Category Archives: Children
Also known as: Maaui-Tikitiki (Maori/New Zealand)
Alternate Spellings: Māui
Epithets: Maui-Tikitiki “Maui the Top-Knot,” Maui-Tikitiki-a-Taranga “Maui the Top-Knot of Taranga,” Maui-Potiki “Maui the Last Born”
In Polynesian mythology, Maui is either a trickster demigod or god and in some stories, a mere mortal man. Most of his stories and exploits are best known from the Hawaiian and Maori legends though many other Polynesian cultures such as Mangarevan, Tahitian and Tongan have their own stories regarding this trickster hero. Among the Samoans, Maui is known as Ti’iTi’i. Many of the stories involving Maui make note of him being the youngest son, thus while small, he was extremely strong for his size.
Maui is sometimes described as being ugly, quick to respond as well as quick-witted covered in tattoos. Lucky for humans, for all that Maui is known for having some vicious practical jokes, he works to help people and not the Gods.
Parentage and Family
In the Hawaiian Kumulipo, Maui is the son of Akalana and Hina-a-ke-ahi (or just Hina, a goddess).
In another Hawaiian legend, Maui’s father is given as Ru.
In the Mangarevan myths, Maui is the son of Ataraga (Father) and Uaega (Mother).
In the Maori myths, Maui is the son of Makeatutara (Father) and Taranga (Mother).
Tangaroa – This Maori god of the sea is sometimes mentioned as being Maui’s father with his mother being a mortal woman.
Akalana and Hina had four sons: Maui-Mua, Maui-Waena (or Maui-Hope), Maui-Ki’iki’i and Maui-a-Kalana.
In the Mangarevan myths, Ataraga has eight sons all named Maui: Maui-mua, Maui-muri, Maui-toere-mataroa, Tumei-hauhia, Maui-tikitiki-toga, Maui-matavaru, Maui-taha, Maui-roto. It is Maui matavaru or eight-eyed who is the culture hero.
In the Maori myths, Maui has four brothers: Maui-Taha, Maui-Roto, Maui-Pae and Maui-Waho.
Hinakealohaila – She is the wife to Maui-a-Kalana in Hawaiian legends.
Nanamaoa – The son of Maui-a-Kalana and Hinakealohaila in Hawaiian legends.
This is the name of Maui’s great, big fish-hook. In the Hawaiian legends, it is baited with the wing of an Alae, the sacred or pet bird of Hina. This fish-hook was created from the jawbone of an ancestor of Maui’s, usually given as being his grandmother.
Maui’s Fish-Hook can be seen in the night-sky in the same constellation recognized by Western Culture as Scorpio.
While yes, there is an island called Maui in Hawaii, it is not named for the trickster Maui. Legend holds that the island is named for the son of Hawai’iloa, a great navigator who discovered the Hawaiian Islands. Each of the islands of Kaua’i, O’ahu, and Maui are named after one of Hawai’iloa’s sons.
These were a group of heroic trickster demigods in Hawaiian legends. All kupua are shape-shifters who took the forms of either humans or various elements in nature, often an animal. Many kupua are rather malevolent and vindictive. Maui appears to be one of the more beneficial and gentler kupua in comparison.
Pulling Up The Islands
There are many variations to the story of Maui using his fish-hook to pull up all eight of the Hawaiian Islands.
Version 1 – Maui had gone out fishing one day with his brother. In typical sibling rivalry, the brother wouldn’t share any of his bait with Maui. Ever the resourceful one, Maui punched his own nose and used his own blood as bait to fish. He succeeded in bringing in hauls so large, that they would become the Hawaiian Islands. Not just Hawaii, but all the Polynesian Islands were pulled up in this way.
Version 2 – Maui had gone out fishing with his brothers. While out there, Maui caught his hook on the ocean floor. Maui then told his brothers he had caught a large fish and to start paddling as hard and as fast as they can. The brothers never noticed the island rising up behind them out of the ocean. Maui of course, proceeds to do this several more times, pulling up all the Hawaiian Islands.
Version 3 – This is perhaps the more interesting version of the stories. Maui planted his fish-hook at Hamakua with the intent to pull up Pimoe, the god of fish. Maui warned his brothers not to look back as they paddled their boats or this venture would fail. Hina, shape-shifted into a bailing-gourd and Maui, not realizing it was his mother, took hold of the gourd and put it in front of his seat. Now suddenly, there appeared before them, an extremely beautiful woman and all of Maui’s brothers looked back out of curiosity. Having looked back, Hina in her disguise disappeared and the line breaks, causing all of the islands that Maui was trying to unite into one giant island falls apart and he is unable to catch Pimoe.
The Theft Of Fire
Version 1 – In order to steal fire for the people of the islands, Maui transformed himself into the guise of a hawk so he could get closer the Earth-Mother. To this day, the hawk’s feathers are brown in memory of Maui being burned by the flames when he brought the gift of fire.
Version 2 – In this story, Maui and his brother would go out fishing every day. Every morning they would always see a bunch of Kiawe trees smoking and flames coming up out of them. Hovering above all this were some vultures, also known as mud hens or ‘alae.
Maui and his brothers constantly tried to sneak up on the vultures, thinking they were responsible for the fire. However, just before getting close enough, there would be a noise that scared them all off.
Maui came up with the idea of creating a dummy that looked like him and placed in the canoe. Now Maui had his brothers take the dummy with them as they would go one direction and Maui would come from the other as they tried to sneak up on the vultures.
Maui snuck up on the bird and grabbed it by the neck, forcing it to tell him the secrets of fire. The vulture, an ‘alae told Maui to take and rub two maia peels together. When nothing happened, Maui nearly choked the bird to death, telling it to tell the truth. Finally the bird said to rub to Ti leaf stalks together. Nothing happened this time and Maui once more choked the bird who said to rub two dry kiawe sticks together.
This time, Maui had success with creating fire. He took the flaming stick and pressed it against the ‘alae’s forehead, making their head red and bald to remind it and other ‘alae’s thereafter of their selfish act.
Slowing Down The Sun
Version 1 – In this story, Maui’s mother, Hina complained about how the sun moved too quickly through the sky, that she barely had time to get her kapa, bark cloth dry. Hina wasn’t the only one, many people hurried to get their work such as planting, cooking or making clothing done in the few hours of daylight. There just wasn’t time with how fast the Sun moved.
Deciding to help his mother and the other people, Maui hid behind a big rock at the highest peak on the island known as Haleakala, the “House Of The Sun.” When the Sun passed by overhead, Maui quickly threw a rope, made from his sister’s hair with his magic hook tied to the end and lassoed the Sun’s rays with it. Some legends have Maui using a net to trap the Sun. The Sun demanded to be let go and Maui would only do so if the Sun would promise to move slower through the day so people could get their work done. Some versions of the story have Maui beating the Sun with his jawbone until it agreed to move slower. Added to this, Maui took one look at the sky and decided it hung too low. With a shove and heave, Maui pushed the sky up higher.
Version 2 – In this telling of the story, Hina sends Maui to a big wiliwili tree where he finds his old, blind grandmother laying out bananas. Ever mischievous, Maui starts stealing bananas from his grandmother, one by one until she catches him in the act. Maui tells his Grandmother about his mother’s complaints and sending him out to the tree. After hearing the story, Grandmother decides to help him with making a rope. Maui then sits by the tree, waiting until the Sun passes by overhead and he lassos it, forcing it to agree to slow it’s progress across the sky.
Version 3 – Very similar to the story in Version 2, Maui decides to slow down the sun after a man by the name of Moemoe taunts him and says it can’t be done. Just to prove him wrong, Maui sets off to slow down the sun much like he did earlier with finding his grandmother and getting her help. After Maui slows down the sun, he chases after Moemoe and beats him soundly.
Lifting The Sky
While a similar story of Maui lifting the sky is told in his quest to slow down the sun, there is another expanded version of this story.
After a while, as Maui was looking around, he could see that the sky was far too low to the ground and that people were unable to stand up straight. Being Maui, if he didn’t like a thing, he went about changing it. As it just so happened to be, the sky was sinking or lowering and would have made living on the earth impossible for humans.
Maui proceeded to travel to the town of Lahaina, to enlist his father into helping him lift the sky. There, Maui laid himself on the ground and then bracing himself, pushed the sky upwards with all of his considerable strength.
At the signal, Maui’s father, Ru also began pushing with all his might, aiding his son in getting the sky up high enough so people could stand upright. So there you have it, another of Maui’s deeds done.
Variations – In other retellings of this story, Maui lifts up the sky when he comes across a girl complaining how the sky was too low and that she couldn’t do her chores. Like any guy seeking to impress a girl, Maui decided to push up the sky for her.
Yet another variation is that Maui was busy making an earth oven when his poker got stuck up in the sky. To get his poker unstuck and to keep it from getting stuck again, Maui simply pushed the sky up higher. Again, this was all part of impressing a girl.
Defeating The Long Eel
Still one more legend of Maui’s to cover in Hawaiian mythology!
After Maui finished pulling up all of the islands with his Fish-Hook, he decided to start exploring them to find out what all was there. Traveling to each of the islands, Maui discovered that they were all inhabitable. There were houses, but no one living in them, no one in the whole of all the islands.
Taking ideas from the layout and build of the houses, Maui returned home and built a new house for himself in the style of what he had seen on the islands. Finished, Maui then sought out Hinakealohaila (or just Hina, not to be confused with his mother) to marry.
Time passed and Hina went down to a nearby river bank to get some water. While down there, Hina ran into the Long Eel Tuna, who just so happened to decide that striking Hina and covering her in slime was somehow a good idea.
Hina ran back home, but didn’t tell Maui of what transpired. Or at least, not yet.
The next day, Hina went back down to the riverbank and the same thing happened. The Long Eel Tuna hitting and covering her with slime again. This time, when she returned home, Hina told Maui about what happened.
Angry, Maui headed down to the river. Once down there, Maui laid out a number of traps designed to lure the Long Eel Tuna out of hiding. When the Eel Tuna emerged, Mauil used his stone axe to kill them. It seems that the Long Eel Tuna had been causing many people in the village problems. Thanks now to Maui, everyone would be safe.
In this mythology cycle, the Maui known as Maui the Eight-Eyed is the hero, born from his mother’s navel and raised by his grandfather, Te Rupe. This Maui has a magic staff called Atua-Tane and a hatchet called Iraiapatapata. Like the Hawaiian and Maori legends, Maui still pulls up the islands from the sea and ties up the sun with locks of hair to slow it down or hold in place.
The legend of Maui among the Maori is a long epic.
The Birth Of Maui
Maui was born the son of Taranga and Makeatutara. Considered a miraculous birth, Makeatutara had taken her premature baby and threw it into the ocean wrapped in locks of hair from her topknot. Hence, Maui is known as Maui-Tikitiki-A-Taranga. Fortunately for the infant Maui, ocean spirits found him and wrapping him in seaweed, took him to Tama-Nui-Te-Ra (or Rangi), a divine ancestor who raised the child.
It is Maori tradition, that any baby prematurely born is buried with special incantations and ceremonies least the spirit of the unborn child become a malicious spirit as they had never known any joy or happiness in life. Given what happens later in the stories with Maui, this may be why they bury the baby with rites and ceremonies instead of tossing them into the ocean. It would certainly explain all the mean spirited tricks and deeds that Maui performs.
Reuniting With His Family
Once Maui was a child and no longer a premature infant, he left the sea, going search of his mother and family. When Maui found his mother’s house, he discovered four other older brothers: Maui-Taha, Maui-Roto, Maui-Pae and Maui-Waho.
