Virgil and the Roman Goddess Laverna

Laverna

Of all of the gods of Rome perhaps one of the strangest and most devious was the goddess Laverna.  The following example shows just how devious she could be while revealing how the great Roman poet, Virgil, answered a tricky question posed by the Emperor.  It is retold here from The Unpublished Legends of Virgil by Charles Godfrey Leland. 

A Tricky Question

The Roman Emporer asked Virgil what he made of the following verse from Aesop’s Fables.

"One day a fox entered a sculptor’s shop,
And found a marble head, when thus he spoke:
‘O Head! there is such feeling shown in thee
By art—and yet thou canst not feel at all!"

After a little thought Virgil gave the following answer, “Well now, it is very difficult for me to tell whether or not it is all introduction or all conclusion.  It reminds me of those types of fish where it is difficult to know the head from the tail, or if they are all head, or all tail. Indeed, it also reminds me of the goddess Laverna of whom no one could ever tell if she was all head, or all body, or in fact both.”

The Emperor looked puzzled telling the poet he had never in his life heard of such a deity. Therefore, Virgil gave the following explanation,  “Of all the ancient gods and goddesses in the history of Rome, Laverna was the most cunning, the most mischievous and the most deceitful. She was not well known by the other deities as she tended to keep herself to her own wicked ways, rarely spending time in heaven among them. Most of the time she could be found mingling with vagabonds, scoundrels, pickpockets and thieves, living in the dark and hidden places of human society.

One day it happened that she changed herself into the form of an extremely beautiful priestess and visited a great priest and proposed a bargain with him.   She proposed he sell his estate to her and she would build on it within one year a great temple. Furthermore, at the end of that year she would pay in full for the estate and he would also get the temple for free.  She told him that as surety for the proposal she would swear on her body.

The great priest was completely convinced. He gave her his estate thinking he would be paid its full value and get a free temple in the bargain.  In that time Laverna was very busy selling up all his houses, land, livestock and assets until she had sold everything of any little worth. On the day when payment was due she was nowhere to be found and the great priest never received a penny in payment and no new temple.

Now, Laverna was not satisfied with defrauding the great priest and hatched another scheme.  She went to a great lord and persuaded him to sell her a castle with a great estate. This time she promised with her head as surety to pay him in six months the full value of the castle and estate. The great lord was completely taken in by her and agreed the deal.  Once again, Laverna sold the castle, the land and everything on it lock, stock and barrel, leaving nothing at all of any value.

The great priest and the great lord went together to the assembly of gods and goddesses to voice their complaints. The first before them was the priest. The gods heard his complaint and the goddess Laverna  was summoned before them to answer.  

Jove asked her what she had done with the property of the priest whom she had sworn with her body to repay in the allotted time.  Standing before him and the other gods she answered in a very strange way which entirely astonished Jove and the assembled divinities. She cried aloud,

‘Behold! He says I swore by my body, but I have no body!’

Her body vanished leaving just her head floating in the air. Jove and the others all laughed and called upon the great lord to next make his petition to them. He told how Laverna had defrauded him and promised by her head to repay him by the allotted time.   Jove demanded an explanation from her and in reply she showed her body to all present and it was indeed a very beautiful body, but it did not have a head.  Then a voice came from the body saying, 

‘Behold me, I am Laverna!  I say this of the lord’s complaint of me. He says I swore on my head.  See!  I have no head, yet he calls me a thief.  As you can see having no head I could not have sworn such an oath!’

Once again the gods broke into peals of laughter. At length Jove spoke and ordered her to return her head to her body.  When she stood before them in full he ordered that she pay what was due to her creditors with no more tricks.  Reluctantly, she complied.  

Jove told her and all present that as she was of such knavish and deceitful nature from hence forward she would be the deity of all rogues, scoundrels thieves, cutthroats, vagabonds and those of similar nature. 

That is why Laverna is now the patron of all of the wicked and deceitful people of the earth and a goddess of the Underworld.  When such people make their wicked plans they could enter into her temple and call upon her for aid and advice and she would appear as a woman’s head. If they did their work badly and incorrectly she would appear as a female body. If they worked well and were successful she appeared before him as the whole goddess.”

Virgil then pointed out that she was as chaste as she was honest taking many lovers and bearing many children.  However he hastened to add she was not entirely  evil-hearted and often repented her ways but no matter how hard she tried her passions got the better of her.

The Arts of Virgil

So that was how the poet Virgil answered a tricky question he had no idea the answer to.  It may be the Emperor lost track of his original question or was completely bamboozled by the  brilliance of the answer.  Whatever the reason he asked no more of it but this small event did not go unnoticed in history.

In the modern age, here in the UK, our elected rulers pay homage to Laverna and master the arts of Virgil from an early age.

© 08/07/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 8th, 2020 zteve t evans

Japanese Folktales: The Goddess of Mount Fuji

Public Domain – Source

Presented here is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Goddess of Mount Fuji, from Myths & Legends of Japan, by F. Hadland (Frederick Hadland) Davis and illustrated by Evelyn Paul.

