by Victoria S. – Approved on 22 January, 2017
1. List and discuss the major primary sources for the mythology of three Indo-European cultures, including their dates of origin and authorship (if known). Discuss any important factors that may cause problems in interpreting these sources, such as the existence of multiple revisions, or the presence of Christian or other outside influences in surviving texts. (minimum 300 words)
Anglo-Saxon mythology has a very limited supply of primary sources and tends to borrow heavily from similar cultures to re-create the Anglo-Saxon beliefs that we follow today. One of the key primary sources is “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.” This book is a collection of manuscripts that were recorded by a number of unknown writers. The Chronicle gives us a record of the main activities in England during the time from 1 A.D. through 1154 A.D. We have nine different versions of “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.” Each one of the manuscripts has a different collection of events, and there is some evidence that there might have been significant editorialization of the records (Ingram, Introduction). While many of the first authors seem to be Saxon, the authors of the later events in “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles” are often Christian, and this is reflected in their recording. In addition to “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles,” there are the records of Christian Monks, most notably “Historia Ecclesiastical Gentis Anglorum” in which Bede describes a lot of the pagan behaviors of the native peoples. Both of these works attempt to be somewhat objective, but the writers’ social, religious, and political beliefs and agendas color the writing.
Welsh primary sources are also rather limited. We have “The Mabinogion” This book is a collection of tales from the “White Book of Rhydderch” and the “Red book of Hergest.” These tales are a series of stories that may, or may not, have any basis in history, but do seem to reflect the beliefs of the ancient Welsh. The tales themselves were originally written by different, unknown, authors, and are slightly re-written with each translation. Davies suggests that the tales were written down between the end of the eleventh century and the fourteenth century in an attempt to record the Welsh stories in the fact of the threat of an Anglo-Saxon invasion (loc. 213). “The Mabinogian” began as a series of fictional, or perhaps mythological, stories, that were passed down through oral history until they were written down. Since then, the stories have been re-translated and re-interpreted multiple times by progressively more modern individuals. Much in the way that reading the myths of the United States such as Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan can allow us to understand a lot about the viewpoints and belief of the culture that created and maintain the myths; “The Mabinogion” can help us to understand the culture of the Welsh, and the modern interpretation of the Welsh myths.
Both the Anglo-Saxon and Welsh hearth cultures have limited primary texts, and those texts are heavily influenced by Christian translations. To help fill in the gaps in understanding, ADF members of these Hearth Cultures borrow heavily from similar cultures to help flesh out the practice of a modern Druid.
In contrast to these Hearths with limited literature, Vedic Hearth Culture has more extensive texts. The primary texts of the Vedic culture are the Samhitas, a collection of four books called “Vedas”. The Rig-Veda is the one most commonly referenced, but there are also the Samas-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda. From what we can tell, the Rig-Veda is also the oldest of the text. It is s book of hymns to the gods. In addition to the Samhitas, there are a series of exegetic works from the later Vedic and early Classical periods. These works give some interesting insights into the culture at the time. The texts, as written down, give us part of the picture – only that which the people who wrote them down thought were important. The works themselves have a distinctive Brahmic bias (Puhvel 45-46).
Unfortunately, while there is a significant amount of documentation, it still doesn’t give us a full picture of the ancient religion. It is, as Puhvel says, like “being handed a church hymnal in a vacuum and trying to construct from it a comprehensive overview of the spiritual … culture of a Christian society.”
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2. Summarize, then compare and contrast the myths of at least two Indo-European cultures with respect to the following topics (you need not use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for each topic): (minimum 300 words for each)
2.1. Tales of Creation
In the Norse creation myth, there was once two realms. These realms were Niflheim in the North, a land of ice and darkness, and a land of light and fire, Muspell, in the South. The World Tree, Yggdrasil and an emptiness called the Ginnungagap connected the realms. In this emptiness, the fire and ice combined to create the frost giant Ymir. Ymir gave birth to the first family of Frost Ogres. Some of the ice from Niflheim became the cow giant Auohumla. Auohumla licked the ice around her and a man named Buri the Strong gradually emerged. Buri had a son, Bor, who married one of the Frost Ogres, Bestla. Bestla and Bor gave birth to the gods Odin, Vili, and Ve. Together, these three gods killed Ymir.
