Of myths and monsters lurking within ourselves. Battles of Love, of order and of Chaos. Of Good and Evil, of great deeds and lost causes.
We live today in a culture saturated with narrative, but in the days before mass media, the internet, film, camera, even the printing press, the need for story was no less when the ability to read and write was given to very few.
Tales were spread by word of mouth, with each telling a detail here might change or something there might be forgotten and replaced with something new and in this process of mutation these stories became something else something not stemming from one mind or one pen but something instead that was the product of a collective of particular people particular place and time.
The tales have been told since man first gathered around the fires of prehistory of the world, tales of creatures divine and beasts demonic of gods and Kings of myths and monsters from dark forests to the lands of ice from desert wastes to the storm’s thrash stories of heroes and the villains they encounter of the wilderness and the dangers within.
The story of Ivan and kosher the deathless is an old Slavic Tale but all human beings are storytellers throughout history and across civilizations, humans have told one another stories stories of Good and Evil of great deeds and lost causes, stories of our past our futures and who we are now.
Myths tell us who we are. We use stories to explain to ourselves why we do things in certain ways; they tell us about the part of our souls that’s emotion that’s not entirely rational things can happen in myths on a much grander scale, emotions are heightened drama is heightened; myths tell us a lot about our desire for justice the desire for truth the desire for different sorts of virtues and about how and why we go on journeys and what we actually do on the journey in order to return home.
It tells us what our values are, it tells us how we treat strangers, how we treat our family, how we worship the gods, what happens if we don’t, they are embedded in our cultural psyche whether we realize it or not.
Few myths are more exciting than tales of great heroes in the foes they encounter in their adventures such heroic quests are found entails from cultures across the globe and throughout history but there are often striking similarities between such stories. The mighty warrior is all but invulnerable to harm the witches and wizards who help or hinder the menacing giants, the beguiling temptations the journeys into dark caves or into the depths of the underworld; all are found in tales from different cultures and different times, but what if there was more to these echoes than mere coincidence that was the belief of an American mythologist named Joseph Campbell.
From an early age Campbell was obsessed with mythology as a young man in the 1930’s he spent years examining ancient texts from around the world, it was in this period of intense study that a theory formed in his mind. It was a theory that would make him famous; countless stories that he read and analyzed. Campbell thought he spotted a pattern. Campbell was trying to make a claim for a sort of universal human nature that can be appealed to by a certain kind of story. He laid out what he thought was the story that’s common to all hero, myths everywhere in the world Campbell believed that you could read this kind of mythological quest or the hero’s journey throughout all of western mythology as he engages with non-western cultures he develops this idea further until we get to the book “The Hero Of A Thousand Faces.
The hero with a thousand faces was published in 1949, drawing on the pioneering works of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and others, Campbell outlined the recurring stages he had identified in story after story from culture after culture, he dubbed it the hero’s journey the hero with a thousand faces became an unlikely best seller with a particular impact on the big screen.
George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars has credited the book with shaping his thoughts about the Saga and Luke’s thrilling adventures, follow almost every stage laid out by the hero’s journey. Journeys begin with the hero at rest in their home culture so one particular stage is the “Call to Adventure” an outsider figure comes and calls them to adventures, saying “come on Luke you’ve got to go do something now and help this girl;” he embarks on a journey into the unknown, a run that’s usually much more crowded with the supernatural the hero is tested in these strange surroundings and has to pass various trials in order to continue.
Rome, he meets various mentors and also various companion figures who become part of a sort of entourage that he travels around with. Typically he then has a near-death experience type of adventure where he plunges down into some kind of abyss but the hero survives this darkest moment and then achieves perhaps new knowledge or a treasure as a reward and then he flees, pursued by the enemy from which he rises, transformed, capable of fulfilling the quest on which he started out. There’s one final test and that is often a moment of life or death.
The hero has to use all the knowledge that he’s gained up until this point to come through that and succeed, the end result is a new world a new status quo that comes into being a hero with a thousand faces became one of the most influential books in the 20th century.
But how did Campbell’s ideas apply away from the cinema screen. Does Elon’s battle with Koche the deathless fit; the model what about the other Great Adventures of Mythology is every hero truly on the same Journey or is Joseph Campbell’s Theory just another myth.
We begin with Arthur, legendary King of the britons and the tale of the greatest Quest. His Knights embarked upon the quest for the Holy Grail. Stories of King Arthur have been told and retold for centuries. The legendary Monarch was raised in obscurity far from court but he proved his Birthright by drawing the sword from the stone and from his castle at Camelot, he went on to rule Britain with wisdom and justice.
King Arthur for us is a mythical figure possibly based on a real-life figure from the 6th or 8th Century on the very earliest reference to Arthur. In a 7th Century Welsh poem it’s quite a fun one but a great warrior is described and then it adds sort of ruthfully but he wasn’t Arthur it’s that he seems just to be known as a warrior he’s not really being referenced as a king but in the 11th century a guy called Jeffrey of Monmouth obviously also from Wales produces the first really sustained narrative about Arthur and the Round Table.
The history of the kings of Britain is a pseudo-historical account of British history chronicling the lives of its Kings over the course of two thousand years until the Anglo-Saxons assumed control of much of the island around the 7th century the problem with the history of Britain is that it’s not completely factual, it’s a real Patchwork of various historical facts certainly some fiction mixed in so it’s a real Melting Pot of influences that Jeffrey Monmouth puts into the history of Britain the author of Mythology and these wonderful towers of Camelot stand very much I think for a vision of Britain that never existed but perhaps one that a lot of people wish did exist; it has all the Hallmarks of the great epic boy born in obscurity magical figures battles it has nights it has romance it has tragedy as well of course and then it has this notion at the end that the king will return.
That I think is comforting on some level that in England’s Great, his need is epic Warrior will return so whatever you think a perfect King is that’s Arthur what he’s become is a British personification of the idol King and therefore that varies across different periods because people’s idea of what they want from a king and what they want from a leader is historically quite variable. Arthur was a great king, but even great Kings sometimes need help so too would Ivan in his quest to defeat kosher.
The deathless Yvonne journeyed on through forests and valleys until one day he came upon a wondrous Palace hidden among the trees as he nailed its Gates he was watched from the branch of a lofty oak tree for this was the home of the Falcon wizard, Yvonne explained his quest to him the wizard knew of crochet and the danger Ivan faced; he promised help if ever it was needed Ivan continued on his quest in the days that followed he met an eagle wizard then a raven wizard too both made the same promise to Evan he would lead all their help to succeed in his quest and rescue the Lost Princess Heroes cannot do it all alone, sometimes they will have to rely on their wisdom and Aid of others to Triumph sometimes these helpers are in Disguise sometimes they possess magical powers and sometimes they go on to become as famous as the heroes themselves.
At King Arthur’s side through many of the stories is a mysterious figure with magical powers the wizard known as Merlin he was the one who planted The Sword in the Stone and it was he who brought Arthur from obscurity to claim the British crown in popular culture today Merlin is as renowned as Arthur himself he is the archetypal wizard the ancestor and the inspiration for Gandalf in tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films but magical helpers such as Merlin are found throughout myth and Legend Joseph Campbell recognized this the supernatural Aid is usually an older character their wisdom and guidance are needed for the adventure ahead often too they must give the hero the final push necessary to leave the ordinary behind and enter the special world King Arthur and the wizard Merlin were once taught real historical figures over time such beliefs faded however the stories themselves never went away the development of the legend in the Medieval Era culminated in 1485.
That year saw the publication of lamorte dartha the death of Arthur eight stories of the king and his Knights compiled from sources in France and in England here was the Arthurian Legend complete the author of the book was a man named Sir Thomas Mallory historical documentation tells us Thomas Mallory was Thief abriggan’s perhaps even a sexual predator and a rapist and ultimately he was incarcerated in Newgate Prison in London we tend to associate the more dartha with chivalry and with a particular interest in the Knights of the Round Table as Defenders of women so at first we might go a war way why would a rapist write that it’s this criminal aspect which has made critics of wary or suggesting that this is the Mallory who writes more dartha because they see a clear disconnection between between his criminal behavior and a text that seems to be about chivalry.
