Category Archives: Family
Etymology: Greek – “Lady” or from haireo – “chosen one”
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Ἥρᾱ, Hērā; Ἥρη, Hērē in Ionic and Homeric Greek
Epithets: Ἀλέξανδρος or Alexandros (“Protector of Men”), Hera Aigophágos, Αἰγοφάγος or Akraia (“She of the Heights”), Ἀμμωνία or Ammonia, Ἀργεία or Argéia (“She of Argos”), Argive Hera (“Hera Argeia”), Hera Antheia (“Hera of the Flowers”), Βασίλεια or Basíleia (“Queen”), βοῶπις or Boōpis (“Cow-Eyed” or “Cow-Faced), Βουναία or Bounáia (“She of the Mound” in Cornith), Hera Gamelia (“Hera of Marriage”), Hera Heniokhe (“Hera of the Chariot”), Hera Hyperkheireia (“Hera, Whose Hand is Above”), Hera Nympheuomene (“Hera the Betrothed”), Ἥρᾱ Παῖς or Hera Pais (“Child Hera” for her role as virgin), Ἥρᾱ Τελεία or Hera Teleia (“Adult Hera” as goddess of marriage), Ἥρᾱ Χήρη or Hera Chḗrē (“Widowed”), Λευκώλενος or Leukṓlenos (“White-Armed”), Παρθένος or Parthénos (“Virgin”), “Goat Eater,” “Queen of the Immortals,” “Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of the Gods,” “Queen of Olympus,” “Golden-Throned Hera,” “Bride of the Thunderer,” “The Supreme Goddess”
Not only is Hera the Queen of the Gods in Greek mythology, she is also the goddess of marriage, women, childbirth, and family. All roles that appear nigh impossible to preside over when one is married to Zeus, King of the Gods who goes about doing whatever he wants. It is easily understandable why some myths and stories will depict Hera constantly angry with Zeus, taking it out on his many “love affairs,” offspring, and even mortals who cross her path.
Animal: Cow, Crow, Cuckoo, Lion, Panther, Peacock
Patron of: Women
Plant: Lily, Lotus, Pomegranate
Sphere of Influence: Marriage, Childbirth, Family
Symbols: Peacock Feather, Diadem, Scepter, Throne, Veil
In some art, Hera is shown riding in a chariot pulled by peacocks. Hera is often shown with those animals sacred to her. As the Queen of the Gods, Hera is depicted as majestic and solemn, sitting on a throne wearing a polo (think a high cylindrical crown) or diadem with a veil hanging down behind her. Sometimes Hera is shown holding a pomegranate symbolizing marriage, fertility, and even death.
The most famous statue depicting Hera is the one carved by Polycletus. It is considered the noblest image and one that represents the ideal image of Hera as a mature woman with a beautiful forehead and large, wide-opened eyes. She is regarded as having a grave expression thought to command reverence.
In some instances, there is no imagery used for Hera to represent her, or she can be difficult to distinguish from other goddesses in Greek art. In Argos, Hera was represented as a pillar and on the island of Samos where Hera is said to have been born, she was represented by a plank of wood.
What’s In A Name
There are several possible etymological roots for Hera’s name. One given is the Greek word ὥρα or hora meaning “season,” or “year,” and likely meant to refer to being ripe for marriage. According to Plato, Hera’s name comes from ἐρατή or eratē for “beloved” as Zeus is supposed to have married her out of love. Yeah… we will get back to that myth later.
If we go by Plutarch, Hera’s name is an anagram of ἀήρ or aēr meaning “air.” That’s a little better.
Now we get into some suspect meanings that have been offered up. In Walter Burkert’s “Greek Religion,” he makes note of how scholars have argued for a meaning of Hera as the feminine of Heros meaning Master. Close on Burkett’s heels is John Chadwick who in deciphering the Linear B Greek script, says that Hera’s name may be related to the word ἥρως or hērōs and thus, the modern word of “hero.” It does get pointed out that this connection is too tenuous and obscure for any firm confirmation.
Then we have A. J. van Windekens who suggests the meaning of “young cow” or “heifer” for Hera as one of her epithets is βοῶπις or boōpis meaning “cow-eyed.”
Finally, we have R. S. P. Beekes who has put forward the idea of Hera being of Pre-Grecian origins. That her name may have meant “Lady” or “Mistress” That one makes sense too; we do have Hera’s name appearing in the Mycenaean Greek Linear B script and tablets found in Pylos and Thebes that seem to point to that meaning.
According to Herodotus, Hera is the only goddess not introduced to Greece from Egypt.
Like many deities and even words for that matter, the meanings and what they stand for change over time. On this hypothesis, however tentative, Hera goes from being an ancient earth goddess with vast power to a goddess of marriage ruling alongside Zeus with diminished influence.
We’re talking ancient ancient Mycenaean Greece of about 1500 B.C.E. to the ancient Greek and its city-states that many think of and are familiar with around 500 B.C.E. So, about a thousand years and a lot has happened. A lot has changed and even been lost.
Worship & First Temple
For all that Zeus tends to get top billing in Greek mythology and appears to be very prominent, after all, he is the King of the Gods! Archeological evidence shows that Hera may have been the first deity that the Greeks built and dedicated an enclosed, roofed temple. Said temple is found on the island of Samos and dates to around 800 B.C.E. It must be noted that this temple was later replaced by Heraion of Samos, being an even larger temple.
There is some archaeological confusion with dates as there have been many temples built on Samos. Rhoecus sculptors and architects destroyed the temple sometime between 570 to 560 B.C.E. and then replaced it with the Polycratean temple between 540 & 530 B.C.E. A lack of tiles suggests that the temple was never finished or that it was open to the sky. Other excavations at Samos have found votive offerings that date to the 7th and 8th centuries B.C.E.
There are “house sanctuaries” that date from the Mycenaean era. On mainland Greece, there is the “Argive Hera,” another sanctuary found between the Mycenaean cities of Argos and Mycenae. Festivals honoring Hera would be held there. There are two Doric temples dedicated to Hera that were constructed at Paestum around 550 B.C.E. to 450 B.C.E. One of these temples had long thought to be a Temple of Poseidon until the 1950’s when it was properly identified as belonging to Hera.
Further archaeological evidence shows that people would come from across the Mediterranean to make offerings at this site. These people likely came from Armenia, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt and Iran.
Argos – This city is held to be Hera’s favorite city. There is a sanctuary devoted to her in the Peloponnesus where she was worshipped as the city’s goddess and protector
Other Temples – Other temples dedicated to Hera are found at Mycene, Sparta, Paestum, Corinth, Tiryns, Perachora, and on the islands of Samos and Delos.
In book IV of the Iliad, Hera refers to Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae as “The three cities I love best.” Many of Hera’s temples and sanctuaries were located outside the city as she served as the city protector and for the privacy of various sacred cult observances.
The Temple of Hera – Located at Olympia, the seated figure of Hera is older than the warrior statue of Zeus that accompanies her.
Great Daedala – This sacred festival honoring Hera was celebrated every sixty years in Euboea. During this festival and ritual, wooden dolls would be dressed up as brides and then burned in a pyre. This festival reenacts a myth where Hera and Zeus had a fight before reconciling.
Heraia – This is a New Year’s Festival held every year to honor Hera. The Heraia held at Argos is known to have had a sacrificial procession where priestess of Hera rode in ox carts as young men carried the “Shield of Hera.” This culminated with a “hecatomb” where one hundred bulls were sacrificed. For this, the Argive Heraia was sometimes known as the “Hecatombaia.”
In the region of Kanathos, every spring there was a special rite where Hera would renew her virginity by bathing in the stream. The Heraia festivals were also celebrated at the cities of Corinth, Elis and Samos. Couples would re-enact the marriage of Hera and Zeus and every four years, there would be sporting competitions for women held in Hera’s honor.
Toneia – A festival held on the island of Samos, there would be a scavenger hunt where people searched for an image of Hera. When it was finally found, the statue would be washed and dressed in new clothes.
Parentage and Family
Ouranos (the Sky) and Gaia (the Earth)
Depending on the source, Hera can have a few different origins.
Cronus and Rhea – The often-recognized version of Hera’s parentage, especially when referencing Hesiod’s Theogony as the source.
Father – Aether (Arcadian origin)
Father – Coelus (Arcadian origin)
Father – Saturnus (Cretan origin)
Zeus – Also her brother, who becomes King of the Gods.
She is the third child born of Cronus and Rhea.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
Sidenote – Homer’s Iliad will have Hera stating she’s the oldest daughter of Cronus.
With Zeus, Hera is the mother of Angelos (Angelia) an Underworld goddess, Ares god of War, Arge a nymph, Eileithyia goddess of Childbirth, Eleutheria goddess of Liberty, Enyo goddess of War, Eris goddess of Discord, Hebe goddess of Youth, Hephaestus god of Fire and Forge
The Charites – Goddesses of beauty and grace. Usually given as being the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, or Dionysus and Coronis. The poet Colluthus places them as the daughters of Hera though no father is mentioned.
Pasithea – One of the Graces, the Greek writer Nonnus places her as a daughter of Hera. Sometimes Dionysus is given as her parent and there is uncertainty if both Hera and Dionysus are meant to be her parents together.
Prometheus – The Hellenistic poet Euphorion lists the giant Eurymedon who raped a young Hera as being the parents of this Titan. Though other sources place Iapetus and Clymene as Prometheus’ parents.
Typhon – A serpent monster whom Hera gives birth to parthenogenically.
Hera is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location for where the gods would preside at while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians vary. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
During the Hellenistic era of Greek history, Hera becomes associated with peacocks and has a chariot pulled by them. Peacocks were not part of any associations, symbols, or attributes until Alexander the Great’s conquests and expanding the Greek empire. The peacock is also interpreted as a symbol of pride.
Aristotle, Alexander’s tutor calls the peacock, the “Persian bird.” It is during the Renaissance era that the peacock imagery is more heavily used by painters to fully identify Hera with her Roman counterpart, Juno.
Before this, Hera’s chariot had been pulled by horses.
This bird has been associated with Hera the longest and before her associations with peacocks. It mainly comes from Zeus’ “wooing” Hera to get her to fall in love and marry him.
Yeah, I’ll cover that story more later down. So many of Zeus’ “affairs,” seducing, and “ravishing” women are too often a euphemism for rape.
One of Hera’s epitaphs is Boôpis meaning “cow-eyed.” On the island of Euboea, just off the coast of Greece, the region was known for having an abundance of cattle. Then in Cyprus, archaeologists have found several cattle skulls that have been used as masks. All of this has caused some to see a connection to the Egyptian goddess Hathor.