From his body, the gods created the earth and sky, the mountains and rocks, the stones and pebbles. Ymir’s skull was turned to the sky and was supported by four dwarves, one in each direction. From Muspell, the gods took pieces and scattered them through the emptiness of the Ginnungagap. Then the gods made man and woman from an ash tree and an elm tree. Odin breathed life into them. Vili gave them intelligence. Ve gave them sight and hearing. The first man was Ask; the first woman was Embla. Together, they made their home in the stronghold that the gods built for them and named Midgard (Leeming).
In the Greeks creation story, the Earth, Gaia, gives birth to the Sky, Ouranos. Ouranos and Gaia give birth to the Titans, but Ouranos mistreats his offspring. So Gaia and their youngest, Kronos, worked together to emasculate Ouranos. From the sliced off pieces of Ouranos that fall into the ocean, Aphrodite was born. The emasculated, dethroned Ouranos could no longer rule, and Kronos took his place. Kronos lived in fear of his children and ate each of them at birth. Gaia sneaked one of her children away – Zeus. Zeus grew up in secret and overthrows Kronos with some help. He made Kronos regurgitate all of Zeus’ siblings and threw all the Titans into Tartarus (Puhvel 27).
Both of these myths start with elemental forces that either give birth to, or create, the first being or beings. That being then gives birth to many other beings which are considered chaotic or negative beings – the Titans and the Johtun. Then the being who is now considered to be the King of the gods gathers his allies and deposes the first being. From this deposition, something was created. In the Greek myth, Aphrodite was born from parts of Ouranos, while in the Norse myth the world was created from the body of Ymir. In both of these myths, the gods bring order to the chaos.
2.2. Tales of Divine War
In Norse Mythology, there was one key war of the Gods – the war between the invading Æsir and the native Vanir. In this war, the Æsir, led by Odin, with Thor and Tyr did battle against the Vanir, who were led by Njörd, Freyr, and Freya. Some mythologists believe that the Vanir attempted to influence the Æsir by tempting them with gold and sex by sending Gullveig to them. Gullveig was cut and burned three times in the camp of the Æsir and was reborn after each attempt to kill her. Seeing the strength of the Vanir, the Æsir agreed to a truce cemented through an exchange of hostages. Even with the truce, the Æsir continued to try to take advantage of the Vanir. In one tale, Odin obtained the sacred mead through trickery. In the myth of the sacred mead, the Æsir gained wisdom and poetry while the Vanir were shown as incompetent (Winn 64).
The Irish also have a tale of a battle between invaders and a native group of gods. In the Irish tales, as retold by Ian Corrigan in “Leabhar Mór,” the Tuatha De Danann came to Ireland and tried to get the native Fomorians to give them half of the island. The natives refused, and the First Battle of Mag Tuireadh began. The Tuatha De Danann won the battle, but their King had lost his hand. Since the King needed to be physically perfect, Nuada could not continue to be King of Ireland. In an attempt to gain more agricultural knowledge, the Tuatha De Danann placed a man named Bres on the throne. Bres was half-Fomorian and was intended to symbolize the peace, but Bres was abusive towards the Tuatha De Danann and was eventually removed from his throne. The removal of Bres resulted in the Second Battle of Maige Tuireadh. At the end of the Second Battle, Lugh of the Tuatha De Danann shot out the eye of the King of the Fomorians, Balor. Balor’s eye would kill anyone that it looked upon, and as it was shot out of the back of Balor’s head, it was facing the Fomorian army, that army was destroyed (16 – 20).