Yosoji

When smallpox hit the village where Yosoji lived it struck down his mother.  Fearing she would soon die he visited Kamo Yamakiko, the magician and begged for his help. Kamo Yamakiko asked Yosoji to describe the symptoms and after listening very carefully told him he must go to the south-west side of Mount Fuji where a stream flowed down its side.  He explained that it was a long and difficult journey and told him, 

 “Follow the stream back to its source.  There you will find a shrine to the God of Long Breath.  You must fetch water from that place for your mother to drink. This is the only cure there is in the world for her.”

The Shrine on Mount Fuji

Therefore taking up a gourd Yosoji set off full of hope to find the shrine at the source of the stream.  It was indeed a long and difficult journey but eventually he came to a place where three paths crossed and he had no idea which one to take. He was tired and hungry and despair washed over him. He thought about giving up but he thought of his mother lying ill and knew he was her only chance and became determined to continue. Nevertheless he still had no idea which way to go, As he pondered upon this problem he was surprised to see a lovely girl step out of the forest.  She beckoned to him bidding him to follow and as he had no idea which way to go he followed her.  

It was not too long before they reached a stream and she led him upwards to its source and just as the magician had said there was a shrine.  As they reached the shrine the girl told Yosoji to drink and then fill the gourd. The water from the stream was cool, sparkling and refreshing and he drank deeply and then filled the gourd.   The girl then led him back to the place they had met and said, 

“You will need to fetch more water for your mother so meet me here in three days time and I will be you guide.”

After she bid him farewell he took the water back to his mother.  The water helped his mother greatly and he also gave some to other people in his village which helped them too. He returned to the sacred shrine five more times for water and each time he met the girl.  After his last visit he was pleased to see that his mother was now back to her normal self and the villagers had all improved marvelously.

Gratitude

Yosoji was made a hero of the village and was greatly praised by everyone for saving them.  Being an honest lad he realized he owed all the thanks to the lovely girl who appeared and guided him to the shrine. Therefore, he went back to find and thank her.

The girl was not at her usual meeting place and after waiting some time he resolved to go on to the shrine.  He was greatly disappointed to find she was not there either. Nevertheless, he still wanted to show his gratitude for helping him save his mother and the villagers.  All he could think to do was to kneel by the shrine and offer a prayer straight from his heart hoping that it would find its way to her somehow.  When he had finished he stood up and looked around and was surprised and delighted to find the girl standing before him smiling.

The Goddess of Mount Fuji

He thanked her for her help from the bottom of his heart  in the most eloquent words he could find and begged her to tell him her name.  The girl smiled sweetly but gave no reply but reaching out a branch of camellia appeared in her hand.  She waved it in the air as if beckoning to some invisible spirit. In answer to her floral signal a small white cloud floated down from the peak of Mount Fuji and settling before her she lightly stepped upon it.

The cloud rose bearing her up and slowly moved up the flank of the mountain before disappearing at the top.  Yosoji was awestruck for he realized that the girl was Sengen, the Goddess of Mount Fuji and he fell down upon his knees.  In his face was rapture and in his eyes light for he knew in his heart that mixed with all the gratitude he felt was a deep love for the lovely girl. As he knelt the goddess looked down and dropped the branch of camellia so that it landed just before him. Quickly, she turned away her face reddening.

From high Mount Fuji,

Camellia from Sengen,

Ah! Goddess blushes

© 20/06/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 10th, 2020 zteve t evans

Queen Mebd: Wolf-Queen – Goddess of Sovereignty

Queen Mebd: Wolf-Queen

In Irish mythology Queen Mebd is a colorful character –  an archetypal warrior-queen – ambitious and strong-willed, who knew her own mind  and how to get what she wanted.  She was described as a lusty fair haired wolf-queen who was so beautiful men were robbed of two thirds of their valor on seeing her (1).  Probably her best known role is the instigator of the Cattle Raid of Cooley or Táin Bó Cúailnge which she undertook with her husband Aillil during a more congenial time in their relationship. Presented here is a brief glimpse of the roles Mebd filled as wife, queen and goddess of sovereignty, looking her most famous exploit, The Cattle Raid of Cooley and finally her death.

Husbands and Marriage

During the Ulster Cycle in Irish mythology she was a much married queen of Connacht.  Her main consort in the important stories of this period was Ailill mac Máta.  She ruled from Cruachan, now known as Rathcroghan, County Roscommon.  One of her former husbands was the king of Ulster, Conchobar mac Nessa who became her enemy. 

There is no doubt that marriage to Mebd was a challenge for any man and needed someone of powerful character to fulfill the role.  Mebd had three demands her husband had to agree to in order to marry her.  First, he must be completely without fear. Second, he must be without meanness.  The third and most important was he must be devoid of all jealousy.  The last was essential for Mebd took many lovers and she was not a woman who could be possessed.   One of these lovers was Fergus mac Róich.  

