IE Myth I: Elements of Myth and Ritual

Well, it  has only taken me four months but I finally finished requirement 3 of I-E Myth I.  I found this essay to be tedious beyond description.  Time and time again I would come back to this, read the requirement, groan, and walk away.  The up side is that I got pretty close to the minimum word count for each one…

3. Explain how each of the following elements of ADF ritual does or does not resonate with elements of two different Indo-European cultures (you need not use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for each element): (minimum 100 words each)

Earth Mother

The concept of an “Earth Mother” does not particularly resonate within the culture of any Indo-European speaking peoples.  Hesoid of course famously tells us of Gaia marrying Uranos and giving birth to the Titans.  In the story, Gaia is quite clearly an Earth Mother figure.  However, Puhvel convincingly demonstrates that the entire myth seems to have been imported from the Phoenicians (30).

Rather than an Earth Mother, what we do encounter in Indo-European myth is a much more complex Goddess; she who represents the sovereignty of the land and who bestows kingship on those she chooses.  As an example, the Irish poem Baile in Scáil tells of how Conn came to visit Lugh in the otherworld and how a mysterious woman with a cup of mead pronounced that Conn would be King of Ireland.  A similar story appears in Beowulf when Queen Wealhtheow initiates a cup-offering ritual in Hrothgar’s hall.

Deities of Land

I would like to start answering this with a note that I do not believe that “Deities of Land, Sea, and Sky” are actual recognized elements of ADF ritual.  That said, we discussed earlier how Tales of Divine War may have involved the forced integration of the Dumézilian third function, that of fertility and production, into society.  Bres is called ‘The Beautiful’, presumably a reference to his fertility.  He is also called upon at the end of Cath Maige Tuired to provide agricultural advice to the Tuatha Dé Danann.  In Norse myth the Vanir play a similar role, especially the twins Freyja and Freyr who represent fertility, peace, and plenty (Davidson, 124).

Whether these fertility deities can truly be said to be ‘Of the Land’ relies on an assumption that the ‘Land’ part of Land, Sea, and Sky is associated with the Dumézilian third function.  This is a question for which there is no definitive answer but as with most things, ADF ritual provides plenty of flexibility to accommodate many perspectives.

Deities of Sea

Deities of the Sea and other bodies of water are fairly common amongst the myths of Indo-European speaking peoples.  This is particularly true of the Greeks.  In the Iliad, Homer refers to “Neptune, ruler of the seas profound”. The Homeric Hymn to Poseidon implores the “God of the deep” to help sailors (Atsma).

Meanwhile from the Irish and Manx Celts we find the myths of Manannán mac Lir, whose surname means “Son of the Sea” and who rides a chariot across the waves (Jones).  Interestingly, both Poseidon and Manannán are also strongly associated with horses which hints at a possible proto-Indo-European myth relating waters with these animals.

Deities of Sky

As with Sea Gods, there are no shortage of Sky Deities amongst the myths of Indo-European speakers.  Also as with the sea, these are predominantly male.  The Romans held no deity higher than Jupiter, whose name derives from the proto-Indo-European *Dyēu-pəter – “sky father” (Mallory 431).  The Indic culture had a cognate in the god Dyauṣ Pitrā.  However unlike Jupiter who had the good fortune of being the Roman’s state Patron, Dyauṣ seems to have faded into obscurity relatively early on.  It was actually a son of Dyauṣ, Indra, who became most commonly associated with the elements of the sky within Vedic religion.


IE-speaking peoples were certainly not unique in having ‘outsiders’ in their myths, but they certainly did have them in abundance.  The Irish texts speak of two major races of outsiders.  The Fir Bolg were the first of these to be encountered by the Tuatha Dé Danann upon their arrival in Ireland and were defeated in the first battle of Mag Tuired.  Thereafter the Tuatha found themselves oppressed by the Fomoire lived on or under the sea.  These outsiders were defeated at the second battle of Mag Tuired.

In Norse mythology the best known outsiders are the Jotun, or giants.  The Jotun are often portrayed as being in opposition to the Gods, and the Fire Giants in particular are said to be instrumental in the destruction of the world during Ragnarök.

Nature Spirits

Arguably the most famous types of nature spirits are the nymphs and satyrs of the Greeks.  Nymphs are female spirits commonly associated with a location such as a glade or a body of water.  Satyrs are goat-like spirits said to primarily inhabit forests.  Greek myth and art abound with references to these two types of spirits.

In other cultures like the Welsh, nature spirits tend to be the stuff of folklore rather than myth proper.  One exception is the tale of Blodeuwedd from the fourth book of the Mabinogi.  Blodeuwedd was a maiden created by Math and Gywdion out of flowers as a wife for Llew Llaw Gyffes but who falls in love with a travelling knight and ends up trying to murder her husband.


All pre-Christian Indo-European speaking peoples honoured their ancestors.  However this question relates specifically to myth as opposed to religious practices, and finding stories in which actual ancestors play a role are difficult to find although not impossible.  In the Greek myths according to Homer, Odysseus made a journey to the underworld and there encountered his mother.  She told him of how she died and provided him with a brief report of how things were going back at home.

Meanwhile from the Norse we have the exceptional tale known as the Hervararkviða (“The Lay of Hervor”).  This story tells us of the shield-maiden Hervor who travels to the barrows where her father Angantýr was buried.  There she invokes her father’s ghost and convinces him to give her his cursed sword Tyrfing.

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