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Category Archives: Fire

Sigmund

Sigmund

Etymology: Sigr- (Old Norse), Sig- “Victory” (Sieg- Germanic, Zege- Dutch) and -mundr (Old Norse) “Protector”

Pronunciation: Zeek-muwnt (German), Seeg-mund (Swedish), Sig-mənd (English)

Also known as: Siegmund

Alternate Spellings: Sigmundr (Old Norse), Sigimund, Sigismund (Ancient Germanic), Sigmundr (Ancient Scandinavian), Zikmund (Czech), Siegmund, Sigismund (German), Zsigmond, Zsiga (Hungarian), Sigismondo (Italian), Zygmunt (Polish), Žigmund (Slovak), Žiga (Slovene), Segismundo (Spanish), Sigge (Swedish)

The hero Sigmund is best known from his exploits in the Völsunga saga. Sigmund’s fame comes from being the one who could pull the sword, Gram from a tree and being the father of another hero, Sigurd.

Parentage and Family

Parents

Father – Völsung, for whom the Völsunga saga is named.

Mother – Ljod, also spelled Hljod, Sigmund’s mother in the Völsunga.

Consort –

Borghild – His first wife.

Sieglind – His wife in the Nibelungenlied.

Sisibe – His wife in the Thiðrekssaga.

Sibling –

 BrotherIt’s mentioned that Sigmund has nine brothers, though none of them are ever given any names.

Sister – Signý, his twin

Children –

Helgi – Son by way of Borghild.

Sigurd – Son by way of Hljod. A famous dragon-slayer of many Norse, Scandinavian and German sagas.

Sinfjötli – Son by way of incest with his sister Signý.

Hamund and Helgi – Sons by way of Borghild.

Ancient Runes

The oldest source for Sigmund’s legend are found in Sweden on seven runestones. The most notable of these are the Ramsund carving dating from about 1,000 C.E. based on events from the fifth and sixth centuries C.E.

 Völsunga Saga

This is a 13th century Icelandic saga from the Völsung clan that follows several generations of Völsung’s lineage. While this saga is best known for the story of Sigurd and Brunhildr and the destruction of the Burgundians, this is the main source for the story regarding Sigmund.

Backing up a little bit, the saga begins with Völsung, known of his great strength and size, who is the king of Hunland. Völsung marries Hljod with whom he fathers ten sons and a daughter, Signý, the twin to Sigmund.

So great is Signý’s beauty, that King Siggeir of Gautland (Västergötland) sends a missive to King Völsung requesting his daughter Signý’s hand in marriage. Now, Siggeir had a reputation for being fierce in battle and Völsung and his sons knew that they couldn’t hope to fend off Siggeir and his men once they saw them. Add to this, Signý doesn’t want to marry Siggeir.

Against her better judgment, Signý marries Siggeir. A wedding feast, one that would last for several days commenced shortly after. At a time when both Völsung and Sigmund are in attendance, the god Odin came, disguised as a beggar and thrust the sword Gram into the a large oak tree known as Barnstock. Völsung’s hall was built around this large oak. The beggar (Odin) announces that the man who is able to pull the sword free may have it as a gift. Of all the men present, only Sigmund succeeded in pulling the sword free.

Signý’s new husband, Siggeir became very envious and greedy for Sigmund’s sword. When Sigmund refused an offer to buy the sword, Siggeir than invites Völsung, Sigmund and his nine other brothers to come visit him and Signý a few months later in Gautland.

When Völsung and the rest of his clan arrived, they are attacked by Siggeir’s men. In the fight that followed, Völsung is killed and his sons captured. Signý pleaded with Siggeir to spare her brothers, to have them placed in stocks instead of killing them outright. Siggeir agreed to Signý’s pleas only because it went along with his ideas of torturing the brothers before killing them.

It turns out that Siggeir has a mother who can shape-shift into a wolf. He lets dear old mother kill one of the Völsung brothers each night. Signý, much as she tries, is unable to save her brothers. One by one they are killed by this she-wolf until finally only Sigmund remains.

With only last chance to save any of her brothers, Signý gets a servant to smear some honey on Sigmund’s face. When Siggeir’s shape-shifted mother arrives that night, the she-wolf licks the honey off Sigmund’s face, causing her tongue to stick to the roof of her mouth. The opportunity allowed Sigmund to bite off the she-wolf’s tongue. The resulting blood loss killed the wolf. Shortly after, he freed himself and Sigmund took off to hide in the forest.

Hidden safely in the woods, Sigmund has everything he needs and what he doesn’t have, Signý would bring to him. Seeking revenge for the death of their father herself, Signý would send her sons out to the forest to be tested by their uncle. As each one failed the test, Sigmund would kill them until he finally had enough of it and refused to kill any more children. A distraught Signý came to Sigmund disguised as a völva (a type of Scandinavian Witch or Shaman). Disguised, Signý gave birth to Sinfjötli, whom, a child of incest is able to pass Sigmund’s test.

Living the life of outlaws, both Sigmund and Sinfjötli lived in the forest. During their time, the two came across some men sleeping in some wolf skins. The two kill the men and on donning the wolf skins for themselves, discover that the skins are cursed. With their new-found abilities or curse, Sigmund and Sinfjötli are able to avenge Völsung when they kill Siggeir by way of setting his place on fire. The only person to escape the blaze was Signý, whom if Sigmund hadn’t known the truth about his nephew/son Sinfjötli, she now came clean to tell him she had tricked Sigmund into sleeping with her. After revealing the truth, Signý walked back into the raging fire to die with Siggeir.

Returning To Hunland

The story doesn’t end there as both Sigmund and Sinfjötli continue their exploits of banditry when they return to Hunland. Sigmund’s plan is to reclaim his lands from the king who took over after Völsung’s death. After reclaiming his rightful throne, Sigmund marries Borghild and they have two sons, Hamund and Helgi.

It’s known that Helgi, at the age of fifteen would go on to fight many battles and win his own kingdom. He earned the name Helgi Hundingsbani when he killed Hunding and his sons after two battles. Helgi wasn’t done yet and would continue on to defeat Hodbrodd and Grannar in order to win the hand of Sigrun, the daughter of King Hogni in marriage. This is a story for another post.

Borghild became jealous of her stepson Sinfjötli’s abilities and when he killed her brother, she plotted Sinfjötli’s demise. Both Sinfjötli and her brother  had been competing for the hand of the same woman. Killing Sinfjötli wouldn’t be easy for Borghild as he was immune to all poison. That didn’t stop Borghild from trying. She offered Sinfjötli two cups of poisoned wine that he drank without problem. However, with the third cup, that did Sinfjötli in. For her efforts, Borghild was banished from Hunland.

The narrative continues that Sigmund carried Sinfjötli’s body into the forest where he meets a ferryman at a fjord. The ferryman had only enough room on his boat for one passenger at a time and offered to take Sinfjötli’s body across first and come back for Sigmund. When the boat reached the middle of the fjord, it vanished along with the ferryman and Sinfjötli’s body. This ferryman would be none other than Odin in disguise, come to personally take his descendant to Valhalla despite not meeting the prerequisite to die in battle.

Marrying Hjördís & Sigmund’s Doom

Sigmund goes on to marry again, this time to Hjördís, daughter of King Eylimi. Hjördís had another suitor who sought her hand in marriage, King Lyngi along with other suitors. The would be suitors competed for Hjördís’s hand in marriage and Sigmund won, despite being much older than other kings. Lyngi refused to give up and concede to Sigmund.

After enjoying a brief period of peace, Sigmund’s kingdom is attacked by King Lyngi as he was jealous and wanted revenge on Hjördís for marrying Sigmund.

It is during this battle, Sigmund fought alongside his father-in-law, King Eylimi who is killed. It is this day, that the Norns have decreed will be when Sigmund dies. The god Odin returns in this battle, disguised as a beggar and when he comes face to face with Sigmund, the sword Gram is shattered by his spear Gungnir.

The sword shattered, Sigmund easily falls at the hands of others in battle. As he lays dying, Sigmund tells Hjördís that she is pregnant, and their son will one day receive the broken remains of his sword. That their son will be named Sigurd who would go on to avenge his father’s death and slay the dragon Fafnir.

As to Lyngi, he was thwarted in trying to win Hjördís for she had fled and was found by King Alf who married and took her and her unborn son in.

Other Germanic Sagas

In many of the sagas about the hero Sigurd (Siegfried), Sigmund or Siegmund is often cited as being Sigurd’s father. None of these other sagas have the same level of detail regarding Sigmund that is found within the Völsunga.

Nibelungenlied – In this saga, his wife was Sieglind

Thiðrekssaga – In this saga, Sigmund is the son of Sifjan, the king of Tarlungland. He has a son with Sisibe, the daughter of King Nidung of Spain.

Beowulf

This is an Old English poem. In the story Beowulf, the story of Sigemund is told to the title character and involves the slaying of a dragon, not unlike that of Sigurd slaying a dragon. The child conceived by Signý and Sigemund the Wælsing is known as Fitela, not Sinfjötli.

The Sword In The Tree – Arthurian Legend!?!

The Branstock tree was a massive oak tree that Völsung built his hall around.

For those familiar with Arthurian legend, Sigmund’s pulling the sword Gram from the Branstock tree sounds very familiar to the story of Arthur pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone.

In addition, it’s been noted that the characters of Sinfjötli and Mordred are both nephew and son to the respective figures of Sigmund and Arthur.

Gram – A Gift From Odin

In the Völsunga saga, the name of Sigmund’s sword is Gram. Other Norse sagas will give the name of Balmung for Sigmund’s sword. Gram’s name means: “wrath.”

Being an enchanted sword gifted by the god Odin, Gram holds the magical ability of giving its wielder the power to win all their battles.

As for who forged Gram, the myths and legends say that Volund, or Wayland the Smith is who crafted this blade. In the Nibelungenlied, Gram is known by the name of Balmung and Mimung in Germanic myths. In Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” the sword is known as Nothung.

It was said that Volund (or Wayland the Smith) made the sword, and the magic sword was later called Gram (Balmung or Mimung in German myth).

Tolkien Middle Earth Connection – I mentioned in my post for Sigurd that the shattering of Gram served as the inspiration for Aragorn’s shattered sword that he reforges.

Odin’s Role In The Völsunga

It should be noted that Odin is the great grandfather of Völsung who founds the clan of the same name. Effectively making Völsung at least a demigod of sorts and later descendants being more extraordinary in their deeds and destiny.

So, it makes sense at the first, that Odin would appear, favoring the Völsung’s when he impales the sword Gram into the Branstock tree, saying that whoever can pull this sword can have it and it’s Sigmund who succeeds.

However later, Sigmund appears to fall out of favor with Odin when the god shatters Gram and leaves Sigmund to fall at the hands of his enemies.

God of Prophesy

Surely a god of prophesy would know what events would transpire. Which could mean that’s exactly what Odin wanted to have happen. Or he’s trying to change the fates of his kinsmen even though the Norns have told Odin that no, you can’t change fate, no you won’t get your descendant at all. That as punishment, Sigmund won’t die in battle at all.

Even a god can try?

If a person’s fate is truly set and there’s no avoiding destiny or changing one’s stars, even a god of prophesy would know you can’t change the future. Unless predicting the future is nothing more than being able to see what the most likely outcomes and probabilities are. That if you don’t change the variables, X event is the most likely event and course of action to happen.

Battle God

Of course, the other thing to remember, is that Odin is also a god of battle and as such, like many other war gods, he thrives on the conflicts and strife that happen. Even if only for the sake of it.

With the whole impending doom of the gods and Ragnarok among the Norse, Odin is going to try and bolster his forces by recruiting from the various fields of battle, the fallen and slain warriors. Isn’t that what the Valkyries are for? Well sure, so unless there’s a constant steady source of conflicts and battles, the Valkyries aren’t likely to be doing much recruiting. One can see Odin going about instigating some of these conflicts, so he can try to recruit promising warriors for his Einherjar, ya’ know, the slain warriors of Valhalla. And let’s not forget that Freya is going to get half of those warriors for her hall of Folkvangr.

Sigmund! I don’t choose you!

Sigmund also has a date with destiny, for the Norns have decreed that he would die on that day. There is however a hitch to this, so long as Sigmund has the sword Gram, there’s no way he’s going to loose or die. So there’s Odin off to the field of battle to make sure that Sigmund can meet destiny by making sure he doesn’t have the sword.

Now it could be that he has angered Odin when Sigmund tries to interfere with protecting his father-in-law, King Eylimi during the battle against King Lyngi. Odin attacks Sigmund, shattering the sword Gram and leaves him to die.

It might be too how dare a descendant of his defy the mighty Odin and shatter the sword, hoping somehow that Sigmund will die in battle to join his forces in Valhalla. Odin’s efforts to sow contention earlier at a wedding only resulted in nine other of his grandsons getting killed by a wolf while tied up. That’s not exactly the heat of battle there and the loss of nine potential warriors to join him.

So, Odin cuts his losses with Sigmund and gifts a final prophesy to his grandson about the birth of Sigurd and that Gram will be reforged and passed on to another hero.

Medieval Sagas

Lastly, the Völsunga saga was written in the 13th century C.E. several centuries from when the events are to have initially occurred. That’s more than enough time for the skalds to have embellished the stories. To add Odin to the events in an effort to make sense of narrative as well as give a more mythic quality to the tales to explain why events turn out the way they did.

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Sigurd

Sigurd

Etymology: Sigr- (Old Norse), Sig- “Victory” (Sieg- Germanic, Zege- Dutch) and vörðr- (-ward Proto-Germanic)“guardian” or “protection” (Old Norse), -fried – “peace”

Also known as: Siegfried, Sigfred, Sifrit, Sîvrît (High German), Sivard (Danish), Sigevrit, Zegevrijt (Middle Dutch), Seyfrid, Seufrid (early modern German)

Alternate Spellings: Sigurðr (Old Norse)

Sigurd is a legendary hero from old Germanic, Norse and Scandinavian mythologies, where he is best known for slaying the dragon Fafnir, rescuing the Valkyrie maiden Brynhildr and the disastrous events that come after with his death.

As I discovered when first doing my article for Brynhildr, there are a number of different stories and various spellings or names for the main character, all of whom and which seem to be the same story and characters. With the differences, we’re likely just seeing different regional and cultural versions. Plus, the addition of Wagner’s famous Opera cycle goes and confuses that matter a bit as he takes from a the Völsunga and Nibelungenlied, mixing them together.

All I can say, is I’ve done my best to keep all of this straight. Also, it’s not like the ancients had access to e-mail and the internet to keep their sources straight, one tribe tells the story one way, another tribe tells it slightly different. The stories also alter and change when you start looking at when one is written and recorded compared to another.

Parentage and Family

Parents

Father – Sigmund, regardless of variant spellings, nearly all sources list him as Sigurd’s father.

It is in the Völsunga that Odin is mentioned as being Sigurd’s real father, making the hero a demigod of sorts and would explain why in some versions of the story, Odin goes out of his way to offer advice and aid him. It’s more accurate that Sigurd is a descendant of Odin’s though.

Mother – Hiordis, Sigmund’s second wife in the Völsunga. In the Þiðrekssaga, it is Sisibe who is Sigurd’s mother. The Nibelungenlied lists Sigelinde as Siegfried’s mother.

Consort –

Brunhildr – The Valkyrie maiden whom Sigurd falls in love with and would have married had outside sources not interfered.

Gudrun – She is who Sigurd marries in the Völsunga. In the Nibelung, her name is Kriemhild.

Children –

Aslaug – Sigurd’s daughter by way of Brynhildr in the Völsunga. Aslaug goes on to marry Ragnar Lodbrok.

Sigmund & Svanhild – Twin sons by way of Gudrun in the Völsunga. Sigmund is named after Sigurd’s father.

What’s In A Name?

At first glance, due to the similarity of their stories, both Sigurd and Siegmund appear to be the same character. Perhaps they are, at the same time, I think it helps to remember regional variations from very similar cultures. Thanks in part to Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” Opera cycle, there gets to be further confusion to the matter.

It should be noted that what the names of Sigurd and Siegfried mean are different, however they do share the first part of the names do have the same etymology. The second part of the names have very different meanings.

In all cases, the different names all share the commonality of the first part or prefix name of “Sig-“ which means “victory.” The second part of the names have different meanings. “-fried” meaning peace in the name Siegfried and “-vörðr” meaning protection.

Sigurðr – Or Sigurd, is not the same character as the Germanic Siegfried no matter how much the sources seem to want to confuse them. This name translates to Victory-Protection or Protector of Victory.

Siegfried – With this spelling, he is the hero of both the Germanic Nibelungenlied and Richard Wagner’s operas of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. The Old Norse name for Siegfried would have been Sigfroðr. This name translates to Victory-Peace or Peaceful Victory. The name Siegfried doesn’t appear until towards the end of the seventh century. So it’s possible that Sigurd is the original form of the name.

Sivard Snarensven – This is the name of the hero from several medieval Scandinavian ballads. He’s noted here as his name is known for being a variant spelling to Sigurðr.

Ancient Runes

The oldest source for Sigurd’s legend are found in Sweden on seven runestones. The most notable of these are the Ramsund carving dating from about 1,000 C.E. and the Gok Runestone dating to the 11th century C.E.

Ramsund Carvings – These runes show Sigurd sitting naked before a fire as he prepares to cook the heart taken from the dragon Fafnir. As the heart isn’t fully cooked yet, Sigurd burns himself when he touches it, promptly sticking the burnt finger in his mouth. One he tastes the dragon’s blood, Sigurd is able to understand the birds’ song.

The birds inform Sigurd not to trust his foster-father Regin as he won’t keep his promise. To which, Sigurd chops off Regin’s head. Smithing tools laying around Regin’s head that were used to reforge the sword Gram.

Other carvings show Regin’s horse loaded down with the dragon’s gold, Sigurd slaying Fafnir and Otr, Regin’s brother from the start of the saga.

Hylestad Stave Church – Other carvings and runes can be found on doorways and stones at this church, showing more of Sigurd’s legend.

Völsunga Saga

This is the main source for Sigurd’s story. It is a 13th century Icelandic saga from the Völsung clan that tells the story of Sigurðr and Brynhildr and the subsequent destruction of the Burgundians.

Within this saga, Sigurd is the son of Sigmund and Hiordis, his second wife. So, this is where the story begins, with Sigmund attacking a disguised Odin. Attacking a deity is never a good idea and Odin kills Sigmund while also shattering his sword. As he lays dying, Sigmund hangs on long enough to tell Hiordis about her pregnancy and to bequeath the shattered fragments of his sword to his unborn son.

With Sigmund dead and pregnant, Hiordis then marries King Alf. When Sigurd is old enough, Alf sends the boy to Regin to be fostered. When Sigurd gets older, nearing being an adult, Regin begins to try putting into Sigurd’s head that his station and position isn’t very much.

In a seemingly benign series of questions, Regin asks Sigurd if has any control or say over how Sigmund’s gold, Sigurd’s inheritance by right. Sigurd responds that Alf and his family take care of all of the gold and that he has everything he needs or desires. Regin continues his questioning by asking Sigurd why he accepts such a low position in Alf’s court. Again, Sigurd says he’s treated as an equal and that he has everything he needs or desires.

Not letting up, Regin again asks Sigurd why he settles for being a stable boy to the Kings or have any horse of his own for that matter. That last bit does get to Sigurd who decides he’s going to have his own horse. On the way to the castle to get one, Sigurd is met by an old man (Odin in disguise) who gives some advice to the young man on which horse to choose. This advice does lead Sigurd to getting the horse Grani, a decedent of Odin’s own horse, Sleipnir.

Regin’s Story – Otr’s Gold

When Sigurd returns with a horse of his own, Regin then tells the young man the story of Otter’s Gold. How Regin’s father is Hreidmar, a powerful magician and about his two brothers Otr and Fafnir. How he is a master smith and that Otr himself also held many magical talents. That Otr would go out swimming near a waterfall in one of his favorite forms, that of an otter. That another, a dwarf by the name of Andvari would take the form of a pike and swim too.

Then one day, the Aesir gods came across Otr in his otter form. Not realizing him to be a person and instead, believing the otter to be the real animal, Loki killed Otr and took his pelt. The Aesir then took the pelt to Hreidmar to show off what they caught. Knowing the pelt to belong to their brother, both Fafnir and Regin detain the Aesir; demanding a weregild or restitution be paid for Otr’s death.

Realizing what had happened, the Aesir agreed to pay compensation and fill Otr’s body with gold and cover him with an assortment of treasure. Before Otr’s body is returned to his family, Loki took a net from the sea goddess Ran and used it to catch Andvari in his pike form. In exchange for his freedom, Loki commanded Andvari to give him all of his gold. Grudgingly, Andvari gave up his gold to Loki; except for one ring, that one, Loki had to take by force. Loki took this ring more by force. Unknown to Loki, Andvari cursed this ring with a death curse on it that for whoever wielded the one ring.

Gold in hand now, the Aesir proceed with stuffing Otr’s pelt with it and covering it with treasure, the one ring placed over a whisker and present it to Hreidmar. Greed over coming him, Fafnir killed Hreidmar and took all of the gold, refusing to give Regin his rightful share or inheritance. For this, Regin is looking for someone who can help him seek revenge.

