Category Archives: Thursday Myths & Legends 101

Thursday Myths & Legends: The Bicorn and the Chichevache

A little literary influx for today’s Myths & Legends.  And my apologies, but I do mean a little.

This is a two-part medieval legend.  The Bicorn is a two-horned creature (often portrayed artistically as horse, after tradition of the unicorns) which fed on devoted and doting husbands—it was said to be well-fed and plump.

Meanwhile, the Chichevache (possibly invented by Chaucer and literally meaning “greedy cow”) is a cow with a woman’s face who is said to prey only on faithful women, which left it thin and haggard.  Being as this is from the Clerk’s Tale in Canterbury Tales, the snark is not only there but evident.  Is this sexist and old-fashioned? Answer: yes.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Morpheus

Continuing my obsession fascination with primordial deities, I decided to tackle the god of dreams, Morpheus. Though a winged daemon, or spirit, in his natural state, he possessed the power to take on any human form and appear within your dreams. There is conflict in the telling of who his parents were, as he’s often referred to as the son of Nyx, but also, perhaps more commonly, as the son of Hypnos (Sleep) who would have otherwise been his brother.

Morpheus was in charge of shaping dreams from within the dream realm, located in the underworld, and often said to be guarded by two gates, one of polished horn and one of sawn ivory. Though he worked alongside his brothers, Phobetor (from which we get the word phobia or fear) and Phantasos (in reference to fantasy, or things that were unreal or twisted in nature) Morpheus held the special responsibility for the dreams of kings and heroes, making him greater than his siblings.

Though this Greek god spent a long time in obscurity, he has been recently made popular by the cleverly parallel character of Morpheus in the Matrix, a man who reveals the ‘dream world’ to its future savior, Neo.

“What if when you woke up, you didn’t know the difference between the dream world, and the real world?”

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Nyx

Nyx by A-u-R-e-L @ DeviantArt

In Greek mythology, Nyx was the primordial goddess of the night. I’ve always had a kind of fascination with primordial deities, particularly because of the personification involved. It works serious wonders on the imagination to try and picture what the personification of night must have been like, both in looks and personality. She is considered the mother of other personified gods, such as Hypnos and Thanatos, Sleep and Death respectively, as well as gods we’ve already covered here at Hollow Tree, Aether and Charon.

Though not much is said about Nyx, she is known for her incredible power and beauty. So much so in fact, that in Homer’s the Illiad, not even Zeus is brave enough to confront her about her son Hypnos’ meddling in his affairs.

Interestingly enough, despite her obvious importance as ‘night’, there is a real lack of myths centering around Nyx, always having her appear somewhere in the background of her children’s stories. This might be because of the great fear and respect of her power. In fact, a statue was found dedicated to Nyx in the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

The only modern reference I could find of her was in the House of Night series by Kristen and P.C. Cast. But I would love to see more appearances by her. I feel with so little written about her, the possibilities are endless.

Thursday Myths & Legends: Set, egyptian god

In Egyptian Mythology, Set, or Seth as he’s most commonly known, was the Egyptian god of chaos, storms, and the desert. His name is often translated to mean pillar of stability, but it can also mean (one who) dazzles, which makes it a popular and well loved baby name.

He is the brother of the well-known Egyptian gods Osiris, Isis, and Nephtys. He’s often depicted as a mysterious or unknown animal (though closely resembling a jackal) with a curved snout, square ears, a forked tail and a human body.  The prevalent myth regarding his life is that he was horribly jealous of his brother Osiris, often pictured as a great and wise king and married to Isis. The jealousy led to Set’s violent outburst in which he killed and dismembered Osiris. Isis reassembled him and had him embalmed. Osiris went on to rule as King of the Afterworld. Isis became pregnant with Horus, by means of Osiris’ corpse, and Horus and Set became archenemies.

During a battle, Set cut out Horus’ eye, and Horus went on to cut off Set’s testicles, having him often associated with infertility. Their story is often cited in Egyptian culture as a lesson on family relationships, fighting and jealousy between siblings. But it could also explain the division of Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt, until the Second Dynasty saw them brought together and united as one dual god, Horus-Set.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Kintarō, the Golden Boy

"Kintaro and Carp in a Waterfall," ca. 1820 by Japanese artist Totoya Hokkei.

