Friday, 7 November 2014

Mythology, Legend, and Folklore of the Sky - Part Four - The Weather

                    Know the enemy, know yourself;
                    your victory will never be endangered.
                    Know the ground, know the weather,
                    your victory will then be total.
                                Sun Tzu, The Art of War, c. 400-320 b.c.

Wherever you are in the world, the weather is always a topic of conversation.  In modern times we have a deeper understanding of the what and the why of weather phenomena and can, with some degree of accuracy, predict what is to come.  However, ancient cultures didn't have the same scientific approach to the weather that we have today.  Instead they created folktales and legends, mythological creatures and gods to explain the reasons behind the winds, the rain, storms, snow and the more extreme weather events that we still experience today.

There are so many gods and goddesses associated with the weather.  It would be impossible to put them all into this post, so I'll just give you a few of the tales found in mythology and legend here.  Many more gods and goddess can be found here.

The Weather in Mythology and Legend

In mythology, legend and folklore there are an uncountable number of deities which have been attributed to the weather.  The ancient Greeks had no fewer than 40 gods and goddesses related to the weather and the climate and they are not the only culture to have a colourful collection of sky deities.

The Bird Whose Wings Made Wind - A North American Indian Tale

by Duke Sine

     An Indian family resided on the sea-shore. They had two sons, the oldest of whom was married and had a family of small children. They lived principally by fishing, and their favourite food was eels.
     Now it came to pass at a certain time that the weather was so stormy they could not fish. The wind blew fiercely night and day, and they were greatly reduced by hunger. Finally the old father told his boys to walk along the shore, and perhaps they might find a fish that had floated ashore, as   sometimes happened.
     So one of the young men started off to try his luck in this line; when he reached a point where the wind blew so fiercely that he could hardly stand against it, he saw the cause of all the trouble. At the end of the point there was a ledge of rocks, called Rocky Point, extending far out; at low water the rocks were separated from one another by the shallow water, but were nearly all covered when the tide was in. On the farthest rock a large bird, the storm-king, was standing, flapping his wings and    causing all the trouble by the wind he raised. The Indian planned to outwit him.
     He called to the big bird, and addressing him as "my grandfather," said, "Are you cold?" He answered, "No." The man replied, "You are cold; let me carry you ashore on my back." "Do so," was the answer. So the man waded over to the rock on which the bird was sitting, took him on his back, and carefully carried him from rock to rock, wading over the intervening spaces of shoal water. In going down the last rock, he stumbled on purpose, but pretended that it was an accident; and the poor old bird fell and broke one of his wings. The man seemed very sorry, and immediately proceeded to set the bone and bind up the wing. He then directed the old fellow to keep quiet and not move his wings until the wounded one healed. He now inquired if it pained him much, and was told that it did not. "Remain there and I will visit you again soon, and bring you some food."
     He now returned home, and found that the wind had all died away; there was a dead calm, so that before long they were supplied with a great abundance of food, as the eels were plenty and easily taken. But there can be too much even of a good thing. Calm weather continued for a succession of days, causing the salt water to be covered with a sort of scum. The Indians say it is the result of sickness and vomiting among the larger fish; this scum prevents the fishermen from seeing into the water, and consequently is adverse to eel-spearing.
     This took place on the occasion referred to, and so they sought for a remedy. The big bird was visited and his wing examined. It was sufficiently recovered to admit of motion, and he was told to keep both his wings going, but that the motion must be steady and gentle. This produced the desired effect.

In Hindu mythology, Indra, the storm god, was one of the three most important deities.  The Hindu cosmos was made up of three levels - the sky realm above, the earth realm below and in between was the realm of atmosphere, which belonged to Indra.  While the importance of Indra has faded over time, during the Vedic period (1750-500BC) this god was frequently invoked to bring rain and is said to be in constant battle with Vritra, the demon of drought.  According to one myth, the earth was scorched and dry because the rain clouds had been imprisoned by Vritra.  When Indra heard the pleas of the people, he descended from the sky and was offered Soma, his favourite drink.  Pleased with this offering, Indra asked the people how he could help.  On hearing their plight, the god decided to fight the demon and rescue the rains.  Using a divine thunderbolt, Indra struck Vritra between the shoulders, slicing the mountains on which Vritra lay open.  This separated heaven from earth and land from water, freeing the rains which had been stolen and hoarded by Vritra.

