Gods and Goddesses in modern fiction

And then I mean other than in stories about wicca or stories that take place in Roman times for example. I really mean modern stories. The past week I’ve spent reading Rick Riordan’s series Heroes of Olympos and the Kane Chronicles. If you are interested in mythology, I really recommend the books! Let me explain a bit more, just to tempt you…
In the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympos, we meet the children of the Greek gods. Yes, indeed, demigods, similar to Hercules, Jason and Perseus, the great heroes of the past. But didn’t I say modern stories? Well, yes. You see, the gods are powers of the earth, guiding what happens, and they are still here today. They reside where human society is strongest. Accordingly, they have moved from Olympos to America. And, seeing they never change, they continue to get children with mortals. Greek mythology really comes to life, with gods and monsters and supernatural beings still present in today’s world.
Of course, we know this. Gods are omnipresent, not only the Greek ones, interacting, helping and guiding us. This is not always how it happens in Heroes of Olympos. Gods are not all helpful and have agendas of their own. They often, however, need humans to help them.
This is where the Kane Chronicles are similar. Gods need humans, but this time mainly those descended from pharaohs. They are capable of magic, channelling the powers of nature and of the gods. I loved this, undoubtedly, as it comes so close to how I feel about magic! It is different in the book, of course, but it gave me so much inspiration for my own practice, even though I’m not Egypt oriented.
Conclusion: if you like Egyptian and Greek mythology, these volks by Riordan are must reads! I’m looking for more books, however, so if you have any suggestions on fiction where gods and goddesses play a (big) role, I’d like some recommendations!

Goddesses of the low countries

As you know, I live in the Netherlands, traditionally the ‘low countries’. More than 60 percent of the Dutch people live under sealevel, protected by the dykes, but if you look at estimated maps of the Netherlands in the past (distant past), the land looked quite different. There weren’t any dykes then, and the water level was probably different.

This was the time that the ancient tribes lived, the different farmer cultures that we only recognize by their pottery (that’s how I was taught in primary school). It’s a bit more recent that I began to develop an interest not necessarily in these cultures, how fascinating they might be, but in their religious life and the gods and goddesses. The world around me, the landscape and the way the seasons affect local nature, that is what I base a big part of my own practice on. So, naturally, I want to know about local deities!

Last year, when my cousin and I went to the museum of Antiquities in Leiden, we saw the tributes to Nehalennia. This goddess had temples in Zeeland (the southwestern part of Holland), close to a route from the mainland to Great Britain. In Roman times, merchants from Europe’s mainland paid tribute to Nehalennia in order to get home safely after their travel. She was depicted with a dog and apples, probably as a very powerful house goddess. She was the trigger to wanting to discover more!

Godinnen van eigen bodemDuring a weekend in Groningen I finally was able to purchase a book I wanted for quite some time about the goddesses of the low countries. Nehalennia is obviously portraited in that, but also, one of my favourite fairytale characters was! Who would have thought? Frau Holle, who brings snow to the world when her cushions are shaken. That is mainly how I know her from Grimm’s fairytale, but other elements are also important. She is a goddess of the netherworld, judging those entering her realm. A very powerful goddess and a very powerful image. Tomorrow, I will do a meditation, hoping to meet her for the first time.

One last goddess that was new to me, or actually a group of goddesses, were the Witte Wieven (White Ladies). They reveal themselves in misty surroundings. Perhaps that is too much, they show themselves as mist, as wisps of fog. I now pay much more attention when I cycle through fog, rather then trying to get through as fast as possible. These goddesses are known for predicting the future, but as fog tends to do, they can also lead you in the wrong direction. This makes appeasing them with cake for example a logical step, because you don’t want to get lost in the fog.

These are three goddesses from my home country, goddesses of the low countries. Every place will have its own traditional gods and goddesses, not always conforming to the pantheons. Do you know any from your place?

Holland, land of water

Yesterday was the annual fireworks festival in Scheveningen that I visited last year as well. The wind was a spoiler, blowing fine sand into… well, everywhere, basically, which made it difficult to watch the illuminated sky.

We were in Scheveningen hours before the show started, so we had time to walk around the boulevard. There is an awesome exhibition with fairytale statues outside, both of commonly known tales such as Hansel and Gretel, but also of some Dutch legends and stories.

