Why We are Afraid of Women: The Anima, the Animus and the Great Goddess

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“The Life & Age of Woman – Stages of Woman’s Life from the Cradle to the Grave”, a ca. 1849 U.S. print illustrating 11 chronological stages of virtuous womanhood.

The word “feminine” and “feminism”, with its many variations, has become somewhat of a dirty word these days. Young women deny vehemently any suggestion that they are in any way a “feminist”. Some would cautiously say “yes I am a feminist” before quickly adding a qualifier “but I like men” as if not saying that would make them in any way less of a woman. The recently announced actress for the TV Show Dr. Who, the first female to take on the iconic 50+ years character, drew such vitriol online that she had to urge the audience to “not be afraid” of her gender – These are only some mild examples compared to many other situations where an apology, explanation or, at least, an earnest assurance that no harm is being done is required for being a woman.

As with everything else, there are ancient precedents for this distaste for femininity. One source of resistance in Europe stems from the gynophobia of the early Church Fathers of Christianity. The church institutionalized the message that the present position of women in society is better than it has ever been before, and that this is due to Christianity and the church. The institutions of the state concurred in this assessment since it suited them well enough. These views have become entrenched in religion and law, since both the church and state base their powers on the cultural assumption that women are inferior, weaker and dependent, compared with the superior men. However, the reality is that none of these claims has ever been true in the family, the community, religion, or society at large. Aristophanes was aware of this and it is part of the comedy in his play “Lysistrata”, in which the women abstain from sexual relations with their husbands until the men promise to stop making wars and trouble all over the place. It worked for a while but, of course, not completely as planned because most normal healthy women are not saints either.

AMAZONS_EURASIA.jpgAlthough the 19th century Swiss scientist Johann Jakob Bachofen showed that a matrifocal age once existed in Europe, many people still resist this notion. One reason is the, by now culturally embedded, memory of males being the socially dominant and the center of attention. Evidence that this is purely a cultural choice has been interpreted as an attempt to lower the prestige of men in their own eyes, and perhaps reduce their hold on the centers of power. Therefore, it has been strongly resisted.

The nature of the Great Goddess gives us a clue to one of the deepest reasons for the resistance to evidence of matriarchies and other matrifocal cultures. There is no complete list of all the names the goddess has had and still has, but in Europe, the Nile-Oxus Region and North Africa,  she has more than 260 names. She has been called the Triple Goddess, the White Goddess, the Goddess of Creation, the Great Mother, and Goddess of the Sea (the sea represents feelings – deep and untameable). We find that in some cultures with strong traditions of the Sea Goddess a strongly-held belief that marrying the goddess (or at least mating her to a king or a hero) is considered to be the way to “tame” her spirit.

The Great Goddess combines all aspects of the Triple Goddess in one personality – she is nurturing, enchanting and dangerous at the same time. She is both beautiful and terrifying. To have a close encounter with her can be deeply disturbing, even fatal, for a man if he is not guarded and careful. However, women report different reactions, such as reaching a new degree of maturity in their womanhood. They feel empowered, stronger and more certain in who they are and how they can contribute to their society.

goddess -Joy-_sculpture_by_Christine_Baxter_2013The myths and attributes of the White Goddess or Triple Goddess are remarkably similar all over the world, from Ireland to Japan and from Africa to Hawaii. In fact the goddess has all the characteristics of the Jungian Anima. The anima and animus are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind as well as the abstract symbolic sets that formulate the archetype of the Self. Both are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious – that is, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of a man, this archetype finds expression as a feminine inner personality (anima) and in the unconscious of a woman it is expressed as a masculine inner personality (animus). The anima also influences a man’s interactions with women and his attitudes toward them and vice versa for women and the animus. Jung viewed the anima as being one of the sources of creative ability.

The association of the goddess with the Anima explains many things about her – why she is a source of creativity and destruction, of exaltation and terror; and why most men find it difficult to think about her without becoming emotional, and find it almost impossible to talk sensibly about her at all. This also explains why the prospect of reaching mature womanhood (i.e. being older) is a terrifying prospect for many women. The suppression of the goddess religions, which was often quite irrationally brutal, is also more understandable if one considers it as a reaction by the Animus after a long period of domination by the Anima.

