Category Archives: Forests
Also known as: Big Man, Stick Men, Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot, Tall Man, Walking Sam
The Tall Man Spirit is a dark figure from Native American beliefs, particularly of the Dakota and Lakota people in the state of South Dakota. The belief and stories surrounding the Tall Man date back decades if not centuries where it has become linked to the tragic history that many Native Americans have endured.
This tragic history is very prominently linked to in 1890, when the U.S. cavalry came in to put a stop to the spiritual movement known as the Ghost Dance. What would follow is a confrontation that led to U.S. soldiers open fired on unarmed Lakota Sioux, many of whom were women and children. This site would become known as the Battle of Wounded Knee. It would, a century later, be the site of a 1973 protest that would turn into a months-long standoff between Native American activists and law enforcement.
With this history, add to it the widespread poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism, child abuse and other crimes such as rape and murder so prevalent on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It’s understandable that one of the most prevailing problems in Pine Ridge is that of suicide, especially among the youth, would, at the very least, see the personification of an entity called Tall Man Spirit or Walking Sam manifest.
The Tall Man Spirit has been described as having a similar appearance to Slender Man and is likely one of many sources for Slender Man’s inspiration. The Tall Man is said to be tall, exceeding seven feet in height, slender, long thin legs and arms, lacking a mouth and nose, and wears a black stove top hat. Much like Slender Man, Tall Man is said to have the ability to control people’s minds.
Other descriptions place the Tall Man as being between 12 and 15 feet in height, covered in hair, with red eyes and smelling horrific like a sewer. That sounds more like a classic description of Big Foot. Over among the Oglala Sioux, a very similar entity is mentioned, that has hooves.
Big Man – Going by the more correct translation of this entity, the Big Man spirit seems to be more of a local protector of the forest than any dark malevolent spirit tied to death. It seems to be more a spirit of the land. In that respect, it’s taking on a much darker aspect is likely just a reflection of the history and how it has affected the Lakota. As if a connection has deeply gone wrong and soured.
Slender Man – The figure of Slender Man is relatively new to the Urban Folklore landscape, making it a 21st century Bogeyman. This being’s first appearance was on June 10th of 2009, having been created by Eric Knudsen, using the name “Victor Surge” in the Something Awful forums for a photoshop contest. The idea had been to create an Urban Legend so believable it would take on a life of its own, which it certainly has. It has been noted, after researching The Tall Man Spirit, that Slender Man draws on a lot of the same imagery motifs.
Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot – This is one name for the Tall Man when people describe sightings of seeing it wearing clothing. Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot is notable for being mentioned around the Pine Ridge Reservation. As the name indicates, this is also people misidentifying Big Foot or Sasquatch with Tall Man.
Walking Sam – This is another name for the Tall Man Spirit as it is known around the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It did make local news and even the New York Times a few years back in 2015 with a high rate of suicides occurring on the reservation, especially among the youth. As a result, Walking Sam is considered a suicide spirit, one that is rather dangerous.
There is one notable incident where several teenagers were planning a mass suicide. They had planned to head out to an area where there were mostly trees where they would hang themselves. The local pastor, John Two Bears learned of what was to happen and was able to head off this group attempt.
More modern manifestations of this entity show it making appearances on the internet, taking advantage of vulnerable people, particularly youth, telling them to end their life. Situations have to be particularly dire if it can seem capable to do that.
Walking Sam is reported to have the ability take control of peoples’ minds, telling them to kill themselves so that it can collect their soul that will then join the others hanging from his long, spindly arms. One comment made is that Walking Sam was sent to earth as punishment and by claiming the souls of suicides, it is looking for company.
“In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse”: Written by Peter Matthiessen in 1983, he makes mention of Walking Sam as a supernatural entity that is both spirit and real, able to slip through the forest as if the trees weren’t there.
Folklore & Urban Legend
At first glance, yes some could approach the story of the Tall Man Spirit as some sort of spooky campfire story told in the same vein as that of Bigfoot and other Urban Legends. It could explain too one name of “Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot” that I came across. That is a disservice to this entity and what it is. Unless you want to try diminishing it’s power by making light of it, to be less scary or intimidating.
It is very likely people have confused two different entities together based on possible mistranslations from the Sioux languages into English. In the Lakota or Western Sioux language, they call Big Foot by the name “chive-tanka” meaning Big or Great Elder Brother. In English, the term gets translated to be “the Big Man.” It’s easy to see why Big Foot hunters and enthusiasts would glom onto a potential mistranslation to embrace it.
On the Oglala reservation, sightings of Big Foot or Big Man are seen as ill omens and warnings of potential tragedies. Where there seems to be sightings and claims of more than one creature or entity, some have put forward the ideas that this entity is a local forest spirit and protector of the land.
Remembering to keep the two separate, Tall Man is found in older stories of bad spirits or giants that once wandered the Earth. They had become prideful and arrogant to the point that they challenged the thunder and lost to it.
Big Foot or Sasquatch by themselves are in an entirely different category belonging more towards cryptids and cryptozoology. The Tall Man Spirit fits more towards a broader category of supernatural beings like the Bogeyman and Shadow People. A portent of ill omen and tragedy.
This one of the powers attributed to the Tall Man Spirit, to make people or even a group of people things they normally would not. One of which is to whisper to people, commanding them to commit suicide.
I don’t know if I’d call that a power, as this entity, particularly Walking Sam seems to prey on and target those already vulnerable, feeling the extremes of depression, despair, powerlessness and hopelessness. That all it seems to do is give people that nudge to push them over in that direction.
The belief in Tall Man is very prevalent on the Pine Ridge Reservation. While many will call it mere superstition that people use to blame the causes of suicide. The harsh reality is that even if the Tall Man is chalked up to superstition, what it represents or is a manifestation of, is not. Suicide is still a very real thing that many Lakota, especially their youth are having to confront with the deeply root despair, depression, and potentially overwhelming helplessness.
While it was easy to take apart Slender Man and analyze him, given how new to the folkloric and urban legend scene it is. Tall Man is harder as it’s had longer to seep deeper into a local region and people’s culture. Of course, it’s easy for the Tall Man spirit to seem as powerful as its portrayed when the helplessness and despair is that deeply rooted.
Nor does it help when some gruesome images associated with the Tall Man are that of nooses. Sheriffs, law enforcement and other people report having found them hanging from trees. Comparisons have been made to found footage films like Blair Witch Project. Even if we go with the simple explanation of someone leaving nooses to be found, another comparison is made to Japan’s infamous “suicide forest,” Aokigahara.
That is all rather disturbing.
Etymology – Horn (Old English)
Suffice to say, Herne is a well-known figure in British and Modern folklore. At first glance, it’s easy to say that Herne is one of the names for the Horned God in Wicca and Modern Paganism. A slightly more knowledgeable response would say that Herne is who leads the Wild Hunt. Or perhaps that he is the ghostly specter of a Games Keeper with antlers who haunts Windsor Forest.
It does get a bit tricky on trying to get into what’s concrete for the figure of Herne.
Many descriptions of Herne will agree that he is human either wearing antlers or has antlers. Sometimes he is on foot others he is on horseback and may or may not be accompanied by hunting hounds or other animals of the forest.
Ghost – The version of Herne that appears in Shakespeare’s play, clearly terrorizes the forest animals and people alike, blasting or withering the trees of the forest as he shakes his chains. The alternative lines say he can take on the shape of a stag. Later descriptions of Herne will have him riding a horse as part of the Wild Hunt.
