Category Archives: Festival/Holiday

Mistletoe

Other Names: All-Heal, Birdlime, Devil’s Fuge, Donnerbesen, Druid’s Herb, Golden Bough, Herbe de la Croix, Holy Wood, Lignum Sanctae Crucis, Misseltoe, Mistillteinn, Mystyldyne, Thunderbesem,  Witches’ Broom, Wood of the Cross,

Attributes

Animal: Thrush

Deity: Apollo, Balder, Cerridwen, Freya, Frigga, Odin, Taranis, Thor, Venus

Element: Air

Gender: Masculine

Planet: Sun

Rune: Ing

Sphere of Influence: Defense, Dreams, Exorcism, Fertility, Health, Hunting, Invisibility, Locks, Love, and Protection

Symbols: Friendship, Peace

Victorian Language of Flowers: “I surmount difficulties, I send you a thousand kisses.”

Zodiac: Leo

What Is It?

Mistletoe is the common name for plant that is parasitic (hemiparasite) in that it grows by attaching itself to the branches of a tree or shrub, taking water and nutrients from the host plant. The mistletoe species, Viscum album is the one referred to in folklore is that is native to Great Britain and most of Europe. It is characterized by having a smooth-edged, oval shaped evergreen leaves set in pairs along the stem and white berries that are known to be poisonous.

There are a variety of other species of mistletoe plants found in other countries of Europe such as Spain and Portugal and on other continents. American Mistletoe is also known as False Mistletoe as the homeopathic remedies and uses are different from the European Mistletoe. Over time, the term mistletoe has come to include other species of parasitic plants. Even plants get parasites…

Despite mistletoe’s parasitic nature, it does have an ecological benefit with being a keystone species in that it provides food for a variety of animals that feed on it as well as providing nesting material for various birds.

There used to be all sorts of folkloric beliefs about how mistletoe would come to grow on various shrubs and trees. By the sixteenth, botanists had it figured out that seeds were passed by the digestive tracts of birds who fed on mistletoe or by the birds rubbing their bills on trees to get rid of the sticky seeds. An early reference to this is in 1532, an Herbal book by Turner.

What’s In A Name

One etymology for mistletoe that seems fairly accurate are the Anglo-Saxon words for “mistel” meaning “dung” and “tan” meaning “twig.” Making the meaning of mistletoe as “dung-on-a-twig.” Which makes sense, people observed that mistletoe grew wherever birds roosted and thus did their business.

The Latin word “viscusas” and the Greek word “ixias” both refer to the white coloration of mistletoe berries and being thought of to resemble sperm. The same words “visand ischu” mean “strength” In the Greek and Roman mindsets, sperm was connected to strength and vitality and thus to fertility for life springing seemingly out of nowhere. Mistletoe berries harvested from Oak trees were believed to have regenerative powers.

Christmas Folklore

Mistletoe is a plant strongly associated with Christmas, Yule and other Winter Celebrations where it is used in decorations for its evergreen leaves that symbolize the promised return of spring.

Hanging Mistletoe – Anyone standing beneath the mistletoe can expect to be kissed. This probably originates in Druidic beliefs where mistletoe is strongly connected with fertility as the white berries of the mistletoe resembled semen. Now, proper etiquette says that when someone is kissed beneath the mistletoe, a berry needs to be removed until all have been plucked, at which point, there are no more kisses.

One tradition holds that if any unmarried woman went unkissed after the hanging of the mistletoe, they would not be able to marry for a year.

British Folklore

British farmers would feed a bough of mistletoe to their livestock on January 1st, believing it would ward off any bad luck for the coming year. Alternatively, a farmer feeding mistletoe to the first cow calving in the New Year was what brought good luck.

In some regions of Britain, mistletoe would be burned on the twelfth night after Christmas to ensure any boys or girls who didn’t get kissed could still marry.

Celtic Druidic Mythology & Traditions

In the Celtic language, the name for mistletoe translates to “All-Heal” as they believed this plant to have healing powers that could cure a number of ailments and held the soul of the host tree. By Mistletoe was held the chief of the Druid’s sacred seven herbs. The other sacred plants were: vervain, henbane, primrose, pulsatilla, clover and wolf’s bane.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is attributed to the Druids who held the plant as being sacred. It held a magical virtue and served as a remedy to protect against evil. Mistletoe found growing on Oaks were especially sacred. Ovid’s writings mention how Druids would dance around oak trees with mistletoe growing on them. If mistletoe were to fall to the ground without being cut, it was considered an ill omen.

In Between – Seen as a tree that was not a tree. One of the things making mistletoe sacred was its seeming ability to spring forth out of nowhere. It represented the “in between” or a gateway to other worlds and spirit.

Harvesting – Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, circa 77 C.E. notes how the Druids revered the mistletoe. Pliny goes on to explain how white-clad Druids would use a golden sickle when harvesting mistletoe; taking great care to make sure that none hit the ground, believing that the plant would lose its potency and sacred powers. The sacrifice of two white bulls would follow. Pliny’s accounts are the most well-known documentation of Druid beliefs regarding the sacredness of mistletoe. Either the Midsummer or the Winter Solstice were the times to harvest and collect mistletoe. Better when done so on the sixth day after a waning moon.

Oak King & Holly King – This is a particularly old folkloric belief. With the Oak King and Holly King being personifications for the cycle of the year. Mistletoe berries found on an Oak tree were thought to be representative of the Oak King’s semen. So when the Oak King’s power waned and gave way to the Holly King, the harvesting of mistletoe and it’s berries off of Oak trees was symbolic of emasculating the Oak King. Hence, why two bulls would be sacrificed, to compensate the Oak King.

The white berries of mistletoe would be made into fertility potions as they were thought to be regenerative as on the Winter Solstice, the Oak King would be reborn, gaining power again as the new year progressed.

Fire & Lightning – It was thought that mistletoe would grow on an Oak tree that had been struck by lightning. For this, mistletoe was believed to be able to stop fires.

French Folklore

French farmers would burn mistletoe in their fields in order to have a successful harvest with the coming year.

Maidens would place a sprig of mistletoe beneath their pillows so they could dream of their future husband.

Herbe de la Croix – In Brittany, there is a legend how the cross that Jesus is to have been hung on was made from the wood of mistletoe. After Christ’s death, mistletoe is said to have been cursed or degraded to become a parasitic plant. Now days, thanks to 16th century Botanists discoveries, it’s better understood how the seeds of mistletoe or spread.

Greek Mythology

Immortality – Asclepius, the son of Apollo and god of medicine was greatly renowned for his healing skills to the degree that he could even bring people back from the dead. This knowledge of healing came about after Glaucus, the son of King Minos of Crete had fallen into a jar of honey and drowned. Asclepius had been called onto the scene and while there, saw a snake slithering towards Glaucus’ body. Asclepius killed the snake and then saw another snake come in and place an herb on the body of the first snake, bringing it back to life. After witnessing this, Asclepius proceeded to take the same herb and place it on Glaucus’ body and bring him back to life.

This herb is said to have been mistletoe. Now armed with this knowledge, Asclepius brought Glaucus back to life. Later, he would bring Thesues’ son, Hippolytus after the king’s son had been thrown from his chariot.

This angered Hades enough that he complained to Zeus that humans would become immortal and that there wouldn’t be anyone entering the Underworld. To prevent people from becoming immortal, Zeus agreed to kill Asclepius, doing so with a lightning bolt. Later, Zeus placed Asclepius’ image up into the heavens to become the constellation of Ophiuchus in honor and memory.

Roman Mythology

Golden Bough or Mistletoe is the plant Aeneas uses to enter the Underworld to Hades’ realm.

Saturnalia – Many traditions regarding mistletoe and the Christmas traditions are believed to trace their origins to this ancient Roman festival once held on December 17th of the old Julian calendar.

Norse Mythology

The Death Of Balder

This is one of the bigger, more well-known Norse stories. Balder’s mother Frigg, the goddess of Love had received a prophesy concerning Balder’s death, who was the most beloved of all the gods. Wishing to try and avoid this fate, Frigg got an oath from all living things that they wouldn’t harm her son. In her haste to do so, Frigg overlooked the mistletoe, believing it to be too small and inconsequential.

Leave it to Loki to learn of this oversight and to test the validity of the prophesy. Depending on the source, Loki either makes an arrow or a spear out of mistletoe and hands it off to the blind god Hod, instructing him to aim it at Balder. This act doesn’t seem so unusual when taken into account that many of the other gods were taking aim at Balder to test his invulnerability.

Hod then, unknowingly of Loki’s true intent, fires the mistletoe weapon at Balder and impales the god who soon dies. Frigg is grief stricken and Hermod rides off on Sleipnir down to the Underworld to plead for Balder’s release from Hel, how everyone loves him. The Underworld goddess replies that if this is so, then every being in the living world will weep for the slain god. If everyone does weep, then Hel will release her hold on Balder and allow him to return.

Hermod returns with the news and every creature on the earth cries for Balder. All, that is except for an old giantess by the name of Tokk (or Þökk, meaning “Thanks,”) she was most certainly and likely Loki in disguise.

With this failure to have everyone weep, Balder remained in Hel’s domain.

Some variations to this legend have mistletoe becoming the symbol of peace and friendship to make-up for it’s part in Balder’s death.

In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant–making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.

The white berries of mistletoe are to have formed from Frigg’s tears when she mourned Balder’s death. Shakespeare makes an allusion to the story of Balder’s death by referring to mistletoe as “baleful.”

Peace & Love

Due to the above story, the Norse held the belief that hanging the mistletoe would be a symbol of peace, indicating that any past hurts and anger would be forgiven. Enemies would cease fighting each other for the day.

Christianity

Under the incoming Christian religion as it spread throughout Europe, the symbolism of the mistletoe would be converted to have Christian meanings as older pagan beliefs and traditions would get adapted and changed.

For example, in the Norse story with the death of Balder, mistletoe would keep its meanings as a symbol of life and fertility.

Magical Uses

Wearing sprigs of mistletoe is believed to help conceive, attract love and for protection.

During Medieval times or Antiquity, branches of mistletoe would be hung to ward off evil spirits. Mistletoe would be hung over the house and stable doors to protect from witches and keep them from entering.

Mistletoe could also be worn in amulets, bracelets, and rings for its magical qualities of protecting from evil, witches, poisoning and even werewolves!

Medicinal Uses

Yes, there are medical uses for mistletoe. However, the white berries are poisonous as they do cause epileptic type seizures and convulsions. Keep the white berries away from small children and pets who might decide to try and eat them.

Do make sure to consult an accredited medical source as some information has changed.

Homeopathic Remedies – Due to the nature of the poisonous berries, it causes many cultures such as the ancient Celts to use mistletoe berries in remedies for treating convulsions, delirium, hysteria, neuralgia and heart conditions. Some Native American tribes used a tea wash for bathing the head to treat headaches and infusions for lowering blood pressure and treating lung problems.

Warning – Do make sure to consult an accredited medical source as some medical experts disagree about the applications of homeopathic remedies and information is likely to change with better data and research.

Mistletoe is seen as an all-purpose plant and has been attributed a wide variety of magical uses and even a number of herbal and homeopathic remedies. A lot of it ending up very contradictory and suspect as to which to see as accurate. Further, you want to make sure you have the right mistletoe species.

Krampus

Also called: Krampusz (Hungarian)

Pronounciation: krahm-pus

Etymology: Claw (Old High German, Krampen)

Also Known As: Bartl or Bartel, Klaubauf (Austria), Krampusz (Hungarian,) Niglobartl, Parkelj (Slovenian,) and Wubartl

Once more December is upon us with its many familiar Winter Celebrations and Holidays.

In the Alpine regions of Austria and Germany, and even to Bavaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, northern Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland, there is the familiar horned and sometimes hairy figure of Krampus who arrives on Krampus Night to punish misbehaving children. Where Saint Nicholas is who gives gifts to good children. Krampus, like Zwarte Piet and other characters of Christmas are seen as the companions of Santa Claus or Sinterklaas.

Krampus is a figure who seems to originate in Germanic paganism before the arrival of Christianity in the region.

Description

While there are a few variations to the appearance of Krampus, many descriptions do agree on this figure being very hairy with brown, black or gray fur, cloven hooves, and horns of a goat. He will have a particularly longer than usual tongue that hangs out.

Krampus will also be carrying or wearing chains that symbolize the binding of the Devil by Saint Nicholas. These chains will be shaken and sometimes have bells on them. The other items that Krampus is known to carry are ruten or bundles of birch branches that he will either hand out to naughty children or beat them with. Sometimes this branch is replaced with a whip instead. Krampus can also be seen carrying a sack or washtub on his back that he uses to carry off naughty children whom he either eats, drowns, or takes to Hell.

Crime & Punishment

On December 5th, Krampusnacht, the figure of Krampus is known for going about and punishing naughty children, similar to the role that Zwarte Piet has in the Netherlands. Unlike Zwarte Piet, Krampus never gives out treats or gifts. They are one of the original Nightmares before Christmas. Or, if we do like with the 2015 Krampus movie, Krampus is who comes when all hope dies at Christmas.

Some of the punishments that children might expect are:

  • If a child is lucky, they only get handed a birch branch.
  • If said child was particularly naughty, they could expect to be beaten with the birch branch.
  • In the cases where children were extremely naughty, they would get carried off by Krampus in either a sack or washtub that he carries on his back. What happens now to the child varies on the legend. In some cases, Krampus might eat the child, drown them or simply carry them off to Hell. These older legends where Krampus carries off a child do make a connection to the time when Moors would raid the European coast and carry off people into slavery. A connection also seen with the previously mentioned Zwarte Piet.

