The Griffin: The Legendary King of All Creatures

Knossos fresco in throne palaceCC BY-SA 3.0
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com, 18/04/2019, under the title, Mythical Beasts: The Griffin, the Legendary King of all Creatures, written by zteve t evans.

Griffins

A griffin is a legendary beast believed to be the offspring of a lion and an eagle, depicted in various ways by many different human cultures in different places throughout antiquity. It is usually depicted as having the back legs, tail and body of a lion, with the head of an eagle, sometimes having projecting ears. It is usually shown with eagle wings, but sometimes is wingless and sometimes has eagle talons on its forefeet. The eagle part was sometimes covered in feathers while the lion part had fur.

King of all Creatures

The lion was considered to be the king of the beasts, while an eagle was the king of the birds. The griffin, as a hybrid of these two, inherited the qualities of both, making it very powerful and the king, or ruler, of all creatures. Griffins were also known by a number of other names including ‘griffon,’ ‘griffon,’ or ‘gryphon.’ They were often depicted as having wings, but sometimes found wingless, as in the fine example found in the Palace of Knossos and shown here. The Palace of Knossos was the ancient ceremonial and political centre of the Bronze Age Minoan civilisation on Crete, described as the earliest in Europe, indicating the age and importance of the griffin motif.

Griffins in Mythology

Depictions of griffins are found in the art and mythology of many diverse ancient cultures, including Iranian, Anatolian, Egyptian, European, and Indian. In early Greek art they were shown pulling the chariots of the gods Apollo and Nemesis, and were said to be the hounds of Zeus. By their association with Apollo they became associated with the sun, and through their service to Nemesis became known as protectors and guardians, carrying out retribution for injustice on offenders. One legend tells how Alexander the Great captured two griffins and chained them to his throne. He eventually managed to tame one and rode on its back as it flew him around his realm for seven days.

Guardians of Treasure

Griffins were often seen as the guardians of treasure and priceless objects. They were associated with gold and said to guard gold mines, and often appear on tombs as guardians. According to Pliny the Elder, griffins laid eggs in burrows in nests lined with gold nuggets. Other accounts say griffins built a nest like an eagle’s and lay eggs of agate, which is a semi-precious stone.

Read More

Khasi Folktales: The Origin of Thunder and Lightning

The Khasi People

The Khasi people live in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya with populations in the neighboring state of Assam and some regions of Bangladesh. They evolved their own unique mythology and folklore and created many wonderful folktales that attempt to explain different aspects of the natural world.  There are all sorts of stories featuring monkeys, tigers, lynxes and other wild animals.  The domestication of some animals is also dealt with telling how dogs, cats, goats and oxen came to live among humans and give explanations of cosmic creation and natural phenomena. The Khasi divinities, such as the twin goddesses Ka Ngot and Ka Iam, who gave their names to the rivers Ngot and Lam respectively, are found along with other divine beings.  All this and more can be found in Folktales of the Khasis by Mrs. K. U. Rafy (1920) and presented here is a retelling of the story What Makes the Lightning?

What Makes the Lightning?

The story begins in the young days of the world when animals socialized with people. They spoke their language and tried to copy human customs and manners.  Every thirteen moons the people held a great festival where there were many sports and events.  People competed against each other and demonstrated their abilities in many different activities and one of the most popular was the sword dance.  All the people from the hills and the forest would come and take part and it was a gay and happy time.   The animals loved this event and would watch the people competing, dancing and having fun and the younger beasts began to ask the elders for a festival of their own.  After considerable thought the elders agreed and said that the animals should appoint a day when their own festival should be held.

U Pyrthat’s Drum

With great enthusiasm the animals learnt all the skills and rules for the competitions and all the moves and steps for the dances.  When they were ready they set a date for the festival to begin, but no one knew how to let everyone know the event was taking place. Someone suggested that perhaps U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, would beat his drum to tell everyone the event was beginning.   U Pyrthat  agreed and began to beat his drum summoning all the animals to their great festival.  His drum could be heard in the farthest of hills and the most remote places of the forest and the animals flocked towards the sound excitedly and a soon a great multitude gathered around U Pyrthat and his drum.

The animals had gone to great trouble to prepare  grooming and preening themselves to look their very best.  Each one carried either a musical instrument or a weapon relevant to how they intended to participate in the festival events.  There was much merriment when the squirrel marched in banging on a small drum followed by a small bird called the Shakyllia playing a flute, who was followed by a porcupine clashing cymbals together. It was a very happy day and all the animals were jolly and laughing, sharing a jokes and having fun.  The mole looked up and saw the owl trying to dance but because her eyes were not used to daylight she kept bumping into objects.  The mole laughed so much his own eyes became narrowed and his vision unclear and that is how we find him today.

