Posts Tagged ‘mythology’

I’ve been regaling you with tales of the sirrush, a dragon of Babylonian lore. Unlike many dragon tales, the sirrush dwells in a zone of intersection between history and legend. Documents exist from the era that can confirm or deny details about this dragon. One of these is a text from the Book of Daniel.

Daniel, of course, is a famous Biblical prophet. His mission was to throw down idols and expose what, to him, were false gods. Since Babylon was the world’s great power of the time, Daniel went after their pantheon.

In those days, priests of the god Baal housed a sirrush in one of their temples. They worshiped the dragon, believing this was their god personified on Earth. Upon seeing the sirrush, Daniel declared this was nothing but a beast. The priests of Baal were insulted. They challenged him to prove his words. Daniel baked barley cakes, but secretly poisoned them with pitch, hair and tar. When these were fed to the sirrush, it caused the creature to swell up and burst!

Naturally, the priests were even more furious. They demanded justice from their king. This led to Daniel’s stint in the den of lions, from which the prophet miraculously emerged unharmed. The king was suitably impressed that Daniel’s god had protected him. He had the priests of Baal thrown into the lion’s den instead, where they were instantly killed.

A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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King Nebuchadnezzar II ruled the Babylonian Empire between 634 and 562 B.C.E. As his conquests mounted, he wanted to secure his capital and inspire awe at the same time. To do this, he build a wall around Babylon that supposedly was wide enough to race chariots on top. Visitors to the city had to pass through one of several magnificent gates.

The most famous of these is the Ishtar Gate. Excavated in 1904, it holds reliefs of several animals representing gods in the Babylonian pantheon. There are lions representing Ishtar (goddess of love), bulls representing Adad (god of storms), and the chief god, Marduk, represented by a strange creature called the sirrush.

Sirrush, also translated as mushhshushu or muhushu, is often referred to as a dragon, but that could be because nobody knew what else to call it. Like many mythological creatures, it is a hybrid beast combining a serpent’s head with forked tongue, either horns or a curled crest, a long neck, scaly body, fore paws of a lion, hind legs of an eagle, and a long tail held upright behind it.

Because the other creatures on the Ishtar Gate are realistic depictions of living animals, some scientists have suggested that the sirrush also represented an actual animal known to the Babylonians. It’s hard to imagine what that might be! However, a giraffe has been put forward as one possible model for the sirrush. They do have long necks and horns. From a distance, the giraffe’s markings might look like scales. While giraffes are not native to Mesopotamia, an empire such ad Babylon could have imported strange creatures from outside the region.

Another idea is that Babylonian scientists had discovered fossil bones and were trying to make sense of them. Either dinosaur bones or bones of a giant mammal like Paraceratherium, from Asia, could have accounted for the legends.

Join me on Wednesday for a Biblical tale of the sirrush.

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Of all Egypt’s reptilian gods, the biggest and baddest was definitely Apep, a. k. a. Apophis. This primordial serpent god was a force of chaos without redeeming feature. The other two I’ve mentioned, Wadjet and Sobek, may have been dangerous but they were still firmly established with the “light” pantheon headed by the sun god, Ra. Apep ruled the “dark” pantheon, forces of chaos and destruction that sought to overthrown Egyptian society and traditions. As such, he was Ra’s natural enemy.

A chaos serpent had existed in Egyptian mythology from the earliest times, although actual reference to Apep by name starts around the time of the pyramids. He was depicted as a gigantic golden snake, 16 yards long (14.6 meters). Unlike Egypt’s other gods, he never had a human form. Apep was believed to live in Duat, the underworld. His restless movements caused earthquakes. When he ventured into the upper world, he would surely be confronted by Ra’s allies. Their battles were thought to create violent storms.