The Merry Wives Of Windsor
The earliest known mention that we have of Herne is in William Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor written in 1597.
That certainly is a case for having been around for quite a while just based off that alone.
In Act 4, Scene 4, we have the characters Mistress Page and Mistress Ford deciding that they will play a trick on Sir John Falstaff because of his unwanted advances. The two ladies convince Falstaff to disguise himself as a ghost and meet them out under an oak in Windsor Forest at midnight. The two ladies also convince and get some children to show up at the same time who are dressed up as fairies to pinch and burn Falstaff.
“There is an old tale goes, that Herne the hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the wintertime, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the trees, and takes the carrle,
And makes milch kine* yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.”
Milch kine? Yeah, milking cows.
There is a set of alternative lines from 1602 that hint that Herne was a local ghost story used by mothers to get their children to behave.
The alternative lines are as follows:
“Oft have you heard since Horne the hunter dyed,
That women, to affright their little children,
Says that he walkes in the shape of a great stagge.”
Whether the character of Herne existed before the creation of Shakespeare’s play or is a creation of it, isn’t clear. What is clear is that this play is for certain where the figure of Herne enters British folklore and onwards to a larger, global audience… at least the West.
Cuckold’s Horns – With an Elizabethan audience, they would know that a cuckold is a name given to a husband with an unfaithful wife. A cuckold like the cuckoo bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. So, a husband is likely raising a child who is not his own. The horns were likely a theatrical device of the Elizabethan stage to inform an audience of a character’s role.
In Windsor’s Home Park, there have been a few different oak trees since the mid-1800’s that people have claimed to be either Falstaff’s Oak or Herne’s Oak.
The main oak that people pointed to as Herne’s Oak fell in 1796 due to declining botanical health. The other oak was blown over during a windstorm on August 31st 1863. The logs from this tree were burnt in order to exorcise the ghost of Herne. One log was kept to carve a bust of Shakespeare from and is on display in the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum in the Guildhall.
Later, Queen Victoria planted another oak to replace the one that fell in 1863. Later, King Edward VII would have the tree removed in 1906 during a landscaping project. Still, another oak would be replanted to replace the fallen tree from 1796 and named Herne’s Oak.
All’s well that ends well.
As the legend of Herne continues to grow and expand, the 20th century sees Herne’s ghost now appearing shortly before national disasters and before the death of monarchs, much like a Banshee.
At the very least, because people expect to see something, more and more people claim to have encountered Herne’s ghost or to have heard the sounds of hounds or a horn blowing in Windsor Forest.
Truth In The Telling
With the authenticity of Herne being lost to history and up for debate, there are enough people who believe that Shakespeare must have been using a local legend. To this end, people have been trying to add some historical veracity and authenticity to legitimize Herne’s legend. If nothing else, the legend and imagery of Herne have succeeded at capturing people’s imaginations for centuries and has well earned a place in folklore.
The Restless Gamekeeper – This is the next literary source, written by Samuel Ireland in 1791 in his Picturesque Views on the River Thames. In the story, Herne is to have been based on a historical figure by the name of Richard Horne, a yeoman who lived during Henry VIII’s reign. Horne was accused of poaching and as a result, he hung himself from an oak tree. As this was a suicide death, Herne’s spirit is believed to be barred from entering either heaven or hell and is doomed to haunt the place of their death.
Shakespearean scholar James Halliwell-Phillips found a document where Herne is listed as a hunter and confessed to poaching. Plus, early versions of The Merry Wives of Windsor spell the name as “Horne” instead of “Herne.”
There are of course, a couple variants to this story.
Variation 1 – In this version, Herne is the huntsman to King Richard II. After some local men grew jealous of Herne’s status, they conspired to accuse him of poaching on the King’s land. Falsely accused and outcast, Herne hung himself from an oak tree.
Variation 2 – In this story, Herne saves King Richard II from a stag. Fatally wounded, Herne is healed by a magician who takes Herne’s skills in forestry and hunting as payment. Part of this being cured involved having the dead stag’s horns tied to Herne’s head. Distraught by the loss of his skills, Herne hung himself from a tree. As a result, his spirit is doomed each night to lead a spectral hunt through Windsor Rest.
Windsor Castle – Written by William Harrison Ainsworth in 1842. This novel aims to be a historical drama set during the reign of the Tudors and follows Henry VIII’s pursuit of Anne Boleyn. Herne features throughout the novel as a ghostly figure haunting the nearby woods of Windsor. This version of Herne is somewhat sinister as Harrison Ainsworth created a history where Herne was gored by a stag. Herne makes a deal with the Devil to spare him. Part of the deal is that Herne would forever wear antlers. This version of Herne had served Richard II and likely the source of the two previous folkloric versions of where he originates from.
The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt is a phenomenon found in many different European countries and cultures. It is a nightmarish, supernatural force led by some dark spectral hunter on horseback and accompanied by a host of other riders and hounds as they chase down unlucky mortals, either until they drop dead of exhaustion, are caught and forced to join the Wild Hunt or able to evade the Hunt until dawn.
Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. The Wild Hunt is known for making its ride during the Winter Solstice or New Year’s Eve. Jacob Grimm of Grimms Brothers fame makes a connection of Herne to the Wild Hunt due to the epitaph of “the Hunter.” That does seem to work, a Huntsman, connect him to the Wild Hunt and for Britain, the idea really jells of a local person who becomes a lost soul, doomed to forever ride with the Hunt.
Of course, the point is brought up that as a ghost, Herne is connected to one locality whereas the Wild Hunt wanders, moving from one place to another, seemingly randomly.
Ultimately, just who leads the Wild Hunt will vary from country to country. In Welsh mythology, it is Gwyn ap Nudd or Annwn who lead the hunt with a pack of spectral hounds to collect unlucky souls. The Anglo-Saxons of Britain hold that it is Woden who leads the hunt at midwinter. Wotan is very similar to Odin (just another name for the same deity really), Herne has been linked to them as both have been hung from a tree.
With Wicca and many modern pagan religions, Herne is frequently identified with the Horned God. As a Horned God, Herne is seen as a god of the Hunt, the sacred masculine, animals, nature, crossroads, sacrifice, fertility, virility, forests, hunters, and warriors.
Close on the heels of a horned deity, Herne has been connected to the Celtic deity of Cernunnos. Most notably, Margaret Murray made this connection in her 1931 book, “God of the Witches.” She sees Herne as a manifestation of Cernunnos and a very localized god found only in Berkshire. Take that as you will, for as much as Margaret Murray is hailed as the Grandmother of Wicca, many of her ideas and theories have been discredited and contested or challenged as they often appealed to emotional desires didn’t fulfill proper scrutiny and criteria for research. She is still very important in getting the ball rolling for those who follow Wicca and Paganism.
Archeological Discoveries – Of note is that a headpiece made from the top part of a stag’s skull with antlers still attached was found in Britain at Star Carr near Scarborough. This headpiece is thought to date back to around 8500 B.C.E., dating it to the Mesolithic era. The headdress is thought to have served shamanic rituals to ensure a successful hunt.
Cernunnos – Gaul
It’s not just Margaret Murry who sees Herne as being very similar to or an aspect of Cernunnos, it is also R. Lowe Thompson in his 1929 book “The History of the Devil – The Horned God of the West” who makes the connection.
Thompson makes the connection of Herne to other Wild Huntsmen, looking for a connection of all of these horned deities being really the same being or aspects of each other. He goes on how Herne and Cernunnos are the same, just as the English word “horn” is a cognate of the Latin word “cornu.”
