The Great Myths #57: Loki’s Monstrous Children (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here High continued: “And Loki had other offspring too. There was a giantess called Angrboda in Giantland. With her Loki had three children. One was Fenriswolf, the second Iormungand (i.e. the Midgard serpent), the third is Hel. And when the gods realized that these three siblings were being brought up […]

The Great Myths #56: The Early History of Yggdrasil (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here Then spoke Gangleri:  “Where is the chief center or holy place of the gods?”       High replied: “It is at the ash Yggdrasil. There the gods must hold their courts each day.”       Then spoke Gangleri: “What is there to tell about that place?”       Then said Just-as-high: “The […]

The Great Myths #53: Thor Goes Fishing for the Serpent that Surrounds the World (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here Long ago the slaughter-gods were eating their hunting-prey in the mood for a drink, before they were full; they shook the sticks and looked at the lots: they learned that at Ægir’s was a fine crop of cauldrons. The cliff-dweller [Ægir] sat there, child-cheerful, much like Miskorblindi’s boy; the […]

The Great Myths #46: Sacred Language & Homer’s Poets (Greek)

Here are two passages from Homer’s Odyssey featuring the common household bard of prehistoric Greece. The first poet, the description of which probably lent to the legend that Homer himself was blind, performs stories of the Trojan war before a disguised Odysseus, bringing him to tears. The second is the bard at Odysseus’ own home […]

The Great Myths #43 Sacred Language & the Story of Gwion Bach & Taliesin (Welsh)

One of the longer myths I’ll post here, the following story is well worth it, and is indeed a master-class in mythology and folklore. Containing shape-changes, chase scenes, mysterious births, borrowed identities, and competitions of all kinds, it is in the best sense a holy mess, including its sudden and (to us) perhaps unsatisfying ending. […]

The Great Myths #42: Sacred Language & the Story of Caedmon (Christian)

A brother of the monastery is found to possess God’s gift of poetry [A. D. 680] In this monastery of Streanaeshalch lived a brother singularly gifted by God’s grace. So skilful was he in composing religious and devotional songs that, when any passage of Scripture was explained by interpreters, he could quickly turn it into […]

The Great Myths #33: The Child Cúchulainn Gets His Name (Celtic)

When Culand the smith offered Conchubur his hospitality, he said that a large host should not come, for the feast would be the fruit not of lands and possessions but of his tongs and his two hands. Conchubur went with fifty of his oldest and most illustrious heroes in their chariots. First, however, he visited […]

The Great Myths #31: The Child Krishna & the Universe in His Mouth (Hindu)

One day when Rāma and the other little sons of the cowherds were playing, they reported to his mother, “Kṛṣṇa has eaten dirt.” Yaśodā took Krishna by the hand and scolded him, for his own good, and she said to him, seeing that his eyes were bewildered with fear, “Naughty boy, why have you secretly […]

The Great Myths #30: The Holy Grail Appears (Middle High German)

The story of the Holy Grail’s appearance to a young man named Perceval/Parzival/Parsifal, is told in many places, and goes something like this: he comes by chance upon the Grail Castle, and is introduced to a wounded man, the Fisher King; during a feast that night, the Grail appears, and if only Parzival would ask […]

The Great Myths #29: Learning Poetry in the Giant’s Stomach (Finnish)

The poet/shaman Väinämöinen, in need of new poems and spells in order to build a boat, goes through an ordeal within the belly of a giant, the keeper of those stories. Here, the giant/ogre figure is more primordial and wise and not simply uncivilized and destructive: Steady old Väinämöinen when he got not words from […]

The Great Myths #27: The Monster Bear & the Making of Thunder (Miwok)

From the Miwok tribe of California, who are now “practically extinct”: Bear’s sister-in-law, Deer, had two beautiful fawn daughters. Bear was a horrible, wicked woman, and she wanted the fawns for herself. So this is what she did. One day she invited Deer to accompany her when she went to pick clover. The two fawns […]

The Great Myths #26: Sigurd Kills the Monster Fafnir & Understands the Language of Animals (Norse)

What is the reason for gold being called otter-payment? It is said that when the Aesir went to explore the whole world – Odin and Loki and Haenir – they came to a certain river and went along the river to a certain waterfall, and by the waterfall there was an otter and it had […]

The Great Myths #25: The Monster Kirttimukha & the Face of Glory (Hindu)

The Indian legend of the “Face of Glory” begins, like that of the Man-Lion, with the case of an infinitely ambitious king who through extraordinary austerities had gained the power to unseat the gods and was now sole sovereign of the universe. His name was Jalandhara, “Water Carrier,” and he conceived the impudent notion of […]

The Great Myths #16: A Siberian Horse Sacrifice, and the Shaman’s Ascent to the Sky (Altaic)

The first evening is devoted to preparation for the rite. The kam (shaman), having chosen a spot in a meadow, erects a new yurt there, setting inside it a young birch stripped of its lower branches and with nine steps (tapty) notched into its trunk. The higher foliage of the birch, with a flag at […]