The Arthurian Legends may have roots in more ancient folklore but Murray’s work is distinctly Christian religious symbolism saturates the text and Supernatural elements common in earlier versions are all but eliminated in Mallory’s Christian Camelot there is little room for the wizard Merlin and the Pagan magic he represents even Arthur himself seems tainted by the Association for the holiest and most famous adventure of lamorte Arthur centers neither on Merlin nor on the king he mentored instead it is the Knights of Camelot who embark on this great adventure the quest for the Holy Grail foreign the Holy Grail in most mythologies is the cup Jesus Christ used at the Last Supper in which he consecrated the wine and turned it into his blood later in Legend Joseph of Arimathea is supposed to have come along with this same cup and caught the blood from the wound in Christ side that cup then will give immortality to those who then drink from it of course immortality not just in the physical sense but much more in the spiritual sense it becomes this holy Relic which is really heightened significance where it becomes something to be possessed at all costs but something which only a few people can actually approach.
The knights were called to Adventure in the most direct way during a dinner at Camelot the castle Shook and the Holy Light filled the chamber then the Grail itself appeared before Arthur and his Knights after the miraculous appearance of the Grail at Camelot the nights Lancelot Galahad Percival and boers set out to retrieve it Arthur mourned their departure he knew the quest is Knights embarked upon would change them forever and that The Fellowship Of Camelot would never be the same his Knights left the Ordinary World of the castle behind crossing the threshold they entered the special world of Adventure Ivan had found his captive wife at last but the demon holding her was too fast dry as he might Ivan could never catch them crochet the deathless had a magical Steed whose legs outpaced the wind the exhausted Ivan finally gave up the juice it was then that cache attacked Ivan was no match for the strength of the giant kosher chopped him into pieces bound him in a barrel and pitched him into the sea far away evon’s wizard friends sensed his plight they rescued the barrel and put Ivan back together again he could never outpace kosher this head not without a magical horse and those could only be found Beyond Thrice nine lands and a river of fire at the home of the Baba Yaga his quest was far from over but at last he knew how he could save his beloved wife and defeat the Demonic Giant for a hero like Evan to succeed he must overcome a series of often dangerous.
Tests Joseph Campbell called this stage the road of Trials hear these perilous for an audience exciting encounters challenge the hero who is often aided by magical helpers or sorted by new enemies but with every Victory and setback our hero is learning and preparing for greater tests to come foreign no Road of Trials was longer or more arduous than that faced by the hero of the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey attributed to an author known only by the name Homer it tells the story of the journey home of Odysseus after the Trojan War he had been fighting at Troy with his fellow Greek Kings for 10 years meanwhile on his home island of Ithaca the son he had left behind was growing up without him other men were eyeing his empty throne and Penelope his unaccompanied wife.
Odysseus was the king of Ithaca and he was known as being a very important hero during the Trojan War he was the person who came up with the plot to get inside the walls of Troy with the Trojan Horse and was mainly known for his intellectual skill Odysseus is best described by Homer’s opening line on him the man of many Minds The Man with the really rich inventive brain Odysseus was at War for a decade getting home however would take just as long such an extended Journey was not Odysseus intention of course he had planned to sail straight back home across the sea to join his wife and son in Ithaca but as was often the case in the tales of ancient Greece the plans of mortal men were at the mercy of unpredictable and often vengeful gods the Greeks have managed to alienate some very powerful deities by their incessant pursuit of Troy and as a result of that they’ve particularly angered the god Poseidon and the god Poseidon pretty much ensures that Odysseus and his men aren’t going to have a straightforward Journey back to Ithaca.
One of the people he met on his journey Cyclops polyphemus this is where the trouble starts he and his men are captured by the Cyclops who’s a big scary giant with one eye in the middle of his forehead he starts eating Odysseus is man one by one and eventually lets them go by mistake because Odysseus tricks him but then it turns out that the Cyclops is the son of Poseidon Poseidon essentially is very offended at the outrage that’s been done to his son and dog’s Odysseus’s steps all the way home thank you Odysseus Journey became a lot more difficult on his Road of Trials encountered hideous monsters ravenous cannibals a deceitful witch together with all the Wild and strange Furies of the sea among them of course the beguiling but deadly sirens these mysterious creatures lived in a meadow on a tiny Island singing out to the ships that passed they lured countless men to their Shores never to leave again Odysseus knew all this but wanted to hear their song All the Same he ordered his men to stop up their.
Ears with wax and tie him to the mast no matter how he pleaded the men were not to release him and they were not to stop rowing Homer doesn’t tell us what the sirens look like there’s no physical description in Homer at all until you hit some point in the medieval period where suddenly you start getting many more illustrations of sirens as half woman half fish when we think about how it is to live a life that’s dominated by the ocean and by voyaging and by the physical apprehension of just how alien the ocean is we want to put some flesh on that to tell a story about that to tell a story about our fear and our longing and to do that we create something that’s part ocean and part us and that’s the Mermaid mermaids date back to the Assyrian cultures of a thousand BC but are common to Folklore around the world they are usually depicted as young and beautiful however much like the sea.
Itself mermaids can help or hinder The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson is a story of the Kinder sword published in 1836 the book tells of a young mermaid who saves a human Prince from drowning falling in love she trades her beautiful voice to a sea witch for a potion which transforms her into a human but winning the prince’s heart proves far from Easy Anderson’s kind heroine is unlike many other mermaids however in British folklore the creatures brought bad luck and was sent to taunt Sailors in doomed ships Slavic mermaids were also dangerous they were called rizalkas and were the spirits of the unhappy dead beautiful and Damned they lured young men into the waters to drown beside them worth remembering at this point that hardly anyone could swim in the pre-industrial world therefore all cultures produce this phenomenon of terrifying emanations that represent death at sea people tend to imagine Sailors loving the sea actually they don’t and all the folklore shows they don’t they distrust.
It and they find it terrifying and unpredictable and scary this is way before we’ve got electronic navigation this is in the early days of ship fairing where you have to stay close to the shore because if you get too far out you’re in trouble it’s well worth remembering how horribly
physically impossible long voyages were in the past so if you’re at sea for more than three or four weeks scurvy would have started to set in and scurvy affects your mental processes it makes you hallucinate makes you see things that aren’t there makes you interpret what you see in frightening hallucinogenic type terms thank you could these hallucinations be the cause of such visions of sirens and mermaids we will never know for sure Odysseus sailed on unhang from his encounter with the Sirens but they were far from the only female threat he faced on his journey home to reach his wife Penelope Odysseus had to Outfox the witch Cersei who had transformed his men into pigs and he had to flee imprisonment by the nymph Calypso who desired him for her husband the threat from a lot of the female antagonists that Odysseus encounters is they set up rival places to dwell the fact it takes him so long to wrench himself away from Cersei the fact he has to endure staying with Calypso all.
Reinforces just how much that nostos that return home is so important of course Penelope is being constantly hounded by different suitors of the court so I think there’s a mirroring effect there as when the thesis is moving through his journey of course he’s then got to also be assailed by these various women one thing that Scholars have said about the song of the sirens is that the language that’s used and the way it’s phrased in the original Greek feels much more like it’s been a passage taken out of the Iliad that in a way the sirens are actually trying to call Odysseus back into the previous poem into being a previous sort of hero the sort of hero of the battlefield and that part of his temptation is to go back to that form of heroism which now the Trojan War has ended there’s no place for anymore.
Once the heroes such as Odysseus has negotiated the trials seen off Temptations and survived it all he is ready for one final ordeal the object of the quest is within reach one more challenge lies ahead the greatest he must endure hungry and faint He Walked on and on until at last Ivan came to the house twelve poles stood in a circle around it on orbit one was stuck a human head this was the home of the Baba Yaga you’ve come for My Horses said the old woman well you can take one if you’re fast enough I’ll give you three days to find them fail though and I’ll put your head on a spike Yvonne had no choice the Baba yaga’s mares however were just as fast as promised they hid from Ivan in every corner of the woods it was only with the help of friends made and Lessons Learned on his quest that Ivan succeeded.
