O is for Osiris – Mythic Mondays

Osiris and his family - a statue from the 22nd dynasty (photo by Guillaume Blanchard)

Osiris and his family – a statue from the 22nd dynasty (photo by Guillaume Blanchard)

 

Osiris is God of wheat and resurrection – this may seem like a strange combination, but to the ancient egyptians it was obvious: they buried dead wheat in the expectation it will live again, as a new crop. Most of the worship of Osiris focused around this dichotomy, that the Lord of Life is also the First Mummy.

The Ancient Egyptians divided the land of Khem – which either means Egypt or the Earth – between the warring brothers of Set and Osiris. Horus inherits Khem from them both, just as man inherits the earth from the gods, and Pharaoh was seen as Horus’s regent, invested at coronation with divine authority. Whilst Set was seen as dark – the god of the desert and the storm – he was also seen as the might of the Pharaoh

Osiris, however, is the gentler brother. He is usually shown with a crook and a threshing flail – not only for his connection to farming, but also as the shepherd of men – the example that men are supposed to follow to live moral lives – and on death, Osiris rules paradise, and is only joined by the righteous.

Early communities of monks – although very different from communities we would recognise today – shared a ritual meal of unadorned bread, in order to identify themselves with Osiris and gain part of his immortality. Such Houses of Life became centres of healing lore and may have been the earliest hospitals.

The story this time is less of a ‘known tale’ and more a composite from what we know about burial practices. Isis may or may not have written the Book of Going Forth – which tends to be known as the Book of the Dead. It seems poetically appropriate for her to have written it, so I decided she did.

Descent into death

As has already been told, Osiris was treacherously slain by his brother Sutekh. After conceiving him an heir, the falcon-headed Horus, Isis went to bury her husband.

At this time, people set the bodies of their loved ones to sail down the Nile to the sea, where their ka – their immortal souls – became the crew of the ship that carries the Sun.

But Isis had a dream that she should not set Osiris on a boat, but carry him instead into the desert. She wrapped him in cloth she had woven with her own hands and laid him on a bed of rocks. She sent word to everyone who grieved at the death of the Lord of Life, that they should come with a stone to place on the tomb.

And they came. Each with a burden suited to his stature – the rich and powerful brought mighty slabs, and the poor brought handfuls of pebbles. Each was piled into a great pile, and such was the wisdom and skill of Isis, that the body was not crushed.

For forty days she stayed there, and dreamed the journey Osiris took. Then Isis rose from her place by the pyramid, and went forth and wrote down all her dreams, in the book that has become the Book of Going Forth, telling how to make such pyramids, that the souls of the mighty would serve Osiris in his kingdom of the Dead, and fight with him to defend the world against the Outer Darkness. Then she walked back into the desert, and left her son to rule in Khem.

Osiris walked a long walk, through all the places he had known in life. He came at last to the great throne of the Goddess Ma’at, who is Justice.

She asked him his guilt in the crime of murder

She asked him his guilt in the crime of theft

She asked him his guilt in the crime of sacrilege

And so this went on all day, as the goddess asked Osiris to name his guilt of 42 crimes

As the sun set in the Underworld, as it rose in the world above, Maat plunged her hand into the chest of Osiris, and plucked out his heart.

“If your heart weighs less than my feather, you will be permitted to stay in Aaru, which is paradise, But if any guilt weighs down your soul, you will be consumed by the monster Ammit, and your soul will go down into Duat, which is hellish.”

Osiris’s soul was weighed and came out as light as the feather. And his journey was ended, that he became king in Aaru, and daily battles to preserve the world, for it is the kingdom of his heirs and his people.

In your games and stories

Temples to Osiris were grand and complicated – often resembling a small province, when one includes the supplying farms, sacred lakes, outlying shrines and so forth. But temples are not the best source of dungeons in Khem. Burial chambers – whether pyramids or the catacombs inhabited by less royal people – were protected by all manner of curses and traps. Looting them could be worth it, as even quite poor people took many goods with them to the afterlife.

The priesthood would have been agricultural managers, and societal planners. Ancient Egypt had many people who were described as ‘priest’ but few of them would qualify as clerics, and they had almost no traditions of paladins. Temples were guarded more by tradition than monsters. Osiris might grant his priests all kinds of spells of healing, but allied to this are the secrets of raising undead, particularly mummies.

Animals associated with Osiris are locusts and scarab beetles, but also all kinds of food animals. For priests who choose spells of fertility, a well-timed stampede of cattle can be just as dangerous as any lightning blast.

Fans of egyptian fiction might be interested in next month’s piece from Jigsaw Fantasy, the Sivatag Desert

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N is for Neptune – Mythic Mondays

Poseidon, God of the Sea by Genzoman

Poseidon, God of the Sea by Genzoman

 

Neptune is god of all the waters – seas, rivers and springs. He also has jurisdiction over horses, and by extension, travellers. For the Greeks, Poseidon was one of the most important gods – the brother of Zeus. and key to their coastal and island world.To the Romans, Neptune was less central – being a land-based rather than marine economy. But he was honored by certain segments of society – in particular, there was often a shrine to Neptune in any fort occupied by cavalry.

