Tag Archives: mythology

Behind the Scenes: Neban Religion

To help me keep things organized, I have a huge notebook of information about Nebe. It might be helpful to share it with those of you following along with the WIP. 

Any culture’s foundations are set in its myths. So, I’ve chosen to start there…

ImageAccording to the Doxa (the official religion of Nebe), Azed lived in the time of chaos. He ordered the elements, creating the world and all that inhabits it.

The first men were the Unhallowed, and they had no knowledge of Azed or what he had done for them. To rectify this, Azed sent his six sons to Nebe to teach man his ways. Each son was a piece of himself and had the knowledge of a specific domain.

After sharing their knowledge with all, each of Azed’s sons took a wife and settled in a different part of Nebe. According to the Doxa, this is how the six Strongholds came into being, as each is known for a different skill.

Alban, the builder, taught the Unhallowed how to mine and lumber. The Unhallowed learned how to build homes for themselves and temples to Azed. He is associated with the Stronghold of Hrundl, in northeast Nebe.

Amir, the farmer, taught the Unhallowed how to cultivate the land and its animals. The Unhallowed learned how to grow crops and domesticate animals. He is associated with the Stronghold of Feldeen, in west-central Nebe.

Abrien, the scribe, taught the Unhallowed to write. The Unhallowed learned to put their words to stone or parchment and keep records. He is associated with Rana, in southeast Nebe.

Arlind, the metalsmith, taught the Unhallowed to identify and use precious metals. The Unhallowed learned to shape metals to their needs. He is associated with Taksony, in southwest Nebe.

Adet, the shipwright, taught the Unhallowed to craft ships that would sail the rivers and ocean. The Unhallowed learned to navigate and fish. He is associated with Vustania, in east-central Nebe.

Abiel, the priest, taught the Unhallowed how to praise Azed. The Unhallowed learned the laws that Azed wanted them to follow. He is associated with Agralax, in northwest Nebe.

Thousands of turns after Azed’s sons died, man forgot their father and the connection between the sons. Instead, each isolated Stronghold honored its specific son as the true god, and much fighting occurred between the lands. Azed spoke to the prophet Wasa, who reminded the people of Nebe that their gods were all incarnations of the almighty Azed.

Though Wasa was killed for his teachings, a small faction of believers continued to preach Azed’s message. This is how the Doxa came into being, though it took many, many turns for it to become the official religion. The servants of Azed are now known as wasals in honor of the prophet.

More on the Nebe, the Strongholds, and the realm’s history to come…

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M is for Mbói Tu’ĩ

Some people fear snakes; others fear birds. If both animals give you the creeps, you’ll want to steer clear of today’s creature.

M is for Mbói Tu’i.

The Mbói Tu’i is a huge snake with a parrot’s head that comes from Guarani mythology. While he’s not overly fond of humans, he protects aquatic animals, acting as a guardian of the wetlands.

Mbói Tu’i has a blood-red forked tongue and a vicious stare that frightens those who look into his eyes. While his body is covered in scales, his head is covered in feathers. His screech terrifies people from miles away.

His main role in what remains of the oral culture of the Guarani is that he protects the land. He’s a conservationist at heart, scaring away anyone who encroaches on the South American swamps. In fact, his six brothers also guard different environs.

Mbói Tu’i is the grandson of the creation god, Tupa. Tupa and his wife created the earth and all its creatures. They also bore two spirits – Angatupyry (the spirit of good) and Tau (the spirit of evil).

While Tau was eventually banished from the earth, he took with him a Guarani woman named Kerana. Seven monster-children came from this union: Teja Jagua (a lizard-dog), Mbói Tu’i (today’s creature), Monai (a horned snake), Jasy Jatere (a beautiful man with blond hair and blue eyes), Kurupi (a small, hairy man with an enormous erection that he wraps around his body), Ao Ao (a fanged sheep), and Luison (a human-dog).

450px-Mboi_TuiBecause there is little written record of the Guarani, it’s hard to tell whether they revered or feared (or both) Mbói Tu’i. My first thought upon reading up on this creature was of Humbaba in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Like Mbói Tu’i, Humbaba is a fearsome beast ordered by the gods to protect a holy land (in this case, the forest of the cedars). My students often feel bad for Humbaba when Gilgamesh kills him, as he was only doing his job by keeping men out of the woods.

