atozchallenge

J is for Jötunn

The jötnar Fafner and Fasolt seize Freyja.

Jötunn are giants from old Norse mythology. They’re extremely strong nature spirits. Their home is Jǫtunheimar, one of the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. They live well with homes fashioned like those of the gods.

Some jötnar (plural of jötunn) are described as having long claws, fangs, and deformed appearances. As well as being really tall. Others are sometimes given opposite descriptions, except the tall part. While trolls are hideous and have features like those of neanderthals, the jötnar resemble normal people through their general facial features. However, they might have multiple heads (depending on the individual), which can look into different directions.

They also live a long time and can be very knowledgeable and wise. When it comes to magic, they tend to be shamanic and make use of their brute power, allowing it to do most of their work for them. Unlike trolls, the jötnar are unaffected by sunlight and will not turn to stone like their distant cousins. This means that while the majority of populace are safe during the day, shepherds tend to disappear while herding sheep, and thus, naturally are considered to be eaten.

Here is what wikipedia says in regards to their origins:

The first living being formed in the primeval chaos known as Ginnungagap was a giant of monumental size, called Ymir. When he slept a jötunn son and a jötunn daughter grew from his armpits, and his two feet procreated and gave birth to a son, a monster with six heads. These three beings gave rise to the race of hrímþursar (rime thurs), who populated Niflheim, the world of mist, chill and ice. The gods instead claim their origin from a certain Búri. When the giant Ymir subsequently was slain by Odin, Vili and Vé (the grandsons of Búri), his blood (i.e. water) deluged Niflheim and killed all of the jötnar, apart from one known as Bergelmir and his spouse, who then repopulated their kind.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • In Norse mythology, it’s said that fire jötnar, or fire giants, will torch the world at the end of Ragnarök, killing all the people, some of the gods, and themselves. All except for a man and a woman Odin sets aside in a forest that doesn’t burn.
  • While jötnar are tied to Norway, they have also spread to England, where they are known as Ettin. 
  • In later times, trolls began to replace jötnar and took on many of their traits. Due to that, people started viewing them as one in the same.
Have you heard of Jötnar before? If so, where? Also, is there a mythological being you’re itching to read about? Let me know!

I is for Incubus

An Incubus is a male demon that comes upon a woman when they’re asleep and has intercourse with them, usually with the purpose of trying to impregnate her with his child. According to religious beliefs, continued visits by an incubus lead to the deterioration of one’s health and eventually death. It also corrupts both the moral and mental aspects of the female.

These nighttime visitors were the embodiments of sexual seduction during the medieval times. They were often used to explain pregnancies out of wedlock as well as rape inflicted on the sleeping woman by someone close to the victim. The latter used it as a way to escape punishment for their actions.

The most well-known offspring of an incubus and woman, known as a cambion, is Merlin the powerful wizard from Arthurian legend. Cambion typically grown up to be powerful magic users or evildoers.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • The word incubus comes from the Latin “incubus,” which means “nightmare.”
  • Some consider succubi and incubi to be a single demon capable of lying with both genders, while others declare that they are two separate entities.
  • The earliest mention of incubi and succubi are from 2400 BC in ancient Mesopotamian manuscript Sumerian King List. The hero Gilgamesh’s father is a “Lilu,” which shares the same attributes as an incubus in that they both seduce women while they sleep.
What are your thoughts on the Incubi (or Succubi)? Have you experienced any books, movies, or games with them in it?

H is for Harpy

Harpy, from the Greek word harpūia, means “swift robber” or “snatcher.” They are personifications of destructive wind. Mostly, they live in areas where the sea is prevalent, specifically the island of Strophades. A harpies appearance includes the head and neck of a woman with the wings, bodies, and talons of a bird. They’re cruel, vicious, and very violent.

In tales, harpies fly over their victims, snatch what they want whether it’s food or a person, and carry them away from the help of others, or to the underworld, so the harpies can eat. However, if they don’t kill their targets, they drive them to the edges of their sanity.