According to tradition it took seven men to satisfy her sexually but Fergus only once.  Ailill, on learning of the affair, forgot Mebd’s third demand and became jealous of Fergus  and had him killed.  However, such were the intrigues of the Connacht court that when Mebd learnt Ailill was having an affair behind her back she ordered Conall Cernac to kill him.  He gladly took on the task in revenge  for the killing of Fergus but as he was dying Aillil ordered his warriors to kill Conall.

A traditional patriarchal view of Mebd might see her as an immoral sex-predator who lusts for men, but a closer look may reveal a different idea of who she was and what she represented. 

Goddess of Sovereignty

There are several versions and spelling of her name including Maeve, Maev, Mave or Maiv, may have meant the ruler.  Another interpretation is “mead-woman” or “she who intoxicates,” which many see as evidence of her being a goddess of sovereignty or representative of one.  In ancient and medieval  Ireland, mead and its consumption played an important part in the inauguration ceremony of a new king. Her many marriages to kings and  her liberated sexual behaviour are also considered as evidence of her status as a sovereignty goddess. She may have been one and the same with  Medb Lethderg who was the wife or lover of nine kings at Tara.

According to one version of the myth the sovereignty of the land was bestowed upon the king by a goddess of sovereignty, or her representative, on behalf of the Earth Mother.  Her presence by his side as consort signified the approval of the goddess and a powerful public symbol the king was divinely chosen.  The king acted as the steward of the land ensuring its fertility and wellbeing which promoted regrowth and renewal of vegetation and crops.  Traditionally he was expected to be without blemish and if he was sick, injured, or grew old he was replaced by a younger more virile man.

It is the association with the goddess of sovereignty that causes a rethink of her being labelled as merely promiscuous or immoral.  Modern morals should not be used as a yardstick; these were different times with different ways of doing things and different social values.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley

Mebd was never the subordinate wife and queen.  She believed she had a right to be of equal wealth as her husband.   After taking stock of both their total possessions she realized her husband owned a more powerful and virile stud bull named Finnbennach. This gave him a slight edge which greatly annoyed her.

The only bull in Ireland that could rival Finnbennach was named Donn Cúailnge who was owned by Dáire mac Fiachna,  a vassal of Conchobar’s her former husband.  Mebd decided she must have Donn Cúailnge to make her equal to her husband and she was determined to get him by any means.   

She sent messengers to Dáire requesting him to loan her the bull. In return she offered wealth, land and sexual favours.  Dáire initially agreed to the deal.  However, he changed his mind when one of her messengers in a drunken state foolishly revealed that she would have taken it by force anyway.  On hearing this Dáire reversed his decision.

Mebd was still determined to have the bull and mustered her army and  war bands from all over Ireland rallied to her.  With the support of her husband, Ailill, she launched an invasion of Ulster to take Donn Cúailnge.

The defenders of Ulster were stricken by a curse that rendered them unfit for battle at the time of their greatest need.  This had been inflicted on them as revenge and punishment by the goddess Macha, whom the king of Ulster had forced into a chariot race with while she was heavily pregnant.

The only one left to oppose Mebd’s invasion was the young warrior Cúchulainn who with the help of his charioteer waged a guerrilla war against the invaders.  He used a custom that enabled him to claim single combat against one of Mebd’s champions at each river ford her army needed to cross.  Using this tactic he held up the invasion while the Ulster defenders recuperated. However, despite the hold up, Mebd managed to take Donn Cúailnge. 

Eventually the incapacitated defenders of Ulster recovered and led by King Conchobar rally to the defence of the realm.  After a final battle against Conchobar, Mebd retreated having got what she came for took the bull back to Connacht.  To decide who was the most powerful and valuable bull Donn Cúailnge and Finnbennach were matched in a fight against each other.  Donn Cúailnge killed Finnbennach but also died of his wounds leaving Mebd and her husband Aillil equal in wealth and status.

Death of Mebd

In later years it Mebd’s custom to bathe in a pool on an island named Inchcleraun (Inis Cloithreann), on Lough Ree, near Knockcroghery. However, this was to prove to be her undoing. Mebd had previously murdered her sister. Her son Furbaide seeking revenge for his mother’s death waited for Mebd until she came to bathe.  According to tradition, he killed her with a hardened piece of cheese fired from his sling, which was the nearest projectile he could find in a hurry.  Her son Maine Athramail succeeded her to the throne of Connacht.

Her final resting place is uncertain.  She is said to be buried standing upright to face her enemies.  According to one legend she is buried in a 40 foot high stone cairn in the top of Knocknarea in County Sligo.  Another possible site for her burial place is her home in Rathcroghan, County Roscommon at a place now called ‘Misgaun Medb’.

There is no shortage of colorful and extraordinary characters in Irish mythology and Queen Mebd must surely rate somewhere at the top of the list.