The Sword Dance of U Kui, the Lynx

When the fun and merriment reached its height U Kui, the lynx appeared carrying a most splendid silver sword which he had lavished a lot of money on.  He had bought it just for the festival because he wanted to show off his skills in the sword dance.  Calling everyone to attention he began his dance leaping and stepping with energy, grace and precision.  Everyone cheered and admired his elegance of movement and technique but his success went to his head and he began to see himself as better than the others.

U Pyrthat’s Sword Dance

U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, saw the performance of the lynx and was full of admiration for his dancing skills and was very impressed with the silver sword.  He had not brought a sword himself as he had brought the drum he used to summon everyone. Thinking that he should like to try a dance or two wielding such a fine sword he asked the lynx if he could borrow it as a favor. U Kui was reluctant to allow the thunder giant to borrow his silver sword not only because it was so fine and expensive but because he did not like the idea that he might be upstaged.   The crowd seeing his reluctance began to shout,

 “Shame! shame! shame!”  

and booed and hissed thinking that it was rude and ungracious of him to refuse being as the thunder giant had beat his drum to summon them all.  In the end the lynx was shamed into lending the the giant his sword and reluctantly the handed it to him.

Taking hold of the magnificent silver sword the thunder giant prepared himself to dance.  When he was ready he suddenly burst into life leaping high and whirling the flashing blade in circles all around him.  He danced so furiously and leapt high and the flashing blade dazzled everyone.  As he danced he beat on his drum so hard the earth shook and the animals fled in terror.

Thunder and Lightning

U Pyrthat was inspired by the silver sword and danced faster and faster, leaping higher and higher.  Carried away by his dancing and the wonderful blade he leaped right into the sky with the silver sword flashing all around him while he beat on his drum, the sound rumbling and crashing down to earth.  At times, the noise of the drum and the flashing of the sword are still heard and seen by people all around the world.  They called it thunder and lightning, but the Khasis people know that it is the drum of U Pyrthat, the thunder giant and the stolen sword of U Kui, the lynx, that the people hear and see.

U Kui’s Heartbreak

U Kui was heartbroken at the loss of his fine silver sword.  Folks say that afterwards he made his home near a great hill and would sit and look at the sky when U Pyrthat danced.  He kept piling stones upon the hill hoping one day to make it high enough to reach the sky where he hoped to to  reclaim his sword from the dancing thunder giant.

© 13/03/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 13th, 2019 zteve t evans

Raven and the Haida People

The Haida people are native to areas of British Columbia, Canada and Alaska, USA. The  the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, is considered to be their heartland especially the two main islands.  The Haida tell many wonderful stories featuring Raven who in their mythology, legends and traditions is seen as a provider and bringer of light to humanity while also being a trickster.  It was Raven who was the transformer, healer and magician and yet is often presented as being greedy, lustful and mischievous. Yet despite these contradictions Raven is very much a cultural hero of the Haida.

Raven and the First People

In one creation myth they tell that before Raven all of the world was one enormous flood. The myth tells how there was once a time when there was nothing but water everywhere. One day Raven became bored and spread his wings and flew.  As he flew the waters began to recede. When Raven became hungry land was formed and Raven  settled on it and found food.

One day Raven heard strange noises coming from a shell.  This both intrigued and confused Raven. The strange sound from the clam became louder and more frantic and so Raven having a fine singing voice thought he would sing to it in the hope of soothing whatever was making the noise.  So Raven sung to it and eventually a small but extraordinary creature broke out of the shell. Indeed, it was a very peculiar with two legs, a head that was round and covered at the top in long black hair and soft skin. Unlike Raven it had no wings and no feathers.   This creature was the very first of the First People and more came from the shell and all of these were male.

To begin with Raven was intrigued but gradually grew bored with them and thought about putting them all back in the shell. Then he decided he would look for some females to keep all of these males company.   It so happened that Raven found some more people who were inside a another shell. Setting them free Raven discovered they were female people. He was enthralled as he watched how male and female interacted with each other and began to feel protective and responsible towards them.

Creation Myths

The Haida have other versions of  tales that tell how the world was created such as the one that follows.  There was a time when the world was just sky and water and in the water was a reef where the first beings lived.  The greatest of these beings lived upon the highest part of the reef and looked down on the lesser beings who lived on the lower parts of the reef.

Raven flew over the reef looking for a place to settle but could see no room to land. Therefore he decided to fly to the sky country and there he found the daughter of a Chief who had a young baby.   In the darkness of night Raven stole the child with the intention of taking its place as Raven Child.

Raven Brings the Sun, Moon and Stars

There is a very old story that tells how Raven brought the Sun, the Stars, the Moon and fresh water and fire to the world to benefit the people.  It tells how in the the beginning of the world the guardian of the Sun, Moon, Stars, fresh water and fire was Gray Eagle. He hated people and hid beneficial things from them. He hid the Sun, the Moon, the Stars and fresh water and fire from them and the people were cold and lived in darkness.

