Friday, 28 March 2014

Fairytale Grimoire: The Sleeping Beauty

One of the best loved fairy tales is "The Sleeping Beauty". It's other titles have been "The Sleeping Princess", "Briar Rose" and "La Belle au bois dormant". The story has been written by many including the Brothers Grimm, Giambattista Basile and Charles Perrault. Everyone knows the Disney's animation of "Sleeping Beauty" based on the old fairy tale and the name of the princess is Aurora is one of the favourite heroines. The story itself is much older, borrowed from folklore, oral tradition and traces from mythology.

Basically the story is like this:

At the naming ceremony of the baby princess, twelve fairies are to give wonderful blessings. Each fairy gives the baby a gift, and just as the twelfth fairy was about to do so, suddenly there was a storm that interrupted. Within the storm arrived the uninvited thirteenth fairy, who was raging because she hadn't been invited to the naming ceremony. As a punishment to the king and queen, she gave the baby princess a terrible curse, which was that when the princess reaches eighteen years, she would prick her finger on a needle of a spinning wheel and die. That fairy was gone afterwards, leaving the royal couple distressed. The twelfth fairy, who hadn't yet given her gift, said that she couldn't change the curse itself but instead of death, the princess would sleep for eternity only to be woken up by a kiss.
The king ordered that every spinning wheel in the land should be destroyed. Spinning wheels were burned on a massive fire, and it became forbidden to have one.
Years passed. The princess grew up and on her eighteenth birthday, she played hide and seek with her friends in the palace gardens. She wandered away to hide, and wandered off until she found a tower. She entered, and climbed a winding staircase that reached to a room at the top. Inside was an old woman sat by a spinning wheel. The princess didn't know what was happening, she hadn't seen a spinning wheel before. She asked the old woman what she was doing. The old woman told the princess that she was spinning thread. The princess was curious and eager to have a go herself. The old woman showed the princess how it was done by coiling thread around the spindle/needle but the princess cut her finger.
She fell into a sudden deathlike sleep. Everyone in the entire palace, including the king and queen, servants, guards, cooks, even dogs and horses, fell asleep. The whole palace froze in time and remained in a stasis of sleep. One of the invited twelve fairies appeared to lay the princess down on a bed and dressed her in a blanket of silk. Years passed. Hundreds of years and centuries maybe went by. The palace was no longer visible except for a tower peeping up through trees. The palace and its grounds were enclosed by a huge wall of thorns and trees. Outside the bramble of thorns was a dragon, guarding the sleeping palace (most modern storybook versions don't feature a dragon).
Word got round that a dragon was guarding treasure behind the dense forest of thorns. Men, knights, warriors and princes tried bravely to pass the dragon and never succeeded. Many perished or gave up trying. Then someone came and he was different. A prince, and an outsider, who didn't know much about the dragon or the giant thorns. While he was riding through a village, he encountered an old man in a lane who told him about treasure guarded by a dragon near the thorns. He was determined to see this and killed the dragon, so that he could enter the wall of thorns. He used his sword to hack away the foliage and scratched himself doing this. Then a mysterious passage opened through the thorns, allowing him entry.
He walked through an overgrown palace full of sleeping people and sleeping animals. He wandered around the palace and reached a tower, where he discovered a beautiful princess asleep among a bed of roses.
He fell in love with her and kissed her lips, waking her up from an eternity of sleep. After she woke, she saw the man who rescued her and fell in love with him. The rest of the palace woke up, and the thorns fell. Both prince and princess went away to marry.

The End

There's a lot of parallels with this fairytale and another fairytale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I'll mention what they are:
1. Needle pricking finger.
2. Gifts upon a baby princess.
3. Eternal deathlike sleep.
4. Woken by a kiss.
The spinning wheel needle, not so different from the threaded needle, symbolic of the Norns, weaving destiny. Pricking ones' finger either represents that destiny has caught up, or symbolically linked to sacrifice and the cutting in order to create magic. The Norns are the fairies of destiny, who choose the life path of the baby princess's future. The eternal sleep is similar to the transgression phase of a heroine is she either loses immortality or gains immortality. The Valkyrie Brunnhilde lost her immortality and fell in a long eternal slumber, surrounded by a ring of fire, only to be woken by a kiss. Snow White fell into an eternal sleep after eating a poisonous apple, who was woken by a kiss. Some say that this sleeping phase is like the divine Earth daughters leaving/sleeping during Winter, and their waking/return to the land brings Spring. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Guardian of the underworld

The other night I had a vision during meditation. I came across a few cloudy shapes and couldn't make out what they were, either trees or just mist. Sometimes visions are blurry if I'm not fully concentrating. I was astral travelling, and wandered off. I sometimes hope to visit other realms one day but can't. Then I started to see something. What came into my head was Garm, the name of a hound in Norse mythology that guards the underworld. What I soon saw was a shape in the mist of a black dog/wolf. This particular canine was very big. It was much bigger than a German shepherd, and larger than the size of an average male grey wolf. The face itself was dog-like but not familiar features of a wolf or a domestic dog. It's eyes were blazing, almost the colour of blood. I was afraid but also felt respect of the animal. I stopped meditating.

