Monthly Archives: May 2020
Alternate Spelling: Ἁρμονια
Surprisingly, there is one other figure in mythology, a nymph by the same name who also had an affair with Ares.
Parentage and Family
Father – Ares, the Greek god of War
Mother – Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love
Alternatively, if we are using the Samothracian connection, Harmonia’s parents are Zeus and Electra.
Iasion – Harmonia’s brother through the Samothracian connection, he is the founder of the mystical rites native to this island.
Hedylogos – A half-brother.
Hermaphroditus – A half-brother.
Pothos – A half-brother
The list gets much longer if I try to include all those whom Ares is to have fathered and with whom Harmonia would be a half-sister to.
Psyche – Through her marriage with Eros.
Cadmus – The culture hero who founded the city of Thebes.
Agave – Daughter, with her sisters Autonoe and Ino, she unknowingly killed her son Pentheus. She marries first the Spartoi Echion and then later King Lycotherses of Illyria whom she also murders in order to hand over the kingdom to her father.
Autonoe – Daughter, her son, Actaeon was killed by his hounds.
Illyrius – Youngest son and child born, from whom the Illyrians are descended.
Ino – Daughter, was driven mad by Hera leapt to her death to the sea with her only surviving son. Instead of dying, Ino becomes a sea goddess.
Polydorus – Eldest son, inherits the throne in Thebes, carrying on the family dynasty.
Semele – Daughter, she is killed later by Hera after a liaison with Zeus. In some stories, she is the mother of Dionysus. The controversy will say that Semele was raped from an unknown assailant and the blame is placed on Zeus in an effort to try keeping some dignity
Cults & Worship
As a minor goddess, Harmonia is the local goddess of Thebes. In Pausanias’ Description of Greece, he notes that there are the ruins of the bridal chamber that belonged to Harmonia. Also, there are three wooden statues of Aphrodite that are reputed to be so old that they may have been votive offerings to Harmonia. Pausanias goes on to explain that these statues may have once been the figureheads for the ships that Cadmus sailed in during his time of wandering while searching for his sister Europa.
These three statues also had names as follows:
Ourania – Urania or Heavenly, a name that Harmonia is to have given Aphrodite to represent a pure love free of lust.
Pandemos – Common or sexual intercourse.
Apostrophia – For humans to rejects unlawful passions and sinful acts.
Wedding Bells – The First Marriage
Harmonia typically enters Greek myths within the greater whole of Cadmus’ story where she is given away in marriage to the erstwhile hero.
Now, there are two versions of Harmonia and Cadmus’ marriage. The first happens as the final chapter of Cadmus’ Founding of Thebes.
Originally, Cadmus, along with his brothers have been sent out by their father, King Agenor of Tyre to find and bring home their sister Europa who has been seduced by Zeus and carried away to the island of Crete.
As Cadmus and none of his brothers knew where to search, each eventually gave up their searches and would go on to settle in other places. After Cadmus’ mother Telephassa died of grief, he consults with the Oracle of Delphi. The oracle tells him to follow a cow and that wherever this bovine settles down at, Cadmus is to build a town.
That sounds easy enough and the cow eventually lays down of exhaustion. With plans to make an offering to Athena, Cadmus sends his companions Deileon and Seriphus to get some water from the Ismenian spring. While the two were there, the guardian of the spring, a water-dragon belonging to Ares rose up and slew both Deileon and Seriphus.
There’s an entire episode of Cadmus coming to slay the dragon to avenge his friends, the birth of the Spartoi who will become some of the founding members of Thebes and of course, Ares the god whom the dragon belonged too not being very happy.
As punishment, Cadmus is to serve Ares for an everlasting year, meaning eight years. At the end of this period, to signify peace and an end to the grievances, Ares gives his daughter Harmonia to the repentant hero in marriage.
Wedding Bells – The Samothracian Connection
The island of Samothrace is one of the places that Cadmus, his mother, and nephew are said to have stopped at in their search for a missing Europa.
Samothrace is one of two locations where Cadmus and Harmonia are wed when Zeus and Electra are placed as Harmonia’s parents. The connection seems to stick a little better when Harmonia is given a brother Iasion who is the founder of the mystical rites native to this island.
I mentioned when writing about Cadmus, how he’s a descendant of Poseidon and that his story very likely dates back to the Mycenaean Greek era. Zeus’ insertion to the story of Cadmus and Harmonia comes about as a potential theological take over to push Zeus to prominence as the head of the Greek pantheon, thus replacing Poseidon. Plus, there is a lot of equating local gods (whose names often survive as epitaphs) with the main Grecian deities.
