Standard Set 1: Basic Myths
- Describe and compare how the cosmos is created through sacrifice in two different IE cultures. (150 words min. each culture)
Beginnings are important. Throughout history humans have wondered how we got here and why things are the way they are. The creation stories of the world’s cultures came into existence to try and answer those questions. Each culture has its own story, but one theme that several have in common is creation through sacrifice. This is true of both the Norse and Vedic cultures.
In the Norse myth, Ymir is the being sacrificed to create the world in which we exist. (Campbell 282). According to the myth, there was nothing, just a vast emptiness. It teemed with potential, but was devoid of all life or substance. Eventually Ice formed in the North and Fire in the South. The two primordial elements met and Ymir, the first of the giants was formed. He eventually had three sons who then sacrificed him to form the earth. Different parts of his body were used to form different parts of the planet. His blood transformed into the oceans and lakes. His flesh was turned into earth. His bones became the mountains and his teeth and jaws became rocks. From his arms man and woman were formed. From his feet sprang the Ice Giants. His skull became the sky and his eyebrows became a vast wall whose purpose was to separate and protect humans from the giants (Davidson 197).
The Vedic creation myth follows a similar theme. In the beginning there was nothing (Wilkins 342). Then, Purusa existed. He was everything, everywhere and every time (343). He was cut into pieces and those pieces where used to form various parts of not only the physical world, but also more abstract parts of existence. His breath became speech and fire. His nose became breath and wind. His eyes became vision and the sun while is ears formed the four quarters. Purusa’s skin was used to create all of the flora while his heart became the moon and the mind. His navel turned into death and his penis, the waters. His soul became the morning. His mouth turned into Indra and Agni. After all of this was done and reviewed, human kind was created (345) and only after man was created did he create the gods (345).
In both myths an anthropomorphic being is dismembered to form the world of man. Such an extreme act of creation requires an equally extreme sacrifice. Creation requires destruction. In this case the thing destroyed for the sacrifice is the body of a primordial being. In both myths the worldly items created correspond to the function of the body part. For example, in the Norse myth, Ymir’s blood becomes the oceans and lakes. Just as blood is liquid life to Ymir, so is water liquid life for the animal, plants and humans that inhabit the earth. The Norse correspondences are much more mundane than the Vedic correspondences. They deal with the physical realm. Other than the wall formed by Ymir’s eyebrows all the elements are things that a human can physically interact with and touch. The Vedic myth contains abstracts such as Purusa’s breath becoming speech or his heart becoming the mind. This myth looks at not only the physical surroundings, but unseen, non-physical things that make humans what they are.
- Describe the image of the Otherworld and/or afterlife in three different IE cultures. How may these images impact your understanding of your own afterlife beliefs and those of Neo-Pagans in general? (400 words min.)
Humans have long held a fascination with what happens to us after we die and ancient man was no exception to this pattern. Just as there are many creation stories that are used to explain how the physical world got here, there are also several stories of what happens after a person dies.
The Greek underworld mythology is probably one of the most well-known. There seem to be many areas of the Greek underworld. There are the Fields of Mourning that those that died with unrequited love or were warriors who died in battle will go to once they have died. Tartarus is a hellish place and not one that a member of the ancient Greek culture would want to end up in. The Field of Elysium, however, represented paradise. It is where everyone wanted to go. To get to these other realms you had to navigate the rivers. The Styx is the river of hatred. Acheron is the river of woe. Lethe is forgetfulness and Cocytus unending wailing. Pytlphethon was a river of fire. (Classical Mythology 324)
In the underworld you stood before 3 judges, Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Aeacus. These three ultimately determined your fate,
The Vedic other world is different. It is rules by Yama, the kind of the Dead (Lincoln 32-33). As the first being to die, he rules the underworld. In the Vedic mythology, the afterlife is perfect. There is feasting and light. Beauty and happiness abounds. It is said to be the perfect temperature. Everyone is in the best health ant the best age and every want or need is taken care of and no one wants for anything. There is no otherworldly place of pain and suffering. Once a person dies and enters into the land of the dead, they are forever freed of any kind of pain and strife for eternity.
