The term – and, indeed, theonym – in question is ‘Hora’, best known in its plural formulation – ‘Horae’ (from the same root as modern English ‘Hour’, ‘Year’, etc.). In Greek usage, this refers to a set of Goddesses Who both regulate the passing of the seasons and various elements of righteous conduct – in both the natural and the human spheres, what is right to be done at the right and particular time. It is no accident that these areas of responsibility are so strongly coterminous. After all, for the ancient Indo-European man – one was not separate from the natural world, but a part of it; and the natural world was very much an inextricable forest of laws and deeper order that ought inform the human inhabitants thereof, as well. Something we have sadly lost in this detritus of modernity where we increasingly feel ourselves to be not only above Nature – but also above the Gods, Divine Law Itself.
Now this has further conceptual saliency when we consider the fertility rites for the land that must be carried out. It is part and parcel, we may say, of the wise stewardship of said land – we look after the land, the environment, nature, so that nature also looks after us. And those who refuse to embrace such a responsibility – or, worse, spit upon it and seek to exploit the land whilst offering precious nothing in return, may find themselves rendered down into fertilizer of another kind for same.
This understanding is preserved in any number of archaic Indo-European sources – although we have not heard much from the Nordic corpus in this piece, so we shall start with the incidence from the Ynglinga Saga:
“Of the Death of Olaf, the Tree-Feller
There were a great many people who fled the country from Sweden, on account of King Ivar; and when they heard that King Olaf had got good lands in Vermeland, so great a number came there to him that the land could not support them. Then there came dire times and famine, which they ascribed to their king; as the Swedes used always to reckon good or bad crops for or against their kings. The Swedes took it amiss that Olaf was sparing in his sacrifices, and believed the dire times must proceed from this cause. The Swedes, therefore, gathered together troops, made an expedition against King Olaf, surrounded his house and burnt him in it, giving him to Odin as a sacrifice for good crops. This happened at the Venner lake. Thus tells Thjodolf of it: —
“The temple wolf, by the lake shores,
The corpse of Olaf now devours.
The clearer of the forests died
At Odin’s shrine by the lake side.
The glowing flames stripped to the skin
The royal robes from the Swedes’ king.
Thus Olaf, famed in days of yore,
Vanished from earth at Venner’s shore.”
Now it can be fairly argued, I think, that the understandings preserved there are twofold – first and foremost, that the King had neglected his duties of regulation in order to protect the environment and therefore his people’s ability to live thereupon .. but second, that there are multiple spheres, multiple ways in which he could be said to have failed. One of which being the potentiality that he had done little to stop the massive increase in population beyond the land’s carrying-capacity (i.e. he had allowed through inaction, things to get out of balance with the underlying environmental requirements of the deeper Law); and the other being the allegation that he had not carried out appropriate sacrifices and other rites to ensure the charitable nourishing both of and by the Land. Therefore, they – his now suffering people – chose to offer him as a sacrifice, instead!
And, entirely as we should expect … this is a sacrifice to Odin – the Indo-European Sky Father in Nordic form – to provide, as we had seen earlier with the fire-rites mentioned in the Vedas and associated Brahmana commentaries, the fertility and abundance of the land one more.
Another example which beautifully illustrates this concept in action, concerns the Hindu figure of Shakambhari – the Bearer of Shoots … or, slightly more figuratively, the Shooter.
This is one of my favourite Hindu myths, because of just how much it succinctly illustrates. I shan’t go into all the elaborate depth nor detail here, but the salient details are the following:
A demon by the name of Durgamasur [‘the invincible demon’] had secure a boon of erasing the knowledge of the Vedas [i.e. their performance – the proper pious conduct] from the minds of Mankind. This lead, as an obvious and direct consequence, to a cessation of sacral conduct by humanity … and the weakening of the Gods, the ascendency of demons and mighty demonic armies making ready to assail the Heavens, as well as the immense degradation of the environment, nature, as a co-occurrent result.
All seemed lost, until Devi – Who is above and beyond the Universe in these regards (indeed, is a-priori to it) and therefore unaffected by the happenings therein that had so weakened the rest of the Pantheon – She manifests as the demon army is making its way toward the final assault against the Gates of Heaven, as Shakambhari [‘The Bearer Of the [Green-]Shoots’].
Now, usually we interpret the ‘Saka’ in question as referring to the green shoots of new vegetation that accompany the resurrection of the health of the natural environment with Her arrival. And I do not think that that is inaccurate. But given Her mechanism for dispatching the demon Durgamasur – shooting him repeatedly with Her Arrows – I would also contend that the ‘shoots’ in question may refer to those Arrows; as, after all, there is a well-known crossover of conceptry even in modern English (where we have ‘Spears of Asparagus’ or ‘Blades of Grass’) between the terms for growing consumable vegetation and sharp, piercing weaponry.
Life is thus restored to the Earth – both through Shakambhari’s re-introduction of the knowledge of the rites to the minds of men (and it is interesting to note that the ‘Verses of the Queen of Serpents’ that we had earlier met, the ones accompanying the Vedic Rite aforementioned, are actually spoken and compiled for the Rsis [Sages/Seers] by said Queen of Serpents to begin with] and provision of fruits and vegetables to be rendered up as sacral offerings to the Gods therethrough … and also through Shakambhari Durga and Her Army slaughtering their way through the forces of the demons, watering the world with the literal rivers of blood of the foe that thusly result.
Yet, other than the aforementioned conceptual overlap for the ‘shoots’ of new growth rising up out of the ground, and snakes (or, in the case of Kerkrops, snake-men) doing likewise … how does this relate to the Serpentine Form of the Indo-European Earth Mother?
For that, we must turn to the Scythians (another ‘Shooting’ people, not least via the etymology of their ethnonym) – and the various fascinated Classical perspectives upon the Scythian Dragon, Drakaina Skythia, hailed as ‘Hora’, and also occasionally referred to in subsequent literature as an or even the Echidna: a decidedly Serpentine figure Who is Mother to their race.
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