Ancient History

The history of Krampus is a bit murky and many scholars do agree that this figure has to date before pre-Christianity. Some try to make a connection back to the Epic of Gilgamesh and Endiku, the original Wild Man. Even if that source is flimsy and suspect, the European traditions of going out in disguises and mummery have long been a part of the Winter Solstice celebrations and have survived in some form or another.

The description of Krampus shows him as being demonic with a half human, half goat appearance for the long fur, horns, and hooves. It has been theorized that Krampus may have been a fertility deity before the arrival of Christianity to the region. At this point, anything that didn’t fit under the umbrella of Christian beliefs or couldn’t be incorporated, tends to be labeled as evil and demonic.

God of the Witches – This connection seems a bit speculative. Maurice Bruce makes a connection of Krampus with the Horned God of the Witches. That the birch branches may have been part of initiation rites into a coven. That the chains that Krampus carries are part of the Christian tradition of “binding the Devil” much like Sinterklaas is to have done with Zwarte Piet with binding the devil. It’s easy to see a connection of the horns and hooves, woodland entity and connect Krampus to satyrs, fauns and possibly Pan. A horned god of the forest is a fairly common image in many of the early European religions and beliefs.

The Son Of Hel

This aspect of the myth is fairly recent and was likely introduced in Gerald Brom’s 2012 novel “Krampus: The Yule Lord.” In it, Krampus is stated to be the son of Hel, the Norse goddess of death. Even if it’s a recent addition, it does show an expanding and evolving folklore surrounding Krampus that seems to be gaining popularity.

The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt is a phenomenon found in many different European countries and cultures. It is a nightmarish, supernatural force led by some dark spectral hunter on horseback and accompanied by a host of other riders and hounds as they chase down unlucky mortals, either until they drop dead of exhaustion, are caught, and forced to join the Wild Hunt or if they can evade the Hunt until dawn.

Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. The Wild Hunt is known for making its ride during the Winter Solstice or New Year’s Eve. It’s possible that Krampus is a representative or aspect of the darker and harsher winter months.

It does tie in for one legend that the Krampus parades stem from an ancient rite to parade through town and run off ghosts. This seems further tied in as an explanation for the bells on the Krampus’ chains as there are traditions that the ringing of bells at the Solstice would scare off or banish evil spirits.

A Krampus By Any Other Name…

There are a few other figures in the Saint Nicholas/Winter Solstice celebrations who are similar to Krampus.

Bartel – Also called Bartl is a local name or variation for Krampus in Styria.

Belsnickel – A figure who follows Santa Claus in some regions of Europe such as Germany and Austria, he is similar to Krampus in that he will punish naughty children.

Hans Trapp – A sinister scarecrow from France that scares children around Christmas time.

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.

Knecht Ruprecht – Another figure from Germany who punishes children.

Percht – The percht are an offshoot of an older goddess, Perchta from the Alpine regions who guarded the beasts of the forest. The percht would be depicted as humanoid goats with elongated necks and wearing animal furs. These same percht are believed to become the basis for Krampus.

Ru Klaas – Another figure from Germany who punishes children.

Schabmänner or Rauhen – In the Austrian state Styria, these “Wild Man” figures will appear in addition to Krampus to dole out birch rods and punishments.

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.

Krampusnacht & The Feast Of Saint Nicholas

Where many American children get excited for Santa Claus on December 25th, in Europe, children get excited for Saint Nicholas’ arrival on December 5th (Aruba, Curacao and the Netherlands) or 6th (Belgium and Luxembourg). The celebrations of Saint Nicholas gained popularity in Germany right around the eleventh century. It is also around this time, that the patron saint of children would get paired up with a dark counterpart. With Saint Nicholas giving gifts to good children and Krampus punishing the bad children.

In Germany, things are a little different. The night before Saint Nicholas’ Day is December 5th, all well and good for the most part. However, December 5th though, is known as Krampusnacht or Krampus Night and is a night of riotous revelry and fear for Krampus is known to come, punishing naughty children, or carrying them away in a basket on his back.

The next morning on December 6th, children will look to see if their shoe or stocking has gifts and presents in it or if a rod or twigs have been left for them.

Austrian Urban Centers – In many Christmas markets, watered or toned-down images of Krampus will be sold, presenting him in a humorous light to tourists. Some people have complained that by softening the image of Krampus, he may be getting too commercialized.

Bavaria – The celebrations surrounding Krampus have seen revivals that include artistic traditions of hand-carved wooden masks.

Croatia – Here, Krampus is described as wearing a sack cloth around his wait and chains on his wrists and ankles, not just around his neck. If a child misbehaves too badly, Krampus will keep the gifts that Saint Nicholas would have given for himself and leave a silver birch branch behind.

Northern Italy – In the Udine province of Italy, there is the Cave del Predil. An annual Krampus festival is held here where the Krampus comes out just before sunset to chase children and whip them. To satiate the Krampus’ anger, children and young people would need to recite a prayer.

Slovenia – In many areas of Slovenia, Krampus is called Parkeli and is one of the companions of Miklavž, the Slovenian name for Saint Nicholas.

Styria – In this Austrian state, Krampus has a few different appearances. Here, Krampus will present a bundle of birch rods, painted gold to families so they can be hung in the house as a reminder to children to be on their best behavior. In smaller, more remote villages, other horned or antlered figures known as Schabmänner or Rauhen, “the Wild Man” will make appearances too in addition to Krampus.

United States –The figure of Krampus is catching on in many places and there are more and more movies and shows that will feature Krampus as a main antagonist, even if for one episode. Some cities will hold their own Krampus Runs and there are parties held celebrating Krampus, even if they are nothing more than an excuse to drink.

“The Great War On Christmas”

In the 12th century C.E., the Catholic Church tried to banish the Krampus celebrations due to their pagan elements and Krampus’ resemblance to the devil. This would prove difficult as people in the more rural areas would keep alive their traditions.

People wearing devil masks and acting riotously with drunken revelries and causing trouble have been recorded since the sixteenth century. It was not uncommon for animal masked devils to appear in Medieval Christian church plays. So, the appearances of Krampus masks at this time may very well have been part of these celebrations and the mummery that happens with many Winter festivals. The 17th century would see a full integration of pairing Saint Nicholas with Krampus. If they couldn’t stamp the Krampus traditions out, they would adapt him to the Christian religious observances.

When we get to the 20th century, the Austrian governments tried once more to prohibit the Krampus antics and displays. After the 1934 Austrian Civil War, the Dollfuss regime with the Fatherland’s Front and Christian Social Party tried to ban the Krampus traditions. The 1950’s saw the publication of government issued pamphlets titled: “Krampus is an Evil Man.”

But you can’t keep a good Krampus down and by the end of the 20th century, Krampus celebrations and parades came back in force. So much so, that Krampus celebrations have been spreading around the world to places like the United States as part of an “anti-Christmas celebration.” He certainly does represent a darker side to the holiday where not everything is not always so joyous. It does play to earlier celebrations of Christmas with drunk revelries and anyone wanting to push back again the heavy, over commercialization of Christmas.

Krampusfest

Also known as Kränchen, this is a village-wide celebration held in southeast Austria. It is often held on the Saturday after Krampus Day. These festivities are typically held at local community centers, schools or any facility large enough to hold some 300+ drunk revelers. Sometimes, Kränchen will be held a week before or after Krampus Day. It’s a way that some villages will turn Krampus Day into a three weekend long celebration, particularly one for drinking and booze.

Krampuslauf

The great Krampus run is an annual parade held every year in many Alpine towns. For the first two weeks, especially on the eve of December 6th, young people will dress in Krampus costumes and parade through the town, ringing bells and scaring parade watchers. Some participants may dress up as perchten, a wild female spirit from Germanic folklore. Alcoholic beverages of Krampus schnapps and brandy are common during this celebration.

Perchten – These wild spirits are known to be active between the Winter Solstice and up to around January 6th, Epiphany if you were in Italy.

Krampuskarten

These are the holiday greeting cards that feature Krampus on them. Krampus cards have been exchanged since the 1800’s during the Holiday Season. A typical greeting card reads: “Gruß vom Krampus” or “Greetings from the Krampus” and likely accompanied with some humorous rhymes or poems within.

Older versions of Krampus cards are likely to show a more sinister and frightening Krampus while newer, modern cards might show a more toned down, cuter, or humorous looking Krampus figure.

Perchtenlauf

This is a seasonal play that is found throughout the Alpine regions. It was known as Nikolausspiel or “Nicholas’ Play” at one time. These plays stem from the Medieval Morality Plays from Antiquity. The Nicholas plays feature Saint Nicholas reward children for their scholarly efforts instead of good behavior.

As I mentioned above, the percht are an offshoot of an older goddess, Perchta from the Alpine regions who guarded the beasts of the forest. The percht would be depicted as humanoid goats with elongated necks and wearing animal furs. These same percht are believed to become the basis for Krampus. Villagers living in the more remote regions of the Alpines would parade around in percht guises.

Tiamat

Tiamat

Etymology: Mother of Life

Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Tiahamtu, Baau, Bis-Bis, Hubar, Mammu-Tiamat, Omorca, Omoroka, Tamtu, Tauthe, Tehom, Thalass, Thalassa, Thalatth, Thamte, Thlavatth, Tiawath, Tisalat, Ummukhubar, Θαλάττη Thaláttē (Greek)

Epithets: Mummu Hubur (Mother of Monsters) or “Ummu-Hubur, Who Formed All Things”

Tiamat is an ancient, primordial mother goddess often represented as a draconic personification of the oceans and saltwater from whom all life springs forth from.

Attributes

Animal: All aquatic animals, Dragons, Sharks

Element: Water

Sphere of Influence: Chaos, Creation

Mesopotamian Depictions

Classically, the image of Tiamat is that of a large, primordial dragon who symbolizes the saltwater ocean, the element of Chaos from which all life originates.

Surprisingly, when looking at the Enûma Elish, Tiamat is described as having a tail, thighs, a lower half of the body, belly, udder, ribs, neck, and head. It’s not a clear enough description aside from the tail is that of a dragon. The udder though, makes me think of a cow?

I came across one description, that in her role as creatrix, Tiamat is described as a glistening woman. When connected later to her chaotic element, Tiamat is then shown as a dragon.

More modern authors and sources go with describing Tiamat as a sea serpent or dragon. This connection holds up with Tiamat giving birth to dragons and serpents.

For those familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, Tiamat is a multi-headed dragon, with each head representing a different chromatic dragon race in the game.

Hellenistic Iconography – There’s a relief found in the temple of Bel in Palmyra that shows Marduk and Nabu slaying Tiamat who is represented with a woman’s body and snake legs.

Older Than Time

Not quite.

The oldest reference to Tiamat is an Akkadian incantation dating to the first millennium B.C.E. Once the Enuma Elish was composed, Tiamat begins to be found in several religious texts. However, it must be noted those works refer back to the Enuma Elish. An almost obscure historian, Berossus also writes about Tiamat in the 3rd century B.C.E.

When You Stare Into The Abyss…

This turned out to be a fascinating bit to find. Looking at the Sumerian word, “ti” means “life” and “ama” means “mother.” So Mother of Life or Mother of All could be good translations for Tiamat’s name.

Going by the Akkadian word for the sea, it is tâmtu or ti’amtum. It has also been noted that the long vowel â in tamtu is a contraction of the vowels i and a. This word is a proper form for addressing a person or deity. So… Tiamat, tâmtu is: “O’sea!”

Taking this further for how ancient languages likely influenced each other, there are some scholars who see a connection to the Hebraic word Tehom that means ‘the Deep” or “Abyss,” especially as used in the Torah or Old Testament in the book of Genesis. It makes sense, tehom is a cognate to the Akkadian tamtu and the Ugaritic t-h-m and all share similar meanings. It’s not hard to see how these words would also be found as a root word and meaning to the Babylonian Tiamat.

As a side note, the Greek Septuagint uses the word “abyssos” or Abyss when translating tehom.

Speaking of Greek, Tiamat was called Thalatte in the Hellenistic Babylonian Berossus’ first volume of Universal History. The name Thalatte is a variation to the Greek’s word for the sea of Thalassa. Later, in other translations, Tiamat’s name is altogether replaced for Thalassa as the Akkadian sources for Enuma Elish used the more common word for sea as both names of Thalassa and Tiamat had become synonymous.

Parentage and Family

Consort

Apsu – Or Abzu, Primordial God of Freshwater

Kingu – Or Qingu, her consort after Apsu’s death, also her son and general of her army.

Children

Lachmu and Lachamu – The first pair of gods born. From them, all of the other gods within the Mesopotamian pantheon come.

Monstrous Children & Demon – After the death of Apsu, Tiamat creates a host of monstrous children, among whom dragons and serpents are but a few.

Grandchildren

Anšar and Kišar – Through Lachmu and Lachamu.

Igigi – Ultimately the second and third generation of gods.

Babylonian Mythology

In this mythology, Tiamat is a primordial, monstrous sea goddess depicted as a dragon. She represents the formless chaos from which life began. It is with her consort, Apsu, the primordial god of freshwater that the first generation of gods are born.

Enuma Elish

This an ancient epic creation poem written in the 18th century B.C.E. (1700 to 2000 B.C.E. are other estimated guesses) when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds and how Ea (Enki) steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.

The Enuma Elish begins at the start of time, when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater (or the abyss) represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods and other beings. Their most notable children are Lachmu and Lachamu along with others who become the other gods and goddesses, known as the Anunnaki. The other children of Apsu and Tiamat are giant sea serpents, dragons, snakes, storm demons, fish-men, scorpion-men

While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu on the other hand didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night and unable to get any work done during the day. Apsu’s response to this problem was to kill his children, specifically the younger, Igigi deities.

A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki (later version its Ea) of what Apsu has planned. Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to capture and put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth and the marshy region of Eridu.

