Category Archives: myth

The Krampus and the Yule Goat Cometh

As we enter December, we anticipate any number of holidays. Twenty-nine holidays from various traditions fall between the last week of November and middle of January. Many, but by no means all, of these are ancient holidays which were Christianized. My favorite of these though is Yule.
Yule, also known as the 12 days of Christmas, can begin between December 20 and December 23, depending on the year in the Gregorian calendar. In Nordic and Germanic countries, it begins on the day of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, usually December 21st. Yule is celebrated for another 12 days though, through January 1st, at the shortest or until the 12th of January (“twelve days” or “until the 12th day”).

Company’s Coming: Welcome the Yule Goat

Yule Goat, 1917 and 1912 by John Bauer

The holidays bring a train of friends and family as guests. You might wish that the Yule Goat is among them. In one tradition, the Yule Goat takes its origins from Thor, the God of Thunder, who rode in the sky in a wagon pulled by his two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr, meaning teeth-barer and teeth-grinder respectively.

However, another goat, Heidrun, is described in the Poetic and Prose Eddas. She eats the foliage of the sacred tree Laeraor and produces mead for fallen warriors brought to Valhalla. As Yule celebrations were originally referred to as “Drinking Yules”, with an emphasis on drinking as an important part of the celebration, a good case can be made for Heidrun as at least influencing the Yule goat.

heidrun_goat

She eats the foliage of the Sacred Tree to Produce Mead for Fallen Warriors

 
The Krampus for the Rest of Us

The Yule goat brings gifts, especially gifts for good children. But what about the rest of us? We are not left out, we have the Krampus! The Krampus, or Christmas Devil,  a Germanic demon, comes to punish bad seeds and naughty children. Krampusnacht is an annual festival celebrated through the Alpine region from Austria and Northern Italy, to Solvenia, Hungary, Germany and the Czech Republic. Like the Yule goat, the Krampus is horned and may wear cowbells on his backside reminiscent of Santa’s sleigh. Unlike the Yule Goat, the Krampus has a great gaping jaw, the better to eat you with, as befits any proper demon.

The Krampus

The Krampus arrives on December 5th — the naughty always like to move to the head of the line first — well before Christmas. St. Nikolaus also arrives this night, who will fill shoes with gifts if they’ve been good or rods if not. The Krampus is more proactive; he carries a birch bundle to beat naughty children before stuffing them into his basket and carry them off. The Church tried to ban Krampusnacht as far back as the 12th century, but with little success.  By the 19th century, Father Christmas was arriving on a Yule Goat:

yule_goat2

Father Christmas riding a Yule Goat, 19th Century

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Shakespeare’s Fairies as Dreams

Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare - 1781

Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare - 1781

We see them only at the edge of sight, in dreams, so it’s no wonder that we are often confused by them. But the Bard did a turn with dreams of various sorts, and in his sight was keener than most others. See how he did his research:

Henry Fuseli - Fairy Mab - c1815-20

Henry Fuseli - Fairy Mab - c1815-20

“O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;”
— William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio’s Speech

But Mab, she seems to have been plucked out of that nowhere we visit each night (which is her realm). But it was good enough for at least one other poet with a gothic tale.

Turner - Queen Mab's Cave

J. M. W. Turner, Queen Mab's Cave, 1846

Behold the chariot of the Fairy Queen!
Celestial coursers paw the unyielding air;
Their filmy pennons at her word they furl
And stop obedient to the reins of light;
These the Queen of Spells drew in;
She spread a charm around the spot,
And, leaning graceful from the ethereal car,
Long did she gaze, and silently,
Upon the slumbering maid.
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab; A Philosophical Poem; With Notes

Arthur Rackham, A Fairy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1906

Perhaps even the Bard was confused for there is another with that title named Titania. Or perhaps Faerie is broad enough for multiple monarchs. At any rate, more celebrated than Mab, and older than any modern literature, is Oberon’s consort, whose dreams are made from fairies’ lullabies:

Henry Fuseli - Titania Awakening - 1785-90

Henry Fuseli - Titania Awakening - 1785-90

Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg’d spinners, hence!
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm nor snail, do no offence.
— William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

But it’s well she were asleep, for in other forms that goddess is also the huntress we dare not bother as she bathes:

Hendrick van Balen -- Diana and Actaeon

Hendrick van Balen -- Diana and Actaeon

While Titania is bathing there, in her accustomed place, Cadmus’s grandson, free of his share of the labour, strays with aimless steps through the strange wood, and enters the sacred grove. So the fates would have it. As soon as he reaches the cave mouth dampened by the fountain, the naked nymphs, seeing a man’s face, beat at their breasts and filling the whole wood with their sudden outcry, crowd round Diana to hide her with their bodies. But the goddess stood head and shoulders above all the others. Diana’s face, seen there, while she herself was naked, was the colour of clouds stained by the opposing shafts of sun, or Aurora’s brightness.
— Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 3

The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, by Arthur Rackham (1905)

Since Theseus is also referenced later in tale, it seems Ovid and Shakespeare had the same dream (or perhaps Shakespeare read rather widely, but that’s between us). At any rate, sweet dreams.

Image Links: Arthur Rackham at ArtsyCraftsy, Henry Fuselli at Art History Archive, Hendrick van Balen at Hellenica

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Damsels In Distress: Launcelot and Guenevere

Guinevere A'Maying by John Collier

Guinevere A'Maying by John Collier

Bulfinch returned; now he was wearing medieval jousting armor instead of his banker’s wools. He explained to me the story of how Sir Launcelot remained the queen’s lover, his forswearing after his failed quest for the Sangreal notwithstanding.

Guinevere (or La Belle Iseult) by William Morris:

Guinevere (or La Belle Iseult) by William Morris:

He intimated that there had been a plot instigated against him by the rumors of Mordred and his half-brother Sir Agrivaine, to entrap Launcelot while he was with the queen.

Their last hour, Florence Harrison

It was their last hour - Emma Florence Harrison, illustration to Guinevere by Tennyson

Launcelot escaped but the queen was caught and put to trial and then sentenced to burn for her crime. He then told of how Guenever was rescued. Placing one leg upon a stone he declaimed:

Then when Sir Launcelot had thus done, and slain and put to flight all that would withstand him, then he rode straight unto Dame Guenever, and made a kirtle and a gown to be cast upon her; and then he made her to be set behind him, and prayed her to be of good cheer. Wit you well the queen was glad that she was escaped from the death. And then she thanked God and Sir Launcelot; and so he rode his way with the queen, as the French book saith, unto Joyous Gard, and there he kept her as a noble knight should do; and many great lords and some kings sent Sir Launcelot many good knights, and many noble knights drew unto Sir Launcelot.

Lancelot in the Queen's Chamber by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Lancelot in the Queen's Chamber by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

This was not, of course, the end of the story. But that was all Bulfinch had for me that day. I spun around three times to find myself back in my own time. So putting on my running shoes with dove wings, I began to write this report.


Image Credits: Victorian and Preraphaelite Art, Emma Florence Harrison

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Damsels in Distress: How to Slay a Monster

Being part II of our series on….

Damsels in Distress: The Myth of Perseus and Andromeda

Rapunzel Singing in the Tower by Frank Cadogan Cowper

Rapunzel Singing in the Tower by Frank Cadogan Cowper

And by “agreed,” I meant he walked around a tree, returning immediately wearing a pair of steampunk running shoes with pigeon wings glued on them. Staring at me in confused bemusement, he tossed what appeared to be a stone carving of Godzilla, which landed with a “thunk” at my feet. The creature stared at me as if I were Tokyo.

“Perseus, continuing his flight, arrived at the country of the Etheopians” Bulfinch began, apparently from the middle of the story. He went on to relate how Perseus, looking down while returning from his battle with the Gorgon Medusa, saw far below the small and frail figure of Andromeda chained to a rock.

Perseus and Andromeda

The Rock of Doom by Edward Burne-Jones

Flying down, he asked her why she had been chained there. Out of modesty, she said nothing to the hero at first, but for fear that he would judge her wrongly, she related the tale of how her mother Queen Cassiopeia had, in her pride, boastfully compared her beauty to that of the Sea-Nymphs. In their anger, the nymphs sent a great serpent to ravage the coast of her country. To free themselves from terror, King Cepheus was directed by the Oracle to chain Andromeda, his virgin daughter, to the rock in sacrifice to that monster.