Reforging His Father’s Sword

Caught up by the injustice of it all, Sigurd readily agrees to the plan of killing Fafnir, thereby avenging Hreidmar. As Regin is a master smith, Sigurd requests that a sword be made for him. The first sword made is tested against an anvil, breaking. So, another sword is crafted by Regin, only be broken too.

Third times the charm, Sigurd went to his mother to request the broken pieces of his father’s sword. Sigurd then has Regin take the shattered remains of his father’s sword and reforge those into a sword. This new sword would be known as Gram and it was able to split the anvil in twain. The blade is so sharp, Sigurd can even cut wool with his sword in the river.

First, I Must Avenge My Father

Seeing that Sigurd finally has a sword, Regin tries to get Sigurd to promise to slay the dragon Fafnir to which Sigurd agrees, but not until he has gone to avenge the death of his father.

First, Sigurd set off for his uncle Griper on his mother’s side. It seems dear old uncle Griper can foretell the future and Sigurd wanted to know the Norns had in store for him. Griper refused at first to admit anything to young Sigurd. After much persistence, Griper told Sigurd what would befall him.

Armed with this knowledge, Sigurd went now to King Alf, requesting a fleet of ships and enough men that he could wage war against the Hunding tribe and there by take revenge upon King Lynge for the death of his father Sigmund.

While sailing towards Lynge’s kingdom, a storm broke. A sailor that Sigurd had taken on, by the name of Fjorner sang a runic song that calmed the storm, allowing Sigurd’s fleet to arrive safely. Now Sigurd could lay waste to King Lynge’s kingdom and kill Lynge, thus avenging his father.

Sigurd returned home, having claimed the lands and treasures held by Lynge and earning a lot of prestige and renown as a warrior.

Now I Will Do The Thing!

With Sigurd back, Regin asked him again about slaying the dragon Fafnir. Sigurd was ready now and set off for the task.

Ready, Regin advised Sigurd on a plan to kill Fafnir. He was to dig a pit and wait for Fafnir to come, walking over it. Once the dragon, Fafnir fell in, Sigurd was to stab him.

Sounds like a solid enough plan if you ask me.

Odin added to Regin’s plan, appearing as an old man before Sigurd and told him to dig some trenches to drain Fafnir’s spilled blood. The idea being that Sigurd would bathe in the dragon’s blood after killing Fafnir. It seems the dragon’s blood would bestow invulnerability. When Sigurd does bathe, a leaf is stuck to his back, making a part of him still vulnerable. This point of note is important later on.

Heeding the instructions of both, Sigurd does just that with digging the pit and trenches. He succeeds in killing Fafnir.

Now, Regin had told Sigurd to cut out Fafnir’s heart. Before doing so, Sigurd also ended up drinking some of Fafnir’s blood. This too had the effect of granting Sigurd to understand the language of birds. From them, Sigurd learned that Regin had been corrupted by Andvari’s ring with greed and planned to kill Sigurd as soon as he handed over the heart and gold.

Sigurd instead roasts Fafnir’s heart and eats part of it, gaining yet another benefit, that of wisdom or that of prophecy. If he truly had that, he would know what happens in the next part that comes.

Meeting The Beautiful Brunhildr

After his adventures with slaying the dragon Fafnir, Sigurd meets the Valkyrie and shieldmaiden, Brynhildr. Sigurd pledges himself to her and promises to return. Before leaving, Brynhildr gave Sigurd a prophecy that he would die and marry another, not her.

Eventually, Sigurd travels to Heimar’s court. Heimar it should be noted, is married to Bekkhild, the sister to Brynhildr. From there, Sigurd makes his way to Gjuki’s court. Gjuki’s wife is Grimhild who conspires to have Sigurd marry her daughter, Gudrun. Grimhild wants the magical ring and gold that Sigurd for her own family. Grimhild creates a magical potion, an “Ale of Forgetfulness” that she manages to get the hero to drink. Doing so, Sigurd forgets all about Brynhildr and the promise he’s made to her to be wed. Sigurd now marries Gudrun.

A while later, Gjuki dies and the oldest son, Gunnar becomes king. Gunnar while seeking for a suitable wife, learns about Brynhildr and decides he will court her. The only difficulty is that where Brynhildr is at, she’s surrounded by flames.

Of course, Brynhildr has promised that she will only marry the man brave enough to ride through the flames to her. As Gunnar is not brave enough to ride through the flames and even with trying to use Sigurd’s horse, Grani, still can’t ride through.

Gunnar’s brother, Hogni eventually speaks up and proposes the idea that Sigurd could use magic to shapeshift (by use of his magic helmet) and take Gunnar’s shape. Now now, Sigurd, disguised as Gunnar, ride through on his own horse, Grani to claim the fair Brynhildr.

When Brynhildr sees another man besides her Sigurd enter the flames, she despairs and demands to know who this stranger is.

The disguised Sigurd responds that he is Gunnar, the son of Gjuki of the Nibelungs. Angry at the response, Brynhildr as this isn’t Sigurd, fights him. During the fight, Sigurd manages to pull the ring Andvaranaut of her finger, rendering the Valkyrie powerless. Sigurd would later give the ring Andvaranaut to Gudrun.

Before leaving, both Brynhildr and Sigurd stay in the castle for three nights. Despite this, Sigurd in a symbolic gesture, lays his sword between them to signify that he won’t take Brynhildr’s virginity.

Maybe they meant chastity if you remember Sigurd’s earlier visit. He may not remember, but I know I do.

Eventually, Sigurd and Gunnar switch back places so that Gunnar can marry Brynhildr. Poor Brynhildr believes that Sigurd has forgotten her and keeps the promise she made of marrying the man whom she believes rode through the flames for her.

A Woman Scorned….

We’re not to any sort of happy ending yet, much of this is found under my article for Brynhildr. Later, Brynhildr and Gudrun are out bathing in a nearby river when they get into a heated argument over whose husband is better and braver.

Brynhildr boasts that her husband, Gunnar was brave enough to ride through flames for her. Knowing the truth, Gudrun smugly reveals that it was actually Sigurd who rode through the ring of fire. At this revelation, Brynhildr becomes enraged, making her marriage to Gunnar a sham as she is still in love with Sigurd.

Just remember, Hel hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Due to the trickery and deceits involved, Brynhildr just assumes that Sigurd went back on his word to marry her. It is still unknown to Brynhildr that Sigurd had been given a potion to forget all about her.

In the articles that focus on Sigurd, the notes state Brynhildr is so angry with Grimhild, not Sigurd himself directly. At this time, Brynhildr withdraws and refuses to speak to anyone, to the point that Sigurd is sent by Gunnar to try and talk to her. An angry Brynhildr uses the opportunity to claim that Sigurd has taken advantage of her and was inappropriate with her.

This of course gets Gunnar angry and wanting to kill Sigurd for sleeping with his wife.

It is that ring I tell you. That and Grimhild’s mettling in people’s love lives.

Gunnar and his brother, Hogni were reluctant to kill Sigurd as they had sworn oaths of brotherhood with him. Instead, the two got their younger brother Gutthorm to kill Sigurd after giving him a potion of enragement.

Under the influence of the potion, Gutthorm killed Sigurd in his sleep. As his final act before dying, Sigurd manages to pull his sword and kill Gutthorm in return.

A still enraged Brynhildr mocks Gudrun’s grief for the death of Sigurd and confesses to Gunnar that she had lied about Sigurd sleeping with her. She then tells Gunnar and Hogni, that her brother Atli will come avenge her death. Poor Brynhildr had always loved Sigurd, even when he betrayed her.

As Gunnar’s wife, Brynhildr then orders that Sigurd‘s three-year old son, Sigmund be killed. In a final act of desperation, Brynhildr kills herself by throwing herself onto Sigurd’s funeral pyre.

If that’s not a Shakespearean Tragedy, the two were then reunited together in Hel’s realm, the realm of the dead.

Þiðrekssaga

Also called the Thidrekssaga, this is another Nordic saga that relates the story of Sigurd, specifically chapters 152-168. It’s mostly similar to the Völsunga with parts very similar to events in the Nibelungenlied.

Mainly that it has Regin who is the dragon, not Fafnir and that the dwarf Mimir is Regin’s brother and who is the foster father to Sigurd.

Starting the story with Sigmund, whom on returning from some extended traveling, hears of some rumor that his wife, Sisibe has been engaged in an affair with a thrall (that’s a fancy term for a slave during Viking era Scandinavia).

Sadly, believing the rumor and lie told to him by his noblemen, Sigmund orders the same nobles to take Sisibe out to the forest and kill her. The nobles had intended to get back at Sisibe for refusing their advances while her husband was away. One of the nobles changed his mind about this turn of events and was just going to let her live while the other noble intended to take on his full petty revenge.

Yes, how dare a woman say no to a man. Really? No means no.

Anyways, the two nobles duke it out in a fight. While that’s happening, (did I forget to mention that Sisibe is pregnant?) she goes into labor and gives birth to a healthy boy. Whose baby, it should be noted is Sigmund’s.

Sisibe places the infant into a crystal vessel, I’m not sure where she got that from. It’s part of the narrative, just go with it… Sisibi kicks this vessel into a river where it floats down the stream. After which, Sisibi dies, whether by blood loss from birthing or the one nobleman out to kill her wins the fight and comes over to finish the job.

As in all stories of lost babies lost and abandoned in the wilderness, the baby is found by a doe, ya’ know, a female deer who nurses and raises the infant as her own. The infant is later found by a smith by the name of Mimir who names the boy, Sigurd (though in some places in the Þiðrekssaga, he is called Sigfred), raising them as his own.

When Sigurd is older and like any adolescent, becomes willful, Mimir asks his brother Regin, who happens to be a dragon to kill the kid. Not quite so, Sigurd turns the table on the two, first killing the dragon and then his traitorous foster-father.

Sigurd’s story from here, picks up again in chapters 225-230 where he marries Gudrun, Gunnar’s sister. Like the Völsunga, Sigurd had promised Brynhild first that he would marry her. Gunnar also marries Brynhild but is unable to consummate the marriage. Why? Because Brynhild is still in love with Sigurd. So, thinking to appease her, it is arranged to have Sigurd sleep with Brynhild and then after, she is compliant and gives into Gunnar. Mainly because Brynhild’s strength came from her being a virgin. So without it, she’s helpless before Gunnar.

That sounds so messed up.

The saga ends commenting how there would be no man now living or after who could equal Sigurd’s strength, courage or character. That Sigurd’s name would live on forever in the German tongue.

Nibelungenlied

The Nibelungenlied is a Germanic epic poem dating to the 1200’s. The events within the poem can be traced to oral traditions from the 5th and 6th century. Siegfried is a prince hailing from a kingdom of Niederland with the seat of power being in the city of Xanten. While some would want to say this is the Netherlands, it’s not the same locality.

In this poem, Brynhildr is known as Brunhild or Prunhilt. With this version of the story, she is a queen or princess of Iceland. Gudrun is known as Kriemhild, Gunnar is known as Gunther and Hogni and known as Hagen.

Siegfried (or Sifrit) is a prince from Xanten who succeeds at killing a dragon and claiming a massive fortune and land from a couple of brothers.

Now Siegfried was very willful and head strong, so much so, that his father, King Siegmund sent the lad to the wonder smith, Mimer for fostering. It was hoped by Siegmund that Mimer would manage to teach discipline and humbleness to the lad.

While under Mimer’s tutelage, Siegfried comes to blows with Wieland, another of the smiths in Mimer’s service. However angry Mimer was with the incident, Siegfried demanded that the master smith forge him a sword worthy of a prince of his strength. Which is what Mimer then proceeded to forge for the young man.

The first sword that Mimer forged didn’t hold up to Siegfried’s might strength as it broke when the prince struck it with a great hammer. Siegfried proceeded to punch Mimer and his assistant before demanding another sword be made for him.

Mimer swore to forge another. Though he was also very angry and went out to the forest where his brother Regin resided, who due to other evil acts, was changed into a dragon. Mimer enlisted his draconic brother to get revenge. Regin agreed and Mimer went back tot his smithy, where he sent Siegfried off to a local charcoal-burner to get fuel hot enough to forge a sword.

Taking up a club, Siegfried sets off on his task. He passed through a forest swamp crawling with numerous venomous snakes, large toads and giant lind-worms. When the lad reached the charcoal-burner’s place, the man informed him that if Siegfried returned the way he came, that the dragon Regin would be awaiting him.

Scoffing at the news, Siegfried picked up a burning brand that he had been sent for and went back into the forest, setting fire to all the trees and underbrush so he could destroy all the loathsome reptiles.

Little fire bug there aren’t we?

Sure enough, the dragon Regin comes and spits out his venom at Siegfried. Undaunted, even as the earth is shaking with the dragon’s approach, Siegfried takes his club and knocks the fearsome dragon upside the head, killing it.

The dragon now dead, Siegfried cuts it up and discovers when the blood pours out, that where it has touched his skin, he’s become hard as horn. In a flash of insight, Siegfried goes and bathes himself in the dragon’s blood, so he can become invulnerable. The only part of him that is still vulnerable is a spot on his back where a leaf had stuck to him.

That done, Siegfried dressed himself again and set about to eat the pieces of dragon meat, looking to take in the dragon’s strength to himself. As the meat cooked, Siegfried took a piece and ate it. Instantly, Siegfried could hear voices and realized it was the birdsong that he was hearing and that he could understand it.

Listening to the birdsong, Siegfried learned from the birds that Mimer had sent him out to his doom with the intention of being killed by the dragon. Angry at what he heard, Siegfried cut off the dragon’s head and took it back with him to the smithy to fling at Mimer’s feet. The assistants took off and fled while Mimer tried to appeal to Siegfried and offered up the horse Grane, a descendant of Odin’s steed Sleipner.

Remembering what the birds said, Siegfried accepted the gift horse and then killed Mimer anyways. The young prince then returned to his father, King Siegmund. When Siegmund hear of what happened, he admonished his son over slaying Mimer, but he was proud of his son for having slain a dragon. Armor was then presented to Siegfried and he was now seen as a warrior and acknowledged as the heir to the Netherlands.

A warrior now, Siegfried set out to further prove himself by traveling to a distant land of Isenland. Despite a storm that threatened to delay Siegfried’s voyage, the young warrior pressed on towards his destination.

There, at Queen Brunhild’s castle, Siegfried found the gates to be locked. Undaunted, Siegfried broke them down and attacked Queen Brunhild’s knights. Finally, Queen Brunhild entered and stopped the melee. She gave the young prince welcome to her castle.

Seeing that Brunhild was very fair to behold, her being a battle maiden of great strength and prowess, was not whom Siegfried wanted to marry. Even though many knights had come to try and prove their skill in combat to court Brunhild, all had been slain.

Even though Siegfried says that Brunhild is not whom he would seek for a wife and that he preferred someone gentler; he does stop to lift up a boulder to fling it as far as he can. Just to show he wasn’t intimidated by Brunhild’s strength or weak.

Siegfried went his way until he came to the land of the Nibelungs. Here, Siegfried found that the king had recently died and that his two sons were fighting over their inheritance. The brothers offered Sigurd payment the sword Balmung, forged by dwarves if he would help divide their father’s wealth and lands.

The brothers then accused Siegfried of withholding part of the treasure for himself. An argument ensued, and the brothers called upon some twelve giants to seize Siegfried and imprison him within a mountain’s treasure cave.

Undaunted yet again, Siegfried fought the giants. Spells were cast, and a thick mist formed around the combatants. Wielding the sword Balmung, Siegfried held his own against the giants while a thunderstorm coursed, and the earth shook.

Eventually all of the giants were slain. The dwarf Alberich now fought Siegfried. This was not an easy match for Siegfried as Alberich wore a cloak of invisibility to aid him. At long last, Siegfried had Alberich at his mercy. Sparing the dwarf’s life, Siegfried claimed the cloak of invisibility for his own.

Siegfried killed the two brothers and placed Alberich in charge of watching the treasure horde. The Nibelung clan proclaimed Siegfried to be their rightful ruler. Though Siegfried didn’t stay long, he still had other places to go and took with him twelve men back to the Netherlands.

Siegfried’s fame began to spread before him as bards and skalds began to spread word of his deeds and accomplishments.

One day, these same bards and skalds would bring word to Siegfried about a beautiful and fair maiden by the name of Kriemhild. Deciding that this is whom he wanted to marry, Siegfried set out for the country of Burgundy to seek her hand in marriage.

Siegfried’s parents, the King and Queen tried to warn him not to go to Burgundy. The Burgundians held a reputation for being very war-like. As if warnings never stopped Siegfried before, he insisted on going, saying if he couldn’t get Kriemhild’s hand by request, he would win her by force of arms.

Siegfried went with a retinue of eleven other knights. Queen Sigelinde made sure the retinue left with rich and lavish apparel to make sure they were taken for being nobles.

How exactly Siegfried did it, I don’t know. Siegfried marries Kriemhild and aids her brother, Gunther who is the king of the Burgundians, to court and marry Brunhild, a queen or princess of Iceland.

As a queen (or princess) and a powerful woman in her own right, Brunhild declared that the man she would marry must be someone able to best her in three contests meant to show strength and courage.

Gunther wanted to marry Brunhild and with the help of his liege man, Siegfried (who has a cloak of invisibility), he is able to overpower Brunhild in her three contests. In the first game, Brunhild manages to lift and throw a spear at Gunther that three men together could barely lift. Siegfried with his cloak of invisibility on, blocks and keeps the spear from hitting Gunther. In the second game, Brunhild throws a boulder that requires the strength of twelve men to heave some twelves fathoms. In the last game, Brunhild leaps over the same boulder.

In an act of cheating and with Siegfried’s aid using the invisibility cloak, Gunther is able to defeat Brunhild and claim her for his wife.

That sounds like dirty pool to me.

Rightfully so, on their wedding night, Brunhild refuses to give up her virginity to Gunther. Instead, she ties up Gunther and leaves him dangling from the ceiling of their chamber. Coming to Gunther’s aid, Siegfried wearing his invisibility cloak, attacks Brunhild, breaking her bones and then taking both her girdle and ring.

It seems both girdle and ring are the source of Brunhild’s supernatural strength and without them, she was forced to be docile and submit to be Gunther’s wife.

At the Worms Cathedral, Brunhild and Kriemhild, Siegfried’s wife gets in a rather heated argument about their husbands. Brunhild takes the stance that Siegfried is nothing more than a lowly vassal beholden to Gunther. Kriemhild reveals the dirty pool and trickery used by Gunther and Siegfried, by showing off the girdle and ring that were stolen from Brunhild.

Unlike the Völsunga, Brunhild’s fate is never mentioned and it’s assumed she out lives Kriemhild and her brothers.

As for Siegfried and Gunther, they make peace with each other despite their wives quarreling. Unfortunately, Gunther’s courtier, Hagen von Tronje had other ideas and plotted to kill the two. Hagen managed to convince Kriemhild to place a cross on Siegfried’s back, covering the vulnerable spot on him. While Hagen and Siegfried are out hunting, Hagen spears him in the back when Siegfried stops to take a drink from a stream.

Supposedly this had been part of a prophecy that whomever Kriemhild ended up marrying would suffer a violent death. Out of spite, Hagen then threw all of Siegfried’s wealth into the Rhine so that his widow, Kriemhild would be unable to raise an army and avenge her husband.

Das Lied Vom Hürnen Seyfrid

“The song of horn-skinned Siegfried” is a late medieval & modern heroic ballad that first appears around 1500 C.E.

This version of the story tells of Siegfried’s youthful adventures. For the most part, it follows the events found in the Nibelungenlied.

By this account, Siegfried had to leave his father Siegmund’s court for his unseemly behavior to live with a smith in the nearby forest. Siegfried is so uncontrollable that the smith deems it fit to try and have the youth killed by a dragon.

Turning the tables, Siegfried is the one who kills the dragon and not just one, but several dragons by trapping them with log traps and setting them on fire! Wow.

Seeing that the dragon skin is hard as horn though it melts in the fire. Siegfried discovers after sticking his fingers in it that his own skin becomes hard as horn too. At which point, Siegfried covers himself in the melted skin of dragon except for one spot on his back.

Not stopping there, Siegfried discovers the tracks of another dragon and discovers it has the princess Kriemhild of Worms held captive. With a little help from the dwarf Eugel, Siegfried defeats a giant by the name of Kuperan who holds the key to the mountain where Kriemhild is held prisoner.

In true heroic fashion, Siegfried slays the dragon and in the process finds the Nibelungen treasure within the mountain cavern. Eugel than prophesies that Siegfried will only have eight years to live. As he won’t be able to make use of the treasure, Siegfried dumps it into the Rhine as he returns to Worms. There, Siegfried rules with Kriemhild’s brother who eventually plot to have him killed.

Der Ring des Nibelungen

Richard Wagner’s famous four opera cycle. Wagner took of the mythology for Siegfried from the Nordic sagas rather than the Nibelungenlied. Siegfried mainly appears in the last three operas of this cycle, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung where he plays a major role. The legends of Sigurd from the Völsunga form the basis for which the opera Siegfried is based on and thus influences both Die Walküre and Gotterdammerung.