Kingu, one of Tiamat and Apsu’s sons, soon to be consort to Tiamat is upset and goes to report what happened. This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting for Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raised up an army of chaos consisting of twelve monsters: Bašmu, “Venomous Snake,” Ušumgallu, “Great Dragon,” Mušmahhu, “Exalted Serpent,” Mušhuššu, “Furious Snake,” Lahmu, the “Hairy One,” Ugallu, the “Big Weather-Beast,” Uridimmu, “Mad Lion,” Girtablullû, “Scorpion-Man,” Umu dabrutu, “Violent Storms,” Kulullû, “Fish-Man,” and Kusarikku, “Bull-Man” who are all led by Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army.

This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. That is, until Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.

Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.

After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablets of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.

This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow.

With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans who would be the servants of the Igigi (the younger Mesopotamian gods). The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.

That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.

Side Note: Early versions of this story have Anu, later replaced by Enlil and then in the last version, it is Marduk who gets the promise from the other gods about becoming head of the pantheon.

Marduk’s version dates from the first dynasty of the Babylonians, whereas the other versions are much older. Even then, depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki at all. Scholars who look at when the Enuma Elish was written generally believe that it represents political and religious propaganda meant justify and install Marduk as the head of the Babylonian pantheon as the city-state rose to political power in the region.

As for Apsu, the Enuma Elish is the first time he’s treated as a deity. Before, he’s just a concept, what they called the freshwater found beneath the earth in the aquifers.

Mother Of Gods & Monsters

If this were Greek mythology, I would say that sounds like Echidna who is infamous for giving birth to several monsters or Gaia with the numerous monstrous children that she gave birth to that were later imprisoned in Tartarus.

The first children that Tiamat gives birth to are those gods who will become part of the collective Mesopotamian pantheon. It is after the death of her consort Apsu, that Tiamat gives birth to a host of monstrous creatures, some of whom are dragons and serpents to go after her first group of children, the gods. Some of Tiamat’s monstrous children also become the signs of the zodiac.

As the mother of all creation, Tiamat’s mating with Apsu is seen as a Sacred Marriage. It more a poetical explaining the creation of life and in the ancient Mesopotamian mythology, where the saltwater sea met and mixed with the freshwater sea in the Persian Gulf. One notable region in the area is Bahrain, which means “two seas” in Arabic. It’s thought by some scholars that Bahrain might be the site Dilmun and corresponding with the original Sumerian creation story.

Anunnaki – These are the first generation of gods that Apsu and Tiamat gave birth to at the beginning of the creation. Now, depending on which of the Mesopotamian mythologies you follow, Akkadian, Babylonian, Sumer, their number can vary and it’s inconsistent. Lahmu and Lahamu, meaning “hairy” are the firstborn, from there, the other gods are born.

Igigi – These are the second and third generations of gods born. Who were meant to be servants to the Anunnaki. When Apsu decides to kill their children for being too noisy, some retellings will explain it to mean, it’s the Igigi he plans to kill. And it’s the Igigi for whom Tiamat gets angry and decides to retaliate against. The Igigi in their victory, will then create humans to be their servants.

Chaoskampf

The struggle against Chaos; this is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or god going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.

It is no different for the myth of Tiamat with her connection as a primordial goddess of Goddess. With her death, either Anu, Enlil or Marduk establishes order and with her corpse, creates the heavens and the earth.

Tiamat’s story is very likely the origin of the hero slaying the dragon motif where she becomes a symbol of not just chaos, but evil. There’s a commentary that suggests that the female deities of Mesopotamian mythology are older than the male deities. This would then strongly suggest that the hero slaying the dragon is the establishment of monotheistic patriarchal religions over matriarchal religions.

The only other goddess who is likely older than Tiamat is the Sumerian goddess Nammu, who is also a primordial goddess of the sea.

Canaanite Mythology

Scholars tend to agree that Tiamat originates with later Babylonian mythology. Looking at Tiamat’s connection with the sea, scholars do note a similarity in Levantine mythology between the sea god Yamm and Baal.

As the story goes, from the Ras Shamra and other Ugarit texts that have been translated, Baal and Yamm weren’t the best of buddies and their conflicts are symbolic of the short Syrian winters with the conflicting weather of rain, hail and tides. Baal and Yamm were fighting over who would take over as head of the pantheon after El is stepping down. El had told Yamm he would get to take charge and Baal wasn’t happy with the news.

Yamm keeps on sending messengers to Baal about this edict and Baal is having none of it. With the aid of Kothar creating some magical clubs, Baal eventually defeats Yamm.

Baal’s conquering of Tannin and defeating Yam has been seen as being similar to the myths of Zeus defeating the Titans to become King of the Gods or when Zeus usurps Poseidon as King of the Gods from Mycenean Greece to the more well-known Ancient Greece.

Jumping back to the Judaic mythology, scholars have noted that a passage in the book of Isaiah parallels the Baal Cycle. In the Ugaritic passage for the Baal Cycle, Tannin is described as “the encircler.” The other description given is “the mighty one with seven heads.” It gets debated between the Ugaritic and Hebraic texts if this is three separate figures being described or if these are epitaphs of Lotan or Leviathan.

Me, being a lover of mythology, “the encircler” makes me think of Norse mythology and the Midgard serpent Jormungand. And the seven heads, D&D anyone and the evil dragon goddess of chaos, Tiamat?

Biblical Connections?

That seems very likely. Given the close proximity of the cultures in the Mesopotamian and Canaanite regions, it stands to reason that elements of each culture might cross over.

Some scholars take note of the similarity with the Book of Genesis chapter 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” And the comparison to the story of Tiamat’s and Apsu’s procreation with the mixing of saltwater and freshwater to give birth to the first gods and life in a universe where nothing else existed.

Tannin – the giant sea monster of Canaanite mythology and the Judiac Torah is sometimes through to be a connection to Tiamat. It has been noted the similarities between Tannin in the Baal Cycle with Marduk defeating Tiamat.

It’s not hard to see a similarity and a possible connection between the two. And, for the longest time, Biblical scholars did think that the Old Testament or Torah referenced the Babylonian myths. That would change with the discovery of texts found in Ras Shamra or Ugarit as it was anciently known. Once the Ugarit texts were translated, it became apparent that the Old Testament references the ancient Canaanite mythology more.

Anzu – Fire Bird?

There is another Mesopotamian monster, born from the waters of Apsu and the Earth. Think of either a Griffin or a lion-headed eagle that can breathe both fire and water. There have been similarities pointed out between the story of Tiamat being slain by Marduk the Sumerian-Akkadian myths where one text has Marduk slaying this monstrous bird and another text where the god Ninurta slays it with arrows.

Akitu Festival – Happy New Years!

This was the ancient New Year’s festival that the Sumerians and Mesopotamian cultures celebrated. This festival occurred sometime during March and April, marking the planting of barley. This festival was presided over by Nabu and Marduk to such a degree, that a text known as the Akitu Chronicle documents a time when the festival couldn’t be observed as Marduk (his physical statue, thus him) wasn’t present in the city of Babylon.

Every year at the Akitu House located outside the city, the Enuma Elish would be recited for the New Year’s festival. There was also involved a ritual slapping of the king. Gotta’ stay humble, I guess. With the Enuma Elish being recited on the fourth day, the battle between Marduk and Tiamat would be a symbolic reenactment of this mythical battle.

Otherwise, as far as any cults or worship of Tiamat go, there really isn’t any.

Tethys – Greek Titaness

In Greek myth, Tethys is a Titaness and primordial goddess of the ocean.

Tethys as Tiamat. She is the wife of Oceanus, the Titan god of the seas. There isn’t much known about their myths and some scholars go so far as to suggest that Tethys is a syno-deity or similar to Tiamat given their age and functions.

Nammu – Sumerian

A primordial goddess of the sea who is often equated with Tiamat. There is not much in the way of surviving texts that attest of her. Her myth is similar in that, with Apsu, the freshwater oceans beneath the earth, she gives birth to the first gods, An (Heaven) and Ki (Earth).

Omoroca – Stargate-SG1

This source claims to be from Chaldean mythology, which works when you remember that that’s the whole of Mesopotamian mythology between 10th to 6th-century B.C.E.

I had a hard time pinning this one down. During the Hellenistic-Greek era, there is a Babylonian scholar by the name of Berossus who wrote a history of Babylonia. He lived during the time of Alexander, the son of Philip. There’s a lot of Babylonian history that he writes, much of which, modern scholars would see as mythology. He’s not very well known beyond that, making his obscurity excellent fodder for a show to draw from.

A quick search of Omoroca brought up a lot of Stargate-SG1 references, which would imply that the writers are drawing on a historical/mythological source. At the very least, a T.V. show is linking Tiamat with Chaldean mythology to make a show’s mythos more in-depth.

With that grain of salt in mind, Omoroca’s myth starts off much like that of Tiamat’s, wherein the beginning, there is nothing, just darkness and the abyss of water wherein numerous hideous beings and creatures dwell. This is an infinite variety of different beings of every description. All of which are recorded in the temple of Belus in Babylon.

The Stargate wiki in question says that a woman by the name of Omoroca ruled over all of them. That Omoroca’s name in Greek is Thalassa, the sea or the Moon. Belus comes and kills her, creating heaven and earth much like Tiamat’s myth.

Once again, a Stargate-SG1 television source and it does work when linking Belus to Bel-Marduk and thus to Tiamat.

Sitchin Time

According to Zecharia Sitchin, the claim is made that the great battle between Tiamat and Marduk is symbolic for the creation of our solar system’s asteroid belt. Sitchin writes that this asteroid belt was once a planet that the Sumerians called Tiamat. Due to an impact, the planet was destroyed, creating the “Great Band” or asteroid belt. The planetary impact responsible is that of the planet Nibiru, associated with the god Marduk.

Babylonian Astronomy

I will call bunk on Sitchin’s ideas.

When you look at the word Nibiru in the Akkadian language, it refers to a crossing or transition point like with rivers. In Babylonian astronomy, Nibiru came to refer to the Equinox, notably, the Autumn Equinox. In their star lore, the term nibiru can refer to any crossing. Tracking the movement of the stars and planets in the heavens as they appear from Earth. The star or planet associated with Marduk is the one we know modernly as Jupiter.

For the Babylonians, the Autumn Equinox occurred in the month of Tisritum, roughly coinciding with between September and October. If we’re following the Greek Zodiac, then the constellation of Libra is prominent. A further fun fact, depending on the time of the year and the location, the planet Mercury could sometimes be called Nibiru.

Some of it is confusing. Mainly it’s understanding how to read and interpret what the Babylonians meant when tracking the night sky.

Cetus – Greek Mythology & Constellation

While many are familiar with the constellation’s connection to the Grecian story of Andromeda and Perseus in its role as the giant sea monster sent by Poseidon to destroy the coast of Aethiopia.

The constellation of Cetus has been identified with Tiamat, the dragon goddess of Chaos. Marking Tiamat’s story one of many that the Greeks likely inherited from the Mesopotamians and retold for their own legends.

Tiamat - Abyss

Marduk

Marduk

Etymology: “Bull Calf of the Sun,” “Calf of the Sun” or “Solar Calf”

Also known as: Bel (“Lord,” Akkadian), Bel-Marduk, Murdoch

Other Spellings: 𒀭𒀫𒌓 (Cuniform), dAMAR.UTU, Amar utu k (Sumerian), Μαρδοχαῖος, Mardochaios (Greek), מְרֹדַךְ, Mərōdaḵ (Masoretic Hebrew), Merōḏaḵ (Tiberian), Marōdak (Septuagint), Merodach (Biblical Hebrew), Martuk

Pronunciation: mah’-duk

In Mesopotamian mythology, Marduk is a fertility and storm deity of Babylon. He is known for defeating the dragon goddess Tiamat and becoming the Leader of the Babylonian pantheon.

Marduk came to prominence as the patron deity of the city of Babylon during the rule of Hammruabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty of the Amorites in the 18th century B.C.E. when Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley. Marduk’s full acceptance as the head of the Babylonian pantheon would be completed by the last half of the second millennium B.C.E.

Attributes

Animal: Dogs, Horse, Mušḫuššu (Snake-Dragon)

Element: Air, Water

Planet: Jupiter

Sphere of Influence: Fertility, Judgement, Storms, Vegetation

Symbols: Hoe, Spade

Weapon: Imhullu

Mesopotamian Depictions

In what surviving art and texts we have, Marduk is shown as being human dressed in royal robes decorated with stars. Marduk is often accompanied by his snake-dragon that he got from the god Tishpak.

When shown riding in his war chariot, Marduk carries his other emblems of a scepter, arrows, bow, spear, net and lightning bolt.

What’s In A Name?

To start, there is some controversy over the translation of Marduk’s name. There is the Sumerian dAMAR.UD that translates as: “calf of the sun/sun-god.” Then comes the suggestion that this spelling should call for the translation of: “calf of the storm,” “the son of the storm, and “maker of storms.” The latter translation is often rejected due to a lack of evidence with Marduk’s role as a storm god. Accepting this interpretation of the name nixes any connection to Marduk as a solar deity.

The Akkadian spelling for Marduk’s name is AMAR.UTU that translates to mean MERI.DUG. The name is translated to mean “Solar Calf.” In the Hebrew Torah, his name is spelled as Merodach and the Greek spelling of his name is given as Mardochaios.

Marduk’s name is thought to derive from the phrase: amar-Utu meaning: “Bull Calf of the Sun God Utu.” This naming convention could easily be an indicator of early genealogy. Or, it’s an indicator of cultural ties to the city of Sippar, whose main deity was Utu, a Sun God. The city of Sippar dates to the third millennium B.C.E.

The Encyclopedia of Religion comments that the name Marduk was likely pronounced as Marutuk.