Almost all of the myths of the Great Mother goddess have now been replaced by myths of gods, or, as in the story of Talia, they have been altered so much that the original meaning has been lost. The oldest surviving form of the Snow White story is inseparable from the Sleeping Beauty story. It involves a girl named Talia who is exiled to the forest, gets a poisoned thorn in her finger and goes into a death-like coma. The handsome prince comes along and makes her pregnant. Talia gives birth to two children, a boy and a girl. Of course, this is not the Disney version of the story, but there is another component of the story, now forgotten, that lifts it out of the realm of fairy tales completely – the children’s names were Sun and Moon. Talia was a goddess of creation, and the handsome prince was a god. It is a story of how the universe came into being and Talia is the Great Mother goddess. So, the Great Goddess is not dead as in the stories we read to our children there are still remnants of a tradition that goes back tens of thousands of years.

 “Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” is coming soon. Meanwhile, other volumes of “Time Maps” can be found through this link.

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The Lost Legend of the Human Races: The People who Haven’t Found Their Way Back to Each Other

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At the beginning of this cycle of time, the Great Spirit divided the people of the world into five groups, giving each of them a different color. To each he gave specific teachings, and to each he gave a specific task. He then sent four of the groups out in four different directions in the world. Cautioning them that one group can never exist alone, the Great Spirit instructed that, when they came back together again, the five groups were to share their teachings and what they had learned in carrying out their tasks.

RACES-Women.jpgThe task of the black people was to learn about the Earth – how things grow, foods that are good to eat, plants that heal. They would be able to teach others about survival and endurance.

The task of the yellow people was to learn about water – the most humble, yet most powerful of the elements and strongly linked to our human emotions. Through their own difficulties, they would be able to teach others how to adapt to life’s unpredictable circumstances.

RACES-boygirlThe task of the red people was to learn about wind – breath and animal life, air, the sky and everything within and above it. From this, they would learn about change, stability and motivation, then share their knowledge with others.

The task of the white people was to learn about fire – action and movement, consuming and changing all it touches, typified by strong mind and will. From this, they would learn, and later teach others, about moderation as well as humility to give and accept help.

The task of the brown people was to learn about their own nature as human beings – brown being the union of the four other colors. From this, they would understand and share the nature and power of love.

So the people went out and studied all the matters as they had been instructed, but they were very slow learners and it took a very long time. By the time they began to meet again, they had forgotten the instruction to teach and share what they had learned. They had forgotten that they each had only a part of the human experience and that they still had to learn the other parts from each other.

This story is based on some Native American teachings and a few inputs from Asian traditions.

 Martini

TimeMaps001This is a retelling of an excerpt from Time Maps: History, Prehistory and Biological Evolution, by Dr. R.K Fisher and Martini Fisher. The book is available in Amazon and in bookstores. To get your copy, click here.

Sol et Luna: Creation Myths of the Sun and the Moon

sunA rather lovely solar creation myth from Japan contains a reference to a floating cloud in the midst of infinite space, before matter had taken any other form. This also nicely describes the original nebula from which scientists say the solar system was evolved. The legend says that when there was no heaven, earth, sun, or moon, there was only the Invisible Lord of the Middle Heaven existing in an infinite space. With him there were two other gods. Between them, they created a floating cloud in the midst of which was a liquid formless and lifeless mass from which the earth was evolved.

After this, seven generations of gods were born in heaven – the last and most perfect were Izanagi and Izanami who went on to become the parents of the world and all that is in it. After the creation of the world of living things, Izanagi bathed his left eye and sprang Amaterasu, the great Sun-Goddess. Izanagi rejoiced and put a necklace of jewels he around her neck. He said to her, “Rule thou over the Plain of High Heaven.” Thus Amaterasu became the source of all life and light worshipped by mankind. Then Izanagi he bathed his right eye, and there appeared Tsukuyomi,the Moon-God. Izanagi said: “Rule thou over the Dominion of Night.”

In Norse mythology, Odin arranged the periods of daylight and darkness, and the seasons. He placed the sun and moon in the heavens, and regulated their respective courses. Day and Night were considered mortal enemies as light came from above, and darkness from beneath. However, there is another version which says that the sun and moon were formed from the sparks from the fire land of Muspelheim. The father of the two luminaries was Mundilfare, and he named his beautiful boy and girl, Maane (Moon) and Sol (Sun). The gods took his children from him and placed them in the heavens, where they permitted Sol to drive the horses of the sun, and gave over the regulation of the moon’s phases to Maane.