Most stories are connected to the sea. Fish, traveling overseas, the dangers of water… Especially the story of Hans Brinker deals with these dangers. Netherlands as a whole is some 2 meters below sea level. We live in a land of water, and swimming is one of the skills people find vital for Dutch children, surrounded by water everywhere. We are protected by dikes near the sea, both artificial and natural. In the fifties, Holland was shocked as the water overwhelmed part of the land. The flood was caused by a storm surge combined with springtide and took the lives of over 1800 people and left many more homeless. The dikes had broken…

The story of Hans Brinker is originally an American story, though it is situated in Holland. An 8 year old boy was bringing pancakes to an old man. On the way back, he notices the water behind the dikes is higher than he has ever seen. As he often sees his father working, he mimics him and checks the dike. There is a hole in the dike, and water is seeping through! Hans puts his finger in the dike to stop the water, and stays there all night. He shouts for help, but nobody hears him. In the morning, when he is found, it becomes clear that he has saved his village.

Holland is a land of water. We live of the water, and have learned to live with the dangers of it. Some things never change.

Narcissus and Echo

It’s Ostara today! Even though the temperature outside doesn’t really fit the time of year, it is genuinely the spring equinox. On this day, day and night are equal in length, and the sunlight will definitely take over from the darkness from now on. As we have more light each day, more and more flowers erupt from the soil, making the natural environment a colourful pallet during spring.

For me, I always associate Ostara with growth, with potential and obviously with fertility. The colours that belong to this sabbat are (for me) yellow, light green and purple, because of the daffodils and crocuses that are blooming. In the Netherlands, they are the most common flowers to plant on fields or on the side of the road, so I have enjoyed their colours since my early childhood.

Especially the daffodil reminds me of spring, starting out very small and that rocketing into the sky, the flower similar to a trumpet shouting out that spring has arrived. Therefore, I’d like to share the tale of Narcissus and Echo with you, a story that explains how the flower came into being (and why we call self-loving people ‘narcissists’. The story has been told in many different ways, yet I will tell you the tale as I remember it.

Narcissus and Echo

Narcissus was a young man, a hunter, envied by all other men for his beauty and strong appearance. One day, as he ventures into the woods, following deer, he feels he is being followed. “Who’s there?” he asks, but all he gets is an echo in return.

Or so it seems. For after a short moment, he realizes he has not made the feeling up, that indeed someone is following him. He calls out to his pursuer once again, urging him to make himself known, but again, his own words come back. Yet he can see a glimpse of a person between the trees.

A nymph has been following him. Echo, once a great singer until she tricked Hera, is only able to repeat the last words uttered by others. Incapable of producing her own speech, she could answer Narcissus’ questions only with his own words.

Echo, it appears, has fallen deeply in love with the beautiful young man as he passed her while hunting. Unable to call out to him, she decided to follow him, and take in the sight of his strong body running through the forest. When Narcissus eventually notices her, she makes it known to him that she loves him as much as one ever could.

How wrong she is! For Narcissus, proud of his own body and very much aware of his beauty, loves only himself, more than any other ever could. He rejects poor Echo, who wastes away after this, until only her voice remains. When Nemesis, goddess of revenge, hears the sad echo that was once a lovely nymph, and is told what happened by Echo’s sisters, she decides to punish Narcissus.

Unable to catch any deer, and tired from following them, Narcissus rests at a spring. As he drinks the refreshing water, his eyes catch an image of the water. He sees a young man, beautiful features, strong arms and lovely thick blonde hairs. Narcissus falls in love with this image, which is, of course, his own reflection. Nemesis’ revenge is sweet, as Narcissus wastes away of love for himself, mimicking how Echo wasted away.

After a short while, his body is gone, and all that remains is a lovely, yellow flower, its reflection clearly visible in the water of the spring.

The Snowdrop – Hans Christian Andersen

With Imbolc my mind can only stick to one image, which is the snowdrop as the first sign of spring! Unfortunately I haven’t seen any around just yet, but I’m bound to look for them tomorrow. As I was thinking on how to pass the day, I realized I wanted to do something around snowdrops, and I found this great story by Hans Christian Andersen on About.com. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have!

The Snow Drop

It was winter-time; the air was cold, the wind was sharp, but within the closed doors it was warm and comfortable, and within the closed door lay the flower; it lay in the bulb under the snow-covered earth.

One day rain fell. The drops penetrated through the snowy covering down into the earth, and touched the flower-bulb, and talked of the bright world above. Soon the Sunbeam pierced its way through the snow to the root, and within the root there was a stirring.

“Come in,” said the flower.

“I cannot,” said the Sunbeam. “I am not strong enough to unlock the door! When the summer comes I shall be strong!”

“When will it be summer?” asked the Flower, and she repeated this question each time a new sunbeam made its way down to her. But the summer was yet far distant. The snow still lay upon the ground, and there was a coat of ice on the water every night.

“What a long time it takes! what a long time it takes!” said the Flower. “I feel a stirring and striving within me; I must stretch myself, I must unlock the door, I must get out, and must nod a good morning to the summer, and what a happy time that will be!”

