Proto-Indo-European mythology

Proto-Indo-European mythology is the body of myths and stories associated with the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Although these stories are not directly attested, they have been reconstructed by scholars of comparative mythology based on the similarities in the belief systems of various Indo-European peoples.

Various schools of thought exist regarding the precise nature of Proto-Indo-European mythology, which do not always agree with each other. The main mythologies used in comparative reconstruction are Vedic, Roman, and Norse, often supported with evidence from the Baltic, Celtic, Greek, Slavic, and Hittite traditions as well.

The Proto-Indo-European pantheon includes well-attested deities such as *Dyḗus Pḥatḗr, the god of the daylit skies, his daughter *Haéusōs, the goddess of the dawn, the divine twins, and the storm god *Perkwunos. Other probable deities include *Péh2usōn, a pastoral god, and *Seh2ul, a female solar deity.

Well-attested myths of the Proto-Indo-Europeans include a myth involving a storm god who slays a multi-headed serpent that dwells in water and a creation story involving two brothers, one of whom sacrifices the other to create the world. The Proto-Indo-Europeans may have believed that the Otherworld was guarded by a watchdog and could only be reached by crossing a river. They also may have believed in a world tree, bearing fruit of immortality, either guarded by or gnawed on by a serpent or dragon, and tended by three goddesses who spun the thread of life.

Керносовский идол
The Kernosovskiy idol, discovered in 1973 in Kernosovka (Kernosivka) and dated to the middle of the third millennium BC and associated with the late Pit Grave (Yamna) culture[1]

Methods of reconstruction

Schools of thought

Max Muller
Portrait of Friedrich Max Müller, a prominent early scholar on the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European religion and a proponent of the Meteorological School[2]

The mythology of the Proto-Indo-Europeans is not directly attested and it is difficult to match their language to archaeological findings related to any specific culture from the Chalcolithic.[3] Nonetheless, scholars of comparative mythology have attempted to reconstruct aspects of Proto-Indo-European mythology based on the existence of similarities among the deities, religious practices, and myths of various Indo-European peoples. This method is known as the comparative method. Different schools of thought have approached the subject of Proto-Indo-European mythology from different angles.[4] The Meteorological School holds that Proto-Indo-European mythology was largely centered around deified natural phenomena such as the sky, the Sun, the Moon, and the dawn.[5] This meteorological interpretation was popular among early scholars, such as Friedrich Max Müller, who saw all myths as fundamentally solar allegories.[2] This school lost most of its scholarly support in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[6][5]

The Ritual School, which first became prominent in the late nineteenth century, holds that Proto-Indo-European myths are best understood as stories invented to explain various rituals and religious practices.[7][6] The Ritual School reached the height of its popularity during the early twentieth century.[8] Many of its most prominent early proponents, such as James George Frazer and Jane Ellen Harrison, were classical scholars.[9] Bruce Lincoln, a contemporary member of the Ritual School, argues that the Proto-Indo-Europeans believed that every sacrifice was a reenactment of the original sacrifice performed by the founder of the human race on his twin brother.[7]

The Functionalist School holds that Proto-Indo-European society and, consequently, their mythology, was largely centered around the trifunctional system proposed by Georges Dumézil,[10] which holds that Proto-Indo-European society was divided into three distinct social classes: farmers, warriors, and priests.[10][11][12] The Structuralist School, by contrast, argues that Proto-Indo-European mythology was largely centered around the concept of dualistic opposition.[13] This approach generally tends to focus on cultural universals within the realm of mythology, rather than the genetic origins of those myths,[13] but it also offers refinements of the Dumézilian trifunctional system by highlighting the oppositional elements present within each function, such as the creative and destructive elements both found within the role of the warrior.[13]

Source mythologies

IE expansion
Scheme of Indo-European migrations from c. 4000 to 1000 BC according to the Kurgan hypothesis

One of the earliest attested and thus most important of all Indo-European mythologies is Vedic mythology,[14] especially the mythology of the Rigveda, the oldest of the Vedas. Early scholars of comparative mythology such as Friedrich Max Müller stressed the importance of Vedic mythology to such an extent that they practically equated it with Proto-Indo-European myth.[15] Modern researchers have been much more cautious, recognizing that, although Vedic mythology is still central, other mythologies must also be taken into account.[15]

Another of the most important source mythologies for comparative research is Roman mythology.[14][16] Contrary to the frequent erroneous statement made by some authors that "Rome has no myth", the Romans possessed a very complex mythological system, parts of which have been preserved through the characteristic Roman tendency to rationalize their myths into historical accounts.[17] Despite its relatively late attestation, Norse mythology is still considered one of the three most important of the Indo-European mythologies for comparative research,[14] simply due to the vast bulk of surviving Icelandic material.[16]

Baltic mythology has also received a great deal of scholarly attention, but has so far remained frustrating to researchers because the sources are so comparatively late.[18] Nonetheless, Latvian folk songs are seen as a major source of information in the process of reconstructing Proto-Indo-European myth.[19] Despite the popularity of Greek mythology in western culture,[20] Greek mythology is generally seen as having little importance in comparative mythology due to the heavy influence of Pre-Greek and Near Eastern cultures, which overwhelms what little Indo-European material can be extracted from it.[21] Consequently, Greek mythology received minimal scholarly attention until the mid 2000s.[14]

Although Scythians are considered relatively conservative in regards to Proto-Indo-European cultures, retaining a similar lifestyle and culture,[22] their mythology has very rarely been examined in an Indo-European context and infrequently discussed in regards to the nature of the ancestral Indo-European mythology. At least three deities, Tabiti, Papaios and Api, are generally interpreted as having Indo-European origins,[23][24] while the remaining have seen more disparate interpretations. Influence from Siberian, Turkic and even Near Eastern beliefs, on the other hand, are more widely discussed in literature.[25][26][27]

Pantheon

Linguists are able to reconstruct the names of some deities in the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) from many types of sources. Some of the proposed deity names are more readily accepted among scholars than others.[a]

The term for "a god" was *deiwos,[28] reflected in Hittite, sius; Latin, deus, divus; Sanskrit, deva; Avestan, daeva (later, Persian, div); Welsh, duw; Irish, dia; Old Norse, tívurr; Lithuanian, Dievas; Latvian, Dievs.[29]