So… “cerne” and “herne.” It’s enough for many Wiccans and Pagans to accept Herne as an aspect of Cernunnos just on the fact that both have horns or antlers.
Depending on the source and who you ask, Herne hunts and destroys nature and wildlife where Cernunnos seeks to protect it.
Pan – Greek
While we’re at it, the Grecian rustic gods of the wild, Pan is also seen as a syno-deity who can be equated with Herne and other Horned Gods.
Woden – Anglo-Saxon
Also spelled Wotan.
Because so many have tried to make connections, I already touched on this above with the Wild Hunt, Herne as been connected to Wodan as well. Both Herne and Wodan hung from a tree. Herne out of shame and suicide and Wodan as he was seeking knowledge of the runes. Herne is also bandied about as being derived from one of Wodan’s titles, Herian (“Warrior-Leader”), a titled used when leading his fallen warriors, the Einherjar.
The Play’s The Thing!
Even if the origins of Herne are rooted in a Shakespearean play solely as a creation of the great bard himself. People assume that Shakespeare must have drawn on some unverifiable local myths and folklore.
While we can argue and aren’t completely sure, Herne has more than earned a place in folklore. Afterall, Herne continues to inspire and find his way into literature and modern media.
There are numerous books and T.V. series where Herne has a part or features and continues to be a character people readily draw inspiration from.
Such as a British show, Robin of Sherwood where Herne is a pagan priest and spirit of the woods. Books such as Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Etymology: From the Greek word “pantes” meaning: All, everything, rustic
Other Spellings: Πάν
Other Names and Epithets: Aegocerus (“Goat-Horned”), Agreus (the Hunter), Faunus, Haliplanktos (Sea-Roaming), Innus, Kronios, Nomios (the Shepherd), Sinoeis
Pan is a familiar, half-goat, half-man or satyr deity in Greek mythology. As a god of forests and wilderness, he’s known too for inhabiting grottoes too. In his ancient Arcadian home, Pan is said to have wandered the mountain sides playing his reed pipes, aiding or hindering hunters, guarding shepherds and their flocks and his never-ending pursuit and dancing with nymphs.
Animal: Goat, Tortoise
Patron of: Shepherds
Plant: Pine, Mountain Beech, Water-Reed
Sphere of Influence: Fertility, Flocks, Rustic Music, Wilderness
Symbols: Reed Pipe, Phallus, Lagobolon (Hare Trap)
Pan is the Greek half-man, half-goat god of shepherds and flocks. A god of fertility and the wilds.
What’s In A Name?
The Latin words of the verb paô and pasco connect Pan’s name to mean “all” or the universe. The Arcadians used the word pan meaning rustic, for anything out in the country, wild and untamed.
The idea of the Greek word pan for “all” comes from Homeric Hymn where Pan is described as delighting all the gods. This word ends up being used in word play in Plato’s Cratylus where he describes Pan as a dual-natured god, a personification of the cosmos.
The Greek word: “pa” is a more likely source for Pan’s name as it translates into “Guardian of the flocks,” certainly one of the things he is known for. Interestingly “pa-on” meaning: “herdsman” is a closely related word and where the Latin pastor and the modern English word “pasture” come from.
Another source says that Pan’s name comes from the Greek word: “paein” meaning “to pasture.” Furthering the ideas, Edwin L. Brown puts forward the idea that Pan is likely a cognate to the Greek word: ὀπάων, meaning “companion.”
Early Greek Depictions
It is around 500 B.C.E. that Pan appears in Greek art. These early depictions of Pan show him as a black goat standing upright on hind legs.
Later red-figure pottery shows Pan’s image change to that of a satyr. Some might even say the father of all satyrs. He is often shown having a wrinkled face with a prominent, bearded chin, snub nose, pointed ears, goat-like horns with hairy legs and cloven hooves like a goat. playing a reed pipe. Sometimes he is shown with a shepherd’s crook and a pine branch or a crown made of pine. Often times he’s in the company of fellow satyrs and Maenads.
Coinage – In 4th century B.C.E., Pan’s image is found on coinage in Pantikapaion, for the Arcadian League.
Dual Nature – Plato’s Cratylus
This one’s interesting. Socrates discusses how Pan is a duel-nature son of Hermes. That makes sense as Pan is half man, half goat after all. Socrates goes on to explain how Hermes’ name comes from the word for “speech.” That Pan, the all things known, both true and false. The true part of Pan is the part that is smooth and divine and that he lives with the gods. The false part is the lower part that is goat, representing the baser, common man who are rough and like the tragic goat. I presume this comes from the origin for the word tragedy or tragikos, goat-song and is in reference to early, primitive performances where people wore goat-skins. A roundabout way of saying that life is nasty, short and brutish. It is among mankind that tales and falsehoods can be found.
While we’re at it, Pan was also the god of theatrical criticism.
Considered a pastoral paradise in Ancient Greece, the land “that existed before the moon,” this is the place where Pan is said to have been born, specifically on Mount Lycaeum.
Arcadia is mountainous and fertile area located in central Peloponnessus. This place is found to the south of modern-day Greece. This is the location where the seat of the ancient Greek empire once lay.
For the ancient Greeks of their day, they viewed Arcadia and those who lived there as being backwards and primitive. They weren’t held in the same light as more civilized Greeks. Outside of Greece, Pan’s worship spread as far as Egypt and other local, neighboring countries.
Athens – Around the fifth century B.C.E., after the Battle of Marathon, Pan’s worshipped arrived in this City-State.
The story goes that Pheidippides, an Athenian was to Sparta to enlist their aid against the Persians, Pan appeared before him and promised that he would terrify or panic the invaders. In return, the Athenians would begin honoring and worshipping Pan.
Shrines & Temples
Even after the Greeks began worshiping other gods and adding them to their pantheon, Pan still had shrines built, honoring and venerating him. Many of these shrines and sacred places to Pan were often in caves and grottos. There were many sanctuaries and temples dedicated to Pan throughout Arcadia, including some in places like Athens, Heraea, Homala in Turkey, Megalopolis, Mount Parthenius, Oropus, the island of Psyttaleia, and Troezene to name a few. The Korkykeion cave found on Mount Parnassos and the Vari cave in Attica are a couple of the places dedicated to Pan.
According to the ancient Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, the Egyptians had a good number of statues of Pan in many of their temples. In Thebes, the city of Chemmis was also known as the city of Pan or Panopolis.
Caves & Grottos
Many of Pan’s sacred places were found in caves and grottos. Pan’s sacred shrines and grottos weren’t solely dedicated to him, sometimes he shared it with a local deity or nymph in the region. Sacrifices offered up to Pan included cows, rams, lambs, milk and lamb. These sacrifices would also be offered up to Pan in conjunction with Dionysus and the nymphs. Other sacrifices to Pan included statues of herdsmen, vases, lamps and gold grasshoppers. Goat sacrifices and torch races were also part of Pan’s worship at Delphi and Athens.
A few other locations for Pan’s shrines or temples are:
Acacesium – A perpetual fire was kept burning here in this time. Also at this time, there was an oracle where the nymph Erato was Pan’s priestess.
Acropolis – This shrine to Pan is hidden away in a shallow cave beneath the Acropolis in a place still wild and untamed.
Apollonopolis Magna, Egypt – A Temple of Pan is found here.
Corycian Grotto – Located near Mount Parnassus.
Nomian Hill – A shrine was located here near Lycosura.
