S is for Sun & Stars–A to Z Blog Challenge

Sun and StarsS is for Sun & Stars

Symbols in Stories from Around the World

The sun is a star so it seemed only fair to spotlight both the sun and stars and the meanings of these celestial bodies.  Being born in the summer, I have always respected the heat that the sun can beat down on my back.  Then those summer nights had me on my back and enjoying the stars above.  If I looked at the night sky for at least 10 minutes, the stars multiplied into infinity.

Stars—whether our Sun or other stars across the universe—were often deities.   At one time, the Sumerians thought the planet Venus was as two four-rayed stars called the morning and evening stars and represented the dual nature of Inanna, the goddess of love and war.  Her personality was much like Venus, the Roman goddess of love, as well as Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love.

The Norse believed stars were placed in the sky by Odin, the one-eyed god, along with his brothers Vili and Ve.

With many deities in the heavens, the Ancient Egyptians aligned their building of pyramids and temples with the stars.  The star Sirius was connected to the goddess Isis, and today’s constellation of Orion represented her husband, Osiris.

Stars could predict great events as for Christians and the birth of Jesus Christ.  The Chinese also believed stars foretold the future of things to come on earth.  The Japanese thought shooting stars were spirits of the dead and were unlucky while many Europeans saw seeing these phenomena as lucky.

The Polynesians saw stars as the eyes of heaven and making note of what happens on earth.

When looking at our Sun itself, this star above all had the most power and usually was male.  The Sun represented the king while the moon was oftentimes the queen.  Every time the Sun rose, it confirmed to the Mayans that the current king was the rightful leader.  The Mayans also conducted rituals to assure that the Sun would rise the next day.

The Cherokee tribe thought the Sun to be female.  Then one time the Sun’s daughter died from a snake bite.  The people sang and danced for the Sun to bring her comfort and to bring the world out of darkness.

Many cultures picture the Sun traveling across the sky by chariot.  The Greek god, Apollo, the Egyptian god Ra, and the Indian god Surya amongst many others made the Sun’s trek possible.

In alchemy, the sun represented an ego.  Gold was sometimes called the Sun of the earth.  The goal of many alchemist was to find the secret to turn anything into gold.  There is also what is known as “Black Sun” in alchemy that stands for the destructive powers of the sun.  Too much gold or too much heat could mean disaster.

In Italy, the image of the Sun combined with the crucifix was designed as a symbol of peace.  The Statue of Liberty has a crown that represents the rays of the sun plus the torch all link to the sun and the safety and the assurance it brings for peace and freedom.

Some stories that feature the sun or stars: 

  • “The Ten Suns,” Chinese tale, ten suns followed their mother Xi He to the Valley of Light and washed them in the lake and hung them in the tree to dry while one sun stayed in the sky until all ten suns wanted to be in the sky and heated the earth to such degree that Di Jun shot and killed nine of these suns until one remains today
  • “Coyote and the Milky Way,” Navajo tale, coyote is annoyed at how slow the people place the stars and threw the bag of stars over his head and created the Milky Way
  • “Maui and the Sun,” Polynesian tale, Maui thought the sun traveled too fast across the sky and he wanted to give more daylight to his mother to make bark cloth so he cut off hair from his wife and fashioned a rope that could not be burned and beat up the sun until it was weak and traveled slower across the sky

What stories do you know that features the sun?  The stars?  Lengthen or bring about light during day or night?  Please comment below and share with others.

While you enjoy this blog, Story Crossroads has year-round offerings including the culminating Festival on May 24, 2017 (see schedule here: https://storycrossroads.com/2017-schedule/).  

We thank our fiscal sponsor, the Utah Storytelling Guild, as well as our funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Western States Arts Federation, Utah Humanities, the City of Murray, the South Jordan Arts Council, the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership and many other individuals. Join us in the support by attending or donating or both! (Click here to go directly to donation page.