© 03/06/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 3rd, 2020 zteve t evans

The Rex Nemorensis – King of the Wood: The Ghastly Priest who Slew the Slayer

Image by Gerson Martinez from Pixabay

“From the still glassy lake that sleeps

Beneath Aricia’s trees

Those trees in whose dim shadow

The ghastly priest doth reign,

The priest who slew the slayer,

And shall himself be slain” (1)

Thomas Babbington Macaulay

These words by Thomas Babbington Macaulay succinctly sum up the deadly duel of life and death to decide the Rex Nemorensis, the legendary High Priest of Diana Nemorensis of the Sacred Grove of Lake Nemi.   The  Rex Nemorensis was a shadowy figure in ancient Greek and Roman myth and legend. Most versions of his story agree that he earned his title and role by winning a fight to the death to become the “ghastly priest” of the above verse. Here we shall briefly discuss the mythical goddess of the Sacred Grove, Diana Nemorensis, followed by a look at her high priest and his deadly duel, followed by a look at the possible origins of the cult. Finally, there will be a brief discussion centered on “The Golden Bough,” a work by Sir James George Frazer inspired by the legendary Rex Nemorensis.

Diana’s Mirror

Diana Nemorensis was an important goddess in ancient times whose sanctuary and temple were situated on the northern shore of Lake Nemi.   The lake has been referred to as “speculum Dianae” which means “Diana’s Mirror”.   The important Roman festival of Nemoralia was held on the site. 

There were also other lesser deities associated with her and the Sacred Grove.  These were Egeria, who was the spirit of a nearby stream who also shared with Diana the protection of childbirth.   The other was Virbius, the Roman counterpart of the Greek Hippolytus. A third goddess possibly worshiped at the Sacred Grove was Vesta. She was believed to have eventually become conflated with the goddess Artemis.

The Rex Nemorensis

According  to legend,  the cult of Diana Nemorensis was recognized as one of the most ruthless, brutal and mysterious cults of ancient Rome.  The high priest who was said to have presided over her rituals was known as the ‘King of the Sacred Grove’ or the ‘King of the Wood,’ or more famously the ‘Rex Nemorensis.’   According to some traditions the cult was populated by fugitives or runaway slaves who had dedicated themselves to the worship of Diana. However, there is little evidence to support this, though the role of the Rex is linked to such outsiders.

Tradition says growing inside the grove was a huge oak tree.  It was strictly forbidden for anyone to break a branch off this special tree and it was guarded to prevent this.  The only exception to this rule were runaway slaves or fugitives.  If one succeeded they were rewarded with the right to challenge the incumbent high-priest to a duel to the death.  If the incumbent killed his challenger he remained in his post and lived.  If his challenger killed the incumbent he became “the ghastly priest who slew the slayer” –  the new Rex Nemorensis – High Priest of Diana, King of the Grove, King of the Wood and Guardian of the Sacred Grove, but it came with a high price.  

Having fought for and won the post he had to remain on his guard for the rest of his life.  Should a runaway slave, or fugitive, make it to the oak and break a branch off then that slave then earned the right to fight him for his titles and his life as he had done his predecessor.  The victor would become the Rex Nemorensis, until he too was defeated, with his conqueror taking his place. There could only ever be only one Rex Nemorensis.

This murderous cycle ensured that that incumbent high-priest was always kept at the pinnacle of his powers.  As the Rex Nemorensis he was the embodiment of fertility of nature and the woods.  As such he could not succumb to either illness or old age.  Death had to be violent because the spilling of blood on the ground was seen as necessary to bring fertility to the earth.  Despite the certainty of meeting a violent death it did at least offer sanctuary, albeit temporarily, to any such fugitive.

The Cult of Diana Nemorensis

The cult of Diana Nemorensis was very ancient and its beginnings are shrouded in myth and legend.  Many scholars think that it had its roots in ancient Greece.  There are two Greek traditions of how the cult originated. One traces its origins through the story of Orestes and Iphegenia, while the other is based on the tradition of Hippolytus.

Lake Nemi by John Robert Cozens – Public domain

Orestes and Iphegenia

The first account tells how Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, a king of Mycenae and his wife Clytemnestra, brought the cult of Diana Nemoresis to Italy.   On discovering his mother’s affair with Aeegistus, Orestes murders him to avenge his father who is on his way to fight the Trojans.   Orestes was told by the god Apollo to go to Tauris to purify himself as an act of atonement.  In Tauris, Artemis was a revered goddess and it was the custom for any foreigners landing upon the shores to be brought to her temple to be ritually sacrificed before her effigy by the high priestess.

On his arrival Orestes was taken before the High Priestess of Artemis to be prepared for sacrifice.   Fortunately for him she was his long lost sister who he believed had been sacrificed by their father.  She had been saved from this fate by the goddess Artemis and transported to Tauris where she was set in place as the high priestess of her cult.  Recognizing Orestes, Iphegenia could not kill her brother and by deceiving Thoas, the King of Tauris, they both escaped by ship taking with them the effigy of Artemis.  They sailed around the coastline finding their way to the south of Italy, finally making their way to Nemi and settling there.