There’s a clash between nature and culture that is anthropomorphized in such guardian creatures. If we are to believe cultural anthropologists, what makes Man different from the other animals is his ability to control and dominate his environment. If Man must control nature to prove his worth, then creatures such as Mbói Tu’i and Humbaba are demonized and must be destroyed.

However, as there are no extant stories of Mbói Tu’i, it’s a little hard to make this connection. Nevertheless, Mbói Tu’i is an interesting peek into Guarani culture.

Sources:“Mboi Tu’i.” Wikipedia.

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K is for Kukuweaq

Riddle me this, bat-friends. What has one head, one tail, and ten legs?

K is for Kukuweaq.

The Kukuweaq comes from Inuit folklore. The beast is a polar bear with ten legs. Yes, that’s right – ten of them. I wouldn’t want to be chased by a four-legged polar bear, much less ten!

The bear’s ten legs help it travel long distances on both land and water. Some sources also claim that the beast is as large as an iceberg and almost impossible to kill. But in one folktale, a man does bring down one of these creatures.

Two neighbors settled in for the winter. One had stashed away a walrus to feed him during the harsh months, while the other (Kucriak) had nothing. Kucriak’s neighbor refused to share the walrus with him, so Kucriak went out in search of food. He came across the Kukuweaq’s den and killed it by stabbing his harpoon in the Kukuweaq’s eye. Unlike his greedy neighbor, Kucriak shared the bear’s meat with his entire village, saving them from starvation. Of course, his neighbor was embarrassed, since he had not shared his walrus.

I think the message in this particular folktale is clear – one must be generous towards his or her community. This is a significant cultural need, especially in isolated societies where resources are scarce. Hawaiian cultures have similar story in “The Calabash of Poi,” as do the Australians in “How the Kangaroo Got Her Pouch.”

What I’d like to know more about is why the Kukuweaq has ten legs – aside from the fact that the creature can travel long distances. The scientific term for having multiple limbs is polymelia. Many cultures have mythological creatures with polymelia, such as the Hindu Kali (a goddess, not a creature) and the Greek Hekatonkeires. I’ve been looking for more information about why this is so significant, but have failed to find anything yet. Let me know if you have a hint! (And I’ll let you know if I find something.) Aside from arms typically connoting strength, I’m at a loss.

Sources:
Robert F. Spencer. The North Alaskan Eskimo: A Study in Ecology and Society. (1959)

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J is for Jörmungandr

I have a thing for snakes. I don’t want one as a pet, but they have to be my favorite animal characters. They’re highly symbolic in almost every culture, which piques my interest. I’ve chosen today’s animal because it reminds me of a tattoo I have of an ouroboros. If I had a totem animal, that would be it.

jourmungandJ is for Jörmungandr.

Jörmungandr is a giant snake in Norse mythology. He is the son of Loki and Angrbotha (the “th” here is the letter eth, but it wouldn’t transfer over properly); his siblings are Fenrir and Hel.

When the creature was born, Odin threw Jörmungandr into Midgard. There, the snake grew to epic proportions and completely encircled the realm. When he rises from the sea, his coils become a rainbow.

The most popular tale including Jörmungandr is his battle with Thor. On a particular fishing trip, Thor sails far out to sea, despite warnings from his sailing partner. He uses a decapitated ox’s head as bait, which he ties to a fishing line and throws out to sea. Jörmungandr takes the bait and surfaces. Before Thor is able to kill the best, Jörmungandr breaks the line and returns under the water.

However, Jörmungandr and Thor are fated to meet once more, during Ragnarok. At the end of Ragnarok, Jörmungandr will emerge from the sea and poison the land. He and Thor will meet one final time, and the two will kill one another.

I suppose what fascinates me about snakes is the conflicting symbolism that we meet with. As a Christian, I was brought up believing that snakes were bad. When I began to study cultural mythology, I realized that they are often dualistic creatures, neither good nor evil. Often, they are associated with the life cycle, as they are able to shed their skin and be born “anew.” Thus, they represent both life and death, the creator and the destroyer. Their simultaneously phallic and vaginal appearance adds to their use in fertility myths.

Snakes are most often associated with the earth. They are tied to the ground in a way that most animals aren’t. They come to represent the physical world, which is likely why they have been looked down upon by religions that focus on transcendence rather than earthly pleasures. Jormungandr seems to fit into this symbolism, as he surrounds the earth, holding it together. If he were to let go, the world would end.