R is for Raven–A to Z Blog Challenge

Raven-Free-PNG-ImageR is for Raven

Symbols in Stories from Around the World

For the longest time, I thought a crow and a raven was the same bird.  They both were black and were highly intelligent.  They look alike though have plenty of differences.  The crow is as big as pigeon and could live for 8 years while the raven is as big as a hawk and could live for 30 years.  The crow has a high-pitched “Caw-Caw” song (though can be tricky to call it a song) while the raven sings a low-toned “Gronk-Gronk” song.  Now we are ready to see why so many stories feature the raven.

Almost all Canadian First Nations tribes as well as tribes in the United States have raven stories.  The Pacific Northwest and the California areas are particularly immersed in raven stories.  The Tlingit and Tahltan have the most kinds of adventures for raven.  Depending on what tribe or cultures the raven stories originate, sometimes the stories are owned by a tribe and it is taboo to share if you are not from that area.

The raven exudes a personality of a trickster and often shape-shifts into anything from humans to animals to objects.  Raven is a problem-solver though prefers to fix things for his own benefit rather than helping mankind or his fellow animals.  Though, and luckily, humans and animals alike have benefits from his ventures.  As a trickster, the raven can be a hero or villain and it is up to the audience to decide.

The Haida First Nation said that raven found the first humans in a clam shell.  The raven fed these humans berries and salmon.  The tribes in the Pacific Northwest and beyond credit raven to bringing light into the world when all was dark.  Another Native American tribe believed that raven dropped pebbles into the sea to make islands.

Though usually black, the Sioux tell of a white raven that kept singing out and warning the buffalo before the hunters could make their kill.  One day, an angry shaman grabbed the bird by the tail., threw it in the fire, and the raven became black from that day on.

In Judeo-Christian culture, the raven is the counterpart to the dove.  When Noah sent the raven to see if it was safe to land the ark, the raven never returned while the dove brought back an olive branch.  Some Christians saw the raven as bringing about evil.   The raven, due to being black, was like the night and so naturally haunted graveyards and prophesied of death and destruction.  In contrast, the Chinese, Japanese, and Persian cultures saw the raven as the messenger of the gods and symbolized the sun.

The Celts saw the raven as one of the three beasts of battle.  The Vikings told stories of Odin, the one-eyed god, that had two ravens named Huggin “Thought” and Muggin “Memory.”  Odin led or started many wars though these ravens would bring back wisdom and strategy to all he did.  The Irish Celts connected raven not only to battle but with death.  The raven was the bird associated with Morrigan, the war goddess.  She would summon ravens (and crows) to slaughter and to feast upon the dead.  In real life, the raven prefers carrion to the crow.  These same ravens had the gift of prophecy, could use magic, shape-shift, and seduce men.

The Ancient Welsh’s King Bran actually means “Raven.”  When he died, his head was buried within the White Mount, which is the location of the historic Tower of London.  Ravens still fly about that tower and legend has it that if the ravens leave, it would be the fall of England.

So far England has nothing to be worried about.

Some stories that feature a raven:

  • “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe, a raven says “Nevermore” continuously to a grieving man who misses his love and the man becomes frustrated and references mythology and other religious images
  • “The Birth of Raven,” Tlinget tale (Pacific Northwest), Raven is born the third child and the mother’s uncle drowns the first two though Raven is skilled at carving and uses a carved toy canoe to enlarge so he does not drown and later Raven takes vengeance on anyone taken advantage of or being cruel to another
  • “The Crow and the Raven,” Aesop Fable, a raven received happy attention from people as a good omen while the crow was a bad omen so the crow wanted attention and cawed loudly but no one was impressed

What stories do you know that feature a raven?  Was there trickery?  Shape-shifting?  Do you know a story that involves a raven and a crow?  Please comment below and share with others.

While you enjoy this blog, Story Crossroads has year-round offerings including the culminating Festival on May 24, 2017 (see schedule here: https://storycrossroads.com/2017-schedule/).  

We thank our fiscal sponsor, the Utah Storytelling Guild, as well as our funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Western States Arts Federation, Utah Humanities, the City of Murray, the South Jordan Arts Council, the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership and many other individuals. Join us in the support by attending or donating or both! (Click here to go directly to donation page.

