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Category Archives: Horse

Sigurd

Sigurd

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

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

Alternate Spellings: Sigurðr (Old Norse)

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

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

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

Parentage and Family

Parents

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

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

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

Consort –

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

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

Children –

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

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

What’s In A Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient Runes

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

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

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

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

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

Völsunga Saga

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

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

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

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

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

Regin’s Story – Otr’s Gold

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

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

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

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

Reforging His Father’s Sword

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

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

First, I Must Avenge My Father

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

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

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

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

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

Now I Will Do The Thing!

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

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

Sounds like a solid enough plan if you ask me.

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

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

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

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

Meeting The Beautiful Brunhildr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Woman Scorned….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Þiðrekssaga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds so messed up.

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

Nibelungenlied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little fire bug there aren’t we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds like dirty pool to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Das Lied Vom Hürnen Seyfrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Der Ring des Nibelungen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My precious!”

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

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

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

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

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

Other Sagas

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

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

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

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

Andyaranaut

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

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

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

Dragon’s Blood

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

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

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

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

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

A Sword For A Hero!

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

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

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

Possible Reality Behind The Legends

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

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

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

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

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

Dragons & Dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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

Sigurd & Beowulf – Comparison

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

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

Christian Theology

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

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

Tolkien And The Lord of the Rings!

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

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

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

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Brynhildr

Brynhildr

Etymology: Bright Battle

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

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

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

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

Parentage and Family

Parents

Budli – Her father as made mention in the Völsunga.

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

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

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

Siblings –

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

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

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

Other siblings are Bekkhild and maybe Oddrun.

Consort

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

Children –

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

Völsunga Saga

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting In Hlymdale

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

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

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

Meanwhile….

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

Naturally enough, Sigurðr does marry Gudrun.

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

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

Fair enough it seems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nibelungenlied

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

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

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

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

That sounds like dirty pool to me.

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

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

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

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

Sigrdrífumál

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

Poetic Eddas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Der Ring des Nibelungen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My precious!”

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

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

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

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

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

Andyaranaut

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

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

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

Seeress

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

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

Valkyrie

The Valkyries are found in both Scandinavian and Germanic religions.

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

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

Visigothic Princess

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

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

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

Viking Genealogy

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

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

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

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

Tolkien And The Lord of the Rings!

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

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

Oya

Oya

Pronunciation: Oh-Yah

Etymology: “She Tore”

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

Attributes

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

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

Day of the Week: Wednesday (Candomble), Friday

Elements: Air, Fire , Water

Feast Day: February 2nd and November 25th

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

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

Incense: Geranium, Patchouli, Sandalwood

Metal: Copper

Month: February

Number: 9

Patron of: Change, Feminism

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

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

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

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

Depictions Of Oya

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

 Modern Day Worship

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

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

Offerings To Oya

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

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

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

Orisha

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

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

Parentage and Family

Father

Obatala is said to be Oya’s father.

Mother

Yemaya – The Great Sea Mother

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

Consort

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

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

Siblings

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

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

Children

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

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

Ọya-Iyansan – “Mother Of Nine”

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

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

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

 Storm & Wind Goddess

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

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

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

Goddess Of Change & Fire

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

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

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

Goddess Of Cemeteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goddess Of Markets

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

Warrior Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo

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

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

Antelope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Stormy Affair – Oya, Shango & Ogun

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

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

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

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

To The Rescue – Saving Shango

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

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

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

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

Betrayal By A Ram

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

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

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

Oshun’s Fading

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

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

Maman Brigitte – Haitian Goddess

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

Catholic Saints

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

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

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

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

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

Headless Horseman

Headless Horseman

The Headless Horseman is a popular figure found in American folklore. Often described as well, a headless rider on horseback.

The Headless Horseman is a common figure and staple of American Folklore. It has shown up for usage in various movies, T.V. series and literature outside of the original “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Recent t.v. series are Sleepy Hollow and Tim Burton’s movie of the same name, both drawing on the same inspiration of Irving’s story.

Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

Ah yes, the classic American story. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” first appears in a collection of short stories titled: “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.” As far as inspiration goes for Irving’s story, many seem to agree to the idea that the German writer, Karl Musäus is where the idea for a Headless Horseman from. Karl Musäus is known for having collected Germanic folktales much like the Brothers Grimm.

The story is set in Sleepy Hollow, New York during the time of the American Revolutionary War, so about 1775 or shortly after. Tradition holds that the Headless Horseman had been a Hessian Artillery man who had been killed during the Battle of White Plains, circa 1776.  So, at the time the story was told and set, not too long ago. The Hessian had been decapitated by a cannonball, not a fun way to go.

The shattered remains of the Hessian’s head were simply left on the battlefield while fellow soldiers carried off his body to be buried. The Hessian’s body was laid to rest in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow. Following this, each Halloween night, the Hessian’s ghost would appear as a Headless Horseman seeking for this lost head. The Headless Horseman wouldn’t or couldn’t cross bridges.

The story ends with the Horseman chasing down Ichabod Crane who simply disappears after. In the short story, there’s a strong implication that the Horseman may have been Brom Bones in disguise. Brom was a rival lover of Ichabod’s, so what better way than to hide any possible foul play?

Texas – El Muerto

Another headless horseman legend arose during the 1800’s in Texas. At this point and time, Texas was known for being a wild and lawless place that attracted all sorts of unsavory characters from thieves to murderers. The local native tribes were known to fiercely fight off these foreign invaders. To the point, that the Texas Rangers began making headway into taming a seemingly lawless frontier.

There was a dispute between the United States and Mexico over a tract of land between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers for where the borders between the two countries lay. In 1850, things came to a header a man by the name of Vidal who was out rustling cattle. Vidal had a bounty on his head, wanted “Dead of Alive.” Two Texas Rangers by the name of Creed Taylor and William Alexander Anderson (a.k.a. “Big Foot” Wallace) had had enough of Vidal and his small gang stealing cattle and horses and sought this group of bandits.

The two Rangers along with a local rancher by the name of Flores tracked and found the bandits camp. They waited until night before striking. In a strong display of Frontier Justice, Wallace decided that killing the bandits wasn’t enough, he beheaded Vidal. Then Wallace took Vidal’s corpse and tied him to the saddle of a mustang so it would stay upright. Vidal’s head and sombrero were then tied to the saddle as well before Wallace let the horse go loose into the hillside terrain.

It didn’t take long for the stories to circulate of people seeing a headless rider to surface. Many local natives and cowboys would riddle the corpse with bullets and arrows on seeing this fearsome specter. Southern Texas became known as a place to avoid as many deeds of evil and misfortune were attributed to El Muerto.

Eventually a posse got together to capture the poor mustang and relief it of its grisly and macabre cargo near a placed called Ben Bolt, south of Alice, Texas. Vidal’s body was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

While that should have been the end of El Muerto’s story, his legend continues to live on. Soon after Vidal’s body was laid to rest, people continued to report seeing a headless horseman wandering the land. One couple in 1917, reported seeing the specter of a grey horse with a headless rider shouting: “It is mine! It is all mine!” and the stories and sittings continue.

Washington State – The White Skoad

Not exactly a headless horseman, if you live in Washington State and ever head out to Whidbey Island, there is a local legend about Colonel Ebey’s whose head was taken by the Haida on a raid who are believed to have come the Queen Charlotte Sound. Since then, the White Skoad, a patch of white fog said to be Colonel Ebey’s ghost can be seen from time to time as he searches for his head. Other versions of Colonel Ebey’s ghost have him replaying his death every night at the house he lived in at the time.

Arthurian Legend

Not quite a headless horseman, in the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the title character of Sir Gawain accepts the challenge of a beheading game by the Green Knight. This is a story that dates to the 14th century that has been cited as involving decapitation.