Understandably, the brothers were all leery of this new comer. Maui won them all over by performing many tricks such as transforming into a number of different birds. The brothers were greatly impressed and accepted Maui.
As for his mother, Maui introduced himself to Taranga when everyone was gathered for some dancing and celebrating. Maui sat down behind his brothers, when Taranga called for her children, she discovered a fifth unknown child among her sons. Maui soon proved he was Taranga’s son and he was accepted into the family.
At first, some of Maui’s brothers were jealous. They were put at easy by the eldest brother telling them how they should let Maui be counted among them, that in days of peace, they should be generous to others by helping to improve the welfare of others and that in times of war, that’s only when disputes should be settled with violence. The speech worked and Maui was finally welcomed home.
Maui Finding His Father
Though Maui stayed with his mother and his brothers, each morning, his mother Taranga would disappear. None of Maui’s older brothers seemed concerned about their mother’s disappearance each morning. This bothered Maui who wondered where Taranga would go each morning before they woke.
When nightfall came again, Taranga returned to her children, they all went to sleep as before on other nights in their house. This time, Maui stayed awake so that when everyone else had fallen asleep, he stole Taranga’s clothing and hid them. Then Maui went and hid himself in the crevice of a window above the doorway so that when morning came, he could see where it was that his mother went.
After what seemed like forever, morning finally came and Taranga awoke. Upon finding she was naked, Taranga began frantically looking for her clothes, finally she gave up and began pulling off pieces of siding from the house to cover herself. Covered, she now ran outside.
Watching from his hiding spot, Maui watched as his mother reach down to some tufts of grass, revealing a hole that she disappeared into and pulling close behind her. Curious, Maui came out of his hiding spot and ran to the spot where the grass had been pulled up. Sure enough, he found the opening to a cave descending deep into the earth, to the Underworld in fact.
Covering the hole again, Maui returned to the house and woke up his brothers. He asked them about where it is that their father and mother went during the day. The older brothers answered that they didn’t know. They taunted Maui saying he shouldn’t worry or bother and that Rangi, the god of the sky was their father.
Little Maui responded how he had been brought up differently from his brothers, having been tossed to the sea. That he had never been nursed by their mother and how he longed to find where it was that she and father went to during the day.
Surprised by the response, Maui’s brothers encouraged to try and find their parents. Maui said that he would go and demonstrated to them his ability to turn into a bird. It was only with the kereru or wood pigeon shape that his brothers were impressed. The ability to shapeshift was something that only a skilled magician with a lot magic could perform and Maui delighted in his being the youngest brother, able to do something the others couldn’t.
Bidding farewell to his brothers, Maui took off in pigeon form to seek after his parents. Long Maui flew off into the forest and down to the cave his mother had disappeared into. Eventually, Maui came to a place where he saw many people gathered in a grove of trees. Among these people, Maui spotted his mother seated by whom he could only assume to be his father.
Still in bird form, Maui descended to a lower branch where he could pick off some berries growing. These berries, Maui dropped down to his father on the head with. Some of the other people at the gathering asked if the bird had dropped the berry and Maui’s father, Makeatutara insisted the berry had only fallen by chance.
Once more, Maui plucked more berries and threw them down hard at both of his parents. As Maui’s parents cried out, the other people gathered there, looked up to the tree and seeing only a pigeon sitting there cooing, began to throw stones at the bird. All the stones missed and it was when Maui’s father threw a stone at the bird that he hit the pigeon, but only because Maui allowed it.
The pigeon fell to the ground and when the others ran up to it, it turned into a man. The others were taken aback for the eyes of the young man who now stood before them were red and fierce looking. Talking amongst themselves, the others discussed if the man standing before them was a god like Rangi and Papa-Tu-A-Nuku. Finally Taranga spoke up and said the man looked like someone knew and repeated the story of Maui’s premature birth everyone to hear.
Taranga then asked the man, Maui who he was and where he came from. When she asked Maui, if he was her child Maui-Tikitiki-O-Taranga, he answered yes and Taranga welcomed him where she seemed to prophesy that he would visit his ancestor, Hine-Nui-Te-Po and conquer death.
Now a man, Maui’s father Makeatutara took him down to the river to be baptized in order to cleanse and purify his son. As luck would have it, Makeatutara made a mistake during the ceremony with incantations, having skipped over parts and forgotten them. This mistake was an ill omen that would eventually lead to the death of Maui. The gods would be sure to punish this forgetfulness with Maui’s eventual death.
In the meantime, however, Maui returned to his brothers to tell them he had found their parents and how to find them too.
Maui Getting Bloodthirsty
After returning to his brothers, Maui ended up slaying and carrying away his first victim, the daughter of Maru-Te-Whare-Aitu. Not long after, Maui proceeded to destroy the crops of Maru-Te-Whare-Aitu, causing them to all wither.
Maui Gaining His Jaw-Bone Weapon
His first war raid done, Maui once more visited his parents. While with them, he noticed how the other people would be carrying away some food as if it were being taken to someone.
When he asked for who, they informed Maui it was for an ancestress, Muri-Ranga-Whenua, an old chief. Maui responded with saying that he would take the food to her.
In typical trickster fashion, Maui didn’t take any of the food to Muri-Ranga-Whenua. Instead he set them to the side, hiding them away. Eventually Muri-Ranga-Whenua wondered why her food wasn’t coming and suspecting that something was up, she wandered down the path, sniffing.
Finally smelling something coming, Muri-Ranga-Whenua’s stomach began to enlarge as she got ready to devour Maui as soon as he came close enough. Maui went up wind of the old chief so she couldn’t find him. Turning westward, Muri-Ranga-Whenua finally smelled someone close to her, realizing it was a human.
Muri-Ranga-Whenua’s stomach shrunk back to normal size and she greeted Maui as one of her descendants. Her next question was why Maui wasn’t bring her food. Maui answered that he was seeking for Muri-Ranga-Whenua’s jaw-bone to use as a weapon. The old chief consented and gave Maui the bone.
Holding Back The Sun
Similar to the story found in the Hawaiian cycle, Maui for his next quest, takes the jaw-bone of an ancestor, Muri-Ranga-Whenua to use as a weapon. He uses this jaw-bone to ensnare the Sun so it will be forced to move slower throughout the day, thus making the days longer. With the aid of his brothers, Maui lassoes the Sun and beats them soundly until the Sun agrees to move slower.
Variation – Sometimes a net is mentioned as what Maui used to catch the Sun before Maui and his brother beat the Sun senseless with his magic jawbone to the point it could limp slowly now across the sky.
Gone Fishing – Part 1
Somewhere along the line, Maui got married and had a number of wives and children to boot. When Maui and his brothers returned from the feat of Holding back and slowing down the sun, he heard the complaints of his family and how they had no fish to eat.
Maui assured his wives and children not to fret, he would soon take care of this trivial matter and they would soon enough have food to eat. He then took his jaw-bone and fashioned it into a fish-hook.
When Maui’s brother headed out to go fishing, Maui jumped in the canoe. His brothers yelled for Maui to get out of the boat, claiming that his constant use of magic would cause problems. Eventually Maui got out of the canoe seeing as his brothers refused to take him.
Determined, Maui just waited until it was night when he went back to the beach and his brothers’ canoe. This time he hid in the bottom, under some boards. When his brothers came at dawn, they headed out to sea, none the wiser that Maui was hidden on board.
Once they were well at sea, Maui came out of his hiding spot. Seeing him, his brothers commented that they had better return to shore. Using his magic, Maui stretched out the distance from the shore to the boat that when his brothers looked for land, it was out of view.
Maui told his brothers that they should let him come with, at the very least he could be able to bail water out of the canoe for them. The brothers consented and they paddled on towards their fishing spot. Maui wasn’t content and told his brothers to paddle out further before dropping anchor, which spot would be far out of view of land.
Far out on the open ocean, the brothers now began to fish and soon, easily they had their canoe filled with fish in no time.
Pulling Up The Islands – Part 2
Continuing from Gone Fishing, this story is similar to the previously mentioned Hawaiian story of Pulling Up The Islands. Now that the brothers had filled the canoe, they wanted to return, but not Maui who now wanted a turn at fishing.
The North Island – Maui’s brothers wanted to know where he got a fishing-hook from, to which he told them never mind. When he asked to borrow of their bait, his brothers refused. With no other recourse, Maui made a fist and struck his own nose, using his own blood for bait.
With that and using incantations, Maui managed to snag the porch of a carved house on the sea bed floor and pulled up not just the house with his superhuman strength, but an entire island. Witht his much land pulled up, the canoe became grounded.
With the newly pulled up land and the haul of fish that had been caught, Maui went to go make an offering of thanks to the gods. He instructed his brothers to wait until her returned before eating or cutting up any of the fish, that everyone would get a fair share.
While Maui went to get a priest to bless, consecrate and purify the land, his brothers went ahead and started to cut up the fish that were also pulled up. These fish began to writhe in agony and in their throes, the mountains, cliffs and valleys of the island were formed. It’s been said if the brothers had waited for Maui to make his offerings, the island would have all been level plains and forest, making it easy for people to traverse it. The Maori call this land Te Ika-a-Maaui, the Fish of Maui or Hahau-Whenua, it is the North Island of New Zealand.
The South Island – By Maori tradition, Maui’s canoe becomes the South Island. The Banks Peninsula is said to be where Maui place his foot to support himself as he pulled in his fish haul. The island is known as Te Waipounamu or Te Waka-A-Maui, the canoe of Maui.
The Secret Of Fire
The secret for the creation of fire had been lost and Maui decided to remedy that situation. Of course, if Maui didn’t have it in his head to pull the stunt of putting out all of the fires for the cooking houses in the village, there would still be fire. But no, Maui puts them all out and then calls out, saying he’s hungry and getting someone to come cook up some food for him and there’s no fire to be had, anywhere.
When Maui’s mother heard there was no fire, she implored the servants to seek out Mahu-Ika to see if she would send more fire. The servants refused, no matter how Maui’s mother and others insisted they go.
Finally, Maui spoke up and said that he would go and get more fire. In order to do so, he needed to know which way to go. His parents informed Maui which path he should go, that he should let Mahu-Ika know who he was and that he shouldn’t perform any of his tricks as too often, his tricks brought harm and injury to others.
Yes, they’re on to you Maui!
Of course, Maui assured his folks he was only interested in bringing fire, he wasn’t going to do anything else, he’d go and come back right away. Honest!
So off he goes, in search of Mahu-Ika, the goddess of fire and his ancestor. When Maui found Mahu-Ika, he was filled with wonder and awe, all he could do was stare before he finally spoke up asking her where the fire was, he had come to get some.
Mahu-Ika got up and asked who Maui was. At first, Maui wouldn’t tell Mahu-Ika was, making her do a quessing game of which country he was from and which direction he had come. Finally, when Mahu-Ika asked Maui if he had come on the wind, he said yes and she recognized him as one of her descendants.
Mahu-Ika proceeded to pull out a fingernail from which fire flowed out. This she gave to Maui who was amazed by the feat. Maui took the fingernail away with him and when he was out of sight, he promptly put the fire out.
Maui returned to Mahu-Ika saying that the fire she had given him had gone out and to give him another. Once more, Mahu-Ika pulled one of her fingernails out, producing fire to give to Maui once more.
Maui managed to keep this antic up of coming back to Mahu-Ika saying the fire had gone out until he had gotten her to pull out all of the nails from her hands and feet save for the nail of her big toe. Nine times and Mahu-Ika finally catches on that Maui might be playing tricks on her.