In Norse Mythology, the invading Æsir symbolize the elite warriors, magicians, and leaders; while the native Vanir are connected to the fertility and the Earth and represent what Dumézil calls the producer class. In the Irish myth, the Tuatha De Danann bring symbols of all three groups with them – a spear, a sword, the stone of leadership and a cauldron (Winn 70). In both cases, the invading groups brought with them symbols of Leaders and Warriors, as well as magical prowess.
In the Norse myths, the battle was settled with an exchange of hostages, while in the Irish myth, the victors attempted to cement the truce with putting someone of shared ancestry on the throne. In both cases, there was continued tension between the groups. In the Irish myths, that tension led to a second great battle.
Winn suggests that the Norse myth, and perhaps other Indo-European myths, represent a historical event in which the matrilineal, agrarian society was invaded by a patriarchal Indo-European culture (64). In both of these myths, the invading army ends up either completely destroying or effectively integrating the native population.
2.3. Tales Which Describe The Fate Of The Dead
In “Our Troth,” Gundarsson describes a number of different places that the dead can end up in Norse mythology. Some dead may reside in mounds, where they continue to consume the food and drink that are offered to them (511). Odin or Freya may choose other people to join them in Valhalla and Folkvangr, respectively, upon their death. It is said that Freya has first choice of the dead on the battlefield, and Odin takes the rest. Freya and Odin gather the dead to them in preparation for battle. In effect, Hel also chooses the dead to join her in her Hall – she chooses when people die (Gundarsson 518). While modern interpretations of Hel’s Hall often depict it as a dreary place, the pattern of the writing indicates that it might have been written after Christianization. There are even some passages that describe Hel’s Hall as a rich and decorated place (Gundarsson 515-516).
While modern, popular belief is that Odin and Freya take those who die in battle and the rest go to Hel, there are some key exceptions in the lore. According to the poem “Sonatorrek” the sons of Egill, including one who died of fever and another who drowned, were brought to Odin’s Hall while Baldar and Sigurdr both went to Hel although they were slain in battle (Gundarsson 518-519). In the book “Our Troth: Volume 1,” Gundarsson proposes that the dead go to the Hall of the god who chooses them. He points out that Gefjon and Thor also have Halls and may choose dead followers to join them there (521).
By contrast, the Welsh seem to only have one Land of the Dead. The land of Annwn is not always described as a particularly nice place. In ‘Pwyll Prince of Dyfed’ from the “The Mabinogion,” the hero helps the King of Annwn defeat his enemy. In another tale, ‘The Spoils of Annwn,’ Arthur made an expedition into a land that was described as “a place of brightness and feasting” (Davidson 183). In other texts, however, Annwn is described as a “dangerous desolate place.” Gwyn ap Nudd, King of the Underworld, fared forth from the Land of the Dead every night to collect the souls of the dead. Some tales say that mortal, living men would encounter the King at a fine feast but King Nudd would “steal their souls and throw them into the mountain where they would lay tormented until time ended” (Watkins 122)
There are some parallels between the Welsh and Norse tales of the land of the Dead. Both the Welsh and the Norse have tales of living individuals who travel forth into the land of the Dead to find dead person, for a task, or for Honor. The path to the Land of the Dead is often over water, or by horse. In the Norse myths, Hermodr borrows Sleipnir, Odin’s Horse, to ride safely to seek out Hel and retrieve Baldur (Gundarsson 515). In Arthur’s tale on his journey into Annwn, he seems to cross a sea to get there (Davidson 183). There are also differences, however, in the number of possible places where the Dead may end up in the Otherworld.
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3. Explain how each of the following elements of ADF ritual does or does not resonate with elements of two different Indo-European cultures (you need not use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for each element): (minimum 100 words for each)
3.1. Earth Mother
Many Indo-European cultures have a recognition of the Earth Mother in their mythology. In ADF, we recognize the Earth Mother as a representation of the Earth and nature around us. It’s important for us to recognize the Earth Mother and honor our relationship.