Peloponnese – A Temple of Pan was located here on the Neda River gorge.
Well of Eresinus – Located between Argos and Tegea
Mystery Cults – During the Hellenistic era, Pan becomes a cognate to the Phanes/Protogonos, Eros, Dionysus and Zeus.
Youngest To Oldest
In the Greek pantheon, Pan is considered the youngest of the gods. That makes sense if Hermes is Pan’s father. Making Zeus his great grandfather and Apollo his grandfather. At the same time, Pan is also considered the oldest god as records of his worship date to the 6th century B.C.E. in Arcadia. Mythical evidence seems to back this with Pan being the one who gives Artemis her hunting dogs and teaches Apollo the secrets to prophecy.
This likely makes sense too that for all that Pan being a rustic, rural god, was seen by the Greeks as representing the connection between the wildernesses and civilization. In Arcadia he would enjoy being a major god, but else where he was reduced to a minor god and not counted among the twelve major Olympian gods. So how ever minor his role seemed to have taken on, his influence and importance were not denied or forgotten.
Parentage and Family
Grandfather or Great Grandfather
As the grandson or great grandson of Cronos, Pan is known as Kronios.
The parentage for Pan is greatly varied and murky. Depending on the source that one uses, a different set of parents will be mentioned. That kind of makes sense when seeing Pan as a nature god, that he could be older than the other Olympian deities. Depending on which one you read, will be which one you decide to go with.
Father – Hermes, nearly every myth concerning Pan’s birth agrees on this. Sometimes another deity, Aegipan is given as Pan’s father. Even the gods Apollo, Cronus, Dionysus, Uranus, or Zeus could be mentioned as Pan’s father. Others like Amphinomos, Antinoos and Odysseseus are mentioned as Pan’s father.
According to Euhemerus, a 4th century B.C.E. mythographer, Aegipan (or Pan) was married to Aex and when she had an affair with Zeus, she bore the god Pan to him. In this instance, Pan was called Aegipan.
Mother – There are many different myths regarding who Pan’s mother is.
In no particular order, they are: Dryope the daughter of Dryopos, Thymbris, Penelope (There are two Penelopes of note here. The first one, Hermes visited in the form of a ram. The second Penelope is of Odysseus fame as she proved to be unfaithful while she waited for Odysseus to return home). Nonnus’ Dionysiacs is where Penelope of Mantineia in Arcadia, a nymph. This Penelope is later confused or combined with the Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. Oeneios, some random Nereid, Sose, and Callisto. Even the goddesses Aprodite and Hecate are sometimes mentioned as being Pan’s mother.
Sometimes Pan’s parentage is given as being Uranus and Ge or that of Aether and Oeneios.
That seems a little odd to think of Pan as having any spouse. Given Pan’s later reputation for chasing around after all the Nymphs and seducing anyone who’s female…. There’s actually a few that Pan actually truly loved.
Aix – Also spelled Aex, she is a goat or a nymph who took the shape of a goat. Her connection to Pan seems more sure if you count Aegipan and Pan as being one and the same person.
Echo – This one is rather tragic, the story is given in full later.
Pitys – A nymph who turned herself into a pine in order to elude Pan’s advances.
Syrinx – A more well known Syrinx who changed herself into a bed of reeds to escape from Pan’s unwanted advances.
The satyrs in general were all considered kin to Pan, if not his sons, Laertes, Circe and the Maenads.
Agreus – A half-brother by way of Hermes, part of a “Pan Triad.”
Arcas – the twin brother to Pan, when Zeus is seen as the father. That is, if you accept the source of Kerenyi’s work of Aeschylus in Rheus noting there being two Pans.
Daphnis – A half-brother by way of Hermes.
Nomios – A half-brother by way of Hermes, part of a “Pan Triad.”
Akis – Also spelled Acis, he is the son of Pan (or rather Faunus) and the nymph Symaethis.
Eurymedon – Of the Seven Against Thebes fame, he said to be the son of Pan given how he fought fiercely in battle, causing others to panic.
Iambe – With Echo, Pan is the father of Iambe, a minor goddess of verse.
Iynx – With Echo, Pan is the father of Iynx, a girl who took the form of a bird.
Krenaios – Also spelled Crenaeus, he is the son of Pan (or rather Faunus) and the nymph (more accurately a Nereid) Ismenis. Crenaeus fought fiercely in the Seven Against Thebes, even more so in the river Ismenis of his mother’s name sake.
Krotos – With Eupheme, Pan fathered Krotos, a minor god who invented the hunting bow and rhythmic beats or clapping in music.
Silenus – This one is a bit dubious, as he is sometimes considered older than all of the satyrs and sometimes his parentage is given as being the son of Hermes and Gaia.
The Panes – All the satyr and local woodland deities including the fauns. According to Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, there are twelve Panes who lived in caves and claimed Pan as their father. They are known for having accompanied Dionysus in his War with India. These Panes were:
Aigikoros, Argennon, Argos, Daphoineus, Eugeneios, Glaukos, Kelaineus, Omester, Philamnos, Phobos, Phorbas, and Xanthos
What A Pane
Nearly every region of Ancient Greece had a regional woodland deity, many of them local satyr deities that all came to be identified as just different aspects of Pan. These multiple Pans or Panes were also known as Paniskoi or “little Pans.”
Satyrs weren’t necessarily gods in themselves, but nature spirits known for all sorts of carousing and chasing after nymphs, eating and drinking. The Romans would know these nature spirits by the name of fauns or incubi, the Celts believed in Dusios or dusii for plural. Much like the plural of Pan being Panes, the plural of satyr is Satyri.
This association with these local deities, gave rise to Pan being known by many names and seen as a universal god. Some of these local deities are as follows:
Aegipan – A goat-fish god connected to the constellation Capricorn.
Aristaeus – God of flocks, agriculture, bee-keeping, viticulture in Northern Greece. Like Pan, Aristaeus also held the title of Agreus (the Hunter) and Nomios (the Shepherd).
Marsyas – A Phrygian satyr also known for playing the pan pipes.
Priapus – A local god whose images have been found at Pompeii
Silenus – Knowledge and viticulture
Sybarios – An Italian version of Pan who was worshiped in the Greek colony found at Sybaris, Italy. This Sybarite Pan is the son of a Krathis, a sheperd and a she-goat.
As a triad, Pan was known as Agreus, Nomios, and Phorbas. Each seen as a separate entity and not just as a title of Pan’s.
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, two of the Panes, Agreus (Hunter) and Nomios (Shepherd) are merely different aspects of Pan. By the same account, they are the sons of Hermes with two Nymphs. The first is Sose, a prophetess who bore Agreus who inherited Sose’s gift for prophecy and would become a god of the hunt. The second is a nymph by the name of Penelope (not to be confused with the one of Odysseus fame) who bore Nomios known for playing the reed shepherd’s pipes or syrinx, shepherd, and seducing Nymphs. It has been said that many of the stories about Pan are actually about Nomios.
Agreus and Nomios are often taken to be two different aspects of Pan, indicating a dual nature to the half-goat god as both wise prophet and a lusty, amorous beast.
Phorbas would later join these two. Phorbas’ name means “giver of grazing” and has been noted as a play on the word phobos for “fear.”
The Birth Of Pan
Regardless of who is considered Pan’s mother, it’s generally agreed that she ran away at the sight of this already fully developed infant sporting horns, covered in hair, complete with beard, goat tail and legs with cloven hooves. Hermes however, took his son up to Olympus where the other gods were immediately delighted with him, especially Dionysus. The nymphs would raise Pan.