Among the Eskimos of Behring Strait, the creation of the earth and all it contains is attributed to the Raven Father. The Raven Father came from the sky after a great deluge. He made the dry ground and created human and animal life. But mankind threatened the animal life, and this so annoyed the Raven Father that he punished man by taking the sun out of the sky, and hiding it in a bag at his home. The people were frightened at the loss of the sun, and offered rich gifts to the Raven Father to appease him. So he relented somewhat, and would hold the sun up in one hand for a day or two at a time, so that the people could have sufficient light for hunting, and then he would put it back in his bag again. This arrangement, though better than nothing, was not satisfactory to people. The Raven’s brother took pity on them, and thought of a scheme to better human conditions. He faked his death, and after he had been buried and the mourners had gone away, he came forth from the grave, and turned himself into a leaf which floated on the surface of a stream. Later, the Raven’s wife came to the stream for a drink and, dipping up the water, she swallowed with it the leaf. The Raven’s wife soon after gave birth to a boy who cried continually for the sun, and his father, to silence him, often gave him the sun to play with. One day, when no one was about, the boy flew away with the sun and placed it in its proper place in the sky. He also regulated its daily course, making day and night, so that the people always have the constant light of the sun to guide them by day.

The ancient Peruvians believed that the god Viracocha rose out of Lake Titicaca, and made the sun, moon, and stars, and regulated their courses. The Muyscas, who inhabited the high plains of Bogota, was said to have lived in a state of savagery. Then came from the east an old bearded man, Bochica (the Sun), who taught them agriculture and the worship of the gods. However, his wife Huythaca was not pleased with his attentions to mankind and caused a great deluge which drowned most of the inhabitants of the earth. This, of course, angered Bochica, and he drove his wife away from the earth by turning her into the Moon. He then dried up the earth, and once more made it habitable for mankind to live in.

sun1According to Mexican tradition, Nexhequiriac was the creator of the world. He sent down the Sun-God and the Moon-God to illuminate the earth, so that mankind could see to perform their daily tasks. The Sun-God went on his way without delay, but the Moon-God, who was hungry, saw a rabbit and started chasing it. This, of course, took time. After he caught and ate it, he looked up and found his brother,  the Sun, had outdistanced him. He was, in fact, so far ahead, so that thereafter the Moon-God was unable to overtake him. This is also the reason, says the legend, why the sun always appears to be ahead of the moon, and why the sun always looks fresh and red, and the moon sick and pale. Those who gaze intently at the moon can still see the rabbit dangling from her mouth.

According to the Tonga tribe, of the South Pacific Islands, before there was any light upon the earth, Vatea and Tonga-iti argued about which one of them was the parent of a child. Each was confident the child was his and to end the dispute they decided to share it. The infant was then cut in two. Vatea took the upper half as his share, and squeezing it into a ball tossed it up into the sky where it became the sun. Tonga-iti allowed his share, the lower part of the infant, to remain on the ground for a day or two, but seeing the brightness of Vatea’s half, he squeezed his share too, and threw it up into the dark sky when the sun was absent in the underworld, and it became the moon. Thus the sun and the moon were created, and the paleness of the moon is due to the fact that all the blood was drained out of it when it lay on the ground.

 

Titillatio: A Brief Mythology, Ancient History and Philosophy of Tickling

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Aristotle defined man as a rational and political animal. But there are also passages in his work that indicate another less remarked upon definition. In Parts of Animals, he writes, “When people are tickled, they quickly burst into laughter, and this is because the motion quickly penetrates to this part, and even though it is only gently warmed, still it produces an independent movement in the intelligence which is recognizable.” He continues to argue that touch is the most primary sense and human beings are uniquely privileged in possessing the sharpest sense of touch because of the delicate nature of their skin. He says that, although other animals have more advanced smell or hearing, a man’s sense of touch is the most fine-tuned. This leads to some of us to think that tickling is a side effect of the hyper-sensitivity of human touch. Thanks to our sophisticated and discriminating access to the world around us, we are particularly vulnerable to tickling.

