Sunday, 9 November 2014

Mythology and Legend of Natural Disasters - Part Two - Earthquakes

Earthquake: a sudden violent shaking of the ground, typically causing absolute destruction, as a result of movements within the earth's crust or volcanic action.

Scientific explanation for earthquakes has eluded humanity right up until the 20th century.  The stories that we find within the mythology and legend have been passed down through generations and were a way for our ancestors to understand these powerful natural events.

In Japan it is said that Namazu, a giant catfish, lives beneath the earth.  When Namazu swims through the depths of the earth it brings forth earthquakes.  A popular saying in Japan is, 'Yurugu tomo yomoya mkeji no kaname-ishi Kashima no komi no aran kaqiri wa,' which means, 'Even if the earth moves, have no fear, for Kashima kami holds the kaname-ishi in place.'  This saying refers to the belief that Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto (Kashima Daimyojin) drove the kaname-ishi stone through the earth, pinning the catfish's head in place.  The top of the stone believed to be the kaname-ishi is still visible at the Kashima shrine in Hitachi.

'Once, not long ago, the sea rushed over the land the train traverses.  That cliff face felt the sting of the sea's spray.  Then Rūaumoko awoke from the breast of Papatūānuku, and split the earth with his awakening yawn.  With his fiery hands, he pushed up the land and toppled the city which has been rebuilt there.'

                                                                              An account from the Maori of the Napier earthquake

For centuries the Maori have experience rū whenua, which means 'the shaking of the land'.  According to their legends and traditions, rū whenua is caused by the god Rūaumoko, who is the son of Ranginui (the Sky) and Papatūānuku (the Earth).

In other Maori traditions, earthquakes are caused by a giant saurian or taniwha.  Taniwha are often described as serpents or dragons which reside in lakes, rivers, swamps and oceans.  Maori tradition regularly credits taniwha for the formations of New Zealand's landscape which is actually formed by earthquakes and volcanic activity.

One story relates how Tane, god of the forests and son of the Sky father and Earth mother, battled a great taniwha at Te Aute in Hawkes Bay.  The taniwha, having travelled north from Porirua, had left a trail of death and destruction in its wake.  When Tane encountered this taniwha, the thrashing of its tail created an island in Lake Roto-a-Tara.  Another tale of taniwah relates how Ngake and Whataitai created Te Whanganui a Tara and is told on a wall mural which can be seen at Petone Beach.

In Indian mythology, the Earth is held up by eight huge elephants, which in turn stand upon the back of the giant 'Cosmic' turtle, which in turn stands upon the coils of a snake.  It is said that if one of the animals looses his balance earthquakes occur.

East Africa have a similar explanation for earthquakes.  Tradition states that a fish carries a stone on its back.  A cow stands on the stone and the earth is balanced on one of the cow's horns.  When the cow's neck starts to ache, it tosses the earth from one horn to the other, which in turn causes earthquakes.

In the South Sea Islands it is believed that the earth is unsteadily balanced on the bag of a hog and, when the hog has an itch on his back, he rubs against a tree which grows in the cosmic grove in which he lived.  The rubbing of the hogs back on the cosmic tree causes earthquakes.  The loud grumbling which often accompanies earthquakes are the satisfied grunts of the hog as he relieves the itch.

The following tale originates from the Gabrielino Indians of Southern California and relates the reason for earthquakes in California.

Where Earthquakes Come From - a Gabrielino Indian Tale

Long ago, when most of the world was water, Great Spirit decided to make a beautiful land, which was carried on the backs of turtles.  One day, the turtles began to argue and three turtles began to swim east, while the other four swam west.  The earth shook!  It cracked with a loud noise!  The turtles could not swim far because the land on their backs was heavy.  When they saw that they could not swim far away they stopped arguing and made up.  But every once in a while the turtles that hold up California anger again, and each time they do the earth shakes.

Chinese and Mongolian tradition also states that the earth is delicately balanced on the back of an animal.  In this case it is a gigantic frog which carries the world.  When the frog twitches, earthquakes are said to occur.

In Greek mythology Poseidon is not only the god of seas and horses; he is also god of earthquakes and is sometimes referred to as 'The Earthshaker'.  In the following quote from a translation of Homer's Illiad, Poseidon joins the Trojan War and puts his skills into action.

So the blessed gods brought the two armies together, and whipped up a sorry strife between them. The Father of gods and men thundered ominously on high, while down below Poseidon caused wide earth and the tallest mountain peaks to quake. Ida of the many streams was shaken from foot to crest, and the city of Troy and the Greek ships trembled. So great was the din as the gods opposed each other, that even Hades, Lord of the Dead, was gripped by fear and rose from his throne below in the underworld, crying out lest Poseidon split the earth and bare his halls to gods and men, those dank and fearsome halls that the gods themselves loathe. Great was the din, now, as Lord Poseidon opposed Apollo and his winged shafts, while bright-eyed Athene challenged Enyalius; as Artemis, the Far-Striker’s sister, huntress of the sounding chase, she of the golden arrows opposed Hera; as Leto stood against great Hermes the Helper; as the mighty deep-swirling river, whom gods call Xanthus, and men Scamander, countered Hephaestus.

If you're interested in reading the rest of this translation it can be found in its entirety here.

In Hindu mythology, earthquakes are caused by Naga Pahoho, as related in the following tale:

When the earth was nothing but water, the god Batara Guru created land by sending his daughter, who lived in the endless ocean, a handful of dust.  The dust was placed in the ocean and made a large island.  But the Naga Pahoho, the serpent which lived beneath the ocean, was furious and arched his mighty back, making the island float away.  Batara Guru was angered and sent more dust to his daughter and a hero, who carried an iron block to hold the serpent.  The dust was again placed in the ocean and formed new land.  Naga Pahoho twisted and turned, fighting the formation of this new land, but all he accomplished was the creation of mountains and valleys.  Today, when earthquakes occur, it is Naga Pahoho fighting against the iron block as he attempts to defy the mighty god of the sky, Batara Guru.

In Norse mythology, the cause of earthquakes is found in the poem Lokasenna, also known as Loki's Quarrel, within the Poetic Edda.

And after that Loki hid himself in the waterfall of Franangr, in the shape of a salmon.  There the Æsir caught him.  He was bound with the guts of his son Nari.  But his son Narfi turned into a wolf.  Skadi took a poisonous snake and fastened it over Loki's face; poison dripped down from it.  Sigyn, Loki's wife, sat there and held a basin under the poison.  But when the basin was full, she carried the poison out; and meanwhile the poison fell on Loki.  Then he writhed so violently at this that all the earth shook with it; those are now called earthquakes.

That's it for today.  Tomorrow we'll look at Tsunamis in mythology and legend.  Until next time/

Handbook of Japanese Mythology by Michael Ashkenazi
My Mother was the Earth, My Father was the Sky: Myth and Memory in Maori Novels in English by Nadia Majid
Magnitude Eight Plus by R. H. Grapes
Greek and Roman Mytholog A to Z by Kathleen N. Daly
Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea and Sky by Tamra Andrews

No comments:

Post a Comment