In these early days of the world Raven was pure white and he fell in love with the daughter of Gray Eagle who thought him very handsome in white.  One day she invited him to visit her in her father’s longhouse. When Raven arrived he saw that the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, along with fresh water were all hanging up around the sides of Gray Eagle’s home. When he knew no one was looking he stole them and also took a burning brand from the fire and flew out of the smoke hole in the roof  with his loot.  Flying up high in the sky he hung the Sun up and its light flooded out over the Earth lighting and warming  he day. In fact there was so much light he could see far enough to fly out across the ocean to an island situated in its middle .  When the Sun wet down he hung up the Moon and Stars in different parts of the sky and by this light he flew back to the land carrying the fresh water and the firebrand.  

When he reached the land he found what he thought was a good place and dropped the fresh water.  Where it landed on the ground became the source of all of the freshwater that creates all of rivers, lakes and  streams in the world today.

Raven flew on holding the flaming brand in his beak and as he flew the smoke from the fiery brand flowed over his snowy white feathers turning them black. As he flew the brand burnt smaller and smaller and eventually it began to burn his beak and Raven was forced to drop it.  The burning brand fell from the sky and crashed into rocks and instantly concealed itself inside of them. This is how the sparks that appear when two stones are struck together got in the stone and why we can make fire from them.

As for Raven he lost his white plumage after it was covered in soot from the firebrand and that is why today all of his feathers are black.

© 11/04/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 11th, 2018 zteve t evans

Philippine Folklore: Maria Makiling of Mount Makiling

fantasy-2615040_1280

By kellepics – Pixabay – CC0 Creative Commons

Maria Makiling

As is often the case in many parts of the Philippines and around the world, mountains and volcanoes became associated with legends, myths and ancient traditions and Mount Makiling is strongly associated with a mythical female entity named Maria Makiling. She is also known as Mariang Makiling and is considered to be a spirit or forest nymph known as a diwata or lambana in Philippine folklore. Before the Philippines were colonized she was known as Dayang Masalanta or Dian Masalanta who could be called upon to stop or prevent natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or storms. She is also identified with the amount of fish caught in Laguna de Bay which is part of her realm and appears to be a spirit of abundance influencing the functioning of the natural world. She was seen as a benign spirit of nature that poor people could approach and ask for help whenever they needed it.

It is said that it is Maria who goes through the forest after a storm fixing broken branches and trees and repairing the nests of birds that have been damaged. She walks through the forest healing the broken wings of butterflies and clearing away debris from the forest floor and streams. Wherever she walks the sun shines and the birds sing and the flowers bloom and the animals frisk and play as she tidies up the forest after the storm.

Maria and the Mountain

It is not known whether Maria Makiling was named after the mountain, or whether the mountain was named after her. However, some people think that when seen from different locations Mount Makiling looks like the profile of a sleeping woman and this is said to be Maria.  In Philippine mythology, there are other similar supernatural entities who are also mountain goddesses or spirits such as Maria Sinukuan who are found on Mount Arayat, Pampanga and Maria Cacao of Mount Lantoy, Cebu.

Tradition says that Maria Makiling is a beautiful young woman in the prime of life and never grows any older. She is said to have long black shiny hair, bright sparkling eyes, and a light olive complexion. Her personality mirrors the enchantment and serenity of the mountain environment she is found in and she is also associated with the mists that often appear on Mount Makiling. In some traditions, her skin or hair is said to be white but in most stories, she wears radiant white clothes confuses people into believing the wisps of mist they saw through the trees on the mountain was Maria. According to tradition she lives in a small hut sometimes situated in a village while other traditions say her hut is on the mountain and can only ever be found if she allows it.

Tradition and Superstitions of Maria Makiling

Maria Makiling stories were part of the Philippines oral tradition long before they were written down. Some are not actual stories but more like superstitions which abound about her. One tells how that every now and then men who went into the forests on the mountain would not return. It was believed Maria had lured them away to her home hidden somewhere in the mountain wilds to be her husband. There they would spend the rest of their days in happiness and marital bliss alone with Maria in her hut hidden on the mountain.

There is another tradition that says that although anyone can go into the forest to pick and eat fruits no fruit should be taken home because this may anger Maria. Offenders have been known to lose their way and this is believed to be caused by Maria changing the paths to take them into thick thorn bushes, or become beset by stinging insects she has sent or led them into. If this happens the only thing the victim can do is leave the fruit in the forest and reverse all clothing which is seen as proof that they no longer carry the fruit of the forest with them.

pulilanjf3904_11

Mount Makiling – By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC Mount Makiling – BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Transforming Ginger into Gold

One of the best known stories about Maria Makiling is that she can transform ginger into gold which she does usually to help someone. In these stories, she often lives in a village as one of the community and is called upon to help one of the community in some way. Sometimes it is a mother with a sick child, or perhaps a husband may be seeking a cure for his sick wife.