Temple Sites

Esagila – “Temple whose top is raised” or “Proud/Honored Temple.” While Marduk would come to claim prominence throughout most of Mesopotamia, his primary temple is Esagila, located in Babylon. This is the famous ziggurat that’s described by Herodotus.

Etemenanki – “Temple that is the foundation of Heavens and Earth” A ziggurat with Marduk’s shrine located at the top. This may be the temple that inspired the “Tower of Babel.”

Cult of Marduk – As the patron god of Babylon, this city was the main location for Marduk’s worship. The rise and popularity of this religion venerating Marduk is tied closely with the rise of Babylon as a strong political power and capital of the Mesopotamian empire. To the degree that many other deities were subsumed and seen as aspects and epitaphs of Marduk. Outside of Babylon, Marduk was worshipped in Borsippa, Nippur, and Sippar.

In the Assyrian period of Babylonian history, Aššur becomes the head of the pantheon and Marduk takes on a symbolic role of Babylon’s resistance to Assyrian rule. The cult of Aššur would compete with the cult of Marduk. In the Assyrian version of the Enūma Eliš, it is Aššur who becomes the head of the pantheon, not Marduk.

The Marduk Prophecy also shows the conflicts of this change of power as Marduk’s statue is continually “taken captive” until finally the resulting destruction of Babylon and Esagila with the different shifts of power in the region.

Marduk Statue

This is a very important aspect of the ancient world beliefs and Mesopotamia is no different. Within the temple of Esagila there was a golden statue of Marduk. This statue wasn’t just dedicated to Marduk, the ancient Mesopotamians believed that statue to actually be the god himself. Seen in the Marduk Prophecy, if the statue of the god wasn’t present, then he wasn’t in his temple or there to protect his city-state and all sorts of calamities and problems would happen.

Originating during the rule of the Kassites, a new king wishing to see his rule as legitimate, needed to “take the hands of Marduk,” symbolizing the king’s submission and accepting the will and guidance of the god.

In 485 B.C.E., the Persian king Xerxes attacked the city of Babylon and there is no mention of Marduk’s statue. The same goes when Alexander the Great conquers Babylon in 331 B.C.E., there’s no mention of the statue. This lack of evidence and records leads many scholars to believe and agree that Marduk’s statue disappearance from history means that it has, in all likelihood been destroyed.

Without a statue, the Babylonian religion and worship of Marduk declined.

Akitu Festival

This was the ancient New Year’s festival that the Sumerians and Mesopotamian cultures celebrated. This festival occurred sometime during March and April, marking the planting of barley. This festival was presided over by Nabu and Marduk to such a degree, that a text known as the Akitu Chronicle documents a time when the festival couldn’t be observed as Marduk (his physical statue, thus him) wasn’t present in the city of Babylon. Without the statue to carry through the city out to a small house outside the city walls, the people thought that disaster would soon befall them if the patron god wasn’t there to stop the forces of chaos.

Every year at the Akitu House located outside the city, the Enuma Elish would be recited for the New Year’s festival. There was also involved a ritual slapping of the king. Gotta’ stay humble, I guess.

Parentage and Family

Anu – Grandfather and the original head of the Mesopotamian pantheon before other deities arrive on the scene.

Parents

Ea – The previous head and leader of the gods before stepping down. Known as Enki in Sumerian. Ea was the creator god, associated with the fresh, life-giving waters.

Damkina – A Fertility and Mother goddess originally known as Ninhursag.

Consort

Sarpanitu – Also spelled Zarpanitu. She is a Mother and Fertility Goddess

Nanaya – She is sometimes given as Marduk’s wife in the myths.

Children

Nabu – Son and god of literature, scribes and wisdom. Nabu was originally Marduk’s first minister before being identified as his son.

Birth Of A Legend

For as old and ancient as the Mesopotamian mythologies are, it makes sense that we might not know that much about them. To a point.

Marduk goes from obscurity with almost nobody knowing anything about him in the third millennium B.C.E. to the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon in Babylon in the first millennium B.C.E.

By the time the Enuma Elish is written, Marduk’s original nature has already been altered and obscured. As now, he’s a deity linked to the attributes of judgment, magic, vegetation, and water. He is now identified as the son of Ea and Damkina.

As the politics of Babylon and the whole of the Euphrates Valley ramped up, Marduk’s attributes and aspects begin to alter as he would be placed as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, especially for his patron city-state of Babylon.

Once Babylon becomes the capital of Mesopotamia, Marduk who was currently just a patron deity of the city now ascends to become the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon and a supreme deity, ruling or presiding over everything else. Explaining this power shift of head honcho, head god and the transfer of power from Ea to Marduk, the Enûma Elish gets written, showing a peaceful abdication of power as Ea steps down and concedes rulership to his son.

There are a couple little snags later on, such as the revival of the god Enlil’s worship to Marduk, reflecting a real-world, historical rise of the cult of Enlil during Kassite control in Babylon between 1570 B.C.E. to 1157 B.C.E. The worship of Marduk and thus, his triumph over Enlil returns at the end of this era of Kassite control.

The other snag to Marduk’s popularity and his being the supreme deity comes during 1000 B.C.E. when the deity Aššur up north in Assyria gains popularity and worship. Down in the southern parts of the region, Marduk is still the head deity. The history of these events is reflected in the Marduk Prophecy.

Enuma Elish

This ancient epic creation poem was written in the 18th century B.C.E. when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds and how Ea (Enki) steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.

The Enuma Elish begins at the start of time when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods, known as the Anunnaki.

While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu, on the other hand, didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night and unable to get any work done during the day. Apsu’s response to this problem was to kill his children.

A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki of what Apsu planned. Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth and the marshy region of Eridu.

This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting for Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raises up an army of chaos and sets Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army and her new consort.

This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. That is, until Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.

Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.

After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablets of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.

This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow.

With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans. The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.

That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.

Side Note: Depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki.

Further, knowing that this is a revision of the original myths, I’m curious about what the originals may have been.

Eridu – The First City

Yes, there really is a historical site for an ancient city of this name. Eridu is the oldest city built by the Mesopotamians around 5400 B.C.E. Depending on who you ask, it may be the oldest city in the world. In the Babylonian texts, namely Enuma Elish, it is a holy city where all the other gods lived a life of leisure.

This city was originally the city-state for the god Enki who is later known as Ea by the Akkadians. For modern times, it was first excavated by John George Taylor in 1855. Later, archeological discoveries found that the city was ultimately abandoned around 600 B.C.E. due to a change in climate as the water became more salinized from all the constant irrigation.

As seen later, in the Marduk Prophecy, with the Enuma Elish, the story here likely reflects on the transition from Eridu to Babylon as it became the political and religious center of the Euphrates valley and a cultural shift as the newer city becomes more prominent over the older city of Eridu.

Revisionist History – Scholars have noted that the city of Eridu is founded in the 5th millennium B.C.E. and that Marduk ascends to head of the Mesopotamian pantheon in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. That is a lot of time to have passed. It clearly marks that someone decided to rewrite the myths to favor Marduk when his popularity and the importance of Babylon as a political center become prominent.

Fertility God

Marduk is a god of fertility and vegetation and thus, agriculture. The triangular spade or hoe that Marduk is shown with in some art represents his role and power over fertility and vegetation.

The roles and aspects of Marduk being a Spring, Storm and Solar god also blend in with this function. However, making these connections relies on accepting certain etymological interpretations for Marduk’s name.

Patron God

As a patron god, Marduk, not just King of the gods, also presided over the city of Babylon. The importance of a patron deity is shown in the Marduk Prophecy where Babylon has fallen to chaos and disarray when Marduk’s statue and thus the god himself leaves and order is later restored when King Nebuchadnezzar returns Marduk’s statue to the city.

Not the Original Patron – This was a fun little fact to come across. Before Marduk became the patron god of Babylon, that honor belonged to Inanna, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She would still be a prominent and important goddess throughout the Mesopotamian culture.

Protector

Marduk’s role as Patron, also places him prominently as a protector deity. Aside from the Akitu Chronicles and the Marduk Prophecy, there are two other texts: “The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi” and “The Wrath of Erra” that highlight just how vital having one’s patron deity present was, not just for the city, but for the individual as well.

The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi – Also called the “Let me praise the Lord of Wisdom” or “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer,” it is often classified as “Wisdom Literature.” This text is a long treatise some four tablets long with 120 lines each. that details the amount of suffering that Tabu-utu-bel, a city official of Nippur goes through because Marduk isn’t close enough to help as he is too far away for any meaningful help. Biblical scholars have compared this text with the Book of Job for the themes of suffering when one’s God seems absent.

The Wrath of Erra – This is another text, in which the war god, Erra (Irra or Nergal) grows bored and decides the only way to cure his boredom is to attack Babylon. The other gods try to persuade Erra that this is a bad idea and don’t do it. Undaunted, Erra heads off to Babylon anyways. Once there, Erra convinces Marduk that his clothes are shabby and perhaps he should go about getting some new threads. Marduk says he’s much too busy to take of this matter and Erra convinces Marduk that he’ll watch over the city. Off Marduk goes and Erra takes advantage of the opportunity to proceed with destroying the city and killing civilians. Depending on the source translated from, either the other gods stop Erra’s path of destruction or he’s halted when Marduk finally returns with his fancy new duds. Regardless, the story ends with giving praise to Erra, the god of war for sparing a part of the city so people could rebuild.

Yay?

The idea of having a protector and patron god of one’s city was very strong among the Babylonians. This was their whole city and personal identity that in 485 B.C.E. the Persian king Xerxes had Marduk’s statue destroyed when he sacked the city. Eventually, with the sands of time, Babylon is deserted and left to ruin and people have forgotten about worshiping Marduk.

King Of The Gods

As head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, Marduk takes on a lot of aspects. In some cases, this is taking over the role of other gods who had previously been the head of the pantheon. Such aspects that Marduk comes to preside over are justice, compassion, mercy, healing, regeneration, magic.

Mušḫuššu

A “snake-dragon, mušḫuššu is Marduk’s sacred animal that he got from the god Tishpak. The mušḫuššu is depicted on the city walls of Babylon.

50 Titles

If you ask me this is a lot of titles and epitaphs to be known by. We get this list from two different sources, “The Seven Tablets of Creation” that Leonard W. King studied in 1902 to reconstruct from fragments a list of names. Then there is the “King’s List” that Franz Bohl studied in 1936. Finally, we get to 1958, when Richard Litke compared and noticed similarities with Marduk’s name between the two lists of An (Anum, a deity list) and Enuma Elish.

These names demonstrate the level of prominence that Marduk held within the Babylonian pantheon. These fifty names of Marduk are found and documented in the Enûma Elish and the Anum.

Why 50? – The number 50 was originally associated with the god Enlil, the former head of the pantheon. So this is just part of showing the transfer of power from Enlil to Marduk.

Asalluhi – As Marduk came to prominence, he took over the role and identity of Asalluhi, the son of Ea and god of incantations and magic. With both Asalluhi and Marduk becoming equated as the same entity, Asalluhi’s name survives as one of Marduk’s many names and epitaphs. Some commentary has noted that equating or syncretizing Marduk and Asalluhi together is a means to create a stronger tie to the god Ea and the city of Eridu as Ea was not part of the original pantheon.

Bel – Meaning “Lord,” this is the name that Marduk would eventually be known by, making him a god of order and destiny.

He is normally referred to as Bel “Lord”, also bel rabim “great lord”, bêl bêlim “lord of lords”, ab-kal ilâni bêl terêti “leader of the gods”, aklu bêl terieti “the wise, lord of oracles”, muballit mîte “reviver of the dead”, etc.

The Marduk Prophecy

This is an interesting text, not so much as it’s telling prophecies, but more about being a history around the movement of Marduk’s cult as they follow Marduk’s statue from Babylon. This text was found at the House of the Exorcist in Assur and dates from 713 to 612 B.C.E. It appears to be similar to another set of texts, the Shulgi prophecy.

It begins with Marduk’s statue getting stolen by Mursilis I of Hatti in 1531 B.C.E. The god Marduk is described as visiting the land of Assyria. Then, when a Tukulti-Ninurta I overthrows Kashtiliash IV in 1225 B.C.E., Marduk’s statue is taken Assur and then Elam as Kudur-nahhunte sacks the city in 1160 B.C.E.

Each time, Marduk is described as willingly heading off to visit these places. Which makes sense when you remember that this far back, a statue of a deity… hence an idol was the actual deity in question, not just a representation.

The way Marduk’s travels are told, they are allegories of the history involved. The first couple of journeys that Marduk takes are fairly favorable. When it comes to the city-state of Elam, that’s a whole other matter as the other gods following after Marduk, likely shows the changing climate of the region as they abandon Babylon due to famine and pestilence.

There’s also a familiar theme as Marduk prophecies that he will return again to Babylon with a new king will rise to power bringing about redemption and salvation to the city, taking it back from the Elamites and restoring the Ekursagila temple. Where the Marduk Prophecy is concerned, King Nabu-kudurri-uṣur (Nebuchadnezzar), who reigned from 1125 to 1103 B.C.E. is accepted as being the king who returns Marduk’s statue to Babylon and is victorious over the Elamites.

The main importance of the Marduk Prophecy text is to highlight the necessity of the patron deity staying in Babylon. Each time that the Marduk statue (Marduk himself) is abducted, chaos falls on the city of Babylon while the places where the statue resides, prosper.

Like some epic game of football where the opposing team comes and steals the home team’s mascot to weaken their morale.

Propaganda?

No! Say it isn’t so!

Remember the previously mentioned King Nebuchadnezzar? It’s been noted that the dates of when the Marduk Prophecy (1 millennium B.C.E.) and even the Enuma Elish both date to around the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and reign between 1125-1103 B.C.E. It makes him look good for restoring order (his defeat of the Elamites and bringing Marduk’s statue back) that he’s the prophesied king come to do Marduk’s will.