Heavenly deities

Sky Father

Stater Zeus Lampsacus CdM
Laurel-wreathed head of Zeus on a gold stater from the Greek city of Lampsacus, c 360–340 BC

The head deity of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon was the god *Dyḗus Pḥatḗr,[30] whose name literally means "Sky Father".[30][31][32] He is believed to have been regarded as the god of the daylit skies.[33] He is, by far, the most well-attested of all the Proto-Indo-European deities.[13][34] The Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, and the Illyrian god Dei-Pátrous all appear as the head gods of their respective pantheons.[35][32] The Norse god Týr, however, seems to have been demoted to the role of a minor war-deity prior to the composition of the earliest Germanic texts.[35] *Dyḗus Pḥatḗr is also attested in the Rigveda as Dyáus Pitā, a minor ancestor figure mentioned in only a few hymns.[36] The names of the Latvian god Dievs and the Hittite god Attas Isanus do not preserve the exact literal translation of the name *Dyḗus Pḥatḗr,[13] but do preserve the general meaning of it.[13]

*Dyḗus Pḥatḗr may have had a consort who was an earth goddess.[37] This possibility is attested in the Vedic pairing of Dyáus Pitā and Prithvi Mater,[37] the Roman pairing of Jupiter and Tellus Mater from Macrobius's Saturnalia,[37] and the Norse pairing of Odin and Jörð. Odin is not a reflex of *Dyḗus Pḥatḗr, but his cult may have subsumed aspects of an earlier chief deity who was.[38] This pairing may also be further attested in an Old English ploughing prayer[38] and in the Greek pairings of Ouranos and Gaia and Zeus and Demeter.[39]

Dawn Goddess

Eos chariot 430-420 BC Staatliche Antikensammlungen
Eos in her chariot flying over the sea, red-figure krater from South Italy, 430–420 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich

*Haéusōs has been reconstructed as the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn.[40][41] Twenty-one hymns in the Rigveda are dedicated to the dawn goddess Uṣás[42] and a single passage from the Avesta honors the dawn goddess Ušå.[42] The dawn goddess Eos appears prominently in early Greek poetry and mythology.[42] The Roman dawn goddess Aurora is a reflection of the Greek Eos,[42] but the original Roman dawn goddess may have continued to be worshipped under the cultic title Mater Matuta.[42] The Anglo-Saxons worshipped the goddess Ēostre, who was associated with a festival in spring which later gave its name to a month, which gave its name to the Christian holiday of Easter in English.[42] The name Ôstarmânôth in Old High German has been taken as an indication that a similar goddess was also worshipped in southern Germany.[43] The Lithuanian dawn goddess Aušra was still acknowledged in the sixteenth century.[44] Uṣás in the Sanskrit tradition and Eos in the Greek have very similar attributes, indicating that these attributes were established by at least the Greco-Aryan period.[45] Both goddesses are also portrayed as taking mortal lovers.[46]

Sun and Moon

HittiteGoddessAndChildAnatolia15th-13thCenturyBCE
Possible depiction of the Hittite Sun goddess holding a child in her arms from between 1400 and 1200 BC

*Seh2ul and *Meh1not are reconstructed as the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the Sun and god of the Moon respectively. *Seh2ul is reconstructed based on the Greek god Helios, the Roman god Sol, the Celtic goddess Sul/Suil, the North Germanic goddess Sól, the Continental Germanic goddess *Sowilō, the Hittite goddess "UTU-liya",[47] the Zoroastrian Hvare-khshaeta[47] and the Vedic god Surya.[48]

*Meh1not- is reconstructed based on the Norse god Máni, the Slavic god Myesyats,[47] and the Lithuanian god *Meno, or Mėnuo (Mėnulis).[49] They are often seen as the twin children of various deities,[50] but in fact the sun and moon were deified several times and are often found in competing forms within the same language.[51]

The usual scheme is that one of these celestial deities is male and the other female, though the exact gender of the Sun or Moon tends to vary among subsequent Indo-European mythologies.[52] The original Indo-European solar deity appears to have been female,[53] a characteristic not only supported by the higher number of sun goddesses in subsequent derivations (feminine Sól, Saule, Sulis, Solntse—not directly attested as a goddess, but feminine in gender — Étaín, Grían, Aimend, Áine, and Catha versus masculine Helios, Surya, Savitr, Usil, and Sol) (Hvare-khshaeta is of neutral gender),[54] but also by vestiges in mythologies with male solar deities (Usil in Etruscan art is depicted occasionally as a goddess, while solar characteristics in Athena and Helen of Troy still remain in Greek mythology).[55] The original Indo-European lunar deity appears to have been masculine,[56] with feminine lunar deities like Selene, Minerva, and Luna being a development exclusive to the eastern Mediterranean. Even in these traditions, remnants of male lunar deities, like Menelaus, remain.[57]

Although the sun was personified as an independent, female deity, the Proto-Indo-Europeans also visualized the sun as the eye of *Dyḗus Pḥatḗr, as seen in various reflexes: Helios as the eye of Zeus,[58][59] Hvare-khshaeta as the eye of Ahura Mazda, and the sun as "God's eye" in Romanian folklore.[60] The names of Celtic sun goddesses like Sulis and Grian may also allude to this association; the words for "eye" and "sun" are switched in these languages, hence the name of the goddesses.[61][62]

Divine Twins

Horse Twins

Dioskouroi Met L.2008.18.1-2 n03
Pair of Roman statuettes from the third century AD depicting the Dioscuri as horsemen, with their characteristic skullcaps (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The Horse Twins are a set of twin brothers found throughout nearly every Indo-European pantheon who usually have a name that means 'horse' *ekwa-,[63] but the names are not always cognate and no Proto-Indo-European name for them can be reconstructed.[63] In most Indo-European pantheons, the Horse Twins are brothers of the Sun Maiden or Dawn goddess, and sons of the sky god.[64]