German Folklore

There are two stories that the Brothers Grimm collected about a headless horseman.

Hans Jagenteufel – In this one, near Dresden in Saxony, there was a woman who headed out early one Sunday morning to gather acorns in the forest. Near the place called “Lost Waters,” the woman heard a hunting horn. Hearing it a second time, the woman looked behind her to see a headless man wearing a long grey coat and riding a grey horse. The rider rode past the woman and she gained her resolve and went back to gathering acorns.

Some nine days later, the woman returned to the same spot, once more to collect acorns. This time, she heard behind her asking if anyone had tried to punish her for taking acorns. The woman replied no, saying the foresters took pity on the poor and called to God to forgive her sins.

When the woman turned around, she again saw the same grey cloaked figure from before, only this time he carried his head under an arm. The grey figure told the woman she did well to ask God for forgiveness as he had never done so in life. The figure than went on to explain how he was called Hans Jagenteufel and in life, never heeded the warnings of his father to extend mercy to those below him and would spend his days drinking and carousing. In death, he was condemned to wander the world as an evil spirit.

The Wild Huntsman – This story is set in Brunswick, Lower Saxony. A huntsman by the name of Hackelberg. He was so proficient at his profession, that on his deathbed, Hackelberg begged god to allow him to remain on earth, giving up his spot in heaven. It would seem the request was granted and Hackelberg roamed the hereafter as “the Wild Huntsman,” blowing his horn to warn hunters not to go out riding the next day. If they do, the unfortunate hunter meets with an untimely accident.

Depending on the version of the story told, the headless horseman seeks out those who have done crimes to punish them. Other times, the headless horseman is accompanied by a pack of black hounds with tongues of fire. Much like a figure from the Wild Hunt.

Indian Folklore

Jhinjhār – This is a headless horseman mentioned in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh folklore. Where many of the European headless horsemen are entities to be wary of, the Jhinjhār is often seen as a hero.

The Jhinjhār is created during a rather violent and wrongful death when defending the innocents. Other stories say the Jhinjhār was a Rajput prince who lost his head while defending a village or caravan from some bandits. The prince refused to retreat and was beheaded. Other versions of this story say the Jhinjhār was created when a Mughal cavalryman died defending his prince.

Irish Folklore

Crom Dubh – This one is a bit of a stretch. Crom Dubh was an ancient Celtic fertility god who demanded human sacrifices every year, of which, the preferred method was decapitation. Eventually the god fell out of favor and somehow this god becomes a spirit seekings corpses and eventually becoming the Dullahan.

The Dullahan – also known as Dulachán meaning “dark man” or “without a head.” This being is a headless fairy often seen dressed in black and riding a black headless horse while carrying his head under an arm or inner thigh. The Dullahan is armed with a whip made from a human spine. Death occurs wherever the Dullahan ceases riding and when it calls out a name, the person called dies. Death can also come if the Dullahan tosses a bucket of blood at a person who has been watching it.

In other versions, the Dullahan rides a black carriage. Sometimes they are accompanied by a banshee. Nothing can stop the Dullahan from claiming a victim save the payment of gold.

Gan Cean – Its name means: “without a head.” It is a figure similar to the Dullahan. The Gan Cean can be warded off by wearing a gold object or placing one in its path.

Scandinavian Folklore

In a story similar to the German story of Hackelberg the Wild Huntsman, this story is about “good King Waldemar” whose’ ghost still haunts the forest of Gurre. King Waldemar had prayed to God to be allowed to still hunt in his beloved forest after death. Waldemar’s ghost can be seen riding a white horse and cracking his whip as he runs through the forest. His head though, is sometimes seen being carried under one of King Waldemar’s arms. As any Wild Hunt goes, Waldemar has a pack of black hounds with fiery mouths accompanying him.