One of the most popular stories featuring harpies is about Phineas. Wikipedia says:

Phineas, a king of Thrace, had the gift of prophecy. Zeus, angry that Phineas revealed too much, punished him by blinding him and putting him on an island with a buffet of food which he could never eat. The harpies always arrived and stole the food out of his hands before he could satisfy his hunger, and befouled the remains of his food. This continued until the arrival of Jason and the Argonauts. The Boreads, sons of Boreas, the North Wind, who also could fly, succeeded in driving off the harpies, but without killing any of them, following a request from Iris, who promised that Phineas would not be bothered by the harpies again, and “the dogs of great Zeus” returned to their “cave in Minoan Crete”. Thankful for their help, Phineas told the Argonauts how to pass the Symplegades. (Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245).

Although, they are often compared to sirens, who sink ships by seducing and luring sailors in with their voices,  harpies have directly opposite approaches to killing.

Interesting Tidbit:

  • In Dante’s Inferno XIII, the second ring of the seventh circle of Hell is for suicides. They are transformed into trees and bushes, which are consumed by harpies.
  • The American Harpy Eagle is an actual bird that appears on Panama’s Coat of Arms and is their national bird.
  • Harpies and sirens both became beautiful and seductive later on through Roman romanticism. This has turned the harpy into a more sorrowful spirit of death.
Links:
What are your thoughts on the Harpies? Have you experienced any books, movies, or games with them in it?

G is for Gnome

Gnomes are a more recent addition to European folklore. The earliest mentions of them date to the 16th century. Male gnomes wear red pointy caps, have big beards, and usually have a tool belt, which relates to the fact that they’re technologically inclined. Female gnomes tend to wear more muted colors, has her hair in braids, and begins to grow a light beard when she reaches 350 years of age. They are very small in size, usually ranging from 5 inches to 2 feet tall depending on the source. Both genders have a very long lifespan.

German Garden Gnome

Gnomes are considered more human than their more unluckier cousins and fierce rivals, goblins. Both are viewed as a type of a earth spirit, but gnomes are known as inventors and alchemists, while goblins use crude but effective tools. Gnomes also tend to be capable of earth-related magic.

There are several different types of gnomes. Woodland gnomes, Dune gnomes, House gnomes, Farm gnomes, Garden gnomes, and Siberian gnomes. Woodland and Dune gnomes avoid contact with humans. House and Farm are good-natured and more likely to interact with humans. Garden gnomes enjoy living in older gardens and telling depressing stories. The Siberian gnome is meaner and takes revenge for even the smallest of offenses.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • The origin of the word gnome comes from Latin word gēnomos, which means “earth-dweller.” In the 16th Century, a Swiss alchemist named Paracelsus first wrote about gnomus omitting the “ē,” which the OED noted was a blunder. The word as we know it today came about in the early 18th century, but it became popular in the 19th century due to their popularity in children’s fairy tales.
  • In Scandinavian mythology, they’re thought to have always existed but were mostly considered related to other beings, such as fairy or fey.
  • During the 20th century, due to the popularity of 19th century fairy tales, gnomes became synonymous with other domestic spirits, which protected the residence and did household chores, losing their distinctness of being tied to earthy, subterranean lives.

Here’s a fun video from the video game Fable 3, which features a gnome hurling insults at the main character. It’s pretty darn funny.

Who are your favorite Gnomes? What books, movies, or games have you enjoyed with them in it? Has anyone seen the newish movie Gnomeo and Juliet?

F is for Furies

The Furies, or Dirae, are part of Roman mythology. In Greek mythology, they’re called Erinnýes (“the angry ones”) or Eumenídes (“the Kindly Ones”). They’re the embodiments of vengeance. One description of their existence is that they came from the blood of Caelus (Greek: Uranus) when it fell upon Terra Mater (Gaia) due to Saturn (Cronus) castrating him. Another variation is that they were born from the primordial goddess of night, Nox (Nyx).