At the end of the three days he left the enraged Baba Yaga on the back of a new steed the magical creature on towards a reunion with the princess and a final confrontation with crochet the deathless the ordeal is the greatest test of the hero the risk of failure or even death hangs over them Yvonne survives the ordeal and is rewarded and in other Tales the hero must slay a Minotaur Journey to the underworld or as in the Icelandic Saga the volsons survive and encounter with a great and terrible dragon.
The balsanga Saga dates back over a thousand years it tells of the rise and fall of the ill-fated Bolson Clan their encounters with the gods and their triumphs and defeats in love and battle began as a series of separate tales that told individual Highborn families of their associations with a heroic past the earliest evidence for the Saga are from the 7th and 8th Century we know these stories are being told even around the year a thousand because there are brimstones in Sweden the culture of the states that produced volsung Saga it’s a culture of Warriors it’s a culture of voyages it’s a culture that’s hugely privileges male adventurousness and male willingness to take enormous risks and therefore it produces a hero that’s also very extreme.
This hero was sigured his father had been killed in a battle with the god Odin so the young sigured was raised by dwarf Master blacksmith named Reagan cigarette as someone that medieval audience could aspire to be like in terms of his humility and his wisdom he is one of those figures that like many Heroes connects the gods with the human but he comes also to represent very importantly not only the interface between humans and the gods but also the interface between human beings and wild nature as he evolves he becomes more and more about being a kind of wild man what would a man be like if he wasn’t ever civilized if he wasn’t ever subject to being taught and brought up and taught codes of manners foreign the villain facing sigured in The volsunga Saga is a creature named fafnir fafnir was the brother of the dwarf Reagan but his Lust For Gold corrupted him he murdered his father and stole the family treasure obsessively guarding this vast Trove deep in the mountains over time he transformed into a dragon dragons are found in stories across the world from ancient texts of Greece in China to the epics of Persia and later Tales of Christianity.
But every culture’s dragon is different the Germanic Dragon seems to be particularly into treasure and I think this is an association with the quintessential idea of the good ruler the best thing a lord can be is generous so if you want to do a good epithet for a good Lord you call him a ring Giver obviously the dragon represents the exact opposite of that he’s keeping all the treasure for himself can be seen to represent um the worst aspects of greened he Hoards this treasure in a way that it can’t be used by anyone it can’t be put to use by a good ruler who would share it among his men and ensure that Society functioned well sigured is sent to kill the dragon fafnir by his foster father Reagan near the Dragon’s Lair sigurd finds a great trench carved in the Earth for every day fatness leaving his treasure and slithering down to the river to drink digs a hole in this trench and waits for the Dragon as fafnir passes above sigurd thrusts his sword up into the Serpent’s belly foreign ER is defeated but it is not the treasure alone that sigurd wins.
He tastes some of the dragon’s blood and as soon as the dragon’s blood touches his tongue he can understand the speech of birds that really just brings to the fore the way that sigurd is destined to be a part of the wild it enables him to live in the wild as if it were his Society please the reward quickly proves useful birds are chattering in the trees above sigurd soon realizes that they’re talking about him his fossil father Reagan the birds say is plotting to betray sigured his Adventure is not over yet sigured story and The falseunus Saga do not end with the defeat of fafnir nor does the heroes Journey once the object of one’s Quest has been achieved there is the return home and coming back can be as adventurous and as dangerous and as thrilling as setting out in the first place Ivan and the princess raced away from kosher the demon however was close on their heels but Ivan would not be defeated this time just as kosher was closing in Ivan swung his Club high and high the deathless was dead Ivan’s Quest was at an end his beloved wife was safe at last the Giant’s body burned on a pyre as kosher’s ashes scattered to the winds Ivan and his princess returned on their magical Steed to the castle in the woods there they ruled in peace and happiness forevermore foreign.
Successful in returning from the Special World our hero returns not only with the object of his quest but with the Newfound wisdom and self-knowledge required to build a better life a new status quo is born in the Ordinary World it said the hero’s journey comes to an end several decades have passed since Campbell first outlined his theory storytellers from Hollywood and Beyond continue to be inspired by it and it’s helped shape modern thinking about the origin of myth but Campbell is not without his critics Scholars continued to debate the merits of his theory and there are many other lenses through which to examine mythology’s roots and meaning all these mythologies were developed by societies for a really wide variety of different purposes other than simple entertainment they were often developed to teach people very complex moral lessons about being members of particular cultures when we’re thinking about myths we do have to look at the particular culture they’ve grown out of because they do tell us something about the nationalistic background or the cultural background of these particular indigenous peoples underneath and pay attention to the cultures themselves and start looking at the context in the broader World they live in far more interesting the idea of a common Humanity reflected in the hero’s journey remains an attractive one in an often divided world but as this series will show the realm
of myths and monsters is far too strange and fascinating for one model to contain in the long history of humanity and in the Deep recesses of our Collective imaginations there are far more stories for us to explore stories of magic and wonder of love and betrayal of sacrifice and cruelty the world we know and the great Mysteries that lie Beyond the tales have been told since man first gathered around the fires of prehistory tales of the strange and wondrous things.
Hidden in the vast unknown Shadows of the world Tales of creatures Divine and beasts demonic of gods and Kings of myths and monsters from dark forests to the lands of ice from Desert wastes to the storm’s trash scenes every corner of the Earth has its Legends to tell stories of Heroes and the villains they encounters of the Wilderness and the dangers within stories of battles of Love of order and of Chaos but what are the roots of these fantastic tales and why have they endured so long in this series we’ll explore the history behind these Legends and reveal the hidden influences that shaped them war and disease religious and social upheaval the untameable ferocity of the natural world above all the monsters lurking within ourselves today the significance of the Wilderness and a journey into it can be hard for us to appreciate as populations grow and travel and communication become ever faster we can Overlook how different the world was in the past how vast it must have seemed and how Wild for thousands of years is most people lived and died within a short distance of the place they were born their existence was bounded by the wilderness by the unyielding darkness of ancient Woods by the ice shot peaks of impenetrable mountains and by the Hostile deserts lonely wastes a journey to the next town was a perilous undertaking it meant abandoning the safe and the familiar and entering a realm that was not their own.
The Wilderness is usually defined as somewhere that is uncultivated uninhabited by humans and it’s often a liminal space wildernesses are the places you don’t know the places where you don’t go the places where you have no business to be they are the spaces of Darkness what counts as wild and what counts as natural is very much a human construct we decide where the Wilderness starts and where it ends so that question makes it a very fertile place for stories to happen as human cultures work out where those limits are different difference you confront a world that’s not your own you confront the unknown as well and this is really in many ways the perfect setting for what’s going to happen in a myth or a legend people will fill the Wilderness that surrounds them with what they fear in themselves what they fear in their own Society the Wilderness is the place where we expel all the stuff we don’t like in ourselves in our culture in our society such is the contradiction of the Wilderness.
It is both of us and not of us surrounding us he had at once strange and far away for Wilderness is as much an idea as it is a physical place and a great deal can be learned about the people from the way they saw it and from the stories they told about it as much as people must have feared what lay beyond their walls they also relied upon it Seas threatened the fisherman with drowning but they provided his livelihood too the forest hid all manner of danger but that was where the hunter had to roam the trees can hide more than deadly creatures and Lawless men however as the ancient story of action tells us magic and Madness can lie in weight should we ever stray too far from the paths actin had wandered far from home the young Huntsman had long since passed the city Gates and the fields where Farmers thumbings sweat from their brows had stood to track his progress towards the darkness of the Woods Acton did not fear that Wilderness he scorned the superstitions of other men the forest he thought was as much his realm as the city street as action rested in a shady clearing he suddenly heard an unfamiliar sound Drawn On by The Strange Music acting pushed deeper and deeper into the ever thickening Forest he parted the last branches and stared into the Grove Beyond.
