⇑ to title page ⇐ to table of contents

Bestiary
page twenty first

Milda

Milda

Some gods and goddesses come to glory much later than one would expect.

Probably.

This word is very important for further reading. For it is far from certain that the ancient Lithuanians really entrusted a lady named Milda with the oversight of love. Today, however, it doesn't matter, because the neopagans have claimed her.

The first written mention of the goddess, whose name became one of the most popular maiden names in the country, dates back to 1835 when the Lithuanian historian Teodor Narbutt wrote about her. He also gave her the name Aleksota and identified the only place of her temple as the suburb of Kaunas of the same name, Aleksotas. Archaeologists, however, have not found any remains of it, nor have folklorists, carefully researching folk tales and songs. It happens that invention and desire overtake facts. But it may equally happen - but it happens very rarely - that indeed one single person finds or notices one single forgotten source.

In any case, the work of Theodor Narbutt began to be quoted. Along with some historians, artists also took up the beautiful goddess. The one who contributed most to Milda's modern fame was Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, the author of the three-volume epic poem Anafielas. The May Day celebrations of the goddess Milda are described in the first part. When this work on Lithuanian history was then translated into Lithuanian (Kraszewski was Polish), it became popular and went through several editions.

 

The painting of the goddess Milda, by Kazimierz Alchimowicz (1910) [Public domain] can be seen in the National Museum in Warsaw, via Wikimedia Commons

29.5.2024 (10.6.2018)

Quirinus

First, a quote:

Then battles o'er the world shall cease,

Harsh times shall mellow into peace:

Then Vesta, Faith, Quirinus, joined

With brother Remus, rule mankind:

(The Æneid of Virgil, translated by John Conington, London: Longmans, Green, and co, 1866.)

 

that we may know who we are dealing with. The founder of Rome, Romulus, who took the name Quirinus after his ascension.

But nothing is as simple as it first appears. In this case, we'll take a few steps back in time. For the identification of Quirinus with Romulus (the Romans then, especially on festive occasions, called themselves Quirites, the people of Quirinus) is a very recent affair. It took place in the last centuries BC when it was widely believed that the founder of Rome had been taken up to heaven by the god Mars. He was the protector of the future Eternal City and the Minister of War - it is not hard to guess that both offices had been held by Quirinus before him, and the ascension was a religious way out of the emergency, a merging of the two cults into as consistent a single one as possible.

And a step deeper in history we find a Sabine settlement on a hill called Quirinal, later part of Rome, still called Quirinale, and its protective god, of course, called Quirinus.

If the name of the Roman quarter sounds familiar to you, I would add that it is where the Italian President resides today, in the square of the same name, in the Palace of Quirinale.

29.5.2024 (1.9. 2003)

Anxur

is another pre-Roman deity. He was worshipped by the Volsci and had his main seat in the city of the same name, which was located somewhere halfway between Rome and Pompeii. The deity-hungry and adaptable Romans adopted the cult and worshipped Anxur as Jove Anxur, one of the forms of their main god. Iuppiter Anxur remained a dwelling in the eponymous Anxur, now known as Terracina; the temple of Jove Anxur found in this city dates from the first century BC.

29.5.2024 (1.9. 2003)

Tinia

Hunting among the pre-Roman gods, I can't possibly leave out the Etruscans.

Tinia (sometimes referred to as Tin) was their chief deity. It's not clear what he looked like; even the older statues depict someone strikingly similar to the Greek Zeus, lest others depict the same god with a lightning bolt of a completely different appearance; add to that the young man on the ornate Etruscan mirrors, and we find that the Etruscans - it seems - didn't bother inventing the faces of their gods. This fragmentation of imagery still troubles Etruscans today.

Tinia was the chief god and, of course, ruled the lightning. He had three kinds in his arsenal, a small-armed bolt which he fired to warn the earthlings. Medium caliber he was only allowed to use after a concilium of the twelve deities, and for the most powerful one, which destroyed everything, he had to consult a special team of gods.

With his wife Turan, the goddess of fertility, or more usually his wife Uni, ruler of the cosmos, he lived in the northern part of the sky. Along with Turan or Uni, as the case may be, he was also part of the usual divine triumvirate, which always was completed by the goddess Menrva, probably imported from Greece, since, like Pallas Athena, she was born from the head of the supreme god, wearing a helmet, armed with a spear and shield, and it is clear from her name that she later became the Roman Athena variant Minerva.

Tinia, boasting a spear and scepter in addition to lightning, was adopted by the Romans as one of the components of Jove, the path to this was not difficult, as the Etruscans supplied the nascent Rome with one royal dynasty, ruling from minus 650 to minus 510.