For those who don’t know or may have guessed already, this is the opera cycle that inspires a popular saying of “It isn’t over until fat lady sings.” Especially with Brünnhilde’s famous immolation in the finale of Gotterdammerung. Adding to this, thanks to the costume designer, the idea of Viking helmets having two horns was firmly ingrained in people’s minds after a visit to the museum for ideas and saw the ceremonial two horned helmet on display.

In this opera cycle, Brünnhilde is one of many Valkyries born from the union between Wotan and Erda, the personification of the earth. In the Die Walkurie, Wotan tasks Brünnhilde with protecting the hero Siegmund, his son by a mortal woman. When the goddess Fricka contests this, she forces Wotan to have Siegmund die for his infidelity and incest. Brünnhilde disobeys Wotan’s order and carries away Siegmund’s wife and sister Sieglinde along with the broken pieces of Siegmund’s sword Nothung.

After hiding them away, Brünnhilde then faces the wrath of her father, Wotan who makes her a mortal woman and then places her in an enchanted sleep who can be claimed by any man who comes across her. Brünnhilde argues against this punishment, saying she had obeyed Wotan’s true will and doesn’t deserve this harsh of a punishment. Wotan is persuaded to lessen the punishment to protect her enchanted sleep with a magical circle of fire and that she can only be awakened by a hero who knows no fear.

Brünnhilde doesn’t appear again in the operas until the third act of Siegfried. Here, the title character is the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde. He was born after Siegmund’s death and raised by the dwarf Mime, the brother of Alberich.

It should be noted that Alberich is the one who stole the gold and made the ring from which the entire Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle is based on. If you’re thinking “my precious” and the “one ring” as in Tolkien’s Middle Earth series, you’d be more or less correct as this is where J.R.R. Tolkien got inspired and took his ideas from with Norse mythology.

Back to the main story, Siegfried kills the dragon Fafnir that was once a giant. Siegfried takes the ring and finds himself guided to the rock hiding Brünnhilde by a bird. It seems Fafnir’s blood allowed Siegfried to understand the language of birds. Wotan tries to stop Siegfried who instead breaks the god’s spear. Wotan defeated, Siegfried than awakens the sleeping Brünnhilde.

The two appear again in the last opera, Gotterdammerung. Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the ring, the very ring that Alberich made. The two separate and Wagner goes back to following the Norse story though with notable changes.

Siegfried does go to Gunther’s hall where he is given the magical potion that causes him to forget all about Brünnhilde. That way, Gunther can now marry her. This is all possible thanks to Hagen, Alberich’s son and Gunther’s half-brother. Hagen’s plans are successful as Siegfried leads Gunther to where Brünnhilde is at.

During that time, Brünnhilde had been visited by a sister Valkyrie, Waltraute who warns her of Wotan’s plan for self-immolation and urges her to give up the ring. Brünnhilde refuses to give up the ring.

“My precious!”

However, Brünnhilde is overpowered by Siegfried, who, disguised as Gunther using the Tarnhelm (a helm of invisibility instead of a cloak of invisibility) and takes the ring by force.

The enchanted Siegfried goes on to marry Gutrune, Gunther’s sister. When Brünnhilde sees that Siegfried has the ring taken from her, she denounces and calls him out on his treachery. Brünnhilde then joins with Gunther and Hagen in a plot to murder Siegfried. She informs Hagen that Siegfried can only be attacked from behind.

So, when Gunther and Hagen take Siegfried out on a hunting trip, Hagen takes the opportunity to go ahead and stab Siegfried in the back with his spear.

After the two brothers return, Hagen ends up killing Gunther in a fight over the ring. Brünnhilde ceases the moment to take charge and has a pyre built on which she will sacrifice herself, thereby cleansing the ring of its curse and sending it back to the Rhinemaidens.

Brünnhilde’s pyre becomes the signal by which Valhalla and all the Norse gods perish as Ragnarok is brought about with everyone dying in a fire.

Other Sagas

There a couple of other sources for the story of Sigurd. Seeming minor sources, they do contribute to the overall story of Sigurd and can confuse people if they try to make the numerous sources for Sigurd and Siegfried all match up and be consistent. The story of Sigurd slaying the dragon is combined with another story of two brothers fighting over their inheritance as an example.

Atlakviða – The lay of Atli, this poem is found in the Poetic Edda and has a story similar to the Völsunga. Here, Atli (as in Attila the Hun) sending a message to Gunnar of the Burgundians and his brothers, inviting them to a feast. Suspicious of the message, their sister Gudrun sends a warning not to come. The brothers go anyways and are killed. Later in an act of revenge, Gudrun tricks Atli into eating the flesh of their two sons. After which Gudrun kills Atli and burns down his hall.

One thing this story is noted for is that it lacks any of Sigurd’s involvement with the destruction of the Burgundians that other sources try to connect. It’s the Nibelungenlied that tends to make this connection. As stories grow and change, it does show where Sigurd’s widow Gudrun seeks out revenge for her brothers.

Poetic Edda – One poem tells the story of Sigurd awakening the Valkyrie from an enchanted sleep.

Andyaranaut

This is the name of the magical ring that Brynhildr already possesses or is given to her by Siegfried. In Wagnar’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, it was forged by the dwarf Alberich and has a curse placed on it.

In the Völsunga, the ring is part of the cursed treasure that Siegfried takes after slaying the dragon Fafnir. Either way, it explains all of Brynhildr and Siegfried’s bad luck and subsequent deaths.

The ring had been cursed by its creator, Andvari when Loki tried to force him to give it up. Andvari cursed it that all his treasure and the ring would be the death of those who owns it. Aside from being cursed, Andyaranaut could also make gold.

Dragon’s Blood

1st – Sigurd bathes in it, gaining invulnerability. Except for one spot on his back where a leaf is to have stuck to him. This is important as some versions of Sigurd’s story, once Brynhildr is seeking revenge against him, tells Gunnar that Sigurd’s vulnerable spot is on his back.

Where have we heard this before? Ah yes, Achilles being dipped into the river Styx so he would become invulnerable because his mother feared for her child’s wellbeing. Of course, Achilles has a vulnerable spot of his heel, where his mother held onto him so he wouldn’t fall in.

And if Odin is really Sigurd’s father, not Sigmund… same thing. So Achilles’ Heel for the vulnerable spot… Sigurd’s Back for the vulnerable spot. Achille’s Heel has the better ring to it.

2nd – Sigurd drinks some of the blood, gaining the ability to speak the language of birds.

3rd – Sigurd eats part of Fafnir’s heart, gaining wisdom and prophesy. I’m not so sure how effect that one was as it didn’t stop his demise with Brynhildr’s revenge plan and getting killed.

A Sword For A Hero!

In the Volsunga, the sword that Sigurd wields is called Gram.

In the Nibelungd, the sword that Siegfried wields is called Balmung.

Both are correct, it’s just a matter of which saga and source you’re using or prefer.

Possible Reality Behind The Legends

The legends surrounding Sigurd/Siegfried are considered by scholars and mythographers as coming from a mythic age before any confirmed written history can be verified. There’s a dispute and disagreement about if the figure of Sigurd/Siegfried even existed. If they did, the legends certainly grew around them to make them larger than life.

As far as an actual historical figure goes, it’s been suggested that any one or more of the figures or kings in the Merovingian dynasty among the Franks could have inspired the legend of Sigurd. One notable king is Sigebert I who had been married to Brunhilda of Austrasia. The names are close when you consider the possibility of Brunhildr as a likely historical person. There’s just too much uncertainty for some scholars. Though if it has any truth, the connection comes with Sigebert’s murder at the hands of Brunhilda and Fredegund and not that of Gudrun/Kriemhild and Brunhildr/Brynhild.

Another idea put forth seen in the elements of Sigurd slaying the dragon, is that this could be a mythological retelling of Arminius’ defeat of Publius Quinctilius Varas during the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 C.E. This idea often seen as not very likely or tenuous.

Paderborn – An Icelandic Abbot, Nicholaus of Thvera recorded in his travels through Westphalia how he was shown where Sigurd is to have slain the dragon, Gnita-Heath near two villages in Paderborn.

City of Worms – When Emperor Frederick III visited the city in 1488 C.E., he learned of the legend how the “giant Siegfried” was buried in the cemetery at St. Meinhard and St. Cecilia. One account ordered the graveyard dug up and found nothing. A German chronicle says that a skull and some large bones were found.

Dragons & Dinosaurs

Both the legends of Sigurd and Siegfried feature prominently the titular hero slaying a dragon. Anyone doing a cursory glance at history and paleontology, it’s not hard to imagine our ancestors taking one look at fossilized skeletons of giant creatures and believing them to still be around. A lack of understanding about fossils and just how long ago something lived would have been beyond them.

In 1941 Germany, the German paleontologist H. Kirchner speculated on the idea that two sets of prominent, yet massive dinosaur tracks in Siegfriedsburg, in the Rhine Valley could very well have contributed to the legend of dragons and Siegfried slaying one.

Other dinosaur tracks have been found in northern Europe. Some like the ones found in a quarry at Rehburg-Loccum, close to Hannover, Germany or another set in Muenchehagen, Germany.

Another place, Drachenfels (“Dragon Rock”), Konigswinter on the Rhine has a large statue of a dragon near the ruins of a castle. Below this castle, there is a cave that is attributed to having been Fafnir’s lair.

A 2005 production of Wagner’s “Ring of the Neibelung” showed Siegfried battling Fafnir as fossilized dinosaur monster.

Sigurd & Beowulf – Comparison

For those who have read Beowulf’s story, towards the end of Beowulf, the titular hero battles a dragon, thus spelling his doom and the end of all of his adventures. It’s been pointed too that Beowulf and even Thor’s encounters with dragons were more about defending their homelands to keep them safe.

For Sigurd (or Siegfried), slaying the dragon merely marks the beginning of all of the hero’s adventures for more is to come. Where Beowulf and Thor are defending their homelands, Sigurd is all about going out to make a name for himself and gaining wealth. By slaying the dragon, then bathing in and drinking its blood along with eating it’s heart, Sigurd gains super human powers.

Christian Theology

When Christianity became more prominent throughout Europe, many of the dragon symbols came to be associated with the devil or Satan. As a side note to this, dragons too in Western myths tend to represent greed.

So images of Sigurd slaying the dragon Fafnir were often depicted in Scandinavian churches.

Tolkien And The Lord of the Rings!

As I previously mentioned above, J.R.R. Tolkien took his inspiration for his Middle Earth series from Norse mythology and the inspiration for the One Ring from that of Andyaranaut. The inspirations for Aragorn’s sword are clearly seen too in the broken and reforged swords of Gram and Balmung.

A fun note to add is that Tolkien did not like Wagner’s take on the German myths. I can see it too, Taking and combining the Völsunga and Nibelungenlied together can make it a bit harder to figure out which myth and legend is which.

Now, J.R.R. Tolkien did write a version of the Völsunga saga in “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun” circa 1930. It was published later by his son, Christopher Tolkien in 2009. The book comprises of two narrative poems: “The new lay of the Volsungs” and “The new lay of Gudrun” done in the meter of ancient Scandinavian poetry while using Modern English.

Brynhildr

Brynhildr

Etymology: Bright Battle

Also known as: Sigrdrífa (“driver to victory”)

Alternate Spellings: Brunhild, Brünhild, Brunhilde, Brünnhilde, Brunhilda, Brynhild, Brunhilt, Prunhilt

Brynhildr is a famous shieldmaiden and Valkyrie from Germanic and Scandinavian mythology. She is a main character in the Völsunga saga and Poetic Eddic poems. She also appears in the Nibelungenlied and in Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen operas.

There are a few different versions of Brynhildr’s story that can be found along with alternative spellings. It’s likely that these could be about a different Brynhildr and these different versions just reflect different regional differences based on which clan is telling the story.

Parentage and Family

Parents

Budli – Her father as made mention in the Völsunga.

Erda – Her mother in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen operas.

Wotan – Her father in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen operas.

Valkyrie – An unnamed Valkyrie is her mother in the Völsunga.

Siblings –

Alti – Her brother in the Eddic poem “Sigurðarkviða Hin Skamma.” Interestingly, Alti could be Attila the Hun.

Heimer – Her brother-inlaw in the Völsunga for the versions of the story that have her up in a tower. He’s married to her sister Bekkhild.

Sisters – According to the Eddic poem “Helreid Brynhildar” with Brynhildr being a Valkyrie, she has eight sisters.

Other siblings are Bekkhild and maybe Oddrun.

Consort

Gunnar – Whom she is tricked into marrying in one fashion or another in different versions of the story.

Children –

 Aslaug – Brynhildr’s daughter by way of Sigurðr in the Völsunga. Aslaug goes on to marry Ragnar Lodbrok.

Völsunga Saga

This is the main source for Brynhildr’s story. It is a 13th century Icelandic saga from the Völsung clan that tells the story of Sigurðr and Brynhildr and the subsequent destruction of the Burgundians.

Brynhildr is the daughter to Budli, who grows up to become a shield-maiden and Valkyrie. As a Valkyrie, she was tasked by Odin to determine the outcome of a fight between two kings, Hjalmgunnar and Agnar. Odin favored the older king Hjalmgunnar and in an act of defiance, Brynhildr throws the fight and to favor Agnar as the winner.

Angry, Odin condemns Brynhildr to live out the rest of her life as a mortal woman and has her imprisoned in a remote castle with a wall of shields on top of Mount Hindarfjall. There, Brynhildr slept within a ring of fire until a man without fear could ride through the fires to rescue and marry her.

The hero, Sigurðr Sigmundson, the heir to the clan Volsung and the slayer of the dragon Fafnir, is the one who enters the castle and awakens Brynhildr when he removes her helmet and chain mail armor.

Sigurðr still had some other tasks he needed to go perform and he promised Brynhildr that he would return. As both Brynhildr and Sigurðr have fallen in love with each other, Sigurðr proposes to her with the magic ring known as Andyaranaut. Brynhildr makes an oath that she will marry the man who rides through the flames for her. It’s also here, during their stay in the castle that Aslaug is conceived.

Unknown to Sigurðr, the ring Andyaranaut is cursed and would cause him and Brynhildr a lot of problems later. The ring was part of the cursed treasure that Sigurðr claimed after slaying Fafnir.

Meeting In Hlymdale

This seems to be a slight variation to the story where Sigurðr has taken Brynhildr with him or she was up in a tower this time.

Later, when Brynhildr and Sigurðr are at Hlymdale, the home of Heimer, Brynhildr’s brother-in-law, Sigurðr spots her up in a tower and declares his love. Sigurðr promises that he will return for Brynhildr to wed her.

Sigurðr then heads for Burgundy, to King Gjuki’s court. While Sigurðr is gone, Brynhildr receives a visit from Gudrun, Gjuki’s daughter. Gudrun has come seeking help with interpreting a dream, a dream that seems to foretell Sigurðr’s betrayal to Brynhildr when he marries Gudrun.

Meanwhile….

Over in Burgundy, Grimhild, a sorceress and wife to Gjuki conspires to have Sigurðr marry her daughter Gudrun. Grimhild creates a magic potion that she manages to get Sigurðr to drink so that he will forget all about Brynhildr.

Naturally enough, Sigurðr does marry Gudrun.

As a consolation prize for Brynhildr, if you can call it that, Grimhild, upon learning about Brynhildr being a Valkyrie, decides to have her marry her son, Gunnar.

A slight variation to this story has, that when King Gjuki dies, his son Gunnar becomes King and is a sworn oath brother to Sigurðr. Grimhild desired to see Gunnar wed, but Gunnar had told his mother that he had seen no maiden whom he would want to take as a wife.

Fair enough it seems.

News is brought to Gunnar by his sister Gudrun about a warrior maiden behind a wall of flames. Gunnar decides this maid is the perfect one for him and goes to find out if she is the one.

So off Gunnar, his brother Hogni and Sigurðr ride, towards Hindfell in search of a maid worthy to be Gunnar’s bride. The three come across the high tower with black walls with shields and encircled with flames. Thanks to the potion, Sigurðr has no memory of this place or Brynhildr within, faithfully awaiting his return.

A slight variation to this has Gunnar getting Heimir’s consent to go court Brynhildr, provided he can be the one to show no fear and ride through the flames.

Gunnar decides he’s going to ride through the flames, but his horse, Goti refuses to go near the flames. Then Gunnar gets the idea that he can ride Sigurðr’s horse, Grani through the flames. But Grani being a smart horse, knows that Gunnar is afraid of fire and refuses to ride through.

At a loss, the three sworn brothers brainstormed and considered the matter. Hogni eventually spoke up and proposed the idea that Sigurðr could use magic to shape-shift (by use of his magic helmet) and take Gunnar’s shape.

Sigurðr now disguised, rides through the flames, claiming to be Gunnar and take Brynhildr’s hand in marriage. Of course, Grani, knowing this to be his true rider, gives Sigurðr no problems with riding through the flames.

When Brynhildr saw another man besides her Sigurðr enter the flames, she despaired and demanded to know who this stranger was.

The disguised Sigurðr responded that he was Gunnar, the son of Gjuki of the Nibelungs. Angry at the response, Brynhildr, as this isn’t Sigurðr, fights him. During the fight, Sigurðr manages to pull the ring Andvaranaut off her finger, rendering the Valkyrie powerless. Sigurðr would later give the ring Andvaranaut to Gudrun.

Before leaving, both Brynhildr and Sigurðr stay in the castle for three nights. Despite this, Sigurðr in a symbolic gesture, lays his sword between them to signify that he won’t take Brynhildr’s virginity.

Maybe they meant chastity if you remember Sigurðr’s earlier visit. He may not remember, but I know I do.

Eventually, Sigurðr and Gunnar switch back places so that Gunnar can marry Brynhildr. Poor Brynhildr believes that Sigurðr has forgotten her and keeps the promise she made of marrying the man whom she believes rode through the flames for her.

We’re not to any sort of a happy ending yet. Later, Brynhildr and Gudrun are out bathing in a nearby river when they get into a heated argument over whose husband is better and braver.

Brynhildr boasts that her husband, Gunnar was brave enough to ride through flames for her. Knowing the truth, Gudrun smugly reveals that it was actually Sigurðr who rode through the ring of fire. At this revelation, Brynhildr becomes enraged, making her marriage to Gunnar a sham as she is still in love with Sigurðr.

Due to the trickery and deceits involved, Brynhildr just assumes that Sigurðr went back on his word to marry her. It is still unknown to Brynhildr that Sigurðr had been given a potion to forget all about her.

Just remember, Hel hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Mysteriously at this time (or the potion wearing off), Sigurðr starts to remember what happened. Despite his efforts, Sigurðr is unable to console an enraged Brynhildr. Instead, Brynhildr plotted revenge by persuading Gunnar to kill Sigurðr in a false claim that he had taken her virginity in Hidarfiall. Something that Sigurðr had sworn not to do when he placed his sword between the two.

This of course gets Gunnar angry and wanting to kill Sigurðr for sleeping with his wife.

It is that ring I tell you. That and Grimhild’s mettling in people’s love lives.

Gunnar and his brother, Hogni were reluctant to kill Sigurðr as they had sworn oaths of brotherhood with him. Instead, the two got their younger brother Gutthorm to kill Sigurðr after giving him a potion of enragement.

Under the influence of the potion, Gutthorm killed Sigurðr in his sleep. As his final act before dying, Sigurðr manages to pull his sword and kill Gutthorm in return.

A still enraged Brynhildr mocks Gudrun’s grief for the death of Sigurðr and confesses to Gunnar that she had lied about Sigurðr sleeping with her. She then tells Gunnar and Hogni, that her brother Atli will come avenge her death. Poor Brynhildr had always loved Sigurðr, even when he betrayed her.

As Gunnar’s wife, Brynhildr then orders that Sigurðr ‘s three-year old son, Sigmund be killed. In a final act of desperation, Brynhildr kills herself by throwing herself onto Sigurðr’s funeral pyre.

If that’s not a Shakespearean Tragedy, the two were then reunited together in Hel’s realm, the realm of the dead.

Nibelungenlied

The Nibelungenlied is a Germanic epic poem dating to the 1200’s. The events within the poem can be traced to oral traditions from the 5th and 6th century. In this poem, Brynhildr is known as Brunhild or Prunhilt. With this version of the story, she a queen or princess of Iceland. Gudrun is known as Kriemhild, Gunnar is known as Gunther and Hogni and known as Hagen.

As a queen (or princess) and a powerful woman in her own right, Brunhild declared that the man she would marry must be someone able to best her in three contests meant to show strength and courage.

Gunther wanted to marry Brunhild and with the help of his liege man, Siegfried (who has a cloak of invisibility), he is able to overpower Brunhild in her three contests. In the first game, Brunhild manages to lift and throw a spear at Gunther that three men together could barely lift. Siegfried with his cloak of invisibility on, blocks and keeps the spear from hitting Gunther. In the second game, Brunhild throws a boulder that requires the strength of twelve men to heave some twelves fathoms. In the last game, Brunhild leaps over the same boulder.

In an act of cheating and with Siegfried’s aid using the invisibility cloak, Gunther is able to defeat Brunhild and claim her for his wife.

That sounds like dirty pool to me.

Rightfully so, on their wedding night, Brunhild refuses to give up her virginity to Gunther. Instead, she ties up Gunther and leaves him dangling from the ceiling of their chamber. Coming to Gunther’s aid, Siegfried wearing his invisibility cloak, attacks Brunhild, breaking her bones and then taking both her girdle and ring.