Q is for Queen–A to Z Blog Challenge

Queen CrownQ is for Queen

Symbols in Stories from Around the World

“God save the Queen” is an anthem well deserved by Elizabeth II who has reigned in England longer than Queen Victoria.  Queen Elizabeth II is already a legend.  Then we have queens whose stories have lasted for centuries.  Mother goddesses are queens of the heavens.  Step-mothers and mothers could be considered queens of their home.  The traditional queen of folk and fairy tales abound.

Start with the heavens.  The Welsh had Don, who was the mother of all gods.  In fact, “The Court of Don” uses the same stars as the constellation Cassiopeia, another queen figure from the story “Perseus and Andromeda.”  Don gave birth to Govannan, Gwydion, Arianrhod, Gofannon, and Amaethon.  Such heavenly queens symbolized fertility and ability for life to exist.  These deities then gave birth to more deities honored by the Celts.  As time went on, many families of Celtic descent were related to a mysterious goddess.  Then, these people would have royal blood from on high.

Christian faiths are clear about all people being Children of God.  Another Christian faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, honor Heavenly Father as God and recognize there is also a Heavenly Mother.  In one of the hymns named “O My Father” written by Eliza R. Snow, there is the stanza:

I had learned to call thee Father, Through thy Spirit from on high,

But until the key of knowledge Was restored, I knew not why.

In the heavens are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare!

Truth is reason, truth eternal Tells me I’ve a mother there.

For some Christian faiths, the Virgin Mary is the Queen of Heaven as she and God the Father are the parents of Jesus Christ.  Some paintings even show Mary being crowned by Christ and not by God the Father.

Continue with the earthly queens.  While the king was considered solar gold, the queen usually was lunar silver.  Instead of higher or lesser lights in the sky, sometimes queens held equal power to kings.  With King Solomon, known for his wisdom, the Jews also saw the Queen of Sheba as his equal is that wisdom.

The emblems a queen holds or wears can reflect the power that she has been given.  The crown is a symbol of sovereignty while an orb with a cross at the top shows that she rules by the Christian faith.  A scepter has always been a symbol of authority.  In Ancient Egypt, the queens of the pharaohs wore the image of the vulture goddess Mut (Mother).  This linked them to the immortal mother.

At times, a queen with so much power can change a woman who might have been a princess first.  Princesses in stories are often innocent and practically perfect.  Queens in stories are full of vices such as jealously or cruelty.

Finally, queens could be found within the home.  No royal blood is required.  The home is the kingdom.  Step-mothers tend to be villains or combatants in the story.  The original mother—queen—no longer reigns and the step-mother—new queen—must start over with her regime.

Some stories that feature a queen:

  • “Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, the Snow Queen steals away a boy that has part of a mirror shard in his heart and eyes that causes him to be cruel and the queen’s kisses numb and wipes away memories of the boy that a girl must try to have regained
  • “Snow White,” German tale and hailed as based on true story, a queen turns jealous of the beauty of her step-daughter and vows to be the fairest in the land again
  • “Perseus and Andromeda,” Greek tale, a queen boasts too much of the beauty of her daughter and so her daughter must be sacrificed to a sea creature unless someone saves the princess

What stories do you know that feature a queen?  Benevolent queen?  Cruel queen?  Do you know stories of mother goddesses?  Would you consider mothers and step-mothers as types of queens?  Share your comments below and share with others.

While you enjoy this blog, Story Crossroads has year-round offerings including the culminating Festival on May 24, 2017 (see schedule here: https://storycrossroads.com/2017-schedule/).  

We thank our fiscal sponsor, the Utah Storytelling Guild, as well as our funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Western States Arts Federation, Utah Humanities, the City of Murray, the South Jordan Arts Council, the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership and many other individuals. Join us in the support by attending or donating or both! (Click here to go directly to donation page.

P is for Pig–A to Z Blog Challenge

PigP is for Pig

Symbols in Stories from Around the World

My toes were introduced to me as piggies.  Have you ever wondered why toes could be used as piggies?  “This Little Piggy” came about in the 18th century.  Then in the 20th century, George Harrison from The Beatles wrote the song “Piggies” to compare pigs to humans.  George and many artists, writers, and storyellers have done that same comparison and could explain why so many folktales and fairy tales have pigs building houses, enjoying feasts, or any number of human-type things to do.