29.5.2024 (1.9. 2003)

Tinia (Tuscany)

The ancient Etruscans, as we already know, worshipped Tinia as the supreme god, according to Mediterranean tradition ruling over thunder and lightning. The modern inhabitants of the original country, the Tuscans, have retained some awareness of his existence. However, as was commonly the case, in Christian times Tinia (sometimes Tigna) changed sides. From the supreme and most revered god, he became an evil imp, one of the folletti. The demon of storm and hail, the enemy of the peasants and their crops. He attacked especially when a farmer cursed on his behalf. It was then appropriate to rebuke him (which nicely shows the divine origin).

29.5.2024 (3.10.2021)

Mara

The Buddhist lord of the sixth heaven - the world of lust, called Kamaloka, does not suffer like many of his Indian compatriots from a deficiency in the limbs, he has a hundred arms. He rides an elephant. He is the god of death, destruction, and evil. That is why he is also called the Gossip, the Pishuna, or the Sinner, the Pápimant.

His three daughters, named Arati (Gloom), who is sometimes called Priti (Cheerfulness), Trishna (Thirst), and the third is Raga (Delight) sometimes called Rati. follow a family tradition. These tried to seduce the Buddha himself but failed.

29.5.2024 (7.9.2003)

Apsaras

are another of the supernatural beings of both Buddhists and Hindus. In Pali they are called Akcharā, in both cases they are celestial fairies, dancers who fly in the air. They are invisible, not by nature, hiding under magical veils. Sometimes they take them off when they see a handsome man.

29.5.2024 (7.9.2003)

Préta

or péta is a hungry ghost that you can reincarnate into as a Buddhist if your life has not been spotless. Then you will have no choice but to haunt between worlds or on earth and suffer from hunger, because your mouth is no bigger than the eye of a needle, and moreover, you must not eat anything but excrement and urine.

29.5.2024 (7.9.2003)

Gwiber

Gwiber is a Cymric word and now means the same as English viper, but this is not a zoology class (although information about the animals of Wales would certainly enlighten us too) and so we have to go back a few centuries to see that in those days the Welsh thought of the word gwiber as a flying snake. Which brings us to the creature we now call the dragon.

The most famous Gwiber lived in a valley called Wibernant. It was the only one of its kind that could live both on land and underwater, usually feeding on fish and – much worse – eating livestock on land. That's why a bounty was placed on his head. One of the hunters who set out on the gwiber's trail was Owen Ap Gruffydd, and you can read the full story (in English) at Mysterious Britain.

29.5.2024 (14.9.2003)

Cwn Annwn

They are Welsh relatives of the English Barghests, the canine specters of death. Annwn, however, is an underground world inhabited by demons and magical creatures, a world known from ancient Celtic legends, ruled by Gwynn ap Nudd, Cwn Annwm then translated simply means Annwnm dogs. They are sometimes called Cwn Mamau, the Dogs of the Mothers, but why, my sources do not reveal.

They do, however, tell us that the Annwm pack is not only concerned with announcing death but enjoys taking part in the Wild Hunt, which occurs mainly in the autumn, and white dogs with red eyes certainly do well in it.

29.5.2024 (14. 9. 2003)

Gwyllion

Female demons inhabit the Welsh mountains, where they mislead pilgrims from the paths, a favorite pastime and job of many supernatural beings.

29.5.2024 (14.9.2003)

Fylgja, Hamr and Hugr

The issue of the alter ego, i.e. the Doppelganger, is a matter so complex that I just don't want to get into it. But to fill in some of the white spaces on the map, I'll introduce a trio of Doubles, or souls; this will occupy a few more territories - we once started talking about Doppelgangers here with a report on the Můra, so let's take a step forward in that direction while looking for Scandinavian myths, which I've (I really don't know why) avoided so far.

Moreover, the Nordic concept of the soul and the Doppelganger is a really good introduction to serious study, as it contains ancient elements of shamanism as well as later influences, maintaining continuity and roots with ancient paganism for many centuries. I am not, of course, going to go into more complex analyses, but only point out that the way is open.

 

Fylgja

is the first of the trinity of Nordic souls. In its function it belongs to the protectors, the guardian angels who accompany humans, it is a spiritual double, and to make things easier for the Vikings, a Fylgjur (that's plural, please) can have more than one. It depends on power, but genetics cannot be ignored, because the son or daughter of powerful parents cannot be a pushover.

The Fylgja existed long before you were born and will live on afterward - in divination dreams, you may see the Fylgja, usually in animal form, of your unborn child. And the Fylgia in the form of a giant woman will come to say goodbye to the person at the moment of his death. Probably after some time she will then take up the service of another human individual. Abnormally evolved women also appear in Norse myths in the much more familiar form of valkyries coming for fallen warriors; there is a certain resemblance, but we will not elaborate. Fylgja appears before death and sometimes in the form of a grey or red animal.