Angry, Mahu-Ika pulled the last nail out and slamming it on the ground, she told Maui that he now had all the fire as everything around them began to catch fire. Maui made a mad dash to escape with the fire quickly gaining. Maui changed himself into an eagle (or hawk) to be fast enough to escape.
Even as an eagle, his flight wasn’t enough and the fire was about to consume Maui; he called on his ancestors Tawhiri-Ma-Tea and Whatitiri-Matakatak to send rain. The ancestors answered and soon there was a heavy rain. Mahu-Ika was nearly killed in the resulting downpour before she could hide. Maui however, in his eagle form was scorched, resulting in black-tipped wings. Mahu-Ika saved some of her fire by placing it in the wood of trees.
When Maui returned from this latest stunt, his parents tried to warn him about trying to trick his ancestors and that he deserved what he got. They concluded the speech that things would end badly and likely in his death if he didn’t stop his behavior. Maui taunted his parents, saying what did he care, he planned to continue. With that, Maui went off to seek out his next round of mischief.
Variation – A little simpler, Maui gained the secrets of fire by stealing a hen from heaven as fire was believed to be guarded by a celestial chicken.
Turning Irawaru Into A Dog
Shortly after his theft of fire, Maui went out fishing with his brother in law, Irawaru who had married Maui’s younger sister Hinauri, Maui as per his luck, had only caught one fish while Irawaru was catching plenty of fish. Fuming his poor luck, Maui lost his cool when Irawaru’s line got tangled with his. The classic two fishermen tugging on their respective lines, each in the opposite direction.
The two began arguing about how it was their fish on the line and to let go. Finally Irawaru relented and let go of his line enough that Maui was able to pull up on his end. Once the line was pulled up, Maui saw that the fish caught was indeed on Irawaru’s line and that it was his line entangled with the other.
Mad, Maui said they should return to shore and the two began paddling. Once back to shore, Maui had Irawaru lift up the canoe to his back as part of pulling it in. No sooner had Irawaru gotten the canoe up onto this back than Maui jumped on it, forcing the whole weight down on his brother-in-law, nearly killing him.
Nearly dead, Maui continued to trample Irawaru’s body, twisting and forming him through the use of magic into a dog. Maui completed the job by force feeding Irawaru some dung.
That done, Maui went back to the village, acting like nothing had happened. It’s then, that Maui’s little sister Hinauri on seeing him, ran up to asked where her husband Irawaru was. Maui responded with that he had left Irawaru back with the canoe. Well how come the two of them didn’t return together? Oh, well that’s because Irawaru wanted Hinauri’s help with bringing back the fish. So you had better hurry and if you don’t see him, just call out “Mo-i, mo-i, mo-i.”
Hinauri hurried down to the beach looking for her husband. Not seeing him, she called Irawaru’s name and when there was no response, then she called as Maui had told her to with the “Mo-i, mo-i, mo-i.”
Irawaru, now in his dog form, recognized his wife and barked back. He followed her all the way back to the village wagging his tail. Seeing what had happened to her husband, Hinauri became very distraught with grief to the point that she threw herself into the sea.
As to Maui, that antic seems rather petty to have done, but no different from say the Greek gods taking it out on mortals. Maui was now at a point that he found it best to leave the village and once more return to the Underworld where his parents lived.
Variation – Sometimes the story of Maui turning Irawaru into a dog is told that they were on their way to another village not far away. As they were headed on the return trip home, Maui had asked Irawaru to carry some food for them. Irawaru said there was no need to, they had just eaten a meal and it was only a short ways home.
This angered Maui and he used his magic to make the journey home take longer than it should have. As they continued to walk on the seemingly endless road, both Maui and Irawaru grew tired and hungry.
As they sat down, Maui pulled the food he had brought for himself after all and proceeded to eat right in front of Irawaru.
If it had been me, I would have left it at that.
Not Maui, after finishing his meal and not offering anything to Irawaru, Maui asked his brother-in-law to clean and dress his hair. Irawaru supposed that was harmless enough and did the job for Maui. When he had finished, Maui offered to clean and dress Irawaru’s hair for him. Thinking nothing of it, Irawaru allowed Maui to do so. Maui put Irawaru into an enchanted sleep and with further magic, changed Irawaru into a dog.
Either way, in Maori legends, Irawaru is the progenitor of all dogs.
The Death Of Maui
Version 1 – In this version of Maui’s death, people got tired of all his antics and decided to kill him. As a result, Maui’s blood is what creates rainbows and is responsible for the color of shrimp.
But that’s not a very exiting end for a hero and trouble maker.
Version 2: The Quest for Immortality! – This one is more exciting and noteworthy.
Following the events of a botched baptismal ceremony, Maui takes it on himself to go win immortality for humankind. Maui’s father, Makeatutara tries to dissuade him of the notion, that he will fail and that someone will kill him.
Of course, since Maui’s last antics involved turning Irawaru into a dog, he’s looking to leave the village anyways. He’s certainly gotten more than enough people upset with him, Maui heads off for the Underworld where his parents are at.
After staying with his folks for some time, Maui’s father, Makeatutara makes mention of how they have heard of Maui’s deeds up in the living world, but being down here in the Underworld, he’s sure to be defeated at some point. Makeatutara is also remembering the botched baptismal ceremony, knowing that Maui will come to a bad end.
Maui scoffs at this notion of someone defeating him, who after all would do that? Makeatutara says it would be Maui’s ancestor, Hine-Nui-Te-Po, the goddess of the Night. Undaunted, Maui boasts of his many previous deeds with pulling up the islands and slowing down the sun, saying that it won’t be possible to beat him.
Makeatutara relents and tells Maui to go find his ancestress who lives far on the horizon. After asking what she looks like, Makeatutara told Maui his ancestor, Hine-Nui-Te-Po looks human but with greenstones for eyes and sea kelp hair, barracuda mouth and that the red flashing of light came from her.
Unfazed, Maui set off towards the west with companions towards the home of Hine-Nui-Te-Po. In some versions of the stories, these companions of Maui are birds such as the tomtit, robin, warbler and fantail. In other versions, these companions are Maui’s brothers.
Eventually, Maui finds Hine-Nui-Te-Po asleep with her legs spread apart. Maui and his companions were quick to note rows of sharp obsidian and greenstones between Hine’s legs.
Maui now informed the others of his master plan, telling his companions not to laugh and to save it for after. Maui planned to enter Hine-Nui-Te-Po’s vagina, in a reverse birth process and to exit out her mouth. This, according to Maui was to gain him immortality.
Maui’s companions tried to dissuade him, saying he would be killed. Maui was again undaunted, insisting if his friends did laugh, waking Hini-Nui-Te-Po, then yes, he would die, but if he successfully passed through her, he would live and that she would be the one to die.
This of course is where the companions just shut up and let Maui do his thing as he readied himself, tying a rope that held his battle club around his waist and thrusting off his clothes. Ready, Maui began to climb in, very much the image of reverse birth as his companions did their best not to laugh.
As it happens with these type of stories, the one task you’re not supposed to do, happens and one of the companions couldn’t hold it in anymore and began laughing. One version of the story says it’s the fantail who begins laughing and wakes Hine-Nui-Te-Po who opens her eyes and quickly closes her legs tight, cutting Maui in half.
Instead of immortality, Maui becomes the first person to die, bringing death to the world. Hine-Nui-Te-Po maintained her post as the Goddess of the Underworld the portal to which all humans must pass through on death.
Variation – When Maui set off to gain immortality for humankind, he did so by changing into a worm in order to enter the vagina of Hine-Nui-Te-Po and leaving through her mouth. This stunt didn’t work out so well as Hine-Nui-Te-Po crushed Maui in her sleep with the obsidian teeth in her vagina.
Maui And Rohe
We’re not quite done with Maui! In a few stories, Maui is married to the goddess Rohe whom he ends up mistreating in some rather cruel and unusual means.
What happens, is that Maui wished to trade faces with Rohe as she is very beautiful and he on the other hand is rather ugly.
Rohe refused to trade faces and when she was asleep, Maui used an incantation to make the trade and switch for faces. When Rohe woke up and realized what happened, she left the living world and departed for the Underworld, becoming the Goddess of Death.
Good one Maui.
In Samoan mythology, the character of Ti’iti’i is very similar to that of Maui. Many of the stories are similar to those of Maui from other Polynesian cultures. One striking similiarity is the story of Ti’iti’i’s theft of fire from the earthquake god, Mafui’e. In this story, Ti’iti’i breaks off one of Mafui’e’s arms, forcing them to reveal the secret of fire and how to rub sticks together for friction to create it.
For the Samoans, the loss of Mafui’e’s arm means that he is unable to create even bigger earthquakes.
Among the Tahitians, Maui was a prophet or priest who later becomes deified.
He had once been at a sacred place known as a marae busy with some task or other. When the sun began to set before he was finished, Maui grabbed hold of the sun’s rays and halted the movement of the sun so he could complete his task.
Maui became known as Ao-ao-ma-ra’i-a after he discovered fire and passed on his knowledge to others to create it by the use of friction with wood. Before this, people would eat their food raw.
As a final bit of lore, Maui is the one responsible for earthquakes.
Among the Tongans, the Maui stories tell how he pulled up the Tongan islands from the depths of the ocean, starting first with Lofanga, then the other Ha’apai islands and finishing up with Vava’u. That task finished, Maui lived on the island of Tonga. The village of Houma located on the main island of Tongatapu is noted for being the place where Maui’s fish-hook got caught.
In these stories, Maui has two sons: Maui-Atalanga, the eldest and Maui-Kisikisi, the younger. In other sources, there are listed three Maui brothers: Maui-Motu’a (old Maui), Maui-Atalanga and Maui-Kisikisi (dragonfly Maui). It is Maui-Atlanga who discovered the secret of fire and taught others how to cook with it. Maui-Motu, like Atlas from Greek mythos, holds the earth up on his shoulders. Whenever Maui-Motu starts to nod off, he causes earthquakes and people will stomp the ground in order to wake him up. The god, Hikule’o who rules the underworld of Pulotu is Maui-Motu’s youngest son.
Maui-Kisikis is known for being a trickster. He gained the name of Maui-Fusi-Fonua or Maui Land Puller after Maui-Kisikisi begged for a magic fish-hook from an old fisherman by the name of Tongafusifonua. The old man would only allow the fish-hook to be taken on the condition that Maui be able to find it in his collection of hooks. Tongafusifonua’s wife, Tavatava told Maui the secret of how to find the hook and Maui was able to succeed at picking it out from all the other hooks. With this hook, Maui-Kisikisi was able to pull up the coral islands from the bottom of the sea as these volcanic islands were believed to have fallen from the heavens.
Movie Time – Moana!
So of course, the movie came out in 2016, featuring the famous Maui of Polynesian mythology. Since I was curious, I of course wanted to know how much of the mythology and stories that the movie gets right.
It is of course, a new story and the Maui seen in the movie pulls and combines many of the aspects of him found primarily in Hawaiian and Maori legends. Much of which is confirmed during the song: “You’re Welcome” and a quick montage of all of Maui’s deeds that he’s done that have earned him a new tattoo to commemorate the event.
The character of Te Fiti in her darker aspect as Te Ka was originally referred to as Te Po, based on the Maori goddess Hine-Nui-Te-Po, the goddess of night, death and the underworld. Others have noted a strong similarity between Te Ka and the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele.
