(Date Posted:02/20/2009 01:20 AM)
Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin
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In Russian folklore there are many stories of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch with iron teeth.
is also known as Baba Yaga Boney Legs, because, in spite of a ferocious
appetite, she is as thin as a skeleton. In Russian that's: 'Baba Yaga
In some stories she has two older sisters, who are also called Baba Yaga, just to confuse you!
nose is so long that it rattles against the ceiling of her hut when she
snores, stretched out in all directions upon her ancient brick oven.
being a boringly-conventional witch, she does not wear a hat, and has
never been seen on a broomstick. She travels perched in a large mortar
with her knees almost touching her chin, and pushes herself across the
forest floor with a pestle.
Whenever she appears on the scene, a
wild wind begins to blow, the trees around creak and groan and leaves
whirl through the air. Shrieking and wailing, a host of spirits often
accompany her on her way.
Being a somewhat secretive lady, (in
spite of all the din she makes,) she sweeps away all traces of herself
with a broom made of silver birch (what are brooms for anyway?).
She can also fly through the air in the same manner.
Basilisks and Cockatrices
basilisk and cockatrice were often confused with each other, as they
are both dragon-like creatures. All who behold the eyes of the basilisk
fall dead on the spot. Because it destroys all shrubs, both by direct
contact and by breathing upon them, and also burns up grass and
fractures stones, it is generally found in barren deserts. The
cockatrice is very similar, although only the cockerel can withstand
its withering glare.
Basilisks were created when an animal
hatched from an egg laid by a cock in a dung heap and incubated by a
toad. Such a feat was obviously of profound value in sorcery and, in
1474, in a celebrated trial in Basle, a cockerel was executed on the
capital charge of having laid an egg which might have hatched into a
basilisk. The cockerel was legally represented and denied any
wrong-doing. However, it was unsuccessful in its defense and it,
together with its egg, was burned to death with full legal solemnity.
obvious way to counteract the basilisk's fatal stare was to hold up a
mirror, whereupon the creature would slay itself. Apparently, this
technique was put to good use in Warsaw in 1857 when a condemned
prisoner named John Faurer volunteered to deal with a basilisk by
approaching it wearing a leather suit festooned with mirrors. This
operation was witnessed by over 2000 onlookers.
is a snake possessing a cockerel's head, hatched from the egg
"Llolloy", laid by a red rooster or ancient hen. From this egg hatches
a worm that creeps about like a lizard usually living in stables until
the time of its transformation into Basilisco. It can also live in
caves showing only its head to its victim who is then struck dead by
its gaze. If it only sees a part of the victim that part is paralyzed
At night, while uttering barely discernible whistles,
Basilisco enters homes and sucks breath and phlegm from the sleeping
inhabitants. The victim develops a dry cough and starts to waste away
becoming a shriveled skeleton. Basilisco will not leave a home until
all the family has been dealt with.
Scottish Brownie formed a class of being distinct in habit and
disposition from the freakish and mischievous elves. He was meagre,
shaggy, and wild in his appearance. Thus Cleland, in his satire against
the Highlanders, compares them to
“Faunes, or Brownies, if ye will,
Or Satyres come from Atlas Hill.”
the day-time he lurked in remote recesses of the old houses which he
delighted to haunt, and in the night sedulously employed himself in
discharging any laborious task which he thought might be acceptable to
the family to whose service he had devoted himself. But the Brownie
does not drudge from the hope of recompense. On the contrary, so
delicate is his attachment that the offer of reward, but particularly
of food, infallibly occasions his disappearance for ever. It is told of
a Brownie, who haunted a border family now extinct, that the lady
having fallen unexpectedly ill, and the servant, who was ordered to
ride to Jedburgh for the sage-femme, showing no great alertness in
setting out, the familiar spirit slipped on the greatcoat of the
lingering domestic, rode to the town on the laird’s best horse, and
returned with the midwife en croupe. During the short space of his
absence, the Tweed, which they must necessarily ford, rose to a
dangerous height. Brownie, who transported his charge with all the
rapidity of the ghostly lover of Lenore, was not to be stopped by the
obstacle. He plunged in with the terrified old lady, and landed her in
safety where her services were wanted. Having put the horse into the
stable (where it was afterwards found in a woful plight), he proceeded
to the room of the servant, whose duty he had discharged, and finding
him just in the act of drawing on his boots, he administered to him a
most merciless drubbing with his own horsewhip. Such an important
service excited the gratitude of the laird, who, understanding that
Brownie had been heard to express a wish to have a green coat, ordered
a vestment of the colour to be made, and left in his haunts. Brownie
took away the green coat, but was never seen more. We may suppose that,
tired of his domestic drudgery, he went in his new livery to join the
The last Brownie known in Ettrick Forest resided in
Bodsbeck, a wild and solitary spot, near the head of Moffat Water,
where he exercised his functions undisturbed, till the scrupulous
devotion of an old lady induced her to “hire him away,” as it was
termed, by placing in his haunt a porringer of milk and a piece of
money. After receiving this hint to depart, he was heard the whole
night to howl and cry, “Farewell to bonnie Bodsbeck!” which he was
compelled to abandon for ever.