They are reconstructed based on the Vedic Ashvins, the Lithuanian Ašvieniai, the Latvian Dieva deli, the Greek Dioskouroi (Kastor and Polydeukes), the Roman Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), and the Old English Hengist and Horsa (whose names mean "stallion" and "horse").[65] References from the Greek writer Timaeus indicate that the Celts may have had a set of horse twins as well.[66] The Welsh Brân and Manawydan may also be related.[63] The horse twins may have been based on the morning and evening star (the planet Venus) and they often have stories about them in which they "accompany" the Sun goddess, because of the close orbit of the planet Venus to the sun.[67]

Twin Founders

The Proto-Indo-European Creation myth seems to have involved two key figures: *Manu- ("Man"; Indic Manu; Germanic Mannus) and his twin brother *Yemo- ("Twin"; Indic Yama; Germanic Ymir).[68][69] Reflexes of these two figures usually fulfill the respective roles of founder of the human race and first human to die.[68][70]

Storm deities

Taranis Jupiter with wheel and thunderbolt Le Chatelet Gourzon Haute Marne
Ancient Gallo-Roman statue of the storm-god Taranis, clutching a wheel and thunderbolt, from Le Chatelet, Gourzon, Haute-Marne, France

*Perkwunos has been reconstructed as the Proto-Indo-European god of lightning and storms. His name literally means "The Striker." He is reconstructed based on the Norse goddess Fjǫrgyn (the mother of Thor), the Lithuanian god Perkūnas, and the Slavic god Perúnú. The Vedic god Parjánya may also be related, but his possible connection to *Perkwunos is still under dispute.[71] The name of *Perkwunos may also be attested in Greek as κεραυνός (Keraunós), an epithet of the god Zeus meaning "thunder-shaker."[72] A possible alternative name, through the root *(s)tenh₂, is responsible for Thor as well as Hittite Tarhunt and Celtic Taran/Taranis. The Roman god Mars is also a speculated descendent, since he originally had thunderer characteristics.[73]

Water deities

Some authors have proposed *Neptonos or *H2epom Nepōts as the Proto-Indo-European god of the waters. The name literally means "Grandson [or Nephew] of the Waters."[75][76] Philologists reconstruct his name from that of the Vedic god Apám Nápát, the Roman god Neptūnus, and the Old Irish god Nechtain. Although such a god has been solidly reconstructed in Proto-Indo-Iranian religion, Mallory and Adams nonetheless still reject him as a Proto-Indo-European deity on linguistic grounds.[76]

A river goddess *Dehanu- has been proposed based on the Vedic goddess Dānu, the Irish goddess Danu, the Welsh goddess Don and the names of the rivers Danube, Don, Dnieper, and Dniester. Mallory and Adams, however, dismiss this reconstruction, commenting that it does not have any evidence to support it.[77]

Some have also proposed the reconstruction of a sea god named *Trihatōn based on the Greek god Triton and the Old Irish word trïath, meaning "sea." Mallory and Adams reject this reconstruction as having no basis, asserting that the "lexical correspondence is only just possible and with no evidence of a cognate sea god in Irish."[77]

Nature deities

Gundestrupkedlen- 00054 (cropped)
Detail from the Gundestrup cauldron from Gundestrup, Denmark, thought to date between 150 BC and 1 AD, showing the Celtic god Cernunnos with horns, sitting in a meditative position, surrounded by animals
Shiva Pashupati
The Pashupati seal from Mohenjo-daro in northern India, dated to between 2350 and 2000 BC, showing a horned, tricephelic deity in a meditative position, surrounded by animals

*Péh2usōn, a pastoral deity, is reconstructed based on the Greek god Pan and the Vedic god Pūshān. Both deities are closely affiliated with goats and were worshipped as pastoral deities.[80] The minor discrepancies between the two deities can be easily explained by the possibility that many attributes originally associated with Pan may have been transferred over to his father Hermes.[80] The association between Pan and Pūshān was first identified in 1924 by the German scholar Hermann Collitz.[81][82]

In 1855, Adalbert Kuhn suggested that the Proto-Indo-Europeans may have believed in a set of helper deities, whom he reconstructed based on the Germanic elves and the Hindu ribhus.[83][84] Though this proposal is often mentioned in academic writings, very few scholars actually accept it.[85] There may also have been a female cognate akin to the Greco-Roman nymphs, Slavic vilas, the Huldra of Germanic folklore, and the Hindu Apsaras.[86]

Societal deities

Paphos Haus des Theseus - Mosaik Achilles 3 Moiren
Late second-century AD Greek mosaic from the House of Theseus at Paphos Archaeological Park on Cyprus showing the three Moirai: Klotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, standing behind Peleus and Thetis, the parents of Achilles

It is highly probable that the Proto-Indo-Europeans believed in three fate goddesses who spun the destinies of mankind.[87] Although such fate goddesses are not directly attested in the Indo-Aryan tradition, the Atharvaveda does contain an allusion comparing fate to a warp.[88] Furthermore, the three Fates appear in nearly every other Indo-European mythology.[88] The earliest attested set of fate goddesses are the Gulses in Hittite mythology, who were said to preside over the individual destinies of human beings.[88] They often appear in mythical narratives alongside the goddesses Papaya and Istustaya,[88] who, in a ritual text for the foundation of a new temple, are described sitting holding mirrors and spindles, spinning the king's thread of life.[88] In the Greek tradition, the Moirai ("Apportioners") are mentioned dispensing destiny in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, in which they are given the epithet Κλῶθες (Klothes, meaning "Spinners").[89][90] In Hesiod's Theogony, the Moirai are said to "give mortal men both good and ill" and their names are listed as Klotho ("Spinner"), Lachesis ("Apportioner"), and Atropos ("Inflexible").[91][92] In his Republic, Plato records that Klotho sings of the past, Lachesis of the present, and Atropos of the future.[93] In Roman legend, the Parcae were three goddesses who presided over the births of children and whose names were Nona ("Ninth"), Decuma ("Tenth"), and Morta ("Death").[92] They too were said to spin destinies, although this may have been due to influence from Greek literature.[92]