Interestingly, while the movie was being developed and written, it incorporates the history of Polynesian people as voyagers who just abruptly ceased and then a thousand years later, start sailing again. Why? No one knows. However, the story of Moana certainly provides an interesting what if story to it.
Also Spelled/Called: Siats
This is one of those, where I read the name along with the basic description and it got me excited about a new piece of mythology!
The biggest problem is that this may not even be correct information and there has been enough people passing this information around the internet as being authentic without doubling checking their sources. Much of the newer information out there refers to the dinosaur species inspired by this legend which follows at the end of this post.
So, what do we have?
Basically, the Siats are a monstrous humanoid described as being a cannibalistic clown who kidnaps children and eats them. Female versions of Siats are known as Bapet and their breasts are filled with milk that is poisonous to human children. The Bapet is known for kidnapping human children to suckle and kill with her poisonous milk before eating them.
The Siats supposedly originate in Eastern Utah and Southwestern Colorado from the Ute tribe. Like a good many bogeyman figures, tales of Siats and Bapets are probably told by Ute parents to their children to scare them into not straying too far away from the village and tribe.
Killing A Siat Or Bapet
The only method known for killing these monsters is the use of an obsidian arrow. Much like werewolves and silver, I imagine any item made of obsidian would be enough, not just an arrow to harm the Siats and Bapets.
Evil Clowns & Coulrophobia
Normally clowns are generally benign; seeking to make people laugh with their antics and comedy routines. When it comes to the horror genre and dark comedy, there is a strong tendency to take the ordinary, safe and familiar and subvert it so it becomes monstrous and scary.
In Europe, the use of Evil Clowns in literature has been around for a while. More modern and familiar uses of evil clowns are seen in the Harlequin, the King’s fool, Mr. Punch, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-Frog” and Stephen King’s novel of “It.”
Coulrophobia – This is often seen with children who have a strong a dislike of the make-up that exaggerates the facial features. Such individuals and children suffer the effects known as Uncanny Valley where something that looks to be human doesn’t look quite right creates a feeling of dread or revulsion in some people.
Signs Of Our Times – Another observation put forward is that Clowns, like their Jester and Fool counterparts in Medieval Times as one who can make satirical comments, biting remarks and other criticisms while not having to fear any retribution.
In that light, any evil clowns would be symbolic and commentary of the late 20th century and early 21st century with the air of uncertainty, especially with the growing wealth gaps, poverty and lack of opportunities, as many people would be drawn to such a seemingly dark outsider who can speak of the truths to the ills of society.
Urban Legends – The stories of evil or Phantom Clowns have been around for a while, the first mention of them in real-life is from May 1981 when children in Brookline, Massachusetts said that some men dressed as clowns tried to lure them into a van.
Native American Clown Societies
There are several clown societies in many different Native American tribes and cultures. These clowns often have a sacred role as a trickster in their religious ceremonies. Often these sacred clowns in their rituals and behavior would pass on traditions, reinforce taboos and could make necessary critical commentary without fear of any reprisals.
Cherokee – There are the booger dances.
Pueblo – The Zuni clown society, a person into the Ne’wekwe order with the ritual of filth-eating where mud is smeared on the body for the clown performance. Other aspects of this performance involves sporting with mud or excrement, smearing or daubing it, drinking and pouring it onto each other.
Sioux – In the Lakota tribes, the Heyoka is a sacred Clown character, someone who lives outside of the constraints of normal societal roles. They are a “backwards clown” who does everything in reverse, acting as a boundary crosser who questions why different traditions and taboos hold.
Given the sacred and ritual nature of clowns and clown societies among the many Native American tribes, it seems out of place for the Siats if they are given any credence.
Jurassic World here we come!
About the only good that comes from the prolific spread for Siats is that their name has been given to a new species of Dinosaur, specifically a genus of megaraptors dating from the Late Cretaceous period. Their remains have been found in Utah. The Siats megaraptor is one of the largest theropods found in North America.
Other names: zmaj (Serbian) змај, (Croatian and Bosnian), zmaj (Slovene), zmey, змей (Bulgarian, Russian), zmiy (Old Church Slavonic), змеj (Macedonian), żmij (Polish), змій (Ukrainian)
It should be noted that most of these words are the masculine forms for the Slavic word “snake.” In Russian, the feminine is zmeya. Other names include zmajček or zmajić that is used as a diminutive form of endearment.
Etymology – Dragon, Snake or Serpent
In the Slavic language, a dragon is called a Zmej. It appears as multi-headed dragon with three, seven or nine heads that are capable of breathing fire. The Eastern Slavic dragons are believed to be able to regrow their heads like a hydra if one head is chopped off. In all cases, their large size makes them fearsome foes.
The Zmej is primarily associated with fire, like a good many other dragons of European folklore. It either breathes fire or it can throw fiery arrows or lightning bolts. It is exceedingly strong and the Zmej’s strength can be taken by a person who eats the dragon’s heart. That puts a whole new light on the movie Dragon Heart. The precise abilities of the Slavic dragons vary by locality and country.
The male Zmej were often portrayed in a positive light, acting as protectors of their family and tribe. He was seen as a good demonic force, using the power of weather in the way of hail, storms and strong winds to protect crops and harvests from getting ruined. Among the Southern Slavs, it’s very common to see the imagery of a dragon representing a good demonic force.
While I note the use of the word and spelling demonic to describe the Zmej; given the context and influence of Christianity upon an older Pagan religion, beliefs and traditions; it is very likely that the Greek term and usage of daimon is more appropriate.
You Called Him A Daimon!
Yes, as in the Greek term and meaning for the word spirit. It is Christianity that takes and twists the word and meaning to Demon, for an evil spirit or being.
Among the ancient Greeks, the word daimon means spirit or “replete with knowledge.” They recognized both good (eudemons) and bad (cacodemons). The word or term daimon also means “divine power,” “fate,” or “god.” And in Greek mythology, daimons could also include deified heroes.
Daimons functioned as messengers or intermediary spirits between men and gods. The good daimons were viewed as guardian spirits who gave guidance and protection to those they watched over. The bad daimons, naturally, weren’t so nice and could mislead people, getting them into trouble.
Sometimes the Zmej also appears as an anthropomorphic dragon man, much like the Romanian Zmeu, seen as very intelligent, wise and knowledgeable with great magical proficiency, breath fire and superhuman strength. Like the Romanian Zmeu, the Slavic Zmej was also known for being very wealthy with castles and realms in otherworlds. They too lusted after women with home they could bear children. Respect was always given to these Zmej as one never knew what to expect in terms of behavior.
National And Folk Heroes
A good many heroes were considered dragons or the son of a Zmej. A number of these heroes include:
Husein-Kapetan Gradaščević – A successful Bosniak general who fought for the independence of the Ottoman Empire from Bosnia. He is known as “Zmaj od Bosnia,” or “The Dragon of Bosnia.”
Vlad III Dracula – A Romanian Hero and more infamously known as Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s book Dracula and depicted as a Vampire. Among the Romanians of Wallachia, Vlad is a hero, having been inducted into the Order of the Dragon by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to defend a Christian Europe against the Ottoman Empire.
Vuk Grgurević – A Serbian Despot known as “Zmaj-Ognjeni Vuk” or “Vuk the Fiery-Dragon” due to the vicioness of his rule and his many battles against the Turks.
In the folk songs of Bulgaria, the Zmej appears as a popular motif as a Draconic Lover. Most of these songs featuring a Dragon Love, have a male Zmej. More heroic songs involving a Zmej will be female.
It’s interesting to note a very stark contrast and distinction male and female dragons in Bulgarian folklore. For one, the male and female dragons were seen as brother and sister. Yet for all this, they were very staunchly opposed to each other. The female dragons were known for representing the destructive weather that would destroy crops and agriculture. Whereas, the male dragons protected the fields and crops for harvest. Such that the two often fought each other, representing the dueling, opposing forces of female/water with male/fire symbolism.
Macedonia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro Folklore
In these Eastern Slavic countries and areas, a dragon is known by the name of zmaj, zmej and lamja. Similar to the Russian dragons, it has three, seven or even nine heads, all of which breathe fire. Additionally, in Serbia the dragon is called aždaja or hala and in Bosnia is called aždaha.
Polish And Belarussian Folklore
In both of these cultures, aside from Zmej, they also have the word smok, coming from the Indo-Iranian word for swallow. Other spellings for smok are: смок and цмок.
As previously mentioned, there is a very similar dragon-like creature in Romania with an equally similar name called the Zmeu. It is distinguished from many of the Slavic Zmej as it is anthropomorphic in nature and always a destructive force.
Russian And Ukrainian Folklore
Representing the Eastern Slavic people, there are a few different dragons found in their folklore. A number of prehistoric sites such as the Serpent’s Wall near Kiev have associations with dragons and act as symbols for foreign people. The Russian dragons are known to have heads that come in multiples of three and will grow back if every single head isn’t chopped off or promptly covered in ash or burnt.
Zmey Gorynych – This green colored dragon has three heads and walks on two back paws with two smaller front paws. Like many dragons, it breathes fire. The hero Dobrynya Nikitich is who killed this dragon.
Tugarin Zmeyevich – This dragon very strongly represented the Mongols and other Steppe peoples who often threatened the borders of Russia. Tugarin’s name is Turkic in origin. He was defeated by the hero Alyosha Popovich.
Saint George And The Dragon – It is without question that the hero Saint George symbolizes Christianity and that his killing of the Dragon symbolizes the Devil or Satan. It is a motif often portrayed on the coat of arms for Moscow.
The Serbian folklore for dragons is very similar to that of Bulgarian folklore. Essentially the differences come down to the different countries and regions’ name for them. Here, the Zmaj or Zmey is seen as very intelligent with superhuman strength and well versed in the use of magic. Like many European dragons, they breath fire and lust over young women. An image that sounds very much so like the Romanian Zmeu. The big difference here is that the Zmaj or Zmey are defenders of the crops and fight against a demon known as Ala that they attack using lightning.
The Slovene word of zmaj is of an uncertain, archaic origin. Another word used for dragons is pozoj. Like many European dragons, the zmaj are often seen in a negative light and associated with Saint George in his slaying the dragon.
There are other Pre-Christian Folk Tales involving dragons.
Ljubljana Dragon – This dragon features on the city of Ljubljana’s coat of arms that it guarded over and protected.
Wawel Dragon – This Polish dragon is often defeated by tricking it into eating a lime. It should be noted that this dragon isn’t always harmful towards people.
Also known as aždaha, ala or hala in Persian mythology. Some Southern Slavic countries will mention Aždaja as a type of dragon. Its true nature is considered to be drastically different than that of a real dragon and considered separate. While the Zmej is often seen as a positive force, the Aždaja is seen as a negative force and woefully evil. Ultimately the nature of the Aždaja seems contradictory and should be a type of dragon as it shares all of the hall marks of the European dragons that are often sinister in nature. After all, the Aždaja is draconic in appearance, they live in dark places such as caves. Like many other Slavic dragons, the Aždaja is frequently multi-headed with three, seven or nine heads and breathes fire. In some of the Christian mythologies of Saint George, he is shown slaying the Aždaja and not Zmej.
While the Zmej is male, the Southern Slavic folklore makes mention of a female version known as Lamya. This name derives from the name Lamia, a Queen and former lover of the god Zeus who turns into a daemon that devours children and in some versions of her story, Lamia becomes more serpentine. Later stories will equate Lamia to vampires and succubae.
In Bulgaria and Macedonia, there is a Bulgarian legend about the hero Mavrud who succeeds in cutting off all of the heads of Lamya; who appears in this story as a hydra-like dragon. It has been commented that this story seems to symbolize the pruning of grape vines. Further, there is a variety of Bulgarian grapes known as Mavrud.