However, this “privilege” did not last long as many scientific researches have refuted Aristotle’s claim about how tickling could only effect human beings. It has been found that monkeys are ticklish too, and a recorded laughter-like ultrasonic chirping in tickled rats also exists. But, the most famous ticklish animal is the trout as it would fall into a trance-like state when its underbelly is lightly rubbed. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Maria says, while planning to trick Malvolio, “Lie thou there; for here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling.”

Neuroscientist Robert Provine posed a rather elaborate speculation which links tickling with both humorous laughter and the prehistoric birth of comedy. He writes, “I forge recklessly into the paleohumorology fray, proposing my candidate for the most ancient joke—the feigned tickle (Real tickling is disqualified because of its reflexive nature). The ‘I’m going to get you’ game of the threatened tickle is practiced by human beings worldwide and is the only joke that can be told equally well to a baby human and a chimpanzee. Both babies and chimps ‘get’ this joke and laugh exuberantly.” His argument is that proper ticklish laughter is not actually funny because it is too much of an automatic or neurological reaction. To make tickling funny, it needs to be distanced from reflex. It is the suspended gesture that gets a laugh – the real gesture might get one slapped. Therefore, a child will wriggle and squirmed when tickled, but they will actually laugh only if they perceive the tickling as a mock attack, a caress in a mildly aggressive and irritating disguise.

The ambivalence of tickling, a delight that can quickly become excruciating, would seem particularly well suited to describe the concept of pleasure-in-pain that so fascinated thinkers from Plato, Nietzsche, Freud etc. They agree that tickling serves as an alternate way of thinking about pleasure,  as titillation and excitation. Nietzsche put it, “What is the best life? To be tickled to death.” – I hope someone would do a research on whether this man was ever tickled in his life. However, he is not wrong about this. Foot tickling for sexual arousal was used in the Muscovite palaces and courts for centuries. Many of the Czarinas (Catherine the Great, Anna Ivanovna, Elizabeth and others) were participants of this activity. The practice was so popular that eunuchs and women were employed as full time foot ticklers. They developed this skill so well that their occupations brought prestige and good pay. Anna Leopoldovna had at least six ticklers at her feet. While the ticklers performed their task, they also told bawdy stories and sang obscene ballads. This was done to work the ladies up to an erotic pitch so that they could meet their husbands or lovers in a sex impassioned mood.

But can one actually die from tickling? Yes. When children enthusiastically tickle one another, it serves the double purpose of inspiring peer bonding and honing reflexes and self-defense skills. In 1984, psychiatrist Donald Black noted that many ticklish parts of the body, such as the neck and the ribs, are also the most vulnerable in combat. He inferred that children learn to protect those parts during tickle fights, a relatively safe activity. However, the tickling itself can be torture enough. Tickle torture can be an extended act of tickling where the recipient of the tickling would view it as a long time or tickling of an intense nature. This can be due to the length of time they are tickled, the intensity of the tickling or the areas that are being tickled. This can simply be a 30-second tickle applied to the victim’s bare feet, which can seem like a much longer time if the feet are very ticklish.

Mythology is littered with spirits who uses tickling as a torture device. In Inuit mythology, Mahaha is a maniacal demon that terrorized parts of the arctic. This creature is described as a thin sinewy being, ice blue in colour and cold to the touch. His eyes are white and they peer through the long stringy hair that hangs in his face. This demon is always smiling and giggling – taking pleasure in tickling its victims to death with sharp vicious nails attached to its long bony fingers. All of its victim have a similar expression on their dead faces – a twisted frozen smile.

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Leshy – Imagine being tickled by him!

A Leshy is a spirit of the Slavic forests. They serve as the protectors of the various forests and its animals, having a close bond with gray wolves and often being accompanied by bears. They naturally are the form of a large human-looking being, but can shape-shift into any plant or animal. They have long hair and beards made of living grass and vines. In the center of a forest, they are a tree-like giant, who camouflage nicely with their long limbs, grassy eyebrows, and no detectable shadows.  A leshy has the ability to imitate voices of people familiar to wanderers.They will cry out and get their victims to wander deeper into forests or caves. Being tickled to death by a Leshy has been known to happen. This is most likely because they don’t know when “fun” is enough and wind up accidentally killing their victims.