One of the nymphs to raise the infant Pan was Sinoe. From her, Pan received the epitaph of Sinoeis.
As a side note, the Homeric Hymn has the nurse being the one frightened by the sight of Pan and running away.
Where Penelope, the wife of Odysseus is listed as Pan’s mother, she was seduced by Antinous. When Odysseus returned Penelope to her father Ikarios, she gave birth to Pan when she arrived at Mantineia in Arcadia. With Penelope as Pan’s mother, he is clearly a demigod who became fully immortal.
A fertility deity, Pan is known for being very lusty as a symbol of male sexuality and carnal desire. Spring is the time for fertility, so it makes sense that Pan what he’s known for doing best, sex. There’s just no way around it.
Pan is very famous for his stories of endlessly chasing after nymphs who, to elude the lusty, rutting god, would turn into trees and rocks. These same stories were also used by the ancient Greeks to explain the many varieties of plants and natural features with how they came to be.
Nudity was a common thing among the Greeks, seen as being very natural and not holding any of the stigmas against it that are found with later cultural, especially religious taboos. It just is, nothing sexual about it.
Pan on the other hand… Part and parcel to Pan’s sexual prowess, one of his symbols is a phallus. Meant in joking tones, Diogenes of Sinope tells how Pan learned masturbation form his father, Hermes and then went on to teach it to shepherds. As such, it’s not uncommon to find ancient Greek art depicting Pan having an erection, he was just that sexually active.
Sex for the sake of it. That is part of who Pan is, bringing out the wild, untamed natural man to give into primal desires to satisfy momentary, carnal lust. If you want a love god for someone to fall in love with for a life partner, Pan is not your deity. Try Aphrodite or Eros for better results. For the ancient Greeks and Pan especially, he held many sexual partners and would move from one to the next with ease.
Rest assured, the ancient Greeks did see a need for having a main partner and a need to have someone you were with to create a better sense of family and unity. But engaging with a new partner from time to time could lead to something new and a change of pace.
When in Rome, only this was Greece.
Pan & The Nymphs
Pan is often mentioned as a companion to the nymphs of the woods, mountains and rivers. As a god of fertility, Pan also has a reputation that may or may not be deserved as being very lusty and constantly chasing after the nymphs as they flee from his unwanted advances. It all starts off well and good, he would join their dances and play his reed pipes, then soon enough comes the rutting and the chasing after. The nymphs would very likely be the original #MeToo crowd. They do manage to get their revenge on him at one point where they set upon Pan while he’s asleep to tie him up and shaved off his beard.
This part comes from Philostratus the Elder in his Imagines 2 where he describes a painting of the Bucolic Nymphs having tied up Pan and shaved off his beard as they say they will persuade Echo to no longer respond to him.
Even Artemis, the goddess of the Hunt and Moon got fed up with Pan’s behavior as her retinue of virgin followers and nymphs would grow smaller every time Pan or any of the satyrs came around.
Maenads – Aside from the Nymphs, Pan also got on well with the Maenads, the female followers of Dionysus rather well too. Now, either did this one by one or would multiply into a host of Panes to satisfy them all.
Pity – This poor nymph eluded Pan’s advances by turning into a Mountain Fir.
Pan Girls – With Pan’s rather lusty nature, Greek girls back then were known as Pan Girls when they displayed the same behavior.
Where The Wild Things Roam
A nature god, Pan’s domains were all of wildernesses. Grottoes, meadows, forests, beasts and even human nature itself. All of it is Pan’s domain. During the heat of the day, Pan would sleep and didn’t take kindly to anyone who disturbed him. Pan is described too as a god heard, but not seen.
Bees – As a god of nature and wild things, it stands to reason that among many of the things that Pan cared and watched over would include bees too. Like was previously stated, all of wilderness.
Fishing – Coastal areas and the success of local fishermen were also under Pan’s province.
God Of The Hunt – As a god of the wild places, Pan is also a god of the hunt, hunting dogs and he could decide a hunter’s success or not. In Arcadia, hunters would whip or scourge statues of Pan if their hunting failed.
God Of Shepherds And Flocks – In Pan’s homeland of Arcadia, there were many shepherding groups, most of whom herded goats and sheep. Pan protected the herds and flocks both wild and domestic. Pan would even help shepherds find their way back to the towns and cities. This role clearly placed Pan as the guardian of the wilds and civilization.
Panic At The Parthenon!
Pan’s name is the basis by which the word “panic” originates. It is one of the things that Pan is known for, causing a sudden or great fear in people. There are a couple myths given as an explanation for this.
Afternoon Naps – Sleep is good. The afternoons are when Pan is known to take his naps and woe to anyone who disturbed him from his sleep. But hey, who wouldn’t be cranky when woken up from their sleep. That’s right, run for the hills.
Music – Pan’s music that he played on his reed pipes could inspire panic in anyone who heard it. With it, Pan’s music could lower people’s inhibitions, an ecstasy brought on by listening to the music and dancing. A lowered inhibition that could either inspire or bring on a madness.
Panolepsia – During the Hellenistic era, Pan’s popularity increased and it is at this time he became associated with the word panic, an emotion known to overcome soldiers on the battle field. This violent emotion, known as panolepsia could overcome any individual person, inside and outside of battle.
Titanomachy – The first myth given is that Pan was present when Zeus defeated the Titans during the great Titanomachy. The claim then is that Pan’s yelling caused the Titans to flee.
Battle Of Marathon – The Athenians began worshiping Pan after he helped them out with causing panic among the invading Persians.
Nighttime Pranks – The second myth given is that Pan would make noises to scare away travelers in his protected forests.
God Of Rustic Music
When he wasn’t busy chasing nymphs, Pan could be found playing his famous reed pipes and dancing with the wood nymphs. Pan’s skill with music was such that he could cause inspiration, promiscuity or panic depending on what he wanted. The reed pipes were synonymous with rustic music as they were relatively cheap and easy to make with cutting reeds to different lengths and stopping them up with something like wax.
One of Pan’s more famous and well-known myths. Syrinx was just one of many nymphs that Pan would endlessly pursue. She was a water-nymph and the daughter of the river-god Landon. One day, as Syrinx returned from hunting, she encountered Pan who became infatuated with her. To escape his unwanted advances, Syrinx fled from Mount Lycaeum down to the Ladon river, there she pleaded with her sisters (or sometimes Zeus) to change her into a bed of water reeds. When Pan narrowly missed grabbing Syrinx, he discovered that when he blew air through the reeds, they made a noise. A forlorn Pan, mourning the loss of Syrinx, took the reeds and crafted his famous reed pipes or Syrinx from them.
Daphnis – The son of Hermes and a nymph, a shepherd, he invented pastoral poetry. He is one of many whom Pan taught how to play the pan pipes or syrinx.
Pindar – A poet said to be loved by Pan for singing and dancing to his music. Pindar built a sanctuary dedicated to Pan outside his house.
Olympus’ Got Talent!
In the original version of this story, Pan is equated with the Phrygian satyr, Marsyas. In the original telling of events, Marsyas is punished for having challenged the god Apollo.
However, other versions of this story have Pan and Apollo having a music contest with a local deity, Timolus set to be the judge. King Midas (as in the one with the golden touch) was there by happen stance as at this time, he was now a follower of Pan and followed him around.
When Apollo and Pan completed their different musical scores, Timolus was all set to call Apollo the winner. Midas spoke up and said that it should be Pan who was the winner. This angered Apollo and in retribution, he changed Midas’ ears into those of an ass.