The story of action is a classical myth to the ancient Greeks the young Huntsman was courting danger the moment he stepped Beyond his City walls the moment he entered the wild for the Greeks human life revolved around the city Athens with its resplendent temples was the birthplace of democracy in its golden age it became a flourishing Center of Art and philosophy Socrates and Plato called the city home as did the great playwrights Europe police and Sophocles their Works helped shape Western literature and thought and they are still rare to debated and performed to this day Athens was not only a cultural Powerhouse it had military muscle too with a navy which dominated the Aegean Sea this Supremacy was not unchallenged however for Athens had a rival another great city of ancient Greece renowned for its austere discipline and the skill of its hop-life Warriors Sparta was more than a match for atoms the long war between the two great cities consumed the ancient Greek world and ultimately ended the Golden Age of Athens cities such as Athens and Sparta were the human realms what lay Beyond belonged to something else however the ancient Greeks just didn’t like the Wilderness much so they were profoundly unenthusiastic about anything that we would see as Wilderness they simply saw it as somewhere that you didn’t want to be the Greeks have this view that if you’re out in the wilderness there’s always this risk of walking over the boundary of Crossing into the Divine the Greeks who guarded the Wilderness is so scary that the god they created to inhabit it the god pan is the god from whose name we get the English word panic about the Crossing in between the Wild and the tame the controlled the uncontrolled so there’s the possibility of crossing over that line and going Beyond where you should go it’s interesting that the gods always seem much more comfortable in the wilderness than human beings are but it therefore follows that human beings who are.
Usually aren’t doing something like hunting something that’s very much about conquering in the wilderness usually ends badly it’s almost a way of saying know your place which is one of the great Greek sayings know that you’re not a God you’re just a human being there’s a very real sense for the Greeks that that boundary between where humans are and where the Divine is is very thin and if you’re out in the wilderness if you’re out in the wild you can just drop through it without meaning to the Greeks the Wilderness was a frightening place where the laws of society held no sway it belonged instead to the Divine to the Monstrous to the mad it was a place of taboos broken and punishments terrible it was everything a city was not as such it fulfilled an important role for the Greeks by exploring what lay beyond the boundaries of society people defined what lay within them as well by telling stories of the monsters outside they better understood those Within actions stared into the Grove it was a wooded cave wild and beautiful to behold he was enraptured he could not resist he had to get closer Acton crept forwards down to the water’s edge drawn on ever on by the sights before him his foot broke the Stillness of the Crystal Waters the ripples spread suddenly dark eyes turned on the Intruder for those were no mortal creatures this was the goddess Artemis and her nymphs Artemis of the Wilds of the hills of the Moon the goddess stood cloaked in her wild Fury Tim’s encounter with the goddess Artemis would not have surprised the ancient Greeks for them the Wilderness was no place for man the Greeks were not alone in seeing the Wilderness as an otherworldly Realm centuries later the Celts of Northern Europe would also sense in there great forests and rugged landscape presence of the supernatural the Celts were a pre-christian people their origins in Central Europe date back as far as the 9th century BC at its height Celtic culture spread as far.
South as the Iberian Peninsula and this far east as modern turkey Celtic religion was a polytheistic one the worship of its many gods was led by The Druids mysterious figures of great social importance they made prophecies dispense Justice and performed religious rights that may even have included human sacrifice Celtic Society and the age of The Druids was threatened however by the growth of the Roman Empire most of our sources for the cult are Roman sources unfortunately rather than surviving Celtic sources the Celts didn’t write their stuff down in the Romans did so we have Julius Caesar’s horrified account of Celtic sacrifices in Oak Groves and Oak Groves with bits of sacrificed people hanging off them so that’s the first encounter between the Romans and the people that they came to call the Celts and it’s an encounter of fought with horror and dismay interestingly the Romans never called the Celts Celts they call them golly goals or Brittany britons basically so they don’t actually use the term Celts so clearly they were aware of this slightly disparate Group which was nevertheless pressuring on their desire to establish a huge Empire the Roman authorities suppressed The Druids who disappeared from the written record in the second century March of the Celts unique cultural heritage was preserved only as an oral tradition and so it was lost along with The Druids The Druids were a challenge for the Romans because they were very very secretive they didn’t like even writing down what their beliefs or their rituals were and that was a problem the Romans found it very hard to get to understand what it was that they were facing faced with all that secrecy and denial they decided that the easiest thing would be to get rid of it completely the Romans attitude to The Druids was the same as their attitude to any group that they were going to take over if there was a locus of power in that group it had to be suppressed by 500 A.D the once widespread Celtic people and to be found only in northern Europe in parts of Britain France Ireland.
There some ancient tradition survived to be recorded by later Christian writers of the medieval period stories of the gods they worshiped of the Kings they served and of the Wilderness that surrounded them
the Giant’s Causeway on the coast of Northern Ireland is today a UNESCO world heritage site it’s forty thousand geometric Rock columns reach Heights of over 10 meters and their stretch from the cliff Edge to the Sea and Beyond we now know them to be the result of ancient volcanic activity but the Celts had another explanation to them the causeway was the work of legendary giant Finn McCool he was challenged to a fight by a Scottish rival so built a great bridge of stone Over the Sea so the two could meet without wetting their feet alongside that Wilderness of rocks and trees however there was another more magical realm to be discovered in the lands of the Celts the other world the Celtic of the world was a supernatural realm a realm that existed alongside of our own and parallel to our own spushes and nature it’s like something that’s always there it doesn’t go away so it’s very much located in the outside the beyond the wild glimpse might be seen in the clouds or the fleeting mist the half-light or in the shadows it was at once both here and somewhere else stories of humans entering the elusive realm are found throughout Celtic mythology sometimes Heroes were enticed in by a beautiful fairy maid or they stumbled across an entrance in a cave or under the water or in a dream the other world they found Beyond was home to the many pre-christian gods at the Celts it was a land of Eternal Youth and Beauty where it was always summer and there was no hunger and no despair the realities of life for most Celts were sickness and starvation war and want the other world must have offered an attractive mirror image of those struggles however the price the other.
World extracted could be Hefty too just as in the tales of the ancient Greeks these human encounters with the supernatural did not always have a happy ending peopling it with entities that are somewhat like themselves on the other hand those entities are more often than not at least potentially very dangerous the realm of the fairies is superficially attractive it seems quite glamorous but often when the hero is in there they discovered that there’s another side to it initially the character who stumbles into the other world finds it as a glorious and happy place but generally the longer the character stays in that other world they realize that it’s more Sinister that it’s got darker dimensions let’s take the beautiful fairy lady who’s perhaps the most typical issuer of an invitation to the Celtic of the world in Irish mythology she’s usually well intentioned and usually won’t do any harm in and of herself but there’s still a problem because if you spend three days with her it’ll be three years where you came from if you spend three years with her it’ll be 300 years so when you go back home everybody you know will be dead principle of life has changed and we often regard that as a frightening thing because we don’t want to grow old we don’t want to die but yet the idea of the fairy realm suggests that the opposite is also quite horrific that if we didn’t grow old if we stayed static then there would be no growth there’d be no life for the heroes of Celtic myth entering this Fairyland meant abandoning home and family by their return though the world had changed and there was no place left for.
Them in human society the stories seem to recognize that shared suffering and ultimately shared mortality are necessary for society to function but where there is suffering there is also kindness and whether it’s death there is a need for New Life acting he did not the Rocks underfoot nor the branches clawing at his tunic slashing at his face but he could not Escape The goddess’s Rage action had intruded as no mortal should upon the realm of the Divine he would have to be punished as he ran the bones of his face began to split and reforms action stumbled his whole body taught with pain antlers burst through his skull he tried to scream but a Stag’s harsh cry had displaced his human tongue the dogs he had left behind stirred from their rest that familiar scent it quickened in the mouth of every hand excitement quivered through the pack stag the hunt had begun actin is transformed from man into stag his dogs changed from loyal companions into fanged predators the transformation of these dogs strikes at a very human anxiety our communities are ordered laws govern our Behavior crimes are punished but in the natural world it can seem that chaos Reigns like actin and his arms our grip over the world is only ever a tenuous one some things are beyond our control we are at all times exposed to the random ferocity of nature.