It seems both girdle and ring are the source of Brunhild’s supernatural strength and without them, she was forced to be docile and submit to be Gunther’s wife.

At the Worms Cathedral, Brunhild and Kriemhild, Siegfried’s wife gets in a rather heated argument about their husbands. Brunhild takes the stance that Siegfried is nothing more than a lowly vassal beholden to Gunther. Kriemhild reveals the dirty pool and trickery used by Gunther and Siegfried, by showing off the girdle and ring that were stolen from Brunhild.

Unlike the Völsunga, Brunhild’s fate is never mentioned and it’s assumed she out lives Kriemhild and her brothers.

Sigrdrífumál

In this poem, Brynhildr is known as Sigrdrifa. The Sigrdrífumál does have the story of Sigurd and Brynhildr meeting. The poem is mostly about runic magic and has Brynhildr teaching Sigurd about their use.

Poetic Eddas

For the most part, the Poetic Eddas collaborate the story told in the Volsunga, though with some changes.

In some of the Eddic poems, Gutthorm kills Sigurðr in a forest in Southern Rhine while resting.

In the Edda poems from Iceland, Brunhildr or Brunhilde is a strong, capable princess who is deceived by her lover.

I feel it’s worth noting that in the Eddic poems, Brunhildr is a prominent protagonist, whereas in other sources like the Nibelungenlied, her role and importance are diminished.

Helreið Brynhildar – “Bryndhildr’s Ride To Hel,” on her way down to Hel, the underworld of the dead, Brynhildr meets a giantess who blames her for leading an immoral life. Brynhildr refuted the giantess, saying that all men and women live lives of grief and that she and Sigurðr would live together.

Sigurðarkviða Hin Skamma – In this Eddic poem, Gunnar and Sigurðr laid siege to the castle of Atli, Brynhildr’s brother. Atli had offered Brynhildr’s hand in marriage to Gunnar for a truce. The problem in this poem being, that Brynhildr had sworn she would only marry Sigurðr. She is then tricked into believing that Gunnar is Sigurðr.

Der Ring des Nibelungen

Richard Wagner’s famous four opera cycle. Wagner took of the mythology for Brynhilde or Brünnhilde’s role from the Nordic sagas rather than the Nibelungenlied. Brünnhilde only appears in the last three operas of this cycle, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung where she plays a major role in the downfall of Wotan.

For those who don’t know or may have guessed already, this is the opera cycle that inspires a popular saying of “It isn’t over until fat lady sings.” Especially with Brünnhilde’s famous immolation in the finale of Gotterdammerung. Adding to this, thanks to the costume designer, the idea of Viking helmets having two horns was firmly ingrained in people’s minds after a visit to the museum for ideas and saw the ceremonial two horned helmet on display.

In this opera cycle, Brünnhilde is one of many Valkyries born from the union between Wotan and Erda, the personification of the earth. In the Die Walkurie, Wotan tasks Brünnhilde with protecting the hero Siegmund, his son by a mortal woman. When the goddess Fricka contests this, she forces Wotan to have Siegmund die for his infidelity and incest. Brünnhilde disobeys Wotan’s order and carries away Siegmund’s wife and sister Sieglinde along with the broken pieces of Siegmund’s sword Nothung.

After hiding them away, Brünnhilde then faces the wrath of her father, Wotan who makes her a mortal woman and then places her in an enchanted sleep who can be claimed by any man who comes across her. Brünnhilde argues against this punishment, saying she had obeyed Wotan’s true will and doesn’t deserve this harsh of a punishment. Wotan is persuaded to lessen the punishment to protect her enchanted sleep with a magical circle of fire and that she can only be awakened by a hero who knows no fear.

Brünnhilde doesn’t appear again in the operas until the third act of Siegfried. Here, the title character is the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde. He was born after Siegmund’s death and raised by the dwarf Mime, the brother of Alberich.

It should be noted that Alberich is the one who stole the gold and made the ring from which the entire Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle is based on. If you’re thinking “my precious” and the “one ring” as in Tolkien’s Middle Earth series, you’d be more or less correct as this is where J.R.R. Tolkien got inspired and took his ideas from with Norse mythology.

Back to the main story, Siegfried kills the dragon Fafnir that was once a giant. Siegfried takes the ring and finds himself guided to the rock hiding Brünnhilde by a bird. It seems Fafnir’s blood allowed Siegfried to understand the language of birds. Wotan tries to stop Siegfried who instead breaks the god’s spear. Wotan defeated, Siegfried than awakens the sleeping Brünnhilde.

The two appear again in the last opera, Gotterdammerung. Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the ring, the very ring that Alberich made. The two separate and Wagner goes back to following the Norse story though with notable changes.

Siegfried does go to Gunther’s hall where he is given the magical potion that causes him to forget all about Brünnhilde. That way, Gunther can now marry her. This is all possible thanks to Hagen, Alberich’s son and Gunther’s half-brother. Hagen’s plans are successful as Siegfried leads Gunther to where Brünnhilde is at.

During that time, Brünnhilde had been visited by a sister Valkyrie, Waltraute who warns her of Wotan’s plan for self-immolation and urges her to give up the ring. Brünnhilde refuses to give up the ring.

“My precious!”

However, Brünnhilde is overpowered by Siegfried, who, disguised as Gunther using the Tarnhelm (a helm of invisibility instead of a cloak of invisibility) and takes the ring by force.

The enchanted Siegfried goes on to marry Gutrune, Gunther’s sister. When Brünnhilde sees that Siegfried has the ring taken from her, she denounces and calls him out on his treachery. Brünnhilde then joins with Gunther and Hagen in a plot to murder Siegfried. She informs Hagen that Siegfried can only be attacked from behind.

So, when Gunther and Hagen take Siegfried out on a hunting trip, Hagen takes the opportunity to go ahead and stab Siegfried in the back with his spear.

After the two brothers return, Hagen ends up killing Gunther in a fight over the ring. Brünnhilde ceases the moment to take charge and has a pyre built on which she will sacrifice herself, thereby cleansing the ring of its curse and sending it back to the Rhinemaidens.

Brünnhilde’s pyre becomes the signal by which Valhalla and all the Norse gods perish as Ragnarok is brought about with everyone dying in a fire.

Andyaranaut

This is the name of the magical ring that Brynhildr already possesses or is given to her by Siegfried. In Wagnar’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, it was forged by the dwarf Alberich and has a curse placed on it.

In the Völsunga, the ring is part of the cursed treasure that Siegfried takes after slaying the dragon Fafnir. Either way, it explains all of Brynhildr and Siegfried’s bad luck and subsequent deaths.

The ring had been cursed by its creator, Andvari when Loki tried to force him to give it up. Andvari cursed it that all his treasure and the ring would be the death of those who owns it. Aside from being cursed, Andyaranaut could also make gold.

Seeress

By the account of the Völsunga, Brynhildr was a prophetess or seeress and able to foretell the future and interpret dreams.

In the Völsunga, Brynhildr tells Gudrun that Sigurðr would love her, Brynhildr but would marry Gudrun. She also told Gudrun that Sigurðr would die at the hands of her brothers. That she would marry Atli and kill him and her children. Brynhildr is also saw someone else, Svanhild get trampled to death. At the funeral for Sigurðr, Brynhildr tells Gunnar and Hogni, that her brother Atli would kill them.

Valkyrie

The Valkyries are found in both Scandinavian and Germanic religions.

Some of the stories and sources for Brynhildr’s story have her as a Valkyrie, a chooser of the slain, the warrior maids who determined who died in battle and would to Valhalla, Odin’s abode where the fallen warriors would await Ragnarok. More properly, half the warriors go to Valhalla and the other half go hang out with Freya in her hall of Folkvangr.

Many scholars have questioned Brynhildr’s authenticity as a Valkyrie as there is a real person of the same name. In addition, the name Brynhildr or Brunhilda has been found as a place name for many places and regions throughout Belgium, France and the Rhine.

Visigothic Princess

It’s possible that Brynhildr’s story is the same inspiration for the Visigothic princess Brunhilda of Austria. She married the Merovingian king Sigebert I in 567 C.E.

This Brunhilda did have a rival with a Fredegunde who was married to King Chilperic I of Neustria. This is a feud that would last several generations resulting in a lot of deaths on both sides among husband and numerous family members.

Plus, many of the Valkyries that appear in the Poetic Edda are often mortal woman who often come of royal blood.

Viking Genealogy

Given that there are multiple sources for Brynhildr’s story along with Wagner’s opera series that combines a couple of them together. It can get a little confusing as to which clan or tribe Brynhildr would belong to.

Budling – In the Volsunga, being a daughter of Budli, would make Brynhildr a Budling.

Skioldung – In the poem fragment of Sigurd from the Poetic Edda, Brynhildr is called a “lady of the Skioldungs.” The Skioldungs were of course, the descendants of Skiod. Brynhildr’s connection to these people comes about as her father would have been one of 18 sons of Halfdan the Old, or Ali in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda.

Nine of these sons would have gone on to found their own kingdoms and dynasties in the northern, Scandinavian countries. This would have made Brynhildr related to Sigurðr or Sigurd on his mother’s side as well as related to the children of Guiki. Those being Gunnar, Hogni and Gudrun.

Tolkien And The Lord of the Rings!

As I previously mentioned above, J.R.R. Tolkien took his inspiration for his Middle Earth series from Norse mythology and the inspiration for the One Ring from that of Andyaranaut.

A fun note to add is that Tolkien did not like Wagner’s take on the German myths. I can see it too, Taking and combining the Völsunga and Nibelungenlied together can make it a bit harder to figure out which myth and legend is which.

Oya

Oya

Pronunciation: Oh-Yah

Etymology: “She Tore”

Other Names and Epithets: Aido-Wedo, Ayaba Nikua (“Queen of Death”), Ayi Lo Da (“She Who Turns and Changes”), Ollá, Oya-Ajere (“Carrier of the Container of Fire”), Iya Yansan, Ọya-Iyansan (“Mother of Nine”), Oyá, Oiá, Yansá, Yansã, Yansan, lyá Mésàn, Iansá or Iansã, Lady of the Wind, Goddess of the Nine Skirts, Lady of War, Bearded Amazon, Thunder Maiden, Ayi Lo Da “She Who Turns & Changes”

Attributes

Animal: Antelope, Bats, Birds, especially Sparrows and Purple Martins, Deer, Insects, especially Dragonflies and Fireflies, Water Buffalo

Colors: Burgundy, Brown (Candomble), Orange, Pink (Candomble), Purple, Rainbow, Red (Candomble), White (Candomble), No Black

Day of the Week: Wednesday (Candomble), Friday

Elements: Air, Fire , Water

Feast Day: February 2nd and November 25th

Gemstones: Amethyst, Black opals, Bloodstone, Garnets, Labradorite, Red Stones, Tourmaline, Smokey Quartz

Herbs: Caimito, Chickweed, Comfrey, Cypress, Elecampane, Flamboyan, Grains of Paradise, Horehound, Peony, Pleurisy Roots, Royal Poinciana, Star Apple, Yucca

Incense: Geranium, Patchouli, Sandalwood

Metal: Copper

Month: February

Number: 9

Patron of: Change, Feminism

Sphere of Influence: Athletics, Businesses, Cemeteries, Change, Death, Lightning, Market Places, Rebirth, Storms, Tornadoes, Wind, Witchcraft

Symbols: axe, brightly colored cloth, balloons, broom, buffalo horns, copper, hoe, lightning, kites, graves, mattock, rake, shovel, spear, tornadoes, the sword or machete, masks, scythe, the flywhisk, weather vanes, whip, wind instruments, anything associated with the wind,

Taboo (Candomble): Palm Kernal Oil, Pork, Pumpkin, Ram, Smoke, Stingray, Mutton

Oya is a mother goddess and Orisha from Yoruban mythology found in Africa regions of Benin and Nigeria and in Latin America. In brief, she is the goddess or Orisha of many things such as: winds, lightnings, violent storms, death, cemeteries, rebirth and the market place.

Depictions Of Oya

Oya is often described as being a tall, regal and very beautiful, yet fierce warrior woman. She wears a skirt of nine different colors representing her nine children as she dances. When going into battle, Oya will wield two machetes. Sometimes Oya is shown with a beard or being bare from the waist up.

 Modern Day Worship

What’s interesting, is that Oya is a goddess or Orisha whose worship is still very much so active. There are several traditions that honor, venerate and worship Oya that include: Candomble, Folk Catholicism, Haitian Vodou, Oyotunji, Santeria, Trinidad Orisha and Umbanda to name a few.

Oya’s feast day is on February 2nd and another I found listed November 25th.

Offerings To Oya

Specifically, food offerings, Oya is said to enjoy sweet and dark colored foods and anything spicy. Such foods include the following: fish, fruit, plums, eggplant, figs, kola nuts, legumes, porridge, gin, grape wine, red wine, rum, chocolate pudding, purple grapes, rice, black beans, rain water, starfruit, shea or coconut butter, yams, black she goat, black hens, pigeons, rooster and guinea hens.

Such offerings can be left at the corner of an outdoor market or at the gates to a cemetery, particularly one marked by use of divination. Yes, do place the offerings in a trashcan with a prayer to Oya in thanks. She’ll know your intentions and you’ll keep from littering.

Non-food offerings can include coins, cloth and tobacco.

Orisha

Oya is a member of the Orisha, who are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruban religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare.

With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Oya was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America and South America.

Parentage and Family

Father

Obatala is said to be Oya’s father.

Mother

Yemaya – The Great Sea Mother

Yemu – Or Yembo, with Obatala, she is the mother of Oya.

Consort

Shango – (Also spelled Chango), Orisha of Thunder, her second husband. Oya is sometime considered one of three of Shango’s wives along with Oshun and Oba.

Ogun – A powerful warrior and Orisha of metal working, rum and rum making. Oya was married to him first before leaving Ogun for Shango.

Siblings

Shango – Depending on the stories or tradition, Oya and Shango are brother and sister, not husband and wife.

Yemaya and Ochun are held to be Oya’s sisters.

Children

The nine tributaries of the Nile River that represent her stillborn children. These children are Egungun and four sets of twins.

The Ibeji – Twins whom Oya took in after their mother rejected them.

Ọya-Iyansan – “Mother Of Nine”

This is in reference to the Niger River known in Yoruba as Odo-Oya and its nine tributaries. Oya in her role as a Storm Goddess is seen as the queen and source of the Niger River. This connection of Oya with the Niger River comes from a story where Oya gave birth to nine stillborn children. As a result of this, Oya holds a lot of sadness from this, medical term would be Post-Partum Depression. Oya wears nine different colored scarves or skirts around her waist in honor and memory of these children.

Later, when Oshun (or Yemaya) rejects the twins, the Ibeji from her home, it is Oya who takes them in and raise the twins as her own children.

In Brazil, where Oya’s worship has traveled, she is the goddess of the Amazon River.

 Storm & Wind Goddess

One of the main things that Oya is known for is that of a Storm Goddess, including winds and lightning. Oya can manifest winds from a gentle breeze up to hurricane force level winds and tornadoes.

Harmattan – This is the name of the Dry Season in the West African subcontinent that happens towards the end of November and up to the middle of March. The Harmattan is characterized by a dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind that blows in from the Sahara Desert towards the Gulf of Guinea. Depending upon where one is at, is if the Harmattan wind is cold or hot. The amount of dust that can happen can create a haze and has been known to be the cause of flight cancellations in West Africa.

Oya & Shango – It should be noted that Shango is a god of thunder and that Oya stole or learned the secret of throwing lightning from him. Additionally, Oya would use Shango’s fear of the dead to keep in his place. During thunderstorms, both Oya and Shango ride out, destroying buildings and tearing up the landscape. Often the two are described as Oya being the lightning with Shango being the thunder that follows soon after.

Goddess Of Change & Fire

Closely related to her aspect as a Storm goddess, Oya is also the goddess of change as seen in both nature and life; which may or may not always be comfortable or pleasant to go through. Such changes that Oya is known to bring are not slow and gradual, they are fierce, quick and often seemingly destructive. This change and the ensuing chaos as seen in the tornadoes associated with Oya are needed for new growth and preventing stagnation.

Fire comes into play as it is often a trans-formative force of change and can be a result of lightning strikes.

As a goddess of change, Oya is not seen as being held by tradition, conventions or boundaries. As a boundary breaker, Oya is known for going hunting, something that had been forbidden to women in West Africa where she was first worshiped.

Goddess Of Cemeteries

As previously mentioned, Oya guarded the gates to cemeteries, most notably, she protected those graves marked with a cross.

Iku – Oya, along with Orunmila, are the only two Orisha who have defeated Iku, the force of death.

Psychopomp – Oya will escort the spirits of the dead to the cemetery’s threshold, though she does not reside within them herself. Other Orishas, Obba and Yewá are the ones who reside within a cemetery or graveyard’s boundaries.

Oya is regarded as holding the secrets and mysteries of death and rebirth, helping the newly deceased with their transitions from the living world to the world of the spirit. In worship, Oya represents the first and last breaths of life taken.

Ancestors – as a goddess of cemeteries, Oya also holds a connection with the ancestors.

Ira – The underworld, Oya entered into the lower realm of Ira in search of her husband Shango when she heard he had died.

Guardian of Stillborn/Unborn Children – As a mother who was unable to keep her own children as they were stillborn, Oya guards and protects the spirit of the unborn or stillborn children, taking them to herself as she guides them to the afterlife.

Illnesses – Oya is called up and invoked during times of a serious illness. Curiously, one source mentioned that Oya protects the lungs and nasal passages. Which makes sense as she is representative of the first and last breath that a person takes.

Goddess Of Markets

This is where Oya can be found, in the market places where businesses are conducted. Whether that place is in a Boardroom Meeting or on the street level, open market, Oya deals in the changing flow of fortunes made and lost. She is noted for being a very shrewd business woman who is also good with horses.

Warrior Queen

Oya did live many centuries ago where she was a princess of the Oyo clan and consort to Shango, the then ruling king. She was known then as an unbeatable warrior whose skills were unequaled. After her death, she became deified as an Orisha.

Oya’s favored weapons are a pair of machetes forged by her first husband, Ogun.

After becoming deified, Oya employs the wind, storms and tornadoes as her weapons along with raising the egun or spirits of the dead to fight as soldiers.

Feminism – As a goddess of female empowerment and a champion of women, Oya will mete justice on their behalf

Women often ask Oya to give them the ability to choose their words so that they speak persuasively and powerfully.

Huntress – Hunters and Chiefs will seek out Oya’s blessing when hunting or when selecting new, strong leaders.

Justice – Oya’s machetes represent the sword of truth, cutting quickly to the truth of the matter and dealing out matters of equality and custom. As an agent of change, Oya will cut through all injustices, deceits and dishonesty that’s in her path. She will speak only truths, even when they are hard to hear.

Protector Of Women – In her role as a warrior, Oya is known to be a strong and fierce protector of women. Oya also protects children and spouses. The newly deceased are often said to be her children whom she cares for as her own were stillborn.

Water Buffalo

The main animal that I found mentioned repeated as being sacred to Oya is the Water Buffalo. Such an animal is often her avatar or representative or it is Oya herself, having transformed or shape-shifted into this form.

Buffalo Horns – A set of buffalo horns rubbed with cam wood to make them red are placed on alters and shrines dedicated to Oya.

Antelope

Antelope Skin – This story reads a lot like the Celtic or Irish stories of selkies and seal maidens.

One story about Oya mentions that she had originally been an antelope who could take off her skin to transform into a beautiful woman. She would do this every five days when she came to the market in town; hiding her skin in the forest or under some bushes.

One day, Shango meets Oya in the market place and is immediately taken in by her beauty. So enamored of her was he, that Shango followed back to the forest where he saw Oya take her skin and transform back into an antelope.

The next time that Oya returned to market, Shango was hiding, watching for her to change into a woman and hide her skin. As soon as Oya went into the market, Shango came out of hiding to take the skin home where he hid it up in the roof rafters.

With out her skin, Oya became Shango’s wive and went home with him. It should be noted, that Shango has two other wives who became jealous of Oya and the attentions that Shango gave her. She had become his favorite after all.

When Oya bore twins, the other wives, Oshun and Oba told Oya where to find her antelope skin up in the rafters.

Just like the Irish stories, as soon as Oya regained her skin and donned it, turning into an antelope, she took off for the forest.

Spousal Conflict – Not every couple are always going to get along, so its not surprising to find a story of Oya and Shango getting into it and having a fight. Oya changed into an antelope and charged at Shango with her horns. Thinking quickly, Shango made a peace offering of Oya’s favorite food of akara, bean cakes, placing those before her. Pleased with the offering, Oya accepted Shango’s apology and peace offering by giving him her two horns. From then on, whenever he needed her help, Shango needed only to beat the two horns together and Oya would come.

A Stormy Affair – Oya, Shango & Ogun

Oya was first married to Ogun, an Orisha of War and Smithing. The two lived out in the forests together. Ogun was often away working in his smithy or at war, frequently leaving Oya alone.

This provided an opportunity for Shango who wanted to avenge his adopted father Obatala. It seems that Ogun had created some offense towards Obatala and was thus banished to the forest. The banishment wasn’t enough for Shango and he decided to go seduce Oya.