You just can’t win.
One version of this story has it that both Apollo and Pan were tied, so they held a second round. This time around, Apollo said that they should play their instruments upside-down. Apollo was unaffected with playing upside-down, Pan however, was unable to play his reed pipes. Thus Apollo won the contest.
The Mother Goddess
In Pindar’ Pythian Ode, Pan is mentioned as a being either a follower or consort to the mother goddess. This is very likely either Cybele or Rhea whom is seen as a synonymous with Cybele.
Pindar makes mention of virgins worshiping Cybele and Pan near his home in Boetia.
Pan and Rhea alike are deities of the mountains and wild places. In a fragment of Pindar’s Maiden Songs, Pan is mentioned as the companion to Rhea and the warder or guardian of holy shrines.
There’s an episode in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica where Rhea becomes angry with the king of Kyzican for killing one of her sacred lions and Pan descending on the city of Kyzikos at night yelling loudly to disturb the flocks to panic and stampede and bring terror to the city in revenge at Rhea’s command.
Another source I found for this, replaced Rhea’s name with that of Cybele’s. This isn’t too surprising, when you see Rhea and Cybele as the same deity, just different names from different Greek and Roman cultures. It almost seems like a matter of preference when someone retelling the Greco-Roman stories flip-flops back and forth with the names used.
Pan is known to be part of Dionysus’ retinue accompanying many other prominent paniskoi, satyrs and rustic deities, causing a lot of rowdy behavior and riots characteristics of such bacchanalias.
Dionysus’ Indian War – When Dionysus went to war with the country of India, Pan was among the many satyroi and panes who accompanied him.
God Of Prophesy
Being the grandson to Apollo, that makes sense that Pan would have inherited some of the family tendency to foretell the future. According to some accounts, Pan is to have taught Apollo the prophetic arts. In the sanctuary of Despoine in Arcadia, the nymph Erato served as one of Pan’s prophetess’. Similarly, the Korykian cave, another Oracular site was held sacred to the nymph Korkykiai and Pan.
Pan & Typhon – Capricorn
In Greek mythology, the constellation, Capricorn is known as Pan and he is usually portrayed as the son of Hermes. He had the upper half of a man and the legs of a goat. How Pan becomes associated with the constellation of Capricorn is that one day when Pan and the other Gods were down by the Nile River, they were attacked by the monster Typhon. The Gods all changed themselves into various animals and forms in order to escape. In the confusion and panic, Pan jumped into the Nile River, intending to change into a fish, but only his lower half changed while his upper half turned into a goat. When the other Gods saw this half-goat, half-fish form of Pans, they laughed so much and decided to place an image of it up among the stars where it becomes the Capricornus or Capricorn constellation.
In a more elaborate retelling of the story of the Greek Gods versus Typhon, while the Gods did change into various animal forms, Zeus changed into the form of the ram, Aries and remained in this form for a while. Other gods like Aphrodite and Eros became a pair of fish that form the constellation of Pisces. Now Aegipan had also transformed himself into an animal to escape Typhon, but he was already halfway submerged in the Nile River when he finally decided what animal form he would be. He had decided to be a goat, but only from the waist up and a fish from the waist down. And its this result of indecision during panic and trying to escape that results in the familiar half-goat, half-fish from of Capricorn.
Zeus finally reappears back in his own form and battles against Typhon, but he was however defeated. Typhon proceeds then to cut out the tendons of Zeus’ hands and feet and therefore unable and helpless to move. Typhon hid the tendons in a cave in the land of Cilicia. The draconic being known as Delphyne, a half-serpent, half-woman creature was tasked by Typhon to guard Zeus’ tendons.
Between the gods Hermes and Aegipan, they were able to steal back Zeus’ tendons and return them, so Zeus could become whole again. With his strength restored, Zeus was now able to battle Typhon again and this time, defeated him hurling thunderbolts at him. For Aegipan’s role in this battle the Titan, Zeus set the Capricorn constellation up in the stars to honor him.
Aegipan or Pan?
Well now that all depends… some scholars will say that Aegipan is a separate deity from Pan like Nomios and Phorbas who are collectively called the Panes. Other scholars will say that the Panes are merely different aspects of the same god, in this case, Pan.
Additionally, Aegipan is sometimes said to be the father of Pan and not Hermes. It can create for a lot of confusion. Which is what Pan is good at and hence the origin of the word panic. There is also a 5th century B.C.E. Greek vase depicting both Pan and Aegipan as separate beings.
Pan And Demeter
In this story, Demeter and Poseidon are married. After a falling out with Poseidon and the abduction of her daughter Persephone by Hades, Demeter became very distraught, clothing herself in black and hiding away in a cave. Because of this, with Demeter being an agricultural and fertility goddess, nothing grew and there came a famine upon the land. None of the gods knew where Demeter had gone. Pan returned to his home of Arcadia and began wandering the country side and mountains. Eventually, Pan made his way to Mount Elaios where he found Demeter hiding in her cave. Pan reported back to Zeus that he had found Demeter and the Moirai was sent to Demeter and negotiated a peace between her and Hades that resulted in the familiar cycle of seasons.
Pan And Echo
Another nymph (a minor mountain deity) by the name of Echo. Most stories have her spurning Pan’s advances and eventually she fades away, leaving behind only her voice to answer or echo Pan’s calls to her.
Beauty Contest – This story tells how Echo, being a rather beautiful nymph and musically inclined; being able to sing and play several different instruments. Like all her nymph sisters, Echo lived deep within the forests, spurning the love of mortals and immortals alike.
Before this, there had been an Achilles, the son of Zeus and the Lamia. Now Achilles was incredibly handsome and along with several others, entered a beauty contest with Aphrodite. Acting as judge was Pan who was the most fairest of them all. Aphrodite grew angry with Pan and she cursed Pan with an unrequited love for Echo, whom he pursued relentlessly.
To try and reconcile this version of the story with the below one in Daphnis & Chloe, it makes sense that in his madness, that Pan would incite his shepherd followers to descend upon Echo to tear her apart.
That afterword, Gaia taking pity and having favored Echo, gathers up the pieces of her broken, scattered body to the earth and that all that remained was Echo’s voice. It really makes sense that in mourning, that Echo is chasing after the sound of Echo’s voice every time he hears her repetitive call. It makes sense for Pan to be mentioned as forever chasing after his student that he can never find.
Daphne & Chloe – This story has Echo getting torn to pieces by shepherds after Pan incites them to riot and Gaia then gathering up the broken pieces of Echo’s body to hide within the earth. That only thing to remain was Echo’s repeating voice.
Thebes, Egypt – Here, there was a cave that was shaped like a shepherd’s pipe and a marble statue of a satyr. Pan visited this cave and was delighted by the music of the flute, yet held firmly to Echo in fear so she wouldn’t echo a response to the marble statue.
Apuleius, The Golden Ass – A 2nd century C.E. Roman novel, the author Apuleius describes Pan as sitting by the banks of a stream with Echo in his arms as he teaches her his music and songs.
Suda – In this fragments of poetry and story, Echo is described as bearing the children Iambe and Iynx to Pan.
There must have been a real relation between Echo and Pan and not just the lusty, rutting of a goat-god. It’s unfortunate as it does seem the ire of Aphrodite cause Pan to go into madness and kill his one real love. Given the lusty reputation of Pan for chasing nymphs, Echo’s demise being caused by Aphrodite seems to have been over looked and lumped in as just another failed conquest.