She also has an animal form during her out-of-body excursions, which she performs while her protégé sleeps peacefully. Well, peacefully... If the double has to intervene (for example, to heal a wound that will appear on the body in the near future - the guardian spirit works in advance), the person experiences it in a dream. Sometimes even twice, like a certain An, who was visited in his sleep by a midwife to perform a vivisection on him. The entrails she had extracted from An she took away, for which purpose our Northman learned a few days later when he was badly wounded in a real battle. As he was being mourned, the supposed corpse suddenly rose and declared that in a dream he had again seen the self-styled surgeon, who, on a second visit, had brought the captured entrails and returned them to their place.

Needless to say, An was hit in the abdominal region in the battle. But what had the enemy pierced when the future-knowing Fylgja had cleared the endangered organs to a safe place in time? Only God and St. Wenceslas know as the popular captain from Czech detective stories says.

 

Hamr

is a body double, a soul that occasionally goes on the road and roams the countryside. It need not - and often does not - take the form of its owner; Messrs. Dufthak and Storolf, both masters of doubling, settled their land disputes through their doubles, the former in the form of a bull, the latter in the form of a bear, as you will learn in an Icelandic tale. There can be no question of the cowardice of either man, for all the blows the Hamr receives are – this is the Double, remember – transferred to the body of its owner. So, if you are an eigi einhamr, or a man with the innate ability to physically split, beware.

Like the mental double, the Fylgja, the Hamr appears at the death of its employer - in this case, since it is the material and proper part of the individual's personality - to visit loved ones and friends. In the form in which the person died, which may not be a pretty sight in cases of violent death.

 

Hugr

The third Viking soul is a kind of additional intelligence, the very one responsible for the creation of the Hamr. It exists outside man, it is an entity completely independent and only enters man now and then, man is visited by it, as Régis Boyer recapitulates. It is an original soul in the sense of a life force.

29.5.2024 (21.9.2003)

Borametz

Borametz

Somewhere in the world, a strange plant grows.

It is called the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, for the fruits of this flower, which grow from four or five roots, are really indistinguishable from the younger males of the species Ovis ammon. This information must then be considered reliable since it lasted from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century.

Taken in detail, it is merely a description from a very lay point of view - needless to say, our ancestors were often good observers but hasty analysts. Thus, bred out of misunderstanding (probably on the genetic basis of an old Jewish legend), what has remained in the memory of Europeans is an exotic flora whose strange fruits, connected to the trunk by a kind of plant umbilical cord, are grazed before ripening, are a delicacy for wolves, and bleed when cut. In Scythia and the land of the Tartars, that is, at the south-eastern end of Europe and the beginning of Central Asia, it thrives, as it would not when it is not grazed but grazes itself. Herbivores avoid it.

The local inhabitants knit hats from the wool of its fruits and then eat the ripe fruits, claiming that the blood tastes as sweet as honey and the meat is simply meat.

Like many fantastic creatures, beings, and even things, the Borametz has been materialized into a tangible form, accessible to the skeptical man of today: the Barometz of today is a representative of the fern department. It does not, however, grow in Central Asia, as medieval botanists assumed, but in southeastern China. It was this real barometz, classified by Carl Linnée, that Jorge Luis Borges incorrectly linked in his Book of Imaginary Beings to the Barometz of ancient writings. He was neither the first nor the only one to merge the slightly contradictory information, and the same was done by the father of Czech biology Jan Svatopluk Presl, thanks to whom Cibotium barometz has a Czech name: papratka beranec (beránek is the Czech word for a lamb). As you can see, the lamb, thanks to the flexibility of our language and a certain directness in its use, unexpectedly popped up even here.

 

A Borametz by Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch (1747-1822) (File:Bertuch-fabelwesen.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1.6.2024 (24.5.2015)

Rýbrcoul

Although we most often call him Krakonoš (which is a relatively modern name and you will not find it in older sources), the mountain demon and genius loci of the Krkonoše Mountains is called Rýbrcoul. Also Rybecoul and Librcoul, or Rübenzahl in German. It is then puzzling to call him Pan Johanes (Mr. Johanes) or Pan Jan z Hory (Mr. John of the Mountain), as practical demonologists assure us because Rýbr ... Mr. Johanes does not like to hear his real name. However, there has been a long and complex linguistic debate about it.

They say it was originally a derisive name, based on the German Rübe – beet and zahlen – to count. According to A.J. Tůma-Patra might be originally from rubec, meaning a woodcutter. Possibly a transliteration of the name Luciper. Or was the name Roncevall in the beginning? Who knows?

It is little known that he originally might be one of the demons of the air, and was not introduced as a mountain spirit until later. There is also a curious legend, circulating in Bohdaneč, according to which Rýbrcoul was born in that town as the fruit of the love between a certain lady and her lover, unfortunately deceased at the time of the act. The ghostly father helped his son to a fortune, an estate above Kunětická hora, where the young Mr. Johanes began his demonic career.