Oceans cover over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface almost every civilization in history has exploited them for food trade or transport but if the waters brought opportunities they also represented Danger you were at the mercy of the wind and the storms leaving view of Shore was a very dangerous undertaking that only very experienced Sailors took it’s quite normal for Sailors to be scared of the sea it’s not the case that people who crossed the sea are comfortable with it or at home with it it’s actually normal the more time you spend with it to distrust it even experienced Sailors even experienced Mariners will be caught by surprise by the behavior of waves like currents by weather it was not just the wind and waves that Sailors feared throughout history there have been Tales of strange creatures living in the cold Blackness of the deep the serpents of the Mid-Atlantic were extort ships of the royal Navy the vast devil whales seen by early Irish explorers and of course the famous monster of Loch Ness in Scotland none however is more terrifying than the creature said to dwell off the Frozen coasts of Norway and Greenland the king’s mirror an old Norwegian manuscript from the 13th century spoke of a creature that had never been caught a beast so large Sailors mistook it for land an enormous being which devoured fish men and even ships whole they called it the half goofer the Huff Goofer is a sea monster that.
Appears in The Saga of arawad the sea monster is enormous and spends most of its time below the surface level of the sea so all you ever see of it is its nostrils and its fangs and when it comes to the surface it looks like two big craggy rocks sticking up out of the sea its name is made up of two elements the Old Norse words for sea half and Goofer which is steam or vapor so perhaps it’s something about this Monster’s breath as it comes to the surface looking like Sea Mist it’s a sort of seed going nightmare that illustrates the way that the ocean’s depths are the ultimate Wilderness the ultimate unknown thing foreign circulated among fishermen and Traders of the north for decades some liken the creature to a giant crab.
Others said it was more like a squid with enormous tentacles that ensnared boats and sailors alike all agreed though that not even the greatest ships of War could resist its attack over time a new name emerged and stuck the Beast was dubbed the Kraken in the 18th century new scientific disciplines emerged many natural philosophers dismissed the Kraken as a fisherman’s Tale that others were not so sure Swedish zoologist Carl lines described it as a singular monster of the Norwegian Seas Danish Bishop Eric pontopeton believed the stories too proclaimed the true danger lay not in the creature but in the deadly whirlpools left in its wake modern science gives more Credence to the stories than you might think the legend of the Kraken may be a result of sailors encountering a giant squid.
These unearthly looking creatures rarely come to the surface but can grow to enormous lengths of 13 meters or more and it is thought even larger squid as yet unknown to science lurk in the inky depths if you see a giant squid and you’re in a very small boat that’s a terrifying experience they are unnatural looking they have the largest eyes in proportion to any other animal so they look incredibly powerful also they can do magical things like squirting ink out of their bodies so there’s a lot of discomfort associated with that kind of creature and they therefore figure very often in horror stories sometimes one in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea there’s one in Victor Hugo’s book workers in the sea they often figure as man’s opponents a kind of personification of the ocean itself in its unpredictability its enormity and its power Terror and confusion are seeing such a creature may have been intensified by the condition of the sailors themselves hunger and malnutrition were commonplace on ocean-going ships of the past the sailor’s work was hard and they were confined to the same small space with the same people for week after week the combined effect all this could have on their physical and mental health was devastating I think if you spend hours on a ship looking out at Sea as a lookout for land or for any other vassals approaching you’re going to start seeing things in the light and the water and their interaction it’s natural to give a reason for the odd behavior of the ocean it’s in a way easier to deal with it with a bunch of superstitious and mythological interpretations than it is just to throw up your hands and say we don’t really know why it works the way it does but I’m going out sailing again next weekend.
It’s much better to think in terms of sea monsters that will make a good story whatever the roots of the Kraken the tales proved enduring and we’ve not lost the taste for such Stories the ocean retains its power to
frighten and to enthrall in 1975 director Stephen Spielberg scored box office success with his killer shark movie Jaws and the formula remains a popular one for taking to the Seas to sail or to swim is still to enter the unknown but who can say what might be sharing the waters with us what might be lurking beyond the boat’s Hull or beneath our kicking feet though today ships cross our oceans with satellite Precision the fears provoked by open Waters in The Unseen depths Below have not entirely disappeared the Wilderness of the sea remains a dangerous place and in modern Tales of
killer sharks and the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle we can still hear the echo of the kraken’s Roar foreigns of years Europe was cloaked in forests even the largest of its settlements and cities were mere pin bricks of light among a vast wooded Darkness it should be little surprised then that the forest is a common setting in the continent’s myths and legends it was both mysterious and familiar dangerous but within touching distance of home it was a place of magic and Adventure A wilderness that lurked all too accessible at the bottom of the field or beyond the city Gates wood is one of those Wilderness spaces in which scary things that you’ve never met before and can only imagine might look forests do tend to have a particular value in the profile of that particular culture forests are the places where the people you haven’t succeeded in the arable.
Lands End up they are not there because they can afford to live there because nobody owns the forest you can’t stop them from living there they’re therefore associated with the fear of not making it with the fear of failing your family or children failing to provide among the most famous stories of the forest are the fairy tales collected by two German academics in the 19th century The Brothers Grimm Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were born in hanau in central Germany in the late 18th century their childhood was one of comfortable affluence until the death of their father in 1796 plunged the family into poverty this traumatic upheaval affected the young Brothers deeply relying on each other for support the two became inseparable both excelled at school and went on to attend the University of Marburg it was here that their interest in folklore began it was an interest that would become an obsession one that would dominate both their lives building on the work of French academics such as Charles Perrault and baroness Del Noir the brothers began a patriotic project.
To collect the folk tales of their own land they spoke to German Peasants and Aristocrats farmers and City dwellers and documented the stories they heard the groomed Hills were collected from people who lived in Hessa which felt was quite industrialized by the Grimm’s time had a lot of woods in it about 10 or 11 percent of the United Kingdom is covered by what we would call Woodland in Germany even today it’s something like 35 percent so forests are everywhere now there’s a particular reason for that
which is that the Germans place a high esteem on unspoiled nature that’s simply a cultural given and that means that in some ways Germans value a radical encounter with otherness represented by the forest in their Renditions or fairy tales their stories handed down by families who lived among those woods and who often live very difficult in impoverished lives the Grimms collected stories from a whole range of sources in the main from middle class Bourgeois friends and neighbors and people in their own Social Circle they’d often take several different versions of the same story take the bits they liked cannibalize them in effect and combine them into a new story they were adapting the tales of course for an educated literate public a middle class and aristocratic public and they were adapting the content of those towers of course to the expectations of that public in 1812.
the Grimms published the first volume of their children’s and household Tales three years later the brothers added a second volume forming what we now know as Grimm’s Fairy Tales after its initial publication the brother spent the next four decades revising and expanding their collection the seventh and final edition of 1857 contained more than 200 stories many of those Tales are now familiar to us all Little Red Riding Hood Sleeping Beauty Hansel and Gretel and many more the Grimm’s Enterprise was not simply an act of scholarly record however over the years the brothers rewrote many of the stories themselves they minimized sexual elements and softened other darker themes in earlier versions Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by the Big Bad Wolf Sleeping Beauty was raped not kissed and Hansel and Gretel were neglected not by their evil stepmother but by their own parents.
I suspect that that violent and abusive culture directed towards children may unfortunately have reflected not a social reality but a social fear we tend to credit other people with abusive and violent tendencies towards children rather than regarding ourselves as having those tendencies
we’re getting with the parents in Hansel and Gretel who are hungry and therefore abandon their children in the woods because they can’t work hard enough to provide for them properly tell ourselves these stories is because we need to be sure that we’re not as people we need to differentiate ourselves from those people and make out that we are much more loving and careful.