However, when diagnosing the problem Maria recognizes the signs of malnutrition and poor diet rather than a disease or sickness and gives them ginger to take home. Invariably, by the time they get home the ginger has turned to gold which they can then sell or exchange. One foolish villager finding the ginger becoming heavy threw it away rather than carry it home.

In some traditions, Maria is a well-loved and respected part of the local community for her kindness and help. However, there is also a tradition that says that the villagers became greedy and went to her garden pulling up plants to see if they were gold. This distressed her so much that she ran away to live on the mountain.

A Loser in Love

In many legends, Maria Makiling is cast as a rejected lover. One story tells how she had fallen in love with a hunter who had wandered into her territory. The two soon formed a relationship and became lovers and the hunter would climb up the mountain everyday to see her and they promised eternal love to each other.  However, Maria was shocked to discover that her lover was being unfaithful and had married a mortal woman.

Naturally, Maria was devastated and concluded she could never trust the local people again realizing she was so very different to them and came to believe that they were just taking advantage of her good nature. Therefore, she withdrew her consent which allowed the trees and bushes to bear fruit and she stopped the animals and birds roaming the forest for the hunters to catch and stopped the fish from breeding in the lake. From then on she withdrew to the mountain and was seldom seen except occasionally by the light of the pale moon as she wandered through the forest alone.

Another legend tells how Maria would watch over a farmer she had fallen in love with. Because of this protection, the people said the farmer was living a charmed life or had a mutya that protected him. He was a young man of good nature though rather shy and reserved.  He would never reveal anything to his family or friends of his visits to Maria. Then one day the army came into his village recruiting single young men to fight a war. So that he would not have to enlist he decided he would marry a village girl.

Visiting Maria for the last time he tells her of his decision. She tells him,

“I believed you to be devoted and in love with me. I have the power to protect you and your family, but I now see you lack faith in me and need and earthly woman for your earthly needs.”

After telling him this she left and was never seen by the villagers again and no trace of her hut could ever be found.

The Curse of Maria Makiling

Another version of the story was supposed to have happened during the later years of the Spanish occupation. This tells how Maria was wooed by three suitors. One was a Spanish soldier named Captain Lara. Another was a student named Joselito who was studying in Manila and the third was a poor farmer named Juan.

Of the three, Maria Makiling preferred Juan despite his humble status. The two rejected men plotted together to frame Juan for the crime of setting on fire the Spanish barracks. Juan was taken and tried and sentenced to be shot as an enemy of the Spanish. As he was about to be shot he called out Maria’s name.

High up on the mountain she heard his cry but was too late to save him. Fearing her anger Joselito and Captain Lara fled to Manila. On discovering how Juan had been framed and shot she placed a curse on Joselito and Captain Lara and all men who cannot accept rejection in love. Maria’s curse quickly took effect and Joselito fell sick with an incurable illness and died and Captain Lara was killed fighting revolutionaries.

According to the legend from that time onwards Maria was never again seen by humans and whenever someone loses their way on the mountain they remember the curse of Maria Makiling and also of the great love she had for Juan.

© 30/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 30th, 2017 zteve t evans

North American Mythology: The First Hummingbird

selasphorus_rufus_on_saltspring_island

Hovering male rufous hummingbird – Image by Ryan Bushby(HighInBC) – CC BY 2.5

In her book, The Book of Nature Myths (1904) Florence Holbrook collected over fifty traditional Native American myths and legends many of which tell of the origin of how things came to be.   What follows is a rewrite of The Story of the First Hummingbird.

The Great Fire Mountain

In a time when the earth was still young and growing there were two hunters in the forest searching for game.  They had followed the trail of a deer for many days and had traveled a great distance from their village, much further than they or any other villager had ever been before.  When evening came and the sun began to slowly sink and darkness fell all around them they stopped to rest for the night.  Huddling together for warmth they looked out over the western sky and saw a bright light glowing in the distant darkness, flickering, red, yellow and orange.

“What can that be?” said one.

“It must be the moon,” said the other.

“Surely not.  We have seen many moons and we have seen it round and full and we have seen its shapes and it is not like we have seen before.  Could it be the northern lights?”

“We have seen the northern lights and they are not like this,” replied the other.

“Whatever can they be?” said the other.

“Perhaps it is the fire of the Great Spirit and maybe he is cooking?” one asked.

“Perhaps he is angry with us and will punish us with flames!” said the other.

With nothing else to be done until sunrise, they sat up all night watching as the lights flickered red, yellow and orange in the western sky.  At sunrise, they were astonished to see flames of red, yellow and orange flickering on the distant horizon and thick plumes of dark, blue smoke rising high into the clear blue sky.   They had no idea what the flickering flames could be so they decided they would go and see.  As they drew near they could see the flames and the smoke more clearly and saw they were rising from the crest of a steep mountain way off in the distance.

“It looks like a great mountain of fire, what shall we do?” said one.

“Let’s go a bit closer and see more,” said the other.