Scottish Folklore

There is a story of headless horseman by the name of Ewen who had been decapitated during a clan battle on the Isle of Mull. This battle prevented Ewen from becoming chieftain. Both the ghost of Ewen and his horse are reputed to haunt the area of Glen Cainnir.

Mamlambo

Mamlambo

Other Names – “the Brain Sucker”

In the Zulu mythology of South Africa, Mamlambo is a large serpentine river goddess as well as a goddess of beer. In some legends, Mamlambo appears during lightning storms.

For the Xhosa of South Africa, the Mamlambo is a giant river snake that will bring good fortune to the one who can claim it. Witch doctors are believed to use Mamlambo to extract revenge on their enemies.

Goddess Of Beer!

Yes, beer. This aquatic, serpentine deity is also known for brewing beer. This is a job that women in many Southeast African tribes do.

Cryptozoology

Mamlambo’s myth entered the realm of cryptozoology in 1997 when various South African newspapers began reporting sightings of a “giant reptile” monster in the Mzintlava River (also known as the Umzimhlava River) near Mount Ayliff in South Africa. The reports also mention how between 7-9 people and even a number of animals were all killed by this monster by dragging its victims underwater and drowning them. After which, the Mamlambo would suck out the blood and brains of the victims, earning it the name of “the Brain Sucker.”

Description

There are a few different accounts what Mamlambo is to look like.

One version has the creature being some 20 meters (67 feet) long, with the torso of a horse and lower body of a fish, short legs and neck of a snake. That it also shone green at night. Some have commented that this description fits that of a Mosasaur, a variety of giant marine reptiles that went extinct with the dinosaurs.

A slight variation to this description says the Mamlambo is half-fish, half-horse with short stumpy legs, crocodilian body and the head and neck of a snake. This version of the description also says the Mamlambo has a hypnotic gaze that it uses to lure its victims to a watery grave. Much like crocodiles do, the Mamlambo is able to leave the water to snag its potential victims that come to close to the water. The Mamlambo is also believed to glow an eerie bioluminescent green when it is dark.

Possible Reality Behind The Myths

In April of 1997, there had nine bodies found in the Mzintlava River. According to local police, all of the bodies had been in the water for a long time, long enough for scavengers such as crabs to come and eat the soft parts of the heads and necks. When the bodies were pulled from the water, river crabs were still clinging to the bodies. The local villagers on the other hand insist that these mutilations are the result of the Mamlambo eating people’s faces and then sucking out their brains.

Another idea put forward is that the Mamlambo may be an elasmosaur-like animal an ancient type of archaeocete from the cetacean evolutionary branch. Basically, a member of the whale family before whale legs became flippers.

Cryptid Cousins

Brosno Dragon – Or Brosnya, is a Russian Lake Monster that some have described as being a mutant beaver or a giant pike that’s around 100-150 years old.

Dobhar-Chú – A cryptid from Irish folklore described as being a water hound and known for dragging victims to a watery death.

Each-Uisge – A Scottish shape-shifting water horse, that much like the Irish Kelpie is known for drowning victims.

Glashtyn – Or Cabyll-Ushtey, it is a shape-shifting goblin that inhabits of the waterways in Manx, one of it’s favored forms is that of a horse.

Kelpie – A water horse, this is another creature from Irish folklore known for its shape-shifting abilities and drowning victims.

Lau – A dinosaur-like lake monster with tentacles from Sudan.

Loch Ness Monster – A similar aquatic and serpentine creature found in Scotland.

Mahamba – A reptilian cryptid from the Congo, it is often described as being similar to a giant crocodile or thought to be a fresh water living fossil mosasaur.

Mokele-Mbembe – A famous reptilian cryptid from the Congo described as looking a sauropod and herbivore in nature.

Reality T.V.

The Mamlambo has indeed featured on an episode of the SyFy channel’s Destination Truth.