In Greek mythology, the Earth Mother is often considered to be Gaia. Gaia is the goddess who created the Sky and gave birth to the first generation of Titans (Puhvel 27). In a Homeric Hymn quoted in “The Sacred and the Profane” by Eliade, Gaia is called “eldest of gods, that nourishes all things in the world” (139). Gaia herself is not considered to be one of the Olympian gods – she is a Titan, an elemental force. Gaia is considered the modern Earth Mother by adherents to the “Gaia Theory.” This theory proposes that the Earth is a single system where all the creatures – organic and inorganic – have a part to play (“Gaia Theory: Overview”). To the Greeks, Gaia is a creator, She is the one who starts it all as she gave birth to the first beings, and her progeny became the gods of the Greeks.
While Gaia is attested in the Greek creation myth, the Norse Earth Mothers are only barely mentioned in the myths. In Norse mythology, the goddess Jord is often considered to be the Earth Mother. Like Gaia, she is considered outside of the main myths of gods. In myth, Jord is a Giantess, the mother of Thor, and her name means “Earth.” In addition to Jord, the goddess Nerthus was called the “Earth Mother” or “Terra Mater” by Tacticus (McCoy “Jord”). I have worked with both Jord and Nerthus as Earth Mother, and both of them seem to be comfortable in the role. The relationship that the Norse seem to have with the Earthy Mother type gods in their pantheon varies depending on the particular god discussed. While Jord is not often called out, we have an account from Tacitus where he describes how Nerthus was paraded around the countryside, bringing peace wherever she went. This shows that the Norse did have, at least in some areas, active worship of an Earth Goddess (McCoy “Nerthus”).
3.2. Deities of Land
In ADF, we often split the world into Land, Sea and Sky. For us, the Land, and the gods associated with the Land are gods who are associated with growing things, nature and agriculture.
In Norse mythology, the Vanic gods, in addition to Jord and Nerthus mentioned above, were considered Deities of the Land. There is some belief that the Vanir, the Vanic tribe of deities, were pre-Indo-European gods who were incorporated into the Indo-European belief structure (Winn 64). Freyr, in particular, is associated with the Land. He is often associated with the harvest and growth. In some modern traditions, Freyr moves between the Land and the Earthen Mound as the weather moves from Summer to Winter. Freyr’s movement to the Mound during the winter reflects the fact that nature tends to hibernate during the winter. The Norse live in more Northern lands, so they have the colder winters where nature seems to go to sleep.
Among the Greeks, Demeter seems to have been worshiped in pre-Indo-European times. There is some evidence that she was the deity worshiped at Delphi before it became a temple to Apollo (Leeming 161). Demeter is also associated with the growth of plants. When her daughter, Prosephone, was missing, Demeter grieves and all the land suffers. This shows a very close tie between the gods of the Land and the earth itself. When the gods are suffering, the land suffers. The Greek lands are in warmer climates so nature doesn’t go through hibernation during the winter as the Norse do, and their mythology reflects this.
In both of these mythologies, the deities of the land are believed to be from a pre-Indo-European agrarian society. While our Western society today is not generally agrarian, we still can see the changing of the seasons around us. I connect most with the deities of the land by observing the changing of food available in the Farmers Markets and by creating meals for my family with that food.
3.3. Deities of Sea
The Deities of the Sea can be both gods of bounty and destruction.
In Greek mythology Poseidon is considered as the god of the sea. He may have originally had a more “all-embracing” realm of influence but has since been limited (Otto 28). The Greeks saw the relationship between the oceans and earthquakes, and so Poseidon is also the god of Earthquakes (Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion206). To the Greeks, Poseidon is both a god of bounty and a god of destruction. They recognize the potential damage that water can do while also acknowledging the bounty of the sea.
Among the Norse, there are, once again, a number of different deities who are associated with the sea. Aegir is considered the god of the sea with a palace that sits at the bottom of the ocean (Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion 206). While Aegir is the god of the sea, Njord is the god of the treasures and commerce of the sea. I find it interesting that neither of these gods is particularly associated with destruction. Both of them are more oriented to bringing bounty and treasures to the people.