So they trekked on until they came so close they could see fire leaping out of splits in the mountainside and flickering around its peak like a fiery crown.

“It is a mountain of fire!  This will be of great help to our people.  Let’s go on,” said one,

They came to the foothills and climbed steadily up the sides of the fiery mountain until they stood right on its to top and looked down into its center and saw a sea of red hot molten rock with flames dancing across it.

One turned to the other and said, “We have discovered the secret of the fire mountain and our people will be so glad to have this.  Let us now go and tell them.”  Quickly, they made their way down the mountain and back through the forest to their village.

 “We have been far, much further than anyone else had ever been from the village and we have discovered a wonderful secret,” said one excitedly to the people who gathered around to greet their return.

“We have discovered the secret of where the Fire Spirit has her home.  We have found where the flames are kept that warm the children of the Great Spirit,” continued the other.

“We have found the fire mountain where the flames dance and the blue smoke rises day and night and at its top there lies a lake of fire and molten rock.  Come with us and we will lead you there,” said the first.

“And we shall never be cold again and always have a flame to cook with!” said the second.

The people were glad to hear this for they suffered greatly in the cold and snow of winter and needed flame to cook their game.  They all agreed it would be a wonderful thing to go and live on the Fire Mountain so they packed up their belongings and made ready to leave.

The two hunters led their people to the foot of the mountain of fire where they set up their village and were glad.  The Fire Spirit looked down and saw them come and was glad for them for she was a kindly spirit.  She knew they would benefit greatly from her fire when the hard, bleak,  months of winter came.  The people lived for many years at the foot of the mountain and gave thanks to the beneficence of the Fire Spirit who gave her flames to stop them perishing in the winter and to cook their food with.

The Dance of the Flames

volcc3a1n_tungurahua_2011

Image Attribution Dr. Carlos Costales Terán [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Many moons passed and the people lived happily in their village at the foot of the Fire Mountain.  Often on summer evenings the children would gaze up to its summit and watch in wonder as the great flames flickered and danced and lit up the night sky and would ask,

“Father, what are the beautiful lights that dance upon the mountain top?” and the father would answer,  “The mountain is the home of the Fire Spirit and it is her flames that dance around the mountain top.  She is our friend gives us her flames to warm us in winter and for us to cook by.”  With that, the children would settle down and sleep safely and gently until dawn.

One night the flames on the mountain danced themselves into a frenzy leaping and jumping upon the molten lake like warriors dancing a great war dance.  In their excitement, they caught hold of great rocks and threw them high in the air.  Great plumes of blues smoke issued from from cracks and gaps that appeared on the mountain and billowed into the sky blackening out the moon and stars.  From deep within the mountain, the throbbing, beating sound of drums shook the ground and the flames danced wildly, higher and higher. In their frenzy, they left the fiery lake at the center of the mountain summit and ran wildly down the mountainside.

The gentle Fire Spirit was alarmed at her excited children and called to them, “Quiet now, calm yourselves, you will frighten the people of the village.  They will not understand that you are just dancing!”

The flames continued dancing wildly and were too excited to listen.  They ran down the mountainside burning flowers and trees and anything else that was in their path. They drove the animals away and hunted them in the woods below and frightened the birds causing them to take to the air.  Burning rivers of molten rock and flame annihilated all that stood in the way.  The Fire Spirit begged and pleaded with them to stop but they would not and headed towards the village.

In the village, all slept soundly unaware of the danger, but the acrid smell of the smoke awoke one of the warriors who looked out and saw the danger.  Crying out warnings he quickly roused the villagers.  In fear, the terrified villager quickly abandoned the village and ran into the forest as the flames descended upon their settlement and greedily ate the homes they had grown to love.

Thankfully all the villagers escaped into the forest unharmed though still terrified.  They huddled together and debated what they should do.  The two hunters said they would go up to the mountaintop and see what could be seen and they set off.  When they returned, they shook their heads sadly and one said, “All the flowers are burnt.  All the grass is burnt.  All the trees are burnt and the birds and animals have fled.  Nothing lives on or around the mountain.”

The other said, “It is bare and burnt nothing can live on or near the Fire Mountain.  The Fire Spirit is still there as her flames can be seen in the cracks and the fissures and smoke still rises, though it is much lighter.  We think the Fire Spirit will never again be our friend.”

The Hummingbird is Born of Flame

usfws_ribes_sanguineum_282612350882229

Female rufous hummingbird – Photo Credit: Peter Pearsall/USFWS – CC BY 2.0

The Great Spirit looked down and saw what damage the flames had done and he was angry.  “The flames must perish.  No longer will they dance and flicker in the night sky!”

The gentle Fire Spirit trembled for her wayward children.  “Great Spirit have mercy upon them!  It is true they grew wild and out of control, but they know not what they do.  They have burnt the flowers and grass, burnt the trees and driven away the birds and the animals and frightened off your own children and ate their village.  They have been cruel and unkind but they know not what they did.  

