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.
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.
The Christmas tree is a pretty iconic part of Christmas tradition nowadays… but just what exactly does a tree have to do with Christmas anyway?
Well… nothing, really. The Christmas tree comes to us from a purely pagan tradition, that centered around the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day of the year (which was on Dec. 21st this year, just in case you were wondering). As the days grew shorter, it was worried that the sun might disappear forever—but unlike most plant life, evergreen trees were unaffected by this, and therefore were believed to have magical powers of a sort. Evergreen boughs were brought into the home, and trees were decorated—but certainly not chopped down. They were decorated out in the open, with candles and metal and replicas of Bacchus—the god of wine and various other disorderly things.
Also, in ancient Europe, trees were believed to represent everlasting life, and were decorated to honor the god Woden, the key god in the Germanic traditions, and where we get “Wednesday” from.
So how did this become a Christian tradition? Well, one story is that St. Boniface of the late seventh/early eighth century cut down an oak tree (which of course is deciduous, or loses its leaves) and that an Evergreen sprung up from the center of it—symbolizing the end of Paganism and the beginning of Christianity. But really…. I think it simply has more to do with the strength of tradition. People’s beliefs changed and they adapted their already-established traditions to accommodate that by putting a star or angel on top of the tree—and now that Christmas sways more and more towards the commercial, a Christmas tree is a nice, non-religiously-affiliated symbol, if you think about it. Non-threatening, for sure.
But really, they’re just pretty to look at, aren’t they? 🙂
Charon, in Greek mytology, is the son of Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night). With parents like that, you can guess that his existence isn’t going to be one devoted to sunlight. Charon was tasked with ferrying the dead who’d recieved the rites of burial over the river Styx (or Acheron, depending on who you’re asking) and into the underworld. He also charges a fee—because of this, a practice started of laying a coin on the dead’s tongue, so that they could pay for the toll.
It’s presumed that the idea of taxiing the dead actually derives from Egyptian mythology, and it’s possible that the entymology of the name is Egyptian as well. He is also something of an executor of force in some legends, associated with Mars in battle. But really, the facts and figures have changed over time.
Probably if you hear the name Charon you think skeletal form in a big black hooded cloak… am I right? That’s how I always pictured him. Apparently this is a fairly modern interpretation, though. It may be a bit hard to believe, but the original Charon was more of a greasy sailor-type. Descriptions of him range all over, though. In early Greek mythology, he was a gentlemanly sort, then in Dante’s Inferno, he’s an angry soul who beats resistant spirits into his boat with his oar.
One modern use of Charon that you might be interested in checking out (okay, so modern use of many of the Greek gods) is in Percy Jackson’s The Lightning Thief, where he appears as a handsome, energetic man, then turns to a skeleton in the underworld.