Indo-European Myth I: ADF elements in Greek and Irish Myth

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4. Discuss how the following seven elements of ADF’s cosmology are (or are not) reflected in the myths of two different Indo-European cultures. For this question, please use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for the entire question. (minimum 100 words each)

Upperworld

In Greek myth, the upperworld is considered to manifest itself at the peak of Mount Olympus. Hesiod tells us that it was from the snowy Olympus that Zeus and the Greek Gods waged war upon the Titans. In the stories Olympus is a place of song, being the home of the nine Muses, a place for eating ambrosia and drinking nectar, and a gathering place where the Gods took council.

In Irish myth, on the other hand, there is no reflection of the concept of the upperworld. Modern writing on the topic often attempts to create a Celtic three-fold cosmos out of tidbits which may be faint echoes of very ancient beliefs, but the texts simply do not provide adequate evidence for such a cosmology.

Middleworld

Neither Greek nor Irish myths pay much mind to the notion of a “middleworld”. This is presumably because such a thing would be the Earth or the Land itself; the mundane world. That said, for the Greeks there was an implicit division between Mount Olympus, Earth, and Hades; the Earth was home to humans, animals, as well as a host of nature spirits, but typically the Gods did not dwell there and only come to visit. However for the Celts such a division did not exist; the Tuatha Dé Danann lived on the Earth and made their home in Ireland.

Divisions Of Middleworld (e.g., 4 Quarters, 3 Triads, 8 Sections)

Ancient Ireland was divided into four main provinces and a fifth in Meath. These provinces were certainly aligned to directions, with Ulster in the north, Leinster in the east, Connacht in the west, Munster in the south, and Meath in the middle. Some Celtic Neo-Pagan traditions, including some within ADF, assign symbolic significance to these associations, for example by heralding the provinces as quarters during ritual. However, Irish myth itself treats the provinces rather simply as geographical and political divisions.

Meanwhile, the Greeks recognized no such divisions, perhaps due to their advanced knowledge of geography owing to their adventurousness. However they did recognize the Anemoi; the Gods of the Winds of the four directions.

Nether/Underworld

The Greek myths abound with stories of the underworld. Hesiod tell us of two such places; Tartarus, far below the ground, where Zeus imprisoned the Titans, and the realm of Hades in the “lower world”. But in addition to these places under the world, there appear to have been places of the dead within the world as well. In The Odyssey, Homer describes the Elysian plain where fortunate men life an easy after-life and there is no snow, rain, nor hail.

The Celts did not seem to have an underworld but rather envisioned an otherworld like that of Elysium, known variously as Tír na nÓg or many other names. Some stories make this otherworld out as an island where others describe it as being in some way parallel to the mundane world.

Fire

Greek myth contains one of the most famous stories about fire; its theft from the Gods. According to the story, the Gods wished to keep fire for themselves but Prometheus lit a fennel stalk from it and smuggled the fire back to Earth and gave it to the people. For this offense, Zeus punished humanity with Pandora and Prometheus by chaining him to a rock where his liver was devoured by an Eagle every day.

The Irish Celts have no similar stories. Fires certainly make appearances, and some of the Celtic deities, notably Brigid, are commonly associated with fire, but the element simply doesn’t resonate in the texts in the same way as the story of Prometheus.

Well

The Greek stories do not abound with wells, however they do make a few appearances. The winged horse Pegasus is said to stomped his hoof and thus created a well called the Hippocrene on Mount Helicon during a contest amongst the Muses. The Celtic stories are a bit more demonstrative of wells, with the best known being that of Nechtan. Nechtan’s well was surrounded by nine hazelnut trees, the fruit of which granted knowledge. These nuts would fall from the tree and be eaten by the salmon in the well. One day Nechtan’s wife Boann tried to draw water from the well, causing the water to gush forth and create the river Boyne.

Tree

Trees do not figure large in either Greek or Irish Celtic myths. From the Greeks comes the story of the nymph Daphne who attracted the unwanted attention of Apollo. When her flight from the god appeared doomed, she appealed to either her father the local river god or to her mother Gaia depending on the version. In response to her appeal Daphne was transformed into a Laurel tree and thus saved from divine rape.

Although they do appear in Welsh stories, references to trees in the Irish texts are even more obscure than in the Greek. The Fionn Cycle contains a few stories in which trees make an appearance, but these tend to be incidental.

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3 thoughts on “Indo-European Myth I: ADF elements in Greek and Irish Myth

  1. This was actually a very insightful post! As someone who identifies as a Vedic Pagan, I too identify several of these features in the Vedic religion: Especially Fire and the Upper World. As for the division of worlds, the Rig Veda, the most ancient text in Vedic Paganism, perhaps gives a rudimentary classification of Earth, Atmosphere and Heaven, a division that is elaborated in the later ritual texts. Is there a similar tripartite classification in any other Indo-European culture?

    • Hi there. Thanks for the comment! I have never really heard of an “earth, atmosphere, heaven” division within IE cosmologies. That is very interesting. I wonder if one could find such a division within the Indo-Aryan or Hittite cultures?

      • Thanks for the reply! By “Vedic”, I was only referring to Indo-Aryan cultures. As for the tripartite division, it seems the “Earth-Atmosphere-Heaven” division was unique to the Indo-Aryans as well as the Iranians. I could not find any mention of this among the hittites or the easternmost Indo-European people, the Tocharians. Also, Homer and Ovid’s Metamorphoses seem to speak of a different triad: Earth, sea and heaven. Perhaps geography might have played a part in shaping these variations in the different IE cosmologies. Given that the Indo-Iranian cultures primarily developed in areas that were not exactly adjacent to a large body of water like a sea (Although there were many rivers in Northern India), it was not possible for them to have developed a “Earth-Sea-Heaven” structure. The harsh winds, monsoons of Northwest India might have inspired the Indo-Aryans to conceive an “atmosphere” as a distinct region from the peaceful “heaven” that clearly transcended human perception.

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