Posts Tagged ‘mythology’

Rivers as a Barrier Between Life and Death

So, a week ago, my family and I went to our local science and history museum since one of their temporary exhibits was in its last days and we thought we should probably see it before it went.

(That exhibit was about Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton ever found. Which was neat! I learned things. But not actually related to today’s discussion.)

(I also got us an entrance time to the newly renovated space exhibit, which is better than it was but still kind of whatever, alas.)

(ACTUALLY, our museum is a leader in studying what happened right after the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, a notoriously tricky time period to study because they’ve had issues finding fossils from it. But some of our museum scientists made a big breakthrough in the area about a year ago, so they set up an exhibit off to the side of the space exhibit. And the exhibit was very interesting, but my spouse and I were also interested in the fact that it’s in a part of the museum that’s been closed off to the public for, oh, twenty years? It used to be the Hall of Dinosaurs when we were kids, but that was also when they thought dinosaurs dragged their tails and were cold-blooded, so when science proved all their skeletons wrong they took them away and closed off the whole hall.)

(Sorry. I like dinosaurs.)

(Our museum ALSO has two plesiosaur skeletons hanging from the ceiling in the entrance hall, which are my very favorite prehistoric reptiles.)

The OTHER temporary exhibit (our museum normally has two going at a time) was about Stonehenge. I have actually been to Stonehenge, back when I was young, but it has been a while, and archeologists keep making discoveries, so you know.

A lot of the exhibit was somewhat familiar information, talking about the different phases of the monument and how they moved the stones, but I did learn some new stuff too.

(They actually had a breaking news section, from a discovery made in February, so that was pretty cool.)

So, apparently, the reason why the stones came all the way from Wales was that they had a previous monument there, and when they moved, they decided to take the monument with them.

As you do.

That’s cool! But the coolest thing I learned from the exhibit was that, some miles away from Stonehenge was a settlement, with a henge made out of wood. So, at least at the beginning, Stonehenge was a burial ground, and it was always a place to remember the dead (or so they think). So there were no buildings there, no places for the living. And this village was where the living were. And, to get to Stonehenge, either to bury someone, or to worship or whatever, the people in the village would go down to the River Avon, get on a boat, and sail down to the entrance to the Stonehenge complex.

So there were two distinct areas–the area of the living, and the area of the dead, and the river was the passage between them.

Which I thought was very neat, to see some of the mythology of the people in the way they used the land. And you guys know me and mythology, and also it always helps me with my own mythologies for my fantasy world to see what people thought of.

But as I was thinking, I realized that the river as a passage between the living and the dead is a fairly common theme, though perhaps not realized quite so literally as done here. Both Greek and Norse mythology have a river the dead must pass (well, if going to Hel in Norse mythology), though those are later civilizations than the one that built Stonehenge. In Hindu religion, the sacred river Ganges is used in many death rituals, including ones meant to help grant salvation to dead relatives, suggesting a link between the river and where people go after death. In Scottish folklore, a bean-nighe, or washerwoman, is a messenger and omen of death, often seen in rivers and ponds.

I don’t know, I just thought it was cool, and it’s always interesting to see the connections between civilizations across continents and time.

Any thoughts on rivers in death practices, squiders? Cool trivia relating to Stonehenge or death rituals in general?

The Finnbranch Readalong: Undersea

Did you read this, squiders? If not, don’t. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more confusing piece of literature in my life.

Continuing on from Yearwood, we follow Finn (or do we?) as he learns more about who he is and what he’s meant to do. There continues to be a mix of Celtic and Norse mythology (Llugh from the first, Sleipnir from the latter–or at least an eight-legged horse). I suspect Finn is modeled off of Odin, since he only has one eye and had the two crows in the last book (and now has an eight-legged horse). Is it supposed to be a direct analogy? Who the heck knows?

It’s hard to talk about this book because I feel like I couldn’t follow it at all. I like to think I have a decent reading comprehension, even when it comes to things like myths which are often obtuse or contradictory, but I spent a lot of this lost. Finn is also apparently both his father Ar Elon and his son Llugh, and he spends a lot of time in this story in Llugh’s flesh. For some reason Llugh will lead an army of sealmen (never referred to as Selchie in this book despite that terminology in the first one) against Finn on land. Why? Because he’s supposed to? Not sure.