There are all kinds of stories as to how Kintarō was born, from being born in the forest after his mother (a princess) escaped fighting between his father and uncle, to one story where his mother is Yama-uba, a mountain crone, impregnated by a clap of lightning sent by a red dragon. He was said to be extremely strong even as a very small child – where he ran around naked, except for a bib around his neck with the kanji for “gold.”  He was said to be very close to animals.  They did his bidding, let him ride them, and possibly even taught him their language.  From the time he was a small child he was fighting monsters and helping local workers.

When Kintarō grew up, he met samurai Minamoto no Yorimitsu, who was very impressed by his strength, and so made him a personal retainer.  Kintarō was going by the name Sakata no Kintoki at this time, after Mt. Kintoki where he was raised.  Kintarō trained in Kyoto, learning martial arts under Yorimitsu, and eventually became the leader of Yorimitsu’s Shitennō or “four braves.”  Eventually he brought his mother to Kyoto as well.

Today in Japan Kintarō is a very popular figure, with his face on art, manga, and even candy.  (Actually, the candy’s been around for centuries).  If you’re interested in Kintarō, there is an anime called Golden Boy that is based on the legend.

Kintarō (?, often translated as “Golden Boy”) is a folk hero from Japanese folklore. A child of superhuman strength, he was raised by a mountain hag on Mount Ashigara. He became friendly with the animals of the mountain, and later, after catching Shutendouji, the terror of the region around Mount Ooe, he became a loyal follower of Minamoto no Yorimitsu under the new name Sakata Kintoki (坂田公時?). He is a popular figure in noh and kabuki drama, and it is a custom to put up a Kintarō doll on Boy’s Day in the hope that boys will become equally brave and strong.

Kintarō is supposedly based on a real man, named Sakata Kintoki, who lived during the Heian period and probably came from what is now the city of Minami-ashigara. He served as a retainer for the samurai Minamoto no Yorimitsu and became well known for his abilities as a warrior. As with many larger-than-life individuals, his legend has grown with time.




[edit] Legend

Several competing stories tell of Kintarō’s childhood. In one, he was raised by his mother, Princess Yaegiri, daughter of a wealthy man named Shiman-chōja, in the village of Jizodo, near Mt. Kintoki. In a competing legend, his mother gave birth to him in what is now Sakata. She was forced to flee, however, due to fighting between her husband, a samurai named Sakata, and his uncle. She finally settled in the forests of Mt. Kintoki to raise her son. Alternatively, Kintarō’s real mother left the child in the wilds or died and left him an orphan, and he was raised by the mountain witch Yama-uba (one tale says Kintarō’s mother raised him in the wilds, but due to her haggard appearance, she came to be called Yama-uba). In the most fanciful version of the tale, Yama-uba was Kintarō’s mother, impregnated by a clap of thunder sent from a red dragon of Mt. Ashigara.

The legends agree that even as a toddler, Kintarō was active and indefatigable, plump and ruddy, wearing only a bib with the kanji for “gold” (金) on it. His only other accoutrement was a hatchet (ono and masakari). He was bossy to other children (or there simply were no other children in the forest), so his friends were mainly the animals of Mt. Kintoki and Mt. Ashigara. He was also phenomenally strong, able to smash rocks into pieces, uproot trees, and bend trunks like twigs. His animal friends served him as messengers and mounts, and some legends say that he even learned to speak their language. Several tales tell of Kintarō’s adventures, fighting monsters and demons, beating bears in sumo wrestling, and helping the local woodcutters fell trees.

As an adult, Kintarō changed his name to Sakata no Kintoki. He met the samurai Minamoto no Yorimitsu as he passed through the area around Mt. Kintoki. Yorimitsu was impressed by Kintarō’s enormous strength, so he took him as one of his personal retainers to live with him in Kyoto. Kintoki studied martial arts there and eventually became the chief of Yorimitsu’s Shitennō (“four braves”), renowned for his strength and martial prowess. He eventually went back for his mother and brought her to Kyoto as well.

[edit] Kintarō in modern Japan

Kintarō is an extremely popular figure in Japan, and his image adorns everything from statues to storybooks, anime, manga to action figures. For example, the anime Golden Boy stars a character with the same name. Kintarō as an image is characterized with a Masakari ax, a Haragake Japanese-style apron and sometimes a tame bear.