The Norse have yet a third way of looking at the underworld. There are three main deities associated with death in the Norse myths; Odin, Freya, and Hel.
Valhalla is Odin’s hall. It is where all good warriors who have fallen in battle end up. In Valhalla the warriors fight in mock battles all day long preparing for Ragnarok. At night they feast (Davidson 149). This cycle is repeated over and over again with the day’s fallen warriors being brought back to life to fight another day. In contrast, Hel is dark and cold. It is where those that die outside of battle from sickness or old age end up (162). Freya’s hall is called Folkvana which means the field of the people or the field of the warriors. She is the leader of the Valkaries and gets first pick of the dead. (Death and Afterlife).
There are as many different views of the afterlife as there are cultures, it seems. A culture’s underworld mythology is a window into what is important societally. In Greek, a person faces judges who decide who will live in paradise and who is punished and what form the punishment will take. It is the underworld of a society concerned with law, order, and justice where people are categorized. It is very organized compared to the others.
There is a sorting that goes with on in the Norse myth as well. The warriors go to Valhalla or Folkvana and those who do not die in battle go to Hel. The Norse’ high regard for battle is evident in the atmosphere of the realms. Valhalla is full of vigor. There is fighting and battle and feasts and drinking! Great warriors are rewarded for dying in battle. They go to the active place. Resting and relaxing are looked down upon so much so that those that do not die fighting go to Hel which is cold and dark. It is not appealing.
For the Vedics, everyone is happy. It is almost as if you create your paradise. Whatever you want, you will have. You will enjoy in the afterlife that which you enjoyed in this one.
I grew up in a very conservative Christian household so my early view of the afterlife was most closely matched by the Greeks. When you died, you would be judged and if you were found wanting you we be tormented for eternity but if you were “good” you got to enjoy your afterlife. Thankfully, I have moved on from most of that. I still believe that there is a special hideous place for the most heinous people such as child molesters, but if you try and do your best, the flavor of your afterlife depends of what you enjoyed while you were living. For Example: I am absolutely sure that my Grandma and Grandpa Ferrebee are in a small farm house in the hills of West Virginia. She is gardening and tending flowers, he is tinkering in the garage. They meet up with other kith and kin and sit in rocking chairs on the front porch playing cards or singing. That is what they were happiest doing while they were alive and that is the shape their afterworld took.
Like many things in Neo-Pagans, beliefs regarding the afterlife really depend upon the tradition and/or hearth culture of each individual. There does seem to be a general feeling that a person who has died will experience happiness and wholeness in the afterlife. This place is sometimes referred to as “Summerland”. This version of the afterlife seems to line up with that of the Vedic’s fairly well. It is a happy place of light and warmth without pain or sadness.
- Describe the raiding of cattle by warriors (or divine reflexes of this action) in two cultures. How does this theme reflect the culture of the ancient Indo-European peoples, and is this theme relevant to modern Pagans? (300 words min.)
Cattle were an important part of ancient Indo European society. They were a symbol of wealth and power, especially for the members of the third function. (Mallory 137-138). This importance shows up in the mythology of said cultures. Two examples of this are the 10th trial of Hercules and The Táin Bó Cúalnge.
As part of his punishment for killing his own family, Hercules was required to complete a series of trials the 10th of which was to steal the cattle of Geryon. It was a task given a penance, and the cattle were eventually sacrificed to Hera (Heracles).
In contrast, The Táin Bó Cúalnge was all about status and taking what you want. Queen Mebd and her husband were comparing wealth when she realized that her husband had a bull that made his herd worth more than hers. This made her feel like she was worthless so she decided to acquire a bull that would at least match his. Unfortunately things did not go as smoothly as planned and she ended up ordering people to steal the bull from its owners because at this point she had to acquire the bull at any cost. This is nothing more than using objects to increase ones status. Queen Medb was so concerned about her status in relationship to her husband’s that she caused violence and many deaths while trying to best him (Tain).