If you want to keep a fight going, this is one way to do it. With the affair and Oya leaving Ogun for Shango, a war broke out between the two.

These wars and fights are often seen in the thunderstorms and the two Orishas, Shango and Ogun continue to be at odds with each other. Obatala often has to come play moderator and impose a peace on them, that is, until the next storm breaks out.

To The Rescue – Saving Shango

Shango got himself into a lot of trouble and made more than a few enemies with his numerous affairs and seducing the wives of the other Orisha.

One night, when Shango was out dancing at a party, some Shango’s enemies managed to capture him and toss him into a jail. Going so far as to throw away the key too.

Later, when Oya is wondering why Shango didn’t return home, she had a vision in which she saw that Shango was being held captive. Oya called down a fierce storm and summoned a bolt of lightning to break the bars of the jail cell holding Shango.

Since then, Shango has always respected Oya’s abilities and skill as a warrior. However, it still doesn’t stop him always remaining faithful as a husband. He is however, careful not to ever make Oya mad.

Betrayal By A Ram

The story goes that Oya and the ram were once best friends. When the ram found out that there was a bounty on Oya’s head, it betrayed her.

When Olofi discovered this, he demanded that the ram be sacrificed. Hurt by her friend’s betrayal, Oya has since been unable to bear the sight of the ram. At the same time, Oya is unable to be in the same room with him being sacrificed as she still cares for him.

In ceremonies, when Oya is being consecrated, the ritual items for Shango, Inle and Yemaya are removed from the room. Likewise, when Shango, Inle or Yemaya are being consecrated, Oya’ ritual items are removed from the room. All of this is to pay respect to the fact that Shango, Inle and Yemaya’s favorite food is ram and they thus bear his scent on them. So the four not ever being in the same room during consecrations is out of respect and remembrance of the ram’s betrayal to Oya.

Oshun’s Fading

There is a story told, how Oshun’s essence or life was fading as people were beginning to concern themselves with other things instead of worshiping her.

As it was, Oya insisted to her husband Shango, to consult with the diloggun (a form of divination) for the first time in order to mark an ebo or sacrifice to Oshun, thereby, saving her. This sacrifice bonded the two in friendship.

Maman Brigitte – Haitian Goddess

Oya has been connected to Maman Brigitte as a syno-deity. Maman Brigitte is a Voodoo goddess or Loa who protects those graves within a cemetery marked with a cross. She is the wife to Ghede or Baron Samedi. Like Oya, she has been connected to the Catholic Saint Brigit.

Catholic Saints

There are a few different Saints that Oya has been equated to and it varies by the religion revering Oya.

Saint Barbara – The Saint whom Oya is equated to in the Candomble tradition. She is the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives. She has an old legend that connects her to lightning and mathematicians.

Saint Brigit – Not just the saint, the Celtic goddess Bridget of the same name. She is the patron saint of Ireland and babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, brewers, cattle, chicken farmers, children whose parents are not married, children with abusive fathers, children born into abusive unions, Clan Douglas, dairy workers, Florida, fugitives, Leinster, mariners, midwives, milk maids, nuns, poets, poor, poultry farmers, poultry raisers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travelers, and  watermen. That is quiet a lot if you ask me.

Saint Teresa – There’s like five or six different Saint Teresas, so I’m not sure which was meant with mentioning her. With the mention of a feast day of October 15th, Saint Teresa of Avila seems to have been who they were mentioning. She is the patron saint of Bodily illnesses, headaches, chess, lacemakers, laceworkers, loss of parents, people in need of grace, people in religious orders, people ridiculed for their piety, Požega, Croatia, sick people, sickness, Spain, and Talisay City, Cebu.

Virgin Mary – “Our Lady of La Candelaria” and “Virgin of Candelaria” as in the Virgin Mary of the Canary Islands, Spain and sometime connected with the Black Madonna.

Maui

Also known as: Maaui-Tikitiki (Maori/New Zealand)

Alternate Spellings: Māui

Epithets: Maui-Tikitiki “Maui the Top-Knot,” Maui-Tikitiki-a-Taranga “Maui the Top-Knot of Taranga,” Maui-Potiki “Maui the Last Born”

In Polynesian mythology, Maui is either a trickster demigod or god and in some stories, a mere mortal man. Most of his stories and exploits are best known from the Hawaiian and Maori legends though many other Polynesian cultures such as Mangarevan, Tahitian and Tongan have their own stories regarding this trickster hero. Among the Samoans, Maui is known as Ti’iTi’i. Many of the stories involving Maui make note of him being the youngest son, thus while small, he was extremely strong for his size.

Description

Maui is sometimes described as being ugly, quick to respond as well as quick-witted covered in tattoos. Lucky for humans, for all that Maui is known for having some vicious practical jokes, he works to help people and not the Gods.

Parentage and Family

Parents

In the Hawaiian Kumulipo, Maui is the son of Akalana and Hina-a-ke-ahi (or just Hina, a goddess).

In another Hawaiian legend, Maui’s father is given as Ru.

In the Mangarevan myths, Maui is the son of Ataraga (Father) and Uaega (Mother).

In the Maori myths, Maui is the son of Makeatutara (Father) and Taranga (Mother).

Tangaroa – This Maori god of the sea is sometimes mentioned as being Maui’s father with his mother being a mortal woman.

Siblings

Akalana and Hina had four sons: Maui-Mua, Maui-Waena (or Maui-Hope), Maui-Ki’iki’i and Maui-a-Kalana.

In the Mangarevan myths, Ataraga has eight sons all named Maui: Maui-mua, Maui-muri, Maui-toere-mataroa, Tumei-hauhia, Maui-tikitiki-toga, Maui-matavaru, Maui-taha, Maui-roto. It is Maui matavaru or eight-eyed who is the culture hero.

In the Maori myths, Maui has four brothers: Maui-Taha, Maui-Roto, Maui-Pae and Maui-Waho.

Consort

Hinakealohaila – She is the wife to Maui-a-Kalana in Hawaiian legends.

Children

Nanamaoa – The son of Maui-a-Kalana and Hinakealohaila in Hawaiian legends.

Manaiakalani

This is the name of Maui’s great, big fish-hook. In the Hawaiian legends, it is baited with the wing of an Alae, the sacred or pet bird of Hina. This fish-hook was created from the jawbone of an ancestor of Maui’s, usually given as being his grandmother.

Maui’s Fish-Hook can be seen in the night-sky in the same constellation recognized by Western Culture as Scorpio.

Hawaiian Mythology

Hawaiian Islands

While yes, there is an island called Maui in Hawaii, it is not named for the trickster Maui. Legend holds that the island is named for the son of Hawai’iloa, a great navigator who discovered the Hawaiian Islands. Each of the islands of Kaua’i, O’ahu, and Maui are named after one of Hawai’iloa’s sons.

Kupua

These were a group of heroic trickster demigods in Hawaiian legends. All kupua are shape-shifters who took the forms of either humans or various elements in nature, often an animal. Many kupua are rather malevolent and vindictive. Maui appears to be one of the more beneficial and gentler kupua in comparison.

Pulling Up The Islands

There are many variations to the story of Maui using his fish-hook to pull up all eight of the Hawaiian Islands.

Version 1 – Maui had gone out fishing one day with his brother. In typical sibling rivalry, the brother wouldn’t share any of his bait with Maui. Ever the resourceful one, Maui punched his own nose and used his own blood as bait to fish. He succeeded in bringing in hauls so large, that they would become the Hawaiian Islands. Not just Hawaii, but all the Polynesian Islands were pulled up in this way.

Version 2 – Maui had gone out fishing with his brothers. While out there, Maui caught his hook on the ocean floor. Maui then told his brothers he had caught a large fish and to start paddling as hard and as fast as they can. The brothers never noticed the island rising up behind them out of the ocean. Maui of course, proceeds to do this several more times, pulling up all the Hawaiian Islands.

Version 3 – This is perhaps the more interesting version of the stories. Maui planted his fish-hook at Hamakua with the intent to pull up Pimoe, the god of fish. Maui warned his brothers not to look back as they paddled their boats or this venture would fail. Hina, shape-shifted into a bailing-gourd and Maui, not realizing it was his mother, took hold of the gourd and put it in front of his seat. Now suddenly, there appeared before them, an extremely beautiful woman and all of Maui’s brothers looked back out of curiosity. Having looked back, Hina in her disguise disappeared and the line breaks, causing all of the islands that Maui was trying to unite into one giant island falls apart and he is unable to catch Pimoe.

The Theft Of Fire

Version 1 – In order to steal fire for the people of the islands, Maui transformed himself into the guise of a hawk so he could get closer the Earth-Mother. To this day, the hawk’s feathers are brown in memory of Maui being burned by the flames when he brought the gift of fire.

Version 2 – In this story, Maui and his brother would go out fishing every day. Every morning they would always see a bunch of Kiawe trees smoking and flames coming up out of them. Hovering above all this were some vultures, also known as mud hens or ‘alae.

Maui and his brothers constantly tried to sneak up on the vultures, thinking they were responsible for the fire. However, just before getting close enough, there would be a noise that scared them all off.

Maui came up with the idea of creating a dummy that looked like him and placed in the canoe. Now Maui had his brothers take the dummy with them as they would go one direction and Maui would come from the other as they tried to sneak up on the vultures.

Maui snuck up on the bird and grabbed it by the neck, forcing it to tell him the secrets of fire. The vulture, an ‘alae told Maui to take and rub two maia peels together. When nothing happened, Maui nearly choked the bird to death, telling it to tell the truth. Finally the bird said to rub to Ti leaf stalks together. Nothing happened this time and Maui once more choked the bird who said to rub two dry kiawe sticks together.

This time, Maui had success with creating fire. He took the flaming stick and pressed it against the ‘alae’s forehead, making their head red and bald to remind it and other ‘alae’s thereafter of their selfish act.

Slowing Down The Sun

Version 1 – In this story, Maui’s mother, Hina complained about how the sun moved too quickly through the sky, that she barely had time to get her kapa, bark cloth dry. Hina wasn’t the only one, many people hurried to get their work such as planting, cooking or making clothing done in the few hours of daylight. There just wasn’t time with how fast the Sun moved.

Deciding to help his mother and the other people, Maui hid behind a big rock at the highest peak on the island known as Haleakala, the “House Of The Sun.” When the Sun passed by overhead, Maui quickly threw a rope, made from his sister’s hair with his magic hook tied to the end and lassoed the Sun’s rays with it. Some legends have Maui using a net to trap the Sun. The Sun demanded to be let go and Maui would only do so if the Sun would promise to move slower through the day so people could get their work done. Some versions of the story have Maui beating the Sun with his jawbone until it agreed to move slower. Added to this, Maui took one look at the sky and decided it hung too low. With a shove and heave, Maui pushed the sky up higher.

Version 2 – In this telling of the story, Hina sends Maui to a big wiliwili tree where he finds his old, blind grandmother laying out bananas. Ever mischievous, Maui starts stealing bananas from his grandmother, one by one until she catches him in the act. Maui tells his Grandmother about his mother’s complaints and sending him out to the tree. After hearing the story, Grandmother decides to help him with making a rope. Maui then sits by the tree, waiting until the Sun passes by overhead and he lassos it, forcing it to agree to slow it’s progress across the sky.

Version 3 – Very similar to the story in Version 2, Maui decides to slow down the sun after a man by the name of Moemoe taunts him and says it can’t be done. Just to prove him wrong, Maui sets off to slow down the sun much like he did earlier with finding his grandmother and getting her help. After Maui slows down the sun, he chases after Moemoe and beats him soundly.

Lifting The Sky

While a similar story of Maui lifting the sky is told in his quest to slow down the sun, there is another expanded version of this story.

After a while, as Maui was looking around, he could see that the sky was far too low to the ground and that people were unable to stand up straight. Being Maui, if he didn’t like a thing, he went about changing it. As it just so happened to be, the sky was sinking or lowering and would have made living on the earth impossible for humans.

Maui proceeded to travel to the town of Lahaina, to enlist his father into helping him lift the sky. There, Maui laid himself on the ground and then bracing himself, pushed the sky upwards with all of his considerable strength.

At the signal, Maui’s father, Ru also began pushing with all his might, aiding his son in getting the sky up high enough so people could stand upright. So there you have it, another of Maui’s deeds done.

Variations – In other retellings of this story, Maui lifts up the sky when he comes across a girl complaining how the sky was too low and that she couldn’t do her chores. Like any guy seeking to impress a girl, Maui decided to push up the sky for her.

Yet another variation is that Maui was busy making an earth oven when his poker got stuck up in the sky. To get his poker unstuck and to keep it from getting stuck again, Maui simply pushed the sky up higher. Again, this was all part of impressing a girl.

Defeating The Long Eel

Still one more legend of Maui’s to cover in Hawaiian mythology!

After Maui finished pulling up all of the islands with his Fish-Hook, he decided to start exploring them to find out what all was there. Traveling to each of the islands, Maui discovered that they were all inhabitable. There were houses, but no one living in them, no one in the whole of all the islands.

Taking ideas from the layout and build of the houses, Maui returned home and built a new house for himself in the style of what he had seen on the islands. Finished, Maui then sought out Hinakealohaila (or just Hina, not to be confused with his mother) to marry.

Time passed and Hina went down to a nearby river bank to get some water. While down there, Hina ran into the Long Eel Tuna, who just so happened to decide that striking Hina and covering her in slime was somehow a good idea.

Hina ran back home, but didn’t tell Maui of what transpired. Or at least, not yet.

The next day, Hina went back down to the riverbank and the same thing happened. The Long Eel Tuna hitting and covering her with slime again. This time, when she returned home, Hina told Maui about what happened.

Angry, Maui headed down to the river. Once down there, Maui laid out a number of traps designed to lure the Long Eel Tuna out of hiding. When the Eel Tuna emerged, Mauil used his stone axe to kill them. It seems that the Long Eel Tuna had been causing many people in the village problems. Thanks now to Maui, everyone would be safe.

Mangarevan Mythology

In this mythology cycle, the Maui known as Maui the Eight-Eyed is the hero, born from his mother’s navel and raised by his grandfather, Te Rupe. This Maui has a magic staff called Atua-Tane and a hatchet called Iraiapatapata. Like the Hawaiian and Maori legends, Maui still pulls up the islands from the sea and ties up the sun with locks of hair to slow it down or hold in place.

Maori Mythology

The legend of Maui among the Maori is a long epic.

The Birth Of Maui

Maui was born the son of Taranga and Makeatutara. Considered a miraculous birth, Makeatutara had taken her premature baby and threw it into the ocean wrapped in locks of hair from her topknot. Hence, Maui is known as Maui-Tikitiki-A-Taranga. Fortunately for the infant Maui, ocean spirits found him and wrapping him in seaweed, took him to Tama-Nui-Te-Ra (or Rangi), a divine ancestor who raised the child.

It is Maori tradition, that any baby prematurely born is buried with special incantations and ceremonies least the spirit of the unborn child become a malicious spirit as they had never known any joy or happiness in life. Given what happens later in the stories with Maui, this may be why they bury the baby with rites and ceremonies instead of tossing them into the ocean. It would certainly explain all the mean spirited tricks and deeds that Maui performs.

Reuniting With His Family

Once Maui was a child and no longer a premature infant, he left the sea, going search of his mother and family. When Maui found his mother’s house, he discovered four other older brothers: Maui-Taha, Maui-Roto, Maui-Pae and Maui-Waho.

Understandably, the brothers were all leery of this new comer. Maui won them all over by performing many tricks such as transforming into a number of different birds. The brothers were greatly impressed and accepted Maui.

As for his mother, Maui introduced himself to Taranga when everyone was gathered for some dancing and celebrating. Maui sat down behind his brothers, when Taranga called for her children, she discovered a fifth unknown child among her sons. Maui soon proved he was Taranga’s son and he was accepted into the family.

At first, some of Maui’s brothers were jealous. They were put at easy by the eldest brother telling them how they should let Maui be counted among them, that in days of peace, they should be generous to others by helping to improve the welfare of others and that in times of war, that’s only when disputes should be settled with violence. The speech worked and Maui was finally welcomed home.

Maui Finding His Father

Though Maui stayed with his mother and his brothers, each morning, his mother Taranga would disappear. None of Maui’s older brothers seemed concerned about their mother’s disappearance each morning. This bothered Maui who wondered where Taranga would go each morning before they woke.

When nightfall came again, Taranga returned to her children, they all went to sleep as before on other nights in their house. This time, Maui stayed awake so that when everyone else had fallen asleep, he stole Taranga’s clothing and hid them. Then Maui went and hid himself in the crevice of a window above the doorway so that when morning came, he could see where it was that his mother went.

After what seemed like forever, morning finally came and Taranga awoke. Upon finding she was naked, Taranga began frantically looking for her clothes, finally she gave up and began pulling off pieces of siding from the house to cover herself. Covered, she now ran outside.

Watching from his hiding spot, Maui watched as his mother reach down to some tufts of grass, revealing a hole that she disappeared into and pulling close behind her. Curious, Maui came out of his hiding spot and ran to the spot where the grass had been pulled up. Sure enough, he found the opening to a cave descending deep into the earth, to the Underworld in fact.

Covering the hole again, Maui returned to the house and woke up his brothers. He asked them about where it is that their father and mother went during the day. The older brothers answered that they didn’t know. They taunted Maui saying he shouldn’t worry or bother and that Rangi, the god of the sky was their father.

Little Maui responded how he had been brought up differently from his brothers, having been tossed to the sea. That he had never been nursed by their mother and how he longed to find where it was that she and father went to during the day.

Surprised by the response, Maui’s brothers encouraged to try and find their parents. Maui said that he would go and demonstrated to them his ability to turn into a bird. It was only with the kereru or wood pigeon shape that his brothers were impressed. The ability to shapeshift was something that only a skilled magician with a lot magic could perform and Maui delighted in his being the youngest brother, able to do something the others couldn’t.

Bidding farewell to his brothers, Maui took off in pigeon form to seek after his parents. Long Maui flew off into the forest and down to the cave his mother had disappeared into. Eventually, Maui came to a place where he saw many people gathered in a grove of trees. Among these people, Maui spotted his mother seated by whom he could only assume to be his father.

Still in bird form, Maui descended to a lower branch where he could pick off some berries growing. These berries, Maui dropped down to his father on the head with. Some of the other people at the gathering asked if the bird had dropped the berry and Maui’s father, Makeatutara insisted the berry had only fallen by chance.

Once more, Maui plucked more berries and threw them down hard at both of his parents. As Maui’s parents cried out, the other people gathered there, looked up to the tree and seeing only a pigeon sitting there cooing, began to throw stones at the bird. All the stones missed and it was when Maui’s father threw a stone at the bird that he hit the pigeon, but only because Maui allowed it.

The pigeon fell to the ground and when the others ran up to it, it turned into a man. The others were taken aback for the eyes of the young man who now stood before them were red and fierce looking. Talking amongst themselves, the others discussed if the man standing before them was a god like Rangi and Papa-Tu-A-Nuku. Finally Taranga spoke up and said the man looked like someone knew and repeated the story of Maui’s premature birth everyone to hear.

Taranga then asked the man, Maui who he was and where he came from. When she asked Maui, if he was her child Maui-Tikitiki-O-Taranga, he answered yes and Taranga welcomed him where she seemed to prophesy that he would visit his ancestor, Hine-Nui-Te-Po and conquer death.

Now a man, Maui’s father Makeatutara took him down to the river to be baptized in order to cleanse and purify his son. As luck would have it, Makeatutara made a mistake during the ceremony with incantations, having skipped over parts and forgotten them. This mistake was an ill omen that would eventually lead to the death of Maui. The gods would be sure to punish this forgetfulness with Maui’s eventual death.

In the meantime, however, Maui returned to his brothers to tell them he had found their parents and how to find them too.

Maui Getting Bloodthirsty

After returning to his brothers, Maui ended up slaying and carrying away his first victim, the daughter of Maru-Te-Whare-Aitu. Not long after, Maui proceeded to destroy the crops of Maru-Te-Whare-Aitu, causing them to all wither.

Maui Gaining His Jaw-Bone Weapon

His first war raid done, Maui once more visited his parents. While with them, he noticed how the other people would be carrying away some food as if it were being taken to someone.

When he asked for who, they informed Maui it was for an ancestress, Muri-Ranga-Whenua, an old chief. Maui responded with saying that he would take the food to her.

In typical trickster fashion, Maui didn’t take any of the food to Muri-Ranga-Whenua. Instead he set them to the side, hiding them away. Eventually Muri-Ranga-Whenua wondered why her food wasn’t coming and suspecting that something was up, she wandered down the path, sniffing.

Finally smelling something coming, Muri-Ranga-Whenua’s stomach began to enlarge as she got ready to devour Maui as soon as he came close enough. Maui went up wind of the old chief so she couldn’t find him. Turning westward, Muri-Ranga-Whenua finally smelled someone close to her, realizing it was a human.

Muri-Ranga-Whenua’s stomach shrunk back to normal size and she greeted Maui as one of her descendants. Her next question was why Maui wasn’t bring her food. Maui answered that he was seeking for Muri-Ranga-Whenua’s jaw-bone to use as a weapon. The old chief consented and gave Maui the bone.