Both of these mythologies have deities who are associated with the sea itself, in addition to any other gods who are associated with activities on the sea. We can connect with these gods of the sea as providers of bounty – both food and trade, as well as with the primal powers of creation and destruction.
3.4. Deities of Sky
The Sky gods are often considered the ruling gods. In “Patterns in Comparative Mythology”, Eliade mentions that the sky gods are considered to be up high and so are “filled with the sacred” (39). Carrion and Ravan Mann, in their article on “Reclaiming the Indo-European Sky Father,” discuss that the Sky gods are, in addition to being the ruling deities, often part of the creation of the world.
In Greek mythology, the Titan Ouranos was the sky. He was the father to the first Titans. He was then overthrown by his son, Kronos; who was then overthrown by his son Zeus. While Zeus is not one of the creators of the universe, he controls the sky. Zeus is the ruler of the Gods, and, as such, the most powerful of Them. His connection with the Sky is evidenced both by his residence on Olympus and his association with lighting and thunder.
In Norse mythology, there is no clear creator of the original worlds of Fire and Ice, and the Giant Ymir. Odin is part of the trio of gods who sacrificed the Giant Ymir to create the middle world. There is also some evidence that the god Tyr was the original leader of the Norse gods, but he was overshadowed by Odin over time (Mann and Mann). Once again, we see the Sky gods as rulers of the gods. While Odin is not directly associated with lightning and thunder, His son, Thor, is. So we see the continued relationship between control over the sky and the gods of the Sky.
In both Greek and Norse mythology, the Sky gods are either the creators of the Universe or are the children of the creators. Connecting with these creators helps us to create with the Sky above us – a Sky that is always above us. Mann and Mann suggest that as we connect with the Sky and tap into its power, it behooves us also to work with the source of that power – the Deities of Sky.
Within ADF, there are some different views of the outsiders. For some it is the various beings who are not interested in helping the rite; for others, the outsiders are beings of Chaos; and for yet others, the outsiders are the internal thoughts and emotions that would distract from our rite (Newberg “The Outsiders Offering”). When looking at beings who could be considered outsiders in various mythologies, we tend to consider the beings of Chaos as outsiders.
Both the Norse and Greek mythologies have specific races that are usually considered beings of Chaos. Among the Norse, these are the Jotnar or Giants. Among the Greeks, these chaotic forces are the Titans (Newberg “The Outsiders Offering”). In both cases, these beings tend to be closely related to the forces of nature.
These two cultures, however, treat with the Outsiders differently. Within the Greek mythos, the Titains are considered exceptionally dangerous and are contained within Tartarus. Interestingly, Zeus himself is half Titan, being the son of the Titan Kronos (Puhvel, Comparative Mythology 27). The Norse instead maintain a balance with their Jotnar through liberal use of Thor’s hammer. There are, however, a number of Jotnar who are treated kindly by the Norse gods. Njord and Freyr both marry Jotnar, while Thor is the son of the Jotnar, Jord. Odin is the son of the Ogre, Bestla – a Giant herself (Lemming).
In the Core Order of Ritual, it is optional to work with the Outsiders. However, I believe that it is important for us to connect with that primal chaos and the strength and power that they can offer. We need to be aware of the Outsiders and consider them in our rituals to minimize their impacts on us.
3.6. Nature Spirits
Many of the ancient Indo-European cultures had some relationship with the spirits of nature.
The Ancient Greeks had a wide range of spirits that they believed in – including Nymphs, Sylphs, Dryads, and Satyrs. The majority of the Greek nature spirits were female, but there were some male spirits as well. For the Greeks, Nature Spirits could be specific to a location, or to a type of plant, or even considered part of a god’s retinue. For example, the Maenads were a type of Nymph who were considered part of Dionysus’ train (Atsma).