Perseus Slays Medusa by Aubrey Beardsley

Perseus Slays Medusa by Aubrey Beardsley

Just as she was finishing her story, the serpent raised its head out of the water and with great haste moved near to claim his prize. As luck would have it, Perseus was no stranger to great deeds, having defeated the Gorgon Medusa by beheading her. The hero sprang into the air with Mercury’s winged sandals, and landing on the monster’s back plunged his sword again and again into its neck. The monster retreated into the depths of the sea, then broke through the surface and appeared to soar in the air. Springing off the monster’s back, but with his wings now wet he had to wait for it upon a rock. Perseus nimbly evaded its attacks. Weakened by the failure of its repeated attacks, the monster lay still, floating on the waves, its breathing labored. As it passed, Perseus delivered a final death stroke, thus liberating the Etheopeans from the menace they had so long endured. Gratefully, the king and queen granted Perseus’ request to marry Andromeda.

“What about the Sea-nymphs?” I asked Bulfinch, “Weren’t they still angry?”

“Don’t know” he said wandering back into the forest.

Chapel of the Lists by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Chapel of the Lists by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I suppose I should have left then, as there seemed little point to any of this, but something told me I was dressed in Victorian attire for a reason. I fumbled for my pocket watch just in case this strange place had any appointments to get to–perhaps a tea party–a Jane Austen scenario–even a Gothic novel. As it turned out, it was a medieval one.

To be continued….


Image credits:  Victorian and Preraphaelite Art, Aubrey Beardsley

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Damsels in Distress: Psyche and Cupid

Being Part One of our series on:

Damsels in Distress

Chivalry by Frank Dicksee

"Chivalry" by Frank Dicksee

Having wandered into the forest, I had sufficiently lost sight of my origins to encounter a strange man who did not seem to be of this place or time.  After saluting me with one raised hand, he then grabbed me by the lapel of my tweed frock coat and began to recite the tale of Cupid and Psyche from memory:  “Psyche teneris et herbosis locis in ipso toro roscidi…”None of which was of much use to me as my Latin is limited to a few inaccurate aphorisms from Cicero, half-remembered catechisms, and assorted classical history references (veni, vidi, vici, etc). Sensing my difficulty, Bulfinch (for that was the man’s name) then switched to his native New England dialect and began the tale of Psyche, a lady who as we all know, had the misfortune of vexing Venus.

Psyche and Cupid

Cupid and Psyche by Edward Burne-Jones

Cupid Delivering Psyche by Eward Burne-Jones

The aforementioned Psyche had been gifted with a great misfortune–possessing great beauty, a beauty so great that no poet knew of any language on this world with words to describe it satisfactorily.

Psyche became so renowned for her beauty that the temples of the Goddess of Beauty herself were soon neglected; and this evoked the ire of that goddess. So Venus asked her son Cupid to place a curse on Psyche by pouring water from her bitter fountains of Love on her mortal lips.

Cupid was, as usual, invisible as he leaned over Psyche in obedience to his mother’s instructions. But as he did so, she suddenly woke and opened her eyes,  appearing to look directly into his.  This so startled Cupid that he accidentally pricked himself with one of his own arrows; and so it was that the son of the goddess fell in love with the most beautiful of mortal maidens.  In his love, he spared her the full bitterness of Venus’ punishment by pouring sweet water from his mother’s other fountain on her golden locks.

Alas, the bitter water had had its effect.  Despite her beauty, Psyche remained unmarried.  No man in the kingdom dared  posses this most beautiful of women.  At Cupid’s request, Apollo sent an oracle to Psyche’s father, instructing him to prepare his daughter for marriage.

Her father, the King, asked the Oracle about the fate of his daughter.  The Oracle revealed that their most beautiful daughter was destined to marry a monster.   The king was to send Psyche to a desolate mountain, where an ugly monster would meet her and take her for his wife.  The king and his queen were distraught and thought to shield their daughter from this fate, but were fearful of angering the gods.  Broken-hearted, Psyche’s father obeyed.