Queen of the Gods
Being married to Zeus does have some perks. With Zeus being the ruler of the Olympian gods, that places Hera as the Queen of the gods and keeping some of her prominence and influence. Though with much of the known Greek culture, they were a patriarchy, and unfortunately, we don’t often see the might and power of Hera in surviving myths except as being petty, cruel, and vindictive. In fairness, this aspect gets attributed to a lot of the Greek gods, so it says something for the level of cruelty and vindicativeness that Hera becomes known for.
Looking at the story of Jason & The Argonauts, we do see a time when Hera did hold a lot of influence, sending Jason on his quest and the favors she grants him there. An old Ray Harryhaussen movie for Jason and the Argonauts depicts Hera as begging Zeus to allow her to be the one to guide the heroes on their quest. After having watched the movie, I can’t help but feel that they should have stayed closer to the source material.
Ancient Earth Goddess
It is the scholar Walter Burkert who makes the claim that both Hera and Demeter have characteristics that link them to a Pre-Greek Great Goddess. Then we have the British scholar Charles Francis Keary suggest the idea of Hera as an Earth Goddess worshiped in ancient times. Keary further suggests this connection with Hera having been a Pelasgian goddess. This makes sense with Demeter given her connection to the Eleusinian mysteries and how it predates Grecian culture. Plus, it makes sense for Hera given how her temples are among some of the oldest in Greece, even dating to the Mycenaean era.
Some of the ancients viewed Hera as a personification of the atmosphere, the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess of the Stars, and as the Goddess of the Moon.
With Hera clearly being the Queen of the Olympian Pantheon and the ideas put out connecting her as an ancient earth goddess, do make sense. Those cultures that are more agriculturally inclined are more often going to be matriarchal versus those cultures that are more nomadic and thus have a stronger tendency to be more patriarchal and war-like fighting over land and territory.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen puts forward the idea that Hera was the goddess of a matriarchal culture; given her place in Greek religion and in the region before the rise of Hellenistic Greece that most think of as Ancient Greece.
It should be noted that the idea of a Great Mother Goddess among the ancient Greeks is seen as controversial even among modern scholars. But it’s worth taking note of when looking at various myths and why it is that so often, Hera comes across as jealous and petty towards Zeus and all his “affairs.”
Birth Of A Goddess
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Hera and all her siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a prophesy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour his children whole as soon as they are born. This happens five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetit, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Rhea takes and hides Zeus, so that later when he is older, he can come to fulfill the prophecy of killing his father Cronus. During the battle, Zeus splits open Cronos’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia.
There is a ten-year long war known as the Titanomachy, and by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Hera takes her place as Queen of the gods and the others take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
Raising Hera – Childhood
Going by the Homeric poems, the Titans, Ocean and Tethys raised Hera and that she never knew who her birth parents are. As such, Hera marries Zeus later without knowing of the connection between them as brother and sister.
Looking at other traditions around the Mediterranean, the Arcadians say that Hera was raised by Temenus, the son of Pelagus. The Argives say that Hera was raised by Euboea, Prosymna and Acraea, the daughters of the river Asterion, And then, looking at Olen, he says that the Horae were Hera’s nurses.
Plus, many places in Greece such as Argos and Samos claim to be the birthplace of Hera. This makes sense as Hera was also prominently worshiped in these two cities.
Goddess Of Marriage
As the goddess of marriage, Hera is the protector of married women. She would preside over weddings and their arrangements and bless the unions. On the surface, that seems great until you look at the Greek myths and what life was like for Grecian women. Here it’s a bit spotty as we don’t have good records to show, but the general idea and belief are that Grecian women held fewer rights than men in regard to voting, owning land or inheritance, and were relegated to the home, raising children. Plus, this could vary by the Greek city-state in question such as Sparta, women being held in higher regard. Or we just erroneously assume that’s how it is given the nature of the myths and stories that have survived.
The biggest one is that while Hera is married and presumably faithful, Zeus however, is not and is frequently depicted having a roaming eye, chasing after every woman that catches his interest. How much of this is the result of mythological hijackings and the subsuming of many local myths to bring them all under an all-encompassing myth to try and justify or show nearly every hero, mortal or certain gods being a descendant of Zeus or not, is hard to say. Especially thousands of years later.
It is also worth noting that for all the reputations that many of the other Olympian deities have with affairs and resultant offspring, Hera is the only goddess who doesn’t cheat on her spouse, managing to keep fidelity on her part in the marriage with Zeus. Though given the reputation for being petty, vindictive and jealous, this attribute of fidelity is overlooked or dismissed.
Marriage To Zeus
As stated above, Hera is married to Zeus who is also her brother. For gods and immortals, this works out. There just weren’t very many other options. For those who are mortal and human, Ewww…. Inbreeding. Don’t do it!
Depending on the source, for Zeus, Hera is his second wife. Zeus had to trick Hera into marrying him as she had refused the first proposal. Knowing that Hera holds an affinity for animals and other beings, Zeus first created a thunderstorm and then transformed into a cuckoo. Pretending to be hurt, the cuckoo fluttered on Hera’s window where she would spot the “poor thing.” Naturally, Hera picked up the bird and held it close to her to warm it up. It is at that moment that Zeus transforms back to his godly self and rapes Hera. Shamed by what happened, Hera agreed to marry Zeus.
As a goddess connected to nature, it is said that all the earth burst to life and greenery and blossoms for their wedding and many lavish gifts were given. The Greek writer Callimachus says their wedding feast lasted for three thousand years. Gaia brought the Apples of Hesperides as a wedding gift.
Given how this marriage came by duress, I just don’t see how it will be a lasting or happy marriage.
Some myths will try to say that Zeus feared Hera’s wrath. It just comes across as a poor excuse to defend Zeus’ promiscuous nature, even if it really is just the ancient mythographers trying to connect every local god, hero, and ruler as being related to him. The same mythographers also add that Hera held great jealousy towards all of Zeus’ “lovers” and any resulting children.
With how Zeus is said to be powerless to stop Hera’s wrath, these could be holdovers remnants of ancient stories where Hera is resisting Zeus and the arrival of patriarchy. Hera is always said to be aware of Zeus’ actions, if not constantly on the look out for his antics when he descends down to the earth.
Close on the heels of Hera’s role as the goddess of marriage, she was also known as a matron goddess or Hera Teleia, the “adult Hera.”
That is interesting, digging further into this, aside from the fragments of a practice for a sacred marriage with Zeus, we find at Platea there is a sculpture of Hera seated in her role as a bride and another statue of a matronly standing Hera.
We find in Stymphalia, Arcadia where Hera was worshiped at a triple shrine, first as Hera the Girl (Hera Pais), the Adult Woman (Hera Teleia), and the Separated (Chḗrē, Divorced or Widowed).
Near the region Argos in Hermione, there is a temple of Hera as Hera the Virgin. Every spring in the region of Kanathos, close to the city of Nauplia, there is a rite where Hera would renew her virginity.
So, What Went Wrong?
Most people who have any understanding of the Greek myths know Hera to be a jealous woman and vengeful against Zeus for his many “affairs” where she would often punish Zeus’ “lovers” and children rather than confront her husband outright.
Like any of the Greek gods, yeah, Hera could favor or punish mortals at a whim too. However, in Hera’s case, this something really pointed out and noted between her and Zeus.
Why? The evidence is anecdotal and relies on looking at the surviving myths and connections of Hera being an Ancient Earth Goddess and worshiped first in the ancient, ancient Mycenean Greece and accepting the ideas of an early Matriarchal Greek culture.
There is a Neolithic, Cycladic culture that is best known for its female idols. Couple these archeological finds with Hera and her vehemence towards Zeus and his numerous affairs. Now it appears to be clear that the Greek myths we get of Zeus & Hera are the result of revisionist history and storytelling.
From that standpoint, then we see Hera as the goddess of marriage, being the arrival and introduction of patriarchy where Zeus becomes the leader and King of the gods, ruling over everything, and Hera is to somehow be subordinate to him.
Accepting this, we can see so much of Hera’s anger and jealousy as a holdover to a time when she and thus her cults resisted a theological takeover in Greek culture as Zeus rises to prominence, even replacing his brother Poseidon who in some early myths was once ruler.
There’s hints and evidence of all of these theological takeovers with the various myths, which Grecian scholar is writing down what and the apparent discrepancies as Greece and then Rome expanded, trying to absorb all of these local myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own myths and deities.
Homer – There is also influence from Homer’s writings where Hera is not treated as respectfully which leads to later retellings of the myths focusing more on Hera being vengeful as she is supposed to uphold the old rules of Hellenistic Greek culture.
Greek Culture – The way Hera’s stories are presented does show the misogynistic culture of the ancient Greeks and where a woman’s place is. Hera is the only properly married goddess in the Olympian Pantheon if you make an exception for Aphrodite. As such, Hera is expected and does show fidelity to Zeus even throughout all his affairs. However, much Zeus cheats on Hera, she remains faithful. Because of an oath that Hera swore to Zeus when she tried to initiate a revolt in the heavens, Hera is unable to move against Zeus. But she does frequently act against his “lovers” and children. With some futility against those such as Alcmene, Leto, Io and Herakles, it does show the limits of justice that women could expect and just whom the Greeks blamed in any of Zeus’ “affairs,” who was responsible.
Grandmother Of Monsters
Wait… isn’t that Echidna the mother of monsters? Yes, however looking at the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo, Hera, in her older, more ancient form from Minoa is mother to the monstrous draconic looking Typhon, giving birth to him solely herself in an act of parthenogenesis. Not the only time for Hera. From there, Hera is to have given her monstrous child to the serpent Python to raise.
In the Iliad, Typhon is born in Cilicia and is the son of Cronus. Gaia is angry with the destruction of her children, the Giants slanders and insults Zeus in front of Hera. This results in Hera going to Cronus and he gives her two eggs fertilized with his own semen and instructs Hera to bury the eggs. Hera buries the eggs in Cilicia. By the time Typhon is born and begins his reign of terror and problems, Hera has reconciled with Zeus, and she informs him about the issue.
Sometime after Zeus has succeeded over coming all the previous challenges from Gaia, the various giants and titans to become ruler of the heavens, a young Zeus had gotten rather prideful, temperamental and arrogant in his rulership.
Enter Apollo, Hera, and Poseidon (and depending on the source, all the other gods except Hestia join in) decide that Zeus needs to be taught a lesson.
Hera’s part was to drug Zeus so that he fell into a deep sleep. While Zeus is sleeping, they come in to steal his thunderbolts and tie him up with some one hundred knots. Powerless, Zeus lays there until the Neriad, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, calls the Hecatoncheire, Briareus who comes and unties Zeus.