Of course, if something exists in mythology, it would also exist, up to a point, in history. Chinese tickle torture is an ancient form of torture practiced by the Chinese, in particular the courts of the Han Dynasty. Chinese tickle torture was a punishment for nobility since it left no marks and a victim could recover relatively easily and quickly. In ancient Japan, those in positions of authority could administer punishments to those convicted of crimes that were beyond the criminal code. This was called shikei, which translates as ‘private punishment.’ One such torture was kusuguri-zeme: “merciless tickling.” Dutch physiologist Joost Meerloo recounts an especially cruel tickle torture employed by the ancient Romans. On the scaffold, the soles of a victim’s feet were covered with a salt solution so that a goat, attracted by the salt, would lick it off with his rough tongue and continually tickle the skin. By so doing, the salty skin was gradually rasped away. Then, the wounded skin would again be covered with the biting salt solution—ad infinitum, till the victim died from the torture.

In Laurent Joubert’s Renaissance treatise on laughter, he reports hearing “of a young man whom two girls were tickling importunately to the point that he no longer uttered a word. They thought he had fainted until, thunderstruck, they realized he was dead, asphyxiated.” A news item in Illustrated Police News, 11 December 1869, recounts the story of a young wife whose husband, his name was Michael Puckridge, claimed that he had a cure for her varicose veins. After he persuaded her to allow herself to be tied to a plank, she found that her husband had instead devised a plan to tickle her into insanity. The plan worked as she was institutionalized as a result of her husband’s diabolical featherwork.

Deus Lunus: the Men of the Moon

Due to the influence of the Greek Artemis-Selênê and the Latin Diana-Luna, we generally associate the moon with femininity. Indeed, I have written many articles on different aspects of the moon and, in one article, I have tried to cover both the masculine and feminine aspect of the moon, including its association with rabbits. I have to admit, though, that associating the moon with masculinity is rather challenging. Personally, I’m used to thinking of the moon as feminine and, research-wise, records of moon gods are just a little trickier to put together. However, the idea of concentrating on the masculine side of the moon is intriguing and worth attempting.

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The Sun Goddes, Sol, and the Moon God, Mani

Among the Germanic nations the moon is masculine and the sun feminine. It is the daughter of Sôl, the Norse Sun-goddess, who in the regenerated world shall ride on her mother’s track when the gods are dead; and it is the god Mâni, who at Ragnarok, ‘the-Twilight-of-the-gods,’ shall be devoured by the Wolf of darkness, Managarmr, ‘Moon-swallower,’ a reduplication of the terrible wolf Fenrir.

In Egypt, Chons is the personification of the moon, and in this character he is called Chonsaah or Chons the moon. His name seems to mean “the chaser,” or “pursuer”. He is said to be personified as the Unicorn who chases the Lion-sun – I really have to research this further because this sounds awesome. Another Kamic-lunar personage is Thoth, the weighing and measuring god as well as the lord of knowledge and writing. The crescent is found followed by the figure of Thoth in several hieroglyphic legends, with the phonetic name Aah.

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Thoth

Arabian mythology consider the moon masculine, and not feminine – a belief that survives to this day. In Sanskrit the most current names for the moon, such as Kandra, Soma, Indu, Vidhu, are masculine. The names of the moon are frequently used in the sense of month, and these and other names for month retain the same gender.

Yue Lao (“old man under the moon”), is a god of marriage and love in Chinese mythology. He appears at night, and “unites with a silken cord all predestined couples, after which nothing can prevent their union.” He is immortal and is said to live either in the moon or in the underworld.

During the Tang Dynasty, there was a young man named Wei Gu. Once he was passing the city of Songcheng, where he saw an old man leaning on his pack reading a book in the moonlight. Being amazed at it, Wei Gu walked up and asked what he was doing. The old man answered, “I am reading a book of marriage listing for who is going to marry whom. In my pack are red cords for tying the feet of husband and wife.” When Wei Gu and the old man came together to a marketplace, they saw a blind old woman carrying a three-year-old little girl in her arms. The old man said to Wei Gu,” This little girl will be your wife in the future.” Wei Gu thought this was too strange to believe and he ordered his servant to stab the girl with his knife.

