Myths and Legends

The Birth of Vainamoinen

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From the Kalevala, here is the story of the creation of the world, Ilmatar Daughter of Nature, and the birth of her son, Vainamoinen.

Lonely come the nights upon us,
Lonely dawn the brightening days;
Lonely born was Vainamoinen,
All alone, the poet immortal,
From the beautiful who bore him,
From his mother, Ilmatar –

She, the virgin of the air,
Beautiful maiden. Nature’s child,
Long maintained in holiness
Her eternal maidenhood
In the far-horizoned heavens,
Level meadows of the air.

But in time she wearied of it,
Was estranged from this odd living,
Always being by herself,
Ever living as a virgin
In those far-horizoned heavens,
In those vast and empty spaces.

So at length she then descended
To the seawaves down below,
To the open clear sea surface
Out upon the open ocean.
Suddenly a storm wind blew,
Out of the east an angry blast
Blew the water to a foam
Heaving up the rollers high.

By the wind the maid was rocked,
On a wave the maid was driven
Round about the blue sea surface
By the whirling whitecaps lifted
Where her womb the wind awakened
And the sea-foam impregnated.

Thus a full womb now she carried,
Long she bore her burdened belly,
Seven hundred years she bore it
For nine lifetimes of a man,
Yet the borning was unborn,
Still the fetus undelivered.

As the mother of the water
Aimlessly the virgin drifted:
She swam eastward, she swam westward,
She swam south and northwestward,
Swimming round the whole horizon
In the anguish of her birth pangs,
In her belly’s bursting pains.
Yet the borning was unborn,
Still the fetus undelivered.

Then she fell to weeping softly,
Said a word and spoke out thus:
“Woe is me, the water wanderer,
Luckless girl, misfortune’s child!
Now already I’m in trouble,
Shelterless beneath the sky,
Ever rocking on the seawaves
To be cradled by the wind,
To be driven by the billows
On these far-extending waters,
Endlessly repeated billows.

“Better had it been for me
To have stayed the airy virgin
Than to be as I am now
Drifting as the water-mother.
Its too cold for me to stay here,
Painful to be drifting here,
Wallowing in this watery waste.

“0 thou Ukko, lord of all,
Hear me, thou the all-sustainer:
Come, 0 come where thou art needed;
Come, 0 come where thou art called!
Loose the maiden from her misery
And the woman from her womb-ache;
Come thou quickly, soon arriving
Where thy help is sooner needed.”

Then a bit of time passed over
Like a tiny rash of rain,
When a scaup, the honest bird,
Came on hovering here and there
Searching for a nesting place,
For a spot to build her home on.

She flew eastward, she flew westward,
Flew to northwest and to southward
But she cannot find a spot
Even in the worst of places
Where to build her needful nest,
Where to take up her abode.

Hovering, fluttering back and forth
Thus she thought and pondered it:
“Must I make my home on wind,
Build my hut upon the billows
Where the wind can blow it over
Or a wave can wash away?”

So the mother of the water,
Water mother, airy maiden,
Raised her knee above the surface
And her shoulder from the wave
As a refuge for the scaup
And a welcome nesting place.

Then that scaup, the lovely bird,
Fluttering round and hovering over
Spied the water-mother’s knee
Lifted from the sea’s blue surface;
Took it for a grassy tussock
Or a tuft of new-grown turf.

Flies about, flitting here and there,
Settles on the lifted kneecap.
It is there she builds her nest,
There she laid her golden eggs –
Six were the golden eggs she laid,
But the seventh was of iron.

She began to hatch the eggs there,
Heating up the lifted kneecap;
Brooded one day, brooded two days,
Even on the third day brooding.
Then the mother of the water,
Little mother, airy maiden,
Felt the rising heat upon her,
Felt as if her skin were scorching,
Thought her kneecap was on fire,
That her very veins were melting.

All at once she jerked her knee,
Agitating every member,
And the eggs rolled in the water
To the tumbling of the tides;
Into bits the eggs were broken,
Shattered into crumbs and pieces.

But the eggs and pieces were not
Mixed up with the mud and water
For at once the crumbs grew comely
And the pieces beautiful.
One egg’s lower half transformed
And became the earth below,
And its upper half transmuted
And became the sky above;
From the yolk the sun was made,
Light of day to shine upon us;
From the white the moon was formed,
Light of night to gleam above us;
All the colored brighter bits
Rose to be the stars of heaven
And the darker crumbs changed into
Clouds and cloudlets in the sky.