In the Old Norse Völuspá and Gylfaginning, the Norns are three cosmic goddesses of fate who are described sitting by the well of Urðr at the foot of the world tree Yggdrasil.[94][95][b] In Old Norse texts, the Norns are frequently conflated with Valkyries, who are sometimes also described as spinning.[95] Old English texts, such as Rhyme Poem 70, and Guthlac 1350 f., reference Wyrd as a singular power that "weaves" destinies.[96] Later texts mention the Wyrds as a group, with Geoffrey Chaucer referring to them as "the Werdys that we clepyn Destiné" in The Legend of Good Women.[97][93][c] A goddess spinning appears in a bracteate from southwest Germany[93] and a relief from Trier shows three mother goddesses, with two of them holding distaffs.[93] Tenth-century German ecclesiastical writings denounce the popular belief in three sisters who determined the course of a man's life at his birth.[93] An Old Irish hymn attests to seven goddesses who were believed to weave the thread of destiny, which demonstrates that these spinster fate-goddesses were present in Celtic mythology as well.[98] A Lithuanian folktale recorded in 1839 recounts that a man's fate is spun at his birth by seven goddesses known as the deivės valdytojos and used to hang a star in the sky;[98] when he dies, his thread snaps and his star falls as a meteor.[98] In Latvian folk songs, a goddess called the Láima is described as weaving a child's fate at its birth.[98] Although she is usually only one goddess, the Láima sometimes appears as three.[98] The three spinning fate goddesses appear in Slavic traditions in the forms of the Russian Rožanicy, the Czech Sudičky, the Bulgarian Narenčnice or Urisnice, the Polish Rodzanice, the Croatian Rodjenice, the Serbian Sudjenice, and the Slovene Rojenice.[99] Albanian folk tales speak of the Fatit, three old women who appear three days after a child is born and determine its fate, using language reminiscent of spinning.[100]

Franks Casket vorne links
Depiction of Wayland the Smith from the Franks Casket, dating to the eighth century AD

Although the name of a particular Proto-Indo-European smith god cannot be linguistically reconstructed,[76] it is highly probable that the Proto-Indo-Europeans had a smith deity of some kind, since smith gods occur in nearly every Indo-European culture, with examples including the Hittite god Hasammili, the Vedic god Tvastr, the Greek god Hephaestus, the Germanic villain Wayland the Smith, and the Ossetian culture figure Kurdalagon.[101] Many of these smith figures share certain characteristics in common. Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths, and Wayland the Smith, a nefarious blacksmith from Germanic mythology, are both described as lame.[102] Additionally, Wayland the Smith and the Greek mythical inventor Daedalus both escape imprisonment on an island by fashioning sets of mechanical wings from feathers and wax and using them to fly away.[103]

The Proto-Indo-Europeans may have had a goddess who presided over the trifunctional organization of society. Various epithets of the Iranian goddess Anahita and the Roman goddess Juno provide sufficient evidence to solidly attest that she was probably worshipped, but no specific name for her can be lexically reconstructed.[104] Vague remnants of this goddess may also be preserved in the Greek goddess Athena.[105]

Some scholars have proposed a war god *Māwort- based on the Roman god Mars and the Vedic Marutás, companions of the war-god Indra. Mallory and Adams, however, reject this reconstruction on linguistic grounds.[106] Likewise, some researchers have found it more plausible that Mars was originally a storm deity, while this cannot be said for Ares.[107]

Mythology

Dragon or serpent

Museum of Anatolian Civilizations082 kopie1jpg
The Hittite god Tarhunt, followed by his son Sarruma, kills the dragon Illuyanka (Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey)

One common myth found in nearly all Indo-European mythologies is a battle ending with a hero or god slaying a serpent or dragon of some sort.[108][109][110] Although the details of story often vary widely,[111] in all iterations, several features remain remarkably the same.[111] In iterations of the story, the serpent is usually associated with water in some way.[112] The hero of the story is usually a thunder-god or a hero who is somehow associated with thunder.[109] The serpent is usually multi-headed, or else "multiple" in some other way.[110][109]

In Hittite mythology, the storm god Tarhunt slays the giant serpent Illuyanka.[113] In the Rigveda, the god Indra slays the multi-headed serpent Vritra, which had been causing a drought.[114] In the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna slays the serpent Kāliyā.

Fragmentary jar with scene of Herakles slaying the Hydra of Lerna, South Italy, 375-340 BC, ceramic - Fitchburg Art Museum - DSC08671
Greek red-figure vase painting depicting Heracles slaying the Lernaean Hydra, c. 375–340 BC

Several variations of the story are also found in Greek mythology as well.[115] The story is attested in the legend of Zeus slaying the hundred-headed Typhon from Hesiod's Theogony,[109][116] but it is also in the myths of the slaying of the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra by Heracles and the slaying of Python by Apollo.[109][117] The story of Heracles's theft of the cattle of Geryon is probably also related.[109] Although Heracles is not usually thought of as a storm deity in the conventional sense, he bears many attributes held by other Indo-European storm deities, including physical strength and a knack for violence and gluttony.[109][118]

The original Proto-Indo-European myth is also reflected in Germanic mythology.[119] In Norse mythology, Thor, the god of thunder, slays the giant serpent Jörmungandr, which lived in the waters surrounding the realm of Midgard.[120][121] Other dragon-slaying myths are also found in the Germanic tradition. In the Völsunga saga, Sigurd slays the dragon Fafnir and, in Beowulf, the eponymous hero slays a different dragon.

Reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European dragon-slaying myth are found throughout other branches of the language family as well. In Zoroastrianism and Persian mythology, Fereydun, and later Garshasp, slays Zahhak. In Slavic mythology, Perun, the god of storms, slays Veles and Dobrynya Nikitich slays the three-headed dragon Zmey. In Armenian mythology, the god Vahagn slays the dragon Vishap.[122] In Romanian folklore, Făt-Frumos slays the fire-spitting monster Zmeu. In Celtic mythology, Dian Cecht slays Meichi. The myth is believed to have symbolized a clash between forces of order and chaos.[123] In every version of the story, the dragon or serpent always loses, although in some mythologies, such as the Norse Ragnarök myth, the hero or god dies as well.[124]

