An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 59

[Pg 131] that she wished to cast him out of Olympus. He took her part in a quarrel with Zeus, however, and thereupon the king of Heaven cast him from the heights to the island of Lemnos, where he fell maimed and wounded. He was the great artificer of the gods, an incomparable worker in metal. He raised the shining palaces of Olympus, forged the marvellous armour of Achilles, and made the necklace of Harmonia. Strangely enough, in Norse myth and English legend, Regin, the smith of the Volsunga Saga, and Wieland the Smith are stunted, lame, or limping, and forge arms for heroes, as did Hephæstus for Achilles. In his Latin shape of Vulcan Hephæstus is pre-eminently a god of fire, the conception becoming associated with volcanic districts, especially with Mount Etna in Sicily, where, with the Cyclops for his assistants, he laboured in the bowels of the volcano.

Among the Scandinavian peoples, Loki appears to be the god of fire. He also is limping and misshapen, but one does not espy in him the mechanical ability of the Greek god. He sides now with the gods, now with the giants, thus typifying the twofold nature of fire as a friend and an enemy. He was probably grafted on to an older fire-demon.

In ancient Mexico Xiuhtecutli, the fire-god, was known as Huehueteotl, eldest of the gods, not youngest, as in Greece and India. His body was flame-coloured, and his face black and surmounted by a head-dress of green feathers. A yellow serpent sprawling across his back typified the serpentine nature of fire. He was also the god of the domestic hearth, and on rising in the morning all Mexican families offered him an oblation of food and drink.

From the examples given above it will be seen that although in one instance, that of Hephæstus, the possession of the thunderbolt is assumed, most fire-gods are truly departmental in character, and do not appear to have any connexion with the lightning. They arise from a purely animistic conception of fire, and later become personified. Occasionally we find them, as in the case of Agni, and Yibil, the Babylonian fire-god, partially absorbed by, or having the attributes of, the sun-god.

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Although gods of the winds appear in nearly all mythological systems, in many instances they are neither more nor less than representatives of tempest or gentle breeze. In some mythologies, as in that of Egypt, they occupy a subordinate position, whereas in others the wind, usually as the tempest, is one of the attributes of the supreme god of the pantheon. Odin is undoubtedly in one of his aspects a god of storm and in later folklore figures as the 'Wild Huntsman.' In Mexico, too, the great god Tezcatlipoca was also known as Yoalli Ehecatl, or 'Lord of the Night Wind.' In some mythologies, as in those of India and Greece, every aspect of the wind, whether in gale or breeze, is personified and deified. Of course it is easy to see that wind, like fire, with its movement and utterance, either gentle or boisterous, would lend itself to primitive animistic interpretation. It would seem a very living thing indeed to early man, and was identified with the source of life itself.

In the Vedas of the Hindus we find Veyu personified in the gentler movements of the air, answering in this respect to the Latin Favonius or the Greek Pan. The more violent forces of the wind in Hindu myth are represented by the Maruts, who overturn trees and uproot forests, roar like lions, and shake the mountains. The rain is their raiment, and they are swift as Thor. When the tempest rages, the wayfarer may hear the cracking of their whips as they pass overhead. But their onslaught over and their purpose accomplished, they resume the shape of new-born babes. They are the crushers or grinders, the children of Rudra, father of the winds, who is also the deceiver, the master-thief; this last attribute possibly symbolizing the shifting nature of wind.

In Greek myth we have the gentle or intermittent wind in Pan, who breathes melody through his reed pipes. As the lover of Pitys, the nymph of the pine-tree, he aroused the jealousy of Boreas, the rude north wind, who hurled the maiden from a rock, and changed her into the tree which bears her name. Boreas is the son of the night and the dawn, and is usually figured in Greek myth as dwelling in the north. In[Pg 133] the Odyssey all the winds are placed by Zeus under the charge of Æolus, to whom is entrusted the power of rousing or quelling them at will. The more vigorous wind from the west was known as Zephyros, husband of Podarge, the white-footed wind who drives before her the snow-white vapours.

The fury of the storm occasionally furnishes the conception of a god of war, as in the case of the Greek Ares. Tezcatlipoca in Mexico, too, was called 'the Slayer.'


The earth was personalized by early man, who regarded it as the parent of all things dwelling thereon. A union is often conceived of between the Sky-Father and the Earth-Mother; and myths from centres as far apart as Egypt and New Zealand tell how these primeval parents were separated. No mere fetishism would suffice for the primeval idea of the earth-Early man seems to have regarded it as his mother, just as the late Mr Andrew Lang insisted that the primeval conception of a heavenly father who dwelt in the sky was prior to animistic belief or, at any rate, came before the polytheistic stage. As previously suggested, the primitive All-Father of Mr Lang may have been no other than the primitive sky-god. In a striking passage in his Introduction to Mythology and Folklore Sir George Cox says: "It may seem almost a paradox to say that the thought of the earth as a producer and restorer would be more likely to lead men on to the thought of a power transcending nature, or the forces which we see at work in the outward world, than the impressions made on the human mind by the phenomena of the daily or nightly heavens; but on further thought we can scarcely fail to see that the continuance of life on the earth, the unceasing restlessness, the perpetual change which is going on upon its surface, the sensitiveness of all vegetable and animal substances to the influences which act upon them from without, must inevitably lead men on to something more like a scheme of philosophy than any which could be furnished by mere phrases describing the phenomena of the day or the year."