IE Myth 1: Differences and Similarities

At long last I am done with this painful course!

5.  To what extent do you think we can offer conjectures about Indo-European myths in general? Are the common themes strong enough that the myths seem like variations? Or are the differences so powerful that the themes are less important than the cultural variations? (minimum 300 words)

It is abundantly clear from the work of George Dumézil and his followers that many of the myths of Indo-European speaking peoples derived from common roots.  The tripartite social structure appears again and again in these stories.  We see echoes of common roots in the similarities between concepts such as Elysium and Tír na nÓg.  A reading of Puhvel’s tome shows us dozens if not hundreds of these faint relations between different cultures.

However, while we do see many common themes and elements, the fact is that the stories themselves are far more different than they are similar.  The proto-Indo-Europeans lived around 4,000 BCE.  However, the first texts do not appear until approximately 800 BCE — a delay of some 3,200 years.  For some of the Indo-European speaking cultures we do not have written accounts until many more centuries had past.  Given this vast time span it is perfectly understandable that the original stories would have mutated constantly until they were no longer recognizable beyond a few general themes.  The unstable nature of oral traditions, diffusion from neighbouring cultures, and continual adaptation to new socio-political and geographical circumstances would have all worked together to create powerful change in the myths over time.

This is not to say that comparative analysis of the myths has no value for a Neo-Pagan tradition.  Common themes within the stories can be drawn upon to create powerful rituals that tap into the deep well of ancestral wisdom within us.  Those working to recreate a proto-Indo-European practice can certainly use the commonalities to sketch broad elements that are ripe for creative reconstruction.  However, if the question is whether we can view the extant myths of Indo-European speaking peoples as simple variations on clear themes then the answer must be no.  The hard fact is that the best sources for understanding a specific Indo-European speaking culture are the primary sources for that culture.


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

One more down… only one to go!

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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

I-E Myth I: Compare and Contrast

OMGs!  I finally finished another essay!  I have been struggling with Indo-European Mythology I for, like, ever.  Mostly because I thought that I had to back everything I said up with primary sources which was a huge PITA.  However, it turns out that secondary sources are acceptable, so onwards ho!

2.  Summarize, then compare and contrast the myths of at least two Indo-European cultures with respect to the following topics (you need not use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for each topic): (minimum 300 words for each)

Tales of Creation

As Puhvel tells us, creation myth amongst Indo-European cultures is a particular troublesome topic; many of the best known creation myths, such as that in Hesiod’s Theogony are demonstrably an import from other, non-Indo-European, cultures.  Setting aside these products of diffusion leaves precious little to work with.

Germanic myth reveals a creation tale related to the giant Ymir.  The Poetic Edda contains the poem Vafþrúðnismál which tells of how Ymir’s flesh became the Earth, the mountains were made of his bones, the sky from his skull, and the oceans from his blood.  The poem Grímnismál adds that Midgard was fashioned by the Gods from Ymir’s eyebrows and the clouds from his brains.  In the Prose Edda, we are further told that it was Odin and his brothers Vili and Vé who killed Ymir and created the world from him.

In Rome, older myths found themselves subsumed into mythic stories.  Here we have the foundation story of the foundling brothers Romulus and Remus.  According to legend, the brothers were brought up by a she-wolf until they were discovered by a shepherd.  Following some adventures, they decided to build a city but quarrelled over the location.  After an attempt at augury failed to bring them to agreement, the quarrel escalated until Romulus killed Remus and became the sole founder of Rome.

Puhvel suggests that these, and other similar Indo-European myths, point to a possible proto-Indo-European creation myth involving two entities, one representing ‘man’ and the other his ‘twin’.  According to comparative re-creation, man must kill his twin in order to bring the world into being, creation thus being an act of sacrifice. Mallory suggests that the proto-Indo-European myth likely echoed the tripartite functions, with the skull/brains representing the sovereign function, the arms/bones representing the warrior, and the genitals representing the fertility function (435).

Tales of Divine War

The stories of Indo-European speaking peoples, like most peoples on the planet, are replete with myths of divine warfare.  The Irish text Cath Maige Tuired tells the tale of the second battle of Mag Tuired.  The story opens with the plight of the Tuatha Dé Danann who are being oppressed by the Fomoire.  The situation is not helped by the Dé Danann king, Bres the Beautiful, who is himself half-Fomoire.  With the situation going from bad to worse for the Tuatha, Bres is finally forced to abdicate and returns to his Fomoire kin to plot revenge.  Nuada reclaims the kingship but quickly hands it over to a newcomer by the name of Lugh in deference to Lugh’s many skills, after which the two sides prepare for war.  The battle is fierce, and culminates in the face-off between Lugh and Balor, the king of the Fomoire.  As Balor prepares to smite Lugh with his evil eye and orders his men to lift the great eyelid that covers it, Lugh puts a sling shot through the eye, causing it to roll backwards and smite the Fomoire instead.  Bres is captured and is forced to ransom his farmer’s almanack for his life.

Meanwhile, from the Norse we receive the myth of the war between the Aesir and the Vanir.  Unfortunately we have only a smattering of tantalizing tidbits drawn from peripheral works with which to piece together the conflict.  These come from Snorri’s Prose Edda and Ynglinga Saga, as well as a small mention in the Poetic Edda.  The general outline of the myths seems to be that a Vanir witch named Gullveig came to the halls of the Aesir and was slain by Odin.  War between the two sets of gods ensued.  During one truce in the war, the gods all spit into a cauldron and from their spittle was formed a wise man who was then murdered by dwarves, his blood becoming mead.  The war ends with the killing and beheading of the Aesir Mimir and his subsequent existence as a magic 8-ball for Odin.

