Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Turul Bird: an Addendum to My Bird Myth Posts

Turul, Hungarian mythological bird above the
Habsburg Steps overlooking the Royal Palace
 of Buda, by Peter Brown, in
(Creative Commons
       I recently learned about another giant mythical bird and I don't want to omit it from my register!
       I was reading a couple of books with characters descended from the Huns (Erika M. Szabo's pair of novels in the Guarded Secrets series, currently undergoing revision) and the Turul bird is mentioned.  It's a feature of  Hungarian mythology.
       According to Wikipedia (Turul), the word Turul probably has a Turkic origin (togrıl or turgul), meaning a medium to large bird of prey such as a Goshawk or Red Kite.  In Hungarian three different ancient words are used to describe different kinds of falcons, one of which is turul.
       In Magyar myth of the 9th century (which like most early myths were written down at a much later date), Emese was impregnated (either actually or in a dream) by a Turul bird and a stream of water came from her womb, signifying that her son, Almos, would be the founder of a glorious lineage for the Magyar people, which would spread out over the land like a great stream.
      The Turul bird itself was reputed to sit in the Tree of Life. I'm quoting from Wikipedia (Hungarian mythology) here:
"In Hungarian myth, the world is divided into three spheres: the first is the Upper World (Felső világ), the home of the gods; the second is the Middle World (Középső világ) or world we know, and finally the underworld (Alsó világ). In the center of the world stands a tall tree: the World Tree / Tree of Life (Világfa/Életfa). Its foliage is the Upper World, and the Turul bird dwells on top of it. The Middle World is located at its trunk and the underworld is around its roots. In some stories, the tree has fruit: the golden apples."
       If you've been reading my Hercules posts, you know that the idea of a tree bearing golden apples occurs in the myths of many cultures, as does the Tree of Life or World Tree concept.
       In the article on Turul, Wikipedia states that the Turul became a symbol of power, strength, and nobility and is often portrayed with a sword in its talons. Its image is still used today on the coats of arms of various Hungarian governmental agencies.
     Here are  other URLs leading to concise restatements of the myths:
       However, not everybody in Hungary likes the Turul bird and what it has occasionally been used to symbolize; for that aspect see

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Life of Hercules: A Digression into the Underworld

Fourth of a series. Here are the earlier posts:

Map of the Classical Underworld
Click for larger view
       I want to preface this post with a bit about the springs that Ki'shto'ba and Bu'gan'zei drink from before the Underworld opens to them.  I call them the Pool of Oblivion and the Pool of Memory.  If the supplicant wishes to continue on his quest and come back alive, he must drink from the Pool of Memory.  This episode relates to certain events contained in the mysteries of Orphism.  Here is a quotation from Wikipedia on this subject:  "When the deceased arrives in the underworld, he is ex-pected to confront obstacles. He must take care not to drink of Lethe ('Forgetfulness'), but of the pool of Mnemosyne ('Memory'). He is provided with formulaic expressions with which to present himself to the guardians of the afterlife.  I am a son of Earth and starry sky. I am parched with thirst and am dying; but quickly grant me cold water from the Lake of Memory to drink."
I was also influenced by Robert Graves' poem on this topic (entitled "Instructions to the Orphic Adept").  Here is an excerpt:

After your passage through Hell’s seven floods,
Whose fumes of sulphur will have parched your throat,
The Halls of Judgement shall loom up before you,
A miracle of jasper and of onyx.
To the left hand there bubbles a black spring
Overshadowed with a great white cypress.
Avoid this spring, which is Forgetfulness;
Though all the common rout rush down to drink,
Avoid this spring!
To the right hand there lies a secret pool
Alive with speckled trout and fish of gold;
A hazel overshadows it.  Ophion,
Primaeval serpent straggling in the branches,
Darts out his tongue.  This holy pool is fed
By dripping water; guardians stand before it.
Run to this pool, the pool of Memory,
Run to this pool!
       I also employ certain elements of the Eleusinian Mysteries.  These rites celebrate the familiar Persephone and Demeter myth, and Wikipedia states the following: "Since the Mysteries involved visions and conjuring of an afterlife, some scholars believe that the power and longevity of the Eleusinian Mysteries came from psychedelic agents."  Obviously, in my termite culture the Seers of the plains Shshi utilize a hallucinogenic fungus, while other species use different plant matter or even the secretion of a gland in a sandworm (shades of Dune! -- quite deliberate, I assure you!)  However, the Southern Shshi all use the effluences of volcanic springs to stimulate visions (I took this from the Delphic Oracle, where the Pythia sat over a volcanic vent on a tripod -- watch for something like this in Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear).
       The other element of the Eleusinian Mysteries that I made use of involved the eating of food in the World Beneath.  It is a well-known part of the Persephone myth: "It was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Before Persephone was released to Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds (six or four according to the telling), which forced her to return to the underworld for some months each year." 
       While I'm supposed to be writing about the life of Heracles here, the fact is that Ki'shto'ba's katabasis doesn't have much to do with Heracles' experiences. Heracles meets Meleager in the World Beneath, and that hero appears only later in my series. However, all heroes who engage in such descents meet other deceased heroes there, and Ki'shto'ba is no exception.  Ki'shto'ba's travail incorporates some of Odysseus' experiences in the Underworld.  Odysseus went to seek out the dead Seer Teiresias and learn what fate awaited him in Ithaca, and while he was in Hades' realm, he encountered the ghosts of former comrades, as does Aeneas. For a neat overview of who meets whom, see Map of the Underworld
       In my version, it is Hector whom Ki'shto'ba meets first: Viz'ka'cha Bright-Head, from The War of the Stolen Mother, wandering among the gibbering shades on the outer banks of the Styx.  Other characters weren't so lucky -- you'll recognize Sisyphus and his boulder. A Prometheus stand-in appears also, bound on a cliff with his liver being eaten by a scavenger bird.  In Earth myths, this didn't happen in the Underworld, but some stories state that Heracles freed Prometheus.  If you want to know whether Ki'shto'ba freed my version of Prometheus, you'll have to read the book!
       You can't have a visit to the Underworld without encountering Charon, the ferryman who transports souls over the river Styx.  I confess to being influenced by Michael Hurst's comic rendition of Charon in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.  I think you'll find Fet'rai'zei the Raft Poler equally amusing in Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear.

       How do I adapt Hades himself?  How else but as one of the Highest Mother's Kings who began to bore her and so was set as King over the Dead?  He bears the knobbed horns that I have conferred on all beings suspected of being associated with the nether realms (see the black demon Warrior Sho'choi'ji'ka in The Valley of Thorns).  He also has a helmet of invisibility, although in this case it's a basket that he flops over his head when he wants to disappear.  Re this helmet, I first learned about it from Xena, but now I find in the Wikipedia article on the subject that attributing this to Hades was a later addition.  However, it makes a great story point!

       Many heroes have a guide who conducts them through the Underworld.  Aeneas has the Cumaean Sybil and Hercules meets Teiresias.  I used Teiresias, whom the reader has already encountered in v.1, but I also added Orpheus in that role.  Orpheus's story will  be discussed in a later post. 

Gustave Dore's Rendition of Lake Cocytus in Dante
       There is one other great descent: that of Dante in that poet's Inferno.  Vergil, who wrote the Aeneid, is Dante's guide.  So, did I use any elements from the Inferno in my adaptation?  You bet!  I won't talk about that much, but I will quote a passage from the Dorothy Sayers translation.  This is from Canto XXII, lines 124-129, laid in the 9th Circle of Hell, where the traitors are imprisoned in the frozen lake Cocytus.  We see the punishment of Count Ugolino and Archbishop Ruggieri, who mutually betrayed each other:

"And when we'd left him, in that icy bed,
I saw two frozen together in one hole
So that the one head capped the other head;

And as starved men tear bread, this tore the poll
Of the one beneath, chewing with ravenous jaw,
Where brain meets marrow, just beneath the skull."

       This horrific image has stuck with me down through the years, ever since I first read Dante at age 20.  If you want to know who suffers a similar fate in Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear, you'll have to read the book.

       Now, being the rationalistic creature that I am, and having endowed some of my characters with similar skeptical qualities (namely, Di'fa'kro'mi, Wei'tu, and Za'dut), I have to say that what happens to Ki'shto'ba and Bu'gan'zei after they drink from the Pool of Memory could be just a "bir'zha|" dream -- a hallucination induced by the properties of the water.  After all, they never saw an entrance open up into the Place Beneath -- they were simply transported into it.  The characters argue this matter at some length.  However, both Ki'shto'ba and Bu'gan'zei stoutly maintain that they really journeyed through Mik Na'wei'tei'zi (the Place of No Seeing) and we modern scientific types will just have suspend our disbelief and enjoy the adventures and all that they imply ...