With the theft of the effigy of Artemis and their escape from Tauris, Orestes and Iphegenia had placed themselves outside of society and the laws as they stood and were effectively fugitives.  Once they became established at Lake Nemi, the cult grew in popularity and strength.  Unlucky foreigners who landed on the shores were brought inland to Nemi for sacrifice. Eventually the tradition evolved so that runaway slaves and fugitives could claim the right to fight the incumbent high priest and claim his position.

The Story of Hippolytus

Death of Hippolytus – Lawrence Alma-Tadema – Public domain

The second version of the origin of the Rex Nemorensis tells how Hyppolytus, the son of Theseus, became the first Rex Nemorensis.   His step-mother was Phaedra who made sexual advances towards him which he rejected.  To gain revenge she accused him of raping her.  He was cursed and banished by his outraged father and was dragged to death by his chariot’s horses after they had been frightened by a sea monster sent by Poseidon.   Ascelapius, the god of medicine, with help from the goddess Artemis returned him to life as an old man named Virbio (Vir bis is Latin for man for the second time) to prevent him being recognized. He was taken to Lake Nemi where he was installed as high priest of the cult of Diana, becoming known as Virbius. Pausanius in his “Description of Greece,” says,

“The Aricians tell a tale … that when Hippolytus (the son of Theseus) was killed, owing to the curses of Theseus, Asclepius raised him from the dead. On coming to life again he refused to forgive his father; rejecting his prayers, he went to the Aricians in Italy. There he became king and devoted a precinct to Artemis, where down to my time the prize for the victor in single combat was the priesthood of the goddess. The contest was open to no freeman, but only to slaves who had run away from their masters.” (2)

The Golden Bough

The legend was the inspiration for The Golden Bough, a comparative work of religion and mythology by Sir James George Frazer first published in 1890. Although the book was influential in its time many of the ideas he proposed are not accepted by many modern scholars.  He appears to have expected this saying, 

“Books like mine, merely speculation, will be superseded sooner or later (the sooner the better for the sake of truth) by better induction based on fuller knowledge.” (3)

Maybe he saw his role as starting the conversation for others to continue.   Many of his contemporaries appeared rather disappointed with his success and popularity though his ideas were very controversial.  Fraser appeared to favor Virbius as the origin of the legend of the Rex Nemorensis,

 “In his character of the founder of the sacred grove and first king of Nemi, Virbius is clearly the mythical predecessor or archetype of the line of priests who served Diana under the title of Kings of the Wood, and who came, like him, one after the other, to a violent end. It is natural, therefore, to conjecture that they stood to the goddess of the grove in the same relation in which Virbius stood to her; in short, that the mortal King of the Wood had for his queen the woodland Diana herself.” (4)

 Whether the legendary Rex Nemorensis was a real historical figure is difficult to say and many think not. Nevertheless, he still cuts a dramatic figure lurking in the darkness of the sacred groves at the back of our minds.

© 29/04/2020 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 4th, 2020 zteve t evans

Celtic Mythology: The Tuatha Dé Danann

Riders of the Sidhe – John Duncan – Public domain

The Tuatha Dé Danann

In Irish and Celtic mythology the Tuatha Dé Danann were a supernatural race who were known to interact with and form relationships with humans.  They had a reputation for being adept in the sciences, arts, magic and necromancy. Their name translates as the people of the goddess Dana or Danu and they are seen as being the main gods of Ireland before the arrival of Christianity.   Along with the Fir Bolg they were the descendents of Nemed, who ruled the third wave of invaders of Ireland and was reputedly descended from the Biblical Noah. They were believed to have come from Falias, Gorias, Murias and Finias which were four cities  located somewhere to the north of Ireland. They brought with them four magical treasures; the Dagda’s Cauldron, the Spear of Lugh, The Stone of Fal, and the Sword of Light of Nuada.

Each individual of the Tuatha Dé Danann was seen as being a representation of certain aspects of the natural world and some of them were associated with more than one.  Some individuals were also known by other names which may vary from region to region. The Tuatha Dé Danann were the traditional enemies of the Fomorians who appear to represent the dark destructive forces of nature.  They were personifications of drought, pestilence, chaos, darkness and death, whereas the Tuatha Dé Danann were gods of civilisation and growth. 

Christian Records

It was the Christian monks that recorded and wrote down Irish mythology and in doing so altered and rewrote some of it to a degree.  They often saw the Tuath Dé Danann as kings, queens and heroes from a bygone era and credited them with having supernatural powers. Another view was that they were fallen angels being neither good or evil. Other medieval writers  saw them as being gods or spirits because some characters are found in tales that are from different times often separated by centuries. This lent to the belief that they were divine or immortal beings. For example, Manannán mac, Aengus, Morrígan and Lugh all appear in tales from different eras which many see as supporting the idea of their immortality.