Zwarte Piet

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

Etymology: Black Peter

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

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

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

The Feast Of Saint Nicholas – December 5-6th

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

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

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

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

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

The Wild Hunt – Odin

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

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

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

Middle Eastern Connections?

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

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

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

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

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

Sinterklaas, You’re The Devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medieval Times – Enslaving The Devil

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

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

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

Zwarte Piet’s Arrival To Dutch Traditions

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

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

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

Codifying A Legend

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

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

What’s In A Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Saint’s Miracle and Dutch Slavery

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

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

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

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

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

Other Takes On Zwarte Piet

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

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

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

Crime & Punishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs & Changes Of The Times

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

Controversy

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

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

Caricaturing

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

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

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

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

Cultural & Historical Disconnect

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

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

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

Movie Time! – Santa & Pete

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

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

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

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

Ganymede

Ganymede

Other names: Catamitus (Latin), Ganymedes

Etymology: The etymology of the name Ganymede is rather uncertain with many people and sources giving different meanings. A possible Latin meaning is “Gladdening Prince” that takes from the Greek words of ganumai meaning “gladdening” and mêdon or medeôn which means “prince.” As this last word likely has a double meaning, another translation is “genitals.” In which case, Ganymede’s name is meant to have a deliberate double-meaning.

Plato gives forth the meanings of “Ganu,” meaning: “taking pleasure,” and “med,” meaning: “mind.”

Robert Graves in his “The Greek Myths” says that Ganymede comes from the words: ganyesthai and medea, meaning “rejoicing in virility.”

Pronunciation: [gan-uh-meed]

The story of Ganymede is one that is some three thousand years old and dates from the pre-Hellenic and Aegean myths. It’s important to note too, that Ganymede is Trojan and has his place first in the Anatolian myths before his story later becomes part of the classical Greek and Roman legends.

Ganymede’s story and myth is one that has changed too over the millennia. Later Cretan and Minoan additions to the story come some many hundreds if not a thousand years before the Greek version of the story. For many modern day readers, the Hellenic version of the story is the most familiar and well-known.

The Legend

Ganymede was the son of King Tros of Dardania and who is the basis for the kingdom of Troy in Phrygia from Greek mythology. An exceptionally beautiful youth, Ganymede had caught the attention of Zeus when he was out watching over his father’s flock of sheep on Mount Ida. Now, depending on the versions of the story being told, Zeus, either in the guise of an eagle or sending his eagle Aquila, comes and carries him off to Mount Olympus.

Now, when King Tros heard of his son’s disappearance, he grieved so much that Zeus sent the messenger god Hermes to deliver two storm-footed horses as compensation. Other versions state that Zeus gave Tros a golden vine crafted by the god Hephaistos in addition to the two horses. These horses were said to be so fast that they could run over water. The legendary Heracles would ask for these same horses later as payment for destroying the sea monster sent by the god Poseidon when he attacked the city of Troy. Hermes was tasked too with assuring Tros that Ganymede would become immortal and have a place of great honor among the gods as Zeus’ cup-bearer.

Once he arrived in Olympus, Ganymede faced the wrath of Hera, the wife of Zeus. She was angry and very likely jealous that her husband had taken such a fancy to a young boy. In addition to this, Hera was also angry that Zeus intended for Ganymede to replace Hebe, her daughter as the cup-bearer, after an incident where Hebe had accidentally spilled some of the nectar of the gods.

Eos Kidnapping Ganymede & Tithonus

Another version of this myth says that it was Eos, the goddess of the Dawn who carries off Ganymede to Mount Olympus. At this same time, Eos had also kidnapped another, Tithonus. Zeus succeeded at snatching Ganymede away from Eos while making a bargain with her for Tithonus to become immortal. In her bargaining, Eos forgot to ask for Tithonus to also remain youthful. As a result, everyday Eos watched Tithonus grow older until she locked him in a room as she could no longer bear the sight of him so old or he turned into a grasshopper.

