de Danaan on Samhain, and fought a great battle against the Fomorians. The Fomorian king, Balor, was killed, and the Fomorians were driven out of Ireland for the last time. Finally the Milesians came seeking revenge for one their princes who had been murdered after meeting with the three Tuatha de kings. Upon their arrival they granted three days peace to the Tuatha de Dannan after which a battle ensued and the Tuatha de were defeated. Amergin, the Milesian Druid, was given the task of dividing the land, and he gave the Tuatha de Danaan the land below the ground and the Milesians the land above. After this, the Tuatha de lived below the hills, and it is they who were turned into the legendary faerie folk of Ireland.

The disparity between these two tales is quite obvious. The Norse explains how the land and sky came to be whereas everything was already in place with no explanation as to how it was formed for the Celts. If there was an explanation it has been long lost and forgotten. Perhaps for the Celts they are relying upon other cultures such as the Norse to provide that explanation and are only concerned with their primal people the Tuatha De Dannan. Whatever the reason the schism between the two is immense and provides a clear delineation in the belief system of the two cultures.

o tales of divine war

One of the clearest group of tales regarding divine war is evidenced in Greek culture. There are the tales which involve how Kronos overthrew his father Ouranos and was then overthrown in turn by his son Zeus. This brought an end to the reign of the Titans and introduced the reign of the Olympians. While these were the two biggest conflicts among the Greek gods there numerous small ones that were waged through the mortals as Homer explains in his two works the Iliad and the Odyssey. Gods and goddesses had their favorites among the mortals and would often aid them despite the rulings of Zeus who himself very often interfered.

One instance is when Thetis asked the divine artisan Hephaestus, the crippled god of the forge, to prepare some divine armor for her son Achilles. Achilles’s career as the greatest warrior came to an end when Paris, with the help of Apollo, killed him with an arrow which pierced him in the heel, the one vulnerable spot, which the waters of the River Styx had not touched because his mother had held him by the foot when she had dipped the infant Achilles in the river. Aphrodite saves her son Aeneas from death at the hands of Diomedes. This intervention however is more indicative of gods struggling with gods than gods manipulating men. Aeneas is threatened only because Diomedes has been made stronger by the influence of Athena. Aphrodite rescues her son from danger as she continues to struggling with hostile gods. Ares inspires Hector to lead the Trojans and defend their line against Diomedes’ attack. Once again, in response to the action of Athena, a god aides a Trojan captain. Apollo rouses a Trojan to defend the raided camp. In response to Athena’s support of the Greek marauders, Apollo wakes a Trojan to limit the damage done by the pair.

The gods struggle against each other using the mortals as pawns. All in all whether by direct interference battling each other or by interfering through humans, there are approximately 34 instances in the Trojan War epic alone that demonstrate the god and goddesses striving against each other for dominance. Although Zeus only interfered at the request of others of the Olympian family, as the Father of the Olympians his word was final and he could have at any time refused the request.

In the case of the Celts though there is, as is too often the case, very little which can be discerned regarding this topic. Puhvel indicates that the first of the divine battles seems to involve the Tuathe de and the Fir Bolgand the second is between the Tuatha De and the Formoire.. (Puhvel 177-178) These battles are chronicled in two events titled the First and Second Battle of Mag Tuired. From these we see that in contrast to the first battles of the Greek Pantheon, the Celtic tales did not involve father and son scenarios but were between congregations or tribes if you will, of ‘people’ who become designated as gods and goddesses by posterity. Like the Greek pantheon however, it was not unknown for the gods and goddesses to aid their favorites against one another. It quickly can be noticed that once again the gods struggle against each other using the mortals as pawns. This is intimated by Puhvel’s comment regarding the Ulster Cycle wherein he states, “It bears notable resemblance to the heroic late Bronze Age traditions depicted by the Homeric poems.” (Puhvel 185)

