Nordic Legends: The Three Norns

Yggdrasil, tree of life holds three of fate

The Norns, who spin the tragedy of hate.

Who three shall weave the tale of this man here

But who do they care for a mortal mere?

Down by Urd’s well they do abide to sow

The fabric that shall make our lives to bow.

The Vikings, they did hold with servitude

The porridge, giv’n to be the great Norn’s food

A gift, to bless a simple poor man’s life

And now thou sees how Vikings live in strife?

Yggdrasil, tree whose roots touch Jotunheim

The home for those that spin and weave all fame

Those roots that reach into our Middle Earth

And bring the fate of those who have no worth

Who mock the legend of those three good Norns

They who this tale do not give heed shall see

Their actions will reveal them to those three

You three good Norns, to punish them with thread

And leave them in their houses lying dead.

 

So great this tale doth spread thorough our heart

And even this although it’s taste is tart

This legend soon will be again spoken

To generations of our splendid kin.

The Folklore of Yakama: Native American Legends

In Washington State, there are many Native American tribes that still exist today; tribes that still honor time-worn legends passed down from father to son over generations. They tell tales of the Great Spirit, of the Great Chief Above, of the Coyote and Rattle-Snake Man. The Native Americans are revered as having a religion that is not just about their beliefs, it’s their way of life; ancient traditions from ages ago that honor nature.

Today, on their Indian reservations, they still tell tales of ancient people who changed life in their tribes, such as Old Man Rattlesnake or Chinook. A long time ago, there was a creator who put the salmon in the Great River. He gave a set of rules to the Yakama and Walla Walla tribes so that they would respect the salmon. He said to never take more than they needed, or never lay the salmon facing the river. All along the great river, tribes sprung up and started to fish the salmon. The people of Yakama who honored the Creator and did not want to invoke his wrath told the others to stop fishing more than they needed, but it was too late. The amount of salmon had already begun to wane, and soon there was no more fish in the river. For days the Native Americans hungered for salmon, until they found a single dead salmon at the end of the river. They remembered that those who had supernatural powers could step over the dead five times, and the dead would raise. So they called upon Old Man Rattlesnake, whom they called Grandfather, to step over the fish. However, he was still full of vexation because they had ignored the Creator’s words. However, the old man agreed to help them and made to step over the salmon. He was old and weak, so it took him most of the day to travel there. There was also a trickster named Coyote, who planned to feign being the one with supernatural powers, and he flouted his abilities. So he stepped over the fish  4 times, and on the fifth time, he nudged it with his foot so that it looked like it had moved on it’s own. However, the people did not want to mar Yakama’s good name with Coyote as their leader, so they did not heed to him.

Finally the Old Man Rattlesnake arrived. His crippled and old frame shook as he walked over to the dead salmon, which was lying facing towards the river. He took his walking cane and turned to face away from the river, then he stepped over it slowly, and again, until he had done it five times. Then something extraordinary happened; the fish spluttered and came back to life. But Grandfather was gone. Today it is said that you can see the white membrane in salmon that was his spirit that allowed the salmon to come back to life. Never again did the Yakama Indians beseech the rules of the Creator with salmon.

Truly this is a lamentable tale; it shows how the greed of the humans can have such a harmful effect on life. We take so much without asking where it came from, and so people somewhere pay the price for it; with child labor, with pollution of the environment, and with health issues. Just as Grandfather, we must repay our greed and set things right time and time again; but at least there is a lesson to be learned.

Wrath: Extreme anger, a show of temper.

Wanes: Begin to become weaker or less in number.

Vexation: Fuming anger and contempt or complaint at something frustrating.

Feign: To fake or impersonate, to bluff.

Flout: Show off, advertise, brag about.

Mar: To harm or damage; to cause great injury.

Lamentable: Sad, worthy of grievances.