I think it’s safe to say that the marriage of Cadmus with Harmonia is very symbolic too. For the longest time, marriages were how alliances between different houses and kingdoms were formed.
Then the idea that a hero or king weds the goddess of the land to symbolize the prosperity of the land. This would fit with mistaking Cadmus’ name with a local Samothracian fertility god, Kadmilus.
Plus, the changes of when Zeus becomes the head of the Greek pantheon, replacing Poseidon of whom Cadmus is descendant from. There may have been an idea to show an easier transition of power. Or not.
The ideas and seeds are there that this is may be what the ancient Greeks revising all these local myths into one were thinking of.
Bridal Gifts With A Curse
This marriage is a huge deal, it is the first one to be conducted on earth and all the gods, any god who is anyone, is coming. This is a thing not to be missed. All of these guests bring gifts, the muses sing, Athena brings a dress and Hephaestus brings a necklace.
Some of Harmonia’s bridal gifts were a peplos (a type of dress) gifted by Athena and a necklace made by Hephaestus. This necklace will become known as the Necklace of Harmonia and it would bring misfortune to anyone who had possession of it. Sure, the necklace will make any woman who wears it eternally young and beautiful.
Necklace of Harmonia – It is generally described as being made of gold with two snakes intertwining and jewels decorating it.
Following a timeline for after Cadmus’ eight years of servitude to Ares and then marrying Harmonia with both Ares and Aphrodite as her parents seems far more likely the correct lineage. It would explain too, so much better why Hephaestus would gift Harmonia a cursed necklace.
Knowing the backstory between Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Ares, the cursed necklace that is given to Harmonia makes more sense. Hephaestus was angry at Aphrodite for her affair with Ares and yes, he makes the necklace a means to punish Aphrodite’s infidelity by placing a curse on the child that resulted from hers and Ares’ affair.
Thus, all the misfortunes that Cadmus and Harmonia suffer are from the necklace, not slaying the dragon. After all, Cadmus had already paid penance to Ares and then is rewarded his daughter for marriage. It’s even in Harmonia’s name, harmony, there was to be an end to the strife and conflicts.
Gift-Giver Variations – Slight variations of who Harmonia received the necklace from are the gods in general, her mother Aphrodite, Hera and Europa herself. Given that Europa is missing, it seems unusual that she would show up here as she was the whole reason in the first place that Cadmus went wandering.
Another variation that that all of Harmonia’s godly powers for peace stem from the necklace and that it’s a robe “dripped in crime” given to her either by Athena or by Hephaestus and Hera that caused all of the misfortunes that Cadmus and Harmony would face.
I think the necklace is more likely cursed given there’s a lineage and history of who receives the necklace and the misfortunes that befall each of them before the necklace just vanishes from history.
Generational Curse – Well, only in as far as Harmonia’s necklace kept getting passed on from one descendant to the next or when it changes hands to a different owner.
After Hamornia and Cadmus’ misfortune, Polynices inherits the necklace and gives it to Eriphyle. The necklace than changes hands to Eriphyle’s son Alcmaeon and on to Arsinoe (or Alphesiboea) and to their sons Phegeus, Pronous and Agenor, and lastly into those of the sons of Alcmaeon, Amphoterus and Acarnan who dedicated a temple to Athena at Delphi.
When the necklace got stolen by Phayllus, he gave it to his mistress, the wife of Ariston. She wore it for a while only to see her youngest son, became seized by madness and set fire to the house. It’s here that the necklace gets lost to history or myth as there’s no further mention of it.
Every possessor and owner of the necklace saw mischief and mishaps of one kind, or another befall them.
Maybe it means peace doesn’t last and you have to work at it, or it could, just no one knew about the curse laid on it. I can assume that someone took it to an Oracle and found out, which is why there is mention of it in the myths at all.
Something Rotten In Thebes
Married and the City of Thebes founded, no matter how divinely ordained this was, peace and harmony wouldn’t last.
Due to the cursed necklace that Harmonia received, she and Cadmus’ family would soon see misfortune befall them and a series of civil unrest. Eventually, Cadmus would abdicate his throne to his grandson, Pentheus.