o tales which describe the fate of the dead

A Roman tale which describes the fate of the dead best to me is that of Aeneas and his Journey into the Underworld wherein he searched for his father. Aeneas had consulted the prophet Helenus and followed the advice given to him in seeking out Sibyl who was to accompany and guide him on his journey. During the discourse of this tale we learn of the ferryman Charon who transports the dead across the rivers Cocytus and Acheron. Those not accepted by Charon were doomed to wander for 100 years. Waiting on the bank of the river ready to dispute the passage of the souls ferried across by Charon was Cerberus. We learn also of Minos who judges the souls of the dead as they come before him. Then there is the division of souls who enter either the region ruled over by Rhadamanthus where they were punished for their misdeeds. The other was the Elysian Fields where the, “… great and good dead, heroes, poets, priests and all who had made men remember them by helping others.” (Hamilton 228) A clear division of souls wherein one can adoption of the heaven and hell concept prevalent in Christianity.

The Celts on the other hand did not believe a person died in the same manner that the Romans did, rather they espoused the belief in the transmigration of the soul which was closely associated with shape shifting. Transmigration, like shape shifting, deals with changing of the outer form and from the changing of this physical change comes an inner perceptual transformation. In this process the being goes from one form to another gain knowledge and experience in repeated forms as your perception of the world changes and you become a different person. There are two tales which give clear indication of this belief and association. The first is that of Taliesin evidenced by his recitation, “I have been a blue salmon, I have been a wild dog, I have been a cautious stag, I have been a deer on the mountain, And a stump of a tree on a shovel, I have been an axe in the hand, A pin in a pair of tongs, A stallion in stud, A bull in anger, A grain in the growing, I have been dead, I have been alive, I am a composer of songs, For I am Taliesin.”(Ellis 71) The second is that of Etain who changes into a pool of water, a small worm, a purple fly, and eventually is reborn a thousand years after here initial birth.

So for the Romans your body is laid to rest and your soul goes to either a place of beauty and tranquility or to one of constant torment and agony. This all depending upon how you lived your life and is determined by a judge, who may just be having a bad day and you unfortunately take the brunt of his displeasure, after all even the gods are known to be moody. For the Celts the soul and body do not part but continue on together growing, changing and developing forever.

3.      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)

o Earth Mother

It seems as if every IE culture recognized the Earth Mother in a similar manner to what ADF ritual dictates. In ADF we acknowledge the Earth Mother as the one who we revere for all creation and pay homage to for all of her bounty by gifting sacrifices at the beginning of our rituals recognizing her as the one who provides us with sustenance and all things in Nature. The Celts looked upon the Earth Mother in a similar style recognizing her, “…with her progeny of spirits, of springs, rivers, mountains forests, trees and corn …” (Anwyl 20) From this we can determine that Mother Earth was to the Celts almost as much a personality that could be accessed and spoken with as we would with our natural mothers. She is a deity who is approachable and beneficent. To the Greeks however, she was, “…the solid ground, yet vaguely a personality to.” (Hamilton 64) This indicates that there was a remoteness and lack of closeness that makes her almost unapproachable even though they gave her the name Gaia and made sacrifices to her. Yet the Greeks also held with the IE predominant concept that the Earth Mother was typically spouse to the Sun god which in their case would be Hera making her a competitor for the title with Gaia.

o Deities of Land

It always has been, and to my mind always will be, important to recognize the deities of the land upon which live. In our rituals we honor and make offerings to the deities that provide the harvest, be it grains, fruit, animal, milk etc. The Greeks showed great reverence and adoration for Demeter as one of their deities of the harvest. It was said that her appearance on the threshing floor or in the field at harvest time was frequent. (Hamilton 47-48) Of course Dionysus as god of the vine was also recognized for the ample production of wine among other ‘delicacies.’ The Celts had many insular deities that they honored such as Abellio, Carldwen, Lugh, Mabon, and Aine among many others. Offerings at the harvest festivals such as Lughnasadh, Mabon, and even at Eostre to honor the respective deities are similar today as they were in the ages past to give thanks and seek continual blessings and prosperity from the land.