Holding Back The Sun

Similar to the story found in the Hawaiian cycle, Maui for his next quest, takes the jaw-bone of an ancestor, Muri-Ranga-Whenua to use as a weapon. He uses this jaw-bone to ensnare the Sun so it will be forced to move slower throughout the day, thus making the days longer. With the aid of his brothers, Maui lassoes the Sun and beats them soundly until the Sun agrees to move slower.

Variation – Sometimes a net is mentioned as what Maui used to catch the Sun before Maui and his brother beat the Sun senseless with his magic jawbone to the point it could limp slowly now across the sky.

Gone Fishing – Part 1

Somewhere along the line, Maui got married and had a number of wives and children to boot. When Maui and his brothers returned from the feat of Holding back and slowing down the sun, he heard the complaints of his family and how they had no fish to eat.

Maui assured his wives and children not to fret, he would soon take care of this trivial matter and they would soon enough have food to eat. He then took his jaw-bone and fashioned it into a fish-hook.

When Maui’s brother headed out to go fishing, Maui jumped in the canoe. His brothers yelled for Maui to get out of the boat, claiming that his constant use of magic would cause problems. Eventually Maui got out of the canoe seeing as his brothers refused to take him.

Determined, Maui just waited until it was night when he went back to the beach and his brothers’ canoe. This time he hid in the bottom, under some boards. When his brothers came at dawn, they headed out to sea, none the wiser that Maui was hidden on board.

Once they were well at sea, Maui came out of his hiding spot. Seeing him, his brothers commented that they had better return to shore. Using his magic, Maui stretched out the distance from the shore to the boat that when his brothers looked for land, it was out of view.

Maui told his brothers that they should let him come with, at the very least he could be able to bail water out of the canoe for them. The brothers consented and they paddled on towards their fishing spot. Maui wasn’t content and told his brothers to paddle out further before dropping anchor, which spot would be far out of view of land.

Far out on the open ocean, the brothers now began to fish and soon, easily they had their canoe filled with fish in no time.

Pulling Up The Islands – Part 2

Continuing from Gone Fishing, this story is similar to the previously mentioned Hawaiian story of Pulling Up The Islands. Now that the brothers had filled the canoe, they wanted to return, but not Maui who now wanted a turn at fishing.

The North Island – Maui’s brothers wanted to know where he got a fishing-hook from, to which he told them never mind. When he asked to borrow of their bait, his brothers refused. With no other recourse, Maui made a fist and struck his own nose, using his own blood for bait.

With that and using incantations, Maui managed to snag the porch of a carved house on the sea bed floor and pulled up not just the house with his superhuman strength, but an entire island. Witht his much land pulled up, the canoe became grounded.

With the newly pulled up land and the haul of fish that had been caught, Maui went to go make an offering of thanks to the gods. He instructed his brothers to wait until her returned before eating or cutting up any of the fish, that everyone would get a fair share.

While Maui went to get a priest to bless, consecrate and purify the land, his brothers went ahead and started to cut up the fish that were also pulled up. These fish began to writhe in agony and in their throes, the mountains, cliffs and valleys of the island were formed. It’s been said if the brothers had waited for Maui to make his offerings, the island would have all been level plains and forest, making it easy for people to traverse it. The Maori call this land Te Ika-a-Maaui, the Fish of Maui or Hahau-Whenua, it is the North Island of New Zealand.

The South Island – By Maori tradition, Maui’s canoe becomes the South Island. The Banks Peninsula is said to be where Maui place his foot to support himself as he pulled in his fish haul. The island is known as Te Waipounamu or Te Waka-A-Maui, the canoe of Maui.

The Secret Of Fire

The secret for the creation of fire had been lost and Maui decided to remedy that situation. Of course, if Maui didn’t have it in his head to pull the stunt of putting out all of the fires for the cooking houses in the village, there would still be fire. But no, Maui puts them all out and then calls out, saying he’s hungry and getting someone to come cook up some food for him and there’s no fire to be had, anywhere.

When Maui’s mother heard there was no fire, she implored the servants to seek out Mahu-Ika to see if she would send more fire. The servants refused, no matter how Maui’s mother and others insisted they go.

Finally, Maui spoke up and said that he would go and get more fire. In order to do so, he needed to know which way to go. His parents informed Maui which path he should go, that he should let Mahu-Ika know who he was and that he shouldn’t perform any of his tricks as too often, his tricks brought harm and injury to others.

Yes, they’re on to you Maui!

Of course, Maui assured his folks he was only interested in bringing fire, he wasn’t going to do anything else, he’d go and come back right away. Honest!

So off he goes, in search of Mahu-Ika, the goddess of fire and his ancestor. When Maui found Mahu-Ika, he was filled with wonder and awe, all he could do was stare before he finally spoke up asking her where the fire was, he had come to get some.

Mahu-Ika got up and asked who Maui was. At first, Maui wouldn’t tell Mahu-Ika was, making her do a quessing game of which country he was from and which direction he had come. Finally, when Mahu-Ika asked Maui if he had come on the wind, he said yes and she recognized him as one of her descendants.

Mahu-Ika proceeded to pull out a fingernail from which fire flowed out. This she gave to Maui who was amazed by the feat. Maui took the fingernail away with him and when he was out of sight, he promptly put the fire out.

Maui returned to Mahu-Ika saying that the fire she had given him had gone out and to give him another. Once more, Mahu-Ika pulled one of her fingernails out, producing fire to give to Maui once more.

Maui managed to keep this antic up of coming back to Mahu-Ika saying the fire had gone out until he had gotten her to pull out all of the nails from her hands and feet save for the nail of her big toe. Nine times and Mahu-Ika finally catches on that Maui might be playing tricks on her.

Angry, Mahu-Ika pulled the last nail out and slamming it on the ground, she told Maui that he now had all the fire as everything around them began to catch fire. Maui made a mad dash to escape with the fire quickly gaining. Maui changed himself into an eagle (or hawk) to be fast enough to escape.

Even as an eagle, his flight wasn’t enough and the fire was about to consume Maui; he called on his ancestors Tawhiri-Ma-Tea and Whatitiri-Matakatak to send rain. The ancestors answered and soon there was a heavy rain. Mahu-Ika was nearly killed in the resulting downpour before she could hide. Maui however, in his eagle form was scorched, resulting in black-tipped wings. Mahu-Ika saved some of her fire by placing it in the wood of trees.

When Maui returned from this latest stunt, his parents tried to warn him about trying to trick his ancestors and that he deserved what he got. They concluded the speech that things would end badly and likely in his death if he didn’t stop his behavior. Maui taunted his parents, saying what did he care, he planned to continue. With that, Maui went off to seek out his next round of mischief.

Variation – A little simpler, Maui gained the secrets of fire by stealing a hen from heaven as fire was believed to be guarded by a celestial chicken.

Turning Irawaru Into A Dog

Shortly after his theft of fire, Maui went out fishing with his brother in law, Irawaru who had married Maui’s younger sister Hinauri, Maui as per his luck, had only caught one fish while Irawaru was catching plenty of fish. Fuming his poor luck, Maui lost his cool when Irawaru’s line got tangled with his. The classic two fishermen tugging on their respective lines, each in the opposite direction.

The two began arguing about how it was their fish on the line and to let go. Finally Irawaru relented and let go of his line enough that Maui was able to pull up on his end. Once the line was pulled up, Maui saw that the fish caught was indeed on Irawaru’s line and that it was his line entangled with the other.

Mad, Maui said they should return to shore and the two began paddling. Once back to shore, Maui had Irawaru lift up the canoe to his back as part of pulling it in. No sooner had Irawaru gotten the canoe up onto this back than Maui jumped on it, forcing the whole weight down on his brother-in-law, nearly killing him.

Nearly dead, Maui continued to trample Irawaru’s body, twisting and forming him through the use of magic into a dog. Maui completed the job by force feeding Irawaru some dung.

Eww…

That done, Maui went back to the village, acting like nothing had happened. It’s then, that Maui’s little sister Hinauri on seeing him, ran up to asked where her husband Irawaru was.  Maui responded with that he had left Irawaru back with the canoe. Well how come the two of them didn’t return together? Oh, well that’s because Irawaru wanted Hinauri’s help with bringing back the fish. So you had better hurry and if you don’t see him, just call out “Mo-i, mo-i, mo-i.”

Hinauri hurried down to the beach looking for her husband. Not seeing him, she called Irawaru’s name and when there was no response, then she called as Maui had told her to with the “Mo-i, mo-i, mo-i.”

Irawaru, now in his dog form, recognized his wife and barked back. He followed her all the way back to the village wagging his tail. Seeing what had happened to her husband, Hinauri became very distraught with grief to the point that she threw herself into the sea.

As to Maui, that antic seems rather petty to have done, but no different from say the Greek gods taking it out on mortals. Maui was now at a point that he found it best to leave the village and once more return to the Underworld where his parents lived.

Variation – Sometimes the story of Maui turning Irawaru into a dog is told that they were on their way to another village not far away. As they were headed on the return trip home, Maui had asked Irawaru to carry some food for them. Irawaru said there was no need to, they had just eaten a meal and it was only a short ways home.

This angered Maui and he used his magic to make the journey home take longer than it should have. As they continued to walk on the seemingly endless road, both Maui and Irawaru grew tired and hungry.

As they sat down, Maui pulled the food he had brought for himself after all and proceeded to eat right in front of Irawaru.

If it had been me, I would have left it at that.

Not Maui, after finishing his meal and not offering anything to Irawaru, Maui asked his brother-in-law to clean and dress his hair. Irawaru supposed that was harmless enough and did the job for Maui. When he had finished, Maui offered to clean and dress Irawaru’s hair for him. Thinking nothing of it, Irawaru allowed Maui to do so. Maui put Irawaru into an enchanted sleep and with further magic, changed Irawaru into a dog.

Either way, in Maori legends, Irawaru is the progenitor of all dogs.

The Death Of Maui

Version 1 – In this version of Maui’s death, people got tired of all his antics and decided to kill him. As a result, Maui’s blood is what creates rainbows and is responsible for the color of shrimp.

But that’s not a very exiting end for a hero and trouble maker.

Version 2: The Quest for Immortality! – This one is more exciting and noteworthy.

Following the events of a botched baptismal ceremony, Maui takes it on himself to go win immortality for humankind. Maui’s father, Makeatutara tries to dissuade him of the notion, that he will fail and that someone will kill him.

Of course, since Maui’s last antics involved turning Irawaru into a dog, he’s looking to leave the village anyways. He’s certainly gotten more than enough people upset with him, Maui heads off for the Underworld where his parents are at.

After staying with his folks for some time, Maui’s father, Makeatutara makes mention of how they have heard of Maui’s deeds up in the living world, but being down here in the Underworld, he’s sure to be defeated at some point. Makeatutara is also remembering the botched baptismal ceremony, knowing that Maui will come to a bad end.

Maui scoffs at this notion of someone defeating him, who after all would do that? Makeatutara says it would be Maui’s ancestor, Hine-Nui-Te-Po, the goddess of the Night. Undaunted, Maui boasts of his many previous deeds with pulling up the islands and slowing down the sun, saying that it won’t be possible to beat him.

Makeatutara relents and tells Maui to go find his ancestress who lives far on the horizon. After asking what she looks like, Makeatutara told Maui his ancestor, Hine-Nui-Te-Po looks human but with greenstones for eyes and sea kelp hair, barracuda mouth and that the red flashing of light came from her.

Unfazed, Maui set off towards the west with companions towards the home of Hine-Nui-Te-Po. In some versions of the stories, these companions of Maui are birds such as the tomtit, robin, warbler and fantail. In other versions, these companions are Maui’s brothers.

Eventually, Maui finds Hine-Nui-Te-Po asleep with her legs spread apart. Maui and his companions were quick to note rows of sharp obsidian and greenstones between Hine’s legs.

Maui now informed the others of his master plan, telling his companions not to laugh and to save it for after. Maui planned to enter Hine-Nui-Te-Po’s vagina, in a reverse birth process and to exit out her mouth. This, according to Maui was to gain him immortality.

Maui’s companions tried to dissuade him, saying he would be killed. Maui was again undaunted, insisting if his friends did laugh, waking Hini-Nui-Te-Po, then yes, he would die, but if he successfully passed through her, he would live and that she would be the one to die.

This of course is where the companions just shut up and let Maui do his thing as he readied himself, tying a rope that held his battle club around his waist and thrusting off his clothes. Ready, Maui began to climb in, very much the image of reverse birth as his companions did their best not to laugh.

As it happens with these type of stories, the one task you’re not supposed to do, happens and one of the companions couldn’t hold it in anymore and began laughing. One version of the story says it’s the fantail who begins laughing and wakes Hine-Nui-Te-Po who opens her eyes and quickly closes her legs tight, cutting Maui in half.

Instead of immortality, Maui becomes the first person to die, bringing death to the world. Hine-Nui-Te-Po maintained her post as the Goddess of the Underworld the portal to which all humans must pass through on death.

Variation – When Maui set off to gain immortality for humankind, he did so by changing into a worm in order to enter the vagina of Hine-Nui-Te-Po and leaving through her mouth. This stunt didn’t work out so well as Hine-Nui-Te-Po crushed Maui in her sleep with the obsidian teeth in her vagina.

Maui And Rohe

We’re not quite done with Maui! In a few stories, Maui is married to the goddess Rohe whom he ends up mistreating in some rather cruel and unusual means.

Wow, really?

What happens, is that Maui wished to trade faces with Rohe as she is very beautiful and he on the other hand is rather ugly.

Rohe refused to trade faces and when she was asleep, Maui used an incantation to make the trade and switch for faces. When Rohe woke up and realized what happened, she left the living world and departed for the Underworld, becoming the Goddess of Death.

Good one Maui.

Samoan Mythology

In Samoan mythology, the character of Ti’iti’i is very similar to that of Maui. Many of the stories are similar to those of Maui from other Polynesian cultures. One striking similiarity is the story of Ti’iti’i’s theft of fire from the earthquake god, Mafui’e. In this story, Ti’iti’i breaks off one of Mafui’e’s arms, forcing them to reveal the secret of fire and how to rub sticks together for friction to create it.

For the Samoans, the loss of Mafui’e’s arm means that he is unable to create even bigger earthquakes.

Tahitian Mythology

Among the Tahitians, Maui was a prophet or priest who later becomes deified.

He had once been at a sacred place known as a marae busy with some task or other. When the sun began to set before he was finished, Maui grabbed hold of the sun’s rays and halted the movement of the sun so he could complete his task.

Maui became known as Ao-ao-ma-ra’i-a after he discovered fire and passed on his knowledge to others to create it by the use of friction with wood. Before this, people would eat their food raw.

As a final bit of lore, Maui is the one responsible for earthquakes.

Tongan Mythology

Among the Tongans, the Maui stories tell how he pulled up the Tongan islands from the depths of the ocean, starting first with Lofanga, then the other Ha’apai islands and finishing up with Vava’u. That task finished, Maui lived on the island of Tonga. The village of Houma located on the main island of Tongatapu is noted for being the place where Maui’s fish-hook got caught.

In these stories, Maui has two sons: Maui-Atalanga, the eldest and Maui-Kisikisi, the younger. In other sources, there are listed three Maui brothers: Maui-Motu’a (old Maui), Maui-Atalanga and Maui-Kisikisi (dragonfly Maui). It is Maui-Atlanga who discovered the secret of fire and taught others how to cook with it. Maui-Motu, like Atlas from Greek mythos, holds the earth up on his shoulders. Whenever Maui-Motu starts to nod off, he causes earthquakes and people will stomp the ground in order to wake him up. The god, Hikule’o who rules the underworld of Pulotu is Maui-Motu’s youngest son.

Maui-Kisikis is known for being a trickster. He gained the name of Maui-Fusi-Fonua or Maui Land Puller after Maui-Kisikisi begged for a magic fish-hook from an old fisherman by the name of Tongafusifonua. The old man would only allow the fish-hook to be taken on the condition that Maui be able to find it in his collection of hooks. Tongafusifonua’s wife, Tavatava told Maui the secret of how to find the hook and Maui was able to succeed at picking it out from all the other hooks. With this hook, Maui-Kisikisi was able to pull up the coral islands from the bottom of the sea as these volcanic islands were believed to have fallen from the heavens.

Movie Time – Moana!

So of course, the movie came out in 2016, featuring the famous Maui of Polynesian mythology. Since I was curious, I of course wanted to know how much of the mythology and stories that the movie gets right.

It is of course, a new story and the Maui seen in the movie pulls and combines many of the aspects of him found primarily in Hawaiian and Maori legends. Much of which is confirmed during the song: “You’re Welcome” and a quick montage of all of Maui’s deeds that he’s done that have earned him a new tattoo to commemorate the event.

The character of Te Fiti in her darker aspect as Te Ka was originally referred to as Te Po, based on the Maori goddess Hine-Nui-Te-Po, the goddess of night, death and the underworld. Others have noted a strong similarity between Te Ka and the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele.

Interestingly, while the movie was being developed and written, it incorporates the history of Polynesian people as voyagers who just abruptly ceased and then a thousand years later, start sailing again. Why? No one knows. However, the story of Moana certainly provides an interesting what if story to it.

Zmej

Zmej

Other names: zmaj (Serbian) змај, (Croatian and Bosnian), zmaj (Slovene), zmey, змей (Bulgarian, Russian), zmiy (Old Church Slavonic), змеj (Macedonian), żmij (Polish), змій (Ukrainian)

It should be noted that most of these words are the masculine forms for the Slavic word “snake.” In Russian, the feminine is zmeya. Other names include zmajček or zmajić that is used as a diminutive form of endearment.

Etymology – Dragon, Snake or Serpent

In the Slavic language, a dragon is called a Zmej. It appears as multi-headed dragon with three, seven or nine heads that are capable of breathing fire. The Eastern Slavic dragons are believed to be able to regrow their heads like a hydra if one head is chopped off. In all cases, their large size makes them fearsome foes.

The Zmej is primarily associated with fire, like a good many other dragons of European folklore. It either breathes fire or it can throw fiery arrows or lightning bolts. It is exceedingly strong and the Zmej’s strength can be taken by a person who eats the dragon’s heart. That puts a whole new light on the movie Dragon Heart. The precise abilities of the Slavic dragons vary by locality and country.

The male Zmej were often portrayed in a positive light, acting as protectors of their family and tribe. He was seen as a good demonic force, using the power of weather in the way of hail, storms and strong winds to protect crops and harvests from getting ruined. Among the Southern Slavs, it’s very common to see the imagery of a dragon representing a good demonic force.

While I note the use of the word and spelling demonic to describe the Zmej; given the context and influence of Christianity upon an older Pagan religion, beliefs and traditions; it is very likely that the Greek term and usage of daimon is more appropriate.

You Called Him A Daimon!

Yes, as in the Greek term and meaning for the word spirit. It is Christianity that takes and twists the word and meaning to Demon, for an evil spirit or being.

Among the ancient Greeks, the word daimon means spirit or “replete with knowledge.” They recognized both good (eudemons) and bad (cacodemons). The word or term daimon also means “divine power,” “fate,” or “god.” And in Greek mythology, daimons could also include deified heroes.

Daimons functioned as messengers or intermediary spirits between men and gods. The good daimons were viewed as guardian spirits who gave guidance and protection to those they watched over. The bad daimons, naturally, weren’t so nice and could mislead people, getting them into trouble.

Romanian Similarities

 Sometimes the Zmej also appears as an anthropomorphic dragon man, much like the Romanian Zmeu, seen as very intelligent, wise and knowledgeable with great magical proficiency, breath fire and superhuman strength. Like the Romanian Zmeu, the Slavic Zmej was also known for being very wealthy with castles and realms in otherworlds. They too lusted after women with home they could bear children. Respect was always given to these Zmej as one never knew what to expect in terms of behavior.

National And Folk Heroes

A good many heroes were considered dragons or the son of a Zmej. A number of these heroes include:

Husein-Kapetan Gradaščević – A successful Bosniak general who fought for the independence of the Ottoman Empire from Bosnia. He is known as “Zmaj od Bosnia,” or “The Dragon of Bosnia.”

Vlad III Dracula – A Romanian Hero and more infamously known as Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s book Dracula and depicted as a Vampire. Among the Romanians of Wallachia, Vlad is a hero, having been inducted into the Order of the Dragon by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to defend a Christian Europe against the Ottoman Empire.

Vuk Grgurević – A Serbian Despot known as “Zmaj-Ognjeni Vuk” or “Vuk the Fiery-Dragon” due to the vicioness of his rule and his many battles against the Turks.

Bulgarian Folklore

In the folk songs of Bulgaria, the Zmej appears as a popular motif as a Draconic Lover. Most of these songs featuring a Dragon Love, have a male Zmej. More heroic songs involving a Zmej will be female.

It’s interesting to note a very stark contrast and distinction male and female dragons in Bulgarian folklore. For one, the male and female dragons were seen as brother and sister. Yet for all this, they were very staunchly opposed to each other. The female dragons were known for representing the destructive weather that would destroy crops and agriculture. Whereas, the male dragons protected the fields and crops for harvest. Such that the two often fought each other, representing the dueling, opposing forces of female/water with male/fire symbolism.