Twin founders

The analysis of different Indo-European tales indicates that the Proto-Indo-Europeans believed there were two progenitors of mankind: *Manu- ("Man") and *Yemo- ("Twin"), his twin brother. A reconstructed creation myth involving the two is given by David W. Anthony, attributed in part to Bruce Lincoln:[69] Manu and Yemo traverse the cosmos, accompanied by the primordial cow, and finally decide to create the world. To do so, Manu sacrifices either Yemo or the cow, and with help from the sky father, the storm god and the divine twins, forges the earth from the remains. Manu thus becomes the first priest and establishes the practice of sacrifice. The sky gods then present cattle to the third man, *Trito, who loses it to the three-headed serpent *Ngwhi, but eventually overcomes this monster either alone or aided by the sky father. Trito is now the first warrior and ensures that the cycle of mutual giving between gods and humans may continue.[69] Reflexes of *Manu include Indic Manu, Germanic Mannus; of Yemo, Indic Yama, Avestan Yima, Norse Ymir, possibly Roman Remus (< earlier Old Latin *Yemos).[69]

Maria Saal Dom Grabrelief Romulus und Remus 27122013 774
Ancient Roman relief from the Cathedral of Maria Saal showing the infant twins Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she-wolf

The early "history" of Rome is widely recognized as a historicized retelling of various old myths.[125] Romulus and Remus are twin brothers from Roman mythology who both have stories in which they are killed.[126] The Roman writer Livy reports that Remus was believed to have been killed by his brother Romulus at the founding of Rome when they entered into a disagreement about which hill to build the city on. Later, Romulus himself is said to have been torn limb-from-limb by a group of senators.[127][d] Both of these myths are widely recognized as historicized remnants of the Proto-Indo-European creation story.[127]

The Germanic languages have information about both Ymir and Mannus (reflexes of *Yemo- and *Manu- respectively),[128] but they never appear together in the same myth.[128] Instead, they only occur in myths widely separated by both time and circumstances.[128] In chapter two of his book Germania, which was written in Latin in around 98 A.D., the Roman writer Tacitus claims that Mannus, the son of Tuisto, was the ancestor of the Germanic peoples.[128] This name never recurs anywhere in later Germanic literature,[129] but one proposed meaning of the continental Germanic tribal name Alamanni is "Mannus' own people" ("all-men" being another scholarly etymology).[129]

Fire in water

Another important possible myth is the myth of the fire in the waters, a myth which centers around the possible deity *H2epom Nepōts, a fiery deity who dwells in water.[130][131] In the Rigveda, the god Apám Nápát is envisioned as a form of fire residing in the waters.[132][133] In Celtic mythology, a well belonging to the god Nechtain is said to blind all those who gaze into it.[130][134] In an old Armenian poem, a small reed in the middle of the sea spontaneously catches fire and the hero Vahagn springs forth from it with fiery hair and a fiery beard and eyes that blaze as suns.[135] In a ninth-century Norwegian poem by the poet Thiodolf, the name sǣvar niþr, meaning "grandson of the sea," is used as a kenning for fire.[136] Even the Greek tradition contains possible allusions to the myth of a fire-god dwelling deep beneath the sea.[135] The phrase "νέποδες καλῆς Ἁλοσύδνης," meaning "descendants of the beautiful seas," is used in The Odyssey 4.404 as an epithet for the seals of Proteus.[135]

Binding of evil

Jaan Puhvel notes similarities between the Norse myth in which the god Týr inserts his hand into the wolf Fenrir's mouth while the other gods bind him with Gleipnir, only for Fenrir to bite off Týr's hand when he discovers he cannot break his bindings,[137] and the Iranian myth in which Jamshid rescues his brother's corpse from Ahriman's bowels by reaching his hand up Ahriman's anus and pulling out his brother's corpse, only for his hand to become infected with leprosy.[138] In both accounts, an authority figure forces the evil entity into submission by inserting his hand into the being's orifice (in Fenrir's case the mouth, in Ahriman's the anus) and losing it.[138] Fenrir and Ahriman fulfill different roles in their own mythological traditions and are unlikely to be remnants of a Proto-Indo-European "evil god";[139] nonetheless, it is clear that the "binding myth" is of Proto-Indo-European origin.[140]

Cosmogony

In the cosmogonic myths of many Indo-European cultures a Cosmic Egg symbolizes the primordial state from which the universe arises.[141]

Cosmology

Underworld

Attic Red Figure (White Ground) Lekythos with Charon, attributed to the Tymbos painter, ca 500 - 450 BC, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK (22681344331)
Attic red-figure lekythos attributed to the Tymbos painter showing Charon welcoming a soul into his boat, c. 500-450 BC

Most Indo-European traditions contain some kind of Underworld or Afterlife. It is possible that the Proto-Indo-Europeans may have believed that, in order to reach the Underworld, one needed to cross a river, guided by an old man (*ĝerhaont-).[142] The Greek tradition of the dead being ferried across the river Styx by Charon is probably a reflex of this belief.[142] The idea of crossing a river to reach the Underworld is also present throughout Celtic mythologies.[143] Several Vedic texts contain references to crossing a river in order to reach the land of the dead and the Latin word tarentum meaning "tomb" originally meant "crossing point."[144] In Norse mythology, Hermóðr must cross a bridge over the river Giöll in order to reach Hel.[145] In Latvian folk songs, the dead must cross a marsh rather than a river.[146] Traditions of placing coins on the bodies of the deceased in order to pay the ferryman are attested in both ancient Greek and early modern Slavic funerary practices.[143] It is also possible that the Proto-Indo-Europeans may have believed that the Underworld was guarded by some kind of watchdog, similar to the Greek Cerberus, the Hindu Śárvara, or the Norse Garmr.[142][147]

World tree and serpent

The Proto-Indo-Europeans may have believed in some kind of world tree.[148] It is also possible that they may have believed that this tree was either guarded by or under constant attack from some kind of dragon or serpent.[148] In Norse mythology, the cosmic tree Yggdrasil is tended by the three Norns while the dragon Nidhogg gnaws at its roots.[148] In Greek mythology, the tree of the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides is tended by the three Hesperides and guarded by the hundred-headed dragon Ladon.[149] In Indo-Iranian texts, there is a mythical tree dripping with Soma, the immortal drink of the gods and, in later Pahlavi sources, a malicious lizard is said to lurk at the bottom of it.[148]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In order to present a consistent notation, the reconstructed forms used here are cited from Mallory & Adams 2006. For further explanation of the laryngeals – <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> – see the Laryngeal theory article.
  2. ^ The names of the individual Norns are given as Urðr ("Happened"), Verðandi ("Happening"), and Skuld ("Due"),[93] but M. L. West notes that these names may be the result of classical influence from Plato.[93]
  3. ^ They also, most famously, appear as the Three Witches in William Shakespeare's Macbeth (c. 1606).[93]
  4. ^ One of the original sources for the stories of Romulus and Remus is Livy's History of Rome, vol. 1, parts iv–vii and xvi. This has been published in an Everyman edition, translated by W. M. Roberts, E. P. Dutton & Co., New York 1912.