In Norse mythology, the landvaettir are spirits of the land. These spirits can be very protective or can be very destructive – all depending on how they are treated. There was even a law in Iceland that required ships to remove their dragon-heads from their boats to avoid scaring the Land Spirits (Davidson 104).
In the modern ADF practice, we include the Nature Spirits as one of the Kindreds and call for them to join us in our rituals. I find that our modern practice works very well with the importance of the land spirits in Indo-European cultures.
There seems to be a general agreement among scholars that ancestor worship was important to Indo-European Cultures.
Eliade proposes that, to the Greeks, tombs were a place where the living can contact the dead (Patterns in Comparative Religion 232). However, in “The Homeric Gods,” Otto talks about the different ways that the Pre-Homeric and Homeric cultures view ancestors. In the Pre-Homeric cultures, the dead are not separated from their communities. Instead, they reside in their mounds and can receive offerings and prayers from the living (26). In the Homeric traditions, however, the dead instead go to Hades where they lose contact with the living. Otto even suggests that the Homeric people believed that the dead had no consciousness without contact with “the stream of life” (137-146). This seems to contradict the commentary from Puhvel who says that horses are raised in Hades, and there is vegetation and food grown there (138). It does not make sense to me that there would be growing things in a land populated with unconscious spirits, so my beliefs have more in common with the Pre-Homeric society.
Among the Norse, there are different ideas of where our ancestors reside. There are those who believe that our ancestors reside in the mounds in which they are buried. These “mound-dead” are believed to have the potential to entertain guests. Many people were placed into the mounds with the goods and equipment that they would need to journey from the mounds to the Otherworlds (Gundarsson 511-513). There is also belief among the Norse that the dead go to the Halls of the gods, and they may be able to move freely between the mound and the various residences of the gods. In some of the old tales, there is mention of the dead going to visit with their kindred (Gundarsson 521-522).
In our practice in ADF, we generally believe that we can talk to our ancestors, and our ancestors can communicate back and perhaps influence our lives. We make offerings and say prayers to our ancestors, and give them the things that they enjoyed in life. If you look at the pre-Homeric and Norse ways of working with the Ancestors, those more closely resemble how we view the Ancestors than the Homeric viewpoint.
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4. Discuss how the following seven elements of ADF’s cosmology are (or are not) reflected in the myths of two different Indo-European cultures. For this question, please use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for the entire question. (minimum 100 words each)
In modern ADF practice, we consider the Upperworld to be the world of the gods and above us.
In Norse mythology, there does not seem to be a clear indication that the Upperworld – the world of the gods – is situated above our world. Davidson does outline that the gods live in Asgard but does not define where Asgard is (172-3). The gods are considered to assemble under the tree Yggdrasil, and Davidson points out that Snorri Sturluson outlines the position of the nine worlds as being within the roots of Yggdrasil. Davidson suggests that this shows that all of the Norse worlds might be considered to be on the same level (23). In “Our Troth,” Gundarsson also outlines a “Tree” arrangement of the Nine Worlds that is more common with modern practitioners. In this arrangement, there is an “Overworld” consisting of Asgard, Ljossalfheim and some of Muspelheim that sits above the Middle World, but he does not give any source in the myth for this arrangement (484).
The Greeks, however, believed that Olympus was above the world in which we live. The this-world Mount Olympus is the highest point in Greece (“Olympus National Park”). In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Olympus is described as being a high place, and the place where the gods live (Crawford). Thus, Olympus correctly fits into our definitions as the Upperworld as the home of the Gods and being above our world.
In our cosmology, the Middleworld is the place where plants, animals, and humans live along with the spirits of the land. While not every mythology has a specific name for what ADF calls the Middleworld, they have the idea of a World where the humans live alongside the spirits of Nature. In ancient times, people believed that there was the potential, if not the certainty, of major features of the land to be the home of spirits.