As parents some have interpreted these stories as cautionary tales Little Red Riding Hood tells us to obey our elders beware the woods and be cautious of strangers from beyond our homes others have taken a more psychoanalytic approach employing the concepts of Sigmund Freud these interpretations recast the story as one of sexual Awakening the dark woods are a symbol of the unconscious mind obedient and innocent she is the archetypal female The Wolf on the other hand hungry and aggressive is the male when they meet later at the grandmother’s house Little Red Riding Hood recognizes the wolf in his disguise but does not flee instead she climbed into bed with him the scene is a seduction and Little Red Riding Hood is a willing participant fairy tales like all stories have an element of content which is not explicit on the surface psychoanalysts have also argued fairy tales communicate to us at the level of the unconscious in particular they communicate to children at the unconscious level in Real Life wolves very rarely attack human beings they’re actually quite sensible animals so it follows therefore that wolves must be symbolic rather than representing an actual threat what they seem to represent it’s the fear that human beings who live in woods might become wild and wood-like they represent this sort of savage interior that has to be carefully contained controlled and muzzled by civilization if the wolf is a symbol of the wildness lurking within us all then its frequent presence in these stories is a reminder that however grandly we build our monuments however elegantly we draft our laws.
Civilization is ultimately a fiction a veneer far thinner than we would like to admit the smallest of slips can see it crack and set loose that Savage interior that wolf in terrifying fashion positions hurtling through Bush and trees Atkins hounds streamed after him as never before the transformed Huntsman urged his unfamiliar limbs on close behind was Blackfoot malampus Swift as the wind beside him snatcher fiercest of all and Shepherd his favorite who knew not his Master’s Call action crashed on through the woods but the trees closed tight around him there was nowhere left to run on every side the ravenous dog surrounded their deer master
teeth sank into flesh tearing and slicing ripping and biting so they ended the life of actium and slate the goddesses rage action’s Grizzly death comes a Long Way from Home deep in the wilderness that was the Untamed Forest his story is one of the most famous and enduring in All Greek mythology.
It has inspired writers sculptors and artists in generation after generation for though the age of the ancient Greeks is long past our fascination with the wild unknown remains undimmed throughout history societies have used the Wilderness to explore what frightens us about the world and about ourselves help us understand what it means to be part of a family part of a community and what it means to lose those things the wildernesses in some respects the opposite of civilization but also there’s a sense in which we carry a bit of wildness in ourselves as well the Wilderness also becomes a place for exploring what happens when humans get too civilized what does it mean when we go too far where we start sort of becoming too artificial and too false it might be the mountains it might be the heath it’s the place where because you haven’t got a big rational take on it you can fill it with the irrational the parts of yourself that you normally.
Repress or crush it continually calls to us as being untamed and we are drawn by The Lure of taming it but it will never actually give in to our control laughs today perhaps we like to think we pushed the Wilderness back but though our cities may now stretched to the Horizon we can never banish the Wilderness entirely we can sense it in the silence of a deserted wood on the Roar of a storm breaking over distant Mountainside but it is with us always our Maps May grow ever more detailed but the wild unknown will always lurk at the edges the Tails have been told since man first gathered around the fires of prehistory tales of the strange and wondrous things hidden in the vast unknown Shadows of the world Tales of creatures Divine and beasts demonic of gods and Kings of myths and monsters from dark forests to the lands of ice from Desert wastes to the storm’s.
Thrasher scenes every corner of the Earth has its Legends to tell stories of Heroes and the villains they encounters of the Wilderness and the dangers within stories of battles of Love of order and of Chaos but what are the roots of these fantastic tales and why have they endured so long in this series we’ll explore the history behind these Legends and reveal the hidden influences that shaped them war and disease religious and social upheaval the untameable ferocity of the natural world and above all the monsters lurking within ourselves privacy however by this is foreign the battlefield today belongs to the sniper the tank the bomb the bullet.
We seek Evermore inventive means of mutual destruction but why do we fight it is a question asked by every culture and by every generation for our world has always been at War through the Millennia of human existence we have fought for land and wealth for love and revenge to liberate and to oppress to save allies and to punish enemies we have fought and fought again war is an intense period of struggle so it’s also therefore an intense period of cultural definition more allows you to see the ethical priorities of a culture that’s created it how do we cope with people we’ve captured what do we do if we lose who do we go to war against society’s stories of War tell us what values they hold dear and that they maintain through Warfare they’re a way of incorporating unpredictable forces into a belief system that help people to make sense of things that they couldn’t prevent or predict in a society’s representation of War it represents what it thinks of itself what its ideals are it determines what values the culture holds dear all necessity War has been a constant in human history and all civilizations have had to Grapple the questions it raises the stories we tell of War the justifications we find for violence and the condolences we seek for loss all reveal something about our values as individuals and as societies foreigns had come seeking a new home but they found an island only misery for they were enslaved by the femorials cruel ogres renowned for their greed Chief among these Terrors were the two strongest and ugliest ogres Mork and his brother Colin.
Fruit of the named labor They seized for themselves but the nomedians had not come so far to be slaves forever one man stood against their foe Fergus red side was his name he was the son of the Great Hero nemed himself he stirred Rebellion among the hearts and Shacks of the namidean villagers no longer would they bear the oppression of Colin and Mork they wear it of their servitude they rented themselves for war and their oppression by the fomorians is told in the Celtic book of invasions compiled around the 11th century the book charts the history of Ireland from creation through to the Middle Ages it tells the stories of five mythical tribes who invaded Ireland one by one before the final arrival of the Gaelic people and the establishment of a Christian kingdom origin stories such as this are common almost every civilization thinks it is special and develops a myth of its Beginnings to prove it.
Rome the bustling heart of modern Italy is today one of the largest cities in Europe it has been continuously inhabited for more than 3 000 years and everywhere in the city can be seen the remnants of that long history relics of an age when the city ruled the world by the second century almost 100 million people lived under Roman rule a fifth of the world’s population at the time Rome’s power stretched from the north of Britain to Egypt in the south from Spain in the west to the Persian Gulf in the east the image is famous to this day a she-wolf suckling two infant boys as if they were her own these were the twin brothers Romulus and Remus their grandfather the king had been usurped and the boys banished from home thanks to the she-wolf herder they survived long enough to be found by a Shepherd who raised them as his own growing up the twins discovered.
Birthright and helped their grandfather retake his crown they then set out to found a city of Their Own each began Construction in a different place and the dispute soon took a violent turn when Remus mockingly left over his brother’s budding defenses Romulus responded with a fatal blow and the words so perish anyone who attacks my walls the foundation of Rome rests on foreign you’d expect a single hero who’s the foundation of the nation whereas in this instance we have two competing Heroes it’s a very very weird Foundation myth it takes away from that idea of a single Exemplar of the virtues of the civilization that’s founded indeed neither Romulus nor Remus is particularly exemplary Remus because he gets killed and Romulus because he murders his own brother.
the tale troubled and intrigued the Romans especially as it was regarded not as myth but as history and history that could be seen and touched the Temple of Jupiter status by The Forum was said to have been founded by Romulus himself for centuries his heart was preserved on the Palatine Hill
and Romans could even visit the cave where the she-wolf was said to have cared for the infant boys we might expect them to be a bit awkward about this story but they’re not they tell it again and again and again it’s recorded in the primary sources it’s recorded as something that is an important part of what it means to be Roman it was grounded very much in the physical location of Rome as the whole of the Romulus and Remus myth is it was very much about the roots these people had in this particular patch of ground which is why we always talk about the Roman Empire despite how far it spreads.
We always come back to Rome to these particular locations that always remain very vividly part of the Roman identity some identified in the story the seeds of violence which Rome would later use to conquer the world others saw in the deadly struggle between Brothers a cruel Omen of the
Civil Wars that would split the Roman Empire again and again attempts were made by Poets and politicians to soften the tale of Romulus and Remus or replace it with other more sanitized accounts of the city’s Origins the Romans were very good at understanding that myths and stories had the capability to be told and to be shaped and to be retold and reshaped as you needed to do so so there were alternative versions told Cicero who actually denies that Romulus kills Remus and actually sort of deletes the part of the myth that probably gave it its purchase on the Roman imagination.