References

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  122. ^ Kurkjian 1958.
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Bibliography

Baltic mythology

Baltic mythology is the body of mythology of the Baltic people stemming from Baltic paganism and continuing after Christianization and into Baltic folklore. Baltic mythology ultimately stems from Proto-Indo-European mythology. The Baltic region was one of the last regions of Europe to be Christianized, a process that occurred from the 15th century and into at least a century after. While no native texts survive detailing the mythology of the Baltic peoples during the pagan period, knowledge of the mythology may be gained from Russian and German chronicles, later folklore, by way of etymology, and comparative mythology.While the early chronicles (14th and 15th century) were largely the product of missionaries who sought to eradicate the native paganism of the Baltic peoples, rich material survives into Baltic folklore. This material has been of particular value in Indo-European studies as, like the Baltic languages, it is considered by scholars to be notably conservative, reflecting elements of Proto-Indo-European religion. The Indo-European Divine Twins are particularly well represented as the Dieva dēli (Latvian 'sons of god') and Dievo sūneliai (Lithuanian 'sons of god'). According to folklore, they are the children of Dievas (Lithuanian and Latvia; see Proto-Indo-European *Dyeus). Associated with the brothers and their father are two goddesses; the personified Sun, Saule (Latvian 'sun') and Saules meita (Latvian 'Sun's daughter').

Brownie (folklore)

A brownie or broonie (Scots), also known as a brùnaidh or gruagach (Scottish Gaelic), is a household spirit from British folklore that is said to come out at night while the owners of the house are asleep and perform various chores and farming tasks. The human owners of the house must leave a bowl of milk or cream or some other offering for the brownie, usually by the hearth. Brownies are described as easily offended and will leave their homes forever if they feel they have been insulted or in any way taken advantage of. Brownies are characteristically mischievous and are often said to punish or pull pranks on lazy servants. If angered, they are sometimes said to turn malicious, like boggarts.

Brownies originated as domestic tutelary spirits, very similar to the Lares of ancient Roman tradition. Descriptions of brownies vary regionally, but they are usually described as ugly, brown-skinned, and covered in hair. In the oldest stories, they are usually human-sized or larger. In more recent times, they have come to be seen as small and wizened. They are often capable of turning invisible and they sometimes appear in the shapes of animals. They are always either naked or dressed in rags. If a person attempts to present a brownie with clothing or if a person attempts to baptize him, he will leave forever.

Although the name brownie originated as a dialectal word used only in northern England and Scotland, it has since become the standard term for all such creatures throughout Great Britain. Regional variants in England and Scotland include hobs, silkies, and ùruisgs. Variants outside England and Scotland are the Welsh Bwbach and the Manx Fenodyree. Brownies have also appeared outside of folklore, including in John Milton's poem L'Allegro. They became popular in works of children's literature in the late nineteenth century and continue to appear in works of modern fantasy. The Brownies in the Girl Guides are named after a short story by Juliana Horatia Ewing based on brownie folklore.

Dragons in Greek mythology

Dragons play a significant role in Greek mythology.

Dyeus

Dyēus or Dyēus Phter (Proto-Indo-European: *dyḗws, also *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr or Dyēus Pətḗr, alternatively spelled dyēws) is believed to have been the chief deity in Proto-Indo-European mythology. Part of a larger pantheon, he was the god of the daylit sky, and his position may have mirrored the position of the patriarch or monarch in Proto-Indo-European society.

This deity is not directly attested; rather, scholars have reconstructed this deity from the languages and cultures of later Indo-European peoples such as the Greeks, Latins, and Indo-Aryans. According to this scholarly reconstruction, Dyeus was known as Dyḗus Ph2tḗr, literally "sky father" or "shining father", as reflected in Latin Iūpiter, Diēspiter, possibly Dis Pater and deus pater, Greek Zeu Pater, Vedic Dyáuṣ Pitṛ́. As the pantheons of the individual mythologies related to Proto-Indo-European religion evolved, attributes of Dyeus seem to have been redistributed to other deities. In Greek and Roman mythology, Dyeus remained the chief god; however, in Vedic mythology, the etymological continuant of Dyeus became a very abstract god, and his original attributes and dominance over other gods appear to have been transferred to gods such as Agni or Indra.

List of goddesses

This is a list of deities regarded as female or mostly feminine in gender.

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic." A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.

Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.

List of thunder gods

Polytheistic peoples of many cultures have postulated a thunder god, the personification or source of the forces of thunder and lightning; a lightning god does not have a typical depiction, and will vary based on the culture. In many cultures, the thunder god is frequently known as the chief or king of the gods, e.g. Indra in Hinduism, Zeus in Greek mythology, and Perun in ancient Slavic religion; or a close relation thereof, e.g. Thor, son of Odin, in Norse mythology. This is also true of Shango in Yoruba religion and in the syncretic religions of the African Diaspora, such as Santería (Cuba, Puerto Rico, United States) and Candomblé (Brazil).

Lusitanian mythology

Lusitanian mythology is the mythology of the Lusitanians, the Indo-European people of western Iberia, in the territory comprising most of modern Portugal, Galicia, Extremadura and a small part of Salamanca.

Lusitanian deities heavily influenced all of the religious practices in western Iberia, namely also in Gallaecia. They mingled with Roman deities after Lusitania was conquered. Recently, a Vasconian substrate is starting to be recognized.