Like all the Classical gods, the Roman Neptune accepted sacrifices. He was honored as one of only three gods who accepted bulls (the others being Mars and Apollo) His temples were often found by springs and wells, or in tandem with Mars, or Minerva (with whom he made the first chariot), or as part of the three brothers of Earth Sky and Water – Pluto, Jupiter, and Neptune.

Possibly because of his multiplicitous origins – as a fusion of the sea gods of Sparta, Athens, and the Etruscans – Neptune has many spouses, and hundreds of children. This can be seen as symbolic of many rivers reaching the sea, each with their own guardian spirit. Wikipedia lists eighty, and other sources suggest more. There is also some indications that he may have also had male lovers.

The story I’ve chosen has Neptune (actually, Poseidon, but the two are closer than most Greek / Roman pairs) as an antagonist, but as well as being the father of monsters, Neptune also had a role as a protector from them. He is almost alway pictured with a trident, with which he was said to stir up storms or earthquakes, or calm them with the pommel end.

Story – Hubris Doesn’t Pay

Perseus was flying across Greece, carrying the head of the Gorgon Medusa in a bag. As he flew low over one coastline, he saw a figure by the sea. Thinking it to be some statue, he swooped down for a closer look. As he drew near, he saw the statue move as the cold waves sprayed over it, and he saw that is was no statue, but a young maiden, chained to the rocks.

“Why are you chained out here?” asked the hero.

“I am Andromeda. My mother, Cassiopeia, is Queen here. She boasted that I was more beautiful than the Nereids – the daughters of Neptune. To punish her for her arrogance, Neptune sent a monster to ravage our settlements and eat our people. We consulted the Oracle, and the only way for the monster will go away is for me to be sacrificed to it”

Perseus felt that this was most unfair. He sat and talked to the maiden, calming her fears, and receiving her promise that he would battle the monster, but she should look away from the fight. Andromeda tried to dissuade him, but heroes are hard to persuade.

As the monster appeared on the horizon, Andromeda closed her eyes, sure that the monster would tear Perseus apart, and not wishing to see such a horrid sight. Perseus, being careful to avert his eyes, drew forth the Gorgon’s Head. It still retained its powers of petrification, and the sea-monster was turned to stone. Taking good care not to see it himself, he stowed the Head in its bag.

He drew his sharp sword and split the chains binding Andromeda.

“Come” he said “there is no need for you to go home to a family who would see you die to protect their own cowardly lives”

And the hero carried her away, with his winged sandals, and lodged her with some peasant folk he trusted, before continuing with his quest.

In your games and stories

Whilst temples to Neptune were relatively simple affairs, sacred areas included coves and caves – underwater grottoes that would make excellent dungeons – assuming you can breathe water. Expect to find a wide array of monsters – some beastly and some sentient. Treasures might be anything that has been shipwrecked – from Spanish doubloons to the Antikythera mechanism

Neptune’s followers were anyone who depended on the sea – not only fishermen and sailors but pirates! Not all pirates are from the Caribbean, there are stories of piracy from the Classical world (Julius Caesar was famously captured by pirates, and his escape and punishment of them is the beginning of his path to greatness) all the way to modern day pirates smuggling guns and drugs.

Spells he might grant would include summoning of sea creatures or water breathing, and water control. As Lord of both the sea and horses, he is also master of all kinds of spells of travel – from phantom steeds to flight to interplanar travel.

Neptune himself is powerful, but he has whole tribes of people at his command – nereids, merfolk and tritons. Any of these could appear as protagonists, antagonists or support characters – what strange wares might a merman merchant carry?

For a city that might be blessed by Neptune, check out The Floating City jigsaw piece.

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M is for Morrigan – Mythic Mondays

Morrigan alights upon the dying Cuchulain Photo by Kman999 - Kman999 on Flickr, CC BY 3.0

Morrigan alights upon the dying Cuchulain
Photo by Kman999 – Kman999 on Flickr, CC BY 3.0

We’re back with the Celts, who love their goddesses in threes. There are three goddesses of Ireland – Eriu, Banba and Fotla. Three goddesses of fertility – Brigid, Boann, and Etain. And three battle goddesses. Morrigan is sometimes one of these, and sometimes the sum of all three. Her sisters are Badb and Macha.

Modern witches tend to clump all these goddesses into a single triumvirate – the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. Not all sets of three neatly fit, but there are enough similarities for wiccans to represent the primal forces in this simpler fashion. In this way, they seek to conflate goddess-aspects from many pantheons, to better understand them.

Morrigan is the Crone aspect, signifying mortality and Fate. She is also, in her favorite form of the raven, the chooser of the slain of the Celtic battlefield, combining the roles of both the Norns and Valkyries

Most of the Celtic priesthood – the dru-vids, the Oaken-wise – would worship whichever deity suited their needs, or the needs of their king-host. Dedicated priests were rare, and the Celts saw their gods as merely a more advanced race than humans. Druids were responsible for communicating with the people of Annwn, the Celtic Underworld and Fairyland – not only gods, but any soul which had passed on, and not returned to a new life. Morrigan was appealed to for luck in battle, and in her role as psychopomp, to appeal to souls resident in Annwn

Story of the God

When Maeve stole the cattle of Ulster, all the men but Cuchullin were struck by a weakness. Cuchullin was only immune because he was only half a son of Ulster – half of his heritage was divine, being a son of Lugh.