o Deities of Sea

Water is one of the sacred symbols for us and is represented by the Well in rites. Isaac Bonewits suggests that, “Water could also be a primary Gateway.” (Bonewits 36) and this is because it, “…exists in all the physical and spiritual places.” (Bonewits 36) It is an element of emotion and intuition, both of which can evoke dramatic responses when necessary and can be considered essential in our rites especially when aligned or incorporated with Omen readings. The Greeks worshipped Poseidon and made sacrifices to him whenever a journey across the sea was required. With the recent movie re-release of the Clash of the Titans, the importance of Poseidon is again brought to the fore along with the need to appease his wrath by appropriate courtesy and sacrifice. The Celts worshipped Lir as the god of the sea and today his son, Manannan is invoked as the Gatekeeper in many of the rituals we employ because he like his father is considered a sea god and transporter or ferryman able to aid in access to the Otherworld.

o Deities of Sky

Aside from the usual reasons of honoring the deities of the sky such as good weather for crop production and life sustenance, but as Raven and Carrion Mann state, “we worship deities of the Sky, those of the storms, of the sun and of the moon…” (Mann 1) In most IE cultures it seems as if there was a supreme sky god who coincidentally appeared as the primary god of the cultural pantheon. For the Greeks this was Zeus, the Celts had Taranis and the Dagda, the Norse had Thor. These deities all exhibited analogous traits, something not unlike many other deities spread across IE cultures. Apart from these ‘principal’ gods though there were other sky deities of importance, such as Artemis the goddess of the moon, Hemera as the goddess of the sun, Aeolus being the god of the winds, Eosphorus god of the morning star, and many more for the Greeks. The Celts had Eostre as the goddess of the dawn, Erriapus being the god of flight, Danu representing the winds, Bel or Belenos as the god of the sun, Nemglan the bird god and so on through the various insular groups of the Celtic pantheon.

So in our own devotions and rites it would behoove us to recognize these deities also from our individual Hearth Cultures because just like with our ancestors these deities affect so many aspects of our lives. We may not always name them individually but recognition of their aid is essential to our well being and guidance with other entities of the Otherworld.

o Outsiders

This category is synonymous with the term Outdwellers and as Isaac Bonewits delineates, “…included the spiritual equivalents to moral outsiders such as foreigners, aboriginal peoples, sorceresses, madmen, criminals, and so on.” (Bonewits 38) He then goes to indicate examples from the Celtic culture that include, “…faeries, elves, giants, Fomorians, banshees and so forth.” (Bonewits 38) This makes it fairly obvious that entities which can be disruptive or chaos enhancing represent an undesirable element during our rites and as such we ask them to stay their presence during our workings. There are others that could and should be considered along with the above list for the Celts, the Morrigan springs to mind quite quickly as does Belatucadros and the Cailleach.

The Greeks had their own share of entities that would prove disruptive at inopportune times such as Dionysus with his party-hearty attitude, Hermes with his attribute as being the patron of cunning and liars, Ate with her patronage towards the foolish acts, and Eris with strife and discord. None of these mentioned attributes would be conducive to a smooth functioning rite and although these deities had other more desirable attributes it seems that it would need specific mentioning of those desirable attributes and their incorporation into the rites to be mentioned if they were not going to be asked to restrain their presence.

o Nature Spirits

There is some transference of personages here with the Sky Deities in both the Celtic and Greek cultural worlds such as with the gods of the winds, moon, sun, and weather. But there is also a whole other grouping that belong to the land itself such as those of healing waters, Sulis is an example from the Celtic pantheon, Nemetona the patron of sacred groves, and there is the many tutelary goddesses of rivers across the Celtic world evidenced by the incorporation of their names into the rivers, principally the Danube that derives its name from Danu. It is unfortunate that there is not more hard evidence of how the ancients respected and honored the Nature Spirits but in light of the fact that they were a Nature religion it can be deduced that these entities figured highly on their list. A group of lesser deities in the Greek world associated with Nature and water were the Naiads or water nymphs. Another that deity associated closely with Nature for the Greeks was Pan, half animal half god and companion to the woodland nymphs. This leads us to some other groupings that the Greeks had: the Sileni being part man and part horse, the Satyrs who like Pan were part goat and part man, the Centaurs who were also part man and part horse but instead of walking on two legs as did the Sileni they used all four legs.