With Briareus’ support, Zeus is able to put an end to the rebellion and punish those involved. Most notable is Hera’s punishment as she led the rebellion. Zeus hung her up int the sky with golden chains. Hera’s weeping kept Zeus up all night and the next morning, he agreed to end the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
This is the story of why Hera is to have her “petty jealousies” against Zeus and his many affairs. If she can’t outright go up against Zeus, she takes it out on those unable to stop her.
This story seems to be a remnant of when Zeus and Hera got along relatively well before later additions where Hera gets her reputation for being petty and vindictive.
After a fight with Zeus, Hera left and went to Euboea. Nothing that Zeus said would get Hera to change her mind. She had had it. A local king, named Cithaeron suggested that Zeus make a wooden statue of a woman and pretend to marry it. That gives an idea of what they were fighting about.
Following this advice, Zeus named a wooden statue Plataea, claiming that she was the daughter of Asopus. When Hera heard this news, she came tearing in, interrupting the ceremony only to discover that it was only a lifeless statue and not a rival lover.
Hera and Zeus are to have reconciled and those gathered, celebrated with the two in a festival to become known as Daedala. During this festival, there is a reenactment of the myth where a wood statue of Hera is chosen, bathed in the river Asopus and then placed in a chariot where it is led around in a procession before being ritually burned.
Echo & Hera
This version of the story originates from Roman mythology from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. As it’s Roman, the Roman names for the gods are Jupiter or Jove (Zeus in Greece) and Juno (Hera in Greece). Anyone familiar with Greco-Roman mythologies knows of Jupiter’s reputation and his numerous affairs among mortals and gods alike; much to his wife, Juno’s displeasure. For most lay people, the two pantheons are virtually one and the same.
This is the main story about Echo that most everyone knows, it explains the origin of echoes or repeating sounds in mountains and valleys or anywhere an echo can be heard.
On one occasion, as Zeus is pursuing one of his latest affairs with a nymph, Hera comes among the nymphs looking for her husband as she hoped to catch him in the act. As the case was, Echo had been tasked by Zeus himself to keep Hera distracted with a lot of idle chatter while Zeus engages in his latest tryst. Hera wasn’t happy with the overly talkative nymph and when she discovers that Echo is merely distracting her; Hera punishes Echo that she would always be able to have the last word, but she would only be able to repeat the last thing said.
Birth Of Hephaestus
The timing of this story takes place right after Zeus is to have given birth to Athena without the need for sex. Except that, Zeus swallowed Metis who was pregnant with Athena who springs forth out of Zeus’ brow, all to avoid a prophecy that Gaia gave him.
In an act of parthenogenesis, Hera gives birth to Hephaestus. On seeing him, Hera was so repulsed by the sight of her infant son that she threw him from Mount Olympus where he would become crippled.
It’s understandable that someone would grow up bitter towards the mother that rejected and threw them off a mountainside. Hephaestus got his revenge when he created a magical golden throne for Hera.
No hard feelings, right?
Nope, when Hera sat on the throne, she was unable to get up. The other gods begged and pleaded with Hephaestus for Hera’s release. Enter Dionysus who gets Hephaestus drunk and brings them back to Olympus riding a mule. Hephaestus agrees to release Hera after he is given Aphrodite in marriage.
Birth Of Hebe
While dining with Apollo, Hera became pregnant with Hebe, the goddess of Youth while eating some lettuce. Hera may have also become pregnant when she beat her hand against the earth. An act considered solemn to the Greeks.
Birth Of Apollo & Artemis
There are a few different versions of this story.
In the version of this story from the Homeric Hymn III to Delian Apollo, Hera is described as detaining Eileithyia the goddess of childbirth, from letting Leto birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis as their father is Zeus. As the other goddesses were present there at Delos, they send Iris to go fetch Eileithyia and bring her back so Leto can give birth.
Another version has Hera commanding all the nature spirits to prevent Leto from giving birth on any mainland, island or anywhere under the sun for that matter. Enter Poseidon who takes pity on Leto and guides her to the floating island of Delos. Here, Leto is finally able to give birth to her children. Afterword, Zeus secures Delos to the bottom of the sea.
The third version holds that Hera kidnaps Eileithyia to prevent Leto from being able to go into labor. The other gods got together and bribed Hera with a lovely, yet irresistible necklace to persuade her to give up Eileighyia and let the twins be born.
Either way, of the twins, it is Artemis who is born first, the moon, and then her brother, Apollo, the sun. Some versions will have Artemis then miraculously be old enough to help her mother give birth to Apollo after a period of nine days. Or that Artemis was born one day before Apollo on the island of Ortygia and that she helps Leto get to Delos to give birth to Apollo.
Hera’s Continued Spite Towards Leto
If that isn’t enough, Hera tries to get one of Zeus’ many prodigies, a giant by the name of Tityos to rape Leto on her way to the Delphi Oracle. Luckily Apollo and Artemis are there to slay Tityos as they protect their mother.
Hesiod’s Theogony – The birth of the twins, Apollo and Artemis is contradicted in this text as they’re born before Zeus is married to Hera. So why by this continuity she would have any animosity towards Leto doesn’t make sense.
Hera & Herakles
Better known by the Roman spelling of his name, Hercules. This hero is the most well-known for showcasing the vehemence, spite, and hatred that Hera could hold towards others. Hera is the stepmother to Herakles and no matter how the hero’s name means “Glory of Hera,” it wouldn’t be enough to placate her.
Birth of a hero – For this, we have three versions of this heroic origin story.
Homer’s Iliad – Right before Herakles was to be born, Zeus announced that when his son is born, that they would become the ruler of Argos (or Tiryns in some versions). Angered, Hera requested that Zeus swear an oath to enforce that proclamation. She then went down from Olympus to Argos caused the wife of Sthenelus, the son of Perseus, to give birth seven months early. As Sthenelus’ wife went into labor, Hera went to sit in the doorway of Alcimides’ home, preventing Eileithyia from coming in. so that his half-brother, Eurystheus would be born first and thus become ruler. This resulted in Eurystheus being born first instead of Herakles all while fulfilling Zeus’ oath.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses – When Alcmene is pregnant with Herakles, Hera tries to prevent the birth by ordering Eileithyia to “Alcmene’s legs in knots.” Hera’s plans were thwarted when Galanthis, Alcmene’s servant frighted off Eileithyia. Angry, Hera turned Galanthis into a weasel.
Pausanias’ Account – In this account, Hera sends witches (according to the translation available) to prevent Alcmene from giving birth to Herakles. The witches were successful until the daughter of Tiresias, Historis came up with a trick to deceive the witches. Historis called out that Alcmene had given birth and hearing that, the witches left, allowing Alcmene to really give birth.
Snakes In A Crib
Hera wasn’t done yet. This time she sent a pair of serpents into the infant Herakles’ crib. Imagine Alcmene’s surprise as she walks in to find her infant son holding a pair of dead snakes in his chubby baby hands playing with them like they were toys.
Side Note: This story and the imagery it invokes is something that the ancient Thebans would have been familiar with. That is a hero holding a serpent in each hand much like the Minoan goddess holding snakes and other Cabeiri.
The Milky Way
If that weren’t enough, by this time, Alcmene has become terrified of Hera. Not wanting to suffer Hera’s wrath further, Alcmene takes the infant Herakles out to the wilderness and leaves him there, exposing him to the elements. The goddess Athena, known for protecting heroes, found the infant and brought them to Hera who nursed the baby out of pity.
Once Hera realized which baby she was nursing, she pulled the infant away from her. The spurt of milk from her breast smeared across the heavens, creating the Milky Way. It is from the divine milk of Hera that Herakles is said to have gained great power.
After that, Athena brought the infant Herakles back to his mother.
Side Note: The Etruscan version of Herakles is shown as being fully bearded when he’s nursing. It has been suggested that later when Hera and Herakles do finally reconcile, this symbolizes when she adopted him, and he becomes immortal.
Driving Herakles Mad
All seemed well for a while, that is until Herakles became an adult. Hera drove Herakles mad, causing him to believe that his family were his enemies so that he murdered his wife and children.
Herakles’ Twelve Labors
To atone for his acts of murder, Hera assigned Herakles to go into servitude to his half-brother, King Eurystheus. This resulted in a series of twelve tasks or labors. In each of the labors, Hera strove to make each task harder. When Herakles went up against the Lernaean Hydra, Hera sent the crab to bite his feet to distract the hero.
Later, Hera would rile up the Amazons against Herakles during one of his labors. In another labor, when Herakles is sent to get the cattle of Geryon, Hera is shot in her right breast by a large, barbed arrow that leaves her in constant pain. In retaliation, Hera sent a gadfly to irritate the cattle causing them to scatter. Then Hera caused a flood of the river making it so Herakles wouldn’t be able to carry the cattle across it. Herakles eventually dropped a bunch of large stones into the river to make the river shallower. The cattle were then taken to Eurystheus and sacrificed to Hera.
The Cretan Bull is another of Herakles’ labors and Eurystheus wanted to sacrifice it to Hera. She refused of course as it would only glorify Herakles’ deeds. So the bull was let go and it wandered over to Marathon becoming the Marathonian Bull.
Gigantomachy & Reconciliation
Despite all of the animosity, Herakles does eventually win over Hera. The opportunity came during the Gigantomachy when Gaia sent the Gigantes to attack the Olympians after the defeat of the Titans. One such Giant was Porphyrion, the King of the Gigantes who attempted to rape Hera. Herakles killed Porphyrion with an arrow. An ever-grateful Hera offers the hand of her daughter, Hebe in marriage to Herakles as a further step to heal the rift between them.
This would make Herakles “Hera’s man” and the name meaning “Glory of Hera” more fitting and understandable. That maybe there was another name Herakles was known by or that all along, the name is a foreshadowing of how the story will end between them.
It is also worth noting that after the story of Herakles, Diodorus Siculus writes that Alcmene is the last mortal woman that Zeus had an “affair.”
Zeus & Io
Ever vigilante for Zeus’ next “affair,” Hera spotted a solitary thundercloud and knew that this could only be the latest. As Hera sped down to catch Zeus in the act, she arrived to find Zeus with a small, white cow. Naturally, Hera isn’t fooled, she knows that Zeus has likely transformed his latest love interest and demands that he give her the cow as a present. Unable to refuse, Zeus relents and gives Hera the cow.
The cow, Io in her possession, Hera takes and ties her to a tree where she has her servant, Argus watch over the heifer in order to keep Zeus away. Argus was a giant with a hundred eyes over his entire body. Even when asleep, some of his eyes would always be awake and watching.