So Cuchullin stood at the ford where the great river runs which borders Ulster, to fight against the champions of Maeve in single combat.

The Morrigan in the guise of a beautiful blond girl, came to offer him her love, and her aid in the battle. But Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and changed into the form of an eel. At the height of the fight. she tripped him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

So, Morrigan came again in her guise as a wily red headed girl and offered him magical aid in the battle, and her loving embrace. But Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and came back in the form of a wolf. At the height of the fight. she scared cattle over him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

For the third night, Morrigan came in the guise of a dark haired beauty, offering strength for the coming battle, and loving rest in her arms. And again Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and came back in the form of a red heifer. At the height of the fight. she led a stampede of cattle over him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

So, after the battle Morrigan appeared in the form of an old woman bearing the three wounds he had given her, and leading a cow. So Cuchullin knew that what faced him was one of the Tuatha de Danann. She offered Cuchullin a draught of milk, and he blessed her for it. His blessing healed her wounds, and in return she had nothing but the prophecy of his death.

“Had I known you, I might not have rejected you”

“You would have, for it is in your nature to be stubborn. And it is in this that your death lies, for in rejecting help, you rejected that which might have saved your life”

And so it came that a mighty army came, and one man could not stand against it. Whilst the Ulstermen recovered in time to save their country, it was not soon enough to save Cuchullin

In Your Games and Stories

As the weaver of Fate, Morrigan might give clerical spells of divination, and inspire works of craft – great swords, mighty shields, or tools to aid in foretelling the future. All the Celtic deities have a connection with song, so her followers would number bards as well as druids and clerics. Whilst her battle-aspect would imply her to be a favorite of fighters, few wished to incur her notice, preferring Ogma, Lugh or even Brigid

Castles belonging to followers of Morrigan would tend to be defended by puzzles and traps rather than monsters – unless you count hordes of fey warriors. Seek her in hollow hills and remote crags – or in Annwn, the Celtic Fairyland.

Morrigan could also appear in a political tale, in her role as outsider and observer. She might well know secrets unavailable elsewhere. But what price will the Lady of Fate require for her aid? Perhaps, like the blood-price for the Sons of Tuirenn, it will sound innocuous and be the source of a whole adventure to find.

If you’re looking for more Fae Fantasy, join Artemis Games Jigsaw Fantasy Patreon and put in your vote.

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October 31st is for Samhain – Mythic Mondays

Jack-o'-lanterns - Photo from William Warby

Jack-o’-lanterns, a present-day incarnation of ancient tradition – Photo by William Warby

So, seeing as Halloween falls on a Mythic Monday this year, I thought I’d step aside for a week and cover a little bit of the mythic significance of the Celtic New Year.

The end of the harvest, the start of winter – Samhain was one of the two nights when ancestors could return to Earth (the other being what is now May Day)

To thank the ancestors for their guardianship of the fields, some of the fruits of the harvest were set aside for them. Apples, beer or cream were common, with cakes or biscuits for those who had no harvest but their labour. Lords would feast their households, providing for the whole community out of respect for the powers of nature that had provided the harvest.

It became traditional for people who could not provide their own feasts to disguise themselves and accept the spirits portion on their behalf. This also applied to the newly betrothed or married, who had no harvest yet in their new home.This tradition was taken to America by Irish emigrants, and became Trick or Treat.

The name Hallowe’en is from the Catholicized All Hallows Eve – the following day is a day to pray for all those who have gone to purgatory. Some churches still have a potluck supper around this time, to share food with those who have less. Some schools share food with the elderly, and many folk use the onset of winter as a reminder that hard times can affect anyone.

Of course, not all spirits who return are benevolent, and the Jack O the Lantern was an invocation set to watch for malevolent ghosts and scare them away.

So, now ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties haunt the night when the walls to the Underworld grow thin. So, take care tonight, and perhaps leave the ancestors a little something?

Story – The Shapeshifter Duel

Some witches excel at shapeshifting, and the duel between them is called certamen. There was once a witch who wished to kill a Laird, but the Laird rarely left his castle.

But one day the Laird went to help one of his tenants with the lambing. On a snowy hilltop, the Laird and the Witch met.

“I have you now!” Said the witch.
“I will duel you for the lambs, for the people and for my life” said the laird.

She became a duck and Claimed the pond
And He took the shape of a hound and fetched her

She became a trout and Claimed the stream
And He took the shape of an otter and caught her

She became a star and Claimed the sky
And He took the shape of a thundercloud and muffled her

She became a rose and Claimed the earth
And He took the form of a bumblebee and stung her

Finally, the witch became her own form
And the Laird resumed his own shape.