The Norse call the world that humans live in, Midgard, and we share the world with the Alfs and the landvaettir, or spirits of the land. We can see further evidence of the Land Spirits sharing in Midgard in “Our Troth.” Gundarsson says that “”Every grove and spring had its protecting powers” (Our Troth 35). Among the Greeks, there is no specific name for this world, but humans live alongside the various spirits of the land – nymphs, satyrs and the like.
In addition to the Land Spirits – the Nature Spirits of ADF cosmology – there are some gods who are believed to reside here in Midguard. Gods of the sea such as Aegir and Poseidon, for example, are likely to reside in the Middleworld.
4.3. Divisions Of Middleworld (e.g., 4 Quarters, 3 Triads, 8 Sections)
In the Norse creation myth, there are four dwarves – Nordri, Sudri, Austri, and Vestri – who hold up the sky at the cardinal points of North, South, East, and West, respectively (McCoy, “The Creation of the Cosmos.”). There is some question if the Dwarves existed before the creation of the cosmos, or if they sprang from the body of Ymir. They are, however, often honored in modern times through purification of the Hammer Rite. Some versions of the Hammer Rite include the directions of Up and Down (StoneCreed Grove).
While many of the different Indo-European cultures divide the world, not all of them do. The Greeks, for instance, do not seem to have any mythological divisions of the land itself. There are some modern practices which divide the Middleworld into land, sea, and sky for Greek ritual, but this may be an incorporation of modern practices.
In ADF Cosmology, the Underworld is the world of the dead and the gods of the Dead. It is thought to be below us.
In Greek mythology, there are indications that the dead dwell underground as Greek oracles were often situated by crevices to help them connect to the dead in the underworld (Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion 252 – 253). Puhvel defines Hades, the land of the dead, to be somewhere to the North, “at the ends of the Ocean, among the Cimmerians” (138).
In Norse mythology, the dead may go to different lands depending on if a specific god chooses them. The everyman, however, goes to the land called Hel. The myths describe the location of Hel when the gods seek out Baldar in Hel. They are described to go Northwards and downwards (Davidson 172).
Both Hades and Hel are sometimes depicted as harsh, lifeless places, but Hades is famous for horses and has much vegetation in the halls (Puhvel, Comparative Mythology 138). Hel is also described as a rich land (Gundarsson 515-516). ADF members are free to choose how they believe the Underworld looks, but it is always the land of the dead.
In ADF Mythology, Fire is a vehicle for offerings to go to the gods as well as the essence of the energy of the Celestial Order. In our Two powers meditation, we call upon the Fires of Celestial Order.
Among the Norse, the key elements of creation are Fire and Ice. Fire shows up the most in myths about creating things. The fire is part of the creation myth, and we see the fire of forges in a number of other myths. Some of the more popular examples of Fire include the myth of the creation of Mjolnir.
For the Greeks, fire was a critical element of sacrifice. Hermes is said to have invented the Kindling of Fire, and this is thought that this is the prototype of offering sacrifice (Otto 122). The Fire of the Hearth is also considered to be very important to the Greeks. In ADF we offer to Hestia – goddess of the Hearth – before all others in Greek rituals.
The Well in ADF is considered to be the Gate to the Waters that are associated with the Underworld. In the ancient mythology, water is often seen to stand between this world and the world of the dead.
In Greek mythology, the Underworld is bordered by five different rivers. The Acheron, the river that the dead must cross to get to Hades is known as the River of Woe. The other rivers that border Hades include the Cocytus, or river of lamentation; the Phlegethon, the river of fire; the Styx is the river of oaths by which some say that the gods took their vows; and the last river is the Lethe or river of forgetfulness (“The Underworld”).
In Norse mythology, we see a similar need to cross water to get to the Land of the Dead as the messenger crosses a body of water on his way to Hel’s Hall to seek Baldar (Gundarsson 515 – 519). The Prose Edda says that the dead must cross Gjoll Bridge to get to the gates of Hel (Sturluson Loc. 2213). In addition to the water between Midgard and Hel’s Hall, there is the well, or multiple wells, at the base of the World Tree, including the well of wisdom, Minir’s well.