Also called: Black Pete, Black Peter, Père Fouettard, Schwaarze Péiter
Etymology: Black Peter
December has come and with it many familiar Winter Celebrations and Holidays.
The Dutch character of Zwarte Piet is one mired in controversy and folklore. In the folklore of the Low Countries of Europe, Zwarte Piet is a companion to Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas if you please in Dutch. Saint Nicholas is also synonymous with Santa Claus for those living in the US. Unfortunately for the character of Zwarte Piet, he has come under a lot of controversy and allegations of racism in recent years, especially among the Netherland’s migrant community.
Zwarte Piet is traditionally depicted as being black as he’s said to either be a Moor from Spain or to have gotten black from going down chimneys delivering presents. Many people who dress up as Zwarte Piet, dress in colorful Renaissance Page outfits, blackface makeup, curly wigs, red lipstick and earrings. The character of Zwarte Piet that most people in the Netherlands have become familiar with first appeared in a book written by Jan Schenkman in 1850.
The Feast Of Saint Nicholas – December 5-6th
Where many American children get excited for Santa Claus on December 25th, in Europe, children get excited for Saint Nicholas’ arrival on December 5th (Aruba, Curacao and the Netherlands) or 6th (Belgium and Luxembourg). His arrival is accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Zwarte Pieten for plural) who hands out sweets and presents to many children. Zwarte Pieten will begin to make their appearances in the weeks before Saint Nicholas’ Feast. Their first appearance is when Saint Nicholas arrives and is greeted with a parade. In some parts of the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas will arrive by boat, having come all the way from Madrid, Spain. The Zwarte Pieten’s job then is to entertain the children, handing out sweets known as pepernoten, kruidnoten and strooigoed as Saint Nicholas makes his rounds.
Zwarte Piet’s Origins – Clash Of Cultures, Religion & Traditions
For anyone who even does just a cursory study of the Winter Celebrations of Christmas and the numerous related holidays for this time of year, can see that there has been a constant, evolving and changing view of how the Winter Holidays and Traditions have changed or adapted over the centuries and even millennia.
Many people can easily find and take note of Pagan elements for the holidays and why they were celebrated. The arrival of a new religion, Christianity as it spread and took over, clearly supplanted many of these older holidays and often the older Pagan traditions were adapted to the Christian celebrations of Christmas with new Christian imagery and symbolisms.
Sometimes the origin and introduction of one tradition are clear cut and easy to point out and other times the passage of time has made it murky and there tends to be a lot of guess work and overlay that makes it harder to separate all of the different elements. Ultimately it is a mixture and grab bag of different religions and traditions that have mixed together and changed over the years.
The Wild Hunt – Odin
I’ll include this connection as it is one that is often passed around and it does appear to bear merit.
The Wild Hunt is a phenomenon found in many different European countries and cultures of 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 they can evade the Hunt until dawn.
Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. One connection made is that of Woden or Odin in Germanic folklore. On New Year’s Eve, Woden would ride out during the night on his white, eight-legged steed Sleipnir. Woden or Odin is always accompanied by his two black ravens, Huginn and Muninn. These two ravens would sit at the edge of a chimney, listening to those within and then tell Woden of any good or bad behavior of those living in the dwelling. This report would determine if Woden left any gifts or chased down and abducted the unruly mortal with his Wild Hunt.
Middle Eastern Connections?
I came across this when doing research for the figure of Hajji Firuz.
Just as Zwarte Piet is paired up with Sinterklaas, so too is Hajji Firuz paired up with Amu Nowruz.
Where Sinterklaas is known to give gifts out to children, so too does Amu Nowruz give out gifts to children on Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Amu Nowruz’s name means “Uncle Nowruz.” The Russians hold a similar tradition of the “Grandfathers” for both Winter and Spring who die and are replaced by the other or reborn. The tradition of gift giving doesn’t become associated with some of the European deities until the arrival of Christianity.
The character of Hajji Firuz has also been under similar attacks by people who see a negative racist implication in some countries such as Iran. Despite this, many people still love Hajji Firuz and the air of festivities he brings. His darkened skin is often seen as only face paint representing soot from a fire.
Exactly how good of a connection there is between Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet with Amu Nowruz and Hajji Firuz? It’s hard to say, though the similarities between the two are interesting to note.
Sinterklaas, You’re The Devil
To better understand Zwarte Piet, one needs to understand who Sinterklaas is. Unlike the American Santa Claus who is seen as fat and jolly, Sinterklaas is a thin and stern man who is a combined figure of both Saint Nicholas from Turkey and the Germanic god Woden.
Saint Nicholas – From Myra, Turkey, Saint Nicholas is a Catholic Bishop who rides on his white horse, Amerigo as he travels. He is the patron saint of children, sailors and the city of Amsterdam. There are stories of Saint Nicholas leaving gifts in choir boys’ shoes and throwing money down chimneys to pay for a girl’s dowry that have contributed to the modern celebrations of Saint Nicholas’ Day and Christmas.
Woden – It has been pointed out that Woden is a god of poetry and wisdom. He is also the god who brought and introduced runes, the writing system. This is seen in the Dutch traditions of singing songs, writing poems and the passing out of pepernoten which are chocolate letters, what used to be runes that Woden would pass out to men. Even Sinterklaas’ hat and staff are a reflection of Woden and not just that of Saint Nicholas, a stern catholic bishop riding on his white horse. Though the horse too is a reflection of Woden’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir that he rides. Woden’s helpers are the ravens, Huginn and Muninn who report back to him of all of men’s deeds.
The connections of Sinterklaas traditions to Pagan Europe before its Christianization is fairly well known. And since then, there has been a further, continued mixing of Christian elements to a Pagan figure. Some of which haven’t always been completely smooth or “nice and tidy” changes. Nor has the image of Sinterklaas always been so benign.
Before the appearance of any companions for Sinterklaas, he would be the one to deliver gifts to good children or coal and switches to naughty children. At this point, he pretty much worked alone.
Sinterklaas wasn’t a very nice figure and one whom could also provide a lot of nightmares. With the influence of Christianity and wanting everything in absolutes of black and white, the imagery of Sinterklaas chaining the devil became prominent as the triumph of light over darkness. This is a theme very central to the Yule-tide celebrations for the turning of the year as the nights now begin to grow shorter and the days longer.
Medieval Times – Enslaving The Devil
During the Medieval Times of Europe, Saint Nicholas is sometimes shown as having tamed or chained the devil. This figure may or may not necessarily be black. For the Netherlands, there is no mention of any devil, servant or any sort of companion for Saint Nicholas between the 16th and up to the last half of the 19th centuries.
A long-standing theory then has suggested that Zwarte Piet and many of the similar characters found in Germanic Europe such as Krampus in Austria, Ruprecht in Germany, Père Fouettard and Housécker (Mr. Bogeyman has been offered translation of this name) in France and Luxembourg, and Schmutzli in Switzerland to name a few.
While all the others dark helpers of Sinterklaas are outright devils or dark, soot covered men, the image of Zwarte Piet is the only one who seems to have changed to become an outright black person. That when we get to the 19th and 20th century Netherlands, Piet has become a Moor and servant to Saint Nicholas who helps the old man out on his nightly rounds.
Zwarte Piet’s Arrival To Dutch Traditions
By the time Zwarte Piet is introduced to the mythos of Christmas as a companion of Sinterklass, there has been a change in the overall attitude of Sinterklaas’ nature and character. Before Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas was seen as something of a bogeyman. Was he bringing presents, coal, a beating with a switch or worse yet, carrying you away in his bag never to be seen again?
With the introduction of Zwarte Piet, some of the darker, more terrifying attributes of Sinterklaas were now part of Zwarte Piet’s character. This change owes a lot to the Christian dichotomy of Good and Evil with no in-betweens. While Zwarte Piet is introduced as Sinterklaas’ servant, it is still very much connected to the previously mentioned concept of chaining and enslaving the devil.
Unfortunately, with Zwarte Piet now getting all of these negative characteristics, many children became afraid of Zwarte Piet as he’s the one who now punishes and a bogeyman to be avoided. This again was changed around the 1950’s and 1960’s with Sinterklaas again becoming the sterner and dour of the two while Zwarte Piet becomes more of a benign figure passing out gifts and treats along with behaving in a clownish manner that children love.
Codifying A Legend
The earliest mention of Sinterklaas having a companion or servant is in 1850 when a school teacher, Jan Schenkman published the book: “Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht” (“Saint Nicholas and his Servant”). At first, this early servant is a page boy, a dark-skinned person wearing the clothing of the Moors. This book introduced the tradition of Sinterklaas arriving by steamboat from Spain. This version of Saint Nicholas has no mention to his Turkish connection in Myra.
In the first edition of Schenkman’s book, the servant is shown dressed in simple white clothing with red piping. Beginning with the second edition of the book in 1858, the servant’s page outfit becomes more colorful that is more typical of early Spanish fashions. Schenkman’s book stayed in print until 1950 and has shaped much of the Netherland traditions and celebrations of Saint Nicholas’ Day.
What’s In A Name?
The one thing to note is that in Schenkman’s book, Sinterklaas’ servant isn’t named. However, Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm had made reference to Sinterklaas’ companion being named Pieter-me-knecht in a note written to E.J. Potgieter in 1850. Alberdingk Thijm later wrote in 1884 remembering how as a child in 1828, he had gone to a Saint Nicholas celebration at the home of Dominico Arata, an Italian merchant living in Amsterdam. He recalled that during this time, Saint Nicholas had been accompanied by “Pieter me Knecht …, a frizzy haired Negro”, who, instead of a switch to punish children with, carried a large basket filled with presents.
The Dutch newspaper, De Tijd in 1859 took note of how Saint Nicholas was often seen in the company of “a Negro, who, under the name of Pieter, mijn knecht, is no less popular than the Holy Bishop himself.”
By 1891, the book Het Feest van Sinterklaas names Sinterklaas’ servant Pieter. Up until around 1920, there had been a number of books giving this servant varying names and even appearances.
By 1920, as the Dutch celebrations of Sinterklaas became more standardized, the name of this servant became Zwarte Piet. At first, he was portrayed as being dull-witted, clumsy and speaking broken-Dutch.
By 1968, another change came and instead of one Piet, there were numerous Pieten who all have different tasks and roles in helping Sinterklaas. Some of these other Pieten are: Hoofdpiet, Navigation Piet, Present-Wrapping Piet, Pepernoten Piet and so on. The antics of Piet have also taken on being more silly and clownish to entertain children.
This change with more than one Piet comes after World War II with the liberation of the Netherlands. Canadian soldiers helping to organize the Saint Nicholas celebration and distribute out presents, dressed up Zwarte Piet. As the numerous Zwarte Pieten moved through Amsterdam passing out their gifts, the idea of more than one Piet stuck and has continued.
A Saint’s Miracle and Dutch Slavery
Unfortunately, this is a fact of history and since the codification of Zwarte Piet to be seen as black and a servant of Saint Nicholas, somewhere along the lines it has clearly become confused. The Christian belief of Saint Nicholas chaining the devil has likely, subconsciously gotten confused with the actual slavery. In the 15th century, the name of Black Peter was an alternative name for the devil.
Contributing to this legend is a story from the Legenda Aurea as retold by Eelco Verwijs in 1863, one of the miraculous deeds performed by the Saint after his death is that of freeing a slave boy in the “Emperor of Babylon’s” court and returning him to his parents. In this story, there is no mention at all of the child’s skin color.