Afraid and unwilling to face Hera’s wrath, Zeus ordered Hermes to lull Argus into a deep sleep so that all of his eyes would close. If anyone could do it, it would be Hermes, he succeeded at getting all of Argus’ eyes to close in sleep and the god killed him.
Furious that Io is free, Hera sends a gadfly to harry and sting her as she wandered the land. Eventually, Io would make her way to Egypt where the Egyptians would worship this snow-white cow and call her Isis. Hera finally relented and allowed Zeus to change Io back into a human on the condition that he never seeks her out again. Human again and worshipped as a goddess-queen in Egypt, the son that Io bore thanks to Zeus would become the next king or pharaoh of Egypt.
These stories linking Grecian myths with those of Egypt are just that, a means by which the Greeks and later Romans would say that all the myths were connected, and local gods are the same deities, just under a different name.
Ovid’s Metamorphosis – In this retelling, after learning about Argus’ death, Hera places his eyes on the tail feathers of peacocks, one of her sacred animals.
Callisto & Arcas
Another of Zeus’ many love interests and affairs, Callisto was a follower of Artemis and had taken a vow of chastity. Enter Zeus who disguises himself as Apollo and then “seduces” her.
Out of revenge, Hera turns Callisto into a bear. Later on, Zeus and Callisto’s son, Arcas nearly kills Callisto while hunting. Zeus then places the two up into the heavens.
A slighter alternative to this story is that Zeus disguised himself as Artemis before “seducing” Callisto. That an enraged Artemis turns Callisto into a bear. We still have Arcas nearly killing his bear mother while hunting with either Zeus or Artemis placing them up into the heavens to become the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Hera becomes angry with Callisto and Arcas’ placement up in the heavens and asks her foster mother, Tethys the Titan goddess of the oceans for help. Tethys places a curse on the constellations so that they will forever circle the heavens and never drop below the horizon. Thus explaining why the two constellations are what’s known as circumpolar.
Semele & Dionysus
In this myth, Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia is “seduced” by Zeus. Hera learns of this and disguises herself as Semele’s nurse and tells the young woman to persuade Zeus to reveal himself to her. The mighty Zeus promised, swearing on the River Styx, the young Semele to reveal himself in all of his godly glory. However, Semele dies when Zeus reveals himself as thunder and lightning to her. Zeus takes the unborn child and completes Dionysus’ gestation by being sewn into Zeus’ thigh.
Another version of Dionysus’ birth has him as the son of Zeus and either Demeter or Persephone. An infuriated Hera sends her Titans to rip the infant apart, earning him the name Zagreus or “Torn to Pieces.” Zeus rescues the heart or part of it at least is saved by either Athena, Demeter, or Rhea. Whichever version of the story is followed, Zeus uses the heart to recreate Dionysus and places him in Semele’s womb. This also earns Dionysus the name “twice-born.” Alternatively, Zeus gives Semele the heart to eat, thereby impregnating her. The end story is still the same with Hera tricking Semele to get Zeus to reveal himself, thus killing her.
Later, Dionysus would return to the Underworld to retrieve his mother and the two would go to live on Mount Olympus.
The Judgement Of Paris
First, we have a prophecy, one that stated that the son of the sea-nymph Thetis would become greater than his father. Zeus with his reputation for an ever-roving eye fell in love while watching her in the sea just off the Grecian coast, learned of this prophecy, and decided to wed Thetis to an elderly mortal king, Peleus, the son of Aeacus. Sources vary, Thetis agrees to this arrangement either out of Zeus’ orders or because Hera had raised her, and did so to please Hera, the goddess of Marriage.
The gods were feasting at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, who would become the parents of Achilles. All the gods were invited except Eris who hadn’t received an invite. Chiron oversaw the wedding invites and didn’t invite Eris due to her reputation for stirring up trouble. This understandably miffed Eris to no end. After all, everyone else got invited, so why not her?
Coming off as seeking to be peaceful and with no hard feelings, Eris proposed a beauty contest between the goddesses Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. As the prize, Eris tossed a golden apple of beauty, or better known, the golden apple of discord. In some retellings, it is noted that the golden apple has engraved or written the word: “Kallisti,” meaning: “for the fairest.”
This dispute, one driven by vanity over who was the loveliest of the goddess would escalate and the gods bring the matter before Zeus to decide. Not wanting to favor one goddess over the others, Zeus has the hapless mortal Paris called in to judge. Each of the goddesses attempted to bribe Paris to choose her. Hera offered political power, Athena offered battle prowess and Aphrodite tempted Paris with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen.
Being a young mortal man, Paris chooses Helen and rewards Aphrodite with the golden apple. Only there is one problem, Helen is the wife of Menelaus of Sparta. In claiming and taking her, Paris sparks off the Trojan War. This causes Athena and Hera to side with the Greeks in the ensuing war.
Divine Set-Up – If we go by the “lost” epic, The Cypria attributed to Stasinus, this whole Trojan War was planned by Zeus and Themis. There are only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and it’s seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events come about.
Hera has a significant part in the Trojan War, making a number of appearances throughout The Iliad. First, we know that Hera is angry towards the Trojans due to Paris’ decision to favor Aphrodite and not her. Hence why Hera favors the Greeks and convinces Athena to aid the Achaeans to help interfere against the Trojans.
Later, Hera and Athena plot against Ares who was supposed to side with them initially but was convinced by Aphrodite to help her and thus the Trojans. Diomedes was able to see Ares aiding the Trojans and called for his soldiers to fall back. Seeing this, Hera asked Zeus for permission to drive Ares off the battlefield. At Hera’s encouragement, Diomedes threw his spear at Ares and Athena made sure the spear found its mark. Howling in pain, Ares fled back to Mount Olympus, causing the Trojans to fall back.
In another book, Hera attempts to persuade Poseidon to go against Zeus’ word and aid the Achaeans. Poseidon refuses, saying that he won’t. A still determined Hera and Athena head off towards the battlefield. Seeing this, Zeus sends Iris to intercept the two, telling them they must return to Olympus or face the consequences. After more fighting happens, Hera spots Poseidon doing what he told her he wouldn’t do and that is helping the Greeks and keeping them motivated to stay fighting.
Jumping to another book, Zeus has made a decree that the gods are not to get involved in the mortals’ war. Hera conceives of a plan in which she will seduce her husband. Hera lies to Aphrodite, saying she wants the help so that she and Zeus will stop fighting and Aphrodite loans Hera her girdle. Some additional help from Hypnos, the god of sleep, Zeus fell into a deep sleep. Now Hera and the other gods could continue to interfere in the Trojan War.
Free to do as she pleases, Hera has her son Hephaestus keep a river from harming Achilles. Hephaestus also sets the battlefield on fire, this causes the local river deity to plead with Hera, saying that he won’t help the Trojans if Hephaestus would cease his attacks. Hera persuades Hephaestus to stop and Hera returns to the field of battle, fighting with and against the other gods.
Zeus does eventually wake up and sees how much of the war he’s missed and that several of the gods are involved despite his decree not to. Seeing that he missed saving Sarpedon’s life, Zeus just does a deific shrug and says yeah, the other gods can get involved now.
Despite all of the interference, the Greeks won.
Once the Queen of Libya, Lamia was another of Zeus’ many lovers. An infuriated Hera killed Lamia’s children and then turned her a monster. Driven insane, Lamia was also cursed to be unable to close her eyes so she would be forced to forever obsess over the image of her dead children. Lamia turned to killing children and eating them as she was held to be envious of other mothers with children. Zeus taking pity, gave her the ability to prophesy as well as remove her eyes so she could sleep.
A minor story, Gerana was a Queen of the Pygmies. In an act of hubris, Gerana boasted of being more beautiful than Hera. An angry goddess responded by turning Gerana into a crane, stating that forever after, the crane’s descendants would be at war with the Pygmy people.
In this quick story, Antigone, the daughter of Laomedon boasted of being the most beautiful, and like Gerana, Hera turned Antigone into a stork.
Also spelled Side and meaning “pomegranate,” she was Orion’s first wife. Like Antigone and Gerana, Sida also boasted of being more beautiful than Hera. Unlike the other two, Hera sent Sida straight to the Underworld.
In this story, Cydippe is a priestess of Hera who was headed to a festival honoring the goddess. The ox pulling her cart were late and Cydippe’s sons, Biton and Cleobis pulled the cart the rest of the way to the festival. Cydippe was pleased with her sons’ devotion and asked Hera for a boon, the best gift a mortal could receive. Hera decreed that both brothers would die in their sleep.
This is an interesting myth, Tiresias was a priest of Zeus. One day, he came upon a pair of snakes who were mating. He hit them with a stick and was turned into a woman. Tiresias then became a priestess of Hera, married and bore children, one of whom she named Manto. Seven years later, Tiresias came upon another pair of mating snakes. Now, depending on who is retelling the story, Tiresias either leaves the snakes alone, remaining a woman, or, as Hyginus tells it, tramples the snakes to become a man once more.
Battle Of The Sexes – As a result of his experiences, Zeus and Hera called on Tiresias to settle the question of who had more pleasure during sex. Men or Women? Zeus claimed it was women and Hera said it was men. Tiresias sided with Zeus and an angry Hera struck them blind. Since Zeus couldn’t undo what Hera did, he gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy.
Other sources say that Tiresias sides with Zeus in saying that men have more pleasure during sex and for that, Zeus allows him to live three times longer than other mortals. Yet another source says that Tiresias, having returned to being male, is struck blind by Athena after coming across her bathing. Chariclo, Tiresias’ mother begged Athena to undo the curse and as the goddess could not, she gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy.
In a rather minor story or substory, during the marriage of Zeus and Hera, the nymph Chelone was regarded as being disrespectful by either being late or flat out not showing up. In anger, Zeus turned the nymph into a tortoise.
In this story, Hera became angry with Pelias as he had killed his step=mother, Sidero in one of the goddess’ temples. Given how power-hungry Pelias was, it was easy for Hera to plot and plan his downfall. A prophecy was given to Pelias about a one-sandaled man would kill him. Wanting to rule of all Thessaly, he seized the throne of Iolcus. Jason, the rightful heir was sent away and grew up under the tutelage of the centaur, Chiron. Many years later, Jason returned to Iolcus, and with a series of events and motions, such as his losing a sandal in the river while helping an old woman to cross, really Hera in disguise, the goddess was able to get Jason and Medea to ultimately kill Pelias after they returned from a long voyage to get The Golden Fleece.
Ovid’s The Metamorphoses
Given that Ovid is Roman, this story fits more for Hera’s Roman counterpart Juno.