Macedonia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro Folklore

In these Eastern Slavic countries and areas, a dragon is known by the name of zmaj, zmej and lamja. Similar to the Russian dragons, it has three, seven or even nine heads, all of which breathe fire. Additionally, in Serbia the dragon is called aždaja or hala and in Bosnia is called aždaha.

Polish And Belarussian Folklore

In both of these cultures, aside from Zmej, they also have the word smok, coming from the Indo-Iranian word for swallow. Other spellings for smok are: смок and цмок.

Romanian Folklore

As previously mentioned, there is a very similar dragon-like creature in Romania with an equally similar name called the Zmeu. It is distinguished from many of the Slavic Zmej as it is anthropomorphic in nature and always a destructive force.

Russian And Ukrainian Folklore

Representing the Eastern Slavic people, there are a few different dragons found in their folklore. A number of prehistoric sites such as the Serpent’s Wall near Kiev have associations with dragons and act as symbols for foreign people. The Russian dragons are known to have heads that come in multiples of three and will grow back if every single head isn’t chopped off or promptly covered in ash or burnt.

Zmey Gorynych – This green colored dragon has three heads and walks on two back paws with two smaller front paws. Like many dragons, it breathes fire. The hero Dobrynya Nikitich is who killed this dragon.

Tugarin Zmeyevich – This dragon very strongly represented the Mongols and other Steppe peoples who often threatened the borders of Russia. Tugarin’s name is Turkic in origin. He was defeated by the hero Alyosha Popovich.

Saint George And The Dragon – It is without question that the hero Saint George symbolizes Christianity and that his killing of the Dragon symbolizes the Devil or Satan. It is a motif often portrayed on the coat of arms for Moscow.

Serbian Folklore

The Serbian folklore for dragons is very similar to that of Bulgarian folklore. Essentially the differences come down to the different countries and regions’ name for them. Here, the Zmaj or Zmey is seen as very intelligent with superhuman strength and well versed in the use of magic. Like many European dragons, they breath fire and lust over young women. An image that sounds very much so like the Romanian Zmeu. The big difference here is that the Zmaj or Zmey are defenders of the crops and fight against a demon known as Ala that they attack using lightning.

Slovenia Folklore

The Slovene word of zmaj is of an uncertain, archaic origin. Another word used for dragons is pozoj. Like many European dragons, the zmaj are often seen in a negative light and associated with Saint George in his slaying the dragon.

There are other Pre-Christian Folk Tales involving dragons.

Ljubljana Dragon – This dragon features on the city of Ljubljana’s coat of arms that it guarded over and protected.

Wawel Dragon – This Polish dragon is often defeated by tricking it into eating a lime. It should be noted that this dragon isn’t always harmful towards people.

Aždaja

Also known as aždaha, ala or hala in Persian mythology. Some Southern Slavic countries will mention Aždaja as a type of dragon. Its true nature is considered to be drastically different than that of a real dragon and considered separate. While the Zmej is often seen as a positive force, the Aždaja is seen as a negative force and woefully evil. Ultimately the nature of the Aždaja seems contradictory and should be a type of dragon as it shares all of the hall marks of the European dragons that are often sinister in nature. After all, the Aždaja is draconic in appearance, they live in dark places such as caves. Like many other Slavic dragons, the Aždaja is frequently multi-headed with three, seven or nine heads and breathes fire. In some of the Christian mythologies of Saint George, he is shown slaying the Aždaja and not Zmej.

Lamya

While the Zmej is male, the Southern Slavic folklore makes mention of a female version known as Lamya. This name derives from the name Lamia, a Queen and former lover of the god Zeus who turns into a daemon that devours children and in some versions of her story, Lamia becomes more serpentine. Later stories will equate Lamia to vampires and succubae.

In Bulgaria and Macedonia, there is a Bulgarian legend about the hero Mavrud who succeeds in cutting off all of the heads of Lamya; who appears in this story as a hydra-like dragon. It has been commented that this story seems to symbolize the pruning of grape vines. Further, there is a variety of Bulgarian grapes known as Mavrud.

Zmeu

ZmeuOther names: smeu, zmei (plural) and zmeoaică or zmeoaice (feminine)

Etymology – Dragon, Snake or Serpent

The Zmeu is a draconic being found in Romanian folklore and is often compared to other supernatural creatures such as the balaur, a type of dragon and the vârcolac, a werewolf. Due to the similarity of names, the Zmeu resembles the Slavic dragons, Zmej in their ability to fly and breathe fire.

Unlike other dragons, the Zmeu is often described as having anthropomorphic features as it is very human-like having arms and legs and is able to use or create human-like tools. It is also anthropomorphized due to the Zmeu’s desire to marry human maidens.

Dacian Etymology, Origins & Disputes

The biggest problem with trying to prove a connection to the Dacian-Thracian languages is due to a lack of written language from them and only a handful of words are known for certain. And it gets argued that Zmeu is not of Dacian origins. Instead, the word “Zmei” or “Zmeu” is of Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian origins. In all of these languages, “Zmei” means “snake.” The argument further continues that “Zmei” is of Slavic origin and comes from the Slavic word for earth, “Zemia.” The Proto-Slavic root is “zm” or “zum” So Zmei means a snake or an animal that lives close to the ground or earth, “Zemia.”

Paliga – The linguist, Sorin Paliga, believes that the word Zmeu and the very similar Slavic word Zmey may have come from the Dacian language. He even tries extensively to connect the word to the Romanian word for Earth and Subterranean features. Since then, Paliga’s idea have become contested and disputed.

English – Not really a linguist connection other than how the word translates. The name Zmeu is sometimes translated to refer to a type of ogre or giant due to the Zmeu’s tendency to kidnap a young maiden to be his wife in an otherworldly realm.

Romanian – Another source for the etymology of Zmeu is suggesting a relation to the Romanian word zmeura, meaning “raspberry.” It has been suggested that this may indicate a double meaning for the name Zmeu and is indicator of its true nature and color as a red colored dragon. Additionally, the name Zmeu also refers to a children’s kite. The folklore for Zmeu is also very similar to folklore found in Bulgaria.

Folklore And Legend

In many of the Romanian and Bulgarian stories, the Zmeu is a fierce being known for its cunning, intelligence and dangerous, destructive levels of greed and selfishness. Some of the stories told about the Zmeu, they appear in the sky like a dragon, flying and breathing out a gout of fire. Other stories make mention of the Zmeu having a magical gemstone in its head that shines as brightly as the sun. Aside from its tremendous supernatural strength, the Zmeu is also capable of great feats of magic that can allow it to steal the sun and moon from the sky.

The stories also go on to tell how the Zmeu can shapeshift into human form or as various, different animals. The Zmeu’s natural form is that of a dragon, specifically an anthropomorphized dragon man.

Like many dragons in European folklore, the Zmeu is particularly fond of beautiful young maidens, whom it kidnaps and carries way to its otherworldly realm. And also like in much of European folklore, the maiden is often rescued by a brave prince or knight-errant who manages to defeat the Zmeu.

Many Romanian stories depict the Zmeu as the destructive forces of greed and selfishness incarnated. The Zmeu will steal something of immense value that only the Romanian “Fat-Frumos” or “Prince Charming,” a literal translation is “handsome youth” who will be the only one who that can retrieve this valuable object back through his acts of great, selfless bravery. Often times, the Zmeu lives in an otherworldly realm, Celalalt Tarâm where Fat-Frumos must travel to in order to battle with the Zmeu. With descriptions of the Zmeu’s lair being dark, its often thought to imply that the Zmeu lives underground.

Ballad Of The Knight Greuceanu – In this story, the Zmeu steals the sun and moon from the sky and thus envelopes all of the earth and humankind under a cloak of darkness.

Prâslea The Brave And The Golden Apples – In this story, the Zmeu robs a king of his golden apples. This story that has been remarked to bear similarities to the German Fairy Tale of “The Golden Bird,” the Russian story of “Tsarevitch Ivan, The Fire Bird And The Gray Wolf” and the Bulgarian folktale of “The Nine Peahens And The Golden Apples.” In the later stories, the thief is a bird, though in some retellings of the Romanian tale, the Zmeu transforms into a bird in order to steal the apples.

Moldavian Vampire!?!

In Moldavia, the Zmeu is a vampiric or Incubus type figure. It will take the form of a flame and enter the room of a young woman or widow. Once in the room, the flame then becomes a man who seduces the woman.

Huma

Huma Bird

Other names: Bulah (Arabic), Homa, Homajo (Avestan), Huma, Kumay (Turkic), Umay (Turkic), Hurruz, The Bird Of The Paradise

Pronunciation: Homa

Etymology – Fabulous Bird in the Persian language.

The Sufi teacher, Inayat Khan put forward the idea that the word huma breaks down to two parts. The first hu, which means spirit and the second, mah, from the Arabic word: “Ma’a” which means water.

Found in Iranian legends and stories, the Huma or Homa bird is a common motif of Sufi and Diwan poetry.

The Legend

While there a good many stories and legends of the Huma, they all share in common that the bird never lands on the ground and lives its entire life flying high above the earth where it is invisible. Some versions of the legends will state that the reason that Huma never lands is that it has no legs.

Other stories of the Huma say that they are hermaphrodites in that they have both male and female features represented by one wing and leg being male and other female. The Huma is seen as a being of compassion and a “bird of fortune” for to see its shadow or to be touched by one is considered auspicious.

The Bird Of Kings

One of the most important aspects of the Huma is its role as bestowing and confirming the right of rule and kingship. Most of the legends have the Huma landing on a person’s hand, head or shoulder to confirm their right to rule.

The Sufi teacher Inayat Khan gives the Huma’s kingship bestowing a spiritual explanation. In his explanation, he states: “Its true meaning is that when a person’s thoughts so evolve that they break all limitation, then he becomes as a king. It is the limitation of language that it can only describe the Most High as something like a king.”

Rising From The Ashes

In some versions of the legends surrounding the Huma, it is perceived as being like a phoenix in that it will consume itself in fire every few hundred years and then rise again whole from the ashes.

Indian Folklore

Mughal Era – The Huma’s aspects for bestowing the rights of kingship appear during this time. Aside from landing on a person’s head or shoulder, the shadow of the Huma passing over the head or shoulder would be enough to confirm kingship. Additionally, the feathers used to adorn the turbans of the kings were believed to be plumage from a Huma bird.

Folk Legend – In India, there is a folk story from Kashmir that tells the story of a poor man who struggled and toiled each day in the forests chopping wood. One day a Huma passed by and wanting to help him in some way, laid and dropped a golden egg next to him. When the man awoke, he found the egg and took it to a merchant who realized the significance of the egg and wanted the man to bring him another golden egg and the bird as well. The man returned to the forest and soon enough, the Huma found him again. Seeing that he was still poor, the Huma laid another egg for him. The man jumped up and grabbed the bird.

The bird pleaded with the man to let her go, promising him a feather that if he burned it, would take him up to Koh-I-Quaf where her mother lived who would reward him better. Disbelieving her, the man tied up the bird and ran to fetch the merchant. When he returned with the merchant, the bird was died from her struggles to break free. Enraged, the merchant told the man to never bother him again and the man lived out the rest of his days poor and continuing to struggle.

Iranian Literature & History

The Huma bird is often associated with pre-Islamic monarchs and stands vis-a-vis ravens, a metaphor for Arabs. In these pre-Islamic traditions, the Huma bestows the right of kingship to people.

Dating to 500 B.C.E., the Griffin-like statuary found in Persepolis, Iran are generally viewed and regarded as being Huma.

Sufi Traditions

Catching a Huma is seen as achieving the impossible. Just getting a glimpse of one, even if just the Huma’ shadow is believed to make a person happy for the rest of their life. Further, tradition holds that a Huma cannot be caught alive and the person who ends up killing a Huma in this way will die within forty days.

Attar of Nishapur’s “The Conference of the Birds,” the Huma is depicted as a pupil who refuses to take on a journey because the task would compromise its right to bestow kingship upon those whom it flew over.

Turkish Folklore

Huma, known as Kumay or Umay in Turkish mythology. It was used as a symbol of the Cepni, one of 24 tribal groups under the Oghuz Turks. The imagery of the Huma is used a lot in Turkey’s Diwan poetry.

Interestingly, Umay is the goddess of fertility and virginity in Turkish mythology and Tengriism.

In the Ottoman era poetry, the Huma is called a “bird of paradise.” Early European descriptions of the Paradisaeidae species of bird show these birds as having no wings or legs. Because of this, the birds were believed to always be inflight their whole lives.

In Turkish folk literature, the Huma symbolizes unreachable highness. References to the Huma also appear in Sindhi literature and like diwan traditions, the bird is a harbinger of great fortune.

A letter addressed to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the Zafarnama of Guru Gobind Singh, makes a reference to the Huma as being a mighty and auspicious bird. In the same letter, the Huma is also referred to as an Osprey.

In the Memalik ul Mirat by the Ottoman admiral: Sisi Ali Reis, the Huma is also referred to as Hurruz. It has been suggested that Sisi Ali Reis’ account, the Hurruz that he observed on his return trip from India to Istanbul, is a vulture. This reference is seen as noteworthy as vultures, like many other birds were revered in Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrianism

In my researching the Huma, I found a few references linking the bird to the Zoroastrian religion. The references are rather tentative and I’ll post them here as I don’t have enough information to properly confirm or dispute them.

The first account for a reference seems to be a mis-translation due to similar sounding words where a Huma tree is mentioned and that Zoroaster himself is to have been born from one. The same reference mentions the Biblical, New Testament verse of John 3:5, “Except that a man be born of Water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

Just how much owes to mis-translation or misunderstanding, I’m not sure. In keeping with the Biblical verse of Water and Spirit, the same reference source takes note of the translation for Huma from the Arabic words of “Hu” for “Spirit” and “Mah” for “Water.”

The other reference for the Huma with Zoroastrianism is previous mention of the bird in Sisi Ali Reis’ Memalik ul Mirat where the suggestion of the bird is actually a vulture. This source goes on to mention how vultures were particularly revered in Zoroastrianism as a bird of compassion who refuses to hunt and instead feeds on carrion. And that vultures are found referenced in The Towers of Silence in Mumbai where they dispose of the dead.

What’s In A Name?

In several Persian dialects, the name Homa is sometimes used to refer to the Bearded Vultures and not just the mythical Homa. This could explain some legends that say the Homa is a bird of compassion that avoids killing for food and instead feeds on carrion.

Shennong

Shennong

Alternate Spellings: Shen-Nung

Also known as: 神農 (Traditional Chinese), 神农 (Simplified Chinese), Thần Nông

(Vietnamese), Hangul (신농 Korean), 神農 (Japanese), The Emperor of the Five Grains (Wǔgǔxiāndì), Shen-Nung, Sheng-Nong, Shen-Nong-Shi, Yan-Di, Yandi, Flame Emperor, Lord of the Burning Wind, Holy Plowman King

Pronunciation: shin nung

Etymology: Divine Farmer or Divine Husbandman

In Chinese mythology, Shennong is one of several important deities who introduced and brought agriculture to the Chinese people. Shennong is one of the three noble ones known as the San-huang. In art, Shennong is sometimes depicted with the head of an ox or bull.

Shennong is credited with having invented the plow and teaching people agriculture and the cultivation of forests. In addition, Shennong also introduced the use of medicines and herbs.

Cultural Hero

Shennong is the second of three legendary Emperors of China and an important cultural hero. Tradition has him being born in the 28th century B.C.E. with the head of a bull and the body of a man.

What makes Shennong such an important hero is not only his introduction and use of agriculture but his identifying the use of hundreds of medical and poisonous plants that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. He went about this by testing the effects of these plants on himself.

Chinese legends tell how Shennong had a transparent body that allowed him to see the effects that different plants and substances had on him. Another legend tells how during his research, Shennong poisoned himself a total of seventy-two times during the course of a single day. Fortunately, and Shennong credited his anecdotal tea preventing him from suffering any long-term complications or side-effects.

Tea, a discovery attributed to Shennong, was believed to act as an antidote to some seventy different herbs. Shennong traditionally held to have discovered tea and to have first tasted it sometime around 2437 B.C.E. when the burning leaves of a tea tree were lifted up by the hot air from a fire and fell into a cauldron of boiling water.

Another discovery attributed to Shennong is that of acupuncture. Further, stories of Shennong’s youth have him speaking after three days, walking within the week and that he could plow a field by the time he was three.

 Shennong’s Death

Depending on the version of the story told and the accounts given, Shennong died as a result of his testing the effects of plants on himself. One of his experiments didn’t agree with him when he ate a yellow flower from a weed that caused his intestines to rupture before Shennong had time to take his anecdotal tea.

This wouldn’t be the end for Shennong as he was given special honors and worshiped as the Medicine King and Father of Chinese Medicine.

God Of Agriculture & Medicine

When Shennong is worshipped and mentioned as a deity, he is the god of the burning wind and the patron of farmers, pharmacists, rice traders and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

As a god of agriculture, Shennong is one of many cultural heroes and deities credited with different, various inventions such as the axe, the hoe, the plow (both leisi and the plowshare), digging wells, irrigations, the use of boiled horse urine to store seeds, weekly farmers’ markets, the Chinese calendar, acupuncture, therapeutic use of taking pulse measurements, moxibustion and instituting the harvest thanksgiving ceremony of Zhaji Sacrificial Rite, later known as the Laji Rite.

Burning Wind – This term refers to the type of agriculture that is slash and burn. The ash from the resulting fire is then used to fertilize the fields.

Worship – As Shennong is often depicted as being ox-headed, the sacrifice and offerings of cattle is never acceptable. However, the sacrifice of pigs and sheep is acceptable. In addition, the use and offerings of fireworks and incense is used at Shennong’s statues, particularly on the lunar calendar for April 26th for his birthday. There are a number of temples and places dedicated to the commemoration of Shennong.

Divine Family – This part is rather tentative and relies on accepting Shennong as a defied human. A couple sources will list Shennong as having married a Sien-Tsang, the goddess of Weaving and Crafts. They had a son, Qi-Yu (alternatively Chi-Yu) a rain god and who is half bull like his father.

San-Huang – The Three Sovereigns

Also known as the Three Emperors, they are a group of pseudo-mythological and sage-like emperors who are believed to have lived some 4,500 years ago. Shennong is counted as being part of this group and the second of their number to have once ruled over China.

The Flame Emperor

Or Yan di, the Chinese accounts can sometimes get confused as to who exactly the Yan Emperor is or was.

Some accounts of Shennong’s legend place him as a relative to the Yan Emperor. Other accounts place him as the first Yan Emperor and that Shennong appointed one of his ministers, Chi You who was also ox-headed with sharp horns, bronze forehead and iron skulled.

Another account has posited that the Flame Emperor was a title, held by the dynastic succession with Shennong holding the title of Yandi posthumously. The last Yan Emperor was defeated by Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor) about 500 years later.

The Yan di were regarded as masters of fire and thus used fire in their names. The Yan di was also known as the Emperor of the South. With the Yan di defeat by the Huangdi, the title of Yan passed out of usage. Their descendants though intermarried with the Huangdi.

Shennong, along with Fuxi and the Yellow Emperor are credited with the creation of the Gugin.

The Yellow Emperor

Huangdi Also known as “The Yellow Emperor,” was known to be a friend and fellow scholar with Shennong despite there being some 500 years’ distance between the two. Both Huangdi and Shennong are said to have shared the alchemical secrets of medicine, immortality and making gold.

Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian) – By the 8th Century C.E. historian Sima Zhen, Shennong is a kinsman of the Yellow Emperor and the ancestor or patriarch of the Chinese. The Han Chinese regard both Shennong and the Yellow Emperor as their ancestors.

Aside from the Han, the Song Dynasty General Yue Fei also traced his lineage to Shennong.

Possible Reality Behind The Legends

Getting anything for reliable accuracy and the historical context of China before the 13th century B.C.E. is fairly difficult. There is a lot of reliance on what archaeology can provide and prove. The earliest Chinese writing and records date to the Shang dynasty around 1200 B.C.E. This system of writing is the use of bones for oracles. Even any hard evidence for the Xia dynasty, a successor to Shennong is hard to find, even with Chinese archaeologist trying to link this dynasty to the Bronze Age Erlitou sites.

Despite a lack of hard evidence, Shennong remains an important individual and even his clan share a prominent place in the history of China’s culture for mythology, popular culture and historical literature.

Shennong-shi – Shennong’s name can also refer to his people. The “shi” can mean both “clan” and “surname” as well as an honorific like “sir” or “mister.”

Sima Qian comments how the rulers directly following the Yellow Emperor were all of Shennong’s house or social group. Sima Zhen in his prologue for his Shiji says that Shennong’s surname was Jiang before going on to list all of his successors.

Herbalism and Traditional Chinese Remedies

The Chinese have a rich history and use of traditional remedies and herbs that dates back more than 5,000 years. With the use of oral history and stories by word of mouth, many of the stories attribute Shennong as the father of medicine. Like Shennong, Chinese people have tested the effects of different plants and herbs on themselves for their medicinal values over the millennia. These years of experimentation allowed for an increased understanding of pharmacology for the uses, dosages and toxicity of different herbal medicines.

