Category Archives: Thursday Myths & Legends 101

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Inugami

An Inugami is a Japanese mythical dog spirit, much like a western familiar—the inugami are loyal to their owners (or inugami-mochi) and serve them and protect them from enemies, but the legend makes it very clear that they are wild, and act on their own instincts, which does occasionally turn them against their owners, and even can bring them to possess them.

Inugami have a very interesting origin legend.  But it is said that inugami were created by burying a dog up to its neck, and placing food around it, just out of its reach.  As the dog suffers and yearns for the food, the owner would tell them that their suffering is nothing, and eventually as the dog would die, it would turn into an inugami.  Because it has died so strongly wanting the food just out of its reach, the food placed before it then becomes a placetory offering for the now-free spirit of the dog, and that service binds the inugami to its owner.

There is another story, though, of a woman who wanted revenge against someone, and so she buried her prized dog in the ground and swore to worship it if it would do her will, then cut the dog’s head off with a bamboo saw.  In this legend, the inugami did as she wished, but then returned and haunted her for the cruel way in which she killed him.

As should be obvious, please don’t try any of this at home—it would definitely be considered criminal animal cruelty.

It is believed that an inugami-mochi, or owner of an inugami, will be blessed with good fortune and good health, but in some regions of Japan, it is also believed that the blessing has a curse to it as well—that the inugami-mochi will be shunned by society and unlucky in love.  Also, if the owner upsets its inugami, the inugami is likely to turn on the master.  If an inugami attempts to return to its body, and the body is no longer available due to decay, the inugami is also likely to inhabit its owner’s body.  This is said to bring good health and cure all diseases, but at the same time it is a kind of possession, so not only is the inugami-mochi not in control of his own body, but is also likely to act like, well, a dog.  Not the most appealing kind of life.


Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Aether

A quick little post for today.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “into the ether.”  What you might not know is that Ether – or rather, Aether, is actually a Greek God—and one of the very first.

Aether was one of the Protogenoi, or an elemental god, like Chaos and Gaia.  Aether was the embodiment of the upper air or space or heaven.  He is also the pure air that the gods themselves breathed—which is different from the air that mortals breathed.  Aether is supposedly the son of Erebus (Deep Darkness) and Nyx (Night) but may also be the son of Chaos.  The Orphic hymns mention him as the “soul of the earth” from which all life emanates.  He is the father of Uranus (Father Sky) and possibly Aergia (Inactivity).

His realm encompasses the mountains, clouds, stars, sun and moon, and it is said that the stars were forged in the Aether’s fire.  Aether was also meant to be Zeus’ defensive wall, blocking Tartarus from the rest of the Cosmos.


Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Cat and the Cradle

You’ve probably heard “cat’s in the cradle,” if not only from the line in the Harry Chapin song, but you may not realize that this saying originated from a Dutch legend.  The elaboration of the story seems to vary from place to place.

The basic gist of it is that once there was a big flood of torrential waters, and while checking on the drainage after the storm, a man saw something floating on the water and realized it was a cradle.  He decided that sadly nothing inside it could possibly be alive, because the water had been so tempestuous, but as it floated nearer, he saw that a cat was actually rocking the cradle back and forth in the water by jumping from end to end—apparently to keep the water out.  When the cradle drifted close enough to the man, he was amazed to find a baby girl in the cradle, alive and well despite the long stormy night.

Another source I came to says that the little girl had already once been saved from an untimely death—this was extremely long ago, when food and resources were scarce, so often baby girls were left to die in favor of raising up strong boys who could be warriors, but a girl child was allowed to live if they were ever given so much as a taste of food—milk, honey, what have you.  This girl was meant to be left to die on orders of her grandmother (the matriarch in the family has all the say) but she was hidden by a nursemaid and her parents, and cared for secretly.

The cat was a pet and became a playmate of the little girl, and supposedly cared for her more than for her own kittens, so when the flood came, the cat let her kittens fend for themselves, thinking that kittens are more apt to take care of themselves and run around and whatnot than a baby is, so the cat jumped into the cradle with the baby and they floated off together.  This other reference also says that it was not a man but a boy that found the baby, and that eventually the two were married.  It even says that there is still today a statue of the cat over the woman’s tomb, and that every year on Santa Klaas day (December 5th) the children in the village put a new collar on the cat’s statue, and remember the story about the cat that saved a little girl’s life.


Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Redcap

Hermitage Castle: a castle with a bloody, violent history, rumored redcap stomping ground

Everyone has heard of haunted castles. Legend has it that places that old and wrought with history boast a ghost or two. But did you know that certain castle ruins near the English/Scottish border lay claim to a murderous (yes, you read that right, I said murderous) evil, little bugger they call a redcap?

Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, the castles have their very own nightwatchman, and this one does not take kindly to trespassers. In fact, it is said that they murder those who wander into the castles uninvited and then use their blood to dye their pretty little hats, hence the name, redcaps.

And though it might seem like these creatures are doing this out of some sort of loyalty or fondness for the building, the truth is that if they don’t kill, and their bloody hats dry, they die, and so killing is really paramount for their survival.

