Jarilo (Yarilo), The Slavic God of Easter Eggs and Adultery

Jarilo, the ancient slavic god of prosperity/harvest/protection, was born the 10th son of the all powerful thunder god Perun. He was born on the night of the Slavic new year (or Great Night), but was quickly stolen from his cradle by Veles: god of the underworld, cunning sorcerer, and divine guardian of cattle. Lucky for young Jarilo, the slavic underworld was more of an eternally grassy meadow, instead of a frozen wasteland or gruesome inferno. The child god spent most of his time with his adoptive father’s enormous herd of cattle until one fateful spring when he returned (swam?) home.

With every step he brought renewed fertile soil, where plants would once again grow, and he proceeded to keep exploring until he finally met with another sentient being. By happenstance the lady he met was his own twin sister Marzanna (Morana), the goddess of nature, winter, and decay. Incestual relationship was a really popular thing for gods back in the day, so they soon fell in love and got married on the evening of the summer solstice.

This was great and all, but Jarilo is the god of fertility… and let us not forget that fertility gods aren’t renown for their lasting commitment to a single partner. Marzanna eventually found that her husband/brother was unfaithful, so she gathered the other gods (except Veles of course, he was busy with the cattle). Together they forced Jarilo back to the underworld via dismemberment/ritualistic sacrifice. After brutally murdering her own husband, poor Marzanna becomes understandably heartbroken. In her sadness she becomes cruel and wroth (this explained the dreadful winters of the region), but the cycle of death and rebirth allows Jarilo to once again meet, marry, and be dismembered by his sister once again each year.

It was believed that Jarilo would often take the form of a magnificent white horse, strong enough to travel interminably upon his arrival to the living world, so the horse had a spiritual attachment to prosperity and growth for the Slavic peoples. There were also two main celebrations that were performed to honor Jarilo. The Funeral of Morana took place in the late winter and primarily involved burning and/or drowning a female-shaped scarecrow after brutally tearing its dress off. Pysanky took place in the spring and focused on the decoration of eggs, which are symbolic to fertility and rebirth. The latter of these traditions was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and integrated into the popular Christian holiday, Easter. I’m sure it was much less exciting without baskets full of chocolate and candy, but I’m glad the pope has no plans of adopting the other tradition (the whole event just sounds itchy, especially for the owner of the dress).

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Babalú Ayé, the Exile Orisha of Healing (and spreading smallpox)

Babalú Ayé is a deity that originated in the many pagan religions of ancient West Africa, though he is known by many names and has since spread to the culture of Latin America with the slave trade of the colonial era. Through his ownership of the Earth itself, Babalú Ayé can cause curses of plague upon a nation, but he is also a symbol of healing as he can remove the illness from the spirit of those loyal to him.

Although legends vary quite dramatically from place to place, the general origin story involves Babalú Ayé as a young man doing something despicable (ie: betraying women) and being outcast as an exile by the other Orisha. As part of the exile he was afflicted with some sort of illness and/or leg injury that forces him to use a walking stick. In an act of vengeance, the exile Orisha cast a plague of smallpox across the nation, and only cured those willing to admit his greatness. Naturally the people of West Africa developed many celebrations and traditions to appease Babalú Ayé the exile, giving offerings of grain and sweeping the village with a ceremonial broom.

After the slave trade of the colonial era, many people in South America soon held beliefs of the Yoruba religion and have an equally bittersweet appreciation for Babalú Ayé. In Cuba for instance, Saint Lazarus (known for being able to cure sick people with divine powers) is believed to be connected and/or blessed by Babalú Ayé. Admittedly, there were many different peoples brought to South America, and they integrated many similar deities from separate religions to be connected with Saint Lazarus. I suppose it makes sense to try and appease as many gods as you can when you’re faced with a deadly sickness epidemic.

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Isis, Egyptian Goddess of Love (among other things)

Isis (or Aset in the traditional pronunciation) was known as a goddess of love and motherliness in Ancient Egyptian mythology. Born Daughter of Nut (sky goddess) and Geb (earth god), Isis would marry her older brother Osiris (agriculture god) and give birth to Horus (vengeance god/pharaoh). Artists/craftspeople would often depict Isis as a winged woman with the sun between her horns, or as a non-winged woman with a cobra on her head and Horus (as an infant) in her lap. Unfortunately, Osiris was killed by their brother Seth (chaos god) even before Isis was pregnant… but then she used her goddess powers to raise Osiris from the dead for a night pseudonecrophilia romance before he was returned once more to the underworld.

Isis (much like the pharaoh himself) served as a connection between the gods and the people, since she was the mother of Egypt’s first pharaoh. For the people of ancient Egypt, Isis was a perfect motherly figure with mystical healing powers. In fact, she was said to protect the sarcophagi and canopic jars of the dead, then she helped to guide their souls to the afterlife. The priestesses that followed her teachings were also known to be quite adept at healing and caring for pregnant women. They could even read the dreams of others and manipulate the weather with their hairstyles. The magic amulet “Tjet” aka “Knot/Buckle of Isis” or “Blood of Isis” was used in funeral rites and is thought to have represented her magical qualities and clean cloth.

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The Loch Ness Monster

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster (aka “Nessie”) starts with Saint Columba way back in the 6th century (565 AD). Saint Columba (aka “Colum MacFhelin MacFergus”) was an Irish priest who was employed by King Conall  to spread catholicism to the Pictish peoples who lived in modern day Scotland. As he records, Columba saw the monster in the River Ness and promptly used a combination of holy chants and gestures to save a man from becoming Nessie Chow. The beast is described to have been “with gaping mounth and great roaring”, and appearently everyone in attendance (except the brave Saint Columba) was “struck down with extreme terror”.

The more modern legend is supported with a series of pictures, the first of which was taken in 1933 by a mand named  Hugh Gray. Quality of the picture is truly horrible as it was taken with an early 20th centure box camera that was not designed to take pictures of movement in general. However, there appears to be a tail sticking firmly from the water. The most iconic photograph was taken by Marmaduke Wtherell in 1934. It’s known as “Surgeon’s Photograph” because it was believed to have been taken by Colonel Kenneth Wilson (aka “The Surgeon”). The photo is quite convincing, which is why it was so well-known, but later Stewart Campbell comfirmed it was a hoax when he determined that the object could only be about 2-3 feet long based on the waves and reflections.

Today people have continued to try and prove the existance of the monster with satellite photos and sonar scans, but so far the search has come up with no definitive evidence of a sea monster. The satellite picture, for instance, is most likely just a boat wake (as explained by Andrew David Thaler) seen from a distance where the boat itself cannot be seen.

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Why Mythology?

While I did make the concious decision to join this class, it wasn’t necessarily because of my stupendous enthusiasm for all things mythological. I do enjoy fantastic stories, particularly when they are expressed with colorful puppets, but my first interest in this class actually originated from the hatred I have for tedious and difficult AP classes. Last year I took AP lang, and while I don’t regret it, I would much rather take my chances as a lowly street urchin than go back to writing a 40-minute essay each week. All indolence aside, I chose this class because I want to learn things. I really don’t know much of anything when it comes to the mythos of ancient cultures, so by joining this class I am  guaranteed to learn a great deal of things in the upcoming months.