Jupiter – Roman

With Marduk’s position and role as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, the Romans equated him with Jupiter, the head of their pantheon.

Zeus – Greek

With Marduk’s position and role as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, the Greeks equated him with Zeus, the head of their pantheon.

Bel – Babylonian

Yes, Bel is previously mentioned earlier as one of Marduk’s fifty names.

He is mentioned as being a separate deity here as in the 1 millennium B.C.E., by the time we get to this era of history, as a title, Bel is the name that other deities Enlil and Dumuzid, not just Marduk have been known by.

Taken separately, Bel holds all the titles and aspects that Enlil did. To the point that Bel eventually becomes a god of order and destiny. Even Greek historians mentioned Bel in their writings. As a separate deity, Bel was the god of order and destiny. Both Marduk and Bel’s cults were similar, so it’s not hard to see how Bel becomes absorbed and an epitaph for Marduk.

Bel and the Dragon – This is a Jewish story and apocryphal addition to the Book of Daniel in which the Babylonians offer a substantial amount of food and wine every day to an idol of Bel. This vast quantity of food seemingly, miraculously disappears each night. This is enough to convince the Persian king Cyrus the Great that the idol is alive, and he tells Daniel this.

Daniel being a wise man and rather smart knows this isn’t the case. Afterall Daniel says it’s clay on the inside and bronze outside. It likely has never eaten anything. To prove this, Daniel discreetly covers the floor of the temple with ash.

Both Daniel and Cyrus leave for the night. When they return in the morning, Daniel is able to point out the footprints left behind, thus proving that it is the seventy priests of Bel who are eating the food, not the idol.

Biblical Connections

Some scholars point out that the name Bel is derived from the Semitic word “Baal” that has the same meaning of “Lord.” There are several places within the Bible where Bel is mentioned, this more than likely referencing Marduk. The Hebrew version of Marduk’s name, Merodach is found in many places in the Bible as a surname for non-Israeli kings.

Continuing this trend for Biblical Connections, Marduk and a couple other Mesopotamian and Canaanite deities are made mention of in the Torah or Old Testament.

Thanks to Cyrus the Great of Persia, when he captured Babylon, he reversed the policies of the previous ruler by calling for the rebuilding of temples and reinstating religions that had been destroyed or banned before.

Where the Bible (Torah) is concerned, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple to Yahweh. Cyrus records inspiration for this as coming from Marduk. The bible will say that it is Yahweh who inspired Cyrus.

The “Cyrus Cylinder” found in 1879 at Babylon records the following: “Marduk, the great Lord, established as his fate for me a magnanimous heart of one who loves Babylon, and I daily attended to his worship… I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [in Babylon], to their places; and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings… at the command of Marduk.”

In the Book of Ezra 5:13 this event is recorded: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God.”

The Book of Isaiah is where Yahweh is given credit for inspiring Cyrus.

“I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:

I will make all his ways straight.

He will rebuild my city

and set my exiles free” (Isaiah 45:13)

The connections don’t end there, Biblical scholars see a similar theme with Marduk’s slaying Tiamat with the Canaanite story of Baal slaying Tannin and notably Yahweh’s defeating the giant sea monster Leviathan in Psalm 74: 13-14 or a future time in Isaiah 27:1.

The previously mentioned Etemenanki temple is thought to be the inspiration for the Tower of Babel. Babylon’s destruction is prophesied in the book of Jeremiah (50:2).

Who do you accept? It’s a matter of two different religions, cultures and perspectives. Of course, it’s easy, after the fact, to say there was divine intervention and that it is all prophesied.

Sitchin Time

According to Zecharia Sitchin, the claim is made that the great battle between Tiamat and Marduk is symbolic for the creation of our solar system’s asteroid belt. Sitchin writes that this asteroid belt was once a planet that the Sumerians called Tiamat. Due to an impact, the planet was destroyed, creating the “Great Band” or asteroid belt. The planetary impact responsible is that of the planet Nibiru, associated with the god Marduk.

Babylonian Astronomy, Astrology & Zodiac

I will call bunk on Sitchin’s ideas.

When you look at the word Nibiru in the Akkadian language, it refers to a crossing or transition points like with rivers. In Babylonian astronomy, Nibiru came to refer to the Equinox, notably, the Autumn Equinox. In their star lore, the term nibiru can refer to any crossing. Tracking the movement of the stars and planets in the heavens as they appear from Earth. The star or planet associated with Marduk is the one we know modernly as Jupiter.

For the Babylonians, the Autumn Equinox occurred in the month of Tisritum, roughly coinciding with between September and October. If we’re following the Greek Zodiac, then the constellation of Libra is prominent. A further fun fact, depending on the time of the year and the location of the planet Mercury, it could sometimes be called Nibiru.

Some of it is confusing. Mainly it’s understanding how to read and interpret what the Babylonians meant when tracking the night sky.

It should come as no surprise, that as old as the Mesopotamian cultures and religions are, that they would have mapped out the night sky to mark the turning of the seasons, creating a calendar. Many of these early constellations and zodiacs were adopted by the later Greeks who incorporated the constellations into their own mythology.

In Babylonian beliefs, it is Marduk who creates the astrological calendar and mapped out the different signs of the Zodiac. Marduk would be identified with the planet Jupiter, who of course is later equated with the Greek Zeus and renamed for the Roman deity Jupiter as all three are heads of their respective pantheons.

Cetus – Greek Mythology & Constellation

While many are familiar with the constellation’s connection to the Grecian story of Andromeda and Perseus in its role as the giant sea monster sent by Poseidon to destroy the coast of Aethiopia.

The constellation of Cetus has been identified with Tiamat, the dragon goddess of Chaos. Marking Tiamat’s story one of many that the Greeks likely inherited from the Mesopotamians and retold for their legends.

Snegurochka

Snegurochka

Pronounciation: sne-gur-osh-ka

Other names: Snegurka, Snow Maiden, Snowflake, Snow Princess, Niègette, Miss Snow

Etymology: Sneg (Russian) Snow; Snow Maiden, Snowy, Snow Girl, Snowflake, Snow Princess, Niègette, Miss Snow

The character of Snegurochka is a figure found in Russian fairy tales. She is prominently known as being Ded Moroz’s granddaughter and accompanies him at New Year’s to deliver gifts.

Parentage

Father – Ded Moroz (Father Frost), later he becomes her grandfather.

Mother – Mother Spring or Spring of Beauty. Sometimes, in later stories, the Snow Queen is Snegurochka’s mother.

Soviet Era & New Year’s

Christmas Traditions? – Before the Soviet prohibition on celebrating Christmas, figurines depicting Snegurochka would be used to decorate the Christmas tree. Russian nesting dolls would also feature Snegurochka and her appearance can appear on various items as decoration.

In 1935, when the Soviet government decided to introduce Ded Moroz as the wintertime gift giver for New Year’s, Snegurochka also found herself reintroduced at this time as his granddaughter and accompanies him to deliver gifts.

As Ded Moroz’s granddaughter, Snegurochka dresses in a long silver-blue gown with a furry cap to keep warm. Alternately, she may be seen wearing a snow-flake crown. In this respect, Snegurochka is uniquely Russian as not very many other winter celebratory characters will have a female companion.

Once Upon A Time….

Snegurochka is relatively new to the scene as far as any myths are concerned. She makes her first appearance in Russian folklore and fairytales during the 19th century.

A few people will claim that Snegurochka’s roots and origins lay within Slavic pagan beliefs and mythology.

Despite being relatively new, there are several fairytales, stories and even plays showcasing Snegurochka’s origins.

Spring Ritual – There is mention that in some areas of Russia, there is a spring-time ritual that involves drowning a straw figure in a river or to burn it in a fire to symbolize the turning of the seasons from Winter to Spring.

Snegurka

This folktale was collected and published by Alexander Afanayev in his second volume of “The Poetic Outlook on Nature by the Slavs.” In this tome, Afanayev makes mention of a similar German figure by the name of Schneekind, “The Snow Child.” Andrew Lang called this story “Snowflake” and included it in his “The Pink Fairy Book,” published in 1897.

In the story of Snegurka, there is are childless Russian peasants who make a snow doll that comes to life. The magical child grows quickly and one day, some girls invite her to go for a walk with them into the woods. This particular day is St. John’s Day and as per tradition, the girls make a small fire that they take turns jumping over. When Snegurka’s turn comes, she evaporates into a cloud of mist when she gets halfway over the flames.

The Snow Maiden (Spring Fairytale)

This is another version of story, in this one, Snegurochka is the daughter of Ded Moroz and Spring the Beauty. This version was made into a play by Aleksandr Ostrovsky and music by Tchaikovsky in 1973.

In this story, Snegurochka longs for the companionship of humans. There is a shepherd boy by the name of Lel whom she is fond of. Due to her frozen heart, Snegurochka is unable to truly love him. Eventually, Mother Spring took pity on Snegurochka and softened her heart by giving her a spring wreath or garland to wear that she would be able to love. Once Snegurochka really fell in love with Lel, she melted.

Other Variations

I’ve come across a couple of variations that seek to combine the two above stories into one, longer version. One change is that Father Frost is secretly watching the couple as they create their snow daughter and brings her to life to their delight. Later, when the Spring celebrations are coming, Snegurka wants to go and she is warned by Father Frost to be careful of the warm sunlight and fires. In the village at the celebrations, she meets a young man whom she falls in love with and when she runs out to greet him, she melts on stepping into a bright, sunny patch.

Morozko (Grandfather Frost)

Also known as Old Man Winter, this story tells of a young girl who is sent out into the cold one night by her stepmother. Instead of freezing to death, the young girl is given gifts and warm furs and clothing by Morozko after she is courteous and shows him respect.

The young girl in this story isn’t Snegurochka, but worth noting due to similarities and any slim chance of inspiration for other stories involving her.

Other Retellings, Ballets and Movies

There is a story “The Little People of the Snow” written by the American poet William Cullen Bryant in 1864. In this story, the Snow-Maiden befriends a mortal girl by the name of Eva. When Eva comes to Snow-Maiden’s homeland, she is horrified when Eva freezes to death in her sleep.

“The Snow-Maiden: A Legend of the Alps,” was written in 1876 by an unknown author. In this story, a man traveling through the mountains falls in love with the Snow Maiden named Niègette. When he brings her down to the valley, intending to marry her, she melts reaching the warmer areas.

The composer Ludwig Minkus and Balletmaster Marius Petipa created a ballet of Snegurochka titled: “The Daughter of the Snows” for an Imperial Ballet in 1878. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov adapted the story of Snegurochka into the opera “The Snow Maiden: A Spring Fairy Tale” in 1880 thereabouts.

In 1886, Emilia, Lady Dilke wrote the story “The Secret” wherein Snow Maiden kills her lover by freezing him with her gaze. Other plays have included “The Christmas Chain” by Lilian Pearson in 1921 and “Queen Christmas: A Pageant Play” by Carolyn Wells in 1922.

An animated movie of Snegurochka was made in 1952 and a later live-action movie in 1969. The author, Ruth Sanderson has a retelling called “The Snow Princess” where instead of dying, she becomes mortal to marry Lel. Even as late as 2012, a ballad fairy tale called “Snegurocka” was written by Svetlana Makarovic.

Hometown Heroine

Kostroma – In the fairytale that first mentions Snegurochka, this is where she originated. It helps that this is the hometown to Alexander Ostrovsky. As a child, his nanny inspired him with various stories and fairy tales. Ostrovsky’s former home has since become a museum. Further, the love that Kostroma has for Snegurochka is seen every year at New Year’s when the whole city decorates and again in March for a two-day celebration attributed to Snegurochka’s birthday.

Veliky Ustug – Later, when she becomes associated with Ded Moroz, Snegurochka moved here as part of the winter, New Year’s traditions. Veliky Ustyug has become a popular tourist destination for many Russians to travel to Veliky and visit. Ded Moroz’s lives in a log cabin out in the taiga forest near where three rivers meet. Snegurochka can also be found helping out her Grandfather and engaging with visitors.

Other Similar Winter Entities

Schneekind

The Snow Child, mentioned briefly earlier, this is a Germanic story about a boy made of snow who eventually melts. There are a number of various versions to this story, one where an unfaithful wife tells her returning husband that the child she has is the result of having swallowed a snowflake. The husband is angry and when the boy is old enough, he takes the boy with him and sells him into slavery. When the husband returns home, he tells the wife that the child melted in the heat. Other variations of this story will have the children be magical in nature to their snowy origins.

The Snow Queen

Written by Hans Christian Anderson, this story has some similarities to Snegurochka and became very popular with Soviet animators in the 1950’s. In Russian, the Snow Queen is called Snezhnaya Koroleva.

Yuki Onna

This is this Japanese snow maiden who, much like Morozko, can be very deadly to anyone unfortunate to be caught out in a blizzard. She appears as a calm, pale woman who will sing to people lost in the cold, lulling to them to sleep before she takes their life with her cold, deadly breath. That sounds a lot like hypothermia. At least with being asleep, their death is painless?

Ded Moroz

Ded Moroz

Pronunciation: Djet m-aw rohz

Other names: Dzyed Maróz (Ukrainian), Did Moróz (Russian), Dédushka Moróz (Serbian), Deda Mraz (Bulgarian), Dyado Mraz (Slovenian), Dedek Mraz (Russian), Morozko (Russian), Grandfather Frost, King Frost, Father Frost, Ice King

Etymology: Grandfather Frost

Ah Santa Claus, Sinterklaas and Father Christmas…. That magical time of the year with Christmas and Yuletide celebrations. When we jump over to the Russian and Slavic celebrations for Winter, there is Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost who will be bringing gifts.