There’s also a lot of obtuse references to an alternative, ultimate form of Finn (one character, after Finn tells him he is Ar Elon, Finn, and Llugh, swear allegiance to him, and when Finn asks which name he recognizes, replies, “The one you did not say.”) as well as the fact that Finn knows what’s happening and what must happen. None of that knowledge ever gets passed on to the reader, however, so don’t get excited.

I feel like this book is mostly a convoluted mess of “Look how mysterious I’m being, oooo, look at all these levels of myth, it’s so cool.” I am annoyed at it. I am also annoyed at the plot progression, or seeming lack of it. (SPOILER, if you care.) It goes something like: Finn has killed Ar Elon (which technically he did at the end of the last book), Finn leaves island and goes back to land where he’s apparently gone back in time and is now his father (at least, that was the implication I got) and meets his mother as a young girl, Finn leaves land, Finn finds random island and fights his dead father, he is his dead father and is barred passage, then he’s Llugh and the island gatekeeper takes care of him for a bit and shows him the fathomless hall he’s been building underground on the island forever, Finn leaves island and finds some sealmen to serve him, Finn returns to island with sealmen and finds a whole bunch of other sealmen who recognize him as Llugh and are ready to go to the war against Finn as preordained. Also everyone on the island is dead? And then Finn/Llugh disappears and there’s some allegory about youth and ugh. I am so done.

I’m still trying to remember why I put this book on my Amazon wishlist. It was probably on some list of mythology-based fantasy somewhere and someone made it sound way more awesome than it is.

Part of me wants to give the trilogy up at this point, but from what I understand, the third book, Winterking, undergoes some sort of time jump, and I guess I’m intrigued enough to continue on with this madness. So we’ll discuss Winterking on Aug 24 (this is the longest of the three books, so that should give us a little more time to slog through it).

Did you read this, squiders? What did you think? Help me on what happened because I’m really confused.

A Hint of Arthurian Legend

I was at the storycraft meeting for my writing group earlier this week, and while we were mostly talking about pacing (ah, pacing), we also had gotten somewhat sidetracked on dystopian stories. (To be fair, we got there from talking about whether or not emulating the general plotline of a classic dystopia would preserve the pacing, but still.)

One of the guys brought up The World’s End (the movie), and as none of the rest of us had seen it, he proceeded to describe it using other movies as examples. And he topped it off with “With just a hint of Arthurian legend. Everything’s better with a hint of Arthurian legend.”

We laughed, and I brought up Kingsman, which I saw on Saturday (and was excellent and I highly recommend it), as another example, and then we probably got distracted by something else.

But I got to thinking a little later. Is it really Arthurian legend that makes it better? It’s not like Arthurian legend is strongly superior to other forms of mythology, either in terms of longevity or subject matter. Is it better to have a hint of Arthurian legend versus, say, Norse mythology?

I suspect a hint of any sort of mythology helps a story, because it ties the story into something older, maybe even something arguably instinctual.

As for Arthurian legend versus other mythologies, the differentiation probably comes from cultural exposure. American culture is a mixture of other cultures, yes, but I think the argument could be made that we perhaps draw most of our influences from English culture. I would think that, universally, we’re more familiar with Arthurian legend because of our cultural exposure. (There are exceptions, of course–people of different backgrounds are more familiar with the mythologies that go along with their background–but I think everyone knows the basics of Arthurian legend.)

What do you think, Squiders? Does tying a bit of mythology into a story make it resonate a little more? Is Arthurian legend any better than other mythologies? Would you argue that another type of mythology is stronger in our cultural background?

So Far, So Good

Well, squiders, we’re into week 2 on my class (and Lord of the Rings Online) and I have yet to get completely sucked into the game.

Part of this may be because I’m in the Shire at the moment, and the hobbit quests are about the most aggravating things ever. I mean, MMOs are kind of repetitive at best because you’ve got to complete quests, and a lot of times that consists of running around, killing a bunch of the same things. The hobbits want you to take things places, and they time you, and there are other hobbits that can walk out in front of you and ruin your quest after you’ve been running around for five minutes with the dang thing.

Normally I like hobbits as a species. But the game kind of makes me want to light the whole Shire on fire.

Anyway, so there’s a level of frustration that is helping me play for a reasonable amount of time. And thus far, the in-game class requirements have been more about exploring the gaming experience. I was a bit worried that we were going to have to be at a certain level each week, or something, but that’s not true as of yet.