Ganymedes’ Lineage – Divine Heritage

While Ganymede is listed as the son of Tros, ruler of Dardania that would become known as Troy and Callirrhoe, the daughter of the river god Scamander.

Tros and Callirrhoe had two other sons: Assaracus and Ilus.

In Pseudo-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca, he mentions that Tros and Callirrhoe also had a daughter, Cleopatra, a rather common name and not necessarily any of a line of Egyptian Queens.

It should be noted in some versions, Tros is the son of Erichthonius, who in turn is himself the son of Astyoche the daughter of the river god Simoeis. Following the lineage back through Tros’ grandfather of Dardanus, you find a connection to Zeus in the way of his being the great grandfather to Tros.

Ultimately, that makes Zeus Ganymede’s’ Great-Great Grandfather.

Sometimes, the genealogy of Ganymede gets confused and instead of Tros as his father, it is another king of Troy, Laomedon who is mentioned as the youth’s father. It can get rather confusing, as the genealogy will place Laomedon as a nephew to Ganymede with Ilus II as his father and thus Tros as grandfather to him. The overall story of Ganymede is still pretty much the same regardless of who’s mentioned as the father.

Cup-Bearer To The Gods

Regardless of the versions of the story told, Ganymede does become the cup-bearer to the gods and basically serves them their wine. Further variations of this story tell how Ganymede would ride Zeus’ eagle Aquila, accompanying this god on his travels. Both the Aquila constellation near Aquarius and the constellation of Crater, said to be Ganymede’s cup, are near the Aquarius constellation to complete this story.

Ganymede also becomes deified as he was given immorality and eternal youth by Zeus and ends up being the one responsible for the annual Nile River flooding and the life-giving waters of rain. Some scholars have pointed out that like the story of Capricorn, the Greeks are borrowing from other older stories and cultures as well as coming up with their own stories to explain the images and what the constellations mean.

In Roman times, the name Ganymede was sometimes used for handsome slaves who served as cupbearers. Furthering this, many have pointed out that the story of Ganymede is a clear indication and precedence for homosexuality in Greek culture. Others, like in Plato’s writings of dialogues between him and Socrates, say that it wasn’t homosexuality. Instead, they point out the meaning of the name Ganymede for “taking pleasure of the mind.” That Zeus loved Ganymede non-sexually for his mind. Still, other sources point out that this is where the Latin word for catamite originates.

Homosexuality Within Greek Myths

There is a line of thought that points out that all of Zeus’ romantic affairs have some sort of allegorical meaning. The primary one with the story of Ganymede being that of homosexuality in Greek culture.

Before the story of Ganymede and Zeus became popular, the only mention of this type of behavior is found within the worship of the goddess Cybele. Her male followers and devotees would try to attain unity with her through castration and dressing as women.

Early Versions Of The Myth – As previously stated, the earliest retellings of Ganymede’s story have no erotic overtones. It isn’t until the fifth century B.C.E. that any sort of sexual relationship between Ganymede and Zeus is mentioned. There has been found a number of Attic vases showing the erotic relationship between the two.

Pederasty Becoming popular around 7 B.C.E. in ancient Greece, the social acceptance of pederasty appears very suddenly and the first mention of it is on a Cretan brass plaque. Even the famous philosopher Plato makes mention of pederasty having Cretan origins. Pederasty is the relationship between an older man and a younger man, often in his teens. Ancient Greek social customs say this relationship was consensual.

Plato had Socrates deny Ganymede as the catamite of Zeus. Plato goes on to say that Zeus loved the youth non-sexually and for his mind or psyche. Further, of all of Zeus’ lovers, Ganymede is the only one who is given immortality. Though this is likely overlooking the genealogy of Ganymede’s and that he’s given immortality as he’s a descendant of Zeus’. At the same time, it makes sense for Zeus to love Ganymede’s mind or intellect when he’s just bringing home a descendant of his in whom he might see a lot of potential and wants to preserve it with immortality.