Did research on both Garm and the physical appearance of the animal in my vision. There are many such hellhounds of the underworld featured in many myths. The most famous is Cerberus of Greek myth, who is a ferocious three-headed dog. Garm is considered "blood-stained" and sits at Goddess Hel's gates. Some scholars confuse Garm with the giant wolf Fenris as both are linked to tales of Ragnarok. Like the three  headed dog Cerberus, Garm has an unusual feature of four eyes! In Hindu and Persian myths are four eyed dogs that guard the gates of the underworld. Both Cerberus and Garm sit at the gates of the underworld and stop the dead from going across to Midgard.     

Apart from that, reports from people who've claimed to have seen hellhounds such as these describe them as having almost a phantom quality, black fur, intelligent and with red eyes (similar to the big dog in my vision). Some have seen these dogs during a very bad paranormal experience or a nightmare after playing with the occult. Such dogs are embedded in folklore. In England, shadowy red-eyed dogs are nicknamed Black Shuck, who often linger around cemeteries and graveyards. In Wales, this dog is well known as Cwn Annwn who is part of the legendary Wild Hunt, as Garm is of the Wild Hunt too. In some parts of Wales, the people call it Gwyllgi and this dog is considered a "mastiff" because of it's enormous size and red eyes!!!

Now beside the myths, legends, folklore and stories, I was looking into more biological answers. There are many dogs and wolves and none that looked like the dog form in my vision. What was it? Was this Garm? Maybe it was but what sort of canid was Garm? Instead of talking about the supernatural or the symbolic (three heads and four eyes), let's go a wee bit scientific.

I checked out the origins of domestic dogs first going back to a common ancestor, Canis Lupis. The earliest type of other wolf that existed was a Dire Wolf. It was larger than today's wolf and its head shape was a little bit different to the modern grey wolf's. The Dire Wolf was part of the prehistoric megafauna that existed during the Pleistocene age but was slow due it's size and weight. It's teeth were very large and was capable of crunching on bone. These Dire Wolves became extinct more than 10,000 years ago during the arrival of grey wolves and humans. However, even though Dire Wolves looked like the dog in my vision, there is a problem of geography. The Dire Wolf was confined to the Americas.

Who was the ancestor of the Grey Wolf? The Tomarctus canid lived millions of years before the Dire and Grey wolf and believed to be the direct ancestor of wolves and dogs. However, it lived in the Americas and was much smaller in stature. There was the other canid group Borophaginae who were "bone crushing". Fossils of this animal was found only in North America. Cynarctoides canines lived in the Americas over 20 million years ago. All this becomes too vague as no one really knows exactly who or what evolved into the modern wolf and the domestic dog. The latter started off living with humans thousands of years ago during the last Ice Age, somewhere in the Middle East. It's not known if wolves traveled across the land strait to the Americas from Europe or vice versa. Some think now it happened the other way round giving the amount of fossils on record. Most biggest question of all what are the origins of the hellhounds? Like some people explain that dragons are a primitive ancestral memory of dinosaurs, are these big mythical hellhounds our ancient memory of Dire Wolves?

Useful stuff:
Black Dog (ghost)
Wolf origins

Monday, 17 March 2014

Enchanting flowers: Daffodil

The daffodil is most commonly associated with the Spring equinox. It blooms in bright daylight colours and different shades of the sun. Mostly golden in the centre, bell shaped and triple layered, they come in a variety of features. The flowers resemble the tutu skirts of ballerinas. After the snowdrops in their white bridal gowns, the crocus bridesmaids followed after, and now a golden team of daffodil ballet dancers spin.

The daffodil's true name is Narcissus. Named after a handsome, vain man (demigod) from Greek mythology, who enjoyed looking at his own reflection. He was so in love with himself that he ignored a woman (nymph) called Echo who was in love with him. While staring at himself in a pool, Narcissus fell in the water and died. A plant grew there, and it was a daffodil. Also a girl goddess, Persephone, was picking daffodils when she was abducted by the god Hades who took her to the underworld and kept her there as his bride.

Daffodils have often been flowers with polar meanings, positive and negative, good luck flowers, or flowers of bad omens. Flowers of death and broken love. Flowers of fortune and power.

Despite it's beauty, daffodils are quite poisonous. The daffodil bulb resembles an onion and many have made a mistake of eating them. Although onions are too hot to eat raw, they're a healthy ingredient in cooking but onions are edible and non-toxic. Daffodil bulbs are toxic and can cause anything serious from severe, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Yet since ancient times, daffodils provide medicines and treatments.

 "I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze."

Wordsworth, 1804.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Valkyrie Eir

Among all of the Valkyrie's, Eir is the most gentle. She's associated with medicines, healing herbs and crystals. She dwells on Lyfjaberg, a hill of healing. It might also have been a mountain with a fresh water spring. That is where there is said to be a legendary castle, heavily guarded and locked by magic. Within contained a princess named Mingloth who couldn't be seen by anyone except for someone named Svipdagr. This came in the form of a man who could enter and meet the princess.