Cadmus would go with Harmonia to Illyria to fight a war brewing over there as they took the side of the Enchelii. From there, Cadmus would go on and found the city of Lychnidus and Bouthoe.
Despite leaving Thebes and establishing other cities, misfortune continued to plague and follow both Cadmus and Harmonia. It got so bad that Cadmus cried out that all this had to because of his slaying Ares’ dragon, if the gods were so obsessed with its death, why not turn him into one.
At that pronouncement, Cadmus begins to grow scales and to change into a serpent. Horrified by this transition of her husband, Harmonia begged the gods to change her too so she could share in Cadmus’ fate.
A slight variation is a distraught Harmonia strips herself and pleads for Cadmus to come to her. Embracing her serpentine husband, Harmonia sits in a pool of wine. It is out of mercy that the gods turn Harmonia into a snake as they couldn’t bare to see her in such a state.
Variations to this ending are that both Cadmus and Harmonia are changed into snakes when they died. Both snakes watched over their tombs while their souls were sent by Zeus to the Elysian Fields.
Famous Grecian playwright Euripides’ in his The Bacchae, has Cadmus given a prophecy from Dionysus that both he and his wife will be turned into snakes before getting to enjoy an eternity of bliss in the Elysian Fields.
Zeus Versus Typhon
This episode ties back to the Samothracian connection for Cadmus and Harmonia’s wedding.
This version is found in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca where he recounts the story of Zeus battling the monstrous serpentine monster known as Typhon. Zeus asks the hero Cadmus to help him by recovering his lightning bolts by playing his pipes, to play a tune. Zeus promises Cadmus that if he helps, that he will receive the hand of Harmonia in marriage.
The Dionysiaca is written in the 5th century C.E. and reflects there having been plenty of time to have rewritten the myths. This is the only myth to involve Cadmus with Pan, playing the pipes to distract Typhon so this fearsome monster can be defeated.
Once again, if we are confusing Cadmus with Kadmilus, the Samothracian deity identified with Hermes. I can see the confusion if you can’t keep it straight.
Goddess Of Harmony
Harmonia is a goddess, even if she ended up being perceived as minor or a local goddess of the city state Cadmeia, later Thebes. Among the Greeks and Romans, she was viewed as the goddess of harmony and concord. This could extend from marital harmony, easing tensions and strife. For the Romans this went further to mean cosmic balance.
As I previously mentioned earlier, there is a nymph who also went by the name of Harmonia. These two should not be confused.
According to Apollonius of Rhodes in the Argonautica, this Harmonia is a naiad from the Akmonian Woods and with Ares, she would be the mother of the Amazons.
In the same book, the Argonautica, the Argonauts while on the island of Thynias swore an oath to each other to stand together no matter what. The Argonauts built a temple of Harmonia that marks where they swore their oath.
Homonoia – Greek Goddess
Another minor Greek goddess who is similar to Harmonia in concept. She embodies the concepts of concord, unity and like-mindedness. The ideas of Harmony have changed so much over time, that the two are nearly identical.
Like Harmonia, her opposite goddess is Eris.
Concordia – Roman Goddess
She is very simply the Roman version of Harmonia.
If Harmonia is the goddess of peace, then there must be a polar opposite. This honor falls to Eris, often cited as the goddess of chaos; with her Roman counterpart being Discordia.
Etymology – Horn (Old English)
Suffice to say, Herne is a well-known figure in British and Modern folklore. At first glance, it’s easy to say that Herne is one of the names for the Horned God in Wicca and Modern Paganism. A slightly more knowledgeable response would say that Herne is who leads the Wild Hunt. Or perhaps that he is the ghostly specter of a Games Keeper with antlers who haunts Windsor Forest.
It does get a bit tricky on trying to get into what’s concrete for the figure of Herne.
Many descriptions of Herne will agree that he is human either wearing antlers or has antlers. Sometimes he is on foot others he is on horseback and may or may not be accompanied by hunting hounds or other animals of the forest.
Ghost – The version of Herne that appears in Shakespeare’s play, clearly terrorizes the forest animals and people alike, blasting or withering the trees of the forest as he shakes his chains. The alternative lines say he can take on the shape of a stag. Later descriptions of Herne will have him riding a horse as part of the Wild Hunt.
The Merry Wives Of Windsor
The earliest known mention that we have of Herne is in William Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor written in 1597.
That certainly is a case for having been around for quite a while just based off that alone.