Interestingly enough, I found no specific creature/monster mentioned as a redcap, since the myths often depict it as a small magical creature, be it goblin or elf or fairy. It’s supernaturally fast and carries around iron weapons of choice. It isn’t meant to be pretty by any means, the way some fae can be, rather it’s got red eyes, large teeth, and taloned hands.

Its like my friend Holly says: “Don’t mess with the redcaps. Their caps are red for a reason.” I agree, Holly. Wholeheartedly.


Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Moirae (Fates)

All of humanity’s life, represented by a long, endless thread. Clotho, the first of the Fates, spun the thread onto her spindle, beginning that particular life. Lachesis used her measuring rod, allotting each person a certain life span, while Atropos used her ‘abhorred shears’  to cut that life, in any manner she saw fit.

This was how a person’s life course, or fate, was decided, according to Greek mythology. The Moirae, or Fates as they’re commonly referred to, were three spinsters who apportioned life length and death, and as such were given great honor (or perhaps even feared) by the Olympian gods themselves.

According to the tales, the Moirae came to see a child seven nights after its birth to determine its life course. They were often viewed as remorseless and unfeeling. Atropos’ Roman equivalent was Death itself, or Morta. They were often depicted as old crones or hags, which might be why being an old spinster is looked down and feared by young maidens in so many cultures.

Re-evaluating these mythic characters, I couldn’t help but think of Sleeping Beauty and Disney’s rendition involving three faeries who come to bless the child after her birth. Three is a very significant number in many cultures. Also, does anyone notice that touching the spindle is what ‘ends’ her life? Or puts her to sleep in this case? I definitely think they were touching a bit on the Fates mythos.

Anyone know of any good YA stories involving the Fates? The Thief, which I reviewed yesterday, had a nice nod to the Moirae in the form of a woman, Moira. Definitely worth a look.


Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Smaug the Magnificent

Smaug is perhaps my favorite dragon in fiction.  Maybe that’s just a childhood-association thing, but I’ve always thought he was pretty impressive.

Smaug is, of course, the dragon (and main villain of) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein.  Since I’m going to be starting Lord of the Rings, I’ve had The Hobbit on my mind, and my favorite scene in that novel is the bit where Bilbo talks with the great and evil Smaug.

As dragons go, Smaug is fairly impressive.  Fiery breath, incredibly strong tail, keen and accurate eyesight and sense of smell—he can also speak intelligently.  He is also centuries old, and very used to getting his way, and is conniving enough to confuse and entrance his victims, with help of a hypnotic gaze.

Smaug lives in Lonely Mountain, and has captured the treasure of the dwarves who once did.  He lies in his treasure, which has encrusted his skin, and knows every piece of his hoard—meaning he notices when even the smallest item (say a cup) is taken from it.  His weaknesses turn out to be his downfall, of course.  He is unable to resist a riddle (as are all dragons, according to Tolkein) so Bilbo is able to keep him talking and guessing things.  The “great worm” as he is called, also believes himself to be invulnerable, but Bilbo is so close to him he’s able to find a small, unencrusted patch of skin on Smaug’s left breast, which ends up being the death of him.

I think what always captured my imagination when I was a child, though, was how very smart Smaug is.  Sure he’s a great lazy, greedy beast, but he riddles out what he can from Bilbo, and bamboozles him a little bit, and is entirely entertaining to watch.  Smaug is no run-of-the-mill dragon.  Tolkein apparently drew extensively from the tale of Beowulf while writing him, which could explain some of the staying power of his story… drawing from something much older and very much a part of the origin of fiction.


Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Wood Between Worlds

The Wood Between Worlds has to be one of my favorite concepts from fiction and fantasy, ever.

This simple, lovely idea is from The Magician’s Nephew, the first novella in the Chronicles of Narnia. The idea is fairly simple. Digory Kirke (he’s the professor from the later Narnia novels) as a child is tricked into wearing a magic ring of his uncle’s, and when he (and a friend) put the rings on, they are transported to a wood with several trees and shallow pools where nothing ever happens—time doesn’t exist.  Because of this, it has a sedative effect on the people who end up there—they can get stuck in that world and forget who they are and what they’re doing there.  If you have the right ring on, however, and enter one of the seemingly-shallow pools, you can be transported to that location, a whole new world.  Each pool, if the right ring is being worn, acts as a portal to a different world. If the world is destroyed, or all life therein is lost, then the pool dries up and disappears.

That’s really all there is to it—not a complicated idea.  When I was a kid, it took me several attempts to force my way through The Magician’s Nephew, but the image of the Wood Between Worlds always stuck with me, because there were hundreds of pools in this wood—countless ones.  C.S. Lewis shows us only three—including Earth and Narnia.  I’ve always wondered what other worlds might the pools contain, had we been able to see more of them.  Or maybe they’ve been found out by other ways, and other authors.  Either way, the Wood Between Worlds is a place that’s always captured my imagination.

- Art by Kecky on Deviantart


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