Now the princess was cared for by a host of Valkyries, and one of them was Eir. These valkyries of Lyfjaberg seemed more like priestesses as they worked in a shrine and in the castle, and assisted mortals during solstice rituals. Sometimes Eir treated the wounded and sick. She wore a lilac and silver dress, jewels and she had a tiara of gold encrusted with pearls round her head. Helping the ones from dying, assisting women in childbirth and tending to children is what the hill Valkyries, mainly Eir did there.

She was capable of performing darker forms of magic such as necromancy and summoning spirits, but either on behalf of men or to defend the hill from attack. Overall Eir was a valkyrie of healing and not anything sinister. She was possibly able to advise and help anyone who wanted to practice sorcery.

Some conflicting records of Eir have her as a goddess as well as a valkyrie. The major poems and writings of the myths strongly indicate Eir was one of the Choosers of the Slain as she belonged to the divine order of Valkyries. The Valkyries themselves are the northern nymphs who were known among the Germanic people. It's hinted in far distant times that people interacted with Valkyries. My view is that there was also an ancient order of powerful priestesses who were followers of Odin/Wotan/Wodan who were regarded as holy by ordinary people. These valkyries were like priestesses, shield maidens, sorceresses, white witches and beautiful beings. They might've been high born, and daughters of warrior kings (who themselves claim descent from gods).

Unfortunately much of the legends of the Norse, and other Germanic tribes has been lost. Not everything was written down on paper or inscribed in rock. Fragments of these tales and mythical individuals survive in fairytale, folklore, modern literature and revived in pop culture. Eir appears in the Marvel based film "Thor: The Dark World" and the games "Runescape" and "Valkyrie Crusade".  

Links about this post:
Eir Lore: Poetic Edda
Skaldic Poetry
The Poetic Edda
Prose Edda
Thor: The Dark World
Valkyrie Crusade

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Power of Hel

In the Northern Tradition, the most terrifying of the goddesses comes in the form of death. Her name is Hel. Sometimes Her name is spelled "Hela". She's the ruler of the underworld and appears as a dark shadowy figure, either ghastly, half human, beautiful, demonic and corpselike.

The daughter of the trickster god Loki, and Angrboda the giantess. Sister of Fenris wolf and the vast World Serpent. Her realm is the underworld, Helheim, Hel's domain, where souls of the dead reside who have not died in battle. Apart from warriors, She takes in anyone else who have passed away, from the elderly, to infants, mothers, those who've died of illnesses, in accidents, murder victims and executions. She sends the souls of the dead in different places of Her underworld, and souls of the wicked and nasty people end up in an icy cruel world.

Although many people today view Hel as a monster, gruesome in appearance and in some popular culture, She's been regarded as evil, Hel was considered a benign goddess by ancient people.

Hel was always a goddess of comfort to pregnant women and children. Women needed Hel during painful childbirth and if they died of labour, Hel would kindly watch over them and assist them to the underworld. When people, particularly women and children, were ill or in pain, they sought the spiritual blessing of Hel and turned to Her as She was a motherly goddess. Ancient people never saw death as evil. Death has been turned into an enemy of humans, and see death as something to avoid and fear. But death is part of nature and death, physical death of an individual doesn't mean the complete end.   

Over the centuries Hel was made grotesque and frightening so that people would avoid calling upon Her if/when they think they're going to die. Today some people are recognising Hel as not evil, wicked, scary and monstrous but mysterious and kind.

Hel is one of the earliest Earth Nature goddesses that was understood by prehistoric tribes of people many thousands of years ago. Hel is possibly another aspect of the Earth Mother and this is due to the myths of Her residing in the underworld/underground, at the lower roots of the World Tree, and She is the gentle dark soil/earth that we'll all return to eventually after physical death.

The ancient peoples who existed long before the Vikings, saw Hel as beautiful and fertile, but guarding of the world's sacred elements, the earth's passages, tunnels, caves, inner fires, animals, secrets of the spiritual realm and even ruler of gravity. However this mystical goddess of the realm of living, spirit, shadow, light, life, death is linked to the idea of the Dark Goddesses, who are all thought of as "evil" by people today.

The divine mother figure of goddess Hel has been lost when it comes to Norse mythology. Yet the motherly Hel goddess figure has survived in fairy tales, as the loving Mother Holle (or Frau Holle/Holda) and other Germanic folklore. In Mother Holle the goddess Hel is also seen as the tender White Mother of winter. In one tale She helped a mortal girl sprinkle snow on the land by shaking feathers from pillows, and then gifted her with a shower of gold, turning the girl into an immortal.

Hel is divine, a goddess of winter, spring, summer and autumn. She's nurtures, loves, heals from pain and comforts. Goddess Hel is from a time when people were Hunter Gatherers, but before Her people encountered the other people who followed the Vanir and Aersir gods. Hel is not the skeletal monster that modern twisted versions of the myth have us think.
Links and sources of Goddess Hel:

Hel: Goddess of the Underworld
Goddess Hel - Heathen Temple
Book = "The Norse Goddess" by Monica Sjöö