Mallory has hypothesized that these myths may reflect an older story which tells of a war between the first two of the Dumézilian functions (magic and warrior) against the third function (fertility) which results in the incorporation of the third function into society (436).  In the Celtic version, this third function is represented by Bres who is beautiful and knowledgeable in agriculture — both associated with the third function.  With the Norse story, the third function is represented by the Vanir, who are considered fertility Gods and Goddesses.

Tales which describe the fate of the dead

One of the most compelling tales of the fate of the dead from Indo-European speaking peoples is that of the Valkyries of Odin from Norse myth.  References to these battle maidens are scattered throughout Norse writing. The poem Darraðarljóð from the Njáls saga, for example, describes the Valkyries as women weaving on a loom made of human entrails and bones, in which only they have the power to choose the slain.  Davidson tells us that such women, strongly associated with ravens, would stalk the fields of war and decide which warriors amongst the dead were worthy of the journey to Valhalla and which were not (61).  Once within the halls of Odin, the Valkyrie would feast the dead warriors with pork and mead (149).

In rather stark contrast to this vivid picture of an afterlife of food, drink, and ogling buxom Nordic blondes stands the more enigmatic Celtic view.  Tír na nÓg, the Celtic Otherworld, is oft cited as a potential place of the dead, but there are no real attestations as evidence.  Meanwhile the classical writers are known to have linked Druidic belief to the reincarnation of souls.

However there is at least one compelling link between the Norse and Celtic myth here, for it is difficult to consider the Valkyrie as the Battle Ravens of Odin without then bringing to mind An Mórrígan, the Great Red Queen of the Irish stories, along with her sisters Badb and Macha.  Like the Valkyrie, she also strides through the battlefields, deciding which warriors should live and which should die (Jones).  Whether these Celtic Goddesses then ferried the doomed warriors off to an afterlife of beer and pork rinds seems doubtful.  Nonetheless, the resemblance of the Norse and Celtic battle women, and particularly their association with ravens and crows, both of which are famous as battlefield carrion birds, certainly seems to hint towards an earlier myth now long forgotten.

Indo-European Mythology 1.1 – Primary Sources

Wow it has been a while since I last finished an essay!

1. List and discuss the major primary sources for the mythology of three Indo-European cultures, including their dates of origin and authorship (if known). Discuss any important factors that may cause problems in interpreting these sources, such as the existence of multiple revisions, or the presence of Christian or other outside influences in surviving texts. (minimum 300 words)

Let us be very specific in the cultures which we are to consider.  Let us consider, first, the primarily Athenian culture of the Greeks in the Classical era (c.f. 500-400 BCE), the La Tène Celtic culture prior to the Roman conquest, and the Northern Germanic culture of the Norse up to the general adoption of Christianity in Iceland circa 1000 CE.

For the Classical Greeks, we have a wealth of primary sources.  Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, written down probably in the 8th century BCE, are the most famous.  Also of significant value are Hesiod’s Theogany and Works and Days from the 7th century BCE and the Homeric Hymns, a collection of religious odes from various authors dating from the seventh through fifth centuries.  The extant plays of Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, and even Aristophanes  from the Classical era provide fertile ground for exploration.  Beyond these there are numerous other texts from the period, including works of history, philosophy, science, and poetry which contain references to myth.  Finally there is also a significant amount of archaeological sources including statues and vase.  Insofar as there are any issues with interpreting the sources, there is only the quantity of them and the fact that they occasionally expose conflicting versions of many of the same myths.

In stark contrast to the Greeks, the La Tène Celts left few primary sources for their mythology.  What they did leave were entirely non-literary, the Gundestrup cauldron (first century B.C.E.) being by far the most important, requiring significant interpretation and correlation with later, post-La Tène era sources.  Even these remain quite sparse until well into the Christian era.  While there are a fair number of inscriptions and visual representations of myth in the pre-Christian Gallo-Roman culture, they largely demonstrate a syncretism of Roman and Gallic religious beliefs and divinities, and trying to extract information about the earlier Celtic myths from this material poses a significant challenge.  The Irish and Welsh literary renditions of Celtic myth were recorded a millenium or more later by peoples long since Christianized and would be of limited value indeed in trying to reconstruct La Tène-era mythic beliefs.

 Somewhat between the richness of the Classical Greeks and the sparseness of the La Tène Celts lies the Northern Germanic Norse culture.  Here, like the Celts, the mainland Germanic speaking peoples did not commit their knowledge to writing, with the exception of a few scattered runic inscriptions.  However, we are fortunately indeed for Iceland which adopted Christianity at a slow pace, retaining many of its Pagan stories and beliefs even as it took to writing.  Here there is a relative wealth of sources, the most important being the Prose Edda (~1223 C.E.) of Snorri Sturluson as well as the Poetic Edda, a collection of Icelandic poetry dating from the 13th Century.  Despite being written down more than two centuries after the official adoption of Christianity in Iceland, these sources seem to be quite faithful to the Pagan stories which they record, such that Puhvel notes that “Germanic myth ranks with Vedic and Roman as the third mainstay for triangulating Indo-European reconstruction” (191).