While typically thought of as three sisters, according to mythology, the real number of them are unknown. Virgil, the classical Roman poet, was first to recognize the three known Furies. Their names are Alecto (which means “unceasing”), Megaera (“grudging”), and Tisiphone (“avenging murder”). They tend to appear as women with serpent wreathes on their heads, blood running from their eyes and the wings of a bat or bird. And occasionally even the body of a dog.

When they’re not pursuing wrongdoers on Earth, the Furies are thought to spend most of their time in Tartarus, which is in the underworld below Hades, torturing damned souls.

‘Orestes Pursued by the Furies’ (1921) by John Singer Sargent

Interesting Tidbits:

  • On a rare few occasions, they would be called to punish a god, but mostly, they sought justice on mortals who broke laws such as murdering kin or breaking oaths.
  • A common Greek story featuring the Furies is “Eumenides” by Aeschylus. The Furies torment Orestes until he begs the goddess Athena to convince the Furies to leave him alone.
  • The Furies are known to be just, so if one repents, they will stop tormenting the person and sometimes bestow upon them blessings.
Good links to check out for more information:

What are your thoughts on the Furies? Have you experienced any books, movies, or games with them in it?

E is for Elf

Yes, it’s true! Today’s topic for the A to Z challenge isn’t as obscure as the past two have been. Surprisingly, I racked my brain trying to think of a topic today before smacking myself upside the head. Scary really, since a life-sized Legolas shares my office with me.

Legolas from Lord of the Rings.

So, Elves are beings originally from Germanic mythology (basically Old Norse, Old English, and German). They’re also featured in modern folklore (Scandinavian, German, English & Scottish, and don’t forget Santa’s helpers). In Norse mythology, they’re divided between light elves (Ljósálfar) and dark elves (Dökkálfar). They have magical powers which they can use to help mankind or hurt it. Also, they’re very connected with nature and tend to live in forests and away from people.

Appearance-wise, elves are famous for their pointed ears and delicate beauty. Light elves tend to look like my friend Legolas up there with light hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. Dark elves, on the other hand, have black hair, dark eyes, and black skin. In terms of behavior, while dark elves tend to stay away from people and can be slightly hostile, light elves are willing to talk to people provided you’re able to meet one.

Having a dislike in iron (since it limits their powers), elves prefer the finer metals of silver or gold. Their normal working tools tend to be bronze. This is one of the reasons why elves utilize bows and arrows, as well as the obvious advantage of having their enemies at a distance.

Elves have become a staple to the fantasy genre both in literature and gaming, helped by the success of the hugely popular roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • Some variations of elves depict them as very small-statured. This was especially prominent in Victorian literature.
  • The way elves appear in the high fantasy genre and J.R.R. Tolkien’s work (Lord of the Rings, etc.) comes from influence of 19th century Romanticism and its depiction of them being very beautiful beings.
  • Santa’s helpers “Christmas elves” became popular in the 1870s.
It’s your turn! Who are your favorite Elves? What books, movies, or games have you enjoyed with them in it?

D is for Dhampir

Dhampirs are from Balkan (gypsy) folklore. They are born of a vampire father and a human mother. Dhampirs are dual-natured sort of like the Centaurs yesterday. They’re forced to walk between their undead side and their mortal side; although, they are more human than vampire. They possess vampiric powers without the weaknesses, but their physical and supernatural strength is less than that of a vampire due to being a half-breed. They tend to be unusually good at tracking and hunting vampires.

Additionally, vampires tend to target dhampirs since they’re viewed as a serious threat. After all, during the day a dhampir with knowledge of a vampire’s nest is likely able to wipe them all out with little effort. However, once night falls, the dhampirs would need to watch their backs to prevent being hunted in return.

But it’s not just vampires dhampirs have to worry about. Typically, they’re disliked and misunderstood by humans since they have vampiric lineage. Although, they were taken in by Gypsy communities and hired themselves out as vampire hunters.