Quickly now the time goes forward
As the hurrying years pass by
While the newborn sun is shining
And the newborn moon is gleaming.
Still the mother goes on swimming,
Water mother, airy maiden,
Swimming on those peaceful waters
Over misty seawaves wandering.
Before her flowed the liquid deep,
Behind her shone the empty heaven.

In the ninth year, tenth of summers,
Raised her head out of the sea,
Lifts her crown above the water;
Set to work on her creations,
Hastens on her handiwork,
Out upon the clear sea surface,
Out upon the open ocean.

Where she gave her hand a turn
There she put the capes in order;
Where her foot struck bottom, there
Grottoes for the fish were formed;
Where the bubbles reached the surface
There the deeps were made still deeper.

Where her side had scraped the land
There the level shores appeared;
Where she turned her foot to landward
There the salmon grounds were formed,
And wherever her head touched land
There the broad bays opened out.

Swimming farther out from shore
She halted on the smooth sea surface
Where she made the little islands.
Then she raised the hidden reefs
Where the grounded ships would founder,
Many a seaman lose his life.

Now the islands were in order
And the small isles of the sea;
Pillars for the sky were planted,
Lands and continents created;
On the rocks the writs were written”
And the signs drawn on the cliffs.
Yet Vainamoinen is unborn,
Poet eternal not emerged.

Old reliable Vainamoinen
Traveled in his mother’s womb,
Traveled there for thirty summers
And as many winters too
On the ocean now so peaceful
In that misty world of water.

He is pondering, he is thinking,
How to live or how survive
In this dismal hiding place,
In this narrowest of dwellings
Where he never saw the moon,
Never got a glimpse of sunlight.

So he speaks out in these words,
Says it in these sentences:
“Free me. Moon, and Sun, release me!
Thou, Great Bear, do ever guide me,
Lead a man here through strange doors,
Through these unfamiliar gates.
Release me from this narrow nest,
From this shut-in dwelling place!
Guide the traveler to the land,
Child of mankind to the open
To behold the moon in heaven
And to wonder at the daylight,
Get to know the Great Bear’s grandeur
Or just to stare up at the stars!”

Since the moon did not arrive
Nor the sun come to release him,
Alienated from his birth time,
Impatient of this dull existence,
He pushed against his prison lock
Pressing with his nameless finger,
Slid the bony bolt aside,
With his left toe opened it;
Scrabbling with his nails he came
Crawling through the exit door.

Headlong in the sea he tumbled
With a hand-turn in the waves.
There the man was left alone
In the rough care of the billows.

There he floated for five years,
Six, seven, even eight years,
Stopped at last upon the surface
There beside a nameless headland,
On a treeless continent.

Struggling up with knee and elbow
He stood up to see the world:
To behold the moon in heaven
And to wonder at the daylight,
Get to know the Great Bear’s grandeur
Or just to stare up at the stars.

That was the birth of Vainamoinen.
Such the daring poets descent
From the beautiful who bore him,
From his mother, Ilmatar.

La Loba

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There is an old woman who lives in a hidden place that everyone knows in their souls but few have ever seen. As in the fairy tales of Eastern Europe, she seems to wait for lost or wandering people and seekers to come to her place.

She is circumspect, often hairy, always fat, and especially wishes to evade most company. She is both a crower and a cackler, generally having more animal sounds than human ones.

I might say she lives among the rotten granite slopes in Tarahumara Indian territory. Or that she is buried outside Phoenix near a well. Perhaps she will be seen traveling south to Monte Alban in a burnt out car with the back window shot out. Or maybe she will be spotted standing by the highway near El Paso, or riding shotgun with truckers to Morelia, Mexico, or walking to market above Oaxaca with strangely formed boughs of firewood on her back. She calls herself by many names: La Huesera, Bone Woman; La Trapera, The Gatherer; and La Loba, Wolf Woman.

The sole work of La Loba is the collecting of bones. She collects and preserves especially that which is in danger of being lost to the world. Her cave is filled with the bones of all manner of desert creatures: the deer, the rattlesnake, the crow. But her specialty is wolves.

She creeps and crawls and sifts through the mountains, and arroyos, looking for wolf bones, and when she has assembled an entire skeleton, when the last bone is in place and the beautiful white sculpture of the creature is laid out before her, she sits by the fire and thinks about what song she will sing.