Just who is Ded Moroz? Let’s see…

To start, Ded Moroz is described as an elderly looking man with a long, flowing white beard who wears a long red, blue or white fur coat and round fur hat and boots. He carries with him a long magical staff and rides along with an evergreen tree in a sled or troika pulled by three white horses.

Much like his American and other European counterparts, Ded Moroz is known for bringing presents to good children. Unlike Santa Claus who brings his gifts on December 25th or Sinterklaas who arrives on December 6th, Ded Moroz brings his gifts on New Year’s Eve.

Other little factoids about Ded Moroz include that his birthday is on November 18th, this coincides with when the first frost arrives on the ground in Veliky Ustyug, Russia. Many sources will also place Ded Moroz’s age at around 2,000 years old.

Slavic Paganism

Ded Moroz appears to have a strong connection to Eastern Slavic Paganism before spreading out into Russian beliefs and culture. Here, Ded Moroz is the Wizard of Winter and a snow demon who personifies Russian winters.

In folklore, Ded Moroz is originally Morozko, a powerful blacksmith and hero known for freezing water to become frost. As a force of nature, Morozko isn’t necessarily evil, he is known to help those who show him proper respect and giving gifts, plus he can be devastating to those who are rude, disrespectful and otherwise mean-spirited.

Slightly different origins place Morozko as a god of frost and ice who’s married to the harsh, unforgiving Winter. As a deity, he could freeze people and the countryside in a moment’s notice. With the Russian Orthodox Church, there was an attempt to label Morozko as a demon. Later fairy tales would soften Morozko’s image to be an elderly old man who could be more benevolent and not quite as harsh.

You Called Him A Demon!

Before we freak out, the Slavic use of referring to entities as demons is very similar to the Greeks usage of the term daimon when referring to a spirit or a minor local deity, or force of nature. As more of the Slavic countries and Russia became Christianized, the term demon would take on more negative associations.

I should throw in at this point, a note that scholars and historians do have some disputes about the exact origins of Ded Moroz. He does appear to be derived from a Slavic deity of Winter and to be the personification of cold and frost.

I’ll touch on it more, further down; there was a period of religious prohibition during the Soviet era and the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t seem to be settled on the nature and role that Ded Moroz has. He goes from scary demon to a figure that can now allow for some of the religious traditions to come back, even if they’re claimed to be pagan in origin.

However, myths and legends do evolve, grow and change. The very image of Ded Moroz that many people have, especially in Russia does come out of the Soviet era. Why ruin a good thing that people love?

Morozko (Grandfather Frost)

Or Old Man Winter

This is the main story and source for Ded Moroz and is also the origin for his granddaughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden). It is a Russian fairy tale first collected by Alexander Afanasyey for his Russian Fairy Tales collection and then is included in “The Yellow Fairy Book” compiled by Andrew Lang in 1894 as “The Story of King Frost.”

The story begins with a stepmother who dislikes her good-natured stepdaughter who is always good and kind and always having to hear about it. Of course, the stepmother loves her own daughter and dotes on her whim and desires.

As is the nature of these type of stories, the stepmother tells the father to send the stepdaughter away, so she didn’t have to see or hear her again. The man begs his wife to reconsider and she is unrelenting about getting rid of the stepdaughter. So, the man, the father takes his daughter out on their sled, out to the woods before giving the girl a kiss and abandoning her there.

Realizing her lot and fate, the sobbing girl sits down next to a tree. She isn’t sitting there long before she hears a crackling noise and looks up to see that King Frost is standing there.

In a stern voice, King Frost snaps out doesn’t the girl know who he is? He is King Frost, king of the red-noses.

The girl says “All hail” to King Frost and then she asks if he is here to take her.

King Frost asks if she is warm enough. The girl answers, saying she is warm enough despite the fact that she is shivering fiercely.

The King repeated his question, stepping closer and the girl insisted that she was still warm.

At this, King Frost takes pity on the poor girl and wraps her in furs to keep warm. He goes further with covering her in blankets and giving her gifts of gems and lastly, a sleigh pulled by six white horses.

In the morning, the stepmother tells the man that he should go out and retrieve his daughter’s body for burial. To the stepmother’s surprise and shock, the man returns with a chest filled with gems and his still-living daughter, more beautiful than before with the splendid furs and her silver and gold dress.

Wanting the same for her own daughter, the stepmother tells the man to take her daughter out to the same spot where the stepdaughter had been left. The man did as he was bid, taking the stepmother’s daughter out and leaving her there.

As soon as the man left, the daughter sulked as she sat down by a tree. Just as before, it wasn’t long until King Frost appeared.

Just as before, King Frost asked the daughter if she was warm. Unlike the stepdaughter who had been respectful with her words, the daughter was rude, calling him a blind fool, of course she was cold, her hands and feet are nearly frozen.

Angered by this girl’s words, King Frost snapped his fingers and froze the girl to death.

Of course, the stepmother expected her own daughter to return just as the stepdaughter had, loaded with wealth and finery. That clearly wasn’t what happened when the man went out to retrieve her and brought back only the daughter’s cold, lifeless body.

It just shows, it pays to always be polite and respectful as you never know who you’re talking to or dealing with.

Moroz – Red Nose

This is a poem connected to Ded Moroz written by Nikolai Nekrasov. The story found within this poem highlights a dark aspect to Ded Moroz’s character as it depicts him killing a peasant woman and orphaning her children.

Other darker aspects to Ded Moroz as a wizard of winter would have him kidnap children and he would only be willing to return them when parents offered him up gifts.

Orthodox Influence

Within the Christian Orthodox Church, the character of Ded Moroz has changed over the years. Most notably during the 19th century with different plays featuring him. The two most notable plays are Aleksandr Ostrovsky’s Snegurochka and a similarly named play by Rimsky-Korsakov.

The Russian Revolution

1917 saw the Bolshevik Revolution. More forward a few years into the 1920’s with the formation of the Soviet Union and Government, we see that many Christmas traditions were discouraged as they were considered to be too religious in nature and materialistic. Especially Saint Nicholas, who had been Russia’s patron saint, his feast day of December 6th were done away with.

It doesn’t help that Ded Moroz was declared to be “an ally of the priest and kulak” as Russia tried to remove many religious elements. Other sources give the history that Ded Moroz was seen as too childish and not acceptable.

This isn’t just Christmas that got banned by the Soviet Government, this is a prohibition on any religious holidays, observances and celebrations.

Soviet Santa – An Alternative

Luckily a complete banning of the holiday spirits wouldn’t last long. I’m sure there are many children psychologists and just even psychologists in general who can extrapolate much better than I can about the importance of play, the use of imagination and human spirit. If you crush it completely, we’re going to have problems.

Seeing a need and importance for some type of holiday seasonal celebration, Ded Moroz would take on his more familiar image thanks in part to a letter written by Pavel Postyshey on December 28th of 1935. Pavel stated that the origins for the Christmas traditions pre-dated actual Christianity and that it would be beneficial to bring back these traditions for the sake of the children.

Now, instead of arriving on Christmas Day, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka would arrive on New Year’s or Novy God, bringing presents to leave under an evergreen tree. This change provided an alternative to the American Santa Claus and one seen as a secular celebration by the Soviet Union.

Letters To Ded Moroz

Much like how Santa Claus will receive letters from children, Ded Moroz will receive his share of letters from numerous children requesting gifts. Millions of letters over the years from all across Russia and around the world have been addressed to Ded Moroz.

Veliky Ustyug

Where Santa makes his home in the North Pole, Ded Moroz does hang his hat and call home?

To answer that, in 1998, it was declared that the town of Veliky Ustyug, in Vologda Oblast is Ded Moroz’s home. Since then, Veliky Ustyug has become a popular tourist destination for many Russians who travel to Veliky and visit. Ded Moroz’s lives in a log cabin out in the taiga forest near where three rivers meet.

Ded Moroz spends his summers reading letters from children all over the country in preparation for the New Year’s Tree on January 1st.

Ded Moroz’s Granddaughter

Snihurónka or the Snow Maiden is Ded Moroz’s granddaughter who often accompanies him. She is shown wearing a long silver-blue dress or robes and a fur-lined cap to keep warm.

Ded Moroz is often shown being accompanied by his granddaughter, Snihurónka. She’s noteworthy as numerous other, familiar Winter figures don’t have a female companion.

Holiday Twins & Counterparts

So, what are the difference between Santa Claus and Ded Moroz?

We know there are differences, after all, Santa Claus arrives Christmas Eve and Ded Moroz arrives on New Year’s; both bringing presents. Santa Claus classically dresses all in red, especially in America and Ded Moroz is known for dressing in not just red, he will also dress in blue or even white, much like how a Russian noble would be expected to dress. They certainly look like cultural syno-entities and cultural twins (given the history, that’s how Ded Moroz got his start.) Santa Claus is known for being short and rotund and Ded Moroz is tall and thin. Russian children will affectionately call Ded Moroz, “Ded Moroz the Red Nose.”

Other notable differences between the two is that Santa Claus will enter a home coming down the chimney and leaving his gifts in a stocking. Whereas, Ded Moroz will enter in through the front door and leave his gifts under the New Year’s Tree.

Cultural Bridges

During the 1990’s, the character of Santa Claus began to make his way into the Russian Federation as more and more influences of Western culture made their way through the previous Soviet Union.

There have been efforts to show cultural goodwill by having Santa Claus (or his various counterparts) and Ded Moroz (sometimes his Belarus counterpart Dzied Maroz) has one-on-one meetings or friendly competitions.

December of 1997 saw the creation of ‘Christmas Without Borders” where Ded Moroz and Santa Claus met a bridge crossing the Narva River between Estonia and Russia. The whole point was to spread goodwill and increase cooperation between the two countries and neighboring border towns. I wasn’t able to determine if this started a new tradition and continued or if it just petered off after a few years.

The early 21st century saw a resurgence for the character of Ded Moroz and his granddaughter, Snegurochka where they arrive on New Year’s bringing gifts, often showing up at children’s parties. Much like Saint Nicholas who battles Krampus in some of the Germanic countries, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka will face off with Baba Yaga who wants to steal the presents.

Of course, there are a few will say that Ded Moroz is really Santa Claus’ grandfather. That works too given how long the two have been around and who’s mythologies are older.

Tracking Ded Moroz On His Nightly Runs

Where Santa has NORAD tracking his nightly flight, Ded Moroz has GLONASS tracking his run on New Year’s. This began in November of 2009 when the Russian Federation offered to compete with NORAD.

Alright! May the best Present-Giver win!

What’s In A Name – Regional Variations

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many of the countries that formed after sought to move away a Soviet heritage by reclaiming their own regional heritages and roots. This means that Ded Moroz and Snegurochka will frequently have a different, variant name or change altogether as each country seeks their ancient traditions or move forward to something different.

Armenia – Dzmer Pap, meaning “Grandfather Winter,” his granddaughter is known as Dzyunanushik, meaning “Snow Sweetie” or Snow Anush. They have been part of Armenia traditions for some 160 years since the Russo-Persian War. Both wear red, blue or white winter coats. They make an appearance for both Christmas and New Year’s with bringing gifts. Children are expected to sing songs or recite poems before getting their gifts.

Azerbaijan – Saxta Baba, meaning “Grandfather Frost,” his granddaughter is known as Qar Qizi meaning “Snow Girl.” Saxta Baba brings gifts during New Year’s. Qar Qizi isn’t usually seen.

Bashkir and Tatar – Qis Babay, which means “Winter Old Man.”

Belarus – Dzied Maroz, he replaced Sviatv Mikalai who was more local, but had been disapproved of due to being Christian. Dzied Maroz’ makes his home in the Bialowieza Forest.

Bulgaria – Dyado Koleda or Grandfather Koleda is often equated with Santa Claus and appears alongside Dyado Mraz or Grandfather Frost. Dyado Mraz was popular during the Communist rule but has since fallen by the wayside since 1989 as Dyado Koleda began to gain more popularity.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – Ayaz Ata is the name for Ded Moroz.

Nenets – Yamal Iri, which means “Grandfather of Yamal.”

Poland – Poland didn’t have a version of Ded Moroz and during the communist era, there were efforts to try and introduce Dziadek Mróz as historically speaking, Communists didn’t want religion and view Saint Nicholas as being too religious in nature. It’s fairly obviously that Dziadek Mróz was meant to create a culture link and tie to Russia.

Romania – In 1948, a Communist party gained power and Christmas celebrations were done away with. Mos Cracium (Father Christmas) was replaced with Mos Gerila (Old Man Frosty), the Romanian name for Ded Moroz who would now bring gifts on December 31st for the New Years. Anyone paying attention, knows that New Year’s celebrations begin on December 30th, the Day of the Republic, when King Mihai I abdicated the throne in 1947.

Sakha Republic – Chys Khan, meaning “Master of Cold” and Khaarchana (Snow Maiden).

Slovenia – In this country, Ded Moroz’s name translates to Dedek Mraz. He is a slender man who wears a grey leather coat trimmed with fur inside and out and who wears round dormouse fur cap. This image of Dedek Mraz is based on pictures by Maksim Gaspari in 1952. Dedek Mraz’s home is located on Mount Triglay, the highest peak in both Slovenia and Yugoslavia. In the 1990’s when Communism ended, Miklavž (Saint Nicholas) who arrives on December 6th and Božicek (Christmas Man) who arrives on December 24th, Christmas Eve began making an appearance in Slovenia. Some Slovenian families in the 1940’s would have the Christkind (Jezušcek or “Little Jesus”) who brought gifts on Christmas Eve. It varies by family in regard to their political and religious views, current culture will show all three of Grandfather Frost, Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus as friends. The attributes of each will also get mixed with the others.