I’m really enjoying the non-gaming content of the class as well. We’re talking about mythologies, hero’s journey, remediation of different mediums–all things that interest me. And the reading thus far has involved both Lord of the Rings and a bunch of epic poetry, which has been neat. Yesterday I downloaded a bunch of classic fantasy books onto my Kindle that we talked about in class (just kind of off-hand) to read when I get the chance.

So I’m happy with the class, and LOTRO doesn’t seem to be eating my soul, and I finished re-outlining my edit, so things seem to be all good in this neck of the woods.

How are you, squiders? (Also, if you’re interested in the above, you might jump in on this class too.)

Interesting Notes on Japanese Religion

Here we go, as promised.

So, as I mentioned on Tuesday, the Japanese people tend to be both Buddhist and Shinto(ist?). Shinto is the native Japanese religion, founded 2000+ years ago, and is a ritualistic system that believes in a series of nature spirits, or kami. (There is also some aspect of ancestor worship involved, but I am less clear on that.) Buddhism reached Japan in the 6th century AD and, as the Japanese were already polytheistic, they pretty much just incorporated Buddhism in without really worrying about it.

It’s really very interesting, to see the two religions (or ways of life, because as one of our guides explained, most Japanese don’t see themselves as religious) next to each other. Almost every temple has a Shinto shrine on temple grounds or immediately next door, so the kami can guard the temple.

Oh, Buddhism has temples and Shinto has shrines. Shrines can be to one kami or several, or may also be to important people of the past or ancestors. Aside from the guarding shrine, Buddhist temples also use a lot of Shinto protection imagery, such as rope and strips of paper in lightning shapes.

Shinto has a number of different kami, including some that are considered “main” ones, such as Amaterasu and Inari. Some kami have specific messengers that apply to them. Inari is in charge of the harvest, and business prosperity (and seemingly anything you want to pray to him/her for), and it has foxes (or kitsune) for messengers, though they are special white foxes. Major kami also have main temples, or taisha. We had the opportunity to visit Inari’s just south of Kyoto, called Fushimi Inari Taisha. There are over 10,000 toriis (sacred gates) there, mostly donated by businesses hoping Inari will bless them.

The pure white animals tend to be a trend in Japanese mythology, often associated with different deities or spirits. In Nara, myth says that a Shinto deity arrived on the back of a white deer to protect the (then) capital. To this day, deer are considered sacred in the city and allowed mostly free reign as long as they stay in a massive park in the middle of town. (The deer are also known for eating anything they can manage.)

It really was very fascinating. We visited a ton of temples and shrines throughout our wanderings, and passed quite a few more–shrines, especially, seem to be everywhere, alongside roads and trails, both small and large. We stayed in a Buddhist monastery our last night, and they had a tiny shrine in their garden.

And both were very welcoming. As long as you were polite and respectful, no one seemed to mind your presence. And everyone encouraged us to take part in the rituals (or a Buddhist ceremony we got to attend) or try out different fortunes or charms. So that was nice as well, not only to see them in action but get to experience them as well.

So, Why Thor?

(Two days til release! Aaaaaahhhhhh ::arm flail::)

(Also, my post on using Bible mythology is up over at Paranormal Unbound.)

I admit I still have the Avengers on the brain a little, plus I’m finally going to get to see Thor 2 tomorrow, but people sometimes ask me why, when most of the characters in Shards are from Bible mythology, did I decide to include the God of Thunder as well? And why him, out of all the polytheistic pantheons out there?

The answer is a little silly, honestly. A few months before I started working on the first draft of Shards, I was at work, and that employer insisted on everyone wearing security badges. The badge had your picture on it, your preferred first name in large letters (so mine said “Kit”), and then your full name underneath it in smaller letters. I was on my way back from the cafeteria, and I passed this huge guy coming out of the gate around my building. He towered over me by a good four inches, and I’m over six feet myself, and I tend to take note when people are taller than me. But it got even better. I glanced at his badge as we passed each other, and it said “Thor” in giant letters.

Between his appearance and his name, I was charmed. I made a mental note to stick him in a story somewhere. (This was before the Marvel movies, back in 2008.)

So, when I was writing Shards and needed a non-Biblical character to throw in, I remembered Thor-from-work and made my decision based off of that. It helps that the way I structured the world-building makes Thor and my male main character Michael fairly similar in personality and talents.