Then we have phrases like “when pigs fly” or “cast your pearls before swine” and on and on.  Being such a common and animal that many people rely on for food—or companionship—the high number of sayings is unsurprising.  During the Medieval times, pigs were associated with stupidity, filthiness, and gluttony.

In Ireland and Germany, pigs were a sign of prosperity.  This meant there was more meat for the family and some to sell and gain more money.  With this look at prosperity, it would be easy to think that piggy banks in the actual shape of pigs could be linked.  However, some of the first piggy banks were made from a clay called “pyg” and that name transformed to piggy bank.  Though, there are piggy banks from Indonesia and it is believed that pigs are connected to saving money.

Pigs could have supernatural power in Ireland.  Pigs were thought to see the wind blowing, something invisible to all other people and creatures.  If pigs gathered straw in their mouths, then a storm was coming.  Perhaps Alexander Lloyd was influenced by this for his magical pig in “The Black Cauldron.”

Sailors saw the magic of a pig as dark magic.  Sailors did not even want to say the word “pig” or sea or on land.  Some people think it is because of a story in the Bible where Jesus sends legions of evil spirits into some swine and then the swine fall off the cliff and drown.  “The Odyssey,” a famous Greek story features Circe the witch who transformed Olysseus’ crew into pigs.

Pigs could be dangerous.  Hercules’ 4th Labor was to bring back Erymanthian Boar alive that was gouging people left and right.  In Ancient Egypt, a black boar represented Set who was the god of misfortune.  Set rivaled Horus, god of the sun.  Sometimes swineherds were forbidden to enter temples.  Also in Egypt, the sky goddess Nut was sometimes called the “celestial sow” because she gave birth to the stars every evening and then swallowed these stars by day.

The Celtic god of swine was Moccus, who watched over those who would hunt the wild boar with its tusks and temper.  Later, bones of the swine were sometimes cremated, were placed in graves throughout Britain.  Swine were honored and considered food of the immortals.

The Maori had a demigod Kama-pua’a who was half-pig and half-human.  He was born that way and his father did not claim him when seeing this more-creature-than-human.  Though Kama-pua’a then grew to be handsome and talented, he never was accepted by his father.  Anger built in him and he marked his body with dark tattoos and wore a cloak made from pig skin with the hairy side out.  His anger brought out more of his pig looks and the ugliness kept back love from Pele, goddess of fire.

Judaism and Islam both see pigs as unclean and dirty animals.  As many goddesses of other faiths had signs or image in that of the pig, even the touch of a pig could be symbolic of mingling with other beliefs.  The consumption of pork meat is forbidden.

Pagans ate the boar’s head as a protection against danger.  As the tusks would have been a danger had the boar been alive, the tusks now become a ward against such fears.  In Christianity, the pig is associated with Satan or as one of the seven deadly sins—gluttony.  Knowing those pagan practices, some Christians ate the boar’s head to show that the Christ Child made it possible to overcome sin.

Some stories that feature a pig:

  • “Ram and Pig Set Up House,” Norwegian, feel a lot like the Bremen town musicians where several animals set up house and can keep their home due to frightening away wolves
  • “The Three Little Pigs,” English fairy tale (early version in “The Nursery Rhymes of England” by James Halliwell Phillipps published in 1886), three pigs make houses out of straw, sticks, and bricks-respectively-and must outwit or be eaten by a wolf
  • “The Sheep and the Pig,” Aesop Fable, a pig is captured and carried while near a flock of sheep and the sheep ask the pig why he squeals so much and the pig reminds them that man captures sheep for their wool while man captures pigs for food

What stories do you know that feature a pig (or as many as three little pigs)?  Boars?  Swine?  Please comment below and share this post with others.

While you enjoy this blog, Story Crossroads has year-round offerings including the culminating Festival on May 24, 2017 (see schedule here: https://storycrossroads.com/2017-schedule/).  