In this story, Pan is in a rut, chasing after the Queen of Lydia, Omphale. On the night that Pan was to arrive, Omphale persuaded Hercules to switch clothes with her. So when an amorous Pan showed up and slipped into Omphale’s bed, he’s promptly kicked across the room by Hercules.
After that, Pan banned the wearing of any clothes at his religious rites and rumors began spreading about Hercules being a transvestite.
Pan And Selene
Selene is considered perhaps the greatest of Pan’s sexual conquests. He managed to woo and seduce the moon goddess Selene by wearing a sheep skin in order to hide his black goat features. Seeing her reflection in the white sheep skin, Selene came down from the night sky and Pan was able to woo and seduce her. By one account, this is how “The Man in the Moon” came to be.
Pan And Psyche
Thankfully, we can see that Pan isn’t all lusty goat-god out to ravage everyone he sees. After Psyche lost her lover, Eros, she went wandering in great despair. When Psyche’s wandering brought her the banks of a river, she intended to throw herself in it to drown.
Luckily for Psyche, both Pan and Echo were nearby as Pan was teaching Echo his songs. Seeing Psyche in her despair, Pan called her to him. Seeing how love-sick she was, Pan told Psyche not to kill herself but instead to make prayers and seek out the attention of Eros so she could eventually draw him back to her. After receiving the advice, Psyche went on her way.
The idea of Pan’s name becoming associated with the meaning of “all” and Pan being a god of all, a universal deity comes about during Roman times. Over a period as the meanings of a word or words change or become confused.
It makes sense, Pan being a god of the wild places and all of nature, even human nature.
Pan Is Dead!?!
In Plutarch’s “The Obsolescence of Oracle,” he mentions that Pan is the only Greek god who is dead. According to this account, during the reign of Tiberius (between 14-37 C.E.) there had come news of Pan’s death to a sailor by the name of Thamus. The ship that Thamus was one was headed for Italy and when they passed by the Echinades islands, specifically, the island of Paxi, a divine called out to Thamus asking: “Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead.” The voice is to have called out three time to Thamus and when they reached their destination, Thamus spread the word of Pan’s passing much to others dismay.
The Rumors Of Pan’s Demise….
Now, it has been put forward by others such as Robert Graves, Salomon Reinach and James S. Van Teslaar, that Thamus and those onboard the ship may have misheard what was said. That it was: “the all-great Tammuz is dead” and not “Thamus, Great Pan is dead.” As the phrase spoken, “Thamus Panmegas tethneke” that is to have been said could easily have been misunderstood by those who didn’t speak the language.
When Pausanias traveled through Greece a century later after Plutarch, he discovered that a good many of Pan’s shrines and sacred places were still very much so in use. Jump forward to the 18th century C.E. and Christians have taken Plutarch’s words for gospel truth and have repeated it for history and allegorical truths with the passing of older, ancient orders and for a new age. Poets like John Milton have used the cry of: “Great Pan is dead!” taken to using this line in their poetry.
Are Greatly Exaggerated
To complicate this, even if Pan were dead, he wouldn’t have been the first deity or immortal to die. There’s Chiron, who died of a poisoned arrow and then you have Dionysus who was killed by the Titans. You could count the gorgon Medusa among this number for Greek immortals, only the stories will say she was really just mortal as the Greeks cling to the idea that an immortal can’t really, truly die. That’s only the Greek mythology without touching any other mythologies.
Seeing as this looks like it all stems from a misunderstanding or mistranslation that once the 18th century arrived, took off in people’s imaginations. When looking among the Neopagan, New Age and Wiccan crowd, the veneration and honoring of Pan as an aspect of the Horned God is still very active.
Margaret Murray, in 1933 wrote in her book “The God of the Witches” a theory how Pan was worshiped in Europe by a witch cult. This book is what has contributed to many modern Pagan and Wiccan religions using the Horned God as a symbol of male sexuality and prowess.
The important thing to remember with the 18th century is that this when Pan also makes a come back in literature. He makes an appearance in “The Wind and the Willows.” James Barrie’s famous character of Peter Pan is in part based off of Pan. Not just the last name of Pan, but a strong connection is made in “Peter Pan in Kensington’s Garden” where a young Peter is seen riding a goat.
That’s just a few of the works of literature or poetry to be inspired by and use Pan.
The Devil You Know…
One thing that seems so obvious, when looking at most Christian versions of the devil is the similarity of imagery with Pan, the horns and the cloven hooves. Much of medieval and even post-medieval Christian imagery in literature and art depicts a dark caricature of Pan as the devil or Satan. It really seems unmistakable. Ronald Hutton has noted that this imagery tends to be more modern and is influenced by Pan’s popularity during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Pushan – Hindu God
A Vedic solar god and guardian of flocks and herds. This is more of a modern idea as scholars see Pushan’s name as originating from a Proto-Indo-European god: Péhusōn, an important pastoral deity. It is thought that Péhusōn shares a root word with the English word “pasture.” As a result, the idea then comes that Pushan is a cognate of Pan. The German scholar, Hermann Colitz proposed the idea in 1924 of connecting Pan with Pushan.
Faunus – Roman God
The ancient Romans identified Pan with their own woodland deity of Faunus or Inuus.
Faunus is a vegetation deity as well as a god of prophecy and shepherds, so it’s easy to see how the Romans would come to equate the two gods as being one and the same. It is noteworthy to mention that only after the Faunus’ association with Pan did his depiction in art begin to change and become more like Pan’s with the goat hooves and horns. Some Roman accounts have Faunus as the son of the god Mars (Greek Ares) instead of Mercury (Greek Hermes). Faunus is known as the father of Bona Dea or Fauna.
Inuus being a fertility god and a god of shepherds was often used more as an epitaph of Faunus rather than a separate deity.
Also Known As or Spelled: Slenderman, Slendy, Fear Dubh (or, The Dark Man; Scottish) Takkenmann (Branch Man; Dutch), Der Großmann or Der Grosse Mann, Der Grossman (the Tall Man; German), Der Ritter (the Knight), Thief of the Gods, Thief of Kuk
The figure of Slender Man is relatively new in the Urban Folklore landscape, making it a 21st century Boogyman. This being’s first appearance was on June 10th of 2009, having been created by Eric Knudsen, using the name “Victor Surge” in the Something Awful forum for a photoshop contest. The idea had been to create an Urban Legend so believable it would take on a life of its own, which it certainly has.
Much of the early photos and videos showcasing Slender Man claim to be “found footage” much in the style of a movie like the Blair Witch Project. Knudsen has claimed a number of sources for inspiration into Slender Man’s creation. Most notable of which seem to be the Tall Man from the 1979 movie Phantasm, survival horror video games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Zack Parson and William S. Burroughs.
Slender Man is often shown as an unnaturally tall and thin man wearing a suit with equally long thin arms and featureless face. The Slender Man is often shown having several tentacles extending from its back.
Exactly what powers Slender Man has, varies a bit with these numerous stories and narratives that seems to have taken the internet by storm. Many of stories will show Slender Man preferring the forests and abandoned locations.
Many will say it can teleport or “slender walk,” an effect that distorts how a person views and sees Slender Man as it approaches its victims. Other stories have the presence of Slender Man causing paranoia, delusions and nightmares as it stalks its victims. In some of the stories, adults are driven insane by Slender Man’s influence, becoming “Proxies” who work for this entity. The web series Marble Hornets are who originated the idea of the Proxies, though sometimes they were people already violently insane and didn’t need much of a push. This video series also has Slender Man’s presence able to distort any video or audio recordings. Other stories say that just researching and investigating the Slender Man draws its attention. Slender Man also seems to hold some sort of either hypnosis or mind-control on its victims. It seems to have invisibility or selective enough invisibility in who it lets see them.