The Thunderbird

Native American Indian tradition gives us the Thunderbird, a magical form of the eagle and symbolising the power of nature at its most dramatic.  It was believed that the beating of a Thunderbird's wings stirred the wind and made the rumble of thunder and when it blinked, lightning was said to flash from its eyes while individual lightning blots were caused by the glow snakes it was believed to carry with it.  The Miami Indians called it Piasa, meaning 'devourer of man', and believed that it required sacrifices to keep it from attacking the whole community.  The Lakota gave it the name Wakjya, with wakha meaning 'sacred' and kjya meaning 'winged'.

Some tribes viewed the Thunderbird as an omen of war and would constructed war huts of cedar - sacred to the Thunderbird - before taking part in war dances to appease the Thunderbird and to ensure victory in battle.  They would smoke tobacco - also sacred to the Thunderbird - which was said to lift their souls to the heavens where they could meet with the Thunderbird in the spirit-journey, further preparing them for battle and ensuring victory.

Other tribes saw the Thunderbird as a nature spirit and solar animal, whose eyes were the sun and gave the people night and day simply by opening or shutting its eyes.  To Northwestern tribes, the Thunderbird is known as the Skyamsen and the rain-bringer, and countless ceremonies are conducted to honor and appease it.  For more information on the Thunderbird, this is a great web page and this one is tremendously helpful.

The Origin of the Thunderbird - A Passamaquoddy Legend
    This is a legend of long, long ago times.  Two Indians desired to find the origin of thunder.  They travelled north and came to a high mountain.  These mountains performed magically.  They drew apart, back and forth, then closed together very quickly.
    One Indian said, 'I will leap through the cleft before it closes.  If I am caught, you continue to find the origin of thunder.”  The first one succeeded in going through the cleft before it closed, but the second one was caught and squashed.
    On the other side, the first Indian saw a large plain with a group of wigwams, and a number of Indians playing a ball game.  After a little while, these players said to each other, “It is time to go.” They disappeared into their wigwams to put on wings, and came out with their bows and arrows and flew away over the mountains to the south. This was how the Passamaquoddy Indian discovered the homes of the thunderbirds.
    The remaining old men of that tribe asked the Passamaquoddy Indian, “What do you want? Who are you?” He replied with the story of his mission.  The old men deliberated how they could help him.
    They decided to put the lone Indian into a large mortar, and they pounded him until all of his bones were broken.  They molded him into a new body with wings like thunderbird, and gave him a bow and some arrows and sent him away in flight.  They warned him not to fly close to trees, as he would fly so fast he could not stop in time to avoid them, and he would be killed.
    The lone Indian could not reach his home because the huge enemy bird, Wochowsen, at that time made such a damaging wind.  Thunderbird is an Indian and he or his lightning would never harm another Indian. But Wochowsen, great bird from the south, tried hard to rival Thunderbird.  So Passamaquoddies feared Wochowsen, whose wings Glooscap once had broken, because he used too much power.
    A result was that for a long time air became stagnant, the sea was full of slime, and all of the fish died.  But Glooscap saw what was happening to his people and repaired the wings of Wochowsen to the extent of controlling and alternating strong winds with calm.
    Legend tells us this is how the new Passamaquoddy thunderbird, the lone Indian who passed through the cleft, in time became the great and powerful Thunderbird, who always has kept a watchful eye upon the good Indians.

Kormt and Ormt and the Kerlaugs twain
Shall Thor each day wade through,
(When dooms to give he forth shall go
To the ash-tree Yggdrasil;)
For heaven's bridge burns all in flame,
And the sacred waters seethe.

                    - Poetic Edda

In Norse legend, the rainbow is a sacred and well known symbol.  It is referred to as Asabru, meaning 'Bridge of Gods' or, commonly Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, and is the connection between Midgard (the realm of humankind) and Asgard (the realm of the Gods).  The Rainbow Bridge was created with fire, water, and air.
'Now snatch'd by harpies to the dreary coast,
Sunk is the hero, and his glory lost...'

In Greek mythology we find the Harpies, daughters of Electra and Thaumas, whose names are usually given as Aello, Calaeno, Ocypete, and Podarge.  The Harpies, whose name means 'snatchers' in Greek, are depicted as winged women or as monstrous, clawed women.  They personify the storm winds and, in mythology, they are often found with other deities of the wind and air.

Tawhiri, God of Wind and Storms - A Maori Tale

It happened that the brother's of Tawhiri agreed that their parents Rangi (the Sky) and Papa (the Earth) should be separated.  Tawhiri disagreed and was furious.  He hid himself in the sky and planned the perfect revenge.  From his place in the sky, Tawhiri sent thunderstorms and hurricanes to his brother Tane-mahute, the god of the forests.  The storms left destruction and devastation in their path.  Tawhiri sent storms across the oceans to punish his brother Tangaroa, the god of the sea and the storms made whirlpools and giant waves which upset the oceans.  He sent storms to his brothers Haurnia-tikitiki and Rongo-ma-tane, the gods of food, but they were protected by the Earth mother and were unharmed.  Tu-matauenga, the final brother, withstood the winds and rains of the storm.  He was the god of fierce humans.  Tawhiri went on to have thirteen cloud children who lived in the sky.  Some were dark and stormy, while others were light and puffy.  He also became the father of rain, mist, and fog.