We thank our fiscal sponsor, the Utah Storytelling Guild, as well as our funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Western States Arts Federation, Utah Humanities, the City of Murray, the South Jordan Arts Council, the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership and many other individuals. Join us in the support by attending or donating or both! (Click here to go directly to donation page.

O is for Oil–A to Z Blog Challenge

OilO is for Oil

Symbols in Stories from Around the World

We are not talking about the oil that gushes out from the ground made from dinosaurs.  We are talking about oil that fills lamps and enhance our foods.  This two-fold use brings about purity and prosperity to oil.

Any people who are in lands that can grow olives already have respect and appreciate the many uses of the oil.  Many olives grow in the Mediterranean area as well as the Middle East.  During the Ancient Mediterranean times, people rubbed oil to prepare before competing in athletics.  The oil brought a sheen of youth and blessed the person with extra health.  The oil was also considered a cosmetic.

In Cameroon, women took palm-tree oil and rubbed it on their skin along with powdered red camwood.  Again, this represented youth as well as fertility.  In the 17th to 19th centuries of Congo, specifically the Kubu Kingdom, people used palm-wood oil to smooth on sculptures of people as a sign of life, health, strength, and wealth.  In North Africa, some men poured oil on ploughs before cutting the first furrow to be prosperous in the harvest.  The act was an offering to a supreme being.  The color of the oil was like that of the sun and thus led to believe oil to bring fertility and growth.

Hanukkah is celebrated as the Festival of Lights by Jews and many other people.  The oil burned for eight days and nights though there was only enough oil for one day.  This miracle strengthened the role of olive oil and a menorah is lit to honor that time.  Even the foods typically eaten during Hanukkah are oil-based such as doughnuts and latkes.  Though, the oil used in lamps then took on the meaning of illumination, light, revelations, and miracles.

Often, these miracles involved healing.  Many faiths use oil to anoint someone who is sick.  This oil could also extend blessings on others such as the anointing of priests, kings, and to the consecrating of items or places.  Usually this anointing is at the same time of a chant or a prayer wherein the one praying asks for God to give power to the anointed.  This sacred act can also purify the soul and help this person resist evil.  Sometimes the more fragrant the oil, the more sweet and devoted is the prayer.

Olives an olive oil connect to immortality.  Oil is part of the beginning of life and when there comes an end.  Yet, being able to be used even at the end brings about infinite life.  Shinto mythology saw oil as being part of the primordial waters.

In alchemy, oil combines four elemental substances and connects to the four cardinal points (North, South, East, and West).  The nature of oil is that it stops external influences and is a protectant and cleanser.

When oil is used to fuel a torch, then that combined symbol represents the struggle for independence. The presence of oil increases the possibility for that independence to be realized.

Some stories featuring oil:

  • “Athena versus Poseidon” or “The Naming of Athens,” Greek tale, a city of people must decide whose gift is best, the one from Poseidon, god of the seas (who gave a spring that gushed salt water), or Athena, the goddess of wisdom (who gave the olive tree of which oil could be made amongst other things)
  • “The Poor Man and the Flask of Oil,” Indonesian tale, a merchant gave a flask of oil to the poor man out of charity and the poor man imagines all he could do if he sold the oil until his imaginings cause him to bump the flask and lose all the oil
  • “Saving Spring,” Scandinavian tale, snow kept falling into June and the people of a certain city decided to go to the North Pole and talk with Old Man Winter and people used rags dipped in oil for many torches on the journey that also helped melt the bars to recruit animals to fight the soldiers who guarded Spring

What stories do you know that features oil?  Torches that use oil?  Dripping of oil?  Please comment and share this post with others.

While you enjoy this blog, Story Crossroads has year-round offerings including the culminating Festival on May 24, 2017 (see schedule here: https://storycrossroads.com/2017-schedule/).  

We thank our fiscal sponsor, the Utah Storytelling Guild, as well as our funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Western States Arts Federation, Utah Humanities, the City of Murray, the South Jordan Arts Council, the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership and many other individuals. Join us in the support by attending or donating or both! (Click here to go directly to donation page.