For members of Ancient Indo-European cultures cattle were are symbol of status and wealth. A member of these cultures would try to “Keep up with the Joneses” not by the size of the house or brand of car, but by the number and quality of cattle they owned.
There was a more war like aspect of this as well. A sense of not only I am better that you are because I have more, but I am better than you because I took yours away. I have superior strength as well as holdings. This was especially true when the cattle were raided from outside a person’s normal community. The community was built up by tearing down someone else’s (Lincoln 138).
Another way the cattle raids would add to a person’s status is through the stories what would be created. If a person successfully raided an enemy the tale could spread far and wide. That person would have the ability boast about his prowess. Puhvel calls this “aristocratic honor” (185). They have a craving, not just for things, but the notoriety that the stories of their victory would bring them (185).
Hopefully most Neopagans see beyond this but we still try to keep up with others. Cattle have been transformed into cars, shiny baubles and bank accounts. In the stories the raiding of cattle comes at a cost, and it does now too. A person may not fly into an inhuman rage or develop an unquenchable thirst, but it is possible to step on others and make more than a few enemies while climbing the status ladder. I think this serves to make all people stop and think about what can, and usually will, happen if we never think of others and always think of others as less than ourselves to the point that they don’t matter at all. When you only do things to prop yourself up, eventually you will end up toppling over because there will be no one to support you anyway.
- Describe instances of “freeing” or “winning” the waters in two different IE cultures. How can this theme be used to reinforce our current practices and cosmology? (300 words min.)
In Indo-European myths, “the waters”, whether stream, lake, ocean or other liquid may grant blessings upon those that imbibe them. These blessings are not automatically given, however. The seeker must take some great action to either acquire them as a gift or actually take them.
Hercules at the end of his 10th task does the latter. After all of the effort to bring the cattle of Cacus to Rome he is tired, dusty and suffering from a ravenous thirst (Woodard 200). While in his severely dehydrated state he hears laughter. Upon investigating he finds a group of women cleansing themselves in a spring (200). He uncharacteristically begs and pleads to gain permission to approach for a drink, but is denied access to the spring. He is told that area is for women only and that there would be dire consequences should he enter the sacred space (201). Driven by his raging thirst he ignores the warning and forces his way into the area. He proceeds to completely consume the waters in the stream (202). This quenches his thirst and restores him to his normal heroic person from that of a dying, dehydrated man desperate enough to beg women for water (213).
In contrast to the taking of the waters in Hercules myth is a Norse myth that illustrates earning or winning the waters. It involves Odin, Mimir, and the spring that flows at the base of the world tree. Odin wants to drink the water from the spring at the base of the world tree in order to gain inspiration and knowledge. The spring is guarded by Mimir who requires a sacrifice in exchange for access to the waters. Odin gives up one of his own eyes to Mimir as this sacrifice. Mimir accepts this and allows Odin to drink the waters and gain the inspiration and knowledge he seeks (Davidson 166-167). Though he loses partial physical vision by giving up an eye, he gains, in its place, a type of spiritual vision through the knowledge that he received by consuming the waters of the magical spring.
The overall themes in these two stories are restoration and inspiration. By gaining access to the magical waters Hercules is restored to his normal state and Odin gained inspiration and knowledge. One used force and the other offering and sacrifice to access the waters, but they each succeeded in their quest.
In ADF we normally give offering and sacrifice in order to win the blessings of the Gods. We then imbue a liquid with these blessings, turning them into the waters of Life which we then either consume, or come onto physical contact with through aspersing or other distribution methods. Luckily, neither an eye nor the risk of great thirst is required for us to access these blessed waters. A good prayer or an offering given with great heart and good, sincere attention is usually all that is required.