Norse mythology

Norse mythology is the body of myths of the North Germanic peoples, stemming from Norse paganism and continuing after the Christianization of Scandinavia, and into the Scandinavian folklore of the modern period. The northernmost extension of Germanic mythology, Norse mythology consists of tales of various deities, beings, and heroes derived from numerous sources from both before and after the pagan period, including medieval manuscripts, archaeological representations, and folk tradition.

Numerous gods are mentioned in the source texts such as the hammer-wielding, humanity-protecting thunder-god Thor, who relentlessly fights his foes; the one-eyed, raven-flanked god Odin, who craftily pursues knowledge throughout the worlds and bestowed among humanity the runic alphabet; the beautiful, seiðr-working, feathered cloak-clad goddess Freya who rides to battle to choose among the slain; the vengeful, skiing goddess Skaði, who prefers the wolf howls of the winter mountains to the seashore; the powerful god Njörð, who may calm both sea and fire and grant wealth and land; the god Frey, whose weather and farming associations bring peace and pleasure to humanity; the goddess Iðunn, who keeps apples that grant eternal youthfulness; the mysterious god Heimdall, who is born of nine mothers, can hear grass grow, has gold teeth, and possesses a resounding horn; the jötunn Loki, who brings tragedy to the gods by engineering the death of the goddess Frigg's beautiful son Baldr; and numerous other deities.

Most of the surviving mythology centres on the plights of the gods and their interaction with various other beings, such as humanity and the jötnar, beings who may be friends, lovers, foes or family members of the gods. The cosmos in Norse mythology consists of Nine Worlds that flank a central cosmological tree, Yggdrasil. Units of time and elements of the cosmology are personified as deities or beings. Various forms of a creation myth are recounted, where the world is created from the flesh of the primordial being Ymir, and the first two humans are Ask and Embla. These worlds are foretold to be reborn after the events of Ragnarök when an immense battle occurs between the gods and their enemies, and the world is enveloped in flames, only to be reborn anew. There the surviving gods will meet, and the land will be fertile and green, and two humans will repopulate the world.

Norse mythology has been the subject of scholarly discourse since the 17th century when key texts were brought to the attention of the intellectual circles of Europe. By way of comparative mythology and historical linguistics, scholars have identified elements of Germanic mythology reaching as far back as Proto-Indo-European mythology. In the modern period, the Romanticist Viking revival re-awoke an interest in the subject matter, and references to Norse mythology may now be found throughout modern popular culture. The myths have further been revived in a religious context among adherents of Germanic Neopaganism.

Samudra

Samudra (Devanagari: समुद्र) is a Sanskrit term literally meaning the "gathering together of waters" (saṃ- "together" and -udra "water"). It refers to an ocean, sea or confluence. It also forms the name of Samudradeva, the Hindu god of the ocean. The word has been borrowed to various languages influenced by Sanskrit, including Modern Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi समुद्र samudra, Bengali সমুদ্র shômudrô, Gujarati સમંદર samandar, Marathi and Nepali समुद्र samudra, Punjabi ਸਮੁੰਦਰ samuṃdar, and others, like Kannada ಸಮುದ್ರ samudra, Tamil சமுத்திரம் samudraṁ Malayalam സമുദ്രം samudraṁ, Telugu సముద్రం samudram, Burmese သမုဒ္ဒရာ samuddara, Thai สมุทร sàmùt, Khmer សមុទ្រ samout, Lao ມະຫາສະຫມຸດ mahasamud, and Malay samudera.

Sanzan period

The Sanzan Period (三山時代, Sanzan-jidai) is a period in the history of the Okinawa Islands when three polities, namely Hokuzan (北山, lit. northern mountain), Chūzan (中山, lit. middle mountain) and Nanzan (南山, lit. southern mountain), are said to have co-existed on Okinawa. It is said to have started during King Tamagusuku's reign (traditional dates: 1314–1336) and, according to Sai On's edition of the Chūzan Seifu, ended in 1429 when Shō Hashi unified the island. Historical records of the period are fragmentary and mutually conflicting. Some even question the co-existence of the three polities.

Satyr

In Greek mythology, a satyr (Greek: σάτυρος sátyros, pronounced [sátyros]), also known as a silenos (Greek: σειληνός seilēnós), is a male nature spirit with ears and a tail resembling those of a horse, as well as a permanent, exaggerated erection. Early artistic representations sometimes include horse-like legs, but, by the sixth century BC, they were more often represented with human legs. Comically hideous, they have mane-like hair, bestial faces, and snub noses and are always shown naked. Satyrs were characterized by their ribaldry and were known as lovers of wine, music, dancing, and women. They were companions of the god Dionysus and were believed to inhabit remote locales, such as woodlands, mountains, and pastures. They often attempted to seduce or rape nymphs and mortal women alike, usually with little success. They are sometimes shown masturbating or engaging in bestiality.

In classical Athens, satyrs made up the chorus in a genre of play known as a "satyr play", which was a parody of tragedy and was known for its bawdy and obscene humor. The only complete surviving play of this genre is Cyclops by Euripides, although a significant portion of Sophocles's Ichneutae has also survived. In mythology, the satyr Marsyas is said to have challenged the god Apollo to a musical contest and been flayed alive for his hubris. Though superficially ridiculous, satyrs were also thought to possess useful knowledge, if they could be coaxed into revealing it. The satyr Silenus was the tutor of the young Dionysus and a story from Ionia told of a silenos who gave sound advice when captured.

Over the course of Greek history, satyrs gradually became portrayed as more human and less bestial. They also began to acquire goat-like characteristics in some depictions as a result of conflation with the Pans, plural forms of the god Pan with the legs and horns of goats. The Romans identified satyrs with their native nature spirits fauns. Eventually the distinction between the two was lost entirely. Since the Renaissance, satyrs have been most often represented with the legs and horns of goats. Representations of satyrs cavorting with nymphs have been common in western art, with many famous artists creating works on the theme. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, satyrs have generally lost much of their characteristic obscenity, becoming more tame and domestic figures. They commonly appear in works of fantasy and children's literature, in which they are most often referred to as "fauns".

Solar deity

A solar deity (also sun god or sun goddess) is a sky deity who represents the Sun, or an aspect of it, usually by its perceived power and strength. Solar deities and sun worship can be found throughout most of recorded history in various forms. The Sun is sometimes referred to by its Latin name Sol or by its Greek name Helios. The English word sun stems from Proto-Germanic *sunnǭ.