But Psyche very bravely understood that she had somehow incurred the wrath of the goddess.  Standing bravely alone on a rock,  she awaited her fate when a warm and gentle wind began to stir.  Cupid had sent  Zephyr, the West Wind, to bring his beloved out of her country and into his palace. There he bestowed upon her everything a princess could desire, except one thing: She must never look upon him.  Each night she slept with her new husband, not knowing who he was or what he looked like.

Psyche’s  life would get somewhat more complicated after that, including a trip to Hell wherein she places a bit of Proserpine’s beauty into a box.  She had opened the box to borrow some of this beauty only to find it empty and fell into a deep sleep, for the only contents of the box were, in fact, Sleep.

Psyche Opening the Golden Box by John William Waterhouse

"Psyche Opening the Golden Box" by John William Waterhouse

Indeed, this particular damsel needed some additional saving after her initial one. I said as much to Bulfinch, who agreed.  So he made up for this imperfection by telling me another story.

(to be continued)


* Apuleius, Metamorphoses, Book V (1)

Image Credits: Victorian and Pre-raphaelite Art Prints

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Fairy Politics in Shakespeare: The Quarrel Between Oberon & Titania

The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, by Arthur Rackham (1905)

The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, by Arthur Rackham (1905)

In Act II Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare walks us right into the middle of an argument:

OBERON
Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.

TITANIA
What, jealous Oberon! Fairies, skip hence:
I have forsworn his bed and company.

OBERON
Tarry, rash wanton: am not I thy lord?

This is more than a marital spat, and more than simply a royal argument since these are gods (albeit diminutive.) Arguments between gods often have cosmic consequences that affect all mortals (like you and me) so it is important that we analyze Faerie politics in this (moon)light.

Puck and a Fairy (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) by Arthur Rackham

Puck and a Fairy (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) by Arthur Rackham

The consequences don’t seem to bother the other fairies very much as earlier in the scene we are treated to banter between Puck and one of Titania’s followers:

FAIRY:…
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?

PUCK:
Thou speak’st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.

The argument is ostensibly about a changeling from India in Titania’s train who was the son of one of her priestesses. Oberon desires this child as well, though we who are not brought up in English folktale traditions do not understand exactly why. But apparently followers,  especially imported ones, are the currency of power, and as a result are a matter of highest importance to the powers of Faerie (and as well, come to think of it, our own mortal politics.) We are later revealed a more complex exchange between the two monarchs of Faerie:

TITANIA: …
But that, forsooth, the bouncing Amazon,
Your buskin’d mistress and your warrior love,
To Theseus must be wedded, and you come
To give their bed joy and prosperity.

OBERON:
How canst thou thus for shame, Titania,
Glance at my credit with Hippolyta,
Knowing I know thy love to Theseus?

Ah! So we are really talking about earthly politics as well. The pending marriage between Theseus and Hippolyta, both earthly powers (albeit mythical) has revealed hidden tensions among the immortals.

There could be much more to be said about the psychology and political motives of the fairies, but I believe it is not entirely possible to analyze these effectively since they are more than likely to resort to magic:

OBERON: …
Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

PUCK:
I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.

This interesting exchange is difficult to understand for those who have forgotten the practice of magic. (Interestingly, it also reveals that there were reasonably accurate clocks in mythical Athenian times, at least among the fairies of  Shakespeare.)

Wake When some vile thing is near, by Warwick Goble

Wake When some vile thing is near, by Warwick Goble

Since this writer has not practiced magic for some years now, he feels it best to avoid further commentary at this point or risk being enmeshed in arguments between unearthly powers.

Image credits: 

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Arabian Nights

The Fisherman and the Genie, Maxfield Parrish

Artsy Craftsy: I have added half a dozen of the Maxfield Parrish illustrations to The Arabian Nights, their Best Known Tales to Maxfield Parrish.

Art Passions: The full set of Maxfield Parrish Arabian Nights illustrations, both the 1909 edition and the additional illustrations from the 1923 edition, will be in the Art Passions Maxfield Parrish gallery within a few days. (That page needs a little reorganization). The Young King of the Black Isles and Sinbad Plotting to Kill the Giant appear only in the 1923 edition:

The young king of the black isles, Maxfield ParrishSinbad plotting to kill the giant, Maxfield Parrish

Have a great week,

XineAnn

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