Six-Word Memoirs: Quite an ordeal

In the past couple blogs, I have revealed a little bit about my voice and my opinion on matters that are as widely debated in legends and myths. However, in this blog, I am going to stray from the topic of my blogs and delve into the mysteries that six words can hold.
Six-Words

Greek Mythology: Athena and Hephaestus

When people think of mythology, the first thing that they probably think about is the legends of powerful gods and goddesses in the time of Greece. In that time it was a religion or a way of life, but today it is an ancient legend. Although there are hundreds of gods, titans, demigods, and heroes, one particular Greek god that is often overlooked is Hephaestus, king of the forge. He is renowned as the god of machinery, of fire, and of blacksmiths. Right from the start of his story, Hephaestus endured horrible treatment and rejection, and he remained loyal and strong to Zeus, king of the Greek gods.

When Hera begat Hephaestus, she was appalled to find that he was born weak and crippled. Disturbed by this horrid sight, she threw him down Mount Olympus, where he landed at the island Lemnos. But even though Hephaestus was crippled, he was strong in heart and mind, and he would not allow himself to pushed around. He wasted no time hammering out his revenge in the forge. Later, Hera received a gift from him: a magical throne that entrapped her when she sat on it. The other gods spent days convincing Hephaestus to free her, and eventually they had to intoxicate him with wine so that he would release her. However, he demanded a price, and was gifted Aphrodite as  a wife, but being the goddess of beauty, she was not happy with decision, and ended up leaving Hephaestus.

Hephaestus’s ugly face and crippled body is no match for the legends of his creations. Probably the most well-known example is the famous lightning bolts that he fashioned for Zeus to use against the Titans and the giants. Moreover, he created Achilles’ invincible armor, Athena’s legendary shield Aegis, the chariot that Helios rides across the sky, and the prize of his collection: Pandora, the first woman.

Despite his legendary life, Hephaestus was originally created to punish Zeus, and he was used for such; he once split Zeus’s head and freed the goddess Athena. Immediately after being born, Athena became the goddess of wisdom, strategy, justice, and skill. Unlike Hephaestus, who was the runt of the litter, the cripple that Hera was ashamed of; Athena was the favorite child of Zeus, even though he originally swallowed her in the fear that she would be mightier than himself.

Athena is regarded as being very wise and smart, and anybody who challenged her met their defeat. This first happened with the weaver Arachne. Although she had great skill, she deeply offended Athena, so she held a weaving contest between with Arachne. Both being very skilled weavers, but having very different perspectives, Athena wove a tapestry depicting four contests where mortals were proven to be lower than gods, and Arachne wove a tapestry with all of the god’s abuses to mortals, particularly Zeus. Appalled at this work of art, Athena ripped it up and cursed Arachne and her descendants to be spiders for all eternity. Then, in a contest to win a certain city, Athena faced Poseidon, the god of the sea. They each present they gift to the town. Poseidon gave a marvelous well, but the water was salty and was not of much use. Athena gave an olive tree, which gave food, oil, and wood. Athena won and the town was called Athens.

Moreover, both gods are truly spectacular, even if one is overlooked and one second-guessed. Hephaestus creates life with his hammer, and Athena guides her every step with her deep wisdom. Both gods, although both myths, should be ones to be remembered.

El Dorado: The Gilded City

When the Spanish Conquistadors accompanying Hernan Cortes landed on the shores of the New World and raided the vast empire of the Aztecs, the treasures of South America became famous. According to the widespread legends of El Dorado, deep inside the jungle somewhere there was a city made entirely of gold. Soon, hordes of wealth-seeking men would swarm the New World, and set off for days with 100-700 men in search of a fortune.

The legend was born first after Cortes kidnapped the Emperor Montezuma and took control of the Aztecs, then raided their capitol and took massive amounts of gold. Then another conquistador,  Fransisco Pizarro, held the Incan Emperor ransom and obtained a fortune. After hearing these tales, the people came in massive numbers to live in “the gilded land”. Then news of a strange tradition reached the ears of these people; apparently, every new year, the chief of an ancient tribe would coat himself in tree sap, then with gold dust, then jump in the clear waters of a lake nearby. Afterwards, he would emerge clean, and a feast for the new year would begin.