The Lebor Gabála Érenn

The Lebor Gabála Érenn  is a collection of poetry and writing collected in the Middle Ages.  It claims to tell the history and origin of the Irish and Ireland up to the time it was written.  Many versions exist but the earliest were believed to have been written in the 11th century. According to this work the Tuatha Dé Danann arrived in Ireland in ships bringing,  “dark clouds”.  They were said to have landed on the mountains of Connachta bringing three days and nights of darkness.  Another later version says that they burnt their ships on arrival so there was no way they could go back. The smoke from the ships filled the air and was the cause of the dark clouds and darkness.  

King Nuada

Their leader was King Nuada who led them in the First Battle of Magh Tuireadh where they defeated the Fir Bolg, the native inhabitants of Ireland.  Although they won, King Nuada lost an arm fighting Sreng, the Fir Bolg champion. Despite this Sreng and his three hundred followers were losing the battle and facing defeat  vowed to fight to the death. The Tuatha Dé Danann were so impressed with their valor and fighting ability they offered them a one fifth of Ireland if they pulled out of the fight.   This was agreed and they chose Connacht and the people there were said to be able to trace their ancestry from Sreng up to the 17th century.

However, Nuada had been badly wounded, losing an arm and this meant that he was no longer unblemished.  According to Tuatha Dé Danann tradition this meant he had to relinquish the kingship.   Bres, who was half-Fomorian became king and he demanded tribute from the Tuatha Dé and enslaved them.

Dian Cecht, a great healer, replaced the lost arm of Nuada with a fully functioning silver one which allowed him to take back the kingship.   Miach, the son of Dian Cecht was not satisfied with the replacement arm of Nuada and cast a spell saying which made flesh grow over the artificial silver arm in nine days and nine nights.  Jealous at the skill and success of his son Dian Cecht murdered his him.

Bres was forced to hand back the crown to Nuada and consulted with Elatha, his father who would have no part in any scheme to win back the kingship. Instead he advised him to seek help from Balor the king of the Fomorians.  Balor agreed to help Bres and from this came the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh where the Tuatha Dé Danann fought the Fomorians led by Balor, who killed Nuada with his poisonous eye. Then the Tuatha Dé, champion, Lugh killed Balor and became king of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

The Invasion of the Milesians

The arrival of invaders to Ireland from what today is known as Galicia in  Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula brought further conflict. These invaders were believed to be Goidelic Celts, who were believed to be descendants of Míl Espáine and known as Milesians.

They met three of the Tuatha Dé Danann, goddesses;  Ériu, Banba and Fodla who requested them to name the island after them which is where the modern name Éire came from.  The husbands of these three goddesses were Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine who were kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann requested a three day  truce with the Milesians. During these three days the Milesian fleet would anchor nine waves distance from the coast. They agreed and complied with the truce but the Tuatha Dé Danann using magic summoned up a storm hoping to sink the enemy fleet or drive their ships out to sea.   

Tir na nOg

The Milesians called on their  poet Amergin for help. He calmed the seas with his poetry and they managed to safely land.  This resulted in a battle with the Tuatha Dé Danann at Tailtiu which the Milesians won. Amergin was tasked with dividing the island up between the two sides and in a stroke of genius gave the part above ground to his own folk while allotting the underground part to the Tuatha Dé Danann.  According to this tradition this is where the Tuatha Dé Danann took up their residence and is called Tir na nOg, which was a paradisaical place and often an island. It was one of the Celtic Otherworlds that could be reached in several ways including by entering ancient burial mounds or sidhe, going either over or under water, or by traveling through mist. In later times the Tuatha Dé Danann became known as the Aos Si or fairies.

© 10/03/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 10th, 2020 zteve t evans

Indonesian Folktales: The Soul in the Wild Mountain Rice

Presented here is a retelling of folktale from Indonesia called The Soul in the Mountain Rice, from Indonesian Legends and Folktales, told by Adele de Leeuw.

The Goddess, Tisna Wati

In the abode in the sky where the gods lived there was once a most charming and beautiful young goddess named Tisna Wati.  Although she lived in this divine place she was not really very happy there. She would often look down to the Earth and watch all the people busily going about their everyday tasks.  It fascinated her to see what all the mortals were doing; how they lived, how they worked and all of the many different things they did together. It was the “togetherness” she really liked because she was often alone and she would sigh and say, “I wish I could be like a mortal on Earth and do things with others instead of being all alone!”

Her father would often leave her alone while he went and battled with demons of the air and giants and she would be sad and lonely yearning to go with him.  When he returned she would show her displeasure by sulking and pouting but it made no difference.

Marriage

One day his father returned after battling a particularly nasty giant and found her in an exceptional surly and unpleasant frame of mind.  He grew angry with her and said, “I have had enough of your sulking and bad humor and wish I could send you down to earth to live among the mortals.  However, I cannot do this because you have drunk of the water of life and are therefore immortal. It is a shame, but I have thought of something else for you.  You will marry one of the gods and your husband will teach you how to improve your demeanor.”