“By what power have you Beaten me?” asked the witch

“By the power of three things – My land, and my people, and my God.
And by these things, I banish you.”

And the witch was gone, and not seen again

Editors note: We’ve mentioned Certamen previously, with respect to Gwydion Gwyn

In games and stories

Different folk celebrate different festivals, so think about the folk in your story. What feasts do they celebrate?. Is New Year in the depth of winter, or in Spring?. Most communities, however urban, recognise the farming year, and have some kind of festival for planting, growing, harvesting and winter. Common also are national recognitions – the king’s birthday, Guy Fawkes Night, Bastille Day.

Fantasy festivals might be dedicated to any of the gods we’ve covered, and any published god might have such a day. When crafting a world, or a nation, don’t forget saints and national heros – the Day of the First Emperor, or St Patrick’s Day. Borrow from real-world festivals to offer details. Perhaps Pelor’s followers dance a maypole in Spring. Perhaps Offler has a Crocodile Day, when everyone brings food to appease the holy crocodiles. Perhaps Raiden sponsors a midwinter storm festival – lock your doors and fast until sunrise.

Consider:

When is this – summer, winter, all week, an hour at dusk, a minute at 11 AM?

Who has this festival – the whole community, just followers of Hera, just hobbits?

If it’s the whole community, how do devotees of the god feel about this?

What does the festival looks like – Diwali lights, Eid Fireworks, Jack O Lanterns?

What are the smells and sounds – Incense reminiscent of many ceremonies from Catholicism to Shinto, or Chinese New Year firecracker smoke?

What do people eat – feast or fast? Unleavened bread, Diwali sweets, nothing between sunrise and sunset?

What do rituals do people do – Confess their sins, wash, dance, sing, kneel, wave flags?

What taboos are enacted or redacted – women are free to have sex, curfew after dark, slaves served by masters?

How does the festival end? Sunrise, when the bell tolls, when everyone drunkenly passes out?

If you want more detailed festivals for your game, join us at Jigsaw Fantasy and vote for our pieces on religions, races, or cultures.

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L is for Loki – Mythic Mondays

"I am the giant Skrymir" by Elmer Boyd Smith

“I am the giant Skrymir” by Elmer Boyd Smith

L is for Loki – and for Loz’s birthday, which would be why this week’s Mythic Monday is in fact a Tuesday.

Loki would doubtless approve of the departure from routine for he is the Norse god of all things odd. Trickster, shapeshifter, wizard – he is the archetype for scalds – living by his wits.

Loki was rarely worshipped in his own temples – his cults would generally be based out of a shrine in temples to Thor or Odin, or occasionally Freya. His priests were consulted for the workings of Fate – Loki is sometimes seen as a lover of the Norns.

Currently, the picture in most people’s head is of Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s worth remembering that Loki is different to his fellow Aesir – whether you take the option that he is a Vana – the Norse proto-gods – or a Jotun – or even just that he is marked by his experiences. So anyone who complains that Hiddleston is too dark to be a Norseman, needs to think about why Loki looks different.

Of course, how Loki is perceived – as a friend and helper, or as a foe, rather depends on where in the narrative you look. Loki is rare amongst gods in that his character develops – from the slightly naughty trickster to the leader of the armies of Ragnarok.

Story of the God – Be Careful What You Proclaim

One day, Loki, being bored, suggested to Thor that they might go exploring in Thor’s chariot. With their friend, Hjalfi, they rode across the mountains, drawn by four goats.

They found themselves at a mighty castle, as night was drawing on. At the gates was a giant, who named himself as Utgarda.

“No-one may stay at my castle unless they perform a feat!”
Loki boasted of he and his companions, that he could eat faster than any other, that Hjalfi was faster than any other, and that Thor was stronger than any other.

“Let us try you!” said Utgarda

So a trencher was set for Loki and one of the giant’s people, Logi. It was filled with meat, and each began to eat, and they met at the middle. However, Loki had eaten only the meat, whereas Logi had consumed the bones and the trencher as well.

Hjalfi was set at a race against a figure called Hugi. Three times they raced, and three times Hugi beat Hjalfi.

So Thor offered a drinking contest, and a great horn was brought. Three great draughts drank Thor, but he was unable to finish it. Angered, Thor offered to fight anyone there. Utgarda offered only his old nurse. Try as he might, Thor could not wrestle the old woman to the floor.

Utgarda laughed, and all went to bed. The three travellers slept in a wide bed, which appeared soft, but they slept restlessly.

Loki woke in the morning, and stood at the gates of the castle.

“Show me truth!” he proclaimed. And truth he saw.

He saw that he had competed against Wildfire, that Hjafi had raced against Thought, that the draughts of ale Thor had drank were the sea, and had caused the tides, and that the woman Thor had wrestled was Old Age, whom no man can master. And the bed they slept so restlessly in was the bed of the sea, and they had caused great waves. And the castle was no castle, but a mountain.

And Loki told the others what he saw, and they returned to Asgard a little wiser.

In Your Games and Stories

Loki is a trickster, but he is still a Norseman. He might grant spells of concealment or illusion, but he also might give you strength to fight when your tricks go wrong. His association with ice giants – the Jotun – gives him access to all kinds of elemental magics, particularly cold-based ones.