The rest, as they say, is history.

(My apologies for this post being so late. Both the mashed potatoes and the brazen commercialism derailed my productivity attempts yesterday.)

ThorLove Blog Hop–Everyone’s Favorite Norse God

You know, I didn’t even think about it when I decided to post about this today, but then someone on Twitter said, “Put the Thor back in Thursday.” So hoorah for good timing and all that.

For the next week or so there’s going to be a lot of Thor and Amalia Dillin as the second book of her Fate of the Gods trilogy, Fate Forgotten, was just released on Tuesday. If you’re not partial to Norse or Biblical mythology, well, first of all, I’m not why you’re following my blog, but you may want to take a break. Come back next Thursday.

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First of all, let’s just talk about Thor–the mythological Thor–and why, to this day he seems to be everyone’s favorite Norse god. (I realize, of course, that some people probably like Loki the best, no doubt helped by Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal, but let’s ignore that for the time being.) Part of it may be because his name is easy to pronounce. (Seriously, have you looked at the spelling for some of the other Norse gods? I have no idea what to do with some of those letters.)

But I think what makes Thor so appealing to the masses is that he’s easy to identify with. As far as godly portrayals go, he’s pretty versatile. Sometimes he’s a hero, sometimes he makes mistakes. He’s both a lover and a fighter. He doesn’t get pigeon-holed into a stereotype like you find with some other pantheons (like the Greeks).

Plus, you know, thunder and lightning and giant hammers.

You guys already know that I like Thor–I posted a few months back about his role in Shards. Thor’s the only non-Biblical mythology person who’s physically present in the book (others–Athena, Brigid, Osiris–are just mentioned), so that probably says something.

I am biased toward my own Thor, of course, but my next favorite Thor is definitely the Chris Hemsworth version. And I’m not just saying that because the movies are really pretty. (And so is he.) I admittedly have never read the comic books, so I don’t know how accurate the movies are re: the comic books, nor how accurate the comic books are re: the mythology. I just…I don’t know. I think the casting for the movies is amazing.

How about you, Squiders? Does the God of Thunder tickle your fancy? (Or do you prefer some other flavor of Norse deity?) What’s your favorite Thor? And, be honest, how excited are you to see (or have seen, if you live in a country where the movie is already out) Thor 2?

Genetic Mythology

This is probably not really a thing, but have you ever found that you’ve taken to something from your ethnic background like a fish takes to water? For example, in spring of 2010 my husband and I took a lovely trip to Germany, Denmark, and Austria. And I found German, as a language, really easy to pick up, to the point where I could carry on basic conversations on a number of topics despite never having learned or spoken any German before in my life.

(And then we came home and I forgot it all.)

It may be that because English and German are directly related that German is, in general, an easy language for English-speakers to pick up. I am certainly not naturally attuned to pick up other languages–I took six years of Spanish in middle and high school and still failed the AP Spanish test the first time I took it.

Sometimes, when I feel the need to make my head hurt, I sit around and ponder things like nationality and ethnicity. Like, how long do you have to live in a country before you become a whatever-ian? Why do we in America insist on labels like Irish-American or Japanese-American instead of just “American”? How much of ethnic diversity is real as opposed to imagined?

(That last one could probably be answered by someone who understands genetics, but biology has never really been a strong subject for me.)

I, like many of us, I suspect, am a conglomeration of many different ethnicities. Starting from highest percentage, I am Scottish, German, English, Dutch, and Danish. (And possibly a little Irish. That branch of the family were horse thieves and didn’t leave clear genealogical records.) And sometimes I feel like I should be better in touch with my…ethnicity, I guess? Like I should better understand the cultures that I came from.

(This is also where I get bogged down in the above questions. For example, a subset of my Scottish ancestors came across with William the Conqueror from Normandy, which was settled by Vikings at some point before that, so do those ancestors truly count as Scottish if their ancestors came from Scandinavia?)

And we talked about mythology a lot here, Squiders, but I feel bad because I’ve never spent a lot of time delving into Celtic or Anglo-Saxon mythology (aside from, say, Arthurian mythology which probably counts to some degree, though it gets commandeered later by–RIGHT, staying on topic). And shouldn’t I, at some point? Shouldn’t I know what my ancestors believed in, especially since I’ve spent so much time researching other mythologies?

It may be because I’m a fantasy author and I like such things, but it almost seems like those mythologies are my birthright.