ImageAnd the Flower stirred and stretched itself within the thin rind which the water had softened from without, and the snow and the earth had warmed, and the Sunbeam had knocked at; and it shot forth under the snow with a greenish-white blossom on a green stalk, with narrow thick leaves, which seemed to want to protect it. The snow was cold, but was pierced by the Sunbeam, therefore it was easy to get through it, and now the Sunbeam came with greater strength than before.

“Welcome, welcome!” sang and sounded every ray, and the Flower lifted itself up over the snow into the brighter world. The Sunbeams caressed and kissed it, so that it opened altogether, white as snow, and ornamented with green stripes. It bent its head in joy and humility.

“Beautiful Flower!” said the Sunbeams, “how graceful and delicate you are! You are the first, you are the only one! You are our love! You are the bell that rings out for summer, beautiful summer, over country and town. All the snow will melt; the cold winds will be driven away; we shall rule; all will become green, and then you will have companions, syringas, laburnums, and roses; but you are the first, so graceful, so delicate!”

That was a great pleasure. It seemed as if the air were singing and sounding, as if rays of light were piercing through the leaves and the stalks of the Flower. There it stood, so delicate and so easily broken, and yet so strong in its young beauty; it stood there in its white dress with the green stripes, and made a summer. But there was a long time yet to the summer-time. Clouds hid the sun, and bleak winds were blowing.

“You have come too early,” said Wind and Weather. “We have still the power, and you shall feel it, and give it up to us. You should have stayed quietly at home and not have run out to make a display of yourself. Your time is not come yet!”

It was a cutting cold! The days which now come brought not a single sunbeam. It was weather that might break such a little Flower in two with cold. But the Flower had more strength than she herself knew of. She was strong in joy and in faith in the summer, which would be sure to come, which had been announced by her deep longing and confirmed by the warm sunlight; and so she remained standing in confidence in the snow in her white garment, bending her head even while the snow-flakes fell thick and heavy, and the icy winds swept over her.

“You’ll break!” they said, “and fade, and fade! What did you want out here? Why did you let yourself be tempted? The Sunbeam only made game of you. Now you have what you deserve, you summer gauk.” “Summer gauk!” she repeated in the cold morning hour.

“O summer gauk!” cried some children rejoicingly; “yonder stands one- how beautiful, how beautiful! The first one, the only one!”

These words did the Flower so much good, they seemed to her like warm sunbeams. In her joy the Flower did not even feel when it was broken off. It lay in a child’s hand, and was kissed by a child’s mouth, and carried into a warm room, and looked on by gentle eyes, and put into water. How strengthening, how invigorating! The Flower thought she had suddenly come upon the summer.

ImageThe daughter of the house, a beautiful little girl, was confirmed, and she had a friend who was confirmed, too. He was studying for an examination for an appointment. “He shall be my summer gauk,” she said; and she took the delicate Flower and laid it in a piece of scented paper, on which verses were written, beginning with summer gauk and ending with summer gauk. “My friend, be a winter gauk.” She had twitted him with the summer. Yes, all this was in the verses, and the paper was folded up like a letter, and the Flower was folded in the letter, too. It was dark around her, dark as in those days when she lay hidden in the bulb. The Flower went forth on her journey, and lay in the post-bag, and was pressed and crushed, which was not at all pleasant; but that soon came to an end.

The journey was over; the letter was opened, and read by the dear friend. How pleased he was! He kissed the letter, and it was laid, with its enclosure of verses, in a box, in which there were many beautiful verses, but all of them without flowers; she was the first, the only one, as the Sunbeams had called her; and it was a pleasant thing to think of that. 

She had time enough, moreover, to think about it; she thought of it while the summer passed away, and the long winter went by, and the summer came again, before she appeared once more. But now the young man was not pleased at all. He took hold of the letter very roughly, and threw the verses away, so that the Flower fell on the ground. Flat and faded she certainly was, but why should she be thrown on the ground? Still, it was better to be here than in the fire, where the verses and the paper were being burnt to ashes. What had happened? What happens so often:- the Flower had made a gauk of him, that was a jest; the girl had made a fool of him, that was no jest, she had, during the summer, chosen another friend. 

Next morning the sun shone in upon the little flattened Snowdrop, that looked as if it had been painted upon the floor. The servant girl, who was sweeping out the room, picked it up, and laid it in one of the books which were upon the table, in the belief that it must have fallen out while the room was being arranged. Again the flower lay among verses- printed verses- and they are better than written ones- at least, more money has been spent upon them. 