“Marriage!”she cried, “I know just who I want for a husband, there!”  she cried happily.

“What?,” cried her father, “Who can that be?  Not one of those vile demons of the air. I forbid it!  Not one of those awful giants! I will not allow it!”

The Young Man

“No father, look he is there!” she said, pointing down to earth where a handsome young man was hard at work ploughing a rice field on the hillside.

“But that is the son of a man,”  growled her father furiously.  “He is but a mortal and you are the daughter of a god, I will not agree to this, you can never marry him!”

“I will marry him, or no one else!” shouted Tisna Wati,  “He will be my husband and I will be his wife, no one else will do, if I am to leave here!”

“Daughter, I tell you I will never let you marry a mortal man.  I will turn you into a wild rice stalk first. Understand and accept that I will choose your husband for you. He will be a son of one of the other gods and that is the end of the matter.  Be quiet and accept it!” growled her father angrily.

When Tisna Wati  saw his rage she grew afraid that her father would inseed turn her into a rice stalk as happened to the beautiful wife of Vishnu, Dewi Sri who had disobeyed her husband, leaving her deathless spirit to inhabit the fields of rice.

Tisna Wati was adamant that she would never allow herself to be turned into a rice stalk and she definitely would not marry one of the sons of the gods.  Her heart was set on marrying the handsome young man she had seen ploughing on the hillside and now for her no one else would do.

Without another word her father stormed off to find his wayward daughter a husband. Suddenly, word came to him that the demons of the air and the giants were threatening the Heaven of the gods once again.  Therefore he had to put off finding a husband for his daughter to fight them, but he shouted back at her, “I will return with your husband, be ready!”

Tisna Wati Goes to Earth

“So it shall be father,” she said meekly, “so it shall be!”  as if accepting her fate.  As soon as he had gone she leapt  on the wings of the wind and rode it safely down to earth where it kindly set her close to the hillside where the handsome young man was ploughing.

Tisna Wati was very excited and said to herself, “Now I see him close up and he looks better than I ever imagined!” and sat herself down to watch him and wait for him to notice her.

She watched as he ploughed, but he being intent on his work he did not notice her until he came to the end of the furrow and had to turn to begin another row.  Then he saw her and thought she was the most beautiful maiden he had ever seen and went over to talk to her.

“May I ask what you are looking for?” he said.

“Ha! I am looking for my husband.” she answered laughing.

The young man was surprised at her answer but her laughter made him laugh.  They laughed and they laughed because they were so happy. As they laughed together they fell deeply in love and they laughed and they laughed and they laughed. Their laughter rang out from the Earth up to Heaven where her father was fighting demons and giants and he broke off from the battle to listen.  Realizing it was his daughter’s voice he looked across to Earth and saw her sitting with the young man and the both of them laughing happily together.  Their joyful laughter rang out across the heavens drowning out the noise of battle and he erupted into rage and flew from the battle down to earth to where his daughter and the young man sat laughing together.

“Come with me immediately!” he commanded, “You are going home.”

Despite her father’s rage Tisna Wati had other ideas.  She was in love with the young man and wanted to stay with him and her love was stronger than her fear of her father’s wrath.

“No, father, I will not go back with you.  I am in love and would rather become a mortal and stay with my beloved,” she firmly replied.

The Soul in the Wild Mountain  Rice

“So be it you shall stay, but not as a daughter of a god, or as a mortal.  You shall become a rice stalk and your soul shall become one with the wild rice!” cried her father.   The young man looked on in shock and horror as Tisna Wati changed into a slender stalk of wild rice that bent gracefully towards him.

Her father saw this and he was filled with sorrow for what he had done.   “I could have let them be together, but now it is to late.  I cannot change her back and she must now remain a rice stalk for ever and her soul will enter the wild rice.  I will change him into a rice stalk too,” and after he did this he saw how the two stalks bent towards each other as lovers do.  He watched for a while and then shaking his head, flew back to the Heaven of the gods.

Ever since then the soul of Tisna Wati has been in the wild mountain rice, but where the soul of the young man went no one knows.  Some say that when the breeze passes through the wild mountain rice stalks their laughter can still be heard by those who are in love.

What do you think?