There might not be many temples to Loki for dungeon-delvers to explore, but as a father of monsters, his priests might defend their homes and castles with all kind of beasts – in particular wolfkind or dragonkind.

Many of the Norse myths feature Loki as a trouble stirrer – see Balder – and either Loki himself, or his adherents – priests, warriors or scalds (bards) – could show up in any story to cause chaos. However, Loki also sees much through his magics, so such meddlers might also have information useful to adventurers.

 

There’s one week left to back our Jigsaw Fantasy Patreon if you want to pick up the Panoply (and Pantheon) of Annem Ka at a discounted rate.

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K is for Kronos – Mythic Mondays

Rubens saturn

Saturn, Jupiter’s father, devours one of his sons. – Painting by Peter Paul Rubens

Kronos is the King of the Titans. The Titans were not so much worshipped as feared. They are the primeval forces of nature. A few are benign – Metis, Thought, becomes the mother of Athene, and Themis is the personification of Justice – but most are terrifying and dangerous. The Sea, the Sky, The Sun and Moon, concepts like war and destruction, and assorted local fire-mountains (remember, the Eastern Mediterranean area is volcanic) They cannot be wholly tamed, merely overruled by the Olympian gods.

The Titans may well represent the lingering deities of the Phoenician culture that inhabited parts of what is now Greece before the Mycenaeans, which we think of as the Classical Greeks.

Kronos himself suffers from confusion with the Roman Chronos, who is Old Father Time. There’s no kind of clarity whether they’re the same deity or two different ones, because different Classical writers treat the matter in one of three basic forms.

He’s either Cronus or Kronus or Kronos (as with many periods of history, spelling in the alphabetical systems was inconsistent – most things weren’t written down so those who could write had to work out certain words for themselves) He is the husband of Gaia, or her son, or both. I’ve gone with the son version, because it fits with most of the common tales, and makes the following story make more sense.

Story of the Titan – Beginnings

In the beginning was Chaos, and Chaos brought forth Gaia, which is the Earth, and she brought forth Uranus, which is the sky.

And Gaia and Uranus married, and had many offspring – giants and monsters of all kinds. And the greatest of these was Kronos, and Rhea was his wife.

Uranus displeased his wife however, for he did not care for all of her children. The Hekatonkheires and the Cyclopes displeased him with their strange forms, and he threw them into Tartarus where he would never again have to look upon them.

Kronos was the only of Gaia’s children both strong enough and brave enough to fight against the tyrant Uranus, and so he freed his imprisoned brothers and sisters and marched against his father, striking him down and castrating him with a great stone sickle.

Kronos was not content however – he knew that the Cyclopes and Hekatonkheires were willing to fight against their lord, and he was now their lord. And so he repeated the actions of his father and imprisoned them in Tartarus.

It was this act that led his mother Gaia to prophecy that as he had repeated his father’s crimes he would repeat his father’s death – Kronos’ son was destined to overthrow him. So as his wife Rhea gave birth to each child he swallowed them whole.

When Zeus was born, Rhea could take it no longer and so she bundled a stone in swaddling clothes and handed it to Kronos, hiding the boy on Crete.

Zeus grew until Crete could no longer hold him, and Zeus went to rescue his brothers and sisters. He wrestled with Kronos until he could force an emetic on him. His disgorged brothers and sisters then launched a vast war to overthrow the Titans, armed and equipped by the Cyclopes. When the Titans were dead or subdued, the Olympians carved up the universe between them.

Zeus became King of the Sky, and his brother Poseidon became Lord of the Sea. The third brother Hades became Lord of the Underworld. Their sister Hera became queen of marriage and childbirth. Demeter took the growing of crops for her domain, and the last sister Hestia claimed sovereignty over the Hearth.

Kronos was imprisoned in Tartarus below the earth. There he waits, scheming revenge against his son, and the mortals who are ruled by him.

In your stories and games

Summoning the Big Bad Thing is a favourite of cultists and sorcerers everywhere. Whether a Titan, a Great Old One, or a more earthly monster, the Big Evil is usually a ritual to be interrupted. For an excellent example of this kind of titanic struggle (sorry) in gaming, take a look at the Age of Mythology: Titans expansion.

On the other hand, what if the party are trying to get rid of a god? It’s possible that summoning such Things might be necessary if the aim of the plot is deitycide. Of course, one you’ve summoned it, there’s no guarantee that Kronos will do what you ask – he is a force of nature. And how does one breach the walls of Tartarus anyway?

Some of the myths provide another reason one might wish to bring back the Titans – During their rule humanity was stronger, freer and more moral than the people of the modern world. The Titans, unlike the gods, felt no need to interfere in the lives of mere mortals and their power flowed more freely into the world.

The Titans don’t have clerics or paladins, but some settings might see them as the granters of elemental magics. Kronos is majestic, and so might indirectly grant spells of mastery or even metamagic. But he is unlikely to commune directly – more likely there is some quality of the power that binds him that allows his power to be siphoned.