The idea that in drinking the milk of a wolf Romulus and Remus are imbibing a ferocity that Rome has yet fully to contain is in part why ciceros and Virgil’s generation want to forget the whole thing plus they invent a bunch of other much sleeker much more fit for purpose Foundation myths which the best known is the one invented by Virgil the myth of veneers foreign was a refugee from Troy he led his people across the Mediterranean to Italy where he founded the city that would one day give rise to the Roman people his story is told most famously by the poet Virgil in his great epic the elite he was writing during a new era in Roman history Augustus was consolidating his power as the first emperor and the grander more dignified origin story offered by the alleal seemed fit for the times but if it was intended to Eclipse older stories in the Roman imagination it would fail Romulus and Remus would retain their place in the history books of ancient Rome but of course it wasn’t real history at all the brothers did not create Rome Rome created them it was not the murder of Remus that explained the violence of the Romans it was the violence of the Romans that lay behind the myth military life goes through all aspects of Roman society the Roman army is conscript it’s not a volunteer professional force and that means that you have a very high proportion of people in Rome broadly speaking who either will have been in the army or will have relatives who have been in the Army so there’s a knowledge and a familiarity with military matters that is very deeply embedded in everyday life and everyday activity he does one really interesting thing that’s very important.
For Roman ideas of the self and the relation between the individual and the city and that is he’s killed by Romulus so the point of the story then becomes even my brother is less important to me than defending Rome it’s Rome above all rumors is there to show that Romulus is willing and all Romans must be willing to sacrifice familial ties to the city perhaps that is why the bloody story of the twins endured no finer mirror of the city’s character could be found in one act of fraternal Bloodshed the myth taught Romans that the success of their City relied not only on violence but on sacrifice Rome was great but so was the price paid the Tower of Conant the great Fortress lay before them the nomedians 30 000 of them had come to claim their freedom these men were farmers not soldiers but they would fight all the same for they were led by Brave and mighty warrior Fergus redside the son of Nimitz from the high tower Colin watched them gather with an outraged snull the impotence of these slaves slave masked on the plane below the nimidian Army grew larger and larger hammer and pipe scythe and spear they held their weapons Aloft and roared in time to the beat of the drum the great ogre was Reddit armor was strapped to his body
the men raised their swords the drums grew louder the battle was a bag to begin despite War’s constant presence in history a few of us are natural soldiers killing other people runs against the instincts of most and sheer Terror on the battlefield paralyzes many more it’s no surprise then that throughout history we find enemies dehumanized and the glory of a heroic death magnified sentiments are found in the words of politicians and Poets in the works of sculptors and Painters and in the stories and myths that cultures held dear.
The Frozen North is no place for the faint-hearted it’s Winters are long and dark it is a land of sheer Cliffs and deep fjords of rock and Ice to live in such a place is to battle against the elements and such extremes of nature perhaps produce extremes of man the north lived in Scandinavia between the 8th and 11th centuries it was a society that extolled war and battle whose daring Warriors crossed continents in search of Glory what lay behind their success was a Mastery of sailing in 793 the north launched a raid on lindisfarne a sacred island off the Northeast Coast of England the monastery there was looted and its inhabitants slaughtered the age of the Vikings had begun the attack on lindisfan’s stunned Christian Europe one contemporary wrote never before has such a terror appeared in Britain as we’ve now suffered from a pagan race.
I think there were two quite important factors about the north that made them appear genuinely shocking and that was that they arrived in boats they struck somewhere quickly and they moved on and there was no way of knowing where they would go next and also there’s the whole culture Clash you can’t say that the Vikings and the north ever raided because they were thinking about religious differences but from the point of view of the Anglo-Saxons those religious differences mattered a lot stories of the Brave and Barbara’s Vikings spread quickly most feared among their warriors were the Berserkers these shock troops fought in a trance-like fury and seemed to experience no pain or fear but if this was a culture that glorified War then all parts of North Society women included played a role.
Girls were often given war-like names gun hilled for instance was a popular choice and literally meant War battle in time of course they were expected to raise strong future Warriors themselves in any deformed babies were to be abandoned in the elements to die one thing they did not do was fight they were not trained as Warriors as men were according to mythology however there were still a female presence on the battlefield and they had the most important job of all the Valkyries are Immortal Warrior maidens whose job it is to decide which Warriors get to fall in battle they were then tasked with taking the souls of the Dead Warriors to Valhalla which is in effect the afterlife presided over by the god Odin you might think of Valhalla as similar to the way in which Knights going on Crusade were told that their sins would be pardoned if they died in a crusade it.
Sweetens the deal a bit it knocks the edges of the fear of telling them that if they die in battle they’re going to live a lovely life where they’re given Mead all the time and they just have to fight each day for Odin and then they’re resurrected and they go back to feasting it makes the idea of dying in battle seemed less terrible the promise of Valhalla must have offered Comfort to the fearful before battle and soulless to those grieving afterwards death on the battlefield was recast as a mirror of birth and just as it was women who once brought men into the world so it was females who carried them into the next Valkyries is of bringing the Mead Cup round to the Warriors this is very much the role of the noble woman in society as well it’s what the hostess would do at a great feast or a gathering in a king or a Lord’s Hall fate figures are nearly always female in all European mythologies there is an unbelievably creepy Valkyrie moment in nyal Saga where you actually see the Valkyries weaving with men’s intestines and using men’s seven skulls as weeds instead of the tools of the trade they have a shuttle that is a spearhead and they beat the wall with a sword rather than the standard wooden tool that they’d use weaving is normally a virtuous thing for householders to do but these women are weaving with dots and heads so they’re doing something that’s on the one hand really Uber feminine but on the other hand it’s a creepy inverted version of it stories of War on the Valkyries are found throughout Norse mythology the gods constantly fought amongst themselves and against their Rivals their Giant and monstrous yutna but where the north as belligerent to people as we often think is there a reputation for violent banditry which remains to this day a fair one were they all Vikings association between the North and a particularly Savage kind of violence and that’s frequently overstated.
In the context of the time they lived in I don’t think the violence committed by the Norse was any inherently worse than the violence committed by other medieval societies I don’t think you could quantify the effect of murder and arson and theft by the north as being any worse than the murder and arson and theft that occurred within Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Continental Royal houses it’s fair to say that they’re expansionists and that their method of expansion is ship-based and that their motorcycle parandi is on the whole to cross the Seas and raid foreign countries and take slaves and take plunder and then sail home with that but they also tend to settle in areas that they frequently raid so they don’t remain these Outsider pillagers when they establish themselves they form societies and then we can pick out the really much more positive associations.
The Bold Spirit of the north saw them dominate England and found settlement stretching from the Black Sea to North America but this golden period was fleeting by the middle of the 11th century Christianity had supplanted the indigenous faith the Valkyries flew no more the Viking age was ending the two armies charged at one another thrusting and slashing cutting and stabbing so the enemies met fomorians were led into battle by coland himself and now who dared face him Holland towered over in the dreadside was a brave and skillful Warrior back and forth the two Champions fought metal ringing on metal each waiting for the other to slip for a chance to end the battle with one fatal blow still eager still strong Colin’s charge but it was a ruse red side dodged the mighty ogre sword and lunged forward his own blade flashing.