In Act 4, Scene 4, we have the characters Mistress Page and Mistress Ford deciding that they will play a trick on Sir John Falstaff because of his unwanted advances. The two ladies convince Falstaff to disguise himself as a ghost and meet them out under an oak in Windsor Forest at midnight. The two ladies also convince and get some children to show up at the same time who are dressed up as fairies to pinch and burn Falstaff.
“There is an old tale goes, that Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the wintertime, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the trees, and takes the carrle,
And makes milch kine* yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.”
Milch kine? Yeah, milking cows.
There is a set of alternative lines from 1602 that hint that Herne was a local ghost story used by mothers to get their children to behave.
The alternative lines are as follows:
“Oft have you heard since Horne the hunter dyed,
That women, to affright their little children,
Says that he walkes in the shape of a great stagge.”
Whether the character of Herne existed before the creation of Shakespeare’s play or is a creation of it, isn’t clear. What is clear is that this play is for certain where the figure of Herne enters British folklore and onwards to a larger, global audience… at least the West.
Cuckold’s Horns – With an Elizabethan audience, they would know that a cuckold is a name given to a husband with an unfaithful wife. A cuckold like the cuckoo bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. So, a husband is likely raising a child who is not his own. The horns were likely a theatrical device of the Elizabethan stage to inform an audience of a character’s role.
In Windsor’s Home Park, there have been a few different oak trees since the mid-1800’s that people have claimed to be either Falstaff’s Oak or Herne’s Oak.
The main oak that people pointed to as Herne’s Oak fell in 1796 due to declining botanical health. The other oak was blown over during a windstorm on August 31st 1863. The logs from this tree were burnt in order to exorcise the ghost of Herne. One log was kept to carve a bust of Shakespeare from and is on display in the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum in the Guildhall.
Later, Queen Victoria planted another oak to replace the one that fell in 1863. Later, King Edward VII would have the tree removed in 1906 during a landscaping project. Still, another oak would be replanted to replace the fallen tree from 1796 and named Herne’s Oak.
All’s well that ends well.
As the legend of Herne continues to grow and expand, the 20th century sees Herne’s ghost now appearing shortly before national disasters and before the death of monarchs, much like a Banshee.
At the very least, because people expect to see something, more and more people claim to have encountered Herne’s ghost or to have heard the sounds of hounds or a horn blowing in Windsor Forest.
Truth In The Telling
With the authenticity of Herne being lost to history and up for debate, there are enough people who believe that Shakespeare must have been using a local legend. To this end, people have been trying to add some historical veracity and authenticity to legitimize Herne’s legend. If nothing else, the legend and imagery of Herne have succeeded at capturing people’s imaginations for centuries and has well earned a place in folklore.
The Restless Gamekeeper – This is the next literary source, written by Samuel Ireland in 1791 in his Picturesque Views on the River Thames. In the story, Herne is to have been based on a historical figure by the name of Richard Horne, a yeoman who lived during Henry VIII’s reign. Horne was accused of poaching and as a result, he hung himself from an oak tree. As this was a suicide death, Herne’s spirit is believed to be barred from entering either heaven or hell and is doomed to haunt the place of their death.
Shakespearean scholar James Halliwell-Phillips found a document where Herne is listed as a hunter and confessed to poaching. Plus, early versions of The Merry Wives of Windsor spell the name as “Horne” instead of “Herne.”
There are of course, a couple variants to this story.
Variation 1 – In this version, Herne is the huntsman to King Richard II. After some local men grew jealous of Herne’s status, they conspired to accuse him of poaching on the King’s land. Falsely accused and outcast, Herne hung himself from an oak tree.
Variation 2 – In this story, Herne saves King Richard II from a stag. Fatally wounded, Herne is healed by a magician who takes Herne’s skills in forestry and hunting as payment. Part of this being cured involved having the dead stag’s horns tied to Herne’s head. Distraught by the loss of his skills, Herne hung himself from a tree. As a result, his spirit is doomed each night to lead a spectral hunt through Windsor Rest.
Windsor Castle – Written by William Harrison Ainsworth in 1842. This novel aims to be a historical drama set during the reign of the Tudors and follows Henry VIII’s pursuit of Anne Boleyn. Herne features throughout the novel as a ghostly figure haunting the nearby woods of Windsor. This version of Herne is somewhat sinister as Harrison Ainsworth created a history where Herne was gored by a stag. Herne makes a deal with the Devil to spare him. Part of the deal is that Herne would forever wear antlers. This version of Herne had served Richard II and likely the source of the two previous folkloric versions of where he originates from.