In the mythology of Hawaii there are four goddesses associated with snow, called the Snow Maidens of Mauna Kea.  Always described with their white mantles, the goddesses are as follows:

  • Lilinoe, sometimes known as the goddess of the mountain Haleakala.  She is said to have the power to stop the mountain from erupting and is also known as the goddess of dead fires and desolation.  'She sometimes clothed the long summit of the mountain with a glorious garment of snow several miles in length.'  In some legends Lilinoe is said to be the wife of Nana-Nuu, the great flood survivor.
  • Waiau is another of the snow goddesses.  Unfortunately any legends about her are lost in time.  However, there is a like in one of the craters on the summit of a mountain which is called Waiau and it's possible that this lake is connected in some way with the Snow Maiden.
  • Kaboupokane is said to have controlled the snows which fall on the desolate summits of the mountain Hualalai.  Again, there don't seem to be any surviving myths of legends containing this Snow Maiden.
  • The best known is Poliahu, who loved the eastern cliffs of Hawaii and is often described wearing a mantle of pure white kapa.  And for this Snow Maiden, we have a suriviving myth of which I can relate to you.

Pele and the Snow Goddess - A Hawaiian Legend

Poliahu and her friends had come down Mauna Kea to a sloping hillside south of Hamakua.  Suddenly in their midst appeared a stranger of surpassing beauty.  Poliahu welcomed her and the races (race of sleds) were continued... Pele, the maiden of volcanic fires, was angered by the superiority of Poliahu.  The ground began to grow warm and Poliahu knew her enemy.
Pele threw off all disguise and called for the forces of fire to burst open the doors of the subterranean caverns of Mauna Kea.  Up toward the mountain she marshalled her fire-fountains.  Poliahu fled toward the summit.  The snow-mantle was seized by the outbursting lava and began to burn up.  Poliahu grasped the robe, dragging it away and carrying it with her.  Soon she regained strength and threw the mantle over the mountain.

Weather Lore: Fact or Fiction?

Weather Lore can be traced back over thousands of years.  Farmers and sailors were and are dependent on the weather, and for good reason.  Their very survival is at stake.  Doubtless, we've looked up at the sky many a time, trying to discern the signs of what may lay ahead and this action has probably occurred since the first men walked the earth. 
The following weather rhymes  have been handed down from generation to generation and have science to back them up. 

Red sky at night, sailor's/ shepherd's delight.
Red sky in the morning sailor's/ shepherd's warning.

This rhyme goes all the way back to the last quarter of the 1st century where, in Matthew XVI: 2-3, it says - When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For sky is red.  And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.
A deep red sunset is often associated with high pressure and calm, dry weather.  It may indicate a prolonged time of good weather if the sky is red around the sun, which is more important than any clouds which may be around the sun. A red sky in the morning needs slightly different interpretation as it's not so much the sky, but the clouds coming from the west that might be lit red by the sun.  If this is the case, it may indicate rain that will arrive some time in the near future, hence the warning.

If a circle forms 'round the moon
'twill rain or snow soon.

A halo around the moon is caused by light refraction caused by the ice crystals of high clouds.  While these clouds carry no rain, they are known to predict low pressure and undesirable weather.

Rainbow to windward, foul fall the day;
Rainbow to leeward, rain runs away.
If the wind is blowing from the direction of the rainbow it's possible that rain is on the way.  If the wind is blowing towards the rainbow, the rain has passed you - unless there's more on the way...

Mare's tails and mackerel scales
Make tall ships carry low sails.

Mares tales are high cirrus clouds which have been shaped by the wind and can indicate that poor weather is approaching.  Markerel scales are cirrocumulus clouds, which like mare's tails, are shaped by winds moving at high speed and shifting directions, are typical of approaching low pressure weather fronts.

That's it for now.  Next time: The mythology and legend natural disasters.

Useful Resources

Tales of te North American Indian by Stith Thompson
Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Tamra Andrews
The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature: K-Z, Volume 2 - Edited by Bron Taylor
The Odyssey of Homer - Translated by Alexander Pope
Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters, and Animal Power Symbols: A Handbook by Cassandra Eason
Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes by William Westervelt.

No comments:

Post a Comment