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(Date Posted:02/20/2009 01:21 AM)
THE CAPTIVE OF THE SEA NYMPH CALYPSO
was the captive of the sea nymph Calypso on his long journey back to
his native land. Her name means "I will conceal" and probably relates
to the time when she was a major goddess. Her father was the titan
Atlas. She lived on an island called Ogygia that was so beautiful the
gods themselves were stunned by it. Calypso, too, was famous for her
beauty and the beauty of her braided hair. Briefly, here is the story
of her time with Odysseus:
Odysseus' ships were destroyed by the
gods because his men had slaughtered the cattle of Helios. Since
Odysseus himself had not taken part in the slaughter he was spared. He
held onto the keel of his ship for nine days till he reached the island
of Ogygia. There the sea nymph Calypso tended his wounds and fell and
in love with him. She offered him her home, her love and ageless
immortality but Odysseus declined. He wanted to return to his wife
Penelope and his own kingdom as soon as possible. The Calypso would not
accept his rejection and kept her with him for seven years hoping he
would change his mind. During that time they had two children -
Odysseus apparently deciding to make the best of things.
Odysseus' patron goddess, finally persuaded Zeus to free him. Zeus sent
Hermes to tell Calypso it was time for Odysseus to leave. Calypso
regretfully agreed. She gave Odysseus an ax and other tools to make a
raft, and she supplied him with food, water and "a fair wind at his
back" for his trip.
Soon after leaving Ogygia Odysseus' raft was sunk by Poseidon.
author of the Odyssey is not the same person as the author of the
Iliad, even though both are called Homer. For one thing, the books were
written 200 years apart. Today, many people believe that the Homer of
the Odyssey was a woman. The Greeks are well known for their misogyny
yet there are many strong women who play important roles in the
Odyssey: Athena, Calypso, Circe, Scylla, Charybdis and Penelope. In
fact, the large number of powerful goddesses in Greek mythology have
led to the theory that early Greek culture was female-dominated.
sea nymph Calypso was probably also a fertility goddess. Many times in
the Odyssey and other works the authors refer to Calypso's arching
caverns. Homer pointedly says that this is where she and Odysseus made
Daphne, like the sea nymph Calypso, has her own interesting love story.
sailing ship is seen glowing in the fog. Aboard, there is dancing and
music of unsurpassed beauty. It can travel at great speed above or
below the water. In its voyages through the waterways of Chiloé it is
crewed by shipwrecked sailors and those lured away by the enchanting
music. It can suddenly disappear from view leaving behind a rumbling of
chains and the echoes of a captivating melody.
In this strange
ship are witches who support the businesses of those who have made
contracts with them. It is said that such merchants start with little
but soon become rich and important businessmen.
The ship possesses the power to transform unfortunates into animals or inert objects such as a tree-trunk with a crew of seals.
believe that this myth may have its origin in a Dutch pirate ship
Calanche captained by Vicente Vaneucht that once troubled these waters.
This young bull is similar to a unicorn, his skin like quicksilver with a short golden horn ("cacho") glowing in the moonlight.
that have seen him say he is lithe, agile and very beautiful. He is
born and lives in watery grottoes or in marshy lakes. Here he grows
towards adulthood. At the age of 25 he migrates towards the sea. In
making this journey he wreaks havoc with vegetation and crops. When
someone discovers this happening he looks for a "Machi" or wizard who
will lasso Camahueto with a length of kelp and lead him peacefully to
the water. Only those who understand the magic can handle Camahueto. At
full moon they can catch him and pull out his horn converting him into
a docile calf. In reward for his services the Machi receives money or
herbs and the horn of Camahueto.
Shavings from the horn are said
to have medicinal powers and are used to prepare magic ointments that
can cure skin diseases, rheumatism, anemia and other conditions.
However an excess of this powder can make the patient "encamahuetado",
a madness similar to schizophrenia, in which the sufferer develops
spots, red eyes and froth at the mouth.
earliest times the inhabitants of Chiloé recognized the primal forces
of good and bad. The cyclical interplay of these opposites is depicted
as a fundamental battle between the ocean and the land personified by
the mythical reptiles CAI-CAI y TEN-TEN. Myth relates that for
thousands of years all of Chiloé belonged to one body of land united to
the American continent. The apparition of CAI-CAI, in the form of a
snake initiated the battle. CAI-CAI caused the waters to rise rapidly
inundating lowlands, valleys and hills, burying the inhabitants beneath
the waves. As the waters threatened to cover everything, the protector
TEN-TEN appeared, launching an attack upon his enemy and raising the
land out of the sea to save its inhabitants. TEN-TEN helped people
reach high ground, giving some men the power of flight and transforming
others into birds. CAI-CAI found it impossible to cover the hilltops
with his waters. The rains stopped and the waters receded. This great
fight was repeated through aeons, eventually little survived it.