Another thing to be noted about the date of 1863, is that this is when the Dutch abolished slavery, though it would still take a little bit of time for the last slave to fully be free.
Later books found in the 20th century of both fiction and non-fiction began to appear wherein Zwarte Piet is mentioned as a former slave that had been freed by Saint Nicholas and then stays on to become a friend and companion, helping him out in the Saint’s annual visits to the children.
During the 1500’s to 1850 roughly, the Dutch did engage in slavery that helped to build up their empire over three continents and places like Suriname and Indonesia. It’s surprising to see that for a nation that had such a deep investment with slavery, that it is largely still glossed over in the classrooms for history. While the Dutch did not keep many slaves, the West India Trade Company did transport thousands of slaves to other parts of the world.
Other Takes On Zwarte Piet
High Barbary – Piracy – One take on explaining Zwarte Piet as black is that he’s a Moor from Spain. A few stories of Zwarte Piet’s origins connect him with piracy and the raids that the Moors would conduct along the coasts of Europe. So if Piet isn’t wearing a page’s outfit, he’s dressed as either a Moor or in a pirate’s garb. Hence the gold earrings that Piet used to wear.
Chimney Sweep – In the 1950’s, another explanation often given to try and soften the image of Zwarte Piet and resolve the issue of slavery is that Zwarte Piet is a chimney sweep. So Piet’s skin is black from going down the chimneys delivering gifts to children. In places like Belgium, Zwarte Piet will leave the gifts in children’s shoes much like La Befana leaves gifts in the shoes of Italian children.
This explanation of soot often isn’t accepted as people will point out that Piet still has curly or frizzy black hair, red lips and more importantly, that his clothes are still immaculately clean.
Crime & Punishment
Before being a gift giver of Sinterklass, Zwarte Piet would be the one to punish naughty children. Some of the punishments he would dole out are:
*The least of a child’s worries is receiving a lump of coal as a reminder to be good.
*Some bad children will get a “roe” – which is a bundle of twigs or switches.
*If a child was really naughty, he or she might be hit with that roe or switch.
*Particularly bad children get carried away back to Spain where Sinterklaas lives. This part of the legend and punishment is a reference to the times when the Moors raided along the European coasts and would abduct people into slavery.
Also, depending on the version of this part of the myth being told, the bad children carried away in the sack either become Pieten themselves or get eaten.
Signs & Changes Of The Times
Of course, once the image of Zwarte Piet became standardized, it took off in the Netherlands in the early 20th century and instead of doling out punishments, Zwarte Piet hands out treats from his bag and continues his role as Sinterklaas’ helper.
Towards the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st century, the character of Zwarte Piet has come under attack as many people see the character to be very racist in some very negative portrayals of stereotypes. At current there has been discussions on how to update the image of Piet to try and remove the racist elements to others out right calling for Piet’s being banned from the Saint Nicholas celebrations.
There have been efforts to try and ease this problem, some like the NPS replacing the black Pieten with a rainbow of Pieten. Others have called for alterations to characteristics of Zwarte Piet to be changed such as the frizzy hair, red lips and no earrings. Other proposed changes put forth by the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism have been to stop the portrayals of Zwarte Piet as being “stupid, inferior or a dangerous black man.” Even the use of blackface makeup with Zwarte Piet has caused a lot of debate. If Piet is supposed to be black from the soot while going down chimneys, he should only look smudged, not totally black. And certainly other countries such as the US and the UK when first encountering Zwarte Piet see a very strong negative connotation with the use of blackface when portraying a black person.
There are many Dutch and those who celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in places such as Aruba, Curaçao, Indonesia, Sint Maarten, and Suriname who do not see a problem with Zwarte Piet and accept an evolution of a character to become a friend of children and a positive representation of color in the Christmas/Winter traditions. To them, he’s just black, but not necessarily of African descent and is more of a fairy tale type figure who delivers gifts and has become removed from the enslaved devil he once was.
The argument then is trying to get an awareness that how Zwarte Piet has been depicted is a caricature and very much so negative stereotypes of black people. Namely with the afro hair, thick red lips and being shown as too buffoonish.
While there are efforts to try and make changes to how Zwarte Piet is depicted, there are still protests and demonstrations against Zwarte Piet. The protesters cite the racism in Zwarte Piet’s depictions as being a very lazy, clownish black stereotype that in other settings and countries, would be very offensive. Articles have recounted examples of children from African decent being bullied. Adults and children alike of African descent who get called Zwarte Piet and any possible unspoken and underlying implications of what’s being referred to with the comment of slaves, someone who is foolish, stupid, lazy or dangerous, who’s only purpose is to be there for someone else’s entertainment.
And as has been noted in comments and articles while reading up on Zwarte Piet, it hasn’t been until the last couple of generations that there as more and more immigrants and people of other ethnic groups moving to the Netherlands that, the Dutch mindset of what is appropriate and what’s seen as racist is currently being challenged by outsiders.
Cultural & Historical Disconnect
It has been commented on by one journalist, Dimitri Tokmetzis, “”I don’t think the Dutch want to offend black people with Zwarte Piet. We don’t have a history with blackface, on the other hand, there are clearly some racist undertones that many people won’t recognize. Zwarte Piet is always depicted as stupid and one song even states that although Zwarte Piet is black, you can basically trust him because he means well. So there is this disconnect between the intentions of most people and how it comes across to those who are more sensitive to racial issues.”
Which would be the heart of it, a disconnect and denial by some who don’t see or fail to see the racist implications in the figure of Zwarte Piet as he is currently represented. Other commentary has pointed out a lack of the Netherlands own sensitivity to their colonial history and the impact it has had. Not surprising when others have pointed that in history books in school, the subject barely gets covered or glossed over.
The flip side to why many Dutch may have a hard time accepting the racist elements is that Zwarte Piet is so closely tied to a children’s celebration and it feels so much like an attack on childhood memories and nostalgia. It can be very difficult to have an ugly truth of what was once thought socially acceptable be pointed out as no it’s not.
Movie Time! – Santa & Pete
I was delighted one year when visiting an Aunt of mine during the holidays, that when searching for a Christmas movie to watch, we came across the movie of Santa & Pete with James Earl Jones staring as the Grandfather and narrator of the story as he tells his grandson of their family history.
I had already come across the figure of Zwarte Piet when reading the book of “When Santa was a Shaman.” I had been worried this would show some of the more negative associations and connotations with Piet. To my relief, the movie shows a very positive portrayal of the character and showing both Santa and Pete as friends and equals in their work to visit the children at Christmas and passing out gifts.
Which is what I see, if the more positive aspects of Zwarte Piet can get focused on, as a friend to children and gift giver, we have a positive representation of someone of color within the overall Christmas mythos and celebrations.
As it stands, when reading the various articles and controversies regarding Zwarte Piet, there are still a lot of the more negative associations attached to him and no one is quite sure how to make the appropriate changes to the character in order to keep him while others are calling for his complete banning and removal from Dutch traditions.
Pleiades Star Lore Around The World Continued
In Babylonian mythology and astronomy, the Pleiades are called MUL.MUL or “star of stars” in their star catalogues. The Pleiades are at the top of a list of stars along the ecliptic and close to the time of the Vernal Equinox around the time of the 23rd century B.C.E. A group of deities known as Zappu also represent the Pleiades star cluster.
Middle Eastern Mythology
Arabic – The Pleiades are known as al-Thurayya, they are mentioned in Islamic literature. The star, Aldebaran, meaning “the Follower” which is part of the Taurus constellation is seen as forever chasing al-Thurayya across the night sky.
Iran – In the Persian language, the Pleiades are known as Parvin. The name Parvin is also a very popular given name in Iran and neighboring countries.
Islam – Some Islamic scholars have thought that al-Thurayya might be the star mentioned in the sura Najm in the Quran. Muhammad is said to have counted 12 stars within the star cluster as found in Ibn Ishaq. This was in a time before telescopes and most people could only see six stars. The name al-Thurayya has been used as a female given name in Persian and Turkish culture. As seen in names such as Princess Soraya or in Iran and Thoraya as Obaid.
Judeo-Christian – In the Bible, the Pleiades are identified as being Kimah, meaning “cluster,” which is mentioned three times in relation to the constellation of Orion. Specifically in Amos 5:8; Job 9:9; and Job 38:31. In the New Testament, there is an indirect reference to this asterism found in Revelations 1:16.
The Talmud says that the Pleiades has about 100 stars. This is with the understanding that the word כימה as כמא (Kimah and pronounced as: ke’ me-ah) means just that, “about one hundred” in the Hebrew language.
The Talmud Rosh Hashanah tells that when God became with mankind’s wickedness, he went and remade Kimah, removing two of its stars and caused that this star cluster would rise with the dawn and out of season. This event is what precipitated and causes the Biblical Flood of Noah.
Pakistan – Much like Iran, the name Parvin is also a popular given name, especially for women. In recent decades the name hasn’t had as much use. In the Urdu language, the name Parvin and the stars it represents is a symbol of beauty.
Persian – The Pleiades are known as Nahid. Another name for the Pleiades that is shared by the Persiand and Urdu languages is Parvin, Parveen or Parween. It is a genderless or unisex given or family name used not just the Middle East, but Central Asia, South Asia and Azerbaijan. The name Parvin means star and is the name for the Pleiades asterism.
Native American Mythology
Several tribes have stories regarding the Pleiades star cluster.
Blackfoot – The Lost Boys – This is a story in which the Pleiades are a group of orphaned boys not taken care of by anyone, so they ended up becoming stars. Sun Man was angered by the boys’ neglect, so he punished the people with a drought, causing the buffalo to leave. The wolves, the only friends the boys had ever had, intervened for the people to have the buffalo return. Sadden by their lives on earth, the boys asked the Sun Man to allow them to play up in the heavens where they became the Pleiades. In addition, to remind the tribe of their neglect of the children, they hear the howling of the wolves calling for the friends up in the heavens.
The story represents more the time of the year and season in which the Blackfoot gather to hunt the buffalo. The buffalo herds don’t appear while the Lost Boys or Pleiades asterism is in the sky and this marks when the hunters would set out to their hunting grounds.
Another name for the Pleiades star cluster in Blackfoot legends is the Bunched stars. Instead of being orphans, the boys’ family were so poor that they couldn’t afford buffalo robes worn by other boys in the tribe. Out of grief and shame, the six boys went up into the sky to become stars.
Cheyenne – A Cheyenne legend, “The Girl Who Married a Dog,” tells how the Pleiades stars represent puppies that a Cheyenne chief’s daughter gave birth to after being visited by a dog in human form. The daughter had fallen in love with the dog-being and vowed that: “Where you go, I go.”
Cherokee – Both the Cherokee and Onondaga tribes tell a similar story about a group of seven boys who refused to any of their sacred responsibilities and only wanted to play. They ran around and ‘round the village’s ceremonial circle until all seven of the boys rose up into the sky. Only six of the boys reached the heavens where they became the Pleiades star cluster. The seventh boy was caught by his mother and pulled back to the earth so hard that he sunk into the ground, becoming a pine tree.
Crow – The Crow military societies have many songs that use a play on words referencing the Pleiades constellation. Many of the words are often difficult to translate and the stories range from stories of bravery and high ideals to many amusing or comical stories.
Hopi – The Hopi built many underground places called kivas that would get used for a variety of purposes. The most important of these kivas that was used for ceremonial meetings could only be accessed through a ladder in a small hole at the roof. During some ceremonies, the appearance of the Pleiades or Tsöösöqam, over the opening hole marked when to begin the ceremony. The Pleiades have been found shown on one wall in a kiva.