Tajikistan – Boboi Barfi, meaning “Grandfather Snow” and Snegurochka is known as Barfak, meaning “Snowball.” There was an effort briefly on December 11th of 2013 to do away with the state televised celebrations of Boboi Barfi, Barfak and the New Year’s. That lasted all of about a day and the next day, the televised broadcasting plans were back on.

Ukraine – With the current conflicts with Russia, as early as 2014, there have been efforts to replace Ded Moroz with Sviatyi Mykolai (Saint Nicholas) and well, Sviatyi Mykolai is more popular in Western Ukraine.

Yakut – Chys Khaan, meaning “Master of Cold.”

Yugoslavia – The socialist Yugoslavia that comprises Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia, has a character by the name of Grandfather Frost. In Bosnian, this name is Djed Mraz or Djeda Mraz, in Croatian, this name is Djed Mraz, in Macedonian, the name is Dedo Mraz, the Serbian name is Deda Mraz and the Slovenian name is Dedek Mraz.

For a bit of a history lesson here, in Croatia, Djed Mraz was viewed as a communist figure and the character of Djed Božicnjak or Grandfather Christmas is introduced. It’s taken a while for Djed Božicnjak to replace Djed Mraz and then, not completely. After 1999, both Djed Mraz and Djed Božicnjak have become synonymous. Some families still have Djed Mraz arrive on New Year’s bringing gifts. Thanks to some historical Austrian influence in parts of Croatia, children will get gifts on December 6th brought by Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas) who is accompanied by Krampus. More religious families will have the baby Jesus (Isusek, Mali Isus or Kriskindl) who brings gifts on Christmas. Getting into some areas of Dalmatia, it is Sveta Lucija (Saint Lucy) who brings gifts.

Kappa

Kappa Mikey

Also Called: Gataro (“River Boy”), Kawako (“River Child”), Kawataro (“River Boy” or “River Tiger”), Komahiki (“Horse Puller”), Suiko (“Water Tiger”)

There are some eighty names for kappa depending on the region they’re found in. Next to the oni and tengu, kappa are some of the best known yokai found in Japan.

Some of these other names are: Dangame (“Soft-Shelled Turtle”), Enko (“monkey”), Gawappa, Kawappa, Kawaso (“otter”), Kogo, Mizuchi, Mizushi, and Suitengu.

 Etymology – “River-Child” from the words kawa for “river” and wappo, an inflection of waraba meaning “child.”

In the Shinto Religion of Japan, Kappa are mischievous water spirits or yokai who will pull young children and the unwary into the river and ponds where they live and drown them. Kappa are also known for attacking travelers and animals. Even today, many towns and villages keep signs out warning of the dangers of kappa near a river.

Some of the less deadly pranks that kappa will pull are passing gas loudly and looking up women’s kimonos. They will also steal crops, flat out kidnap children and rape women.

The kappa are curious about human culture, they are not mindlessly aggressive and many can be appealed or reasoned with as they do speak Japanese. Wisemen were known to befriend kappa and learn the art of setting bones from them. It’s thought that somehow, kappa were once wise monkeys.

Kappa will also sometimes challenge people to different tests of skill such as shogi or sumo wrestling. People have been known to befriend kappa by giving gifts and offerings, often of food and especially cucumbers.

The kappa are a major folkloric figure that people have reported seeing for centuries. They have remained a staple of literature and even the tourist industry in some towns will tell visitors to be wary of kappa and to be careful.

Suijin

In Shinto, the Kappa are viewed as one of many types of Suijin or water people or even water deities. Many of these water deities or spirits are often depicted as snakes, dragons, eels, fish, turtles and kappa. It is believed that belief in kappa can be traced back to China, though much of the kappa lore is native to Japan.

With the arrival of Chinese and Koreans during the 2nd century C.E. along with the arrival of Buddhism in Japan, the imagery of kappa would be begin to take on these attributes.

While the name for the most powerful Suijin in Japan is Mizu no Kamisama or Goddess or God of Water, the kappa are more accurately referred to as Kawa no Kami or River Deity reflecting a less powerful status.

The offering of cucumbers to kappa may have come from a tradition of giving the year’s first crop of cucumbers and eggplants to the local river to either appease local water deities or hungry ghosts.

Festivals – There are still some festivals held in places, twice a year during the equinoxes to placate the kappa and ensure a good harvest. These festivals also mark the time of the year when the kappa travel down from the mountains to the rivers and back up.

Kappa Odori Dance – This is a sacred Shinto dance used to pray for abundant crops. Young boys dress up as kappa and jump and bounce around in time to the humorous music as it’s played.

Jozankei Hot Springs – A local spa near the Toyohiragawa River to the southwest of Sapporo. Named after the monk who found the place, the kappa are local guardian spirits. Some 23 kappa statues stand around the area. The Kappa Pool becomes very lively in early August during the Kappa Festival. A local legend holds that the story of the Kappa Buchi occurred here.

Ancient Origins?

Ainu Folklore – The Ainu are Japan’s earliest inhabitants who live mostly on the northern island of Hokkaido. The connection here is very tentative as some believe that the kappa come from Ainu folklore. There’s just not enough known of their mythology to really make a concrete connection. What does get cited is that near the main city Sapporo on Hokkaido is an area known as Jozankei where the legends for the “Great Kappa King” and the “Kappa Buchi Legend” can be found, though these stories are not likely to be of Ainu origin and mythology.

Nihon Shoki – Chronicles of Japan – One of Japan’s earliest and official records, it was compiled sometime around 720 C.E. It is the first text to refer to kappa where it is called Kawa no Kami or River Deity in this text.

Wakan Sansaizue – Kappa don’t really take on popularity until around Japan’s medieval era, during the Edo period. The Wakan Sansaizue is a 105-volume encyclopedia dating to about 1713 C.E. and is the first to depict a kappa.

Gazu Hyakkiyagyō – Or the “Night Procession of One Hundred Demons” is a four volume text that next shows and depicts kappa within it.

From here, the popularity of kappa in continues in the Edo Period, appearing in a serial called Kasshiyawa where the kappa called Kawataro. Another document is the Mimibukuro, a 10-volume text written by Negishi Yasumori.

Portuguese Monks – When Portuguese monks arrived in Japan during the 16th century, their appearance of cloaks that hung down in back like a kappa’s shell and their shaven heads resulting in a bald head crowned with hair known as a Capa for the Portuguese word for this hair style would easily become absorbed into Japan’s Kappa lore…. After all a homophone of words Kappa and Capa sound very alike.

Drowned Monkeys – Some legends will hold that the first kappa come from monkeys. Yanagida Kunio records a story where he notes that some regions of Japan referred to kappa as enko or monkeys.

There is a famous Buddhist story from China in which a group of monkeys tried to capture the moon’s reflection. For their trouble and efforts, the monkeys were drowned.

The Monkey King Versus The Water Demon – There are a number of tales for the Indian collection of Buddha stories called Jataka. Dating from the 3rd century B.C.E. India and Sri Lanka, the story in question features the monkey kingdom under attack from a monkey-eating water demon. The wise monkey king outwitted the demon with bamboo.

So, what’s the connection? In Sanskrit, the word Kapi translates to monkey. It’s possible that Kappa is a distorted form of Kapi. It would explain some of the descriptions of kappa being monkey-like is a carry over of this distortion. Further, there is a kapi jembawan, a monkey sage in Indonesian folklore based on the Dwarka kingdom where Lord Krishna ruled. The famous Hindi poet, Tulsidas who wrote the Ramayana some 500 years ago, uses the word kapi in place of the Vanara or monkey folk in the South who help Rama defeat Ravana.

If we’re looking at linguist connections, that could all hold up.

Description

Kappa look like child-sized humanoid turtles or more often monkeys with scaly limbs and thick tortoise shells. Some kappa are depicted with ape-like faces while others are more beaked. Skin coloration ranges from green to yellow and even blue.

The most distinguishing feature of kappa are the bowl or saucer-shaped depressions on the top of their heads called a sara (meaning “dish,” “bowl,” or “plate.”) When leaving the water, kappa makes sure that the sara is kept filled with water. The sara is surrounded with scraggly hair in a bobbed hair style known as okappa-atama. Should the kappa loose this water, it loses its strength and powers, possibly even dying in this weakened state if water isn’t refilled. Some kappa are reputed to have taken to wearing a metal plate or cap to cover their sara so the water doesn’t pour or dry out, thus weakening them.

Depending on the story, the arms of a kappa are said to be connected to each such, that the kappa can slide their arm from one side to the other. I can see that trick, the kappa is wearing a shell, pull one arm in and stuff it out the other arm hole, much like a person does when wearing a t-shirt. I’m sure it’s a simple enough illusion and magic trick to pull off.

Aquatic creatures who live in ponds and rivers, Kappa also possess webbed hands and feet. People have commented that Kappa smell like fish. Some of the legends involving kappa have them spending spring and summer down in the water during autumn and winter, heading up to the Yama-no-Kami (“Mountain Deities”) mountains. While kappa can be found throughout much of Japan, they’re often found in the Saga Prefecture.

Hyosube – This is the name for the kappa’s hairy cousin. The two are identical otherwise in terms of physical attributes and what they do. The biggest distinction of the two aside from hair, is that kappa are more prone to staying outside. The Hyosube are more likely to sneak into people’s homes to cause mischief, namely to take a bath. Being so hairsute, the hyosube are known to shed hair which is deadly to those who encounter it in Japanese folklore.

Shibaten – Also called Shibatengu, is a more turtle-like kappa where the kappa can be more ape or monkey like in appearance.

Diet

The kappa feed on a diet of blood and cucumbers.

Blood – Young children are told to be wary when playing near the water’s edge of ponds and rivers. Children are a kappa’s favored meal though they’re not above eating an adult.

Eww… so what makes humans so appealing to a kappa is a shirikodama that they will suck out of a person’s anus. Alrighty then.

And the shirikodama? Depending on the source and legend, that’s a mystical ball containing a person’s life force or soul that’s found near the anus, entrails, in the blood or liver.

Cucumbers – The only thing that kappa love more than small children. Its customary for some Japanese parents to write the names of their children or themselves on a cucumber and toss it into a pond or river where the kappa are believed to dwell.

Other Food Offerings – Cucumbers aren’t the only food item a kappa will accept. Offerings of eggplant, soba noodles, natto (fermented soybeans) and kabocha (winter squash) are accepted by kappa.

Powers

Being an aquatic yokai, it goes without saying that kappa are master swimmers with a vast knowledge of water and it’s importance.

Strength – Much of a kappa’s strength is tied to the waters of the pond or river it calls home. The water that a kappa keeps in the depression on its head is a source of its strength and even life.

Flatulence – I’m not sure that I would call this a power. Suffice to say that a kappa can use a particularly noxious gas attack in self-defense much like skunks do. A kappa is known to release this gas not just as a prank but to get someone like fishermen to let it go.

Flight – So those cucumbers offered to the kappa, not only do they eat the cucumbers, the kappa uses them to fly around on like dragonflies. Okay….

Weaknesses

So how does one manage to thwart and defeat a Kappa you might ask?

Arms – If we go off the idea that the arms of a kappa are connected to each other, they can be easily pulled off. If a person manages to get a kappa’s arm, they will perform a task in order to get it back. Assuming the arm can be reattached.

Challenges – Kappa aren’t mindlessly aggressive, and a person can reason with them. If they don’t have an offering of cucumbers to give, a person can try challenging the kappa. Most challenges usually take the form of feats of strength with wrestling matches.

One challenge found in a folktale sees a Farmer’s daughter get promised to a kappa in marriage in exchange for the yokai to irrigate his land. The daughter challenged the kappa to submerge several gourds in water. When the kappa failed at this task, the daughter was freed from the marital arrangement.

Fire – Being water creatures, it stands to reason that Kappa are held to be afraid of fire and loud noises. Some villages in Japan will have fireworks festivals each year to try and scare away spirits.

Land – Kappa can’t survive for long on the land and must always keep their heads wet, especially the sara filled with water.

Etiquette – That in mind, the kappa are overly found of etiquette, so if you bow deeply to them in greeting, they will bow as well, spilling the water from their sara. With this water spilled, the kappa loses its strength and any powers, becoming weakened and possibly die if this water isn’t refilled. It must be water from their home river or pond that is poured back in. If a human is the one who refills this water, it is believed that the kappa would the human in question for the rest of eternity.

Cucumbers – Offering the Kappa a nice tasty cucumber is sure to do the trick and placate them instead of trying to haul you into the river to drown.

Instead of offering the cucumber, a person would the vegetable themselves as a means of protection before swimming. Though some will say this is sure to guarantee an attack.

Miscellaneous – There’s a variety of other items that supposedly drive away kappa. These items include ginger, iron and sesame.

A Friend For Life

Those who have successfully befriended a kappa find that they truly have a friend for life. Kappa are known to help farmers in any number of ways such as irrigating fields. The kappa are very knowledgeable in the way of medicine and have been known to teach the art of bone setting to humans.

There are shrines to kappa that have been established, especially of a particularly helpful kappa. You could trick a kappa into service via the bowing and refilling the bowl on their head with water. He’s not likely to be so nice about the help he gives then.

The kappa, like the European Fae won’t break an oath as their sense of etiquette and decorum is such, they just won’t. So yeah, a human can trick a kappa into service and get one to swear an oath to them, the kappa’s sense of honor says they will follow it through to the end.

Japanese Expressions

There are a few expressions associated with kappa.

Kappa Maki – A cucumber sushi roll named for kappa.

“Kappa-no-kawa-nagare” – This phrase translates to “A kappa drowning in a river” is used to mean that even an expert can make mistakes.

“Kappa no He” – Much ado about nothing, the literal translation is water-imp fart. This is my new favorite.

Okappa – the bobbed hairstyles that look like those kappa sport.