The rulers of Thrace, King Haemus and Queen Rhodope were turned into mountains, the Balkan and Rhodope respectively after the two dared compare themselves to Juno & Jupiter, thus incurring their wrath.
The first human guilty of murder, after he refused to pay a bride price. Ixion searched everywhere for anyone who could purify him of this crime. No one would or could until Zeus took pity on him and invited Ixion up to Olympus to live.
While there, Ixion tried putting some moves on Hera who complained to her husband, Zeus. In response, Zeus created a cloud named Nephele in Hera’s likeness. When Zeus caught Ixion trying to put some unwanted moves on Nephele, Zeus sentenced Ixion down to Tartarus to spin forever on a flaming wheel crying out how you should always show gratitude to your benefactor.
Shadow Goddess – Jealousy & Envy
With all the numerous stories of Hera’s jealousy towards Zeus, his various love affairs and children, Hera is seen as a goddess who represents jealousy, the need for revenge as she has never forgotten a slight or injury. All of this gives Hera a particularly vindictive nature, seemingly more so and notable compared to the other Olympian gods.
Like Zeus, how much a victim of the passage of time and the tellings and retellings of her myths over the millennia is hard to say. Most people aren’t aware of how the story between Hera and Herakles ends with them finally having reconciliation. I’ve had people mock the name of Herakles and the meaning of the name, for “Glory of Hera” and don’t seem to be aware of the part of the stories where Hebe is given to Herakles in marriage after he saves Hera from the giant Porphyrion trying to rape her.
“Hercules the Legendary Journeys” is a bit infuriating there with the ending where the reconciliation between Zeus, Hera, and Hercules all comes about with her getting amnesia. They could have built up a more meaningful ending that more closely matched the myths the writers were pulling from. That they didn’t just shows to me lazy writing on the part of the screenwriters. Many other shows and movies tend to gloss over the moral and marital problems as that usually is not the focus of the story at hand that writers want to tackle and tell.
Yet the reconciliation is there. It is in Herakles’ name as a foreshadowing of how the story ends and possible, potential hints of when Greek culture went from being matriarchal to patriarchal and stories getting rewritten.
We see an aspect that modern Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism would recognize as the Triple Goddess with Hebe, the Virgin of Spring, Hera, the Mother of Summer, and Hecate, the Crone of Autumn. Bear in mind, that this aspect comes from Robert Graves in his “The Greek Myths.”
Gaia – Greek Goddess
I’m my own Grandma!
Not really, leave it to the Greeks to continue with blending all their deities as being one and the same, to blur or ignore their own genealogies for their Pantheon. Gaia is the primordial goddess of the Earth and from whom all life sprang forth. Again, it works if you’re just seeing all of these deities as just different aspects of the divine.
In the case of Hera; older, more archaic versions place her as an ancient Earth Goddess. The Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo places Hera as the mother to Typhon, while most myths place Gaia as being his mother.
Hathor – Egyptian
In her role as a cow goddess or goddess of cattle, Hera has been identified with Hathor. Other than that, the similarities end there.
Juno – Roman
Where Hera is the Queen of the Gods in the Greek Pantheon, her Roman counterpart is Juno who is depicted as more warlike wearing a goatskin cloak as seen on those worn by Roman soldiers. The month of June gains its name from this goddess. There was a festival known as Matronalia, celebrated on March 1st honoring Juno as Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth. Juno Pronuba presided over marriage much like her Greek counterpart and Juno Regina was a special counselor and protector of the Roman state.
Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Hera with Juno. The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars, and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that they would virtually become one and the same. And this has become the tradition passed down through the centuries that many people know and accept. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Uni – Etruscan
A cognate for Hera in the little-known Etruscan beliefs and mythology.
Other Names: Jólasveinar, Yule Lads, Yuletide-Lads, Yulemen
These mischievous pranksters are the present bringers in Iceland, not Santa Claus. Not one Santa Claus, it’s thirteen! How exciting is that!
Though, the Yule Lads didn’t always start off so friendly. These lads used to work for their mother, Grýla to help her hunt down naughty children as well as wreak all sorts of havoc and mischief during the long, dark winter days. The oldest versions and stories of the Yule Lads come from East Iceland.
This is reportedly the home of the fierce some Grýla and the Yule Lads. It is a labyrinth field of lava in North Iceland.
Reykjavik – This is another place that the Yule Lads can be spotted around in December. This place serves more a tourist destination where there’s a game to find all the Yule Lads and visit the local Troll Garden to sit in Grýla’s cauldron.
The descriptions of the Yule Lads have varied over time. In their pre-Christmas descriptions, they are troll-like beings who have no torsos.
Later, when they became more associated with Christmas, the Yule Lads would dress much like the American and European Santa in all red garments. Another push was made to have the Yule Lads dress in a more traditional medieval Icelandic garments in an effort to push away from the often overly commercialized versions of Santa and Christmas that are seen.
Grýla – The infamous Icelandic Christmas Ogress or Trolless is the mother of the Yule Lads, it would explain so much of their behavior. Grýla is known for eating misbehaving children and goes out in search of them at Christmas time.
Leppalúði – He is Grýla’s current husband and the father of the Yule Lads. Leppalúði is known for being very lazy. He lives in their cave found in the Dimmuborgir lava fields. Aside from the Yule Lads, Grýla and Leppalúði also have twenty other children.
Leppalúði had an affair with a girl by the name of Lúpa while Grýla was very ill and bedridden for an entire year. The girl, Lúpa was to play nurse to Grýla while she was sick. It’s no small wonder then, that when Grýla finds out that Leppalúði and Lúpa had an affair, resulting in a son by the name of Skröggur, that the trolless would become enraged and drive the girl and her son off from the cave.
The last children Grýla had with Leppalúði, when she was 50 years old, were twins. The twins died very young, still needing a crib.
Dark Winter Spirits
This ties into why Grýla is said to have so many children. As it concerns the Yule Lads, in the beginning their number varied wildly. The Yule Lads and their mother, Grýla in their pre-Christmas traditions, represented the dark, dangerous and capricious spirits of Winter. This time of the year, the weather is colder, the nights longer and it’s just more treacherous to go out into the wilderness if one is not prepared or wary.
Jól – The midwinter holiday that predates the modern Christmas, marks a time of people gathering together to feast and celebrate family both living and deceased. This older holiday is generally darker as elves, trolls and other mystical creatures that inhabit the Icelandic countryside are also out and would sometimes come to visit homes and farms, often as masked figures.
The Yule Lads at this time were portrayed as being trolls with no torso who would come down to the various villages and towns to cause havoc and chaos with their pranks or to outright carry off naughty children to their mother to feast on. The Yule Lads were just some of the many dangerous, unpredictable spirits and supernatural entities that wandered the countryside during winter.
Christianity – This religion was introduced to Iceland around 1000 C.E. after the King of Norway made a decree that everyone should convert to Christianity and sent out missionaries to the island nation. As with many ancient customs and traditions, the people weren’t that ready and willing to give up all their beliefs. As the Icelandic traditions and those of the introduced Christianity began to merge, one of the many points of note was a change to the calendar that shifted from the old Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.
Sometime during the 1500’s and up to the 1700’s, the Julian Calendar was beginning to fall out of step and the celebration of the Winter Solstice was occurring on December 13th. As more European countries made the shift to the Gregorian Calendar, it placed the Winter Solstice back to the 21st. The change of calendars also so some 13 to 14 days getting removed.
For Iceland, many people didn’t like this and still wanted to celebrate December 13th as the Winter Solstice or Jól. To have the two traditions Iceland and Christianity merge more easily, the thirteen days of Christmas with the Yule Lads coming to visit began to form, starting from the eve of December 12th and stretching out all the way to the 25th and beyond to January 6th with Epiphany as the Yule Lads come visiting and then depart, back up to the mountains.
In the 16th century, a law was put into place that: “All disorderly and scandalous entertainment at Christmas and other times and Shrovetide revels are strongly forbidden on pain of serious punishment.” Parents still used the stories of Grýla and the Yule Lads coming to carry away naughty children during Wintertime and at Christmas. Things got so bad that in 1746, parents were forbidden and banned from using these stories to scare their children. It’s shortly after this, that the imagery of the Yule Lads would begin to further change.
Huldufólk – According to folklorist, Skarphéðinsson, the Yule Lads are the Huldufólk or the hidden people who live in Iceland right along humans, just another dimension that can’t be seen.
If you go for the Christian connection to religion and folktales, the Huldufólk were the dirty, strange and unusual children of Eve that she hid from God. When they were discovered, these children were sent to another world or dimension. Other ideas are that the Huldufólk are actually Fallen Angels.
Once the Yule Lads began to be associated with the celebration of Christmas, their image softened so that instead of being more malicious troll spirits that cause havoc and chaos, they became more benevolent. They’re still pranksters and the imagery saw them become more humanized to be half-troll figures.
The Thirteen Days Of Christmas – Yes, instead of one day of presents, children in Iceland get eight thirteen crazy nights!
The Yule Lads arrive during the thirteen days of Christmas, coming one at a time. Once December 25th comes, the Yule Lads depart back to their mountain home in the order that they arrived until the last day of January 6th, Epiphany.
Borrowing from Dutch tradition, children place a shoe out on their window sills during the thirteen nights of Christmas leading up to Christmas Day. In the hopes of receiving a gift or treat, children leave out small snacks for the Yule Lads such as laufabrauð (“leaf bread”), this is a thin, crisp flatbread. If a child has been good, they will receive a present or treat in their shoe. If a child has been particularly naughty, they will receive a rotten potato in their shoe.
If you ask me, that’s much better than getting carted away to their mother, Grýla to be eaten.
The Thirteen Yule Lads
The number of Yule Lads has varied over the years with as many as 82 and in more recent times with the 20th century, that number settled on there being thirteen. As the stories go, the Yule Lads live up in the mountains and come down in December during the Thirteen Days of Christmas. As there are thirteen of these lads, the various names they possess also speak of their particular quirk, feature or talent they have.
Jólasveinarnir – The Yule Lads Poem was written by the poet, Jóhannes úr Kötlum in 1932, this poem is still a popular piece recited each year in many homes and schools during December. This poem is where the Thirteen Yule Lads were made cannon for Iceland’s Christmas Tradition. The English translation of the poem is done by Hallberg Hallmundsson.
The sections below in italics are Kötlum’s poem in English.
Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Cote Clod (Or Stiff Legs)
Arrives: 12 December
Leaves: 25 December
The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod.
He came stiff as wood,
to prey upon the farmer’s sheep
as far as he could.
He wished to suck the ewes,
but it was no accident
he couldn’t; he had stiff knees
– not too convenient.