Kintarō candy has been around since the Edo period; no matter how the cylinder-shaped candy is cut, Kintarō’s face appears inside. Japanese tradition is to decorate the room of a newborn baby boy with Kintarō dolls on Children’s Day (May 5) so that the child will grow up to be strong like the Golden Boy. A shrine dedicated to the folk hero lies at the foot of Mt. Kintoki in the Hakone area near Tokyo. Nearby is a giant boulder that was supposedly chopped in half by the boy hero himself.

The name of the main character of Gintama, Sakata Gintoki, is based on Kintarō.

In the anime series, Otogi Zoshi Kintaro is one of the main characters.

The Imagin Kintaros from the tokusatsu series Kamen Rider Den-O is based on Kintarō, emulating the bear and axe elements.

In the video game Otogi 2 developed by From Software, Kintoki wields a large axe as his main weapon, known as the ‘Crimson Axe’.

Kintarō appears as an alien character who rides a flying bear and wields a small (but large for his size) axe in the animated television series Urusei Yatsura.[1]

In the anime and manga series The Prince of Tennis, a character by the name of Tōyama Kintarō is the youngest regular member of the Shitenhoji Middle School tennis team. He is named after Kintarō, and shares his namesake’s amazing superhuman strength.

In the series YuYu Hakusho Makintaro of team Uraotogi (Dark Tournament) is loosely based on Kintaro, though quickly defeated by Hiei.

In the series One Piece, the character called Sentoumaru has a design based on Kintaro (he wears the same clothes and wields a giant battle axe). Even his signature attacks is called Ashigara Dokkoi.

In the Power Instinct video game series, Kintaro appears as a playable character as Kintaro Kokuin. He uses his animal friends, such as a bear and a koi fish, as well as his axe, to attack the opponent, and is capable of transforming into a dog-like superhero named “Poochy”.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Villa of the Mysteries

There is much to be curious about when it comes to Pompeii, an entire city caught in a freeze frame, captured as its people went about their daily lives, and preserved intact for us to see. I often ask myself how the townspeople were caught so off guard. Didn’t they see the warning signs? The frequent tremors? The smoking mountain?

It’s both heartbreaking and morbidly fascinating to see the plaster bodies, their faces registering genuine terror and surprise. And just like that, an entire village wiped from history for nearly 2,000 years.

When it was finally uncovered, beneath layers of ash and volcanic earth,  it was a ghost town. Eerie in its silence, everything left neatly in its place. Including, the Villa of the Mysteries.

This Roman villa was much like any other in its elegant triclinium, or formal dining room, rooms designated for entertainment, and an in house wine press-  but it is its frescoes which earn it its name. Depicting various Bacchian rites, the villa is said to have been the  location of induction into a special cult of Dionysus, in which the inductees drank intoxicants and performed other trance inducing activities, not limited to dance, music, and even flagellation. It was most often foreigners, slaves, and women who took part in these rites since it helped liberate them from the restraints of society.

As the murals depict a logical progression of rites involving a female inductee, it is often argued that the rites were nothing more than the symbolic depiction of marriage rites, but no one is one hundred percent certain of their true meaning.

Be that as it might, it’s almost frightening to imagine the type of drug induced debauchery that might have occurred in this building, but just as equally fun to imagine the many secret society type groupings they might have had. It would certainly be an interesting time period and location to write about. Especially if the ending is one we all know, where Mt Vesuvius goes boom.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Tauroi Aithiopes, or Ethiopian Bulls

Ethiopian bulls were supposed to be enormous bulls—twice the size of regular bulls, with red hides and blue eyes.  They were also supposed to have horns that they could move as easily as ears.  They were said to be impervious to steel, with thistles on their hides that deflected all weapons.  The only way to catch an Ethiopian bull was to dig a pit and lure it in, and then wait for the creature to die.

It’s believed that this legend came from early sightings of African buffalo.  I’ve recently come across a slightly re-imagined Ethiopian bulls in the Percy Jackson series, where the bulls are actually built by Hephaestus, the god of metals and blacksmithing.