Whatever pantheon or culture that is chosen one will find enough ‘named’ entities to pay homage to. To me though the principle of honoring everything in Nature which includes the trees, bushes, birds, insects, fish, rocks, rivers, wells, springs, animals of all  kinds and variety, geographic features like hills, mounds, mountains, reptiles and amphibians is of great import. We live on and off the land, even those in the cities, we are a Nature religion like the ancient ancestors and as such we should remember and gives thanks either individually at times or collectively always to these spirits who allow us the privilege of sharing their space.

o Ancestors

These are those who have gone before us and who have lived, breathed and died, now living across the veil in the Otherworld. They may be associated with us by blood, by deeds, or by geographical locale. These are the entities to which we have the closest natural contact because of our affiliation with them especially those of blood lineage. These entities can serve as our guides and messengers as we travel through the worlds while in a trance state or receive advice from omens. Ian Corrigan says, “All Indo-European peoples seem to have practiced, in various ways, a Cult of the Dead. This seems to have included veneration of the generations immediately passed, as well as more broadly important cultural figures.” Corrigan 1) Obviously there was great belief in life after passing from this world in the Celtic culture which mostly centered around the transmigration of the soul. Contact with one’s ancestors was deemed to be especially easier during Samhain since this was the time when the veil between the worlds was at its thinnest. The Greeks would ‘promote’ their heroes, bards, royalty etc. to a demi-god status if specific criteria were met regarding their deeds, ethics and morals. Each Grecian family would talk of their departed ancestors preserving the memory of them and speculate as to where their souls had gone when they crossed the river Styx. Storytellers in both Celtic and Grecian cultures repeated tales of the great ones, heroes, kings, and warriors, regaling their audiences with wondrous episodes and drama (maybe slightly exaggerated for effect.)  Every religion and culture today continues with similar demonstrations venerating their Ancestors whether it is by continuing what was done anciently or by incorporating customs into their belief system now.

 

4.      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)

o Upperworld

Gwynvyd is the name the Celts (Welsh verbiage) used for the Upperworld, a realm that consists of the Celestial/Higher aspects of the gods and goddesses: gods and goddesses of Light, the Sun, the Moon, the Elements, The Shining Ones, etc. Mythical Creatures such as Faeries exist here as well as select humans who have progressed to the highest plane of Spirituality and as such no longer are required to return to the Earth.

For the Greeks this realm was Olympus, where the great god/desses lived, partied and cast the fortunes of humans. The deities who did not live on Olympus, such as the gods of the Underworld, or the sea, would arrive when summoned by Zeus. Homer says that no wind ever shakes the untroubled peace of Olympus; no rain or snow ever falls there; but the cloudless firmament stretches around it on all sides and the white glory of sunshine is diffused upon its walls. It was very common for the gods to meet in the hall and feast on ambrosia and nectar served by the goddess Hebe. They would then rejoice by the music of Apollo and the nine muses.

o Middleworld

The Greeks entertained a plethora of gods and demi gods upon the land where they lived. It is here where the Naiads, Nymphs, Centaurs, Sileni, and Satyrs roamed. I see these beings as parallels to the Celtic Sidhe in many ways who can be beneficent but also spiteful when provoked. They are also beings that one may come across at any time. All beings that inhabit the surface of the Land and features therein such as bodies of water (apart from the seas) would be considered denizens of the Middleworld.