Stealing Mythology

Oh, Squiders, I love mythology. You guys know that. My friends know that. My family knows that. My husband definitely knows that because every time we go anywhere I come home with new folklore books.

As a writer, mythologies never fail to twitch my “ooh” button. You know, the one that seeps under your skin and lies in wait, slowly perfecting story ideas for you.  The one that gets into your head and won’t leave you alone until you do something with it. That one.

But, and maybe this is just me, I feel like I can’t appropriate other people’s mythologies. Especially not mythologies that come from Native American, African, or Polynesian people. I love their mythologies. There’s some really cool stuff in there. But, as a white person, I feel like they’ve suffered enough crap over the years without me running off with their gods and manipulating them as I see fit.

Now, Shards, out in December, is a mix of mythologies, but I feel like I can lay claim to the mythologies used through my religious and ethnic backgrounds. (Shards is mostly Biblical mythology with some Norse, Greek and Celtic mixed in for extra snazziness.) I am admittedly not Greek in any way but I don’t really feel bad about running off with it, maybe because it’s a European mythology and, besides, many many other people have stomped all over it before me.

Let’s take Hawaiian mythology, though. I love it to death. I have books and books of the folklore. There’s so much potential there, but I feel like I can’t go anywhere near it, like if I give it a try, the Hawaiian people as a collective are going to be like, “Who’s this white chick from the mainland to be messing with our stuff?”

I mean, I don’t know if people actually get insulted when authors twist mythologies for their stories. It probably depends on the culture. Or the person. But this is something I worry about.

(Oddly enough, Central and South American mythologies don’t seem to have the same mental block for me, despite the fact that the White Men were just as oppressive there as anywhere else. It may be because a lot of–though, admittedly, not the most interesting stuff–the stuff I’ve seen has been beliefs that have become a mixture of the original native culture and the invading culture.)

What do you think, Squiders? Does there come a point in my career where it’s more okay than others to steal other cultures’ mythology? Am I blocking myself out of potentially really awesome stories for nothing?

Working With Mythology When No One Agrees On Anything: Angel Mythology

How’s that for a mouthful of a title? I’m rather proud of it.

So, my book Shards, coming out in December, has a lot of mythology mixed into it. The main mythology is Biblical, specifically relating to angels, so I got to do a whole bunch of research before I started my initial draft.

Here’s the thing about mythology. It’s super interesting but nothing is set in stone. You can very rarely make any sort of absolutes, because someone out there has found some version of a myth where what you were thinking is absolutely true is not true. That’s even true if you look at Arthurian legend, which, in the great scheme of mythology, isn’t very old. Morgan le Fay is Arthur’s sister. No, she’s not. She’s a sorceress. She’s not. Etc., etc., et al.

Angel mythology is especially non-cohesive because of the many different types of people who believe in angels. Besides Christians, Jews, and Muslims, you have people who are not religious at all, people who think of them as some sort of nature spirits, even people who see them as some sort of cosmic energy manifest.

And even if you stick within a single belief system, the mythology varies between time periods and subgroups.

I think perhaps the most telling of how insane angel mythology can get is the Archangels vs archangels madness. You see, there’s a hierarchy of angels (well, several, depending on who you’re talking to, which really just proves my point), and one of the tiers is “archangel.” Yet the Archangels–Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, etc. (more on this in a moment)–don’t belong to the archangel choir. Generally, Michael and Gabriel are considered to be Seraphim, which is the highest angelic order. (There’s more leeway with Raphael, but he’s generally portrayed as at least a Throne.) It’s like somewhere along the way whomever was in charge of sticking angels in the hierarchy felt like the angels that actually dealt with humans needed to be bumped up a few notches.

And the Archangels themselves–there seems to be no agreement on how many there are, though it does seem to be split between four and seven. And there’s about 20 different angels that fit into that four/seven depending on who you ask, which names such as Chamuel, Zadkiel, Jophiel, Jeremiel, Salathiel, Phaltiel…you get the point.

And various angels, such as Sammael or Azrael, have positive or negative connotations based on who you talk to as well.

If you try to make everything agree with everything else, you’re going to have a major headache.

So, what do you do when your mythology is all over the place? You pick what works for the story at hand, and you run with it.

And then you save the rest for other stories later on.

What’s your favorite mythologies, Squiders? What discrepancies have you noticed within them?