If you’re looking for some new deities and primordials for your world, you may want to pick up this month’s Jigsaw Fantasy – The Royal Panoply of Annem Ka

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J is for Juno – Mythic Mondays

Juno and Jupiter together, by Annibale Carracci

Juno and Jupiter together, by Annibale Carracci

 

Juno is the Eevee of Roman gods, constantly evolving in different directions. She started out as Hera, Greek goddess of marriage and childbirth. But when adopted by the Romans she collected titles – Capitolina reflected her role as patroness of the Roman State; Moneta from her connection with the moon – the word money comes from this root, as the Roman mint was part of the temple complex.

The differences between the two goddesses reflect differences between Greek and Roman women. Greek women were often required to stay virtually imprisoned in the gynaeceum – the women’s house. Athenian women had limited rights to property, while Spartan women had much more developed rights. The Romans adopted the Spartan model – women could own property, and often had considerable social influence.

Juno has a martial aspect – protecting the vulnerable – and hence appealed to by those law officers who protect and serve. Anyone whose role is defined by those whom they serve – from PAs to social workers to viziers – might have cause to call on Juno.

Because of her role in childbirth, no knots were permitted anywhere in the temple – a problem if you had no belt! Knots were believed to hinder a woman’s birthing – and hence wearing any would negate any favour from Juno.

 

Story of the God – Hatred

Hercules was the result of one of Jupiter’s many affairs, and incurred Juno’s hatred by the very fact of his existence. She resolved not to let this one grow up, to confound her vengeance. So, she sent a pair of serpents to his cradle. The infant Hercules strangled one in each hand, doubtless while burbling and giggling. To try to protect him, his mother sent him away to be raised by peasant strangers.

Hercules grew big and strong. He married and had two children. His life might have been peaceful. But eventually Juno found him, and sent a fit of madness such that, when he saw his wife approaching, he perceived them as enemies and slew them.

As penance for killing his wife and children, he was made to serve his half-brother, the cowardly King Eurystheus. He slew many monsters, captured others, and last of all borrowed Cerberus the faithful hound of Pluto.

He settled down with a new wife,Deianira. Once, she was attacked by a centaur. Hercules drove him off with his poisoned arrows, soaked in the blood of the Hydra. As the centaur lay dying, he told Deianira to soak a shirt in his blood and give it to her husband if he was ever unfaithful

Hercules was drinking and telling tales with his friends, and Juno caused Deinira to think that he was with another woman. She gave him the shirt, thinking it a magic charm to restore his love. But the shirt was a deadly poison, and unable to remove it, Hercules threw himself into a river, in an attempt to cool the fire, and drowned.

His deeds were so great that Jupiter declared that he would be received onto Olympus. Even Juno had to be reconciled to his divine self. She didn’t like it much, and he spent much time away – appearing in the dreams of heroes to inspire them to greater deeds.

 

In your Games and Stories

Juno the jealous has more reason to turn up as the patron of adversaries than protagonists. She might support an order of police-ly paladins, but she’s more likely to be called on by the duke’s right hand man – or his wife. She would likely grant clerical powers of protection – or perhaps poison as vicious as her temper!

As demonstrated in the above story she also had a tendency to use underhanded means and illusions to punish those she disliked, often tricking their loved ones into betraying them. Those who have angered Juno have cause to fear their allies as well as their enemies.

Geese guarded her temples, which were relatively simple in plan. Other buildings might be supported by the temple nearby – priest houses, farms to raise sacrifices, the mint… add in the location of the temple in the centre of the city, and a raid on a temple of Juno might more resemble an urban heist than a dungeon crawl.

Juno’s holy day – the Matronalia.- was early March. A festival dedicated to respect for all women, and by extension all relationships seen as valid by that society, could be the jumping off point for all kinds of intrigue stories – by defining and celebrating what is proper, we also define what is taboo. Taboo means secrets, and what will people do – or have adventurers do for them – to protect those secrets?

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I is for Isis – Mythic Mondays

Isis caring for Horus.
An ancient statue of Isis caring for Horus, creator unknown.

Worshipped as consort to Osiris, she is more than merely a beautiful trophy. Queens in Egypt were supposed to be wise counsellors to Pharaoh – their coronation title “She who Sees Horus and Set In One Being” suggests how important the Queen was to Pharaoh’s magical duties.

Isis is the model of queenship and motherhood. She is often depicted suckling her son Horus, who is usually portrayed as a child rather than an infant – representing his strength, and her devotion to him beyond the usual. Several depictions of the Madonna and Child are based on earlier works showing Egypt’s Great Queen

The Romans adopted Isis as another mother-goddess; it’s probable that the temple commissioned by Caesar in honour of Cleopatra was dedicated to Isis.

Story of the Goddess – The Source of the Nile

Set was always jealous of his kingly brother, Osiris. Once, to trap him, Set fashioned a box of rich acacia and cedar, and measured it to fit Osiris perfectly.