Abred or the synonymous Annwn (Welsh verbiage), is the world in which we live. Here the god/desses of nature coexist with humans. In Sacred Fire, Holy Well we read that, “The Midrealm is associated with the surface of the Land, and Home of the Hosts, and with the many spirit tribes that share it with us.” (Corrigan 14) This would then include the Nature Spirits that surround us in our locale and go about our daily lives. This would indicate to me that this is a middle ground for those entities such as the Sidhe which can live underground but appear at times on the surface, especially around Samhain and other festivals such as Mabon, Litha, Beltaine and Lughnasadh.

o Divisions Of Middleworld (e.g., 4 Quarters, 3 Triads, 8 Sections)

We read in Sacred Fire, Holy Well that, “Celtic lore divides the Middleworld into a triad of Land, Sea and Sky.” Continuing on with the fact that, “From Vedic to Hellenic to Irish lore we find the Three Realms of Land, Sea and Sky ruled by triads of deities. “(Corrigan 12) So if this is the case then who are the triad deities for these cultures? In Celtic culture the Realm of the Sea is called An Muir , the Land is called An Talamh, and the Sky is called An Speir. “The Celtic tendency to conceal the personal names of their God/desses behind more general titles makes deciphering the order of the pantheon a problem.” (Corrigan 46) An example of this concealment would be the Deae Matres or Mother Goddess of which there are three making it “a problem’ indeed since depending upon your locale in the Celtic World you may have varying names for the goddess who serves a tutelary function for that region. Generally Danu is accepted as the Mother Goddess but does this transfer over to acquisition of the attributes of other deities of the Land?

In Greek culture we encounter Zeus as the god of the Sky, Poseidon as the god of the Sea, and Gaea (Gaia) as goddess of the Land (Earth) which seems fairly cut and dry except that Ouranos could be considered the god of the Sky and maybe Hades as the god of the Earth even though his realm is that of the Underworld. Much of this is based upon whether one decides to use the Titans, the Olympians or a mixture of the two pantheons as the basis for the definition of whose attributes coincide with the basic premise of deity of the triad of Land, Sea, and Sky. While this is not as complicated as the culture of the Celts with their anathema regarding the written word and names of their deities, it is still something of a confusing nature.

Investigating these triads could be a whole thesis of its own and might unleash another whole conundrum of layers that need to be peeled back to try and make clear sense of the situation, if that is at all entirely possible.

o Nether/Underworld

Hades is the ruler of the Greek Underworld and eventually the noun became synonymous with the realm of the Dead. Entering through Erebus, the departed soul’s journey to over the river Styx ferried there by Charon after which they reach Tartarus which was the section of the underworld where the dead would spend all of eternity in the place where judgment would order them. Tartarus was divided into three sections which included the Elysium Fields: the final resting places of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous, the Asphodel Meadows is where indifferent and ordinary souls were sent to live after death, and the Garden of the Hesperides, where heroes and other favored mortals were received by the gods into a blissful paradise-like existence for eternity.

Annwn is the name the Celts (Welsh verbiage) gave to this realm.  It is a touch difficult to be absolutely sure as to the beliefs of the Celts in this regard. In Sacred Fire, Holy Well we read, “…while the tales strongly suggest a belief in reincarnation and transmigration among the Celts, they fall short of proving it.” (Corrigan 48)  Then slightly further on, “Many tales tell that the souls of the newly dead linger, as shades, in the living world until Samhain eve. Then Donn, the King of the Dead, winds his horn and calls all souls to his House, Teach Duinn, and then west across the sea to Tir Na Marbh.” (Corrigan 49) So apparently while the Greeks believe in an Underworld existence the Celts believe in an Otherworld existence across the sea. If we are to accept the explanations in the tales then souls can be born again as other humans, animals, birds or even trees. It is noted that none of these incarnations are of less value than others but are merely incarnations that assist us in working out our path rather than working our way up a ladder through a series on regularly spaced incarnations based upon our efforts.