Animals were transformed to rocks, people that did not reach high
ground became fishes or seals. Valleys became channels or inlets
between the islands and hills and mountains became islands forming an
archipelago of incredible beauty.
of the nymphs in mythology are more or less anonymous but Cyrene played
an important role and mixed with the famous gods of the time. Cyrene
was a fresh water nymph or naiad whose parents were Hypseus (a mortal)
and Chlidanope (a naiad). Cyrene was not interested in household tasks
like weaving and spinning but instead loved to hunt. She would spend
all day and half the night hunting. Once Apollo saw her wrestling with
a lion. He immediately fell in love with her and called his friend
Cheiron the centaur to ask about her. Cheiron knew that Apollo was
already determined to seduce Cyrene, as he had seduced many of the
other nymphs in mythology. He told Apollo that Cyrene would live in a
golden palace and bare important offspring.
Apollo took Cyrene
away in his golden chariot and brought her to Libya. Aphrodite met them
there and bedded them without delay. Apollo granted Cyrene long life
and a rich and fertile kingdom. Nine months later she gave birth to
Aristaeus became a bee keeper and went to live at
Tempe in Arcadia. There all his bees died and Aristaeus could not
discover the cause. Saddened, he went to a deep pool of the river
Peneius and called to his mother. Surrounded by her friends, the famous
nymphs of mythology, Cyrene heard him. She sent Arethusa to poke her
head above the water and invite him down to her kingdom. Once there,
Aristaeus told his mother about the dead bees and asked her advice.
Cyrene said that Aristaeus must consult Proteus, a wise prophet that
the nymphs of mythology greatly respected. Proteus, however, would not
willingly volunteer any information. Instead Aristaeus must capture him
and hold him in fetters (ancient handcuffs). Proteus had the power to
change his form and would assume many terrible shapes to frighten
Aristaeus, but Aristaeus must hold onto him. In the end Proteus would
Aristaeus journeyed to the cave were Proteus took his
midday rest and waited for him. When Proteus appeared and settled down
to sleep Aristaeus put the fetters on him and held as tightly as he
could. Proteus assumed the form of fire, then flood, then a lion but
Aristaeus held on. Proteus, giving up, assumed his human form and asked
what Aristaeus wanted from him. Aristaeus asked about his dead bees and
Proteus told him that he was being punished for inadvertently causing
the death of Eurydice (from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice).
to Cyrene's palace, Aristaeus told his mother what Proteus had said.
She advised him to sacrifice four bulls and four cows to the Dryads
(forest nymphs in mythology and the friends of Eurydice). He was to
leave the bodies on the ground for nine days and then return early in
Aristaeus did as Cyrene had said and on the ninth
day saw that some bees had started a new colony in the body of one of
the dead animals. He put the bees into a hive and taught men this new
method of raising a swarm. Since that time he has been honored as Zeus
by the people of Arcadia.
The Origin of "The Centaur"
By Anthony Francis
The centaur probably
began as a horse totem of a tribe of early Greeks in prehistory. The
earliest drawings of hippocentaurs (a kind of demon given human form,
or kallikantzaroi, in ancient Greek myth) show men wearing
fetishes of hindquarters of horses joined to their waists. These
hobby-horse fetishes, common (in varying form) to European crop and
fertility rituals, only later became depictions of human torsos joined
to actual horse bodies. The hypothesis that the centaur represents a
terrified tribal reinterpretation of a horse and rider is probably
The Greek love for the horse led to the ennoblement of the centaur in myth and legend (the only version of the kallikantzaroi
to be so honored). The Centaur Chiron was known for his wisdom and
healing abilities. Other centaurs did not fare so well in myth: Nessus
was killed by Hercules for trying to rape (variously) his wife or a
woman under his charge, and other centaurs were renowned for their
weakness for drink. The centauromachy - the depiction of one or more of
the fights between humans and centaurs in myth - became a popular
feature of Greek art. The centaur was also used by some writers to
symbolize man's dual nature as an intellectual creature (the human
half) which was also an physical animal (the horse half).
the Medieval period, the centaur fared more poorly, often becoming a
demonic image. Nevertheless, the centaur remained a popular character
in art, no doubt due to the vast influence of Greek art and literature
on Western culture.
In modern times, the centaur has reappeared in art and literature, especially in the genre of fantasy. C.S. Lewis' The Narnian Chronicles and Piers Anthony's Xanth series have prominent centaur characters. Science fiction has used the character as well; John Varley's Titan, Wizard, Demon series, Jack Chalker's Wellworld series, Walter Jon William's Knight Moves, Elf Sternberg's The Journal Entries series, and my own (as yet unpublished, gripe, gripe) homo centauris all feature prominent centaur characters.
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