Saturday, November 10, 2012

Family of the Gods: Volume 7 of Indo-European Mythology

Book Review: Family of the Gods: Volume 7 of Indo-European Mythology by William G Davey – (Kindle E-book edition 2006)

Apparently, this is only available in an edition for Kindle. This is the last book in the series and presumably the one that puts everything together into final conclusions. The main mythic traditions compared are Indian, Irish/Celtic, Greek, Welsh & Arthurian, Norse/Germanic, Persian, Roman, and occasionally Baltic. The main points of comparison are names and stories, and there are some fascinating and compelling comparisons. The book is annoyingly repetitive at times with word for word re-hashing but perhaps it helps one remember. The title, “Family of the Gods” refers to the author(s)’s (he says we a lot) classifying the gods of various Indo-European traditions into six or seven main types, or perhaps archetypes, in the context of family relations. There is nothing in this book about the nature of myth and religion. It is mainly the comparison of names and stories, and the derivation of these types from them. There was vaguely even a mention of other IE researcher’s work, such as Dumuzil, or anyone else for that matter. The book was detailed and interesting but with the only goal, it would seem, being the deciphering of some original IE story from which all the other myths were derived. I am not so sure that is the best way to go about things as this makes for quite a bit of inference even though the comparisons can be interesting. It seems more likely to me that the various myths, stories, and even names, changed and evolved in various ways through time and circumstances – rather than having all originated from a single set of stories more or less set in time, which the author seems to suggest. On the other hand, some of the story and especially the name parallels suggest a common origin at some point.

It is suggested that the family of the gods involves seven members of six generations. The most complete set of all six is found in Indian tradition. Various genealogies, or histories of kings, of Indo-European peoples, are a major source of information, especially where they link and define various generations.  They call these seven members of the six generations as follows: 1) Brahma, 2) Sons of Brahma, 3) the Kings of the Gods, 4) the Magus, 5) the Warrior, 6) the Hero, and 7) the Last of the Gods.

Brahma is equated to the Irish Braiment and also possibly to Abraham (as I have read before but there are good arguments against this). Norse giant Ymir, Irish Umor, the Indian Bhuri, Norse Buri and son Bor, and Greek Boreas (the North Wind). These are all related as Fathers of the Gods and of others in the family linked as offspring. Indian Varuna and Greek Uranos, long linked by IE scholars, and Indian Pushan. Pushan, like Thor, rode in a goat-drawn chariot. But they equate Thor to a later generation. The authors suggest Brahma as the original leader of the clan that came to dwell in a new land. This is one parallel to Abraham as founder of a new nation in a new land. He suggests that this new place they entered was in the vicinity of Ukraine. Brahma is given with two wives, Gayatri and Savitri, both related to the sun – as Pushan is married to Suryaa, also as the sun. Another name of the wife of Brahma is Medhavini which the author equates to the Welsh (usually thought to be male) ancestor Mathonwy. The story of the “mind-born” sons of Brahma is interpreted as these sons of Brahma and his wives (and possibly sister) went off and mated with the local indigenous people. Gayatri as wife of Brahma is equated to Gaia as wife of Uranus. They equate the sacrifice of Ymir with that of Brahma – as the Purusha-Sukta (cosmic person) in the Rig Veda. Ymir’s skull as the sky and the crown of Purusha’s head as the sky – their flesh as earth, their bones as stones, and their blood as the sea are all direct parallels. In name and attributes there is the similarity to Indian Yama and the Persian Yima (very close to Ymir) but these are not mentioned or even explained away, but are given to a subsequent generation. The sacrifice of Uranus is also given as the same story and as previously noted by others, the rising from the ocean of Aphrodite and Lakshmi after this sacrifice is a parallel. Brahma, often called grandfather, is the great granter of boons to all who show determination.  

The second generation involves the sons of Brahma and he says this generation is only complete in the Indian version. In Irish this is given as Math son of Umor and in Norse as Mada son of Ymir. Apparently there is an Indian Mada as well. Two of the sons of Brahma are Uttanapada and Priyavrata. Uttanapada is the father of Dhruva, a name for Indra. This whole ‘generation’ is rather confusing to me but there are some interesting name comparisons. Math is the uncle of Gwydion in Welsh as the Indian Mada (as Priyavrata) may be the uncle of Gadhin, another name for Indra according to the author. Indra is also called Kashyapa. Another comparison given is that of the Vedic sage and family called Bhrigu and the Norse lord of poetry called Bragi. Bhrigu is a son of Varuna, equated here to Brahma.