Set then gave a banquet for all the gods, and proudly displayed the box. He proclaimed that whomever it fit would get to keep it. Dwarfish Bes was too small, and great Sobek the crocodile god was too large. Set’s wife Nephthys was too slender, Hathor the hippo goddess was too wide. When it came to Osiris’s turn. Set slammed the lid, making the box into a coffin for Osiris.

Set threw the box into the Nile, and it drifted away. Isis spent a long time searching for her husband, and at last found the box with Osiris’s body. She brought it back to Egypt so that he could have a proper funeral, and be interred in a pyramid.

As he lay in state amid the drying desert sands, Set found the body and in his rage at seeing Osiris again, tore the body into 14 pieces, and scattered them all over Egypt. As far as Set was concerned, his hatred was such that his enemy should not even have a proper burial!

Once again, Isis set out to search for her husband. Try as she might, she could only find thirteen pieces of him – the last piece, his phallus, had been eaten by a great fish.

She besought Thoth’s aid, and he helped her to craft a golden phallus, and attach it to Osiris’s body. Such was the power of Isis’s magic, she was able to become pregnant by her dead husband, and she conceived Horus to be his father’s avenger.

With his body restored, and properly buried, Osiris became king of the Land of the Dead. The great fish who ate the last piece of him, swam to the end of the Nile, and there died. The phallus is there still, the source of the great fertility of the mighty river, and the author of the wealth of the land of Kem.

In your Games and Stories

Isis is patron of magicians. Her temples might be schools of magic, and her devotees and priests likely favor policies of educating peasants and universal literacy. She’s unlikely to have orders of paladins; such priests as she does have are likely to be heavily involved in politics.

As a deity of female power, the goddess might be followed by Queens and noble ladies. In any world where women have less status than their male counterparts, she might be seen as the embodiment of the power behind the throne. She could also be invoked in her motherhood role to protect youngsters.

Defunct temples are unlikely to be gem-filled dungeons – the Egyptians favoured simple open courtyards. But the magical aspects of such a place might make it an ideal location to cast large ritual spells – and even possibly be a nexus for interplanar travel.

Such a nexus might well attract The Wandering Tavern – and serve as part of the quest to anchor it once more.

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H is for Hades – Mythic Mondays

 

L'Enlèvement de Proserpine par Pluton, Sculpture by François Girardon; photograph by Evan Lawrence Bench

L’Enlèvement de Proserpine par Pluton, Sculpture by François Girardon; photograph by Evan Lawrence Bench, used under CC-SA

Hades is King of the Underworld, and brother to Zeus and Poseidon. Although in popular literature he’s been painted as a Bad Guy, the Greeks didn’t see him as evil – more as a part of Nature. He was worshipped as both the Lord of Death, and as giver of the wealth of the earth – miners and smelters revered him as Master of Metal.

We might imagine that sacrifices to him would be a dark act, but the Greeks – and Romans, worshipping him as Dis or Pluto – saw nothing wrong in feeding the god with the smoke of animals. In most myths, he is portrayed as vicious, but not really cruel – merely a product of his nature.

Cerberus -The Three-headed Hound at the Gates of Hell – translates as “spotted”. So, Hades named his dog “Spot” (a fact that has become much better known since Jim Butcher used the idea in Skin Game, one of his Dresden novels)

Story of the God – The Reluctant Bride

Persephone, the young daughter of Demeter, was picking flowers in a field with her friends and playmates, the Oceanids. From a nearby cave, up out of the earth, came the fearsome Hades, Lord of the Underworld, riding a chariot drawn by two giant dogs.

He was immediately smitten by her beauty, and attempted to carry her off to his realm to wed her. She screamed, but there was no-one who could hear and come to her aid. So Hades dragged her beneath the earth to his palace, and set guards about her, so that no-one else could come near her.

When her daughter did not come home, Demeter left her place on Mount Olympus and came to earth. She searched throughout the world, neglecting her work which was to make crops grow and cattle breed. Eventually, she found one of the Oceanids hiding and crying. When Demeter heard where her daughter was, she went to Persephone’s father, Zeus, and begged him to intercede with their brother Hades for Persephone’s freedom.

“I can only free her if she has taken no food. If she has eaten in the Land of the Dead, she has become a part of it, and even I cannot overcome the will of the Fates” said Zeus

They descended to Hades court, only to discover that Persephone had that day eaten six pomegranate seeds from the orchard outside Hades’s palace. As she had not eaten a true meal, but only part thereof, Zeus and Hades agreed that Persephone could split her time between the realms of the living and the dead, thus mollifying Demeter so that the earth would be made fruitful again, .

So, now Persephone spends six months of the year with her grim husband – one for each seed -, and six months in the light with her mother. In the Spring, she still plays and dances in the meadows, and where her footsteps fall, flowers grow.

The parallels between this story and Ereshkigal’s tale are interesting – both explain Summer and Winter through the kidnapping of a loved one by the god of the underworld. Whether the tale of Persephone is descended from that tale remains an open question.

In your Games and Stories

Hades is the Lord of the Underworld – the land from which riches come. His grandest temples will be filled with monstrous guardians – but might well be worth an adventurers time for the vast wealth such creatures might guard, or the possibility of recovering a loved one.