Inuit – Nanook, the Inuit Bear God was identified with the Pleiades. In the early days, a great bear threatened all of the people. This bear was chased up into the heavens by a pack of dogs where they continue to chase after the bear in the form of the Pleiades.
Kiowa – There is a legend told about how seven maidens were being chased by giant bears. The Great Spirit created Mateo Tepe, the Devil’s Tower and placed the maidens up on it. Still the bears pursued the maidens, clawing at the sides of the sheer cliffs. Such claw marks are said to be the vertical striations of the rock formation. Seeing that the bears were relentless in pursuit of the maidens, the Great Spirit placed the seven maidens up into the sky to become the Pleiades.
Lakota – There is a legend that links the origin of the Pleiades with Devils Tower. This constellation is known as Cmaamc, an archaic plural form of the noun cmaam, meaning “woman.” The stars are seven women who are giving birth.
Additionally, the Lakota hold a similar legend to the Kiowa about Mato Tipila, “Bear Tower” or Devil’s Tower to European settlers. A tribe was camped beside a river and seven of their young girls were playing nearby. The area at this time had a number of bears living there and a bear began chasing the girls. The girls started running back to the village. Just as the bear was about to catch them, the girl leaped up onto a rock. They cried out: “Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us.” The rock heard their cries and began to rise up high out of the bear’s reach. The bear clawed at the sides of the rock, its claws breaking off. The bear kept jumping at the rock until it rose higher and higher to the point that the girls reached the sky where they became the Pleiades. The claw marks of the bear can still be seen on Mato Tipila or Devil’s Tower.
Mono – The Monache tell a story how the Pleiades are six women who loved onions more than their husbands. They were thrown out of their homes by their angry husbands and found their way up to the heavens. When the husband grew lonely and tried to find their wives, it was too late.
Navajo – The Navjo story of The Flint Boys, after the Earth had been separated from the Sky by the Black Sky God, he had a cluster of stars on his ankle. These stars were the Flint Boys. During the Black God’s first dance, with each stamp of his foot, the Flint Boys would jump up further on his body. First to the knee, then the hip, to his shoulder and finally up to his forehead. There they remained as a sign that the Black God was Lord of the Sky. The seven stars of the Pleiades or Flint Boys are shown on ceremonial masks for the Black God, sand paintings and ceremonial gourd rattles.
Nez Perce – They have a myth about Pleiades that parallels the ancient Greek myth and the Lost Pleiades. In this myth, the Pleiades are a group of sisters and one of the sisters falls in love with a man. When he died, she was so grief stricken, that she finally told her sisters about him. The other sisters mocked her, telling her how foolish she is to mourn the death of a human. This sister continued to grow in her sorrow, to the point she became ashamed of her own feelings that she pulled a veil over herself, blocking herself from view in the night sky. The Nez Perce use this myth to explain why only six of the seven stars is visible to the naked eye.
Onondaga – Their version of the story surrounding Pleiades has it the stars represented lazy children who wanted to dance instead of doing their chores. All the while as they ignored the warnings of the Bright Shining Old Man. Eventually, light headed and dizzy from hunger, the children rose up into the heavens to become the Pleiades.
Pawnee – Among the Skidi Pawnee, the Pleiades are seen as seven brothers. They observed this star cluster along with the Corona Borealis, the Chiefs through a smoke hole in Pawnee lodges in order to keep track of the time of night.
Shasta – In their stories, the Pleiades are the children of Raccoon who are killed by Coyote while avenging their father’s death. After death, they rose up to become the Pleiades star cluster. The smallest star in the asterism is seen as Coyote’s youngest child who helped Raccoon’s children.
Zuni – They used the Pleiades as an agricultural calendar. Among the Zuni, the Pleiades were known as the “Seed Stars.” When the Pleiades disappeared on the western horizon during spring, it was time for planting seeds as the danger of frost had pass. The Zuni also knew to finish all of their planting and harvesting before the Pleiades returned on the eastern horizon with the return of colder autumn weather and frost.
New Age, Western Astrology & Occult Connections
Astrology – In Western astrology, the Pleiades have come to represent coping with sorrow. In Medieval times, they were viewed as a single set of fixed stars and associated with fennel and quartz. In esoteric astrology, there are seven solar systems that revolve around Pleiades.
New Age – There’s a belief that the Sun and the Earth will pass through a Photon belft from the Pleiades star cluster. This will cause a cataclysm or a time of spiritual transition that is referred to as a “shift in consciousness,” the “Great Shift” and “Shift of the Ages.”
Occult – The Pleiades are mentioned as an astrological sign in “Three Books of Occult Philosophy” by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. It has a publication date of 1533, but may have appeared earlier in 1510.
Theosophy – It is believed that the seven stars of the Pleiades act as a focus for the spiritual energy of the Seven Rays from the Galactic Logos to the seven stars of the Great Bear, from there the star Sirius, on to the Sun and then to the god of the Earth, Sanat Kumara and finally that energy goes through the seven Masters of the Seven Rays to everyone else.
Ufology – Some people have described a race of Nordic aliens known as Pleiadeans who come from the Pleiades star cluster. A man by the name of Billy Meier claims to have had contact with and met these aliens.
The Pleiades were seen as the goddess Freyja’s hens. Their name in many older European languages refer to this star cluster as a hen with chicks.
The name of Hen and Chicks for Pleiades is found in Old English, Old German, Czech, Hungarian and Russian.
The Pleiades are known by various names such as Moropóro, Molopólo or Mapúlon. Christian Filipinos know this star cluster as Supot ni Hudas (Judas’ pouch) or Rosaryo (Rosary).
Hawaiian – The Pleiades are known as Makali’i. It’s rise shortly after sunset marks the beginning of the Hawaiian New Year known as Makahiki. This is four month period of peace honoring the god Lono. The Hawaiian New Year’s celebration is similar to the Maori New Year’s observances.
Maori – Among the Maori of New Zealand, the Pleiades are known as Matariki, “eyes of god” or Mata rikie, “Little Eyes”, she is a goddess who is accompanied by her six daughters: Tupu-a-Nuku, Tupu-a-Rangi, Wai-Tii, Wai-Ta, Wai-puna-Rangi, and Uru-Rangi.
From June 20 to June 22, known as Maruaroa o Takurua, marks the middle of winter. This time period comes right after the rise of the Pleiades or Matariki and is the beginning of the New Year. Tradition holds that the Sun starts his northward journey with his winter-bride Takurua, represented by the star Sirius and will make his southward journey later with his summer-bride, Hineraumati.
Another story involving Matariki, tells that one day Ranginui, the sky father and Papatūānuku, the earth mother were separated by their children. The wind god Tāwhirimātea ripped out his eyes in rage and flung them up into the heavens where they became a star cluster.
Polynesian – According to Polynesian legends, the Pleiades were once one star and had been the brightest in the night sky. The god Tane hated this star so much as it had boasted of its own beauty. The legend goes on to say that Tane proceeded to smash this star into pieces, creating the Pleiades star cluster.
The Pleiades in Rome are called The Bunch of Grapes and The Spring Virgins. Another name for these stars is Vergiliae as this asterism begins to rise after Spring and considered a sign of Summer before setting later in the Winter months. In modern day Italy, the Pleiades began rising around the beginning of May and would set around the beginning of November.
South American Mythology
Andes – Among the people of the Andes Mountains, the Pleiades were associated with abundance as this star cluster was seen as returning every year during the harvest season. Among the Quechua, the Pleiades are known as collca’ meaning storehouse.
Inca – The Pleiades were called the “Seed Scatter” or “Sower.” Another name for the Pleiades are the “Little Mothers.” The Incas held festivals when this asterism appeared in the night sky.
Paraguay – The Abipones tribe worshipped the Pleiades, believing them to be their ancestors.
Peru – The season of Verano, roughly meaning summer or Dry Season. There is a ritual coinciding with the Pleiades during the Summer Solstice. A Peruvian cosmological chart from 1613 C.E. appears to show the Pleiades asterism. An Incan nobleman, Pachacuti Yamqui drew the chart in order to show objects depicted in the Cusco temple. He added Spanish and Quechua notations to his chart.
The Pleiades are known as Dao Luk Kai in Thailand. The name translates to the “Chicken Family Stars” in English, it is name that comes from Thai folklore.
An elderly couple living in a forest of Thailand were raising a family of chickens; a mother hen and her six chicks. One day, a monk arrived at the couple’s home during his Dhutanga journey. Fearful of not having anything good enough to offer for a meal, the couple considered cooking the mother hen. The mother hen overheard the couple’s conversation, hurried back to the coup to say goodbye to her chicks. The mother hen told her chicks that they would need to take care of themselves from now on. After that, the mother hen returned to the elderly couple so they could prepare their meal for the monk.
When the mother hen was killed, her chicks threw themselves into the fire to die alongside her. The god, Indra was impressed by their great love and in remembrance, raised the chickens up into the heavens as stars.
Depending on the version of the story being told, if only six chicks are mentioned, then the mother is included as being among the stars of Pleiades. Otherwise, it is usually seven chicks who make up the stars in Pleiades.
In Turkey, the Pleiades are known as Ãlker or Ülker. According to legends, mankind was suffering a lot of suffering and evil. The creator god, Tangri Ulgen met with the Sky Spirits of the West, the Ãlker. A decision was reached and they sent an eagle, the first Shaman down to the earth to ease these afflictions and problems. The nomadic tribes of Turkey see the Pleiades as a source of both solace and the area of the heavens where the gods reside.
Kaşgarlı Mahmud. An 11th century lexicographer, the term ülker çerig refers to a military ambush. Where the word cerig means: “troops in battle formation.” The term ülker çerig has been used as a simile for the Pleiades asterism.
There are a few different names that the Pleiades are known as in traditional Ukrainian folklore. Some of these names are Stozhary, which can be traced etymologically to the word stozharnya, meaning “granary,” “storehouse for hay and crops” or it can be reduced to it’s meaning of sto-zhar, meaning “hundredfold glowing.” Other names for the Pleiades are Volosozhary and Baby-Zvizdy.
With the names Volosozhary, which means “the ones whose hair is glowing” and ‘Baby-Zvizdy which means “female-stars,” the Pleiades star clusters refers to a group of female tribal deities. In Ukrainian legend, long ago, there lived seven maids who danced their traditional dances and sing songs to honor the gods. After their death, the gods turned the seven maids into water nymphs and took them up into the Heavens where they became the now familiar star cluster. The symbol of this star cluster was used as a women’s talisman.
Also known as: Befana, Befanta
Etymology – Epifania or Epiphania – the Italian name for the religious holiday of Epiphany. It is thought by some that Befana’s name comes from the Italian mispronunciation of the Greek word “epifania” or “epiphaenia” which means “appearance” or “surface” and “manifestation.” It certainly is the source for the English word epiphany. Another line of thought is that the name Befana comes from the word Bastrina which refer to gifts given by the Sabine goddess Strina.
Perhaps I’m a bit early in posting for La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch or Fairy. However with the holiday season, I find it easier to get her in now before January 6th arrives.
For children in Italy, Befana plays a role very similar to Santa Claus, however instead of a sleigh pulled by reindeer, she flies around on a broom, delivering her gifts of candy to good children in the first week of January. Italian children are very lucky, they not only get visited by Befana; they still get visited by Babbo Natale; both of whom bring presents and gifts.