The third generation refers to Indra as the King of the Gods. Indra is also Gadhin which is close to Welsh Gwydion and Norse Gwoden (Woden, Odin). Another Indian name is Partha which equates to Irish Partholon, and Indian Jayapida which equates to Greek Iapetus and Roman Jupiter. Another name given for Indra is Vritraghna (killer of the drought-demon Vritra) which is equated to Welsh Vortigern. Indra as Kashyapa is possibly equivalent to the Greek muse Cassiopeia. His wife is given as Danu in Irish, Don in Welsh, Don or Dana in Nordic, as well as in the names of the great rivers such as the Don in Southern Russia. She is also the mother of the Danes, Danae – the Greek mother of Perseus, the female Danaids, and Danaus – the son of King Belus. Other names of her are given as the Indian Shakti, the Norse Skathi, the Irish Scota, Germanic Schoette, as well as Indian Arundhati and Welsh Arianrhod. The Indian city of Tripura is paralleled with the city of Troy as well as the Irish Tara and the war is equated with that of the Aesir and Vanir (given as Danava). Danu is called Goddess of the Danavas. The stories of all these kings of the gods and their wives are compared and suggested to have come from one original tale where the king kills his father – like Zeus kills Kronos and Indra as Dhruva does, and then usurps the throne as does Vortigern in Welsh myth – though the authors take out the Saxon elements of the story. In Welsh Gwydion kills Pryderi as the Indian Gadhin kills Prahrada. Welsh Pryderi is equated to Peredur, Percival, and Parzival in Arthurian cycles. The Irish Partholon loses an eye which also identifies him with Gwoden/Odin. Both Partholon and Gwoden take their people to new lands. Gwoden deludes King Gylfi and takes his land possibly similar to Welsh Gwydion who would delude his brother Gilvaethwy, whose name has some resemblance to Gylfi. This trickery was done through magic as Gwoden/Indra/Gwydion was a wizard.  Another role of the king of the gods is as priest – Brihaspati, Gadhin, or the creator Kashyapa in Indian. Descendants of prominent families in India can be appended the name Kashyapa (presumably Kashyapi for female). The Greek Cassiopeia is a descendant of Zeus and Hermes so they suggest this as the application for her name. In the Troy story Paris is identified with the Indian Parashurama. As has many times been pointed out, the Norse Aesir and the Indian Asura demons are equated. The Vanir are equated with the Indian Devas, or Danava, as well as the Irish Tuatha de Danaan, the children of the goddess Danu. The Indian Kashyapa is apparently the father of Danu and the Danavas. In Welsh, Don is the mother of Gwydion. Thus, Danu is considered the ‘Mother of the Gods.’ There is also the story of “The Fisher Maiden’ in Indian legend where King Uparicara (possibly equated to Indra as King of the Gods) mates with a woman of a fishing village while traveling. The fisher maiden is equated to Danu as a river goddess – as in the river names of eastern Europe north of the Black Sea – Danube, Don, Dneister, Dneipr. In the Irish story of the sons of Mil – there is the story of Scota, whose son was Gaedil. He was bitten by a serpent when a child and taken to Moses to be healed. After this he became known as Gaedil Glas, or Gaedil the Blue – because his neck had turned blue or blue-green due to the poison. This is a rather uncanny parallel to the story of Shiva whose neck turned blue after drinking the poison (at the request of the gods) churned up from the Milk Ocean. In the German version of Parzival – he is also Gandin and is married to Schoette. This is paralleled in the Indian Gadhin and Shakti. The German parents had a son called Gahmuret while the Indian parents had a son named Garutmat. The King of the Gods kills his father in Indian (Indra) and Irish (Partholon). After the long war between Aesir and Vanir/Troy/Tripura/Tara and the woman Helen, the Vanir witch Gillveig (Freya?), etc, there is a truce where hostages are traded in a ceremony of reconciliation. This truce is given as the “Churning of the Ocean” by the Asuras and Devas in Indian myth where they cooperate in order to share the sacred drink Soma (Mead of Inspiration?). The hostage trading is given in Indian myth as the marrying of the fisher maiden, daughter of the Fisher King and admitting the Fisher King’s son into the court. Of the several versions of the origins of Soma one says that it was stolen by Indra from the Gandharvas (which btw Dumuzil identifies with the Greek Centaurs) just as Odin stole the Mead of Inspiration. In both the Indian and Norse versions there is an eagle (or  a shapeshifting to eagle-form) involved in the protection of the soma/mead. The King of the Gods was known as a womanizer – ie. Zeus, Indra, Odin. Both Odin and Indra are lords of the furious host – Maruts or the Furious Army of the Wild Hunt. Another name of Indra, Arkas, is equated to the Greek Argus. Some genealogy charts are given for these rather confusing parallels.