For many, many moons, in the coldness of winter, they have given their flames so the people and their children would not perish of cold and they could cook their food.  For many moons, they listened to me and were of great benefit to your children on earth, but in the wildness of their dance, they lost control.  How will your people keep warm and cook if the flames die completely from the earth?”

The Great Spirit heard the pleas of the gentle Fire Spirit and thought for a while but then said, “The flames must perish.  They lost control and were cruel to my children and they and their little children now fear them.  I hear what you say and the flames will not be lost entirely and they will still warm the people.  Because the people once loved them and because they know not what they did, the beauty of the flames shall live and warm and gladden the hearts of whoever looks upon them.”

Taking up his war-club the Great Spirit struck the top of the mountain a mighty blow.  The fires flickered and faded and the smoke slowly vanished and all the flames shrank slowly to condense into one small shining, flickering flame.  It was of such purity and glory and in its heart of hearts one tiny flame flicked with brilliant intensity.  The Great Spirit looked upon what he had done and was pleased.  It was looked like a star from the night sky but much brighter and much more beautiful.

“Although the fire of the mountain must perish this gentle flame shall have wings to fly and all my children will love her as I do myself!”  Thus, spoke the Great Spirit and from the mountain, a tiny bird fluttered up and hovered briefly.  Then it flew swiftly from the mountain into the blue sky.   As the sunshine caught upon its feathers they flickered, red, gold, orange and yellow and all the wonderful colors of the flame flickered from the bird.

So it was from the heart of the fiery mountain the bird of flame called the hummingbird was born and all the children of the Great Spirit that walk upon the earth rejoice whenever they see it.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 12th, 2016 zteve t evans

Sacred Texts – THE BOOK OF NATURE MYTHS BY FLORENCE HOLBROOK [1904] – THE STORY OF THE FIRST HUMMINGBIRD

 

Chinese Mythology: The Eight Immortals

baxian

The Eight Immortals – Public Domain

The Eight Immortals

In Chinese mythology, the Eight Immortal were a legendary group of eight individual beings who had transcended the human state to become endowed with divine and supernatural attributes or powers.  Each immortal is endowed with a power that can give life or help their fight against evil.  Most of the Eight Immortals were born during either the Tang or Song dynasties and venerated by Taoists and became popular in Chinese culture.  This work is a brief introduction to the Eight Immortals who were; He Xiangu, Cao Guojiu, Li Tieguai, Lan Caihe, Lü Dongbin, Han Xiangzi, Zhang Guolao and Zhongli Quan and concludes with an observation about their popularity.

He Xiangu

He Xiangu was the only known female member of the Immortals.  While Lan Caihe, another Immortal, is often depicted dressed as a young girl, or sometimes a young boy, making gender uncertain, that of He Xiangu is clearly female. He is her family name and her father was known to be He Tai and was thought have lived during the Tang Dynasty.  She is often depicted holding a lotus flower and a musical instrument called a sheng.  Sometimes she is accompanied by the Fenghuang a mythical bird that was said to reign over all birds.

According to legend when she was born she had six long hairs growing from her head which indicated her as special. When she reached the age of 14 or 15 years old she experienced a dream where a divinity instructed her to eat powdered mica to make her body become light and delicate and to give her immunity from death.  She followed these instructions and abstained from sex and cut down on her food intake becoming like a wraith.  During the reign  of  Emperor Zhongzong during the Tang Dynasty, she gained immortality and transcended to Heaven.

Cao Guojiu

According to tradition, Cao Gujiu was descended from Cao Bin a distinguished Chinese general who went to great lengths to avoid killing non-combatants and innocent people and discouraged looting and pillaging by his troops over his defeated enemies.  Cao Gujiu was believed to be the younger brother of Empress Cao, who was married to Emperor Renzong of the Song Dynasty.  Cao had a younger brother by the name of Cao Jingzh who abused his position who and was corrupt and bullied those below him.

The actions of his younger brother embarrassed and ashamed Cao and he begged him to stop but to no avail.  Cao would use his own fortune to try and make amends for the misdeeds of his brother.  His younger brother’s bad behavior had made him enemies at the court of the emperor and he was charged with abusing his power and position.  Cao was so ashamed of his brother that he resigned from his own position and became a recluse in the countryside.   While living as a recluse he met Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin who taught him the magical arts. After many years of practice and dedication to Taoist principles he transcended the human condition to become immortal.

Li Tieguai

Li Tiegua had a reputation of being irritable and bad-tempered but was seen as being compassionate and caring towards the poor, sick and those in need.   He carried a gourd in which he carried special medicine which he dispensed to those in need.  Li Tiegua is often depicted in a rather unattractive way as being an old man with a wispy beard and unkempt hair.  He used an iron crutch to aid his walking and was often depicted as a type of clown or beggar who used his powers to benefit those in need.  He could be found wherever the sick needed curing or the oppressed needed freeing.   Li had been the apprentice of Lao-Tzu the founder of Taoism.