A term used on-line for scary stories, the concept of Slender Man went viral with many people creating their own takes and adding to the mythology. There have been many different stories since its creation involving Slender Man with numerous videos and pictures all claiming to “evidence” of this mysterious being. Many of the stories have Slender Man stalking, terrorizing and abducting people, especially children.
Despite having only been around a few years, Slender Man’s immediate popularity has seen it become used and reference in various media from literature, art to video games and T.V. Naturally YouTube is one such source of people finding and watching “found footage” style videos claiming Slender Man sightings and evidence. Rather than use graphic violence and splatter horror, the stories of Slender Man work more to try and invoke a psychological scare, leaving much of exactly what Slender Man is a mystery or vague as to what happens to victims. Early stories involving Slender Man have it impaling victims on tree branches, removing organs and replacing them back in the body bagged up. Such stories don’t hold fear for long than if the victims just vanish without a trace.
Slender Man Folklore & “History”
As Slender Man became more popular and people began adding to its mythos, the reality and fantasy of this being quickly became distorted.
Brazilian Cave Paintings – This one claims that cave paintings were found in the Serr da Capivara National Park in the Northeast of Brazil dating to around 9,000 B.C.E. The paintings supposedly show a strange, elongated figure leading a child by the hand.
Der Grossman – Meaning “Tall Man,” this is part of the made-up history by “Thoreau Up”, set in 16th century Germany that shows photographs of wood cuts showing an early Slender Man. These woodcuts are credited to Hans Freckenberg who called the figure Der Ritter (“The Knight”).
Further legends attached to this have stories of children seeing this entity or fairy in the Black Forest before disappearing. Bad children who went into the forest at night would be pursued by Der Grossman who wouldn’t let up until it either caught the children or the children confessed of their wrong doings to parents.
One story claimed to be from 1702 is that of a father telling of his son Lars who has been taken. The only thing they had found was a strange piece of black cloth, somehow softer and thicker than cotton. That Lars came into his room screaming of how the angel, Der Grossman was outside his room. Lars continued his story of having gone to one of the groves near the village where he found one of the cows dead, hanging from a tree. The story ends with the father saying they have to find Lars and his family must all leave before they are killed too.
Egyptian Hieroglyphs – Another claim for ancient “archaeological” evidence of Slender Man comes with Hieroglyphs dating from 3,100 B.C.E. with references during Pharaoh Wazner’s reign. The only problem with the mention of a tomb for the Pharoah, is that Wazner is known only from inscriptions on the Palermo Stone from Egypt’s fifth dynasty and that speculation posits that Wazner may be a mythical ruler and likely fictional himself. So, I’m doubting any tomb hieroglyphs showing Wazner and Slender Man meeting up.
English Lore – The Tree Man is an English myth that appears to describe a tall, slender figure with numerous appendages that stick out of the body like tree branches. This Tree Man is used as a boogey man by parents to scare children into behaving. In addition to stories about this Tree Man are the disappearances of a number of children.
Romanian Tale – There is an alleged Romanian folktale about twin sisters Sorina and Stela who were led out into the woods one day with their mother. The twins could see Der Grossman nearby, dressed as a nobleman with boneless arms. The mother fell under Der Grossman’s influence and told her daughter Stela to take a knife and carve a circle on the ground that Sorina was to then lay in so she could be cut open. Stela refused and ran home to hide under a bed.
When the father returned home, Stela told him of what happened. Hearing the tale, the father set off immediately into the forest to find the mother and Sorina. Falling asleep, Stela was awakened later to a knock at the door and a voice calling for her to open the door, it was her father. When the Stela refused, the voice called again to open the door, it was her mother.
Refusing to answer the door still, this time it burst open and Stela’s mother came in, holding the severed head of Sorina in one hand and the father’s head in the other hand. When Stela cried out why, the mother replied it was that there was no reward for goodness in the world, nothing but cold steel teeth and fire for everyone. That it is coming for you now.
It is then the Der Grossman slid out from the fireplace and clutched Stela to his burning self, ending her life.
That does make for a rather gruesome tale.
Photographs – There’s an interesting assortment of altered photographs that claim to be images of Slender Man that date from the early 1900’s from the US, UK and Russia, linking it to the disappearances of children. Photos and Videos from the 1990’s and after all claim further evidences and proof of Slender Man as various people continue to add to the mythos.
The Rake – While not Slender Man itself, newer stories have been adding stories of this figure to accompany Slender Man on its stalking of terror, instilling fear into those who see it.
There’s been a few other characters added who seem similar to Slender Man or aid him, but these seem more like “up the ante” characters to keep the suspense and fear going.
Slender Man Panic
For all that Slender Man is a modern, Urban Legend and story, it crossed the line from fantasy to reality when a couple girls in 2014 attempted to murder a fellow 12-year old girl in Waukesha, Wisconsin. If you hadn’t heard of Slender Man before then, people knew about him now. A panic ensued as parents tried to better monitor what their children were looking at on-line and knew the difference between fantasy and reality.
Clearly a well written and crafted story takes on a life of its own.
Modern Folklore & Urban Legend
An interesting take I found on this, is from Professor Shira Chess. In her book: “Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology,” Professor Chess discusses how Slender Man is like the folklore regarding fairies. For just like fairies, the Slender Man is an otherworldly being whose motives are alien and therefore difficult to understand. Like the fairies, Slender Man is vague in appearance and often takes on the expectations of a victim’s fears. Again, just like the fairies, the Slender Man too lives in the forests and kidnaps children. It’s an interesting connection and observation.
One thing seems clear, the stories of Slender Man have spread much like other Urban Legends have and achieved a folkloric quality in the digital age where people have been able to take and adapt the mythos to suit their needs. It’s that vagueness of the Slender Man stories where you don’t know what it is or wants, that has made the stories of Slender Man so malleable with details that are easy to adapt to anytime and place that suits the storyteller’s needs.
That’s what makes any urban legend successful or appealing. Their ability to be told anywhere, that it could happen here, in this very town, very location, at any time. Even better, is when the people hearing the story don’t know the urban legend’s origins and how it got started. Humans by our very natures are hard wired for storytelling. The simplicity of urban legends makes them easy to pass on as they’re a story told by third and fourth-hand accounts that keep the story going to the point that no one knows where it started.
With the Internet, it’s easy to fake photos, videos and news reports. Making Slender Man seem all the more real and plausible for a less discerning reader. Even with people knowing how to find and track the origins of Slender Man’s origins, there’s another group who just won’t look further and appear to accept the photo and video evidences as authentic. Maybe for a good scare or the susceptibility to want to believe.
Where many monsters in mythology and folklore represent an aspect of the human psyche, however dark. Professor Chess has commented that Slender Man can be seen as a metaphor for “helplessness, power differentials, and anonymous forces,” and as ever, as always, the fear of the unknown, things beyond people’s control. Given the narrative for much of the Slender Man mythos, that seems very likely.
Like any fear, such a being only has as much power as you give it. It’s been commented how this day and age of the Internet has allowed for such stories like Slender Man’s to go viral. As with any good, well written horror story, enjoy it. Just be careful of what you create and how far you let that fear go to feed it.
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.
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.
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.
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.