Koppojutsu

This is a martial arts style invented by Kappa who will sometimes teach it to humans. The name of koppojutsu translates as “attacks against bones.” It is a hard-martial art compared to another, koshijutsu that is a soft-martial art that targets an opponent’s muscles.

Kappa-Buchi

The Kappa Pool is a legend found in the Jozankei region of Japan.

A young man was out fishing in a deep pool and he ended up falling in. He never surfaced. Some months later, as his father slept, the son came to him in a dream and told his father that he was living happily with the Kappa, that he even had a kappa wife and child. Shortly after, the pool came to be known as the Kappa Buchi.

Kappa Bashi

The Kappa bridge found in Tokyo used to be farmland that was surrounded by canals prone to flooding. During the late Edo period, a raincoat dealer, Kappaya Kihachi spent his entire fortune on building a better drainage system. The work proved more difficult than expect and taking longer to complete.

Falling into despair and about to give up, the man was visited by a kappa whose life he had saved many years before. The kappa had arrived to help and in no time at all, the new drainage system was completed. Further, the story goes that those who saw the kappa were blessed with good fortune. Shortly after, the Kappa Temple was built to honor and enshrine the kappa as a local deity.

Saiyuki – Journey West

When the Chinese epic of Journey to the West arrived in Japan, the character of Sha Wujing’s name is changed to Sangojo or Sagojo. Where Sha Wujing or Sandy is often depicted as a Water Buffalo or some kind of water demon, in Japan, he is frequently identified as a kappa.

Horses & Livestock & Monkeys!

Continuing a connection of Kappa to the Journey West story, in which kappa come from drown monkeys. In Chinese lore, monkeys are shown riding horses and in Journey West, the Jade Emperor appoints Monkey or Son Goku to a position of a Stable Hand or Protector of Horses.

This connection could explain a few different folktales and stories of kappa harassing people’s horse and cattle. There is a story recorded by Lafcadio Hearn in Kawachimura where a horse-stealing kappa was captured and forced to sign an agreement never to harm any people or steal from them again. The kappa even went so far as to swear he would get his fellow kappa to swear to the oath of leaving humans alone.

Of course, it could be too much of a stretch and horses were just one of many animals and objects that kappa would try to steal from humans.

Possible Reality Behind The Myths

Drowning – It’s likely stories of kappa developed as a means to scare and warn children from wandering too close to the water’s edge at any pond or river.

Kappa are even blamed for drowning deaths and signs are still posted near bodies of water that warn of kappa dangers.

Giant Salamanders – It makes sense, that inspiration for the kappa could come from the Japanese giant salamander or hanzaki. It is a large, aggressive salamander that grow up to five feet in length that will grab its prey with powerful jaws.

Miscarriages & Leech Babies – Touching back on that idea of kappa rapping women. There is an 18th century Ukiyo-e picture by Utamaro showing a kappa rapping an ama diver while underwater. That’s a bit unpleasant. More relevant might be a belief found in Kunio Yanagita’s Tono Monogatari, in which women who were raped by kappa and became pregnant often had repulsive babies born. These babies, called Leech Babies, would be buried shortly after.

Sometimes these stillborn babies would be tossed into a river and children would be warned to stay away from the water’s edge to avoid seeing these dead babies. Sadly, sometimes a poor family might have tossed an unwanted baby into the river if they couldn’t afford to care for it.

It’s possible a woman might say she had been raped by a kappa in order to try and explain why a baby was born deformed and likely stillborn. It would provide a way of saving face to explain a stillborn and deformities. That’s my take after reading in Celtic folklore and comparing it the myths regarding Changelings and parents who have a child that dies of SIDs, you just say the fairies came and took your baby and that the one isn’t real. Because somewhere, your real baby is still alive.

Similar Folkloric Figures

There are a few other, similar figures found in other cultures from around the world that have been used to scare young children from straying too close to the water’s edge.

Kelpie – A fearsome water horse in Scottish folklore known to drown those who try to ride it.

Näkki – A water monster from Finnish folklore.

Neck – Also called Nix or Nixie, a similar shapeshifting creature to the Näkki, only from Germanic and Scandinavian folklore.

Shui Gui – Water Ghost or Water Monkey is a similar creature found in Chinese folklore.

Siyokoy – Found in the Philippin islands and known for kidnapping children. Their description is very similar to those of kappa.

Vodyanoy – A frog-like water spirit found in Slavic folklore.

Vodnik – A green humanoid spirit or creature found in western Slavic folklore, particularly in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

 

Jólakötturinn

Jólakötturinn

Other Names: Christmas Cat, Yule Cat

The Jólakötturinn or Yule Cat is a monstrous feline heralding from Icelandic folklore. It is a huge and fear some cat that stalks the countryside of Iceland during the month of December. Those unfortunate enough to cross paths with the Yule Cat and who have not received a new article of clothing by Christmas Eve will find themselves eaten.

Description

The Yule Cat is a black cat who is able to grow in size in order to feed on its victims. When huge, the Yule Cat towers over the tallest homes as it prowls the Icelandic countryside during Christmas night. It will look through windows to see who has gotten new clothes or not.

The Yule Cat is infamously the ogress Grýla’s pet. Grýla herself is known for terrorizing and eating children who misbehave, especially at Christmas time. Her sons, the Yule Lads started off not being much better with their variety of mischief and pranks they cause.

Dark Ages – Autumn Wool

According to one source, a monstrous cat eating people comes from farmers using this threat to give incentive to their workers to get the autumn wool in before Christmas. Those who did so would receive new clothes, while those who didn’t would fall victim to the Yule Cat.

This belief is also likely a way to explain that those who don’t have good warm clothing to protect against the cold of Iceland’s winters weren’t likely to survive.

Jólasveinarnir

 The Yule Cat Poem was written by the poet, Jóhannes úr Kötlum in 1932, this poem describes and makes popular the Yule Cat who eats those who don’t receive new clothing before Christmas.

The following is Kötlum’s poem in English:

You all know the Yule Cat

And that Cat was huge indeed.

People didn’t know where he came from

Or where he went.

 

He opened his glaring eyes wide,

The two of them glowing bright.

It took a really brave man

To look straight into them.

 

His whiskers, sharp as bristles,

His back arched up high.

And the claws of his hairy paws

Were a terrible sight.

 

He gave a wave of his strong tail,

He jumped and he clawed and he hissed.

Sometimes up in the valley,

Sometimes down by the shore.

 

He roamed at large, hungry and evil

In the freezing Yule snow.

In every home

People shuddered at his name.

 

If one heard a pitiful “meow”

Something evil would happen soon.

Everybody knew he hunted men

But didn’t care for mice.

 

He picked on the very poor

That no new garments got

For Yule – who toiled

And lived in dire need.

 

From them he took in one fell swoop

Their whole Yule dinner

Always eating it himself

If he possibly could.

 

Hence it was that the women

At their spinning wheels sat

Spinning a colorful thread

For a frock or a little sock.

 

Because you mustn’t let the Cat

Get hold of the little children.

They had to get something new to wear

From the grownups each year.

 

And when the lights came on, on Yule Eve

And the Cat peered in,

The little children stood rosy and proud

All dressed up in their new clothes.

 

Some had gotten an apron

And some had gotten shoes

Or something that was needed

– That was all it took.

 

For all who got something new to wear

Stayed out of that pussy-cat’s grasp

He then gave an awful hiss

But went on his way.

 

Whether he still exists I do not know.

But his visit would be in vain

If next time everybody

Got something new to wear.

 

Now you might be thinking of helping

Where help is needed most.

Perhaps you’ll find some children

That have nothing at all.

 

Perhaps searching for those

That live in a lightless world

Will give you a happy day

And a Merry, Merry Yule.

 

Christmas Tradition

It goes without saying, that in Iceland, families will be sure to give gifts of new and warm clothing for Christmas. If not, the Yule Cat is sure to catch and eat that person.

Further, children are encouraged to finish their chores before Christmas to receive new clothing or else face the Yule Cat’s hunger if they failed to do so. Though sometimes the Yule Cat will just eat a child’s diner, so they go to bed hungry or just take their gifts.

Making sure that no one gets eaten by the Yule Cat, giving clothes to the less fortunate as a means to promote generosity is done in Iceland.

So, the next time you receive socks or a sweater for Christmas from that one relative, just remember, they love you and don’t want the Yule Cat to eat you.

Jólabókaflóð – The Yule Book Flood

Alright, so it’s not related to cats, unless you’re forever dealing with one who wants to sit in your lap while reading…

Starting in WWII, comes the Icelandic tradition of buying books and then exchanging them on Christmas Eve. The night is then spent reading books with people taking their book with them to bed and eating chocolate.

Can’t argue with that tradition, especially if you’re a book lover!

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Jólasveinar

Yule Lads

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.

Dimmuborgir

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.

Descriptions

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.

Family

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.

Christmas Associations

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.

Grýla

Grýla

Etymology – “Growler,” “Threat” or “Threatening,” possibly “Bugbear”

Grýla is the name of a popular and famous Christmas Witch, Ogress or Troll found in Icelandic traditions. Stories and imagery for Grýla can also be found in the Faroe Islands. She is used by parents to scare naughty children into behaving.

The earliest translation for Grýla’s name, likely comes from the Sverris saga in the late 1100’s where the author has a section titled Grýla and goes on to explain that it means: “Bugbear.”

Dimmuborgir

This is reportedly the home of the fierce some Grýla, Leppalúði and the Yule Lads. It is a labyrinth field of lava in North Iceland.

Descriptions

This ogress lives up in the mountains of Iceland. She is said to have hooves for feet and thirteen tails. Always in a foul temper with an insatiable hunger, especially for children, Grýla will descend from her mountain in search of bad children. She will put the children into a large sack to carry back up to her mountain cave to boil alive in a stew.

The descriptions for Grýla vary widely as some accounts saying she is half troll, half animal, that she has 300 heads with three eyes on each head. Other accounts will say she has bad nails, fangs, eyes in the back of her head and horns like a goat, that her ears hang down to her shoulders and are tied to her nose. Further accounts will say her chin is bearded and that her teeth are black like charcoal.

Grýla is described as having the ability to detect naughty children all year-round. It is during Christmas time that she will come down from her mountain home to find naughty children in local towns to take back and boil alive in her cauldron. Those children who have behaved or who have repented of their misdeeds, Grýla is unable to take or must release.

Snorri Edda – Written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, Grýla is among the names of female trolls listed in his saga. Grýla is a cannibalistic mountain ogre or troll. Even in this early writing, Grýla is used to scare bad children into behaving lest she come down from her mountain cave to devour them. Sturluson’s Sage, Grýla has fifteen tails and on each tail, there are a hundred ballons and each balloon holds twenty children.

Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar – “The Folklore of Jón Árnason” gives a description of both Grýla and her husband, Leppalúði. Both of these fiends are cannibalistic trolls who mostly prey on children. Found within the Folklore of Jón Árnason, is a poem that mentions both Grýla  and Leppalúði having nineteen children.

Family

Spouses

Grýla has had three different husbands. Out of boredom or spite, she killed her first two husbands.

 Gustur – This is the name of Grýla’s first husband whom she killed and ate out of boredom.

 Boli – This is the name of Grýla’s second husband with whom she bore many children with. Boli is noted as having been a cannibal and died of old age. Sometimes Grýla kills and eats him too.

Leppalúði – He is Grýla’s current and third 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 than, 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 and still needing a crib.

Children

Having been married a few times, Grýla has some 72 children who are responsible for a variety of mischief and trouble. All ranging from harmless pranks to outright murder.

JólasveinarnirThe Yule Lads, in the 17th century, when Grýla became associated with Christmas, she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. There are 13 Yule Lads who started off causing all sorts of mischief and trouble. Overtime and influenced by the American Santa Claus tradition, the Yule Lads became associated with gift giving and will leave either a gift of sweets ore a rotten potato in a shoe left on the window sill depending on a child’s behavior.

JólakötturinnThe Yule Cat, as if children aren’t enough, Grýla also has a monstrous giant black cat for a pet. The Yule Cat will prey upon children and adults alike who have not received the gift of a new article of clothing. The Yule Cat will swell to a monstrous size before tearing apart its victim. So make sure your Nana or favorite Aunt has sent you a new article of clothing for Christmas. Even if it’s a pink bunny outfit, it will keep the Yule Cat from eating you!

Dark Winter Spirits

This ties into why Grýla is said to have so many children. With Grýla’s pre-Christmas traditions, she and all her numerous children are 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 character of Grýla was certainly one of these dark, spooky spirits who would come down from the mountains as a personification of Winter and the danger that comes with it. Another point of note, given Grýla’s insatiable appetite, is that she is closely related to the fear of hunger that the long, dark winter months can bring.

Christmas Associations

Grýla became associated with the Icelandic celebrations for Christmas in the 17th century. At this time, she was given the role of being the mother of the Yule Lads who bring either a gift or a rotten potato. When children get so frightened of going out for fear of being eaten that the government has to step in and ban parents from using Grýla as a fear tactic, you know you have a really scary badass that you just don’t mess with.

It has been suggested by Terry Gunnell that the tradition of Grýla may come from that of the Julebukk or Yule Goat and that her name may mean “threat” or “threatening.”

In her role as a Christmas Ogre, Grýla still hunts out misbehaving children to kidnap and eat. Later stories will sometimes have Grýla and Leppalúði die from starvation as they’re unable to find any naughty children. Though occasionally the two aren’t averse to eating adults either.

A more modern convention of the twentieth century, Grýla’s sons, the Yule Lads image softened and became more friendlier, adopting some of the Dutch tradition of leaving a shoe out so that the Lads could leave a gift if a child was good and a rotten potato if a child was bad in the thirteen days leading up to Christmas.

The Onion

A satirical news site, The Onion blamed the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on Grýla.