Giljagaur – Gully Gawk
Arrives: 13 December
Leaves: 26 December
The second was Gully Gawk,
gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.
Hiding in the stalls,
he would steal the milk, while
the milkmaid gave the cowherd
a meaningful smile.
Stúfur – Stubby
Arrives: 14 December
Leaves: 27 December
Stubby was the third called,
a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance
to whisk off a pan.
And scurrying away with it,
he scraped off the bits
that stuck to the bottom
and brims – his favorites.
Þvörusleikir – Spoon-Licker
Arrives: 15 December
Leaves: 28 December
The fourth was Spoon Licker;
like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover
when the cook wasn’t in.
Then stepping up, he grappled
the stirring spoon with glee,
holding it with both hands
for it was slippery.
Pottaskefill – Pot-Scraper
Arrives: 16 December
Leaves: 29 December
Pot Scraper, the fifth one,
was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings,
he’d come to the door and tap.
And they would rush to see
if there really was a guest.
Then he hurried to the pot
and had a scraping fest.
Askasleikir – Bowl-Licker
Arrives: 17 December
Leaves: 30 December
Bowl Licker, the sixth one,
was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads
he stuck his ugly head.
And when the bowls were left
to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself
– he was sure good at that!
As a side note, askur is a type of dish that Icelanders would eat from and keep under the bed as a means of storing it.
Hurðaskellir – Door-Slammer
Arrives: 18 December
Leaves: 31 December
The seventh was Door Slammer,
a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight
would take a little nap,
he was happy as a lark
with the havoc he could wreak,
slamming doors and hearing
the hinges on them squeak.
Skyrgámur – Skyr-Gobbler
Arrives: 19 December
Leaves: 1 January
Skyr Gobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.
Then he stood there gobbling
– his greed was well known –
until, about to burst,
he would bleat, howl and groan.
Skyr is a type of yogurt found in Iceland.
Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Swiper
Arrives: 20 December
Leaves: 2 January
The ninth was Sausage Swiper,
a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters
and raided food from there.
Sitting on a crossbeam
in soot and in smoke,
he fed himself on sausage
fit for gentlefolk.
Gluggagægir – Window-Peeper
Arrives: 21 December
Leaves: 3 January
The tenth was Window Peeper,
a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window
and stole a peek through it.
And whatever was inside
to which his eye was drawn,
he most likely attempted
to take later on.
Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer
Arrives: 22 December
Leaves: 4 January
Eleventh was Door Sniffer,
a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold, yet had
a huge, sensitive nose.
He caught the scent of lace bread
while leagues away still
and ran toward it weightless
as wind over dale and hill.
Ketkrókur – Meat-Hook
Arrives: 23 December
Leaves: 5 January
Meat Hook, the twelfth one,
his talent would display
as soon as he arrived
on Saint Thorlak’s Day.
He snagged himself a morsel
of meat of any sort,
although his hook at times was
a tiny bit short.
I’m a told a favorite meat is lamb. The 23rd is also St. Thorlak’s Day, the patron saint of Iceland.
Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar (Or Candle Stealer)
Arrives: 24 December
Leaves: 6 January
The thirteenth was Candle Beggar
– ‘twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last
of the lot on Christmas Eve.
He trailed after the little ones
who, like happy sprites,
ran about the farm with
their fine tallow lights.
Candles at this time, were once made of tallow and thus edible. It is little wonder that Candle Beggar is often the most favorite of the Yule Lads and seen as being the most generous as he comes on the last day just before Christmas. Some children will leave a candle out for Kertasnikir next to their shoe.
Lost Yule Lads & Lasses
More recent times sees the Yule Lads numbering as thirteen in all. This wasn’t always so and there were a few others, that were once part of their number.
Flórsleikir – His name translates as “dung channel licker.” Luckily this has something to do with the channel in the cowshed.
Flotsokka – One of two sisters who would place a piece of fat on a half-knitted sock or stuff a piece of fat up her nose. Eww!?!
Flotnös – The second of two sisters who would place a piece of fat on a half-knitted sock or stuff a piece of fat up her nose. Eww!?!
Lampshadow – He would go and put out all of the lights.
Litlipungur – His name translates to mean “small balls”. What he did, I’m not sure I want to know.
Lungnaslettir – Or Lung Flapper, he gets his name from his penchant for walking around with a set of still wet sheep lungs and hitting anyone who gets in his way.
Smoke Gulper – He would sit on the roof and swallow the smoke coming from the chimney.
Bunch of weirdos.
Also Known As: Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Santa (Santy in Hiberno-English), Mikulás (Hungary), Weihnachtsmann “Christmas man” (German)
That’s right, the jolly, big man in red who brings presents to all of the good boys & girls around the world on Christmas Eve or December 24th for Christmas Day.
The American Santa Claus that many have come to know and love, is often shown as a jolly, stout or portly man with a white beard who wears a red coat and pants with white trim, black boots and belt with a large sack of gifts ready to pass out for children. This imagery of Santa Claus became ingrained in the American psyche with Clement Clark Moore’s poem: “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
But how did we get here to this beloved holiday figure?
A Santa By Any Other Name….
The mythos of Santa that we have all come to know and love is ultimately a composite and influenced by many numerous cultures, especially those found throughout Europe.
Amu Nowruz – This was the most interesting one to learn about. The figure of Amu Nowruz is a familiar one in Iranian and other Middle Eastern cultures for their celebrations of the New Year that coincides with the official start of Spring. In Iranian tradition, Amu Nowruz appears every year at the start of Spring along with his companion Haji Firuz. Their appearance marks the beginning of Nowruz, the New Year. Amu Nowruz is often depicted as an elderly, silver or white-haired man wearing a felt hat, long blue clock, sash, pants, sandals, and carrying a walking stick. Amu Nowruz’s role is to pass on the story of Nowruz to the young.
I mention bring up Amu Nowruz because of the timing for the Christmas celebrations and how close it is to the European celebrations of the New Year. Anyone who looks at Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ, knows that shepherds guard their flocks in the springtime, when its lambing season. If you study the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, you know that the date for the start of the New Year was altered.
Father Christmas – The British Santa who dates to 16th century England during King Henry VIII’s reign. Father Christmas is depicted as a large man dressed in green or scarlet robes lined with fur and is seen as the spirit of good cheer during Christmas, bringing joy, food, drink and revelry much like the Spirit of Christmas Present in Dickenson’s “A Christmas Carol.” By this time, England no longer observed Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6th. The Victorian revival of Christmas, has Father Christmas as a symbol of “good cheer.” Along with the Dutch Sinterklaas, Father Christmas is a major influence on the imagery of the American Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas – The historical Santa Claus that many love to point out. Saint Nicholas was a 4th century Greek bishop 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, archers, pawnbrokers, sailors and the cities of Amsterdam and Moscow. 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. Saint Nicholas’ Day is celebrated on the 6th of December by many instead of having him come on the 24th and 25th. Martin Luther suggested the Christ kind or Christ Child is who brings presents on Christmas Day.
Sinterklaas – A figure from the Netherlands and Belgium who is a tall, stern figure known for handing out gifts to good children and switches to the naughty ones. Sinterklass rides a horse named Amerigo or Slecht Weer Vandaag. Next to Saint Nicholas, Sinterklass is another prominent figure whom many point to as the most likely progenitor to Santa Claus. In the Netherlands, Santa Claus is known as de Kerstman, “the Christmas man.” In French, Santa Claus is known as Père Noël or “Father Christmas.” Sinterklass is most noted too for his assistant(s) known as Zwarte Pieten or Pères Fouettard in French. Sinterklaas has a strong connection and influence with Saint Nicholas and his festival in Myra, Turkey. Santa Claus’ name has been pointed out as an easy phonetic spelling from the Dutch into English when Dutch immigrants in the 17th & 18th century brought their Christmas traditions and thus Sinterklaas with them to America.
Woden – Or Odin, is a Germanic god. Before the Christianization of Europe, the Germanic peoples celebrated a midwinter holiday known as Yule. Many of the Yule traditions have easily found themselves incorporated into the modern celebrations of Christmas. Yule was also a time for when the Wild Hunt would ride throughout the land. Other supernatural and ghostly happenings were to occur as well. The leader of this hunt would be Woden. Additionally, 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. It has been theorized by many that Woden has influenced the imagery associated with Saint Nicholas as seen with the white beard and the horse he rides.
Other Pagan Figures – There are a number of other pagan deities such as the Roman god Saturn and his celebration of Saturnalia, the Greek god Cronos, the Holly King of Celtic mythology who signifies the dying year, the Norse god Frey, even Thor who all have some influence into the modern portrayal of Santa Claus and Christmas time celebrations.
Codifying A Legend
It’s generally agreed by many that the figures of Saint Nicholas, Sinterklass and Father Christmas all play a part in merging together to create the American Santa Claus, with a few remembering Woden’s part in it too. After all, the name Santa Claus can be pointed out as a variant spelling and pronunciation to Sinterklass. The first real mention of “Santa Claus” is in 1773 in any American publications.
History of New York – A book by Washington Irving, writing in 1809, intended as a satire of the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, he is pictured as being a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe wearing a green winter coat.
A New-Year’s Present – A book published in 1821 for children, it has the poem: “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight” written by an anonymous author. Here, Santeclaus is described as riding a reindeer pulled sleigh as he brings gifts for children.
A Visit From St. Nicholas – Better known as “The Night Before Christmas” written by Clement Clark Moore in 1823. There’s a bit of dispute, that a Henry Livingston, Jr. who passed away nine years earlier is the actual author. This book really codified and made much of Santa’s appearance lore surrounding him cannon. Here, Santa or St. Nick is described as: “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf” with a round belly. He is also assumed to be small in stature given the description of his sleigh as miniature and being pulled by tiny reindeer. This story also gives us the names for the eight reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. It should be noted that Donner and Blitzen names mean thunder and lightning in German. Additionally, their names had been the Dutch variations of Dunder and Blixem before getting changed.
William Gilley – A friend and neighbor to Clement Clark Moore. Gilley wrote a poem in 1821 titled Sancte Claus that also describes a Santa Claus who drives a reindeer pulled sleigh and delivers gifts by going down a chimney.
Kris Kringle – By 1845, Santa was also known by the name of Kris Kringle. Some places in the U.S. such as Pennsylvania, Santa was known as Krishkinkle.
Thomas Nast – An American cartoonist who defined the image of the American Santa as being large and heavy set. Nast did an illustration for Harper’s Weekly on January 3rd of 1863 where Santa is dressed in an American flag and a puppet by the name of “Jeff.” This was a reflection of that publication’s Civil War articles. Nast is likely the source for the part of Christmas lore that Santa lives at the North Pole with his illustration on December 29th, 1866 captioned Santa Clausville along with several other illustrations showing Santa in his workshop. Nast’s influence is been so great, that later songs, children’s books, movies, T.V. specials and even advertising continue to use it.