The next generation is given as that of The Magus, the son of the King of the Gods. He is given as Indian – Vishwamitra, Devapi, Yama, Garuda, Balin, Virata, Mardana (equated to Myrrdin), Manasa, and Parameshthin. Welsh/Arthurian is given as Balin, Belinos, Bladud as well as Merlin/Myrddin. There are many more of these including Persian Yima and Jamshid, Norse Balder, Heimdall, Frey and in Irish the sons of Partholon and Cathbad the Druid. Others are Hephaestus, Volund (both smiths) and Prometheus. He is the son of the Fisher Maiden, thus the fish names of the male-female twins Yima and Yama (Persian Yima and Yimak). He is often in myth the boy of an unknown father. Merlin also has a twin sister/mate as does Frey-Freya. The Magus also had a brother or two that figure in. In name the Indian Garuda is equated to the Norse Geirrodr. The Magus eventually becomes a priest in the Indian version. He is somehow unable to rule as king – due possibly to a wounding (like the Irish king Nuada). The Magus raises the one to become hero – Arthur/Rama. The Indian Vishwamitra is mentor to Rama as Merlin is to Arthur. The Magus is also considered to be the founder of the classes, or castes. In one Indian version this is Bali, or Balin. In others it is Yama or Vishwamitra. In Persian it is Jamshid (a version of Yima). In Norse it is Heimdall, a son of Odin, also called Rig. The crippled Arthurian Fisher King is another version of the Magus. As Indian Yama and Greek Minos – he is a judge of the dead. The Indian wife Kalini is equated to a Greek wife of Prometheus, Calaeno. The Irish “physician of the gods”, Diancecht (who replaces Nuada’s arm with a silver one) is suggested as similar at least in beginning part of name with Indian Dhanvantari, another physician of the gods. The Norse story of Tyr, who also loses an arm, is similar but his arm is not replaced. Merlin is imprisoned inside a rock. Prometheus is chained to a rock. The Indian Balin is also imprisoned as is the Norse Volund. The Arthurian Balin was killed by his brother Balan while the Indian Balin was also killed by a plot of his brother, Sugriva, by Rama, with an arrow. Arthur kills Merlin while he is in a battle with his brother Uther. The Norse Balder is killed by his brother Hotherus (Hoder) with the help of Loki, also with an arrow. Uther and Hotherus are equated. In Persian Yima is killed by his brother when sawed in two while hiding in a tree. In Baltic myth there is Menes who is cut in two. Author notes the similarity of Menes and Minos. More name comparisons and genealogies are given in charts.