- Show two examples in one IE culture of a deity engaging in actions that are unethical or unvirtuous, and speculate on why the deities sometimes engage in this type of behavior. (min. 100 words per example)
One of the things I enjoy about the ancient lore is the way that the gods are portrayed. They are not perfect by any means. They struggle with things, mess up, and are sometimes just awful to one another and human kind. Hera is an example of this. She has a jealous streak and a nasty temper. In the myth of Heracles, Hera literally drives him insane and as a result he killed his own children. As punishment he has to complete 12 labors. (Mythweb). There are few that would argue driving a man insane out of spite is not the act of a benevolent or ethical deity. She had tried to kill him when he was an infant, but Heracles killed the snakes before they had a chance to envenom ate him. Why does she do this? She is angry because her husband Zeus is Heracles’ father via a mortal woman (Mythweb).
Zeus is a well-known Greek deity, the King of the Gods, but as illustrated in the last sentence, even he acts badly. He likes to sleep around; a lot(87). It seems that he will sleep with anything or anyone despite the fact that his wife, Hera is horribly jealous and obviously is not ok with it. Therein lays the non-ethical portion of the behavior. It is not that he has many partners; it is that he is injuring the relationship he has with his wife by being deceitful and acting against her wishes. This is definitely not an example of integritous living.
Why do the gods do such things? It may be because we want them to be like us (106). We react better to beings that we can relate to. A perfect deity may be seen by some as ultimately unknowable and out of touch with human reality, but a being that makes some of the same, or far worse, mistakes as we do is much more relatable.
- Explain the monomyth (aka “hero cycle”) and show how it applies to a single hero from the
IE culture of your choice. (150 words min.)
The monomyth, or hero cycle, was developed by Joseph Campbell as a way to outline the commonalities that appear in hero myths across cultures. There are various phases and actions that the hero goes though or takes as they make their way through the stories. Its most basic form is:
Return (Campbell 30)
The hero finds themselves out of their normal world. They must journey to a different place and acquire some sort of power or power object. They then return to their normal world and share whatever kind of good fortune they receive.
This overall triad can also be broken into more detailed parts (36)
Call to adventure
Refusal of the call
Crossing the First threshold
Belly of the whale
Road of trials
Meeting with the Goddess
Woman as temptress
Atonement with the father
Refusal of the return
Rescue from without
Crossing the return threshold
Master of the two worlds
Freedom to Live
In “Princess of the Fomorri” Diarmuid is the hero that makes his way through the phases of this model.
Call to adventure – For Diarmuid this comes when he finds out that the princess is dying and he needs to journey to find the cure (Ellis 250).
Refusal of the call – Diarmuid is not sure he can accomplish the mission because the components seem to be in places that he cannot reach, but he is stubborn and anxious to try (250). Supernatural Aid – Diarmuid meets his supernatural aid after he comes upon an uncross able river. It is only with the little man’s help that he is able to get to the other side (250).
Crossing the First threshold – The River also represents the First Threshold (251).
Belly of the whale – Once he has crossed the river, he has entered into the separate world where he needs to seek the power (251).
Road of trials – Diarmuid then runs into his first trial: gaining entrance into the silver castle. The second comes soon after when he realized that by healing the warrior at the entrance, he has created yet another obstacle. Once again the little man helps him by presenting a new challenge: gather three drops of water from the Well of Healing in the Island of Death (254).
Meeting with the Goddess – In this story, there is no female figure that assists the hero at this point. Instead, the supernatural assistance comes in the form of the little man who escorted him across the river. Once he has passed all the trials and collected everything Diarmuid returns to the caste and the princess. The little man, tells him to ask for a boat in which to return home as the only reward for his actions(254).
Woman as Temptress – Princess is cured and her father offers her to Diarmuid as a wife. If he chooses this, he will never be able to return home, so though the temptation is great, he refuses and asks for the boat instead (255).