Lan Caihe

The age and gender of Lan Caihe are not known for sure.  Lan can be depicted as either a boy or girl often in clothing that was worn by either sex and  often carrying a flower basket made of bamboo, or castanets of the same material.  According to legend Lan was carried to Heaven by a crane or a swan while in a drunken stupor. Lan and was said to have become an Immortal when five hundred years worth of magic was transferred him by Sun Wukong who was also known as the Monkey King.

eight_immortals_crossing_the_sea_-_project_gutenberg_etext_15250

The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea – Public Domain

Lü Dongbin

Lü Dongbin was said to have been born on the 14th day of the 4th month of the Chinese calendar.  When he was born the room was magically filled with a sweet fragrance.  According to tradition Lü Dongbin was a clever scholar and poet who was elevated to immortal status.  He is often depicted wearing the clothes of a scholar and carrying a sword on his back that he used to banish evil spirits. He was one of the most famous of the Eight Immortals and was especially revered by Taoists.

He was regarded as someone who was intelligent and scholarly with a strong desire to help others elevate their own spiritual growth but was seen as having certain character flaws. For example, he was known to be a “womanizer’ who was susceptible to getting drunk and he had bouts of anger, but he was also known for being a prolific poet.

Lü ‘s master was Chang An who put him through Ten Trials before he was told the secrets of life to become an Immortal.  He then improved upon the method so that more people could benefit which was considered to be his major contribution to the wellbeing of mankind and he strove to improve the health and life of many people.

Han Xiangzi

Han Xiangzi was a student of Lü Dongbi.  He is often seen in depictions holding a dizi, which is a kind of Chinese flute and was honored as the patron of flutists. He was believed to have composed a piece of music called Tian Hua Yin.  It is not known if Han Xiangzi actually existed at all but if he did he was thought to have been a grandnephew of an important scholar, poet, and politician by the name of Han Yu who was said to have dedicated three poems to him.

Zhang Guolao

Zhang Guolao was believed to have been a real historical figure and sometimes known as Zhang Guo.  He was thought to have lived from the about the end of the 7th century to about the middle of the 8th, living on Zhongtiao Mountain as a hermit at the time of the Tang Dynasty.

Zhang was a practitioner of necromancy and claimed he has been the Grand Minister to the legendary Emperor Yao in a previous existence.  He was known to enjoy drinking wine and made his own which was reputed to have medicinal and healing powers and greatly favored by others of the Eight Immortals.   Zhang was also a qigong master and was said to be able to abstain from food for many days existing only on small sips of his wine.

He had many special powers and was said to be able to turn invisible, drink poison without harm, make flowers wilt by pointing his finger at them and snatch birds from out of the sky.  In art, he is often depicted on the back of a white mule.  When the journey was over he would fold the mule up and place it in a box, or in his pocket for safe keeping.  When he needed the mule again he would he would pour water from his mouth onto it and the mule would regain its shape. His symbol was a fish-drum a kind of percussion instrument and sometimes he is shown with a peach or phoenix feather.

Zhongli Quan

Legend tells how when Zhongli was being born the room was filled with light and that he cried non-stop for seven days.  From this and because had was born with special physical features such as high cheeks and red lips, a square shaped mouth, deep-set eyes, long eyebrows wide ears, and a broad forehead he was known to be destined for greatness.  The first words he was said to have spoken  were,

 “my feet have wandered in the purple palace of the immortals, my name is recorded in the capital of the jade emperor.”

When he grew up he became a general and led his army against Tibet.  He was beaten in battle by the Tibetans and had to escape into the mountains.  He was found in the mountains by an old man who took him back to his spiritual sanctuary. The old man taught him alchemy and magical rituals and after three days of intensive teaching dismissed him telling him to go back into the world and use his powers to help people.  He left the sanctuary with a magical fan that could bring the dead back to life and turn stones into gold or silver and he used this to alleviate hunger and poverty wherever he found it.

There are two versions of how he finally achieved immortality.  The first tells how the frequent use of his magical powers and special fan to help people caused him to join the shimmering cloud and become immortal.   In the second he was meditating near a wall when it collapsed on top of him but behind the wall was a vessel of jade that bore him to the shimmering cloud to become one of the Immortals.

The Popularity of the Eight Immortals

Since ancient times the depiction of the Immortals in art has been popular with Chinese artists and the tradition was continued when Taoism flourished and they depicted the Immortals in their own style.  Perhaps their popularity was their association with prosperity and longevity but they were also the seen as the heroes of the general population who cured them of illness and disease, fought for them against oppression and taught them how to evolve spiritually to greater heights.