o Fire

Fire was sacred to the ancient Celts. The domestic hearth-fire was never allowed to die, except during the fire festival of Beltane, when it was ritually rekindled from the royal fire. Druids used sacred fires for divination. These were lit and observed for the vertical shape of the smoke, and the formation of smoke clouds. But Fire is more than just for the hearth or divination. Fire is a tangible representation of the sun, the stars and the moon and also serves as a means of communication across the three realms, the three worlds and the Otherworld. It is a Gateway to communication in each area. “Sacred fire burns in and through all the categories of reality and can be used symbolically to tie them all together.” (Bonewits 46)

Because it is a Gateway to the god/desses it is logical to incorporate those deities associated with carrying messages such as Hermes in the Greek pantheon or Apollo the god of light. Going further back to the time of the Titans one might include Helios (the sun himself) but to do that would require the incorporation of Bel (Belenus or Apollo Belenus) from the Celtic realm with his attribute of the sun. Whichever way it is considered it is of importance that the Fire is considered one of the Three Gateways that are used in ritual.

o Well

The Well is perceived primarily as the connection or Gateway that links the Upperworld to the lower or Underworld. The mystical properties of the Well, for the Celts at least, revolve around the living properties of the water within. To be sure it was viewed as a source life and fertility but it also contained a life of its own with the movement of rivers, seas and springs. “…offerings of weapons, prestige goods, cauldrons, jewelry, coins, some human and animal sacrifices were cast into water as deliberate acts of veneration and ritual.” (Green 223-224) This is emphasized even today with the ancient sacred wells being incorporated by Christianity as is evidenced by the clootie wells in Scotland and Ireland, and the more prominent St. Brigid’s Well in County Clare, Ireland. It is reported that over 1300 holy or sacred wells have been documented and mapped in Ireland alone thus testifying explicitly to the importance of the Well in the culture. We know from Irish myth and folklore that wells and springs are depicted as originating in the Otherworld and because of this the waters that flow out into springs and wells have mystical powers and are venerated due to the connection with those inhabitants of that Realm.

“In Greek mythology, the Naiads or Naiades (Ναϊάδες from the Greek νάειν, “to flow,” and νἃμα, “running water”) were a type of nymph who presided over fountains, wells, springs, streams, and brooks.” (Wikipedia) The Greeks believed that all the waters were connected and that though their source percolated in from the ocean it all flowed out above ground to the rivers, the lakes, the ponds or to the wells and springs. There is nothing that I could find that linked specific rituals to wells or information that indicated the Greeks had veneration for sacrifices at wells. Because of their worship of Poseidon as god of the Seas and the belief that all waters came from the ocean originally the extrapolation that sacrifices involving any water would be made to Poseidon through the local body of water and the attendant Naiad.

o Tree

The Tree represents the Center of the World, the symbol that unites both the Land and the Sky bringing balance or order in a world of chaos. It enables us to focus on a spot that brings back the time when the world was created on that representation spot. “…it is not a matter of geometrical space, but of existential and sacred space that has an entirely different structure.” (Bonewits 33) The Tree in different cultures can be represented by a Shaman Pole, a sacred mountain or even the smoke from a sacred fire. The idea is that a focal point is established that acts as an axis mundi for the participants and also is the third Gateway.

For the Celts this would have been a tree in a sacred grove or Nemeton, given their veneration for trees as symbols of important foci. In all likelihood it would have been an oak, ash or yew since these was their most revered trees, in fact old and middle Irish has a word for this sacred tree, bilé. ‘In the 12th c. Dinnsenchas (the History of Places) trees are mentioned as sources of sacred wisdom.” (Green 213) The many archeological finds, such as offerings stuffed into crevasses of the trees, throughout the Celtic realm also indicate that a sacred tree was used extensively by the Celts.

“Although the concept is absent from the Greek mythology, Medieval Greek folk traditions and more recent folklore claim that the tree that holds the Earth is being sawed by Kallikantzaroi (commonly translated as goblins).” (Wikipedia)  In The Myth of the Eternal Return MaMircea Eliade states “Every temple or palace–and by extension, every sacred city or royal residence–is a Sacred Mountain, thus becoming a Centre.” (Eliade 12)  Inasmuch as the axis mundi can be represented by a physical representation there are several such sites that the ancient Greeks regarded several sites as places of earth’s omphalos (navel) stone, notably the oracle at Delphi, Mount Olympus as the abode and courtyard of the gods, and perhaps even the Colossus of Rhodes. In point of fact there are probably many more artifacts, icons, statues or symbols that were used by the Greeks than we are aware of. The significant factor being that an object was used to fulfill the role of the axis mundi in much the same way that we do today in our rituals.