And when she is sure, she stands over the criatura, raises her arms over it, and sings out. That is when the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred. La Loba sings some more, and more of the creature comes into being; its tail curls upward, shaggy and strong.

And La Loba sings more and the wolf creature begins to breathe.

And still La Loba sings so deeply that the floor of the desert shakes, and as she sings, the wolf opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs away down the canyon.

Somewhere in its running, whether by the speed of its running, or by splashing its way into a river, or by way of a ray of sunlight or moonlight hitting it right in the side, the wolf is suddenly transformed into a laughing woman who runs free toward the horizon.

So remember if you wander the desert, and it is near sundown, and you are perhaps a little bit lost, and certainly tired, that you are lucky, for La Loba may take a liking to you and show you something – something of the soul.

~from Women Who Run With the Wolves
by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

A Good Deed

This is an old story about The Dagda, one of the most prominent Gods of Celtic Mythology. If you’d like to read more about him, here’s a link: The Dagda

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The Dagda sat with his back to an oak tree. He looked like a workman, and his hands were as hard as the hands of a mason, but his hair was braided like the hair of a king. He had on a green cloak with nine capes, and along the border of every cape there was a running pattern embroidered in gold and silver and purple thread. Opposite The Dagda sat his son, Angus Og, with his hands clasped about his knees. He was in rags, and his hair was matted like the hair of a beggar: a bramble had scratched his nose, but his eyes were smiling.

“If you only knew how ridiculous you look in that cloak,” he was saying to The Dagda, “you would not wear it.”

“My son,” said The Dagda, with dignity, “it is the only cloak the people of the Fomor have left me, and the evening is cold.”

“Why don’t you keep yourself warm by working?” said Angus. “It’s what I would do myself if you had brought me up to a trade.”

“Angus,” said his father, “remember I am one of the gods: it is not necessary to talk sense to me.”

“O dear! ” said Angus, “a bramble scratched me on the nose this morning–it’s all because you have lost your Magic Harp and the Cauldron of Plenty! Soon even the snails will make faces at me. I can’t go wandering round Ireland in comfort any more. I’ll change myself into a salmon and swim in the sea.”

“The salmon must come up the rivers once a year, and when you come the Fomorians will take you in their net, and it is likely Balor, their king, will eat you.” Continue reading

The Legend of Nu Kua

images-3This story comes from China. It begins with a giant egg. The egg was filled with chaos; in fact, the egg was so huge that it was filled with absolutely everything. Darkness and light were mixed together inside the egg and everything was in so much of a muddle that nothing was anything at all. Sleeping in the middle of all this was a giant – Pan Gu.

Pan Gu slept for thousands of years, but eventually he woke up and stretched himself, as he did, he broke the egg. The darkness and light separated from each other and poured out. Part of the egg drifted downwards and became the earth and part floated upwards and became the sky. The world had begun.

Pan Gu lived on the earth for many years making the world safe and beautiful. When he’d finished he was tired again and lay down for another short nap. While he slept his body changed into a whole mountain range covered in forests and rivers, his breath became the wind and his eyes became the sun and the moon. (If you’re not careful, this is what can happen to you if you stay asleep in bed for too long and don’t get up for school in the morning)

The world stayed this way for thousands of more years until, one day, it was discovered by Nu Kua. (noo-kwah)

Nu Kua was a strange and beautiful creature: her upper body was like that of a woman’s while her lower body was like that of a snake’s. She wandered around the world and was very happy. She watched the animals and roamed through the forests. Everything was so beautiful; she was enchanted with all that she saw.

The world was a wonderful place, but after a while, Nu Kua became lonely. Then, one day as she was sitting by a pool gazing at her own refection, she suddenly had an idea; she reached down into the pool and took a handful of yellow clay. Skilfully, she lovingly modeled a small figure that looked very much like her self, except that it had legs instead of a snake’s tail. When she had finished, she breathed life into it, placed it on the ground and the creature magically came to life; the first human had come into being.

Nu Kua was so delighted with the small creature, that she made many more and loved and cared for them all. At night while they slept, she would whisper secrets in their ears and sing to them softly so that they might sleep blissfully and awake in the morning with joy in their hearts.

All was well for a long time, until one day: disaster struck. In the heavens above the earth Gong Gong the lord of water and Zhu Rong the lord of fire were fighting. They fought so fiercely that they fell to earth where they continued to battle, causing terrible destruction.

Continue reading

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