The next generation is that of the Warrior. The Warrior is the brother of the Magus. He is Norse Thor, Hotherus, and Agnar, He is Indian Agni, Shiva (Atalas, Haraka), Sugriva. Arthurian – Uther. Irish Rudraige, son of Partholon – Rudraide is compared to Rudra. He is also the blue-throated Gaedil Glas in Irish – equated to Shiva. In Greek he is Herakles, Peleus and Atlas. Herakles and Atlas are compared to the Indian Harakas and Atalas.  In Norse the brothers Geiroddr and Agnar are similar to the Indian Garuda and Agni. The author mentions that many of these original stories have much in the way of bardic embellishments. He also notes several times that often the Norse aspects of the stories are fragmented and sometimes reversed – which may mean they had an earlier split or they were mixed more with other local stories. The Greek Peleus, the brother of Telemon, companion of Herakles, is compared to a name of Shiva, as Pulastya. There are some parallels in their stories as well. In the Rig Veda there is the story of King Shantanu and his priest brother Devapi. King Shantanu is equated to Shiva. Shiva destroyed Tripura as Herakles destroyed Troy. Thor’s killing of Geiroddr (as Agnar) is compared to Hother’s killing of Balder – so that Thor, Hother, and Agnar are all given as forms of the Warrior. Several stories of Thor are given. In one he keeps a whetstone embedded in his flesh that occasionally stirs which recalls an Irish story where a piece of a ball of brains mixed with lime (a gruesome heavy projectile ball weapon) was embedded in a warrior’s flesh. Thor attempts to drink the ocean as does the Indian Agastya. A common parallel is the thunderbolts of Thor and Indra, though Indra would be of the previous generation in this analysis. It is the son of Shiva, Skanda who destroys Tripura, the second time. Both Tripura and Troy were destroyed twice. In Greek the 1st destruction is by Herakles, Shiva in Indian. The 2nd is by Achilles in Greek, Skanda, Achalas, Vishnu in Indian. Achilles is the invincible warrior as is King Shantanu (as his own son).

The fifth generation is called the Hero. He was the son of the Warrior and the foster-son of the Magus. He is Arthur, Rama (Vishnu), Achilles, Skanda, Irish CuChulain, Norse Loki, Indian Uttara, and Persian Rustum. The birth name of Cuchulain is Setanta which matches the Indian Sutantu. Norse Loki is compared to Indian Lokayana. The story of the birth of Arthur is told where Uther is changed by magic by Merlin to appear as the Duke Gorlois so as to seduce his wife. Gorlois is equated to the Indian Garula, a name of Vishwamitra. Cuchulain had a similar conceiving as the son of Lugh (equated to Shiva as Laghu). Bhishma is an Indian name for this mighty invincible warrior – Achilles/CuChulain. Krishna also may be compared as he is said to have died from a wound to his heal. The story of Rama is recounted and compared to the others on certain points. The story of Cuchulain unknowingly killing his son is nearly an exact parallel (barring details) to that of the Persian Rustum. The same may be true of Arthur and Mordred. I have also heard of a very near southern Germanic or Anglo-Saxon version. Loki is compared to the Indian Narada in temperament and trickster/malicious character. Narada can be seen as a human form of Vishnu. Another name of Vishnu is Lokayoni. Narada was also, like the Greek Hermes, a messenger between realms. Stories are given favorably comparing Narada to Loki. Shiva as Uttaraka is compared to Hother/Uther. The story of the killing of Balder/Balin with the help of Loki (Rama – like Narada an aspect of Vishnu). Uttara and Arthur are also compared phonetically. A few other parallels of the Hero are his upbringing as a woman, being hidden away and his death by multiple arrows in the case of Rustum and Krishna, or a single arrow in the case of Achilles.

The final generation is called ‘The Last of the Gods’. Here we have, as nephew to the Hero, the Greek Perseus, the Indian Parashu Rama, who is Krishna, the Trojan Paris, and the Arthurian Mordred. Perseus and Parashu Rama apparently behead a woman with a sickle. Parashurama is called “Rama with an axe” but the axe may be a curved knife, or sickle. Medusa may parallel Indian Medhasa. The author does mention that he thinks the life of Krishna and Parashu Rama is not part of original IE myth but is later Indian. Apparently there are no Norse versions of this generation. A parallel of the stories of Perseus and Krishna is a prophecy that he will kill an elder relative, either father or uncle. In the Greek both mother and child are cast in the sea and rescued while in the Arthurian version Mordred is cast into the sea and then rescued.

Quite a bit of comparison of stories went into this book and the comparisons seem to vary in plausibility. The idea that the stories of Indo-European gods derive from original stories is plausible but piecing together the originals from all the mythological variations and later additions, conflagrations, and mixing togethers – seems a rather daunting task. This is a very good attempt but is by no means unchallengeable. My own thoughts are that the gods are more important as archetypes, as symbolic depictions of our own human qualities – that are constantly changing and evolving , rather than as original stories of historical people. It seems quite plausible that they started out that way but that they took on lives of their own, mythic lives in our own psyches, and there their power remains as psychological or psycho-spiritual forces of our being. Decent read though – if you are into this sort of thing.





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