5.      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)

To solidly and scholarly conjecture regarding IE myths one would need to devote considerable time in research study and cross referencing the myths of several cultures. Essentially this would be a lifetime’s work and the knowledge obtained would be invaluable of course. That being said, there are some very close similarities between several cultural myths that an astute reader can see readily. Some are so alike that they cannot be discounted as anything but parallels. This is in part due to cultures assimilating myths into their own as they moved across Europe. The most potent of these occurs with the Hellenic and Roman mythology.

One line of reasoning that precludes immediate assumption that because similarities are found between two or more myths they are essential the same myth is that raised by the question of how many points of comparison must align in order for the myths to be adjudicated as similar? This does not mean that conjecture should not be attempted but that simply some solid ground rules need to be applied before the conjecture becomes factual. Indeed the scientific method applies here as much as in any experiment and in order to produce scholarly documentation one would need to process the entire of spectrum of tools lest they be jumping to some very hasty and possible inaccurate conclusions.

While it is true that many IE cultures share a feature does not necessarily indicate that they came from one origin. As mentioned in the earlier discourse, there are a variety of items that fulfill similar purposes, myths that cover similar ground, deities that share similar attributes and locations that transpose easily. We have the case so evident and so commonly used where Christianity incorporated into their belief those of the Pagan nations that they proselytized among obviously in an attempt to transition the populace more smoothly into their beliefs. Does this mean that the ‘revised’ beliefs are correct or even the same? I tend to think not but that they are an adulteration of an original concept forced upon the mind of the people as an acceptable and plausible story.

The time period that lapses between many cultures and myths is problematic for the researcher as well. There is not sufficient documentation to provide evidence that tales derive from one source or how the contact was made to bring the myth across Europe. Cultures living in subsequent eras and neighboring locales can be presumed to have origins the same but we still cannot be positive. Variations may be just that or they may be coincidental. Sometimes what is, is nothing more than that and we don’t need to go to great lengths, spending countless hours trying to prove something improvable.

In my best estimation, caution should be employed when comparing myths between cultures. Conjecture about their origins and similarities is just that, conjecture and even though proofs may be offered we must keep in mind that we only have what has been provided us and in some cultures that isn’t very much. Those inclined to research and present scholarly work should do so for the benefit of those who are not so inclined in order that all might benefit. However criticism (hopefully constructive) will abound and such discourse will continue since this is something that may never be solved in this lifetime or Realm.

 

Bibliography

 

Anwyl, Edward. Celtic religion in Pre-Christian Times Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd. Edinburgh, 1906

Bonewits, Isaac.Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism Citadel Press, NY 2006

–          Neopagan Rites Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, Minn, 2007

Corrigan, Ian. The Afterlife, The Heroes, and The Dead ADF Sept. 8, 2010

–          Sacred Fire, Holy Well ADF Publishing, Tucson, AZ 2005

Eliade, Mircea (tr. Willard Trask). ‘Archetypes and Repetition’ in The Myth of the Eternal Return Princeton, 1971

Green, Miranda J. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend Thames and Hudson Ltd. London 1992

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes Little, Brown and Co. MA 1969

Jones, Prudence & Pennick, Nigel. A history of Pagan Europe Routledge, NY 1997

Mann, Raven & Carrion. Reclaiming the Indo-European Sky Father ADF Sept. 5, 2010

Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD 1987

Stewart, Michael. “Origins of Greek Mythology”, Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant. 2009 Web http://messagenetcommresearch.com/myths/essays/origins.html

Wikipedia World Tree Sept. 13, 2010

 

 

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