This simple story was warped immensely when the people of Europe heard of it. They imagined a rich city made of gold, with pure waters of the spring, and a chieftain draped in jewels. Streets paved with gems would crisscross the whole city, and a massive treasury filled with cascades of treasure would be the crown jewel of the city. It was a tale that would hearten any soldier. Eventually, people began to announce that they were going on an expedition for El Dorado, and they would be joined by 100-700 men who all wanted their share of the treasure. They would bring their own armor, weapons, and livestock for the journey. Many would die on the expeditions, but they would prove to be very resilient. They would brave poisonous bogs, treacherous rivers, and windswept deserts. However, they would eventually give up after months of searching, or after their leader died.

Some believe that El Dorado is still out their somewhere; a gilded city where that remains undiscovered. The legend of El Dorado was widely a dramatization and a warped story that sprouted from rumors of vast treasure. But it is still one that may have roots; and those may be part of something legendary. Although a city such as El Dorado has never been discovered, the Amazon Rainforest is massive, and all its secrets have not yet been discovered. In fact, even today we are still finding ruins of ancient civilizations. Since there were so many tribes and cities in El Dorado, there is speculation that El Dorado may exist. The legend of El Dorado is one worth telling, a legend of a man’s wildest dreams. A city of gold enough to make a man wealthier than a king, a city speckled with lost treasures of the past.

Bold: Prepositional Phrase

Conquistadors: Spanish Soldiers that accompanied Cortes in his journey to the New World.

Hordes: Vast groups of people or animals.

Gilded: Coated with gold, ornamented with something.

Immensely: A very great amount, to a great extent.

Cascades: Mountains, large piles, extreme amounts.

Hearten: Inspire, cheer up, invoke confident emotions.

Livestock: Domesticated animals used in farming, such as cows and pigs.

Resilient: Withstanding, resisting opposing force.

Treacherous: Dangerous, unreliable or untrustworthy.

Dramatization: A widely exaggerated version of something, used to make a point.

Speculation: Theories, ideas about something unknown.

 

The Legend of Arthur: King Arthur

Although Merlin is a very interesting and popular character in legends, without a doubt the most widespread legend is that of the mighty King Arthur, who drove back the Saxons and controlled a great empire in Albion, which is now modern-day Britain. However, there are many unclear and heavily debated points in this legend; such as Arthur’s relations to Morgan Le Fay and Mordred.

In spite of the variations of the tale, the Legend of Arthur is almost always the same in the general plot. Arthur’s father, Uther, died and it fell upon Arthur to rule. However, his right to rule was questioned, so the wizard Merlin set a sword in stone and ensured that only the true king, Arthur, would be able to draw it from the stone. After his rule became certain, the kingdom of Camelot was threatened by the invading Saxons. With the help of the lady of the lake, Nimue, Arthur obtains the legendary sword Excalibur. In a series of 12 great battles, Arthur emerged victorious and united all of Albion. Unfortunately, he returned to Camelot to find that the throne and his wife, Guinevere, had been taken by his half brother (in some retellings he is his nephew) , Mordred.  In the final battle, both Arthur and Mordred were mortally wounded, and he was taken to Avalon for his wounds to be healed. Despite his “death”, most commonly the legend says that he will return when Albion he is needed most.

Probably one of the most heavily disputed points in Arthurian legend is whether Arthur actually lived many years ago. Although we may assume that there is something at the center of the legends, since there is no proof, the debate continues. Many historians believe that Arthur  actually was the son of Uther Pendragon and Igraine of Cornwall, and that he was successful in driving the invading Anglo-Saxons, then he attacked the Romans. Of course, since there are no primary written records other than romances and legends, it is widely debated whether he actually existed. For those who love legends, it doesn’t matter whether he existed or not, because the Legend of Arthur will always be a good story.

On the whole, the Legend of Arthur, while diverse, is one legend that you will not want to miss.  Brave Arthur, surrounded by his noble knights and advised by the wise Merlin, is truly the heart of a legend that may be considered the greatest legend of all time. While there are your common folktales and myths, Arthurian legends truly capture the spirit that a real legend should.