And after this years went by. The book stood upon the book-shelf, and then it was taken up and somebody read out of it. It was a good book; verses and songs by the old Danish poet, Ambrosius Stub, which are well worth reading. The man who was now reading the book turned over a page. 

“Why, there’s a flower!” he said; “a snowdrop, a summer gauk, a poet gauk! That flower must have been put in there with a meaning! Poor Ambrosius Stub! he was a summer fool too, a poet fool; he came too early, before his time, and therefore he had to taste the sharp winds, and wander about as a guest from one noble landed proprietor to another, like a flower in a glass of water, a flower in rhymed verses! Summer fool, winter fool, fun and folly- but the first, the only, the fresh young Danish poet of those days. Yes, thou shalt remain as a token in the book, thou little snowdrop: thou hast been put there with a meaning.” 

And so the Snowdrop was put back into the book, and felt equally honored and pleased to know that it was a token in the glorious book of songs, and that he who was the first to sing and to write had been also a snowdrop, had been a summer gauk, and had been looked upon in the winter-time as a fool. The Flower understood this, in her way, as we interpret everything in our way. That is the story of the Snowdrop.

Queen Bee (Grimm brothers)

Today I’d like to share this tale with you. It’s about being good for nature and what you get in return.

The Queen Bee

Two kings’ sons once upon a time went into the world to seek their fortunes; but they soon fell into a wasteful foolish way of living, so that they could not return home again. Then their brother, who was a little insignificant dwarf, went out to seek for his brothers: but when he had found them they only laughed at him, to think that he, who was so young and simple, should try to travel through the world, when they, who were so much wiser, had been unable to get on. However, they all set out on their journey together, and came at last to an ant- hill. The two elder brothers would have pulled it down, in order to see how the poor ants in their fright would run about and carry off their eggs. But the little dwarf said, ’Let the poor things enjoy themselves, I will not suffer you to trouble them.’

So on they went, and came to a lake where many many ducks were swimming about. The two brothers wanted to catch two, and roast them. But the dwarf said, ’Let the poor things enjoy themselves, you shall not kill them.’ Next they came to a bees’-nest in a hollow tree, and there was so much honey that it ran down the trunk; and the two brothers wanted to light a fire under the tree and kill the bees, so as to get their honey. But the dwarf held them back, and said, ’Let the pretty insects enjoy themselves, I cannot let you burn them.’

At length the three brothers came to a castle: and as they passed by the stables they saw fine horses standing there, but all were of marble, and no man was to be seen. Then they went through all the rooms, till they came to a door on which were three locks: but in the middle of the door was a wicket, so that they could look into the next room. There they saw a little grey old man sitting at a table; and they called to him once or twice, but he did not hear: however, they called a third time, and then he rose and came out to them.

He said nothing, but took hold of them and led them to a beautiful table covered with all sorts of good things: and when they had eaten and drunk, he showed each of them to a bed-chamber.

The next morning he came to the eldest and took him to a marble table, where there were three tablets, containing an account of the means by which the castle might be disenchanted. The first tablet said: ’In the wood, under the moss, lie the thousand pearls belonging to the king’s daughter; they must all be found: and if one be missing by set of sun, he who seeks them will be turned into marble.’

The eldest brother set out, and sought for the pearls the whole day: but the evening came, and he had not found the first hundred: so he was turned into stone as the tablet had foretold.

The next day the second brother undertook the task; but he succeeded no better than the first; for he could only find the second hundred of the pearls; and therefore he too was turned into stone.

At last came the little dwarf’s turn; and he looked in the moss; but it was so hard to find the pearls, and the job was so tiresome!–so he sat down upon a stone and cried. And as he sat there, the king of the ants (whose life he had saved) came to help him, with five thousand ants; and it was not long before they had found all the pearls and laid them in a heap.

The second tablet said: ’The key of the princess’s bed-chamber must be fished up out of the lake.’ And as the dwarf came to the brink of it, he saw the two ducks whose lives he had saved swimming about; and they dived down and soon brought in the key from the bottom.

The third task was the hardest. It was to choose out the youngest and the best of the king’s three daughters. Now they were all beautiful, and all exactly alike: but he was told that the eldest had eaten a piece of sugar, the next some sweet syrup, and the youngest a spoonful of honey; so he was to guess which it was that had eaten the honey.

Then came the queen of the bees, who had been saved by the little dwarf from the fire, and she tried the lips of all three; but at last she sat upon the lips of the one that had eaten the honey: and so the dwarf knew which was the youngest. Thus the spell was broken, and all who had been turned into stones awoke, and took their proper forms. And the dwarf married the youngest and the best of the princesses, and was king after her father’s death; but his two brothers married the other two sisters.