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Yue Lao

Years later, a high official offered his daughter in marriage to Wei Gu who happily accepted and pleased that he finally found a wife. On the wedding night, he noticed a scar between her eye brows and enquired about it. His new wife told him about an incident where she was stabbed by a man in the City of Song. Wei Gu realized his wife was that little girl whom he tried to kill – perhaps understandably, he never told his wife that he tried to have her murdered.

The cult of the Moon-god Mên in Asia Minor was widely established in Asia Minor. The Augustan History has the Roman emperor Carcalla (r. 198–217) venerate Lunus at Carrhae. This masculine variant of the feminine Latin noun luna (“Moon”), has been taken as a Latinized name for Mēn. The same source records the local opinion that anyone who believes the deity of the moon to be feminine shall always be subject to women, whereas a man who believes that the moon is masculine will dominate his wife.

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Bust of Men

Carcalla is also said to have visited the temple of Sin, the Babylonian and Assyrian Moon-god. The expression, ‘From the origin of the god Sin,’ was used by the Assyrians to mark remote antiquity; because as chaos preceded order, so night preceded day, and the enthronement of the moon as the Night-king marks the commencement of the annals of cosmic order.

The Akkadian Moon-god, who corresponds with the Semitic Sin, is Aku, ‘the Seated-father,’ as chief supporter of kosmic order, styled ‘the-Maker-of-brightness,’ En-zuna, ‘the-Lord-of-growth,’ and Idu, the-Measuring-lord,’ the Aïdês of Hesychios. Amongst the Finns Kuu is the male god of the moon,  and exactly corresponds with Aku. It is singular to find also Kua as a moon-name in Central Africa.

Among the Mbocobis of South America, the moon is a man and the sun his wife. Amongst the Mexicans, Metztli, the Moon, was a hero. According to an Australian legend, Mityan, the Moon, was a native cat [male], who fell in love with some one else’s wife, and was driven away to wander ever since. The Khasias of the Himalaya say that the moon [male] falls monthly in love with his mother-in-law, who throws ashes in his face, which explains the spots we see on the moon.

 

Unravelling Ancient Myths and Legends FREE Ebook

anniversary_ebook_coversideI am very happy to be able to contribute a chapter for Ancient Origins‘ 4 Year Anniversary Ebook, “Unravelling Ancient Myths & Legends” on the lives and symbolism of the kitchen gods in Asian mythology.

“To mark the occasion of our 4 Year Anniversary, Ancient Origins has released our biggest ebook yet – titled “Unravelling Ancient Myths & Legends”. The ebook is a compilation of fascinating articles written exclusively for Ancient Origins which explores the unique history of myths and the familiar legends you THOUGHT you knew. Contributors include guest authors: Carl Johan Calleman, Petros Koutoupis, Armando Mei, Martini Fisher, Brien Foerster, Leonide Martin, Ken Jeremiah, Vincent Ongkowidjojo, Gary A. David, Dustin Naef, Adrienne Mayor, Chris ‘Mogg’ Morgan, Charles Christian and Hugh Newman.”

To get your free copy, please follow this link:

Ancient Origins’ 4 Year Anniversary Ebook: Unravelling Ancient Myths and Legends

Happy anniversary, Ancient Origins. Here’s to many more!

Martini

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Murder by Mistletoe: The Ancient Art of Blindsiding through Norse and Persian Myths

One of those deities whose life might, in a sense, be said to be between heaven and earth was the Norse god Balder, the good and beautiful god, the son of the great god Odin, and himself the wisest, mildest and best beloved of all the immortals.

The story of his death is this: Balder dreamed something which seemed to forebode his death. He told the other gods about this and, because he was so beloved, the gods held a council and resolved to secure him from any danger. So the goddess Frigg took an oath from fire and water, iron and all metals, stones and earth, trees, sicknesses and poisons, and from all four-footed beasts, birds and creepy things that they would not hurt Balder.

When this was done Balder was deemed invulnerable; so the gods amused themselves in their downtime by setting him in their midst – some would shoot at him and others threw stones at him, because why not? But whatever they did, nothing could hurt him, so at they had a big laugh and a jolly time was had by all. But Loki, the mischief-maker, didn’t think this was fair, and he went in the guise of an old woman to Frigg, who told him that the weapons of the gods could not wound Balder, since she had made them all swear not to hurt him.