George P. Webster – In the same 1869 Harper Weekly publication, Webster had a poem appearing alongside some of Nast’s illustrations where Santa is described living near the North Pole, to the point, that this bit of lore has become well established in the Holiday Mythos surrounding Christmas time.
Coca-Cola Santa! – Another change to Santa’s image came in the 1930’s with Haddon Sundblom’s depiction of Santa. This of course, has led many to jump a band wagon conspiracy theory that the Coca-Cola Company invented Santa as the colors of red & white that Santa wears are the same colors as the Coca-Cola brand.
To put this conspiracy to rest, Coca-Cola is not the first soft drink company to use Santa in his familiar red & white get up to promote their products. White Rock Beverages did so in 1915 for their mineral water and then later in 1923 for ginger ale. In addition, Puck magazines used a red & white garbed Santa on their covers for the first few years of the 20th century.
He’s Making A List!
One of the things Santa is known for is maintaining a list of who all the good children are and who the naughty ones are. The good children of course get presents and the naughty ones get coal.
Letters To Santa
This is one of many traditions done by children at Christmas time. Frequently this letter is a wish list of what they hope that Santa will bring them. Wise children will know to keep the list short and not to get too greedy with their wants. Many children will also assure Santa that they’ve been doing their best to be good. Many different post offices and services will accept the letters that children have written for Santa.
The Spirit Of Giving
The very image of Santa as a gift giver has been strongly tied to many charity organizations such as Salvation Army and the number of people who seek during the holiday season to help out others. Department Store Santas and just about anyone dressed as Santa to bring gifts or to aid in fundraising efforts for those in need. In this respect, Santa Claus keeps strong connections to Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas with promoting goodwill and people being more giving and caring during this time of the year.
Whether it’s Yule or Christmas, it goes without saying, we should always be showing goodwill, giving and caring about others all year long. Since the Christmas celebrations take place in Winter, it’s especially important to remember those in need. Which is where Santa’s role as a patron Saint of Children comes into play: giving to those in need and helping to keep the magic of wonder, belief, innocence, giving and love. Life gets rough and it can get hard during the dark, cold winter months.
Coming Down The Chimney – The idea of Santa coming down the chimney to deliver his gifts, clearly connects him to his older European roots with those like Odin who would come down the chimneys on the winter solstice or the stories of Saint Nicholas where he tosses down bags of coins through a window or down a chimney to pay for a daughter’s dowry if she came from a poor family. In much of ancient European folklore, the hearth or fire place is a sacred place where the guardian spirit or fairies of a household would bring their gifts.
Stockings Hung By The Chimney With Care
Many families who celebrate Christmas have some sort of tradition with leaving stockings hung up by the fire place or laid out. This naturally references back to Saint Nicholas who was known for leaving gifts in children’s socks or shoes.
Lumps Of Coal – If a child has been particularly naughty, he or she may receive lumps of coal or a switch instead. Granted that doesn’t usually happen and is more of a warning for children to always do their best to be good.
Cookies For Santa
An offering of cookies and milk Santa Claus when he visits is fairly standard among many American families. Some will leave a carrot or two for the reindeer too.
Just what is left or offered can vary too by country.
Australia & Britain – Sherry or Beer along with mince pies are left out.
Canada & United States – Milk and Cookies are the norm.
Denmark, Norway & Sweden – Rice porridge with cinnamon sugar is left out.
Ireland – Guinness or Milk along with Christmas pudding or mince pies.
“Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas” is perhaps the most iconic saying associated with Santa Claus. No just any laugh, but a deep belly laugh that is associated with happiness. Anything less, just isn’t Santa. The imagery of Santa Claus be rather rotund is seen as an important attribute of his and immortalized in Clement’s iconic poem: “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for the classic lines:
“. . . a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly”
The North Pole
The north pole is where Santa is said to reside, far away from much of the world so he and especially his elves can craft toys to be delivered. The idea of Santa living at the North Pole likely originated with the artist Thomas Nast and author George P. Webster. This locality has grown up from a simple House and Workshop to a full-blown village where Santa and his helpers live.
Canada – According to the Canadian Post, Santa Claus’ postal code is H0H 0H0, as in his traditional “Ho, Ho, Ho” laugh that Santa is well known for. In 2008, Santa Claus was awarded Canadian citizenship by the Canadian minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney. This way, after Santa Claus finishes his annual, nightly rounds, he can return straight home to Canada and the North Pole without hassle.
Kyrgyzstan – There is a mountain peak named for Santa Claus. A Swedish company suggested that this mountain was more likely to be a better place for Santa to launch is gift-giving campaign from to all over the world. In 2007, a Santa Claus Festival was held in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. 2008 was declared the Year of Santa Claus.
Lapland – A region in Finland. It was pointed out in 1925 that Santa couldn’t possibly live at the North Pole as his reindeer would nowhere to graze. Radio Host “Uncle Markus” Rautio for the Finnish radio show the “Children’s Hour” revealed that Santa lives in Lapland’s Korvatunturi, meaning “Ear Fell.” It makes sense as the whole of Lapland has been pointed out to be shaped like a rabbit’s ear and it would enable to Santa to be able to hear the Christmas wishes of children the world over.
Nordic Claims – Several Nordic countries claim that Santa lives within their borders. Norway for example says that Santa lives in Drøbak. Meanwhile, Denmark claims that Santa lives in Greenland. In Finland, Korvatunturi is claimed as Santa’s home.
At first, early depictions of Santa show him making his gifts by hand in a workshop. Later, Santa is shown with a number of helpers in his annual, nightly task. After all, Santa can’t be everywhere, though he’ll do his best.
Babouschka – In Russia, Babouschka is an elderly woman who misled the Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem. Later, she regretted the decision and unable to find the Wise Men, Babouschka has since then, visited the homes of Russian children, hoping that one of them is the baby Jesus when she leaves her gifts.
Christkind – Or Kris Kringle is known to deliver gifts to children to Switzerland and Germany. Christkind, meaning “Christ child” is an angelic being who helps Santa.
Ded Moroz and the Snow Maiden – Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost is accompanied by his granddaughter, Snegurochka the Snow Maiden in the Slavic countries. Ded Moroz was once an evil wizard who kidnapped children. Ded Moroz and his granddaughter arrive on the New Year’s Eve or Day bringing gifts as he tries to atone for his one evil ways.
Elves – To make all of the toys that Santa gives out on Christmas Eve, he has the aid of a number of elves who work in his workshop. As time went on and moved into the industrial era, the means by which the elves craft and then manufacture the toys has changed.
Fake Santas! – No! That can’t be! Yet, inevitably, some bright and clever child will point out that the Mall Santa isn’t really Santa Claus. As a wise adult will point out and counter, that is because Santa Claus can’t be everywhere and that the adult dressed as Santa is just one of many, numerous helpers throughout a busy and chaotic holiday season. Many young children will generally except this explanation without question. Though older children do seem more prone to skepticism.
Father Christmas – Father Christmas, however similar to Santa he is, it is Father Christmas who comes filling stockings in Britain.
Jultomten – If you’re in Scandinavia, an elf by the name of Jultomten is who brings gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats.
Krampus – German for “claw,” the figure of Krampus hails from the Alpine countries in Austria and Germany. Krampus has seen a revival in more recent years as a dark figure and companion to Santa Claus where he scares or beats naughty children into behaving.
La Befana – The Italian Christmas Witch, La Befana is very similar to Babouschka as she too searches for the baby Jesus and delivers gifts to children on January 6th, the Epiphany.
La Pere Fouettard – “The Whipping Father,” Pere Fouettard accompanies the French Pere Noel on his nightly visit of December 5th where like Belsnickel, Krampus and Zwarte Piete, he will punish naughty children.
Pere Noel – Or Papa Noel, is a figure like Father Christmas and Santa, he is who comes bringing gifts to children in France. Instead of reindeer, Pere Noel rides a donkey named Gui, meaning “mistletoe.”
Reindeer – And not just any reindeer, eight of them that help pull Santa’s sleigh and fly through the night delivering gifts. The eight reindeer are as follows: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. It should be noted that Donner and Blitzen names mean thunder and lightning in German. Further, only female reindeer keep their antlers in winter.
Rudolph – The ninth reindeer who has a glowing nose. Rudolph entered the Santa Claus mythos in 1939 when Robert L. May wrote the story for the Montgomery Ward department store to help drive up holiday traffic and sales. May used a similar rhyme like Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to tell Rudolph’s story. Later, one of May’s friends, Johnny Marks turns Rudolph’s story into a well familiar song. The rest is history as there are television specials and books featuring Rudolph and his adventures.
Tomte – Hailing from the Scandinavian countries, the Tomte or Nisse as small gnome-like characters who bring gifts.
Zwarte Piete – A helper and companion to the Dutch Sinterklaas. Early depictions of Zwarte Piete show him as a punisher while later depictions have tried to soften the image.
What About Mrs. Claus?
As this seems to have been a thing that weighs on some people’s minds, many authors have written, saying that yes, Santa Claus is married.
Just what does she do? Besides stay home and take care of the house and all of the elves? I personally imagine her being La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch. Hey, not everyone believes in Santa and there’s other Christmas time figures who all likely deliver gifts to their respective areas and those who believe in them.
Tracking Santa On His Nightly Runs
With the arrival of the internet age, there have come many websites and even a few T.V. programs that will track Santa Claus on his nightly run during Christmas. Many of these sites have come and gone over the years. The most amusing origin of one such site, NORAD came about when in 1955, a Sears ad misprinted the phone number that had children calling the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) instead on Christmas Eve. When Colonel Harry Shoup, the then Director of Operations received the first phone call, he told children that there were indeed signs of Santa heading south. This kicked off a whole tradition of tracking Santa with NORAD when later in 1958, Canada and the United States created the North American Air Defense Command.
Many parents will use the websites as a means of enforcing a bedtime. That Santa can’t come if you’re still awake.
The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus
Written by L. Frank Baum who also wrote the Wizard of Oz series, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” was written in 1902 before much of the lore surrounding Santa Claus became cannon. It tells of Santa, then known as Neclaus, meaning “Necile’s Little One” how he was raised among the immortal fairy and would latter take on the role of Santa Claus after Ak, the Master Woodsman shows Neclaus the misery and poverty that other humans know.