As a mountain spirit, he is of course thought to be a giant, perched on Sněžka, and someone reminds us that he is an imp or an elf (here we can see the really old origin of Krakonoš, for in pagan times there was no difference in height between giants, dwarves, and elves). It is certain that he was able to reincarnate, the most common metamorphosis was, of course, a human form; legends tell of monk, hunter, miner, or unidentifiable old man; he did not avoid the form of a horse, frog, raven or rooster. All of these were, of course, disguises that Rýbrcoul used to circumnavigate the mountains. To guard them or to make fun of people, his sense of somewhat sarcastic or black humor is known in many stories.

In addition to folklore accounts, records have survived – and from more recent times – of the sacrifices that the people of the mountains and foothills made to Rýbrcoul. There was nothing special about it because the ruler of the mountains also ruled the elements and often used them to force his way. Storms, hailstorms, floods, summer snows, none of these are pleasant, which is why even in the nineteenth century, black hens and black roosters were sacrificed to Krakonoš. Pilgrimages were organized, during which roosters were let loose at the sources of the Elbe, and hens were thrown into the water. For three days pilgrims collected medicinal herbs and water from the spring.

The healing herbs were also grown by Jan z Hory himself, in the well-known garden. Although it is known to be in the Obří důl Valley, no one has ever found it.

An extensive archive of legends – not all of them from Bohemia, the Giant Mountains have another, now Polish, side – is located in Vrchlabí. So if you're planning a Sunday trip, why not visit the museum there?

1.6.2024 (5. 10. 2003)

Mountain Spirits of the Old Slavs

On the high mountains, on the Holy Mountains, there lived a wondrous bogatyr, the like of which was not to be found in all the world. Svyatogor did not go to Holy Russia, because Mother Earth could not bear him. Heavy was his bogatyr's strength, heavy as the heaviest burden. Whoever wanted to know this famous oldest and strongest bogatyr had to go to those high mountains and bow deeply to him.

 

In a quotation from Russian legend, we are introduced to the giant Svyatogor, a later friend of Ilya Muromets. We also learned that he was so heavy that the earth could not bear him; there is nothing suspicious in admitting that Svyatogor was the personification of the earth's gravity. The ancient reverence for the mountains is evident from its name; although the legends belong to quite modern times, it is clear that they did not spring from thin air, but harbor ancient Slavic beliefs. In Svyatogor's case, the cult of the mountains and the Underworld.

Like most ancient cultures, worship of significant geological formations was popular among our ancestors. We don't have to go far, after all, the forefather of Bohemia climbed Říp, unknown but documented worshippers climbed Milešovka (confirmed by archaeological findings), Łysá Gora in Silesia, the three temples of Triglav on three hills in Szczecin, et cetera. Not to mention the cult of stones, widespread from prehistoric times to the modern era throughout Europe.

Such sacred popularity could not but give rise to a whole series of mythological, later folkloric, figures.

Some have already been mentioned here. For example, the Bulgarian Samovily samogorje. Others not yet.

For example, the haughty giants believed in by the Eastern Slavs. These Asilks or Osilks transformed the landscape, making rivers and rocks, trees fell, and many stones crumbled to dust under their fists.

The Serbian Gorjanin (again, the root gora – mountain – in his name) cured diseases, while the Slovenian Labus, on the other hand, lured small children to his underground dwelling. To make matters worse, the Slovenes had two other mountain spirits, the white Belič (otherwise known as Laber) and the black Dimko, who guided miners to the ore veins for a fee of bread, milk, and cheese.

The Görzons, mountain spirits of the Lüneburg Slavs, were also held in awe, borrowing from the people now and then the necessities for baking bread and returning them with a nicely baked loaf.

In Slovakia, Kovlad guarded the underground treasures, and the miners warned him before every blast because otherwise they might get hurt themselves. Kovlad used to have permoniks at hand (more on those next time) and also a counterpart, Zemná paní (the Earth Lady) or Runa, who specialized in running the gold mines, well, a woman is a woman.

And so one could go on and on. I've left out the Czechs, who will be discussed here next week. After all, domestic spirits deserve their own space.

1.6.2024 (12. 10. 2003)

 

 

 

 

"Things just happen. What the hell."
Didaktylos*
* Terry Pratchett. Hogfather

 

Welcome to my world. For the longest time I couldn’t think of right name for this place, so I left it without one. Amongst things you can find here are attempts of science fiction and fantasy stories, my collection of gods, bogeymen and monsters and also articles about things that had me interested, be it for a while or for years. (There is more of this, sadly not in English but in Czech, on www.fext.cz)

Stories

Bestiary

Other stuff

Tumbrl Instagram Mastodon Facebook Youtube

Picture of the Month