Bold: Transitional Phrase

 

The Legend of Arthur: Merlin

One of the most widespread and popular legends in the world is the Legend of Arthur. One of the more popular characters in the legend is named Merlin,  who today is depicted as a powerful wizard who advised King Arthur and saved his life many times. However, Merlin’s origins are very differed and the old, wise wizard that we know is not who the original Merlin was. One of the more common origins include  a Merlin who was born from a devil, then baptized, so that his evil nature was countered; however, he retained some of his “demonic” abilities: the ability of foresight (the ability to see the future) and the ability to use magic. Another legend is one that shows him as a shapeshifter; once taking the form of  an old man who was 17 feet tall and who had ears that drooped to his waist.

Most legends of Merlin all have the same basic concept; Merlin was born from a demon, and he used his gift of foresight to advise King Arthur. Later, he set a sword in a stone, which Arthur would later draw to prove that he was the rightful king. Merlin also advised King Arthur in many of the battles that he had against the Saxons, who were currently invading Britain. Later, after Nimue (the Lady of the Lake) gave the sword Excalibur to King Arthur, Merlin fell in love with her. She told him that he could not have her until she knew all of his magic. So, even though he could foresee his own doom down the path that he was taking, he could not foresee a way out of it. Eventually, she trapped him in a rock (in other legends it was an invisible tower), and he was never seen again.

So the Legend of Merlin is truly an extraordinary legend; a wizard with such a crazy background, birth, abilities, and such a lasting effect in one of the most popular legend (the Legend of Arthur) of all time is bound to be known by almost the entire world. Merlin is definitely the greatest figure in all of legend, besides maybe Arthur. He will be remembered and respected by all who hear his tale. Although he may have strange origins, he is probably one of the finest legends we will know.

John Henry: Rail Pounder

According to common belief, John Henry was a black slave who lived in the 1840’s and 1850’s.  He was a slave who was convicted for burglary and sent to work as a steel-driver in West Virginia. He was “the strongest, the most powerful man working the rails” (Schlosser, John Henry: Steel-Driving Man). In the ballad of John Henry, which is where the legend originated, it says that “Well John Henry hammered on that mountain, Till his hammer was striking fire” (Ballad of John Henry, verse 3). John Henry’s legend is less of a legend and more of a hyperbolized tale. All of the folklore of John Henry depicts him as an incredibly strong man, 7 feet tall with strength enough to bend railroad rods with his bare hands. He was noted as the most redoubtable steel-driver who ever lived.

Perhaps the most reputable part of any retelling of John Henry’s legend is his battle against the steam drill, where he met his demise. In all retellings, the railroad company, C&O,  was looking to purchase a steam drill for working on the rails.  In order to save the jobs of all the rail workers, John Henry braved the steam engine to a duel. Taking two 20-pound hammers, John Henry drilled two seven-foot holes in the rock wall in 35 minutes, summing up to a total of 14 feet, whereas the steam drill had only pounded one nine-foot hole. John Henry had won the duel, but he paid the ultimate price. The price of straining his power was too much for him, and he died from pure exhaustion.

In the lives of all rail-pounders from that day forward, the ballad of John Henry danced in the minds and inspired them to push harder and to never give up. It is said that if you stand at the end of the Big Bend Mountain tunnel and listen intently, you can still hear the reverberating pound of twin hammers. The legend of John Henry is less of a myth or epic, but rather a mournful tale of triumph.

Ballad: A traditional song or rhyme of some sort, music used to get some type of point across, i.e. a love ballad.

Hyperbolized: Extremely over-exaggerated, the facts are stretched to a superhuman level.

Redoubtable: Very respectable and well-known, deserves respect.

Reputable: Famous, has a certain reputation, wide-spread.

Demise: His death or end.

Braved: Challenged, did not show fear when put up against it.

Straining: Pushing hard, exerting yourself to the limit, struggling to retain your willpower.

Intently: Closely and with deliberate and meaningful care.

Reverberating: Echoing, to become filled with a loud sound.

Mournful: Sorrowful, worth grieving or regretting for.