The Great Myths #52: Ríg Gives Advice (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here Here is Andy Orchard’s translation of the Rígsthula, where the culture hero Ríg wanders the earth & sorts everybody out: People say that in the ancient tales one of the Æsir, who was called Heimdall, went in his travels along a certain sea-shore; he came to a farmstead and…

The Great Myths #47: Sacred Language & the Limitation of Words (Taoism)

Two chapters from the Tao Te Ching, and each in three different translations, on the limitations of even the best words: Tao Te Ching #70 My sayings are very easy to recognize, and very easy to apply. But no one in the world can recognize them, and no one can apply them. Sayings have a…

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 #41: Sacred Language & the Mead of Poetry (Norse)

…And Aegir went on: “How did this craft that you call poetry originate?” Bragi replied: “The origin of it was that the gods had a dispute with the people called Vanir, and they appointed a peace-conference and made a truce by this procedure, that both sides went up to a vat and spat their spittle…

The Great Myths #40: Enkidu Comes of Age (Mesopotamian)

One of the greatest stories of a person “living in nature” becoming “civilized” is perhaps the earliest one. Also here is an intense ambivalence towards the role of women in civilization, as well as the gifts of urban life, such as bread and beer. By the time Enkidu encounters all of them, something has certainly…

The Great Myths #39: Arrow Boy (Cheyenne)

After the Cheyenne had received their corn, and while they were still in the north, a young man and woman of the tribe were married. The woman became pregnant and carried her child in the womb for four years. The people watched with great interest to see what would happen, and when the woman gave…

The Great Myths #38: Baldr’s Dreams, Baldr’s Death (Norse)

Two bits of old Norse, first poetry & then prose, on the death of Odin’s son, Baldr: All at once the gods were gathered, and all the goddesses came to speak, the mighty deities had a discussion, why Baldr’s dreams were foreboding. Odin rose up, the ancient sacrifice, and on the Sleipnir placed a saddle;…

The Great Myths #36: Parzival Grows Up & Leaves Home

The sad early life of Parzival is narrated here. His father having died while out on crusade, his mother, Herzeloyde, tries to keep all knowledge of knighthood from her Parzival’s awareness. She retreats to the woods with a small retinue, and of course all of her attempts are in vain.    This lady [Herzeloyde] quick…