© 01/08/2018 zteve t evans

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Copyright August 1st, 2018 zteve t evans

Brutus of Troy, the Prophecy of Diana and the Founding of Britain

This article was first published on 14th December 2017 on #FolkloreThursday.com titled British Legends — The Founding of Britain: Brutus of Troy and the Prophecy of Diana by zteve t evans

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Public Domain

Brutus of Troy

Brutus of Troy was a legendary Trojan exile who some medieval chroniclers claimed was responsible for the founding of Britain. They maintained that he was the first King of Britain and named the island, its people, and its language after himself. He built the city that would eventually become London, and gave laws to allow people to live in peace. The story of Brutus of Troy first appears in the work Historia Britonum or The History of Britons (ca AD 829), which is often attributed to the medieval chronicler Nennius. He is also mentioned later in more detail in Historia Regum Britanniae or History of the Kings of Britain, written in about 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. There are some significant differences in the stories the two present, though Geoffrey’s work provides more information. Geoffrey dates the arrival of Brutus on the island, which was then called Albion, to 1115 BC. Although his work is not given much credence today, from its creation up until the 17th century, when it fell from favour, it was very popular. It is still an important medieval text, and a central piece in the collective works known as The Matter of Britain. Despite being discounted as a reliable history book, The History of the Kings of Britain remains of great interest to many people today. Many scholars think that Geoffrey drew on existing legends, myths, and traditions which he included in his work. It is Geoffrey’s work that this article draws chiefly from to present a version of the mythical founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy.

The Birth of Brutus

The story of Brutus begins in Italy, where the Trojan exiles resided. When his wife fell pregnant, Silvius asked a sorcerer what sex the unborn child would be and what its future would hold. The sorcerer predicted a boy would be born and this proved correct. He also predicted that the boy would be exiled after causing the death of both of his parents. Finally, he predicted that when he reached adulthood he would travel through many countries and would fulfill many great achievements. Not all these predictions were to the liking of Silvius, who killed the sorcerer. However, his wife died during the birth of the boy, who was named Brutus, and when he reached the age of 15 he accidentally killed his father, shooting him with an arrow while hunting. As punishment, Brutus was exiled from Italy and traveled to several islands before reaching Greece. The unfortunate seer was proved correct about the first two parts of his prophecy, and the rest was beginning to unfold.

Trojans Enslaved in Greece

Whilst in Greece, Brutus met a group of Trojans living in slavery and led them in rebellion against Pandrasus, the Greek king. He was successful, and after defeating and capturing Pandrasus he held him hostage. Although he had him at his mercy, he realized that there would be a continuing war with the Greeks which the Trojans could not win. Therefore, instead of killing Pandrasus, Brutus made a bargain with him. He freed Pandrasus, in return for him freeing the Trojans from slavery and providing Brutus and his band of followers with enough ships and supplies to sail from Greece in search of a new home. Pandrasus also gave his daughter, Ingoge, in marriage, who sailed with Brutus and his company in search of a place they could settle and live in peace.

The Prophecy of Diana

Brutus set out from Greece in command of a powerful group of armed Trojans, and whilst at sea his small fleet came across a deserted island. He decided to land and explore. On the island, he found a long-disused temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, Mercury, and Jupiter. Seeking some kind of sign, Brutus paid homage to Diana by completing the necessary rituals.

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Minoan mythology: Britomartis

Britomartis was a goddess of hunters, mountains and fishermen of the Minoan civilization that evolved on the island of Crete from about 2700 to 1450 BC.  There are many conflicting parts of the Britomartis story in Greek mythology. This may possibly be due to it having originated with an earlier civilisation before becoming adopted and adapted later by the Greeks as their civilisation grew in influence and power.  This process of adaptation can be found in other Greek legends. For example the birth of Zeus in Crete, Europa and the bull, Apollo brought Cretans to Delphi to be priests of his cult and there are many other instances.

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The story of Britomartis – Public Domain

Minos falls in love with Britomartis

Britomartis was the daughter of Zeus and Carme and was born at Caeo on Crete as one of the Cretan nymphs. She became a huntress and hunted the wild animals in the forests of Crete and was a companion of Artemis becoming strongly associated her, with both sharing the desire to keep their virginity.

But when Minos, the king of Crete, set eyes on Britomartis he immediately fell in love with her. Minos was the son of Zeus and Europa and so sharing the same father made him her half-brother. Such a union would have been unacceptable to her, though not to him.

Britomartis escapes

Britomartis was not enamoured with Minos who tried to force himself on her. She escaped and ran from him. Although she was a fast, strong runner she could not lose him, and the chase was said to have lasted for nine months before he eventually managed to trap her on a cliff edge overlooking the sea.

Although trapped, Britomartis threw herself off the cliff into the sea rather than submit her virginity to Minos. Fortunately she was rescued by fishermen who caught her in their net and for that reason she received the name Dictynna, which means “lady of the nets.”

Artemis Makes Britomartis a Goddess

Her friend Artemis was greatly impressed by her determination to keep her chastity intact and made her the goddess of hunters, mountains, shores,fishermen, nets and ports.  Some also regard her as a moon goddess with her being chased by Minos and leaping into the sea as representative of the cycle of the moon and its seeming disappearance into the sea, as seen from a sea edge location.

There is a strong school of thought that Britomartis was actually the name of Minoan goddess, who later became known under different names as her cult spread. On Aegina she was called Aphaea, and Diktynna in parts of Crete and it is thought that she was later absorbed into the cult of Artemis.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      By zteve t evans –  July 8, 2009

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans July 8, 2009