There has been a Rankin/Bass Stop-Motion animation adaptation of this story as well as a traditionally animated adaptation of this story. Since so much of the lore surrounding Santa Claus seems pretty well set and known, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” often provides an alternative spin and take on the Santa legend. To me, it’s rather satisfactory in answering how Santa got his start and became the well-known, beloved Holiday figure he is today.
With the strong connections to Wodin/Odin in the mythology behind Santa Claus, many have pointed out the more pagan origins of Christmas, of which there are indeed a lot. With Santa Claus, they will point that his garb is reminiscent of what Shamans would wear.
It was true way back then, when the colonists, mainly Puritans arrived in North American during the 17th century and first founded the American Colonies; that would later become the United States, that Santa Claus wasn’t welcomed and even banned. For the Puritans, the image of Santa Claus was too pagan, too much a part of the Roman Catholic Church and took away from the celebration of Christmas, focusing on the birth of Jesus Christ. Hell, Christmas celebrations were even banned at first. The celebrations at this time involved a lot of riotous, drunkenness and public displays of disorder. Christmas as it would be known today didn’t exist.
At this time, with the harvest season clearly over, many of the lower class laborers coming in from the fields now had plenty of leisure time. Workers and Servants alike sought to take the upper hand with the higher-ups, demanding largess in the way of money and food. Industrialists in America were all too willing to increase the work hours and fewer holidays than in Europe.
I get it, Christmas got started in the first place with the Roman Catholic Church trying to appease and convert Pagans to Christianity. Many pagan holidays got replaced with those of Christian ones, the imagery from Pagan ones replaced with Christian ones. So you clearly get a Pagan and Christian side to the celebration of Christmas. One that can get some strongly devout followers trying to denounce the more pagan overtones, of which, Santa Claus is just one of may holiday symbols caught in the crossfire of a millennia old religious and holiday feud. Combined with the riotous drunken revelries, its easy to see why early devout Puritans and Calvinists didn’t want to observe Christmas.
Not until after the Revolutionary War did Christmas start being celebrated, this time they included Santa Claus. We can thank all the later immigrants who brought their Christmas traditions and brought Father Christmas and Sinterklaas who would blend together to become the familiar, beloved Santa Claus. Otherwise, Christmas as many in the U.S. would come to know it, wouldn’t exist.
The 19th century saw a cultural change. There was getting to be more focus on family home life and seeing childhood as a precious time to be protected. Part of this saw Christmas become “tamed” and the image of Santa Claus as a friend and protector of children became prominent.
Even today, the controversy continues, you still have those who feel that Santa Claus’ presence takes away from the focus of the season, that he’s too pagan. It didn’t stop some like Reverend Nedergaard, from Copenhagen, Denmark in 1958 calling Santa a “pagan goblin.” Really?
You have those, rightfully so, who feel the holiday has gotten far too commercialized and materialistic. You can’t blame them as many retailers do take advantage of the holiday as a time to boost and market sales. So yes, you can reclaim the holiday by making sure to give others and charity, spending time with family and spend less on pricey gifts so that they are more meaningful.
Then you get into those clergies and parents who feel you shouldn’t lie to children about Santa Claus being real. Which is hard, because, you can certainly point towards the historical Saint Nicholas of Myra, Turkey. He was real and lived. If you’re Christian, he became a Saint for his actions, a patron saint of children.
In a twist of irony, while some Churches still try to stamp out Santa Claus, others have found that having Santa there along with a Christmas tree and gifts actually gets people coming in. Go figure.
Childhood should be a time of wonder and hope. Yes, this is the time when many beliefs and conceptions about the world will be formed. Many children will figure out the reality of Santa Claus on their own. It should be a parent who decides to inform their child or not. Not some random stranger with a grudge who must go out of their way to destroy someone else’s fun, festivities and celebrations by enforcing their views.
In theater, we have the “Suspension of Disbelief.” You can at least do that before destroying someone else’s holiday good cheer. Go take over and live in the Grinch’s cave if you’re going to have to bah humbug the holiday season.
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.
Etymology – “Youth,” “Flower of Youth” or “Prime of Life”
Other Names and Epithets: Ἡβη, Basileia (Princess), Dia, Ganymeda, Juventas (Roman)
Hebe is the goddess of Youth in Greek mythology. She had also been the cup bearer to the gods before being replaced by the youth, Ganymede. In Pindar’s Nemean Odes, he notes how Hebe is one of the most beautiful goddesses in Olympus.
Animal: Chicken, Eagle
Patron of: Sinners, Former Prisoners and Slaves, Young Brides
Plant: Ivy, Lettuce
Sphere of Influence: Youth, Vitality, Forgiveness
Symbols: Chalice, Fountain of Youth, Wings
In Grecian art, Hebe is frequently shown as a young woman wearing a crown of flowers and a sleeveless dress or partially nude. Many ancient vases show Hebe in either her role as cup-bearer or as Heracles’ bride. Occasionally, Hebe is shown to have wings like Iris or Nike.
There is a lost, though famous statue of Hebe made of gold and ivory that was sculpted by Naucydes during the 5th century B.C.E.
Hebe was worshiped in Phlious and Sicyon. There she was known by the name of Dia. They would pardon or forgive supplicants who came to her temple to pay respects and reverence.
Kissotomoi – Also known as Ivy-Cutters, this was a yearly festival held in secret dedicated to Hebe as Dia.
Hebe was also worshiped in Athens where she had an alter near an alter dedicated to Heracles in the Cynosarges.
Parentage and Family
Zeus – King of the Olympian Gods is Hebe’s father.
Hera – Queen of the Olympian Gods is Hebe’s mother.
Another version for Hebe’s parentage is that her mother, Hera became pregnant when she ate some lettuce while dining with the god Apollo.
Some sources list only a couple of siblings for Hebe, namely Ares and Eileithyia. Regardless of how many siblings that Hebe is noted to have, she was regarded as being the youngest of all of the Olympian gods residing on Mount Olympus.
Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Dionysus, Eileithyia, Enyo, Ersa, Helen of Troy, Heracles, Hephaestus, Hermes, Minos, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus, Rhadamanthus, the Graces, the Horae, the Litae, the Muses, the Moirai
In some of the myths, Hebe is the wife of the Greek hero Hercules after he became deified. It’s also kind of wrong given they’re half-siblings.
With Heracles, Hebe bore two children, Alexiares and Anicetus.
Cup-Bearer To The Gods
As cup-bearer to the gods on Mount Olympus, Hebe’s duties were to fill the gods’ chalices with the nectar of the gods, which would keep them all youthful and invigorated. In addition to the nectar, Hebe also served the ambrosia.
Some stories have Hebe being replaced by Ganymede to become the cup-bearer to the gods, other stories have where the youth is just one of two cup-bearers.
Most people seem to be familiar with the story of Hebe having been clumsy and either accidentally having a wardrobe malfunction or spilling the nectar. Either way, Apollo or Zeus fired Hebe on the spot and replaced her with Ganymede.
Another version has Hebe leaving her post as cup-bearer to the gods when she marries Heracles and that’s why Ganymede ultimately takes over the divine position as cup-bearer.
Goddess Of Beauty
Sometimes, albeit briefly and in passing, Hebe is mentioned as a goddess of Beauty. For this, I can see Hebe sometimes being mentioned as one of Aphrodite, the goddess of love’s attendants.
Goddess Of Pardons & Forgiveness
As previously mentioned under worship, Hebe was the goddess of pardoning. In Hebe’s sanctuary in Phlius, she had a grove where freed prisoners would hang their former chains before going to live a free life.
Goddess Of Youth
This function pretty much goes hand in hand with Hebe’s role as cup-bearer for she was responsible for the vitality of youth and bestowing it on the other gods by dispensing and filling their cups with the nectar of the gods.
Fountain of Youth – In Greek myths, the fabled Fountain of Youth is a fountain from which the waters that flowed would keep one youth forever or restore one’s youth. As the goddess of Youth, Hebe guarded over these waters and they could only be found and used by her.
Young Brides – As Hebe’s mother is Hera, the goddess of marriage, as her daughter, Hebe is a handmaiden to Hera and the goddess of young brides. Other goddesses that Hebe would accompany for overseeing weddings are: Aphrodite, the Charities or Graces and Harmonia.
Spring – As a goddess of Youth, Hebe is sometimes seen as a goddess of springtime.
Immortality – According to Euphronios in his writings, Hebe as a goddess of Youth is also the goddess of Immortality. Many have often pointed out over the years, that what good is immortality if you don’t also have the strength, vitality, and youth to go with it?
There’s a metaphor, from the Bacchylides were receiving the Basileia (“the Princess”) of heaven, one could gain or win immortality.
Granting Youth – When Heracles nephew, Iolaus grew old, he prayed to Hebe to be young again before he went off to fight Eurystheus. Hebe granted Iolaus’ request on Heracles’ behalf for the day. This episode is shown in Euripidies’ play Heracleidae.
In Ovid’s The Metamorphoses, there is an episode where after Hebe grants this guerdon or boon, that Themis, the goddess of Justice says to grant it this once is fair. After which there was a great discussion among that other gods and it was agreed not to allow any further gifts of restored youth.
Marriage To Heracles
When Heracles became deified and ascended to Mount Olympus, there was a marriage between the mighty hero and Hebe. This marriage was held to try and reconcile the problems between the mighty hero and Hera, Hebe’s mother.
Ancient Greek Traditions & Responsibilities
It seems a bit odd at first some of these other servant-like tasks that Hebe held. She was the youngest of all of the Olympian gods and her role reflects the ancient Greek custom where the daughter helps and assists around the house and serves guests.
As previously mentioned, Ganymedes served as Hebe’s male counterpart in her role as being cup-bearer to the gods.
As the goddess of youth, Hebe’s counter was Geras, the goddess or personification of Old Age.
Hebe is sometimes seen as being the counterpart or similar to Pandeia, the daughter of the moon goddess Selene.
Juventas – Roman Goddess
The Romans are very famous for taking and equating their gods with those of the Greeks or flat out renaming them. It is no different with Hebe, her Roman name and counterpart is Juventas.
In Rome, Juventas held a temple on the Capitol and Terminus long before there was one built for Jupiter. There was another temple for Juventas at the Circus Maximus.
The Month of June – This story is found more in the Roman myths as there’s a minor spat and disagreement over which goddess gave their name to the month of June, Juno or Juventas. It’s a minor footnote of a story as Juventas has a discussion with her husband, Hercules about wanting only her honor and acknowledgment for the month of June. Most people default to assuming Juno gave her name for the month of June.
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. Also, among the Southern Slavic countries, the Zmej appears more as an anthropomorphic draconic of fishlike humanoid.
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 Southern 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.