La Befana is described as an old woman wearing a black shawl while riding a broomstick and carrying a bag of gifts. Sometimes Befana is said to ride either a goat or a donkey.
Like her counterpart of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, La Befana is also known for coming down the chimney to bring her gifts to children. Presents and candy for those children who have been good and coal for those who have been bad. In more modern times, the coal is actually a piece of black rock candy. Befana’s being dressed in black explains her being covered in soot from going down chimneys, which she will sweep up after she’s done with her visit and leaving gifts.
Where Santa will receive plates of cookies and a glass of milk as a treat or offering left out for him; Italian children will prepare and leave out a plate of soft ricotta cheese for La Befana as she no longer has any good teeth left. Other foods such as a glass of wine or broccoli may be left too.
Another aspect that Santa Claus and Befana share in common is that children will write letters to them, requesting a special need or want. Some cities in Italy will set up a mailbox for letters to La Befana in the same manner that Post Offices such as in the U.S. will have mailboxes set up for Santa. Some children will hide their notes or letters to Befana in their chimney for her to find.
La Befana also doesn’t like to be seen and will smack any child caught spying on her with her broomstick. Obviously this part of the story seems a way of parents keeping children in bed while gifts are left out.
The Basic Story And Legend
There are a few different versions to the legend and story behind La Befana.
On the second hill in Via della Padella, there is a village where La Befana lives. In this story, she is said to be part fairy and part witch. La Befana spends the entire year in the company of her grotesque assistants known as the Befanucci preparing coal, making candy and toys and mending old stockings which are given out during the nights of January 5th and 6th, which is said to be the longest night of the year.
The second story is a Christianized version and probably one of the more familiar ones.
When the three wise men were on their journey to visit the young Christ, they stopped at the home of an old woman with a broom who asked them where they were going. They told her that were following a star that would lead them to the newborn baby and savior Jesus.
The wise men asked the old woman if she wanted to come with them, but she replied that she was far too busy cleaning and didn’t have time to go.
Later when the old woman, La Befana had either finished her cleaning, changed her mind about going or realized that the baby whom the wise men spoke of was the prophesied redeemer, it was too late. She was too late in coming to visit the Christ child, he had already left. Other versions of this story have La Befana getting lost on the way.
Ever since then, La Befana has been searching for the baby Christ and leaving gifts in the homes where children live in hopes that one of them is the young Christ. In some retellings, Befana has come to see and realize over her many years of searching, that in a way, the Christ Child can be found in all children and this is why she will leave her gifts.
Slight variations to this story have Befana running as fast as she could to catch up with the Wise Men that she began to fly on her broom she was still holding onto.
Another variation to the flying broom is that angels appeared, coming from the bright star in the sky and enchanted Befan’s broom so she could search more easily for the Baby Jesus.
Zoroastrian Connection – With this idea mind, the Magi, Kings in their own right, were fire priests from a privileged caste in Persia. The gifts the Magi carry in the biblical story, represent thre worlds: earthly gold, celestial incense and myrrh from beyond the grave. These three elements were linked to the sacred fires of Vedica, India and Avestica, Persia. There may be a connection between them, their gifts and La Befana with them all arriving on January 6th, the Epiphany.
In a story similar to that involving the wise men, this story too has Christian connections.
With this story, La Befana was a mother who lived during the time of King Herod. When Herod made his decree that all the first born male children and male children born that year were to be killed in his efforts to try and prevent the new king, La Befana’s son was among many of those slain by Herod’s soldiers.
So traumatized by grief with the loss of her son and in deep denial to his death, La Befana became convinced that her son was merely lost. She placed all of her son’s belongings in a sack and went out searching for him, going from house to house. The stress from worry, caused La Befana to quickly age, becoming an old woman.
With what seemed liked forever for the grief stricken mother, yet only a few days, La Befana found a male baby in a manager. Certain that she had found her son, La Befana laid out all of her son’s belongings for the infant. The baby in question was Jesus Christ and he blessed the lady as “Befana,” the giver of gifts.
Every year since, on January 5th, the eve of the Epiphany, La Befana would be Mother to all of the world’s children and care for them by bringing gifts of treats, toys and clothing. While some families will leave out a plate of soft ricotta cheese for her, other families will have a plate with broccoli and spice sausage along with a small glass of wine for La Befana.
In this story, La Befana is benevolent and kindly old Witch who saw the emptiness that children suffered during the long, dark nights of winter. Because of her great love and affection for all innocents, La Befana wanted the children to know that even in the darkness of winter, that kindness and hope could still be found.
Starting with the eve of Yule, typically around December 21st, La Befana would, in secret go from door to door, leaving a basket of gifts. Inside each basket would be bread, cheese, sweets and gifts for the children. A final gift, more important and precious than the others was a colored, scented candle; a Solstice candle. Families would light this candle on the night of the Solstice, the flame of this candle both symbolized and brought the light of hope for the coming year. It is a reminder that even in the darkest cold of winter, the light and warmer days of summer would come again.
Epiphany – Little Christmas
January 6th marks the final day of the holiday season in Italy. This is the day that La Befana arrives, bringing gifts and treats for children, marking the end of the Yule Season. Epiphany or Twelfth Night is also when the 12 Wise Men are said to have finally visited the baby Jesus, bringing with them their gifts.
As Little Christmas, the Epiphany is traditionally a holiday for children in Italy. In the region of Abruzzo and other Southern areas, one festivity that children celebrate is called Pasquetta and commemorates the arrival of the Magi to Bethlehem when visiting the infant Jesus. There are parades held that feature La Befana. She is sometimes accompanied by her male companion, Befano. Children will sing songs to La Befana and leave out dolls in windows. Some families will burn the dolls as a means ending the past year and bring good luck for the coming year. Family and friends will from house to house visiting each other after opening their gifts from La Befana in the morning. Firework displays are also part of many modern Epiphany celebrations. Her arrival is also celebrated with traditional foods such as panettone, a Christmas cake.
The celebration of Befana during Epiphany is huge in Italy where she has become a national icon. In the areas of Marche, Umbria and Lazio, Befana is associated with the Papal States where Epiphany has the strongest presence. Befana’s home is thought to be Umbria.
The stories and traditions of La Befana are older than those of Babbo Natale; Santo Natale, the Italian names for Father Christmas or Santa Claus. She can be found going back centuries with some speculation that La Befana may be the goddess Hecate. Historically, La Befana first appears in writing in a poem written by Agnolo Firenzuola in 1549.
La Befana’s festival has taken over an ancient pagan feast celebrated on the Magic Night, the 6th day of the New Year. One aspect of the Epiphany celebrations as part of an ancient holiday for celebrating the New Year, is a time for purification. This is seen in Befana’s carrying a broom that she uses to sweep around the fireplaces of those whom she visits as a mean of clearing away the old, negative energies of the previous year and cleansing it for the coming New Year.
Other rites used for purification were burning effigy dolls of Befana to symbolize the death of the old year and the birth of the New Year. The end of the long winter nights and the return of the longer days of spring and summer. The coal Befana is known for leaving for naughty children has connections to sacred bonfires and is a symbol of fertility with the renewal of the earth at spring. The sacred bonfires are also seen in the ceppo or yule logs burned at this time of the year. The ashes from the burned yule log would be kept and sprinkled out in the fields for good luck and to ensure a healthy crop.
Sometimes the Ceppo is a pyramid made of wood, a tiered tree believed to have started in the Tuscan region of Italy. This tree would have three to five shelves and the frame decorated. On the bottom shelf is the family’s Nativity scene and the remaining shelves would hold greenery, fruit, nuts and present. The Nativity or Presepio represents the gift of God. The fruit and nuts represent the gifts of the Earth and the presents the gift of man. The top of the tree would have an Angel, star or a pineapple that represents hospitality. Sometimes candles are attached to the outside of each shelf, which is why the ceppo is also called the “Tree of Light.”
In Abruzzo, on the morning of Janurary 6th, sacristans would go from house to house leaving what is known as “Bboffe water.” This water was used for devotions or sprinkled around the house ward off and keep away negative energy or magic.
In the region of Romagna, the celebration of Epiphany was a time for connecting with their ancestors, which would help to ensure a successful crop and fertility for the coming year. This connection is seen in the Befanotti who represented the ancestors going from house to house singing Pasquella and in Befana coming down the chimneys to leave a gift.
The Italian anthropologists Claudia and Luigi Manciocco make a connection of Befana’s origins back to Neolithic times, beliefs and practices. They make a further connection of Befana having evolved into a Fertility and Agricultural goddess in their book “Una Casa Senza Porte” (“House without a Door”).
Ancient Sabine Goddess – Strenua
La Befana is thought to be connected to the Sabine/Roman goddess known as Strenua or Strina who was a goddess of strength and endurance. This connection has been made mention in the book “Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily” by Reverend John J. Blunt. Strenua presided over the New Year, Purifications and Well-Being. She would give gifts of figs, dates and honey. Strenua’s festivities were opposed by early Christians who viewed them as too noisy, riotous and licentious.
On January 1st, twigs were carried from Strenua’s grove, likely located in or near Via Sacra where she had a temple, in a procession to the citadel. This particular rite is first mentioned happening on New Year’s Day in 153 B.C.E. This is the year when the consuls first began assuming their office at the beginning of the year. With the switch and change over from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendars, it’s not clear if January 1st had always been the date that Strenua’s New Year celebration had been observed or if it had been held on the original New Year’s Day, a date sometimes thought in this case to have been March 1st.
The name Strenia is thought to be the origin for the word strenae, which were New-Year’s gifts that the Romans exchanged to promote good omens. Various strenae have been branches or twigs and money. Another name for these gifts is Bastrina and it is thought to have given their name to La Befana.
According to a Johannes Lydus, strenae is a Sabine word meaning “wellbeing” or “welfare”. It is unknown how accurate this may be as many words attributed to the Sabines are only singular, one word or there and no surviving scripts or inscriptions have been found. Saint Augustine says that Strenia was a goddess responsible for making a person vigorous or strong. And if you haven’t guessed it, the root for the word strenuous.
There seems to be a lot of strong agreement that Strenua rites and celebrations survive in the festivities surrounding La Befana.
Other Mythological Figures Possibly Connected To Befana
Giubiana – An old woman or crone and festival of the same name held in the Northern Italy region of Lombardy. An effigy of Giubiana and sometimes her male counterpart and spouse, Ginée who is the personification of January. An effigy of Giubiana is burned to ashes to symbolize the burning away of the old year and the end of winter.
Nicevenn – La Befana has been connected to the Scottish figure of Nicevenn as a source of inspiration for her legend and traditions. With Nicevenn or Gyre-Carling as she was also known, it was considered unlucky to leave any unfinished knitting lying around lest she steal it.
Perchta – A southern Germanic goddess from the Alpine countries. She is sometimes identified with the Germanic goddess Holda. Both goddesses are known as a “guardian of the beasts” and making an appearance during the Twelve Days of Christmas; overseeing spinning. Perchta is a goddess who went from being benevolent to more malevolent with the passage of time and rise of Christianity. At one time during the Yule Season and Epiphany, Perchta will leave a silver coin for those who have been good and she reportedly will slit open the bellies of who haven’t and stuff them with straw and pepples. Thankfully, Perchta has become more tempered again and will leave coal instead if someone’s been bad.
Befana Poems And Songs
There a number of different songs sung about Befana with slightly different versions found in different regions of Italy.
The following is one version:
“La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!”
The English translation is as follows:
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!
A poem by Giovanni Pascoli:
“Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! la circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana”
The English translation is as follows:
“Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!”