As the richest god, with a known love for music (as seen in the tale of Orpheus) Hades might be the patron of bards and entertainers. He is also a suitable deity for merchants and nobles, who keep his gold and trade his silver.

Hades has a debatable relationship with undead. On the one hand, the dead belong in his realm and he is loathe to let them go without recompense. On the other, some undead might be his subjects – even his agents – in the mortal realm. You’ll have to decide whether he loves or hates the vampires and liches of your world – and whether his wife agrees with him.

Persephone’s cycle of death and rebirth might also allow some kindred souls to travel with her, resulting in a form of resurrection that only allows the recipient to remain alive for the length of the summer – a temporary respite, but perhaps long enough for one last epic adventure.

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G is for Gwydion Gwyn – Mythic Mondays

Gwydion Conquers Pydreri by Edward Wallcousins

Gwydion Conquers Pydreri by Edward Wallcousins

One of the oldest forms of his name is Guidgen which means ‘Born of Trees’, and his historic origins may well have been as a forest deity. The Celts saw their gods as personifications of aspects of nature. After the Christianisation of Ireland and Wales, these spirits of land and water became mischievous fairies.

Like many of the Children of Danu – the main family of Celtic Deities – Gwydion is a magician. His exploits feature in many stories in the Mabinogion, which is also where we meet some of his more famous peers – Gawaine, Taliesin and Arthur.

 

Story of the God – The Son of Arianrhod

Arianrhod was to become the wife of a great chieftain. As was the custom at that time, she was tested for her virginity, and it turned out that she failed.

“But I lay never with a man, save for a dream I had, that the light itself became a human shape and stayed the night with me” she said.

This was taken as that the Lord of Light, Lleu himself, had slept with her, and that made her no fit wife for the chieftain.

Ashamed, Arianrhod ran to the door, but on her way out something small dropped from her. Gwydion took the token, wrapped it up and placed in a chest at the foot of his bed. Some time later, he heard screams from within the chest, and opened it to discover a baby boy.

Seven years later, Gwydion accompanied the boy to Caer Arianrhod, and presented him to his mother.

“Arianrhod, here is your son”

“If that is my misbegotten child, then I lay a geas on him that only I may name him”

So Gwydion took the child and disguised himself and the boy as cobblers. His skill was such that all the people of the castle came to have their shoes made, and at last Arianrhod came to the courtyard where the two were working. Whilst the elder cobbler wielded the sharp knife on the leather, the bored child threw a stone at a nearby wren. He struck it so accurately that Arianrhod remarked “it is with a skillful hand that the fair-haired one has hit it” and so the boy was named Lleu Llaw Gyffes, which is Fair-haired one with the Skillful Hand.

Furious at having been so tricked, Arianrhod placed another geas on the boy, that only she should arm him.

Gwydion went and borrowed a pack of hounds, and by enchantment caused them to seem as Irish raiders, tall and cruel. He set them on the gates of Caer Arianrhod.

“Woe unto us, that we are beset! Who will drive back the raiders?”

Lleu, disguised this time as one of the serving folk, came to the gate and volunteered to defend the castle “save that I have no arms nor armor”

In desperation, Arianrhod clothed the servant in a fine suit of mail, and gave him a spear and shield. And he went out and single-handedly drove off the pack of hounds. He returned to the castle in his own form, wearing the armor and wielding the weapons his mother had given him.

Seeing that she had been tricked once again.she laid a third geas on him: that he should never have a human wife.

To counteract Arianrhod’s third curse, Gwydion and his brother Math took flowers from each of the forest trees and conjured a maiden from them – Blodeuwedd, meaning Maid of Flowers.

Of course, with no soul, she could not be faithful, and caused nothing but grief. But that is hardly the fault of Gwydion Gwyn, whose part in this tale is done.

 

In Your Games and Stories

Gwydion can appear as his own self, as a guide and teacher of magicians. His magic tends towards the transformative – turning hounds into people, and the illusory – disguising himself. He also, elsewhere in myth, is a master of certamen – the wizard’s shapeshifting duel, chronicled in both “The Sword in the Stone”, by T H White (filmed by Disney) and in the song The Twa Magicians (recorded many times in different ways, for instance Damh the Bard’s recording of “The Two Magicians” which differs greatly from Steeleye Span’s “Two Magicians”)

The Celts didn’t really do temples in the Classical sense, but any place sacred to the Fair Folk could be a portal to their world – either the Underworld, or Fairyland (the Celts didn’t distinguish) Pools and fountains are good for this, as are caves and hollow hills. Even a simple crossroads at midnight on the full moon could become a road to faraway places.

As a god of magic and craft, Gwydion’s name might be invoked by talismongers and smiths alike. His influence might be sought in Ogham, or chanted over a quenching pool, or sung whilst weaving a baldric. As a forest deity, he might especially be patron of carpenters and fletchers – guiding the selection of the proper wood, and used as a meditative focus to carve smoothly.

For a fantasy setting that lets you more easily weave in the gods, try Jigsaw Fantasy

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