The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt is a phenomenon found in many different European countries and cultures. It is a nightmarish, supernatural force led by some dark spectral hunter on horseback and accompanied by a host of other riders and hounds as they chase down unlucky mortals, either until they drop dead of exhaustion, are caught and forced to join the Wild Hunt or able to evade the Hunt until dawn.
Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. The Wild Hunt is known for making its ride during the Winter Solstice or New Year’s Eve. Jacob Grimm of Grimms Brothers fame makes a connection of Herne to the Wild Hunt due to the epitaph of “the Hunter.” That does seem to work, a Huntsman, connect him to the Wild Hunt and for Britain, the idea really jells of a local person who becomes a lost soul, doomed to forever ride with the Hunt.
Of course, the point is brought up that as a ghost, Herne is connected to one locality whereas the Wild Hunt wanders, moving from one place to another, seemingly randomly.
Ultimately, just who leads the Wild Hunt will vary from country to country. In Welsh mythology, it is Gwyn ap Nudd or Annwn who lead the hunt with a pack of spectral hounds to collect unlucky souls. The Anglo-Saxons of Britain hold that it is Woden who leads the hunt at midwinter. Wotan is very similar to Odin (just another name for the same deity really), Herne has been linked to them as both have been hung from a tree.
With Wicca and many modern pagan religions, Herne is frequently identified with the Horned God. As a Horned God, Herne is seen as a god of the Hunt, the sacred masculine, animals, nature, crossroads, sacrifice, fertility, virility, forests, hunters, and warriors.
Close on the heels of a horned deity, Herne has been connected to the Celtic deity of Cernunnos. Most notably, Margaret Murray made this connection in her 1931 book, “God of the Witches.” She sees Herne as a manifestation of Cernunnos and a very localized god found only in Berkshire. Take that as you will, for as much as Margaret Murray is hailed as the Grandmother of Wicca, many of her ideas and theories have been discredited and contested or challenged as they often appealed to emotional desires didn’t fulfill proper scrutiny and criteria for research. She is still very important in getting the ball rolling for those who follow Wicca and Paganism.
Archeological Discoveries – Of note is that a headpiece made from the top part of a stag’s skull with antlers still attached was found in Britain at Star Carr near Scarborough. This headpiece is thought to date back to around 8500 B.C.E., dating it to the Mesolithic era. The headdress is thought to have served shamanic rituals to ensure a successful hunt.
Cernunnos – Gaul
It’s not just Margaret Murry who sees Herne as being very similar to or an aspect of Cernunnos, it is also R. Lowe Thompson in his 1929 book “The History of the Devil – The Horned God of the West” who makes the connection.
Thompson makes the connection of Herne to other Wild Huntsmen, looking for a connection of all of these horned deities being really the same being or aspects of each other. He goes on how Herne and Cernunnos are the same, just as the English word “horn” is a cognate of the Latin word “cornu.”
So… “cerne” and “herne.” It’s enough for many Wiccans and Pagans to accept Herne as an aspect of Cernunnos just on the fact that both have horns or antlers.
Depending on the source and who you ask, Herne hunts and destroys nature and wildlife where Cernunnos seeks to protect it.
Pan – Greek
While we’re at it, the Grecian rustic gods of the wild, Pan is also seen as a syno-deity who can be equated with Herne and other Horned Gods.
Woden – Anglo-Saxon
Also spelled Wotan.
Because so many have tried to make connections, I already touched on this above with the Wild Hunt, Herne as been connected to Wodan as well. Both Herne and Wodan hung from a tree. Herne out of shame and suicide and Wodan as he was seeking knowledge of the runes. Herne is also bandied about as being derived from one of Wodan’s titles, Herian (“Warrior-Leader”), a titled used when leading his fallen warriors, the Einherjar.
The Play’s The Thing!
Even if the origins of Herne are rooted in a Shakespearean play solely as a creation of the great bard himself. People assume that Shakespeare must have drawn on some unverifiable local myths and folklore.
While we can argue and aren’t completely sure, Herne has more than earned a place in folklore. Afterall, Herne continues to inspire and find his way into literature and modern media.
There are numerous books and T.V. series where Herne has a part or features and continues to be a character people readily draw inspiration from.
Such as a British show, Robin of Sherwood where Herne is a pagan priest and spirit of the woods. Books such as Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.