When Loki asked, “Have all things sworn to spare Balder?” Frigg answered, “East of Valhalla grows a plant called mistletoe; it seemed to me too young to swear.” So Loki went there, pulled the mistletoe and took it to the assembly of the gods. There he found the blind god Hother standing at the outside of the circle. Loki asked him, “Why do you not shoot at Balder?” Hother answered, “Because I do not see where he stands; besides I have no weapon.” Then Loki said, “Join in the fun. I will show you  where he stands and you can shoot him with this twig.” Hother took the mistletoe and threw it at Balder, as Loki directed. The mistletoe struck Balder and he fell down dead.

balder-and-nannaFor a while the gods stood speechless, then they wept bitterly. They took Balder’s body and brought it to the sea-shore. There stood Balder’s ship, Ringhorn. Balder’s body was taken and placed on the funeral pile upon his ship. When his wife Nanna saw it, her heart burst in sorrow and she died. So she was laid on the funeral pyre with her husband. Balder’s horse, too, with all its trappings, was burned, so the couple could journey on it to the underworld.

In the older Edda, the tragic tale of Balder is hinted at rather than told at length. Among the visions which the Norse Sibyl sees and describes in the weird prophecy known as the Voluspa is one of the fatal mistletoe. “I behold,” she said, “Fate looming for Balder, Woden’s son, the bloody victim. There stands the Mistletoe slender and delicate, blooming high above the ground. Out of this shoot, so slender to look on, there shall grow a harmful fateful shaft. Hod shall shoot it, but Frigga in Fen-hall shall weep over the woe of Wal-hall.”

But looking far into the future the Sibyl sees a brighter vision of a new heaven and a new earth, where the fields unsown shall yield their increase and all sorrows shall be healed; then Balder will come back to dwell in Odin’s mansions of bliss, in a hall brighter than the sun, shingled with gold, where the righteous shall live in joy for ever more.

balder-vs-hotherWriting about the end of the twelfth century, the old Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus tells the story of Balder where Balder and Hother were rival suitors for the hand of Nanna, daughter of Gewar, King of Norway.  Balder was a demigod and common steel could not wound his sacred body. The two rivals battle each other. Although Odin, Thor and the rest of the gods fought on Balder’s side, Balder was defeated and flew away. So Hother married the princess. But Balder didn’t give up and again met Hother in a field. But he fared even worse than before because Hother gave him a deadly wound with a magic sword which he had received from Miming, the Satyr of the woods; and after three days in pain, Balder died of his pain and was buried with royal honours in a barrow.

Whether he was a real or mythical, Balder was worshipped in Norway. On one of the bays of Sogne Fiord, which penetrates far into the depths of the Norwegian mountains, Balder had a great sanctuary. It was called Balder’s Grove.

statue_of_rostamWe like to think that the figure of Balder was nothing more than a myth, but it is also possible that the myth was founded on the tradition of a hero, popular and beloved in his lifetime, who long survived in the memory of the people, gathering more and more of the marvelous stories about him as he passed from generation to generation of story-tellers. So it is worth while to observe that a somewhat similar story is told of another national hero, who may well have been a real man. In his poem, The Epic of Kings, founded on Persian traditions, the poet Firdusi tells us that in the combat between Rostam and Esfandiyar, Rostam’s arrows did no harm to his adversary, “because Zerdusht had charmed his body against all dangers, so that it was like unto brass.” But Simurgh, the bird of God, showed Rostam the way to vanquish his foe.

Rostam rode after her, and they halted not till they came to the sea-shore. There she led him into a garden, where a tamarisk stood tall and strong, branches piercing to the sky. Then the bird of God asked Rostam to break a tree a branch that was long and slender, and made it into an arrow. She said, “Only through his eyes can Isfendiyar be wounded. If, therefore, thou wouldst slay him, direct this arrow to his forehead, and it shall not miss its aim.” Rostam did as he was asked to do; and when next he fought with Isfendiyar, he shot the arrow at him. The arrow pierced Isfendiyar’s eye and killed him.

 

Martini