In both the Norse and the Greek, Water is strongly connected to the Dead, and to the knowledge that comes from the Dead.
In ADF’s cosmology, the Tree is seen as a representation of this world as well as a connector from the Upperworld and the Underworld. Due to this connection between the worlds, we often call the Tree the “Axis Mundi”. The “Axis Mundi” is considered to support the heavens above, connecting to the earth, and going down into the Underworld below (Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane 36-37).
In the Hellenic world, we have evidence that trees, alongside stones, were used in worship (Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion 270). The Tree is often seen as the Tree of Life in Greek mythology as well. Both Hercules and Jason are seeking to gain a symbol of Life from a tree (Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion 290).
Yggdrasil, the World Tree, in Norse mythology is said to be rooted under the earth and supports all the nine worlds (Eliade Patterns in Comparative Religion 276). In the Eddas, it is said that Yggdrasil is also the meeting place of the gods (Sturluson Loc. 715).
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5. To what extent do you think we can offer conjectures about Indo-European myths in general? Are the common themes strong enough that the myths seem like variations? Or are the differences so powerful that the themes are less important than the cultural variations? (minimum 300 words)
There are many components of Indo-European mythology that is similar between cultures, but there’s also some that aren’t. For example, the creation stories that are visible in many cultures are absent in the Celtic cultures. We do not know if this is because those cultures did not have those stories, or if we have lost the myths over time. Perhaps the Christian monks who preserved the stories of the Irish and Welsh chose not to record their story of sacrifice and creation.
In the cultures where we do see Creation stories, there are many similarities between them. Puhvel considers that “we are dealing with parallel elaborations of the same basic myth in widely differing circumstances” as he discusses the Hittite and Greek creation stories (29). We can also see similar patterns between the Vedic and Norse stories.
In addition to the Creation stories, we see similarities in the importance of Fire, Water, and Trees/Stones across Indo-European cultures. Fire continues to be critical to ritual and of extreme importance to sacrifice, especially to the Greeks. However, we also see evidence of sacrifices in Water across the different cultures in waterfalls, rivers and bogs in Germanic and Celtic lands – including the Lindow man in England and the Tollund Man in Denmark (Spangenberg). The Tree, or Stone in some cultures, consistently connects the many worlds together and provides a pathway to get from one world to another.
In the Indo-European cultures, the concept of multiple worlds where the different beings reside is very common. In most cases, there are three different worlds – the Norse mythology is an exception. These worlds are divided into the worlds above, below and the middle. In ADF, we have defined these as the Upperworld, world of the Gods, the Middleworld, where humans, animals, plants and Nature Spirits live, and the Underworld, or the world of the Dead. Which beings live in which worlds does vary slightly by culture, but the general idea that we live in the Middleworld, and the Dead live in the Underworld are consistent. The Underworld, however, is not the only place that the Dead may reside. In the Norse mythologies, there are multiple Halls in Asgard where the Dead may go after they have moved from the Middleworld.
Overall, Indo-European cultures are quite similar if taken with a sufficiently broad brush. There are, however, areas where there are some key differences such as the divisions of the Middleworld. The Norse use the four directions if they use any divisions at all; the Greeks have little division in their mythology; the Irish could use either Land, Sea, and Sky or the five counties that spread from the Hill of Tara. Other cultures have their own divisions.
It seems to me, that in areas of non-tangible subjects the Indo-European myths are more similar. When we have something more tangible – like the divisions of the world around us – then the local culture exerts more influence, and the differences between cultures become greater.
We can use this understanding of different Indo-European mythologies, combined with an understanding of the culture and the land where those mythologies sprung up to help to fill in some of the holes that we are missing in the myths. For example, we see the story of the seer in Norse myth, but we only have very limited information on what those Seers did. We can look to the Greek Oracles to help give some context to the information that we have, and possibly fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as transplanting ideas from one culture to another. We must take the information that we have about those people, how they lived, and what they valued into account.
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