Atonement with the Father – The King of the Fomorii takes on the fatherly role in this story. It is he that Diarmuid has impressed.
Ultimate boon – The Boon in this case is not physical. It is, instead, the connection that was made between the upper world and that of the Fomorii.
Refusal of the return – While Diarmuid enjoyed the feasting and the honors bestowed, he does wish to return to his home (256)
Magic Flight – In this story the means to returning to his own world is the boat that Diarmuid requested from the King (256)
Rescue from without – Diarmuid cannot navigate the boat himself, the boatman, who just so happens to also be the little man that lent magical aid to Diarmuid earlier, is the one that safely delivers him home (256)
Crossing the return threshold – The return threshold is an invisible boundary between the region of the Fomorii and the real world. In one instant he is still in the otherworld and the next, he is in his own world.
Master of the two worlds – Having returned, Diarmuid has demonstrated that he was the ability to function both in the world of the Fomorii and the world of his people (256).
Freedom to Live – Once he has returned, Dairmuid’s people had celebrations and feasts for him and life went on.
Standard Set 2: Applications
- Using your answer to question 1 above (cosmos creation), create a piece for use in ritual that
describes the process of cosmos creation through sacrifice. (no min. word count)
The following piece is to be used in the Recreation of the Cosmos portion of an ADF ritual.
We begin with nothing but the inky darkness
There is no top or bottom
No below or above
No before or behind
There is no way to orient ourselves.
We are lost in the void
We exist but cannot act
We breathe but cannot speak
We think but cannot create
Around us swirl the beginnings of all existence
Chaotic seething energy
Useless without order
The first division is made
Heat and Cold
The Heat swirls at our feet; the cold at our heads.
Gradually they come together at the center
Chaos and order meet for the first time
From this comes the first being.
First to become and first to die
The first must be sacrificed to create the final order
These form the firmament, the heavens, and the waters
From the limbs comes lifeforms to populate the newly created world.
So did the ancients create the ordered cosmos out of chaos.
Today we also sacrifice to order our world.
We sacrifice silver to the well that the waters may form the lakes, rivers and streams that carry our voices to the ancestors.
We sacrifice oil to the fire that the now fueled flames may carry our words to the Shining Ones
We sacrifice water to the tree that it may bridge the way between while existing in this, our Middle Realm, home of the Spirits of Nature.
Our Sacrifices beget creation
Our Creation begets Order
Order begets all life
By the flame of the fire
By the water of the Well
May chaos and potential merge in the tree that we may live and work in this, the Middle Realm.
- Using your answer to question 4 above (winning the waters), create a piece for use in ritual that describes the winning of the waters. (no min. word count)
As Odin offered sacrifice to gain the wisdom of the waters that flow at the base of the world tree, so have we offered sacrifice to the Gods, the Mighty Dead, and the Sidhe. We do this so that they may grant us wisdom, insight, and the blessings of the waters.
Kindred, you have accepted our sacrifice and we now call for the waters.
(Hold Vessel above head)
Kindred Grant us The Waters!
(Lower Vessel imagining the blessings of the Kindred swirling into the water)
This water teems with Wisdom and Inspiration. Let us drink deeply and receive them into ourselves that we may use these blessings to make things manifest in this, our realm.
(Hold the vessel out and present it to the folk)
BEHOLD THE WATERS OF LIFE!!
(Pass the vessel and have everyone take a drink)
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Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. New York: Penguin
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“Death and the Afterlife”. Norse Mythology for Smart People. Dan McCoy. 2012-2016. Web. 2.10.16
Ellis, Peter Berresford. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
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White Plains: Longman, 1971. Print
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“TÁIN BÓ CÚALNGE.” Trans. Dunn, Joseph. London, UK. 1914. Accessed via project Guttenburgh.
Release date 8.7.2005. Web. 5.13.15
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