© 16/11/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright November 11, 2016 zteve t evans

 

 

Superstition Mountain Tales: Pale Faced Lightning

Superstition Mountain is a mountain in the Superstitions Mountains of Arizona, USA and a place of many myths and legends of the Native American and local people  One Native American legend tells how a tribe of Pueblo dwarfs settled in the area establishing settlements and growing crops and breeding flocks of animals.

scottobear_-_051231_sun_28by-sa29

Image by Scotto Bear – CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pueblo Dwarfs

They practiced their own religion in their own way which was based on the sun. Although these people were small in stature being only on average four feet tall, they were very intelligent and as is often the case with intelligent people, they were peace loving.  They were rumored to possess a great treasure beyond belief.

Being small in stature other tribes sometimes sought to rob and bully them.  The dwarves were not easy victims.  They had learned how to make strong potions and incantations that would usually frighten off their enemies without the need for bloodshed.  Once these were invoked all that was usually needed was a show of arms to discourage fighting.

One day they learned that their enemies were preparing a massive attack on them. Their chief had called together all the braves of his people and was leading them towards Superstition Mountain determined to wipe out the peace loving dwarfs and take all their flocks but what they really wanted was to steal their great treasure.

Pale-faced Woman

The dwarfs hid their flocks of sheep in hidden valleys and built walls and fortifications in strategic places that guarded the passes to their land and made plans for their self-defense.  All of these plans and works were supervised and directed by a woman who was not of their race but who had come among them from an unknown land.  This woman was tall, with golden hair and a pale face and she exuded an air of command.  Although she was not of their kind the Pueblo dwarfs held her in awe and reverence following her every word and treasuring her.

She was also known to their enemies.  They justified the attack by saying they had brought her from the waters of the rising sun and their chief had fallen in love with her and had wanted to marry her.  In their minds, they believed she should have seen this as a great honor and agreed to the marriage.  The fact was she did not love him and had refused marriage and fled rather than be taken by force.

She had wandered in the wilderness until she found the Pueblo dwarfs who had taken her in.  In return, she taught them how animal husbandry and how to plant seeds, build houses and she had healed many of their sick.  The dwarfs would have given their enemies all their flocks in exchange for her but she would not let them.  Instead, she told them she would stand and fight and urged them to escape.  The dwarfs refused to leave without her and told her they would defend her to the death so she devised a plan of defense.

Superstition Mountain

The dwarfs met the invaders on the borders but instead of fighting retreated across the land drawing them towards Superstition Mountain.  Their enemy followed thinking they were afraid that all the time they led them on to the mountain.  Eventually, the enemy reached Superstition Mountain and  the dwarfs took up the defensive positions they had prepared.  The enemy chief marshaled his braves on the lower slopes ready for all out attack.

On a nearby hill other tribes also gathered to watch the attack looking for an opportunity to take advantage of the situation whichever way the pending battle should fall.  They knew that while the battle was raging they had the opportunity to sneak behind the dwarfs and steal their flocks though what they really wanted was their treasure.  Whichever way the battle went they intended to rob the exhausted survivors. Like vultures waiting for the death of their victim, they bided their time.

The Attack

The invading chief gave the order for the attack to begin and wave after wave of braves ran up the slopes to attack the defensive walls of the Pueblo dwarfs. The Pueblo dwarfs stood ready behind their defenses. The walls had been built behind a pool of water and now the pale-faced woman stood tall and commanding like a queen in front of the pool calmly waiting for the enemy to arrive.  Her adopted people looked on in love and admiration ready to fight to the death for her.  As the enemy came up the slope they saw her standing proud and impassive and they were too were filled with admiration and desire.  They began shouting fiercely and threateningly and running towards her with outstretched arms.

Pale Faced Lightning

The pale-faced woman stood tall and erect and calmly watched their frenzied attack.  As they approached ready to take her she quickly stooped down, picked up a clay jar and emptied its contents into the pool and strode ran back behind the defensive walls to join the dwarfs.   As soon as she joined her people on the walls from the rocks and crevices all around there burst red hot sparks and tongues of fire that killed many of the attacking braves instantly. Lightning struck from the skies killing many others while other perished as they fell off the cliffs as they fled in their panic.

The pale-faced woman stood calmly and stately among her people and watched impassively as her enemies were routed without so much as an arrow being shot. From this day on she was known as Pale Faced Lightning.  The watchers in the nearby hills also looked on and were appalled and terror-stricken at what they saw.  The lust for treasure though will burn the hearts of the unworthy and a few years later they mustered the courage to attempt to attack the Pueblo dwarfs.  Pale Faced Lightning routed them as she had previously routed her enemies but with greater loss of life.  After that no foe dared to threaten the Pueblo dwarfs but just as they had arrived out of nowhere so they left taking their treasure with them.

Some say they their leader dreamed a dream of hordes of people moving out of the eastern lands into the west bring death and misery to the First Peoples.  Some say she led the Pueblo dwarfs to a secret place on Superstition Mountain where they live to this day in peace and happiness ruled over by their treasure, their Pale Faced Lightning.

© 27/09/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 27th, 2016 zteve t evans