Threads of Destiny (disambiguation)

Threads of Destiny is a Japanese television drama series launched in 2008, and an associated book series.

"Threads of Destiny" or "Thread of Destiny" may also refer to:

Threads of destiny, mythical threads woven by goddesses of fate in Proto-Indo-European mythology

Threads of Destiny, a 1914 film starring Evelyn Nesbit (with Russell Thaw)

Threads of Destiny, a 1994 romance novel by Sara Wood

Threads of Destiny, a 1998 romance novel by Arnette Lamb

The Thread of Destiny, a 1910 film directed by D. W. Griffith, featuring Mary Pickford and Mack Sennett

Star Wars: Threads of Destiny, a 2014 Star Wars fan film

Trifunctional hypothesis

The trifunctional hypothesis of prehistoric Proto-Indo-European society postulates a tripartite ideology ("idéologie tripartite") reflected in the existence of three classes or castes—priests, warriors, and commoners (farmers or tradesmen)—corresponding to the three functions of the sacral, the martial and the economic, respectively. The trifunctional thesis is primarily associated with the French mythographer Georges Dumézil, who proposed it in 1929 in the book Flamen-Brahman, and later in Mitra-Varuna.

Werewolf

In folklore, a werewolf (Old English: werwulf, "man-wolf") or occasionally lycanthrope (Greek: λυκάνθρωπος lukánthrōpos, "wolf-person") is a human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf (or, especially in modern film, a therianthropic hybrid wolflike creature), either purposely or after being placed under a curse or affliction (often a bite or scratch from another werewolf) and especially on the night of a full moon. Early sources for belief in this ability or affliction, called lycanthropy , are Petronius (27–66) and Gervase of Tilbury (1150–1228).

The werewolf is a widespread concept in European folklore, existing in many variants, which are related by a common development of a Christian interpretation of underlying European folklore developed during the medieval period. From the early modern period, werewolf beliefs also spread to the New World with colonialism. Belief in werewolves developed in parallel to the belief in witches, in the course of the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. Like the witchcraft trials as a whole, the trial of supposed werewolves emerged in what is now Switzerland (especially the Valais and Vaud) in the early 15th century and spread throughout Europe in the 16th, peaking in the 17th and subsiding by the 18th century.

The persecution of werewolves and the associated folklore is an integral part of the "witch-hunt" phenomenon, albeit a marginal one, accusations of lycanthropy being involved in only a small fraction of witchcraft trials. During the early period, accusations of lycanthropy (transformation into a wolf) were mixed with accusations of wolf-riding or wolf-charming. The case of Peter Stumpp (1589) led to a significant peak in both interest in and persecution of supposed werewolves, primarily in French-speaking and German-speaking Europe. The phenomenon persisted longest in Bavaria and Austria, with persecution of wolf-charmers recorded until well after 1650, the final cases taking place in the early 18th century in Carinthia and Styria.After the end of the witch-trials, the werewolf became of interest in folklore studies and in the emerging Gothic horror genre; werewolf fiction as a genre has pre-modern precedents in medieval romances (e.g. Bisclavret and Guillaume de Palerme) and developed in the 18th century out of the "semi-fictional" chap book tradition. The trappings of horror literature in the 20th century became part of the horror and fantasy genre of modern popular culture.

Wolves in folklore, religion and mythology

The wolf is a common motif in the foundational mythologies and cosmologies of peoples throughout Eurasia and North America (corresponding to the historical extent of the habitat of the gray wolf). The obvious attribute of the wolf is its nature of a predator, and correspondingly it is strongly associated with danger and destruction, making it the symbol of the warrior on one hand, and that of the devil on the other. The modern trope of the Big Bad Wolf is a development of this. The wolf holds great importance in the cultures and religions of the nomadic peoples, both of the Eurasian steppe and North American Plains.

In many cultures, the identification of the warrior with the wolf (totemism) gave rise to the notion of lycanthropy, the mythical or ritual identification of man and wolf.

Wolves were sometimes associated with witchcraft in both northern European and some Native American cultures: in Norse folklore, the völva (witch) Hyndla and the giantess Hyrrokin are both portrayed as using wolves as mounts, while in Navajo culture, wolves were feared as witches in wolf's clothing. Similarly, the Tsilhqot'in believed that contact with wolves could cause mental illness and death.

Ymir

In Norse mythology, Ymir (), Aurgelmir, Brimir, or Bláinn is the ancestor of all jötnar. Ymir is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional material, in the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, and in the poetry of skalds. Taken together, several stanzas from four poems collected in the Poetic Edda refer to Ymir as a primeval being who was born from venom that dripped from the icy rivers Élivágar and lived in the grassless void of Ginnungagap. Ymir birthed a male and female from the pits of his arms, and his legs together begat a six-headed being. The gods Odin, Vili and Vé fashioned the Earth (elsewhere personified as a goddess; Jörð) from his flesh, from his blood the ocean, from his bones the mountains, from his hair the trees, from his brains the clouds, from his skull the heavens, and from his eyebrows the middle realm in which mankind lives, Midgard. In addition, one stanza relates that the dwarfs were given life by the gods from Ymir's flesh and blood (or the Earth and sea).

In the Prose Edda, a narrative is provided that draws from, adds to, and differs from the accounts in the Poetic Edda. According to the Prose Edda, after Ymir was formed from the elemental drops, so too was Auðumbla, a primeval cow, whose milk Ymir fed from. The Prose Edda also states that three gods killed Ymir; the brothers Odin, Vili and Vé, and details that, upon Ymir's death, his blood caused an immense flood. Scholars have debated as to what extent Snorri's account of Ymir is an attempt to synthesize a coherent narrative for the purpose of the Prose Edda and to what extent Snorri drew from traditional material outside of the corpus that he cites. By way of historical linguistics and comparative mythology, scholars have linked Ymir to Tuisto, the Proto-Germanic being attested by Tacitus in his 1st century AD work Germania and have identified Ymir as an echo of a primordial being reconstructed in Proto-Indo-European mythology.

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