One popular depiction is Rayne from the video games, movies, and comics BloodRayne. (FYI: I’ve seen the first two movies. I love the first one, but whew, the second one made my wonder why I threw away those 99 minutes of my life. But regardless of that, I’ll give the third movie a chance.)

You could say that Blade is a dhampir. While his mother was human, he gained his vampirism due to her being attacked while she was pregnant, not because his biological father engaged in intercourse with his mother. (Although, I think there are variations of this between the comics and movies. I only saw the movies.)

Interesting Tidbits:

  • The word dhampir comes from the Albanian language, “pij or pirё means ‘to drink,’ and dhёmbё or dham which means ‘teeth,’ thus dhampir, ‘to drink with teeth.'” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhampir)
  • According to Vukanovic’s “The Vampire,” some believed that dhampirs’ bodies were “slippery like jelly, and cannot live.” That belief coincides with one that vampires don’t have bones.
  • Dhampirs are fairly popular in fiction, movies, comics, and games. Here’s a list of some of those.
So, what are your thoughts on Dhampirs? Have you read, watched, or played something with one in it?

C is for Centaur

Today’s topic for the A to Z blogging challenge is Centaurs from Greek mythology. They have the torso of a human and the hindquarters of a horse. Most believe that they came into existence due to the appearance of riders on horseback for non-riding cultures. For someone unfamiliar, the elegant movements of both the rider and the horse can appear as if the both are acting solely as one being.

Centaur with Bow

In classical mythology, centaurs have been considered guardians of their territories and ensured the peace in the nature around them, usually driving the pesky meddling humans away. They’re also known for their dual nature of man and beast, usually behaving somewhere in between the two.

Centaurs’ lifespan is agreed to be much longer than humans, and their magic tied to both earth and the nature surrounding them. Stories also tell of their uncanny skill with both bow and spear, giving even more credit to their “bull striker” name.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • In more recent times, when the Aztecs encountered Spanish cavalry, the Spaniards were mistaken for being hybrid creatures similar to centaurs.
  • While the more typical view of a centaur is a man and a horse mix, in Russian folklore, there are old tales regarding a human/hound (or horse depending on the variation) creature that terrorized the countryside. It’s called a polkan based on the Italian poem I Reali di Francia which featured Pulicane a half-dog character.
  • Their origin dates back to the Bronze Age from terracotta pottery found featuring them.
So, what do you think of Centaurs? Have any favorite books or movies featuring them?

B is for Banshee

Today’s topic for the A to Z Challenge is Banshee, also know as bean-sidhe from Irish mythology. She’s an Irish woman who appears in different guises, typically a beautiful woman or an old hag. She is typically noted to live by a river where she washes the clothes of the person that will die. Her wail has traditionally been tied to foretelling a death of an important person from the established families, typically one from which they’re tied to by magic or duty.

In more recent descriptions, the banshees have taken alternative forms with their wailing. Some describe banshees as taking a more vampiric approach, renewing their lifelike appearances and extending their unlife by sucking the very moisture and life out of the air, and anyone happening to be nearby, leaving behind dried dust of the unfortunate witnesses to her wailing.

Others portray her as a tormented woman who returns after her death to haunt those who caused her passing. In these stories, the maiden appears to be a complete mute, but when she opens her mouth, she kills those nearby through fright, or if they’re lucky, and at an extended distance, her wail ages their appearances by years.

One Depiction of a Banshee.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • There are records of banshees going as far back as 1380 from Seán Mac Craith’s Cathréim Thoirdealbhaigh (Triumphs of Turlough).
  • Banshees can appear in other forms as well such as the hooded crow, stoat, hare, or weasel. Each of those animals are associated with witchcraft in Ireland.
  • In American Folklore, there’s been several stories about banshees from the Tar River in Edgecomb, North Carolina. But those tend to depict her as a ghoul than Irish Folklore.

What are your thoughts on Banshees?

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