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.


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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