*image from here.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Boggarts

The traditional Boggart is not quite as interesting as the one found in Harry Potter, which turns into whatever you fear the most so that no one really knows what it looks like.  Rowling’s Boggart is defeated with laughter, but the genuine article is neither quite as scary, nor quite as easy to deal with.

Boggarts in traditional English legend are a malevolent kind of household fairy.  These creatures spoil milk, make dogs go lame (poor things!) and perform nasty tricks like making things disappear or stealing your sheets while you’re sleeping.

In Northwest England, it is believed that boggarts live underneath bridges or near sharp (pointedly dangerous) curves in roads, and it is custom to pay your respects to the boggart while passing by—in order for it to let you do so safely.

The one defense really against a boggart is to move from the house it resides in, but some boggarts may actually follow you!  Whatever the case, do not name your boggart.  If you give it a name, a boggart becomes completely unmanageable.  If you were ever able to manage it in the first place, that is. 😉

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Laputa

Laputa is a floating island from the classic novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.  It is one of the many strange lands that Gulliver travels to in his journey.  Laputa is an island with a bottom made entirely of adamantine, and the people of Laputa can direct where the island floats to by manipulating the magnetic fields of the metal.  It is populated by a patriarchal society made up of scientists and mathematicians, except the people are not particularly logical in the way they go about things like design—for example, using a compass or a quadrant to try and design clothing, rather than a measuring tape.

The king of Laputa also ruled the lands below it, mainly by fear.  If a land below rebelled, he would threaten to float the island directly above them, and thus cutting them off from all sunshine or rain, and ultimately creating a famine there.  In some cases rocks were thrown off of Laputa onto the cities below—which is supposedly the first idea of aerial warfare.  In extreme cases, Laputa could be made to land on unruly cities, crushing them out of existence.

The society is male-dominated, and because of this women had to request to be able to visit the lands below Laputa, which requests were often denied because of the extreme possibility and likelihood that they wouldn’t want to come back. (I wonder why!)

So all in all, while the idea of a floating island is really a magical and wonderful one (at least in my mind), I don’t know that Swift’s Laputa is the one you’d want to visit.  Of course, Laputa was also the inspiration of Hayao Miyazaki’s film of the same name, also called Castle in the Sky in the U.S., a movie that comes highly recommended from yours truly.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Clytemnestra

Allow me to introduce you to one of the most terrifying women in Greek mythology.  Well, depending on which version of her story you’re hearing.

Clytemnestra was the daughter of Leda—yes, the same Leda that was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan—and Tyndareus, a Spartan king.  She was the wife of Agamemnon, a hero of the Trojan war.  According to Euripedes, he was her second husband—and had murdered her first, forcing her to marry him.  Whilst trying to return from the Trojan war, the gods turned the winds against Agamemnon, demanding that he sacrifice his daughter—Clytemnestra’s daughter—Iphigenia, to turn the winds back in his favor.  Agamemnon convinced Clytemnestra to send Iphigenia to him, under the lie that she would be married to Achilles, then did as the gods demanded.

When Clytemnestra learned that her husband had sacrificed Iphigenia to the gods, she was wild with grief.  She was also beyond furious.  She had taken Agamemnon’s cousin Aegisthus as her lover, and when Agamemnon returned home—with his concubine, the doomed prophetess Cassandra in tow—Clytemnestra and Aegisthus plot their deaths.  She waits until Agamemnon is at his most vulnerable—taking a bath—then ensnares him in a net and stabs him repeatedly until he dies.  (At least, according to Aeschylus’s Oresteia. Euripedes mentions others doing her bidding.)

Cassandra, meanwhile, is sitting in the chariot doing her best to get someone, anyone, to go in and stop Agamemnon from being murdered, which she’s seen in a vision, but because of her curse from Apollo (who she’d spurned) no one listens to her.  Knowing she’s fated to die, she walks into the palace and allows herself to be slain.  At least, again, in the Oresteia.  In some versions, she escapes.

Eventually Clytemnestra has to pay for her sins—at the hand of her own son, Orestes.

I don’t know why I’ve always had such a fascination with Clytemnestra.  Maybe because I feel so bad for her… her story is truly tragic.  Not that she handles it in the best of ways, but… you can’t help but feel a little sorry for her, despite everything she does.

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