Once pederasty became popular, some scholars point out that it is or was part of an initiation ritual and in line with entering into the military and the worshiping of Zeus. There would be the presenting of gifts to the youth after his being abducted and taken to the country side. When the youth returned later, he would sacrifice a bull to Zeus.

Among the different regions of ancient Greece, pederasty was viewed and seen differently. Among the Spartans and Megarians, their cultures didn’t allow for the practice. In Athens, it was a practice reserved only for the aristocracy. Thebans and Boeotians used the practice as an educational means for young boys and to curb their more aggressive tendencies. The Dorians practiced it as well.

For those who have analyzed the myth of Ganymede, they have noted that in many Greek Coming-Of-Age stories for homosexuality, such pederastic relationships didn’t take place without the father’s approval or supervision.

Artistic & Poetic Symbolism – In poetry, Ganymede is used to symbolize an attractive young male drawn towards homosexual desires and love. He is not always shown as such though. In Apollonius’ Argonautica, Ganymede gets upset with a young, god Eros when he’s cheated at a game of chance with dice. Aphrodite, goddess of Love proceeds to chastise her son Eros for cheating a beginner.

The poet Virgil uses the imagery of Ganymede’s abduction with the youth’s elderly tutors trying uselessly to pull him back to earth while his hounds howl pathetically up towards the heavens.

Fifth century Attic vases frequently show Ganymede and Zeus’ sexual relationship. Ganymede is shown as a handsome youth. In his abduction scenes, he’s shown with a rooster (a lover’s gift), a hoop (a boy’s toy) or a lyre. In these scenes, he is either being carried off by an eagle or offering food to an eagle from a patera. When Ganymede is shown as the cup-bearer to the gods, he is usually shown as pouring nectar from a jug.

Sculptures and mosaic art often shows Ganymede with a shepherd’s crook and wearing a Phrygian cap.

God Of Homosexuality

Despite what the early myths may show and as stories do change and evolve over time, Ganymede does become the god of Homosexuality. Ganymede is often shown as a companion and playmate to the other gods of love, Eros (Love) and Hymenaios (Marital Love). Plato referred to Ganymede as Himeros (Sexual Desire).

The Trojan War

Hera had once been the patron goddess of Troy and her hatred of Ganymede as another lover in a long line of Zeus’ many affairs, has been used by poets and writers to explain why in the story of the Trojan War there is a sudden shift in alliances and support by the gods.

In Quintus Smyrnaeus’ “Fall of Troy” Ganymede is horrified by the invasion of his homeland and pleads with Zeus as he mentions their relationship as kinsmen not to be allowed to see the destruction of Troy. Persuaded by Ganymede’s tears, Zeus veils the city of Priamos in a fog bank that stopped the Greeks fighting.

Patriarchy Versus Matriarchy

The ancient historian and mythographer Apollodorus has taken the stance that the story of Ganymede shows the triumph of the patriarchy over the matriarchy. That men didn’t need women or their attentions.

The famous philosopher Plato used the story of Ganymede to justify his sexual feelings with his male students. That is, loving someone for their intellect.

That certainly seems to be evident with Zeus taking in interest in Ganymede and having him replace Hebe as the cup-bearer to the gods in the accounts that remember Zeus’ and Ganymede’s genealogy and relationship to each other.

Cretan & Minoan Connection – Possible Reality

First, it helps to remember and know that the Minoan culture and civilization predates the Classical Greek culture by some two thousand years. In the Cretan accounts of the story of Ganymede, it is either Tantalus or Minos who abducts the youth. While they were chasing after Ganymede, he is killed and they end up burying him up on Mysian Olympus.

There is a story of King Minos’ brother, Rhadamanthus who loved the youth Talos. Some scholars have speculated that this may be the source of Cretan traditions and customs of homosexuality.