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I is for Itherther

ImageItherther is a god from the Kabyle tribe in Algeria, Africa who took the shape of a buffalo. Itherther is central in the Kabyle creation myth.

Itherther lived in Tlam, which was located below ground. He wanted to live in the sun, so he made his way above-ground with a female calf named Thamuatz. The two bred, and had a son and daughter.

Their son, Achimi, had a bit of an Oedipal complex. He discovered a tribe of men, who tried to capture and domesticate him. A wise ant told Achimi that the animals should work for man, but Achimi was obstinate. (The ant is often a creature of helpful insight in many African myths.) Achimi wanted to remain free, rather than bowing to man in exchange for food and shelter.Image

Upon his return home, Achimi mated with his mother and sister. Itherther became enraged when he found out. The two fought for power. Achimi overpowered his father, and the defeated Itherther wandered the world alone.

Itherther missed Thamuatz greatly. Every time he thought of her, he would spill his semen on the ground. His seed was warmed by the sun and begat all game animals (except for the lion).

Sources:Leo Frobenius and Douglas C. Fox. African Genesis: Folk Tales and Myths of Africa. (1999)

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G is for Ghaddar

And we’re back to the Middle East for today’s letter…G is for Ghaddar.

ImageThe Ghaddar is one of many pre-Islamic djinn (or jinn) – evil demons that inhabit the earth. While scholars quibble over the details, a few general attributes of the Ghaddar appear: they kidnap and torture their prey, ultimately leaving them alone in the desert.

As the children of Iblis (the devil), Ghaddar are hideous beasts, often depicted as giants. While no one is sure, some seem to think that the creatures are only female. Unlike more alluring female demons (such as the succubus), Ghaddar are horrific and framed to terrify rather than entice. (The image is obviously not of a female demon. Most artists create seductive female demons, so I included this one instead.)

The type of torture they inflict varies from myth to myth. Many stories focus on the Ghaddar eating the genitals of male travelers. No matter the form of torture, they leave their victims alone (sometimes alive, sometimes dead) in the middle of the desert. The creatures, then, serve as a cultural warning about traveling alone, popular in myths from around the world (e.g. Little Red Riding Hood).

If the myth that Ghaddars are women is true, then the moral becomes slightly different. It’s still warning travelers, but about an all-too-real phenomenon – prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases. I’ll let you figure out the link with that for yourself…

Sonia Nimr has taken this myth and re-framed it for children in her book, Ghaddar the Ghoul and Other Palestinian Stories.  Of course, there is no genital eating in this edition.

Sources:
Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Demons in World Religions and Cultures. (2012)

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F is for Fastitocalon

One sure fire way to make me cry – to this very day – is to put on The Neverending Story. When Artax dies in the Swamp of Sadness I go to pieces. If you’ve never seen it, Google it. I was six, and it was traumatic.

After this heart-wrenching scene, Atreyu finds Morla, a giant turtle. I’d always wondered where the idea for Morla came from. Apparently, a medieval bestiary.

ImageF is for Fastitocalon.

According to different legends, Fastitocalon is a giant turtle or whale or sea-faring creature. It resembles an island with lush vegetation. On the center of the “island” is the creature’s mouth. Sailors who land on this unfortunate creature met one of two swift deaths. Either they’re swallowed by the creature’s mouth, or the creature becomes uncomfortable and sinks into the sea, carrying the men with it.

The first written mention of Fastitocalon seems to be in the “Exeter Book” in a poem called The Whale. The anonymous author describes Fastitocalon and then parallels the creature to a demon, in that both mislead humans by making something dangerous seem beautiful. Tolkein (obviously known for his study of ancient myths) also writes of Fastitocalon in his The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. George Lucas seems to draw upon this creature, too, in The Empire Strikes Back, when the rebels land on what they think is an asteroid, but proves to be a cave-dwelling monster.

Image Fastitocalon is an Old English version of a popular myth. The creature is referred to by several names – Aspidochelone, Leviathan, Umassoursa, Cuero, and Zaratan. On one hand, the myth answers the cultural issue of sailors dying at sea, a quite common occurrence with no explanation. On the other hand, the idea of Fastitocalon serves an allegorical purpose: beware of the trappings of the world. Everything may seem beautiful and peaceful, but you shouldn’t focus on that. Remember to be wary of earthly trappings.

Sources:
Carol Rose. Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth . (2001)

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