Egyption lore told that Ra traveled through the heavens each day in a golden barge. However, each night, he had to pass through Duat before he could reach the eastern horizon. Once Ra ventured into Apep’s domain, he was prey for the mighty serpent. In various tales, Apep tried to stun Ra and his companions with his terrible gaze. Or he might try to swallow the entire barge! Fortunately, Ra knew of the danger. He had an entourage of deities along for the trek through Duat, including another chaos god, Set, who was said to defeat Apep and ensure Ra’s escape from the underworld.

Clearly, Apep was not a god to be worshipped, but one to be warded off by any means necessary. Surviving papyrus and carvings include spells or curses to defeat the evil god. Small drawings or models might be made so that they could be stepped on, crushed, spat on, chained,  or stabbed with spears and knives. Apep’s power was so dreaded that it was believed dangerous to keep these for any length of time.

The only public celebration known to be associated with Apep had a similar purpose. Each year, giant snake replicas would be constructed. Through spells, all the evil in the world was imbued into these images — and then they were set on fire. Symbolically, this was to purify Egypt of Apep’s wicked influence for another year.


Just a few of my books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Another prominent serpent god of Ancient Egypt was Wadjet. Initially the patron goddess of Dep (modern day Desouk), Wadjet took the form of a cobra, or a woman with a cobra’s head. She was known as the Green One, as in the green of papyrus where cobras naturally lurked. In her early incarnations, she was depicted as a serpent coiled around a stalk of papyrus. Later, both kings and deities were shown with Wadjet coiled around their heads and reared back in threat.

Initially, Wadjet was a symbol of rulership in Lower Egypt — that is, the Nile Delta closest to the Mediterranean Sea. Her image was prominent on the Red Crown, or deshret, worn by early rulers. Perhaps due to the cobra’s lethal venom, Wadjet was believe to protect against evil. Women also prayed for her protection during childbirth.

When Egypt because unified into the form we now recognize, the Red Crown was joined with the White Crown, or hedjet, of Upper Egypt. This formed the the Double Crown, or pschent. Wadjet moved over to make room for Nekhbet, the vulture goddess who symbolized Upper Egypt. Together, these Two Ladies made up a symbol called the uraeus and were the traditional symbol of pharaonic rule.

As a protective goddess, Wadjet naturally became associated with the pantheon of Re, the Sun God. Her allies included Re, Hathor and Bast. She maintained her place as a guardian of Egypt throughout its long history.

Interestingly, Wadjet’s main festival, the Going Forth of Wadjet, took place on December 25th. Perhaps we’re all lucky her cult faded with the centuries, or we might have to sing about Christmas cobras instead of those cute flying reindeer!


Just a few of my books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

Read Full Post »

The ancient civilization of Egypt has long fascinated with its stunning monuments and the lure of treasure-filled tombs. One of the culture’s most striking features was the animal-headed deities of its traditional religion. Although their mythology did not include dragons as such, there were several reptilian deities among the pantheon.

Perhaps the most recognizable of these is Sobek, the river god. Sobek (also translated as Sebek, Sobk, Sochet and more) was depicted either as a crocodile or a man with a crocodile’s head. From the most ancient times, this deity embodied a cluster of traits centered on the river. He was the powerful flood, and the gift of fertility in its wake. Since a crocodile was one of the most lethal creatures known along the Nile, Sobek also represented Egypt’s military might and the pharaoh’s power.

Initially, Sobek’s cult was centered in the Shedet region (modern day Faiyum) near Lake Moeris, where crocodiles must have been common. A great deal of building around Shedet was devoted to Sobek. Another cult center was at Kom Obo, in southern Egypt.

The worshipers had no illusion about the god’s capacity for violence. Among his titles were “he of pointed teeth,” and “one who loves robbery.” When people prayed to Sobek, they were asking him to moderate the cruelty of the river and ward off disasters such as real-life crocodile attacks.

With the passing of ages, Sobek became incorporated into the central myth of Osiris, Isis and Horus. After Osiris’ brother Set murdered him and flung parts of his body around the delta, Sobek helped Isis find the pieces and restore Osiris. As an associate of the sky god, Horus, his ferocity was turned to protecting the innocent and warding off evil. This also underlined Sobek’s association with kingship. He remained prominent in the Egyptian pantheon until it was displaced by modern religions.