In Plato’s Timaeus, he has no problems blaming the Cretes for coming up with the story of Ganymede as being a lover of Zeus in order to justify their own practices of homosexuality and saying they were only following an example set out by Zeus and his laws. Many Greek authors beyond Plato tended to agree on the practices of pederasty being introduced to the Greeks from Crete.

In the Byzantine Suda, King Minos of Crete on hearing of Tros’ fame in Phrygia, he went to the city of Dardanos to stay as a guest of Tros. While there, Minos and Tros exchanged gifts with each other. After a while, Minos asked to see Tros’ sons, so that he could give them gifts too. Tros informed Minos that his sons were out hunting. Hearing that, Minos wanted to go hunting with the youths too. Tros sent an attendant out to meet his sons where they were hunting near the Granikos river. Minos however, had already sent his ships ahead of the hunting party. Minos had seen the youth Ganymede and fallen in love with him. So he had given orders to his men to the youth. Ganymede however, to escape the pain of his captivity, killed himself with a sword and Minos had him buried in a temple. From there of course, comes the later, more familiar story of Zeus abducting Ganymede and making him immortal.

Egyptian Connection

Ganymede, far as Greek myths goes, is viewed as the source of the Nile river and its life sustaining waters. In Egyptian legend, this god is Hapi, who is responsible for dispensing the life sustaining waters and making the Nile valley fertile.

Mesopotamian Connection

The story of Ganymede seems to be related or taken from a Sumerian story of Etana, who descended to the heavens with the help of an eagle while looking for a plant of birth that in turn leads to the birth of his son, Balih.

Roman Connection

In the Roman telling of the myth, before Ganymede replaced Hebe’s role as cup-bearer, they held a competition to see who would have the honor of serving the gods. Naturally, Ganymede won, replacing Hebe and taking his place as a favorite companion to Jupiter. Apuleius, in his 2nd century C.E. novel The Golden Ass refers to Ganymede as being a country-lad rather than a prince of Troy.

A catamite in Roman usage is the younger, passive partner of a pederastic relationship between an older man and a youth. Now days in more modern slang, catamite has come to mean an effeminate homosexual man. The Latin word Catamitus comes from the Etruscan word catmite. Though the word has lost many of the mythological connections to the Greek myth. While many vulgar Latinizations of the name Ganymede change it to Catamitus or Catamite, Ovid in his Metamorphoses continues to use Ganymede’s Greek name.

Thracian Connection

Similar to the Cretan connection, a possible real world reality involves King Tantalus of Thrake mentioned in the Byzantine Suda. After Tros had won over all the local rulers or conquered them, he sent his son Ganymede with some 50 men to go out and make sacrifices in thanks to Zeus. Tantalus, certain that Ganymede was there to spy on his kingdom, sent his own men to intercept the youth. Once Tantalus, learned the truth of Ganymede’s mission, the king of Thrake tried to nurse the youth back to health. Unfortunately, Ganymede died from illness and Tantalus sent messengers to inform Tros of his son’s death. According to this account, it is later poets who are responsible for changing the story so that Zeus kidnapped Ganymede and became immortal.

Ganymede In Astronomy

Moon – In what should be no surprise to anyone, the seventh and largest moon of the planet Jupiter (the Roman counterpart to Zeus), is named Ganymede after the myth. Ganymede is the second largest moon in the Solar System and the ninth largest object as well.

Its discovery is attributed to Galileo Galilei on January 7th, 1610. However, Chinese astronomical records dating to 365 B.C.E. have a Gan De detecting with the naked eye, a moon of Jupiter. This moon is most likely to have been Ganymede.

Astrology – To commemorate Ganymede’s place among the gods and his story, Zeus placed his eagle, Aquila up into the heavens to become the constellation of the same name, along with the Aquarius Constellation representing Ganymede and the constellation Crater, representing the cup holding the nectar of the gods in it. None of which I can imagine sat well with Hera that Zeus seems to rub it into her face his new favorite mortal.

Aquila

Aquarius