Huainanzi – This is an older and more famous reference document. In it, before Shennong came along, people were constantly sick, starving, diseased and always suffering. When Shennong came along, he taught the people the art of agriculture and through his own research, the use of plants for medicine. Shennong did this feat by consuming hundreds of plants, testing them on himself. He is even said to have eaten some seventy poisons in one day.

Huang Ti Nei Ching – The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine – This book comprises of the theories of the legendary emperor Huang Ti who lived around 2600 B.C.E. This tome preserved a lot of ancient medical knowledge and is compose of two volumes. The first one is a dialogue between Huang Ti and his minister, Qibo. The second one has the descriptions of anatomy, medical physiology and acupuncture. The real author of this book is unknown.

I Ching – The Book of Changes, Shennong is mentioned in this book coming into power after the end of the house or reigning period of Paoxi (Fu Xi). He is mentioned here as having invented the bent-wood plow, a cut-wood rake and having taught these skills to other people. Shennong is also credited with establishing of noonday markets.

Lüshi Chunqiu – This document mentions the violence of the rise of Shennong’s house and its lasting for seventeen generations.

Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng – Also called: “The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic” or “The Classic of Herbal Medicine” and “Shen-nung Pen-tsao Ching.” This book on agriculture and medicinal plants is the most well-known work attributed to Shennong. Research has found and suggested that this book is a compilation of oral traditions dating to between 200 and 250 C.E. during the end of the Western Han Dynasty.

Unfortunately, the original book no longer exists, but it believed it was written in three volumes with some 365 entries. The books list numerous, different herbs said to be discovered by Shennong. As the earliest pharmacopoeia reference, there are hundreds of different medicines derived from various animals, minerals and plants.

The first volume included 120 herbs and drugs deemed to be harmless to humans as they were stimulants such as reishi, ginseng, jujube, the orange, Chinese cinnamon, Eucommia bark and liquorice root. All of these herbs were regarded as “noble” or “upper herbs.”

The second volume has 120 therapeutic entries intended to treat the sick. All of them though have toxic or potentially toxic effects. Entries include cucumber, ginger and peonies. All of these entries were considered to be “human,” “commoner” or “middle herbs.”

The last volume has 125 entries for those herbs and substances that have strong or violent effects on physiological functions and seen as poisonous. Entries in this volume include rhubarb, various pitted fruits and peaches. All of these herbs are considered “low herbs.”

Wu Shi Er Bing Fang – Prescriptions for Fifty-Two Diseases, this book is ultimately the first written treatise on herbal medicine that dates to between 1065-771 B.C.E. It was discovered in 1973 during that excavation of Ma Wang Dui’s tomb in Changsha, Hunan province. It beats out the Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng which is figured to have been written between 200 and 250 C.E.

Geography Connections

Many places in China have connections to Shennong.

Shennongjia – This mountain range located in Hubei is where Shennong is to have climbed up a rattan ladder that turns into a vast forest.

Shennongding – “Shennong’s Peak” – This is the specific mountain that Shennong climbed up and down with his ladder.

Shennong Stream – Named for Shennong, this stream flows into the Yangtze River.

Shennong Temple – Located in Taiwan, Shennong is worshiped here under a number of different names such as King Yan, the God of Five Grains, Shennong the Great Emperor, the Ancestor of Farming, Great Emperor of Medicine, God of Earth, and the God of Fields.

Zwarte Piet

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Also called: Black Pete, Black Peter, Père Fouettard, Schwaarze Péiter

Etymology: Black Peter

December has come and with it many familiar Winter Celebrations and Holidays.

The Dutch character of Zwarte Piet is one mired in controversy and folklore. In the folklore of the Low Countries of Europe, Zwarte Piet is a companion to Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas if you please in Dutch. Saint Nicholas is also synonymous with Santa Claus for those living in the US. Unfortunately for the character of Zwarte Piet, he has come under a lot of controversy and allegations of racism in recent years, especially among the Netherland’s migrant community.

Zwarte Piet is traditionally depicted as being black as he’s said to either be a Moor from Spain or to have gotten black from going down chimneys delivering presents. Many people who dress up as Zwarte Piet, dress in colorful Renaissance Page outfits, blackface makeup, curly wigs, red lipstick and earrings. The character of Zwarte Piet that most people in the Netherlands have become familiar with first appeared in a book written by Jan Schenkman in 1850.

The Feast Of Saint Nicholas – December 5-6th

Where many American children get excited for Santa Claus on December 25th, in Europe, children get excited for Saint Nicholas’ arrival on December 5th (Aruba, Curacao and the Netherlands) or 6th (Belgium and Luxembourg). His arrival is accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Zwarte Pieten for plural) who hands out sweets and presents to many children. Zwarte Pieten will begin to make their appearances in the weeks before Saint Nicholas’ Feast. Their first appearance is when Saint Nicholas arrives and is greeted with a parade. In some parts of the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas will arrive by boat, having come all the way from Madrid, Spain. The Zwarte Pieten’s job then is to entertain the children, handing out sweets known as pepernoten, kruidnoten and strooigoed as Saint Nicholas makes his rounds.

Zwarte Piet’s Origins – Clash Of Cultures, Religion & Traditions

For anyone who even does just a cursory study of the Winter Celebrations of Christmas and the numerous related holidays for this time of year, can see that there has been a constant, evolving and changing view of how the Winter Holidays and Traditions have changed or adapted over the centuries and even millennia.

Many people can easily find and take note of Pagan elements for the holidays and why they were celebrated. The arrival of a new religion, Christianity as it spread and took over, clearly supplanted many of these older holidays and often the older Pagan traditions were adapted to the Christian celebrations of Christmas with new Christian imagery and symbolisms.

Sometimes the origin and introduction of one tradition are clear cut and easy to point out and other times the passage of time has made it murky and there tends to be a lot of guess work and overlay that makes it harder to separate all of the different elements. Ultimately it is a mixture and grab bag of different religions and traditions that have mixed together and changed over the years.

The Wild Hunt – Odin

I’ll include this connection as it is one that is often passed around and it does appear to bear merit.

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

Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. One connection made is that of Woden or Odin in Germanic folklore. On New Year’s Eve, Woden would ride out during the night on his white, eight-legged steed Sleipnir. Woden or Odin is always accompanied by his two black ravens, Huginn and Muninn. These two ravens would sit at the edge of a chimney, listening to those within and then tell Woden of any good or bad behavior of those living in the dwelling. This report would determine if Woden left any gifts or chased down and abducted the unruly mortal with his Wild Hunt.

Middle Eastern Connections?

I came across this when doing research for the figure of Hajji Firuz.

Just as Zwarte Piet is paired up with Sinterklaas, so too is Hajji Firuz paired up with Amu Nowruz.

Where Sinterklaas is known to give gifts out to children, so too does Amu Nowruz give out gifts to children on Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Amu Nowruz’s name means “Uncle Nowruz.” The Russians hold a similar tradition of the “Grandfathers” for both Winter and Spring who die and are replaced by the other or reborn. The tradition of gift giving doesn’t become associated with some of the European deities until the arrival of Christianity.

The character of Hajji Firuz has also been under similar attacks by people who see a negative racist implication in some countries such as Iran. Despite this, many people still love Hajji Firuz and the air of festivities he brings. His darkened skin is often seen as only face paint representing soot from a fire.

Exactly how good of a connection there is between Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet with Amu Nowruz and Hajji Firuz? It’s hard to say, though the similarities between the two are interesting to note.

Sinterklaas, You’re The Devil

To better understand Zwarte Piet, one needs to understand who Sinterklaas is. Unlike the American Santa Claus who is seen as fat and jolly, Sinterklaas is a thin and stern man who is a combined figure of both Saint Nicholas from Turkey and the Germanic god Woden.

Saint Nicholas – From Myra, Turkey, Saint Nicholas is a Catholic Bishop who rides on his white horse, Amerigo as he travels. He is the patron saint of children, sailors and the city of Amsterdam. There are stories of Saint Nicholas leaving gifts in choir boys’ shoes and throwing money down chimneys to pay for a girl’s dowry that have contributed to the modern celebrations of Saint Nicholas’ Day and Christmas.

Woden – It has been pointed out that Woden is a god of poetry and wisdom. He is also the god who brought and introduced runes, the writing system. This is seen in the Dutch traditions of singing songs, writing poems and the passing out of pepernoten which are chocolate letters, what used to be runes that Woden would pass out to men. Even Sinterklaas’ hat and staff are a reflection of Woden and not just that of Saint Nicholas, a stern catholic bishop riding on his white horse. Though the horse too is a reflection of Woden’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir that he rides. Woden’s helpers are the ravens, Huginn and Muninn who report back to him of all of men’s deeds.

The connections of Sinterklaas traditions to Pagan Europe before its Christianization is fairly well known. And since then, there has been a further, continued mixing of Christian elements to a Pagan figure. Some of which haven’t always been completely smooth or “nice and tidy” changes. Nor has the image of Sinterklaas always been so benign.

Before the appearance of any companions for Sinterklaas, he would be the one to deliver gifts to good children or coal and switches to naughty children. At this point, he pretty much worked alone.

Sinterklaas wasn’t a very nice figure and one whom could also provide a lot of nightmares. With the influence of Christianity and wanting everything in absolutes of black and white, the imagery of Sinterklaas chaining the devil became prominent as the triumph of light over darkness. This is a theme very central to the Yule-tide celebrations for the turning of the year as the nights now begin to grow shorter and the days longer.

Medieval Times – Enslaving The Devil

During the Medieval Times of Europe, Saint Nicholas is sometimes shown as having tamed or chained the devil. This figure may or may not necessarily be black. For the Netherlands, there is no mention of any devil, servant or any sort of companion for Saint Nicholas between the 16th and up to the last half of the 19th centuries.

A long-standing theory then has suggested that Zwarte Piet and many of the similar characters found in Germanic Europe such as Krampus in Austria, Ruprecht in Germany, Père Fouettard and Housécker (Mr. Bogeyman has been offered translation of this name) in France and Luxembourg, and Schmutzli in Switzerland to name a few.

While all the others dark helpers of Sinterklaas are outright devils or dark, soot covered men, the image of Zwarte Piet is the only one who seems to have changed to become an outright black person. That when we get to the 19th and 20th century Netherlands, Piet has become a Moor and servant to Saint Nicholas who helps the old man out on his nightly rounds.

Zwarte Piet’s Arrival To Dutch Traditions

By the time Zwarte Piet is introduced to the mythos of Christmas as a companion of Sinterklass, there has been a change in the overall attitude of Sinterklaas’ nature and character. Before Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas was seen as something of a bogeyman. Was he bringing presents, coal, a beating with a switch or worse yet, carrying you away in his bag never to be seen again?

With the introduction of Zwarte Piet, some of the darker, more terrifying attributes of Sinterklaas were now part of Zwarte Piet’s character. This change owes a lot to the Christian dichotomy of Good and Evil with no in-betweens. While Zwarte Piet is introduced as Sinterklaas’ servant, it is still very much connected to the previously mentioned concept of chaining and enslaving the devil.

Unfortunately, with Zwarte Piet now getting all of these negative characteristics, many children became afraid of Zwarte Piet as he’s the one who now punishes and a bogeyman to be avoided. This again was changed around the 1950’s and 1960’s with Sinterklaas again becoming the sterner and dour of the two while Zwarte Piet becomes more of a benign figure passing out gifts and treats along with behaving in a clownish manner that children love.

Codifying A Legend

The earliest mention of Sinterklaas having a companion or servant is in 1850 when a school teacher, Jan Schenkman published the book: “Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht” (“Saint Nicholas and his Servant”). At first, this early servant is a page boy, a dark-skinned person wearing the clothing of the Moors. This book introduced the tradition of Sinterklaas arriving by steamboat from Spain. This version of Saint Nicholas has no mention to his Turkish connection in Myra.

In the first edition of Schenkman’s book, the servant is shown dressed in simple white clothing with red piping. Beginning with the second edition of the book in 1858, the servant’s page outfit becomes more colorful that is more typical of early Spanish fashions. Schenkman’s book stayed in print until 1950 and has shaped much of the Netherland traditions and celebrations of Saint Nicholas’ Day.

What’s In A Name?

The one thing to note is that in Schenkman’s book, Sinterklaas’ servant isn’t named. However, Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm had made reference to Sinterklaas’ companion being named Pieter-me-knecht in a note written to E.J. Potgieter in 1850. Alberdingk Thijm later wrote in 1884 remembering how as a child in 1828, he had gone to a Saint Nicholas celebration at the home of Dominico Arata, an Italian merchant living in Amsterdam. He recalled that during this time, Saint Nicholas had been accompanied by “Pieter me Knecht …, a frizzy haired Negro”, who, instead of a switch to punish children with, carried a large basket filled with presents.

The Dutch newspaper, De Tijd in 1859 took note of how Saint Nicholas was often seen in the company of “a Negro, who, under the name of Pieter, mijn knecht, is no less popular than the Holy Bishop himself.”

By 1891, the book Het Feest van Sinterklaas names Sinterklaas’ servant Pieter. Up until around 1920, there had been a number of books giving this servant varying names and even appearances.

By 1920, as the Dutch celebrations of Sinterklaas became more standardized, the name of this servant became Zwarte Piet. At first, he was portrayed as being dull-witted, clumsy and speaking broken-Dutch.

By 1968, another change came and instead of one Piet, there were numerous Pieten who all have different tasks and roles in helping Sinterklaas. Some of these other Pieten are: Hoofdpiet, Navigation Piet, Present-Wrapping Piet, Pepernoten Piet and so on. The antics of Piet have also taken on being more silly and clownish to entertain children.

This change with more than one Piet comes after World War II with the liberation of the Netherlands. Canadian soldiers helping to organize the Saint Nicholas celebration and distribute out presents, dressed up Zwarte Piet. As the numerous Zwarte Pieten moved through Amsterdam passing out their gifts, the idea of more than one Piet stuck and has continued.

A Saint’s Miracle and Dutch Slavery

Unfortunately, this is a fact of history and since the codification of Zwarte Piet to be seen as black and a servant of Saint Nicholas, somewhere along the lines it has clearly become confused. The Christian belief of Saint Nicholas chaining the devil has likely, subconsciously gotten confused with the actual slavery. In the 15th century, the name of Black Peter was an alternative name for the devil.

Contributing to this legend is a story from the Legenda Aurea as retold by Eelco Verwijs in 1863, one of the miraculous deeds performed by the Saint after his death is that of freeing a slave boy in the “Emperor of Babylon’s” court and returning him to his parents. In this story, there is no mention at all of the child’s skin color.

Another thing to be noted about the date of 1863, is that this is when the Dutch abolished slavery, though it would still take a little bit of time for the last slave to fully be free.

Later books found in the 20th century of both fiction and non-fiction began to appear wherein Zwarte Piet is mentioned as a former slave that had been freed by Saint Nicholas and then stays on to become a friend and companion, helping him out in the Saint’s annual visits to the children.

During the 1500’s to 1850 roughly, the Dutch did engage in slavery that helped to build up their empire over three continents and places like Suriname and Indonesia. It’s surprising to see that for a nation that had such a deep investment with slavery, that it is largely still glossed over in the classrooms for history. While the Dutch did not keep many slaves, the West India Trade Company did transport thousands of slaves to other parts of the world.

Other Takes On Zwarte Piet

High Barbary – Piracy – One take on explaining Zwarte Piet as black is that he’s a Moor from Spain. A few stories of Zwarte Piet’s origins connect him with piracy and the raids that the Moors would conduct along the coasts of Europe. So if Piet isn’t wearing a page’s outfit, he’s dressed as either a Moor or in a pirate’s garb. Hence the gold earrings that Piet used to wear.

Chimney Sweep – In the 1950’s, another explanation often given to try and soften the image of Zwarte Piet and resolve the issue of slavery is that Zwarte Piet is a chimney sweep. So Piet’s skin is black from going down the chimneys delivering gifts to children. In places like Belgium, Zwarte Piet will leave the gifts in children’s shoes much like La Befana leaves gifts in the shoes of Italian children.

This explanation of soot often isn’t accepted as people will point out that Piet still has curly or frizzy black hair, red lips and more importantly, that his clothes are still immaculately clean.

Crime & Punishment

Before being a gift giver of Sinterklass, Zwarte Piet would be the one to punish naughty children. Some of the punishments he would dole out are:

*The least of a child’s worries is receiving a lump of coal as a reminder to be good.

*Some bad children will get a “roe” – which is a bundle of twigs or switches.

*If a child was really naughty, he or she might be hit with that roe or switch.

*Particularly bad children get carried away back to Spain where Sinterklaas lives. This part of the legend and punishment is a reference to the times when the Moors raided along the European coasts and would abduct people into slavery.

Also, depending on the version of this part of the myth being told, the bad children carried away in the sack either become Pieten themselves or get eaten.

Signs & Changes Of The Times

Of course, once the image of Zwarte Piet became standardized, it took off in the Netherlands in the early 20th century and instead of doling out punishments, Zwarte Piet hands out treats from his bag and continues his role as Sinterklaas’ helper.

Controversy

Towards the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st century, the character of Zwarte Piet has come under attack as many people see the character to be very racist in some very negative portrayals of stereotypes. At current there has been discussions on how to update the image of Piet to try and remove the racist elements to others out right calling for Piet’s being banned from the Saint Nicholas celebrations.

There have been efforts to try and ease this problem, some like the NPS replacing the black Pieten with a rainbow of Pieten. Others have called for alterations to characteristics of Zwarte Piet to be changed such as the frizzy hair, red lips and no earrings. Other proposed changes put forth by the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism have been to stop the portrayals of Zwarte Piet as being “stupid, inferior or a dangerous black man.” Even the use of blackface makeup with Zwarte Piet has caused a lot of debate. If Piet is supposed to be black from the soot while going down chimneys, he should only look smudged, not totally black. And certainly other countries such as the US and the UK when first encountering Zwarte Piet see a very strong negative connotation with the use of blackface when portraying a black person.

Caricaturing

 There are many Dutch and those who celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in places such as Aruba, Curaçao, Indonesia, Sint Maarten, and Suriname who do not see a problem with Zwarte Piet and accept an evolution of a character to become a friend of children and a positive representation of color in the Christmas/Winter traditions. To them, he’s just black, but not necessarily of African descent and is more of a fairy tale type figure who delivers gifts and has become removed from the enslaved devil he once was.

The argument then is trying to get an awareness that how Zwarte Piet has been depicted is a caricature and very much so negative stereotypes of black people. Namely with the afro hair, thick red lips and being shown as too buffoonish.

While there are efforts to try and make changes to how Zwarte Piet is depicted, there are still protests and demonstrations against Zwarte Piet. The protesters cite the racism in Zwarte Piet’s depictions as being a very lazy, clownish black stereotype that in other settings and countries, would be very offensive. Articles have recounted examples of children from African decent being bullied. Adults and children alike of African descent who get called Zwarte Piet and any possible unspoken and underlying implications of what’s being referred to with the comment of slaves, someone who is foolish, stupid, lazy or dangerous, who’s only purpose is to be there for someone else’s entertainment.

And as has been noted in comments and articles while reading up on Zwarte Piet, it hasn’t been until the last couple of generations that there as more and more immigrants and people of other ethnic groups moving to the Netherlands that, the Dutch mindset of what is appropriate and what’s seen as racist is currently being challenged by outsiders.

Cultural & Historical Disconnect

It has been commented on by one journalist, Dimitri Tokmetzis, “”I don’t think the Dutch want to offend black people with Zwarte Piet. We don’t have a history with blackface, on the other hand, there are clearly some racist undertones that many people won’t recognize. Zwarte Piet is always depicted as stupid and one song even states that although Zwarte Piet is black, you can basically trust him because he means well. So there is this disconnect between the intentions of most people and how it comes across to those who are more sensitive to racial issues.”

Which would be the heart of it, a disconnect and denial by some who don’t see or fail to see the racist implications in the figure of Zwarte Piet as he is currently represented. Other commentary has pointed out a lack of the Netherlands own sensitivity to their colonial history and the impact it has had. Not surprising when others have pointed that in history books in school, the subject barely gets covered or glossed over.

The flip side to why many Dutch may have a hard time accepting the racist elements is that Zwarte Piet is so closely tied to a children’s celebration and it feels so much like an attack on childhood memories and nostalgia. It can be very difficult to have an ugly truth of what was once thought socially acceptable be pointed out as no it’s not.

Movie Time! – Santa & Pete

I was delighted one year when visiting an Aunt of mine during the holidays, that when searching for a Christmas movie to watch, we came across the movie of Santa & Pete with James Earl Jones staring as the Grandfather and narrator of the story as he tells his grandson of their family history.

I had already come across the figure of Zwarte Piet when reading the book of “When Santa was a Shaman.” I had been worried this would show some of the more negative associations and connotations with Piet. To my relief, the movie shows a very positive portrayal of the character and showing both Santa and Pete as friends and equals in their work to visit the children at Christmas and passing out gifts.

Which is what I see, if the more positive aspects of Zwarte Piet can get focused on, as a friend to children and gift giver, we have a positive representation of someone of color within the overall Christmas mythos and celebrations.

As it stands, when reading the various articles and controversies regarding Zwarte Piet, there are still a lot of the more negative associations attached to him and no one is quite sure how to make the appropriate changes to the character in order to keep him while others are calling for his complete banning and removal from Dutch traditions.