Just a few of my books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

Read Full Post »

If you’re like me, you grew up knowing of pythons as the biggest snakes in the zoo. Only recently did I learn that Python was actually a deity in Greek mythology.

The great serpent Python was a spirit of the underworld and servant of Gaia. He lived at her cult headquarters in Delphi. A stone called the omphalos represented Gaia’s bellybutton and was believed to be the center of the Earth. Python guarded both this sacred landmark and the famous oracle nearby. The priestess at the oracle was known as the Pythia in his honor.

After the rule of the titans gave way to that of the Olympian pantheon, Python got dragged into some of their drama. It seems Zeus had cheated on Hera and gotten Leto pregnant. Hera, who had strong ties to Gaia, commanded Python to pursue Leto across all the world so that she could never find a resting place to deliver her babies. Eventually Leto did give birth to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.

Having failed his mission, Python took up residence at Mount Parnassus. Some tales say that Hera again called on him when she needed a mentor to raise her monstrous son, Typhon.

Decades later, when Apollo had grown into his godhood, he came looking for payback. A long and fierce battle took place, ending in Python’s death. Apollo then buried his foe beneath the omphalos. Gaia’s temple was desecrated.

Zeus was displeased. He commanded Apollo to take over responsibility for the oracle. In addition, Apollo was to hold the Pythian Games every four years. These are believed to be a predecessor to the more famous Olympic Games.

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What do Hydra, Cerberus, Zeus, Hera, Tartarus and Gaia have in common? They are all connected to the most hideous monstrosity of all Greek legend — Typhon.

Lastborn of the primordial titan race, Typhon was a gigantic man with numerous… uh… extra features. Not only was he taller than mountains. Not only did he have a savage and lawless nature. No, Typhon had 100 snake heads growing from his shoulders, and each snake head had heat vision! Even more remarkable, each of the heads spoke some language of beast kind and they were all shrieking constantly. Roaring lions, howling wolves, bulls, elephants, eagles, you name it. Typhon existed in a vortex of the most horrendous noise imaginable, punctuated by fiery eye-beams.

How could such a being exist? As I mentioned, Typhon descended from the titans who ruled the Earth before Zeus overthrew them. Furious at his betrayal, Gaia conceived one last child with Tartarus, a titan who lived in the underworld and gave it his name. That child was Typhon.

However, another legend says that Hera was responsible for this terror. She was angry that Zeus had brought forth Athena all on his own, so she prayed to Gaia for a son as strong as Zeus. Her prayer was answered and she became pregnant. When Typhon was born she gave him to another mythic serpent, Python, to be raised.

A final version of the story combines these ideas. Gaia, in her anger, told Hera lies about Zeus. This caused Hera to seek aid from her father, Cronos, who gave her an egg smeared with his own semen and told her to bury it in the earth. Typhon supposedly hatched from the egg.

Whatever his origin, it was Typhon’s destiny to battle Zeus. He rose up to conquer the Earth and was making good progress until he reached Mount Olympus. Some legends say that he snuck into Olympus while Zeus was asleep and tried to murder him that way. Others say Zeus confronted Typhon’s challenge head on.

What a battle it was! For many days they fought, causing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes and tidal waves. Storm clouds blocked the sun, and Typhon’s 100 heads howled the whole time. Eventually, Zeus landed a hit with his thunderbolts that blew Typhon off Mount Olympus. The giant fell to earth and was imprisoned in Tartarus with the rest of the titans.

Incredible as it may seem, Typhon managed to find true love! His wife was Echidna, a half woman, half serpent descended from the primordial ocean god, Phorcys, and possibly also related to the dreaded Medusa. Among their numerous offspring were Cerberus, three-headed dog, and Hydra, the many-headed dragon.

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