The great ogre roared out in pain before collapsing to the ground with a mighty Thunder Holland had fallen no battle is without loss and even Victory cannot displace all the pain grief and anger the scars of combat can run as deep in the mind as they do in the body and the greatest stories of War know this all right in the Anatolian expanses of modern turkey just south of the Dardanelle Strait which divides Europe from Asia there was once a place of Legend A Mighty Fortress overlooking the planes a city of wealth and Beauty the remnants of its thick walls are now shrouded beneath the Earth its lavish temples and palaces crumbled to dust but it was amid the rocks and rivers of this ancient plain that the greatest conflict in all myth took place the Trojan War it was a war sparked by the Abduction of Queen Helen of Sparta by Prince Paris of Troy an alliance of Greek Kings then sailed to Troy with their armies to bring her back a 10-year Siege ensued only cunning ended the long stalemate the Trojans were fooled into letting the Greeks beyond their Gates Troy was brutally sacked soon afterwards countless works of art have been inspired by the war in its long duration and bloody aftermath their near infinite opportunities to explore the meaning and impact of conflict Trojan War offers an opportunity to look at a very wide range of human life it offers the opportunity to look at the failure of guest friendship what happens when those bounds of hospitality are broken conflict in between two different regions the coming together of the Greeks for a single purpose all of these kinds of things the myth allows the Greeks to explore through one particular narrative it doesn’t just talk about war to glorify it it also really offers an opportunity to look at the human cost the people who suffer as a result of War One account of the war has endured above all others a poem composed almost 3 000 years ago Alexander the Great conquered the world with a copy of his side and soldiers and civilians alike have for centuries looked to it for a better.
Understanding of war in their Early Times that poem is the ancient Greek epic The Iliad said to be the work of an author known as Homer the written version of the poem dates to the 8th Century BC its roots however are older still in an oral tradition which stretches back hundreds of years more The Iliad does not focus on the end of the Trojan War nor on its Beginnings instead it tells one short episode during the last year of the conflict Omar makes Monsters of neither Trojans nor Greeks the poet instead grants equal dignity to the soldier far from home and the civilian trapped in theirs what the enemies have in common is emphasized the love of family the pain of loss the inevitability of death one lovely example of a moment of emotional connection with the family is the Trojan hero Hector in The Iliad who puts on his helmet and then goes to kiss his wife and drama keep goodbye she’s with his little boy who’s only a tiny child and the little boy looks at Hector in his helmet and starts to cry he doesn’t recognize his father because he’s wearing this great helmet and Hector starts to laugh and throws a little boy up in the air and passes him back to his wife but it’s a lovely affectionate moment this lovely little domestic detail that humanizes him and makes it clear that he’s fighting in the most literal possible way not just for his city as a political attitude but for his family in its extraordinary vulnerability you could read the Epic as being about the unreasonableness of war the pettiness of war and therefore the human need to rise above that to try and remain human and Humane within that struggle Hector Falls in combat at the hands of the Greek hero Achilles it was his fate to die and for his City to eventually fall but he carried on nonetheless he fought to the end his story still speaks to us for death comes for all but we all must carry on it’s about very fundamental aspects of Human Experience jealousy anger rage struggle love hate all these things are really fundamental parts of the human experience every generation that has read the poem has repurposed its characters and events for their own times after the fall of Rome however Homer’s tax was lost to Western Europe for centuries but after rediscovery during the Renaissance The Iliad went on to become a foundation stone of Western literature it continues to shape our thoughts about war to this day for though in many ways combat has changed beyond recognition The Iliad captures something unchanging about war the poem glories in it and dams it just the same it is a city with many names first it was Byzantium later it became Constantinople but to many it was just the city and though we may not recognize it that is how we know it to this day for Istanbul is derived from the Greek words meaning to the city that said it was once the largest and wealthiest in Europe the holy place of Christianity in 1453 however it fell to the invading forces of the Ottoman Empire foreign Empire was the superpower of its day.
An expansionist and aggressive one at that it was just assumed that nowhere Christian crew really fall to Islam it was just assume that God would protect it the idea that something’s so strong could collapse just dismayed and horrified them according to the Christian understanding God really shouldn’t have allowed it to fall in the way it did the conquest of the city shocked Europe it would not be the end of the ottoman’s Ambitions in the west however it expanded all the way into Eastern Europe in fact virtually all of what we now think of as the Balkans was either ruled directly by the Ottomans or was an ottoman vassal in this state of near constant war that followed news stories and legends emerged and just as men can make myths out of war war can make myths out of men foreign foreign was a small principality in what is modern day Romania to the north stretched the Transylvanian Alps to the South lay the mighty Danube River this was the land that Prince Vlad Dracula called home between 1448 and 1476 he ruled wallachia on three separate occasions all these Reigns were brief but his Fame has become immortal nevertheless he was the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire Dracula but Vlad was Notorious long before the publication of Stoker’s novel in 1897.
In his own time he was reviled as a sadist whose taste for the cruelest of punishments led to his gruesome nickname Vlad the Impaler the German Meister singer produced a poem that was actually sung in front of the then Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III which told of vlad’s crimes in detail and one of the crimes that it emphasized was that he impaled his victims on Stakes there are stories of Vlad the Impaler eating his dinner while his enemies arrived around him impaled on spikes this was elaborated even further and there was a really grisly Tales of mothers and infants being impaled together so that the infants were trying to clutch at the mothers and the mothers were trying to protect the infants but they both died really gruesome stuff fair was vlad’s reputation where’s the truth amid the legend and why did the tales spread and endure VLAN lived at a time of upheaven his lands were caught between the christian powers to the west and the might of the Ottoman Empire to the east in 1417 molakia had become a vassal state of the Ottomans vlad’s father was the then ruler of the principality but he was murdered in 1447 and his crown usurped for decades afterwards control of the region was contested again and again a grown man and Vlad fought to win back what he’d regarded as his Birthright at times he lied himself with the Ottomans and others he joined the forces arrayed against them but his Reigns in balakia were short unstable affairs he was a man with many enemies.
In 1462 having once again lost his crown Vlad traveled to Transylvania to seek the help of the Hungarian King Matthew coffinus instead the king had Vlad imprisoned it was at this time that stories of vlad’s unique brutality began to spread as soon as you have a war hostilities of any kind the atrocity stories begin people really got off on exaggerating the evil Eastern European witness of this guy and it just got more and more exaggerated and peculiar as the Western pressers churned it out even in his own lifetime the man was becoming myth and the stories of the cruelty and wickedness of Vlad Dracula did not disappear with his death in 1476. but legends are changeable things once a man becomes myth he could be repackaged and repurposed again and again in more recent years there’s been a reappraisal of Vlad III he’s become perhaps unlikely hero Romania was long dominated by foreign powers it was subject to the Ottomans until the 19th century in the establishment of the kingdom of Romania but that was swept away after the second world war.
Romania was once again in the shadow of a greater power this time Soviet Russia like many post-communist countries it’s eager to go back to the time before communism and find Heroes that predate those days and Vlad is a perfect candidate foreign he was recast as a harsh yet just ruler who strengthened central government and fought for the nation at a time of conflict and unrest in the school rooms of Romania vlad’s story is still told for defiance in the face of Oppression will always appeal foreigns celebrated it was Fergus red side who had triumphed but few in his army had
escaped the battle with the fomorians unharmed and as they tended to the wounded a dread sound echoed across the island it came from the sea a fleet of ships cut through the waves towards them it was another fomorian Army brother of the defeated colon was already come for Revenge with a cry red side rallied his weary men they charged the beach to fight once more in the battle it followed not one fled from the other red side and Mork limedian and femorian alike they fell in mutual Slaughter the beach was stained Crimson with their blood of the 30 000 medians who had come to win their freedom just 30 survived this mournful band of the wounded and the weary seized a familian ship they sailed away far from Ireland and far away from the cruelty of the fomorians the defeat of the nomedians in the Celtic book of invasions paved the way for the arrival of the Irish people themselves the book made War a part of their origins of their identity as a people as it was for so many others from the time of the Romans to that of the Norse from the Golden Age of ancient Greece through to this very day the character of individuals and of Nations has been shaped by myths of War they can tell us where we’ve come from and where we go after death they tell us what makes us different from others and what we have in common they tell us what we cherish what we deplore what we aspire to and what we fear they tell us who we are the weapons of war have changed down the centuries and though battles on the field may look different today the battles within us remain much the same.